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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Called

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours ... -- 1 Corinthians 1:2

The church is the ekklesia -- those who are called out.  Our English word church is derived from a different Greek word, kyriakon, from the root kyrios -- lord or master, thus "the lord's house".  The physical structure of a building is not holy.  It serves a holy purpose.  I think a building can develop a holy atmosphere, but it is the saints meeting together in the presence of God that sanctifies a place.  No place can sanctify us.  This is probably harder for some believers to grasp than for others.  Churches with altars and iconography that have been sanctified should be respected and may be venerated, but we are respecting and venerating not the thing itself, which is nothing, but the faith, love, and devotion of those who set it apart, and in which, by the grace of God, we may participate.  God dwells in believers, not stained glass windows or statues or cathedrals.

Because Corinth was such a messed up place, this letter spends a lot of time talking about what the assembly of believers ought to look like, how they ought to behave, and what they really are.  It addresses, point by point in some cases, a variety of questions raised by the local, mostly Greek converts.  Paul, in his linguistically skillful, systematic way, introduces the main point at the start.  We are the church; we are God's people.  We are sanctified, made holy and chosen in Christ.  We are called to be holy and called together.  The only legitimate divisions are geographic ones.  The world, as we shall see further on, will find plenty of reasons to be offended by Christianity, but we should seek to live as inoffensively as possible both with those inside the Body of Christ and those outside.

The verse quoted could be broken down like this:  we are the called-out, called to be saints, who call upon the name of our Lord, Jesus, the Chosen and Anointed One who was called to save us.

That's a lot of calling, but that's what God does. 

We live out in the country, and we have a volunteer fire department.  It is not entirely such as we have some full-time staff, but most of the firefighters and emergency personnel are not just sitting around the firehouse.  They are available and ready to answer the call when it comes in.

We're kind of like that.  We are on-call.  We do other things.  We have a building where we meet every so often for training, strengthening, and encouragement, where we sometimes rally in order to be properly equipped.  We don't actually do our work there any more than firefighters only put out fires down at the station.  Now we are different from the volunteer firefighters in that things are not always on fire, and we are not responding only to emergency situations.  Our work is done daily and everywhere in everything that we do, because, as we are indwelt by the Spirit, we are carrying God into every task that we address and every place that we visit.

That can be a sobering thought for some of us.

We are, or ought to be, learning to give more and more of our lives to the Lord each day.  Saints are not plaster.  There are supposed to be a lot of them.  Jesus said (Matthew 10:34-36) that He would bring division even in families.  The truth may divide us from those who cling to delusions and deceptions, to the idols and false gods of their own creation.  Yet the true joy and, of course, the calling, of saints is in fruit-bearing and multiplication.  Take the call.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Busy Business

I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. -- Ecclesiastes 3:10

Solomon and I have one thing in common, we have seen the business wherein we are busy.  In my case, it looks to continue right on through, unabated by the weekend, though I do anticipate a little respite after that. 

Excessive idleness can be as wearying as excessive busyness.  We truly rest when we can rest in our labors.  Some people conclude that God has given us the business and are bitter and resentful.  I've done that myself, but if I can see, instead, that all this is God's business and that what He has given me to do -- as overwhelming as it may seem at times -- is from His hand, I can be at peace.

My body gets tired a lot more quickly than it did even ten years ago.  I just logged yet another birthday.  Still, it's relatively easy to rest from physical weariness.  You may wake stiff and sore the first day or two, but you sleep well -- dead to the world, as we say.

Soul-weariness is the killer.  Mental and psychic exhaustion cannot be cured with sleep -- if the sufferer can sleep.  To receive relief from soul-weariness we need a different kind of rest.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

Monday, June 23, 2014

What Matters Some More

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things -- Philippians 4:8

I have no time for a post today, but I did run across a nice riff on Philippians 4:8, by Townhall writer Matt Barber, "The Top 8 Things to Think About", and he concludes with this:

Do you see what Paul did here – what the Holy Spirit did through Paul? He gave us eight things to “think about.” Does anything in particularly strike you about these eight things?
They are eight in One.
Each of these eight things represents a specific character trait of Christ Himself.
Jesus is true. Jesus is noble. Jesus is right. Jesus is pure. Jesus is lovely. Jesus is admirable. Jesus is excellent and, finally, perhaps most importantly, Jesus is infinitely and eternally praiseworthy.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Speaking of What Matters

Via The Last Refuge:

What do you mean this isn't Dancing With the Stars? 

