Friday, October 31, 2008
I'd like to set up a walk-in poetry clinic, open 24 hours a day. If you are a practicing poet we'll fix you up on a monthly pre-pay plan with poetry insurance, so you just walk in, pay a nominal fee and get full service. We'll be a general practice clinic, fixing broken meters and taking care of geriatric metaphors, sick similes and sprained rhymes. If you need meaning, we'll have to send you to a specialist.
As best I can tell, having 45 million mostly healthy people without health insurance is much less of a problem than having two or three times that number who don't know Jack Kerouac from Jack Sprat, Robert Penn Warren from Robert Louis Stevenson, or Sylvia Plath from Sylvia's Mother. Perhaps if our coins and folding money featured pictures of Poe, Longfellow, Whitman, Frost and Eliot, we would take more notice of the poetic. As it is we are seriously and satirically anemic, getting all our poetic nourishment from popular music, which is like living on Pop Tarts.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
If you maintain your individuality in a relationship and the other person can too, the relationship will be a beautiful thing that will last forever, or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first. -- Billy Joe Shaver
I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask what you whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples. -- John 15:5-8
To be in Christ and yet to be myself, this is what we are called to. I lose my will, yet I can have whatever I want. Does that really make sense? Is it "whatever you want" if it is no longer you that wants it? It's like Henry Ford saying people could have a Model T in whatever color they wanted as long as it was black. It's like Microsoft ... no, nothing's like Microsoft.
Faust sold his soul to the devil, not for higher purposes but because he wanted gold, guns and girls. (Strange, that thought came to me after I mentioned Microsoft.) Jesus, on the one hand, seems to say that Faust could have had what he wanted by being in Christ. Yet, I am certain that he could not have had unlimited power to fulfill his lusts as the devil promised him. Is that a contradiction? Could Faust have stayed who he was while being a mere branch?
Notice what Jesus says here about the branch that does not remain in the vine. It is thrown away. It's dead. It withers, is gathered up and burned. The fires of hell are not for the bad but for the dead.
"The just shall live by faith."
We are alive in Christ, or we are dead. The dead seem to think that because they are "independent" of the vine, they can be a vine unto themselves. They carry on the appearances of life, yet it all ends in corruption and loss.
This relates to the difference between ordinary human misery and suffering in Christ. As a branch, the Christian is pruned or purged in order to keep life flowing in a single channel. All our trials and difficulties can be seen as means of removing anything that hinders the flow. In this we became all the more "individual" and purposeful. The more we reflect the life of the vine in the cosmos the more we are uniquely ourselves.
Where I am and what I see and experience is unique to me. I am the only one who can fulfill my purpose, and I can do that only in Christ.
You only have to listen to one Billy Joe Shaver CD, maybe even one song, to realize he's not Billy Graham. Yet I am fairly certain Billy Joe is a Christian as surely as is Dr. Graham or the Pope. Each is a branch -- a mere branch -- yet a branch without which the Vine can produce nothing. As we are dependent on Christ, so He has chosen to be dependent upon us -- not as little helpless clones but as real living branches with scars and bumps and flaws. Each of us, to the extent we are surrendered to Christ, brings Him into our world in our way.
I have to get some work done, but I may come back to this.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
He also said: "A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.' So he distributed the assets to them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. ... When he came to his senses [came to himself, KJV], he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I'll get up, go to my father ...'" -- Luke 15:11-18
We are all strangers in a strange land, though many do not recognize it and try to be at home. In a sense we are all prodigal sons. We all need to "come to ourselves".
The pig pen is not a physical situation but a spiritual one. The materialists and the nominally religious may live in nice houses and eat the finest foods, but it is no more than the filth of the sty and the empty, unsatisfying husks to the real life that awaits them. In the end, it is not where you are or what you have that counts, but the relationship with the father. The elder brother was as much a "husk-eater" as the prodigal.
Did you ever look up "prodigal" in the dictionary? Luke 15:11-32 is one of those things that everyone has heard about, whether or not they have actually read the story. It is a powerful and moving tale, beautifully and succinctly told. It has been such an influence on Western civilization that the term used to describe the wandering younger son has taken on a different meaning. We often use the word to mean someone who lives wildly and recklessly. After all, the elder brother accused the returning son of wasting the father's money on -- as we might say -- sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Prodigal can refer to be excessively or recklessly wasteful, or a spendthrift. But it also means exceedingly generous, or lavish.
In a way, the father was rather prodigal. The son asked for his share, and the father unhesitatingly handed it over to him. When he had wasted his inheritance and returned, again the father eagerly and enthusiastically showered him with gifts and a renewed status. He drew from his bounty to lavish good things upon his son. The younger boy was much more his father's son than the elder. They shared the desire to express their love through generosity. The son was wrong only in his youthful lack of wisdom.
The elder brothers are so much wiser, so they think. They would never have given the boy a bagful of money to blow senselessly. They certainly would never have been taken in when he came crawling back -- and he would have crawled if the elder brother had been in charge. He might have been given a chance to prove himself worthy of returning; he would never have been trusted again. He would have been the lowest of servants. The elder would have recouped his losses eventually, while bitterly grinding the younger's soul.
