Encouragement From Psalm 119

They’s a whole lot of bowin’ goin’ on.

I normally think of Psalm 119 as the God’s Law-Psalm, as that’s pretty much what it’s all about. Today, however, BibleGateway dot com treated me to a surprise:

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have those who love your law;
    nothing can make them stumble.

For one thing, if you and I struggle against God’s Law—meaning his expressed will for your life—peace will be the last thing you experience. And if that’s the case, you won’t stumble because you’re already as low as you can go. Far better to find yourself on your face before God voluntarily.

Some religions require the faithful to prostrate themselves toward a holy city … or else! Or they might require you be circumcised. Or pray through a set of beads. Or any number of different religious mandates. Christ-followers have no such requirements. All we have to do is love our neighbors as ourselves, and bless those who curse us. Easy as pie, right?

Not right! Following the law of Christ is far more difficult than following all those religious formalities. You don’t have to do anything, other than keep your mind and motives pure and unstained by the world system. Oh, and the apostle James mentions religion in his New Testament book:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

And then there’s Apostle Paul:

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

WOW! They said a mouthfull. But at least you don’t have to get on your knees and bow to Mecca three times a day.

C.S. Lewis on Kindness

The Good Samaritan

Uncle Jack frequently took an “out of the box” position on issues of common consent within the Christian community. One such issue was kindness. He wrote in The Problem of Pain:

Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that “his heart’s in the right place” and “he wouldn’t hurt a fly”, though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy: it is not so easy, on the same grounds, to imagine oneself temperate, chaste, or humble.

Ouch. Lewis differentiates between active and passive kindness. Leaving others alone is not kindness, even though you do them no harm. Conversely, neither is inserting yourself in others’ business a kindness, even for the most benevolent purpose, unless, that is, you are invited. Jesus is the prime example of that sort of wisdom, illustrated in Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. That was the Lord’s offer to the Laodicean church, after he said they were lukewarm and about to be vomited out of his mouth.

To be redemptive people, we must follow Jesus’ example; he showed kindness to “sinners,” but was aggressive toward the self-righteous. He healed lepers, but told the lawyers they were like whitewashed tombs, full of corruption. And most of all, he showed kindness to us, carrying our sin-guilt to the cross so we could live eternally.

Philip Yancey on … Lots of Things

Philip Yancey has gained celebrity by thinking, and writing, outside the evangelical Christian box. One Scripture passage that comes to mind, that might be one of Yancey’s theme statements is:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1 NKJV)

Today’s church may not mandate such commandments as circumcision and observing the Sabbath, but it imposes such rules as each denomination or congregation deems necessary to “be a Christian.” With the same spirit as the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time, we try to formalize Scripture’s principles into sacrosanct commandments, then presume to apply the Biblical model of church discipline against those who fail to obey them. That exactly fits Apostle Paul’s definition of a yoke of bondage.

Apostle John said, If anyone claims, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how is it possible for him to love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20 EMTV) Whenever we act out negative emotions toward someone, we aren’t loving them, and on the love-hate scale that certainly falls on the hate side.

We can’t like everyone; even Jesus disliked the hypocrites who judged all those who didn’t live up to their artificial standard of piety. Temperament-conflicts can put us off toward someone, but when we allow that dislike to become disregard, we do not love them as Christ does. He died for the ungodly, and that is anything but disregard.

Romans 5:6-8 EMTV
(6) For while we were still weak, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
(7) For scarcely on behalf of a righteous man will anyone die; yet on behalf of the good, perhaps someone might even dare to die.
(8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Yancey learned about God’s grace the hard way, after he had rejected religious Christianity because of the ungodly attitudes he witnessed as a child. Now he lives and preaches grace, and so must we.

Proper Child Rearing

Proper child rearing? I’m sure they had good reason, but what happens when she needs a diaper changed?

Uh … yeah. “Proper Child Rearing,” if you’re Father God, ’cause he’s the only one who ever got it right, but look what happened to his first two kids. What does that make our chances of raising perfect little angels?

If you don’t yet have kids, get over the idea of being perfect parents or having perfect kids. It ain’t gonna happen! And if you currently have, or have had kids, you already know perfection is an impossible dream. All you can do is your best, and your best will be good enough if you understand Bible passages like Ephesians 6:4 and the fathers enrage not your children but train them up affixed in the Lord’s discipline and admonition. The Lord’s discipline means according to Biblical principles, and the Lord’s admonition means correction by his words. And all that means you have to know God’s word.

Thing is, even if you could do a perfect job you can’t make their decisions for them; you can only prepare them to make their own decisions. They will make mistakes, even stupid ones, and you will scratch your head wondering what happened to all that lovely Scripture you fed them. It’s still in those brilliant memory-banks, but regardless how you try, you can’t digest and internalize it for them.

