Sunday, December 31, 2006

Out of Time 

Isaiah 25:1-9 - He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces....

C. S. Lewis made an interesting defense of prayer for the dead. Essentially, if God lives in eternity, then there's nothing to keep Him from answering our prayers regarding what we consider to be in the past.

It's also tempting to make much of the phrase "for all time," remembering that God is not bound by our own sense of history. He will swallow up death for all of us, up and down the timeline.

Which in turn gives us some sense of the phrase second death. Once outside of history, outside of time, we are immortals, unless we are subjected to a second death.

i can see how He would be much more concerned about that than He would about what happens to our physical bodies.

That is, if God actually intends for us to live in His element.

1 John 2:18-29 - This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.

So. Apparently He does intend for us to live in His element.

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:1 - "Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul...."

See, now, that doesn't sound so hard, does it?

"...and to keep the LORD'S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?"

Ah. Figures there'd be a catch. But it here it is: you don't have to worry over what God wants you to do. He's told you pretty much straight out. If He needs you to do something and you're missing it, there's burning bushes, angels, or dreams (or various combinations thereof) He can whip up.

Matthew 2:13-23 - ...an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you...."

See how that works?

If He's got something specific to tell you, He'll tell you specifically. All the other stuff He cares about, He's already listed out pretty well.

If God is the God of our yesterdays and our today and our tomorrows, then He must work from outside of time, changing the past to suit Himself, changing what He knows (or cares to know) about us, helping us after the fact to see how our story went.

He must be the only real Post-Modernist.

New Year's Eve. And most of us are just ready to get on with the new year. We're done with the old one and it's time.

In Ecuador, where i spent formative years, the tradition was to burn the Old Man. Stuff old clothes full of straw, perhaps going an extra mile and making it into the effigy of the villain du jour. i like that tradition. Old things are passed away.


All things are new.

Not just tomorrow, but new the next day and new the next day and new the next.

As though time were irrelevant. Or something.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Taking the Long View 

Isaiah 11:10-12:6 - "I will give thanks to You, O LORD; For although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away...."

You hear a lot about the wrathful Jehovah of the Old Testament. The bits where He has cause to get angry, and the bits where He bides His time, waiting for them (us) to come around, those don't get much airplay.

1 John 2:7-17 - The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

God's wrath and patience make a lot more sense, though, when you stop thinking of humans as transitory creatures, and start thinking of us as immortals. To me, that makes God's wrath with various nations a lot more understandable. Here He is, jumping up and down, trying to get our attention, and all we can think to do is knock each other down, wheedle money out of each other, put on plays for each other.

Let's see:

Creator of the Universe or hot dog at Sonic?

Creator of the Universe or domestic altercation?

Creator of the Universe or rerun of M*A*S*H?

Yep. i can see that—devising a cosmos in which One can be omnipresent and omniscient, while at the same time allowing others to enjoy themselves and do as they please, but then finding Oneself universally ignored at all the wrong moments—i can see how that might cheese One infinitely.

It's a wonder there are any Postdeluvians at all.

Ezekiel 34:17-31 - "Is it too slight a thing for you that you should feed in the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pastures?"

No doubt about it. i definitely sense a certain degree of irritation.

You know sometimes how there's this person you hit it off with, but you somehow never clarify the relationship? and the longer the ambiguity is left to lie, the more ambiguous it gets?

"...you are men, and I am your God," declares the Lord GOD.

Well, God's not that kind of person and this isn't that kind of relationship.

Matthew 2:1-12 - "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him."

i think the magi are the some of the most curious characters the Bible has to offer. We don't know where they came from. We don't know how many there are. We're not even sure why they came. One day they see a strange light in the sky, and they draw all kinds of conclusions from it that must have cost them years of effort.

My friends at the NET Bible say that the term translated as magi is a Greek term describing "a class of wise men and priests who were astrologers."

God has this grace of being where we look. These guys looked at the stars, so He showed them a star.

The magi are bad enough, but that star now, that raises all sorts of questions.

At any rate, it's about taking the long view. It's hard to imagine that what we have going for us as Ante-deluvians will be of much use after the world is changed and all.

Maybe it's easier for me to think long-view right now after listening to Stephen Hawking's The Universe in a Nutshell.

Friday, December 29, 2006


Isaiah 10:33-11:9 - ...He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth....

1 John 1:1-2:6 - If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth....

Ezekiel 34:1-16 - "As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day."

Luke 2:21-40 - "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

There is grace in justice.

So many of us are cursed with poverty, which isn't so much a lack of money as it is a lack of options. It generates a series of moral quandaries, a mire of lesser and greater evils that can be difficult to see past.

Perhaps some poverty is self-imposed, but i can't let that be an excuse to stand back. i must make efforts to lift others out. i can't help everyone but helping someone is both an obligation and a blessing.

