"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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

            Admirers tout Charles Bukowski as the world's greatest drunk poet. He had to stay drunk, because he hated everything, including himself. That's why he was such a powerful poet; his only love was words, though even that infatuation clung obscenely to a love-hate dichotomy.
            Bukowski did it all, so he knew it all with a hate-breeding intimacy. If only he had known anything but his ill-conceived excesses. If only he had know anything outside of his alcohol-fogged cynicism. If only—
            I will officially join Bukowski in his futility if my fingers continue spewing judgment onto my computer screen. Sitting in judgment is as easy as sitting in alcoholic stupor, and perhaps less useful. To give Bukowski the benefit of doubt, I must assume his miserable temperament was well-earned. Betrayal is an awful motivator--more like an exceptional demotivator, and the alcoholic poet earned more than his share.
            My alcoholic father gave me a running start down that slippery path. What kept me from washing my life in grain alcohol? I fell in with a group of young followers of a Jewish teacher who claimed to be God. His revolutionary teachings compelled me to dig deeper into his way of living, and I found no controdiction there. Joshua, though he lived centuries ago, gave me a deep desire to love without self interest. He is still teaching me to pursue that humanly impossible quality, and will, until I get it right.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What's He Saying?

ANNOUNCER: Up next, the age-old game show sensation: WHAT'S HE SAYING? (Applause--Applause--Applause) Stay tuned ... we'll be back, right after a brief word from our sponsor: Latest Thing Bible Publishers.

COMMERCIAL: Are you one of the many Christians who has made a stab at understanding the Bible, but it was just too confusing? Did your friends say you were wasting your time, because the Bible isn't relevant, and it's full of contradictions? Well never fear! We have the HIP BIBLE! It's language is way cool, and we've surgically removed all the difficult and contradictory passages so it'll fit in your HIP POCKET ... and your hip friends will think you're okay. Order it now, at this limited-time, introductory special price ... Cuz you know we can't do this all day ... But wait! That's not all! Order in the next thirty seconds and you'll get a FREE bonus Book Of Mormon and a New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures! And not only that, but you'll receive this heavy duty, long lasting whiteout pen for no extra charge ... Yada-yada-yada ... Blah-blah-blah

ANNOUNCER: And now, the star of our show ... Cleave Abridger!


ABRIDGER: Welcome everyone, to WHAT'S HE SAYING? ... the game show that spells it out for you. But let's cut to the chase and introduce our first contestant.

ANNOUNCER: He's a professional editor and long time wordsmith for publications you'd instantly recognize. Give it up for Willie Cliché!


ABRIDGER: Willie, which category will you start with?

CLICHÉ: Cleve, I'll go with Too Long Bible verses—

ABRIDGER: Okay Willie, start with an easy one; Galatians 1:3 Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Willie, What's He Saying?

CLICHÉ: Wow, Cleve, that's a hard one; it's already short.

ABRIDGER: Never short enough, Willie. You have ten seconds starting ...



ABRIDGER: Time's up, Willie, What's He Saying?

CLICHÉ: Um ... May ... May God grace you with peace?

ABRIDGER: Our official mathematician gives you ... 2.5 on your version of Galatians 1:3. As you know we grade you on your average score, so without further ado, on to the next verse:

Esther 8:9 Then were the king's scribes called at that time in the third month, that is, the month Sivan, on the three and twentieth day thereof; and it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers of the provinces which are from India unto Ethiopia, an hundred twenty and seven provinces, unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language.

CLICHÉ: Wow! You sure that's only one Bible verse?

ABRIDGER: Longest one in the Bible. Your ten seconds starts now!


ABRIDGER: Time's up, Willie, What's He Saying?

CLICHÉ: (thinks hard, then quickly recites) The King made his secretaries write what Mordecai said and shot it off to everybody on his mailing list! (deep sigh)

ABRIDGER: Okay, number crunchers, what's the score?

(tense delay)

We have ... five points, placing your two verse average at 3.75! Way ta' go, Willie.

And now a word from our announcer!

ANNOUNCER: Keep it up, Willie, 'cause as you know, the winning contestant will have his shortened, simplified verses included, for full royalties, in the new Bible paraphrase, The Hip Bible, available right here for only twenty-nine ninety-five.