This is where example comes in: You tell them stuff and they think, “Fine, show me what you’re talking about.” So they test you to see if you will practice what you preach. If you say, “Don’t hit,” but you slap them in anger, they think, “So much for that rule.” If you tell them, “Don’t gossip,” but you talk about other people’s problems … Well? Violating that principle will certainly cause them to dismiss everything you say.

Did you catch my drift here? To keep from confusing and exasperating your kids you will have to change. To have any chance of raising godly kids, you will have to model godliness.

Keep in mind, though, that living a good example does not guarantee their following it. Your ultimate example will be how you respond to their screwing up their lives. So, should you tenderly welcome them back into the fold if they’ve gone out and become alcoholics or dopers, or begat children, or robbed a convenience store, but refuse to repent? NO WAY! There’s a reason the pros who deal with such things call that, “enabling.” If you want to provide a godly example, remember how God responded when the children of Israel refused to honor him; he removed his protection from them and allowed their enemies to take them into captivity. And do you remember the outcome? Eventually they repented and he welcomed them back into his graces. And do you remember how many times they went through that cycle of apostasy and repentance? I don’t, but I do remember that he forgave them every time they truly repented. That’s how much he loved them, and that’s how much he loves us!

God’s grace is sufficient, even for us failures.

SHOUT From the Lord

Knock, knock. God calling.

My title for this post is not a typo, and C.S. Lewis will tell you why:

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
From C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain

This is just a reminder; if you know the Lord, you already know how remote he can seem at times. Of course the operative term is, “seem,” as his Holy Spirit indwells us, and if we can maintain a state of spiritual, mental, and emotional quietness, we can hear our Father speaking through him.

There are times, however, when such quietness is hard to come by and we truly need a reminder, like when we’re sick, dejected, or depressed, and allow our pain, and possibly even our deafening self-pity, to drown out God’s voice. And that truly is a pity, wasting those prime opportunities to listen and learn from the one who loves us even when we ignore him.

I wish I could say I am never that person, but I, even I, on rare occasions, find myself slightly off my peak, but only rarely. (Did you catch that roaring understatement?) In truth, I trust God and do my best to listen to him because I have to, as I’ve learned I can’t trust myself.

If you can’t relate to that because you do trust yourself to respond to life’s trials correctly, I have a Scripture passage custom made for you: Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12) But who really possesses such self-confidence. I mean, really?

How Thaughty

The first one hundred people who “Like” this post have the original, round Tuit. (Of course, anyone else can also cut it out.)

My mother had a sarcastic way of encouraging us to show deference to one another. When one of us acted thoughtlessly she would say, “How thaughty of you.” I think the word’s similarity to “naughty,” plus her voice, expression and body-language, communicated her disappointment without further comment.

Did you catch the word “deference” above? As it has passed out of vogue and most of us, even if we have some idea of its meaning, consider it a non-issue, I’ll try to define it for you in the context of Christ-followers. But first …

The Negative Sense

Codependency is a familiar subject to all the trendy, amateur psychologists out there. It just means getting off to being needed. A codependent relationship is where both parties try to fulfill destructive needs, usually without even realizing it. Deference can be just that, and discerning which kind of deference you’re practicing isn’t all that hard; if you purposefully prefer others’ needs over your own, godly character is most likely your motivation. But be sure you aren’t simply a people-pleaser—you know, one who just can’t say “NO.”

The Positive Sense

For a Christ-follower, “deference” means obeying the Law of Christ by considering others’ needs, desires, or opinions before your own. It means risking inconvenience for someone else’s sake.

In my own life, the idea of deference takes me to Bible studies I attend, where I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when others, who typically aren’t as vocal as I, try to contribute their insights. Figuratively biting my tongue doesn’t come naturally for me, but the rewards of actually listening to them are bountiful.

More active examples of deference might be volunteering to help someone who needs an extra hand, when your own lawn needs mowing, or helping to clean the church when your favorite TV program (even, The Game) is on the air.

Those examples involve the more peripheral people in your life, but how about showing deference to family members whose continual demands for attention annoy you? This calls for another hard thought:

Godly Priorities

You’ve got places to go, people to see, and things to do, so you can hand “Round Tuits” to the kids and wife, or hubby, while you do what you want. Question is, how would Jesus respond if he were in your shoes … or easy chair?

And what about that promise that is now sooo inconvenient to keep? You might want to add another box of Round Tuits to your shopping list.

Does a neighbor need a lift uptown? Just how important is that blog entry you’re working on? (Ouch)

Oh, I see. You’re afraid others might take advantage of you, so you keep a respectful distance, and maybe screen your calls before picking up. (bigger Ouch!)

Is all this priorities stuff too big a chunk to bite off? Baby steps, but keep on pursuing godly character, or virtue, if you want the reward God’s Word promises.

Powerful Stuff

When your ship is sinking, grab this!

We often hear well-meaning Christ-followers (myself included) quote Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But we typically leave it at that, forgetting to reveal what “therefore” is there for.

That’s an easy one. Just read Romans 7:13-25, or better still the whole chapter. Remember when you read verse thirteen, “that which is good” refers to the Old Testament law that demonstrates our inability to obtain justification through our own efforts. Then go on to chapter eight, where verses one through eleven provide the full promise, and define exactly who is in Christ Jesus. Make no mistake, Romans 8:1 revolutionized my walk with him, but as I began growing in Christ, my hunger for the meat of his word drove me beyond “verse one.”

We love God’s promises, grasping them as a sailor who has gone overboard grasps the life preserver, but we aren’t always quite fond of the qualifiers. I call them the “if” passages, even when the word “if” isn’t included.

God’s Promises

Speaking of powerful stuff, God’s promises make the H-bomb seem like a mere candle. 1 Peter 1:3-11 provides a great introduction to God’s promises under the covenant of grace. I can’t tell you how powerfully meditating on it has encouraged me during my occasional lapses of faith. Here’s the link to a topical search for “Promises of God.” Pursuing a study of those Scripture passages will greatly reinforce your faith. If you feel you’ve never witnessed God’s power, making his promises part of your life will knock you off your worldly feet.

Free Love

“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 8:11

A social movement existed in the ’60s and ’70s called, “the Free Love Movement.” In fact, it was quite social indeed, producing rampant “social” diseases and unwed pregnancies, and millions of broken hearts. I know that because I would have liked to be part of it, but I’ve never been a candidate for the “World’s Greatest Lover” prize; I was way too shy to go after that one. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t a true social movement like the feminist and civil rights movements, but simply flaunted promiscuous sexual practices that had always been hidden for the benefit of polite society.

Also strictly speaking, “free love,” as in sexual promiscuity, was never free. Besides the costs listed above, it enabled the HIV/AIDS virus to freely spread from Africa to the more developed nations, and then to expand at epidemic rates here.

But there is another kind of “free love” that is truly free, and oddly enough, the most costly of all loves.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

In case you’ve forgotten, the Son that Jesus spoke of is Jesus himself, the eternal Word of God made flesh. And to what did God give him over? Only the worst torture and death that both the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman occupiers could devise.  And why did Jesus have to suffer so? Because he was the only one who could fulfill for us the absolute righteousness that God requires, without which we have no hope for salvation.

In simple terms, Jesus traded his righteousness for our unrighteousness, then submitted to God’s wrath in payment for the guilt-debt we had accrued. He actually loves me, you, and all of humanity, that much.

Hard to believe, eh? That’s why God’s Holy Spirit gives us just a glimpse of our depraved condition (that’s called “conviction”), and enough of a faith-boost to think that, just maybe, his salvation is for you and me. Then, if you grab that hope and run the race he has set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2) throughout the New Testament, faithful to the end, his promise is yours … forever.

The Science of Happiness

If happiness sounds good to you, but you’re not interested in all that God stuff, The Science of Happiness may be just your ticket. The video I watched was certainly upbeat enough, with the “happiness scientist” admitting in the end that he was, in fact, not a real scientist. I discovered all this rampant happiness when Life Out of the Box followed my blog. BTW, if you’re watching, thanks for following my blog, but if you only want to see positive reviews of LOOTB, perhaps you’d better stop here.

“What’s not to be positive about?” you may ask, “It’s a very positive blog.”

And so it is, if you’re willing to accept the world’s generic, temporary, situational happiness.

“But, isn’t happiness always a good thing?”

No, it isn’t always a good thing, and I’ll tell you why.

Imagine a perfectly happy guy, not a care in the world, strolling along a path, happily enjoying the fresh, night air … moonless night air. You can see where I’m going with this, and where the happy guy will likely go at any moment.

Suddenly, one of his broad, happy steps finds, not solid earth, but unsolid air, and our happy guy cries out a distinctly unhappy scream as he falls eight feet into a trench carelessly left without a barrier. Why our hypothetical, happy guy chose to speed-walk along a dark path without a flashlight for his feet or lights along the path, I can’t imagine. That is, in fact, the exact situation in which travelers along life’s dark, unpredictable path find themselves when they ignore Life’s Instruction Book, the Bible. Without exception, such life-hikers will find the pit at the end of their path, and they don’t even realize they’ve been walking in darkness.

Regardless how cozy you get with God, you will never really know what the next moment holds, but God’s Word gives you a reliable hint:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Despite all the gospel tracts that lead you in “The Sinner’s Prayer,” there is no formula that magically flips the eternal “light” switch to get you in good with the Man upstairs. It’s a process that begins with opening your heart to God, admitting you need him to make the disaster you call your life into something meaningful, and accepting the brand-spanking new eternal life he is offering you through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Period!