Groans are Many, Hearts are Faint

 

The recent tragic events in Florida have elicited cries for action to be taken by those in government. But is government involvement the answer? And who is to blame for what happened? Are we corporately responsible for what an individual does?

Let’s start with my estimation of what our U.S. government’s interface with us should entail before immediate demands are made on it. The secular state, otherwise known as government, should be limited in size and scope of power. It should provide order, transportation infrastructure, protection from foreign enemies, border protection, and enforce contracts. Beyond that a secular state should not have duties including any onus to hand out subjective rights that benefit only certain groups and health care. The secular state, by its very impersonal nature, is not to decide who is more equal than others nor to be given charge of care for others or to become a brother’s keeper.

The people of a secular state should look to government as the enforcer of order. Yet, its powers are limited and rightfully so in our free society. In the matter before us, the FBI, a law enforcement agency, knew about Nick Cruz’s online behavior. But what could the FBI do about such knowledge except to keep an eye on Nick from a distance? Free speech allowed Nick to post what he wanted on YouTube. In fact, Nick’s freedom, our freedom, was what allowed him to do evil.

There are earnest protestors demanding more gun control laws from the government. They are sincere in their demands for a response. Some protestors, though and as we have witnessed before, are likely paid-for protestors from out of town. There are those with money (e.g., Bloomberg and Soros) who want to rile up protestors to get their way inculcated into our laws. Their way involves restricting even more freedoms but does not address the underlying problem. The real problem is evil.

Many today focus their laser sights on government since government and politics have dominated our national focus from the very start of our nation. They want government to shepherd us and use its ‘rod and staff’ to comfort us and to bonk any discomfort away. They want government to lead us beside still waters and into green pastures. But government is not a shepherd unless you are a sheep.

At the beginning of our nation it was understood by those involved that “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” (Alexis de Tocqueville) But today, we as a nation have since walked away from morality and a faith in God’s sovereignty. We have instead put our trust and faith in collective sovereignty – “We the people” government. In this milieu we expect government to be omniscient and omnipotent and controlling with respect to others but not with respect to ourselves.

Where should our focus be? Should we focus on increasing the size of government until all freedoms once taken from your neighbor are repurposed and are now taken from you? How do we address things beyond our control and outside a limited control of government?

Now, I am not suggesting that a secular government should not mandate Christianity. The state, rather, should coexist with Christianity and seek Christianity’s guidance and blessing. But the two should not become one. I am suggesting that we realign our focus off of government and onto the One who is good. I am suggesting that the answer to what is beyond our control is not to increase government control. Rather, the answer is to increase the good we have control of.

If evil in society is the absence of good in society, then good must return in full force. Christians are exhorted in Scripture (Romans 12: 21) “Don’t let evil conquer you. Rather conquer evil with good.”

Now, who is to blame for what happened? Are we corporately responsible for what an individual does? I certainly do not agree with Hillary Clinton that “It takes a village to raise a child”. We are not corporately responsible for what happened in Florida. As a gun owner I am not individually responsible for what happened in Florida. Just the other day, as I was discussing these matters on Twitter, a woman replied that I was “owned by the NRA”. She didn’t like my questioning the narrative she was positing. The NRA is not responsible for what happened.

Only Nick Cruz is responsible for what he did. And, he admitted to the guilt of his crime in court. Only Nick Cruz is responsible. Though personal rights are en vogue, personal responsibility is not. The collective thinking says society caused the problem and now government must fix my problem – “I am not the problem”.

Is what I am positing above a simplistic and pedantic answer? No, I don’t think so. Actually, throwing more gun control laws on the books is as simplistic as it gets. It is using “the rod and staff” of ‘good shepherd’ government to bash other sheep into submission. But the problem of evil lurks in the bushes ready to leap. So, how do we address evil in our land?

Prayer. Yes, prayer. I know, there are some who think prayer is not taking action. I have debated those people on Twitter, as well. There are Progressive Catholics who see social justice action as the epitome of Catholicism (along with bits of Contemplation). Prayer is not weakness, or inaction. Prayer taps into the resurrection power of God, the power that destroyed evil’s power over us forever. 

Do you want to restrain evil in this world? If so, then pray. When we pray we invoke our faith and trust in God’s sovereignty. In fact, the only way to deal with the horror and confusion of evil is to turn to God. The only way. And when we pray as Followers of the Way in the Kingdom of God on earth we stand between heaven and earth pleading and groaning with all creation. We bring to God the pain, the hurt, the sorrow, and the deepest longings of the world. The Searcher of Hearts knows the mind of God and knows our hearts. The Searcher lifts our prayers to the Father who then acts in accordance with His goodness.

 

On a related matter, I will say more in a future post about how we should love and care for our physical neighbors and not do so vicariously through government programs. It takes you to be a neighbor. Neighbors understand brokenness more so than evil. Nikolas Cruz was, by several accounts, a troubled and depressed young man before he acted. The mother who adopted Nikolas died of pneumonia Nov. 1, leaving him without parents. He stayed briefly with a family friend but wanted to move on. For now, though, I will share with you how I am praying against evil and for the good of my neighbors.

Not long ago I found out that down the street from where I live a man was robbed of his wallet at gunpoint. This occurred in the parking lot of a Section 8 apartment housing complex. I also learned that heroin deals we going down in that same government housing project. Drug use might explain the recent armed robberies of banks also down the street from me. I am praying that God would restrain the evil from taking hold in my community. I am praying that no one will be robbed or accosted by druggies. I am praying that law enforcement will be able to monitor the situation and catch evil in the act. I am praying for LE’s safety. I am praying that those involved in crime and those around crime will, by the Holy Spirit, be convicted of sin, of righteousness and judgment. The ruler of this world is judged already and I am enforcing that verdict. (see John 16: 8-11)

 

There is too much to say in this one post. There are too many threads I could pull on. But I hope I asked questions to spur your thinking as to how to relate to the problem of evil. Evil is all around us, even on days where there are no monstrous crimes committed. As Followers of Jesus we must appropriate God’s good through prayer and conquer evil as it lurks waiting to pounce. The world will turn to more and more government to please itself and to protect itself. But, regarding evil and all else, the Church must turn to God in prayer. God’s vantage point is needed, along with full body armor.

