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“Costly Grace” is Grace Proven Under Fire

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. – Jesus the Christ

Do not be surprised if you fall every day and do not surrender. But stand your ground courageously and you may be sure that your guardian angel will respect your endurance. A fresh, warm wound is easier to heal than those that are old, neglected, and festering, and that need extensive treatment, surgery, bandaging and cauterization. Long neglect can render many of them incurable. However, all things are possible with God. – John Climacus

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. —  G. K. Chesterton

A Psalm of Courageous Trust in God

The Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
     of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
     who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
     even then I will be confident. One thing I ask from the Lord,
 this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
     and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
     I will sing and make music to the Lord. Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
     spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living
.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

He’s in the waiting. He really is… remember him, hold and breathe through the pangs.
The courageous turn the spoken subjunctives of God’s Word into the living imperatives of Jesus’ bodily example, not by bravado in acclaimations time and time again, but by humility in transformation wave after wave.

The Song of Deborah

On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:

“When the princes in Israel take the lead,
    when the people willingly offer themselves—
    praise the Lord!

“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!
    I, even I, will sing to the Lord;
    I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.

“When you, Lord, went out from Seir,
    when you marched from the land of Edom,
the earth shook, the heavens poured,
    the clouds poured down water.
The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai,
    before the Lord, the God of Israel.

“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
    in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned;
    travelers took to winding paths.
Villagers in Israel would not fight;
    they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
    until I arose, a mother in Israel.
God chose new leaders
    when war came to the city gates,
but not a shield or spear was seen
    among forty thousand in Israel.
My heart is with Israel’s princes,
    with the willing volunteers among the people.
    Praise the Lord!

“You who ride on white donkeys,
    sitting on your saddle blankets,
    and you who walk along the road,
consider the voice of the singers at the watering places.
    They recite the victories of the Lord,
    the victories of his villagers in Israel.

“Then the people of the Lord
    went down to the city gates.
‘Wake up, wake up, Deborah!
    Wake up, wake up, break out in song!
Arise, Barak!
    Take captive your captives, son of Abinoam.’

“The remnant of the nobles came down;
    the people of the Lord came down to me against the mighty.
Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek;
    Benjamin was with the people who followed you.
From Makir captains came down,
    from Zebulun those who bear a commander’s staff.
The princes of Issachar were with Deborah;
    yes, Issachar was with Barak,
    sent under his command into the valley.
In the districts of Reuben
    there was much searching of heart.
Why did you stay among the sheep pens
    to hear the whistling for the flocks?
In the districts of Reuben
    there was much searching of heart.
Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan.
    And Dan, why did he linger by the ships?
Asher remained on the coast
    and stayed in his coves.
The people of Zebulun risked their very lives;
    so did Naphtali on the terraced fields.

“Kings came, they fought,
    the kings of Canaan fought.
At Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo,
    they took no plunder of silver.
From the heavens the stars fought,
    from their courses they fought against Sisera.
The river Kishon swept them away,
    the age-old river, the river Kishon.
    March on, my soul; be strong!
Then thundered the horses’ hooves—
    galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds.
‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the Lord.
    ‘Curse its people bitterly,
because they did not come to help the Lord,
    to help the Lord against the mighty.’

“Most blessed of women be Jael,
    the wife of Heber the Kenite,
    most blessed of tent-dwelling women.
He asked for water, and she gave him milk;
    in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.
Her hand reached for the tent peg,
    her right hand for the workman’s hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,
    she shattered and pierced his temple.
At her feet he sank,
    he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell;
    where he sank, there he fell—dead.

“Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;
    behind the lattice she cried out,
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
    Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’
The wisest of her ladies answer her;
    indeed, she keeps saying to herself,
‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:
    a woman or two for each man,
colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,
    colorful garments embroidered,
highly embroidered garments for my neck—
    all this as plunder?’

“So may all your enemies perish, Lord!
    But may all who love you be like the sun
    when it rises in its strength.”

Then the land had peace forty years.

Besides being one of the oldest bits of the scriptures, Deborah’s song has some of the most dramatic interplay between heaven and earth, and the nexus of all God’s “badassery” is a courageous and righteous woman. Of course, it is set in “occupied territory” to heighten the drama of external real world changes. But it was her internal confidence in God that came through a long-term relationship with the Holy One of Israel, that made the dramatic changes possible, even against the backdrop of a very male-centric stage. Not only did her confidence keep her going against all the odds, it also moved a reluctant but important man to have confidence in God too. Courage can be communicable. In alliance, Deborah led the Israelites to overthrow oppressors in a very “Old Testament way.” The manner of “arising” changed formally, but not substantially, in the New Testament. In the unity of Christ, God’s people from every age are all fulfilled, despite any momentary or perspectival discrepancy; we are without real difference.

Deborah was very human and limited, as Jael was called for a little “wet-work to wrap up lose ends.” Deborah wasn’t perfect; she may even needed some imperfections to identify with Barak’s initial fears to usher him from the starting gate. God can use our lack of confidence at times just as elegantly as he can use women, despite all bias against them. It pleases God to forgive our failures as we become more faithful. Notice how Barak’s lapse in the previous chapter does not appear in the song (God winks approval). Despite the timidity to sharpen Deborah, Barak makes it into the “Hebrews hall of fame.” Pretty sweet recompense for failure transformed, the point is that God lifts us to overcome, maybe even “save,” our oppressors as we become more obedient and willing to follow him (that even holds true for men too). Lastly, we can see, in rather dramatic and bloody fashion, that a people’s collective wellbeing is contingent on their Spiritual condition. Seems to be the most forgotten, misunderstood, greatest, and most often repeated failure in the Book: “God’s people” finding ever new ways to do the same old garbage, and yet, God lifts up the faithful from them as they repent over time, to greater things. God brings victories they cannot achieve by themselves or with the aid of any other people or spirits.

The Tower of Courage

Not convinced about the form and substance thing? I don’t blame you, so let’s turn to a mighty woman in the new testament. In my opinion, drawn from my limited knowledge of the gospels and 1st century eastern Mediterranean societies, she is the most courageous person of all those intimate with Jesus. I believe her persecution and betrayal by misogynist church history proves my point, instead of diminishing it. Yes, it is the inimitable and estimable Ms. Mary Magdalene.

At one point, perhaps the most perilous point in salvation history, Mary and two other women were the only souls who carried the entire Gospel for the whole world and future of all good things. I mean, I’ve seen a thing or two and been on some crazy trips for God, but the sheer weight of the Word on that occasion I cannot image. The terror and shaking and bewilderment of being the first to witness the entire cosmos being remade from an empty tomb out. I think only women could carry the fulcrum of all existence and being, like a baby in their body. Talk about a living, breathing tower of righteous courage, wow!

I am glad Mary didn’t have too much time to think about the Resurrection but enough time to overcome her fear and regain her speech (in both Mark’s terminal emendations). And of course, I believe the longer ending because “the other disciples,” the men, did not believe and blew Mary off by name. So Jesus had to come to the rescue, again, and of course the first two men didn’t even recognize he Himself. You’ve got to believe that Mary or any of those glorious female disciples would have known him by his walk miles away and his smell with their eyes closed. I thank you and God for the save ladies, or we all might be dead in our transgressions from worshiping gentile cultural artifacts through dark powers for our self-glorification like so many others are today. I pray in thanksgiving daily for you all.

The only real weakness we can know about Mary was that at some juncture in her life she gave the enemy a foothold and wound up with seven demons. Now, I am sure poverty and oppression by gender colonization had a significant role in her situation, much like it would have for the woman at the well, or any female back then. But here’s the pesky “however,” I know from experience you cannot entertain that many foul spirits without some level of consent. I know. I’ve never been possessed. I have been oppressed and put myself in a situation where I felt like giving up the Ghost, but decided to entertain bad company instead. Maybe the first one seduced her while she was contemplating suicide, we can only speculate. The point is I do not judge her; I empathize. And I live that empathy productively by working with men and women coming out of similar situations. For Ms. Magdalene inspires me when I think of her service to my Lord, against daily forms of attack and hate I can only image as a priviledged man. Like my wife, Mary literally impresses the hell out of me.

Who better to exorcise demons than those who used to entertain them? I adore all Holy people who have known less sin than me, but I’ve never seen a greater sinner run from an actual exorcism like a few “Godly men” I knew. I don’t blame them, and of course they’re forgiven. They just needed to learn it was not their calling despite their spiritual bravado. But I know for a fact that Mary could get the job done, even if I ran. Mark tells us so. And that maybe the point for God, he gave the greatest weight ever concerning his greatest earthly glory, the Resurrection, to her. The only other one who comes close is Paul. He was a murderous enemy too, but I’ve known many self-righteous men who kill in their god’s name. Unfortunately, it’s still fairly typical. I saw it done on TV recently, by some pagans screaming out Jesus’ name. But to be living haunt for demons and come back to life in that manner? That’s obviously next level terror and glory. Ms. Magdalene is indubitably God’s work, couldn’t be a pagan god, and they were both courageous for our encouragment.

Like Paul and the pagans who he targeted, God took Mary’s epic, even demonic, failures and drew out from it His greatest glory: the world ending news of Jesus’ Resurrection that ultimately leads to his recapitulated coronation over all creation. She was the first to see that, so I am holy jealous of her. And like Deborah, she translated that long suffering service into the liberation of God’s people. So for me, she’s only behind Jesus and just ahead of Paul, serving as a role-model of what God can do with a persistent reprobate and complete sinner destined by our own will to hell.

By God’s grace, under pressure as a child, when the churchmen first read to me about “the bad lady” in John’s Apocalypse to scare me, all I could think was “somebody needs to help that poor lady… why isn’t anyone helping her?” I held my tongue because I knew they didn’t want to hear it. What kind of creatures teach a child to hate billions of people in the Lord’s name? I felt violated and filthy because I already knew, somehow preternaturally, that they were trying to teach me hate, even though it will probably take the literal fires of hell for them to confess the truth of that matter.

Later I learned that they had codified their craven sins, fear-based anti-Gospel, and epic exegetical failure in the Westminster Confession. Later too I learned a wise woman proved that the only monsters children have under their beds are the ones their parents put there. Still later I learned that long ago a wise man said, “As long as anger lives she continues to be the fruitful mother of many unhappy children.” But on that very night long ago, after my prayers, God told me someone could help the lady everyone else feared and hated. Someone would desipite the fact the guilty only speculated from hate, and they could not know her true identity because it would be atime before she fully revealed herself. I’ll never forget his adoring smile that always lifts my spirit. It felt so good that it hurt, still does. But I do forget their hateful grins as they tried to abuse the soul of a child. Little did I know the path, how much more hurt and dismissal, I’d have to follow like Mary, but I greater in failure, just to witness it happen in the distant future.

Giants falling? That’s just for training, you can witness scarier creations fall if you die to self daily.
You can even help change the atmosphere.

Another Disciple’s Courage

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me…

…But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sakeso that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you…

…Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight [so] we are confident. I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him [not our selves], whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Bonhoeffer’s Encouragement on “Costly Grace”

Originally written to churches occupied and compromised by political fascism along with a legion of other dark powers in 1937 Germany:

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing….

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins…. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin….

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

On two separate occasions Peter received the call, “Follow me.” It was the first and last word Jesus spoke to his disciple (Mark 1.17; John 21.22). A whole life lies between these two calls. The first occasion was by the lake of Gennesareth, when Peter left his nets and his craft and followed Jesus at his word. The second occasion is when the Risen Lord finds him back again at his old trade. Once again it is by the lake of Gennesareth, and once again the call is: “Follow me.” Between the two calls lay a whole life of discipleship in the following of Christ. Half-way between them comes Peter’s confession, when he acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God….

This grace was certainly not self-bestowed. It was the grace of Christ himself, now prevailing upon the disciple to leave all and follow him, now working in him that confession which to the world must sound like the ultimate blasphemy, now inviting Peter to the supreme fellowship of martyrdom for the Lord he had denied, and thereby forgiving him all his sins. In the life of Peter grace and discipleship are inseparable. He had received the grace which costs.” — The Cost of Discipleship (45-49)

Stories of the Corageous

Keep it simple, always remember your confession and your promise, your oath to God in acceptance of His salvation of you.

An oath is a verbal recitation of a heart-felt call to duty, by an invocation of the Spirit through which He will transform your soul as a witness to others. It’s a vow to faithful testimony with your life. If Balian’s oath isn’t “enlightened” enough for you, then you can take Melchizedek’s, as cited by Isiah and spoken by Jesus in Luke’s Witness (more on that later). If that’s not right for you either, then I have never seen, or heard, any body going wrong with living out the Beatitudes as a code. There are plenty of right ones supplied in scripture. Ask God for one best suited to his call on your life. I waited decades across various missions under temporary orders (akin to nazarite vows). The hardest part for me was not waiting on God for my final one. But it took great pains to graciously decline all the oaths men tried to make me take in their gods’ names for the worlds they wanted to rule. I live and die only for the one that Jesus rules, the One without end.   

