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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Positive Take on The Ten Commandments, Part 1 - No Other Gods

You will have no other gods besides Me.

The First Commandment can be said to be the hook, designed to get our attention. No other Gods. period. What about that do we not understand?

Modes and his homeboys certainly understood. They'd just come from Egypt, after all, where just about everything could be deified. The Egyptians had jackal-headed gods, and cow-headed gods, and gods that looked like storks. It was pretty confusing to the average Egyptian, who generally picked one god to worship in the house...or hut, temple. (This kind of 'selection' is common to most polytheistic cultures.)

Even so, there were a number of Israelites who would have been just as happy hedging their bets with other gods. Maybe the God of Israel wasn't quite strong enough in some areas...let's give Him some backup!

Hedging bets. That's really they key, isn't it?

The First Commandment really says, "count on me...you don't need anyone else".

In the 21st century, we don't have to much trouble with golden calves or gods with weird heads and weirder names. But we do have problems with hedging bets.

Such as - "he who dies with the most toys wins".

In other words...this might be all we got, this life. So grab what you can, and live life to the 'fullest'.

Who knows if you'll really get pie in the sky when you die?

God's saying, BELIEVE! It's such an important concept that He made it a Commandment.

The first one.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Stuff You Can't Afford to Lose

Most of what you have, you can afford to lose. Really.

You can't afford to lose faith.

You can afford to lose family - and one day, you will, in part or in whole.

You can afford to lose reputation, because it's what other people think of you, and you can't control that.

But you can't afford to lose your honor. Often seen as the handmaiden of reputation, it's far deeper, because it goes into your soul.

Honor, at its basic level, is being the person who does the right thing, and who can be depended on to do the right thing. You keep your covenants.


Because if you break one, just one time, you've changed your life forever. Yes, God will forgive you and put your sins as far away as the East is from the West.

But convincing your own heart to follow suit is almost impossible. You can forget for a long time, you can accept forgiveness from those you've wronged, you can convince yourself that it's along time past and you're a different person...

...and then a chance remark or a hint subtle as a summer-night breeze will bring it all back, in its dreadful grandeur.

And there is no temporal atonement. The Japanese Samurai thought they were onto something with seppuku...that all honor lost could be regained through the simple expedient of ritual suicide.

Which only serves to show why there aren't many practicing samurai still around, I guess.

For the rest of us, lost honor bows our heads, and shades our hearts. It shouldn't be thus...we should be able to feel washed clean, with a new start.

But most of us don;t, and can't. Fact of life. God may be disappointed, but I suspect He understands.

So teach your kids...your word is vital, and the promises you make before man and God have to be faithfully kept.

Because there are some burdens you simply can't put down.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Why Did Jesus Weep?

The last week saw the death of my beloved mother-in-law. It's like a mountain range has sudden;y departed my horizon, and I have lost my bearings in a world suddenly gone unfamiliar...and a landscape allowing cold winds to blow unimpeded.

It does make one think of life and death. And about the shortest verse in the Bible..."Jesus wept."

Why did He weep? On the face of it, this reaction doesn't make sense. he's God, right? He knows that not only will He restore Lazarus, but that all who turn to Him will rise again.

Well, maybe He was just being sympathetic. He felt the pain of Lazarus' family, and felt is so deeply that it brought tears.

This is also an unsatisfying answer. While a robust "Buck up, kids, I'll set this nonsense right" response would have been out-of-place, the sight of their leader weeping over a single death in a land where death was cheap would not have engendered much confidence in His disciples.

Beyond this, it's a bit condescending. If He could see so much further, beyond death's tragedy, the tears would have been...no disrespect intended...ingenuous.

So, why? Why did He cry?

I think He cried for two reasons. The first is that to truly represent and save us, He had to experience life sequentially, just like we do. He couldn't emotionally jump ahead a few pages and see the outcome. Lazarus' death was a fact. His resurrection was not yet a fact. He was therefore constrained to the Now, and not the Tomorrow.

