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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Feeling Nothing

Sometimes prayer is like going to the dentist. When serious work is required, the dentist injects Novocain into our gums so we feel nothing during the procedure.
When we feel nothing during prayer, it could be that the deep healing has begun. This is the point where the act of prayer becomes a work of faith. We come to our chosen time, place, and rule of prayer. We are reluctant, procrastinating, distracted, and restless. We feel nothing, if not a little foolish. Nonetheless, we pray. The Latin word for “faith” is credo, the source of our word “credit.” At heart, it means “trust.” To pray during the dry times is to trust that the emptiness within and the absence without constitute, in fact, a presence. To pray a few words while frantically running from task to task is to trust that God hears us even if we can’t hear Him. To have faith also means to act as if—as if God is real, as if God is there.
 -- from When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer, L. Joseph Letendre

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What You Can

She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. -- Mark 14:8

The story, there in the first few verses of Mark 14, is that a woman with a sordid past came and broke an alabaster container of rare and expensive perfume and used it to anoint the Lord.  Those who witnessed the event criticized her, thinking the costly ointment had been wasted.  If she desired to do good, she could have sold the flask and given the proceeds to those in need.  

Jesus put a stop to their analysis of the woman’s actions and motives by saying she had done a beautiful thing for Him.  The poor, He reminded them, would always be around.  “[W]henever you want, “ He said, “you can do good for them” (v. 7). 

The woman could not make up for all the sins of her life.  She could not put all the things right that had gone wrong.  She could not change the world or save the world.  Perhaps she was wise enough to know that.  Instead of fretting about what she could not do, she did what she could.  I don’t know if she realized that Jesus was about to undergo His Passion, be beaten, humiliated, and murdered by my sins and iniquities upon the Cross.  In fact, I rather doubt that she was such a prophet.   I think she saw that she could express her love for this extraordinary Man, respond to the forgiveness and reconciliation she sensed she was offered in Him, and she did what she could.  

That is all God asks of any of us.  There are so many things I can’t do, but there are a few things I can do.  I ought to do those things without worrying about the rest.  Even when it comes to something like prayer, I’m never going to be one of those people who can spend an hour or two on my knees before daylight every day.  But I can pray -- when and as I can.  I should not neglect prayer or Bible study or acts of kindness just because I can’t do it the way I want, or the way a saint, a monk, or someone of great spiritual power might.  I am not a preacher, but I can tell others what I know, what I have seen, what I believe, when the occasion arises.  I am an introvert and not pushy, but I can respond when questioned.

I don’t have the gift of healing, but I can offer to intercede just the same.  I can’t lay hands on the sick and see them recover, but I can put an arm around a suffering person and share perhaps a little of their burden.  

Whatever it is today, all you have to is what you can.    

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Walk It Out

People like me never know
How the world works
Or who is in control
-- most of time,
Until it no longer matters.

We do the best we can
With assumptions,
Learn to keep moving
on the strength of gumption
-- whatever that is.

You wonder why the trail's
so hard
And such a struggle for
every yard.
Then one morning
You rise in the cold, thin light,
Look back and realize that
In the night
You reached the crest
Of a mountain pass
You never knew
You were climbing.

We tell those coming behind,
But they never believe us
In their time,
That it is a long, slow climb.
So some quit and stop,
Curse the ground,
Reinvent broken wheels,
Failed alchemy deals
To make the compass leave true,
Make the plumb line skew,
Much ado.

People like me never knew.

We are fools, to trust,
Believe any good or just
or true.
Yet here we stand
On the height
Dawn breaking from
The greivous, greedy night.
It's not that we were right.
We kept going.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Immigration, Population, and Government Jobs

When I was in college, back in the dark ages of the early 1970s, the big concern was the population bomb and a Malthusian fear of famine from trying to feed too many people.  We are still, nearly fifty years and three or four billion people later, running a food surplus in most of the world, most of time.  We owe that surplus to fossil fuels, petrochemicals, GMOs, and the dominance of agribusiness.  I'm not altogether sure that's a good thing, taken as a whole, but famine is, perhaps, the grimmest of reapers.

Now when I read about the dangers of declining populations, I have to wonder just a little.  Why would a more "sustainable" population be bad?  I tend to think it is for the same reason that immigration is heralded as a good, even when those immigrants are possessed of a vastly disparate cultural and religious background.  Most of the new immigrants and "refugees" pouring into the West are not assimilating or being altered by the culture.  The numbers are too large, the influx too rapid.

