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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

End of April -- Diary of An Old Soul

What can there be so close as making and made?
Nought twinned can be so near; thou art more nigh
To me, my God, than is this thinking I
To that I mean when I by me is said;
Thou art more near me, than is my ready will
Near to my love, though both one place do fill;--
Yet, till we are one,--Ah me! the long until!

Then shall my heart behold thee everywhere.
The vision rises of a speechless thing,
A perfectness of bliss beyond compare!
A time when I nor breathe nor think nor move,
But I do breathe and think and feel thy love,
The soul of all the songs the saints do sing!--
And life dies out in bliss, to come again in prayer.

In the great glow of that great love, this death
Would melt away like a fantastic cloud;
I should no more shrink from it than from the breath
That makes in the frosty air a nimbus-shroud;
Thou, Love, hast conquered death, and I aloud
Should triumph over him, with thy saintly crowd,
That where the Lamb goes ever followeth.

-- From Diary of an Old Soul, George MacDonald, Stanzas for April 28, 29, and 30.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Groundhog Day versus the Seventh Day

On the Sabbath, He passed through the grainfields. His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

Jesus answered them, “Haven’t you read what David and those who were with him did when he was hungry – how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the sacred bread, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat? He even gave some to those who were with him.” Then He told them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” – Luke 6:1-5

I used to work in a financial services company as “director of centralized MIS” which sounds pretty impressive until you find out that in the finance sector the janitors are listed as associate vice presidents. But I was the lead programmer for my group so I had contact with a great cross section of the company. At the time, I think corporate leaders saw finance as the next big way to get some wins and make more money. Young guys with new MBA’s and last names well known in the corporate worlds of manufacturing and transportation found some ground floor experience with us.

One such fellow was actually a local who bought his suits at Neiman-Marcus, but not on what we paid him. I suppose he had been living wildly up to the point he was placed in our risk management unit, but he came from a good family and the Spirit of God was beginning to get hold of him. He asked me some questions now and then related to Christianity, and he started going to church regularly. He and his administrative assistant came to my cube one day and asked me to help them out. They were trying to list the Ten Commandments but were coming up with only six or seven. I quickly helped them get to nine then hung up myself. I had to mentally go through the list like saying the alphabet before I hit the one I was missing – ‘Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy’.

“I guess I skipped that one,” I offered, “because I really never pay much attention to it. Thanks for reminding me.”

We worked long days back then, usually at least fifty hours a week, often closer to sixty, but I never worked on Sundays. Today, I work more like a minimum of sixty, and I often get hotline calls on Sunday, sometimes even while I’m at church. Of course, Sunday is not the Sabbath, but I used to wonder if I wasn’t missing something about the idea of the Sabbath. Certainly the Lord wants us to take time to focus exclusively on Him, not because He is narcissistic, but that we might learn who we are and what we are doing here. A “day of rest” is an opportunity to reset, to check the map and see where we are, and if we are headed in the right direction.

Jesus was not an advocate of antinomianism. He says, elsewhere, that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. What He makes clear in this passage is that there is merely “keeping” the Law, and then there is fulfilling it. Reading through the gospel accounts, it would seem that the Lord was often accused of being a Sabbath-breaker. What did He do to warrant such an indictment? He made people whole.

I suppose no one bothered to question why the Lord had established the Sabbath rules in the first place. They just kept the rules, sometimes grudgingly, as it cut into trade and profits. They forgot or never understood what Jesus told them – the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Nothing could have been more appropriate to keeping the Sabbath holy or more illustrative of the very meaning of the Sabbath than Jesus healing, breaking the chains, and setting the captives free. Those who criticized Jesus only kept the Sabbath they did not “keep it holy”. There is a world of difference between the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom, and the sniveling fear of punishment which is only bondage. It can be a sad truth that God will meet our expectations. In the Parable of the Talents, the one-talent man accused his master of being a hard man, so, to him, the master was harsh and demanding. But that is not God’s desire toward us.

He wants to free us from the mundane, fleshly thinking, and the gerbil wheel of day-to-day existence. Sometimes it can seem like we are all living “Groundhog Day”. Keeping the Sabbath, or better yet, setting aside a time every day to meet with the Lord, is a spiritual discipline. It is giving your most precious possession, your time, to Him. To take time with the Father for way too many of us is an act of faith. “Quiet time? Man, I’ve got stuff that needs to be done yesterday. The only ‘quiet time’ I have is sleep – if that.”

Still, I need to take that step of faith to entrust some of my time to God, to remind myself that this mad race back to the starting line is not my real destiny.

Not Caught by the Pandemic

I have not contracted swine flu, though I have had a touch of whine flu.

My wife, who weighs all of 110 pounds, was maliciously tripped by one of her shrubs. I strongly suspect the sand cherry -- after all they have red leaves. She managed to break her fall by breaking an arm bone. But she is neat as always, and it is a neat hairline fracture -- broken perfectly in place. It's her right arm -- her dominant side -- there's probably something symbolic in that.

The orthopedic doc was so pleased with her that he will let her have a removable splint rather than a gaudy cast as heavy as she is. The six week recovery time leaves her depressed, however.

So, in addition to taking care of business, I have to take care of applying deodorant to Mrs. Mushroom's left underarm.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Little on Seeing and Believing

Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near Him must believe He exists and rewards those who seek Him. – Hebrews 11:6

For as sight is only seeing, faith is only believing. – Hannah Whitehall Smith

When Thomas doubted the resurrection of the Lord, demanding to see the holes in His hands and the wound in His side, the disciple did not really lack faith. He believed that he had seen Jesus die, which was true. Jesus died. Thomas believed that dead men generally stay dead, which they do. Facts and experience supported Thomas’ faith that his fellow disciples were wrong. The only thing Thomas doubted was the testimony of his best friends, not because they were liars -- for the most part, but because their statements ran counter to what he knew as facts, despite having himself witnessed many events that were inexplicable to him. The others were emotionally distraught. Perhaps he thought one or two of the remaining ten had been hitting the wine a little too hard. John was so young and easily influenced. Peter, well, he may have been overwhelmed by the guilt of his cowardice. Andrew and James were usually pretty stable, but they might just be going along with the crowd.