And it's not about being a source of funds for the impoverished. Lord knows i'm no good for that. But what about providing for the lack of options? Is there training i can provide? Encouragement? A sandwich?


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Holy Innocents 

Jeremiah 31:1-17 - "A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more."

Matthew 18:1-14 - "So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish."

2 Chronicles 22:8-12 - Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she rose and destroyed all the royal offspring of the house of Judah. But Jehoshabeath the king's daughter took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king's sons who were being put to death, and placed him and his nurse in the bedroom.

Mark 10:13-27 - And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

Some children are caught by the machinations of authority and others (precious few, it seems) are rescued. What God means by perish doesn't seem to be the same as what we mean by perish. What does He mean?

And what Christ sees in children—what is that? It doesn't seem to be innocence. More like humility. Willingness to be taught. Look at us—we have to be "converted" and become like a child, He says. We have to put aside what we have already learned and start over.

But how to dismiss the cynicism we have learned, the skepticism that's resulted from years of living in a world with other deceivers, with our own deceit? Innocents are fools, tripped up by pranksters. If we set aside our guile, we'll be set upon by wolves.

So how can we help our unbelief?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Exodus 33:7-23 - "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here."

How close can we come to God?

Step by step, Moses and God approach each other, setting the example for the rest of us. For me, anyway. Moses puts every matter into His hand. God, in turn, proves trustworthy.

Do i dare put everything to Him?

Isaiah 6:1-8 - Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it....

Isaiah's vision formed the core of a class i took in seminary, Introduction to Church Music. Fortunately, it turned out to be an introduction to thought-through worship, not hymnology. We took this passage apart and i began to see how modern church worship is built around it. Or at least CAN be built around it.

Like the conversation between God and Moses, Isaiah's vision unfolds into something that has layers of meaning, and shows us how we should prepare our selves for meeting God.

John 13:20-35 - ...one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved....

Today is marked on the church calendar as belonging to John the Evangelist. Is there any other man more fortunate in all of recorded history? or any who has given us a better sense of who Jesus is?

He apparently took to heart the final words of Jesus in this scene. Tradition says that at the end of his life, he repeated them often to those around him.

i can imagine John, growing older and more feeble, afraid for those around him, perhaps none of whom had ever met Jesus, worried that they might get sidetracked, that they might become legalistic, that they might fall victim to a strong personality. i can imagine him saying over and over, nagging them to love one another, and knowing that either they will or they won't, and he won't be able to fix it for them, when he's gone.

He would say to them, "I knew Him, you know. We were like this. He always said to us you know what he said? He said that we should love one another. Probably the most important thing He ever said." Nodding sagely, that anxious look in his eye, that maybe you aren't really paying attention.

Revelation 4 - And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.

To be John, to have seen the most amazing things as a young man, to live on those memories for so long.

And then one day to see the long-lost catalyst of those memories before you again, barely recognizable, practically untouchable....

C.S. Lewis said that things are always coming more and more to a point. That ambivalence towards God is transitory. That each of our encounters with God proves our faith, burns away dross, opens or closes our hearts more.

Which brings me back to my starting point: Moses, who can't help but step closer and closer to God, as the conversation goes on....

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Feast of St. Stephen 

2 Chronicles 24:15-25 - Yet He sent prophets to them to bring them back to the LORD; though they testified against them, they would not listen.

God tries.

He tells us to ease up, and we bear down. He tells us to be free, and we incur addictions. He tells us to come to Him, and, like the toddler who thinks everything is just another game of "catch-me-if-you-can", we run straight out into the traffic.

And then we have the gall to ask Him why there's so much evil in the world...

Acts 6 - ...and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit....

They chose him to wait tables. They chose him to take care of the back office, to work out the logistics. They chose him to make sure Things Got Done.

But he just couldn't keep his mouth shut.

Acts 7:59-8:8 - ...he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!"

That's what i ask: Not to flinch when the blow falls.

And two paragraphs later, the work goes on. Martyrdom is just business as usual for the believer, isn't it? Stephen's last concern is for the forgiveness of his murderers. He recognizes the stain on their souls. He knows how much further this is likely to put them from being able to view Christ as anything like what He is.

i wonder if he's really asking God to soften their hearts.

"Good King Wenceslas looked out On the feast of Stephen"

The Feast of St. Stephen reminds us that Christ doesn't tell us that we won't suffer for following him. Or even that we won't suffer more than we can bear (you're thinking of temptation, that we won't be tempted more than we can bear, which isn't at all the same thing, no matter how we want to slice it).

Of course we'll suffer more than we can bear. Everybody dies. Even you.

But martyrdom isn't a history or legend. Some people are dying or have been imprisoned for what they believe right now.

