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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple.” – Luke 14:25-33

Note that Jesus is much more concerned with quality than quantity. Most of us would think if we had a large following we should be more careful about what we say so as to avoid offending any of them. The Lord, instead, seems to go out of His way to turn people off and thin out the crowds. He says things that are difficult to grasp, esoteric, and controversial – not for the sake of controversy at all but simply because they are true. Some might find it easy enough to get offended by this “preaching hate”, as Jesus is here. Imagine someone today telling our society – its only virtue seems to be tolerance – to hate anything.

Of course, what the Lord is telling us to hate is not our family itself but those flatland aspects of family relations that entrap us and hinder us from entering the kingdom. Detachment – not in an objectified, disinterested sense – but in terms of not deriving our worth and direction from the world system is what He tells us we need. I cannot allow my family to define me. I cannot allow even who I see myself as to define me.

If we are going to build a tower – that is, if we are going to do something vertical, we do need a foundation in the horizontal. But if we are able to lay only the foundation our efforts will appear to be a senseless joke. Foundations – for example, righteous living, corporate worship, and prayer – only make sense if we are building on them in another plane.

Then Jesus asks another question about finishing things. What is the point of fighting a battle you are bound to lose? If the end is death, why cling to your little flatland fiefdom? The lives of far too many people are filled with pretentiousness. They are masks, empty shells that will crumble away, cocoons without a caterpillar. Why would a person struggle to hang onto this imitation life when the real is available for nothing? All one has to do, Jesus says, is surrender. Give up the pretensions and enter the kingdom of God. We may end up not looking like much in this life, but someday we will burst forth in freedom and beauty, a glorious thing with wings, no longer bound to the surface, soaring.

Jesus is not asking us to abandon our families and our responsibilities to go live under a bridge. He is asking us to “give them up”, not get rid of them. We are wont to ignore what is possibly the most obvious thing imaginable. No one really owns any material property, and all that is visible passes away. We may have the privilege of using a possession for a number of years but the day will come when it passes into the hand of another, and there will be nothing we can do about it. In light of this, the Lord says, there’s no point in clinging to the things of this world. Accept them with gratitude, use and enjoy them as one is able, and leave them in God’s possession.

My daughter called last night because she was upset and found herself thinking about taking a drink. She talked about how she had wanted to be successful and not disappoint us. I told her that success is not about what we do or have, but about who we are to become. What looks like a failure is merely a reset, if we can receive it. It is a chance to get back on track, to stop living only on the surface of accomplishments, accolades and acclaim. We are on this long strange trip to unite (or perhaps reunite) with our true being, to become what we really are or what we are really meant to be, and whatever moves us in that direction is good. I’m glad she told me she loves me but if her love for me kept her trapped in notching achievements while living a shattered, inauthentic life, I’d rather she hated me.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Know Who Holds My Hand

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. --Philippians 4:6

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

Don’t worry about anything. Pray about everything.

Consider this my Christmas blog entry. It may be my New Year’s entry as well.

There are plenty of things to worry us these days. Given the temperatures here on the Plateau, global warming is officially off my list of those things. In Psalm 37, the Psalmist says that we should not fret or “be agitated” for such a state of mind leads only to harm. Worry certainly comes naturally to most of us, and it isn’t limited to one segment of the population. The rich worry as much as the poor; believers seem to worry about as much as unbelievers.

Why do we worry? Obviously we must get some reward for fretting or we wouldn’t engage in it. We seem to think that worry somehow prepares us or gives us control over a situation. We often actually equate it with being prepared. As humans we are blessed with the ability to enter into a state of altered consciousness, narrow our focus and work through solutions to problems. We can pick up complicated objects and turn them over in our minds without ever putting our hands on them. We can make three-dimensional realities out of two-dimensional pictures. Worry is a kind of trance state where we enter into a situation that is bothering us. We are there looking for a solution, which is not bad in itself. The problem is that we do not know all the factors or what is actually going to happen. We wind up working off expectations, past experiences, or related experiences. We may create multiple scenarios and try to think how we’d deal with each one, or try to imagine how we’d get the best possible scenario to play out.

When we are dealing with concrete situations over which we have control, e.g., building a dog house, such forward thinking is useful and necessary. On the other hand if I am worrying about possible disasters, abstractions, or the uncertain future, it is worse than useless. Not only are most things beyond my individual powers, they probably won’t be even close to what I am projecting. Worry is a waste of time.

The cure for worry is prayer, with thanksgiving. If I am troubled or burdened with cares about the future, I need to pray until the burden lifts. If I am willing to pray and honestly turn my problems over to the Lord – as He desires I should do – I can have and maintain perfect peace. It may take a while to free myself from agitation, but it will be worth the time I invest.

As Paul tells us, giving thanks is a big part of this process. If I relentlessly petition God and try to harangue Him into giving me my way, then I am merely worrying in a different format. Expressing my dependence on the Lord is what will bring peace and rest to my soul. Thanksgiving means that I acknowledge God’s sovereignty, power, wisdom, mercy and grace. Giving thanks is a function of relying on the Lord to deal with the situation as it is rather than whatever I might imagine it to be.