These immigrants are committing violent crimes.  They are putting a burden on the taxpayer who foots the bill for housing, welfare, health care, and education.  Governments are straining to handle and pay for the increasing numbers of unemployed and, often, unemployable foreigners.  Yet it is the government that allows immigration.  Are the people in power simply unaware of the problems and moved by compassion?

I think we all know the answer to that.  Could it be instead that more immigrants mean more votes for those who wish to expand the role of government?  Government, as I have said before, does not produce anything except more government.  Like the Blob, it exists to get bigger, more powerful, and more invasive.  Sure, there are some good people working in government jobs.  We don't deny that.  You can argue that some government jobs are necessary.  Firemen and police officers at the local level sometimes do essential and heroic work.  The guys down at the water treatment plant are saving lives every day. 

So long as they are local and their jobs clearly defined, I have little problem with those who work for the city or the county.  Except for the teachers, but they aren't really local anymore.  And at the state and federal level, I'm obviously in favor of the Border Patrol and some degree of national defense. 

The thing is that the political leaders in the West have no problem with an increase in crime or terrorism because it allows them to expand their control of the average citizen.  The NSA monitors all communications under the guise of the Patriot Act and the "War on Terror".  Despite the fact that drug prohibition feeds into gang violence just as alcohol prohibition did in the 1920s, the "War on Drugs" continues to enable police departments to expand, to militarize, and to excuse the routine seizure of property and assets without due process. 

Government feeds on chaos.  More strain on the education system excuses and enables the employment of teachers and administrators on the government payroll.  The strain on health care justifies the government's push for more control of the health care system just as the increase in crime justifies the expansion of police departments and the prison system.  And the vast majority of those employed are now beholden to the great white father in Washington or London or Brussels for their paychecks, pensions, and lucrative benefits. 

Eventually, who is left in the mobocracy to vote against such expansion?  The productive are now merely serfs in a vast fiefdom controlled by the political aristocrisy and their minions who now, more or less, vote for a living.

I can see where an end to uncontrolled immigration and a population decline would be seen as a threat.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Fathers and Sons

Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children – Ephesians 5:1

This, it seems to me, is a dangerous verse.  

I pity those who did not have my father to set an example and to emulate, not that Dad was in any way perfect.  He had a quick temper.  He was often violent toward inanimate objects.  He laughed at his own stories – I’m not sure how much of a flaw that is.  I suspect our Father in Heaven delights in His stories as well.  He was a banty badass.  If I could choose anyone who ever lived to back me in a fight, I would, without hesitation, pick him.  He would appreciate it, because he taught me value of loyalty, and I know that, regardless of the odds or the circumstances, he would not give in or give up. Loyalty may be the single virtue to which I can legitimately lay claim. 

As a son who loved his father and was loved by him, I admired him and sought to incorporate his traits in my own life.  I picked up the flaws along with the diamond, but sometimes those flaws were quite amusing.  I had a good time learning the hard way.  

That’s the way it is when you are a child.  You grow into an amalgam of your parents, if, like me, you are fortunate enough to have two parents who are complementary.  The combinations vary, which is why siblings are not uniform, plus each additional child is influenced by the ones that came before and those that come after.  Parents grow and change, and we learn that from them as well.  Jesus, the writer of Hebrews tells us, is the same yesterday, today and forever.  One cannot improve on perfection.  

As we study the Bible and pray, we bring our lives in line with our Father’s nature and character.  I don’t think it is a mistake to try and be good, to live by godly rules, and operate on a “what would Jesus do” basis, but I do think it ultimately fails.  Do not be conformed (Romans 12:2) – we have to be transformed from the inside out.  I did not become like my earthly father by consciously and religiously imitating his behavior, certainly not entirely.  In fact, for a long time, I thought I was nothing like him. It was only as I grew older that I realized my actions and attitude, my words and the way that I addressed the world grew out of the genetics as well as the mindset he had passed on to me.

All humans are made in the image and likeness of God.  We have, so to speak, the right spiritual genetics.  What we are typically lacking is extensive conversation and communion with our Father.  This comes in hearing His stories, in both speaking and listening in prayer.  It is no small thing that those disciples the resurrected Christ met on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus at last in the breaking of bread (Luke 24:31).  I become like my earthly father over beans and cornbread.  We become like our heavenly Father through communion.  We are also influenced by and learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ.  And the Lord Jesus is Himself our loving and ever-present Elder Brother. 

