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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

See Your Name in Print

OK, I’m back. Did you miss me?

You do not delight in sacrifice and offering; You open my ears to listen. You do not ask for a whole burnt offering or a sin offering. Then I said, “See, I have come; it is written about me in the volume of the scroll. I delight to do Your will, my God; Your instruction resides within me.” -- Psalm 40:6-8

A while back I wrote a bit about the messianic passage Isaiah 50:4 that has a similar sense of hearing God and speaking on His behalf. This passage from the Psalm is quoted by the writer of Hebrews in chapter 10 as also applying to the Messiah, which it obviously does. However, God did not limit His specific prophecies solely to Christ. An example is 1 Kings 13:2 where an anonymous prophet names a descendent of the Davidic line, Josiah, as the individual who would destroy Jeroboam’s idolatrous altar, but generations in the future. Isaiah names Cyrus as the king of an as yet non-existent kingdom who would, hundreds of years later, decree the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Obviously skeptics can argue that these names were added after the fact or that, in Josiah’s case, the both prophecy and fulfillment were falsified, no proof being sufficient for a mind that rejects proof – not even living proof.

I believe that Isaiah prophesied about Cyrus. For my purpose today, though, the more applicable example is Josiah who saw himself named in the chronicles of Judah by this unnamed prophet. He was motivated to fulfill the prophecy. In fact Psalm 40, classified as a Davidic psalm, would have been quite familiar to Josiah. He could have uttered those very words of his ancestor as he realized that he had a job to do.

When I look into the Bible, I see God’s Will. In fact, I see God’s Last Will and Testament. There is no invocation of a will until the testator dies (see Hebrews 9:16-18). Jesus died to put God Last Will and Testament into force. The Holy Spirit is the Executor. You and I are named as heirs of God and "joint heirs with Jesus Christ". Like Josiah, we can find ourselves in the Book.

Some might argue that, even if it is true that some old prophet said there would be a king named Josiah, Josiah was a common enough name. If you are king and your name's not Josiah, you are pretty much off the hook. "Yeah, well, that idol stuff, uh, Josiah's supposed to take care of that." When a Josiah did come along, what choice did he have?

For one, he could have named his son Josiah. That's what we do with Social Security.

When you read God’s Will, and something comes alive to you, you are reading your destiny, just as Josiah did. The Holy Spirit begins to speak and say, “This is your heritage. For this, you were born.” The instruction that resides within you converges with the Will, interlocking like pieces of a puzzle giving you a larger, more coherent picture. That instruction resides as latent potential, I won’t say within everyone, but within every living soul. Yet it is up to us what we do with it. When the Spirit calls my name will I accept it, or will I say, "You must mean the other Josiah"? Will I understand that the call is personal, or will I push it off as being for priests, preachers, ministries, religions, organizations or governments?

As a Christian who struggles with an extremely rebellious nature, I have found it helpful to shelve the word “obedience” part of the time – not the concept, just the word. Instead let’s call it “fulfillment”. No need in stirring up trouble right off the top. The Holy Spirit calls me to see God’s Last Will and Testament, and to fulfill the stipulations of it. I will never walk in my inheritance unless I fulfill God’s Will. I cannot understand my own existence apart from fulfilling what is my prophetic destiny.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Some of Us Grow Up

I have a short week and a lot to do, no FNFFA this week. But Friday night reminds me of Saturday night and Saturday night reminds me of “Saturday Night Live”, which in turn reminds me of National Lampoon, the magazine. I don’t know if it is still published. Somehow, a few decades ago, a copy came into my possession and was stored away in a stack of early ‘70’s vintage Sports Illustrated magazines (I think this was before swimsuits were “sports”) and a single well-preserved copy of Marvel Comics’ “Two-Gun Kid”. The Two-Gun Kid story and art hold up over time. The SI’s are interesting for the history. But looking at the satire magazine, I can’t imagine that I ever paid money for such a disgusting pile of humorless stupidity. My excuse is, if I did buy it, I was probably drunk or high.

Satire is perhaps the most difficult kind of humor to get right. I know. I’ve tried and failed miserably every time. I can sometimes sustain a bit of irony for a sentence or two, but in extended pieces it tends to fall apart, just collapse under its own weight. Maybe it is just a personal problem. Looking through that old Lampoon, I tend to think not. The magazine contains nothing that I would call “satire”. There are some things that are gross and/or shocking. There are a few pieces that turn things around backwards in the tradition of Erehwon, but they don’t really work and they aren’t funny. They are just stupid, and stupid is only funny if you actually respect your subject.

For example, contrast a couple of “minority” comedians: the great Bill Cosby and the, uh, well, extremely bitter Margaret Cho. Essentially Cho hates the people she tries to skewer – people like me. Because she has such a low opinion of her target, she cannot make it real, it has no resonance. Cho and her audience are “laughing” at a caricature that is so far from being real I can’t even identify it as human, certainly not as myself.

Consider Cosby on the other hand. Listen to an old Fat Albert story from some of Cosby’s early records. They are still funny – a little more nostalgic than they were perhaps but still funny, even if you’ve heard them a dozen times. Bill Cosby loved his characters. He could see the humor in what they were and what they did, but he respected them. They were caricatures lovingly drawn and the details overblown made them more loveable – not grotesque.

Cosby is an adult who looks back lovingly on childhood and adolescence, seeing the beauty and the humor and helps us understand ourselves. Cho is an aging adolescent who tries to mock adulthood, wisdom and maturity but fails since she does not understand any of it.

All of that brings me to my actual subject: Robert Heinlein. Admittedly I have lost track of how many degrees of separation that is, but here we are. Generally, Heinlein’s work is divided more or less neatly into two segments. His early novels are sometimes known as “juveniles”, written for what we call today the “young adult” market. These works include Tunnel in the Sky, Starship Troopers, Farmer in the Sky, etc. The later works are themed differently -- Stranger in a Strange Land, Glory Road, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Farnham’s Freehold, and the Lazarus Long stuff.

Tunnel in the Sky is a good little SciFi book – the tone matches the theme and the character. Heinlein’s voice is pitched well for the story. The plot is fairly solid and the characters are adequate. You can say the same thing about Starship Troopers which is a little more “mature”, but is still appropriate to Heinlein’s voice. Honestly, I don’t remember the other juveniles that well -- Tunnel in the Sky was always my favorite.

When it comes to the later novels, Heinlein begins to lose me. Farnham’s Freehold is a deeply flawed book. The plot is not just weak, it is atrocious. I was actually ticked off when I put the book down. I had been scammed. The problem was that Heinlein tackled an idea he couldn’t handle. It might even have been a good idea but it was beyond his voice and capacity. He just flailed using his reputation like water wings and went no where. Give him credit, I suppose, for jumping in but it was painful.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has a better plot with better character development. Again, it’s a good idea and at least manages to convey Heinlein’s libertarian beliefs with some passion. It is probably my favorite of the later novels, along with Glory Road, where, once more, Heinlein’s voice was well matched to the material. It was predictable and plodding at times but I didn’t feel cheated at the end.

Having read Stranger in a Strange Land, I could not bring myself to tackle any of Heinlein’s Lazarus Long works, though Stranger is in some ways Heinlein’s best. The title, of course, comes from Moses when he names his first-born son, Gershom, which sounds like the Hebrew for “a stranger there”, saying, “I have become a stranger in a strange land.” (See Exodus 2.) Heinlein brings his protagonist, a human child born on Mars and raised completely apart from humans by the Martians back to earth. Michael Valentine Smith becomes a Christ-like figure, but one whose morality is skewed relative to human tradition. There’s lots of free sex. There’s cannibalism. Heinlein gives us the word grok. It’s a powerful vision and aligned well with the ‘60’s mentality.

