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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stand By Me

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.  -- Revelation 21:8

That’s Jesus Himself talking.  None of it is really surprising, is it?  Maybe just a little – the cowardly, the fearful, those who lack courage, we get the same condemnation as the overtly wicked, the egregiously iniquitous.  That can’t be right.  I’m just cautious, a little circumspect.  There’s no sense in going around looking for trouble, no sense in being the nail that stands up and gets whacked extra hard. 

The fearful and the unbelieving, they are almost one and the same.  I am fearful because I am taking the wrong thing too seriously and not taking the right thing – the Right One seriously enough.  Why can I not say with the psalmist:  The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me? Or, … in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.  What can man do to me?

Faith looks only at God.  Fear can’t look away from the circumstances.  I fear death and pain, loss and failure, humiliation and mockery – all because I cannot bring myself to trust, completely, who God is, what He has done, and what He has said.  This is the case despite having seen Him be faithful time after time after time, despite knowing that He went to the cross for my sake, despite hearing His solemn promise to never leave or forsake me. 

In the coming year there will be lots of opportunities for us to be fearful.  But that also means there will be lots of opportunities for us to trust in and lean upon the Lord and His truth and grace.  Fear not, God says.   Courage really has nothing to do with feelings.  We may feel like we want to turn back, run and hide.  We are not cowards because we feel like throwing down our weapons and taking to our heels, only if we act on those feelings.

We are going to need to stand fast in the next few years.  Sometimes we may feel foolish for following God, but in the end, our courage will make us more than conquerors through Christ Jesus.  If we break and run, it leaves our brothers and sisters more vulnerable.  The shield I bear is a crucial part of the wall, the barrier that checks the onslaughts of the enemy. 

Back in Ezekiel 22:30, God seems to be talking about that kind of situation.  The wall had breached.  A defender was needed but none could be found:   And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.

A nation was broken up and sent into exile because no one had the courage to hold the line against evil and unrighteousness.  No one was willing to denounce the abominations and atrocities taking place.  No one fell on his knees and cried out to the Lord in agony over the sins of himself and his people. 

The battles that we face will not be fought and could not be won with machine guns, tanks, and bombs.  No, … the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  … (Ephesians 6:11-16).

The shield of faith is not just for each individually.  The shield wall will protect us all so long as each one stands his or her ground and keeps facing the enemy.  Turn your back to the adversary, and you become vulnerable. 

Dark days may well lie ahead for us as a nation.  Certainly we will all face challenges of one sort or another in the next twelve months. 

Fear not.    

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Lights

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:29-32

As I get older I tend to be more sympathetic or empathetic with elderly men like Simeon.  Maybe it’s just pathetic.  All his life he waited for the consolation of Israel.  He had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he saw the Messiah.  We don’t know when this was revealed to him, but we might imagine that it was when he was young, perhaps a child or teenager.  For all we know, he may have waited sixty or seventy or even eighty years. 

As he was waiting, he had no way of knowing what day would be the day.  It’s not like the amusement park signs that tell you that you have another hour, another 30 minutes, or another 15 minutes before you get to the ride.  This is real life.  What he was waiting for could have been tomorrow, but it wasn’t.  Until it was today. 

I look at God’s promises, and I wonder how long it will be until Christ is formed in me (Galatians 4:19).  I see where Jesus Himself will abide in me and I in Him, Vine and branch.  Then there is 1 John 3:2  -- Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  I believe this, but I don’t necessarily see it happening. 

From Simeon perspective, he didn’t see anything happening either.  As far as he was concerned, for all those years, nothing was taking place.  There was no outward evidence that the process had even been started.  He had no idea what was really going on.  All he knew was that he was still alive, and he hadn’t seen the Messiah.  But just as God was faithful with regard to the vision He had given Simeon, He is faithful to fulfill His promises to us, to transform us into the image and likeness of Christ. 

No matter how it looks now, you and I are going to get up one morning, drink our coffee, head off to work or whatever our routine is, and it will turn out to be the day.  Until we see Him, it will be just like every other day we have experienced all these long years.  Suddenly, the Light will appear and our eyes will see the salvation and the glory, and we will understand. 

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How Not to Repent

I'm on vacation for the next couple of weeks.  I will try to post something more positive before Christmas.

Meanwhile, mega-church pastor and sexual deviant, Ted Haggard, shows us how not to repent.  This is a little like what I was talking about yesterday.  The Aquila Report goes through the points in detail and is interesting reading.  What is particularly grating to me is bullet #2:

My problem was not spiritual. ”The therapeutic team that dug in on me insisted that I did not have a spiritual problem.”

While I do not doubt that Haggard may have been molested as a child or something, he had and has a serious spiritual problem.  A person is not a spiritual failure because he needs therapy or medication to deal with childhood trauma or a biological imbalance.  But Haggard pretended to be living as a Christian, and not just any Christian, a shepherd, teacher, and leader, while doing drugs and engaging in deviant behavior he would have rightly condemned from the pulpit.  A person of genuine faith who rightly understood the work of Christ and the power of the Cross would not have continued living that way. He would have faced up to his compulsions, gone to therapy, and dealt with his problems openly and honestly. 

