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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Offensive Christianity

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.  But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake.  This will be your opportunity to bear witness. — Luke 21:10-13

As in the parallel passage in Matthew 24, the Disciples have asked Jesus about His statement concerning the destruction of Herod's Temple.  The Lord predicts the siege of Jerusalem in 66 to 70 AD and speaks of the calamities surrounding it.  Those who hear the word, though, have always understood that Jesus was seeing beyond the single event and prophesying both of a greater eschatological truth and of a reality that believers in all times and places can comprehend. 

Wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, and epidemics are the things that keep the evening news on the air selling soap.  Somewhere on this slightly egg-shaped planet today somebody is going to die in a conflict.  Accidents and disasters will take place, but life will go on.  People have not changed all that much due to civilization and Western culture.  We have not really gotten used to it.  We are still playing with the same basic equipment that ushered in the Old Stone Age.  Fears still motivate us.  We are still looking over our shoulders for Smilodon, and we get frightened by Smiling Shem or Fundy Frank or some other bogey of the modern age.  The manipulators like that; it makes us easier to drive into the corral.

Jesus says that, in the times before Jerusalem was surrounded and thrown down, His followers would be rounded up, imprisoned, and persecuted.  "But before all this they will lay hands on you."  This has been the pattern ever since.  Christianity must be silenced, driven underground, diluted or tainted in some way before evil can run its course.  At the very least, the salt must lose its savor and become good for nothing except to be discarded.  As long as Christians are pure salt and light in a society, tyranny and violence, dishonesty and vice are held in check.  The professors can re-write history all they want, but they cannot change the truth.  No nation with a strong Christian base is going to fall victim to internal corruption.  At worst it will do as America did in 1860 and cleanse itself of a corrosive evil, bathed in its own blood. 

They don't lock us up in America these days.  They don't have to.  They corrupt us with fame and money.  They encourage our greed with tax-exempt status — as long as we are willing to play their game.  They segregate us and tell us to keep our religion in our churches, that we can do whatever we want behind closed doors.   You can let your little light shine, so long as you keep it covered with this government-approved bucket.   Preachers don't go to jail in America for preaching the gospel; they are imprisoned for tax evasion.  Gangsters can beat a murder rap, but nobody beats the IRS. 

There does need to be a separation of church and state.   The state needs to get out of the church, which is exactly what the sometimes-agnostic, sometimes-deist, sometimes-unitarian Jefferson meant when he coined the phrase in his letter to the Danbury Baptists.  Churches need to take to heart the admonition of Solzhenitsyn with regard to government:  "Don't believe them, don't fear them, don't ask anything of them."  Christians should not be beholden to the state nor obedient to the state.  Rejecting the state is harder to do when you have been living at least partially off taxpayer beneficence for a hundred years. 

Wait, did he say that Christians should not obey the state?  Yes, I did.  Does anybody think that the Body of Christ is not more righteous — at least in theory — than any government anywhere, any time in history?   Are our standards not higher and purer and truer than anything a bunch of bought-off legislators, bureaucrats, corrupt lawyers, and political hacks would impose?  Grow up!  Do I or does any other Christian need a state law to tell us that certain things are wrong — that it is wrong to hurt or to deceive others, to satisfy our own greed and lust at the expense of another, to enrich ourselves by impoverishing someone else?  Hell, no.  We are guilty of turning our consciences over to the government, of substituting legality for morality.  I don't need a government to outlaw what the Bible tells me is wrong or to force me to do what the Bible says is right.   

As it stands, the church has marginalized itself, becoming enamored of worldly success and acceptance.  We trade in the same corrupting values as the non-believer.  We have watered down the wine to make it acceptable to children, which would not be quite so bad if we hadn't gone and developed such a taste for it as adults.  We can't handle anything stronger any more.  We might get out of hand, upset the status quo.  As Hank lamented about a different kind of wine, nobody wants to get drunk and get loud.  We don't want a Holy Ghost that really emboldens us, that makes others uncomfortable.  He's the Comforter all right, but He only comforts us after we have been shaken by the relentless terror of the truth.  Our God is a consuming fire.  If He ain't freaked you out, you ain't seen Him.

The Church's ineffectiveness against spiritual death and corruption is evident all around us.  Secular American society is rapidly decaying.  Every one of the Seven Deadly Sins has so permeated the thinking of the nation that it is easily deceived and led astray.  When people turn from the truth, the links of the chain are forged, grace is set aside, and the key passes to fate: 

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false,  in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.  (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

We will not like how this ends, though it is not the End of All Things.  Any little, old antichrist — and there are many, will do to bring about the fall of a city, a state, a culture, or a civilization.  All that has to happen is for Christ and His people to be pushed aside, for His truth to be rejected and ignored — before all this.     

