A Christmas Gift of Love

MTJames:

This is a wonderful, “Rest of the Story,” story. If you’ve never heard it, and your last name isn’t Scrooge, you’ll love it.

Originally posted on Morning Story and Dilbert:

Morning Story and Dilbert

Vintage Dilbert
December 17, 2007

Depressed and brokenhearted, a man named Bob May stared out of his drafty apartment window in to the chilling December night. His four year-old daughter, Barbara, sat on his lap quietly sobbing.

Bob’s wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer. Little Barbara could not understand why her mother could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad’s eyes and asked, “Why isn’t mummy just like everybody else’s mummy?”

Bob’s jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves not only of grief, but also of anger.

It had been the story of Bob’s life, which always had to be different for him.

As a child, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was frequently called names he would rather not remember.

From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to…

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Another “One Another”

My pastor of a few years ago—don’t remind me how many—preached a series of “One Another” sermons. I searched, “one another,” in Bible Gateway and hit on  instances where the phrase is used for exhortation in the New Testament, but Jesus Himself expressed the heart of all those exhortations with His command, “Love one another.” To cop a popular Christian cliche, “it wasn’t a suggestion.”

I am a nine-finger-typist, so trying to type with three fingers pointed back at myself presents serious issues. Although I said that in jest, I must confess that I am a major offender of Jesus’ Great Commandment.

So, here’s a partial list of the epistle-writers’ applications of Jesus’ command to love one another:

  • Romans 12:9-12 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. (10) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; (11) not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; (12) rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.
  • Romans 13:8-9 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. (9) For the commandments, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” “YOU SHALL NOT MURDER,” “YOU SHALL NOT STEAL,” “YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS,” “YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
  • Romans 15:5-7 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, (6) that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (7) Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
  • Galatians 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
  • Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
  • Ephesians 4:1-3 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, (2) with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, (3) endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
  • Ephesians 4:30-32 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (31) Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. (32) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
  • Ephesians 5:18-21 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, (19) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, (20) giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (21) submitting to one another in the fear of God.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (18) Therefore comfort one another with these words.
  • Hebrews 3:12-13 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; (13) but exhort one another daily, while it is called “TODAY,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
  • Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (24) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, (25) not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Aw, come on now. That’s not a lot of Scripture. These are only twelve Bible passages that you should already know, if not have memorized, and they are only a small part of the epistles’ instructions for godly conduct within God’s church. Of course, these don’t apply to you directly, as you no doubt already have them mastered (yeah, right). But with three fingers pointed back at yourself, and in a spirit of Christ’s love, exhort those brethren who fall short. Come to think of it, you might want to visit your ophthalmologist first.

Our Daily Bread, on Human Chess

Doesn’t the angry-looking little man above just rankle you? Even just a bit? Chances are, you see him as a bill-collector and nothing more. But maybe he’s just a kindly old grand dad who hates his job, from which he’s planning to retire next week, if people like you don’t give him a heart attack before then.

Bill Crowder, in today’s ODB, made a strong statement against Christ-followers using people. Even those of us who try to emulate our Savior sometimes fall into the trap of marginalizing those with whom we routinely do business, especially undesirable kinds of business.

I’m sure none who read this have to deal with tax auditors, bill collectors, or even difficult service people, but if you ever do, how would you relate to them? Would you deal with them in a friendly manner? Or would you treat them as functionaries, looking through them to the purpose you wish to accomplish.

This isn’t simply a theoretical principle for me, as I am in the midst of negotiations with my landlord regarding some issues of my own doing. I feel like avoiding confrontation, ignoring her as is my passive-aggressive tendency. But if I am to obey my Savior’s mandate to love my enemy—even though she isn’t my enemy—I must treat her with careful consideration. Honestly, this is hard for me, even though I like to project the image of a, “nice guy.”

We must remember that a person with duties and feelings resides behind every job-doer; whether he or she has to issue a traffic citation, a summons, or an eviction notice, that is a soul that needs to know Jesus’ love, and you or I may be the only Jesus they have ever met.

1 John 4:7-11 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

Does that describe you and me? Or are we just playing games with the people for whom Jesus died?

