Friday, April 30, 2010

What We Will Be

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. I John 3:3

Little Sue was steadying the stepladder for Joy as she hung Bible mottoes on the wall at the Oak Street Bible Shop. All her mottoes were scripture verses. She did not care for vague, man made "inspirational" mottoes.

Sue handed up a plaque that read;

"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: I John 3:1

"I hope nobody buys this one for awhile", said Joy as she alit from the ladder. She stepped back to look at the display of Bible verses as Sue gathered up the wrappings and put them back into the shipping box. "I love to think of the meaning of this verse".

Glen stepped into the front area from the little back room. For once he was not in his "prophecy corner". He had been looking at cards on the rack next to the Chick publications stand. He had a card in his hand of a subdued but romantic nature. Rumor had it that rugged old Glen was in love.

“Which one is that?”, he asked, in response to Joy's comment. She pointed to the last one she had hung, with the quotation from I John.

Gary, in his usual station behind the cash register, had been taking it all in. "Yes, it is a wonderful thought", he agreed. "But you know what really intrigues me? It is the following verse, that says "it doth not yet appear what we shall be".

Some people swore that Gary had the Bible memorized, at least the New Testament. But he had open Bibles before him on the counter and would use the index tabs to quickly find his place.

"Intrigues you how"? said Glen, at his side, still holding the card.

"Well, the first verse tells us what we are, the "should" means we are now called the sons of God. That's now. But John says it does not appear what we shall be."

"I think of it all the time" said Sue, still holding the empty box, "it's wonderful to be a Christian and look forward to our life to come, but can you even imagine what it's really going to be like some day?"

"What WE'RE going to be like" added Joy.

Glen placed his "love card", on the counter and began to speak. He admitted he didn't have a lot of the scripture memorized. "I started late" he once said. But his gift was analysis. Glen was like a patient mechanic figuring out how things worked, and how they could work even better. "There is a clue in the word "for" he said. We today would use the word "because" where the Bible uses "for".

The others were silent, it was a treat to hear this patient man teach. That is what he did almost every time he spoke. "I believe it is saying we are not like we will be, because we will see him as he is, glorified. Now you know how John reacted when he saw Jesus glorified..."

Gary read from his New Scofield, "And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead" Rev. 1:17

"And this from the one disciple Jesus loved, the one closest to him", he continued.

"Good point" said Glen. "It is obvious things will be so different, so intense, I guess you could say, we couldn't handle it if we were just like we are now."

"To see him as he is now, we'll have to be like he is now", Joy summed it up.

"Absolutely true", agreed Glen.

"I wonder, will we have jobs"? asked Sue in a childlike voice. "I mean, if we have such wonderful new bodies and abilities, what will we do with them? Do you ever wonder about what we will do in eternity ?"

They were silent for a time as each person took in Sue's question.

"Did you ever see Stairway to Heaven?" asked Gary, the movie expert. "All the scenes on earth are in vivid color, but the ones in heaven are gray and dull. Unbelievers always picture heaven and its occupants as bland and colorless. But old C.S. Lewis says it has to be the other way around, heaven will be sharper and clearer, and we will be more alive and real than we have ever been."

"But what will we do"? insisted Sue.

"That is what we need to look into" replied Glen. "Our future jobs in the world to come would be a wonderful study".

Glen pushed his card across the counter. "I'll take this" he said. Gary looked at the scene on the cover as he rang it up. It pictured a man and a woman holding hands and walking on a path towards a light in the clouds.

Monday, April 26, 2010

In the Land of Melk and Honey

Rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep.
Romans 12:15

Meg had been serving as a Christian counselor for three months and was just settling in, just beginning to feel she might make it. There was a walnut and brass name plate on her desk presented at a little tea and cookies party by friends and officers of the church. She would look at it and think, Is this really me?

She was equipped with a degree in counseling and had a good solid Bible background. But, she felt, each person who came to her was a new challenge, a unique individual, and she was certain she could never be complacent, never really relax. Christian service was like that, you had to be open to new experiences all the time.

Besides her formal training, she had been given three simple guidelines by an older woman in the church, who had experience as a professional in medical counseling.

Mrs. Wyatt's guidelines were; never have physical contact with a client, use the client's last name at all times, and use "we" when referring to yourself. As in "We are here to help you", she said. “After all, it is more than a euphemism. You are part of a group, the officers of the church, our prayer support partners and the good intentions of the whole congregation.”

“These guidelines are to assist you in maintaining a proper perspective concerning your relationship to the client. You will be tempted to empathize with people to the extent that you seek to join them, emotionally, in their situations. We, women are particularly prone to this behavior. That is how God made us, after all.”

Mrs. Wyatt cited C.S. Lewis as her closing argument. “I don't remember his exact words,” she said, “But his example was of someone trying to rescue a person drowning in a stream. Unless they keep their feet on firm ground they can't pull someone out of the water. To jump in with them means you both will perish.”

The older woman's words made sense to Meg and she found it was not too difficult to work within their framework. In fact, quite often it was difficult to achieve empathy with many of her clients. Their problems were often due to their self centeredness and egos. Many were petty complaints, family bickering and feuds she felt they should work out among themselves.

