The universe will never be extinguished because just when the darkness seems to have smothered all, to be truly transcendent, the new seeds of light are reborn in the very depths. That is the Way. When the seed falls, it falls into the earth, into the soil. And beneath, out of sight, it comes to life. -- Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
Thursday, December 29, 2016
Friday, December 9, 2016
Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land the LORD your God is giving you -- Deuteronomy 16:20
As we learn from Jesus, justice can be tempered with mercy, but you can't get to mercy without going through justice. Injustice may not be merciful at all.
Consider the situation where a poor man steals food to feed his family. Most of us would be more likely to be understanding and willing to excuse that -- especially if he stole from someone who could "afford" to lose the food.
We might, conversely, be more likely to condemn a rich man and judge him more harshly for robbing or cheating a poor person. It's the season for It's A Wonderful Life, and Old Man Potter comes easily to mind.
From a social or financial point of view, our lack of mercy for the rich man compared to our willingness to overlook the infraction of the poor makes sense. God, though, isn't talking in terms of dollars and cents but of soul and spirit.
Stealing, extortion, embezzlement, or any other crime, whatever the excuses made for the perpetrator, even if it does little harm to the victim, there is a victim, and there is harm to the one who commits the crime as well.
Sadly, there is very little justice in our American legal system. It would be good if we could return to a more biblical view of human nature. I am not an expert in this area. All I know is there is not much in the way of restitution, rehabilition, or restoration.
From the Christian point of view, with regard to sin, the primary aggrieved party is not the State or even, necessarily, the victim, but God. David committed adultery and murder, yet in Psalm 51, he cried out, "Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight ..." (verse 4).
I remember reading that and thinking, Yeah, well, old Uriah got the short end of the stick, too. What about him? The answer is that Uriah suffered and was treated unjustly and unfairly, but the sin was against God Himself. David wasn't forgetting what a lousy thing he had done to his loyal and valiant soldier, but there was nothing he could do to restore Uriah to life and give him back his wife's fidelity. But because God lives, David could get right with Him. God could then make it up to Uriah -- somehow.
When we fail to render justice for a person's actions, we fail to encourage that person to make it right with God. We allow a wounded, damaged soul to go unhealed. It doesn't take much imagination to see how that impacts public figures, politicians and celebrities. In fact, it almost seems as if they feel compelled to commit ever greater transgressions, as if the soul craves justice and want to be called to account that it might be, once again, be made whole.
But it's not just the rich and famous who "get away with murder" and let the corruption eat away at their hearts and minds; it happens to the poor and the disadvantaged as well. Our unjust mercy has created an underclass of people who think they are justified in degrading and corrupting themselves because poverty and lack of opportunities are acceptable excuses.
Justice is good for everyone. Without it, society becomes a well-paved road to hell.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered him, "Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward." -- John 13:36
We never get ahead of God. As disciples we are, naturally, always following. Like Peter, we may not know where the Lord is going at a given point in life, so we do not always know -- perhaps we never really know, where we are headed. And sometimes, as is the case here with Peter, a disciple is told he or she isn't going anywhere but must stay and wait a while. God seems to go around the bend and leaves us alone, wondering. There are times when we serve, as Milton said, by standing and waiting.
But the aloneness is seeming only. Like a watchful father, the Lord's eye never leaves us, though Him we may not see. Soon, relative to His timetable, a call will come for us to move. We will be guided along the path that He has walked and prepared for us. This is what the Apostle learned, and it is what many have learned, I think by necessity, the hard way in the days since. We make our plans, plot our courses, and, in the end, are led where each must go, to destiny, to death, to destiny beyond death.
I mentioned Milton, and I'll let him say it his way.
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. -- Luke 8:7
When Jesus explained this parable to His disciples, He talked about the cares and pleasures of this life and of riches that are pictured as choking thorns. It is not that some of us do not have all we need to be fruitful disciples, or that we don't understand the message and hold it in our hearts. What we lack is exclusivity. We are not Jesus people as much as Jesus And people.