And here is why we commemorate the Protomartyr on the day after Christmas.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day 

Isaiah 9:2-7 - For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Luke 2:1-20 - "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

Isaiah 7:10-16 - "Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel."

Titus 2:11-3:7 - ...the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men....

As D— would say, "Merry merry!"

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Something's going to happen. Something wonderful. 

Isaiah 52:1-10 - That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God.

Whatever's coming, it's going to be big. Everyone will see it.

Matthew 25:1-13 - "But he answered, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.'"

But not everyone's included.

1 Kings 17:1-16 - The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty....

i keep wanting to draw a moral from this lesson, or make up some rule about how God deals with us. Something like "Christians don't starve" or "God will provide everything you need."

But i can't seem to come up with something that bears out. At least, i got nothing that doesn't need to be qualified beyond recognition. God may provide everything i need, but i can imagine that there might come a day when He thinks i don't need to eat.

The best moral is probably that it's good to have God's ear.

Matthew 3:1-12 - "The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

i'm afraid to ask: what constitutes "good fruit"?

i have a feeling i don't have much of it to show, whatever it may be.

My Utmost for His Highest - "I do not care what I experience—I am sure of Him!"

There was a time i would have sneered at that sentiment. The older i get, the more i find myself relying on this.

It's not that i've given up thinking, or i'm unwilling to look at "evidence." It's more that experience shifts and (also a function of growing older) filtering it through latter-day eyes, i find my experiences have new interpretations.

(Everyone's post-modern in their latter days.)

It's that, as time passes, the only thing that seems reliable is my sense of needing to be like Christ, over and above my other concerns. But even that startles me again and again. i keep rediscovering it, like a bang on the door that turns out to be Someone you thought already safely inside for the night.

We're never really ready for grace, are we?

Maybe it's just me.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sparks in the Darkness 

1 Kings 21:1-20, 27-29 - ...the worthless men testified against him, even against Naboth, before the people, saying, "Naboth cursed God and the king." So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones.

What a dreadful story. All the just desserts get turned around. When Ahab says he's sorry, God gives him a break (sort of). What kind of God lets all the worst people off the hook?

Of course. Of course i'm kidding.

And very, very grateful.

Mark 10:32-52 - Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

That's me, right there: sitting by the side of the road, blind and loud. i don't know where He is, but whatever i have to do to get His attention, i will.

And all of the rest of you are blind too, so you're no help. i just wonder why you're so quiet.

Revelation 20 - And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.

Not their words, or their intentions, but their deeds.

Don't look at me. i didn't write it and i don't like it any more than you do. But there it is. You can read it for yourself.


Besides, what's the big deal? Do you follow Christ? Then you're already doing what He says, right? So what's the problem?

All Things Considered featured Fog of War, a documentary on lessons learned by Robert McNamara. The eleventh and last lesson?

"You can't change human nature."

Well, no.

i can't.

(Astronomers get grace with a well-placed telescope.)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Adeste Infideles 

1 Kings 20:35-43 - ...the king of Israel went to his house sullen and vexed....

i wish i could be of a single mind: that if i decided to obey God, i'd do it and do it with a cheerful heart.

But i'm like this guy. i obey only as much as suits me, and then i get mad when God calls me on my half-heartedness.

Mark 10:1-31 - But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment."

Half-heartedness, hard-heartedness. Same difference. It's not as if He doesn't make allowances.

Somehow i suspect that God makes a lot of provisions for us in this regard. Not just about divorce, but resting well, giving more thought to your job than to Him or His creation, how well you treat your parents.

Maybe He's hoping that if He just waits a little longer, we'll come around.

Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

There's a test of your belief. Or your hard-heartedness.

Same difference.

i'm like this guy. Every time i get to these words from Jesus, i work incredibly hard at pretending He's only talking to the man who asked the original question, and not to you or me.

Revelation 19 - "Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great."

This time reading through Revelation, i find i'm not reading for the symbols, trying to interpret the allegory. Instead, i'm stopping at the praise songs that are threaded throughout the book. It's sewn together with them. Really, it's like Heaven's hymnal, and at Christmastime, i find it compelling to remember that these songs refer to the Child in the manger.

Happy Chanukah!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christ Child 

1 Kings 20:22-34 - "Thus says the LORD, 'Because the Arameans have said, "The LORD is a god of the mountains, but He is not a god of the valleys," therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.'"

Here's something i try to keep in mind. God doesn't like to be pigeon-holed.

But we do it to Him all the time: He's a god of mercy, or a god of justice or a god of love. And it can't be right. He's God, if He's anything, and He's not a comic-book divinity with a particular set of superpowers. He Is Who He Is, and if you forget it, you place yourself in jeopardy, not unlike the misfortunate blind man who gets hold of the elephant's tail and decides that it's a rope.

