Sunday, November 11, 2018

Practicing Dying and Resurrection

"We practice our death by giving up our will to live on our own terms. Only in that relinquishment or renunciation are we able to practice resurrection.”

So said the late, inimitable Eugene Peterson.

The "spiritual disciplines", as we call them, help us live as Christ teaches. We learn to do in secret so we can be free of thirst for human approval; we pray all the time so we are healthy, resilient and ready when the unexpected crush comes our way. Disciplines prepare.

Is giving up our will a discipline that prepares us to die? I reckon so. Yet, death is not the end. Peterson reminds us of resurrection and if I can know the truth at all I know it now: I scarcely know what this means.

But I have hope. Hope that dying with Christ means we rise with Him.

So now, the morning not yet past, I rise and go to prayer, praying for grace to die so I may live in Christ. If this be purely religious sentiment we are most miserable. I dare to believe it is real and will be demonstrated this day in my living, breathing, doing.

That is all.

Friday, October 19, 2018

"Take no thought for tomorrow..."


“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

We make plans, we project ourselves in to tomorrow, we envision things accomplished. What exactly are we to make of this Proverb? It is certainly accurate. No one knows the next moment with certainty, and the further one projects, the less certainty there is.

Surely the Proverb is echoed in the words of our Lord, who said, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And Paul, who said, “Be anxious for nothing.” And Jesus again (paraphrased): “Why worry about the various needs of life. See the lillies and the birds. God cares for them. You are worth more than them.”

Here we have speciesism and it is good! We matter to God more than non-human things.

The lesson, though, is not to worry.

We do not know what a day will bring. We simply can't know, and it does no good to fret and trouble over what may be and “what if”.

So as I make plans for an important project tomorrow that is time-sensitive and long-overdue, I remember. Yes, I may have a wreck, yes things can go wrong – they often do! But I do not mire down in those possibilities either. I make plans, trust for the kind grace of God to order my steps, and do my best. Not in a hurry but going somewhere.

I'm not boasting about what I will do, but I am looking forward to the possibilities!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Yes, I know...

...FB is where it's at and only the best blogs get much traffic. I write here because...well, because it is hidden somewhat and only the occasional passer-by or spam bot stops in.

Twitter has its game, too, but from what little I see I'm glad I never went there. These tech-driven formats lead us about by the nose. As "to someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail" so now days "to someone with access to social media, everything needs to be spoken".

No. It doesn't. And so I give myself a pass by saying what needn't be said where it won't be read much.

Of course there are many needs for speaking, not least the need to muse, or to think something out. This speaks to the meaning of essay, which I liken to pushing a rope. You are going somewhere with an essay, but you don't know where exactly. The best essays begin with a thought or shadowy question, poke around the various related ideas, then push and test to tease out any real insight that will help the writer believe the inquiry matters.

This is far from a good essay, but it is doing some of what essays do. I followed one thought with the next, letting order be random, and wind up saying something that helps me, at least. What did I say? Let me look....

I said blog commentary is intrinsically self-oriented and so is essay writing. It comes from within, not trying to prove anything but the need for free discussion of life. And in that discussion real joy is found.

That's all I have. It is free, and worth it! :)

Saturday, September 22, 2018

$ .019


Zeitgeist mean 'spirit of the age': the prevailing ideas, the norms, that which blows with most favor upon the winds.

The zeitgeist applies to this Supreme Court business. Here's what it is.

There is nothing really right or wrong, but thinking makes it so.
Political power is everything.
If you interfere with my political power, you are bad, really bad.
There is no way out of this mess.
There is nothing really right or wrong but thinking makes it so.

Jesus speaks into all of life with this central dictum:
Love God and your neighbor.”

Love God – all of us are equally subject to Him, made in His image, broken and needy. All we do, think or say only makes sense as we consider it in relation to God as Creator and Lord, the one who always works to make all things new.

Love your neighbor, especially those who suffer. Both are suffering here.
If Dr. Ford is truthful, her pain is great.
If Kavanaugh is guilty, his pain is great.
If Dr. Ford is lying, her pain is great.
If Kavanaugh is innocent, his pain is great.

Do you know how to grade the pain or gauge the brokenness or know the truth? I don't. Lord, have mercy. How many broken people have you known who masquerade in countless disguises? As many as have ever lived. Privilege and power on all scales mask the human reality of the soul and heart. This is true no less of Kavanaugh or Dr. Ford.

All should grieve for Dr. Ford if she suffered so. All should be free to wonder about such things, because there is reason to do so.

All should grieve for the presumed innocence of the man in the chair. What culture is strong enough to guarantee such a thing in law? Few.

The prophet said: “Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly.”

Justly: Burn the guy. He did grave wrong.
Try to calmly determine truth.
Mercy: Be compassionate of the accuser. The alleged act is grave indeed.
Be compassionate of the man in the chair. He could be innocent of a grave charge.
Humbly: Live quietly in this world, weep for those who must judge such things. 
Look in the mirror and remember who does not.

I don't know anything else. Lord, have mercy.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Ministry Remnants: Sermon Preparation

Most churches have a sermon on Sunday morning, an effort by the Pastor to speak from Scripture in a way that helps the understanding, guides the actions and inspires the lives of church-folk. This message serves the vital role of helping all in attendance give attention to thought and spirit for a designated time each week.

How does a preacher prepare for this?

