"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, July 29, 2010

Another Prophetic Message Ignored

            They (the Hebrew religious leaders) have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace.(Jer 6:14)
            And they (today's religious leaders) are still at it. Christendom has adopted the world system's methods for dealing with the pain of sin; prescribing "good" works to feel better, including secular treatment modalities with pastoral counseling, numbing sin-guilt through psychoanalysis, all "have healed the wound of my people lightly." And such "light" healing is no healing at all, but just a bandage over the gaping wounds left by sin.
            Of course many people hurt from the organic causes such of mental illness, and preaching at them about turning it all over to Jesus too often comes across as nothing more than religious platitudes. While it is true that All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,(2Ti 3:16) like worldly medication, it has to be applied gently, correctly, or it will heal superficially, leaving subsurface wounds that will eventually erupt into disabling infection.
            True peace is a precious thing, but it is not a commodity to be dispensed glibly. Only God, through His Holy Spirit, is able to provide ... the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.(Php 4:7)
            Ignoring God's prophetic message will prevent God's unfathomable peace from finding a place in our hearts.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Loose To Win

            How can the perfect, Eternal God create anything but perfection? Believers and skeptics alike ask that question regularly, though for different reasons. Believers in Messiah Yeshua covet His holiness. Their consuming desire is to become perfect(mature, complete) as He is perfect, but only for His glory. Skeptics, however, ask the question thinking they've uncovered the ultimate, Biblical self-contradiction. Sorry skeptic, that argument is as old and stale as skepticism itself.
            I tend to see myself as a perfect example of imperfection, identifying with such cartoon characters as Charlie Brown and Brutus Thornapple. As Charlie Brown, the world is my Lucy, and as Brutus, the world is my boss, Rancid W. Veeblefester. But do I feel sorry for myself? Hell yes, I feel sorry for myself! And I used the H word because that is exactly where self-pity comes from. My point is, I realize that fact, and when I catch myself doing it I boot myself in the bum hard enough and often enough to get myself moving in the right direction.
            People love to win, as evidenced by the popular phrase, "Second place is first looser." True winners, however, don't win all the time. They know full well that a competitor doesn't learn by winning. In fact, champions painfully realize that their replacement is working his way up through the ranks, loosing some, and winning some.
            Winning and self-pity are mutually exclusive; if one who is used to winning looses a round and reacts with self-pity, he has just become a true looser. If, however, he learns from his loss and tries harder the next time, loosing is just a step in the process of winning.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Is it a small world, after all?

        Nancy received a heart-warming portrait of her son and family, standing near the "It's A Small World After all" attraction at Disneyland. I feel like packing her CCTV over to Brenden House so she can get a good look at it.
        Bet she cries.
        She might not, however, understand my secondary reaction to the photo. The thought hit me with no little force: "Is it a small world, after all?"
        Inside the attraction we find thousands of nationally costumed dolls with different skin colors, dancing the same step in unison to the same music in happy circles, singing ... what else? "It's a Small World After All." By the time five minutes of that ride passes, the catchy refrain becomes permanently etched upon ones memory.
        Another thing I remember fifty-odd years after I rode through the Small World, is the odd similarity between the various children's faces. Despite their costumes and skin color, each displayed the same cute, doll face and the same insipid smile.
        As they say in Hollywood, "Message received, loud and clear."
        The Powers That Be maintain that our "global village" is just like Disney's vision of a Small World. We're all basically the same, why can't we all just get along?
        What a cute idea! All we have to do is make the Palestinians and the Israelis get along. Or North and South Korea. Or the Taliban and the Infidel world(that's everybody else, if you haven't noticed). Fact is, everyone is willing to get along with anyone, as long as "they" follow our rules.
        We in the nominally Christianized world can't understand or accept "their" practices of female circumcision, chopping off thieves' hands--or those of anyone with whom they take offense, or divorcing wives at the slightest whim ... oh, we do that too, don't we. Yet, we Westerners sing lead in Disney's one-world anthem.
        Human nature says, "Sin is what they do." And we add, "If only they were more like us." In truth, sin is no respecter of persons. We're all guilty of the "Big I, Little You" attitude. And each of our noses is perfectly capable of reaching rarefied atmosphere when someone fails to meet our approval.
        Though the Internet, international commerce, and world travel have made this a small world in some respects, we're still a world apart when it comes to accommodating "them." Both Communism and Fascism have tried to force order upon this chaotic world, and though they both failed miserably, they're still trying. What the Small World folks don't tell us, or can't even see, is "they" will never consent to live "our" way, because to them, we are the others.
        Long ago, a small group of people taught that not loving one another would lead to our destruction. And another group of folks back in the '60s and '70s trumpeted a similar message, but they completely missed the point. The kind of love needed to reverse our destruction and bring us together is completely foreign to all of humanity. It is called agape, and it belongs only to Elohim, and to those who love Him through His Son Yeshua. (If you don't recognize those names, they are "God" and "Jesus," respectively. Using their Hebrew names doesn't evoke all the Christianese baggage.)
        The unique thing about Christ's Way is the fact that it is not a religion. Rather, it is an individual life lived as He lived, multiplied by as many as choose that way. It is a way of living that causes no injury, but not simply out of custom or religious convention. It is God's living and active, agape love, filling the life of each person who yields to it.
        Folks accused that small group from long ago of turning the world up-side-down. Tragically, they never finished the job. Why? They became religious in practicing their faith. They established traditions, and gave them the same authority as God's word. They elevated some believers over others in an ecclesiastical hierarchy. They reduced prayer to a bunch of liturgy. They chained God's word to a podium enclosed within a grand, gold-encrested basilica, intended to glorify the very God whose word they imprisoned. And they made Jesus' sacrifice trivial by trying to ritualize it.
        Religion is all that and more, but salvation is only through appropriating Jesus' ONE sacrifice, personally, individually, permanently. That simple act of faith will, if genuine, begin filling the believer with a love so powerful that it will turn the world up-side-down.
        Or, despite Disney's dream, make it a small world, after all.
Almost Arrogant?

