Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Path of Least Resistance

This is a struggle I had from several years ago. I was consumed with the idea that one might see the direction of their future by the direction of the path of their past history, but at the same time, I couldn’t understand why I was struggling with not having what I wanted. Maybe some other pastors could share my feelings with where I was coming from, or not even pastors, but just anyone. Where do you think your life path has taken you? What has the Lord brought you through and why?

Is the principle of the path of least resistance a pattern that stretches across the many facets of life? Or is it just limited to the physics we encounter in life? In any event, keep reading and see where I was…

I have had several different careers throughout my life. Anything from factory working, to tree felling, to electrician, to heavy equipment operator, to leather tanner. There is something I learned from looking back at all of these careers, as well as the other activities in my life that I spent a considerable amount of time doing, such as hiking through the deep woods, target shooting, etc., and what I learned is that everything seems to have one major thing in common: the path of least resistance.

Hogging dirt in the trough.
When I was a heavy equipment operator, I would frequently operate a D-9 Caterpillar, which is a pretty enormous machine. Weighing in at over 100,000 pounds, having a 15 feet wide blade, I could push an immense amount of dirt. If I were doing something called “hogging” dirt, which means moving as much dirt as fast as possible, I and every bulldozer operator out there knows that the more you shove the blade into the earth, the slower the machine goes. Bulldozers have the ability to tilt their blade, and if the operator tilted his blade too much to one side, then the bulldozer would struggle to go in a straight line because all the weight of the dirt would be on one side of the machine (The path of the least resistance for the bulldozer was dependent on the depth, and angle of the blade).

If you can’t picture that, consider laying sewer pipe (well, don’t consider it, but I mean think about it with me). If the pipe headed downhill, and all the sudden, there is a rise in the pipe, what happens? The flow stops, or pools. In construction, we know well that these things take the path of least resistance, so we have laser levels and pipe levels and GPS for the bulldozer and all kinds of other things to help us create the path of least resistance.

Working for a master electrician, I learned all about electricity (sometimes, the hard way). I learned that a ground rod had to go really deep, because lightning will take the path of least resistance. All of the outlets have to have a “ground wire” so that the electricity can take the path of least resistance. Sometimes, I personally was the path of least resistance for the electricity, and got a bite “BZZZT!” In any event, that part wasn’t fun, but at least I was alert for the rest of the day.

Between the fence posts was the goal.
Growing up, I would watch my dad, who was a logger, cut trees down, and so I learned how to do it myself by watching him. I learned that trees fall in the path of least resistance when they’re dead, but when you cut them, you can manipulate their path of least resistance. In other words, I can make a tree fall in a direction that is not natural for it to fall, because I am in essence, making a new nature for it. Either way, whether a dead tree about to fall on its own or a tree being cut for harvest or because it is dangerous, the tree takes the path of least resistance. Often times, people who do not know how to cut a tree make the tree decide the path of least resistance because of ignorance, or what one might call, “operator error.”

Anyways, we have well established the path of least resistance. But, just in case, let’s consider one more. I love to explore. I love walking through the deepest brush, where most people would not dream of going. I try to leave the smallest imprint and leave no tracks behind. Sometimes I trailblaze, but that is different than when I trudge through the bush. On these journeys, I often encounter wildlife and their signs (or even skeletons). When there is snow on the ground, there are deer tracks all over the forest, almost like raindrops, depending where you are. Most of the time, these deer tracks are in single file, all going down the same path. If there were moguls in the middle of the woods, the deer would walk between them. They would take the path of least resistance. At the same time, they do not want to get shot by hunters, so they can’t just walk around an empty field, so the path of least resistance in the deep woods on the deer trails is a popular choice.

These and several other things got me thinking about something... I was actually in the woods and noticed all of these deer trails and how they avoided certain things when I considered writing about this subject. The subject at hand is God’s will. I’m not talking about God’s will for mankind or God’s general will, but I am talking about His special will or His personal will. “What is God’s will for my life?” that is a question that I frequently ponder. Who is to say that I am not in God’s will now? It seems that I will never know when I am in God’s will, because that might mean that I won’t need to seek Him anymore. That is not what I am discussing here though. As I mentioned, I have had several different types of careers, and I’ll even introduce you to some new ones: cook, furniture mover, landscaper, small engine mechanic, and when I said “factory worker” above, what I meant was that it is horrific how many different factories I have worked at in my life. What I want to know is the final place.

It seems that all of these skills and education (both formal and informal), would lead me to excel at something at least. What could it possibly be? I feel that I have a deep desire to “contend for the faith” and “correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction,” and because of such, I feel that I am headed in the right direction with ministry. I am passionate about these things. I am passionate about apologetics. I have an M. Div. in apologetics as a matter of fact. Now I am left with one thing. What is the path of least resistance? What is that which comes most naturally to me in ministry? Where am I most effective?

I am a senior pastor currently, and I frequently feel that I am not effective at all, but that most of the congregants are just “stubbornly loyal.” I find it very depressing when someone leaves the church, and I find it depressing failing to bring people into the church. Therefore I question my ability to lead a church. If I am not supposed to lead a church then, because my effectiveness for it is nonexistent, then what is it that I should do? I have 9 years of education in ministry. It is unbelievable that God would send me through all of that and not use it.

