Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Waiting Room 

Genesis 49 - "Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob; And listen to Israel your father."

1 Corinthians 4:18-5:13 - I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.

Jeremiah 35 - "Turn now every man from his evil way and amend your deeds...."

Luke 6:1-11 - "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?"

Was talking with R— one night about regrets. Expressed my long-held hope that God has figured out a way for Heaven to not be so awkward. You know. There you are in paradise, you run into that person who broke your heart, or that fellow you brake-checked in the cruising lane, or the girl back in school you called a perspicacious but pejorative name.

Surely the resulting encounter has the potential to be less than celestial and might last an eternity.

Said, "i figure God must have a Waiting Room. We have to wait there until the person we need to make things right with shows up. Then we work it out and hugs all round and we pass on through the Pearlies."

R— just looks at me. Figured he needed more explanation.

Said, "Well, you know. It could be that we've both matured and just never had the chance to work it out. People move around and lose touch and all."

R— stares.

Said, "Okay. Right. Never made the chance. Still."

R— nods slowly. "I think you're right."

Said, "You do?" He usually takes more convincing than this.

"Oh, yeah," he says. "God has a Waiting Room."

He leans back and looks up at the stars.

"You're sitting in it."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins have been forgiven you,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?" 

Genesis 48 - "I never expected to see your face, and behold, God has let me see your children as well."

1 Corinthians 4:1-17 - ...so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.

Jeremiah 13:1-25 - Give glory to the LORD your God, Before He brings darkness....

Luke 5:17-39 - After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, "Follow Me." And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.

One of the difficulties of following Christ is that He requires humility from us both by His command and by His example, while at the same time, He is insistent—so insistent.

On the one hand, He expects us to answer every curse with a kindness, every angry word with gentleness. On the other, He expects us to show other people how their lives may be changed, must be changed. He expects us to tell His story to strangers. He expects us to hold a mirror to the lives of our kin and expose them as shallow. He expects us to visit the sick and show them that there is forgiveness.

It can seem cruel.

And we end up saying completely unbelievable things like "i love the sinner, but i hate the sin." We end up knocking the chips off of people's shoulders and standing defenseless in the resulting furor. The more we absorb His humility, the more arrogant we appear.

What we know—the thing that keeps us at it—is this: He makes all things new. He has changed us. We are not the people we would otherwise be if not for what He has done—what He is doing right now—in us. Our personalities are different. We are able to forgive unforgiveable acts. We are released from guilt. We lose our fear. We are new. Every day, every day.

It's this grace that causes our arrogant stance. Simply put, if i must choose between you—a living, breathing person—and Him—Someone i've never seen face to face, who hasn't walked the planet for almost 2000 years—i will choose Him.

Arrogant, yes. But the best you might be able to do is help me walk again. You'll never be able to relieve this anxious guilt that threatens to overwhelm me.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Stations of the Cross 

Genesis 47:13-31 - "We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent, and the cattle are my lord's. There is nothing left for my lord except our bodies and our lands."

1 Corinthians 3:10-23 - According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it.

Habakkuk 1:1-2:4 - Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they?

Luke 5:1-16 - When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.

i remember years ago, while spending a summer in Spain ("Ah, Girona!"), visiting the monastery of Montserrat. The gardens there contain the Stations of the Cross—a series of life-sized, stone dioramas that allow you to walk through the suffering of Christ.

Now this is a pretty standard Roman Catholic devotion. There are fourteen "authorized" scenes. Sometimes they are painted or sculpted. Or, i suppose, filmed.

But i remember walking through that garden, which i had come upon unexpectedly, and spending time before each scene, internalizing each of these moments: here He is, fallen along the way; here He is, overwhelmed by His physical condition and helped by a stranger; here He is, crucified; here He is, mourned by His mother. Here He is, in the tomb.

And that was it.

The path ended, and i found myself back at the gate.

That was it?

i think i was supposed to be grieving. Instead, i was depressed. What an unhappy, unfair story. Best man we could come up with, and we killed Him and buried Him and now He's gone.

i started paying attention to the other Catholic churches and sites that i visited. Where was Christ resurrected? Where was the rest of the story? Here were the apostles, fishing away. Here was His mother, holding the Holy Child in her lap. Here was Christ crucified, and Christ suffering, and Christ buried.

But nowhere could i find Him alive again.

It wasn't until the end of that summer, when i stumbled into Sacre Coeur in Paris, that i found Him alive again, triumphantly placed front and center on the dome.

i can still summon up the sense of relief that i felt.

i have put all my hopes in Someone who is alive. The Resurrection is at the core of what i believe. The Resurrection is what makes me conscious that Christ is alive—that He is a person to Whom i must answer, and not a set of rules that i can't help but break.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Ship in a Harbor Is Safe 

Genesis 46:1-7, 26-34 - He said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there."

