Monday, September 24, 2012

Echoes of His Image - George Carlin, on the Desire for Satisfying Work

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
Ge 1:31 
Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. . . And to Adam he said, 'Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it', cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground. . .
Ge 2:15 & 3:17-19

There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. . .I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime;  moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God.
Ec 2:24 & 3:12-13

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

God the Free: Meditations on Job's Hope

"Oh, that I had one to hear me. . .
Oh, that the Almighty would answer me. . .
The words of Job are ended."
Job 31:35 & 40

It seems that Job was accustomed to God's fellowship and leading. But now, during his unspeakable suffering, God is silent, and absent. Job feels abandoned. Who wouldn't? And while he suffers the wicked prosper (See chs 21 & 24, for examples). Job is not suffering along with the wicked, as one might in a famine. He is hurting while they are celebrating. They continue to gain while he continues to lose. This reality overwhelms his powers of reason and his sense of justice. His children - dead. His property - destroyed. His health - devastated. His friends - useless. His reputation - ruined. His income - lost. His wife - perplexed. His God - missing. This is not hell on earth. But it may be as close as anyone has ever come to it.

Job's longing: "Oh, that I were as in months past, as in the days when God watched over me; when His lamp shone upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness; Just as I was in the days of my prime, when the friendly counsel of God was over my tent; when the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were around me" (29:1-5).

Job's reality: "God has afflicted me. . .Terrors are turned upon me and my prosperity has passed like a cloud. And now my soul is poured out because of my plight; The days of affliction take hold of me. My bones are pierced in me at night, and my gnawing pains take no rest. . .God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes. I cry out to You, but You do not answer me; I stand up, and You only look at me. You have become cruel to me; With the strength of Your hand You oppose me. . .You spoil my success" (30:11, 15-22).

Soon after this last expression of desperation, Job offers his final effort to move God to mercy. And so, the words of Job are ended.

All of this together reminds me of a scene from the life of John the Baptist, for whom my blog is named. He is imprisoned for truthful prophesying. And while there he sends someone to ask Jesus if He really is the expected Messiah. Perhaps John's suffering for the sake of righteousness has gotten him thinking that if Jesus were the Messiah, then His people wouldn't be unjustly punished, and suffering would cease; Since Jesus is here, vindication of His people is also here. So why am I in prison for my faithfulness while wicked Herod lives it up in luxury (See Mt 14)? The last part of Jesus' answer to John's inquiry is relevant here. After affirming His messiahship Jesus adds, "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me" (Mt 11:6).

There is similar instruction given to Peter after he learns of his impending death at the hands of evil men (Jn 21:19). The text says that, "Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, 'Lord, who is the one who betrays you?' Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, 'But Lord, what about this man?'" In other words, Peter has just heard some terribly disturbing news confirming his suffering to come. And now he asks Jesus to speak about how John's future is laid out. Jesus answers Peter this way: "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me." Probably not what Peter wanted to hear, because misery does not only love company, but sometimes misery needs it.

God is free absolutely. He is free when Job suffers while the wicked prosper. He is free when John the Baptist is imprisoned and then beheaded while evil Herod celebrates. He is free when the Apostle Peter is crucified while the Apostle John dies of old age. And He is free when you and I cannot make any sense of our situations or see any good in them. And that divine freedom will be a horror to us, even an offense to us, if we do not believe that the free God is also the good, wise, and just One. That's the fight. That's the call of the Scriptures and the meaning of saving faith -- indestructible confidence in the free God. May God grant what He demands. That's our only hope.

So what to do? Pray, pray, pray, and seek to be transformed by the Scriptures into right thinking and confident lovers of the free God. It is the grace of this God and the intercession of His Son that sustains faith through suffering (Lk 22:31-32; 2 Co 1:1-11 & 12:1-10). This God runs the world, His way. If that way offends me then I am not blessed, says Jesus to John and to us. And if I can't handle well  my hardships in the light of the ease in which others often live, then I can't follow Jesus, says He to Peter and to us.

"Free and merciful Father, grant us an unoffended faith and the blessing that comes with it; Grant the faith that follows Jesus hopefully and gladly in a world littered with injustice, hardship and mystery. In His name, and for His sake and glory we ask. Amen."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Junior Speaks on Contextualization

When we make our decisions about how we “do” church on the basis of demographics we implicitly deny the Lordship of Christ, and keep ourselves on the throne. The message of the cross isn’t “Come as you are.” The message of the cross is “Consider the cost. And it will cost you everything. You will have to give up your favorite sins, your closest friends, your most comfortable culture. You have to die with Christ.”

