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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How Much Can We Know?

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. -- Romans 1:19

That’s the ESV translation, the NASB says, instead of “is plain to them”, what can be known about God “is evident within them”.  Everything is built into us.  As we have talked about before, the analogy of radio reception is useful to us.  If I have a radio with the appropriate bands, I can pick up most any broadcast from anywhere in the world.  If it is in a language unknown to me, it may not be particularly edifying, but I can hear it.

One of my sets has multiple bands of AM, FM, Long Wave, and Short Wave, and on Short Wave, I can switch to Single Side Band mode and hear all kinds of broadcasts.  On the other hand, I have an MP3 player that has FM.  If something really good is being broadcast on 7.265, or somebody tells me about something in the 90-meter band, and all I have is my FM, I’m not going to be able to hear it.  In fact, if I know nothing about radios other than my single band, I may not even believe what I’m being told or believe that it is possible for someone to receive that broadcast. 

There is a whole field of study regarding genius.  We do not really understand where those who operate on such a different level get their insights.  They appear to be inspired – that is, something, some different guiding spirit or muse seems to have entered them.  Da Vinci, Einstein, Mozart, Shakespeare, Van Gogh, these people seem to start from a different place.  It is as if they were picking up on a different frequency than the rest of us.  Some seem to have a greater bandwidth, others have more bands, and still others, like some savants, are just tuned to a band different from everyone else. 

Not all of us have the ability to be math geniuses or musical geniuses, poets, artists, or physicists, but the frequency for knowing God is built into every human.  It is not the outside world, not the vast precision of the universe or the magnificent beauty of mountains and waterfalls which convinces us that God exists and is who He is.  It is the fact that we can perceive that beauty, and that some among us can understand and figure out amazing things, and that others can create the useful and the beautiful.  That we can know at all is God’s smoking gun. 

God is broadcasting fully on all frequencies.  As humans, we are, for the most part, operating on a very narrow band.  It raises a question.  Is it part of God’s plan in His wisdom that most of us be limited most of the time?  Or would it please Him if we believed truly that we could tune in more stations?

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid  and trembled, and they stood far off  and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:18-19)
Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.  And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”  And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.”  But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:26-29)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

King of the Wild Frontier

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. -- Psalm 89:14

I confess that I sometimes want to accuse God of being unfair, perhaps even fickle.  We who do what we are supposed to do – more or less, don’t always seem to get what we think we deserve.  It’s a recurring theme with me.  Sometimes, though, the light is on, and I understand that I would not know what fairness, justice, goodness, or even love is if He had not shown it to me.  John, writing in the letter we call his first, says, “We love because he first loved us.” 

We can love because He loves us.

I don’t know that I will stop complaining entirely about evil and stupidity and injustice that happens.  I won’t stop crying over tragedies.  Losses will still cause me some anguish, but it is because I know it doesn’t have to be so bad.  I know I don’t have to be so bad.  The Lord established Himself as the Creator, Sustainer and Ruler of all that exists by laying a foundation of righteousness and justice.  Everything is built on what is good and true. 

It gets pretty weird out here in the fringes where I have to operate.  Maybe that’s why I have the soul of a pilgrim.  Or a frontiersman.  That might be more like it.  We are pioneers, always pushing the frontier of the kingdom out just a little further. 

So there is the Light.  The power of the Light is infinite and all-pervasive, but there are always shadows and corners and cul-de-sacs where the Light needs to bend.  Instead, the Lord sends in receivers.  They get charged up full, and He throws them down some dark shaft, some long, dark corridor.  The Bible says that Moses did not know that his face shone with the glory of God’s presence.  All he knew was that everybody was freaking out, afraid to look at him, and he didn’t need a lantern in the outhouse. 

Our mission is to bear the Light, our little portion of it, into all the places where we might have to go.  I’ve been on a cave tour when they turn out all the lights.  Turn on single keychain light in that situation, and it seems like a flood light.  The darker and deeper the hole you are in, the brighter your light will appear to those around you. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

I Didn't Run Into House

Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.  -- Deuteronomy 10:14

This is just a brief summary of all that I have learned from our recent trials:  We know less than we think.  I mean, we live in the country and everything, but all these doctors graduated from accredited medical programs, and some of them are pretty smart.  I didn’t run into House because he doesn’t exist -- neither do the eccentric geniuses in CSI or Sherlock Holmes or Captain America or happy, cute, funny gay couples or Magic Negroes or 98-pound women who can kick my rapidly aging butt in a fist fight without messing up their make-up. 

We laugh about “first-world problems”, but we do live in a first-world fantasy.  Perhaps even the concept of first-world versus developing nations versus third-world nations is mostly illusion – a bubble that is about to burst, a fluffy castle in the air that is really a glowering thunderhead.

We must know a lot because we have these amazing devices like smart phones and the internet and lasers, and we have mapped the human genome.  No doubt we are a clever species.  We are where we are because some of our ancient ancestors figured out that fire was a good thing, and they figured out how to create it.   

Try to imagine the leap that some humanoid, running from a grass fire on the savannah, made when he or she decided that it was possible to intentionally ignite and control this deadly and terrifying phenomenon.  I have a book on the shelf called Caveman Chemistry, but where did those first fire-makers get their PhDs in chemistry?  The point is that being able to create a new technology or device doesn’t mean we have a grasp of all the things that go into it.   

One of these days we might figure out why and how gravity acts the way it does and create anti-gravity, but our knowledge about how it works has taken us to the moon and sent our probes out beyond the solar system.