People have faith. Quite often it’s not called faith. Sometimes it is called consensus. Sometimes it is referred to as “relying on expert opinion”. Sometimes it is called common sense.

You know what, common sense – which in reality is not so common, as Will Rogers long ago observed – has failed many times. Consensus is just going along with the crowd, sometimes for monetary gain. Experts are right almost as often as they are wrong.

We will read horoscopes, play the lottery, draw to an inside straight, listen to economists, meteorologists, and all the little cronkites that read the news on television. Cronkite used to be the most trusted man in America. People had faith in Cronkite, who was about as unbiased and truthful as Bill Clinton at a Jenny Craig meeting. American soldiers did not lose any battles in Vietnam, only the propaganda war on the six o’clock news. Our military has never met defeat on the field in Iraq or Afghanistan. They can only be beaten by the verbal barrage coming from the seditious spawn of Max Headroom contaminating the 24 hour news channels.

I have no faith in them. They are right only because they constantly change their opinions to match the data. A comprehensive list of groups and individuals I don’t believe would be pretty extensive. I am from Missouri. I’d as soon believe the loving affirmations of a crack whore as a publishing professor, a scientist hooked on government grant money, or a politician trolling for votes.

Sometime back my daughter got on the Da Vinci code stuff, and how Constantine had gotten involved with Christianity wanting to use it for his own purposes. Didn’t I think, she asked, that the “real” documents and manuscripts might have gotten corrupted? She was surprised – knowing that I am skeptical and analytical – when I did not even hesitate in saying, No.

You could show me irrefutable proof that the entire New Testament had been written by dolphin-like aliens with opposable thumbs from the Pleiades as a satire of their own religion, and it wouldn’t really make any difference to my acceptance of its revelation. Once a person really believes God, that is, believes that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him, all the other stuff – the biological and historical accidents, the little twists that have to occur to make human life, consciousness, and revelation possible are seen as His work.

Constantine and everyone else are merely the instruments in God’s hand. Through the prophets, the Lord said the same thing about the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon, about Greece, about the pharaohs of Egypt, and Caesar in Rome. Pick up a modern copy of the Bible, hold it in your hand and think about how it got to you. Even if you consider it in the most humanistic way possible, is it not something of a miracle? If you have a map of the world, or a globe, find the Middle East, look at the word “Israel”. How could such a place exist?

Like sight, faith is only as worthy as its object. To look on squalor and ugliness and horror is to regret the gift of vision. To believe in emptiness, meaninglessness, and the absence of truth is to regret faith – or it should be.

I believe the truth.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Walking the Cross Road

This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father. – John 10:17-18

This is about free will, or maybe it is about more than free will – perhaps it is about the purpose of free will.

Jesus explains Himself to us as the Good Shepherd, the genuine One who loves and cares for the sheep, is willing to lay down His own infinitely valuable life for their sakes. You may not want to think about that first statement too much. This is why the Father loves Me. It sounds dangerous and heretical to me.

That command to lay down our lives that we might take it up again is given to all of us, but are we all free to obey? When the New Testament writers spoke of freedom and liberty, this is what they were talking about – the capacity to lay life down. Christ gives us the freedom to receive the Father’s command and follow it.

Every day – today, for example, I have many things I have to do, as well as some things I’d like to do. The “have to dos” – fixing bugs, finishing designs and documentation, mowing the lawn, etc, would seem to be things I have no choice about if I want to keep my job and not be nagged. Yet in all those activities, I can lay down my life. I will have numerous opportunities today to practice putting aside my own desires for the sake of someone else. Whether it is making my wife happy with a nice-looking yard or helping out a co-worker or taking the pressure off a manager – maybe even causing someone else to get a boost in the company, a raise or a promotion, in all that I do, I can choose to lay down my life.

Honestly, the mistake I often make is doing something because I have to do it. The result is going to be more or less the same. The job is going to get done. What difference does my attitude make? I often complain that I am no better than a slave, that I have no choices in my life, that I never get to do what I want. I always have to do what someone else wants. I never have a minute to myself – which is true some days, aside from the time I get to sleep. I’m a busy person like most everyone else.

Jesus was going to go to the Golgotha. He knew that. He knew He was going to give His life for us. We can argue about whether He struggled with it at Gethsemane, but it is clear that He lay down His life by His own volition. At no point was anyone – it was utterly impossible – going to force Him to hang on a cross.

Before I can walk in the fullness of the Spirit, I have to understand that the same thing is true for me. I do not have to submit any more than Jesus had to. Sometimes the difference between being forced to do something and choosing to do something is pretty subtle, but it is always real. There is not much difference between one side of a knife’s edge and the other, but it is what makes it a knife.

Why should we cultivate that subtlety? I am laying down My life so I may take it up again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sitting on the Corner

Men are reluctant to pass over from the notion of an abstract and negative deity to the living God. I do not wonder. Here lies the deepest tap-root of Pantheism and of the objection to traditional imagery. It was hated not, at bottom, because it pictured Him as man but because it pictured Him as king, or even as warrior. The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth should flee away at His glance. If He were the truth, then we could really say that all the Christian images of kingship were a historical accident of which our religion ought to be cleansed. It is a shock that we discover them to be indispensable. You have had a shock like that before, in connection with smaller matters – when the line pulls at your hand, when something breathes beside you in the darkness. So here; the shock comes at the precise moment when the thrill of life is communicated to us along the clue we have been following. It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. “Look out!” we cry, “It’s alive.” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back – I would have done so myself if I could – and proceed no further with Christianity. An “impersonal God” – well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads – better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap – best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching us at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband – that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God”!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, suppose He had found us?

