Now is the time . . .

ChurchillIn April 1941 (long before the entry of the U.S. into the war), the British had had some success in the tank campaign in North Africa, and it became necessary for “a terribly important convoy of tanks . . . to risk the perilous Mediterranean route” at which point Winston Churchill “informed the Cabinet of the timetable, adding:

‘‘If anyone’s good at praying, now is the time.’’

Andrew Roberts, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (2011) (Kindle ed. loc. 2424-26).

I love it.

May we remember that all times are the time.

The Man in the High Castle

This is not entirely true, of course, but a provocative thought, nonetheless:

“We do not have the ideal world, such as we would like, where morality is easy because cognition is easy. Where one can do right with no effort because he can detect the obvious.”

61BMpmDw23LPhilip K.Dick, The Man in the High Castle 260.

Indeed the truth is that too often, knowing perfectly well what is moral, we find that we do not choose to do it. See Romans 7:18b-19 ESV (“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.“)*

PKD’s quotation does remind us, however, that our choices are obscured by our inability to perfectly perceive reality — we have very imperfect knowledge about many of the choices we have to make — and yet we still must make them.

Paul goes on to explain the only escape from this dilemma:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 7:21b-25a ESV.  Only Jesus delivers.

And so we should pray for guidance from the one whose perfect knowledge and perfect love are necessary for correct decisions in life and in less momentous choices like elections.

An Improbable Rescue from Ultimate Danger

ScreenShot187A Pattern of Prayer, part 10: A Pattern of Redemption
April 17, 2016  – Revelation 22

I have often told you stories from World War II as a way of illustrating some of the life and death principles we find in the Bible. I have told you stories about the Raid on Cabanatuan in the Philippines, The Battle of Midway, the taking of Pegasus Bridge, the invasion of Okinawa, the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the making of the atomic bomb, and most recently, the Siege of Leningrad.

Today, I’m going to change wars.

Just about 44 years ago, Lieutenant Colonel Gene Hambleton had an uncommonly difficult week. A specialist in electronic warfare, Hambleton had served in various capacities in WWII, the Korean War, and the Cold War. On April 2, 1972, on his 63rd mission of the Vietnam war, Hambleton was a aboard Bat 21, an EB-66C aircraft which was trying to jam North Vietnamese radar.

Hambleton’s call sign was “Bat 21 Bravo” — he was the mission navigator.

There were five other crewmen on the plane when it was stuck by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile, but only Hambleton was able to eject.

Continue reading An Improbable Rescue from Ultimate Danger

No, I don’t.

ScreenShot141How many times have we all heard that it is our civic responsibility to vote, that if we are unhappy with our choices we have to make a pragmatic choice and pick the lesser of two evils?

I reject that position.

First, because you and I have a responsibility to do good and to worship God. There are real ethical dilemmas, but we must do good, not evil.

Second, because we don’t have only two choices, we have at least five. Assuming that things go as the polls suggest, we will all have a choice between the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, a variety of third-party candidates, a write-in candidate, or not voting. No matter which candidates the parties offer us, one of the latter two options would be permissible. (Of course, I am well aware that not voting is not practical. I do not put much stock in practicality when it is weighed against morality.)

Third, because the GOP, at least, needs to understand that this is unacceptable. Mr. Trump reflects rage and dissatisfaction, not statesmanship and leadership. (Ms. Clinton, to be fair, reflects the mainstream of the Democratic Party leadership, whether or not she reflects the core of the general population.)

Fourth, because I believe that there is power in prayer, and that God’s plans don’t develop along election cycles. Maybe this is exactly what’s necessary to bring both parties back to sanity and civility. Maybe this is what’s necessary to get believers to pray for those in power.*

Finally, there is still something that can be done — perhaps you can still vote in a primary against a candidate by voting for an acceptable candidate who is in second place. Perhaps you can write your political party and explain why they have lost your vote or registration. To be clear, if the Republican Party nominates Mr. Trump, I will change my registration to Independent. It is becoming increasingly difficult to accept that in any sense the GOP is representing me.

I have to vote?

No, I don’t.

I need to pray.


*1 Timothy 2:1-4 (ESV): “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, or kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Breaking the Siege

Slide1A Pattern of Prayer, part 3: A Pattern of Desperation
February 28, 2016 | 2 Kings 19-20
(Hezekiah’s prayers)

Before the period of modern warfare, it was common for cities to be fortified and for attackers to camp outside the walls, laying siege to the city, hoping that starvation and plague would defeat the defenders. When surrounded by a competent army, it was difficult for a city to break the siege without outside help.

Air access now make sieges less likely, but occasionally they have been used in modern wars.

You will recall that in August 1939, Hitler and Stalin entered into a non-aggression pact which divided Poland and a number of other countries between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. This pact cleared the way for Germany to invade Poland and begin World War II. The Germans and Soviets refrained from fighting each other for nearly two years. Continue reading Breaking the Siege

Un-shading the Truth

Unshadingthetruth

A Pattern of Prayer, part 2: A Pattern of Contrition
February 21, 2016 | Psalm 51
(David’s repentant prayer)

Sometimes people who have done wrong attempt to shade the truth. They tell the story in a way that shifts blame a little bit: “And then, the gun went off”; or “She got hit in the fight.” instead of “I shot him,” or “I hit her.” It is very hard to tell the complete truth. “Mistakes were made,” is the preferred non-apology of politicians.