Ultimately, as Moses said, all of it belongs to God.  He alone knows not only how it works but why it works this way.  He knows, most importantly, the purpose for all of it.  That purpose is in Him, as both origination and destination – Alpha and Omega.  The universe may have been necessary to bring us about, and, in that sense, we could say that the world revolves around us, but we live to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Find God and you will find the center of the cosmos. 

The truth and reality are much more powerful and elegant and beautiful than our myths, our maps and our theories, as insightful, pragmatic and useful as those may be.  We don’t have to throw away the map to enjoy the scenery.  We just have to know when to look up.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Set Your Heading

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. – Romans 8:3-6

I'm a little rushed today, but ...

I find the verses above to be striking near the crux of my problems as a Christian, and, from what I’ve gathered from talking with other Christians over the years, I may not be entirely alone.  I don’t know that many people actually teach such a thing, but there are those who appear to believe that sanctification is sudden thing – where, if one is properly aligned on the mourners’ bench or whatever, the old nature is more or less eradicated. 

I going to throw this out there:  it is a bad idea to make a doctrine out of anyone’s personal experience, even when we are talking about several “anyones”.  We have denominations that are built and distinguished by little else.  I think it would be good if we could give individuals more room within the overall Church Universal – the one Jesus set up, to worship, serve, and connect with our Lord in their own ways, while being a little less concerned with our labels.  “Christian, Hillbilly” works fine for me.

In any case, my old nature doesn’t go down so easily.  I’ve spent 30 years playing Whack-An-Adam.  What I’ve learned is exactly what Paul says in Romans 8, that it is on what I set my mind that counts.  The sooner I can forget about the thoughts, urges, impulses, and even the mistakes of the old Mushroomic nature the better.  The more I can keep my focus on the new nature, on the truth of Christ in me, the hope of glory, even more better. 

I don’t think we need to let the old nature worry us.  I know we don’t need to listen to it, give in to it, or let it control us.  Jesus has set us free from the necessity of obedience to the flesh, from the bondage we were in, and that part is a completely done deal.  The perfect picture is the argument between Sméagol and Gollum in the film version of The Two Towers.  Sméagol could reject Gollum’s help because he had “the Master”.  We are the same way.  We owe nothing to the flesh.  We take care of the body but cast aside the old ragged cloak of the flesh in which we once trusted and tried to cover ourselves. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

For the Love of the Father

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found. – Luke 15:31-32

Back on March 21, right before everything fell completely apart around here, Lileks wrote an amusing little take on the story of the Prodigal, playing on the weaknesses of human nature and the fact that sometimes people do not change.  It reminded me that the story is not about the lost son so much as the elder brother.

There are three little parables that Jesus tells.  The first is about a lost sheep, verses 4-7: 

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The second, verse 8-10, tells of a woman’s lost coin:  And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.

Did the other sheep, the un-wandering ninety and nine, resent the recovery of their fellow?  Did the nine coins that had not fallen and rolled under the furniture become angry because the tenth coin rejoined them and occasioned rejoicing?  Coins are not capable of jealousy.  I have never spent any time with sheep, but I assume that, like most animals, they might try to butt in to get more attention or more food.  They are hardly capable of bitterness because a stray has been brought in.  I would guess that low and indignant umbrage is most likely, in the material realm, an exclusive feature of our fallen human nature, though it is doubtless a motivator for fallen angels in the higher realms.      

The original writings that have become our Bible did not, of course, have chapters and verses, yet our divisions for the purposes of convenient reference are not always completely arbitrary.  Chapter 15 of Luke is of a piece, and it starts off with this:  Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Because Christ went out teaching and healing and offering hope to all, people who had rejected or been rejected by Judaism were drawn to Him.  Jesus was actively looking for the lost, the strays, the forgotten, even the rebellious, and the Pharisees condemned Him for doing it.   

The Lord said to them, “Look, these are Mine as well.  These are My sheep that have wandered away.  I have come for the very purpose of bringing them in, and I am bringing them.  You ought to be rejoicing.  This is what pleases the God you claim to love.”

That’s the point of it all.      

If we love God we seek to do the thing that pleases Him.  If the elder brother had truly loved his father and not been serving him for what he was going to get, he would have been happy to join the celebration – not necessarily for the sake of his flawed brother but because of the joy of his father.  Instead, the elder brother, like the Pharisees, was embittered by that joy.

I suppose that we in the Raccoon-0-Sphere might be accused of being too tolerant, too willing to accept the truths of any old tradition.  I don’t  think that’s the case, but I do think Christians can forget that, although the descendants of Abraham were and are God’s Chosen People and the lineage of the Messiah, He has always dealt with, spoken to, and called people of all tribes and tongues.  Righteousness and seeking after truth pleases God wherever it occurs even when it is halting and incomplete.  The revelation that came through Abraham’s Seed is the ultimate.  Many, though, throughout the ages, have caught glimpses and snippets and hints.  And God loved them. 

He loves the world.  We are -- every one, His children.    Yes, some of us are very far away in that strange country.  Some remain defiant.  Some are still carousing.  Some are broken.  Some are trying to live on garbage down at the pig pen.  All have strayed.  All can come back.  Those who are back, or who never strayed too much, if we love our Father, we will rejoice when our bedraggled, beaten brothers and sisters appear on the horizon.  However long they have been gone, wherever they have been, whatever they have done, we will be glad, first because our Father is glad, and for His sake, if nothing else, we will join Him in welcoming them home.