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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19

Despite all that is going on in the country and around the world, Paul’s admonitions to the little band of Christians at Thessalonica apply to us today.  Thanksgiving is still a relatively pure holiday, aside from the football games.  Without having to buy anything other than a surfeit of food, we often sit down with family and friends to enjoy time together, even if it is time watching the Cowboys or the Lions. 

I know retailers are desperate for shoppers to fill their stores.  I will not be among them.  I have been out on, I think, two Black Fridays.  One was back in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s when things were not quite so insane.  The last one was a few years ago and cured me forever.  The checkout line started at the checkout line then went to the back of the store and snaked down and back up all the aisles.  If all the shoppers had been laid end to end, we would nearly have circled Michelle Obama’s butt.  My wife’s strategy was to put me in line and just hand me stuff as she found it.  By the time I stepped up to pay, I was leaving footprints in the tile. 

Whether you shop or sit, watch the game or play games, work or relax, Thanksgiving is a reminder of something essential to us as humans.  To be spiritually healthy people, to be children of the Most High God, we have to be able to appreciate all that is life.  We are all (ok, there are exceptions) thankful when everything is going well – and we should be.  As I heard someone say, “I’m easy to get along with as long as I get my way.”  That describes a lot of us, and me too much of the time. 

Rejoicing always is hard.  Giving thanks in all circumstances is a challenge.  There are two ways to look at “for this is the will of God”.  Does it mean that whatever is happening to us is God will?  Or does it mean that He wants us to be thankful, joyous, and prayerful regardless of what is happening? Or both?  I’m always torn between the idea of “no second causes” and the fact that some people loose in the world are plain old tares – warped, sick, and evil.  Given how I am sort of naturally in tune with MOTT’s “Tower of Destruction” and the origin of human evil, it isn’t too surprising that I find it hard to accept injustice and oppression.  Enduring it myself, I know, is good for me.  Watching others who are more innocent than I suffer is more difficult. 

God means for us, though, to meet every hardship and trial with faith.  We are in Christ Jesus.  We can be thankful for Him and to Him regardless of the storm around us.  Things are, I believe, going to happen to us that are not the will of God.  He may allow it, and we will have to simply trust that He knows how to get us through it and why it has been permitted.  We may not understand tribulation at the front door though we do sometimes see goodness and mercy following as it goes out the back. 

We have to rejoice always.  There’s no way to live as a Christian apart from having the joy of the Lord as our strength.  There may be times when our prayer of thanksgiving cannot get beyond, “Thank You, Lord, that You are in this mess with me.  Misery does love company.”  But we can be thankful for that. 

I do hope that your Thanksgiving is a joyous one and that you have time to enjoy family and friends, food and even football.  As we fill our plates with pumpkin pie may we also fill our hearts with Hallelujahs.   

Monday, November 24, 2014

Verse of the Day

Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. -- Psalms 74:16

Too much going on today, and a short work week to get it all done.  I also have a funeral I am going to try and attend this afternoon. 

Everyone take care.  I'll talk to you later.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Unwholly Writ

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. -- 1 John 4:9

What was it that led to the Place of the Skull?  To scourging and a cold tomb?  For that matter, why is there a creation at all?  This same John answers over and over again, God loves.  God loves the world.  He loves His creation and His creatures.  Just as often as most of us hear the answer, we stumble over it.  We are baffled by it.  What we call love as a feeling or an emotion is not the same.  Love as a motivation is a stranger. 

I remember the first time I heard someone say that love is an act of the will.  I thought it was profound.  Now I think it can be misleading.  It’s still good because it moves us away from emotion.  Some of the most loving acts a person does are done coolly.  Jesus in the Garden, where all the emotion was on the side of wanting to avoid separation from the Father, where He sweat blood in the struggle to redeem us, when the soldiers came, steps up and says to Judas, “Friend, do what you came to do.”   (Now tell me Jesus wasn’t the original cowboy.)

We might say that love gets the reins of our will.  Love becomes our navigator.  This is where we are.  This is where we need to be.  This is how we get there, given the conditions. The will follows those directions.  Love might look like an act of the will in that case for we follow the set course.  The will initiates actions in accordance with love. 

Love, John tells us, is from God (v. 7).  We do not originate it, create it, make it, or control it.  God is love (vv.8,16) – a statement that always makes me a little uneasy.  It must cause similar unease in others, too, because the commenters and Greek experts are always quick to assure us that John’s construction does not state equivalence.  Love is a subset of God.  Love is not God.  God is light and in Him is no darkness.  God is holy.  God is truth.  God is love.  But in this love differs:  the will of God is always on the course set by love.  So, while God is not confined by the limits of our comprehension, we say, That is who God is. 

How do we define love?  This far exceeds anything I can do.  We can describe the manifestations and say what it is not, as Paul does so eloquently across languages in First Corinthians 13, but a description is not a definition.  Perhaps the defining of love is what the cosmos is all about, each of our lives a word, phrase, or sentence in the long, long book.

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Flight Risk

And I say, Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.
 Psalm 55:6-8

It used to be the fashion and possibly it is still to think this psalm was written by David as he fled from his son, Absalom.  Some of the elements could suggest that, but it is often the case that, as Jesus said, our enemies are those of our own household.  My worst enemy cannot be escaped by flight for I drag him with me wherever I go.  Aside from that, all of us have probably had a faithless friend or a family member who has betrayed or turned against us in some way.  The loss of trust, and what often appears from our point of view as a sudden, inexplicable change in attitude, may leave us devastated. 

Of course, the cause of our seeking an escape doesn’t have to be dramatic.  Sometimes the daily drudge, the minor but cumulative trials of living in the 21st Century have us gazing with longing at our wallpaper of a remote tropical paradise or a secluded mountain cabin or, in my case, something with two wheels rather than two wings.  Just to think of getting away from the usual suspects of pressures, demands and responsibilities can give us a respite. 

