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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Let It Flow

For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water. – Jeremiah 2:13

A cistern is not a bad way to store water if it is properly constructed. It should be covered, not open and exposed. There is a flow in but there should be no independent flow out. It is fairly easy to get water out of a cistern either by drawing or pumping as the reservoir is just below the surface. There are, though, negatives. The inflow is dependent on external sources. The cistern cannot replenish itself. If the sealed reservoir cracks, it is best to let the cistern go completely dry before attempting to repair it. After that, one must wait on the rains for the needed refilling and restoration. We can get by with cisterns, but wells are better, and bubbling springs are better still.

A person is free to work hard and create a deep, dark hole in which to store a hidden reserve of that which makes life possible. He can build a clever means of channeling the general grace of God, as rains that fall on just and unjust alike, into that occult void. He can carefully hoard and preserve his precious store. The problems come with the seasons as the earth shifts and settles, freezes and thaws. The reservoir is prone to leaking under the best of conditions. Even more troublesome, what is one to do in case of a prolonged drought? The wisest of humankind have struggled for as long as we have been human to build better collection and storage systems. Some of them are very effective and nearly foolproof.

Still, anyone who has ever drunk from a cistern knows that the water tastes like, well, cistern water. It will quench the immediate thirst, but it is often stale. Even the very best systems are still limited. The bottom can always be found, and it is not wise to draw too much. A man might be able to share with his family and a neighbor or two, but he can’t provide for the whole community or water everyone’s livestock or irrigate a field.

There is one source of spiritual water that is unlimited. Once we are connected with Christ in faith, we have access to life that is fresh, pure, and everlasting. At the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, there was a tradition on the last day of the festival that great jars of water would be poured out on the steps of the Temple so that the water would flow down in a rush as if a spring had suddenly opened. Ezekiel prophesied about it (Ezekiel 47) telling of a stream that flowed from under the threshold becoming a mighty river. In John chapter seven, we are told of Jesus attending the Feast and being moved by the Spirit to cry out: The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.

In Christ, our thirst is not merely slacked. Through Him, we are meant to be a source of this living water, springs in the desert, to bring life to all that is around us. There is no hiding and protecting this water under a cover to cautiously pump out a cupful at a time. There is no scarcity. Our source is not some cracked leaking, stagnant pool. This is the spring that watered Eden. This is the headwater of all the rivers of earth. It will never run dry. It lives because it flows ever outward.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Just Cause for Celebration

Robert Burns was born January 25, 1759.

A Rose-Bud By My Early Walk

A Rose-bud by my early walk,
Adown a corn-enclosed bawk,
Sae gently bent its thorny stalk,
All on a dewy morning.
Ere twice the shades o' dawn are fled,
In a' its crimson glory spread,
And drooping rich the dewy head,
It scents the early morning.

Within the bush her covert nest
A little linnet fondly prest;
The dew sat chilly on her breast,
Sae early in the morning.
She soon shall see her tender brood,
The pride, the pleasure o' the wood,
Amang the fresh green leaves bedew'd,
Awake the early morning.

So thou, dear bird, young Jeany fair,
On trembling string or vocal air,
Shall sweetly pay the tender care
That tents thy early morning.
So thou, sweet Rose-bud, young and gay,
Shalt beauteous blaze upon the day,
And bless the parent's evening ray
That watch'd thy early morning.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Different Way

Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again – John 3:7

In Walker Percy’s novel Second Coming the protagonist goes into a cave intending to make it his tomb. He is, however, driven to seek a way of escape from the cave because of a painful toothache. In his search in the dark, he enters a passage that is very confined. He keeps crawling until he falls out into the open world. It’s been a while since I read the book, but, as best I recall, I didn’t catch on right away, whether through Percy’s skill or my own denseness. I have a feeling Nicodemus had a similar experience in his encounter with Jesus. Sometime later he was probably thinking about the whole conversation along with all he knew about the Lord and had a slap-your-head moment. Or, as Rip Taylor used to say, “You’ll think about this later, and you’ll laauugh!”

Evangelicals talk a lot about how easy it is to be born again. And it is. All one has to do is die first. We baptize people in water because it is so much easier than burying them and digging them back up. Life, death, and rebirth are akin to the dialectic thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. To experience any kind of true growth, we have to be hidden away, enter the crypt, and re-emerge.

