Aliens & Strangers

“So Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and goodly to look upon, and she took of the fruit and ate it. And she gave some to her husband, and he ate also.” 
“And God came down to walk in the garden in the cool of the day, but the man and woman knew that they were naked and they hid themselves.”

If selfishness is the defining attribute of the sin nature, then alienation or loneliness is its chief result. Eve saw the fruit and decided her own “need” to be “wise like God” (as the serpent told her) was more important than His law. As soon as the first couple ate of the tree, they plunged the human race into a mire of self-centered depravity.

In God’s good creation, He intended humans to live in a warm glow of fellowship and service for one another.  But self-centeredness, by definition, makes us incapable of forming real bonds with other people. Thanks to the Fall, the great chain of friendship lies shattered in a million links. Humans sit alone in the dark and cold, refusing to believe that a warm fire blazes in the Great Hall of the Father.

Our relationship with God works itself out in a hundred “models” here on earth – called friendships. Just as sin cut us off from the Healer and Light, our sin nature pushes us toward loneliness and isolation here on earth. It is the fate of fallen humanity—apart from God’s gracious intervention—to feel utterly alone.

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Depravity guarantees our blindness to goodness, truth, and beauty. The hallmark of our fallen state, biased eyes fail to acknowledge God’s good gifts and favor even when He waves them in front of our faces. Instead, we doubt His motives, call His gifts “evil,” and stubbornly sit in a corner alone to nurse our own catalog of life’s “injustices.”

The Trinity existed in perfect harmony with each other for eons before God created humans. Perfect love, perfect fellowship, perfect unity flows among the Three-in-One. Yahweh intended to share that beautiful gift with His creatures … and even our perverse depravity cannot entirely shut out the warmth of fellowship. “In those moments when we find sweet fellowship here on earth, it’s like a taste of heaven,” a friend remarked to me recently.

God does not need us … yet He chooses to put up with the petulant cries of darkened humans who reject His love, doubt His motives, and stomp on His gifts. I’m talking about Christians here—about myself … God’s own family members. We are the ones who have the most reasons to trust our Father, yet fail repeatedly to even bother.

It is when my own attempts to love someone are rejected out of hand, trampled, or thrown back in my face with contempt that I catch a slight glimmer of how much heartache it costs our Savior to do the daily, gritty, mundane work of Redemption.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem – how often would I have gathered you to Myself like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings! But you would not.”

It’s not me, it’s you, Windows.

I have been using one of the school’s laptops off & on this year — it generally makes my life a lot easier and reduces the amount of time I was spending at the school building in the evenings. (At least I can sit on the couch and work instead of abandoning Coart for most of the evening.)

I should say I’ve been using several of the school’s laptops this year, because none of them has worked consistently.  The first one (we’ll call it “NCS 5”) met its untimely death when the new battery melted into the motherboard (while the laptop was sitting in my livingroom overnight!).

The second was just an interim — “NCS 6” showed up at my door during one of the 8th graders’ newsletter work sessions.  We had a short and noncommittal relationship.

In late December, I thought I’d finally found “the one” — “NCS 9.”  Despite being plagued by the same irritating design flaws as all the HP laptops owned by the school (I swear I will *never* buy a PC laptop, and certainly not one made by HP/Compaq), Nine and I hit it off.  I created my own user account. (Is that kinda like moving in? Or when the girl puts her shaving gel & deoderant in the guy’s bathroom?)  I customized Outlook for my email account.  I nabbed a cool picture from the scene performances as my desktop and installed all the quirky Firefox extensions to make my life simpler.  It was a good Christmas, despite the fact that Nine ate my Italy photo CD (anybody know how to get a REALLY jammed CD-R out of a CD drive??)

This morning, Nine wrote me the PC equivalent of “F-off” and shattered our idyllic existence:
Apparently the power cord got dislodged this AM (it happens *all* the time — one of the design flaws I hate) and the laptop (on standby) ran the battery down to zero.  When I booted the thing a few hours ago to start my day, Nine had no record whatsoever of my user account.

*blinks*

All my files.  All my drafted emails.  All my handy-dandy Firefox extensions.  Gone.
The default saccharin XP desktop photo (green grass/blue sky) stared back at me from a computer with total amnesia.  As far as it’s concerned, “Lori Ramey” had no effect on its life.

[insert stream of expletives]

I’m computer-savvy enough to locate my documents folder (buried in the system files) and transfer it to an iPod. But I have no idea why the user account just …. evaporated.  And the problem seems to be recurrent — on the latest reboot, the computer didn’t even remember that a Lori Ramey user account ever existed. *shakes head*  It’s like living a cyber-version of 50 First Dates.

Since it’s too early in the day to drown my woes in alcohol, I headed over to apple.com to fantasize about buying a MacBook Pro and ending my relationship with Windows for good. (Is it really adultery if you never loved him in the first place?)   Alas, even my imaginative brain can’t justify the hefty price tag of an Apple laptop….

