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You will not dishonor my God. When you accuse me, you dishonor Him. When you say that His redemption was not enough, you belittle the enormity of the sacrifice of Christ. My God, I am tired of listening to your whispers circulating broken records from one temple to another! I am tired of you replaying the song again, and again, and again. I am tired of the recriminations and the regrets on how it might have been, should have been, could have been. Most of all, I am tired of being quiet and leading a life of quiet desperation.

I do not stand lightly for I know that you have power. But greater is He who is in me. Your wiles are not without savvy for I sometimes count myself better to not let myself off the hook–forgiveness is too easy. I know that such a wandering heart, discontent, of little faith, ever a step back if two steps forward does not match up to His wondrous love. I know that the two cousins–Guilt and Fancy Free–both err. Guilt whispers: He takes sin seriously but redemption lightly. Fancy Free clucks, winks, and cat calls: She takes sin lightly obviating redemption as in “C’mon, ya Catholic with all that guilt? Everybody falls short.”

O Lord, I am searching. Help me to remember you have put to death Sin and are putting to death Sin. Help me to remember that I am not the child who was once lost but am the child who is found.  Allow me to fight to not only know but also to feel that I am yours. Help me to understand that you not only love but that you like me–can I say that? Yes, I think so Father.That you begrudge me not.  Help me to rest in you knowing that it is not what I have done but O Lord what has been done for me that defines me.

May no one take away the enormity of what you have done.

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I’m going to start training away after a LONG trip. I started out from Sioux City and got to see the sights and sounds of St. Louis–Cardinal Stadium, etc.–all from the van. I just kept driving and driving. I slept just after Nashville in the back of the van on the floor having eaten a carton of M&M’s and shortbread cookies per my no-healthy-food-for-a-week plan if that’s what I can call it. I found a hundred billboards for peaches, pornography, and pecans along the way juxtaposed against the stunning beauty of God’s green earth rolling in green cauliflower-like waves over the Smoky Mountains. And I thanked God that everything I take for granted he still sees fit to provide me with.

 Update: After reading Ephesians 3:1-10 this morning, I am stunned by the master narrative of opening up His grace to me. I have been repeating in my head what I need to learn more and more: that His grace is enough; that I have been crucified with Christ; and that I must press on (being never alone nor forsaken).

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The Love of a Dog

I was reminded recently of the love of dogs by a friend who lost a dog. This video is such a sweet reminder of “man’s best friend.”

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The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has ruled that Obamacare oversteps constitutional bounds in requiring individuals to purchase health insurance.

But the court also ruled that the mandate is “severable” from the rest of the bill.

The 11th Circuit page is getting hammered, but here’s some key bits from the ruling:

“The individual mandate exceeds Congress’s enumerated commerce power and is unconstitutional. . . . This economic mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority: the ability to compel Americans to purchase an expensive health insurance product they have elected not to buy, and to make them re-purchase that insurance product every month for their entire lives.”

“If we uphold the individual mandate in this case, are there any limits on congressional power?” asked Judge Joel Dubina.

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I think one of the most difficult things in life is being repentant and not having another person accept that despite admission, sincerity, and forthrightness without doing the hedging and qualifying, e.g. “I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t have had to do that if…” If one sincerely comes and empty-handed asks for forgiveness, how painful it is to be told, “No.” Remember Lady Macbeth asked that in order to carry out true evil that her blood be made thick enough to “stop up th’access and passage to remorse.”
Christ said to forgive 70×7 in Matthew 18:22 (by which he surely did not mean 490 times for His grace would be over for me by now). While I know that He never meant to lightly forgive the sorry-in-name-only offender who continually perpetuates the sin, one feels helpless otherwise if true sincere penitence is met with indifference and further accusation. Sometimes, the person who will not forgive you might just be you.

I remember having done such a great wrong to someone in my life and the forgiveness was there before I had even asked so that when I finally made mention of that which I had kept in my heart of guilt and pain for years, the response was ready grace and forgiveness. One of the more painful feelings in life is to feel hated, to be the object of real or imagined scorn, especially if it is someone whom you love and did not want to hurt. And then there’s a weird phenomena (at least with me). It’s the idea of “that’s not enough.” A payment is required, something else. How could you have wronged a person in that way and then it’s all somehow taken care of with an “I’m sorry”? The voices start in, “You’ve got to be kidding. You ought to work, to pay restitution. In fact, don’t accept that the forgiveness is enough. You better communicate that you’re sorry again.”

What is happening there? (I’m not playing the psychoanalyst I hope, but the heart is deceitful above all things and deserves to be searched and plumbed in its depths). We short-circuit grace. Which is a greater wrong? The person who will not forgive the offender or the offender who will not accept the grace of the offended? I guess it is a further insult to the person to continually ask for forgiveness. At some point, the person is right to ask if his or her words of forgiveness didn’t mean anything the first or second time.

Something else is probably going on, too. If you remember, we have a great Accuser. The most difficult reckoning of sins come from after becoming a Christian because they are not done in ignorance as with Paul (nonetheless culpable) but the voice asks, “How can you be a Christian? Seriously, you? I’m done with you. It’s over. Don’t even say ‘Sorry’ cause I’m sick of that false word on your lips. How long do you s’pose it will be before you do this again?” I have even thought of long stretches of suffering and physical hardship during Basic Training as being payment. Thing is, it’s never enough.