Did He know that Lazarus would die, and that He would bring him back again? Evidence is that He did - delaying for four days made sure that, under Hebrew tradition, the soul had departed the body (which it was said to inhabit for three days after death). It also made sure that decomposition would be well advanced, which is why there was some reluctance to roll away the stone.

So with that a priori knowledge, why did Jesus weep?

I think that it is because raising Lazarus was a work of faith, and to identify with us, He had to live the feeling that, in the face of a monumental tragedy like the death of a friend, faith can be a slender reed indeed.

Faith is not knowing. Faith is belief in something unseen, and in this case as yet unconsummated.

We have some evidence that Jesus faced a very human struggle with faith, in the garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross.

And that is why I love Him. Because He gives me a shoulder to lean on...and had I been there, two thousand years ago, I could have returned the favor. He's my God.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Jesus Goes Skydiving

Heard something interesting on Bill Purvis' televised sermon last Sunday (October 20, 2013) - "some people don't look up until they hit bottom".

That is so true. I've known many people whose lives seemed to go into free-fall, and they kept trying, desperately, to work the problem. Trouble was, they became fixated on the rapidly growing, and very hard landscape beneath their feet.

If you commit the highly unnatural and illogical act of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane while wearing a parachute, one of the first things you'll learn is that you need to keep your eyes on the horizon as you approach the ground.

Best to learn this when you're told. learning by experience means you've just driven your femurs through your pelvis.

The problem is the same one that deer get when you see them in your headlights. Paralysis, and the total lack of ability to take effective action. You're scrabbling for the steel D-ring at the end of the ripcord, but your fingers can't make the connection.

You do have time to wonder how high you'll bounce.

When everything in your life is going wrong, and you stare at the oncoming disaster, you're going to funnel yourself right into it. Kind of like the old saying that when a man thinks he's going to die tomorrow, he'll usually find some way to make it happen.

But if you raise your eyes to the horizon - you will find that Jesus is falling at your side.

And look - he's reaching for the ripcord you can't reach!

Monday, October 21, 2013


Where did anyone get the idea that being a warrior was fun?

Every fight I've been in, I wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else.

There's that song, "Voice of Truth", with the lines:

"...surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors
shaking in their armor,
and wishing they'd have had the strength to stand..."

Much to Barbara's displeasure, I rewrote one line...

"...surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors
shaking in their armor,
and wishing they'd have had the sense to stay home..."

It's certainly more representative of most combat infantrymen.

And yet...why do so many return for another tour, forsaking home and family? They get into theater, and bind and moan about everything, and long to return home.

And then look forward to the next deployment.

Is this crazy? Are we madmen, who can't find anything better to do than dice with death like over-the-edge hot-rodders on Mulholland Boulevard?

Or are we cold killers, whose senses are so deadened that we can only feel through nihilism?

And do we love our families so lightly that we can leave them to a final government paycheck...or, for a contractor, sometimes nothing at all?

Are we patriots, looking, like modern-day Nathan Hales, for a place to give that one life for our country?

None of the above, I think...or at least, the above form only small pieces framing a larger whole.

Going into a fight, we're coming home.

Home is a place where life is reduced to elemental factors. Dry is better than wet, warm is better than cold. Defilade - when the enemy can't put direct fire on you - is better than being enfiladed (being shot at).

The guys around you are the most important thing in the world, and you can't let them down.

And that is the key. Your wife may divorce you, your kids may run away, your parents may disown you.

But somewhere out there is a guy who will go back-to-back with you, and is perfectly willing to die with you, surrounded by empty shell cases.

Kind of like Jesus.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Do We Misrepresent God?

There are so very many uplifting and encouraging Scripture verses...

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

"If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, nothing shall be impossible unto you."

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you."

They're wonderful, but often they don't work. We can't do all things, and much that we would like to accomplish remains out of reach.

And some doors stay closed, and we are given a stone rather than a loaf.

Many new Christians see the dichotomy, and look at preachers who see God's favor in obtaining a preferred parking spot, and conclude that Christianity is a sham. They drift away to Eastern religion, to New Age, or to an unfocused agnosticism.

