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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Someone Is Wrong on the Internet

If there is one mark of perfection, it is simply that it can tolerate the imperfections of others.  It is able to adjust.  Fénelon

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  --  Romans 14:1

How do I know I am not perfect?  I am still upset by the faults of others.  Jesus became indignant over religious rules that kept people in hopeless bondage.  His anger unleashed in the courts of the temple was symbolic, much like the charge to Saul to destroy all the Amalekites.  All of the old nature is under condemnation and has no place in God’s sanctuary. 

Meanwhile our declining culture has moved from religious Pharisees to political ones, from Puritans condemning immorality to the grossly deviate and immoral condemning Puritans. 

Intolerance is one manifestation of fleshly power.  Tolerance is a manifestation of spiritual power – again with the true meaning of meekness. 

Tolerance is not indifference.  I am indifferent about a lot of things, including who wins the football game on Sunday.  I have even become indifferent over the years to people who are Cubs fans or non-Cowboy fans or people who like soccer.  I have not been perfected with regard to such things; I just don’t care anymore. 

Arguing with fools can be entertaining; arguing with the wise can be enlightening – except that the wise rarely argue.  A wise person corrects a misunderstanding on the part of another.  He or she does not quarrel.  The wise have nothing to prove because Truth, sooner or later, proves itself.  The fool fails to learn even from that – if he survives. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Rest

It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.  Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him – Lamentations 3:27-28

Be still, and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10

For fifteen days I strove to prove that there could not be any functions like those I have since called Fuchsian functions. I was then very ignorant; every day I seated myself at my work table, stayed an hour or two, tried a great number of combinations and reached no results. One evening, contrary to my custom, I drank black coffee and could not sleep. Ideas rose in crowds; I felt them collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak., making a stable combination. By the next morning I had established the existence of a class of Fuchsian functions, those which came from the hypergeometric series; I had only to write out the results, which took but a few hours.Henri Poincaré

It doesn’t matter what we strive to do, striving is necessary – if only to prove that striving alone is insufficient.  Discipline, bearing the yoke, if we carry it through to the end, will lead us to a summit of silence.   

Paul calls the Law a guardian, a nanny, a pedagogue – something formal and pedantic to help us get started in the right way.  

So it is with all the burdens we carry in life – with life in this world itself.  Our journey here, all of it, long or short, is mostly boot camp.  Some of us will advance a little beyond and be more of a help than a hindrance to our fellow travelers, and we will all know our joys as well as our sorrows along the way.   

At times, really, the weariness seems too much. 

For those times, God has given us the gift of silence.  The space between, the stillness that holds the rhythm.   Rest.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tender Grass

I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord.  The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord, but how I might get my soul into a happy state and how my inner man may be nourished ….  I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to reading of the Word of God and meditation on it. – George Müller (as quoted in John Piper’s Desiring God)

I will never forget a conversation with a therapist about a boy who was a resident in the facility where I briefly worked.  I had giving him a series of tests, the results of which looked normal.  As the therapist and I discussed the tests, I remarked that the boy did not seem to have any real issues that would require being confined.   She replied, “Just one.  He’s German Catholic.”  The therapist was, too.  

The idea that Christianity is a religion of sacrifice, suffering, and misery is fairly wide-spread – especially, it seems sometimes, among Christians.  Some Christians try to get out of this with a gospel of health, wealth, happiness, and positive thinking.  Bad things are simply not accepted.  Anything bad that happens is a result of a “bad confession”.  Frankly my wife gets into this mode now and then and tells me that if I would not call a piece of equipment “junk” (or worse, depending on how long I’ve tried to make it function) I would not have so much trouble with it.  I am not responsible for Microsoft Windows being a crap OS or Italian steel being Fra-Jah-LEE or HP building obnoxious, temperamental  boxes -- let alone all the other ills and spills of the world. 

If I reject that approach, is the only course left just to sing:  Doom, despair and agony on me/ Deep, dark depression excessive misery/ If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all/ Doom, despair and agony on me”?  That’s the reason that Piper wrote his book promoting what he calls Christian Hedonism – the idea that a Christian’s very purpose is to be happy – wherein he explores our beliefs about God’s sovereignty, about conversion, love, worship, Scripture, prayer, money, marriage, etc.   I think I’ve mentioned this book before.  Actually Piper starts out pretty well, but he gets really pedestrian throughout most of the text. 

No publisher is going to pay a writer for a couple of quotes from Jonathan Edwards, Luther, and Müller tied together with a couple thousand word essay.  But it would have been a much better book. 

That’s one of the problems with way too much evangelical discourse.  The writers and speakers feel compelled to make it relatable in a context.  They think they have to go into detailed explanations of how to “honor God” in your marriage and with your money and on your job.  Why can’t you just tell me what you know about God (ah, that might be the rub), shut up, and I’ll figure out the rest.   What’s the matter?  You all think you’d be out of a job if you couldn’t tell sheep how to eat grass?  A shepherd’s job is not to teach sheep how to be sheep.  It is to lead them up to higher, better pastures and protect them from the wolves. 

Anyway, as Müller points out, our job, as sheep is to be happy sheep, and we find that happiness in Christ, the Logos – often as we are led to feed upon and reflect upon His word. 