Screwtape on Using Religion As a Christian’s Stumbling Block

Screwtape (C.S. Lewis’ demonic character) shows real ingenuity in his approach to tripping up Christians.

Success here depends on confusing him. If you try to make him explicitly and professedly proud of being a Christian, you will probably fail; the Enemy’s warnings are too well known. If, on the other hand, you let the idea of ‘we Christians’ drop out altogether and merely make him complacent about ‘his set’, you will produce not true spiritual pride but mere social vanity which, by comparison, is a trumpery, puny little sin. What you want is to keep a sly self-congratulation mixing with all his thoughts and never allow him to raise the question ‘What, precisely, am I congratulating myself about?’ The idea of belonging to an inner ring, of being in a secret, is very sweet to him. Play on that nerve. Teach him, using the influence of this girl when she is silliest, to adopt an air of amusement at the things the unbelievers say. Some theories which he may meet in modern Christian circles may here prove helpful; theories, I mean, that place the hope of society in some inner ring of ‘clerks’, some trained minority of theocrats. It is no affair of yours whether those theories are true or false; the great thing is to make Christianity a mystery religion in which he feels himself one of the initiates.

Of course, the “him” to which Screwtape refers is Wormwood’s personal project, an unsuspecting Christian. Lewis appears to grant him greater discernment than is typically true; I’ve known many “Christians” who displayed pride in their religious affiliation because they either don’t know, or care about, the Bible’s warnings about vain pride.

“Spiritual pride” is an oxymoron. Whenever a Christian takes a, “big I, little you,” perspective based on his position in Christ, chances are he’s not “in Christ” at all. That includes making snarky, patronizing comments to or about atheists or homosexuals, regardless how snarky or patronizing they are.

How easily we forget that the only damnable sin is that of rejecting Jesus’ offer of forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation with the Father. Think of such rejection as a refusal to pray as King David did in Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” What is “the way everlasting?” Well, its map is God’s complete Word, and it’s called, “the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Unlike GPS, or Screwtape, it won’t mislead you.

C.S. Lewis on the Incarnation

 

Da Vinci’s Annunciation

The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

From Mere Christianity

Before God fathered Jesus, His only begotten Son, our Savior existed as God’s creative Word. I think Lewis understated his metaphor, though; the picture of a human lowering himself to become a slug is simply not low enough. My mind pictures a human being becoming a bacterium for the sole purpose of eradicating the fatal, Beelzo transgvirus-1, also known as the sin virus.

Lots of folks have trouble with the Biblical statement that Jesus was the only begotten of God, due to their misunderstanding of Trinitarian doctrine. The alleged paradox lies in the idea that Jesus, God’s divine Son, had a beginning, and as God is eternal, that couldn’t be true. As a clever workaround, wordsmiths came up with the phrase, “begotten, not made,” in the Nicene Creed, but they needn’t have gone to all that trouble. The truth is far simpler; Jesus of Nazareth, though He was indeed born in the flesh, was not born of the flesh, because His Father is God Himself. As such, Jesus is the perfect man, the second Adam, who unlike the first Adam, never rebelled against His Father.

In other words, God the eternal Word became a mortal man at Jesus’ conception, enabling Him to be at once, immortal and mortal.

I hope that clears up the “only begotten” aspect of Jesus’ incarnation, so you’ll know the simple answer next time someone asks you the hard question.

More Thoughts About Atheism

I agree with that last sentence, I really do. Atheists don’t have to listen to Christ-followers, and in fact they do not listen to us, any more than required for trying to trip us up. Since they refuse to listen to us, any claims they make against God are completely uninformed; in claiming superior reason and rationality, they are simply lying to themselves. In their ignorance, atheists claim to know where Christ-followers are coming from, lumping us together with all the world’s religions, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Yet, anyone who knows the Bible knows exactly where atheists are coming from:

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.
(Psalm 14:1)

Of course they’ll take umbrage with that, both because it’s from the Bible, and because it speaks from God’s perspective. Atheists refuse to believe they are corrupt, have done abominable works, and do no good, but that verse speaks as much to any unregenerate human being as it does to atheists. Why? Because you don’t have to verbally deny God to act like he doesn’t exist.

Comments, or rants?

Lately I’ve found Facebook and YouTube comments dominated by vehement atheistic sentiment, focused not at deists, theists, Jews or Muslims, but directly and hatefully at Christians, and I find that curious. Theocracy paranoia peppers these public forums with demands for “Freedom from religion,” and worries about Christian fundamentalist terrorism perpetrated on poor, innocent children who are indoctrinated with Biblical values in Christian homes. Given their way, these secularists would outlaw all religious expression, public or private, and establish their own atheocracy. Thing is, they needn’t go to all that trouble, when they can just move to Communist China and enjoy their atheistic society.

Does name-calling win debates?

Atheist claims of openness, free and rational thinking, etc., dissolve like Styrofoam in acetone when they flame Christians with labels ranging from “stupid” to “inbred” to “retard” to “terrorist.” If they are all that passionate, why don’t they invest more time in reasonably refuting the opposition, than in name-calling? Even those few who offer some rationale for their non-belief seem to be stuck on clichés, rather than concentrating on original thought. Lord knows, atheists have a perfect right to express their thoughts in the public forum, as well as to bear the eternal consequences should they be wrong.

My personal faith in Christ began as a skeptic’s honest inquiry, tempered by an absolute confidence in the Bible as God’s only revealed word, highly unusual convictions for a Catholic. Because of my confidence in God’s word, I could no sooner blindly accept Catholic, or any other religious dogma—dictated by corrupt ecclesiastical systems—than buy into atheistic dogma—dictated by flawed human reason.

Religion by any other name …

Creation’s Beauty

Upon beholding creation’s spectacular beauty and precise order, both creationist and evolutionist explanations seemed markedly hollow and patently dogmatic. The evangelical in-crowd insists on six, 24-hour creation days, while savvy evolutionists believe the universe created itself. Both propositions require incredible faith, and adherents cling to them with religious fervor. For creationists, that’s understandable, but for atheists?

By their behavior, both sides have eliminated any question as to which has the truth. Their mutual mudslinging tells me both are deceived. The only alternative I have found worthy of pursuing is the only Jewish Messiah who fully satisfied all Scriptural prophesy concerning himself, having performed historically verified, unique signs and wonders, proving to unbiased inquirers that he is God’s only Son after his own kind. Jesus of Nazareth lived perfectly, died cruelly, and rose from the dead, not to establish a religion, but to buy back from the enemy of our souls a faithful remnant, willing to accept God’s love and to love him in return, through their conformity to his righteous example. Contrasted against all human religions, in Jesus there is no hatred, bigotry, or cruelty, but only love for his entire creation.

In view of religion’s track record, I cannot fault atheists for their skepticism, but I do fault them, and human religion’s followers, for their imperious belief that they know all, and that anything outside of their understanding is patently false. Oh, don’t we love our catechisms, including “science” texts for materialists. But God’s truth comes only from his Word, through his Holy Spirit and faith.

Let the atheists fuss; it doesn’t hurt God’s feelings in the least.

Travel Plans for the New Year

MTJames:

Read to the bottom (pun intended).

Originally posted on Morning Story and Dilbert:

Morning Story and Dilbert

Vintage Dilbert
November 24, 2004

I have been in many places, but I’ve never been in Cahoots. Apparently, you can’t go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone.

I’ve also never been in Cognito. I hear no one recognizes you there.

I have, however, been in Sane. They don’t have an airport; you have to be driven there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my children, friends, family and work.

I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I’m not too much on physical activity anymore.

I have also been in Doubt. That is a sad place to go and I try not to visit there too often.

I’ve been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm.

Sometimes I’m in Capable, and I go there more often as I’m getting older.

One of my favorite places…

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Like Waking From a Dream

Last night—or this morning, depending on your perspective—I dreamt of an old ladies’ beauty parlor where I was expected to know one of their past customers. One of the ladies said her name began with Bu-something. I suggested my late wife’s name and sure enough that was it. Seems my dream-Nancy had a makeover before we moved to Montana, and it all made perfect sense to me; even the dream-memory of a glamorous, dark-haired Nancy accompanying me to Montana seemed real, even vivid.

While the name was correct, everything else about that dream was pure fiction, but I didn’t realize it until I awoke. That non-critical phenomenon is both the beautiful and the scary thing about dreaming. Regardless how fantastic the dream scenario, we typically buy into it without question until we wake up.

Sometimes, however, my dreams are so vivid that their thoughts and emotions persist awhile, even into my waking mind. A common comedic situation has a woman clobbering and interrogating her husband because he had behaved badly in her dream. Believe me, it’s nowhere near as funny in reality as it’s sitcom depiction.

My longest dream lasted the twenty-odd years from my birth until God opened my eyes to His truth. During that protracted period I believed without question, everything my mind, emotions and senses told me. Like my dream-memory of Nancy, I believed there was a God, and even His Son Jesus. I believed in the religion my Dad and the priests and nuns taught me. I believed that I was worthless because of my sinful mind and appetites. I believed that my self-serving treatment of people was okay because I was “nice” while doing it. I believed my lusting, thieving, lying and hating was alright because nobody really got hurt, and I could tell a priest about them and say my penance to gain absolution. I even believed in “science,” though it seemed to contradict my roughly Christian religious beliefs.

Yes, dreams can seem real and vivid, even blissful, but we must deal with waking life’s realities. Waking from sin’s seductive illusions requires the same sort of  dogged determination, but to all who accept God’s gift of salvation from sin, and eternal life in Christ Jesus, He gives us a leg up in the form of His Holy Spirit. Apostle Peter, by the power of that same Holy Spirit, wrote:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (2 Peter 1:2-4)

Like that stereotypical scenario about the woman clobbering her husband after her dream, fully awakening from my sin-fueled fantasy life, even after God revealed His truth to me, took time. In fact, forty-odd years later, I’m still unlearning the lies I believed before I was reborn. If you’ve been saved my our glorious Lord Jesus you have already begun awakening from your natural life’s illusions, but it is only a beginning. As Apostle Peter said, by Christ’s great and precious promises, which you must know in order to apprehend them,  you will partake of His divine nature and escape this world’s lustful corruption.

Awake, O dreamer, to God’s beautiful reality through our loving Savior and His eternal Word.

C.S. Lewis on Deliberate Compromise

For each of us the Baptist’s words are true: “He must increase and I decrease.” He will be infinitely merciful to our repeated failures; I know no promise that He will accept a deliberate compromise. For He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself; and He can give that only in so far as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls.
From The Weight of Glory

Again, how can I improve on Uncle Jack’s simple-yet-powerful statement? A Christian’s deliberate compromise is nothing less than presumption on Jesus’ blood. Does His redeeming blood even cover that? Such is the stuff of controversy over the centuries, with no agreement in sight. Lewis apparently believed that Jesus’ blood cannot cover such presumption, but he was a layman, while John Calvin, a theologian, disagreed.

In my mind (for what that’s worth), the distinction is moot; belief that Christ’s redemptive work applies to me personally, and accepting it by faith, precludes any such deliberate compromise. Apostle James said it best:

James 2:14-26 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (17) Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (18) But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (19) You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (20) But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? (22) You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; (23) and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. (24) You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (25) In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? (26) For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Some would love to see that passage torn out of the Bible. They want to do their own thing, relying on their supposed eternal security for “fire insurance.” But, just as cheap insurance is worth what it costs, so is cheap grace. In fact, cheap grace is no grace at all, as our redemption cost Jesus everything.

The most overlooked characteristic of who you want to marry.

MTJames:

This piece addresses choosing a mate, but the more important choice is determining to BE the one who suffers well. Please read this carefully, and pray that you will BE that one.

Originally posted on love to read, love to write!:

(This article was originally published on Kevin A. Thompson’s blog.
I saw it on my daughter’s face book page and shared it on mine, but it’s such an important point I wanted to also post it here – some of the best advice around.)

“In sickness and in health.”On two occasions I have said those words with the full confidence that the couple repeating those words actually knew what they meant.
The first occurrence brought a smile to my face. She had endured and marriage was her reward on the other side of illness. Together they have journeyed through the struggles of a serious disease as boyfriend and girlfriend. Now they would be husband and wife. They knew what “in sickness and in health” meant.
The second occurrence brought a tear to my eye. She had weeks to live. The vow renewal was his gift to her. I almost cut…

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