So it is a sort of Rubicon. One goes across; or not. But if one does, there is no manner of security against miracles. One may be in for anything.

– C.S. Lewis, from Miracles, “Christianity and ‘Religion’”


If I had to pick one paragraph out of all that I’ve read over the years which had the most profound impact on my life, this would be a likely candidate. I know exactly where I was when I read it the first time. I remember the chair, the kitchen table, the time of day. The very book that I had in my hand that day is the one I typed from this morning. I see where I’ve added some glue to hold a yellowed page in here and there.

It struck me, perhaps, because I was exactly that kind of an intellectual dabbler, searching for a god I could accept. At the moment I read this I got the sense that I had gotten myself into something I had not expected. It was only afterward that I could say with Paul that I sought to get hold of Christ because Christ had already gotten hold of me.

All I really wanted, I thought, was strength and control. I wanted to be able to make myself over in my own ideal image. I was not satisfied with what I was, and I thought that religious wisdom and understanding might enable me to become like the perfected and enlightened being I held as a picture in my head. Neither education nor sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll had done it. I thought perhaps money or prestige might, but those weren’t even on the horizon. In the meantime, religion was practically free and readily accessible.

I won’t say that I became a Christian the moment I read this, but it tripped me up and turned my perspective upside down -- a revelation I could not question. A month or two later, I sat on my deck one Sunday morning and prayed a prayer of surrender – probably the first genuine prayer I’d uttered in more than a dozen years. I did all right for a while. I have no one to blame except myself for the entanglements – religious entanglements I got caught up in along the way. I was often alone among the more conventionally religious, trying to go along with them, often listening to and taking the advice of “teachers” and “prophets” who knew less about God than I did the moment I finished Lewis’ paragraph. Nevertheless, I managed to hang on, I think in part because I took this as a sort of personal covenant. It was the one point I knew for certain and that I knew was right. It is like Polaris, or an old stone landmark precisely on the corner. When I get confused or frustrated, I come back here and sit a spell, until I can see again where the lines have fallen to me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Standing In Good

This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and have prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand therefore … -- Ephesians 6:13-14

Over the weekend I heard a pastor say, "We don't move on." He was talking about something a little different. To me, though, it sounded a lot like: stand -- or stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.

Where we are is where we are supposed to be. Jesus said (Matthew 24:23): If anyone tells you then, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Over here!’ do not believe it! There is no need to run from place to place, situation to situation, or person to person trying to find the “right one”. The Lord is where I am, or, better, I am where the Lord is.

The Lord has provided us with victory and power and grace in our present circumstances. He asks us only to stand firm, in faith and dependence on Him. That such an attitude is not only contrary to the world’s mindset, but often to what happens in churches and among Christian leaders, is obvious. Our human nature seems to compel us to advance, even when “progress” is detrimental. All grace and power and understanding is available to us where we have been placed.

The other side is that we are not to retreat or give ground to the pressures and attacks coming against us. And they come to all of us no matter where the Lord has placed us to make our stand. This is not about winning. We have already won, and our first requirement is to recognize that. It is finished.

When Jesus began to teach His disciples about His coming suffering and crucifixion, Peter said, No, Lord, that’s not going to happen to You. Jesus responded, “Get thee behind Me, Satan.” The devil does not come after me in red scales with horns and bifurcated tail. His voice is the voice of one dear to me, one I trust. With another he may even use my voice if I am the trusted one. I may be the one telling my brother or sister, “You don’t have to put up with this. You should just …” – walk away, give up, get out, quit, sue, or whatever. If you hear me say that, don’t listen to me. If I or an angel from heaven tells you that you really cannot trust God, that He didn’t really mean that, that you cannot endure -- ignore that voice, though it should sound ever so soothing and familiar. It is, nevertheless, the voice of your adversary.

But, what if I have given ground already? What if I have listened to those seductive voices and retreated? The bad news is that I will have a battle. The good news is that all I have to do is stand. Always, always, where I am is where God will meet me with the eternal conquest of Christ. Never am I to think, Well, I surrendered that high point in my life. I see now I was mistaken. I should go take it back on my own, and then the Lord will be with me again.

There’s no need for me to worry about that. I have only to pick up my shield, turn and face the enemy, and stand. My adversary will find me, but the Lord is here.

However, each one must live his life in the situation the Lord assigned when God called him. This is what I command in all the churches. Was anyone already circumcised when he was called? He should not undo his circumcision. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? He should not get circumcised. Circumcision does not matter and uncircumcision does not matter, but keeping God's commandments does. Each person should remain in the life situation in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? It should not be a concern to you. But if you can become free, by all means take the opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:17-21).

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hayek -- “Material Conditions and Ideal Ends”

That in this sphere of individual conduct the effect of collectivism has been almost entirely destructive is both inevitable and undeniable. A movement whose main promise is the relief from responsibility cannot but be antimoral in its effect, however lofty the ideals to which it owes its birth. Can there be any doubt that the feeling of personal obligation to remedy inequities, where our individual power permits, has been weakened rather than strengthened, that both the willingness to bear responsibility and the consciousness that it is our own individual duty to know how to choose have been perceptibly impaired? There is all the difference between demanding that a desirable state of affairs should be brought about by the authorities, or even being willing to submit provided everyone else is made to do the same, and the readiness to do what one thinks right one’s self at the sacrifice of one’s own desires and perhaps in the face of hostile public opinion. There is much to suggest that we have in fact become more tolerant toward particular abuses and much more indifferent to inequities in individual cases, since we have fixed our eyes on an entirely different system in which the state will set everything right. It may even be, as has been suggested, that the passion for collective action is a way in which we now without compunction collectively indulge in that selfishness which as individuals we had learned a little to restrain.