Never trust anyone over thirty.

The trouble is Heinlein was still writing a juvenile. In all of his later works that I have read, his voice never changed. Heinlein never grew up. Stranger probably has the most complex characters Heinlein ever created. His insight on an alien mind in a human body is thought-provoking and well-done. But he just could not keep from being a seventeen-year-old boy. Heinlein carried that chip that most adolescents have on their shoulder around all his life. He never made peace with adulthood. He was never able to say, “Yeah, well, maybe the Old Man was right about a few things after all.”

“Write what you know”, so they say. We’ve all been children. Some of us grow up.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Who is that Masked Man?

Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all in all -- Colossians 3:9-11

When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, He identified with man. When a person offered an animal sacrifice under the Law, he placed his hands on the head of the creature, ritually placing his own sins upon the offering and identifying with it. Without the identification, the sacrifice was meaningless – they were just slaughtering another lamb.

Much Christian talk and teaching rightfully focuses on what Jesus did for us. He bore the penalty of our sins. Like the scapegoat in the Old Testament, He bore our sins out of sight. Or, as Donnie McClurkin sings:

Living He loved me
Dying He saved me
Buried He carried my,
My sins far away
Rising He justified me
Freed me forever
One day he’s coming back –
Glorious day!

The other side of the coin is our identification with Christ, and Paul’s letter to the Colossians begins to emphasize that in the third chapter, where I’ve been stuck for a while, as I mentioned a few posts back.

The scapegoat and the sacrificial lambs were just a shadow, a little drama showing us truth. Offering my sacrifice, I could only be sincerely sorry for my bad actions and resolve to be a better man. I could use that symbolic act like a piton driven into the rock on an otherwise impossible face. It allowed me to stay in touch with God, to continue to receive blessings and benefits. The trouble is, as we are told in Hebrews, the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin. It has to be repeated. The high priest can never rest, never sit down and say, “It’s finished. The payment is complete.”

Jesus came as our Great High Priest, became fully man, emptying Himself of His glory yet never ceasing to be God. He identified completely with us, to be tested and to suffer as a man. He then offered the ultimate sacrifice of Himself. On the cross, He said, “It is finished. It is paid in full forever.” When He ascended, unlike the sons of Aaron, He sat down.

When a baby is born it does not know what it is, let alone who it is. It has to identify with someone. I am like my father, not just because I have some of the same genetic material, but because I identified with him. Someone took a picture of me not too long ago. When I saw it some time later it took me a couple of minutes to realize it was not Dad. I do look a little like him physically but that wasn’t what fooled me -- it was the facial expression which is just so typical of him that I thought it was on his face.

To be spiritually born from above puts me back to that point where I don’t know who or what I am. As Jesus said to the sons of thunder, “You really don’t know what kind of spirit you’ve got there, boys.” Unlike an infant born of the flesh, however, the spiritual infant literally grows by identification. It is possible, I fear, to remain a helpless, amorphous infant spiritually for many years. I do not know what happens to one who dies physically in that condition. I would imagine it’s pretty shocking. It is certainly not meant to be.

I identified with the old natural man for a long time. Like my father’s expression, it can almost be a mask that hides who is really in the picture. It is a lie about what and who I really am. I need to end the lie, end the deception, stop living as a persona, drop the actor’s mask. What, as your mama used to say, if your face freezes like that?

It’s time to drop all the racial, tribal, and sectarian identities as being meaningful. They can be good fun and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they do no touch the core of what we are. Christ alone is my identity, just as I am His identity.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why You Can't Argue with an Orc

What motivates an orc? I wonder about it. Not that it keeps me up much at night, but then hardly anything will keep me awake for long.

Wife: “There’s a tornado coming!”

Me: “Wake me up if it hits us.”

Anyway, back to the orcs who, granted, look upon humans as a high protein food source, yet I tend to think that if a few hundred cows armed themselves and took over a fort somewhere I’d forget about them and find one that wouldn’t put up a fight for my burger. It’s more than that with the orcs. There’s something about people that just rubs an orc the wrong way.

Orcs are creatures born of grievance and hatred. They were not created; they were a creation perverted. The orc is a derivative being, not able to be true and genuine, for to be true it would have turn into something else. The story goes that Melkor took his noble elf captives deep underground away from their beloved starlight, tortured, twisted, and manipulated them until their shining beauty was a dark hideousness.

You are of your father the Devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of liars. Yet because I tell you the truth, you do not believe Me. -- John 8:44,45

It’s enough to make one wonder if there be orcs among us still. You see it in the suicide-vest Muslims, certainly, but you also see it in the liberation-theology Christian, the wacky militant atheist, in the abortion-loving feminist, the America-hating left, and the self-loathing Jew. Anything that reminds them of what they should have been must be destroyed.

Orcs were repulsed by light and cleanliness and beauty because it recalled to that tiny point of light in their darkened minds what they had once been. The twisting begins with hating the one who is abusing and torturing me, who is unjust and cruel to me. But it does not end there. Once hatred and bitterness take root, the poison spreads and defiles everything it touches. Soon, my grievance is not so much with the devil that torments me as with God who delivered me into the devil’s hand. In fact, if He is that kind of a God, why should I not willing serve my tormentor and get back at the One who abandoned me?

The blackness of the abyss looks inviting. I want to dive into the darkness. I would do anything to extinguish that one flickering speck of light that just refuses to go out. If someone speaks of God to me, I want to silence them. It feeds that horrible spark. If they speak with words, I will expose the darkness and filth within them and call them “hypocrites”. They are no better than I am. If they speak by their lives and their values, I will mock them and seek to make them ashamed of their very goodness. Why should they have righteousness, peace and joy when others do not? Do they not care about others?

And yet I have a dread, a dread that is as certain as death. Even at the bottom, the very blackest bottom of that pit into which I gaze so longingly, I know even there, especially there, this spark will not go out. The fire will burn on to torture me forever.

This abominable little speck of light will be indeed a lake of fire.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Back on the Home Front

Last week Bill Whittle’s piece in the National Review Online, “The Undefended City”, created a lot of interest on the right. It started me thinking about Tolkien’s books and Peter Jackson’s movie and how applicable the myth of Middle Earth is to us today.

Orson Scott Card has rated The Lord of The Rings as the greatest novel of the 20th century. Considering the epic nature and scope of this heroic fantasy, it’s an assertion that has some merit, whether one agrees with it or not. Holding to a high opinion of Tolkien’s masterpiece could cause a person to be critical of Jackson’s LOTR film trilogy. For example, Jackson omits the events of the chapter called “The Scouring of the Shire”. In the book, Saruman was not killed at Isengard, he was allowed to leave. He traveled in company with Grima Wormtongue to the Shire and established control over it through manipulation, corruption, and thuggery. The hobbits were forced to surrender the fruits of their labors to Saruman’s henchmen who then doled out enough to keep the inhabitants alive while keeping the most and the best of everything for themselves, for consumption or enrichment. Some of the hobbits even go over to Saruman’s side for their own benefit.

When Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin return to the Shire, they immediately begin to resist the new order. They organize their fellows and fight back. After all, it was a desire to save the Shire and all that it meant which pushed Frodo and his friends out on the road to Mt. Doom in the first place. They had fought for the Shire all along.