Prayer.

After this, pondering. One great preacher whose name escapes me said, "I have to brood. I must have time uninterrupted to think deeply about the subject at hand so thoughts and feelings will develop into the shape and substance of something I can offer my people."

The best book I have read on the subject was by one H. Grady Davis called Design for Preaching. I need to read it again. And of course E. M Bounds and Dennis Kinlaw join a host of others who have written helpfully on the question.

I find preparation takes several steps:
  • pray
  • ponder and brood
  • study
  • develop notes
  • shape thoughts into an order that aids presentation
Getting from brooding to organized notes is difficult, but the most difficult is this: arriving at a thesis statement that says in one sentence the whole thrust of the message. When one has that clear all else is secondary; until that is clear, all else is muddled.

Enough for now. Sermon preparation awaits me.



Sunday, September 2, 2018

On Abiding the Contrary

A dear friend gently offered the counsel that I tend to posture myself in a way that "cannot abide the contrary." Perhaps preachers, those who often have a gift of 'forth-telling', are prone to this. We know what we know and we know it is right and pity the person not likewise enlightened! (I am thinking of signing all correspondence with the acronym moniker CAC.)

I know this can be annoying. OK, I know it can ruin dialogue and even friendship. As is our human wont, the things true of we ourselves are often the things of which we complain in others. Thus, when friends speak self-assuredly of things 'I know to be wrong' I tend to think they are guilty of CAC and need to be corrected and instructed. "If only they would tone down a bit they'd see the error of their ways. Why won't they listen for a change?"

Can I be free of such confidence in my outlook? Probably not, for thinking requires confidence in one's opinions. Yet, I long to be able to speak peaceably with those whose ideas I think are nuts; to listen well and dialogue without judging.

Here's my partial prescription, offered with the necessary dose of CAC:
  • Offer ideas to think about, not conclusions ripe for attack. (Opinions are for sharing, not imposing.)
  • In perfect Stephen Covey style: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
  • Attempt to disconnect ideas from feelings and personal identity.
There is more I suppose, all offered with the smiling caveat 'of course I know there is more -- don't imagine you knew it first!' Alas, CAC is omni-present, the blushing and stubborn pride born of painful insecurities.

But I am glad my friend is still my friend. He is able to overlook this flaw and love me anyway.

I'm learning!

CAC

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ministry Remnants: the Value of Journaling

In last night's prayer meeting a friend and long-time parishioner spoke of using his journal in devotions: "It's kind of new for me but I really like it." He spoke of writing down his prayers and I could tell this was something that just flowed from his heart.

"One morning", he said, "I realized I was writing a love letter to God." At that point he began to weep as he reveled in the goodness of God.

Do you journal? Even non-writers should do it. Maybe especially non-writers should do it. And we follow a long line of distinguished people. Indeed, many say keeping a journal is key to ordering one's life and living meaningfully and thoughtfully.

I would suggest that one of our best examples of journal-writing is King David. The Psalms are clearly in the genre of something like a personal journal, David often telling us of the journey of his heart. Certainly there are many love letters to God in the Psalms.

As my friend shared the new joy of the journal I was thrilled. He is up in years a bit, learning, growing, strengthening. His journal is deepening his life with God.

How is your life with God? Write your thoughts and prayers in a journal. It really helps.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Ministry Remnants


I've been reading and pondering the story of Jonah. This morning I shared from the first two chapters and then a consideration of the question: "Why does God send the belly of the whale?"

I suggested 4 reasons:
  • Due to our stubborness
  • To bless us
  • To bless others
  • To bring about closeness with us
There is more, always more. Is the belly of the whale really a good thing? Does God send it? Of course in Jonah's case he sent it to deliver him from the drink and then, in turn, to break his stubbornness. Then the above effects could come to pass. "For the carnal mind is enmity against God." But when Jonah repented a way was open for peace with God. He went through the belly just as Christ did to atone for the world. Jonah's suffering helped him get there for himself; Christ's suffering did it for the world.

I am tempted to give up the question. Is the belly really necessary? Must we suffer to be reconciled? Certainly we must die to ourselves and certainly we are not eager to do so. Suffering takes us there. "Yet he learned obedience by the things that he suffered."

Even the path of dying to self is suffering. No good thing comes without it. Suffering is a given no matter what. When we accept that instead of rage against it or try to avoid it, the world is open to us. This is being real.

Jesus shows the way. This is why the cross is glorious. We beat the suffering of life by bearing it gladly, dying to self which insatiably seeks pampering and the easy life. It is the only way, and I am a beginner. Maybe we all are.

Take up your cross, follow the Master. I once wrote that with aplomb as a young, eager college student. I now write it in hopes I will receive the grace to live such a way in peace. I hope you will, too.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Meditation from Jonah


Meditation from Jonah

You never know how thought or word,
action, random though it seemed,
within God's vast compendium
has weight and import.

For God-writ sparrow eulogies,
countless, pointless though they seem,
speak layers of the deepest clue:
“To Him we matter!”

So never think the stuff of life,
beasts and work and nature, too,
are “one with God” (the pantheist lie) –
Oh no – He owns them!

Instead believe with dancing joy,
thoughts and action, people, too;
like compass answer polar call,
fit His glad purpose.

