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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Thursday, July 31, 2008

That's All You Need to Know

For His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:3

I was thinking about Gideon some more. His story is probably best known for giving us the phrase “putting out a fleece”. Gideon offered a sacrifice to the Lord and the Angel of the Lord sent out fire from His staff to consume the offering. Gideon was terrified, but also encouraged that it wasn’t merely a hallucination. He was emboldened enough that he risked alienating his family by tearing down his father’s Baal altar. His father actually intervened on Gideon’s behalf against the neighbors who were offended by the altar’s destruction, saying, in effect, if Baal is really a god, he can deal with Gideon himself. This statement gave Gideon his nickname, Jerubbaal, “Baal contends”.

Prior to going to battle, Gideon requested a sign from the Lord. He put a fleece on the ground overnight. The next morning the ground of the threshing floor was dry, but the fleece was soaked. Not content with that sign, Gideon reversed his request the following night. The next morning the fleece was perfectly dry but the ground was wet with dew.

In the verse at the top, the Apostle Peter assures us that we have everything we need for “life and godliness”. The provision is given through knowledge of God. I suppose it goes without saying that this is not “head” knowledge or factual knowledge – I’ll say it anyway. A person can read the Bible daily and know the facts of it well without having gnosis of God. One of my grandfathers was an agnostic socialist who read the Bible regularly – mainly, I think, to find things that he could use to annoy my very devout grandmother.

The knowledge Peter speaks of is an intimate knowledge. Preachers often use the phrase “a personal relationship with God”. What they are trying to convey with a sort of amusing prudery is the kind of relationship spouses have with one another. Peter could have said that we need to know God in the biblical sense.

It’s a sad fact of the decline of our culture that so few people really grasp the power of faithfulness. To know someone I can fully and perfectly trust is indeed a rare blessing in the 21st Century -- rare perhaps because it requires trustworthiness on my side as well. Husbands and wives should be an earthly metaphor of the soul’s marriage with the divine.

Under the Old Covenant, people who knew God intimately were few and rose like lightning rods above the majority. Moses was one, David another, perhaps Daniel, Samuel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Include the twelve other writing prophets along with Elijah and Elisha, and it is still a very select group over the course of 1400 years. Men like Gideon had faith and were obedient but remained always a little tentative and unsure.

It is like Isaiah speaking of Christ in chapter 53, “by His stripes we are healed” -- it was being done. Peter quotes the prophet after the Cross and says, “by His stripes we were healed” -- a done deal, an absolute certainty and accomplished fact.

I am not implying that there’s something wrong with a person asking for a “fleece”, or that God will not reveal Himself to us in some miraculous and undeniable ways. He gives us signs – from the wonderful little synchronicities we delight in to divine billboards that a purblind pig couldn’t miss. You don’t stop giving your wife flowers just because you’ve been married thirty or forty years.

Through the Cross Christ made the way for “whosoever will” to enter into that Divine marriage, to know God and to be known. Through that intimate relationship we have all we need to live and to fulfill the purpose of our creation. As Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance.”

We need nothing more than knowledge of God, but how do we reach that place of “knowing God”? Simply reading the words in the Bible or any revealed text is not enough. I am inclined to quote John 7 :17, imitating George MacDonald, as a starting place. But a picture might be helpful.

In the film Jeremiah Johnson, the protagonist acquires a beautiful girl of the Flathead tribe as a wife – quite suddenly and inadvertently. The girl, Swan, speaks French but no English and the trapper knows no French or Flathead. As they are attempting to share a meal, Jeremiah tries conversing but realizes the futility of it. Finally he points to himself and says, “Fine figure of a man. Mighty hunter. Yes?” The Swan looks at him placidly. “Yes?” he says again, encouragingly. At last after some effort, he gets her to repeat the word. “Yes,” she replies with obviously minimal comprehension.

Satisfied, he settles back and says, “Yes. That’s all you need to know. For now.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

God Calls Them in the Air

The Angel of the Lord came, and He sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash, Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat in the wine vat in order to hide it from the Midianites. Then the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Judges 6:11,12

Samson, of course, gets all the attention in Judges, but, to me, Gideon is at least as interesting – more so in some ways.

As I mentioned yesterday, Judges records a number of cycles. When Gideon is called, Israel was at one of its nadirs. The Midianites, largely nomadic, would sweep in and pillage Israel. Normally, threshing was done in a high, open area to allow the breeze to catch the lighter chaff as the grain was tossed upward, making the separation easier. Gideon is down in a wine vat, essentially a hole cut into the rock, hiding from the Midianites while he flailed away, sweating and laboring to get enough grain separated out to have something to eat. It was a miserable situation brought on by Israel’s abandonment of God.

Paul, speaking of Abraham in Romans 4:16, 17, says: He is the father of us all in God’s sight. As it is written: I have made you the father of many nations. He believed in God, who gives life to the dead and calls things into existence that do not exist.

When the Lord shows up, Gideon does not look like a mighty warrior. As is evident in his subsequent conversation, Gideon does not see himself as a warrior or significant in any way.

God says to an old, childless man with an elderly, barren wife, “You are the father of nations.”

He says to a man cowering in a hole, “You are a mighty warrior.”

I am not merely what I appear to be, and -- though there is a truth in “as a man thinketh in his heart so is he” – I am not limited to what I have come to think about myself. I am what God says I am. I am what God sees in me.

The Lord declares that He is with Gideon. Gideon responded by looking at the disastrous situation of himself and his people. “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? I’ve heard all the stories about Egypt, the Red Sea, and the conquest of Canaan, but that’s all the past. It looks like God has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.”

How often I have said the same thing when push came to shove. “God has abandoned me.” It’s not true. I don’t think there are always easy answers. It would be simple if I could say that I am always to blame for my own suffering. In fact, it sometimes appears that none of my good deeds go unpunished, as they say. Nevertheless, God does not hand me over to the enemy any more than He handed Job over. I am the clay. He is the Potter. He shapes me by His own hand, and then there is the fire – but we’ll leave that for another day.

Let’s go back to Gideon who had all the excuses. He was of Manasseh – not the most prestigious of the tribes. Not only that, his family was small and insignificant even within Manasseh. He is the youngest of the sons – hence, the least important, and his father, Joash, was an idolater, having built an altar to Baal.

As Gideon lays out all the reasons why he is not the guy, the Lord responds:

“Go in the strength you have ... Am I not sending you? ... I will be with you.”

That’s really the bottom line. I have to go in the strength I have. How can that possibly be enough? I don’t have what it takes. I don’t have the education. I don’t have the intellect. I don’t have the eloquence, the charm, the beauty, the physique.

God says, “Don’t worry about what you don’t have. Take what you have and go. That’s the key. Step out there. This is God talking to you – think about it. I am right there with you. Do you somehow think that I don’t know what I am doing?”

So today, in spite of the obstacles, in spite of my fears, I will go in the strength that I have and see what happens.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Can Make Like A Turtle, Baby

I went out to water the tomatoes, and I found a turtle sitting on top of this post.

"Well, hello," I said, "how did you get up there?"

"I jumped, of course. I have an awesome vertical jump. It comes with the tight buns. And I can hit 3-pointers."

"It's getting pretty hot out here in the sun, isn't it?"

"No problemo. I don't sweat."

"OK. Um, how you going to get down?"

"Have I mentioned HOPE?"

"Not yet."

"How about CHANGE?"

"Sweat or no, you're going to be baked turtle pretty soon. It's like 95 out here."

"That is so specie-est! I'll bet you're one of those human supremacists. How dare you bring up my turtleness!"

