The Law of Unintended Consequences

Oops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wonderful Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C.S. Lewis on Prudence

Please take time to read this important excerpt from Mere Christianity.

Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it. Nowadays most people hardly think of Prudence as one of the ‘virtues’. In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are ‘good’, it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding. In the first place, most children show plenty of ‘prudence’ about doing the things they are really interested in, and think them out quite sensibly. In the second place, as St Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary. He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves’, but also ‘as wise as serpents’. He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim. The fact that you are giving money to a charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not. The fact that what you are thinking about is God Himself (for example, when you are praying) does not mean that you can be content with the same babyish ideas which you had when you were a five-year-old. It is, of course, quite true that God will not love you any the less, or have less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a very second-rate brain. He has room for people with very little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have.

Lewis said, “Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence.” Point well taken, but I know children whose intelligence exceeds that of most adults. Their inquiring minds and sense of wonder are beautiful to behold.

Why do we grownups expect our kids to perform perfectly? Why do we punish them when they make “imprudent” mistakes? I believe our adult, vain pride is so invested in their performance that we refuse them the grace that our Father shows us. So what if they make mistakes; at least they are trying. Punish them when they fail, and be assured they will quit trying.

Happenstance?

What follows is part of Uncle Jack’s response to a young woman who discovered she was pregnant; the surprise wasn’t altogether welcome. In the midst of her turmoil she discovered that her Bible had opened to Isaiah 66, and she interpreted the phenomenon as a miracle. So, here is Lewis’ reply.

It doesn’t really matter whether the Bible was open at that page thru’ a miracle or through some (unobserved) natural cause. We think it matters because we tend to call the second alternative, ‘chance.’ But when you come to think of it, there can be no such thing as chance from God’s point of view. Since He is omniscient His acts have no consequences which He has not foreseen and taken into account and intended. Suppose it was the draught from the window that blew your Bible open at Isaiah 66. Well, that current of air was linked up with the whole history of weather from the beginning of the world and you may be quite sure that the result it had for you at that moment (like all its other results) was intended and allowed for in the act of creation. ‘Not one sparrow,’ you know the rest [Matthew 10:29]. So of course the message was addressed to you. To suggest that your eye fell on it without this intention, is to suggest that you could take Him by surprise. Fiddle-de-dee! This is not Predestination: your will is perfectly free: but all physical events are adapted to fit in as God sees best with the free actions He knows we are going to do. There’s something about this in Screwtape.

Whether or not you agree with Lewis’ mild dismissal of the miraculous cause, this excerpt’s significance lies in his introduction of a third alternative that is neither miraculous nor naturalistic; God knew the puff of wind would happen along, and that it would flip several pages to reveal Isaiah 66, and since the woman needed exactly that Bible passage’s encouragement, He allowed it to happen. Or perhaps God caused the chain of events that revealed the passage she needed to read. There are nearly infinite possibilities that could explain that Bible passage showing up when it did, but none of them include chance.

Chance, luck, and coincidence are among terms non-believers use to explain the unexplainable. But simply because we are unable to see or understand God’s hand maneuvering circumstances doesn’t mean He isn’t doing it. Our self-existent, eternally living God is the Lord of happenstance.

 

Response to a Good Man

Laurna Guiste posted an article titled, As a Christian, where a reader posted his comment to the effect that most other great religions provide the same benefits as Christianity, and that becoming a good human being is a pre-condition for becoming a Christian or member of any other religion. I answered his thought with mine, which are based upon God’s Word.

I respect your views regarding human goodness through living according to the great religions’ principles. Though I respect your views, I feel compelled to exempt the Way of Christ (not Christianity) from your list of great religions, for it is not a religion at all. Many have succeeded in perverting Christ’s Way to their own religious purposes, to the extent that the result hardly resembles the Biblical Way of Christ at all. Respect for the Person of Christ Jesus demands a careful reading of His words. Such a careful reading will reveal exactly what He said about Himself, and the fact that He alone is the Way to our Father God.

Unlike many of the world’s religions, Christ does not require conversion to any particular religion on pain of persecution or death. Jesus taught a morality that far exceeded any religious law: We are to love even our enemies, and do good to those who persecute us. We are to be pure of mind, and not simply of body. We are to deal fairly with all people, honest to our own hurt. We are to forgive completely those who have injured or defrauded us. When someone strikes us on the cheek because of Him, we are to offer the other cheek as well.

Though Jesus was born a Jew and perfectly followed the Torah, the Jewish religious leaders had Him crucified for purely political reasons, fearing the Roman occupation rather than God. You are right in saying that “Christianity” is one of many religions, but it is just as impotent for redemption as all the rest. Only Christ provides salvation, and that apart from good works produced by human wisdom or goodness. Only those works done through Christ’s Spirit living in us will provide blessings beyond this mortal life.