What painful burden lays you low?
Joyless deeds that starve the soul?
Each, all of these and infinite more,
within His goodness --

Will show that He can take the ill,
good things, too – for all is His,
and make them serve Him flawlessly:
so trust Him always.

- - - - - - - -


Can you believe this is true in the failings of life? Painful shortcomings, lost opportunities, watching others excel through dint of diligence and hard work while one's lack prevails? Can God work even in this? Is there mercy and grace for the shortfalls we bring on ourselves?

What of those who suffer profoundly through no fault of their own? Is there grace for them? Is God working even in that and so should they trust Him?

I think the answer is yes, for if there is a God I see no other answer. Why does he allow suffering? I can only answer with Job and shut my mouth: I do not know. But I trust him not to test over-much.

Life is a grand testing in which we fail myriad ways. 
But He never gives up. 

Those who excel should inspire us. 
Those who fail should scare us, yes, but also engender appropriate pity and service. 

"Lord, grant humble gratitude before those who do well, 
tender care for those who fall short in the journey."


Friday, August 3, 2018

Did Trials prepare Jesus for Ministry?


Next time I will morsel some crumbs about how...trials prepared Jesus for ministry. 


Jesus needed preparation? How can that be?

I said the above in a post below and decided I might make good on the pledge.

Why did Jesus need trials to prepare him? Because he was human, that is all. He needed household-training from his mother and trade-apprenticeship from his father. Though he was the son of God he did not know these things without effort. That would not be human.

It was emphatically not some kind of artificial thing so that he could identify with us. He could have done that by fiat -- through pure knowledge and sheer power. As another esteemed mentor, Dr. Bill Ury, said in response to such reasoning: "Why, then, did not God just save from heaven?"

He could have, just as you and I can attempt redemptive work without getting our hands dirty. But it cannot be done. We have to be with, to become like. That's the world God made. That's the one he entered. Though he can suspend the ways of his world, he usually does not. And Jesus did not. Much the rather, he submitted to those ways just as we do in our common humanity.

Only his was a willing submission. He never had to become human. But once he did, game on. No looking back and no undoing. He entered our world and knew it in all its pain and trial and death. It was first-hand knowledge: not to posture himself or pretend some kind of empathy, but to actually be with in every way.

So how did his trials prepare him? Same as ours. The tempting in the desert toughened him, wisened him, gave him understanding to overcome many future assaults.

This is all I know and I know it barely. If Jesus were not human, we have no hope, for only a dying God can save a dying race. And to die he had to be human.

But if truly human he must suffer trials necessary to his training. Otherwise his humanity is not as ours.

This may seem arcane, but it is the heart of the gospel. And it is as real and earthy as we can get, if we will. We far prefer a sanitized Jesus in a religious box. That is easier, we imagine, but is actually worthless because unreal.

I go to prayer, to one I dare to believe is real: to one who really understands my trials and can give me understanding help -- one might even say camaraderie.

I pray for the grace to believe it and to enter in.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Lure of Sugar

So here's something 'right where we live.'

I love sugar. Always have.

I've always known it is bad for me, at least in quantities I consume. So why do I do it?

"Logic!" say the young. "If we'd all rule our lives by reason!" The implication is, of course, that the speaker does precisely that and further, that such a thing is really possible on any meaningful scale.

Fact is, reason tells us that we do not rule our lives by reason, but largely by feeling and emotion.

My body feels good when I have sugar, so I eat it. A thousand rationalizations are easy. Tonight it was typical: "This chocolate cake is from my birthday. I can't let it go to waste."

I've done this for years and I assume most of us do in measure: we rationalize poor eating habits. This is the wrong use of the reason so touted by the young as the cure for what ails us. That is, reason is at work on a wrong assumption, namely, "If it feels good I should eat it. If it doesn't, not so much." Reason is serving our bodily foolishness.

Tonight I read some of a piece about the link between sugar and cognitive decline. Could this move me to 'lick the sugar habit', as goes the title of a book my wife hopefully gave me some six years ago?

Am I really going to answer in the negative such questions as these?

  • Do I want a healthy mind as long as possible?
  • Do I want to optimize my options for good health and activity?
  • Do I want to enjoy my family for the longest possible time?
  • Do I want to be here to love and care for my wife as long as possible?
Every indulgence of the sugar habit says "no" to those questions. and this is not some dour, ascetic attitude. We should have dessert. Just not all the time, in Mt. Dew and coffee creamer and German chocolate cake and pizza and jelly, doughnuts, syrup-on-pancakes, candy, cookies, twizzlers, and on and on and on.

I do not trust my will-power, which is fodder for another blog. But this article all-but pushed me over the edge. I must change these habits that undermine good living and increase the possibility that my children will unduly suffer because of my fault.. I do not want that to happen,

What say ye?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

On Consciousness

Ran across this puzzling quote today by the skeptical mystic I. Ronia Lirt: "I'm unaware of consciousness."

What do you make of it?

Monday, July 16, 2018

Ministry Remnants: Rewards from Unexpected Places

Maybe the path of suffering is necessary to answer our deepest, truest prayer.


Today we considered this text: "...God rewards those who diligently seek Him." It is clear that the reward in mind is God Himself and it is Him we are to seek supremely. I often remember Lewis' reminder: if we make God our sole pursuit, all else is thrown in. Invert the order and lose all. Jesus said as much more than once, of course, primarily in the oft-quoted text "seek ye first the Kingdom of God...."