If you are feeling some trepidation when you see 2009 dead ahead, don’t fret over it. Take your burdens to the Lord, and leave them there.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wherein I Set Sail for a Three Hour Tour

Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd. After He said good-bye to them, He went away to the mountain to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. He saw them battered as they rowed, because the wind was against them. Around three in the morning He came toward them walking on the sea and wanted to pass by them. When they saw Him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. Immediately He spoke to them and said, “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. They were completely astounded because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened.
-- Mark 6:45-52

The hearts of the Disciples were hardened. They had, during the previous day, seen five thousand souls fed with two fish and five loaves. The significance of that miraculous provision had been lost on them. Despite the fact that they were following the Lord, seeing Him heal and deliver, hearing His teachings, and experiencing His presence, they were still missing the point that He was not merely godly, but God, that all things existed and functioned upon His Being. That He had laid aside His glory and submitted to the limitations of human flesh did not change who He was.

Jesus orders the Twelve into their boat and sends them out to cross the lake while He stays behind. This mirrors our situation as souls coming into the world. We are sent here by God, separated and distanced. As with those in that boat, the situation we find ourselves in is often dark and stormy. There is nothing solid upon which to rest. We are, apart from the Lord, groundless. Or so it seems to us.

“He saw them battered as they rowed, because the wind was against them.” Though we think we are alone, God is watching. He knows where we are and what we are facing. He sees our trials, and He allows us to struggle with the futility of existence. Yet He never loses sight of us in the deepest darkness or the most intense storm.

“Around three in the morning…” – I don’t know what it is about 3:00AM, but we all understand that as being a significant time. It is the deepest dark. The light has long gone from the west. Midnight seems an age behind. The third watch has ended. That membrane which separates the mundane from raw reality is at its thinnest point, and the powers of hell have found their opening. The storm is at its height.

And the Lord comes walking on the sea.

How, then, are we to understand this phrase: “…and wanted to pass by them”? Another translation reads: “…and He intended to pass by them”. I went to Wuest, who gives it this way: “And He was desiring to go to their side”. Jesus intended to walk close enough to the boat so that He could be seen, even in the darkness of the storm. He, of course, had no need of getting in the boat Himself, or for Himself. The crossing, storm or no storm, was not a problem for Him. He comes close to reassure us, to let us know that He is present, watching and in control.

Life is not the maelstrom it appears to the human trying to make headway on an unknown journey. The sea is not the deadly, volatile element into which we fear to sink, never to rise again. Waves are as solid as stepping stones to the Lord. Nevertheless, as with the Disciples, when God does show up in such an uncanny way, walking serenely on storm-driven breakers, He may be the ultimate terror. Storms, we judge, are natural. We are familiar with the dangers of the sea. But One walking where no man should be able to walk, this is beyond our understanding.

As we cry out in fear, we hear, above the roar of the threatening storm, a familiar Voice full of strength and peace and encouragement. We hear, “It is I. I AM here. Your struggles are over.” Unwilling to allow fear and uncertainty to torment us further, the Lord enters into our vessel. The storms cease. The eastern sky shows the first hint of dawn. We know our destination is near at hand, and we will reach it in peace.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Want to See the Manager

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? -- Romans 8:31

Who, indeed? I have thought it was the devil, but the devil is merely a tool. He does nothing without God’s leave. He may be a mighty impressive creature, but he is a creature. He may be a roaring lion, but if the Lord says, “Scat”, the devil flees. James says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Such a thing could not be true of an omnipotent evil being.

“If God is for us” – but what if God is not for me? This is a question I have to settle. John’s first epistle tells us that God is love. The Gospel of John contains perhaps the best-known verse in the Bible which states that God loves the world so much that He gave His only and unique Son so that anyone who believes in Jesus might not perish but have everlasting life. David, in the other contender for best known passage, says, “The Lord is my Shepherd”. There should be no doubt that the Lord is for us in total and individually. This is the reason there is a Bible. A revelation is required for humanity to understand the Divine. Apart from revelation, we may get bits and pieces as mythologies show us, but we will also get a lot of things wrong. God reveals Himself to us so that we may know the truth of His love and care: Yahweh is for me.

The Lord is the Source, the Fountainhead of life. All things that come to me come by the hand of God. Normally we see intermediaries, agents, “second causes” for things that happen. If a cop pulls me over for speeding, I may blame the cop and the radar gun for my ticket. The officer is not acting as an independent agent. He has a system and laws behind him. We’ll ignore, for the moment, the fact that the cause of my ticket is my own heavy foot. A traffic cop is merely the agent of enforcement.

It’s the same when we have troubles and trials in life. If we focus on the immediate agent, we are only seeing the secondary cause. It is hard to accept some humiliating defeat from the hand of man. Fires, floods, and storms all seem unfair when they strike us or someone we love. Mechanical failures and glitches are frustrating. Diseases, physical handicaps and weaknesses may be hard for us to accept. As long as I am considering the second cause as the source, I am going to be unhappy and probably angry. I have trouble trusting God in my trial because I am not seeing it as ultimately from His hand. I may say, “Why did You let this happen?” What I may be thinking is that if God were really good and all-powerful, this wouldn’t have happened to me, or it wouldn’t have happened unless I “deserved it”. I wind up dealing with guilt – though I can’t see what I did wrong – or anger and frustration.

