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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Friday, June 28, 2013

Question and Answer

I went down Virginia
Seekin’ shelter from the storm.
Caught up in the fable,
I watched the tower grow
Five year plans and new deals
Wrapped in golden chains,
And I wonder, still I wonder,
Who will stop the rain? – CCR “Who Will Stop the Rain?”

If it had not been the LORD who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the LORD who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.
Blessed be the LORD,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!
Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth. – Psalm 124:1-8

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Judge Not

Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you. -- Psalms 143:2
Self-righteousness is a dangerous game, as is grading on the curve.  I'm not nearly as bad as some of my neighbors, so I must be all right.  God, though, holds up an absolute standard of right, of goodness, and purity that I cannot meet.  I am weakened in my will by passion and desire.  I hear that which is false and grasp at it, longing for it to be true even as I know it is not.

It is obvious this week, perhaps more than usual, that we live in world that just prefers the comfortable lies to the gleaming, relentless truth.  It is not enough for us to tolerate blatant sin in our midst.  The sinner is not happy unless we acknowledge, accept and even celebrate his deviance.  I suppose there is a certain reassurance that, even as the judgment of God looms, there are still people who are on our side.

It seems to me that it is not the religious people who are engaging in judgment and self-righteousness.  I'm not judging the abortionist, the homosexual, the liar or the adulterer.  I am simply pointing out that "no one living is righteous" before God.  I'm not saying I'm better than another person.  I'm saying that God is better than either of us and that, apart from Christ, we are both under judgment.  The difference is that I know it and admit it while others continue to live in denial.

The people who today are gloating over what five people in black robes said or even what fifty percent of Americans believe will soon find out that truth doesn't get voted down or ruled unconstitutional.  They are the more vehement, the more exuberant in embracing their error because, in their hearts, they know they are wrong.  They will project their shame onto us and blame us for the horror they feel at their own sin. 

Don't be surprised if it gets ugly. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Read the Sign

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." -- John 6:26-27

I am still more than moderately fried, and today was supposed to be a vacation day.  I was going to get the bike out and cruise for a few hours.  That's not going to happen.  I might get off early enough to ride over to Lambert's and catch a biscuit.  I suppose that leaves me laboring "for the food that perishes".  Paul, though, said if I didn't work, I shouldn't eat, so there's that. 

I don't think Jesus is chastising anybody for honest work or for fielding a "throwed roll".  This passage follows John's account of the feeding of the five thousand, the fourth miraculous sign recorded in his Gospel.  The first sign was turning water into wine at Cana, the second was healing an official's son at Capernaum after He had returned to Cana, the third sign was healing the sick man at the pool of Bethesda.  Signs were given and miracles wrought not so much to convince those who refused to believe but to assure and encourage those who did.  A sign does not create faith; it is more like adding a catalyst.  Faith is activated when it sees a sign.

Those to whom Jesus spoke were not people who had faith in Him, whose faith had been quickened by seeing His power and authority impacting their material existence.  They were people who had eaten, filled their bellies, and started thinking that their days of having to work for a living were over.  They did not care who Jesus was.  They would have followed the devil himself just as quickly and devotedly if he had fed them.  It has happened before, is happening now, and will happen again.  Far too many people -- and many who sit on church pews, have their bellies as their god, living, so it seems, only to consume.  They try to fill their emptiness with everything from food and drink to all manner of material possessions to the life force of other people whom they would drain dry. 

Jesus offers only Himself.  He is the Authentic, the one sealed by the Father.  He will do things in our lives to demonstrate His presence, His love for us, His goodness and mercy.  None of these things, though, have ultimate meaning apart from Him.  What He gives us is His body, His blood, His life.  For our wandering spirit, its homelessness and loneliness and sense of isolation, He gives His body.  For our sin, shame, and guilt, He gives His blood.  For our death, He gives His life. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:15-17

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. -- James 4:4

As we know, the world does not necessarily mean the earth.  The Greek word behind world can be transliterated as kosmos, which is related to kosmeo which means “to adorn.”  We might say “to dress things up.”  As used in the above passages, and many others in the New Testament, the cosmos isn’t a place but an arrangement.  In his little treatise called Love Not the World, Watchman Nee explains:  The classical idea of orderly arrangement or organization helps us to grasp what this is. Behind all that is tangible we meet something intangible, we meet a planned system; and in this system there is a harmonious functioning, a perfect order.

