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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Eerie Canal

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ – John 7:38

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. – John 15:8 (ESV)

An old boy down in the Dallas area runs a foundation, and, as best I can tell, he makes his living pursuing those airwave pirates of the Biblebelt: the televangelist and the prosperity preacher. This man has a -- I am so tempted to use a vulgar term here because it is so appropriate – has a grudge, or something, toward rich preachers. What he likes to do is find some relative or heir of a person who has given money to one of the big ministries. He then finds a sympathetic newsreader and arranges to expose the ministry’s efforts to dupe and deceive the gullible. A person paid millions to read half-truths and deceptions off a teleprompter, in between elaborate advertisements designed to convince people to buy products they don’t need, casts the first stone when it comes to separating fools from their money. I also suspect that our crusader is mostly a self-aggrandizing huckster -- a sort of pale religious version of Al Sharpton.

I don’t lose much sleep over the trials of televangelists. God knows those who are His. The same is true of the supporters of ministries. In a nation where we pay half our income to various levels of government to fund bureaucratic boondoggles and pay the salaries of the otherwise unemployable, a few billion to line the pockets and fuel the jets of religious showmen seems like a pretty good deal. Too, many of these ministries actually do good work and put resources on the ground where they are needed. Without layers of public sponges to absorb the money, Christian charity efforts are generally more efficient and efficacious than government and quasi-government efforts. Christian ministers, being at least formally human, come in many varieties – from those who will give you their last nickel to those with whom the buck stops -- and finds a lasting rest.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions (2 Timothy 4:3), so said Paul. And many people want to follow Christ for the bread (John 6:26), for the blessings and the good feelings, the love and the relationships. A good church has a strong social fabric. Christian fellowship can impart a sense of purpose and belonging and be a comfort and shelter against the harshness of the world system.

When Jesus spoke as recorded in John 7, He does not say, though, that whoever believes in Him will experience a continual flow of blessings. He said that living water would flow from believers. His life would flow into us and out of us. Once again I see that Christianity, for all the good that it does me, is not about me.

There is a type of Christian that I know well and that has hamstrung me for the better part of my attempt to walk with Christ. I know the type so well because I am one, and my own chief hinderer. This type says that Christianity is about being a better person – a good thing. It is about letting the Holy Spirit fix our flaws and faults and make us holy – unquestionably true.

Let’s say that we want to irrigate a patch of ground. We’ve planted corn, and, up the hill a ways, we have a reservoir – a vast lake of crystal, clean water, beautiful and perfect. To get the water to the field, we need a channel, a ditch. We have plenty of water, an endless supply, really, so we don’t need to worry about what evaporates. We can just create a sluice gate and ditch right up to it. If some soaks in the ground along the way, it’s no big deal because there is plenty more and to spare. In fact, it wouldn’t be bad if we had maybe some fruit trees or something along the edge of the channel that could benefit from the water that is absorbed along the way. But even if we have weeds, we only suffer a loss of what could be a benefit. It is not going to stop the water from getting to the corn.

We have our ditch dug and our corn planted and starting to grow. We open the gate. Clean, clear water begins to flow into our channel. But soon it is no longer so clean. It picks up sediment from the ditch and carries it along. It is murky. We also realize the ditch isn’t quite as straight as we would have liked. We didn’t get the pitch exactly the way it should have been. Sometimes the water flows a little too fast, sometimes maybe a little too slow.

Now we have a choice. We can close the gate, stop the flow and work some more on our ditch – and sometimes that may be a necessary thing. Maybe we need to throw some rocks in to line parts of it. You know what, though, water is getting to the corn, which is, after all, the purpose of the ditch. Consider carefully. If the water is flowing too fast , stirring up and carrying away too much of the ditch itself, we probably need to close the flow and fix the problem. If not enough water is getting carried into the field, we might need to dig the ditch a little deeper. But, otherwise, it is probably a good idea just to let it flow and get the field what it desperately needs to grow and prosper.

Now about the banks of our ditch, we could just ignore them and let them grow up in ragweed, buckbrush, briars, and sassafras. The corn’s getting water. Still, why not take the time to do a little clearing, cultivating and planting? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few apple trees or pear trees, peach or cherry trees growing along the course?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Alas, Babylon

I try to avoid putting topical or political commentary here when I can. But today the Biblical and the political are colliding.

Last night the rumor was that Obama would advocate Israel returning to its (indefensible) 1967 borders. I thought this was just smoke to mislead. It was inconceivable to me that an American president would side with Israel's enemies to assure her destruction. Even when Henry Kissinger advised allowing Israel to suffer a little during the '73 Yom Kippur War, Nixon stepped up to provide the munitions and support that Meier requested in a desperate hour. Yet the inconceivable is reality in our new Dali world.

Despite my disagreements with Dispensational hermeneutics, I suppose I am a Christian Zionist. The Jews are God's people. My Lord and my God walked this earth as a Jew. The foundations of my faith rest upon Judaism. I love the Old Testament as much as I love the New Testament.