Yet it takes little thought to see who would have been the more devoted son thereafter. Would the prodigal have gone a day without somehow expressing his gratitude to his generous father? Would he have been less lavish with his thanks, his praise or his efforts to please than he had been with his money? Would the younger son have missed any opportunity to do his father's will and thus express his love?
Did the elder brother ever "come to himself" and go home?
Monday, October 27, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
We're talking plentiful platform pulchritude as Naomi Judd did a nice job opening for Governor Palin, slamming the media and the pundits for their smear tactics. Palin was welcomed enthusiastically -- once they got her out of Bass Pro -- as she said, "What a cool place." Her stump speech was pretty good and got lots of positive response.
The greater metro area of Springfield and Greene County has a population of about 300,000 or so. The estimate by AP for the crowd was 20,000. Twenty thousand people standing in a parking lot on a gloomy, chilly day.
Springfield is the heart of Republican territory in Missouri. We are the base. And the base is going all out for Palin, yeah, and whathisname that's running with her, too.
I haven't checked the polls today, but I can tell you if the pollsters are not including the broken-glass Republican base in their calculations, they are in for a surprise. I watched Gergen and some other guys on Anderson Cooper 360 last night, and came to the conclusion that the Republican elites hate Palin and us (the base) almost as much as the Democrats do. Too bad. If McCain wins, it will be because of us, the lowly and the despised. This may be the year of the "angry white male".
I am Joe.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Does anyone really think that weakness is a formula for peace? My experience has always been that the guy who has a reputation for toughness or who looks intimidating is less likely to be involved in a fight. Remember, the attack on 9/11/2001 was not even the first attack on the WTC. For eight years, Bill Clinton had done nothing except throw a few cruise missiles around in response to one attack after another. The USS Cole was bombed and nothing was done -- an attack on United States Navy ship, and it brought no response. The enemy was emboldened. They made the mistake of thinking they could do Bush the same way.
Three thousand innocent people had to die. What will it take next time? What will it be when Iran has nukes? What will the enemy think when we flee from Iraq and Afghanistan?
Who is it again that's going to get us in trouble? The old fighter pilot who survived everything the Commies could throw at him, or the metrosexual community organizer? Who will be more intimidating to our enemies?
The Islamic fascists know that McCain will not back down. They have nothing to gain by killing our troops. They are certain that Obama will back down if they can perpetrate a few more suicide missions and IED attacks. Whether the enemy's belief is true or not, more American soldiers and Marines will die needlessly if Obama is elected.
You don't tug on Superman's cape,
You don't spit into the wind,
You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger,
And you don't mess around with Jim.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
"Get away from that wheelbarrow, James Louis! You know you don't know nothin' 'bout ma-CHIN-ery!" -- Brother Dave Gardner
The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, and with every unrighteous deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of truth in order to be saved. For this reason, God sends a strong delusion so that they will believe what is false, so that all will be condemned – those who did not believe the truth but enjoyed unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12
I think I can handle too much. My most common error in life is the failure to see every battle as a spiritual battle, from the most trivial to the most profound. Let me see if I explain well enough not to sound like a complete flake.
The other day my straight-shaft Stihl Pro trimmer didn’t want to run. This thing is the Mercedes-Benz of trimmers. It has run for years. I was in a hurry and trying to get stuff cleaned up (when am I not in a hurry?), and it just quit. My very first inclination was to grab the end and smash it against a corner post. I do not like things that thwart my will, especially inanimate objects that are supposed to make my life easier.
For once, perhaps because of the influence of the coonosphere: QP, Ben, Julie, Robin, Rick, River, Walt, et al, it dawned on me that this was a spiritual battle. I wasn’t dealing with a demon-possessed trimmer, but a demon-oppressed thought process. I put the machine aside and picked up the pathetic little Ryobi to get as much done as I could. Of course, it picked just that moment for the throttle cable to stick. With no third string trimmer (forgive me, for I have punned), I took a deep breath and, through gritted teeth, explained to my wife that I had no choice except to fix the Ryobi. I sat down and opened the housing, got things loosened up, then correctly reattached and re-assembled. An hour or so later, I had it going again.
When I had time, I went back to the Stihl and pondered its behavior for a few minutes. I decided it was the plug and started looking for a socket to fit it. All the ones I have are either the wrong size or not deep enough. I could feel the frustration rising so I set it down and stepped back again. It actually made me smile because I realized that I was hunting for something I didn’t need. Like chainsaws, the Stihl come with its own specialty combination tool. It changes the plug as well as fitting the nut for the brush-cutter head, and had a star-driver head at the other end – everything you need in one place. I got the plug out. There was a tiny round bit of something closing the gap – no possibility of a good spark. Once I cleared that out, the Stihl started up with a couple of pulls and has been running just fine.
Were it not for Christ, I would be a sucker for the lawless one. He isn’t (necessarily) a politician. I know the lawless one very well. He will tell me that every minor inconvenience is a catastrophe. He insists that a mechanical failure is a malicious act. He doesn’t even mind if I think it is a demon that’s taken over the device. He might go so far as to encourage such thinking. He lives by the false and the deceptive. He enjoys bouts of foolish, pointless rage and acts of destruction. I am ashamed to admit some of the things he has told me that I have accepted and acted upon.
