Sunday, December 23, 2007

Have a holly, jolly ... Holiday??

It seems that every year, the frontal attack on the traditional (and historical)
meaning of Christmas, and the many common expressions thereof, becomes
more pronounced. In our increasingly post-modern, secular era, dominated by
a mixture of revived Humanism and the rise of Scientific Materialism,
this sad change should come as no surprise, though it is good to see
an occasional victory
from time to time...

The word "Holiday" is being plastered over the word "Christmas" in order
that, supposedly, some folks can feel better about not "offending" those of other
faiths (Atheism included)... Which, of course, is a smoke-screen:
It's not at all about "offending", it's about removing any and all reminders that a
Savior has come to redeem Humanity from its sinfulness, a condition which
touches our very core and sabotages true Peace on Earth:

    The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

    Jeremiah 17:9

    They exchanged the truth of God for a lie,
    and worshiped and served created things
    rather than the Creator...

    Romans 1:25
It is sad, and odd, and even downright silly to hear the ways in which this "Holiday"
counterfeit plays out in the real world... Consider these:

    "Have a holly, jolly... HOLIDAY??"

    "Put the ... HOLIDAY ... presents under the tree??"

    "'Twas night before ... the HOLIDAYs??"

    "I'm dreaming of a white ... HOLIDAY??"

The list, of course, could go on and on...
And check out the list of traditional Christmas tunes that would have to be completely
rubbed out of the Seasonal sections of our song books, movies, TV shows,
school recitals, and gatherings of all sorts this time of year:

      O Holy Night
      The First Noel
      Joy to the World
      O Come Emmanuel
      Away in a Manger
      O Come All Ye Faithful
      Silent Night
      Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
      Angels We Have Heard on High
      Little Drummer Boy
      It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

As these and other centuries-old traditions come under increasingly hostile attack,
perhaps they might also become ever more cherished by those of us who still believe
-- who will always believe -- that they are not only beautiful and meaninful,
but also TRUE.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Pain as a Necessity in the Christian life

Sometimes the writing of other people is so good (and most of C.S. Lewis
is that way) that it stands alone and needs no comment

If we claim to be without sin (1 John 1:8)
    Until the evil man finds evil unmistakably present in his
    existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in an illusion.
    Once pain has roused him, he knows that he is in some
    way or other "up against" the real universe: He either
    rebels (with the possibility of a clearer issue and deeper
    repentance at some later stage) or else makes some
    attempt at an adjustment, which, if pursued, will lead
    him to religion. It is true that neither effect is so certain
    now as it was in the ages when the existence of God (or even
    of the gods) was more widely known, but even in our own
    day we see it operating. Even atheists rebel and express,
    like Hardy and Housman, their rage against God
    although (or because) He does not, on their view, exist;
    and other atheists...are driven by suffering to raise
    the whole problem of existence and to find some way of
    coming to terms with it which, if not Christian, is almost
    infinitely superior to fatuous contempt with a profane life.

    No doubt Pain as God's megaphone is a terrible instrument;
    it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives
    the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment.
    It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the
    fortress of a rebel soul.
Where your treasure is (Mathew 6:21)
    We are perplexed to see misfortune falling upon decent,
    inoffensive, worthy people -- on capable, hardworking
    mothers of families or diligent, thrifty, little tradespeople,
    on those who have worked so hard, and so honestly, for their
    modest stock of happiness and now seem to be entering on the
    enjoyment of it with the fullest right...Try to believe, if
    only for the moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest
    prosperity and the happiness of their children are not
    enough to make them blessed; that all this must fall from
    them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know
    Him they will be wretched. And therefore He troubles them,
    warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day
    they will have to discover. The life to themselves and
    their families stands between them and the recognition of
    their need; He makes that life less sweet to them. I call
    this a Divine humility because it is a poor thing to strike
    our colors to God when the ship is going down under us;
    a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up
    "our own" when it is no longer worth keeping.
Left your first love (Revelation 2:4)
    I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary
    contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a
    merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of
    work that tickles my vanity today, a holiday or a new book,
    when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens
    serious disease, or a headline in the newspapers that
    threatens us all with destruction, sends this whole pack
    of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and
    all my little happinesses look like broken toys. Then,
    slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself
    into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times;
    I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to
    possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and
    my only real treasure is Christ. And perhaps, by God's grace,
    I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously
    dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right
    sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole
    nature leaps back to the toys: I am even anxious, God
    forgive me, to banish from my mind the only thing that
    supported me under the threat because it is now associated
    with the misery of those few days. Thus the terrible
    necessity of tribulation is only too clear: God has had
    me for but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of
    taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe
    that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the
    hated bath is over -- I shake myself as dry as I can and
    race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in
    the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed.