No matter the oath or vow… if people say it but do not live it, then they are simply liars or cowards. Those failures are often part of the Way, but those plot points are not the place to close the Book and go to sleep. Stay awake, learn what we all need to understand, and remember it in pain. Any oath sanctioned by God, as I’ve always know him, is first and foremost an order to keep God first and foremost in every area of my life. That is fidelity, and obedience just naturally flows from it’s wake, as courage flows form obedience’s wake. That’s the trick to real virtue, avoid the attempt of obedience in legalism as too many not have. Do not stare at and over analyze every event as a win or loss of courage, like a tally on a score card. You’re looking two wakes back from the boat. Spiritual principles are salvific and scary to self-adoring DOAs and they hate them. They even have teachings to dismiss them… as if they could.

In the land of the living, the principles simply uphold our daily behavior. They work best under the engine cowling, away from attention or public display, somewhat hidden but always obvious in operation if the boat is floating and moving. The rescued don’t become obsessed with the water as impressive as the waves maybe; they’re still an epiphenomena, a side show, while the boat is the substance of conveyance. So we remain constantly awake and aware of the waters about us. But we also strike a balance. I think of it as part of taking it easy. We avoid an over-fascination with virtue in action. That enthrallment, never the virtue itself, can be just as bad as just plain ole sin. Staring at after-effects is like staying stuck in the past, dying in stasis. We don’t over-read our press clippings, while keeping them at hand. We always take appraisals of our character, good or bad, with a grain of salt. As spirits seeking human experience, we realize that we’re not that good at being bad nor that bad at being good. In forgiveness, we press onward into our relationship with God like Jesus in pain and doubt. Remember who He is and who we are in Him, and all the other stuff, good and bad, will follow. Now, if our wakes are not matching the fruits of the Spirit, then we ought to abandon ship and start swimming. I have once or twice.

How do we avoid the bravado of the Titanic or the delusions of the good ship Lollipop? We keep our eyes on the prize, same as keeping it simple, or remembering our oath, our relationship to God that only he ordered and reorders with us rightly. And despite all the pain and anguish a royal prophet once raved ‘and it pleased God to do so,’ in doubt that glorious order could rise up from such horrible disobedience and chaos. It’s the creation story writ small in our flesh to become one flesh in Christ Jesus. A good order in creation is necessary, according to God, in every salvific event for right living, even if it feels bad for our comfort and condems all other gods.

Stephen knew “the Boat code” and followed it as he walked through a fire and overcame foul beasts greater than Daniel’s, and he didn’t miss the mark. Was he perfect? Heck no, he testified a memorial history of God and God’s people. Was it complete and exhaustive? No, but it got the job done. Did it sway the mob? Nope, they got worse. So what did he do after such a triggering exposition of history? Did he further explicate his theology or correct all their teaching errors like Jesus? No, he got as simple as possible, looked to Jesus standing to receive the prize, and walked out of there like an angel. He left a very glorious wake that we can all read today, a witness who was the hotshot of doctrine in his day, a fella named Saul, who the gentiles call Paul. Talk about the tail wagging the dog today! Sometimes God’s sense of humor in closing out loops just makes me laugh till I cry.

I don’t believe that I know courage well-enough, but I have known enough courageous people to know a few things. Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” Hemingway later elaborated in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald that “grace under pressure takes guts,” only to add that no one makes money on guts but violin string manufacturers. Both my grandfathers showed guts in WWII, one literally and the other deferred saying that repairing electrical networks on capital ships keep him away from the courageous opportunities. I came to find out through some of his friends that he had some times. The grandfather who received a purple heart and some other hardware as a medic, told me how afraid he was most of the time, and neither of them received a check for their guts at any time. Just as neither talked much about any glory arising from all the terror and fascists they mastered for our sake, like Jesus.

As a child, I always wondered why my heroes didn’t act or talk like the heroes the world rewards. Asking myself, “what’s wrong with all those people… why aren’t they helping like pappaw?” It was probably a big part of the reason I chose, when God allowed me, to serve and work for and study peoples in crisis, and even heroes in crisis. The more I learned and the older I got, I kept coming back to the Book and the examples above. They weren’t thinking about being courageous or scheming, “what situation can I put myself in to be courageous and cover myself in glory?” Far from it, first responders will tell you today how courage works. They train until the training becomes mundane, over and over again, even when it seems silly and wasteful to an outsider, until the principles are unconsciously at work in their actions. They know the rules and follow them like an instincts renewed. They put in the time in the field. And they listen to experience and stay humble.

They do all that work so that when the time comes to confront a crisis, their minds are so focused on their code and their bodies remember what to do from muscle memory so well and they listen to their superior so closely, that the fire or storm is simply not an issue. No matter how bad circumstances get, right focus occults fear. Trained eyes are normally on the prize and the next right move is typically simple, seldom easy but usually simple. What they took an oath to be and what they do are one in the same. The inexperienced cannot tell the dancer from the dance, while the experienced knows that formal discrepancy is without substantial difference.

Erudite and baroque minds, all much greater than mine will ever be, through the later church age have debated and murdered for the fallacious difference between belief and action. It is a non-starter for me because I learned repeatedly in reality that it is a debate is perpetuated mostly by the armchair clueless and distant self-absorbed. Jesus did not speak to people who presumed that such a discrepancy was possible. But he assigned rude names (e.g. white-washed tombs or hypocrites) with terrible futures to those who danced in the fallacy that their discrepancy matters, their judgment is somehow divine, when in reality it makes no difference. Deborah, Barak, and Mary all knew better. Paul entertains the fallacy of the gentiles only to burn it out of their minds. And lest they forget, it is in the scriptures, repeatedly, much to Descartes chagrin. To manifest such an ill fallacy, it took decades to centuries of concentrated gentile sophistry, diverse pagan wisdoms, and worldly desires for riches and rule to infect the body of Christ. Those that call themselves “the church,” or whatever else they like to call themselves, can go with Descartes and their pantheon of enlightened doctors to their mirage utopia. You know who I am going with? Yup, Jesus and all the other heroes, in reality, that I’ve been unworthy to know.

I have just one question for those who still prefer the delusion of their cherished ideas, which the Word of God calls foolishness: Why are so many self-nominated occidentals still asking 17th century questions of 15th century ideas for 18th century political answers, when they should be asking 22nd century questions of a mostly 1st century text for eternal Spiritual answers?! Their ship of fools is sinking, they’re losing souls, if they’d drop the stones they’d float! I am serious, because I can’t explain that kind of nonsense to angels or children.

I am certain what they practice is not courage. It is people measuring and remodeling a god en masse repeatedly for commoditized consumption, from the demagogues Pilate and Herod to the fascists that Hemingway and Bonhoeffer overcame. It is a historical fact that since the days of Noah, every abandonment of God’s will and each abomination committed in his Name all end with terminal totemic paganism. Cult worship of fictive kinship bonds that seeks supremacy of tribal identity by violence against any “other,” before they turn on themselves like a snake devouring its own tail. It is the repeating cycle of the disobedient sons and those worshipping lesser powers mid-air. You don’t need to be a prophet to see it, just read the Book or any other honest history of humanity. It is how a people devoid of real courage always end. The Jews have zealots still, the Muslims got Isil today, and the Christians…. well, let’s not manipulate the wound too closely today. Even though it has been festering a while, some might heal yet. So instead, we pray today most vehemently for a breath that some moore may still come out from their pagan wasteland to know Jesus in reality. But that is not our fate. We follow, however faulting, the Courage of the Cross, with our own.

A Couragous Life is an Analogy not a Parable

It is simple, courage is an eternal aspect of the soul shaped by the Spirit in our sufferings through a face to face relationship with the King. Suffer to display him in your body as he displayed himself in bodily suffering to save your soul.

I like stories, so I’ll close with one that I’ve known for years but I did not “get it” until last August. It’s one my grandfather told me and one I later read about from several perspectives, including those of the main characters: Ike and Omar. It was an uncomfortable moment in a long and comfortable relationship between the two, which imparted liberty and focus to Omar. It was soon after D-day and the first leave Omar took in years. The year before a journalist had given Omar a “household name” that he did not want and D-day brought him fame he never felt he deserved. But Ike and he figured out it had taken a distracting toll on Omar, so Ike let him off the hook by literally putting him on the hook.

The move into occupied Europe was going to be bloodier and longer than D-day and all the time it took to plan. Ike needed someone to take on a duty that was designed to include significant failure. It was the worst job that someone had to do, and most the command knew it. It was a sacrifical move to strengthen the Alliance. Fundamentally it involved a marathon of blocking and tackling across every type of terrain and against varied unknown force strengths, all-the-while with the worst Allied supply lines in theater and a mission sheet that changed daily to protect others while outgunned and outnumbered. And sure enough, that duty brought two failures in particular that would haunt Omar’s place in military history. This of a man who could only replay D-day in his mind while on leave to figure how they could’ve achieved the same objectives with fewer loses. That weakness was exactly why Ike picked him, instead of some glory hog like Patton or a fancy Dan like Montgomery. And that’s why Ike made his four stars permanent, despite Omar’s reasonably valid self-percieved failures.

When Ike called Omar up to HQ, he gave “the [expletive] duty” to Omar and put him on the hook. Omar responded something to the effect, ‘By God Ike, I cannot be responsible to the American people if you do this I resign.’ Omar was thinking about the past, all the failures that haunted him, all the news clippings, all the people he’d rather just die for, and all his own doubts, instead of the war left to be fought (a victory that they both felt hung in the balance) and who he was to Ike. He was more concerned about the past than the future. That’s what happens, even to the best of people, when they think about themselves among the waves and wakes first whether for good, bad, or indifferent.

It is a good thing that he knew how Ike felt about him after so many years and battles, because it’s said that Ike gave Omar the meanest stare ever in his command. By some accounts Ike even became somewhat red-faced, only to bark, ‘Brad, I, not you, am responsible to the American people. Your resignation therefore means absolutely nothing.’ The exchange relieved tensions on both sides, as Ike’s face approached a normal color. Omar gave another retreating protest, and after another beat Ike redressed the farm boy who was a long way from home, ‘Well, Brad, those are my orders.” They took a pause, then Omar meekly and obliquely accepted by saying, ‘Well Ike… if that’s the way you say it is… okay.’ Ike just smiled real big and didn’t say another word. Omar didn’t need concern himself with anyone else’s opinion of him. Rightly restored and somewhat more libertated from self, Omar left as a solider should, and both acted as courageous servants should: thoughtlessly yet single-mindedly committed to the plan, following orders, however imperfectly, to finish the victory. And they won with real scars that few others know about, because every hero knows that no matter what you do, if you do not obey orders, then your actions mean obsolutely nothing to Command.

If only Moses would’ve been told this story, then he might not have taken his eye off the ball because of the people, not struck the Rock, and then marched right on into the Promised land. That’s a discussion for other masters to have, but it is a prime example of a biblical question worth discussion. For us today, and maybe for a while, the message should be to keep it simple, even when it takes courage not to worry about what people think of you first, even the people you love most, even when you’ve gone away to die for them. Omar and I have found that it is possible, when we trust our commander and share his will, focused on him while taking the next step in order. It is actually liberating. God’s will is simple; the Gospel is simple; therefore obedience to them is simple. If you keep simple obedience, no matter how many times or how far you fall, then one day you might look back on your simple sufferings, even as a child, and someone, maybe even an Angel of the Lord, could accuse you of being courageous. It is easy for your soul to go mute in response to that divine accusation. But you’ll never forget it as the heavens sing out respect of your endurance afterwards and forever, because you put the reality of Jesus first when he called on you.

“Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with simplicity* and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
The attainable hope, to defeat not avoid your fear.

A Song of David’s Courage for Us

To you, Lord, I call;
    you are my Rock,
    do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
     I will be like those who go down to the pit. Hear my cry for mercy
    as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
     toward your Most Holy Place. Do not drag me away with the wicked,
    with those who do evil,
who speak cordially with their neighbors
     but harbor malice in their hearts. Repay them for their deeds
    and for their evil work;
repay them for what their hands have done
     and bring back on them what they deserve. Because they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord
    and what his hands have done,
he will tear them down
     and never build them up again. Praise be to the Lord,
    for he has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
     and with my song I praise him. The Lord is the strength of his people,
    a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
   be their shepherd and carry them forever.

(Sundown March 28th)

“Christians are Made, not Born”: Faith Tales All

“Whoever wants to have fellowship with Christ and be a partaker of his Kingdom must also do like him here on this earth. Whoever would inherit with him must have much pain here for the sake of his name.” – The Earliest Hymns of the Ausbund

True servants of God across history know trials well. But many shamefully abandoned the covenant to follow their own convenient religious, worldly appetites, considering themselves too exceptional for testing. Yet Jesus told everyone different and warned us. Thanks to their persistent selfishness wrapped in self-righteous sin and lamenated with spiritual deceptions, the challenges now are the greatest in history. As a result, more than earthly legacies, eternal inheritances, are at stake… Embrace the challenge by learning that faith is best grown, exercised, and manifested, in action, during times of crisis. Don’t perish in murderous denial. Honor God, humble yourself, serve others, and live wisely. The Word tells all that saying but not doing is an eternal lethal lapse, especially if you claim Jesus as your Lord.
Many stand already tested. Hard times? Nope, it’s just another day to them. They’re fireproof. God’s enemies, oppressors and haters, have not served God but still served his purpose in refining gloriously faithful peoples to become his most intimate people forever. God’s true servants already stand broken but ready.
No more shameful bellyaching and whining from the lukewarm posers who keep taking “the blue pill” to adore their religious power delusions. Just let them keep voguing; let them go their way. Don’t look back at them, if you want communion with the Truth, “the Red pill,” then prepare and present your head and heart. Accept the covenant, in full, and one day you won’t fear the fire… you might become the fire. But it ain’t worth God’s spit to stand in the cross-roads, claiming one way and reserving the other. Take the risk of making Jesus real with your life, suit up and show up, because real faith = risk x time.