Are we using "sound bite Scripture" to misrepresent God? Are we replacing the Man of Sorrows with Hello Kitty?

Sometimes, perhaps we are.

"Doing all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" means that one can do all through Christ who strengthens us. But Jesus was not a frivolous Savior, dispensing strength for whatever one wanted. He dispensed, and still gives, the kind of strength He needed to survive Calvary.

Not to swing a lucrative business deal

And the mustard seed...the point, I think, is that we don't have that perfect faith possessed by a seed. Through Adam's sin we have doubt mixed with our faith - always.

We can't move mountains just because we say, "Move!"

And when we ask, what are we asking for? Are we looking for grace, seeking after salvation, or are we using this passage as justification for "blab it and grab it"?

Are we knocking on the door to God's heart, or the door to the Ferrari dealership? Will He open both? Or does the door we choose make all the difference in the world?

The Bible isn't a collection of magic spells, and our wildest temporal dreams won't come true if we just believe hard enough.

It 's a guide to Salvation, and the path has been made for us. But those aren't the tracks of Air Jordans, and the aroma we smell is not Vera Wang for Men.

We walk in the path trodden by bare feet, weighted down by a Cross

What we smell is blood.

That's Christianity.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Not That Kind of God

Today I heard something on Family Life Radio that floored me.

It was a radio show intended for children - the scene that was set was a young woman whose mother died, being 'comforted' by a male friend with a goofy voice.

The young woman was wondering why there is so much suffering, and her 'friend' said that, well, if we didn't suffer, we wouldn't know what life was like when it was good.

He used the analogy of coming out of the water after swimming, in a chilly, clammy bathing suit, and then changing into nice cozy warm dry clothes. You wouldn't be able to appreciate the warm clothes unless you'd been uncomfortable before.

Perhaps that works for swimming.

But for someone who lost a parent, that explanation makes as much sense as chopping someone's leg off so that they could fully enjoy a lollipop later.

Losing a parent is a permanent, life-changing scar. To compare it to swimming, and to further turn it into a salutary lesson, is simply obscene.

The God of the New Testament wept at death, even though He knew it would all be set right. He knew that we'd hurt, and that even though the separation wasn't permanent, it would sometimes seem that way to us.

He grieved with us, and didn't try to turn it into a Bible School discussion topic.

Everyone has a bad day, but FLR sure spiked their own end zone on that one.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Searching For An Identity

 A few years ago I set out to find myself.

But I wasn't there. (Groan.)

Who am I, really? The question's important, in a practical sense, because it defines how we live our lives. It shapes what we say, and to whom we say it.

It points us toward the career we'll have - or the series of jobs. Who we'll marry, or who we'll leave.

But it seems to be getting hard for most people to answer. So they address it with externals.

Like dress. People who haven't been near a locker room for years wear jerseys with their favorite athlete's name, and a cap with the team logo.

Churchgoers wear military camouflage, uniforms they haven't earned, save for the money they spent to buy it.

And message t-shirts. "No Fear" was popular awhile back. But it's a meaningless moto slogan, for there are truly terrifying things out there.

Tattoos. Once the province of sailors, tattoos have become middle-class. I guess it's because they're safer. Did you know that in the early 20th century a seaman in the US Navy who became ill from a tattoo had to pay for his own treatment...and could be discharged?

But what drives people to disfigure the bodies that God gave them? And yes, I meant disfigure. Do you think Paul's guidelines for dress in church, and for Christians in general, would include tats?

If I wore a bone through my nose, some people would say it was an improvement...no, sorry, I mean most would say I looked like an idiot, and it was inappropriate to have something big stuck through my schnozz.

And having a few hundred ink-bearing punctures of your skin is ok?


I think it's a search for identity. We live in a world we can't comprehend, not really. I have a PhD in engineering, and wrote some pretty sophisticated structural analysis software. But I don't know how the Internet really works, or how this word processing program in Blogger works.