But I didn't want to miss the truth that God also rewards us in general, so I tossed out that reminder with this caveat: God rewards us but often the rewards are in disguise. Certainly they do not come when we want them or in the shape or quantity we wish. And they especially come in ways we could never expect.

I remembered how true this was for a dear friend. His son began adult life with painfully bad choices, leaving him poor, sometimes bitter, lonely, disappointed. My friend felt deep remorse, blaming himself. The son, for his part, eventually owned his own fault and began to make amends and develop zealous responsibility. 

My friend wished for the 'reward' of a son with grandchildren and a stable, godly home. He eventually got a godly son, sans home and grandchildren. Then, much to his deep joy, his son developed a large, entrepreneurial ministry that far surpassed anything my friend ever hoped to see. The son began to live out the deepest prayers of his father. 

The reward came by painful means; it came by circuitous route; and it looked nothing like my friend thought it would. And yet it was the answer to his deepest, un-uttered prayer.

Maybe the path of suffering is necessary to answer our deepest, truest prayer.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Waiting...

Waiting is the ellipsis...

Waiting...
...until you hear without effort;
...until a word births itself;
...until hope appears, uncontrived.

In the stillness we find him. Only in waiting we find what is worth waiting for.

Why are we so slow to wait, to get quiet, to listen?

Our trials take us there, but not always. We are recalcitrant.

I have known in rare days the sweet grace of waiting, of being still, of knowing.

I believe in God. When I wait for Him faith is working.

A faith that "diligently seeks" finds Him as its rich reward.

Waiting is the ellipsis, the too many dots that seem wasted space and time. Is waiting for God wasted time?

The reward is worth the wait. Hold on.

He is worth the wait.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

It's Just Me

It's just me, Lord. Not my ideas, rationale, defense, ponderings. It's not even my prayers. Just me.

Are you there? I know I can't say such things without praying, but the mess of mind and thinking leaves little place to just be.

So, it's just me. I need you.

I know it sounds sappy or weird, or like I'm trying to sound cool.

I just would like to be right about this, to quit the talk and stuff and know it is you yourself I need.

When you came to Mary she asked questions and was obedient and submissive. Some reasonings, but peace. Presence. In finality her, and you.

And so I think about not thinking. And I remember the scandal to mind of that oft-quoted Proverb: 'Lean not on your own understanding.'

I'm doing that, Lord. I do not know where you are, but I believe you are and I believe
you care.

I need you, and I wait for you in this happy crucible place.

It's just me.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Backward

In the overpacked category of "random" we find this musing on backwardness.

A friend un-named was pronouncedly backward when we first met. Smiling in the background, wordless interaction, seldom speaking even when spoken to, unless the question was clear and plain. And then the response gave "taciturn" new meaning.

In future years he and I became better friends, working together now and then, talking at great length. He is still kind of backward but it is not the first thing you notice. And his character is solid -- a faithful friend who loves his family and others with life-long devotion.

I never thought I was backward in that way, but I sometimes wonder. A dear and trusted friend says I am a closet-introvert. I dunno. But as the years go I understand better the beauty of being in the background, letting words remain unspoken, giving others space, action, conversation.

One realm that could use more backwardness -- OK, two realms: political discourse and Facebook in general. The ready-megaphone of media like this simple blog lets us fill the world with data, each byte cheapened with the swelling. This means political 'discourse' and Facebook can drag us down on scale worse than ever.

Things used for ill can also be used for good, and perhaps the effects balance out. I hope so.

For now I am learning happily to be more backward. And that can be a good way to be.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

You're Best Isn't Good Enough

I worked the early shift at UPS for two years. Supervisors yelling, co-workers sending boxes back up line, conveyor running, running, running. Mistakes were easy and rewarded with verbal affronts, not malicious but almost. The first days and weeks were harrowing.

One morning, Dave, my supervisor saw my woeful speed: “You gotta move faster! Your stuff is getting past and blocking the line! Move, move, MOVE!!”

“I am doing my best,” I protested, trying to hide indignation.

He was unimpressed: “Your best is not good enough!”

I knew he was right, but I protested in my soul. My best is not good enough?

This lesson is painfully true in life and ministry. All we can do is our best and that is what God expects, but it is not all He expects. He expects us to improve our best. Am I hurt when efforts are unappreciated and misunderstood, shortcomings criticized and strengths ignored? Yes! My best is not good enough! But if I quit and apply the poison salve of bitterness I only get worse. I have to take my lumps and see if I can improve my serve.

There are two lessons here:

One, our best can be better and it is wrong to just get by with what is comfortable. If we have a worthy goal for which we feel called then the fear of God calls us to be better. Job was surpassingly good but that did not make him successful. Success requires hard word and lots of it, steady excellence over time, willingness to fail and learn from it, and refusal to expect success as a result of virtue. Job's success came from his work and God's blessing, not just his exemplary goodness. 

Lesson two is this: God is the ultimate judge so seek His approval. He wants you to succeed and is relentless in His demands of your character, discipline, and effort. But He values you as His child, not just a performer whose “best is not good enough.” Because God is our Father, our best is good enough, it just isn't all. “Let me help you,” He says. “Look what you can be if you listen, learn and apply yourself here.”

My best is not good enough. Yes that stings, but I think it is true.

God's calls me to be all I can be, with glad hope of His smile and of someday hearing His triumphant, “Well done!”