I am the man in this case.
I was watching an episode of "The Vikings" one evening when it struck me how lightly those people held their lives, in part because they believed in Valhalla for a death in battle, but also because life in this world often held little attraction for them. There wasn't a whole lot to be attached to. It was mostly darkness, brutality, physical labor, and, often, intense physical suffering. Aside from protecting and providing for one's children, life in this world might have seemed hardly worth the effort.
The modern world has its share of suffering, pain, and sorrow, but we are more often immersed in distractions than were our ancestors. Ours is a world and a civilization with an abundance of all the things that supposedly make life worth living. Much of what we enjoy has arisen from the Word that has been planted in our hearts. From this Seed has grown power and prosperity unimaginable to those to whom the Gospel was first preached.
I find that I rarely have to think about Christ or His Church, about heaven or hell, about death and disease. I can turn on something, change a channel, read, watch, listen, work, and communicate so easily that I can forget about God. If someone gets me started I can still tell them about the Bible and discuss sin and sanctity, the Holy Spirit or prayer, but I have work that needs to be done. There are plans to make, trips to take, and cakes to bake. There is retirement looming, and worries about investments nagging.
All of these things -- some of which are necessary -- can become thorns and thistles springing up, over-growing, and shading us from the direct light of life. Sometimes the best thing to do is get away from it all, set it all aside. The Christmas season may not be the best time for that. It sounds more like Lent. But we need a time when we weed out those briars before they get too big. It is something that is going to be a constant for most of us because the daily concerns of life happen daily. Things are going to keep springing up and needing to be uprooted.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding … Daniel 2:21
I don't put much trust in governments, presidents, or monarchs. Daniel raises an interesting question as to whether God is “in control” of government. Governments are generally engines of corruption, and the bigger the government, the more corruption is produces. God, however, is not an author or sponsor of evil. He does not even tempt us to evil (James 1:13). The wickedness and decadence of a society come from the heart of man.
God is alive. He is acting. He responds as well as initiates. But He also has laws in place, both physical and spiritual. Bad choices have consequences, as do good choices. When a person, a people, a nation or an empire makes consistently wrong, stupid, unwise, or evil choices, they are going to reap the harvest.
Sometime, several years ago now, writing here, I talked about a remnant. God always has a remnant like the 7000 He spoke of to Elijah (1 Kings 19:18). I believe that the remnant has been praying and seeking God, and I believe that God has responded with an awakening. That doesn't mean I think any kind of utopia is coming, and it is certainly not a time to become comfortable or complacent spiritually. I still believe that hard times are ahead, possibly much chaos, division, violence, even bloodshed.
Being awake, watching and praying, doesn't mean we won't have to deal with danger, trouble, and strife; it just means we will be ready for it when it comes. Now is not the time to go back to sleep. No great victory has been won. The enemy is not going to surrender. It is, though, the time to connect, to reach out, to build up from the foundation of the remnant. The next battle is going to be harder, the enemy more conniving and subtle.
The devil has, for the last few years, overplayed his hand. Sin makes sin bold. Sin always emboldens itself when it faces no apparent rebuke, but sin, when it is underground and out of sight, may still grow and burst forth in unexpected places. Scandals in the church house, failures by those we trust, betrayals, cowardice -- these are great dangers in a time of awakening. We must guard against discouragement and being disheartened.
The standardbearers are neither perfect nor invulnerable. The banner is what must be upheld and looked to, not the ones who bear it. Our standard is Jehovah-Nissi (Exodus 17:15). Our God does reign.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. -- Luke 24:30-31
This is the story of the resurrected Lord meeting two disciples as they walked from Jerusalem out to the village of Emmaus. I believe it is about seven miles, so the three were together talking for more than an hour as they walked. It is intriguing that the disciples, who must have been quite familiar with Jesus, even if they were not part of the innermost circle of twelve, did not immediately recognize the Lord. Certainly, it was unexpected that it would be Him. The same thing happened when Mary Magdalene encountered Christ by the tomb. Jesus was, though, recognized by Peter, Thomas, and the others immediately in His appearances to them. It may be that Jesus disguised Himself in some way or that a veil of sorts was upon the eyes and ears of the two who walked with Him.