Her last client this day could be different, however. His wife had died about a year ago and his family had referred him to her. They felt he had not adjusted well at all, they were quite concerned about his attitude and what they called his "unrealistic behavior".

“Alan Hughes, is here”, said the secretary at her door. A small, thin man, stepped in briskly. He had short, gray hair and wore a blue work shirt that brought out the color of his eyes.

“How am I doing timewise”, he asked?

“Fine, fine”, she said. “A little early, actually.”

“Well,” he said apologetically, “I really hate to take up your time. I only came because my family kept getting on me.I'm really ok, you know”.

“Well, Mr. Hughes”, Meg began. “I hope that is true. But your sister told me that you don't answer the door when they come to visit you. She said they found newspapers lying in your driveway from weeks ago, that you never picked up.”

“Oh, sure, sure,” he said. “I guess I was a little forgetful for a while, but I'm past all that now. I've gathered them all up. I've been going through them, saving the food ads, things like that. My wife likes to look at the food section. And the comics, too. She'll have a good time catching up on For Better or Worse when she comes home.”

Trained as she was, Meg was not prepared for this comment and those that followed.

She saw him looking at the soft drink cup on her desk. She rose and turned towards a little refrigerator on the counter behind her desk. “Can I get you something?” she asked, opening the door.

He saw the little red and white half pint cartons in the door shelf.

“I'll take a carton of melk,” he said brightly. She hesitated at the word "melk", had she heard him correctly? “Milk”, she asked? “Yeah, that's right”, he said, “just a little carton of melk. I just need a taste, really”.

She handed the carton to him and sat down across the desk. Where to start? she thought. Initial contact was always a little awkward for her. She was still learning.

“I thought I detected a little accent when you said milk,”, she began. “Are you from around here?”

“Oh, yes, born here, lived here all my life except for some time in the service. Melk is how my wife pronounces it. I figure it's the right way to pronounce it. She and her family say melk. They are from Germany, originally. Very accurate type people, you know.”

He saw her looking at the watch on his wrist. “It's my wife's”, he explained. “Figure I'll wear it until she gets out of the hospital.They say it's better to wear them than just put them in a drawer some place. It keeps real good time”.

Meg really did not like what she was hearing. Brave little man, she thought, You're trying to carry on without your wife, but this is not the way to do it, not at all.

“Mr. Hughes”, she said, with as much detachment as she could muster. “How long has you wife been dead, about a year, isn't it?”

He shifted nervously. “One year and twenty one days”, he spoke, returning to the reality of it all. “I know what you're probably thinking. You think I can't face it and all that, like my family thinks.”

Meg began to protest, but he continued. “Well, that was really the case at one time, I admit that. The day she died I went to the food store. I had to, there was absolutely nothing to eat at home. One of the last things she made me promise was that I would eat right. She said, ‘Now don't starve yourself. I'm afraid you don't know how to make proper meals.’

“I hated it when she talked like that, like what would I do when she died. But she made me promise, so there I was at the food store and she had died just that morning. I was having trouble driving, still in shock you know. I was afraid to park near anybody, afraid I would bang their car. So I parked way off from everybody and walked into the store. I honestly didn't know what to do. I got hold of a grocery cart and couldn't separate it from the stack, you know. I kept pulling and pulling.

Finally a clerk came over, a young girl. She pulled my cart free, for me. I didn't know how to shop. I was on automatic pilot you could say. I felt like you do in a dream when something is chasing you and you can't move your legs. Everybody was going around me with their carts, I was so slow. I didn't have any idea what to buy, my mind was so messed up.”

Meg wanted to say something, pull him away from this agonizing recollection. But she knew it was important for him to continue and for her to listen.

“I thought, what should I buy? I saw the bread display and I thought, get some bread. Bread is good for people, you need bread. I got whole wheat. She always says white bread is no good for you. I kept doing that, thinking what would she get, and that's what I bought. I remember I got pickles. She likes pickles, she eats them right out of the jar.”

Meg listened intently, straining to be objective, follow her training. He's having trouble with his tenses, she thought. He speaks of his wife as if she was still alive.

“I bought dumb stuff”, he smiled, “cookies, stuff like that. I even got some Hershey's chocolate syrup. I had a craving for something that was...”

“Comfort food? “Meg interjected.

“Yeah, yeah”, he agreed. “One thing for sure, I needed comfort. Something
to get me through it. Well, I don't know why I'm telling you all this, really. Except I wanted to show you how bad off I was then.”

“But that stuff is all over now. I wish you would tell my family that. You will, won't you? No sense them worrying about me so much. I'm ok now. You can see that, can't you?”

He looked at Meg, waiting for her answer. When she didn't answer he looked away, staring intently at a glass hummingbird suspended on a thread from the ceiling.

He's distancing himself, Meg thought. He's pretending this is all no big deal. How can I tell him it is?

“Mr. Hughes”, she began, “We really want to help you in this situation, but you must help us. To do that you must face some things about your present emotional state.” Too formal, she thought as she heard her words, as if they were coming from a text book.