Friday, February 24, 2012

Endeavor to Persevere

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” — Luke 13:18-19

As we have noted before, Jesus, in speaking of the kingdom, does not always explain Himself in elaborate and expansive terms.  The metaphor in this passage seems, at first, to be fairly straightforward.  A mustard seed is a really small seed, but the thickly-stalked mustard is a shrub that can grow to heights of ten feet or more.  The kingdom starts out small and seemingly insignificant.  Planted in the right ground, however, this seed grows into a large, strong, substantial plant.  That seems clear enough. 

We could assume that the "birds of the air" are there simply to illustrate the size and strength of the branches, and that is true, I'm sure.  But birds appear quite a bit in Scripture and the connotations aren't always positive.  Consider one of the earliest mentions in Genesis 15:11 when the patriarch Abram cuts his covenant with God:  And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.   Here the vultures and eagles are disrupting or defiling the sacrifice which Abram had dedicated to the Lord in order to establish a covenant.  In passages in the Prophets, scavenging birds are seen feeding off the unburied dead as part of the judgment against the rebellious and wicked.

Consider, too, that the devil is referred to in Ephesians 2:2 as "...the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience...".  Perhaps there is a little more to what Christ is telling us.  We remember the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in which the "weeds" are the "sons of the evil one" planted among the sons of the kingdom.

We get a hint of something else, also, in the next verses, Luke 13:20-21:  And again He said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?  It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”  Most often in Scripture, leaven has a negative implication, graphically illustrating the carnal nature that puffs itself up with vanity and emptiness.  Why would the Lord use leaven as a metaphor for the kingdom while warning His disciples elsewhere to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees", for example? 

Human life is not always clear and distinct.  Much of existence is continuous rather than discreet.  Processes occur.  Things develop.  We want a revolution, and we end up growing older and becoming patient.  The kingdom of God is revolutionary in its concept and implications, but it must deal with human nature.  Lewis mentions an idea in The Screwtape Letters that might be called the "law of undulation".  Our progress in Christ is rarely linear.  We move forward, and we fall back a little.  Our new-found courage pushes us into a new realm of fear.  Our increased strength causes us to tackle something too big for us.  That's just the way it works. 

As the kingdom develops into this great, sheltering organism, it offers protection and comfort to all kinds of life, good and bad.  Sometimes it grows and spreads by means that are, if not offensive, at least somewhat questionable.  Sometimes the pursuit of wicked ends by evil men is turned to God's purposes.  No, that's not true.  Always, evil intentions are turned to good by God.  Like those nesting birds, the self-centered and sinful benefit from the peace and power of the kingdom as it spreads.  God's rain falls upon the fields of both the sinner and the saint.  He is good all the time. 

Evil among us is not going to break down the kingdom.  The presence of sinners is not going to prevent the growth and fruitfulness of the children of the kingdom.  The rebellious are going to rebel, and they will, from time to time, suffer the consequences of their rebellion.  I used to be one of them.  Sometimes I think I still might be.  I am glad that the saints did not cut me down or drive me away when I wandered in for shelter from the storm. 

In that loaf of bread, along with the festering yeast, there is salt — to flavor, to enhance the appetite, and to preserve.  Let it rise.  In that great tree that has grown up, there are some nasty birds perched in the shade.  Some Christians worry about the birds.  Some non-Christians can't tell weeds from wheat and think everything is weeds.  Or, they think the kingdom is only a cover for the scavengers.  But the kingdom has been growing and spreading for the last two thousand years, and more.  You can get a mighty tall tree in that length of time, and it is not done yet.  There is no need to worry about a few birds.  For one thing, we can know neither their purpose nor their end. 

In the same way, as the kingdom grows in us, we may run across things that disappoint and seem incongruent in our own hearts, but we should never despair.  Chase the birds away, but don't cut down the tree.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chris Matthews Blacklists Franklin Graham

The press calls for censorship when someone says something they do not like.

"I think we should stop inviting this guy to talk about politics. He should stay out of the -- I mean, I love the bookings on "Morning Joe." I love the guests. In this case, I think this guy should not be in the public square talking politics," Matthews said on his "Hardball" program. "He's got his own little thing and he ain't his father's son."
Because, you know, that First Amendment free speech thing only applies when people don't offend other people, or, perhaps, it applies only to professional journalists and to the purveyors of vulgarity and obscenity.  Christians should sit down, shut up and know their place.

Brother Graham is "in trouble" because he said that he does not know if Obama and Romney are Christians, but he thinks Santorum and Gingrich are.  In Obama's case, Graham said that he "assumes" Obama is a Christian because that is what Obama says he is.

