Hoisted

Hoisted by our own petard.  I understood what that expression meant before I understand what it said.  I knew what it was to be hoisted but I had no clue as to what a petard might be.  Still, it was obvious that the phrase meant something like having your own plan backfire on you.  A petard, as I have learned, was a small bomb.  We might say, “Blown up by our own little bomb.”  Now there is a thought that runs throughout the Scripture and gets expressed in varied ways.  The psalmist prayed that his enemies would fall into the very pit they had dug and be snared in the very traps they had laid.  Paul simply says that whatever a man sows he reaps, or in other words, he gets hoisted on his own petard.

The west is being hoisted on its own petard.  The newly sanctified idol of multiculturalism demands that no one be offended.  The older idol of free speech demands freedom to offend all.  The two idols are finding themselves in regular conflict these days.  Which idol’s altar gets cast down first is anybody’s guess.

Our more level-headed forefathers worked for free speech to say worthy things. They knew human nature well enough to know that no desire of man should be given free rein.  Sadly, common sense left the house when God was disinvited. The evil spirits that rush into the void have made our last state worse than our first.

All the little bombs of men go off at last.  But that is not the last thing that happens. Whichever idol wins the day does not thereby win the battle.  At last all idols go down and their altars with them.  Every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, like it or not.  Thus ends free speech.  And the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Christ.  Thus ends multiculturalism.  The list is very long of things that just won’t matter anymore.  Only one thing matters then.

What a wonderful Savior!  And is he yours?  John 3:16

Cemetery of the Nations

Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations.  All of them will answer and say to you: ‘You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!  Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps; maggots are laid as a bed beneath you, and worms are your covers.’ (Isaiah 14:9-11 ESV)

Cemeteries are portrayed in horror movies and cartoons as scary places.  I have never found them so.  They are to me places of extraordinary peace and reflection.  There are few walks that so immediately release me from the fever of the world than sauntering through a cemetery, pondering the names and dates and remarks etched in stone.  Who were they?  What did these lives mean?

Pity there is no cemetery of the nations through which we might sometimes stroll. For the death of the nations is as real as the death of your uncle.  Only your uncle still lives somewhere.  The nations often fall to rise never again.  The chronicle of the life of any nation is written in the history books.  Those things are too old and too formidable for most of us to endure.  But a walk through a cemetery!  That we might manage.

Over there is a stone that says “Assyria – Used mightily of God to discipline his people – Gone forever – The fool has said in his heart there is no God.”  Just beyond is another.  “Babylon the Great – Used of God to discipline his people – Gone forever – The fool has said in his heart there is no God.”  And over there.  “Persia – Used by God to restore the fortunes of his people…”  Well, you know the rest.  The Greeks, the Romans, the Nazis, the Soviets, all are there.

There is also a host of stones unfinished.  The wise prepare their stones ahead of time, knowing what will be.  The stones of the current nations are there, the ones now strutting their ‘hour on the stage,’ as Mr. Shakespeare said, the beginning dates already chiseled, the end dates waiting, just waiting.

Here is one unfinished.  The engraver hides the name but we can see the date, Born 1776.  There is no end date.  But the engraver is adding something at the bottom.  What is it?  The end date?  No, the end cause…  “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.”

John 14:6… the way home.  What a Savior!

Too Beautiful

As the deer pants for the flowing streams… Psalm 42:1

It can become too beautiful.  The opening lines of Psalm 42/43 have been cast into that haunting and lovely melody “As the deer.”  I could hum it right now and it would produce an almost instant reverie, a reverie that would pass within thirty seconds of ceasing to hum.

The beautiful melody tends to hide the fact that the deer is panting.  He has been pushed and pushed hard.  He knows exactly what he needs.  He has not found it. The psalmist is just like the deer.  He needs God worse than anything and right now God still seems so very far away.  “When” he asked.  When will I find him who alone can meet the need of my life?

