Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Second Clayton Bloom Parable

Clayton Bloom sired two sons.  The Bloom boys and their father did everything together.  When the boys were old enough, Clayton took them into the forest growing around their small home, in order to teach his sons about the trees and plants, the animals who lived there, its beauty, and how they might care for it all.

The boys were enthralled and amazed by each new thing their father showed them.  In a very short time, the boys confidence grew, and it emboldened them.  Even though Clayton warned them against venturing off alone, the two brothers decided they had learned enough to go exploring without their father.  When Clayton left them unattended, the boys seized the chance to go hiking on their own. Happily and with great pride, the boys bounded into the wood.

As you might expect, it didn't take long for the boys to become disoriented.  The more they walked, the darker it became.  Even though the sun shown brightly in the sky when they had embarked on their journey, now, no matter where they turned, the trees grew closer together and higher, shutting out the light.  The lads started to panic and quickly forgot all Clayton had taught them.  Soon their panic turned to rage, and they tore through the beautiful landscape, mashing colorful wildflowers, uprooting bushes, and tearing off limbs of trees.

They then turned on each other, each blaming the other for their predicament.  Words became violent, and the bigger brother strangled the smaller until the latter ceased struggling.  The young man wailed at the sight of his motionless brother and screamed at the gloom, cursing his father for ever bringing them to this place.  Now senseless with guilt, the boy ran deeper into the forest, leaving a wake of horrific destruction.  He ran on carelessly in this way until he fell down an embankment.  Unable to move because his leg was broken, he lay there in the twilight quietly weeping.

When Clayton discovered what his sons had done, although late, he dropped everything and rushed into the darkness to find them.  Eventually, he found one of his sons lying unconscious on the ground. Clayton knelt beside his son and resuscitated the boy, and then gave him water to drink and food to eat.

As the boy regained his strength, he noticed blood streaming down his father's face.  "Father, you are injured."  His father smiled and stroked his son's head. "I would suffer a thousand wounds and even die if that's what it would take to find my boys."  His son's chin dropped to his chest in shame.  "Father, I'm sorry I disobeyed you."  Clayton embraced his son and kissed the boy's face with pink tears of joy and relief.

"Come, now," the father said, standing.  "We must find your brother before something worse happens to him."  Clayton and his son went on together in search of the missing boy.

The boy was the first to find his brother lying on a small protrusion on a steep slope.  "He's here, Father.  I found him, I found him.  He's over here.  Come quickly, Father, he's hurt!"

When the lad saw his brother he thought he had murdered show such concern for him, he whimpered, "Why would you care after what I did to you?"  His brother answered, "Didn't I run away with you? Didn't I try to kill you?  Yet, even though we are bad sons, Father came after us; and even though he injured himself, he never stopped searching until he found us.  How could I not care for you?"

Their Father arrived. Carrying his injured son over his shoulders, Clayton led his two sons back home. The brothers became closer than they had been before their ordeal.  They remained with their father, and he taught them and provided for them, so that they built their home into a magnificent estate. Together, Clayton and his two sons nurtured the forests and lands around them into resplendent gardens spreading out in all directions as far as the eye could see and beyond.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Our exchange students left us this week to return to their homes in Europe and to carry on their lives. From my vantage point it was a tearful departure for all the exchange students and their host families. The poignancy of the moment was accentuated by rain and the predawn darkness.

It amazed me how quickly familial bonds form between people who only a couple of weeks before were utter strangers.  It just goes to show how relational we humans are.  But why shouldn't we be? After all, our Creator is relational.

As relational as we all are, it also amazes me how much human society struggles to establish meaningful, healthy, and functional relationships.  Like Darth Vader trying to set his sight on Luke Skywalker's X-wing, we just can't seem to home in on loving relationships.  If we were created to have such relationships, then why do they continue to elude us?

Even though it isn't a very popular subject, that question can be answered with one word: Sin.  People don't like to talk about Sin because, basically, they don't want anyone telling them how to run their lives. And all too often the things we want to do seem to be on someone's list of sins: things such as, sexual preference, abortion, killing, stealing, adultery, dancing, gambling, drinking, drugs, pornography, warfare, music, and on and on.  But none of these things or any others one might add to the list constitute what I mean by Sin; they are really only symptoms of Sin.

A careful examination of the above list--and there are many, many more items one might add to it--shows a common relational theme. The items are either a means to create and maintain relationships, or a means to compensate for the absence of relationships, or a means to cope with destructive relationships.  One way or another, any item on the list can be traced back to a relationship.

And because the behaviors on the list function in some way pertaining to relationships, it does no good to tell the practitioners they are wrong because they, as all of us, are desperate for a relationship--all of us want to be loved; so they really believe they have discovered the means in the life style or behaviors they have adopted, or they have given up hope, altogether, and have defaulted to simply medicating the pain.  It's as if I were starving to death and caught a poisonous frog, and when I was about to eat it you told me I was wrong to eat it.  I would think you either didn't care about my plight, or wanted me to die of starvation, or you just wanted to control me.  In the end, I would eat the frog, and I would die.