How is that not a spiritual problem?

His wife might be doing the right thing to stick with him, but he should be flipping hamburgers for a living.  His congregation is composed of saps and suckers.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mostly Just Random Rambling

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill. -- Zephaniah 1:12

It is very common to hear people say they believe in God, but ....  For such people, God is neither friend nor foe.  He is around, someone they might pray to if they get in trouble, but not one they depend upon or interact with on a regular basis.  This is true even of church-goers, many of whom act as though God were more present in the church house than in the outhouse. 

The complacent will run up against the wall they have created around their lives.  That's the problem with walling God out.  We wall ourselves in.  I have been guilty of isolating myself.  I mostly work from home any more.  I have contact with people over the phone.  I work to help the members of my team and our clients.  Still, there's something different about having conversations via email, text, and IM or even over phone lines and Lync.  Those communications are more controlled and predictable.  They are timed and bound as opposed to the more fluid and less structured interactions that take place in person.

We had the big snowstorm coupled with temperature that never got above freezing for a week.  I was out once to the post office and that was it.  When I got out again, I was running low on food for my cats and dog, so I went to one of nearest stores, which happens to be a Dollar Store.  I had a hundred dollar bill along with a five or two and a few ones.  Two bags of pet food and some jerky for the bear was going to require breaking the hundred.  I got up to the checkout and was behind a plump, nicely-dressed lady with Farah Fawcett-hair and her two pre-teen daughters.  They had a truckload of stuff.  I'm holding thirty or forty pounds, not a big deal.  I'm a patient man. 

To a point.

The chubby lady finally got all her items run across the scanner and into bags as she argued with her daughters about various choices.  Then it was time to pay.  The first run was off her EBT card, which reached its limit with over half the bill unpaid.  I was thinking that her last hair-do (do women still say that?) cost about that same amount. She then ran a debit card across, coming up $20.60 short.  "Girls, we're going to have to put some of this back," she said.

I know some people are really not gifted with simple arithmetic skills, but my analytical brain was suggesting that surely she has run this scam before.  I didn't care.  My supply of meekness, patience and understanding was nearing exhaustion, and I feared the rupture.  I dropped the hundred with two quarters and dime on the black surface of the conveyor and said, "I have to break this anyway.  I'll make up the difference."  I did not do it out of the goodness of my heart.  I didn't do it because it was what Jesus would do.  I didn't even do it because the little fat lady reminded me of my daughter or I felt sorry for her kids or remembered what it was like to be financially embarrassed.  I did it because it was worth twenty bucks to get her out of the way. 

I'm thinking that one probably won't get me much of a reward in heaven.  I was not a cheerful giver.  Nevertheless, I have to admit that I was probably where I was at that time for that reason.  I don't think she deserved the help.  I think she could have easily avoided the entire situation with a little forethought and planning.  I'm still cynical enough to think she did it hoping for just such an outcome.  She and her daughters did thank me.  One of the girls said something about people being kind and good.  The lady asked for my number so she could pay me back.  I answered with a short, emphatic, "No!"  I bit it off to keep from asking if she really thought I was that stupid. 

The better interaction was last night when my wife and I went out to a western store to purchase cowboy boots for the grandkids.  The boys' were easy to find and not terribly expensive.  The girls are both older and wear adult sizes, which can be ridiculous in price.  The salespeople in this particular store are annoyingly helpful, especially in the women's boot section, where the staff is composed mostly of young ladies.  I try to avoid them as much as possible.  I was doing a good job, but one girl was quite persistent.  I managed to send her off in search of the elusive boot snipe while I located my wife and suggested that we move on as the girls' boots would be out of proportion to what we were spending on the boys.  She agreed but wanted to shop some more herself, so I wandered over to look at the men's boots.  I don't need any more boots, especially dress boots, but the caimans do tempt me, and I've never had a pair of Luccheses — Noconas, Tony Lamas, and Justins, but never Luccheses or Dan Post.  It's just not right.

After a while, I wandered back in search of my wife whom I found engaged in an intense conversation with the persistent little salesgirl.  It turns out that she lives even further out that we do, in the area where I grew up, and I know her husband's family.  She and my wife were talking church.  The salesgirl won't go to the one where she's a member because the pastor is a registered sex offender, no longer allowed to live with his wife and children.  I have run into some bad pastors in my time, but this could be one of the worst.  Apparently, the man's father is some big shot in that particular denominational abomination.  He pushed for his son to be allowed back into active ministry — as a pastor.  The local church had the final say and voted to accept him.  Because we all make mistakes and deserve forgiveness. 


How does this guy even legally get inside a building with children?  How can a man who was married and had small children yet seduced and molested an underage girl (I suppose) serve as a shepherd and leader?  What kind of example is this for the members of that church who are tempted to far less heinous sins?  Consequences should be commensurate with actions.  Why is he not swinging from a post oak?  Forgive him, sure.  Then hang him. 

