Friday, October 8, 2021

POEMS BETWEEN THE BEGINNING AND THE END - Introduction

Signed copy available - click image
(Before becoming a preacher, a nurse, an amateur artist, or a massage therapist, I was a poet. I still am. Getting my poetry published in more than homemade binders had been a dream for years. Health challenges and the rise of modern book-publishing technology merged to motivate me to make the effort. This and my other books are published through Amazon's Kindle Direct in both paperback and Kindle editions.

I wanted to put the introductory essays for each poetry collection on my blog. If you want to know what makes me tick, my poems tell it better than a biography.

This "Introduction" and the concluding poem are from my 7th book of poems. To read the posts from my others, click on these links:
Poems Between Heaven and Hell;
Poems Between Darkness and Light;
Poems Between Death and Life;


“Introduction” to
Poems Between the Beginning and the End

In a philosophy class in high school, I became enthralled with Augustine’s idea of time. He tried to show that by their sequential nature, time past and time future have dimension, while present time does not. At the point where past and future meet, there is nothing. Any seeming dimension in the present can be further divided into past and future. But, from the perspective of this dimensionless present, the past no longer exists and the future is yet to be.

These philosophically convoluted thoughts led me to ask, “Does time exist?” and to write an essay on it for that class. My teacher coached me in framing that same question into a suitable form and submitting it to Mortimer J. Adler’s weekly newspaper column. If that renowned educator and philosopher chose to discuss it, I would win a 54-volume set of Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World. That happens to be how I came to own that set of books.

Despite how valid the above arguments seem in showing  time’s nonexistence, modern astronomers and cosmologists depend mathematically on time’s real existence for their knowledge of the cosmos. In fact, from a subjective, psychological viewpoint, all of us bring the past into our present experience by recollection, and we can dream or visualize the future now by anticipation and planning. At the speed of thought, we jump from one past memory to another or from one future prospect to another. God designed us with a subconscious repository from which the conscious mind accesses these preoccupations in a manageable way, usually one item at a time.

From this psychological perspective, the past that we have lived has dimension in our present thought, and even our earthly future has a tentative existence and duration. What seems without dimension is our beginning and our end. They are like the front and back covers of a book whose pages contain the history of our earthly lives. We consciously experience nothing before our beginning, and unless we are told by God what comes after death, we cannot tangibly anticipate what comes after the back cover that ends our personal story.

Of paramount earthly importance to our humanness are identity and memory. I’ve come to believe that both exist as a functional union of the physical body and the spiritual soul through a uniquely formulated and parallel integration of cellular and spiritual DNA. This interactive arrangement provides for both individuality and memory. The physical DNA produces a neuro-network for memory’s manifestation in the material world, while the spiritual DNA governs the repository God designed in a person’s soul for its storage.

Neurologists can show that memories are consciously elicited by brain stimulation. Materialistic scientists take this as proof that the physical brain stores personal memory. To date, however, the actual physiological mechanism of that storage—in brains cells whose molecular matter is fully replaced about every 7 years—escapes explanation.

The manner of cerebral memory storage can never be discovered, if personal memories are stored in the soul and merely accessed by the brain, as cloud or disk memory is accessed by computer operators. Many with NDEs (near-death experiences) tell of still having their memories and identities as they float from hospital rooms into afterlife territory. After they return to their resuscitated bodies, what they saw and experienced is stored not in their brains, which were nonfunctional during the episode, but in their souls, which actually had the experience.

From the beginning of our DNA marriage between soul and body until it ends in death, our identity is not static. Sin and the Fall have damaged our biological DNA so that the deterioration of aging is part of our earthly sojourn. Old age changes us physically. Conversely, the memories stored in our soul also change us, becoming part of what makes up our personalities. God graciously calls us and lovingly provides for us to expand our identities in the direction of who we really are in Him. But our free will can choose pathways that lead us away from the moral and servant-leadership purposes for which He made us body-spirit beings.

By the titles of all my poem books, I have attempted to convey the circumstantial tension in which human volition determines personal destiny. The context of life’s choices are both the pages between life’s book covers and the chapters that alternate between the way of self and the way of God—in other words, between heaven and hell; darkness and light; death and life; birth and resurrection; here and beyond; fear and faith; and now between the beginning and the end. It’s in this in-between space that we live and make choices, from the very outset to the final sunset.

