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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Friday, September 19, 2014

Maybe They Had Bagpipes

O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.  -- 2 Chronicles 20:12

The story of Jehoshaphat being told here is a well-known and celebrated one, preached over and over like the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego or David and Goliath.  Judah was threatened by an invading army of overwhelming numbers.  The king proclaims a fast and prays.  God answers by telling the people of Judah to send singers and musicians out in front of their forces to praise and glorify the Lord.  The enemy is thrown into confusion, and the allies begin to fight among themselves until they are wiped out.  When Jehoshaphat and his people arrive on the scene, all they have to do is pick up the spoils.

 The message is usually that looking toward God, praising Him, and relying upon Him will enable us to overcome otherwise insurmountable obstacles and be greatly blessed.  It’s a good message, and it’s true, but the key to the whole thing, it seems to me, lies in the couple of sentences above which are part of Jehoshaphat’s prayer. 

We do not know what to do … When we are faced with a terrifying, mind-numbing situation, stricken by loss, suffering, in pain, confused and frightened, that is the first thing we need to realize.  None of the options I can come up with are particularly appealing or offer any hope of success.  This set of circumstances, the demands and threats I face are beyond my experience, knowledge and understanding.  What I am supposed to do?

but our eyes are on you – I don’t have a solution.  I don’t have a pat answer.  The only thing I know to do is to look to You, Lord, to keep my eyes on You, to be ready to take whatever direction You offer. 

In this case, God gave them a specific and somewhat odd instruction.  The “praise team” at church likes to think that the solution is always just to sing “In the Presence of Jehovah” or whatever “powerful” chorus is currently popular.  I would remind them that in another dire situation, also involving Jehoshaphat and a musician, God told them to keep quiet and dig ditches (2 Kings 3).  The point is not to assume that you know what the Lord wants done but to seek Him for what He wants and how He wants to do it this time. 

Sometimes Jesus healed people by speaking a word, sometimes by a touch, one time He spit on a mute’s tongue, another time He spit on some clay and put the mud on a blind man’s eyes.  David was told to use different strategies on different occasions in battling the Philistines.  Samson didn’t carry that jawbone with him everywhere he went. 

That’s not to say that a person can ever go wrong praising the Lord and giving Him glory.  Rather as we serve the Lord and follow Him and are led by the Spirit, we sometimes need to say, "I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on You," and be ready to trust and obey.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Escaping the Elements

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? -- Galatians 4:9

I am an advocate for common sense.  We can avoid a lot of trouble in life solely by paying attention to our sensory inputs, being courteous, and keeping our mouths shut.  When it comes to spiritual truth, however, we need revelation.  Our sense data and the common principles of horizontal relationships are inadequate. 

The Gentiles to whom Paul preached had little to go on other than elementary rules.  From those rudiments, they constructed, we might say, their gods who were fickle and petty, plagued with the same weaknesses as humans.   Occasionally there were flashes of inspiration and glimpses of the absolute as God laid the groundwork for the coming revelation in Christ.  The nations often had an archetype they could link to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There was nothing as full and complete as the Law and the Prophets given to the Jews, but everybody had something. 

Nonetheless, Jew and Gentile alike were, for the most part, in bondage to rules, ceremonies, rituals, and rites meant to appease divine wrath and gain divine favor.  The Jews had the advantage because their God, though requiring careful approach and respect, was perfect.  He was, indeed, “jealous”, not willing to share worship with any idol, not subject to depiction in any form.  He was, in many ways, as Paul proclaimed to the Athenians, the Unknown God. 

Through Christ, though, we come to know God, even more we are known by Him.  He could not know us, be associated with us, befriend us, or call us His children when we were unrighteous and unholy.  We were strangers, alienated from our Father.  The only way for us to be accepted was through the perfect sacrifice, the Cross.  God has been satisfied in His justice, His righteousness, and His holiness.  We are now family.

I no longer have to offer a lamb or a calf on an altar to be in God’s favor, to receive His grace and forgiveness, or to have access to Him in prayer.  I don’t need to worry about being able to get to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles.  God blesses me because I am His child, adopted in Christ – not because I give my tithe.  To ask the one who has put his faith in Christ to go back to appeasing God through ceremony and animal sacrifice is an affront to the blood Jesus shed.  

Yet, I still give to those in need.  I help out ministries.  I don’t commit adultery thereby keeping my wife from committing murder.  I don’t steal, and I try not to lie or covet.  I did my best to honor my parents, and I have no other gods and no graven images.  I’m assuming it’s OK to have some depictions of Jesus and angels and saints.  I do wish I could convince the boss that the buck-naked waterboy statue is of the devil.  I’m still working on the cussing thing and the Sabbath.  I don’t do or not do those things because I’m trying to impress the Lord, but because I want to live and act in a way consistent with my new nature. 

I try to pay attention to the Spirit and follow His leading rather than going by what I see and hear in the natural realm.  I do not want to be in bondage again to the elements of sense.   I do not want to act out of fear but from faith, because … the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).

The Law is good.  The disciplines, rites and ordinances of the Church are good – baptism, communion, prayer, fasting, etc., but they don’t make us right with God.  Only the Blood of the Cross makes us right.  We are set free as children of the King and citizens of the Kingdom, and we ought not be in bondage to anything -- good or bad. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Encouraging Words

I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.  -- Ezekiel 34:16

 I am not having a bad week, but I am tired.  We had some rather large shrubs my wife wanted moved.  It’s a lot of digging if they are supposed to survive.  Last year sometime, I had an eight-inch maple broken by high wind.  Though I’d cleaned up the mess, I had left a three-foot tall stump.  Night before last, I dug that out.  That was a lot of digging and chopping.  No more maples.  And then, last night, more pruning and limb-hauling.  My shoulders, arms and hands hurt.  You’d think I was sixty years old. 

