But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. – John 2:24-25
Friday, March 7, 2014
I love most of the Hitchcock movies like The Birds, Vertigo and Rear Window. I think it was Frenzy that I saw in a movie theater with a friend of mine. We were thoroughly unsophisticated hillbilly kids, and it was about too much for us. We agreed to not tell anybody we had seen it. It was guilt by association.
A similar film from the ‘80s is The Hitcher with Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell. I noticed I mentioned this movie in a post a couple of years ago, but we're expanding it a little here. It’s like watching a copperhead in the weeds, repulsively fascinating. If you are familiar with the plot, you know that Howell plays a youthful character named Jim Halsey who is delivering a “drive-away” Cadillac from Chicago to San Diego. He makes the mistake of picking up Hauer’s ominous hitchhiker, John Ryder.
First of all, there really aren’t any homosexual, homo-erotic undertones in the movies. I’m not saying that couldn’t be read into it, as some have done, but I think it misses the much bigger point. Ryder and Halsey -- one hauls and is the vehicle while the other rides and controls. I can see how someone obsessed with sex or told, at some point, by a sex-obsessed person that it’s like catcher and pitcher might start thinking that. Halsey and Ryder do get accused of being homosexual by a flagman on the road construction crew, but that is deliberate misdirection on Ryder’s part to defuse suspicion.
Ryder is a psychotic but a very capable and, we might even say, supernaturally intelligent murderer. He’s demonic. He is able to follow Halsey undetected, appearing and disappearing at will. The reason, so it seems, that he picks Halsey and puts him through so much torment is that he wants to be stopped.
It is almost as though Halsey and Ryder were the same person, a kind of Dr Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Gollum/Smeagol, split personality. Halsey wants to do the right thing, tries over and over to turn himself in, to escape from the avalanche of evil that he has innocently been caught up in. Every time, Ryder comes from out of nowhere to intervene and keep Halsey trapped in the ever-tightening spiral. The movie is on Youtube if you don’t remember it or have never seen it and want to watch it. Most of the gore is off-screen. There are dead, bloodied bodies around and a lot of implied horror, but we don’t witness so much of it as we would in the more current slasher movies.
Halsey might understand what Paul was talking about: … For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out … I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil is right there with me … ( a little loosely from Romans 7:15-25).
Every time we want to set things right, to rectify and put everything back the way it should be, something will come out of “nowhere” to upset and thwart our best-laid plans and good intentions.
Now my very exclusive coterie of readers, all four of you, I’m sure don’t have this problem. For me, though, it’s not really out of “nowhere”. I suspect that I know exactly where my hitcher is riding as well as his real identity. I’d like to deny culpability for these sins, point the finger, and blame Ryder, and there’s no question that he needs to be stopped – to die. But I’m the one who is responsible for stopping him.
Near the end of The Hitcher, Ryder has been taken into custody by the Texas DPS and is being transported in chains to prison. Halsey is riding with a DPS captain – who represents the Law. Halsey says something like, “You’re not going to be able to hold him.” The Law is good, but it is inadequate to deal with Ryder. He can’t simply be imprisoned and confined. We can’t pass off our obligation to the authority of the Law. We brought him here. We have to stop him. In his better moments, in his brief moments of clarity before his nature reasserts itself, Ryder wants us to stop him. He gives us opportunity after opportunity.
So, Halsey, after setting the Law out by the side of the road (a mirror image of how the whole thing started) and taking the vehicle of the Law, turns around and goes after Ryder, catching up with the bus just as Ryder makes his escape. With this last one-on-one confrontation, it is Halsey who goes free.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hand. – 1 Samuel 17:46-47
Bold talk, we might say, for a kid with a pocketful of rocks, but unlike Rooster Cogburn, David isn’t depending on his own skill and nerve. Will Sonnet used to say, “No brag. Just fact.” If David is bragging, it isn’t on himself. It is the Lord who delivered him from “the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear”, and David must have figured arrogant Philistine giants were more or less in the same category.
No doubt David practiced with his sling. He was a shepherd so he was in the field with this silent, ranged weapon constantly at his side. He used it in deadly earnest against predators. If he was anything like most men, he also used it for entertainment. I’m sure there was a lot of readily available ammunition out there in the Judean hills. We all enjoy challenging and enhancing our skills, whether we are musicians or programmers, artists or cyclists, poets or woodworkers.
Maybe we are good at what we do for a living, which makes it easy to start thinking that our knowledge and expertise provides for us. Moses warned us about that: Beware lest you say in your heart, My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17). I am guilty -- which is bad enough, but it gets worse if God decides to let me see how I do on my own. If it is all on me, it can get pretty stressful.