It is true that the virtues which are less esteemed and practiced now – independence, self-reliance, and the willingness to bear risks, the readiness to back one’s convictions against a majority, and the willingness to voluntary cooperation with one’s neighbors – are essentially those on which the working of an individualist society rests. Collectivism has nothing to put in their place, and in so far as it has destroyed them it has left a void filled by nothing but the demand for obedience and the compulsion of the individual to do what is collectively decided to be good. The periodical election of representatives, to which the moral choice of the individual tends to be more and more reduced, is not an occasion on which his moral values are tested or where he has constantly to reassert and prove the order of his values and to testify to the sincerity of his profession by the sacrifice of those of his values he rates lower to those he puts higher. – F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, pp. 232-233, Fiftieth Anniversary Edition, University of Chicago Press


I started to highlight a couple of points but decided that I’d wind up with more in boldface than not.

Hayek goes on in this chapter to point out that no one in a collectivist society calls on the masses to sacrifice material comforts and conveniences for moral values. In fact, our politicians of both parties tell us that we should all have free health care, nice homes, new cars and plenty to eat. All we have to do is give up some of our worthless values, our individualism, a little liberty here and there that no one will miss anyway, and the government will be able to give you what you want.

This does raise a point that is often neglected. What exactly are we willing to sacrifice for material goods? Or, what are we willing to give up in the way of material goods and comfort for the sake of liberty?

For most of us, opting out or “going Galt” would result in somewhat of a crimp in our style of life. That is, if the intrusiveness of government has not reached or does not reach a point such that opting out is even possible. On Wednesday, Governor Perry of Texas spoke without any seriousness of secession. Outside of an epic failure of the federal government, the sane among us know we have to take that suggestion in the same way it was given -- as a joke.

I think the real solution is mostly non-political. My citizenship is in the Kingdom of God.

Why do the nations rebel and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers conspire together against the LORD and His Anointed One [btw, His initials ain’t BHO]: “Let us tear off their chains and free ourselves from their restraints.” The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord ridicules them (Psalm 2:1-4).

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble(Psalm 46:1).

Exaltation does not come from the east, the west, or the desert, for God is the judge: He brings down one and exalts another (Psalm 75:6-7).

He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals the deep and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him (Daniel 2:21-22).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Babble On

Be quiet, and I will speak. Let whatever comes happen to me. Why do I put myself at risk and take my life in my hands? Even if He kills me, I will hope in Him. I will still defend my ways before Him. Yes, this will result in my deliverance, for no godless person can appear before Him. – Job 13:13-16

Every time I get into the Book of Job, I wonder at the sophistication of the God-inspired genius that penned it. The subtleties of the arguments going back and forth are amazing. Depending on the day and the mood I’m in I may find myself agreeing with Job, agreeing with his comforters, or seeing the flaws of both at any given point – sometimes all that simultaneously.

The King James Version of Job 13:15 -- “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” – is often quoted out of context. It seems to imply an absolute trust without regard to understanding. But Job, at this point, still wants justice, and he still believes that God is the just and righteous judge.

We always want to make God comprehensible. We are willing to use figures of speech and paradoxes because we realize that God is not exactly like us, even that He is far beyond us. But we cling to the notion that, though He may be infinite, He will limit Himself in dealing with the weakness of human existence. We think that He did that explicitly in Christ.

I wonder.

We use language like a transformer, and we have a built-in breaker box in case we get a surge off the main line. In the end we know that, when Job gets the pure, raw feed, he shuts up. It’s something to consider.

If you look closely at the passage above, you will see that Job is defiant. If God kills me, I will still have hope in Him. I hope that He will see where He has wronged me. That is the underlying message Job is stating. “I will still defend my ways before Him,” Job says. He expects deliverance if only he can present his case openly and fairly before the Lord.

This resonates with me. God is a just God. I believe He will do right by me if I have done right. And, in thinking that way, I am no more than a pagan. I’m probably not as good as a pagan. The pagans recognized a certain degree of capriciousness in their gods, and, though they incorrectly attributed it to human motivations such as jealously or envy, it allowed them to accommodate some cruelty or unfairness. If I try to make God finite and understandable, as a Christian, I often try to limit His “justice” to those possibilities on this side of my horizons. But the limits of my vision are not the limits of God. Even within the circle of what I can see I know some things are hidden from me. How much more is there out beyond the curve of this material life? If there be dragons, are they to battle or to ride?

Be still, and know I AM.

Suffer in silence? If we press on, we may well reach a point where silence is our only argument. There is a point where words fail and even the poets lay down the pen and cover the mouth. I’m not so sure it does much good to shut up before we get to edge of the language, though words may get to be fewer, change in meaning and import, and grow more profound. The Bible says that where there are a multitude of words there must be sin. Then we are told to lay aside the sin that does so easily beset us that we may run, unhindered.

Lay aside the excess weight of words. Carry only what you need.

I always dreamed of living in a time when there were great blank spaces on the maps. I do live in such a time, but the map is not of this world, and the blanks stretch to infinity. Right now, I am hanging around in this border country where the trails begin to get a little faint. The maps are already questionable and often in conflict.

If it clanks, clangs, or rings, it’s probably best to drop it. Make sure you have plenty of living water, and if you don’t have a sword, sell your coat and buy one.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

On the Hook

When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the double-drachma tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the double-drachma tax?”

“Yes,” he said.

When he went into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think, Simon? Who do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes from? From their sons or strangers?

“From strangers,” he said.

“Then the sons are free,” Jesus told him, “But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and catch the first fish that comes up. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for Me and you.” – Matthew 17:24-27

On the face of it Christians would appear to be the worst possible choice as revolutionaries. We respect authority and try to see God’s hand in all that comes to us. We reject the idea of secondary causes, seeing all as from the Lord by whatever means. We are more concerned about heaven, about truth and reality than we are about the things of earth. Ruthlessness runs counter to our creed and our new nature. Though we accept the righteous necessity of self-defense, we regard killing and bloodshed as an extreme measure of last resort. No Christian is a terrorist. No Christian would shed the blood of innocents for political gain.

