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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, November 4, 2019

Reality Rules

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. -- James 4:8
I happened to pick up Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest this morning and read the entry for today. It's based on James 4:8 and is call "The Authority of Reality", so I am riffing on that. 

Faith is acting on what you know to be true, what you know to be real.  I have a spare tire on my truck and a patch kit I carry on my bikes because punctures and road hazards are real.  We stop at stop signs, drive on the right side of the road, stay out of certain parts of town after dark, pay our taxes, watch what we eat, and all the rest because of what we believe to be real.  For me, I know, it is difficult to believe in anything other than the material world I see and experience on a daily basis.  I am, after all, a native Missourian.  "Believe half of what you see [perspective] and none of what you hear [opinion]" was drilled into me from birth.

My mother used to check the almanac for the various moon signs or whatever they are.  By the signs, you are told to plant potatoes and other root crops in "the dark of the moon".  My father's response?  "I always thought they do better if you plant them in the ground."  My favorite, though, was castrating calves.  Dad didn't have any fancy equipment, just a classic stockman pocketknife with a scary sharp spey blade, and he usually kept some pine tar in the truck.  We'd see a new calf, determine it was a bull, catch it, and cut it.  In the summer, if we had it available, we'd smear some tar around the cut to keep away the flies.  Back at the house, Mom might wonder if the calf would be all right as the sign was in not in the feet that day.  Dad again, "The sign is in the knife."

Since then I have experienced things that were inexplicable in a material sense, usually having to do with the timing of events -- things happening or coming together at just the right time to benefit me.  I have been in the right place at the right time on multiple occasions.  I have been blessed over and over, and I have come to believe that God is Good, all the time.  Have I experienced upheavals and tragedies?  Have I seen bad things happen to good people?  Have I been taken aback by the utter stupidity and the malice of people?  I have certainly, especially that last one. 

Malicious people are acting on what they believe to be true, on what they believe is real.  Perhaps they are philosophical atheists or practical atheists who believe we are alone in a purely material world with no one to answer to except our fellow humans.  Perhaps they believe in some kind of vindictive god, or they are deeply religious pharisees who think they are better than other people.  I don't know, but I pity them.  However, if they come to my house with their evil, the sign might be in the Glock. 

I believe Jesus, the Son of God.  I believe He described the real world perfectly and completely, that He is Truth incarnate.  I believe He is with me, that, now and then, He has worked through me, that He has guided my steps even when I had no idea what was going on.  By all rights, I should have been dead forty-nine years ago and probably more times than I know since, but here I am, and I am going to do my best to act on what I believe.  The just shall live by faith.  The just do it.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Certainty

Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, "Take courage, fear not.  Behold, your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you".  -- Isaiah 35:3-4 (NASB)
I haven't written much for a long time.  It is a spiritual discipline for me, and I have neglected it.  I'm not sure why, other than I have been doing other things -- often less constructive and beneficial to myself.  I'm not sure, either, that I am back to a regular routine.  I think I needed a break.  I started this around the time my father's age finally caught up with him, eleven years ago.  I began to neglect it sometime after my wife passed away, four years ago.  I've sorted through a lot in the last several years. 
I am more certain than ever of the goodness of God.  I am more confident that He knows what is going on.  I am a lot less certain that I do.  I think it used to be reversed.  I think I spent a lot of time trying to tell the Lord what I wanted Him to do.  These days my prayers tend to be more like, "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me."  
At one time, I could have believed I was a messenger of God, along the lines of the prophet Ezekiel, though writ quite small and modestly.  Perhaps I was -- to a person or two, thirty years ago.  I did the jobs that were given to me, delivered halting messages to best of my ability, struggled with my weaknesses and limitations, and moved on.  And I'm still here.  I wanted to be like Joseph.  I might have been more like Moses when he murdered the Egyptian in his self-righteousness.  I always wanted wisdom, but I knew a lot more than I understood, though I was certain I knew what needed to be done.  Without getting all megalomaniacal, I wonder if I have not been afflicted with the malady that hinders and binds the modern Church.  The Church seems confused, divided, and cut off from what is going on in the world with all its ugliness, vulgarity, hate, and violence.  Perhaps it's evidence of a surrender, perhaps just a recognition that Christians can't beat the world at its own game.  
The hope for me is summed up in the quoted passage.  God is not unaware of what is going on.  A person not cognizant of Scripture could be forgiven for assuming God doesn't know or doesn't care about the increasing insanity, the ongoing suffering, and senseless, manic actions that look more like an attack of St. Vitus' dance than ballet or even the boogaloo.  
The pendulum has swung far.  I would like to think it has reached its limit in the direction of chaos and destruction, but it may be a while before it swings back.  But swing back it will.  We may not recognize the world when that happens.  We may find it disorienting.  We may be appalled at the destruction this decades-long descent into pandemonium, this reign of flesh bring about.  The recompense will come.  The correction will come.  
In this time of doubt and questioning, of this I am certain:  if we trust in the goodness of God, in the grace of Jesus Christ, we will be all right.  We will come out whole.  