“Mr. Hughes, I must tell you how concerned I have become as I listened to your story. I want to thank you for being so forthright with me, for telling it like it is. But now I have to be perfectly honest with you if we're going to help you.”

“People do certain things when they experience great sorrow at the loss of a loved one. They may wear items of clothing of the person who has died.” She saw him look down at his wife's watch on his wrist.

“They may continue to speak of their lost loved ones as if they were still alive and try to maintain this fiction by adopting their pattern of speech and so forth. This behavior is to be expected in the early days of the grieving process. But if this continues unabated it can be the sign of a very serious problem. I am a trained Christian counselor, but I am not a psychiatrist. But I will tell you this, there is a term for what I believe we have here.”

She looked at him as she spoke. He was no longer looking at the hummingbird.

“The term I am referring to is bereavement psychosis syndrome.”

“Psychosis”, he said, his eyes fixed on hers. “That means crazy, doesn't it?”

He tried to drink the rest of the carton's contents. His throat was so constricted that he swallowed with difficulty. “This is good melk”, he said. He reached to place the carton on her desk, it struck the edge and spilled. He tried to wipe it up with his sleeve.

“That's ok,” Meg said, “I'll get it up later, it's ok.”

His eyes were filling with tears. “That's what you mean don't you”, he said, bereavement psychosis. I'm crazy with grief aren't I?”

“Oh no Mr. Hughes....” Meg began...

His gaze was intense now, as he beamed at her. “Thank you, oh thank you, so much. You really do understand! You really do! I am crazy and I don't know what I'm going to do about it!”

His head was bowed down, his hands in his lap clenching and unclenching.

He began to wail, like a child crying for its mother in the night. “Aaah huh huh, aaah huh huh,” three notes on a descending scale. Meg pictured a limp body rolling down steps into a dark basement, an image of helpless sorrow.

In a flash, a question came to her, Will anyone ever love me this much? Will anyone cry like this when I die?

She rose from her seat behind the desk and came to him, kneeling by his chair. She placed her hands over his little frail hands and squeezed them as hard as she could.

“Oh, Alan”, she said,

“I'm so sorry, I am so sorry.”

Then she began to cry too, then she began to cry with him.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to Really, Really Study the Bible!

A Day of Foolishness at the Oak Street Bible Shop

As far as I know, there has only been one such day at the shop, so I thought I should tell you about. There have been times of piety, learning, sorrow, and laughter, the usual give and take which were later remembered with great fondness by these four friends, but never before or since any like what happened on this Wednesday.

I remember that it was a Wednesday, because before Glen showed up the talk was about days of the week. Sue led off, “I see them as different colors, Sunday is yellow, like daffodils, Monday is a steel gray, Tuesday is blue, Wednesday kind of rust-colored, Thursday is a neutral gray, and Friday is reddish, like autumn leaves.”

Joy rolled her eyes, as she often did upon hearing Sue’s arty takeoffs, as she called them. “Okay, I’ll go along, you left out Saturday, what color is Saturday?”

“Sue returned to her visionary state, “Oh, I like Saturday’s color, it is kind of a grayish pink.”

Gary was in the mood to join in, but before he could speak, the door swung upon wide and Glen swept into the room, with a dramatic flourish. He lifted one hand in a dismissive hello and strode to the table with the coffee urn. He slammed down a yellow pad and plopped into the folding chair. His face bore a troubled frown as he pulled a pen from his jacket pocket and poised it above the blank page.

This behavior was highly unusual for Glen and the pleasant mood of imaginative exchange was replaced by one of anxious curiosity over what had brought about this strange mood in their usually genial friend. Sue, always the diplomat, inquired, “Would you care for some coffee, I just made a fresh pot.”

Glen dismissed her gruffly, “No, I don’t want any coffee, thanks.” She tried again, “We were just discussing how we see the different days of the week and how we..” Glen cut her off, “I don’t have time for coffee and I don’t have time for foolish talk about days of the week!” He spoke in a melodramatic tone, “I have something on my mind which is very, very, important, vital, in fact...” His friends studied his face, seeking a clue to what this uncharacteristic bluster was all about. He continued, “What I am working on could change the whole direction of organized religion, it could save the world!”

This last was too much for them. They gaped at this man they thought they knew. Glen began again, but as he spoke it was obvious he could no longer continue his charade. He broke into a smile as he turned towards them. “I just couldn’t go on any longer.”

“What a relief!” Joy said, “I thought we were going to hear a replay of Nixon’s Checkers speech.” This went over the heads of Sue and Gary. Glen became serious. “Poor man, I wonder if anyone ever understood him?” There was a lull, then Glen resumed. “But I do have something I want you to help me with.”

No one spoke, so he continued. “I am trying to write a little piece on how to study the Bible, but..I wonder if people don’t get weary of being scolded and told how they must improve themselves?”

The question hung in the air as they all thought of the harangues they had endured over their sins and shortcomings. Joy spoke “Our preacher used to do it all the time. We had to call him on it. ‘If you had a fight with your wife, settle it with her’ one of the deacons told him.”

