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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, August 30, 2010

And Why Am I in This Handbasket?

So consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ – Romans 6:4

Therefore, put to death whatever in you is worldly: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. -- Colossians 3:5

I’ve talked about this before, but I still haven’t gotten it right myself, so I’m back. I am aware of the fact that I cannot “put to death” all of this stuff on my own. I, like most Christians, have prayed for the grace of God to operate in my life. I have prayed often that the Spirit would enable me to die to self. However, when there is an opportunity to “put to death whatever ... is worldly”, I fight it. Usually, my problem is that I do not like the form this death takes. I want to say a few magic words – oops, I mean I want to pray and be delivered – or maybe pray, take a nap, and wake up holy, talking like Billy Graham or speaking Latin like the Pope.

What I absolutely don’t want to do is get into a conflict with another person – some control freak or someone I don’t like, and have to give in, to let them think they have “won”. Whatever the Lord wants to do is fine with me, but I’m not surrendering to other people.

Back in First Chronicles 21, we read that David sinned by taking a census of his people. I think this was wrong because it would lead to David trusting his poll numbers instead of the Lord. Anyway, when God’s word came to David by the prophet, the Lord offered the king three choice – three years of famine, three months of losing battles to his enemies, or three days of plague (what is with three?). David threw himself on God’s mercy. “Please let me fall into the LORD’s hands because His mercies are very great, but don’t let me fall into human hands” (v.13).

While that is what I prefer, a friend of mine used to say that if you need money, God will provide, but, He has to use other people. God, my friend explained, is not a counterfeiter, and He is not going to rain twenty-dollar bills from heaven. I suggested He could rain gold coins instead, though I’ll admit that could get dangerous: As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly. We might as well get used to it and understand that, normally, God does not work so directly. He is in complete control, especially if we give Him permission to be in control of our lives; nevertheless, He deals with us through other people, by their words and their actions -- both good and bad. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). We are being shaped by -- and at the same time shaping -- those around us. The intent is not to make us comfortable or happy (joyous, not necessarily happy) but to form us into the image of the Son.

For example, I kept noticing that I ran into and had trouble with a certain type of person. These were usually overbearing, manipulative women. I thought, Dayum, there sure are a lot of female control freaks out there in the world. Now, I’m pretty good at solving technical problems, but I never claimed to catch on quickly otherwise. I ran, but I couldn’t hide. As Jesus says, our enemies will be those of our own household. When I didn’t learn to deal with these characters in church, I found them at work. When I didn’t learn to deal with them at work, I found myself living next door to them. When I moved to get away from them, I found one living in the same house -- like in the mother-in-law suite.

In my case, there’s a certain amount of arrogance I need to get rid of, but I also have a lack of confidence and healthy self-worth. I need humility and gentleness with strength – also known as meekness. Your need may not be meekness, but if you find yourself running into the same types over and over, or if you get caught in a repetitive pattern of any sort, the issue may not be all those jerks out there, it may be that God is answering your prayers for sanctification. It is amazing that God is able to do such beautiful work with such dull implements, but it is the Master’s hand that guides all that scary chipping and scraping and grinding. He is carefully cutting away until He sees you.

Among the Top Ten Weirdest Facts in the Solar System

The weird tilt of Uranus

This is's title, not mine. I realize this is juvenile, but I just couldn't help myself.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Note to the EPA -- Give Me Back My Bullets -- UPDATE! EPA shooting blanks!

So, from the Washington Times:
Late Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency added another victory to the list as it shot down an attempt to undermine the Second Amendment through the regulation of bullets.

Apparently this was an OK Corral too far. Or, more likely, a trial balloon to see how much excitement they could generate. These little despots will not stop until we make it clear that we will not tolerate their tyranny.

Click here to read the full article. It's worth the time. Here's the bottom line:
This time, however, the EPA did not make its decision on the merits of the argument. The agency instead agreed with an Aug. 20 filing from the National Rifle Association that explained how Congress had specifically excluded ammunition from the Toxic Substances Control Act which governs potentially harmful materials such as lead. This failed attempt to harass law-abiding gun owners using an unelected bureaucracy underscores the importance of perpetual vigilance in preserving the most important of constitutional rights.

Here we go again. The EPA is trying to deem lead in bullets and fishing gear to be an environmental hazard.

The National Shooting Sports Federation blog has links to leave a comment on the EPA site and to contact your Senators and Rep.

For a comment, I'd suggest something along the lines of: What's your view on the toxicity of pitchforks and torches? Or, Are tar and feathers biodegradable?