I believe we encounter God, His angels, or His agents often -- sitting next to us on a plane or passing us on the sidewalk, perhaps striking up a casual conversation at a restaurant. We gain wisdom and insight from those seemingly chance meetings as we travel through this world. We may not see the hand of God or the presence of God in all life’s interactions or experiences. Whether this is because we are failing to see or because it is God’s intention to be veiled, I don’t know. And it may be different from time to time.
What I do know is that communion removes the veil. When Jesus broke the bread there in the house, He could not help revealing Himself. He is, after all, the Bread of Life, broken for you and for me. When Paul gave instructions about the Lord’s Supper, he warned us: For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Corinthians 11:29).
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
William Blake - "Divine Image"
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
All pray in their distress,
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is God our Father dear;
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart
Pity, a human face;
And Love, the human form divine;
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine:
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew.
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too.
Monday, October 17, 2016
Things are still busy, so I thought I might remind everyone of Emily Dickinson's little poem -- "Hope Is The Thing With Feathers":
'Hope' is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—
I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.
Friday, September 30, 2016
So we have come to know and to believe the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him -- 1 John 4:16
Bruce Charleton does a much better job of explaining something I think I touched on a couple of months back:
Think about our own earthly Father or Mother - as a child, if we believe they are good, we trust them; and we interpret their actions (observed and imputed) in that light - in the light of knowing that they love us.God is Good -- all the time. We can absolutely trust Him. He is not "testing" us or setting us up over how we ask for something in prayer. He is not going to give us something evil to teach us a lesson when we have asked for something good:
We don't let any specific action, or their average of actions, or anything we read, or anything which 'other people' say, have any influence AT ALL on the knowledge of the fact that they love us.
So the mass of Christians do not assume the loving goodness of God, they de facto test it. For example, they test the gooodness of God by reading the Bible, or Church pronouncements. This is equivalent to a child starting each day agnostic as to the love of his parents, and weighing all their actions and statements about them to decide - day by day, moment by moment - whether his parents really do love him - or not.
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:11-13)I have told the story before of how my wife gave me a new KIng James Version Bible, and, when I began to read it, I was certain that the publisher had altered the text. I actually went back and pulled out an older copy that I knew was "right" only to find the Bibles had not changed. The reader had, because he had "come to believe".
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. -- Proverbs 18:2
I take this as a caution. It is much easier, in some ways, to simply have an opinion, clutch it to one’s bosom, and blurt it out at times appropriate and inappropriate. That extracts a price, though, in terms of mental and psychic energy. We expend a lot of effort on defense mechanisms, especially rationalizations, to support our opinion if it doesn’t square with reality.
Understanding and wisdom come from encountering reality, from walking the ground rather than studying the map. There is not -- I don’t believe, a better map than the Bible. A lot of well-meaning, religious people teach from it. You would think we would all agree. We don’t. We are lacking familiarity with the actual terrain the map describes. A map, after all, is a record of the experiences of those who traveled the path.
On my bookshelf is a copy of the journals of Lewis and Clark edited by DeVoto. Those explorers covered the ground and recorded distances, elevations, experiences, and obstacles. The records of that first journey of discovery are correct as far as they go with the instruments available. Man has altered the environment, the culture, the flora, and fauna and even the terrain drastically in the last two hundred years. A person might, nonetheless, generally follow that same path and possibly get all the way through to the Pacific Northwest based on those old journal entries.
Imagine, though, that you had lived in the time of the expedition, and, taking in hand the maps of Lewis and Clark, you had set out like the early mountain men, to live in that wild territory. There would have been much for you discover, vast lands and sights that were not on the map, and even the things that the journals had described would be different when you saw them.