We can consciously follow this path, but we will be, generally, a good way down the road before we recognize how much we have truly become like the Lord and the extent to which our lives have been transformed.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Jesus Did Not Condone Evil

Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do the same for them – this is the Law and the Prophets – Matthew 7:12

Christianity is a lot easier to grasp than some would have us think, especially those who profit from keeping us confused and warring with and among ourselves.  The kingdom of God is within you, Jesus said.  Treat others as you would have them treat you.  Don’t start trouble you can’t finish. 

OK, that last one is my interpretation of “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile”.  I cannot bring myself to accept pacifism.  I have no desire to be an aggressor or to bully and intimidate other people.  My natural man’s non-aggression view is summarized well by a quote from The Shootist – “I won’t be wronged.  I won’t be insulted.  I won’t be laid a-hand on.  I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”  

Yet, I believe Jesus does expect and even require me to accept wrongs and insults.  He certainly accepted and endured undeserved abuse and suffering for my sake.  We have all treated someone unfairly at some point so it behooves us to endure, overlook, and forgive wrongs done to us when it is a matter of personal loss or humiliation. 

Conversely, I am certain the virtue of longsuffering does not mean refusing to resist those who would harm your family or deprive others of the right to life or liberty.  I come back to Romans 12, where Paul tells us to detest evil but not to repay evil for evil or seek our own vengeance.  He says, though, we are not to be overcome or conquered by evil.  Instead we are to conquer evil with good.  To me, that means protecting those for whom I am responsible, stopping those who would do wrong, and resisting those who would intimidate, manipulate, and dominate.  

**I know it has been a couple of months since I have been here.  There is a lot going on.  Maybe it will get better.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Siege Engines Approach

Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the King of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. -- 2 Chronicles 32:7 (NASB)

Wars have often been seen as a conflict between the gods of the adversaries.  There is some truth to that because all violence and evil is a reflection of the fact that there is the god of this world who remains at war with God who is Good.

We are caught up in the ongoing rebellion, and it often seems from our temporal, material perspective that our side is not doing all that well.  As I look around at the world today, Christianity is under attack from every side.  We tend to hole up in our church buildings, besieged, hardly able to raise our heads above the parapets, as we might say.

Secularism is supreme in the West -- for now, though it is threatened by the invading forces of Islam.  Muslims succeed by playing the victim and demanding tolerance even as they demand submission to their intolerance.  The secularist grasps neither the threat nor the appeal of Islamic fanaticism, having been trained to see Christianity as the great religious evil.

Give the devil his due, he has done a good job blinding and confusing the modern world to bring it under his control.  The enemy has the upper hand over Christendom for the moment.  I look back now, over fifteen years, to the brief revival that took place after the horrors of September 11, 2001.  I wonder why it did not galvanize the Church, why it did not last.

The Crusades have been depicted as acts of Christian aggression.  They were not, but the modern western mind is invested with the image of Crusaders as evil oppressors rather than righteous defenders of Christianity and western culture.  We didn't want to be crusaders.  We didn't want to make our retaliation against Al-Qaeda a religious war with all of Islam.  A Christian resurgence in America would have, according to the secular world, sent the wrong message.

Besides, Protestant Evangelicals have been embracing secularism for at least the last thirty years.  When I became involved with fundamentalist Christians in the mid-80s, many still clung to their origins.  I saw that attitude slip away as they became enamored of the mega-church, of having community influence, of attracting young families by means of musical styles, changes in format, and technology.

Now we have Pope Francis heading the Catholic Church while vangelicals are led by those who do not understand the threat of one-worlders and their antichrist, Tower of Babel religion.

Yet Hezekiah's declaration remains true.  The enemy advances relentlessly against us.  We are outnumbered and poorly prepared in a physical sense; nevertheless, God reigns.  He will be victorious, and all we need to do is get on His side.  The preparation we need is to pray and seek Him, asking not that He align Himself with us and our causes but that we be allowed to align with Him under the banner of Christ.   

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Love and Prophecy

He allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, saying, "Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!" -- 1 Chronicles 16:21-22

Sometimes this passage gets quoted by people who might be or claim be or think they are prophets.  These days prophecy seems to be where you find it.  Maybe it always was, but finding God's will in our lives is rarely, if ever, a matter of a self-proclaimed prophet, the Pope, the President, or some celebrity's proclamation over us.

Our circumstances, the odd breaks we get -- serendipity is prophetic.  We find ourselves where we are supposed to be.  I recall a phrase that I read somewhere long ago admonishing the reader to "love it the way it is".  Using "love" was kind of odd, but I took it as accepting and trusting in God's goodness no matter what happens.

