A Far Away Incarnation

When humanity finally figured out a way to reach the stars, and found intelligent life there, there was an inevitable result.

Missionaries.

Some of the missionaries were sensitive an helpful, in their own way. Some, not so much.

For Delbert, the landing on the newly discovered planet was inevitable. There weren’t that many, but even so the difficulties of the work and the expense of travel meant that there were two few missionaries. As a committed Christian, it was his duty to preach the gospel to these creatures who had never heard it. In Delbert’s mind, they would doubtless be eternally lost should he fail in this mission. After all, would God have opened up the opportunity if the message was not essential?

He absorbed only a fraction of the required briefings from the scientific mission. Things like “recent catastrophic extinction event” and “not socially primitive despite appearances” didn’t overcome the general sense of primitive natives needing the benefits of both civilization and and dispensation of the truth.

So it was surprising and frustrating when the natives responded to Delbert’s preaching not with opposition nor with acceptance, but rather with a sort of puzzled surprise.

“Of course,” said the native chief, whose name Delbert could not pronounce, and whose body form seemed entirely wrong. No amount of invitation, however, nor singing of hymns, which interested the natives in some unknown fashion, would bring them to actually accept the message he was preaching. Delbert was unsure how the computer translator rendered all of that in any case. He assumed it was getting his preaching right.

He had expected either hostility or eager acceptance. He had come across the light years by means these natives couldn’t possibly understand to bring the message of the cross, one of hope for them as well as for natives of earth, no matter how far away. He had distantly admitted to himself the possibility that the natives would be apathetic, refusing to acknowledge their need of a savior.

But they remained friendly, listened to his preaching, and then responded by saying things like, “Yes, it would have to be that way.”

It took weeks for Delbert to become so frustrated that he decided to ask the chief of the local community what the issue was. The result only increased Delbert’s surprise.

“The best thing would be for you to attend one of our worship services,” said the chief.

It took a full minute for Delbert to recover. “You have worship services?”

“Of course,” said the chief. “Did you imagine we wouldn’t?”

Delbert chose not to respond to that as he didn’t know what to say that would meet both the needs of his mission and minimal courtesy. “I would be delighted to attend,” he said, not entirely truthfully. “Are there any requirements? Things I should avoid doing?”

“Just come and hear,” said the chief.

Delbert imagined he was hearing humor, but he thought he remembered the briefers telling him the natives didn’t do human-style humor. He almost wished he had listened more closely. But then he thought of how this would help him understand how to reach these people with the gospel message.

It turned out that the service was held in one of the natives’ underground meeting halls. The room might have been beautiful, if it was not so confusing to human eyes.

“Avert your eyes from the walls and ceiling,” said the chief.

“Oh, is it not allowed to view them?” asked Delbert.

“It’s allowed, but it is not good for the sanity of your people,” said the chief. “Averting your eyes will keep you from trying to find a pattern where none exists that your mind can process.”

Delbert was not sure when the meeting began, or even if had not been in progress when he entered. There was a confusing background sound that seemed to hover at the edge of some sort of order, but always to fail to cross that threshold. Delbert had to instruct his translation device to quit attempting a translation, as it kept popping up random words that meant nothing at all. Or perhaps they did. Delbert was disturbed by the sense that he almost understood something.

Then a single voice took over. The translator still struggled, but it seemed to get the drift, while individual words were more difficult.

I will narrate separately today to underline this tale for our guest.

In recent-ancient times the creation trembled-groaned and was disturbed. The world itself was in agony. The forces of chaos throughout this area gained the ascendance.

It was the task-duty-mission of the people to bring the blessing of constancy-spirit-salvation to the mechanics of this system-locale-epicenter-of-presence.

The task-duty-mission proved too great for the people and the forces of chaos continued to build against the epicenter-of-presence. There was a final stroke of the forces of chaos that came to destroy the people and the epicenter-of-presence.

