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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Trends, but JSTW

Some years back, probably in the ‘90’s, I saw a cartoon that depicted a man sitting at a bar with various names and phrases from pop culture tattooed on his arms. All of them had been tattooed over with an ‘X’ except for those reflecting the most recent events or the most currently popular topics. A couple has just entered the bar and, observing the regular customers, surmise that, “This place may be just a little too trendy for us.”

Welcome to America where nostalgia now extends to first generation iPods -- not that there’s anything wrong with that.

If current trends continue, we will be out of current trends by the end of the week, and they are thinking of recycling mullets. Our trendy little black President is already nearing the down slope. He can probably expect to stay on top of the news cycle at least as long as the average Jennifer Lopez relationship.

The problem with new and improved is that new is not necessarily improved (Vista), and improvements are rarely new.

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 1:9)

Yes, we can come up with new gadgets and new ways to kill one another, but the Preacher is not talking about accessorizing. The truth is that the nature of man has not changed and will not change as a whole. Only the individual can really evolve and be transformed. Civilizations, empires, and nations will rise through their cycles, reach their bright zenith, and descend into twilight and darkness. Such is the nature of what man builds and what man is apart from God …

… if current trends continue.

What does the worker gain from his struggles? I have seen the task that God has given people to keep them occupied. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-10)

What is the task God has set for me to keep me busy on this journey? It is to remember Him in and in spite of all the circumstances of life. It is to remember that there is an eternal reality to which I am certainly going, and, perhaps, from which I might have come.

He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has put eternity in their hearts, but man cannot discover the work God has done from beginning to end. I know there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. (Ecclesiastes 3:11-12)

This is not the “good life” in terms of high living, wealth, fame, power and ease as man usually thinks of it. Rather this is the good life God gives us in time, life in Him in this world. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good.

I know that all God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of Him. Whatever is, has already has been, and whatever will be, already is. God repeats what has passed. (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15)

There is a reason why they call this wisdom literature. In his God-given wisdom, the Preacher contrasts the empty, repetitive cycles of history with the unchanging nature of eternity. God’s work cannot change for it is perfected. Nothing that is perfect can have anything added or removed, else it will cease to be eternal and become subject to time. Yet in the flow of time, a work is done as well, but the work done in time has already been done in eternity. Those things to be created in the future already exist – perfect and changeless now.

That last phrase I quoted from Ecclesiastes 3:15 is, I think, a little ambiguous. The King James reads, “and God requireth that which is past”, with the marginal reading of “that which is driven away”. My New American Standard says, “for God seeks what has passed by”. The New International Version translates it as, “God will call the past into account”.

The things that are in the past do not pass away. They stand. Once God has established truth and righteousness, His designs are always in fashion. He stands in opposition to the modernist and the progressive. The eternal truths must be accounted for. We think that we have left them behind with our gimmickry and our trendy looks, our new moralities that are older than dirt. We have not. As we speed along, not realizing we travel in a great circle, they lie in wait for us around the bend. We will account for them, or we will be destroyed by them.

There is a reason the world is round.

Oh, I almost forgot: JSTW – Jesus, Still The Way.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Don't Fence Me In

I called to the LORD in distress; the LORD answered me with freedom. – Psalm 118:5

Depending on which translation you use, the verse may read differently. This is an alternate reading in my Bible. The more traditional and figurative version is something like “the Lord answered me and put me in a spacious place”. The Lord gave me room. The alternate is more literally the meaning and actually more poetic in English.

Distress means pressure. We feel things closing in on us. The hero has fallen into a trap. The trigger is tripped, and slowly, inexorably the walls of the room begin to press toward him. He is about to be crushed like a spider on a tile floor under a stiletto heel.

Though we often think of stress as a function of the modern, mechanized, high-tech world, stress is as old as mankind. The causes may have been different in 1009, B.C., but not the effects. A man with his back against the wall in ancient Israel felt about the same as the man today who cannot meet the demands placed on him by creditors, employers, friends, and family. It does not even matter that the cause is concrete -- a sword at one’s throat, for example – or more abstract like a loss of status or prestige, the same emotional reactions are generated.

When pressure comes it generates fear. Our body responds to all fears by dumping adrenaline into the system. It wants to fight the threat or flee from it. Often we are not able to deal with the causes of our stresses directly. Like the man trapped in the trick room, we see no avenue of escape, and the immediate threats to us are driven by some other, outside power to which we have no access. Our ancient somatic response not only does us no good, it makes the situation worse. We know by our physical reaction that we are afraid, and, consequently, we surmise that something truly disastrous or fatal is imminent. Forget payback, feedback can be a bitch.

The LORD is for me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)

We can break out of this cycle of stress and fear. The way out of that crushing environment is up. The vertical is open to us, and the broad expanse of heaven offers us all the room we need. In Christ, we have a place on high. And, as the song says, the Rock is between the hard place and you.

We can rise as on wings of prayer, ascend from our dungeon by the ladder of faith. I do not have the power to free myself, but when I call on Him, the Lord will answer me with freedom.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cagematch with the Mountain

The Spirit is the One who give life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life – John 6:63

On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’ -- Matthew 7:22-23

Whatever it born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit – John 3:6

The flesh can build buildings, but it can’t build the kingdom.

The flesh can raise money, but it cannot lay up treasure in heaven.

The flesh can increase membership and teach morals, ethics, and good behavior, but it cannot make new creations.

The flesh can preach inspirational and motivational messages, but it cannot change the heart of man.

The flesh can wield political power and get out the vote, but it is spiritually dead and powerless.

In fact, man in his fallen configuration can be a very powerful force for good in the sense of achieving material progress and offering help to his fellow man. Conversely, the human soul apart from the Spirit is capable of great evil, self-justification, self-righteousness, self-aggrandizement, and God-defying arrogance.

The more talented we are, the more intellectual capacity we have, the more we are likely to rely on our own strengths rather than upon the Spirit as He indwells us and empowers us. Those who are wise in this world are tempted to be less dependent upon God and His guidance. To walk in the Spirit, the wise do not need to become foolish. They need only to lay aside all they know and understand in themselves and seek the wisdom that is from above. “My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts are higher than your thoughts,” said the Lord to the prophet Isaiah.

I have no desire to criticize what others do, their motives, their intentions, or their accomplishments. For my part, I think I would rather do nothing than operate in the power of the first Adam. I may not be able to always adhere to that standard. My surrender may be lacking. I may take up the banner of self from time to time under duress and pressure, but it is not my intent to do so.

My prayer today is that I may accept all that comes as from the Lord, and that I may not lean on my own understanding but upon Him.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Latent Power of the Soul - "Power for Service"

If one who is experienced in the Lord is present at a revival meeting, he can tell whether the speaker is using soulical or spiritual power. Once a friend of mine told me how powerful a certain preacher was. As I had never before met this preacher, I said I dare not judge. But I did write a few words on a notebook and gave it to my friend. I wrote: "Full of power but what power?" This friend was not as advanced in the Lord as was his wife. He did not understand what I had written. So he turned to ask his wife. After reading the note, she laughingly admitted, "This is indeed a real problem. What power is that preacher filled with?" Once a brother among us observed that whether someone had power or not could not be judged by how hard he was able to pound the pulpit. We need to discern in a meeting if a person's power is psychical or spiritual.