Now even though the kosmos has an internal harmony, it is hostile toward God and rejects Him.  Though it could not exist apart from God’s creation and is, in fact, derived from creation (it could not be otherwise), its internal consistency allows it to function apart from and in opposition to the Divine order.  In John 12:31-32, Jesus, speaking of His coming crucifixion, contrasts what has been with what is about to be:  Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.  The Cross dethrones and casts down the one who has been ruling and will give mankind a new ruler and a new cosmos.

Christianity is often cited as a source of conflict in the world.  Jesus would not argue with that.  He said He came to bring division.  We are bound to be in conflict with an order and a system that rejects God and thus rejects us.  We tend to think of things being worldly that are obviously immoral or that are associated with debauchery.  But worldliness is simply looking at things in a way that lines up with the mind that is behind the world – the prince of this world. 

Satan does not rule over planet earth.  He rules that kosmos.  He has a hierarchy and structure upon which his system is organized and integrated.  If you accept that system, it will make perfect sense and have, as Nee said, an internal harmony.  Of course, this requires us to reject truth and much of what we know is real, but it does provide those who are of the world with the ability to live in a coherent way. 

If I say that the kosmos is a “state of mind” it conjures up connotations of positive thinking and positive mental attitudes.  It’s more like being of one mind with the mind behind the system.  In Romans 8 Paul says that to be fleshly- or worldly-minded is death while to be spiritually-minded is life and peace.  He says, in Colossians 3, that we should set our minds on things above, where Christ dwells.  If we accept the thinking of the world system, it is spiritual death because it cuts us off from God.  If we accept the mind of Christ we will have everlasting life, and, for a time, we will continue to live behind enemy lines, in contact with the world system, confronting, abrading, offending it – not because we are doing anything wrong, but because that kosmos has been judged and its ruler dethroned by the Cross.

A lot of us would like to declare a truce of some kind with the world.  It won’t work.  I’m going to have to close this out, but there seems to be a lot more here.  Maybe when I’m not so addled from working all night I'll be able to come back to it.    

Monday, June 24, 2013


On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.  Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.  Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” – Luke 17:11-19

Wasn’t the tenth leper healed of leprosy?  Isn’t that why he came back to thank Jesus?  It’s understandable that Jesus would commend the healed man for his gratitude.  We should be quick to express our thanks to and praise of the Lord and what He has done.  But the words of Jesus seem to indicate that the man who returned received something that the other nine lepers did not – even though, as Jesus Himself says, all ten were cleansed of their disease.

One thing that Jesus repeats on occasion in the gospel accounts is something like “be it unto you according to your faith.  He says it in different ways but the idea is that God’s response to an individual is defined to a greater or lesser extent by what that person believes.  If, like the centurion, they believed that Jesus could simply say the word and someone miles away would be healed instantaneously, that is what happened.  If they believed that their sight, hearing, or bodily strength could be restored, it was.  If, in other words, they believed Jesus was a healer, they were healed.

Let me offer a brief aside by stating that much of what Jesus did in healing, raising the dead, and working miracles were signs.  His works were meant to make it clear to people that the Messiah had come, that God was present with them in the flesh.  I say this because I am not fully convinced (perhaps I just lack sufficient faith to say) that healing and miracles are accessible exactly as they were during the Incarnation.  Maybe so.  I don’t know. 

In some cases, the people who saw and heard Jesus in His earthly ministry believed that He was a prophet or a teacher or someone gifted with miraculous powers like Elijah or Elisha.  Others thought He was, perhaps, a charlatan.  However, a few believed that He was more than a great prophet.  This is the difference between the leper who returned and the nine lepers who went on.  They received a gift from the healer.  The tenth man received everlasting life from God. 

He saw the miracle of his healing, and his eyes were opened.  He received not just good skin and deliverance from a horrible disease but a revelation.  As he walked along, he suddenly realized who Jesus HAD to be.  The power of this insight was so transforming that he turned and ran back for the chance to thank the Lord and acknowledge Him.   

No doubt he was grateful and thrilled to be healed, but that is not why he went back.  His faith was of a different kind.  The other nine men were healed.  They were former lepers.  They were also still outside of the kingdom.  They did not see the Messiah, only a powerful prophet.  The tenth man was healed and reconciled to God, made whole.  The others merely had their bodies restored, the ravages of leprosy halted and reversed.  Perhaps later on some or all of them came to understand the significance of what had happened to them. 