“What else is there to say? Just this: be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his power. Put on God’s complete armor. Then you’ll be able to stand firm against the devil’s trickery. The warfare we are engaged in, you see, isn’t against flesh and blood. It’s against the leaders, against the authorities, against the powers that rule the world in this dark age, against the wicked spiritual elements in the heavenly places.” The Apostle Paul writing to the churches in Ephesus, 6: 10-12

~~~~

Added 2/19/2018. Here‘s a partial solution – Gun-violence restraining orders (GVROs) – to guns used for violent means. The solution supports what I said about “neighbor” involvement above and due process:

A Gun-Control Measure Conservatives Should Consider

When those put in positions of authority do nothing, added 2/23/2018:

3 Broward County Police Officers Made No Attempt to Enter the School and Stop Nikolas Cruz

Added 2/24/2018:

Caller told FBI Florida shooting suspect ‘going to explode’

The Associated Press on Friday obtained a transcript of the Jan. 5 tip to the FBI’s call center. The FBI acknowledged it failed to investigate the tip about 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, but the transcript provides the fullest glimpse yet into the seriousness of the woman’s concerns.
“I know he’s going to explode,” she told the call-taker.
The FBI briefed congressional staff Friday about its failure to act on the alarming tip, as well as why it did not delve into a September 2017 YouTube comment posted by a “Nikolas Cruz” that said, “Im going to be a professional school shooter.”

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

 

op·por·tu·ni·ty cost

NOUN

economics

“Opportunity cost refers to a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action. Stated differently, an opportunity cost represents an alternative given up when a decision is made. This cost is, therefore, most relevant for two mutually exclusive events. In investing, it is the difference in return between a chosen investment and one that is necessarily passed up.” Opportunity Cost

 

Investors will consider opportunity costs when deciding on the best financial vehicle to place their money in. Once the money is placed in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, money market funds, CDs or saving accounts the money does not gain the returns of another opportunity. Investors will carefully weigh financial objectives on a scale of time. We must do the same with our life choices.

When we choose a path and wonder about the path we veered from, we are likely to wonder if we made the right choice. I see this as especially true when our heart wants to go in one direction and we must choose to go in another. We may feel that we have given up on a dream to pursue uninspired options. We may feel “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen”.

Will our speculative investment bring returns that are greater than the investment that we didn’t make? If we choose a so-called “secular vocation” have we chosen a lesser return on investment instead of a greater one? These questions came to mind recently as I reviewed the opportunity cost value of my own full-time work. And that of my father before me.

Early in his career life my father was presented with life choice alternatives or “vocations” as it is called today. Around 1950 my dad and mom attended Moody Bible Institute as married students. (I was born before they graduated. I slept in a crib in their apartment which was located above a nearby Chinese Restaurant.)

My parents attended Moody so that they could go into ministry. After their graduation my dad accepted an offer to pastor a small church located in the frozen tundra of northern Minnesota. The congregation, being just a handful of low-income folks, could not support our family. So, my dad had to work another job to make ends meet. During that time mom gave birth to my brother. She kept us kids from going cabin crazy during the frigid days. She chipped the ice off of the milk bottles that the milk man had delivered to our porch that morning. And, she moved my crib around when the spring thaw delivered leaks through my bedroom ceiling.

I relate these things to show that our Lord has a way of turning us around and sending us in a new direction where unthought of opportunities lie outside of our ministry dreams. This happened to my dad and mom.

After serving in this church for a time my dad eventually brought our family back to Chicago. Economics played a roll in my dad’s vocation change. There were mouths to feed.

I wonder if some weighing of opportunity cost was on my father’s mind in those days. I don’t think it was easy for my dad to leave behind a ministry calling and choose to work full-time to support a family. My dad went on to work in what some have called a “secular vocation”. In doing so he provided for our growing family. He worked and worked hard, and sometimes at two jobs. And yet he maintained his ministry vocation.

My father was a Sunday School teacher. On Saturdays I would see him sitting at the dining room table with the Bible and concordances laid out before him. He was preparing his lesson.

My dad was our church’s chairman for many years. He oversaw the budget and the practical matters of the church. Both him and my mom were also on the mission’s board. They wanted the world to be reached with the Gospel. They invited many furloughed missionaries to our home for Sunday dinner. That is how I learned about the Congo, Ecuador, New Zealand, Japan and many other places

My dad’s opportunity “trade-off” benefitted many. What my dad “lost” in a specific ‘calling’ he gained in a much wider ‘calling’: he was able to support his family and to continue the work of the Lord he so desired to do.

Like my father I chose to go into full-time ministry at the start of my career life. And, like my father, I was influenced to do so by the church. My folks brought me to church every Sunday. I attended a Bible church most of my life. In this environment there were altar calls to “be saved”, to “rededicate your life’ and to “go into the missions” every Sunday. These impassioned appeals became so engrained in me that I attended Moody thinking that I would go into a Christian Education/Music ministry and perhaps the mission field. I ended up in a career as an electrical engineer.

During those early church days, I never gave a thought about going into “secular work”. By its absence from any message or challenge in church I never thought of such work as something to invest my time in.  And, how could anything ordinary measure up to the ‘glamor’ of ministry or the mission field? In my world, import, credence, and “value” were given to being in “ministry”. I heard, “ministry”, “ministry “, “ministry “. I feel now that I was shortchanged by the lack of talk about vocations other than “ministry”.

Looking back over sixty years of church life there is only one time when I heard a preacher say something good about a “secular vocation”. The preacher had learned that my father would run for a trustee post in our suburban village. I heard the preacher endorse my father’s running for that office, as my father and I sat in the pew.

My father won the trustee position. He would subsequently become the village’s mayor.

Where am I going with all this talk about opportunity cost and ministry and vocation?

In churches I generally see social professions blessed. Professions like teaching and missionary work are professions that deal directly with people. But what about someone like me who deals indirectly with people as an electrical engineer? I work in the power distribution industry. I help keep people’s lights on and their heat flowing. What about a geneticist who discovers a gene which triggers a disease? Or, a physicist who smashes atoms to find the beginning elements of life? What about the businessman who provides products that sustains us?

“Secular vocations” go unnoticed in the church. Why? I wonder if the lack of blessing on secular vocations has help create the Bible vs. science warfare? Or, the big business vs. the poor rhetoric? Or, the polarization of sacred and secular? Jesus came to reconcile the two forever.

Now, I do not like the term “secular vocation”. I see all work as a gift of God. In the Kingdom of God on earth, the works of our hands should be an offering to our Lord. 

The Veteran in a New Field 1865 by Winslow Homer

 

What I would like to see happen in the church:

1.       At least one Sunday where vocations are talked about, honored and then blessed. Perhaps the Sunday before Labor Day when everyone is still in town.

2.      I would like to hear STEM careers being promoted in messages and in teen gatherings as vocations that God can richly bless. (I have read the Bible through several times. I attended Moody Bible Institute. And, I am as excited by what God has revealed in nature as I am when reading the Scripture. The study of science has been an enormous blessing to me.)

3.      Perhaps a short bio of a member be put in the church bulletin every Sunday. The bio would provide info of the profession of that member, e,g., “John Doe is a CPA…”

By now I hope you can see where I am going with this. My father and I started in “ministry” vocations, then at a point considered the opportunity cost and switched to less “spiritual “vocations. And that has made all the difference, even for the church.

 

 

 

II. For Commerce and Industry

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life
shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with
thy people where they work; make those who carry on
the industries and commerce of this land responsive to thy
will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just
return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who
liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer

~~~

The world celebrates vocations. Why can’t the church?