The Conditions of Discipleship

The truth of trials, their cruciform purpose and divine meaning, have been renowned since the First Advent. While the sublime wisdom concerning trials was preserved in many traditions… Curiously these greater truths about Christ’s call to discipleship echo shamefully unanswered, ignored and rejected, by “useless servants.”

When writing to the servants of God, one should begin with our God and King Himself, the good, the supremely good, the all-good. Of all created and rational beings, endowed with the dignity of free will, some are friends of God, some are his true servants, some are useless servants, some are entirely estranged, and there are some who, for all their weaknesses, take their stand against Him. We simple people assume that His friends, O holy Father, are properly speaking those intelligent and bodiless beings who surround Him. His true servants are all those who have done and are doing His will without hesitation or pause. His useless servants are those who think themselves as having been worthy of the gift of baptism, but have not guarded their covenant with Him; while, it seems to us, the strangers from God, His opponents, are the unbelievers or heretics. His enemies are those who contravene and repudiate the commands of the Lord, but make stern war against all who obey Him.    

Each of the above has his own special character and is deserving of fitting analysis. But for ignorant people like ourselves there is nothing to be gained by investigating them now. So, then, with unquestioning obedience let us reach out our unworthy hand to the true servants of God, to those who devoutly urge us on and in faith compel us by their commands. Let us make a treatise, with their knowledge as the implement of writing, ‘a keyboard dipped in their subdued yet glorious humility, applied to the sleek electric monitors of their hearts,’ or rather resting on ‘the tablets of the Spirit.’ Let us write on it divine words, or rather seeds, and let us begin like this. – John Climacus, the Ladder of Divine Ascent

The King’s Way to Gaurd the Convenant

Jesus (the King) says, “Simon (the King’s people), stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.”

Then Jesus called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

The Reward of the God’s Covenant Gaurded

“Sing, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
    you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord.

“Enlarge the place of your tent,
   stretch your tent curtains wide,
   do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
    strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
    your descendants will dispossess nations
    and settle in their desolate cities.

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband—
    the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
    he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
    as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
    only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.

To me this is like the days of Noah,
    when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
    never to rebuke you again.
Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

“Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted,
    I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise,
    your foundations with lapis lazuli.
I will make your battlements of rubies,
    your gates of sparkling jewels,
    and all your walls of precious stones.
All your children will be taught by the Lord,
    and great will be their peace.
In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
    you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
    it will not come near you.
If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
    whoever attacks you will surrender to you.

“See, it is I who created the blacksmith
    who fans the coals into flame
    and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
    no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
    and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.

The journey is long and the path narrow, beset on all sides by challenges. Only it is the Way of the Cross.

If you’re still under the curse of Islamophobia, or any kind of rage, then you’re going to miss most the messages God’s Spirit gives you, here and anywhere else. If you still hate, then you still sit in the darkness without a light. If you are saved, then the only thing you need in your life is the sactifying work, the fired hammering, of his Spirit upon your soul. I try to hand it over to him every morning for that work. But if you hate, then you can’t even read an email from him. Hate is spiritual blindness. Hate is the primary spiritual difference between faith and religion. I could recount all the things Jesus said on this issue, but I don’t want further shame the already shameful.

Hate is nothing but an expression of fear. It’s flaccid spiritual impotency masquerading as strong and effective power, or worse, feigns authority which should be legitimately exercised power. Remember the lesson to the willy-wavers. They and their hate were hallow brags that murder. All of that will be annihilated in the end. And believe me, at that point, it is the most fearful event a creature could ever witness. So dump it all now, while you might. Oh, man… I already know many— from neocon-puritans to anything-goes universalists— will say, “But certainly it is written that God and Jesus hate, and the psalmist brags on hating God’s enemies!” We will get to that down the road.

For now, if you’re in that dying state, as all were, then study what Jesus said about love and hate. He’s still saying it now! Live up to your name as a wise primate, learn God’s discpline by applying it only to yourself. Stop staring at everyone else, like a bunch of chatter-box apes fighting over a watering hole. It’s shameful, and it’s the season for it. Luther proclaimed, “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.” If I may be so bold, I say, I fear my hate towards any other flesh more than Saladin’s, or any other army, because I desire to fear only my Lord and my God. Yet I have their enemy within me, my self. I only need a faith that seeks love as I am freed from hating others.  That is the realization of the people, the Kingdom, Jesus desires. Make no mistake… peace with God, service to the world, and justice in creation all mean vigilant war, in-turn, on self, selfishness, and self-centeredness.

There will be a kingdom of conscience now or nothing now, because every other thing is already in line for ultimate annihilation. As that Church grows, so will everything else. But today, in the land of Elmer Gantry, it’s less of a tent revival and more of a three-ring circus tent on fire with drunk clowns and merchants clogging the exits… mostly personalities on display and few principles at work. If you really knew that, then you couldn’t hate and you’d appeal most firmly for love’s sake to those on their way to destruction. There is no terror or oppression, no worldly rule of any sort, by a people intimate with Christ.

So we’ve been given a gift, some time, to make changes to please God alone. It always starts as an inside job. But I see, the whole world sees, a hell of a lot of hate and terror, lies and fear about the most ridiculous garbage, from many who were called by Christ but now just promote their dark revelries with his name.  Jesus sees it too, or else I wouldn’t be here involved in this jacked up operation. For me, for years, I’ve “detached in love” and cried “send the Fire!” perfectly willing to let the Judge sort out everybody. As usual, the joke’s on me… but that’s much better than shame on me. Our Father desires different, and I enslaved myself to his orders without contingency to his End… not my fear’s daily provocations of hatred or self gain.

Faith

All religions, save one, are not trustworthy. God alone sets it apart, forever. Faith is rarely, if ever, about certainity or self. The Word is clear, consistant, and present: by the will of God, manifested perfectly only in Christ Jesus for the trustworthy, there’s been and will be only one true religion. Like God himself, it never changes and it only functions through faith. (PS the director’s cut was highly recommended to me)

The Trustworthy Sing

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
     Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
    who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
     he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
    in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosperous;
    your laws are rejected by him;
    he sneers at all his enemies.
He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
     He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.” His mouth is full of lies and threats;
    trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages;
    from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
     he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse;
    they fall under his strength.
He says to himself, “God will never notice;
     he covers his face and never sees.” Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
    Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God?
    Why does he say to himself,
    “He won’t call me to account”?
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
    you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked man;
    call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
     that would not otherwise be found out. The Lord is King for ever and ever;
    the nations will perish from his land.
You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
    so that mere earthly mortals
    will never again strike terror.

A Trustworthy Response

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
    may the name of the Lord be praised.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

One of My “Light Afflictions” for ” a Peculiar Glory.”

Mercedes between me and my first fiancée.

Mercedes will always be one of my favorite people. She was the abjectly poor mother of three in Mexico City, who was abused, periodically and savagely, over years by a man who pretended to be a husband. She saved and borrowed just enough money to take her kids to San Cristóbal de las Casas and then to a tribal village near the frontier with Guatemala. She said angels gave her the money and Jesus told her where to go. And man, I believe her. She followed them to a place she had never been and where she knew no one. Once there, she worked to give a better life to strangers, and by doing so built a community that would support, foster, and defend a better life for her children. The newness required faith. He did amazing things with her to help other single aboriginal mothers and widows and orphans to organize and build a thriving crafts trade. That’s faith, all-the-while she never sat in a pew, better to obey Jesus and serve others… he sat on the ground mostly with people like her. Apparently he still does.

Above is “church,” God presence, to me in the world. I cannot tell you how many most certain and definitive long-winded descriptions of church that I’ve read and heard in this world. All I know for certain is the word doesn’t appear once in the New Testament. And I know the Word tells me wherever two or more gather for Jesus, he’s there too. Throw in a memorial of his acts for us and a few testimonies of his acts in us…then I know I’m in church. I see the radiance of the gospel’s power of salvation unto sanctification within a dark and hate-filled world. If that ain’t church, then I ain’t interested.

She did so well that the male elders of the village made her the first female elder. I hope there’s been more since. And you should see how fat and happy her kids were! You know how the Mexican government responded? They labeled her a communist, and threw her in a marked category. They treat drug lords better. Truth is she couldn’t tell me Marx’s first name and never heard of Engels. She said that she learned her techniques by asking shop owners back in the city what to do. The truth is the government burned Chiapas trying to destroy an independent people’s way of life in an impoverished land. (Why is a story for another day, just know for now we’re all accomplices, imputed with somewhat lesser corporate guilt). Even if they got her, Jesus will hold her closer than I did on that day, with my most polite brotherly side hug.    

There I am, on high with the pro, putting everything in the right place for the trip across the frontier. So we wouldn’t lose anything. I knew so much back then, when I was young. But I needed to learn more about faith, still some to go.
“The Squad” at the frontier, and our transport was a no-show! Did you know that 30 years ago you could “appropriate” a public bus in Guatemala for $100 bill? The driver even offered to come back and pick us up in-country!
This was the nearest “city.” If your ever near Chichicastenango on market day, it’s a good one for the bucket list. Five stars for luxury tourist comforts after weeks in the mountains.
This is where the trail to the target sites upland left the road. They honored us by writing it in English too before we left. Even though the closest English speakers don’t get within 20 or 30 miles of the path.

I don’t display pictures of target sites as a rule, suffice to say it was difficult. We were prepped with antibiotics and a few primitive antivirals (a rarity in the early 90’s). The toughest part of any assignment is step one in the protocol, after initial assessment. It is borrowed from basic battlefield triage when you don’t have superior facility back up. To save as many as possible, you must first cut out those who are beyond help, “breathing DOA’s,” from the very sick who might make it with the treatment at hand, critical cases. I never thought it would happen in hospitals here, but it did. I simpathize deeply with all the shot-callers, because this step, more than any other one, will determine the success or failure of the mission when supplies are limited. It’s also the step that leads many heroic women and men of good conscience to quit or worse.   

In that step, the full range of emotions is on display before you from the people, praises to curses. In that moment, you know the bigger picture and you must act compassionately yet decisively, while you are terrified and sick with grief. It’s a beating that clears the soul of delusions and the mind of distractions, while the people and the staff are all “out to lunch” on their delusions and distractions, hopes and dreams, fears and resentiments. You only need to do it once to figure yourself and this world out. I am better for having done it a handful of times. I finally got to a place of gratitude with it, but I never wanted to do it again. That was my cup. God and my Lord know I would have preferred their innocent scourging and rugged cross to picking it up again.

I had good news for the community and bad news. The good news was obvious but the one’s who didn’t agree, well, they tried their best to make it bad news for everybody. The shamans or curanderos could be great allies or turn into murderers very fast. They had long and involved relationships with the public that were useful. Part of the village wanted to throw us a party, while others wanted us gone or dead. The ones that cared about the people were angels, but the ones in it for their own gain and prestige were different characters. I had superior situational awareness of reality on my side, but for most proud people that ain’t enough. I tried to describe the “unseen realm” that Western medicine mapped out, but it’s completely alien and therefore strange and dangerous fire to many. I mean, it’s hard enough to get country club folks to take the full course of antibiotics. Time is an ally, if novice staff can keep their wits. Over time the weight of the war shifts, as reality makes itself more apparent day after day, week after week. The winnowed come to the light, while others retreat, in ever increasing dishonesty and hatred, with the shadows and die with their gods in hand on the threshing floor.

So, you wait and watch more people suffer and die after the first die as others rise and walk out, better than new. As they do, mothers start by bringing their sickest children first and then, more and more come. The day people started coming, some “wise folks” whispered melodic incantations over me as I tried to sleep in my hammock, just like jezebels calling on angels they do not know (actually they are at war with) to keep their status and hate-filled darkness in power, in a mad realm of lies, corruption, and death run on hate, based solely in fear of truth. It’d be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic for the witches and the ones they bewitched. Their curses pissed me off at first, many decades ago, but I prayed and God turned their curses into our lullaby, even when the cycle repeats in new ways… even to this day. So that now, I have never slept better in my life.

It is all a pattern of experience, now a half-life really, that God has burned and hammered into my soul over the years, sometimes very obviously and other times almost imperceptively subtle. And the switch from knowing it in a physical register of others to seeing in a spiritual register of one’s own… That is the most mind blowing and soul cleansing experience a real human can have. My soul went from a cosmological know-it-all with fire in my bones to someone with a little more patience, less co-dependency, and even some appropriate dispassion… finally. The last sounds bad, very bad, but it is the most necessary tool a true healer will ever have.