Whose voice is that? Is it God’s? I think the Accuser would like us to think so, and there is a seeming “goodness” to wanting to be held to justice for wrong (remember he comes disguised as an angel of light per 2 Corinthians 11:14). But consider this passage found in Zechariah 3:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.” Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.

I have lately found three lessons helpful. First, every single offense is punished as there are no wrongs that will not be paid for, punished, or set right in justice. For either the ultimately unrepentant nonbeliever must pay or Jesus Christ will have paid for the sins of the repentant believer. Second, God does not speak like the vehement, raging whisperer. I thank God he gave examples like King David, and the apostle Paul and Peter. King David had a man murdered so he could sleep with the man’s beautiful wife; Paul stood on Stephen’s clothing as he was stoned to death and forced Christians to blaspheme; Peter after thinking he knew best (advising Jesus against going to the cross, e.g “Get behind me Satan,” in Matthew 16:23; promising to go to the death and cutting off a soldier’s ear), finds out what happens in his own weakness. At the lowest of society, a slave girl, he readily denies Christ saying in the original oath the equivalent of “God curse me if I know the man!” (Matthew 26:72).

Claudius shows us the negative aspect of repentance in Hamlet though for a different reason. He cannot repent for to do so would deprive him of the “prize”– his wife and crown which he gained through means of murder. While he wants to repent, he ultimately cannot give up what was gained through sin and is tortured by his “almost repentance”:

Try what repentance can: what can it not?
Yet what can it when one can not repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Art more engaged! Help, angels! Make assay!
Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe!

What is our state when one can repent but is tempted by the “not enough”? Lord, let me fight to recognize that in my worst of sins (as David intimated) it is ultimately against the Lord that we owe an account. And if ultimately to him, has he ever said of the true penitent, “Forget it?” Martin Lloyd-Jones, that great Welsh Methodist minister, once told of a woman who said, “I know that God loves me, but I wonder if he likes me,” or something along those lines.

I serve a God who ultimately has the offense against Him and indeed hates sin, yet cautions others to forgive infinitely for He is gracious, and says in Isaiah 44:22, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” The sin that you can’t feel like you can forgive yourself for (or let another forgive you for), he has taken it, nailed it into His son’s own willing hands and is willing if you should come to him to wipe away every tear from your eyes with those same hands. And while I have learned the lesson of this, for me it is like eating, exercising, and staying fit. A few missed workouts and trips to the buffet, and I learn the hard lesson. So practice, remind, exhort, stir and ultimately:

God give me (and you!) the grace to remind ourselves each day of this in the fight of faith!

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Do you ever wonder if anyone is out there? My mom just finished her life’s biography a testimony to Jesus Christ and His grace in here life. We just published The Buckskin Moon, my late grandfather’s prairies novel of the Dakotas during the Depression. Could he imagine that it would have been put in print? My father and mother are now in their mid-sixties and that cold chill that E.B. White got in his groin in “Once More to the Lake” arises–time is inexorably marching on. One of the phrases, sonorous and lyrical, that always haunts me (haunts me, that’s another of my favorite terms), is “Ubi sunt,” the Anglo-Saxon which translated is, “Where are those who have gone before me?”

I think of those that I have lost in life–my grandfather, a past love, a friend fallen out of touch–where are they? It is as if we are in a cold universe of darkened space wanting to be thought of, remembered, known. Remember in Jane Eyre how Rochester and Jane could sense each other calling? I guess I believe in that mystically. So here’s a dark thought. In a hundred years time, there may not be anyone on any particular day who remembers me–or you.

But I do take consolation, nay even hope, that God remembers me. My waking. My sleeping. My thoughts. I have come to the conclusion that all I really want in life is to be in His presence. At 12:11 am in the morning after some military study, a Strawberry Powerade, and wondering if anyone will read the discursive thoughts of a lonely wayfarer…

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The Messiah Complex

When one claims to have a new idea that will easily transform the political, social, or cultural world at large, I remain often skeptical. Even more so, when one believes that by his own love, one will change another person’s life, a more dubious claim indeed. Such thinking is typical of the “Messiah Complex,” one in which by our loving someone or even adopting someone, we can “save” the person. Thus, the woman who is ill treated will someday save her fiance’s heart by her own faithfulness.

Our love and affections can have a real and measurable affect on others, no doubt–but to save them simply on human initiative? A failed enterprise. Am I a misanthrope? a cynic? No, I remain a healthy skeptic of human motive. In education, young teachers and counselors often have the idea that if they can “just but save one” akin to throwing back the one fish among hundreds washed up and gasping for air, then they have accomplished much. (Never mind the primary role of teaching and advising, saving is more important).

For my own part, I believe any decision can have parts good, parts bad which defy easy categorization. Where the desire to help and the desire to be praised and have one’s good deeds noticed go unmixed takes a careful planner indeed. No wonder that Jesus commanded his followers to pray unseen behind closed doors. Elsewhere, what began as one kind of fruit might bear another. Discern in Margaret Atwood’s excellent poem “Siren Song” the kind of attraction for such a “savior”:

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.

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