Christianity is, however, the most revolutionary, world-altering belief ever embraced by man. It brings transformation to nations – not with empty rhetoric and programs built on extorted funds – but by transforming individuals, who are, after all, the building blocks of nations. Despite what historical revisionists may say, everywhere the Gospel has gone, it has made things better.

We have come to April 15 – the most infamous day on the American calendar: Tax Day. This year there will be protesters in every city around the country, with additional gatherings and demonstrations on the weekend, as a great many actual taxpayers have to work today. I don’t know if this is really the first signs of life in a new movement or the last gasp of a dying system. I do know that income tax is an ugly levy that is easily used to punish and control. There probably isn’t a worse way for government to confiscate funds, though property tax is within hailing distance. Both property and income taxes are attempts to distribute the burden of taxation onto those who can best afford it. The more money you make and the more property you own, the more tax you pay. Doesn’t that seem fair?

Well – No. What seems fair in the free market is that one pays for what one gets. Does Wal-Mart charge me more for a can of coffee than they charge my lower income neighbor? So, ask yourself what services you get from the government. If someone has six kids in school, shouldn’t their share of school funding be higher than the person who has one or none? That seems fair to me. It is how private schools work. Now I understand that the benefits of an educated population are numerous, and public systems of education have paid many dividends in America’s past. Though I no longer have children in school, I would be willing to support a local public school system if I did not have to pay more than my neighbors simply because I was able to build a larger house or drive a newer car, or, even worse, because I own a business or income-producing property.

The double-drachma tax that Peter and Jesus discussed was not a civil tax. It was the temple tax paid by every Jewish male to support and maintain the temple property and functions. This is why Jesus asked the question regarding sons. As the Son of God, the Lord would be exempt from paying for the support of His own temple. The good thing about the temple tax was that it was perfectly fair. It did not matter if one were rich or poor. Everybody understood that they benefited equally from God’s presence and blessings bestowed by way of the priesthood, the temple and the ministry conducted there. Thus the price was the same for everyone. If a wealthier man wanted to pay the tax for his poorer brother, I doubt that anyone stopped him, but certainly no one coerced him.

Though the Lord should have been free of the tax, Jesus teaches us that it is often better to go along with a system even when it is unfair. We can afford to pay better than we can afford to offend in many cases. Our concern is not primarily for the benefits we gain in this world, but rather for the delivering of our brothers and sisters from bondage. As I said before, by the world’s standards, we are lousy revolutionaries. We are just too compliant and resilient. We don’t put our trust in state solutions, nor do we rely primarily on the arm of flesh to deliver us from evil.

This is not to say that if some fool kicks your door in and threatens your life or the lives of others that you should refrain from offing him. I figure in that case the Lord has called me to put him out of his misery, and I will make my calling and election sure by filling him so full of lead he’ll need two extra pallbearers. But I digress.

Peace and stability and good will are good things to be cultivated and nurtured. To the extent that we must balance liberty with those aspects of our societal existence, we, especially Christians, should do so. We don’t want to see our brothers and sisters – not even the stupid ones – suffer unnecessarily. Demonstrate, protest, call and write Congress-critters, ridicule journalists, but, as Paul says: If possible on your part, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.

Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law
(Romans 13:5-8).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Feets of Strength

And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that ye shall eat.

Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud … the camel …divideth not the hoof; … the coney… the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof. – Leviticus 11:1-6

There is a passage in Pilgrim’s Progress where Faithful and Christian encounter one named Talkative of Prating-Row. Talkative is a glib fellow who has the speech of a pilgrim, and Faithful is impressed with him. Christian, however, has prior knowledge of Talkative. He explains that Talkative just likes to talk, and, though he can speak of spiritual things to the spiritual, he capable of equal vulgarity at other times with the crowd at the Ale House.

Faithful discerns the truth of Christian’s assessment and references the verses quoted above describing clean versus unclean animals to draw a conclusion about religious talkers. Clean animals such as the cow or the sheep both chew the cud and have divided hooves, whereas other animals such as the rabbit, though it is strictly vegetarian and chews the cud like a cow, remains in the unclean class because it has no divided hoof.

James tells us that we should attempt to control our tongues and that what we say is important (James 3). He compares the tongue to a ship’s rudder or the bit in a horse’s mouth. If we can regulate our speech, we can avoid many troubles. It is very true that we can talk ourselves into misery, but we can also talk ourselves into joy. Our words can curse our brothers or praise and honor God. The choice is ours. We need to be careful of what we say.

Yet words alone can be deceptive. I used to have knowledge of the French language sufficient to read Camus, but I’ve never been to Paris, eaten escargot, or had my butt kicked by Germans (not counting my wife). As telling as speech is, our walk is equal to it. The transformation must go beyond an acquisition of the right terminology and the mental assent to righteous principles. It must go all the way to the dividing of soul from spirit, to the point that we can determine in our common, everyday plodding around when the Spirit is speaking to us.

There are some who try to create a formula for distinguishing the soulish from the spiritual, but I’m skeptical. The soul is a useful servant while we are on this journey, but it is a very poor master and frightfully good at deceiving even itself. The soul can adopt and adapt to any standard or set of criteria necessary in order to prove its sincerity. It can be atheistic, pharisaic, or even murderously suicidal so long as it is, for a time, able to usurp the throne to please and aggrandize itself.

I think we can cultivate a genuine desire to know the truth coupled with humility, a willingness to acknowledge our mistakes when they are revealed to us – and to learn from them. We lean on the Lord in prayer and meditate on His Word, and listen.

