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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Set Your Heading

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. – Romans 8:3-6

I'm a little rushed today, but ...

I find the verses above to be striking near the crux of my problems as a Christian, and, from what I’ve gathered from talking with other Christians over the years, I may not be entirely alone.  I don’t know that many people actually teach such a thing, but there are those who appear to believe that sanctification is sudden thing – where, if one is properly aligned on the mourners’ bench or whatever, the old nature is more or less eradicated. 

I going to throw this out there:  it is a bad idea to make a doctrine out of anyone’s personal experience, even when we are talking about several “anyones”.  We have denominations that are built and distinguished by little else.  I think it would be good if we could give individuals more room within the overall Church Universal – the one Jesus set up, to worship, serve, and connect with our Lord in their own ways, while being a little less concerned with our labels.  “Christian, Hillbilly” works fine for me.

In any case, my old nature doesn’t go down so easily.  I’ve spent 30 years playing Whack-An-Adam.  What I’ve learned is exactly what Paul says in Romans 8, that it is on what I set my mind that counts.  The sooner I can forget about the thoughts, urges, impulses, and even the mistakes of the old Mushroomic nature the better.  The more I can keep my focus on the new nature, on the truth of Christ in me, the hope of glory, even more better. 

I don’t think we need to let the old nature worry us.  I know we don’t need to listen to it, give in to it, or let it control us.  Jesus has set us free from the necessity of obedience to the flesh, from the bondage we were in, and that part is a completely done deal.  The perfect picture is the argument between Sméagol and Gollum in the film version of The Two Towers.  Sméagol could reject Gollum’s help because he had “the Master”.  We are the same way.  We owe nothing to the flesh.  We take care of the body but cast aside the old ragged cloak of the flesh in which we once trusted and tried to cover ourselves. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

For the Love of the Father

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found. – Luke 15:31-32

Back on March 21, right before everything fell completely apart around here, Lileks wrote an amusing little take on the story of the Prodigal, playing on the weaknesses of human nature and the fact that sometimes people do not change.  It reminded me that the story is not about the lost son so much as the elder brother.

There are three little parables that Jesus tells.  The first is about a lost sheep, verses 4-7: 

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The second, verse 8-10, tells of a woman’s lost coin:  And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.

Did the other sheep, the un-wandering ninety and nine, resent the recovery of their fellow?  Did the nine coins that had not fallen and rolled under the furniture become angry because the tenth coin rejoined them and occasioned rejoicing?  Coins are not capable of jealousy.  I have never spent any time with sheep, but I assume that, like most animals, they might try to butt in to get more attention or more food.  They are hardly capable of bitterness because a stray has been brought in.  I would guess that low and indignant umbrage is most likely, in the material realm, an exclusive feature of our fallen human nature, though it is doubtless a motivator for fallen angels in the higher realms.      

The original writings that have become our Bible did not, of course, have chapters and verses, yet our divisions for the purposes of convenient reference are not always completely arbitrary.  Chapter 15 of Luke is of a piece, and it starts off with this:  Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Because Christ went out teaching and healing and offering hope to all, people who had rejected or been rejected by Judaism were drawn to Him.  Jesus was actively looking for the lost, the strays, the forgotten, even the rebellious, and the Pharisees condemned Him for doing it.   

The Lord said to them, “Look, these are Mine as well.  These are My sheep that have wandered away.  I have come for the very purpose of bringing them in, and I am bringing them.  You ought to be rejoicing.  This is what pleases the God you claim to love.”

That’s the point of it all.      

If we love God we seek to do the thing that pleases Him.  If the elder brother had truly loved his father and not been serving him for what he was going to get, he would have been happy to join the celebration – not necessarily for the sake of his flawed brother but because of the joy of his father.  Instead, the elder brother, like the Pharisees, was embittered by that joy.

