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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Seasonal Greetings

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. -- 1 Corinthians 2:12

The earth has completed another circuit of the sun, yet we are not in the same place we were this time last year.  The sun has moved accompanied by the myriad of stars and bodies of light and darkness that lie around about us.  There is nothing new under the sun yet nothing is the same as it was.  I am not the same, my life has changed completely; nevertheless, I look much the same – a bit more haggard and white-haired, a few more cracks and creases but recognizable.  I have the same memories and scars, though I could not have imagined on this day a year ago what I would be where I am.

 The spirit of the world or the spirit of the age has become more confused, more desperate, fearful, corrupted, and perverse.  It cries, Peace, constantly, while having no hope for peace of any kind.  It blusters even as it cowers, empty of understanding, ignorantly mocking its own ignorance. 

God, the Apostle Paul told Timothy, has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).  We can live in liberty, no longer governed and controlled by fear and intimidation, no longer manipulated by passion and worry.  We can rest in the love of God, knowing that He cares for us, empowering us to meet every challenge in life and to live above the animal impulses of the body and the emotions and rationalizations of the soul. 

Tomorrow is both a known and an unknown, mystery and opportunity.  The spirit of the world alternatively exults and recoils from the future.  The Spirit who is from God reminds us to look not at the calendar but at the seasons – life, death, renewal, and rebirth.  We sleep; we wake.  There is a time to lie quiet and dormant, a time to produce and be fruitful.  The spirit of the age, trapped by time, imprisoned by instincts, can only follow trends and fashions, blown about by the winds of rhetoric and the selfish desires of the soul. 

Through Christ, we live the everlasting life in tune with eternity and controlled by truth.  Every day starts a joyous new year.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Tree of Knowledge, Tree of Life

You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, How have we wearied him? By saying, Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them. Or by asking, Where is the God of justice?  -- Malachi 2:17

We have set ourselves up as gods.  Our technology is impressive.  We believe this makes us capable of judging right and wrong.  As humans, we are not called to judge but to discern.  Judging is a function of the soul, which, in the Fall, was exalted over the spirit.  It’s what we would call, in more modern parlance, ego driven.  You will have noticed that those who scream mostly loudly that no one has a right to judge them are the most judgmental, and the intolerant cry loudest for tolerance while the greedy and envious denounce greed and envy.   In order to maintain the illusion of being god-like in our souls, we judge and we condemn those around us.

Most people seem to think this attitude of judging and condemning is restricted to the religious.  In that both religion and resentment are natural to the sons of Adam, this is true.  It is only through Christ, the revelation of the Trinity and the God Who Is Love that we may be delivered from the prison of self-consciousness.  The God who dwelt complete, isolated and alone, who delivered the Law to Moses inscribed on unbending, unyielding stone could not be selfless.  He demanded compliance and submission.  We see him today in the stringent requirements of Islam. 

Moses and the Law could reveal only the Absolute One.  To know grace and truth, we needed God Incarnate, Jesus Christ who showed us the Father, the Son, and, at the end, the Holy Spirit.  He enabled us to know that the Father thought not of Himself but of the Son, that the Son did not His own will but always the will of the Father, and that, through the Spirit poured out when the Son was glorified, we might be as one even as the Godhead is one. 

We are now free to renounce the judgments, resentments, and offenses of the soul with its intellect and emotions.  Right and wrong are plain to the spirit within each of us.  We can perceive the truth and recognize virtue directly by our spirit.  We need live no longer by rule and formula, rationalization and folly.  Now we know that God is love, and the law of Christ is to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love my neighbor as myself.  Now we no longer need bear the burden of self-consciousness for on the Cross, it was crucified with Christ.    

Monday, December 21, 2015

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the End Times

They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.  -- Revelation 17:14

As you know, I’m not that big on end-time prophecies, the Rapture, and all.  I’m pretty sure I’m here for the duration and expect to depart this mortal coil much the same way as my parents and grandparents.  If I am lucky, I might even be buried with them, though if I end up feeding the buzzards and the coyotes, it won’t bother me.

Chapter 17 of Revelation talks about the great whore and the beast with seven heads and ten horns.  Some claim this is a depiction of Rome or of the revived Roman Empire as the European Union.  It used to be fairly common to hear Protestants claim John was speaking of the future Catholic Church and the papacy.  However, I think we can much more generally say that the beast and the harlot represent the relationship between governments and false religions. 

Throughout history, rulers have used religion to control people. From the divine right of kings to the democratic voice of the people, government speaks for God, so they would have us believe.  The good thing about America’s founding was that we said this would not be so much the case with us.  Yet, our citizens were not content to allow the government to remain neutral.  They enlisted it in the fight against slavery, and – as necessary and proper as that might have been -- a civic religion began to grow around the concepts of the “Union” and the federal government.  It advanced further in the early 20th Century with the progressive politics of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to become a juggernaut – a great, consuming, fire-breathing dragon, in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. 

