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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Jesus said to her, Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.  – John 20:17
I considered this passage a year or two ago, but I came back to it the last couple of days because it is so poetic and unique in its perspective. 

Mary weeps among the tombs filled with remains, clutching at the straw of the wheat after the reaping.  One approaches with the rising sun behind, his face in shadows.  Perhaps he knows.  She pleads with him.  He tells her who He is by calling her name and warns her not to cling to Him for He must ascend.  He goes to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, the Comforter of the same kind as Jesus Himself who will be with them and in them. 

This is our question:  will we know Him when He comes if we insist on clinging to a single mode of understanding Christ?  When He comes instead in rushing winds and tongues of fire, in a strange, new selfless love, in persecutions that scatter the seeding saints as a dandelion’s fertile cloud, will we know Him?  When He comes to Jerusalem in judgment and destruction, as the besieging armies of the heathen, will we recognize Him?

To those seekers looking into the light, His face will always be in shadow and mystery.  It is not to forms and appearances and surfaces but to the voice, the word, and the truth that we cling.  In darkness and shadow or in blinding light we cannot trust our eyes so we listen.  It is not another’s name He will call but yours, and mine.  Only then are we sure to be undeceived.    

The Lord asks us if we are willing to know Him when we meet Him as brother or sister, mother or child, friend or stranger.  Can we forget the shade of human limitation and sin and hear the voice that calls?  He has kept His promise to never leave nor forsake us, in the storm, in the stones.  He is the stake, the flint and steel and the spark struck.  He is the passing angel who whispers forewarning to our presumptuousness; the one who pours courage like molten metal into our collapsing hope.   He is the Unchanging God of Infinite Guises, rising in circumstances like gale-driven winds of the sea, always calm as the depths.

Paul, standing amid the Athenians on Mars Hill, references the poet Epimenides of Crete, “Yet [God] is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’”.  It is our own ignorance that creates a distance between ourselves and God.  We can find Him everyday, everywhere in everything.  Without light and shadow, color and contrast, the world would be flat and dimensionless in our eyes.  God stands above, but He also permeates the world, and it is His presence in and around us that gives us the ability to discern and perceive, to understand and apprehend.  He gives us our depth of vision.  He causes us to hear the music. 

How we doubt Him in the grind and the pain. 
How we forget Him in the joy and the gain.
In a voice like rain, He calls me: 
 When you drown in My love as the ocean,
When you are devoured by My love as a beast,
 When as a sword My love descends
To unburden you for release,
Will you know Me? 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wheel in the Sky

Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!”  And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.  When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!”  And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.  When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand.  And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”  When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”  And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. – Revelation 6:1-8

My wife bought a book recently.  It was written by one of the popular teachers on prophecy.  He points out that “end times” does not mean “the end of time”, which is true if somewhat obvious.  I like to think about it like the Ages in Lord of the Rings.  Certain elements have ascendancy in a given age.  Those elements may weaken or even disappear in a subsequent age.  This is different from the natural cycles of history, though those cycles are part of any age.  A prophetic book whether the Revelation of John, the prophecies of Jeremiah, or The Chronicles of Narnia will be applicable in any epoch or administration and fulfillment may be glimpsed in types more than once.  Humanity has seen in Christ the anti-type that casts all of the shadows of the Law and the Prophets.  Some dark day humanity may see the ultimate anti-type of the many antichrists that pop up in history.  I do not know. 

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have been around and may come around again.  They speak of a process that breaks down civilization.  It begins with the rider on the white horse.  Some say this is Christ, some say it is the Antichrist.  My interpretation is my own, but I see this first rider as tyranny, for tyranny almost always arises in a Good Cause -- on a white horse.  The tyrant comes as a rescuer, as one who can solve the problems inherent in, as Bill Clinton once said, too much freedom.  The sword of the red horse rider is a weapon symbolic of war in general, so perhaps the bow is meant to be a more specific symbol of suppression.  After all, the white horse rider comes as a conqueror rather than a warrior.  He is not fighting defensively.  He is the invader, the usurper and, ultimately, the despot. 

Tyranny and conquest are naturally tied to war and conflict.  Thus the conqueror is followed by one who takes peace from the earth and initiates great slaughter among humanity.  We see this played out on a small scale throughout the world as people find it impossible from time to time to live without killing their neighbors.  Many of these conflicts threaten to flare up and engulf much larger regions in blood red flames of war. 

The third rider is on a black horse and is the harbinger of economic hardship, famine, and lack.  Again this is a natural extension of the destruction of war which hampers the production of food and other resources along with trade and transport. In addition to hampering production and displacing resources, war itself is directly demanding in terms of food, fuel, and material.  There is nothing constructive or productive about war.  It is the ultimate form of broken-glass business stimulation.  It creates only to destroy.  The lives of many are disrupted.  Many become refugees, losing their own power to produce and becoming a drain on the productivity of others.   

Displaced people without enough food, lacking adequate shelter, often crowded together in unsanitary conditions are near perfect incubators for epidemics.  We are not surprised when the pale horse of pestilence follows hard in the footsteps of war and economic collapse.  As in our own American Civil War, disease often kills more than the war machines themselves.

