Monday, May 10, 2010

ATTENTION: Check out the NEW Blog!

I decided to quit dividing my efforts between three different blogs and instead merge them into one. I hope you enjoy:

-Jon Vowell

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dispatches from the Asylum

     "For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." I Timothy 4:10

     Lewis once called the world "enemy occupied territory." Such a term greatly resonated with his then World War II weary audience. Perhaps a term for the world that would greatly resonate with our current generation is an asylum, and the inmates are running it. The mind of the majority of mankind is gripped in the dumbing and numbing dark of the Devil; their eyes are blind and their hearts veiled. They are the ones bound in the cave, making substance out of shadows, and those of us who try to tell them of the sun will suffer shame and pain; but tell them we must.
     It would help our efforts if we remembered this insanity afflicted upon men by the god of this world. They are indeed the blind men groping at the elephant, mistaking its parts for various wholes. The Man of Galilee has not yet put the mud to their eyes that, when once washed off, allows them to see the elephant in the room. To them, God is indeed trapped in an impenetrable black box: His presence, purpose, and nature are unknown and unknowable. They have not grasped (or do not wish to grasp) the knowledge of His communication and visitation amongst us, that He is there and He is not silent. We who have heard him are not the special keepers of secret knowledge. We are merely the men and women who once were blind, but now we see; we were mad, but now we are sane. All we want is to spread the sanity around.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Two Fates

     "That ye may be blameless and pure, the sons of God, without fault, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world [alt: as stars in the universe]." Philippians 2:15

     We are stars shed from the blood of the sun, the sparks of a greater flame that is infinite and glorious, sending us flying upward into the pitch black sky of night. We are in constant rebellion against the dark: we will not conform to its shades and secret sins. Like a new caretaker purchases a rotting old building and begins by replacing a bulb in a dark alleyway: the roaches flee and the caretaker begins his repairs. So we too, having been purchased by God through His blood and pain and having our old deformities set right, we shine in the dark places as our master sets to fix the whole.
     God did not call people to merely escape from Hell; He has called us to bear the fruits of His fire. Read Galatians 5:22-23. There are the fruits of the Spirit; there is the result of being one with the consuming fire. If you have not these things, then you are still a dead ember lying lifeless on the ash heap of the world. A fire is coming for you and your kind, but you will not survive it.
     Hence are our two fates: to burn or to burn. To be filled up by the fiery Spirit of God like an overfilled cup or to be drowned in an infinite ocean of His fiery wrath. To the burning Love or the burning Wrath you must flee. The choice is yours; the results are eternal.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Truth and a Song

"...great is the mystery..." I Timothy 3:16

The idea of "mystery" has gone foul for many and has been foully used by others, thanks mainly to the permeation and pontification of post-modern pundits. Many today take "mystery" (and similar terms, like "incomprehensible") to mean that which is irrational or unknowable or (what is more likely) both. Such a definition is an infection from our own corrupt culture, a culture fearful of and in denial of absolutes, categories, and certainties. It is an infection that we must strive long and hard to cure.
The old idea of "mystery" (an idea that is still the right and proper one) is the idea of "a hidden truth". Shouldn't such a thing be obvious, though? When we read a book or watch a film subscribed under the genre of "mystery," we never think that the solution to the initial conundrum is going to be irrational or unknowable. Both would destroy the very purpose that defines mystery: to discover, know, and comprehend an answer that is currently obscured. To steal the discovery, knowledge, and comprehension away from us is to make the story no longer a mystery but rather a comedy (which delights in the absurd).
A "mystery" is not irrational and/or unknowable; it has an answer that is rational and knowable and currently obscure. As Chesterton put it, one day we will see "the other side of the tapestry," and current mysteries will be solved, and perhaps new and exciting ones revealed; for mystery gives two things to the universe, two things that the human soul cannot live without. The first is joy, for we feel that we are in a great and exciting game of hide and seek, of search and discovery. Einstein said that it is as if we are small children stepping into a great library, vaguely sensing some sort of structure and order in the arrangement of all the books as well as a great wealth of substance within their pages. To make that substance irrational and/or unknowable is to kill the joy.
The second thing that is gives us is beauty. We sense great and momentous truths behind the veil of things, truths that the artist and the philosopher have sought (and occasionally found) words for, that the common man often lacks words for. Whatever these truths, these realities, are, we sense their numinous glow behind (and often through) the veil of things, though we often fail to articulate it adequately. However, those who assume that our failure of articulation necessarily means that such things are absurdities or non-entities are childish; their thoughts are cop-outs and naivete. The truth is far more exciting: we cannot speak the right words because we do not yet know the language, the language of real things. It to is a mystery, i.e., it too is rational and knowable and waiting to be discovered. We catch fragments of it now; one day we will be encompassed by the whole. Thus, the joy and beauty of the universe, caused by mystery, can be summed up in this: we find by our longings and searchings, whether in whole or in part, that all things are touched by truth and a song.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