Friday, July 6, 2018

Ruminations on the Fourth

From Native activists who call it the "farce", to Vicksburg who refused to celebrate it for many decades, to those who yawn as it passes and those who celebrate with passion and glee...one who is open and interested can be perplexed. Good friends caution us to avoid nation-worship and some churches 'observe' the fourth by engendering near-disdain.

What gives? Is it wrong to love country? Because Jefferson owned slaves is the progeny of his ideas forever poisoned? Because our forbears were not 'evangelical Protestant like me' can we not consider that in some appropriate and meaningful sense we began as a Christian nation? Could we somehow imagine that perhaps the good outweighed the bad? Could we believe there is something like exceptional, that against all odds we achieved it in some fashion, and rejoice in that without condescension?

Sometimes I decide I do not know anything. And maybe that is good. I truly admire the scholars, those who really understand and know and help us think straight. I also know they, like me, have assumptions that mislead.

Here's where I stand. I want to love my country, and I do. I am aware of and pained by her faults. I do not do enough to fix them -- who does? But I'm done with the guilt trip and shame that quashes love. I do love this country -- even the government that is a necessary evil. And I try to live my life in quiet and peace, observing the ethics and ideas that portend to peace and stability.

I'm weary of the outlook eclipsed by fault-finding such that beauty and joy and love are lost.

I love my country again, and I hope you do, too.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Vicissitude

Vicissitude: the quality or state of being changeable : mutability: natural change or mutation visible in nature or in human affairs  

Once during a major decision process a trusted mentor commented on the "vicissitudes of life." Change, unknowns, decisions about which the outcome is unknowable, the necessity of those decisions all the same. The term stuck in my mind.

Our circumstances -- unpredictable and often negative -- are largely beyond our control. Our chafing and worrying is of little value. Our response however is really up to us. If we neglect and abstain and refuse we aid the problem in dragging us down. If we respond proactively, thoughtfully and with purpose and determination, the effect of the circumstance will change and possibly be reversed or converted to something good.

This is redemption -- taking ill potential and making it positive.

The vicissitudes of life are often painful and distressing. Christ calls us to be strong, humble and holy no matter what may come.







Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Few Comments on "Evangelical Discourse"


I recently made a rare foray into FB land, unwittingly landing in disagreement. I guess FB is a bit like walking through a cow pasture -- poop is everywhere and a wary eye is needed. I've tried to avoid the controversial stuff because it is 'poop' to me these days. But I know these matters matter and so I enjoy 'going there' from time to time. It seemed right to comment here, though the whole things is a few days old and has no real consequence except for the friendships involved and the kindness of said friends to engage the matter. With that, here be!

As to the friendly discussion re. the article by Wolfe on Evangelical Discourse...

Thank you for the thoughtful replies. I've been off-grid and reticent. I unwittingly confronted two camps of strong belief, obtuse about both Moore and SBC difficulties. For-what-it's worth, to me Moore has seemed sincere and principled and the SBC stuff is largely off-radar, but that's all another subject.

On re-reading, I confess I just think the author is right and those who disagree do so because his conclusions differ from where they have landed on the implications. We all have to guard against that, which is what he is, in part, critiquing. That is, it is very difficult to set aside one's presuppositions about, say, the recent border issue and talk calmly about it.

The fact I did not call it “border atrocity” or some such like is case in point. Some would dismiss my comments for that indiscretion. But if I've already determined it is atrocity, what is left to talk about? No one is in favor of atrocity – and if they are no conversation can be had.

And this brings my point: “Randy is in favor of separating children from their parents.” As soon as I or anyone disagrees with that statement we become people of nuance, attempting to “make distinctions or qualifications or systematize or consider competing goods”, to use the author's language.

This is what grieves me on this whole matter and others like it: because someone believes there may be good policy or at least good will in spite of the apparently egregious fallout at the border; because someone dares to doubt the coverage and admits being embarrassed at the outrage; because of that some are bad, obviously in favor of separating children from their parents.

For me, this quote is the point of it all: “...social justice evangelicals employ certain socio-rhetorical devices, taken largely from the broader public discourse, that advantage them over their opponents. It is not just that these devices conceal a lack of reason; they are substitutes for reason; and they work best in civil public discourse.” [my emphasis]

This problem is contant and the whole discussion winds up meaning I [in this case] am considered in favor of separating children from their parents. Period. Distinction and nuance is disallowed because the decision is made going in.

I am a feeler, which makes this worse. I find myself placed in the camp of “those who are in favor of separating children from their parents”, and, dare I say it, that hurts the most. It is not fair because it precludes thoughtful reason.

I think that is the author's point.

He makes this point in synopsis at the end and it applies to me, if no one else: 

     “What evangelicals need most today is actual moral reasoning, one that recognizes complexity;  clear distinctions; clarified principles; competing goods; the penultimate and ultimate ends of the civil, ecclesiastical, and domestic societies; a multiplicity of responsibilities and duties; and  prudence. Evangelical leaders, especially social justice evangelicals, use the sort of rhetoric that precludes such moral reasoning, and instead they socialize their followers into a fallacious, cheap, and harmful moral rhetoric—one that is more effective in winning than in discovering and communicating moral truth.”

It seems to me that in a context separated from the painful political mess of our day Wolfe's comments would be non-controversial.