I cannot fault Jackson much as the films, especially The Return of the King, border on being too long anyway. He actually emphasizes the centrality of saving the Shire to the hobbits' motivations on several occasions. I think the return of the hobbit heroes and the conflict in the Shire with its resolution and restoration would make a nice little movie by itself. It could be any hero in any war, returning to the home he had sacrificed to save, only to find it overrun by a nasty little iteration of the evil he had destroyed on a distant front. It could even be you and I, the mythic heroes of our own spiritual quest, forced to deal with finding “Heather Has Two Mommies” being read to our kindergartener.

Tolkien, as he told us plainly, was not writing an allegory, and he was not basing his novel on current events. He was creating myth, using the epic to draw back the veil on the real struggle that goes on, much as Homer did in the Iliad and Odyssey. That readers immediately began to apply this vision to the world they knew tells us he succeeded magnificently.

The restoration of the Shire serves as a transition for us. We move from epic heights to the lowlands of normal, everyday existence. Storied heroes return to the reality of a greatly circumscribed life. The nature of this can be seen in Saruman’s name change. In the Shire, he is known as “Sharkey”. No longer is he the great white wizard, or even a great evil. He is petty and small, doing small, petty things simply to wound righteousness and thwart the good. Yet it is still evil, and if we tolerate it or ignore it, it will corrupt all and continue to spread.

The big battles may get the coverage but it is down here where the issues of life are decided for better or for worse. This is the great error of the left – they seek a strong man to lead; they want power centralized where the elites can most easily influence the decision-making. They want someone else to praise or blame or call to for help. They essentially live in a fantasy world, and it is rather shabby. Glamour is created by illusion. As Artie Shaw – who would know – pointed out, even if you are married to the love goddess, somebody still has to get up and make the coffee. The romanticized version of reality held to by elitists does not hold up in the morning sun.

The conservative -- the classic liberal -- has no desire to see the world botoxed. We are at home with the wrinkles of reality and wisdom. We have fought on the heights and know it is a bad and bloody, but thoroughly necessary business. The tacky, faded cardboard cutout, though life-size, does not deceive us. On the mountain, I may have overcome in the great battle for my soul, but I know I must remain on my guard against the bushwhackers in the valley and be as ready to defeat the small enemy as I was to engage the giant.

A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

Life does not flow down by decree from Washington, D.C., or Barad-dur. Life is lived in Washington, MO and Bag End. America will not be saved by any politician, though it can be and has been seriously damaged by some. America will be saved, preserved and restored by the little people who refuse to despair, but also refuse to wear their chains as if they were jewelry. The battle is the Lord's; the boots on the ground are mine.

Friday, September 19, 2008

FNFFA -- Smoke 'em if ya got 'em

Pepe LePew Lives!

Let’s see: Tolkien, D&D, Cowards, Narcissists, and a son of bitch in a silk robe Bill Whittle tells us about the undefended city.

Isn’t it nice that the leftists aren’t haters like us radical, gap-toothed, right wingers

Cho’ nuff, Margaret. As laughable as sick, angry, bitter maroons who call themselves ‘Comedians’

I tagged my view of the Bible on at the end of Thursday’s thread on OC, so I’ll repeat it here. The written word of God is a revelation of God. Here’s the deal: most of us are never going be buddhas. There’s no ascending to God from the flatland without some help. Through His word, and ultimately through the Word, God comes down to us. I am a fundamentalist in the sense that I think the Holy Spirit wrote and preserved what we know as the Bible today.

The cosmos is a revelation of God. Man is a revelation of God. Studying nature and man will, if one is open to it, move a person closer to the Divine. Yet, He remains unknowable unless there is an unveiling. So God gives His word, but even that is not enough. “But their minds were closed. For to this day, at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains; it is not lifted, because it is set aside only in Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:14).

As Bob has said, scripture is rather holographic. Paul goes on to say in that passage that the veil is removed when a person comes to the Lord. The Spirit of God begins to interact with the written word and the spirit of the believer to cause the word to come alive. The charismatics distinguish between logos and rhema -- the word on the page versus the word alive in one’s heart.

The Bible can help us understand how to relate to the cosmos, and to one another. To steal a concept from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the Bible doesn’t tell you how to fix your motorcycle but it does tell you the proper attitude to have in order to fix it. You can’t use the Bible as a scientific text but it does give you the right way to think about science. An enlightened mind helps you do whatever your hand finds to do with wisdom, more effectively and more joyously.

Matthew's Genealogy of Jesus

In reference to Rick’s question about Matthew’s use of numbers in the genealogy of Christ, I will toss in my two cents. I can answer all your biblical questions.*

Abraham receiving the promise of a kingdom initiates an Age of Preparation. David fulfills the promise in an earthly sense and initiates the Age of the Kingdom which ends tragically with the Babylonian exile. The Age of Exile is again an age of preparation – not for an earthly king and kingdom but for the establishment of the heavenly kingdom and the coming of the King of glory.

I think fourteen signifies preparation, as it is the “double seven”, with seven symbolizing divinity and completion. It is the length of an “age”, an era, an epoch. I hesitate to use the word “dispensation” since it has other connotations.

Three, of course, would be indicative of the Trinity. Abraham represents the Father who prepares for the Son, and David the Son who prepares for the Kingdom – or the Bride. (Remember, David, though he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, was not allowed to build a temple for it. He could only make preparation.) The age of exile and return represent the Holy Spirit as He makes preparation for an entirely new paradigm with the apocalyptic arrival of Jesus. The Messiah becomes the pivot point of history – not only being the ultimate Word for revealing God, but explaining and fulfilling the types and shadows in the Law and the Prophets.

I’m sure that’s not the only way to look at the genealogy and its divisions but it is one possible view.

I'll throw something else out here that kind of goes along with this. There's a great story related in Genesis 24. I won't go into all of it now, just touch the high points. Abraham, the Father, is intent on getting a wife for Isaac, the Son. He sends his eldest servant, his steward -- symbolic of the Holy Spirit -- to the town of Nahor where members of his family still dwell. The servant goes and finds Rebekah -- representing the Bride of Christ -- and brings her back to Isaac. There you have, in a single chapter in Genesis, pretty much the whole of spiritual history summarized.

*Disclaimer: Answers may be made up on the spot and cannot always be expected to be correct or in anyway related to any sound theology, homiletics, hermeneutics, or neutered hermits.

Where did this come from?

Or, now for something completely different. I am a little hesitant to do this as I'm afraid some expert will read it an tell me something about myself I'd just as soon not know. But, what's the point of living if you don't live dangerously.

We live on a few acres out in the country and just below the house, there used to be a little pond (stock tank to Texicans) that wasn’t much more than a big mud puddle. I had it cleaned out and expanded a couple of years ago to be deep enough for fish, had it made kidney-shaped so that is covers about an acre.

It is situated mostly in the open. I have planted a few evergreens around it but I didn’t want a lot of trees blocking the sun and filling it up with leaves in the fall.

So this morning I dreamed about my pond.

In my dream, the pond is just full of leaves. I think my recently deceased father was there with me when we came up to the pond. I started to rake some of the leaves out and somehow the pond turned into something much smaller. It appeared to be built like an above-ground pool – still kidney-shaped. In the dream, the thought did cross my mind that my pond was bigger than this. But in typical dream-logic it made sense, more or less.

I think Dad suggested breaking the pool down to clean it rather than raking the leaves out and we proceeded to do this.

