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Thursday, January 04, 2018

Up jumped the devil.

Every cynic is a frustrated idealist.  We don't look at the world as it is, we look at it as it should be and then lament how it is.  When people tell us, "cheer up!  It could be worse!"  We grumble, no, it is worse, what it could have been was a lot better!  

My readings today were from Genesis 4, Matthew 4, Ezra 4 and Acts 4.  Not every day do my readings seem to be so thematically linked as these four chapters do.  Each and every one seems hotly focused on one thing: Opposition.  It took Moses only three chapters to introduce the antagonist and inciting incident which will be the conflict of the rest of the Bible.  And in Chapter 4, Yahweh summarizes that conflict succinctly to Cain, 

"...sin is crouching at the door.  And its desire is for you,"

Ezra describes the "enemies of Judah and Benjamin" who use all the wiles and tools of the Serpent to confound and frustrate and cow the fledgling nation of Israel, freshly returned from exile and eager to rebuild the Temple.  In Acts Peter and John are dragged before the Sanhedrin for teaching and healing a lame man in the name of Jesus.  In each of these chapters there is someone who wants to do well and offer right sacrifices; someone who is rebuilding a house for our God as they were ordered to by God and king; someone who is listening to God and not refraining from speaking about what they have seen and heard.  And in each of these chapters, there is someone opposed to it and them.

We enlightened and rationalistic Christians can often lose sight of this, i think.  We are more likely to look at humanistic reasons for the way the world is.  Psychological ones.  Historical ones.  We can very nearly explain sin itself away by citing the troubled childhood of a sinner and their need for education and medication.  The answers are within our grasp because the problem is.  We can fix it.  If only...  Cain was disenfranchised by a flawed religious system which devalued his contribution and a nebulous moral code which had not yet conceived of murder and therefore not banned it either.  The other nations and peoples around Israel during the time of Ezra had as much claim and right to the land as the Israelites and had probably even suffered when Judah had previously provoked Babylon into conquering the land.  They were unfairly rebuffed when they offered to help with the building plan by the ethno-centric racism of a group of interlopers who would not accept a two-state solution.  The Sanhedrin of Pete and Jack's day were the proper authorities both in government and Judaism and acting in the nation's best interests as they saw fit, could only be in place by God's will and deliberately provoked by religious extremists in their own capital and holiest site.

And Satan, well, he's just a metaphorical device to explain the presence of evil and the psycho-emotional construct of an "enemy" in a "war" to help us understand the duality of living, light vs. dark, good vs. evil, republican vs. democrat, Jedi and Sith, balance.

But that's not what the Bible teaches.  The Bible teaches there is a WILL behind the war.  There is a malice, an animus, which feels and desires and hates.  Why is the world the way it is?  Sin.  Yes.  And sin has a name... and kids.  From three chapters into Genesis to his ultimate eternal destruction with three chapters left to go in Revelations 20, there is an enemy who hates God because he wants to BE God.  And his offspring will be like him.  They cannot kill what they hate, the one who has the audacity to oppose THEIR will, so they oppose His children with all the wiles and tools of their father.  If they cannot lie and sow the seeds of doubt about His goodness and love and seduce them away from Him, they will kill them.  

And so we see in Matthew 4 the ultimate battle.  Jesus is led by the Spirit of His Father into the wilderness where he is tempted for forty days and forty nights by Satan himself.  "If you are the Son of God..." doubt.  Most telling of all, when Satan offers the kingdoms of the world, it is no empty boast.  John quotes Jesus as calling Satan the "ruler of this world".  Daniel was told by Gabriel that the "Prince of Persia" fought against Michael and he.  The temporal kingdoms of this world are a beast which resemble the dragon himself.  Satan was offering to give them back if only Christ would change sides.  He doesn't.  Satan kills him.