We may judge this power from two directions: from the preacher himself and from the audience. If a preacher relies on his past experience-wherein people repented through a message he gave-by deciding to deliver a message a second time with the expectation of getting the same result as at the first, he is undoubtedly working with his psychic power. Or if he tries to stir up people by relating many stories of repentance, he again will be using his psychic power.

On the other hand, if the attitude of a preacher is like that of Evan Roberts, God's vessel in the Welsh Revival of 1904-5, then his soul power will be denied. For that servant of the Lord asked God to bend him, to bind his soul power, to bridle his self, and to block all which came out of him. He who ministers ought to know the difference between these two forces. He should be able to discern what is done by his soul power and what is done by the power of God.

The work of the Holy Spirit is threefold: (1) to regenerate us, (2) to indwell us that we may produce the fruit of the Spirit, and (3) to come upon us that we may have the power to witness. Now whenever the Bible touches on the power of the Holy Spirit, it invariably points to work or witnessing. This refers to the Holy Spirit coming upon us, not to His working within us. It is clear that the power of the Holy Spirit is for work; the indwelling is for fruit. The power of the Holy Spirit is always spoken of in the original text of the Bible as descending or coming upon, while the fruit-bearing aspect of the Holy Spirit is spoken of as abiding in.

Why is the enabling power of the Holy Spirit spoken of as being upon? Because the enabling which the Holy Spirit gives you is outside of you. You cannot be sure of it. Therefore if in a meeting people ask you whether you are confident of today's meeting confident that people will be saved-you have to confess that you have no assurance whatsoever. For this power is exterior to you. The power of the Holy Spirit is beyond your control. But if this is soul force, you are assured of it. You know your message can cause people to weep and to make them repent. What is called dynamic power is merely the power of the soul.

Once I felt powerless. Although other people told me I was satisfactory, I felt rather feeble. So I went to see an elderly experienced sister, Margaret E. Barber. I said to her, "Your power is great, why do I not have power?" We knew each other well, and she frequently helped me in spiritual matters. She looked at me seriously and asked, "What power do you want what you may feel or what you cannot feel?" As soon as I heard, I understood. I therefore answered, "I want what I cannot feel." So she said, "You must remember that there is no need for people to feel the power which comes from the Holy Spirit. Man's duty is to obey God. For the power of the Holy Spirit is not given for man to feel." (Note that sensing in the spirit is another matter.) My duty is to ask God to bind my soul force, that is, my own power. I am to obey God absolutely, the rest I leave to Him to do.

If we work with soul force, we can feel it just as do the hypnotists, who know what results they will get by doing certain things. They know from the first step to the last step. The peril of the pulpit lies in the fact that many preachers do not know they are using their own psychic force. They think they have power; but they are only employing psychological power to win people.

Some have suggested that preachers have become experts on the use of psychology in manipulating people. But I strongly repudiate such manipulation; for even though we know how to attract people with psychic means, we should purposely avoid using any psychic force. Once I was working in Shantung. A professor there said to his colleague "that these preachers work with emotions." It so happened that when I preached to the believers that afternoon I told them how undependable and useless was emotion. The colleague professor who was told by the first professor that preachers use emotion was also present at the meeting. After he heard my word he said it was a pity that the professor who spoke to him was absent.

Let us remember that all works done through emotion are questionable and transient. In the work done through the power of the Holy Spirit man does not need to exert his own strength nor do anything by himself. If a work is done by soul strength one has to exert lots of energy and employ numerous methods such as weeping, shouting, jumping, incessant singing of choruses, or the telling of a number of moving stories (I do not say that hymns and stories should not be used, only everything must be done within appropriate bounds). For the employment of these methods serves no other purpose than that of trying to stir up the audience.

We all know that some individuals have a magnetic attraction about them. Though they may not be fairer or more eloquent than others, they nonetheless can draw people to themselves. Often have people told me, "You have great influence over So-and-so, why do you not pull him over?" To which I answer, "That is useless." For this will merely be natural; it is not spiritual at all. Many mistake Christianity to be a kind of psychic phenomenon as though it belongs to the domain of psychology. We really cannot blame them, because we believers make the mistake first. Unless the power of God draws your parents or your children, your natural attraction-however great it may be-is of no avail. Even if you could draw them with your dynamic force, what, if anything, is really gained?

(Watchman Nee from The Latent Power of the Soul, Chapter 2)

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Aroma of the Sanctuary

Tell the Israelites: This is My holy anointing oil … It is not to be used for [ordinary] anointing on a person’s body, and you must not make anything like it using its formula. It is holy, and it must be holy to you. --Exodus 30:31-32

As for the incense you are making, you must not make any for yourselves using its formula. It is to be regarded by you as sacred to the LORD. --Exodus 30:37

When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and knew that they had been with Jesus. --Acts 4:13

To be holy means to be set apart to and for the Lord. The term consecration is one side of the holiness equation. We give ourselves over to God that He might work in our lives according to His purpose. In the Old Testament spiritual economy of animal sacrifices when a man gave a lamb or a ram or a bull to be sacrificed, he had consecrated it. For his part, he had made it holy to the Lord. People could be holy as well, as one entire tribe was dedicated to serving God; this fell especially the sons of Aaron, who constituted the priesthood. They lived solely for that end, to stand in as mediators before God, offering sacrifices in obedience that God might look favorably upon His people. The priesthood foreshadows what is revealed and fulfilled in Christ, our great High Priest.

There is another side to holiness, and that is God’s work in making holy what is given to Him in consecration. It is referred to as sanctification.

According to Exodus, holiness has its own aroma. The Israelites were strictly forbidden to use any of the aromatic anointing oil or the incense burned on the altar in the Holy Place in their homes or on anyone who was not a priest. There was a dividing line between the holy and the profane. When a priest came into the courts of the Temple, he washed off the contamination of the common world. When he left after fulfilling his duties, he had to leave behind the priestly garments in which he had ministered. Still, I am sure a priest returning to his home retained some of the smell of the holy. If he had been anointed, the oil had penetrated his skin. If he had been in the Sanctuary, the smoke of the incense was upon him, on his skin and in his hair. The fragrance of holiness clung to him.

I would guess that many of us have met people who seemed to be perfumed with holiness. The cachet of God’s presence lingers upon them. They have been with Jesus. They have met the Lord in secret and the scent of His touch pervades even their material being. When Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin for preaching in the name of Jesus, they impressed the rulers with their boldness. The religious leaders took note of the fact that these simple fishermen had been changed by having been with Jesus. But another man was even more aware of this: the crippled man the Apostles had encountered at the Gate Beautiful. When Peter and John looked upon the lame man as he asked for alms, he caught the scent of holiness, of the Holy of Holies. He believed, and he was healed.

What we learn from Exodus is that holiness cannot be imparted indiscriminately. We are not to take what is holy and give it to the dogs anymore than we should throw pearls to hogs. We cannot drag people into the presence of God. What we can do is go into His presence ourselves and spend time there. We can place ourselves before God and allow the sanctifying atmosphere to permeate our being. Then, those with whom we come in contact will catch the scent of holiness and be drawn to Him.

Those who follow Christ are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Jesus asks if salt loses its savor or saltiness, what good is it. Savor is a lot like aroma. If the Christian does not have the fragrance of heaven, if his presence has no bite or flavor, what good is he? The weakness and ineffectiveness of Christianity in the modern world must be laid at the feet of the individual believer -- at my feet. The Lord asks only that I give Him time -- that I have enough faith in Him to spend time in His presence. I don’t have to isolate myself physically. I can enter the Sanctuary on a plane, even in coach, in the mall, or at the office. Even briefly entering the presence of God allows that aroma of holiness to be renewed.

