Need Some Hope?

The world’s gone crazy, Virginia.

At least that’s how it feels. Like the undercurrent of evil has caught us and become a whirlpool sucking us down, down to a place we can’t imagine. People just going to a music festival to have a good time become victims of a madman spraying bullets down like a hard rain from hell.

Nature it seems, has spun out of control, knocking down houses and islands and lives like bowling pins. And everyone’s angry, everyone’s looking for someone to blame for it all. If nothing else, it seems like we are looking to blame someone else for the brokenness in our own lives, our inability to create Paradise here on Earth for ourselves.

We’re arguing over football players and people are dying. I remember a sermon I heard about forgiveness many years ago, where the speaker said that the Democrats and Republicans are mad at each other,  the blacks and the whites are mad at each other,  and the dog is mad at the cat. And that seems to be where we’re at right now.

And of course for those of us who believe in God, the question is: What in the world is God doing? Is he doing anything? Can’t he see how screwed up we are down here? Why doesn’t he fix it?

If that sounds a little disrespectful, maybe even a little angry, I wonder if you’ve listened to the rumblings of your own heart. Because if you’re human and believe in him even just a little, I bet you have thought similar thoughts now and then. Did you really think he didn’t hear those thoughts? Don’t worry, you’re in good company.  Even Abraham argued with God.

So why doesn’t he? Do something, that is? After all, he’s omnipotent, omnipresent, all-powerful and all those other words that mean he can do anything. So why doesn’t he fix us and our busted up hearts and lives and this busted up planet where even the weather seems to be rebelling? Does he even care? If we were in charge surely we could do better, right?

I know you don’t really want to hear it, because it’s no great comfort, but God isn’t on your timetable or anyone’s. As far as we know, time doesn’t even exist for him. So it seems like impatience should be foreign to his nature. And yet, in scripture, he gets impatient and royally ticked off, and expresses his love and hate. So much for our philosophizing about him being above emotions. But the fact remains, he knows the end from the beginning…so worrying must never occur to him.

He knows how much we and the world can take, not because he’s orchestrating it all but because he made it all. And then, as foolish as it seems to us, he set us free, giving us dominion over his stuff. All the bad and ugly that’s happened since is not his doing. But still, you say, how can he simply stand by and let it happen?

I read a quote recently: “God’s answer to suffering is not an explanation but the Incarnation.” Whoa. Let that sink in for a bit. God’s answer to the mess we made is not, as of yet, to fix it all. His answer was to throw himself into our mess and let us destroy him like we destroy most everything else. To the suffering, he can say: “I’m one of you. I’ve been exactly where you are.”

As the old hymn says: “He took our sins and our sorrows and made them his very own, bore our burdens to Calvary and suffered and died alone.”

A god that stays above it all, who manipulates all events, like Aristotle’s or Plato’s unmoved mover is a god with no compassion, no empathy, and no part in our suffering. That version of God looks nothing like Christ and has no place in Christianity.

But you know all this already right? You’ve been told it a hundred times in Sunday school and /or a thousand sermons. That Jesus died for you and conquered sin and suffering. But this world doesn’t feel like a place where those things have been well and truly defeated, because we wade in them day by day, and some rebellious part of us whispers: “Jesus, what have you done for me lately?”

“Hopelessness is what flings us into the presence of evil.”

I wish I could remember what book I read that in, so I could give the author credit. There is so much in that sentence that I don’t know where to begin. It is truth on so many levels. Scripture is full of references to Our Hope. The Hope found in knowing God and knowing future Glory will be ours. Another hymn says our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. And when the enemy is able to steal that? We are left with nothing. We can endure searing, hellish trials in this life as long as we are still able to sing “Amazing Grace” even in the face of death. We can even rejoice in suffering, grudgingly, if we but know that suffering will provide growth and deeper strength within us. We can dance in the rain, ignoring our chilled skin. We can climb mountains of pain and find joy on top, if we can cling to Hope. Without it, evil surely and steadily, will creep into our broken places and inhabit us. It will spill out of us and wound others. But with hope to sustain us, all the sin and death in this world is only a momentary distraction. Hopelessness is the death of the Soul.

And now you would expect me to start talking about heaven. And that’s a good place to start, but our hope doesn’t end there. On this beautiful fall day, I can certainly see glimpses of Glory all around. And yet nature is still groaning, as Paul says, for restoration, (Romans 8:19 through 23) and we sure have seen her doing a lot of groaning lately.

In Matthew 19:28 Jesus speaks of a renewal of all things when all will be made right and justice restored to this world. Revelation (21: 1-5) tells us of a new Heaven and a new Earth, a moment when Heaven comes down to Earth and every tear will be washed away.

And Peter reminds us:

 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9)

 “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”

2 Peter 3:13

I used to think two false things about end times, because of the way I understood what was taught to me in church. One was that God would destroy this Earth, and that would be the end of it. The other is that heaven would be our final home. What? It isn’t? If you read these passages you’ll find exactly what I’m talking about. So don’t take my word for it.

God isn’t through creating. He isn’t done restoring souls and he isn’t done making all things new. The end times are nothing to look forward to with fear and trembling. We should look forward to them with rejoicing and great hope. If the Incarnation was the beginning, and what a beginning it was, how glorious will be the ending for those who believe? And more to the point, the end is not the end. It’s only another beginning. So if you’re ready to give up on this world and on humanity, it’s time to look up and put your faith in something real and solid. At the end of this age God will usher in a new one where all will be made new and made right. There is plenty of reason for Hope and we’ve never needed that Hope more than right now.

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Ecclesiastes, What’s the Point?

Ecclesiastes isn’t a book that is easy to understand in light of the rest of the Bible. At least, that’s what I always thought when I read it in my younger years. It is at the same time very poetioc and beautifully written and puzzling. The puzzling part for me, was that, reading the book on a surface level can leave you feeling like maybe you need to find a tall bridge jump off of. The repeated refrain: “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity”, in the King James, or worse, in the NIV, “Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless”, doesn’t exactly cause one to feel encouraged about his existence. However, there is a lot said between the vanitys, but before we get to all that, perhaps we had better decide just what is meant by all those vanitys.

To better understand the book of Ecclesiastes, I recently read the book: “Living life backwards.” by David Gibson and found it remarkably insightful. Since I wrote this blog post over time, as I took notes on his book and on Solomon’s book, the result was a kind of scattered, well actually a very scattered collection of thoughts, which I’m trying to put together finally into some kind of cohesive order.  But, I expect it will still come out rather random, but that is fitting for a book that often feels like it was slipped into the Bible by accident. Hopefully, I can explain that it only feels that way because most people miss what Solomon is really saying about life.

Let’s start off with some of the more startling statement’s Solomon makes. Like this one: ” The day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.”  or: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting” Don’t you want to say: “C’mon, preacher, you’ve got to be kidding me. I sure would rather go to see a new born baby than a corpse, and I bet you would too.”

But if the commentary I’m reading is correct, Solomon says these things to jolt us into a certain view of reality that is, well, realistic. What he is getting at is that death teaches us a lot about life and how to live it. A quick skimming of Ecclesiastes might lead you to think that Solomon is in agreement with the pagans and the theme is “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die” but what he is promoting is not hedonism. He deliberately strips bare our illusions about our importance in the larger scheme of things in order to get to what is really important. He’s not the only one to speak about the seeming pointlessness of life. Solomon says it with poetry:

“All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Much like Pink Floyd does in the song “Time”:

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over
Thought I’d something more to say”

You can almost hear “Vanity, Vanity, all is vanity.”  echo in the back round when you hear these lyrics. In other words, what was the point of this life that you endured? Solomon systematically goes though all the things men try to find pleasure in and labels them all vanity.  Listen to what he says about hard work in chapter 2:

“So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.”