            Our Daily Bread frequently provides grist for the old thought mill. Today's feed had me literally laughing out loud at Bill Crowder's understatement.
            Speaking of self confidence, he used the phrase, "almost arrogant confidence." One might ask, "What's so funny about that?" To which a different one might answer with another question, "Have you ever seen a supremely self-confident person who didn't seem arrogant?"
            Isn't it sickly amusing how human nature routinely accuses God of doing us wrong when things don't go our way? Yet, when we seem to get "it" right, we blithely take all the credit.
            And we say God is unfair?
            Face it; with few exceptions, we're a race of ungrateful brats, throwing tantrums when we don't get what we want ... now. What a gracious God we have, who willingly forgives our petty childishness when we confess and repent of it.
            You think sin is somehow more attractive than that? "Why," we might assert, "no one gets away with calling me childish! If I'm a sinner, I'm a manly(or womanly) sinner." Then we might add with a red-faced scowl and maybe a firm foot-stomp, "You take that back!"
            The uncomplimentary truth is, until God changes us through His Holy Spirit power we're all rebellious sinners. And having designed us, He knows we can never be truly happy in that condition. That's why His infinite love demanded the only surefire remedy: The sacrifice of His Son Jesus. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1Jn 4:10 ESV)
            Yes, it's an old story. But it is the truth that will set you free. Instead of freaking whenever life refuses to affirm your superiority, let Jesus make you the person you were meant to be.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