There was a considerable period of time filled with conflict, and Delbert found himself weeping. Somehow the sorrow communicated in a way that much else had done.

Awe-amazement-wonder.

The epicenter-of-presence, the being of constancy-spirit-salvation would remain with the people. Great destruction still to come. Great sorrow. Much death. But no aloneness.

Then the rejoicing was almost more painful than the sorrow, the destruction, and the aloneness. Delbert was uncertain how long a time had passed. As the chief started to leave, he stumbled along, guided by the alien form.

“How else could it be?” asked the chief when they reached the surface. “The very being that fills the epicenter-of-presence comes to be with the people in their time of travel. We were so joyful to realize you understood this as well, but feared the consequences to you of joining in our worship. It could have destroyed you.

Delbert was not entirely certain it hadn’t.

(Featured Image Credit: Openclipart.org composite.)

Thankful in All Things

In everything, give thanks.

At every time, even when it’s time to do something unpleasant,

In every place, even where you don’t want to go,

In every way, even sometimes in ways you find strange,

For every one, even the people you really don’t like,

For every privilege, even those you’d rather not acknowledge,

For every trial, even when they seem overwhelming,

For every blessing, even the ones so common you don’t notice,

In everything, give thanks.

(A free meditation on 1 Thessalonians 5:18a.)

Weariness

Why?

Why?

… says Jacob.
… asks Israel.

My Lord doesn’t even notice
As justice slinks away.

Don’t you know?
Haven’t you heard?

Eternal God, Creator of the Universe
Doesn’t tire
Doesn’t wear out.
Just try to find something
God doesn’t understand!

Giving strength to the weary
Great power to the powerless

Even the young tire out,
Young men stumble and fall.

Those who depend on God

Renew their strength.
Rise like eagles in flight.
Run without getting tired.
Walk without wearing out.

So why do you ask?

We are weary.
We can’t fly.
We do wear out.
We can’t see that God sees.

How long, Eternal God?

Hear our prayer for strength!

(Adapted from Isaiah 40:27-31. Image credit: Openclipart.org, imposed on one of my own photographs.)

Like David (A Meditation on Psalm 51)

Like David, I can

 

Approach God

Because God is

Giving

Loving

Forgiving

Fully cleansing.

 

Confess

Because I am a

Sinner

Displeaser

Prisoner

Veteran wrongdoer.

 

Rejoice

Because God

Teaches

Enlightens

Washes

Songs restores.

 

Be restored

Because God is

Creator

Restorer

Granter

Willing deliverer.

 

Proclaim

Because I’m

Singing

Praising

Sacrificing

Witness giving.

 

Be family

Because I am

Blessed

Prospered

Restored

Fully offered.


(Copyright 2018, Henry E. Neufeld. Image credit Openclipart.org.)

What Was It Like?

When God said, “Let there be light!”
What was it like?

An explosion of sound
Like rolling thunder
Clashing cymbals
Booming drums
Or a wildly cheering crowd?

Or maybe it was glorious music
An engaging ballad,
An organ performance
A symphony
A marching band
Perhaps an explosion of rock and roll.

Perhaps it was a sweet solo,
A Capella words with power
A soprano reaching star high notes
A bass rattling the foundations
A rich contralto
Or a rapper’s energy and rhythm.

Or maybe the Word had no sound
An explosion of light and color
Beauty illumined by soundless word
Dreams of mysterious symbols
Sculptures of thought and design
Even substantial structures of emotions.

Even that might be insufficient, so
A blueprint stretching infinitely
Connections intricate and planned
Mechanisms carrying unresisted power
Measurements of incomprehensible precision
A song, a picture, a word, an action, divine.

Or just God’s Word.
“And there was.”

Dedicated to James Kristian McClellan. Maybe it’s you!

Neither – Nor

There is, says Paul …

Neither Jew nor Greek
yet they have different histories
different ways of life
different languages
different cultures

Neither slave nor free
yet they still have different backgrounds
different economic status
different concerns
different ways of living.