But, let’s pause here for a second and ask what the word “Vanity” means when used in Ecclesiastes.  Let me suggest that”Meaningless” may just be a rather poor interpretation. Because the more literal meaning of the Hebrew word used here: “Hebel” is not “without meaning”. It is  more literally: “mist” or “vapor”. The “meaningless” of “vanity” comes from how the word makes one feel. Seeing everything as a mist, at first, can make you wonder if it has any worth or meaning. Incidentally, I used to think that vanity here meant pride, which was even more confusing. But when you go through the book and you replace: “meaningless” with “mist” the whole book takes on a different flavor.

The morning when I first wrote this section was very foggy,  and as I drove my truck to the auto shop through the morning mist, it was almost like driving through a silent fantasy world where nothing looked quite real. But, by the time I dropped off the truck and rode my bicycle home, the fog was completely gone. This is the image of life that I believe the preacher was trying to give us. He’s saying: “All you see, all you do, is like a morning fog that will soon pass. So don’t try to hold onto what is temporary. But do your work with all your might.”

Ecc 2:24″A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.”

He’s not saying that you should despair because life has no meaning. He’s saying go ahead and find satisfaction in your toil by knowing that it all will pass away. Be aware that all you have is on loan to you and this knowledge will make you wise. Everything on this earth being temporary is good news, because this earth contains much that is evil and broken.  In the following chapter, he explains that everything has it’s time, but that we can never fully understand in this life because we too are a mist.

Ecc3:11″He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”

Where does all this lead us? First off, quit worrying so much about stuff, because none of this is permanent. You might live to be 100 or you may die tomorrow. Either way, we are all living on borrowed time. Jesus talks about the successful man who decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones and then sit back and enjoy the fruit of his labor and God said: “You fool! Tomorrow you will be dead.” Was God mad because the man was rich? No, he was mad because the man thought that all his blessings came from his own hand and couldn’t see that it was all on loan from God. Don’t make your plans without consulting God and don’t forget that every good thing comes from him. See the big picture and hold your stuff loosely because it’s only stuff. What matters is who you praise. Yourself? Fool. You are but a mist and soon to pass.

Solomon says that God has put eternity in the heart of man, but we sure are good at avoiding thoughts about eternity. Tomorrow we will think about that, we have stuff to do today.

Let’s go back to Pink Floyd for a moment. The song always sounds to me like it should end here: “The time is gone, the song is over
Thought I’d something more to say.”

But it goes on to hint at something else:

“Home, home again
I like to be here when I can

And when I come home cold and tired
Its good to warm my bones beside the fire
Far away across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spell.”I’ve read some commentary on the song by the writers and even they don’t agree what exactly it’s all about, but a common thought is that this life is all there is, grab and enjoy it while you can. Yet they mention the faithful gathering to hear the “softly spoken magic spell.” Such an obvious reference to Christianity makes one wonder if they intended to mock the faithful or were wistfully longing to have their confidence that time, that this life, is not all there is. This is a common enough theme of secular songs and movies. You might think of the “Dead Poet’s Society.” Movie, “Seize the day, boys!” or the Moody Blues song,” 22,000 days, it’s not a lot, it’s all you got…” as if any of us really know how many days we have been given.

So, if you are reading this as a skeptic, you might think to ask: Who is right? If this life is all there is, then, yes, it’s all pretty meaningless, wouldn’t you say? But, what if the real reality is the softly spoken magic spell that turns everything on it’s head? And what if the illusion is the pursuit of money, fame and power in this broken world?

Solomon says, in essence: “I’ve done it all, Lads. I’ve had all the wealth any man could ever wish for. I’ve had harems and more women then I had time to sleep with. I’ve built, I’ve studied under the best, I possessed all my eyes could see. And I was not at all satisfied. It was all like trying to catch the wind.”

When Mel Gibson fell from grace by way of booze and a woman, I remember thinking how common and ordinary and petty were the things that ruined his reputation. Such unoriginal sins. As if there were sins that are original. Yes, I was quite judgmental about the whole thing until I realized that I’d never once prayed for Mel Gibson, even after he made the courageous movie: “Passion of the Christ.” We all were grateful to him, but who had his back? Who did he call in the middle of the night when his demons were taunting him? Was there anyone at all he could turn to to help him in the fight?

Solomon had a similar fall, and ended up worshiping foreign gods because of his foreign wives. Whether he was trading integrity for sex or political points hardly matters. I don’t know if the writer of “Song of songs” was a singer, but I  think he could have sung along with Johnny Cash: “You can have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down, I will make you hurt.”

“Empire of dirt” sums if up  pretty well, I think. It’s what pursuing the things of this world gets us at best, an empire of dirt that can crumple at any time. On the other hand: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Ecclesiastes is so poetic and beautifully written that it’s easy to get caught up in the flow of the words and not see that the preacher is actually trying to get some pretty profound points across. I’m just going to put in some of my favorite quotes from the David Gibson book to illustrate what kind of thoughts I’m talking about:

“Life is gift, not gain.”

“Work itself is a gift, not just the money that may or may not come from work.”

“A life fully lived is a life receiving the reward of today as a gift that you don’t deserve and one that God has given you to enjoy. ”

(If we really believed that every day, what would our attitude be like? A good cross reference here is Deut 28:47 which tells us that having a glad, thankful heart is a command)

“Not to live joyfully and not to drink deeply from the wells of abundant goodness that God has lavished on us, is sin, and it is a sin because it is a denial of who he is.”

“Everything we do for others, we do for God first.”

“If I did everything in the light of ‘fear God and keep his commandments’ how would my life look?”

And in reference to Solomon saying repeatedly to fear God: “Fearing God is affectionate reverence by which the child of God bends himself humbly  and carefully to his father’s law.”

I could go through the book of Ecclesiastes chapter by chapter, but I will spare you that and skip to the end. In the final chapter, Solomon talks to the young from the perspective of the old, warning that it’s easy to forget about God when you have pleasure and health and vitality in abundance. “Remember the days of darkness will be many.” You might be tempted to say that he’s just being a killjoy here, a grumpy old man who can no longer enjoy much himself, so he doesn’t want you to have any fun, either. No, actually, it’s more like he’s saying to enjoy your youth by knowing that it, like everything on this earth, is fleeting. In fact, remember that having a joyful heart is not optional, it’s a command, but be aware that God will judge you for all sinful pleasures, so be wise even in your pleasure.

In chapter 12, he pictures the body in allegorical terms: The keepers of the house are the legs, which now tremble, the strong men (shoulders) stoop, the grinders (teeth) cease because they are few,  you rise early because you can’t sleep, those looking out grow dim (eyes) the sounds grow dim because your hearing is going, you are afraid of heights because a fall would be disastrous, you are afraid of danger coming for you, your hair is white (the almond tree blossoms) and you drag yourself along, and desire is no longer stirred. One thing I learned studying this, is that there was originally a reference here to the Caperberry, an aphrodisiac in Solomon’s time, so desire here is probably at least partially referring to sexual desire.

To sum it up, when you get older, everything starts to fall apart, and no matter how we try to fight it, it’s inevitable for everyone. But knowing there is an ending shouldn’t be bad news. Can you imagine living here forever in this broken world? Struggling with the same sins and suffering forever? As good as this world can be in some ways, this version of reality is cursed, and it shows. And what we know now that Solomon maybe didn’t, is that God will remake this world into  some thing better than we can imagine.

It’s important to understand that, in Ecclesiastes, the preacher is simply laying out the world as it appears to him, as it appears to us all.  We strive for riches and come up empty or find riches themselves empty. We pursue pleasure and find it dulls the more we chase it. He’s saying, in essence, that that’s not where it’s at. You’ll never find fulfillment in all that money or all those lovers are all that wine. Instead enjoy the pleasures God has given but don’t try to make them an end in themselves. They are all a mist and if you try to drink too long from it, it will leave you empty. You should enjoy your work instead of doing it to become wealthy. “The sleep of a working man is sweet but the full stomach of the rich will not  let him sleep.” Why? Because he’s never satisfied with what he has. As Paul later says, be content with whatever state you are in.