Gary added, “R.C. Sproul had some good advice, ‘Never use the pulpit to air your personal anger’ he said. ‘The pulpit is the realm of God’s words, not yours.’ Glen smiled in appreciation. “I do want to talk about how to study the Bible, not that there is just one way, but to avoid some problems. But I don’t want to do it directly. I sense that since you were discussing days of the week..” “What colors are they?” Sue interjected. “Well, since you are in a creative mood you can help me with my project, but with a different slant.”

“How to preach without preaching?” Joy reflected.
Gary squared his shoulders, “Say it in reverse! That will take them by surprize.” Sue brightened, “Through the looking glass, left is right and right is left!”
Glen wrote on his tablet before he spoke. “Rule number one, and this is so important, before you even open your Bible make up your mind what it says and what it means!”

Gary, with enthusiasm “First make up your mind, then read the Bible. Hey, this is going to be easy!” Sue frowned, “But what if you can’t make up your mind? What do you do then, huh?”

“No problem! said Joy with an air of authority, “Ask your friends what the Bible means.”

Sue added “Ask your parents. They can tell you what their parents told them.”

Glen began to write, “Keep it up, this is all good stuff!”

Sue clasped her hands beneath her chin and sighed, “Look deep into your heart, that is where you will find the truth of what the Bible means.”

Gary, not to be outdone, “Ask a priest, they wear special robes, they must be very wise. And how about a rabbi, get the old stuff, direct from the source.”

“These are all good” Glen said with enthusiasm, “But, what about seeing what the Bible says?”

Joy, with a severe look, “Glen are you quite certain you want to go there?”

“Yes, Glen”, Gary said, “Looking into the Bible would be like asking God what the Bible means.”

“You can prove anything from the Bible, it all depends on where you look”, spoke Sue with her Granny voice.

Gary was enjoying this departure from his usual sincerity, “I don’t know about you, but I would much rather argue about who the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 is, than look it up in Acts of the Apostles.”

“That’s right!” Joy spoke in a strong voice, “What did Phillip the evangelist know, it was just his opinion anyway.”

Glen stopped writing. “As good as all this is, and I think it represents some of the finest thinking of human nature, religion, and, of course tradition, But I still would like to include the idea of comparing scripture with scripture, and as Gary said, asking God what His books means.” And, Sue added, “Just to be fair, you could even allow people to pray about things they don’t understand. “

Joy concluded, “But praying and comparing scriptures flies in the face of a lot of religion. It could leave you open to charges of narrow mindedness and intolerance. You should consider that. Do you want to be a trouble maker, someone who upsets the church, or even someone who follows his own conscience?”

“Never thought of that”, said Glen. “I was starting to think for myself there for a minute. But I’d still like to leave it in. Let the weirdos have their Bibles.”

“And their prayers” said Sue. “There aren’t many of these people anyway, what harm can they do?

Glen drew a line beneath his notes with an air of satisfaction. Thank you, my friends, you gave me a lot of help. Now, Sue, what color did you say Wednesday was?”

"Brown” she answered, “kind of a nut brown.”

Joy’s face assumed a far away expression as she looked out at the street. “I wonder what the sane people are doing today?”

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I Found No Love

I found no love, so I lived on hatred, and hatred became my love.
Entry in Glen’s diary, when he was seventeen.

There is something about cloudy days, maybe with a chill in the air, that seems to drive certain people “inward” and bring out feelings buried in the past. Such it was at the Oak Street Bible Shop on this particular day.

Sue was recounting her miserable years in high school, with a bitterness so uncharacteristic of her usual demeanor. “I had almost no friends” she began. “I don’t know what it was I needed from people, but I do remember no one at school ever really touched me in any deep way. People were not unkind, they were just indifferent. It was like I did not matter to anyone, like I was not really there.”

There was an awkward silence, then Gary spoke. “One of my aunts said that when she was riding on the bus she felt like everybody else had something more important to do, some place to go to that mattered more than what she was doing.
She was such a broken person, all her life.”

Glen shared some of his emotions from when he was a young man. “For me, I felt people either did not care about me, or hated me. I felt hatred in the air wherever I went. I realize now, I was estranged, near the edge, really. One of my teachers, more perceptive than even my parents, told my mother, “Some day a pretty little girl will smile at him and his life will turn around.”

Joy looked inquiringly at Glen, fascinated by this insight into his early years. “Well, was your teacher right? Did a girl change your life, because you sure are not that way now, though you can be as stubborn as an ox.” She smiled as she said this.

Glen paused as he reflected over this long ago time in his life.
“In a way, my teacher was right, but the little girl was an infant, and though my life did not turn around right away, my path and my whole outlook changed.”

“I was out walking, far from home, miles to go. I was cold and starting to get a little wet. At that time I was hurting so bad I honestly did not give a damn about cold or wet, because what was inside was so much worse. I didn’t even feel those physical sensations.”

