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Pride and Predjudice and Christ-Followers April 4, 2016

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I attended an adult Bible study today, and I really enjoy how thought provoking it is.  Today the discussion surrounded the historic Jezebel, with our starting point at Revelation chapter 2,

18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds,your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

We chatted a little bit about the way the world seemed to be headed, and what an appropriate voice might sound like for the church.  One of our classmates was asked by her child, “What’s porn?” so she fielded the question as best she felt it should be handled, with an age-appropriate answer.  The child had been watching a television show that made a joke about a guy watching porn.  So the class discussed this in the context of Jezebel’s sexual immorality and the warning to the church at Thyatira.

We live in a time when Christians are supposed to be tolerant of everyone else and nobody seems to have to be tolerant of Christians.  What are we supposed to do?  Well, let people do whatever they want and shut up, seems like the world’s answer.  And, “deeds, love and service” sound like great and commendable works for any church, don’t they?  Except, what kind of deeds?  Love for whom?  Service to whom and for whom?

James taught about a “religion that God accepts:”  James 1:26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Our class had a discussion weeks ago in which I noticed Ephesians 4:15, where Christ-followers are instructed to “[speak] the truth in love” in order to grow.  If truth and love are in balance we’ll be balanced in our approach to the world.  Ignore love and we’re hammering people over the head with our truth: you’re a sinner on your way to hell.  Instant turnoff by the non-believer. Ignore truth and we’re not doing it right either, and people will flock to hear you tolerate, accept, even embrace, their sinful choices.  And without repentant hearts, people will end up in hell because we didn’t teach the truth, that there is such a thing as sin, but God loves us and wants us to repent (turn away) from our sin and toward Him.

It’s commendable to seek not to be polluted by the world.  This was the sin of Thyatira. They tolerated, embraced, and adopted the behavior choices of the surrounding community that were contrary to God’s intent for us.  What’s a Christ-follower to do?

Sinners are going to sin.  And sinners don’t like it when their sin is pointed up to them, and called “sin.”  In the modern era, sinners want their sin to be tolerated, accepted, embraced, even celebrated.  Sinners want to be proud of their sin, not be told it’s sin.  So we have parades and television celebrating and proudly proclaiming sinful lifestyles.  If a Christ-follower says anything they  are “bigoted,” “intolerant,” “hateful,” “judgemental,” etc. We’re told from our own Bibles, “judge not lest ye be judged.”  Essentially, the answer a sinful world has for a Christ-follower who points to sin and calls it sin or calls it evil, is to shut up.  And the world doesn’t say it that nicely.

I’m afraid they’ve got a good point though.

The world wants to be proud of their sins and they want Christians to stop teaching the Bible and sharing our beliefs about what sin looks like.  The world doesn’t want us to believe  the Bible, and if they want to shut us up they use our own Bible, selected passages, to shut us up about the passages that make them uncomfortable.

Are Christians really any better?  Sure our eternity is secure.  But are we teaching only the truth and committing the sin of a certain modern church that likes to bash certain people and tell them God hates them?  Are we teaching only love and tolerance and committing the sin of Thyatira?

I’m afraid Christians have given in to the sin of pride, on both errors.  Some Christians are proud of their knowledge.  These Christians are proud of their piety.  These Christians are proud that they have found the way to eternal life.  Some are proud of their love and tolerance.  I think both are wrong.

Christians need to lead the way with a new humility.  Because, are we so far removed from the sin we used to live in that we can’t understand its’ appeal any more?  And, are we blind to the sin we currently harbor?

The antidote to pride is humility.  If we confess our sins, not only is God “faithful and just and will forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness,” but I think it’ll cause a revolution in the world.  They see us as “holier than thou,” intolerant hateful people because we think we’re better than they are.  We’re not, Christians.  We’re just as human.  We are holding onto our pride like a security blanket, and we need to shed that.  Nobody is going to listen to anything we have to say until we confess our sins to each other and admit to the world that we’re not that different from them, we just know where we’re headed when eternity calls our names.  When we admit that, I think they’ll be more likely to see our examples and be more apt to listen to the rest of what we have to say.

If we’re proud of ourselves, the world has no reason to pay any attention If we’re just saying “God loves me,” and “God loves you,” without any other instruction, like why Jesus was killed as a sacrifice for the sin of the world, ourselves included, there’s no reason for anyone to turn from whatever is their favorite flavor of sin.  And if Jesus is still in the tomb (He’s not) then no one has any hope at all.  But since He’s not, we’ve got His message, His truth AND His love to share. If we’re not saying there’s a better way and it’s God’s design, while admitting we’ve failed ourselves, we’re not that different than Thyatira.  If we’re saying God hates one sin any more than another, then we’re blind to our own pride.  I used to be so proud of myself.  Smug idiot.  I’ve got nothing but my  hope in Jesus, and my realization that He paid the debt for my sin.  A life of imperfection, thinking I had it right, blind to my evil character that I thought was good.  I’m not different than any other sinner in the world. God hates my sin just as much as he hates anyone elses’ sin.  I’m nothing to be proud of myself.

So that’s my humble confession.  I was smug and proud and judgemental.  But I know I have nothing to be those ways about, I’m no different, not really any better than anyone else.  God hates my sin just as much as anyone else’s sin, but He loves me in spite of myself.  And He loves you too and wants you to realize what your sin is, whatever it is, and then turn away from it and ask Him to forgive you.  And in spite of myself, I believe Romans 5:8 is written about me and the world:

 

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

I’m a sinner, but I’m not proud of it.  Just saved by the grace and love of God.  I’ve asked for forgiveness and I realize I’m still not perfect, in spite of the teaching of certain denominations.  If I call myself perfect, I’m lying to everyone.

I’m sorry, to the people of the world, I can’t keep it inside.  I have to speak it:  Jeremiah 20:9 But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

I John 1:

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

I bet in your heart, if you’re honest, you know the difference between right and wrong and know your life isn’t perfect enough, holy enough, or pure enough to get into a perfect, holy and pure heaven.  At the expense of my pride, I confess that I’ve failed to be good enough to earn a place in heaven.   There are people who think higher of me than that, but it’s just not honest.  I’ve got my eternal ticket, but it’s only because I admitted my failures and because God is rich in mercy and grace, and He extends it to the humble.  If we’re proud of ourselves, or proud of our sin, or blind to it, He won’t show us favor:

I Peter 5:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith…

 

I think if we clothe ourselves in humility, not just to the “one another” of fellow Christ-followers, but to everyone, people in the world might look a little differently at us, instead of just telling us to shut up.

“Prophesy! Who Hit You?” March 17, 2016

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Luke 22 is the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, and also revealed the disciples’ spiritual blindness.  While they argued over who was the greatest disciple, Jesus was being set up. Jesus knew.  But the disciples never saw it coming.

My spiritual blindness has never been questioned: Exactly like the song goes, “I am blind, and I don’t like what I think I see.”

My career path evinces my blindness.  I can’t get on a career path because I don’t know the direction to go to get somewhere productively happy.  Which also means, the people around me are blind too.  They don’t know how to help me.  And I don’t know what to ask for.  I have a job, and I don’t know what direction to go.  People tell me to “just” get another job, which sounds so easy, and makes me depressed because for me it’s not.  I’ve tried to find a job while I have a job, but the people I’ve talked to and interviewed viewed me as at best, second best for their opportunities.  At the same time as I really need “a job,” I really want a job I like.  What I want to do is write.  And use my spiritual gifts, and my education and training.  And be used by God to do good things.  And bear fruit for eternity.  And, like everyone else stuck in this present reality, take care of myself and my family.  And I’m a dismal failure at getting on that path.

Yesterday two things happened.  First, something happened to me maybe a year and a half ago, and it required money I didn’t have to fix.  I don’t want to get into the graphic and gory details, so I won’t describe the event.  At the time, it was something that could be fixed, I was told, pretty easily, but it would require an expensive process and I couldn’t afford it.  But I prayed, I trusted, and I waited in hope.  At the risk of exposing a root of bitterness, this has become, over time, a real sticking point with me spiritually, because I trusted in God, and waited for the money.    And I prayed.  I’m still waiting.  I was still praying.  Yesterday that situation, which I have been waiting in hope that God would provide what I needed to resolve, just got worse.

From the prophet:
Psalm 22: 8 “He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.”

And from the crucifixion story:
Matthew 27: 43 “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”

Why would I expect God to help me if He didn’t even help Jesus? Well, because in the plan of things I think Jesus could have had the help if He had asked for it and could have backed out of the divine transaction, but he submitted because of the huge implications for eternity.  But for me, it’s just something I need.  It’s not a life saving miracle, it’s just a process I need to be done that now requires even more money to be done right.  I’ve already burdened my church and they’ve helped with other things.  I wanted God to answer in a more sustaining way than I’ve seen in the last few years, and there’s the sticking point.  That was what “I wanted.” In the grand scheme of things, it’s not about what I want.  But I also read that God hears and answers prayers, so I was just hoping.