    And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either
    sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

SOUL-SANDING: More on Pain in the Christian life

From time to time, I do a little bit of wood-working, whether it be
building shelves for my office, fixing the front porch, hanging new
trim in the living room, or making a footstool in my basement...

So over the years, at various points, I've needed to use Sand Paper
to remove unwanted material, or to smooth out rough spots in the piece
I was working on...

Sand paper, of course, comes in many degrees of "grit", referring to
the size and quantity of the stone-like, abrasive "flecks" on the surface
of the paper. The lower the grit, the larger and more rough the
flecks are, the higher the grit, the smaller and finer the flecks...

When I want to remove large amounts of unwanted material, and do so
with maximum effect from the effort I will be putting into the sanding
process, I'll buy a 60-grit, or an 80-grit; 4 or 5 passes with this
kind of paper -- depending on the toughness and resistance of the
thing to be sanded -- and I will have achieved the effect for which
I bought that grade of sand paper... A higher grit (finer) paper
simply would not get the job done...

It's not hard to see how this is analogous to the Christian life;
James 1:2-4,12 teaches us that going through difficulties and trials
should be a JOY to us, specifically because of the Change than can
result; in other words, when Life -- or God Himself -- pulls out
the 80-grit sand paper and starts to go to work on us, sure, there
is PAIN involved, and a lot of us tend to cry out to God, asking that
the Pain or Trial be removed...

But if God's primary goal for us is Transformation, and
our own Sin and Rebellion and Stubbornness and (even) Stupidity
make it necessary for Him to use the roughest grade of paper to
"SAND" our Souls, isn't that, ultimately, what we WANT, as Believers?
Is perhaps our deepest sin that we don't passionately WANT to glorify
God by BECOMING what He wants to make of us?

We should perhaps ask ourselves, then, what the possible "Sand Paper"
in our lives looks like... Is it a critical, argumentative, selfish
spouse? How about an unfaithful, belligerent, condescending spouse?
A rebellious, self-centered teenager? An immature, irresponsible
co-worker? Poverty? Physical ailments? A death in the family?

C.S. Lewis wrote,
"God whispers to us in our pleasures,
speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains:
it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

So let's accept the Pain as being usable by God to "sand" away
those parts of our character that are not in line with the
masterpiece He intends to make of us; let's re-engage those painful
relationships in our lives, recognizing that since God's primary
VALUE system cherishes the person next to me, I should
submit to the hard work of Loving that person, too...

It's often very difficult!! Indeed, the process sometimes drags on,
involving a great deal of PAIN (and frustration, disappointment,
headache, heartache, and failure), but the Character change that will
almost certainly result is what profoundly pleases the Divine Woodworker.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

This is only gonna hurt... well, a lot

If any of us have the notion that the Christian life
is primarily about blessing and comfort and prosperity
and ease, then perhaps we have been sidetracked from
the process of Transformation and are running after a
false Gospel...

It's critical to come back to the reality that this process
is mostly one of pain, and of hardship, and of suffering,
which begins with Jesus Himself, "a man of sorrows and
acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53). While most of us may
not experience physical persecution, every single Christian
is called into the process of metamorphosis (Romans 12:2),
and that process is described throughout the Bible as one involving
a great deal of pain:
    Hebrews 4:12, 13
    The Gospel message rips bone from marrow, metaphorically,
    exposing our every Thought and Attitude to God... OUCH...

    Proverbs 27:17
    One man sharpens another... Ever used a steel file to
    sharpen something? Ya think the thing being sharpened
    enjoys the process? Oh man, that's gotta hurt...

    1 Corinthians 9:27
    Whether or not he actually beat himself with his own fists,
    Paul implies here that he pounded the *!@#@!* out of his
    Old Man and made it his slave, regularly... BAM...

