Sorry Doesn’t Cut It

John the Baptist’s head on a platter

In Matthew 14:1-12, Herod, the mock-king of Israel, responded to his alluring step-daughter Salome’s demand for John the Baptist’s head on a platter with—well, God’s Word says it best:

[Mat 14:9 NKJV] And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded [it] to be given to [her].

So easily we preface our deliberate disobedience with, “Sorry Lord, but …” Then we try to condone our actions with a litany of excuses. Flip Wilson showed himself an acute observer of churchy behavior with Geraldine’s, “Da devo made me do it.”

My theology may be better than Geraldine’s, but my rationalizations are just as transparent. I pray for the self-control to resist my baser nature, so when I ignore the red flags I, in effect, tell God, “You didn’t answer my prayer,” diverting my guilt to the righteous One.

What presumption! I hold myself above God’s judgment by judging Him for treating me unfairly. How can God forgive such deliberate blasphemy?

Am I alone in this sin? Do such rationalizations cross your mind when you condemn someone else for their worldly behavior? When you envy someone else for their undeserved good fortune? When you rationalize consuming worldly entertainments as your, “liberty in Christ”? When you lust after material goods, presuming upon God’s future provision to, “Buy now, pay later”?

I plead, “Guilty as charged.” I must join the sea of sinners at the Judge’s left hand, bound for perdition’s miserable pit of eternal fire. And that would be my fate, if not for my Lord’s infinite grace, expressed in 1 John 1:6-10, where He pronounces the conditional, “If”:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Warning—We must not simply read those key verses. We must study them. Meditate upon them. Live by them, so we can claim God’s unfathomable grace.

For Want of Light

 

On ships of war, the men below decks at night exist in a dim, red world, lest when called to their battle stations in the outer darkness they should succumb to night blindness. In the same way, we must willingly live in relative darkness, so we might fully see what God places before us in His subtle, spiritual light.

Isaiah 50:10-11 New King James Version (NKJV)

10 “Who among you fears the LORD?
Who obeys the voice of His Servant?
Who walks in darkness
And has no light?
Let him trust in the name of the LORD
And rely upon his God.
11 Look, all you who kindle a fire,
Who encircle yourselves with sparks:
Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled—
This you shall have from My hand:
You shall lie down in torment.

Guilty as charged! I would love to be alone in that verdict, but alas, I am anything but.

My confession is true; I have ventured forth into self-generated light, imagining it was from God. I should have heeded Isaiah’s admonition: Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely upon his God.

Is trusting active, or passive? It is active, as we discern and reject the world’s—and the self’s—seductions. But it is also passive, as we wait on God’s light, as opposed to trying to generate our own.

We live in a performance-oriented culture, and that drive taints the church’s works. We constantly audit our own productivity, and that of others. We encircle ourselves with sparks, walking in the light of our own fire and in the sparks we have kindled.

Let us not turn our work for our Lord into a competition, always striving to make points against “them,” while refusing to acknowledge the fruit “they” bear, lest they pull ahead of us on some celestial scoreboard.

DADDY!

Daddy’s always watching

Imagine yourself as a child in a Christmas-time shopping mall, running from one light-emblazoned display to another; so many wonders to choose from, so little time. Suddenly you spot the one thing in the whole world that you really, really, really want, so you look up to tell Daddy, but only strangers surround you.

“Daddy?” You look around. “Daddy?!” with more force. “Daddy!” you scream, but no familiar, loving faces look down to you.

Psalm sixty-one begins with King David calling out to his Father God, “from the end of the earth.” This might read, “From the end of my self will I cry unto thee.” The self, when it is separated from God, is a barren rock, or a sandy shoal, shifting with the wind and tides. When I stray from the identity I know—meaning Christ, if I belong to God—I find myself in an “outer darkness,” with no compass point to guide me homeward.

Like small children when we find ourselves lost, we cry out to Daddy (or Mommy, when Daddy isn’t around) to deliver us from the big, bad unknown. The great problem for most people is not knowing their Heavenly Daddy, or knowing Him, forgetting what He looks like.

King David knew that fear, that calling out from an overwhelmed heart. His response? “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

Even now, after walking with my Savior for forty-one years, I find myself chasing after the world’s pretty lights and fake santas. How often have I paused to look up for my Daddy’s smile, only to find Him distant? Distant, maybe, but always there, within reach of my little hand.

