The Spirit Shall Return

Death is so final. One minute we’re taking a life for granted, and the next it’s snuffed out forever; only dust remains.

Or is it final?

Hoolah Hayes

Yesterday, a sweet old friend died, our 12-year old dog, Hoolah. She had a wonderful life; brought such delight to us and our children, as well as many, many others.

I’ll never forget – walking her one morning when a complete stranger pulled up beside us in her car and asked, “Are you Hoolah’s owner?” As I affirmed she said, “I just LOVE Hoolah! She brightens my day every time I see her. Look here! See?”, showing me her phone … Hoolah was her wallpaper.

That was Hoolah, not just cute — she was adorable; her fur was as soft as a stuffed animal toy, and she was so gentle she’d lay down in a crouched position when strangers approached so she wouldn’t intimidate them. People would exclaim, “Oh! How sweet!! How did you train her to do that?” We didn’t train Hoolah; that was just her temperament.

A 50-lb Great Pyrenees + Golden Retriever mix, Hoolah was the perfect family dog.  She was gentle but also fierce; when I’d roughhouse with my Down’s Syndrome son and we’d do our 7-step slap-bump-clap (which delighted him unto squealing), Hoolah would literally lunge into us barking and growling and body-slam me! She didn’t like anyone messing with Jonathan, not even in fun.

Yet when Hoolah saw a tennis ball or a frisbee all else vanished; she’d fetch until she dropped from exhaustion, rest a bit, and beg for more! She had a certain bark that simply demanded we play with her. She’d hike the frisbee back and forth across the back yard all day long — as long as someone was watching, but never by herself. She loved being noticed, engaging with her family.

And she had this uncanny ability to do what we called her bucking-bronco; whirling round and round like a wild bull in a rodeo, sometimes with a short, fat rope in her mouth, smacking it on the ground and into anyone who dared draw near, like she was killing a viper. She had so much energy at times she just didn’t know what to do with herself!

And there was the day Hoolah was nearly killed by a Pit Bull. Tough day! So thankful it wasn’t so much worse. (Ep 5:20)

Then, like many larger breeds, she developed hip dysplasia, which my wife Elizabeth carefully nursed for 6 long years, then finally laryngeal paralysis: yesterday Hoolah’s breathing finally became so labored the vet put her down. She didn’t suffer much, or for long, and showed her chipper, spunky, playful demeanor right up to the end.

I feel so privileged to have known Hoolah, to have cared for her and enjoyed her. My grief even has a bittersweetness to it because she was such a joy. She will be sorely missed; we’ve no hope of ever finding a sweeter animal.

Perhaps our lives are somewhat like this; life is so short, yet the death of the righteous is a blessing (Ps 116:15), and their memory is sweet. (Nu 23:10b) I see a lesson in Hoolah: live so I’ll be missed. (Ac 20:37-38)

But I’m finding that there’s more than mere memory here for me – like Hoolah’s not really gone for good, more like she’s just stepped away for a bit, still aware of her family. Is this an illusion? wishful thinking? or another window into eternal reality …

Scripture says all Creation is waiting for the Resurrection (Ro 8:19), for the restitution of all things; this includes Hoolah. If she was just a body, and didn’t transcend her physical life, this makes no sense. She’s a spirit (Ec 3:21) who’s now returned to God (Ec 12:7), still looking forward to the end of all things, what so few of us can see.

We have a body, but we aren’t just a body: we’re a living soul (Ge 2:7) with body and spirit (1Th 5:23); death for the believer is simply the shedding of the earthly body for the heavenly one (2Co 5:2); it’s a final transformation, becoming a new creation, as from a caterpillar into a butterfly. (2Co 5:17)

For those in Christ, there’s hope beyond the grave; we sorrow and grieve in losing loved ones in death (Php 2:27), but not as those without hope. (1Th 4:13) Whether I’ll ever reconnect with Hoolah again isn’t the point — maybe so, maybe not — but every precious relationship is a shadow of the fullness we’re promised in God. (Ep 3:19) That’s Who we’re ultimately after. (Php 3:8)

Heaven is beyond our wildest dreams, perfection (1Co 2:9); however God’s designed it, we know one thing for sure: our joy will be complete.

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Divers Sorts

When we first seriously consider trying to obey all of Torah, as much as we can anyway, we’re confronted with commands which seem arbitrary and difficult, such as the law governing the kinds of materials used in clothes. It appears twice: “neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee” (Le 19:19), and “Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.”(De 22:11)

The topic initially raises eyebrows for the submitted believer, since most of the clothing we wear today contains a mixture of fiber types. Garments of cotton and polyester are quite common, inexpensive, durable and comfortable. Why would God forbid clothing like this?

In order to get back to a reasonable place, we must, as always, read this command VERY carefully. In both instances, the kind of diversity forbidden is specified very explicitly and clearly; and for anyone who knows anything about textiles, it’s no surprise. The command does not forbid mixing just any two kinds of fibers, but fiber types that are distinctly different in fundamental, incompatible ways. The example given is linen and wool.

