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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Praying in 2013

A prayer for the new year from Colossians1:9-14 --

Father, I ask that each one reading this would be filled with the knowledge of Your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that they and I may live and converse with the world in a way that is worthy of and fully pleasing to You, bearing fruit in every good work to which we are appointed, even as we increase in our knowledge of You. 

I ask that You will strengthen us with all power, according to Your own glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, for which we give thanks continually to You -- the One who has qualified us for a share of the inheritance of the saints in light.  For You, Father, have delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of Your beloved Son -- in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Time

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. -- Luke 2:11 (KJV)

Everything that can be said about the birth of Christ has been said many times.  I lack the ability to say even the old things well.  There are many who are skeptics and critics, as there have always been.  The mocker and the scornful change their names but never their attacks.  There is nothing new in being a cynic or in ridiculing the righteous.  Even the small-minded, the petty, the crude and the vulgar can feel insightful in making jests about the Virgin and about her Son.  They can do so bravely, and safely.  They won’t be threatened with beheading.  Christians will only pray for them because we know the One for whom they express disdain loves even, perhaps especially, those who would be His enemies.    

Jesus is the Lamb of God, typified by the Passover lamb.  He is, the Revelator says, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.  The Lord laid aside His majestic glory and … made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  At that moment, He stepped out of eternity and into time.  Yet His birth, like His death, burial, and resurrection, is eternal.  Or, to quote Olaf Stapleton:  For whatever is truly eternal is present equally in all time”. 

And that miraculous birth is truly eternal.  Like the unfailing compassion and mercy of God, it is new every morning.  To the world it looks like history, something past that has been used as a marker.  That familiar tableau that we recreate over and over in materials precious or common is an ever-present truth made manifest.  Be led to Bethlehem, stand in the damp chill of that grotto, and be rent by the cry of God as He takes on flesh.  The tenderness and innocence, the humanness of that moment is as real and as near as the blood, the ache and the agony thirty-three years later upon Golgotha.  It happened, as they say, once upon a time.  It is now.

The stable, the Virgin, the selfless protector, the shepherds, the angels, the beasts, the Baby, all are with us as we trim trees, hurry to homely houses, give, receive, and rejoice.  Yes, a sword will pierce our hearts, but that is for a different now, just as eternal.  It will wait.  Today we are with the shepherds keeping watch for we know not what, to be surprised by visions under an open heaven; we stand solemnly and resolutely beside the stalwart dreamer Joseph; we wander with those wise enough to be see wonders and follow far. 

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Caught in the Slipstream

In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.  Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.  I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you. – Ezekiel 28:16-17
You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’  But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. – Isaiah 14:13-15

These verses are taken from two passages that are referring to prophesied judgment upon Tyre and Babylon respective.  Many, though, interpret these passages as being indirect references to Lucifer/Satan.  Isaiah uses the phrase “Day Star, son of Dawn” (v.12) in his prophecy, and Ezekiel speaks of the person addressed as being “the guardian cherub” (KJV says famously, “the anointed cherub that covereth”).  It is rather impressive language even for the earthly potentates of the time. 

Pride – that frightening word the Greeks gave us – hubris leads to destruction. 

It seems to me, if one wanted to be god-like, he would need to be very, very good.  Being good implies meekness (strength under control), gentleness, kindness, mercy, and humility.  Can I be as good as God?  I can try.  I should try.  But, no, I cannot.  For most of us, this realization helps to humble us.  We become more understanding, more merciful to others, less prone to condemn. 

Others think differently.  They exalt themselves, forgetting or ignoring Jesus’ own statement that those who exalt themselves will be humbled.  Faced with obvious imperfections, failings, and inadequacies, they project, blame, and deny.  Unwilling to acknowledge the old fallen nature and unable to accept their own limitations, these people become more and more corrupted.  They become dangerous and destructive. 

They cannot create.  They can choose to destroy.  Failing at goodness, they can embrace evil.  If they cannot beat God at goodness, certainly they should be able perfect wickedness.  Right?  I suppose it would be funny if it did not, all too often, end in death and horror.  I suppose it would seem more just if they did not, all too often, drag down so many innocents in the slipstream of their fall.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Between the Evil and the Good (Updated)

Proverbs 17:15 (HCSB) -- Acquitting the guilty and condemning the just -- both are detestable to the LORD.

First, any politician who makes the horrific murder of twenty little children about gun control, either way, for any kind of political gain should be taken out and shot.

Similarly, to the drug-addled whores and sodomites of Hollywood with your ridiculous comments that miss the whole point, I suggest that you be tarred and feathered.  You have no use for morality or restraint of any kind.  You unleash your "outrage" over something like this, but you are silent about the obvious corruption of the human soul that leads to it, corruption that you wallow in like the swine you are.  I don't tell you how to live so shut up. 