I suppose that we in the Raccoon-0-Sphere might be accused of being too tolerant, too willing to accept the truths of any old tradition.  I don’t  think that’s the case, but I do think Christians can forget that, although the descendants of Abraham were and are God’s Chosen People and the lineage of the Messiah, He has always dealt with, spoken to, and called people of all tribes and tongues.  Righteousness and seeking after truth pleases God wherever it occurs even when it is halting and incomplete.  The revelation that came through Abraham’s Seed is the ultimate.  Many, though, throughout the ages, have caught glimpses and snippets and hints.  And God loved them. 

He loves the world.  We are -- every one, His children.    Yes, some of us are very far away in that strange country.  Some remain defiant.  Some are still carousing.  Some are broken.  Some are trying to live on garbage down at the pig pen.  All have strayed.  All can come back.  Those who are back, or who never strayed too much, if we love our Father, we will rejoice when our bedraggled, beaten brothers and sisters appear on the horizon.  However long they have been gone, wherever they have been, whatever they have done, we will be glad, first because our Father is glad, and for His sake, if nothing else, we will join Him in welcoming them home.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What Is In the Darkness

Daniel answered and said:  “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.  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; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him. – Daniel 2:20-22

I need to do this.  My daughter with whom I have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks calls it “verbally vomiting”.  My wife does it and our granddaughter.  They are going to tell you all about what is going on.  Me, I like to digest stuff, which is why everything I write is crap.  But at least I get something out of it. 

I have realized that I do not know what God is doing.  I’m not even sure we can say that God is doing everything that is going on.  What I am sure of, though, is the sovereignty of God in all things, that He is able to, and does, work anything that comes along for the good of those who love Him.  What I cannot doubt is that the Lord has been with us in all that has been happening. 

The reason I picked that passage from Daniel is because he was among those who had been carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon before the siege and destruction of the city and the temple by Nebuchadnezzar.  Daniel and his three famous friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – better known by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – had been neutered.  They were eunuchs in the court of the heathen king.  I would have taken that personally. 

I suppose there wasn’t much they could do, so they did what fell to them.  They served the king with loyalty, did what they could to benefit their people, and -- most of all -- they continued to love, honor, and obey their God.  Israel and Judah had, as a whole, been faithless, but there was always a remnant that remained true and steadfast.  The righteous often suffered along with the apostates and rebels.  That’s the way with all of us. 

We live and operate in a fallen world.  We are behind enemy lines.  In a way, we are captives of the flesh.  If you look at the first few chapters of Daniel as an allegory, it works quite well to give us insight into how to live as Christians dealing with the conflict between our new nature in Christ and the old nature from Adam. 

The pressure is always there, pushing us toward compromise, threatening us with dire consequences if we don’t align our thoughts and behavior with the world, the flesh, and the devil.  The choices that are faced by Daniel and his friends remind us that even in the most difficult places, facing the most daunting challenges, we are free and remain able to live in God’s light, making the choices of obedience and faith. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Latest

As most of you know, my wife experienced a serious health crisis, and it lasted much longer than I had expected.  She is home and getting up and around.  We are very happy and thankful for that and for all the prayers from the Raccoon-0-sphere. 

It was a strange couple of weeks, almost like being in a cocoon.  I lost it a few times, like when my daughter asked the doctor a question, and he answered honestly.  I appreciated why she asked, and I appreciated the doc's honesty, but I still had to go out and cry in the bathroom afterward.  It turned out not to be that bad, for which I am grateful.

Grateful, thankful, appreciative -- those adjectives and their verb and noun forms I have used a lot since last Friday. 

I prayed as much as I could, but there were times when I would run into dead-ends and weariness.  For ten days, I don't think I slept more than three hours out of any twenty-four.  I would doze off in the ICU occasionally, though the nurses are coming and going out of there with great frequency night and day. 

It was in those times that I would become aware that I was not alone, that I was leaning on the prayers of others, that the strength of others was enabling me to keep going.  I don't think I can ever be too grateful or too thankful to God or to you all. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Going Quiet for a Couple of Days

Things are rather discombobulated (I just wanted an excuse to use that word) for the next couple of days.  Catch everybody Monday.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Do You Have the Time?