Textile manufacturers understand that wool and linen are fundamentally incompatible: linen is a plant-based fiber that creases easily and wool is an animal-based fiber that shrinks easily. The two types of materials also wear very differently and require very different types of care. Wool requires a different type of storage than linen due to susceptibility to mold and moths, and a different cleaning protocol to keep it from shrinking. When only a portion of the fibers of a garment shrink while other fibers don’t the entire structure and weave of the fabric is compromised.

Further, recent scientific studies have confirmed that wool and linen have very strong electrical properties when reacting with light, and these two materials happen to work in opposite polarities. By themselves, garments of either wool or linen tend to energize the human body electrically and even provide healing benefits, but together these materials work against each other and cancel each other out. This effect tends to sap the strength of the wearer and may even cause discomfort or blistering. Any garment made from these two materials would be difficult to care for and unhealthy to wear.

God knows what He’s doing when He gives us commands; His laws are good (Ro 7:12), but if we aren’t careful we may easily misapply them and cause ourselves and others needless inconvenience. (Lk 11:46) When we interpret Torah, we must do so lawfully (1Ti 1:8), being careful to keep it in full context, and in accord with the law of love. When God’s law appears overly burdensome, it’s likely we’re missing something basic: His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (Mk 11:30)

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I Am a Worm

The Crucifixion is a mysterious intermingling of the eternal and temporal, of the spiritual and physical, of unbearable horror and indescribable wonder. In the midst of it, center stage, dies the most wonderful, holy, perfect Man who ever lived, betrayed by friend and foe alike, born for this moment (Jn 12:27) … to be forsaken by God. (Mt 27:46)

As Christ hangs upon the nails, writhing between Heaven and Earth, being tortured by His enemies, He’s praying, thinking back upon all the times God has intervened and mercifully rescued His people. (Ps 22:4) They weren’t confounded; they were delivered (5), but He’s suffering alone.

Christ then admits something profound: “I am a worm, and no man.” (6) It is as if He’s saying He’s less than a man, unworthy of deliverance, irredeemable. Perhaps in becoming our sin for us (2Co 5:21), He occupied, for one brief hour, some unthinkable place beneath humanity, reserved for the unutterably wicked.

This worm that Christ identifies with is peculiar and unique; the word refers to actual worms (Ex 16:20, (De 28:39), and also to the colors scarlet (Ex 39:8, Le 14:49) and crimson (Is 1:18). So the specific worm with which Christ is identifying is the crimson worm, from which crimson and scarlet dyes were made for use in the temple and priestly garments.

The Crimson worm [coccus ilicis] female reproduces only once, by attaching her body firmly to a piece of wood and forming a hard crimson shell, which is anchored so well it can’t be moved without killing her. She then lays eggs under her body inside the shell. When the eggs hatch, the young feed on the living mother’s body for a few days until she dies. As she dies, she dispenses a crimson / scarlet red dye onto the young and the wood, staining the young worms for life. Three days later, the dead mother’s body transforms into white wax and falls away.

There are so many parallels here with Christ’s work that it’s uncanny; it is no coincidence that He identifies with this unique, lowly creature during His most intense suffering. For those whom He is bringing eternal life, He gives Himself in His death as our food (Jn 6:55), and cleanses us with His blood. (1Pe 1:2)

God is so creative in His work, so unexpected in how He reveals Himself. The riches of Christ are unsearchable (Ep 3:8), and the depth of His wisdom and ways are so beyond us. (Ro 11:33) The heavens reveal His glory (Ps 19:1), and worms evidently do as well.

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A Revenger

The purpose of civil government is to be a revenger, to protect us from evildoers by administering justice to those who break God’s laws. (Ro 13:4) With the advances of our modern military capabilities, this naturally includes providing for the common defense, shielding us from hostile foreign powers.

The primary reason for restricting government to this defensive role is straightforward: it’s the only entity which may lawfully take money from others by force (Ro 13:6), and this power to tax is very easily corrupted; limiting governmental power limits corruption.

Ensuring domestic tranquility is the one thing we as individuals or small groups are incapable of managing effectively; when we start taking the law into our own hands we no longer have a stable society, we have mob rule. So, maintaining civil order must be delegated to government, aligning us all with a code of conduct we collectively agree to follow.

Furthermore, it’s common sense wisdom to restrict government to minimal, necessary functions since government spending is the most inefficient and wasteful way to spend money. Consider the only four possible ways our money can be spent.

