A Bar of Chocolate.

I’m reading a book called The Last One Hundred Days by John Toland.  It’s about the end of World War II in Europe.  As the war neared its conclusion in Nazi Germany total chaos ensued.  It was a free for all.  Mass panic gripped the German people and every form of civility and law broke down.  You could have literally done whatever you pleased.  As you can imagine, most of the things that were done weren’t pleasing.  And not just soldier to soldier.  One account tells what  prisoners, slaves and concentration camp victims did to one another after their captors fled.  I had to read it several times because it seemed too gruesome to be true.  In front of slack-jawed American soldiers they celebrated their liberation by tearing each to pieces in a bloodbath.  I can’t imagine how our grandfathers returned from witnessing these acts of terror to live the lives they lived, build the country they built and raise the families they raised.  It’s utterly amazing and awesome to me.  I don’t think I could have done it. 

I’m also proud of what the American soldiers were known for as they made their way across Germany.  But first, as the Soviets advanced, and it was clear the war was won, they were determined to exact savage revenge for what the Nazi’s had done to them in Russia.  A part of me can’t blame them.  The Nazi’s had not been kind.  But still.  I won’t even try to say what the Soviets did to thousands of little girls in front of their dads.  And to their wives.  Before they killed all of them.  Civilians.  It was so bad the American soldiers encountered many a dead family in their homes.  Daddies and husbands spared their loved one’s by killing them.  It makes me happy to know that wherever Soviet soldiers and Americans were in the same place at the same time the Americans would not tolerate this kind of behavior.  At gun point if necessary.  It makes me sad to read that as soon as the Americans left and the Soviets stayed entire families would begin to kill themselves again.

Both Nazi soldiers and German civilians did everything in their power to reach American troops.  We were base.  We were safe.  And while the Soviets were known for their brutality do you know what our grandfathers were known for?  Dispensing chocolate bars and posing for pictures.  I wish I had the power over words to express how majestic and noble I think that is.  A bar of chocolate.  Or death. 

I love the United States of America.

P.S. John Dobbs was right!

This is addicting.  If I could find someone to pay me to blog I could do it all day long!  Alas, the clown beckons and I’m off to make Big Macs.  John, oh great one, I submit to your wisdom.

What I think of Baptism.

I don’t prefer it.  If it were up to me we wouldn’t have to be baptized for the remission of sins.  It’s just too inconvenient and controversial.  And I’m selfish.  When the church service is winding down I’m anticipating the restoration of my freedom.  The freedom to move freely.  To talk openly.  To eat lunch.  To be followed by a nap.  When the invitation song is being sung I dread someone will go foward for baptism.  It’s not that I don’t want them to be saved.  I do.  It’s just I wish they didn’t have to be baptized to get saved.  It’s a real time killer.  Then there’s the comments family, friends and ministers feel compelled to say “at a time like this.”  It’s little consolation to me, that for the sake of saving time, these things are said while the victim is changing “in the back.”  And after the baptism,  God help us all, because we’ll be here till tomorrow if that certain elder is asked to say the second closing prayer.  Which follows the comments he feels compelled to make “at a time like this.”  Which means my lunch time keeps getting pushed back.  Dispensing with the physical requirements of baptism would help everybody keep to their “gonna do’s.”  Which are to be followed by a nap.  If it were up to me eating lunch by noon on Sunday and in bed by Two would be the ONLY requirement for salvation.

And speaking of changing.  When I was baptized I had to remove my street clothes and don an Elvis style white jumpsuit sans rhinestones (Remember?).  The rhinestones would have helped because as it turns out the jumpsuit became a see through jumpsuit when wet.  My sister and I were baptized at the same time.  We were at the age we preferred to keep certain things under wraps.  The jumpsuits didn’t help.  (Oops!  I was re-reading this part and thought, “This calls for an edit.  Lest there be any misunderstanding let me assure you I am STILL at the age where I prefer to keep certain things under wraps when I’m in public.  And I don’t anticipate that changing any time soon.)