The God of Everyday

"Behold, as the eyes of the servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of the maiden look unto their mistress, so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until He has mercy upon us." Ps. 123:2

There is an art to waiting in the Christian life that we modern Christians have yet to even acquire, much less master. Paradoxically, waiting is the most intense trial of faith precisely because it is not intense. Of course, times of jubilation are not as difficult, but neither are storms of troubles. At least in a storm, something is happening that you can lock your energies and attention onto. The void is filled with chaos, but at least it is filled. In the waiting, however, there is nothing so momentous as jubilation or troubles. Just as it is in the scabbard that the sword is most likely to rust, so too it is in the waiting that our faith can rust. It is easier to slip out of trusting reliance on God when we feel like we don't need Him right now. In the good times, we know that we need Him because it is He who brings the good because He is the good. Likewise, in the bad times, we know that we need Him because only He can save us. Thus, it is in the times of stillness and silence, where there is neither a positive nor negative fever-pitch, that we can forget Him and lean to our own understanding.
Do not get confused. "Stillness and silence" does not mean "boring," or even "normal". For the Christian, there are no "normal" days as the world defines "normal"; all days are miraculous, and that is the key. In the midst of the still and silent days, God is still with us, and He continually interacts in our lives; "small graces" is how one songwriter described it. It is the continually presence of God in our lives, both in big and small graces, that defines the "art" of waiting for the Christian, i.e., to discern God's presence in every moment, not just the times of jubilation or trouble. It is the concept of mythic eyes: see God everywhere, everyday. This is not an empirical eisegesis, i.e., reading God into everything; rather, it is an empirical exegesis, i.e., discerning God's actual presence everyday, because He is with us everyday. He does not take a holiday. He is not merely involved in our great joys and sorrows, moments of triumph as well as crisis and failure; He is also involved in the minor minutia of our lives as well.
Think of it this way: In human relationships (esp. marriage), there are times of joy and sorrow, and strong relationships are built upon those moments. However, far more prevalent than the times of exultation and tragedy are the days "in between," the days when life is simply lived at a steady pace. It is those days that form the bulk of our lives, and thus those days that will build the bulk of the relationship. Any relationship that can remain through times of joy and sorrow but cannot maintain itself in the "in between" is doomed to failure. It is the same with us and God. God does not want us on the good and bad days; He wants us everyday, and we have to learn to likewise want Him as well.
In the movie Shenandoah, a boy name Sam wanted to marry Mr. Anderson's daughter. Anderson (played by Jimmy Stewart) asked him two questions. The first was, "Do you love her?" When Sam said yes, Anderson's response was, "Well, Sam, that's not good enough." He then asked his second question: "Do you like her?" When Sam said that he did, Anderson concludes with, "If you don't like her, then those nights can get cold!" Within the context of this scene, perhaps you will understand my next statement: God not only "loves" us; He also "likes" us. He is our God, our good Heavenly Father and holy Lord and Savior, everyday. It is in the waiting that we can most learn that truth, just as in a marriage it is in the days "in between" that we learn just how much someone really loves us, and how much we really love them.

-Jon Vowell

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Minor Minutia

"I was glad when they said unto me, 'Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem....' Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.... Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek thy good." Ps. 122:1-2, 6a, 9

The reason that Jerusalem was given such high status by the Jews was because it was the home of the Temple, i.e., the dwelling place of God. Peace was prayed for not for Jerusalem's sake, but rather because of the Temple ("Because of the house of the Lord our God"). By itself, the city was (and is) nothing; just another temporary home of man.
Many, however, still mistakenly pray for peace in Jerusalem because they think that it is the city that is important. It is not. What is important is God, and Him dwelling amongst man. To confuse the cynosure here is similar to what the Israelites did with the ark (I Sam. 4:3): they deemed the ark itself as important rather than the God who the ark represented.
We continue such mistakes today. Though there are plenty of things worth fighting for, we more often than not fight and nit-pick with much candor about minor minutia (frivolous things like denominational jingoism and established lists of approved and disapproved Bible translations, musical preferences, and hair styles). Meanwhile, important things (like God) get lost in the shuffle, and we fall from being the light of the world into just another religion; for the world does not need or rules or opinions. They need God, which means that they need Jesus, the only way back to God (John 14:6).