Neither male nor female
yet we have different physiologies
different psychologies
different interests
different ways of relating.

And now, perhaps …

Neither black nor white

Neither rich nor poor

Neither gay nor straight

Neither left nor right

Neither north nor south

For we are all one in Christ Jesus
in all our diversity
in all our debates
in all our differences
in all our wrongness
in all our rightness
in all our strengths
in all our weaknesses.

For it is not of works
no works of greatness
no works of charity
no works of worship
no works of knowledge
no works of belief
no works of knowing
no works of understanding
no works of writing
no works of speaking
no works of silence
no works of anything at all.

It is the gift of God.

By grace.

Because Jesus is faithful.

— Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:9


(Featured Image credit: Openclipart.org.)

The Dependable Assassin

In the history books he received just a brief mention. He was called Rutahgren (accented on the ah, though few people knew). If he was given any sort of title, it was “the Destroyer.” He was credited with assassinating Almar the Just around a century ago, following which there had been two or three decades of sheer chaos, known quite creatively as “the troubled times.” You decided how long the troubled times had lasted based on your tolerance for chaos.

Again, according to the history books, Rutahgren (the Destroyer) had been caught by the palace guards, tortured, and eventually executed by impalement on the palace grounds. Since executions usually took place in the city square, some were surprised by this. Most, however, figured that since Rutahgren (the Destroyer) had killed the reigning king, the royal family had wanted to keep all the fun to themselves. Executions, even by impalement, were public events, parties even.

It was said that this was the only time that an assassin had ever successfully killed the reigning monarch. If someone pointed out that several kings had died by violence in the centuries long history of the small kingdom, they would be told that those killings were accomplished by insiders. As an assassin, Rutahgren (the Destroyer) was, and would remain (never fear!), unique.

There were two places where the story was told quite differently.

The first of these was the Illustrious Guild of Critical Services, IGCS for short. IGCS had offices in a solid, upper class neighborhood in the royal city. Ordinary people wondered what “critical services” might be. Government officials and the police simply referred to the IGCS as the assassins’ and thieves’ guild. It was more accurate, though slightly less aesthetically pleasing.

I suppose I must explain why IGCS was allowed to exist, right in the middle of the capital city of a (generally) law abiding country. There were two reasons for this. First, because no matter how many times the police searched the building, they were unable to find any evidence of illegal activity. It was hard to get judges to imprison or execute people because “everybody knew” that they were assassins or thieves. Even thoroughly bribed judges wanted some specific victim and target!

Further, and as the second reason, too many government officials had made use of IGCS services at one time or another. These services rarely involved killing anyone. Usually, the goal was to produce filing errors. You know, the type that result in documents missing from well-marked folders, or perhaps showing up somewhere they had no business being. That sort of thing. It was hard to get the prosecutor to work very hard to put someone in jail, when that someone knew precisely what had happened to that contract he had wanted to get out of.

Thus it was convenient for everyone that IGCS just sat there behind its sign.

Now where was I? Oh, yes. Inside the guild building, when instructors talked to trainees, they told a rather different story about Rutahgren. In their stories he was dubbed “the Faithful.” Now some may have problems with an organization of thieves and assassins advocating faithfulness, but so they did. It was said that once they accepted a task, they carried it out. It was also said that they never, ever revealed who hired them.

In their story, Rutahgren was indeed an assassin. He had been hired by a member of the government to get rid of Almar the Just, because, in the way of government officials, he felt that justice was much overrated, and that Almar was just too just! They never said the name of the official who had hired Rutahgren, because, of course, they never told such a thing. It amused the instructors to pretend that they actually had found out by sneaky stratagem, and were concealing this knowledge from their students. But the fact was that nobody knew, because Rutahgren, as a good guild member, had never told. Anybody.

