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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Going Quiet for a Couple of Days

Things are rather discombobulated (I just wanted an excuse to use that word) for the next couple of days.  Catch everybody Monday.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Do You Have the Time?

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. --John 9:4

The Lord made this statement to His disciples because He was on His way to the Cross.  I think that we are to “make hay while the sun shines”.  It is a basic principle of a successful life that we ought to make use of present opportunities – unless the Spirit checks us.  The promises of the future may not be fulfilled. 

Jesus says this in the context of a question from His followers when they came upon a man blind from birth and wanted to know if the cause of this defect lay with the individual or his parents.   Jesus answered, It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:3).  This doesn’t mean, I don’t believe, that God made this man blind just so He could cure him.  A couple of chapters farther on, Jesus says something similar with regard to the illness of Lazarus being a condition that “does not lead to death” but being for the glory of God (John 11:4). It means that God seizes the opportunities created by evil and the consequences of our living in a fallen world to bring us life, encouragement, hope, and joy.

I do not often know why things happen.  In this sense, any work that I do is usually done in the dark.  I do what my hand finds to do (Ecclesiastes 9:10) as best I can.  I cannot know if it will make much difference in the course of history, but it will make a difference in me and possibly in another person or two that I am able to help out. 

We say we want workers to be paid a “living wage” yet we decry employers like Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby because they are owned by Christians.  We mock, attack, and ridicule Christianity and Christian values then are shocked to find that businesses, corporations, and governments are concerned only with money, power, and control and are rife with corruption, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and scandal.  We celebrate degeneracy and decadence and wonder why things are dying and going downhill.

The cure for America is not to pass laws requiring us to treat one another like – I don’t know – maybe Christians, but for us as individual Christians to live like Christians regardless of the government or the media or what other people think.  Right now that is not too hard, but it is getting harder quickly.  When the government can force businesses to fund abortions or bake cakes in violation of their convictions and religious beliefs, we are bordering on persecution.   

The time to get on the right track is now.  The time to do the right thing is now.  The time to stand up together against tyranny and government overreach is now.  The time for fervent prayer is now.  The time for radical obedience is now.  The time to do the works of Him who sends us is now.  

The time is now.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pi Day and Rational Astrology

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.  -- Psalms 139:16

In addition to being Pi Day and Albert Einstein’s birthday, 3/14 was a birthday shared by a couple of family members -- one now gone where no lines or cell towers blight heaven’s views and another I will call before the day is out and perhaps see tomorrow.  It seems as though birthdays have a tendency to cluster.  My sister’s birthday is at the end of August, her husband and three of their four kids have birthdays in September with the fourth born in early October.  My son and his two kids are all April.  My sister-in-law has six kids, having popped them out mostly around her late husband's birthday in September or October.  Those who share or nearly share a birthday do, sometimes, seem to have a similar nature. 

There are some pretty mundane explanations for certain women being more likely to get pregnant at certain times of the year.  As for personality similarities, it’s probably confirmation bias, and, just as there are really only seven plots in fiction, there are only a limited number of human characteristics of which we are aware. 

I quit reading my horoscope many years ago, but at one time I worked with a nice, intelligent lady who offered to “do a chart” for me.  When I laughed, she readily agreed that newspaper horoscopes were meaningless.  She, though, knew all about sun signs and wanted to know the time of day a person was born and a bunch of other stuff that made it more thorough and scientific sounding.  Perhaps, like psychotherapy, it might have some value depending upon the insight and wisdom of the practitioner. 

This was sometime in the ‘80s – I remember she had a thing for Oliver North who was testifying in the Iran Contra hearings -- and, for what it’s worth, she told me that “real” astrologers believed at that time that the Antichrist was alive, having been born, I believe, around 1960 or 1961.  Yes, guess what I remembered a few years back. 

What I do believe, though, is that a person’s birthday is chosen for him or her.  The season, the date, the likely weather, and perhaps even the day of the week and the time of day can be factors that help determine who we are and how we will react to things as we grow older.  We are where we are and how we are “for such a time as this”.  The Lord ordained the place and the hour at which you and I entered this world.  It was no accident, no coincidence.  The part we play may be small or great, but it’s our part. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Working on Mysteries

So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, You know me, and you know where I come from? But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. -- John 7:28

I woke from a dream last night, and I wrote this down:  I am what I do not know.  

I am often unhappy with the way I am.  I do not like the way I react to things sometimes.  I do not like getting angry.  I get annoyed with myself for procrastination, for a lack of discipline in this area or that.  But who is that?  How do I get angry with myself?  This is not magic – not even, I don’t think, mysticism.  It’s just giving up needing to know, or being able to explain everything. 