“I saw a car slow down, and a voice called out, ‘Hey, Glen, you want a ride?’ It was a classmate of mine, a rather aloof fellow, who never paid much attention to me. Maybe I looked as pathetic as I felt, I don’t know, but I took him up on his offer. His father was driving, his mother next to him, holding his baby sister. I was grateful for the lift and said so, and we rode along in silence. I felt I was a “charity case”, not a friend and slid back into my solitude. Then a little face peered over the mother’s shoulder, a baby girl, wearing a little bonnet. She peered at me with her beautiful gray eyes.

So many times, in those days, I felt as if people were giving me hard looks, I was really projecting my own warped feelings onto them. But this little angel face had no such look, just innocence and curiosity. I thought, “Here is someone who does not hate me, here is a sweet little being who is just reading my face to see who I am. I felt something melt inside me. I felt only love towards this little child. It must have been reflected in my eyes, because as soon as I had that thought, she smiled at me. She beamed! Honestly, I could feel myself change at that moment. We had connected. I had sent her love and she responded.”

Glen concluded, “The car stopped at my place and I turned to my friend and his father, ‘Thank you so much for the lift.’ But I was really thanking her!”

This revelation was followed by a strained silence. How do you follow such a story? Sue spoke tentatively “You reminded me of the Longfellow poem “Jenny Kissed Me”, you know, how a man weighted down by the world is lifted up by a sweet little act of love. I’ll bet you anything it really happened in his life!”

Gary told of a radio interview he had heard. “A young guy had been arrested for taking part in the robbery of a home. He and two older companions had invaded a home at gunpoint and tied up a man and his wife. The young man described tying the woman to a chair. During the struggle her dress had come up over her knees. He pulled it back down again. The wife said to him “I can tell you’re really a good boy, you’re not like them.” When she said this he felt a pang of remorse, he was touched by what she said. “I had never held a woman in my arms” he said, “I had never felt or given any love, then she said this to me!”

Joy, moved out of her usual stern demeanor had a story of her own. “I was shopping one day and noticed a woman pushing a cart, but not really looking at anything. She had a stricken expression on her face. I couldn’t even imagine what was going on in her mind, but I could see something was really wrong in her life.”

“Another woman was watching her too, someone who knew her, because she pushed her cart to where she was and started speaking very brightly, she was exaggerating her cheerfulness, flooding this poor lady with questions and little compliments, ‘How are you, I’ve really missed you’, not letting the lady answer, just gushing over her. I wouldn’t have used that approach, but the lady must have known what she was doing. You could see the light come into her friend’s eyes. ‘Somebody noticed me, somebody cares, I’m really not all alone after all!”

“It’s a gift some people have” Glen reflected, “women have it all over men in this I’m convinced. They will gather around a wounded comrade, and cheer them up. A man will just slink away, ‘He’ll get over it” he thinks.

“Who was it who said,” asked Gary “ that when women are in trouble they seek company and consensus, but men seek solitude?”

Sue concluded, “I didn’t have a little angel turn my life around, or a bevy of kind ladies come to my rescue. Maybe that’s why I am like I am today?’

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Too Close to God, or Not Close Enough?

A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night between my breasts. Song of Solomon 1:13

A rare silence had descended upon the Oak Street Bible Shop. Joy, seated upon her stool, looked over her little domain with quiet satisfaction.

Gary had turned off the embossing machine, having just imprinted the green leather cover of a King James Bible with gold leaf letters spelling out “Jean Kimball Taylor”. Such an elegant name he thought to himself. He gently burnished the words with a little piece of suede, loving the touch of it.

Sue was restocking the shelves from a cardboard box, carefully lifting it each time she moved along. Don’t drag the carton over the polished floor, she thought, don’t want to scuff the boss’s shining floor.

In the back room Glen was working with his multi-tool, fashioning an s-hook from a section of coat hanger wire. “This oughta hold it,” he said, referring to a cage of peanut flavored suet. The racoons had broken the little chain that held it to the post by the bird feeder.

Joy glanced at his work with approval. “I was walking around the iris bed the other day, and when I looked up I wasn’t three feet from a little woodpecker pecking away at the suet. He didn’t notice me until I got real close. Then he took off in a big hurry.”

“Must have been a downy,” said Glen with a smile. They get so preoccupied sometimes, they forget to look around, until you are right by ‘em.”

Sue looked up from her box of books. “Saint Francis said the birds and other animals were not afraid of him. They knew he would not harm them.”

“You feed’em every day, but the birds still act like you are going to hurt them. Makes me feel ashamed that that’s the way I am with God sometimes. He loves me, takes care of me, and still when I think He is too close, I get scared and back away.”

Gary put the green Bible into its box and slid the top over it. “Maybe we all feel a little scared of God sometimes. I mean there is a natural reverence, isn’t there, that we should feel? My preacher told about a young girl who thought nothing of hitch hiking all by herself. When her mother found out she did it, she freaked.

"'I’m not in any danger,' she told her mother. 'I have Dad to look out for me.' Her mother questioned her. 'Dad?' The daughter pointed up to the sky. 'You know, that Dad.'

“My preacher felt that was close to blasphemy,” Gary concluded.

Joy, thinking of her own daughter, said, “Well, I sure don’t like the idea of her hitch hiking. But what’s the difference between 'Dad' and 'Abba'? That’s in the Bible. It’s the same as 'Daddy'."