 The baptizer doesn’t get left off the hook either.  Although he does get to keep his street clothes on.  But they are going to get wet.  Frankly, I’ve sat under rain clouds that offered better protection than the silly waders which are provided.  If it were up to me clicking your heels together three times at the lunch table, precisely at noon on Sunday,  would be the ONLY requirement for salvation.  That way we get to keep our clothes on AND eat at the same time.

And speaking of getting wet.  I’ll confess, I work really hard to get my hair just so.  Dunking it in water and then presenting it to the public is the last thing I want to do.  I’m sure lots of ladies would agree with me.  And they also work diligently to “put their faces on” to please the men-folk.  Running mascara.  Gross.  If it were up to me having perfectly styled hair would be the ONLY requirement for salvation.  This would also allow those of us who do care about our hair and such to look smashing if we choose to go out for lunch by noon on Sunday. 

 Sorry John.  Sorry Al.  I guess ya’ll will just have to remain “unchurched” until you die.  Unless you staple something up there.  Hair-like.  Dark brown like mine.  And when I say staple I don’t mean glue.

One last point.  I don’t prefer baptism because it is so controversial.  Why?  I don’t know.  I’m wondering, if baptism is essential, who in the world or hell would have an agenda to purposefully muddy the waters?  Someone who is permenantly looking to settle a score.  Hmm?  Be that as it may since baptism is hugely unpopular and supposedly impossible to define maybe we should stop doing it.  If it were up to me the ONLY requirement for salvation would be a free for all.  That way everybody is happy.  And we can quit apologizing for practicing baptism.  And everybody would like us in the same way everybody liked Jesus.

I don’t prefer baptism in the same way I don’t prefer the speed limit.  My car will do 65 in third gear.  However, I also prefer to obey the law.  To avoid the consequences. 

The officer asks, “Son, what’s your hurry?”  I say, “Oh, no hurry.  It’s just that I prefer to go 95.”  As he writes the ticket or places my hands in cuffs I protest, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?  What gives you the right to punish me?”  He responds. “It’s the law!” 

 I thought my personal preferences made void the Law.  They don’t.  So, even though I prefer 95 mph I also find that I can simultaneously prefer to avoid the fine. 

I don’t prefer the speed limit.  But I don’t prefer paying the fines even more.

  Since the only thing I have power over is my response to the speed limit

guess which preference will submit to the other?

Here’s my point, what I prefer doesn’t matter in regards to the revealed mind of Christ.  I believe baptism is essential, and that’s what I teach, because Jesus Christ Himself told Peter what to say on the day of Pentecost.  Contrary to what others may prefer to believe Jesus said these things in words that were, and are,  quite easy to define. I reject the notion that, on the most important issue of any person’s life, Jesus would purposefully, or accidently lead us astray.  Why would He?  Why would He leave us, who live so far removed from his ministry on earth, to the whims of our deceitful hearts?  HE WOULD NOT do such a cruel thing, would He?

However,  because I believe baptism is essential,  doesn’t mean I have to prefer it.  I really don’t.  It’s just become too hot a topic.  I hate controversy and I hate to be thought of as narrow minded or opinionated.  I guess I’ve got a pride problem.  However, my dad taught me we don’t always get our way.  He taught me that submitting to authority is a good thing.  And, he also made it very clear to me that if I preferred to do things in his house “my way” I was free to leave.  I happened to prefer free food and clothes more than  I did “my way.”

 When I teach baptism today I do so as an act of submission.  Afterall, the one who said it is supposed to be our King.  I’d like to think He finds such humility winsome.  He might say, “Jesus, listen to what Craig is telling that person.  He’s saying something he’d rather not, but his desire to please me supercedes his preferences and opinions.  And I am pleased.  Well done!”

I don’t prefer baptism.  But I don’t prefer being lost to Jesus even more.

Since the only thing I have power over is my response to baptism

guess which preference will submit to the other?

G.K. Chesterton and Rich Mullins

In reading what G.K. wrote in Orthodoxy and then hearing those thoughts put to music by Rich here is some of what I think.  If Jesus said it, claimed it, announced it, preached it, taught it or lived it,  then it is the singular, objective truth.  This is true whether or not I believe it is the singular, objective truth.  My willingness to believe it is true is not the thing which makes it true.  It is true because Jesus Christ said it was true.  Period. 