No, I need to forget the second cause. The virus, the cancer cell, the hurricane, the drunk driver, the Democrats, the economy, my wife, my neighbor, my kids – none of these are the Cause. I can surrender and fully accept what comes to me when I see that the Lord Himself has ordained and arranged it. My defeat is His will, and it will lead to my ultimate victory. I do not need to worry about revenge because vengeance belongs to the Lord; He will repay. All I need to do is accept the situation as being completely under God’s control. In weakness and loss, I can trust the Lord because these are according to His will. Whatever happens, whether I live or die, the Lord is for me and with me. I can trust Him.

Surrender is not passivity. I need to face my trials and troubles, fight through them and deal with them to the fullest extent possible. Nevertheless, I do all with the full assurance that the outcome is up to the Lord. I may witness a miracle or things may get much worse. Regardless, I still trust God because it is all from His hand. As the song says, God is good – all the time. God on the mountain is still God in the valley. Actually a miracle is guaranteed, even if it is only that I can still smile through tears. Surrender does not mean I won’t feel pain, or that I don’t need to grieve. Stoicism is not required. I will be much better able to deal with my emotions when I understand God’s place in my situation.

In a couple of weeks we will begin a new year, and it will be like no other for some of us. Some of us will see answers to prayers. Some will see troubles carry over from the past. Some will face unimagined challenges. Whatever comes, the Lord is in it. Look past the agents and focus on His hand. You will find that the all-powerful, the gentle hand of God holds your trial, and you are sheltered in His arms.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Shopping Report and Catalogs

I went Christmas shopping Saturday, so I am now officially in the spirit.

It was clear from our excursion to the Holy City that America is held hostage to the worst economy since the Great Depression. One exit from the freeway was completely blocked with traffic – no accident, just lots and lots of cars – probably lined up for baloney sandwiches at the Salvation Army several miles away. People were actually eating at Wendy’s and Taco Bell. There were also quite a few cars at the Starbuck’s next to Wendy’s. I’m sure they were probably homeless families who had their houses repossessed by Dick Cheney and are reduced to living in their vehicles in the parking lots of overpriced coffee shops.

We had trouble getting into the Target parking lot. It took about ten minutes to get across the lot to the store entrance where I let my wife out and immediately lost sight of her in the crowd. Ten minutes later I found a parking spot in the overflow area – as far from the door as you can get and still be on the same block. I couldn’t see any Social Services employees handing out day-old bread, so I’m not sure why the crowd was so large. Once in the store I tried to get to the digital cameras but the crowd in the electronics section was so massive that I gave up. People must be buying cameras to take their passport photos so they can immigrate to Venezuela.

The mall was even worse. We spent fifteen minutes getting to the light in the left turn lane to get to the mall parking lot. There were no parking spots. There were lines of cars waiting for departing shoppers to back out. I wonder if the food court was giving out free meals. Another odd thing I noticed while walking around the mall is that no one looked like those Ethiopian people – though some did have distended bellies – most actually looked – well, well-fed. I guess the “new starvation” has a different look than the old starvation.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. What I really wanted to say was that, since I am in the Christmas spirit, I thought I’d give my reviews of some stuff I’ve run across.

A couple of weeks ago Lindsay’s Technical Books popped up on Cool Tools. If you follow the link, you will be able to order the catalog of “Exceptional technical books for experimenters, inventors, tinkerers, mad scientists, and ‘Thomas Edison-types’”. I am ordering three books for Christmas: Blacksmith Shop & Iron Forge, Teach Yourself Electronics (going out as a gift to a family member), and Peak Oil Survival. Frankly these are not Lindsay’s most interesting titles.

Check out: Home Cheese Making, Secrets of Building a Plastic Injection Molding Machine, How to Build and Fly a Glider, I Just Love to Fart Cookbook, A Practical Treatise on the Raw Materials and the Distillation and Rectification of Alcohol, and Deep Hole Drilling to name but a few. By the way, in case you are wondering, the last title is next to a related book, Making Rifle Barrels.

You can get a free catalog and then order all kinds of cool books about building steam engines and making tools to make tools. By all means ask Lindsay’s for their catalog if you are interested in buying a book or two.

They have some books that are dangerous for kids. If you have kids or grandkids, buy some of those dangerous books and hand them out to the younger generation. With ten days to go, it’s mostly too late for getting them anything by Christmas but there are always birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, weddings, MLK Day – which coincides with Robert E. Lee’s birthday in 2009, etc.

The other catalog that showed up in the Cool Tools shuffle was Cabela’s. They do have some things that you are unlikely to find just anywhere. I think they are a little pricey – not unlike their chief competitor, Bass Pro. Visiting a Cabela’s retail store – I’ve been to the one in Austin – is much like visiting my own local Bass Pro. They are big. I think I bought a little waterproof bag that has a zipper closure and a clip lanyard. It is good for sticking stuff in when canoeing. I also carry my wallet in it at amusement parks for the rides where you get wet.

