"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Phantom Sin

      Today's ODB challenged me to examine my conscience once again. I'm afraid I presume upon God's grace in my attitude toward disciplined, spiritual practices. My Bible study is sporadic. And while I keep myself close enough to God that I can pray at any time, I don't habitually pray "without ceasing." To many brethren, these spiritual failures may not seem like much, but they inhibit my growth in the Lord. I won't be happy with my life until the world sees only the Lord in me, rather than the people-pleaser me.
      I'll admit, that view is more Calvinistic than I'd like. Calvinists define sin as any behavior or thought that falls short of perfect obedience. That's why they claim to sin daily in thought, word or deed. Our Armenian-holiness brethren have a far more selective definition of sin: It is any willful, overt disobedience of God's direct command.
      I wish I could step into the pages of scripture, into Paul's, David's, or the prophets' minds, to know how they viewed such fine points of spiritual practice. We force our definitions on their inspired words, assuming our interpretation is just as inspired. While we must stand on our beliefs, shouldn't we hold them somewhat loosely, maintaining a willingness to learn and change with new evidence? That said, such evidence must be highly compelling to make us change our beliefs.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Practice what we "preach."


      How will the world ever believe what we write, if we fail to live it consistently? Only by His grace will we be able to live by that standard. Not only will the world believe our written words, but our very life's profession. We don't have to write, or even tell, what we believe. Christians seem to exude their love for the Lord, mainly by their love for those in the world. In fact, it might be best to keep our mouths shut and our pens still until we can honestly see God's love lived out in our lives. We can't wait until we're "perfect," though. Then nothing would ever get said.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blind Dates Can Be Murder


      Mindy Starns Clark's Blind Dates Can Be Murder was a fun read. Mindy has a way of putting the reader into the characters' minds--disconcerting when the character is a sociopath.
      Also disconcerting is the way she ends this page turner. Who in their right mind wants a cliff hanger ending to a suspense novel? Sure, a sequel is in the works, but do I have to wait and see where it's going? 'Tain't fair!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Muss and Fuss


      During this "Joyous Season," we Evangelical Christians have taken to the habit of bashing those who bash the religious excuses for Christmas. We get all righteously indignant when a well-meaning sales clerk greets us with, "Happy Holidays." Those of us who are inclined to acerbic comments might demand, "And to what 'Holidays' are you referring?"
      So, after we've effectively embarrassed the poor P.C. twit, we continue on our manic, Christmas shopping spree, warm in the love of Jesus while we load up our credit cards with mountains of junk for relatives we don't even like. And when our kids get old enough to start asking the hard questions about Santa, we go into a panic, wondering how to gently let them in on the big lie we've been feeding them since they were old enough to know about Jolly Olde Elf.
      Good heavens, brethren, try a little consistency between your pet peeves and your cultural conformity. If you're going to fuss about forcing God out of the public schools, secularizing Christmas, and killing pre-born babies, think maybe about truly honoring God on Sundays by staying out of stores and restaurants that keep their workers out of church, celebrating Christmas and Easter without the commercial involvement, and helping unwed mothers in Crisis Pregnancy Centers. If living as a "little Christ" sounds like too much work, stop with the Christian verbiage.
      God's church needs to be a place devoid of hypocrites.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Winning Gracefully and Never Ceese


      Today's Our Daily Bread dealt with nobility in war. Joshua Chamberlain exemplified grace in victory by honoring the defeated, Confederate forces with respect and kindness.
      Can we as Christ's adopted brethren do less when dealing with Satan's defeated minions? Some believers in Christ are talented in debate. They can stand up to ridicule, thinking on their feet, making powerful arguments in defense of their faith. They can, and most often do, embarrass the opposition with their brilliantly stated logic and subtile, cutting remarks.
      In exercising their superior wit, do they demonstrate the grace of the Savior they verbally defend? Of course not. In fact, their words deny the very grace that saved them. They are hypocrites of the worst kind.
      This week's CFBA post is Never Ceese by Sue Dent.
      Never Ceese takes religious fantasy to a new level, bringing an entirely new Light to a very dark side of fiction, doing a very admirable job to prove that vampire/werewolf fantasy does not have to be evil to be enjoyed.
      The story starts with the classic tale of an English manor owned by Richard, the vampire who righteously is the bain of his neighbor's existence, what with the missing goats and all!
      Then enters Cecelia, better known as Ceese, the young werewolf maiden who's arrived via invitation by Richard's aging companion, Penelope.
      Ceese and Richard would prefer to tear each other apart, literally, but they are drawn together by their mutual love for Penelope. She is dying and has one request...that the two of them love one another.
      This is the overall theme throughout Dent's interesting tale of two who were wronged but learn to work together. Meanwhile they are threatened by an evil stem cell researcher who wants the immortality and power that he thinks their blood will bring him!
      Dent's characters do differ from the stock one's we're all accustomed to in a very important way. They are not mindless, brutal killers. Bloodthirsty, yes, but they are constantly resisting the urge to kill, and, thus, curse another human. Feeding on rodents, goats, virtually any warm-blooded animal helps to satiate the never ending thirst for blood, but how long will they be able to resist that most delicious morsel man?
      There is a chance that their curses can actually be lifted if they can find the strength within to resist their selfish natures and act selflessly toward another. Will they succeed? That same basic choice lies before us all every day...
      A vampire and a werewolf, one determined to, once again, be able to acknowledge what will get her to heaven, the other no so sure he can. A spiritual fantasy designed to spark the imagination, to speak to the heart as well as entertain.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Christmas Spirit


      Our Daily Bread published a good reminder for Christians at this time of year. For those of us involved in the retail business, concentrating on the true meaning of Christmas is especially hard. Whenever we hear "We wish you a merry Christmas" piped over the PA system, we would do well to think of the Salvation the infant Savior bought us thirty-three years later.
      May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you abundantly in this season celebrating His birth.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Calm, Cool & Adjusted


      This will be short and not especially sweet. Here are links for Calm, Cool & Adjusted, by Kristin Billerbeck.
      Since I haven't read it, I can't comment on the book itself, but so far I've been impressed by the books selected by the CFBA for review. Try it, you'll like it.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

"All You Need Is ... Love"


      The passage below came from today's meditation in The Power of Purpose. Then, of course, I found it necessary to add my own thoughts.
... God wants us to love everyone, but he is particularly concerned that we learn to love others in his family. Why does God insist that we give special love and attention to other believers? Here's why – God wants his family to be known for its love more than anything else. Jesus said our love for each other – not our doctrinal belief – is our greatest witness to the world. He said, "Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:35 LB)
      This makes perfect sense, and it could be no other way. God is love. And if we are to represent Him faithfully, His love must characterize our lives--not just our behavior at selected moments, but our lives. Since we'll never perfectly fulfill that ideal, our first prayer should always be, "Father, make me a conduit for Your perfect love. Send someone for You to love through me today."
      Loving those who are impossible to love is not optional. Jesus commanded it ...
You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy" (Lev. 19:18) but I say to you, Love your enemies; bless those cursing you, do well to those hating you; and pray for those abusing and persecuting you, so that you may become sons of your Father in Heaven. Because He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust. For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you only greet your brothers, what exceptional thing do you do? Do not the tax-collectors do so? Therefore, you be perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.(Matthew 5:43-48 LITV)
      When we don't feel like loving others, shouldn't we realize how hard it was for His Father to love us? When we don't feel like loving others, we must remind ourselves that He didn't feel like turning Jesus over to evil, sadistic men, to suffer unspeakable humiliation, torture and death in our place ... but He did it anyway, out of love for us. In the midst of His agony, Jesus asked His Father to forgive them, and us, even after we cursed and brutalized Him in the worst way.
      Until we decide to shed our self-righteous pride and love even our enemies as Jesus commanded--and modeled--any Christlikeness we show will be just that: a show! It will appeal to Him as the filthy rags of Isaiah 64:6. By acting Christlike without loving as He did, our blasphemy will offend God even worse than that of the Jews and Romans who railed at the dying Jesus on Skull Mountain.
      Until we decide to accept His love as an obligation to love others, we will have no right to claim His love, or His blood, for ourselves. The Beatles almost had it right: All ya need is His love.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Cubicle Next Door

      Nancy and I are still reading Siri Mitchell's newest novel, The Cubicle Next Door, so don't you dare spoil the end for us! Once again I have to thank Nancy for the motivation to read Chick Lit. Being legally blind, she needs me to read the stuff aloud to her that I want her to read. Otherwise, she'd be listening to Danielle Steele audio books(yuck).
      Siri Mitchell is profound, funny--actually, hilarious--easy to read and hard to put down(her books, not her personally). In The Cubicle Next Door, she tells about Jackie, a civilian systems analyst with the U. S. Air Force Academy's history department. She's bright, articulate, funny, cute in a Janeane Garofalo sort of way, and a complete, total, committed computer geek. The author hasn't revealed the fact, but I'll bet Jackie wears a pocket protector bearing pens, pencils and a compact PDT.
      When Joe upsets Jackie's one-small-room kingdom by moving in with his office partitions, desk, chair and computer, she begins venting her anger and frustration on her blog, The Cubicle Next Door--you'll never guess where the book's title came from.
      Joe-the-fighter-pilot is tall, dark, handsome, smart, funny, and completely clueless of inter-cubicle etiquette. And Joe decides Jackie will be his friend.
      Jackie doesn't want a guy-friend; she's too busy and happy with her life as it is. Besides, throughout her life she's been smarter than all the guys, and they resented it, hurting her through merciless ridicule. So guys are fine in their place ... anyplace but in her life. Trouble is, Joe will not get the message, and neither will her heart.
      What more can I say than, "If you love to laugh with, and cry with, compelling characters, buy this book!"
      If you want to know more about the author, go to http://www.sirimitchell.com/.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I'm Sick & Tired ...

