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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dueling Dualists



I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. -- Isaiah 45:5-6


If the world were as we would like it rather than as it is, and our beliefs and faith could be placed in our preferences and inclinations instead of being grounded in truth, I think I would like to be a dualist, perhaps something like a Zoroastrian.  There’s nobility to the idea of light and darkness battling, of nearly co-equal forces in a conflict where one must conquer and the other fall, so that, in the end, instead of a cosmos where the Creator and the Destroyer clash, the mountains will be leveled, and there will be only light. 

It can be hard for us to reconcile the goodness of the Father of Lights with all the darkness we see in and around us.  It is easier to believe that the Good God has limits in battling against a being nearly His equal than that He allows pain, suffering, and senseless death to ravage His creation.  Yet that path is not open to us.  The devil is a creature, more powerful than humans, but still an entity given audience along with the sons of God (Job 1:6) and, doing, whether he knows it or not, the will of God. 

God is without equal.  There is no standard against which He may be measured for He is the standard.  What He says is truth, and what He does is righteous.  He is light, and He is love.  The vastness and majesty of the universe is a song He sings.  Nobody else is running anything. 

We have freedom because we were made in His image and likeness.  We can rebel, delude ourselves, align ourselves with darkness, and exalt the gods of our vain imaginations.  God remains, I fear, less than shaken by our grandiosity.  In some cases, He smiles at our stumbling waywardness.  Other times, He laughs.  Every once in a while, He gets up and says, Enough.

I think there might be some of us, maybe a lot of us, fixing to get shut down.  Too many people think that if they simply ignore God, He will go away.  They think they are defying Him by denying Him.  It doesn’t work that way.  He says even to those who don’t know Him, who refuse to know Him, He is still the One enabling and empowering them.  Their very breath is His. 

The law was not passed in Washington, D.C., nor in Belgium or Beijing.  The rules are God’s and the game is God’s.  We have the choice to play by the rules or against the rules.  In the end, a person does not cheat the Lord, only oneself.  Like our would-be friend the devil, whether we would or not, whatever our intentions, whether we choose to do good or evil, our works and our words will serve the will of God, in light or in darkness. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Open to Heaven



The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.  … Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD; how much more the hearts of the children of man! -- Proverbs 15:3, 11


When I listen to people talk, I find that a lot of our complaints and concerns seem to revolve around fairness and justice.  Sometimes we worry that our efforts are ignored and our motives misunderstood.  The other thing that bothers us is when people we think are probably acting from wrong motives are not exposed and their deeds thwarted. 

It also comes as a shock to us that instant karma doesn’t always work in our favor.  We do a favor for someone, and they either forget about it or even turn against us.  We do our best to be honest and fair, yet the world takes advantage of us.  After a few rounds of getting stabbed in the back, that whole turning the other cheek thing has a lot less appeal.    

I think we ought to make a full disclosure when asking people to follow Christ.  Jesus did it.  He said the world has hated Me, and it is going to hate you if you follow Me.  We need to tell our youth in the churches and new Christians not to expect favorable treatment or even equity in their dealings with others just because they are Christians.  Don’t expect it from the world, certainly, but don’t be surprised if those calling themselves Christians turn on you when it is to their advantage.  God is the only One you can trust absolutely. 

Our fair treatment will come from God.  He is the source of all justice, of all goodness, of all retribution, recompense, and compensation.  He will reward us not just for our successes and accomplishments but for our efforts and our faithfulness and our obedience – because He knows.

It was scary to me that God knew my thoughts – it’s probably even scarier to God.  All my evil imaginings lie open before the eyes of the Lord.  The Spirit of God knows the wickedness in the depths of my heart.  He knows the real reasons – whether cowardice, lust, laziness, or vindictiveness – behind my fa├žade of pleasant words.  Then one day I realized that if He knows the bad side, He also knows the good side.  He knows the times that I have set aside my own preferences to help someone or given more than I could spare or pushed myself past the limit, sacrificed for another.  He knows the times that I was terrified yet kept going.  And, while, despite my best efforts, the bad would outweigh the good, Jesus has His thumb on the scale.  In the end, it is His righteousness that will deliver me and not my own. 

