"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.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Love's Delusions

Joni Mitchell wrote of love’s illusions in an honest song called, Both Sides Now. But you will notice my title for this piece deals with delusions. Subtle difference there.
A delusion, according to WordWeb is “an erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary.” And they say a belief is “Any cognitive content held as true.” Both of those definitions apply readily to the feeling, emotion, or perception of love.
When we encounter Love, we become hopeless romantics, allowing reason to sprout angels’ wings and fly away. Ms. Mitchell’s three stanzas devoted to love in Both Sides Now go as follows:
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As ev'ry fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way

But now it's just another show
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away

I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

What are those poetical, two sides of love? Are they the only, true, sides of love? What a tragedy, if love were truly bracketed by crazy, dizzying romance on one side, and betrayal on the other.

Whom To Love

Jesus made an important statement regarding love in Matthew 5:43-46, that included neither infatuation nor infidelity. In fact, he updated the old commandment to love your neighbor, and its corollary, to hate your enemy, to the far more difficult, “Love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute you....” Does that seem daunting? Try, “impossible,” without help from God’s designated Helper, his Holy Spirit.
“Love your enemy,” hmmmmm? What does that commandment infer about loving ones family? Ones spouse? Ones brethren? Are they not the very ones we so often treat as the enemy?
In Matthew 22:34-40, answering a lawyer’s trick question, Jesus specified God’s two great commandments, which come down to, “Love God completely,” and then, “Love your neighbor as self.” The lawyer and his cronies couldn’t add a thing, and certainly could find no fault in Jesus’ answer.
Based on their Biblical writings, Christ’s apostles John and Paul thought quite a lot about love. The apostle John recorded Christ’s new commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV) Here, Jesus suggested … NOT! He commanded his church(you and me) to love one another. From what I’ve seen, this is more challenging than loving ones enemies or his own family.
And Paul? Agreeing whole-heartedly with John, he wrote, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:9-10 ESV) That, brethren, is the Biblical standard for our churches’ comportment.

And what if we don’t?

Apparently, our excuses for violating Jesus’ commands matter little to him, as he indicated in John 14:15-21. That difficult passage deserves considerable study and prayer, so the reader who cares about such things will find victory, rather than condemnation in it.
Will we delude ourselves into believing merely civil behavior toward the brethren satisfies Christ’s New Commandment? I hope not, as behaving civily toward one another to their faces often belies what we say about them behind their backs. How tragic, that many of Christ’s churches ignore the multiple passages from the apostles’ writings that forbid such behavior among the brethren.
Love’s delusions not withstanding, unless we examine our behavior and our consciences, and repent of our loveless conduct of our relationships, many “brethren” will surely be shocked when they see on which side of the Righteous Judge they will find themselves standing on that Day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Christian Bling

How I came upon pastor Paula White’s story is rather curious. Searching for an acceptable abbreviation for benefits, I stumbled upon some info about White, and Bennie Hinn. Of course Hinn’s style and message has irked me for years, so I jumped on the rabbit trail to reinforce my prejudice.
What I found was the usual controversy surrounding such religious celebrities, controversy that muddies the gospel message and gives Satan cause to rejoice.
As it turns out, Paula White's lifestyle is perfectly consistent with her "Name-It-And-Claim-It" message. If she really believes in that entitlement theology she is at least not a hypocrite.
Though such preachers point to Scripture to justify their opulent lifestyles, I cannot find Biblical justification for such materialism. Yes, many itchy-eared believers embrace the "faith-to-riches" theology, but how many more unsaved and hell-bound souls resist the gospel because high-profile preachers flaunt all that "Christian" bling? That seems neither "Spirit-filled," nor "Holyghost anointed."
I suppose some might criticize my take on TBN-style “ministries” as harshly judgmental, but God told me(through the Bible in 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, and not through some word of knowledge-type utterance) that we are to judge the offenders inside the church, and not outsiders.
How can enough gullible believers buy into the prosperity gospel so that these "televangelists" stay in the chips, despite all the controversy surrounding them? Hoping for their own, personal prosperity-miracle, Christian lemmings continue investing in Faith-Promise-type con games rather than giving to God’s real work through his struggling servants.
Imagine the work God could accomplish if those multiplied millions of dollars went to support true men and women of God, rather than to buying flashy media ministers even more Christian bling.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ya gotta look at "The Big Picture"

