Archive for September, 2020

Providence, Evermore

Posted: September 10, 2020 in Meditations

“Woe to the Assyrians, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath. I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and to snatch plunder, to trample them down like mud in the streets. But this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations. ‘Are not my commanders all kings?’ he says. ‘Has not Kalno fared like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad, and Samaria like Damascus? As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria — shall I not deal with Jerusalem and her images as I dealt with Samaria and her idols?’ ” When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.”

Isaiah 10:5-12

Mosul, Iraq, stands on the east bank of the Tigris River. My oldest son deployed here during the Iraq War. Across the river on the west bank lay the ruins of Ninevah, once the greatest city in the world, the capital of Assyria. For centuries nobody knew its location. She was lost, forgotten, nevermore.

Judgment is a terrible thing, the final act of God when all else fails. Samaria and Jerusalem turned their backs on the Great God. Leadership chose the favor of men and the indulgence of themselves over devotion, justice, and mercy. Assyria, an ascendant nation, boasted in their might. No God, no man, will thwart the power of Assyria. Nobody, victim and conqueror, acknowledged the Great God, nobody recognized the hand of God at work. But soon, the northern kingdom and Samaria cease to be a nation. Within a century, Assyria is nevermore.

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 2700 years later, nations come and nations go. Generations fade, tombstones mark the unknown, their memories nevermore. The providence of God now tells a quaint story, its themes relegated to books on theology, its significance parsed in three point sermons, the hand of God to most, nevermore.

“Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? They are high as the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than Sheol, what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.” Job 11; 7-9 What man cannot see, God sees. What man cannot understand, God knows. Bertrand Russell declared, “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!” Lisa Randall, one of our premier theoretical physicists, asks, “Where are the energy traces of God?” Why does God hide himself so? The great minds reply, “God is nevermore.

No man escapes his conscience. Good and evil confound his existence. The imprint of God’s image remains despite the warp of sin. Paul says, “The Gentiles do not have the Law; but whenever they do by instinct what the Law commands, they are their own law, even though they do not have the Law. Their conduct shows that what the Law commands is written on their hearts. Their consciences also show this is true, since their thoughts sometimes accuse them and sometimes defend them.” Romans 2:14,15 God is, he waits, until the conscience is nevermore.

“What are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them? Yet you made them inferior only to yourself; you crowned them with glory and honor. You appointed them rulers over everything you made; you placed them over all creation: sheep and cattle, and the wild animals too; the birds and the fish and the creatures in the seas. O Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world!” Psalm 8:4-9 If we are willing to look beyond ourselves, if we are willing to shed self-imposed limits, what can we see? A. N. Wilson believed in God as a young man, he seriously considered a vocation in Christian ministry. A gifted mind and voracious curiosity walked him away from faith. But Wilson could not escape conscience, could not escape the goodness of Christian men and women. A. N. Wilson returned to faith. He listened, he saw. Wilson concluded,

“The Gospel would still be true even if no one believed it. The hopeful thing is that, where it is tried — where it is imperfectly and hesitantly followed — as it was in Northern Ireland (and South Africa) during the peace process(es), as it is in many a Salvation Army hostel this Christmas, as it flickers in countless unseen Christian lives, it works. And its palpable and remarkable power to transform human life takes us to the position of believing that something very wonderful indeed began with the birth of Christ into the world.”

I am a Christ follower, have been for nearly fifty years beyond my youth. I have seen much, experienced the bitter and sweet of life, and remain more convinced than ever, God is evermore.

What About The Heart?

Posted: September 8, 2020 in Meditations

All the people will know it — Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria — who say with pride and arrogance of heart, “The bricks have fallen down but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled but we will replace them with cedars.”

Isaiah 9:9,10

Lynn, my wife, received a text after the George Floyd riots broke out in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Barry, a friend and colleague at the Department of Education, wrote, “I was wrong, man is not evolving, he is not progressing. So disappointed. Is there any hope?” Barry, a practicing Catholic and a good man, pinned a forty year academic career on the assumption of progressive social evolution. Lynn always pushed back, “Barry, what about the sin problem? We must address the heart.”