When I have accepted what he has said as being the truth (and there are many compelling reasons to do so) then the truth is granted the power to make me who I am.  A child of God.

When people say such things oftentimes they are belittled for their trusting simplicity.  They are deemed naive.  I don’t mind being belittled in such a way.  I think someone, somewhere said it was good to be little.  Like a child.

Is God stupid? Is God powerless? Does God care about me in the year 2007?

Read this first!  I am a member of the Memorial Drive church of Christ.  I’m proud of that and proud of them.  I’m honored they let me be a part of their lives.  I trust my elders.  And I trust my pulpit preacher and the other ministers on staff.  If I didn’t I would leave.  What you are about to read is not a reaction to my church.  Like you I read, I listen, I explore.  And I have opinions about those things.  Just as the author, speaker and philosopher do.  This is merely my two cents on a few of the things I’ve encountered in some of those books/blogs, lessons and world views.  That’s all.

One of the things I love about Jesus was the way he taught.   Jesus taught, for the most part, using periods and exclamation points (don’t go Greek on me, you know what I mean).  In other words he DECLARED things to to be true or not true, to be right or to be wrong, to be good or to be bad.  He didn’t use a lot of question marks.  I appreciate his style so much because I really do want to know those things.  I want to know what is true and what isn’t, what is right and what isn’t, what is good and what isn’t.  I want to know what kind of person God wants me to be.  Don’t you?  For us to become the people He wants us to be doesn’t it seem logical  we need to know what he wants us to be?  And once we know,  won’t some of us have to change who we are right now.  And if we want to change won’t we need to know how?  A “how to”  manuel would go a long way in helping us know these things, wouldn’t it.?   Have you ever noticed a set of instructions for a product is really a series of commands.  The instruction to insert A into B can be read YOU MUST insert A into B.  Instructions are demanding by nature.  Two AA batteries required.  Really?  Required?  In this case a narrow mind is a good thing to have for making the product work properly.  I have the mechanical aptitude of a dead dog.  I’m glad new products come with a set of demands.  If not,  I would have been blown up or electrocuted to death a long time ago.

Unfortunately the instructions we were given, the Holy Scriptures, are increasingly being seen as a non-binding narrative of inconsequential, irrelevant ancient traditions.  Although the instructions still say “Two AA batteries Required” it is now a matter of opinion.  Their use is a matter of interpretation by the user and not the manufacturer.  For some,  our instructions have simply become a narrative of how God chose to live out his revelation  in ancient communites of faith which were lucky enough to exist when God was in the mood to chat.  I don’t like God if this is true.  He is a liar.  It means, contrary to what he promised, he really does show favoritism.  He favored Old and New Testament folk with a clear set of instructions relevant to their times but He has abandoned us to grope our way to truth – if it exists.  Allah seems much more with it in his ability to disclose himself to his people in a relevant fashion while using a set of ancient instructions.   And it seems to be working.  His people are convicted (to death).  His people are highly motivated (to death).  His people are an explosive presence in their communities.  And woe to the person who would seek to discredit their core values (the Koran) or undermine their children’s ability to believe in THE singular, knowable, definable, livable, objective, absolute TRUTH.  It would be better for that person to tie a millstone around their neck because sooner or later they are going to get shot anyway.  Too bad for them.  If they did those things in our “community” they’d get paid.

