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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Proverb

Be wise, my son, and make my heart glad, that I may answer him who reproaches me. -- Proverbs 27:11

I just have time for a quick verse of the day.  Too many meetings and my granddaughter will be here later. 

This proverb reads as an admonition of a father to a son to live wisely, circumspectly and lawfully so as not to bring reproach upon the family or the father’s name.   It reminds me, as well, that Satan is called the “accuser of the brethren”.  I believe that the devil is a being, a fallen archangel perhaps, and a real person, but that’s not a belief that is necessary to understanding the reproach which unwise living can bring upon us and, by extension, upon Christ and the Father. 

The Adversary has plenty of proxies in the world ready to heap accusations upon anyone who names the Name of Christ whether or not warranted.  A few years ago, in a rather heated conversation, I quoted someone else using the word “hell”.  Later it was reported that I had used language too vulgar and profane to be repeated by the chaste lips of my auditor. 

We live in a world where taking offense and being a victim is practically a career path.  It is manipulation and a rather nasty form of witchcraft.  We can’t and shouldn’t live our lives according to the dictates of the professional “weaker brother”.  However, the genuinely weaker brother is a legitimate concern.  We do not need to adopt his conscience as our own, but we should help bear his burden and do our best not to offend him or cause him for whom Christ died to be led astray.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Communion and the Verdict

But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.  1 Corinthians 11:31-32

Does knowing God begin with knowing ourselves?  Or do we know ourselves because we know God?  I have had those weird dreams where I am unclothed in inappropriate situations.  If I am willing to look honestly at myself, put aside my persona and lower my shields to stand naked in the light of truth, there is no need for judgment on God’s part. 

That’s a lot more than saying I’m a horrible person, which is pretty easy.  If I’m not careful I can turn my faults into a brag.  It does make for some good stories.  We need to shine the light into the dark corners of our hearts, into the locked chambers whose doors we usually refuse to open.  If I want communion, I must allow exposure and face the shame of, not just the wicked things I’ve done, but of the wicked self who was behind them.  

Our true chastisement is losing the presence of God.  By exploring and thoroughly searching past our actions and words to our motives, by being demanding, exacting and severe toward ourselves without hiding behind excuses and rationalizations, we come to see plainly the weakness of the Law.  I am not able, in the flesh, to please God.  The paradox is that we have to give up, but we can’t give up too soon. 

It’s a strange thing.  You know, from the first, that you can’t win.  At least, we know it mentally because it’s right there in plain sight, in the text, in church doctrine, on the lips of everyone sent to teach us.  Still, most of us, I suspect, take quite a bit of convincing at the heart level.  We have to bang our heads against reality more than once – my head is rather hard, to move from an intellectual acceptance to a solid and certain conviction.  Self-examination, self-judgment, and self-discipline are part of the process, and I’m not sure there’s any shortcut allowed around it.  Perhaps there are some who work it all out in a one-time flash of insight and transformation at the mourners’ bench.  I’m not one of those.   Like an ogre or an onion, I find that I have layers of stupidity that have to be painfully peeled away one at a time.  Somewhere under there is Christ. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I Get An Attitude Adjustment

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?  And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? – Jeremiah 12:5

Jeremiah was complaining about all the wicked who prospered and were even, apparently, planted by God and allowed to take root.  It seemed to the prophet, as it often seems to us, that God has a strange sense of justice.  Sometimes the Lord has about enough of whining.  Jeremiah had experienced some conflict with various members of his family out in the village of Anathoth.  He was going to have to confront the men of Jerusalem.  He was going from minor league persecution up to the Majors.  God says to Jeremiah, and to us, I think, that we have not had nearly as much trouble as we will have.  Wait, does the Lord think we will be somehow comforted by this?  Is God channeling R. Lee Ermey? 

I am going to veer off into the field a bit.  A lot of us seem to prefer the certainty and security of bondage to the uncertainty and opportunity of freedom.  People who start their own businesses are braver than I am.  Wage-slavery appeals to me.  I really don’t mind working for the man so long as those checks come in every couple of weeks.  It helps that the work I do is something I happen to enjoy, but I have worked and would work again just for the security if it came to that.  

Yet, I know that outside of Christ, there is no security.  Nor are there any guarantees that because I am a Christian, no matter how devout and obedient, that my earthly life is going to always go to suit me.  Knowing that, I have a choice.  One might try to build “pile”, to use a term from Allan Quatermain, as a bulwark against life’s vagaries and setbacks.  Another may say that he will, like Blanche DuBois, rely on the kindness of strangers.  I believe in making good use of opportunities and of realizing there’s at least a chance I might live to be too old to work, but I also know that trusting in “a safe land” is an illusion.   Youth, strength, health, wealth, power, etc., all these things are passing away.  Enjoy them while they last.  The danger is that I become so enamored of them that I try to cling to them after their time has passed. 

