Open Sez He

Okay, titling this piece after a quote from “Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor” may seem totally frivolous, but there’s a method in my obvious madness.

Popeye is perpetually involved in the war between good and evil, but the only way he can win is to keep a can of spinach handy. Of course, you can see the spiritual parallel; we’re helpless against our enemy Satan without God’s Holy Spirit, but he doesn’t come in a can.

Another Popeye parallel is his motto: “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.” That applies to us directly, as our pretenses never determine who or what we are. You can act religious all day every day, get to church first and leave last, and keep a sanctimonious frown tattooed on your face, but if you haven’t submitted to Jesus out of love and gratitude for what he did for you, it’s all a pretense.

The last parallel I have is a bit of a stretch; In the Sindbad cartoon, Popeye said, “Open says me,” when he wanted entry to Sindbad’s treasure-cave.” God’s Holy Spirit says to us, “Open your heart and mind to me.” It’s possible to sincerely profess faith in Christ without ever opening your heart to him. Are you not sure if that describes you? Ask yourself if you open your heart to your pastor, your brethren, your family and friends, and even your enemies. Do you open your mind to God’s Word? True Christ-followers practice God’s love, giving themselves to others as Jesus gave himself to us.

Clever—or not-so clever—cartoon parallels aside, Christ will hold each of us accountable for our response to his total sacrifice for us. Are you a child of God through Christ Jesus, or just a pretender?

Peace Like a River

Horatio G. Spafford had ample reason to feel anything but peace that day in 1873 as his ship carried him over the spot where his four daughters perished in a shipwreck a few weeks earlier. Rather than sink into the slough of despond, however, he penned the following words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) The world freely gives no peace at all, but occasionally it reluctantly grants temporary lapses in violence. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, had something entirely different in mind, something those invested in this world system cannot grasp.

This morning I awoke feeling awash in a river of peace. God has taught me—and continues teaching me—that feelings aren’t facts; a hard lesson for any natural human being to learn. But God’s peace is entirely unnatural, so when that is what we feel, it must be from him.

During that unnatural moment, I pictured the river of peace as like the Columbia River, carrying millions of gallons of water swiftly from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. If all that water just lay there with no circulation it would become brackish, a breeding place for mosquitoes and disease. But it moves, slowly enough to be safe for navigation, but swiftly enough to keep it fresh, washing all its organic matter out to meet the purifying sea water. Like the mighty Columbia, God’s peace washes all the potentially putrefying matter from our lives, refreshing us moment by moment as only his Prince of Peace can do.

Please, don’t fall for the world’s counterfeit peace, but hold out for the unconditional, sanctified peace that only Christ can give.

God’s Ten Outcomes

10SuggestionsWe have all seen the sign that says, “They’re not the ten suggestions,” or something like that. Christ-followers like to deface their car’s pristine paint jobs or bumpers with that, and many other messages, hoping it will soak through people’s sin-hardened skulls. Obviously, they intend the slogan as a humorous reminder, or even a revelation, and hope God will use it to make folks think deeper than their appetites.

While God phrased them as “Thou Shalts” and “Thou Shalt Nots,” I have it on good authority that God intended them as neither commandments nor suggestions:

Galatians 3:21-25 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. (22) But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (23) But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. (24) Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (25) But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Theyer’s Greek Definitions  adds some insight to the Greek word translated as “tutor”:

paidagōgos
Thayer Definition:
1) a tutor, i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood.

That opens a bunch of Biblically relevant thoughts, and here’s just a sample; Apostle Paul wrote a lot about the Mosaic Law’s role in God’s plan of salvation, which, oddly enough, could not save sinners. He referred to it as a judge, a curse, a witness of Christ, a ruler, an arouser of passions, an informer of sin, the strength of sin, and enmity with God.

Yet, with all that, Paul tells us that the law is not in itself evil, but is simply God’s tool for making us aware of our depravity. Of course Jesus, God’s own Son, provided the solution for that depravity, the way by which we might enter into a loving relationship with God Himself. That’s called reconciliation, because through sin we alienated ourselves to God for all time.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) He didn’t intend that statement as a plea for us to obey him, like some star crossed lover begging favors of the object of his affection. Jesus simply stated the outcome for those who love him like he loves us. You could switch the two clauses to better demonstrate their cause/effect relationship: “You will keep my commandments if you love me.”

We English-speakers do tend to get things backward.

“Da Law is Da Law”

"Da law, son, is da law."

“Da law, son, is da law.”