When was the last time God told you not to be afraid?

1 Corinthians 1:20-2:11 - ...God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise....

When was the last time someone accused you of being out of step?

2 Kings 22:1-23:3 - When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes.

When was the last time you felt enough shame over your situation that you tore your clothes in anguish?

Luke 4:14-32 - And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, "Is this not Joseph's son?"

When was the last time you heard His voice and credited it with the authority it is due?

"...He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the lord."

When was the last time He made you a promise, and you let Him keep it?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Too Good Not To Be True 

Genesis 45:16-28 - Then Israel said, "It is enough; my son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die."

Good news.

1 Corinthians 1:1-19 - For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Good hope.

2 Chronicles 33 - When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.

Good recovery.

Luke 4:1-13 - When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.

Bad move.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday 

Isaiah 58 - "Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?"

Luke 15 - "I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."

Isaiah 1:2-20 - "Bring your worthless offerings no longer....
Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Reprove the ruthless,
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow."
Luke 3:1-22 - "...bear fruits in keeping with repentance...."

It happens every now and then that my son does something that prompts me to reproach him. And it may happen that his apology is crestfallen but mumbled and results in no change in his behavior.

i wonder if God gets as exasperated with me as i do with my son in these circumstances.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Genesis 45:3-15 - "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life."

James 5 - The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.

Micah 6 - He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

Matthew 25:31-46 - "Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?"

The relationship we have with our Creator is a simple one. He provides, and we obey.

i once had a professor in a counseling class define love: "Love is meeting someone's needs." This simple definition got our class a long way down the road towards comprehension.

But, of course, me being me, i took issue. If we love God, how can we meet God's needs? What needs does God have? The professor promptly and properly shot the rabbit i was trying to chase with "God doesn't have any needs." And we went on to the germane discussion.

But we love God by obeying Him. Just as our own sons and daughters show us their love by their obedience.

And He loves us by meeting our needs.

It does seem, however, that He likes to be asked first.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sitting on the Promises 

2 Peter 3 - ...in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming?"

Mockers, eh? That doesn't put me in very good company. i'm always asking this.

2 Kings 17:24-29, 32-41 - So while these nations feared the LORD, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day.

That sounds like me too: fearing God, but easily distracted and concerned to do my duty by this cultural value or that.

John 19:17-42 - So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews'; but that He said, 'I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."

i feel like Pilate, always picking the wrong battle to win, taking my stand on the least costly hill to hold.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Religion and Politics 

2 Peter 2 - ...forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness....

i might start out with good intentions...

2 Kings 17:1-23 - However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the LORD their God.

...and find myself full of myself...

John 18:28-19:16 - "We have no king but Caesar."

...so that i don't even notice when something blasphemous comes out of my mouth.

This is the point of discipline. To renew myself daily, to measure myself against a standard, to test my truth against Truth.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Charity in the Face of Conspiracy 

2 Peter 1 - I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.

Sometimes you see the end coming...

2 Kings 15:17-30 - And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and struck him and put him to death and became king in his place, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah.

...sometimes you don't.

John 18:1-27 - So Jesus said to Peter, "Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?"

What we require is this grace, to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things.

The cup that Christ is about to drink includes not only His torture, humiliation, and death, but the knowledge that the person He is talking to, who has defended Him so dramatically, is going to gainsay his allegiance within the hour.

And years later, Peter, in the face of sealed fate, is still continuing to do his utmost to make good on his second chance.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

"There is no other stream." 

Daniel 3:8-30 - "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."

Mark 10:46-52 - Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Numbers 24:2-25 - "Alas, who can live except God has ordained it?"

Luke 10:1-16 - "Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves."

There is only one form of mercy that i require and only one legitimate, efficacious Source for that mercy.

And once He has had mercy on me, He can do with me as pleases Him best. It doesn't matter what's fair, what's most moral, what the Law requires. His Mercy changes my nature, for ever.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Genesis 35:1-15, 27-29 - A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you.

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings..."

Romans 16:1-5, 17-27 - The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

This too shall pass.

2 Kings 15:8-15 - Shallum son of Jabesh became king in the thirty-ninth year of Uzziah king of Judah, and he reigned one month in Samaria. Then Menahem son of Gadi went up from Tirzah... and killed him and became king in his place.

John 17 - "I am no longer in the world...."