Also, yesterday, adding to my already depressed state, it appears I was passed over again for something else I was hoping might happen that could possibly help me, in a life and spirit sustaining kind of way.

I’ve researched and found a poem/song I wrote for Easter back in 2013.  I wrote it trying to be hopeful, in a season when hope is hard to believe, much less find.  But it came to mind yesterday while I was processing my perceived emotional slap in the face.  It expressed my heart then and now, so I’m re-posting it here:


Maranatha, 10/27/2013, Michael N. Johns

It’s been one day that He’s been dead.
I saw Him on the cross.
The spear went in, His heart then bled,
And all my hope was lost.

He said He would be with me,
Until this age would end.
Promised we’d do greater things.
And broken hearts would mend,
But He’s gone.

It’s been two days that He’s been dead.
We laid him in the grave.
We wrapped His body, and His head.
Who can a dead man save?

He said He would be with me,
Until this age would end.
Promised we’d do greater things.
And broken hearts would mend,
But He’s gone.

It’s been three days that He’s been dead.
It’s almost like a dream.
What were the words that Jesus said?
I’ll be back soon; you’ll see.

We went to say our last goodbyes,
With perfume for the body,
I almost could not believe my eyes,
As angels greeted me

We thought we’d see his body
A cold, dead sadness,
Instead they said, Go in and see,
Fill up your hearts with gladness,
And find hope.

Two thousand years since He’s been gone,
It’s almost like a dream.
What did He say as He went on?
I’ll be back soon; you’ll see.

He sent us out to teach the world
His love, His hope, His story
I believe He will return
He’ll be back soon; you’ll see

He said He would be with me,
Until this age would end.
Promised we’d do greater things.
And broken hearts would mend,

He promised me.
I will see.
I believe.


 

So that’s it.  I won’t get into the details of me being passed over again, but it happened yesterday adding fuel to my raging emotional fires.  I partially processed the events last night.

In my spiritual blindness, not that I’m worthy to be compared to the central character of Luke 22, I felt that I was being slapped.  Except, unlike Jesus, I can’t answer the question of Luke 22:

63 And the men that held Jesus mocked him, and hit him.64 And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy!  Who hit you?

I used to have a much sharper spiritual view.  I knew.  But when you pray, and you pray, and you pray some more, and the only answers are further breakage of things that could have been repaired, that now just need to be discarded and I can’t afford replacement, and being ignored and passed over, again and again, by people I trusted and thought had my best interests at heart, the view becomes much more clouded.  In the past, I’ve been pretty naive.  I really try to be trusting and think people will do what they say they will.  I’ve learned, over time, to get certain things in writing.  But I’m not in a current situation where that makes any difference.  I’m currently where I am, looking for the exit ramp that leads somewhere better.

It’s not that my situation hasn’t improved.  It has.  I’m better off than I was a year ago.  It’s just been very slow.  I still can’t fix what’s broken, I still haven’t stumbled across the answer God surely must have already arranged and provided, and I still can’t take care of my situation for now, so it has to get worse before it’ll get better.  I thought I needed an answer, but I’ve heard a deafening silence, or worse, spiritual platitudes about whatever overly simplistic “just do this” answer, or “encouraging” Bible verses my would-be encouragers have discouraged me by providing.  Or worse, the circumstance has gotten worse because I couldn’t fix it sooner, and I still can’t fix it.  Like yesterday.

So just ignore me, you should have stopped reading already. Maybe it’s temporary.  Maybe it’ll be fixed tomorrow.  But honestly, right now, I feel as ignored by God as this guy is by the girl he loves:

I’m just in a spiritual and emotional dark place.  Again.  I feel very irrelevant.  I feel like nothing I do really matters. I feel that what I do could be replaced and done by someone else, or maybe if it wasn’t done, it wouldn’t make any difference. I feel irrelevant to God, and everyone will want to tell me I matter to God, or to fix it for myself as if I had the wherewithal or the stamina.  (I’m sure I do matter to God, only just not enough to answer my prayers yet, and not the way I thought I needed them to be answered.)  Irrelevance is dark.  I’m spiritually blindfolded.

Who hit me?  Prophesy!  Because my spiritual eyes are darkness, and my smoldering wick feels very much like it’s being snuffed out.

I wrote this not anticipating any answers, because although I wrote it about me, it’s not about me.  It’s about God’s answer to my faith.  It’s just another dark season after another dark season.  Will He answer in some miraculous way, or will He answer with more waiting, more silence, more unanswered crisis points because He knows I should be able to handle whatever evil the day has in store for me?  He’s not obligated, and neither is anyone else.  It’s nothing any different or more special than any other thing anyone else would pray about.  Life struggles are common to everyone, and we just have to endure and walk through I suppose.  But it is growing very dark for me again this year and yesterday’s events just added insults to injuries.

Will He answer in some sustaining, fulfilling way, or will it be the same minimalist response like my ongoing doldrums?  I don’t know.  I know that the minimalist responses are probably, minimally, enough.  I was just hoping for abundance, but I can’t even fix or replace what’s broken because I still can’t afford it.  Something else, that seems about 2 or 3 months ahead of a sustainable schedule, breaks and spends the reserves before they’re built up enough to take care of what I need.  Last thing was the cars.  I don’t want a next thing.

Say it:  I’m naive.  I still believe.  I still hope.  And I’m still waiting and praying.  Don’t you dare write a check. I’m not asking you.  I’m asking God.  And the answer I need is something sustaining, not a one-time thing from some poor charitable schmuck who’s a sucker for a sob story.  I need the thing, the Divine answer, that sustains and provides to fix or replace needed things, for the normal wearing out life does on everything and everybody.  And leaves behind enough for me to help the next person looking for a charitable schmuck.  And I also need the fulfilling thing to do to keep that sustenance going, that goes along with my talents, education, training, and experience.  I just haven’t found it.  “I wish I was special,” but I’m not.  If I wanted a one-time answer, I’d set up on gofundme.  And FYI: “God helps those who help themselves” isn’t in the Bible.  Unless you’re a politician.  I think at least one of the candidates probably believes that.

January 4, 2016

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I sat in church for the first Sunday of the year, yesterday, and feel this so bad it hurts.

THIS!  This is what I want for the new year.  Dear God, please,
“Wake me up inside.”

“…Call my name and save me from the dark
Bid my blood to run
Before I come undone
Save me from the nothing I’ve become

Bring me to life

Frozen inside without Your touch
Without Your love, Darling
Only You are the Life among the dead.”

One of our pastors spoke in his own simple eloquence, about us determining whatever it is God wants us to do and who He wants us to be.  I know the answers to those questions, what I lack is the inner life to do it, to be it, to live it.

I feel dead inside.

I feel frozen inside (no Disney jokes, or songs, PLEASE).  I’ve become less than worthless, I am nothing, I am negative.  I look backward and see chaos, madness, sadness, destruction, sin, loss, debt.  I look forward and see the labor required to dig out, and it’s hopeless.

I admit it.  I did it to myself.  Partly.  I starved myself spiritually, only having the meagerest of snacks maybe every other day, but I knew I was missing out on the banquet.  I did it to myself because I feel kind of abandoned by God.

Say it all you want, if you’re one of those conservatives you’ll believe that if I feel the abandonment, it’s because I abandoned Him.  That may be true.  That the spiritual “snack” was there at all says maybe God was there sustaining me through the spiritual “drought.”  Or maybe like Cain from Genesis, I offered what I thought was the best I had to give, from a heart that was as good as mine could be, and still felt rejected.

I’m going to try something different today.  And maybe, this year will be different.  I’ll let you know, if I live to tell about it.  If He is “the Life,” maybe He’ll share.

On the positive side, I feel “only mostly dead,” which, if you’ve ever seen The Princess Bride, means there’s hope, but “it’ll take a miracle.”

Oil On Jesus’ Feet (Sort-of-Humor) December 9, 2015

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From Wikipedia:
_________________

Spikenard, also called nard, nardin, and muskroot, is a class of aromatic amber-colored essential oil derived from Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant of the Valerian family which grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. The oil has, since ancient times, been used as a perfume, as a medicine and in religious contexts, across a wide territory from India to Europe.

The Bible contains several references to the spikenard, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
_________________

In John 12, we have a beautiful picture of the sacrifice made by a woman who loved Jesus.  The custom of the day was to wash and oil one’s feet, as the environment could be dusty and dry.

In this instance, the scented oil was very expensive, but there were more common oils available in the day, especially olive oil.

When you drop any oil onto water, it floats.