        Have you ever awakened from a dream feeling insane? Crazy? Over-the-edge? Loony? bonkers? Slightly unbalanced? Have you ever awakened from a dream unable to separate the dream from reality?
        This morning I awoke ready to phone my mommy, and she's been dead for years. I climbed out of bed like a robot, then wandered around my place, muttering. Muttering!
        I don't mutter--well, not often. Somehow I found the presence of mind to don some trousers and a jacket, stumble over to the front door, and take Maddy out for her morning "squizzle."
        First thing I did after that--with my jacket still on--was find my computer and turn it on. Oh, my computer is a desktop unit, and hardly portable. This machine looks like a relic, but has a fairly decent processor and Operating System. Much like its owner.
        And much like its owner, my PC sometimes takes unscheduled vacations. Like the recently running Microsoft ad's paid actors proudly asserted, "I'm a PC," with all that implies.
        Booting my PC brought up my e-mail, which contained two feeds that often save my bacon. Daily Manna From The Net and Our Daily Bread didn't have anything profound or apropos, but it seemed simply elevating my thoughts began the process of returning me to sanity(relatively).
        And my point in all this? The mind(generically) is like a freight train that runs onto the wrong track at times. Probably because the switchman is at lunch. To get it back on the right track, we need to fire the switchman ... er ... maybe just slap him upside the head to get his attention. And that's pretty important, because if we stay on the wrong track we're sure to have a train wreck. Or at least a derailment.
        The enemy of our souls specializes in distracting our inner switchman with lunch, lethargy, or licentiousness. Then it falls to us to steer back on the right track, or surely suffer the consequences.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Review of: Stars In The Night by Cara Putman
This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Stars In The Night
Summerside Press (July 1, 2010)
Cara Putman
BUT FIRST, A WORD FROM OUR BLOGGER: Cara Putman's straight-forward, natural writing style provides the easy flow a fiction reader craves, enabling quick, painless entry into the characters' world. Stars In The Night delivers a few hours of quite plausible and entertaining escapism. And that is, after all, what fiction is about. ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
A Word From Cara: I graduated from high school at sixteen, college at 20, and completed my law degree when I was 27. My writing journey started in 2005 when I decided to write my first novel. Now I have eleven books published with more on the way. People say I've accomplished a lot and that I must have life by the proverbial tail. Hardly! I grew up as a home schooled kid when home schoolers were misunderstood and oddities. I struggle with balancing my writing and law career, plus being a good mom and wife.
I often fear people won't like my books. I've walked through the deep pain of miscarriage. Really, I'm just like you – I don't have it all together and have gone through tough times. But in His strength, I've discovered a strength I never knew I had. A strength I want you to discover, too. In the end I'm just an ordinary mom who has seen God do some wonderful things as I've been obedient to step into the calling He's led me into. Stars in the Night Background Stars in the Night was an idea that had begun to percolate in my mind. I’d written two World War II series and was actively looking for my next setting. My husband, a huge World War II history buff, and I were kicking ideas around, and I’d decided Hollywood was probably the next place for me. I’d gone to the library and gotten a stack of research books when I got the call. An editor I knew but had never worked with wanted to know if I might be interested in a new line they were starting. As we talked, I got so excited. And then she emailed me their guidelines, which listed that Hollywood was a location they were interested in setting books. Only God could have known ahead of time. But because I followed His prompting I was ready to run with an idea. Stars in the Night is the result. ABOUT THE BOOK
Hollywood 1942. When attorney Audra Schaeffer's sister disappears, Audra flies to Hollywood to find her. Any day Audra might have been flattered by the friendly overtures of Robert Garfield, a real-life movie star. But on the flight from Indianapolis to Hollywood, Audra can think of little else than finding her missing sister. When Audra arrives in the city of glitz and glamour, and stars, and learns her rising starlet sister has been murdered, all thoughts of romance fly away. Determined to bring the killer to justice, Audra takes a job with the second Hollywood Victory Caravan. Together with Robert Garfield and other stars, she crisscrosses the southern United States in a campaign to sell war bonds. When two other women are found dead on the train, Audra knows the deaths are tied to that of her sister. Could the killer be the man with whom she's falling in love? If you'd like to read an excerpt of Chapter 1 of Stars In The Night, go HERE. Contest: Lots of opportunities to win and great prizes, and the grand prize contains some of Cara's favorite classic movies as well as all of her WWII novels: Launch Contest!
A Different Nail-Head

            Sometimes, Our Daily Bread hits the nail squarely without intent ... not that they don't intend to be relevant, but occasionally I catch a different point than their author tried to make. In the devotional linked above, Joe Stowell used a personal anecdote about one of his sons. Of course, his point was well-taken, but his unintended point really struck my nail-head.
            In our high pressure lives, manically climbing the success and influence ladder--for our family, of course--our rugrats(no offense intended, just speaking from a young parent's perspective) don't always cooperate with our agenda. Sometimes, in fact, they seem to succeed more in bothering, than in blessing.
            So, let's take a brief eagle (the cliche, gander, somehow misses the image of visually examining) at the typical parenthood timeline:
            For perhaps five years, we're stuck with the "dirty" work of changing diapers, wiping up messes, listening to a constant, interrogatory prattle, and kissing owies. Praise God, we then get a five year break, when the kids are perfect little angels--IF they're girls.
            Beginning at the neighborhood of ten years-of-age, our little blessings learn they aren't, after all, small extensions of Mommy and Daddy. And, if all goes perfectly, they pass out of "The Dark Chasm of Adolescence" in another ten years.
            So, let's see; fifteen years out of the fifty-or-so years God gives us to know them ... that's roughly three-tenths of their lives with us, and about three-sixteenths of our lives(presuming an eighty-year life span). Seems like a pittance, does it not? And if we can get past the stupid idea that our children amount to no more than the movie character, "Mini Me," God will bless us with truly wonderful friends--friends that will provide precious support and solace in our advancing years. Not a bad investment, eh?
            Even if our heads are hard-as-nails, we need to give our children the love we hope to receive from them. For despite all appearances, their heads are not hard-as-nails. Quite the opposite, in fact. Research shows that for each negative comment directed at them, TWENTY sincerely positive comments are need to counteract it.
            One day, we'll realize how trivial our children's inconveniences are when they're little--and not-so little--compared to their potential for becoming our best friends ever.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Review of ON GUARD; Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision by William Lane Craig
            The author of Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig, is all about reason. So when he gets down to the art of Christian apologetics, he makes our faith seem downright reasonable.             Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology, is also all about debate, or at least equipping Christ-followers to intelligently discuss our reason for following Christ. Now, don't expect Bible-thumping. Though he uses lots of Scripture references, his realization that non-believers disrespect the Bible's authority causes him to seek other avenues(did I say, reason?) as well. Employing thoughts from philosophers, scientists and theologians, Craig has assembled a defensive manual for soldiers of the cross, rife with inescapable logic.             Therein lies my one issue with this excellent resource: Some of the logic is so inescapable that it escapes me. Alright, Craig is brilliant, but in a couple of spots he leaves me scratching my head(despite my dandruff). However, my wife Nancy, who in all modesty I must admit is not my intellectual equal--she's smarter than I am--gets some of Craig's points and explains them to me.             Bottom line? If you truly wish to defend your faith with people who think they're smarter than you, get this book. Then read it. Then study it. Believe what I've found: Knowing why you believe is as liberating as the believing itself.
Odd Words From the King James Version
Reading Proverbs 8:12-21 from the KJV revealed some--shall we say--interesting words used to express common ideas. Are they better than modern renderings? Let’s see:
I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.
Prudence connotes the negative idea of prudishness. Indeed, the two words are related, but their meanings couldn’t be more different. A prude, at least in the contemporary vernacular, is someone who is uptight about anything involving bodily functions or appetites--except the appetite for food, of course. The prude considers sex and bodily waste elimination at about the same level of meanness.
The conventional prude isn’t completely bonkers, though. At least he allows the baser topics to remain firmly “between the lines” of conversation, preserving some semblance of civil sensibilities. Today’s libertine social environment leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination.
The word prudence, on the other hand, means: 1: Discretion in practical affairs. 2. Knowing how to avoid embarrassment or distress. (from WordWeb dictionary) And what could be wrong with that?
Did you catch that last sentence? Today we seem more concerned with coolness, than with sensitivity. We’re more likely to look askance at traditional moral standards, than the loosey-goosey morals portrayed in the entertainment media. Perhaps prudence is an archaic idea whose revival-time has come.
Then, there is witty inventions. On first take, the phrase sounds like a description for a joke machine. But as we probe its meaning we sense the King James translators’ sense of humor. Anyone who has observed a clowning drunk, while not themselves inebriated, will admit such alcoholic humor is usually pretty stupid. To the drunk, however, his jokes are the cleverest, most witty, imaginable. And even if the joker isn’t drunk, glib wit is often anything but wise, and appreciated only by a similarly “wise” audience.
So, we could safely transliterate witty inventions with stupid ideas, making the sentence read, “I, wisdom, find my home with prudence, and discern stupid ideas.” And the best thing about discerning stupid ideas is we won’t get caught up in them.