The pool was set up, not on the ground but on a platform, like a stage, with a backdrop behind it, and seats on the other side, looking down on it like a little amphitheater. The bottom row of seats was elevated off the ground at about the same level as the stage. There was a gap between the stage and the seats probably six or eight feet wide that dropped down to ground level. Possibly it was there for drainage, to let the water from the pool get off the stage without getting into the seats. You obviously weren’t meant to cross from the seats to the stage under normal circumstances because there were no steps on either side. The platforms were four feet high or maybe a little more. I know I stepped down into the gap from the stage and started to vault up to where the seats were, something I could normally do easily, but my arms and shoulders were exhausted from a workout earlier (in real life) and I gave it up.

After the pool was dissembled several family members appeared to help me put it back together. Dad was not one of them. I was a little concerned because I had disconnected some small tubes from the pool and wasn’t sure how we would connect them back up. It occurred to me that the people assisting me did not know what they were doing. We were beginning to get the bottom and sides up. We paused to talk about someone, a female – my mother (also deceased) I think – who “liked to turn on the lights out there and play [some kind] of music” so that people passing by could enjoy the scene.


I kind of think I know what this is about, but I am open to suggestions. Jung is OK, Freud not so much. Have fun.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stuck in the Middle with Who?

So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you will be revealed with Him in glory. -- Colossian 3:1-4

I’ve been stuck on Colossians 3 for weeks it seems. As Romans 4:25 says, Jesus was delivered up – that is, crucified, for my trespasses, but He was raised from the dead for my justification. Not just me, of course, but I do need to make it personal. As far as God is concerned, the death of Jesus on the cross is the death of all old Adam’s race. It is the end of the line, the omega point for the old man. In Adam all died, so in Christ all are made alive, we are told.

Paul’s declaration sounds conditional, but it is really a statement that follows from a premise, “so if”, not just “if” – it means that I am raised with Christ. That being the case, I am called to seek what is above – in the vertical dimension. In that vertical realm it does not matter about my condition or situation in the horizontal for “above” I am in Christ at the position of authority. In Christ I am God’s right hand man. I am thus called to pay less attention to the earthly dimension and move my mind’s focus to the heavenly.

"When the Messiah is revealed" is not talking about the Second Coming primarily, or possibly at all. It is Christ being revealed to me right here.

This is why I think I’ve been stuck, because, again, it is about revelation. I think the Holy Spirit is building a hunger in me to see Jesus, as I have been talking about the last few days. My real life is now Christ’s life; my reality is now the vertical, the hidden, the unseen as opposed to what is visible in Flatland. The Lord is creating a desire for revelation that I have been avoiding.

Now who, in his right mind (not saying I am), who would refuse to accept the offer to see the Messiah? Actually, it’s not just me. It happened all the time in the Old Testament as individuals chosen by God to do His work had visitations of the “Angel of the Lord”; they all expected to die. In fact, they all did, though not physically as they expected. They died to their old nature – sometimes forever, other times only temporarily. The Angel of the Presence, whether physically visible or seen in the logos, is the Angel of Death to Adam’s children.

All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain surrounded by smoke. When the people saw it they trembled and stood at a distance. “You speak to us, and we will listen,” they said to Moses, “”but don’t let God speak to us, or we will die.” -- Exodus 20:18,19

I’ve been satisfied with the indirect approach, to being obedient without seeing Jesus, frankly because it requires not just occasional, temporary sanctification – enough to get me through a church service, or sufficient for filling in for the pastor on Wednesday night – but death, permanent unmitigated death to the flatlander within me.

In a little while the world will see Me no longer, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live, too. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, you are in Me, and I am in you. The one who has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me. Ad the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father. I also will love him and will reveal Myself to him. -- John 14:19-21

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We Would See Jesus

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about: ‘After me comes a man who has surpassed me, because He existed before me.’ I didn’t know Him, but I came baptizing with water so that He might be revealed to Israel.” – John 1:29-31

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, that is, indicative of repentance. The Baptist knew what he was called to do. He had a prophetic understanding of the times in which he had been placed. He realized that an Anointed One was coming, yet he did not know who it was. When Jesus appeared, John immediately recognized that He was what it was all about.

Sometimes it is the same way in my life. I know what I need to do, but I don’t necessarily know why I am doing it or what it means. The Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel often acted out or portrayed things of great significance. Isaiah named his children according to the word that came to him. Jeremiah bought a new linen belt and hid it under a rock by the Euphrates until it rotted. Ezekiel used an iron griddle signify the unbreakable nature of the siege of Jerusalem.

Like those actions, baptism is a symbol of repentance. The water removes no sin, but obedience to the ritual is a visible statement of one’s willingness to change. John is described as the voice of one crying in the wilderness to prepare the king’s highway, smooth it out and make it inviting for Him. Jesus is seen when the way has been prepared. The Groom is revealed to the Bride after she has made herself ready.

I wonder about the view of such a message in these seeker-sensitive days. Certainly Jesus invites all who will to drink freely of the water of life. The Lamb of God has taken away all the sin of the world by the blood He shed.

I think, though, if I find myself believing yet unsatisfied it may be because He has not been revealed to me. Like John, I am doing what I can, but I do not know Him. I must ask myself if there are things of which I need to repent, things I need to give up, to put away.

Do I need to be washed with the water of repentance before I am cleansed by the Blood?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Revelation -- Surprise, Reveals

Without revelation people run wild, but one who keeps the law will be happy. -- Proverbs 29:18

Man can discover many things. After all Adam ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I would have thought we could discover the law. Isn’t that what law is all about, right and wrong? Isn’t it, as the materialist says, simply a matter of how to get along well in community?

The law, which is a foundational revelation, serves two purposes. The first and obvious purpose is to restrain the natural man, the flesh.

They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on. Now we know the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately. We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and the sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to sound teaching based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me. -- 1 Timothy 1:7-11

Paul gives us a scary recital of wickedness. People are not intrinsically moral; we need the law to rein in the impulses that would rip civilization apart. We also know that under the best of conditions those impulses, though restrained, are lurking just below the surface. We have been "enlightened" relative to many who, at the beginning of the 20th Century, thought the world could be free of war and conflict. Utopian schemes have failed from the Kibbutz to hippie communes to Communism. It might be reassuring to speak of the inherent goodness of man but you will lose the farm betting on it.

Those who define evil in terms of behavior seem to miss this point. Hatred is evil even if it is never expressed in action. Jesus equated hatred with murder and lust with adultery. The materialist dismisses this idea, arguing, perhaps, that it is only dangerous to hate because one might act on it, or that it is bad for digestion. I'll stick with Jesus on this one. I may be from down on the farm but I know how the cows come home.

After corralling the flesh, the second purpose of revelation is to nourish the spirit. Logos is the interface for knowing God and having His strength enter our spirit. (The written word is sort of like a UNIX command line. The Word, Jesus, is more like a GUI.)

For a long time I was what you might call an influential person in whatever local church I attended. I was willing to work, I could speak effectively, I gave money, and I was a legalist. I thought that restraining the flesh was the primary thing. I wanted better sinners -- as silly as that sounds. When I did wrong, I repented, but I remained, even by my own standards, basically unchanged. Despite the fact that I was going to church every time the doors were opened, I was no closer to God than I had been sitting on my deck twenty years earlier when I had realized He was real and I needed to live differently.

Of course I was living differently on the outside. The law had done its work. The wickedness was under control most of the time. What wasn’t different was my heart. Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. So what if, under a little pressure, the mouth speaks vicious hatred and vileness? I concluded that I had a heart problem. I needed to take the next step, to move from being a man of the flesh with reasonably good behavior to being a man of the spirit, really alive and happy.

It hasn’t been easy and I’m not too sure I’m making much progress. I do know, at least, that revelation does not end with merely being good, that transformation is possible, and even to be expected. Perhaps I am finally on the right road.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Politics of Humility

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. – Luke 14:11

It has been said that, all other things being equal, a bald man cannot be elected President of the United States. While that may be the case, I would say it is most necessary for a presidential candidate to embrace at least the appearance of humility if he plans on receiving a majority of the votes.