Jesus was trained as a carpenter.  He would probably be right at home working an adze or a drawknife and building post-and-beam structures.  Would He have trouble understanding modern techniques, methods, and tools?  What about cars and computers?  If He was God, why didn’t He give us lessons in mathematics and quantum theory? 

Could it be because, as Heinlein said, specialization is for insects?  Perhaps we are meant to “generalists”.   Or maybe that’s a bias I have given that I have a tendency to know a little about a lot of things and prefer to talk in metaphors.

In the seventh chapter of John, it was the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, and people had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate.  Jesus went up separately from His kinsmen and secretly, for the religious leadership was seeking opportunity to imprison, if not kill, Him.  Once in Jerusalem, He began to teach, and many began to wonder, given His authoritative doctrine, if He was, indeed, the Messiah.  There was quite a bit of debate.  Some said the Messiah had to come from David’s hometown of Bethlehem, and they knew that Jesus came from a town up north in Galilee.  Others said that the Anointed One’s origins would be hidden and unknown, but they knew, or thought they knew all about this Jesus. 

Jesus answers, at least, this last point:  You think know Me?  You think you know where I am from?  You know it not, just the name of a village where I was first seen.  You know nothing of My origins, of who I am, why I am here or Who sent Me.  That’s the Unknown of the Anointed One. 

Others all came or will come from the understandable.  They come as conquerors.  They seek glory or riches or power.  Those things are knowable.  They want to rule and exploit.  That’s understandable. 

But what if someone came who was true – who was Truth itself?  Would we understand that?  Would we be able to know that?  How paradoxical it seems that the One who is true we do not know.

We know personas.  We can see the edges of the masks.  We can look into the faces of the actors.  We can memorize the scripts.  But who puts on the play, and whose stage is this, and whose poetry do we scrawl in captured snatches?  Him, we do not know. 

He saith also, `Thou art unable to see My face, for man doth not see Me, and live' (Exodus 33:20, Young's Literal Translation).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thomas à Kempis on The Doctrine of Truth

I have run out of time today, so this is chapter 3 from The Imitation of Christ:

HAPPY is he to whom truth manifests itself, not in signs and words that fade, but as it actually is. Our opinions, our senses often deceive us and we discern very little. 

What good is much discussion of involved and obscure matters when our ignorance of them will not be held against us on Judgment Day? Neglect of things which are profitable and necessary and undue concern with those which are irrelevant and harmful, are great folly.

We have eyes and do not see.

What, therefore, have we to do with questions of philosophy? He to whom the Eternal Word speaks is free from theorizing. For from this Word are all things and of Him all things speak -- the Beginning Who also speaks to us. Without this Word no man understands or judges aright. He to whom it becomes everything, who traces all things to it and who sees all things in it, may ease his heart and remain at peace with God.

O God, You Who are the truth, make me one with You in love everlasting. I am often wearied by the many things I hear and read, but in You is all that I long for. Let the learned be still, let all creatures be silent before You; You alone speak to me. 

The more recollected a man is, and the more simple of heart he becomes, the easier he understands sublime things, for he receives the light of knowledge from above. The pure, simple, and steadfast spirit is not distracted by many labors, for he does them all for the honor of God. And since he enjoys interior peace he seeks no selfish end in anything. What, indeed, gives more trouble and affliction than uncontrolled desires of the heart?

A good and devout man arranges in his mind the things he has to do, not according to the whims of evil inclination but according to the dictates of right reason.  Who is forced to struggle more than he who tries to master himself? This ought to be our purpose, then: to conquer self, to become stronger each day, to advance in virtue.

Every perfection in this life has some imperfection mixed with it and no learning of ours is without some darkness. Humble knowledge of self is a surer path to God than the ardent pursuit of learning. Not that learning is to be considered evil, or knowledge, which is good in itself and so ordained by God; but a clean conscience and virtuous life ought always to be preferred. Many often err and accomplish little or nothing because they try to become learned rather than to live well.

If men used as much care in uprooting vices and implanting virtues as they do in discussing problems, there would not be so much evil and scandal in the world, or such laxity in religious organizations. On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived.

Tell me, where now are all the masters and teachers whom you knew so well in life and who were famous for their learning? Others have already taken their places and I know not whether they ever think of their predecessors. During life they seemed to be something; now they are seldom remembered. How quickly the glory of the world passes away! If only their lives had kept pace with their learning, then their study and reading would have been worth while.