These two psalms are held together by a common refrain.  “Why are you cast down, O my soul… hope in God; for I shall again praise him.”  Even this reminds us that the psalmist was not yet at that place he most wanted to be, at the altar of God, in the presence of God, with his hope transformed into joy.  The psalmist was a person on a journey, not a person who had arrived.  If the melody makes us forget that, it is too beautiful by far.

On that journey he prayed, “Send out your light and your truth, let them lead me..” (43:3)  God answered his prayer.  In John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  A little late for the psalmist?  No, right on time.  God is very punctual.  But it is his clock not ours.  Ask the psalmist now, if you can find him, about trusting God.  If you can’t find him, then just listen to him.  He is praying for a beauty yet to be.  Trust God and you, too, will again praise him.

He is light.  He is truth.  What a Savior!

Unpacking a Name

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Rev 1:9 ESV)

Names have literal meanings.  Nabal means churl or fool.  Names have historical significance.  Some bear a family name rooted in generations.  But in one sense every name is a blank slate.  From the moment we are given a name we begin to fill it with meaning.

When John wrote to the churches he was missing, he identified himself by name and briefly unpacked the meaning of “John.”  He did this, not because they didn’t know him, but because they did.  This was not just any John.  This was the John who stood with them in tight places, the John who labored with them in kingdom endeavors, the patient and enduring John who lately left them by force into exile.  There was quite a testimony rolled up in the little name ‘John.’

Which begs the question, when your name and my name gets mentioned, what gets unpacked in the minds of those who hear it?  An unanswerable question unless they tell you, right?  But it is yet a valuable question if it causes us to reflect on what we are packing into it day by day.

There is one name, however, that everyone should take the time to unpack, Jesus.  You can unpack his name in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  You can unpack it in Psalm 22 and 23 and 24.  You unpack it in Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 53.  You can see in Philippians 2 that it is a name above all names.  But wherever you unpack it, sooner or later you will find this.  “Jesus” unpacked means savior.  From the beginning to the end of God’s great book,  there is an unfolding picture of one so great that we will never finish unpacking his name.  Of him Peter declared, there is no other name given whereby people may be saved.  (Acts 4:12)

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Make It As Secure As You Can

Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.”  So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.  (Matthew 27:65-66 ESV)

They made the tomb secure.  This is most interesting.  People try to secure a lot of things; the future, a job, a life, a steady income in retirement.  But who needs to secure a tomb?  We are told why, of course.  He said he would rise in three days.  Those bold and brazen disciples who fled the garden would probably storm the tomb, seize the body, and start a rumor.  Pilate was not very wise, but he was wiser than these men.  “Make it as secure as you can.”

Of all the things that men try to secure, surely trying to secure the death of Jesus was the greatest folly.  Precious little can be secured in this world, but securing the death of the giver of life is vain.  The problem at the tomb was not who might come from the outside but who was on the inside.  The rumbling of the earthquake at the break of day was a mere response to the rumbling of life in the body of Jesus.  And what a rumble it was and still is!  The rumble of eternal life can be heard any day by attending to the word of God.  But men are too busy and their ears too full of the din of the world.

On that first resurrection day, with the security of the tomb shattered, the soldiers fell down as dead and the angel let them lay.  But to Mary he said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus…”

He is the only real security there has ever been.  Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  (John 10:27-28 ESV)  Make it as secure as you can… seek Jesus.

What a Savior!

Genocide

One of the charges leveled against Christianity has to do with God’s commands to Israel in the Old Testament to eliminate entire groups of people. Here is an example.

1 Samuel 15:2-3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’

The argument runs in one of two directions. Either they argue that a good God would never command such a thing, and therefore the Bible itself is suspect. Or they argue that if God did command this, then he cannot be good. It is a serious charge either way. But I do not think that Christians should be on the defensive about such a question. In fact, I see three problems with the charge.