The spiritual terrain has not changed since the biblical record began. The reality it describes is not over-populated. It is as a vast land that only fools think they comprehend completely. I’m not suggesting leaving the Bible or our traditions behind. That would be foolish in a different way. We need the map and the compass, but we need to understand the limitations. Reality will not fit in a book or in one’s head any more than you can carry the Grand Canyon home in a trunk. These things are meant to get us there, help us survive the encounter and grow from it.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust" -- Psalm 91:2
The past couple of weeks have been intense with lots of work. I am taking a few days off with my motorcycle starting tomorrow. It's time. I have no reserve left. But, as I often do, I have been praying and thinking about prayer, how we can make it too hard or too easy. In one sense, it is a matter of talking to God. That ought to be easy.
Here is the omniscient God, the Omnipresent. How does He not hear me? How do I not talk to Him? In John 14:20, Jesus says He is in the Father, and we are in Him, and He is in us. That's intimate. That is close. We are intertwined, interwoven into the Divine. Yet, I sometimes feel as though I am talking to myself, that the heavens are brass. As the old-timers used to say, my prayers don't get past the ceiling. A song says, "Prayer is the key to heaven, but faith unlocks the door."
To pray effectively, we must accept a major premise, an axiom that cannot be proven directly beforehand. It will also often be denied afterward. It is this: 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).
That's the hard part of prayer, to maintain that attitude, to continue to trust, to live always in expectancy in the face of time and loss and trouble and heartache. The ape part of me wants to rise up, thrash and smash, rail and lament, beg and belittle.
I never want to admit that God knows and I don't. I can explain some things in retrospect, but even then I don't know. I have to trust. I always have to trust. That's hard for me. I hope it is easier for others. Really, the only person I trust is myself. When I think about it, though, that means I am trusting Adam, who is demonstrated to be Mr. Unreliable.
So, I have to give that up and be confident in the One who never fails. Once I get there, prayer is no longer burdensome. From that position, it is as natural as breathing, and it should be as frequent.
Thursday, September 1, 2016
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. -- Isaiah 29:19
Empathy is the word that came to mind this morning. It doesn’t quite line up with meekness, but they seem to me to be related. I cannot imagine a genuinely meek person not being able to recognize and share in the feelings of others at least to some degree. A truly empathetic person would also be unlikely to be excessively self-exalting. A degree of empathy is necessary for us to exist in social relationships. The sociopath is perhaps entirely free from relating to the pain of another person.
Meekness may have once meant a sort of inoffensive mildness. Maybe it still means that outside of Christianity. I struggle with a lot of things, meekness, possibly, most of all. It is only a couple of letters from “weakness”. I don’t like weakness, and I don’t see any godliness or holiness in weakness. Jesus, though, took meekness and made it something else: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
To the Master, to whom all power and authority was given, meekness meant a blend of spiritual strength and poise. It is a gentleness that exists because of the strength behind it. You see it when a strong man picks up a baby. There is no struggle in it but a delicacy, like a dancer who makes difficult movements look effortless.
Meekness, then, is a manifestation of grace. As we have been the beneficiaries of God’s grace, we practice it among those around us. We can afford gentleness with others because the strength of Christ backs us up.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -- Romans 8:28
I believe God is in control,
And that He created us in His image and likeness,
With creative imaginations,
Free will and agency,
Able to choose to misuse our gifts and grace,
With limited knowledge and understanding,
So that we have tragedies of ignorance as well as tragedies of wickedness;
Therefore much happens in the world that is not God’s will.
God does not lament but continues to take the elements of our events,
The broken pieces and spoiled vessels,
Remake and remold them
Into masterpieces of balance, hope, and beauty.
I believe God is in control, and what will be,
I do not know,
But I trust and I hope, and I know
It will be beautiful.