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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Deal

And they shall be My people, and I will be their God. — Jeremiah 32:38 (ESV)

We once met a retired missionary who, with his wife, was serving as an interim pastor at a church in Oklahoma. He talked amusingly about living out on "the cutting edge". His wife had driven their questionable car several hundred miles across Texas to be with their daughter as she gave birth. The trip was made on worn tires. His wife arrived back home, parked the car in the driveway, and started carrying her luggage into the house. By the time she returned for the next load all four tires had gone flat. I perhaps raised my eyebrows, but there was really no reason for me to disbelieve it. I was looking at their car. I wouldn't start out for my front gate in it these days. He told the story both for the humor of it and as a way to acknowledge their faith that they were God's people, and He was their God.

By making this profound and simple statement, God is calling upon us to call upon Him. There is reciprocity between God and those who belong to Him. The power of prayer lies not in convincing God to do something for us but in finding the harmony that must exist between us. When we find the point at which we connect with Him — the mutual purpose that we have, our single, two-sided will, we will find prayers answered almost automatically. This is obvious in the life of Christ. Jesus knew, as He said in John 8:14, where He came from and where He was going. He knew that His life was being lived in harmony with the Father.

Our part of the relationship is to first receive. It is exceedingly difficult to give away what one does not possess. As far as I know, only the federal government is able to that on a regular basis. The rest of us must have something in order to share it. What we are to receive is God Himself. As He pours His Spirit into us, out of our innermost being will flow — to others, and even back to our Father, streams of living water (John 7:38).

I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy (Psalm 116:1). Our call and God's response is not simply about the answer but the hearing. There are times when I desperately need an answer — at least, there used to be. As the years have passed, my life and my circumstances seem much less important than I once thought them. Most of the time now, I like to think that I am content with God's presence, with the world-shattering fact that He will hear me personally, that He knows and understands the hauntings of my past and the often distorted reflections of my present. People need to be heard. Why else do we log our thoughts in the cyberfog? But to be heard by the Creator, to know that the Infinite Unknowable knows and cares enables us to catch a glimpse of life's meaning that breaks free of the endless ring of days, demands, and deeds.

We are God's people. He hears us, knows our thoughts toward Him, walks with us, and goes before us. He is our God.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Watchmen and Pathfinders

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. – Matthew 24:36-44 (ESV) emphasis added
It is pretty easy to be thinking about floods after three or four consecutive days of heavy rains. My wife said that Poplar Bluff is being evacuated which made me laugh, since Poplar Bluff is located on – help me out – a BLUFF. Nevertheless, there are people who live somewhat lower down and the Black River is overflowing its levee, though, at last check, the levee had not been breached (update: the levee has broken downriver from town). People from the flood plain of the Black and folks who were cut off by street flooding were being evacuated by boat. We have flash-flooding. Roads are closed. There’s water over the highways. The weirdest thing is that one area nearby is a good 1200 feet above sea level, but it is really a very large diameter, relatively shallow sinkhole. The only place for water to go is down into the substrata. Normally the ground will absorb the rain as fast as it falls, but occasionally the water backs up as is the case now.

Back in the hills there are a lot of small roads with low-water crossings. In the days of my childhood, those normally dry washes were bridged by structures made mostly of wood. Spring run-off would, as often as not, wash them out. Going home from somewhere one night, Mom, Dad, and I in the Chevy pickup came to a spot where the water was over the road in a boiling, rushing stream draining from the high lands. Even my inexperienced eye knew the little culvert could not be under more than a foot of water -- if it was there, which was the question. The headlights bounced off the murky flow and could not tell us what lay beneath. We weren’t going to die if we drove off in it, but we would be thoroughly stuck four quarters from the house. Dad was wearing brogans and bibs as usual. Mom had on a dress that fell probably mid-calf, pumps and no stockings. Dad said to her, “Why don’t you take your shoes off and wade out there? See if that culvert’s washed out.”