This is especially the case when there is so much of what goes on that is unquestionably beyond my control. If I work for someone else, I probably have little input and less control over the decisions made by corporate officers. If I’m self-employed, I need someone to come by and buy what I’m selling. My business or my investments may be dependent on and impacted by weather, by changes in laws, by international trade, fluctuations in markets, monetary policy – all kinds of things that are far beyond me. The other night, I watched Shooter with Mark Wahlberg as Bob Lee Swagger. A person can have a computer-controlled rifle, but as a bullet travels over the course of a mile, the target can move, the wind can gust or even change direction, and the outcome will not be what was intended.
Life is like that. If we think too much about it, we might never leave the house, or we might develop OCD, trying to allay and appease “chance” by ritual and superstitious routines. There is a way to be free of such potentially immobilizing fear.
Keep in mind that Goliath had been coming out for days with his challenge, seeking a one-on-one fight with a champion from among the Israelites. The army of Israel, filled with experienced men of war, stood and listened to that challenge and could not respond. Were they all cowards?
No, Saul might have been a fool in some ways, but he was no coward. Neither was his son, Jonathan, who had proved himself in earlier battles when the odds were against him. Jonathan and many others, including some of David’s brothers, would have gone up singly against any two or three or five of their opponents. Goliath, though, was the Philistine’s version of Samson, a seemingly invincible cypher of sneering confidence. Each man hearing that daily challenge looked at his own stature, strength, and skill, considered the consequences to his nation if he failed, and refused to step forward.
David changed the equation. He said, this is not my problem. Goliath is not challenging me. He’s challenging my God. He is defying the God of Israel, mocking and ridiculing, not puny men, but the Almighty. Therefore, if he is challenging the Lord, it is really the Lord who will go out to battle against him, and, from God’s perspective, 9-foot-5 is no different than 5-foot-9.
All the things in life that are beyond my ability and beyond my control -- all the things that are out of my hands are in the hands of the Lord. If I can but trust in that truth, I need no longer live with dread.
The Lord took what David was good at and used it to defeat an invincible foe, to bring a blessing out of an impossible situation. We don’t have to be able to handle everything, be able to fix every problem. You get up and go out, faithfully doing what you do -- with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free (Ephesians 6:5-8).
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:23-24).
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. -- Exodus 25:37Speak to Aaron and say to him, When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand. -- Numbers 8:2From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God -- Revelation 4:5
A person entered the eastern gate and came into the courtyard of the tabernacle or the temple. The first object encountered was the bronze altar of sacrifice. The next object was a large container filled with water. This water reflects one aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit. Water was used both to wash the sacrifices and for washing of the priests prior to their entering the Holy Place beyond.
The altar speaks of God’s judgment upon sin and, thus, of the Cross. Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit just as the bulls and goats sacrificed under the Law were washed before being placed upon the fire. Jesus told His followers to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost; they were to be anointed and sanctified for entry into this new and eternal Holy Place made without hands.
Inside the Sanctuary there is no natural light. There are no windows. A lamp was necessary. As a priest entered the Holy Place, the “Bread of the Presence” would be on the golden table to his right, to his left would be the seven lamps of the Menorah, while, directly in front of him, before the Holy of Holies, was the altar of incense. The bread reminds us of the Word, of the Word made flesh, of the written word of Scripture, and of the Body of Christ. It is revelation, but it is revelation that cannot be known or understood in darkness.
The oil-burning lamp typifies another aspect of the Spirit of God in illuminating the Word and making Him known to us, knowable by us. There is only one Holy Spirit, just as there was only one lamp in the Sanctuary. The Spirit, though, is multifaceted, just as the lamp fed oil to seven separate flames on seven separate wicks to disperse shadows from different angles and allow us to see our way clearly. Even our own shadow cast before us is not so dark and obscuring by the light of the sevenfold Spirit.
Once we have trusted in the sacrifice of Christ and have been cleansed by His outpouring of the Spirit upon us, if there is anything that comes between us and His manifest presence, as signified by the bread upon the table in the Holy Place, it is the shadow of our old nature. Even in the Sanctuary, that bit of darkness may fall between us and our Lord. Perhaps, then, it is meaningful that, in John’s vision, there are seven torches burning “before the throne” so that as one might approach, any shadows would fall behind us.
I take this to mean that if we follow where He leads, the Holy Spirit will see that nothing comes between us and that His Light is always before us on our way.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. -- Proverbs 3:7
I just realized that I have been alive in seven decades. I almost didn't get out of my second one. The good die young, but so do the stupid. In my case, they must have cancelled out. I have done a lot of stupid things. What was the apex? It would be hard to pick a single event or action. It was probably the state of mind that convinced me that I knew not only more but better than everybody else. Vanderleun had the thing about the evils of Cool, and what is Cool in this sense except to be wise in one's own eyes?
There are a lot of skeptics, but there are too few good skeptics. The first requirement of being a good skeptic is to be skeptical of my own perceptions, thought processes, and conclusions. A question to ask early on is, does thinking this way and understanding the situation from this perspective benefit me materially or emotionally? When you ask an expert for a solution to a problem, if the expert makes a buck off that solution, be sure that you take that into account in your evaluation.
