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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do



So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. -- Genesis 13:11


As Lot learned through much suffering and loss, the path that looks easy in the beginning does not always end so pleasantly.  Sometimes, too, there are separations that need to take place.  The man who would become Abraham had been called to leave behind his land, his people and even his family to follow God and found a new nation.  Loyalty and love had caused him to keep his nephew, Lot, with him as he sojourned in Canaan.  We read how both Lot and Abram prospered and how the increase of their herds caused conflict that led to separation.

Before jumping too far ahead and saying, “Abraham good; Lot bad”, I note that both men had their weaknesses.  Abraham could be controlled by fear and be less than forthright in his dealings.  Meanwhile Peter’s Second Epistle calls Lot “righteous” and speaks of the torment of his “righteous soul” as he dwelt among the lawless in Sodom (2 Peter 2:7-8).  I’m reminded, also, of the conflict between Barnabas and Paul that caused their parting (Acts 15:36-41).  When the Lord divides us from a friend, associate, or family member, it isn’t always because one of us is pulling the other down or because one is right and the other wrong.  It may be part of a greater plan that He has, the ends of which are beyond our powers of speculation and discernment. 

I think about that a lot these days.  You may have seen that map of the United States where it is divided regionally into, I think, eleven different cultures like the Deep South and Greater Appalachia.  Whether there is much to that or not, we seem to be hearing more talk of secession and of unsustainability of the current national model.  We are seeing greater disagreement between the secular and the sacred, between Muslim and Christian, black and white, left and right, often with violence and bloodshed.  Jesus does say (Matthew 10:34-39) that He has come to divide, to sift and to separate, the believing from the unbelieving, the righteous from the wicked, the wheat from the tares, and the sheep from the goats.

We lament these divisions, conflicts and losses, in part because we do not see the destiny to which they move us, but also because of our natural human affection for one another, for the American dream, for a simpler time, or whatever it is we feel is slipping away.  Abraham never stopped caring about Lot.  He rescued him from the king of Elam (Genesis 14), and he interceded for Lot and his family when God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. 

Death, disagreement, or distance, partings of the ways are unavoidable.  Trust God.  Continue to love the departed and pray for an unbroken circle.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Water on Dust



And David said longingly, Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!  Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the LORD and said, Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives? Therefore he would not drink it. These things the three mighty men did. – 2 Samuel 23:15-17


My friend, Max, was preaching yesterday, so I’m stealing his sermon, more or less -- the less parts being mine.  He didn’t use this text, but it is the one that came to my mind while he was talking, and it typifies the concept of a drink offering in the economy of the Old Testament. 

This story used to always irk me just a little when I read it.  I can imagine myself as one of those three who worked his way through the enemy lines and drew that water from the well by the gate of Bethlehem.  I even know of a well like that from which I drank in my youth and which still gives the best water in the world.  But if I had been one of those three, I would have wanted the king to drink the water.  I just risked my life to bring you a drink, and you pour it out on the ground.  I don’t get it.  What I finally grasped was that David did not see himself as worthy of the sacrifice this water represented, and he turned it into a drink offering instead.  He put it to a higher purpose than quenching his own thirst by using it to worship and honor God. 

We can picture our lives as containers.  The Lord fills us with life and strength, wisdom and understanding, grace, goodness, love, joy, and peace.  He does this through our communion with Him.  We commune through prayer, meditation, Bible study, formal times of corporate worship, but also through our awareness of God’s presence and influence in our daily activities and from the people with whom we interact. 

Many times we find ourselves “drained”.  We pour out all that has been poured into us as we do the things that have to be done every day.  Sometimes the most draining times are not our physical labors, but the demands placed on us emotionally and psychically by other people.  You may not have used this terminology but you’ve probably come in contact with people who are psychic vampires or emotional and spiritual leeches.  They suck the life out of others almost by their presence it seems.  Just seeing them or seeing their number pop up on your phone makes you tired. 

