Monday, January 31, 2011

Our commitment

It's a foggy, dreary morning after a dreary, foggy evening. It's going to be warm today before the bottom falls out again in a couple days. But I see that my friends in St. Louis are going to be covered in snow of 16-20 inches. As they say, things could be worse.

Things are going well in my church land. I can't complain (oh, I can, but I shouldn't), and I look forward to a week of worship.

I bow before a God who loves me completely. I wallow in the fields of grace that he provides.

It appears to me that I must find ways to worship that I have not previously explored. Isaiah talks about this when he says that God told him, "I am God, your God, who teaches you how to live right and well. I show you what to do where to go. If you had listened all along to what I told you, your life would have flowed full like a river, blessings rolling in like waves from the sea."

It is an interesting thing that the things that are best for us often we do not do, as Paul wrote. But the things that harm us are so very attractive.

Here's the issue for us all this week: Can we be committed to seeking God.

I'm not talking about giving up our jobs, not concentrating on our kids or anything else. I'm talking about putting God first, or at the least putting the commitment to seek Him first.

God said this: "Listen to me, all of you who are serious about right living and committed to seeking God. Ponder the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were dug. ...Pay attention, my people. Listen to me, nations (Gentiles, or as we say in Covington, US). Revelation flows from me. My decisions light up the world. My deliverance arrives on the run, my salvation right on time."

This week, let this missive point you toward scripture. If there are readers out there, let them read this and long for the Word of God.

GOD'S CALLING, my newest book, is available at all major internet sites now:;;

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A day of praise

Yesterday afternoon, spring made an appearance. While much of the country is snow-bound, we had a wonderful, warm, sunny day.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

The Bible tells us in Isaiah to "Sing to God a brand-new song. Sing his praises all over the world. Let the sea and its fish give a round of applause; with all the far-flung islands joining in. Let the desert and its camps raise a tune ..."

This is Saturday. It has dawned cool but bright. It looks to be another grand day.

Today think about what you have, not what you do not have. Think about what you have done, not what you failed to do. Think about peace, not commotion.

Let God flow into and through you, His Spirit making all things new.

None of us got it all done this past work week. None of us had a great, great accomplishment when compared to the wonder of God.

So today, let everything that has breath praise the Lord. All. God is announcing a new salvation work. He tells us daily that he will come to us and give us the grace that makes all this worthwhile.

Breathe in the Spirit my friends.

Think about His grace, not your disappointment.

"Make God's glory resound; echo his praises from coast to coast."


Friday, January 28, 2011

I AM GOD, he says to us ALL

It is remarkable to note, but today is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion. I was news editor of the Jackson Daily News on that terrible morning, and in the matter of about an hour and a half, we remade the entire A section of the newspaper.

I was not a Christian then. I didn't know my Lord, or at least I didn't walk in his righteousness then as I certainly try now.

But what I remember about that morning was how small I felt, how lacking I was. Not in the business, though that was true too, but in the aftermath of tragedy. I was unable to think of anything that anyone could do. The teacher was gone. It was heartbreaking.

In Isaiah, God makes his case that he is the only one that can help, help a nation, help a person. I believe that to be truth now.

He says, "the God who created the cosmos, stretched out the skies, laid out the earth and all that grows from it, who breathes life into earth's people, makes them alive with his own life: I AM GOD."

In tragedy and out of tragedy, he is God. He was in that shuttle that blew up. He was in the stairwells of the twin towers, in the Oklahoma City Federal Building. He is in my home and yours. HE IS GOD.

He is with the atheists as they lay dying and with the Muslim as the moment to explode the bomb comes. He is with the Harri Krishna's (and whatever happened to them, by the way), and the Buddhists and all the Wiccans you can name as they approach death or try to figure out how to live.

This notion of brotherhood for those who believe in Christ is an interesting one. God sees nothing but people; he sees no color, no gender, no religion except that which worships him.

He tells Isaiah, "I have set you among my people to bind them to me, and provided you as a lighthouse to the nations, to make a start at bringing people into the open, into light, opening blind eyes, releasing prisoners from dungeons, emptying the dark prison. I AM GOD, that's my name."

That is what he has set us to do to, called us for, equipped us to be. Bind, provide, start, open, release, empty. HE IS GOD, and we are not. But he wants us to help.

Have any plans today?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Who can fix us now?

It is cold with frost on the vine this morning. The sun is shining like a beacon at a lonely airport, slipping in through the limbs of the oaks on the property of the parsonage in which I live. It is a good morning, flying strong and true.

We're full of debate these days, debate about deficits and how to attack them. Full of chatter about cutting programs that millions count on. Full of problems in this country that seem far bigger than our capicity to fix them. People are broken and they don't even know it. Some are even well-aware of their problems but have given in to them.

I pray for them, for this country, but the advancement of those prayers doesn't seem to make it to the throne room for those problems seem, seem to be growing, not shrinking.

I have things to do today, handing out free water to patrons of the livestock show to show our church cares. I have a to-do list, a Bible study tonight. I do have projects. But I wonder if it's enough, always wonder if it's enough.

Today I pray I will stop for a moment to ponder who created the cold morning with frost on the vine. Who is it that produced the sun that is shining? Who?

I will stop to think that problems of material things are problems that are self-made. I will ponder that no one on this earth can fix that. I will reason that our future is a potentially cataclysmic one with none having answers but everyone shouting that they do.

Isaiah wrote, "Don't you understand the foundation of all things? God sits high above the round ball of earth. The people look like mere ants. He stretches out the skies like a canvas -- yes, like a tent canvas to live under. ... 'So -- who is like me? Who holds a candle to me?' says the Holy.

Therein lies the rub. Who indeed?

Who gave me this meager talent to write and to meagerly affect lives? Who called me to ministry and equipped me for it? Who even tells me my limitations so that I don't wander ahead of him?

Only God. Yes, God. The Holy.

If we don't turn back to him, one day we won't be. It has happened to every country in history. Every one.

Only god, my friends. The Holy.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Just hold on.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but all of us reach a point where we just go pfffft. After nearly a month of reading Isaiah's (well, God's) diatribe against first Judah, then the remnants of Judah and Israel, we reach a point where things change.

Black becomes white.
Bad becomes better.
Depression lifts, anxiety lessens.

God says, "Comfort, oh comfort my people." in the 40th chapter of Isaiah.

"Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem," God says, "but also make it very clear that she has served her sentence, that her sin is taken care of, forgiven! She's been punished enough and more than enough, and now it's over and done with."

Isaiah goes on to write, "Thunder in the desert! "prepare for God's arrival! make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for God."

God is coming. God has watched the time pass. Captivity is over. Freedom is near. God is coming.

I guess the image to hold on to here is that though the time of pain and suffering seems so very long, God is coming to comfort. Though the evil and selfishness seemed to last forever, they too will be washed away by the comfort, the grace, of our Lord.


we and hold on. Just hold on. Just weather the storm. Just take the blow. Just fall, but not lay there. Hold on. Hold on.

If one day in his courts is like a thousand elsewhere, then time away from his courts is like a thousand elsewhere but if we hold on, then we get to spend a long, long, long day in his courts.

Isaiah writes, "Who has scooped up the ocean his his two hands, or measured the sky between his thumb and little finger, who has put all the earth's dirt in one of his baskets, weighed each mountain and hill? Who could ever have told God what to do or taught him his business?"

The great and wonderful Jehovah is our Father, friends. If we can just hold on...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Do you feel lucky?

Now we get serious. For those of you who have travelled this Isaiah road with me since the first of the year or so, we get serious. I'm not sure I've ever read scripture that so reminds me of the era in which we live.