It must have been the summer of '82. i somehow found myself in the Amazon rainforest, spending a week with Randy Borman in a Cofan village. This was before he was chief, before he moved the village, before he and the other Cofans took hostages. He brought us down the mountains, and down the river, and there we were.

Our education in the consequences of population loss began immediately. The first night, he took us out under the stars, the smogless air showing us everything—the Milky Way, Orion, the Southern Cross. It made me think of my grandfather, a war correspondent in World War II—the only thing he would ever tell me about his experiences was that he remembered seeing the Southern Cross while in the Philippines.

Randy began a goofy lesson in astronomy: There was the Fishnet. There was the Turtle. He began naming constellations i'd never heard of. i thought he was joking. i laughed.

He stopped talking. i couldn't see more than his outline in the starlight, but i could see that he was very still.

"Okay," i said. "What gives? Are those the English translations of the Greek names or what?"

"Those," he said, "are the Cofan constellations."

We started again. He taught us three or four constellations, and i listened this time. They weren't the same ones i knew. It wasn't like the Cofans looked at the Big Dipper and called it something different. The stars that made up the constellations were grouped differently.

And hovering there, in a galaxy that was no longer milky nor a way, my world tilted on its axis. It was a reminder that other people see the world differently.

But that wasn't the lesson that Randy had for us:

"There is also a constellation called the Pearls, but no one knows where it is." This didn't make any sense either, but Randy explained that in an oral culture, when the population begins to decrease, knowledge is lost. Names of things are remembered, but details are lost. The older members of the tribe could remember that there was a constellation called the Pearl Necklace, but none of them knew where it was. There was some conjecture. It might have been those stars, or these, but no one knew for sure.

God tasked us with the naming of things, but the irony is that all those names will be lost in time.

And we do not know—we never have known—the real names of the stars.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Many Happy Returns 

Genesis 33 - "...I see your face as one sees the face of God...."

Romans 15:13-33 - ...strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.... so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.

Hosea 13:1-14, 14:1-9 - I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from them.

John 16:12-33 - "A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me."

i find that i must have something to look forward to. i can stand a lot of misery and bear the pain just one moment more as long as i know that Soon relief will come.

So any disciplines i manage to adhere to, any forebearance of the Curse, is due to my sense of meeting Christ one day. That "maranatha" at the close of John's Revelation is echoed in my heart constantly.

And i sometimes wonder whether life in Eternity will be missing something without any such thing to look forward to. Which thought in turn causes me to speculate on how different we must be in that world, how changed we must be in ways we can't imagine, if having something to look forward to is no longer required.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Wrestling in the Dark 

Genesis 32:22-30 - "I will not let you go unless you bless me."

Blessings must have been the currency of Jacob's life, that he would wrestle all night for the sake of them. And then to get more than he bargained for—to have his name changed out from under him.

i mean, who in your life has the wherewithal and insight and impact to change your name? Whom would you allow that freedom?

Romans 14:19-15:12 - So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.

Hosea 11 - For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, And I will not come in wrath.

John 15:17-16:11 - "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away...."

Strange to have developed so great of sense of absence for Someone Whom i've never seen face to face. Strange grief. And then a strange and powerful relief to be reminded that He is not absent from me—perpetual motion in an Easterly direction.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Both Sides of the Story 

Genesis 32:1-21 - "I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant...."

Romans 14:1-18 - For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Hosea 10:1-12 - ...it is time to seek the LORD Until He comes to rain righteousness on you.

John 15:1-16 - ""I am the vine, you are the branches...."

Our unworthiness, His lovingkindness.

Lord of the dead, Lord of the living.

Seeking the Lord. Waiting for His righteousness to appear.

Vine, branches.

Buried in all this duality is the struggle that Jacob has with the Lord, that you and i have with God on a daily basis. Not my will but Thine. Not Thy will, but mine.

Every time we meet with Him, we are faced with our shortcomings. In fact, we come to realize that it's not just that we aren't good enough. Our very natures are too different from His to even survive His presence.

Yet we seek Him. Yet He comes to us. He is so encompassing as to be Lord of the living and Lord of the dead. He meets us where we are.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Genesis 31:36-55 - "So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me." Then Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar.

A covenant begins as an invitation.

Romans 13 - Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another...."

It determines what commitments will be made on each part.

Hosea 5:15-6:11 - "Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us...."

It straightens us out, brings us back into true.

John 14:15-31 - Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word...."

It shows what we're made of, and it establishes our sense of priority.

Much better, i think, than the accidental friendships that we keep waiting to happen to us.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Simple Things 

Genesis 31:22-34 - "...but why did you steal my gods?"

Anything—or anyone—that you can lose track of when your back is turned is perhaps not the best choice of deity.

Romans 12 - And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind....