This is what Zephaniah means.  We don't really take God's presence or His view of things one way or the other seriously.  It's mistakes and foibles and eccentricities and who are we to judge.  I'm not anybody to judge.  They do say, however, it takes one to know one.  Perhaps that's why I know evil and wickedness when I see it.  The church is not doing this man any favors by, in effect, condoning what he has done.  Remember poor little Moe that I told you about a few weeks ago?  That's where this guy is headed, to a rendezvous with the exhaust pipe in his garage, a rope over a rafter, or a shotgun under his chin.    

As we have been saying lately, the Lord is here whether we know it or not.  Even the most reluctant and cynical among us can be His messengers, angels doing His work in unlikely corners.  At the same time, no one fools God, and nobody is going to get away with anything in the long run. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Band Played On

The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth and I announced them; then suddenly I did them and they came to pass.  Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’

You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it?  From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known.  They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’  

You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened.  For I knew that you would surely deal  treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel.  Isaiah 48:3-8

The words of the patriarchs, of Moses and the prophets that followed undermined the denials of idolaters, scorners, and skeptics.  Things do not just happen.  As Rick said over on One Cosmos, it seems like a setup because, in a way, it is.  Certainly God can step into someone’s life – e.g., Saul of Tarsus – and take over because a particular person or situation is needed for a course correction.  Yet, if Saul had remained obstinate in the face of seeing the Lord, if he had insisted that he had gotten hold of some bad mushrooms, he could have.  But the Lord knew that he would not. 

You don’t have to be God or have a locked down deterministic universe to predict how your spouse or one of your kids or your best friend will react in a certain situation.  How hard do we think it is for the omnipotent, omniscient Creator of heaven and earth to figure out how to get something done?  God can deal with our free will and our individual choices. 

In His dealing with Israel, going all the way back to Abraham, we see God speaking beforehand.  We might think of it as the Lord establishing His credentials, proving time and again that He and He alone is the Real Thing.  If we look at the narrative flow going through the Law and the Prophets, we can see the winnowing that takes place from Abraham to Christ.  God did indeed make of Abraham a great nation in order to isolate one line and, ultimately, one single little girl in order to bring about the salvation of all humanity. 

I’m editing the MOTT chapter on “The Force” which is timely for Christmas since it deals primarily with virginity and the Virgin Mary.  Even if some of us might think that Roman Catholicism goes too far in veneration of the Blessed Virgin, Protestantism doesn’t go far enough.  What a supremely wondrous person Mary must be, and must have been prior to her acceptance of that destiny.  

Think of the millions who lived and died between the single points of Abraham and Mary, one opening out to myriad possibilities only to narrow, refine, and fine-tune back down to one individual strand.  We can see God as the Composer of a vast, complex symphony, every note and movement set down and meticulously charted from the all-seeing, all-knowing perspective of eternity. 

I see Him more as the Master Composer who also conducts and plays – you know, Three in One --  knowing where He wants the music to go, knowing the themes, able to incorporate discords and faults into the ultimate beauty of this glorious composition.  Now, I am no musician and know nothing about music beyond playing, very poorly, a few chords on a guitar.  But if I did play some instrument really well and understood music composition and all that, I might be able to jam with the band. 

Well, that’s what life is.  It’s not that hard to find out the general way we are supposed to play it – do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.  We can find our niche and tune up to fit in with the current movement, to play according to the grace that has been given us.  We study the Word, we pray, we give God space and control in our lives that He may use our obedience to counter and correct the disharmonies of those who go their own way and play their own sad tunes.  Maybe they will hear at last our Ode to Joy and decide to join the band.   

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Passing Through the Valley of Baca

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.   
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
-- Psalm 84:5-6

This has been a busy week.  I have to burn a bunch of vacation time before the end of the year.  I can only carry over forty hours.  It would have been hard to imagine on some jobs I have had that I would have trouble finding time to take time off.  I am working extra hours this week, trying to get everything done so I won’t have to work on my vacation days over Christmas.  It seems kind of stupid, but such is my world these days. 

As much, sometimes, as life may seem to be a drudge, it is a pilgrimage with a glorious terminus.  The way to that destination lies within each of us.  In John 14:5, Thomas asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?  Jesus insisted that they did indeed know the way – not only the Way, but the Truth and the Life as well (v. 6). 

The highway that leads to Zion is in our hearts, and though the path is close at hand, the journey is not an easy one for it passes through the Valley of Baca – the vale of tears.  Weeping comes with the territory, true enough; nevertheless, our tears do not fall in vain.  As they soak into the thirsty ground, they seek the like that lies below.  Where you have had to stop and sob, a spring bubbles forth.  The dry road you trod is, behind you, well-watered and lush. 

I think that family and friends can lead us by the known paths to a point.  There are plenty of waterholes until we get to where we must go on alone.  We may find the way on easier because we are sustained by springs where others have suffered.  Perhaps the same will be true of those who follow us.