I can't fix our car. If I try, I'll just screw up the computer.

Everything that defines me as an individual seems to be available online, or stored in government or business memory banks.

And there's no control. Unless I hide cash in a mattress, it's only available to me at a bank's pleasure. If the electronics don't work, the money can be gone, or stripped from my account by someone on a foreign shore.

Or by my own government.

A world we don't understand owns us, and that feels bad. So we fight back the only way we know how, by synthesizing an identity. We wear certain clothes, tattoo ourselves, use jargon that makes us 'hip' in a constant effort do define who we are. "Yo, dawg," sounds fine in Compton. It sounds moronic in Olathe, Kansas.

Takes a lot of effort. A lot of unnecessary effort, really.

Because the only definition we need is that we were created, individually, by a God who loves us just as we are. We're not fooling Him with our posturing, and we're not impressing Him, save for our more outlandish antics which might make Him roll His eyes.

Why isn't that enough?

Because, I think, we secretly wonder if He's there at all. We're hedging our bets, to make ourselves little stand-in gods.

So much for faith.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why Do We Love To Hate?

If you watch one of the Trinity Broadcasting channels for long enough, you're sure to hear something like this:

"Not all Muslims are terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslim."

"The Antichrist will be Muslim."

"One glorious day the Mosque of Mullah Omar will be swept away (from Jerusalem's Temple Mount) and the Third Temple will take its place."

It seems that a lot of influential Christians really don't like Muslims.

In fact, most Muslims just want to live in peace, and abhor terrorism (and jihad reders, strictly speaking, to an inner struggle for faith in each believer).

We don't know who the Antichrist will be.

And I rather doubt that it's within Jesus' Great Commandment to gleefully look forward to the day that a structure important to many people of a different faith will be destroyed.

But why the emphasis on hatred? Why are we singling out a certain group as the people we love to hate?

It's happened before. A few generations ago, most terrorists were Irish, and yes, the Irish were hated by many Britons.

The Native American was respected until he was in the way of Manifest Destiny, and then turned into a hated enemy.

And the Jews...treated with careless disdain in most Western countries (including our own), and slaughtered in Russia and Germany.

Is it that we are unsure of our own 'goodness', and need to find someone 'worse' than we are, even if we have to create a fiction to justify it?

Or is it that we're so in love with the 'good vs. evil' conflict that we have to keep it going? In support of this...look at the writers who have "villains you love to hate". Characters whose death you're expected to applaud. Does this teach us that hating the 'bad guy', and delighting in his pain, is ok?

Or, most horribly, is it that we're simply bored, and we need to find someone in whose pursuit and killing we can take vicarious pleasure as spectators?

Are we the New Romans, enjoying refreshments while our lions devour the flavor-of-the-week?

We have to look at our hearts, and the people who guide our faith, very carefully. Most people, Christian or no, are about halfway between good and awful.

And to drag out an overworked cliche, we all cry when hurt.

And we all bleed red.

And no one, not even the worst villain, falls dead from a bullet to the heart.

They whimper, and struggle, and call out to their mothers.

Hatred is a choice. Free will. Yes or no.

Where do you stand?

Monday, October 7, 2013

But What About the Sabbath?

Recently I did something I almost never do. I called in on a radio talk show.

The station was one of the syndicated Christian broadcasters, and the program was hosted by a very prominent preacher. I got through, and felt honored.

The man was talking about the Sabbath, and decrying the fact that we have a 7-day-a-week economy. He felt that pretty much everything should close down on Sunday, in obedience to the Lord's command.

He made an exception for police, firefighters, medical staff, and the armed forces. Nice of him.

I have a neighbor who's a cop. When he's on patrol, sometimes he just needs to step into a McDonald's, use the necessities, and get some hot, fresh coffee and something to eat.

I said as much to the Radio preacher, and his comment was, "Well, on the Sabbath he can pack a thermos and a lunch."

And what about the people who work six days (or seven days!) a week at two jobs, and a few hours on Sunday are the only ones they have to spend with their families. A trip to an ice cream parlor can be a big deal for a kid.