THE THORN IN MY HEART

St. Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

Apostle Paul wrote of several aspects of his life that could cause him to be proud:

2 Corinthians 12:1-4
(1) It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:
(2) I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a one was caught up to the third heaven.
(3) And I know such a man–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–
(4) how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

(Romans 11:13) For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry,

(2 Corinthians 12:12) Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.

Most scholars believe Paul spoke of himself regarding these wonderful claims. Yet, in all these, he glorified God rather than himself, and for one reason:

2 Corinthians 12:7-10
(7) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
(8) Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
(9) And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

What a truth! The eminent apostle recognized a fundamental spiritual law: that everything we naturally think we know is completely backward compared to God’s eternal truth.

My Thorn

I have a few physical issues, but none so deep or painful as to be compared to Paul’s thorn in the flesh. For that I thank my Creator, God’s eternal Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. My thorn is entirely different from anything physical; it is a thorn in my heart.

God’s Word calls the seat of our emotions, faith, mind, will, and temperament, the heart. Of course, God doesn’t mean that muscular blood-pump in our chest, but the in-most home of our nonphysical functions.

My personal thorn pierces a number of my heart’s functions, and my born again life’s work has been dealing positively with it. Here’s a litany of my heart’s bleedings: my emotions are too tender, my faith is too weak, my mind is too loud, my will is too weak, and my temperament is too fearful. Just ask any women who have been in my life.

I praise God, though, for the way He’s used that thorn, and the incorporeal blood that drips from it. My tender emotions give me empathy for others’ suffering. My weak faith makes me skeptical of anything that is not of God and His Word. My loud mind is also analytical, giving me a sensitive bovine manure-detector.

Let’s see, what possible redeeming value could my weak will and fearful temperament have? They work together, feeding off of each other, and have always been the cause of my deepest regrets, so I must dig deep to find the answer. For one thing, weak will prevents me from overpowering those around me. Even though some really need overpowering (that’s where the fear flattens my resolve), apparently God wants me to leave that job to someone else. Or is that a cop out? There are times when I realize that God has placed me where I should assert myself, such as sharing my faith and dealing with others’ wrong demands, and I pray constantly for the assertiveness to overcome such resistance when needed.

God’s Solution

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Jesus bore that cruel crown of thorns to tell me that my sins pierced His divine soul. How trivial my personal thorns are in comparison.

Though we sometimes must seemingly dig to China to find God’s richest blessings, those gold nuggets give us unrivaled cause for grateful rejoicing. Join me in praising Him for the hard things!

Through Jesus Christ our Lord

Some churches end congregational prayers with, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord.” While that’s more-or-less Scriptural, I wonder whose Lord He really is. Can I make that prayer more specific by saying, “Through Jesus Christ my Lord?”

What does His lordship mean to me? What does it mean to you? For Jesus to be our Lord, we must obey Him, not only when it’s convenient, or easy, or when we agree with His commands. Jesus said in John 14:15  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That’s simple cause-and-effect, like a stone tossed into the air and falling back to earth. It will happen with no exceptions.

He also said in John 15:9-12  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (10)  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (11)  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (12)  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

So, Jesus’ lordship is all about love: His love for you and me, and our love for Him—evidenced by our love for one another, regardless what they’ve done to us. If there’s any question about what that special kind of love looks like, we need to revisit St. Paul’s definition of godly love:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  (5)  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  (6)  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  (7)  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I could turn each statement of that passage into a personal question, but I think that is something each of us must do as a devotional exercise, and not just once, then forgetting about it. We must question each action, especially those involving others, according to God’s standard, and never be satisfied with the results until we see perfect conformity. Of course, that means we’ll never be satisfied, which is just and right, considering who is our Mentor.

Please don’t be daunted in your pursuit of God’s perfect love. As St. Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:13, As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. And in Galatians 6:9,  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

By those Scriptural standards, is Jesus Christ my Lord? Is He your Lord? If you’re not sure, go to God in prayer right now to sincerely confess your failures, ask His forgiveness, and commit yourself to Christ’s lordship. Your life will become His, and His life will become yours, forever.