You are obviously a good person, bhuwanchand, and I pray you will discover the incomparable blessing of eternal life in Christ Jesus, God’s only Son after His own kind.

Love in Him,
James

In retrospect, I can see how an inquirer might think that fully following Christ is a daunting endeavor. In fact, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted. I said, “attempted,” because I haven’t yet mastered the Spirit-filled life that Jesus modeled. Nor will I ever master it, as only the Master, God’s only begotten Son, could do. In that regard I can’t help praising God for His infinite mercy and unmerited favor toward me. Only He knows the depths of my personal depravity, yet He called me to redeeming faith in Jesus as the only Way to Himself.

I praise God for “good” people, and pray that even they will see their need for salvation through the only One who can provide it.

Parallel Universes

If you’re a regular visitor to TWDB, you probably wonder why I chose to deal with, “Parallel Universes.” After all, that’s the stuff of String Theory, or Sci-Fi, right? Well, sorta. I happened to stumble upon (apologies to the web site by that name) a post on The Daily Post, dealing with responding to readers, and that linked to another Daily Post instructing bloggers in How To Starve a Troll.  Fascinating stuff, but you may wonder what that has to do with parallel universes. Brace yourself—

Blogosphere etiquette closely parallels many of the “one anothers” of the New Testament’s epistles, despite the popular image of Christians biting and devouring one another. Thing is, we’re commanded not to behave that way, toward the brethren or toward outsiders.

By spending time reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word, I’ve discovered how often spiritual principles intersect happenings and concepts we encounter in everyday life. I was going to say, “parallel,” to go along with my title, but it wouldn’t be accurate. Almost always, spiritual principles run directly opposed to those we know and love in our fallen, corrupt world. Typically, if you want to follow God’s Way, you will have to do exactly the opposite of your natural inclination. So, if you want love, you have to give of yourself without strings, rather than expecting the object of your affection to make you happy. If you want to prosper, you have to give sacrificially. If you want to live at peace with this world … well, forget about it if you want peace with God.

Contrary to appearances, life in Christ isn’t upside down; it just looks that way from the worldly perspective which, in fact, is completely bas-ackward from God’s “very good” creation. Why? Because from the beginning we’ve been mucking it up at every opportunity, just like daddy Adam and mamma Eve.

So, quit mucking it up, will ya? Get right with God through Jesus Christ, and enjoy the, “very good,” parallel universe.

C.S. Lewis—More on God’s Love

This is the Jesus I knew as a Catholic.

This is the Jesus I know now.

From Mere Christianity:

On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

Over all, I can’t find much fault with Uncle Jack’s take on loving God. He did, however, miss one key concept; to possess some grasp of the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and the depth of the Father’s love for us in allowing Him to take the world’s sin-guilt upon himself, is to love God more than naturally possible. If God’s demonstration of sacrificial love for you, personally, fails to excite you with overwhelming love for Him, you’re missing one of the two elements I mentioned above.

I know that’s true because I was that cold-fish Christian. Raised in the Catholic church, I was constantly bombarded with the Stations of the Cross, and the gory details of Jesus’ passion and death. But one night God gave me a dream where I met someone who was trapped in one of the many legalistic, “Christian” sects, and I felt a love for that young man that dwarfed even the love I have for my own daughters. It was a love that made me desperate to reach him with God’s eternal truth of priceless grace toward rebellious humanity. I normally can’t remember my dreams long enough to tell about them, but this time I recalled it in vivid detail, including the desperate love I felt, so I knew it was from God. Once I understood God’s message to me, I began weeping from brokenness, gratitude, and yes, love, for the Savior I never truly knew before that time.

If God’s love doesn’t fill you with that completely overwhelming gratitude and love for Him, get to know Him better through lots of time in His Word. If, on the other hand, all this Godly love-stuff isn’t worth your effort, you need to truly turn your life over to Him, rather than continuing to practice pretend-Christianity.

Why Lukewarm?

Francis Chan

I mean, not speaking of myself, of course; it’s all those people. You know, the less-spiritual “brethren:” The ones who don’t spend enough time in God’s Word. The ones who don’t help out. The ones whose lives are too hurried for much prayer. The ones who fill their minds with worldly entertainments. And the ones who follow pop-culture’s behavioral and fashion trends, rather than Godly principles.

Wait a sec! That’s me, except for the last one. No one would ever accuse me of being trendy. Those are the kinds of things that gradually cover our eyes with worldly-colored contacts, nudging our world view and priorities away from what Jesus taught, one teeny-tiny step at a time. Walk that path very long, and no one will recognized Christ’s presence within—that is, if He’s still there.