Glen had returned from hanging up the suet cage, and listened with interest.

Sue, holding her empty book box, started for the basement steps, then paused. “I have a friend who is troubled over how close we should be to God,”, she said. “I mean, how intimate."

The others were familiar with Sue’s “friend”, and suspected she was referring to herself in this way.

Sue continued. “She told me that sometimes when she can’t sleep, she talks to God, just like he is right there with her. There’s nothing wrong with that is there?”

"There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24," quoted Gary. “Isn’t God our friend?”

“Sure,” Sue replied, “But sometimes I want more than that.”

Joy smiled at her. “You mean your friend does?”

Sue blushed. “Yeah, my friend, but me too.”

Glen joined in. “Sometimes people try to make a distinction between what they call the Old Testament God and the God of the New, like there are two of Him. The Bible lets us know that God is not to be trifled with, taken lightly as so many do today.

"But when Our Lord Jesus paid for every sin that once separated us from the Father, the Bible says He opened up the way for us. We can draw close to God now. I heard McGee say that many of us think of God with his arm drawn back, ready to strike us with righteous anger every time we sin.”

“Many of us see our own fathers in God," said Joy. “I know I did, and still do. If we had a harsh father, that is how we see our heavenly father.”

“Or a distant father,” added Sue.

“Sin must be paid for before we can approach God. Oh how we hate to hear that! But it has been paid for. That’s the thing. The One who demands the penalty is the One who paid for it, through his Son.”

Glen grimaced, “I hate the sound of myself saying that. That’s not how I talk. It’s 'preacher talk'. Sometimes I can’t help myself. I slip into it is all.”

Joy looked at Glen sympathetically. “I guess we all do, she said. “But how should we say it, then?”

“I’d rather see it,” he answered. “Much as I like words, I think we overlook the scenes in the Bible, how things looked."

He opened his New Testament and leafed through the Gospel of John until he found the place he had in mind.

"Now there was leaning on Jesus bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. John 13:23."

“Like a silent movie,” said Gary. “What impression would you get if you saw a picture of God as a man with one of his friends reclining his head on his chest?”

“It’s okay,” said Sue, “I’m not mad at you, I love you. Come close to me. Lean on me. Everything is okay.”

“Your friend has the right idea, Sue,” said Glen. “We don’t get too close to God. Jesus showed us that. The trouble is, we don’t get close enough.”

Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Jeremiah 23:23

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Don't worry about the government", Glen said, "it's religion that will get you every time!"

...knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?

Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that deliverest me unto thee hath the greater sin. John 19:11

A group of men from high school age to late middle age, asked if they could meet with Glen. They did not announce for what purpose, but said they had heard that he knew the Bible and was not in the hire of any church. They felt that if anyone would tell them the straight truth he would. I agreed with the latter statement and said I would ask. I could promise nothing. If Glen was willing, they asked that he meet with them at the home of one of the elder men, located outside of town at the edge of farm country.

To my surprise, Glen readily agreed to meet with this group, not even knowing who they were. “I have an idea” he said. “I know the place and have heard of such a group of ‘concerned citizens’ as they call themselves. They may be misguided, and are almost certainly ignorant, but I believe they are good-hearted men”.
I did not understand how Glen could know about their intentions, much less how “good-hearted” they were, and told him so.

“Oh, it could be because this is not the first such group I have met with” he told me. “They come from a certain point of view that is not too surprising, considering how they have been lied to all their lives. They just need some information but mainly they need to learn how to think for themselves. That is an art that has almost disappeared from the land. I can’t miss this opportunity to at least talk to them. My conscience would never let me rest if I didn’t at least try.”.

So it was that a week later we arrived in my car at a country home, situated on about 25 acres, a brick home built into a hill. Its basement was nicely finished and had sliding glass doors that gave a view of a river valley and the sun setting behind a row of distant trees. Men were already seated on couches and folding chairs. They were conversing when we entered and apparently knew one another. After brief introductions all around, the man who had first requested to meet with Glen, made a brief introduction:

“We are proud to have this gentlemen come to talk with us tonight. My wife has taken Bible classes from him and says he knows the Word and is a straight talker. I know as a fact that he does not front for any particular religious organization, or as far as I know any political party. Please give an ear to our friend.”

Glen moved to the front of the room from where he had been standing by the fireplace. He had been looking at a large painting by Frederick Remington. I knew he liked art with a western theme. He began to speak. “I am complimented by this introduction, gentlemen, and will try to live up to it, especially the Bible part. Our country was founded by Bible people and we need to stay in that framework. It will save us a lot of grief if we do...”

As he was speaking, a young blond man in the front row held up his hand. Glen turned to him and he began to speak. “People always say that our founders were Christians, but what do you say to those who claim that Jefferson made a New Testament with the miracles all taken out because he did not believe in miracles. They say Jefferson was a deist and only believed in God as a disinterested force in the universe. They also say Ben Franklin was no Christian either, that he and other founders were Masons and members of the Hellfire Club. What do you say about that?"

