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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What the Net Dragged In

 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.  When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.  So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous -- Matthew 13:47-49

This little parable follows after the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares and its explanation.  It is related, for, as the weeds are separated out at harvest and burned, so the undesirable fish are cast away. They are not thrown back.  Those aren’t the fish the fisherman wants reproducing. 

I was reading Herman Ridderbos’ comments in his book The Coming of the Kingdom.  He discusses the question of why the tares could not be separated before the wheat was harvested.  When you think about it a little, this is the question that troubles a multitude of those in the valley of decision, as Joel says.  Why do we have to wait for the wicked to be removed from among us?  Why does God work only at the end of history?  The atheist’s answer is that, obviously, there is no God, and we are living in a delusion. 

The promoters of evolution ought to understand this better than anyone -- except for the fact that they reject the idea of the cosmos and existence having any meaning at all.  What we believe is that nature is very much part of the language of God and part of His revelation.  As we know from observing nature, if a predator is removed from the environment, the ecosystem is thrown out of balance.  There is overpopulation of the prey species and food sources are depleted to the point, in some cases, of irreversible destruction. 

If that is part of God’s revelation then we can see, as Jesus is teaching in these parables, that there is a balance to be maintained in the development of the kingdom.  There will come a point when the kingdom is perfected, when it is matured to a degree that allows us to move into an entirely new realm of existence.  This is depicted in the parables as the time of harvest, of the drawing in of the net.  When that Omega point is reached, the balance that has been part of our maturation process will no longer be necessary, and those influences will be removed while the righteous are brought in to their ultimate purpose and destiny. 

The answer that we give to the problem of evil will never be good enough for some of those who pose the question.  There are times, when I am battered and down, that it sounds pretty hollow to me.  I understand. The elk need the wolves as much as the wolves need the elk, yet it doesn’t make the kill any less painful or gruesome for the creature caught by the fangs.  I don’t know if elk have some sort of animal understanding of the interplay between themselves and their adversaries.  Perhaps they have something that gives them peace when it is their time to go down.  

 I do know that we have access to the wisdom of God.  A person may choose to live an animalistic, materialistic life.  He doesn’t have to.  The truth is all around us.  No one has to be a weed or a bottom-feeding scavenger, but even they, blindly, serve the ends of the kingdom.     

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pictures From Memorial Day

This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. -- Exodus 12:14

I have talked about Ova Kelley before.  He was killed in the Philippines at Leyte in World War II.  The Wikipedia link has the citation for his Medal of Honor.

His remains were brought home and buried in the little cemetery by Oak Grove Freewill Baptist Church a few miles north of Norwood, Missouri on Highway E.

You can click to get a better look.

I rode by here yesterday and stopped just to see.  I suppose I expected something more elaborate.  Most of the graves are behind me as I took the picture.  It was nearing midday, so the shadows are short, and we are looking a little north of east.

This is our country.

World War II isn't the only conflict represented on this hilltop.

I left this place and rode on to meet my daughter at my wife's grave.  I had been to decorate at the graveyard where my in-laws are buried.  I went to where my wife's grandparents are buried as well.  Everywhere there are those who are neglected because families are too diminished or distant.  I don't need to worry about the graves of my parents or grandparents.  There are still a lot of us close by.  It will probably be another generation or two, perhaps longer, before we are too dispersed in time and space to place our little marks of remembrance on stone and earth.  

The truth is that these markers are for those of us left behind.  We are the ones who need to be reminded of what this life is about, of its impermanence and its brevity.  It is our currency.  We cannot hoard it.  It must be spent.  Spend wisely.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

With the Morning

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.  -- Psalms 30:5

Jesus spoke of the mother who forgets the pain of giving birth in the joy of receiving her child.  The writer of Hebrews speaks of, “… looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). 

If we go back to the book of Nehemiah, we read of those who returned to Jerusalem from their long exile.  When they were instructed in the law, their eyes were opened to how they had fallen short of the Lord’s requirements, and they were grieved.  They began to weep (Nehemiah 8:9-10).