John Climacus calls it Περί απαθείας. No, I am not being a pedant or showy, but if you just translate “on apathy” you’ll miss the essence in trans-culturating the term; you’ll over essentialize and relativize the term only to recontextualize the concept in error. Climacus describes it as his next-to-last step on The Ladder; it’s a vision of the biggest picture possible: a redisposition within self that can only result from the Spirit resurrecting the soul prior to the body’s physical resurrection. In my experience, it is as painful as it sounds. But in large part, that’s only because it took the measure of my selfishness and depravity, and I had plenty… and I still manage to produce some more every now and then. The air is so rare on that penultimate rung that many Western doctors and professional shaman label it mystic nonsense or worse. I am so freaking tired of being a living and breathing counterfactual to their shenanigans and skubalon, but at least I ain’t hateful like them.    

Animals and children followed this woman wherever she went.

Some of the tenderer hearted maybe asking, “Hey dude, what’s the story of your fiancée? Spill!” Well, long story short, we met in a literal garden and it was “a ton of bricks scenario” at first sight for both of us, but after a time she believed a lie, wouldn’t drop a bad habit, and was murdered.

More? If you are sensitive just leave it at that, and please skip to the next paragraph. She was incredibly brilliant and kind, one of the most philanthropic women I‘ve ever known. When she shone, angels were her only competition. She was born to a wealthy mid-western family, educated, buttoned-down, and proper on Sunday promenades with “good people.” But on every other day, they covered up and reinforced the darkness of sexual abuse perpetrated on her by her grandfather. For their reason she couldn’t quit binge drinking when the pain got too great. Once on a winter home from grad school holiday binge, she was abducted in a parking lot, and was found days later beaten and raped to death in a ditch off a barren state highway.

Her mother told me she never saw her happier than when she was with me and wished I’d taken her away. Her mother was the only family member who ever came close to acknowledging any part in the tragedy. I imagine they’ll all die in denial, but my love suffered and died in large part because of their denial. Don’t be quick to judge because many, even some you may admire spiritually, are playing a significant role in abusing a beloved daughter, the bride of Christ, with their ego-defending selfish denial. For myself, I have learned through years of excruciating pains and humiliations that I alone can’t save any one. So I serve, witness, and follow orders, even when it horrifies me. It takes real faith, and it only comes after my former faith has been tempered in the fire of risk, fueled by truth, and blow by the Spirit… in a drawn-out process.

Thirty years down the line now… and I don’t even count the loss among the five most traumatic events in my life, top ten but not top five. Even among heart-felt attachments, in some ways now, I feel like it is better than my second fiancée who cheated on me when I went to Israel, and we never talk anymore. Or an odd third, a sighted betrothal of sorts, in which I just never was going to be the high-rider she wanted. But those stories aren’t for today, and all that failure got me as close to success as I might ever be with my wife, yes, “my one.” I count it all as gain in gratitude, and I have only the best of will towards the formers. That’s not me being humble or faith-filled, it is honestly how I feel. But that profound shalom didn’t come cheap or easy in a flash of salvation. In fact, I looked ugly hateful and stupid selfish most the way through it.

What matters today, as I looked back on these memories, is they make almost perfect sense, after not making any sense for too long. I understand more fully what God was doing all along. I don’t ask “why?” anymore, but upon the tides of pain that evoked all my “whys?!,” I learned to love better, faster, and as long as possible, until God says “release,” even though it is still a daily struggle. Most importantly, I learned beyond the pain of a tortuous death, many times over, what my God and my King want and how I must respond. Now, I simply praise God for the gift of each minute under fire that formed their real faith in me, by God, for the service only he’s called me to (more on that next post). I do fear how well they’re teaching me “release,” but I know that’s a righteous fear of God because we’re usually alone when I feel it.  

A couple of faithful events occurred soon after she was finally relieved of her pain and madness. A Jewish teacher named Shlomo, a friend that I’d never met but seemed somehow failiar, walked up to me in Half-Price Books in Rice Village and told me to read Job. I said I had. He told me, “No read it every year as you feel G-d’s refining cycle through you and out into the world. After a time, he’ll tell you what you need to know for the next year.” He was right, so I have been faithful in that practice, but never perfect, and God has keep his messenger’s end of the deal. It is kind of God’s thing: faithfulness. He tries strenuously to impart as much as he might to all those he calls. But the might depends on the person’s daily “yes.” And because, in return, he sees widely differing results, only a few are chosen. He even gave us a few pointed stories on the subject, but they’re hard to hear, so many ignore them or discount them. Again, I won’t insult you with a list of retellings. You really ought to let him tell you personally by reading them yourself.

The second event was somewhat more peculiar and difficult. It was one of the “why nights” that I could not find peace or sleep. Two very solemn angels came to me while I was face down on the floor. They silently put their wings over me, tip to tip, and then a voice said, “I will darken your eyes, so you may find peace and draw out others to my peace from their darkness.” It was not the answer that I was looking for, but the pain was so great I accepted just hoping for a change. And sister… change I got. I studied chaos math to find cosmic order in the late 80’s, and then I studied broken human systems in the early 90’s, but it all came together in that pit. I’d like to share what I saw later, but we’d lose the point today.

The point is it happened twice more, over decades, once in late ’99 and again in ’06 during my own Mark 3:21 experience… and that’s a whole other story, and a half too. I even tried to blind myself in ’03-’04, but that’s a bad, very very bad, idea. I do not grasp, nor would I recommend soliciting God to do it apart from his way, the recovery is not easy any way that it happens. Even in God’s way, when handed to me, I had to watch people I love die, and most others be misled by the simplest of demonic or selfish tricks. People will not like you, and those more spiritual folks you want to help and lift up too may accuse you of the greatest abominations, because self (their selves) is the greatest enemy to their own spiritual growth, in general, and faith, in particular. I had to learn to stand and watch, and only serve when and how directed.

God is as serious about our choices as he is our faith, because they are one in the same, one maps and reveals the other. It is one of the few certainties I know to be orthogonal to faith down here. In practice, it is a rocky row to hoe in quiet service that costs everything ultimately. It is not a parade of personal beliefs screamed out time and time again for personal gain or advantage, regardless of your self-perceived intellectual knowledge or spiritual maturity. It is a terror and glory of a whole different order, because the process sets you apart. I like the term, “a separate peace.”

God is the only one who can darken a human’s eyes to see more, when men do it with drugs, teachings, or traditions people always see less. Just consult Paul, he knows too, all too well. And the enemies of God’s process have been hard at it a minute now, 1700 years this last cycle. But a few with a little light made it through. That’s faith verses religion reiterated, in nuce… the takeaway for me… through the process and pain and recovery our Father himself enabled me to see stones, “more stones both bright and dark,” entire cities of stone that cast shadows into the darkness of this world. And there’s lots of folks that can preach to the choir, but He, through his process with my daily consent, taught me to speak even into the rejection and silence of men.

I can’t even count the times that I’ve felt this. A constant gripe to God was, “why do you show me all this and not affirm it to others when I tell them?!” I felt like the poor fella in the Warner Bros. cartoon who owned a singing and dancing frog that would only preform for him. Maybe he had more work to do on me, maybe not. Maybe it is just me, but it seems my Backup is done waiting on anyone, ready or not.
Only question that really matters, until we answer it correctly, everyday.
Songs are so powerful and beautiful compared to written junk. This piece nails it so well that I don’t know why I needed to write this post.

The Spirtual life, a faith-filled life, is not a static vision.

“I love everything that flows,’ said the great blind Milton of our times. I was thinking of him this morning when I awoke with a great bloody shout of joy: I was thinking of his rivers and trees and all that world of night which he is exploring. Yes, I said to myself, I too love everything that flows: rivers, sewers, lava, semen, blood, bile, words, sentences. I love the amniotic fluid when it spills out of the bag. I love the kidney with it’s painful gall-stones, it’s gravel and what-not; I love the urine that pours out scalding and the clap that runs endlessly; I love the words of hysterics and the sentences that flow on like dysentery and mirror all the sick images of the soul…”― The Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller

When Faith and Love which parted from thee never,
Had ripen’d thy just soul to dwell with God,
Meekly thou didst resign this earthy load
Of Death, call’d Life; which us from Life doth sever.
Thy Works and Alms and all thy good Endeavor
Stay’d not behind, nor in the grave were trod;
But, as Faith pointed with her golden rod,
Follow’d thee up to joy and bliss for ever.
Love led them on, and Faith who knew them best
Thy handmaid, clad them o’er with purple beams
And azure wings, that up they flew so drest,
And spake the truth of thee in glorious Themes
Before the Judge, who thenceforth bid thee rest
And drink thy fill of pure immortal streams. – Sonnet 14, John Milton

“Thus Milton refines the question down to a matter of faith,” said Coleridge, bringing the lecture to a close, “and a kind of faith more independent, autonomous – more truly strong, as a matter of fact – than the Puritans really sought. Faith, he tells us, is not an exotic bloom to be laboriously maintained by the exclusion of most aspects of the day to day world, nor a useful delusion to be supported by sophistries and half-truths like a child’s belief in Father Christmas – not, in short, a prudently unregarded adherence to a constructed creed; but rather must be, if anything, a clear-eyed recognition of the patterns and tendencies, to be found in every piece of the world’s fabric, which are the lineaments of God. This is why religion can only be advice and clarification, and cannot carry any spurs of enforcement – for only belief and behavior that is independently arrived at, and then chosen, can be praised or blamed. This being the case, it can be seen as a criminal abridgement of a person’s rights willfully to keep him in ignorance of any facts – no piece can be judged inadmissible, for the more stones, both bright and dark, that are added to the mosaic, the clearer is our picture of God.” ― Tim Powers, The Anubis Gates

I’ve spoken of faith in a common way, now it may not be as familiar. From origin to end, I see faith as calculus not arithmetic. Faith is not the object of theory. It’s an explosively dynamic product of Spiritual exchange. For the called, faith is the currency of kenosis that throws off sparks of life; desire is kinetic faith’s by-product, not a prerequisite. After all, what is serviceable desire’s only good and right goal, if not our’s and it’s creator? Ultimately, faith in action leads to full sensibility in eternity, and most importantly of all the prize: the closest possible relationship with Jesus forever. He judges all, but he stands for only a few. His Father calls all, but choses only a few. Their Spirit is an open book to all, but empowers only the trustworthy… all according to their submission and willingness freely given in risk overtime. We are the shinning ramparts of God’s glorious works, the bright habitation of his prescence in a world of darkness, all of us stones of the only basilica that God desires to reorder a fallen creation, which Father and Son now openly hand back and forth to one another as the Spirit binds and loses, hammers and fires, presses and draws out the devoted, births us for purification, each according to our faith.

I say all that simply as a shield for my understanding of faith from attack by the more puritanical and doctrinaire… I, we, walk with Mr. Milton in the reading above, for none of his derivative latter-day sects, alive today, knows faith or doctrine as well as he did. Of course it begins with God the Father, perfected through Christ Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit to us with the signature intent of love to serve others until we die. But if “your faith” ends in you (think tip of your nose or pocketbook) or just sits about in “your community,” if you’ve buried the Master’s talents in a field, then I urge you with all the earnestness at my command, dig up your dead faith and spend it or invest it or give it away right now, so that you may live actively and powerfully by faith in eternity.

I hear so much about Nehemiah and others from faith producers, faith fund mangers, and speculators of faith. But God’s kingdom is people of right conscience, not faith recruitment, management, and hoarding as if capitalism is the model. It is not. In fact, it’s the opposite. Real faith is given and taken only for free, like life willingly picked up and laid down only for service to others. There’s the usual suspects, hovering about in the shadows, deadbeat religious folks. I don’t hate them because the only reason they are still in the dark is from a lack of real faith, nothing else. I understand that they’re fearful of losing something that they don’t think they could live without; it’s the great irony and biggest lie of all from their ego flesh (self) or Satan and the world tell them. Letting go and following Jesus is not easy. Don’t sell the lie that it is. So cash out your faith 401k give it all away to become the bride of Christ, or do like me and some others who die trying on a daily basis.

God wants life for his creation and people, and he sends his people to the nations, not to lie, murder, rule and get rich, like a special people all to themselves. Not just people have been destroyed, the entire good creation down here is being desecrated by some, just for themselves, hypocritically perverted even worse by claiming the necessity of that defilement in the Creator’s name. There’s a Stone coming their way. It has always been so, from Nimrod to now, but it will not be forever. Hopefully, not even very long, “soon” Jesus says… It is God’s Way or nothing in the end for every person. God’s anthropology and community are in the liturgy of his good creation. God’s storehouses are overflowing for his will and his glory and his new creation. If you’re about anything else, you might make bank today… but the day you die you’ll have nothing forever. Don’t discard the convenant to the devalue scars; to deny your’s is to deny his for you.