Because Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is a once-for-all carrying away of sin, I want to think that my own long, dark night of the soul is a once-for-all experience from which I should emerge into eternal sunlight and joy. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis mentions the nature of man as being subject to a sort of sine wave shaped “law of undulation”. We gain ground; we lose a little; we gain a little more. It is enough to cause me to think that perhaps it’s all right if I have to keep entering the dark and coming out the other side.

In fact I think we may precipitate a cycle by our decisions to seek God. I believe beyond any question that God hears and answers our prayers. He gives us that which we seek, though it is common – in my case anyway – not to recognize the answer when it arrives. (See JWM’s WFB putting together old bikes) In many cases, an answer to prayer involves a trial or a crisis of opposition that seems to be not only blocking our deliverance but pushing us further away. I am taken aback and discouraged, but I should not be. The way up is down. The road to the light leads through darkness.

Our prayers try us, and the word of the Lord that comes to us as a result will test us, just as the word of his vision tried Joseph (Psalm 105:16-22) before leading to his deliverance and that of his people. Joseph went into the pit, from the pit to the chains of slavery, from slavery to the dungeon, from the dungeon to the throne. The thing I need to learn is, first, not to allow trials to convince me that God does not know what He is doing. Second, the valley of the shadow of death is a very real, very dark place through which my path to enlightenment leads, and I may be there more than once. Third, when in the valley of the shadow of death or the tomb or the pit or the cave, I will not get out if I sit down. I must keep going. Finally, it will not do me any good to take the back track. I cannot find my way out by going back the way I came. I must leave a “different way”.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Fraud of Government Indoctrination

From KYTV, Springfield, MO

The Arkansas Department of Education says 58 public high schools inflated Algebra I and geometry grades last year.

The action means graduates of those schools face additional requirements to qualify for the new Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship. The scholarship is funded by the lottery and could be worth up to $5,000 a year.

Graduates of the 58 schools will have to earn more than the minimum 2.5 grade point average or earn more than the minimum 19 on the ACT college entrance exam.

The inflation report compares the grades of students who made an A or B in Algebra I and geometry in the 2008-09 school year - but scored at below-proficient levels on state exams.

The way I read this it sounds like some local schools bumped up their students math scores. B's became A's and C's became B's. Even more likely, the students were given grades for showing up and "completing" work rather mastering the material. The standardized, state-wide test exposed the problem.

But I'm sure all those students have high self-esteem, and they probably aced the plays-well-with-others, social entrepreneurship, and sex education sections.

I would estimate that Arkansas has somewhere between 250 and 300 high schools -- not counting junior highs. I will hazard a wild guess that most if not all of the 58 offending schools have a higher than average number of minority students. I'm not a racist -- but the teachers and, especially, the loathsome administrators who perpetrated this fraud on their students are quite possibly racist. Again, it will be a case of government educrats failing, and students, forced into unionized government schools, suffering.

Whether my suspicion about the racial aspect is true or not, these schools have denigrated excellence and achievement while doing their collectivist best to sentence those in their charge to a life of mediocrity, if not failure. Mediocrity is, after all, the monopolists' standard.

There are two easy steps that would go a long way toward reversing the downward spiral of America. One is simply to require a photo ID for voting. The other is to allow school choice through vouchers.

Achievement is not a zero-sum game.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Wave Is Always There -- Tune the Radio

After all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order, Neco king of Egypt came up to make war at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah went out to engage him. But Neco sent messengers to him, saying, "What have we to do with each other, O King of Judah? I am not coming against you today but against the house with which I am at war, and God has ordered me to hurry. Stop for your own sake from interfering with God who is with me, so that He will not destroy you."

However, Josiah would not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to make war with him; nor did he listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to make war on the plain of Megiddo. The archers shot King Josiah, and the king said to his servants, "Take me away, for I am badly wounded."

So his servants took him out of the chariot and carried him in the second chariot which he had, and brought him to Jerusalem where he died and was buried in the tombs of his fathers. All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. Then Jeremiah chanted a lament for Josiah. And all the male and female singers speak about Josiah in their lamentations to this day. And they made them an ordinance in Israel; behold, they are also written in the Lamentations.

Now the rest of the acts of Josiah and his deeds of devotion as written in the law of the LORD, and his acts, first to last, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah. – 2 Chronicles 35:20-27

If ever there was a man under divine guidance, it was Josiah. According to 1 Kings 13:2, a prophet went up to the altar of idolatry and told Jeroboam that a king named Josiah would come along and destroy that altar. Long before Josiah was born, his destiny, as far as the reforms he carried out, were established. He was a righteous man, loved by his people. Yet he fell in a foolish, unnecessary battle.

Now imagine you are Josiah, king of Judah, reigning in Jerusalem. You had accomplished much. Your efforts had been successful. You are in the will of God, and you know it. Word comes that the king of Egypt is crossing or crossing near your territory. Perhaps it was a diplomatic faux pas. Perhaps Josiah perceived it as a threat to his sovereignty. Perhaps it would cause him problems in negotiations with the threatening power of Babylon. Josiah felt he had to challenge Neco – whatever the cause may have been.

He may have sent an ambassador at first to try and warn off Egypt, and it may have been to the ambassador that Neco gave his message. On the face of it, the statement is fairly diplomatic and inoffensive. Most of us read it and think immediately that Josiah should heed this warning to avoid a tragic outcome. The King of Judah may have seen it differently. He may well have said, “Who is this Egyptian to tell me the will of God? After all, I’ve been walking in God’s will all my life – why, even before. Am I not the prophesied one who would bring restoration and revival to the kingdom? This king thinks he can avoid a battle with such a transparent ploy? What a fool.”

On the other hand, I possibly don’t give Josiah enough credit since he did choose to go into battle with Neco wearing a disguise. He may have thought the Egyptians would target him specifically if they saw him in royal robes. He seems to have been cautious at least in his approach. It’s possible that, given the state of his alliances, he felt he had no choice but to try and stop Neco, even a the risk of his life. Instead of offended arrogance, Josiah may have died on behalf of honor and courage. Given the pattern of his life up to that point, it’s more than likely.

It’s really a rather difficult position. There are many people who use the name of the Lord as a means of manipulating or intimidating others. This is truly taking the name of the Lord in vain. When the Assyrians were about to lay siege to Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah and Isaiah (see Isaiah chapters 36 and 37), they sought to dishearten the defenders by telling them that it was the LORD who had sent the Assyrian army to destroy the city (Isaiah 36:10). In that case it was not true. The text indicates that the Assyrian messenger, Rabshekah, spoke to the defenders in their Hebrew language and used the covenant name of God.

An enemy may be coming with deceit and deception to destroy us. Conversely, someone we perceive as an enemy may be speaking to us as an oracle of God. How do we know the difference? How can we have faith in any outcome if we don’t know going in what the will of God is?

For one thing, we have to stay tuned to the voice of the Spirit. One means of doing this is to listen to the godly and the sage. Wise people around us are giving us insight all the time if we will only give heed to what’s being said. Not long ago I was watching an episode of “Arrested Development” from the first season, I think. The imprisoned family patriarch keeps repeating to the son that “there’s always money in the banana stand.” He says it sort of nonchalantly as he’s eating ice cream or whatever. The teenage grandson has been put in charge of the banana stand and has been losing money. To cover up the loss, he comes up with a plan to torch the stand. His father learns of the plot, but, in an effort to encourage him as his father never did, he helps him burn it to the ground. The patriarch loses his cool when he learns of this, grabbing his son, and saying, “There was a quarter million dollars in the walls of the banana stand!”

The son replies, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Another way to stay tuned is to study the Bible. The Word of God, as Hebrews 4:12 tells us, is an instrument of discernment. It opens, analyzes and exposes our motives and intentions. It doesn’t necessarily happen overnight, nor can we simply flip a Bible open blindly and be guaranteed to get a special revelation. That works sometimes, but it’s not something to count on in every crisis. The Word works best when it is attended to and absorbed on a regular basis. It seeps and sinks into our hearts and our being and serves to guide us even below the level of awareness. Meditating on the Word goes well with prayer and will help to give us the insight we need to discern our Father’s will in any situation.

And don’t summarily dismiss what the enemy says. Satan is a tool. We can hear the voice of the Lord in the oddest places and circumstances, if we are listening for God. As Balaam learned, even the most unlikely ass can speak prophetically.

The truth is that Josiah may have been as destined by God to die in battle as he was to destroy the high places and pagan altars. That’s beyond the understanding of man. Physical death is not the worst thing that can happen to us. Sometimes a life’s work is simply finished, and the person is set free of the cares and toils of this world. Those left behind lamented his passing but Josiah was with the LORD – “where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest”.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Over the Hill

One of the things my wife bought me for Christmas was a new Bible. It’s a large-print version. For the first time in my life I am older than the President of the United States. I’m smarter, too, but that’s been true before. I am older than all but two of my many colleagues at work – at least of the ones I deal with regularly. It is the start of a new year, and I am very aware of getting older.

I was reading along in my new LARGE PRINT Bible. The best way to get all of the pages unstuck is just to read through from start to finish – not my favorite way to read the Bible in its entirety, as one has a tendency to bog down in some of the history, but it works. I was in Genesis 12 when God decided to send me a text message.

And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Just like that, in LARGE PRINT. Well, hey, you know when you get a Holy Ghost text message, you might want to stop and think about it a little. I did. I thought, yeah, and he was like 147 when he died. I’m not planning on being here that long, and even if I did, once Obamacare kicks into high gear, people like me will be headed for Greenhills Retirement Village – or, as it will be known by then, Soylent On The Green, which has a much more European flavor.

Still, I don’t think the Lord’s point is that I’m going to have to stay around for another eighty or ninety years. Abram lived a good half of his life outside of the land of promise. He was content, so it seems, to hang out in the border country of Haran for many years after his father brought the family out of Mesopotamia. At seventy-five he finally sets out to follow God with his whole heart. He traveled. He gained wealth, prestige, and influence. He associated with world leaders. He became a military leader himself and defeated an alliance of four kings. He acted as a priest, interceding on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of his nephew. He fathered a couple of sons whose sibling rivalry still troubles the world. He received a new name. He was called the friend of God, and his line led to the Messiah. It’s not a bad resumé for an old guy.

In fact, I’d say that it might be too much of a good thing for most of us. I sometimes start thinking that maybe I am willing to use my age as an excuse, more of an excuse than it legitimately is. I wonder if I dismiss some of what God is urging me to do by saying I’m just too old for it. Abram could have said that. He could have stayed around Haran. He could have left it for Lot or one of the next generation to go claim the promise and live in Canaan. It was not an easy choice, and it was not an easy life he chose. Obedience is rarely easy – peaceful but not easy.

The truth is that being old has its advantages. I don’t know if I could kick my own eighteen-year-old ass, but I do know that there is something to the saying that old age and treachery will beat youth and skill. For one thing I don’t freak out nearly as much. I don’t succumb to fear as readily either. It’s not just a lessened fear of dying now that I’ve already lived so long. I’m far less fearful of looking bad or appearing uncool. I have little fear of what people will think about me, and I have a lot less fear – though it is still too present – of failing. Fearlessness is commonly attributed to youth, and there’s no doubt that the young often believe they are immortal in a natural sense. The recklessness of youth is replaced, in the better cases, by a kind of optimistic acceptance. Cockiness becomes a settled, easy confidence. An overabundance of head knowledge gets sorted and sifted into wisdom and understanding. Older people acquire a depth of perception distinct from the often too broad view of earlier years. The chip on the shoulder becomes a big clue-bat you can whop people with when they need it.

It doesn’t happen automatically. There are plenty of gray hairs over bubble heads. There are way too many of us who never leave Haran, or high school for that matter. I understand. The hardest time in my life was when I realized that some things were just gone forever. It didn’t matter that they were of little value. The trauma was that they were gone -- that change had come, that I had changed and could never go back. The dark, clutching fingers of that depression still reach for me from time to time. Slowly, though, I am realizing that we pass through an oasis, a Haran, on the way to the land of promise. It serves its purpose of resting and refreshing, enabling us to move on. If we don’t go on, if we stay, it will not support us. It will eventually become polluted and poisonous -- deadly.

The adventure of our lives lies ahead. Our purpose and our destiny lie beyond the borders of the settled, beyond the horizon – over the hill. We’ll have to fight some battles, dig some wells, build some altars, and cover some ground, but that’s why we are here.

See, there’s the sign pointing to Canaan. Don’t you think it's writ large?