God told Isaiah this: "So, go now and write all this down. Put it in a book so that the record will be there
to instruct the coming generations, because this is a rebel generation, a people who lie, a people unwilling to listen to anything God tells them. They tell their spiritual leaders, 'don't bother us with irrelevancies.' They tell their preachers, 'don't waste our time on impracticalities. Tell us what makes us feel better. Don't bore us with obsolete religion. That stuff means nothing to us. Quit hounding us with The Holy of Israel."

Therefore, The Holy of Israel says this: "because you scorn this Message, preferring to live by injustice
and shape your lives on lies, this perverse way of life will be like a towering, badly built wall that slowly, slowly tilts and shifts, and then one day, without warning, collapses— smashed to bits like a piece of pottery,
smashed beyond recognition or repair, useless, a pile of debris to be swept up and thrown in the trash."

I won't go on and on about how separation of church and state and loss of God in our schools and in the public place. I won't go on and on.

Except to say this: God adds later in the 30th chapter of Isaiah, these incredible words, "But God's not finished. He's waiting around to be gracious to you. He's gathering strength to show mercy to you. God takes the time to do everything right—everything. Those who wait around for him are the lucky ones."

So, to quote that philosopher Dirty Harry, "Do you feel lucky, punk?"

Have you waited on the Lord, or have you decided He no longer matters? Have you waited on the Lord, or have you tried to build your house on shifting economic sands? Have you waited on the Lord, or do you feel that there is nothing there for you?

His mercy is new, fresh, wonderful every morning. It truly is. He wants to be gracious. He wants to be loving.

We simply have to decide that we have been pushed to the edge of the cliff and we will no longer back up. Who is with me?

A reminder that you can purchase God's Calling: Discerning His Claim On Your Life at

Monday, January 24, 2011

Finding trust in an distrustful world

Wouldn't this be wonderful? Really wonderful?

In the 28th chapter of Isaiah, we read, "Watch closely. I'm laying a foundation in Zion, a solid granite foundation, squared and true. And this is the meaning of the stone: A TRUSTING LIFE WON'T TOPPLE."

Yesterday a man in one of my churches said he got up Sunday morning and journaled some. He said he rarely does, but he felt like it. He said he thought long and hard about trusting God. He said he thought about the old hymn "Trust and Obey." He said he wished we would sing it sometime. Unknown to him, I had it in the bulletin yesterday as our second hymn. A God moment, trust me.

This notion of trust is a great idea. Trust goes beyond health and life insurance, goes beyond precautions, goes beyond paranoia. Trust of the Lord is absolutely the essential, well, cornerstone that Christianity is founded upon.

Without trust, no justice. Without trust, no faith. Without trust, no real love. Without trust, no hope. Without any of those, no real life. Trust is not taking God out when we're exposed as if he were some sort of lucky charm. Trust is not praying only when things fall part. Trust is not questioning goodness and justice when it comes roaring down the mountain like melting snow. Trust is not even about doubts.

Trust is a simple acknowledgement that God is in control, even when it seems unlikely. It is an element that has sadly slipped in this generation. We don't trust our politicians. We don't trust our own families. We find trust as hard to obtain as credit today, which by the way is another sign that trust has gone away.

God knows, though.

God says later to Isaiah, "These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their hearts aren't in it. Because they act like that, they're worshiping me but don't mean it. I'm going to step in and shock them awake, astonish them, stand them on their ears. The wise ones who had it all figured out will be exposed as fools. The smart people who thought they knew everything will turn out to know nothing."

If we could grow beyond your meager selves, surrender self to him, acknowledge him as our leader broad and strong, life would grow much more peaceful.

In the latter part of Isaiah's 29th chapter, God says, "and then before you know it, without you having anything to do with it...the deaf will hear word for word what's been written. After a lifetime in the dark, the blind will see. The castoffs of society will be laughing and dancing in God, the down and outs shouting praise to the Holy of Israel."


By trusting him, in darkness and light, in good and in bad, in peace and in tragedy. Trust. Only Trust.

Trust me on this.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A bit of baby talk

Admittedly I have difficulty at times simply getting through the day. Stuff of my own making, really. Losing keys, wallet, direction. Having trouble with pain. Having trouble feeling low about pain. Just stuff. It builds and builds and i-t-j-u-s-t flops.

God knows this. God speaks to this. Apparently I am not alone in this malady.

"God will speak to his people in baby talk, one syllable at a time -- and he'll do it through foreign oppressors. He said before, 'this is the time and place to rest, to give rest to the weary. This is the place to lay down your burden." But they won't listen."

God will speak to us in baby talk because we're not intelligent enough to hear him in words he could use. He will do anything to get our attention.

That's comforting.
That's humbling.
That's frightening.

What will he use to get our attention? "So God will start over with the simple basics and address them in baby talk, one syllable at a time --'Da,da,da,blah,blah,blah,blah. That's a good little girls. That's a good little boy.' And like toddlers, they will get up and fall down, get bruised and confused and lost."

That's The Message's translation of the 28th chapter of Isaiah of God's words to Israel, just before it was taken away to Babylon. God was saying, I can't get complicated in my speech because you won't listen and you won't understand.

Nothing has changed but time.

Today, we argue over whether we are brothers and sisters when clearly God allowed for all to come into his kingdom. We argue about what we can say and whether it will offend, when the basics of Christianity are simple: Did you love God with all your heart? Did you love your neighbor with all your heart?

Done. Baby talk for the converted and those who would be.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Roots and all

Putting down roots stays on my mind, though I've -- like Isaiah -- said, "Here I am Lord, send me." I was wondering just where we're going to live when this grand adventure is complete. At least we have options, perhaps.

The Israelites that Isaiah wrote to, those who would be wrenched out of their land, out of their homes for 70 years to Babylon, did not. So when Isaiah wrote about putting down roots, imagine what that would have felt like to those persons.

"The days are coming when Jacob shall put down roots, Israel blossom and grow fresh branches, and fill the world with its fruit."

That happened years and years later when Jesus was born. The country, ruled by Rome though it was, still had fashioned itself into a land. Then Jesus came, the world would be conquered and those fresh branches that grew were all the ones who fell deeply in love with a man they had never met.

The country of Israel still is a mostly lush land with vineyard's galore. A year ago today I prepared to leave after a 10-day visit that I so dearly hope to repeat before I pass into that good land beyond. I feel as one of those branches, so wonderfully grafted into the vine.

Jesus spoke of this when he said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

I woke early today, back screaming for me to get up and face the day, one last day before it freezes again, and I thought about those roots and I thought about who supplies the entire root system and I asked God to put someone again in my life that I could help today. Let Jesus be the one who helps us, my friends. We are nothing without him. Nothing at all. I proved that for more than 40 years.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A little lagniappe of a dog (from last year)

This is an extra, a repeat of last year. This is for my best friend ever, my dog Frankie, who passed away a year ago today.......

Jerome K. Jerome said, "They are superior to human beings as companions. They do not quarrel or argue with you. they never talk about themselves but listen to you while you talk about yourself, and keep up an appearnce of being interested in the conversation."

In the past four years, Mary and I have lost a home due to Hurricane Katrina, but we believed Paul when he said God turns everything to the good for those who love him. We found another home, not a house but a home, but we lost close contact with our kids if we ever had it.

I lost my Mom three years ago in December. Shanna lost her husband, Danny, the following May. Mary lost her dear beloved Buttons, our cat of 18 years, last year. I lost my career to the turns of a ravaged economy, by my choice, but it is gone, anyway. And now, while away on a trip to Israel, I lost my best male friend, the best dog I ever had in a large group of wonderful dogs, Frankie.