This is no "devil made me do it" defense.  Cain is told, "And it's desire is for you, but you must rule over it."  And it's not a plea to try and fight the battle as if we were Jesus ourselves.  The "word that comes from the mouth of God" upon which we live and rely on IS Jesus himself!  The church in Acts 4 prays, "And now Lord, concern yourself with their threats and grant your slaves to speak with your message with all boldness, as you extend your hand to heal and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus."  We do not test God, we trust Him.  We do not worship Satan, no matter what he offers us.  Even if it looks good or we think we could do good with it.  No, this is me reminding myself that it's not just the way it is.  It's not C'est la vie.  Que sera, sera.  i must not let cynicism become fatalism.  We must "be strong in the Lord and in the might of His strength.  Put on the full armor of God, so that [we] may be able to stand against the stratagems of the devil, because our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."  For though we are and will be opposed whenever and most of all when we try to do good and to obey God, from leading a church or mission to just trying to do the right thing, to writing a devotional to loving our spouse, the nail that sticks up gets pounded down the hardest, though they may hurt us, imprison us, take from us what we cherish, and even kill us, above all remember that though the battle rages on, the war is already won.  

"And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying,
“Now the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God
    and the authority of his Christ have come,
because the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down,
    the one who accuses them before our God day and night.
And they conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony,
and they did not love their lives until death.
Because of this, rejoice, you heavens,
    and those who live in them!
Woe to the earth and to the sea,
    because the devil has come down to you,
having great anger,
    because he knows that he has little time!”"


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Do you hear what i hear?

For this one the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Whenever he sends out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. And they will never follow a stranger, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus told them this parable, but they did not understand what it was that he was saying to them.  John 10

And Yahweh said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and, indeed, they are a stiff-necked people.  Ex 32

But Yahweh has not given to you a heart to understand, or eyes to see, or ears to hear, even to this day.  Deut 29

And he said, “Go and say to this people,
‘Keep on listening and do not comprehend!
    And keep on looking and do not understand!’
Make the heart of this people insensitive,
    and make its ears unresponsive,
    and shut its eyes
so that it may not look with its eyes
    and listen with its ears
    and comprehend with its mind
    and turn back, and it may be healed for him.”
Isa 6

‘Hear this please, O foolish and senseless people,
    who have eyes but do not see,
    who have ears but do not hear.’
Do you not revere me?” declares Yahweh,
    “Do you not tremble before me?  Jer 5

And the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Son of man, you are dwelling in the midst of the house of rebellion who has eyes to see and they do not see; they have ears to hear, and they do not hear, for they are a house of rebellion.   Ezek 2

But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from listening. They made their hearts adamant in order not to hear the law and the words that Yahweh of hosts had sent by his spirit through the former prophets;  Zech 7

And Jesus said,]] “For judgment I have come into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind!” Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard these things and said to him, “We are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.  John 9


Today, if you hear his voice, give glory and honor and thanks because you do not know what a miracle of grace that alone is!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

On Rocks and Scorpions and Snakes

“What portion is there for us in David?  We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.”  

Quick, whose quote is that?  Who said it?  Have you?  When you have asked God for a piece of bread and he has given to you a stone?  A snake for a fish?  When you asked him for an egg, did he give you a scorpion?  No?  Never happened?  

i know people who asked God for a baby and they got a stillborn and miscarriages.  There are people who have asked God to save their addicted child and they got an overdose.  There are those who ask for reconciliation and renewal and get divorce.  There are those who ask for years and years for healing and are told, my grace is sufficient for you.  People whose lives seemed fine until they gave it to Christ.  Families torn apart.  And that’s not to even mention those whose suffering is unto death because we don’t go to those parts of the world.  We stay here, where it’s safe.  Where it’s normal.  Where it’s sane.  Where our money and our culture can keep at bay most of the evil and suffering that the rest of the world thinks of as normal.  A world of paid sick days and all night groceries and medicines for sniffles and delivery on Sunday by Amazon and on demand television and tinder and alcohol and legalized marijuana and pets we don’t keep to eat and the right to keep and bear arms against anyone who would try and take any of those God-given rights away from us and cry out whenever these things do come to our shores like an unwanted intruder.

The Pope wants to change the words of the Lord’s prayer.  He doesn’t like the part where it says, “Lead us not into temptation.”  He says a loving father doesn’t do that.  He wants it to read, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”  i reckon he would cite James 1, “No one who is being tempted should say, “I am being tempted by God,” for God is without temptation by evil, and he himself tempts no one.”  Sounds pretty straight forward.  But then a lot of things do when you cut and paste them out of their context.  Context here to mean “the whole Bible.”  

From the very beginning, God placed two perfect people in a perfect garden and still he put in the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil.  He didn’t need to do that.  He could have left it out.  He knew the Serpent was in the garden.  He was not somewhere else when Eve had her conversation with the snake.  He wasn’t sleeping.  Even the immediate context of the quote in James is, “Blessed is the person who endures TESTING…” Even the next line of the Lord’s prayer is “but deliver us FROM evil.