Putting aside religion, from a purely political point of view, Israel is an American ally. Yet this is an effort to bully the Jewish state into a ill-conceived compromise with those who would see Israel obliterated. If someone wants to kill you, it is not really feasible to attempt a compromise with them. What? Isn't half-dead good enough for you?

It is clear that the antisemitism of Black Liberation Theology is part of Obama's thinking. The President's proclaimed Christianity is questionable. To make this speech is a mistake. To make it while the Israeli Prime Minister is visiting is an insult. I don't know how effective Obama will be in implementing this disastrous plan, but I can say that, to the extent he is successful, he will suffer. And if America supports Obama in destroying Israel, America will suffer more than she has already.

Obama appears to believe that the killing of Osama bin Laden gives him solid ground from which to attack Israel while offering support to the Muslim Brotherhood now in control of Egypt. Possibly he is correct as far as it goes. Many Americans really are not paying much attention. Perhaps they will miss the fact that we are "forgiving" a billion or so in loans to Egypt and guaranteeing new loans of around a billion or so, helping that economy while our own people struggle to pay their bills. Perhaps they will not grasp the fact that Obama's proposal dramatically weakens Israel's position in negotiating with the Palestinians. Be that as it may, I suggest that there is One who is paying attention.

Obama's speechwriters can put all the icing on it they want with statements about assuring Israel's existence. This speech is still a fresh, steaming cow pie thrown in Netanyahu's face. This is hot, bloody meat thrown to the ravening dogs of Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Iran.

A return to the borders as they existed before the Six Day War would mean the loss of East Jerusalem.

Psalm 122 (ESV)
I was glad when they said to me,
Let us go to the house of the LORD!
Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Jerusalem-built as a city
that is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!
For my brothers and companions' sake
I will say, Peace be within you!
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.

I think I will stand with Israel. Alas, Babylon.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Long War

There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. But David grew stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker. -- 2 Samuel 3:1

This is true for each of us personally, and it is true as well for the kingdom in an historic sense. We are engaged in a very long war that has many skirmishes, many operations, maneuvers and battles. Self is weakening even as the Spirit is strengthening. This isn't always plain in our conflicts and encounters day by day. I think, though, that God never loses ground He gains. Every act of obedience, every effort of discipline, and every moment of communion is an advance. I suppose that it is possible to engage in self-indulgence to the point that a position is lost. There may be some who become so enamored of self that they fall back and surrender. More likely they were self-sympathizers and collaborators in the first place.

For most of us the most dangerous weapons the enemy wields are discouragement and impatience. It is a long war and mostly a dull one. We are pinned down by habit and complacency -- and, yes, sometimes by cowardice. At other times, we get turned around in the fog of war and lose track of which is the real enemy.

Even though I can plug my MP3 player into the stereo in both our vehicles, I still like compact discs. We were in the truck Saturday, and I put in a CD I had burned and labeled "Fun Songs". It is a motley collection of bluegrass, Texas swing, and Bo Diddley. I strategically placed an Alan Jackson cut as number one so that my wife would not immediately yank it out and try something else. Several years ago, Jackson did a CD of cover songs called "Under Their Influence", or something like that, as a tribute to the country singers who had influenced him. Of course, my wife has this CD. One of the songs called “The Way I Am” was written by Sonny Throckmorton and based on a recording done by Merle Haggard.

I had never heard this particular song until I heard the Jackson version. I was immediately struck by the poignancy of it. It is about man who would rather be somewhere else doing something else but continues to do his job. The narrator wishes he were “down on some blue bayou\ a bamboo cane stuck in the sand\ But the road I’m on don’t seem to go there\ So I’ll just dream and keep on bein’ the way I am.” Many of us can look at our lives, especially as we get older and think that we are somewhat boxed in. We can identify when the song says: “Wish I enjoyed what makes my livin’\ What I do with a willin’ hand\ Some would run, but that ain’t like me\ So I’ll just dream and keep on bein’ the way I am”.

My job seems overwhelming and excessively demanding at times. I get so tired and frustrated that I begin to despair and lose heart. As the song played, my wife asked me, “If you weren’t working at this job, what would you want to do?” I could not at the time give her an answer because it is really two different questions, and it took me a while to sort them out. The first question is: if I didn’t have to work for a living, what would I do. The answer to that is: write poems, catch fish, and grow potatoes, beans, and blackberries. The second question is: what would I want to do to make a living. That is the question I answered at the time, and I said honestly, “I don’t know.”

There is a courage that is required to change and do the right thing. There is also an often neglected, sometimes disparaged courage required to stay in the trenches and see things through to the end, to not “follow our dreams” when that would do damage to others. Part of being a Christian is to think about how our own actions impact those around us, those who depend on us, who look to us for hope and help. Whether we thought we asked for that position or not, it is ours, and we are responsible. When we refuse to run and continue to do our often routine duty, even if we do it grudgingly, we hand self a great defeat in this long war. What people often call “soul-killing drudgery” is really “old-man-killing drudgery”.