This could explain how Jesus performed the miracle recorded in Matthew 14, Mark 6, and John 6.  We’re not told if Jesus was wearing sandals.  If you were going into the water, most of you wouldn’t wear foot gear.  But He would have to have perfect balance to not break the surface tension of the water.  And he would have had to know Peter oiled up his feet too.  With Jesus as the focal point of Peter’s experience while walking out there, Peter had the necessary concentration and balance, but when he took his eyes off of Jesus, he immediately sank and Jesus had to rescue him.

I’m joking but there’s a practical application.  I’m not going to try that in any literal way any time soon.  I’m not well able to balance on flat earth, much less on the water.  And my eyes aren’t well enough focused on Jesus for me to match Peter’s experience.  But I am going to try to be better focused and more spiritually balanced in the new year.  It’s coming quick.

How well balanced are you?  How well focused is your spirit?

Missing: One Left Sock January 26, 2015

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It’s just possible that somewhere, hidden, are all the things I have lost in my life.  I have lost socks, mittens, gloves, collectibles, toys, books, coats, that important piece of whatever it was so I couldn’t reassemble whatever it was I had taken apart, etc.  Fishing poles.  Knives.  Spoons.  Keys.  My favorite sweater.  My favorite T Shirt and pair of blue jeans.  I guess that means I’m not so different from anyone else.  Who hasn’t lost anything, ever?     If I had stalkers and fans I would blame them, and ask for some of it to be returned.  Keep the stuff I don’t use, stuff that’s worn out or too small for me, or the stuff I’ve already replaced.

I suspect my mom may have quietly burned the holey jeans and tshirt I revered beyond the “e,” and perhaps the sweater or pants on the mending table ended up in the trash as well, after the third or fourth repair.

I’ve lost significant things.  Money.  Education opportunities.  Job opportunities.  Connections with people I care about.  These weren’t entirely my fault, although to a degree I guess I was responsible.

Today I confess, I like having neat fingernails.  I used to bite them, and leave them with the dirt until whenever they came clean.  At least I used to like washing dishes, which by happy coincidence, usually left them pretty clean.  I still like to wash the dishes.  I’ve come a long way.  If you weren’t already going to revoke my man-card because I like a clean kitchen, you might when you read this:

I like to cut my nails.  I like to shape and file them, and to smooth them with an emery board.  And I know what a cuticle cutter and spoon are.  It’s her fault.  I don’t really obsess over shaving, or clothes, or anything.  But my nails bug me when they’re not properly taken care of.  My wife started me on the road to that specific grooming habit, and here I am.  When I was in High School, I needed short nails to play my viola, so when they got clicky, I’d bite them short.  I quit doing that, somewhere between college and marriage.  And sometime between engagement and marriage, I got in the habits of filing and smoothing my fingernails, and then, trimming the rough edges of my cuticles. The problem is, I buy a cuticle tool and it disappears within a week.  Somewhere in the dark regions of the bathroom closet, somewhere buried under the carpet of the house, somewhere tucked irresponsibly in a junk drawer or a pen jar, somewhere in the black hole beside the one that holds the missing left socks, are all my cuticle tools.  I just want one.  I’ve bought whole sets of nail care tools and danged if the cuticle tool disappears from the closet where I hid the whole zipper pouch.  No one claims to have removed it, or moved it.  But it’s gone.

If you’ve never seen a cuticle trimming tool, it’s a kind of heart-shaped tool on a stick, where the top part of the heart, toward the center, is sharpened.  It’s specially designed to smoothly capture the cuticle and neatly cut it, like scissors cut wrapping paper if you get it started and hold and move them right.

I envy people with those neat pegboards with tools hanging.  Some even have the outline of their tools so they know which one goes where.  But if my cuticle trimmer goes missing, what prayer do I have of maintaining such a system?  I’m lucky to find the drill and drill bits (and that thingy you use to tighten the drill bit- I think it’s called a “chuck tightener.”- I’m not even sure what a “chuck” is.) when some next-to-impossible household maintenance project comes along.  If my cuticle cutter is representative of the rest of life, I’d end up with the neat pegboard and the outlines of my missing tools.  And a few missing pegs while we’re at it.

I wish I could just hire “the guy,” for all of that.  Especially plumbing.  But I have learned, because we didn’t hire “the guy,” how to do lots of things.  But without the tool, I can’t do much.  And without the tool I can’t cut  my cuticles.  I don’t even know if, in the modern era of blood-borne pathogen awareness, manicurists are allowed to cut people’s cuticles.  I don’t think I want them to do that for me.  But that means I need it, more often than I need a drill.

I can understand, throw it away if it’s no longer sharp.  Fine.  But put it away, or back where I left it, if it’s still useful.  This weekend I realized that yet another has slipped away into the nail-tool black hole where all of my previous fingernail clippers and cuticle tools have fallen and disappeared forever.

These missing socks and gloves and tools and cuticle trimmers are like bits of my life that I have lost along the way.  Jesus said that he was like a vine-dresser.  If I’m the vine, He said He’d come along and cut away the stuff that was interfering with my spiritual growth, so I could bear fruit in my life.  I’ve lost touch with people.  Old friends don’t call.  Not that I miss some people, but sometimes I wonder what some of them are up to.  High School and college buddies.  Most of them I really liked.  Were they a negative influence on me?  Would I have been a negative influence on them and therefore was I the one who was pruned away?  Are these as replaceable as hat and mitten and socks?  They’re lost, and I feel a bit lost without my old connections.

When I win the lottery, they’ll be coming out of obscurity, I suppose.  But until then I was just a memory for them.  Was it a good memory?  Chess club after school.  Orchestra, and being in the pit for musicals.  I’m married, now, but then, some of those actresses…  Maybe we’d have been a negative influence on each other.  (Don’t kid yourself, MJ, you were a geeky loser, and you still bear most of those traits, says the accuser in my head.  Striking, how much that voice sounds like my sister sometimes.)  Friends in college that I absolutely adored.  They made me laugh, helped me to think, carried me through the doldrum days, helped me to forget the downward cycle that I regularly find myself trapped in.  And while I miss them, I don’t have a big vacuum in my life.  Other people have come along, like replacement gloves, and I’ve cared for them until they moved along and didn’t need me any more.  Or until I didn’t need them any more.  Or they moved a little farther away.  Or I moved.

For those of you (and you know who you are) who were supportive and caring friends in my past, know that I remember and still think fondly of you.  For those of you who gave selflessly to make sure my needs were met, motivated out of Christ’s love, I want you to know that you were God’s very hands to take care of me, and I appreciate you and your effort and sacrifice.  For those of you who turned my head (whether you know it or not), know that I’m glad neither of us gave in to temptation.  It wouldn’t have gone well.  If I turned anyone’s head, I wasn’t aware of it and I’m sorry if I disappointed you or made you sad.  For all of you, I hope God’s best for you, as I believe I have found God’s best for me.  Like the old song says, “somewhere on the other side, there will be an answer.”

I wish I knew how it all fit together, so I would be able to celebrate more how God is providing for me and protecting me.  Sometimes I don’t feel very well-protected.  Sometimes I don’t feel very well provided for either.  But I know in my heart that He does.  I have to trust in His character.

Just as I would celebrate if I ever locate the missing whatever-it-is, I know that God has a special place in His heart for lost people.  When they turn up He celebrates.  I’ve read, you may have read, the kingdom of Heaven is like that.  Celebrating finding that which was lost.  If you are lost, it’s not because God wants you pruned off the Kingdom of Heaven vine.  God wants you to seek Him, and when you do, I believe He’ll find you because He’s a good shepherd.  Once we’re in the right place, having sought out the Kingdom of Heaven, what He does with us is up to Him.  “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.”  We are his poeima, his artwork, his craftsmanship.  And we are also promised that if He starts something with us, He’ll complete it.

I belong to God.  I believe it with all my heart.  But to be honest, I frequently feel like a tool.  If I’m in God’s tool-shed, I’ve fallen off the pegboard, back into the dust and wood chips behind the workbench, and I don’t know if He’s just found a replacement tool, or if eventually I’ll be put to any good work.  What’s my purpose?  When will I figure it out?  When will God finish the work He’s started in me?  Anyone else feel like a misplaced tool, gathering dust behind the workbench because you’re not where the Craftsman thinks you should be?  I know how the lost get found.  What I haven’t figured out is how the found get found.  I’m better off because I once was lost lost, and now I’m found.  And I’m waiting for those instructions from God, so I can feel like I’ve been found found.

