"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, April 28, 2008


According to the Bible, angels are God's special messengers and His heavenly army. The Authorized Version of the Old Testament includes 212 verses where the Hebrew word translated angel appears. That word(מלאך mal'âk), translated 100 times as angel, is also translated as, messengers 74 times, messenger 24 times, angels ten times, and ambassadors four times.
        They do get around. Today angels are quite in vogue, with tiring lists of library and Internet references concerning them. Bumper stickers proclaim angelic protection, and movies and TV shows feature their adventures.
        Though I've personally never witnessed obvious spirit-manifestations, that is not to say they haven't happened around me. There is no reason to assume my eyes of flesh—or anyone else's for that matter—should be able to observe spirit-beings. Since the Bible gives many non-symbolic accounts of angels at work, however, I have no choice but to believe they exist.
        The Bible also makes God's attributes perfectly clear, among which is his attribute of omnipresence, or existing everywhere at once. Since such a concept is impossible for us finite mortals to fully understand, many assume it to mean God is aware of all things rather than literally being everywhere.
        God's omnipresence creates an interesting conundrum when considering the angelic role of messenger. If God is present everywhere at once, logic suggests he must be present as his angels perform their God-assigned tasks. So, why does he need messengers if he's with the message's recipient all along?
        One might think skepticism motivates this line of thought. While that is certainly the case for those who refuse to believe the Biblical account, my questions drive me deeper into God's word for the answer, which I know is there, hidden though it may be.
        In coming posts, I will share with readers what I find. If I come to any conclusions, they are up for grabs. Anyone who can shoot them down must feel free to do it, but not with religious dogma or tradition, unsupported by careful Bible study. So, let's see what comes of all this speculating.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Happy Endings

Psalm 73 begins by reiterating God's goodness to those of Israel who are pure in heart. It's kind of like the good news before the bad, because the Psalmist has some hard things to say.
        Despite God's goodness, the writer had found himself stumbling along through life. Why? Because he ceased watching God and His law, and began lusting on worldly things: the rewards of selfishness.
        The same mind-set that drags us down plagued the Psalmist. We watch celebs of questionable character flaunt their prosperity through their entertainment media. We read about special interests shoveling obscene wealth into the government fat-cats' stretching pockets. The ENRON scandal demonstrates Big Business's wholesale corruption; they were busted, but how many aren't? Then there are the Mafia wise-guys, the gang bosses who have whole cities' vice operations neatly sewn up.
        With the Psalmist, we become envious of the fruit of corruption and the profit of arrogance.
        We shout to the heavens, demanding to know why the wicked suffer no consequences for their wickedness. Their posh lifestyles and gaudy luxury make no suggestion of a coming reckoning. Where is the justice? Smooth-sailing and insulation from the normal rigors of life reward their wickedness.
        They seem to buy, or intimidate, their way our of every consequence, wearing the Teflon® coat of violence.
        And, oh, it gets worse, as they prosper in every imaginable way. Why are they allowed to enjoy such unspeakable pleasures when so many suffer because of them? If we tried tasting of their rewards, we would surely get busted and suffer for our indiscretions.
        Since God seems to approve of their wicked actions, maybe we aught to change our definitions of right and wrong. Such people do seem to have all the power, and by kowtowing to them we could share in some of their wealth.
        The righteous among us cry out to God, demanding to know why He overlooks the graft and corruption. "Don't you see all this going on, God?"
        Witnessing all this profitable injustice, we ask why we bother trying to live righteously. Number one, we are nowhere near that bad! And number two, we're quite religious. Doesn't that count for anything?
        Why, all I get for my goodness is more trouble, morning and night. Where's the justice, O God?
        By verse fifteen, the Psalmist tires of all his whining and grousing, so he reveals his true purpose in such a tirade. If that were his true attitude, and those were his actual complaints, he would have betrayed God's people for all generations.
        The Psalmist grows quite weary, trying to psych-out God's purpose in all this apparent injustice. And today, God-followers remain strangely mute in the face of such challenges as, "Why do the good and upright suffer horrible calamities, while the rich get richer and the fat-cats get fatter?"
        The first half of Psalm 73 demonstrates how humanly normal it is to gaze on the apparent injustices of life, how easy it is to allow such trouble to fill our field of view. Then in verse seventeen, it issued the essential challenge of faith: We must enter God's sanctuary to gain wisdom about the difficult issues of life. And His sanctuary for us is not limited to a particular place, or even a network of places such as church buildings. The phrase, "... enter God's Sanctuary ..." means far more than the traveling tent that followed the Hebrews, or even the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. This is obvious, because lay people weren't ever allowed in the Temple's Most Holy Place. So the sanctuary we must enter—our Sanctuary—is the Lord Jesus Christ, first, last and always. When we seek His voice with all our hearts, confessing and repenting of our doubts and worldly values, His Holy Spirit will speak to us God's eternal perspective and answer all our questions with His supernatural peace.
        Truthfully, we may never learn the factual answers to life's toughest questions—this side of eternity. But we don't need to know such things, as long as we understand God's divine nature enough to accept what, in our carnal eyes, might seem unjust.
        We love, because He first loved us. And because we love God, we refuse to challenge His purposes--even when life seems to go sour. Fact is, when we love God, we know all things will ultimately work for our good. We view the happy endings of movies and books as pure fiction, knowing the warm satisfaction they give us will be short-lived. But in Romans 8:28, God guarantees happy endings for a select few: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)
        Do you want to trust God for your Happy Ending?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Enjoy Your Children's Behavior--You've Earned It