That's all. Thanks for 'listening'. :-)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Don't pretend you'd be truthful...

Don't pretend you'd be truthful in the public trust if you are not honest with yourself.

Of course this is difficult for who among us is perfect? Yet with all the mess in the news I find myself thinking, "If I were trusted with public interests,  would not tell a lie to protect myself or my colleagues. No! I will be honest, come what may." Really?

Let's be fair and recognize there are tortured issues, especially in matters of state. One never knows the ramifications of a word, no matter how truthful, and holding peace can be important beyond words, as is timing. Yet, is statecraft more difficult than the home or work or local affairs?

The Jordan Peterson dictum "Tell the truth, or at least don't lie" reflects the difficulty well. Solzenitsyn presses in further when he reminds us as a personal witness of the Soviet reality-denial: "One word of truth outweighs the whole world." And the inimitable Tolstoy brings us home with this: "Everyone wants to change the world. No one wants to change themselves."

So, I dare to think I would tell the truth. But when I look in the mirror and know how painful this can be in everyday life I know the crucible of character is real, and honesty is no easy treasure. As my teacher and mentor, Dr. Bill Ury, said, "We spend most of our lives learning to be truly honest with ourselves, others, and God."

I want to be at peace with the truth. It is the only way to live. And I want to be honest enough to live a quiet and peaceable life, ever loving and honest with my loved ones, serving in truth and refusing to lie. If I were called to the public trust in some way, may God have mercy. And may he have mercy on these United States. For as goes our allegiance to truth, so goes our fortune for good or ill.

Our penchant for mind-numbing word plethora, hair-splitting, slander, self-protection and outright lies bodes far too much ill.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

At Random

We hear "as you were" or "at ease"; do we ever hear "at random"?

In spite of the billions of bytes in blogosphere, each one meaning my contribution is worth less, I am reluctant to post "at random". Few see, it matters to less, so why?

Many reasons, but to explicate them would move me out of the random territory. It is enough to say sometimes one needs to speak. That is all.

As you were!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Always Tired?

I've often read or heard that leaders are always tired. I don't think I believe it but who knows, might be a slightly true generalization.

Some folks, leaders or not, are always weary for various reason. But I have to believe that most people have ebb and flow of energy: tired much of the time some days, vigorous much of the time many days, most of the time just average.

What does this mean? I dunno. I am tired alot, but that is an Alaska summer -- no rest for the sun-travelers. I do believe, leader or no, one should try to manage their body so they are not always tired.

And that's the limit of scintillating commentary for today. I hope, unlike Mr. Goodyear, you are not always tired.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Along the Way: Walking with God

I once heard Dr. John Oswalt say an optimal way to understand the scriptural understanding of our relationship with God is "a walk". I  like that.

This view includes journey, personality, companionship, conversation, time, learning.

Alternate views can be freighted with what the academics call a 'forensic view', often allowing the language of justification to eclipse the relationship. In its worst coloring, this view sees God as the cosmic policeman and Jesus as the cosmic get-out-of-jail free attorney who, in all truth of course, sets us free by His own life and sacrifice.

All well and good, but where's the walk? Is this all a contractual relationship, 'accepted' by faith with ideas of actual real-life relationship -- even friendship -- secondary, if considered at all?

This brings to mind the relationship youngsters often have with elders. Respect, fear, tacit awareness of indebtedness, awkwardness, little conversation, hunger to know and learn with sparse reciprocity. Certainly not a journey together. And we can attach that understanding to God and find "a walk" is far from the way we view our life with Him. Uncomfortable, distant, and disconnected is more like it.

But shouldn't that be how it is, God being omniscient, all-powerful, transcendent and all? Yes, but no. Jesus came to be among us, to literally walk with people like you and me. As God in human flesh he showed us what God is like. And God is one who walks with us.

I need a walk -- that is all. Time and learning and conversation. My outlook and attitude -- and sense of natural, real, tingling accountability -- is never more real than when I remember and know that this life of faith is a walk with God.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

On Writing, a Single Mind, and Sandals

Jesus talks about life where the sandals meet the sand 
and whatever holiness is, it will look like Him.

Writing is bewildering, curious, tough. Gazillion thoughts on paper or screen, more writers than ever. If the goal is many readers, success will be scarce. If the goal is approval or appreciation one may never write for others but only for his own joy in saying what is on his mind.

Much is on my mind, much that cannot be said. Saying so is part of the impetus I live with. Much is on my mind I can scarcely give room to be there. Not sordid or sensual or wrong, though of course there is room for the senses in this wonderful life. Sordid and wrong -- well we must push the devil back.

The thoughts deal with everything but are muted at the point of expression. Some remain moot because I know the answer to the question so am embarrassed to ask. Further, I am embarrassed at my success in living the answers. In a word -- incongruity. No one wants to talk long enough in public to reveal incongruity in their own life.

James spoke of the single mind: "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." The modern apologist Os Guinness wrote a book on doubt, originally title "In Two Minds". I am sure he explains how being in 'two minds' avoids the pitfall of James. Indeed it seems doubt -- his real topic -- is unavoidable. There are many things in which I am "in two minds." But the big things? Kierkegaard spoke of the single mind: "a pure heart is to will one thing." THE big thing.