Surely some things on the above list of "sins" are definitely comparable to the poison frog, but not all the listed items are.  Yet any one of them are just as fatal if we are attempting to find through them those elusive relationships we have all been created for.  This is what I meant by Sin, earlier.  Sin is the belief we can find, maintain, and build right relationships on our own; putting it simply, Sin is thinking we can be our own god.

Speaking about the community of right relationships we were created to have, the Apostle John tells us,

"Not those out of bloodlines (genealogies), nor out of the desires of the flesh, nor out of the desires of humankind, but those who are born of God." [John 1:13]

The right relationships we all long for will forever elude us until we are again in the right relationship with our Creator--when God is our God and not ourselves.  Until we do that, we shall remain in darkness--both in wherewithal and understanding.

Well, I have good news and bad news.  The bad news is we cannot extricate ourselves from this darkness.  The good news is God can and indeed has made the way out for us.  Let's return to John for the rest of the story....

"In the beginning was the word and the Word was with God and God was the Word. He was in the beginning with God,  All things were created by Him and apart from Him was not one thing created that was created.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of humankind; and the light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.... He was real light that illuminates humankind coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was created by Him, and the world did not know Him.  He came to His own kind, and His own kind did not accept Him.  But as many as receive Him, He gives to them authority to become children of God, to those who are believing in His name, not those out of bloodlines (genealogies), nor out of the desires of the flesh, nor out of the desires of humankind, but those who are born of God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, and we saw His glory as the only unique begotten one from the Father, full of grace and Truth." [John 1:1-5, 8-14]

In an inexpressible act of re-creation, God entered into human history by taking on flesh as His only begotten unique son, Jesus the Christ, to deal once and for all with the consequences of Sin and the Death that came from it, in order to re-establish the intimate relationship He intended from the beginning to have with all of us, so we would be an eternal community with Him and with each other. And this eternal community--the kingdom of God--the salvation of Humankind--the glory of God--is for all who stand in Christ and Christ alone by believing in Him, which is faith that is inseparably belief, trust, and the action of obedience.  It is in Christ alone we will find those elusive relationships we all long for because only in Christ is the Truth of what they are and the power to live them.

In his must-read book Jesus of Nazareth, From Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. Image (2007): p. 169, Joseph Ratzinger puts it this way,

"...Jesus is closely connected with the "we" of the new family that He gathers by his proclamation and his action.  It has become evident that this "we" is in principle intended to be universal: It no longer rests on birth, but on communion with Jesus, who is himself God's living Torah."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Trouble in River City

One of my favorite musicals is The Music Man; and one of my favorite numbers in The Music Man is You Got Trouble.  I was thinking about this today because trouble has come into my life.  I knew it was coming; I tried to circumvent it; but it remained out of my hands, and now is knocking at my door like the angel of death.  Okay, this is over dramatic and hyperbole; things could be much, much worse, and is for so many people I know.  In some respects, though, trouble in America is much like the trouble Harold Hill spoke of in River City.  The town was well fixed and peaceful, compared to other places in the world at the time, so what they saw as trouble was really only a minor annoyance.  Many things we see as trouble in America are really only what my daughter refers to as first world problems.

What disturbs me more than the pending storm is my inability to deal with it in my spirit.  I mean, how often have I encouraged us to trust Christ, and not fear because He is alive?  Now, with what is really only a minor disturbance--comparatively speaking--I am completely unsettled.  It is easy to pontificate about faith from an easy chair, in front of a warm fire, while sipping a glass of Malbec.  Only when the fire goes out and you start to feel cold, do you begin to understand how much of what you believe is only theory.  It reminds me of what the disciples of Jesus felt when a storm suddenly rose up over the lake as they were boating their way across....

And there was a sudden great squall of wind and the waves crashed into the boat so that the boat was already filled.  And Jesus was sleeping in the stern on a pillow, and the disciples woke Jesus up and said to Him, "Teacher, doesn't it matter to you that we are perishing?"  And after having been aroused, Jesus rebuked the wind and said, "Be silent, Be quiet!"  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  And Jesus said to them, "Why are you cowardly?  Do you not yet have faith?"  And they were filled with great fear and spoke to each other, "Who, then, is this, that both the wind and the sea obey Him?" [Mark 4:37-41]

It all goes to show that ideas and doctrines do not hold us up, only the real presence of Jesus in our life does.  And we only come to really understand faith when we are forced to walk in it.  This reminds me of a story my physics professor once related to us.  He told how he had invited his girlfriend to go sailing with him.  She asked him if he had ever sailed before, and he told her he knew everything there is to know about the theory of sailing--and he did.  Well, after several hours of floundering on the water, and finally walking the boat along the shoreline, his girlfriend told him in no uncertain terms they were through.  I think she called him an idiot, but it was a long time ago, so I might be wrong about that.

