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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

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.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Followers

Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered him, "Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward." -- John 13:36 

We never get ahead of God.  As disciples we are, naturally, always following.  Like Peter, we may not know where the Lord is going at a given point in life, so we do not always know -- perhaps we never really know, where we are headed.  And sometimes, as is the case here with Peter, a disciple is told he or she isn't going anywhere but must stay and wait a while.  God seems to go around the bend and leaves us alone, wondering.  There are times when we serve, as Milton said, by standing and waiting.

But the aloneness is seeming only.  Like a watchful father, the Lord's eye never leaves us, though Him we may not see.  Soon, relative to His timetable, a call will come for us to move.  We will be guided along the path that He has walked and prepared for us.  This is what the Apostle learned, and it is what many have learned, I think by necessity, the hard way in the days since.  We make our plans, plot our courses, and, in the end, are led where each must go, to destiny, to death, to destiny beyond death.

I mentioned Milton, and I'll let him say it his way.


When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Among Thorns

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. -- Luke 8:7

When Jesus explained this parable to His disciples, He talked about the cares and pleasures of this life and of riches that are pictured as choking thorns.  It is not that some of us do not have all we need to be fruitful disciples, or that we don't understand the message and hold it in our hearts.  What we lack is exclusivity.  We are not Jesus people as much as Jesus And people.

I am the man in this case.

I was watching an episode of "The Vikings" one evening when it struck me how lightly those people held their lives, in part because they believed in Valhalla for a death in battle, but also because life in this world often held little attraction for them.  There wasn't a whole lot to be attached to.  It was mostly darkness, brutality, physical labor, and, often, intense physical suffering.  Aside from protecting and providing for one's children, life in this world might have seemed hardly worth the effort.

The modern world has its share of suffering, pain, and sorrow, but we are more often immersed in distractions than were our ancestors.  Ours is a world and a civilization with an abundance of all the things that supposedly make life worth living.  Much of what we enjoy has arisen from the Word that has been planted in our hearts.  From this Seed has grown power and prosperity unimaginable to those to whom the Gospel was first preached.

I find that I rarely have to think about Christ or His Church, about heaven or hell, about death and disease.  I can turn on something, change a channel, read, watch, listen, work, and communicate so easily that I can forget about God.  If someone gets me started I can still tell them about the Bible and discuss sin and sanctity, the Holy Spirit or prayer, but I have work that needs to be done.  There are plans to make, trips to take, and cakes to bake.  There is retirement looming, and worries about investments nagging.

All of these things -- some of which are necessary -- can become thorns and thistles springing up, over-growing, and shading us from the direct light of life.   Sometimes the best thing to do is get away from it all, set it all aside.  The Christmas season may not be the best time for that.  It sounds more like Lent.  But we need a time when we weed out those briars before they get too big.  It is something that is going to be a constant for most of us because the daily concerns of life happen daily.  Things are going to keep springing up and needing to be uprooted.   

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Lord Our Banner

He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding … Daniel 2:21

I don't put much trust in governments, presidents, or monarchs. Daniel raises an interesting question as to whether God is “in control” of government. Governments are generally engines of corruption, and the bigger the government, the more corruption is produces. God, however, is not an author or sponsor of evil. He does not even tempt us to evil (James 1:13). The wickedness and decadence of a society come from the heart of man.

God is alive. He is acting. He responds as well as initiates. But He also has laws in place, both physical and spiritual. Bad choices have consequences, as do good choices. When a person, a people, a nation or an empire makes consistently wrong, stupid, unwise, or evil choices, they are going to reap the harvest.

Sometime, several years ago now, writing here, I talked about a remnant. God always has a remnant like the 7000 He spoke of to Elijah (1 Kings 19:18). I believe that the remnant has been praying and seeking God, and I believe that God has responded with an awakening. That doesn't mean I think any kind of utopia is coming, and it is certainly not a time to become comfortable or complacent spiritually. I still believe that hard times are ahead, possibly much chaos, division, violence, even bloodshed. 

 Being awake, watching and praying, doesn't mean we won't have to deal with danger, trouble, and strife; it just means we will be ready for it when it comes. Now is not the time to go back to sleep. No great victory has been won. The enemy is not going to surrender. It is, though, the time to connect, to reach out, to build up from the foundation of the remnant. The next battle is going to be harder, the enemy more conniving and subtle. 

 The devil has, for the last few years, overplayed his hand. Sin makes sin bold. Sin always emboldens itself when it faces no apparent rebuke, but sin, when it is underground and out of sight, may still grow and burst forth in unexpected places. Scandals in the church house, failures by those we trust, betrayals, cowardice -- these are great dangers in a time of awakening. We must guard against discouragement and being disheartened.

The standardbearers are neither perfect nor invulnerable. The banner is what must be upheld and looked to, not the ones who bear it. Our standard is Jehovah-Nissi (Exodus 17:15). Our God does reign.