The articulation of a divided hoof allows the clean animal to traverse hard ground and rocky heights. As the Bible says repeatedly (2 Samuel 22:33-35; Psalm 18:32-34; Habbakuk 3:17-19), the Lord makes our feet like those of a deer (“hinds’ feet”) to walk on high places. Without this dividing of soul and spirit, we are not able to scale the heights, to deal effectively with the difficulties we encounter “goin’ up, on the rough side of the mountain”.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds' feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.

Monday, April 13, 2009

And the Mule He Rode In On

And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away. – 2 Samuel 18:9 (KJV)

This may be confusing verse if you don’t know much about Absalom who was one of the sons of David. The context is that Absalom had rebelled against his father as king and was well on his way to taking over the kingdom until he ran into this particular oak tree. Having driven David and his followers out of Jerusalem, the rebellious prince paused to gather a greater army before pursuing his father’s group of loyalists. This gave David enough respite to organize resistance and send out his personal bodyguard along with a determined group of hardened fighters to meet Absalom’s forces. The battle took place in rough terrain, and the advantage fell to David’s men. When Absalom became entangled in the thicket and was killed subsequently, the rebellion was ended.

Absalom had pursued a political strategy contrary to his father’s reign for a number of years. The seeds were sown when an older half-brother, Amnon, raped his half-sister, Tamar. Tamar was apparently a full sister to Absalom who was angered that their father did not punish Amnon for his incestuous atrocity. To this point, we find Absalom a sympathetic character. Even when he deceptively carries out the vengeful murder of Amnon, we remain understanding, but Absalom was not content with the blood of his half-brother. After returning from exile, Absalom plots and plays a clever political game to enhance his own popularity while fueling discontent with his father’s rule among the people of Israel.

In addition to exposing Absalom’s vengefulness and political ambitions, the Bible says that he was quite a handsome man with a great deal of very thick, beautiful hair. His physical appearance seems to have played a part in furthering his popularity as well. One might suspect that Absalom was at least a bit of a narcissist, possibly somewhat vain, having a high opinion of himself. Though David was deeply flawed, he remained always a man after God’s own heart. Where David was God-centered, Absalom was self-centered. Despite all the advantages of his position in life, of his intelligence, and of his good looks, Absalom’s life is marked by an absence of trust in the Lord, and, as a consequence, by an absence of peace and fulfillment.

Some of us have a hard time with the idea that justice can embrace mercy. For some things it seems there should be no mercy. Like Absalom, I often see particularly heinous crimes perpetrated and think that there isn’t anything cruel or unusual enough to even it up. The arguments of those who reject God are rife with this sense that God should not allow suffering or injustice. The rejection of Christ is often fueled by the same indignation that led Absalom to rebel against and reject the authority of his father, David, the man who loved him most in the world, who would have extended mercy, compassion, and forgiveness even to him – for his own crimes.

Absalom represents the good man who thinks that usurping the place of God is no big deal. He sees the mercy and grace of God but misunderstands, misinterprets it as indifference and injustice. It is up to man, he thinks, to take matters into his own hands and set this right, based on his own opinions, his own standards, and his own ideals of righteousness and good. This may work for a period of time, but there always comes a reckoning – not necessarily in an overt or direct judgment of God, but quite commonly in a loss of control over one’s life.

Having denied God and acted toward the Lord in rebellion and indifference, man is able to rise no higher. He cannot reach heaven, but he also finds the material mule that he depended on is now indifferent to him. Narcissistic self-regard has tangled him up, tied him to the circumstances of a limited human life. The mule moves on. Man hangs in painful helplessness, ensnared by the very thing in which he gloried -- the strength and power of the human mind with its many thoughts.

Unable to break free to return to the thoughtless animal life of earth, and even less able to rise above circumstances and draw close to God, the rebel becomes easy prey for Satan’s deadly schemes just as Absalom was an easy mark for Joab’s spear as he hung suspended from the oak. In the end the exaltation of man concludes in the death of all that is truly and uniquely human. The glory of man is cast into a nameless pit and buried in ignominy.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Friday ...

So the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed. By the seventh day, God completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. -- Genesis 2:1-2

Therefore, while the promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear so that none of you should miss it. For we also have received the good news just as they did; but the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith (for we who have believed enter the rest), in keeping with what He has said:

So I swore in My anger, they will not enter My rest.

And yet His works have been finished since the foundation of the world, for somewhere He has spoken about the seventh day in this way:

And on the seventh day God rested from all His works.

Again, in that passage [He says], They will never enter My rest. Since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience, again, He specifies a certain day— today —speaking through David after such a long time, as previously stated:

Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.

-- Hebrews 4:1-7

When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" Then bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. – John 19:30

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, the people of Christ. Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be abolished is death. – 1 Corinthians 15:20-26

But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. He is now waiting until His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified. – Hebrews 10:12-14

... but Sunday's coming.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Why the Religious Left is Oxymoronic

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of his possessions were his own, but instead they held everything in common. – Acts 4:32

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. – Proverbs 14:12

I have heard it argued that the basic tenet of Communism – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” – is derived from the Early Church as described in the Book of Acts. In a sense that is true, but the idea in this case, as in many others, has been twisted by man to suit his own ends.

Christianity is a revelation of the Divine Life available to man through Christ. The foundation of the Church is love – expressed by the New Testament’s commandeering of agape to describe the indescribable self-sacrificing love of God for man, and of the redeemed for one another. To understand this intellectually is one thing, these folks in the First Century Church knew this love by the Spirit, as it was shed abroad in their hearts. Yet, even this close to the origin of Christianity, there were those who missed the point. Ananias and Sapphira failed and died, not because they did not fully share their goods but because they were deceitful, seeking to gain advantage, regarding their gift as an investment with a return. Later, Paul warned the Thessalonians against those who refused to work and wanted to live on the labor of others.

