Caution! Lone wolves are always hungry.

Often I forget that sin is sin; despite our personal attitudes about sinful acts, there are no little sins or big sins. As I grew up Catholic, I embraced the teaching that mortal sins send us directly to hell when we croak (Do not pass GO! Do not collect 200 indulgences!), but venial sins only buy us a stay in purgatory. I suspect that’s the source of the church’s commonly held belief that there is a hierarchy of sins, and that God, in His Infinite Grace, will wink at our minor mistakes if we don’t majorly foul up.

God gave us an important conditional promise in Apostle John’s first letter to the church, bracketed by two statements that are essential to properly understanding the promise:

1Jn 1:8-10 NASB
(8) If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous 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.

Please note that he didn’t discriminate between mortal and venial sins; we must confess all sin if we are to gain His forgiveness.

Perhaps I need to define the word, “Sin.” A dictionary might say, “Sin is a conscious transgression of God’s law.” As with most simple statements, however, its true meaning is anything but simple. Many volumes attempting to define that apparently simple three-letter word collect dust on library shelves, but I find another simple statement presents a principle that covers all sin: “I” is at the center of sin. Coincidentally, “I” is also at the center of pride. Think about it.

If we care enough about spending eternity with God to tread the sawdust trail, it only follows that we will care enough to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12). I love that passage because it apparently contradicts the doctrine of grace, and because I know God’s Word never contradicts itself I feel compelled to either discover how it fits in, or simply take it on faith. That bothers me not in the least, because much of His Word seems incomprehensible to individual Christ-followers. Through His Holy Spirit, different passages are understood by, and speak to, different people. In fact, one important purpose of Christ’s Body is to corporately discern God’s full counsel. Lone-wolf believers are nearly always unbalanced in their personal beliefs because they lack that broader insight into God’s Word.

There, I finally worked around to my title for this piece.

Ouch!

In the following excerpt from The Problem of Pain, Uncle Jack (C.S. Lewis, for the uninitiated) plows a bit too close to my own fence, and I hope, yours as well:

Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. For about a hundred years we have so concentrated on one of the virtues—“kindness” or mercy—that most of us do not feel anything except kindness to be really good or anything but cruelty to be really bad. Such lopsided ethical developments are not uncommon, and other ages too have had their pet virtues and curious insensibilities. And if one virtue must be cultivated at the expense of all the rest, none has a higher claim than mercy. . . . The real trouble is that “kindness” is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that “his heart’s in the right place” and “he wouldn’t hurt a fly,” though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy: it is not so easy, on the same grounds, to imagine oneself temperate, chaste, or humble. You cannot be kind unless you have all the other virtues. If, being cowardly, conceited and slothful, you have never yet done a fellow creature great mischief, that is only because your neighbour’s welfare has not yet happened to conflict with your safety, self-approval, or ease.

Folks think I’m a nice guy, an impression I don’t try hard enough to discourage. Instead, I’m a counterfeit, a fake.

“What’s wrong with being thought of as nice?” you may well ask.

“Nothing,” I may well answer, if I weren’t a Christ-follower. You see, anyone can be nice with the proper motivation; maybe she’s singularly gorgeous, he holds your promotion in his clammy hands, they’re well-connected, or you just want to be liked. Under such circumstances your niceness is for your own sake.

Uncle Jack pointed out a painful truth, “… though in fact he has (or I have) never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature.” Here’s a personal example: I know a sister in the Lord who possesses both inner and outer beauty. I used to help her with the yard work on her large, corner lot. My motivation was both selfless and selfish, er, mostly selfish, as I wanted to be close to her and make brownie-points. Was I kind? Or was I simply cunning?

Apostle John, in his first letter to his children in the faith, said a lot about godly love.
1Jn 2:15-16 NASB
(15) Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
(16) For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

While that is all truth, allow me to focus on, “the boastful pride of life.” When I actively seek to be liked, I indulge in that sort of pride; I think I’m a nice guy and want others to think of me in the same way. That has nothing to do with love of my Father God or any of His children, and is instead, worldly. For a Christ-follower, that is a solid no-no.

Some may feel that I am overthinking this issue, but if my concern brings me closer to embracing godly attitudes I’ll overthink everything I read in the Scriptures.

Rest

Jesus said, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV) While that is one of the first passages kids learn in Sunday school, it’s one of the last that we adults put into practice.

We normally think of those labors and burdens as related to our worldly concerns, like supporting our families or taking part in civic affairs. At least, that’s the way I’ve always thought of it. Today, however, an alternative application occurred to me that, though somewhat novel to me, is probably old hat to many of my brethren. But I’ll tell you my bright idea anyway.

I look at the stranglehold that the religious authorities held on the people of Jesus’ time. He said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” (Matthew 23:2-4 NKJV) To me that describes legalistic religion in all its forms, both then and now. Jesus also said concerning the religious authorities, in Matthew 15:7-9 “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
9 And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”

One problem with legalism is, human traditions and rules become worldly burdens to those who are trying to please God through them. So it’s all the same; whether the works and burdens are worldly, or religious, they are not of God. Our Sabbath rest is the Lord Jesus Christ, who will give us rest for our souls.

I Abhor Myself (Job 42:5-6)

MTJames:

Be sure to see the end of this repost. The song in the YouTube video is a powerful reminder of God’s excellent faithfulness.

Originally posted on The Vine Vigil:

Have you read the Book of Job?  I’ve read it dozens of times, and the part that always stands out to me is this –

Job 42:5-6

I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee.  forgiveness

Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

Day after day, I fail Him, and day after day, He shows indescribable mercy.  The secret pride, the self complacency, the surreptitious coveting, the sluggishness, O God – please – please –  help me.  And He does.  Again and again and again.  Again and again when I don’t deserve it.  Again and again when I forget Him and allow the cares of this world to consume me.  There He is, so gracious, so merciful, so longsuffering. 

How can He love me – still.  He is so wonderful, my puny vocabulary is insufficient to praise…

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Isaiah 55:6 Conviction

A New Day

This morning Pastor Luke preached on Jesus’ parable of the ten servants, where their master gave them each one mina, which is thought to be about three-months’ wages, or about $3,800 in today’s economy. That was enough to invest profitably. You know the story of three of those servants; when their master returned, one servant handed him $38,000, one handed him $19,000, but the last servant gave him the original $3,800. You know how that went over with their master. The moral is, “For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (verse 26)

Though many truths reside in that one parable, the one that applied to me was, no one has nothing, so God demands from each of us, regardless how poor we claim to be, some demonstration of our stewardship of His blessings. To say we have nothing to give back to God insults Him terribly, as at very least He gave us His Son Jesus to bear our sin-guilt upon Calvary’s cross. We live because Jesus died in our place, so we owe Him our very lives—that includes all that our lives produce. Yet, even though He is entitled to our all, He asks only that we show faithful stewardship of our lives, which is to love as He loves us.

That message convicted me of my laxness in bearing the fruit of what He planted within me—and that’s even this blog’s theme. But when Pastor Luke provided an opportunity to respond to God’s conviction, I sat still, putting off the business I need to conduct with my Lord.

That’s where Isaiah 55:6 comes in. I found it when I opened my Verse of the Day feed from BibleGateway, and it goes like this: Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near. As soon as I saw it I thought of my bum planted firmly on Cornerstone church’s padded pew. So, this is the lesson I learned: Whenever you or I feel conviction from God, we need to open up our accounts for His examination. Where repentance is due, we must do it with humble sincerity. Where restitution is due, we must pay back what we owe. Where confession and forgiveness is needed, we must confess our sin to those we sinned against and beg their forgiveness. But we can’t take care of divine business on our own. We need God’s help to humble ourselves and do what He asks. That is what Isaiah meant by, Call upon Him while He is near.

Father, I call upon you right now, asking for the strength, the grace, the humility, to act on the wisdom you showed me today. And I ask this in the authority of Jesus’ precious name.

He Did It!

1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Of course, you’ve read this passage before, as I have, but this time it called out to me. God’s promises are real! I know that because 1 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us,” and God’s Word never fails, any more than He can fail. When God says, “… to the glory of God through us,” He is telling us that we bring glory to Him by believing and living out His promises. That’s all I want to do, all I was born to do. Anything less and I will have lived in vain, despite all the wonderful (yeah, right!) things I’ve done.

Even as a young Catholic I knew God’s Word was true, and The Truth, just as Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through Me,” singular, exclusive, absolute. And sixty-eight years of life haven’t changed my certainty of that eternal fact. “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

Nuts! (politely speaking) to all the naysayers and nitpicking “brethren,” who strain at a gnat, just to swallow a camel. Who cares whether I’m a Calvinist or Wesleyan/Arminian, or a pre, post, or pan millennialist? Jesus died for me, and I love Him for it.

An Offer I Can’t Refuse?

I needed a Bible verse, so I hopped on my mouse and traveled over to BibleGateway.com, found my sought-after Bible verse, and was satisfied. But I found something else as well: Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

I want it! But they want $25.99 (that’s a penny less than $26 if you hadn’t noticed) for the privilege of using it on BibleGateway.

“But it’s really sick,” I explain to Inner Mother, “It works right alongside BibleGateway’s Bible text.”

“You already have Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary to play with,” answers Inner Mother, “Why do you need another one, when you rarely use the one you have?”

“But Moooommm,” I whine, “I already use BibleGateway a lot, and it’d be so convenient …”

Inner Mom just gives me That Look (I don’t envy her view.).

To buy, or not to buy. That is the question (sorry, Shakespeare). Buying stuff is not a noble pursuit, if said stuff only meets the need to possess stuff. I can’t imagine how many times I’ve bought cool stuff, simply because a couple of unassigned bucks happened to reside in my pocket. Where is that cool stuff now? Why, I can’t even remember what it was, let alone where it might be hiding.

God reminds me, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Nuff said?

“Our Lord,” Versus, “My Lord”

An example of God’s unfathomable creation, this tangle of brain cells can produce genius.

A devotional I read this morning referred to, “Our Lord,” and oddly enough, that familiar turn of phrase seemed terribly impersonal. But when I substituted, “My Lord,” the whole statement seemed more intimate. That distinction may simply be due to the odd wiring inside my noggin, but it seemed significant enough to mention. I wonder if anyone else can see the difference.

Then there’s Isaiah 43:25, which follows a section where the eternal, self-existent One reminds his people about their lax devotion to him.

I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. (Isaiah 43:25 KJV)

How can the I AM blot out his people’s sins for his own sake? Seems like he does that gracious work for our sake.

While that is true, I can see the benefit to him; because he is love (1 John 4:16), he doesn’t want any of his precious ones to perish, but for all of us to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). How does that benefit God? Think of how you feel when your children declare their love for you. Though you sacrifice your convenience for their sake, when they honor you, it feels like all you’ve done is completely worth the trouble. Simply put, you rejoice in their love. The same goes for your heavenly Father, who spells love, o-b-e-d-i-e-n-c-e. So we obey God for his sake.

There! I said my piece.

I would like to recommend a blog that I just followed: No Apologies Allowed — Weekly apologetics cartoons for the faithful, the faithless, and the full-of-its. The cartoon above is from a post titled, “Are our protestations prepping us for judgment?” I submitted a lengthy comment to that post, and to improve the chances of your reading it, here it is:

You wrote, “Yet just as you can’t ignore natural laws and get away unharmed, so, too, can we not ignore the moral law within our consciences and expect to avoid the consequences.”

I maintain that, while moral law is within our consciences, God’s immutable spiritual law is independent of conscience. One of those spiritual laws is the Law of Sowing and Reaping, which works both in the spiritual and the natural plain. Whether we try to defy God, or gravity, we will reap the consequences.

Regarding the question of judgment for the church’s sin, Jesus bore the world’s sin-punishment on the cross; he paid the price to buy us back from Satan, to whom we individually sold ourselves when we first sinned. But Hebrews 10:26-31 (Darby) tells us, “For where we sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains any sacrifice for sins,
(27) but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and heat of fire about to devour the adversaries.
(28) Anyone that has disregarded Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses:
(29) of how much worse punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and esteemed the blood of the covenant, whereby he has been sanctified, common, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
(30) For we know him that said, To me belongs vengeance; *I* will recompense, saith the Lord: and again, The Lord shall judge his people.
(31) It is a fearful thing falling into the hands of the living God.”

We live under the covenant of grace, and God’s grace is indeed infinite regarding our human frailties. But I’m not sure how far God stretches his grace toward those who usurp his authority, propagate false teachings and presumptuously sin (deliberately test God’s grace). Attempting to walk the boundary between the forgivable and the unforgivable is a dangerous game pursued only by those who do not love God. But those who do stand squarely on the solid Rock of our faith, the incarnate Word of God.

Thing is, those who argue about what is or isn’t sin, or what you can get away with as a Christian are missing the gospel’s point entirely. The writer of Hebrews said: Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: (Hebrews 12:14 NKJV) If God told his church to pursue holiness, he can’t have been referring to Christ’s holiness imputed to us because we already have that. Apostle Paul wrote: Having therefore these promises (that if we separate ourselves from those who are worldly, God will be to us a Father, and we shall be to him sons and daughters), beloved, let us purify ourselves from every pollution of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear. (2 Corinthians 7:1 Darby) The problem with today’s church is we simply do not fear God. As long as that is true, we will never glorify God and our praises are worse-than useless.

C.S. Lewis on Bereavement

Joy and Jack

14 July 1960 in a letter to Peter Bide

Joy died at 10 o’clock last night in the [hospital]. I was alone with her at the moment, but she was not conscious. I had never seen the moment of natural death before. It was far less dreadful than I had expected—indeed there’s nothing to it. Pray for her soul. I have prayed twice daily of late for us four together—you and Margy and me and Joy. I shall continue for you two.

I can’t understand my loss yet and hardly (except for brief but terrible moments) feel more than a kind of bewilderment, almost a psychological paralysis. A bit like the first moments after being hit by a shell.

I’d like to meet. Perhaps I could come up to town some day when you are in town and take you to lunch at the Athenaeum. For I am—oh God that I were not—very free now. One doesn’t realise in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy one must be tied. God bless all three of us.

That Uncle Jack felt much as I did two years and nine months ago at once surprises me, and doesn’t. I’m sure that Lewis would agree with me as to the ambiguous emotions that I yet experience when recalling Nancy’s death. As soon as I think I’m finally over the loss, something happens, like the above excerpt from Lewis’ correspondence, that trounces upon my still-sensitive wound. In fact, that is exactly what such loss is, as when a major organ is ripped from your body. It isn’t a surgically precise incision, either. Rather, it reminds me of one of the Indiana Jones flicks, where this evil, demonic priest reaches into the chest of his sacrificial victim, grabs the man’s still-beating heart, and slowly withdraws it. Only in my case, my heart wasn’t removed, but the intangible essence of the woman to whom I gave my heart.

So, why do I want to repeat that process. Why do I pray for God to place another woman in my life, a kindred spirit with whom I can share all of my trivial, seamy, traumatic, joyful, and exciting thoughts, and the moments in time that stimulate them? As much as I dislike some aspects of my temperament and thought-life, I need to share them with one who is willing to love me as doggedly as does my Savior, to whom I can be accountable, and who will give me that loyal boot in the tush that I need so badly. Yet, through my failed attempts at meeting that need I’ve learned to allow God to search for such an exceptional person. What he wants for me is infinitely better than anything, or anyone, that I could flush out of life’s bramble bushes.

Father God, in the name of your only begotten Son Jesus, I ask you for whatever you deem best for me. Though I feel the need for a woman meet for me, and feel it badly, I yield to your infinite wisdom in that, and every other matter in my life. Your love for me is unfathomable, as you gave your Son over to the cross’s curse, just to wash away my sin and reconcile me to yourself, so I trust your every judgment in every area of my life. 

I thank you, Father, for hearing and answering my prayer in any way that you see fit. As your handmaiden responded to you, “Let it be done unto me according to your word.”