Retrospective Christianity

Who would think that I, as into tech-stuff as I am, would pitch hindsight for our walk of faith?

David McCasland, of Our Daily Bread, suggests that, “God’s guidance in the past gives courage for the future.” And he supported his thesis with Jeremiah 6:13-20, where the prophet decried his people’s greed and false dealing, religious flippancy and lack of shame. He could have been addressing many in today’s church (but not me, of course).

Lest God would be forced to punish and overthrow them:

16 Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Does that mean we need to go back to the Mosaic Law and abide by all the statutes and ordinances? If you think so, you haven’t studied God’s New Covenant, delivered through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus’ blood freed us from the law’s tyranny so we could walk in newness of life—God’s divine life.

Does that mean we should walk in nostalgia, worshiping the “good old days?” Remember, longing for the past is the most curious sort of lust and idolatry, in that its hunger and thirst can never be quenched. Besides, it can make you unresponsive to today’s needs that God wants to address through you.

Living retrospectively means we learn from the past to prepare for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And we have so many ways of doing that: Of course, the Bible is where we start, as it tells us of God’s historical dealings with his people through his commands, and his responses to their depravity. Then we must learn from past saints, both those who lived by faith under the Old Covenant, and those who lived by faith in Christ (not only canonized saints, but all those sanctified by faith in Jesus), who devoted their lives to rightly dividing the Word of truth. And finally we must learn from the faithful saints of today, the elders who have proved their spiritual zeal for their Savior.

Living retrospectively also means we must learn from our own victories and defeats, with joy in the hope of the ultimate victory that Jesus won for us at such great cost.

If that means we have to look back with blinders, like a race horse that tends to get distracted and stumble, put on those spiritual blinders so you will neither long for past depravity, nor submit to condemnation for what is already under Jesus’ blood.

In your retrospection, never live for the past. Learn from it.

Pitfalls

On Monday, June second, Our Daily Bread presented, “The Careful Walk,” in which Dave Branon built on Ephesians 5:15 to show that we must be careful where we step in life.

For Christians, this material world is enemy territory, ruled by the prince of the power of the air. We should be among the most circumspect of people, for as long as we walk in these mortal bodies we’re the enemy’s target. One of his best strategies is to use his darkness (lies) to confuse us; as he is the father of lies, he’s so good at it that he blinds even the most careful of Christ-followers occasionally.

The best defense against darkness is a great flashlight with batteries that never wear out. God was good enough to provide us with both a lamp for our feet and a light for our path, all in one.

Today’s warfare threatens us with land mines, IEDs, snipers, and biological weapons, but the first century threat was arrows and swords. That’s why Apostle Paul told us to don God’s whole armor, that we might stand against the devil’s schemes.

So we see three essential aspects of survival in our enemy’s territory: Carefully assemble and put on the armor God has provided, walk circumspectly, and don’t forget to use God’s inexhaustible flashlight when your next step seems a bit shadowy. Or use it anyway, as natural light is often not as good as it seems. Climbing out of life’s pits can be really hard.

Of Shepherds and Sheep

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John 10:14-15 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

At the time of Jesus, Jewish shepherds kept their flocks in communal sheepfolds—normally stone-walled enclosures. These sheepfolds would house many flocks overnight. In the morning, the shepherd was allowed to enter the sheepfold. As he walked and called among the mixed flocks, only his own sheep would respond to him. Hearing and recognizing the shepherd’s voice, his sheep would follow him out of the sheepfold to the pasture. (Our Daily Bread)

This obviously speaks of the sheep’s response, developed by months or years of operant conditioning, as the shepherd consistently leads them to food and water when he calls them by name. It prompts them to run from thieves and predators because they are not that one shepherd the sheep trust. It functions the same way in the church; those who know Jesus, and through him the Father, will be far less likely to fall for false teachers, or the lies they propagate.

The old platitude, “to know him is to love him,” applies to Christians’ relationship with God. His Holy Spirit guides the process, beginning with conviction of our sin—it only takes one—and that “mustard seed” of faith that can grow to move our mountains of self-will toward his purposes. Knowing the Good Shepherd intimately, and enjoying his love and protection, is really a beautiful thing.

I Deserve More!

Does my title sound perhaps a smidge self-centered? Even greedy? Not really; no one in their right mind would want what I deserve.

Joe Stowell, writing for Our Daily Bread, titled his piece for today, “More Than We Deserve.” Oddly, considering my own title for this post, I agree with him completely. We’re just attacking the issue from different sides.

Brother Stowell looked at deserving from the perspective of blessing, while my perspective for this post is that of punishment, or at the very least, reaping what I’ve sown. In fact, God’s infinite grace shields me from a world of hurt, and nothing that I am or can do exempts me from eternal separation from him. But instead, he offered me reconciliation, relationship, and fellowship through his Son Jesus.