At this period of my life, prostate cancer and heart problems have curtailed much of my bodily activity, yet each day only increases my soul’s desire to learn. While my thirst for theological knowledge is far from quenched, I have developed a voracious appetite for studying both molecular biology and cosmological astrophysics. The desire to grow in my experience with drawing and painting is still unmet. But, in the realm of poetry, part of that late-in-life ambition to learn and experience more is profusely reflected in the large number of explorations I’ve made in trying my hand at Japanese and Korean poetic styles. I’ll admit upfront that I’ve never made the proper distinction between haiku and senryu. I call all of my 3-line non-rhymes of 5-7-5 syllables haiku, when technically I know most of them fail to meet the exigencies of the form. On the other hand, I did try to follow the formal rules with my tanka and sijo.

My tendency to insert comic-relief into my poetic stream of frequently serious subject matter had a prolific growth spurt in this volume. Perhaps a closer view of my mortality, while increasing the depth of my seriousness, has led to  interspersing these pages with much more creative humor. As you will see, I discovered some new outlets for that in limerick-making and other word-play experimentation. And I must admit that, along with those fun and sometimes satirical creations, I made some serious attempts at new forms or lyric patterns as a result of entering poetry contests on Allpoetry.com. In fact, it was from a contest requiring a crown of sonnets that I decided to go beyond the entry requirements and work on an heroic crown of sonnets—14 sonnets with the last line of each becoming the first line of the next sonnet, and concluding with a master sonnet composed of all those previous first lines. The result was what I now consider my magnum opus. I wrote it right at the outset of the Covid-19 lockdown, when everything slowed to a standstill, except the gift of time.

Time truly is a gift. Cosmologists now realize that it had a beginning ex nihilo. But no matter how long the universe lasts, our personal slice of cosmic time has an endpoint. Someday all of what was our life’s future will be in storage as past memories. How our identities have grown toward God or away from Him will be all that matters in the afterlife. Skip my attempts at humor, if you must, but pay close attention to my serious stuff. As always, it is my hope and prayer that my more prophetic and spiritual messages in verse might help my readers make decisions for Christ that will bless them now and for eternity.

— David L. Hatton


PERSONAL PETITION

Lord, lead me safe on the physical plane
past life-draining pits on the upward path
where frolic’s folly brings bodily pain
or sins I avoid feed the devil’s wrath.
As my strength subsides and my powers wane,
Lord, lead me safe on the physical plane.

God, govern my will, as my mind grows old,
while my life-clock ticks till its spring’s unwound.
When the final days of my stay unfold,
keep my feelings calm and my thoughts still sound,
discerning the dross from the goal of gold—
God, govern my will, as my mind grows old.

As my soul declines, let my spirit sing;
as my mission ends, let my worship last.
May I still be grateful for everything
with a forward look, letting go the past.
To Your glory’s praise, ever-present King,
as my soul declines, let my spirit sing!

— David L. Hatton, 11/20/2020
(Poems Between the Beginning and the End, © 2021)

For more single poems from this volume, visit my website's “Poetry Page.”

Monday, October 4, 2021

JESUS DREW A LINE

What line did Jesus draw? He drew the dividing line between God’s Kingdom of Light and Satan’s dominion of darkness. He didn’t draw this line philosophically—leaving it open to discussion or to the shifting definitions of human opinion and religious ideology. Because Jesus was the Messiah King, His arrival on the scene of human history created the real, spiritually tangible existence of that dividing line. His incarnational coming inaugurated the earthly debut of the Kingdom of God, and that Kingdom’s ongoing spiritual presence calls for human wills to respond. Putting off or making excuses to avoid a decisive response was then and is now to make a negative choice.

John the Baptist—sent by God as a prophetic voice to prepare people for receiving the coming King—preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Jesus preached exactly the same message with another intent. He was now calling people to participate in that Kingdom by putting their trust in Him. True repentance or metanoia [“change of mind”] is not an emotional sorrow over personal sins or an intellectual adaptation to a new concept. It’s the full human person—body, soul, and spirit—fully surrendering to Jesus Christ as the Savior King. The choice of repentant faith in response to the Good News of God’s Kingdom initiates in the believer’s heart the actual Reign of Almighty God, “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17). Forgiveness of sins and a renewed mind are the results of that surrender, for both are found only in the King.

Satan is at work 24/7 to prevent sinners from crossing over that dividing line by their surrender to Jesus. For all human history, he’s avidly studied our fallen nature, learning how to play every field in order to cater successfully to each human inclination. “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14), not pure and holy light, but creational forms of light and enlightenment tinted to individual human taste with various degrees of darkness. He offers as many shades of gray as there are human personalities to be duped by them. He still uses his old forbidden-fruit promise that “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5), and it still yields the deadly blindness of multiple moralities, all independent from God. Long before humans fell into it, the devil chose this path to moral independence from God. By leading us into it too, he became “the god of this world” who not only “blinded the minds of the unbelievers” in Eden, but continues to blind all the unbelieving, “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4).