I should point out that Mom never wore shoes at all if she didn’t have to, so taking off her shoes and walking down a gravel road did not intimidate her. However, she could not swim a stroke and had a phobic dread of any body of water bigger than a bathtub. As best I recall, Mom did not suggest that Dad test the bridge himself, which is what one would expect these days. She crawled out of the cab and, shoeless, padded up to the edge of the water, black below the yellowish fall of the truck lights. Cautiously, she stepped into the overflow, her feet alternating anchor and point, fathoming the occult floor. I half-expected her to drop out of sight and be swept into the field below, but she reached the far side without incident and stood, casting a long shadow in the headlamps, waiting for us to drive across the torrent.

I’m not sure that has anything to do with the text, but I like the story.

We know that prayer is important, and prayer is often associated with watching. What is watching? It is being awake and alert, keeping an eye on things, maintaining the fire, singing to the herd or guarding the flock. When we are not secured behind strong walls and locked doors having someone on alert is a pretty good idea. We may be citizens of the City of God; however, we find ourselves traveling through the wilderness at times. Even in the Master’s house, we must be on guard for [t]he thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10), and constant vigilance is our only protection against such predations.

When watching, the important thing is not to allow the mind to wander or to be captured by the random thoughts the thief may throw like pebbles to draw us away into the shadows. The discipline of maintaining focus is essential, but we need not be discouraged by lapses. Like all disciplines it must be practiced to be perfected.

I have heard people speculate that the veil of this world gets thin as the third watch ends and the fourth begins around three hundred hours by the clock. The eyes that are open in those dark hours may pierce the murk of rippling, rushing illusions and confusions. Perhaps it is not that the veil is thinner; rather, we may possess a usually dormant sense that awakens, a spiritual sense that pierces the darkness and knows the truth of the unseen.

It is easy in these challenging times, when troubles and trials seem to rain down upon us, to be discouraged, to get stuck in or to be swept away by incessant streams of bad news, torrents of lies and deception. It is often hard to remember there is a reality beneath, a bridge that we can trust even if we can’t see it. Sometimes we need someone to step out onto that bridge and show us the way. Sometimes we need to be the ones who step out.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever — Hebrews 13:8

Hebrews talks about the end of the daily, repeated sacrifices and emphasizes the once-for-all or eternal nature of Christ's sacrifice. The former Covenant demanded that the priest stand and minister continually in the Holy Place. There was no end to it, no rest. Christ finished and sat down. He got it done — paradoxically enough, because what He did was eternal. His sacrifice was of a different kind, the blood applied to an altar outside time and space.

When Jesus began His ministry, a leper came to Him and said, "If You are willing, You can make me clean." Jesus replied, "I will". The leper was wise enough not to question the power of God or the ability of God. He knew that the One could change his circumstance, could intervene in his life, could restore and heal. The only question is, Will He? And the question is important. If one is a leper — read "sinner" — it is reasonable to ask God if He will cleanse me specifically. I may not be worthy of forgiveness and restoration. I may not be acceptable to God for some reason. The wise leper does not presume upon God, nor does he accuse God of being capricious. I have to ask God if, in my particular case given all my personal contrariness, I am in line for cleansing.

The good news is that God is no respecter of persons. Christ's work covers each and every one of us regardless of our sins or our history. As He loves each of us individually, He deals with each of us individually. Sometimes He may tell us to do something different, to head in a new direction: "Go, show yourself to the priest." He may spit on us or put mud in our eyes. He may call out our name, take us by the hand, or simply touch us and say, "I will." All of us are different. All of us are subject to change. Jesus is always the same. The differences are not in Him but in us.

We are the ones operating in time and space, influenced by circumstances, traversing various landscapes, sometimes on the mountain, sometimes in valley. We are walking by day, stumbling by night. We change with the seasons.

When the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land, the Lord laid out the the lines of their inheritance by tribe and clan. With that Moses also laid down a strict rule: You shall not move your neighbor's landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess. We all need permanent markers, absolutes that we can go by, stakes that we can trust.

