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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Proverb

If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet. -- Proverbs 29:9

I had no idea that Solomon had internet access or that he watched MSNBC.  Maybe they had better ratings back then. 

We don’t have discussions or debates these days.  Instead we have snide remarks and attempts at one-upmanship.  No one wants to be William Buckley.  We have even lost the taste for amusing bon mots in the style of Oscar Wilde, substituting shock for humor and crudity for cleverness.  Our vaunted Information Age and advanced communications networks bring us (which, I confess, I do sometimes read) and “The Daily Show”.  People are so confused that they believe the demographic makeup of situation comedies and police dramas represent the real world.   

Those who say that two and two make four, that the laws of physics are not optional, or that there is no such thing as a free lunch are looked upon with disdain.  We are regarded as uncompassionate, uninformed, anti-science luddites.  Meanwhile the fools and false prophets are feted for being famous and fawned upon in the gossamer new empires of the air.  Stupidity, ignorance, perfidy, and perniciousness are discounted as the masses cling to every word from the mouths of courtesans, court jesters, and – uh, knaves.

The thing is that we don’t have to prove reality.  The truth will prove itself.  It is possible to avoid the consequences of bad decisions for a while.  Drunk drivers don’t always crash or get arrested the first time they try to drive under the influence.  When you sow a seed, it takes a while for the harvest to come in.  In the interim, the fool laughs. 

In the end, God laughs.    

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

God Has People

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.  -- Genesis 15:6
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  -- Hebrews 11:6

What kind of life pleases God?  What does God want from me?  He wants us to be merciful, kind, and patient with one another, to help one another whenever someone is troubled or in trouble.  If you get right down to it, the horizontal sins listed in the Decalogue relate to taking advantage of our fellow humans, denying them fair treatment, making them suffer, and using them that we might have our way and satisfy our desires at their expense. 

We can train and restrain people to the point that most, most of the time, will adhere to a common set of societal standards.  Even the most militant atheist can hardly argue with the inherent sense of the Golden Rule.  A stoner or a drunk knows that what goes around comes around.  That’s certainly better than the attitude of the criminal, the sociopaths, psychopaths, central bankers, politicians, and other parasites who are convinced that they might as well do whatever they want and that their rights supersede the rights of the marks and the masses. 

As long as people stay fairly close to what we now call traditional values and respect the boundaries of community and courtesy, a nation or a people can manage to get along for a while – even if they are more or less godless like so much of Europe these days.  But as we drift further out, we are more and more likely to go off course.  Anyone can navigate a vessel while the coast is in sight.  Under the clouds on a moonless night far from shore, the only way to get home is to accept the truth your compass shows you.  If you don’t believe it, you will never make it back.  For those who fly airplanes and gradually move up to being instrument-rated, a lack of faith can be even more disastrous.  Planes crash when pilots refuse to believe the evidence of their instruments.

All of our apparent goodness, kindness, long-suffering, mercy, and forgiveness can be quickly forgotten if we do not believe God exists and rewards those who seek Him.  Abraham obeyed God because he believed God.  When we believe God, we trust that He knows what He is doing regardless of our present circumstances, the fears and trepidations of our flesh, the contrary opinions of those around us, or the fashions and fads of the world.     

If we want to please God, if you really want to know what God wants from you and from me, He wants us to believe Him – not so He can be proven right or so there will be a consensus but because He is right.  God is not terribly concerned with the direction of public or popular opinion.  He is not dismayed because the world at large, celebrities, oligarchs, plutocrats, and high society ignore and reject Him.  He asks if you and I trust Him because He loves us and will commune with us, enriching and healing, and bringing peace, insight and understanding by His presence.  God has people – the ones who believe. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Parable of the Stray Cat

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. -- Psalms 84:3

I suppose if I were forced to choose between cats and dogs as a pet, I would go with the dog, but I do like cats a lot.  I admire their independence and their solo hunting skills, even though that means the unfortunate deaths of song birds on occasion.  It’s a natural death as opposed to be being fried in midair over an array of solar panels or threshed to death by a wind turbine.  We always had “barn” cats because they help control the rodent population.  If you have rodents and no cats in our part of the country, you can figure on having snakes – mostly black snakes and king snakes and rat snakes, but the copperheads show up often enough that I prefer furry, warm-blooded predators.  Around the dairy our cats were sort of semi-feral.  We would feed them, a little haphazardly, with dog food and some milk, but we expected them to be hungry enough to hunt for something other than sport. 