February 11th is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Here’s someone’s recent Tweet:

The Image Locker

 

“But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. – Joshua 7: 1

(“devoted things” – The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them; also found in verses 11, 12, 13 and 15 of Joshua 7.)  

~~~

What do you covet? What image is stored in your mind for safe-space keeping? Does your mind turn to that image and then imagine the possibilities of its actual possession? Anyone hoarding the desired ‘thing’ in their heart and mind has already taken into their possession what isn’t theirs and what wasn’t meant for them. If that is the case for you, then maybe you already know this: the desired thing — the devoted thing –is the thing you become. Whether it be gold or porn you will become a lifeless object. You have replaced the image of Living God with the image of your inanimate “precious”.

Our days are inundated with images. Images are ubiquitous. They are downloaded onto TVs, Computer screens, and Smartphones. Images are posted on walls, on trains, buses and park benches. Images are engraved into skin. One’s use of encountered images in fantasy plays a role in inordinate desires. Dwelling on fantasy, one loses grip on reality. Achan knew reality and chose fantasy.

I have no doubt that Achan knew God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” I also have no doubt that Achan knew the Garden of Eden story. I can picture the Evil One talking to him, “Did God really say you could not have those devoted things?”

I have no doubt that most Christians today know God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” I also have no doubt that most Christians know the Garden of Eden story. They also know the Gospel and the Sacrifice of Jesus which has destroyed the devoted things that once belonged to the Enemy of our souls.

Yet, modern man continues to covet what isn’t his or what wasn’t meant for him. This is particularly true of those addicted to porn. To view his “precious” in secret, the porn addict isolates himself from God and from others. He becomes a “devoted thing” person and disengaged from those around him. If you were to look into his eyes you would see a dull and almost lifeless person, a mere representation of a human.

The porn addict becomes like the images he takes in. The images are impersonal, distant, one dimensional, unreal, emptied of good, full of vulgar suggestions. The addict’s self-degradation continues biochemically through masturbation:

“When one masturbates using the porn image, Dopamine is released into your blood stream. You then feel a flicker euphoria and relief which passes away immediately leaving feeling depleted, irritable, depressed and ashamed when you realize that you became less human by desiring an image instead of the image of God in your spouse.

 “When having sex or watching porn, dopamine is released into a region of the brain responsible for emotion and learning, giving the viewer a sense of sharp focus and a sense of craving: “I have got to have this thing; this is what I need right now.” It supplies a great sense of pleasure. The next time the viewer gets the “itch” for more sexual pleasure, small packets of dopamine are released in the brain telling the user: “Remember where you got your fix last time. Go there to get it.””

Brain Chemicals and Porn Addiction: Science Shows How Porn Harms Us

 

 

Achan buried his stash of “devoted things” under his tent. Men, not unlike Achan, will bury their images under the guise of normal.  But what happens under the “tent of normal” does not stay in the “tent of the normal”. The people around you are adversely affected, just as the people around Achan were affected by his sin. The people of Israel were defeated in battle because God was angry about the sin. From Joshua chapter 7:

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

 

How do we deal with our own Image Locker? Achan began with confession:

And Achan answered Joshua, “Of a truth I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them, and took them; and behold, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” Joshua 7:20-21

Be sure, sin’s consequences follow sin, again from Joshua 7:

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord.

24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.”

Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor[f] ever since.

 

If you are looking for trouble then the Valley of Achor is the place you will end up at. “Achor” means trouble. Continue to covet those things God meant for you to destroy. Continue to view porn. Then, as happened to Achan, you and your Image Locker will be tossed out of your family and your community. You and those around you will be burned and stoned and a huge pile of rocks will cover your charred and flattened carcass.

Or, you can confess to God and to your family about your sin. And, you take the images out of your Image Locker and burn them and then stone them and then bury them under a huge pile of rocks. This may require you to take the TV, the computer and the Smartphone and burn them, stone them and bury them.  Better these things than you. I am not kidding. This is how healing of memories begins: speaking the truth about sin and then dealing with it so as to destroy its existence. Besides, you had been warned about the heat you would incur:

“For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, And an adulteress hunts for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom And his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals And his feet not be scorched?… “  –Proverbs 6: 26-28

 

I know of a man who was addicted to pornography. This man traveled about 60% of the time for his job. He was alone most of the time. In his hotel room at night, he told himself that he was under a lot pressure to perform. As such, to ‘comfort’ himself, he took in images from the computer and TV. The things he took in were things which should have been destroyed. They are the Enemies’ ‘things’.

After a time, he became depressed and sensed a growing feeling of emptiness and shame. He had put himself under the pressure excuse and now he was covered with dirt and holding onto his “devoted things”. This man finally confessed his sin. He then destroyed whatever image files he had saved to his computer. He then began to use a web browser that wouldn’t allow him to see pornography. He put his TV into a bedroom closet. He took another job where he was around the same people every day. He held himself accountable. But, his response didn’t end there. He knew he had to re-image his mind.

He “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” He began to study art. He attended life drawing classes where he learned to see and draw the human figure. He went on to become a portrait artist. He is now seeing the image of the Creator in the eyes and faces of those he paints.

Final word:  Take your Image Locker and move somewhere where you can be in nature. One could become a bird watcher or an astronomer. In other words, begin to fill your Image Locker with “things that are above” the “earthly elements”.

~~~

Here are three quotes regarding the effects of pornography:

“I believe – and research backs it – that material that children see online affects their ideas on sex. Nonetheless this is something that teaches us that we need to react before the damage is done and we need to prevent children seeing something online that might harm them or give them delusions”, explained Dagbjört Ásbjörnsdóttir, a sexologist at the Reykjavik department of Education and Youth.

Tackling the impact of porn on Iceland’s youths

 

“He was close with his family, but as far as friends go — he maybe had those acquaintances he communicated with every once in a while, but he pretty much isolated himself,” a source tells PEOPLE of Salling —Mark Salling’s Final Days: Glee Alum ‘Isolated Himself’ Amid Child Porn Case, Source Says

  

“[Anonymous] made me a more extreme version of myself,” William said. “I used to sleep badly. Now I sleep terribly. I used to be sarcastic; now I can be an a__hole.” He didn’t just “like “tormenting people; he loved it. He didn’t just “like” porn; he looked at it every day. “None of this bothers me, he added. “I don’t care about anything.” William had said in the past that he had no moral code; everything was case by case, his decisions based on gut reaction. Earnest Hemingway had said it best: “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”

Jake was nodding. “I have to agree with all of that, “he said. It desensitized me.”Acting out with crowds of people on the Internet had created a detachment from reality and a sense of obliviousness to certain consequences. Anonymous did bad things, but its members were not bad people, per se.” (emphasis mine) —We Are Anonymous: Inside the World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency

Added 2-10-2018:

“Research has found a correlation between pornography use and mental and physical illnesses, difficulty forming and maintaining intimate relationships, unhealthy brain development and cognitive function, and deviant, problematic or dangerous sexual behavior,” Spano said before the House Health & Human Services Committee approved the resolution on an 18-1 vote.
Florida Legislature could declare pornography a health risk

 Added 2-22-2018:
Resources for Combating porn:

Dealing with a porn addiction: Integrity Restored
Internet filter: Covenant Eyes
A book for junior high and high school level: Plunging Pornography
A book for the very young: Good Pictures Bad Pictures

The Search ‘Engine’ Above the Cloud

 

“So if you were raised to life with the king, search for the things that are above, where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” The Apostle Paul, Colossians 3: 1-2 

 

 

Studying Paul’s letter to the Colossian church this past week, I came across the above verse. It is one which is well-known to me. I’ve read it many times. Looking at it very casually over the years, the verse seemed to hold a nice greeting card thought, one that seemed more sentiment than prescription. But this time, words stood out. First, I wondered: what does Paul mean by “search for things above”?

