"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.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Long, Lonesome Trail

      Dust. That's what strikes me when I think of westerns. And manure. Okay, I couldn't smell the manure through the screen, but I know it was always there.
      Of course, there were guns--everybody wore one or two on their hips--and Gunsmoke. "Cares of the past are behind; Nowhere to go but I'll find; Just where the trail will wind; Drifting along with the tumbling tumble weed."
      That was the silver screen and the pulp page, where stories of romance and violence, bravery and drunkenness emerged daily, for a-dime-a-dozen.
      Manure was always with the ancient Israelites, as well, though I never thought of that when I heard Bible stories. And the Children of Israel seemed to wander aimlessly through the wilderness, following not the tumbling tumbleweed, but a glorious pillar of fire at night, and mysterious smoke during the day.
      As far as that stiff-necked people were concerned, their travels were aimless. Though God's presence was always with them in the wilderness, they quickly lost sight of Him. That's right; a pillar of fire hundreds of feet high that consumed no fuel, or a billowing, black pillar of smoke that left no trace, and the people forgot Who was there with them.
      When they ran short of water they panicked, and began looking for stones to throw at Moses and Aaron. And when their stomachs began rumbling they began grumbling. Was God deaf? Did He lead them out into the wilderness to starve? Yet, when He provided bread from heaven they wanted meat. And when he gave them birds to eat they tired of it and wanted thick, juicy cuts of beefsteak.
      Yes, God led them in circles, wasting forty years of their time and one generation of their sons. Was God cruel to give them a glimpse of freedom and then feed them forty years of wilderness? Had they obeyed Him and given Him any other choice, their path would have been straight and true. But the Israelites rebelled against God's government at every turn. They worshiped idols rather than God. They hoarded resources rather than trusting in His provision. They fornicated, and practiced adultery and incest in spite of God's command. They withheld the tithe, stealing from God after He had given them everything. They blasphemed Him at every turn, blaming Him for the woes they brought on themselves.
      God allowed them to reap the bitter harvest of their foolishness, but they remained blind to His loving justice, even until today. Yes, we--God's redeemed, the fruit of His grace--are the same people who forced Him to deal harshly with them for forty years in the Sinai Peninsula. God's church, for whom He shed His own precious blood, continues the futile wandering it began after being set free from Egypt's slavery. Like the Israelites, we pray for more stuff after receiving God's best for us. We pray for revival while immersing ourselves in the world's corruption.
      And if we're particularly devout Christians, we lift our hands in praise for a few minutes each week, while we're not staring at our resident, window on the world, filling our minds with the world's amusements.
      God gave the ancient Israelites His provision, His leadership, and even His holy prophets, only to have it all thrown back at Him with curses. And today, He gives us His life's blood in exchange for our sin-guilt, only to have it all thrown back at Him in the name of Christian liberty. We have His very best available for a prayer, but we, like the Israelites, prefer our own way, making our blasphemy infinitely worse than theirs.
      Yes, we have a problem. But God has already given us the Solution. What we will do with Him remains to be seen. Will we continue testing God's patience, presuming upon His infinite grace? Will we continue tumbling along like a tumbling tumbleweed, blown about by every capricious, worldly wind?
      The tumbleweed, dear church, is in our court.

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