Did you know God was the original blogger?  His blog was called the Bible.  Here’s what I mean.  Some of you have been blogging for a long time.  Over the course of that time you have developed friendships with people you have never “met.”  If their blog is as plain as mine,  you may not even know what they look like.  Or sound like.  But  don’t you feel like you know them anyway?  How they think –  How they process information –  What they’re reading – Their own unique sense of humor –   The names of their wives and children – Hobbies – Likes and dislikes – Favorite teams – What they thought of last Sunday’s sermon – the essence of who they are?  In the blog universe we have relationships with people we have never met which are entirely based upon written words.  We know these people because of a series of declarations, disclosures and statements of fact they write about themselves.  Because those words appear on a screen via modern technology we ooohhh and awww.  And we absolutely accept them as honest communication.  You could even say the acceptance and trust we grant the person writing those words  is the basis of our ability to be in the relationship  in the first place.  What I mean is if we have any reason to doubt the veracity of the author our relationship is diluted.  It may even dissolve to non-existence.  Because God’s declarations, disclosures and statements of fact appear on parchment he somehow isn’t granted the same grace and trust to be known by them.  In a way, to this generation, God is a lurker.  They ask, “How can we be sure this guy is who he says he is?” 

We used to think the question could be answered.   With conviction.   For some today that simply isn’t true anymore.  Or adequate.  Now the Holy Scriptures have all the authority and help of a “narrative” – a “tradition”  – a record of local “heritages.”  My wife and I reject this for ourselves (And if dogs do go to heaven we also reject it on the behalf of our three .) .   I have several reasons for doing so.  Historical Christian Evidences.  Greek.  Techniques of textual criticism.  Hermenutics.  Study of the transmission of the text (i.e. How we got the Bible). And more.  While these things are of immense value to me,  and I am glad I was forced to study them in order to receive a degree all they did was enhance what already seemed  obvious to me.  What seemed obvious to me were child-like assumptions which were the basis of my ability to be in a relationship with Jesus.  In admitting I had assumptions I can see where it might leave me open to accusations of proof texting.  Or being narrow minded.  Or being too literal.  Or of being incapable of having a true and culturally relevant understanding of Holy Scripture because the lens I use to read them is no longer viable.  However, Jesus said being like a child is a good thing (if  He really said it).  Therefore I’m going to stand by my assumptions. 

  I assume God is smart.  If any of the following statements are true then I must assume God is stupid. The Holy Scriptures, as we have them, are unreliable.  The Holy Scriptures are so far removed from the original manuscripts they can’t be trusted.  The Holy Scriptures are too complex/mysterious to be understood.  The Holy Scriptures are hopelessly mired in the past.  God is stupid because it never dawned on Him that these things would be an issue for us.  Maybe he hoped man-kind would be too stupid to ask the questions we are asking today.  And if they did…well He simply lacked the creative imagination. the intelligence, the wisdom, the know-how of preserving His words in the exact way He wants them to be read today.  I happen to think God is way smart and didn’t have a problem coming up with a process to ensure the integrity of the Holy Scriptures for all time.

I also assume God is great.  He can do anything.  If I assume God was smart enough to know the integrity of the Holy Scriptures would need to be safeguarded I would then hope he had the means to do so.  If he couldn’t do that  then His claims for how great His powers are will fall on my deaf ears.  I would open them again to hear what He says behind closed doors though.  If God is not capable of putting something in my hand that is word for word reliable then I imagine behind the scenes He must be saying stuff like,  “Hey, what’s that person doing?  Is he erasing one of my words and replacing it with something I didn’t say?  Gee, I wish he wouldn’t do that.  It completely changes the meaning.  Oh well, nothing I can do about it now.”  And then he takes a deep drag off the oxygen tank before wimpering, “Somebody help me I can’t remember where I left my pills.  And bring me the wheelchair I wanna take a nap in my room.  Better yet, carry me, but don’t forget to move the IV tubes out of the way first.”  Another deep drag.  “Now, what was I saying about those Holy Scriptuwhatevers?  Oh dear there go my teeth again.  Oops, help me Son, I’ve fallen and can’t get up!”  Followed by another deep drag.  When someone tells me The Holy Scriptures are not reliable and too hard to understand this is the god they leave me.  But I do believe they are reliable because God has the power to keep them reliable.   Even in 2007. The author of Hebrews said (if you can trust him) that Jesus sustains the created universe by the word of his power.  If what others are saying about the Holy Scriptures is true then I would suggest to Jesus perhaps He should take some of the power He is using to keep our world running and do something for His own Holy Scriptures.  On the Joy Bus we sang, “My God is so BIG, so strong and so mighty, there’s NOTHING my God cannot do!”  At the age of 42 I’m still singing that song.

