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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Check out First Things

If you haven't read it already, I recommend readers head over to First Things "On the Square" and peruse the thought-provoking post called "Sympathy for Hook: Toward a Christening of Peter Pan" by R. Patard.

I am a great admirer of those classics that appear to be written for children, or, perhaps, are written for the child of the Kingdom in all of us. Barrie's Peter Pan is one of those. Like many my age, I can remember Mary Martin playing the part of Peter, as well as the Disney version. I think at one point someone in the family had an LP of Disney's audio which I mainly recall for its incessant demand that I believe in order to save Tinkerbell. It seemed like a lot of responsibility at the time.

I never considered it one of my favorites. For one thing, I wondered why they couldn't find an actual boy to play Peter. For another I don't think I sensed enough of the real danger in Disney to be drawn into it. Not until I ran across a print version as an adult did it start to take hold on me. The ticking crocodile is funny to a child. To one whose life is controlled by alarm clocks and deadlines, it's funny in an entirely different way.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


For with God nothing shall be impossible – Luke 1:37

Miracles by definition do not happen on a regular basis. A miracle cannot be replicated by formula. It is not subject to study except in its aftermath. It can be determined to have happened, and, perhaps, in some cases, the chain of events or the mechanisms that led up to it can be known. Examined under a magnifying glass like a dead butterfly, there may be some who conclude that it was simply a most fortuitous coincidence. If Christmas means anything, though, it means that we still cultivate a sense of the miraculous. We still believe that the possibilities are endless and that, united with God in Christ, we are without limitations. We believe this in spite of the rude material intrusions of humanity’s all too common sense. The angel’s declaration of God's limitlessness came as a result of Mary’s blunt statement of the human condition.

In a way, the humanists and the materialists have usurped our hope for the impossible. The difference is that they believe in the limitless power of human will, human knowledge, and human government. Some believe that highly evolved primates can warp time and space to travel to distant galaxies, or that we might be visited by advanced entities that have discovered ways to move faster than light itself. Others believe that man can be transformed by education and communal cooperation – if only the right people are in charge. I am not opposed to their hope or antagonistic toward their goals and dreams, any more than I am opposed to my own Mitty-ish daydreams. I simply recognize them for what they are. Those who dismiss fairy tales are always more susceptible to the confidence man for it.

Man’s best efforts to control his own destiny, to build his tower of Babel eventually come to nothing, collapsing in confusion under the rains of God’s grace. The magicians of materialism are scattered to their huts, often still thinking that if only they had altered the incantation just here it would have worked. There is always, for the true believer, a next time. Though technology advances, it makes little difference in the way things end while the wielder of the wand remains unchanged.

Those are the ultimate magic words: With God. With God, it all changes. With God there is purpose and direction arising from the chaos. The impossible takes shape before our eyes and that which cannot be becomes that which must be. The archer looses his arrow at random without thought yet it finds the mark, slipping even between the joints of the armor to strike at the heart. At Christmas, we are reminded that all things are possible. God the very God took on human form and flesh, walking among us, walking with us, attesting by signs to the glorious possibilities of the impossible, until it was time to bear away the burden of sin and break down the wall that separated man from God.

Now the Spirit of God abides with us and dwells within us always.

At Christmas, there are angels among us – bright messengers of God -- proclaiming again that the Lord dwells with man. Again, the Spirit lives in human flesh, and nothing is impossible.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When he was yet a great way off

Now the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him – those who depend on His faithful love – Psalm 33:18

A friend of mine once said that God will not allow us to think better of Him than He will be to us. Another way to put it might be that it is impossible to think too highly of God. “Be it unto you according to your faith,” Jesus tells us. The Hebrew word that we translate as fear carries with it that idea that God’s awesomeness is not limited. Those who know the fear of the LORD do not test Him, but they do learn to trust Him and depend on Him completely in every circumstance.

It is a misunderstanding for us to look at where our own misdeeds or faults have landed us and think that we must now get out of the mess all on our own. If the Lord only helped us when it wasn’t our fault, He’d have a lot more free time – not that free time’s an issue with Him anyway. I do think He intends for us to learn from our mistakes, and, if we fail to learn, we may well find ourselves thinking a situation looks like all too familiar. As Billy Joe Shaver says in The Deja Blues, “Sounds like the same song all over again.” Consequences may intensify as we loop through the iterations until we get it -- or it gets us. Nevertheless, if we will depend on the Father’s faithful love, He will deliver us. Our deliverance may not be without pain, loss, or a fat slice of humble pie – all to our good, but we will be delivered.