I recall from the Old Testament, two people.  First, Moses.  He spent 40 years, his youth, misplaced in Egypt watching people being mistreated.  He spent 40 more years in Midian, watching sheep.  And then he spent 40 years doing what God had purposed for him, which was to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery.  Joshua, before him, spent years as a boy and a young man, dreaming the dream that he would be important.  Then he spent years after his brothers sold him into slavery, and the time he was in jail because Mrs. Hottie Potiphar didn’t get what she wanted from him, before finally helping a lot of people survive a famine.  How many years before I can work on whatever it is that God has for me?

I have had dreams, big dreams for my life, and they haven’t come true yet.  Anyone else have that dream?  You know, but you’re not sure where or how to start walking toward it, working for it?  Anyone else feel like the substance of things you’ve hoped for is broken, and with it, your faith?  Anyone else feel lost and waiting?

And while you’re looking around, has anyone seen my cuticle trimmer?

What? January 14, 2015

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The last post left readers saying, “what?”  Yesterday I tried to write analytically about emotions and that’s very difficult for me to do, especially when I’m just feeling hurt and angry, or reflecting hurt and anger from recent experience.  I wonder if any of my readers ever wrote a letter and then decided a day later not to send it because of the damage it might do.  In the modern age of instant delivery, we rant and shoot off an email or a tweet without much thought of how it might hurt the person it’s being sent to.  Or bounce back and hurt the sender.

Most people I know are all genuinely beautiful, fragile creatures who put on a hard exterior show because they don’t want to get hurt.  Most people I like are those I’ve embarked on the journey of real friendship and we’ve lowered our guard.  There’s a language to friendship just like there’s a language to love.  The scary part of that is that everyone seems to speak their own languages and we’re all like travelers in another country when we start that conversation.  We know some of the words because we were curious, but we aren’t by any means fluent.

Maybe that’s half of the problem.

If you don’t speak the language you don’t know what’s offensive.  It could be a word, a phrase, a laugh at the wrong time, even a gesture or a facial expression.  We all come with baggage of our past histories.  I’ve probably offended people unintentionally just by expressing my opinions on this blog.  But my opinion is as valid as the next persons.  I don’t claim to be expert at anything, but I know what I know, think what I think, and believe what I believe, and I try to be logical.

Love doesn’t mean validating a behavior choice.  People say they don’t choose certain habits, they are born with them, and I agree.  When we are children our habit betrays us- we like to do the thing, whatever it is, that is dangerous, and it’s a parent’s job to intervene.  The parent who is wise knows a destructive direction, and either has to divert the child, or pick up the pieces in the aftermath.  The child doesn’t know and is curious, but chooses to do the thing.  So a loving parent does not validate the child’s curious behavior choice.  The parent either corrects, or diverts, or sweeps the brokenness up later.  I can love you and not validate the way you choose to behave, if I think it’s unwise.  If you ask me, I can teach you that there’s a better choice.  And you, another adult, can tell me where I can shove it.  And I can choose to point out that it’s impossible to do that.  It’s your choice as an adult to reject wise counsel.

This opinion of mine doubtless offends people who need or want my validation of their behavior choice.  I’m a Christ follower, I read the New Testament, and I think there’s wisdom there.  I read the Old Testament and there’s wisdom there too, but I don’t get all nit-picky with those details of God’s instructions to the Hebrews, lest someone decide I’m a bigger hypocrite than I am.  I’ve said it before.  If my wisdom, that I didn’t write down for myself, proves right and your house crumbles, call me and I won’t say I told you so.  I’ll just sweep up the pieces with you.  (and if mine does, kindly do the same.) When my child grabbed my coffee cup and accidentally dropped it from counter to floor, first I checked to make sure the child hadn’t been burned by hot coffee.  Then I removed the child from the dangerous broken shards, and swept.  I did tell my child to please be more careful in the future, and I did say, “I love you,” just so the child knew they were more important than a coffee cup.

OK, the pre(r)amble is over.

Q:  Who has offended me, who has disappointed me, who has lied to me, that I ranted so long and weird about yesterday?

A:  Lots of people.  I learn, and these lessons perpetually assert themselves annoyingly into my life, on a regular basis.

These are my lessons, my laws of relationships, not yours, but maybe there’s a kernel of wisdom in them for you to apply for yourself.  When I say “you,” insert “the writer,” if they don’t fit your experience.  With a proverbial grain of salt, here they are:
Postulate:  People are naturally critical.  One thing that unravels a relationship faster than anything else is a critical spirit.  It’s equally fatal at work and in a relationship.  But we’re naturally critical creatures.  I’m not pointing a finger of blame, but if you go into a room that’s freshly painted, you’re going to notice the spots the painter missed, before you commend them on the beauty of the coat of paint that covers the rest.  It’s natural.  But it’s dangerous, if taken to an important relationship.  If you are overly, or publicly, critical of an employer, they’ll very likely fire you in favor of someone who supports the company goals (or the bosses desire to get what he wants out of the relationship).  If you are critical of your spouse, they might try harder next time, but if the criticism continues it’ll fester and boil and bubble and eventually burst. If you want it to work, try praise, or constructive criticism.  A little honey goes a long way.  But this builds the foundation for:

Law 1:  People are going to disappoint you.
People have a funny way of showing you they love you, if they love you.  They’re going to communicate it in their own language, which is not going to match what you want or need from a loving relationship.  That’s going to disappoint you.  They’re going to give you what THEY need, not what YOU need.  It’s going to disappoint you unless you get a clue and start to give them what they want, which is what they gave you.  There’s time along the way, unless you take some drastic love-amputation action, to discuss as loving adults, what you want.  And when you do, they’re going to further disappoint you when they don’t change.  Your expectations and hopes are not going to be realized unless the person already speaks love in your language, and they don’t.  They have to learn it.

Law 1, Corollary Theorem A:  People don’t change.  They’ll try hard if they really love you, and they might even learn how to speak that love language for you, but it’ll be the hardest thing they ever do, and old habits die hard.  They’re going to relapse, or hate you for asking them for what you need.  (Whoa, “postulate?”  “Law?”  “Corollary theorem?”  Who knew this was going to be like your math or science book? – cue my involuntary flashback to Sam Cooke’s “(What a) Wonderful World (This Would Be).”  The truth is, we don’t know much about any of those subjects and love is possibly the most difficult class, even for those who are avid students.

Corollary Theorem B:  People lie.  I know why that is.  They love themselves.  They want what they want, even if it’s a short-term quick fix.  People go into life with their own agendas.  Sometimes they are transparent, other times it takes a little layer-peeling to figure out if they’re hiding something, or a few bad experiences.  Have I ever lied?  Sure.  Who lies?  People who want what they want, with reckless disregard for other people.  Who has lied to me?  Lots of people.  They got what they wanted, I learned what I learned, and I got out of the relationship as quickly as was possible for me.  Or I’m getting out, if I’m stuck there for some reason.  No, I’m not leaving my wife.  She’s quirky and speaks my language with this weird accent, I’m trying to get used to it and also learn her language.  She knows me better than anyone else, and if there’s a lie that would wreck it from my viewpoint, I haven’t figured it out yet.  It’s been 22 years, and in 22 more we’ll probably still have weird accents when we communicate that we love each other.

If an employer lies, it’s a bit more difficult to unravel, and to extricate yourself.  One needs an income stream, even if the employer lacks integrity.  That is on them.  So employers that have lied to me have gotten away with it until I was able to get out, which leads me to:

Law 2:  Get it in writing.  They have employment contracts, and they have marriage contracts.  If you really want it, get it in writing, or refer to Law 1.  If your would-be employer verbally communicates some promise before you sign on the dotted line, get that in writing before you sign or it’ll be worthless and they’ll do what their integrity (or lack of it) allows.  If your marriage is built on some foundational pillars that are different than mine, get that in writing too.

I have a verbal contract with God that should properly govern my conduct within our relationship.  I also have a verbal contract with my wife.  It doesn’t always get me what I want, and I don’t always do everything I promised in the way that I originally intended.  But we’re still working through, and occasionally enjoying, the relationship.  It’s very difficult, maintaining the effort.  And if I say that it means she’d say it too.  But when Pastor Hosea said “as long as you both shall live,” and I said “I will,” I meant it.  He was a great pastor.  For her, under his wise counsel, I memorized the entire chapter of Ephesians 5.

Guys love the part where it says “Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord.”  But it says “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for her.”  All she has to do is render respectful submission.  But he has to love her to death, to earn the respect!  Ugh.  So difficult to love, even if, and especially when, it means putting my wants to death.  The wants keep resurrecting, don’t get me wrong, and she has her ways, with that accent, of keeping me quite content.  But it’s with an accent, meaning it’s not spoken the way I think I want it spoken.  And if you asked her she’d say the same about me.  I hope. (Makes me a little fearful just thinking about it.  It’s why the character Tevia from Fiddler on the Roof was written the song to his wife, asking if she loved him.)

