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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lifted and Separated

And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take oath in the name of God, saying, You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.  -- Nehemiah 13:25

This is not advocacy for racism or tribalism.  There is the aspect that Paul touches on when he tells us not to be unequally yoked, though the passage in 2 Corinthians 6 goes beyond marriage in its implications:  Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God (vv 14-16).

As Christians we need to separate ourselves from the world, and it is not easy.  I go to some site that is otherwise useful and informative and find provocative pictures to generate more traffic.  I turn on the television to catch the weather report, and I am subjected to all sorts of images during the commercial breaks and endless celebrations of the latest revelations of skankiness among the skanks.  For somebody my age, the sexual aspects are less of a hook than they used to be.  I’m more likely to be entrapped by the snares of greed and acquisitiveness which is a constant in this age.

Sometimes I am afraid, even after all these years and all I have seen – afraid that I am missing out.  I suspect that I am not alone in this.  The Amish seem fascinated by my motorcycle.  I sometimes wonder if I am corrupting them just by riding through their country.  Fear of missing out drives the purchase of many things, including lots and lots of pills. 

James 4:4 asks, Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  It seems a little harsh, a little exclusive, maybe a little intolerant.  In fact, it is antagonistic.  We are at war.  [W]hoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  Nehemiah’s rather extreme reaction makes a lot more sense when we realize that he was dealing, in effect, with traitors, with rebels who had sided with the enemies of the Lord.  But I have to ask myself if I have not been guilty of the same thing.  I want to get along.  I don’t want to make the people around me feel bad.  I don’t want to be tagged as someone weird.  I’ve been called every name in the book just because I am less than excited about celebrating All Saints’ Eve. 

A few years back, one of the managers got me moved to another site because I didn’t go out the bars after work.  Oddly enough, it worked out to my advantage.  Some people don’t like outsiders.  They like agreement and consensus.  They like endorsement and confirmation.  Telling some folks that they can do as they please is not enough.  They are not happy until you join them – not because they care about you or desire your company in a personal way.  They crave the sense of approval they get when everybody joins in.  

When we follow God instead of the crowd (even if the crowd gathers in a church building), we become targets.  We can be as circumspect and cautious as we like.  We can try to avoid giving offense.  They still, for some reason, manage to be offended.  I have been asked if I think that I am better than other people.  The answer is no.  Perhaps I am worse and weaker, more easily shackled by a bad habit. 

I have to answer to God for what I do and with whom I associate.  There may be times when it is less critical, when we can afford to be a little less strict.  But when the darkness falls and the storm breaks, we had better be on the right side.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Falling Lies

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. -- 2 Timothy 3:1

This is a verse often quoted by Christians.  It seems to indicate that human history and time in general is degenerative.  A little further on in this same chapter Paul says, “…while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (v.13).  Thus many conclude that everything is running downhill. 

I think we have talked before about the Day of the Lord and it not being the end of time or the end of the world, but a time in which God intervenes, sometimes in a very direct way, in the affairs of this world.  The Day of the Lord is a day when things get reset.  It is a course correction for history.  In the time prior to a Day of the Lord, we might expect, then, that things would be off course and getting worse. 

I usually see a date of about 67 AD for the writing of the Second Epistle to Timothy.  The rebellion by the Jews that led to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem had already begun.  God’s wrath was about to be executed by the hand of Titus.  Paul and Timothy were living in the “last days”. 

We, too, may be living in the last days.  Truth is an increasingly rare and precious commodity – so it seems sometimes.  If it is the case that we live in a time of deception, we can take some consolation in knowing that we are that much closer to a day when the lies will be stripped away. 

The Day of Lord must begin as a kind of winter.  The deceivers are rather like autumn leaves ablaze in their momentary glory.  The wind of the Spirit is about to blow.  Winter has its harsh beauties, but its mercies are cold.  Not everything makes it through the winter.  The faithful may be delivered by loss as much as through it. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Weary On Monday

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. -- 2 Timothy 4:18

Again, we are very busy.  This is not that unusual.  We often get pretty hectic going into fall and winter.  I’ve been working for the company so long that I get four weeks of vacation I don’t get to take instead of two or three.  It’s great.  So far, I have managed to use four days.  Which means that between now and the end of February, if they do let us carry-over, I need to burn three week and a day so I won’t lose it.  I only lost a week last year.  I don’t know what I would do with four weeks of vacation.  We never go anywhere.    