-Jon Vowell

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

When We Leave the Temple Behind

"I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Ps. 121:1-2 (WEB)

This psalm, though written before the Exile, was a favorite of the exiles. As they were taken from their homes, they would quite literally "lift up [their] eyes to the hills," i.e., to Jerusalem and the Temple. As the will of God was further accomplished, all that was familiar and known was removed. Only God was left. Sometimes, many times, that is the way that it should be.
I have observed that many (including myself) view faith as going further and further into a bright and open place, with everything becoming clearer and clearer. Now, however, I think that such a view is mistake. A much more accurate (i.e., biblical) view is to say that faith is travelling deeper and deeper into darkness, a "deep but dazzling darkness," as Vaughan put it. Rather than a bright and open place, it is more like descending into the cave of a great mountain, with the daylight fading behind us the deeper that we go in. Spiritually speaking, a heavy dimness falls thicker and thicker over everything expect for one, i.e., God as He has revealed Himself to us. This seems to be the lesson about faith taught in Job: the greater the faith, the thicker the perplexity. The deeper that we go, the closer that we get, the more and more all other lamps go out. God Himself is shrouded in clouds and darkness (Ps. 97:2). All that we have is the light that He sows for us (Ps. 97:11), burning coals dropped like bread crumbs, each one urging us to move forward. Those lights are His word, His revelation to us, and thus even though He oft times hidden, He is never far. When we leave the Temple behind (which I believe is the proper definition of faith), we take God with us, for He is with us.
What I have discovered in my own life is that the life of faith means having God "clear the field," so to speak: all things familiar and certain, any chance for us to categorize, plan, and be confident of tomorrow, is utterly removed. In an immediate sense, things become more unknowable and uncertain, until the only thing left that we know for sure is God. All other people and circumstances have become shadows. That is what the life of faith is: certainty about God, uncertainty about everything else. God has revealed to us that He is holy (Is. 6:3), and that He has called us to holiness (I Pet. 1:15-16), and that He will accomplish that goal (Phil. 1:6). What he has not revealed is exactly how that will unfold in our individual lives, and it is on that point that we grow frustrated. We grow weary with waiting, and fall into two deadly snares. One is where we begin to place confidence in ourselves: "Perhaps I must do something." Such a confidence is always cursed.
The other snare is where we believe that the darkness is a result of our own stupidity and failure: "If only I was a stronger Christian things would be clearer!" Clarity belongs to those who are afraid of the dark, i.e., children. Those who have been grown up by the Lord are old enough to descend into His darkness, into a deeper trust in Him, which means a deeper knowledge of and love for Him. Faith is not our meager service to God whereby we earn enough brownie points to play with the grown ups in the burning sunlight. Rather, faith is the process (the "journey") by which we are drawn closer and closer to our destination, i.e., God Himself. We are drawn closer when we trust Him, but trust means nothing if everything is clear and sunny. Trust means that a shadow has been placed over everything. Not just any shadow, however, but the shadow of the Almighty; for it is only in that shadow that we find the secret place of God (Ps. 91:1). Leave your "temple" behind, and do not grow weary with the waiting, but rather go deeper still into the dark with your Father, Lover, and Friend.

-Jon Vowell

Shrubs in the Desert

"It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes." Ps. 118:8-9

It is said in Jeremiah that "the man that trusteth in man" is like a shrub in the desert (Jer.17:5-6), which is a very apt description. The world of man is a wilderness and wasteland, both dry and thirsty. All who embrace that desolation and reject the Lord, who is "the fountain of living waters," shall be ashamed (Jer. 17:13).
This trusting "in man" comes in three ways. One is on a governmental level ("in princes"). Those who trust in the ruling chops of mankind have been disappointed continually. All empires eventually become history, their glory reduced to decadence and tyranny before being reduced to dust. Those who still cling to human ruling bodies for salvation will be ashamed in the end.
Another way we trust "in man" is on a corporate level ("in man"). We may lose faith in governments, but not humanity in general. We still hold out hope for mankind, and thus we try to think the best of people. The idea is that, though we have made many mistakes, we have also made many progresses, and we will one day dig ourselves out of the hole that we are in, whether we do it by reason, peace, war, or love. Those who think such are continually ashamed, for mankind fails continually. Our best efforts and good intentions are forever reduced to rubble and ruin, more often than not being turned on their heads in the process. We constantly laud the newest thing and romanticize the former things, all the while unaware (whether intentionally or not) that we are caught up in an endless cycle of our own fallenness, futility, and failure.
The last way that we trust "in man" is on a personal level, i.e., we trust in ourselves, leaning to our own understanding. We too shall be ashamed, and cry out with the psalmist, "My flesh and my heart faileth..." (Ps. 73:26a). We are the shrubs in the desert: there is no life in us, no living water. Whether we remain alone or congregate with other shrubs, or form coalitions and governments of shrubbery, we are all still shrubs in the desert: burnt, dry, and barren. When the heat and drought rage, we shall wither and fade.
All of this is plain logic, which is to say that it is mere common sense: If the Bible is true, and we are in fact dead in trespasses and sins, and God alone is life and light, then what business have we in hoping in ourselves? It is the height of ignorance and arrogance, yet we see it all the time. Man continues to trust "in man," and thus man is continually cursed: continually worn and weary, our efforts continually futile delusions of grandeur. The dust of the desert continually flies up into our faces; our eyes and throats burn with the dryness of it all. Still, we continue to trust in ourselves, and all the while an infinite water supply, water presenced with the very life of God, is offered to us without cost (Is. 55:1-2).

