Reminder of God
January 26, 2005Within six months of the fall of the former Soviet Union, Glenda was in Russia. It would be nine months more before I would make it to Estonia. I remember that time so well. Optimism and good will abounded. Then an unexpected specter raised its head: the re-emergence of radical nationalism. Serbia, Croatia, and so many other places in the globe erupted in violence. Hindsight being 20-20, this could have been expected. Whenever one people group or nation begins to feel that it is superior to another, violence is just around the corner. That is why I get very concerned when I see what looks like an extreme form of nationalism rising up within the Church in North America. People so quickly become confused on issues of politics and opinion! A man's opinion all to quickly becomes proxy for the man himself. There is a billboard on the freeway not to far from our house which reads "Boycott the French". What a travesty. Ok, so one may not agree with some of the viewpoints of the government of France--does that mean that all French citizens are then in some way evil? Does every French citizen agree with every viewpoint expressed by their government? Of course not. William Shakespeare wrote, in act three of The Merchant of Venice "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?" His point was simply this; when all is said and done, each of us must realize that we are all humans, with the same fears, weaknesses, hopes, and loves. Does anyone really think that the French, or the people from any another nationality for that matter, are fundamentally different than we are? No, they too worry about making ends meet. They, too, long for meaning in their lives. They, too, love their children, and hope that things will, in some way, be better and easier for them. To believe that by virtue of our race or by virtue of our nationality we are in some way better than another people group is simply prejudice. And what terrors and tragedies that hideousness has wrought through the ages!
And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."
Notice that the tribes and tongues are not segregated or ranked. They sang together, not in cacophony, but in symphony, because they know a fundamental truth:
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
No, the reality is that if one purports to be a Christian, there is no room for prejudice, no room for "nationalism". Our citizenship is elsewhere. Our call is to reach out, to strive to include.
January 23, 2005At 33,000 feet, it is hard to believe that you can see the evidences of politics, but one can. Flying across the island of Hispanola, from the Northeast of the Dominican Republic to Miami, one looks out on the lush, verdant landscape of the D. R., the fastest growing economy in the Caribbean. It is a country of growth, and the optimism that comes with that. Then the airplane passes over the border with Haiti, and from an airliner window, you see the difference immediately: the landscape changes from verdant green to brown, as the vegetation and forests have been stripped. The beautiful blue waters the Caribbean is known for become brown, as the topsoil from the surface of Haiti continues to be washed away into the ocean. Two countries; same island. Both began at roughly the same time, both have had more than their share of revolutions, both with the same natural resources, and yet one is the fastest growing economy in the region, the other is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. The difference? Governance. Haiti has long been governed for the benefit of a very small group of people at the expense of the populace. The lessons of the ancient Greek Solon, who espoused governance based on compromise, with happiness made as general a possible, and no one person, no one class getting everything they want, yet all receiving opportunity in varying degrees of moderation, was lost on the rulers of Haiti. The truth is however, that all human governance is flawed, in that all humans are flawed. And yet the day will come when governance will be just to all, gracious to all, and the need for compromise will be a distant memory. Paul describes this in the book of Ephesians.
In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.
Governance based not in rhetoric, but in Love. Happiness, more so Joy, not by virtue of long hours of work or of social status, but by right of inheritance as children of God. Truly an administration suitable to the fulness of times--The compromise of Solon replaced by the fulness of God. Which seems the better choice? Choosing to live in that manner, even at 33,000 feet, the difference is visible.
January 14, 2005Amazing the weather across the world lately. Massive flooding and mudslides in Southern California, which just a few months ago was in the midst of a massive drought. What is even more surprising is that meteorologists are now saying that in spite of all the rain received, Southern California's drought has not been assuaged. It seems the long spell of dry weather has left the ground hard packed. Rain, especially rain that comes in torrents, hits this hard pack and instead of being absorbed, pools at eh surface, or flows together to create some of the massive floods recently seen in the area. The meteorologist interviewed stated that while more rain has fallen in the past week than in a normal year, 99% has simply flowed into the Pacific ocean. You know, our souls can be a lot like soil--in fact, that analogy is used many times in scripture. Sometimes we allow the busyness of life to blow across our souls. We feel the need to do so many things, that we fail to avail ourselves of much needed refreshment from God. We become hard packed. One day, we wake up wondering why we feel so dry, and so try to flood ourselves with quick fixes, yet find no respite. Funny, but even a brief daily watering of time with God could have avoided it all in the first place.