I’m not worried too much about the antichrists on the outside. The one that troubles me is the one that doesn’t even have to whisper in my ear to make his subtle voice heard.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The righteous one perishes, and no one takes it to heart; faithful men are swept away, with no one realizing that the righteous one is swept away from the presence of evil. He will enter into peace – they will rest on their beds – everyone who lives uprightly. – Isaiah 57:1,2
Good and evil are not in balance. The system is not dualistic. The outcome is not in doubt.
The nature of good is absolute, and good exists on its own. It does not need evil to create or define it. Evil, on the other hand, is derived. It is a deviation, a perversion of good. Sin is sometimes defined as achieving a legitimate end by illegitimate means. Evil seeks to achieve some good, but does so in a way that is damaging or negative. Even in an action as repugnant as child molestation, the twisted mind of the perpetrator does not seek the destruction of an innocent life for its own sake but for the sick pleasure the molester derives from it.
Men may come to call what is evil good and call good evil, as is often the case today. Still, evil cannot triumph in an ultimate sense, for it carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. It must always war with good or it ceases to exist. The more it conquers good, the more certain and swift its defeat. Sometimes, as Isaiah tells us, the righteous fail and are swept away, but they are swept away to peace and rest, leaving the wicked to reap the harvest of their own unintended consequences.
God indeed uses the wickedness of man, at times. As Romans 8:28 assures us that He is able to make all things work together for good, while acknowledging that not all things are good. God absorbs and assimilates evil into His overall plan. The devil builds a wall, and God uses it as a steppingstone. The devil sends a storm, and God uses the tempest to climb higher like an eagle soaring on the winds. The devil makes waves, and God walks on the water. Though disaster and tragedy may assail my life, such things will not defeat me unless I surrender to them. I am so touched and inspired by Ben’s remarkable stories of overcoming by faith at One Cosmos at Sea. I cannot imagine how anyone could read Ben’s testimonies and not see the hand of God at work.
I was in a bookstore in Iowa the other day and in the course of paying for some gifts, the cashier discovered that we were from near the city where her son is attending college. My wife asked what year the young man was in at school. The woman replied, “He’s a junior. He would have been a senior.” She then went on to explain that their daughter, a few years younger than their son, had fallen ill at seventeen and died within a few months. The boy had dropped out of college and returned home to support his sister and his parents. There was a picture of the girl on the counter. As the mother told how she looked forward to seeing her daughter again, this big old hillbilly began to cry. There was no bitterness, no resentment, no hatred of God or protest of unfairness. “The righteous one is swept away from the presence of evil.” The mother understood and respected the reality. She missed her child, longed to see her again, but she knew where she was.
It’s also important to realize that some things which are tragic are not evil. Suppose I choose to visit some remote wilderness area. In the course of my exploration, I encounter a hungry grizzly bear that kills and devours me. You cannot say that anything evil has occurred. Though it is the consequence of living in a fallen world where life is sustained by bloodshed, the bear did no wrong, any more than I do wrong by having a steak for supper. My personal feelings about the matter aside, I can’t accuse the bear of evil intent.
When our purpose here is fulfilled, we will depart. Sometimes our departure is part of our purpose. We can trust God that He knows how to separate the wheat from the tares. Wickedness will run on until it comes to the abyss from which it cannot return. There is no need to fear the triumph of evil, but there is reason to strive against it. I say again, “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
According to Kerry, at this stage in the campaign, questions of leadership and judgment are set aside as the audience wants to know only what is beneath. John Kerry, veteran of so many things, said he was tempted to answer the burning question with “commando” – such daring.
I wonder if he picked up the habit during that Christmas in Cambodia or while he was between heiresses?
“Three-Purple-Hearts-and-home” Kerry then went on to assert that when John McCain was asked, he answered, “Depends.”
If McCain was asked, and answered thus, that’s actually pretty funny. If, however, that is Kerry attempting to mock McCain for his age, it’s pretty sad and sick -- but not too surprising from a man who made his political fortune by comparing American soldiers to “Jenjis Khan”. Kerry was back home after documenting his band-aid Purple Hearts, giving bogus testimony before Congress, giving aid and comfort to the enemy, even as a battered and broken John McCain nobly turned down the opportunity to be released early, denying the North Vietnamese a propaganda boost. Yeah, I’d bring all that back up, Kerry. Smooth move, horse face.
Commando Kerry has given us, once again, far more information than we needed. But what about everybody else?
Sarah wears moose-hide bikinis.
Mike Huckabee, I’m pretty sure, wears longjohns, the ones with the trapdoor, because they just go with bib overalls.
Hillary is boxers all the way – roomier and so much easier to get over the cankles.
Mitt Romney gets his drawers from Joseph’s Secret.
John Edwards wears silky pink ones with embroidered teddy bears.
Fred Thompson always wears a jock strap.
And the One? It seems Barack doesn’t have to worry about underwear since Michelle wears the pants.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Therefore, get your minds ready for action, being self-disciplined, and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance but, as the One who called you is holy, so you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy. -- 1 Peter 1:13-16
The more literal translation of the first phrase “get your minds ready for action” is “gird up the loins of your mind”. Tie up all the loose ends so that you don’t trip over the tail of your coat in a fight.
I saw a snippet of Colin Powell endorsing Obama in which he mentioned the importance of “rhetorical skills”. Personally I’d rather have someone who can take care of business than someone who is just too glib to pin down in a discussion. Powell may see politics as a means of getting one’s way, but statesmanship, leadership and good governance should be more about doing the right thing. Rhetoric in the service of truth may be beneficial, but rhetoric is merely a tool. It can be used as easily to obscure the truth as to support it.