Life, someone tells me, is about loss: how you deal with it when you inevitably have it. I guess that's true. If so, I'm terrible at it, life and stuff. I'm devastated, once again, and I can't (literally) quit crying. I know I'm an adult, and the aches and pains of my body tell me I'm an old one at that. Yet I'm crying like a kid again just thinking about my dear Frankie.

In the Message, Job says: Human life is a struggle, isn't it? It's a life sentence to hard labor. Like field hands longing for quiting time and working stiffs with nothing to hope for but payday. I go to bed and think, 'How long till I can get up? I toss and turn as the night drags on -- and I'm fed up.

"God, don't forget that I'm only a puff of air," Job cries to the sky. "And so I'm not keeping one bit of this quiet, I'm laying it all our on the table, my complaining to high heaven is bitter, but honest. Are you going to put a muzzle on me, the way you quiet the sea and still the storm?"

Honestly, I was hurt most that I wasn't there when Frankie died. I wasn't there to hold him as he took his last breath. I'm fully wracked with guilt that as smart as he was, he might have wondered 'where is he? Where is my master.' And I wasn't there. I wasn't. For all my talk to him about how much I loved him, I wasn't there when it counted most.

Then I thought this: God must have wanted me to go to Israel for a reason, for if Frankie had been diagnosed with cancer two weeks earlier, I would not have gone. For some reason the vet missed it. Maybe I'm actually supposed to have gained something for this trip other than bitter memories of grief.

And then I thought of the book the Shack, which if you haven't read it you've missed greatly. The bottom line of a man's grief in the book is that he wasn't able to save his little daughter in her greatest moment of peril and fear. That she died alone.

And Jesus tells the father, "She didn't die alone. I was there with her to her dying breath."

Frankie didn't die alone. As maybe trivial it is to some readers, if there are some readers, is that God was with him when he passed. God was with our dog Scrappy all those long years ago when he passed, alone.

God was with my mother, with Danny, with all those folks in the stairwells of 911 and in the earthquake in Haiti and with my father-in-law and on and on.

We do not die alone, though we all die.

Through it all, we go on. We pick up the pieces of our grief and ball them together into something we can throw into the sky one day and say, 'Okay, Lord, what next? You've watched me boil down to my core and somehow go on. Now what?'

That's where I am. Not where I want to be, not by a long, long shot. I would rather have Frankie than anything God has for me to do or learn or whatever. I would. I think God understands that and I think probably He grieves with me, even as he is licked in the face by a little black dog that never did anything but listen and love.

Oh but that I could be Frankie to my wife, my kids, my grandkids, my friends, my enemies. What a much better world this would be.

Brothers and Sisters

Oh, the indignity.

Yesterday, the governor of Alabama really stuck his foot in it.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told a church crowd just moments into his new administration that those who have not accepted Jesus as their savior are not his brothers and sisters, shocking some critics who questioned Tuesday whether he can be fair to non-Christians.

"Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother," Bentley said Monday, his inauguration day, according to The Birmingham News.

Of course, everyone is shocked. Well, so am I. Someone had the grace and the strength to simply say what they feel. One can't do that much anymore, unless one is a non-believer.

Isaiah wrote something of what the love of God is about. In the 26th chapter of his prophecy, he said, "Lord, you will grant us peace; all we have accomplished is really from you. O Lord our God, others have ruled us,
but you alone are the one we worship. Those we served before are dead and gone. Their departed spirits will never return! You attacked them and destroyed them, and they are long forgotten. O Lord, you have made our nation great; Yes, you have made us great. You have extended our borders, and we give you the glory!"

God has extended our borders, from sea to shining sea, and to him be the glory. Seems simply and innocent enough. The gov was merely saying something similar. The gov was saying Jesus has done so much for him that the gov loves his brothers and sisters in Christ and wants everyone to feel the same. But that's not acceptable in this country. One can, by constitutional law they tell us, have a personal faith but do not let it escape your mouth.

That, however, is in direct conflict with the Great Commission.

But in the closing moments of Isaiah 26, there is prophecy that is greater than all of us, all our petty disagreements and secular moments.

Isaiah wrote, "But those who die in the Lord will live; their bodies will rise again! Those who sleep in the earth will rise up and sing for joy! For your life-giving light will fall like dew on your people in the place of the dead! Go home, my people, and lock your doors! Hide yourselves for a little while until the Lord’s anger has passed. Look! The Lord is coming from heaven to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will no longer hide those who have been killed. They will be brought out for all to see."

All the naysayers that call Christians stupid will one day be made aware. All those shocked that we would unselfishly try to give them what was given to us will be made to see. All the Bill Mahers of the world, who claim the Bible is rubbish, will be laid low.

Thus saith the Lord in Isaiah.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

We are saved by hope

There's a lot of hate, a lot of anger in this country as I write this. Tuscon's shootings are just the very tip of a very large iceberg. I'm not telling anyone something they don't know.

Isaiah, the prophet from Judah in the Old Testament, lived in such a time. He wrote about that often. But he also wrote about a time, somewhere out there in a warm future that would change the frigid, angry time he lived in, when God would prevail, for Isaiah was smart enough to understand that only God could really change things.

In a famous passage, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, "Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing we can do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness."

Isaiah put it this way: "Depend on God and keep at it because in the Lord god you have a sure thing."

I read a story yesterday that helps illustrate what hope is.

Time was running out, and Mark Dickinson wasn't sure whether he'd get to see his dying 2-year-old grandson one last time. A long line at Los Angeles International Airport's security checkpoint had kept him from getting to his gate on time. His grandson Caden would be taken off life support in a matter of hours in Denver, Colorado, with or without his grandfather's presence, according to CNN affiliate KABC. "I was kind of panicking because I was running late, and I really thought I wasn't going to make the flight," Dickinson told KABC. That's when a pilot from Southwest Airlines stepped up and held the flight at the gate until Dickinson arrived. The pilot was standing by the jetway waiting for him when Dickinson arrived in socks, so rushed that he just grabbed his shoes at security and ran through the terminal. "I told him, 'Thank you so much. I can't tell you how much I appreciated that.' And he said, 'No problem. They can't leave without me anyway,' " Dickinson told KABC.

It was just one person doing something for another person, but it flew in the face of what has become known as airline rage, that tendency to blow a gasket because of all the delays and adverse conditions at our airports today.

Isaiah said, "The path of right-living people is level. The Leveler evens the road for the right-living. We're in no hurry, God. We're content to linger in the path sign-posted with your decisions. Who you are and what you've done are all we'll ever want."

In a world in such a hurry, a world filled with those who are mad in every sense of the word, it is good to know that God waits for us like that pilot. "No problem," he tells us. "They can't leave without me anyway."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Just a hunk of break indeed

It's just a piece of bread. A hunk. A dapple. A bit.

Torn from a loaf, a loaf baked with goodness by Eva Mae Deckwa for the church in Lacombe that is immediately frozen for later consumption. I pop it in the microwave on Sunday mornings for 25 seconds on once side, 25 on the other and 25 more on the first side for good measure. I place it under a J.C. Penney sold white cloth on a platen given to me nigh on 12 years ago by a dear friend named Cathy who has since departed. The cup that goes with it holds the juice that I guy by the half gallon from Lischman's in Lacombe.

It's just a piece of break. A hunk. A dapple. A bit.

But what it represents, what it incredibly, majestically changes into when it is torn from the whole and given to the body and ingested, then digested, then ... oh, that is life changing.

Isaiah, after telling anyone and everyone that the worst of all times were coming, breaks away in the 24th chapter of his prophecy to tell everyone of the absolute best of all times, a time when God steps forth and what the captives have been restless waiting for comes to fruition.