Snake-Eyed Rupert looks up, and gapes at the 22 calibre automatic in Big Georgy’s fist, pointed right between his eyes. Rupert’s sphincter nearly releases, as he’s caught with his hand where it shouldn’t have been. He starts fast-talking, “Hey, Georgy,” says Rupert, his raised hands shaking slightly, “It ain’t what it looks like … ya gotta look at the big picture here.”
“What part of the ‘Big Picture’ says you weren’t stealing from me, Rupert?” Big Georgy is speaking through clenched teeth.
Rupert desperately hopes Big Georgy’s trigger finger isn’t as tense as his jaw. “Georgy … ah … You know I wouldn’t take nothin’ from you.” Perspiration begins trickling down Rupert’s face. “That’d be crazy-stupid, Georgy.”
The Hollywood melodrama continues with more movie cliches and bad acting, but one bit rings perfectly true, “Ya gotta look at ‘The Big Picture.’”

The Little Picture

We human-type animals suffer from the same myopic perspective as the rest of creation. Our personal little world, discernible through our five senses, is all there is. Even if our world view expands to include the physical universe, only what we can see, hear, touch, taste and smell, even through the augmented sensitivity of scientific instrumentation, seems real to us.
Though we typically maintain that myopic outlook, human beings are unique in our need to ask a single question of life. Peggy Lee popularized one expression of that question in a 1969 song entitled, Is That All There Is?
Atheists, in their occasional moments of lucidness, insist mankind’s answer to that eternal question is religion. Though I disagree with virtually all of atheism’s other assumptions, I’m afraid I must concur with that one. Human religion attempts to answer Peggy Lee’s haunting question by inventing some of the most ingenious myths in folklore.
Some may ask, “How can this guy agree with that fundamental, atheistic ideal while disagreeing with everything they stand for?”
Simple enough answer: “I said, ‘human religion.’”
Now, the astute reader may also ask, “Isn’t all religion human religion? Have you ever seen a religious chimp?”
While chimps can be taught to kneel beside their beds and reverently join their hands and close their eyes, if they are religious, they’re pretty tight-lipped about it. The point is, religion is indeed a human invention. It is our attempt to formalize and ritualize our beliefs in deity. But we universally rebel, often violently, at the merest suggestion that our religion—regardless which it happens to be—is not God’s(or the gods’) honest truth.
So … what is the honest truth?

“Truth is stranger than fiction.”

Or so they say, but that depends on how they define strange. To those whose concept of subatomic particles places the electron as the smallest, the truth might seem truly strange.
“Elementary particles, my dear Watson,” Sherlock patronized.
Physicists have finally quit declaring each subatomic particle they discover, “The smallest of all.” Even they must eventually admit there’s a whole lot more to the universe than they can detect and measure. Quarks, leptons and gauge bosons defy even the scientists’ ability to imagine their size. In fact, “size” and “mass” become meaningless on that scale. Yet, their mathematics show such things must exist.

The Big Picture

If our universe contains inconceivably small things, why can it not contain inconceivably large things? And if the smallest things can change science’s distinctions between what is, and what is not detectable, could not the largest things in the universe be similarly undetectable?
Naturalists and materialists pompously limit the privilege of existence to what they can understand. Never mind that in the past few years science has proven the existence of things nobody in the past could have even imagined. Reproducible phenomena that are taken for granted today were, not all that long ago, thought to be magic. And SETI radio telescope installations probe the night sky for any sign of extra terrestrial intelligence.
If big is as possible as small, and the unknown as possible as the known, why does secular science steadfastly deny the possibility that Elohim exist? Now, don’t get your pants in a bind over my poor grammar. Elohim is, after all, the plural noun in the Hebrew language that is translated as “God” in English. Yet, Jewish theology insists that Elohim is one G_d.
Confused? Join the centuries-old club. When we reach the end of our Biblical understanding of God’s nature, all we have left is speculation. And that goes on at a wholesale rate among theologians.

Trekie Theology

No one would accuse Star Trek: The Next Generation’s writers of presuming expertise in theology. Yet, they assigned god-like attributes to “Q,” who was one of several Q hailing from the Q Continuum. Q told Captain Picard that the human form the Captain saw was assumed simply because humans could not comprehend his true form.
Of course, any reasonable person must realize such fiction is far-fetched. It does, however, present an interesting take on God’s nature, striking several deliberate parallels between God and Q.