When the time for action comes it requires decisiveness. We often have to cut through elaborate and elusive language to see the right and wrong of a situation. Arguments and lines of thinking that are soothing to the ego and self-serving will trip us up when we have to make decisions about crucial issues. It is pretty easy for a man to convince himself, for example, that his wife really isn’t treating him right and that he would be better off with another woman. It’s easy to convince myself to take the easy way, to forego self-discipline and indulge.
Self-indulgence is the real platform of the Democrat party in America. Obama appeals to those who look down upon thrift, effort and achievement, those who despise and deride self-discipline and self-sacrifice. The Obamas’ embrace of black liberation theology is an indulgence of a false victim status that appeals to the left. The reason tying Obama to the terrorist Bill Ayers will have little effect is because forty percent of the American people believe nihilistic decadence should be the norm.
So it really is a fight and I need to be ready for it, in training at all times. The upcoming election is only a minor battle in a much larger war. Training is good but once we are in fighting trim we must carry through. We have to rely totally upon the grace of God.
It’s easy to misread Peter’s statement to be “the grace that was brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. Instead he says not what was brought but what is to be brought. God did reveal Himself via the Incarnation, but the fullness of grace can be known only as Christ is unveiled in me. The revelation cannot come to a heart full of fleshly thoughts and desires. The vessel must be emptied of hope in all other means.
For all their faults, twelve-step programs are absolutely right about the necessity of “hitting bottom”. The bottom doesn’t have to be a physical gutter. Spiritual disciplines can accomplish the same end without all the ugly consequences and repercussions. Fasting is possibly the most effective of all in this regard. Thus when His disciples asked why they could not cast out a demon, Jesus replied, “This kind comes out only by prayer and fasting.” The thoughtful might wonder if it is wise to try casting out another’s demon before dealing with one’s own.
The process of Lent with its sacrifices and constraints is meant to be a picture of exactly what Peter is talking about. There is the discipline based on the hope of the gospel in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It ends with the revelation of the empty tomb on Easter morning. Maybe those old guys knew what they were about after all.
I’ve been hammered with the admonition to “be holy because God is holy.” Like many others I have tried to achieve holiness on my own. It’s easy enough to go off in that direction because that seems to be what the “experts” tell us. In the same way, it is easy to confuse self-discipline with something like “we don’t drink and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls that do.” Self-denial is not holiness. Neither is self-indulgence. The essence of holiness is the abandonment of “self-anything”. Spiritual disciplines, like fasting, will move us in the right direction as long as we do not confuse the path with the destination. Sanctification is by grace alone.
Jesus did not chastise the Pharisees because they fasted on a regular basis but rather because they thought fasting itself pleased God. In their case being able to adhere to a “higher standard” did not bring them to the end of self, it strengthened and enthroned self.
I encourage fasting but not as a means of pleasing God or of putting Him under obligation. Rather, we should fast that we may break self’s hegemony and enthrone Christ.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
A destiny stepped forward: “This portion of God is for me.”
“True,” replied the angel. “And remember, whoever receives such a great portion of power as this is will surely be known by many. Ere your earthly pilgrimage is done, your true character will be known; yea, even revealed, by means of this power. Such is the destiny of all who wear and wield this portion, for it touches only the outward man, affecting the inner man not one whit. Outward power will always unveil the inner resources, or the lack thereof.”
The first destined one received and stepped back.
Gabriel spoke again.
“I have here the second of two elements of the Living God. This is not a gift but an inheritance. A gift is worn on the outer man; an inheritance is planted deep inside – like a seed. Yet, even though it is such a small planting, this planting grows and, in time, fills all the inner man.”
Another destiny stepped forward. “I believe this element is to be mine for my earthly pilgrimage.”
“True,” responded the angel again. “I must tell you that what has been given you is a glorious thing – the only element in the universe known to God or angels that can change the human heart. Yet, even this very element of God cannot accomplish its task nor can it grow and fill your entire being unless it be compounded well. It must be mixed lavishly with pain, sorrow, and crushing.”
The second destined one received and stepped back.
Beside Gabriel sat the angel Recorder. He dutifully entered into his ledger the record of the two destinies.
“And who shall these destinies become after they go through the door to the visible universe?” asked Recorder.
Replied Gabriel softly, “Each, in his time, shall be king.”
-- From the Prologue to A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards
I don’t know when Edwards wrote his little book. The copyright on my edition is 1980 and I first ran across it in the early ‘90’s. He could have used a better editor (pot, meet kettle), but, all its faults aside, it is an interesting work. Edwards wrote it in response to abuses of power in authoritarian evangelical churches. It tells the story of Saul and David, then David and his son Absalom as a way of illustrating how to properly respond to abusive pastors and church leaders, church splits, and Christian-on-Christian bashing.
For some reason I could not find listed my favorite response to abusive authority: grab ‘em by the tie and slam them against the wall while foaming at the mouth and screaming assorted profanities and vulgarities. This is possibly because – though it is extremely effective, at least until the cops handcuff you – a minimum sixteen-inch bicep is usually required, depending, of course, on the size of the authority to be elevated.