He wrote (in the NIV translation), "On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

One day, those persons who took of the bread and drank of the wine, in all their human concoctions and menial states, will take of the bread of God and the wine of heaven, a feast for all the people who heard the message of the gospel (in all its forms, since Jesus wasn't born at the writing of this prophecy) and believed. A feast of the finest, the finest foods, the finest wines, the finest desserts, and the absolute finest company.

The people will say, "This is our God."

I love the Message translation of the last portion of the last verse I used here. It says, "God's hand rests on this mountain."

When I'm alone at Lacombe, fixing the elements in preparation for communion, there more than most times I feel God's hand resting on me.

It's just bread. A loaf baked with love by Miss Eva Mae. But somehow, when I'm preparing it, looking at it's brown body, God's hand rests on me. When I'm giving it to someone who is perhaps taking it out of habit, as truthfully I might be preparing out of habit, I feel God's hand resting on me.

It's communion. But it points to a time when God will take care of the poor, take care of the troubled, take care of the cold by giving them warmth, take care of the warm by giving them a cool wind, take care of the oppressed and shelter the least of these.It points to a time when there will be no tears, and death has been banished. Isaiah puts voice to those lingering desires we all feel when things go wrong (call it an average Tuesday).

Just a bit of bread. That represents the body. That represents our Lord. That represents the future. That represents a hand that rests on the mountain, the mountain of God we call heaven.

It's still coming, friends. It's still coming.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Light up the darkness with praise

I had an uncle named Delbert, my father's brother. Delbert always smelled strongly of cigarettes and stale beer. Occasionally, he changed the odor and you would get a whiff of whiskey on the wind. He was thin, very thin, broomstick think, probably from self-inflicted damage, with army-cut black hair and a face with stubble of a day or two continuously.

He would come to visit, and stay a while, divorced as he was. There were three kids, best I recall, two older than me and one younger. I haven't seen them since I was 11 or 12, eons ago.

Once he came and stayed with us though we lived in a very, very small two-bedroom brick home in the Oakland Heights neighborhood of Meridian, Miss. It was a neighborhood in which persons coming home from World War II could have property at a cheap price. It was the first home my parents owned. I lived there from the age of 2 until we moved to our permanent home when I was eight.

This time, he brought with him his son, Doogie. Doogie, whose real name I have no memory of and I'm only guessing this wasn't his real name, was two years older than I at 9 years of age, and he had difficulty reading perhaps because they kept moving him around, father to mother, place to place. I helped him with that, reading to him over and over though I was but 2/3 of the way through second grade. I had learned to read as a 5-year-old by pouring over box scores in the Meridian Star. My first words weren't something akin to Jack and Jill went up the hill. Instead, it was Berra 4 1 1 (at bats, runs, hits) and Maris and my favoite, Mantle. First and second grades had merely added to my reading skills.

Delbert's son and I shared a little bedroom that spring, and the thing I remember most was that Otis sometimes wet the bed. It was a difficult time for all of us. Cramped didn't express what we were.
I remember, faintly, a few things about Delbert, who is long dead. One thing stands out, though. When Delbert came, things always were at their worst, and he spent long nights sipping coffee (or something stronger) at the kitchen table telling us about it. Gosh, listening to him in the 50s one would think we lost the darn war in the 40s. He talked continually about how bad things were for him, how things never broke his way, how life seemed to be out to get him.

Once he brought with him a large boat, a cabin-cruiser, he had purchased in Meridian. It was one of the few times I remember him actually working. He was upbeat and happy. Again it was of the few times I remember him that way, for he almost always was dire and down. He wound up leaving the boat with us, and my dad, mom, and I had a grand old time untill Dad sold it.

I was thinking about all that this morning as I poured over a couple chapters of the prophecy of Isaiah. The first half of the book of Isaiah's prophecies is an admitted downer. At one point in the 24th chapter, he writes, "That's all well and good for somebody, but all I can see is doom, doom and more doom." That was Delbert. That describes some folks I know. That's not me, in case someone is thinking it, having read me for a while. I'm half-empty, not totally dry. I do not see the world as doom, doom, and more doom. My world is more, happy, happy, doom, doom. I digress.

But on occasion, Isaiah would pour his emotions onto his sleeve and find it comforting to have them there. He writes, "But there are some who will break into glad song. Out of the west they'll shout of God's majesty. yes from the east God's glory will ascend. Every island of the sea will broadcast God's fame, the fame of the God of Israel. From the four winds and the seven seas we hear the singing: "All praise to the Righteous One!"

Here's the point today: Praising God happens, or should happen, even when all we see is doom, doom, and more doom.

It is for that reason I love the contemporary hymn, Blessed be Your Name. Its lyrics include the lines:

In the land that is plentiful
Where the streams of abundance flow
Blessed be your name

Blessed be your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be your name

Every blessing you pour out,
I turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say...
Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's all as it should be
Blessed be your name

Blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be your name

In other words, bless the name of the Father when the sun is blazing a warm, comforting trail and bless the name of the Son when we are suffering and things are dark and horrific. Bless the Holy Spirit in good times and in bad. Bless God from whom all blessings flow. Bless God when those blessings don't seem to be flowing at all. Bless him all day, every day, and maybe especially on those long, dark nights when fear is a companion and pain is an acquaintance we can't seem to rid ourselves of.

Blessing God shouldn't and must not depend on our circumstances. Blessing God when things are at their worst is a way of saying, "Thinks look bad, Lord, but I trust you even now."

We had a family that was dear to us at one of our previous churches. Their daughter, in a freak accident, fell asleep on the back seat of her car on a dreary, frigid night and stunningly froze to death. The family was, as you can imagine, devastated to lose the 20-year-old light of their life. But at the funeral, in a display of courage and outright love of their savior, chose that song, Blessed Be Your Name as one of the hymns to be played. It cut right though the grief, right through the pain, right on into the sinew of love and the muscle of courage and even the bone marrow filled with grace. They survived the unsurvivable by loving Christ more than they hurt.

Isaiah writes in the 25th chapter, "God, you are my God. I celebrate you. I praise you. You've done your share of miracle-wonders, well-thought out plans, solid and sure."

Blessed by your name, Jesus. Name above all names. Power above all powers. Love above all loves.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A disaster movie

In ever disaster movie, there comes a moment when the hero tells everyone that the disaster is coming. Usually a political figure says, "Can you prove that? Is there any evidence of that?" There never is. So the political figure, not wanting to close the beaches, or the campgrounds, or the amusement parks or whatever, keeps them open and sure enough, disaster happens. In the movie 2012, a political figure announces on television that everything will be all right. The movie's hero says to the damsel in distress, his ex-wife, "When they tell you everything will be all right, that's when you worry."

Isaiah never tells anyone that it will be all right. He makes it clear in his writing, "Don't tell me it's going to be all right. These people are doomed. It's not all right." When you tell people they are doomed, it doesn't make you a popular person at the time. Though your intentions are pure, and though later it might be remembered that you tried to prepare everyone, you won't be Mr. Popular.

I try to envision the first readers of Isaiah's prophecy and what they must have thought. Verse after verse, sentence after sentence of basically down-beat, depressing prophecy. Doom and gloom are the offering continually.

In the 22nd chapter we read, "A prophecy against the Valley of Vision: what troubles you now, that you have all gone up on the roofs, you town so full of commotion, you city of tumult and revelry? Your slain were not killed by the sword, nor did they die in battle. All your leaders have fled together; they have been captured without using the bow. All you who were caught were taken prisoner together, having fled while the enemy was still far away. Therefore I said, “Turn away from me; let me weep bitterly. Do not try to console me over the destruction of my people.”