... of being sick and tired. After staying home from work for nearly a week, I'm still sick and tired. Went to a place called "Urgent Care" yesterday, where I spoke with a P.A. for about fifteen minutes, only to discover I probably have a viral infection and need to control my coughing, push fluids(both down my throat and into the sewage system via the toilet every ten minutes), get plenty of rest(well, duh) and call in a couple of days if it doesn't improve. What I actually paid for was the medical excuse/return to work that I need to keep my job.
     Let's see, I had a spiritual application for this grousing session, but my brain is on strike. One thing I know, however--even with half my brain tied behind my back(apologies to Rush Limbaugh)--is one day I will get to shed this rotting shell that the Bible calls a temporary tent, and take up residence in a body that will seem like a mansion compared to it.
     I praise God for giving me the hope that will never die, but will one day become a reality. Only He is perfectly faithful.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Election


      This is neither a review nor a recommendation. It is a statement of frustration over lack of available reading time. My reading is done aloud, to my wife, roughly one chapter at a time. At that rate it takes roughly a month to read most books. The Christian Fiction Blog Alliance reviews roughly one book a week. So how do I handle all the books I can't get around to reading? Read on to find out.
      The Election by Jerome Teel promises to be an exciting read. After looking at Kevin Lucia's excellent review at MySpace.com, I can hardly wait to read it ... eventually.
      There, I've done it. I've plugged a book based on a stranger's analysis. Does that make me so evil?

Burn Baby, Burn


      J. Stowell, in Fan The Flame, told of a Greek race where the contestants had to keep their torches lit to win.
      That's the kind of race God has set before us. As we let our lighted torch so shine before men that they might see our good works and glorify our Father, we must understand the challenge of running the course while bearing that light. If we sheltered it from the wind while running, it might still burn, but no one could see it to God's glory. If we stood still, proudly holding it aloft, the flame might grow dim and sputter out.
      Our challenge is to follow the course fast enough to keep the flame bright, while not blowing it out with our speed.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Like Dandelion Dust

Karen Kingsbury somehow managed to strike the heart of fear with her domestic thriller, Like Dandelion Dust. Just because I said domestic thriller, doesn't mean this is simply a housewives' romance novel.
      Ask yourself what you'd do if the perfect little boy joined your family as an adopted infant, spent his first five years bonding himself to you deeper than you ever thought possible, and was then yanked out of your life by a potentially abusive biological father. So as not to spoil this emotional roller coaster novel, I'll just say, read it.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Praying Machines


      Confession time: Though I love God with all my heart, I am not exactly a stalwart, prayer warrior. Yes, I believe God answers prayer. Even though I can't rationalize that with His foreknowledge and sovereignty over events in our lives, the Bible says in James 5:16, (15)And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (16)Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (17)Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.(Emphasis mine.)
      As the wise man stated, "God said it. I believe it. And that's that" Though my natural bent is to seek understanding of principles, where God's explicit commands are concerned, "That's that!"
      First Thessalonians 5:17 gives another prayer command: pray without ceasing, expanded a bit in Ephesians 6:18, With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.
      God didn't create man as a machine to obey as programmed, without question or reservation. In creating us after His image, he gave us a key divine attribute: Personal Volition. He expects us to listen to His expectations, weigh the pros and cons, then use the brains he gave us to make our own choices. Then we get to either enjoy or suffer the consequences of those choices.
      Do I feel like my prayers "change" things? No, not at all. My belief in God's sovereign desire for my best overrules any desire on my part for circumstances or material possessions to come my way. If it's good for me, it will.
      Do I pray anyway? Of course I do. Though God didn't make me a programmable machine, by God's grace, I will use what self-control I have to become His "Praying Machine."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow


      This is not a review of Orson Scott Card's novels Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow. Reviewing books published in the late '80s would be an exercise in futility. All that should be said about them has already been said, by commentators far more insightful than I. Instead, these are my personal reactions to the two novels by Card.
      I read Ender's Shadow first, and became acquainted with Bean, the young product of genetic manipulation. As I got to know him, Bean gave me a new sense of what childhood is, and how it can transcend both cognitive giftedness and maturation. Bean's inevitable inner conflict between the child that he was and his off-the-scale intelligence exploded into the worlds of men and aliens. And nothing that happened in his fictional world seemed implausible in our own.
      Somehow, Card's stories of special children and intra-galactic warfare avoid the trite theme of parallel evolution so common in Sci-Fi. And in a genre so crowded with, and dependent upon, technological innovation, the world of Battle School hit a fresh, clear note, in harmony with creation as it is, not as it would have to be for the fictional scenario to develop.
      Because of Bean, I now look into babies eyes with new wonder; what is going on behind that cool stare? What thoughts are taking shape? What potential could be developed?
      Perhaps one day I will write as well as Orson Scott Card.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Violette Between

      Violette Between was not an easy book to read. It is structured so unconventionally that, at first, I didn't think I'd like it. But Alison Strobel's deeply personal style captured my interest and imagination. She kept me reading by eliciting a sympathetic emotional reaction within me.
      Allison captured the essence of the setting with few words, placing me smack in the middle of the action. Her knowledge of the human mind and the defensive tricks it can play locked me into Violette's inner world, right along with her.
      The further I read the more involved I was in Violette's and Christian's lives. Yes, and even Violette's deceased husband Saul became a sympathetic character, clearly demonstrating her reason for the inner conflict that kept her from getting on with her life.
      Genre romance novels are a dime-a-peck, and literary novels are shunned for their multi-leveled, complex characterizations, and often bizarre use of language for artistic effect. But Violette Between combines convincing, fully developed characters with artistic-but-entertaining prose for a read you won't soon forget.

Friday, October 06, 2006

DARK HOUR

About the author:

      Ginger Garrett is an acclaimed novelist and expert in ancient women's history.
      Her first novel, Chosen, was recognized as one of the best five novels of the year by the Christian publishing industry. Ginger enjoys a diverse reader base and creates conversation between cultures.
      In addition to her 2006 and 2007 novels about the most evil women in biblical history, she will release Beauty Secrets of the Bible (published by Thomas Nelson) in Summer 2007.
      Ginger Garrett's Dark Hour delves into the biblical account of Jezebel's daughter and her attempt to end the line of David.