Paul wrote this letter in prison. His limbs were likely aching from the dampness. His eyes, possible bleary with cataracts, saw dark figures of vermin looking for morsels of bread he may have dropped. The torch in the cavern flickered dark images onto the wall in front of his cell. Looking above his circumstances, Paul warns the Colossian church, with words preceding the above instruction, of placing faith in the temporal:

“If you died with the king, coming out from the rule of the “worldly elements,” what’s the point of laying down laws as though your life was still merely worldly? “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!” Rules like that all have to do with things that disappear as you use them.”

Paul goes on to point out the pretense of these man-made rules: “They may give the appearance of wisdom since they promote a do-it-yourself religion.” Instead of a religion of here-today-gone-tomorrow works, Paul was pushing these Christians to live in the resurrection life they had received. Good works would flow out from them. And he knew that no DIY secular religion would honor King Jesus. So, in order to help them come out from “the rule of ‘worldly elements’”, Paul placed them under the rule of King Jesus.  Paul wrote, “So if you were raised to life with the king, search for the things that are above…”

Two things popped out at me reading the above verse. I mentioned the first. The second:  Paul writing “…where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” Immediately I remembered where I had heard something similar before.

“Look!” Stephen said. “I can see heaven opened, and the son of man standing at God’s right hand!”

These words are found in Acts chapter 7. There we find Stephen forced to address the Assembly of religious leaders. He provides the audience with a marvelous summary of Israel’s history. Stephen ends his discourse with some piercing words and the words above. The crowd would never forget those words, even though they covered their ears and yelled at him at the tops of the voices. So unsettled and angry was the crowd that they took Stephen out and stoned him to death. This was all done before a witness, a young man named Saul.

Who do you think Saul/Paul had in mind when he wrote, “…where the king is seated at God’s right hand.”? We don’t know for sure if Paul was in the Assembly that day Stephen spoke. Even if he wasn’t he would have been very aware of what was said. Paul was the Assembly’s appointed Inquisitor. He was ordered to stop the insurgents called “Followers of the Way”.

Paul, the witness and persecutor, was now Paul the prisoner and fellow sufferer in Christ with martyred Stephen. His relationship with King Jesus had taken him to new personal lows. But, Paul searched for things above and found them. They sufficed. Paul saw King Jesus sitting at God’s right hand.

 

What about our search?

Have you watched the TV series The Curse of Oak Island? Over the many episodes I’ve watched, the Lagina brothers search for buried treasure. In their search they have looked at maps. They have been to the library and to France. They have sifted dirt and information. They found both material fragments related to the historical period of the treasure and fragments of information also related. They have talked to many people who have knowledge of the island and the treasure. And, they dug and dug and dug. They are relentless in their pursuit of the treasure. They have a hope in what they do not yet see but visualize. What they do see are milestones that point in the direction of the fulfillment of their hope.

Have we stopped searching “for things above”? Have we stopped digging deep into the Word? Have we thrown away fragments of our character that would have pointed us to hope realized?

Does our search involve Scripture reading, studying Greek and Hebrew and history, praying and visualizing? Does our search involve hours and days and months and years looking for the pearl of great price? If you are looking at yourself and people’s reactions to you online then you will not find the treasure. Looking at the “worldly elements” won’t reveal it. Searching is lifetime, long-haul hard work. That is the Indian Jones adventure and romance of life. Except, we chose fantasy and the illusory.

In TV commercials one can see someone talking into an impersonal box. The ‘intelligent personal assistant’ box is connected to a search engine which is tied into a data cloud which is linked into a data storage island somewhere. But “the box” does not have the answer to life’s most pressing questions. As an engineer, I hold no grudge against technology. I just know that technology will not “search for things above.” You are responsible for that.

Many will use a search engine like Google to find information related to a certain topic. Now, consider searching “for things above” for answers to all of life’s “topics”. These ‘topics’ would include “Why is there pain and suffering?”; “How do I go on?”; “Who should I marry?”; “What about my wayward son? “How will I afford this surgery?”; What hope do I have when I can’t see things getting better?”; “What is my raison d’être?”; “What is God’s will and how will it be done on earth as in heaven?” Back to Paul and his words to the Roman churches about searching questions and seeing results.

“We were saved, you see, in hope. But hope isn’t hope if you can see it! Who hopes for what they can see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait eagerly — but also patiently.” Romans 8:24-25

So, hope means waiting for what we do not yet see. But, are you uneasy when you can’t visualize the person you are talking to? Then learn to see Jesus sitting at the right hand of the father, with all authority in heaven and earth. Still struggling with searching “for things above”?

“In the same way, too, the spirit comes alongside and helps us in our weakness. We don’t know what to pray for as we ought to, but that same spirit pleads on our behalf, with groanings too deep for words. And the Searcher of Hearts knows what the spirit is thinking, because the spirt pleads for God’s people according to God’s will.” Romans 8:26-27

In prison and on the road, Paul tapped into resurrection life – into “the things that are above, where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” Paul was well aware that earthly and evil forces would love for us to remain in our petty, self-serving and secularly pious ways, embracing “worldly elements.” The Evil One wants us to focus only on ourselves and our material concerns. The Evil One does not want us to look above. Remember Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert. The Evil One wanted Jesus to acknowledge him, in effect, as the top Search Engine of the World. A ‘search engine’ that offered the world to his web-surfing devotees.

“Then the devil took him off again, this time to a very high mountain. There he showed Jesus all the magnificent kingdoms of the world.

“I’ll give the whole lot to you” he said, “If you will fall down and worship me.”

“Get out of here, you satan!” replied Jesus. “The Bible says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and, serve him alone!”

The Searcher of Hearts – the only Authoritative ‘search engine’-sits at God’s right hand. We are told to “search for the things that are above”, where our king “is seated at God’s right hand”. What are you waiting for? There’s a seat waiting for you.

 “This will be my gift to the one who conquers: I will sit them beside me on my throne, just as I conquered and sat with my father on his throne.” Revelation 3:21

If You Call Now

 

Mack had no one to blame. He blamed himself. His dream, well, just listen…

The other night Mack dreamed of being in New York. He didn’t know how he got there. He did remember driving around the Great Lakes. In New York Mack stopped along a highway in town, got out of his rental car and started to look for a store which sells maps. He returned and found that his car was gone. Mack became distressed.

Then Mack saw his car return but it was not working. The battery was missing. Someone stole it. Then Mack’s brother showed up because Mack’s mother was concerned – about both of them.

Mack asked his brother, “Is there a place where I can get a big breakfast?” Mack was hungry. His brother did not know where to get food or a map. His brother stood there. He looked like he wanted to help, but he didn’t offer any.

Then, both Mack and his brother were in a garage where things are fixed, batteries replaced. Mack received his car back working. He is hungry. The dream ends in New York on a highway in town with an able car and not knowing where to go next.