ABRIDGER: Thanks, Bob. Our new Bible paraphrase, The Hip Bible has best seller written all over it. So get your advanced order in right now so you won't have to wait for God's word to the lazy church. In addition to all the extras Bob told you about, we'll throw in a month's supply of sleeping pills, just in case The Hip Bible doesn't put you right to sleep.

And now, let's play What's He Saying?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Call on the Lord from a Pure Heart
            Second Timothy chapter two, verse twenty-two, presents two of the keys that, used in correct order, can unlock ones life from the bondage of worldly, corrupt pursuits.

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable—common, base, ignoble. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
(2 Timothy 2:20-26 ESV)
            The Apostle specifically named "youthful lusts," which include trespasses ranging from a "detailed" fond eye for the ladies—or men—to envy, unbridled ambition, greed, bitterness … the Scriptural list of human moral failings continues, but you get the idea. Our natural(fleshly, carnal) tendency is to name in our minds ten or so of those people who do such things, pointing the condemnatory finger at the ruffians, drunks, whore mongers, rapists, thieves and murderers that blight our society. The Apostle, however, didn't spend much Scriptural time condemning those people. Rather, he, as did the Lord, concentrated on reaming religious folks who practiced the "sanctified" version of those sins.
            The keys mentioned above can be distilled to just a couple of principles: call on the Lord from a pure heart(motivation), and flee youthful passions. Though the passage doesn't list them in that order, the process begins with calling for the strength and motivation to execute the orderly(or disorderly) retreat from temptation meant by the word "flee."
            Unlocking ourselves from the bondage of sin requires both keys. Though we may hope for eternal salvation through the rebirth we experience in Jesus' blood, that rebirth cannot end our habituation to ungodly behaviors and attitudes.
            Think of a new-born infant. The nurse or midwife cuts the umbilical cord that kept the pre-born person alive during gestation. But if the infant were to grab the scissors from the nurse's hand, glare at her and say, "You're not going to separate me from my lifeline," the infant that had birthed normally(if you can call a talking new-born "normal") would soon become infected. One could say the new-born's "youthful lusts" might lead to its demise.
            Like that outspoken infant, human beings of all ages tend to cling to our natural misbehaviors that are familiar or comfortable, even if those things cause endless trouble for us. In our own strength, breaking those habits is practically impossible, even though a few steadfast, "nice folks," manage to pull off a reasonable imitation of godly behavior without completing the spiritual prerequisite of death to self and rebirth in God's Holy Spirit.
            We've witnessed or heard of folks who "walk the sawdust trail" in response to hell-fire preaching, or soldiers experiencing battlefield "conversions" when death seemed imminent. Then, when the fear is gone, they continue their lives unchanged. Were they ever truly converted? Only God can judge that. We can "call on the Lord" all day long, but if our motives aren't pure—regretful sorrow for having done wrong, rather than fear of facing judgment with our sins exposed—all that heart-felt prayer is for naught.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Goes Without Saying
            Or it should.
            What prompted Joe Stowell to write a devotional for Our Daily Bread titled "Getting Along," with the church as the target audience? One of the New Testament's major themes is godly love, and how it is the natural outgrowth of new life in Christ. Yes, it should go without saying.
            Considering the number of Scripture passages that affirm this principle, we must accept its truth, and its binding application to God's church. So we come back to the same question: Why do Joe Stowell, countless other passionate preachers, and God's New Testament need to harp on a quality that should be as natural to believers as breathing?
            Two rather ugly possible answers jump out at us: First, those church members who seem unable to love the brethren are, in fact, false brethren. Second, the church has become as lukewarm as the church at Laodecia, and deserves the same fate; Jesus will spew(vomit, regurgitate) them out of His mouth. Bad enough if only one of those possibilities were true, but perhaps both are.
            True, despite high profile preachers harping on this theme, the problem continues to spread. More and more, we the church give non-believing observers more reason to scoff at "Christian" church-goers. Despite planning ever more programs, curricula and seminars aimed at improving their congregations' "love one another" scores, pastors seem unable to reach the self-righteous "brethren" who cause discord. While we sit under passionate messages urging Christ's selfless love—consistently applying them to others—countless holy-sitters continue looking down our sanctified noses at those unworthy others who insist on marching in the Way out of step. Somehow, different is always wrong.
            When my son-in-law read this post he wisely suggested two other likely reasons for the church not getting along, and I agree with him. Those are ignorance and lack of vision.
            Those two issues are related. Ignorance comes from lack of positive role-modeling. We can study parenting methods, anger management, coping skills and positive assertiveness, but if those who act(purposely or inadvertently) as role models lead dysfunctional lives, so will their kids.