So, with working on a fairly complex fix for some software and writing a relatively long (for me) piece on the other site, I’m pretty well fried.  

This is our verse of the day.  I think it is encouraging, and I need encouragement more than I need to type.  Manana.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Occasional Masquerade

[Let] no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.  For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. – 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4

We, as Christians, have to live with a tension between the grace of God, His protection and provision, and constant tribulation.  There are probably Christians who don’t have any trouble.  The late R.W. Schambach used to say, “You don’t have any trouble.  All you need is faith in God.”  I know what he meant.  We do have trouble, and faith gets us through it.  It’s like Paul saying that our present light afflictions are nothing compared to the weight of the eternal glory these afflictions are working out for us. 

As quoted above, Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica to encourage them.  They had heard that the Apostle was undergoing difficulties and persecution.   The question naturally arises in the minds of some people as to why such a good and godly man, a chosen and highly favored minister of the New Covenant in Christ should be suffering maltreatment and reversals. 

One of my oldest and best friends is an Assembly of God preacher.  We are practically brothers.  W go by the same given name.  Though we are currently separated by close to a thousand miles, if he and his wife needed something or if we did, we would do whatever it takes to get there to help or they to get here.  He, his wonderful wife, and their two adult daughters are all dedicated to serving the Lord in full-time ministry.  They have all kinds of turmoil, sickness, and financial difficulties.  They are better people than I will ever be, yet I couldn’t get sick if I wanted to and I have no debt and adequate money.  Someday I might even get to retire.  They live in a bad area of the country in a rented house in a questionable neighborhood.  By comparison, my situation is paradise. 

Nevertheless, I know that they have the “favor of God”, as people like to say.  Would I trade my situation for theirs?  Perhaps I answered that question twenty-five years ago when I decided that I was not called to be a pastor or minister of any kind, not so much because I feared the trials as because somebody has to plow the corn.  By that time I had met too many preachers who would have made fairly good shoe salesmen.   

Paul didn’t want his friends to be discouraged because of what was going on with them or with him.  God’s protection doesn’t always look much like protection from the world’s perspective.  In fact, sometimes it looks as though God has abandoned or is in hiding from those who most earnestly seek Him. 

God sometimes cloaks Himself, coming to us in places and ways and guises such that we are apt to miss Him if we are not alert and aware.  Our afflictions may be the way through which He gives us new insights, enables us to make new connections, and opens new doors.  He slows us down, keeps us back from some major disaster through a minor one.  We never know, but we can know that He will see us through and that He will never leave or forsake us.  No matter the result, no matter the apparent triumph of evil in the temporal realm, we are victorious in eternity.     

Monday, September 15, 2014

One Head Is Better

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. – James 1:6-8

I know double-minded.  I am all too often of two minds, not just about boxers or briefs – besides that issue has been settled by the greatest development since the loin-cloth, the boxer-brief.  I am of a mind to do the right thing, but it never seems to get done.  Who’s running this show? 

I fear for the status of my sainthood application because I like to dabble in the fleshly mind.  Whenever I had to teach or speak, I would try to “get holy” beforehand, confess all my sins, and pray fervently.  I can relax into double-mind mode.  Being single-minded requires some vigilance, hence the call to watch and pray.  Most non-believers seem to find it fairly easy to stay in single-mind mode on the other side of the divide, though some of the more militant atheists seem to be working harder at it.  Or drinking harder.

With all the benefits of being single-minded, the decision ought to be easy enough.  A person can have wisdom (the context in James), other spiritual gifts, and all the fruit of the Spirit, move mountains and be free of worry and fear.  Life must be better and fuller when there is only one mind and that the mind of Christ. 

In A Canticle for Leibowitz, mutants became known as the Pope’s Children.  The Church which survived the nuclear devastation became again the repository of civilization and the source of order in the long Dark Age that followed.  In mercy and reverence for all human life, there was a papal prohibition against euthanizing the deformed.  Even two-headed monstrosities occurred and were allowed to live.  At the end of the novel, after civilization has been rebuilt, complete with nuclear armaments once again, such a person known as Mrs. Grales wishes to have her other, apparently vestigial head, called Rachel, baptized by the prior.  When humanity once again unleashes destruction upon itself, the head that has been associated with Mrs. Grales goes silent and ‘Rachel’ awakens with an angelic presence.

Being double-minded is equivalent to having two heads.  If we could see it for what it is, we would be repulsed by our malformation.  Many of us wait for crises or difficulties to let the “new” head take over.  We think that day to day cares and concerns have to be handled by the “old” head which seems more pragmatic and sensible and is more acceptable, in many cases, to the people we encounter. 

As an aside, it occurs to me in writing that last statement that one of the reasons for attending church regularly is to encourage, enable, and empower the “new” head by being among other like-minded. 

The old head, like Fred, is dead.  Its time has passed.  The crucial event is not a nuclear holocaust but a cross.  No matter how many other dead heads we must deal with in the world, this is the age of the new, living head.  There is no need to cut it off; just let it go to sleep.  Watch and pray.