Open eyes in dark waters made in me dark eyes to open waters. Now I am greatful for all the scars.
Against all odds, all stories that fall will rise and meet in Christ’s perfect faithfulness. Keep breathing through the cyclical pain for an eternal birth. No one can stop it, so lean into it.

Prayer for Mercy and Help

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
    and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
    and cause the nations to quake before you!

For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
    you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
    no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
    who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
    who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
    you were angry.
    How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
    or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
    and have given us over to our sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
    do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
    for we are all your people.
Your sacred cities have become a wasteland;
    even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you,
    has been burned with fire,
    and all that we treasured lies in ruins.
After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back?
    Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?

The God’s Answer

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
 what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
      the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given usThis is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
    so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ imparted by trials.

If your faith in Jesus lives, according to his will, following him however imperfectly to your end, then nothing that ever happened to you will be a loss… Instead, one day soon, you and Jesus will count it all together as gain. I know this as “the great fact of sancitifcation,” for in our Way death itself is only the beginning. P.S. All apologies to Mr. Piper. I am certain he wouldn’t, or possibly shouldn’t, agree with everything I say; nor I he… Wouldn’t that make for a silly and boring kingdom? But when he gets it right, the marrow of my bones confesses there is no one righter among us.

Defend the Covenant, Live a Gospel Worthy of His Sufferings to be Without Shame

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have…

…What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider themgarbage,that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their appetite, and their glory is in their shameTheir mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Last, just a simple illustration. I was sitting among some “long-timers” (we don’t say “old-timers” anymore because we’re over 50 too), as I do for some wisdom among my tribe. We were talking about faith and life, the relationship and fabrication of both. A retired, Jake-legged pipe-fitter from Pasadena told us his take brilliantly with just a hand and a glove. He said, “This is the problem.” Holding up his hand, nodded to his hand as if it were the boss and continued. “Most people think their life is the hand, and then they go shop for a faith to fit it like a glove, and they mess with it or buy new gloves all the time according to changes with their hand.” I thought that sounded reasonable and real. But he continued, “In reality, if you’ve ever been face down in front of your Creator, then you’ll always remember that the hand is your faith, and the Spirit suits it, and refits it, with a glove he makes and remakes, and that glove is your life.”

If these last takes on faith leave you feeling raw, weak, and frightened, or even somewhat confused or angry or doubious… Excellent, that’s a healthy response. That sense of general uneasiness with everything we just wrote is a sure sign the medicine is working. Kenosis (what pleases God) rises as stasis (what doesn’t please God) recedes. It can make you feel shaky and even a bit dizzy. In fact, in my experience, the more uneasy and dizzy, even pained, the better I will feel sometime later. It’s the initial stages of obedience in humility — what Jesus modeled perfectly. So the emptier you feel, then the more capacity you’ll have to be filled by the Spirit’s grace under pressure to follow Jesus with your cross.

(Burn or wash out as much “garbage” as you can for sunrise on the Ides of March)

Hope: The Light of All Things…

Christmas and I have a few checkers in our past… just ask the Puritans… on both counts. And, in all honesty, it’s not the date Jesus was born. So, for most of my life, I’ve observed the day as a celebration of union around our common life-light and the only right object of adoration. Unity? A common belief and will? Yessir… in, through, and by Jesus as Lone Lord. ‘Word up,’ let us ‘blaze out of the darkness as the darkness can’t put us out!’

…from East to West

The Life-Light

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
      in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
     the darkness couldn’t put it out.

There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

The Life-Light was the real thing:
    Every person entering Life
    he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
    the world was there through him,
    and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
    but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
    not blood-begotten,
    not flesh-begotten,
     not sex-begotten. The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”

We all live off his generous bounty,
        gift after gift after gift.
    We got the basics from Moses,
        and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
    This endless knowing and understanding—
        all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
    No one has ever seen God,
        not so much as a glimpse.
    This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
        who exists at the very heart of the Father,
        has made him plain as day.

Today the Lord is born, the life and salvation of mankind; today a reconciliation is made of Divinity to humanity, and of humanity to Divinity; today all creation has leapt for joy; those above sent toward those below; and those below towards those above; today occurred the death of darkness and the life of humanity; today a way was made toward God for man and a way for God into the soul. –St. Macarius the Great

It was my family’s darkest Christmas in 2004. My 4-year-old niece brought me this video. I asked if she wanted more Veggie Tales vids. She blew a rasberry in my face said it was from God, and then she told me to give a present to Jesus by sending a gift to a peculiar 3rd party. I did. Things didn’t go the way I hoped or wanted but it did snow on Christmas eve that year, that’s a miracle here. And only now, after a greater darkness, the Greater gift exchange a few hoped for is coming into focus.

Jesus Christ, radiant center of glory, image of our God, the invisible Father, revealer of His eternal designs, prince of peace; Father of the world to come. For our sake he took the likeness of a slave, becoming flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, for our sake, wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in a manger adored by the shepherds and hymned by the angelic powers, who sang: Glory to God in the heavens and on earth peace and good to men. Make us worthy, Lord, to celebrate and to conclude in peace the feast which magnifies the rising of Thy light, by avoiding empty words, working with justice, fleeing from the passions, and raising up the spirit above earthly goods. Bless Thy Church, formed long ago to be united with Thou through Thy life-giving blood. Come to the aid of Thy faithful shepherds, of the priests and the teachers of the Gospel. Bless Thy faithful whose only hope is in Thy mercy; Christian souls, the sick, those who are tormented in spirit, and those who have asked us to pray for them. Have pity, in Thy infinite clemency, and preserve us in fitness to receive the future, endless, good things. We celebrate Thy glorious Nativity with the Father who sent thee for our redemption, with the life-giving Spirit, now and for ever and through all ages. Amen –an ancient Syriac liturgy

In better light with my wife… we hope to make the November 4th date. After years of thinking my bride was playing hidden Adele gospel tracks across the UK, now I think the singer is a gift like my mom hoped Janis Joplin would have become, if she had managed to stay clean. And wasn’ t it nice of her to let Tomlin put his name on the vid too?

He comes not as a fierce man of war, threatening all things living with death, but as a newly born babe, bringing the hope of rebirth and life into the entire realm of death; He comes–but the land of destruction does not meet, does not embrace, does not praise, does not even see its Saviour, and does not hear the Word of God keeping silence in a manger. Virtually in vain does the glory which Jesus Christ had with God the Father before the world was on the lips of the angels, follow Him descending into the world and pursuing Him, attain even unto the earth.-Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow 

…and great soul-lights from South to North too.

After the requisite fear and trembling, Mary may have been young, frightened, and lacking in knowledge but she was not blind, foolish, or proud. She knew just what to pray and to do… Yes, carrying a child to term and giving birth is a great work that no man will ever understand. I praise her labor of love in pleasing a God she couldn’t yet fully understand.

I’m bursting with God-news;
    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
    he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
    beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

I am not sure how many of scriptures she knew, but a few folks who make a living off insightful speculation make an educated guess that she was reciting a bit of Hannah’s song because she knew how that response turned out, the proper gift response. She took great comfort in some old family folklore. If only the men folk would have responded as well…

Hannah prayed:

I’m bursting with God-news!
    I’m walking on air.
I’m laughing at my rivals.
     I’m dancing my salvation. Nothing and no one is holy like God,
    no rock mountain like our God.
Don’t dare talk pretentiously—
    not a word of boasting, ever!
For God knows what’s going on.
    He takes the measure of everything that happens.
The weapons of the strong are smashed to pieces,
    while the weak are infused with fresh strength.
The well-fed are out begging in the streets for crusts,
    while the hungry are getting second helpings.
The barren woman has a houseful of children,
     while the mother of many is bereft. God brings death and God brings life,
    brings down to the grave and raises up.
God brings poverty and God brings wealth;
    he lowers, he also lifts up.
He puts poor people on their feet again;
    he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope,
Restoring dignity and respect to their lives—
    a place in the sun!
For the very structures of earth are God’s;
    he has laid out his operations on a firm foundation.
He protectively cares for his faithful friends, step by step,
    but leaves the wicked to stumble in the dark.
    No one makes it in this life by sheer muscle!
God’s enemies will be blasted out of the sky,
    crashed in a heap and burned.
God will set things right all over the earth,
    he’ll give strength to his king,
    he’ll set his anointed on top of the world!

Two witnesses who spoke and the Spirit felt either Etta James’ “At Last” or the euphoric phrase quoth by the theologian, Michael Singletary, “Hey baby… we’re gonna be here all day baby… I like that kinda party baby… bring it baby.” Merry Christmas!

Take your pick of gifts to the Spirit, romantic or realistic, light or flame, shine or blaze, candle or star… In the same way that a single wink has a thousand possible meanings, so too there are many, many, many expressions for the right response to God’s Word (“Thy will be done”), which all lead to the same unbridled enthusiasm and effort by his Spirit.  

However you chose to express your response to God’s gift, I encourage all to ask the Spirit to remake your heart like their’s. Jesus’ heart is the goal but he’s God too. Mary’s heart, like Hannah’s, was all human, like ours and their’s didn’t fall too short of his own. When he does transform we people, glorious things occur through our labors, life, now and forever in every direction. And another, personal miracle happens in the interim, while God remains the same, our perspective, our understanding of him above all things, grows. This growth is vital for every believer, not just now, but forever. Jesus himself makes it clear that not all estates are the same in eternity. I don’t know about you, but I’d at least like to be able to visit neighborhoods like Mary’s and Hannah’s on Christmases in eternity, even if my assignment keeps me poking the devil with a stick or cleaning up gum in the parking lot above.

For me, maybe just for me, I’ve never been hungry, innocent, or the least in the world. By my teens, I was stuffed, wicked, and affluent to conviction. So I tried to die a martyr’s death. Vain glories were I, and making it to my 30’s was an unwelcome shock. Since then, I try and do whatever, however my Lord commands or askes to the best of my abilities. Many are called to die for His cause, but I haven’t yet. In the interim, I was taught that I didn’t have to risk my life to help captives survive, bring medicine to remote peoples, or comfort the stigmatized in an alien world just like Jesus does. Some others are lucky to get those assignments now, while I do very little. But I learned that I still might spiffy-up things about my poor estate.

I might become more like Jesus, a wiser steward in all things that belong to God. I can reach across the equation to resolve, in light, if only for a moment, some of the inequity, indignity, and suffering in this world that the dark powers have wrought. In time, I hope that I may do more. But this year, all He asked me to do (about the time this posts on Christmas) is pack gift boxes for a few hours, with some friends, for 3rd parties that the coming of God always lifts up, like Mary and Hannah said. That’s my gift. That’s it, and then my fat keister will support all the work my wife does for everybody. Before that we’ll get cozy, watch some sappy Hallmark movies (all with the same plot), and I’ll thank God that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my life today. Maybe I am not blazing today, but my heart is full, so that my soul might shine a little more, if need be. And need always be. We hope you can too.     

Melchizadek anticipated Him, he the vicar was watching to see priesthood’s Lord Whose hyssop cleanses creation… Aaron anticipated Him, he who saw that if his staff swallowed reptiles, His cross would swallow the Reptile that swallowed Adam and Eve. Moses saw the fixed serpent that healed the stings of basilisks, and he anticipated he would see the Healer of the first Serpent’s wound. Moses saw that he alone received the brightness of God, and he anticipated the One to come – by His teaching, the Multiplier of the godlike. –St. Ephrem the Syria

That’s me, and I hope to cross over Jordan too.

He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter at the inn, that He may for us prepare many mansions in the house of His heavenly Father … He was born, not in the house of His parents, but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the Incarnation He is become the Way, by which He guides us to our home. He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter at the inn, that He may for us prepare many mansions in the house of His heavenly Father …. He was born, not in the house of His parents, but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the Incarnation He is become the Way, by which He guides us to our home.-Venerable Bede 

Two of the very best at what they do, for the greatest One who builds all things well.

He became a servant on earth; He was Lord on high. Inheritor of the height and depth, Who became a stranger. But the One Who was judged wrongly will judge in truth, and He in Whose face they spat, breathed the spirit into the face. He Who held a weak reed was the scepter for the world that grows old and leans on Him. He Who stood [and] served His servants, sitting, will be worshipped. He Whom the Scribes scorned — the Seraphim sang “holy” before Him. –St. Ephraim the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity 

From there you can look South…

Well Jesus isn’t a baby anymore in our timeline. No, at this point in the Story he’s something else, and he’s looking down to us intently from North to South. The last time I descended in Spirit and soul from speaking with our Father below the crystal sea to the middle ground where Angel City is blowing and going, Jesus, not Mel, walked me from the meeting place across the living sands to the edge. I was tense because I was supposed to be keeping somethings secret. So while I was all stressed out, he smiled and told me to look down and I saw the earth clothed in souls like twinkling stars. Some were strong and bright, others flickered but wanted to be bright, while still others were dark voids that actually drew in light but reflected nothing. It was all-in-one like a dimmer sky, breathing and moving about the world. Then I saw something I’ve never see before. Jesus began to light up brighter and brighter until even my soul glowed more in His aurorean field. And the souls below, on earth, grew in brilliant refection of Jesus’ Light too, while the stars about us sang louder, and space groaned. But I kept looking at him, even though he told me to look down repeatedly. I never want to leave, but that time it was really hard to even look away.    