The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.
If God is love, how can He hate “the evil way and the froward(attitude-filled) mouth?”
God is in the ideal position to know that, “the evil way” leads first to distraction, then to destruction. And because He does love us, He hates to see us entrapped by destructive behaviors and habits, because He knows such destruction is eternal. Yes, some may think eternity is way off in the dim future, but ask yourself, “How many people who die today know their minutes are numbered? And how many of them will be ready to stand in the judgment?”
Please note, God includes “pride and arrogancy” with “the evil way” and “the froward mouth.” Think about it; popular culture glorifies all four of these destructive behaviors. But arrogant pride rears its demonic horns even among the most sanctified--or sanctimonious--brethren.

Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength.
Interesting, isn’t it, that “counsel” is assumed here to be a good thing? And why is that noteworthy? Because advice is so often anything but good. But this is wisdom’s counsel--sound, understanding, and enduring.
Please note that the KJV translators chose “strength,” rather than “power.” Why is that? Power is what moves something, someone, or many someones. Strength, on the other hand, is what prevents movement. Picture a skyscraper. You ride the elevator down to its lowest basement and find several humongous, steel pillars. Would you like to see one of them move while you’re standing there? If you did, you would soon know the meaning of, “RUN!” But they won’t move because they are strong.

By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.
No one can blame the person who balks at this one. We know of too many despots who rule cruelly. So, how can they rule by God’s authority and with His approval?
Just rulers, though rare, are what God intended when He looked at His creation and pronounced it, “Good.” We humans, however, had other ideas. First, we tried to usurp God’s sovereignty. Then, when He chose a people to convey His Law, they, still being people, decided they wanted a ruler like the peoples who lived around them. So they got what they demanded; King Saul began a long line of weak, fallible rulers who were, by our human specification, just like the peoples who lived around them.
God still owns the authority, even when human rulers misuse it. And they will stand before the Judge of the universe to account for their actions.

