The Unseen

mansionThe realtor waited for the county building inspector to arrive and do his thing. Bev never wanted to take on the Crookshank mansion. Old rumors persisted … bad rumors, both about its history, and about the ghost that supposedly “lived” there. Fat chance Bev could ever move this white elephant, as whoever bought it would have to commit to renovating the overgrown shack. And as the building was included in the National Register of Historic Places, there was no way she could sell the land for its juicy commercial value.

And still she waited, as the winter Sun dipped over the hills for an early afternoon sunset. The mansion had seen better days, and now that the light was fading, its dismal facade transformed into a menacing—dare she think it?—spectre!

Bev tried calling the inspector again…was this the fourth, or the fifth time? Again, the infuriating voice mail message telling her what she already knew; he will be in the field this afternoon, and leave a message, etc. Fat lot of good that would do her. This inspection was scheduled three months ago. Pity the county couldn’t cut loose some funds for another building inspector.

All these unbidden thoughts coursed through her mind, even though, by faith, she was secure in her safety as God’s kid. Even if ghosts and such immaterial things existed, they wouldn’t have a chance against her Big Brother Jesus. Yet, she couldn’t shake the thought of menacing, unseen things waiting inside for the unwary intruder, be they living, or be they dead.

Bev switched mental gears to consider the positive side of the unseen, and recited aloud one of her many favorite Bible verses: “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. Romans eight, verses twenty-four and twenty-five.

Patience! What a rare commodity. Bev again searched her Bible memory bank. Didn’t King David have some choice bits of wisdom regarding Patience? Okay, there’s Psalms forty, verses one and two: “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

Bev wracked her brain for more Davidic encouragement. She knew it was there somewhere … “Oh! Well, duh. Psalms sixty-nine, verses one through threeSave me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.”

She thought of how many times King David, the man after God’s own heart, fussed at his beloved Lord. Yet, he always ended his fussing with praise for God’s unending faithfulness and magnificent glory. So she recited the end of Psalms sixty-nine: “Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein. For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession. The seed also of his servants shall inherit it: and they that love his name shall dwell therein.

What a beautiful promise, and she reveled in it. She already knew she was a faith-child of Abraham, but she loved it when King David reminded her of the fact.

Twilight had faded quickly to blackness by the time the tardy building inspector drove through the wrought-iron gates and up the long, tree-shrouded drive to where Bev waited. She hadn’t even noticed the darkness and gathering ground fog with her mind so occupied by Scripture and praise. Why, she even found a cordial greeting for the inspector. So, into the “haunted” mansion, with God’s Spirit leading the way.

Why do the wicked prosper?

Steamed?

Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? (Jeremiah 12:1)

“Why me, Lord?” is a common question, but not a good one if left as is. The prophet Jeremiah and many of the Psalms ask the same question, but in every instance the author thought it through and finished with glorifying God. Jeremiah takes a slightly different tack, beginning with verse fourteen: Thus says the LORD concerning all my evil neighbors who touch the heritage that I have given my people Israel to inherit: “Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them.” By aiding his people Israel, God glorified himself.

That’s well and good, but it doesn’t answer the original question. Apostle Paul, writing by God’s Holy Spirit, dealt with that issue’s root cause: Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins (2) in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– (3) among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. The “sons of disobedience” are the greedy, the prideful, the deceivers, the lustful, and the violent, who gain worldly wealth while foregoing the infinitely greater inheritance God has in store for us.

God’s people — that’s us, if we faithfully follow Christ — still ask why misfortune plagues us, while nonbelievers are showered with what seem to be blessings. But God grants us grace, even when we plague him with such questions; he knows they are only natural, stuck as we are, albeit temporarily, in this mortal existence. Why, even Jesus questioned his Father at the end of his earthly life.

Calvary holds at least three crucial lessons for us, including the one I mentioned above. The two criminals who occupied the crosses straddling Jesus show us two truths: First, though they thrived for a while on ill-gotten gain, they paid the ultimate price. Second, the thief who became convicted by the righteous Jesus sharing his punishment, called out to him in his agony. Luke 23:39-43 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (40) But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? (41) And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (42) And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (43) And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The truth is, the wicked never prosper in the long run, and by envying their prosperity we stand in danger of sharing their fate.

Like Math

Have you ever noticed that studying Apostle Paul’s letters are like studying math? Yes, math class requires some memorization of math facts—those are the annoying sums, times tables, axioms and theorems—but math’s heart lies in its concepts, which must be learned step-by-step. Miss one concept, and the rest won’t make sense.

To be understood, the church must teach God’s word in the same way. Isaiah, after decrying the tribe of Ephraim’s cavalier attitude toward teaching God’s word in chapter twenty-eight, declares to their shame how they would be taught by their enemies.