He's a person. Think about it. You're a person, and how much do you like being told what your limitations are?

Mark 9:30-50 - "Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me."

i wonder how differently i would act or seem if i started treating every child i meet as though he or she were Christ incarnate? Particularly my own?

Jesus has some other warnings in this passage that can be difficult to parse. But think of them in terms of the curse, and grace. Apparently, exacerbating the curse for yourself or someone else is worse than losing the body part you do it with.

Revelation 18 - "For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong."

If we wanted to cure the world of its ills, truly set things right, what would it take? What sacrifices would we be willing to make? What extravagances would we be party to?

What would we be willing to burn down?

One of my favorite passages of Tolkien's is the "Akallabeth" in The Silmarillion. It tells of the envy that short-lived men have for the immortal elves:
"Why should we not envy the Valar, or even the least of the Deathless? For of us is required a blind trust, and a hope without assurance, knowing not what lies before us in a little while. And yet we also love the Earth and would not lose it."
Tolkien may not have intended any allegory in his work, but he certainly had insights into the curse.

Here's a grace i know: Teaching Sunday School to a class of 15 to 20 four- and five-year-olds. When i go into class, i shake each one by the right hand and say, "Good morning" and use their name. i started doing it just to learn their names, and also so that they would learn mine (my own children often can't tell me their Sunday School teachers' names). They're funny about it. Often their response to my right hand is to hold out their left (i usually insist that they change hands). Some of them don't want to shake my hand, and refuse. At least not at first. But i can see when i skip over them that they watch me carefully. They want me to come back.

Of course, i do.

But thinking of them as Jesus Christ. That's another thing entirely.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer." 

1 Kings 20:1-21 - "This is what the LORD says: 'Do you see this vast army? I will give it into your hand today, and then you will know that I am the LORD.' "

Not to be bitter, but it won't matter. Ahab's obedience and resulting success won't change his heart. Some people can insist on their pride no matter what God does for them.

Mark 9:2-29 - Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, "I do believe; help my unbelief."

And some will insist on believing in spite of themselves, because they don't have any other options. They want their sons to be Postdeluvians, even they aren't themselves convinced.

Doesn't that say something about what we really believe the world is like? What it is we want for other people, when we want the best for them?

Revelation 17 - "For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose...."

And then again, sometimes God just meddles, unheeding of all the rules we make up for Him.

See? There He goes again! Influencing our hearts to His own ends.

And that's why more and more of my prayers petition Him that if He puts something in my heart, it would not be hidden from me. Or that He would incline this friend or that toward Him.

On a completely different note:

God hides His graces here and there for us to find as we need them. For instance, a sense of immortality gives us the ability to forgive someone after they die.

Or to realize that we loved them.

And still do.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


1 Kings 19 - "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."

i am impatient with certain of my fellow American Christians. It's not uncommon to discover among them a sense of persecution, that the nation is turning against them, that they are losing some sort of foothold.

And yet not to be grateful to live in the United States, where freedom of worship is a practical reality, seems base.

This sort of paranoia, when one finds oneself among a remnant far larger in both proportion and number than that of Israel in Elijah's time, reflects an ignorance of the realities of personal freedoms outside of our country, even among other democracies. It intimates an ingratitude for a great blessing.

We're supposed to be counter-culture. The kind of grief we often pretend to be going through should have just cause, but frankly, it generally does not.

Mark 8:22-9:1 - "You are the Christ."

Even at this remove, i can feel the energy—no that's not right—the refreshment inherent in making this confession. It's something hard to explain—the willing engagement of belief, the acknowledgement, the recognition of someone you've waited for so long, that you'd given up any real expectation of meeting.

And then, of a sudden, there He is, giving you His full attention.

Revelation 15 & 16 - "Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God."

The more i know Christ, the more i've come to believe that our real efforts on the earth should be to stave off God's wrath as long as possible, rather than invite or work towards its fulfillment.

i flew to San Francisco. Watching the continent roll away beneath me, snow on the mountains, the thin skin of the atmosphere apparent at the horizon, i can't help but admire a well-made world.

In the airport, i saw two children looking up at the sky, shouting that its color is blue blue blue! Of all the worlds we could have had, and as unhappy as it sometimes is, i'm grateful that it's this one. i appreciate a nice blue sky.

So hard to imagine that it's temporal.

Monday, December 18, 2006


1 Kings 18:21-46 - "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him...."

It's hard, Lord. You take so long, and our lives are so short. We get impatient.

But Elijah makes a good point. We go through all this foofaraw talking to the wrong god, when all it takes is a to-the-point prayer to the right One.

Mark 8:1-21 - Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, "Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation."

i wonder which generation He means? The whole coming-back-to-life bit was a pretty good trick, i think.