And now, a special Q&A with Ginger Garrett: 1.) First, tell us a bit about Dark Hour.
      I was praying about what book to write after Chosen, and accidentally left my open Bible on the kitchen table. (A dangerous thing, since in my house, small children and large dogs routinely scavenge with dirty hands and noses for snacks!) As I walked past it, I saw a caption about someone named Athaliah and a mass murder. I stopped cold. I knew it was my story.
      Athaliah was the daughter of Jezebel--a real woman in history--who tried to destroy all the descendents of King David in a massacre. God made a promise that a descendent of King David would always sit on the throne, and one day a Messiah would come from this line. If Athaliah succeeded, she would break the promise between God and the people, and destroy all hope for a Messiah.
      One woman, her step-daughter, Jehoshebeth, defied her. She stole a baby during the massacre and hid him. Between them, the two women literally fought for the fate of the world. 2.) What drew you to write biblical fiction?
      The similarities between the lives of ancient women and our lives. We get distracted by their "packaging," the way they dressed and lived, but at heart, our stories are parallel. 3.) How much time is spent researching the novel versus writing the novel?
      Equal amounts, and I don't stop researching while I write. I have a historical expert, probably the best in the world in his field, review the manuscript and point out errors. The tough part is deciding when to ignore his advice. He pointed out that most everyone rode donkeys if they weren't in the military, but a key scene in the novel involves riding a horse to the rescue. It would have been anti-climatic to charge in on a donkey! :) So I ignored his advice on that one. 4.) Dark Hour takes its reader deep into the heart of palace intrigue and betrayals. Were parts of this book difficult to write?
      I left out much of the darkest material I uncovered in research. It was important to show how violent and treacherous these times and this woman (Athaliah) could be, but I tried to be cautious about how to do it. The story was so powerful and hopeful--how one woman's courage in the face of evil saved the world--but the evil was depressing. I tried to move quickly past it. I wanted balance. Our heroine suffers and some wounds are not completely healed in her lifetime. That's true for us, too. 5.) What would modern readers find surprising about ancient women?
      They had a powerful sense of the community of women. They also wore make-up: blush, glitter eyeshadow, lipstick, powder, and perfume! They drank beer with straws, and enjoyed "Fritos": ground grains, fried and salted. Many of our foods are the same today, but they loved to serve pate made from dried locusts, finely ground. Ugh!
(Special thanks to Bonnie Calhoun for the above interview. If you would like to become part of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, and be on the inside of new Christian fiction releases, just click on the link to the left of this post.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"This is your last issue."


      Today I received my last subscription issue of Writer's Digest. They're sorry to see me go, but they'll get over it. As will I.
      I can think of another "last issue," one that I won't get over so easily. That will be the issue raised when I stand before humankind's Judge on that terrible day. He will ask me whose righteousness earned me the right to spend eternity with Him. If my answer outlines all the good things I've done with my life, His countenance will darken and His eyes will pierce to the center of my soul, digging out every single action, thought and motive that brought shame and guilt into my life. Every eye will see the disgraceful actions I did in private, the horrible fantasies that I allowed my imagination to entertain, every "little, white" lie that passed over my tongue, and each pen, pencil or paper clip that wound up in my possession without having been bought. The cloak of good that I did throughout my life will become the most filthy, putrid covering imaginable, and I won't be able to strip it off. I will realize, with the billions of souls standing around me, that I had ignored the only One who could remove the wretched filth covering me. But despite the vastness of my company, I will stand completely isolated from any pity or compassion. I alone, with the billions of other isolated souls, will turn away from the Judge and march into the eternal fire-pit reserved for Satan and his minions.
      If, however, I answer the Judge's penetrating question with one Name, my last issue will not be an issue at all. If I say only, "Jesus," my Savior will slowly smile at me with the radiance of uncounted suns. His eyes will sparkle at me with the stars of millions of galaxies. And I will find myself clothed with the perfect, white cloak of His righteousness. He will reach out his scarred hands to me and say, "Come." And I will.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

History's Alarm Clock is Ringing


      A 53-year-old homeless man, Michael Roberts, is dead in Florida. Four teenage boys allegedly beat the decrepit, reprobate to death in May 2005 with fists, sticks and logs. My first question upon hearing that news report was, "Why?" The quick answer, from the youths' own mouths, is they did it for fun, excitement, and entertainment.
      When I try to think about it from their perspective, I can understand their motivation. Beating an old man might indeed be exciting. Just think of the adrenalin rush. And since the guy wasn't a viable, productive human being, their fun and entertainment might have done the state a favor. They did, after all, take one more bum off the welfare rolls. So, why are they being prosecuted for doing the state a favor?
      There is one small hole in that reasoning: Our culture places inherent value on human life. That explains why cruelly killing an animal is not murder. It's a dirty, rotten shame, but not murder. Killing a human being with malice of forethought, however, is murder. Our laws protect human life by assigning severe penalties for wantonly taking a life. Negating that inherent value ultimately places all human life at risk.
      Not too long ago, abortion was illegal and considered barbaric, rather like murder is today. But today's law allows pre-born human beings to be killed at the mother's convenience. In view of that "advance" in western mores, I wonder when society will declare reprobate human beings to be less-than human, or profoundly disabled human beings, or even those unwanted by someone with enough money to legally remove their viability status.
      Yes, it sounds far fetched, but legally killing pre-born humans also sounded far fetched just yesterday, by history's clock.
      Do I detect an alarm going off?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Why does God allow tragedy?

      This ODB is just plain cool. I smiled as I read it, because it felt like a hug from God. His plan, of course, is perfect for each of us, as it is for His entire creation.
      Lots of folks forget that nothing happens without God's foreknowledge. Adam didn't surprise God when he took that fateful bite, or when he hid because of shame for it, compounding his disobedience with deception. When the Gestapo burst into the ten Boom home and carted most of the family away to their deaths, God didn't wring His hands and say, "Oh, wow! I didn't see that coming." And on September eleventh, 2001, God allowed those thousands of people to die, not because He couldn't stop it, but because thousands of years ago, a man "Did it my way," to quote Frankie's song.
      As a race, we're enjoying the harvest of our own sowing. No one, from Adam to I, can claim we weren't warned about the law of sowing and reaping. When "innocents" are harmed, they are simply collateral damage in the sin-war raging around them.
      Tragic? Of course! Wrong? No! Because the only law God must obey is to be true to Himself, though in His love and compassion, such tragedies must break His heart. That's why He sent His divine Son to bear the punishment for my sin. God's perfect justice must be, and was fulfilled in the horrible death of the only true Innocent ever born.

The Little Things

      Today a friend was busily working in the Jewelry Service Center across from the check lanes where I stand vigil when business is light at Target. I stood there staring at her for a few moments, then began waving my arms around in large circles. Well, for the longest time she just kept working, but when she finally noticed the movement and glanced up, I gave her a demure, little hand-wave. I couldn't have wanted a better reaction, as she smiled radiantly and laughed at my visual joke.
      It is indeed the little things that make life worth living. The little prayers that draw me closer to my Lord. The little praises that keep me in His Spirit. It's hard to imagine, though, how little praises could possibly please such a humongous God, but they do, like tiny puffs of incense rising to give Him pleasure.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

SOMETHING THAT LASTS

      My first impression of James David Jordan's Something That Lasts was along the lines of, "What an odd title for a novel." When I got into it, my impression changed with the simple addition of a modifier for the word "novel." That modifier was "dark."
      Pastor Dave was pragmatic, a results-oriented kinda guy who gained his affirmation by his successes. Only one thing was wrong with his idyllic life: It was built on his ego, rather than the Solid Rock.
      My original impression of darkness proved accurate when he gave into the kind of temptation that could trip any man. To make matters worse, his moment of weakness was revealed to the world at the worst possible time--in the middle of a Sunday service. The shame and calamity blasted his carefully constructed foundation to bits, causing his family and his vocation to collapse around him like so many cards. After the darkness of that hard lesson, Pastor Dave found the light of truth, and spent the rest of his life learning how to build on Something That Lasts.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

SQUAT, by Taylor Field

I copied a review of Squat, by Taylor field, for your reading pleasure.

      Have you ever been in a big city and noticed a homeless person? Did you cross the street to avoid him? Did you give him money thinking that he would probably go blow it on alcohol or drugs? Did you wonder if you should just take him out to dinner? Did you think about bringing him home to give him a shower, a warm meal, and a place to lay his head?
      Did you ever wonder how he lives? Where he eats? What he does during the day?
      Did you question why our government with all its projects hasn't helped out these people better? People with mental problems, health problems, alcohol problems, drug problems, or abusive problems? What about those who just need a helping hand to get them a job and a place to live?
      What about Christians? Why aren't we helping them more? Why are we ignoring the hunger pangs of the people in our back yard?
      Taylor Field has some answers to these questions in his novel, Squat, that came out September 1st.
      Squat brings you through 24 hours in the life of a homeless man named Squid. Taylor Field brings the reality of New York's inner city to light. He doesn't leave out the smells, squallar, and ugliness. He doesn't leave out the alcolhol, drugs, and self-abuse. He shows it like it is because he knows what it is like. Taylor Field has worked since 1986 in the inner city of New York, where he is pastor of East Seventh Baptist Church/Graffiti Community Ministries.
      The best thing about this book is that all author proceeds from Squat will go to Graffiti Community Ministries, Inc., a service arm of the East Seventh Street Baptist Church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where Field preaches.
      "We live in a squat. We don’t know squat. We don’t have squat. We don’t do squat. We don’t give a squat. People say we’re not worth squat."

If you want to know more, please visit The SQUAT Website!