I owe John McCain an apology. I did not vote for him in my state’s primary. I’m not apologizing for that but for underestimating what an astute politician Senator McCain is. I fear that he is still a moderate, still reluctant to shutdown the borders, too willing to compromise with Democrats. Of course I would have voted for him in November regardless. Over the course of many presidential elections I have voted for the lesser of two evils more often than not. Politics is not religion. Like horseshoes and hand grenades, close counts in politics. Anyway, John McCain is an admirable man who served his country nobly and courageously in unimaginable circumstances. He also has a measure of political shrewdness on the level of Richard Nixon. All his faults aside, Nixon was a genius when it came to understanding the electorate and gaming the process. Bill Clinton was only elected President in 1992 because of Ross Perot and the not-so-subtle efforts of the media back before the internet with its forums, blogs and new sources became a factor. Nixon was already detested by the Democrats and the media when he won unassisted in 1968. I’d take Nixon over any 20th Century leader, except Churchill, in a back alley street fight.

Of course the Palin pick was a master stroke, but McCain was on the right track before that. At the Saddleback forum he looked and sounded presidential. Obama sounded like he was running for president of the student council. At Saddleback and more explicitly in his acceptance speech McCain found the perfect note. He talked about how he had been a cocksure, know-it-all stud Navy pilot. Then, so truthfully it was painful to hear, he told how he had been broken and humbled, how he had become a changed man through his trials. Humility will win the South and the swing states.

The core American voter may not have a lot of Scotch-Irish blood in his veins these days, but he still has the culture and the values. We expect a man to brag on his family or his bird dog, and we don’t mind if he takes a little justifiable pride in his brains, his brawn or his skill. But if he ever gets to thinking that he’s better than the rest of us, we will mock him and poke him every chance we get. We will delight in his failures, not so much to gloat over him, though we might do a little of that, but to see him come to his senses and be a better man. We’ll rejoice in another man’s good fortune or success in business so long, as we say, it doesn’t go to his head. We may make fun of one another as the opportunity for a good laugh arises, but we usually trade in self-deprecating humor. We are not bigots or racists. We do not care about a man’s skin color, his accent or where his people came from so long as he treats us the same way.

John McCain has managed to turn this election into a choice between a humble man who can laugh at himself and a cool, distant mocking elitist. Whether that is in fact the truth of the matter makes little difference. If things remain as they are Obama will lose, not just the South, but all the swing states and some states like Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Wisconsin that have gone to the Democrats in the last four cycles. The final outcome is still in question. There are the upcoming debates, and McCain may falter, but at this point John McCain and his team are positioned to win. Obama has allowed himself to be defined, not just by the Republicans, but by his own supporters, as an arrogant aristocrat who knows what’s best for everybody else.

My people do not like aristocrats. We appreciate the nobility of an individual and respect those who are leaders by nature and inclination but we have little use for those who would "lord it over" others.

There are some who do, such as those who think of themselves as part of the aristocracy or the meritocracy – the mainstream media, Hollywood, many of the newly rich technology tycoons, and those from the ivory towers of academia. An aristocracy, though, cannot exist without an underclass. In this case the much more numerous part of the snob voting block consists of those who have been convinced that they are victims of society in need of a savior, such as the urban, African-American community, some of the less thoughtful, more extreme members of the gay community, and various other assorted collectivists. One thing that has always baffled me about the Democrat coalition is the rabid defense of “abortion rights”. Why is this so central to the Democrat platform? If we think about the elitism at the heart of the collectivist left, we see that abortion is an easy way to eliminate “unnecessary” humans: white trash “clingers”, blacks, Trig Palin. There are only so many resources and they should not be wasted on the marginal. It’s the same reason elitists are so in love with universal health care. There is no reason to waste time and money on people who are going to die anyway, or, more importantly, those who should never have been born in the first place, and it should be up to those in the bureaucratic meritocracy to make that decision – not, Gaia forbid, families.

So, too, with the radical environmentalists: humans are bad and need to be controlled least they overrun the pristine world nature created. Only the elite know what is best. The hicks out there can’t be allowed to just do whatever they want with their own property. If it were up to them, the environmental elites would herd us all into high-rises in urban centers. There would be no sprawling suburbs or small towns. Some of us, by permit only, would be allowed to venture out on weekends via light rail. They would eliminate the private automobile, that diabolical device that allows people the freedom to live where they want.

It really is a culture war. We are the rural egalitarians who believe we can take care of ourselves and one another without a bunch of arrogant knowers-of-all-things standing over us dictating. They are the urban elites who -- along with their serfdom of victims -- fear those ignorant hicks who don’t have passports, who drink Folgers coffee, and eat iceberg lettuce and baloney on Wonder Bread while watching NASCAR. The aristocrats’ day may come, but it is not yet. Humility, even if you have to fake it, is still the way to be exalted in America.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pet peeves, beauty, beasts and fairies -- FNFFA

I did my patriotic duty and went down to Wal-Mart to buy some Murikan stuff -- steak, ham, pork and beans, toilet brushes, and Co'Cola. I think my bill was about $170 all told. In front of me was an older lady (even older than me -- at least she'd looked worse) with a few items. I was laying stuff up on the belt when I realized that there was a discussion taking place between the young man checking and the lady. Her bill was $27 and some change. All she had was $24. I actually started to reach into my pocket and pull out enough to make up the difference when I saw that she had a big box of Busch in the cart. She was also buying a Red Baron frozen pizza. It's been a while since I bought beer and even longer since I bought Busch, so I'm not sure how that worked out, but it was obviously quite a bit of beer. I might have still ponied up the difference if had been Coors -- at least it would have been American lawnmower beer. Instead I waited patiently while the lady decided that she didn't really want the pizza. I then unburdened my overloaded cart, paid cash, and got back more change than she had just spent on beer.

Not that I am unsympathetic -- I've had to do some fast mental calculations to make the money cover the meat a few times myself. I'd like to think, however, that if I were a little tight at the end of the week, I might have sense enough to go for a six-pack or a twelve-pack instead of a case or whatever it was.

The prettiest people are supposed to be here. Having never been there I can't say, but it could have something to do with thong bikinis.

I’m no expert on what women consider good-looking in a male, but it is a fact acknowledged worldwide that the best looking women are from Texas.

In case you missed the link in my One Cosmos comment here is an article from a couple of years ago in which a feminist discusses 'oh, the horror' fairy tales.

At least she likes Shrek, even if she doesn't quite understand it. Shrek is reminiscent the old "Fractured Fairy Tales" from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. It is very much tongue-in-cheek and uses some of the fairy tale tropes to amusingly satirize society as a whole.

Perhaps the most appalling statement the author makes it this one: “I do believe these fairy tales do have negative psychological effects as they sometimes stimulate the imagination more than is necessary or in the wrong direction altogether.” What’s the point of being a kid if you can’t have an over-active imagination? My complaint about most children’s television is that it is not fantastic enough.

There are plenty of mistakes you can make with kids. One is to infantilize them, do not allow them to develop a sense of responsibility, shield them from the consequence of their actions. There are plenty of AINO’s (Adults In Name Only) out and about. Another common mistake, seemingly contradictory can be made at the same time: not allowing a kid to be a kid. Parents want children to think “sensibly” like adults, to avoid flights of fancy, to be well-grounded, dull, soccer-playing midgets. Check out the kids on sitcoms. They are usually the sensible ones. The father figure, especially, is an overgrown child, mocked for his ineptitude.