…yet.

My students. We gave them permission to beat the daylights out of one of the defunct CPUs. So therapeutic for all involved. lol
My students. We gave them permission to beat the daylights out of one of the defunct CPUs. So therapeutic for all involved. lol

Hard for me to disagree more….

In a recent Newsweek article, Stephen Jones, now the President of Bob Jones University (since Dr Bob III retired last spring) answered a question about whether he would be as involved in politics & culture battles as his father & grandfather have.

his answer:
“The gospel is for individuals. The main message we have is to individuals. We’re not here to save the culture.”

*shakes head*
Even Dr Bob Sr. understood that the Gospel must affect culture if it has any real power at all.

Dr Bob Jr embraced “good” culture .. and while he & I would define “good” culture by different standards, he was right to establish Shakespeare on the BJU stage, operas every spring, a spirit of excellence in the fine arts, and a religious art gallery that rivals the museums I have visited overseas.

If the Fall affects culture, families, and institutions in addition to individuals — and oh how it does! — limiting the Gospel to only rescuing “individuals” reflects a defeatist view of the world.  Grace must be powerful enough to alter the force of culture … otherwise, how is it of any value at all? 

We are not here to “polish knobs on a sinking ship.”

This world is God’s. He created it and claims it as His own. “The earth will be full of the glory of the Lord like the waters cover the sea” (Haggai)… that’s not just a pipe dream.  Otherwise I’d pack my bags and work in “the secular world.”

The ministry of reconciliation is real, and we go forth in the power of a Gospel that not only changes individual hearts, but also works to heal and redeem in all of humanity & its endeavors what sin has destroyed.

….*grumbles*  Bad theology is galling….

If you’re looking for further reading,  read Al Wolters’ book Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. It’s a great, short introduction to what I just skimmed through in only a few paragraphs.

Confessions of a Southern-Yankee Convert

I have a confession to make.

I am a Yankee who honestly likes living in the South, and I’ll be sorry to leave whenever that time comes.

For years I’ve been trying to squash this rising conviction that the South isn’t half-bad. Now in the 15th year of my “sojourn” in this foreign land, I still enjoy mocking its quirky towns and hick accents and odd people with names like Delmar and Raybur and Calloway.

I still live in mortal fear that, should I raise children in “these here parts,” they’ll develop the undesirable ability to stretch simple words to 4 syllables. The linguist in me shudders to hear diphthongs so maligned.  Who knew a simple name like “Joyce” could roll off the tongue in 3 barely-connected segments?  I find myself wanting to finish other people’s sentences for them because it pains me to wait as they drawl out all those multi-syllabic words.

But underneath the jests I’ve developed a deep liking for this part of the planet. The winters are warm(er); the people friendly (though I still shudder when some cashier at Belks’ calls me “honey” …. I’m not her “honey” or anyone else’s unless they’re 87 years old and nice enough to be my grandma).  The Southern tradition of pulling up a chair to “visit a spell” over a glass of diabetes-inducing sweet tea is something to treasure.

sweet-tea

Don’t get me wrong:  Some days I long for the refreshing bluntness of Yankee-land, where a well-pointed hand gesture can communicate 1000 words. People talk faster up there…. Fast food is actually delivered to the counter before you can pay for your order… And you know where you stand with folks. None of this “smile to your face and stab you in the back” stuff (which is probably the South’s greatest fault).

But given the alternatives, the South is one of the best places to live.

When it comes to interesting characters and stories stranger than fiction, the South wins hands-down. Southern storytellers ought to be a marketable export. Forget the Comedy Channel… find yourself a Southerner, give them a glass of sweet tea and a heapin’ bowl of banana pudding, and ask them to relate a few stories about “family.”

Most recent installment of “hilarious stories you would only hear in Dixie”:  The Racoon that Smokes Pot.

Oh dear. lol

On Reformation: “Blind, staggering drunk”

http://blogs.longwood.edu/aling/files/2011/04/grace.jpg
http://blogs.longwood.edu/aling/files/2011/04/grace.jpg

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, 200-proof grace – of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.

The word of the Gospel – after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps – suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…

Grace has to be drunk straight:  no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.”

–Robert Capon

The Beauty of the Battle Song

This year’s Hamlet production brings with it a number of challenges, including staging the climactic duel scene at the very end. Any audience willing to sit through two hours of Elizabethan Englsh deserves either rollicking -good entertainment in Act V or some good killing.