 

When Mack, whose given name is Macauley Andrew Naughton, applied at Central Commercial Chillers he was told that the job required 15 percent travel. But after his hiring, the on-the-road service schedule grew to near 80 percent at times. The fact that Mack had devised such good software to run the chillers within less than one degree of set point now meant that he had to go to the field and install it into every chiller sold by Central Commercial Chillers. After downloading the software, he had to commission the chiller and make sure it did what was promised. So, Mack spent a lot of time on runways, in rental car lots and in hotel rooms. The desk job had become a suitcase job.

Last week Mack was in Kansas. This week Mack was in New England servicing chillers. Tonight, he ended up at a motel in Connecticut. Tomorrow he would service a chiller nearby.

Mack entered the motel room and switched on the TV. He liked the ‘company’. It was all he had.  His ex-wife also sent him packing, something to do with pornography. Being alone was nothing new for Mack. And, loneliness came with the service guy turf, Mack figured. Fill the void with work, food and TV and hit “Restart” every morning.

After a shower and a quick burger at Friendly’s Ice Cream Mack came back to his room and settled into bed with the remote. Flipping through the channels he came a cross a show he liked. The show soon went to commercial.

“…If you call now, you’ll receive one free WonderPan with every order. Only pay for shipping and handling… A surface that cannot be scratched or matched…Someone is standing by now to take your call. Call now.”

The program returned after two minutes of commercials. But by now Mack’s eyes were heavy. He fixed a pillow under his head and watched the TV through squinting eyes.

Another commercial break came. There was a commercial for a sex chat line. Call them, it said, and they will make you feel “spontaneous”. Mack thought about sex on the phone. It seemed to fit his isolated lifestyle. And, sex seemed to be going on everywhere but not with him. His phone sex ears were wide awake but his eyes were almost sleep. The voice in his head told him don’t deny yourself. “But, Tanya, I’m tired,” Mack said and fell asleep.

“…If you call now, you’ll receive one free sex chat with one of our beautiful and sensual ladies. With each sex chat that you purchase receive one free chat the next time you call…. Someone sexy is waiting to talk to you right now…”

 

The chiller service trips had taken Mack to Sonora County Mexico, to Saskatchewan, to Rio De Janiero, and to most of the fifty states – wherever plastic parts were being injection molded and thermoformed. The unique plastic parts he came across were matched by some interesting characters Mack met along the way.

There was New Jersey Rick. NJ Rick was an intense smoker-guy, a middleman who contracted guys like Mack to service his clients. At night Rick liked to go to the strip clubs until the wee hours of the morning. Mack went along once thinking he owed it to Rick for the business. Mack knew better. He would not get those images out of his head. And the next day was brutal.

In Tennessee, there was the Tony, a proud Italian who also did service work. Tony liked to pick up women at the bar and bring them back to his hotel room. Mack found this out one morning. Tony knocked on his motel door and said, “Hey, Mack, you gotta come see this.” So, Mack went and saw a naked woman passed out on the bed. Mack kept his distance from Tony after that. He couldn’t get that image out of his head.

In Terre Haute there was Javier, a six-foot five Mexican. He serviced equipment and women. Javy would go to the dance clubs at night after work. He’d dance, flirt in his muy macho style and then take someone back to his motel room. Mack went along some nights because he was lonely and he was tired of Andy of Mayberry reruns. Javy needed the shared rental car every night, so Mack was dropped off at his motel room before Javy drove his new catch to a nearby bar. Mack couldn’t rid himself of these images.

In De Ridder Louisiana, waking up to the paper mill stench was enough to turn Mack’s stomach. Along with the awful smell, the behavior of his friend Ron unsettled him. Ron was a co-service guy with Mack. There were sites that needed a lot of mechanical help besides software upgrades. Ron did the mechanical work which involved a lot of walking. But this seemed odd to Mack since Ron had a hard time walking. Ron’s permanent limp came about after he fell out of a tree during an acid trip.

Ron, despite his home-grown defect, liked to think of himself as a man’s man – he didn’t just fall out of a tree, he FELL out of a TREE and survived! He would boast about his manliness to Mack and to the women he tried to dance with night after night after work. Ron, like Javy and like Tony, was married when he was at home. All the other times he was in compensation mode – find someone quick or die from loss of reinforced manliness.

During one meal Ron told Mack about his disorder – Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder – so Mack decided that he would drive the rental car from that point on. This meant that Mack was the chauffer for Ron Casanova’s adventures night after night. Mack now had his own flashbacks.

 

The chiller at Automated Plastic Parts worked just as promised – within one degree of set point. Mack had the client sign the service report and then headed back to his hotel room for a shower. After the shower Mack went to Friendly’s for his supper. He didn’t want to have to think or make another decision. He was flat out hungry and all thought out.

Back at his room Mack undressed and got into bed. The TV sputtered light into the space before him. Images came and went. The drone of constant noise weakened his resistance. Mack fell asleep.

 

Mack looked up and saw a stairwell with service men walking up and down the stairs. The men going down the stairs were carrying framed pictures which they dumped in a garbage can at the bottom of the stairs. The men going up received new batteries. And then suddenly, next to Mack stood a man. The man said, “I making a service call. Remember, “If you call now, I will give you a free map. You’ll be driving within one degree of set point in no time.” 

 

Mack woke up with a crick in his neck and vowing to move on with God’s help.

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2018, All Rights Reserved

Radical Secularism Won’t See Us Through

 

“If we are so troubled and perplexed, if we search for the right words and bite our tongues, this is because these three elements are constitutive parts of our situation and the great fact of Islam that is at the center of our struggles, for Muslims and for non-Muslims, together or separately.” Pierre Manent, Beyond Radical Secularism

 

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Manent, in his book Beyond Radical Secularism, suggests that the Islamic phenomenon presents three distinct and yet interdependent elements which must be addressed by Europe and, I suggest, ultimately by the U.S.: Muslim immigration, Muslim settlement and mosques financed by Gulf States, and Islamic terrorism.

How do we as a nation begin to address the three elements? Do we call others “Islamaphobic” or “Xenophobic” and content ourselves with pointed fingers and huffing? Do we act like a Jesuit I know and parse out isolated Scripture from the Bible to push the Progressive notion that to be a good country one must have Open Borders and welcome all comers with no conditions placed on refugees/immigrants while hoping things will all work out, while not taking into account the unintended consequences for both parties and without accruing any personal cost? Or, do we as a people living within the Kingdom of God on earth address the complex issue at hand? Do we acknowledge who we are as a nation and our Christian heritage and also acknowledge Muslims?

 

I suggest Manent’s Beyond Radical Secularism is a good place to begin looking at the matter before us.

Several months have passed since I read though Pierre Manet’s twenty essays, essays encapsulated in his book Beyond Radical Secularism. Before too much more time passes I wanted to record what I learned from the essays along with my reflections.

This is not a book review. Rather, this post is me trying to understand the Islam situation facing the U.S. and doing so through the eyes of French academic and political scientist Pierre Manent whose own country of France is having to come to terms with the Muslims. My thoughts are interspersed with Manent’s words.

From the book’s Introduction by Daniel J. Mahoney:

“In this, his latest book (originally published in France as Situation de la France), Manent brings together his considerable theoretical and practical concerns with rare spiritual depth. He reveals the failure of Europe’s humanitarian civil religion and pleads for a restoration of prudent judgment, rooted in a searching exploration of the theological-political problem. He reveals just where the de-politicization and de-Christianization of Europe has led the continent and his native France. Refusing to despair, and not content with literary politics and facile criticism, Manent lays out a practical philosophy that shows Europe and the West that deliberation and action remain as available to us as they were to Pericles and St. Paul.” (Emphasis mine)

 

As noted above, Manent writes from a French perspective. Yet, his home turf insights can provide significant direction for U. S. immigration policies addressing the “three elements” noted above.

In Manent’s assessment of the current political situation, he sees both France and the West looking weak:

“As rich as we still are in material and intellectual resources, we are politically without strength. Doubtless this has not escaped the attention of those who now attack us.” (From the Preface)

France and the West, Manent points out, are capitulating to radical secularism–a stripping of the national landscape of political and Christian milestones, earmarks and boundaries. Both are refusing to either fight their enemies or to love their enemies. Both are handing out subjective rights which further divide the nation state into individuals against one another. In so doing, the political regime

“…makes every constraint appear to be useless and arbitrary, in a word vexing, whether civic or in private life. As each letting go justifies and calls forth the next, governments are motivated to tout themselves no longer by the guidance and the energy they give to common life, but by the “new rights” they grant to individuals and to groups.” (From the Preface)

 

Though not mentioned by Manent in his book, it seems to me that the French philosopher Foucalt’s deconstructionism has gone a long way in educational circles toward emptying words and historical narratives of the meaning they once held. This vacating of meaning has led to intellectual and moral paralysis. We no longer know what to do because we no longer know what to think, Manent posits.

At the end of his Preface, Manent elaborates:

“Our irritated and vacant souls are full of a jumble of historical references, positive or negative, which our experience no longer shifts or orders, and of which we make use in the most frivolous or self-interested manner.”

Later, in essay seven, he writes about France,

“The major fact of our situation, one that has important consequences in all domains that concern us, is the radical loss of authority by the main and decisive instrument of modern politics, that is, the State, or if you will, in the specifically French context, the Republic. One might say, in the language of political physics that the republican State no longer has the power either to reduce the constituent groups of France to citizen-individuals, those primordial elements of modern politics, nor to offer these individuals something to hold in common substantial enough to allow them to be true citizens, that is, members of a larger whole…we tend to return to the pre-modern situation… One of the distinctive features of the situation was the absence of any border between the interior and the exterior.”

 

Here in the U.S. Barack Obama’s “fundamental transformation” of America was by many accounts a proclaimed and implied look-down-his-nose disdain for America’s history, its Constitution and its ways of life. Obama even apologized to other nations for America’s ‘faults’ as he saw them. As we are finding out, Obama’s administration didn’t just disparage America it also colluded against America and its ally Israel with a South American drug cartel to help Iran advance their nuclear program. Obama along with the likes of Noam Chomsky and a host of “intelligentsia” sought to shame and deconstruct America and to remake it in their own Progressive promise-of-the-future image. Enter a carnival mirror reflection.

Donald Trump comes along and promotes an uber-nationalist fundamental retransformation after his own ribald image. But neither administration has addressed the Muslim situation other than making polarizing comments.

 

Manent, as he views France, sees their common life dissipating from the loss of State authority due to the people’s lack of faith in government’s trustworthiness and also a loss in faith in Providence, a special concern for a nation with a Christian mark. Add to these weakening influences globalization–the absence of borders within and without, the purposeful loss of historical meaning and context, the placation of individuals and groups with subjective rights by the government, and the neutralizing of the mark of Christianity on a nation. All such effects of degeneration on the common life undermine “a stable and coherent disposition” toward Muslim immigration. You shouldn’t welcome someone into your common life if your common life is on life support. More degeneration occurs.

Our own common political life is being redefined as the ‘indeterminate and limitlessness of individual rights” and interests, just as Manent described France’s political life. Our nation, already fragile, is questioning its identity as it sees itself through the media lens of “fundamental transformation” pushed by Progressives. Our education systems, Progressivism’s training grounds, focus on identity politics and refuse to reinforce a national common life, seeing it as a formulation of power structures from the past that must be done away with.

We are weak and getting weaker and we are inviting in a people, some of whom are at war with us.

 

Manent talks about the effects of the transformative “equality”, values” and “secularism” criteria in his own country:

“I have emphasized repeatedly… — that our political regime has progressively brought about its own paralysis by the ever narrower and more unilateral way it has understood its principles. The rights of man have been separated radically from the rights of the citizen and, instead of freeing members of society in order to make them capable and desirous of participating in what is common, they are now supposed to suffice to themselves, and public institutions are nothing more than their docile instrument. We are probably the first, and we will surely remain the only people in history to give over all elements of social life and all contents of human life to the unlimited sovereignty of the individual.”

 

 

A solution and warning;

Manent writes that France has the tools to deal with the influx of Islam: a history of a neutral secular State coupled with a people with a “Christian mark.” Yet, France and the Europe Union are in depoliticizing mode with their eager acceptance of globalization and open borders. Even more debilitating, they are negating, via radical secularization, all religion from public life and particularly Christianity. Manent warns that these divesting actions will cripple and paralyze any proper response France must take in accepting Islam into the common life of France.

 

Manent talks of a “politics of the possible” between French Muslims and the civic body. Two principles would apply. First, Muslims are to be accepted “as they are” without seeking to modernizing them or conforming them to others in the society.

Second, preserve and defend the sanctuary of secular government and the characteristics of its regime which holds them as citizens first, Muslims second.

 

For a shared life Manent suggests that acceptance of Muslims into French society would need to be balanced by elements of France’s “ancient constitution” in order to prevent a Muslim transformation of France. And this acceptance must not advance as “secularism.”

There is a need to address who we are when speaking to those who a seeking to live with us. There is also a need to address Muslims as who they are and then to go forward together, each recognizing the other.

Beyond the foundation and bulwarks of an “ancient constitution” Manent suggests that France (rightfully) impose two restrictions on entering Muslims: no polygamy and no burqa. Such parameters, he posits, would protect the social fabric of the nation and the political freedoms in place.

For the U.S. I would impose the same restrictions along with not allowing sharia law to become law. Muslims immigrants must submit to the laws of our republic. They must not ‘rule’ themselves separately in opposition to a common life. They also must understand that we are a nation with a Christian mark and one which does not impose its Christian beliefs onto others via the government. Here, the individual is self-governing within the full extent of the law. Here the Christian influences government but is not authoritarian, despite Leftist characterizations to the contrary.

 

As I see it, we must define our relationships beyond individual rights. We must define who we are in common. A neutral secular State will support groups which support the common life of the State. It will respect each group and allow each group to function on its own without imposing laws specific to a particular group.