I can’t blame anyone else. Bringing that fragrance of life into the world is my job, and I have failed too often. What I can’t do much about are the plentiful and futile attempts to concoct a knock-off. Every time church doors open across America there are people who put forth their best effort to make others believe they are drenched in holy cologne. It is a waste of time. Only a true encounter with God in secret will sanctify us and impart the right scent. Accept no substitutes.

But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ, and spreads through us in every place the scent of knowing Him. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To some we are a scent of death leading to death, but to others, a scent of life leading to life. And who is competent for this? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Feeling A Little Sheepish?

Who perceives his unintentional sins? Cleanse me from my hidden faults. … May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer – Psalm 19:12-14

The verse does not speak about secret sins, those things we know of and hide from others. It says that there are things below our level of awareness that are wrong. As Lynyrd Skynyrd said, “There are things goin’ on that you don’t know.” The Psalmist prays to be free even of those. If there are sins we know not of, could there be virtues of which we are unaware? I think so. In fact I think the true saint often does the good unconsciously. It could even be that what we do unaware reflects who we really are.

It is always a struggle for me to keep my motives pure. I can do the right thing all day long – provided I get full credit. Jesus taught us that when we give or do righteous acts we are not to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. Keep it secret, even from ourselves. That seems a little bizarre, but it means we should not think of what we are doing as righteous. We should not think of it at all.

Luke 17:10 – In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty.’

The old man is always hanging around to take credit for anything righteous. It’s like humility. An indication that I may have missed the point is having the thought flash through my head: “Damn! Ain’t I humble though!” So, too, if I find myself thinking that I must be an awfully good person to have done so much for others, I may be edging toward the ditch. Obviously I can only speculate on what is in the mind of a true saint, but I’m fairly certain they do not get caught up in thinking about their own good deeds. For one thing that draws us back into the past, while the saint is normally focused on right now.

I probably shouldn’t have gone down this road because I don’t really have any practical way to deal with what I see as my problem. I mean, if virtue is hidden from me, if I am not aware of it, how can I do anything about it one way or the other? The Psalmist prayed that God would cleanse him from hidden faults. Then he prayed that what he said and his thoughts would be pleasing to God. That might be something I could do. I could meditate on, as Paul said, those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, beautiful, and commendable. Proverbs does say that as a man thinks within himself, so he is. If I meditate on Jesus and all that He did, on how He lived as well as His death, burial and resurrection, if I keep Him before me then possibly I would be cultivating that hidden virtue. And when you think about it, that’s what it means to have Christ in my heart – not spatially but relationally.

One more passage that illustrates this concept that I’m trying to get hold of is in Matthew 25 where Jesus tells us about a coming judgment and a division of the nations as a shepherd would separate the sheep from the goats. This reference to dividing sheep and goats speaks of a difference in the very nature of the groups about to be judged. I suppose a goat might occasionally or at times act like a sheep, or the odd sheep might exhibit some goatish behavior now and then, but basically they are different creatures, with different attitudes and characteristics, different hearts, you might say. Jesus condemned the one group, the goats, for their neglecting and rejecting Him. He blesses and rewards the sheep for accepting and caring for Him. Strange as it may seem, both groups ask the same question. “When did we do that?” You see, the goats were simply being goats, and the sheep were acting like sheep. Neither one thought they had done anything special, good or bad. They were simply following their hearts.

And I will give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, so they may follow My statutes, keep My ordinances, and practice them. Then they will be My people, and I will be their God. -- Ezekiel 11:19,20

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What Does It All Mean, Mr. Natural?

He went away from there and came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished. “Where did this man get these things?” they said. “What is this wisdom given to Him, and how are these miracles performed by His hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?” So they were offended by Him.

Then Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.” So He was not able to do any miracles there, except that He laid hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He was amazed at their unbelief. – Mark 6:1-6

Those folks from Nazareth have kin all over the world. Some of my ancestors might have come from there.

After all, I wonder, what do we expect?

What I don’t expect is for the commonplace to suddenly take on the transcendent and for the profane to become sacred. I don’t expect “Holy unto the LORD” to be inscribed on my milk cow’s bell. The mockers will often speak of Moses and his encounter with a talking plant, as though a talking animal were any less fantastic. At least the Scripture is clear in the case of the burning bush that it was not the vegetation speaking, but God Himself through it. With primates the source is less certain.

People just don’t like the common to get out of hand. As in the case of Jesus whom the Nazarenes thought they knew, we can be offended when someone or something around us takes on attributes of the divine. I don’t know if it so much that familiarity breeds contempt. It is more like we just stop looking at the things that are most familiar.

What intrigues me most about this passage, though, is that Jesus’ homies do not really question the wisdom of what He is saying or the miraculous power attributed to Him. They seem to acknowledge this, and, in fact, it is this very fact that offends them.

Who are YOU to have wisdom and divine power? The fact that God may be able to speak or operate in this world through some people is not the issue. It is when God begins to speak and operate through someone I know that I have a problem.

You don’t have to empty hospital rooms or break up funerals to cause offense – though I am pretty sure if you did the AMA, the AHA, and the National Association of Funeral Directors, not to mention the ACLU and CAIR, would be on your tail for practicing medicine without a license, unfair trade practices, violating the civil rights of the dead and making a mockery of Mohammed. Much less dramatic demonstrations cause more than enough offense, as the folks that voted for Proposition 8 in California found out. The fact that a person believes in Christ, thinks Global Warming is a scam, opposes Islamic fascism, same-sex marriage, socialism, or one of the left’s other causes du jour is quite sufficient.

Merely living a decent life is enough to make one offensive to many. After all, if there are people who do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God that means it is possible. Some of us may be a little more comfortable thinking that holiness is a nice concept, but not very practical -- which brings me to the point that has been nagging me for the last few days. As 2 Peter 3:10 and 11 puts it:

But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people should you be…[?]

Or, how should we then live?

You and I may not have the same set of questions. Mine go something like this:

Do I really believe that I am a child of God in Christ?

Do I really believe God is my Father and cares for me more than any earthly parent possible could? And the corollary to that – do I believe God cares more about my loved ones than I do?

Do I really believe this world is not all there is, and that life, therefore, has a purpose beyond the futility of animal existence?

Can God really be trusted?

Is God able to work His will in the lives of those who trust Him?

Is my obedience really more important than my comfort, my reputation, my status, and my possessions?

Those are a few of my questions, and, like I said, other people may have different ones. The bad thing is that after all these years my answers are still pretty weak and tentative, and sometime inconsistent. I guess the good thing is I do know the right answer.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bluetooth Man

I started to post an old piece I had written, but I just finished the Walker Percy novel, and it has me thinking about philosophers and novelists and what a hard job it is to write a modern/post-modern/post-post-modern book that people will actually read. The various genres of literature – fantasy, science fiction, westerns, historic, etc., take us out of our mundane world in a fairly straightforward way. We move into the writer’s world or into their time, learn the rules and the boundaries, and the story then unfolds before us.

Sometimes things throw us off. I remember several years ago reading a Max Brand western called, I think, The Seventh Man. The hero is not a bad man, but he is a wild throwback of sorts who lives outside civilization. He helps a man sought by the law by taking the fugitive’s mare, Gray Molly, and leading the sheriff and his men away from their quarry. One of the pursuers deliberately shoots the mare in an attempt to end the chase. The hero escapes but vows revenge on all the members of the posse for the mare’s unnecessary death. He is able to carry out his revenge, in part because of his companions -- a magnificent stallion and a highly intelligent wolf or wolf-hybrid. The climax of the story is a long chase across country, and the hero is nearly undone by something he doesn’t understand: technology. Though those who are after the hero have no horses that can match his steed, the telephone has made its appearance, and it is used by a clever official to run down the avenger.

