Sunday, January 30, 2005
She loves me ... she loves me not. She loves me ... she loves me not. She loves me ... she loves me not... How I remember those times when I was unsure of Her Love. "Her" could have been any of a dozen female types for whose love I longed. Most of us remember the moment we discovered she, or he, loved us in return. What exhilaration! We felt like dancing on clouds, shouting our love to the world. No more picking apart those poor daisies! No more longing for the love of that special "other". A few years ago I dreamed of a love that went even beyond that "daisy-picking" love of youth. In that dream I found myself talking with a young man because he carried a Bible. At first, I thought he was a brother in the Lord. But soon I spotted the book's title: The New World Bible. The guy was a Jehovah's Witness. During our conversation, he tried probing with the usual, divisive questions. Instead of trying to answer them, however, I concentrated on our common values, and the Bible's living role in our lives. I wanted him to realize that "members of Christendom" could be Christians, too. That his Theocracy was, in fact, a worldly organization, not to be confused with God's kingdom. But before I could get to all that good stuff, I began feeling a love for him that transcended any love I'd felt for a human being. I longed for him to realize how much God loved him, not because he sold books door-to-door, but because he lived, and for no other reason. When I awoke, I continued feeling that unprecedented love. I pondered the dream and the love that lingered from it until I realized why it had happened: God allowed me to feel an infinitesimal part of His love, even for a young man who pursued error. Then, for the first time in my life, I realized that was the kind of love God had for me. I realized being a Christian wasn't about holy living or my personal doctrine and convictions, despite those things' importance, but about receiving God's love through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, and relaying it to the loveless world around me. I learned holy living and all that good religious stuff should flow out of a unique, God-given love-conviction, and outside of that order, all religious activity was nothing more than a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. The joy I felt far transcended any I had felt when The Lady Of My Dreams declared her love for me. Rather than dancing on clouds, I danced on stars. And rather than simply enjoying that sensation, I realized it wasn't mine to hoard. The joy I felt must go out to the world, even as the angels sang at Jesus' birth. The world must know that God already proved his love to this fallen humanity, and whether or not we feel it as God allowed me to, His love is there, even for the most depraved of us. From that dream on, the daisy community was safe from my petal-picking hunger for love. But God's infinite love had found another conduit to a love-deprived world.
Saturday, January 29, 2005
I happened upon a web site for the Militia of the Immaculata, a group of people who defend and propagate the Roman Catholic teachings about Jesus' mother. Having been raised a Catholic, I was for many years encouraged to venerate Mary. My teachers proclaimed that she was the only woman conceived without original sin, and that after the immaculate conception, she remained a virgin. In honor of those two distinctions, we prayed to her for her intercession with her Son, Jesus. The Rosary was our most powerful prayer tool, and a novina of(nine) Rosaries was enough to gain freedom from Purgatory. We called it a Plenary Indulgence. Down at my level of reprobation, such things were too high for me to consider. I heartily believed the ecclisiastical verdict that I was a depraved sinner forever, and my only hope for heaven was to confess my sins to a priest whenever I was within visiting distance of a Catholic church, and if I was lucky, to have a priest give me the sacriment of Extreme Unction when I died. Because everybody knew God's grace was only available through sacrimental indulgences. When I started reading the Bible, however, somehow I knew it was God's Word, and the only absolute truth in this depraved world. And when it didn't align with my catacism and other Catholic teachings, Tradition simply didn't cut it as an excuse. Much of what the Catholic church teaches about Mary isn't in the Bible. And according to that Good Book, Jesus is the only intercessor between God and mankind. In fact, For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6) Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12) And that's just scratching the surface of Catholic teachings that don't jive with the Bible. Some Catholic teachings, in fact, are pure herisy: At the top of the list is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Catholics must attend mass once a week as--not just a reenactment of Jesus sacrifice on the cross, but as its reinstatement. In short, Jesus' one-time death was not enough to gain our salvation. In answer, the Bible says, By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:10-14) So, today