Jesus gets even more radical here. He says to take no thought about what you will eat or drink or be clothed with, because God knows you need all that, and he will take care of you. So if your house has been washed away in a hurricane, your possessions ruined and you are down to the clothes on your back, don’t worry because God knows where you are and what you need. Is that a little hard to get your mind around? It is for me! We struggle so hard just to get ahead a little bit in this world, a little nest egg in the bank, and a decent roof over our heads.

We’re doing major repairs on the house right now, fixing the roof and so on. And it feels good to have better windows and doors and roof, but you know what? One good  tornado and it’s all a pile of sticks. If your heart stops tomorrow what does all that matter? Is that depressing? No Solomon says, it’s just life. And the conclusion of the matter for Solomon is: “Fear God and keep his Commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Pink Floyd’s conclusion is: “It’s over, I thought I had more to say”, and I think it’s fair to say that Jesus’ conclusion is: “I am the way the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father except through me.”

Solomon was wise, but the wisest man who ever lived was a carpenter who came from Nazareth.

 

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Be Still

I wrote a poem once, eons ago, with the repeated line:

“ Silence has an echo.”

And it did and it does, but I think for many of us, silence gets louder with the taste of years passing. We hear more in the silence than we once did, because more memories have passed us by. Where it once only echoed softy, now it sometimes thunders and screams with all the good and the bad and the in between, and I don’t mean that everything revealed in the silence is hurtful or sad, but we do know now that life really is short. If we know anything, we know that life really is an illusive mist and we understand it now more then we ever have.

The book I’m reading now (as in, once a week I read a couple pages) says this: that before the gospel is good news it is bad news, and that may seem jolting, but listen closely in the silence and you can hear it. It’s said in many ways: We are broken, needy creatures, in need of saving, depraved, naked and wretched but mostly, just sinful. If that bad news makes us squirm, it should. Behind the silence, our inadequacys sit waiting for us, waiting for us to stop play acting for the mirror or for the crowd and really see our ugly selves.

And oh, my, now I’ve gone and hurt your feelings, because the phrase: “Our ugly selves.” is pretty much taboo in our fake Facebook culture where everyone is beautiful in his or her own way and every trace of ugliness is really just a misunderstanding or a bias. Sorry, but that’s not the news the gospel brings. Certainly, you are beautiful too and that’s the paradox, but whatever beauty is there is the stamp of God’s image on you and you did nothing to gain that. We are creatures torn between dark and light and behind our beauty, the ugly awaits. Is that too blunt? Too truthful? If Eve were all beauty, she would never have fallen and us with her, but fall we do, along with our father Adam, and fallen we are and lost and desperate and so in need of saving. Deny it at your own risk. Deny it and you deny the need for the Good News, because to get to the good you must first swallow the bad.

And this is why the silence is needful. Turn down the sound and turn off the screens and feel the truth. You can’t honestly call yourself beautiful if you know your tendency towards evil. So, don’t call yourself pretty without first putting on robes of righteousness, broken and naked and wretched creature, that you, that we are.

What shall I say then? Where do I go from here? Jesus spoke in parables and scripture often speaks in word pictures and poetry, because that is often how truth comes across in the most tangible way, oddly enough, in story and images, more than in dry lectures. The kingdom of heaven, he says, is like this or like that, because it’s not simply knowledge. Sometimes it is encased in picture, in taste and tunes. In the voice of a friend or drop of dew or wings of a butterfly or flavor of a single raspberry on the tongue, plucked at peak ripeness.

A treasure, he says, it’s a treasure hidden in a field, hidden in the heart, and I know a treasure can be many things other then gold. What do I, what do you, treasure most? Love? Joy? Peace? Long suffering? How did that get in there? Long suffering doesn’t sound like a treasure, it sounds like pain, but that’s in the book, too. And it is perhaps the greatest of treasures, a rare gem burning in the heart of the most righteous among us. Am I getting off topic or only circling back to it from another angle?

“Blessed are they that mourn.”

There it is again, the Gospel in all it’s sad beauty. First, the mourning, then the comfort. Refuse to mourn, refuse the silence, refuse to be honest about the mess in your soul, and you will miss the comfort he’s offering and longing to give you.

One might well ask if I ever say anything new. Of course not. All any preacher or priest worthy of the name does is say the Good News in another way, another flavor, with a different image. Here, have a drop of water for your hellishly parched tongue, this is your communion cup, or you, have a sunset of sunrise, or you a broken bone or broken spirit. Or you who have been abused, you have an abused child to care for. In every beauty and every ugliness this world hurls at us, the Kingdom and the Gospel lurk just behind, in the silence. The silence of early morning, when you can hear your heart beat. It’s there in your inability to show love as you wish you could, in your lisping tongue that rarely says what you really wish it would, in your deepest pain and your greatest misery, still, even there, it stalks you like a lion and baas for your attention like a lamb.

The Truth speaks behind the silence and in the broken pieces of this world as much as in the wholeness. He who has ears, let him hear the echo.

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“The Shack” Movie: Forgiving God

 

In the movie, “The Shack” God speaks to the main character, Mack, by putting a letter in his mailbox. An invitation for them to meet and spend time together. Without going into all the back-story, let’s just say that Mack finally does decide to accept God’s invitation, and that he meets with all three members of the Trinity.

I was originally going to try and address all that people find controversial in this story, but that’s been hashed over many times by people who actually have a lot of followers on their blogs, and besides, I felt led in another direction, as the preachers like to say. This movie does touch on a lot of big issues. Things like forgiveness and judging and just how God operates. I want to narrow it down and mostly talk about what the title says- forgiving God.

But, to get there, I have to address a related issue. One of the criticisms of the movie was that it teaches universalism and not the need for salvation. There may be some truth to that, as this isn’t your typical evangelizing Christian film, however, after I thought about what actually takes place, I realized, that, to me, it was all about Mack’s salvation, because, what is salvation, but first, an invitation from God, then our response and God taking us through a process that ends with us trusting him whole-heartedly?

And that is exactly what happens here. Mack, like a lot of us, has a deep distrust of God’s goodness, because of his life experiences, and even meeting God face to face does not immediately erase that mistrust.

We talk a lot about God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others, and as important as that is, we can’t get there without first trusting him. And in order to trust him, it seems to me, most of us have to forgive him first. Sound odd? Think about it. Who has not, at least in his heart, said to God, as Mack does:

“Where were you when this terrible thing happened. Why didn’t you stop it?”

We all have those moments, unless we just refuse to consider the possibility of a God at all, or we just bury our questions and refuse to speak to him. Our reasoning usually goes something like: God, you have all the power, therefore, you should use your power to eliminate all our suffering. Or, if we are at least a bit selfless, then we think God should eliminate everyone’s suffering.

“Papa” as God the Father is referred to in the film, tells Mack that he has never left him or his daughter, but that is not enough to win Mack’s trust. Jesus assuring Mack that if he keeps his eyes on him he has nothing to fear, although helpful, still isn’t enough. It isn’t until Jesus sends him to meet Wisdom, and Wisdom puts Mack on the judgment seat and allows Mack to be the judge, that the layers of his mistrust and anger at God begin to be peeled away and he finally realizes that God truly is good. (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, while giving a very brief synopsis.)

Ok, I said I was going to try to stay on topic, but this might be a good place to discuss one of the problems I think people have with this story. God appearing in human form is always problematic. I mean, who knows what form God would take? So, we have a lot of confusion about God the Father appearing as a kindly black woman or the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman. It’s hard to believe that people take offense to this, when the God of scripture appears as a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a man, on several occasions prior to Jesus, and so on. I suspect the real problem people have is that God doesn’t seem majestic enough, or big enough, or angry enough. But, the fundamental mistake Mack makes is to think that he has God all figured out. I think a lot of people are making the same mistake when they try to limit how God could choose to reveal himself to us. I also suspect that some find this version of God disturbing because they, like Mack, have held him at arm’s length all their lives. And of all the ways to do that, the religious way is perhaps the most deceptive, because it feels righteous. It feels like reverence, like the right thing to do, because God is big and scary and beyond our comprehension. The problem is, it’s much easier to fall back on religion then to move forward into a real relationship with “Papa”. Less rewarding, but religion is easy, just follow the right rules, say the right words, perform the right sacraments, and you’ll be respected. Really, you don’t even have to trust God or like him to do religion. But, scripture makes it plain that we are not mere orphans, we are sons and daughters of God, if we are his. We are not mere slaves, but friends of God, if we have learned to trust that he is indeed good, always.