On OC yesterday I mentioned the boys who play the alpha male games to manipulate women into sex. It's easy for a man to convince himself that playing the game is acceptable because women aren't perfect little angels. If he is not careful, though, the player will end up damaging himself and becoming ensnared in an empty, diabolical system with the only exit an obstacle course of pain and loss. Thus the proverb tells us to "fear the LORD", i.e., let His statutes be our first principles and live with pleasing Him rather than ourselves as our purpose.
Humans tend to "fear ourselves" -- to think that we must have whatever we want whether it is good for us or not. Not wise at all.
Monday, March 3, 2014
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
-- Psalm 57:1
David was hiding out in a cave, pursued by Saul and the armed forces of Israel. There were no safe places. He tried going over to the side of the Philistines, and they wanted to kill him. His courage, skill, and dedication had made him an enemy of all who sought power, self-gratification, and self-aggrandizement -- of all who were indifferent or opposed to the will of God.
Do the right thing, and you have every man's hand against you like a sheep-killing dog. That would have probably been the first line of my psalm had I been in David's place. We could hardly blame a person in that sort of trial for becoming bitter, complaining and bemoaning such a fate. The Bible often calls David a prophet, and his psalms are replete with messianic prophecies. He was a prophet not in word only; he is a prophetic type. His life illustrates and solidifies the principles and purposes of God -- as Paul said was the case with of all the events in the history of Israel.
Disorder, destruction, and disruption are everywhere today. The chaos will increase because so much of the world is turning away from God, and even more are not turning to Him. I do not have a solution to the many puzzles that plague us. I know Someone who does. Like David, the only thing we can do is call to God for mercy and trust Him to shelter us from the storms of destruction set to sweep across the face of the earth.
I'm not worried about myself. The worst that can happen to me does not hold a lot of terror. I suppose I'd hate to lose my mind or become a burden to anyone else. Otherwise, while the pain of transition my physical nature seeks to avoid, death itself mean only that I will see the face of Jesus rise like daybreak in the holler.
The ones I would leave behind are my concern. Have I been faithful enough in telling the truth to the next generation? Have I been a good enough example? Have I demonstrated sufficiently and efficaciously that God alone is my Refuge? Will they take the message to heart and do the same?
I've ended up saying this every day, sometimes several times a day, for the last couple of weeks in various contexts: if we are abiding "in the shadow of" His wings, everything comes to us through Him and by His will.
Friday, February 28, 2014
But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. – Luke 21:34-36
I am what is sometimes called a partial preterist with regard to much of Matthew 24, Luke 21 and similar passages. The siege and destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the expulsion of Jews and Jewish Christians from the region by Rome, along with other horrors that accompanied the prolonged conflict and judgment partially fulfilled the prophetic words of Jesus.
In the verses above the Lord is warning both 1st Century and 21st Century hearers. Those whose eyes would see the temple destroyed needed to heed His words as have many throughout the intervening years, and people for many years in the future should listen as well. History is like a wild river, rapids and falls of turmoil and terror between rare and welcome pools of peace.
The conflicts may not always devolve into open, armed battles. Despite the fact that Americans have been mostly spared from wars on our own soil for the last hundred years, we have not been spared from violence. Calamity may fall upon an individual just as it does upon a nation or a people.
At 4:48pm on Tuesday, February 19, 2014, a ten-year-old girl named Hailey Owens was walking back home from a friend’s house. She was grabbed off the street by an abductor who was captured by police less than four hours later.
Too late. Hailey, who looks a lot like one of my granddaughters, was dead.
Neighbors witnessed the abduction, tried to intervene, and attempted to pursue the vehicle into which Hailey was dragged. They weren’t able to stop what happened. Craig Wood, a 45-year-old school employee, has been charged. The details are too disheartening and gruesome for me to relate. One of the local television stations has a page dedicated to the various elements of the story, including the community’s shock and heart-broken response.
Tragedies can be big or small, major or minor, widespread or personal. They are still tragedies, and, as Jesus said, they “will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” No one escapes trials and troubles, pain and suffering. The innocent suffer with the guilty. No one ever said it was going to be fair.
It is hard to imagine how a young child could somehow deserve inhuman torture and murder simply on the basis of being born a fallen creature. Good or bad thought patterns seem hardly adequate. We mostly have to believe that justice, retribution, and rewards transcend our visible, physical lives. I am deadly serious when I say that nobody would want to live in a world where people like me start embracing nihilism.
Jesus calls us to endurance, to live and to stand despite all the boiling wickedness of the world, all the irrational injustice and vicious persecution. By your endurance you will gain your lives (Luke 21:19). And I have my doubts that He is talking about your life here in the material world. He speaks of persevering to gain eternal life, His kind of life – abundant and everlasting.
The unfathomable part: that life is available to both persecuted and persecutor, oppressed and oppressor, victim and victimizer. There stands the strait gate and the path beyond, frightening in how little room it offers, what it demands we leave behind in order to pass through. It’s time to choose.
Here comes the Judge.