I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me. Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver. I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment: That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures.
This last passage speaks of the treasures God will pour out on those who “seek me early.” It speaks of durable riches, better than “fine gold.” Someone has observed that in heaven, Gold is so valuable that it’s used for pavement. True riches, durable riches, are the treasure we lay up in eternity when we obey God. Once we give up these corrupting bodies, we will see everything we valued on Earth for what it is: cheap counterfeits of the real thing.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Last Lecture
      After watching Randy Pausch deliver his "Last Lecture" at Carnegie Mellon University a year before he died of pancreatic cancer on Sept. 18, 2007, a cloud of thoughts jumbled for preeminence in my mind. He was a great mentor. And I use the word great advisedly, because he was truly great, as an encourager, a dream-spinner, a salesman(self-admitted), a hard worker, an education-lover, and a people-lover.
      He struck me as a man of highly personal spirituality, with little sense of “Theology.” I arrived at that conclusion because he peppered his presentation with, shall we say, colorful language, not consistent with one of conventional religious adherence. I thought, “Man, here’s a real person. Shame he isn’t a Christian. Wouldn’t he make a great poster-boy for the faith.” The inferred meaning of that self-exclamation being, “If only more Christians demonstrated such excellence of character.”
      If I had to apply a single descriptive expression to the man, I’d have to say, “Randy Rausch was Fun-loving.” In his forty-eight years, he learned not to take himself seriously, and to laugh at life’s humor, even if his mistakes caused it.
      His lecture lasted over an hour, and he held me spell-bound. As he described his passion for two academic programs he spearheaded, I couldn’t help thinking, “What a legacy he left for generations to come.” But that legacy did not include valuing God and His work in people’s lives. As much as he valued human potential, he said nothing about the enhanced potential God provides for those who love Him.
      Then my thought process began sliding down-hill. I realized that, though I love God, most of my potential as His tool has gone unrealized. I have a fruitful imagination. I can express my thoughts in words. I make a good impression on others. I even possess a God-given passion for encouraging others. Yet, my life demonstrates the mediocrity of following the path-of-least-resistance despite the uncounted opportunities for higher attainment that have presented themselves to me.
      Consistent with my life-long practice, even now I am compelled to make excuses: I’ve always suffered from a deficit of self-motivation. I’ve always suffered from excessive daytime sleepiness. Dyslexia and poor memory recall have always hampered my academic attempts. And the one that should be obvious by now, I’m very good at feeling sorry for myself. Throughout life I’ve felt the victim of difficult circumstances, rather than viewing barriers as ladders for climbing higher and growing into a better person.
      For a Christ-follower to view life through such brown-colored glasses is nothing less than sin. But praise God for His infinite mercy and grace! He even loves self-pitying under achievers. Though I’m no Randy Pausch, that’s something I can get excited about. Father, let my “Last Lecture” proclaim Your wonderful attributes and marvelous works.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


There; that title aught to get your attention. This is an open letter to the publisher of Jesus-Is-Lord.com. I happened upon your site through a Google search of "Authorized Version," so you've managed to gain a leading position on their search engine; congratulations. So, now that I have your attention I have a question for you that is in no way critical of your web site's content, but simply reflects a minor incongruity I noticed there.     You state that the Bible you recommend(recommend is the understatement of the century) is the Authorized, 1611 edition of God's Word, but what I found on your site is a slightly edited version of the original. For reference, here are the verses I was studying, first from your web site:

008:013 For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: 008:014 But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality:
    Now, from the King James Bible 1611 copied from the e-Sword application, Version 9.5.1 by Rick Meyers:

2 Corinthians 8:13-14 For I meane not that other men bee eased, and you burthened: (14) But by an equalitie: that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want, that there may be equalitie,
    Based on the Elizabethan spelling in the passage from e-Sword, I must infer that it is the more authentic rendering of the KJB 1611.     From your own content I take it you believe that any editing of the original 1611 edition brings a curse on the editor. If I misread your intention, please correct me. Thanks in advance for your attention to this issue.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


        Herman Melville wrote: "Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed." While Melville was on the right track, he missed the mark spectacularly. His "nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor" portrayed only half of society's dismal picture. If he had gazed a bit deeper into his humanist crystal ball, he might have observed the poor's fate when "the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed" social architects endeavor to fix the "problem of poverty."

Look Further Back, Mr. Melville

        One day when Jesus was sharing a meal with Simon the leper, a woman came to Jesus and anointed his head with a rare, expensive ointment(Mark 14:3). This scandalized several well-meaning, Melvillesque, onlookers who thought the gesture was a waste, and the ointment should have been sold for almost a year's wages so the proceeds might be given to the poor. But Jesus said, "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial."(Mark 14:6-8)

        As usual, Jesus spoke wisdom on many levels. Though this may not be the most profound insight from the above passage, it has the most to do with Mr. Melville's statement. Consider what Jesus said about the poor. "... you always have the poor with you." Did Jesus intend to condone poverty? Did He intend to place His own need for anointing above the needs of the poor? Did He intend to imply that generosity to the poor was less "beautiful" than pouring perfume over His head?

        Despite the skeptics' vigorous nodding, nothing could be further from the truth. First, Jesus doesn't need anyone's praise; His very existence is glorious beyond imagining. Second, Jesus happens to be the only person, ever, who is worthy of such a gesture. When people feel outraged about Christians giving honor and praise to Jesus, they show their true, envious colors; various shades of green.

        Alright, say we wealthy Westerners sell lots of stuff and give the proceeds to the poor. The poor, then, will invest the funds in an education to advance themselves and break the downward, culturally-poor spiral.