Isaiah 28:11-14 For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the LORD will speak to this people, (12) to whom he has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear. (13) And the word of the LORD will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little, that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. (14) Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers, who rule this people in Jerusalem!

We too, often treat God’s gospel in the same way, harping on John 3:16 til the world vomits it out as too much of a good thing. While they will never give us the opportunity to teach them systematic theology, our example of God’s love toward one another, and toward the unlovable, will win them over before mentioning Jesus’ beloved words.

Once they come to faith in Christ, can we then bomb them with all our Christian rules and regulations?

No way! After they’ve tasted the gospel’s milk and allowed it to bring them new life, we must first love them as advertised. Then we must spoon-feed them “precept upon precept,” until they graduate to God’s red meat.

Thing is, though large Bible study classes familiarize the church with God’s word, nurturing new believers through them is a logistical nightmare. That’s like trying to teach trig to first graders. Instead, we must disciple them individually or in small groups, beginning with God’s most basic truths and working through the hard teachings, til they are ready to disciple others. As that’s the way of both math teachers and Jesus, we’d do well to follow their example.

Cute

I was speaking with someone a while back when I made an unintended reference to a sensitive subject. Her response was, “Cute.” Did she intend to tell me I was attractive in a cute sort of way, as in, “He’s a cute guy.”? I think you know better than that; I certainly did. She meant to say that my comment was a devious attempt at attacking her position on that subject. In other words, I wasn’t being nice.

Merriam-Webster defines “devious” as follows:

: willing to lie and trick people in order to get what is wanted

According to the Bible, God doesn’t think much of devious behavior:

… for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord,
    but the upright are in his confidence.
(Proverbs 3:32)

And yet, our culture values deviousness as simply clever or smart. In fact, it is the cheapest form of manipulation, and even though God said a devious person is an abomination, God’s church simply winks at it. Just look at two other sins that God calls abominable: homosexuality and lying. If “abominable” is a category of sinfulness, the manipulator, the liar, and the homosexual are all on the same plain.

Does God change his mind? Sometimes his actions give us that impression, but think about it. If you accept the Bible’s characterization of God, you know that nothing surprises him; he is outside of time, so as far as he’s concerned, all of time is now. He knows the end from the beginning. Also, he never changes. The theological terms for these characteristics is: Omniscience, and Immutability. The doctrine of Omniscience comes from Isaiah 46:9-10 and Psalm 139:4, as well as many others where it is implied. Immutability comes from Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 6:17 et cetera.

Yes, we are now under the dispensation of grace, which means, if we have obeyed the gospel, God forgives our inadvertent sins when we confess them and repent of them. Deviousness, however, is not inadvertent, but habitual.

We may wink at being “cute,” but does God?

C.S. Lewis on Feeling Religiously “All Glowy”

As fatuous human beings, we easily and often let our emotions rule the day. C.S. Lewis had some things to say about religious feelings.

It is quite right that you should feel that “something terrific” has happened to you (It has) and be “all glowy.” Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean, it is not the sensations that are the real thing. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be—perhaps not ever—experienced as a sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least.

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

What Lewis called, “all glowy,” we call a “Jesus high,” or something to that effect. In my Bible reading, I can’t recall many Old Testament accounts of “glowy” emotions, except perhaps in King David’s praise psalms and Solomon’s Song of Songs. The New Testament reports of some folks who were quite joyful after being healed or forgiven of their sins.

My own emotional experiences reflect my awe when I meditate on God’s magnificent greatness, or at least the minuscule part of it that I can perceive, and especially his grace and faithfulness toward me, even when I was steeped in sin. I have some academic idea of why God the Father allowed his incarnate Word to become a man, only to be blasphemed, marginalized, humiliated, tortured, and murdered. But I can’t even begin to grasp the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice from his Father’s perspective. Fact is, I can hardly bear my joy over what his gift means to me, or my grief over the suffering that I caused him.

As Lewis so effectively stated, all those intense emotions are just an added bonus, and have nothing to do with the actual salvation experience. I must say, though, that anyone who becomes reconciled to God through his Son’s blood, and doesn’t feel immense gratitude, has the understanding of a worm (nothing personal).

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Some folks wonder why the US of A is going to hell in a handcart. Lots more don’t know our destination, but want to get there faster.

The photo above shows a quote alleged to have originated with Harry S. Truman. While I can’t verify its source, I will most certainly comment on its relevance and ideology. Its relevance lies in the fact that it seems like a solid, individualistic ideology, and individualism is part of the American Dream, right? After all, weren’t our Founding Fathers rugged individualists? You bet! And they proved it by refusing to let King George’s England push them around. Right?