"At least I can get myself off a post. Look, I'll get you off there, but you have to tell me the truth. You know turtles can't jump."

"All right. That Soros guy set me up here, but I really deserve it. I am all about hope and change."

I gently picked the turtle up and placed it on the ground in the shade.

"Whew," he said as he began to crawl away, "that's change I can live with."

Judging By Your Cycle

Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 ... That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works He had done for Israel. – Judges 2:8-10

The Book of Judges describes a repeating cycle of events. The Israelites would go along being obedient to God; they would prosper. Prosperity would lead to complacency and self-satisfaction. They would begin to ignore God, becoming progressively more disobedient and distant. “Everyone did what he wanted,” the writer of Judges says several times. They denied authority and willfully turned from the law. In the depths of Israel’s rebellion, God would send an oppressor against them, allowing His people to come under the heavy hand of an enemy. The losses and suffering would cause the Israelites to begin to seek the Lord again. They would repent. God would raise up a deliverer, a judge to lead His people. The oppressor would be driven out. Peace and prosperity would be restored. A new cycle would begin.

I can understand that. We are cyclical beings. We work, we rest. We are one way at midnight and another at noon. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis describes it as “undulation”. We have rhythms. It doesn’t mean that we have to become apostate and then suffer in order to be restored, but it does mean that we will not always be on the mountaintop. It’s a good thing to know. Just because we are occasionally in the shade does not mean we have turned away from God.

Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” If you’ve ever plowed, you know that in order to make your furrow straight, you have to focus on something up ahead and drive toward that. You can’t be looking back, but it doesn’t mean you are plowing all the time.

America is a lot like Israel after the death of Joshua. Generations have risen up who have not seen the difficulties and hardships of previous generations. They have drifted from a God-centered worldview to a position of thinking God is at most an accessory, not something strictly necessary to life. This view weakens our resolve to stand against evil, makes us more accepting of moral relativism, and makes the case for a moral equivalency with our enemies – the Islamofascists, in particular.

Just because there is consensus does not mean there is truth. Deliverance will not come from the crowd. Polling data will not tell us what is right. We may not see billboards for the practical and expedient on the road of righteousness.

Restoration will begin – I think it has begun – in the hearts of individuals. It will not descend in edicts from Washington but it will rise from the Heartland. Those who are chosen by God may never be seen by the press or get written in the history books, but their prayers and their obedience will write the history beforehand.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Driving Buicks to the Moon

Oh when the stars have all been counted
And I stop lovin' you
Honey they'll be drivin'
Buicks to the moon
-- Alan Jackson's "Buicks to the Moon"

I haven’t seen the Dark Knight yet, and I probably won’t. Nevertheless, the Batman is possibly my favorite superhero, certainly my favorite in the DC universe. My Marvel favorites were Thor and Hawkeye. Spiderman just had too much angst for me – even when I didn’t know what angst was. The reason I like Batman is that he’s basically one of us. Give me the all the bat gear and roll thirty years off my odometer and I could do more or less what the Batman does. I mainly just want the Batmobile.

And Catwoman.

I didn’t get my personal jet pack that Popular Mechanics or Popular Science promised me. I can understand about the flying cars – I mean, do you really want some of those drivers out there to be able to go 3-D? Thank God for gravity.

Still, this is the 21st Century and I am a little disappointed. There’s a lot to like with cell phones and video conferencing, net meetings and mp3 players, and Tasers – which, I suppose, are kind of like phasers on stun. I really thought I have a raygun by now, though, or some sort of plasma weapon.

What about you? What technological improvements would you like to see? What kind of science fiction stuff do you think could be translated into real world devices that would add quality to your life?

This is prompted by two things. One is that my very cheap new American car shows the tire pressure in all four tires on the information read-out. The second is that the governor of my state gave Amtrak $5 million to keep running its route between our two largest cities twice a day.

I think we could find a better way to spend $5 million.

While I have resigned myself to living without a flying car, I would happily embrace a car that drives itself. With GPS and Google Earth and sensor technology, we could have that. I should be able to program a route into my car’s computer, get in and go with the assurance that, even if I doze at the wheel, I will arrive safely at my destination. Of course, I would want to be able to switch to all manual and become invisible to the satellites. You might want to rendezvous with a mistress like John Edwards, or, if the Obamessiah takes over, slip off to the catacombs for a church service.

If I were setting up a system like that, I would have the car fire off an alarm if the traffic got too heavy to make sure I was awake. I’m sure it wouldn’t be too much trouble to get sensors that would keep me a safe distance from other vehicles and keep me in my lane.

How about an “economy cruise” setting on your car’s cruise control? Instead of maintaining a set speed, the computer figures how to get your best mileage for an average speed? That’s not as useful in Kansas as it is in Arkansas, but it would be handy. For example, my brother can get 35 mpg from his Lumina, which is several years old. On long trips, he can get close to 40 mpg. I guarantee he doesn’t have it on cruise. He’s so tight he squeaks when he walks, and will gladly trade speed for improved mileage.

Me -- not so much, most of the time. Still, having the option to let the car figure out my optimum mileage would be handy now and then.

We can fly drone aircraft from half a world away, why can’t trucks be controlled remotely, with the drivers going along mostly for the ride? I would think trucking companies would be interested in having a way to use less fuel and improve safety while keeping trucks on course and on schedule. I know some of this is already being done with RFID’s and other tracking devices in the industry.

Instead of the government wasting money on dead-ends like Amtrak and the ever-expanding list of entitlements, use some of my tax dollars to make the infrastructure a little more high-tech.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I'm the god of Velveeta, honey

This is called a mondegreen. The title is a variation on Iron Butterfly's famous "In the Garden of Eden" -- more commonly known as "Inna-Gatta-da-vita". If you're under about 45 and this makes no sense to you, don't worry about it. You had to be there.

Wrapped up like a douche.

Actual lyric:Revved up like a deuce.
(Manfred Mann)

I will admit I always heard it that way, and one makes about as much sense as the other, and the rest of "Blinded by the Light".

Here's another one, and might I add, does it really matter?

Hang on stupid.

Actual lyric: Hang on, Sloopy.
(The McCoys)

I'm not sure when Tony Danza became famous. "Tiny Dancer" goes back to the early '70's pre-"Yellow Brick Road", as best I recall, otherwise it would not surprise me that Reg sang it this way -- OK, maybe not the head lice.

Hold me closer, Tony Danza
Count the head lice on the highway.

Actual lyric: Hold me closer, tiny dancer,
count the head lights on the highway.
(Elton John "Tiny Dancer")

Had enough? If not here are a couple of links:

A set from fun-with-words

and another set from braincandy

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Can You Give the Devil Too Much Space?

One of my sites ran into a little problem very early this morning. I was still sleeping soundly when the call came in. It turned out to be nothing too serious, but I still missed most of my night’s sleep. A related issue got me started after daylight. As a result, today’s post is a little different.

I ran across a article on Christian meditation. It is an interview with John Finley, a former Trappist monk who had studied with Merton. At one point the interviewer asks about the common phenomenon of Christians denigrating or even fearing meditative practices:

Q: Some believe—we see this on Beliefnet's discussion boards—that meditation drives thoughts out of your mind and "invites the devil in."

A: Sometimes I will tell people who express that—well why not try it? Why not try to just quietly and sincerely and silently open your heart to God and see for yourself if you sense something dangerous or bad or dark. And you might discover that the opposite's the case.

If you’ve never been around fundamentalists – perhaps Pentecostals and Charismatics, in particular – this anti-meditation attitude might surprise you. It seems people who are inclined to accept manifestations of the Holy Spirit and believe that the gifts of the Spirit are in operation today are more inclined to believe in demonic possession and may be more fearful of it.

