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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, November 30, 2015

Crash and Burn Edition

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance … Romans 5:3

I was watching an episode of some science fiction-type, post-apocalyptic television show, of which there seems to be a plethora these days.  One of the more villainous – but, of course, villainous “for the greater good” – characters challenged the main protagonist, accusing him of being  a “cowboy” who enjoyed living in the death throes of civilized society. 

Isn’t one of the reasons we like to ice skate is that we stand a better chance of falling?  Isn’t the true beauty of ice skating learning to be graceful in our defiance of gravity, balancing on a knife edge while moving over the slipperiest surface we can find?  The Lord does not call us to follow Him to safety and security in a bubble-wrap heaven.  He calls us to live dangerously, to follow Him boldly out onto the thin ice of obedience in the very face of suffering and death.    

Right now, like the fictional heroes we admire in westerns and adventure stories, we face the challenge of a post-Christian world.  A true Christian is in open rebellion against the world and its standards, its rules and its laws.  We are bound to be obedient to a higher law – the law of love, and love is and always has been dangerous.  Like ice skating, downhill skiing, skydiving, skateboarding, bicycle or motorcycle riding, bull-riding, rock climbing, etc., the whole game of the Christian life is to defy the Fall, to challenge the world’s gravity and defeat it using its own power against it. 

For once, the ESV fails us slightly.  A better word for “rejoice” in the verse above is “exult” or “glory”.  We do not merely overcome the corruption and suffering of a fallen world system.  The real trick is to gracefully glory in our defiance of the pull of sorrow, regret, and fear, to laugh in the face of death and despair. 

We should not kid ourselves.  The champion figure skater does not perform without paying the toll of many falls, bruises, pain, and frustration.  Grace grows by stumbles, struggles and tears.  As Bunyan’s Pilgrim learned, there is no shortcut that avoids the trials of life in this sphere.  We, too, will come to cross the Slough of Despond.  We will be hindered by snares.  We will face defeat.  Yet defeat is not permanent unless we refuse to get up and try again.  Each time we slip we get up stronger, making one more minute adjustment to our balance.  Each failure is one failure closer to perfection, i.e., maturity.

And, if the ice is getting thin, remember that Jesus walked on the water, and Peter walked with Him. 


Monday, November 23, 2015

The Sudden Stop

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven …  For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. – Luke 6:37, 43-44

I expect to be judged.  I expect to be judged on my performance, my achievements, my failures, my strengths and my flaws.  Jesus does not forbid forming opinions nor does He expect us to refrain from making informed judgments.  He admonishes us not to jump to conclusions or to pre-judge someone on the basis of culture, religion, ethnic background, or even on past failures.  A reformed criminal should be given opportunities to live honestly.  Someone from a bad family should be judged on his or her own behavior and not on that of family members. 

That does not mean that we have to accept and tolerate bad behavior.  If a drunk tells me not to judge him that makes him no less a self-destructive drunk, and it certainly doesn’t give him the right to drive his car into mine out on the highway.  If I break my marriage vows, I am an adulterer, and it requires no judgment to call me such.  The secular world doesn’t want the words of Jesus to carry their plain and obvious meaning.  They want those words to mean that they will not be judged according to the fruit they bear – a complete contradiction to what the Lord says. 

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap (Galatians 6:7).

Too many today are mocking God by quoting Christ out of context, and God is never mocked.  God is reality, and reality cannot be escaped.  The secular world has leaped from the top of the tallest building in town, and it is a long, laughing thrill ride down.  What rushes toward us at terminal velocity is the ground.  Do not judge by the fall.  What hurts is the sudden stop.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Patience of Job

Behold, God puts no trust in his holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in his sight; how much less one who is abominable and corrupt, a man who drinks injustice like water!-- Job 15:15-16

I don’t usually pull verses from Job because it has much in common with one of Plato’s dialogs or a philosophical novel and calls us to take it as a whole more than most Scriptural writings.  Like Job and his friends, we are always searching for the reason behind and the meaning of suffering, why there must be evil, even why there can be good. 

We long to find a way to avoid trials, to live free of grief.  We think perhaps if we can be good enough, sanctifying ourselves, being kind and generous, taking care of others, living morally and circumspectly, that God will have mercy upon us and spare the losses and the pain that afflict so many.  If we get a bad diagnosis from the doctor, if our marriage falls apart, if our children take the wrong path, we have to declare bankruptcy, etc., we want desperately to believe there is some reason behind it – even if that reason is that we have made mistakes and sinned or that God is capricious and unjust. 

Personally, I can’t help siding with Job’s friends.  If something bad happens to me I assume it is because I have done something wrong.  I know -- far better than anyone else does, how corrupt I am.  I know the evil and darkness that I sometimes embrace and so easily excuse.  I suspect that most of us live with a degree of guilt and shame.  It is probably one of the few things in which I am above average.  But that is just because I have a self that is one of Job’s friends – one of his accusers, a Pharisee of Pharisees. 

We are all Job, and Job’s friends, and Elihu, and something else.  The dialog and drama that is Job is what plays out in our souls.  We accuse; we self-justify; we blame God. 