God does not tempt, no.  But He does test.  He tests to show you what is in your heart: idols, pride, selfishness, disobedience, even when i want to do good, i do not.  He tests to show you what you truly believe about Him.  Is He good even in this?  Will you accept good from His hand and not evil?  When you with Habakkuk ask God how long will we cry for help and you will not listen?  How long will we cry out to you, “Violence!” and you will not save?  And God answers, You think you know violence?  You ain’t seen the half of it!  Can you still say, “Not my will but yours be done?  Is He still God?  Is he allowed to do what He wants?  When He wants?  How He wants?  And when He does, is He still good?

For i would be doing you a great disservice if i left you here.  Because God tests to show you what is in your heart AND what is in HIS!  And what is in His is His Glory and your good.  God is good!  God does bless!  God does love you!  More than life itself!  And that is the point!  Fat, dumb and happy doesn’t seek God.  Doesn’t long for him!  Doesn’t ache for him!  It gets those two things reversed: we thing God is good when he works for our glory.

Sometimes when you ask for bread, God will give you rocks.  But to show you that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God!

Sometimes when you ask for a fish, the Father will give you a scorpion.  But fear not!  For Behold, He has given you the authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy and nothing will ever harm you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are inscribed in heaven!

And there it is?  Where is your inheritance?  Where is your treasure?  If it’s here, you will only see the rocks, the scorpions and the snake.  If it’s Jesus, then your treasure is untouchable and unable to be measured!  Is He truly worth everything you must endure here?  Do you honestly and heart-deep believe that He is leading you to something so much better?  Do you really believe that this life is just the set up for Eternity?  That every loss and lack and trial and test are only shaping your inheritance, your consolation, your place that Christ is preparing for you even as we speak and making you hate even the garment stained by our sin?  The cross you pick up every day is only making you love your Jesus more?  Is He Yours?  Do you trust him?

On the third day, the son of David answered the Israelites who had asked for a lightening of their burden harshly, “I will make your yoke heavy, and I myself will add to it.  My father disciplined you with whips, but I will do so with scorpions.”  And the Israelites answered the king saying, “What portion is there for us in David?  We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.”  And it turned out to be true.  They did not endure, they did not trust Yahweh their God.  They saw a snake and they ran and trusted in their own strength, their own king.  They went their own way and were scattered ultimately by the Assyrians to not be a people any longer.

Jesus is the better Son of David.  The Son of Eve who on the third day crushed the head of the serpent.  Who has thrown him down and says his time is short.  Do you believe him.  Will you wait for him to come and lead you where He says He will?  A time of testing is coming, not just on you personally but on the church and the whole earth, of that you can be sure, He promised it would but that on the other side, good awaited.  Our inheritance awaits.  He awaits.  But will He find faith when He comes?


(for those who do such things, you could do worse to meditate on Deut 8.)

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Plow some ground

Parallels.  Associations.  This post will begin where it ends.  Asking the question, what is the work involved in seeking Yahweh now?  When we read the Bible (we do read the Bible, right?) do we just walk over it, picking what we want out of it when we feel the need or do we put our necks into the traces and pull and dig the plow deeper, break it, sweat over it, grunt and groan with the Master trying to understand it?  

i don't know which one i do.  Probably depends on the day and my tiredness.  But here is a passage i read this morning and the raw excerpt from my journal on it.  If it edifies, use it; if not, leave it alone.  Nothing to see here.  Move along, move along....

"Ephraim was a trained heifer,
    that loved to thresh grain,
and I myself spared
    the fairness of her neck;
I will make Ephraim break the ground,
    Judah will plow,
    Jacob must till for himself.
Sow for yourselves righteousness;
    reap loyal love.
Break up for yourself fallow ground;
    it is time to seek Yahweh
so he will come and rain
    righteousness upon you.
You have plowed wickedness,
    you have reaped injustice,
you have eaten the fruit of lies,
    because you have trusted in your strength,
    in the multitude of your warriors."  Hosea 10

Threshing grain for a cow is easy work.  You merely walk around on it.  And if you’re not muzzled, you can even eat when you want to.  Pick from what you are threshing.  A joy to work.  Easy work.  Work,  yes, but rewarding and peaceful.  Not so plowing.  The ground is hard and full of rocks and there is nothing to eat.  The yoke is hard upon the neck and your straining which the whip and the goad keep you at, is back breaking and exhausting.  You go to the stall spent, sweating and heaving and aching and there is no immediate reward which would matter to an ox.  