The civic idol does not care for competition.  The harlot and her mount grow at the expense of the Bride of Christ.  They make war against the Lamb, often in small, subtle ways, but lately in much broader, more confident strokes.  They believe they have us on the run.  And they do.  Christians are being marginalized, mocked, ridiculed and attacked everywhere.  They have the power.  They can defeat us.  They just have one problem:  it’s not us they have to worry about.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Tactical Suffering

And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. -- Mark 8:32

The fuller exchange between Peter and the Lord is found in Matthew 16, but Mark gives us the idea.  Recently, after yet more senseless murders, a newspaper headline declared that God would not fix our problems.  Others mocked and ridiculed those who offered prayers for the victims and their families after the attack.  Man always thinks he can tell God how to do things.  Blind, ignorant, and corrupt politicians know better how to run the world than the God who created it.  Many, if not most, anti-God arguments start from the assumption that what a particular person or culture considers good also constrains God. 

Napoleon was a master of maneuver warfare because he could almost instinctively grasp the strategic points of the ground on which the battle would be fought.  The soldiers sent forward to capture a particular position might not have understood the significance of what they did or failed to do.  All they knew was the blood and horror of the battle around them.  They braved the enemy’s fire or they failed to advance.  The individual knew only the risks of his own situation.  He could not see, especially during the battle, the part it played in the grand strategy of his general.  His line might be the feint, or it might be the main attack.  He might be the pawn sacrificed to draw the enemy away or he might the hammer which crushed the opposing force.     

I don’t think we have all that much understanding of how the world really works.  I think we are arrogant in our ignorance.  We have developed some cool technology and some interesting toys over the last hundred years or so, but we are fools if we think we can control the forces of nature or that we comprehend the mysteries of the universe or of our own existence.  Shakespeare is a lot closer to the truth than the science popularizers, the academics, Keynesian economists, and such:  There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophies.

It doesn’t mean we should not strive or learn or that we can’t ever know some things.  It means that we ought to humbly acknowledge with Browning, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?  The modern and the post-modern have eliminated heaven, and we know the agonies and destruction wrought to bring about their childish utopias of nihilistic hopelessness. 

No one in this world is ever going to eliminate suffering and evil or so much as explain why they have to exist.   Atheists can’t explain it any more than Buddhists, Muslims, or Christians.  The day after some horrific event, disaster, or excruciating personal loss, we all, regardless of philosophical view or religious faith, have to get up and make it until the end.  The difference is not in what I know but who I know.  God knows, and I trust Him. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Rules of Engagement

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men -- Mark 7:8

Much of religion is little more than a way for truth to be compromised, and human thinking to be justified.  When people talk about how God told them to do this or that, we ought to listen carefully for what those people are going to get out of it.  The “will of Allah” or the “will of God” too often become political tools for manipulating and controlling a group or a nation. 

Jesus never called His disciples to political revolution.  He did not come to overthrow the Roman government or to establish a particular form of government.  When He quoted Isaiah 61 in the synagogue (Luke 4:18-19), the good news He was proclaiming to the poor was not income redistribution or Marxist class struggle. The captives He came to liberate were not those in physical chains.  He came to set all of us free from the bondage of sin, from the prison of distorted perspectives, and from the vanities and illusions of a merely material existence. 

Christianity can work and has worked in every imaginable political system.  It has been nice to have had the opportunity to live in a prosperous, mostly free-market economy, to have enjoyed the benefits of political and religious liberty and the enlightenment and innovation it brings.  But it isn’t necessary. 

To be a Christian means being filled with the life of Christ, to walk in humility, meekness, kindness, and love.  The Romans led those First Century followers of Christ out into the Coliseum to be tortured, humiliated and killed.  Tyrants of all kinds – some calling themselves Christians as well, have oppressed believers and sought to defeat the Truth across nearly twenty centuries since.    

I am not a prophet, but I can read the writing on the wall.  The western world has shredded, squandered and disavowed its Christian heritage.  Our political leaders, intellectuals, and media idols call good evil and evil good.  The seeds have been sown and sprouted.  The stalk has reached full height, matured and ripened.  The reaping is at hand.  A whole lot of people are going to get exactly what they want, and they are not going to like it at all. 

Regardless of the way the world goes, the commandments of God are the same.  I am to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love my neighbor as myself.  I am to take up my cross daily and die to self.  I am to give no place to selfishness, self-justification, or pride.  If I am called to lay down my life, I am to do it joyously.  I think I can do this.  The Lord has never asked me to do anything that I couldn’t do. 

One more thing, though, that those who despise and mock Christians sometimes fail to grasp.  When I say that I have to love my neighbor as myself, it means all my neighbors, especially the weak, the innocent, and the helpless.  I am obligated to protect them as much as I can for as long as I can by whatever means necessary.