First and foremost, I see a role reversal by humanity. I begin here because I think this is the beginning. When people bring charges against God, it is serious business. It happens often, but frequency does not diminish the significance. Satan brought a charge against God in the garden, Adam and Eve believed it, and role reversal has been an issue ever since. Isaiah 29:16 You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding“? The attempt by finite men to put God in the dock (to use a phrase from C. S. Lewis) is short-lived. Very soon now, either the skies will roll up like a scroll or the coffin will roll down the aisle. Then the air will clear and our true position will be revealed. Whatever questions remain at that moment, they will not be asked by us.

Then, I see a power deficiency in humanity. Ravi Zacharias made this clear to me when he stated that if he took a life, he had no power to restore it. God does have the power to restore life. It seems comical, doesn’t it, that we humans who struggle to control our own eating habits, will sit in judgment of a God who has already raised the dead? “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace,” William Cowper wrote. If we will not believe that God knows more than we do, the grave, at least, ought to teach us that he has more power.

Lastly, I see a knowledge deficiency in humanity. God, who is not obliged to answer to any man, has in fact answered many things. A thorough study of the Old Testament will reveal an answer that is far more disturbing than the question. In Genesis 15, God promised Abraham a son and a land. The son would arrive sooner than the land. God revealed to Abraham that his descendants would displace the nations then inhabiting the land of Canaan. But it would not happen in Abraham’s generation. God gave a reason. Genesis 15:16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. The displacement of the peoples in Canaan was not only about God’s purpose to bring redemption through Israel. It was also about the sin of those very nations. Proverbs 14:34 Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. There is a terrible thing that happens when men disregard God. Leviticus 18:24-25 Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. The question put to Christians is “how could a good God do this?” The question I raise is “why hasn’t a good God already done this to us?”

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

The Making of a Scoundrel

1 Samuel 2:12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD.

Eli was the priest at Shiloh. His sons, Hophni and Phinehas, followed their father into the priesthood. The first record we have of their priestly service is found in 1 Samuel 2:12-17. It was bad and it never got better. The KJV calls them “sons of Belial,” a literal translation. “Sons of worthlessness or corruption” is better. “Scoundrels” may be best of all.

There was an order for worship and sacrifice that first honored God and then sustained the priestly ministry. It was prescribed in Leviticus and was the custom at Shiloh, however poorly kept. Eli’s boys, however, turned matters upside down. Where God had prescribed the portion that belonged to priests, these boys poked in the pot to get their heart’s desire. Where the offering to God came first, these boys sought and demanded that their wants be met first. The people were offended. Worship that should have been joy became dread. If you have never known what it is to dread worship, I pray you never will.

Here are three pieces of the fabric that makes a scoundrel.

Deficient knowledge. Whatever these boys knew of the Lord, they did not know what they needed to know. There was no knowledge of God that caused them to see that what they were doing was wrong.  They were heedless of warnings that came their way. It was not a lack of intellectual capacity that hindered them. But capacity alone is empty space. They became adept at working the system to their own advantage rather than at knowing God in a personal way that could have transformed their lives.

Derelict guidance. Their father, Eli, was warned by God of the boys’ sin and of the awful consequences that loomed over Eli’s entire family. Eli offered up some mild criticism (1 Samuel 2:23-25), but his words had no bite. He could have benched them for a season and let them feel a bit of want. He could have removed them from priesthood altogether and thereby saved their lives. He did nothing. Neither in his charge as a father nor as the Lord’s priest do we see any real action on Eli’s part. Here is the difference between criticism and correction. Let a people without knowledge of God be governed by people who will not lead as God requires and the disaster is near at hand.

Dominant self. At this point everything that could have corrected the situation was removed. If we will not have the knowledge of God within nor the correction of God without, then self will dominate all. Eli’s sons marched to the beat of their own drum. The people were offended but these boys didn’t see it. In fact, they didn’t see people. The saw commodities, here food, later sex (2:22). They would finally come to a place where they saw God himself as a thing to be manipulated for their own benefit. They hoisted the ark of God and carried it into battle as though it were nothing more than a magic wand to wave over the Philistines’ heads. It didn’t work. It never will.