With regard to Romney, Graham said:

"Most Christians would not recognize Mormonism as part of the Christian faith," Graham said, declining to say outright that he does not count Romney, a Mormon, as a Christian.
Graham added that he thought Romney "would be a good president if he [won] the nomination."

Brother Graham, of course, accepts Catholicism as Christian despite difference between Protestants and Catholics in secondary beliefs.  Thus he believes that Santorum is a Christian both because of his public statements about his faith and his moral stances.  Gingrich, also a Catholic, has told Graham personally that he is a Christian, and Graham accepts this testimony.

Chris Matthews is an idiot.  If I ever doubted it, I do not any longer.  Franklin Graham is plainly stating what any Christian knows.  We do not know what is in a person's heart.  We only know what comes out of the mouth of another, about the person's behavior and actions.  According to Matthews, Graham -- as a minister of the Gospel, answerable to God, should have said something more positive and nuanced about Obama's beliefs and about Mormonism.  I have a feeling Matthews is much less concerned about leaving questions of Romney's faith open than that of Obama.

Matthews thinks Graham is violating the First Amendment leaving room for questioning Obama's faith, when, in fact, this kind of discourse in the public square is exactly what made this country a generally peaceful and prosperous and unified nation.  Like all of his kind, Matthews hates the truth.  To his ilk there is no god but government and Obama is its prophet.  To question Obama, for these fanatics, is no different than disparaging Mohammed to the Muslims.

The facts speak for themselves.  The only church Obama and his family have attended with regularity during his adult life is that of Jeremiah Wright.  Wright is not a Christian in any traditional sense.  His theology is Black Liberation Theology.   He is in agreement with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakan.  The Nation of Islam is a gang not a religion.  It was, at one time and possibly still, the most prominent and powerful gang in prisons across the country -- that is to say, a club for thugs.

I can say stuff like that because I live in America, and I have the God-given right -- not derived from but acknowledge by the U.S. Constitution -- to say whatever I want.  Obama was raised in a Muslim culture by a Muslim step-father.  He embraced a brand of racial religion that blends humanistic socialism with elements of Christianity and Islam.  His grandparents were Muslim on one side and Unitarian socialists on the other.  His biological parents were both atheists.  It is apparent that he does not believe in God in any specific way.

Does anybody who has heard her think that Oprah Winfrey is a Christian?  Winfrey attended the same church as Obama until Wright's ranting became so off-balance that she feared her continued association would harm her celebrity status and position.  Obama stayed.  He regarded Wright as a surrogate father and only abandoned him when it was clear that Trinity United Church of Christ blocked Obama's path to the White House.    

Obama can call himself whatever he likes.  This is, after all, America.  He has an animosity toward any form of orthodox or traditional Christianity as evidenced by his actions.  His cultural inclination is against Judaism.  If American voters want to re-elect this person and let him continue to run this country, it only takes about 51% of the American Idol watchers to do that.  But, at least, Chrissy, let us know what we are getting this time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Classic E-mail

Coffee Hurts

I was eating lunch on the 20th of February with my 6-year-old granddaughter and I asked her, "What day is tomorrow?" 

She said "It's President's Day!" 

She is a smart kid. So, I asked "What does President's Day mean?"   I was waiting for something about Washington or Lincoln etc.  

She replied, "President's Day is when President Obama steps out of the White House, and if he sees his shadow we have one more year of unemployment."

You know, it hurts when hot coffee spurts out your nose...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Life Verses Versus

Our friend, the lovely Sal from our old stompin' grounds down in Texas, is Catholic.  She said that Catholics aren't supposed to have "life verses", but if she did, this would be hers:  So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:10).

That is a good verse — like there are bad ones, though some are ugly — and it seems very much in keeping with Sal's humility and her love of the Good.  What we should gain from this statement by Jesus is that our best efforts, especially our best human efforts, are really not giving anything to God.  Our Father does not keep us around, bless us or reward us because we are "profitable" (the KJV uses the phrase "unprofitable servants").  I could say there are a lot of preachers and ministers who need to recognize the truth of that passage in Luke 17, and that would be true, but perhaps I should just say, "Oh, me."  The first rule of humility is not to believe your own press releases.  None of us are "all that". 

Back when I was teaching a lot, my wife suggested Isaiah 50:4 as my "ministry" verse:  The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.  Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.

To sustain the weary with a word is indeed a noble pursuit.  I'm not sure it is strictly legal for somebody else, even the better half, to give you your life verse, but it did seem to resonant at the time.  There are so many of  us that get embattled and hemmed in and worn down.  We need somebody to say the right thing and encourage us to keep going and keep fighting.  It reminds me of the old song "Radar Love" — "I feel the comfort comin' in from above."  That's what the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, does.   As the Firefly theme says, "They can't take the sky from me."  No matter what kind of walls and fortresses and bars the devil has thrown up to imprison and isolate us, he can't seal us off from heaven. The Comforter takes that timely word that somebody delivers, and He brings it to us from above making it a message that will comfort and sustain us, a little bit of light shining down on our darkness. 