People who “do the Lord’s work” have a tendency let it go to their heads. Though there are innumerable servants of God who are humble and self-sacrificing, too many in positions of authority think they have a right to dominate and control while making unreasonable demands on the time and resources of others.
Notice what Edwards says: power unveils. That is not limited to the spiritual realm – or maybe I should say the spiritual realm is not limited to church. Just look at the vast majority of politicians and others with political power. The smugness of power can go from the presidency right down to the dog-catcher. Pick any ten police officers and you’ll find at least one who just can’t keep from showing people who the man really is. Pick any ten U.S. Senators and you will find ten like that.
I still say McCain will win, and win more electoral votes than Bush did in 2004. I predict that Obama will not get 49% of the popular vote. I’m calling it 51 to 48.5 for McCain, with Bob Barr getting most of the remainder. However, if I am wrong (for an exhaustive list of things about which I have been wrong, contact my wife), and Obama does receive the mantle of power, we will see a lot of “unveiling” in a hurry.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
All the streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. The streams are flowing to the place, and they will flow there again. All things are wearisome; man is unable to speak. The eye is not satisfied by seeing or the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1:7-9
We like the idea of progress. There must be something in the human psyche that craves moving forward, getting bigger and better. “New and Improved!” invariably gets our attention.
The Preacher tells us that we do not move forward but in a never-ending circle. He says that nothing is ever really new and very little is ever improved. Having more is not the same as having better, or even different. In the view of Ecclesiastes, life is cyclical, and each day is a wearisome round like the one that went before it, and like the one to follow it. Nothing is ever really accomplished in this world, for the best efforts of man will wear down, wear away, crumble and fall to the relentless, cynical work of time and decay.
Progress, as the world system uses the word, is meaningless. It simply moves us further around the circumference of the circle. It neither moves the center, nor moves us toward the center. In The Two Towers, Sam and Frodo find themselves in the mountains trying to get to the Black Gate of Mordor. Between the terrain and the overcast sky, it is difficult for the hobbits to get their bearings. “This looks strangely familiar,” Sam says.
Frodo replies, “We’ve been here before.”
My father, brother and I were out coyote hunting with our hounds one cold, snowy day. We left the truck up on a road and walked in a mile or so to where the dogs were running. After the race broke up, we caught the hounds and started back to the truck. The ground was covered with about four inches of snow, the going was a little tough and it seemed to be taking a long time to get to the road.
We came into a little opening and saw a stretch of greatly disturbed snow. “Looks like a herd of deer must have crossed,” my brother said.
My dad was in front and looked down, “And the sneaky bastards have took to wearin’ rubber boots like ours.”
When we are wandering in circles, we need to re-orient. We need something we can go by, a landmark to head toward. Sometimes it helps to reach a higher elevation, to get above the ground clutter that is confusing us. Our hearts are yearning for progress, but it is a “pilgrim’s progress” – not living in the same circle until we decay and die. We seek not change, but transformation, to become whole, rising higher to see the true goal of life. Christ breaks out of the circle.
For the Messiah did not enter a sanctuary made with hands (only a model of the true one) but into heaven itself, that He might now appear in the presence of God for us. He did not do this to offer Himself many times, as the high priest enters the sanctuary yearly with the blood of another. Otherwise, He would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And just as it is appointed for people to die once – and after this, judgment – so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who have been waiting for Him. – Hebrews 9:24-28
The Bible tells us that the annual, endless cycle of sacrifices in the Tabernacle and the Temple served only to remind us of our sin. No one was really released from the human condition, from the circle of ages that never moved us forward.
Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to Me.” Moses elevated the bronze serpent on a pole so that everyone could see it, and those who looked upon it lived. God raised Christ up on the Cross, He gave us a landmark, a point of orientation to lead us out of the wilderness and get us on the path to home.
Monday, October 13, 2008
I got superman eyes, ex-ray vision;
I see through everything,
Cain't make no decision.
I got uber-man eyes, blind but fat;
I can't see a blessed thing,
Don't know where I'm at.
I got superman eyes
Blinded by the light.
When you see through it all,
Might as well be night.
I got superman speed, goin' fast;
Circle round a round world,
And the first is last.
I got uber-man speed, where'm I goin'?
At the bottom of the well,
And I just keep borin'
I got superman eyes
Blinded by the light.
When you see through it all,
Might as well be night.
From The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis:
If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To 'see through' all things is the same as not to see.
Friday, October 10, 2008
But godliness with contentment is great gain.
For we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith.
Now you, man of God, run from these things; but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.
Fight the good fight for the faith; take hold of eternal life, to which you were called and have made good confession before many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6:6-12
When we begin to see security in gold, or worse, fiat money, we are in grave danger. Certainly there is the spiritual danger that Paul speaks of to Timothy, but also alarming is the danger to liberty.
I just watched President Bush give a news conference and attempt to stabilize the markets with an assurance that no one needs to panic because the federal government is buying up private assets. During the New Deal, FDR’s administration bought hogs and drowned them to try and drive up the market price for farmers. That didn’t work either. The only thing that pulled us out of the Great Depression was World War II. Despite what you might read in the history books, all the efforts by the government only prolonged the agony.
What is being done by the Bush administration and Congress will not bring us out of this crisis. Going farther down the road of socialism under an Obama presidency, or, I fear, even under a McCain administration, will make matters that much worse. The American consumer has been keeping the world afloat since 1980. How long can China and India continue to grow without the flow of dollars? Will socialist Europe’s “planned” economies keep things going?