It’s funny how, when I start thinking along a certain line, God will start re enforcing the point in different ways. Probably because I’m a little dense. I sometimes listen to Catholic radio. I know, what a shocking revelation, right? Don’t worry, I do disagree with some stuff, but the nuns always have interesting stories, and sometimes there are phenomenal preachers, or talking priests, or whatever they are called. The one I heard this last week could have fit nicely into any Protestant pulpit. Basically, it was all about the necessity of a personal relationship with Jesus, and not just keeping the sacraments and doing service. I was a bit blown away. After all, I’ve heard all my life that this is precisely what Catholics don’t believe in. Anyway, one of the things he said that caught my attention is that we are born mistrusting God, because this is what the serpent, Satan, instilled in us. It’s our natural inclination since the deception of Eve. And what coming to faith is, is laying down our mistrust, our judgment of God and submitting to his ways, his wisdom. Coming to believe that he really is good and knows best.

Just like in the movie, God is always the one who initiates contact with us, but we decide whether we are going to stay stuck in our sinful state where we are on the throne or if we are going to let God have his rightful place. For many of us, relationship with God is impossible, because we haven’t forgiven him for not fixing the world the way we think it should be. We haven’t forgiven him for letting that person die, or this person leave or that other person betray us, or he didn’t stop us from doing something foolish, or..the list goes on and on. Only after we forgive him will he be free to embrace us in our brokeness, which is where real relationship starts.

If the question is: Should I see the movie? I’m going to say yes and add a caution, but for a different reason then most. Be careful. Because, it will probably make you cry and it just might open your heart to a God who is both bigger then you can imagine and who loves you more then you ever dared dream.

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Beautiful Mess

It’s February and everything is messy. The back yard is a sponge that throws mud up your pants wherever you step. Sandpaper throats and chest colds. Summer one day and snow the next. Life is messy, always, but early spring here is a sloppy, slippery mud bath.

“Don’t mind if I fall apart, there’s more room in a broken heart.” (Carly Simon)

I like quoting old pop songs because there are little bits of truth in there sometimes, that stand out and stimulate a thought process to discovering deeper Truths. Ever notice that the best of what culture says is always something that God has already said either through scripture or nature or other believers? This is probably going to be a continuation of my last post in some ways, since I’m still mulling over Voscamp’s book and adding my own thoughts to the mix.

We all start out selfish, greedy for milk and crying for sustenance and more, for a full belly and a comfortable place to lay. And it seems that for many of us, we stay that selfish infant until our hearts have been cut deep enough, until we have bled enough to notice we aren’t alone here, that others are bleeding too. Your pain becomes a mirror to reflect the pain of others, the pain everyone has endured from living in a sin sick world. And when you wake up to that reality, you begin to see that most of us are pretty much the same at the core, only our masks vary. It does seem a shame that God has to let us break before we can pass on his grace in any meaningful way, but it also makes sense that it works this way in the broken reality we all exist within. “The world is backwards, but it looks natural.” says singer Chris Taylor. If it wasn’t backwards, we wouldn’t be broken and this would be paradise.

But what happens to those who refuse to break? Or rather, those who refuse to admit that they are already broken, that they have lost their way and failed, and wounded the ones closest to them, the ones they were supposed to help and heal? If you go there, if you refuse to acknowledge your own busted up state, there are only a few paths open for you. Most likely, you will wear your self righteousness like a thorny crown, because you can’t speak the truth, that you’ve been wrong and sinful and weak. And the sad thing is, everyone but you will see through you. Everyone but you will know that your bravado hides a gaping wound. Broken, contrite hearts grow larger, but a heart that you try to hold together through your own strength shrinks into itself, and you can’t share what you refuse to see. You can’t give what you refuse to receive.

The reality is, we all bleed. The only choices are to bleed light or to bleed darkness. Sadly, it’s possible to be so blind as to think you are giving when you are only taking. Gladly, the incomprehensible truth of the Incarnation is that for those who open their broken heart to him, we have a God who bleeds with us and for us. I read somewhere recently that we should never give God human characteristics- and it’s a fair point. But, it also makes me smile,because God gave himself human characteristics. He did the unthinkable by making himself over into our image after making us in his image. He made himself human so we could taste of his divine grace. No wonder we have to bleed to fill anyone’s needs. Our example did the same, bled himself empty to fill all our needs.

If you choose to reject your need, you can always try being tough. That should work, right? That’s what the world is constantly drilling into our skulls, though every action movie and superhero story. Sure, you can hold it all inside for awhile, but it’s going to bleed out somewhere eventually. You can be tough and press down the pain and hoard your grievances and curse the world. You can sit and count the ways that people who were supposed to love you did you wrong. But you’ll shrink. You will dry up into a twisted caricature of who you were meant to be. You’ll bleed poison into all your relationships if you swallow that bitter pill.

What’s the alternative? Jesus was blunt: “Love your enemies.”

What?

“Bless those who curse you.”

How is that possible?

It’s only possible for those who have finally understood that the grace they’ve been given was wholly unmerited. You can’t earn God’s grace, so why would you demand that other’s earn your grace, your forgiveness? We only think we want fairness from God until we understand that fairness would result in our damnation, then we beg for mercy. Go ahead, drink in Jesus’ words about giving even a cup of cold water having it’s reward. It’s true. But, remember that he also said that if you lust in your heart, you’re guilty. That does sound a bit unfair. Shouldn’t we be judged only on sins we have actually committed? But God isn’t concerned only about your behavior, he’s also concerned about your one broken heart that needs healing. You can do all the right things for all the wrong reasons. You can be a model citizen and hate your neighbor. You can have a heart of stone and sing worship songs with abandon. You can fool everyone but yourself and God. Or you can fall on your knees when no one sees, bleed out your pain to him and receive enough grace to overflow onto others.

What we humans often do, what we tell ourselves is-tomorrow. Tomorrow will be better. Because tomorrow I’ll break these chains of sin-regret-sadness-addiction-sorrow-whatever our burden is today- tomorrow we will throw it off and find joy, find peace. But what I’ve heard the Spirit whisper, what I’ve begun to see, is that tomorrow never comes. It’s always today. If you want abundant life, and who doesn’t?, you had best discover it here, in the midst of your mess. It’s not hiding on some mountaintop somewhere. Sure, I’d like to live in that log cabin in the mountains, my dream place, but the fact is, I’m still here in the muddy swamp. Sure, I loved the sea and heard God there and in the front row at a Crowder concert. But in between those high worship moments, there are a lot of days that have mud to slog through and mundane work that needs doing. Joy isn’t held in reserve for that perfect vacation, or until you get it all together and once and for all conquer all your sins and sorrows. No, it’s right here in the middle of the mess of life, with all it’s sharp edges and disappointments and dark places. We have the hope of heaven, but unless you let heaven bleed though when you feel like hell, when you’ve got a cold and the dog threw up on the couch and there’s bills to pay and sore backs and short tempers, unless you can find your joy then, you’re never going to find it in your ideal happy place.

The people we look up to as saints didn’t live on the mountaintop all the time either. In fact, many of them had terrible lives and died as martyrs. They all had broken pieces, guaranteed. What else drove them to their knees but their pain and brokenness? Jesus did say he came to bind up the broken hearted and to set the captives free, but he didn’t say he came to make our lives trouble free. Sorry, that’s not in the Book, health and wealth preachers notwithstanding. What he said in no uncertain terms is that in this life we will have trouble. “But take heart, I have overcome the world.” That doesn’t mean he’s going to take you away to Eden, to a perfect garden with no weeds. Not yet. It’s means he will walk with you, even, especially, through all the weeds and briers and thorns, if, and only if, you invite him to. It’s the people who learn to lay it down, to admit their need, who get to laugh with him in the midst of their mess. That get to experience transformation and become confidant that nothing in this world can separate them from the love of Christ.