Maybe He means us? Could be. But there are signs a-plenty from where i stand. Ask me sometime about My First Dog. Or the Late Visa. Or Little Boy Blue. (And yes, by gum, i will link to that for the rest of my life, thank-you-very-much.)

Revelation 14 - "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters."

Celebration of the First Advent constantly points me to my expectation of the Second Advent.

He's coming back. He's coming back. i know it sounds crazy, but....

Back when i was in college, years ago, about this time of year, i was in a small, crowded mall, doing some Christmas shopping. i stopped to buy some flowers from a florist's cart. Just a rose, really. i wanted to impress my girl.

Ahead of me in line was a slouchy teenager, dressed in baggy clothes and a ski cap. A couple of his buddies were urging him to hurry, but he ignored them. He calmly selected a red carnation, paid for it, and followed at his own pace. i mulled over my selection, bought my rose, got it wrapped just so, and headed off for the escalator.

Probably the only saving grace of a small, crowded mall at Christmas is that the people-watching is good. You see lots of little stories in there, if you watch long enough. This is one i almost missed. No one else could have seen it—not even the perp, since he's sure to have missed the denouement. But i saw the beginning, and i saw the end.

There were two escalators going down, criss-crossing as they went. For a moment you could study the faces of the other people going down across from you. i started down the one nearest to me, and looked across, and noticed a girl. i'm not sure why her face stood out. She was attractive, but at the same time, she looked spent. She had packages under one arm, and she looked as though the crowds had beaten her down. She was tired.

Then, from my side of the escalator, i saw an arm shoot out in front of her, holding a red carnation.

There was just enough time for her look up in surprise and take hold of it. Then the arm was past, and she was holding the carnation. It ignited her face into a bright smile.

And then the escalator glided her out of sight.

i have always remember that sudden transition from weariness to joy. i treasure it. It would be years before i heard the phrase "Random Act of Kindness," but that's where i was introduced to the concept. It's not about being kind to strangers, which is all well and good. It's about intentionally setting yourself up as a joybringer. Coming to the crowd knowing the odds are that someone in it has been beat down, and that it doesn't take much to change their day. You just have to be ready.

At any given moment, you can burn away the curse with something as simple as a red carnation. That's grace—the steps we take to ameliorate the curse for each other.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Something to Look Forward To 

This is my favorite collection of readings for the Advent season. They remind me that it's about more than just a baby in a manger. It reaches back to fulfill a long-awaited promise, and gives us something to look forward to. i gotta have something to look forward to.

Psalm 53 - Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores His captive people, Let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

Isaiah 40:1-11 - "Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God. ""Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended...."

Luke 3:1-18 - "Then what shall we do?" And he would answer and say to them, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise."

Isaiah 61 - He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners;

Matthew 9:35-10:7 - "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"

Here it is. You can't touch it, you can't see it. It's not the Internet, it's not the UN, it's not the USA.

It's built of relationships, and it lasts... forever.

Make yourself at Home.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Dogs Under the Table 

Genesis 11:1-9 - "Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech."

Looks like there's the Curse, and there's curses.

Interesting how they delineate the human condition. i wonder what it would be like to live in a world where you were defined by the blessings you were granted, not by the curses you endured.

1 Kings 18:1-20 - "It will come about when I leave you that the Spirit of the LORD will carry you where I do not know...."

God does seem capricious to us, doesn't He?

But, again, He can't be less moral than i am, or He's not God. And the older i get, the more experience i have misinterpreting the good intent (and result) of others. Especially as a dad. So i've decided to trust that His capriciousness has good purpose behind it.

Mark 7:24-37 - "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children's crumbs."

i follow Christ of necessity. When i ask Him to bless me, it's with the desperation of the Syrophoenician woman. It doesn't matter what He thinks of me. i need His blessing.

Revelation 13 - ...no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark....

i'm not one for conspiracy theory of last-days interpretation, but it does get easier and easier to see how such a mark would be technically feasible. Someone might even think it a good idea.

Sometimes God curses us, and sometimes we curse ourselves.

Perhaps the answer is toffee.

Friday, December 15, 2006

War in Heaven. Peace on Earth. 

Genesis 8:20-9:19 - "It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant...."

Of course, it's not so much that God needs the reminder. Noah et alia need the reassurance to avoid scenes like this every time a front comes through:

"Pa, what's that?"

"What? Where?"

"That thing up in the sky yonder. Idn't that wunna them cloud thingies?"


"Dagnabbit! I should never have set up that still. Boy, go get my tools and bring 'em out to the woodpile out back! And tell your ma to catch a coupla rabbits!"

1 Kings 17 - The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook.

Not exactly the best accommodations, but i wonder how much of God's provision i miss by insisting on how the provision is wrapped.

Like these guys:

Mark 7:1-23 - ...when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe....

Jesus condemns the Pharisees: "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men."

