Home is…

I’d been in that House many times

But it’d been a long time since

and I went to visit

renew old friendships and share in

the Worship of the saints—

but met by many Unexpecteds.

First was the empty lot–no cars.

I must have been very early.

But there was a nip in the air

so I thought I’d try the door.

Odd it was–the bolt had been drawn

but the door was ajar.

Not useful, really, but I was glad to go in.

It seemed inordinately bright inside

Refreshingly so, but strange–

it seemed to be coming from everywhere

at once, and yet not–

I realized it was less than a glow

from the walls;

it was more reflection, gleam, from all sides

sparkling white and silver

Striking, kind of nice.

But then I was distracted–

I saw my breath curling in mists before me

before I felt the chill.

How very early I must have been!

the heat wasn’t on–it was colder inside than out.

But it wasn’t for me to check the heat,

so I hugged myself and kept on my gloves.

Moving from narthex to sanctuary, I saw

I wasn’t so very early after all.

I sat down in a pew and waited.

At two minutes to service time,

a crowd appeared.  The lot filled,

the congregation filed in.

Everyone was seated at six minutes past.

Late, but the congregation was smiling.

I saw Sinclair, Dawn, Doug and Sadie–

so many I greeted who’d danced at my wedding…

There hadn’t been enough time to heat the place

perhaps something was broken?

But no–everyone else, most everyone, was taking off

his coat, her scarf, and settling in.

I could feel the cold–or rather,couldn’t–

in the tip of my nose.

Perhaps I’d been away too long.

I kept my shivers to myself as we stood for the first song.

That glittering bright light swelled with the most unusual–

what’s the word?  Timbre? Tone?  The

quality of sound made me cock my head

while I stifled a grimace and a noise to go with it.

I sang and listened at the same time.

What was that?  The silver glow seemed so heavenly

yet the singing was as

from within a tin can.

I drifted in and out during the sermon–

the pastor I didn’t know–

until I felt something at my feet.

I looked down, through the cloud of my breath

Saw something wriggling, dark, glossy–no,

slimy, swirling and swimming at my ankles

swimming and strong like salmon fighting a river.

I let out a little gasp, but no one noticed,

and then they were gone.

And there was something else,

something in the back.

Voices while the pastor was preaching.

I tried to glance ’round furtively

who was speaking?

Surely it was no one present,

but voices there were,

distant, breathy wind-whispers through trees

as if out of the distant past.

And there was no one there.

It seemed only I saw, only I heard

these things in that crystalline hall;

but the contentment of everyone else

could not be spoiled,

so I wrapped myself up tighter

and held the Book closer.

When it was time for refreshments,

eagerly I bounded to the next room

surely it would be normal!

But I held that styrofoam cup in my hand,

brought it to my lips, and looked round in amazement.

Others were blowing gently across their coffee to cool  it

while mine–was as cold as ice.

Bewildered again, as someone was bumped,

and the coffee tossed out to the floor.

A splash–there was none,

but a tinkling crash as a mass of dark brown

hit the floor and shattered–

as many fragments

as an expensive wine glass.

I took a few steps back, blinked, and looked again–

I was not mistaken.  The coffee had frozen

before it hit the ground.

I knelt to touch it, caught myself as I tottered

and through my glove, felt the carpet.

Who knows but that it was the floor itself

that froze the coffee?

Now that I knew I could feel it through my shoes,

and wiggled my toes fretfully.

Conversation went on, laughing, chewing,

trifles and this-n-that and last week’s and this week’s

news and nothings–not much churchy about it,

but that wasn’t unusual…

I wandered down to the council room,

where I’d had Sunday School

Once Upon a Time.

I sat in a chair in the chill, and know there was something

off.

There was a picture on the wall I didn’t recognize.

There was a small plate in the frame with the name,

something about their finest hour.

It was like one of those cheesy paintings of anthropomorphic dogs

at cards in pubs and pool halls.