I was ambivalent. I understand the use of new technology as a plot point, whether it is the telephone, the telegraph, railroads, barbwire or whatever – man versus machine, the end of the frontier – all of those things are part of the historical reality. Technology changes and forces the culture to change. Dealing with it can make an interesting story, just generally not one I prefer. I like worlds where there is no GPS, no computers, no cell phones, telephones, or telegraphs, where there’s open space and room to get lost.

The more gadgets you hang on anything, the less it becomes a human endeavor. Sure, humans still build the gadgets – at least I think humans were involved in creating Vista – but many of these devices create limits as much as they create opportunities. I’m obviously not against technology, but I think we have to be careful and choose wisely to find things that make us stronger and more independent rather than weaker and more dependent.

It seems to me that as we have less and less privacy, it becomes increasingly difficult to describe or diagnose the human condition. The more our lives are open and viewable, the less we actually see. Consider the celebrity phenomenon. You can know everything about a sports figure or a movie star or a politician, but their actions, thoughts and beliefs can become contaminated by their own image. We see too much of them, and, they, in effect, see too much of themselves. That is, they see too much of what they are trying to make themselves appear to be. I am afraid we will soon learn this is precisely the case with Obama. He is like a man caught in a hall of mirrors unable to distinguish where he actually stands.

Any literary work that attempts to depict man in the late 20th and early 21st centuries is forced to work with and around rapid technological advances. It is difficult not to get trapped by gadgetry. Take, for example, that classic movie The Thing, made, I believe, about 1982. The computers and some of the other equipment look archaic, but it works for the story. Try to remake that movie and set it in 2010 and the plot would have to change in several points to make sense. I wonder how many recent movies or action/adventure novels set in the current time frame have a conveniently inconvenient loss of cell phone service or loss of the cell phone at some point. Stories often turn on isolation and the lack of communication between various parties. It is going to look more and more contrived for people not to think of Google or not having security videos or not taking pictures with their camera phones.

Look there -- it's a David Gemmell heroic fantasy novel and a guaranteed bluetooth-free zone. I know where I'm headed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

This Must Be For You

Anyone who has an ear to hear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. -- Revelation 3:22

This ends the section of the book of Revelation where the Lord gives specific messages to each of the seven churches of Asia Minor. If you attend to experts discussing this section, some will say that the various churches are types – some churches are like Philadelphia, or Smyrna, and others are like Ephesus or Laodicea. Other students of the Bible will tell you that these represent stages or ages that the Church will go through leading up to the end times. Futurists and pre-millennialists tend to think that way.

I don’t know about all that, but I don’t think it matters so much. I think this verse could be the key to the whole book of Revelation, if not the Bible. What does it say? Anyone who is capable of hearing should, not must, but should listen. Listen to what? What difference does it make to me what the Lord said to some ancient, long-dead Christians in Thyatira or Sardis? I’m not where they were, and they were not dealing with my problems.

What God says, He does not say solely to one group of people in one period at one place. His word transcends culture, language, space, and time. I’m all for using the available tools to study Scripture, for good hermeneutics, and, at least to some extent, interpreting in the light of tradition and context. All that is fine, but first and foremost, God is speaking to me where I am, in whatever mess I’m in. One of the ways in which He speaks is by His written word, and, if I will listen, He will speak in an immediate way that is exactly what I need to hear right now.

This isn’t about pulling texts out to prove some point or reinforce my inclinations, or any kind of bibliomancy. This is about reading the word of God with my ears open, reading with the understanding that somehow, in some way completely incomprehensible to me, God ordained that I should open this book and read these words, and that He really wants to speak to me and have me understand. He brings me to this point with all the – don’t think of it as baggage any more – gear, tools, and equipment I need to hear Him. What the Spirit says (not said, He’s still talking) to the churches I am equipped to make real. The stuff I’ve been through along the way has outfitted me to see this passage and see it come alive in my life.

The Bible, any holy book, but especially the Bible, is dangerous. It really is like a sword. A fool with a weapon can do a lot of damage, whereas someone who knows how to use a weapon can deploy it intelligently for self-defense and good. The Bible is loaded, and it can be lethal. People, even some with the best of intentions, have hacked the Bible, perverted the words and gone counter to the intent of the Author. We can't let that scare us. If we are willing to listen to what the Spirit says to the churches, or to disciples, patriarchs, kings, judges, shepherds, or cities, we will hear Him speaking to us.

Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, and He will heal us; He has wounded us, and He will bind up our wounds. He will revive us after two days, and on the third day He will raise us up so we can live in His presence. Let us strive to know the Lord. His appearance is as sure as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land. (Hosea 6:1-3)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Walker Percy Profundity Accompanied by Silliness

Southerners have trouble ruling out the possible. What happens to a man to whom all things seem possible and every course of action open? Nothing of course. Except war. If a man lives in the sphere of the possible and waits for something to happen, what he is waiting for is war – or the end of the world. That is why Southerners like to fight and make good soldiers. In war the possible becomes actual through no doing of our own. – From The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy

I feel I owe something to the late Dr. Percy. Prior to this, I have read only Second Coming, one of his last novels, dealing with the same protagonist, Will Barrett, at a time later in life. That novel had a profound influence on me, very much the final boot out the back door of frozen fundamentalism. I always felt like a gate crasher there anyway. It was only a matter of time.

Like Barrett I am, in many ways, a reactionary. Some people want to make things happen. I’m more likely to want to keep things from happening. Others create. I fix things. I solve problems – usually problems created by others, but occasionally ones created by myself in an attempt to solve someone else’s problem.

As others have observed, this can be a difference between men and women. Not so much that women cause all the problems, but that they like to talk about situations as if something needed to be fixed. My wife seems to think that talking – endlessly – about anything is somehow beneficial. Not only is it beneficial to her, it is beneficial to our relationship. Ever notice it is the little old men who are most likely to be deaf?

Someone needs to explain this to me. If my wife and I are in the car, and I’m driving, are we not doing something together? Why doesn’t being in the car together listening to music count? Why doesn’t sitting on the sofa or the bed together watching a movie count? Why does it only count if we talk? I cannot enjoy music if someone is talking over it. I cannot follow a movie if someone is talking the whole time.

And this one really gets me: we’re watching a TV show, my wife keeps chattering, paying no attention to what is going on, and then she suddenly realizes something is happening on screen. “What’s he doing? Why is he doing that?” Do you know why I will never give up my DVR? Because I can hit the pause button and not miss the entire rest of the show while I explain what has happened up to that point. Of course, it also means that I now watch television in about five minute increments, but it’s better than nothing.

After all, I'm a problem-solver.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Strength and Weakness

A few days ago, I heard a chorus that said grace is enough for us, and it contained the line, “The weak will lead the strong.” I don’t know who wrote the chorus, but I can guess that one passage he or she had in mind was this:

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9,10

The old saying is that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I am reminded of this every time I watch The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and come to the scene where the Beavers, Peter, Lucy, and Susan are running across open ground thinking the White Witch is about to catch them. They can only go as fast as the slowest member of the group. They will not leave anyone behind. So must our intent be in the Body of Christ. In John 17, Jesus prayed that we would all be one in Him. Paul tells us to be considerate of weaker brothers. If I think I am strong then I ought, all the more, show deference to the weak. It is good and appropriate that we are advancing in the kingdom, learning, gaining enlightenment and power, but we should not leave our brothers and sisters behind. Keep the weaker in front, encourage and support them.

Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth. If you want to know what meekness is watch a powerful man wrestling with his small son. It is obvious that at any time the father could easily overcome the child’s small strength, but he does not. Not only does the man give in to the boy’s efforts, but he does so in such a way as to protect the little one and keep him from injuring himself. Meekness is strength voluntarily yielding and shielding.

“Turn the other cheek” has always been a problem for me. Does God really expect me to let people just run over me? Must a Christian surrender to oppression and injustice?

Think about what the Lord is saying. He is talking to me personally. If someone wants to cheat me and take my coat, not only should I give him the coat, but I should throw my shirt in, though he did not ask for it. As the old folks would say, “If he can live with it, I can live without.” Who is stronger: the one who connives to steal the coat, or the one who gives it up joyfully with the shirt as well?

The law said that a soldier might make a demand on a civilian to carry his pack for him to the next mile marker. Jesus said if that demand is placed on me, I should carry it not to the next mile marker, but joyful go a second mile that I don’t have to. Who is stronger: the one who makes a demand under an oppressive law, or the one who thinks nothing of the burden and the second mile?

If someone slaps me on the cheek, it stings. It is enough to make the adrenaline dump and blood rush to my face. I feel anger, but I am not really hurt. Who is stronger: the one who slaps someone’s face, or the one who smiles and offers to let them slap the other cheek?

The Lord isn’t telling me to be a pacifist, to stand aside and allow the wicked to oppress, ravage, and destroy the less powerful. He is telling me to keep my perspective. The world is full of cowards and petty tyrants who will attempt to bully and humiliate us. When He says, “Turn the other cheek”, He is thinking of those people, people who can possibly be moved, changed, or inspired by the meekness and joyous nobility of the true Christian.

Do not be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good.

Monday, February 9, 2009


God is not named in the Book of Esther. Esther is a young Jewish girl who winds up in the harem of the Persian king and wins a, uh, “beauty” contest to become the queen. Some have suggested that both “Esther” and “The Song of Solomon” should be removed from the Canon of Scripture. I will admit that I did, at one point, wonder how “The Song of Solomon” got by the censors. But Esther is different. In fact, until someone pointed it out, I did not realize that God’s name does not appear in any form. The assumption of His presence is so obvious that the absence of a direct mention never occurred to me.

God is seen in Esther’s story, but He is anonymous. It’s rather like in the story of Joseph where the brothers throw him into a dry well, and, as they are trying to figure out what to do with him, a caravan of traders “just happen” to come by and Joseph ends up in Egypt. So, too, Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and adoptive father, “just happens” to learn of a plot to assassinate the king. Later, the king can’t sleep and “just happens” to have his scribes read from the chronicles where he is reminded of the plot and of the fact that he owes his life to Mordecai the Jew. He also learns that Mordecai received nothing for his loyal service. It “just happens” that Mordecai’s mortal enemy, Haman, is entering the court at that very moment. The king asks Haman, who knows nothing of what is being discussed, “What should be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?”

In his pride, Haman thinks the king is referring to him, so he launches on an elaborate, over-the-top scenario. When Haman finishes, the king says, “That’s a great idea. Now, you go do exactly that for Mordecai the Jew.”

JWM, on his World-Famous Blog, was talking about coincidences and started me on this thought. Just as with Esther and Joseph, most of us, if we stop to consider it, recognize that something seems to be going on. The events in our lives appear to be guided rather than random. Now the materialist will argue against this pointing out that such superstition arises because people tend to notice when something hits but not when it misses. My mother used to say, upon hearing thunder at this time of the year, “Thunder in February, frost in May.” Actually, around here, February thunder is not that uncommon while May frosts are – but if it happened once, no doubt Mom’s belief would be confirmed, similar to her belief in following the “signs” in the Almanac for planting. My father was a skeptic. The theory goes, for example, that you are supposed to plant root crops – potatoes, carrots, turnips, etc. – in the dark of the moon. Dad’s inevitable response was, “I think they do better if you plant them in the ground.”

But we are not talking about old wives’ tales. Many of us have seen God work in our lives through extraordinary circumstances. Excuse me if I have related this story before. I couldn’t find it in the archives. Years ago, I quit my job and moved to a small town in Texas to help rebuild a church. I think I was doing God’s will. After a couple of months in a less than booming economy, I found what I considered to be a temporary position, making very little money, well below what I was qualified to do. We wanted to buy a house in the community. We had some money to put down but as I was in a different line of work, we had to do a lease option. The lease was only good for a couple of months, at which time we would have to get a loan or move on.

Jobs in my field were hard to come by at that time. One day I drove over to a neighboring town to the library and read through the paper. An ad jumped out at me. It was calling for my specific skills. It was almost as if it had been written for me. This was on Tuesday. I hurried home, and we put together a resume and cover letter which I sent the next day – Wednesday. The month ended on Sunday and with it the window to exercise our lease option. I needed to be on the job for at least a month. This was a last chance to get back to my regular line of work, qualify for a loan, and close in time to avoid another expensive, undesirable move. On Thursday night a man called and asked if I could come up Friday afternoon and interview.

My wife rode up with me and waited in the car, praying, while I went up to the eleventh floor. They gave me a little test, and I talked to three or four people. Finally I came back into the room with the first man who interviewed me. I really expected that he would tell me they would think it over and let me know. Instead he said, “How much did you make at your old job.” I told him. “Things are more expensive here,” he observed and then asked if I thought a twenty-five percent increase would be about right. I said, yes, as calmly as possible. “One more question,” he said. “Is there any way you could start Monday?”

“I can do that.”

We got the loan and went on from there. I got my next job in a similar, equally timely fashion. Later, we sold a house in one day. We wanted to move across country again. I turned in my resignation, and I didn’t have a job in the new location until three days before we loaded the truck. I got it sight unseen because a guy I had worked with five years before “just happened” to be the hiring authority at a business in a town near the one to which we were moving.

Coincidence? Sure. If it makes you more comfortable to think that I’m unbelievably lucky or gifted I probably can’t convince you otherwise – no matter how many synchronicities I can relate. I know better. I know my life has been guided. Jesus said the Way is strait and narrow – not straight. It’s sometimes like walking a razor’s edge but it is not without its bends, blind corners, hills and valleys. Even when I am blind to my destiny, even when I am stupid, the Lord continues to move me along the road and have me in the right place at the right time.

When Paul went to Athens, he saw the many altars to many gods, and one, even, inscribed "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD". The Athenians were superstitious and fearful of offending a god they knew nothing about. They thought that, possibly, an Unknown God might be more powerful than the gods they named. And Paul thought, "Cool."

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bonus from "Before I Had a Blog"

This may actually be on the Net somewhere since I wrote for a guy who ran a "patriot" forum a few years back. A patriot forum was where we talked about the Constitution and the best weapons for dealing with brain-eating zombie outbreaks. I ran across the copy a few days ago and thought it seemed timely. Back then I called it: The Right to Offend

Few argue the influence of Thomas Jefferson on American history. Nor is there great debate regarding his political genius. Still, the Republic’s third President remains a controversial figure in history. His religious views in particular are intriguing and slightly mysterious. One thing is certain. Jefferson did his best to keep his personal religion a private matter. He was not one to attempt to impose his personal view of Jesus on the public.

