A New Morning

Amazing how we take for granted the precise predictability and consistency of events such as this Hunter’s moon setting behind the Italian Alps–the peak catching the first glow of the rising sun.

But in my mind I keep returning to something,
something that gives me hope —
Hunter's moon setting over the Italian Alps
that the grace of the Lord is not exhausted,
that his compassion has not ended.
On the contrary,
they are new every morning!
How great your faithfulness!
“The Lord is all I have,” I say;
“therefore I will put my hope in him.”
(Lam 3.21-24)


Make the Effort


In today’s political, economic, and cultural climate — as so many leaders and people around us question, even repudiate foundational truths that have enabled civilized societies for eons– it is good to know that

  • gravity still holds a plumb line at absolute vertical — not sometimes five degrees and other times seven, or ten, or forty-five degrees askew;
  • combining your three apples with my seven apples, together we have ten apples — and not six or thirteen — and definitely enough to make an apple pie we can share with the people around us;
  • and that hard work and determination reap benefits unknowable by people who never make the effort.


Many Happy Returns

Greetings, oh wise and observant readers. Yes, I have been awol for a while — for good reason.

The past months have seen me finalizing the manuscript for The Orchid Murder: Untangling a Web of Unsolved Murders and Legal Malpractice, and the book is now in production (Right Line, April 2013).

What is the story for a reasonable hope within those five years and thousands of hours? There are many. Here are summaries:

— When the Lord gives His child a specific task, He provides all that’s needed to complete it — and yes, sometimes it does take years..
— It’s not easy to “Trust and Obey,” but what muscles ever get stronger from disuse?
— The strength comes in the trusting, and the rewards are many and unquantifiable.
— New friends and acquaintances can enlarge perspectives in unforeseen ways.
— Giving up when things aren’t working only satisfies for a few days.

I could go on, and I will. But not today.

The Father’s Chief Servant

(from John 13.1-17)

Jesus and His followers have survived a week of conflict; a week which built the antagonism of His enemies to the brink of boiling over into the anger and violence of His arrest. Now come brief moments of strengthening calm before the raging eruption of an evil that will end with Jesus’ death by crucifixion.

Those disciples have traveled every day, listened to His passionate teachings but without any realization they, too, will face that boiling over—and face it soon. They’re tired, they’re dirty, they’re befuddled and cranky and clueless.

But the Christ knows the full impact of what they face; the Messiah knows what must be done; Jesus knows what these men will need for them to survive the coming onslaught. So, as the Father’s Chief Servant, He fills a basin with water, straps a towel round his waist, and fills the role of a house slave. Jesus washes the dirt from their tired feet, massaging them dry with a towel, and restoring a measure of relaxation, of calm, probably praying for each man as He worked, knowing what each one—including Judas—would face in the coming days, how he would respond, what Satan wanted in his life, the decisions he would make, who he would turn to for comfort, how quickly he would believe Jesus was alive again, and what his influence would be after he realized Jesus truly was Master of all, including death and life. So Jesus prayed. Their Messiah mediated with the Father on their behalf, then He challenged them to do the same for each other.

Restoring the weary, challenging the complacent, bringing peace to the befuddled, interceding for those in the midst of the battle and for those facing antagonism, oppression, fear, and decision. By His actions, the Chief Servant instructed those in the house [of the body] what it means to serve each other, to be a true slave of their divine Master.

RE Jeremiah 29:11 and the Sovereignty of God

An Open Response to a Statement Regarding the Sovereignty of God.

A while back, some Facebook friends were rejoicing over God’s promise in Jer. 29:11 that His plans are for our welfare and to give us a hope and a future. That is a promise worthy of deep joy — it’s also a promise which must be taken in context, something that can be difficult to do when that context is the suffering of deportation and enslavement.

 My statement:  He’s telling them that the plan He has for them is to be conquered, exiled to a foreign land to be ruled over by a pagan king for 70 years, then at the end of those 70 years He will call some of them back home to Judea. That’s not exactly what a lot of us think of, though, when we hear that God’s got these great plans for us.