I have a short respite while I’m waiting around for gateway access so I can do something productive.  I’m trying to figure out how to go through the Book of Job in my usual pattern of taking a few verses and thinking about them.  Job doesn’t really lend itself to that.  It’s a debate, so it is necessary to summarize a given speaker’s position unless you want to quote a chapter or two at a time.

Meanwhile, I think the above verse from Paul, as an aged man, probably very near the day of his death, is in line with what we have been talking about lately.  Evil deeds do come around.  No one, no matter how pious and devoted, is immune from the attacks.  In fact, speaking of Job, sometimes our piety is the reason we are targeted.  Satan’s job, so it seems, is to try us, to put us in the fire like the three Hebrew children to see what will burn.  In their case, only the ropes that bound them were consumed in the heat.  They were set free and unharmed. 

Perhaps Paul is even thinking of that story as he realizes that the worst his enemies, fleshly or otherwise, can do to him is release him from this prison of clay with its “bars of bone”.  I have seen a little of God’s grace in deliverance the past couple of days.   I struggle with so much and forget so often to turn to Him and let Him get me through.  I’m trying to be more deliberate in surrendering my fears and my frustrations to Him.  I hope that I am seeing some progress. 

Also, I picked up a couple of books yesterday from the bargain shelf.  One is a volume containing four of Lewis’ works:  Surprised by Joy, Reflection of the Psalms, The Four Loves, and The Business of Heaven.  I had a copy of Surprised by Joy at one time and must have given it away or left it somewhere.  I don’t remember reading The Business of Heaven so I’m looking forward to plowing through all these again.   

The other book is Walter Wangerin’s Saint Julian which is about ten years old.  It’s not one of Wangerin’s more highly rated works, to say the least.  A lot of reviewers didn’t like it or didn’t get it.  It does appear to be a work of great significance to the author, and it may suffer from the closeness.  Julian is a hunter.  We’ll see how it goes.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

George MacDonald on "The Yoke of Jesus"

MacDonald recommended himself to me because he was very much at odds with the severe Calvinism and predestination which was a part of his heritage.  The copied section below, though, is hardly controversial, just a minor reference to the "eternally creating, eternally saving God". 

The best of the good wine remains; I have kept it to the last. A friend pointed out to me that the Master does not mean we must take on us a yoke like his; we must take on us the very yoke he is carrying.

Dante, describing how, on the first terrace of Purgatory, he walked stooping, to be on a level with Oderisi, who went bowed to the ground by the ponderous burden of the pride he had cherished on earth, says--'I went walking with this heavy-laden soul, just as oxen walk in the yoke': this picture almost always comes to me with the words of the Lord, 'Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me.' Their intent is, 'Take the other end of my yoke, doing as I do, being as I am.' Think of it a moment:--to walk in the same yoke with the Son of Man, doing the same labour with him, and having the same feeling common to him and us! This, and nothing else, is offered the man who would have rest to his soul; is required of the man who would know the Father; is by the Lord pressed upon him to whom he would give the same peace which pervades and sustains his own eternal heart.

But a yoke is for drawing withal: what load is it the Lord is drawing? Wherewith is the cart laden which he would have us help him draw? With what but the will of the eternal, the perfect Father? How should the Father honour the Son, but by giving him his will to embody in deed, by making him hand to his father's heart!--and hardest of all, in bringing home his children!  Specially in drawing this load must his yoke-fellow share. How to draw it, he must learn of him who draws by his side.

Whoever, in the commonest duties that fall to him, does as the Father would have him do, bears His yoke along with Jesus; and the Father takes his help for the redemption of the world--for the deliverance of men from the slavery of their own rubbish-laden waggons, into the liberty of God's  husbandmen. Bearing the same yoke with Jesus, the man learns to walk step for step with him, drawing, drawing the cart laden with the will of the father of both, and rejoicing with the joy of Jesus. The glory of existence is to take up its burden, and exist for Existence eternal and supreme--for the Father who does his divine and perfect best to impart his glad life to us, making us sharers of that nature which is bliss, and that labour which is peace. He lives for us; we must live for him. The little ones must take their full share in the great Father's work: his work is the business of the family.