Part of the fear of an "empty mind" -- like that could happen to anyone other than a leftist -- may arise from the parable Jesus told of the unclean spirit that was cast out only to return with seven spirits more evil than itself (see Matthew 12:43-45). That is a questionable application in a couple of ways. Jesus was most likely illustrating the potential condition of the Jews who had the benefit of John the Baptist's ministry and had been cleansed. Additionally, the cleansing had nothing to do with silencing thoughts or clearing the mind. So far, I have been unable to find "an idle mind is the devil's workshop" in any of my Bibles.

I believe demons are real and, working much like a virus, can potentially infect anyone whose defenses are compromised. At the same time, full-fledged Exorcist-type possessions are, thankfully, rare. Demons are generally limited to deceiving and confusing those they attack. They clog the conduits to prevent a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit. They try to rob us of joy and hope. They work to create friction in relationships. In other words, I believe C. S. Lewis nailed it in The Screwtape Letters.

I’ve met a few people along the way who certainly seem to have given themselves over to the devil in some way. Perhaps it was only limited and temporary in some cases. Others appear to be willing emissaries, if not incarnations of darkness.

With the best defense being a good offense, Christians should “be being filled with the Spirit daily”, as a more literal translation of Ephesians 5:18 might put it. Further on in that Epistle, Paul reminds us to put on the “whole armor of God” so we can successfully stand against demonic attacks.

Therefore submit to God. But resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. -- James 4:7,8a

Contemplative prayer seems to me to be a good way to “draw near to God”. Christian meditation or contemplation might well make a person aware of a demonic attack but I doubt that it would be the cause of one. Other than possibly having to deny one’s denial, I don’t see much danger in meditating.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Science and Serfdom: Thoughts on Hayek

I am thinking along a different track this morning, possibly because of the Obamessiah pulling the equivalent of an all-nighter for foreign affairs creds.

From one of the most important and influential books of the 20th century The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek:

Possibly we have not yet given enough attention to one feature of intellectual development in Germany during the last hundred years which is now in an almost identical form making its appearance in the English-speaking countries: the scientists’ agitating for a “scientific” organization of society. The ideal of a society organized “through and through” from the top has in Germany been considerably furthered by the quite unique influence which her scientific and technological specialists were allowed to exercise on the formation of social and political opinions (p. 208)

Hayek goes on to speak of the “intolerance of reason” which is quite applicable to our nation today.

Have you ever wondered how the culture that produced Luther, Beethoven, Bach, Goethe, and Schiller could have produce Nietzsche and finally Hitler? For one thing, it was not the same culture in the end. Hayek suggests that Germany moved from “humanities” to “realities”, then reminds us in a footnote that Hobbes in Leviathan wanted the study of the classics suppressed because they instilled a “dangerous spirit of liberty”.

Collectivists agree: society needs to be better organized. People, as Bill Clinton once opined, just have too much freedom. Al Gore wants government to control how much energy you and I are allowed to use. (Al, I’m sure, gets an exemption with his carbon-credit scam.) Obama and the current Democrat leadership will not allow more drilling for oil to increase supply, but instead want Americans to surrender their freedom of movement for the greater good of decreased demand.

It makes me sick to even think of this. Civilization struggled up out of the collectivist, tribal mind-set largely through the wisdom and insight of the Judeo-Christian religious perspective. America, the epitome of individual rights and freedom, is the result of that struggle upward. We have been the City on the Hill, the light for the rest of the world for two centuries.

I guess I just don’t understand people who want power and control over the lives and choices of others. I would like for my children and grandchildren to make good choices rather than bad ones, but I recognize that we learn from our errors. Despite my vast wisdom and encyclopedic knowledge, I do not know everything. I am particularly limited when it comes to seeing the positive results that can arise in the long-term from what looks like a bad situation in the short-term. I don’t think I am the only one with this limitation. Thus I feel it is fair to question the concept that government has any right to limit my freedom beyond the basics of requiring me to recognize and respect the rights of other individuals. The f’ning government, i.e., the collective, has no rights whatsoever; rights belong only to individuals.

Just as it causes concern that a lightweight like Obama could potentially be President, so, too, we should be concerned when science is elevated beyond its correct role. Hayek – who was there when it happened – says that when the Nazis came to power, scholars and scientists readily accepted the movement and were supportive of the state in its efforts to limit freedom. The Nazis did purge the universities, but the professors they eliminated were mainly the ones in the social sciences critical of the new state -- except, of course, for those who were Jewish. The non-Jews among the natural sciences, where thinking is supposed to be most rigorous, were the least critical of the Nazi regime.

When I hear people like the current crop of “militant atheists” advocating for a better science curriculum in the schools at the expense of the classics and religion, I wonder what it is that will guide society in the future. I am all for giving children a solid education in math and science. Mathematics, in particular, is a language that as many as possible need to know as well as possible. But mathematics is not a sufficient basis for civilization, not even when combined with physics, biology and chemistry. What and how may be important, but they are useless – no, worse, they are dangerous without why.

Science and technology are useful servants. They should not be allowed to master us.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Counting Sheep?

So Moses thought: I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn’t the bush burning up?

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses, Moses!”

“Here I am,” he answered.
Exodus 3:3,4

Sometimes God picks unlikely people for a mission. Sometimes He picks likely people, but instead of turning them loose on the project, He seems to abandon them. Moses, back in the day, was a likely guy. He had been adopted into Pharaoh’s family. He was one of the elite. Legend has it that he was a successful military leader. If I had been God, I would have arranged a coup and put Moses in charge of Egypt. It would have been much simpler.

Instead, Moses winds up a murderer who flees his homeland and is exiled to the backside of the desert, not just the wilderness -- that would have been bad enough – but the desert’s ass. It’s only one rung above New Jersey on the descent to hell.

After forty years following stinking sheep Moses might have been justified in thinking the whole deliverer thing wasn’t working out all that well. Forty years is a lot of tempering and refining. I would wonder if, after all that time, God had not cast me aside and given up on me. I had my chance and I screwed it up royally. I stumbled. I fell from exalted – ok, well, not-so-exalted heights. It was more like I tripped over the threshold but it was still a fall. It still made God look bad. Now I am an outcast just wandering around doing what I can to survive until my miserable spark is extinguished.

But then every once in a while I see some phenomenon. I see a remarkable thing. The question is: will I turn aside as Moses did, or will I go on moseying along behind the sheep? Is it really that remarkable? After all, isn’t that what life is: a fire that burns but does not consume? Is it anything different than the wick of a lamp?

Even with Moses, perhaps other bushes had burned that he had not turned aside to see over the course of forty years. Could he have been too busy or too weary, too hungry, too thirsty, too eager to get home to see the family, or too bored with what looked like a failed life to bother?

I have seen the bush burning. Will I turn aside and get closer? That’s always the question. The remarkable and the mundane will intersect. At that crossroad I must decide to give heed to the remarkable or keep on following the familiar -- one day like another, one sheep like another -- repetitive, familiar. To turn aside and draw closer to the remarkable is the path out of the desert, out of abandonment, out of emptiness.

I will suddenly realize I am on holy ground. I will see the fire for what it is – not some chemical reaction, but the very Spirit of God coming through a common frame. Any old bush will do. It is not the bush that is remarkable. The bush can be well-formed or scraggly and half dead. It doesn’t matter. It is the Fire I have turned aside to see. There I will hear God, at last, at long last, call my name.

He calls my name. He has not forsaken me. He was waiting only for me to turn away from the hypnotic day-to-day dream state, waiting for me to turn to Him, to the Real.