To order Squat, click HERE.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Clean Dishes

      This verse is terribly easy for the reader to apply to anyone but the reader. In fact, Jesus was talking to all officious, moral technicians and sectarian purists. This is an indictment of external religion, human efforts at ritual holiness. Since the unregenerate world has always confused spirituality for formal religion, Jesus cut to the chase in this address to all self-appointed soul guards.
      "Cup and platter" primarily refer to religious equipment, but by extension, mean religious formality. This is not directed against the "cup and platter" themselves, but at religious emphasis on their appearance of orthodoxy, while ignoring their content. There is in fact nothing wrong with the practice of religious formality itself, as long as it does not conceal ungodly attitudes and practices.
      Of course the terms, "ungodly attitudes and practices," can be defined liberally enough that they mean nothing. To some, ungodliness is nothing less than the obviously sinful behavior of thieves, murderers and adulterers. To others it is anything less than perfect righteousness and holiness. Both standards ignore the inner motives and attitudes behind the behavior. But that's the problem with standards: their very existence demands policing. Yet, without standards, chaos reigns.
      The obvious solution to this conundrum is to yield enforcement of both personal and religious standards to the only Policeman who is qualified to patrol the invisible.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Foundational Attitude of "YES"

      I awoke this morning saying "Yes" to God. As I prayed, the phrase, "The power of yes," occurred to me. I felt the truth in it, and yes, the power.
      When "Yes" embodies our foundational attitude toward life, even saying "no" when necessary can be a positive statement. In fact, saying "yes" to God often means saying "no" to our felt needs and desires. And though that sounds harsh, it can produce the most positive of outcomes.
      Think of how maintaining a foundational attitude of "yes" toward your children can impact their feeling of wellbeing. Recognizing a conscious "yes" in your love for them shapes the whole relationship into something warm, comforting, and especially, strong. Feeling loved builds around your children's character a bulwark against the enemy's attacks. And until they become mature enough to apply The Whole Armor of God to themselves, that defensive structure is all they have to fend off the peer pressure, intimidation, and cruel name calling other children will most certainly throw at them.
      Of course it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that consciously recognizing the foundational attitude of "yes" toward ourselves releases the immeasurable power of God's greatest gifts: Belief in God's love for us! Love and deference toward others! Self-control! Divine wisdom! Human creativity! Intellectual curiosity! And old-fashioned, horse sense!

Monday, September 04, 2006

SERVER APPLICATION UNAVAILABLE

      Praise our analog, non-computerized God. In His wisdom He has allowed us to build vast, electronic brains that sometimes make life easier. But mostly, they frustrate us.
      When I clicked on Our Daily Bread's link this morning, the "absolute zero" message in this post's title confronted me, instead of the warm, familiar, comforting front page I was expecting. Most every day I open that devotional before pursuing other business. And most every day it rewards me with a pithy, or even convicting, message reinforced by a scripture passage.
      But not today.
      Okay, I know this is much ado about nothing ... much. But it left me feeling adrift, though I have plenty to get done today. Isn't God wonderful for always being available, for never giving us "SERVER APPLICATION UNAVAILABLE" messages when we approach Him in prayer. The All Loving, All Knowing, All Powerful, Self-existent, Eternal God faithfully turns His attention my way when I need Him.
     Bank on it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Suffering for Christ

      I had a peculiar reaction to this Our Daily Bread. Though the essay is about suffering for the cause of Christ, it seemed to mention as a positive thing that Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. That, after Nero's vicious persecution of the church.
      Superficially, the church's becoming popular and influential in secular government might seem the best thing for God's kingdom. But even a passing look at history suggests quite the opposite. Not long after Constantine, the church apostatized into Roman Catholicism, eventually becoming a far fiercer persecutor of Christians than Nero.
      More recently, we can observe the unholy union of liberal denominations in the National Council of Churches, and its World Council counterpart, as the most bitter opponents of Biblical Christianity since the Roman inquisition. And each successive anti-Christian movement becomes better at counterfeiting the real thing, effectively diluting authentic Christian influence in the world.
      The tragic truth is that most Christians don't realize the correlation between official or popular acceptance for Christianity, and its corruption into merely human institutions. Will we never learn the lesson that first Herod, then Nero, then Constantine taught us? That the best way to grow God's kingdom is to attempt to chop it up into little pieces. We must never rejoice in acceptance, but rather in persecution for the cause of Christ.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Yes, yes"

      If I haven't mentioned it before, I work at Target--oh, hello Target web-crawler, glad you could join us.
      Reader, meet crawler. Crawler--oh, never mind. You're just a stupid little program that looks for any mention of Target online so your user can hastle anyone slandering the Company.
     Depending on the location, Target can be a fascinating place to work, or it can be irksome. I'm blessed, because where I live, most Target guests are level-headed, not holding their noses in the stratosphere out of fear that they might be forced to relate personally to a mere mortal. In fact, some highly interesting people pass through my checklane.
      A case-in-point was a couple who passed through my line last month. They appeared prosperous, well groomed and clothed, probably in their late '60s. I suspected nothing unusual until the gentleman took a handful of quarters out of his pocket to pay me ... after his wife had already paid by debit card. When she reminded him that she had paid, he seemed a bit confused, saying, "Yes, yes," but displaying a wry expression that made it appear he was joking. Even then he tried to give me some quarters, and his wife nearly had to drag him away from the register, telling him again that she had already paid. By then his "Yes, yes," conveyed a subtle, plaintive quality and it was obvious that he was confused.
      What struck me was the patient love and respect she showed, though he was being difficult. I don't know what kind of dementia he had, but his wife's love had overpowered the irritation or disgust she may have felt because of his decent from a forceful, independent man to what I saw. Her faithfulness touched me deeply.
      I have to ask myself if I am capable of loving that faithfully.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Allah or Jesus?

The following editorial was confirmed as having been written by Rick Mathes, Executive Director of Mission Gate Prison Ministry. Although Mathes confirmed it as fact, a few establishment-types deny its ever having happened. Why does that not surprise me? Allah or Jesus?
By: Rick Mathes
      Last month I attended my annual training session that's required for maintaining my state prison security clearance. During the training session there was a presentation by three speakers representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths, who explained each of their belief systems.
      I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say. The Imam gave a great presentation of the basics of Islam, complete with a video.
      After the presentations, time was provided for questions and answers. When it was my turn, I directed my question to the Imam and asked:  "Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad [Holy war] against the infidels of the world. And, that by killing an infidel, which is a command to all Muslims, they are assured of a place in heaven. If that's the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?"
      There was no disagreement with my statements and, without hesitation, he replied, "Non-believers!"
      I responded, "So, let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can go to Heaven. Is that correct?"
      The expression on his face changed from one of authority and command to that of a little boy who had just gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He sheepishly replied, "Yes."
      I then stated, "Well, sir, I have a real problem trying to imagine Pope John Paul commanding all Catholics to kill those of your faith or Dr. Stanley ordering Protestants to do the same in order to go to Heaven.
      The Imam was speechless.
      I continued, "I also have problem with being your friend when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me. Let me ask you a question. Would you rather have your Allah who tells you to kill me in order to go to Heaven or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to Heaven and He wants you to be with me?"
      You could have heard a pin drop as the Imam hung his head in shame. Needless to say, the organizers and/or promoters of the 'Diversification' training seminar were not happy with Rick's way of dealing with the Islamic Imam and exposing the truth about the Muslim's beliefs.
      I think everyone in the US and Canada should be required to read this, but with the liberal justice system, liberal media, and the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized. Please pass this on to all your e-mail contacts.

      Whether or not this is an exact representation of the meeting in question, many Muslim sects indeed believe what Mathes alluded to. The truth will prevail. Infidels beware.

Don't Tear The Cloth!

