Archive for June, 2012

Phoning It In

Posted in Bible with tags , , , on June 29, 2012 by Alex

Absolutely exhausted.  Heck, I might even be going back into work tonight.

If anything, I’m only comforted by the verse in Ecclesiastes 7:14:

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

Here, have Simon’s Cat. Yes I’m phoning it in. Have a great weekend and watch out, it’s all real!

The Power and Goodness of a Truly Free God

Posted in Bible, Sovereignty with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2012 by Alex

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps.

~Psalm 135:6

 

God is the one truly free being in the universe because whatever He wants He does.  He is never limited.  Personally, and I cannot verify that some of you might be different, I have a multitude of limitations.  For one thing, I would prefer I had more time to be able to read.

But I can’t.  If I took off a year to read and enjoy every book I currently want to read at a slow pace, writing reviews on my favorite titles, and having time to reflect in between each book, I wouldn’t finish half the list.  It would likely take decades, if not the rest of my life just pouring myself over book after book.  But I can’t.  I need a job.  And time to do it.

So I had something I wanted to do and found I wasn’t able to do it.  Thus I’m not utterly free to do what I want.  God is, however, free to do whatever He wants.  He’s the one who we never say, “He might want to, but He can’t.”

 

The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.

~Psalm 145:17

 

God is also good in whatever He does.  To bring in the above verse, God does whatever He wants which is always good.  Once again, I’m different.  I can’t do everything I want and some of the apparently good things I’ve done were not done out of love.

For example, I hate the sight of dirty plates and cups.  Sometime I offer to clean up dishes because I can’t stand the sight of them.  Hanging out with friends, sometimes they’ll marvel in that I get things off the table and start washing.  But many times I just can’t stand the sight of them.  I’m not being charitable.  I’m being a neat freak.  And the fact that I sometimes think highly of myself for doing so doesn’t help.

But not so with God.  He only does good.  The sending of His Son to save the world was good.  The Exodus was good.  The creating of the world out of nothing was good.  On the flip side, the drowning of Pharaoh’s army was good.  God commanding the Israelites to stone a man for picking up sticks on the Sabbath was good.

And God wasn’t just behind those events.  He’s behind everything.

 

37 Who has spoken and it came to pass,
unless the Lord has commanded it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come?

~ Lamentations 3:37-38

 

And here’s another…

 

34  At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

~Daniel 4:34-35

 

Okay.  One more, just to round ’em off.  This one is about the crucifixion:

 

26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed

27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,

28  to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Acts 4:27-28

 

Wow.  God does whatever He pleases, its always loving, and its actually everything.  Now there are many questions this can lead to, but I want to leave it here.  This is why I know the Bible to be true.  No other system puts man at such a humorously low level and something that-is-not-man to a perfectly high level.

A couple of things to consider:

God disciplines us because He loves us.  (Heb 12:6)

What others mean for evil, God means for good.  (Gen 50:20)

Everything has a purpose.  Even evil.  (Prov 16:4)

Wild.

God loves us.

Absolutely wild.

He is big.  He cannot be stopped.

Crazy!

He is always good.  Always kind.  And He does what He wants.

Let your head explode!

Watching Our Words

Posted in Bible with tags , , , on June 25, 2012 by Alex

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.

~Proverbs 17:27

 

You know how to be wise?  Slow down.  Stop talking.  Say what you need to and then stop.  Consider how James describes communication and its effect on the heart:

 

19  Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

~ James 1:19-20

 

If you find that people don’t like speaking to you, perhaps its because you haven’t been hearing them out.   James says be quick to hear.  That means being around people with the intention of listening to them.  Other peoples words are not a springboard to your own.

Instead, listen to new the other person and then very carefully speak out a response.  If not, tempers can flare and dampen the hope of the gospel.  James says to avoid this entirely.  Slow yourself down, listen, and then speak.  Even if what the other person is saying is inflammatory or obviously wrong, hear them out.  Then speak.  And yet Jesus takes the matter even higher:

 

33  Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34  You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. ~ Matt 12:33-37

 

You speak what’s inside of you.  And what you say will be presented during judgment.  All of it.  Every careless word.  WOW!  How terrifying is that?  Let’s make it simpler.  If all of your words for last week were covered in a news report on CNN.com, how well would you fare?  The good news is that someone has fared well in our place.

 

For our sake he made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. ~ 2 Cor 5:21

 

And that’s all you need.  No fear of judgment.  Grace liberates you from needing to perform for other people because you already have the Ultimate’s approval.  Grace snatches you from anger because in reverent fear, you know that you can’t build a kingdom of your own.  You seek the Kingdom of God!  How truly blessed are we to be the righteousness of God in Christ!  Reader, preach this to yourself.  Every moment.  Slowly.  He did this all for our sake.

“To Louise”

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on June 22, 2012 by Alex

Friends, I’m a bit behind on things.  I’ve been asked by a friend to be a beta reader for the manuscript of her novel.  In a word, the novel is “thunderous” and in four words “a joy to read.”  I’ am very impressed.  But there’s simply not enough time for me to do everything well, so no special Feature Friday today.

But, I am not without a gift.  This is to you friends.  Actually its not.  Its to Louise.  But if you read it, I don’t think he would mind.  I met Louise on a mission trip in Memphis where on the last day, we were told to hit the streets and fine someone to share the gospel with over lunch.  We found a homeless man named Louise who we fed physical food, spiritual food, and got him a haircut, shave, facial, Bible, and a laying on of hands.  Well actually Christ did it all.  He brought the money, us, Louise, the city, all of it together.  As it says in Hebrews 1:3: He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

I wrote a poem about our encounter and I think it would be good to share it with you all.  So enjoy and have yourself a blessed weekend!

 

To Louise

 

Just two hours ago, you were dead.

Gray eyes fixed on nothing,

wrapped like a corpse

in your dingy green parka.

Every day just moving, moving.

You could have been snuffed out

by a cold.

 

We had about five hours

to go and find someone to share IT with.

In Memphis, the main goal

was to confront prejudice

that was so rife here even after MLK.

You were ours.

 

Decent Mexican food,

You gulped yours down.

Everybody looked at you

like you were inside out.

They couldn’t figure it out, it was them

who were poor.

 

But there was still time left.

We booked you a slot in that black salon

we were told not to go near.

With latex hands they shampooed you

and carefully cut through yellowed tangles

beard and all.

 

And out of charity, a free facial.

Expensive creams that lifted all the grime out.

You looked so peaceful, we chuckled that

you had died in joy, level with the square tiles

and that warm, wet washcloth over your face.

There was only a hole left for your nose

to peek out.

 

Then we had to leave you

send you back onto the streets

with a shiny face, a new pocket sized Bible.

I knew you had a good face underneath it all.

Three hugs and goodbye too soon. Far too soon.

I looked back and I saw you with chest and chin out.

Moving, Moving, Moving!

Half-handed Cloud

Posted in Music with tags , , , on June 19, 2012 by Alex

Half-handed Cloud is the name for the “economically complex, avant garde Christian pop” musical act led by John Ringhofer.  It’s also my current musical fixation.

I want to meet John.  I have complained that most “Christian” music is lame because it is.  But Half-handed Cloud is strange and beautiful in its own very unique way.  I’ve never heard songs before about circumcision or cutting off toes, but even if I had I wouldn’t suppose they would be anywhere as funny.  Or anywhere as catchy.

Half-handed Cloud takes a bit of Psalms, a bit of Old Testament narratives, prophecies and runs it through a Play-Doh machine.

Half-handed Cloud is also keenly aware that it that doesn’t need to be any bigger than it has to be.  Most of the songs are only a minute long or two.  And it just works.

John’s a man who is very sure that he is what he is by the grace of God (1 Cor 15:10) .  He has no use for being anything other than that.

http://www.myspace.com/handycloud

If you’d like to listen to more Half-handed Cloud, you can hear it like I do through Spotify.  Which is free if you don’t mind the occasional ad.

The Riches of His Glorious Grace

Posted in Bible, Sovereignty, Trinity with tags , , , on June 18, 2012 by Alex

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.      ~   Ephesians 1:3-10

This is one of my favorite Bible passages because it reveals God as enormous.  God has specifically chosen us in adoption and is glorious for dispensing grace.

We have redemption not through a system of lying on beds of nails, kneeling, taking communion, praying, evangelism, reading the Bible, living in freedom, living in righteousness, but through the person God Almighty manifest in the flesh as Jesus Christ bleeding out for our sake.  This redemption is lavished upon us and is overwhelming.  In view of His glorious grace, other things (i.e. other gods) become simple and trite.  God sits above all the puny gods of this world who demand the hands of men, but not their hearts.  The great lie (and perhaps the only lie) is that of prostitution: do this and receive this.  What we receive will, on the surface, look and feel like love.  Enjoy it while it lasts.

How truly backwards is this from God’s plan!  God is mighty to save.  The Lord works with the dead hearts of men and makes them new.  And this Gospel is the foundation, present trial, and aim of our hearts.  The work of the hands follow this transformation with a fiery, passionate love.

And the Gospel is also the great revealing of His mysterious will.  Why did God create the world?  Why did God save us?  Why did God do anything at all?  What is going through His mind?  The Apostle tells us in the person and work of His Son is in effect over all time, both backwards and forwards, and is one of unity in Him.  Not under a principle.  In a person.  God’s plan is to suffer for our sake and this plan is the at the root of the intention of creation.  It was once here beautifully, it has now fallen terribly, and it will be saved gloriously.  To God and God alone be the praise.

“A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka

Posted in Short Story Review with tags , , , on June 15, 2012 by Alex

“A Hunger Artist” was originally published into the magazine Die Neue Rundschau in 1922 and was bound into the 1924 collection Ein Hungerkünstler (as in the story’s original German name) shortly after the author’s death.  The title of the story refers to a person who starves himself in a cage for the amusement of crowds, how his popularity mysteriously drops, and how no one really cared for his act in the first place.

This was my first Kafka and I now love the man.  I don’t like to use that word much but it is now exceedingly appropriate.  I wish I could just give him a hug and tell him about the grace of God.

His story was terrifically sad, darkly humorous, and profoundly interesting.  This hunger artist keeps himself in a cage and the crowds are astounded but only on a surface level.  It’s been calculated in his trade that fasts should never exceed 40 days because public interest drops off sharply after that point.  This man would like to move beyond the 40 days, and certainly could, but is limited by this invisible/highly real/economic/sociological brick wall.

I am not a literary critic even though I sometimes like to sit like one.  I’ll raise one finger in a Billy Graham way and proclaim something like, “This story mightily stirred me and it’s all about cherry turnovers!”  However I shouldn’t.  When it is, it is.  And it is!  Or is it?

In the case of “A Hunger Artist” I have to just lay back and ask,  “What really went on?” This hunger artist is longing to find success in his life’s purpose and never finds it.  He is absolutely without joy and the crowds shape his life into a thing of horror.

I don’t want to make this (or any Martian Sunrise review) about one thing, but I will say that when I hear the voices of men there is always the sinking suspicion that God is speaking through them and they are horribly unaware.  You’ll see this of Caiaphas  most notably in John 11:45-52

45  Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

And so this man that is far from God is readily used by Him.  It is, in fact, better that Jesus die instead of the whole of the people.  And Caiaphas did not say this of his own accord but spoke through the mysterious working of prophecy.

Do not take me to say that because one writes a book (or much less speaks) that God is prophesying through him.  But don’t let me go so far as to say that God does not use each and every one of that man’s words for His plan of glory.  Kafka is severely beaten by the Fall as every person is before coming to Jesus.  This is your Lamentations and Hosea.  This is your Isaiah 47:11.  If I can read fiction (which I already like to do), to Him be the glory.  Of course there are healthy guidelines to that principle, but to God and God alone be the glory.

Yes I would like to put it into the Martian Sunrise Canon.  That makes two entries.

If you would like to read “A Hunger Artist” like I did, you can find it in The Story and Its Writer.  And if you dig, you may even be able to legally find a free English version.

And by the way, happy 50th post to all you wonderful friends.