If I find myself complaining that I have no sense of purpose, no mission in life, and no urgent calling, the problem is not that God has overlooked or abandoned me. It is that I have ignored a world on fire but not consumed. I have just kept on counting sheep.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Baby Talk

We have spoken of the need of revelation, of faith and of consecration, if we are to live a normal Christian life. But unless we see the end God has in view, we shall never clearly understand why these steps are necessary to lead us to that end. ... What is God’s purpose in creation, and what is his purpose in redemption? Watchman Nee from The Normal Christian Life

Creation and, consequently, redemption have a goal. God, it says, knows the end from the beginning. In the same chapter as the initial quote above, Nee relates the story of meeting an old saint who told him, “Brother, do you know, I cannot do without him? And do you know, he cannot do without me?” The Father will not be satisfied without His children. We are as important to Him as He is to us.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father.” Paul says we have the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, “Abba, Father.” Abba -- not to be confused with that dreadful ‘70’s pop group for which Sweden owes us reparations – ‘abba’ is the familiar Aramaic name for father, equivalent to ‘dada’ or ‘daddy’ in English, one of the first words a child says. Interestingly, the use of abba or daddy is not derived from the adult so much as from the infant. Babies make all sorts of ba-ba, a-ba-ba, dah, and mah noises. The parents encourage and reinforce these sounds helping the baby to string them together and make everyone happy by saying at some point “mah-mah” or “dah-dah”. We get excited and the baby no doubt thinks, “Cool. I wonder what brought that on?”

So it is with the Father. There is nothing unnatural or formal about our relationship to God in Christ. Through faith we are adopted. The Son of God is our elder Brother and the Father is our Daddy. Our relationship to Him is as loving and close as any parent-child relationship. In a good relationship, the parent is understanding and forgiving; the child is obedient and respectful. As a child I realize my Father has knowledge and wisdom that I do not possess and that there are things I can’t handle.

When I read the story of the Prodigal in Luke 15, I usually think of the son – his errors, his suffering and his restoration. But, as Watchman Nee points out, the story is really about the father who say, “My son who was lost is now found.” This is what God our Father seeks. He wants His children found and returned. God’s purpose in creation was to have sons, to replicate Himself and express His Nature through them. So, too, in redemption He has provided a way of return for those who have strayed.

Once we understand the reason why we are here – that we are created and redeemed to be sons and daughters of God – we can better comprehend why our Father requires certain things. No father likes to see his child unhappy, but no wise father makes a child’s way too easy. Maybe that’s why God is our Father and not our Mother.

As we get the proper perspective, some of the things that happen along the way matter less while others take on greater significance. Our journey begins to make sense. We begin to see how the Father took our mumblings and stumbling and gave them meaning and direction. We see that there was a Hand supporting and steadying us as we took a few steps. We see the Father smile at our childish pride in the “help” we gave Him lifting a load. When I tried but became too weary He carried me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Small Chances

“She has done what she could.” -- Mark 14:8

The story is that Jesus was at a feast in Bethany and a woman entered. She broke open an alabaster jar of very expensive fragrant oil (pure oil of nard) and poured it upon the Lord’s head. The story is related twice in the Synoptic Gospels – here in Mark 14 and Matthew 26 and, being synoptic, they are identical. John, of course, saw it differently, though it was still at Bethany, the resurrected Lazarus was there along with his two sisters. Martha as usual is serving. Mary is the extravagant one who breaks open the jar, pours it on the Lord’s feet and wipes it with her hair.

I suppose some people are bothered by the differences in the stories – one group asserting that this means the Bible is contradictory and false while the other group scrambles to reconcile the disparities. Me, I know they are both true. If someone doesn’t understand that is his problem.

The oil used is called spikenard or nard. It could have been lavender which the Greeks sometimes called nard, but, given the price, it was more likely true nard, a plant of the valerian family that grows in the Himalayas.

When the woman does this, those around Jesus begin to get upset. A denarius was the common man’s daily wage. The old King James often calls it a penny. My father would have thought of it as a dollar back in the Depression. If you take $7 an hour as very basic wage, today it’s about $56 for an eight hour day. The jar of oil was worth 300 denarii. Using our conservative calculation, that would be $16,800. The others at the feast, especially Judas, were indignant at the “waste”. If the woman did not want to keep it, she could have sold it and given the money to the poor.

Jesus told them to leave her alone. If a person wants to do something for the poor, he will have plenty of opportunities because the poor – at least in a relative sense – will always be around.

“She has done what she could,” He told those at the feast. “She has anointed My body for burial.” The extravagance was not wasted. The Lord was worthy of such devotion. He was facing the most difficult day of His earthly life. The fragrance, both of the oil and the depth of love it represented, was a comfort to Him in a dark hour.

Mary could not keep Jesus from going to the Cross. She could not go in His place. She could not prevent His suffering. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan leaves the camp in the middle of the night to journey alone to the stone tables. Lucy and Susan follow and then join the Lion on his way, comforting him as he travels to suffering and death.

I cannot do everything. I cannot solve every problem in the world. I can’t even do most things or solve most problems. My sphere of influence is fairly small. My skills, my strength, my power is limited.

Fortunately God does not ask me to be Superman. He does not require that I achieve great things or make my name known worldwide. I don’t have to be President (“High Lord Mushroom, Hegemon” has a nice ring, though). I suppose our discussion of caste the last couple of days on One Cosmos probably got me started thinking about this. I am just the Average Joe but I can do small things as I go along. I can give a little, work a little, pray a little. I can stand with my friends in a trial. I can sit in silence with the suffering – weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

I can be devoted to the Lord. That I can do.

Someday I will stand at judgment and face the Lord. If He says, “You did what you could”, I think I’ll be happy with that.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

All That Belongs to the World

Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. Because everything that belongs to the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever. -- 1 John 2:15-17

It is a view that sounds strange in the ears of many. It would seem to argue for a hermetic, ascetic existence.

John the Baptist wore rough clothing and lived for the most part in the desert. He lived on clean insects and honey. He fit the popular profile of a prophet, but the religious elite accused him of being a madman. Then there is Jesus, at ease with sinners and secular sophisticates who attended the best parties, often as guest of honor. The religious derided Him as a glutton and a drunkard.

The nice thing about the Apostle John is that he explains his terms. As I emphasize – probably too often – the world is not synonymous with the planet. It is more like the administrative system that is in place. God’s system is called the kingdom in contrast to the world system. Jesus tells us in Luke 16:15, “What is highly admired by people is revolting in God’s sight.” The values of the world run contrary to kingdom values.

John specifies the elements of the world system – “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of one’s lifestyle”. It sounds bad to us because of the connotations that weigh so heavily on the words “lust” and “pride”. Let’s try to look at it from a materialistic point of view. The lust of the flesh can be thought of as appetite. It is natural and necessary. We like to look at pretty things. We like for people to admire our stuff. What’s wrong with any of that? Obviously nothing is wrong with eating when you are hungry, drinking when you are thirsty or having intimate relations with your spouse. It is when our appetites rule us, when all pleasure in life is derived from satisfying cravings, when we our worth comes from what we have, where we live, what we know, who we know, etc. Can there be contentment, genuine peace and joy based on the elements of the world system?

Speaking for myself, the answer is no – not on a long-term basis. Once awakened – how ever that may happen – real rest is impossible apart from God. My only choice now is to do the will of God, wherever I find myself. If I were to try to turn back to the world system I would find it necessary to drug myself with more and more, and I would still be miserable every time I stopped.