I was reading an old book about the sovereignty of God.  The author was clearly a Calvinist.  I'm not, but I do think God is always sovereign in the long run.  God is the perfect and ultimate counterpuncher.  This is why hubris is so dangerous, and why we should never gloat over our enemies' failures.

We are in a dance with the Lord.  He knows what He wants to do, and, as the perfect partner, makes even our missteps look graceful by always being where He should be.  He has no use for the automaton that would be required for fixed and fastened predestination.  Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17) because God wants us to love Him as He loves us, and compulsory love with programmed obedience is not worthy of the name. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Finding the Enemy

A poetic break from the Shepherd's Psalm.

There is a war that goes on,
Arising from the shadows,
Escapes to plane and sphere,
Endless as Zeno's arrows.
And we, given over to fears,
Resist, and seek to evade,
In a myriad of courses run
--running, running under the sun,
Evade the price to be paid.
And yet coming to still water,
The world looks in its mirror,
Hears the call of the augur,
Waits, at last, for the shearer.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Losing Myself in Translation

He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. -- Psalm 23:3

Inward purification is a lifelong process.  To remain in communion with God calls for a constant state of turning toward God and away from what we might call the "sense life".  The word for that is metanoia.  In Psalm 51, the repentant David cries out, "Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit with me."

Restoration begins with breaking down, planting begins with uprooting, life begins with death.  I don't have cable or satellite, but, at a friend's house, our favorite shows to watch are things like "Fast and Loud" where they take some old car and hotrod it.  You'll never have a beautiful, fast, reliable car until you take the body off, find the flaws, the broken, worn out parts, the rust, and corrosion.  You can't just slap a new paint job on.

This is the (particularly, the evangelical) church's error in the modern age.  We want to meet Jesus, have a nice visit, get a word, a blessing or an experience we can talk about then leave.  We want to get cleaned up and looking good on the outside.  We somehow think this exterior renewal will penetrate to the heart.

Far better that we continue looking externally rough while undergoing a metamorphosis from the inside out through a renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2).  Who cares that we continue to look like a caterpillar for a while.  The end result is what we seek.

The second part of our verse reminds us that not only does transformation take time, but that no restoration is permanent this side of the grave.  We have to continue to walk with the Shepherd in His paths of righteousness in order to sustain and maintain the renewal and restoration.  Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us that the Lord's steadfast love and mercies are unending and "new every morning".  We can meet those new mercies and that ceaseless love with our own commitment to walk right today.  No matter how good (or bad) yesterday was, today has the potential to be better, with more love and grace on God's part and a greater dedication to metanoia and purity on our part.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Expected, Reflected

He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters. -- Psalm 23:2

Green pastures would be, for sheep, the place of replenishment and finding satisfaction.  I’m stealing this from someone, but I can’t remember who it is.  I ran across it just a day or two ago.  It is a suggestion that in dealing with our idols in life, we take the text of Psalm 71:1-2 and substitute that idol’s name for the Lord:  In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!  In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!
In you, O work, do I take refuge …
In you, bank account, do I take refuge …
Alcohol, meth, pornography, anger, government, in you do I take refuge, deliver me, rescue me, save me.

None of those things or any other will work.  It is only the place to which the Good Shepherd leads us that satisfies.  Too, wherever it is He leads us is the green pasture.  It may not seem that way at first, but we learn to let go of our expectations.  The way to bitterness, unhappiness, and discontent -- the way to hell, really, is to refuse to release our expectations of how things ought to be.  We don’t know what ought to be.  Every false religionist and every practical atheist believes they know better than reality.  The unbeliever knows exactly what a green pasture should look like, and it never matches the reality he finds himself in. 

The “oughts” will kill you and kill your faith.  I struggled for a long time because I believed that good should always triumph over evil.  It’s true, but only at the Omega point, the end in eternity.  Eventually all wrongs will be righted.  All wickedness will cease.  That is not for this world.  Not yet.  So remember, where the Shepherd is, the pasture is green. 

Walking a green pasture beside still water is a beautiful picture.  My margin note says that the Hebrew could be read “waters of rest”.  In the presence of the Lord, our spirit is like that deep pool of quiet water.  I can see it, not a ripple disturbing the surface, giving a perfect reflection of the sky, as our quiet spirit perfectly reflects the image of Christ.  Some of us get this once in a while, in our better moments. Those we think of as saints are in that place almost all the time.  Jesus, of course, lived every moment of His Incarnate life that way.  It’s my goal.