I look back and see where I was effective in ministry. I was effective recently leading men’s group, I was effective 10 years ago as a youth leader… I am effective counseling people and couples. I am effective guiding people one on one. I am effective with certain sermon topics…

Acts 16:6-8 says, “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.

Acts 27:7-8. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.

Looking back, I believe my problem was that I was reaching for heaven. What I mean by that is that I wanted to find the perfect end result. I wanted to know the final place. Realistically, I think that my heart was not in the right place. I wanted heaven on earth, but in reality, no one will ever come to that point because of the flesh. The issue is, I am not the only part of the equation. There are other people and things, and the other parts of this path of least resistance depend on the Great Manipulator (one might also think of Him as the Great Conductor, which will be discussed below). He is the one who manipulates the path of least resistance, much like the operator controlling the blade of the bulldozer or the sawyer felling a tree, or growing trees for deer to go around.

Now, it seems to me that there are two types of manipulation of the path of least resistance from the Great Manipulator. The first is a manipulation which is immediate, or present, so to speak. Just like in the case of Paul traveling in his boat with difficulty, but still actually going somewhere. This could seemingly be considered a miraculous event, because God is clearly manipulating the contents in the universe in order to carry out His divine plan. (One could argue that this wind is the result of a series of causes from the beginning, but Paul was in the right place at the right time. Continue reading for the conduction of these events).

The second type of manipulating the path of least resistance is basically the cause of the least resistance for a future event, or several possible future events. The tree grew here and not there, and therefore, the hunter is able to take a shot at the deer because it had to slow down for a turn coming up in the path of least resistance through the forest. This path could provide a hunter with food every year (I live in Montana, so bear with me). The deer could have trudged through the thick brush, but it doesn’t. God causes the path of least resistance to look the way it does for future events. He knew what needs were coming, and therefore provided for those needs. He knows all counterfactuals, yet he knows which path people will choose. He doesn’t force them to take the path of least resistance, but He knows which of the many paths one will take and manipulates accordingly.

I briefly alluded to the Great Conductor above, so I want to further elaborate on that for a moment.

The Great Manipulator and the Great Conductor… what is the difference? The Great Manipulator creates the path for the life of an individual, specifically speaking, with special will, and the Great Conductor makes the multitudes of these paths fit together, no matter how diverse the components of the individual.
The Great Conductor takes all of the ingredients of all of the paths of all of the individuals, and causes them to work in symphony. Since God is sovereign, His conduction of the symphony is flawless. There are clearly several paths of least resistance working in action simultaneously on an individual level, and as such, the abrasive interference of other paths would be inevitable, were it not for the Great Conductor. Therefore, the Great Conductor conducts all manipulations of paths of least resistance. This convinces me that not only does God have a special will for us, but that we can know some part of it beforehand.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” –James 4:7-8

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus

Friday, September 28, 2018

Roadkill Resurrection

Yes, I put the informal title first. Here's the real one: What to say to People who Demand more Evidence for God.
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Glacier National Park. © 2018.
The question is, how much evidence do you require? Would Jesus have to come back and slap you in the face with evidence that He is God? It seems to me that there is a line we must draw. We do this in all other areas of our lives, so why would we treat theism any different? When a court convicts, they do so “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I would like to take a few moments to explore this a bit.
But before we get to that, I want to pose a question, which is… why are you the standard? What makes you think He has to prove His existence to everyone individually? He already created the universe from nothing. In the beginning, there was a big bang. Seriously… do you believe your mom when she tells you a story about her day? Did you believe the reports of 9/11 when they were happening? Do you accept the testimony of anything you hear on social media, but not in things that have been attested thoroughly?
Jesus’ disciples, who were thoroughly Jewish, completely abandoned their faith and converted to Christianity... because of the evidence. They saw Him walk on water, turn water into wine, raise people from the dead, saw Him dead and raised to life again. If anyone of us saw these things, it would change our lives forever, just as it did with these men.
They were not anyone special. The Bible paints them in a light of almost being bumbling knuckleheads. They frequently asked Jesus strange questions; they didn’t understand a lot of Jesus’ teaching on the spot, signifying that they may have had poor comprehension; they denied Him; they abandoned Him when things got hot. They were all thoroughly human, as we can clearly see. So what makes their testimony about Jesus so powerful?
Imagine you saw in your neighborhood road kill on the side of the road, flattened like a wet sweater, and you kept on seeing it disintegrate and degrade, day after day. You knew whose cat it was and you felt bad for the little girl who is going to have to come to grips with losing it. You watch the mom and dad of the little girl scrape up the cat off the road in front of their little girl with a snow shovel, and they dug a hole for it and had a funeral for the sake of the little girl. You saw the mound every morning when you were drinking your coffee.
One day you look outside and see the mound dug up. You first think it was the dog of the neighbor on the other side of the road, and you grumble under your breath that you hate dogs. “They are so stupid.” You say. Then later that day you see this same cat alive, and in the arms of the little girl. Her parents are standing there beside her, bewildered. You asked her about it and she said that this was the same cat. You could still see the tire treads across his back. You knew this was the same animal, because it had the same markings in his fur and such, but also because you knew the quirky personality of the cat.
This experience, if it were true, would change your life forever, even after being in the Psych Ward 12 years. You would still talk about it. You would not be able to keep silent, even after being highly medicated. It would impact your life so immensely, the only way you would stop talking about it is if you were dead.
The Disciples of Christ took what they saw to the grave. They died for simply what they believed. At the threat of death, don't you think they would have recanted if it were all false or some kind of joke? We have evidence because of their testimony, but not only because of their testimony. The evidence for Christianity is a cumulative case. Do the research for yourself. Don't just look at things against it, but also for it. Discover the truth.