There are two ways for holding “everything in common” to work. The first is by love; the second is by compulsion. While it may seem that forcing others to “do right” is a good idea, the consequences of such a course are deadly and disastrous. In the last century, people died by the millions as a result of such policies. To the extent that socialism is embraced, at the very least, economic vitality is sapped and individual liberty is sacrificed. We have to work, no longer for ourselves, our families, our descendents, but the “greater good”. The incentive, especially for those who do not know God, is gone. Some Christians may continue to do their best, viewing their efforts as being unto the Lord, but others will quickly begin to game the system, or seek to gain control of it.

The difference between trying to force the individual to work for the benefit of another and the laws against crimes like theft, assault, extortion, or murder should be evident to all but the most obtuse. When a person commits a crime, they deny the wronged person a positive good or benefit. If I break someone’s arm or steal their television, I deprive them of something that is rightfully theirs. Socialism is crime in reverse. The government deprives me of what is rightfully mine in order to give it to someone who has not earned it. Thus socialism reduces crime by eliminating the need for someone to steal in order to acquire the benefits of someone else’s hard work.

In the long run, whether you call it socialism, liberalism, progressivism, populism, or “compassionate conservatism”, the idea of government benevolence is nonsense and detrimental to the spirit. To foster dependence on an entity such as the federal government or upon men in positions of power is to deny the sovereignty and even the reality of God.

As those who know God, we are moved by the Spirit to be fearless in our generosity and our willingness to share with our brothers and sisters, and we are eager to provide even for those outside the faith. No legislation, doctrine, or human authority can compel this love within us. We are to give as we “purpose in our hearts”. Working and investing in a free market, capitalist economy is the best means of acquiring additional money that we can share with others. In such an environment, aside from the rare pathological miser, even those who simply accumulate and invest wealth benefit the poor by making more capital available for borrowing. Supply and demand, if allowed to operate in a free flux, will keep interest rates within a mutually beneficial range the vast majority of the time.

Christians are free to be as personally “socialist” as they choose and can afford to be. But there is no such thing as Christian Socialism at the government level. A “Christian Socialist” is a Collectivist using Christianity as camouflage to make compulsory generosity appear more palatable. I suppose they say ‘God bless you’ after sticking a gun in your face and forcing you to hand over your property.

We can follow Christ and do His will under any circumstances, any form of government, or any restrictions. We have our preferences. We will strive for the best.

In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not fear. What can man to do me? (Psalm 56:4)

Oppressors can tyrannize only when they achieve a standing army, an enslaved press, and a disarmed populace. (James Madison – unsourced, via Wikiquote)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Misquoting Dante, And the Uncommitted

Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.” (Mark 10:28)

Abandonment is not for anything at all. We have got so commercialized that we only go to God for something from Him, and not for Himself. It is like saying, “No, Lord, I don’t want You, I want myself; but I want myself clean and filled with the Holy Ghost; I want to be put in Your showroom and be able to say – ‘This is what God has done for me.’” If we only give up something to God because we want more back, there is nothing of the Holy Spirit in our abandonment; it is miserable commercial self-interest. That we gain heaven, that we are delivered from sin, that we are made useful to God – these things never enter as considerations into real abandonment, which is a personal sovereign preference for Jesus Christ Himself.

When we come up against the barriers of natural relationship, where is Jesus Christ? Most of us desert Him – “Yes, Lord, I did hear Your call; but my mother is in the road, my wife, my self-interest, and I can go no further.”

“Then,” Jesus says, “you cannot be my disciple.”

The test of abandonment is always over the neck of natural devotion. Go over it, and God’s own abandonment will embrace all those you had to hurt in abandoning. Beware of stopping short of abandonment. Most of us know abandonment in vision only. – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

In the fog of war in my own mind, this quote is tied to Rick’s comment on yesterday’s post regarding the sin of despair. I suspect that is because my own inclination to despair is a function of my resistance to, shall we say, progressive abandonment. The Lord does not frontload the requirements of abandonment for most of us. The longer we know Him, though, the deeper the necessity of release and detachment goes. As I go I find more and more that I have to turn over to God.

It is kind of scary to look at what Chambers says about being put in God’s showroom and think that this could well be the overwhelming view within American Christianity. If that’s the case, is it any wonder that Christians are mostly ineffective as salt and light in our world? Is it any wonder that people seek “spirituality” in other forms and other directions?

Let’s use George Bush’s greatest mistake as President as a parallel. After September 11, 2001, Bush did not call the American people to sacrifice and out-all war with Islamic radicals. He told us to go shopping. The war against terrorists is important and we have to do it, but it’s not that important. It’s not that big a deal, except for the military. Americans accepted the message that personal comfort and pleasure were more vital than the eradication of a virus, which in its current configuration, has plagued the West since 1979 and the overthrow of the Shah (thank you, Jimmy Carter – or, as he may come to be known by historical revisionists: Barack I). That view of American life set the stage for the anger the press fanned about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. It allowed Republicans to continue corporate welfare, the Fed to continue propping up Wall Street, and Wal-Mart to continue fulfilling the American urge to buy cheap Chinese crap. Eventually it allowed the protests over Iraq to gain traction. If it’s not important enough for us to sacrifice, why are we sacrificing the lives of our best young men and women? This is the most basic reason why a barely literate community organizing lawyer who should be chasing ambulances on the south side of Chicago is sitting in the White House (when he’s not in Europe apologizing for our alleged arrogance) today.

Christianity that does not call us to abandonment and to sacrifice says that our relationship with God in Christ is not all that critical. If I am just supposed to be happy and comfortable in this life and then get a harp and a white cloud in the sweet by-and-by, how important is prayer and communion with God? What’s the big deal about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection? Didn’t He take care of it so I won’t have to? Let’s just skip over that verse where Paul talks about “the fellowship of His sufferings” and “being conformed to His death”. Why should the modern American Christian give up anything to follow Christ? Can’t he or she just claim all the good stuff, and, as Chambers says, be clean and filled with the Spirit? Isn’t that what it’s all about?