 

A Radicalized secular state, on the other hand, will, by its vacuous nature, delegitimize its people and their religion. But don’t expect Muslims to become secular and that tensions will float away. They won’t (though many Progressive Christians have) and the tensions won’t magically dissolve because you opened your borders. Radical secularism pretends that we are just citizen-individuals with nothing to offer but our individuated ‘diverse’ presence. The State only has authority and powers we give it. If we give it nothing but demand only rights we suck the life out of our common life.

An open border de-politicized nation will continue to splinter off. A de-Christianized nation will have no means to influence and support the neutral State. And, Christianity has for centuries fostered and supported secular authority. But Islam, as you know, is theocratic in its politics. To live in common, Islam must separate political and religious life in its citizen contract with the State.

And that State? I see the government’s primary responsibility as promoting the common good by maintaining the rule of law, and preserving basic duties and rights. A neutral secular government offers protection, security and the motivation for the common good. A radicalized secular nation has nothing but individual ‘rights’ to offer a people who then become increasingly alienated.

With more than just rights to offer, a shared life in the U.S. is possible–and desirable–if we remember and “they” learn who we are and why we are – a nation with a Christian mark seeking a common and secure life. It is within this context that the Islamic phenomenon’s three distinct and yet interdependent elements must be addressed.

 

I recommend Manent’s book, Beyond Radical Secualrism to you. 

Pierre Manent is a French political scientist. Or, as they say in France…

Pierre Manent est directeur d’ etudes a l’ Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales, membre fondateur de la revue Commentaire.

~~~

 

 

 

English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton also has something to say about the above:

Pray it Forward

 

“I, Paul, am in prison because I am a missionary for Jesus Christ to you who are not Jews.” Ephesian 3:1 

 

 

1st Century AD. You are in a prison in Ephesus. You long to know how your young children are doing, your young children in the faith. You have been called to preach the Good News and announce the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles. Seeds have been planted but they must be watered and fed and cared for in order for there to be fruit. But, here you are locked up. So, you write letters and pray and pray and pray.

 

“For this reason, from the day we heard it, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. This means that you’ll be able to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord, and so give him real delight, as you bear fruit in every good word and grow in the knowledge of God. I pray that you’ll be given all possible strength, according to the power of his glory, so that you’ll have complete patience and become truly steadfast and joyful.

And I pray that you will learn to give thanks to the father, who has made you fit to share the inheritance of God’s holy ones in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son. He is the one in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 9-14

 

As I read these verses I envisioned Paul sitting in a dimly lit and damp prison cell. He is agitated and fretting. He is deeply concerned for those outside the cell, those surrounded by the power of darkness. Paul is not whining. He is not demanding. He is not writing his bio.

Paul is praying and hasn’t stopped praying for those beyond his cell. Paul is praying that they may be filled with knowledge and that they may be given all strength to use that knowledge to bear fruit. He prays that they will learn to give thanks for the One who transferred them into his Kingdom out of the darkness. The irony that Paul has been transferred to a dank dark prison cell because of the Kingdom does not affect his vision of the Kingdom or his prayer life.

This is Kingdom prayer. The prayer is for others. The prayer lifts others up and reinforces others. The prayer points away from self and toward the One who is able to do more than we ask or think on behalf of others. This is dark night of the cell prayer, where one is alone with God and unable to move but a few feet. Paul’s actions are distilled down to praying verbs: “fill”, “bear”, “grow”, “learn”.

 

 

There are many who are unable to move but a few feet. The elderly, who have been active most of their lives, now sit. Some may even think of their bodies as a prison cell. But, in that “cell” the “wisdom and spiritual understanding” that was prayer directed at them some two millennia before can be applied to their Kingdom prayer now. They can pray for their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren just a Paul prayed for his children in the faith. The fact that they, two millennia later, have faith means that Paul’s prayer was effective. Some were “filled” with knowledge. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit and “gained” strength. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit and “gained” strength and “learned” to give thanks.

There will always be situations beyond our control. I was reminded this past two weeks of how uncontrollable are the forces that surround me. The weather in the Chicago area has been frigid. I do not remember such cold temps and I have lived in the area for over 65 years.

At 65 years you begin to think about mobility later in life. You wonder, at least I do, about how long your legs will cooperate. So, I see it is time for me to exercise Kingdom prayer with action verbs. It is long past time for me to pray it forward.

 

More Kingdom prayer from prison:

“For this reason, I bow my knees and pray to the Father. It is from Him that every family in heaven and on earth has its name. I pray that because of the riches of His shining-greatness, He will make you strong with power in your hearts through the Holy Spirit. I pray that Christ may live in your hearts by faith. I pray that you will be filled with love. I pray that you will be able to understand how wide and how long and how high and how deep His love is. I pray that you will know the love of Christ. His love goes beyond anything we can understand. I pray that you will be filled with God Himself.

God is able to do much more than we ask or think through His power working in us. May we see His shining-greatness in the church. May all people in all time honor Christ Jesus. Let it be so.”  Ephesians 3: 14-21

Jake’s Midnight Dust Up

 

The last day of 2017 found Jake alone in the empty house. The movers had come and gone. Earlier that day Jake sent his wife Rachel off with their two kids to their new home in another state. Jake stayed behind to clean up the house for the new owners. The house belonged to them at midnight.

Rachel was Jake’s second wife. His first wife Leah divorced him after she found out about Jake’s cheating. And, so that there was no more cheating, child support for Jake’s and Leah’s six sons and daughter was deducted from his paycheck. Jake wasn’t proud of what he had done but he was a survivor.

His mother, though, who had taught Jake from his childhood to “get what is yours”, was proud of him. So was Jake’s manager Aram Fields. Aram liked Jake. Jake’s sales record chart was given pride of place in the break room – on an easel next to the water cooler. During the twenty years Jake had worked for Aram, he became Fields Pre-Driven Cars’ top salesman seven years in a row. Jake became family when he married Rachel, Aram’s daughter.

Jake could pitch like no other salesman Aram knew. And, Jake’s mark-up-the-interest-rate-2-or-3 % financing was his specialty. Jake also knew each car’s history and could promote each one as “slightly used but highly prized by its previous owner”. Jake had a way of convincing people to “get what is yours”.

 

Well, that night, while Jake was in the kitchen cleaning the oven, there was a knock on the front door. When Jake opened the door, there stood a man with a tool carrier.

“Hi…uh…I didn’t call you. I…what are you here for?’

“What is your name?”

“Jake.”

“I’m at the right place.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Yes, I am.

“No. I didn’t call anyone. This is still my house.”

“Your house?”

“Yes! Now I have to get back to work. Goodbye…” Jake tried to close the door but the man put his foot in the doorway.

“Hey! Now you are making me mad! Get out!”

“I’m here to fix what is broken.”

“What?! What is broken?”

“Are you sure you didn’t call me?”

“I would know if I called you, wouldn’t I?”

“I have the tools. Let me in.”

“I have my own tools. And, I have what it takes to fix things in my own house.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hey you! You know what?! My manager Aram thinks I have what it takes. He pays me pretty good to make things happen.”

“You like to be rewarded for your efforts?”

“Yes, of course!”

“I am here to reward you for your efforts.”

“Huh?”

“I can fix what is broken.”

“What?! What is broken?”

“Are you sure you didn’t call me?”

“I would know if I called you, wouldn’t I?”

“I have the tools. Let me in.”

“I have my own tools. And, I’ve been fixing things all my life.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hey! We just went through all this before. You are wasting my time.”

“I did offer to help.”

“I don’t need help. I am my own man. I’m not just another senior citizen you can manipulate. I’ve been around the block.”

“Look, you bicker with me and you bicker with others. You’re good at bickering to “get yours” and at getting other people ‘theirs’. Tell me your name again.”

“Jake! I told you!”

“I’m at the right place.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Yes, I am.

The back and forth between Jake and the man went on for what seemed like hours. Neither Jake or the man gave in. Jake, at last, became exasperated.

“Listen. I didn’t call anyone. This is still my house. I’m in charge”

“Your house? What time is it?

“Time for you to leave! Get outta here!” Jake pushed the door against the man’s foot.

When the man saw that Jake was not going to let him in he grabbed an envelope from the tool carrier and handed it to Jake. Then he asked, “You are Jake Houseman? You purchased 763 Peniel?”

“Yes.”

“Your new property…this is what the bank came back with. You purchased the foreclosure with cash but there is a property tax lien against it.

Jake opened it and saw the notice of notice of lien on his new property. His face wrenched.

“Hey, hold on!” Jake grabbed the man by the arm as he tried to leave. “We’ve got to work this out!”

The man said, “Let me go. I have to be on my way.”

“No way. You are staying until we get this business sorted out!”

“I will work it out. You have my word.” Jake loosened his grip and let go.

“Besides,” the man said, “you are no longer Jake Houseman. You are now Jake Newhouse.” The man winked and then turned and left.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

“I knew your father and your grandfather,” the man called back from across the yard.

The man walked past the neighbor’s house and was then out of sight.

Jake stood in the doorway. The rising sun cast his long shadow onto the floor of the empty house behind him. Jake stood there stunned and tired and hurting. After several minutes of looking at the lien and rubbing his forehead, Jake went back inside. He picked up his tools and cleaning supplies. He placed the extra set of house keys on the kitchen table, walked out the front door and then over to his car.

At the sidewalk, Jake, with his face still wrenched, turned to look back at the house.

“I bought someone else’s lemon. What a ball-breaker that guy is! But, I’ll live. Lesson learned. Goodbye house on Jabbok.”

And so Jake saw the sun rise on another year.

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