The Pharisees are my particular bogeymen. That's because i identify with them so strongly. They knew the Scriptures, they followed them, but when God kept His promise, they didn't recognize it for what it was.

The way out of that trap is to do what He commands: Love one another. Feed the hungry and tend the sick. Look after widows and orphans. Honor your father and mother.

i used to worry about doing or finding or seeking God's will. But He hasn't hidden it from me. It's all right there. If i were doing these things, i don't suppose i would identify so strongly with the Pharisees, eh?

Revelation 12:7-17 - And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon.

The wonderful phrase war in heaven always puts me in mind of Charles Williams' novel. It's heartening to imagine that heaven has a history (and if eternity has a history, perhaps it's something you can attend, rather than just read).

It's always tempting to translate the symbols in Revelation (the dragon, the woman, her children, the serpent, the eagle). But after you do all that work, you get committed to it, and it's hard to let it go. Add to that the historical tendency that readers of Revelation have to read it only in terms of their own generation (which, in many ways, is just fine), and i think you run the risk of missing what God is really trying to tell you. You get the feeling that you've "solved" the Scriptures, and it gives you the sense that you have mastered them.

Which is probably how the Pharisees got off track.

But Christ turns Pharisees into believers, which is what what i need every day, every day.

Grace: Christmas is bearing in on us, and not everyone thinks that's a good thing. Some people get crushed by the season. My pastor apparently is one of those.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Genesis 8:1-19 - So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him. Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by their families from the ark.

Say you're a crazy man. You have this crazy idea. You explain to everyone that you have to do something because "God told you to." Everyone laughs at you, not for years, but for centuries.

But say you do it.

Say you shut yourself and your family up in a big wooden... whatchamacallit. With a bunch of wild animals.

And then you wait for it to rain.

And then.

And then it starts to rain.

Belief is crazy. But if you don't believe, you don't get to be a Postdeluvian.

1 Kings 16:15-33 - Zimri reigned seven days at Tirzah.... Then Omri and all Israel with him went up from Gibbethon and besieged Tirzah. When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the king's house and burned the king's house over him with fire, and died, because of his sins which he sinned, doing evil in the sight of the LORD....

Sometimes, like Baasha (or the Antedeluvians), you get years and years to screw up before God calls you on it.

Sometimes, like Zimri, you only get a week.

Considering that you and i, living right now, only have to worry about not screwing up the next moment, that's seems like plenty of time.

Mark 6:30-56 - ...they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.

Jesus feeds 5,000 men with five loaves and two fish and right after that, this walking-on-water incident occurs.

i worry that my heart might be hardened sufficiently to not be able to enjoy Jesus' little joke (really, He had to be trying hard not to laugh). Or to build an ark. Or to feed the hungry. Whatever it is He needs from me. Throughout the Scriptures, we see references to God hardening this person's heart or that person's heart.

The corollary must be that He is also willing to soften our hearts. This is probably the thing i pray for most ("Help my unbelief!").

i don't have the personality for ark-building. But since i'm in this boat, and it's raining outside, i'd rather be Crazy Noah than an unnamed disciple soiling himself.

Revelation 11:15-12:6 - "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever."

By nature, i'm a monarchist. i'd rather have a king than a congressman. But i don't want any of you to be king, because there's every chance you'd be no better than Zimri. No, the king i want has to be perfectly just, omniscient, proactive, visionary. Pretty much inhuman.

So the idea of Christ as King of the World is fascinating to me.

i'd vote for Him any day.

Isn't that queer? How my democratic values, which i treasure highly, constantly attempt to purge the sense of sovereignty i've had to cultivate at Christ's command? That tension seems key to the American who is also a citizen of the Kingdom of God: to acknowledge Christ's complete lordship over me (because of Who He is) and at the same time to subscribe to a code of democracy that reinforces my rights and identity as an individual (because of the viral effects this code apparently has to give others the freedom of choice to follow Christ).

America grants a citizen a right to individuality (even though as citizens, we often forget this and pressure our fellows to conform). Christ asks in turn for you to surrender it to Him.

It's the sort of tension that makes you Crazy, but at least you get to be a Postdeluvian.

You need grace: Bruce Cockburn's cover of Strong Hand of Love.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hell and High Water 

Genesis 7:13-24 - Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land....

You wonder how this ever became a children's story--cute little animals, Mr. and Mrs. Noah and their kids, the fat little boat with a giraffe's head sticking out of it...

...and bodies floating everywhere...

Maybe we read it as a child's tale so that we won't have to think about how much worse the world would have to get (and how close we must be to that) before God gets that fed up again.

1 Kings 16:1-14 - Thus Zimri destroyed all the household of Baasha...

i think i see a pattern emerging here.

Mark 6:1-29 - And He wondered at their unbelief.