The goal with children is to encourage fantasy and imagination while gently teaching the skills necessary to navigate in a sometimes rough world. One of my favorite examples of this was on the old Andy Griffith Show where Opie killed a mother bird with his slingshot then dutifully raised the orphan babies.

On the other hand I'd be willing to bet that Ms. Anti-Imagination was a fan of Sex and the City. Fairy tales, indeed.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's the Good of Prayer

Only when a man flounders beyond any grip of himself and cannot understand things does he really pray. Prayer is not part of the natural life. By “natural” I mean the ordinary, sensible, healthy, worldly-minded life. Some say that a man will suffer in his life if he does not pray. I question it. Prayer is an interruption of personal ambition, and no person who is busy has time to pray. What will suffer is the life of God in him, which is nourished not by food but by prayer.

If we look on prayer as a means of developing ourselves, there is nothing in it at all, and we do not find that idea in the Bible. Prayer is other than meditation; it develops the life of God in us. When a man is born from above, the life of the Son of God begins in him, and he can either starve that life or nourish it.

Prayer nourishes the life of God. Our Lord nourished the life of God in Him by prayer; He was continually in contact with His Father. We generally look on prayer as a means of getting things for ourselves, whereas the biblical idea of prayer is that God’s holiness, purpose, and wise order may be brought about. Our ordinary views of prayer are not found in the New Testament.

When a man is in real distress he prays without reasoning; he does not think things out, he simply spurts out: “Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses” (Psalm 107:13). When we get into a tight place our logic goes to the winds, and we work from the implicit part of ourselves.

“Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Then why ask? Very evidently our ideas about prayer and Jesus Christ’s are not the same. Prayer to Him is not a way to get things from God, but so that we may get to know God. Prayer is not to be used as the privilege of a spoiled child seeking ideal conditions to indulge his spiritual propensities; the purpose of prayer is to reveal the presence of God, equally present at all times and in every condition.

-- from If You Will Ask by Oswald Chambers

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obama's Dreams of My Strategist

Scrappleface explains Young Obama Wanted to Join Army, Hunt Moose (Click the link for full article)

Sen. Obama told Mr. Stephanopolous that he had also considered being an Alaskan commercial fisherman and moose hunter, like Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, because “I liked the idea of being a bold adventurer on the American frontier, killing my own food and surviving the harsh elements.”

Instead, young Mr. Obama decided to pursue a law degree, because it was “as close as I could get to having bloody entrails on my hands.”

Old friends long gone

For some reason I am thinking of my old friend Jim Godsey. The last time I saw him was in his home in California in the summer of 1978 – thirty years ago. Sadly I was still too young, ignorant and full of myself to realize what a treasure this man was. It didn’t occur to me to tell him how much of a positive influence he had been on my life. I have lost track of him and the odds are I will not get to tell him in this life.

Jim was a few decades my senior. In fact, I went to high school with his kids. I used to hang out with his son Mark and daughter Julie. He was an extremely wise man, as well as being something of a wiseguy. A veteran of the Second World War, he was a machinist by trade, and he loved music.

Few people have been privileged to see a collection of music such as Jim possessed. In addition to stacks of LP’s, he had 78’s and a big reel-to-reel tape deck that poured out sounds from Harry the Hipster and Fats Waller. You could hear German drinking songs, swing, jazz, blues, polka, and novelty songs. The first time this old hillbilly heard “St. James Infirmary” it was at Jim’s house. He even had sacred selections such as “In Heaven There is No Beer”.

Jim had put an addition on the back of the old house he had bought out there in the country. He got it roofed and he more or less finished the kitchen but the bathroom had only half a wall and the whole area was open to the rafters. The main part of the addition was a sort of family room where Jim reigned after work from his easy chair, decked out in his white t-shirt neatly tucked into his briefs. If you couldn’t handle seeing fifty-year-old man, possessing a significant beer belly, in his drawers, it was a good idea to avoid Jim’s place.

On the other hand, if you could get past that, a visit with Jim became almost a religious experience. Harry the Hipster might be singing about a pink houseboat and angels or the Marx Brothers might be up on the movie screen. Despite the fact that he would be drinking Bud and talking about women, the man had a purity about him that is difficult to describe. He wasn’t conventionally pious, but he could respect what he didn’t understand. I don’t doubt that he would have been right at home with the One Cosmos coons.

He loved life, which, when you think about it, is awfully close to loving God. He might gripe about people, and he had little patience for stupidity, narrow-mindedness or bigotry, but life itself was an adventure, and a grand one at that.

After Jim went back to California, I finished college and got a job. One of the things I did with my money was to buy records and audio equipment. I had a pretty decent collection of LP’s myself, a Dual turntable, Kenwood receiver and cassette deck. The audiophile part of my life was a tribute to Jim’s mentoring. When I dubbed off cassettes for my friends to enjoy I was sharing the joy and the wisdom of music that I had learned from Jim. Though I lost my equipment and collection to theft and had more important things to spend money on for several years afterward, the first time I burned a CD, I thought of Jim. When I loaded a collection of Fats Waller on my mp3 player, I smiled thinking how he would have thought it was so cool to be able to hold all of his music in the palm of his hand.

As I think back on my life I see the sources of my true education. They are few: my parents, a preacher, a teacher, a sprinkling of saints, and Jim. I am who I am because I knew Jim Godsey. My friend, I may never get to have a beer with you, but some day we might drink some new wine together.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Peace in the Waiting Room

I had to take my wife to see the doctor today and that meant I had to sit in the waiting room. I took along my NT, my notebook and pen. I suppose I was looking for something comforting given the situation, so I opened to John 15. I began to read and, as is my habit, I read the verse that precedes the start of the chapter, that is, John 14:31; the last part says: “Get up; let’s leave this place”. I can’t recall ever having heard anyone preach on that text, but it certainly has great potential.

However, since that is pretty cryptic, I stepped back a little further to John 14:27:

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.

I do not give to you as the world gives.

Peace is given by the world, after all. The world gives peace as a function of circumstances. Worldly peace dwells in the person but it is derived from possessing the good that is in the world. The good of the world is always limited and temporary and the peace that derives from it has, of necessity, the same characteristics. The shallowest people think wealth or property can give peace and contentment. Those with a little more intellectual capacity may seek peace in relationships and causes. It is almost too easy to think of rock stars and actors because this view crosses the spectrum – from beer and bass boats to champagne and yachts.

I am guilty myself from time to time. In this season it is easy to allow my mindset to be controlled by polls, to be driven back and forth by the news of the day or the state of my finances. I need more than temporal contentment.

Jesus is explaining that He has to go away. His peace, however, will not depart when He departs. The disciples were troubled in heart, thinking that their relationship with Christ was a typical human connection, doomed to end and dissipate with time. When that which we love is gone, from a worldly perspective, the peace we derived is gone. That is not the case, though with the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Christ Jesus gives transcendent peace. It not only dwells within the believer but the believer dwells in it. The peace of Christ in both apart from the world – independent of the world and its goods – and at the same time it is triumphant over the world and all that is in it.

Jesus gives peace. That is, it does not come from striving and achieving. I do not attain peace; it is given to me. Isaiah 30:15 says, “You will be delivered by returning and resting; your strength will lie in quiet confidence.”

You will keep in perfect peace the mind that is dependent on You, for it is trusting in You. -- Isaiah 26:3

The peace of Christ is not denial or detachment. I cannot wall myself off and live in solitary. That is my personal tendency, to flee from pain, to abandon attachments and relationships, to give up on anything that causes me to suffer. Strange as it sounds, I have suffered because of that. As a follower and imitator of Christ, I embrace the pain and pass through. His peace goes with me and remains with me like the Fourth Man in the fire.