It is often claimed that Jefferson was a Deist and his creedal statements seem to support that. Nevertheless, he honored Jesus as a teacher, calling Him the greatest of sages, while believing that the New Testament account of the Master’s life was somewhat exaggerated. By 1804 Jefferson had settled in as President and concluded the Louisiana Purchase. With nothing better to do, Jefferson ordered two copies of the same edition of the English New Testament. In his office, the President took a razor to the holy writ and excised out what he considered to be the true sayings of Jesus of Nazareth. He took his passages only from the Gospels and it turned out to be a very thin volume. Jefferson’s first gospel digest has not survived but he did a later version that included what he considered both the true acts and the true sayings of Jesus.

In essence Jefferson took out all that was supernatural or miraculous in nature. Gone were the Lord’s claims of divinity, the ‘I AM’ statements from the Gospel of John, the healings and the signs. The Sermon on the Mount seems to have survived mostly intact. Jefferson’s Jesus was a man who prayed and taught, a wise sage who reasoned like an Enlightenment philosopher, no wild desert prophet.

Both Jefferson’s respect for the Galilean Carpenter and his correspondence with the Unitarian Joseph Priestly indicates that he may have gone beyond Deism in his beliefs. Even the most dedicated of Deists witnessing the triumph of the Continental Army and the peaceful transitions of power under the Constitution might be inclined to wonder if the Great Watchmaker in the Sky did not occasionally reset His timepiece. Later, after he reconciled with his old political foe, John Adams, also a Unitarian, Jefferson expressed his view that Unitarianism would be the religion of the future in America. At least one modern writer, Stephen Prothero, author of American Jesus believes that Jefferson would feel quite at ease in today’s Unitarian church, though he would be one of its most conservative adherents.

Wherever Jefferson’s religious sentiments lay, he might have trouble making his way to the Oval Office in 21st Century America. The majority of Americans in our so-called pluralistic society not only agree with Jefferson’s positive view of Jesus, they hold to belief in His claim of being the Son of God, in His Virgin Birth and His Resurrection. American society today is much more “Christian” and outwardly pious than was colonial America or the Republic in its earliest days. It was not until the Second Great Awakening in the 1850’s and following that American Christianity as we think of it today really began to take hold across the nation.

Jefferson, though, was a person who had no quarrel with the Christianity of others. When Washington D.C. was established as the nation’s capital in 1800, Congress authorized the use of the Capitol as a church for Sunday services. While President, Jefferson attended these services and even sent a military band to aid in providing music for the song service. In The Writing of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Albert Bergh, Jefferson stated in correspondence to a Dr. Thomas Cooper that he found no problem with the local courthouse being used as a meetinghouse for Christian services (Vol. XV, p. 404).

Neither Jefferson nor any of the other Founders, including the deeply religious Washington, could foresee the changes that would take place in American culture and religious sentiment. They were students of history and knew what had happened in England and throughout Europe as a result of religious wars. They wished to avoid that in America. To that end, the First Amendment with its Establishment Clause heads up the Bill of Rights. There is no Church of the United States. We are neither a Protestant nation nor a Catholic nation. No sect, as the Founders would think of it, would be given support by the federal government.

I doubt there is a Christian in America that has a problem with that idea. Not even Pat Robertson or the late Jerry Falwell would embrace a theocratic government, despite the cries of their critics. Most Christians merely ask for the right to acknowledge Christ in the public arena. We reason that we are the majority in most of our local communities. We pay most of the taxes for city hall, the county courthouse, and the local government school. We should be able to do what we like in those places as long as we do not deny the same rights to others.

Keep in mind, there is a significant difference between violating the rights of an individual and offending an individual. We all have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Constitution gives us no rights but it does recognize some of the rights we have – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, etc. If I do not act to abridge the rights of another human being, the government has no business interfering with me.

Offending another is an entirely different issue. My wife sent out Christmas cards and enclosed a poem in almost all of them. It was no big deal; just something she thought was inspiring and appropriate. She did print it up very nicely. In the rush, she forgot to enclose one in the card she sent to her oldest sister – or maybe I forgot. As a result my sister-in-law got her feelings hurt. My sister-in-law went so far as to call a number of the other relatives to ask if they received a poem. She is a lovely woman but she is apparently crazier than a loon.

She was deeply offended. But her rights were not violated.

A small town not far from where I live had a Christian symbol, a cross, I believe, as part of their official city seal. An atheist who lived there was offended. She filed suit and forced the town to remove the symbol from the document.

I am expecting a subpoena over the poem any day.

Is there a right not to see a cross? Or, was the atheist just offended by the appearance of it?

I am purposely being dense, right? It is obvious that having a picture of a cross on the seal down at city hall is a violation of the separation of church and state. The secularists are screaming at me now. That town is establishing a religion. The city has violated the First Amendment rights of the atheist.

Nope. The establishment clause pertains specifically to Congress. Having a cross on the Halfway, Missouri seal does not rise to that level no matter what the Supreme Court says. Only a lawyer could be stupid enough to read that into the First Amendment.

Further, the town (I really don’t think it was Halfway, I just like the name) did not do anything to support the Christian religion with taxpayer money. Neither does the State of Missouri do anything to support Neptune/Poseidon worship even though there is a big statue of the character behind the capitol in Jefferson City. The cross is a Christian symbol, but it is not exclusively a Christian symbol. Crosses are wore by Goth chicks at the mall who appear to be invisible in mirrors and by performers upon whom the roof would surely fall if they ever entered a church building. The ankh, a cross with a little loop on top, pre-dates Christianity and was the ancient Egyptian symbol of eternal life. The same goes for other symbols – fish or whatever. A symbol has the meaning that the observer assigns to it. If I saw a city seal with the crescent moon on it, I would assume it is run by Shriners (God help us), if you want to be offended by it that is your problem.

This whole mess, from the 1962 rulings about prayer in school to the more recent controversies over Christmas parades and displays, has absolutely nothing to do with individual rights. The courts started making decisions on the basis of people being offended.

Those poor little atheist kids could not pray and just had to stand there, feeling pressured, feeling outcast, and having their little feelings being hurt. It is up to the courts to protect these precious ones from the horrors of Christian indoctrination.

That is it.

They have a right to not be offended.

The benediction at the commencement exercise offends them. It does not violate their freedom of religion or their freedom of speech. It just offends them. Their kid is too stupid to make valedictorian, so they do not want the Christian kid who did end up at the top of his or her class to be able to thank God for the success. They are offended when the football team wants to pray before the game, even though most of the players are Christians. They are offended that a local clergyman puts in an appearance at the city council meeting and opens with prayer – even though it costs no one a dime.

Practice your religion inside your churches or in the confines of your home, the secularist says. That is the secularist definition of religious freedom. Interestingly enough, it is quite similar to the definition they have in China and the one they had in the old Soviet Union. You can be a Christian, just keep it to yourself. All you gay guys painted purple and dressed as butterflies with a sparkler up your butt can go on parade, but you mouthy Christians need to get back in your closet.

That is not what men like Jefferson had in mind when they penned the First Amendment, any more than they meant for the Second Amendment to be about the National Guard or collective rights. The Constitution protects the religious rights of individuals, that includes the right of a speaker to try to win converts in public and of hearers to put their fingers in their ears, walk away or shout down the speaker. My freedom of speech should not be limited by the fact that you cannot see or do not believe in the person to whom I am speaking. I certainly cannot believe that my wife finds so many people to talk to on her cell phone, and she has never figured out whom I am addressing when I am out in the field alone.