Adam worked for his meals in the garden.  He chose and picked them.  But it grew on its own.  It was there to be had.  The work was pleasant.  The reward instant.  The joy present.  He was cast out and the ground was cursed and no more would it yield for him.  No more would he dig with his hand and plant with his foot.  No more would the birds leave his scattered seed upon the surface.  No more would the weeds keep their place and obey their boundaries.  No more would the mist come in the morning faithful and gentle and kind and refresh the land.  Now the rains came when they willed and they were hard and the mud was as much impediment as useful.  Work is work now.  And there is little joy in it.  


The passage draws a parallel from working the ground to working the heart.  Is it harder to believe now?  Is it harder not to sin now?  Is it harder to obey?  Is it more work to serve Yahweh than it was before?  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Words.

"I still have many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them now. But when he—the Spirit of truth—comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak from himself, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will proclaim to you the things to come. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and will proclaim it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he takes from what is mine and will proclaim it to you."  John 16

Context can be everything.  If your wife gave you a grocery list of items to get on your way home from work.  You would read it only as a list of things to get.  A duty.  Perhaps even a despised one.  Maybe you hate the grocery store.  Maybe you're tired and just want to go home.  Maybe you don't really like the vegetable-to-red-meat ratio of the list.  Maybe you don't mind but even so, it's just a list.  You probably crumple it up and throw it away when you're done with it.

But what if she died that day?  What if that note became the last thing you ever got from her?  Would you fish it out of the trash?  Would you pore over it in the days to come just to see her handwriting?  Would you savor every loop?  The way she misspelled 'brocolli'?  Did she put a little heart on it?  Write, 'thanks!' at the bottom?  

A love letter from your spouse is a precious thing.  When you are with your spouse every day you may take it for granted.  Put it in a drawer intending to do something with it later.  Pin it up in the cubicle where it becomes background to your day in the life but not vital to it.  Wallpaper.  But to a soldier far from home who hasn't seen their loved ones in months, it is life!  It is carried about in the breast pocket.  Pulled out at every opportunity.  Pored over for every detail, read and re-read.  An agonizing reminder of the world where they belong.  A reminder of something better somewhere.  A reminder that someone loves them.  Cares what happens to them.  It becomes their reason for living!  For surviving.  For being something the writer of the love letter can be proud of.

The Bible is a lot of things.  Poetry.  Story.  Wisdom literature.  Prophecy.  Commandments and guidebook.  But in one very real sense, it is a love letter to us.  It is God inviting us to know Him.  To know what He's done for us.  To let him remind us of who we are to Him.  How we feel about Him, about ourselves and our situation, colors how we read it.  It can be just words on a page... a grocery list.... wallpaper.


Or it can be life.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Promises, promises

God takes covenant pretty seriously.

Nebuchadnezzar had come and conquered Judah.  He had dragged off the best and the brightest to Babylon as prizes and hostages and as a way of pacifying the land and keeping it subject.  He had allowed the nation of Judah to remain, even allowed a branch of David to remain upon the throne in Zedekiah.  As the conquered, the surrendered, as terms, they would have had to swear fealty to King Nebby.  They entered into covenant with him.  They may have even had a ceremony where some animals were torn in two and Zedekiah, as the vassal king, would have walked between them while swearing his oath to obey and pay tribute to Babylon or be cut to pieces as these creatures have been.  Cutting a covenant it's called.  Very visceral, very visual, very memorable process, i'm thinking.

And here's the thing.  God heard and witnessed it.  Zed may have even invoked Yahweh's name as part of the ritual.  To him it was in vain, for as we see, he neither knows nor fears God but God held him accountable all the same.

God had whistled for Nebby.  He had brought the Assyrians and then the Babylonians in to punish and discipline his people.  God.  Yahweh.  Not some angry god of the old testament who has nothing to do with the hippie god of the new one.  God is consistent, God is one.  Jesus as God would have done this.  He had long warned them he would, beginning with Moses.  The children of God disobeyed and disregarded the covenant of Sinai where God married himself to his people.  And now, because of their disobedience and spiritual adultery, he had forced them into covenant with a pagan king.

