Baseline Christianity

Our Daily Bread came through again. This time with a reminder from Scripture of how we are to behave as followers of Christ.

Two senses: 1, Minimal behavior standards; 2, As in baseball, the path we must follow.

Tit 3:1-8 ESV
(1) Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,
(2) to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
(3) For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
(4) But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
(5) he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
(6) whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
(7) so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
(8) The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

(1) Ungodly leaders can never take control without God’s permission, so whether or not we agree with our authority figures, we are obligated to obey them. The exception to that principle only applies when said authorities direct us to violate God’s clearly expressed teachings. Be careful, though, challenging the authorities requires godly discernment, and will be costly.

(2) Apostle James wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26) But he also had much to say about the tongue’s evil potential in chapter three. People will rub us the wrong way, but God gives us no choice but to speak well of everyone, or keep our mouths shut.

(3) No one is a worse sinner than we were before we gave ourselves to Jesus. Oh, we may have done less heinous things, but sin is sin in God’s eyes.

(4-7) This speaks for itself; how can I improve on God’s Word? So, here’s another passage that reinforces this idea:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

(8) These divine directives aren’t optional. If we are truly saved, we will sincerely try to obey God’s Word. The idea of carnal Christians is a myth perpetrated by false teachers, catering to false believers. Those following Peter Pan religion, refusing to grow up in the Lord, are deceiving themselves. As we strive to follow Christ, we will make mistakes, even thoroughly blowing it occasionally, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t trying.

If you are following Christ to the best of your ability, don’t let the enemy heap condemnation on you when you slip up. Apostle Paul said, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:1-2) Just remember, if you weren’t saved you wouldn’t feel grief when you wander off the baseline.

Pray consistently. Learn from God’s Word. Stay close to your Savior, and you’ll turn your base hit into an eternal home run.

Sweet and Bitter

da Vinci’s concept of Jesus’ agony.

Matthew’s gospel, chapter twenty-seven, reports Jesus’ torment and torture at the Roman soldiers’ hands. The executioners gave their prisoners wine before nailing them to the cross beam and hoisting them into the vertical position, but in Jesus’ case they mixed gall with the wine to make it intolerably bitter. Why did they take that extra step to make him even more miserable?

Every aspect of Jesus’ torture and death has symbolic implications, and sweet wine mixed with gall is not an exception. While the wine’s alcohol might have offered some small relief from crucifixion’s agony, Jesus’ tormentors wanted to show Him no compassion at all, so they made the wine impossible to drink. I think Jesus wouldn’t have drunk the wine even without the gall, as he wanted to fully experience the pain and humiliation of crucifixion and the sin it represented. Also, taking even that small amount of bitter gall into his mouth symbolized His tasting sin’s bitterness.

That thought brings me to another application of sweetness versus bitterness: harmony versus discord. We find those qualities in every area of life, from music to culinary arts. Everyone prefers harmonious to discordant sounds, architectural lines, artistic works, flavors and human relationships, to name just a few categories we encounter daily. After all, every relationship will involve some combination of those two qualities. God created Man to relate to Him harmoniously, but to make it a voluntary relationship gave His creation one simple choice: obey or disobey.

Well, we know how that worked out. Eve, and then Adam, chose to disobey God, ultimately sending Him to suffer and die to end sin’s dominion over us, and then to be resurrected from the grave, giving His eternal life to everyone who accepts that sacrifice for themselves. The world’s stereotype of God as the scowling, bearded old Judge peaking over a cloud’s edge to catch us doing something wrong couldn’t be further from the truth. The Bible is full of accounts of God’s patience with His people Israel, all leading up to His ultimate redemptive act.

God created nothing but harmony. We introduced discord into the world, and God longs to restore that harmonious relationship with each and every human being.

UNASHAMED BECAUSE OF MERCY

Big Daddy Weave produced a song called Overwhelmed that included the lyrics, “And God, I run into Your arms, unashamed because of mercy …” I am eternally thankful for that saving mercy, but I can’t honestly say I’m unashamed; forgiven, but not unashamed. That begs the question of why I am ashamed, and for what.

Answering the “for what” part of that question would involve a lifetime of soul-searching and confession, but telling you why is relatively easy. I am ashamed because I’m not convinced that my life faithfully represents my Savior’s love and holiness.

Oh yes, by the world’s standard I’m suitably religious and moral. Most, in fact, consider me a nice guy, but in my quest to be Christ to my world I am an utter failure.

Does God judge me for my humanness? He already did, and that judgment fell on His Son, my Messiah Jesus Christ. (Romans 8)

AM I A GRASSHOPPER?

I am a prince, a son of the King! I have the Spirit of the eternal God living in me! His Word tells me that I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!

Why, then, do I quake with fear in the face of bitter (even not so bitter) opposition? My fear tells me that I might get it wrong, that my mind will go blank, that they might not like me, that I am not able to go up against them for they are too strong for me, that they are all giants, that they are the Nephilim, and I become like a grasshopper in my own sight, and also in theirs.

Surely those are good reasons for avoiding confrontation with those of the world—or at least good excuses.

If we go to God’s Word, to Numbers 13:25-14:35, we see God’s answer to such excuses. Only after Moses’ entreaty did God grant life to His people Israel, along with forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

If you feel like you’re wandering in the spiritual wilderness, maybe you see yourself  as a grasshopper, compared to those of the world system. Pray that God will transform you into a Caleb, who sees only the prize and the promise. Then repent of your fearfulness. God will bless your desire to please Him.

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.

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?

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 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

The Weeping Prophet

So, here’s the story: Last night I went to bed with hopes of falling asleep without delay, but as I lay there communing with my Creator, I began praying for heart-holiness, both for myself and for His church. As often happens when I pray for Christ-likeness, I began weeping, and the more I contemplated the contrast between Christ and myself, the more my tears flowed. I heard myself sobbing, both from grief and gratitude; I felt a sense of the Holy Spirit’s grief about my soulish stubbornness, and unbearable gratitude for God’s grace despite my failure to apprehend the victory I have in Christ Jesus.

Then, this morning’s Our Daily Bread devotional cited Lamentations 3:1-6, 16-25, where the weeping prophet Jeremiah mourned Jerusalem’s destruction and the Jews’ subsequent captivity. So in typical fashion, I lumped both experiences into a single conceptual stew.

God is disciplining His church in much the same way that He disciplined His people Israel, albeit with His New Covenant grace.

  • As Jeremiah cried out warnings about Israel’s wandering ways, God’s New Testament writers warn His church about our own carnality.
  • As Israel ignored the prophet’s warnings, most of today’s church lie comfortably in our worldly affluence, enjoying our Sunday religious lift while snoring through our godly preachers’ warnings.
  • As Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, popular culture is destroying the institutional church.
  • As Babylon carried Israel’s intelligentsia into captivity, the world system is co-opting the church’s theologians.
  • As Babylon absorbed Israel into its own culture, the world system is defiling God’s church through our preoccupation with its entertainments, its trendy styles, and its pursuit of youthful image.

Though we have much reason to grieve, we have far more reason to rejoice; none of this surprises our omniscient God, and His plan for our triumph over the world system is, and always has been, in place. Yes, I still mourn for those of His church who will never awaken from their slumber, but I rejoice for the faithful remnant who heed His warnings, becoming incorruptible salt and prevailing light for this stale and dark world. Like God’s people Israel, the church’s exile is only temporary, and we have the Great Hope of our eternal homecoming, where our tears will cease and we will commune with our Lord Jesus face-to-face.