I am not a member of the Catholic church. And not only that, but I can't see how people who cling to Catholicism's apostate teachings can hope for personal salvation. Yet I have personally known Catholic brethren who bore the pure fruit of God's Spirit. And there are many Catholics who have lived exemplary lives of Christian love and faithfulness. Among them are Maximilian Kolbe, who gave of himself constantly, until he offered himself as a substitute for a married man who was doomed to die at Auschwitz. And of course everyone has heard of Mother Theresa, who spent her life tending to and defending the nobodies of Calcutta. They, and many others, offered their lives because they so acutely felt Jesus' love for themselves, their neighbors and their enemies. My only conclusion can be that regardless what religious affiliation people claim, if they love the Lord God with all their bodies, minds, souls and spirits, and their neighbors as themselves, they obey the Greatest Comandment. Even if they never walk the sawdust trail, accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as their own Personal Savior after an evangelistic service according to the Evangelical Protestant standard; even if they call themselves Catholics, or maybe Seventh Day Adventists, or even Mormans or Jehovah's Witnesses, and they love God and accept His grace through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross--or torture stick--maybe even those people have a hope for eternal life. I've long held that adherants to all religions will be surprised who they find in heaven--and who they won't find. Our salvation is God's business, and maybe, just maybe, those of us who presume to judge others' eternal destiny will find ourselves out in the cold--or fire--for eternity.
Friday, January 28, 2005
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1) Since our culture tends to focus on the negative, I'll look at the opposite of that verse: Ignore how bad and unpleasant it is for brethren to dwell divided in disunity. Now, that's easy to do because it's typical of congregational "life", not only today, but since Yeshua established the church. We seem to be happier and more fulfilled when we ignore our corporate attitudinal problems, our interpersonal squabbles and our factitious divisions. If it is indeed good and pleasant to dwell in unity--as it must be since Bible tells says it--then it is bad(translated, sinful)and unpleasant not to. The question is, "If disobeying is unpleasant, why do we persist in it?" One answer is, "Habit." Now, that's one of those exceedingly long short words, because it seems deceptively simple. Though many of us came to Messiah at a relatively early age, the habit of living in the flesh and successfully ignoring it became ingrained. The Bible calls it the Old Man, or the Flesh. Since God commands us, through his Word, to crucify that guy and leave him there to rot in God's light and heat ... well, we need to do it. We need to do it, just as a living body needs to breathe. We don't breathe out of obedience; it's part of living. And we all know what the converse of that is ... (DISCLAIMER: While the philosopher will pick at my use of converse in this essay, it suits my meaning better than the more strictly correct word, opposite ... so there!)
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
It is marvelous, being humanity's only creation that can simultaneously simplify the complex, and complicate the simple. It is essential for contemplation, for conceptualization and for communication, but they are late in the thought process. So what comes before? What precedes language? The seed of thought is the essence of God: imagination The Bible says God spoke the universe into existence. That's communication. But what of the first three steps in the process? Since God created humanity in His image, one might conclude that His thought process is similar to ours, though infinitely superior in scope. God's speech was the engine of creation, so if His thought process is indeed similar to ours, He began with imagination. And what an imagination it is! Every detail of the cosmos, from the physical law that rules the material universe to the minute substructures within each living cell, occurred to Him as an idea. Our temporal minds can't wrap themselves around the infinite, eternal God. Somehow, He knew throughout eternity exactly how His creation would play out. At no point in eternity did he not see every detail of His universe, from beginning to end. Yet, He chose words--language--to bring about His creation. What power words have! As language users, we have the responsibility to communicate with care. What we say has its own effect, regardless what we intend by it. We cannot imagine what would have happened if God had misspoken His creation. Of course, that is impossible, because by definition, anything God speaks is perfect. But we don't enjoy perfection as one of our attributes. Unlike God, we can accidentally destroy when intending to build up. Language is at once, our blessing and our curse. What it does in our hands is our responsibility. And its fruit will judge us.