The original front door of my childhood home was placed where the sun would shine directly into it at exactly noon in mid-summer. They built on other rooms and porches, but everything aligned from the shadows that marked the first door. Twenty-five years later when we added a room on the front, the carpenter remarked how unusual it was to find an old house "where everything was square".

If we attempt to build our lives on the shifting sands and twisting shades of current opinions, popular culture, and the philosophies and ideas of men, we will find that things get warped in a hurry. Some thought that because it was new, it was good. Unfortunately for them, nothing is new under the golden sun; the old brass lies just get polished and re-sold. Some said, "Man is the measure of all things", forgetting that it all depends on the Man. Some say, "Everything is relative" and simply make the next cut from the last without hanging onto the pattern, magnifying each error as they go along. Others argue that the system is now too complex, too advanced, and too sophisticated for the simplicity of Christ.

No, we need the Unchanging, the Absolute, the Eternal. The more complicated our world becomes, the more we differ from the ancients, the more our technology advances, the more we need Jesus to be the same. The bigger the house gets, the more we must rely on a perfect Cornerstone.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-25)

The city is laid out in a square; its length and width are the same. He measured the city with the rod at 12,000 stadia. Its length, width, and height are equal. (Revelation 21:16)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When the Whip Comes Down

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. — Hebrews 2:14-15
"[T]hrough the fear of death", humanity was held in bondage all their lives. Most people would say that animals fear death. I question that assumption. Animals fear pain. They instinctively struggle to avoid termination. In order to fear death one must have something like a sense of coming into existence and of the possibility of ceasing to exist, or of existing in some less desirable state.

I don't think the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is talking primarily about physical death. The knowledge that we will someday pass from this world does influence most of us. We know that we have only so much time in which to reach our goals, to fulfill our dreams and desires. We may have much less time than we anticipate; we rarely have more. Death is a boundary we must all acknowledge at some point, but that does not necessarily make it into shackles to enslave us.

Too, how is it that the devil has the "power of death"? Perhaps we should consider a related passage, First Corinthians 15:56: "Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law". If we picture a bullwhip, the kind used by taskmasters and overseers to keep slaves in line, we see that on the very end is a cracker that disperses sound. Just behind that is a replaceable section called, appropriately enough, "the fall" which is an unbraided strip of leather attached to the tapering, braided body or "thong" of the weapon. This fall, in the hands of a skilled operator, exceeds the speed of sound and creates a tiny, but very distinct, sonic boom. Multiplying and magnifying the movement of the hand, the whip turns that little fall into a stinging, cutting instrument of torture and control.

Death, then is not so much a wall or chains or shackles that restrict us, but a dark, flying serpent swinging over our heads, a warning, threatening shadow sailing above, an intimidating snap and sting that can seize the strongest heart with fear. The enslaving power of sin is its attachment to death — or better, the enslaving power of death is the attachment of sin.

I am a creationist in the sense that I believe in God as Creator. The young earth creationists, as we have said before, believe that the planet is only a few thousand years old and that there was no death prior to the Fall of Man. Their argument is that death is impossible apart from sin, thus, nothing could have died on Earth prior to sin's entrance through Adam's disobedience. One point against this is that sin and disobedience existed in eternity-past through the fall of Lucifer. But a second point is that, as is the case after the Cross, sin and death need not be tied together. The sting can be pulled. Death without sin is pop-less. That is to say that no one who understands the teeth of death have been pulled will be any longer intimidated by its flailing shadow. Jesus promises that we can tread upon scorpions and snakes without harm. "In My name they will drive out demons ... they will pick up snakes ..." (Mark 16:17-18). The sting is gone. The venom is gone. The poison is no longer deadly. Death is not deadly. Or as the late, great Jake Hess used to sing, "Death ain't no big deal."

Adam may have put the whip into the devil's hand, but most of us tie our own fall to it. Our sin is what hurts us as the whip comes down. Sometimes it isn't so much what we have done as what others have done to us. The sins of the fathers are visited upon their children. The fall a man ties on may be stinging and biting and enslaving for three or four generations. It does not matter if the fault is ours or another's. Forgiveness and faith are the blades of the shears God has placed in our hands through the finished work of Christ.

