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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


"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.

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Beloved (because Seamus seems to confuse some folk :)

[i read the Bible through every year and have since 2010.  That's not a brag, it's a confession.  Because even though i do that and therefore have read Jeremiah 11 at least seven times in the last seven years, Saturday was the first time this line struck me and it struck me as new.  As if i was reading it for the very first time.  That happens to me a lot.  God reveals to you what He wants to reveal when He wants to reveal it.  That's just one of the reasons we keep coming back to the well each and every day as often as we can.  i'm told the line by itself out of context is dangerous and possibly harmful.  i'll deal with that thought another day.  For now though, i've included the raw response i had to it in my journal.  No spit, no polish, just what came out of me when i read it.  Hope its helpful.  At least more helpful than any of Seamus' musings.]

“What rights has my beloved in my house
    when she has done many wicked things?”

There is so much here, Yahweh God.  First, that she is your beloved.  Second that she is unfaithful.  That you wish to bring her into your house or she is in it already doing her wickedness.  Father, we are your bride and yes, we have done, are doing and will do many wicked things and we have no rights in your house much less to be in your house at all.  None.  Yet!  But!  You are the Bridegroom!  You have come for your bride anyway!  You made her clean!  You washed away her iniquity!  You have rescued us, saved us, bought us out of our slavery!  Off the slave block!  You took us home.  You restored us to our children.  You make us part of yourself again.  You join yourself to us!  You are amazing! 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Seamus rides again

"So what's necessary for an authoritarian regime to gain and hold power?"  Seamus asked.
"Historically speaking?" i shrugged.  "Abolish free press and take all the guns.  After that, abolish free elections... umm, i dunno, religion?  Guess they should hold sway over that too."
"Aye, that's the kinda thing we usually worry aboot, right?  First two amendments.  Framers musta worried aboot it too.  That's why this is so brilliant!"
"Um... what is?"
"This regime."
"This... You think...?"
"Oh don't get me wrong, I dinna know who's in charge.  The fat man doesn't seem swift enough for my thenkin' but he's certainly got the ego fer it, ferdamshuir.  But you gotta admire what they've doon."
"You think they've abolished the free press and taken all the guns?"
"Fook no!  And tha's the beauty of it!  They dinna have to!  They gotta lil' help, okay, a lotta help.  First off, the innernet," he held up a pretzel stick, i guess that was his visual representation of the internet, "Tis flooded with news sources nough.  (To this day, i don't know how to spell how he pronounces words like how, now, flew, spew!)   Ever' twit wit'a twitta is a goddumm journalist nough."  He smashed his pretzel all over the bar.  He flicked the pieces this way and that.  "Alt facts, fake facts, their facts, yer facts, dunna know how anyone tells wha's goddumm goin' on anymuir!  Then ye got these lefties," he picked up the largest piece left, "whoo'r so keen to take'm down, so goddum anxious to get a shot inna 'im, they go  and go off half cocked.  They goddumm shoot their loads into their own goddumm foot anna ye git the whole world laughin' at'm, all you gotta do is let the rope out anna watch'm hang themselves," he ate the lefties.  Dusted off his hands, "So there ye are, no need to abolish free press, just flood the market fer the easily swayed to pick ther favorite and ignore the rest and discredit them all to the point where no thinkin' man troosts'm and it amoonts to the same theng."
"Okay, i can see that.  But what about the guns?  How are they going to take over and not deal with armed revolt?"
"What armed revolt?"
"Americans are never gonna let them take our guns, we have more now than ever!"
"Aye, ye do, but again, why would they come for thum?"
"To.. stop an armed revolt?"
"Wha armed revolt?"  He smirked at me.  i hate when he smirks at me. 
"There's not going to be an armed revolt..."
"There's no gonna be no armed revolt, lad, and that's the best part, cuz all his rhetoric is aimed at winnin' o'er one group anna one group only...
"The ones with the guns." 
"Ye catch on late, but ye do catch on. When the revolt comes lad, his owen will police all the rest.  All 'is life, he's made a large livin' onna gettin' others to do his dirty work for 'im and he ain't changed his tune a bit.  'N why should 'e?  Its workin'."

Friday, April 21, 2017

The heartbeat.

As a protestant who grew up in denominations marked by the space they put between themselves and their Catholic forebears, i have never had a great trust of liturgy.  Liturgy becomes rote.  Rote is faith in the freezer.  Hard.  Inflexible.  Cold.  Dead.

As i seeped and simmered, i came to equate rote with religion.  i learned no matter who we are, no matter what we believe about God, we all have faith in something.  We all have a religion.  We are all worshiping something or someone.  We cannot help it.  It's how we're made.

Like a good protestant, i came to understand and say (with no small amount of smugness) it's not religion, it's relationship.  Faith is not in what i do, rote, it's in what HE's done.  i cherished my freedom from all forms of rigidity, i celebrated in a casual style of worship service.  Not quite hippie love-in or quaker meeting, we weren't deconstructionalists or anarchists, we were more libertarian, i guess.

A few more years in the crockpot however and i've come to understand that even as we all must worship, even as we all have faith in something, we all have liturgy.  No, maybe we don't follow a dictum laid down in edicts from Rome, and maybe we don't have a board at the front of the sanctuary telling us what number hymns we will sing in what order and a bulletin that we don't even really need to look at anymore because we know the order of worship by heart, can recite it in unison (a term here meaning that dead, flat, monotone we all speak in during a service as if we were reading the fine print on a legal document instead of the Living Word) but we all follow patterns.  We all have systems.  We all make plans.

We were made for Rhythm.

Even someone like me, as painfully Northern Occidental and genetically, environmentally rhythmically-impaired as i am, have and live and was made for rhythms.  i wake up at a certain time, i eat at certain times, i work at designated times.  Lives, like songs, have frameworks.  Sometimes the beat is fast, driving, energetic.  Other days have a more languid tempo, relaxed, slow, contemplative.  Some days are speed metal, some days are dirges, others yet are reggae, polkas, waltzes, dubstep, hip-hop, country, ballads, blues and even jazz but each day, each year, each life, has a rhythm.  As if there is some outrageously hip angel of God in dark glasses, a pipe hanging from his lips, a soft hat cocked on his bobbing head and the mother of all upright basses in his long, steady fingers, tap, tap, tapping out the sound that was the first sound we became conscious of in the womb.  Life has rhythm.

And so does faith.  God built us for rhythms.  Seasons.  Tempos.  Beats.  Spiritual disciplines, creeds, liturgies are training.  Like soldiers, warriors, drilling certain steps into ourselves until our bodies can react correctly in times of stress and fear and chaos without prompting or conscious thought.  Like sages, we are so deep in Scripture we have the Word for every season, situation and praise.  So our days are not idle, our minds not bored, our worship not empty, our prayers not prattle, our hearts not tempted by desires unfit for our natures as Priests and Kings and Sons of the Living God.  For in our hearts and heads we hear the drums and basses and cymbals and guitars pounding out the steady rhythm to which the kingdom of the God of All Rhythms marches and dances.