That title seems quite obvious, if a bit folksie. I mean, what would the law be if not the law? What messes people up is the existence of two sets of laws: Physical law, and spiritual law. God created both, and both are quite real and binding.

Folks tend to get a little testy when we fundamentalist, evangelical Christians quote spiritual law to them. For instance, the one that says Jesus is the only way to Father God. I’m no mind-reader, but I suspect a stubborn refusal to change their lifestyle motivates their pique. Or maybe they’re thoughtful objectors, refusing the idea because demanding conformity to one religion, i.e., Christianity, seems too narrow a requirement for a loving God to make.

Jesus was good at spinning parables to illustrate a point, so I’ll try my hand: A man aboard a skydiver drop-plane gazed through the open door at the landscape far below. With the powerful engine droning in his ears and no anxiety to cloud his thinking, he mentally calculated  his precise drop position for a perfect, on-target touchdown.

He knew he still had time to don his sport parachute rig, with all its instrumentation and emergency ‘chute, but he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to go to that much trouble. “After all,” he told himself, “the physical laws aren’t all that binding. Besides, that stupid ‘chute messes up my targeting.”

His pilot tried to tell him there was only one way he could jump out of that airplane and survive the fall, and that was to use his parachute.

“That’s a narrow-minded position to take,” said the expert skydiver, “I’m an expert skydiver, and I can shape my body into a lifting-body to land spot on without a scratch.”

The pilot tried to argue with him, but the man would have none of that nonsense. Just as the pilot thought to bank the plane steeply to the left and prevent the expert skydiver from exiting, the man dove right out the open door, without his parachute. Turned out he was right; he hit the target spot on.

His funeral will be held …

The Bible’s New Testament is God’s spiritual law, also called the law of Christ and the Royal Law, because the King of kings died, was burried, and resurrected to establish it. It’s also called The Perfect Law of Liberty because through Christ we have freedom from sin’s compulsion. Whatever you call it, it’s all love; God’s love brought it about, and our response is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8). It’s as simple as that. All the do’s and don’ts that religion throws at us are just attempts at codifying what should come naturally to believers, as we love because he first loved us.

I have to say, “Feel the love: God’s love.” And the only way to do that is through the Lord Jesus Christ.

C.S. Lewis on Sinning Saints and Finding True Happiness

… they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 4:4-6)

C.S. Lewis wrote, in The Problem of Pain:

The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created’ (Revelation 4:11).

We who in faith call ourselves, “Christ-followers,” already realize that God doesn’t exist to serve us, and that we don’t exist for our own gratification. Though we realize that fact, we often—dare I say, “usually”?—fall back into the opposite attitude. When that is the case, what kind of love do we practice, and what makes us different from worldly-minded, unregenerate people? As unregenerate means, “not reborn,” what are we who are reborn, when we willfully live as the world lives? Would the word “degenerate” apply?

Lewis continues:

We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled, by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities—no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt, or a dog, once having learned to love man, could wish that man were such as to tolerate in his house the snapping, verminous, polluting creature of the wild pack.

At first I balked at the idea of God being repelled by “certain stains in our present character.” I mean, what about John 3:16? But on second thought, I realized that God redeemed us through Jesus’ blood for the expressed purpose of recreating us in his image, as we were in the beginning. Apostle Peter wrote, “What the true proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.’” (2 Peter 2:22) Though Peter wrote in that chapter about false prophets and teachers, that doesn’t exempt us from his warning:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. (2) And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. (3) And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

We are, after all, living letters from God. That makes our lives a declaration of God’s gospel. As Lewis said, God’s purpose was to reconcile us to himself, not himself to us. And he went to a lot of trouble to do just that.

Lewis finishes that thought: 

What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.

Amen!

What?! No CGI?

The BBC’s version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is headed back to Netflix this morning. I rented it to compare it to Disney’s version, and it was actually quite good … once I got used to the live action, that is.

“Why did I not think it was hokey?” you ask?

“Because I got more out of it than simply entertainment,” I answer.

“What could possibly eclipse the entertainment value of flashy special effects?” you ask? Okay, even if you didn’t ask I’ll tell you, so suck it up.

The BBC’s version didn’t gloss over C.S. Lewis’ message of redemption through the blood of an innocent sacrificial offering. And that’s odd, in a way, as the BBC is part of the British government, and the producers weren’t compelled to make the movie politically correct. What a concept?! Freedom of expression.

Aslan’s death and resurrection according to “the Deeper Magic” touched me greatly. The principle of vicarious sacrifice for one who is unworthy came across clearly enough that even I caught it.