I do buy stuff at Bass Pro, occasionally. I bought a canoe there. I have bought reloading supplies from them, but they don’t have much anymore. These days I only show up for sales or to buy bulk ammunition. Bass Pro is one of the few local retailer locations carrying Number 2’s – that is, Remington Nitro Express shotgun shells with the all-important #2 shot. It’s good stuff.

But the stores I like are the little gun shops where there are lots of used guns and guys in boots that look like they’ve been out in the “br’ers”. Something just bugs me about standing in line to buy shooting supplies behind a dude in Calvin Klein’s with tassels on his loafers. In the little stores you are more likely to get an honest answer than a sales pitch.

There is one mailorder company where that’s also true: Midway USA. Larry Potterfield is the company’s founder and president. They are located near Columbia, Missouri. Midway is strictly mailorder – their catalogs are great, or you can order off the website. If you’re an occasional customer like I am, it is nice to talk to knowledgeable people when you call in your order. They know where I live and how much shipping will be. They can answer questions, and they will ask if I want to “round up” and donate to the NRA, which I always do. I have never met Mr. Potterfield but I understand you can see him on one of the “critter-killing channels”. He and his family are hunters and shooters. If Midway has it in their catalog, it will probably work like it’s supposed to.

Friday, December 12, 2008

God Sticks

And after him came Shamgar the son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad; and he also saved Israel. – Judge 3:31

Shamgar saves a nation and he gets a single sentence -- though it is a sentence in the Bible, a pretty rarified Who’s Who. He acts openly, boldly, and heroically. He kills six hundred of the enemy – whether at once or cumulatively is unclear – with a sharp stick. Even assuming it was an assault oxgoad with a tactical iron tip, it’s still impressive. His efforts rallied the Israelites to return to the Lord and resist oppression.

The unlikely hero is God’s man. That doesn’t mean he is a particularly good man or a wise man. He may be a glorious loser like Samson – and a large subgroup of U.S. presidents.

The thing about the oxgoad or the jawbone of an ass is that these things are, in themselves, humble and inglorious.

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are – 1 Corinthians 1:27,28

A sharp stick indeed seems foolish as a weapon of revolution and liberation, as foolish and weak as the stick Moses carried to humiliate Pharaoh. It is as insignificant, well, as a child born in a stable.

It is a good lesson for Christmas. The Almighty came in the most helpless package imaginable, a tiny baby born in obscurity and poverty. God made Himself completely dependent on the faith and goodness of Mary and Joseph. He trusted them. When it came time to establish His kingdom, He gathered to Himself a few unlearned fishermen in a backwater country. He depended on them to carry His message. He trusted them.

God depends on you and me today to do His will. He does not have a backup plan. He doesn’t need one. He trusts us. Now that might be all right, but for the fact that I know I’m not trustworthy, and I am deeply suspicious of just about everybody else except the Pope, Billy Graham, and my dog. The Lord must know something I don’t.

Don’t let anyone lead you astray. The future does not depend on what happens with the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England, in Congress or Hollywood. It depends on weak, foolish, mostly unknown people in Podunk.

We have sharp sticks, and we’re not afraid to use them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. – Romans 14:7,8

Not one of us lives for himself? Surely Paul would change his view if we could parachute him into just about any locale in America. From ordinary citizens to Wall Street to politicians, everyone seems to be out for himself or herself.

Speaking of Wall Street and politicians, remember a month or so ago when it seemed everyone was crying out against the greed of Wall Street? Government needed to crack down on Wall Street greed. Is it now OK for Wall Street to crack down on government greed? This is like setting two coyotes to watch your chicken flock thinking that one will keep the other honest. The coyotes won’t get into conflict until they get to the last chicken.

So what Paul means is not that Blagojevich, Spitzer, Frank, Clinton, Stevens, Obama, the UAW, and Trump are altruists who act without self interest. He means that in reality our lives are not our own. We may not understand that. I may think and act as if I am the center of the universe, but I am not. I was designed and built for something that transcends my individual life.

Now we come to a sticky point. There are many passages that could be pulled from the Bible which would seem to indicate I should live for others. I am to be concerned for my fellow man and willing to sacrifice for the good of those in need. While that is true, it can easily miss the point and do more harm than good. The foundation of all good works needs to be faith. I don’t live or die for another human. I live and die for the Lord because I belong to Him. My good works are a manifestation of that understanding.

As an example take Oprah Winfrey. Please. Here is a woman who wipes her butt with hundred dollar bills. I don’t recommend this -- apparently it makes your ass really big.

Eeow. I have to go to my happy place for a minute.

Ms. Winfrey has the girls’ school in Africa. She gives away cars. She donates to charities and does all kinds of good works for other people. I assume the recipients of her largesse (happy thought, hap-py thought!) sometimes benefit and experience a better life. But it doesn’t seem to help Oprah. Here is a woman who has wealth, fame, power, personal trainers, chefs, body slaves, whatever, and she cannot stop eating. She announced this week that she has now reached the two hundred pound plateau once again. And that’s probably two hundred in dog pounds. I’m not sure plateau is the right word either.