      Tear your heart instead! That was Joel's message to God's people Israel in chapter two of his prophesy. He began by issuing a terrifying prediction of God's host rendering the earth lifeless ... unless His people Yet even now turn to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning, declares Jehovah.(Joel 2:12)
      Okay, nobody tears their robes and throws ashes into the air anymore. Today's church has more sedate rituals of repentance. We might respond to a convicting sermon by slipping down to the alter and shedding a couple of alligator tears, feeling better for having demonstrated our sincerity before the church. As liberating as that public act of humility feels, how long does the life-change last, if there was one at all?
      We moderns habitually guard our hearts from the pain, embarrassment and inconvenience of breaking--or tearing--as God commanded through Joel. Oh sure, we might occasionally become infatuated with someone and come away with a "broken heart," but that's not the kind of agonized tearing that leads to true repentance, as God constantly commands. Without it we will never turn away from the sin that renders us spiritually impotent, and condemns us to perdition.
      So, don't make a religious show of tearing the cloth you wear on your body, or performing any other ritual of repentance. Instead, tear away the armor you wear on your heart so God can rend your heart unto repentance.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Other Love Chapter

      Chapter 8 is "the other love chapter" of 1 Corinthians, and though it is less descriptive of Godly love than parts of Chapter 13, it presents a specific, practical recommendation for showing it. What could be more difficult for a believer than giving up his "Christian liberties" out of deferential love for weaker brethren?
      We could easily say, "He's the weak one, that's his problem?" But the word says, And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (1 Corinthians 8:11-13)
      Strong's Greek Dictionary says the word rendered "to offend" in the AV is skandalizō, meaning to scandalize; from G4625; to entrap, that is, trip up (figuratively stumble [transitively] or entice to sin, apostasy or displeasure): - (make to) offend.
      So, to offend is a little weak for the actual effect of searing a weaker brother's conscience. If I love my brother as Jesus commanded, I will give up my very life to avoid causing him to stumble in his faith-walk. How does that compare with my actual attitude toward accommodating my brother's weakness?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Shackled

      The Bill Gaither song goes ...
Shackled by a heavy burden
Neath a load of guilt and shame,
... and when we hear that, most of us think of the unchurched.
      I was raised in a Catholic family where guilt and shame were a regular part of our religious ritual. But not only the unchurched and Catholics are neath a load of guilt and shame.
      Would I be presumptuous to say some of us who sit in evangelical Protestant churches every week are also loaded down with guilt and shame? Some of us come to church burdened with such a load, hoping for absolution from sitting in the worship service. And maybe we go away uplifted ... for a while.
      The preacher talks about sin and salvation, and we get lost in our own thoughts. Maybe we agree with him. Maybe we know we're not perfect, and need to be better. But we look around the church, and in our minds, look around the workplace or the world in general, and we see many who really need the Lord. We're not bad at all, compared with them.
      The preacher talks about everyone sinning and falling short of God's glory, and we agree. Certainly, no one is as good as God. But that's why He sent Jesus to love the world to Him.
      The preacher talks about the wages of sin being death, and we agree. Certainly, all the bad sinners will go to hell when they die, but we're not half bad compared to them.
      The preacher talks about the gift of God being eternal life, through Jesus, and we agree. For Jesus so loves the world that everyone who believes in Him should have everlasting life ... or something like that. And we believe in Jesus; He was a great guy who lived a long time ago. Yeah, we believe in him.
      The preacher talks about inviting Jesus into our hearts and turning our lives over to him, and we agree. If we were going to be ministers or missionaries, or lay fanatics, we'd need to be all his. But it's just not practical for us. We live in the real world, where people have jobs and stresses in our everyday lives. We have to have releases, R&R, recreations. We may have some fun, but we don't hurt anybody. And we can still go to church on Sunday and hold our heads high as they're singing the hymns. And we definitely feel better when we leave for the real world.
      After all, next Sunday's right around the corner, and if it's convenient or if we feel the need, we can do it all over again.
      If I really believed all that, I would resent any Bible thumper who told me I was wrong ... dreadfully wrong, and destined to burn in hell. I would likely tell them to, "Judge not, lest ye be judged!" I might even ask, "What makes you think you own the truth, and nobody else's beliefs are right?"
      If I copped that attitude, I--the I writing this, not the theoretical, ignorant I--would hope to God that the "Bible Thumper" would love me enough to convince me that my prideful complacency was leading me away from God, and to the place reserved for Satan and his minions.
      I would hate to discover how wrong I was after I'd blown my last opportunity to change my mind. Trouble is, none of us knows exactly when that last opportunity will pass us silently by.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Above All

      Folks object to the Bible because it's just a book of rules that aren't relevant to the twenty-first century. Okay, it does include a few rules--and some good stuff, too.
      Rules can be a good thing. If you see a sign above a water fountain that says, "Don't drink the water!" you have two choices: Assume the sign-maker was on a power trip, or was a sadist who wanted to keep thirsty people from getting satisfied. Or assume the sign-maker discovered that the water was poisonous and wanted to keep people from dying an awful, ugly death.
      If you're golfing and the clubhouse horn blows you have two choices: Assume the lounge is behind on sales and the manager just wants some golfers to belly up to the bar and order drinks. Or look to the sky for storm clouds and listen for distant thunder.
      Both of the above situations include directives that might seem to spoil your fun or cramp your style, but they are not just outmoded rules. They are entirely relevant because of the dangers that prompt them.
      Relevancy isn't gauged by the hip language and the contemporary issues presented. Thousands of today's authors write relevant, self-help articles and books, but precious few of them succeed in changing the readers' lives over the long haul. Yet, the Bible's "irrelevant" content has been changing lives profoundly for centuries, and shows no sign of becoming obsolete.
      When a book with that track record includes the phrase, "above all," I tend to listen up--especially when that phrase appears only a few times. It appears just three times in the New Testament's letters to the churches, and once in the Proverbs. Each of these occurrences deals with instructions for life--rules--to prevent injury.
      Proverbs is a book of rules within a book of rules. When Proverbs 4:23 tells us, Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life, you can choose to ignore it as one of those style-cramping rules. Or you can take heed and live.
      James 5:12 says, Above all, my brothers, do not swearĂ‚—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned. Who would have thought that such a common thing as swearing would hold such a severe consequence? Does that show how jaded our culture has become?
      1 Peter 4:8 says, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Love commands are among the most common themes in the New Testament, and this verse places it as one of the "Above All" requirements. Reviewing all the commands and descriptions of love, one idea pops out above all, prefer others to yourself, meaning show deference to all others, friends, brethren, family, and even enemies.
      The last above all command is 2 Peter 1:20, which says, Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. At the present time it seems everybody is an arm-chair prophesy expert. The Left Behind series of novels helped popularize end-times prophecy, and now millions of the brethren are consumed with watching the signs of the times for any indication of prophecy's fulfillment, and especially of the Lord's return. Yes, it is an interesting study. Yes, Jesus told us to watch for His return. And yes, many of us are neglecting other aspects of Christian living in favor of watching current events and interpreting them in the light of end-times prophecy. To be ready for His return, the last thing we need to do is figure out when it will happen. Jesus said no one but Father God knows, or can know when He will return to earth. The first and only thing we need to do is prepare ourselves, our relationships and our affairs for that Day.
      Since we don't know when that Day will come, it could be today. Are we ready to face Jesus? Or are we still harboring unconfessed, unrepented sin? No religion, no teaching, no program can rid our lives of sin and prepare us to face Jesus in judgment. Jesus is the Way, but each of us has to walk in it--in Him, holy, as He is holy.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I Can Only Imagine

      My focus in life is typically on living for God, trying to grow in my faith and living a holy life that credits my Savior. But during our assembly today, the worship team sang I Can Only Imagine, and I cried. For a huge blessing, click on the link and enjoy Ronnie Kimball singing Bart Millard's song.
      Why do I so rarely think about the glory that awaits me when, in Christ, I leave this material life? Meditating on God, His promises, and His reward for those who follow His Son carries a blessing too heavy to bear and too light to contain. During their presentation of I Can Only Imagine, I let myself imagine what heaven might be like.
      In this life I go to worship with Christ's body, singing God's praises with uplifted hands. But my voice tires and my arms weaken. If I stand long enough, my feet and back hurt. And eventually, I have to eat something to keep up my strength. My sin-cursed body seems to conspire against continuing in worship. And my mind fails to grasp God's reality beyond the pitifully weak and few words I have at my disposal. I know God, but only superficially. I praise Him, but I can't even scratch the surface of his praise-worthiness.
      But in Glory, I won't tire, or become hungry, or succumb to painful feet and back.
I will finally see Him as He is, and coming up with words of praise will never be a problem. I will never, ever, be at a loss for words of praise--new words, unique words, never-repeated words of praise--for all eternity.
      The hope is mine. God gave it to me through His Son Jesus' shed blood. No one can take it away.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Brother Lawrence's Second Letter