Over a period of years, the story went, Rutahgren had tried to get into range to assassinate Almar the Just, but had never succeeded. The royal guards were just too good. That they nonetheless never caught him during those failed attempts could be credited to the fact that Rutahgren was quite good as well. He always managed to withdraw. There were even a couple of innocent people, whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, who were executed for failed attempts.

There were also many close calls. There were members of the guild who told Rutahgren (and any senior guild member who would listen), that this was a contract they should fail to keep. They could even return the money provided by the one who had hired them. But Rutahgren refused to quit. Finally, he determined that they only way to be absolutely certain he would kill the king was for him to plan it as a suicide mission. There was no way to accomplish it and get away alive.

So he did that. He had a perfect plan to infiltrate the group of courtiers around the king. It was accomplished in a place where the royal guard was less concerned about assassins, precisely because the king was surround by courtiers and guards, and none of his other subjects. Rutahgren approached the king and killed him using a long thin dagger. He had taken the precaution of coating the dagger with poison, and having a wizard place a quiet but deadly death spell on it, and when he approached the king with a particularly flattering remark, and a particularly abject offer of obeisance and subjection, he also ran the dagger very precisely through the king’s heart. The king was dead before the poison could circulate. The spell of death ensured he stayed that way.

Rutahgren knew he’d be tortured for information, and he didn’t want to reveal the one who had hired him, so he had made even more elaborate plans to insure that he would die as well and not be captured. His plans were unnecessary, however, as he died under a barrage of attacks from the startled guards. It was said, in the IGCS, that he died with a smile. He had accomplished his mission.

In the IGCS, he was presented as the perfect example of a true assassin, carrying out his mission no matter what the circumstances and cost. Some instructors included a footnote about being very careful what you agreed to accomplish.

In the second place, his story was remembered a bit differently. This was in the royal guard. The guard could forgive themselves when a prince or a government minister, granted free access to his majesty (or his or her highness, or whoever), turned traitor and killed someone they were guarding. How could the guard be expected to protect the king from someone the king invited to be there? They could search for weapons, but sometimes the king even forbade them that. They didn’t really condone missing any assassin, yet they felt differently about insiders.

Rutahgren, however, had placed one single blemish on their record of keeping outsiders out, and they too told his story in training. They didn’t attempt to sugar-coat it. The guard had failed. The facts of the story sounded much like those told in the IGCS. But the lesson was different.

They also called the assassin Rutahgren the Faithful. They’d conclude his story by telling their students, would-be guardsmen, that they needed to be just as faithful, just as determined, just as careful, and just as willing to sacrifice as the assassin. “Disapprove of his profession all you like,” they’d say, “but remember, and emulate, his faithfulness.”

(Luke 16:1-8)


(Featured image is based on Adobe Stock [#106106044] and I have licensed it for use here. It is not public domain.)

Thanks for the Beer

Sam (short for Samson, not Samuel), picked up the stein of beer he had just paid for, gave it an initial taste to savor the taste, and then followed with a gulp. He enjoyed his beer in the evening after a hard day of work.

He took a quick look around the bar, searching for faces he knew. He wasn’t much of a talker, but he loved to sit with friends and just be there.

Today, however, he saw a man he didn’t know sitting alone at one of the high tables, an empty stein in front of him. The only conclusion one could come to—and as usual, Sam came to it quickly—was that the man was wearing high quality clothes, but had been wearing the same ones for at least a couple of days. He was alone at the table, and he looked alone, absolutely alone.

Sam walked over to the table. “Hi. I’m Sam. Can I buy you a refill?” he asked.

The man looked back blankly, like he didn’t understand the question. Sam just stood there. He figured the man would figure it out in his own time.

After what seemed like a couple of minutes, the man nodded and kind of pushed the stein over. It didn’t look very polite, but Sam didn’t care. Without knowing why, he sensed that was about all the man could do.