If you think you deserve more of anything but hardship and heartache, get off your pedestal. You might want to take your eyes off yourself, and take another look at God’s Word, the Bible.

“Sweet Fragrance”

Our Daily Bread chose “Sweet Fragrance” for its topic, with reference to 2 Corinthians 2:15.

Triumphal Procession

(14) But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (15) For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, (16) to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

Cindy Hess Kasper’s pivotal statement was, “So, what if our lives were a fragrance that attracted people to God?” Back to verse 15: “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” Our work—our commission—is to glorify God both to the tender and to the calloused. To the spiritually corrupt who proudly stand as the walking dead, our gospel, our holiness, is the stench of death. But to life-seekers who are tender, our gospel is the aroma of life, and our holiness demonstrates what that true life looks like.

So, we should not be surprised when some greet our gospel-overtures with revulsion, even hostility. But God perceives our efforts as the “sweet fragrance” of our love for the lost, regardless how we perceive the results.

Ultimate Power!

Our Daily Bread today was about power, or lack thereof. David McCasland used the massive, 2012 northeastern seaboard power outage to launch into his theme of God’s always available power. He closed with the first stanza of Isaac Watts’ hymn, O God, Our Help In Ages Past. I looked up the lyrics, and I especially liked the last stanza.

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
be thou our guide while troubles last,
and our eternal home!

Classic hymns blend the writers’ personal experiences with with well-thought-out Bible doctrine. This hymn, for example, remembers God’s historical dealings with his people, both Israel and the church, then expresses the hope we have in him for the future.

The second line of this stanza aptly reflects Apostle Paul’s view of hope: Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees? (Romans 8:24b) Only faith, not wishful thinking, founds this true hope: the true faith that comes only as God’s gift to his elect saints.

The third line recognizes God’s presence in his Holy Spirit while our troubles last. And they will most certainly last as long as we occupy these troublesome, corrupting bodies of flesh.

The last line states a truth that I, and I suspect most Christ-followers, miss when we think of our eternal home. Heaven isn’t a discrete place as much as it is the Person of our self-existing, eternal God. Though our flesh conceals his glory, Jesus’ words aptly state our relationship to the Father: In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:20)

Grasp God’s Power

When I think of the Lord Jesus’ power to help me through life’s trials, remembering who he truly is gives me more of an appreciation of his ultimate power that he made available to us. Jesus was, is, and always shall be, God’s infinite, eternal, creative Word in human form.

John 1:1-4
(1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
(2) He was in the beginning with God.
(3) All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
(4) In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

“All things” is a concept we finite, temporal human beings cannot grasp, as our pitiful science has hardly scratched the surface of what exists. Talk about power! And that infinite power’s Source abides within every Christ-follower.

Some folks disparage “power” as a corrupting force, which it is, when it’s source is human pride and ambition. But God’s power is incorruptible. As God is love, his power is only available through, and for, his love.

My question is, what are you and I going to do with Christ’s power? Will we continue ignoring its potential? Or will we face it as the fact that it is, and use it for his glory? It’s my choice, and it’s your choice.

Well? Don’t just sit there! Live for Christ, and for his glory.

Blessing of Suffering For Christ

Today’s Daily Manna from the Net gave me 1 Peter 4:14-17. I went to Bible Gateway to learn the passage’s context and had to search back into chapter three, verse eight, to pick up the thread.

8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
10 For,
“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Here is both the what and the why of Christian living. The what is the first verse-and-a-half, while the why covers the balance. The next verse asks an important question:

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?

The next few verses answer in detail.

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Verse 14′s blessing comes from the supernatural peace we enjoy when we know and trust God’s faithfulness, not to deliver us from suffering, but to work all things for your ultimate good. Verses 14 and 15 are completely unreasonable demands for anyone who doesn’t possess God’s Holy Spirit.

What does “honor Christ the Lord as holy” mean? Holiness is separation from the corrupt, world system. So, honoring him for being holy means much more than simply praising him for his holiness, which in itself is a good thing. It means we must fight for him in spiritual, not worldly, ways. How? By always developing and maintaining readiness to defend your hope in Christ to anyone who challenges it, but with respectful gentleness as befits a Christ-follower.

Why must we fight Christ’s battles with gentleness and respect? Why can’t we argue as the world does, with sarcasm and name-calling?

Because that’s not Jesus’ way!

Aren’t we supposed to follow his example? Didn’t he whip the Temple money-changers and call the religious rulers “white-washed tombs?”

When he did those things, he used infinite restraint. He could have far more easily blasted them with fire from heaven, as his disciples wanted to do to the Samaritan village, or sliced and diced them with the double-edged sword of his mouth. He is, after all, the very Word of God that spoke the universe into existence. He called us, not necessarily to do what he did, but to do what he wants. And he revealed his will for us through the pens of his anointed Bible-writers.