As my trigonometry teacher used to say, “The whole world’s insane.  I’m the only sane one left.”  It’s not hard to think as we look around that somehow we have put the deranged in control of the ship.  Yeats wrote nearly a hundred years ago “Things fall apart … The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.  The plague has only spread in the decades intervening.  There is no remedy within the world.  We must rise out of it and get above it, until the flood subsides. 

And it will subside. 

It may be a hundred more years or five hundred more or a hundred thousand. I do not know.  I only know the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and that He gives wings to our soul as He dwells in us.   He is the Comforter, and nothing, save our own foolish obstinacy, can separate us from Him.  He keeps us in the innocence of the dove even as He gives us subtle wisdom to make us more than a match for the serpent’s guile. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Securing the Border

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bore him in pain. – 1 Chronicles 4:9

Some years ago, a person made a lot of money talking about the prayer of Jabez, but I’m not going to talk so much about how he prayed.  It’s possible that his mother didn’t mean any harm, still, if you name your son “pain”, that would seem to me to have negative connotations.  Like a lot of us, Jabez started out in life with his parents’ baggage. 

My parents were good not perfect.  I was certainly not a perfect parent.  In fact, I was pretty bad most of the time.  Most of us have experienced parent-child conflicts.  Often, because of mind parasites, abuse, and poor communication, relationships can be damaged or destroyed.  Yet, if we are going to be whole people, we have to find a way to, at the very least, forgive and move on.  To me, that is what the prayer of Jabez is about. 

My ESV says (v.10), “… that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!”  Other translations give a slightly different sense: 

… and that You would make me know that You will not grieve me! (Apostles Bible, 1851)
and that You would keep me from evil, that I might not cause pain! (New King James)

I have been called a pain all my life, Jabez says.  I could use a break from pain and grief.  Asking that his border be enlarged seems to me less about wealth or influence and more about space.  I want to give people room, to not be overwhelmed and wounded by their troubles and to not wound them with mine.

To deal with people, we need perspective, to be able to step back, to have room within our boundaries.  (If I start sounding any more like Dr. Phil, shoot me.)  We are called to bear one another’s burdens.  That’s not usually in the literal sense of carrying your mother’s backpack.  I do carry my wife’s purse sometimes.  I hate it when it clashes with my boots.  Most of the time sharing someone’s load is figurative.  They want us to listen while they vent.  They want us to pray when they are too tired, too beaten, too broken.  They need to hear us say that joy comes in the morning and that they will get through the night’s weeping.

To be a burden-bearer requires that we have our own borders enlarged to the point that, while we feel what they feel, we feel it not so deeply as to be overcome by it.  We are pierced but not to the heart for it is our part to bring God in, and He must have room. 

Maybe it’s just me.  I have known rejection, and my response was to retreat.  But is that so different than Jesus separating Himself for forty days in the wilderness?  Or Moses on the mountaintop?  Don’t we need that space to see what has happened to us, to process it, and, most of all, to hear from God about it?  

Enlarge our borders, Lord, and meet us in the middle. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. -- 2 Corinthians 6:14-16

Yesterday we talked about our witness to an unbelieving world, about hating sin while seeking to rescue those tangled in its snares.  We understand, too, that we each have our individual weaknesses and have to watch ourselves around certain situations.  We want to reach out to people, but can we be friends with those who reject Christ?  Matthew Henry thought not:

The caution also extends to common conversation. We should not join in friendship and acquaintance with wicked men and unbelievers. Though we cannot wholly avoid seeing and hearing, and being with such, yet we should never choose them for friends. We must not defile ourselves by converse with those who defile themselves with sin.

I have to disagree with that interpretation.  Too much in Scripture points a different direction.  Jesus was a friend of sinners.  Now it is true that those with whom He associated were often repentant seekers, or perhaps people seeking to repent; nevertheless, He broke with the pharisaic view of complete separation.  At the same time, those tax collectors and prostitutes were mostly Jews or sympathetic to the people and faith of Abraham, with the possible exception of the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was afflicted (Mark 7:24-30).

In our case, when the overall culture was more permeated with Judeo-Christian values, it was probably easier to be a friend of sinners.  At worst we were dealing “cultural Christians”.  I heard John Starnes, the gospel singer, give his testimony.  Before he came to Christ, he had someone ask him if he was a Christian.  He replied, “Of course.  I’m an American.”  That reminds me of a convict I was talking to one time.  He was a black guy, and he was wearing a scarf over his head, kind of Arab fashion.  Nation of Islam is extremely popular in prison.  I knew this guy, and we talked all the time, but I’d never seen him with that headgear, so I asked him if he was a Muslim.  He said, “Hell no, man.  I’m a Baptist!” 

However, it seems to me, perhaps because I am getting old and because I don’t get out much anymore, that our nation is becoming less “Christian” in its overall morals, ethics, and mindset.  The zeitgeist is not the Holy Ghost. Our public discourse is saturated with lies and deception.  We have become decadent.  The most egregious immorality is excused when it is not lauded and celebrated. 

In this world, in this society, the idea of separation starts to make more sense.  We do risk becoming contaminated when we allow ourselves to be immersed in vulgarity, lust, and violence, baptized in nihilism. 

Perhaps the balance comes in being open vertically only to God while searching for kindred and lost treasures in the horizontal.  It’s like being in a surface-supplied diving suit, tethered and connected to a source of fresh air and power by a diver's umbilical giving us light and life as we explore the murky depths looking for that which may be saved.  As long as we remain in the suit – having put on Christ, the new man – and don’t break our connection, we can stay down here and do our job.  Our life is always, though, above, and we can never forget that we are in -- but not of, this world.