Romans 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Your One Broken Heart

What do we do with our pain? Some days, I swear that this world is nothing but pain. It’s in the air, the water, the dirt. We breath pain, eat grief. We humans bath in it from birth, from the moment when our raw skin first touches the air and the light burns our eyes. To live is to experience loss. To love, the deepest pain of all.

When I’m swimming there, in pain too deep for me to touch bottom, I know my need, it’s just that I can’t. I know what I should do, only it’s impossible. What I need is to let go of the struggle, to lay back and float free into Jesus. I know that it’s my fear of the deep that steals my breath, my lack of faith that tenses my every muscle and makes me heavy. And so, Christ whispers: “Let it all go. Let me and only me keep you from drowning. Breath me in and you can exhale and not sink. I’ll be your air. I’ll be the ground when your feet finally touch bottom.”

Somehow, sometimes, buried within this deepest kind of pain, are bits of joy, a kind of other worldly joy that bubbles through the veins when I don’t expect it. Fleeting, yes, faint at times and strong at others, it bleeds into me through a stray song lyric, through a soulful embrace from a friend, through beauty, prayers, poems and passion. To stop and bathe in that kind of joy is a rare thing. A taste of redemption.

And there in that dark place, punctuated by random bits of light, I wonder: What is life, really? Scripture says a vapor, a morning mist, soon to pass. Some days it seems that there is something behind the mist, a deeper mystery that I can almost make out, but it remains just out of reach. And so, I grasp for those things here that seem to touch the mystery, those things that are larger than my understanding. I try to transcend the mediocrity that living on this planet can be. Enduring love has an allure, for every honest heart, a fragrance of transcendence, because it’s so rare. For two people to choose each other for over sixty years as my parents did-that’s something to hold onto, an anchor in the mist. In this temporal, impatient and increasingly rude culture we live in, any kind of long term relationship feels almost unnatural. But sixty years? That feels like holy ground. I feel like taking off my shoes and bowing my head in the presence of such a miracle.

How vulnerable do I want to be here? Should I mention that my natural preferred state is isolation? My comfort zone, a bubble, a shell that I keep close to keep others at arm’s length? But I try. Sometimes, with a great deal of effort, I manage to reach out a tentative finger, and hope God takes note of my great “sacrifice”. I hope that he understands my heart and grades me on a curve.

In “The Broken Way”, Ann Voscamp asks it plainly: “ What do we do with our one broken heart?” And her answer, pared down to it’s core, equals just this: We give it away. We give our pain, our brokeness to each other and receive wholeness in return. Counterintuative doesn’t begin to describe this revelation. This is a hard way to swallow, a hard path to follow. Hard? For some of us, it’s like yanking out our own teeth. Why is it so absurdly hard to show our neediness? Even with God, it’s hard, and it’s not like he doesn’t already know. But with people? We used to do an object lesson sometimes when we taught Sunday School. Have a kid fall backwards and try not to catch himself. Have him trust us to catch him. It’s not natural. It feels like foolishness, like a little suicide, to let go and trust even a friend to catch you. What if they just stand back and laugh at your pain? Some will, you know. I’m sure some of you know all too well what that feels like. Why risk it?

I’ve got a bunch of notebooks and I keep losing them. Somehow, I keep losing the one I’m currently writing in. But, maybe there’s a reason. Because it makes me keep re writing this last bit. Maybe God just wants me to really grasp what he’s saying, making me write it down until I really understand.

Shortly after Mom died, I ordered the book I mentioned earlier, and shortly after it arrived, I had to take my wife to a doctor and a hospital lab for some tests. So I took my book along.

I’m sitting in a waiting room again, only a week after Mom left us all broken and empty in another waiting room. So, I’m pretty much hating hospitals right now. Most people you see in these rooms are not the most pleasant company. It’s just the nature of waiting rooms. Most are worried, or sad, or both. And I’m on the same page. I’m also trying to read the first couple pages of the book, which in my current state of mind, is almost a physically painful process. When you’re still wearing your own suffering, walking in it every moment, reading about someone else’s pain is enough to make you bawl, even in public. But, there’s this young woman who walks in with a little girl. A baby, really. A baby who has just reached that almost walking stage. An almost bald little girl, with pink shoes and a smile, if I may be so corny, a smile which lights up the room like a ray of sunlight in a dark, damp cave. She’s just learned to say “Hi!” and she’s using her new word on everyone. This child doesn’t yet know what a stranger is. And there in that moment, the joy bleeds through and the miracle happens. I find out later that Ann calls it koinonia- communion. But all I know right now is that all our sad faces are breaking, cracking into smiles. We really can’t help it. She doesn’t just give of her joy, she is joy. And so, I see Jesus in the flesh in a waiting room and feel the touch of the holy and it’s like God says: “See, this is who you can be, who you should be to a broken world.”

I haven’t read the book yet. I don’t yet know how I’m going to live with my one broken heart. So, God gives me a preview. How do you heal it? By giving it away. And it will come back to you. “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” Luke 6:38

Categories: God, Uncategorized, voscamp | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Real Life

 

There is an old saying that the only difference between the rut and the grave are the dimensions. New Years seems like a good time to consider what ruts we might be in and how to get out of them.

“I want to live the real life.

I want to live my life close to the bone.

Just because I’m middle-aged that don’t mean

I want to sit around this house and watch T.V.

I want the real life.

I want to live the real life.”

(John Mellencamp)

I was biking this summer on a paved trail and this old song was scrolling through my brain for some reason. Probably because the real life to me involves being active, even if I don’t always feel like it, and my legs weren’t feeling like it. I came into a clearing and saw a big bird overhead. An Eagle, I thought, squinting into the sun, but then he turned and I realized it was a buzzard, so I yelled:

“What are you doing? I’m not dead yet!”

I’ve noticed something about me that I don’t like much. I can be here, but not really here. In fact, I’m pretty good at being present but not present, as in, my brain and heart are somewhere else. It might be a good thing if you’re a dentist or a factory worker. I used to say that divorcing mind from body was the way to get through a day at the factory, but most of the time, it’s not a good thing.

Because, when someone is with you, they want to know that you are there with them, that you are fully engaged in the moment, not off wandering through the stratosphere. But, we settle into our routines, we get comfortably numb, we forget that life is supposed to be an adventure, that we should be fully engaged and living the real life everyday.

We take a walk, we see a rainbow. Does it amaze us as it much as it did as children?

The grass is still as green, the fall leaves are as gold, but we don’t always see them, self absorbed as we are. We don’t always smell the fresh earth after the rain. We don’t run down the gravel road in our bare feet anymore, as fast as we can go, for no particular reason. It’s too painful, our feet are too tender and we might pull a muscle. We don’t go fishing enough. There is too much work that is always waiting for us, crouching in the back of our guilt ridden minds.

I had an aunt who lost her vision to diabetes when I was a kid. I think I finally realize now, that as an outdoor person losing her sight, she lost more then I can imagine. She could describe places, a little spring here, a stream there, places she loved and wandered in before her world grew dark. If we aren’t careful, if we don’t pay attention to what we have, our worlds can grow dark simply because we get too caught up in making a living to truly live.

And while we are at it, at some point, in middle-age or before, you hopefully quit trying to make people like you and just let yourself become the person God intended. And if no one ever gets it, if no one totally understands you, that’s ok. You’re not a teen ager anymore, and the drama of trying to be cool or to fit in is too much effort now.