  1. We can spend our money on ourselves. This is the most efficient way to spend money, since we tend to be concerned about both quality and cost; we’re incented to buy efficiently, to get the best deal for the kind of quality we want.
  2. We can spend our money on someone else. This is a less efficient way to spend money, since we tend to be much more concerned about cost than we are about quality; we’re incented to buy something less expensive even if the quality is unacceptable.
  3. Someone else can spend our money on themselves. This is an even less efficient way to spend our money: when someone else spends our money on themselves they tend to be much more concerned about quality than than they are about cost; they’re incented to buy something very expensive even if the higher quality is unnecessary or minimal.
  4. Someone else can spend our money on someone else. This is the worst way to spend money because when someone else spends our money on someone else they tend to be unconcerned about both quality and cost: they’re often incented by entirely unrelated factors; they may buy something very expensive even if the quality is unacceptable.

When government spends our money it’s Type 4 spending, the very worst kind. Government tends to be more wasteful and inefficient simply because it’s never directly impacted by its own decisions; it’s very difficult to hold government accountable for waste and inefficiency.

So, God’s prescription for helping the poor isn’t government handouts: it’s found in the hard work (Pr 14:23), ingenuity (Pr 8:12), diligence (Pr 12:27) and industry of free enterprise (De 15:10): being rewarded according to the kind of value we create. (1Ti 5:18) Once our own needs are met, we are to offer person-to-person charity, where we have some idea of who we’re helping and why. (Ep 4:28)

We’re less inclined to help those who won’t help themselves, who are unwilling to work (2Th 3:10), who squander their time, energy and money. (Pr 13:23) We know that consequences are generally the best teacher; when people suffer for their personal choices they tend to straighten up; but when we reward laziness and foolishness we tend to get more of the same.

Government bureaucrats don’t know who best to help and when, over-burdening value creators and rewarding problematic behavior to achieve political objectives, promoting apathy, mediocrity, and creating self-fulfilling cycles of sustained dependency and pathology which are extremely difficult to correct.

God’s way encourages us to contribute earnestly to our own welfare, to meet the needs of our own families (1Ti 5:8), and to enjoy the fruits of our own labor. (Ec 5:18-19) Then we’re to help those who, through no fault of their own, need our help to get back on their feet. (Ga 2:10)

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Toward the Mark

Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time. To live with no aim, no goals or purpose, is to miss life altogether. We’re created with a sense that life has a purpose, and this purpose relates to a goal. As we pursue our goals we fulfill our purpose, and experience deep satisfaction and fulfillment. This makes for a much more rewarding and satisfying life. (2Ti 4:7)

Frustration is what we feel when we’re being blocked from achieving a goal. Something which seems beyond our immediate control is making it difficult or impossible for us to reach a goal and fulfill our sense of purpose. For example, trying to balance a budget when our spouse is constantly overspending. This can cause feelings of anger, grief and depression – and lead to envy, strife, coercion and manipulation (1Co 3:3), passive-aggression and/or violence to try to overcome what’s blocking our way.

The very nature of frustration tells us how we overcome it. By definition, there’s only one way: change – we must adapt and grow. (Ep 4:15) Frustration is God’s way of telling us we’re missing something; the only remedy is to discover what we’re missing – and put another precious piece into the puzzle of our life.

We might have an improper goal: we might be aiming at the wrong thing, or have an expectation that’s misaligned with reality. This often happens when our goals are not within our power to achieve, as when they involve the will of other people — who tend to have different goals than we do. (1Co 16:12)

Proper goals will always be within our personal control, and relate to our own behavior, not that of others. (1Pe 4:15) When the reality of other people’s goals gets in our way, as they inevitably will, we must ether course-correct or continue to bump heads with the universe. The universe will eventually win, needless to say. Wisdom is choosing to grow up by refining our goals, and learning to aim at better things. (Ep 5:17)

Yet, even if our goal is wholesome and good, aligned with reality, within our personal control, we may still be frustrated if we aren’t pursuing it correctly, or with the correct mindset. In this case, we grow by disciplining and controlling ourselves, praying, and adjusting and refining our beliefs, behaviors and expectations so we pursue our goal more patiently and efficiently, reaching our goal in a timely fashion, in accordance with reality.

If our goal is godly, we need not sin against ourselves or anyone else to achieve it. (Ja 1:16) If sinful behavior is necessary to achieve a goal, then it’s not a good goal by definition; it’s misaligned with eternal reality and pursuing it will bring us to ruin. (Ro 6:23)

As we address our frustrations in wisdom, seeking the will of God as our ultimate goal (Php 1:21), we can receive frustration itself as a welcome friend, a gift from God, exposing another area in our lives where He wants us to grow.

As we ask God to show us our hidden goals and motives, and prayerfully expose them to the light of God’s Word (Ps 119:105), He will reveal Himself and His way to us, that we may cleanse our way (Ps 119:9) and have His perfect peace. (Php 4:6-7)

The path of life is full of challenges and difficulty. It is at times bewilderingly painful and complex. As we face each trial in our pursuit God, we should count it all joy (Ja 1:2), realizing God’s glorious intent, constantly adjusting, shifting and growing to be conformed into the image of Christ. (Ro 8:29) This is how we work out our sanctification (Php 2:12), how we press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ. (Php 3:14)

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