There was a dog, though it looked like it was mostly dead,

some sheep, one with horns, and two kangaroos.

It frightened me…

What had happened here?

The coffee.  The cold, the dark fish, the tin…

It was then I realized, the crystal, the glow, the silver–

ceiling, walls, floor, much of the furniture…

I approached one of the windows

and tried to look through

the distorted Translucent.

Took off my glove and touched it.

It was true.  Every surface of that House–

all of it, inside, was coated in two inches of ice.

It wasn’t a House–not a temple

to the Living God,

not anymore.

It was a palace for the heart.

And no wonder–revenge is cold,

and so is pride, grown old and doddering.

But the Lord is a consuming fire.

Proceedings of a Kangaroo Court (no scanner on premises)

I don’t know how many undergraduate essays I graded in a couple of years as a university TA and instructor in Classics.  I had well over 100 students, and they wrote at least 2, if not 3, essays each.  That’s quite a few pieces of writing, analysis of texts and evidence, and arguments, assessed for accuracy, articulation, validity, etc.  I did my best to treat the following as something similar: it is, for all intents and purposes, an argument for the pastor in question being sacked from his church. Given the amount of red ink spilt, you can guess that it ‘didn’t go well’.

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Cut 4 Ways from Tuesday

Will I ever hear from you why?

Why has it come to this?

The bridges we’ve crossed, roads we’ve walked

Battles fought and prayers asked

Was it always my mistake?

Were we never brothers, friends?

It’s not breaking you up like it’s turning my mind

Inside out.

Wondering why—

Wondering what I did to deserve it.

What was the truth then?

And what is it now?

What—what have I done?

Do you even know?

These ballads, these sorrows writ—

I understand them now.

I realize they’re talking about this, talking about you.

Would I find a truer heart among strangers?

Go to any point of the compass,

On the winds,

To find me someone who could disappoint like this.

It’s broken trust that breaks my heart and

Breaks my back.

Was I a fool all along to believe

You’d stick by me?

Will I ever hear the reason from you, from your lips?

Would it come forth in a hiss?

But…

I know you now.

By words—power sharp and sinister and smart

You have stolen the hearts of the men

Of the land

Treachery

And there are no straight backs and clear minds

To oppose you.

What a tale this will make!

A farce and a tragedy—nothing epic about it!

Though I can hope for poetic justice.

Call it Evil I shall.

All others may bristle, may fear to speak the truth

To your face,

But I am not afraid.

Now will I hear it from you why you’ve done all this?

This kind of Vicious I saw on TV once.

A snarling wolf tearing at the hide of a frightened buffalo.

Blood and pitiable cries.

God help me—I didn’t doubt you.

I always tried to act with integrity,

And thought the same of you.

You proclaim there is no peace between us

Yet you’ve shaken my hand—for what?

And I wasn’t the one who declared war.

This charade has gone on long enough—

You’ve shown me where my jugular is.

Perhaps you’ll be good enough to tell the others the truth—

You want to take my place.

I’ll give you this:

You do move quickly and like a spy

Trained for wartime

A knife at my throat, in my back,

And I never knew you were coming.

Lights flash in the darkness—

Cameras to capture your moment of glory.

Your rise, my fall

‘You’re the hero,’ I’ll cry, ‘Uncle!’

You’ve got the power of

Invention, innovation, transformation,

Misappropriation, manipulation, defamation,

Declamation and misrepresentation.

All these helpful Latin derivatives!

They empower me to speak,

Since you’ve tried to steal the right from me.

Justice, self-defense, you dare not grant me.

The law rules—when it serves you.

You’ve imprisoned me with fear

Isolation, intimidation—

I see such strange and hostile faces ‘round me.

What minds, thoughts, attitudes lie behind them,

Burning, fomenting, tumorous and angry.

What have you told them, and what do they believe?

Your word is double-edged:

What cuts me down puffs them up.

What sort of weapon is this?

And your drug of choice is controversy.