Watch it all the way through and see the smile on her face.

As for Dad, I imagine that he would walk through fire with that same expression and just as readily.  God bless him.

I see that since June 17, this has almost 2.2 million hits, along with 2267 likes and 19 dislikes.  Any or all of those nineteen are welcome to come out to my house for a Switch Party. 

Don't worry, I'll furnish the hickory.  I have lots.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Renouncing Nothings

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,  training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age … – Titus 2:11-12

What really matters?  Is it my job?  Sometimes I live like it is, but in two years or five years or, at most, seven years, if I live that long, I will retire.  Maybe it’s my investments which are supposed to help sustain me after I retire and, perhaps, even leave a bit of a legacy for the grandchildren.  I would like to do that, but there may come a time when the markets all crash and fiat currency loses its value.  The Bible reminds us that even gold and silver may become worthless when there is nothing available to be bought. 

Some people seem to live on the level where satisfying physical urges and seeking physical pleasures are their only concerns.  Some live on a slightly higher plane where they seek mental gratifications and have what Watchman Nee would call “soulish” fulfillment.  They revel in their superiority of learning, taste, and experience.  Apart from God, a person may convince himself that the visible and temporal is all that there is and make a determination to get all of it he can. 

God’s grace offers salvation for all, falling like rain over all the earth yet not all receive.  Lives that are too full of self and self-satisfaction have no room for grace.  Jesus said, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Not the poor but the poor in spirit are blessed.  They make room for grace in the clay cup of their existence by pouring out some of their ambitions, passions, and desires that they might be filled instead with love, peace and joy.

Christians in an un-Christian world, someone, probably Lewis, used the image of agents behind enemy lines.  We are not, however, covert spies.  We are in uniform, and we are going to draw fire.  Our battle is not with the ungodly and the deceived but for them.  We were once all held captive.  Christ has set us all free, though some do not know it.  Those who do ought to fight the deception to enlighten those still in darkness.   We can’t fight a deception we embrace, or one that we envy and exalt.  We must reject the delusions, renew our minds and live for the truth.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sloths in the Bog

The sluggard buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth. -- Proverbs 19:24

It is probably possible to be pragmatic without being wise, but wisdom is always practical because the wise recognize things as they are.  Sloth is more than being allergic to work.  The sluggard here is much like our modern nihilists.  Life is too much trouble. 

As one prone to depression, I know part of the cure is sleep, but another part is positive activity.  I am most vulnerable to despair when there is nothing I can do.  As long as there is action, gloom is pushed aside.  When things are out of our hands we are more likely to begin to feel hopeless.  It can feel as though there is no sense in eating, that my eating would be a waste of food.  It’s all pointless. 

That’s what the Bible means by sloth, and it is a deadly sin.  Not only can it lead to various forms of acute and chronic self-destruction, it is a stepping away from faith, casting aside all that God has given us.  Even for someone like me, extraordinary only in my ordinariness, my life, strength, and resources -- such as they are, are divine gifts that I should use as fully as possible in service to the Lord and to others.

Faith tells me that I am not here without a reason.   Moses thoroughly messed things up and spent forty years aimlessly following sheep on the backside of nowhere.  His life still had a destiny.  Joshua and Caleb were forced by the faithlessness of the majority to live as dusty nomads, also for forty years.  Yet they remained leaders and conquerors.  David was anointed king of Israel only to spend wasted years as a desperate fugitive, outlawed by Saul’s madness.  His destiny was, nevertheless, secure. 