Bible Gateway sent me a link to the article, Biblical Literacy by the Numbers: Fixing the Problem, where Ed Stetzer suggests: 1) Viewing the Bible as a whole, as opposed to fracturing it into sound-bites to suit our purposes, or taking a, “spiritual fast-food,” approach to our “McBibles.” 2) Creating a reading and study plan, personally or congregationally, since becoming conversant with God’s word flows from the top down. 3) Teach the Bible, not predigested curricula that may, or may not, present Biblical principles faithfully. 4) Teach and preach from the best contemporary translations, while taking older, more established versions, into consideration.

Stetzer summarizes with, “Reading the Bible is actually part of the abundant life Christ has given us,” but I say it’s far more. Only when God’s Holy Spirit makes His Word alive within us, will we understand His life-giving principles, but each Christ-follower—that’s you and I—must commit to learning them. We cannot live the Christian life without them.

The resurrected and glorified Jesus told His disciple John to warn the Laodecian church about the consequences of their lukewarm commitment to Him (Revelation 3:14-22). If there are ages within the historical Christian church, we are now in the Laodecian age, where we take our ease, having, in our own minds, satisfied Christ’s minimum requirements for salvation. We are rich (by the world’s standards), we have become wealthy, and have need of nothing … nothing but repentance.

Be Christ to Your Family

If you’re interested in diligent, godly grandfathering, you won’t find much about the roles of grandfathers in the family support literature. More sensitive people call us, “grandparents,” even when they’re talking about grand dads, lest they be thought sexist. On the other hand, grandparenting is, in fact, often a two-person job. One of the topics we must address is nurturing a mutual understanding and cooperation with Grandma. It’s the old story that neither the husband nor the wife are islands unto themselves, and neither bear sole responsibility for failures. As Christian grandfathers, we must take up Christ’s cross unilaterally, accepting our responsibility to be Christ to both our wives and our greater families.

The problem we grand dads face is Grandma usually sets the tone of our relationship with our kids and their kids, and even their kids, if we live long enough. That issue begins with our younger selves, where Wifey holds the family reigns while Hubby does all the “manly” things like taking out the garbage, changing the oil, and occasionally even mowing the lawn. Too often, Hubby only joins in the family’s spiritual life at Wifey’s insistence, all the while thinking about the, “More Important,” manly duties, like keeping track of the latest scores and planning his next hunting trip.

Face it, guys, we’re preoccupied with trivial pursuits, self-centered and self-absorbed. Fortunately for us, our Heavenly Dad keeps His mind on the important stuff, like saving us, and keeping us in His Spirit. If we fail to follow His lead, it’s not because we aren’t good enough or otherwise qualified; we’re just too lazy to make time for obeying His expressed will.

I feel like standing tall, raising my sword, and yelling, “All who want Christ’s Way for the family, follow me!” Trouble is, I’m the last one you’d want to follow; I know His way as well as most, but fail in the following part. Maybe I should instead drop to my knees and cry out, “All who have failed our Lord and Savior, and failed your families by not loving them as Christ loves us, join me down here.” There’s no time like the present to bring revival to God’s called out ones, and it must begin with prayer. May we Christian grandfathers lead the way on our knees, ’cause that’s where the battle for the family begins and ends.

Utopia

Map of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia

Project Utopia; A Human Concept

Everyone hopes for a better place. Since 1516, when Sir Thomas More published his novel, Utopia, we’ve known what to call it. Many sociological and political movers and shakers in the six intervening centuries have tried to establish their own, “unique,” utopias, but every attempt went the way of all earthly paradises. One problem stands in the way of such ideal places: the dreaded “S” word, or the “D” word, and they aren’t the popular profanities that start with those letters. Sin, and the depravity that follows it, always intervene with even the best-laid human plans, programs and institutions, when we leave God out of the picture.

You may have noticed the bad reputation that religion is earning, even our beloved Christianity. That’s because even many religions or sects that claim to embrace Christ’s teachings and Spirit, don’t. Instead, they are the products of human pride and ambition, rather than of Christ’s Great Commission. and the love that He commands in His Word. Oh, they may have begun with the purest motives ever, but we … that’s you and I … too often let our carnality take over. A (literally) dead giveaway is when we set goals and targets for our ministries that aren’t strictly Scriptural. Those might include targeting a mean income for a church’s constituency, establishing “seeker-friendly” programs, and vetting perspective members by their appearance, style or occupation. But, of course your church doesn’t do that, does it?

A Religious Utopia (at least for those who pass the plate)

I said everyone hopes for a better place, because when we don’t have hope, despair takes over our lives. The New King James Version New Testament lists sixty-three instances of “hope,” fifty-three of which are in the epistles. God obviously considers hope an important idea. You’ll find the best known of those passages in Romans, chapter eight:

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.

Christ-followers live in the only reliable hope of a “utopia,” and that is not a place, but a relationship with the only One who is able to deliver far more than we could ever hope for. Never stop seeking that “Utopia.”