Radio Preacher said, "They should go to church, and then spend family time at home." Then he hung up.

Personally, I found his attitude offensive. We live in a world in which we demand that many services are on call whenever we want them, and Christians are no exception. To demand that everyone follow the same calendar of work and rest is unrealistic at best, and hypocritical at worst.

There's no question that we should have a day of rest, reflection, and worship. But there's nothing magical about Sunday except for the fact that most church services happen then.

If your day off is Monday, you may not be able to attend your local church (you can watch worship on TBN), but you can spend time with the Lord in Scripture.

Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for us, and not we for it. Perhaps we should take his advice.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Do You Really Want a Christian America?

Most Christians would jump at the chance to make the United States a 'truly Christian nation'.

But I suspect that many of these have never really thought it through. They see the abolition of gay marriage and the re-institution of school prayer as prime goals, along with the teaching of Biblical Creation.

But there's more. A lot more. Christianity isn't a buffet. It's more like swallowing a whole cow.

First...parts of the system would look decidedly Communist. When the Apostles got together and established a community after Jesus' Ascension, the members gave Peter and the other leaders the money they got from selling their property...and were given that which they required for their daily needs. No less, but no more.

However, it would hardly be a welfare state, because if a person capable of working chose not to...then no food. But those who couldn't work due to age or illness would be treated with love and respect, not merely fobbed off with a pittance and warehoused in 'facilities'. In a Christian society visiting the old and the sick, to improve their lives and keep them active and happy, would be a must. So much for sleeping in on Saturday.

You might be driving something different, too, because borrowing more than you could afford to pay back would not happen. It's questionable as to whether any borrowing would be permissible, but Jesus was nothing if not practical, and one imagines that He would recognize that you need some kind of house (mortgage) and some kind of car.

A lot more double-wides than suburban showpieces, and a lot more VWs than Volvos.

But don't spend that Christian Dividend from lower mortgage and car payments just yet, because you've still got to give 10% off the top...of your gross income. Many of the other taxes would probably remain. Have to pay teachers and police and firemen and the military somehow.

And...bye-bye bling and muscle shirts and low-cut blouses and Air Jordans. We're dressing modestly, now. But maybe you can keep the Air Jordans if you're a basketball player.

Pornography would disappear, but so would a lot of television shows and movies that you may now enjoy. Decency standards would discourage looking with lust on another woman...

And there goes the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Your kids would learn to be a lot more respectful. Hooray!

So would you, to duly elected officials, your parents, your neighbors...

Uh, yay? Sorry, couldn't quite hear you.

We could go on, but I think you get the idea. A Christian nation would be very different, and would feel quite confining in many ways.

It would be hell for the very rich, and a paradise for the working poor.

Is this what you want?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fist of Jesus

Many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I faced a WWJD question.

A vacationing couple had taken a wrong turn at night, and met up with the wrong 'local'.

I was there, too. I corrected the situation.

What would Jesus have done? I won't presume to speak for Him, but I did note, mentally, that He was less than polite with the moneychangers in the temple. He convinced them to remove themselves. With a whip.

It seems that too often, we, as Christians, assume we have to pick up the pieces after something horrible is done. That's necessary, of course...providing aid and succor to the persecuted and displaced from Bosnia to Rwanda is a noble undertaking, and certainly within the Christian purview.

But should we do more? Is it enough to bandage the burns of those who are singed by the fires of Hell, or is it time to think about putting those fires out, at least where we live?

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Helping the hurt is certainly not 'doing nothing', but is it enough?

The answer I'm driving at - protecting the innocent directly, with appropriate force - presents a host of moral (and legal!) questions. But if we're serious about mobilizing our faith in action, I think we've got to at least consider the possibility.

Because, frankly, the secular world ain't cuttin' it.

Jesus said, "He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword."

I thought about that for awhile, and came up with three talking points...

  1. It's better than dying in bed.
  2. Heaven isn't a bad destination, even if it's premature.
  3. I didn't use a sword.