She has no husband, no children, and apparently no life – if we don’t count destroying America by promoting bad diets, pop psychology, spiritual frauds, crappy books, Obama, and emotion-based value systems.

People like Oprah are not necessarily bad people. Their intentions are good. They are trying to help others. They are concerned about what they perceive as righteous causes. The problem is their works have no foundation. They are building upon sand because they are not living first in obedience to God. They do not recognize that they and those they are trying to help belong first and foremost to the Lord. He is our Father. He is the Good Shepherd. Acting without that understanding of the nature and truth of God leads them into many errors.

God is not a genie in a bottle or the fairy freaking godmother. We live for Him. That’s what Paul is telling us. If you read in chapters fourteen and fifteen of Romans, you will see the quoted verse is in the middle of a treatise on tolerance for the purpose of maintaining unity in the Church. Paul warns us against judging our brothers by what they eat or don’t eat and varying opinions about non-essential practices. He asks: “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).

Intolerance is one of the hallmarks of the left and those do-gooders like Oprah and Obama. They want to standardize us. They want us to fit the mold. They want us to be as miserable as they are, or at least for “the little people out there” to be equally miserable. The collectivist seems to think that virtue can be institutionalized and imposed on people from above by the supreme state – their god. And the first problem is who gets to define virtue?

It is not so with us. I was talking yesterday about God doing His work in us and respecting our individuality, and here it is again. We should respect the individuality of the brother who eats and the brother who abstains. The Lord, as far as we can know, is telling the one to eat meat and the other to be a vegetarian. All I can really know is what the Spirit says to me, which is usually something like “why don’t you worry about your own ass instead of Oprah’s”. And I understand that.

Or, as Micah 6:8 puts it: He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness [mercy], and to walk humbly with your God?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Big Wheels Keep on Turnin'

I’ve switched to the New American Standard, primarily because it’s the one on my desk right now. Covered in antique red leather, mine is well broken in, as it should be after seventeen years. It lies flat, stays open where I want it, and is a good translation.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10

The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I shall announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. – Jeremiah 18:1-4

Yesterday I commented on Isaiah 27:1 about the creative potential of the chaotic and of all the stuff that is not-God, or not-yet-God. I guess I’m continuing on the theme today with some variation.

When Paul says “His workmanship” he is not talking about the quality of craft seen in construction or cabinetry, but about the efforts of an Artist. God does not rely on formulas. He laughs at the systematic approach -- no standards and practices for the Almighty. In the sense of being merciful to all, He is no respecter of persons; however, in the sense of meeting us where we are, He very much does respect individuality. His work in our lives is guided only by wisdom. It is all art – meaning that He uses the raw material at hand in a unique and specific way.

The potter sits down at his wheel and begins to work on a lump of clay. He has in mind a vessel, but the clay is not cooperating. Perhaps it is too wet, or too dry, or maybe there are some unusual elements or impurities in its composition. Instead of taking the precise and beautiful shape the potter envisions, it is uneven, warped, or otherwise marred.

But this potter is wise. He pulled this lump out of the great chaos of the claypit himself. By his effort to shape it, he has found its limitations and weaknesses. A lesser craftsman might toss aside this flawed material and seek better, but the master does not do so. In his eyes, everything drawn out of the pit has its unique flaws, as well as its unique capacity. He does not destroy the beauty of this lump by forcing it into an ugly imitation of what it can never be. Instead, he takes the marred vessel and reworks it into what it is meant to be, and what pleases him.

In the end, it is not just a vessel for common use, but a work of art that brings light and joy to those who behold it.

Sometimes the chaos seems threatening and fearful. We wonder how much of this surreal weirdness one is supposed to endure. How can there ever be beauty again? All is disorder. The landmarks have been moved. The foundations are shaken. Life makes no sense, and all we feel is pressure and despair.

It is just the hand of the Master. He has found our flaws, and He has folded us back into the shapeless blob He first carried out of the pit. Yet even as we despair, He begins to smile as He causes us to take a new and perfect form – perfect for that raw essence that is the individual.

That odd streak of blue just needs to be in the right place. The too dry and the too moist will be fine once reworked together. What looked like not enough will be a delicate, soaring thing evoking heaven, and drawing gasps of admiration from the angels.

And so the wheel turns.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Out of Order, and Order Out of

Come, my people, enter into your rooms,
And close the door behind you;
Hide for a little while,
Until indignation runs its course.

For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place
To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;
And the earth shall reveal her bloodshed,
And will no longer cover the slain.

In that day the LORD will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
With His fierce and great and mighty sword,
Even Leviathan the twisted serpent;
And He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.

--Isaiah 26:20,21; 27:1

Though the first two verses caught my attention, I don't really have any comment on them. There may be difficult days ahead, but I'm certainly not predicting anything or raising any prophetic flags. If anything, I would think God may be calling His people to private prayer, intercession and soul-searching. The passage sounds remarkably like Matthew 6:6, as Jesus said, "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."

Leviathan is usually seen as something like chaos, something that rises in opposition to God. The sea is also viewed as chaotic and primordial.