I also assume that God is good. That he loves me and actually wants me to know Him word for word in the year 2007 as He intended to be known.  Therefore, He utilized every resource available to Himself to put in place answers to the questions He already knew I would ask.  And He used His awesome powers to protect those answers for all time. Period. 

I find it interesting when “change agents” tell us we are experiencing a community wide identity crisis.  I don’t recall giving anybody permission to speak for me or to tell me what I believe.  Identity crisis.  Really?  Not me.  Not that I haven’t had one or might again.  But for me, when I do, I read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  I then allow the periods of the declarations and the exclamation points of the injunctions tell me who I am and what I believe.  Believe it or not I prefer it that way.

How about you?  What do you prefer?

How the Devil Defeated Jesus and Lived To Tell About It. (2) “Break-Through”

Here’s the second part.  Remember, “work in progress.”  Sorry for the length – the next one will be much shorter.  Any input you have will be appreciated.  Thanks. 

Although the devil hates to admit this the death of Jesus and his resurrection left him permenantly disabled.  For example, to this very day his head is killing him.  A headache,  however,  is the least of his concerns.  He’s notorius for self-medicating anyway.    He was more concerned about the loss of critical powers he sustained in the garden.  Oh yes,  at this unexpected turn of events  he was very concerned.

Understand,  to an un-enlightened eye a  glance at the devil does not reveal an obvious difference between his pre-resurrection self and his post-resurrection self.  He still looks powerful.  He still looks invincible.   His acrobatic skills on the battlefield still look awesome.  And he is still devastatingly charming.   On the other hand, to the enlightened eye  the differences between the pre-resurrection devil and the post-resurrection devil are as stark as the differences between a pig and a slice of bacon.  While a pig and a slice of bacon  do share the same basic substance no one would argue a slice of bacon is as capable of doing whatever it pleases,  as is (or was) the pig from whence it came.   Would they?

Try to think about it like this.  Imagine the devil as an outlaw gunslinger from the Old West.  Before the resurrection he was free  to plunder, pillage, rape and rob at will.  Stagecoaches.  Banks.  Trains.  Whatever.  He had both the freedom and the resources to victimize whoever he wanted, wherever he wanted and however he wanted.  To the devil’s everlasting horror the death and resurrection of Jesus ended most of that.  How?  (The reader should understand the devil is like the retired athlete who prefers to remember his former glory days as being a little more glorious than they really were. In reality,  he did have some limitations.  But that’s another story which has already been told in a more objective book.)

For now , the complete answer to the question “how”  is a mystery known  only to the Marshall.  But what  CAN be known is  in some sort of magical way the resurrection zapped the ammunition right out of the devil’s six-shooter.  And the movement was so clever it took him a few minutes to figure out what happened.   Once he did he wasn’t too pleased.  A gun without bullets?  What good is that?   A  gun without bullets is useless.  Unless…

  He smells her before he sees her.  Rather, he smelled what she was carrying.  For the life of him he can’t understand why humans want to cover the aroma of death with the stench of their potions.  It galled him.  But that was nothing.  He is galled out of his head when he sees who it is.   He knows her.  This  creature had been one of his favorite slaves (he meant to say disciple).  “Had been”  until Jesus “emancipated” her.

Obviously, the devil was having an awful morning.  Seeing the woman only made it worse because it reminded him of  all the other slaves (he meant to say disciples) Jesus had taken from him.  It wasn’t fair.  He felt he had to do something.  But what?  His first thought was to kill Jesus and then he felt like an idiot because…  Anyway,  the woman would be within striking distance soon and his anger was so overpowering he had to vent or burst.   And right then sinking his fangs into an approaching leg seemed the perfect way to constructively express his rage.  If he couldn’t hurt Jesus anymore he could at least hurt the people Jesus loves.  But he never bit her.