God reminds me that reality is, and that He is.  I can complain if I like, but it is only going to wear me down that much more quickly.  I can face it.  I can whine about it.  I can face and whine about it.  I can do what I have to do and trust, not in safety and security, but in the wisdom, grace and goodness of God. 

The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands.  For the righteous man is taken away from calamity; he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness (Isaiah 57:1-2). 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Looking for God

I have no idea why I am so weary today, but I am just about worthless.  We'll turn this space over to St. Augustine to see if he can stir us up.

Where then did I find Thee, that I might learn Thee? For in my memory Thou wert not, before I learned Thee. Where then did I find Thee, that I might learn Thee, but in Thee above me? Place there is none; we go backward and forward, and there is no place. Every where, O Truth, dost Thou give audience to all who ask counsel of Thee, and at once answerest all, though on manifold matters they ask Thy counsel. Clearly dost Thou answer, though all do not clearly hear.  All consult Thee on what they will, though they hear not always what they will.  He is Thy best servant who looks not so much to hear that from Thee which himself willeth, as rather to will that, which from Thee he heareth.

Too late loved I Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved Thee! And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad, and there I searched for Thee; deformed I, plunging amid those fair forms which Thou hadst made. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee, which, unless they were in Thee, were not at all.  Thou calledst, and shoutedst, and burstest my deafness. Thou flashedst, shonest, and scatteredst my blindness. Thou breathedst odours, and I drew in breath and panted for Thee.  I tasted, and hunger and thirst.  Thou touchedst me, and I burned for Thy peace.

When I shall with my whole self cleave to Thee, I shall no where have sorrow or labour; and my life shall wholly live, as wholly full of Thee.  But now since whom Thou fillest, Thou liftest up, because I am not full of Thee I am a burden to myself. Lamentable joys strive with joyous sorrows: and on which side is the victory, I know not. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. My evil sorrows strive with my good joys; and on which side is the victory, I know not. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. Woe is me! lo! I hide not my wounds; Thou art the Physician, I the sick; Thou merciful, I miserable. Is not the life of man upon earth all trial?

Who wishes for troubles and difficulties? Thou commandest them to be endured, not to be loved. No man loves what he endures, though he love to endure. For though he rejoices that he endures, he had rather there were nothing for him to endure. In adversity I long for prosperity, in prosperity I fear adversity. What middle place is there betwixt these two, where the life of man is not all trial? Woe to the prosperities of the world, once and again, through fear of adversity, and corruption of joy! Woe to the adversities of the world, once and again, and the third time, from the longing for prosperity, and because adversity itself is a hard thing, and lest it shatter endurance. Is not the life of man upon earth all trial: without any interval?  -- From the Confessions of St. Augustine.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Roots of Anger

In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. – Genesis 4:3-5

Sometimes we see this as jealousy and sibling rivalry, especially as Abel is the younger brother.  The favored younger brother becomes a type that carries throughout Scripture:  Ishmael/Isaac, Esau/Jacob, Manasseh/Ephraim, Joseph was a younger brother, David was a younger brother, Solomon was not the first-born, and so on.  One could even say that Judaism and Christianity have a similar relationship, and that the Lord’s story of the Prodigal is, in part, about that interaction. 

Though Cain ultimately takes his anger out on his younger brother, it is caused by his own reaction to correction by God.  In rejecting the offering, the Lord does not reject Cain but wants him to understand the necessity of identification with what he offered.  The fruit of the ground which was given by Cain reflected no acknowledgement of his own sinful nature and the need for atonement.  By contrast, Abel’s sacrifice of blood indicates that he was aware of his unworthiness before God and sought to establish communion with the Almighty through confession and repentance. 

Jesus gives us a very similar story in Luke 18:9-14. 

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner!  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

This, then, is most likely the sin of Cain that he exalted himself, considering himself above any reproach and consumed by self-righteousness.  It ends, of course, in murder with the spilled blood of “righteous Abel” crying out to God for justice.  Like Abel, the life of Jesus ended because of jealousy and self-righteousness.  The blood of One infinitely more righteous than Abel was shed by the hand of His brothers – that is, all of us.  Cain stands in for all of humanity as we find that our all our good works are inadequate and unacceptable, and that it is only the sacrifice of Jesus that can bring reconciliation. 

If, like Cain, we refuse to see the corruption in our hearts, it will cause only bitterness and further defilement.  What if Cain had, instead of bringing his own offering, participated in the sacrifice of Abel?  The Passover lamb was only one for a household.  Perhaps Adam served as the priest of the family.  Was there any need for Cain to try and appease God with the fruits of his own labor?  He could have joined in the communion with his brother and been accepted. 

The sacrifice of the Son to the Father is sufficient for all mankind, for all of us Cains out here.  We have only to set aside our own works and our own righteousness and receive the grace and forgiveness that Christ offers to us.