These people were saying things like "Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands?"

So they granted that His teaching was good, and that His wisdom was inexplicable, and that He was doing actual miracles. But their conclusion was that He can't be who He claims to be.

Because He wasn't what they expected, they couldn't credit Him, couldn't re-evaluate Him, couldn't accept the grace He offered.

i'm susceptible to this sort of blindness. i believe what i want to believe, and changing what i really believe takes a deliberate effort on my part.

So i wonder how much grace i miss, and i keep trying to go back to what Christ actually said, rather than what other people tell me about Him.

Revelation 11:1-14 - These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.

And those are the good guys!


The Apocalypse, like the Curse, is going to suck too. Which only makes sense, since the Apocalypse is just the fulfillment of what the Curse promises.

Need a little grace today? Read "God's Grandeur" aloud to yourself. Really, really loud.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Waiting for God 

Genesis 7:1-12 - "...you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time."

At first, i thought it would be cool to have the L O R D tell you that you were the one He picked to save. But then i thought about having to live for 500 years trapped on a planet full of people too bloody sorry for even God to put up with.

That's kinda scary.

1 Kings 15:25-34 - Then Baasha the son of Ahijah of the house of Issachar conspired against him.... He did not leave to Jeroboam any persons alive....

God keeps His promises. All of them. Eventually.

If grace ameliorates the curse, conspiracy exacerbates it. Gossip, rumor, scheming—all of these intentionally make things worse for their victims. Perhaps we should give them up.

Mark 5:21-43 - "If I just touch His garments, I will get well."

We need the grace of Christ. We require it. Jairus has to put aside his position and ask this country rabbi for his daughter back. The bleeding woman has to push through the crowd just for a touch. Jacob wrestles with the angel and won't let go until he is blessed. It seems greedy, but it's really just survival instinct.

This is what we're after: try as we might, the curse is too big for us after all, and the only thing that will serve is not kindness (which is how we think of grace), but a miracle.

Revelation 10 - Then the angel... swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it, that there will be delay no longer.

God, still keeping His promises.

But really. How long, O Lord?

Today's grace: OHIO, which is all that it could be, but i'll take it just for the sake of the unlisted track at the end of Disc 2 (click Lyrics and scroll to the last song on the page)

Monday, December 11, 2006

God in the Moon 

Genesis 6 - The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
1 Kings 13:33-14:20 - "...why do you pretend to be another woman? For I am sent to you with a harsh message."
Mark 4:35-5:20 - "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
Revelation 9:1-12 - And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.

We'd like for God to always like us. But we grieved Him and now we live in fear and shame most of the time. He seems to love us but we rebel and He corrects us, seeming to be angry, and we don't listen and He seems harsh and we complain and He seems to throw up His hands.

And somehow never does.

The moon seems to change too, but the same face is always aimed our way. It's only the light we see it by that changes.

It's probably not in our best interest to hold that perspective trumps reality.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Release to the Captives 

Isaiah 35 - Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.
Judges 16:21-31 - Then Samson called to the LORD and said, "O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time....
Luke 4:14-32 - "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind...."
Luke 6:27-42 - "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return...; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men."
Psalm 80 - O LORD God of hosts, How long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people?

Samson is sent to destroy the Philistines. Christ is sent to proclaim release to the captives.

It's hard to understand the compatibility between the destructive work of Samson and the restorative work of Christ. But i've long ago stopped questioning how these could both be doing God's work.

i can't question God on this sort of thing. God told Samson what to do, and he didn't always do it. Christ has told me what i'm to do, and i haven't always done that either.

But the truth is that God isn't less moral than i am. That's really important.

He isn't less concerned about the Philistines than i am, or less fair, or less just. He isn't less interested in healing the sick than i am. If He is, then He's not God. Not in any significant sense. He thinks the curse sucks too.

But how long, Lord?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil... 

Genesis 4:16-26 - "For I have killed a man for wounding me...."
1 Kings 13:1-10 - Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, "Seize him." But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up....
Mark 4:1-34 - "...while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand...."
Revelation 9:1-12 - ...in those days men will seek death and will not find it....

God doesn't seem to be half as interested in our physical lives as we think He should be. When it comes to people dying, He's seen it all before.

(Which is probably why i think the Parable of the Sower is the the most frightening passage in the whole New Testament.)

But He'll wither our limbs, let us starve, watch us stab and shoot each other, and any old thing if He thinks it will get Him our attention.

He's always doing stuff to get our attention. Stuff like jumping up and down and waving at you from outside the window while you're trying to work.

Now that's grace.

Friday, December 08, 2006

No matter what the blind men say, it's still an elephant. 

Genesis 4:1-15 - "...sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."
I Kings 12:20-33 - So the king... made two golden calves, and he said..., "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel...."
Mark 3:13-35 - "...whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother."
Revelation 8 - And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel's hand.