Sorrow isn’t a pleasant, but godly sorrow is healthy.  One of the dangers of continuing certain habits and being continuously exposed to even depictions of wickedness and lawlessness is that we tend to become desensitized.  This is sometimes thought of as “hardening” when, a lot of times, it is more simply ignoring.  The Spirit of God must break the shell of indifference and resignation more often than actual hardened evil.  The result, though, in either case, is that our hearts are grieved by the presence of that which is displeasing to God. 

At some point, however, we must set aside the anguish and the pain and begin to experience the joy of the Lord.  We are forgiven.   To stay too long in sorrow is to risk developing self-pity:    And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.  Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Whether our grief comes from conviction or from suffering and loss and the daily trials of life, the Lord does not want us to be overwhelmed or overburdened by it.  We may weep through the night for we are, after all, creatures of flesh, and we see not well in the dark.  The dawn arrives to break through our darkness.  Hope can again be seen. 

Though there I times I have trouble believing it, morning always comes. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Threading the Needle

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. -- Philippians 1:21

The words Paul uses are related to money and profit.  It you have sufficient capital you can live on the interest.  The greatest riches imaginable are ours in Christ.  Here is capital to provide a more than sufficient living, an abundant living.  

It also works if we turn it around and recognize that while we live in this world, it is we who belong to Christ as His servants over whom He rules but also for whom He obligates Himself to provide and for whom He cares.

The second part of the Apostle’s thought is perhaps even more compelling.  The carnally minded have invested everything in this world and this life.  Death, to the worldling, may be seen as an implacable enemy to be held off and frustrated as long as possible.  It means the loss of all that is familiar, comfortable, and hopeful. 

As Christians the truth is that we not only lose nothing when our time here ends, we gain because we are no longer receiving merely our stipend or our living but our full inheritance of and in Christ.  You can think about someone who has set up a trust for his heirs.  Their access is limited until they are of a specified age, perhaps 18 or 25, after which they have full access.  They gain by passing that milestone.   

On the one hand the carnal mind considers the trials, pains, losses, and sufferings of life against the darkness of death and recoils.  After all, as the Preacher said, a living dog is better than a dead lion (Ecclesiastes 9:4), and to cling to the known, however desperate and grim, is better than the black leap into oblivion.  On the other hand, life without hope can become an unbearable burden and the prospect of any kind of surcease is embraced.  Thus the natural man must sail carefully between Scylla and Charybdis. 

The contrast is that, instead of a choice between the lesser of two evils, the Christian is “caught” between goods:  the joys of life in Christ on earth with all of its hope and adventure, and the perfection of glory, the fulfillment of all hope when we see the Lord face to face.  Passing through the door of death, at the Lord’s call, we leave all temptation, sorrow, grief and pain behind us.  We have duties and callings and purpose while we are here.  When those are done, like the faithful workman at day’s end, we receive our reward and our rest. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Verse of the Day

Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. -- John 14:19

I have a grand total of no time today. 

I had an interesting weekend.  We had a family member disappear.  He's a young man, and, like a lot of young men, including myself at that age, he does not have an excess of good sense. 

He went out driving in his junk car with one headlight about 11:00pm Saturday night.  At noon the next day, no one had heard from him.  They called the jails and the hospitals, but there were no reports and no body was produced.  His cell phone responded as if it were dead or turned off or out of service.  Certainly, if he had run off in the river where he said he was going to be driving, it's remote enough that he probably would not have a connection. 

So I drove a couple of hours to get to the place then a couple more looking for wreckage on the dirt roads and off in the gullies and creeks.  Meanwhile, back at his mother's house, they located his tablet which, via the Google sync-up, showed his last phone location -- not off in the boonies but in a nearby town.  When he realized his phone was pinged, he suddenly found that his battery had recharged itself and called Mom. 

Let's just say that his next few days are going to be really interesting.  I headed on back home -- two more hours driving, in about midnight, so he can still look forward to the discussion he and I are going to have about responsibility.  His mother authorized me to punch him, but we will see how humble he is by Saturday.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Taking Care of Business

Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, Engage in business until I come.  -- Luke 19:13

The traditional KJV says, Occupy till I come.  Word Pictures in the New Testament indicates to us that a better sense might be “trade here while I’m coming”.  Maybe it’s just me, but “engaging in business” carries a connotation of high finance and equity markets.  I don’t think that’s what these servants were being called to do.  They were not sitting in an office.  The successful and commended servants were going on and plying the trade routes.  I would imagine they had to make trips out to other places, buying and bringing back goods desired in the local marketplace.  There was risk involved and potential loss.  They probably suffered some losses and setbacks and had to work harder to make up for it. 