When we pitch Jesus we in turn miss the real promises. We fail, when we refuse to call the lost to consider the cost, to invite them to consider all that they will gain. They will inherit the world. They will cultivate the greatest virtues. They will gain brothers and sisters. They will enter into a culture as old as the garden, as deep as the ocean, as broad as the planet. We fail to tell the stuffy that they are going to come to love the tattooed because Jesus died for them and indwells them. We fail to tell the trendy that they are going to come to love singing the music of the ancients, that the guy with the comb-over is the bomb because he’s spent his life meditating on the Bible. And the blue haired lady that sings The Old Rugged Cross off key- she has done more for the kingdom than all the hip preachers on your ipod combined.

Taken from an article by R.C. Sproul Jr in which he is commenting on “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (I Corinthians 9: 22). You can find the full article here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Life-Breath of My Soul: Giving Praise for My Daughter Tess

"And Jacob said. . .I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that You have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps."
Ge 32:9-10
Tess and I recently spent some quality time together at Cracker Barrel.
God's blessing to Jacob and God's blessing to me do not run parallel. He got two camps. I got two children, so far. But what blessings are those two! And I do share Jacob's sentiment -- I am not worthy of them. Since September 10 is the date my family celebrates God's work in the finalization of our adoption of Tess, I thought I would write of her this week. And there is much good to say. But I will be brief, sharing some recent highlights. But first, about the title of the blog; Steve Camp sings a song in which he says of his children that they are "the life-breath of his soul". That bothers me a little because it sounds like something we should say of God, not man. That being said, I use the words here to convey my bottomless affection for, and enduring devotion to, my precious daughter.

Her Sunday School teacher told Marian that during this past week's prayer request time, Tess said she was thankful that her daddy loved her. She's four years old. I don't know that she could do well defining love. But I am so grateful for a daughter that is secure in my love for her, however she contrives it. What a humbling experience for me to hear her prayer of praise. And she really doesn't know how deeply or how seriously and furiously I actually do love her. Nevertheless, at four, she's sure enough of my love to thank God for it. I am truly grateful for such a gift.

Marian recently asked her some questions which she recorded, along with the answers. Here's a sampling:
1. What is Daddy's favorite color? The answer: "Green, no dark green."
2. What does Daddy like to call you? The answer: "Daddy calls me baby bird and he says he loves me."
3. Anything else you want to say about Daddy? The answer: "I love Daddy because he brings me everywhere and gets me smoothies and I just love him."

Tess often loves on me by giving me gifts, mostly drawings or paintings along with various toys that she says she "doesn't use anymore"; but also rocks, weeds, and other sundry objects. I am thankful for each one. Below are pictures of a few recent offerings.

This is a large envelope in which Tess put a note to me saying, "To Daddy. I love you. Love Tess".
This is me with a heart above my big head. Do I not look happy? Dear men, there are few gifts greater that we can give our children than our happiness. A happy father normally makes a happy home.
Say hi to Buster. Tess gave him to me and told me that "he could go everywhere with me". I keep him in my truck.

Weeds from Tess. She said we should put them in water. Of course I obliged. I strive to say yes to my children.

My niece Hilary is pregnant. On a recent visit with her and her husband Charlie, I was asked to write in an advice book. The pages were quite small and so one must be succinct to stay on one page. So what to say to an expecting parent? Hilary has said of me that I am very deliberate. She's unusually observant. I would say that is an excellent description. So for a deliberate guy with one small page, this was a bit challenging. But I included something like this: "Give your children a lot of love, and discipline them (a form of love) when they are clearly rebellious." That is not all there is to parenting, and one must work out what it means to love. But that thought has served me well thus far. Do what love would do, and only discipline for clear rebellion, not for mistakes, innocent errors, and faulty judgment. Correct these, yes. But don't punish for them. I hope that helps someone.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Post for Shepherds -- Stand.

"This is it. Don't get scared now."
From Kevin McAlister, in the movie "Home Alone", when the enemy was literally on his doorstep.

"But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior. . ."
Je 20:11

"But he who is noble plans noble things, 
and on noble things he stands."
Is 32:8