Psalm 6
1O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.
          This is the prayer of every child, when he has done wrong and expects discipline. King David did not plead for no rebuke or discipline, but qualified his plea, such that his Father would not deal harshly with him.
        God's word repeatedly makes clear all parents bear the responsibility for correcting their children. Parents often use this first reference below as their "scriptural directive" to abuse children in the name of discipline:
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Pro 13:24 ESV)
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Pro 22:15 ESV)
Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. (Pro 23:13 ESV)
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (Heb 12:6 ESV)
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life. (Pro 6:23 ESV)
But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1Co 11:32 ESV)
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Heb 12:7 ESV)
          But Psalm 6:1 expresses a godly man's desire for moderation in discipline. Several other Bible passages stress God's expectation for parents to discipline their children without anger:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph 6:4 ESV)
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Rev 3:19 ESV)
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:11 ESV)
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray. (Pro 5:22-23 ESV)
          We must remember God's attitude toward expressions of anger and wrath among His children:
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Col 3:8 ESV)
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.(Eph 4:31 ESV)
          Admit it; too often what we pass off as discipline, is veiled revenge, making them pay for messing up. Our anger expresses attitudes like, "How dare you disgrace me by behaving stupidly?" "How many times do I have to clean up your mess?" or, "You're more trouble than you're worth!"
          God will not have that kind of self-centered attitude controlling our interactions with our children. His command is clear:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." (Rom 12:19 ESV)
          Isn't it obvious from God's word that wrathful discipline is His exclusive responsibility? He gave us many examples of leaders who usurped that responsibility by mistreating their subordinates, and the righteous judgment that befell them. Dare we presume to execute ungodly discipline on those for whom God gave us the solemn responsibility to mold godly character? Dare we teach our children by example that it is acceptable, even desirable, to act out our unbridled anger whenever someone crosses us?
          We teach, not by pontificating at our children, but by our example when dealing with the stresses of everyday life—whether right or wrong. Ephesians 6:4 makes the danger clear, and bears repeating: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. That means treat them with the same loving respect, grace and mercy that God has granted you. They will take your example to heart, apt students that they are. Before you know it, they are reacting to you in the same way you dealt with them.
          Enjoy your children's behavior, you've earned it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Writer for Our Daily Bread

        Philip Yancey is now writing for Our Daily Bread, and this edition shows his typically fresh approach to a well-worn topic: forgiveness.
        Interesting, that I can characterize the topic of forgiveness as "well-worn," in view of the difficulty today's--and history's--church has had with it. I'm convinced that many of my brethren who claim to have absolutely no issue with forgiveness, have simply buried it with the hope of, "Out of sight, out of mind."
        A buried grudge is not a forgiven one, and it will eventually fester, and erupt into a worse wound than it was originally. Do as the CSI-type TV characters often do, exhume the corpse for a postmortem, and get to the truth before it gets to you.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Trouble the Water by Nicole Seitz

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Trouble the Water

Thomas Nelson (March 11, 2008)


Nicole Seitz


        Nicole Seitz is a South Carolina Lowcountry native and the author of The Spirit of Sweetgrass as well as a freelance writer/illustrator who has published in numerous low country magazines. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Journalism, she also has a bachelor's degree in illustration from Savannah College of Art & Design. Nicole shows her paintings in the Charleston, South Carolina area, where she owns a web design firm and lives with her husband and two small children. Nicole is also an avid blogger, you can leave her a comment on her blog.
        Seitz's writing style recalls that of Southern authors like Kaye Gibbons, Anne Rivers Siddons, and Sue Monk Kidd, and this new novel, which the publisher compares to Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, surely joins the ranks of strong fiction that highlights the complicated relationships between women. Highly recommended, especially for Southern libraries.

