THE HABIT OF ME

“Thou art the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

Philippians 2:1-5 ESV
(1) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,
(2) complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
(3) Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
(4) Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
(5) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

Meet one of the many Bible passages that cause me to be very conscious of the three fingers pointing back at myself (as opposed to one at someone else—the thumb doesn’t count). My first impulse upon reading this was to mentally accuse my grandkids of doing everything from selfish ambition or conceit, of being self-centered and divisive. Yet, when my first reaction to a Bible passage is to point the bony, judgmental finger at others, I am the greater offender.

Father, when my first thought is to apply correction to others, rather than to myself, please forgive me. I know better. Thank You for forgiveness through Jesus’ blood, for it’s in His name I pray.

HOW COULD GOD DO THIS TO ME?

Have you ever heard yourself asking that question when something goes totally wrong in your life? It is a question born of desperation, a response to the need for someone to blame. Obviously, you’re innocent of any wrongdoing that would warrant such punishment. Right? So God is wrong and you are as pure as the driven snow. If you’re a Christian you’ve heard a gospel presentation or two. Among the Roman Road pamphlet’s Bible passages are Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and Romans 3:10-11 “as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God.'” For Christians, of course, all that is old hat; you may have heard it a thousand times in Sunday school. But another passage—not in Romans—brings the idea home to us: 1 John 1:8-10 “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” Apostle John directed that assault toward first century believers. You know, the ones who suffered persecution for their faith. If they were sinners, what does that make you? And if you’re angry with God for your troubles, that means you are judging Him for His unrighteous judgment. That, my friend, is blasphemy, pure and simple. God doesn’t need defending, but one Bible passage lays out an apt comparison between God and us: Isaiah 55:8-9 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. Oh, yeah. There’s also Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Care to rethink your question?

Uncle Jack on Life’s Troubles

Uncle Jack’s brother was worse than an alcoholic; he was an incorrigible, disorderly drunk. On the occasion of his commitment to a nursing home for detox, he proved so difficult that the nuns insisted that he be transferred to a “hospital,” but really it was an asylum, and the matter weighed heavily on him.

In a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, dated July 2, 1949, Lewis wrote about vicarious suffering:

Don’t imagine I doubt for a moment that what God sends us must be sent in love and will all be for the best if we have grace to use it so. My mind doesn’t waver on this point; my feelings sometimes do. That’s why it does me good to hear what I believe repeated in your voice—it being the rule of the universe that others can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and one can paddle every canoe except one’s own. That is why Christ’s suffering for us is not a mere theological dodge but the supreme case of the law that governs the whole world; and when they mocked him by saying, ‘He saved others, himself he cannot save,’ [Matthew 27:42; Mark 15:31]] they were really uttering, little as they knew it, the ultimate law of the spiritual world.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II

In Lewis’ typical, economical style, he captured the foundational truth of God’s good news to humanity. His loving nature caused Him to do for us what we could never do for ourselves: take our death penalty for sin upon Himself, in the person of His only Son after His own kind, our Lord Jesus Christ. All who accept that substitutionary death for themselves will feel eternally grateful—literally.

If you claim Christianity as your religion, yet your life fails to reflect that all-consuming gratitude, you need to carefully examine your profession of faith. Apostle James wrote:

Jas 2:14-26
(14) What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
(15) If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
(16) and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
(17) So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
(18) But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
(19) You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
(20) Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
(21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
(22) You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;
(23) and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
(24) You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
(25) And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
(26) For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Just as with ingratitude, gratitude will be known.

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?

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.

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.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Oops

This evening I had the best of intentions … pretty much, anyway. A while after my evening meal (I wouldn’t glorify it with the title, “dinner.”), I decided to take my bedtime pills and retire. So I waltzed over to my pill sorter, only to be reminded that it was empty. Not terribly daunted, I took it over to my computer desk to refill it in front of a Netflix movie; multitasking is next to godliness, right?

So there I was, carefully sorting out my supplements and meds while watching a good movie and munching on these amazing, “Dark Chocolate Super Fruits” from Costco, in preparation for downing my meds, some of which must be taken with food, and I forgot to quit munching. I mean, dark chocolate is good for you, and super fruit is good for you, so this particular snack must be great for you, right?

Three hours after retiring, my eyes popped open and refused to pop back closed. Seems I’d forgotten about the caffeine that resides nefariously in dark chocolate. Besides, I felt hungry after all that (ahem) sugar. Well, fifteen minutes of that is enough for anyone, so I climbed out of bed, donned my jeans and robe, made some PB-and-honey toast, brewed a cup of sleepytime tea, and sat down to write this blog post.

What I had intended for good … pretty much, anyway … had caused rather inconvenient, unintended consequences. That’s my life’s story—and that of every other human being.

Even Jesus faced unintended consequences when he remained in Jerusalem to lecture the lecturers instead of accompanying his family back to his home in Nazareth. His mom and dad were worried sick when they couldn’t find him along the dusty, bandit-infested, Palestine road, so they turned back to search for him. What perils they faced, abandoning the caravan of pilgrims to return to Jerusalem, but they loved their son enough to risk anything to find him.

The Bible doesn’t record his apology to his folks when they found him in the Temple teaching the teachers, but I’m sure he must have. After all, that would only be the right thing to do.

Despite our best intentions, we too occasionally pursue actions that turn south on us. Perhaps we unintentionally offend a brother or sister in the Lord, or drop a news-bomb that we thought was common knowledge. Christ-followers don’t intentionally gossip, but none of us are always able to perfectly control our tongues (note the triplet of absolutes in that sentence).

Whether we are the offender, or the offended party, we have two choices: During such embarrassing moments our first impulse as the offender is usually to make excuses or dismiss the offense as trivial. That, however, instantly transforms a thoughtless oversight into a true offense that could, and often does, grow into a brierpatch of bad feelings. Our second, and more difficult choice, is to fess up and beg forgiveness. Sure it wasn’t intentional, but it was hurtful, and needs to be positively dealt with before it can infect the church with division.

The offended party also has a significant responsibility, and that is to forgive the offense. Whether or not the offender responds in a godly manner to their gaffe, Jesus’ Law of Love requires that we forgive up to 490 times (Matthew 18:21-35). The alternative is sin, even if you’re technically in the right.

Jesus said that reconciliation is more important than sacrifice (Matthew 5:23-26), meaning religious practice. So, before you offer praises to God, take care of those unintended consequences; it’s the law!

The Wonderful Cross

Chris Tomlin’s lyrics are a great place to start with singing glory to our Savior King Jesus, but our praises mustn’t end there. First, we need to think about the words we are singing.

When I survey the wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain, I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

What is wondrous about the cross on which our Lord died? Nothing whatsoever! It represents the curse that Jesus bore for us, who truly deserve to so die. The fact that He actually chose to die in our place because of His love for us, His wayward creation, is the most wondrous thing of all. But that awful cross? Just two pieces of lumber; nothing special about that.

Christendom has elevated the cross, a symbol of Christ’s redemptive work for us, to the status of a religious icon. We’re okay as long as we only view it as the symbol, but when we elevate it to a position of singular importance and venerate it as a source of God’s grace, we are in danger of becoming idolaters.

Some Christian denominations cover their church buildings’ walls with icons representing Jesus, saints and religious objects. Others condemn using icons in worship. Both extremes are wrong when they take pride in their respective beliefs and make them conditions for spiritual fellowship.

Now, for the phrase, “Prince of Glory.” Maybe I’m picking nits, but I wonder if using a non-Biblical title for our Lord Jesus is quite the thing to do. He is indeed the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and the King of Glory (Psalm 24). Would the lyrics have suffered if Tomlin had used, “King of Glory” instead? The cadence would have been the same, so why not use the Biblical phrase?

The balance of that stanza cries out a truth that the church badly needs to grasp. Oh, aren’t we into worldly gain! The more, the merrier! Ephesians 4:17-32 gives us a strong statement of how we must conduct ourselves in the church and the world. Apostle Paul begins with, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” Then, in verse twenty-eight he adds, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” Does that include any provision for accumulating possessions? Can we find that anywhere in the New Covenant of God’s grace? So, why do we insist on devoting ourselves to accumulating possessions for our own glory?

Finally, Tomlin’s second and third stanzas remind us of Christ’s depth of suffering and the response we owe to Him.

See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ever such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose, so rich a crown

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all

Read more: Chris Tomlin – The Wonderful Cross Lyrics | MetroLyrics

A Hard Pill To Swallow

My thousand milligram vitamin C tablet gives me fits when trying to swallow it. The stupid thing begins dissolving before I can gulp it down, so it sticks in my throat until I can gulp enough water to break it free. But vitamin C pills aren’t the only supplements that are hard to swallow.

(1 Peter 2:12) Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Thank the New American Standard Bible for that awkward wording, but its meaning is quite close to the original language. Semantics aside, today’s church needs to play catch-up regarding, “the thing(s) in which they slander [us] as evildoers.” Such things are too numerous to list here, but the, “excellent behavior,” in that verse does not mean acting “Christian.” It means, “winsome goodness,” and most of today’s church could never be accused of that.

(1 Peter 2:13) Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,

Here is the abrasive coating for our hard-to-swallow pill. Fallen humanity does not easily submit to authority of any kind, and least of all to God, as our great-great-great … grandparents so aptly demonstrated. Here again, to see apparently moral people with issues in that area, all we need to do is take an honest look at today’s church. Because we’re “saved,” we think we have a free pass to heaven regardless what we do in the flesh. But for God’s perspective, we need to flash back to His command in verse twelve: Maintain winsome goodness among outsiders … (my rendering; look it up, it’s pretty close).

(1 Peter 2:14) or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.

Apostle Paul, in Romans 13:1-8, said the governing authorities bear the sword to bring down God’s wrath against evildoers, giving us ne’er-do-well human beings incentive to behave. While this is true for all people, it applies even more directly to Christ-followers, as outsiders are all too aware of our higher, Biblical moral standard. Again, flash back to verse twelve; when they watch us behaving badly toward one another, or anyone else for that matter, we’ve just proved they are right in their negative opinions about us, and therefore about God.

(1 Peter 2:15) For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.

According to Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” Christ-followers must do what is right, not from fear of earthly authorities, but from fear of God. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

Go ahead, gulp that Scriptural pill right down, so you can shut the fools’ mouths.