While I do not reject Isaiah 50:4, I have always had a little trouble embracing it as something specific to me.  A life verse, except it be another clever religious game of the evangelicals, must be what we fall back upon as indicative of our destiny as an individual.  This is not to say that others cannot recognize the truth we see in it, but it will not have the same sharpness for them as it does for us — unless it has been so given to them as well.

Now here is a passage that I have fallen back upon and stood upon and taught many times:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  — 2 Corinthians 4:7-11

And specifically, the middle two verses, 8 and 9:  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.  This is strong medicine.  Who can read this and not see that life is so much more than the sometimes pitiable existence of mortal clay?  Who can help being inspired by the thought that getting knocked down is not the end?  How often we find ourselves struggling to explain the inexplicable.  We are perplexed, yet somehow God steps in to lift us from despair.  We may not understand the trial, but we will not surrender to hopelessness. 

I could do worse, and perhaps I have.  Many years ago I memorized the New American Standard Version of Romans chapter 12.  It is probably my favorite single chapter in the entire Bible.  There is simply nothing in it that does not hit me.  The very last verse, the 21st,  is one that I quote with great frequency:  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Though it is only a few words, the meaning for me is both broad and deep.  Yet, like the keen leading edge of a wedge, it opens me up rather than me opening it. 

The battle I have with evil begins in my our heart.  Here is the first place that good must conquer evil.  Self must be driven from the throne as the usurper that it is.  Once my soul is ruled by good, I must still battle evil.  I cannot, though, use the weapons of evil to confront or defeat it.  I can never resort to evil in order to win.  Nevertheless, I cannot surrender or submit to wickedness or unrighteousness.  To overcome evil with evil is — what do you think?  — evil.  To passively submit to evil, to stand aside for it and allow it to rule is evil.  No, the only path that is permitted to me is to go face-to-face against evil with good and to conquer it, first by being good then by doing good. 

Even when my best efforts at overcoming evil appear to fail, I cannot give up my resistance.  I may be afflicted in every way, but I will not be conquered.  I will certainly be confused but I will not be without hope.  I can know that even in death, I am not destroyed.   In spite of shackles and pits, light will shine down from above to comfort and sustain me when I am most weary.  Finally, when I have done all to stand, when evil has been resisted to the utmost, and I have overcome, and I am delivered in life, or by death, may I have sense enough to bow and say, "It is all grace.  I have only done my duty."     

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fret Less Base

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!  Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. Psalms 37:8

Psalm 37 is one of my favorites, and this verse is one that is essential to commit to memory.  Christians should not be worriers.  While I am for prudence, forethought, and positive action, fretting is a hindrance to all of those good things.  God's rule is for us to find out the best thing to do, do it, and leave the cares to Him.  As Peter tells us, [Cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  And Jesus Himself says, Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Worry is a sin in a very real sense.  It is a rejection of God's command to entrust the future to Him.  We do not know what tomorrow holds, as the song says, but we are able to rely upon the One who holds tomorrow.  Not worrying does not mean we don't can green beans in the summer.  It means we don't give needless thought to whether what we have canned will be enough.  Trusting God does not mean that we waste what we have; it does mean that we do not concern ourselves with what we have or do not have and that we are always generous with our resources.   

Let's consider another of Peter's admonitions:  The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

I sincerely believe that a great upheaval is at hand in the world.  I don't know that it is "the end of the world as we know it", which is likely what Peter meant — and what was indeed the case in his day — but the times are definitely a'changin'.  Now is the perfect time to stop living in conformity to the world and abiding by its dictates.  Now is the perfect time to seek the kingdom and righteousness, to simplify one's life and establish it on the firm foundation of obedience to the word of God.  There will never be a better time to reassess our priorities, to decide what is important, to separate wheat from chaff. 

For the first few years of our marriage, my wife and I moved a lot.  Moving, especially given that our money was very limited, forced us to carefully consider everything we carried along with us.  Every move was a chance to get rid of accumulations of junk that everybody tends to build up.  As our moves grew less frequent, we accrued more to move.  At this point, we have lived in the same spot for nearly nine years — our new record.  Moving all this stuff is no longer an option.  We would have to have an auction or something to trim it down to size if we had to go somewhere else.  We should look on our current times as a move out of the material and into the spiritual.  The more junk we set out at the curb, the less we will find ourselves worrying about. 