How many there are who perish because of vain worldly knowledge and too little care for serving God. They became vain in their own conceits because they chose to be great rather than humble.
He is truly great who has great charity.

He is truly great who is little in his own eyes and makes nothing of the highest honor. He is truly wise who looks upon all earthly things as folly that he may gain Christ. He who does God's will and renounces his own is truly very learned.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Here Among the Shadows

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. -- John 1:5

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.  Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.  If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” – Luke 11:34-36

In a simpler time, someone said that light floods the whole universe and darkness is naught but shadows.  Given the vast distances of interstellar space, there may be places where the visible spectrum of light is weak and fades.  Our sun is on a wing of the Milky Way’s pinwheel.  Closer to the center of the galaxy we would not be able to see through the night for the abundance of neighboring stars. 

Darkness serves as an appropriate symbol for evil.  Evil, like darkness, is derivative and situational.  Good, like light, is transcendent, absolute and universal.  Here on earth, night occurs when we are in the planet’s shadow.  The sun never sets.  The light is never extinguished.  Darkness has not overcome light.  Evil comes to us like the night, a shadow falling upon us as we go our way.   As shade can exist only because the sun is shining, so the darkness in our lives can exist only because God is Good, all the time. 

Our tendency is to say that evil comes upon us, to see it as having an independent and external source, and there are certainly those who seem to embrace evil, acting upon it and propagating it.  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 (Ephesians 6:12). 

“This present darkness” – surely this means crime in the streets, corruption, injustice, oppression, tyranny, wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, disease, famine, and so on and on.  That’s certainly how it manifests.  Should I then become a crusader, prohibitionist, preacher, revolutionary, or vigilante?

 I could start by getting the darkness out of myself, lighting the lamp of my spirit.  It is all too often my own self that casts the long, dark shadow in my own life. 

The trouble with saying something is that so much can’t be said and then there is that which should not be said.  It’s like walking on a ledge, no room on one and too much on the other. 

Evil will not go away because we ignore it or deny it.  It is not just “in our heads”.  It was almost seventy degrees here yesterday and will be over seventy today.  There is still a pile of sleet and snow alongside my driveway and right under my window because it is the north side and shaded most of the day.  There was so much still piled up under the window yesterday that my thermometer was reading a good ten degrees colder than all the “official” temperatures around.  The shadow of my house preserved the ice, and the ice, in turn, suppressed the air temperature above it.  For a while it didn’t occur to me why my thermometer – which is usually about right – was so far off. 

Just because evil is a shadow does not mean it is not real, and that it does not have real, objective, observable effects.  Checking just now, I’m still about four degrees cooler because of the ice.  I have my door open and the storm door screen open.  I’m reading 61 degrees on the inside and 57 outside – over the ice.  The official temperature reported a few miles away is almost 63. 

We can understand evil, find out why it is here.  Come summer, when the rays of the sun strike here more directly, there will be no shadow on this wall.  It faces a little east of north, and the sun rising early heats the bricks like an oven.  Evil is not eternal, not permanent.  It is a temporary condition of the season we find ourselves in.  Sometimes the bad things that befall us are correctives, the shadows falling to show us where we need to change, what we must let go of.  

There are those who say that if we are sufficiently enlightened within, we can banish the shadows of evil entirely.  I would agree that we may be free of the effects of evil in ourselves.  It is possible to dispel the darkness from my own heart, and that I ought to seek to do. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Fair Trial

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. – John 5:22-23

I have the highest regard for the Gospel of John, and every time I read it my wonder grows.  I wish I could memorize the whole thing.  I may try it, print myself out a copy from the KJV and carry it around.

Meanwhile, I read this yesterday and started thinking about what’s really happening.  Let’s go a little further down and look at verse 27:  And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.  Jesus is given authority to judge that He might be honored as the Father is honored, but also because He is the Son of Man.  Then in verse 30, He says, I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.  The third reason Jesus has been appointed to judge is because He is not a referee with an agenda.  He is seeking the Father’s will in all things. 

Jesus is our Mediator, the … one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:25).  It is because of His Incarnation, because the Word became flesh, that Jesus is able to righteously and effectively judge us.  This is a powerful revelation for those of us who feel alienated and distant from the One, who feel misunderstood, who might think that God is indifferent to the suffering and trials of the meat-bound. 

Our Judge is one of us.

And He is no ordinary man, for He has laid down His life, surrendering to the pain of the cross, the burden of our sins, and the darkness and separation from the Father brought about by sin and death.  He did it out of love for us.  I stand before Him to give account for what I say and do.  Whatever the outcome, it will be more than fair.