    Luke 6:27-36
    Now the heat is REALLY getting turned up! What??? We are
    supposed to BLESS those who abuse us? We're to DO GOOD
    to those who hate us? Gosh, does that mean a selfish
    spouse? A rude, unkind Co-worker? A cynical, blasphemous
    neighbor? A sanctimonious, judgmental Believer? YEP!

    James 1:2-4,12
    We're not supposed to pray for Trials to be removed from
    us; instead, we're to -- get this -- count it a JOY to go
    through tough times! OUCH!

    Luke 9:23-26
    Here's Jesus himself saying that our day-to-day walk begins
    with a little "funeral" -- dying to self -- and then taking
    up our crosses (imagine the pain there!) to follow Him...

    Mathew 5:24
    This is perhaps the most PAINFUL one of them all! We're told
    here to STOP with the Religious stuff and GO MAKE PEACE with
    someone with whom we have some issue FIRST! Wow, now THAT
    is some major SAND PAPER for the SOUL!!! Double OUCH!!
There are, of course, many more passages in Scripture that should
present the TRUTH about the pain and agony we are called to go through
in the process of becoming sons and daughters of All Mighty God;
perhaps nobody in modern times has put it better than C.S. Lewis,
who describes it like this, in his talk, "Man or Rabbit":
    "The people who keep on asking if they can’t lead
    a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is
    about; if they did they would know that 'a decent life'
    is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are
    really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the
    Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us
    to be gods, intends for us something in which morality
    will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made.
    All the rabbit in us is to disappear — the worried,
    conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and
    sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of
    fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find
    underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined:
    a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant,
    wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy."
So how about it? Ready to start, or get back to, this painful Journey
sometimes known as Sanctification?? Ready for a piece o' Jesus?
He's going to hit us with more than we bargained for,
and MAN, this is gonna hurt...

But, through God's strength and relentless work in us, if we don't quit,
we WILL be glorfied, and find enternal JOY in what He
will have made of us...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The CAIN Syndrome

The story of Cain is well-known, first as Scripture and then as folklore:
Cain’s offering (“sacrifice”) to God was not acceptable to the Lord, and the
sacrifice offered by his brother, Abel, was; Cain did his own thing and brought Produce, while his brother aligned himself with the Lord’s priorities and brought Meat…

Genesis 4:2b-5
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.

(The story ends, of course, with Cain rising up in a fit of jealous rage and
murdering his brother, and then copping an attitude with God when asked about it… then receiving God’s curse…)

I have often pondered the fact that Cain surely knew what kind of offering would please God, and yet he decided he would do the whole “sacrifice thing” his own way; what must have gone through his mind as he labored to prepare the field, and then grow the produce, and then harvest it, and then probably bundle it into attractive presentations, and then haul it all to the Sacrifice site and get it all set up, all the while thinking to himself, “Man, this is gonna be great; I’m really laboring for God, doing the ‘work of the Lord’, and surely He’ll be pleased with me and all that I’ve accomplished!”

…only then to hear the Lord tell him that He was not pleased with what Cain brought…

What shouts to me from this particular story was that Cain was FOOLING himself, completely and profoundly self-deluded the entire time, supposing to himself that he was doing God’s will, and that he was “right with God”, when all along he cared nothing for the actual will of God…

Nearly the exact same story is eerily echoed in Isaiah, hundreds of years after Cain, when apparently the entire nation of Israel was also profoundly self-deluded about what God wanted and what sort of things pleased Him:

Isaiah 1:11, 13-17, 22,23
11 "The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?" says the LORD.
"I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
22 Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water.
23 Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them.

So even their prayers were repulsive to God! Why? The CAIN Syndrome … the fact that month after month, for years and years, they were praying, sacrificing, having meetings, throwing festivals, etc., -- doing the whole "religion" thing -- and yet God responded with “Enough! Your hands are full of blood…”

…and He re-educates them on what HIS priorities are, what HE calls “doing right”: Working toward Justice for, and providing Encouragement to, and Defending / Pleading the case of the oppressed, and the fatherless, and widows…

…and when the lawyers tried to trip up Jesus, hundreds of years later, with “what is the greatest of the commandments?”, Jesus replied with an all-encompassing repeat of this same theme: LOVE (not “offerings” or “sacrifices” or “prayers” or “assemblies” or “festivals”, and not even "church planting" or "evangelism" or "personal holiness", in and of themselves)...