Starts thy soul, trembles thy brain at the thought of such a burden as the will of the eternally creating, eternally saving God?  'How shall mortal man walk in such a yoke,' sayest thou, 'even with the Son of God bearing it also?'

Why, brother, sister, it is the only burden bearable--the only burden that can be borne of mortal! Under any other, the lightest, he must at last sink outworn, his very soul gray with sickness!  He on whom lay the other half of the burden of God, the weight of his creation to redeem, says, 'The yoke I bear is easy; the burden I draw is light'; and this he said, knowing the death he was to die. The yoke did not gall his neck, the burden did not overstrain his sinews, neither did the goal on Calvary fright him from the straight way thither. He had the will of the Father to work out, and that will was his strength as well as his joy. He had the same will as his father. To him the one thing worth living for, was the share the love of his father gave him in his work. He loved his father even to the death of the cross, and eternally beyond it.

When we give ourselves up to the Father as the Son gave himself, we shall not only find our yoke easy and our burden light, but that they communicate ease and lightness; not only will they not make us weary, but they will give us rest from all other weariness. Let us not waste a moment in asking how this can be; the only way to know that, is to take the yoke on us. That rest is a secret for every heart to know, for never a tongue to tell. Only by having it can we know it. If it seem impossible to take the yoke on us, let us attempt the impossible; let us lay hold of the yoke, and bow our heads, and try to get our necks under it. Giving our Father the opportunity, he will help and not fail us. He is helping us every moment, when least we think we need his help; when most we think we do, then may we most boldly, as most earnestly we must, cry for it.  What or how much his creatures can do or bear, God only understands; but when most it seems impossible to do or bear, we must be most confident that he will neither demand too much, nor fail with the vital creator-help. That help will be there when wanted--that is, the moment it can be help. To be able beforehand to imagine ourselves doing or bearing, we have neither claim nor need.

It is vain to think that any weariness, however caused, any burden, however slight, may be got rid of otherwise than by bowing the neck to the yoke of the Father's will. There can be no other rest for heart and soul that he has created. From every burden, from every anxiety, from all dread of shame or loss, even loss of love itself, that yoke will set us free. – George MacDonald, from The Hope of the Gospel, pp. 72-74 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bold Talk For a One-eyed Fat Man

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 5:20-21

October 31st is Reformation Day.  So, if you don’t feel like celebrating Halloween, dress up as Luther and scare some Catholics.  Like Luther, Paul was accused by his opponents of saying that Christians should sin in order to increase grace.  Luther famously said to sin boldly.  This was hyperbole contrasting sin with the greater salvation and grace in the Cross.  Paul does not end on the above statement but immediately goes into what we call chapter 6 of Romans saying, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 

Grace is not license, not a permit to permissiveness.  Grace is the answer we give when we are accused.  Yes, I am everything you say and worse, yet God loved me so much that He offered His only begotten Son to die in my place.  Jesus did not go willingly to a cruel death because I am such a wonderful, perfect person, but because I am broken and sick and hopeless and utterly wretched.  He doesn’t stick with me and try to help me now because I’m good but because I need Him. 

Bad company corrupts good character.  Anybody will tell you that.  Does the Lord corrupt Himself by hanging around with us?  No, He lifts us up.  If we are afraid of God, afraid of the Holy Spirit then who will we end up hanging around?  Don’t think about it too much.  It’s scarier than Hillary Clinton in a negligee. 

We don’t have to be afraid.  We don’t have to hide what we are.  John says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all righteousness.  How can that be “just”?  Because the price was already paid in full.  

Nothing is between us and the Father.  Christ has broken down all the barriers and given us direct access to the very presence of God.  None but the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement, and only bearing the blood of the demanded sacrifice.  It was terrifying.  It is still to be recognized with respect and humility and awe, but the veil was torn in two from top to bottom.  We are the sanctuary. 

Yes, I am going to mess up.  Yes, things are going to cross my mind that I would be better off without.  Yes, when I smash my finger on the John Deere, I am probably going to say some things I should not.  Yes, I am a sinner.  No, I will not accept the condemnations and denunciations of the Accuser.  I won’t sin boldly, but I will boldly tell it to the Lord when I fail, and I will boldly cry to the Cross as my Savior cried from it, “It is all paid up.”