The world does not think so. All the world markets have followed Wall Street down. There are no celebrations in the streets of Saudi Arabia as crude drops below $80 a barrel. The speculators, unable to finance their futures trading, and in the face of a potential decline in demand, are running from oil. Crude is not far from a 50% drop in two months. Part of the decline is due, not only to a pullback in speculation, but to a strengthening dollar, which seems odd.
Tighter credit, fewer dollars available for a proliferation of goods, results in lower prices – a stronger currency, deflation. This seems like a good thing to me, but then I am sitting on a little cash. If I were in hock up to my elbows, paying out the nose for my Lexus and my granite-countered McMansion, I, too, might be thinking the government should do something. A modest amount of inflation is always good for the debtor since he is paying back a fixed amount with “cheaper” dollars.
In any case, he who dies with the most toys still leaves them behind. “Bury us in the damn garden next to the stupid lion,” so read the will of Hub and Garth in Secondhand Lions, while their yacht floated serenely on the lake. In the end it is not about what we had but whether or not we really lived.
“Take hold of eternal life,” the Apostle said. He could have said, “Take hold of life that is Real.” Eternal life is everlasting, not merely in quantity, but in quality – it is Real and True – truly life everlasting. It is up to us, daily, to make the choice between a derived, imitation life where we seek to be the “envy” of our like-minded neighbor in flatland, or to embrace the Way, the Truth, and the Life by faith in Christ.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
For you gladly put up with fools since you are so smart! [KJV – “For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise”] In fact, you put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone devours you, if someone captures you, if someone dominates you, or if someone hits you in the face. I say this to our shame: we have been weak.
-- 2 Corinthians 11:19-21
This statement is made by Paul in the context of chiding the Corinthian church for its acceptance of false teachers. The Apostle to the Gentiles was not unfamiliar with irony. It does not matter how pure or noble a movement may be, there are always jackals hanging out in the fringes and the shadows looking for easy pickings and personal gain. It was so even with the early Christians. There were charlatans dogging the footsteps of the Apostles. As soon as Paul established a church and left a city, the false apostles moved in to infiltrate the body of believers, gaining power and prestige through deception. As long as there have been true believers there have been Elmer Gantrys.
Human nature is such that we look for leaders, and those who say the right things, appearing confident and concerned, may not get thorough scrutiny. They may be boastful fools with no real experience, but we tend to suffer them gladly. I sometimes think there is a segment of the population who will equate a domineering, arrogant, abusive personality with talent and intelligence. After all, if the man or woman in question was not “gifted”, why would they be arrogant? It helps me explain the slavish devotion to Bill Clinton, and the popularity of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, John Kerry, John Edwards and the Obamanation.
As a true follower of Christ, Paul lived by the Lord’s instruction that “he who would be greatest among you must be the servant of all.” Most genuine men and women of God do not go out of their way to accumulate wealth or status symbols. They do not demand that poor and middle-income church members sacrifice so that “leaders” may live in opulence. In this sense, Paul said that he had been “weak” by not abusing his privileges as an Apostle. The false apostles, prophets and teachers fleece the flock rather than acting as good shepherds. Yet, people endure, not just the ravages of thieves and control freaks, but, even worse, the abuse of false doctrines that would put them back in bondage after Christ has come to set us free.
God will not allow the person truly seeking Him to go astray. We need to trust, first, the voice of the Holy Spirit. We can have the mind of Christ; we can understand what God is saying to us through His word. Many times we gain insight and understanding from those with the gifts of teaching and preaching. We are often encouraged and uplifted by our brothers and sisters in the Lord. None of us make it on our own. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Nevertheless, we should not allow ourselves, or those around us, to fall victim to glib fools or to submit to abuses of authority under the guise of Christianity.
Jesus did not expect us to be gullible. “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” He said – not mean as a snake and silly as a bird. There is no wisdom or virtue in ignoring evil or refusing to call it what it is. “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Just because we are not allowed to use the same tactics as the worldly does not mean we should surrender to them.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
A great many people do not pray because they do not feel any sense of need. The sign that the Holy Spirit is in us is that we realize we are empty, not that we are full. We have a sense of absolute need. We come across people who try us, circumstances that are difficult, conditions that are perplexing, and all these things awaken a dumb sense of need, which is a sign that the Holy Spirit is there. If we are ever free from the sense of need, it is not because the Holy Spirit has satisfied us, but because we have been satisfied with as much as we have. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” A sense of need is one of the greatest benedictions because it keeps our lives rightly related to Jesus Christ.
-- Oswald Chambers, If You Will Ask, p.54, Discovery House Publishers
Blessed are the poor in spirit, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be filled.
-- Matthew 5:3,6
Then He told them this parable: “A rich man’s land was very productive. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said, ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared – whose will they be?’”
-- Luke 12:16-20
How many times have you heard someone say,
‘If I had his money, I could do things my way.’
But little they know that it’s so hard to find,
One rich man in ten with a satisfied mind.
(By the way, in my opinion, the definitive version of “Satisfied Mind” was done by Johnny Cash late in his career with just an acoustic guitar accompanying. Someone told me it was on the Kill Bill II soundtrack, but I can’t vouch for that.)