Glen spoke very quietly and calmly,”I don’t want to disillusion any of you tonight, but frankly I don’t care what the Founding Fathers believed about religion. If they were off the track, gentlemen, that is their problem, not mine. When I say "founders" I do not mean guys in powdered wigs who owned estates. Don’t get me wrong, I do admire them and they are important. I don’t believe the world has seen the like of the founders since they died or ever will again. They were geniuses in government and in other fields as well.

John Kennedy invited a roomful of Nobel Prize laureates to dinner at the White House. He told them “There is more intellectual brain power sitting here tonight, than at any time since Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” I thank God for these men and the government they helped to create. But I do not look to them for my religion. They never tried to start one anyway. To them religion was a private matter and with that I hope we all agree.

When I speak of our founders’ religion I mean the common people who settled this country long before the framers of the Declaration of Independence or Constitution were even thought of.

How many here tonight are familiar with The Mayflower Compact?”

Two hands went up.”Good” said Glen.”It’s a start. Well look it up and read how these early colonists dedicated their enterprise “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith”. This was written and signed before they left their ship. The year was 1620! Quite a bit earlier than 1776 wouldn’t you agree?

I am not speaking for one group and against another. It’s just that the men who started this early colony were Christians and said so. If you were to read their creeds or confessions of faith I don’t think you would disagree with them in any serious way. They did their job and the Founding Fathers did theirs. They each had their part. But Christianity was well established in this land of ours before the Framers of the government were even born.”

I had a feeling this is not what the group was expecting to hear or wanted to hear. They most likely wanted to hear a defense of the religion of the Framers, and here was Glen saying that this was not important. Glen was aware of the impact of his words as he continued; “Men, I have a feeling you asked me to come here tonight to talk about something else than religion, or the religion of our government’s founders. I imagine your concern is a little more up to date. Am I right?”

A man of about 35 years of age, rather thin and with an earnest face spoke up. “You are right. A number of us are concerned about the direction of our government. We feel it has become a tyrannical monster that threatens not only our religious freedoms, but our lives as well. We think religious rights are fading away and being usurped by government. We are afraid the government is our enemy just as it always has been since the Romans killed Jesus and persecuted the early Christians. For a time our country was religious, but now the government is starting to gain the upper hand.”

Their were nods of agreement around the room. This man had apparently expressed the fears of many who were in attendance. Another man, older than the first two speakers, began, “After all, the Revolutionary War was fought against government oppression. Maybe it’s about time we do it again.”

Glen seemed to be in a jam. The last thing he wanted was a political discussion.

He began to frame his argument, “I won’t take sides on a political issue, either way. The only thing I know about is the Bible perspective on government, Old and New Testament. If I can be of any use to you it is from that direction. So let me begin by saying that government is not the enemy of religion.”

There was an instant reaction from the gathered men. Some asked who invited this guy anyway? Was he a government plant? If he was it would not be the first time. Almost every patriotic group had been infiltrated as had many churches. It was obvious to me that Glen had a hard row to hoe to reach these men.

“Well, as you can tell, I am not here to please you by telling you I agree with you on this issue. All I ask is that you consider the scriptures I am about to read with you. Just listen to the Word and I will rest upon what it says.” Many of the men slid down in their seats with looks of defiance, their legs outstretched and arms folded over their chests.

I learned later that Glen had faced such reactions of disbelief and even defiance, inside and outside the church. He told me that he relied on the Word of God to convince people, and not clever arguments. “Gentlemen, I present my case. My primary text will be from the Book of Romans, chapter 13. This chapter is, for many, a hard pill to swallow, but I believe it cannot be refuted. Whatever arguments we have concerning our attitude towards government must be in accordance with this chapter. It has been the experience of every student of the Bible, that for every major doctrine in the Word, there is at least one chapter devoted to it, sometimes much more. For “faith” it is Romans 8. For “government” it is chapter 13. Now government and our duty towards it runs throughout the Bible. But this chapter is the best single authority in the Word. Now there is no way I can present a comprehensive statement on this subject in one night so that is not my intention. My presence here tonight is not about content, but about perspective, how we look at this subject. Here is my first premise from Romans 13:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Rom.13.1

At this point some of the men muttered in defiance. Many, I am sure had heard it before. But they were not in agreement. You can prove anything from a single quotation was what they were thinking.

“Since our time is limited, I will site two familiar cases from the New Testament. It is hard for me to just pick two. There are many such cases where the Bible says that government is instituted by God for the good of man and is not the enemy of God’s people, many, many cases.”

“Are you saying Christians have no enemies, we’re just paranoid!” the speaker was a nervous looking young man. He wore glasses and had an agitated expression as he glared at Glen.

“Quite the opposite, sir” said Glen with a friendly smile. I remembered Gary once saying “Look out for Glen when he agrees with you!”. The questioner looked at Glen with a puzzled expression.

“I think we Christians are not fearful enough! I think we are asleep at our posts. But I am saying our fear and distrust is misdirected! I will say it again, Government is not the enemy of Christians!”. Glen had set them up, as he often did. He told me once how he loved such questions.