            But vision(or lack thereof) is also taught by example, from the top down. If the leadership has no sense of urgency in their vision, neither will the rank-and-file. Keeping the saints busy with God's work does eliminate most dissatisfaction--for those who are willing to buckle down.
            But then there are the self-appointed policemen and critics whose highest calling is to keep the rest of the church in line. We want to keep them around, though, as they are often the biggest tithers. We're talking about those who were movers and shakers during most of their lives, and now that they are comfortably retired they have nothing better to do than harangue the church leadership. Yes, that's a stereotype, but a very real one.
            In our little body here in Northwest Montana, no one is affluent, and few are even snugly well off. That tends to keep folks humble. Yet, even in our subsistence-level congregation we find formality comfortable, and change difficult. Yes, that "we" includes me. Even when the stakes aren't especially high, we fallible humans tenaciously guard conformity, or conformity to non-conformity. Just as our first parents envied the power structure and wanted to do things their own way(which was actually the serpent's way), we church-goers also tend toward willfulness. Praise God for His marvelous grace, in giving us the One Way into a right relationship with Him and the godliness His Holy Spirit produces.
            Will I ever be able to proclaim my testimony and faith without facing the non-believer's battlement erected upon Christendom's nasty reputation? Goes without saying; I hope so.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Scriptural Harmony
            I've read John 7:24 many times in the past, but this time it spoke to me differently.
"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."
            Instantly I thought of John 7:1-6, and how, superficially, the passages seem to contradict one another.
            On closer scrutiny, however, I discovered they not only match perfectly, but John 7:24 clarifies and reinforces Matthew 7.
1Do not judge lest you be judged. 2For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. 6Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
            Think about it: Matthew 7:1 does not flatly state, "Do not judge!" Rather, it tells us that if we judge another we ourselves will be judged by that same standard. That's why John 7 tells us not to judge according to appearance, as, according to Matthew 7, we will be judged in the same way. Then, back to John 7, Jesus goes on to say, "... but judge with righteous judgment," inferring that judging according to appearance is unrighteous judgment.
            Then Jesus compares such unrighteous judgment with judging another's eye-speck while protecting ones own eye-log. That's a vivid illustration of true blindness, the way we are blind to our own issues while performing eye surgery on another. Assuming such surgery will go well is completely foolish.
            Then comes Jesus' well-known prohibition against "casting our pearls before swine." Reaching deep into Hebrew law and custom, this apparently simple illustration outlines a fundamental Scriptural principle: We(the swine) must not usurp(trample) God's prerogatives. They are our pearls because we are God's children, but until we become sanctified(set apart for God's purposes), we can't just throw them about and play with them.
            Judgment is one of God's exclusive prerogatives. One day, if we are faithful to the end, we will judge the angels(1 Corinthians 6:3). In Matthew 7:5 Jesus brands unrighteous judges(anyone who presumes to usurp God's exclusive authority) as hypocrites. Before we lapse into judgment mode, perhaps we should review Jesus' pronunciations against hypocrites from Matthew chapter 23.
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them. "And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. "But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels of their garments. "And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi. "But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. "And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. "And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. "But the greatest among you shall be your servant. "And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. ["Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation.] "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.' "You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold? "And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering upon it, he is obligated.' "You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering? "Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. "And he who swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. "And he who swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. "You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. "You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. "Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' "Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. "Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? "Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. "Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. "Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! "For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, 'BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!'"
            A judgmental attitude is only one of the Pharisees' sins, but it is enough to keep one from God's eternal kingdom. The problem with harboring just one sin is they spread throughout ones spirit like gangrene. Don't harbor sin—especially the sins of presumption and usurpation—and be cut off like a pussy leg.