Whether we have come to a point of dejection through our own fault or someone else’s or life in general, we can remain in or return to the will of God by trusting Him.  When we are in it, the Slough of Despond appears endless with extrication impossible.  This is not so.  As Bunyan said, it is our doubt and apprehensions that fill the bog and the weight of our burden of sin and guilt that causes us to sink into it.  Let us cast our cares upon Christ who has promised to bear our burdens and go on through.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Matters of Conscience

The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. -- Romans 14:2
 A brief riff on yesterday's post:

This is the American verse in Romans 14, which is the probably the American chapter of Romans, which may be the most American book of the Bible.  We belong to different denominations and hold different views on church authority, on communion, on all kinds of things.  People have killed other people over transubstantiation.  I believe what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:29, For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself, but I would not say that means exactly the same thing to me that it means to the average devout Catholic.  That would be a matter of faith that I have between myself and God. 

Being in one accord doesn't require that we have exactly the same understanding of everything.  The error of most varieties of ecumenicism is that they end up saying our matters of faith do not matter when they matter very much, just not in the horizontal.  What matters in the arms of the Cross is how we treat one another.  We ought always to humble ourselves and give preference to the wants and needs of others.   

As long as a person who claims to be a believer is not actually doing anything to bring shame to the Name of Christ, it is not our concern.  Certainly when someone is living and acting in a way that everybody knows is wrong -- like the man in Corinth who was sleeping with his mother, or a woman who cheats on her husband, or a man who gets drunk and beats his wife or causes a car wreck, a thief, a liar, a glutton, or a gossip -- we should call them out.  If they claim to be in Christ while living in open, obvious contradiction to Him, we should have nothing to do with them and not allow them into our communion until they repent and step away from their egregious sin.

Otherwise, I believe what I believe.  I may think someone is wrong about some point of doctrine, and I will hold to my belief, but I will let God deal with both me and my brother.  We could both be wrong.  Or both right.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Roofing the Temple

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. -- 1 Peter 4:7-8

My father helped build the little country church that we attended.  Most of the labor was volunteered by the men of the congregation so that the expenses were limited to material, but they did hire one experienced and skilled builder -- a man named Angus or Ang.  Ang liked to tip a bottle, like his father who was a local doctor.  He wasn't particularly a Christian, but he was no particular wicked either.  As they started to put the roof on the building, Ang observed to the crew, "Here is where we cover a multitude of sins."  The double meaning raised a chuckle, I'm sure.  In the end, the various, small "cheats" of the carpenter's craft would not detract from the integrity of the structure, from its clean, unpretentious lines or its utility.  It is an old church building now and has been remodeled a little and added onto a bit, but the core of the structure Ang and Dad and the rest raised stands firm and solid.   

Another Apostle agreed with Peter:  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

We know that Christianity is more than rule-keeping, more than law.  The Law is a sign at the border of the kingdom.  Christianity requires us to love, not just those who love us, but our enemies.  It is not, however, a naive, pacifist sentiment.  It is doing right by, for, and to others.  Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone, the most loving thing, is to lock them in a jail cell.  Sometimes you have to tell someone that what they are doing has to stop, and, if they won't stop on their own, the thing that is right is to stop them.  Whatever that takes. 

Most of the time, though, we are able to express our love by helping, encouraging, and supporting others.  Most of our enemies are not crazed jihadists on some foreign field but the guy down the street who lets his dog loose in our yard, the sadistic supervisor at work, or the snotty, overbearing mother at soccer practice.  Those are people that we can easily afford to forgive and easily help out when they find their battery is dead or they need lunch money.  Consider them as target practice.  They are helping us become better Christians. 

The truth is that we are all a little like Ang's church house, with our ugly little fixes -- that bad two-by-four that needed a scrap tacked on and such.  If we stripped off the roof and walls, everybody would see the places where things didn't quite come together and are a little out of plumb.  Decent people are always harder on themselves than on anybody else, probably harder on themselves than they should be.  If I am a decent person, it is because I am honest about my out-of-square corners and the rafters that don't quite meet at the heel. 