      Brother Lawrence was aware of his unique, spiritual experience. In his second letter, he compared his method of approaching God to that of "a devout person" with whom he had exchanged experiences.
      The unnamed person said the life of spiritual grace begins with servile fear. Sounds pious, but is it scriptural? Between the Hebrew and the Greek words for fear, there are many possible interpretations for the phrase, "servile fear." And that's if the unnamed person used the phrase in the scriptural sense. Perhaps the most obvious meaning is the fear, awe, or reverence a master can instill in his slave. Do God's faithful servants fear their Master's reprisal? Not if they first trust His love(1 John 4:18).
      This self-proclaimed teacher said that servile fear is increased by hope of eternal life, but that doesn't make sense either. That kind of fear comes from dread of consequences, and hope of eternal life is anything but a fearful consequence.
      Finally this advisor says the spiritual life is, after all that fear and dread, consummated by pure love. But according to the Bible, 1 John 4:18, God's love casts out fear. Through these distinct steps, the advisor said one at last arrives at that "blessed consummation" of eternal life. Again, these steps to eternal life aren't the ones Jesus and His apostles gave us.
      No wonder Brother Lawrence felt these steps would discourage him. Instead, he gave himself up to God on first entering the religious life, as the best satisfaction he could make for his sins, "for the love of Him, to renounce all besides." Instead of coming last, Brother Lawrence placed love first, as does God's word, in 1 John 4:19.
      Brother Lawrence graduated from years of occupying his devotional time with thoughts of death, judgment, hell, heaven and his sins, to concentrating on God's presence, whom he considered was always with him not only during his devotional time, but also while he worked. From this he derived such joy and consolation that faith alone was enough to assure him of salvation. Again, he reached the Biblical conclusion, this time in agreement with Ephesians 2:8-9.
      Even then he experienced doubts about how God could so easily forgive such a sinner. He was tormented by thoughts of his past sins and feared that either he had imagined all the moments of victorious faith, or he had willfully deluded himself. He wrote, "It seemed to me that all creatures, reason, and God Himself were against me and faith alone for me." Like many in the positive confession movement, he passed through a phase where he placed his faith in faith, rather than in God. Curiously, through all those doubts and misplaced faith, his faith increased until, seemingly all at once, he found himself changed with such an inner peace that he felt his soul had found its home, its place of rest.
      He wrote, "Ever since that time I walk before God simply, in faith, with humility, and with love." He avoided as much as possible any ungodly thoughts, but even with his remaining imperfections, his greatest hope was for God to do with him what He pleased, so deeply did he trust Him.
      As to the state he called "an actual presence of God," he described it partially as his desire to have no will but that of God. He write, "Or, to put it another way, it is an habitual, silent, and private conversation of the soul with God."
      At great length Brother Lawrence tried to relate his simple delight at God's presence. He marveled at God's grace toward such a wretched, wicked person as himself, grace to the degree that God seemed to prefer him as His favorite son, preferred above all others. He compared his attachment to God to an infant at its mother's breast, a state he called, "the bosom of God."
      Brother Lawrence thought of himself as a stone, resting before the Sculptor, waiting to be carved into His image. When he applied himself to prayer, he felt his spirit lifted above any care or effort, suspended, yet firmly fixed in God as its center of rest. Some accused him of deluding himself with inactivity while so elevated in meditation on God. But centered on God as he was, he denied all his former needs because he was completely content in God. "If this is delusion, then only God can remedy it. Let Him do what He pleases with me. I desire only Him and to be wholly devoted to Him."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Childlike or Christlike

      One day Jesus was busy teaching and healing the people. Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.(Matthew 19: 13,14)       The children Jesus allowed to come to him weren't worried about going to heaven. Their parents wanted Jesus' blessing on them, so they told them, "Go see Jesus. Have him touch you."       Children aren't fools. They know when they are wanted, and when they are simply an annoyance. As they approached the Teacher, his students, being Very Important Pinheads, tried to brush the children off. But Jesus looked outside his agenda and saw the innocent ones' needs. I can see him smiling and reaching out to them, inviting them to come close. His smile captured their hearts because it radiated his infinite love for them. He affirmed them as his first priority, more important than his busyness.       Jesus spelled love as children did, and still do: T-I-M-E       We hear a lot of preaching about accepting Jesus so we can go to heaven when we die. While that is certainly a desirable prospect, my fondest wish, my highest ambition, is not eternal salvation. The prospect of eternity is difficult enough for me to grasp ... okay, a moment of honesty; it has me buffaloed. And if eternity is beyond my sophisticated, advanced, highly intellectual understanding, what can it mean to kids? They understand now, and as they mature, they might grasp the idea of things happening days, months, even years from now.       So what's the appeal of telling a child that he has to give up himself (the center of his world) and turn to Jesus (whom he's never seen) so he can go to heaven (a place nobody he knows has ever seen) for eternity (Even Christmas is forever away!)? The only way to reach children's hearts is the way Jesus did: Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for only by their example will we adults humble ourselves to be childlike, acceptable for entry into God's kingdom.       We Christians expect to be glorified to Christlikeness in heaven. After all, that's what the Bible says: Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.(1 John 3:2) But if we want to be Christlike in heaven, shouldn't all Christians want to be like Jesus in this lifetime, while living on this planet?       So then, we seem to have a dichotomy: We need to be childlike to enter into God's kingdom, but our fondest desire must be to become Christlike in this life. How can we harmonize these two ideas: ... for of such(little children) is the kingdom of heaven. and, we shall be like him. Is this saying Jesus was childlike? While that would be the easiest rationale because, like little children, Jesus was guileless, he also possessed the very attributes of God--because he was, and is, God.       Actually, there is no conflict at all between these two characteristics. Jesus possessed the best parts of children in his openness, his honesty and his unqualified love. But that in no way compromised his spiritual fruit and his divine attributes. The best of children is also the best of God, so Childlikeness is Christlikeness.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Waking Lazarus

      Tony Hines went and wrote a book--and what a book! Waking Lazarus begins with eight-year-old Jude Allman drowning under the ice of Duck Lake, Montana. It gets interesting when young Jude awakens with a sheet covering his face, a tag on his toe, and a cold, steel table under his buck naked body.
      Tony was nice enough to provide the first chapter, but I suspect his niceness was driven by a deep, abiding sadism. Getting me hooked on the first chapter, then making me buy the book, proves it.
      You just wait, Tony! When I get published I'll return the favor.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

GLUTTONY

      The scene is set. Cake, pie, cookies, and yes, doughnuts, are spread on the folding table a respectful distance from the potluck's main dishes. But everyone knows it's there, waiting, enticing. We pay healthful homage to the salads, the meat loafs, the green bean casseroles and other "good stuff." But we most certainly leave room for dessert.
      Later, after we've done more than our part to prevent the sin of wasted food--and dessert--we suffer guilt pangs, if not stomach aches, from our indiscretion. And what better to salve the guilt of stupid eating, but more stupid eating. It's a viscous cycle that demonstrates, not our lack of self-control, but our lack of self-love.
      We have no business hating one for whom Jesus loved enough to die. That includes ourselves, no matter how many doughnuts we cram into our faces. But loving ourselves doesn't include excusing our sin.
      How often have I witnessed people--myself included--bingeing on sweets, despite realizing it is bad for us? It may not be smoking, drinking, or fornicating, but it still damages the temple of God's Spirit. Is a sin less a sin because "everybody" is doing it? Are we who belong to God, who have His Holy Spirit within us, still slaves to sin? Can we rightly excuse our sinful behavior by calling it a compulsion? We need to let God open our eyes so we can see gluttony, not as a socially acceptable fault, but as the sin it is, and repent of it just like any other sin.

Monday, June 05, 2006

When Good Is Bad

      The man of God received a clear message from God not to eat or drink in a certain place or return the way he came. Another "man of God," an elderly prophet, witnessed the wonders the man of God performed in Bethel and knew he must be hungry and thirsty. So the old prophet offered food and drink at his home, saying, "... an angel told me by the word of the Lord ..."
      Listening to his stomach instead of God, the man of God bought the lie, no doubt with the best of intentions. For that, God judged him.
      Was God unfair? Should He have cut the man of God some slack because the poor sap had "needs?" Though the passage doesn't reveal the man of God's internal thoughts and motivations, God knew them.
      As Christians, we are men and women of God, and He has revealed to us His way through His word and, in some instances, through His Holy Spirit's prompts. In either case, God has made His way clear to us so we have no excuse for deviating from it. That is the "best."
      Often, however, God's directions will seem remote, clouded by time's passing and the world's urgent pressures. "Needs" will try to pull or push us out of God's way. Brethren who have observed our struggles will come along side, and with the best of intentions, offer "good" help or advice.
      When we cave to those "good" pressures, God might send a bear to kill us as He did the man of God. And we'd deserve it. But unlike the man of God's situation in the book of First Kings, we live under God's new covenant of grace through his Son's holy blood. Does that mean we will suffer no consequences for disobeying God's clear directions? Not according to His Law of Sowing and Reaping. Jesus' apostle Paul spoke wisely about following God's directions: "... yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel."
      So then, are we to let our critical needs go wanting, just to obey God's old, dusty directions? A Bible verse we all learned in Sunday School answers that for us: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you."
      God was patient with us until we saw fit to come to Him through Jesus' blood. Shouldn't we wait for his promised provision for our needs?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Iu, or Ui