Now, I don’t know what all that means. Perhaps it isn’t for me to say. It has taken months to unpack it for words. But I remember how it made me feel. I always remember how He makes me feel. Since I read Dante in high school the first time, I always wondered how it felt when, from above, Virgil showed him the mess that lie below, the need and pain in the fiery chaos. So, I thanked my spotless and full-grown Lord of Glory for the gift of that feeling, as tense and intense as it was. As now, I know why Dante wrote that ‘the only just answer comes in the doing of the right deed’ and ‘grim realities await those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.’ Some of my people put it more simply, ‘the greatest liberty a person can know is doing the right thing, not because they are told to, but because they want to.’ I can’t do much but I want to do anything more. I can want that because great saints like Hannah and Mary have taught me how and what to want, to be a soul free and blessed in Reality, not in a disintergrating world view. We hope you are willing to receive and respond to that gift honestly as well, the gift of Jesus for liberating and blessed service to others, from our Father, through Christ Jesus. Joy and peace to all this Christmas tide!

…from South to North, circle rounded in Christ.

Jesus’ Prayer for His Followers

Jesus said these things. Then, lowering his eyes in prayer, he said: “Father, it’s time.
Display the bright splendor of your Son
So the Son in turn may show your bright splendor.
You put him in charge of everything human
So he might give real and eternal life to all in his charge.
And this is the real and eternal life:
That they know you,
The one and only true God,
And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
I glorified you on earth
By completing down to the last detail
What you assigned me to do.
And now, Father, glorify me with your very own splendor,
The very splendor I had in your presence
Before there was a world. I spelled out your character in detail
To the men and women you gave me.
They were yours in the first place;
Then you gave them to me,
And they have now done what you said.
They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt,
That everything you gave me is firsthand from you,
For the message you gave me, I gave them;
And they took it, and were convinced
That I came from you.
They believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world
But for those you gave me,
For they are yours by right.
Everything mine is yours, and yours mine,
And my life is on display in them.
For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world;
They’ll continue in the world
While I return to you.
Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life
That you conferred as a gift through me,
So they can be one heart and mind
As we are one heart and mind.
As long as I was with them, I guarded them
In the pursuit of the life you gave through me;
I even posted a night watch.”

Jesus prayed this in summation to what he told us before:

The Spirit of Truth

If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you! I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you. The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will disclose myself intimately to him… Because a loveless world is a sightless world. If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word and my Father will love him—we’ll move right into the neighborhood! Not loving me means not keeping my words. The message you are hearing isn’t mine. It’s the message of the Father who sent me. I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make all things known to you. He will remind you of all things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. You’ve heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away, and I’m coming back.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I’m on my way to the Father because the Father is the goal and purpose of my life. I’ve told you this ahead of time, before it happens, so that when it does happen, the confirmation will deepen your belief in me. I’ll not be talking with you much more like this because the chief of this godless world is about to attack. But don’t worry—he has nothing on me, no claim on me. But so the world might know how thoroughly I love the Father, I am carrying out my Father’s instructions right down to the last detail. Arise, let’s go from here.”

To be honest, years ago I felt more “picked-on” than “picked-out.” So, I left the darkness and rejection behind. Honsetly, I hoped that I was retired for good. But now, if you’re waiting on me, then you’re backing up. For our Lord said long ago: “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Amen!

Selah

(sunrise 17.2.21 for my favorite, the season of soul-burnishing, believers’ bootcamp, or Lent)

Honesty for Awakening from Stasis

No More of This So-Called Worship!

A Message. God’s Word to Israel through Malachi: God said, “I love you.” You replied, “Really? How have you loved us?”

Look at history” (this is God’s answer). “Look at how differently I’ve treated you, Jacob, from Esau: I loved Jacob and hated Esau. I reduced pretentious Esau to a molehill, turned his whole country into a ghost town.”

When Edom (Esau) said, “We’ve been knocked down, but we’ll get up and start over, good as new,” God-of-the-Angel-Armies said, “Just try it and see how far you get. When I knock you down, you stay down. People will take one look at you and say, ‘Land of Evil!’ and ‘the God-cursed tribe!’

“Yes, take a good look. Then you’ll see how faithfully I’ve loved you and you’ll want even more, saying, ‘May God be even greater, beyond the borders of Israel!’ “Isn’t it true that a son honors his father and a worker his master? So if I’m your Father, where’s the honor? If I’m your Master, where’s the respect?” God-of-the-Angel-Armies is calling you on the carpet: “You priests despise me!

“You say, ‘Not so! How do we despise you?’ “By your shoddy, sloppy, defiling worship. “You ask, ‘What do you mean, “defiling”? What’s defiling about it?’

“When you say, ‘The altar of God is not important anymore; worship of God is no longer a priority,’ that’s defiling. And when you offer cursed lifeforms for sacrifices in daily worship, animals that you’re trying to get rid of—dead, blind and sick and crippled animals—isn’t that defiling? Try a trick like that with your banker or your senator—how far do you think it will get you?” God-of-the-Angel-Armies asks you.

“Get on your knees and pray that I will be gracious to you. You priests have gotten everyone in trouble. With this kind of conduct, do you think I’ll pay attention to you?” God-of-the-Angel-Armies asks you.

“Why doesn’t one of you just shut the Temple doors and lock them? As I have! Then none of you can get in and play at religion with this silly, empty-headed worship. I am not pleased. The God-of-the-Angel-Armies is not pleased. And I don’t want any more of this so-called worship!

Offering God Something Hand-Me-Down, Broken, or Useless

“I am honored all over the world. And there are common people who know how to worship me all over the world, who honor me by bringing their best to me. They’re saying it everywhere: ‘God is greater, this God-of-the-Angel-Armies.’

“All except you. Instead of honoring me, you profane me. You profane me when you say, ‘Worship is not important, and what we bring to worship is of no account,’ and when you say, ‘I’m bored—this doesn’t do anything for me.’ You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air—act superior to me, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! And when you do offer something to me, it’s a hand-me-down, or broken, or useless, or dead! Do you think I’m going to accept it? This is God speaking to you!

“A curse on the person who makes a big show of doing something great for me—an expensive sacrifice, say—and then at the last minute brings in something cursed and worthless! I’m a great king, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, honored far and wide, and I’ll not put up with it!”

Desecrating the Holiness of God

“And now this indictment, you priests! If you refuse to obediently listen, and if you refuse to honor me, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, in worship, then I’ll put you under a curse. I’ll exchange all your blessings for curses. In fact, the curses are already at work because you’re not serious about honoring me. Yes, and the curse will extend to your children. I’m going to plaster your faces with rotting garbage, garbage thrown out from your feasts. That’s what you have to look forward to!

“Maybe that will wake you up. Maybe then you’ll realize that I’m indicting you in order to put new life into my covenant with the priests of Levi, the covenant of God-of-the-Angel-Armies. My covenant with Levi was to give life and peace. I kept my covenant with him, and he honored me. He stood in reverent awe before me. He taught the truth and did not lie. He walked with me in peace and uprightness. He kept many out of the ditch, kept them on the road.

It’s the job of priests to teach the truth. People are supposed to look to them for guidance. The priest is the messenger of God-of-the-Angel-Armies. But you priests have abandoned the way of priests. Your teaching has messed up many lives. You have corrupted the covenant of priest Levi. God-of-the-Angel-Armies says so. And so I am showing you up for who you are. Everyone will be disgusted with you and avoid you because you don’t live the way I told you to live, and you don’t teach my revelation truly and impartially.

Don’t we all come from one Father? Aren’t we all created by the same God? So why can’t we get along? Why do we desecrate the covenant of our ancestors that binds us together?

Judah has cheated on God—a sickening violation of trust in Israel and Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the holiness of God by falling in love and running off with foreign women, women who worship alien gods. God’s curse on those who do this! Drive them out of house and home! They’re no longer fit to be part of the community no matter how many offerings they bring to God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

And here’s a second offense: You fill the place of worship with your whining and sniveling because you don’t get what you want from God. Do you know why? Simple. Because God was there as a witness when you spoke your marriage vows to your young bride, and now you’ve broken those vows, broken the faith-bond with your vowed companion, your covenant wife. God, not you, made marriage. His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage. And what does he want from marriage? Children of God, that’s what. So guard the spirit of marriage within you. Don’t cheat on your spouse.

“I hate divorce,” says the God of Israel. God-of-the-Angel-Armies says, “I hate the violent dismembering of the ‘one flesh’ of marriage.” So watch yourselves. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t cheat.

You make God tired with all your talk.

“How do we tire him out?” you ask.

By saying, “God loves sinners and sin alike. God loves all.” And also by saying, “Judgment? God’s too nice to judge.”

An Ebenezer of Honesty Before Moving on to Hope

Before we start, I am putting this here because the only thing that grieves me more than the completely unnecessary loss of life is the arrogant ignorance and depraved indifference that so many who claim Christ (pagans and the lost I understand) show towards the needless suffering that will mark the survivors for decades to come… all the things left undone or openly lied about… What kind of gods do they have, in all honesty? God is not fooled by their performances of worship and acclimations of faith. No, He sees them without excuse no matter their reasons. This should’ve never happen. But it will again, even worse, if enough people don’t get honest.

I will not forget today or pretend about tommorrow even is all the Vicky-christ claimers do cheat and lie until their adulterous ends

Contagious diseases highlight the dishonesty of a people and proliferate by deceptive beliefs. Wilfull, especailly self-righteous, ignorance always ends in death. The same social and spiritual maladies that provoked 9/11 from overseas have now been wreaking a similiar mass casualty event everyday within US borders. Who’s the enemy now? Their ever expanding play-list of profligate and delusional phobias (homo, Islamo, political-eco, etc.) which demarcate the idolaters are of little use now, as if any ever were in reality. Wisdom says there’s no end to the fears of the wicked.

Dishonest people have no real Hope, and an even grimmer future, no matter what their chosen entertainment sources tell them. When will the arrogant ignorant come clean? When can they finally quit cheating on God and get honest about themselves? When their money is taken away? Honestly, that possibility bothers me too, but it would only take an instant. More reality checks, as many as needed, are “in the wings.” All God need do is nothing but allow the mountains of self-inflicted consquences to run their course as the nations fall into tumult. All He need do is not bless. But nowadays, who would even notice? How few?

The enemy separates people from God. If you scapegoat your neighbor, then you are the enemy. If you are throwing shade to ignore your own part in the mess, then you are the enemy. If you refuse to look in the mirror honestly, then you are the enemy. Enemy of whom? God, the One calling you to account. But instead of returning, they lie in ever-greater rumors and enable even more death in worse conspiracies and corruptions, just so they can promote themselves, their idols, and their faithlessness to death, literally.

Isn’t the reality check at hand enough? An unnecessary and self-inflicted mass casualty event everyday? This curse is sponsored to the world by the sons of disobedience (spiritual adulterers) desiring the power(s) of air (alien gods), struggling for a rule of lawlessness by rumor, time and again… Vichy-christians who devolved the gospel of Christ Jesus back to the imperial euangelion from whence it came, exchanging service with Jesus for ruling with Satan in perpetual obfuscation and distraction for fallen powers. But then, hallow people can only cast a shadow, because in reality they are not even there for God.

God’s desire edifies and directs faithful people, as he does all rectified creation, in righteousness with open and honest Eyes. The hallow ones are so sick they ignore or deny the death within their walls. They have covered themselves in a landscape of grim evidence, not righteousness. I could map out, as the plague has, the interstitial network that connects their death and deception with their gods now, but they must get honest first. What is the test for infidelities? Does the test of bitter waters even matter when their multitudinous, material infidelities have already polluted the waters across the earth literally, from underground to the open seas?

Only Jesus’ righteousness saves eternally above. But for all of us called to serve below in the meantime, for his ends, doing the right things for the right reasons is a practical gaurd against the selfishness and self-centeredness which is the root of destruction that shaped the past and immediate present. It need not be anyone’s future, neither for self nor other, God’s people nor the nations. I beg you, do not miss that mark. I plead, realign your aim with God’s no matter the cost. Don’t trade eternity for a bowl of comfortable stew!

A faith in “once saved always saved” has become a comfortable and convenient platitude of ease addressing the wrong soteriological question for those in exodus to Christ’s Kingdom. Duh, of course it’s true. Jesus is righteous and judges all; so certainly, he ultimately sends every soul to the one(s) they served in reality. But here and now, we start with a reality check in the wasteland that all the dishonesty has created. The first honest questions today concerning salvation should be: What master (in reality) do you follow and serve (whom are you “saved to”)? What does that path look like? And do your fruits (pick any or all) match scriptural fruits in reality? If I had to essentialize like everyone else does… I don’t like to because process is more honest and real… the one question would be, can Jesus see himself in you and your community? He himself intimates the essential question most simply, “where is your heart?” And Paul talks about “the body of Christ,” still others a “hardness of heart.” To answer it truthfully, honesty is required even if we don’t like the answers. In time, God will change us to a pleasing response.