“And heroes they come and they go. And leave us behind as if we’re supposed to know, why? Why do we give up our hearts to the past, and why must we grow up so fast?” (Eagles)

This world is beautiful but badly broken. Glorious, but soaked in grief. Sometimes when you see through the fog of your false self, and your own fake smiles start to sicken you, you can see the depths of your own ingratitude for all that you’ve been given. Is there anything uglier than a hard heart?

The ocean waves mesmerize, sooth and shake and disturb and comfort, and beauty always leaves you wondering and grasping for more.

I read somewhere where someone said (rather mockingly) that some people think God has their picture on his refrigerator. And I thought: Isn’t that what the Incarnation tells us? That God has every one of our pictures pasted on his refrigerator and written on his heart? Rich Mullins said that when someone told him that God loved him, his thought was

“Big deal! That don’t make me special. That’s just means God don’t have no taste. And thank God, he doesn’t.”

He died once for ALL, so you are no more special then the rest, and yet at the same time, you are his most prized possession.

I know this is a wandering post, but somehow I think it will all fit together in the end. We humans like to believe we are free, but we are bound by our physical limits, by our perceptions, by our sins. There is much will power can accomplish and much it can not overcome on it’s own. The natural man isn’t born truly free. “You must be born again”, Jesus said. As soon as you are old enough to yell:

“Mine, mine!”

You are bound by your greed, your lust for more, the lust of the eyes, of the flesh, the oh, so sneaky snake in the soul that is pride, and ultimately by the prince of this world. The natural man only becomes free to an extent when God opens his eyes to his need for…something. Something more. This opening of the eyes of the heart is sometimes called preveniant grace. And it is here that the will is now free enough to choose, once it understands that there is a choice to be made. It is here that a man or woman can see both sides of the wall.

“ A dark and silent barrier between all I am and all that I could ever hope to be” (Kansas)

Most are living in a fog where they can’t see or feel the wall. That’s the reality of living only by the flesh, you are unable to see anything else. But somehow, we know we are not what we could be, what we are meant to be. Something, like a nagging itch at the base of the skull tell us: Something is missing, there must be more than this to life. And when we see the open fields, the sunshine behind the wall, it can be thrilling and terrifying all at once. There is a certain perverse comfort in our bondage. It’s familiar and easy to fall back into, but it always promises what it can’t deliver: peace and contentment. But, those fields, so open, there is no telling what could happen if I vault over the wall and start to run! Can you hear the beating of that distant drum, hear the song start to rise from a place in your heart that you thought was wholly shattered?

“I am free to run, I am free to dance, I am free to live for you.” (Newsboys)

Such freedom is frightening. So many choices, when before the only choice was self.

You can’t sit on the wall forever. You can’t expect God to be passive about your choice. Rather, he is passionate and will pull you over the edge if you allow it. This tug of war with your soul must end in true freedom or renewed bondage. And once you have seen the fields of freedom, the return to bondage will be that much more painful, the chains that much tighter.

It is a strange paradox, indeed. How can submitting to God bring freedom? Is it a shock to learn that all along it was the evil one who is the control freak? Didn’t they tell you that this world is backwards and little is what it first seems to be?

Sin has been called many names, but perhaps the truest name is: “That which makes us not ourselves.” (The Sacred Romance) It’s not only the opposite of freedom, it’s the opposite of your true identity and the thief that steals joy, peace and life. Real life.

Of course, the reality is, we all face many walls in life. But, scaling each still starts at the same place, with the heart’s cry to the Maker of all for redemption and help and hope.

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God, the Election and You

I really didn’t want to write this blog post. First, I hate politics. I’d rather think about almost anything else then the coming election, and even though I don’t watch T.V., I’m sick to death of the whole wretched muck-raking, name calling, angry, disgusting mess. So, I tried to write a theological thing that ended up as just another opinion piece about how I see God working in the world as opposed to how some other Christians think God is working. But, then I thought-all that random musing, where does it really take us? How about a rubber-meets-the-road, straight talking opinion piece that tells exactly what I think of the whole mess and why I think that way? So, hopefully, that’s what this is. Take it or leave it, love it or hate it, I’m spilling my guts and not pulling punches.

You hear this all the time, when the subject of the election is brought up:
“Well, God is still in control.”

And I know people take a lot of comfort in that thought, but here’s what it sounds like to me:

“We have no control of who is going to be the next president, so let’s just vote for who we think is the less evil one so that we can feel good about ourselves. God’s the micro-manager of the election, after all, so it’s all up to him.”

As if God doesn’t delegate any of his authority to anyone. As if we have no responsibility to do the right thing, not the easy thing.

Let’s be honest for a moment. Hillary is a career liar. It’s basically all she’s ever done. Well, that’s not quite true. She has also whined a lot and tried to cover up a lot of her husband’s filth, and caused some good soldiers to die.

And now that all the Trump lovers are smiing and high fiving me, let’s be honest again. Donald Trump is an arrogant, bigoted, shallow, womanizing fool, who is in no way shape or form fit to run for any sort of public office. Actually, I could come up with many more adjectives, but some of you are already thinking that I am talking in a most un Christian manner. On the plus side, I didn’t call him a snake, viper or hypocrite, like Jesus called the Pharisees, but, why not? Hillary and Trump are both those things too.

Proverbs 18:7 – A fool’s mouth [is] his destruction, and his lips [are] the snare of his soul.

Proverbs 14:7 – 14:9

7 Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not [in him] the lips of knowledge.

8 The wisdom of the prudent [is] to understand his way: but the folly of fools [is] deceit.

9 Fools make a mock at sin: but among the righteous [there is] favour.

Hopefully, these verses will satisfy those who are shocked at my use of the word “fool”. I can’t see how any honest person can read these verses and not think of Trump. So, then, what are we to do? Doesn’t God pick our leaders anyway? I’m sure you have heard the Cyrus argument by now, but if not, it goes like this: God said:

“He is my shepherd

and will accomplish all that I please;

he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,”

and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.” ’

God says this in the book of Isaiah about the pagan king Cyrus, so it’s fine to support Trump proudly because maybe, just maybe, God will use this wicked man to do something good. So goes the argument. Can I just say that this argument is plain dumb? Just because God uses some actions of an evil man to bring some good does not mean that God approves of those actions. The Bible is full of examples of how God will take someone’s evil plans and use them to bring about something good. BUT how much more would good actions by a good man bring glory to God? Yes, God used evil actions of men to bring about redemption for the world and he used his own people’s rebellion to spread the gospel to the world, but what does Paul say about that?

Romans 11:

 11I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. 12Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?

15For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

In other words, if God could use their rebellion, how much more can he use their obedience?

Or, in the case of Pharoah:

16But I have raised you upa for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. 17You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. 

If God used Pharoah’s rebellion to bring glory to himself, how much more could he have used Pharoah’s obedience? (This is an often misunderstood verse, that people tend to read backwards. As if the only way God could be glorified was by showering plagues on the Egyptians.? Don’t you think God could have shown his power just as well by Pharoah starting a revival among the Egyptians?)

And finally, it was not God’s will that his people should have kings, but that they should be ruled by him personally, but he allowed them to have kings because of their stubbornness. God is in control? What kind of control are we talking about here?

1( Samuel 8:6 )But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

1 Samuel 8 :19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before theLord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

So, who should we blame for all the evil kings that followed? Certainly not God, he made his will known from the start. We are where we are, not because God is controlling our leader’s actions, but because he is allowing us as a nation to reap what we sow. If, as some suppose, God can use a wicked man’s actions to bring some good, how much more will he multiply a good leader’s actions?

And since this is supposed to be an opinion piece, perhaps I should quit throwing verses at you and just state my opinion. Voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil. I believe those evangelical leaders who are still supporting Trump are going to regret it in the long run. Because we have only seen the tip of the ice berg, so far. When Clinton was in office, not one of these leaders would have excused any of his immoral actions, but because we are so afraid that a second Clinton presidency will cost us religious freedoms, we are willing to overlook Trump’s blatant and unrepentant immorality? I know, we’ve all sinned, and I’ve read that argument already. I know, we’ve all been fools and thought bad thoughts and done bad stuff, but this is the difference-we have repented of our sin. Trump is unrepentant. David repented of his sins, of adultery and murder. King Saul came up with excuses for his. And which of them was called a man after God’s heart?