Well, sort of. Cynics will tell you, “It was the economy, stupid,” because Great Britain, viewing the colonies as revenue producers, gave no thought to the colonists’ quality of life and taxed them mercilessly. But that’s only half the story. Most of our Founding Fathers believed in Biblical morality, and many of them were committed Christians, objecting to Great Britain’s excesses on Biblical grounds. So, “potayto-potahto,” right? My point is, in view of the great ideological and moral variety among those men, they managed to overcome their differences and ratify the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence, and the United States Constitution. So much for individualism.

Lest I over-generalize, individuality and individualism aren’t the same. The first is a quality that everyone shares, while the second is a philosophy of life, and often simply a misguided attempt to prove ones individuality.

One functional definition of sin is, “Continuing to do what I think is right, whether God likes it or not.” I wonder if Truman included God in the anybody category. I know most people do, but the Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12) I could loosely paraphrase that with, “God said, ‘My way, or the highway … to hell'”

Another trouble with individualism is, what I think is right depends on my insights, based on my own perceptions of the limited events and facts that grab my attention. It’s like getting involved in a squabble when I only know one squabbler’s side of the story. Foolish, right? It’s not just foolish, but stupid as well, yet most folks don’t hesitate to do exactly that.

So, unfettered individualism is both a foolish and a stupid way to govern your life. You might want to rethink your pride in your individualism, ’cause foolishness and stupidity aren’t exactly distinguished traits.

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

One of my favorite TV series is Leverage. And one of my favorite lines from that series is my title for this piece. Only the plan I have in mind is God’s plan of salvation.

As most who read this blog already know all that, I won’t reprise the Four Spiritual Laws, the Romans Road, or any other salvation formula. What I will say, though, is God’s plan of salvation goes back a lot further than most Christ-followers realize—from “Let there be light,” actually.

That realization is crucial for an adequate appreciation of God’s love for his creation, and especially for the ones whom he created after his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). But, why did God bother, since he’s perfectly sufficient in himself?

The answer to that probing question is right there in the New Testament: 1 John 4:13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.

The nutshell is, God is love, so he created creatures like himself to love, and to love him in return. Simple, yes? But the most important part only complicates it a little: Since God made us in his image, he gave us the ultra-light version of his attributes. We have creativity, imagination, power, knowledge, wisdom, love, and free will. That last one has proved to be the fly in the ointment since very near the beginning. But did our misuse of that attribute surprise God? Of course not! Though he gave us free will so we could freely choose to love him, he knew that we wouldn’t, initially, but that we’d sell ourselves to Satan for the false promise of what we already had: God-likeness. Talk about selling air conditioners to Inuits. He knew that he’d have to demonstrate his love for us in the most costly way possible, but isn’t that what love is all about?

So when you and I responded to God’s gospel of love, his plan of salvation finally came together for us, and I love it.

Sweet Somethings

Psalm 25
14 The friendship[secret counsel] of the Lord is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
15 My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

I normally read Oswald Chambers’ Utmost devotional as a relaxing meditation before I crash at night. This morning, however, I felt like reading it even before I crawled out — I’m sure my bedroom’s chilly temperature had nothing to do with that impulse.

The thrust for today’s devotional involved the unique nature of intimate friends’ communication; such friends share their smallest joys and blessings, as well as many of their trials and temptations. When those friends happen to be a man and a woman, that intimate communication can take the form of, “Sweet Nothings,” or still better, “Sweet Somethings,” whispered to one another. In that way, they support one another, like two legs of a tripod, with their Lord providing the third leg. Of course, that only applies to close friends who are Christ-followers. If that isn’t the case, intimate friendship is a tenuous balance, risking collapse at the first ill wind.

Did you notice a similarity in principle to the marital relationship? If you didn’t, read it again in that context, as it applies equally. Too often, lovers and marriage partners base their relationship on infatuation, good-times, and sexual intimacy. That sort of attachment isn’t a true relationship at all, and certainly not a close friendship. Remember Apostle Paul’s warning about being unequally yoked with unbelievers? That’s a principle with broad applications.

Psalm 25:14 describes the believers’ intimate friendship with their Savior. It specifies the “Sweet Somethings” as, “secret counsel,” where he lovingly reveals his covenant with them. While it is his covenant, it’s not a sterile set of rules that we must obey, Or Else. It comes to us as Jesus’ perspective, his unique, divine view of life. Our true love for him makes his perspective ours, so what gives him joy also gives us joy, and what grieves him also grieves us.

Verse 15 of Psalm 25 completes the picture of true love for our Savior; our eyes are ever toward him, providing a personal orientation very much like the loving relationship between a godly man and woman. Every decision we make, regardless how minor, considers his or her wishes. Again, exactly the same principle applies to our relationship with our Savior, and verse 15 above slips in a practical benefit of that intimacy; it plucks our feet out of the trap of temptation, even before it can close over us.