The Plausible Impossible

Skeptics poo-poo the idea of spirit-existence because it can’t be observed, measured and categorized. In their view, such a supernal existence is incomprehensible, thus, impossible. And anyone imagining such a thing is stupid or foolish, or both. Yet, they accuse religious types of dogmatic, closed mindedness.
If sci-fi writers can create stories around a god-like creature, why would anyone presume to insist that the existence of such a being is impossible? If atheists refuse to consider the possibility that The Big Picture might just include something bigger than they are, how small does that make them?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Oxymoron: Division in God's Church

Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.
(Matthew 12:25 ESV)

Is God's kingdom divided against itself? With even evangelical denominations and congregations suffering rampant, factious bickering, that seems true.
The other possibility is God's kingdom is certainly not divided against itself, relegating the discordant factions of Christendom to the pit, with all the other haters in the world.

Chapter ? of My Story

To those who know Nancy and me, here’s where I am presently. The following is derived from an e-mail to my daughter Ari in answer to her inquiry.

Nancy’s Condition

She seems to have aged 20 years in the past two months. She appears to have decided that if she must live among geriatrics, she'll be a geriatric. I doubt it's that simple, but that's what it seems. Sometimes I see the old(young) Nancy in her smile or laugh, but the fact that it's just sometimes breaks my heart. Due to a stroke, I assume, she can't consistently say what she wants, and when she does talk some of her words are so slurred that I can't understand her.
Even so, she continues to bless me and those around her in Immanuel Lutheran Home. Nancy is an incredible woman who has fought the good fight so long she’s tired of fighting. She and her ex brought two amazing children into this world, and when he bugged out she raised them as a single mom. That takes the kind of spunk most of us only dream about, or admire in others.
She is the first to admit that she’s not always followed the wisest course, and some of her present straits are the fruit of what she sowed. Yet, she’s taken her stripes like the good sailor she is, and her beautiful heart continues as strong as ever.

My Place

“I'm too young to be married to an old woman.” That is in quotes because it isn’t my sentiment, but that of my carnal nature.
At times I just want to get on with my life, but the "my life" part is the problem. If I am to crucify myself(Not as a martyr, but as God’s obedient child.), I must walk this path. "Death to Self" seems like Mission Impossible, and without Christ's Spirit, it is exactly that.
People tell me how noble, self-sacrificing and wonderful I am to stick with Nancy. Though I try to credit the real Hero, and tell them I'm personally just another y-chromosome-brain-damaged, insensitive jerk, the temptation to revel in their praise is powerful. I’m almost glad they don’t know how wrong they are.

But, what do I get out of all this?

Some valuable lessons!
I begged God to make me more Christ-like. At the time I didn’t realize that was as risky as asking for more patience. Yet, he has put people in my life to both challenge and support me through the process.
I prayed, “Let your love flow through me.” He sent Nancy, to teach me how he loves, and to gently force me to actually pass his love on.
Through all this I’ve discovered the one prayer that, if sincere, he will always answer: “Give me your love for ______.” Whoever prays that prayer had better mean it!

The Message

If I never achieve anything else with my life, I want to convince other Christ-followers that self-sacrifice isn't God's suggestion for the "Truly Spiritual" among us. Rather, it is his command for his church. Most believers never have that mandate pitched so forcefully into their laps, so they conveniently overlook the ministry(service) opportunities surrounding them.
Why do so many miss those blessings? God’s church is saturated with the world’s philosophies, a world that will never understand the dear price Christ paid for our freedom(1 Corinthians 6:20 and 1 Corinthians 7:23). As his people, we must learn the difference between standing up for Christ, and standing up for ourselves.
Tragically, while the world can’t understand the truth of our belonging to Christ, neither does much of today’s church. And I don’t say that smugly, as one who has mastered it. If anything, my sin is greater, as I know its truth, but so seldom live it.
Apostle Paul, wise as he was in Christ, put it like this:
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.(for motivating self-control)  17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.(because the law made him aware of his innate sinfulness)  18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.(sound familiar?)  20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.(Some take this as permission to sin, but we are not the “sin that dwells within” us, and we are personally responsible for our sin.)  21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil(impulses, temptation) lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, (as do all committed, religious folks) 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.(also true of committed, religious folks)  24Wretched man that I am!(Join the club.) Who will deliver me from this body of death?  25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!(the only solution to this conundrum) So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.(which is why we must stop living for the flesh) Romans 7:16-25 ESV
If we are to observe Romans 7:16-25, we must first fully know Romans 6. By “fully know,” I mean not only having it memorized, but studied, meditated upon, and understood.