I suppose this is a non sequitur, but I feel compelled to add it today.

According to God’s grace that was given me, as a skilled master builder I have laid a foundation, and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it, because no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid – that is, Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire. -- 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Monday, September 8, 2008

Don't You want to Go?

The Gospel train is coming,
Oh, don't you want to go,
And leave this world of sorrow
and trouble here below

”See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will never see Me again until you say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

As Jesus left and was going out of the temple complex, His disciples came up and called His attention to the temple buildings. Then He replied to them, “Don’t you see all these things? I assure you: Not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down!”

While He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached Him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?”
-- Matthew 23:38,39; 24:1-3

The last two verses of Matthew 23 are quoted above. They end Christ’s lament over Jerusalem. Then Matthew 24 begins. It is always good to keep in mind that the Bible is divided into chapter and verse simply for the purposes of convenient referencing. Matthew’s book had no divisions of any sort as he wrote it. Thus it is important to base one’s interpretations on the immediate context as well as the general ideas expressed.

Futurists – particularly pre-millennial, pre-tribulation futurists use Matthew 24 as part of their hermeneutical argument. Matthew 24:15-22 is quoted as proof of the coming “Great Tribulation”. I have no quarrel with futurists, or preterists for that matter – frankly I just don’t care. My eschatological view is summed up in Jesus’ command to “occupy until I come”. I got my job and I’m here for the duration.

I do have a quarrel about tribulation. If I begin reading in Matthew 23 and continue on through the 24th chapter, without any preconceived notions about what is being said, I get the distinct, clear impression that Jesus is talking about a future destruction of Jerusalem and of Herod’s temple. The Lord speaks like an Old Testament prophet in declaring that because Israel had refused to accept her Messiah, she must suffer. It is an echo of Isaiah and Jeremiah and especially of Ezekiel who saw a vision of the glory of the Lord departing from the temple prior to the Babylonians’ capture and devastation of the city and its temple.

When the passage speaks of Jesus’ return, it seems to be referring to His return in judgment to chastise the Jews for rejecting Christ. This would be fulfilled in 66-70 A.D. with the siege of Jerusalem by the forces of Rome under Titus. As recorded by Josephus in his history, this was indeed a time of “great tribulation”. It appears to fulfill much – if not all -- of Christ’s prophetic declaration in Matthew 24. Josephus even records an incident of one of the legions, with its pagan standard, entering the temple complex and then being forced to withdraw prior to the fall of the city itself that would equate to the “abomination of desolation”.

As I said, though, my gripe with futurists is about tribulation. Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation...” – John 16:33. The believer is in hostile territory. This was certainly true under tyrants like Nero and Domitian who aggressively persecuted Christians. It was true under Communist rule in the Soviet Union, and under Mao in China. It is true today in many Muslim countries where people are killed for converting to Christianity. Given all the suffering, death and destruction of the Holocaust, one would be hard-pressed not to say that in sheer numbers Hitler’s persecution of the Jews was a “great tribulation”. But Jesus was not talking about suffering in general He was speaking specifically of Jerusalem.

Now, I understand the principle of “double fulfillment” in Scripture, i.e., that a prophecy can have an immediate specific fulfillment as well as some greater future fulfillment, and futurists apply that idea here.

The trouble is that there seems to be this idea that the Christian life should be a picnic and that we will be snatched out of the world prior to anything really bad taking place. The fallacy of this should be evident to anyone not currently in a coma. But, the futurist counters, the Great Tribulation will be really, really bad. My answer: they can only hang you once. It’s been done. Christians were tortured and martyred in many places. For the person those are great tribulations. The futurist seems to think that suffering worldwide, collectively is a greater degree but that is not true.

I recently watched the film We Were Soldiers. This is a decidedly Christian story and somewhat of an allegory for the Christian life. We are in enemy territory – in the world but not of it – in a hot LZ. We’ve got the choppers coming in with what we need for the fight, but we have to do the fighting. The battle is the Lord’s but those are my boots on the ground. They could evacuate some but it would be at a loss and the battle would be lost. I could go, but who would watch my buddy’s back? Of course, one could argue that Jesus has an advantage over Too Tall and Old Snake when it comes to getting His people out in one swoop, but it is still surrendering the field to the enemy. No, we are here to win both the battle and the war. We go out only when the enemy flees into his hole, devastated and defeated.

We will have trouble. We will suffer. It is not necessarily because of some sin we have committed. It is not because of our negative confession or our lack of faith. We face trials because we are alive and human, and especially because we are seeking God. Testing perfects our faith. Suffering can move us toward God. We miss the whole point if we are looking for an easy way out. I am not looking for the Rapture. I am looking for victory. I don’t need evac; I need more ammo. Instead of my clothes falling empty to the sidewalk when I am “changed in the twinkling of an eye”, I want to “put off the old man and put on Christ” and be “transformed by the renewing of my mind.”

As I said, I’m not a partisan when it comes to eschatology so if the futurists are right, all well and good. If Jesus wants to come back today, I would be thrilled. That means we have won.


Talk about sufferin’
Here below
And let’s keep a’followin’
Talk about sufferin’
Here below
And let’s keep a’lovin’

Friday, September 5, 2008

Meanwhile I was still thinkin ... Friday Night Free-For-All

Remember last week I wondered if they'd play "Barracuda" for Palin? What can I say, I'm a visionary -- but not as much of one as Dirty Harry when it comes to Heart(less). Stan and Ollie -- I mean, Nancy and Ann object to the use of "their" song for a politician they oppose.

Ask Chrissy Hines how that worked out when she objected to Rush's bumper music.

Next I wonder if the mighty B.B. King will object when 0bamba changes his campaign theme song to "The Thrill is Gone".

Rasmussen indicates the race is back to a dead heat. We won't see any of the effects of McCain's acceptance speech before Monday and the weekend polls tend to skew Democrat. The Palin factor is just starting to be seen today.

Let's go back to the Wilson sisters for a moment. "Barracuda", so they say, is a slam against the corporate structure of greed -- you know, The Man, baby. How is it that commercial musicians like the Wilsons, Mellencougar or whatever, and so many others think they are anti-corporation?

They took the money.

Oops, gotta go. Have a good weekend.

The Flesh is a Strange Armor

Then Saul had his own military clothes put on David. He put a bronze helmet on David’s head and had him put on armor. David strapped his sword over the military clothes and tried to walk but he was not used to them. “I can’t walk in these,” David said to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off. Instead, he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the wadi and put them in his pouch, in his shepherd’s bag. Then, with his sling in his hand, he approached the Philistine. -- 1 Samuel 17:38-40

Leading up to this point, the Israelite king Saul had disobeyed God and been rejected. The Lord had sent the prophet Samuel to anoint a successor and He had selected the youngest son of Jesse of Bethlehem, David. As it typically fell to the youngest son to look after a family’s flock of sheep, David was the shepherd. Generally it was not too demanding an occupation but there were many predators in those days and so the shepherd had to defend his flock. The shepherd’s staff was not only helpful in herding, it served as a weapon as well. In addition to his staff, however, David had perfected his prowess with the sling.

Saul’s army was camped on one side of a wadi and the Philistine army was on the other side. The Philistines had a champion, Goliath, who was somewhere around nine feet tall and made quite an impression. He came daily and challenged the Israelites to send someone out for single combat against him. No one was willing to go. It is worth noting that Saul himself was the tallest man in Israel yet chose not to meet the giant on the battlefield.