None of us care what you call yourself or the shape of your communal piety, blessings and lay on! Just know that followers of Jesus, His Way, never traffic in death or deception nor do we ignore or rationalize it; if you really live as Christ did, then death is a gain, no question about it. Don’t you think that Jesus can recognize his image mirrored in his people… no matter what? Cannot others too? How is any “other” ever going to believe a greater truth about any social issue if the same witnesses preaching are in denial about the bedrock, shared realities of plagues, math, or the weather? Even the lost mock if someone preaches life and spreads death. And it is right that they should! In this old, deceptive arrangement others rarely come to the Truth, because the testimonies about life are “unquestionably selective in nature.” Even the wicked recognize wickedness, but the dishonest seldom see and never confess theirown twists.

Honesty is the point origin and abiding necessity for all today’s salvific questions to be answered favorably, in progressive revelation, most often of an educational type. If you simply begin to try that’s enough for today, so don’t be too hard on yourself right now. Arise tomorrow and repeat. God is faithfull and awaits the opening of eyes that He loves in tomorrow’s first light, like a husband without morning breath. It is rare that one is struck honest in a flash, the Sun doesn’t just appear at mid-day; it slowly travels there… more on all that in Lent. We promise, because without honesty today there will never be real transformation nor true unity tomorrow, the kind that Jesus’ marriage bed deserves in the eternity to come.

Honesty For Hope

Again, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.–Dickens

The end for many is also the beginning for many more. Let’s be honest and biblical from the start, not doctrinal or preachy about it, for there are always and already enough snakes in the fallen masonry of a dying garden.
I looked behind a door
And saw a world that had disappeared long before
Hide my eyes from the light
And say the words that I can’t understand
And Judah and the Maccabees they come to me
Singing

I looked behind a door
Into the eyes of a prophet who lived so long before
Hide the light from me
And say the prayers that I should understand
And if Elijah comes and takes a chair by me
I’ll sing

And Judah and the Maccabees they come for me
Singing

“Bad boys whatcha gonna do” when Judah and the Maccabees come for you? Hide from the light much? What if Elijah pulled up a chair by you? Because the Lion and we are, directly and at-a-pace… To start, for everyone who is alive the Holy Spirit, Truth is our Prime Mover. So, honesty is a journey toward the Light not a staged destination where the lights shine on us. There’s always more to be revealed later by the Light. And the farther down the trail we get, the greater our Hope becomes in the right knowledge of all things and our place, our proper image in his Eyes, within them. If we focus on the honest image of Jesus, then faithfulness plus Light equals a greater (deeper) knowledge of the Truth. My soul is not fascinated by the crystal darklings that shinny god-men have tried to sell me over the centuries to distract my eyes from the Light. I am only enthralled by what Jesus gives me to light the worlds their of dark-nesses.

In the interregnum, between Malachi and the dawning of Righteousness, during a time when even many God-fearers thought there was no prophecy nor miracles… there were people who God worked with in miracles. The biblical saga of the Maccabees is the background for the miracle of Hanukah. I was a typical church boy in the American south while empire was in full rage. So I was deprived of many of these important stories about God and his people, ‘a primitive Christmas’ was the best gloss of disinformation I got from honest church folk. That is mostly a lie. As a college student, my grandparents were terrified for my salvation when they discovered I was reading the Septuagint. Forget the liquor and “Corinthian women,” reading that version of the story was tempting eternal damnation!  

Today I can safely report that fear of peril was a lie. They all know that too… now. But their fear, while real, was a non-biblical fabrication by some folks who wanted to justify themselves when they decided to jettison important texts from the bibles we carry around here; too many protestants have always been very cavalier that way (see Luther’s original cannon). But what’s done is done. I know their reasons, and we can’t fix the past… But we can learn not to repeat it. ‘I have not come to bury my brothers and sisters but to lift them up,’ even though some will remain too invested in their version of the past to meet the future honestly. Honestly, reactionary and pious constructivists (be it cannon or constitution) are the most postmodern of thinkers, yet they decry postmodernity… funny that. Do you know how you can tell who’s a hypocrite? Easy, when they shut their mouth the lies stop. But we’ve been called to leave the dead to bury their dead, while we’re headed to Life in Spirit and Truth.

However, I will make a note, upon the memorial Ebenezer, an interesting age in American development. An event horizon when the cannon was truncated, which is not lost to sober, appropriately critical observers. Rev. Miller’s heirs and followers in the Great Disappointment inaugurated that age. Not by accident, it coincided with the rise of the quintessential imperial American slogan of “Manifest Destiny.” It soon found a perfect running mate in the self-congratulatory spiritism of ages by Rev. Darby from England. All of this “just happened” to work well (financially enabled) with prosperity found in the rising industry of the beast. All beginning about 170 years ago, that’s one hell of a mule train stuck in the Grand canyon, or that’s a long bowling alley for bowling pins of today to watch that balled serpent to come rolling at you.

But hey, who cares about history? People just want to make their own names profitable today. Good luck with all that, but if we want to be with Jesus we can’t keep making the same mistakes repeatedly. Jesus and I don’t mind a little crazy in our brides, from time to time, in fact, we gloat on it a bit. But doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome… that’s just insane. Old school translation might call it the reprobate mind of idolaters, and it is written that Jesus cannot be wed with an adulteress. But I digress…

I don’t expect too many to know the great and intriguing story of the Maccabees that well upon reading this. Maybe sometime in the next year you can rebel against disinformation and read for yourself at least the first two books of the Maccabees and then we can do some ninja hermeneutics next year. For today, to begin, I am just going to share about three levels of honesty that anyone can understand based on the broad strokes of the Maccabean narratives with Judah. Then we’ll end with a really intriguing prophetic image for Christmas and God’s intended end for this age. Basic stuff, no worries.

It was about 170 years before the arrival of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who is the only Messiah. The “holy ones” believed that God had been struck mute and miracles had ceased. How could any of “God’s people” ever be that deaf, dumb, and blind? Arrogance in comfort maybe? Hum. The successor to Alexander the Great was ruling the Holy Land and proving to be a real stinker in the punch bowl of proper temple worship. How? He prominently placed imperial symbols in the temple, covered the sacred ground with burnt cursed offerings, and proclaimed himself a son of God (when he most certainly wasn’t)… all the while ruling in oppression and lawlessness (lies, conspiracy, and rumor). Can you image such ugliness, hate, and evil? Hum.

Now you might think that kind of clear and present spiritual-cum-material corruption would have every real God-fearer in the land very disturbed. You might imagine the lawless one would have been seen coming miles away. You might believe they’d be righteously indignant if only for God’s strong self-regard. But then, you’d be wrong on each account, only a few were angry along with God. You might think, okay, well they couldn’t do anything about it so they chaffed under the wicked yolk. But many didn’t. Most of the leaders had become Hellenized by power, wealth, and status over the people of the land; those poor, ignorant and misled, didn’t have time to think deeply, like professional religious elites did. The poor multitudes could not think about much other than where there next meal was coming from. The few rich folks feathered their nests with “shell collections” and comforting lies. Vultures never had it so good.

The Maccabees were among the few who were neither seduced nor charmed by Greek rule or culture. They were trained critics of culture, for God’s strong self-regard. They honestly refused to become compromised puppets of the ruler. And they led a successful rebellion to oust the lawlessness, cleanse the temple, and set things right. Any student of military history could tell you that the military victories were the result of brilliant and field tested leadership that was accompanied by somewhat miraculous and well timed, in the bigger picture issues, impinging on that theater of Great operations. Warriors from Napoleon to Bradley studied that history because it was that awesome. I suggest you read about it sometime. 

Well, hurrah and the cowboy rode off into the sunset, then on the next day came the Day-breaker, the advent of Jesus, the Rightful ruler.  But not so fast, a funny thing happened on the way to sunrise. And that dramedy of errors and thrills is best read through a lens of honesty on many levels, if we are to avoid the same mistakes. I mean, er, if ever anyone might see any parallels with today or tomorrow… maybe. Let the reader beware, that conviction is left for them to decide, for the moment. But eye, there’s the rub… unless we honestly assess the situation then and now to operationalize the knowledge in wisdom… we might not make it to the realization of the vision. And believe me, every follower of Jesus is living and dying for that vision.

To do that we need a paradigm shift, from flesh to Spirit, because for those of us who fight for Truth, the fight is never just superficial. The truth inhabits all layers of existence like the accretions of a pearl. Eyes are not enough to peel back the layers to get to the original issue, the disturbance that invoked God’s creation of beauty around the irritation. To avoid sin in repetition is to turn from insanity, so we might mitigate the consequences and shame. Everyone in the Spirit has already been given all power and authority to forgive those who have sinned against us (including ourselves) and then get to work in alleviating the consequences of our failures before we can think with right authority about the sins we see in others.

Culture not is NOT spirit. Zeitgeist is a thing but it is not a spirit in the biblical sense. As a professional medical anthropologist (ret) I can say PhD’s in biblical studies and theology are errant enough concerning all things cultural. And I won’t even go there with all the self-appointed culture warriors, because they rarely, if ever, have the slightest idea of what they’re talking about. As a result, they have done much more damage than they alone can repair… Geertz and Girard are too much for everybody, right now. Just know that whatever culture is or ain’t, it is dynamic, contested, situated, and deeply layered. Also, there’s even more difficulty in tracing, mapping the ephemeral sinews between layers.

For today, all we need to know as we now trudge towards the Light is to best serve God and others we must move from flesh-based perspectives to the Spiritual one. This is what scientists call a paradigm shift. Now, you can rebel, good luck and adios. But you need to know that the greater reality around the everyday reality in which most swim without understanding (try asking a fish what water is, they just stare) is being altered, slowly and steadily, and it is already marking out subjects with significant effects. If you want to be useful and enjoy some divinely potent benefits, then you need to engage the Spirit. It is not that scary or dramatic, go at an easy pace, but please do it.  

The definition of a paradigm shift is “a change from one way of being (which became rigid and static) to another movement (where there is movement there is life). It just does not happen, but rather it is driven by agents of change (that’s what we want to begin to become for Jesus, be patient).” Mr. Kuhn is credited with first using the term, but I believe we can make out an earlier outline for the pattern in the Apostle Paul when he talks about the duties of a Christian. Yes things to do, after we first take hold of what Jesus offered to us! That is where “the more” and “the difference” is… Ya’know that bothersome other 90% of the biblical texts…

Sacrifice of Body and Mind. So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Oh, I know you’ve heard this many times, but be doers not just sayers… and ironically it is most often deployed when religous leaders call people to do an earthly agenda. No, it will “work” only when people based on a Spiritual way of life manifest divine fruit in the world through proper whole life worship. Any other use is an abuse and those involved will be relieved of any eternal duties. Also, it is definitively both a personal and communal process. The real Spiritual exodus out of the world and aerial dog-fight up to Jesus only occurs when it is driven by increasingly honest people implementing key biblical rudiments: the Word of God (his holistic ordering of all said elements), a salvific journey along a fruit-bearing path in arears (feel free to use your favorite grammar of doctrinal schema, unless or until it dissipates the yield), a perspectival redress of concerns from self to other, and the Holy Spirit in action and in prayer.

With this in mind, the orthogonal take-away from all that history of the Maccabees this season is simple, bitter, and short. Who’s to blame for the failure of the revolt? I mean, if it had been done rightly and maintained honestly, then there may have been a whole other set and setting to meet the arrival of the Lord of Glory. But hey, people, am I right? Got to love them in peace, on the whole!

And that’s just it, the failure of God’s people is rarely, if ever, about one person or one group. As God’s people, we all (EVERYBODY, yours truly most of all!) have work at getting honest and grow in the Light of the Truth every day. It is a process. When we are honest, the Light feeds, grows, and rises us up, but when we’re dishonest the very same Light will burn us to the ground in ashes. Again, nobody can claim perfect growth besides Jesus, and it is he who calls us to try. He also provides us with brothers and sisters to pick us up, as well as a sometimes frustrating but pretty cool Guide. Now some are sicker than others, most often we’re the other but occasionally we’re the some. Yes we all might go crazy but we don’t all go crazy at the same time, like most of Israel has done from time to time. That’s who’s at fault.

Most point at the man of lawlessness himself who desecrated worship and God’s home by corrupting the temple. But that is a really flimsy, fleshy read. Going deeper, it was the Jewish leadership who traded the earthly delights of Hellenization and misled the people of the land; that’s the real abomination, exploiting the people. For as much as God enjoyed his dive on earth, he’s really always been about the people and what they desire in their hearts and worship with heads and hands. That might be truer today than it was then, if you have the honest eyes to see.

Hold your nose so we can hit bottom here, the Maccabees failed themselves, their people, and their God. Over time, the freedom-fighting revolutionaries became the stiff-necked wall-eyed establishment, like sun-scorched prophets becoming ear-tickling priests. For them as a clan it became about earthly reign and religous rule for themselves, their own name, instead of the righteousness of Israel, that is to say Israel’s God. Could you ever imagine being their kinsman redeemer? Wow, what a load! Hum, big picture for now though… the many-tiered failures by a majority of God’s people time and again, not just the sins in “one type of culture,” make one hell of a bonfire and include lots of material fallout with an unacceptable amount of collateral damage. But that past should no longer be our future, even if it is our immediate present. We promise.