God does not dominate social discourse on the internet. In fact, God rarely comes up, and if he does, God gets qualified with the catch phrase, “God and country”. In 2020, the God of the Bible has been replaced with the god of the State. From the left: end racism, get rid of Trump; heal division, get rid of Trump; the ills of our nation reside in the reconfiguration of the State. The right holds to traditional institutions. Many clothe themselves in God and country but rarely give attention to sin and the heart of man. We will make the State great again. Can any moral grievances be addressed without an address of the heart?

Pride and arrogance, the prophet Isaiah calls out the corporate sin of the State. How bad were they? 2 Chronicles 28 opens the window to their depravity. The northern kingdom of Israel (Ephraim and Samaria) massacred 120,000 men, women, and children in the southern kingdom of Judah. 200,000 of their kinsmen were taken to Samaria as slaves. In a rare display of conscience, a prophet and civic leaders said, “This is a bridge too far for even us. Feed our kinsmen, clothe them, and take them back to their homes.” Even when they suffered loss to enemies to the east and west, Samarian leadership refused to reform their wicked ways. Injustice prevailed, the poor suffered, and the rich ruling class said, “We will build bigger and better.” Isaiah said, “God is done with your sinful hearts. Judgment is coming and the kingdom of Israel will be no more.”

Man’s cruelty spans the millennia. Why? He has a sin problem. I have a sin problem, it permeates my primal being. I recall a bible study in Richmond, Missouri. We visited after the study with drinks and snacks. I was conversing with a group of men when our host said, “Phil, if you won’t discipline your son, I will.” As the agitated man reached for my son, I said, “Stop, I’ll handle it. Sorry for not watching.” My three year old son was pouring soda from one glass into another. Nobody knew what just happened inside me, adrenaline coursed my system. My body was prepared to kill in order to protect my son. I’m wired to protect my own, to suspect strangers, to recognize kin. History confirms our nature. We kill, maim, and destroy in the interests of our own. Worse, we justify it. Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

Any resolution of moral issues confronting our families, our church, our communities, must begin with us. I must submit to Christ. I must pray like Christ, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42 I must confess my sin like David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit in me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.” Psalm 51:10-12 Finally, I must obey, I act.,”And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

The heart is stubborn. Apart from God, I will fail. Pursue God with a whole heart, listen to his voice. The works of righteousness must be his. Our call, our wisdom, our power: all follows out of a surrendered heart. The new heart of God initiates divine revolution, light confronts the violence of darkness.

“We need prayer that…shatters the status quo, drains us of every other interest, excites us by its immense possibilities, sees God as the One that rules on high, sees all things beneath his feet” Leonard Ravenhill

Phil, never forget, in the end, Christ is all that matters.

Norm

Posted: September 5, 2020 in Meditations

Two other men, both of them criminals, were also led out to be put to death with Jesus. When they came to the place called “The Skull”, they crucified Jesus there, and the two criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. One of the criminals hanging there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other one, however, rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God? You received the same sentence he did. Ours, however, is only right, because we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.” And he said to Jesus, “Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!” Jesus said to him, “I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.”

Luke 23:32,33,39-43

A man came into the vestibule of our church every Sunday morning. Never early, never quite on time, he came in after people had settled into their seats. He never went into the sanctuary. He stood alone, said nothing, then left before pastor dismissed the congregation. Over the weeks, I got a name, Norm. I always offered a seat. He politely said, “No, I’ll stand.” Norm was an older man, the crags in his face, the thick forearms, the leathery hands; they told the arc of his story, a life of toil. But the details of Norm’s life remained a mystery.

Each Sunday I watched the doors waiting for Norm to show up. I made a point to look him square in the eye, smile big, and grab hold of his hand, “Norm, great to see you.” When I got my first smile I knew I had him. He still refused to sit in the sanctuary but he now sat. I sat beside him, he no longer stood alone.

I asked Steve, our pastor, “What’s up with Norm? He won’t go into church. He comes late and leaves early.” Steve paused, chose his words carefully, “Norm has a story most people can’t handle. Every time he tells his story, churches ask him to leave and not return. His own family shuns him. He’s done prison time. He seeks redemption but fears it is too late. The reason he doesn’t go into the sanctuary? Norm is convinced he is unworthy.” My family moved to another community soon after. I often wondered, “How is Norm doing?”