This weekend, the high school guys started their sword training for the play.
“This early?!” you ask.
Well, remember that we’ll have two sizable guys wailing away at each other with heavy-duty broadswords in a complex fight that requires three individual bouts, an exchange of weapons (for the sake of the plot), and two injuries. Our Viking-era stage-design demands broad-swords instead of those sissy French fencing foils. None of that crab-like shuffling here. We’re talking sparks-flying, shield-wielding combat.  Oh yeah, it’s gonna rock….
http://ncsdrama.xanga.com/videos/76c9d1202380/#filmstriptitle

So on Friday, the two principal actors plus other interested males met in a back yard to beat on one another with plastic light sabers. OK, they didn’t beat on each other…. but those Star Wars light sabers are more dangerous than you might think. Our fight-trainer Phillip is one of those mild-mannered “killing machine” kind of guys: lots of fun to be around … total and complete chivalrous gentleman … probably could cut your arm off in 1.2 seconds if he wanted to (even with a plastic light saber).  With his help, the boys started working on their high, mid, and low attacks and defenses…. and gained more than a few scrapes and bumps in the process. (Anybody got spare gauntlets lying around your house?)

There’s something beautiful about sword fighting. Even in the gory realism of a bloody battle scene, somehow the singing blade is more lovely than our gunpowder and high-powered rifles. The battle-dance lost its art some time ago, replaced by an impersonal mechanization that provoked Tolkien to ascribe such ugly yet efficient killing to the Orcs.

Don’t get me wrong — the horror of war tarnishes the beauty of the sword. A metal blade strong enough to rip a man’s torso from navel to neck. Not pretty. You don’t own swords for hunting. You own them for killing.

But I think there’s an aspect of the image of God that is missing from the education of our boys today. It’s not tied to sword-fighting, of course, but we ought to consider the metaphor.

Why should boys learn to fight and do so with effectiveness and honor?
Why is there something beautiful about a sword handled well?

God describes Himself as a Warrior. (Don’t believe me? Read the OT major/minor prophets… or Revelation.)  He talks about striding onto the battlefield of this sinful planet in all His majestic glory, clad in glorious armor, wielding a giant sword. He mocks His enemies with sarcasm that makes good-mannered folks wince. He hacks them into bits and dances on their broken armies.

Does that bother you?

War is hell. Thus said General Sherman in 1860-something. I’m sure thousands of men echoed his sentiment long before his quotation became famous. Yet war is also redemptive (see Isaiah 59). And I think it is also a powerful parable.

War shows us that salvation costs something.  

How evil is sin? 
Evil enough that people die in the destroying of it.

How costly is our wickedness? 
It wrecks families and good farmland and bodies.

What does it take to untwist our perverted souls? 
It takes a war.  And God is its Battle-General.  He leads the army.  In fact, He already won the decisive victory by destroying the power of death and sin.

Our lives evidence the marks of the mop-up operation.  But our souls somehow sit victorious (even while our flesh yearns for the old ways).  Ah, a paradox.

Men, as God’s image-bearers, stand as the protectors on this earth. They take up the sword (or M-16) to crush evil wherever it appears. Like any other human endeavor, well-intended human wars are twisted by the very sin they try to end. The invasion of Iraq seemed to start with good intentions, but things are rather messy right now. Atrocities occur on both sides. We sinful humans can’t even do good deeds without getting them dirty.

But it is right to fight evil. Even in this, we image God. The sword is a tool of redemption, not oppression.

Boys must learn to fight honorably and for the right reason … and often without their fists (or weapon). Our enemy is not of this world, nor can he be opposed by physical weapons, says Paul in Ephesians 6. A man’s task of seeing sin rooted out of the lives of himself, his wife, children, or friends is not for the fainthearted.  But it is right.

Our view of God is warped when we force boys into a pacifist, submissive, passive view of their place in this world.

The Vikings used to talk of the “battle-joy,” a euphoria that overtook some warriors in the midst of pitched battle.

Rejoice in God the Warrior. 
Praise Him for His redeeming Sword.
And teach your young men to fight.

“Shouldn’t he tone that down a little?”

David preached from Galatians 5 yesterday morning. Great text. Good sermon.

Paul spends nearly two chapters in that book smashing people who think sanctification is possible via rules and personal works.

See, I was never a salvific legalist — I knew the way to heaven was through Christ and the blood.  But sanctification by Phariseeism — aye, there’s the rub. That’s a fun wheel to try to ride. “Saved by grace”–yes. But somehow we think we’re then made holy by our own attempts to BE holy.

I might be a new creature, but the power to do right in my life NOW must be just as much Christ-given as the power to enter the Kingdom in the first place.

In Galatia, people were teaching those folks that they would never please God as Christians until they let their men be circumcised (notice: the outward keeping of a very biblical law). Paul says in 5:12 he wishes their knife would slip so they would castrate themselves.     haha — I am amused that even David’s very discrete discussion of that verse made people in the congregation very uncomfortable — parents were scrambling to brush over that point so their kids wouldn’t ask too many questions. *raises eyebrow*  Dare we imply that Paul is going to far with his imagery?

The Gospel preached in its fullness should make us very uncomfortable because it constantly reminds us that we cannot add anything to our salvation or its outworking in our lives. Thank God, we will see growth and change in our lives over time, but it will come as we repent and believe —  not as we set out to “toe the line.”

Line toe-ing sucks.
Because it doesn’t work.

You’d think I would remember that — I’ve certainly spent enough time trying.

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