All of us, though, have times when we need encouragement, support, and prayers.  We find ourselves cast upon the strength of others for a brief period of time.  That’s part of the plan.  Still, we can’t just pour back and forth from one container to another. 

There are a couple of reasons for that, and the first is that not everyone participates.  Our more parasitic friends and family members tend to not return anything we give to them.  The second reason is that other people are not our source.  Even when we do get help from another, they are, we hope, a channel of God’s infinite resources, gifts, blessings, and power.  In turn, what we pour out to others is not ours but that which we have received from the Lord. 

If we can see the bigger picture, see ourselves as merely temporary containers or channels of what is being poured out, we will not try so hard to hold onto our blessings.  We will recognize that the more we pour out to others, the more able we are to receive from the True Source.  We will be less troubled by those who take and never give back.  Instead of expecting a mother-in-law or a needy, conniving co-worker to repay us and replenish our reserves of joy and peace by encouraging and supporting us, we will be like David pouring out a drink offering to the Lord, expecting and looking for our blessings and filling to come from Him. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Only A Moment

Love is the word we use
To mean what we want
Until we learn
It means what it costs
and what is lost.

To love is to lose.
It is the perfect suicide
that leaves the hitman alive.
If this life is it
It is a hit,

Like ice water
That dimples around
Grasping fingers --
Now going down,
 It shocks, and knocks,
And evades our locks.

In the world without end
Love transcends.
It only begins
With what we see
And what is near,

And passes away
To wait for us another day.
So be careful what you love
For of this your heaven will consist.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Unchained Delusions



Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.  -- Proverbs 29:18


Another way to put it is when people stop attending to instruction in God’s truth they begin to reject all the restraints of society and tradition.  I wonder where something like that might be happening.  Older translations often say “where there is no vision the people perish”.  Throwing off moral restraint results in death, both individually and societally.  This is not coming to America.  It has arrived. 

Rather than repenting and turning back to God when we have been faced with the consequences of our decadence and decline, we have, as people like to say these days, “doubled-down”.  The culture applauds that which flaunts morality and tradition while ridiculing and attacking the righteous.  The accepted leaders in politics and the media are almost without exception morally twisted people. 

I know I keep harping on this theme, but the answer lies in the last line of this proverb.  It is up to us individually, in our local churches, among our friends and families, to hear the truth, speak the truth, and live according to the truth.  It won’t be as easy as it used to be.  If we are willing to do that, though, we will be all right.  Being all right may mean taking the express to heaven, but that’s OK, too. 

It does not matter what the majority says, what the popular say, what the rulers or the enforcers say.  What matters is what God says, because the Truth is the stumbling block upon which illusions will fall and shatter.  God will get us through if we stick with Him. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I'll Stand Here



And next to him was Shammah, the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines gathered together at Lehi, where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the men fled from the Philistines.  But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the LORD worked a great victory.  2 Samuel 23:11-12


I don’t think this was particularly strategic ground in any normal military sense.  We often find ourselves in struggles and confrontations with the world, and the issues seem minor.  It’s hardly worth the conflict or the effort.  We are told to be at peace with people as much as is possible from our side.  Blowing up about every little thing or blowing things out of proportion probably doesn’t do much to advance the kingdom.  

I’m sure there were those among the soldiers who were fleeing who thought Shammah picked a poor “hill to die on”.  Who cares about that pea patch?  That’s the whole Philistine army coming across there.  Sometimes, though, it is the small battles upon which the outcome of the larger war turns. 

We might find ourselves wondering if some of the “insignificant ground” we have surrendered as Christians has led to us being under such an intense siege in the culture war these days.  If we had been more diligent in condemning the belittling of marriage through no-fault divorce and moving marriage from a sacrament of the church to a profane, civil ceremony blessed by the state (profane in the sense of not being sacred within the church), we might not be looking at the travesty of the state acknowledging, approving, and enforcing the ludicrous concept of homosexual marriage. 

If we had pulled our children from public schools and refused to support a centralized, government-run education system when the Supreme Court began to separate knowledge from morality, we might not have a generation of virtue-challenged, moral morons today.

But these things have happened.  This ground has been lost.  Maybe all we have left is a pea patch, and, if that’s all we have then it is worth defending.  Maybe that’s what Shammah thought.  I’m tired of giving up ground.  It reminds of the scene in The Warriors where Cowboy and Ajax are running from the Baseball Furies.  Cowboy says he doesn’t think he can make it.  Ajax asks him if he is sure that he can’t make it.  Cowboy says that he is sure.  Ajax says, Good.  He had had enough running.  He was ready to stand and fight and let people know what the Warriors were made of.    

The Lord put it in Shammah's heart to have had enough running, enough compromising, enough backing down and giving in.  We can’t speak for others.  We can’t say if this is their place to stand, but I think we can know when it is ours. 

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:13).

Monday, July 27, 2015

Chance



As soon as the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, It is the king of Israel. So they turned to fight against him. And Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him; God drew them away from him. – 2 Chronicles 18:31


I guess it was Jehoshaphat’s lucky day. 

What constitutes a miracle?  How do we tell a miracle from chance or coincidence or a random occurrence?

First, we need to define chance or random.  We can define chance in terms of probability as in the classic coin-toss.  There are only two possible outcomes.  Depending on the starting point, air pressure, force applied, distance the coin falls, etc., which we do not know, we say that a coin will be heads 50% of the time and tails the other 50%.  But when we consider that for a moment, we realize that what we mean by chance or random is “causes unknown”. 

Even the Bible uses this term.  Reading on from the verse above:  For as soon as the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him.  But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded (vv 32-33, emphasis added).  The words in English translations that say “at random” or “by chance” are, from the original Hebrew, something like “in his innocence”. 

The king of Syria had ordered his soldiers to specifically target only Ahab, the king of Israel.  Ahab, having heard a prophecy that he would be killed in this battle, thought to escape by disguising himself and allowing attention to be drawn to his fellow king, Jehoshaphat of Judah.  Something happened – we have no idea exactly what – to convince the Syrians that Jehoshaphat was not Ahab and they turned their attack from him.  However, like the famous story of an appointment in Samarra, Ahab could not escape God’s decree.  An arrow released by a Syrian bowman toward the Israelite warriors found its way through the armor of Ahab and mortally wounded him. 

The bowman had no idea that he was shooting at the king of Israel.  Our friend, the Preacher explains, Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all (Ecclesiastes 9:11).  It strikes me that the most ardent and militant of atheists must agree that the Bible contains at least this one truth.  Time and chance explains the whole of existence to the unbeliever.  We and not something or someone else are here because of time and chance.  The wise man, though, uses time and chance to say that there are things beyond us that we cannot know.  The foolish thinks that because he knows of time and chance, he understands all. 

Ahab was destined to die that day in the battle that he had chosen to fight.  The prophet spoke out the decree of the Lord.  There was no chance Ahab would escape. 

I was lucky.  I was unlucky.  What a coincidence.  It was just an accident.  We have all said those things in the past and will again in the future.  Someone fell asleep.  Someone was distracted.  Someone left late.  Someone left early.  I slowed up just before the deer crossed the road.  I never saw it coming.  Why did the deer cross the road in the first place?  Chance.  Causal chains of events collided, for good or for ill, to make someone smile.  To end someone’s life. 

No miracle will ever convince anyone of God’s existence or of His goodness and grace, except those who are touched by the Holy Ghost.  There is no chance we will escape. 

****

I wrote this and pulled up the browser and came over here to post.  At that point, I read the comments on Friday's post, and John's last comment:


Something similar happened this weekend. Cousin Rick, one of my few relatives and somebody I really liked but saw maybe 6 times, called me and left a message on Friday. He had never called me before. Didn't notice until Saturday. I called and left a message Saturday night and again Sunday morning. He died on Sunday morning from a heart attack we found out last night. Make of it what you wish. Guess we will chat later.