What is unveiled to us is the dance of history, the cyclical destruction of humanity’s best efforts.  We build our civilizations and systems, determined to eliminate the flaws and weaknesses of prior systems only to find that we have created a weakness of a different kind.   There is only one kingdom that has a sure Foundation, and even that one must be tested, purged, purified, and refined.  The Church will endure, though at times it must be reduced to the Remnant, so it seems.  A company or two of prophets will be hidden away, and the Lord will find His seven thousand who have not bowed to Baal, and, in the end, we will come, not to another cycle of exaltation and destruction, but "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ".  And He shall reign.    

Until then, while the horsemen ride their rounds and the old earth rolls as a sleeper in a recurring dream, the sun goes down each day, and I hear Yeats reading the evening news.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Week of Paint and Pain

It was just a few years ago that I painted all the ceilings in this house, painted all the walls, did the tile and trim.  I remember my hands hurting from nailing all the hardi-backer boards for the tile.  I do not remember pain like this in my knee and shoulders -- and this time all I have done so far is paint about about a thousand square feet of ceiling and the kitchen walls.  And I took down the border in the kitchen which was a lot of work, but still I am obviously getting old. 

Anyway, I won't be online much.  I will be busy "enjoying" my "vacation". 

I am reminded of the story our old friend Wilbur used to tell about a coon hunt.  It was Wilbur's turn to climb the tree.  He was up pretty high, he thought, when he spotted the raccoon clinging to the end of what looked like a mighty skinny branch.  He called down to the boys on the ground that he could see the quarry. 

"What are you waitin' for?  Go out and shake 'im loose." 

Wilbur looked at the limb for a minute and hollered, "What if I fall?"

After a brief pause the reply came back, "We'll tell 'em you went for a good cause."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Though the Fig Tree Should Not Blossom

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.  And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.  – Mark 11:12-14

This event occurred at the time of Passover.  In fact, the day before was marked by Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem which we commemorate as Palm Sunday.  Therefore we would say that Jesus cursed the fig tree on Monday of Holy Week leading up to His Crucifixion. 

The fig tree produces two crops per year – one in the spring and a main crop in the fall.  The fruit of the main crop is preferable, but in spring, the fruit begins to grow before the leaves emerge.  Though it was not the “season for figs”, a fig tree in full leaf promised the presence of fruit.  When Jesus saw the tree, He was drawn to it that He might satisfy His hunger.  Upon finding it barren, and even deceptively so, He cursed it. 

Bible expositors often tell us that the fig tree is symbolic of the nation of Israel.  In fact, Matthew 24:32-34 is a frequently quoted passage among students of Bible prophecy, especially those advocating a pre-millennial, pre-tribulation rapture.  Here is what it says, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.  So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.  Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”  This is believed by many to be a prophecy of Israel’s restoration to the land and the return of Jerusalem to the Jewish people as it took place in 1948 (or possibly 1967).

Jesus was not cursing a mere plant when He caused that fig tree to wither.  The curse of Mark 11, as well as much (if not all) the prophecy of Matthew 24, was fulfilled with precision in 70 AD when the Roman forces under Titus destroyed Jerusalem, leveled the Temple, and drove the Jews into exile.  Assuming that Christ was crucified somewhere around 30 to 33 AD, the Jews would exist as a nation in their homeland for a “generation” of about 40 years (or perhaps exactly 40 since resistance remained at Masada until the year 73).

This curse, however, did not fall upon the fig tree because it failed to bear fruit out of season.  It was cursed for its deceptiveness, for the appearance that it would provide nourishment for the hungry and weary when it fact, it offered nothing.  The religion of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the First Century was a religion of appearances.  They liked to look good, to receive the praises of the crowd, to be noticed, but they had nothing to offer those whose souls were famished and desperate.  Lacking the courage to acknowledge their own emptiness, they had nothing more than a dead letter to offer the sinners and seekers.     

The Messiah came to His people, and they, for the most part, rejected Him because He upset their notions; He was not what they expected.  He did not concern Himself with their shallow rules or adhere to their misguided standards.  He shattered appearances and struck at the heart. 

As He approached Jerusalem amid the shouts of a fickle mob, He paused:  And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44)

The season had come, the time of visitation, the time to turn from illusions to reality.  God does not blame us or expect fruitfulness out of season.  But if we practice hypocrisy and pretend to be something we are not, we will find ourselves withering and suffering under the curse that falls relentlessly upon the deceptive. 

My friend Eddie used to speak often of Nicodemus who came to Jesus “in secret”.  He said that Christ does not want any “secret disciples”.  And he was right.  In the end, Nicodemus had to come forward along with others who perhaps feared for their social standing and acceptance to express his devotion to the Lord by helping to provide for embalming and burial.  Nicodemus did not fail to bear fruit in his season.  

We must not hide our light under a bucket or refuse to be salt in a decaying world.  But above all, we must be as honest about where we are as we can be.  There are going to be times in our lives when we are barren and unfruitful, when we seem dead to the world.  At those times, it will be easy for our enemies, our friends of Job's Friends, the world, and especially our own carnal minds to mock us and call us failures, to ask where God is in our lives, to ask why He has forsaken us.  We will be tempted, at times, to cover ourselves in fig leaves, to appear to have something we do not have.  Yet if we are willing to stand naked in our barrenness, stripped and silent before ridicule, the season of figs will come around again.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.

-- Habakkuk 3:17-19