-Jon Vowell

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mercy and Truth

"O praise the Lord, all ye nations; praise Him, all ye people. For His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endureth forever. Praise ye the Lord." Ps. 117

Do you praise the Lord for His mercy? Do you praise Him for the light that He gives for the darkness within? Do you praise Him for the way that He overlooks your faults and doubts and gives you good things? Where would we be without the mercy of God? We would be nothing, for we are already and always nothing without Him. If it was not for His mercy at the Cross, we still would be lost. If it were not for His continually mercy day by day, we would be forever wandering and confused, stumbling over our own feet. He has not left us in the dark womb of death; He has brought us to new life, to new birth. Yet neither has He left us orphans in the howling wilderness, for He is not merely our physician but our father also. He feeds us and tends to us and teaches us how to walk. We will need such care our whole lives, and He is ready and able to give it, mercy continually, clouds and fire by day and night. Do we praise Him for His mercy, the mercy that is merciful even when we forget to praise Him for it, or when we lack the words? Praise Him for His merciful kindness, His loving kindness, which is better than life.
Do you praise the Lord for His truth? Do you praise Him for the light that He gives for the darkness without? Do you praise Him for giving to ignorant and unworthy men the secrets of the divine, even the "deep things of God" (I Cor. 2:9-10)? Do you praise Him for giving you guidance in the night season and all the day long? Where would we be without the truth of God? Again, we would be nothing. We would fumble about in the dark, headed we know not where, groping at we know not what, meant for we know not what. We would be forever trapped in that terrible prison of having only the journey and no destination. Yet God has given us His truth like a lamp in the night (Ps. 119:105). He has shown us not only the path of salvation, but also the path of holiness. He has not lead us to the Cross only to snuff out the light there. He stays with us, an ever-present fireside, to warm us and to light the way; for He is not merely our savior, but out guide and comforter also, our constant companion, leading us home. Do we praise Him for His truth, and for His listening ear that gives us the truth when we ask for it? Do we praise Him for the truth that comes in the midst of our doubts to help our unbelief, rather than abandon us to it? Praise Him for His truth, our light in the dark, the sun, moon, and stars of our souls. Praise Him for His truth that is true, and that shall never pass away nor change.

-Jon Vowell

Friday, August 21, 2009

Real Presence (Or, Haunted)

"I love the Lord, because He hath heard my voice...." Ps. 116:1a

" have known God, or rather are know of God...." Gal. 4:9a

We do not worship God because He is a spirit. There is nothing praise-worthy about being a spirit: the Devil is a spirit. Nor do we worship Him because He is powerful, for mere power is grounds only for fear rather than worship. Nor even do we worship Him because of His goodness, for mere goodness is static goodness, and inconsequential to us and anything else. The reason that we worship God, praising Him in word and song and deed, the reason that we have given our hearts to Him alone, is because He is not inconsequential; "He hath heard" our voice.
All the goods of men are but silent stone and dumb wood, made from men's hands, mindless mirrors of their own emptiness (Ps. 115:2-8). Any spiritual peace available to us must be sought out by our own effort: we work and we search and we struggle; we grope about in the dark, uncertain if what we have grasped hold of is in fact what we have been looking for. We are, in such scenarioes, indeed the blind men with the elephant: destined and doomed to never know.
The Christian, however, is in love with and enraptured by God already, because this God has come to them: He dwelt with them once (John 1:14) and dwells with them still (I Cor. 6:19; II Cor. 6:16). Christianity is not another religion of maxims and moral living; it is a religion of presence, the presence of the living God who is there. Even our holy book (whereas others are mere codes of conduct) is full of the same presence (God-breather: II Tim. 3:16; God's dynamic life: Heb. 4:12). True Christians are different from every other religionists and spiritualists, every other holy man and guru, because they are (in a word) haunted, continually in the presence of another, i.e., the God who goes with them; with them (see Josh.1:9)! That is the great difference-maker, the great deal-breaker. Leave all the other religions of man to their fumbling about in the dark; give us instead the Light that walks amongst us, with us, and in us.

-Jon Vowell