Mick said satisfaction was impossible, but you could, possibly, get what you need. The Apostle Paul and Mr. Cash tell us to be content with what we have in a material sense, not to make striving after things or ego-gratifying conquests the goal of life. Jesus tells us to be poor in spirit, always hungry for more of God and that our purpose in life is not to accumulate wealth like we were running up the score in football game, but to enrich our spirit man, storing up treasure in heaven.
Frankly, too many Christians are satisfied with a nominal “salvation”, just getting to heaven. The Lord does not mean it to be so. Transformation cannot take place apart from a certain degree of need, as Chambers points out. It is not “ask, seek, knock”; it is ask and keep on asking; seek and keep on seeking; knock and keep on knocking. We are dealing with an infinite God, yet many are willing to be satisfied with a limited, finite deliverance and salvation.
Jesus said, “Be perfect.” I’m not there.
Look, I am not suggesting that we don’t have to rest now and then along the way, or that the Holy Spirit will not allow us to rest. It’s a long, hard road. I talked about the “resting places” of John 14:2 a while back. Jesus will meet us there when we need a break, when we need rest, nourishment, and strength. But it is only for today then it’s time to move on. There’s another stage of the journey waiting for us tomorrow. Just don’t mistake Motel 6 for home.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
For the land you are entering to possess is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated by hand as a vegetable garden. But the land you are entering to possess is a land of mountains and valleys, watered by rain from the sky. It is a land the LORD your God cares for. He is always watching over it from beginning to the end of the year. – Deuteronomy 11:10-12
The land of Goshen where the Israelites had lived probably encompassed the vast delta of the Nile River. There was always water. It is no wonder that the Egyptians viewed the Nile as a god for it must have seemed to them that they drew their very lives from it. They irrigated not just their patches of onions and melons, but their grain fields with its waters.
The time has come for us to move from surviving by our own hand to living by the hand of God. We have been dependent on the world’s system long enough – perhaps too long. It is time to move into our inheritance in the kingdom of God, to possess our own land, living not as tenants but as kings and priests.
The move requires us to leave behind our old comfortable idols. In those days we trusted in what we could see. The river was before us. There was no doubting it. It will not be so in the land to which we are traveling. We will be completely dependent on God’s care and concern. If rain does not fall, we will fail. From day to day we will not see the showers coming. We will need faith.
It is not surprising that the Lord Himself taught us to pray, “Give us today the bread we need for today.” He instructed the Israelites to gather manna only sufficient for today’s meal; do not try to hoard it until tomorrow. Depend on Me.
In the kingdom we are to trust in God alone and to trust Him in the now. Yesterday we were talking about hearing His voice in our moment by moment decisions. That is another facet of this same dependence and trust. The last thing Jesus told the believers before His ascension was not to worry about the times or the seasons. He reiterates what He had told them earlier, that is, to take care of today’s business today and leave tomorrow until it is today. Sow and reap according to His guidance and direction. Do not be swayed by the externals, by voices of fear and despair. Sow your seed in accordance with the seasons of the kingdom.
It may be dry right now, but the eyes of the LORD watch over you and the rains will come. The furrows will be softened, and the dead, dry ground will bring forth in abundance according to the seed we have planted.
Monday, October 6, 2008
By now much time had passed, and the voyage was already dangerous. Since the Fast was already over, Paul gave his advice and told them, “Men, I can see that this voyage is headed toward damage and heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” But the centurion paid attention to the captain and the owner of the ship rather than to what Paul said. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided to set sail from there, hoping somehow to reach Phoenix, a harbor on Crete open to the southwest and northwest, and to winter there.– Acts 27:9-12
Albert Einstein called it intuition. We know more than the statistics and numbers can tell us. Quantitative analysis will fail us, and computer models will lead us astray.
The Lord will give you meager bread and water during oppression, but your Teacher will not hide Himself any longer. Your eyes will see your Teacher, and whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: “This is the way. Walk in it.” -- Isaiah 30:20,21
Call it intuition or insight or whatever you like; it is the voice of the Lord.
When I find myself in a strait of my own making, I have a choice: to flee for a more commodious, more forgiving harbor, or to face the certainty of “meager bread and water”. The meager bread doesn’t sound too appealing but it an offer from God of minimal loss. Had the captain and the ship’s owner endured the difficulties of the Fair Havens harbor as Paul recommended, they would have saved their ship and cargo.
In the time of oppression, I am not abandoned. I have the promise of enough to get through it, and more importantly, the promise of God’s presence in greater clarity and assurance than ever before. It may not be enough to make me welcome hardship, but it should be sufficient to let me meet it with a smile and an even temper.
Turning to the right or left is not about some weighty spiritual decision. It is about taking the off-ramp before we hit the traffic jam on the morning commute. It is that sudden insight into what seemed like an unsolvable problem at work, or why the trimmer just quit working, or how to put the new wood chipper together. Life, every bit of life, mundane, routine, drudge life is as much a part of our spiritual journey as the most sublime mountaintop experiences. Life doesn’t imitate art. Life is art.
The road to hell is one kludge* after another.