A Caveat on God’s Word

In this writing I have relied heavily on passages from the Bible. While theologians have authored cumbersome, technical treatises defending and defining God’s word, my understanding is somewhat more simple; I firmly believe that God gave us his infinite mind through mortal men in their fallible human language, and without his Holy Spirit’s intervention, the Book is little more than ink on paper, an ancient literary work to be dissected and critiqued by “scholars.” But through his Spirit, when taken in its entirety, it is God’s eternal truth.
Of course, that is not to say God won’t use passages taken from it to build his eternal concepts in our minds and bless our souls. While “rightly dividing” his word, however, we must not commit the sin Jesus condemned in Revelation 22:18-19, of teaching our interpretations of Scripture as inspired parts of it, and teaching excerpts of Scripture as God’s complete truth.


No, I am not writing this on a summery day. I just wanted to get the attention of those who can spell.
I needed Nancy in my life, if for no other reason than to motivate me to seek Christ-likeness. Carnality so naturally fills my being that I simply do not have it in me to do that on my own. I am not a nice man; I am a natural man, afflicted with all the attendant faults.
Though we’d all love it if it were, nature is never an excuse for sin. There is, in fact, no excuse for sin, which is why Christ Jesus gave himself for our redemption. If we are in Christ, we are new creatures; the natural is gone, replaced by the supernatural (my paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:17). I pray that God will make that ever more true in my life, and yours.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Lies Beyond?

Whether that is a question, or a statement, it reflects a world view. As a statement, it often suggests a Sci-Fi sort of idea, inferring humanity should “boldly go where no man has gone before.” As a question, it presents the defining difference between humans and the animal kingdom.
Our black lab Maddy perpetually strains at her leash, attempting to “boldly go” where her nose has not—or has—gone before. In a cute, and at times frustrating way, her quest for “what lies beyond” speaks eloquently of our common desire to push limits, or stretch leashes. But that primal drive bears little commonality with the “...beyond?” quest humans pursue to cosmic scale.
Does a rabbit clamped in a wolf’s jaws think about joining her ancestors? While no one can know with certainty, even the most ardent animal-rights people probably doubt it. Among humans, only those militant atheists who refuse to admit even the remotest possibility of a hereafter are jaded enough to deny having any such thoughts.
But the question remains, “What lies beyond?” While the atheist confidently insists, “Nothing!” the agnostic will more humbly admit, “I don’t know.” Followers of every religion or philosophy will likely bend your ears with a monologue of their afterlife beliefs. And militant believers might just hold a scimitar to your throat, demanding your acquiesce to their faith.
Relegating atheists to the lunatic fringe, as they do believers in God, we are left with the balance of humanity who maintain some sort of “hereafter” belief. A few of us philosophise about it, and still fewer philosophers take their thoughts on the subject quite seriously indeed. They’re the ones who publish weighty tomes that could be condensed to four words, “I don’t really know,” or five words, for those who do not deign to use contractions.
Many of us strive to live good lives in hopes that “the Man upstairs” will say we’re okay. Even avowed Christ-followers often fall into that category.
A few of us say we believe the Bible’s take on the subject, though we “Bible believers” seldom agree on what that means. And most of us who say we agree on a few key points, fight over which points they are.
Only one person ever claimed with authority to know the true answer to our quandary. He alone knew from experience, since he alone came from where we’re hoping to go. The very people he came to redeem, however, rejected him, and cheered while their religious leaders murdered him. And this, after he proved he was their Messiah (God’s anointed One) with numerous, well-documented signs and miracles.
For those who accept the Good Book as God’s inspired, holy word, and even for those who respect its position among the world’s “holy books,” the Bible recounts God’s historic dealings with his rebellious, chosen people. And it specifies scores of prophecies, in great detail, about the coming Messiah. In fact, most of those who have carefully investigated the Biblical narration, without prejudice, have accepted its truth, and many of them have personally experienced the redemption it offers.
They are the joyful ones for whom, “What Lies Beyond!” is not fiction, science or otherwise, but a firm promise from the Creator of the universe. A mind open to God’s truth is all it takes to join them.