Proverbs 20:6 Many a man proclaims his own loving-kindness and goodness, but a faithful man who can find? (Amplified) Just as I suspected! Watch closely, those who proclaim their wonderful walk with the Lord, their faithfulness in prayer, their sinless perfection. Glowing testimonies as often as not intimidate the audience. Like the Publican, when the Pharisee stood in the temple "thanking" God that he wasn't like the sinners, honest seekers listen with broken hearts, craving the kind of life that would produce such a wonderful relationship with God. The seeker, more often than not, doesn't realize that only foolishness toots its own horn. The wise, the holy ones, those intimate with God, only know how short they fall compared to God's perfect standard. And all they care about is becoming more like Jesus.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
I beg my vast audience--yeah, you, over there in front of that computer--to forgive my laxity, or laxative, whichever applies. My excuse is, "I've been incredibly busy editing a friend's book, which was on a short deadline, so I couldn't break away to my own stuff." Now, isn't that an excuse to pull the ole hartstrings? So today I was about to offer that excuse and be done with it, but I read Robin Parrish's INFUSE magazine newsletter editorial about breaking loose and following the dream God gave you. I simply had to send Robin my thoughts, which ultimately wound up here, at my mind's dumping ground. I was about to send Robin's message to my son-in-law, 'cause messages should always be applied to "them" first, but I realized my son-in-law sometimes jumps the track he's on, in favor of new pursuits. In fact, most of us--yeah, myself included--tend to jump the track more often than we fail to pull out of the station to begin with. It's easy to succumb to the seductive "new" when the "now" seems difficult. We all need to ask one question before we chase our dream: What put me on this track? Did I believe God directed me this way? (okay, that's two questions, but hold your seat!) Is this dream on hold, or did I reach God's goal for me here? Before we begin something new, regardless how "God ordained" it seems, and the operative term is seems, we need to finish what we last started. Robin's encouraging message is great for those who are searching for God's next step, but we must first finish the step we're on, lest we risk a nasty crash from jumping God's track. Before I leave, I must recommend INFUSE magazine for anyone who enjoys popular culture while following the Way. With careful consideration, they can be compatible. And if God directs, a thorough understanding and appreciation of Pop Culture can augment one's ministry. Jim
Sunday, January 16, 2005
There lived a young lady whom the citizens of the kingdom called Princess Relucent, which seemed to her exactly right. After all, the lady had at least a teaspoon of blue blood in her veins--that much was sure--and she supposed her name was somewhere in line for the Throne. Of course Princess Relucent always deported herself properly for a royal person. One day her father learned that the prince of a far kingdom sought a bride. So he sold the last of his treasures--though her family was of royal blood they had fallen upon hard times--to transport Princess Relucent and her dowery to meet the young man, for she was quite fair. Now the highway that Princess Relucent traveled became more and more rocky with larger and larger rocks. Suddenly, one of the carriage's wheels broke with a great crash. “You there,” Princess Relucent called through the small window behind the driver, “what has happened?” “Sorry m'lady, but we's broked a wheel.” “Well don't sit there like the fool you are, fix it!” “Your father didn't give tools to carry along b'cause your baggage filled all the carrying space. We'll 'ave to take the broked wheel and ride to the nearest smithy.” “Are you saying we shan't continue until you get the wheel repaired?” “I do believe that's what I says, m'lady.” “Well ...” Princess Relucent was nearly lost for words, “... of all the stupid, lazy, incompetent, low-born drivers Father might have hired, you are no doubt the worst. This is unacceptable!” “I'm sorr--” “You shall prepare the best horse for me to ride, and be quick about it.” “I needs the best 'orse for the broked wheel, b'cause it be 'eavier than the both of us.” “You forget your protocol, driver, for you are speaking to One of Royal Blood. You shall be suitably punished. Prepare the horse, I tell you, or it shall go the worse for you.” The driver unhitched both horses, removed the broken wheel and secured it to the harness of one horse, then threw his carriage blanket over the other, for Princess Relucent's convenience. “Your 'orse is ready, your 'igh-ness.” Princess Relucent was so pleased to hear of the driver's progress, and