The beauty of it all is that we can be perfectly honest with God.  There are things about me that I cannot tell to anyone, but God knows.  My sins are forgiven and forgotten, and the burden of all has been taken away.  Still there are things that have happened that weren’t as much moral failures as they were just horribly embarrassing.  God knows about those.  He knows what I was thinking when I did something stupid.  He knows the sickness and self-loathing I felt when I took the easy way out a few times, the relief I felt when a potential challenge passed me by.  All that stuff, no matter what it is or what it was, we don’t have to pretend or forget to protect our “image”.  With God there is nothing we can hide behind, but there’s also nothing we need to hide.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Speaking of Lewis and Higher Laws



For who can suppose that God’s external act, seen from within, would be that same complexity of mathematical relations which Nature, scientifically studied, reveals?  It is like thinking that a poet builds up his line out of those metrical feet into which we can analyze it, or that the living speech takes grammar as its starting point.   But the best illustration of all is Bergson’s.  Let us suppose a race of people whose peculiar mental limitation compels them to regard a painting as something made up of little coloured dots which have been put together like a mosaic.  Studying the brushwork of a great painting, through their magnifying glasses, they discover more and more complicated relations between the dots, and sort these relations out, with great toil, into certain regularities.  Their labour will not be in vain.  These regularities will in fact “work”; they will cover most of the facts.  But if they go on to conclude that any departure from them would be unworthy of the painter, and an arbitrary breaking of his own rules, they will be far astray.  For the regularities they have observed never were the rule the painter was following.  What they painfully reconstruct from a million dots, arranged in an agonizing complexity, he really produced with a single lightning-quick turn of the wrist, his eye meanwhile taking in the canvas as a whole and his mind observing the laws of compositions which the observers, counting their dots, have not yet come within sight of, and perhaps never will.  I do not say that the normalities of Nature are unreal.  The living fountain of divine energy, solidified for the purposes of this spatio-temporal Nature into bodies moving in space and time, and thence, by our abstract thought, turned into mathematical formula, does in fact, for us, commonly fall into such and such patterns.  In finding out those patterns, we are gaining real, and often useful, knowledge.  But to think that a disturbance of them would constitute a breach of the living rule and organic unity whereby God, from His own point of view, works, is a mistake.  If miracles do occur then we may be sure that not to have wrought them would be the real inconsistency.   C.S. Lewis, Miracles, Chapter XII, “The Propriety of Miracles”, p. 97

The nice thing about a blog is that sometimes you run across something that you would not have remembered otherwise, like Higher Laws, wherein I also quote Lewis, but this time from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
”It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. …”
And
The foundation of the Christian faith is that the basis of human life is redemptive, and on that basis, God performs His miracles (Oswald Chambers).
What I said then I must need to be reminded of today:

Paul says it himself – it is foolishness to the perishing. A vast universe, eons of time, billions of years of life and death and mud and blood, millions of species passing into oblivion, and it is all to bring us to an insignificant little knoll beside a dusty road on the edge of a squalid town in a backwater country. It is laughable. Yet the alternative is not just that Jesus died for nothing, but that man lives, in anything more than a purely physical way, for nothing. Either we are sons of God being redeemed from enslavement to the material and temporal, or we are self-deluded animals driven by forces we cannot control even if we should understand them.

[B]ecause God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom -- those who accept the redemptive basis of human life find that there has been an amazing pattern running through their lives. Like pieces of a puzzle falling into place, what made no sense suddenly fits in the picture. There was an accident that seemed to be a mere inconvenience but revealed a truth about myself. There was a chance meeting with an old friend that reinforced a good decision. There was a disaster that opened many hearts to God’s comforting presence. Some will question: Does God allow death and destruction merely to get people’s attention? Why doesn’t He just speak directly to us or give us a sign instead? Not attention, redemption. 
…and on that basis, God performs His miracles. The miraculous serves the redemptive. I believe in miracles, but I do not believe that God ever violates the laws of the cosmos. It is that the law of redemption is higher than any other law, even in this world. Turning stones into bread at the devil’s behest is a conjurer’s trick, and Satan’s hand must be in it. But feeding a multitude by multiplying bread is the hand of God operating through the law of redemption. 