And furthermore, shouldn’t choosing a leader of a nation require at least as much discernment as choosing the leader of your church does? If a man repeatedly cheats on his wife, do you really trust him to keep any of the other promises he makes? I could go on, but you get the point.

But aren’t we stuck between a rock and a hard place? Aren’t we stuck with the choice or two evils? Well, no, not in my opinion. We have other choices, besides the front runners. You can’t make choices like these out of fear, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1 :7) From the start, we have seen a lot of angry people running after Trump because they are fed up with the current administration and afraid we have more of the same. Anger is just fear coming out sideways. It never leads us to wisdom.

To me, the obvious choice for President is Evan Mcmullin. Because, finally, here, I believe we can find integrity and common sense in one package, which seems to be an increasingly rare thing in the political world. If you must be afraid of something, think about how hothead Trump will handle relationships with our allies or how Hillary will try to cozy up to terrorists. And then consider that Mcmullin’s job was to hunt down terrorists and have them arrested or eliminated. Now, I know, many will say that this guy has no chance, so it’s a wasted vote. But doing the right thing is never a waste. If you think God is in control, or (as I see it) still capable of working miracles , then why eliminate the seemingly impossible long shot?

Now, having said all this, I suppose I have to state the obvious. If you’re voting for Trump or Hillary, I’m not here to be your conscience. That’s between you and God. And I’m not going to think any less of you for your opinion. All I ask is that you consider what I say with an open mind and follow your conscience. “And that’s all I have to say about that.”

 

Categories: God, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

In Him all Things were created

” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John 1:1-3
These are incredible verses. I know, we use words like incredible and amazing far too often, mostly for mundane things like ice cream and electronic devices and jump shots. But, in this case, we really can’t be guilty of overstatement. There is so much more here than immediately meets the eye.
Jesus was there from the start. We get that, hopefully, even if we can’t really comprehend it fully. We know about the Trinity. Jesus always existed in perfect harmony with the Father and the  Spirit. But, what if John is saying more then that? Why is he going out of his way to connect Yeshua (Jesus) with creation? Actually, we usually think of creation as being the work of Yahwah, God the Father. Depending on which translation you’re using, we are told either that all things are made “by” or “through” the Word.
A couple commentaries:
“Πάντα διʼ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο. The connection is obvious: the Word was with God in the beginning, but not as an idle, inefficacious existence, who only then for the first time put forth energy when He came into the world. On the contrary, He was the source of all activity and life. “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not even one thing made which was made.”
“(not anything] No, not one; not even one: stronger than ‘nothing.’ Every single thing, however great, however small, throughout all the realms of space, came into being through Him. No event takes place without Him,—apart from His presence and power.”
And some parallel verses:
“yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” 1 Cor. 8:6
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
Romans 11:36
Starting to see a theme here? It’s not just that Jesus was there, as some kind of causal observer at creation, it’s not even just that he assisted in creation, but that everything came about from and through him. It almost is starting to sound as if, Jesus didn’t just create or help create but that creation itself is made from his essence. Of course, I have to tread really carefully here, because someone is going to misunderstand and think either that I mean Jesus was created along with everything else or that I’m some New Age lunatic that thinks creation and Jesus are one and the same. That’s decidedly not what I’m saying. I’m saying “What if?” What if God was not creating ex nihilo, (from nothing) but that God drew the raw material for creation from himself and more specifically from the part of himself that is Yeshua  Jesus. So, from his essence comes matter, comes planets and galaxies and rocks and trees and life in all it’s majestic variety.
And I can see someone squirming already, because it still sounds too mystical, too weird. Ok, so let me state my case a bit more. Obviously, creation is not God, creation cannot and does not have the properties of the Trinity, so you can relax. I’m not going New Age on you. But we are told that matter comes from energy and that everything was supposedly once a speck of pure energy. When I try to get a straight answer from Big Bang proponents I get replys like: ” A compressed speck of energy with infinite mass.” And my little brain retorts: ” I’m sorry, did you just seriously use the word “infinite” to describe matter? Are you loony tunes?” If that’s the case, then obviously that matter was magic, or at least had  properties that no matter we can observe has now, and we have just stepped into the realm of the theologians and left science far behind.
Let’s just run with this for a moment and then you call me loony tunes if you like. Matter from energy and energy drawn from the essence of Jesus the Christ, placed outside of himself  (we really don’t need a place to put it other then outside of God, as no place could be said to exist yet in any sense we can understand. And  time didn’t exist yet either.) Energy that God then  re-formed into matter, that continued to expand, that spawned seemingly endless galaxies that we can’t find the end of, and he create’s life from this raw material, here on a certain green and blue planet. No, not by some process of billions of years of  random evolution, but quite deliberately, rapidly, and with intent. “In the beginning God created the heavens (galaxies galore) and the earth.” (as far as we know, the only place he then went on to create life) Out of what? Not out of nothing, but out of the Word. So, you are a quite literally a word of God spoken into being by the Word, whose life and death and resurrection are recorded in the Word we call the Bible.
A few things that should be obvious: God has no limits. He can give of Himself infineatly and never be any less then he was at the start. I’m also not saying that God is still creating new worlds. Unless someone can prove otherwise, I believe he continues to reshape what already exists, what was there in the beginning, drawn from his own essence.
This brings up all kinds of questions and connotations in my weird little brain. Like: (If this is so) Transubstantiation would be real in one sense at least. The communion bread really would be Christ in essence, because all matter consists of his essence. Remember, matter doesn’t ever go away, God just reforms it. A tree dies, it becomes mulch to grow other trees or firewood and then ashes, that rot and become part of the soil, but they don’t go away, they only become part of a different form of matter. Of course, I’m not saying that the bread is the literal  body or Christ, but this makes it more then figurative. There is water somewhere in this world that ran off of Christ’s body at his baptism, but thank God, there has never been a corpse of Christ returning to the soil of this world.
I have all kinds of questions about how sin could be allowed to corrupt matter created from and by God himself, but that would take me on a long rant into mysteries that are never fully answered in the Word. We could talk about atoms and up quarks and down quarks, but we really can’t say scientifically what holds it all together. Fortunately, we were given the answer to that mystery:
(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the first-born [prototokos] of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities [these words in Greek refer to the hierarchical angelic powers]-all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17
 The Greek word used in these verse: “sunistemi”, means to be compacted together, “to stand-together,” “to be constituted with.”
Despite thermodynamics, despite death and decay, those alien invaders that sin brought with it, Christ holds everything in the universe together. His essence is the glue of creation.
And let’s not forget that one day creation will be restored to it’s former perfection, where sin and death and disease will no longer corrupt it. Where sin and death will die and matter will once again be pure and holy, and Jesus will once again be all in all and his Spirit will completely indwell every one of your molecules, the parts of your new body. Molecules that were formed once of his essence, of his reaching inside himself for the raw material to then reach out and create you. So, that our knowledge will no longer be limited by our sin nature, and that knowledge of him will flow through us like water, so his Spirit will not only be in us, but fully in all, so that we will truly ,finally, be one with him in the same way that he is one with the Father.
And again, a disclaimer, I’m not a Morman, I’m not saying that we will be little gods, but that every rebellious fiber that now exists within us (oh yes, you have them, whether you admit it or not) will be purged from our whole beings so that we can experience  total oneness with the Son and with each other. We can barely grasp that possibility in our current state. But, you can get a taste, just a glimpse of it now and then. Maybe in the face of a friend who dances before God with reckless abandon, not caring what anyone thinks. Maybe in a sunset that isn’t just a reflection of God’s glory, of his artistry, but is composed of matter and colors pulled from his very being. I suppose you could take my musings here and go off the deep end with them.  But it seems to me that sometimes Christians are so afraid of mysticism that they miss the very ways that God is reveling himself to them.
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Puddleglums and Ragamuffins

He never really seemed to have much of a chance at life. His siblings hogged his food and pushed him away and his mother didn’t seem to care. He was smaller than the others, weaker, he had trouble even learning to walk. His joints were stiff and when he finally could walk, he looked like a little robot with his jerky movements. He should have died from loneliness if nothing else. But he just kept hanging on, refusing to give up his feeble fight for survival. We named him Puddleglum, the little lost ram lamb who was the runt of the litter. He’s still unhealthy. He could still die any day. (We took the name Puddleglum from one of C S Lewis’ novels. Puddleglum was a pessimistic Marshwiggle.)