More than ever I believe "that one thing" is to seek first God's kingdom as Jesus tells us in Matthew 6. No doubt we too often think the battle is won in one fell swoop. But as Lewis reminds us somewhere, to say nothing of Paul and of course Jesus, a 'fell swoop' is necessary, for until we die to self there can be no life unto Christ, no seeking God first.

As long as self is number one we follow ourselves to the grave. But make God number one and we can follow Him to life everlasting!

Does "second blessing holiness" deliver us from the cry of the self? Surely there is something here, with the details being the difficulty. To what degree is deliverance obtained? How can it be lost, if at all? And perhaps most vitally, how does this theological idea of beauty and promise square with the Gospels and the life of Jesus?

That sounds complicated and may be, but I don't think so. I am contending for something I can scarcely countenance because it is as hard as life and an easy burden all at once. When we die to self we embrace John's baptism of repentance so we can walk into and within the life Christ offers. And this life is more than 'spiritual' or 'religious'. It is profoundly real and simple at the same time.

Learning to bless, not curse; learning to ask for what we need rather than resenting our lack; learning to give to those in need, forgive those who have offended, speak truth without snark or self-preservation. Jesus talks about life where the sandals meet the sand and whatever holiness is, it will look like Him. The challenge is to set aside our pet notions of Him and listen well enough to begin to understand who He really is and what He cares about.

Then we learn to live it out daily and discover the easy yoke and the light burden.

That's more than enough for today, a laying out of the land that warms my heart and makes me want to pray. I hope you do, too.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Grace: It is What's Worth

One wonders. That is enough. A world of ideas, fed by experience, beauty, varied other generics. The light and shadow splayed on the blind as the breeze sways and leaves play. Can we look outside of ourselves, beyond the screen, away from inner thoughts, avoid pressing pressures, bring rigorous responsibility at one with joyful rest? What of insight without strain, friendship without losing principle, grace?

What of grace? I do not know. Rules and musts and shoulds. All the 'supposed to' things we think grace pushes away come rushing back when we say, "But you're 'supposed to' show grace."

What does grace mean? Giving as an attitude. Willing to overlook; to forgive; to suffer, not only with, but for.

Can we suffer for? Of course, or we never lived. Mothers suffer for and from their grace we live.

But grace is more than I know and I weep to know. There is little grace in my refusal to accept cheap bandy about this word. Yes, I want deep meaning -- because I desperately want meaning and I cannot know any such thing without depth. So I am lost -- that is, without grace, without goodness, without blessing.

In spite of the wonder, the stretch, the worry, the lack, I dare to believe God is real, that He is good, that He is grace.

"Come boldly to the throne of grace that you may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." This is the whisper Elijah heard, the breath of God felt when we are in His presence.

Life is grace, all of it, and the answer to objections is, again, grace. All begins with God and will end well, with Him.

"Breath on me breath of God, fill me with life anew."

I receive His grace today, His very person. Not a commodity of enabling but God Himself who is grace. He gives, He whispers. His presence heals. I listen, feel, receive and find in Him new life.

Wondering, wandering, resting in a God of grace.

That is all.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Evening Thoughts on Scripture

Could it be that the more we know about Jesus the less we know him?

While not a KJV-only guy in any sense, I can't believe that the Bible-publishing explosion of our day has really been a net good. And the mind-boggling variety of translations, paraphrases, and specialty Bibles is...waaay over the top, the most egregious being the ones with a slick mag-cover look. If you don't believe me peruse the Bible section at Books-a-Million or in the CBD sales paper.

The late radio extraordinaire, Paul Harvey, once said "if the devil wanted to reduce the power of the Bible he wouldn't have to destroy it, just dilute it." Reminds me of the Neil Postman line that with the extreme over-publishing of our day, "truth will be lost in a sea of irrelevance".

In light of those considerations, I loved it when I ran across this from the late, inimitable Malcolm Muggeridge in his book Jesus: The Man Who Lives.

"Meaning is often the enemy of truth, and in re-translating more exactly the words of the Gospels what they say so splendidly can easily be lost. [It may well be] that the more we knew about Jesus the less we knew him, and the more precisely his words were translated the less we understood or heeded them."

This, I think, critiques modernity and its love of all things exact. Of course we need accurate translations and of course the KJV is not the autographs in English form. I love the Message, JB Phillips, NLT, RSV, NASB, NKJV. They are all very helpful...and bewildering, too. But in a very real sense, I want my old Bible back. It simply is the mother tongue of English Scripture, and amazingly integral to the Anglo/American culture.

It is easy enough to observe that multiple translations have deeply wounded trans-generational Biblical literacy and memory. Seven different translations to choose from and which will you memorize? Which is used in the pulpit, at school, for personal devotions, at Bible club, youth group, summer camp? Several translations means the phraseology of that understanding gets fractured and never really settles into a collective awareness.

For the scholars, it is different -- they relish it all and understandably. The vast majority of us, though, need to be able to share the same words together. And when we can't, it is much easier to give up that Bible thing altogether. The Scriptures have lost their punch because we are not sure what the punch exactly is anymore -- it is lost in dilution: study notes, celebrity testimonials, glossy covers, 11 possible translations, and on and on.

I gladly repent of negative criticism -- this is not that. I ruminate for love of thoughts expressed, a happy love for God, and a desire to 'lean' into discussions that matter. In the end, for me, Paul Harvey's folksy observation proves true. Had I only one Bible, I would value it more. As I have way-too-many, not as much. Economics 101: High supply, low value.