Cogs, Big or Small

Bro. Big Cog

Which is better, a big cog in a small wheel, or a small cog in a big wheel? When I was a kid I was lucky enough to have a dad who brought surplus military hardware home from his Navy civil service job. One device was a precision instrument of some kind, and its large gears had the smallest cogs I’d ever seen. Each cog didn’t have to be all that strong because there were a lot of them, and they ran so smoothly that there was hardly any vibration or backlash.

Now imagine that same machine with big gear teeth; its movement would be anything but smooth and its precision would be laughable. Which type of “gears” would make a machine, church, or any organization, function better?

I currently fellowship with a large church that has a well-developed staff and volunteer force. The pastor wisely and efficiently delegates many responsibilities to Spirit-filled, capable people who carry them out with all diligence. It is a joy to behold.

Somehow my church manages to cull out most of those who would be big cogs, or the self-important members that seek power over others who are trying to serve God with their gifts and talents. Everyone is just another brother or sister, with no big I’s or little You’s. Yes, there is a Scriptural hierarchy based on years of selfless service and spiritual maturity, but they are seen as in no way superior to the most lowly members of the body. I present this positive example of a correctly functioning congregation in the hope that anyone who reads this will compare their fellowship with this ideal.

Do I agree with everything those in authority decide to do? Of course not. Anyone who expects their church to conform to their expectations is—excuse the expression—a fool, who would become a big cog, refusing to mesh with the body of believers. That is the sin of vain pride, which is the foundation for all presumption and abuses of authority, and is the sin that got Lucifer ejected from the heavenly assembly.

I sincerely hope that you do not see yourself as “better” than anyone, whether big, or small, cogs. God doesn’t expect us to be humble; He demands it (2 Samuel 22:28; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:5).

“THE LAW OF ABUNDANCE”

How Tempting!

Patricia Gras begins her program by asking, “Are there universal laws to reach wealth and success? Do you ever wonder why some people succeed no matter what they do, while others fail miserably?” According to Sherry Buffington PhD, author of The Law of Abundance, life’s all about luxury, balance and happiness.

What interests me is not her Laws of Energy, which govern everything, or the subconscious mind, both of which, she claims, are underrated. What fascinates me is her definition of life’s purpose, and the order in which she states its elements.

First, life is all about luxury, which Noah Webster defined as, “A free indulgence in costly food, dress, furniture, or anything expensive which gratifies the appetites or tastes.” I’m afraid old Noah missed the deeper implications of pursuing luxury; while it indeed gratifies the appetites or tastes, it appeals to the fleshly pride of, “I’m a Have, and you’re a Have Not.” The New Testament speaks eloquently to pursuing luxury:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. (1 John 2:15-16)

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1Ti 6:9-10)

Abundance, according to the good doctor, is also about balance. Yet, pursuing a life of luxury is anything but balanced, as life is about so much more than luxurious living, as evidenced by all the happy folks who live at a subsistence level, and all the affluent folks who have dysfunctional lives.

And regarding happiness, Jesus spoke powerfully on the subject:

Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:2-12)

Jesus aptly began His beatitudes with, “the poor in spirit.” That doesn’t mean spiritual poverty, but just the opposite, Spiritual Abundance! It means being content in whatever state God allows in your life. Three Scripture passages contribute directly to that thought:

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: (Philippians 4:11)

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Dr. Buffington obviously speaks from the context of fleshly, temporal values, which means we Christ-followers must not subscribe to the “Prosperity Gospel” that so many false teachers push upon us. Let us not follow a, “different gospel,” as Apostle Paul condemns so heartily:

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)

Remember, people are watching your life, and your values, whether Biblical or worldly, serve as a guide for those seeking God’s truth. You and I are letters from God, more to be believed than any televangelist. So make sure you’re life is preaching God’s gospel, and not man’s.

I’m a Tweaker

Seems I can’t leave anything well enough alone. Sometimes I improve stuff, but other times I just complicate things.

Today I actually managed to improve my computer’s audio output, a problem I’d been wrestling with since my friend gave it to me. Oh, it functioned perfectly, except for the minor issue of lousy sound. And after months of tweaking the settings I, out of desperation, uninstalled a program called Realtek High Definition Audio. As a result, my BOSE multimedia speakers now sound like a room-full of stereo equipment.