He went to the bar, got the man’s drink refilled, paid, and went back to the table. As he sat down, he remembered what his pastor had said in church the past Sunday. He’d talked about being a witness, introducing people to Jesus. “Witness” didn’t make much sense to Sam. He understood introducing people to Jesus, but he could never figure out how you did it. If Jesus was one of his normal friends, he’d take him to one of his friends and say, “Hey Bob, meet Jesus.” Then he’d just sit there quietly and people would talk. He just couldn’t quite get to those intellectual things people kept saying about Jesus.

Sam wasn’t stupid. In fact, the pastor reminded him regularly that he wasn’t. He’d talk about different skills, different ways minds worked, and how he, the pastor, couldn’t build a house the way Sam could. “I’d be a real fool on a building site,” he’d say. Then he’d bring up some complex topic that Sam couldn’t understand (and didn’t want to), and Sam would smile and move on. Trouble was, he thought, the pastor was never on a building site where Sam could talk studs, joists, fasteners and such-like, while Sam was in church every Sunday where he heard about long words that never meant anything to him.

Jesus was his friend. In fact, Jesus was his best friend. Jesus didn’t talk to him and he didn’t talk to Jesus. They just sat together. Sam liked it that way.

He sat down and shoved the beer across the table. Then he thought, I should ask a blessing or something. He couldn’t imagine why. Bless the beer (and pretzels) in a bar? He’d never heard of such a thing. Besides, he didn’t know how one said a blessing. If it was one of his friends …

“Hey Jesus,” he said, looking slightly upward, “thanks for the beer!” He paused a moment as he grabbed a pretzel. “And for the pretzels too,” he added. For some reason, Sam handed the pretzel to the man across the table. Neither of them offered another word.

“May I join you?” said someone.

Both men looked to the side. Between them was a man, probably a construction worker, they thought. His hands were calloused. His clothes were the sort you wore on a building site, and they showed signs of wear and the dirt and dust of a work site.

“Sure,” said Sam. The other man just nodded at the newcomer.

“Get you a beer?” asked Sam.

“Sure, thanks,” he responded. His voice was the voice of the construction site as well.

With the beer delivered, they all three sat in silence for several minutes, nursing their beers slowly.

Finally, the newcomer looked at the man across from Sam and spoke. “It’s OK to run away from evil,” he said. “Sometimes that’s the only thing to do.”

The man jerked, startled. Then he just stared.

“When you ran, you should have taken your family.”

His stare got more intense, as though he was in a state of shock.

“You need to go get them.”

“I can’t.” The man spoke for the first time. “I used my last money on my first beer. I only have this one because Sam here bought it for me. I have nothing left.” His tone indicated that by “nothing” he was talking about more than money.

“If you try, I think you’ll find you have the resources,” said the stranger. Then he got up.

As he left he turned to Sam and said, “Hey, Sam. Thanks for the beer.”

For no reason he could imagine, Sam reached into his wallet and pulled out a twenty. He put it on the table in front of his new friend. Almost as if by magic several other bills joined it as people from around the room stepped up to contribute.

None of them knew why they did it either. They just knew that Sam was solid. If he thought the man needed the money, the man needed the money.

Matthew 18:20, Matthew 10:42

 

 

A Sonnet in Response to Psalm 65

 

By strength you founded mountains high and grand.
You still the roaring seas and streams abate.
From dawn to dusk and dusk to dawn your hand
Brings forth rejoicing, glory crowns your gate.

Your awesome deeds, your valiant acts so great.
Sustain our life, and give your servants care.
A pathway to your temple you create,
All people walk within its pathways fair.

Iniquity, the deeds we sadly dare,
They overwhelm us, past our strength to face.
Yet you forgive us, take us in your care,
Providing joy and welcome in your place.

So praise to you will always be our song.
All glory, honor, strength to you belong.

(Image credit: Openclipart.org. Every so often I like to play with poetic forms. This one is trying to be a Spenserian sonnet. And no, I don’t imagine myself an actual poet.)