Despite the trials and tribulations of life in 20th and 21st Century America, most of us have not had it too rough.  We have been able to indulge in fretting because the neighbor has a nicer car or bigger television than we have, or because we have the better one and have to pay for it.  We are now able to worry that our smart phone isn't smart enough, that our 4G connection is too slow, or that our iPad is too heavy.

Isn't there something to this?  Is our society's very consumerism a function of its fretting?  Does not our obsessive and compulsive consumption both arise from and deepen our worry, our discontentment, and our fear?   

Materialism is the bitter root that bears the bitter fruit of worry.  A spiritual person may become distraught over failures and cry for deliverance in holy fear, but it is our old fleshy nature that feels the unholy dread of loss related to our goods, our pride, or both. 

Simple arithmetic says that the world cannot go on the way that it is.  Western civilization is consuming and contracepting itself into oblivion.  Debt will be its downfall.  Our fretting over material wealth and things has led to our destruction.  I do not think there is much we can do to correct the trajectory of nations.  Voting may help.  Praying will help.   Fretting makes it worse.  

What we can reset is our own course as individuals, families, and faith communities. 

Repent.  Don't worry.      

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Deep

Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.  And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”  And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.  — Luke 5:3-6

Simon engaged in an act of faith.  It is clear from his response that he, the professional fisherman, was not about to believe that he was actually going to catch any fish.  No, Simon was merely humoring a celebrity — for that is what this itinerant rabbi called Jesus was at this point.  Jesus was an engaging teacher associated with some healings and, possibly, a prophet.  But no one much considered Him to be the only-begotten Son of God.  We have seen that His family was not supportive.  His kinfolk in Nazareth had tried to kill Him.  Despite His popularity, or notoriety, Jesus was creating enthusiasm and interest but not much devotion.  Simon, Andrew, James, and John don't know it yet, but they are about to be in on the calling of Christ's first disciples.

Simon Peter demonstrates that faith is not a matter of mental acquiescence.  It is not a matter of reasoning or logic or anything we can grasp in the conscious mind.  Fishing as these men did it was not a sport.  It was a long-practiced and perfected craft.  They fished at night when those denizens of the lake came into the shallows to feed.  They did not put down their nets in deep water but used the net to sweep through the shoals catching the fish between the nets and the shore.  Letting down a net in deep water was a waste of effort.  All you got was a wet net.  

We sometimes fail to give people of biblical times credit for any knowledge or what we think of as modern thought processes.  For example, I can assure you that people in those days knew where babies came from.  They may have told some fantastic stories, legends, and myths, but so do we. 

Abraham and Sarah knew that ninety-year-old women do not get pregnant.  The very idea was laughable to them.  They may not have known all the cellular and molecular biology behind it, but they did breed and tend livestock.  Like the saying goes, "We may be from the country, but we know how the cows come home."  No one who has ever pulled a calf or assisted in lambing or foaling has any illusions about storks.  They also butchered their own meat.  Odds are Abraham knew a lot more about anatomy and which parts do what than the average urban-dwelling 21st Century Schizoid Man.  So, too, in the days of Christ, no one believed in virgin births — not even Mary as evidenced by her stating of the obvious -- "I don't see how that's gonna happen" -- in response to the angelic announcement of her impending conception.  Sexual knowledge did not begin with Dr. Freud or Dr. Ruth or Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.   

If there is a difference between us and people like Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and the Apostles, it is that they were a little less willing to think that they already knew it all, that they somehow had access to all the secrets, that technology made them all geniuses.  These days people who cannot make change from a dollar think they understand Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity because they have heard "E-equals-M-C-squared", or because they have watched "The Big Bang Theory" on television.  Knowing how to use a smart phone does not make one smart.   

As Hebrews 11:1 famously says, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  When we read that chapter in the book of Hebrews, we are struck by how those heroes of faith consistently transcended the limitations of their human understanding in response to His word.  God does not call us to stop thinking logically or reasoning or learning or acquiring material knowledge.  He calls us to go beyond the shallow, conscious mind and plumb the depths.  The "things not seen" refers not just to heaven but to all the treasures and resources of our life that lie below the surface.  Like Simon, if we are going to transcend our current state, we are occasionally going to have to move out of what we know from experience, from what we are taught by the world. 