And he expected them to honor that covenant.

They don't.  Despite more dire and very specific warnings from Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and others, Zed looks for a way out of God's justice, God's holy arrangement designed for their good and humbling.  He looks to Egypt.  He looks to another pagan regional superpower.  He allies himself with one devil over another.

The effects are devastating.  Total annihilation.  The sacking and burning of Jerusalem.  Zed's last sight on earth is of his sons, his seed, murdered before his eyes so he will know his line is cut off from the earth, his wives given to others as slaves.  Then his eyes are torn out.

So don't break your word... to anyone.... ever.

But as good advice as that is, that's not the point of the story really and you don't have the power to do it in yourself.  Which IS the point!  Because the Bible isn't a series of moral lessons to make you your better self now.  It's the story of God pursuing his wayward bride.  Ezekiel 17 which tells this story in parable form, doesn't end with the devastation of our sin upon our own heads, but with God showing how He's going to magnanimously and extravagantly keep His side of the Covenant we broke!

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

the walking wounded

i've heard it said that the Word and those who speak it should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.  Truth and Grace. 

i think i've pretty well established which one i'm better at. 

Sadly, it's also pretty well established that there are folks who will use the Word as a weapon for their own purposes.  Twist its meaning to fit their agendas.  Justify themselves with indulgent edits.  Often the Word gets blamed for this.  As if God should have been more careful with the words He chose.  Or put some kind of disclaimer on the Holy Scriptures.  (There is one, and we'll get to that.)  Often the church, Christ's very Bride gets blamed en masse for the corruption of some who claim membership in her.  Make no mistake, all are sinners so there is no perfect church nor perfect church goer but taken as a whole, the Church is Christ's Body and therefore good.  To speak ill of her is to speak ill of her husband who loves her. 

That said, Christ warned us wolves would sneak in from the Synagogue of Satan to corrupt her from within if they could as they always have.  They lure away those whose faith and knowledge are incomplete.  They are thieves who steal for power, for material gain or just for the hell of it.  Read the Word and you will see the over arching story of the Son of Man wooing and wanting His wayward wife.  From Serpent in the Garden to the Scarlet Dragon in final act, Satan hates God so he hates His Bride too.  He cannot touch God, so he attacks mercilessly and with cunning the one God loves.  He has been a liar and murderer from the beginning and we are the prey.

Many have been hurt in this war.  Many have real wounds.  i acknowledge this.  Do you, afflicted beloved, acknowledge that none of this happened without the express knowledge and approval and even ordination of your loving Husband God? 
"Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
    I have tried you in the furnace of affliction." (Is 48)
That's just one verse.  If i were to post all the ones that state this, express or implied, i would pretty much have to repost the Bible here.  Don't take my word for it, just do a quick search for "affliction", take The Word for it.  Affliction is not random.  It, like all of creation, serves a purpose, His.  To refine, to burn away what is not good, to turn us back to our source of Life and away from the Death we were choosing instead.  

To bring us home, to bring us to our senses, to bring us back to our loving husband and Father.

But that's not the way we use it anymore.  We use it now to justify our therapeutic self-indulgence.  We weave our hurts and our wounds into a stifling comforter from under which we hide from the outside world, from the monsters, from the scariness, from our responsibility, from the Light.  We muffle the words we don't want to hear.  We think ourselves warm and safe and untouchable and all we are is smothered.  We have buried the Talent of God for we have found him a hard man who reaps where he does not sow and gathering where he did not scatter seed.  'i have been hurt so i am only protecting myself.'  We justify silencing those who speak truth, we slap sentimental bumperstickers all over the hard parts of the Word so we don't have to use or hear words like "obey" and "listen" and "sin" and "confess" and "commandment."  God loves me, this i know, for the Bible tells me so and God is love so he doesn't want me to do anything hard or scary or where i might possibly get hurt.  He cannot possibly ask me to forgive because of what happened to me.  He cannot ask me to obey because of what i've been through.  i know i shouldn't do this but you don't know where i've been.  i need this!

We are justified.  Righteous.  Not even God can ask us to do anything anymore because we have been afflicted!  We are the Comfortable IN our Affliction.

That's enough for today.  Please pray and listen and let's just see where that takes us for a while.