And if you need a little inspiration, heeerrrreee's Ronnie

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hard Red Flowers

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23

I get joy when I think about what He’s done for me – from “I Get Joy”, and others – Al Green and others

Whatever brings me the most joy will prove irresistible. That’s just the way we are built. We were designed to enjoy joy. When nothing brings me joy, I experience despair. When something brings me joy, I go after it. – Larry Crabb

One of the things I like about my house is the garage. It’s a three-car setup with a high ceiling. The garage doors have a manual release with a cord attached. The cord ends in a little red plastic cylinder with serrations that make it easy to grasp. I don’t use it much, but it clicks over the tops of our relatively tall vehicles as we pull in. Otherwise, I don’t pay it much mind. But hummingbirds notice.

If the big door of the garage is up for any length of time in the summer, one or more of the hummingbirds that frequent our rose-of-sharon shrubs and other big-bloomed plants will zip into the bay to check out something so red and promising as that little dangling plastic cylinder. They hover, then with a chirp of their blurred wings, zip out. Given all the global positioning stuff they have to keep track in their tiny heads, I doubt that hummingbirds have much room for internal dialog and speculation. If they had the capacity, they would probably hold seminars around the roses to discuss the Hard Red Flower. In hummingbird theology, the little plastic knob in Mushroom’s garage would probably represent Satan-as-an-angel-of-light.

Over the weekend, one bird found itself in hummingbird Gehenna. When the doors are up, there is close to three feet of clearance between the door and the ceiling. The bird with the problem was lured in by the Hard Red Flower, and then, for some reason, instead of zipping out, it zipped up. It found a roost of rest amid the tangle of spokes on the bicycles suspended from the ceiling mounts. Though it had physical rest and safety, it had no peace. It was confused and frustrated in its attempts to find a way out of the big trap. Try as I might, I was unable to communicate to the little creature that the only way out was down. There is, perhaps, a lesson in that as well. It insisted on flying above the doors, trying futilely to escape through the top of my house only to bump into resistant clouds of sealed and white-painted drywall. I tried to get the bird out for a good part of Saturday afternoon. I even tried after dark, thinking that it might seek the light rather than the darker cavern above the doors. No good. Sunday morning, the bird was still alternating escape attempts with increasing rest periods on the spokes. I was a little worried. I left the doors up and went on about my business. In a little while I returned and could see my intruder no more. I even checked the floor, in case he or she had fallen from hunger and exhaustion. The cats were lounging in dark spots around the yard, presenting no immediate threat of consumption, but the feathery hover-round was not to be found. It had made its escape.

It may be that, in probably desperate hunger, the bird had once more checked the Hard Red Flower – just in case. Doing so would have put it below the doors. The cool morning breeze was blowing in, and the hummingbird zipped out as it should have done the day before.

Hummingbirds are built to live on nectar. Humans are built to live on joy. I will admit to having been rather baffled by the verse that says, “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). When the exiles returned to Jerusalem and heard the words of the Law read by Ezra and interpreted and explained by the Levites, they were convicted and stricken. They began to weep. But it was not a day of weeping over the past, it was a day “holy to the LORD”, a day of rejoicing in their restoration.

Even the truth can be a Hard Red Flower.

It springs upon many of us who are in some sense “religious” people. It’s a trap we usually don’t imagine we will need to avoid. There are religions of despair that preach a truth but reject joy. And if our souls have a certain bent, we find such melancholy fits us as if it were tailor-made.

Our journey here, no matter how difficult or fraught with trials, is meant to be a joyous one. Jesus said He came to give us not just life but life in extravagant and joyous abundance. He endured suffering “for the joy that was set before Him”. His true disciples are always witnesses to joy, whether in the blood and horror of the Coliseum, the torture of a atheist regime’s prison, or in the anguish and loss of an unemployment line or a hospital room. Joy is not happiness.

The other danger -- more like the one the hummingbird faced, is a decoy joy. The quote above from Larry Crabb came in the context of chocolate silk pie. We can mistake something that soothes us or makes us feel good for a source of joy.

The funny thing about joy is that it often comes in a shell. Sometimes false joy is like the plastic knob that fooled the bird; it is the same all the way through. There is no kernel to it. Real joy, conversely, will often have a skin or a shell that hides the good stuff on the inside. The shell may be beautiful and welcoming like rose petals. Or, it may be tough, hard, and resistant like a walnut hull. For example, there is a kind of joy that is at the heart of death. The outside repels us, but there is sweetness in the center.

Perhaps there is a little death, or a temporary death in all joy, and we are able to experience joy only as we die a little to one thing or another, for joy – like death, is a kind of release.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wake Shake the Dead

I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him. — Ecclesiastes 3:14

Heaven and earth are heartless, treating creatures like straw dogs — Tao Te Ching
God is the reason for our problem and simultaneously the Solution. One of the things I have to do when I pray, and I just learned this recently — is to think about my view of God. I need to take a closer look at Who I think I'm talking to. When I do that, I find I am often looking to God to solve my problems or the problems of my friends and family. I may find myself looking at Father as Someone to bring around to my way of thinking, as One who will sympathize with me if I just take time to explain the specifics of my situation. I may see Him as the Complaint Department or Customer Service.

I wouldn't say those are misconceptions as much as limited conceptions — sometimes desperately limited conceptions. Sometimes we are just desperate for some help, and we are unable to see beyond the pain or the fear or the panic — at least initially. Even if we did have genuine misconceptions about God, He would not be upset by them, of course. As long as we are seeking Him and trying to communicate with Him — even with improper motives or a faulty assumption, He will not stop speaking to us or stop guiding us toward the Light — which is Him. He will stick with us, patiently peeling the scales from our eyes. We cannot stop Him with either our sin or our ignorance. Only if we come to dread the light and shut our eyes will He stop working to open them.

God is more than a problem-solver. He is the Solution. When we are troubled, we simply want the trouble to go away. If we are sick, we want to be well. If we are frightened, we want to rid ourselves of the fear. Our inclination is to ask God to deliver us from the bad situation. Our need is to relate to our Father, to know Him and to speak with Him as a child and as a friend. The temporal problems that are seen are not forever. They are a function of the forever-work that God does, just as the rolling, spreading wake of a ship is a function of the vessel's passage. It is the nature of the material universe to be disturbed by the transit of the Divine Plan. It's not a disturbance in the Force, but a disturbance by the Source — a righteous upheaval. When God called Jeremiah, He called him "to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down". The gentle Jesus said, "I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled."

God doesn't like a lot of what goes on in this world. Of course we know He doesn't like the abuse and the oppression, the exploitation and the excess, the filth and the greed. But He doesn't like a lot of stuff we think of as not so bad or even all right. In fact, Jesus says, what is highly esteemed by men is an abomination to God. We go blithely on our Route 666 way building with wood, hay, and stubble when God wants us to build with gold, silver, and precious stones, in the Kingdom way. When our straw houses, straw men, and straw dogs are blown apart or burned to ash, we weep and wonder at God's heartlessness or perhaps His cruelty or His cold justice. Even His prophets have been known to question His kindness and His motives.

We see only the ripples. The view of forever is breathtaking. What is gone was what man tried to add on. Nothing of the eternal is ever taken away or destroyed.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

Friday, August 6, 2010


He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. – Ecclesiastes 3:11

In a way it’s reassuring. I don’t know all the answers, can’t know all the answers. Even Jesus deferred: It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority (Acts 1:7).

Time and space are related, tied together in the great equation of existence with light and dark, energy and matter. Time is a function of space. When we say “everything is beautiful in its time”, it is the same as saying everything is as it is supposed to be in this material existence. That which is beautiful is that which is right. The only things that are ugly are those things that have been twisted away from God’s purposes, and sometimes even those are hard for us to judge.

Fortunately, God has given us a plumb line by which we can ascertain true beauty. He has put the absolute rightness of eternity in our hearts, accessible by us should we seek it. Of course we are the descendents of those who ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and, as such, we are prone to follow our own judgment and chose a standard of measure independent of the straightedge of eternity. Even if we are wise enough to not judge by our own standards, the world system disorients us. There is nothing perfectly straight by which we may measure goodness and beauty. We are apt to work like the foolish carpenter who cuts his first rafter, then uses the first as a pattern for his second, the second to cut the third and so on until his first mistake is multiplied tenfold and he’s wonders why his roof is going downhill.

It’s hard enough to build using the measure of the eternal the Lord gives to us. I want to do what is right but the urge to protect myself, to feed my ego, to do things my way are strong and pull me off the mark. It is the beauty of holiness that, as we are seeking God, even our errors become beauty marks. As we see our sins for what they are, they move us closer to the truth. I was working on with an oddball program the other day which inserted an image of the user’s signature into a form letter. When a new person took the position, a new signature image was created and inserted but the location was off. I was working with one of our QA engineers to fix it. I changed the code, and he gave me feedback as to how that changed the printed letter. I kept changing parameters until the new signature aligned perfectly. Each attempt was a “mistake” until the last bullseye.