David is sent up to the encampment by his father with food for his older brothers and the leader of their regiment. While there he witnesses the Philistine’s challenge and asks why somebody doesn’t go out and kill the big guy. He keeps asking questions and irritating those around him until he is finally taken to see Saul. When Saul has doubts about David’s fitness to take on the giant, David assures him that he has killed both lions and bears in defense of his flock – not, by the way, with his sling. “If it reared up against me, I would grab it by its fur, strike it down and kill it.” (1 Samuel 17:35). Saul finally agrees to allow David to take up the challenge and even offers the youth his own armor and equipment.

David goes along with trying on the king’s outfit but finds it strange. In some translations he says, “I haven’t proven them.” He had proven the sling and the staff. He had confidence in his own tools and equipment but not in the strange armor of Saul. Moreover David’s trust and confidence were not, ultimately, in his weaponry but in his God. It was God, he said, that delivered him from the lion and the bear.

When I face a challenge it is tempting to say that I’m not really up to it; it is beyond me. I look at my meager abilities and think they are insufficient. David had to face an armored giant with spear and sword. David had a stick and a handful of rocks.

I need to remind myself, and sometimes those around me, that I have faced difficult situations before this. David rehearsed his victories over dangerous predators. He knew that he had gotten through those trials, and he had learned that God was with him.

Smaller trials and tests ready us for bigger trials and tests. They give us confidence. Lao-tzu speaks of the fighting rooster that does not even look at his opponent. That is the champion, so supremely confident that nothing can break his calm. So, too, David paid no attention to the giant; he did not dwell on his size, his strength, or his skills. He kept his attention on God.

Rather than look at the giant and what it against me, I will look to God. Instead of being worried about what I am lacking, I will remind myself that those who trust in the Lord lack nothing they need. What God has given me, I will use. I will not be seduced by the world’s strange armor. I have no need of it and it is unproven. I will carry into this battle what I know is mine and I will go in the power of God.

Finally, David did pick up fresh ammunition. He chose five smooth stones from the bottom of that dry gulch. He placed them in his shepherd’s bag, all five apparently. When he approached the giant, he put his hand in the bag and drew out one to load his sling. It is a little like the priest drawing the sacred lots, the Urim and Thummim, to determine God’s will.

We make our best preparations based on our experience. The Lord expects us to do that. But in the end we allow the Lord to choose the stone that will fly perfectly true.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Following, Knowing, Becoming

Let us strive to know the LORD. His appearance is as sure as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land. -- Hosea 6:3

Continuing the thought from yesterday, to have a heart like God’s that is big, open and accepting means that we must know Him.

You always become like your god. That’s just the way we are built. A people who know a bloodthirsty, hard-hearted god are a bloodthirsty hard-hearted people. People who actually know the true God -- the loving, forgiving, merciful God -- become loving, forgiving and merciful. The prophet says, “Strive to know the Lord.”

Many people, even many Christians, know only a caricature of God. Perhaps they learned it as children and never bothered to go beyond that. Perhaps their own life experiences have been so traumatic that they have difficulty believing in a genuinely GOOD Divinity. You see it often among atheists and agnostics. Their concept of God is ludicrously limited and twisted. While you might not blame me for refusing to believe in a cartoon version of the Almighty, it remains my responsibility to strive to know the truth.

The good thing for me about Hosea’s admonition is that it includes a promise. If I make the effort to know God, He will certainly respond. As James echoes, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” As surely as dawn breaks over the horizon to dispel the darkness, the light of God’s truth will dispel the darkness of ignorance and doubt in my soul.

Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is. -- 1 John 3:2

Some want to become god-like without becoming like God. It is a bad idea.

There is still more to the promise. As we draw near to God we not only receive light, we receive life. “He will come to us like the rain.” One of the reasons God gave the Israelites the hill country was to teach them dependence. Unlike the “well-watered valley of the Jordan”, the hill country is only green and productive when you are getting regular rainfall. Without my seeking after the Lord, my life becomes dry and barren. As I follow on to know the Lord, however, He comes with the water of the Spirit to revive and refresh.

Father, today as I look for You, let Your grace rain down upon me that I may become like You in righeousness, in love and in mercy, in all things.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Loosen Up

You are not limited by us, but you are limited by your own affections. – 2 Corinthians 6:12

You are not compressed nor narrowed down in us [you have ample space in our hearts; we hold you within a great love], but you have compressed and narrowed down in your affections [you have tightened up in your affection for me] -- Wuest’s Expanded Translation

“You have tightened up”. Isn’t that a descriptive phrasing? Imagine you are meeting someone with whom you have some disagreement or contention. Imagine that you feel yourself at least slightly the one who is wrong rather than the one wronged. When I am in that situation, I can feel the affection tightening up, becoming compressed and narrowed.

When my affections for a person are compressed my adversary has less leeway, less of a buffer or margin for error. If you’ve ever read Owen Wister’s classic western The Virginian, you know the origin of the phrase, “Smile when you say that.” One of the characters Steve is a close friend of the Virginian. As the narrator prepares to spend his first night in Medicine Bow he is somewhat shocked that Steve can call his friend an SOB repeatedly and evoke only laughter. He begins to think the epithet something of an affectionate term in Wyoming. Later, during a poker game the villain Trampas says to the Virginian, “Your bet, you son-of-a—.” We’ll let Wister finish it up:

The Virginian's pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice that sounded almost like a caress, but drawling a very little more than usual, so that there was almost a space between each word, he issued his orders to the man Trampas: "When you call me that, SMILE." And he looked at Trampas across the table.

When they were beginning to put the roof on our little country church, the lead carpenter started up the ladder with the remark, “Here’s where we cover a multitude of sins.” Of course, the Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins. What is threatening or obnoxious in someone we dislike may be eccentric or endearing in someone we love. To the extent that I love and trust someone I am much more open and tolerant of them.

Paul and the members of the church at Corinth had been involved in some conflict. There had been things going on within the local body of believers that were unseemly for Christians. The Apostle had been instrumental in establishing the church there and had written his first Corinthian epistle to correct some of their errors. At this point it appears that his instructions had been received and put into practice, but Paul is concerned that their affection for him had diminished as a result of his confrontation.

Thus he writes to tell them that he is not going to limit them. He holds nothing against them. Yes, he had to correct them as a parent must sometimes disciple an unruly child, but he does not love them less because of it. As Paul assures his friends in Corinth, the Lord conveys a similar understanding to the modern Christian.

Some of you may be perfect. I am not. I do things that are sinful and inconsistent. The Spirit of God is perfectly capable, however, of correcting me and has done so. When that happens, I need to avoid tightening up. I only limit myself. God does not compress and narrow me. Though I may have betrayed Him, He remains “loose”, free in His love and affection toward me. There is plenty of room in His heart for those of us with knees skinned, scarred and calloused.

And what does the Lord expect of me? He expects me to have a heart like His, with plenty of room for my less than perfect brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


In my sadly misspent youth, I worked for a couple of companies that did "contract research" for the big pharmaceutical companies. I wasn't involved in the clinical trials, just the statistical analysis, cranking the data through SAS and plotting points for the statisticians and tech writers. All pharmaceutical research in the U.S. has to be double-blind, meaning that neither the subjects or the doctors know which participants are getting which drugs. This eliminates both the placebo effect and the experimenter effect.

William M. Briggs, a statistician, ties Wishcasting, the experimenter effect, pharmaceutical research, global warming, and politics together. It is a brief and lucid explanation and well worth reading.