Freedom sometimes is not pretty. Truly free people often get offended and have their feelings hurt. In fact the First Amendment seems to me to guarantee the right to offend others more than anything else. Inoffensive speech does not need protection. As the Supreme Court reads it, First Amendment protection covers a pornographer dispersing his wares on magazine racks and over the Internet. It should also protect children praying over their school lunches at the local government school (and if any meal needs prayer it is a school lunch). Christians may have to unplug their television sets to keep the broadcast filth away from their children. Non-theists might have to carry earplugs or headphones wherever they go.

It is a rough world.

Deal with it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rebuilding the Temple

Now the LORD of Hosts says this:

You have planted much
But harvested little.
You eat
But never have enough
To be satisfied.
You drink
But never have enough
To become drunk.
You put on clothes
But never have enough
To get warm.

The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with holes in it. --Haggai 1:5,6

In the ninth verse of that chapter the Lord adds, “You expected much, but then it amounted to little.”

We sincerely hope this applies to O-bummer supporters.

I meet people all the time who never have enough. Sometimes I even see a hard-looking old man in the mirror who thinks that way, but Haggai was not talking about a perception and existential angst. The exiles had returned to Judea from Babylonian captive. They had prospered and done well under Babylonian then Persian rule. Back in their homeland, they began to build their houses, plant their crops and ply their trades.

Yet they found life harsh and unsatisfying. No doubt they blamed it on volatile weather and the poor soil. Then a prophet arose and began to speak to them. Haggai said that the Lord was causing their problems because they had neglected to rebuild His temple. They were building their own fine homes, trying to make themselves comfortable while ignoring God who had brought them back to worship and serve Him.

In Haggai’s time there were no stock markets, 401k’s, IRA’s, or investment banks, but some of us have looked at portfolios we were counting on to grow only to find ourselves thinking we will never have enough.

I am not a prophet, and if I were, I’d be only a reluctant one. I think it is generally unwise to tie headlines to Scripture and watch the evening news while reading “The Revelation”. But that’s mostly because I think it is unwise to watch the evening news or read the newspapers -- if there are any left. I am not predicting malaise, calamity, financial collapse or civil war. I am predicting that those who neglect God’s temple will never have enough, regardless of the terrestrial, political, social, or economic climate.

But what does that mean for us?

Don’t you know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone ruins God’s sanctuary, God will ruin him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are. (1 Corinthians 3:16,17)

Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19,20)

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

… you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. …

… you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession …
(1 Peter 2:5,9)

For the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4: 17)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Squirrels, Acorns, and Oaks

Love never ends.
But as for prophecies, they will come to an end;
As for languages, they will cease;
As for knowledge, it will come to an end.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part,
But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put aside childish things.
For, now, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.
Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.
-- 1 Corinthians 13:8-12

I agree with atheists on one thing. I don’t believe in the god they don’t believe in either. The typical non-theist troll over on One Cosmos has what might be described as a “Sunday School” conception of the Divine, but, to be fair, that is also the concept of many who sit in churches three times a week. Neither the atheist nor the average fundamentalist appears able to recognize a simile, a metaphor or a semaphore when it eats their lunch.

Give the religious leaders of the Jesus’ time this much credit: they knew no one could look upon God, i.e., comprehend Him and live. To understand God was death to fallen man. To think that Jesus could actually be the Son of God in the fullest sense, that He had invaded humanity, was, and is, shocking. As a Muslim once said to me, with astonished, if hopeful indignation, “How can a man be the Great God?” Just because we have gotten used to the idea of the Incarnation doesn’t mean it is not still a scandalous terror.

We have probably all heard, if we haven’t thought or said something along the lines of: “When I get to heaven, I’m going to have a long talk with the Lord. I’ve got some questions about how He did things down here, and why things happened this way.” You know, at the Big Wrap Party, we catch the Director passing by, offer Him a cocktail (non-alcoholic, of course), then pull Him aside to ask why He shot a certain scene the way He did.

In order to understand God at all, we have to think of Him symbolically, so it is easy and natural that we would sometimes fall into our own meaning traps, get entangled in the very word nets we are using to draw up the comprehensible from the dark depths.

Most of us aren’t poets.

All I really meant to quote today was that last line: Now I know in part; but then I shall know, as I am also fully known.

And might I add: What a long, strange trip it’s been.

A hound knows its way home, no matter where or how far it runs because it has something like an internal compass to lead it back to where it belongs. The reason I get lost on the surface of this planet is because the pull of my internal compass is not to some earthly abode but to a heavenly one. It is unerring. You can put me down anywhere on the globe, or anywhere in the cosmos, for that matter, and I will get home.

When I get home, I will not be as the seed that I am today -- the part you put down -- any more than a seven-foot green corn stalk is the little yellow kernel that was planted, or a sixty-foot oak is the acorn a long-gone squirrel carried, hid, and forgot. I will know then, as I am known now. I will see, not reflections and shadows, but face to face.

There will be no explanations for there will be no questions.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Where was Moses when the light went out?

(In his shirttail trying to find a match.)

The statement that George MacDonald reiterated perhaps most often in his writings was John 7:17: “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.”

In a selection from My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes:

The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect, but obedience. If a man wants scientific knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide; but if he wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches, he can only get it by obedience. If things are dark to me, then I may be sure there is something I will not do. Intellectual darkness comes through ignorance; spiritual darkness comes because of something I do not intend to obey.

I once obeyed God in something that was terrifying to me. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about running through machinegun fire or into a burning building or handling snakes or even getting on a rollercoaster that goes upside-down. I’m talking about doing something that could have made me look like a fool. No doubt, in the eyes of some, I did look like a fool. The loss of pride and my cultivated coolness was worse than death to me at that time. I still wonder that I managed to get through it. Yet just as Chambers indicates, my obedience led to a new degree of spiritual insight. I recognize now that it wasn’t much insight – just a crack of the door really, but compared to my prior darkness it was a veritable floodlight.

There was in a certain city two preachers of the same denomination. One was tall, distinguished, clever, and glib. He had been a professor at Bible colleges and had authored a book on the subject of church growth. The tall preacher was sincere, and his messages were well-timed, rich, and memorable. With his gifts, he gathered to himself the cream of society: the governor, doctors, lawyers, and various others in positions of authority. He built a new building and greatly expanded the church’s membership.

Across town the second pastor was short and dark. He was not glib, mispronounced words, and said things backwards. His messages were pointed, sharp and fiery. He lost track of the time when he preached. On occasion he would pause, look over the congregation as they were momentarily stunned into silence, and say, almost with a sneer, “Now shout!” Church growth was meaningless to him. “I would rather,” he once said, “have a hundred who all go to heaven with me, than a thousand, and nine hundred go to hell.”

After he built the new, impressive building and filled it with dignitaries, the tall preacher fell – not for the first time. His friends and political connections saved him once more. He moved away, got another church, began to build again, and fell again. The tall preacher was not a bad man. This is not a parable. I knew him personally and once counted him as a friend. He was brilliant, but he lacked spiritual insight simply because he refused to obey. Like most people, I thought he was disobeying with regard to his sexual conduct, but I learned that I was wrong. Adultery was for the tall preacher a consequence, not a cause. His disobedience was in regard to his positions. He would not go where the Lord wanted to send him, but where he had the best opportunity to advance his career, have a nice house, and gain prestige. This left him in the dark, empty and vulnerable to the cravings of the flesh. I eventually lost track of him, so I don’t know if he ever figured out what was wrong.