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season,
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
Daily time with God; refreshing water to the soul!
January 13, 2005For the past 2 1/2 years, my weekly schedule every MWF has included a workout at the YMCA. It's funny how the pattern of activity there has become so predictable! It will get busy around late April-May, as swimsuit season approaches. Summer is dead, except for teens the first week or so of vacation. The biggest contrast by far, however, is just after New Years. The week after New Years, the place is packed. There is a wait for virtually every machine. The second week, it is steady, but rarely a wait. This year it siphoned off early. By the end of January, it will be back to the old "regulars", plus one or two new faces who will stick it out. The folks who join after New Years want to get into shape. Those who stay the course have decided to get into shape. The difference is simply acting on a decision, rather than trying to act on a desire. Horace, in the first century B.C., noted of decisiveness, resolve, "The man who is tenacious of purpose in a rightful cause is not shaken from his firm resolve by the frenzy of his fellow citizens clamoring for what is wrong, or by the tyrant's threatening countenance." Truth be told, most "New Years Resolutions" are simply New Years wishes, desires. Few really contain a sense of resolve.
Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Resolve and faith are closely linked, and never should the power of either be underestimated! What do you choose, resolve, to do today with you life? Are you going to make that decision, or simply by inaction, indeciveness, allow yourself to be acted upon?
January 11, 2005Even though our dogs cannot speak, they are able to communicate with us very well, a nuzzle, a thumping wag, a scratch at the door. Then came last night. Unable to sleep, I got up for a drink of water. Walking past the door to the hallway, I noticed the faint glow of the computer monitor on. Curious, I went in for a look. As I approached the office door, Osa, our oldest dog, came running out. The computer was on, and this was on the screen:
I am writing to you because there are so many things about you I do not understand. Like, why you do what you do, and so many other things. First off, how can you be so very bald? Aren’t you cold all the time? Why do you mow the grass? It’s just going to grow again. And, when you’re mowing the grass, why don’t you stop to roll on some of the really neat stinky things you find? Why don’t you wear a collar with tags? How will you or anybody else know who you belong to without one? Why do you and mommy drink from glasses? Don’t you know that you each spend at least half an hour each day sitting on the best source of water in the house while you’re reading? Why do you and mommy spend so much time cooking? Don’t you know that you get the best food digging in the trash? How come you drive with your head inside the car? Why do you shake hands with a person when you’re meeting them the first time instead of going behind them and sniffing? Finally, even though we’ve been studying it for years, none of us dogs understand the “Door Knob principle”.
Still, even though there are so many things about you that I don’t understand, I follow you whenever I can. I follow you from room to room. I follow you when you’re hiking on trails. I follow spring, summer and fall, I’ve even followed you when you were snow shoeing. I follow you when you’re laughing; I follow you when you’re in a bad mood. And I especially try to be as close as possible and sit on your lap when you’re sad. When you leave, I go to the door where you left from and lay there all day waiting for you to return. When you come home, I run and get my favorite toy and bring it to you, and follow you some more. I do this because I love you, even though you do things that don’t make sense to me. It’s my job to follow you, wherever you go. That’s what good dogs do, and I love my job. So, I’ll keep following you as long as God keeps me here, even though I don’t understand why you do what you do, or why you go where you go. Hope that’s all right with you. I love you, daddy,
Osa the dawg."
There is a picture of Osa in the dictionary next to the word "Loyalty".
1st Peter 2:21-25
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
It is a true statement that no man can lead who has not first learned to follow, and the person whom you follow, those will be the traits you engender in your leadership. Who are you choosing to follow today?
January 10, 2005Truth. What an interesting thing. It does not wither if ignored. It does not change with seasons or to please others. In those two attributes alone, Truth transcends most men. Truth is both static and dynamic; static in that it does not change, but dynamic in its power to change those who have the courage to look at it as it is. If rejected in favor of fantasy, no matter how attractive,the fantasy becomes a prison. If embraced, no matter how painful that may be, Truth brings freedom. Of Truth, Henry David Thoreau wrote "The frontiers are not ease or west, north or south, but wherever man fronts a fact...A true account of the actual is the rarest form of poetry, for common sense always takes a hasty and superficial view." In journeying through life, when one is confronted by Truth, and Truth is heading in a different direction than is the man, the man is forced to choose to adjust his course to match that of Truth, or to reject, ignore, or rationalize, maintain his course, and live a lie. Truth is a frightening thing, for it almost always calls us to change, calls us to a course correction. Yet what is more frightening is to ignore truth. That is to set sail with disregard for the proper charts; In so doing, one is guaranteed to run upon a shoal.
Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
Truth does often run counter to a hasty and superficial view. If we take the time to abide, to live in God's word, then we will know the Truth, freedom will indeed be ours.
January 7, 2005In our lives, we all come across a great many rallying points. Consider the lowly paper clip. Hard to think of it as an object of political resistance! The paper clip was invented in 1899 by a Norwegian man named Johan Vaaler. This fact continues to be a source of national pride in Norway. In World War II, the occupying Nazi forces made it illegal for Norwegians to wear or display any images promoting nationalism. Members of the Norwegian resistance, instead of displaying a flag or the kings symbol, instead would use a paper clip as a tie clip or lapel pin. By virtue of simply observing who was adorned with a paper clip, any Norwegian could tell who was a patriot or who was a Nazi collaborator. You know, it should be just as easy for individuals to be able to tell who is an individual of faith. Unfortunately, too many individuals try to mark their "faith" by the wrong things--style of dress, musical preferences, dietary habits, political affiliation, or adherence to certain cultural moiré's. Fortunately, Jesus Himself gave us the real visible symbol of our faith.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Sounds simple enough, but all too easy to start asking what that looks like! Fortunately, we've been given a definition of that as well:
1st Corinthians 13:4-13
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.... But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Patient, kind, not jealous, does not brag, is not arrogant, doesn't act unbecomingly, does not seek its own, not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, rejoices truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, never fails. That is radical love. And by that kind of behavior, not our dress, diet, moiré's, politics, or musical preferences, no by that kind of radical love for one another, will people know that we are disciples of Jesus. Sure is a lot more substantial than a paper clip, huh?
January 6, 2005It was the decline of the Roman Empire, and Honoria, hoping to be crowned monarch, was enraged when her less than bright younger brother, Valentinian III, was made emperor of the western half of the Empire. Her parents hopes were to marry Honoria off to an "elder statesman", something Honoria could not abide. Seeking to garner power, Honoria, still a teen, slept her way through a large portion of the royal court. Still, the crown eluded her, so after seducing her brothers chamberlain, the two of them plotted her brothers murder, only to be discovered. The chamberlain was executed. Honoria, however, was sent to live the rest of her life imprisoned in a convent in Constantinople. Her heart still firmly set upon the crown, she plotted many foiled escape attempts. Finally, she turned her sights to a rescuer. She sent a letter to Attila, king of the Huns. If he would rescue her, she said, she would give herself to him in marriage, and as dowry, he could have the western half of the Roman Empire. Attila accepting the proposal, contacted Valentinian stating his intention to marry Honoria. When Valentinian refused, Attila had his excuse, and swept into the Western Empire. Not being a man of easily sated appetite, Attila pushed as far as Rome, where his armies were finally defeated. Honoria was never "rescued" by Attila, and the western portion of the empire was so weakened that it never recovered, ensuring the eventual fall of the empire. Valentinian, who survived the ordeal, did not want to execute his sister. Instead, she was married of to an elderly Roman senator, never to be heard from again. The moral of the story? Well, aside from the obvious one of pop-song fame (Girls Just Wanna Have Huns), the point is this; be very careful with whom you make your alliances--there's no telling what damage may be done, and you may end up in exactly the place you were trying to avoid all along. Paul was a wise man who knew what an alliance could cost, and what an alliance could gain.
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.....and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Paul's alliance was in Christ. Everything else was rubbish. What alliances have you made, in order to gain what you want? Through them, really, what will you attain to?
January 5, 2005Been thinking more on how God, in His love, pursues us. He initiates, takes the risk, we receive. Another Poem by Christina Rosetti came to mind, titled Bird or Beast?:
Did any bird come flying
After Adam and Eve,
When the door was shut against them
And they sat down to grieve?