The Response: God’s plan wasn’t for them to be exiled. They brought that on themselves by breaking their covenant, and bringing on the discipline. God warned them over and over that if they didn’t turn from their ways, they would face the consequences. It’s NEVER God’s plan for us to suffer or be disciplined. It breaks His heart when we won’t listen and disobey. If they had followed God like they said they would, they would have only seen the blessings of the covenant.  I relate, because I turned away from God and made choices that had devastating and life-long consequences. This was NOT God’s plan for me. I am so deeply thankful that God is a merciful and loving God, who patiently waited for me to see the truth, and turn to Him.

My Open Response:

I haven’t replied to your message yet because I first wanted to ponder my thoughts and weigh my words carefully. What you say, above, has a depth of consequences and ramifications that, if true, would alter our theological reality—which is why the core of this topic has been debated for millennia. And I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I in no way have enough knowledge or intelligence to produce any kind of final word on the subject; what theologians have been discussing, debating, and pondering for generations, I’m not going to be able to definitively answer.  Please allow me, though, to share with you some observations and ask some questions, because it’s crucial to not be in error regarding the core of this topic: the sovereignty of God.

There is a divine tension here between two realities, like a rubber band stretched between your index fingers. Pulling one end is the reality of God’s sovereignty; pulling the other, the reality of our freedom to make life choices and bear, not only the consequences (good or ill) of those choices, but also the responsibility before God for the choices made. Scripture is clear that both realities coexist in infinite harmony.

Of those two, I think it’s God’s sovereignty, His divine Providence and position as final authority and Righteous Judge, that we struggle with the most. It’s tough to get our finite brains around ‘transcendence’ or to see how suffering could be His preconceived idea, but Scripture is clear that Christ was “slain before the foundation of the world,” (Rev 13:8) and “at the right time Christ died for the  ungodly” (Rm 5:6). If Jehovah would establish a specific, right time and intend suffering for the second part of Himself, why should we expect Him to not intend it for us?

Also, to say < It’s NEVER God’s plan for us to suffer or be disciplined.> is not only to assume that we know His mind but also contradicts Hebrews 12:  “It is for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline (of which all have become partakers), then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”  Or how could Paul “deliver such a one [unrepentant sinner] to Satan for the destruction of his flesh that his spirit may be saved” (1 Cor. 5:5)?  Or John record from outside time and space, “If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes” (Rev 13: 10)?

#1 ~ We always learn far more through suffering hardship and rebuke than we ever do during ease; even the cliché ‘taking the easy way out’ implies times and paths of ease are of little ultimate benefit. So, if this is our natural bent, the way we function, then God intentionally “knit and wove us together” this way for a purpose. And being intentionally fashioned in this way by our Creator would seem to imply He also intends us to experience those hardships and rebukes.

Why?  I think Paul gives a partial answer just before those verses in 1 Cor. In 4:20, he says, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power.”  As human beings, we can talk a good line, but how few of us ever truly repent and believe until we come to the end of ourselves and see who we are, our corrupt, immoral, sinful nature; broken, sick, depraved, and hopeless.

I rejoice with you that < I am so deeply thankful that God is a merciful and loving God, who patiently waited for me to see the truth, and turn to Him >.  Me, too!!  Preach it, Sister!!  But would we have gotten there if we hadn’t gotten to the end of ourselves? Would we have realized our only hope was in Christ Jesus if we never realized we were totally without hope in any other form?  Would we be at all inclined to turn away from anything we call our own strength if we had never gotten to the end of that strength and realized it left us in a dark, powerless place?  I don’t think so. And it’s at that point where we realize only the power of God is sufficient for salvation.

How do we really know that those horrible decisions we made, the ones that we must bear the consequences and scars for (and I hope you remember I have my share), were not part of His divine Providence for our lives?  It is precisely those consequences that led me to Him; without the pain from those choices, I would be an arrogant narcissist—and I’m not alone in that; it’s called the fallen, sinful human condition and was what caused Israel to rebel against God and to be enslaved.

God is either sovereign and all-knowing or He’s not. Israel’s rebellion and subsequent captivity were either known from before creation by an all-knowing God or it crept up on Him in spite of His pleadings and He was forced to punish them in order to keep His word.