The simple fact is that I will never know God apart from abandonment. Until I am not just ready, but I do give up all and follow Him, I am not His disciple. I am a Bible student; I am a moralist; I am a dilettante and poseur. I am not a disciple of Jesus.

Abandon all, ye who hope to enter here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Another Brick in the Wall

So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” -- Nehemiah 6:3

I am mistaken if I think that God does not know how to get His work done. To me it may look like things are pretty desolate, but I am not aware of the subtle movements, the warp and woof of circumstances that will create the perfect tapestry of the Lord’s intent. Who can project Sunday morning from Friday night apart from revelation?

The Jews were gradually being allowed to return to Judea from their exile in the various provinces of the Persian Empire. One highly placed Jew was Nehemiah, cupbearer to the Persian king. When Nehemiah learned through his sources the disreputable condition of Jerusalem and its walls, he was allowed a leave of absence to serve as governor of the city for a time in order to begin a restoration.

Walls represent separation. That can be bad – as we are told in Ephesians that Christ has torn down the dividing wall of hostility to make for Himself one people. Yet the Lord also calls us to be separate from the world and to be able to distinguish between the holy and the profane. We need that wall to both protect and define us.

Nehemiah had been successful in his work and was well on his way to raising the walls of his beloved city, but his efforts were not without opposition. There were others in the region that preferred the Jews be vulnerable, who pushed for assimilation. They feared a strong, well-defended city with its own unique identity. The city on the hill was a threat to their desires and intentions, as well as a constant reminder of the presence of God and His favor upon His people.

The defenders of Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership were quickly becoming stronger as the walls and gates went up. The enemy, Sanballat and Geshem, sent a message to Nehemiah requesting a meeting with him in the villages of the Ono Valley. Nehemiah understood right away that outside the walls he would be subject to attack and possible assassination. He rejected the repeated challenges they sent him, choosing instead to remain with the great work of restoration.

As we look out upon the world today we see many challenges, many problems that call to us to leave our walls and go down into the valley. It’s easy to see that vulgar, petty, and trivial things need to be let go while we work on the walls of our New Jerusalem. But we also must be careful of the nobler and more important issues that challenge us. The Lord does call some of us to become involved in politics and governance. He will grant us access to those in authority, just as He did with Nehemiah, but it is always for the purposes of the kingdom. Politics, technology, finance, business, or any other worldly endeavor is never an end, but merely a means to an end. We must be sure the Lord has directed us to those things, and our primary focus must always be the “great work”. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness….

As Jesus said, we are in the world but not of it. Our separation is not physical but of the heart and its intent. Everyday as I go about my business in this world, I can remain safe in the stronghold of Christ, using every trouble as another brick in the wall, every trial as reinforcement of the gates.

Our efforts are likely to be unimpressive in the world’s eyes – even perhaps in our own. Their enemies derided the people of Jerusalem, saying that if a fox ran over their walls, they would fall. What the scorners and mockers fail to perceive or take into account is that the walls are not the issue. It is what they protect. In the heart of the city is a temple wherein the Lord of Glory dwells.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in His holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not set his mind on what is false,
And who has not sworn deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, you gates!
Rise up, ancient doors!
Then the King of glory will come in.

(Psalm 24:3-7)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hop-a-long Christianity

And if your foot causes your downfall, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. – Mark 9:45

This verse is part of a series where Jesus tells His disciples that if your foot, hand, or eye causes you to miss life it would be better for you to cut off or pluck out the offending part. It’s not a good idea to take this too literally, but what Jesus says it true.

Everyone is familiar with the classic O. Henry story called “The Gift of the Magi”. It tells of a poor but loving young couple who want to buy one another a special gift at Christmas. The woman wants to buy her husband a platinum chain for his cherished pocket watch. The man wants to buy an expensive tortoiseshell comb for his wife’s long, lovely hair. She sells her hair to a wig maker to buy the chain, and he sells his watch to buy the comb. It’s one of those fictional true stories.

We recognize the truth of “The Gift of the Magi” because we all know that love is a matter of sacrifice. As the song says, “Love hurts.” But it is a good thing. If we are not somehow maimed, hampered, or impended by our relationship, we know nothing about love. Does love embolden us, ennoble us, enable us? Certainly it does. Love is liberating. But like all the really important issues of life, it requires us to embrace a paradox. We are liberated by being imprisoned. The husband may refer to his wife as “the old ball and chain”, yet that anchor is exactly what frees him to do what he would not and could not otherwise do. So, too, when we would enter into the real life of God, at some point we are going to be called on to give up, not merely our sin, but our virtues.

Jacob was a man of strength. When he first met Rachel, she was bringing her sheep to water. A great stone covered the well, and it was necessary for the other shepherds to gather to remove the stone so that all the flocks in the area could be watered. Jacob moved the stone by himself. He later spoke of his endurance in the face of hardship and toil. He was not a man who was afraid of hard work, long hours, or suffering. Jacob was a fighter, and he was tough. When he wrestled with the Angel of the Lord, he fought throughout the night, unwilling to surrender or be defeated. The Lord granted him blessing and favor in response to his persistence. It came, though, with a price. The Angel touched Jacob’s hip and threw it out of joint. For the rest of his life, Jacob walked with a limp. He was maimed.

In my anger, at times, I have made the statement that I don’t need anybody. And that’s true. If all I want is death, I can die whole, complete, and alone. But if I want life, I have to be yoked, shackled, and wounded. The more I try to hang onto freedom, to reserve parts of myself from sacrifice, from being maimed, the more I understand hell where, as Jesus said, the devouring worm is never still nor satiated, and the fire never stops burning.

To enter into life, I will lay my best on the altar. To hold God’s hand, I have to give up mine. To see the Lord, I have to give Him my eye. To walk the strait and narrow, I have to walk with a limp.