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus

Friday, August 10, 2018

Healthy Fear

I was a men’s group leader for a large group of guys in Pennsylvania and we always did things with wood, whether it was cutting logs for firewood and then chopping them up. One time, the young group of guys got all excited because they found a bunch of pine trees that were freshly cut laying on the side of the road for free and they filled their pickup full of these giant logs. Quite literally, some of them were the size of a loveseat. It was kind of a strong man thing. But we had this fire pit that was smaller and so we had to cut these logs the size of loveseats up and then chop them. We had crazy bonfires… I had my chainsaw and one of them borrowed their brother’s chainsaw, you know how that goes, and I let some of the guys run mine. One could easily tell the guys who have run them before from those who haven’t. The ones who have run them, would actually cut the logs efficiently. The ones who haven’t, would cut the logs with terrified and timid motions, unproductively and inefficiently. They knew that there was a sharp chain revolving around the bar at several hundred RPMs, so they stayed away from it as much as possible. They didn’t want to admit that they never ran a chainsaw, but you could tell that they were very uncomfortable handling one, let alone cutting logs.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” –Proverbs 1:7

What a fitting verse for the beginning of the book of Proverbs. A book which seeks to bring wisdom to its readers. What does it mean to fear the Lord? Why would we fear such a loving and good God? How does it even make sense that we should fear God?
Because God is the one who created us, He is the one who can destroy us as well. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Ouch… Why would we put our trust and hope in such a being? Because God is good.
We forget that God is who He is (Exodus 3:14), and that we are not God. We become so desensitized about our relationship with God and we lose our reverence for Him. Desensitization won’t happen overnight, but we get more and more comfortable with His mercy and grace that we eventually take it for granted. This is something that, as Christians, we simply need to continue to wake up and smell the coffee again and again.

When my wife had her close friend over from a different state, they were planning to go on a hike, and I suggested that they take some protection (We now live in the Rocky Mountains). I grew up around guns, my dad is a master gunsmith and I learned a lot about guns from him and I am very comfortable around them. My wife, on the other hand grew up in what my fellow villagers and I would call a city. When it came to hiking time, her and her friends seemed hesitant to take protection. I said things like, “Well, you might regret not taking protection if a bear is chewing on your foot.” Or, “If a mountain lion etc., etc.” I won’t go into detail. But then they were afraid to go on a hike. I told them that now they were ready. There is a method to my madness… “You have a realistic picture of what could happen, and you will be more alert while hiking. You’ll be more awake.” We must have a healthy fear.
Fear is, despite what people tell you today, a friend we should keep close to us. Fear keeps us alive. I don’t mean that we should live in an unhealthy fear, this is why there is a qualifier of health. It must be healthy fear. I coined this phrase because I recognized that much fear is unhealthy, if not completely irrational. We do not let fear rule our lives, but we do not want to be oblivious.
I once saw a billboard for an insurance company that said, “Live fearless” (not fearlessly).  It showed a person jumping out of an airplane and a smile on his face. This, I think kind of goes in the wrong direction a bit. Should we just carelessly do whatever we want because we have good health insurance? No, because accidents, the last time I checked, still involve pain and death. “But you’re covered!” You get the idea, I am just using this for clarity.
It is just like the chainsaw. A person who has never handled a chainsaw would never go ripping and tearing through the woods, full throttle, knowing the danger ahead of them. They would have a healthy fear of the chainsaw and the trees, and they would proceed with great caution. We have a natural healthy fear of these kinds of things, so why do we lose our healthy fear of God?
In every area of our lives, we continually live like this. When someone learns that they have diabetes from their doctor, or high blood pressure, our first reaction is fear. Our diets immediately change, even if it is only for a week. We do this out of having a healthy fear. So why would we not continue to fear God? The one thing that we should realistically revere. Fearing God means that we should fear what He does to evil. We should fear His wrath. This is something that we should never be comfortable with, even as Christians.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (emphasis mine). This is something that should keep us on the right track. We should remain aware of what we are doing with our lives. Are we building on the true foundation? If we do not build on the true foundation, whether we use costly materials or garbage, it will be burned up. Then we will realize that all that we have done in our lives, all the work we pour into what we have built will be for nothing. We will suffer because all of the years we poured our lives into our passions, if it was not built on the foundation, it will be as if it never happened. This should cause us to have a healthy fear of what we are doing with, and through, our lives.

“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”

--Ecclesiastes 12:13

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus