Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Meditation on God's Mysterious Ways, You Can Skip This Part if You Like

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God....(Psalm 139:17a)

Something I have observed: God gave us the ability to reason and then we make a god out of our ability to reason.

This is either: (a) a true statement or (b) me, projecting. You can choose.

Why doesn't God save everybody? Is that THE question? Is it a valid question? Is it a question I should even be asking? I know that God works through secondary means (He certainly did in my salvation, didn't He in yours?). Thus I know that my (feeble) prayers and my witness (however pitiful) must count for something.

So should I pry into these things? Is the answer different for you than it is for me? At what point does inquiring into God's methods become a questioning of God?

You may accuse me of mindless faith, if you like. I find these things in God's Word:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29).

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD (Isaiah 5:8).

Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements and his paths beyond tracing out! (Romans 11:33)

There is comfort for me in these words. And warning as well, though I will apply that to my own heart and leave others to proceed as they are led of the the Spirit.

Like the psalmist, I meditate on the preciousness of God's thoughts and conclude, as he does:

...How vast is the sum of them (Psalm 139:17b)!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

And I Wll Tend My Vineyard On the Eastern Slope of the Mount of Olives

The early morning summer sun shone warm upon Eleazar’s shoulders and gave the promise of a hot, sweltering day to come. But for now, he reflected, the sun’s rays promised life, as they warmed the earth and caused the crops to grow. He always waxed philosophic while tending his vineyard. The smell of the rich, fertile soil, the leaves of the grapevines rustling in the northerly breeze blowing across the hillside; all these took him away from the sights, sounds and smells of death to which he had grown accustomed on the battlefield. His life here in Bahurim with his wife and children was a good one. The fruit and the grain were harvested in their seasons. Naarah had borne their children in the time allotted for such things. Their oldest son, Ethan, was growing like a weed in a field of barley. All these things, he thought, are the things of life; not those deeds I do on the field of battle.

“Eleazar, my husband.” His wife’s voice seemed to him, in his contemplative state, like the sound of a mountain brook splashing across pebbles in its downward path; soothing and pleasant. He turned, and recognized, standing with her, Uriah the Hittite. Uriah had joined David at Ziklag, after serving as commander of a mercenary troop for the Philistines.

“Greetings, Uriah. Welcome.”

“Eleazar. Josheb told me I might find you in your vineyard.”

“Yes, when I’m not being a mighty warrior, I’m a mighty farmer in my spare time.”

Uriah offered a polite smile to show that he understood this was a joke. Sensing that his guest wished to speak of some matter that was troubling him, Eleazar became serious.

“Your pardon, my friend, for my rudeness. Come and share my noonday meal.”

Uriah accepted and in a short while, they were seated underneath the fig tree in the courtyard of Eleazar and Naarah’s home. Taking a drink of the wine Naarah had placed before them, Eleazar spoke first.

“I have not seen you in Jerusalem, what little I’ve been there. Has the king posted you to some border outpost, perhaps?”

“In truth, I have taken a wife, nearly six months ago and the king excused me from active service for a time,” Uriah replied.

“I see. With Jerusalem taken and the Philistines cowed, it may be a while before any of us sees active service. I suppose it is well that I get used to tending my vineyard and sowing and reaping my grain.”

“True. Honestly, I welcome a respite from constant warfare.” Uriah smiled. “It seems, sometimes, as though I was born on a battlefield and have lived my life there.”

“I certainly share those sentiments. Most of us do. It is good, I think, that we have these feelings. I have known men who could not get enough of the killing.”

“And I. Now is the time, I hope, to focus our energies on life, instead of death.”

“That is my prayer, also,” responded Eleazar. “Have you and your wife a little one on the way?” Uriah’s countenance clouded, and Eleazar regretted the question.

“No,” Uriah spoke thoughtfully. “I wonder, sometimes, if because I’ve taken many lives, the LORD withholds life from my wife’s womb.” Uriah’s voice was troubled, as if he had pondered this matter much, and Eleazar’s heart went out to him.

“Yet, you would not refuse the LORD the use of your sword in smiting his enemies?”

“Surely the arm of the LORD is long enough to smite His enemies without the use of my sword.”

“You remind me of something I was once told by my kinsman, Jonathan, whose armor bearer I was.”

“You speak of the son of Saul?” Uriah asked.

“Yes. He said that God works through men, both good and evil, to accomplish His purposes. We Israelites believe in God’s destiny for our nation.”

“Certainly, God chose Abraham and his descendants as the people of Promise,” Uriah agreed, “but we are all God’s are we not?”

“All who worship Him and call on His Name,” replied Eleazar.

“Lord, Lord,” said Uriah, smiling.

“ ‘Who call earnestly upon Him,’” Eleazar amended, “and seek Him and His will in their lives.”

“Yet, I, a Hittite, a foreigner, if you will, believe that God chose me and called me here; though for what purpose, I know not. Do you believe this?”

“I have seen many unlikely things, both on the battlefield and elsewhere, that can only be of God. Yes, I believe that all men must heed God’s calling,” said Eleazar, then added with a grin, “Even Hittites.”

The mood lightened after that, and the two men reminisced on the wild days with David at Ziklag and in the service of the Philistines. Eleazar reflected that they had many things in common; had made their beds in the valley of death, had dwelt in a place where a man becomes one with his weapon, and steps outside himself to do battle. Battle; the terrifying, exhilarating, stomach-churning maelstrom of screaming, striving, bleeding, dying confusion. Yes, he thought, some became addicted to it and sickened and died when peace came and they could no longer go to war. But not me. Thanks be to God, not me.

As the day waned, Uriah departed, and Naarah came and sat beside her husband in the shade of the courtyard wall. During their time together, he had shared many of the thoughts with her that he had expressed to Uriah. She thanked God for this man of hers, as they sat, holding hands in the peaceful silence of the approaching dusk. Naarah was proud that Eleazar was one of the mighty ones who served the LORD God of Israel and his anointed king. But she was aware, as well, of a tender heart within the warrior’s breast and for this also, Naarah was grateful.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

If You're Lookin' For Trouble

"Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)"

"Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)"

I think you see where I'm headed, here. The thing is: man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. But Proverbs 6:18 speaks of wicked imaginations. So here's a question: Is it wicked for the child of God to imagine that, at some point, God will not provide for him/her?

I'm reminded of Israel in the wilderness. For over 14,000 days in a row, God provided food for His children. Just enough each day. Nobody came up short. If there was any extra, it rotted. Hmmm.

This was a miraculous thing. But the Bible says they grew weary at times of having just enough. The gall of these people. Not me, LORD. Nor you, gentle reader?

Is it our nature (some more than others) to fret and fume over what might be? What a blessed thing, then, to have confidence in God's providing.

And so, keep me, O LORD, from borrowing trouble from tomorrow.

And a final word of comfort from that famous reformed theologian, Dan Jenkins: "What coulda happened, did (Dreamer Tatum in Semi-Tough)."

Monday, December 19, 2011

O Christmas Tree

Got the tree up on Friday. It took a couple of hours. All the branches had to be fluffed out and hung on the pole/trunk. Then every decoration collected over all the years carefully arranged on the limbs. There are several strands of lights, garland, balls, bows, beads, and tiny angels, sleighs and Santas. There are ornaments handmade by Sandy throughout her childhood and finally, the paperplate angel perched upon the very tiptop.

So I'm sitting in a darkened living room Sunday morning, admiring this work of yuletide art and the thought occurs to me: "What a symbol of paganism!" I'm not really speaking of the origins of the Christmas tree tradition, but this: Is all this gaud and clutter representative of what the holiday has become? Am I advocating that you (or I) take down your Christmas tree immediately?

No. But really, what does all this have to do with Jesus? He might not have even been born on December 25th, right?

But he was born.

Christmas is a time for family. Of all the holidays, this one, set in the dead cold of winter is the one when families come together to celebrate. They may be separated by hundreds of miles, but they plan and expend great effort to meet in one place. Why is this?

I think it is this:

The human family was broken by the fall and so our individual families. Father striving against son, daughter against mother and brother against sister; holding on to hateful grudges and nursing bitterness in their hearts.

But the the birth of Jesus signalled the birth of healing and the end of brokenness.

For how can I know the Christ of God and the forgiveness he offers without myself offering forgiveness?

I will keep my Christmas tree and continue to raise it up and drape it in decoration. But let this be my prayer: that this tree remind me that the babe, who was born in a stable, and lived a perfect life on my behalf and died in my stead, arose and now stands at the right hand of God the Father and intercedes for me.

And let this be my cause for celebration.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reflections on a Birthday

Today I have been alive 63 years.

I have been blessed. What pain I have experienced has been mostly self-inflicted.

I have been loved. Truly. I know this is so because I understand that the ones who love me forgive me daily.

I have been happy. But a thousand times better; I have been given joy. (Psalm 4:7)

I have been redeemed. Like Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones I have seen this dead heart made alive. I stand amazed and can scarcely comprehend.

I have come to understand that God is in control. Of everything. And this is His province, while mine is self-control. Also that there is nothing He does in my life but what is directed toward His glory and my good. Even the stuff I don't like.

"I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.(Psalm 4:8)"

Happy birthday to me.

Monday, December 12, 2011


This is a great tune. Haunting melody. The lyrics are another thing, though. Hallelujah means "praise the Lord." But the song speaks of a "cold and broken hallelujah."

The rest of the words talk about shattered relationships and the seeming futility of it all and I detect something like an attitude of postmodern despair. It goes like this: since we can't ultimately know the truth, any praise, any worship, any joy, any feelings for another person we might express would only be fleeting and hollow things based strictly on emotion.

A joyless kind of joy, I suppose. There's a lot of it around.

How sad.

Is there any hope?

What about faith? Here's a question: do I have to know something empirically (you know, experience it with my senses) to believe in it? Isn't faith the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen?

Hallelujah indeed.

I've heard that a fool says in his heart, "There is no God."

I pity the fool.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Though Troubles Assail Us

We sang this John Newton hymn Sunday morning. It's one of my favorites and I'm always gladdened by the line at the end of each verse: "the LORD will provide."

Another sort of God's provision came to mind this Sunday. I had just read the book of Jonah. Four times we see that "God provided" (in the NIV translation, at least). Everyone is familiar with God's provision of a "great fish." Salvation, in other words, though not exactly by a method that Jonah might have chosen.

The other three times occur in the fourth chapter where God provided: (a) a vine (to shade Jonah's big ole head), (b) a worm (to cut the vine down!) and (c) "a scorching east wind" (apparently to heat Jonah up a bit more than he already was; to whatever temperature "mad enough to die[verse 9] is).

I love God's provision for my physical needs (so did Jonah). Every day I have cause for amazement and gratitude.

It's God's providing for my faith and spiritual growth that sometimes cause me to cop a bad attitude (like Jonah).

You'd think Newton would have warned us that the troubles that assail us are also of  God's providing and we need to be thankful about those things too.

Oh wait! The Bible already does that, huh?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

These Hallowed Dead

In a narrow clearing of the Forest of Ephraim, the blood-soaked ground was strewn with the detritus of battle: shattered weapons, abandoned equipment and the bodies of the slain. On a low rise at the north end of the clearing, the battered survivors stood; some attending their wounded comrades, others nursing their own wounds, still others preparing their dead for burial.

In the midst of these sat Eleazar, cradling the bloody head of Josheb in his arms, rocking back and forth gently, as tears streamed silently down his grime-streaked face. His eyes gazing sightless into the middle distance, he held his comrade and mourned.

He mourned the loss of the friendship forged in the midst of the peril of combat. He mourned the unspoken bonds of companionship and affection that would remain forever unexpressed. He mourned, for the family of his friend; their loss of a husband and father. Most painful of all was the vivid recollection of Josheb’s final moments of life: a warrior unto the death, he had struggled to aid his fellows while grievously wounded.

Eleazar relived his vain, desperate attempt to divert the deathblow that had claimed the life of the Chief of the Three. The memory replayed itself again and again and with each repetition, he mourned and wept fresh tears at his failure to save his friend.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Old Soldiers Speak of War and Death

“Eleazar. A word with you, if you will.” Eleazar turned to see the Gittite Philistine, Ittai, standing to the side, somewhat apart from the Israelite warriors. His dark visage marked with scars gotten in battle, Ittai’s jet-black hair was streaked with gray. The man’s eyes told an experienced observer that he had seen much of bloodshed and death. All this, Eleazar took in at a glance before he spoke.

“What might I do for you, Ittai?” The tone was formal, as between respected enemies. Though these two were acquainted from Eleazar’s time in Gath, under David’s leadership, the old barriers of enmity between the two nations were too strong to be easily breached.

“I wanted to say that I am pleased that my men and I have been given the position of greatest importance in the coming battle, and pleased, as well, that The Three will be fighting beside us.”

“ Thank you. You have spoken truly of the importance of our assignment. If we fail to hold, it will be we who are being chased through the thickets of Ephraim’s Wood, rather than Absalom and his troops,” Eleazar replied. Ittai smiled at this.

“We will hold,” Ittai asserted. Eleazar nodded in agreement. There was no alternative to victory for the men who followed David.

“I remember another battle,” Ittai spoke thoughtfully, “and three warriors who would not yield or be pushed back, men who would not be defeated and would not die.”

Once again, Eleazar nodded, then stood in silence for the other to finish speaking. What a pity, he thought, that old hatreds are so slow to die. I too, recall battles long past.

“It was at Pas Dammin,” Ittai continued. “The flower of Philistia’s fighting men died on that slope.”

Of course he would have been there, reflected Eleazar; it was the last chance for the Five Cities to defeat David. Every Philistine who was able to stand upright and grip a sword would have been there that day.

“Never have I seen men fight as you three fought that day,” Ittai shook his head in wonder. “I had met you, of course, at Gath, when David served Aschish for a while, but I had supposed that these tales of the mighty exploits of David’s Three were exagerations, as such stories often are.”

“You were there.” Eleazar’s words were more a statement of fact than a question.

“I have seen men kill out of hatred, or in the lust of battle, but this was different; there was a purity about it. I have wondered since what spirit animated you.”

“It was said of Samson that the ‘Spirit of the Lord’ came upon him when he performed his feats of valor and strength,” Eleazar spoke, his brow knitted in thought. “I’ve wondered, many times, does the God who gives life give to some the ability to take life; sometimes in spectacular fashion?”

“It is believed among my people that the gods give favor to men to become great warriors; that the slaughter they wreak glorifies these gods somehow.”

Eleazar pondered these words for a moment, reflecting on his life as a soldier of Israel, and the lives of his comrades, and the death they had inflicted.

“A cult of death, wouldn’t you say?”

“Exactly,” Ittai nodded. “Yet on that day, at Pas Dammin, Dagon could not help us, in spite of the vast preponderance of numbers, to overcome three men. You three faced the armed might of Philistia and heaped up the dead around you.”

Eleazar gazed at Ittai in fascination, never having been privileged to hear, in such a manner, the thoughts of an enemy. Who am I, O Lord, he wondered, to be chosen to live when so many have fallen round about me.

“The death of Goliath was shocking, but the gods withdraw their favor, sometimes, from even the most fearsome warriors. Pas Dammin, however, made me wonder: is there really any credence to this Yahweh of yours? What or who upheld you? How could not even one sword stroke from hundreds of swords have wounded you, or one arrow from hundreds launched not have pierced you? Eleazar, tell me how three men triumphed over thousands.”

“Our God lives. He alone gives strength and courage, on the day of battle. This I know, though I cannot say how. My hand remained frozen to the hilt of my sword after that battle. I could not release it, even though I tried. I have longed to release the sword, since then, but I cannot.”

“It has been said,” spoke Ittai, “that he who takes up the sword will die by the sword. There is truth in this, perhaps?”

“It is God who has put the sword into my hand and given me skill to use it. One day, I will lay it down, and God alone knows whether that will be in death, on a battlefield somewhere, or whether it will hang, rusting, as I live out my life and die in my bed, old and full of years.”

“I have thought about that day often. When I die, I would have the end come while I make my stand in battle, covering myself in glory as you did at Pas Dammin.”

“And when I die, I would have the angel of death find me in bed, in my wife’s embrace,” Eleazar remarked with a smile. Ittai laughed again, and Eleazar joined him.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Not What I Had Planned

Conflict resolution.

It's an art form, I've heard. And I'm no artist.

Still, we ask God's guidance, for wisdom in dealing with conflict in our lives; and the strength and courage to do what we know is right.

I personally wish conflict would just go away, you know, work itself out. That's not how it usually goes.

Is it true that something is lost for everything gained?

I pray that relationships broken in the course of making hard decisions might be restored.

After all, God DID answer my prayer that this conflict would be resolved.

But it wasn't what I had planned.

He allowed me to fumble and bungle and generally make a mess.
That's how He works much of the time.

Knowing that does not make it any less painful.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Who's the Boss?

My eldest daughter pointed out, some time back, that out of least one of my broken relationships, something good resulted. Three somethings I replied, referring to her and her sisters.

As I considered that, it seemed that I was still wide of the mark; out of my sin and selfishness, God brought something good.

A clan has grown from the relationships of these three sisters. A clan in the good sense of the word. These three ladies have come together with their families to form an extended network of mutual love and support.

That's something.

Which brings us right back to God. And Romans 8: 28-29.

So I fumble and stumble through this life. I used to want to handle life by myself ("My Life"). I've learned (which is Something, for me) the fallacy of that notion.

So to my oldest three: I thank God for you and the women you've become. I failed but He did not. He never will. Lean on Him.

To my youngest: I thank God for you. Try to understand that He has has much better things in store than anything we could ask or imagine.

And He's still in charge.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Revenge, Grace and the Pharisee

A friend recently mentioned an incident that occurred in one of his college classes: he was stating his views against abortion when one of his classmates expressed strong opposition to his viewpoint in an insulting and condescending manner.

My response was to ask if he had prayed; for her and for himself.

Having struggled with a bad temper and a quick lip for many years, I have attempted (with varying degrees of success) to follow this formula: pray for the offender (for God's grace and forgiveness), then pray for myself.

If I am honest, I find myself constantly in need of forgiveness.

You see, I have tended to speak quickly and without regard to any possible offensiveness in my conversation (a shock, no doubt to those of you who know me).

I've noticed this: there's a Pharisee inside, waiting to come out and be arrogant and condemning. I hate him and I'm trying to kill him.

Pray for the guy with the Pharisee.

Pray for God's grace.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

With the Kisses of His Mouth

In early autumn, The Three approached Ziklag from the south, after a raid into the Negev against the Geshurites. As they filed through the city gate, Eleazar saw Naarah, standing there, waiting. Slapping Shammah’s shoulder, he fell out of the column and walked toward the young woman, drinking her in with his eyes. He was certain there was no more beautiful woman in all Israel.

“I see God has spared you to fight another day,” she spoke, the faintest of smiles at the corners of her lips.

“Only to be slain by the sight of your beauty,” Eleazar replied, as they walked together. Naarah ducked her head to hide the flush that colored her cheeks. It was the first time, since he had known her, that she had been even momentarily at a loss for words.

“Come now, where is your tongue?” he teased her. “Where are the jesting words that always spring from your lips whenever we meet?”

“Merely a moment of mourning for the slain warrior, laid low by what he mistakes for beauty. You have stayed too long in the desert sun”

“Truly, no flower of the desert is as lovely as you, and even the sun could not dazzle my eyes as much as the vision of you today, standing at the city gate.”

At these words, Naarah blushed again and suppressed a giggle. They walked on, in silence. Eleazar struggled for the words to say, but it was Naarah who finally spoke.

“Ethan and I would like for you to come and dine with us this evening. It is his birthday.” She stopped and turned to face him. Though she stood only a few inches shorter than Eleazar, he felt like a block of raw granite beside a gazelle, when standing close to her. It was all he could do to keep from sweeping her up in his arms and crushing her to himself. He forced these thoughts from his mind and tried to concentrate on what she was saying.

“And how old is my young warrior today?”

“He is seven. I must warn you, if you haven’t noticed, that my son is growing quite attached to you.”

“And I to him.” Eleazar hesitated for a moment, then plunged ahead. “I must also warn you, in case you haven’t noticed, that I am becoming even more attached to Ethan’s mother.” Naarah pondered his words in silence, her eyes downcast. When she spoke at last, she gazed up at him.

“I have noticed, and I am glad that you are becoming a part of our lives.”

“I would be happy to dine with you and your son.”

That evening, after they had eaten, Rahel excused herself on some pretext or other and talked Ethan into going with her. There was a brief, uncomfortable silence between Eleazar and his hostess. Although they had been acquainted for nearly six months, this was the first time they had been alone together. At a momentary loss for words, Eleazar opened with the time-honored military strategy of the indirect approach.

“We will be leaving Ziklag soon,” he said.

“Oh?” Naarah feigned surprise though she too had heard the rumours that David might be moving his force back to Judah.

“Yes, the elders of the tribe of Judah have sent delegations to David. Word is they will ask him to be king in Judah.”

“They are his kinsmen, after all.” Unable to make small talk any longer, Eleazar spoke what had long been on his heart.

“Naarah, I want you and Ethan to go with me. Wherever it is David leads us.” She seemed truly surprised at his words.

“Eleazar, are you asking me to be a soldier’s wife?”

“I am, but I do not ask for your decision at once. You are aware, I know, of the sorrow and separation that the wife of one who carries the sword must endure.” He looked intently at this beautiful woman. Her raven hair fell about her face as she studied the ground between them. For a heart-stopping moment he knew what her answer must be. Then she raised her eyes to gaze into his, a tender gaze which lingered as she spoke.

“I only feared that it might be too soon for you. After your terrible loss.” She reached her hand out to touch his tanned, bearded cheek. “Yes, Eleazar. Yes, I will be a soldier’s wife. I will wait for you when you are away, and pray every night for your safe return and that you might prevail over Israel’s enemies.”

Eleazar then did what he had wanted to do ever since the first time he saw her: he held her to him and kissed her, tasting her lips for the first time, not wanting to ever let go.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Woman Needs Man and a Man Must Have His Mate.

That, no one can deny.

People plan vacations.
People plan birthday parties.
People plan weddings.
People even plan cookouts in their back yard.

So how come nobody I know has ever planned a relationship?
They just happen, right?

I'm talking male-female here. The old fatal attraction, you know? So how do these things get started? What is the attraction, really?

What I mean is: What makes you so sure you are in (dare I say it?) love? You hardly know the person.

Could it be (more times than I care to admit) that it's because she was attracted to me? How on earth could I resist someone with such impeccable taste?

Honestly, it seems like such a big ole crap shoot. There's this huge divide between male and female outlooks and it's going to take nothing less than a miracle for us to stand one another after the novelty of the situation wears off.

Gotta be some kind of higher power at work here.


(more to come?)

You Must Remember This

Me and Joycie have been me and Joycie for twenty-seven years now.

I have to really concentrate to recall a time when we were not us.

And that time, once recalled, seems nothing but a long, depressing series of broken relationships. But that's unfair, isn't it? After all there must have been something there or there wouldn't have been these relationships.

Yet those failed where this one endured.

How is that?

I could say that I'm a better person now.


Nah, that wouldn't be totally honest.

We do sometimes tease each other, saying: "Well, you know I'm a much better person than old so-snd-so you used to hang out with."

But setting all kidding aside (if only for a moment), it seems to have something to do with that old cliche about chemistry: some things you mix together and get an explosion, broken glass and disaster all around; other times it's like mixing chocolate syrup and milk and you get a new thing that's much more delightful and sweet than mere chocolate syrup and milk all by themselves.

In case you haven't guessed, I'm the chocolate syrup: dark, rich and exciting.

(to be continued)

Monday, May 23, 2011

From Everlasting to Everlasting

On the tenth day of Tishri, much ,if not all, of Israel gathered at Ramah. A host of people representing each of the twelve tribes was present, each man, woman and child having fasted since sunset of the previous day. Ramah sat upon a low flat hill in the central highlands and the plateau around the town was sprinkled with the colors of a multitude of tents. At the outer edge of the village stood the Tabernacle of the LORD, prominent with its covering of red-dyed skins.

Samuel stepped to the altar clad in a simple linen garment. An awed hush fell upon the crowd. The sacrificial bull had been offered up to cleanse the priests and now a goat was brought forward. Eleazar stood in the congregation among the clan of Barak, his adopted family. Next to him stood a young cousin of Shammah, one of the hero-worshipping boys of the village. The boy, only eight, had never seen this ritual performed.

“What does he do now?” asked the youngster.

Eleazar took a knee beside him and spoke into his ear.

“The priest offers the sacrifice for the sins of the people.”

“But why must he kill the goat?”

“Because God knows that we are fallen creatures and unable to do all that he requires of us. The sacrifice is a symbol whereby the sentence of death passed upon Adam and Eve and all their descendants is carried out and our relationship with a Holy God is restored.”

“But how can this make God love us?”

Eleazar smiled. He himself had been a mere lad of ten the last time this rite had been performed before Israel. He remembered that day and his father speaking to him in explanation, much as he spoke to this youngster beside him.

“We demonstrate our love for God in our obedience to His commands, of which this sacrifice is one. By observing this rite, we express our love and our willingness to heed God’s word, though we often fail. Do you understand?”

“I know that I sometimes disobey my mother.”

“But you love her very much, do you not?”

“Yes, I am sad when I displease her.”

“Does she cast you out of your home when you displease her?” Eleazar asked with a smile. The youngster’s eyes widened with an expression of shock.

“No! She loves me.”

“Exactly so. And you love her very much and seek with all your heart to obey her?”


“So we also attempt to please God in all that we do and honor the covenant He made with our forefathers.”

“I know. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

“You are right.” A hush fell across the vast gathering as Samuel entered into the Tent of Meeting. In the very back of the tabernacle was the Most Holy Place containing the Ark of the Covenant. There Samuel would sprinkle the blood from the sacrifices to atone for the sin of the nation.

His task accomplished, Samuel emerged from the tent and placed his hands upon the head of the scapegoat which was presented to him before the congregation of Israel. His voice rang out.

“Hear me, O Mighty God of our fathers. We have sinned in your sight. Yet, in Your mercy, You have provided the necessary means of atonement through the blood of these sacrifices. May the sin of your people Israel be laid upon this animal and driven far from us that we might be restored to your fellowship.”

The handler led the scapegoat outside Ramah to be driven into the hills west of the town. The sins of Israel would thus be removed far from them, and from God’s sight.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Drink of Water

The three companions circled around to the north of Bethlehem through a series of ravines. They stepped onto the road leading toward Jebus and approached the village of Bethlehem at a trot, eyes alert for any enemy movement.

As Eleazar had observed earlier, there were no sentries posted on the northern end of town. They jogged down the village’s single street, weapons at the ready. The commander of the Philistine detachment never saw them. He stepped from a house in the center of Bethlehem and a well-cast spear caught him in the chest and protruded out his back. The two officers trailing him found themselves in a fight for their lives. Shammah’s battleaxe felled the first and Eleazar nearly decapitated the second with a whistling sword stroke.

Others of the Philistine detachment were likewise cut down without a chance to defend themselves as the three raced through the village like a torrent of death. The soldiers facing to thesouth became aware of the clash of weapons behind them when the three came upon the ten men guarding the supply carts. The comrades made quick work of them, but now the garrison was alerted and those not engaged in watching the southern approach to the town converged upon them.

Eleazar charged straight at a group of Philistines as they rounded the corner of a building. The gutting knife came out of its hiding place and was plunged into the throat of an enemy. His sword swirled in an intricate pattern and a well-timed thrust found its target in an opponent’s vitals. Eleazar pulled it back and spun in the same motion, parrying an enemy blow. Twisting his blade, he disarmed his foe and a slashing stroke sliced the Philistine’s throat. Eleazar caught him as he pitched forward in gouts of blood and using him as a shield, rammed the stabbing knife through the eye of the next man and into his brain.

Shammah retreated halfway up the stairs outside a nearby house, then turned on his pursuers. The double-bladed axe bit into the arm of one warrior. A backhand blow cleft the helmet of one attempting to slash at his legs from below. He retreated up several more steps then, planting the shaft of the weapon on the step below, vaulted over the heads of the lunging enemies. Landing behind them, he spun and swinging the axe in a wide arc maimed four men. One of them stood, mouth open in a silent scream, staring at his arm lying on the ground before him, sword still gripped in the twitching fingers.

The warriors facing Josheb could not overcome the reach advantage of his spear. He parried the blows on the metal-clad shaft, then thrust the point into the face or chest of his attacker, the razor tip slicing through chain mail like a hot knife through butter. Three screaming Philistines charged him at once. Side-stepping, he pivoted and lunged, putting all his weight behind the spear thrust. All three fell, pierced through by the spear, wrenching it from his hands. Grabbing up a sword from one of them, he charged down the street toward where Eleazar was held at bay by a group of the enemy. He hurled himself at the nearest, catching him from the side and stabbing him as they tumbled down. The others, startled by the attack from another quarter, were distracted for a moment and Eleazar, knife in one hand and sword in the other, danced in among them, slaying as he went.

Shammah retreated down the street toward his comrades, the whirling axe forming a curtain of steel between him and his opponents. The Philistines hesitated, perplexed at the sight of the three standing back to back to back. Josheb, sensing an opening, charged through it, toward the city gate and the well.

Seeing a small water jar on the bottom step of the well, he ran down, scooped it up left-handed and dipped it into the cool water, still holding the captured sword in his right hand. Above him, Shammah and Eleazar held off the swarming Philistines, the ground before them slippery with the blood of their foes.

By this time, David and his warrior band stood on the height above the town, in plain sight of the Philistines on the southern edge of Bethlehem. They dared not turn and join the fight taking place behind them. Josheb dashed up the steps of the well and toward the gate. Eleazar and Shammah followed close upon his heels. A spear rattled off the gate post as they departed Bethlehem.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Out Standing in His Field

They say to God, "Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways."  -Job 21:14

Stephen W. Hawking.

To look at his atrophied, twisted and misshapen body is to be moved to compassion.

How much more so when he reveals his atrophied, twisted and misshapen heart?

No heaven.

No hope.

Oh, I suppose he has satisfaction. He is, after all, outstanding in his field; respected and admired, not only for his scientific achievements, but for overcoming a body that does litle more than house his giant computer brain.

But no hope.

Unless he hopes for death. I've never heard him say.

O LORD, I pray for Stephen Hawking. He has no hope, though he is outstanding in his field.

And that is where you will find him, God. Out standing in his field. Much like a farmer after a disastrous hailstorm.



No hope.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

...yet will I hope in Him

Eleazar sat and looked on in numbness as the stone was rolled against the opening of the family tomb, carved in the limestone of the hill overlooking Bahurim. Shammah knelt on one side of him, his arm around his stricken friend’s shoulder. Rephah was at his other side. Hillel and the elders of Bahurim saw to the burial procedings as Anna was laid to rest with her husband’s mother, father, sister and brother.

In the day and a half since Anna’s death and that of the baby, life in Bahurim had come to a halt. Friends and family gathered around Eleazar to mourn with him and comfort him. In his home, his mother-in-law brought him a bowl of lentil stew. He refused and Shammah took the bowl.

“You must eat, my brother. You haven’t taken food in nearly two days.” Shammah’s eyes were red-rimmed from grief and sleeplessness.

“Yes, my son. You need your strength,” spoke Rephah at his other side. Eleazar accepted the stew from his friend’s hand and ate sparingly.

“I feel as though I have wept every tear my eyes could hold,” he spoke, at last, continuing to pick at the food in the bowl. “Surely I will never cry another.”

“Yet, you live,” Rephah said. “And your life will go on.”

“Why? After God has taken from me everyone I love, why go on living?”

Shammah sighed. Worse than the loss of his sister was the uncomprehending grief of her husband, his friend. He glanced at his father, hoping for words of comfort. Rephah patted his son-in-law’s shoulder and searched for the words that would help him make sense of things, words that would alleviate his suffering.

“My son, if it is God’s will that you are left after your loved ones are taken, then you must indeed ask why. For what purpose has He spared your life, you who have dwelt in the shadow of death since you took up the sword? Rest assured that there is purpose in all that the LORD of Heaven does.”

“What purpose, then?”

“Ah, my brave young one. Time will heal this deep and grievous wound, and time will reveal this mystery to you. As for your wife and son, there is no bringing them back, but you will, in God’s time, go to be with them.” Together, father and son embraced this man who had become such a vital part of their lives. Shammah whispered into his friends ear.

“Peace, my brother. For now is a dark time of mourning, for all of us. But as surely as there is a God in Israel, the light will dawn and with it will come joy.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why I Am the Way I Am

I was hanging upside down by my knees from the crossbar on the swingset when it happened. My sister was sitting in one swing laughing while I pushed the other one back and forth with my hands. In a moment of utter clarity, an epiphany I think it was, I imagined how cool and funny it would be if I did a handstand on the swing as it swayed to and fro.

So I straightened my legs. For a millisecond all my weight rested on my hands as the swing came forward. By some arcane operation of physics, my weight shifted backward and then gravity came into play. I overcorrected: a common mistake when dealing with the results of physics. That explains my landing on my face.

The grass softened the force of my landing but not enough to keep from knocking the wind out of me. I raised my head woozily and the swing struck me in the back of the head.

You might think at this point that my sister would give a shriek of dismay and rush to my side. That you might think so demonstrates your utter lack of familiarity with this family. She was actually laughing harder than before. I raised my hand to my head to check for blood and the swing, passing through again, dinged my fingers. My sister laughed even more uncontrollably and peed herself.

I swore revenge. What form did this revenge take, you wonder? That’s a story for another day; one involving the infamous “Vampire of Lexa.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Though He Slay Me....

Anna screamed. The labor pains had been frequent and intense for over an hour. She was soaked in perspiration, as were the two woman attending her. Kassia labored desperately, massaging the young woman’s abdomen, attempting to get the baby turned to emerge head-first. Miriam stroked her daughter’s brow and spoke soothingly to her.

“He is coming,” Kassia said. “Push as hard as you can.”

Anna leaned back against her mother and screamed again. Kassia could see the baby’s bottom and prayed silently as she worked to turn the child, knowing that one so small as Anna would be torn horrendously should the baby come out backwards. Only the anesthetic effect of the black cohosh extract of the buttercup flower enabled Anna to withstand the pain of the final push to bring her child into the world. Exhausted she fell back into her mother’s arms.

Tears streamed down Kassia’s face and Miriam watched in helpless dismay as Kassia removed the umbilical cord from around the baby’s neck. The little one, a male child, had been strangled in the womb. Kassia continued to clean him and was preparing to wrap him in his birthing cloths when the placenta was expelled. With it came a copious flow of blood. The walls of the uterus, thinned by the potion which had enabled Anna to push her baby into the world, had torn and hemorrhaging now ensued. Kassia struggled to stanch the flow of blood, but in vain, while Anna’s mother looked on and prayed and wept, feeling her daughter’s life slip away as she held her in her arms.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why You Gotta Be a Hatuh?

"From the time Cain slew his brother, man has perpetrated violence on his fellow man." -from the novel Field of Blood

They say Osama Bin Laden is dead. Some would say that the violence he espoused had at last come back upon him. Some would even say that the nature of his religion made him a violent and bloody man.

I wonder. The same thing has been said about the practitioners of Christianity.

Seems to me that out of our fallen nature comes the propensity to turn even the most beautiful things into something hateful and ugly.

Even "love" can be twisted into a degenerate cycle of abusive fighting and passionate making-up.

I am thinking of Fred Phelps and his unfortunate, misled family. How we Christians abhor the thought of this "minister" taking the name of Christ in vain.

But let me speak of this person of "Reformed" persuasion. I embraced the notion of God's sovereignty grudgingly, reluctantly. Even now sometimes I wonder, "God, why don't you save everybody?"

I already know the answer. I know lots of things, not because of my own native intelligence, but because God loved me and had mercy on me:

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

I know this. Sometimes I forget how I came to know this. So I become arrogant. I "get it." The Bible is explicitly clear. So why don't you "get it?" Are you SURE you're a Christian?

See what I mean? There's more than enough hate in the human heart to go around. The Greeks had a twenty-five cent word for it: xenophobia: hatred of the "other." It's the natural state of man.

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Mother Sang to Me

The one thing I regret never having said to my mother was a question: "Who sang to you?"

She sang to me. To us. From her we were given a deep and abiding love for music.

Where He Leads Me I will Follow. She sang that to me and I cried. Reflecting, I suppose, in some deep, subconscious toddler fashion upon the trials and joys of Christian discipleship. At any rate, she thought it was cute.

I taught my sisters to sing harmony. Three part harmony, because there were three of us and three notes make a chord. Of all the things I miss about making music, singing harmony is the thing I miss most.

The rain sings on my roof, each drop sounding a different note. It is as if God is singing me to sleep in the most soothing voice imaginable. A voice as of many waters and I am reminded what exquisite harmonies there will be in heaven. Isaiah tells us that all creation will sing:

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace:
And the mountains and the hills before you
Shall break forth into singing,
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Harmonious singing and rythmic clapping.

Who sang to you?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Dead Man Speaks

The yellow-red flame of the low-burning fire was the only light in the room. The old woman moved slowly, placing the objects around the blaze, as monstrous shadows flickered and danced on the walls. The black-handled dagger, point facing west, the clay bowl of pure water, the small container of earth were all arranged with care on the low altar.

Once again, she peered with a suspicious glare at the hooded figure opposite her. She feared exposure to the king’s agents. The silver shekels the stranger offered, however, were real enough and coin had been scarce since Saul had cut off all spiritists and mediums from the land.

“Surely you know the king’s decree,” she reminded the man a second time. “Why have you set a trap for me to bring about my death?”

“As surely as the Lord lives,” he spoke, “no harm shall come to you for this thing.”

“Whom shall I bring up for you?”

“Bring up Samuel.”

Staring deep into the guttering flame, she began to mumble the ancient incantation; words from a dimly remembered time when Nimrod was king at Babylon and all men spoke the same tongue. She sprinkled a palmful of wormwood shavings onto the fire and it flared a brilliant blue. A generous pinch of the red poppyseeds from her pocket caused a thick purplish smoke to rise from the flame and fill the room with its sickly-sweet aroma.

She uttered the last guttural syllables of the spell and settled back on her haunches, eyelids fluttering rapidly. The purple smoke eddied and curled upward from the altar and a dim form appeared to take shape there. The witch’s scream pierced the stillness.

“You are Saul! Why have you deceived me?”

“What do you see?”

“I see a spirit coming up out of the earth!”

She fell backward with a piteous moan. The scent of the fumes was overpowering and Saul struggled with the urge to run screaming from the close confines of the chamber. Staring at the apparition before him, Saul fell on his face to the ground, heart hammering with terror, scarcely able to breathe.

“Why have you disturbed me?” A thin quavering voice filled the room.

“The Philistines come against me and God has turned away from me,” Saul babbled. “I have called on you to tell me what to do.”

“Why consult me, now that the Lord has become your enemy?”

“But He no longer answers me. What shall I do?”

“The Lord has taken the kingdom from you, as he promised through me, and given it to David. Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.” The old man’s voice diminished as he spoke.

Saul trembled, prostrate on the dirt floor, weak from hunger and fear. A hand touched his shoulder and he flinched, whimpering as he did so.

“My king, you must eat,” the woman spoke.

He refused, but she set about preparing a meal and placed it before him.

The king of Israel ate his last meal.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


The priest raises the stone knife high under the blazing sun. With his free hand, he holds the drugged but struggling victim as he calls on the name of Huitzilopochtli, the sun god. His hair is matted with the blood of those already sacrificed on this altar high atop the massive stone pyramid. He is dressed in the skins of previous victims. He plunges the knife into the chest of the victim, whose cries are drowned out by the pounding of drums, and pulls out the still beating heart. He lifts high this sacrifice, symbolic of the life blood that will appease the god of the sun and strengthen him in his nightly struggle against the god of darkness. The limp body of the victim is kicked flopping down the steep, blood-slippery steps of the pyramid to lie in a heap with those already sacrificed. The sun will continue to rise in the land of the Aztecs.

The god is called Molech, though he has many other names. Set in a grove upon a high hill, he towers above his worshipers, bronze and silent. The acolytes stoke the fire burning in their god’s belly. The noise of flutes and drums is heard as the priest steps forward, holding the sacrifice, and begins his incantation. Molech’s arms extend, palms upward, from his waist and emanate a dull red glow as the idol is heated by the adding of wood to the fire inside its hollow metallic body. The voice of the priest rises in pitch as the flutes wail and the drums throb louder and faster. The priest raises the sacrifice high above his head. The heat from the idol is becoming unbearably hot and the priest’s voice rises to a scream to be heard above the frenzied drumming and the nerve-rending wailing of the flutes. The living infant is placed on Molech’s super-heated arms, its cries drowned out by the noise of the instruments. Molech has been appeased. The Ammonites will have rain for their crops and victory over their enemies.

A man closes the door to his study and lights a stick of incense. From a purple Crown Royal sock, he pulls a one-hit pipe and a small baggie of marijuana. He loads the pipe and takes a deep lungful of smoke. As he holds it in, his mind begins to experience the familiar floating sensation and his body relaxes. Now, shut off from the world and from his family, he can spend his evening playing his guitar or simply listening to music as his mind wanders through mist-laden corridors of forgetfulness.

On the other side of the house, his wife clears away the dishes and walks into the living room. Settling on the couch with her purse, she produces a small bag full of prescription bottles. Selecting one, she takes from it a green and white capsule and places it in her mouth, washing it down with a drink of iced tea. In a short while, as 20 mg. of Prozac begins coursing through her bloodstream and into her brain, she will drift downwards into oblivion and the disconnect she seeks.

Alone in her bedroom, their daughter sits cross-legged on the floor staring at the contents of a small pink box in horror and fascination. The chorus of Linkin Park’s “I’ve Become So Numb” sounds from the stereo. Little-by-little, she surrenders to the waves of despair washing over her and she takes from the pink box an Exacto knife. She applies it slowly, precisely to the skin of her forearm and the blood and the pain become her reality and her release.

Peace of mind. Now more than ever before, we seek it. We search for it, not in religious ritual, but in the achievement of personal goals. Relationships, community, even family are sacrificed in the pursuit of this new god, this old god. Peace of mind is a drug-induced high, a pharmacological numbness, even a rending of the flesh in an effort to feel. Something.
What is real?
Where is salvation?

The sound of a hammer striking nails echoes down the hill, across the valley and through the streets of the empty town. A cross is raised and set in place. On it, a man beaten and disfigured beyond recognition, begins the agony of death by crucifixion. The priests are there, but pagans preside over this ceremony while these “righteous ones” stand out front and shake their heads and offer mockery. Beside them women weep and only one of the disciples has the courage to come and watch. Crushed under the burden of human iniquity, the victim struggles for brief gasps of air in a haze of pain and rejection. After six long, slow, tortuous hours, he cries out with his dying breath to his God: “Father, forgive them.” The midnight-dark sky emits squalls of rain and the rocks of the city are rent by an earthquake.

God has provided the sacrifice.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Foolish Heart

Richard Dawkins on the existence of God: "There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

Spirit of Christmas Past: What is the matter?
Scrooge: Nothing in particular.
Spirit: Something, I think?

Dawkins whistles in the darkness of his own choosing. Nothing, he says. Something, I think. Nothing is not blind. Nothing is not pitiless, not indifferent. Dawkins is describing "Something." And "Something" has upset him, angered him, stirred up deep emotions within him.

I recognize this man.

I often ask myself, how does anyone who gives any thought to their life live without God?

Then I remember.

And I think this: to willfully persist in unbelief, in anger, in disappointment, in denial, is to acknowledge (in some way) God's existence.

God is there.

Even to the unbeliever

What torment!

Is this hell?

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.     -Lamentations 3:19-23 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hanging Ten on the Rim of Hell

Are you praying?

When we talk about our prayer life, everyone I know says, "I don't pray enough."

My prayers often lack fervency, are perfunctory, are shallow, and seemingly clang to the ground after bouncing off the ceiling.

In my Reformation Study Bible (p. 1432), the note on "Hell" says, "Those who are in hell will know, not only that for their doings they deserve it, but that in their hearts they chose it."

I know people for whom I fear the fires of hell. Not that I am better than they are.

Oh no.

In many cases they are better people, better parents, better neighbors; to my shame.

Good people. But there is no apparent desire for the things of God: no desire to worship him, no hunger for His Word, no compulsion to cry out to Him: "Abba, Father."

And I read statements like the one quoted above, or Jonathan Edward's Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

The imagery of someone suspended above the gaping maw of hell on a rotten plank or by the thinnest strand of a spider's web is one of horror.

Someone I know is skating blithely around the very rim of eternal destruction with no thought to what looms beneath them.

Are you praying?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Turn the Page

Going through a dry spell here lately. Drier than Ezekiel's dry bones.
What causes that, you suppose? That distance from God. Easy to say, "Well, unconfessed sin." Or simply, "The Devil."

Yeah. I know that. But it's more than that, maybe. Like this spiritual lethargy; the lack of energy.

I'm reminded of the Bob Seger song with the line that goes:  "And you don't feel much like ridin', you just wish the trip was through." Then it goes to that ominous sounding E minor.

Wow, that's it. I'm living in a minor chord.

We all know that the major chords are the bright perky happy-sounding stuff. Think Mozart. You know; God's laughter.

Whew. Gotta think happy thoughts. Gotta count my blessings (so simple, it's dumb, right?). Gotta get on my knees and confess that sin (I know that) or better yet ask God to reveal that sin so then I can confess and repent.

Gotta turn the page.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Grave

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. Psalm 103:15-16

“It’s supposed to be right here somewhere.”

The two men studied the tombstones, working their way across the older part of the cemetery. The markers in this section were small, lichen-encrusted slabs of marble, a foot wide and half again as tall.

“Daddy, are you sure we’re looking in the right place?”

“This is where she said it was; third row from the back, but she couldn’t tell which plot. There was a water-stain on the page of the register.”

The old man moved slowly, eyes straining at each weather-worn inscription.

“Here it is.”

The son moved to stand beside his father and looked down.


DIED NOV 3 1926

The old man knelt, pain knifing through arthritic hip joints, and with the wire brush he carried, began to clean the small stone.

The car crept along the asphalt path. The little girl looked to the right where her father pointed. Rows of weather-stained gravestones stretched before her.

“Look on your side. Which one looks different?”

“They all look alike, Daddy.”

“Keep looking.”

She spotted it at the same moment he stopped the car; not quite white, but standing out plainly from the gray slabs around it.

“There it is.”

He opened the trunk of the car and brought out a wire brush. She carried the white silk rose, and together they approached the grave.


DIED NOV 3 1926

“This is my grandma, Daddy?”

“Your Papaw Ray’s mama. She died just two weeks after he was born.”

“She has the same name as Aunt Deb.”

"That's right."

“He never knew where she was buried until ten or twelve years ago," the father continued. "He and I came out here one Saturday afternoon in the fall and he found it.”

“He kept it cleaned off?”

“Whenever I came home, we would come out here.”

She hugged her father, tears filling her eyes.

“Daddy, did he miss her like we miss him?”

“Yeah, I think maybe so. But he doesn't have to anymore. And someday we won't have to miss him."

The girl nodded her understanding and knelt before the little marker, running her fingers across the name on the weathered marble.

As she pushed the stem of the rose into the ground in front of the stone, he knelt and began to brush away the lichen that had grown on it since last time.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In Dreams

       A candy-colored clown they call the sandman, tiptoes to my room every night.

      He sprinkles colored stardust and he whispers “Go to sleep, everything is alright
      Roy Orbison (1936-1988)

We rode in the old Chevy pickup again last night, you and I. It had been a while, and reminded me of the first time. You drove then, I recall, because I had strained my back and didn’t want to wrestle with that big old steering wheel , and we stopped to pee behind some trees at a little country church a quarter mile off the highway.

I dreamed about my dad last night, for the first time in a perhaps a year or more. The dreams were more frequent in the year after he died. The one I remember best (the Pink Floyd dream, I call it) came to me several months after his death. Oddly enough, I have absolutely no recall of the visual elements of the dream. I could hear the acoustic guitar riff at the beginning of the song and then the opening words, “So. So you think you can tell heaven from hell…” and it was like he was speaking these lines to me over the recording. I woke up, and the song’s title reverberated through my mind: Wish You Were Here. Was he inviting me to heaven? I had been out of church for years, having gotten mad at God, and had no thought of returning. I couldn’t remember the last time he had broached the subject. I had made it plain that this was not a matter I wished to discuss. The dream haunted me.

My psychology professor told us that we dream every night and that if we make a conscious effort, we can remember those dreams. She had us keep a dream journal for a week. Amazingly, I remembered four or five of the dreams quite vividly. What did they mean? She didn’t know. It seems that the dark subterranean recesses of the human mind are uncharted territory. That’s the thing about dreams. Even the people who study them admit they haven’t a clue what they mean.

So we have these dreams and no one knows the purpose or meaning of them. Some themes seem to be common. Flight (actual or figurative) is one. A trapped, helpless feeling is another. There may be some oppressive person or presence causing a feeling of dread. Freud supposed that dreams are the outward manifestation of some masked traumatic event from one’s childhood.

        Have the lambs stopped screaming yet, Clarice? –Thomas Harris.

Is writing a waking dream? I read somewhere once that “Writing is a struggle against silence.” My first response to this statement was, “How pretentious!” Then I smiled to myself and thought that, with two women in the house, writing at our place is a struggle for silence. A struggle for silence. That phrase kept returning. Do we write to silence whatever it is in our heads that compels us to write?

When you’re in the writing groove; when the thoughts are really rolling and the words are flowing off the end of your pen or the tips of your fingers like blood from a freshly opened vein; it’s like you’re channeling the deepest, innermost depths of your being. Like a dream. Except you’re putting it all on paper. And if you don’t get it down at the exact precise moment of revelation, it’s lost; gone forever except for tantalizing glimpses and snatches. Just like a dream.

        In dreams I walk with you. In dreams I talk with you. –Roy Orbison.

What is being communicated when we dream? Who or what are we communicating with? Are we communicating with our memories when we dream? Not just with people, but with events long gone and half-forgotten? Do we escape the pressures (there’s always pressure) of day-to-day living to relive better times (as we recall them) in fragmented fashion? In my psychology dream journal, I recorded a vivid dream in which I was walking down a country lane on a Sunday morning, headed toward church. Petty’s Chapel Church on the Wire Road in Lee County, Arkansas (where I attended church as a young boy). Small clouds of dust rose around my feet as I walked alongside a wooden flatbed trailer being pulled by a small tractor. On the trailer were arranged several wooden cane-bottom chairs (from somewhere else in my childhood). Beside me walked my daughter, aged perhaps seven or eight (although she was twenty at the time of the dream). At my other hand walked my dear friend, Richard Smith. I sensed we were both younger than we actually were in reality (he in his sixties, I in my fifties). What was the conversation? There seems to have been earnest discussion (as Richard and I often have), but about what I have no idea. What was Sandy doing there? Simply walking beside me, holding my hand, though the other children in the dream, strangely silent, were seated in the chairs on the trailer. I remember her blond hair shining in the early morning sun that filtered through the trees lining the road.

        In dreams you’re mine, all of the time. We’re together in dreams. –Roy Orbison

When I wrote "The Photograph," I took two separate items: a picture, and an incident from his childhood related to me by my dad. As I linked these together in my imagination and on the page, it was as though my subconscious surfaced and I began to write; not just what I knew or what I had been told, but things that I sensed and understood innately about this man who loved me and my sisters and my brother.

I’d like to say “hi” to my mom sitting at home listening, and to my daddy, sitting on the fifty yard-line in heaven. –Rodney Tolar, color commentator-KFFA radio, at the Barton Bears opening home game. Fall 1998.

“Your muffler is getting a hole in it,” you said. You were always giving me automotive advice. Sometimes I took and used it, other times not.

“Your door’s not closed good,” I replied. “Close it and you won’t hear the muffler.” Or I can turn the radio louder, I thought. Then I woke up.

       Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream? –Edgar Allan Poe

I used to think that it might be fun to record my dreams for a month, put them all together and try to arrange them in some kind of order. Then I could try to categorize them somehow and try to make some sense or find some continuity in them. I would put the ones about my dad in one section, the ones about flying (I dreamed a lot of these during my first marriage) in another and so on.

We write what comes to us. Just as our thought life (subconscious or otherwise) becomes our dream life, so our thought life fuels our writing. We always hear, “Write what you know!” So what do you know? What do you think about, meditate on, dwell on? Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Just as dreams can reveal what is in our heart of hearts, the deep subconscious, so the heart, when tapped by the writer, can reveal wonderful things, awful things, things that can break the reader’s own heart, convulse him with laughter or terrify her into sleeplessness.

The real reward from writing might be found in what we learn about ourselves. As when we contemplate our dreams, when we read over the scribbling we have poured out on the page, we look for truth. Is it always there? A better question might be, “How great is your propensity for self-deception?” If what you write is true and real, you will know it. What’s more, the reader will know it. Then you’ve shared it and that’s the best thing of all.

       And just before the dawn, I awake and find you gone.
       And I can’t help it, I can’t help it if I cry. -Roy Orbison

Every time I go to Arkansas, I pass that little country church sitting in the middle of a cotton field off Highway 79. I always think of you when I do.

           Only in dreams,
           in beautiful dreams. –Roy Orbison

And so our dreams go unexplained. There is no conclusion to dreaming. Old men nap in the sun and dream of past glories, real or imagined. A baby dreams at its mother’s breast and smiles. I write, and dream of a day when others will read these scratchings and make sense of them. Maybe some half-formed idea in the pages I write will germinate in the mind of one more talented, more inspired than I. Maybe then, maybe long years after I have passed from this world, I will have fulfilled my purpose. My dream.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dreams of War, Dreams of Eternity

The lone warrior picked his way down the steep path that led from the Plateau of Gilead to the valley of the Jabbok River. After he had left Rabbah, Eleazar had run the first fifteen miles at a steady jog. His brain swirled with conflicting emotions. He thought of how he had been a soldier from his youth, and Israel had been constantly at war with her enemies, with only brief interludes of peace. He thought of his wife.

Finally, Naarah and I can be together, he thought. I can tend my olive trees and my vineyard and my sons and not have to worry about when the next call will come, to take up the sword.

Try as he might, Eleazar’s thoughts kept returning to the death of Uriah. We all know and accept that each battle may be our last, but today, almost certainly, Uriah was deliberately placed in the front line of battle and left without support. Can God’s anointed one do what I’m certain David has done? he thought. Laying his head on a flat stone, Eleazar fell into an exhausted sleep. Then the dreams came, as they often did after battle.

In his dream, he saw Uriah contending at the gate, as he had that day. Only in the dream, there were no Ammonites, but a crowd of giants, arrayed in Philistine battle dress. Eleazar tried to rise and run to Uriah’s aid, but could not and looking down, saw that he was bound hand and foot. The giants pressed the Hittite backward, but he fought valiantly, till he stumbled and fell. Then they were on him, hacking at him with their great swords in a fearful slaughter. Eleazar tried to scream at them to stop, but could not call out. At last, they turned and took notice of him, turned and advanced inexorably toward him as he strained to free himself. When he looked up at them again, there were not giants there, but warriors, with stumps of legs or arms, or with smashed faces, or crushed skulls; men Eleazar had slain in battle, coming to exact their revenge; closer, and closer, and closer.

Eleazar started from the sweat-soaked dream. He shivered, in spite of himself, as the images of horror replayed themselves in his mind.

“You suffer from evil dreams, my son.”

Looking around, he saw an old, but richly dressed man squatted on the opposite side of his dying campfire. The ancient one was gazing at Eleazar in contemplative fashion.

“Did you speak to me?”

“I said, ‘you suffer from evil dreams.’”

“I sometimes do on the evening after a battle. Many soldiers do, I am told.”

“Ah, you are one King David’s men, then. How goes the siege at Rabbah?”

“Poorly.” Eleazar felt no desire to discuss the day’s events with this ancient, nor did he see the need to inform the stranger that he no longer carried a sword for David. Come to think of it, he reflected, his sword was still sticking in the ground in Joab’s tent. He smiled at the thought.

“Yet you smile, things must not be as bad as you say.”

“I smile because I am going home to my wife. Who are you, old man? And why do you roam the high pasturelands of Gilead at night? You’re not dressed as a shepherd.”

“Can only warriors and shepherds roam at will throughout Israel? Surely, the children of Israel ceased to be slaves when God brought them up out of Egypt.”

“Our people have been slaves in this land, as well,” Eleazar replied. “A man of your years must remember the days of Saul, when the Philistines had forbidden to us the very weapons of resistance. Perhaps it is well that warriors such as I roam the land so that ancient ones such as you may remain safely in their houses at night.” This response brought a smile to the face of the stranger. He studied Eleazar in silence before he spoke again.

“It is well, indeed, that God has raised up men like yourself, to do battle with Israel’s enemies. Yet you have troubling dreams, and always after the slaughter of battle, you say.”

Eleazar nodded acknowledgement. He was loath to discuss his dreams or their possible implications with this stranger, but something about the old man’s demeanor invited intimacy, and drew Eleazar to express his innermost thoughts.

“I am counted a great warrior by my people,“ he said without pride, “and it is true, many have fallen by my sword. It seems strange, however, that an accident of birth has made me an Israelite and my enemy a Philistine, or Jebusite or an Ammonite. What if the situation was reversed? Would I be a mighty warrior, still, in God’s eyes, though I were slaying his chosen people?”

“Eleazar, you have nothing but what has been given to you.” Eleazar was startled by the man’s use of his name, and opened his mouth to question this, but the old one continued, ignoring his reaction. “No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength, but the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love.”

“I have heard David say these words.”

“The king is the LORD’s anointed, a man after God’s heart.”

“If you had seen what I’ve seen today, you wouldn’t be so quick to sing David’s praises,” Eleazar replied. Once again, the stranger was silent, regarding Eleazar as though pondering his fate. The warrior stirred uneasily under the gaze of this ancient one.

“Is not the king a man, even as you are a man? If you are troubled in your heart over those you have justly slain, in the service of your God and your king, how much more will God trouble the heart of the one who has shed blood unjustly? Do not judge another man’s servant, Eleazar.”

“You know my name, who are you?”

“Sleep now, my son. You have come far, but you have yet farther to go.”

Eleazar stared into the dying embers of his campfire. When he raised his eyes, the old one was gone. Looking around him, he slowly recognized the place in the light of the full moon. Long, long years ago, Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham had named this place Peniel: The Face of God. Feeling exhausted, nearly unto death, he laid his head upon the stone and sank into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Enough and to Spare

What is enough? What does it mean? How much is it? Why do we, at times, view it from a negative point of view?

exempli gratia: 

Enough is enough.

I've had enough.

Too much is never enough.

"Adequate for any demand or need; sufficient (says Webster)."

There's another perspective. The one about which I need reminding constantly. The biblical perspective:

"How many of my father's servants have bread enough and to spare?"

Enough and to spare.


And to spare.

Think of that!

"And now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or imagine...."

That's King James for "enough."

Father, forgive me for being so ungrateful.

There's always enough.

And the rest is gravy.

Thank you, LORD.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Somewhere South of Here

Way down south, in the land of cotton, where I was born, there are Baptists, Southern Baptists, to be exact. And they raised me to believe that if I would someday accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour (“personal,” as in “made just for me,” I suppose), then surely goodness and mercy would follow me all the days of my life. These Baptists (who were true Christians in that they tried to love the LORD with all their hearts and their neighbor as themselves) did all in their power to make my life free of pain, heartache and worry. I came to equate this carefree state of childhood with the promised “goodness and mercy.”

When I turned 23, Mark Twain whispered in my ear and told me that God was actually an old man, a judge seated up on high, way up there above his creation, looking down in anger. He said, “This God neglects his children (in my own hazy version of Baptist theology, all men were God’s children) and then, when they die, consigns multitudes of them to a burning hell.”

I looked around me at the misery and turmoil on the face of the earth (as well as the mess my life had become, thanks to me) and concluded that the Baptists were wrong, probably because they hadn’t read Mark Twain And so, for the next thirty years, I followed my heart; up one blind alley and down another. I imagined that mercy was an overrated commodity, not worth seeking, and that goodness must surely be a thing that one could find by oneself, if one looked hard enough.

Goodness, however, turned out to be extremely elusive, and though I thought I had found it more than once, I never did. I did find out that the verse in Jeremiah about the heart being deceitful above all things was quite true.

And finally, though I wasn’t looking for it, I found mercy. Actually, to be 100% accurate, mercy found me. Mercy came to me in the form of my friend Frank Dalton. He befriended me, and talked Bible and belief with me and even when I said something outrageous, simply smiled and sometimes replied “Yes, but don’t you think…?” which he followed with a suggestion that would cause me to reflect upon the things I thought I believed.

Mercy brought me to Antioch Church in autumn of 2000, and drew me in to the family of God as one newly born, where goodness and mercy were modeled for me by precious saints of God. That I haven't always exhibited these attributes should in no way reflect badly upon them.

Now that I think of it, perhaps the Baptists I grew up among had been too busy administering goodness and mercy, not only to their family, but to all within their circle of influence, to think or care about what Mark Twain said.

Now I am here today, at this stage of the journey God has ordained for me, his goodness and mercy having been poured out on me every step of the way. Surely they will follow me all the days of my life.

And I will dwell in His house.

For ever.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Warrior at the Gate of Heaven

The stench of burning flesh rose from the smoking ruins of Rabbah as Josheb and Eleazar picked their way through its once bustling and prosperous streets. High above the remains of his capitol city, Hanun, king of the Ammonites, huddled with the remnants of his army in the citadel set on an outcropping of rock.

“What I don’t understand is why the young fool behaved in such a high-handed manner after the friendship between his father and David,” Eleazar spoke.

“Apparently the victim of bad companions, and advisors who were as young and foolish as he,” Josheb replied.”Besides, he figured the Arameans he hired would bolster his forces enough to defeat us.”

“What a waste of his gold!” Eleazar scoffed. “You and I alone could have defeated the Arameans. They fled at our first approach.”

“The Ammonites themselves weren’t much better…. Listen!” Josheb halted, raising a hand. From the direction of the citadel came the clash of battle.

Shammah raced toward them, dodging piles of shattered masonry and smoldering timbers.

“Brothers, come! Joab has assaulted the citadel,” Shammah urged his two comrades.

“Why would he begin the attack without us?” asked Eleazar.

The Three hurried upward through the winding streets of Rabbah and toward the royal citadel. The shouts and screams of battle increased, lending urgency to their steps. Arriving at the open marketplace before the citadel’s gate, they beheld a mass of struggling men contesting the opening.

“Who leads the assault?” Eleazar questioned a wounded soldier.

“Uriah the Hittite,” the man replied.

At that moment, Eleazar noticed Joab observing the assault from a pile of rubble some hundred paces from the gate and raced across the square, followed by his companions.

“Does Uriah lead the attack alone?” Eleazar shouted to the king’s general. “Where are the rest of the mighty men?”

“The king desires that Uriah should have the honor,” Joab answered.

“Look, more Ammonites issue from the citadel. Now’s the time to send up reinforcements and smash our way through.” Eleazar urged.

“The king desires that Uriah alone should have the honor,” Joab reiterated.

Something in the general’s tone aroused Eleazar’s suspicion.

“The honor of what? Dying uselessly for David?” he shouted. Shammah and Josheb gripped his arms as he seemed about to fling himself at Joab.

“The enemy is pressing about him now,” Josheb urged. “We must go to his aid.”

“You must obey the king’s orders,” Joab gazed calmly upon The Three. “Stand where you are.” Joab’s bodyguard, handpicked from among his kinsmen, closed around them.

In front of the gate, the Israelites gave way, bit by bit, before the furious counterattack. Only Uriah stood firm in the midst of the melee, striking right and left with his two handed sword. Swaying backward to avoid a whistling sword-stroke, he countered with a smashing thrust to his opponents face, then ducked as another blow passed over his head. From his crouched stance, he thrust upward under the breastplate and into the groin of the man facing him. The screaming warrior collapsed as Uriah kicked him into the legs of two other Ammonites. Stepping and weaving with predatory grace, Uriah dodged the blows of the enemy crowding about him while dealing death and mutilation in the gateway of the citadel.

“Look, they’re falling back,” Shammah yelled.

The Israelites of the assault party edged forward to aid their leader. Suddenly, the Ammonites fell back, and for a frozen moment in time, Uriah stood alone before the gateway, then drew himself up to pursue the retreating foe. A flight of arrows sang from the ramparts and thudded into the torso and neck of the Hittite. His gore-splattered sword slipped from his grasp and onto the bloodstained earth as he sank to his knees. Eyes glazing, Uriah the Hittite fell face forward and breathed no more. The warriors of Israel stood in shocked silence that was broken only by the metallic clang of the gate’s heavy iron bar falling into place.