"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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


      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."

Monday, May 08, 2006

Practice Makes Perfect--Third Conversation with Brother Lawrence

      If the Carmelite lay brother were alive today he might say, "Practicing the presence of God is no big deal ... it is the only deal." When Brother Lawrence occasionally realized he had strayed from God's company he didn't disquiet himself, but confessed his wretchedness to God and returned to Him in even greater trust.
      Trusting God honors Him more than all our flowery words of praise. He rewards the faithful soul with such great graces as only His infinite faithfulness and mercy can bestow. The grace he experienced from trusting God became such a part of his daily outlook that Brother Lawrence never worried beforehand how he should perform some duty. He simply knew from experience that God would reveal what was needed, and when that happened it blessed him so he could hardly contain his gratitude. He was more united with God in his mundane employments than when he left them for private devotion.
      Brother Lawrence believed the worst that could happen to him was to lose his sense of communion with God, and no matter how bad circumstances got, he knew God would never allow that to happen. How could he fear death when it was the door to perfect, eternal union with God?
      He saw primary spiritual value in practicing self-denial until God's unspeakable joy inevitably takes over to perpetuate the discipline. And when problems should assault us? Simply take them to Jesus.
      Many get bogged down in the Christian life because guilt for their sins distracts them from appreciating God's love. One can discern from the lack of "solid virtue" in their works when that is the issue. He said, "There needed neither art nor science for going to God, but only a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him and to love Him only."


      On viewing the linked computer graphic, I posted my reaction as follows: "Beautiful execution. Wish I could do stuff like this. My view of God isn't three of anything, but one composed of three distinct elements. In high school math I saw God in set theory: a universal set composed of three unique, but inseparable, subsets. God wouldn't be God without the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in perfect union. Separate them, and you have three gods."
      God's essential nature means as much to us as our essential nature does to the bacteria digesting food in our stomachs. We have one slight disadvantage over them, we like to hypothesize as to God's nature, reducing Him to a Super Humanoid in the process.
      God isn't human--not even close. While He created Man in His image, most of that resemblance departed with our innocence. Now, the only way we can resemble God is to accept His sanctifying grace and consecrate ourselves to His high purposes. The process isn't easy, but much more than worth the trouble.

Friday, May 05, 2006


      Dave Long's Faith in Fiction blog linked to Relief a new magazine for Christian literary expression. What follows is my comment on the editor's blog:
      "Gritty" is a word I don't often associate with church. It does, however, describe abrasives, which are used to shape most any material.
      "Seasoned" is a word I do associate with Church-goers, the ones who have worn customized spots for their fannies in church pews. It is, however, also what happens to make cooking surfaces impenetrable.
      Christians aren't cookware. And we aren't born--or born again--closely resembling Jesus. Only as we endure the pain of being shaped into His likeness will we ever experience His glorious, joy unspeakable. And only with that unnatural joy in our hearts, propelling his love, will we reach the world's lost.
      Though it seems closed to the gospel, the world is open to authentic spiritual fruit. Christian writers enjoy the unique opportunity to enter peoples' minds with our stories: stories of love over bitterness, joy over heartbreak, peace over travail, patience over anxiety, goodness over depravity, kindness over cruelty, self-control over license. When God's fruit permeates our stories, not as a sermon, but as a savor, He will work in our readers' hearts--if the Christian marketplace will allow us to express the contrast between the joy of good and the despair of evil. But joy in literature--even Jesus' unspeakable joy--can not easily survive religiose sanitizing.
      Enter RELIEF. May it be a mustard seed that will grow to shade and refresh a parched world.

Monday, May 01, 2006

More from Brother Lawrence

      God first spoke to Nicholas Herman--later to become Brother Lawrence, when he was eighteen years-of-age. The boy noticed a fruit tree bared by the winter's blast. He knew what appeared to be dead would, in God's time, bud, sprout leaves, then flowers, and finally fruit. Meditating on such high thoughts about God gave the boy a new and lasting appreciation of God's sovereign power. He received a love for God that, if anything, had only increased in the intervening forty years.
      The "high notions" about God with which he continually filled his mind seem to be the key to Brother Lawrence's intimate fellowship with his Master, and in turn, his constant, simple joy of life. Such "high notions" cultivate a lofty view of God, appreciation for His infinite grace, humility for our fallen state, and gratitude for the profound sacrifice He made in restoring us to intimate fellowship with Himself. How could he not joyfully exploit that God-given opportunity to "pray without ceasing," as God commanded in His word?
      In M. de Beaufort's second interview, Brother Lawrence revealed the satisfaction he received from unselfishly loving God; simply harvesting a straw from the field for God's love, seeking not even His reward for faithful service, gratified the lay-brother more than he felt he deserved.
      During one four-year period, Brother Lawrence had suffered from a belief that despite all his efforts to serve God, he should be deemed unworthy of heaven. He finally found peace in his resolve to live for God regardless of the eternal outcome. In serving God without compromise he joyfully satisfied not only his temporal need for purpose, but his desire for assurance of salvation as well.
      He referred to prayer as "conversing with God," a revolutionary idea in a culture of litergy and prayer books. He said continually conversing with God and referring all we do to Him required that we first "apply to Him with some diligence." Exactly what that means depends upon the individual seeker, but after a little initial care, His exciting love will motivate us to continual devotion without difficulty.
      Even so, Brother Lawrence occasionally stumbled, but dealt with each misstep with prayer: "I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss." Once so committed, "he gave himself no further uneasiness about it." God never failed to honor such plain and frank interactions. What a contrast to our own brand of self-fladulation!
      Contemplating difficult tasks often daunted Brother Lawrence, but once he realized they were God's work, and not his own, he did them well. All he did was ask God for His grace to do His work well, and he found it easy to accomplish.
      God's love motivated him in every task, so he had little need for a human supervisor. When he did fail, he simply confessed it to God with no excuses, and continued loving Him with renewed adoration. Then he let the lots fall where they would without worrying about it.
      Useless thoughts had no place in his life, but they plagued him repeatedly. He found the usual monastic disciplines usless, unless they focussed him on God's love. Only by consciously doing all things for God's sake could he keep his mind elevated beyond the natural, carnal level.
      He differentiated between "acts of the intellect and those of the will," assigning the former relatively little value, while the latter were all important. Such an idea offends today's esteem of the human mind as being divine in scope. But deep thoughts have no value if they produce no lasting change within the thinker. Willing to follow God's Way, loving and delighting ourselves in Him, however, requires little intellectual prowess, and absolutely no self-thrashing. Only through Jesus' blood can we expect pardon for our sins, and only by loving Him for his blood can we please Him.
      The extreems of this world's pain and pleasure can't compare to either, experienced in a spiritual state. So he feared nothing, save offending God.
      Finally, he said, "When I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, I am used to do so. I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself. If I fail not, then I give God thanks acknowledging that it comes from Him."