* "But this has taken us far afield from interface, which is not a bad place to be, since I particularly want to move ahead to the kludge. Why do people have so much trouble understanding the kludge? What is a kludge, after all, but not enough Ks, not enough ROMs, not enough RAMs, poor quality interface and too few bytes to go around? Have I explained yet about the bytes?" -- source unknown, vintage definition of the kludge in programming
Thursday, October 2, 2008
We must return for a moment to the position which precedes the suppression of democratic institutions and the creation of totalitarian regimes. In this stage it is the general demand for a quick and determined government action that is the dominating element in the situation, dissatisfaction with the slow and cumbersome course of democratic procedure which makes action for action’s sake the goal. It is then the man or the party who seems strong and resolute enough “to get things done” who exercises the greatest appeal. “Strong” in this sense means not merely a numerical majority – it is the ineffectiveness of parliamentary majorities with which people are dissatisfied. What they will seek is somebody with such solid support as to inspire confidence that he can carry out whatever he wants.(Emphasis added)
-- From The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, chapter 10 “Why the Worst Get on Top”, p. 150 (Fiftieth Anniversary Ed., University of Chicago Press)
I think if I had read Hayek and Bastiat when I was in college I would have become an economist.
The mainstream media is pimping Obama as this leader. He lost the debate, but, since no one really watched it, the media narrative, via polling data, is that Obama won. From Hayek’s insightful analysis, we can see the purpose behind the left's use of polling data. Bush cannot get things done because he has low poll numbers. McCain is falling in the polls. He does not inspire confidence.
Polling has become the most insidious form of propaganda available to the socialists in this country. Even conservatives fall victim to it. Go over to Free Republic sometime after a poll comes out and see the wailing and gnashing of teeth that takes place as they offer prayers, tears, advice and excuses for the conservatives' poor performance.
I said a while back that I thought McCain would win with Palin, but I admitted that a lot could happen. The “mortgage crisis” happened, and America may well pay in more than bailout money.
What can we do? For one thing we can pray. I think this is important because it changes the atmosphere. Right now panic, despair and despondency are ruling. Prayer can change that. God is not a Republican – but He is certainly not a Democrat. What He will do is give us a leader in accordance with our hearts. Being in harmony with God’s will and purpose as the Body of Christ is of far greater consequence than which self-aggrandizing maroon occupies the Oval Office. If the Obamessiah does win, my daily prayer will be, “God smack Barack and keep his butt in line.”
It seems obvious, but, vote. I have my absentee ballot on my desk right now. I am going to fill it out, have it notarized and mailed in a couple of days. It’s easy to do. Christians, libertarians, conservatives, and classical liberals can make history by voting down the most extreme socialist ever to run on a major party ticket in America. Forget your differences with McCain. Bob Barr and Chuck Baldwin are not going to win. You are not voting for the pastor of your church. You are voting for a politician – by definition this means picking the lesser of two evils. Practice your holier-than-thou principles in your private life, and cast your vote for the idiot that is going to do the least damage.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of the Messiah’s gift. ... The One who descended is the same as the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. -- Ephesians 4:4-7,10
God is “above all and through all and in all”. The critic, the skeptic and the unbeliever want a simple God who can be easily explained, easily understood, tested and critiqued. They want a God who will fit in their box. They might accept a perfectly transcendent God or a perfectly immanent God. A Deity that is both just gives them a headache. That the Being who creates the universe would care about specks of protoplasm on an insignificant planet is the purest fantasy to them. To go further and think that He would be somehow able to “dwell within” some grubby old person who hasn’t even been to Harvard is absolute madness.
Monotheism does not imply that God is monolithic. God is Being, multifaceted and multidimensional. He meets us where we are willing to meet Him. It does not matter where we seek if we are seeking Him, we will find Him – more accurately, He will find us. He is seeker-sensitive as a coon hound’s nose is coon-sensitive.
One movie I can watch over and over is The Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis. Hawkeye promises Cora that he will find her then pursues her and her captors through the wilderness. He walks fearlessly into the midst of the enemy’s camp and takes her out, though not without a sacrifice. That’s the Bridegroom coming after His Bride.
A bold God with eyes like fire is literally a Holy Terror. Yet there He is with feet like burning brass coming down the mountain in hot pursuit of His beloved.
As my Catholic friends tell me, marriage, like everything else is a vocation, a calling. This is true at least in part due to the fact that it dramatizes in the cosmos the spiritual reality in heaven. Having children is a calling and a vocation. Art, literature, science, trades, education, yes, even government is a vocation. In every aspect, every facet of life the grace of God may be given. We can receive the gifts of the Messiah for our particular calling – no matter how mundane it may seem. And we need those gifts and that grace not so much for what we are doing but for what we are being. Part of the grace is to reveal God -- not just to others as a witness, but to ourselves as the players.
“All the world is a stage” – Shakespeare and Saints agree, “The play’s the thing.” Bad actors memorize lines. Good actors create a character. Great actors become the character. “Hypocrite” is the transliteration of a Greek word meaning “George Clooney”.
For my vocation, whatever it is, I need to be filled with the character of Christ. When that happens, my actions are no longer in imitation of Christ – though that is a good start, instead what I do will flow from who I am.
It is a feedback loop that usually gets overstated on one side or the other. When I act like Christ, I begin to understand Christ better. The more of Christ that is revealed to me, the more I act in accordance with what I know about Him – know as in gnosis. These better actions lead, in turn, to greater revelation on an upward spiral to home, until God is all in all.