Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Love and Prophecy

He allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, saying, "Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!" -- 1 Chronicles 16:21-22

Sometimes this passage gets quoted by people who might be or claim be or think they are prophets.  These days prophecy seems to be where you find it.  Maybe it always was, but finding God's will in our lives is rarely, if ever, a matter of a self-proclaimed prophet, the Pope, the President, or some celebrity's proclamation over us.

Our circumstances, the odd breaks we get -- serendipity is prophetic.  We find ourselves where we are supposed to be.  I recall a phrase that I read somewhere long ago admonishing the reader to "love it the way it is".  Using "love" was kind of odd, but I took it as accepting and trusting in God's goodness no matter what happens.

I was reading an old book about the sovereignty of God.  The author was clearly a Calvinist.  I'm not, but I do think God is always sovereign in the long run.  God is the perfect and ultimate counterpuncher.  This is why hubris is so dangerous, and why we should never gloat over our enemies' failures.

We are in a dance with the Lord.  He knows what He wants to do, and, as the perfect partner, makes even our missteps look graceful by always being where He should be.  He has no use for the automaton that would be required for fixed and fastened predestination.  Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17) because God wants us to love Him as He loves us, and compulsory love with programmed obedience is not worthy of the name. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Finding the Enemy

A poetic break from the Shepherd's Psalm.

There is a war that goes on,
Arising from the shadows,
Escapes to plane and sphere,
Endless as Zeno's arrows.
And we, given over to fears,
Resist, and seek to evade,
In a myriad of courses run
--running, running under the sun,
Evade the price to be paid.
And yet coming to still water,
The world looks in its mirror,
Hears the call of the augur,
Waits, at last, for the shearer.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Losing Myself in Translation

He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. -- Psalm 23:3

Inward purification is a lifelong process.  To remain in communion with God calls for a constant state of turning toward God and away from what we might call the "sense life".  The word for that is metanoia.  In Psalm 51, the repentant David cries out, "Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit with me."

Restoration begins with breaking down, planting begins with uprooting, life begins with death.  I don't have cable or satellite, but, at a friend's house, our favorite shows to watch are things like "Fast and Loud" where they take some old car and hotrod it.  You'll never have a beautiful, fast, reliable car until you take the body off, find the flaws, the broken, worn out parts, the rust, and corrosion.  You can't just slap a new paint job on.

This is the (particularly, the evangelical) church's error in the modern age.  We want to meet Jesus, have a nice visit, get a word, a blessing or an experience we can talk about then leave.  We want to get cleaned up and looking good on the outside.  We somehow think this exterior renewal will penetrate to the heart.

Far better that we continue looking externally rough while undergoing a metamorphosis from the inside out through a renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2).  Who cares that we continue to look like a caterpillar for a while.  The end result is what we seek.

The second part of our verse reminds us that not only does transformation take time, but that no restoration is permanent this side of the grave.  We have to continue to walk with the Shepherd in His paths of righteousness in order to sustain and maintain the renewal and restoration.  Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us that the Lord's steadfast love and mercies are unending and "new every morning".  We can meet those new mercies and that ceaseless love with our own commitment to walk right today.  No matter how good (or bad) yesterday was, today has the potential to be better, with more love and grace on God's part and a greater dedication to metanoia and purity on our part.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Expected, Reflected

He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters. -- Psalm 23:2

Green pastures would be, for sheep, the place of replenishment and finding satisfaction.  I’m stealing this from someone, but I can’t remember who it is.  I ran across it just a day or two ago.  It is a suggestion that in dealing with our idols in life, we take the text of Psalm 71:1-2 and substitute that idol’s name for the Lord:  In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!  In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!
In you, O work, do I take refuge …
In you, bank account, do I take refuge …
Alcohol, meth, pornography, anger, government, in you do I take refuge, deliver me, rescue me, save me.

None of those things or any other will work.  It is only the place to which the Good Shepherd leads us that satisfies.  Too, wherever it is He leads us is the green pasture.  It may not seem that way at first, but we learn to let go of our expectations.  The way to bitterness, unhappiness, and discontent -- the way to hell, really, is to refuse to release our expectations of how things ought to be.  We don’t know what ought to be.  Every false religionist and every practical atheist believes they know better than reality.  The unbeliever knows exactly what a green pasture should look like, and it never matches the reality he finds himself in. 

The “oughts” will kill you and kill your faith.  I struggled for a long time because I believed that good should always triumph over evil.  It’s true, but only at the Omega point, the end in eternity.  Eventually all wrongs will be righted.  All wickedness will cease.  That is not for this world.  Not yet.  So remember, where the Shepherd is, the pasture is green. 