All one has to do is go back and read about Abraham, who, for all his faith, missed God on more than one occasion. Yet God called him His friend, blessed him, and brought him through all of his trials, naming him the father of the faithful. We can look at the Lord’s patience with Israel, as well. Time after time just in the desert wanderings with Moses, God’s faithful love is demonstrated. From the Red Sea to Kadesh Barnea to the crossing of Jordan, the children of Israel tried the Lord’s love and mercy. He never failed them until they completely lost faith in His love. A generation fell in the wilderness but only because of their unbelief. The one thing God’s faithfulness cannot overcome is our lack of faith. He’ll get us through anything when we are willing to believe and trust in Him.

Never are you going to depend on God and find that He has let you down. Never is the Lord going to abandon anyone, no matter how often they have failed, if they will this time put their trust in Him and in His goodness. He never “teaches us a lesson” about the past if we will depend on Him in the present. God may be a practitioner of tough love at times, but He is never vindictive, never petty, never bitter or unforgiving. It is just not His nature. If anyone wants to know if there is anything God cannot do, that’s it. He cannot fail, cannot fail to love, cannot fail to respond to our humble dependence upon Him. He will come through for us.

The only way I can cut off the faithful love of God is to think too little of Him, to think He is an easily offended tyrant rather than the loving, caring Father ready to welcome me back with rejoicing. He did not spare His own Son in order to bring me home, what’s a fatted calf to that?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What Lurks in the Shadow

Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. – Romans 12:21

I don’t watch many horror movies, and the ones I do I usually find amusing. Occasionally, however, I will find one that makes me think. What provoked me to contemplation in the last one I saw was a view that is quite common to horror movies, as well as many other films. I would sum it up as: evil, apart from the exceptional, is more powerful than good. Evil, in the natural world, has all the advantages. It is not bound by the rules – whatever the rules might be, for evil is by definition a transgression of the law – not the whimsical laws of human government -- but the laws of nature and nature’s God. Villains mock the rules, using them to protect themselves against the law-abiding while having no respect for any constraint when it suits them. The good cannot simply slam evil against the wall and beat it severely about the head and ears. The legal system, like a referee in wrestling or the Big 12, appears only to see the infractions on the part of the hero.

In real life we have the fact that Marines were falsely accused of murder in a combat zone by the despicable Murtha. Now we have a group of SEALs being court-martialed for apparently punching a captured terrorist in the face. Sadly that sentence is not satire. We are not allowed to torture the murderers of innocents to save the lives of other innocents. It makes no sense on the part of the godless left. I don’t even know why leftists believe in protecting the Constitutional rights of non-citizens. For the perspective of a believer, I can make a case for it. I don’t believe the rights we have are solely “Constitutional rights”. I think every individual’s rights are God-given. Our Constitution merely enshrines the recognition of pre-existing rights. Everybody everywhere is born with the right to speak freely, to defend himself and his property against depredation, to worship God or not as he sees fit, to be free of excessive government intrusion into his affairs, etc. Oddly enough, it is generally leftist governments that violate these God-given rights. Statists are consistent only in their relentless inconsistency.

In fact, though, despite appearances, evil is not more powerful than good. God is good. God is the ultimate Grand Master of this vast, seven-layer chess game. There is no such thing as sovereign evil. It appears to have a will of its own, but it is a tool, a mere tool in the Master’s hand. I have to remind myself of this on a daily, if not hourly basis these days. It can get pretty frustrating. I really want the Lord to strike down the reprobates. It is satisfying for a moment, but it does not solve the problem. Evil, after all, is an internal state with most of us. Until what is within me has been conquered there is really not much use in my praying for God to smite the wicked. Smiting begins at home.

Though evil might appear to be the default state, and though it seems to occupy a strongly fortified position, it has already been cut off and taken out of the fight. Jesus did it for us. By appropriating the victory of the Cross, where evil was once and for all overcome by Good, we triumph in our own lives. No longer is there a need to resort to evil’s tactics in order to defeat it. It never worked and never would have. Our goal is purity of purpose and intent, transparency before the eyes of our Father – to be so flooded with light that darkness is left without a place to hide.

Letting go of the natural craving for vengeance, even if I call it justice, is the hardest thing I will ever do, but a lot of rats and cockroaches can hide in the smallest of shadows. I have often wondered how so much that is of the old nature can continue to cling to me. It is because I continue to cling to something that casts a shadow – in my case I cling to my hammer of justice. I just want to make the evil pay, but it is a blackness like a blotch of ink on a clean, while shirt. It taints and spoils. No good will come of it. I must let it go.