Know that the Lord, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. – Psalm 100:3

Psalms 23 (Young’s Literal Translation)

Jehovah is my shepherd, I do not lack,
In pastures of tender grass He causeth me to lie down,
By quiet waters He doth lead me.
My soul He refresheth,
He leadeth me in paths of righteousness,
For His name's sake,
Also--when I walk in a valley of death-shade,
I fear no evil, for Thou art with me,
Thy rod and Thy staff--they comfort me.
Thou arrangest before me a table,
Over-against my adversaries,
Thou hast anointed with oil my head,
My cup is full!
Only--goodness and kindness pursue me,
All the days of my life,
And my dwelling is in the house of Jehovah,
For a length of days!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Seasoning -- A Chapter Not Strictly Necessary

If you do not want to read a confused, personal, and self-pitying lament, you can skip this.  I'll post something more normal tomorrow.

And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions.  Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. – Ezekiel 2:6

If you want to know what I was like roughly half my lifetime (so far) ago – and I don’t know why anybody would want to know – read the whole of Ezekiel chapters 2 and 3 in your Bible.  I was not like Ezekiel and I was certainly never a prophet but that was essentially the call that came to me.  Amos is famous for saying he was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet but merely a fig-picker from Tekoa.  I always thought that sounded about right. 

I have mentioned how my wife bought a small King James Bible that I could carry with me on my motorcycle when I went to work.   I was so confused by what I found in that copy of the Bible that I actually opened up the old one my parents had bought when I was ten or so and compared passages.  I was convinced that somebody had changed the words.  They had not.  The reader had changed.  And it got me into a lot of strange situations with strange and sometimes well-known people, led me to strange locations, not to be a prophet but to feed prophets until the brook dried up.  It was hard, and it was painful, but, looking back, I can’t complain.  I have been well-paid for my time since then.  The bitterness is my own fault, and I can blame no one except myself.  I just didn’t understand. 

Anyway, I figured I was done.  I’m old and tired and ready to back to picking, if not figs, at least blackberries, plums, apples and grapes.  I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation (Jeremiah 15:17).  That’s me.  Just go away and leave me alone.  I am indignant, and bitter.  The word might have been sweet as I ate it, but it turned sour in my guts.  I did my job.  What else could there be? 

Therefore thus says the Lord:  “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me.  If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth.  They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them.” -- Jeremiah 15:19

You have the wrong guy this time.  This is clearly meant for somebody else.  I’ll put it out here on the blog and maybe the right one will happen by and read it. 

“And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord.  I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”

All well and good but I have heard this before:  Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads.  Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead.  Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.  My head won’t break.  What about my heart? 

I probably don’t understand it any better this time than I did last time.  I thought it would be really cool to be out there on the cutting edge.  I thought if someone would speak God’s word to people those hearing would get the message and get excited, that they’d be happy to respond positively.  I was, in other words, young and foolish.  People do not like the truth.  They prefer, as Micah pointed out, a prophet who preaches plenty of wine and beer.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

There is no question that the world has long been inundated with worthless words, and despite all the Christian broadcasting that goes on, there is a famine of words that are noble and worthwhile.  Like gold, the truth is precious by its rarity as well as by its power. 

So what do I do with my bitterness?  Perhaps there is a purpose even for that.  God said of the Passover Lamb which prefigures Christ:  They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.  You can’t live on it, but it can make a good condiment.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Cry for Repentance. Or Antidepressants.

The Lord said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people.  Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.” – Jeremiah 14:11-12

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. – 1 John 5:16-17

Can a person or a nation get so completely out of kilter, so utter dysfunctional that they must be destroyed?  It must be possible, though it is not my call as to when that takes place.  Seeming devils can become saints.  God knows. 

Here is another one to contemplate.  There was open sexual immorality going on in the church at Corinth.  One of the church members was engaged in behavior that even the pagans would not condone, according to Paul who offered this remedy to the congregation:

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.  When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:3-5)   
I suppose this was a form of excommunication, though it sounds, on the surface, as if the assembled saints were being called on to pronounce a curse on the wayward one.  The devil take you, we might say – which should remind us to be careful of our words.  Paul expected that allowing Satan to have access to the sinner would lead to his ultimate salvation.  Far better to see the flesh destroyed than to allow a brother to fall away into spiritual death. 

We like to think there is always hope.  Even the Bible suggests that a live dog is better than a dead lion (Ecclesiastes 9:4).  There are times when a disease requires extreme measures.  Damage can be so extensive that the only way to save a life is amputation.  The way to spiritual life is always through death; sometimes it may mean physical death.  Sometimes only suffering and destruction can get us back on the right road. 

I don’t see how a person can have much hope in a society that embraces and exalts wickedness, that glorifies stupidity and wallows in unrighteousness.  But, as I said yesterday, it is not anything new.  If it seems strange to us, it is only because we were once, for a brief moment in history, a better people, or thought we were.  No, I don’t think the revisionists are right – I think we did rise above the churning mediocrity of human ignorance and apathy and selfishness.  It may appear only as a spike above the regression line of history, but it happened.  Our fall is the more evident for it.

Freedom.  Do we even know what it means?  

Oh, and that man in Corinth that the congregation cursed, ever wonder how that turned out?

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you.  For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.

There is always hope.