"Government is not the enemy of Christians, religion is!"

“Now to my examples, and remember, there are many, many more in the pages of the Sacred Scriptures. I will begin with the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. We all know that Jesus was crucified by the Roman authorities, no question about that. But let me ask you, Why?

Did Jesus ever speak against the Romans? Did he not pay his taxes and instruct others to do so? And what was the attitude of Jesus towards individual Roman soldiers?

Someone had brought a table for Glen to rest his Bible on. He opened it to Matt.8:5. “Remember when the Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant? Jesus said he would come to his house, but the soldier said he was not worthy for Jesus to come into his house, “but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed”.

When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed,
"Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel." Matt 8:10

Jesus praised the Roman’s soldier’s faith above that of any in Israel. Who brought a charge against Jesus that caused him to be crucified?

No Roman did. It was those of his own people, the Jews. When I say this, it is not to pit Romans against Jews. It is to contrast the Roman government against the religious leaders of the Jews. It is government versus religion I have in mind here. Let us look, very briefly, at the contrasting treatment of Jesus by Pilate and the chief priests of the Jews. There is no time for a thorough discussion tonight. But let us look at John chapter 19,

Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. v.4

When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. V.6

“ See who wants Jesus crucified? See who says, twice, “I find no fault in him?”
Government sees no fault, they want to free Jesus. The religious leaders say “Crucify him!” Glen was adamant, he was driving his point home. “Do you think this is some kind of exception? You will find this pattern again and again in the Bible and right down to our time. When the righteous are persecuted, don’t blame government, look for false religion. It never fails! What is that old saying of crime dramas, Cher che la femme? Find the woman. I say, when people of the faith are persecuted cher che la religion!”

I can’t remember in all the times I have seen Glen teach, that he made more points or made them more forcefully, than he did this evening.

“Let’s see how Peter treats the crucifixion of Jesus. I want to be sure you don’t think what I am saying is not just my bias. And please remember, this is not an anti-Jewish rant. It is, if it is a rant, against false religion Jewish or Gentile. We have plenty of both in our midst. Let’s look at what Peter says in one of his great sermons, in the Book of Acts. In chapter 13 Peter addresses his fellow Jews:
In verse 12 he calls them Ye men of Israel...

The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. Acts 3:13

Glen spoke so forcefully,”Let me emphasize that Jesus had to die for my sins and yours, for the sins of the Gentiles as well as the sins of the Jews. This is not laying blame on a race, but showing the instrumentality through which the betrayal of Jesus took place. Pilate defended Jesus, the chief priests demanded that he die. Now do you think if false religion betrayed Jesus, they are going to be any easier on you?

Let us look at a parallel situation with the Apostle Paul. Again, in the Book of Acts, religious people plot the death of one of God’s elect. We really need to read the entire passage of Acts 23:12 through 35. In this story a group of Jewish zealots plot to kill Paul. They vow neither to eat or drink until they killed Paul, v. 12.
They revealed their plan to the chief priest and elders ,v.14, who agreed to help them carry out their plot. Paul’s nephew hears of the plot and is brought in to tell the Roman soldiers guarding Paul. Look at the response of the Romans:

And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night.
And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor. Acts 23:23

“Men, who threatened the life of Paul? And who protected him?"

It was fascinating to watch the reaction to these words of Glen. Listeners changed their posture, squirmed, you could say. Some looked appreciatively at Gen, some seemed unconvinced.

Glen summed up the purpose of his words, “As much as I appreciate this chance to talk with you, I want to say again, my words tonight are not about content, a bunch of scriptures, important as they are. It is about how we look at the scriptures. If your minds are made up that government is out to get you, I beg you, take off your blindfolds. Your blindfolds are made of strips of cloth from religious robes! Paul tells you that God has instituted government for our protection. But False religion tells you government is evil.”

I saw a heavy set older man smirking at Glen, obviously contemptuous of his whole concept and presentation. He held an open New Testament in his hand. He was prepared to bring Glen down with a master stroke.

“I am sure that you, being a Bible teacher and all, are familiar with the twelfth chapter of Revelations?”

Glen and I have noticed that people who said “Revelations” often did not know much about the book. Glen said nothing, letting the smirking man have his say.

“This chapter shows who persecutes true believers and I think you will have to agree it is the final form of the Roman government you seem to think so much of. It says,

And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as he was born. Rev. 12:3,4

The smirker waited in vain for Glen to yield to what he considered his fatal blow.
Instead, Glen went into his Columbo mode. With one hand on his forehead he answered. “You know, I am so glad you read that passage from the book of Revelation”, he emphasized the proper form. "I had completely forgotten about it! But now that you have reminded me, you being a student of the Bible and all, I am sure you are familiar with the 17th chapter of Revelation. I’ll begin in verse 3;

So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. Rev.17:3-5

Let me make this point one last time. Is the final Satanic government evil? Yes, it is. But upon its back sits the woman of false religion! Until this passage is fulfilled, look out for her. “Cher che False Religion! Put the blame where it belongs.

If some evil, religious S.O.B. sends you an exploding package, don’t blame the United States Post Office for delivering it.”