Most Christians understand the power of Cross for deliverance from the penalty of sin.  I suppose that preaching how Jesus died for our sins is the most important part of the gospel.  A lot of people seem to think so.  It is where we have to start.  If leprosy is your problem, you need to be made clean from leprosy.  If sin is my problem – and it most certainly is – then I need to be cleansed from sin.  But that is just stepping in the front door, or through the gate.  Life is much more, and God offers us much more.   

I do not know what God wants to do in the lives of different people.  I don't even know what He wants to do in my life.  I do know that I don't want to be the governor.  I don't want my inability to believe in the greatness and goodness of God to be what limits His ability to work in my circumstances.  I don't want to stop God from making me whole.  

Be it unto you according to your faith.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Proverb

When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise; when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.  -- Proverbs 21:11

A scoffer isn't a joker but rather one who does not take the laws of life seriously.  He doesn't think that tradition has much, if any, value.  He looks upon those with experience as timid or foolish or out-of-touch.  A lot of people seem to conflate tradition with superstition.  Tradition is, at the very least, pragmatic.  It is what worked and what got us to this point.  That we may not be able to perfectly articulate all the reasons behind traditional values does not mean those values are not shaped by reality. 

The fact is that most humans are average, a little above and a little below.  We are busy with the demands of daily existence -- some clearly more than others, and we mostly don't have the resources to adequately figure out every move we need to make from scratch.  We rely on tradition. 

The scoffers would replace tradition with crowd-sourcing, consensus, the democratic process, academic authority, government expertise, etc.  Most of the time these things are untested and untried and the promoters have no idea what the effect will be next week, let alone ten or twenty or fifty years down the road.  I'm pretty sure the genius social planners who came up with Medicare had no idea that its policies and practices would lead to ridiculous pricing schemes for medical procedures and drugs, to skyrocketing government deficits, or to insurance premiums out-running inflation. 

If scoffers are prone to disregard the values of prior generations, received wisdom, and common sense, how much more are they inclined to devalue God's word, His law, and His revelation?  God's punishment of those who esteem Him lightly, though certain, is not always perceived as swift when we see it at all.  Many will conclude that they can violate moral law without a lot of consequences so long as it is legal in the world system, or so long as they don't get caught. 

In this world, it is often the case that the seeds planted by yesterday's scoffers are reaped by the generations of tomorrow.  We are about to see that very thing take place perhaps more dramatically than has happened in the last seventy-five years.  All the old hens do come home to roost.  The wise can read Kipling.  There are scoffers who will deny the truth even as the fire burns: 

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Godliness With Contentment

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. – Hebrews 4:11-13

No time at all yesterday and not much today, so this will be quick and dirty.  With regard to the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, what bothers me and probably others is how to discern what He is saying from things that sound good and arise from other sources.  That’s one of the things that the word of God does – pass like a surgeon’s scalpel between spirit and soul.  The word, as it is quickened to us, reveals what is false and illusory mixed in with the truth we know, if we will allow it.  I often fail in this for I would cling to some fleshly and comforting illusion even when something is telling me that it is wrong.  I get caught up in appearances and arrogance and convince myself that I can embrace fire and not be burned. 

I rarely think of Hebrews 4:12 in context, but we note that the verse begins with the word “for”, that is, the writer is stating the power of God’s word as being the basis for what he has said up to this point.  He has been talking about entering into God’s rest and how the Israelites despised the Lord’s promises, in particular at Kadesh Barnea.  That entire generation, except for Joshua and Caleb, was rejected and doomed to wander for forty years and to fall in the wilderness.

The word of God reveals to us what is true, and, by the power of the Spirit, convicts and convinces us of that truth.  To enter into God’s rest is to trust in the goodness, the righteousness, the mercy, and justice of the Almighty Lord. 

It’s fashionable to complain.  Sneering and scorn seem to comprise most of what passes for humor these days.  To be content and grateful seems to be generally equated with passivity, ignorance, and a lack of intelligence and sophistication.  From all of our various electronic devices to beer and coffee to denim and shoes to houses and spouses, everybody is supposed to find fault with whatever it is they or anyone else has.  I know people whose lives revolve around the quest to uncover whatever is wrong with whatever they are experiencing.  Instead of going to a restaurant for a meal, they go to whine about the service or that some particular item didn’t meet their expectations, so it seems.  I don’t suppose that does any particular harm aside from the long-term corrosion of their souls and their relationships with others. 

We all complain to God now and then, I’m sure.  We should not complain about God.  I have done it, and I am sorry for it.  We may, in the midst of suffering, ask the Lord why.  We can never, though, doubt His love for us or that it is by His grace, kindness and long-suffering that we live.