        In the South Carolina Sea Islands lush setting, Nicole Seitz's second novel Trouble the Water is a poignant novel about two middle-aged sisters' journey to self-discovery.
        One is seeking to recreate her life yet again and learns to truly live from a group of Gullah nannies she meets on the island. The other thinks she's got it all together until her sister's imminent death from cancer causes her to re-examine her own life and seek the healing and rebirth her troubled sister managed to find on St. Anne's Island.
        Strong female protagonists are forced to deal with suicide, wife abuse, cancer, and grief in a realistic way that will ring true for anyone who has ever suffered great loss.
        "This is another thing I know for a fact: a woman can't be an island, not really. No, it's the touching we do in other people's lives that matters when all is said and done. The silly things we do for ourselves--shiny new cars and jobs and money--they don't mean a hill of beans. Honor taught me that. My soul sisters on this island taught me that. And this is the story of true sisterhood. It's the story of Honor, come and gone, and how one flawed woman worked miracles in this mixed-up world."

"...a special sisterhood of island women whose wisdom and courage linger in the mind long after the book is closed."
-NEW YORK TIMES best-selling author SUSAN WIGGS

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Gardeners, Born and Bred

        Humanity has always born a profound curiosity about his origins. The Bible contains one set of explanations, complete in itself. Though "modern" people largely consider the Bible's creation story to be metaphorical, science hasn't managed to contradict it, or provide satisfactory answers of its own.
        Biblical creation is sufficiently nonspecific to avoid scientific debunking. Yet, given the probability that the details are fabricated, one must also grant the possibility that it is essentially true. Whatever might it mean?
        Perhaps the healthy skeptic could suspend disbelief just long enough to examine the Biblical creation story's essence. Allow it, for a time, to speak its wisdom, even if it is only allegory. Every allegory, after all, has its message, and this particular one has demonstrated its profound power over the centuries. That in itself should qualify it as a significant source of wisdom, not to be taken lightly.
        So, let's go to the story recounted in the Bible. Adam was God's man. In fact, Adam and man are the same word in different languages. In today's phrasing, man was God's Creative Property; He conceived, designed and built man as the creative expression of Himself. After creating the rest of the universe, man was to be God's crowning achievement, for He created man in His own image to become creation's steward, its gardener.

The Job Description
        While Adam enjoyed all the joy, privilege and reward of living as steward over God's creation, he also bore the solemn responsibility to care for it. Part of that job description was to obey God in the one matter with which God found it necessary to constrain him; while Adam was to enjoy all the fruit of the garden, he was not, under penalty of separation from his Creator, to partake of one particular pleasure. Whether the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a literal tree, or metaphorical, matters not in the least to the principle in question. Whatever it or its fruit looked like, or whatever it meant to eat of it, God made it strictly off-limits.
        As the creation account unfolds in God's word, we see Adam stepping up to the plate, so to speak, by naming all the animals—no small feat in itself. Later, we learn that Adam was not only man, but human, in that he was lonely. Acknowledging a need in Adam that the man couldn't even define, God used a key part of Adam to fashion the Woman who would fill that void.
        So, man became mankind, God's gardeners, created to reproduce in His image to care for the rest of His creation.