These three pieces of fabric make for an ugly garment. Sadly, it is one the world loves to wear. There is an alternative. The Gospel calls us to a true and personal knowledge of God in the person of Jesus the Messiah. It offers us the guidance of God’s word and the Holy Spirit. It strengthens us for the denial of the old self that is killing us and the growth of a new self created in the image of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. He transforms scoundrels into saints.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Whoever Is Wise

Psalm 107:43 Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

What a confounded busyness this ‘connected’ world has brought us! In the name of connecting we have become more disconnected than ever. Loosely connected to one another by electronic blips and beeps, we become dangerously disconnected from the only true stability of the soul. “Whoever is wise…” Can you hear the psalmist calling? There are things to which the wise must attend. Other things must be put aside. By a worldly wisdom we may gain the world. And gaining it we may lose our soul. The psalmist does not want us to lose our soul. What then are “these things?”

Psalm 107 has four stanzas that recount various troubles in which people find themselves: those who cannot find their way (4-9), those who are at death’s door (10-16), those whose foolishness has become a snare (17-22), and those who are caught in natural calamity (23-32). In each stanza you will find the same refrain. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. (6,13,19,28) Each stanza also tells what these blessed people are to do. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men. (8,15,21,31)

The last portion of Psalm 107 reminds us of how quickly any present situation may change. The river becomes a desert and the desert a pool of water. The hungry suddenly find food and shelter, and the prince walks in a trackless waste. Those who cry to the LORD in their troubles are given more than deliverance, they are given perspective.

We are wise to attend to these things. The present circumstance is not the eternal circumstance and the word buzzing in everyone’s ear right now will soon be forgotten. Rather, here is true wisdom. Your word, O LORD, is forever settled in heaven. (Psalm 119:89) May it settle in our hearts and make us wise in what matters.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

A Victim of Help

(names changed to protect the guilty, except mine of course)

I had a cell phone plan with Longshot Wireless and I wanted to make a change. As I waited in cue on the phone, they told me how important my call was to them and I was greatly encouraged. They also kept me posted on the ETA for help. While I took this as kindness, it actually served to remind me of how far away help really was. I grew too impatient and resorted to other forms of help.

Longshot’s web page was fascinating. I bolted through the first help portal I could find and was promptly asked for account information. Since that was what I was looking for, I was nonplussed. I botched something in my response and the system was nonplussed. It looked like fourth down, so I punted.

Starting over with account information in hand, I made another run at getting help. After repeated admonitions that my account information didn’t jibe with theirs, they froze me out. That’s when I saw the button that said “Need Help?” Ah! Help with help, that’s what I need. Click.

That’s when I entered the zone, twilight zone I think it was. I was given a magic phone number, no cues, instant help to help with help. I called, and after punching in numbers for my account, my phone number, the number I was calling from, the last four digits of my congressman’s social security number, and the precise number of yards gained by the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth quarter of their next to last game with the Washington Redskins, I connected with Nadine.

Nadine was very helpful. She understood exactly what my problem was. I had messed up. In my first botched effort, I apparently set up another account portal with a username and password that was different from the one I originally set up. Both existed kind of like parallel universes. I was in one world. They were in another. Imagine that! Nadine understood this but she could not fix this. However, she knew the very person who could fix this and she would patch me through directly to him. She did. I was stunned. Help was so near I could taste it. Trevor answered the phone.

Trevor was very helpful too. He wasn’t sure why Nadine passed me along to him, but if I would give him the username and password for the other world account, he would see what he could do. I did my best to explain to Trevor that I didn’t even know I had created such a thing, but it was no use. I was tired and not communicating well at all. Trevor said that I should drive an hour or so to Longshot’s Hotshot Store. They could fix me right up. I agreed that this would be best and hung up, being thankful to find release from help.

