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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Incarnating Mercy, Love, Pity, and Peace

William Blake - "Divine Image"

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
All pray in their distress,
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness. 
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is God our Father dear;
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is man, his child and care. 
For Mercy has a human heart
Pity, a human face;
And Love, the human form divine;
And Peace, the human dress. 
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine:
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace. 
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew.
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Living in Hope

Things are still busy, so I thought I might remind everyone of Emily Dickinson's little poem -- "Hope Is The Thing With Feathers":

'Hope' is the thing with feathers— 
That perches in the soul— 
And sings the tune without the words— 
And never stops—at all— 

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard— 
And sore must be the storm— 
That could abash the little Bird 
That kept so many warm— 

I've heard it in the chillest land— 
And on the strangest Sea— 
Yet, never, in Extremity, 
It asked a crumb—of Me. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Even Our Faith

So we have come to know and to believe the love God has for us.  God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him -- 1 John 4:16

Bruce Charleton does a much better job of explaining something I think I touched on a couple of months back:

Think about our own earthly Father or Mother - as a child, if we believe they are good, we trust them; and we interpret their actions (observed and imputed) in that light - in the light of knowing that they love us.

We don't let any specific action, or their average of actions, or anything we read, or anything which 'other people' say, have any influence AT ALL on the knowledge of the fact that they love us.

So the mass of Christians do not assume the loving goodness of God, they de facto test it. For example, they test the gooodness of God by reading the Bible, or Church pronouncements. This is equivalent to a child starting each day agnostic as to the love of his parents, and weighing all their actions and statements about them to decide - day by day, moment by moment - whether his parents really do love him - or not.
God is Good -- all the time.  We can absolutely trust Him.  He is not "testing" us or setting us up over how we ask for something in prayer.  He is not going to give us something evil to teach us a lesson when we have asked for something good: 

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:11-13)
I have told the story before of how my wife gave me a new KIng James Version Bible, and, when I began to read it, I was certain that the publisher had altered the text.  I actually went back and pulled out an older copy that I knew was "right" only to find the Bibles had not changed.  The reader had, because he had "come to believe".   

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


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.