Needing to be needed to ‘settle matters’.

I take no pleasure in this:

That the greatest sorrow is not mine,

And the shame is not only yours.

Lord have mercy.

Open Letter (pt 1?)

It’s no wonder that people make so much of man’s relationships with animals.  Cats, dogs, horses.  A dog is your friend, or it isn’t.  A horse trusts you, or it doesn’t.  A cat can’t be evil–it can’t betray you, it can’t disappoint you.  Animals don’t believe rumors about you.  They don’t sell their good opinion of you for an ego trip.  Once friends, they believe the best about you until you prove yourself unworthy, and some people have to prove that many times to disabuse dogs of their naive notions.

An open letter to a church:

I know many of you.  I thought I knew many of you well, and have called you friends.  3 1/2 years ago, I got married in this church.  All of you were invited to the ceremony; some of you to the reception, and most of you came.  That’s only one event of many I’ve shared with people in this church.

Now, things have changed—dramatically.

My dad used to have the support of the vast majority of you.  He never had the good opinion of, or was given the benefit of the doubt by, some of you, but I suppose that means most of this is not directed toward that contingent.

But others of you have been his friends, just as you were mine.  He no longer has your good will, your good opinion.  You believe ill of him, treat him differently, talk to each other about him, and he hears criticism and allegations second- and third-hand.  Do any of you realize how difficult it is to bear, how painful it is, to have those you trusted, those you thought were your friends, believe bad things about you, so much so that they want to get rid of you?  Push you out, stop talking to you, with no explanation?  And they not only don’t tell you your wrongs themselves, but you’re never told what you did wrong at all?  What a dismal way to live.  How discouraging, how sad, how unfair, how lonely.  And these are going on amongst Christians.  To not even be granted the dignity of knowing what people say you did or didn’t do… and no one seems to be thinking twice.

You were friends, fellow-laborers for the Lord.  You knew the man, you still know him. You were his friends, his supporters, and he is your pastor.  When someone came to you with a bad word, calling him a name, claiming he was controlling, a jerk, any number of things, you should have stood up for him–you should have asked for examples, for proof, for an explanation.  Or better, you should have said, ‘Why are you telling me this?’  There’s a reason the Bible tells us to ‘go to your brother’ when he’s offended you, not to talk about him behind his back, getting yourself and others stirred up by triangulating.  It’s only with open, face-to-face conversation, confrontation, confession, repentance, and forgiveness that reconciliation happens.  When everything is kept beneath the surface, it festers–no opportunity for explanation, apology, making things right.  I forget– he did get a chance to apologize to someone.  But it wasn’t even acknowledged.

This is what we’ve come to.  Christians treating each other like this.  People aren’t who they were a year ago.  Women I knew of as sensitive, people I could talk to, people with sympathetic ears and hearts, now behave as cold as calculating con-artists (it’s all just business—don’t take it personally–he works for us–he isn’t really a human being with feelings, much less a brother or sister in the Lord), and don’t even realize how unlike they are to what they used to be.  It doesn’t occur to them that they’re swinging a bat blindly, and fellow believers, some who have already been through so much, are bound up as the pinata.  And what’s the cause of it?

An ugly Reality.  What can be done?  What can be said, what can be urged–when the base problem is that people don’t want to know the truth?  What they need more than anything is to be told the truth.  But that’s dropping a chicken into a pit full of foxes (an inverted metaphor!).  I wouldn’t get out more than a syllable of the word ‘demonic’, and minds would shut.

How can ‘nice’ people do this?  How can they act so contrary to the Word they hear week by week?

A pastor’s job, first and foremost, is to preach the word.  You know the man has been faithful in this, and is indeed very gifted.  How can it be just to blame him for doing his duty?  You all should know that Satan doesn’t sit back comfortably and watch the truth being spoken. He targets it, he targets God’s ministers.  Why can’t you see that if the Word in itself, in its fullness, in its beauty, in its revelation of the character and will of God, doesn’t make people happy, it’s because they’re unhappy, not because the Word is inadequate?  And you ought to look for the source of their unhappiness elsewhere–unless you can entertain the idea that the Word, the very Gospel itself, makes them uncomfortable.