Most of us love happy endings. My writing friend Franny always wants a pink bow at the end of every story. Really, who wants to read a book or watch a movie that just leaves you hanging? Who wants a story where the good guy never really seems to win the battle? But, sometimes reality for some people looks a lot like little Puddleglum’s life. They’re still holding on. But nothing has gotten better. It’s more about stubbornness than victory.

I love being near the water and I love sunsets, like most people do, I suppose. Several years ago, I finished the day’s work and just had one of those “gotta get away from it all” moments, so I drove down to the lake to a favorite sunset watching spot to be alone. But, wouldn’t you know it, someone was sitting on a blanket in my spot. I really was not happy. “C’mon, God, I just need a few moments of peace here.” I’m sure you never whine to God like that. But I’m not as spiritual as you are. Anyway, before I could get back in the truck, this woman sitting in my spot recognizes me and says “Hello.” Great, now I’m stuck. I can’t just ignore her, that would be rude, and I do kinda know her. I mean we went to church together, she hung out with my wife, had been at our house. So I go over and sit down a discreet distance away. After all, being married and all and wanting to be all proper and stuff, and golly, I mean, you don’t just plop down on a blanket next to a single woman at the beach. So I sit in the dirt. And we talk. Well, mostly she talks and I listen. I’m much better at listening than talking, see.

Her life hadn’t been easy, I’d known that before, but oh, my goodness, God, give this poor woman a break, will you? Bad enough she has a mental condition, mood swings, violent ones sometimes, bipolar I believe, but then her husband divorces her and re-marries and she barely gets to see her kid? You may be thinking, yes, but you’re only getting one side of the story. True enough. Living with her couldn’t have been easy. But the medication had started to work for her, and he did make a promise … But here’s the thing. Right in the middle of the complaints she says, “God is so good.” And talks about sunsets and beauty. In spite of everything in her Puddleglum, depressing existence, she didn’t blame God. She didn’t need me to tell her God cares, she knew that. This divine appointment, I believe, was just because she needed someone to listen without judging.

What do we do with the Puddleglums in our lives? We’ve all been there. But doesn’t it seem that some people are just stuck there continually? I’m reminded of those Christmas cards people send out, you know the ones:

“Johnny is a straight A student, Sally is going to the Olympics and Dad and Mom are on their second honeymoon and life is all peaches and cream.”

I’ve always wondered why nobody sends out blatantly honest Christmas cards that say: “Things aren’t so hot, the kids’ grades stink and the house is falling apart and Dad lost his job and Jimmy is in rehab again.”

I know we all want to look our best, but sometimes telling how bad things are isn’t complaining. It’s just honesty. But, perhaps you’re thinking: “What about thankfulness? Didn’t you do a post on that?” And you’re right, so right.

When you’re stuck in Puddleglum’s world, you have to be honest, but you also have to look around and say,

“Even if there isn’t any feed in the trough or hay in the mow, God is still good.”

David does this over and over again. If David had written in the modern vernacular his basic message might be: “God: life for me really stinks right now. I really wish you’d fix it. And quickly. But, I’m going to praise you anyway, because I know you really do love me.”

Job pretty much says the same thing.

You know, most of the time, we are the cause of our own troubles. But not always. Often others really are to blame. But when you’re tempted to blame God, remember He never said life would be easy.

Jesus said: “In this world you will have trouble. ” John 16:33

No ifs, ands or buts. And tomorrow may be better. But it may be worse. The only guarantee is that God won’t leave us. We can leave Him, but He’ll still be there waiting for us to come to our senses.

Fortunately, we’re all going to die. Fortunately? I know that sounds like a joke. “Life is hard and then you die.” But, really, if you’re ready, dying isn’t such a bad thing. Not that you should be in a hurry to get there. When you think about it, even if you live to be 100, life is still extremely short. You might not feel that way now, but trust me, once you get past 40, the months feel like days and the years like months.

Puddleglum’s and Ragamuffins are often some of the most interesting people. Brennan Manning said he wrote The Ragumuffin Gospel for “The bent and bruised who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God” and for “anyone who has grown weary and discouraged along the Way.” We can’t all be Pollyannas and that’s okay. God, I think, would prefer honesty. But, we melancholy types need the optimists in our lives too, to balance us out. At the least, we need to read books by organized, optimistic people now and then.

I suppose I have a special empathy for those with infirmities because our first child was born with a leg length difference. Through many miracles of God and the use of modern medicine, her legs are nearly even now. I have no doubt that those trials had something to do with her tendency to be drawn to and try to help the broken people of the world.

I’m not the farmer in the family, although I was raised on a farm. A good farmer would have disposed of Puddleglum by now. He’s likely never going to be healthy breeding stock and the last thing we need is a half crippled ram. But, I have to root for the underdog. It’s important to believe the downtrodden can prosper. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 5:3

I doubt any of us want to be poor in spirit. We want to be full and happy and prosperous, but Jesus seems to be saying that being a spiritual beggar is what will bring you close to Him. So, we are right back to humility. (See “Too Much Pride.”)

One thing Puddleglums and Ragamuffins have in abundance is neediness. They recognize that they are spiritual beggars and don’t deserve for God to fill their storehouses to overflowing. Look at David. Sometimes the Psalms get a bit confusing. Sometimes David sounds down right schizophrenic. I mean one moment he is whining about his enemies being at every side and asking why God has forsaken him, the next he’s praising God for his faithfulness. One minute he’s groaning about eating ashes and the next he’s dancing before God in his Fruit of the Looms. I’m pretty sure David was a Pentecostal rather than a Presbyterian. But I’m getting off track. Where was I? Oh, right, David understood his neediness just fine while he wandered in the wilds. It was only after being made King that he got to thinking maybe he deserved something that he’d never earned. Like his neighbor’s wife. I’m not sure what David would have done with Puddleglum the ram lamb, but I’m pretty sure being David’s sheep would have been better than being his enemy. I think David understood that “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,” but he had no problems with helping the Lord bring His vengeance on his enemies.

But you have to appreciate his honesty. David didn’t put a smiley face on when he prayed. He just laid it all out there, but at the same time his groaning would morph into praise even in the worst of times.

There’s an old country song called “Plastic Jesus.” There is some debate as the authorship, but a guy named Ernie Marrs of the Gold Coast singers is sometimes credited with the original verses. Just to give you a taste:

When I’m in a traffic jam

He don’t care if I say “damn”

I can let all my curses roll

Plastic Jesus doesn’t hear

‘Cause he has a plastic ear

The man who invented plastic saved my soul

Yes, it’s a very sarcastic song, but it makes its point. Sometimes we treat Him like a little figurine on our dashboard, a good luck charm that we can take out of our pocket only when we want a blessing. Plastic Jesus has a pleasant permanent smile frozen on his plastic face and never chastises us for our road rage. Plastic Jesus might be convenient, but He’s not real and He can’t speak to our hearts like the real one.

God with us – Immanuel- is both friend and confident and judge. Both completely able to emphasize with our trials and completely above and beyond our comprehension. Because a God you can put in your pocket can’t save you or convict you. You need someone who can cry with you and correct you. Totally there and totally other. Fully human and fully God. The God of Puddleglums and Ragamuffins must be small enough to fit in your heart and big enough to fill the universe.

To Him be all glory and honor forever, Amen.

Categories: doctrine, God, salvation, theology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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