Two years passed and we were in town for a family visit. I went to a Saturday morning men’s fellowship meeting at the church. To my delight, Norm was there. We gave each other a hug, the feeling mutual. A time of sharing commenced. Nothing dramatic, men spoke of the goodness of God. Norm sat silent, his arms crossed, he listened to each man talk. Norm then raised his hand. A pregnant pause, he panned the room of men with his eyes, “I think you are all full of shit.” Nervous laughter broke out but everyone got the message. That was Norm’s way of saying, “Stop playing church, get real. Don’t waste my time or yours with nonsense.” The meeting took on a refreshing honesty. That was pure Norm. Sunday morning I looked for Norm. He was already in the church sanctuary. I smiled. Norm found mercy, acceptance. He now lived in grace.

The last time I saw Norm was on a Sunday morning.. He stood with arms raised on the front row of the church. The man who dared not enter a sanctuary now stood lost in worship to his Great God, infinite goodness. Less than a month later, Norm passed away. He did not die alone. The men of his church loved Norm as much as he loved them. Sweet times passed in that hospital room. Norm knew where he was going. Like the thief on the cross, Jesus told Norm, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Weeks after the funeral, Norm’s wife brought a gift to Pastor Steve. “Norm wanted you to have this.” It was Norm’s bible. Pastor Steve saw beyond Norm’s horrific past. The warp of sin did not obliterate the divine investment in Norm’s life. The church took a broken defeated man into their lives and loved him as their own. Jesus did the rest. Norm’s last act, the gift of his bible. How precious, what a thank you, what a friend.

Family Lessons

Posted: September 4, 2020 in Meditations

“What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar.”

Proverbs 19:22

I just got back from a family reunion on the Jersey Shore. My East Coast family graciously invited us into their yearly tradition. This morning I asked the Holy Spirit, “Show me what I should take from these past three days. What spoke into my life?” I finally have quiet time to reflect, to have God speak to my heart, and for me to hear and see those memories. Two images capture my mind. Each illuminates a vital dynamic of family, both point to the love of the Great God, infinite goodness.

“Allie, can I give you my phone number? Cousin Phil would love to see that new song you write, that fresh recording you make.” A smile cracked her lips. She entered my number into her phone. That moment meant the world to me. Yes, this is my cousin’s daughter. And yes, she is family. But Allie is so much more than that. She is the treasured child of the Most High God. As a member of her extended family, I am a trustee. I nurture and encourage this young girl. I speak words of life, I pray, I love unconditionally. You see, the love of Christ elevates family ties to another level. Christ-in-us sees divine worth and purpose in each other. Politics, status, occupation: the values of this world are just noise compared to the shared life in Christ. We see the divine calling in each other. The first text I get from Allie? Cousin Phil will be floating on clouds. Why? One, I celebrate the gifts and person God is developing. Two, I have an opportunity to affirm this special child of God.

I saw Dad delicately place his strong hands on the shoulders of his daughter, Layla, his head drawing near to hers. The body language spoke the deep love held between a father and daughter. I know this love. The touch of my daughter makes me feel like I am ten feet tall. When Greg touched his daughter, I saw God touching me: pure love, gentle, protective, unconditional.

Lord, continue to shape my heart. Instruct that heart. Thank you for three days with family that loves you with a whole heart. I thank you, Lord, for fathers who honor you in their dedication to family. Jordan, you vowed to be a great dad. Your work shows. I celebrate your heart, your devotion to Lane, Mack and Cate. Richard, I love your heart. I see it with Kaara and your son. It’s easy to admire your mind but it is your gentle restrained manner that belies a desire to be a righteous man. Greg, this wasn’t the right time but I covet that day when we can take our relationship to a deeper level. That day will come. Thor, you set a righteous marker for this family of men. I can see you wince and shake your head as I write this — Ha! But it’s true. You stood strong, willing, and faithful through the thick and thin of our family history. I applaud you, total respect. You are that “desired man” in Proverbs 19:22. These three days confirmed the words of Grandpa Brown, “In the end, Christ is all that matters.”