This time tweaking worked, but how often do we try fixing things that ain’t broke, only to mess them up but good? As an example of such “fixing,” consider Christianity. Apostle James got down to basics when he wrote:

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)

“Yeah, that’s fine in principle,” I hear someone thinking, “but it doesn’t work in today’s complex, media-glutted world.”

Maybe you should talk about today’s complex, media-glutted church. A simple example of such unnecessary complication is the guitar, organ or piano that plays behind our preacher while he draws his message to a close. Are they trying to pluck our heart-strings by plucking their guitar strings? Our preacher is a true man of God who enters the pulpit thoroughly prayed up; you know that’s true because of the convicting and redemptive impact his words have on the congregation. Why, then, does he need musical accompaniment?

Yes, that’s nitpicky, but it’s just a small example of our attempts to deliver the gospel more effectively, of trying to help God’s Holy Spirit do His work of convincing His church to obey just a few Scriptural principles and mandates.

When will we take God seriously, and raise our hands in surrender, rather than in liturgical praise choruses that are forgotten when we climb into our cars and head over to Costco for some last-minute shopping. God loves the praises of His people … His holy people.

Through the Perp’s Eyes

While watching a murder mystery on Netflix (yes, I watched a secular TV program), I thought of how predictable such police dramas really are. The detective’s investigation presents certain telling facts to him, or her, as in the case of Miss. Marple, that the audience only knows about because of a change in the music track’s tone. At the climactic expose, the brilliant detective gathers everyone involved in the mystery and dramatically reveals everyone’s motives for committing the crime and all his clues until he points his finger at the perpetrator, who usually makes a silly attempt at escaping.

I wondered what sort of drama would unfold if the whole story were spun through the perp’s eyes. We would witness his disadvantaged childhood and his falling in with the wrong crowd, or the heinous act that drove him to murder. We would watch him plan the perfect murder, and applaud him for trying not to hurt any bystanders. We’d follow the insensitive detective’s investigation draw ever nearer to the poor, misunderstood murderer, hoping against hope that he would somehow escape. And if the program were executed well enough, we might even draw a tear or two when our hero is captured and sentenced to death.

As the prophet Nathan told King David, “Thou art the man!” The world doesn’t call us criminals because we sin, but we’re exactly that in God’s eyes. He sees the murder in our hearts when we hate another, or the inner adultery when we lust after that attractive someone, or our secret idolatry when we envy what doesn’t belong to us. Yet, even though we may be aware of those sins, we excuse them because, “I had good reason for that,” or, “I didn’t do anything really wrong.”

Apostle John tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just 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. (1 John 1) First comes conviction of sin, understanding that you are not perfect and are, in fact, a depraved sinner. Second comes heart-felt confession, which includes repentance. Then comes forgiveness and renewed innocence, leading to a changed life.

Quit looking at your life, “through the perp’s eyes,” and see yourself through the Judge’s eyes. It’ll pay eternal benefits.

No Coincidence

I’ve felt a bit down of late, to the extent that I’ve asked God to take me home. I would like to say that such feelings aren’t self-pity, as I hate that dynamic because it denies denies God. Trouble is, I can’t say that, so I suffer shame in addition to my depression, steering me toward the vicious maelstrom that would suck me into emotion’s depths.

The enemy of our souls is often our emotions’ lord, manipulating them, and thus our will, away from godliness and the edification that it holds for us. God, however, never abandons his own to Satan’s wiles, but through “coincidences,” buoys us up when we most need it.

Today’s “coincidence” took the form of Crosswalk dot com’s daily feed, Streams in the Desert. Here’s the portion that ministered to me:

Have you asked to be made like your Lord? Have you longed for the fruit of the Spirit, and have you prayed for sweetness and gentleness and love? Then fear not the stormy tempest that is at this moment sweeping through your life. A blessing is in the storm, and there will be the rich fruitage in the “afterward.”
–Henry Ward Beecher 

That’s the sort of “coincidence” that makes me love my Savior God ever more deeply. I’m confident that He has some wonderful purpose for allowing my bouts with depression to continue. When all is revealed I will marvel at His supernatural wisdom and love toward me, and spend eternity thanking and praising Him for it.