We recently read in the news that Volkswagen had systematically evaded emissions standards for its diesel engines. To explain why he resigned, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn said he was resigning “in the interests of the company even though I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part.”

Here’s what happened. Modern internal combustion engines are highly computerized. If you had a science class in which your teacher taught you how an internal combustion engine works, that’s still the same —

fuel + air + compression + heat = combustion

— but now the way that process is controlled has a lot to do with the precise way a computer tells the engine to act. The computer controls the various factors to provide a proper balance between performance which is acceptable to the driver and emissions which are acceptable to the regulators.

What seems to have happened is that some Volkswagen programmers, with or without the knowledge of their bosses, programmed the engines so that the engines could tell whether they were being tested. If they were being tested for emissions, they hardly produced any nitrogen oxides (NOx) at all. But once the test was over, the engines just spewed out NOx — something like 40x the allowable amount.

Apparently, the road to cheating was just a step-by-step process, as first engineers tried to write software that would meet the standards, then software that would be particularly careful to pass the tests (and generally meet the standards), and finally software that would pass all the tests without paying any attention at all to the standards.

Sociologists and engineers call this the “normalization of deviance” — the slow adjustment of standards so that what was once considered unacceptable behavior gradually becomes acceptable. And that turns out to be relevant to our examination of the prayers of the Bible . . . .

Stop, stop, stop.

I know that some of you are distracted by the fact that my illustration does not fully cover the engineering, political and programming aspects of the Volkswagen scandal. I want you to set that aside for now. After church, for those of you interested in the automotive engineering, please see John Freeman or Nate Potratz; for those of you interested in the political aspects of emissions laws, please see Mack Crenshaw or Isaac Brohinsky; for those of you interested in the programming issues confronted by the software engineers, please see Jonathan Johnston or Russ Clarke.

Back to the current point.

“Normalization of Deviance.” Little-by-little, step-by-step, calmly and incrementally, there is a cultural shift in what is considered “okay.” We get used to increasingly deviant behavior.

As we turn this concept over in our minds, we begin to see that it helps us understand how people find themselves in the position of straying far from what they had believed to be acceptable.

Today we are going to look at a very famous series of events in the Hebrew Scriptures, which leads to King David’s recognition that little-by-little, step-by-step, he had moved very far from behavior which God considered acceptable.

Let’s pray.

Continue reading Un-shading the Truth

Courting with Camels

ScreenShot065A Pattern of Prayer, part 1: A Pattern of Need
February 14, 2016 | Genesis 24 (Praying for a wife for Isaac)

Today, you may have noticed, is Valentine’s Day. You can tell by all the pink and red hearts and the candies and cards.

Valentine’s Day has a spotty history, or supposed history, having been established in 496 by a pope who listed Valentinus as a martyr “whose name is justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”

Although the pope could not say anything about what Valentinus had done, there eventually grew up a variety of legends about a priest named Valentinus who was martyred about 270 AD. Most prominent was the idea that he was martyred for performing marriages for Christians, and that’s the idea that had the most market appeal, so that eventually “Saint Valentine’s Day,” February 14, became associated with romantic and courtly love.

It really has no spiritual significance whatsoever, and the Catholic Church has dropped it as a part of the General Roman Calendar, but it continues to sell cards, candy, and clothes.

As we were trying to figure out how we were going to approach this sermon series, I realized that we would be starting on February 14, and one of the very first specific instances of prayer in the Bible just happened to concern how God brought about a particular marriage in a particular place in time. You may be surprised that it involves camels.

I thought it might actually sanctify Valentine’s Day a bit.

It is no secret that our current view of love and marriage (even before the Supreme Court’s
decision last summer) is historically odd. We tend to think that marriage is the result of being struck by an overwhelming emotion that leads you to realize that THIS IS THE ONE FOR YOU.

But most marriages at most times and places were not romantically motivated — indeed many, many marriages have been arranged by families for various practical and political reasons.

As we look at today’s passage in Genesis 24, we will see an early arranged marriage which
proceeds along different lines — with camels playing an integral role.

Let’s pray.

* * *

Abraham was chosen to be the father of the nation which would enter the Promised Land and there worship God, and from who Messiah would come. God had called him out of Ur, which is a land far to the east of what would become Israel.

And “called him out” means invited him to walk with his wife and household 600 miles to the land of Canaan. And Abraham, in an amazing display of faith in God, does this thing.
Eventually he and Sarah have a son, Isaac (I’m leaving out some pretty big parts of the story), and Sarah passes away.

Continue reading Courting with Camels

#sanbernardino

Politicians and public figures are fundamentally like all other human beings and have the same basic responses to tragedy. This is true no matter their position on controversial issues of policy (say, gun control). So it is no surprise that they respond immediately, like the rest of us do, with familiar words and phrases that express their human solidarity with those who suffer. Even the most accomplished speechwriters will take hours or days to come up with words adequate to great suffering. No human being, even the most articulate, can offer adequate words in the first moments after terrible news. To demonstrate that level of rhetorical fluency would in fact be to demonstrate an inhuman lack of empathy. Inarticulacy is the proper, empathic immediate response to tragedy.

Excellent musing on the responses (and counter-responses) to the San Bernardino shooting.

Andy Crouch, “On ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ After the San Bernardino Shooting: Prayer—and lament—is the proper first response to tragedy.”  Christianity Today (December 3, 2015) (link).