They tell us, from this parable, that we ought to use our gifts as God intended, and I agree with that.  Notice that in this version of the story, there are ten minas or talents, each given out to ten different servants.  We do not have the inequitable distribution seen elsewhere.   Every human being is given something precious and treasured by God.  I am not very talented.  About the only thing I ever excelled at in my youth was bucking hay bales.  But I have this life, this soul -- the divine spark that Bob was talking about a couple of days ago. 

When I pass from this life and stand before the judgment seat of Christ, I do not think He will ask me much about my hay hauling or my singing, whether I coded for the kingdom or how much money I spent on Girl Scout cookies or gave to missions.  I think He will look at the life He gave me and see if I multiplied and enriched it.  He will want to know if I risked myself by loving other people, including those on whom I had a chance to lose it all.  He will want to know if I hid out in the basement, or if I went out through the war zones and the no-man’s lands.  Did I ever defy the devil to add to gain more for the Lord?  Or did I prefer to keep a low spiritual profile, to bury that spark and keep it out of sight to avoid being attacked?

It may be tough for me to answer.  I do tend to avoid the critics, the skeptics, and some of the heretics.  I am more comfortable being some distance from the edge of the precipice.  I don’t know that I want to see how close I can get or if there is some narrow, knife-edged way to bridge the gap and get over where there are treasures I might bring back.  Yet, isn't this, in a much greater way than I can imagine, what the Lord Himself did in the Incarnation? 

Obviously we don’t want to gamble with our souls, but I do think we are called to invest and “trade” some in this world.  I think missionaries and visionaries, spiritual and intellectual pioneers, artists and poets and prophets and creators of all kinds bring back treasures that enrich the lives of others and bring growth to their own souls.  I am not going to be one of the heroes of the faith or a notable saint of any kind, but I am going to do what I can with the spark that I have.   

I’m going love people who may reject me.  I’m going to study and read and pray.  I’m going to challenge the assumptions that the world system offers to me and expects me to accept.  While I am at it, I may challenge some of the traditional interpretations of the Bible that my religion holds.  Maybe I’ll look at the questions and objections of the skeptics to see if I can venture out to bring back answers for that market. 

Now, there will be those who are concerned, frightened, perhaps even offended by us as spiritual traders.  I understand.  There is the potential to go off the tracks, to get lost or waylaid out there in the bush.  I think, though, if we will listen carefully to our Guide, who will never leave nor forsake us, regardless of the dangers and tribulations of the trail, we’ll find our way safely back home.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Roost

And a scribe came up and said to him, Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.  And Jesus said to him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. – Matthew 8:19-20

Commentaries and preaching about this verse typically focus on the poverty of Jesus or the fact that the poor person who has no great possessions may be more like Christ than the rich.  Because of the context, I think we can allow that Jesus is issuing a challenge to the scribe who offered to follow Him.  He is not, He makes clear, the ordinary type of rabbi who is interested in finding a place in this world. 

The word translated “nests” is related to the word “tabernacle”.  It is more like a roosting place for the night than a nest for eggs.  There was no place on earth for the Lord to settle, though He had “tabernacled” with Israel and had, to a degree, dwelt in the temple.   In Luke’s account of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:26-36), we read of Peter’s reaction:  And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah—not knowing what he said.  The Lord had no intention of staying here, of building houses, temples, cities, palaces or fortresses. 

One reason I have probably remained a Protestant is because I find a disconnect between the primitive (in the sense of primacy) “Book of Acts” church and the kind of medieval tradition of Catholicism and Orthodoxy with the tendency toward cathedrals and an emphasis on buildings.  Of course, Protestants learned that worshipers like nice facilities with good parking, and that become one of the trademark gimmicks for “church growth” in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  It probably still is today, but I pay a lot less attention. 

The church is not a building, though parts of it may meet in one.  Jesus says that wherever two or three gather in His Name – where there are relationships, communion, and fellowship, there He is.  His dwelling place is in us, and ours is to be in Him.