A Serious Error
        Anyone who's a Windows computer user knows about the Serious Error. No one understands it, but it tends to shut down the operating system. For whatever reason, one of the new humans committed a Serious Error. That person found a fatal attraction in the one thing God had forbidden. Maybe the source of temptation was the serpent, and maybe the fateful object was a spectacular fruit that glistened in the morning sunshine. And maybe it wasn't, but what does it matter?
        The point is, through whatever mechanism, humanity chose to flout the one constraint that God had placed upon them. Perhaps, in the pressure of the moment, they simply forgot that God forbade that particular indulgence. No, the text indicates that the tempter addressed the issue in the form of a question. So they hadn't forgotten.
        Did they not believe God meant it? Well, they knew God personally. What in His personality or temperament would have indicated that He was kidding?
        Or, perhaps they simply didn't take the commandment seriously, preferring to risk His wrath in order to get what seemed attractive at the moment. After all, God was a God of love, wasn't He? Surely He wouldn't throw them out for just one minor indiscretion, would He? In view of contemporary mankind's attitude toward rules and rule-givers, this explanation seems quite likely.
        From the Genesis account, God didn't find their "minor indiscretion" at all funny. In fact, their "error" was sufficiently serious that God "yanked their plugs" from the Source of eternal life, and since they obviously wanted to live by their own standards, He accommodated them with banishment from the garden to make their own way in the harsh, cruel world.

But That Was Then ...
        Let's fast forward a few dozen centuries to see how far we've come. Risking the appearance of tree-huggers, let's forget our conservative politics for a moment and gaze about to see what our "garden" has become. How do we stack up as stewards and gardeners of this planet?
        Have we respected creation by using its resources responsibly? Or have we coveted the pretty fruit until the "tree" is in danger of being stripped bare?
        Have we used the intelligence of a common dog to not soil our own habitat? Look, for the answer, to our cities' filthy streets, to our polluted water and air, to our refusal to commercially develop non-wasteful energy sources. Let's face it; for an intelligent, creative race, we seem awfully slow at our lessons.

Drop Your Bludgeons, People
        So, dear skeptic, is it not possible to find valuable lessons in the book you believe to be full of human errors? Have our "enlightened" lives shown more wisdom than that old, dusty Bible?
        And, dear Bible-toter, standing on ones belief in God is meaningless if we refuse to learn more from Him than sterile, religious doctrine. He said we will love, because He first loved us. Do we?
        Does Christendom demonstrate Christ's love? Does Humanism demonstrate the highest ideals of humanity? Come on, children, let's quit bludgeoning one-another long enough to listen to what the other guy has to say.
        What this planet and its population need to survive is to abandon the inbred prejudices of our know-it-all attitudes, and set about learning from those with whom we disagree. Conservatives need to consider the possibility that unfettered enterprise may be corrupt to its roots, that freedom and autonomy carry with them the solemn responsibility to acknowledge their Source, and that self-government can only work in the context of self-control.
        And liberals need to consider the possibility that we humans aren't the center of the universe, that "quality of life" requires standards of morality and self-respect, far more than a guaranteed standard of living, and that the "free lunch" is, and always has been, the lie we love to believe.
        Earth's gardeners, one-and-all, step up to that plow, take hold of that spade, bend your backs to our God-given responsibility. Whether-or-not we believe in the job Giver, we each have a job to do if we're to survive, and there is nobody else around who will do it.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

My Doctrinal Head-Scratching--minus the dandruff

Michael Marlowe has produced a brilliant web site called, Bible Research by Michael Marlowe. With the variety of Biblical resources he offers, this medium simply doesn't allow enough space to adequately plumb the site's depths. I strongly recommend it to any Bible student.
        In response to Bro. Marlowe's statement on that site to the effect that his doctrinal position is "conservative and reformed," I submit the following essay, adapted from an e-mail I sent to him.