A friend of mine was a very successful businessman and also a Christian who gave generously to others and often preached evangelistic meetings in various local churches. In some ways he seemed to buy into the “word of faith” message of health and prosperity. He often spoke of believing God for healing and financial blessings. He built his dream home, drove nice cars and wore the most expensive clothes. He prayed for the sick in his meetings and taught on what some might call "giving to get".

Shortly before he planned to retire from business and devote himself to full-time ministry, his health began to break down. He was diagnosed with an unusual, incurable illness – somewhat similar to ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He reached a point where controlling his movement became impossible. The last time I was in his office, he apologized for not being able to stand up to greet me. The last time I saw him alive, he was flat on his back in a nursing home, unable to do anything for himself, his body immobile except for sporadic tremors of pain. He had been in that condition for over a year at that point.

He could still speak and his mind was clear.

He spoke of the goodness of God.

He was the epitome of a man able to walk the line -- to use and enjoy material blessings, yet see them for the transient, passing things they were. Many had wondered what he would do in the face of adversity. He did well. The things that impressed people really meant nothing to him. He was truly “a man of faith and power.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Give Me Back My Bullets

Then my enemies will retreat on the day when I call. This I know: God is for me. – Psalm 56:9

Things do not always go my way. I fix one thing and something else breaks. I may need to add this to my list of maxims: The more stuff you have the more stuff is likely to be broken or malfunctioning at any given time. I dislike working enough as it is. I really don’t like the idea of spending extra time on a drudge job either fixing a piece of equipment or doing it the hard way because the machine I paid good money for isn’t working.

In the face of breakdowns and time pressures, it is hard to remember “God is for me”. I often think I am on my own with no help at all. There are days when all I hear is demand after demand for solutions to the problems of others. It’s easy to think I am here only to toil and fix things and carry loads.

The promise is that my enemies, my problems, will retreat on the day when I call. I may not know every answer to every question I am asked, but I do know one thing: God is for me. I do have one Person on my side. I have One I can turn to and call on at any time, in any circumstance. Indeed, God will cut me some slack.

There are people all around me who think I am a machine, but even a machine can be run into the ground. I need have no qualms about calling out and seeing my problems pushed back. If you’ve ever been in love, you know that it is a pleasure to do something for your loved one. You are always eager to help, to be of benefit to that person. So God is with us. He looks for an opportunity to do that Divine Two-Step on our behalf. He waits for our call, eager to throw the forces arrayed against us into turmoil and full retreat.

As long as I slog along on my own, I will be burdened, worn, and weary. The Lord simply waits for me to call.

The story goes that some years ago an evangelist was working the prayer line in a healing service. He came to a woman who asked him to pray for a certain affliction which he did. Before moving on, the evangelist noticed a goiter on the woman’s neck. He asked, “Do you want me to pray for the Lord to heal that goiter?”

“No,” she replied rather defensively, “I’m saving that one for Oral Roberts.”

The plague of frogs that came upon Egypt was beyond annoying. It was sickening, disgusting, and unbearable. Pharaoh voiced his intention to relent in the face of the trouble. Moses asked, “When do you want the plague of frogs to end?”

Pharaoh said, “Tomorrow.”

Collin was four years old and the son of youth pastors. He had a toy gun that shot orange plastic bullets. He was out playing in the backyard with his toy. His mother came out to find him searching the ground intently.

“What are you looking for, Collin?”

“I’m looking for one of my bullets.”

His godly and devout mother saw the opportunity to encourage her son’s sense of dependence upon his Almighty Father. She asked, “Have you prayed and asked God to help you find it?”

“No, it didn’t go that far.”

Ain't foolin' 'round
'cause I done had my fun.
Ain't gonna see
no more damage done.
Gimme back my bullets.
-- Lynyrd Skynyrd

God is for me now.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nagging God

He then told them this parable on the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged. “There was a judge in one town who didn’t fear God or respect man. And a widow in that town kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he was unwilling, but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or respect men, yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice, so she doesn’t wear me out by her persistent coming.’”

Then the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night? Will He delay to help them? I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”
Luke 18:1-8

I like this parable but I am not comfortable with it. Perhaps for that reason I have always given it a little spin when I read it. First, the unjust judge must have been an activist judge – not unlike those on the notorious Ninth Circuit – not really interested in the will of the people and certainly having no fear of God.

Another thing that bothers me is that it seems to encourage nagging. I could do without that.

Being no Greek scholar I rely on those who are to tell me that the final question is really “will He find this kind of faith exemplified by the dogged persistence of the widow in the face of repeated rejections.”

My view is certainly not the only way to read this, but here it is. The unjust judge is not at all like our Father. Jesus makes that clear. When I read the parable I see the judge as my mind and will. It’s not God I need to convince to give me what He has promised. I must break through the reluctance of my human nature to receive it. I have always believed that persistent prayer is more for my benefit than based on any need to change the mind of God. I pray in order to have “the mind of Christ”. “Be transformed,” it says, “by the renewing of your mind.” Prayer and meditation tune my mind to the Spirit’s frequency.

Paul says in I Corinthians 2:12, “Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, in order to know what has been freely given to us by God.” The trouble is we have a lot to overcome. All that is in and of the world argues against the efficacy of prayer. Our pride, our senses, our carnal, rational minds, our education and training resist the grace of God. By contrast the widow – our spirit – seems small, weak and alone. All she has is determination. But the Lord says that is enough.

The inheritance is rightfully ours. No one can justly deny it to us. The price has been fully paid – not by us but by Christ. The only thing between me and all that God has for me is an arrogant, pigheaded judge – my own will clinging to my own God-denying direction. All I have to do is reject the adversary’s claim and agree with the widow.

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells us to “ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened.” It is more like “ask and keep on asking ... seek and keep on seeking ... knock and keep on knocking.” Too often I find myself assessing the lack of change. I have prayed and nothing, I think, has happened, and I conclude nothing is meant to happen. Instead of keeping on, I go with my false humility and try to do something on my own instead of knocking and knocking until I have pushed beyond all concern with propriety to a true humility -- until I can accept what God wants to freely give.

Prayer is difficult not because of God’s reluctance, but because of mine.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Garden of the Living Dead

I have had a rough week so I guess I’ll do a Saturday Evening, oops -- make that a Very Early Sunday Morning in the Heartland Post to help me get back on track.

The Lord God said, “Since man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, and also take from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:22,23)

Eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was an act of rebellion. It did not set man free. Instead, it left him in bondage to sin. I am always intrigued by how often sin is depicted in the Bible, not as an action, but almost as an entity. A little further on in Genesis, God speaks to Cain and says, “If you do right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Gen. 4:7)

Paul echoes this, saying, “And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good [the ‘not wanting to do’ it is what agrees with the law rather than the doing of wrong, of course -- me]. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.” (Romans 7:16-18a)

Like our Dear Leader, my wife is a Type 1 diabetic, completely dependent upon insulin injections to survive. Diabetes is pervasive and unforgiving. The excess sugar does damage throughout the body, from the retina to the nerve endings in the feet. Those injections of insulin, if executed faithfully and carefully, can minimize the damage, but they can’t undo it. Every time a diabetic gets lax they suffer what amounts to an incremental amount of permanent damage to their bodies. A diabetic understands on a very personal level that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. My wife’s aunt and her cousin have both suffered multiple amputations because of a lack of such vigilance.