That God never wanted Israel’s captivity to happen and, indeed, was powerless to stop it from happening is the very thing Reformed theology is fighting against today. Did God know or did He not? Did He ordain or is He not all-powerful?  Is He in absolute, total control over everything or not? If He’s not, then the decisions we make will affect His outcomes and what He does will only be in response to the decisions we make—we, in essence and literally, force His hand. If He’s in total control, though, the implication must include that He foreknows, fore-intends, and fore-ordains every clock-tick of all creation, including the suffering that comes from our disobedience.

#2 ~ Seeing God as Righteous Judge has taken an interesting turn for me lately. The last few years, I’ve been working with some high-powered lawyers in the Twin Cities, doing research for a book I’ve been asked to write. It’s been interesting to see the U. S. judicial system at work from the unique vantage point of being neither civil plaintiff nor defendant, neither criminally charged nor prosecuting, but merely an interested observer of some people who really know what they’re doing.

The reason laws are written in the first place is because people do things that other people determine are not acceptable; a civil society concludes that certain actions or inactions are detrimental to the on-going benefit of their desired social structure. They design laws and rules and regulations, etc., to say ‘this is the type of community we want to live in and civilization we want to maintain.’

The interesting part, to me, comes from the fact that laws are never written until someone has already done what it is the law says not to do; laws are written because man’s inclination is to do harmful things and make injurious statements; laws are accepted by a society because the people in that society have already seen the damaging effects of those behaviors and don’t like what they see or how they have to live as a result of those effects. The penalties for breaking those laws are included with each law as a deterrent to us—don’t do it or this will happen, not because legislators and judges hope we won’t break the law but because they know some of us will.

When Jehovah God presented Moses with the Ten Commandments, mankind already had a long history of doing everything on the list God said not to do. When He told the Israelites to follow Him and Him only, He already knew there’d be no one who could do it; the isolated few who would even want to would only do so because He was with them in a unique way. I think it’s possible God intended their story to be a sign, a shadow (Heb. 10) of how hopeless we are without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit gifted to us by Christ Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, resurrection, and return to the Father.

In Jehovah’s position as Righteous Judge, He knew Israel could not fulfill the law, that they would ultimately disobey Him, and so before the foundation of the world He readied His paints and brushes to produce a portrait of sin, punishment, sacrificial substitution, and restoration in the lives of those Hebrews.

Fair?  Who am I to say it is or isn’t. I’m not the ultimate Judge. One of the beauties of God’s design of salvation is that even one of us fallen creatures has an opportunity to know Him, to be called to love and worship Him rather than reap what we deserve and be thrown into the fires of hell forever.

God has made Himself evident to me both as absolute, benevolent Sovereign and as divine, Righteous Judge. God has shown me that I can trust Him to know what’s best for my children, even when, right now, it looks like they’ve fallen into the deep end of the ungodliness the world has to offer. If I thought their being where they are today was solely and only a result of the choices they’ve made and not guided by a larger, higher purpose, then what reason would I have to hope they would ever know anything else?

Immediately following Jehovah’s statement in Jeremiah 29:11 is, “‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (12-14a,23).

I am convinced that our Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End is not hamstrung, surprised, or changed by our choices. If Jehovah could give a picture of the coming of the Messiah by having Moses strike the rock for water only once (Ex 17:5-6 with Num 20:6-12)  and by having him place a serpent upon a pole so that all who looked upon it were healed (Num 21:8-9 with John 3:14-15), then I’m convinced that same God, not only foreknows we will fail and at times will suffer, but He has provided the perfect solution. “‘And I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile” (Jer. 29:14).

“For we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined conformed to the image of His Son … He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rm 8:28-29a,32).

– – – – –

Just as a side note, the movie The Encounter with Bruce Marchiano contains a good depiction of how and why both self-determination and divine providence are true, as well as the interplay between them. It’s available on Netflix.

Christmas – A Beginning

Hos 14:9 ~
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
Whoever is discerning, let him know them.
For the ways of the LORD are right,
And the righteous will walk in them
but transgressors will stumble in them.

Simeon saw the young couple among the jostling crowd. They entered the temple’s outer courtyard—no different than hundreds of other young families who ascended the temple mount every day. Yet something about them compelled him to notice.

They thread their way toward the priests. The young father carried a pair of turtledoves in a well-crafted wooden cage. The young mother carried their infant son; he would be almost six weeks old.

The Voice whispered to Simeon’s heart, ‘This is what you have waited for! This is the One who was promised!’

Simeon’s own steps faltered in his excitement. His heart beat with the words of the prophet Joel, Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not make Your inheritance a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should the peoples say, ‘Where is their God? He changed directions, angled his route to meet them between the porch and the altar. Isaiah’s words resounded in his ears. ‘Comfort, O comfort My people,’ says your God.

A cacophony of sound added to the tumult. The lowings and bleatings from the herds of calves and lambs and the fluttering of hundreds of wings contended with the chanting Levites and the hawking of the moneychangers.

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Hosea’s words rang clearly to Simeon as he waited on the course the young couple’s steps would take.

The Almighty had promised him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ—the King who would make the way of salvation. Now the time had come. The promise was fulfilled.

The couple stood before him. Simeon opened his arms wide to them. “May I hold your child?”

They stopped. Father and mother glanced up to meet Simeon’s gaze then they turned to each other. The woman smiled at her husband and nodded then lifted the bundle into Simeon’s arms.

Simeon cradled the child to his chest. He felt his warmth, the pulse of life as the boy stirred. He spoke aloud. “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word…”

Simeon moved the bundle and studied the child’s face. His voice rose clear and strong among the dissonances of the Gentile Courtyard, “…for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel.”

Father and mother glanced to each other, their eyes wide open. Turtledoves fluttered and cooed in their wooden cage.

Simeon heard the Voice.

It spoke clearly, spoke a word which Simeon knew he must give to the young, gentle mother who stood before him. A message that, in his heart, echoed like the words of Isaiah spoken hundreds of years before. Isaiah’s words throbbed through Simeon’s mind:
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground. He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.

How alike the words of Isaiah were to the words the Voice now gave him to speak.

Simeon’s heart ached for the child in his arms—distressed that eternal joy could only come through stark suffering, grieved that the crowds in the temple courtyard were oblivious to the presence of the One who would fulfilled their sacrifices.

He fixed his gaze on the mother’s wide eyes. She must have read the change of emotions on his face, for her eyes filled with solemn determination.

Simeon lifted the bundle to return the child to her arms and spoke the words the Voice had given him. “You are highly favored of the Lord. Behold, this Child is outstretched for the fall and rise of many in Israel,” he released the infant to her arms, “and appointed for a sign that will be opposed, refused, denied—”

She lifted her eyes to look at Simeon. He spoke quietly, but the words gripped her heart even as Simeon’s glance now included the young father. “A sword will pierce even your own soul. Opposition to Him will reveal the inmost thoughts of many hearts.”

“Simeon, have you found him?” Anna limped forward, breathless. “Have you found the Redeemer of Jerusalem?” She stopped in front of them and leaned heavily on her walking stick.

Simeon nodded.

Anna’s gaze moved to the young mother. “May I look at him?”

The mother turned the bundle toward the old widow. Gnarled fingers gently lifted the swaddling cloth that covered the infant’s face.

Anna inhaled deeply then lifted her voice. “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, Maker and Provider of all things, for He has remembered His promises and brought to us His salvation.”

Baseball’s Mess Gets Better and Better – from The Anchoress at firstthings.com

She sums up the entire situation beautifully!  Original post at http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/theanchoress/

Replay will Ruin Baseball

Thursday, June 3, 2010, 2:35 PM

Elizabeth Scalia

Last night, Umpire James Joyce made a horrifically bad call and robbed Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga of a perfect game:

Yeah, a horrible call. Yes, Galarraga was robbed, and Joyce will live with his mistake. That’s the nature of the game.

Now comes the debate: What should Baseball do? Should MLB Commissioner Bud Selig reverse the call? and award the perfect game to Galarraga? That question is being debated, right now.

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has issued a proclamation that Galarraga threw a perfect game.

Last night, on twitter, a passionate debate raged. A seeming majority demanded that replay be introduced to regular-season Baseball. “Limit it to three challenges a game,” someone wrote. There was a lot of talk about “justice” and “fairness.” People wanted to feel better about what had just happened. They wanted those in authority to “fix it,” so that no one would feel badly; not Galarraga, not Joyce, not the fans.

I and a few other hardy voices were raised in disagreement, arguing that introducing replay to Baseball will ruin the game; it will steal its soul.

I think the demand to submit the human mistakes (and the opportunity to rise above them) that make baseball so magnificent to the cut-and-dry legalism of replay is a misguided notion; it demonstrates how comfortable our society has become with recourse to the courts, with the idea that life–which is not fair–can somehow be made fair, by dint of authority.

After last night’s game, Joyce admitted his mistake. He sought out Galarraga and his manager, Jim Leyland, and owned it.

That’s manly, and graceful.

Galarraga, in turn, showed enormous class and grace in return, forgiving the umpire.

Character on display. You don’t get to see it when replays are enforced. Ruling by replay sends everyone to the tape and there is no human interplay between the wrong, who admit it, and the wronged, who accept the admission and then let it go.

Just moments ago, as today’s game began, Leyland had Galarraga bring the line-up card to the umpires, at home plate.

The ump behind the plate? Jim Joyce, who accepted the card with tears streaming from his eyes. Galarraga stood there, beautifully attuned to the moment and the man, while most of the crowd–understanding what baseball is, and that they now had the opportunity to be part of something bigger than a mere game–stood in the stands, and heartened both men with their applause.

The picture above may become iconic, for the moment it portrays.

On ESPN, a commentator watched and said, in an awestruck voice; “a terrible story just keeps getting better and better.”

Yeah. That’s baseball.

The home-plate encounter between Galarraga and Joyce was one of those transcendent moments which happen more often in baseball than in any other sport, because baseball is much more than a game.

Baseball is the teacher of lessons in courage, perseverance and grace. It pits one man, batter or pitcher, against an entire team and says “show us your heart.” Then, as Bart Giamatti wrote, “it breaks your heart,” because it is designed to do so.

But baseball then mends the heart it has broken, and in the most magnificent ways, in ways that uplift players and fans, alike.

Because baseball has no replay, the “bad calls” are part of the game, and because they are, so is the paradoxical transcendent lightness that comes from a heavy moment being shrugged off and allowed to pass.

Watching the game with your kids, you can point to a player who has been robbed of a hit, or a homerun, or an out, or a stolen base, or a perfect game, and you can say to them, “that was tough. Life is not fair, but see how this player is handling it. He’s not letting it take him down or own him; he is going forward with the rest of the game, because he knows that this is just one moment. He’s not getting stuck in it, because he knows that maybe another time, another game, a bad call will actually go his way. Things even out, in the end.”

Such moments are good for baseball, and it is good for the nation. Humility in error (or in the face of unfairness) and manly good-will are things we no longer see in a world full of puffed-up egos. They are examples we need to see lived out before our eyes, more often.

Imagine last night’s game, with replay. The “moment” is lost and cannot be manufactured. Galaragga gets a historic perfect game and walks off the mound, vindicated, but it’s an anti-climatic thing. Joyce gets corrected and overturned. It’s all “fair” but cold. There is no need for human interface; no need for apologies, or for forgiveness, because “it’s just a game.” Humanity is taken out of the equation. Athletes who no longer have to consider sportsmanlike behavior will be free to puff up the chest, and despise the umpire. Umpires, feeling emasculated and underappreciated, will begin to despise the players and grow more bitter with each overturn.

And none of that is anything like baseball. The lesson our kids learn? You don’t have to work anything out with someone who has wronged you, or own up to anything you’ve done wrong. Just take it to court.

What an unhelpfully bleak lesson.

If we have lost sight of how important it is to have visible examples of perseverance and forgiveness, of “letting go” and even surrender (the players, after all, go into the game understanding that all of their dreams will not come true, but willing to take the chances offered), then we are on a very unhealthy path, one that says only, “fix it, make life fair.”

Falling prey to the illusion that life can be “made” fair, when it demonstrably is not, we will lose our fortitude, and our ability to go on in difficult times.

Are we ready to give up the magnificent humanity in this game, and its insistent, optimistic lessons that life is a bit of a crap-shoot, but that you play it faithfully, rolling with the bad, giving thanks for the good, and looking forward to the next inning? I am not. And I bet most of the players are not, either.

Perhaps it is only wishful thinking on my part, but I believe it will be the players, themselves, who stop replay from becoming the arbiter of regular-season baseball. They’re the ones who sign on to play a game so fraught with humanity and drama. They understand all that will be lost, by going to the videotape.

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