I have no idea what God is doing “from beginning to end”. I should probably stop pretending that I have any idea what He is doing with me. Paul said we need to be careful as “knowledge puffs up” – or “blows us up real good” as they used to say on the Farm Film Report. Here’s how Eugene Peterson translates part of First Corinthians 8:1-3:

We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know to answer these kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all.

Even when we are plumb with God, the nights get dark and sometimes cold and lonely. If we would admit it, we are a little scared, perhaps wanting to hide under the covers where it seems the world is smaller and protected and more under our control. Don’t give in to the temptation. If we call on God and trust Him, we will find that He will give us something warm and fuzzy to ease our fears. Embrace it. It is still a mystery – a fuzzy mystery, but that’s Him.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Too Much Honey

Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind — Ecclesiastes 2:17

Vanity: Absurdity, Frustration, Futility and Nonsense.

I have a confession to make: reading Ecclesiates is a kind of guilty pleasure for me. I read what the Preacher has to say, and I feel a kinship to women who sneak white-chocolate-and-macadamia-nut cookies or guys who watch La Femme Nikita. I get just a little tired of being positive and upbeat all the time. Sometimes I get a hankering for grit and grim realism. Just give it to me straight.

The preponderance of scholarship suggests that Solomon himself wrote Ecclesiastes. If he didn't write it, he was certainly the inspiration for it. It was good to be the king. He started out asking for wisdom. He built the temple. His wisdom and devotion to God gave him great wealth, prestige, and power. He was admired, even revered, not just by his own people, but by the aristocracy of other nations. All that he could desire was at his fingertips. It was almost as if he could have or do anything he could imagine. Indications are that he initially lived with some restraint. Because of the value he placed on wisdom, he sought knowledge and understanding. He delved into the esoteric. But the more knowledge he acquired, the more his sorrow increased.

How could a wise, discerning, and devout man like Solomon ever come to the point of saying, "I hated life"?

And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived this also is grasping for the wind. For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow (Ecclesiastes 1:17-18).

What is hidden from most of us lay open and exposed to Solomon. Yet his wisdom remained with him, and he was able to see the futility of it. I wonder sometimes if humans are really made for overwhelming success. How can you possibly prepare to get what you want, all you want, any time you want? Failure and distress and lack we seem to be able to deal with well enough, especially when mixed with the occasional rewarding experience. On the other hand, when everything falls into our hands, many of us fall apart. The reality of life as "grasping for the wind" is driven home by the emptiness of "money for nothing" and "easy easy chicks for free", and a way must be found to placate the sense of sorrow and grief that accompanies that pain.

Ricky Nelson died in a fiery plane crash on his way to a show in Dallas on December 31, 1985. A rumor circulated shortly afterward that the fire had been caused by Nelson freebasing cocaine - with a result somewhat similar to Richard Pryor's earlier imitation of the Human Torch. Freebasing was most likely not the cause of the fire. The plane was a forty-year-old DC-3 with a history of cabin heater issues and the crew had tried unsuccessfully to start the heater several times before the fire erupted. The rumor about freebasing arose from the fact that Nelson had a long history of cocaine use, and the autopsy showed traces of the drug in his system. I heard his twin sons relating the story of their father's death. They explained the details of the plane's mechanical issues and cabin heater malfunction, and they denied that the fire had been started as a result of a freebasing accident. They rather cavalierly dismissed the cocaine in Rick's system with words to the effect that he was a rock and roll singer so of course he did drugs.

Why does being a rock star excuse drug use? Rock stars are somewhat like kings. Despite what Mick and Keith said, popular culture idols can pretty well get what they want. In that, they are often like Solomon without the wisdom. Of course, in the developed world, and especially in America, the majority of us have more than we need. We are often able, if only vicariously, to "know madness and folly". Our grasping for the wind is revealed to us, but we find ways to close our eyes, to hide the truth from ourselves.

It's true that no one can catch the wind. It's also true that "the wind blows where it wishes". We hear the sound of it, but we cannot tell from where it comes or to where it is going. We cannot grasp the wind, but the wind can have an effect on us. We can be caught by it, by God's Spirit of Grace. If we are willing to leave all of our artifacts and attachments behind, we might even be caught up to heaven in a whirlwind.