I've done some things that folks would call terrible in my life. Just writing that sentence makes me ashamed. But God's mercy was such that he didn't turn away from me, even then. To have God say, "Turn away from me; let me weep bitterly," about something I've done would be the worst, absolute worst thing imaginable. Think of reading that for the first time.

Perhaps the initial reaction would be a defensive one. "Oh, he really didn't mean that. He was just angry."
Then comes the explanation one. "But, see, I had to do it because ..."
Then comes the deflective one. "I couldn't help it. That's just who I am, that's just the way YOU made me."
Then comes the most favorable one. "That's not really sin, is it? I didn't know. You should have explained it more clearly, because after all you know me and I would never do that normally."

Isaiah is talking about the siege of Jerusalem here when he describes leaders who have fled and soldiers who die without battle. They died of famine as the city's walls, built to keep enemies out, instead kept the army of Israel in. The people went up on their roofs (not the peaceful place of the song "Up On The Roof") to see the army that had built camp fires and put up tents and basically set itself for the long haul.

The "Valley of Vision" is simply a wonderful way of saying that most prophecies or visions approach God's people through Jerusalem, the city on a plain with mountains stretching in the distance. In other words, God was saying that the coming siege of David's City would be so important that visions would be seen by many. In one translation, it calls it the "burden of the Valley of Vision." And quite a burden it must have been.

The burden of telling people what they don't want to hear fell upon prophet after prophet after prophet. At one point Jesus reminds everyone that the prophets were often stoned for their trouble. That burden still falls on pastor after pastor after pastor. It is indeed a burden. No one wants to hear about sin any more. No one wants to hear about living for the kingdom any more. No one wants to hear they're not living Jesus' abundant life any longer. No one wants to talk about sacrificial living or tithing or whatever hurts.

If you say what you believe to be truth, you're negative. Or you're fired. Or you're simply gone. Sometimes the burden gets too difficult and the pastor simply turns away from his or her call.

Isaiah never converted a single person. Never had a confession of faith. Never increased the attendance of the Temple one soul. He simply told the people what God advised him to tell.

God whispered to Isaiah his verdict on the people. "You'll pay for this outrage until the day you die." Isaiah spoke truth. The politicos refused to listen. Disaster happened.

Makes for good fiction, except it happened exactly as Isaiah said it would.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A God who participates

There are those who think God started the world, spoke it into being, then stepped away and did nothing the rest of time. Just sat there. He does not help. He does not answer prayer. He does not step in. He does nothing supernaturally. He does not heal. He does not do, well, anything. This philosophy is called humanism. In my view, Humanism is a philosophy of life that considers the welfare of humankind - rather than the welfare of a supposed God or gods - to be of paramount importance. Humanism maintains there is no evidence a supernatural power ever needed or wanted anything from people, ever communicated to them, or ever interfered with the laws of nature to assist or harm anyone.

The middle of Isaiah 18 seems to agree with that, at first. Then it quickly withdraws from the argument as God enters in.

For here's what God told (Isaiah): "I will watch quietly from my dwelling place — as quietly as the heat rises on a summer day, or as the morning dew forms during the harvest.”

For many, that's enough. God is watching. God is quiet. God is somewhere ... distant and foreboding, but never interacting, never being involved, never moving.

The problem with that is that's not the God of the Bible. It just isn't.

The rest of the 18th chapter of Isaiah is more attuned to who he is. It reads, "Even before you begin your attack, while your plans are ripening like grapes, the Lord will cut off your new growth with pruning shears.
He will snip off and discard your spreading branches. Your mighty army will be left dead in the fields for the mountain vultures and wild animals. The vultures will tear at the corpses all summer. The wild animals will gnaw at the bones all winter."

The Lord will snip off and discard your spreading branches. He will move. He will step in and prune. He will hack off those branches that offend him. He'll leaved them piled on the ground for birds and animals to feed on. He will act. He will take part. He will have a say.

We have this notion that free will somehow overrides what God can do. If that's not true, then we say that it's only in the Old Testament that God moves and acts and goes to war in favor of. Certainly in this country we've decided that separation of Church and State must mean that God is put in his little corner never to be let out, particularly in schools and anywhere children might be. We couldn't want to have little minds affected by his holy nature, now would we?

In this section of Isaiah's prophecy, God tells all these nations they will soon come to an unpleasant end. Egypt will be like a hysterical schoolgirl. Assyria will be a joke. His prophet, Isaiah, will walk about naked and barefoot for three years as a warning sign to Egypt and Ethiopia (and I thought the insurance was bad for ministers today; at least we get clothes). Edom will be warned. On and on we go. Judah is coming back, God says, so the rest of you get out of the way.

A God who starts things and gets out of the way, who only listens quietly can't do any of this.

God said, "let there be light." And it was.
God said, "let my people go." And they were free.
God said, "let my people return home." And they were let go.
God said, "confess your sins, believe Jesus was raised from the dead, and you will be saved." And we were.

God is involved in my life, your life, in all our lives from the closeness of a parent-to-child relationship to the separation of deity to created entity. As much as we allow him, He participates.

He participated so much, he died for us. That's a God who does, not watches; a God who became incarnate so that we wouldn't have to live apart from his eternally.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The domain of darkness; the road to ruin

Two sets of parents were devastated in Arizona this past weekend. Shattered. Helpless grief poured out of them onto friends and all those persons who show up with candles and prayers. Even those idiots from Kansas who protest everything showed up.

Roxanna Green, mother of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, was dealing with it as best she could. There is no handbook, no map of preparedness, no box of tools for dealing with such a loss.

Christina was an amazing child, cute in all the right ways, innocent and playful with a grin that would ease the tension in a steel cable. A special child, her mother and father, John Green, said. She had just been elected to the student council at Mesa Verde Elementary School and had been interested in politics from a very young age. She was gonna be a leader. I'm not sure that is helpful in today's society, though. She had told her parents she wanted to attend Penn State and have a career that involved helping those less fortunate than her. That is a proper goal, still. The brown-eyed athletic girl loved to swim with her 11-year-old brother Dallas, her lone sibling. Roxanna said Christina also loved animals, singing, dancing and gymnastics. She also was the only girl on her Canyon del Oro Little League baseball team, following in the footsteps of hHer grandfather, former major-league pitcher Dallas Green, who managed the 1980 world champion Philadelphia Phillies. Christina's father is a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The family's tears can't seem to wash away the pain, can't dissolve the feckless blame, can't explain the inexplicable gun shots fired for inexplicable reasons.

But there's another family, another pair of parents, another gallon of intense harm and hurt. It's easy to forget their pain, because we believe somehow that they were contributors or causitive agents. But their pain is just as real.

Jared Loughner's parents, Randy and Amy Loughner, are devastated, too, according to a neighbor, because Jared shot and killed six persons including 9-year-old Christina. "They want to know, where did they fail? I told them they didn't fail. They taught him everything about right and wrong. We all know you can teach someone everything and have no control how it works out." Amy Loughner has been in bed, crying nonstop since Saturday, neighbor Wayne Smith said. Her tears are for her son, and the heavy burden he's caused everyone, and for Christina particularly.

It was her son. Her disorder. The acting out of murder by her son has sent her world into a terminal spiral. There's no real coming back from this, she fears. Friends will leave her. Relatives will be shamed. There's no getting over it, no matter how real God's mercy is.

It's equally difficult to image being either set of parents. One, your son, flesh of your flesh, is a murderer. One, your daughter, flesh of your flesh, is gone, and alll those accomplishments that surely were coming will never arrive.