A Honest and Biblical Vision of God’s Summation on Earth

What does God want to see? Where is all this headed down the line? What might we be a part of? I learned the basis of this vision from some of my favorite teachers, now I can’t call all of them Jesus followers but they certainly laid great ground work for Jesus… and, hey… Heaven and all creation are run by a small Jewish family concern, but please don’t tell the anti-Semites who claim Christ. We kind of want that to be a surprise for them on their respective big days… unkind? Maybe but, for me and maybe just for me, it is ordered, honest, and biblical as it is written, ‘let the sinners keep sinning.’ 

When Noah woke up with his hangover, he learned what his youngest son had done. He said,

“Cursed be Canaan! A slave of slaves,
    a slave to his brothers!
Blessed be God, the God of Shem,
    but Canaan shall be his slave.
God prosper Japheth,
    living spaciously in the tents of Shem.
But Canaan shall be his slave.”

Yup, back to Genesis and a patriarch rising from a bender, again. It happens as it’s written, like it or not, God puts prophecy in asses, sober drunks, and history, all of his histories because “the good folks” are actually “the bad boys,” on occasion. Mysterious ways in deed. Maybe there’s even some prophecy in the Maccabean yarns, perhaps a little thing here or there, just maybe. God’s awesome that way; but some, for myriad reasons, want to uncritically project their own desires into the ecstatic visions from lost symbolic worlds. Good luck, because any semiotician worth their salt will tell you that you need to know your situated histories and their contested contexts before you can begin to try to read your symbols rightly. Before that, first you must be fearless and honest enough to rightly assess your own perspective and keep that critique in mind at all times. Those first two steps and keeping a focus on process are where most have fallen off the wagon, so to speak… But we covered that enough below and before. The point is that it’s okay to be Shem or even Japeth but not Canaan, who became a catchall term for idolatry, serving other gods.

I came across the history researching on priestly garments that the writer of Ephesians foregrounds. The vision comes from another Hanukah, a prophetic second one reported to have happened 30 days after the first is celebrated but actually a generation of leadership before the desolation of the temple, which led to the Maccabees’ material warfare and ultimate failure, despite some miracles.

Nonsense? Well there are two Passovers, a second one 30 days later in case you can’t make the first one… multiple services if you will. To get to it you’ve got to have some insight into the history of discussions the masters record when they discuss how to live in obedience to God’s Word. It is from the Gemara in Yoma 69a. I know, it isn’t a text that most biblical scholars discuss and you certainly won’t hear it preached in these parts, but it is relevant context for the texts that we supposedly hold sacred… so we might say it is contagiously holy or immediately holy adjacent… No? Well, you don’t have to think about it ever again. we’re looking at patterns across time, not a new doctrine, God forbid. But you got to see is one picture to see the first Christmas in a deeper way, a huge event in “Christendom” 1700 years ago, and maybe, just maybe, another event in the future that most only hint at expectantly.

“Come and hear: As to priestly garments, it is forbidden to go out in them in the province, but in the Sanctuary whether during or outside the time of the service, it is permitted to wear them, because priestly garments are permitted for private use. This is conclusive. But in the province [it is] not [permitted]? Surely it was taught: The twenty-fifth of Tebeth is the day of Mount Gerizim, on which no mourning is permitted. It is the day on which the Cutheans demanded the House of our God from Alexander the Macedonian (the Great) so as to destroy it, and he had given them the permission, whereupon some people came and informed Simeon the Just (the High Priest). What did the latter do? He put on his priestly garments, robed himself in priestly garments, some of the noblemen of Israel went with him carrying fiery torches in their hands, they walked all the night, some walking on one side and others on the other side, until the dawn rose. When the dawn rose he [Alexander] said to them: Who are these [the Samaritans]? They answered: The Jews who rebelled against you. As he reached Antipatris, the sun having shone forth, they met. When he (Alexander the Great) saw Simeon the Just, he descended from his carriage and bowed down before him. They said to him: A great king like yourself should bow down before this Jew? He answered: His image it is which wins for me in all my battles. He said to them: What have you come for? They said: Is it possible that star-worshippers should mislead you to destroy the House wherein prayers are said for you and your kingdom that it be never destroyed! He said to them: Who are these? They said to him: These are Cutheans who stand before you. He said: They are delivered into your hand. At once they perforated their heels, tied them to the tails of their horses and dragged them over thorns and thistles, until they came to Mount Gerizim, which they ploughed and planted with vetch, even as they had planned to do with the House of God. And that day they made a festive day. If you like say: They were fit to be priestly garments, or, if you like, say: It is time to work for the Lord: they have made void Thy law.”

There you have it! The ruler of the world sent by the enemies of God’s chosen people to destroy God’s abode, but instead he bows before the High Priest, nary a word spoken nor a shot fired. All peaceable like. Oooh wee, get some! Forget all these damned doomsday cults and enticing entertainments! Just give me and mine God’s Word, his vision, and a Star to guide because that’s where I am going! Can’t wait! I hope you caught a glimpse too!

Pardon me… sometimes I get a bit high in the Spirit when he shares the good stuff. It’s written that’s okay time-to-time. You might have seen a foreshadowing of the magi at the manger of Peace, or perhaps something greater to come. There is a lot to unpack there. There is even a prophetic image for Constantine’s so-called conversion that initiated the unholy train wreck that we’re trying to survive today.

I’ll just list a few little things from my notes that caught my eye at my first read. The lineage of the priest (always important) is debated, but the character’s historicity is attested in multiple texts. The suit that reflects God’s glory is interesting, very interesting, and I’m piling information on it high and deep right now (PhD). The time-place rules for wearing it are intriguing. What could be Simeon’s personal reason for stepping out in God’s finery? What social situation could provoke such a bold move? When did/does Jesus, God in the flesh, the Light himself step out in his flesh suit? No matter the whys, the priestly entourage walks through the darkness carrying torch-lights about the suit of lights, so it can reflect those dimmer lights until daybreak. Hum.

But maybe the bigger point, the key for today, is in the portion of Scripture above and before us all in every version of the bible. Perhaps the weight is in the image that the story constructs; Hebrew is excellent that way. And where else would I look for the answer? It is God’s desire and plan, prophecy-cum-promise, that “He prosper Japheth, living spaciously in the tents of Shem.” If you know some family history and the Genesis grammar code, it might roughly translate that ultimately God (not any bogus world system or human construct) will truly prosper Greeks (gentiles) when they are rightly ordered and covered in the Jewish household of God’s abode. And who is the Master of the Jewish household? Whether they know it or not, it is Jesus. Also, a warning from the prophetic text: be on guard against adultery to God (idolatry in any and all other seductive world systems) or there will be an eternal enslavement rather than the forever freedom to which you were called. Please don’t blow your eternal inheritance, even if you think doing the right thing today will cost you too much in your earthly retirement, no matter how yummy the stew. The eyes of Heaven are upon you.     

To close, if you know any Nostradamus wanna-bes pointing to false Messiahs carrying flashy, mad-power schemes with the future all planed out in vain glory, like Jesus said they would, feel free to tell them, ‘go on and enjoy your banquet in the grave.’ I am just going keep doing what I do, not much and seldom too hard. I’ll just keep reading what God and my good Lord give me every single day, rinse and repeat in the moment, as fairly and equitably as he enables me on that given day. And ultimately I know, as sure as the Sun rises, that we’ll all see what all eyes will see: Satan with every single one of his dirty and destructive servants who ruled upon the earth in lies and corruptions as they finally bow in silence before they are cast down and sealed up, the end for them because ‘they worked to void God’s logos‘ in his cosmos. God will not help a master defined by his servants, he crushes the idols with the idolaters.

Their time is short but ours is not. Sure, I might not know all the hows or whens exactly, that’s a good thing. And I may fall for an instant in death first, just so to see the scene repeated from Glory. Whatever pleases God, I am in. We don’t need a rebellion if we walk in fidelity, just ask Daniel. I know all I need to know for today, I know right from wrong, death from life, and truth from lie. I will not forget or pretend no matter how dark it gets because I wear my flesh to reflect the Light. It is our committed hope and our Father’s desire that everybody else does too, in his honest image, as soon as possible. Happy Hanukah to Jesus! 

Besides all that, what ever happened to the Maccabees? Could they have any future after working so hard and so long on a jacked-up legacy? Could God use them? Where’d they go?

Cheap grace is not amazing grace. Grace is amazing for the honest and a trap for liars. And to be completely honest, I’m still a tiny bit miffed that my wife wouldn’t let me where a kilt at our wedding.
Religious folks are thoughtful people who want a heaven that they stipulate, while Spiritual folks are honest people who don’t want to go back to a hell that they know.
Better to drop things here and now from your hands, head, and hearts in relative darkness, beneath *stars on the billows glean,* than have them burned out later by the Light. Everyone goes through “the fire” one way or another, repentance posthaste makes it much easier whenever the time comes… but hey, they’re your lots to keep casting…

The Master You’ve Been Looking For

“Look! I’m sending my messenger on ahead to clear the way for me. Suddenly, out of the blue, the Leader you’ve been looking for will enter his Temple—yes, the Messenger of the Covenant, the one you’ve been waiting for. Look! He’s on his way!” A Message from the mouth of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

But who will be able to stand up to that coming? Who can survive his appearance?

He’ll be like white-hot fire from the smelter’s furnace. He’ll be like the strongest lye soap at the laundry. He’ll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes. He’ll scrub the Levite priests clean, refine them like gold and silver, until they’re fit for God, fit to present offerings of righteousness. Then, and only then, will Judah and Jerusalem be fit and pleasing to God, as they used to be in the years long ago.

“Yes, I’m on my way to visit you with Judgment. I’ll present compelling evidence against sorcerers, adulterers, liars, those who exploit workers, those who take advantage of widows and orphans, those who are inhospitable to the homeless—anyone and everyone who doesn’t honor me.” A Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

I am God—yes, I Am. I haven’t changed. And because I haven’t changed, you, the descendants of Jacob, haven’t been destroyed. You have a long history of ignoring my commands. You haven’t done a thing I’ve told you. Return to me so I can return to you,” says God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

“You ask, ‘But how do we return?’

Begin by being honest. Do honest people rob God? But you rob me day after day. “You ask, ‘How have we robbed you?’

By saying, “God loves sinners and sin alike. God loves all.” And also by saying, “Judgment? God’s too nice to judge.

The Difference Between Serving God and Not Serving Him

God says, “You have spoken hard, rude words to me. “You ask, ‘When did we ever do that?’

“When you said, ‘It doesn’t pay to serve God. What do we ever get out of it? When we did what he said and went around with long faces, serious about God-of-the-Angel-Armies, what difference did it make? Those who take life into their own hands are the lucky ones. They break all the rules and get ahead anyway. They push God to the limit and get by with it.’”

“You’ll be voted ‘Happiest Nation.’ You’ll experience what it’s like to be a country of grace.” God-of-the-Angel-Armies says so.

Then those whose lives honored God got together and talked it over. God saw what they were doing and listened in. A book was opened in God’s presence and minutes were taken of the meeting, with the names of the God-fearers written down, all the names of those who honored God’s name.

“The tithe and the offering—that’s how! And now you’re under a curse—the whole lot of you—because you’re robbing me. Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams. For my part, I will defend you against marauders, protect your wheat fields and vegetable gardens against plunderers.” The Message of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

God-of-the-Angel-Armies said, “They’re mine, all mine. They’ll get special treatment when I go into action. I treat them with the same consideration and kindness that parents give the child who honors them. Once more you’ll see the difference it makes between being a person who does the right thing and one who doesn’t, between serving God and not serving him.”

The Sun of Righteousness Will Dawn

“Count on it: The day is coming, raging like a forest fire. All the arrogant people who do evil things will be burned up like stove wood, burned to a crisp, nothing left but scorched earth and ash— a black day. But for you, sunrise! The sun of righteousness will dawn on those who honor my name, healing radiating from its wings. You will be bursting with energy, like colts frisky and frolicking. And you’ll tromp on the wicked. They’ll be nothing but ashes under your feet on that Day.” God-of-the-Angel-Armies says so.

Remember and keep the revelation I gave through my servant Moses, the revelation I commanded at Horeb for all Israel, all the rules and procedures for right living.

But also look ahead: I’m sending Elijah the prophet to clear the way for the Big Day of God—the decisive Judgment Day! He will convince parents to look after their children and children to look up to their parents. If they refuse, I’ll come and put the land under a curse.”

Not big things, but the “little, strange” things to “great men…” Not the stuff men pout and argue about in adoration more than life, but what God loves and desires, not places of pride but people of humility… that’s warfare that the enemies’ gates and walls will not endure, be they men’s or Satan’s.
No matter what you’ve done or who you thought you were, please turn and catch up. We’ve started walking out.

Amen

(Next stop, a wee Hope wrapped in spare, common devotion at sunrise December 25th)