      If you were to ask around, it wouldn't be hard to find practitioners of both. We call "big eye--little ewe" people self-centered or egotistical, and many of them are proud of that rap. The few who aren't proud of it wish they were more deferential to others, but they don't seem to have it in themselves.
      The other extreme is the "big ewe--little eye" camp, many of whom seem to have declared themselves the world's doormat. They are an interesting group because of their varied motivations.
      False humility seems benign enough. Humility under any guise is a good thing, right? Not if its root lies in the ego, and feeds on altruistic pride. One could call it a "martyr complex," where seeking the last place elevates the "humble soul" to a superior position is his own eyes.
      Poor self-image is an emotional disease, often passing to successive generations in a family or community. Poor self-image is a double-edged sword, cutting toward hopelessness and depression on one side, and toward aggressive, antisocial behavior on the other. Many of these folks refuse to strive for self-improvement either because they believe they are not capable of achieving it, or because they believe they are unworthy of it, or both. And many others prey on anyone who seems to have more than they, taking their goods and mistreating them to make themselves feel superior.
      Of course there's another category the title ignores, because the world's wisdom ignores them: They are the "Big God, Little I" people. They love God because He first loved them. They see themselves as God's servants, and in turn, servants of God's creation. They seek not their own glory, but do all in their power to love and glorify their beloved Lord.
      They show their love by routinely giving themselves or their goods to others through acts of charity. Why? Because they fully believe their property and talents aren't their own. And their love extends even to those who mistreat them, responding with prayer and gratitude no matter what happens to them.
      God's servants also love those who claim to be God's servants, but without the works to prove it. They love the pew-sitters who show up in church each week to join in the feel-good experience of worshipping God, but leave after the small talk and hand shakes to pursue their own agendas. They even love those church folks who obstruct God's work because "that's not the way we do things here."
      And of course they love and subject themselves to God's undershepherds, who might put the kibosh on their ambitious plans because God's timing isn't in it. Tragically, that's the hardest kind of love to give.

Brother Lawrence's First Letter on Practicing God's Presence

      Brother Lawrence wrote many of his letters to two women who may have been friends or relatives from his native village. One was a Carmelite sister, and the other was attached to another local convent. This first letter likely went to the Prioress of one of these convents. With a sense of extreme meekness, he was so concerned with his anonymity that he threatened to quit corresponding if the Prioress shared the letters with anyone.
      He first sought spiritual knowledge from the many books that were available on the subject--even without a local Christian Book Store. Wisely thinking such a font of information might confuse, rather than enlighten him, he abandoned the books for a simple resolve to become wholly God's, to "give the all for the All." His method? To renounce all that was not God, and to live as if he and God were alone in the world.
      Every task he undertook focused first on God, then on the work. In fact, he consciously kept his mind on His holy presence no matter what he was doing, and as soon as he realized it wandered, he dragged his thoughts back to God. He wrote, "I drove from my mind everything that interrupted my thoughts of God."
      Was that discipline difficult? "I found no small pain in this exercise. Yet I continued it, notwithstanding all the difficulties that occurred." What seems to have been a rigid discipline, he applied gently, not troubling himself when his mind wandered. Perhaps that is because he depended solely on God's mercy and goodness for the strength to continue.
      With consistency over time, these acts of discipline become habitual, and "the presence of God becomes quite natural to us." And residing in God's presence prevents our offending Him, while creating within us a holy freedom, "and, if I may so speak, a familiarity with God, where, when we ask, He supplies the graces we need."
      He appropriately ended this first letter with this benediction: May all things praise Him. Amen.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

THE HIDDEN

      If the title sounds scary, just read the book! The main characters seem to have their lives together--until charred bodies begin turning up on their rural Colorado horse ranch. And about that time Dr. Susan Stone, Boston psychiatrist, discovers a young man--who names himself Jacob--chained in a deep ravine, a young man whose intelligence, sensitivity and love seem too good to be true. Does he have anything to do with the mutilated and burned bodies? It falls to Sheriff Rick Sanchez, Susan's childhood boyfriend, to find out.
      Kathryn Mackel's well-crafted novel of spiritual and family warfare drew me from page to page, chapter to chapter, without ever wanting to lay it down.
      Mackel's unique, virtually photographic, but brief, descriptions of nature lent strongly to the spell with which her "Christian Chiller" bound me. And Jacob's surreal dream sequences gave me the willies. I've seldom been so scared happy.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Inner Conflict

      William Faulkner recognized the true source of drama, "the human heart in conflict with itself." As a gifted writer, his context was limited to the power of conflict in a story. There is, however, a vastly more critical context for that struggle: inner, spiritual conflict.
      Inner conflict is the essence of the natural man, but in Christ we have peace with God. As wonderful as it is, Christ's peace, that transcends understanding, complicates our inner conflict. When God's Holy Spirit comes to take up residence with our human spirit, that alliance changes our inner balance of power and throws our rebellious, old man into fits of desperation. To that old man, the words, "Lord Jesus, save me," are fightin' words.
      The solution? Daily, strengthen that holy, spiritual alliance through prayer and meditation on God's word. Let your renewed mind overwhelm the old man's feeble rationalizations for sin. Wrestle him to the cross and let Jesus finish him off.
      That isn't a once-for-all solution, but a daily battle that, with perseverance, will become easier over the years. If we're not ready for the campaign with the Whole Armor of God in place, we will ultimately fail. The enemy's flaming arrows are nothing to mess with, and when they penetrate our own meager defenses they hurt like, well, "blazes."
      The first step in receiving His armor is to know it is essential and that it is available. The second step is to make it real through meditation on it. The third step is to pray it on, thanking God for providing it. The fourth step is to master its use, becoming proficient with it through practice and in battle.
      The inner conflict between our spirit and our flesh doesn't have to be a struggle. Romans 8:37 says, "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." We can claim that victory by following orders, or we can live in defeat by going our own way. It's a simple choice.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Another Flawed Concept of God--or--What's It All About, Adam?

      God doesn't allow suffering lightly, and he certainly doesn't cause it. Suffering is the natural consequence of sin. The great tragedy is how the relatively innocent must suffer for others' sin. It's that "free moral agent" thing.
      He gave Adam, and through him, us, the ultimate gift of volition. That is the greatest part of our likeness to him. What Adam did with that gift is a matter of record, and if Adam hadn't put his foot in it, I would have.
      I've thought a lot about this "meaning of life" thing, and I've tried to view all the religionists' neat Bible interpretations within the correct context: they are just as fallen as I am, and put their pants on one leg at a time ... unlike me. I usually can't find 'em.
      God didn't create heaven for himself. He created it for us, as a place where we could have the most intimate fellowship with him for eternity. For that to happen, he had to make us, as much as possible, like himself: He is tri-une, or three-in-one. As God is Father(intellect), Son(physical), and Holy Spirit(duh), we too have a cognitive, self-aware mind, a physical body and a spirit. The three are interrelated, interdependent, inseparable.
      He is self-existent and eternal. Since he created us, we are obviously not self-existent, but to live with him for eternity, we must be eternal. Eternity has no past/present/future sequence. It's all "now." As temporal beings, our perspective is restricted to time, so eternity doesn't make sense to us. But when God takes us out of time, we'll understand eternity.
      He is infinite. We can only understand infinity in the mathematical sense, but God is infinite in scope. If there are other times, he is there. If there are other universes, he is there. If there are other dimensions, he is there. If there are other realities, he is there. While we aren't infinite, our minds are nearly so. Witness the proliferation of Sci-Fi/Fantasy stories floating around. If there is a limit to our corporate imagination, we haven't approached it as yet.
      That takes us to a characteristic that is, for us, related. To have created all the universes, God must be absolutely creative. He gave us creativity as well. We too can create universes, albeit not literally. We create them in our minds. We can literally create things that lie within our scope; the arts and sciences are our tools.
      He is absolutely knowledgeable. He knows all that is and all that is not. He knows all that happens, all that could happen, and because he is eternal, he knows all that will happen and all that will not happen. We too are knowledgeable, but not on the infinite, eternal scale of our creator. Who knows what we would know if we had not begun the process of genetic entropy by defying God?
      All the energy in the universe is only a spark compared to his infinite power. He gave us power as well, but sometimes we have to look for it. We have mental, spiritual and physical power to accomplish things. We have strength of character, strength of will and strength of intellect.
      Combine his eternity, his infinity and his unlimited knowledge and power, and we see that he is everywhere, doing everything he does, simultaneously. Talk about multitasking!
      God's other attributes propel his wisdom. He simply knows what's best, without regard to shifting circumstances. Humans have a sort of wisdom, and it gets us into more trouble than our stupidity. When we temper our natural wisdom with God's eternal wisdom, things go right. Why don't more things go right? We so easily confuse worldly wisdom with God's divine wisdom that only by knowing his word, our source for his wisdom, can we live right.
      The Bible says, "God is love." We might have a capacity for various forms of love, but we are certainly not love. In fact, God's brand of love confuses us no end. To us, love is a transient feeling often generated by hormones and unmet needs. Even when we work to understand the Biblical concept of God's love, we seldom get it right. God doesn't love us for anything we are or do. He loves us because it is his nature to love. The Bible says, "we love because he first loved us." Only by his example can we ever get it right, and the only way we can profit by his example is if we open our minds and search for his works.
      We have to distinguish between God's various attributes to discuss them, but like his triunity, all his attributes are interrelated, interdependent and inseparable. Like all the elements that go to into making a complete human being, God's attributes combine into the perfect person that he is. Each of God's attributes is perfect and absolute, but he is not the sum of them. He is the synergism of them.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Churchman, or Godsman