 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

And You Don't Even Have to Dance Like Fred Astaire



Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. – Isaiah 55:1-2


We have patent leather, fake fur, artificial flavors, and even imitation bacon bits.  So much of what we see is staged and choreographed and photoshopped.  Next to the dentist my wife goes to there is one of those places where they do Botox injections and other similar treatments which attempt to defeat the forces time and nature.  The other day my wife went to see her dentist, and I decided to wait in the parking lot because they had some television show blaring in the waiting room.  I hadn’t really noticed the “MAACO For Make-overs” place until a reasonably attractive lady got out of her car and, instead of going into the dentist’s office, headed in for a fresh paint job or something.  It left me wondering what she looked like before -- or if this was before. 

Most of us have come to understand that "livin’ on spongecake" is not nutritionally viable, long-term.  Eating things that aren’t really food can be detrimental to our health.  Even more dangerous to our spiritual health is swallowing that which masquerades as truth.  We have direct access to God through His word and through prayer.  We can speak to Him and hear from Him.  It costs us nothing.  The Lord offers us His grace, His mercy, and His forgiveness through Christ.  It is free to us because the price has already been paid on the Cross. 

Yet in our pain, in our hunger and thirst for righteous, in our craving for authenticity, meaning and purpose in our lives, we will waste our time and our resources pursuing illusions and sawdust lies that will no more satisfy us than drinking saltwater will quench a castaway’s burning thirst.  I am as guilty as anyone of letting the world tell me what will make me happy when all that makes life worthwhile cannot be bought with silver and gold. 

Life itself, represented by water in the verses above, is a free gift to us.  Wine speaks of the Holy Spirit which we receive by faith.  Milk and bread remind us of God’s revelation in its various forms, from nature to the written word to the Incarnation, open to all who are willing to accept the truth. 

We work and we strive and we battle.  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask (James 5:2).  All we have to do is ask.  And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened (Luke 11:9-10).  As I have been told regarding the tense of the verbs in the original language, you could say, Ask and keep on asking, and you will receive and keep on receiving.  I do not think it is possible to max out because Jesus Himself said, To the one who has, more will be given (Luke 8:18).  

Why are we trying to live on lies?  Ask.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Perspective



O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. -- Isaiah 54:11


When we are in the midst of any trial or difficulty – shoot, life in general, the old daily grind, it’s sometimes hard to imagine that it will ever change or get better.  Whether it is the sleep-deprived parents of a newborn, a victim of abuse and oppression, a soldier in a war zone, someone struggling with disease and ill-health, a person in severe financial straits, or any other prolonged difficulty, we may begin to think that our trial will never end.  We will be miserable and beaten-down, sick and grieving until we die. 

The bad news is that sometimes our trials do end only when we pass from this life.  The good news is there is no such thing as a dead Christian because, as Jesus said, everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die (John 11:26).  Yes, I know I’ve gone to church with some, too, but you notice He qualifies it by saying they have to be alive to begin with. 

I have no real reason to complain about my life – not that that’s ever stopped me.  I’m sometimes overworked and tired, and I’m getting old.  I don’t get to spend as much time with the grandkids as I would like.  I don’t get to ride my motorcycle as much as I would like.  I don’t get to fish as much as I would like.  Things don’t always turn out the way I would like.  This country elected Barack Obama twice.  There were 112 episodes of “Eight is Enough” and 13 episodes of “Firefly”.  As Jubal Early might say, Does that seem right to you?

It’s all pretty minor stuff against infinity and eternity.  The compensation God promises is really all out of proportion to the transit sufferings of even a lifespan of a hundred years.  You could argue that I’m not really qualified to make that statement.  I’ve never been in much physical pain for more than a few hours, but I have been afflicted, “storm-tossed and not comforted”, and I would say that most of us have been or will be.  Perhaps the reason I have not been tried to the extreme that others have is because I could not stand up under more pressure and strain.  If someone else has endured more, they are better able to endure it.  This, too, is a promise of which I must remind myself often:  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).