If you claim to love the Lord, make it real by quietly, consistently, listening to his “Sweet Somethings.”

More on Self-Confidence

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
(Proverbs 28:26)

You may wonder why I keep harping on this beleaguered topic. After all, in a world flooded with insecurity, self-confidence would seem to be the panacea. It would, actually, if it progressed not a bit further than that. The issue with self-confidence lies in the illusion of autonomy that it produces, and the other side of that coin is deeply stamped with Perfectionism.

“If I want it done right, I’ll have to do it myself!” This familiar statement begs the question: What is “right?” And the answer is, of course, “My way,” whether or not it is in fact the most excellent way.

That brings me to the most insidious fallacy of self-confidence: that it implies quality. You’ve perhaps noticed that self-confident people are practically unteachable. If you’ve ever found yourself in the unenviable position of training a self-confident person, you know that all to well; when he or she confidently bounds ahead of your instruction, their inescapable errors become your fault for not teaching them properly.

Nobody likes an egotist. And the most hateful toward an egotist is another egotist. You see, it’s all about competition; a truly competitive person doesn’t believe he’s the best at his chosen sport, so he’s always after another competitor who’s better than he, and whose more expert game will challenge him to improve. The self-confident, egotistical player will not be bettered at the sport without leveling accusations of cheating or other unfair advantage.

Of course, I apply this phenomenon to, “the game,” as a generalized reference to any field of endeavor. You can as easily apply it to industry, business, academia, and even religion, as well.

Like pride, self-confidence isn’t always a bad thing. Lots of people—though not nearly enough, I’m afraid—possess outstanding ability in their chosen endeavor so their self-confidence is warranted. These are the masters in their trades, truly effective managers, brilliant scholars, and champion athletes. But, while they’ve earned the right to exercise self-confidence, they still have no excuse for arrogance. As good as they are at doing, many of them stink at being.

Even the universe’s Creator, when he came into the world as a man, found no reason to look down on others. In fact, he loved the least of this world so much that he gave his earthly life for us. Though one word from him would have caused his taunters to cease existing, he silently endured the agony and humiliation of the cross to offer us an opportunity to turn away from our evil, and reconcile with his Father God. In fact, near the last of his three-hour ordeal of asphyxiating and bleeding out on that cross, he prayed for his Father to forgive his torturers. That prayer was also for me, and you, since our prideful, self-centered sin put him there.

That’s right! You don’t have to be a murderer or rapist to qualify as a sinner; any attitude that places you on a higher plain than anyone else, that allows you to look down on them in judgment, is sin, just as heinous as that of any serial-killer.

You say you don’t judge others? Do you mean you never look with distaste on whores, drug addicts and thieves? You never insist on your own way because, well, it’s just better than theirs? You never look upon someone else’s possessions and think you deserve them more?

We’ve all done those things, with the conspicuous exception of Jesus. He’s the only one who never sinned, and that’s why his torturous death, burial in a borrowed tomb, and resurrection on the third day is so significant; with no sin-guilt of his own, he could take all our sin-guilt to the cross, and die that accursed death as punishment for our sin. Maybe you can’t relate to the idea of blood-sacrifice for sin. That’s because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, the spotless Lamb of God who made all other sacrifices obsolete. You can thank him for becoming our one Way to the eternal Father.

So, go ahead and be self-confident, if you excel at something. But no one excels at goodness without Jesus.

Now, Where Was I?

Have you ever had a thought that needed to be expressed, but unforeseen interruptions such as PASSWORD ISSUES blocked your progress? No, of course not! That sort of thing only happens to me.

Don’t worry, reading audience, I haven’t lost it quite yet. Such interruptions seem only to happen to me. Everyone’s daily walk is filled with happenstances and interruptions. As a wiser man than I once said, “Life is what happens to you on the way to fulfilling your plans.” An even wiser man said, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”(Proverbs 16:9) And then, just to squelch all argument, he also said, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” (Psalms 146:3-4) Are you the “prince” of your life?

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”(Psalms 50:14-15) Sometimes, dredging up sincere gratitude in difficult situations seems like a sacrifice, but if you belong to God through Christ Jesus you really have no choice. Your flesh will always struggle against a spirit of gratitude toward your Father God. Why? Because that carnal nature is its own god.

You must find gratitude in your heart for each day God gives you, while always maintaining readiness for them to end. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” (1 Timothy 4:4) “Everything created by God” includes each day he gives you, or whatever circumstance ends them.

By that perspective, an “Incorrect Username or Password” message seems rather trivial.