My friends!  People I trusted, people about whom I only believed the best!

To hear that the hostility is now being dished out to my sister broke my heart.  I didn’t think things could hurt any worse!  This morning my grief was such that it broke several blood vessels under my eyes.

Do you want God’s blessing?  Don’t you know that is what a church needs to thrive?  All this activity, all this talk–it’s just wheel-spinning, it’s all just talk if God’s will and glory isn’t sought!  And who has asked God if He is unhappy with the minister?  Who has asked God if He is pleased by all the back-room conversations and hurried decisions?  The baseless accusations and excuses for pushing the pastor out of all his legitimate roles, while at the same time telling him he doesn’t do enough?  Nit-picking, making demands, giving instructions, with no sense that there’s a reciprocal relationship–a responsibility exists for the flock–that is controlling.

Nonsense, hypocrisy, abuse, and neglect of honesty God does not sanction.  And He will not bless an attack upon one whom He has called, who has served Him faithfully.  Why are you doing this?  What will it achieve?  Does anyone know?  Where is self-reflection?  Where is waiting on God?

Getting Practical

It’s so simple.

I love the truth.  At least, I try to.

I love the Bible.  I honor it.  At least, I try to.

I believe it is God’s word.

I believe He and It should be consulted,

Respected first in all matters…

especially in the church.

She should love the truth.

It should be spoken to all

And in and about every circumstance,

In love and seasoned with salt.

God’s people should love

one another

Love what He loves—

unity, the brethren, Christ, His word.

And the truth.

It is an honor to suffer for it,

Glory to be gained in speaking it.

Condemnation to be drawn in ignoring it,

An insult to God in rejecting it.

Seek and ye shall find.

Seek not and you are an idiot,

Or at least, you do not love what you ought.

And not loving what you ought,

You embrace what you ought not.

How can truth and untruth, right and unright

Keep company?

To honor Christ is to

follow the law

He followed, loved, fulfilled.

No other gods, no Name spoken in vain,

No bearing or bearing with false witness.

Do not allow a brother accused, disciplined,

Downtrodden,

without clear testimony

of witnesses

before his face,

and with sanction from the Word—

a time to answer, a time for prayer, deliberation.

Let each one be heard!

And to what does the Lord testify?

To do otherwise is a

miscarriage of justice.

A brother to the chopping block

With nary a sin in the charges—

No one knows a wrong to be punished

Ought to be in Scripture.

‘Show me my wrong in what He says!’

And there exists a protocol for this—

The Good Book is the guide book;

Let one come to his brother in private first!

Take care that accusations are levied

With an ‘equal opportunity’ attitude—

Let all in the church be exhorted to holiness,

Or else say nothing.

Your credibility is at stake, and you may find

There’s an entire tall ship in your eye!

Search the Word—who is on the Lord’s side?

Do differently at your own risk–

We are not a people of gossip, backbiting, secret meetings,

Misrepresentations, deliberate inflations and fabrications,

Conspiracies to cow or dismiss.

Anonymity and faceless accusers

Don’t seem to fit, don’t seem quite right–

the apostles’ honesty was so frank.

An explanation, articulate, demonstrable, proven, specific—

Is it so much to ask that the truth be made

Plain,

If truth it is?

And to treat a shepherd like a dancing monkey

‘This step here, clash cymbals there, and smile, monkey!’

May bring calamity on the flock.

But they’ll say the

flock is only so good as its numbers

But that’s numbers, that’s economics,

Asking about quantity—not quality.

How many rather than who, and what?

When light is shone on the fleeces,

How many will there be?

Wool here, wool there,

But how many coats are detachable?

There are beards in this pew, and brush tails in that

The loudest voices (sheep are so quiet)

are the

bleating of goats

And howling of wolves.