But you are full of the judgment on the wicked; judgment and justice seize you (Job 36:17).  We are, rightly, quick to want evil to face justice.  I hear about a child molester or some creep who raped and murdered a little old lady, and my response is almost always to wish that I could have ten minutes alone with the perpetrator in a locked room.  Islamic terrorists are loose in Paris?  Let’s kill every Muslim on the planet! 

We are creatures, save for the apparently increasing number of psychopaths among us, who believe in fair play and “an eye for an eye”.  The laws of Moses make sense to us.  The love of Christ does not always.  When evil befalls us, some of us are naturally prone to think justice must be the cause.  I have learned but a few things in life.  For example, my encounters with the courts and police have taught me that we do not have a justice system but a legal system, that what is legal has little to do with what is moral, and what is moral, right, and just is, as often as not, illegal.   

Another thing I am learning is that God is not a formula.  He does not perform for me.  He cannot be manipulated.  In Chapter 75 of Christ the Eternal Tao, we read:

The world is like a hollow utensil
And cannot be manipulated.
That which is not the Way soon fades away.
Hence the sage assists the natural development of all things,
Even though he does not venture to interfere.

It comes down to trusting God.   Job, in the end, realizes that, while all that is false, including the illusions of self, are broken and ground to dust by truth, the yielding essence of our being, the spirit within us, the Way within us is always right and inevitably overcomes.  The accusers are shamed and silenced but so is the justifier, the rationalizer, the moralizer.  There is none good but God.    

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Word from the Prince of Preachers

He who quarries stones is hurt by them, and he who splits logs is endangered by them. -- Ecclesiastes 10:9

Oppressors may get their will of poor and needy men as easily as they can split logs of wood, but they had better mind, for it is a dangerous business, and a splinter from a tree has often killed the woodman. Jesus is persecuted in every injured saint, and he is mighty to avenge his beloved ones. Success in treading down the poor and needy is a thing to be trembled at: if there be no danger to persecutors here there will be great danger hereafter.

To cleave wood is a common every-day business, and yet it has its dangers; so then, reader, there are dangers connected with your calling and daily life which it will be well for you to be aware of. We refer not to hazards by flood and field, or by disease and sudden death, but to perils of a spiritual sort. Your occupation may be as humble as log splitting, and yet the devil can tempt you in it. You may be a domestic servant, a farm labourer, or a mechanic, and you may be greatly screened from temptations to the grosser vices, and yet some secret sin may do you damage. Those who dwell at home, and mingle not with the rough world, may yet be endangered by their very seclusion.
Nowhere is he safe who thinks himself so. Pride may enter a poor man’s heart; avarice may reign in a cottager’s bosom; uncleanness may venture into the quietest home; and anger, and envy, and malice may insinuate themselves into the most rural abode. Even in speaking a few words to a servant we may sin; a little purchase at a shop may be the first link in a chain of temptations; the mere looking out of a window may be the beginning of evil. O Lord, how exposed we are! How shall we be secured! To keep ourselves is work too hard for us: only thou thyself art able to preserve us in such a world of evils. Spread thy wings over us, and we, like little chickens, will cower down beneath thee, and feel ourselves safe!  (Charles Haddon Spurgeon – Daily Devotional – 11/17)

 I don't have much time or much to add, except that I don't think Spurgeon's point is that we should live in constant fear of offending the Lord or our brothers and sisters.  We do need to beware, as he says, of the costs of exploiting our neighbors.

The greater point is that no matter how well we isolate and insulate ourselves, trials and temptations will find us.  "Only the dead have seen the end of war" -- a quote generally attributed to Plato which may have originated, instead, with George Santayana -- it is, nonetheless, accurate.  Living has its risks.

Our goal in this life is not to eliminate risks, pain, injury, or errors.  Rather, we are to be aware of the fleeting nature of our health, wealth, and very existence.  We are but a vapor.  There is no safety and no certainty in this life, but there is security in Christ and in Him alone. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Down By The Riverside

… [A]s we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. -- 2 Corinthians 4:18

All that is seen is temporary.  I look at photographs that captured the images of a moment.  Perhaps I can go back to the spot and some of the same things are there, but nothing is the same.  That moment in the stream of time has moved beyond us. 

The Missouri River is not the same water traversed by Lewis and Clark.  Why do we call it by the same name?  The water is seen, the stream bed may even be seen.  The water in the river changes constantly as does the exact course over which it runs.  That which is much more lasting is this great and vast drainage, these many watercourses coming together and pouring into this channel. 

Spiritual reality is much like that.  The experiences, events, and existences that we see in time are but the current manifestations of that which underlies and creates.  The present is always pouring out of and over eternity, being created and shaped by the eternal which may not now be perceived directly.  Just as the water’s surface can tell us something about what lies below, we may learn much about the nature of unseen reality by that which is manifest to us.  In addition, like a topographical map of terrain or a depth chart of a body of water, special revelation gives us greater insight into truth. 

The unseen is not invisible; it is not yet visible.  Scripture tells us that the elements will be consumed by fire and the heavens will roll back like a scroll.  There will come a point where the temporal and the eternal will converge and the veil of transience will be put aside and cast away. 

The wise will not ignore the visible but will look through it to that which lies behind.  They will see the impermanent for what it is and be neither seduced nor intimidated by it.  We will know the Truth, and we will be free.

The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place (Revelation 6:14).
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed (2 Peter 3:10).