        In Melville's dreams!

Those People

        Observe the phenomenon of sudden riches in the form of a lottery jackpot. Fact: most people who buy lottery tickets are lower-earning workers or welfare recipients. Fact: many lottery winners wind up broke—or dead—within just a few years of their windfall. Fact: standing under a windfall can cause severe headaches. Okay, that last one was just to see if you're paying attention.

        But this fact is sure: Money given to those who live in or near the poverty level gets spent. Then, after it's spent, the recipient wants more money to replace it—and that gets spent. The cycle of consumerism continues as long as there is money to spend, and usually, the spenders have nothing of real value to show for it ... unless one considers new cars(with no insurance), home entertainment systems, gaudy clothes and jewelry, or drugs and alcohol, things of real value.

        Jesus was, as always, right-on. "You always have the poor with you." He might have added, "You can't buy off human nature." As with most problems, throwing money at poverty is like throwing gasoline on flames. Apostle Paul wisely wrote, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10 ESV)

        Contrary to popular belief, rich folks aren't the only ones who love money. Anyone who envies someone else's wealth is a money-lover. And guess what; po-folks can be just as envious as anyone. In fact, anyone who looks askance at, or pities, "Those People," are barking up the wrong class war. Whether "Those People" are the wealthy, and should share their riches with the rest of us, or the poor, whose misery we can relieve by sprinkling some tax money on them, the very idea of "Those People" speaks of class pride, or class envy. Both are just as evil.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

… And What’s That Supposed to Mean?

            Everyone has trouble communicating occasionally. Some communicators cover their word bumbling so effectively, their conversational partners never have a clue. The rest of us constantly struggle for just the right word to express our meaning. No one, however, always says exactly what they mean. No one, that is, but God.

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

(Proverbs 30:5)

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

(Hebrews 4:12)

            The Bible says some great things about itself, but when we're reading it, does it always make sense? So often it just seems like a bunch of words strung together as a riddle. And on top of that, those who claim to understand what it says can't even agree about its meaning among themselves. What's a body to do when we believe the Bible is God's word, but can't seem to make it speak meaningfully to us?

Going For The Gold

            Everyone enjoys the color, the feel, the value of gold. Craftsmen can make the most beautiful pieces of art from the stuff, and generations later it holds its value, not only as a substance, but also as an artifact.

            Where does the craftsman get his raw material for the golden jewelry he envisions? Like the little kid asked where milk comes from, we might answer, "From the store."

            Most folks realize gold, in fact, comes from the ground. Some crusty old guy with a pickaxe and a donkey scourers the desert until he finds a likely spot, digs a hole and presto! He picks up a gold nugget the size of his fist.

            If finding gold were really that easy, everybody'd join the gold rush. But it's not. In fact, mining companies have to invest millions of dollars simply getting to the gold ore. Then, millions more extracting the precious metal from the raw ore. Think about it; gold isn't called precious because it can be gotten easily.

Real Riches

            What could be more real, more permanent, than gold? Trouble is, it has a way of disappearing. Thousands of treasure-laden vessels and their long-dead crews rest, undisturbed, on the sea's silty bottom. Imagine how important it was to the people who shipped it. Many treasure merchants, crooks and brigands have given up their very lives to keep it, not realizing it would do them no good in the hereafter … if they believed in it. But they only believe in what they can see, feel and spend. God spoke to that issue in Matthew 6:19-20.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal."

            Religious folks generally think laying up riches in heaven is a matter of fulfilling their religious obligations here on earth. If they dress right, walk right, talk right, go to the right church and give a token of their wealth to the Sunday offering, they've paid for that great timeshare in the sky. Then they can spend the rest of their discretionary income on the stuff they want … that's after making their credit card payments.

            Of course, we've all heard the "stewardship" sermons where we're told to lay up treasures in heaven by giving to the church, or to the nicely quaffed preacher-guy on TV. But isn't there anything more to heavenly riches than money?

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)

            God's word is like that field in Jesus' parable; the rich truth it contains is worth all we have. Yet, Bibles are cheap, or even free of charge. What sort of investment must we make to obtain God's truth for us? The answer to that question is indeed hard: Time! We spend freely of our resources to save a little time, buying dishwashers, riding mowers, computers─Computers? So much for rationalizations. Then, once we've spent all that moola on time-saving junk, we spend our precious, saved time on important endeavors such as watching TV or playing video games.

            The proverbial guy who found hidden treasure in the field probably didn't just stumble over it while casually strolling through. He no doubt picked up a lead, a bit of information, that hinted where the treasure lay. Then he snuck out with a spade to dig for it. Did he find it the first place he dug? Not likely. He probably spent many sweaty nights, digging around in secret, sure he'd eventually find the treasure. Jesus told us what the treasure-hunter did when he finally found it.