Walking a green pasture beside still water is a beautiful picture.  My margin note says that the Hebrew could be read “waters of rest”.  In the presence of the Lord, our spirit is like that deep pool of quiet water.  I can see it, not a ripple disturbing the surface, giving a perfect reflection of the sky, as our quiet spirit perfectly reflects the image of Christ.  Some of us get this once in a while, in our better moments. Those we think of as saints are in that place almost all the time.  Jesus, of course, lived every moment of His Incarnate life that way.  It’s my goal.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Shepherd's Rest

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  -- Psalm 23:1
I suppose this could be taken as a “prosperity” verse, and it is, in a way.  It’s something that might be said with regard to the Way in Taoism.  The Lord is there for us, with us, listening and responding as the shepherd looks after, is with, and attends to his sheep.  God interacts with us where we are, as we are.  He is Good -- this is certain, but our attitude may alter the character of His goodness.  Good to the straying lamb is the discipline that brings it back in line. 

We will lack nothing that we need, whether provision, favor, opportunity, strength, and wisdom – or weakness, loss, fear, confusion, and dead-ends.  Whatever is needed, whatever it is we lack to perfect us in Christ, this the Shepherd will provide. 

Even that makes it sound too much like an arrangement or a formula.  That’s not what it is.  It is a play of yielding and seeking, humility and trust that casts aside anxiety.  The Lord is my shepherd.  I follow Him, trust Him, knowing that it will never be given to me to figure out all that is or can be.  Yet, walking right here next to me is One who knows.  Even if He told me how it all is, I wouldn’t understand apart from an inkling in analogy, a hint from poetry. 

I can’t grasp it completely, but I can trust completely.  It is the secret of living in the peace of God; it is the rest of which Hebrews 4:3 speaks, “For we who have believed enter that rest …”.  All we need waits for us there.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Quote of the Day

The universe will never be extinguished because just when the darkness seems to have smothered all, to be truly transcendent, the new seeds of light are reborn in the very depths. That is the Way. When the seed falls, it falls into the earth, into the soil. And beneath, out of sight, it comes to life. -- Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Damage Done

Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land the LORD your God is giving you -- Deuteronomy 16:20

As we learn from Jesus, justice can be tempered with mercy, but you can't get to mercy without going through justice.  Injustice may not be merciful at all.

Consider the situation where a poor man steals food to feed his family.  Most of us would be more likely to be understanding and willing to excuse that -- especially if he stole from someone who could "afford" to lose the food.

We might, conversely, be more likely to condemn a rich man and judge him more harshly for robbing or cheating a poor person.  It's the season for It's A Wonderful Life, and Old Man Potter comes easily to mind.

From a social or financial point of view, our lack of mercy for the rich man compared to our willingness to overlook the infraction of the poor makes sense.  God, though, isn't talking in terms of dollars and cents but of soul and spirit.

Stealing, extortion, embezzlement, or any other crime, whatever the excuses made for the perpetrator, even if it does little harm to the victim, there is a victim, and there is harm to the one who commits the crime as well.

Sadly, there is very little justice in our American legal system.  It would be good if we could return to a more biblical view of human nature.  I am not an expert in this area.  All I know is there is not much in the way of restitution, rehabilition, or restoration.

From the Christian point of view, with regard to sin, the primary aggrieved party is not the State or even, necessarily, the victim, but God.  David committed adultery and murder, yet in Psalm 51, he cried out, "Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight ..." (verse 4).

I remember reading that and thinking, Yeah, well, old Uriah got the short end of the stick, too.  What about him?  The answer is that Uriah suffered and was treated unjustly and unfairly, but the sin was against God Himself.  David wasn't forgetting what a lousy thing he had done to his loyal and valiant soldier, but there was nothing he could do to restore Uriah to life and give him back his wife's fidelity.  But because God lives, David could get right with Him.  God could then make it up to Uriah -- somehow.

When we fail to render justice for a person's actions, we fail to encourage that person to make it right with God.  We allow a wounded, damaged soul to go unhealed.  It doesn't take much imagination to see how that impacts public figures, politicians and celebrities.  In fact, it almost seems as if they feel compelled to commit ever greater transgressions, as if the soul craves justice and want to be called to account that it might be, once again, be made whole.

But it's not just the rich and famous who "get away with murder" and let the corruption eat away at their hearts and minds; it happens to the poor and the disadvantaged as well.  Our unjust mercy has created an underclass of people who think they are justified in degrading and corrupting themselves because poverty and lack of opportunities are acceptable excuses.

Justice is good for everyone.  Without it, society becomes a well-paved road to hell.