"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.

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


      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.