Digging For Eternal Treasure

            Truth is like gold and jewels; precious treasure that is worth many times the investment of procuring it. And like fool's gold, easily found truth is nothing more than a well-disguised lie; it is not truth at all.

            So, how can we recognize God's truth when we finally uncover it? Let's check out an example from the apostles' historian, Dr. Luke:

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?"

(Luke 24:13-32)

            Okay, heart-burn we can understand, but how can we know it's "Holy Heart-burn?"

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

(Romans 8:16-17)

            Until we actually experience it, "the witness of the Spirit" seems like some kind of hocus-pocus. But once we're His, God's truth is simply a matter of focus-focus. First, we must love God enough to obey Him; again, a matter of focus-focus. If we desperately seek God, He will reveal enough of Himself to us that we will recognize the qualities within us that do not resemble Him. The closer we get to God through His word and His Spirit, the clearer these differences will become. Soon, if we continue walking in His way, we will find our un-christlike traits intolerable; traits like pride, jealousy, envy, self-centeredness, laziness, greed, and anger. The list could go on, and will go on as God opens our eyes to our true nature.

            Does the above seem like a lot of words? If so, there is little wonder, as the quest for instant gratification characterizes so much of our lives today. To the extent that we love God and His word, we will search the Scriptures for His gift of tailor-made Truth. Not that God's truth is different for each Christ-follower, but the same truth applies uniquely to every need.

            Show God, and yourself, that you mean business, that you intend to grow into Christ-likeness. Then get busy; learn what God's word is supposed to mean … to you.

            Well? Time's a-wastin'.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Nightmare by Robin Parrish

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Bethany House (July 1, 2010)

Robin Parrish

            Because I'm familiar with Robin Parrish's excellent work, this review will be the exception to my rule of posting only reviews of novels I've personally read, here on The Well-Dressed Branch. I'm that confident in my recommendation of his work. If you haven't read The Dominion Trilogy, you've missed one of the rare treats of the supernatural thriller genre. Robin has, in fact(or at least in my informed opinion), refined and redefined the genre, taking Christian fiction to previously unexplored regions.
            Robin's passion for unlocking the ridiculous chastity belt that has bound CBA(Christian Booksellers Association)fiction to mediocrity for decades motivates him to create truly innovative stories. Yet, his plowing of the fallow ground of CBA fiction in no way violates the sensibilities essential to the Biblical/Christian world view.
            Prepare yourself for spell-binding fiction, then buy Parrish's novels. You're welcome.

            Robin Parrish is a journalist who's written about the intersection of faith and pop culture for more than a decade. Currently he serves as Senior Editor at XZOOSIA.com, a community portal that fuses social networking with magazine-style features about entertainment and culture.
            He had two great ambitions for his life: to have a family, and to be a published novelist. In March of 2005 he proposed to his future wife, the same week he signed his first book contract with Bethany House Publishers. They contracted him for the rights to The Dominion Trilogy: Relentless (2006), Fearless (2007), and Merciless (2008). His science fiction thriller, Offworld came out in 2009. This summer debuts Nightmare, and he's working on another for 2011. Robin and his wife and children live in North Carolina.

The Nightmare is Coming... 
            "Ghost Town" is the hottest amusement park in the country, offering state-of-the-art chills and thrills involving the paranormal. The park's main attraction is a haunted house ride that promises an encounter with a real ghost.
            When Maia Peters visits during her senior year of college, she's not expecting to be impressed. Maia grew up as the only child of a pair of world-renowned "ghost hunters," so the paranormal is nothing new, and to her, most of the park is just Hollywood special effects. In fact, the ride feels pretty boring until the very end. There, a face appears from the mist. The face of a girl Maia knows who disappeared from campus a few months ago: Jordin Cole.
            Convinced the apparition wasn't a hoax and desperate to find answers to Jordin's disappearance, Maia launches into a quest for answers. Joined by Jordin's boyfriend—a pastor's kid with very different ideas about spirits and the paranormal—Maia finds herself confronting dangerous, unexpected forces on the edge of the spirit realm that try to keep the truth from emerging.
            If you would like to read the first chapter of Nightmare, go HERE.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

What's Your Gospel Style?