The sin principle is a lot like that. “You must master it.” Yes, it can be done, but it is like having diabetes or, perhaps, like keeping a tiger for a pet. That’s why when people talk about the extension of human life or some form of immortality, I get a little skeptical. You might overcome the physical diseases that plague us – some of the research for curing diabetes looks promising – but what about the soul disease? Imagine a thousand year old Hitler or a near-immortal Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao. Or, if you’re a liberal, imagine Nixon living for centuries. If Bill Clinton has gotten this twisted in sixty-some years, what would he be like in two hundred? For Clinton to have immortality in his present state would be hell – for him and for everybody around him. Even if he tried to be better, over the course of time, with no threat of death, he would be progressive indeed -- progressively more lecherous, devious, and vile.

Science fiction, in general, seemed to assume that wisdom and benevolence increased with age, that very long life meant, for the most part, better people. I might have believed that thirty years ago, but I know better now. Vampire literature -- in particular Bram Stoker's Dracula -- comes closer to reality. In the end, when Dracula is dispatched, there is a flash of peace upon his countenance as he recognizes a release from the horrors of his living death.

But, you say, what about Mother Theresa? What if you made her immortal? It’s already been done. If you had tried to give her a magic pill to make her forever young and keep her on this earth, she might have suggested you use it as a suppository yourself. In other words, the only people who are interested in living forever in their current condition are the ones you wouldn't want around. Sure, they might get better at hiding it, more cultured, more mannered, more suave, but they would still be getting uglier internally. Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray comes to mind.

Personally I need a major transformation to be fit for eternity. To reference another Alan Jackson song (I can’t help it – my wife has control of the music when we’re driving around), I am in need of “a full body-off restoration”. Exactly. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom.

When the Lord drove man from the Tree of Life, it was not part of the curse. It was the beginning of our deliverance.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hillbilly Heaven

From now on, then, we do not know anyone in a purely human way. Even if we have known Christ in a purely human way we no longer know Him like that. 2 Cor. 5:16

I am not a big Alan Jackson fan. I only buy his CD’s to help him out. The poor guy drives old cars and his house is a running joke around Nashville. Well, that’s one thing. The other is my wife loves him. One of the songs on his latest CD says, “If Jesus walked the world today, He’d probably be a hillbilly.” I wonder.

If you are looking for God to step into this world in some dramatic way, you could be waiting awhile. Someone said the other day they would be satisfied with a “Damascus Road” experience, like Paul. I suggest before you request what Paul got, you might want to find out what it entailed. The Lord said right at the outset that Paul was going to suffer for His sake. The Apostle had a pretty impressive resume if you count imprisonment, being shipwrecked, beaten, whipped, stoned, and going hungry.

As C.S. Lewis once said, thinking of Christ as a great teacher but only human is not an option for us. He either uniquely the Son of God -- as He claimed -- or He was a damned liar. Hebrews calls Jesus the exact expression of God’s nature and the radiance of God’s glory. We can understand why Paul would say he might once have thought of Christ as purely human but now no longer considers Him as such. Paul had seen the Risen Christ – Jesus glorified, His Majesty revealed.

Yet Paul knew Christ the way we must all know Him, by the Spirit.

All this is not what starts the thought, however. He begins by saying “we do not know anyone in a purely human way.” We are temples of the Holy Spirit. We can know others by the Spirit – as the Spirit enables us to discern truth. We can know another person in the Spirit – as our communication and interactions take place at a different level with understanding that transcend the words we speak. We can know God through another person -- and not always the ones we might expect.

Sometimes when another troubles us, we need to realize we do not war against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness and spirits of darkness. There are other spirits in the world than God’s. Some will suck the life right out of you if you are not on your guard. In spite of the pain and the danger, we need to remember that God allows evil to exist and turns it, ultimately, for His own purpose. Not all things are good, but all things work together for good, so says Romans 8:28.

When we find difficulties in our lives, we are encouraged to pray. Prayer brings us into the presence of God – reminds us that He is right here, right now. Sometimes the answer to prayer comes when we have a revelation of God in the problem. I don’t mean that a solution to the problem is suddenly revealed – though that happens. I mean God is revealed. We see Him in the midst of our troubles and trials. We see what He is doing in us and through us.

God wanted to make known ... the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory Colossians 1:27

Seeing Jesus in a hillbilly is a real possibility.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Barbie versus Jesus

”Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus told her, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brothers and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father – to My God and your God.” John 20:17

Jesus met Mary Magdalene near the tomb after His resurrection. The grieving woman did not expect to see Him alive and did not recognize Him until He spoke her name. It seems natural that she would have rushed to Him and thrown her arms around Him, perhaps kneeling before the Master and clinging to Him.

Commentators will tell us many things about this passage, often focusing on the “not yet ascended” – which is significant. There is much here for deep theological discussions about atonement and the blood of Christ. Yet I think there is a simpler lesson as well that can help us in our daily walk.

I have two cats and a dog. I love them and care for them, but they are mostly outside animals. The dog has a very nice house of her own, and the cats like to sleep it the safe confines of the barn. They don’t come in the house often. One of the cats occasionally likes to come into my office and drink out of the toilet bowl in my bathroom. She was in here a day or two ago and I was reminded of her brother. He was a very large, very distinctive-looking creature. In fact the two of them have similar markings, but she is lower to the ground. He followed me everywhere when I was outside, and he had to come into my office every morning. We had bonded and were close. A person who hated me took advantage of an opportunity to kill my little friend. I did not see it but I know what happened, and it oddly corresponded to a dream I had some months before.

I felt great sadness when I realized my buddy wasn’t coming back. Even worse, perhaps, I didn’t have the closure of having his body and burying him. I had no choice but to forgive the person and place my loss in God’s hands.

As I looked at my cat walking around, checking the vents, just as her brother always did, I heard the verse I quoted above. “Don’t cling to Me.”

We focus on forms. Sometimes it is difficult to see past a form. Jack Ingram does a song called “Barbie Doll” wherein he warns a friend against a girl who is “real good-lookin’ but she’s got no heart at all” – rather like Barbie.

I am neither deist nor pantheist. God is in this world, speaking to us, working on us, manifesting His love and will, for the most part, by way of our fellow creatures, human and not so human. My gracious little friend was just such a manifestation, as are those that remain with me.

The risen Christ tells Mary not to cling to the form to which she had been so devoted. He would ascend to the Father, but not just His Father – your Father and your God, and mine. He had dwelt with them, but must depart. He tells them in John 14:17 that the Holy Spirit will not only be with them but in them, and through the Spirit, Jesus remains forever with us.

There are many beautiful things in the world. They are all temporal and passing away. No matter how much we love a cat, a dog, or a person, at some point, we will see them no more, or they will see us no more. Yet the love remains, just as the Spirit of Truth remains.

Despite all the ugliness and disappointment we face in life, there is no such thing as lost faith, lost hope or lost love. Don’t cling to a form. Rejoice in it as it fulfills its purpose. And cling only to God.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The (God) Tracker

Your way went through the sea, and Your path through the great waters, but Your footprints were unseen. – Psalm 77:19

There is a Way before us. We have wandered far and sought diligently for a way that would lead us to home and peace. Perhaps we had almost given up hope when the path appeared right at our feet – almost as if it had been there all along, but we saw it not.

The Psalmist is using one of the common themes in so many of these songs. He references the crossing of the Red Sea. He tells us something by revelation we could have known no other way. Though a way through the sea opened, God left no footprints. Though He created a path, there were no signs He trod it.

How could that happen? The materialist says the reason God does not leave footprints is that God does not exist. That might be one explanation – except that we know ways get made, about as often as maids get weighed. We know that God leads us and guides us. We have seen the works of God, the miracles in our own lives, so you’ve arrived just a little late to tell us that God does not exist. Maybe if you had showed up yesterday with your charts and graphs and equations, maybe then we would have given your conjecture a little thought. Today is too late. My name is Lazarus.

Meanwhile, how can you break a trail without leaving footprints? God is not “of” this cosmos. When He does step into it, He does not operate within the ordinary confines of human thought. He takes the ocean of impossibility and breaks it in two. He doesn’t just mix the metaphor that is the natural life; He drops it in the blender. He creates a spiritual wormhole in the physical continuum. The Real abruptly intrudes upon the derived.

The Way is.

Jesus said, “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

God does not just make a way; He is the Way. He is not the pathfinder; He is the Path. He does not just open the door: He is the Door.

But wait, there's more. You not only get the Person of Christ and the deliverance of salvation, as an added bonus, you get hope and peace in your everyday life. Free!

Because God is big, is the Way, then, always big? Is it always the Door, or are there doors? Christ does the big thing of salvation, deliverance and eternal life for us. Yet He cares for us as we walk through this world. All the little paths that we find in our lives, all the doors that open are Christ – in miniature, we might say – but just as real as the narrow way that leads to real life.

There is no "CSI: Heaven". God does not leave fingerprints. If we want to ignore His presence in our lives, He will allow us to do that. We can use our free will to chase ghost lights through the shadowed wilderness. But, if, stumbling, weary, and empty, we stop and call out to Him, it does not matter how deep into the forest we have gone or how far we have strayed, He will be right there. The path will appear at our feet, though it may be a little faint at first, and we will hear a voice behind us, saying, “This is the way; walk ye in it.”

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Random Reflections for the Fourth

Independence Day is probably a good time to stop and reflect about what it means to be an American, and maybe to reminisce a little. I’m proud to be an American. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your ancestry, too, though if you’re like me you may not know much about it. My name came over from Scotland, but there’s been a sight of mixin’ since then.

My maternal grandmother told me about her father. He was German, and still spoke the language – “Dutch”, as Grandma called it. As these were relatively uneducated folks that would indicate that his parents spoke German as their primary language. I might guess that he was a first generation American.

My grandfather, husband to my blue-eyed German grandmother, looked Indian and they say his mother must have been. I don’t know who his father was, and it’s more than likely his mother didn’t know for sure either.

My father attributes his relative lack of body hair to his mother’s “Indian blood”. She certainly had the nose for it. Aboriginal American on both sides? Where’s my casino?

I wasn’t born on the 4th of July, but I didn’t miss it much. I’m sure my mother was glad to download me when she did. It was an extremely hot summer that year, so hot that our hens were dying of heat stroke – that is not a joke. They would just overheat and fall over in the yard. The folks cooked on a wood stove. (You don’t know hot until you have been in the kitchen, at noon on a 98 degree day, with the wood stove going full out and Mom cooking for the thrasher.) We had no air conditioning. We barely had electricity. There was no running water in the house. The outhouse was a fifty-yard dash from the kitchen door. The doctor who delivered me was a notorious drunk. If you’ve ever seen Stagecoach, the Thomas Mitchell character always makes me think of Doc Huff.

Dad and Doc were sitting in the Exchange one day and one of the neighbors came by carrying a big sack of flour, maybe 50 pounds. Doc turned to Dad and said, “Look at that fool a’buyin’ flour, and I’ll bet he ain’t got a drink a’ whiskey in the house.”

One of the things I have always loved and appreciated about my family and our neighbors – many of whom were related one way or another – is their sense of humor. The wit and usually gentle sarcasm was an expected part of any conversation. We rarely told jokes per se. Instead the humor arose naturally from the words and quick thinking.

Doc Huff had a girl from Arkansas that did the cleaning and cooking for him and his wife. He was forever giving her grief about Arkansans and their primitive ways. She took it with great good humor and occasionally got back at him. One day he told a story implying that inbreeding might be responsible for the large number of idiots born south of the border.

“Doc,” she said, “Do you know what we do with them idiots down in Arkansas?”

“No,” Doc replied.

“We send ‘em up here to Missouri, and they make doctors out of ‘em!”

Dinner is what some people call lunch. We never had lunch. Lunch was for folks that didn’t really break a sweat like bankers and clerks in the dime store. If you had breakfast at 4:00am, did the milking and then ran a brush hook or an axe, bucked bales or dug post holes for five or six hours, lunch is simply not adequate. .

One of the dinner time rituals was listening to the radio in order to hear two things and two things only: the weather report and the market report – not the Dow Jones or Standard and Poor, but how much they were paying for hundredweight of stockers and feeders, steers and heifers, gilts and shoats.

I was too young to be a problem in this regard. My brother has the somewhat uncanny ability to laugh until tears run down his face and never make a sound. You can see him vibrate and it looks like he’s laughing, but you don’t hear anything. My sisters do not have this gift. The two of them laughing would cause hyenas to blush with shame. Jackasses from halfway across the county bray in answer to their call.

Inevitably, the news comes on and the trouble begins with a slight snicker. Dad glares across the table at the offender, which causes the other sister to giggle. The weather begins – “High tomorrow –“. One breaks out in audible laughter. Dad puts down his fork.

“Quiet or I –“.

“Rain chances –“

“I’m missin’ it!”

The giggles recede to a low gurgle with hands clasped tightly across mouths. My brother is shaking in absolute silence. The girls try not to look at anyone -- especially one another.

The weather report is done with very little information gleaned from it. Dad still doesn’t know if he should cut his hay and risk getting it rained on before it will bale.

The radio (AM, of course) crackles, “At the stockyards today, four to five hundred pound feeder steers –“

The stronghold is lost. Nothing can be as funny as the price of calves. This is comedy of the highest order. Forget Bob Hope. Forget the Stooges. Uncle Milty might as well be doing Hamlet in drag.

The dam breaks. The eruption of Vesuvius is a cat fart by comparison.

“That’s it! Out! Both of you! Outside right now!”

The girls hurry to obey and collapse at the side of the house. Silent Joe is laughing too hard to eat but at least he can stay in the shade.

Happy 4th of July, and may God Bless America.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Sin was sort of the topic on One Cosmos yesterday and it got me thinking. Heinlein’s character Lazarus Long says, “Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other ‘sins’ are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not sinful -- just stupid).” It is very much a libertarian sentiment, and one I understand. But it’s wrong. It is not just the “unwise” that is prohibited.

The Judeo-Christian definition of sin always involves God. If you are a materialist, atheist or agnostic, nothing I say from this point forward is going to make much sense to you. You can feel free to stick with Heinlein’s definition.

We all know the story of David and Bathsheba. They have made movies about it. Preachers love to expound on it in sermons. David committed adultery with the wife of one of his warriors then tried to cover it up when the woman told him she was with child. David brought her husband, Uriah, in from the battlefield and tried to get him to go to his wife. Uriah, a man of honor and valor, refused to sleep in his own bed because his fellow warriors remained in the field.

In desperation, David sent a note to his warlord, Joab, to put Uriah in the thickest of the battle, then fall back so Uriah would be killed. The wronged man was so trustworthy that David sent the sealed message back in Uriah’s possession. Joab did as he was ordered. Uriah died and David married the widow.

Nathan was a seer, a prophet for the royal court, but he knew nothing of David’s evil deeds. The Lord came by His Spirit and revealed the truth to the prophet who went to David and told him an allegorical story. When David reacted in anger at the evil done by a rich man against a poor man, Nathan boldly pointed his finger at the king and said, “You are the man!”

To David’s credit he repented of his wrong. The child Bathsheba carried died and David would suffer other grief in his life because of this horrible wrong-doing.