his more respectful manner that, as usual, she failed to notice his sarcasm. He opened the carriage's door, but when Princess Relucent prepared to step out, she noticed the damp earth where her slipper would alight. “Driver, where is your blanket? I must have it to step onto, or I'll soil my slippers.” “Sorry, your 'igh-ness, but you says to prepare your steed, so I does it. The blanket is on 'is back, await'n your ... self.” Princess Relucent looked up, past the driver to the blanket-clad horse, and her eyes grew two-sizes larger. “The blanket is on the horse ...” “As I says, mum.” “With no saddle! Surely, even one as stupid as you can't expect a Royal Lady to ride without a saddle.” “It's not as if we've got one along, mum.” “I'll have you flogged within an inch of your life, you lazy man! First you embark on this dangerous journey ill-equipt, then you continue forgetting your protocol. What am I to do ... tell me, man!” “It seems as you 'as two choices, 'igh-ness. You can set astride the 'orse like regular folk, or you can wait 'ere whilst I get the wheel r'paired.” Princess Relucent thought at length, but neither option suited her, for she was entirely used to getting her way. Finally she said through clenched teeth, “You shall make me comfortable here and proceed with all haste to the nearest smithy.” And so he did. When the clip-clop of hooves finally awoke Princess Relucent, for she had fallen fast asleep, lengthening shadows told her the hour was late. Assuming the sound came from the returning driver's horses, she began reeling off her best nastiness as she poked her head out a window. But instead of the driver, a wizened old man wearing a monk's habit approached. At the sight of him, Princess Relucent closed her mouth to dam up the hatefulness that was pouring out. “Hello young woman,” said the monk with a quizzical expression. Without a second thought, Princess Relucent addressed the monk in the tone she felt suitable to her station. “You there. My name is Princess Relucent, and you will address me with the deference due my station.” “Oh, yes Your Highness.” He slid off his donkey and bowed low at the waist. “I beg Your Royal Clemency, Highness, for my stupidity. Any fool would see that You are of Royal Blood.” Princess Relucent beamed. “Well, I suppose I will grant mercy this once, for I am gracious to a fault. Now, kindly give me your donkeys that I might continue to the next kingdom, for I am to be wed, you see.” “O Your Highness, might this humble wizard address Your Majesty?” Princess Relucent beamed even more, nearly damaging her neck for her nose's high attitude. “Granted.” “O Your Highness, if you please, my poor name is Merlin, and my magical powers, though pitiful compared to Your Majesty's, are well known. Has Your Majesty heard of me?” Princess Relucent's eyes grew three-sizes larger, for indeed she had heard of Merlin, the fabled wizard. “O Royal Magnificence, Your kindness to Your humble servant deserves all that I can do as recompense for my miserable manners. Is there any favorable spell that I might, with my slight powers, work for Your Excellency?” Princess Relucent smiled her most beatific smile. “Yes ... I will try to think of some trivial favor you might work for me.” Princess Relucent thought and thought. Then her eyes brightened and she said, “Are you able to make me even more beautiful than I am?” Merlin pounded his chest in atonement. “O Exquisite Highness, my powers are not those of a god, to improve upon perfection. But I will happily do my best. Might You desire that I should also work another spell? For if I prove able to do the impossible, there is much more that I might do for Your Highness.” Princess Relucent's eyes grew even brighter. “Why, yes, I believe there is something. Make my beauty last, unchanged, forever.” Merlin smiled modestly. “If I am able to do the impossible, granting such a request should be simple. Would there be anything more for Your Loveliness?” Princess Relucent stroked her chin in thought. “Make my fortune such that I shall never be in need.” “Done, Your Elegance. And ...?” This time she thought at length. Finally, to make herself appear more humble, she added, “Make me a shelter for those less fortunate, who live on the land.” “You are, of all, most generous, O Royal Beneficence. Of course I will do that for Your Highness.” With that Merlin stood, blank-faced, for a long time. Eventually, Princess Relucent's patience ran short. “Is there a problem, Merlin? You haven't moved since you granted my requests.” Merlin bowed low again. “Oh, a thousand pardons, Most Royal Princess. I have simply been remembering my conjuring books, gathering a list of materials I will need to work my spells for Your Highness. And with Your Royal Sufferance, I am ready to assemble those materials. What I need to work my spells must belong