…and the story keeps going: John writes, in one of his epistles, “if you say you’re in the light, and yet you harbor anything close to hatred (including a sense of "superiority") in your heart toward someone else, you’re fooling yourself”, and again, “how can anyone say they ‘love God’ without loving the people all around them?? You can’t say you love someone you DON’T see if you’re not all about loving the people you DO see…”

I am increasingly burdened about, and continually on the lookout for, the danger in my own heart and mind – and life – that I too might be suffering from The CAIN Syndrome; my hope and prayer is that those who know me will love me enough to help draw my attention to any self-delusion I might be suffering, so that I can re-align myself with what actually pleases God…

I want more than anything to become the saint that God created me to become, for His glory.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Throw-Away People

We know of a couple who recently and with heavy hearts left their church:
They had had some on-going concerns about their pastor for quite
some time, and when they attempted to bring those concerns to
the attention of the pastor, they were angrily rebuffed; apparently
their pastor was (is) content to permanently write off this couple,
(whom he had never made any effort to know or serve or understand)
as if they were little more than "Throw-Away People" to him...
Seems this pastor was simply not interested in the thoughts and feelings
of the couple, and he was (is)apparently not the least bit interested in
hearing their concerns and working WITH them toward some kind of healing...
His "oh well, so you're leaving... Whatever..." attitude came as a bit of
a sad surprise to the couple, especially from someone who talked so often
of "love" and "grace" and "humility"...

In direct contrast, the Gospel calls ALL of us to be PEOPLE-centric:
In Luke 19, we read that Zacchaeus was sought out by Christ;
and when the locals complained about Jesus seeking out someone
who was guilty of extortion and therefore despised publicly,
He told them, "Today salvation has come to this house, because
this man, too, is a son of Abraham"... Jesus' point was that despite
his sinful ways, Zacchaeus had just as much VALUE in the eyes of God
as those who were condemning and rejecting him... The next verse
continues, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
Jesus didn't wait for Zacchaeus to come close to Him before showing
this person Grace; Jesus sought him out and brought him
Salvation as a result...

Read the Bible and you'll see this same LOVE VALUES PEOPLE
theme repeated over and over: Hosea pursued his prostitute wife,
Gomer... The father strained his eyes every day to see his prodigal
son return, and RAN to him when he saw his son a long way off...
The Good Samaritan went out of his way to CARE FOR the man in the
ditch, left to die as a "Throw-Away Person" by the religious elite...

Indeed, the fundamental POINT of the Gospel (the "Good News")
can be paraphrased from John 3:16... God VALUES each and every
Human Being so deeply and profoundly that He does anything
and everything He can, including sacrificing his very Son,
in order to come TO us and try to win us back...

There ARE no "Throw-Away People" in God's perspective,
no "relationship (i.e., "clique") first, Grace and Love second"...
Everybody has Value, and God relentlessly pursues US, saying,
"Hey YOU...Yes, YOU, up there in the 'cheap seats'... Come down
and sit with ME... Let Me LOVE you and HEAL your hurts..."

Incidentally, when Zacchaeus was showered with Grace and Love
by Jesus, and shown his VALUE in Jesus' eyes, his first reaction
was to make ammends, in an attempt to rebuild damaged relationships...
And that's the pattern of the Gospel, and the one that WE should be
following in ALL our dealings with people: Grace and Compassion first,
then Healing, then Relationship; it's important that we not get those
out of order, that we do not view ANYONE as a "Throw-Away Person"
simply because they are not a member of our own tightly-controlled
Inner Circle...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Iraq: No End in Sight?

The news today is all about the "troop surge" that president Bush
announced last night on television... It seems that any time
there is talk of "a new strategy" for Iraq, the strategy turns
out to be the same: More troops, More money.

I am very reticent about talking Politics in these posts;
but it occurs to me this morning that the similarities between
Iraq and Viet Nam have never been more striking; in both, the
United States has:
    Fought in a country in another hemisphere,
    Engulfed in a culture we do not understand,
    Against a "philosophy" (an "ISM") largely undefined,
    Engaged with an enemy exceedingly difficult to identify,
    Despite eroding support at home,
    Borne along by an "escalation will yield victory" mentality,
    Lacking clear, achievable Objectives, and
    Missing all talk of an Exit strategy

I've said here before that I think highly of Mr. Bush
as a person, and that I never did support this war;
but as I watch how the US picks and chooses what
countries to invade, and as I hear news of more BILLIONS
going to a floundering Iraq effort, I just have to
wonder out loud, what about the REST of the problems
in this country, and around the world, where more GOOD
could be done with all that Money and Manpower?