Scripture reveals that by God’s Son “all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16). Jesus drew a line symbolically in the beginning when He “divided the light from the darkness,” (Gen 1:4). But in the human birthright of moral conscience, from the beginning until now, He has faithfully been “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.(John 1:9). All creation, including those made in His image to be servant-leaders and caretakers of creation, were described by God as “very good” (Gen 1:31). All creation, including us, would have remained “very good,” if human leadership had remained living in the truth, walking in the light of the Lord. But we listened instead to the liar Satan and were deceived into the spiritual death and damning darkness of his lies.

Jesus described the deceiver: “… He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies,” (John 8:44); and He contrasted the deceiver’s works to His own: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly,” (John 10:10). Satan extends his own rebellion against God through us by luring us to sin against the God of light, thereby capturing us as prisoners in his dominion of darkness. Jesus unmasked the devil’s goal in tempting us to sin—“Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin,” (John 8:34)—and the Apostle John told the end result: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil.” John continues by telling why no human can enter the territory of self-will and autonomy from God without falling under Satan’s influential power, and sometimes, his full control: “because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” Because he got there first and is the mastermind of rebellion against God, he rules over the domain of sin. But these explanations from 1 John 3:8 conclude with the divine intervention that is humanity’s only hope: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

Why does God’s work of salvation boil down to this one thing: destroying Satan’s work? It’s because sin means “missing the mark,” and the divine mark, God’s true target for humans, is to walk in truth by living and thriving in the God of truth. Through lies, Satan tempts people to use their God-given desires in God-forbidden ways. He uses creation itself, or his manipulations of created things, to lure those “good” human desires into “missing the mark.” And the result? “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death,” (James 1:15). The incredible but inconceivably gracious response of our loving God to our sins and spiritual death was the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. By personally paying for our sins on the Cross, Jesus drew a line in human history between sin’s damnation and sin’s forgiveness. By His Resurrection, which completed His work on the Cross, Jesus drew a line between the spiritually dead and the divinely alive, between slavery in Satan’s dominion of darkness and the abundant life in God’s Kingdom of light.

The vicarious Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross went beyond taking away sins. It also put the sinner to death. A crucial dimension of destroying “the devil’s work” was for Jesus vicariously to take into His own death the false humanity that Satan had fashioned with lies: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin,” (Rom 6:6). But, while the forgiveness of sins is God’s instantaneous act, the emancipation from slavery to sin is chronological, progressing in earthly time as rapidly as believers in Christ let the truth of Christ set them free. In promising believers this liberation, Jesus inferred this progressive pattern: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” (John 8:31-32).

Many have knelt at the Cross of Christ for forgiveness without completely surrendering to the abundant life He brought to them by His Resurrection. Death to the “old self”—the false self created by Satan’s lies—is not a one time event. In Galatians 2:20, the Apostle Paul made an amazing claim based on Christ’s work on the Cross: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In this statement, he was describing his victorious walk “by faith in the Son of God”—his experiential journey in daily manifesting his new life in Christ. In our union with Christ, we can live life “more abundantly,” but not automatically. Day by day, even moment by moment, we must choose to follow Him, choose to obey Him. In the same way, while we have been “crucified with Christ” we do not automatically die to the individual lies that shaped the false self. We must, by a choice of our new will in Christ, reject any lingering lies. This is why the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry,” (Col 3:5).

Placing our faith in Jesus brings us across the line from death to life, because “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new,” (2Cor 5:17). But Satan doesn’t easily give up on repentant sinners who were once his slaves. If he can’t keep us in his realm of darkness with the old lies he once used to enslave us, he invents a million others—appealing half-truths, innocent-looking gray areas—to lure us back across the line into his territory. This is why Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” (Mat 10:34). He came to draw a line that meant spiritual warfare for the rest of this fallen world’s history. Believers are to be warriors commissioned to help others find their true selves in Christ. In order to do that, without themselves becoming spiritual casualties in the battle, they must keep their minds and hearts fed on the truth God has revealed in His Word. They must become skilled in resisting satanic lies with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” (Eph 6:17).

This dividing line is absolutely precise. There is no middle ground, no room for a mixture of the brightest light of truth with the faintest tint of shading. Divine truth has no tolerance of a compromise between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the most appealing precepts of ancient or modern wisdom. Therefore, it can never ever be Jesus plus something else, for the very person and presence of Christ the King defines the Kingdom of God. He alone is the King of Kings, Who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). From that exclusive stance, Jesus drew a line, and everyone’s eternal destiny depends on what side of the line they choose to be on.

[If you found this helpful, you might also want to read, Finding and Becoming Our True Selves, “Question Autonomy!” and Identity Amnesia.]