But they have feelings and perceptions you see,

And they tell you they’re sheep.

Never mind asking for ID,

if they belong here in the first place.

Money and mere existence—is that the fixation?

Sacrifice the truth to keep the tithe,

To prop open the door for the once-a-moons,

To call something a church that’s full of self-worshipers

Spread the love of untruth that

Perches on busy wagging tongues

and choke out the light with their shadows.

Goats and wolves have ears, same as sheep

Truth makes them burn, and the jackets feel ill-fitting.

‘That’s a church? that blob of smiling bitterness?’

‘At least it’s open’–

is that a joke?  I don’t think the Living God

will find it funny.   Will He even half-smirk

at the late lame excuses, offered with hems & haws

on shuffling feet?

Now what is truth—

And how can something be lived

if it is not loved?

Some might say I’m an idealist.

‘You can’t really expect all that–

you have to face facts.’

Jesus is the highest ‘fact’.

An idealist?

Perhaps I am a fool to believe that

people who say they’re disciples should

act like it.

I just call myself a Christian.

And none of this is real.

Seeking Someone to Devour

What part of ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ do people not understand?  Satan’s hostile takeover of a church is not going to be heralded by machine gun fire and camo!  He is subtle–the whole point is that often we don’t see it coming before it’s too late, because he’s sneaky, he makes himself look good, talks smooth, can get people on his side.  He sounds so reasonable, he sounds…like a Christian, and he can make you believe he’s one of the flock. Why should we be surprised that his activity is so hard to discern?  He’s deceptive, and far more intelligent than we are–he’s not going to make his activity obvious.  And because he’s so good at acting like us, he can make the true believers look crazy for recognizing him and pointing him out.  The devil ain’t stupid, and he’s not going to show his hand until he knows it’s a winner.  I Pet. 5:8; II Cor. 4:4; 11:3,14-5; Ephes. 6; II Thess. 2:9.  People don’t believe it can happen in their churches, but it happened even in churches the apostles planted (I Tim. 5:15).

In spite of all this, we do have a tell–I John 3:10.  And we know that he who sows confusion and discord among the brethren is worth prayerful scrutiny; God has no part in sending the factious, and their work only benefits the enemy–I Cor. 14:33.

Contemporary Proverbs on Christian Living

Friendship is so fast forgotten, and so easily ebbs away, in these rebellious times.

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The Rot spreads, but the decay is smelled only by few.

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If one may be called to hate his own mother and father, is it any wonder that discipleship and pursuit of holiness may cost him his friends and acquaintances?  The wonder is that such things can happen within the church.

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To purposefully work to alienate someone in the body without cause, to cut him off from the normal social workings of the fellowship, to systematically isolate him in order to force him to comply with demands and earn back favor is extortion–it is not only unChristian, it is cruel, like high school.

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The strong personality who leads astray the weaker, and persuades them to aid in the division of their church, will bear both his own reproach, and theirs as well.

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When a man praises beyond proportion, his every good word is cheap, and his meaning impossible to decipher.

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The democratic penchant for fighting at the drop of a hat for everyone’s right to an opinion is so often a politically appealing, dressed-up excuse for malicious gossip.

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The Bible makes no mention of HR departments in local churches, let alone an office for filing complaints; mediation should only be sought after you’ve first approached your brother yourself.

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The argument for the ‘meeting of people’s needs’, if not informed by God’s Word, will often be nothing but a carefully-turned, weighty-sounding rephrasing of ‘meeting of people’s wants’, since apart from the Word, people only know what they want, and have no idea what they need.

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The duty of church leadership is to lead, teach and discipline the flock, in the way that best glorifies God, honors His Word, and fosters their growth.  It is not to have the flock fill out comment cards and adjust the ‘merchandise’ according to customer feedback.

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It is better to season your words with sensitivity and spirituality than to try to impress with sanctimony.

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To be continued!