How many Schools could we completely revolutionize
with 1 Billion dollars? How much faster would the
rebuilding work get done if 20,000 soldiers were
deployed to New Orleans on a special assignment to
lend a hand there? How much more respect, around
the world, would the US gain by taking a much less
Unilateral approach to the "war on terrorism"?

Regardless of what each of us believes about Bush
or the military or terrorism, shouldn't SOMEBODY get
a straight answer -- a CLEAR answer -- to the
questions, 1) Why are we there, and 2) When will it
be over? So far, none have been forthcoming...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Marriage is for Lovers

Several conversations I've been involved in, in recent weeks,
concerning the subject of Marriage, have inspired me to dig
through my files and find a Discussion Board posting I came
across awhile back... There is no need for me to add to his
comments; read what he wrote and see if you don't agree that
this is the proper way to view not only our Spouses, but also
the kind of Love relationship that God desires with each of us:

    Marriage is primarily for lovers, not friends.
    We can say this with confidence because we're designed
    to have many friends around us and throughout our lives,
    married and single, but we're only designed to have
    one lover - in marriage.

    So friendship seems like a good, safe option. Marriages
    based on friendship sound
    wonderfully safe, secure and stable, while Marriages based on
    reckless things like romance, desire, longing and passion sound
    much more dubious, uncertain and less easy to control...

    Hollywood can sell movies about wild romance because
    deep down those movies connect with a part of us that knows
    that we were made for that kind of love, the kind that
    sweeps you off your feet, takes your breath away, makes
    you risk wild beasts, high waterfalls, evil bad guys
    and even death.

    While those feelings shouldn’t be the sole basis for
    marriage, to say "marriage shouldn't be like that", and to
    reduce marriage to some "less emotional" experience, and
    to fill it with images of contented friends ambling their way
    through life together, is to ROB IT of all the wonder, mystery,
    romance and passion that God himself intended it to include...

    This approach runs the risk of reducing marriage to an
    "arrangement of convenience," a happy, stable, lovely place
    of shared experience, goals and dreams. Which it should be -
    but then two bachelors can experience that…

    Marriage is NOT a glorified friendship with a bit of mutual
    attraction and sex to give you something to do when you're bored;
    marriage is the unlikely, almost impossible coming together of two
    independent lives into one living breathing whole. It is two people
    saying, "I'm going to sacrifice myself, everything I am, everything
    I want - to you, a relative stranger - for the rest of my life - I am
    going to DIE to myself every day for the rest of my life - for this thing
    called LOVE…"

    Friendship doesn't require your life, friendship is an
    arrangement of mutual benefit - marriage is an arrangement where
    the only guarantee you get is that it's going to cost you everything.
    It is messy, painful, volatile, wonderful, risky, terrifying, demanding,
    consuming, mind blowing, soul crunching, earth shattering and absolutely
    will not be boxed in to the neat confines of friendship. It is the cosmic
    collision that occurs when you take two imperfect people and try to make
    a perfect union.

    And thank God! "For God so loved the world – that he did the most unthinkable,
    inconceivable, anti-logical, self sacrificing, death-defying feat possible –
    He sent his only Son to die – that we might not perish, but have
    eternal life."

    Wow… thank God that GOD doesn’t see His relationship with us as a solid
    friendship based on shared mutual goals!

    Jesus didn't come to earth and die for us because he LIKED us, or because
    we were best mates and he wanted someone to talk to about his shared interests
    in heaven. He died for LOVE, not Friendship.

    God himself describes his relationship with his people in terms of
    lovers, a bride and groom, more often than he describes us as his friends.
    God believes in true romance, and his relationship with believers is
    the greatest romance ever told, not the greatest friendship.

    So we are called to be our spouse’s Lover… Focus on being a good lover,
    and the friendship will take care of itself. BUT! Being good lovers
    doesn't happen instinctively, naturally, like friendship; it takes a
    great deal of work, and sacrifice, and humility, and forgiveness, and
    wisdom… My wife and I were best friends, and then had to work hard to
    become lovers. Now we're best friends again, but only because we became
    lovers first.

I couldn't agree more.