Thank the Lord he isn't fickle like my professor's girlfriend.  The Lord didn't give up on His disciples because of their tentative faith; He hasn't given up on me because of my cowardice; and I assure you He won't give up on you, either.  He will continue to give us grace upon grace:  grace to forgive us when we stumble, grace to pick us up again, and grace to strengthen our faith for the next challenge. Such is the beauty of the Gospel of Christ; such is the wonder and peace of standing in His kingdom.

Thanks a lot, folks, for letting me unload on you like this.  I am feeling much better.  I guess this is why Jesus calls us to be a community; we cover for each other in our moments of weakness.  Thanks again for listening.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Yesterday was a beautiful day.  The temperature was cool without being cold.  The sun played hide and seek with the clouds; and best of all, it all happened on a holiday.  It was a perfect day to commune with the outdoors by attending to our yard and garden.

As I have said many times before, everything in life is a metaphor.  Well, perhaps not everything; but living in a house full of women, you learn to speak in hyperbole.  Of course, that is also a hyperbole because not all women are prone to exaggerate.  The few women I've come to know well over the years have tended in that direction, though.  It's not a criticism; actually, I think it's kind of cute.  In fact, I've come to use the classic "always" statement as a means of making a point; I use bad grammar to the same end.  So I will say it again.  Everything in life is a metaphor.

Our small garden comprises a variety of perennials that bloom at different times over the course of the summer in order to treat the viewer with a ever changing palette of color. You gardeners reading this are likely thinking, Ah, yeah, that's the way it's supposed to work.  You must understand; our garden in particular, and all botanical matters at our house in general are the brain-children of my wife; I'm strictly a brown thumb.  My job is to mow the lawn, trim, and weed the garden.  The challenge for me is differentiating the weeds from the flowers.  My wife has been perplexed her daisies haven't come up this year.  I'm thinking I may had mistook them for weeds.  Some of this mistaken identity is due to my ignorance; but I attribute some of it to the cleverness of the weeds.

As I was surveying the garden yesterday, all seemed nice and tidy.  There were a few small weeds spotting the clear areas, but overall the garden appeared healthy.  Yet on closer inspection, I found some weeds dressed to the nines, standing straight and proud among the flowering plants past bloom, feigning to be part of the gang.  From a distance they were pretty convincing, too; close up, though, their weediness was quite obvious.  Huh, I thought, there's got to be a metaphor in this, somewhere....

And answering, Jesus again spoke in parables to them by saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a ruler of people who prepared a wedding feast for his son.  And the ruler sent away his slaves to call those who have been invited to the wedding, but they didn't want to come.  Again, the ruler sent away other slaves by saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, see, I have prepared my feast, my bulls and the fattened animals have been slaughtered, I prepared everything.  Come into the wedding feast.'  But those ignoring the invitation went away: one to his family farm, and another to his market; but those remaining seized the slaves and assaulted and killed them.  The ruler was furious; and dispatching his soldiers, he killed those murderers and set fire to their city.  Then the ruler said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who have been invited were not worthy.  Therefore, go upon the roads leading out of the city, and invite however many you might find to the wedding feast.  And those slaves took to the roads, and invited everyone they encountered, both the bad and the good.  And the wedding was filled with those reclining at the banquet table.  When the ruler entered the gathering to look at those who were reclining at the table, he saw a person there not dressed in wedding attire.  And the ruler said to the person, 'Comrade, how did you get in here without having wedding clothes?'  The person was dumbstruck.  Then the ruler told the servants, 'After you bind the person's feet and hands, throw the person out into the outer most darkness.'  There, there will be the wailing and the gnashing of teeth.  For many are called, but few are chosen." [Matt. 22:1-14]

No doubt some will cite this passage as a proof text for unconditional election.  I spent a good part of this summer rebutting such an idea, so I won't belabor the point here.  I will say this.  Our hope and security don't rest in God having decided before all eternity how everything in His creation will play out, down to the last motions of each subatomic particle.  No, our hope and security lie solely in the perfect, finished work of Jesus the Christ.

God calls each of us to join Him in His eternal kingdom.  But we must respond, and respond totally on His terms, not our own.  This means we mustn't think we will get in because we're wearing a "I love Jesus" T-shirt; or toting citizenship papers to some nation, ethnic group, or church affiliation; or clutching our advanced degrees from prestigious universities, proving we have mastered the correct theology; or packing our get-out-of-jail-free card.  No, to come to God on His terms is to come clothed in Christ--ensconced in Him as in our skin--by surrendering ourselves completely to His strength and will with an indefatigable trust.  Jesus explains what I mean with graphic imagery:

"Truly, yes truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves.  The one who is gnawing my flesh and drinking my blood has eternal life, and I will resurrect that person on the last day." [John 6:53-54]

Unless we put on Christ in this most intimate and utterly dependent way, we will remain like those weeds in my garden, believing ourselves to be flowers in God's garden, when we are not.  And our fate will be the same as the fate of those weeds: yesterday, I entered our flower bed, pulled those weeds out by their roots, and cast them behind the fence to dry and whither in the hot sun.