Every day, every day.

Paul gives us of those handy lists of What You Should Do, in case you ever lose track:

Enough to get started with, anyway.

Hosea 4:1-9 - ...the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land, Because there is no faithfulness or kindness Or knowledge of God in the land.

Really, the things He asks of us are fairly simple matters.

i used to think that all of human history is God making His case against man. These days, though, i'm more of a mind that He's looking forward to a story He wants to tell us.

John 14:1-14 - "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."

i can't help looking over my shoulder at those folks back there. Do they know Him well enough to come to come through Him? Do they know Him at all? Is that fair?

But He doesn't excuse me for what they don't know. He holds me accountable for what i do know. And i know Him so i must come through Him. That's what i have to deal with.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean He isn't out to get you. 

1 Kings 18:41-19:21 - And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life....

This is a man who had just summoned a storm that ended a seven-year drought. And before that had killed 450 men. And before that had called down fire from heaven. But a single threat from one woman sends him packing.

It may be that every man has his price. Every man also has his breaking point, the fear he guards and keeps to himself, so that God cannot protect him from it.

Perhaps this is why—even for the best of us—our lives are so long, so calamitous and eventful, so rarely of a piece. Because even the best of us seem unable to give God everything all at once. He must delve and prod and prick us until we have completely surrendered.

Mark 8:22-9:1 - And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.

Fear is no doubt healthy, but i find that i am afraid of all the wrong things.

Fear engenders survival, but it turns out that survival is not the goal.

"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it."

In fact, the goal is altogether contradictory to survival. i have no intention to survive at all.

Numbers 23:1-26 - "God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?"

i am afraid of all the wrong things. Here's a God who says He's on my side. Or rather, who offers me a place at His side. If He desires it, i can call down fire from heaven, slay armies of prophets, initiate or end misery.

So getting on His bad side—i dunno. Even if the goal were merely survival, getting on His bad side seems like a Really Stupid Idea.

Acts 5:1-11 - "You have not lied to men but to God." And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.

See what i mean?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Beholden to Ungods 

Genesis 31:2-7, 14-21 - ...Rachel stole the household idols that were her father's.

Maybe she was afraid to leave without their blessing. Here she was joining a family that obviously had a strong God. Perhaps she felt she needed to take some moral support.

Or maybe she just had fond childhood memories....

Romans 11:25-36 - "The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob."

If He can do it for them, why can't He do it for us? For me, i mean.

Or perhaps it's just as well. Probably "remove" is just a euphemism.

Amos 9 - "All the sinners of My people will die by the sword, Those who say, 'The calamity will not overtake or confront us.'"

i sometimes treat God no better than Fate, as though He interacts with me through the events that take place. While it must be true that He speaks to us through our circumstances, it must also be that this is one more crutch: He speaks to me in this manner because this is all i will hear.

There must be a better way.

John 13:20-38 - So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. After the morsel, Satan then entered into him.

One who is obligated to his principles is an arrow in flight. There's no veering away from the logical outcome of his actions.

Fated, you might say.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Kindness and Severity 

Genesis 29:1-20 - Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel."

We often know what we want, but rarely are we conscious of the value we place on it.

Romans 11:12-24 - Behold then the kindness and severity of God....

We are even less sure of the value that God places on what He wants.

Amos 8 - "Hear this, you who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land.... Because of this will not the land quake And everyone who dwells in it mourn?"

Even when He tells us flat out, we pretend not to understand what He values.

John 13:1-19 - "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."

Behold, the kindness and severity of God.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Genesis 28:10-46 - Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it."

i have found that i can echo Jacob's words pretty much anywhere, anytime and find the world changing before my eyes. It's almost like magic. i focus differently, the colors change, the map in my head coalesces.

On the other hand, apparently, it points out that i doze a lot.

Romans 11:1-11 - "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day."

And why did He do this?

But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles....

So that i could know Him too.

Hmm. Every time God hardens someone's heart, it turns out He intends grace elsewhere.

Amos 7 - "Lord GOD, please stop! How can Jacob stand, for he is small?" The LORD changed His mind about this.

God softens His own heart. God changes His mind?

This seems unlikely, contradictory, weak, if you think of God as a force, or implacable, or vengeful. Or if you ascribe to Him only one quality or another. But when you think of Him as a person, one respectful of His relationships with small people like us, it makes more sense.

Of course, if you read the rest of Amos 7, you find that God doesn't change His mind after all. He does clarify it.

John 12:37-50 - Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.

And it's not like we don't give Him reason to despise us.

i wonder: if Jacob had woken from his dream in the middle of a sermon at church, would he have responded any differently?

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