Second, the murderer was not "troubled".  Troubled people walk around with underwear on their heads or get lots of tattoos and piercings.  Murdering a five-year-old isn't a sign someone is troubled or mentally ill.  It means that person is evil -- if evil is to mean anything at all.  Evil, too, are the people who enable an evil person to walk around free and work his evil deeds.

The proliferation of psychoactive drugs coupled with the attempt to treat people within the community may contribute to some of the violence.  The truth is, despite efforts by drug companies and the FDA to understand the effects of these drugs, adverse events are associated with all of them.  Individuals have different responses to the chemicals.  Sometimes the responses change over time.  Just as a significant percentage of physical problems are caused by the unintended effects of medications, so, too, with medications for those with psychiatric problems.  Residential care may be the best approach in some cases, but no one should simply be handed psychotropic drugs as if they were candy and turned loose on the street.

Oh, and while I'm at it, congratulations to the atheists  who sued to have the Ten Commandments removed from the walls of government schools because the words were taken from a book you don't believe was written by a god you don't believe exists.  Would it be possible for us to agree that it might not be all that bad to teach young people "You shall not murder" is an important idea regardless of the source?  If you want to disregard the part about "no other God", graven images and such, that's up to you.  Not killing, stealing, wronging others, and not disrespecting parental authority are concepts that are essential if we are going to live together in some semblance of civilization.

There is no political solution to this kind of a problem.  There is a moral and spiritual solution.   It requires us to repent and throw out Freud and all the other relativistic secular and satanic philosophies of the last century or two.  It requires us to stop looking at government as God and laws as morality.  Government is a human construct that works well enough so long as it is contained and controlled.  We can, to some limited extent, legislate behavior.  We can use government to to help us get beyond the law of the jungle.  We cannot use laws to define right and wrong.  First, we must know what is right then write our laws accordingly.

We do not live in a "safe" world.  No one is ever guaranteed life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.  We do the best we can.  We make mistakes.  The more power we have over others, the more severe the consequences of our mistakes.

We need a revival of absolute moral standards.  We need to instill in our children the belief that humans, for whatever reason, are indeed special creatures.  We have a responsibility to live right, to treat others right, to respect the lives and liberty of others, and to demand that others do the same for us.  And we need to be prepared to shield ourselves and our fellow travelers from those who would threaten life and liberty.  It doesn't matter if those who would destroy do so because they are judged insane or evil or demon-possessed -- or if they are politicians who are mostly wicked and crazed.  We have to shut them down.

Anyone who is unwilling or unable to live according to the simple standards enshrined in documents like the Ten Commandments and the Bill of Rights cannot be allowed to live among us.  If they cannot restrain themselves, they must be restrained. 

UPDATE:  It occurred to me after spewing this that I had not stated explicitly something that was clear in my head as I wrote.  I am not suggesting that people with autism or other syndromes be locked away in institutions.  My point is that the murderer did not perpetrate this horrendous acts because he had autism or some other misdiagnosed mental disorder.  He did it because he was evil.  He knowingly and willfully did something horribly wrong either because he thought it was right (psychotic) or because he did not care (sociopath).  The medication may have been a factor, but people with all kinds of psychiatric problems, taking all kinds of drugs do NOT commit unspeakable acts of violence on a regular basis.  There is no excuse.

One more thing I will mention.  In cases like this, someone invariably brings up a government conspiracy and mind-control.  I don't buy that.  I think it is stupid.  However, my late brother-in-law had been in the Marines.  He got through basic and served about a year afterward, being promoted to Lance Corporal.  He was then given an honorable, medically-based discharge after being struck by a car while he was falling-down drunk one night in Washington, D.C.  He was then diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder and given a very substantial disability check from the Corps.  He told several of us at various times that he had taken "acid" under orders as part of an "experiment" while he was in the hospital.  I always dismissed this as crazy talk, but I must admit, he had been very high-functioning most of his life prior to the accident and his extended stay in the hospital (probably Walter Reed -- I can't recall).  The fact that he remained on 100% disability for nearly thirty years until his death seems quite compassionate and understanding on the part of the VA -- if you know what I mean.  I still don't believe in the mind-control crap, but I certainly don't know everything.  


Monday, December 10, 2012

The Waiters

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. – 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

The always profane and occasionally amusing atheist George Carlin used to ask, “If we are here to help others, what are the others here for?  Every once in a while I’ll lose my temper and go off in a corner where I will remind God that I do not recall asking for all this.  I don’t know one way or the other if there is a pre-existence, if we were somewhere else before we came here, or, if we were, what that might be like.  During those rants, though, I sometimes get the feeling that I did indeed ask for this life.  At least, I’m pretty certain that I am out of line saying that I didn’t.  Outside of procreation, an atheist can’t really assert that there is some larger purpose for an individual’s life – everything just is and, consequently, we do not have any kind of mystical destiny.  We have a fate.  We fit into some niche and do our part to – what? – keep the species going?  Make life “better”?  Make the world a “better” place?  It’s basically pointless, as Carlin’s existential, recursive joke illustrates.    