I can't really do anything about that.  I built with the material I had available and with the help that I had.   Those who poured the foundation may have misread the level a time or two, but I think they mixed the concrete plenty rich, and it is not going anywhere any time soon.  I'm not perfect, but maybe I am solid enough.  In any case, I can love my Lord by obeying Him and love my neighbors by doing them good and never wronging them, and this old house maybe won't looks so bad.  Perhaps those passing by will say, "At least it has a good roof."  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Armored Division

His armor-bearer responded, “Do what is in your heart.  You choose.  I am right here with you whatever you decide.” -- 1 Samuel 14:7 (HCSB)

People like Jonathan’s armor-bearer show up in Scripture and in history and sometimes in our everyday lives.  It’s like Mary saying, “Let it be to me according to your word,” or Thomas saying with resignation, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  I am greatly humbled by the Virgin’s willingness to bring the Anointed One to us.  I am moved by the willingness of individuals to move forward in the face of what they believe to be certain death.  On June 6, we were reminded that, seventy years ago, tens of thousands of such men scrambled out of landing craft onto the beaches of Normandy.

The armor-bearer was the man who watched the warrior’s back, who sought to keep him from being struck down by a flying arrow or flung javelin.  It wasn’t a particularly safe occupation, and, while he might not have been swinging the sword, an armor-bearer was certainly in the midst of the battle.  In the case of Jonathan’s armor-bearer, it would not have been unrealistic to think that he was following the prince on a suicide mission.  Jonathan proposed going up and challenging the Philistine garrison.  That the Bible records the two of them slaying twenty men on an area of about a half-acre indicates the odds were at least 10 to 1. 

I have heard that, in some of the more upscale congregations, there is a position of “armor-bearer” for the pastor.  I suppose it sounds more biblical and less eeewww-inducing than “body-man” or “butt-boy”.   By the way, having lived an unsophisticated life, the first time I heard “butt-boy” was when an evangelist friend said in regard to pastor who had acted duplicitously toward him, “What does he think I am?  His butt-boy?”  I had to ask for clarification. Personally, I don't want to have anything to do with a body-man unless it's one of my friends who is helping me bury the bodies.  Like the FBI agent who says to Swagger in "Shooter", "I'll get his legs." 

There is no friend like the friend who won't run away and leave you hanging when things get tight.  If you don't have a friend like that, you can still be that kind.  
As Christians we do need to bear armor for one another.  The church would be stronger, congregations more cohesive, and pastors and leaders a lot less apt to fall into sin and abuse their offices if we covered our brothers and sisters.  We do not need an official position to shout a warning, to defend, to challenge, or to pray for someone. 

Most of all I wish that I could be as willing as that armor-bearer to say to the Lord, “You choose.  I’m right here with You.” 

It is God’s will for man to have free will, to experience liberty.  It is man’s joy to surrender that liberated will freely to God, to follow Him in whatever He decides.   

We might think God doesn’t need an armor-bearer, but there is a familiar passage that suggests otherwise:  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. When you think about it, that was the armor-bearer’s job, to stand firm, keeping the king was covered and holding the ground he had taken.  Jonathan was knocking the enemy down and his armor-bearer was making sure they did not get up again.  Christ has won the victory, but a lot of the enemy’s enterprises could use a right good coup de grĂ¢ce. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Some Heresy for the Weekend

Actually just Chesterton talking about a forgotten proponent of neo-paganism and Thomas Carlyle in Heretics:

The weak point in the whole of Carlyle's case for aristocracy lies, indeed, in his most celebrated phrase. Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer and more reverent realism, says that they are all fools. This doctrine is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin. It may also be described as the doctrine of the equality of men. But the essential point of it is merely this, that whatever primary and far-reaching moral dangers affect any man, affect all men. All men can be criminals, if tempted; all men can be heroes, if inspired. And this doctrine does away altogether with Carlyle's pathetic belief (or any one else's pathetic belief) in "the wise few." There are no wise few. Every aristocracy that has ever existed has behaved, in all essential points, exactly like a small mob. Every oligarchy is merely a knot of men in the street—that is to say, it is very jolly, but not infallible. And no oligarchies in the world's history have ever come off so badly in practical affairs as the very proud oligarchies—the oligarchy of Poland, the oligarchy of Venice. And the armies that have most swiftly and suddenly broken their enemies in pieces have been the religious armies—the Moslem Armies, for instance, or the Puritan Armies. And a religious army may, by its nature, be defined as an army in which every man is taught not to exalt but to abase himself. Many modern Englishmen talk of themselves as the sturdy descendants of their sturdy Puritan fathers. As a fact, they would run away from a cow. If you asked one of their Puritan fathers, if you asked Bunyan, for instance, whether he was sturdy, he would have answered, with tears, that he was as weak as water. And because of this he would have borne tortures. And this virtue of humility, while being practical enough to win battles, will always be paradoxical enough to puzzle pedants. It is at one with the virtue of charity in this respect. Every generous person will admit that the one kind of sin which charity should cover is the sin which is inexcusable. And every generous person will equally agree that the one kind of pride which is wholly damnable is the pride of the man who has something to be proud of. The pride which, proportionally speaking, does not hurt the character, is the pride in things which reflect no credit on the person at all. Thus it does a man no harm to be proud of his country, and comparatively little harm to be proud of his remote ancestors. It does him more harm to be proud of having made money, because in that he has a little more reason for pride. It does him more harm still to be proud of what is nobler than money—intellect. And it does him most harm of all to value himself for the most valuable thing on earth—goodness. The man who is proud of what is really creditable to him is the Pharisee, the man whom Christ Himself could not forbear to strike.

Given what's happening in Iraq today, Chesterton's remark about "religious armies" seems timely, but mainly there are the paradoxes that surround humility and love.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Long and the Short

And Job again took up his discourse, and said:  “Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head, and by his light I walked through darkness, as I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent, when the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were all around me, when my steps were washed with butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!” – Job 29:1-6

Now that I have gotten older, I have a tendency to look upon the world as increasingly degenerate and decadent, and I think there might be some objective evidence for that, just here in this country.  Not knowing the story of Job, a person might read the verses above and think that Job is waxing nostalgic for the days when things were better and more wholesome, for Faded Love and Crocodile Rock. 

Job has gone through a great and heart-rending series of losses, and it is all inexplicable to him.  He has no way to comprehend the reasons for what has happened, and no reason he can find for believing that his suffering has an eternal and transcendent meaning.  From his perspective, life has taken on the aspect of chaotic randomness and appeared to have lost all its significance.  He longed for the time when he thought differently, when his faith and righteousness seemed to be bearing fruit and making the world a better place. 

As believers and rational creatures, we consider that our existence is part of a grand design governed by laws, that good pleases God and is rewarded by Him and that evil is disobedience and will be punished or corrected.  There is a reason for us speaking of the “patience of Job”.  Through Job’s story, God is revealing that sometimes faith only works in patience, in that most descriptive word, “longsuffering”.  We wish there was a shortsuffering wherein worketh Instant Karma with bolts of lightning delivered on the spot to fry the wicked while the good are all “drinking that free bubble up and eating that rainbow stew.”

So you have Evil Roy and lovely, unsullied Miss Innocence.  God ought to protect Miss Innocence from Evil Roy.  At what point does the lightning strike?  Is it when Roy conceives his first little thought of violating Innocence?  What if he sees that his course is wrong and changes his mind?  Maybe instead of a lightning bolt God could just use a cattle prod?  Those of us that have one call it “conscience”.   When we are the ones ignoring the prodding of conscience, we are not usually calling for higher voltage.   That’s the problem with free moral agents:  they are just as free to be immoral. 

I knew a girl who was molested and abused by her father.  He ended up in prison for other crimes.  She decided to call him one day.  She told him how much he had hurt her and caused her to suffer.  Then she thanked him.  She said that without that pain she would not be the person she had become.  She would not be as strong, not as much a person of unshakeable faith had it not been for the vile torture inflicted on her by a person she ought to have been able to trust. 

I don’t know how someone does that.  I can’t imagine.  But, she was right.  She suffered long, yet she found a way out.  It was not by going back to a lost past made golden in memory, though, no doubt, she had, like Job, wished for that at times.  It was to go through, to patiently keep pressing on in faith that, somehow, some way, someday, the senseless would make sense.