My current cats – two spayed females, are sport hunters.  Each has her territory.  The mostly white cat with black markings hunts on the north side of the house while the mostly black cat with white markings hunts on the south side.  I call them barn cats because they don’t stay in the house (they do visit), but they are really pampered pets.  They retreat to the little barn in severely cold weather.  Otherwise they have a small, snug shelter on the front porch that protects them from canines, rain, snow, and most of the cold.  They are bathed and flea-collared, fed and treated on a regular basis.  Not all country cats have such a secure and easy life.

We get tom cats wandering by – not necessarily strays or feral creatures.  Toms are rangers, even when neutered, and tend to have a much wider territory than females.  When we were kids, my cousin had a big, long-bodied black tom cat he called Abe.  We would commonly see Abe hunting around our place, a mile or two from home.  On the way to church one Sunday morning we saw Abe sitting relaxed but vigilant atop a big wooden corner post  having a good five miles of woods, rough ground, hills, hounds and coyotes between him and my cousin’s house.  He always made it back, and died of old age, as best I recall on a stack of hay their old log barn.  He was buried with honors.       

A couple of times, I have had feral cats that hung around.  I usually ignore them or try to chase them off.  Once or twice, the animals appearing visibly sickly or suffering, and being concerned about communicable feline diseases, I have eliminated them.  I don’t like to do that.  It hurts me.  Some time ago, I guess it’s been years now, I noticed a nondescript cat of the very common mackerel tabby coloration stalking the edges of the yard.  I caught her raiding my cat food from time to time.  She appeared healthy, and I rather hoped she belonged to one of the neighbors.  I assumed it was a “she” because she didn’t disappear after a week or two.  Instead it became apparent that she was staying somewhere close by.  The cat was definitely feral, fleeing rapidly whenever I appeared, unless she thought she was hidden.  The thing that marked this cat -- and perhaps the reason I never “sanctioned” her despite her stealing food and occasionally fighting or threatening my cats, could be seen at night.  Checking on things with a flashlight or spotlight in hand, I would sweep the wooded perimeter and see, low and staring, light reflecting from a single eye.  The right eye might have been lost in a desperate fight or to a shotgun pellet or to someone’s cruelty.  Whatever the cause, pity overcame pragmatism.  I chased her off with as much aggression as possible, but I could not bring myself to kill her. 

A few months ago, despite our antagonist relationship, the cat seemed less and less concerned with being seen.  She kept her distance and still fled rapidly if caught by the food bowl, but I often saw her watching from the edges of the yard during the day.  I sensed that she was drawn to the house.  One morning a few weeks back, I caught her hiding in the shrubs along the side of the garage.  She didn’t run.  Instead she simply stared at me.  Remaining defiant and independent, she was not asking to be petted or cared for, but she needed to be by the house.  Studying her for a few minutes, I decided she was sick, probably dying.  As much as I hated it, I knew that the best thing to do was end her suffering quickly and humanely.  I could have killed her with a shovel or an axe – no, I could not have.  It would have to be a swift, clean bullet to the brain, but it couldn’t be done where she lay.  I went in the garage and looked around for something that would allow me to pick her up without getting torn to pieces or tormenting the poor creature further.  I settled on a cardboard box.  All cats love cardboard.  I thought I might be able to scoop her up. 