I have a verbal contract with my wife.  I agreed to stay married to her for a term of 99 years, with the option of 99 more if she agrees to it, unless one of us dies in which case our contract is dissolved.  I also contracted that if she ever decided to divorce me she gets full custody of the kids.  And she also gets full custody of me.  Because I don’t really ever want out.  Compared to every other relationship I hear about, ours is pretty awesome.  I don’t ever want to leave what I know, for the level of uncertainty that comes from starting again.  I feel very much completed, by her.  If there was a missing piece in me, before we were married, it was her.  I don’t believe, when I’m happy with her, that I could be happier with anyone else.  And I could be much less happy if I tried with someone else.  The eye candy shimmers and glitters in the window.  It’s beautiful, and I leave it in the showroom.  Tomorrow it’s still shimmering and glittering and beautiful.  Sometimes I wonder, and sometimes maybe even doubt my choice.  And I leave it in the showroom because I can’t afford it.  Trust me, you don’t want to pay that cost, and if you’re paying it, or if you’ve paid it, you know what I am talking about.

Law 3:  God is not a vending machine.  Sadly, the truth is that I’ve even been disappointed with God.  As the rain falls on the unjust, so also it falls on the just.  I won’t claim to fit in the just category.  But I’ll say that when I read the Bible, things I read into the promises aren’t always intended in that contract.  I’m misinterpreting when I read it that way.  Just because I ask God for something doesn’t obligate him to give that to me.  Contrary to some preachers, God doesn’t seem to intend that all of his followers be rich and successful and happy with their circumstances.

I wish they were right, but Jesus taught, “you will always have the poor.”  Many, maybe most, of His early followers in the church were very poor.  Who’s to say that by modern standards you might find yourself rained on economically, just as everyone else is?  And while persecution and martyrdom may mark a “success,” it’s not a happy circumstance.  And just because I can see the words in the Bible that some use to justify their opinion or their belief (or mine) doesn’t make it a correct way of handling the Word of Truth.  It’s not so much that God allows bad things to happen to good people, so much as that God allows people to be selfish and evil and in His mercy waits and doesn’t destroy the wicked immediately.  And thank God for that, because I have moments of selfishness and evil.  Not that any of you ever would.

So although my prayers have been answered with “no,” or “wait,” it only makes God a good Heavenly Father, a good Heavenly parent, redirecting or correcting.  My spiritual three year old still wants what he wants, but can’t have it.  I wish I could say I haven’t ever thrown a temper-tantrum about circumstances as an adult or as a child.  I can’t say that.  I wish I had that wise fatherly view over myself, to understand how His “no” or “wait,” whichever one it is, was in my best interests.  But I don’t get it.

God is intervening, redirecting, diverting me when I’m choosing a thing, because that thing isn’t His best, or my best, for my spiritual growth and development as a child of God.  I have to trust Him and believe that He loves me.  I’m not on His level, nor do I understand things the way He does.  It sounds so cliche, but He knows what is best, and we have to learn what He says is right, or tell Him where to shove it.  And He will then gently let us know why that’s impossible.  Or not- He’s not required to answer.  “Because I said so,” is a perfectly valid answer for a parent to offer their child.  At some level, a child trusts their parent, at least until they’re maybe 14.  Maybe I’m not a three year old, I’ve become that self-reliant, petulant, mistrustful, disrespectful, eye-rolling 14 year old- I still need His help, but I wish I didn’t.  It makes me angry that I haven’t inherited independence and strength sufficient to go on my own.  Trying to be entirely self-reliant only leaves me wishing I had remembered to do my homework, and dreading the failing grade that’s coming.  And I wish I understood what He knows and what direction I should take.  I wish I just trusted and knew what He wanted me to do.  I wish I could communicate in His love language.

And in human love, and in human friendships, we have to trust each other, try to figure out how to say what we need to say to each other, how to say it so it’s understood, , and work hard not to betray that trust.  We need to speak the truth in love, not just the harsh, critical sounding truth.  We need to encourage one another.  If we fail, we’re going to break.  If we succeed, by our labor, we’ll grow up well, and become stronger together.
Blessings.

Telephone Tag December 15, 2014

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It’s Christmas.  I’m enjoying everyone else’s excitement and fun.  But I’m a bit lost in it all.  Sure, we’re setting up our kids, and I hope to write a Christmas poem/song and a nice note for my wife.  We quit doing the stupid Christmas letter years ago.  Those letters we receive, and those letters we’ve sent in the past, were all about feeling positive about the present and the future.  Why bother?  So I quit doing it.  And my wife, not being the writer, didn’t take it up.  If you’re fond of writing, or reading, the Christmas letter, and getting the photo of the family, I love to read yours and see your pictures, and I’m not as critical of your writing as I am when I write my own.  We didn’t take one of those happy smiling photos either, so I’m sorry.  My wife and kids are more beautiful/handsome than ever, thank you for asking.

My wife tries to encourage me.  “We’ll be ok.  Smile.” Or something like that.

“OK” (Faking smile for 3 seconds)  “I’m ‘depressed-happy.'”

My pastor keeps hitting me with these “Messages from God,” and it’s only his second or third Sunday as Senior Pastor.  Last week he asked what we’d answer if God asked us to do something.  I’d assert that my answer is yes.  His example was Zechariah, who was asked to name his kid John and raise him to a high standard of behavior, and Elizabeth, who was asked to have a kid when she was kind of elderly for child-bearing.  This week he asked if we were available.  Yes again.  His example was Mary, who had done the right things in her youth, and was available to God for His purposes.  Well, who in the modern era has done the right things?  Not I.  But available?  Sure.  Let me know what you want me to do, and then give me the energy, inspiration and time to get it done.  I’ve got a little time if I sneak it in, or delay some pressing project that’s less than urgent.

Why am I “depressed-happy?”  Well, I like that people are gearing up for Christmas.  It’s cool.  The God I want to serve gets to be a focal point for people.  I’m getting ready for the Christmas Eve presentation at Church, and in the Sunday School class I teach, good kids every one, we talked about the Christmas story, Christmas carols, and poetry.  I encouraged them to read through what we know about Christmas from the source Texts, (Matthew, Mark, Luke) so they can separate fact from myth or poetic license.  That’s a good thing.  And we’re not in dire dire straits.  And my wife and kids are beautiful and relatively happy.  And my wife is very good, like fantastic, about wanting to take care of me and the kids.  So that’s the happy part.

What’s the “depressed” part?  The message I strongly feel is being directed to me is only getting halfway across.  I mean, Mary and Joseph and Zecharias got angels, for heaven’s sake.  Color me jealous.  They delivered a complete message of instruction.  Where’s mine?  Sure, it’d scare the crap out of me.  But at the same time, it’d be clear.  It’s like that telephone game you played as a kid.  Someone would whisper a message to their neighbor.  They’d whisper to their neighbor, and so on until the message got to you, and it was distorted, garbled, or mischievously changed.  I get the first half.  Be available.  Fine, sign me up.

I’m signed up because I still believe God is the only God there is, because God is the only One Who can adequately step in here, and because in my past… well, there’s a novel or two for you. One is a story of survival, the other is a love story, miracles and all, that I still treasure and cling to, although, the only angel in that story is my wife.  It’s just been a while since I’ve had a really good, hopeful chapter.

So I’m signed up.  Now I just need the means, energy, inspiration and time.  I don’t feel that i have any of that.  And for what?  For what I’m already going through?  Where do I sign up to escape from the stupidity of it?  Stuff falls apart, and this trend is not met with the resources to fix things I feel need to be  fixed.  So it waits on the repair pile until it becomes a crisis and then it gets a patch.  And whenever I start to see what might be a flicker at the end of the tunnel, something comes along and snatches that away just as fast as I thought I saw it.  Or maybe I didn’t really see it.

The Sunday school kids and I focused on the shepherds this week.  Color me more jealous.  The shepherds got a whole anthem of angels.  OK I made that plural designation up, they’re sometimes called a “flight” or a “host” of angels.  But being as they busted out singing, an anthem seems fitting.  I just want one.  Not a misfit “Clarence,” like in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  But if Clarence appeared in the room, I’d even listen to him.

I watched a movie the other day, I won’t tell the title because I don’t think anyone else should endure it on purpose.  It was a typical starter story line for a movie, mystery builds, bad stuff happens, and you wait for the ending to be happy:  The victims are rescued, the bad guys are exterminated or arrested and carried off to justice, the hero says something witty and smiles and everything is ok.   Not this movie.  The victims are all just killed, including the lady you think will live, and the credits roll.  Real life, I guess.  But I thought it sucked!  I brought it up because I don’t want my real life to be like that.  It sucks, and you die.  The end.  Roll credits.  Please.  No.

If God/Jesus is the hero of the Bible (and He is), then I want Him to be my hero too.  And I can identify with the shepherds before the angelic chorus broke out.