Hebrews 5:12-14 In fact, though by now you should be teachers, you still need someone to teach you the basic truths of God's word. You have become people who need milk instead of solid food. (13) For everyone who lives on milk is still a baby and is inexperienced in the message of righteousness. (14) But solid food is for mature people, whose minds are trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.       We could call him Churchman, the late bloomer. Churchman sits weekly--or weakly--under sound preaching, likely pointing his mental finger at others around him. He listens. He hears. He applies God's message to anyone but himself. But because of his tenure on that pew he aspires to positions of authority within the body. He may, because of financial success, stoop to buying a teaching, deacon, or even elder position(but never that of janitor). He has crawled into the driver's seat, imitated daddy in turning on the car and putting it into gear, and driven away at idle with his legs kicking the air. Before long he will cause damage, injury, or even death.
      Churchman has stunted his own growth by feeding on the carnal trappings of religion, and will never grow up if he refuses to apply to himself the milk of God's truth. If he were to read this, he would instantly identify several brethren who should read and apply it to themselves.
      Trying to identify Churchman is a fruitless pursuit. The only purpose in doing so would be to apply this message to him, making you just another Churchman. The mature, we'll call him Godsman, is one who partakes of the strong food of God's truth and never swivels his head in a search for Churchman. Rather, on reading this message, he would instantly examine his own life to see if he had, in fact, been Churchman in disguise.
      Churchman has refused to take in even the milk of God's truth. His religious existance, fueled as I've said by religious trappings, simulates life closely enough to fool even his Churchman siblings. So how is he supposed to grow enough to digest God's milk? Vs. 13 speaks of babes in Christ who crave God's milk, thrive on it and grow rapidly into stronger food. What Churchman needs is to be born all over again, to become a true babe in Christ.
      Godsman has already taken in and digested enough of God's milk, and is ready for God's strong food. He has completed his growth and practiced his discernment to where the church can trust his moral and spiritual judgment. Other verses in God's word indicate Godsman will be careful to accept only the ministries and church positions that God has confirmed to the elders and to him. He will not pursue positions of responsibility on his own because he is meek, and not confident in himself.
      Will that lack of self-confidence make him incompetent to execute the responsibilities he accepts? Far from it. He will, daily, fall on his face before God to receive the wisdom and strength he knows he doesn't possess on his own. Then he will stand firm on the Rock to hold up others who are unable to stand on their own.
      If you were to ask Godsman how he manages to live faithfully, he'd confess that he can't, that he's the weakest of the brethren. Then he'd point to another Godsman for the example of godly living.
      I pray to God that He will change my name to Godsman.

Why Jesus?

      Societies that follow Muslim law try to protect men from temptation to lust on women by making all women cover up from head to toe. The theory must be, "Out of sight, out of mind." While that's sound in theory, in practice it simply doesn't work. Men sin with their minds, not with their eyes, even though temptation can enter through the eye-gate.
      Jesus said, "if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out." Of course He didn't really want people blinding themselves. He was using hyperbole to illustrate the spiritual principle that fundamental change is needed if sin is to be avoided. You must pluck out your mind to avoid sin. In a way, that process is even more painful than literally plucking out your or your brain. It requires you to kill your old sense of self and allow Jesus to give you rebirth.
      Mohammed can't do that. Not even Allah can do that. So if you're tired of your life, let Jesus take it and give you a brand new life.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Most Clever People

      Addiction can be so seductive that the addict actually thinks he's right in his dependency. I was well on my way to alcoholism back in the early '70s, but God stepped in to prevent it. And I'm so glad he did! Usually alcohol serves to numb unmet needs, but it never, ever satisfies them. If anything, it just exacerbates them. I know that was the case for me.
      Some religious people say alcohol is demonic, but I refuse to give it that much credit. It's just a chemical that kills enough brain cells to make you remarkably stupid. That said, I have to admit that Satan can use it powerfully for his nefarious ends.
      Probably my least favorite job, but most interesting as a human behavior study, was my years spent as a small-town taxi driver. The most clever people I transported were drunks. Their little head-games kept me guessing, taking valuable time away from other passengers with genuine needs. Of course that fact was completely lost on those perfectly self-centered dolts.
      That exposure to pure, alcoholic genius would have convinced me not to touch the sauce, if God hadn't already taken care of it.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

To God We Go--Brother Lawrence's fourth conversation

      Free and simple conversation characterized Brother Lawrence's formula for prayer, but only after heartily renouncing all that does not lead to God. Even his hectic duties as the monastery's cook failed to draw his mind away from God. He worked devotionally and prayed deliberately, seeking God's will where his course of action was uncertain, and plunging ahead where he had no question. In fact, he offered to God any work he undertook, and thanked God when it was completed.
      Brother Lawrence believed prayer must include praise, adoration, and loving God incessantly, trusting His grace to cover any sin we might put between Him and us. And God's grace never failed him, except where he allowed himself to wander from God's presence or neglected to ask His assistance. When our only motive is to please God, He will overcome our doubts with His light of truth.
      The church has long contended about the nature of sanctification, but Brother Lawrence's idea was simple: Do for God what we commonly do, rather than doing it for our own gratification, or spending our lives addicted to perfecting religious works that are by their very nature, imperfect. The distinction between prayer times and other times was, in his mind, a deadly illusion. Instead, prayer was simply a sense of God's presence, and insensitivity to anything but God's love. Prayer times didn't limit his spiritual communion with God, but his praise and blessing never abated.
      If Brother Lawrence had a method for practicing God's presence, it was simply a final surrender to Him, trusting His faithfulness not to deceive us. He believed there were no small works in God's eyes, but only loving and unloving works. As unnatural as is God's love to the natural man, we should not wonder at our initial failure in practicing it. With perseverance, however, we will establish that habit and live God's love without care and to our greatest delight.
      Brother Lawrence often referred to religion, but his thoughts on the spiritual life transcend simple religious practice. Perhaps he meant we should practice God's presence religiously, with all the ferver of a religious zealot. In this age of religious extremism, it's safe to say that such sectarian adherants devote themselves to the form of religion while missing its essence. This is at least as true in Christianity as in any other religion.
      He believed that in practicing faith, hope and love, we become united to God's will. All else must contribute to perfecting that practice, and if it doesn't we must abandon it. To quote Brother Lawrence, "All things are possible to him who believes. They are less difficult to him who hopes. They are more easy to him who loves, and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues"
      If we honestly examine ourselves, we will discover the fundamental flaw that separates us from God and makes us worthy of only His contempt. As such, we deserve to reap the harvest of our sinfulness, which includes all kinds of physical, mental and emotional failures.
      When one of the brothers asked him how he managed to stay so close to God, he replied that from the time he entered the monastary, he focussed on God as the process and the end of all his thoughts and desires. Meditating upon God, rather than practicing the prescribed rituals, he developed a profound sense of God's love and presence. Each day, after so filling his mind with God, he consciously dedicated his kitchen work and its outcomes to Him and entered into it with unbounded joy. Where he worked well, he thanked God for it. Where he failed, he asked God's pardon and resolved to set his mind right again.
      Practicing God's presence so rewarded him that he expounded its benefits to any who would listen. But it wasn't his words that convinced them. Rather it was his sweet spirit and calm devotion that attracted them to his life.
      This quote sums up his attitude toward mundane chores: "The time of business," said he, "does not with me differ from the time of prayer. In the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Supper."