We see horrible events, sometimes perpetrated by humans, sometimes random natural disasters. Christians are fond of saying, “God is in control.” We build all kinds of explanations for why God allows evil to exist. I don’t have any answers, just more questions.

For example, consider if God is still creating. We know the Genesis account says God completed His work and rested on the seventh day. Yet, after the Fall, God rose up and by His own hand shed blood and provided a covering for Adam and Eve. He intervened in purging evil from the earth with the flood of Noah. He spoke with Abraham and established a covenant, and He called out Israel.

Speaking of Noah, it may be significant that God used the chaos of flood waters to cleanse the earth.

I get the impression sometimes that the sixth day lasted a long time. The book of Hebrews describes Jesus as finally sitting down at the right hand of the Father, but, according to 1 Corinthians 15, He is still in the process of conquering enemies. Perhaps in our timeline, the seventh day has not yet come. It exists, and we draw toward it, but it’s like the “Rocky Road to Dublin” and may require a right good fight to clear the way.

There is still unconquered chaos that wars against us. We are of God, seeking rest and order. It is randomness, disorder, and destruction, seen in loss, decay, and deterioration. You don’t even need to assume a malevolent intelligence, though it seems obvious that it has its own agents. You could look it as just “stuff” that is still potentially a part of the creative process of building the kingdom. It kind of makes sense, for we are not generally in the business of creating ex nihilo. We take iron ore and refine it, and we make plows or swords.

They say that when it is time for the marriage supper of the Lamb, a great pavilion will be needed. So the Lord will slay Leviathan, and we will sit in the shade of that adversary’s skin and celebrate the consummation of the kingdom.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Prayers of the Ringtailed Saints

Thanks to all the Saints of the Ringtail who have been praying for my daughter. She has made some progress, much of which I attribute to your intercession. We have already seen some good things happen, but she has a long and tortuous ordeal ahead. If any of you are familiar with the Dragon of Fifths, you know he is a vicious invader. He employs a scorched earth approach, not just to win, but because it is his nature.

We'll beat him, though. We'll gut him and nail his sulfurous hide to the barn door.

Thanks again.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Exit Strategy

Then I heard another voice from heaven: Come out of her, My people, so that you do not share in her sins or receive any of her plagues. --Revelation 18:4

Earlier today, the Quiet Pot posted an excerpt that shows somebody is paying attention, and it got me thinking along these lines.

The verse quoted above is speaking in reference to the great whore of Babylon and the fall of Babylon. This Babylon is a universal archetype, which may, along with the Beast of Revelation and the Antichrist, point to some ultimate antitype and complete fulfillment. I think that is the case, because, though history is cyclical, it does not repeat infinitely. Rather, it spirals toward Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega point. I do not know if the Babylon of our time is that ultimate one – it likely will be for me.

Babylon seems to be related to Babel. Whether the tower named the place or the place named the tower matters little for they are associated in the Hebrew mind. It is a place of deviltry, of pandemonium where sense is lost and we no longer understand one another. Man rebelled at the Tower of Babel. Instead of seeking God, he sought to overrun heaven and overthrow God. And who would he place on the throne? Babylon then is a city, not of libertine morals but of a false religion, following false gods. When John speaks of adultery and fornication in the Apocalypse, he is referring primarily to turning away from a relationship with the true God and a worship or exultation of a false god.

Part of the Tower of Babel’s purpose was to unify all people. Like the tower and the assault on heaven, commerce can unify. Trade and the chance to enrich or increase wealth bring us together. We unite in worship of that god which Jesus called Mammon. In our day we have reaped what appeared to be significant material blessings from our affiliation with this system. I have given myself over to -- perhaps you could even say I have devoted myself to the accumulation of money and goods, to the status symbols and the counters of the Babylonian game. While I have been successful in only a very modest sense, it is obvious what my priorities have been.

Daniel saw the world system and the historic empires as an image with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. Though this, according to Daniel’s interpretation, was a depiction of kingdoms arising on the historical time line, in the end, the Babylon system can always be said to have “feet of clay”. It is vulnerable, and it will fall.

Even if the current system is not the antitype, it will fall. Its weaknesses have been exposed. For one thing the image is upside-down. Gold, the heaviest, densest, most stable material is on top. Gold is identified with divinity – it should be the foundation. What Daniel shows us looks more like devolution or degeneration from the divine to the animalistic human (clay). This will be crushed by the kingdom of God and overthrow the entire inverted structure.

So, the voice from heaven calls God’s people to leave Babylon behind. Flee, not to Galt’s Gulch, but to the Rock.

“But those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they shall soar on wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Someone turned the King James Version of that into a chorus, and it remains one of my favorites. I wish I could let you hear it as I do in my head right now with a sweet and righteous woman singing in a rich, warm alto, just like she believed every word.

They that wait upon the Lord
shall renew their strength.
They shall mount up
with wings as eagles.
They shall run,
and not be weary.
They shall walk,
and not faint.