That said, Muggeridge's further comments have spurred me on to read the Gospels again...and again. I want to hear the message clearly, worship Jesus more truly, follow Him more faithfully. And I honor those who labored through the centuries to pass along the scriptures with integrity. Truly they reveal the Word of life, full of grace and truth. And, as Muggeridge says, if the Gospels have survived their most recent commentators [and varied translations?] "then surely they must be considered immortal."

Indeed, immortal they are and tonight I gladly worship the One of whom they speak.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Yancey on Prayer

Yancey on Prayer: Adjusting our Point of Reference

“We must stop setting our sights by the light of each passing ship; 
instead we must set our course by the stars.” (George Marshall)

“Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God's point of view.”

Prayer adjusts our point of reference. With David we ask: “When I consider the heavens, the work of your hands, what is man that you are mindful of him?” Our approach to prayer is our approach to God, and approaching Him requires a massive adjustment of scale. Why would He even know we are here, much less be mindful.

“How odd that prayer seems foolish to some people who base their lives on media trends, superstition, instinct, hormones, social propriety, or even astrology," Yancey observes. Indeed, in our sophistication we reject the unknown of prayer and embrace countless other unknowns all the same. Forgetting God, we create Him elsewhere.

In prayer, Yancey says, we usually get the direction wrong. We start with out own concerns and bring them to God. We inform God as if He did not already know. Instead, we should start 'upstream' – start with God Himself.

The world obscures the view from above. Prayer and only prayer helps us see things as God see them.
  • “Prayer allows me to admit my failures, weaknesses, and limitations to One who responds to human vulnerability with infinite mercy.”
  • Prayer helps us “un-create the world we have fashioned” with out own ends in mind; it helps us quit playing God.
  • Prayer has become “a realignment of everything. I pray to restore the truth...to gain a glimpse of the world, of me, through the eyes of God.”
  • “Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God's point of view.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Ministry Remnants: Gifts in Darkness

 When we are in the darkness, we see nothing;
for once our experience is true.

To preach as a calling is a thing beyond words.
It calls us to use words.
And we leave words unsaid while saying too many.

This is about words unsaid. Or more specifically, some particular words left unsaid. There is no room to list the too many said.

In speaking of trials I spoke of Jesus in the desert, tempted of Satan. Considered broadly I tried to understand how our trials develop us; how God can speak even in darkest place; how God is best heard in the darkest place, for reasons.

Reason one, perhaps: in the dark place we feel our need most keenly and best receive help.

There are other reasons to be sure.

The one I stretch to grasp goes something like this: When we are in the darkness, we see nothing and for once our experience is true. For often we think we see when, in truth, we do not. It is the human condition to know what we don't know. Better to know we do not see and cry out for sight. Dark times help us do that. Much as we hate them, they are a way of hope and help.

These are remnants, left unsaid but wept over. There is more purpose in our trials than we can know. Even the inexplicable details, the faults, the impossible wait. The trial is a gift that helps us open our heart to God. When we push the trial away, it is God we lose.

As my friend, Loy, has it so often, echoing the Psalmist: Selah.

- - -

Next time I will morsel some crumbs about how it can be that these trials prepared Jesus for his ministry.  

Jesus needed preparation? How can that be?





Tuesday, May 1, 2018

On Prayer

Concerning prayer: "I try to err on the side of honesty and not pretense." (Philip Yancey)

Not much of length or strength here, but some musings as I peruse the master-writer, Philip Yancey, and his 2002 book on prayer.

"When it comes to prayer," he says, "we are all beginners."

He discovers we value prayer highly but practice it little.

   
And he sees how prayer is tied to need. "I noticed that Christians in developing countries spend less time pondering the effectiveness of praying and more time actually praying." Need trumps talk.

He admits an imbalance in approach, a reaction to an approach that "promised too much and pondered too little." As a result, he tries "to err on the side of honesty and not pretense."

Finally, hear these closing comments from chapter one:
  • "I have come to see prayer as a privilege, not a duty. Like all good things, prayer requires some discipline. Yet I believe that life with God should seem more like friendship than duty."
  • "If prayer stands in the place where God and humans meet, then I must learn about prayer."
  • Most of our struggles converge on this point: "why God doesn't act the way we want God to, and why I don't act the way God wants me to? Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge."
Yancey gets it. I look forward to learning about prayer with a fellow traveler like him.

Monday, April 30, 2018

On Blogging and Blessing


It is a wonder and a weariness. A great many have first-rate blog sites. Far more have fun blogs. All the ordinary blogs -- stuff like this where we say this and that now and then? All but infinite.


I guess it matters because it gives expression. I love to write and hope to be read. What is that? Natural and human, I suppose. Overly-serious? Maybe.

Probably not. Just human.

Countless blogs? Mind-numbing.

Reminder to enjoy my own front porch, be glad if I can speak and be spoken to by those close at hand, pray to be free of the seductive pull to be out there and be known.

I never cared about that anyway. Not me!

So I end with a warm smile, relishing the human heart that yearns to matter in spite of its frailty. And with joy for being able to express the heart and speak to any who venture by.

Did I mention what matters? "Significance is a gift," someone said. If I listen well enough I will know I matter because I am made. The Maker sees and cares and calls me to receive His blessing. He says I matter and I am learning that is enough.

Do I even have to write about it?

I smile again, and leave off.