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Feeling Nothing

Sometimes prayer is like going to the dentist. When serious work is required, the dentist injects Novocain into our gums so we feel nothing during the procedure.
When we feel nothing during prayer, it could be that the deep healing has begun. This is the point where the act of prayer becomes a work of faith. We come to our chosen time, place, and rule of prayer. We are reluctant, procrastinating, distracted, and restless. We feel nothing, if not a little foolish. Nonetheless, we pray. The Latin word for “faith” is credo, the source of our word “credit.” At heart, it means “trust.” To pray during the dry times is to trust that the emptiness within and the absence without constitute, in fact, a presence. To pray a few words while frantically running from task to task is to trust that God hears us even if we can’t hear Him. To have faith also means to act as if—as if God is real, as if God is there.
 -- from When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer, L. Joseph Letendre

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What You Can



She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. -- Mark 14:8

The story, there in the first few verses of Mark 14, is that a woman with a sordid past came and broke an alabaster container of rare and expensive perfume and used it to anoint the Lord.  Those who witnessed the event criticized her, thinking the costly ointment had been wasted.  If she desired to do good, she could have sold the flask and given the proceeds to those in need.  

Jesus put a stop to their analysis of the woman’s actions and motives by saying she had done a beautiful thing for Him.  The poor, He reminded them, would always be around.  “[W]henever you want, “ He said, “you can do good for them” (v. 7). 

The woman could not make up for all the sins of her life.  She could not put all the things right that had gone wrong.  She could not change the world or save the world.  Perhaps she was wise enough to know that.  Instead of fretting about what she could not do, she did what she could.  I don’t know if she realized that Jesus was about to undergo His Passion, be beaten, humiliated, and murdered by my sins and iniquities upon the Cross.  In fact, I rather doubt that she was such a prophet.   I think she saw that she could express her love for this extraordinary Man, respond to the forgiveness and reconciliation she sensed she was offered in Him, and she did what she could.  

That is all God asks of any of us.  There are so many things I can’t do, but there are a few things I can do.  I ought to do those things without worrying about the rest.  Even when it comes to something like prayer, I’m never going to be one of those people who can spend an hour or two on my knees before daylight every day.  But I can pray -- when and as I can.  I should not neglect prayer or Bible study or acts of kindness just because I can’t do it the way I want, or the way a saint, a monk, or someone of great spiritual power might.  I am not a preacher, but I can tell others what I know, what I have seen, what I believe, when the occasion arises.  I am an introvert and not pushy, but I can respond when questioned.

I don’t have the gift of healing, but I can offer to intercede just the same.  I can’t lay hands on the sick and see them recover, but I can put an arm around a suffering person and share perhaps a little of their burden.  

Whatever it is today, all you have to is what you can.    

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Walk It Out

People like me never know
How the world works
Or who is in control
-- most of time,
Until it no longer matters.

We do the best we can
With assumptions,
Learn to keep moving
on the strength of gumption
-- whatever that is.

You wonder why the trail's
so hard
And such a struggle for
every yard.
Then one morning
You rise in the cold, thin light,
Look back and realize that
In the night
You reached the crest
Of a mountain pass
You never knew
You were climbing.

We tell those coming behind,
But they never believe us
In their time,
That it is a long, slow climb.
So some quit and stop,
Curse the ground,
Reinvent broken wheels,
Failed alchemy deals
To make the compass leave true,
Make the plumb line skew,
Much ado.

People like me never knew.

We are fools, to trust,
Believe any good or just
or true.
Yet here we stand
On the height
Dawn breaking from
The greivous, greedy night.
It's not that we were right.
We kept going.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Immigration, Population, and Government Jobs

When I was in college, back in the dark ages of the early 1970s, the big concern was the population bomb and a Malthusian fear of famine from trying to feed too many people.  We are still, nearly fifty years and three or four billion people later, running a food surplus in most of the world, most of time.  We owe that surplus to fossil fuels, petrochemicals, GMOs, and the dominance of agribusiness.  I'm not altogether sure that's a good thing, taken as a whole, but famine is, perhaps, the grimmest of reapers.

Now when I read about the dangers of declining populations, I have to wonder just a little.  Why would a more "sustainable" population be bad?  I tend to think it is for the same reason that immigration is heralded as a good, even when those immigrants are possessed of a vastly disparate cultural and religious background.  Most of the new immigrants and "refugees" pouring into the West are not assimilating or being altered by the culture.  The numbers are too large, the influx too rapid.

These immigrants are committing violent crimes.  They are putting a burden on the taxpayer who foots the bill for housing, welfare, health care, and education.  Governments are straining to handle and pay for the increasing numbers of unemployed and, often, unemployable foreigners.  Yet it is the government that allows immigration.  Are the people in power simply unaware of the problems and moved by compassion?

I think we all know the answer to that.  Could it be instead that more immigrants mean more votes for those who wish to expand the role of government?  Government, as I have said before, does not produce anything except more government.  Like the Blob, it exists to get bigger, more powerful, and more invasive.  Sure, there are some good people working in government jobs.  We don't deny that.  You can argue that some government jobs are necessary.  Firemen and police officers at the local level sometimes do essential and heroic work.  The guys down at the water treatment plant are saving lives every day. 

So long as they are local and their jobs clearly defined, I have little problem with those who work for the city or the county.  Except for the teachers, but they aren't really local anymore.  And at the state and federal level, I'm obviously in favor of the Border Patrol and some degree of national defense. 

The thing is that the political leaders in the West have no problem with an increase in crime or terrorism because it allows them to expand their control of the average citizen.  The NSA monitors all communications under the guise of the Patriot Act and the "War on Terror".  Despite the fact that drug prohibition feeds into gang violence just as alcohol prohibition did in the 1920s, the "War on Drugs" continues to enable police departments to expand, to militarize, and to excuse the routine seizure of property and assets without due process. 

Government feeds on chaos.  More strain on the education system excuses and enables the employment of teachers and administrators on the government payroll.  The strain on health care justifies the government's push for more control of the health care system just as the increase in crime justifies the expansion of police departments and the prison system.  And the vast majority of those employed are now beholden to the great white father in Washington or London or Brussels for their paychecks, pensions, and lucrative benefits. 

Eventually, who is left in the mobocracy to vote against such expansion?  The productive are now merely serfs in a vast fiefdom controlled by the political aristocrisy and their minions who now, more or less, vote for a living.

I can see where an end to uncontrolled immigration and a population decline would be seen as a threat.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Fathers and Sons



Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children – Ephesians 5:1

This, it seems to me, is a dangerous verse.  

I pity those who did not have my father to set an example and to emulate, not that Dad was in any way perfect.  He had a quick temper.  He was often violent toward inanimate objects.  He laughed at his own stories – I’m not sure how much of a flaw that is.  I suspect our Father in Heaven delights in His stories as well.  He was a banty badass.  If I could choose anyone who ever lived to back me in a fight, I would, without hesitation, pick him.  He would appreciate it, because he taught me value of loyalty, and I know that, regardless of the odds or the circumstances, he would not give in or give up. Loyalty may be the single virtue to which I can legitimately lay claim. 

As a son who loved his father and was loved by him, I admired him and sought to incorporate his traits in my own life.  I picked up the flaws along with the diamond, but sometimes those flaws were quite amusing.  I had a good time learning the hard way.  

That’s the way it is when you are a child.  You grow into an amalgam of your parents, if, like me, you are fortunate enough to have two parents who are complementary.  The combinations vary, which is why siblings are not uniform, plus each additional child is influenced by the ones that came before and those that come after.  Parents grow and change, and we learn that from them as well.  Jesus, the writer of Hebrews tells us, is the same yesterday, today and forever.  One cannot improve on perfection.  

As we study the Bible and pray, we bring our lives in line with our Father’s nature and character.  I don’t think it is a mistake to try and be good, to live by godly rules, and operate on a “what would Jesus do” basis, but I do think it ultimately fails.  Do not be conformed (Romans 12:2) – we have to be transformed from the inside out.  I did not become like my earthly father by consciously and religiously imitating his behavior, certainly not entirely.  In fact, for a long time, I thought I was nothing like him. It was only as I grew older that I realized my actions and attitude, my words and the way that I addressed the world grew out of the genetics as well as the mindset he had passed on to me.

All humans are made in the image and likeness of God.  We have, so to speak, the right spiritual genetics.  What we are typically lacking is extensive conversation and communion with our Father.  This comes in hearing His stories, in both speaking and listening in prayer.  It is no small thing that those disciples the resurrected Christ met on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus at last in the breaking of bread (Luke 24:31).  I become like my earthly father over beans and cornbread.  We become like our heavenly Father through communion.  We are also influenced by and learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ.  And the Lord Jesus is Himself our loving and ever-present Elder Brother. 

We can consciously follow this path, but we will be, generally, a good way down the road before we recognize how much we have truly become like the Lord and the extent to which our lives have been transformed.