Let’s see who was adversely impacted by David’s evil behavior: certainly Uriah, Bathsheba – even though she seemed a relatively willing participant, the child who died, Joab who was made an accomplice to murder, and in many ways he betrayed the trust of his warriors and his subjects. You might expect a long apology to all involved from the king. Yet, when you read David’s confession known as Psalm 51, you find something interesting. He mentions none of the people he wronged. Instead, speaking to the Lord, David says, “Against You – You alone – I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight.”

If you want a simple, foolproof definition of sin, I have it for you: sin is the stuff God would not do.

To the extent that I am a child of God, that I share His nature and have His light in my life, I won’t do it either. On those occasions when I do something God would not do, I deny my identity and my paternity. My sin proclaims within the spiritual realm that God is not my Father. It doesn’t matter if it is adultery and murder or just ogling chicks and cussing my neighbor under my breath. In the Real world of the Spirit, it is a out and out denial of who I am.

Look at the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. God illuminates the world through believers. Acting contrary to God’s nature is like hiding the light under a basket – it isn’t worth much to anybody. He goes on to tell us how overt sins are bad but that they begin in the heart. Jesus Himself was pure and sinless. He had no problem with being the Light of the World. When people saw Jesus, they saw God. In a very real way, when Jesus saw people, no matter how far down they were, He saw God in them as well. The Father wants to see Himself in us, clear and perfect.

He tells us to be like our Father in all things. “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous ... Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

How can the Bible tell us to be perfect like our Father in heaven? Who can be perfect? For one thing the word often translated as perfect has the meaning of mature. Be grown up even as your Father is grown up. Be fully your destiny and purpose just as the Father is His Destiny. Or just Be as your Father Is.

Beyond that we are perfect in Christ. Once the work of the Cross was completed and Jesus said, “It is finished”, it was finished. For all time, all souls can be fully sons of God if they are willing.

But sin says, “Not really.” Sin warps the mirror of my soul so that the image of God within is distorted. Thus David was right. He hurt a lot of people but his sin was denying and distorting the reflection of God in himself.

“As long as I am not hurting anybody else,” does not cut it. That view says the spiritual is fiction. In the only life that is real, we need purity and God loves us too much not to keep the fire hot until the dross is all gone.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Completely Unrelated Healthcare Rant

I was visiting a family member in a long-term care facility. Another family member and a couple of friends stopped by about the time some of the staff came in to do some cleanup, so all four visitors ended up in the hall. Since illness was the reason for our being there together at that time, it’s not surprising that the topic of healthcare came up.

One of the friends is a lady three or four years older than I am (I was a year ahead of Moses in school). She comes from a family of life-long Democrats. They are old school rather than leftists, so I found it a little strange that she started in with the socialized medicine talking points. “We’re the only country in the world that doesn’t have healthcare,” she said. Then she went on to tell about a friend of hers from Canada (let me guess – Toronto) who loved the system in the Great White North.

Don’t get me wrong. Canada’s a great country, especially the West. Those folks can come and join us and we’ll give Los Angeles and San Francisco to the Canadians – along with Maine, Minneapolis or Madison -- a couple of leftist strongholds to go with Toronto and Quebec. Still, the truth is that Canada’s entire GDP is about equivalent to that of Texas . I’m not up on my Canadian demographics so I don’t know how age distributions and racial components might impact our neighbor’s healthcare costs. My point is that even if someone proved to me that socialized medicine worked in Canada, I would not necessarily take that as being applicable to the U.S.A. Beyond that, many claim that it does not work as well as our system does.

Here’s an experiment for you. Go down to the emergency room of your local hospital and start looking for signs on the wall. There’s close to a 100% chance you will see a notice in both English and Spanish stating that no one in need of emergency or acute treatment will be turned away, even if they are unable to pay.

So, in this great country, who is denied healthcare? No one. Can’t happen.

People imply that it happens by saying, as my friend did, that there are 100 million people without health insurance. I think her number was off. The highest I heard is around 40 or 45 million. My guess is that if that is true it’s a rolling number. There aren’t 40 million people chronically uninsured, but that it averages around that. But even so, if you are sick, you can get treatment, as I pointed out above. If you are a little more responsible, you can pay out of pocket at those little urgent care clinics. I think those are great.

What I wanted to tell her was that there are people in this country sitting on their fat behinds, watching Oprah on their big screen TV while eating Krispy Kremes and drinking Starbucks with their iPods in their pockets on their damn cell phones complaining to their drug dealers that they can’t afford health insurance.

I know a little about government and healthcare. One of my less glamorous jobs was compiling hospital survey information for a state agency and providing data to what was called the State Health Planning and Development Agency. I would guess that most states have something similar. You see, that’s the problem with the healthcare system. The government is already involved and has been in a big way since the 1960’s and the advent of Medicare. Healthcare is not a free market system but a partially planned economy. The answer to rising healthcare costs and insurance premiums is not a socialized, single-payer system but capitalism.

Like big private insurers, Medicare and Medicaid have negotiated payment schedules. Providers that jump through the governments hoops – adding to their costs – get the government’s rate for procedures. There is no benefit to cost control since rates are usually based on costs. The government tries to control it by regulating providers – especially hospitals -- with regard to expansions of their facilities. The more government gets involved, the worse the system gets. At this point it’s locked in an upward price spiral that is hampering the economy in general as employers are dumping millions into the rat-hole of employee health insurance that could go for expansion and more productive investment. This is one reason why we now consider full employment a couple of points lower than we did back in the ‘70’s. Too much money is being drained off by healthcare.

Employers, and government in some cases, are trying to remedy this by attacking from the demand side. The positive part of this approach includes wellness programs. The negative part is an increased encroachment on personal freedom by anti-smoking, anti-fat nazis in both the public and private sectors.

A better approach is to divorce healthcare from both the government and private employers. My employer has never offered to pay any part of my auto or homeowners insurance premiums. Why should health insurance be different? Because of a historical fluke with wage-and-price controls after WWII, we have gotten locked into a mindset of health insurance being part of a job’s benefits package.

I’m not sure we can do away with Medicaid or Medicare in the short-term. The way to start revitalizing healthcare is to start in the private sector. Do away with group plans. Let everyone purchase their health insurance individually. I can hear the screams now. What about people with pre-existing conditions? Won’t insurance companies reject them? Some will, no doubt. In a free market, however, somebody will try to tap into that money pool. Bad drivers still get liability insurance and bad credit risks still get loans. It will come at a higher premium but there is a way to mitigate that as well by offering policies that cover catastrophic costs with high deductibles.

Personally, with no health problems at all (if you don’t count bifocals, creaky joints, and hearing damaged by derringers and dirt bikes), I would jump at a low-cost insurance policy with a $5000 or even $10,000 deductible, something that would protect my assets if I got hit by a truck and couldn’t tell them not to take me to the hospital.

Paying out of pocket to cover high deductibles will result in market forces that counter ever-increasing charges for procedures. The consumer of healthcare will become price-sensitive and lower cost providers will spring up to offer alternatives.

Will you get equality of care? No. The guy working behind the counter at the convenience store will not get the same healthcare as Ted Kennedy or Warren Buffet. We don’t expect working class folks to drive the same cars or live in the same houses as those with higher incomes, why do we expect them to have the same healthcare?

I know: blasphemy. Still, no-frills healthcare doesn’t mean bad healthcare any more than driving a Corolla mean you have a bad car. The answer is not to make healthcare an arm of the government but to give individuals more freedom and increased responsibility for their own health. If you make bad decisions with your health it should have consequences, just like making bad decisions with your money, your family, or any other aspect of life. Your fellow citizens should not be forced at gunpoint to hand over their earnings to pay for your care.

I’d better quite for now before I get myself in trouble.