Interestingly, this is not the only time this same group had this experience with Jesus.  From John 21:1-7, we read: 
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way.  Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.”  He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.  That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”  

I have heard people say that if they had lived in the days of Christ's Incarnation and seen Him raised from the dead, they would "have more faith".  It does not work that way.  Seeing is a function of faith.  Certainly seeing the positive outcome of an act of faith can make us more willing, perhaps, to risk ourselves again.  But an act of faith is an act of faith.  There is just no getting around it.  Without faith it is impossible to please God

For three years, Peter and the rest had left their boats and followed Christ.  They had seen Him do all the miracles.  They were witnesses of His death, burial and resurrection.  So Peter says, "Well, I reckon we need to go back to fishin', boys."  I am no different.  I have been transformed by the power of the Blood.  But, after all, a man's got to live.  Jesus reminds them and me and you that "once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia".  It's not that we can't fish any more, it's that we will never fish quite the same way again.  We will always be eying that deep water.  And listening. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bid the Mob Good Day

When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.  And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.  But passing through their midst, he went away.  — Luke 4:28-30

This is a rather intriguing passage that sounds more like a scene from a Chuck Norris movie than from the Gospel.  There is no mention of arm-bars or round-house kicks so we are left to wonder exactly how it was that Jesus "passed" through the middle of a hostile crowd and walked off. 

Keep in mind that this occurred in Nazareth, the boyhood home of Jesus.  These were people who had known Him most of His life.  His mother, brothers and sisters (or cousins if you are Catholic) still lived there. 

What had Jesus done to stir up so much animosity?  He had declared His destiny.  After reading from what we know as Isaiah 61, Jesus said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 

The Bible can be studied as literature and as history.  It can be discussed and examined as a basis for establishing a good and equitable and even a free society.  God is not opposed to our using His book in ways that make the world a better and more beautiful place.  At its highest level, though, the Bible is more than a record; it is a revelation.  It is the means for unveiling the Divine to us and ultimately in us.  Consequently, by the grace of God and the power of the Cross,  we may become living epistles for those around us, which would be, we might think, wonderful.  Except that a lot of people, even religious people, are rather offended by God if He is other than what they have come to understand Him as or what they want Him to be. 

As long as religious people can make their god into an image or in some other way clearly define the boundaries of what this god might be or be allowed to do, they are perfectly content.  The ones who attacked Jesus were accepting of a fully transcendent God, of One who Could Not Be Named.  And that God is very real and very much Reality.  Those good Jews were in no way common idolators.  The immanent — you might even say, invasive God, present in the universe, in Christ was simply too much for them to comprehend.  This manifestation of God's presence shattered their understanding.  Instead of accepting the Unveiling, they attacked it.

Hostility toward the immanent God did not end with the Crucifixion.  As Jesus told His disciples, "Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours."  When we become earthen vessels filled with the Light, when we are truly invaders behind enemy lines and not collaborators, we, too, are likely to be attacked.  There is no need to be taken by surprise if we find, on occasion, that "... a person's enemies will be those of his own household.".  It happens.  Our families, our friends, those who have supported us and assisted us in the past may turn away if not become outright antagonistic. 

The answer to this kind of antagonism is not to kick the mother-in-law in the head (as temporarily satisfying as that might be from time to time) or put a submission hold on the next-door neighbor.  It is, instead, to be so secure in our peace and our purpose and our confidence in Christ that the violence of the resistance has no hold on us.  We, like Jesus, are well able to "pass through" the objections that would hem us in on the precipice.  The world and even worldly religion will try to cast us down, but the mob and the press of public opinion or "consensus" can never control us or contain us.  We may have to face rage and walk in the middle of it, but it is, ultimately, the hopeless, helpless rage of impotence.  

The Man from Snowy River

Monday, February 6, 2012

Put the Load Right on Me

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  — Galatians 6:2

To bear the burden of another is not merely to help someone out in need.  That is a work of Christ as well, and pleasing to God.  But look what it says, "and so fulfill the law of Christ".  Certainly Christ's law is to love one another, but Christ's law is the law that governed Christ, that made Him our Substitute, the anti-type of the scapegoat that bore away the guilt of a nation and a people into the wilderness, into forgetfulness.  Christ is the Burden-Bearer:  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Jesus is our High Priest.  Consider the ministry of Aaron, the high priest:   And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance.    ... And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron's heart, when he goes in before the LORD. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the LORD regularly.

As the high priest of Israel bore the nation upon his shoulders and over his heart, so Christ bears us.  Yes, He carried our iniquity, but He also stands in for us in everything.  Do we struggle with fear?  Jesus will bear it.  Were we abused, misused, mistreated?  Jesus will bear it.  Are we burdened with guilt and regret?  The Lord will carry it.

He can carry all that we will give Him but only what we give Him.  There is a price, of course.  As we are freely forgiven, so we must freely forgive.  As we have been given much, so of us much is required.  As our burdens have been borne, so we are called to bear the burdens of others.  First Peter tells us we are "... to be a holy priesthood ... a royal priesthood".  In other words, we are to stand in for others, to bear the burdens of those around us, to carry the fears and the failures of those who will relinquish them to us.