Teach me, Lord,
Teach me, Lord,
To wait.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Enough is as good as a feast

What then can we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? If Abraham was justified by works, then he has something to brag about – but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness. Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares righteous the ungodly, his faith is credited for righteousness. -- Romans 4:1-5

That’s all well and good, I say, but how much faith is enough? Jesus said if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

Many years ago, a couple of my friends were discussing a situation where someone was gravely ill. One of them said to the other, “I want you to pray for this sick person. I’ve got Volkswagen faith. You’ve got Cadillac faith.” Perhaps today he would say Hyundai faith versus Lexus faith, but the thing is either one will get you where you want to go. I used to drive all over the country in a ’72 Chevy Nova with a straight six, three-on-the-tree, and no AC. I always made it where I wanted to go and back – not in style, but I made it.

If you have a generator, a source of power, a dynamo, all you need is the connection. You can have one of those big forked switches with a handle, a rocker switch, or a cheap little black plastic thing hanging half out of the wall. It doesn’t matter. If the juice is there and you can close the circuit, you get the job done.

On/Off. Pregnant/Not-pregnant. Do/Not-do.

If you have enough faith to worry about having enough faith, you have enough faith. You are connected to the Almighty.

Over time it is true that faith grows and develops. It matures. Yet, in a way, it is perfect and complete at any point in time. I think of my granddaughter who weighed less than five pounds when she was born, literally fitting in my two hands. Nevertheless, she was perfect. Friday, she put her arm on my shoulder and called me, “Shorty”. I am still a little taller than she is, but she’s still perfect. Her development is built into her DNA, programmed at birth to unfold like a rose. So, too, is faith. It matures and develops as any living thing, according to the plan of God. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17), and, in explaining the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says, “The sower sows the word” (Mark 4:14).

I receive the Word, and I have faith. I can nurture it, let it take root, and cultivate it. It will grow and become great faith, producing more seed. I never need to worry that I don’t have enough.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Beware of Insidious Increments

Lead bullet bravo sierra

Lead bullet truth -- from the CDC, no less

One reason I am linking to the two articles above is to demonstrate the desire in some circles to create a panic. Scared people, as the left has told us for the last seven years, are easier to control. Never mind that they were talking about real events, the terror attacks of 9/11, versus stuff the Democrats want us to fear, e.g., the terrorist myth of global warming or climate change or Algore Farted or whatever they're calling it now.

The first article is designed to get questions stirred up about using traditional lead projectiles in hunting ammunition. Waterfowl hunters are already banned from using lead shot and have to use steel -- which frankly sucks -- or some other expensive non-toxic alternative like bismuth. I suppose I can believe that lots of lead shot over heavily hunted waters could increase lead levels in ducks, geese and other wetland inhabitants. I have a lot more trouble believing that the amount of lead in the wound channel of a deer is going to result in increased lead levels in consumers of venison.

The second article confirms what I suspected: the first article is horse pucks.

Let's think about what you can expect for at least the next couple of years from those who just can’t stand the thought of the Second Amendment. Democrats have learned the hard way that running on gun control is a losing proposition, so they campaign by saying they do not want to take guns away from hunters. This sounds all right until you think about it. From whom do they want to take guns? It’s not from criminals because criminals don’t buy guns down at Bass Pro, or even at gun shows. Criminals buy guns from other criminals. Criminals steal guns. Criminals get guns even though it is illegal for them to possess firearms.

See, here is the problem. The Second Amendment does not give me any rights. It confirms a right possessed by every human born on the planet. A free man or woman has the right own weapons to defend himself or herself. I’m going to say something a little controversial, but it is what I believe. I have been in law enforcement, and I respect law enforcement officers in general. They do a tough job and do it well the vast majority of the time. Nevertheless, agents of the government should be just a little bit afraid to kick in an honest man’s door. Government, by its nature, is hostile to freedom. Governments are a necessary evil but still an evil. It is good for a government to fear its citizens.

Leave me alone, let me do my work and raise my family. I will pay my taxes and defend my family and my land if it comes to that. The state exists to provide sufficient security for me to live peaceably. From my point of view, that is the only reason it exists.

The conflict over weaponry comes because, as far as the collectivists in this country are concerned, I exist only to support the state. I should do, not what is in my own interests, but what most benefits the world as a whole. If I am reluctant to lower my standard of living to benefit some inbred, ganga-smoking jackass in a mudhat in Lower Bangagong then it is up to the government to force me to comply “for the greater good”. As some point this compulsion gets a little sticky with an armed citizenry.

Therefore, for the greater good, the private citizen’s access to weaponry needs to be limited, so says the collectivist. To translate what Obama and his ilk believe, modern weapons should be limited to agents of the government. You peons can keep your flintlocks, your fowling pieces, and your bows and arrows. You can hunt with those until we have complete control and you aren’t allowed out of your yard without our permission.

The collectivists plan to forge my chains by increments – one link at a time. They have discovered that threatening guns stirs up the masses and causes a loss of power. So they will try first to restrict ammunition. I would not be surprised to see attempts to add onerous taxes to firearms and ammunition, similar to the “sin” tax on liquor and cigarettes. It will, of course, be a public health issue. It might even be under the guise of providing universal health coverage, since we all know firearms are a major contributor to the rise of healthcare costs. Don’t worry. If you haven’t seen it already, there will be a study to prove this point touted by the MSM very soon.