I think not Eve's peacock
Splendid to see,
And I think not Adam's Eagle;
But a dove may be.
Did any beast come pushing
Through the thorny hedge
Into the thorny thistly world,
Out from Eden's edge?
I think not a lion,
Though his strength is such;
But and innocent loving lamb
May have done as much.
If the dove preached from her bough,
and the lamb from his sod,
The lamb and dove
Were preachers sent from God.
The glory of the garden is behind us; we are to keep the Glory of God before us. His Son is that Lamb who pushed into this thistly thorny world. When He announced His public ministry, this is what He said:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives,
And freedom to prisoners
Today are you feeling afflicted? There is Good News! Are you enduring the pain of a broken heart? Christ has come to bind that heart, to heal it. Are you captive to some addiction holding you captive? God offers you liberty. Is your soul imprisoned? Freedom is yours for the taking.
Did any beast come pushing
Through the thorny hedge
Into the thorny thistly world,
Out from Eden's edge?
I think not a lion,
Though his strength is such;
But and innocent loving lamb
May have done as much.
Thanks be to God, an innocent loving Lamb did do as much...
January 4, 2005Hannah Hurnard wrote the great Allegorical classic, Hinds' Feet on High Places, about the truths of a personal walk with Christ. In it, the heroin named Much Afraid is on a pilgrimage. A wound has been growing within her heart, keeping her from being all that she could be, was intended to be. Finally she comes face to face with what must be done. "...she knew with a pang almost of despair that the roots had wound and twined and thrust themselves into every part of her being. Though she put forth all her remaining strength in the most desperate effort to wrench them out, not a single root stirred....At that the indistinct figure behind the altar stepped forward and said quietly, 'I am the priest of this altar--I will take it out of your heart if you wish.' Much-Afraid turned toward him instantly. 'Oh, thank you,' she said. 'I beg you to do so."...The priest put forth a hand of steel, right into her heart. There was the sound of rending tearing...all of its rootlets and fibers came forth...he cast it down into the altar and spread his hands above it. There was a flash of fire...a sense of utter, overwhelming rest and peace engulfed Much-Afraid."
Brewski our dog was one of the most loving creatures I have known. 10:30 one winter night in Wisconsin, she had an accident. She caught a claw in the heating register, breaking it off up inside of her toe. She howled, and came limping into the room, blood pouring from the wound. We applied styptic powder, but blood will not clot on a claw. The nearest vet was over an hour away, through a snow storm. Brewski was bleeding to death. To save her, we had to parse the wound so that only bare skin, no claw was left. I ran to get the pruning shears, the only thing we had to make such a cut quickly. As I entered the room, Brewski held out her paw in complete trust. Crying, I reached out, and cut off the toe. Brewski gave a low moan, but did not flinch. Glenda applied the styptic powder, and the bleeding stopped. Brewski reached her head over, and gently licked both of our faces, our tears. The next day, she could walk as if nothing had happened.
"Much-Afraid awoke...she glanced down at her breast and saw it was covered with a cloth soaked in the spices whose perfume stole out and filled the cave with sweetness. She pushed the cloth aside a little curiously and was astonished to find no trace of the wound--not even a scar, nor was there any hint of pain or aching or stiffness anywhere in her body..."
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Circumcision of the heart--that involves exposing the heart, opening it up, to see what is really there. Pleasant? No. Yet the result is that that which is harmful, that which is hateful, is cut away, deep soul wounds are bound and healed, and praise comes from God Himself. There comes a time in each of our journeys when we must open our hearts to God. He is the great physician. He brings healing, removing the hateful, the harmful.
January 3, 20052005, and the world continues on! It has cynically been said in both song and verse that money makes the world go around. I disagree. The only true empowerment for forward progress is Love. What a wonderful, unseen, yet so strongly felt force is Love. God Himself is the first and greatest Lover, relentless in His pursuit of us. Christina Rossetti wrote of God's life giving love for her in her captivating poem A Birthday:
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a watered shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve in it doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleur-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, My Love is come to me.
In His Love, God is relentless in His pursuit of us. How relentless? Take a look:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered"
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Why is that so easy to forget? Pause for a moment and remember, the God of the universe loves you as you are, accepts you as you are. Let that sink in. Let that knowledge change your life. let your heart sing out "My Love is come to me!"