Christ took on flesh and embraced death. He even bore the lash of the whip — the lash that I tied on, and that you tied on. In doing so, He took forever the power of death. We need submit no longer to the cruelly cutting penalty and power of sin. We are liberated from guilt and shame. We no longer need obey the world, the flesh, or the devil for their whips have been blunted and silenced.

Death is swallowed up in victory.

Please Read Denninger Today

Please read this Market Ticker post from Karl Denninger. This is the truth, simple, easy to understand, not, perhaps, so easy to accept. The Tea Party stuff is a little extraneous to the more critical point that America must experience a contraction in GDP.

One of the comments says we need an "Anakin Skywalker" to restore balance. That is exactly what we need. We need a one-term president to follow Obama who will sacrifice his or her political career to serve this country. I don't know who that might be. The person will be vilified worse than Hoover, Carter, and Obama combined. The state run media will destroy the person. He or she could be impeached by the House, but the deed has to be done. Somebody has to stand up and tell people the truth.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Et Tu, Edistuo?

I must have been born inside out
with sunburnt skin for a soul
where I could feel each shackled wince
as a burning touch, straitened
in the unshell strapped down
with gut, sinew wrapped and muscle bound.
Outside in fingers feel only nerve endings,
and those murmurs I hear in my turned in ears
are the swallowed words of my turned in mouth.
Standing on my head as my wrong way feet
backtrack across my unchambered heart.
My superpower is night vision
but I see only the back side of my eye balls
in the infrared of my conscious mind
while primal fears parade in flashing neon
round about for all to read
except me.
Carve your initials in my bones
and paint my skull cap red.
What do you suppose will go on my coffin
when what ain't me is dead?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. – Isaiah 55:8-11

Rain was always something we welcomed. It was life to us. Our old farm was mostly rocks and clay with a little topsoil sprinkled on. Rain water runs off, mostly, and that thin, rocky dirt dries out quickly. We had a prolonged dry spell during a summer of my childhood. Our hay wasn’t doing well. The pastures were burnt, and milk production was suffering. I asked Dad if we were doing something wrong that kept God from sending the rain we needed. Maybe, I thought, we needed to pray. Dad replied, “No, it rains on the just and the unjust.” Though he trusted God to get him through, he never begged Him to do so.

I suppose that incidental lesson on theology and prayer has colored my approach to God ever since. I certainly don’t believe it is wrong to pray for rain or for protection from a storm or any other blessing, need, or even a ‘mere’ desire. Our Father asks only that we recognize the nature of His life-giving rain.

We might think that Isaiah was wrong in saying that rain and snow do not return to the atmosphere, but that isn’t the case. I’ve seen it rain and snow sideways but never up. Scripture acknowledges the cycle but emphasizes the change in state as moisture rises from transpiration and evaporation. Vapor that passes back to the heavens via the exhalations of life-forms has accomplished its purpose of nourishing and sustaining life.

The thoughts of God fall upon our souls as rain falls upon the earth. The soul is like a deer lapping from a brook or a tree drawing water through its roots. (How often I wish I were a poet instead of an engineer.) The word that is beyond our comprehending is nonetheless taken in and does its work in transforming us. Our exhalation of thanksgiving, of laughter, of singing, of pure, joyous utterance returns that word to God. That is the cycle of a living and healthy soul.

Rain makes sense when it nourishes an apple tree or refreshes a spotted fawn, but it also prospers the thistle and the slacks the thirst of the fanged pursuer. His ways, it is said, are past finding out, for there is only One who thinks all these thoughts and knows the bramble that troubles the plowman shelters the hare. It is too much for us, and, at our best, we can play an adequate game only on a flat board. We stagger and step back as from a precipice at the many dimensions and the billions of billions of pieces constantly in motion in space and time and God alone knows where else.

We see again why Christ had to come that we might know Him and be reconciled to God in Him. Apart from the Son of Man, God is more than a little frighteningly alien and genuinely incomprehensible. So the Word does His work, and we live.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.