It's simplistic to say that if either of these children had known Jesus, things would have been different. I won't take that step. I won't say that would have solved the loneliness that Jared and even his parents felt. I won't say that would have calmed him, soothed him like floating smoke from a fire on the horizon or pink skies on a summer evening. I won't say that knowing Jesus, really knowing him the way relatives know relatives, would have made him more aware of right and wrong, truth and fiction. I won't say it, simply because we don't know all the demons that lurked behind the -mask he wore daily. I won't write about the murder weapons or tea parties or politics. Jesus wasn't much for any of those. He insisted we love, when to hate was the easier of the choices.

I won't write about that. The temptation is great, but I won't. One child is dead. The other child is available for the death penalty. And what has been accomplished, achieved, gained or learned?

Isaiah writes about the day that is coming when "the country will be left empty, picked clean as a field harvested by field hands." That seems to describe a lurching, tilting United States, doesn't it? And we go on and on.

A day like that is coming, when God shakes his massive and powerful head and wonders why he left us to our own devices, since it is very clear we can't handle even the simplest of tasks, this loving business. And on and on we go.

Isaiah asks in the 17th chapter of his prophecy the question we all have mere days after the painful and pitiful shooting.
"Why?" he asks.
"Why?" he wonders.
"Why?" he insists on knowing.

He answers his own question, penning words that must have meaning when there is no meaning, wisdom when there is none to be found. He writes, "...because you have turned from the God who can save you. You have forgotten the Rock who can hide you. So you may plant the finest grapevines and import the most expensive seedlings. They may sprout on the day you set them out; yes, they may blossom on the very morning you plant them, but you will never pick any grapes from them. Your only harvest will be a load of grief and unrelieved pain." And on and on.

We, as a nation, as a people, as the organic body of Christ himself, have planted misery and amazingly we're surprised when we harvest grief and pain. We have planted hatred and harvested murder and still we ask, "Why?" We have planted unwillingness to compromise on even the simpliest and easiest of discussion points and we harvested violence. That it surprises us should be no surprise in the long run. None of that should be shocking. And on and on.

Exactly what did we expect? Pornography grows like stalks of corn in the midwest Gun magazines celebrate an entire industry of violence, and New Orleans blossoms into the murder capital of the country. Even sports are corrupt. Auburn wins the NCAA national championship in football with a quarterback whose own pastor father offered him for sale, essentially. Major League baseball's records are worthless because of the steroids era. And on and on.

The Bible says we will reap what we sow. When we live in a land where the mentally unstable can obtain guns, as Jared was and did, well, it's not particularly safe, is it?

Columbine, Pearl, Miss., Tucson. And on and on we go, fighting through the sobs, smashing down the grief like pillow hair on a humid day..

Where will it end?
When will it end?
Will it end?

When we forget the Rock, disobey the cornerstone, ignore the God who can save us, we have gone down the path toward darkness, not light; toward sorrow, not joy; toward evil, not good; toward Hell, not salvation. And we go on and on and on and on.

I lean to the right politically, but when a tragedy of this magnitude happens, to politicize it for the right or the left is so abhorrent it leaves me speechless. But shouts about Sarah Palin were immediate. Wow. We go on and on.

When the first thing written about a shooting victim is the political party of that person, we've taken a shuttle to the land of the bleeding and home of the insane. And on and on we go, spinning wheel got to go round..

The logical train has left the station; next stop is Useless-ville, home of the criminally stubborn, tragically inept, and fiercely unstable. The train goes on and on.

Isaiah writes, "Oh my! Thunder! A thundering herd of people! Thunder like the crashing of ocean waves!
Nations roaring, roaring, like the roar of a massive waterfall, roaring like a deafening Niagara! But God will silence them with a word, and then he'll blow them away like dead leaves off a tree, like down from a thistle.
At bedtime, terror fills the air. By morning it's gone—not a sign of it anywhere! This is what happens to those who would ruin us, this is the fate of those out to get us."

Jared had gone down that path. An only child, a lonely socially-backward 22-year-old whose whole family was a group of loners, Jared turned to drugs, then to guns. He ran with a crowd that believed the U.S. government set up the 9-11 attacks. Ironically, Christina was born on 9-11-01, the day of the attacks. She was supposed to be a special child, but her life didn't go on and on.

Not insignificantly, he also was an atheist. A former friend of his said that Jared was a "good guy" who somehow changed. That's the path he chose. That's the road to darkness that many, many are walking today. We want to say that religion won't help them, couldn't change them, but the facts of grace shout above the wind that they indeed will if we give them a chance to go on.

Isaiah says "The Day is coming when Jacob's robust splendor goes pale and his well-fed body turns skinny. The country will be left empty, picked clean as a field harvested by field hands."

The day is coming.
Perhaps it has come.

Amidst the devastation, the Lord's tears can be heard. I can see him standing on the Mount of Olives weeping for a world that is lost. His tears run down his cheeks, flow down the Kidron valley and piled up like a dam by the stones of the steps to the temple in Jerusalem. The day is coming. The day is coming. Oh, Lord, let the day come when all this makes some sort of sense. The day comes on and on and what we see, what we remember is not the darkness, but the great light that has come into the world.

Let it shine, Jesus. Let it shine.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A government of hate

Isaiah tells us in the 16th chapter of his prophecy:

4-5"When this is all over," Judah answers, "the tyrant toppled, the killing at an end, all signs of these cruelties long gone, a new government of love will be established in the venerable David tradition. A Ruler you can depend upon will head this government, a Ruler passionate for justice, a Ruler quick to set things right."

It is completely ironic that I should read this chapter this morning as this country, yes the whole country, reels from the shooting in Arizona.

About the shooting, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said: ""The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country is getting to be outrageous. The vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business ... This has not become the nice United States that most of us grew up in. It's not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. That's the sad thing about what's going on in America: Pretty soon we're not going to be able to find reasonable decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.''

It would indeed be a good thing if we stopped shouting at each other and we began to talk to each other. We disagree on so many things, but we've reached a stage where if the left proposes something to fix one of the many, many problems we have in this country, the right shouts it down without any discussion. The right proposes? The left shouts. We are so far removed from a "government of love" the very idea is laughable. Recently a court ruled that a Christian cross at a town cemetery for veterans of war had to come down after Jewish people sued. The court ruled that violated the separation of church and state by establishing a church as the preferred one. What if we had talked it over instead of shouting at each other, what if we had talked it over instead of filling the attorney's pockets with more money? What if someone had suggested individual crosses and individual stars of David on the graves themselves? Nah. Nothing but yelling will do.

In Isaiah's words, we see that Moab will be destroyed, Damascus will become a pile of dust and rubble, no sign of any government will be left in Ephraim, the springs of Nimrim will dry up, the Philistines will be beaten, the Assyrians will disappear, and Babylon will be no more. For those who took God's people captive, God forecasts gloom mixed with a high amount of doom.

The question is, what makes us (America) think we're different? Why will we be protected, saved, brought through an unsettled future? Why are we God's people, as clearly some believe? Is it scriptural? Is there some place in the Bible where we are called out to become Zion?

The Moabites were secure, right up until the moment they disappeared from Biblical scholarship, sometime around the time of the Persian captivity.

The point is this: 250 years is a couple of pages in the scriptural record. America is promised no more than any other nation. If we continue on the road we're on, clearly there will be a judgment and clearly that judgment will be a poorly received one.

See if this description of Moab rings any bells: "We've heard -- everyone's heard -- of Moab's pride, world famous for pride -- arrogant, self-important, insufferable, full of hot air."

Substitute the United States for Moab, and that's exactly the nation that the world sees today.