Dear God,

It’s me.  I’m still here.  I feel like a shepherd, watching my sheep.  I’m getting old here on this cold hill.  My bones ache, my muscles are tired, my skin itches, my eyes are out of focus (old glasses), my teeth are failing, and the sheep are boring, doing what sheep do.  They’re born, we shear them, we feed and care for them, they live, they die.  Not exciting.  And I want to sleep, but if I slow down things will fall apart even faster, and they’re already faster than I can handle.  The sole came off of the heel of my shoe the other day, and I think there are holes in my covering.  (At least some of these are metaphors.) I feel breezy and cold, and my foot is damp.

I’m trying to do the right thing, but then my humanity creeps in and sometimes I do what humans do, which is to screw up.  Sorry for not being pure and blameless all the time.  Not sure how Zecharias and Mary managed that.  I’m trying to help out, but I really don’t feel empowered to do more or give more.  I’ve got a dream, but, the pay is crap and I’m stuck here on this hill without the means or time or energy or inspiration to pursue it.  And I’m trying to pursue the dream without the means, in whatever spare time I might have, and I progress little by little, but most days I’m not feeling like I’m making any progress at all.

I don’t even have the right that Mary or Zecharias and Elizabeth might have claimed, to be chosen.  I’m not pure and blameless.  I’ve got age spots on my sins.  But I still want Jesus to be my Hero.  If He’s not coming in person, I still want Him to send help.  The shepherds had a cool story to tell, after that night.  Mary, and Zecharias, and Elizabeth, and the rest, lived out a pretty cool story too.  I understand the stigma Mary had to endure.  But her kid was Jesus, for heaven’s sake.  How comforting would it be to be “overshadowed by the power of God” (v35) Himself?

Right now the villain has me in his evil clutches.  I don’t want it to end like that movie.  Can my story have a happy ending, please?  And can You intervene for those out there that I know have it even worse than me, first?

Signed,
Me

I’m ready for Christmas.  I hope there’s a present under the tree for me.  I hope there’s at least one for you too.  And for everyone else who is crying out, I hope you’ll find hope in this season, too.  Give a listen to the song below.  It’s one of my very favorite bands, with a song that is close to my heart, although maybe right now we’re on the wrong side of it.  And may “God bless us, every one!”

Leviticus 11: A Caveat to the Called? July 22, 2014

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I have a lot of questions after my reading in Leviticus this weekend. I read the first 11 chapters of Leviticus. I have heard and read before about the death of Nadab and Abihu, but in my crisis of faith moment I am reading with quite a different perspective. Hence the questions, be they presumptuous or not. If they are presumptuous, I ask them at the very peril of my life, apparently. So, I pray for advance forgiveness before writing this out. If I’m not forgiven and grace isn’t offered, there will be no future posts on this blog. Or if WordPress crashes and doesn’t allow me to add posts. You won’t know, so my advise to you is to err on the conservative side before venturing into any kind of blasphemies yourselves.

Firstly, as Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu were in line to inherit the priesthood, if they weren’t serving already. Didn’t they know Aaron’s routines and how to do the fire and incense correctly? As a seminary graduate, this intrigues me and also scares me half to death. He judges justly, so what did they do wrong? Did they miss some required purification ritual? Did they forget and get the fire for the incense from someplace other than where they were supposed to get it? “Ash Zre,” transliterated “Fire Alien,” and then you reverse it because it’s Hebrew. So we get that somehow Nadab and Abihu offered alien fire before God, and it cost them their lives instantly, as if they were supposed to know better. Some commentaries I read suggested that because Aaron had been commanded by God through Moses to offer the sacrifices, it was Aaron alone who was authorized to do that, and not Nadab and Abihu. However, in the cases of Nadab and Abihu, the judgement of God was immediate. In the case of King Saul, for doing basically the same thing, he didn’t die instantly. Samuel did prophecy that he would die, and die he did, and that as a consequence for his actions his kingdom would be removed from him and from his family line. See I Samuel 13. However, I Samuel 13:1 says he started reigning at 30 years old, and reigned 42 years. The math says he died at 72 in battle. Historical Critical method argues his age, of course, looking for any possible discrepancy. There are answers, including having a son born in the year he took the throne, and the facts of him ruling through the terms of three high priests, making the arguments immaterial or spurious. But his sins, starting with offering the sacrifice presumptuously in place of Samuel and culminating with consulting a witch after Samuel was dead, did cost him the throne.

Nadab and Abihu make me ask myself: Do I really want a pastorate? What if I mess up something important? What if I’ve already messed up? But I do feel a sense of calling. From the Exodus passage from the last time our assistant pastor started to preach, about the modern church finding itself in an unseen Egyptian slavery, to another passage in Micah 7 about shepherding my own flock. Every time I read them I look for a pastorate and think about sending my resume out. I have sent it once recently, only to be sent a nice letter saying they are not considering hiring me. After all, I don’t have the kind of experience or credentials they are looking for. So why do I have a sense of a calling without an opportunity? I don’t have an answer for that question. So I wait.

The other questions, and here’s where I start treading delicately, start with, why did God judge Nadab and Abihu so harshly and yet allow the high priest and religious leaders in Jesus’ day to authorize the crucifixion without so much as a stomach virus? And they end with, if you’re going to kill Nadab and Abihu for the alien fire, why not deal with the current Catholic priests who have abused altar boys and committed who knows what other sinful acts under the cover of priestly robes, in a similar way?

Facetiously I’d say, if He did judge with that kind of swift action, firstly, there might be a job opening for those seeking pastorates a little quicker than the years I have bothered trying to find one, but then, I’d think twice about my own sins before I applied.

And with that, I’ll just ask you to say a prayer for me, of any kind. And I’ll say one for the readers as well.

Blessings.

June 6, 2014

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I was at the workplace for my part time job, and had just clocked in.  If you clock in early they fix the punch so you’re in at your appointed time.  But in fairness to them, if you clock out early they bump it forward to your appointed ending time, as long as their 7 minute window isn’t breached.  And, if you run out of work to do near the end of the shift, they pay you for a full day because you showed up.  It’s hourly, but they sometimes run out of work to do because the support staff behind our production team hasn’t fed the work to our system yet.  I was a little early and noticed a little button that said something like “view user information,” I had never clicked before.  So being as impetuous as I sometimes always am, I clicked it.

It showed my information, from the time I started working there until now.  But the verbiage used by the system was…  Well I’m not sure if it was hilarious or disturbing.  Maybe strange is the word I’m floundering for.  I’ll let you be the judge as I am still reflecting on what it means.

It said my start date but proclaimed it “The Beginning of Time.”  I swear I am not making this up.  Apparently the earth is younger than you all thought, as the “Beginning of Time” is somewhere in the latter part of 2006.  Take that, Old Earth-ers.  Not Millions and Millions as Carl Sagan estimated. Carl Sagan approximates the forming of the earth at about 4,142,465,753.42466 years ago – which puts the beginning of earth on about June 4 (http://peace.saumag.edu/faculty/kardas/Courses/HP/Lectures/sagan.html ).  Not spun into motion 6017 years ago, in October 4004 BC (James Ussher, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ussher_chronology).  Take that, Young Earth-ers. Nope.  My computer said “The Beginning of Time” was September 2006.  If it’s right because it’s on the internet, surely it’s just as right because my computer said it.  If life begins in the beginning, unless you were born after 2006, you, friends, are only 7 years old.

There was no end date or projected end date.  Instead it declared my end date as “Forever.”  No kidding.  If this is forever, I must have died and gone to heaven by now.  Wait.  Um…

http://img.izismile.com/img/img4/20111025/640/morning_picdump_640_high_18.jpg

Yeah, I’m doing it for my family and also for me.  And it isn’t paradise, but it isn’t hell either.

How old are you?  How old do you feel?  Friends of mine comment on my childlike impetuousity, some in less than flattering ways.  I’ve been described as an “old soul,” when tapped for wisdom, but if any wisdom I share actually works, I stole that from the Bible.  I’ve been described as “foolish,” even “childish.”  That’s the cold stinging truth, although it’d be nice if you toned that down and said I was “refreshingly childlike, with an irrepressible, youthful mind.”   And in life and marriage I’ll assert, I only feel 23.  That is to say, old enough to be legal and young enough everything is still good.  But this darn white hair growing in my beard…  and the silver threads creeping onto my head…  must be lying. When my back is sore, or my feet are tired, unless I am resting I feel about 65, which is telling me it’s time to retire and rest from whatever labor I’m involved in that’s making me so tired.  (For the record I am somewhere in the low middle in between those two ages.) 