Gospel preaching comes in nearly as many styles as music. Which do you prefer?
Not to be confused with Classic Gospel, Classical Gospel comes from the side pulpit, whence flows all the smooth “thee’s,” “thou’s,” “ye’s” and “Withersoever’s;” ─ye gads! Mostly during prayer, but sometimes in the preaching as well, pseudo-Elizabethan English appeals to the high-church crowd who sincerely believe God understands English better that way.
Being a kid on Sunday morning must be rough in Classical-style congregations. The rule is feet-on-the-floor, seat-on-the-pew, and hands-on-the-hymnal. And with the heavy, pipe organ music the larger churches produce, what kid would dare shoot a spit wad at another kid?
Just a bit of info for those who detest Classical-style Gospel: Many pulpits that favor it also preach God’s uncompromised Truth, so quit being snobbish toward a gospel-style you think is snobbish.
Here’s another one that could be confused with a different style, that is, R&B-style Gospel. They both project that soulful impression of guilt for having caused Jesus to go to the cross. “I’m cryin’ in ma beer ‘cause ma dorlin’ took oaf with another bronc-bustin’ cowboy, over-the-road trucker, or whatever,” becomes, “I’m cryin’ at the altar ‘cause I couldn’t keep the ol’ fly zipped and what kind of Christian is that?”
And lest we forget the ol’ time Foursquare, pew-jumping, slain-in-the-spirit, snake-teasing, dancing-in-the-aisle-style Gospel, Pentecostals believe in expressing the full gospel of Christ Jesus. Though most of us consider the unleashed charismata a bit much, what could be wrong with wanting all that God has for us?
So, whether your cryin’ at the altar or jumpin’ over the altar, there are as many variations on that Classic gospel refrain as there are cowboys and truckers. If we’re tempted to criticize, we must remember they’re at least honest enough to confess and repent of their sins, trusting that God doesn’t keep count of trips to the altar—or over it.
Just so we can keep track of the difference between R&B/Hip-Hop and Country/Classic-style Gospel, this one is distinctive for its Motown Sound. Which it gets honestly, since old fashioned Black gospel was the seed for today’s Rhythm and Blues. Trying to distinguish between the music and the preaching is useless, as the preaching so often becomes music when the Afro-American preacher gets wound up. Some of the best gospel singing issues forth from the pulpit during a sermon … when the preacher can hold a tune.
Both Country and R&B are heavy on the feeling side, as opposed to Classical, which is quite staid, tending toward the cerebral. Imagine the power of our preaching and worship if God could use both our hearts and our heads to advance His kingdom.
Midwest Contemporary
If the songs were penned before the mid-19th century or after the mid-20th century, they are not God ordained. Preaching issues forth from the center pulpit, from the mouth of a man wearing a suit from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. No ecclesiastical robes or parson’s collars here. This is the preaching that elicits the occasional, “Amen,” most always from an elder or deacon who wants the preacher to know he’s not in danger of being fired today.
Middle-of-the-road in every way, these folks believe there’s a ditch on both sides, lest they are tempted to get either too formal or too emotional. “Moderation in all things, including moderation,” is what they practice. Midwest Contemporary is the place for anyone who is worried about being offended. There’s something to be said for not getting distracted from simply worshiping God by loud music, flashy costumes or emotional displays.

Obviously, these generalizations and stereotypes are just that. Worshiping the Eternal, Self-Existent, Holy God is both universal and personal. In case you’ve missed it, the point is: Regardless how any style strikes the observer, most of the difference is just style, not necessarily content. So get off your high horse and listen to the message, discerning its Biblical truth without pointing fingers; you might just get something out of it.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Don't Con God

            Honest folks prize Psalm 51 because King David wrote it after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin with Bathsheba. What a dark chapter in the history of God's people, and what a disgrace to David, the man after God's own heart.             Murdering Uriah the Hittite to conceal his adultery with Bathsheba altered King David's routine not in the slightest. He continued with his kingly duties, appearing to all the people as the harp-playing psalmster they'd grown to revere. In the palace, in the Temple, and everywhere else he went, he paraded around in his kingly robes, head held high, serenaded by his horn-tooting entourage.             When Nathan told him, "Thou art the man," Good King David, no doubt, instantly shifted into disgraced-hypocrite's-mode, with thoughts of how he could discredit Nathan and deny his guilt with a deeper cover-up. Quickly, however, David's pride crashed and burned, when he realized he couldn't con God. Thus, he wrote Psalm 51 in heart-felt conviction and repentance.             Psalms 51:6 summarizes part of David's hard-won lesson. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. This verse reveals two inviolate truths: First, God is not a fan of creative fiction, when it oozes from "the inward being." The statement, "you delight in truth," means God deplores un-truth, especially when it festers like a hidden cyst, infecting our inner thoughts and motives. Tragically, today's people of God have grown adept at ignoring, and even persecuting, the few Nathans who are brave enough to confront them with their hypocrisy. God judged King David for his sin, and he will certainly judge today's stalwart, pillars of the church who judge others' lives while ignoring their own dishonesty.             As for the last part of verse 6, God indeed teaches wisdom to the repentant, secret heart, but only to the repentant, secret heart. So there's the program, brethren; we must accept God's conviction for our lying, inner spirit, repent by cultivating uncompromised truth, and listen to God's wisdom when he speaks it to our heart-of-hearts.             If King David's hard-won lesson isn't enough to make us honest, the New Testament holds corresponding warnings: Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (8) For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And don't forget: 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (12) Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.             In other words, Don't con God!