Little did I know. The first emails I received wanted me to do a survey on the quality of my experience at the website. The next emails wanted to know if my problem that prompted my phone call had been resolved. I did the best I could to explain the situation in a few words, but you see how many words it has already taken to try and explain it to you. And I’m not through.

The more I tried to explain, the worse things became. It soon became apparent to me that every single worker at Longshot Wireless wanted to help me. That’s when the phone calls started. One lady called me three times and fussed me out for not calling her back so she could help me. I was starting to get scared. I was slow to check my email. When the phone rang, I jumped. Help had me cornered.

Slowly the frenzy subsided and I was just crawling out of my hole, when one last email arrived. It was from the Longshot Wireless Customer Issues Resolution Section. It was signed by a very important person in the Issues Section, Ethan. Ethan wrote one of the nicest emails I have ever received. He practically begged me to let him fix my situation. It was obvious that Ethan was eager to help.

I responded to Ethan. “Ethan! Ethan! Ethan! I appreciate your sincere desire to help. I do not doubt it. But you have no idea what you have just stepped into. I am chained in a black hole of help and there is no way out for me. But not you, Ethan, not you! Turn back, turn back, O son of man, for why will you perish?” A bit exaggerated, but not too far off. I did inform Ethan that the problem had a history and he really didn’t want to become involved. Anyway, I had given up. Chastened and sore, I promised to never change anything, ever again, if they would just leave me in my misery and promise not to help me. So I guess you could say they did help me, in a backhanded sort of way. They didn’t change my plan. They changed me. Longshot Wireless must have a high retention rate among customers. If anyone tries to change, they beat them down with help.

This story is only slightly exaggerated. Each piece of the story really happened. I didn’t have to give my congressman’s SS number and fortunately I had seen the game between Dallas and Washington. Just kidding. But I guess that most people have been victims of help at some time and in some measure. That’s what makes it so sweet when real help is found!

Psalm 121:1-2 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

The Commissioner

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Matthew 28:19-20 is called the great commission, the church’s marching orders. Reflect for a moment on the great Commissioner.

There are two words for power in the New Testament, for their are two kinds of power. The word in Matthew 28:18 is sometimes translated as power, but is more accurately translated as authority. It is the word for executive power and it stands in contrast to dynamic power. Dynamic power is found in Hebrews 1:3 where we are told concerning the Son of God that he “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” The first word is about the right to execute. The second is about the ability to execute.

Perhaps everyone has witnessed one kind of power without the other. Indeed, you may have had one kind of power without the other. I have. I have been in a position without passion. I have also had a passion with no position to exercise it. Many have faced a law enforcement officer who obviously had authority, but who had little ability to handle that authority. “His power has gone to his head,” people say. Perhaps you also have identified a person of great personal ability and said something like this. “If only she were in control of this affair, we would see something happen then!” Authority without ability and ability without authority are both common experiences.

Jesus has both authority and power. And because he is the Son of God, he has both with endless degree. His authority spans heaven and earth. His power holds everything together with every tick of the clock. He is the true Commissioner of the world. The best of the best on earth are but poor imitations of him. Too often, the earthly commissioners are driven by an abundance of one kind of power and an absence of the other.

The completeness of Jesus’ authority and power means that there is no one in heaven above or on earth below who can countermand his commission. The church lives and breathes under his executive authority and power. Wherever the temporal power sets itself against a commissioned church, it sets itself against Almighty God. This is why some of our spiritual forefathers believed that a free church in a free society was the ideal situation in a world marred by sin. They believed that God would bless the nation that left his church unhindered to carry out its commission. He did. He always has. He will again whenever and wherever nations let him.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. Even Israel failed to lay full claim to that great promise. But any nation may find a blessing from the hand of God if they will only not set themselves against the Commissioner.

What a wonderful Savior he is!