to Your Majesty. And it must be by way of a small treasure, but certainly nothing more than a pittance of Your Majesty's fortune. Has Your Majesty anything on hand with which I might work my spells?” Princess Relucent frowned, thinking of her dowery, locked securely in the boot of her carriage. At length, she nodded, and demurely passed the key to Merlin. “Take what is in the boot, but if I am not satisfied, you shall return it all to me at once.” Merlin took the key and bowed low. With the help of his cane, he limped to the boot, opened it, slid the chest out to examine its contents, and smiled. Then he limped back to his donkey, removed the blanket on which he had been seated, and placed it on the ground outside Princess Relucent's door. “It will be enough. Now, if Your Highness will favor Your servant to descend from Your royal carriage and stand proudly erect, I will work my spells.” Princess Relucent thought it an odd request, but she stepped to his blanket and stood tall. “Now, Your Highness, please smile to show Your perfection, that I might attempt to augment it and make it immortal.” So that she did. “And only one thing more. Your Highness's right hand might be raised as if blessing Your subjects.” So she did that too. And Merlin withdrew a black, velvet pouch from his bodice, opened it, poured a small amount of its shimmering dust upon his hand, held it to his lips, and blew it on Princess Relucent. She stood, still as a statue, with only her eyes moving, but very quickly. Gradually, Princess Relucent's gown began changing from its royal purple to the color of marble, and that color began radiating outward toward its fringes, and beyond, to her exposed flesh. When the change reached her feet, it continued into the blanket on which she stood and it became a heavy, marble base. And when the change finished with the tiara upon her head, Princess Relucent's green eyes slowed to a stop, and the color faded into the same marble that now comprised her entirely. Merlin sadly gazed down at the base that had once been his riding blanket and sighed. “I shall certainly miss that blanket.” Then he hurried, without a limp, back to the dowery chest, hauled it to his second donkey, and secured it to the pack. Finally he rode off, whistling a merry tune. The next morning, the carriage's driver returned with the repaired wheel, and when he spied Princess Relucent standing there with birds perched upon her tiara, he chased them off, saying, “Be gone with you! How disrespectful.” Then he mounted the wheel, hitched up the horses, and with great effort, heaved Princess Relucent backward into the carriage and closed the door. Finally he drove back toward home. Princess Relucent's father shook his head with amazement when he opened the carriage's door and saw his marble daughter. Then he looked to the driver and said, “What of the dowery chest?” “Why, it's gone sir.” Princess Relucent's father scratched his head for a moment, then said, “Well, all's not lost. This should fetch a fine price from the statuary merchant.” And so it did, for it was the most beautiful and realistic statue he had ever seen. When, after a long while, a rich nobleman happened to find Princess Relucent gathering dust and bird droppings in the statuary yard, he called the merchant over to make him an offer. “My good man, this is the most remarkable statue I've ever seen. But for the eyes being four-sizes too large, it would be perfect.” And so the nobleman bought Princess Relucent and placed her in his garden, where her base became a shelter for the ants and worms of the land.
Saturday, January 15, 2005
This morning I experienced an awakening. If I hadn't, I'd still be asleep, wouldn't I. During this morning's awakening my muse blew me into a story about a spoiled young lady who thought of herself as a princess, though she had hardly more than a teaspoon of blue blood to her whole body. As I awakened further, however, my mind became too heavy for even the mightiest muse to blow the story anywhere, so it skidded to a stop. Well I thought and I thought, and I thought some more. But only the heaviest profundities came to mind. I wondered, Am I hopelessly bound to wakefulness? because the more awake I was, the heavier my mind became. At last I decided my bed was too warm and comfortable to abandon at that moment, so I pulled my covers halfway over my head--only halfway because I wanted air more than perfect repose--and closed my eyes. Then, what do you know? My muse, which had been blowing steadily all the time, began moving my story along. And now that my keyboard lies at my fingertips, the spoiled young lady's adventures gradually evaporate from my memory like a pleasant dream. Goodbye, young lady. Of course, my morning-time story has a moral: The muse is a gentle zephyr, and the ship too heavily laden she will not blow far.
