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.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Jesus Dare

Would it be easier to be a Christian if all you had to do was press "Forward?"

That seems to be the gist of many of the emails I receive.

The point is often made that if I spend/waste my time forwarding jokes, pictures, cartoons, I should be all the more eager to send along Christian-related items.

It is true:
we are all in need of a Saviour,
Jesus is that Saviour,
those of us who already know Him are obliged to witness and encourage and uplift,
the world-wide web is an awesome way to span the miles between us.

So what's my problem? Just press "forward," right?

Well, maybe. But I have a few questions first.

Is forwarding Christian-themed emails the ultimate test of faith (they always cite Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26)?

How do I deal lovingly with the error contained in much of this stuff without being: snotty, condescending, know-it-all or holier-than-thou?

Is an attempt really being made to manipulate me through "Double-Dog-Dare" psychology or am I just paranoid (the 60's ya know)?


How come I feel just a little bit guilty when I press "delete?"

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On My Worst Behavior

Behavioral patterns. Everybody's got 'em.

It is endlessly fascinating to observe them in others. And to speculate on their origins.


Birth order?

State of relationship with parents?

Of parents' relationship with each other?

Psychoanalyze your friends and neighbors for fun (if not profit).

Uhhh, btw, don't tell them you're doing this.

"Are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at
yourself?"  -Clarice Starling to Hannibal Lecter

"I turned my eyes to the inside to see where my energy had gone."
- Lord Have Mercy  by Black Oak Arkansas

Look at Yourself  -Uriah Heep

Hmmm. Yes.

Don't even mention "fun," and give me another word besides "fascinating."

One thing. Behavioral patterns (especially the bad ones) are self-perpetuating and automatically activated.

How do you react to irritation or annoyance?

Not very Christian, you know, to snap at someone or bite somebody's head off (literally OR figuratively).

So how about just poking fun at them (here, let me deflate that ego for ya)? Harmless stuff, right?

Thing is, when you consider it by its real name: "ridicule", it sounds mean; even hateful.

Other thing is when you unthinkingly but automatically turn it against someone you really like and respect.

I owe someone an apology.

To the rest of you, whom I may have unknowingly offended, please forgive me.

Oh, and when you see me, feel free to poke fun at me.