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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Trippin'



A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. -- Proverbs 18:2

I take this as a caution.  It is much easier, in some ways, to simply have an opinion, clutch it to one’s bosom, and blurt it out at times appropriate and inappropriate.  That extracts a price, though, in terms of mental and psychic energy.  We expend a lot of effort on defense mechanisms, especially rationalizations, to support our opinion if it doesn’t square with reality.

Understanding and wisdom come from encountering reality, from walking the ground rather than studying the map.  There is not -- I don’t believe, a better map than the Bible.  A lot of well-meaning, religious people teach from it.  You would think we would all agree.  We don’t.  We are lacking familiarity with the actual terrain the map describes.  A map, after all, is a record of the experiences of those who traveled the path. 

On my bookshelf is a copy of the journals of Lewis and Clark edited by DeVoto.  Those explorers covered the ground and recorded distances, elevations, experiences, and obstacles.  The records of that first journey of discovery are correct as far as they go with the instruments available.  Man has altered the environment, the culture, the flora, and fauna and even the terrain drastically in the last two hundred years.  A person might, nonetheless, generally follow that same path and possibly get all the way through to the Pacific Northwest based on those old journal entries. 

Imagine, though, that you had lived in the time of the expedition, and, taking in hand the maps of Lewis and Clark, you had set out like the early mountain men, to live in that wild territory.  There would have been much for you discover, vast lands and sights that were not on the map, and even the things that the journals had described would be different when you saw them. 

The spiritual terrain has not changed since the biblical record began.  The reality it describes is not over-populated.  It is as a vast land that only fools think they comprehend completely.  I’m not suggesting leaving the Bible or our traditions behind.  That would be foolish in a different way.  We need the map and the compass, but we need to understand the limitations.  Reality will not fit in a book or in one’s head any more than you can carry the Grand Canyon home in a trunk.  These things are meant to get us there, help us survive the encounter and grow from it.     

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Things Going On

I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust" -- Psalm 91:2

The past couple of weeks have been intense with lots of work.  I am taking a few days off with my motorcycle starting tomorrow.  It's time.  I have no reserve left.  But, as I often do, I have been praying and thinking about prayer, how we can make it too hard or too easy.  In one sense, it is a matter of talking to God.  That ought to be easy.

Here is the omniscient God, the Omnipresent.  How does He not hear me?  How do I not talk to Him?  In John 14:20, Jesus says He is in the Father, and we are in Him, and He is in us.  That's intimate.  That is close.  We are intertwined, interwoven into the Divine.  Yet, I sometimes feel as though I am talking to myself, that the heavens are brass.  As the old-timers used to say, my prayers don't get past the ceiling.  A song says, "Prayer is the key to heaven, but faith unlocks the door."  

To pray effectively, we must accept a major premise, an axiom that cannot be proven directly beforehand.  It will also often be denied afterward.  It is this:  And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

That's the hard part of prayer, to maintain that attitude, to continue to trust, to live always in expectancy in the face of time and loss and trouble and heartache.  The ape part of me wants to rise up, thrash and smash, rail and lament, beg and belittle.  

I never want to admit that God knows and I don't.  I can explain some things in retrospect, but even then I don't know.  I have to trust.  I always have to trust.  That's hard for me.  I hope it is easier for others.  Really, the only person I trust is myself.  When I think about it, though, that means I am trusting Adam, who is demonstrated to be Mr. Unreliable.  

So, I have to give that up and be confident in the One who never fails.  Once I get there, prayer is no longer burdensome.  From that position, it is as natural as breathing, and it should be as frequent.  

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Grace Full



The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. -- Isaiah 29:19

Empathy is the word that came to mind this morning.  It doesn’t quite line up with meekness, but they seem to me to be related.  I cannot imagine a genuinely meek person not being able to recognize and share in the feelings of others at least to some degree.  A truly empathetic person would also be unlikely to be excessively self-exalting.  A degree of empathy is necessary for us to exist in social relationships.  The sociopath is perhaps entirely free from relating to the pain of another person.

Meekness may have once meant a sort of inoffensive mildness.  Maybe it still means that outside of Christianity.  I struggle with a lot of things, meekness, possibly, most of all.  It is only a couple of letters from “weakness”.   I don’t like weakness, and I don’t see any godliness or holiness in weakness.  Jesus, though, took meekness and made it something else:   Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

To the Master, to whom all power and authority was given, meekness meant a blend of spiritual strength and poise.  It is a gentleness that exists because of the strength behind it.  You see it when a strong man picks up a baby.  There is no struggle in it but a delicacy, like a dancer who makes difficult movements look effortless. 

Meekness, then, is a manifestation of grace.  As we have been the beneficiaries of God’s grace, we practice it among those around us.  We can afford gentleness with others because the strength of Christ backs us up.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What I Believe About Evil



And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -- Romans 8:28


I believe God is in control,
And that He created us in His image and likeness,
With creative imaginations,
Free will and agency,
Able to choose to misuse our gifts and grace,
With limited knowledge and understanding,
So that we have tragedies of ignorance as well as tragedies of wickedness;

Therefore much happens in the world that is not God’s will.

And yet

God does not lament but continues to take the elements of our events,
The broken pieces and spoiled vessels,
Remake and remold them
Into masterpieces of balance, hope, and beauty.

I believe God is in control, and what will be,
I do not know,
But I trust and I hope, and I know
It will be beautiful.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Power and Authority

And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. -- Matthew 28:18
Our citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven.  I am, however, subject to the government that has been established for the land where I was born here on earth.  The relationship between my natural citizenship and my spiritual citizenship can get complicated.  

First, let's do a refresher on the difference between power and authority.  There are two distinct Greek words in the New Testament for these two concepts.  The first is tranliterated as dunamis -- i.e., power.  The second is exousia, which can almost always be translated as authority.  

If you are driving a Suburban and a cop on a bicycle wants you to pull over, you do not obey that policeman because his bicycle can overtake and force your vehicle off the road.  You have the power,  but he has the authority.  It is his legitimacy as an officer of the law that causes you to respond and submit to his demand.  

God has indeed established earthly governments -- just as Paul says in Romans 13.  Otherwise there would be chaos, lawlessness and utter anarchy.  While I am for a certain amount of anarchy, too much makes it nearly impossible to function effectively in carrying out God's will upon the planet.  Therefore, God has established, in general, the principle of government authority.

Back to our example of the policeman, we stopped because we respect the principle of a law enforcement officer in general.  We recognize, however, that an individual policeman or a local police department can become corrupt.  So, too, a government can become corrupted and deviant.  Governments can cause lawless to increase rather than decrease.  They can become tyrannical and use their power in place of their authority.

When a government is corrupt, it loses its authority, but it retains its power.  Governments have the means of enforcing laws through compulsion, i.e., power, whether or not they make legitimate use of that power.  

Too many Christians have been beaten with the words of Romans 13 to the point that we often think we must submit to any abuse by any earthly government, no matter how corrupt, no matter how it has deviated from the law of God.  A government can lose God's mandate.  

A government that blatantly and officially rejects the law of God, that has no concern for the rule of law upon itself, that legislates evil and calls it 'good' has no authority.  We are not obligated to obey such a government, and we may, in fact, be obligated to disobey unrighteous laws that run counter to the law of God.  I can hardly imagine that it would be sinful to overthrow a tyrant any more that it would be to prosecute a police officer who abused his power.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Conquerors



The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. -- Revelation 3:21

Most Christians don’t seem interested in conquest these days.  To conquer has become equivalent in our minds to oppression, to a subduing of the natural nobility.  Armies of the West no longer go forth to vanquish the enemy but to win his heart and his mind, to build his nation, to honor and conserve his culture, which is judged superior to our own.  Not to be political or secular, but there are only two options in war.  One is to conquer; the other is to be conquered. 

The modern Christian thinks he lives in a peaceful, tolerant world.  He doesn’t so much as see the blood that was shed to give him his breakfast, let alone the blood shed to forgive his sins.  His worldview is shattered by every act of senseless violence.  He asks God why there must be evil in the world.  He has forgotten or refuses to believe that it is a fallen world we inhabit, that it was created good, and that we are the party that introduced sin and suffering into it.  The miracle is that good remains in it despite the efforts of the vast majority of the world’s population to eradicate it. 

Do we think we can retreat to our church buildings and be left alone?  I tell you, darkness is threatened by a single candle burning in the night and will not be at ease until it is extinguished. 

We are at war.  Light wins in the end, but we will not overcome unless we fight.  We have retreated.  We have appeased.  We have tolerated.  We have been inoffensive – not even defensive lest we should make some heathen uncomfortable.

It’s going to be uncomfortable.  Conflict is unpleasant.  It is also inevitable.  We might as well get ready.  I don’t want to be a conquistador or a crusader.  Combat, though, calls us out:  For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rights



He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins -- Colossians 1:13-14

The kingdom, as we know, is where the King reigns.  Whatever our physical location, if we live under the rule of the King, we are citizens of the kingdom. 

This seems to be missed in the law versus grace argument.  I don’t have a side in that discussion.  Grace and forgiveness are the privileges, we might say, of citizenship in the kingdom of the Son.  Those of us who have the rights of the children of God need not have too much concern about the rights of Englishmen or even what is enumerated in the Bill of Rights.  I live under grace because I have transferred my allegiance and my obedience to the Lord and His kingdom. 

To live in the kingdom is to live by a higher law than any man-made legislative body can craft.  If I am condemned by the Supreme Court it means little compared to the verdict of the righteous Judge of heaven and earth.  He calls me to live by faith in Him.  He says to love others as He loves me, to forgive as I have been forgiven, to behave with care and avoid offense where possible, to protect and guard the souls of His little ones as I would my own. 

I understand the aged Paul better than I used to, I think:  I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account (Philippians 1:22-23).  There are people yet in this world that I love, and I want to remain with them to do my part to look out for them and make them happy, but this world is a troubled and troubling place.  I don't think I'll miss it all that much when it’s my turn to leave.