∞ – that little math symbol means “infinity.”  I’m only awake from just before 7AM to just after 12:30 or 1AM, working the 8 hours in the morning and the 4 and a half part time at night.  I’ve been at this two job thing for a while, but it’s starting to feel like infinity.  Thank God it’s Friday. Sadly, I feel like I’m on a wheel trying to revolve it from need to pay the bills to paid the bills, and I’m afraid I’m actually on a Möebius strip, getting nowhere but back to the same side.  Same thing with arguments about certain things, they go nowhere.

I wasn’t here at the beginning of Earth-time.  I wasn’t here at the beginning of Creation or Big Bang or whatever flips your trigger.  Neither was Carl Sagan and neither were you.  Carl took what he thought to be an educated guess, it’s a theory, not something we can go back and prove.  Ussher did his calculations and took an educated guess, but he wasn’t there either and we can’t go back and see it happen so we can’t prove that either.  Does it make a huge difference to you if the earth is 4 billion, 140 million years old and started on June 4, or 6,017 and started sometime in October?  Scientific theory that wants to edge God out asserts they can prove theirs.  Scientific theory that wants to shove God in asserts they can prove theirs.  At the risk of having stepped in it, I actually believe the Bible tells it right, but I’m not as precise feeling about it as Ussher.  Speaking as a fan of Dr Who, maybe it’s one of those wibblywobbly things that, surprisingly, I don’t believe requires a precise answer.  It goes to show how people can take what they want and pay their money, and make their choices, no matter how foolish those choices may or may not turn out to be.  Whole religious movements started out because someone made a calculation, made a prediction, and the blind led the blind until they all fell into a pit.  Or someone said they found an ancient manuscript, but they don’t have it any more, because the hobgoblins took it to the mountain.  Or someone wrote a pretty good story with an intriguing philosophical viewpoint.  But that doesn’t make them right.  It doesn’t make what they wrote somehow holy, especially when the details are so paradoxically different from things like manuscripts and books they claim are also true.  Nor do the guesses of Jimmy or Carl, however educated, make them right.  God asked Job, near the end of his trials, if he (Job) was there when He (God) made the earth.  He stammered and fumbled.  Some actually take that verse and think God wasn’t being hyperbolic.  They actually believe he (Job) was there.  Well if he was there, he should have been able to answer.  In my humble opinion, none of us were there, so we don’t know.  Maybe God asked him by way of saying, if it’s My plan perhaps it’s outside the scope of your understanding, so hush and I’ll take care of things.  Or perhaps it’s the same as in Romans 9, where Paul talks about some vessels being created unto honor and some being created unto wrath.

Paul told both Peter and Titus (Titus 3, II Timothy 2) to steer clear of genealogies, and of probing the infinite depths of idiotic questions because they just start fights.  Whose family is better, yours or mine or theirs?  Well my ancestor was a President.  Well his ancestor was a bank robber.  Well your ancestor was famous.  Well his ancestor was a drunk. Well, well, well.  What have they done for me lately?  Is my life better because they did whatever they did?  Does not matter.  They aren’t here, they’re dead.  It means nothing to me, it affects nothing in my life.  When did the Earth get created, or form because cosmic particles coalesced and cooled in just the right random coincidental way?  Doesn’t matter.  I wasn’t there and neither were you.  Those answers mean nothing to me, and affect nothing in my life.  We’re here now.  What have we done lately to help another person or make things better?

 

People waste so much time arguing over how old God is, how old the Earth is, scientific and other pseudo-scientific and genealogical and genetic and dare I say Law, and other name-your-field inquiries that don’t go anywhere or contribute to the welfare of anyone except the person spending the grant money.  How do I get on that gravy train?  Ask a silly question and make it sound important enough to explore for an answer.  And then publish my findings in the scientific, or pseudoscientific, or legal, or Biblical Studies, journal.  The scientists are looking for God so hard they named a subatomic particle after Him.  Or maybe it’s just that they want God to be small.  It’s fascinating, but does it really contribute to a better world?

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?  a) You don’t believe in angels, or don’t believe in them the same way I do.  b) I don’t care.  Why would they do something so stupid? c) depends on the size of the angels and the pin.  Get one of each and we’ll measure. Historically that question was asked by way of sarcasm, at people who ask questions like it, trying to disprove the existence of God, or delve into mysteries that are worth less to answer than “Has your (homeless) neighbor eaten today?”  Are there ghosts?  If there are ghosts, why don’t you believe in a God who created souls, and all other things?  What about demons?  Have you read the newspaper? There’s so much evil I don’t even think Satan needs to send them out as he already owns humans who do enough evil in the world, they’re not necessary (call me crazy but I believe demons do exist, since I believe angels and God exist).  Can God make a rock he can’t move?  Someone or someones, actually took the time to write this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnipotence_paradox .  My head is spinning and I only looked at the first half of all of that.  But then I have my mind on other things so perhaps it’s just that I’m distracted.

In the spirit of jumping onto a gravy train and riding it all the way to the roast beef and mashed potatoes, I think it’d be fun to have one or two of those questions for my very own, with a per diem for my efforts, to ponder, to philosophize, to research, to write, and to publish until I am obscenely wealthy. until the earth is a better place and people are able to be better people because I was on it.

My favorite question reminds me of one of the old “how many fill-in-the-blank does it take to change a light bulb” questions.  It goes:

Q:  How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?  
A:  One.  But the light bulb has to really want to change.

In that same spirit, here’s my favorite foolish theological question and my own favorite foolish answer:
Q:  Can the Omnipotent God make a rock that He can’t move?  
A:  Yes, it’s called the human heart, or the human spirit.  That has to want to move (change).  See II Chronicles 16:9, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

Mental Note To Self:  He might strongly support me better if my heart was completely His. Maybe I wouldn’t need the night gig.

And Prayerful Note to God, please change my heart and fix my sights and my heart on You.  I want to see that.

Because God made us with free will, the first man, back at the beginning, had the ability to choose whether to obey or not.  He did the one thing God told him not to do.  He was advised it would cause bad things to happen.  He did it anyway, and then tried to put the blame on Eve.  More recently other legends have been written to explain the problem of evil.  Pandora’s box, a rose which by another name, again, just blames Eve.  Blame the Serpent, AKA Satan.  Blame Shiva, The Destroyer, who says destruction isn’t really a bad thing anyway.  Blame Loki, but he’s just playing a joke.  Blame Ahriman. Blame our strongly held illusions on our mutual path to enlightenment. Blame Voldemort.  Blame the guy who just selfishly and quite ignorantly, cut you off in traffic.  Or, look in a mirror.  Ignore the guy in the car behind you who’s flipping you the “you’re number one!” sign because you cut him off.  

Because we still have a free will, one of those principles which is rarely trumped, is that we have a choice to do things that are good, or do things that are bad, or fritter away our time doing nothing of impact and lasting value.  God doesn’t usually step in there and make us follow Him and do good work.  Just like Adam and the tree of knowledge options, Moses and the burning bush instructions, Noah and the ark blueprints, and Jonah’s ticket to Nineveh offered the choice of whether to do what God wanted or not, so also do we.  And then we live with the consequence of what was, or wasn’t, done.  Don’t get me wrong, God has been very persuasive in the past, so if it really needs to be done He’ll keep asking until someone comes along and does it.

If nothing else, it’ll keep you entertained and working hard in the time between “The Beginning of Time” and “Forever.”  I think those questions people ask like that say something about the position of their hearts, more than the depth of their character on being able to ask some unanswerable question.  The dawn of time, the age of the Earth, they mean nothing to me, and affect nothing in my life.  We’re here now.  What have we done lately to help another person or make things better?  And because we can’t go back to the past, what’s our plan for the future, and for eternity? 

Will we bury ourselves in minutiae and questions that don’t go anywhere?  Will we bury ourselves under mountains of proof of how good our family ancestry was, as if that furnishes some kind of proof of how worthy we are?  Or will we listen and see if God calls us?  And If we hear the call, who will answer?  Why not you?

Why not me?

I believe He calls all of us.  I may have questions and doubts just as Moses.  I may run the other way just as Jonah.  I may disobey just as Adam.  People may call me crazy, like I’m sure they called Noah as he was building the ark.  But I hope my answer is yes, when He calls me.  And I hope your answer is yes, too.

Memorial Day 2014 May 27, 2014

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My son went to a local cemetery this weekend, where, as a service project, he and his fellow Boy Scouts planted hundreds of flags to commemorate American veterans buried there.  This was not a military cemetery, and for a non-military cemetery, to me it seemed like there was a high proportion of military to non-military.  I followed along behind the scouts, finding a few here and there that had been missed by the over-excited scouts as they scattered to carry out their assigned tasks.  The few markers that were missed were small and harder to notice than the bold lettering on the grave markers.  I went to church, too.  It was Memorial Day weekend, so naturally I also watched Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  And after it cooled down on Monday, I worked in the yard.