Correct! The window of opportunity to launch a strike closed and the devil simply watched it slam shut.  He later claimed he didn’t bite the woman because of his terrible headache.  The truth?  He didn’t bite her because he already knew his fangs had been “relieved” of their venom.  His gun was empty.   He had also developed an aversion to human heels,  but that was a phobia which  came to light only after several intense sessions with his therapist.   For now,  all he could do was watch for the impending reunion and dream about what might have been.  The last thing he expected was a “break-through.”

She’s almost to the grave.  She knows something isn’t right.  The stone isn’t where it was on Friday.  The gaping hole is exposed.  Who moved it?  She stops suddenly.  She is alert.  She is suspicious.  She is curious.   Gripping the basket of spices like a weapon she again approaches the grave.   She’s arrived.  She’s leaning over to see inside the tomb.  She…

During the same time the devil  watched Jesus move into a position behind the woman.  Jesus was close enough to touch her.  But she didn’t react in any discernible way.  The devil wasn’t surprised.   He is a professional hunter.  Of humans.  As such he is intimately aquainted with their nature.   More often than not,  he knows,  the easiest prey to bring down are the task-oriented.  It’s ironic.   Their “ability to focus,”  which is a point of pride for many of them,  is the very thing which renders them deaf and blind to the reality twirlling around them.  (The walls of his den are covered with failed marriages, lost children and missed opportunities).  Here in the garden  – Before his eyes –  Different circumstances. – Same result.  She’s too pre-occupied to sense the living presence of Jesus.  But it wouldn’t last forever.

  She… knows its empty.  She’s turning.  Her countenance demands to know!  What happened?  Who did this?  Where is the body?  Jesus deserves better.  Doesn’t he?  Why don’t you ask him yourself…  You’re looking at him. 

What’s with the frown?  Why does it look like she wants to hit him with the basket?  What is going on?  Why doesn’t she recognize Jesus?  The face?  It’s the same one he was wearing when he died.  That can’t be it.

  They’re talking.  Hush! The voice?  It’s the same one he used when he said, “It is finished!”  (Ah!  That’s what he meant)  That can’t be it.  And by the way, what are they saying? 

Fortunately the devil was able to hear their conversation.  He can hear a fly burp from a mile away.  He developed this extraordinary skill because he loves gossip.  At first it was only a hobby,  but he soon discovered humans would gladly exchange their souls to hear him dish the dirt he overheard.  Some of his best customers live in Washington.  Others preen in Hollywood.  Too many worship in churches.

Church was the last thing on her mind.  She was hell-bent on completing her mission.  No matter what. She mustn’t let anyone stand in the way.  Especially the man blocking her exit.  Who does she think Jesus is?  Who?  She can’t be serious.  The gardner?  Gardner!  A lousy gardner?  Why can’t she see who is plainly in sight?  What is going on?  It’s…it’s…

Suddenly the devil’s inner voices began to chatter madly.  A gun without bullets is useless… unless…  He’s on the verge of discovery.  The pieces of the puzzle are coming together.  His internal screens are rapidly blinking and changing.  A multitude of simultaneous  images are flickering;  old memories, past hunts, human nature, reality, first garden, this garden, Jesus dead, He’s alive, task-oriented, perception, mis-perception, gardner, illusions and… Eureka!  A gun without bullets is useless unless the humans believe it’s loaded no matter the truth. 

Like a drowning man breaking the surface the devil took his first real breath since seeing Jesus alive.  And then he began to laugh (which came out hiss, hiss).  He was so happy he didn’t even bother sticking around for the rest of the conversation.  He had a lot to do.

…It’s a break-through.

One Week!

Yesterday John Dobbs reminded me I’ve been blogging for a week now.  Wow!  It seems like I began my blog only a day or so ago.  (craig thinks a week is a long time.)  This pleases me greatly.  I must be growing up.  (he wishes)  When I began to blog I was concerned it would end the same way most of my past interests have.  (it probably will)  When I find something which interests me I typically attack it with all kinds of gusto and then it tapers off to non-existence.  (truer words have never been said)  But one week!  Apparently I’m stuck on blogging.  (if he goes two weeks it will be a miracle)  So I thank John for exposing me to this community and raise a glass to my new blog friends.  Here’s to another week!  (he doesn’t really drink)