Christ asks us to take His yoke and bear His burden, which is lighter and easier than our own.  How can that be?  It is hard to explain but easy to see.  I pass my burden over to Jesus.  He can bear it easier than I because it is mine and not His.  Someone else passes his or her burden over to me.  It was a horrible weight to that person, but in passing it to another, some of the subjective magnitude goes away.  It is easily bearable for me no matter how personally and with what empathy I enter into it.  I carry only the objective weight.  The subjective is, more or less, lost in the surrendering.

To take His yoke upon us means to step into the work of substitution alongside our Lord.  We cannot live in isolation — as appealing as that is to a lone wolf like me.  He calls us to the communion of the saints, to drink from the same cup —  the same cup as Jesus, but also the same cup as our brothers and sisters who are battered and tormented by the wars and tribulations of life.

I say often that we should be careful with whom we share our troubles, careful of the prayer partners we choose.  You cannot ask just anyone to pray for you — it is foolish to do so.  But there are those we can recognize as burden-bearers.  We know them when we meet them.  With those who are yoked to Christ, we may share our deepest sorrows.  They can be counted on to carry away our load and free us from the burden — not that we might be unburdened but that we might be free to step in and lift up someone else. 

Just look at how many who name the Name of Christ stumble and fall.  It may have happened to us or not, but surely we can understand the temptations of another, even if only by proxy or likeness.  When we see someone struggling, perhaps a prominent person, should we mock and ridicule them for their weakness, or should we seek to take up their burden?  It may not be possible to contact them personally and offer to shoulder the load, but we can speak to the Father and ask Him to allow us to stand in in bearing that addiction, that pressure, that terror for the one who is brought low and fallen.   It is our duty, our priestly duty, and it is not limited to those who are called to full-time ministry or to a particular vocation.  All believers are called to this ministry, to be yoked together with Christ, the Burden-Bearer.

Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog.
He said, "I will fix your rack, if you'll take Jack, my dog."
I said, "Wait a minute, Chester, you know I'm a peaceful man."
He said, "That's okay, boy, won't you feed him when you can."
The Band -- The Weight

Bible Translations

There are lots of good English translations of the Bible.  There are probably a few bad ones, as well.  As long as the translators stick to the basics and don't inject cult prejudice or try to make everything gender-neutral or call God 'Mother', I am for any version a person likes to read.  I could get by quite well with the King James.  The language, though, has changed, and sometimes the impact of a powerful passage can get lost in the oddly archaic familiarity.  This is something like what Lewis said in his foreword to the J.B. Philips paraphrase of the New Testament.  A good translation can give us a fresh look at something we already know. 

Take, for example, a very familiar verse, Luke 2:14, from the KJV, it reads:  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 

Now look what the New International Version says, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favors rests".

The New King James Version translates it identically to the original King James, but the Holman Christian Standard Version says, "Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth to people He favors." 

The English Standard Version and the New American Standard both read similarly, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those [or, men] with whom he is pleased."

There is nothing in those differing versions to change who Christ is or why He came into the world or the overall revelation of God's goodness and mercy.  The KJV and NKJV sound a little more "universal" in that they say "good will toward men" but that is really what the NIV says as well:  "to men on whom his favor rests" means that God's favor or His "good will" rests upon humanity.   The most literal reading of the passage is probably something like this — Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good pleasure.  But the Greek construction apparently points to the good pleasure or good will as belonging to God rather than to humanity which seems to be the object. 

I used to consider the KJV, the NASB, and the NIV as the versions to compare when teaching.  Because of Strong's Concordance and various word studies such as Vine's, the KJV was indispensable back in the pre-internet days for in-depth study.  The NASB was the most literal of the late 20th Century translations and the NIV was widely used and less clunky in reading than the NASB.   With modern software readily available and the vast resources of the internet, we need not be limited to one or two translations and the books we can fit on our shelf.

New translations are coming along all the time.  The Holman Christian Standard Version is, as you might suppose, a sort of proprietary translation and somewhat denominational in flavor.  Though it reads well and I use it, it seems rather Southern Baptist to me, NTTAWWT, but I doubt that it will ever be as revered as the KJV or have the reach of the NIV.  On the other hand, the English Standard Version does strike me as being potentially a "great" translation.  I have it in the free Bible Time software I downloaded from — which is one reason I use it.  It saves me some typing.  But it also strikes me as having at least a little bit of the flow and resonance of the King James for public reading and memorization. 