It is time, friends, where one person at a time we begin to change. It is time to sacrifice, cutting the deficit. It is time to be better stewards before we go broke(R), it is time to take care of the world's environment before it is gone.

Isaiah wrote, "I'll join the weeping. I'll weep right along with Jazer, weep for the Sibmah vineyards. And yes, Hesbon and Eleleh, I'll mingle my tears with your tears! The joyful shouting at harves is gone. Instead of song and celebration, dead silence."

A government of love sounds ridiculous. A government of hate sounds worse, and that's what we have.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

He lives

Thousands of years ago when I was in the first grade, my teacher made it abundantly clear that when we needed to go to the rest room, we were to raise our hands, she would call on us, and we would be allowed to go by ourselves to the boys bathroom. So, of course, I messed that up rather quickly. One day when the teacher was actually teaching, she asked a question to the room. The first hand that raised itself tentatively didn't know the answer, nor did the second one. The hands soon disappeared and silence gripped the room in deadly cold tentacles.

I, of course, wasn't paying much attention to any of that procedure. Instead, I was working on the problem, my problem. I had to go to the restroom.

Remembering the message about hands raised, allowance granted, I raised my hand. The teacher, flashing a much to quickly smile (as she assumed I knew the answer to her question). Giggles bounced around the room when I said, "Mrs. Green, I just need to go to the bathroom." She wanted an answer, first, however and basically told me and the room that without the answer to her question, there was no leaving the room.

I wasn't even sure of the question.
I was sure I needed to go.
So...I answered, and answered, and answered. And lo and behold, I got it right on the fourth or five try. Near full-bladder, embarrassing tears, I asked Mrs. Green if indeed I could go. She said yes, and I waddled rather than ran out of the room. Kids laughed. I didn't care. Soon there would be tears of joy.

 Isaiah told the people of God they would be snatched up and taken to Babylon.
Then he told the people of God that Babylon would be snatched up and torn apart by God.

The Bible reads: "The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sworn this oath:

“It will all happen as I have planned.
It will be as I have decided.
I will break the Assyrians when they are in Israel;
I will trample them on my mountains.
My people will no longer be their slaves
nor bow down under their heavy loads.
I have a plan for the whole earth,
a hand of judgment upon all the nations.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has spoken—
who can change his plans?
When his hand is raised,
who can stop him?”

Couple of points.
1) "I have a plan for the whole earth."
2) "Who can change his plans"

God, through his prophet Isaiah, told everyone who would listen, everyone who could do what he commanded,  what his plans were. He was going to take down Babylon (Assyrians). He was going to do it soon. He was going to restore the two kingdoms of God (at that moment). Done deal. Finished. Kaput.

The 14th chapter of Isaiah begins a lament to Israel; it is a moment in time in which all in members of the body of Christ would have a confrontational moment with God, or the leader of the "Angel Armies."

"I will confront them." God tells them. "And sing Babylon of name and survivors, children and grandchildren. I'll make it a worthless swamp and give it as a prize to the hedgehog. And then I'll bulldoze it out of existence."

This morning, a brilliantly lit Saturday that is on the brisk side, look at what God will see in your life one day. Will he see Jesus? Or will he see worthless swamp? Will he see God's son draped over you? Or will he see you brushing aside the hand of God?

Choices are the cornerstone of God's plan for our lives. They come up every so often, and they give us a chance to change the flow of the river of life. If you've never confronted a choice about Christ before, please take some time this weekend and know that He lives, and He lives today.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Starry, starry night

This morning I will be having a back procedure: 30-45 minutes unconscious, pins stuck into my back to deaden nerve endings to give me pain relief. Having thought about that all night and having not slept, I got up at 5:30 a.m. and went outside for the paper, despite knowing I couldn't have food or coffee.

The sky was clear and clearly magnificent. One brilliant star stood out. One of the grand things about living in the Fitzgerald UMC parsonage is it's out in the country and the night skies are not diminished by city's lights. I paused in the cold and stared at the beautiful star that could have been Mercury or Mars or who knows what. I love night skies. The Dippers. Sirius, the dog star. The beauty is unmatched in the heavens.

Isaiah tells, though, of a time in the future when God's judgment will come. He writes in the 13th chapter, "For see, the day of the Lord is coming—the terrible day of his fury and fierce anger. The land will be made desolate, and all the sinners destroyed with it. The heavens will be black above them; the stars will give no light. The sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will provide no light. “I, the Lord, will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sin. I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty. I will make people scarcer than gold — more rare than the fine gold of Ophir. For I will shake the heavens. The earth will move from its place when the Lord of Heaven’s Armies displays his wrath in the day of his fierce anger.”

I dwell, rightfully so, on the love of God in my blogs, my sermons, my life. But there is no denying, or should be no denying that God will one day judge all of us, through Jesus.

We tend to put that judgment in the back ground, refusing to talk about or think about sin. The fact, though, is sin still exists. We have the joy of forgiveness, but for one to be forgiven, one must have sinned in the first place. Why we seek to change that thought process is part of the cultural problem that exists today. Sin is still sin. Biblical sin hasn't changed. It is what it is: not a mistake, not a momentary slip, not a little bitty woe.

Sin is sin, bitter and distasteful and deadly. God's Day of Judgment will be equally bitter, distasteful and deadly. God won't be mad at us. He won't be angry. He will be God, judging almost dispassionately.

That's why the blood of Jesus is so critical to us all. He shed that blood so that the Day of Judgment, woefully scary as it will be, won't harm those who turned to Jesus, called his wonderful name and were saved.

Starry, starry night indeed, when the beauty of Jesus outshines the terrible Judgment of the Father.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

We have met the enemy

There are consequences to sin, anyone's and everyone's sin.

The woes continue for professional golfer Tiger Woods off the course. Last year, Electronic Arts made the golfing great share the cover of his bestselling game with Northern Irish rookie Rory McIlroy for the first time ever. This year, following the controversy away from the green and lackluster play on it, Woods has been dropped from the cover of the March 29th release of "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters" on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii. In other words, because of adultery, Tiger Woods won't be on the cover of HIS OWN game.

George Will, in an op-ed piece in the local paper today writes, "American life resembles "a giant all-you-can-eat buffet" offering "calories, credit, sex, intoxicants" and other invitations so promiscuously that bad decisions about smoking, eating, drinking and other behaviors account for almost half of U.S. deaths in "our losing war with ourselves."

Sin isn't just about the moment. It's about forever.

Despite those consequences, however, there is a light at the end of the very dark tunnel. The prophet Isaiah harps about the lack of commitment and the amount of sin his countrymen had been involved in for chapter after chapter. But Isaiah says despite all that has been done, there will come a day. He writes, "In that day you will sing: “I will praise you, O Lord! You were angry with me, but not any more. Now you comfort me.
See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him and not be afraid. The Lord God is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.” With joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation! In that wonderful day you will sing: 'Thank the Lord! Praise his name!' Tell the nations what he has done.
Let them know how mighty he is! Sing to the Lord, for he has done wonderful things. Make known his praise around the world. Let all the people of Jerusalem shout his praise with joy! For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you.”

Lives among us.!

I spent some time with a dear lady at an assisted living home yesterday and we talked about living in the now, in the moment, today. Not worrying about tomorrow's aches and pains and bills. Not dwelling on yesterday. She told me that she dreamed the night before that her husband, who has been gone now quite a while, came to her and took her shopping. She could walk again, and they had a wonderful time together. I watched her eyes as she spoke, and the goodness and the joy were evident.

I told her, you will do that again, which I believe the scriptures tell us. Oh, no shopping; thank God. But we will recognize our loved ones, and there will be joy in that day.