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. --John 9:4

The Lord made this statement to His disciples because He was on His way to the Cross.  I think that we are to “make hay while the sun shines”.  It is a basic principle of a successful life that we ought to make use of present opportunities – unless the Spirit checks us.  The promises of the future may not be fulfilled. 

Jesus says this in the context of a question from His followers when they came upon a man blind from birth and wanted to know if the cause of this defect lay with the individual or his parents.   Jesus answered, It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:3).  This doesn’t mean, I don’t believe, that God made this man blind just so He could cure him.  A couple of chapters farther on, Jesus says something similar with regard to the illness of Lazarus being a condition that “does not lead to death” but being for the glory of God (John 11:4). It means that God seizes the opportunities created by evil and the consequences of our living in a fallen world to bring us life, encouragement, hope, and joy.

I do not often know why things happen.  In this sense, any work that I do is usually done in the dark.  I do what my hand finds to do (Ecclesiastes 9:10) as best I can.  I cannot know if it will make much difference in the course of history, but it will make a difference in me and possibly in another person or two that I am able to help out. 

We say we want workers to be paid a “living wage” yet we decry employers like Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby because they are owned by Christians.  We mock, attack, and ridicule Christianity and Christian values then are shocked to find that businesses, corporations, and governments are concerned only with money, power, and control and are rife with corruption, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and scandal.  We celebrate degeneracy and decadence and wonder why things are dying and going downhill.

The cure for America is not to pass laws requiring us to treat one another like – I don’t know – maybe Christians, but for us as individual Christians to live like Christians regardless of the government or the media or what other people think.  Right now that is not too hard, but it is getting harder quickly.  When the government can force businesses to fund abortions or bake cakes in violation of their convictions and religious beliefs, we are bordering on persecution.   

The time to get on the right track is now.  The time to do the right thing is now.  The time to stand up together against tyranny and government overreach is now.  The time for fervent prayer is now.  The time for radical obedience is now.  The time to do the works of Him who sends us is now.  

The time is now.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pi Day and Rational Astrology

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.  -- Psalms 139:16

In addition to being Pi Day and Albert Einstein’s birthday, 3/14 was a birthday shared by a couple of family members -- one now gone where no lines or cell towers blight heaven’s views and another I will call before the day is out and perhaps see tomorrow.  It seems as though birthdays have a tendency to cluster.  My sister’s birthday is at the end of August, her husband and three of their four kids have birthdays in September with the fourth born in early October.  My son and his two kids are all April.  My sister-in-law has six kids, having popped them out mostly around her late husband's birthday in September or October.  Those who share or nearly share a birthday do, sometimes, seem to have a similar nature. 

There are some pretty mundane explanations for certain women being more likely to get pregnant at certain times of the year.  As for personality similarities, it’s probably confirmation bias, and, just as there are really only seven plots in fiction, there are only a limited number of human characteristics of which we are aware. 

I quit reading my horoscope many years ago, but at one time I worked with a nice, intelligent lady who offered to “do a chart” for me.  When I laughed, she readily agreed that newspaper horoscopes were meaningless.  She, though, knew all about sun signs and wanted to know the time of day a person was born and a bunch of other stuff that made it more thorough and scientific sounding.  Perhaps, like psychotherapy, it might have some value depending upon the insight and wisdom of the practitioner. 

This was sometime in the ‘80s – I remember she had a thing for Oliver North who was testifying in the Iran Contra hearings -- and, for what it’s worth, she told me that “real” astrologers believed at that time that the Antichrist was alive, having been born, I believe, around 1960 or 1961.  Yes, guess what I remembered a few years back. 

What I do believe, though, is that a person’s birthday is chosen for him or her.  The season, the date, the likely weather, and perhaps even the day of the week and the time of day can be factors that help determine who we are and how we will react to things as we grow older.  We are where we are and how we are “for such a time as this”.  The Lord ordained the place and the hour at which you and I entered this world.  It was no accident, no coincidence.  The part we play may be small or great, but it’s our part.