~~~

Chagall – Jacob Wrestling with God

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schoenberg: Die Jakobsleiter: Friede auf Erden, Op. 13. Orchestral version

What Risk is This?

 

“The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”  Genesis 12:1

“Some time later God tested Abraham, He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”” Genesis 22:1-2

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An angel appears to Mary and announces Mary’s pregnancy. Mary responds: “Here am I”, said Mary; “I’m the Lord’s servant-girl. Let it happen to me as you’ve said.” Luke 1: 38

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God says “Go,” and Abram, not a perfect man, goes.

Imagine being told to dig up your roots, leave your familiar surroundings and that you will be told later where you are going. Now imagine going with your first-born son, your flesh and blood and a surety of God’s promise to Abraham, to the region of Moriah and being told that your son is the sacrifice to God. Abraham is told, basically, to go outside the box he had contained God in- his hopes in his pride of place and first-born. Abraham with “Here-I-am” -outside-the-box faith obeys God and God blesses Abraham. “Abraham was now very old, and the LORD had blessed him in every way.” Genesis 24:1

God says to Mary, not a perfect woman, that she will be the one to bear the Savior. She responds with her permission. Later, at Zechariah’s house, Elizabeth sees Mary and shouts at the top of her voice: “Of all women, you’re the blessed one!” One could speculate that before the angel’s news, Mary had thought her life was, well, pretty much boxed in.

 

The boxes people put God in are not big enough for God’s blessing. So, instead of stretching the box, God stretches the person so that they come to see that no box can hold all they know about God.

 

Throughout Israel’s and Christianity’s history there are many accounts of where God has said, in effect, “Go to a new place with me” and a personal risk is taken.  Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the disciples, Peter, Paul, to name just a few. You are not alone in the history of risk-taking or in the moving out of safe-spaces.

Imagine if those who were told to go and those who were led by God to go didn’t go? How would your life be different today? Or, did you think that once you arrived on earth nothing had gone on before you arrived that would have any bearing on your life? There are many today who see themselves this way. They have their “history” and their “truth”.

If you have read the Old Testament you found that the history of Israel is the story of God moving his chosen people through space-time. The Israelites moved from country to country, to slavery, to the land of “milk and honey”, to exile and back home again. They are moved to be tested, refined and blessed. They were moved so that they would realize that God is sovereign and omnipresent – there is no place you can go that God isn’t there. They are being moved so that they will realize that God is the beginning and ending of their journey. They are being told to “Go” so that they will find that God is God and that God is good.

 

Risk taking is going, moving and forgetting what is behind.

 

The pattern of risk taking, testing and blessing occurs over and over in Scripture. God says, “Go” and when people go to a new place with God they are both tested and blessed.

Risk takes us places we never thought we’d go. Risk takes us to new places within God’s space-time and to the farthest extent of God’s promises. Risk takes us to new places within God’s character. The risk-taker decides to remove himself from the comfort of his self-storage home and from the false gods he has stored in his mini self-storage so that blessing will be gained.

 

The God who created probabilistic quantum mechanics is going to take you places where you can’t determine your position or the acceleration of your movement at the same time. Because of that you begin to take your eyes off your circumstances and look at the Cosmological Constant. You are being taught that God’s outcome will be good because He is good. There is a 100 percent probability that God is good. You just need to find this out through risk-taking.

Nature has a way of saying “Go”. The wise men, experts in early astronomy and most likely from Persia, took a major risk. They traveled 800-900 miles following “a star coming out of Jacob.” Herod was not happy at all that the wise men left without detailing the location of his greatest fear — a newborn king. So, Herod slaughtered innocent children.

 

“Get up. Go to the place I will show you. The risk is all mine and I am good with that.”

“Here I am.”

Breaking News

Breaking News

By Jennifer Ann Johnson

 

Against a backdrop—indigo and star,

Luminous angels appear before men,

Ancient Wisdom they proclaim near and far,

To shepherds and sheep, to earth and heaven.

 

Luminous angels appear before men,

On a Space-Time night with Tripartite accord,

To shepherds and sheep, to earth and heaven,

“A new and living way” with rights ignored.

 

On a Space-Time night with Tripartite accord,

Emmanuel lay swaddled, veiled in flesh,

“A new and living way” with rights ignored,

In the love of the Father, mankind refreshed.

 

Emmanuel lay swaddled, veiled in flesh,

The babe’s short gasp rouses the dry bones of men,

In the love of the Father, mankind refreshed,

“I, the Lord, will breathe my life into them.”

 

The babe’s short gasp rouses the dry bones of men,

Ancient Wisdom He proclaims near and far,

“I, the Lord, will breathe my life into them,

Like your backdrop—indigo and star.”

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved