Monthly Archives: July 2015

Past – be careful how far back you go in

Judy and I subscribe to the magazine Reminisce.  It’s about, naturally, an older time.  But only stories from the 1940’s-1950’s really interest me.  It’s like the birthdays listed daily in the paper.  I read all the older birthdays, but none of the younger.  Reverse age discrimination!

Anyway, while having little good to say of morals in today’s America, we certainly have improved our health and hygiene over our 19th century ancestors, whether in villages, towns or cities.  For those who long for the “good old days,” when life was simpler, we need to remember it was also a lot less healthy and hygienic.

In Springfield, Illinois, when Lincoln served as a lawyer, more pigs roamed the streets than were in pens during the State Fair.  Urbana, Illinois had “more hogs than people,” and the porkers had equal rights to the streets.  Shades of India with their sacred cows!

Dogs also roamed unchecked and only the threat of hydrophobia would expedite a campaign to kill strays.  Rats infested the underside of wooden sidewalks.  Even public buildings had their infestation.  Only the horror of having a new-born infant devoured by a pack of rats at Bellevue Hospital roused the New York City Council to action.

Community water works usually lagged behind population growth.  Even when New York built Croton reservoir in 1862 the city’s tenements often had to find other sources for use.  Chicago’s water supply, from Lake Michigan, often contained disease-ridden parasites when rain ran off manure heaps on city streets.

Like my dad, who picked up food left-over’s—we called it slop—from the Lincoln Hotel, Lincoln, Illinois, whatever their stage of decomposition, then fed it to family pigs, Chicago’s milk-giving cows often drank and ate from “whiskey slops.”  Irrepressible Conflict, 179-181

But do not be misled, however.  We haven’t eliminated filth from our society.  We’ve merely moved it indoors as moral filth.  Into our T.V. rooms and community movie houses where Hollywood pours out its sewage.  Into university classrooms where professors damn God and exalt Darwin.  Into the studies of liberal theologians who spout anti-Christ lies.  Into the offices of arrogant politicians who declare themselves superior to all opinions but their own.

 

Give the mid-19th century a spiritual awareness we can’t claim.  They knew the difference between what could make them physically sick and would kill their souls!  We haven’t a clue that a difference between the two exists.  What good is it to have gained better health for a few extra years of life, and lost God in Christ forever and ever?

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Mistakes – learning from, not living with

I’m no admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt.  The Roosevelt’s and their fellow liberals allowed an infestation of communists and fellow-travelers in high government positions before and during WWII.

She did have two admirable traits worth emulating.  One, she could arrive at a course of action and follow it until it succeeded or failed.  Two, if it failed, she began again on another course.  She once told Edna Ferber that she didn’t have more energy than others, but she didn’t use her available energy on regret.  As an example, if she failed to make a good speech, she forgot it and determined to improve the next time.  The willingness to decide and act energized her, though it sometimes led to failure.  But failure never prevented trying again.

Learning to do our best.  Learning from our mistakes.  Learning to begin again.  Learning to forget our past.  Do we understand that the ability to forget is also a blessing?  That while a retentive memory treasures past joys, a gracious forgetfulness obliterates past blunders?

The apostle Paul stressed this point in Philippians 3:13-14, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead….”  Could he ever have lived in peace with himself if he hadn’t learned to forget his brutal crimes against innocent Christians?

So with us.  Today has had its share of errors.  We’ve spoken the unspeakable thing or omitted the essential part.  Well…don’t let the memory of it haunt us.  Do better tomorrow what we’ve done poorly today.  But resist surrendering to self-destructive regret.

Repent if that’s necessary.  Willingly accept God’s indulgent forgiveness.  And, “forgetting what is behind,” rest in Christ’s peace and live in the certainty of his victory.

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Faith – God accepts only personal, mind-filling, life-changing – Part III

I Samuel 4:1-22.  In parts I and II the Israelites lost 4,000 men in a battle with the Philistines.  While the heathen rejoiced over the victory, and Israel mourned the defeat, Israel brought the Ark of God into camp.  Its arrival spread terror among the Philistines and delight among the Israelites.

In the next battle, Philistia so dominated that 30,000 Israelites died; the priests carrying the Ark died; the Ark was captured; Eli fell and broke his neck on hearing the news; Israel fled from the surrounding cities and Philistines occupied them.

Consider only two of more points this chapter teaches.

First, while single wrongs can harm people, the linkage of wrongs over a period of time will bring disaster.  Everyone in Israel knew the iniquity of Hophni and Phinehas, but they all tolerated their continued leadership.  And, truly, laymen could do little about it, in that clerical-dominated age.  But Eli could have done something had enough lay leaders protested his sons’ wickedness.  Yet, it’s well-known that laymen bear with abuses rather than demand correction.

That has a direct warning to America.  I recently read that WWI brought into being the revolution in the men’s and women’s roles.  That isn’t true.  Millions of women did work in factories and business during WWI.  But after the war, most of them returned to being homemakers.  During WWII millions more women worked in defense industries.  With the coming of peace, most of them stayed in the workplace.  That change contributed to the secularization of America, but it began in WWII.

The author also wrote that America began to lose faith in God because of WWI.  Again, not really true.  In fact, significant revivals in music and evangelism occurred after WWI.  Then, in the aftermath of WWII, particularly with the discovery of the holocaust, even theologians began to doubt God.  Of course, they’re often the first to doubt; and, in doubting, flee from the FACTS.  The reason for the destruction in WWII was the Nazi acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution, which German philosophers wove into the superior race theory, which Hitler adapted as the basis of genocide. It’s far more correct to say that skeptical theologians weren’t looking for answers to the gas ovens, as they claimed, but were fleeing the reasons for those ovens—the godless theories of Darwin adapted to politics.

In the 1950’s, then, Americans began a descent from belief in God, which became obvious only in the 1960’s, with the rise of rock and roll music, the violent, profane free-speech movement at Berkeley and the anti-establishment underground groups.  The clamor of homosexuals for freedom to choose followed in the 1970’s , the affliction of AIDS its bequest in the 1980’s.  (Thanks to drugs, many active homosexuals and reckless heterosexuals are living longer.  But a rise in AIDS among homosexuals proves that they have learned little.)  And now follows the demand of homosexuals for same-sex marriage.

None of this happened over-night.  Much of it happened as single episodes of wickedness that many didn’t even consider harmful, let alone evil.

Any complex problem in a life, a church, a society has at its base a deadly combination of wrongs that people tolerated at the time as single deviations from normal behavior.  Left unchallenged they become unmanageable disasters.

Second, symbols matter only as adjuncts to the spiritual life.  The Ark, God’s own gift to the Israelites, and a visible expression of his invisible presence, meant nothing if the people didn’t yield their lives to God.  However, the elders had come to look on the Ark as a god itself, not the symbol of God.  The same fixation on the temple afflicted the Jews in Jeremiah’s, then Christ’s generation.  It stood forever, they felt, and because it did, Israel would remain intact.

God has consistently used symbols to explain himself and his covenants:  circumcision, baptism (which is far  more than a symbol), a Passover Lamb, the Lord’s Table. But they take their meaning from the spiritual life that creates them.  They remain the shadow cast by the substance, and must never be mistaken for the substance.

Humanity has demonstrated a perverted skill in upending this reality.  This has led people to content themselves with cosmetic changes in lifestyle and attitudes while maintaining the same basic, carnal nature week after week.  This is a curse on American Christianity today, with its emphasis on numbers, entertainment and relational preaching.

We should always pray to be renewed from within, where thought begins and motives originate.  And to pray that God will be a Living Presence, rehabilitating our brokenness into the image of the Christ.    – Fini –

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Faith – God accepts only personal, mind-filling, life-changing – Part II

The Philistines threw themselves into the battle with the desperation of doomed men.  The Israelites marched jauntily to the front lines confident of victory because they had the Ark of God with them.

Catastrophe struck Israel.  When the warriors clashed, the Philistines found the Israelite line a sieve.  Philistine swordsmen poured through and soon as many of their soldiers occupied Israel’s rear as her front.  Where God’s people lost 4,000 men without the Ark, they suffered 30,000 deaths with the Ark in camp.

Israel fought like warriors but without weapons, without armor, without legs, without arms, without defense.  Had they fought only shadows, they would have fled as from a host.  Had their whole army fought a single Philistine, before him the army would have wildly scattered.

Because God had withdrawn his protecting presence.  Because he wouldn’t tolerate desecration of his name by priests and arrogance of impenitent people who thought him obligated to them despite their refusal to obligate themselves to him!

– End – Part II –

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Faith – God accepts only personal, mind-filling, life-changing – Part I

This blog excerpts a message from I Samuel 4:1-22, preached July 26, 2015.

The arrival of the Ark of the Covenant in Israel’s camp produced misconceptions in both the lost and the saved.  The Philistines feared it guaranteed their defeat.  The warriors had returned to their bivouac full of self-congratulations.  After removing their armor and grabbing their cups and the nearest piece of meat from the spit, they lay among the baggage eating, drinking and boasting of the 4,000 Israelite warriors slain.

They were there when a thunderous eruption from the Israelite lines, and a faint shuddering rippling through the earth, drowned their clamor.  A picket from their advanced post soon rushed into camp with news that “a god has come into their camp”—in a box carried by their priests.  Euphoria vanished and the bravest warrior suddenly gulped the bite of meat in his mouth.  Not only was their earlier victory imperiled; their own future as slaves seemed certain.

If the Philistines feared that the box guaranteed their defeat, Israel knew it guaranteed their victory.  The elders had autopsied the previous defeat.  After exhausting analysis and microscopic studies, they found no spiritual reasons for it.  They could only believe it due to the absence of the ark at the battleground.

The gold-covered chest, 4 feet long, 2 feet wide, 2 feet high, served as the symbol of God’s presence among his people.  It held manna, the tablets from Sinai and Aaron’s rod.  The problem was:  like the Philistines, Israel equated the ark with God.  It seemed but a box of magic out of which they could pull a spectacular victory.  The ark of God, not God, won battles.  Thus, they unanimously voted to have Hophni and Phinehas remove it from the Holy of Holies for transport to the army.

– End – Part I –

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Disagreements – destructive

The Oregon and California Trails brought strangers together at Independence and Westport, Missouri.  Many of the partnership survived the disagreements and hardships of the Trail.  They buried their possible fracturing differences for the greater cause of unity on the Trail.

But not all the pioneers. When some, who owned a single wagon between them, grew so violently disagreeable, they sawed their wagons in half.  Improvising two-wheeled carts from them, the divided teams pulled them.  When disagreement kept the teams from being divided, men pulled their own half-wagon.  That soon proved destructive since human effort couldn’t rouse the strength to continue.  They either had to buy spare horses or oxen or die along the way.  One divided duo actually sawed their wagon lengthwise, afraid the other would get the better half.  Of course it rendered the wagon useless, but at least “the other” guy wouldn’t get the advantage.  The Mighty Land, p.60

Haven’t such hateful, harmful divisions weakened and destroyed church bodies?  Can’t we find at least some Christians who would rather let another have the last word than to keep arguments going?  Or to be wronged rather than harm innocent people who have nothing to do with the dispute?  Or to reserve any such strong disagreements over doctrines essential to Christianity and not fracture Christ’s body over personality conflicts?  I Corinthians 6:1-8 is a necessary text for all church leaders to study and embody.

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Honor – the highest of all is Christ-likeness

James Boswell once visited David Garrick, the great English playwright.  During the conversation Garrick predicted greatness for the young Boswell.  This energized the-then unknown biographer.  However, it only agreed with his own estimate of himself.  For he felt he possessed “a blossom” that distinguished him from the common herd.  Great Diaries, 447

Boswell’s appreciation of himself reveals a warning to humanity:  we are in more danger thinking too highly than too meanly of ourselves.  Had that not been true, Jesus would never have made self-denial the basis of discipleship.  Paul would never have written, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.”  And Dwight Moody wouldn’t have quietly corrected a group of students who approached him, saying, Mister Moody, we have been praying together.  Do not our faces shine?  The wise man gently replied,  “Moses did not know his face shone.”

Having only ourselves to give us confidence can keep us trying and trying and persevering and persevering.  But if we have value, others will tell us.  We need not boast of our own importance.  Even then, however, as a Christian, we know any good in us comes from Christ-in-us.  We may have important things to do for God.  We will never have any higher calling than to be Christ-like.

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Value – what is our true?

I forget some of the details…but…a long time ago…when we still owned houses…we moved to another city and engaged with a tenant to live in the house we left.  He was to mow the grass, keep the place presentable, etc.  We agreed on compensation, though I personally left that open to change.  Anyway, when his first check came, $25 extra had been subtracted from the payment.  A note explained that the tenants thought their services were going to be worth more than our mutual agreement.

Now, in addition to the fact that they had no business doing that, they cheated themselves.  Had the tenant let me pay him what I had become convinced he was worth, he’d have received much more.  Since he set his own scale, that’s all he got.

Something like that constantly goes on between God and us.  We’re always demanding the right to set the values on our life, though they’re unerringly too low.  Though God warns us we shouldn’t do it, because we don’t really understand our true worth, we insist.

Thus, while we keep saying to God, “Look, God, all I want is a good job, a nice family, reasonable security and health,” he enjoins, “Oh, you’re worth much more than that to me.  Don’t undervalue yourself so.  I want to pay your real worth.  I want to give you everlasting joy.  I want you to share my glory through Jesus Christ.  I want to give you forgiveness of every sin.  Only if you let me set the value will you find your real worth.  No other way.”

We have the choice:  value ourselves and always fail to appreciate our real worth.  For all we ever think about is the physical, the mental, the social facets of life.  Or let God appraise us—and find how truly worthwhile we really are.  Only God can properly assay our worth.  And he thought us so valuable that he gave His One and Only Son to save us from sin and to give a fullness of life afterward, John 10:10.

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Life – what permanence is there?

Consider the following statements.  “I have a good education; that can’t be taken from me.”  “I have good health; my most important possession.”  “I have a promising career; my financial future is fixed.”  “I have a great marriage and kids; nothing is more important than that.”

Then consider Jeremiah 9:23-24  “This is what the Lord says:  ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this:  that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the Lord.’”

In what statement is there permanence?  Which one has no variation, isn’t subject to changes in health, economics or societal evaluations?  Which has continuity based on eternal perspectives?

God knows how foolish we are; what small goals we set for ourselves; the petty successes with which we content ourselves; the slight comforts with which we clothe ourselves.

He never stops warning us to seek him and live by his word, but we decide whether to obey.  Every sentence we begin with I think can change, and likely will.  Any sentence we begin with God says is permanent.  Then why don’t we begin life with GOD SAYS?

Humanity – capable of different behaviors at different stages of life

The children of Charles Zentai resented Efrem Zuroff’s effort to prosecute him for crimes against the Jews in WWII.  In a face-to-face meeting, Zuroff admitted their father’s decency as a law-abiding citizen before the war; his rectitude as a father in their infancy; and his propriety as an elderly man obeying the rules.

His effort as a Nazi-hunter called attention to his life during WWII.  Something happened to him in those years that made him a bad man flouting the moral code demanded of all humans, even in war.  Indeed, with many in Germany and Europe during those dangerous years, Zentai  had committed horrifying crimes against humanity.

Then, the war was over, they returned to a normal life, reverting to pre-war behavior.  And, since life had returned to normal, and they to their regular schedule, they wanted all of their past criminality buried forever.  They considered any effort to disinter it unjust.  Operation Last Chance, 180

Every human has Mr. Hyde characteristics that Dr. Jekyll keeps at bay.  Jesus makes a better offer:  bring Hyde to the Cross and crucify it, putting it to death.  All humanity has the problem of past mistakes, failures, and sins we want to forget, to put away somewhere distant, never to be retrieved.  Which works for sinners FORGIVEN by Christ’s sacrifice.  While we’re always sinners, even if periodically or regularly decent, law-abiding citizens, Jesus paid the price to remove our bad nature.  While we never escape sin by hiding behind our intentions, our morality, our decency, Christ’s everlasting grace removes it as an active force in our lives.

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