For those who know there is a God, for Christians, and anyone who thinks there is more to life than biology and chemistry, we must have a destiny, a destination, a calling, a vocation and a purpose for our lives.  We have a reason for being here.  Some of us may see that reason in some dramatic fashion.  We may, at some point, stand like Aaron between the living and the dead to halt judgment (Number 16:48).  We may have work that feeds or heals or nurtures – physically or spiritually.  We might build and plant.  Or we might, like Jeremiah, uproot and throw down (Jeremiah 1:10). 

But what do we do if our destiny and purpose is not obvious?  We can still love one another in accordance with the great commandment of Christ Jesus (John 15:12).  We can also go on living our lives, doing our best to mind our own business.  I just love that line – to mind your own affairs.  How much better the world would be if I could take that fully to heart, to leave others to do what they must or should, to keep my own counsel, to do what I find at hand to do without regard to the purposes and opinions of those around me.  

 I see that I am called to work, not worry, to avoid dependence on other people as much as possible.  In light of this passage, I can be assured that my prayer – not for wealth, but for sufficiency, is in accordance with the will of God.   This was the standard by which most of us once lived, and it is a Christian standard.  There is no pride or independence from God’s grace in it.  I simply ask for His strength and help to provide for myself that another might not be burdened.  

My works will never be known or lauded.  My life will never be of any consequence in this world.  Even in the next life, I will have nothing of which I can boast or any great accomplishments with which I might be crowned.  And this is as it should be.  If I have been faithful in doing what I could, I will be most content to watch from under a shade tree somewhere as those great in the Kingdom are celebrated.  I will rest in the knowledge that I was one of those who waited.

When I consider how my light is spent
E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
 Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny’d,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur soon replies, God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is  Kingly.  Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’r Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.

                                -- John Milton, “On His Blindness”

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sunday Go to Meetin’

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  -- Exodus 20:8

If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. -- Isaiah 58:13-14

The Sabbath has always been something of a difficulty for me.  As a child I was willing enough to accept that “keeping the Sabbath” was equivalent to “going to church”.  When I was older, I learned more about the Sabbath, the rules for keeping it, the various restraints God had placed on His people, Israel.  I encountered Adventists and others who insisted on a true Saturday Sabbath and on adhering to some of the Jewish requirements.  There are many variations in understanding.  I was standing outside a little rural church one Sunday morning after service.  The pastor, in addition to his work at the church, ran a herd of beef cattle.  As he was shaking hands and speaking to members of the congregation, he came up to a man, Jim, standing next to me – a family member by marriage.  Following the more typical exchange, the pastor added that he was interested in buying a bull that Jim had for sale.  Without rebuke, Jim replied, “I never talk business on Sunday.”  But Jim was going back to the house to watch sports on television all afternoon. 

I have always figured that keeping the Sabbath had a deeper significance than whether or not the cows got milked – ours always did.  A lot of us in certain lines of work have or have had no option other than to show up and do our jobs on Saturday or Sunday.  We all seem, though, to understand Eric Liddell’s refusal to run in the Olympics on what he considered his Sabbath and realize that it was not a sign of legalism.  Liddell was honoring God, his refusal a testimony to God’s place and presence in his life. 

If we look again at the verses from Isaiah – in fact, it makes even more sense if you read the whole chapter – we realize that the Sabbath, like fasting, is about self-denial.  A denial is a negation but it can also be an affirmation.  If I say that one thing is not true I am often asserting, by my denial, that something else is true.  This is the case with the Sabbath and fasting.  We are saying that human nature, human effort, human energy, intellect, power, and strength are not driving the whole she-bang.  The positive side is that we are demonstrating by our self-denying actions that God is in control. 

The man who gets up on Sunday morning and goes with his wife and children to sit in a church building for a couple of hours instead of going golfing or fishing or cranking up his John Deere is making a statement about God’s place in his life.  He is denying self and honoring God.  So, sometimes, is the man who gets up and goes to work at a part-time job on Sunday morning in order to pay off his debts and honor his commitments. 

In Christ, self-denial is not limited to public displays.  Remember that in Liddell’s case he was a very famous and well-known figure in the world of athletics, especially in Scotland.  We are generally known only to our family, friends and neighbors.  They may watch what we do, but many of them get to see – for better or worse – what we are.  I think regular public, corporate worship is good.  I think an effort to go to church and “keep the Sabbath” in that way is good.  But I also think it can become, not just unnecessary, but a hindrance at times.  It can become a means of compartmentalizing our world – putting God in a box, restricting Him, His access to us and our access to Him to a unique and limited time and place. 

The truth and the reality is that we are able to live our lives daily, hourly in the presence of God, carrying out the tasks of life, bearing the burdens of existence and relationships and commitments while involving and acknowledging the Divine even in minutia.  What we really need to find -- and what I think most of us seek, is that closet that we have talked about recently, that place of peace within our own hearts.  In that Meetin’ House, it is always Sunday Mornin’.