        Your biographical page said your doctrinal stance is "conservative and reformed." Perhaps you could be the one to explain to me the meaning, in this context, of reformed. I know it generally means Calvinist, without promoting the partizanism that usually goes with schools of thought bearing men's names.
        At one time I struggled with the seemingly conflicting teachings of reformed theology and "holiness" theology, which latter term is as ambiguous to me as the former. Most of the discussions I've witnessed between "experts" of the two schools of thought reinforce my own conclusion on the issue: The Bible obviously(without giving book, chapter, verse) supports both teachings, with advocates of each, bending the Biblical context in their attempt to discredit the opposition, which attitude clearly reflects the "spirituality" of their approach.
        One might ask, "How can the Bible teach two such mutually exclusive doctrines as unconditional election and personal volition?" It can and does teach both, because both are true, though not necessarily in the form they are usually taught.
        Each of us tries to wrap our awfully finite mind around God's infinite, eternal truth. With that attempt, large portions of said eternal truth is squeezed out the cracks of the little boxes that are our minds. To deal with said apparent dichotomy, I've arrived at a few conclusions that seem consistent with my woefully inadequate knowledge of His word. I am open to my theories being disproven, but not by anyone consumed with dogmatic pride.
        First, both sides of the figurative aisle seem to assume their understandings of these teachings are as complete and accurate as the texts from which they allegedly derive them. That presumption is utter foolishness! While I'll defend to the death, my belief in God's inerrant truth, I deny just as forcefully that any flawed human being is capable of accurately grasping His truth in its entirety. That pretty much throws any dogmatic stand on human interpretations out the stained-glass window.
        Does that open the smoking hatch to Satan's infernal relativism? Hardly. It just closes another scorched door called pride in ones personal or sectarian understanding.
        Second, divine sovereignty seems to be Calvinism's pivotal doctrine, allowing little-or-no room for human volition. The teaching of unconditional election subjugates any human choice to God's prior selection(Please note my use of the word prior. I'll deal with God's time-line later.).
        So, how sovereign is God? Answer: God's sovereignty is both perfect(qualitatively), and absolute(quantitatively). But His perfection goes infinitely beyond any human understanding of quality, as His absoluteness goes infinitely beyond our understanding of quantity. How can we presume to limit God's options by insisting that He, in His sovereignty, precludes all human volition? Isn't that God's choice to make? Is it not possible that He could sovereignly choose to limit His own sovereignty, giving man some degree of self-determination? Oh, that's right; God's sovereignty is from eternity, while any choices we make are strictly temporal. That leads me to my next point ...
        Third, traditional head-scratching over both persuasions often overlooks one basic fact: We are temporal beings, and our sense of cause-and-effect depends on our temporal perspective, while the Creator of all truth is eternal. That gives Him a somewhat more accurate perspective on matters of eternal truth. I get all cross-eyed thinking about this, but chronological order is meaningless in eternity. To God, there is no past, present, or future. To say our choices are now, while His choices were then, constrains His activity to our concept of time. God has no such limitation! And He needn't accommodate our inability to grasp that fact by attempting to conform His eternal truth to our finite understanding.
        God's Holy Spirit "anoints" His truth to our understanding when He sees fit. Dare we presume to declare any of our understanding as anointed of God? Dare we interpret our "feelings" about the accuracy of our scholarship and the certainty of our doctrines as His agreement?
        Despite our having "crucified" our fallen prIde(that's a capital i in the center of the word) with the old man's sinful nature, its rotting corpse has yet to be completely purged from our bodies. If we refuse to admit its presence, its infectious maggots will spread throughout our attitudes, our motives, our hidden thoughts, until the infestation drags us, unawares, back into the world's sinful quagmire. Eternal security or no eternal security, that "saintly" corruption is an infernal reproach to the holiness of His name, giving the world ample excuse to ridicule our "religion" and ignore our attempts at sharing God's holy gospel.
        I wonder how many of us realize that we "saints" will be judged for throwing such an obstacle in the way of seekers. His word commands us to Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. (Col 4:5)
      Thanks to His matchless grace, God ultimately managed to soften my heart, hardened as it was by the well-meant, but foolish, behavior of a few believers in Christ. But only He knows what I could have accomplished for Him, had they wooed me, rather than wounding me. And only He knows how many seekers have been put off from Him for all eternity; lost because of our occasional thoughtlessness. Just one act of hate, rather than love, of judgment, rather than grace, of pride, rather than of humility, could become a tragedy of eternal consequence.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

No Fooling!

        My Scripture calendar revealed God's promise of Mark 10:27 for Tuesday, April First, 2008: Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." (English Standard Version)
        In view of God's faithfulness, as well as all His other attributes, the believer might respond to Jesus' statement with a huge, Duh. Through the eyes of faith, to say that all things are possible with God is one of the most obvious statements He could have made.
        To see it that way, we must close our eyes to our human experience. From that fallen perspective, Murphy's Law prevails: "What can go wrong will, and at the worst possible moment." How many times have I quoted one of the numerous permutations of that fatalistic phrase? An even more negative, humanistic cliché would be, Life sucks, and then you die.
        What a contrast that is with God's word! And how foolishly pie-in-the-sky His inspired word seems through the eyes of corrupt, human flesh. But through faith, we can respond to all of God's promises with a resounding, "No fooling!" Even on April first.