I walked back around the garage with some trepidation, especially recalling the incident with the man-eating dachshund.  The problem had solved itself.  The cat was perfectly and peacefully still.  She had found her place to die.  I carried the empty body to the other side of the wooded gully where I had most often seen her hunting and buried her there.  It seemed like the right thing to do.  She had, I suspect, once been someone’s pet.  Circumstances unknowable had cast her out into the wild, and she had reverted to the basic natural instincts of the feline.  Death’s grim presence had sent her to seek the proximity of a human and a human dwelling for in this the limited consciousness of the beast recognized what we might think of as a higher power. 

Humanity itself is threatening to go feral.  Looking at the violence and animalistic behavior that surrounds us, one might be excused for doubting that we are an advanced and civilized species.  I have even met feral Christians, people who have through circumstances often unknowable become alienated from the communion of the saints and from the Savior Himself.  Yet I think Jesus still looks for them and watches them, and they watch Him when they think they are hidden.  They don’t realize how often His grace is extended to them and His back turned only in pretense that they might accept what they would not looking into His face.  They look with longing at His dwelling place though they may not understand the feelings it stirs in their hearts, or, if they do, they cannot admit it.  They long for His love, His presence, and His acceptance. 

These are not the lost sheep that the Shepherd may bring in but another class altogether.  There is no herding a cat.  There is only the patience and the pity, the waiting for the pain and the cold and the hunger to drive them closer.  For some, it may come down to that moment of death when weakness and the dread of sharp, tearing teeth and ferocious agony drives them to the protection of the One they fear the most.  He will not reject them or chase them away.  At that hour of extremity, the Lord will give them comfort and bring them to the peace and the rest they desire.  He will but smile at their bravado for, finally, they are home.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Power of Purity

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. -- 1 Corinthians 1:30

This has been a lost week.  I’m not sure what kind of dysfunctional disorder I have, but not being in my usual space disrupts all my other routines.  My wife normally complains that she doesn’t see me all day holed up in my office.  This week she is complaining that I’m messing up her kitchen.  Somebody else does not like their routine disrupted. 

I have been doing some reading in old books, and there is a lot of talk about purity.  Purity does not seem to be a popular topic these days.  Perhaps some are put off by the connotation of being a Puritan. Puritan is virtually equivalent to Pharisee, having a reputation of being staid, boring, strait-laced, judgmental, and hypocritical.  No one, after all can be pure. 

It’s true that when I hear the words of those from two or three centuries past talking about being set apart from worldly thinking, influences, and imaginings, I wonder if it wasn’t easier in an age without moving images of pretty girls selling hamburgers through sexual suggestion.  Hardee’s does make a decent burger anymore, but I usually refuse to eat there for fear I will have to surrender my sandwich to a starving supermodel.  It’s probably best to stick with the drive-thru. 

Nevertheless, the Bible calls us to be pure as Jesus Himself is pure and holy as our Father in heaven is holy.  If we are so commanded, we know that the Lord has made provision to enable us to obey.  That which is impossible for man is possible with God.  What does Jesus tell those who come to Him for healing and deliverance?  Be it unto you according to your faith.  All things are possible if you can believe. 

I am less impressed by those who can believe for a Lear Jet or believe they can swing a million dollar home mortgage than I am by the man who believes he can be faithful to his wife and a responsible father to his children.  I believe that a pure life is a powerful life, that a holy and righteous life is a courageous and heroic life.  I believe that I can live such a life through Christ -- who  has been made my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.  The only question is whether or not I want to live it.  Does it make any difference?

This is something Julie commented on the other day.  When we were unenlightened, most of us figured that what we think and what we do that “doesn’t hurt anybody else” does not matter.  It turns out that it really only matters if we would rather not live in hell.  To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled (Titus 1:15).  The purer we are, the purer the world we inhabit.  It’s funny how that works. 

God is particularly gracious to me in this regard.  When I indulge my old nature, the harvest comes in quickly – the same day sometimes, sometimes within the hour.  Do you remember the old Foghorn Leghorn cartoons where Foghorn is constantly tormenting the hound?  Sometimes there is a white line or a sign where the hound’s rope runs out.  He pursues the rooster until suddenly he hits the end of his slack and is stopped violently and abruptly.  That’s me.  I know how he feels. 