Cain offers fruit to God. Abel sacrifices animals. Jeroboam makes religion convenient so that folks don't have to travel so far to fulfill their religious obligations. Christ treats the obedient with more significance than His own flesh and blood.

It matters somehow, what we believe. Sincerity ain't in it. The substance of what you believe is more important than how strongly you believe it.

Post-modernism has taught us that everyone has their own perspective. Okay, fine. But to believe that every perspective is of equal value (or is equally good) simply can't be true.

Years ago, i was asked by a student if i were religious. i was immediately uncomfortable and corrected her. "i prefer to think of it as 'devout.'"

But it's true that i'm religious. i try to practice a variety of spiritual disciplines: meet regularly with like-minded people, pray without ceasing, study the Scriptures, tithe my income. So what's religion? It's the collection of spiritual practices that i strive toward (or alternatively, feel guilty about not practicing). So what's religion for?

Good religion constantly presents us with the things that we should believe and the behaviors that we should practice. It puts them up against our actual beliefs and practices, and it calls us to change from the actual to the true.

Bad religion is what we use to reinforce our current practices and beliefs, whether they happen to be good or bad.

Good religion presents you with the truth and expects you to do something about yourself. Bad religion figures out how to allow you to stay where you are, regardless of the truth.

Good religion always makes you uncomfortable.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

It's decided. The curse sucks. 

Genesis 3 - "Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life."
I Kings 12:1-19 - The king answered the people harshly, for he forsook the advice of the elders....
Mark 2:23-3:12 - "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?"
Revelation 7 - "They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."

The curse really, really sucks.

It's physical, says God--you're gonna have to put up with some pain. It's temporal, says John--you don't have to put it with it for long.

You don't have to put up with it at all, says Jesus.

And Rehoboam points out, by reverse example, what Grace is. He meets his downfall by exacerbating the effects of the curse on his people. That's the opposite of Grace.

Grace manifests in the steps we take to alleviate another person's experience of the curse. God is at this all the time, all the time.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Man Out of Place 

Genesis 2:15-24 - ...whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name....
I Kings 11:26-43 - "'I will take you, and you shall reign over whatever you desire, and you shall be king over Israel. Then it will be, that if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.'"
Mark 2:1-22 - "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk'?"
Revelation 6 - I heard one of the four living creatures...

Okay. Naming all the animals would pretty much rock. Don't you wonder what language Adam used? What words he called each one?

That sense of dominion seems to have two components to it: place and relationship. God grants ten tribes (and more), on condition of obedience, to Jeroboam. And that paralytic can't even control his own body, so Jesus does what? Forgives his sins.

John, out of place in Heaven, must have felt uncomfortable being where he had so little sense of dominion that he doesn't even know what to call the being in front of him.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"What business do we have with each other?" 

Genesis 2:4-14 - This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.
Mark 1:21-45 - "What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth?"
1 Kings 11:14-25 - He gathered men to himself and became leader of a marauding band, after David slew them of Zobah....
Revelation 5 - And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever."

The passage in 1 Kings outlines the brief histories of two men who caused trouble for Solomon. Both seem to have been survivors of David's bloody raids. Vengeance was the operative word. But the suggestion is also that God allowed these men to dog Solomon.

But we start with creation and we end with the chief end of creatures. In between, the question that dogs each of us.

Today's recommendation: the Book of Common Prayer as more than a manual for ministry. It's really quite lovely when put to its purpose, giving words for situations that we don't have words for.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Glory Hound 

Genesis 1:1-2:3 - Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
Mark 1:1-20 - "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased."
-1 Kings 11:1-13 - Now the LORD was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice....
Revelation 4 - "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created."

He is a person, and all these things that we are: wanting to rest or well-pleased or angry. But as Creator, He is not like us. What is it that He wants?

It sounds a bit like a favorite quotation from Antoine de Ste. Exupery:
Although human life is precious, we always act as if there were something more important than life. But what is that something? (Vol de Nuit)

Does He want glory and honor and power, really? Are we the people who can give it to Him?

Or rather, are we those people yet?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Coming Soon 

Isaiah 55 - "Listen, that you may live...."
Luke 1:57-80 - ...To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear....
Isaiah 60:1-11, 18-22 - "For behold, darkness will cover the earth And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you...."
Psalm 50 - May our God come and not keep silence....

This is the start of the church's New Year, the first Sunday in Advent.

We are to listen, to watch, and to wait—at just the time when (for me, anyway) it is most dark, most cold, most quiet. What are we watching for? What are we waiting for?

What will we hear?

The answers come with brilliant, flaming fanfares.

Meanwhile, in our book discussion club at church, we have begun reading The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin. It's a good way to start a new year.

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