Friday, January 14, 2005
Sometimes my mind gets locked into word-association games. Driving home from work, I listened to a song about faith, and began thinking of words related to its concept. I came up with belief, trust and confidence, and tried to relate them to faith, to discern their differences in meaning. First, they all flow from faith. The dictionary tells us belief is an idea or concept held to be true. It can be based on evidence, or not. Trust and confidence are closely related as the belief that something won't let us down. That's why we assume a rope won't break, when we're dangling by it a thousand feet above jagged rocks. After checking any number of dictionaries, the Biblical definition of faith is--wonder of wonders--far and away the best. “Now faith is the essence of things being hoped, the evidence of things not having been seen.” (Heb 11:1) Faith is an abstract idea, rather like love. They both require actions to demonstrate their existence, and a source other than the person exercising them. Really, that's not such a strange idea. When we breathe, we expend energy from our food's metabolism. But that metabolism won't happen without the oxygen we breathe in. It's a “chicken or egg” conundrum, answerable only by attributing them to God. Jesus provided a prize example of faith's purpose in Luke 17:5, when he and his students discussed forgiveness. They couldn't see how it was possible to forgive someone 490 times for the same offense, so they asked Jesus to increase their faith. They understood that Jesus was the source of faith, and they didn't even have diplomas from seminaries. But there's another conundrum: To ask for faith, one must exercise faith. So where does one get that faith? Jesus inferred the answer in vs. 6: “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.” That “mustard seed” faith is like the drops of water needed to prime an old-fashioned pump. Okay, where do we get that mustard seed of faith? Its existence is assumed, like God's existence. Faith is part of our nature, given to us when God blew his Spirit into Adam's nostrils. Like the human spirit and the capacity for love he gave us, our faith was perverted when we sinned. Since we have warped spiritual vision, we search for tangible things in which to invest our faith, and find plenty of perversions to fill the bill. Only when God's spirit takes the scales from our eyes can we see the only worthy Object for our faith. At that point we have a choice to make: We can either close our eyes to God's beauty, to continue searching for some perverted substitute, or we can gaze at His beauty in wonderment, and place that mustard seed of faith in Him. That's only the beginning of a new-lifetime of choices between growing that faith, or killing it. Thanks to His Holy Spirit, Jesus' disciples know which way to go ... we just have to do it!
Saturday, January 08, 2005
Humans are temporal beings, so we seek timely gratification. And why should that surprise God, since He created us that way. God, however, exists both outside of time and within each instant of time. With His eternal perspective, He is immune to our hurried timetables, but moves in our lives according to our ultimate good. So a key issue in our relationship with God is not as much seeking timely gratification, but myopically looking to our physical senses for that gratification. We tend to think of ourselves as immortal, despite death being an undeniable principle of life. Since part of our nature is to esteem most highly what is fleeting, we naturally cling to our doomed physicality for gratification. But death is both physical and spiritual. In fact, one meaning of “death,” as translated from New Testament Greek, is “separation.” At creation, God breathed His Holy Spirit into us to unite with our human spirit. Then, along with Adam, we hammered the wedge of sin forever between our spirit and God's. Since He designed us specifically to host that spiritual union, such a separation created the fundamental human need Pascal called, “The God-shaped vacuum.” Without God's Spirit, our human spirit runs around like the headless chicken, without direction, looking for something but not knowing what. We try to satiate ourselves with all kinds of sensual gratification and counterfeit spirituality, but our headlessness dooms us to failure in our quest for fulfillment just as our sinfulness dooms us to eternal perdition. That's the bad news. The good news is God didn't abandon us to that fate. Like God's law the Torah, the Bible's New Testament is filled with God's redemptive promises, but they all depend on the Name that is above every name: Yeshua(Redeemer) or Immanuel(God With Us), YHVH's(the Self-Existent One's) Messiah(Anointed), or as most of us know Him, Jesus Christ. Headless chicken, or son of God?