As illustrated at the top, another point of attack in making ammunition prohibitively expensive could be the “dangers” of lead bullets. Lead is cheap and plentiful. It is malleable and easy to cast into precise, repeatable shapes and weights. For centuries, it has been the very effective projectile of choice for firearms. Banning lead bullets for hunting would seem minor enough, since most hunters fire only a few rounds in the course of the season. But what about practice? Won’t there be “toxic” deposits of lead at shooting ranges? As with all government regulations, the potential for an avalanche is always present. At best, with the introduction of new laws, manufacturers and shooters will find themselves facing higher costs, more restrictions and more twists and turns than a bucketful of snakes, or a dump truck full of lawyers.

We have to be ready to squash these attempts at the outset. There is no reason for further regulation or taxation of weapons and ammunition. Join the NRA and any other group supporting the Second Amendment. Get the names and numbers of your Congressmen and Senators, especially if they are Democrats. It is already time to start letting them know how vehemently you oppose any attempts to increase taxes on sporting goods, ammunition, and weapons, or to restrict the right to keep and bear arms.

Keep an eye on your state fish and game department. Missouri has both a Conservation Department, which handles wildlife regulations, and a Department of Natural Resources which is more in control of ground water, waste disposal and such. New regulations curtailing the use of lead bullets could arise from either of these agencies. I’m sure there are similar agencies under different names in all the other states. This may well be the first line of attack by collectivists of the watermelon* variety.

*Watermelon – for those who might not know, refers to those who are environmentalist green on the outside and communist red on the inside.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Driven by a Dove

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are My beloved Son; in You I take delight!

Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. – Mark 1:9-12

I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with My eye on you, I will give counsel. Do not be like the horse or mule, without understanding, that must be controlled with bit and bridle, or else it will not come near you. – Psalm 32:8,9 (The phrase “with My eye on you, I will give counsel” maybe be better in the King James Version, rendered as “I will guide thee with mine eye”. )

If you want confirmation of your identity, your calling, or a life mission statement, having the heavens rent and hearing the audible voice of God is fairly certain.

I am reminded of the young hillbilly who went to the church board and told them he thought he was called to preach because he had seen the letters “P C” in the clouds over his field and he took it to mean he was to “Preach Christ”. After a careful examination and prayerful consideration, the board called the young man back in, and said, “Son, we believe you saw P C in the clouds and we agree it was a message from the Lord, but we think He was telling you to ‘Plow Corn’.”

Unlike Jesus and our plowboy, most of us will never receive such a dramatic testimony of our destiny.

As Jesus was baptized, we see that the Holy Spirit descended to Him “like a dove” – that is, gently, quietly, and delicately. The dove is depicted in the Bible as “harmless”. Yet this gentle, harmless, dove-like Spirit then drove the Lord into a place of isolation and desolation. Being obedient to God means that we could find ourselves in a difficult place of trial and testing. Though this is a very traditional and orthodox view, it doesn’t find much room in some of the more modern, profit-oriented spiritual teachings.

When you change your belief system and begin to trust in Christ Jesus, your spirit – your human spirit is renewed, given life, and liberated. There is a new awareness that accompanies this awakening. You are now capable of following the subtle urgings of the Dove. You have understanding and a new insight. Certainly God can and does use those without understanding, but that is not His preference. The mule-headed will have the bit put in their mouth and they will go where He wants, however reluctantly. There is no spiritual will involved. Even in doing good, they remain creatures without understanding of the spiritual reality they serve.

If you are going to be driven by a dove, you will have to keep your eye on it. You will follow its flight, the inclination of its head, and the direction of its gaze. The Psalm expresses this idea as well. You watch the Master. He glances in a direction, and His gaze lingers there for a moment. You get up and walk that path.

Anyone can follow orders. Anyone can respond to pressure, punishment, and reward. Anyone can follow signs. If we insist on following our own way, we will remain in spiritual bondage. “We too all previously lived … in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath …” (Ephesians 2:3). We are not meant for this. Harsh discipline and a heavy hand are not what we need expect. We can obey willingly and purposefully, delighting in the Lord. As we immerse ourselves in this relationship that is open to us, we increase our understanding – we have the mind of Christ as Paul says. We think like Him, have His attitude. And attitude is closely related to “spirit”. Here is transformation: having our minds renewed.

Is there discipline? Yes. Is there sweat and effort and struggle? Yes. It happens in breaking free of the deceptions of "the prince of the power of the air". We will agonize over what we must lay aside. That is the weight room, the training room, the wilderness. But we live in grace. Jesus accepted His trial in the wilderness. When He returned from the testing, He maintained His close relationship with His Father throughout His journey while doing the impossible, without once going into a panic or breaking a sweat. Only when He came to Gethsemane and the ultimate trial of being separated from the Father did He again agonize. There He overcame and then endured the most extreme test imaginable -- with grace.

We see someone accomplish some difficult thing with what seems to be little or no effort at all, and we call that grace. The realm of God is the realm of grace. Children of the kingdom are children of grace. If we keep our attention on the soft, subtle leading of the Spirit, our obedience will be full of grace, freedom, and joy.

But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! (Ephesian 2:4,5)