The other side of the continuum was the reanimation of the people whom the White Witch turned into stone. That smacked of the doctrine of purgatory, which is unscriptural; either we’re hell-bound sinners, or we’re heaven-bound saints, and that’s that. But I’ll forgive Lewis for the occasional mistake, as important as is the balance of his work.

Each of the four Pevensie children portray a type of person: Peter is a noble character who feels compelled to triumph in his own strength. Susan is one of nominal religion who thinks she is just perfect, thank you very much. Edmund occupies the opposite end of the spectrum from Peter, as self-interest means everything to him. And Lucy is the honest seeker, even though she allows peer pressure to sway her.

The conspicuous truth of Aslan’s character is his equal love for each of them, regardless of their personal failings. And a second truth becomes apparent as well: Even though Aslan created Narnia and its magic, he wasn’t above the obligation to obey it, even to the cost of his own life. What a perfect picture of Christ, who, though he created the entire universe, submitted to death on the accursed cross to redeem his unworthy creation.

Rent it. Watch it with your kids. And be sure they understand its eternal message—CGI or no CGI.

Adoption: The Compassionate Option

Today’s Our Daily Bread by Dave Brannon … well maybe you should read it first.

Thanks, that saves me the trouble of telling you what he said. Speaking of adoption, though, my late wife Nancy was adopted into a loving family as an infant. She never had to face potential adoptive parents’ rejection as did the teenage student in Dave’s story. Unfortunately, I only met her adoptive father once before he died, but he impressed me as a man of deep, quiet conviction, full of love to the point of overflowing. Bruce Cunningham’s loving example taught Nancy to love, and in God’s perfect timing she came to love her heavenly Father. That’s not such a huge transition if you’ve known an earthly father’s love.

None of us are truly orphans or abandoned children of God’s creation. Our Father is still very much alive; always was, and always will be. He didn’t abandon us, but because of Adam’s bum deal with the serpent, we’re all born separated from our Father. When we reach the age of accountability and have to choose right or wrong, we invariably choose the wrong.

Galatians 4:4-7   But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.[a] Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[b] Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

As God created us to love and be loved by him, that separation from him leaves us wanting, rather like the aging orphan who never gets adopted. If we believe in God at all, we often feel that he has abandoned us. To assuage that feeling we look for love in all the wrong places (appologies to Johnny Lee), and settle for second best. Some of us fall for religion’s appeal, hoping to find God there, thinking if we can just “get it right,” God will reward us with his love. Others give up on God, bitterly denying his existence and hating anyone who “tries to shove religion down my throat.”

Even with all our thrashing around, trying different religions, philosophies, and political parties, we can never regain God’s peace by our own efforts, on our own terms. That’s why God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The first chapter of John’s gospel breaks it down into simple terms: 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. Most everyone has heard of John 3:3, where it tells us that we must be reborn, but vss. 1-21 give a more complete picture of this eternally essential truth.

Remember God’s compassion toward you, and rejoice in your adoption as his sons and daughters. Chances are good that I’m preaching to God’s adoptees, but no matter how long you’ve been walking with God in his Spirit, you will profit from reviewing the basics. After all, God commanded us to be ready to explain the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).

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).

C.S. Lewis on Loving Your Enemy

Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves—to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.
From Mere Christianity

Like forgiveness, love isn’t initially an emotional act, but an act of the will. When at last you obey God’s clear command to forgive the unforgivable, or love the unlovable, He will pour out His grace through you in a torrent of love, second only to the love He felt for the false witnesses, the Roman thugs, and the world of sinners like you and me, all of whom conspired to nail Him to that cursed cross.

Loving your enemy won’t come easily, but it’s what Christ-followers do.

Hand Puppets

Before we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, we’re all puppets of sin. When we’re sanctified by Jesus’ blood, he removes that demonic hand, replacing it with his Holy Spirit, but he doesn’t control us in the same way that sin did. God’s Spirit gives us the choice of following his plan for our lives, or not. Refusing his plan and asserting our own will is like grabbing that old, rotting, demonic hand and shoving it up our bum once again.

Sci-Fi buffs well know the scenario of the unwary astronaut or scientist who gets attacked by some alien bug—usually by stupidly letting his or her guard down while playing with the infernal thing—who grows in the human’s gut until it’s big enough to bloodily pop out and terrorize everyone else. That’s a fair illustration of sin in our lives, with the exception that we’re born with it inside us, and it’s uglier than the worst movie alien bug. Only Jesus can eradicate it, and we have to ask him to do it.

So, Kermit, do you want that infernal thing to stay inside you? Or do you want Jesus to take care of it? Your choice.