I am winning the long war, so I’ll just dream and keep on being the way I am.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Song of Ascents

Blessed is every one that feareth Jehovah, That walketh in His ways. -- Psalm 128:1

O, Lord my God,
Come dwell in me.
Fill me with Your grace and peace,
With hints and scents of eternity,
An end to all our enmity.
Empty me
Of pride and self-delicacy.

And with discretion let me walk,
And with much silence let me talk,
As I tread the dust and grass
Until with hope and longing, last,
Enter heaven, find my place
Where I have known You face to face.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Finding Direction By Shadows

The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise.— Proverbs 15:31 (NKJV)

The sun of my life has passed its zenith. When I was a child, the long shadows were cast before me, now they fall behind me. As I look back upon the lengthening shades of my past, I see many points that bring regret. There were foolish choices, bad judgments, failures, and misunderstandings. I caused pain to good people, often to people who loved me. I took wrong turns, stumbled and fell upon wrong roads. Many of those failures brought suffering, though not as much, by God's grace, as I deserved. Sometimes I tried to do good things, and they turned out well. Sometimes they did not.

All of us have experienced checks in our lives. We have experienced physical difficulties, failed relationships, material losses, financial setbacks, rejections, and disappointments. We have had dreams and plans that failed to come to pass. We achieved some great success and found it much emptier and less satisfying that we expected. We may think of ourselves as having been rebuked but to be rebuked has a negative connotation. Another translation says, The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise (ESV). Sometimes it feels as if God has rebuked us, but He has merely given us a course correction, a push, or perhaps a violent shove. If we were about to be hit by a bus and someone shoved us out of the way, we would likely not take offense.

Wisdom — not wealth, prestige, or power — is the key to life. Wisdom is one of the few things in life of genuine and lasting value. We should do whatever is necessary to acquire it. James say, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him." It is also true that "in much wisdom is much sorrow". Like all great treasures, wisdom is not always easily carried.

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas (Acts 16:6-8 ESV). Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Dr. Luke were on a missionary journey. These were sincere, devoted servants of Christ. Paul and Luke wrote the majority of the New Testament. They were traveling through Asia Minor, visiting existing churches and speaking words of encouragement. They wanted to take a particular direction, but something seemed to hinder them. They were unable to speak about Christ anywhere in the region. Perhaps the Anointing that empowered their ministy had been revoked, or they were consistently denied opportunites. Either way, they must have questioned their course. They may have wondered if they had missed God, if He was no longer pleased with them, if He had in some way rejected them. They may have wisely kept their own council, but the thoughts would have been present for each.

Day after fruitless day they traveled on, hearing nothing except the negative and being constantly rebuked. "Don't go there! No! No preaching here." Yet, because they were wise, they did not take these corrections personally or allow themselves to become offended or resentful. They expressed no bitterness. They simply accepted the reproof and moved on in a direction they were allowed to go. If God will not speak to you positively, allow Him to speak to you negatively. Sometimes the best thing is to know what not to do.

Following this dictum, the party found its way to a port city on the Aegean Sea called Troas. Still not knowing where to go or what to do, Paul lay down to sleep. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” So it was that out of rebukes and reproofs that the Gospel crossed over into Europe.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What Matters

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. —- Joshua 1:8 (ESV)

This is an accidental blog. Initially, I created a blogger ID to more easily comment on One Cosmos. I subsequently created the blog in order to avoid off-topic issues and rants that I might have otherwise posted on OC; it is a relief valve of sorts. My father was dying at the time that I started it, and, even at my well-past-the-middle chronological age, I knew that his departure would require me to make changes. It provided a convenient place to shake, rattle, and roll out some of my thoughts and see if they come up snake-eyes or natural, or if I have to roll eight the hard way as is sometimes the case.

The reason that I have continued is that it gives me a good excuse to meditate on Scripture, on the Divine Nature, revelation, and life in general. I consider a post successful not so much because it generates comments from my numerically small albeit intellectually vast audience — though I always enjoy hearing what others think, but rather because I have in some way expressed God's perspective. I certainly make no claim to do that on a consistent basis. I have never been completely successful in doing so and don't expect to be. I will keep trying. Yoda was wrong. For the truly meaningful challenge, there are many tries for every do. In a sense, each try is a not-do, but not-try is the ultimate not-do.

I stand at the apex and watch the next grain of sand fall into place. Each moment of time is a new, unique part in the pattern of our lives. No matter what anyone looking in from the outside may say, we know that no two of those crystal structures are exactly alike. Each is destined to differ in shape and color, in time and place and purpose. Each will find its resting place as it forms the rising pyramid of past and present, mountainous in majesty, possessed of a peace both terrible and beautiful. Each grain will raise us higher, closer to the Source until we are able to pass through that strait, that narrow way into the upper chamber which is no chamber at all but the infinite, ever-expanding Presence.