Well, not exactly discovered, as in, for the first time. Today’s BibleGateway dot com “Verse of the Day” feed presented John 6:29 to me, and the effect it had was as if I read it for the first time. I mean, what a beautiful promise! With Jesus telling the people, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he sent,” he set us free from all of the Law’s righteous requirements. When we do that one work, God’s Ten Commandments become for us, “God’s Ten Outcomes,” because, through faith in Christ, his Holy Spirit will guide us toward falling in line with God’s will.
If I were a less disciplined writer, I’D SCREAM THIS TRUTH OUT TO YOU WITH ALL CAPS AND A LINE OF EXCLAMATION MARKS! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! But I’d never stoop that low.
Alright, I’m more composed now. When I said I discovered John Chapter Six, I meant that in pursuing verse twenty-nine’s context I read the whole chapter, and that’s what the WOW! is all about. In it, Jesus presents so many beautiful, key truths that I don’t know where to begin.
I think I’ll have to cover each of them in different posts—and it’s okay to release a sigh of relief.
Sometimes my mind gets locked into word-association games. Driving home from work, I listened to a song about faith, and began thinking of words related to its concept. I came up with belief, trust and confidence, and tried to relate them to faith, to discern their differences in meaning. First, they all flow from faith. The dictionary tells us belief is an idea or concept held to be true. It can be based on evidence, or not. Trust and confidence are closely related as the belief that something won’t let us down. That’s why we assume a rope won’t break when we’re dangling by it a thousand feet above jagged rocks.
After checking any number of dictionaries, the Biblical definition of faith is—wonder of wonders—far and away the best. “Now faith is the essence of things being hoped, the evidence of things not having been seen.” (Heb 11:1)
Faith is an abstract idea, rather like love. They both require actions to demonstrate their existence, and a source other than the person exercising them. Really, that’s not such a strange idea. Breathing uses muscles which require energy. That energy comes from the food we acquire, chew, swallow, digest and metabolize. And none of that will happen without the oxygen we breathe. It’s a “chicken or egg” conundrum, answerable only by attributing those actions to God’s special creation.
Jesus provided a prize example of faith’s purpose in Luke 17:5, when he and his students discussed forgiveness. They couldn’t see how it was possible to forgive someone 7 times a day, so they asked Jesus to increase their faith. They understood that Jesus was their source of faith, and they didn’t even have seminary diplomas.
But there’s another conundrum: To ask for faith, one must exercise faith. So where does one get that faith? The answer is in vs. 6: “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.”
Okay, where do we get that mustard seed of faith? It’s part of our God-given, human nature, like our capacity for love and our human spirit, that God meant to give us spiritual vision. But we perverted all that when we sinned. Since we have warped spiritual vision, we search for tangible things in which to invest our faith, and find plenty of perversions to fill the bill. Only when God’s Spirit takes the scales from our eyes can we see the only worthy Object for our faith. At that point we must choose, whether to continue our quest for perverted substitutes, or to gaze at His beauty in wonderment, and place that mustard seed of faith in Him.
There begins a lifetime of choices between growing that faith, or killing it. Thanks to His Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples know which way to go … we just have to do it!
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.
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 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.
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!
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.