Why? If sin has such consequence, how can we survive our own decisions, our own mistakes long enough to have a day like that?

Jesus. Only Jesus. His blood make sit possible to escape the sins, mistakes, problems of our lives. They still have consequence, but they don't have to have eternal consequence.

The cartoon character Pogo once said long ago, "We have met the enemy and he is us." We have met sin and it is us.

But...we have met the Savior, and he is ours, as well.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

One of those days

It was one of  those  days yesterday.

Nah. Not, as most daily readers will think, one of those days, but one of those days, a good day. The kind of day you want to wrap up and keep for quite a while, or figure out how to clone, or simply to remember.

Nothing fancy. Nothing perfect. Just good.

Weather? Check. Sunny to partly cloudy. Warm, like a breath of spring, but without any accompanying humidity I could feel.

Happenings? Check. Car wasn't seriously kaput, just sorta kaput. Battery dead. Not out of reach financially. Book proofs finished. Ready to send back today. No one injured. No one hurt. Nothing bad happened.

I sat outside, reading those proofs and admiring what God had given, and I thought, "man, this is one of those days."

God did some describing of a day that still is to come. A day unlike any other. A day when Jesus will change everything, make everything new, make the most of what we've done.

Hear him now from Isiah 11: "In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. 7 The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow. 8 The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm. 9 Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord."

Apart from that cobra thing, what a magnificent thought. Peace will flow. Peace will surround us like sound from a new system. And a little child will lead us.

Now, these words were formed for the two kingdoms of Israel, but they are no less important to us. Again, we live in a world when two political parties can't get together to run a country any longer, much less two countries getting together to provide peace and welfare to all persons of the world. But that day is coming when "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord." When that day comes, what brings us together will be far more powerful than the things that separate us.

Come Lord Jesus. Come.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Who will wear the belt of righteousness?

God forecast the 70- year captivity of his people through Isaiah's early prophecy. But he also told his people that they would be coming home one day, a special day, a day they would never forget. And he told them help would be on the way...

Read these wonderful words from the 12th chapter of Isaiah: "Out of the stump of David’s family[a] will grow a shoot — yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He will delight in obeying the Lord. He will not judge by appearance nor make a decision based on hearsay.  He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited. The earth will shake at the force of his word, and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked. He will wear righteousness like a belt and truth like an undergarment. In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all."

That's water to a parched throat, bread to a starving stomach, isn't it? A spirit of wisdom and understand, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord will lead us. Now if we could just agree on the perimeters of what that wisdom and understanding might be.

Instead, oh, instead ... we've got 5,000 birds falling from the sky and China owns most of America.

Friends, we've begun a new year, one in which things might get better, but likely will get worse. Why would I say that? Partly because we do not have leaders who give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited and the world is far from peaceful. But I say that because no one wants to wear righteousness like a belt and truth like an undergarment because that won't get them elected, they think.

Isn't it time we found leaders who cared about the whole and were capable of leading? Isn't it time Jesse's Root became the one we turn to for guidance. Isn't it time we start loving instead of bullying? Isn't this the day?

Monday, January 3, 2011

The end is near?

Isaiah, a prophet of the Judah in the fifth century B.C., spent a lot of time correctly pounding on the Southern Kingdom, telling how God was judging it or about to judge it for its misbehaving.

Some of the harsh words he used included the ninth chapter: "But the people paid no mind to him who hit them, didn't seek God-of-the-Angel-Armies. So God hacked off Israel's head and tail, palm branch and reed, both on the same day. The big-head elders were the head, the lying prophets were the tail. Those who were supposed to lead this people led them down blind alleys, and those who followed the leaders ended up lost and confused. That's why the Master lost interest in the young men, had no feeling for their orphans and widows. All of them were godless and evil, talking filth and folly. And even after that, he was still angry,
his fist still raised, ready to hit them again."

Tough words by God, huh? Judgment isn't for the weak, apparently. Or maybe in another way, it truly is.

I read this morning this story from the Associated Press:  If there had been time, Marie Exley would have liked to start a family. Instead, the 32-year-old Army veteran has less than six months left, which she'll spend spreading a stark warning: Judgment Day is almost here. Exley is part of a movement of Christians loosely organized by radio broadcasts and websites, independent of churches and convinced by their reading of the Bible that the end of the world will begin on May 21, 2011. To get the word out, they're using billboards and bus stop benches, traveling caravans of RVs and volunteers passing out pamphlets on street corners. Cities from Bridgeport, Conn., to Little Rock, Ark., now have billboards with the ominous message, and mission groups are traveling in countries from Latin America to Africa to spread the news outside the U.S. "A lot of people might think, 'The end's coming, let's go party,'" said Exley, a veteran of two deployments in Iraq. "But we're commanded by God to warn people. I wish I could just be like everybody else, but it's so much better to know that when the end comes, you'll be safe."

Two warnings from two prophets. What's the difference, besides billboards, bus stop benches and such?

God said this of prophets: If it comes true, it is of God. If not, it's not. I guess we'll know on May 22.

The people of Judah either hated Isaiah or thought him a fool. I personally think Exley is a couple fries short of a happy meal. But...

The point of all this is be as good as one can possibly be, turn to Christ as your savior when you understand correctly you can't be good enough, and the rest is gravy. At least my daughter Shanna, whose birthday is May 7, will have seen her 30th birthday before the end comes.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Resolutions, like Rome, that might fall

I'm aware I might be writing this for myself, but with a fresh, soaked new year upon me, it might be the perfect time to make those dreaded resolutions.

I resolved to find the light this year. Not to set goals in ministry I have no control over (size of church, whereabouts of church, etc.) but to find where God is leading and do my best to be the best person I can be and to follow the light.

Isaiah tells us: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.For those who lived in a land of deep shadows— light! sunbursts of light!"

I resolve to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with my God in 2011.

Isaiah tells us: "For a child has been born — for us! The gift of a son—for us! He'll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness."

I resolve to think more of others than I do myself, to be aware of my anger, to be careful of my emotions and to love when there is opportunity and when there is not.

Isaiah tells us: "His ruling authority will grow, and there'll be no limits to the wholeness he brings. He'll rule from the historic David throne over that promised kingdom. He'll put that kingdom on a firm footing and keep it going with fair dealing and right living, beginning now and lasting always. The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies will do all this."

I resolve to spend time in the scriptures, not looking for a better way to live, but living a better way to die. I resolve to be better with my stewardship (money and bills and such) and to help with those persons in prison who knew not a better way.

I resolve to be better to my wife, Mary, my son Jason, my daughters Shanna and Carrie, my grandchildren Mia, Gabe, Karli, Parker, Gavin, Livvy and Emma. I resolve to remember by resolutions.

God made it clear to Judah that the time was coming when the nation would be made whole again. It was. The temple was restored. The nation was the nation again. Then it fell apart one more time before coming together a couple of thousand years from then.

We are falling apart, too. A shining city on a hill is being covered in clouds and soon darkness will fill the land again. We are losing in education, in money and only in the arms race are we doing well. We're even becoming a non-Christian nation, according to our leader. What a legacy, the same that was Rome.

In the past week, I've heard someone announce themselves to be Christian and say someone should have been executed for killing dogs. No one on this planet loves dogs more than I do, but to kill someone for doing that and to basically say there can be no forgiveness for any sin is to announce oneself more than Christ. Grace is so wonderfully, unexpectedly given that one forgets that one has been given it. I forgive, because I've been forgiven.

And that's my greatest resolution. To forgive in 2011, as I've been forgiven. That's grace. That's mercy. That's a wonderful year.

When will we learn?