When I first met the short preacher we were both young men, but he had already been through half a dozen churches. He had never built a building. Until he arrived in the town with the tall preacher, he had never owned a house. His churches had all been small and never got much bigger. The church in which I made his acquaintance was easily the best he had been in to that point. After a couple of years he left it for probably the worst one he ever led. The short preacher was far from perfect. He had his faults and failings like most of us do, but he was generally willing to go where the Lord sent him. His prayer was always, “Lord, choose our changes.” The light in his life came from this obedience. It’s probably the most important lesson I have learned from him. He is still my friend, and he turned sixty a few months back after moving to what will be, most likely, his final pastorate. It is by far the best facility and the best congregation he has been given.

I guess my thought for the day is this: If I find myself having trouble, trials and temptations, I should perhaps ask God if I am where I am supposed to be. It’s a risky business – not too unlike Bilbo going out his front door – but I might even consider praying, “Lord, choose my changes.”

Don’t pray that one unless you want an answer.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Shell Games

”But what do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go, work in the vineyard today.’

“He answered, ‘I don’t want to!’ Yet later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the man went to the other and said the same thing. ‘I will, sir,’ he answered. But he didn’t go. Which of these two did his father’s will?”

“The first,” they said.

Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” --Matthew 21:28-31

Those who attend churches and call themselves Christians today seem to be deeply concerned about immorality – especially the specific immorality of others. The adulterer wants to help the drunk out of his pit, and the drunk looks down on the drug user, who, in turn, is repulsed by the homosexual. We can always find someone more disgustingly immoral than ourselves. It’s a fact of human nature. You can have a prison full of rapists, murderers, thieves, and pushers, but you cannot turn a child molester loose in general population. They won’t last fifteen minutes because even the most hardened criminal hates that particular kind of perversion.

Jesus, on the other hand, never freaked out about basic immorality. He certainly did not approve of it, but it was not His focus. After all, we all know that lying, cheating, stealing, murder, etc. are wrong. Jesus did not lay aside His glory, empty Himself of all His rights, and walk a pain-filled path to the Cross in order to point out that we should be “better” people. He made His point with His own life, laying it down, denying Himself.

What did get the Lord stirred up was the idea that we could serve God on our own terms, in our own way – which really amounts to serving our own god. A group of idiots like the Westboro Baptist Church illustrates this point in hundred-foot high pink and green neon, but a lot of Christians -- including me -- are guilty in less egregious ways. I want to hold onto self and figure out some way to get God to go along. Jesus said, “Deny yourself.” That’s the only way to truly serve the Lord.

Christians like to talk about doing God’s will. We have sermons and seminars, classes, conventions, and conferences. I am reminded of the philosopher, Tuco, who said, “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.”

My friend, Eddie, used to tell his own, updated version of the Good Samaritan. A man had run off the road into a big ditch, was hurt and could not get out. Member of various Christian denominations and movements came by and turned away with condemnation, offered no help, or, at best, shouted a comically inappropriate platitude or two toward the broken man in the hole. The Samaritan in Eddie’s story was a cigarette-smoking redneck with empty beer bottles in the floorboard of a dirty old truck. It was done so well that Eddie was almost never invited back to speak at a church after he told that story.

Kind of like Jesus.

Pointing out the essence of sin is what makes me uncomfortable. As long as I can keep it categorized into good and bad behavior, while avoiding the more notorious categories – prostitution, homosexuality, accounting, and politics, I am good. Jesus won’t let me off that easily. He says it’s not about how big and graphic and perverse my failure is, but it is about my simple refusal to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Him. Nothing more is required, and nothing less will do.

Monday, February 2, 2009

God doesn't miss much

So God heard their groaning, and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the Israelites, and He took notice. – Exodus 2:24,25

The last phrase in the KJV reads something like, “and He had respect unto them”. Another translation says, “God acknowledged them.” God did not just look at the children of Israel in passing, and He did not respond to them simply because they were suffering. He remembered His covenant. The LORD put Himself into a contractual relationship with Abraham in response to Abraham’s willingness to believe. He restated this covenant to Isaac and to Jacob – especially to Jacob, changing his name to Israel.

(Abram/Abraham and Jacob/Israel had name changes. Isaac was named for the response that first the promise and then the actuality of his birth evoked, i.e., “Laughter”. Isaac was not renamed; he knew who he was.)

God acknowledged the legitimacy of the children of Israel – not as descendants of an earthly patriarch – but as His own children with whom He had a covenant and to whom He had obligated Himself.

When Jesus died on the Cross, He established a new and better covenant with all of humanity, an all-encompassing covenant. The Messiah, passing through pain, death, and the grave to a resurrected life, became the Israel of God, bringing salvation to all. As in Adam all died, it says, so in Christ all are made alive.

Oswald Chambers makes a couple of challenging statements about salvation. First, Chambers said, we should not push redemption into a future fulfillment: “Men are not going to be redeemed; they are redeemed.” We are not waiting on God to save us. He is waiting for us to enter into the covenant relationship with Him. Second, Chambers offers a slightly different take on the role of faith in salvation: “I am not saved by believing; I realize I am saved by believing.”

In Egyptian bondage, the Israelites did not feel much like children of God, heirs of a covenantal relationship that gave them access to the very Creator of heaven and earth. Nevertheless, this was the case. I may not feel like a child of God as I suffer in some bondage that seems as unbreakable as it is unbearable. Yet I am a legitimate son, a rightful heir of that better covenant in Christ.

We were talking about my granddaughter, EL-C, last night, reminiscing about little things that happened as she grew up. My daughter brought up a bike wreck that EL-C had when she was five or six. Their house was on a corner at the bottom of a steep grade. Grandma, Mom, EL-C, and I had been up at a little neighborhood playground on the other side of the block. Mom and Grandma ambled along while EL-C and I went on a little faster, rounded the block and started down the hill. Normally I could keep up with her on her bike, but the accelerating effects of gravity were not yet factored into her little organic calculator. Her bicycle tires were somewhat worn, and she did not apply the brakes anywhere close to soon enough. Couple all that with a moment of sheer panic, and the result was that she drove straight into the curb and did an impressive end-do onto a fortunately well-watered, plush lawn.

Amazingly, she broke her fall with her face. She has always been a talented child.

I got to her right away and scooped her up out of the neighbor’s yard. Her nose was bleeding but there was no other obvious damage. She was, however, wailing like a tornado siren. Her mother, still out of sight around the other corner, heard this and knew immediately it was her baby. Clogs shed, barefoot Mom ran down the hill, grabbed EL-C out of my arms as I reached the other side of the street, and carried her into the house to be suitably soothed and cleaned up. I took care of the bike. (On a side note, my granddaughter explained her accident by saying, “Poppy didn’t hold on,” -- that is, to the back of her bicycle seat. I didn’t bother to argue that Carl Lewis couldn’t have kept up with her.)

My daughter is a pretty good mother. Mothers will respond to the voices, and especially to the cries of their children. Normal people do not forget their offspring or ignore their suffering. God says that even if a mother could forget her child, He will not forget us.

If we are willing to believe what God says about us, willing to believe that we are His children, then we need not be surprised that He responds to our sufferings and breaks our fetters.