At church, our pastor spoke well about wealth and how Christ-Followers ought to handle it.  As I am currently outside of that circle, I confess to have really tried to tune it out.  But what he said, to those with money, was a good message.  He wasn’t deliberately trying to avoid the subject of Memorial Day, but was following the track of preaching through his texts systematically, verse by verse, currently in Matthew 6.  A couple of weeks ago he had spoken about prayer and fasting.  I often wonder what visitors think if they come on holidays, and if they came Sunday, they probably made our church out to be another one of those that always talk about money and how we ought to give more out of our abundance.  But on the contrary, messages about money are pretty rare at this one. He tied it in a little by saying that how we use our money shows our character, and our character tells others how we will be remembered.  Do we leave a godly legacy behind, or a monument to self that is destroyed and stolen?

I thought while I was working in the yard about how people try to fake it through life.  They say one thing, but their lives, and their checkbooks, say something different.  I pulled thistles from my yard, tucked in and hidden in the corners, and I looked at them thinking about how they try to stay inconspicuous until they are huge.  While they are small, they might be mistaken for ordinary dandelions, but when they grow bigger, the thorns become more obvious.  And if allowed to mature, the blue flowers don’t match the sunny yellow dandelion.  This then, was the explanation of another text, where Jesus defends his ministry by teaching “by their fruits you will know them.”  The same Jesus told sinners to turn away from sin, told hypocrites off after He called them out, and once made a whip to redirect the livestock, and flipped over tables in the temple when they were selling grace to people who could afford it at their prices.  He didn’t fake it.  When He loved he loved, and when He didn’t like a behavior He told people to leave it and follow Him.  He called out the hypocrites because they had a counterfeit religion based on fear and power and money, not on love and helping others. 

I keep pulling the weeds of sins- temptations, bitterness, complaining, etc., out of my life, and they keep seeding my lawn like maple samaras, or “helicopter” seeds.  We have two of those trees.  I raked and my wife swept in the cool of the day Monday, and we got a lot.  But there are too many to pull every one of them up from the grass, so if any try to take root, I’ll have to mow them down.

And while the viewing of Revenge of the Sith is not my normal habit on Memorial Day weekend, it did give me something interesting to think about.  We have counterfeit weeds masquerading as dandelions, we have counterfeit lives masquerading as “good people,” and we have counterfeit religions masquerading as the real thing.  In the movie, Emperor Palpatine revealed his evil, powerful nature when pretending to be good and weak were no longer needed.  He was a counterfeit, like so many of us are in real life, pretending to be good and humble, but when given the opportunity our dark, pride-filled hearts are revealed.  Hear Lord Sidious, Emperor Palpatine, tell his “legendary” story of his own Sith master, Darth Plagueis:  “He became so powerful… the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, and then one night, his apprentice killed him in his sleep. It’s ironic that he could save others from death, but not himself.”  

How curiously close to another familiar quote:  “He saved others; but he can’t save himself,” found in Matthew 27, Mark 15, and Luke 23.  The people thought Jesus was starting another counterfeit religion and mocked him in his “powerlessness,” not realizing what was happening around them.  When your religion, or your idol, is power, you pursue that and your life becomes memorialized by your pursuit of power, with all of its’ truth and consequences.  In the end, our pursuit of money and power becomes empty and we are gone, spent on that.  Jesus’ religion on the contrary was about giving up power- Matthew 17:25, Luke 9:24 and Luke 17:33- in order to see how powerful He is.  Because He saved others, and because He returned from death, he was evidently able to not only save others, but also himself.  “Father, Into your hands I commit my spirit,” said Jesus, quoted in Luke 23.  And then He laid it down.  It wasn’t taken from Him; (John 10:17-18) he was in control the whole time.  Strength, real power, isn’t always seen in showy displays, rumbling thunder, lightning, earthquakes like on Sinai in the Exodus wilderness.  Sometimes it’s shown by restraint, and keeping it under control.

With religion, one has to be careful to search it out and compare diligently, to make sure it’s not a counterfeit.  The real one won’t change with the times, and the bending ideologies of humans, if it’s the same God behind it.  The real one won’t have contradictions in teaching.  The real one, if followed, should be applicable to everyone, available to everyone, and make us better for following it. The real one will tell us God loves us, and we should love one another, yes, but will also honestly address and deal with the problem of sin without trying to make us work for salvation.  Because, how would we ever know if we’ve done enough good works or prayed enough prayers?  If the leader says you haven’t done enough, won’t you do more to earn your salvation?  How far will you go with that?  Will you do a bad thing, or sanction a bad thing, because your leader or your peer group said it’s good?  (Isaiah 5:20)  Will you hate other people because they don’t agree with what you believe, instead of loving them and merely hating the sinful behaviors they choose and habituate or endorse?  What about your own (what about my own?) habits that you know are bad?  Aren’t they just as bad if your God is perfect and sinless?  Better for us to adjust to the side of grace, if we’d like to receive grace ourselves.  God changes people, not by external commandment, but from inside, from the heart.  Counterfeit religion is made up by men as they go along, and will reveal impure motives of acquiring money, power or popularity, eventually.  It’ll be exposed.  Some even teach that killing another person, as long as it’s done for God, is all right, when we know from universally accepted standards of right and wrong that, basically, killing other people is bad.  Some have even written their own Bibles or extra “holy books,” or rewritten the one we have, to support their specific claims.  As good as any religion may sound, the origin of true religion that reaches God has to come from God.  If they make, or have made, a prophecy, it must have come true to be of the truth.  If it didn’t, it’s a lie.  Count the religions which predicted Jesus’ return that hasn’t happened yet.  Counterfeit religion also frequently concerns itself with outside appearances, more than on the heart.  Count the religions that say you have to dress and act this way and submit to their authority without question, to get to heaven.  There have been a number of cults that ended very badly by submitting to whatever the leader said to do.  By contrast, the Bereans in Acts searched the scriptures diligently to find out if what Paul was teaching was the truth.

In some ways, money would make it easier to make ourselves look good.  We can give larger sums of money to charity.  We can buy suits or pretty dresses, fancy cars, big houses, have facial surgery to delay the appearance of aging.  We can pay people to say nice things about us that cover over the negative things we’ve done.  In my line of work there is something called a “media search” where companies pay us to search the internet, periodicals, and other media, for comments about people.  Where there is defamatory information, one can pay to have positive things posted to make the negative harder to find.  

In my own life, I could search for myself and find a certain famous Australian singer from American Idol, season 7.  Under cover of his fame, my infamy- my blogs and my online games- are pretty much obscured unless you know what you’re looking for and have a good idea where to find it- but I do like Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, and Pacxon.  And my blatant faithlessness and other sins against God and family are as secret as my family will keep them, since I couldn’t pay to avoid any blackmail.  If they come out I may as well confess in advance:  it’ll probably all be true.  When I fail, which happens all the time, I ask God for grace and mercy and forgiveness.  I would hope others would know that when we follow in faith, and ask, according to First John 1:9, God is faithful to forgive and clean us up, and start us on the right path again.  Thank God.

I followed behind the young scouts, looking for the less obvious markers on the graves.  I did it with the motive that if a veteran’s family came by, they wouldn’t think poorly of the scouts for having missed the one.  But God’s not really doing anything to make a church look good.  I think God will pay attention to the markers in our lives that are smaller and easier to miss than the grand, showy displays of power, like people who give out of their abundance.  He won’t pay attention to the things we do to draw attention to ourselves.  He will look for people who do what is right when no one is watching, who give in spite of their own needs.  He will look for genuine faith from people who trust and hope and give their all in spite of all the odds.  And He will make sure they are remembered.  And thanks to His efforts and restraint on the cross, my sins are covered and my debt to God is paid in full.  If He remembers nothing of what I have done because it’s been covered, I think it’s fine as long as my feet get on the right side of those pearly gates.

In the sermon, the joke about money was at the expense of the rich miser who didn’t give much at church.  (I had to laugh thinking, did the rich guys at our church listen as I did?)  His mansion was said to be smaller than the maid’s and the butler’s who gave out of their need.  St. Peter quipped of the small heavenly hovel, “we did the best we could with what you sent us.”  And maybe it’s true, the mansion is smaller when the sacrifices made aren’t sacrifices.  I don’t care about the size of any mansion or hovel; I just don’t want to be homeless in eternity, or to have too much heat, all year, if you know what I mean.

While remembering the fallen, laid to rest in their graves, I can’t help but remember that Jesus promised that we would follow where He went.  Then, He showed us death isn’t the end, and following Him means from the grave to the heavens (John 14:3).  

 

I want to follow Jesus, and His way of Love.  So I pray, Lord Jesus, lead the way, and help me follow.