As we say so often, not all the ugly and unfortunate things that happen in our lives are the result of our own sins.  Holy people struggle, lose, and suffer just the same as the unrighteous and the defiled.  Jesus said, To the one who has, more will be given.  When the pure suffer, they see it as being from God for the purpose of further purification.  As a somewhat enlightened head once said, the pure will love it the way it is, and the world will be full of light.  Walking in holiness will enrich us with greater holiness.  Walking in the grace of God we have been given will lead us to receive more grace.

For some of those who reject the call of God to live in Christ and have the righteousness of Christ credited to them, getting jerked up short may cause them to start thinking differently.  For others, it only makes them more certain of the world’s unfairness and meaninglessness.  They may become perpetual victims demanding more and more from those around them to assuage their emptiness and longing.  They may give up and seek some form of anesthetization.  They may go feral and prey upon all who come within their reach, glorying in their ability to destroy and feeding on the misery they cause in others.

There are many frustrated Christians who have not been taught or have been unable to comprehend the truth about holiness.  They cannot understand why their lives are so filled with pain and chaos, as if their confession of Christ and their efforts to follow Him are all for naught.  Perhaps they lack discipline because, though they have accepted the message of the gospel, they have not become disciples, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth.  I can’t do it on my own, and I can’t be much help to anybody else.  But the Holy Ghost can.  In fact, it’s in His job description.

Sanctification is what we need, and, as impossible as it is for the natural man, this deliverance and freedom is available to us in Christ Jesus – if we believe it is ours, if we accept that it does matter and it does make a difference.  We can be pure as He is pure because He is our purity.      

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dueling Dualists

I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. -- Isaiah 45:5-6

If the world were as we would like it rather than as it is, and our beliefs and faith could be placed in our preferences and inclinations instead of being grounded in truth, I think I would like to be a dualist, perhaps something like a Zoroastrian.  There’s nobility to the idea of light and darkness battling, of nearly co-equal forces in a conflict where one must conquer and the other fall, so that, in the end, instead of a cosmos where the Creator and the Destroyer clash, the mountains will be leveled, and there will be only light. 

It can be hard for us to reconcile the goodness of the Father of Lights with all the darkness we see in and around us.  It is easier to believe that the Good God has limits in battling against a being nearly His equal than that He allows pain, suffering, and senseless death to ravage His creation.  Yet that path is not open to us.  The devil is a creature, more powerful than humans, but still an entity given audience along with the sons of God (Job 1:6) and, doing, whether he knows it or not, the will of God. 

God is without equal.  There is no standard against which He may be measured for He is the standard.  What He says is truth, and what He does is righteous.  He is light, and He is love.  The vastness and majesty of the universe is a song He sings.  Nobody else is running anything. 

We have freedom because we were made in His image and likeness.  We can rebel, delude ourselves, align ourselves with darkness, and exalt the gods of our vain imaginations.  God remains, I fear, less than shaken by our grandiosity.  In some cases, He smiles at our stumbling waywardness.  Other times, He laughs.  Every once in a while, He gets up and says, Enough.

I think there might be some of us, maybe a lot of us, fixing to get shut down.  Too many people think that if they simply ignore God, He will go away.  They think they are defying Him by denying Him.  It doesn’t work that way.  He says even to those who don’t know Him, who refuse to know Him, He is still the One enabling and empowering them.  Their very breath is His. 

The law was not passed in Washington, D.C., nor in Belgium or Beijing.  The rules are God’s and the game is God’s.  We have the choice to play by the rules or against the rules.  In the end, a person does not cheat the Lord, only oneself.  Like our would-be friend the devil, whether we would or not, whatever our intentions, whether we choose to do good or evil, our works and our words will serve the will of God, in light or in darkness.