August 27, 2011
burning coals on his head
I don't know when my love affair with fire started. I'm not really a pyro, but I do like a campfire; and I do pride myself that I can light a campfire or bonfire with a single match. The single match skill is one I learned from Dad. We were camping with the Boy Scouts and working on our fire starting skills for class advancement. I clearly recall how much trouble all the other newbees were having. Dad emphasized for me the absolute need for good kindling and properly drafted set-up. My fire lit with one match.
It took a scolding from an older friend to learn the dangers of fire. I hiked the "Inca Trail" twice. The first time it was with the Boy Scouts. Our one night on the trail was marred by rain and out smoky fire was in the ruins of an old church. The second hike was with Juan Ponce. I think it was just three of us that time. We enjoyed a great campfire; and before bedding down, I figured I would speed the death of the embers by separating the last logs out from each other. I moved one of them out the fire ring, a move for which I was soundly scolded in the morning. What was I thinking, Juan asked. Did I want to burn down the woods where we were sheltered?
Today, I pretty much won't go camping if we can't have a campfire, and I often stay up late adding a log or two at a time just to keep the embers glowing.
Not everyone agrees on the history of the words Paul wrote to the church at Rome when he told them to overcome evil with good by heaping burning coals on the enemy's head, but it seems likely that embers on the head were really a gift carried in a basket on the head to help keep the home fires burning. These instructions come at the end of a list the editors of the English Standard Version call "Marks of the True Christian." The list begins with a call to genuine love and ends with "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." I am reminded as I chew on this list (Romans 12:9-21) how prone I am to be careless with the embers and end up burned. I am also reminded of my need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind, by repentance to be covered in Christ, forgiven, so that my life can exhibit the marks of the true Christian,
August 18, 2011
but be transformed
I’m a little too old to be part of the transformer generation, ok, a lot too old. I never had one of my own but did on occasion fold and unfold, transform and return, some kid’s toy. I’ve always thought they were very ingenious, but I don’t really know if they ever were that big a hit as toys. Did they ever approach the popularity of the early Matchbox cars that were the rage when I was that age? It is evident that they were a big enough hit for a group of Hollywood writer/producers to create a whole serie of movies in their image.
I didn’t have any transformers as a kid, but in mid life I did buy what those who see it call a transformer. I allowed myself to afford, in 2007, a hard top convertible made by VW that really does have the look and feel of transformation as the top folds itself into the Eos trunk.
A right relationship with God through Jesus Christ is about transformation. Two options are ours as we live out our lives on planet Earth. The first is to be like “the world.” This world view is about conformation; it is about adopting and living by the morals and values of a society that ignores God’s way; it is about selfishness, self centeredness, and ultimately disobedience; it is about rejecting God’s plan and boundaries. The other option is to be like Christ. This option is about transformation; it is about taking up Christ’s cross and living by the morals and values given by God; it is about sacrifice, selflessness, and complete surrender; is it about being immersed in and loving God’s plan and boundaries; it is about God changing, transforming, us into His likeness.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 ESV)
August 13, 2011
that He may have mercy on all
It was my turn to wash the dishes. I think I was in third grade, maybe second. We were still living in the old house (Spanish stile row of rooms in an L shape around the inside courtyard) in Apolo. I didn’t want to do the dishes, so I decided to run away; and ran I did. The mission owned 1/3 of the city block. The house was on the uphill side of our long 1/3. I ran the length of the property, over the mud wall, and along the creek behind the other two properties on our block. When I got to the street, I wasn’t sure where to go. I don’t remember how I got back into the house, but I did go home not having any other place to go. The dishes got finished late, it was black dark, in luke warm, colding water by the light of a fading kerosene lamp.
It’s funny to think that I have a favorite “disobedience” story, a story I now happen to think is pretty funny. God has a disobedience story for us, too. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome and said, “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” God’s story is actually a grace story, because God in His infinite mercy had poured out His grace and forgiven our disobedience.
The tough phrase in Paul’s letter is “For God has consigned all to disobedience.” I suppose this parallels earlier words in the letter, those that say we all fall short of God’s glory. But there is a fascinating word history (etymology) connection here. The literal translation of the Greek word is “shut up together or enclose.” The word “consign,” the translation in the ESV, comes from the Medieval latin “cosignare” which means “to mark with the sign of the cross.” Can we say that God consigned us to disobedience, enclosed us in disobedience, even marked us with the sign of the cross, that He might have mercy on us? I think so.
August 4, 2011
The word is near you
The clumps of long dry grass beside the small chapel had knots tied in the ends of the leaves. The belief was that if you could tie a knot in the grass with one hand, your prayers would be answered. One of the knots left that day was mine, not because I believed it had any power. I just wanted to see how easy, or not, it was to do.
Bolivian towns and cities have on their outskirts a “Calvary.” The one in LaPaz is up a considerable climb from the cathedral in the center of town. At this “Calvario” there is a small chapel with a statue of the Virgin inside. Candles burn at her feet. It’s many years since we were there, and I don’t know if anything has changed; but then during Holy Week and particularly on Good Friday, the deceived penitent could be seen crawling on hands and knees up the sharp rocked path. Small stones would be tossed up on the top of the pillars that represented the stations of the Cross. If the stones stayed, it was a sign of good fortune. Dad tells of one occasion when he visited the “Calvario” that there was a witch doctor there as well who would bless his subscribers in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, and the Spirit of Mount Illiampu. It was hoped that such pilgrimages would atone for sin.
This climbing, this doing, this act of penitence: is this what Paul means when he says that the righteousness based on faith does not say, “Who will ascend into heaven?” We so often think that we can do the climbing, that somehow we will be good enough to attain the heights of glory, that we can somehow be acceptable to God (or at the very least that we are not as bad as the guy down the street). So often we have adopted the false teaching of the far east that our deeds with will be weighed in a balance; and if the good is more than the bad, we will be okay. But, Paul asks, but what does the righteousness based on faith say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart…” We make it so complicated when it is so simple. We want to do when what is requires is only this: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”