I have heard different people malign different translations.  I have heard people claim that the King James Version is perfect — it is not.  Translators generally do the best they can to accurately convey the truth of the Greek and Hebrew texts that are available.  The important thing is to find a Bible you like and read it regularly.  In the end, it doesn't matter if you use a paraphrase or learn to read the original Greek because .... the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  (John 14:26, ESV)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Just Got Paid Today

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.  — Colossians 3:23-24

No matter what we do for a living, or just for living, it is the Lord's work.  Most people we know, maybe even ourselves, need a change in perspective.  Whether a person is CEO or janitor, teacher, union boss, guard or governor, housewife or construction worker, he or she is able to do that job to please the Lord.  A person can be engaged in things that run generally counter to God's will and the rightness of that work has to be considered in a larger context — an assassin, for example.  Surely a hooker might want to look for a more legitimate and honest line of work, and the same for a professional politician — but I repeat myself.

Aside from the immoral, anything we do can be done as for God.  Paul addressed his words initially to slaves in the Roman Empire who might be assigned demeaning tasks by cruel masters.  It did not matter.  The Christian can turn an unjust demand into an opportunity to serve the Lord. 

Most of us these days are not faced with deep moral dilemmas on the job.  Our questions run more along the lines of whether or not our work is meaningful and significant.  Are doctors or EMTs or police officers more important than restaurant servers or factory workers?  Should we value teachers above farmers or truckdrivers?  In purely economic terms, supply and demand may should determine monetary compensation.  But how much we are paid has nothing to do with whether or not our work is significant.  A mother who stays home and raises her children is unquestionably worth more than the quarterback of a professional football team.  Only a handful of individuals can achieve on the football field, and because there are thousands willing to surrender large amounts of money to watch those activities, the players are well-paid.  With enough love and a little help from the Lord, anyone can become a reasonably good parent, despite the immense difficulty of it.  Good parents may be known only to their children, and their reward in monetary terms may be non-existent, but they are great in the kingdom of heaven. 

Right now close to a fifth of the working population have no job at all or they have taken work that is "beneath" them.  Some will say they will do whatever they have to do to take care of their families.  Whatever their belief system, such people are not far from the kingdom.  God is not asking us to always love what we do, necessarily; He asks us to love why we do it, to change the focus of our day-to-day work from making a living to living for Him.  It doesn't matter what the name is on the hat or who signs the paycheck; it doesn't matter if we drive a truck or fly a rocket to Mars; we work for the Master.   

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is Egypt Ruined?

Then Pharaoh's servants said to him, How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined? — Exodus 10:7

When things have been a certain way for a long time, we conclude that things are supposed to be that way — good or bad — and that any deviation is some sort of anomaly.  Most living Americans have enjoyed, relatively speaking, liberty, peace, and prosperity all our lives.  We have trouble imagining the poverty in which most of the world lives, the desperation faced quite often by a majority of humanity throughout history. 

Though even "poor" Americans still enjoy more comfort and ease than any except the wealthiest individuals of the past, we are approaching a horizon beyond which we cannot see.  Some trust in technology and look for the Singularity.  Some trust in demographics and think that America will be shattered.  Some trust in finance and believe that the creation of a one-world currency will bring a new day.  Some trust in governments and look for a great global hegemony. 

I make no claim to know what will happen in the future except that we will all come to the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" and be united in the New Man.  Antichrists and beasts and false prophets will rise and will fall.  The people of God will be oppressed and suffer, and Egypt will be ruined.  Or, they will be free and prosper and be at peace, and Egypt along with them.

What is Egypt?  It is the archetype of the world system.  Sometimes it works with the Body of Christ more or less consistently and experiences enlightenment and positive development.  The West has known this in fits and spurts for the last 500 years or so.  It has been especially true in America for the last couple of hundred years.  I do not know if we are facing simply a minor setback in this relationship or an extended period of opposition to God's people.  I am pretty sure, though, that no one can envision how ugly things can get unless you have seen some place like Sarajevo or Somalia or Rwanda.  When Christ is removed from or actively opposed by the system on a large scale, darkness and destruction are the inevitable results. 

When a nation turns to worshiping idols, making servants into masters, and attributing god-like powers to men, it will be ruined.  Egypt, Rome, the French Revolution, the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, to mention a few, have seen the consequences.  Will 21st Century America join the list?  Or has it already?  We have our idols to be sure.  Science and technology have turned from serving us to dictating how we are live.  Too many of us bow down before men and governments.  There are those among us who are enriched and honored for mocking God, and sin is celebrated.  America will not be saved by Washington or Hollywood, unions or Wall Street.  Perhaps it will not be saved at all. 

For by now I could have put out My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.  But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you My power, so that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:15-16).

But if there is to be a revival and renewal in this nation, or any nation, it will happen because the people of God recognize who they are.  We have been delivered from bondage.  Christ has set us free, and we are no more slaves.  The puny restraints of the world cannot hold us any more than the fetters of the Philistines could hold the unshorn Samson.  We will arise and serve the Lord, and Egypt can make its choice.