Apostle Peter mentioned in the above passage, “good behavior in Christ,” not simply good behavior. The world will laud those who perform good works in the flesh, but doing them in Christ raises a lightening rod for criticism and, yes, persecution.

This theme continues in chapter four:

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And
“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Verse thirteen implies a somewhat less-than joyful response when Christ’s glory is revealed, from those who don’t share his sufferings. The next verse paints a picture of a sort of spiritual umbrella when we suffer as a Christian: “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” That’s one umbrella you can’t buy at Target.

Verses fifteen through eighteen form one thought: Don’t bring suffering on yourself by doing wrong, and this doesn’t mean, “Don’t get caught.” The list of sins in verse fifteen includes meddling, which is the “approved” sin we find way too often in churches. Of course, meddlers view their sin as simply enforcing God’s will and standards, and helping those who are done wrong. If such religious folks want so badly to see right done, why do they ignore all the Scripture passages against taking up someone else’s offense against an assumed, dastardly doer?

Verses seventeen and eighteen drive it home. You could say they are the “penalty phase” of the trial. If they haven’t jumped out to grab you, maybe you’d better read them again.

Verse nineteen provides a last word of encouragement, if we “suffer according to God’s will.”

The Sin of Partiality

Breakfast and dishes done, I settled down to Our Daily Bread, and was rewarded by Marvin Williams’ treatment of “Christian” prejudice. I placed that in quotes because Christ-followers aren’t prejudiced in any way. He wrote:

A 2010 survey by Newsweek contained some startling statistics: 57 percent of hiring managers believe an unattractive (but qualified) job candidate would have a harder time getting hired; 84 percent of managers said their bosses would hesitate before hiring a qualified older candidate; 64 percent of hiring managers said they believe companies should be allowed to hire people based on appearance. All are clear examples of unacceptable prejudice.Prejudice is not new. It had crept into the early church, and James confronted it head-on. With prophetic grit and a pastor’s heart, he wrote: “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality” (James 2:1). James gave an example of this type of prejudice—favoring the rich and ignoring the poor (vv.2-4). This was inconsistent with holding faith in Jesus without partiality (v.1), betrayed the grace of God (vv.5-7), violated the law of love (v.8), and was sinful (v.9). The answer to partiality is following the example of Jesus: loving your neighbor as yourself.

We fight the sin of prejudice when we let God’s love for us find full expression in the way we love and treat each other.

I think Brother Williams soft-pedaled his message just a bit, though the full truth lies between his lines. The New Testament includes few clearer commands than, My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. Partiality is arbitrary favoritism or preferential treatment. You naturally prefer friends and loved ones over all the others; you can’t change how you feel, but you can choose how you act on those emotions.

You’re likely aware of your reactions to others’ appearance: whether they dress and accessorize well, or are well-groomed. But how do you react to those who practice poor personal hygiene and grooming, or who have obviously lived a hard, worldly lifestyle. What if they smell of cigarette smoke or booze. Do you shun them as low-lifes or otherwise treat them as morally inferior?

If they show up at church in that condition you can count on one thing: they want or need something. Though they’ve responded to that material want or need, you know they actually need Someone who will meet their every need, felt or unfelt. You also know that Jesus died for them, just as he did for you.

Of course you’d never say it, but when you behold that kind of people you think, “I wasn’t that bad off when I came to Christ.” Does that mean you were less of a sinner than they are, or that you weren’t “evil” like they are? I’ll admit that’s an extreme attitude, but none-the-less quite common. Is it your attitude, or that of your brethren?

Romans 3:23, as well as many other passages in both the Old and New Testaments tell us that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. There are also many passages that frankly state that sin is evil, and that it separates us from God. I wonder if that’s sufficient motivation for an attitude adjustment.

Our Daily Bread—On Listening

Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. —Ecclesiastes 5:2

Everything we do is before God. Whether they are thoughts or words, intentions or actions, God is our witness. He not only knows our thoughts and words, he also listens to them … carefully.

Julie Link, in today’s Our Daily Bread, asserted the importance of listening, to God, to others, and to yourself. Of course, listening to yourself is not the same as the other two, which is paying attention to their ideas, message, and instruction, but in the sense of anticipating and screening what will come out of your mouth. Thus, Ecclesiastes 5:2.

Mrs. Link made one particularly interesting point: “Whenever we speak out of fear, anger, ignorance, or pride—even if what we say is true—those who listen will hear more than our words.” Those are the four arrows that kill communication. Very few people are so dense that they can’t sense the dynamics behind your words, and if they hear any of those four things they will dismiss your words as self-serving, or just plain wacko.

We’ve all known “Christians” who were not very nice people. Whether from ignorance, or insensitivity, they seem to have no concept of their impact on others, or if they do, they just don’t care. I say, “they,” but as Apostle Paul said, “I’m the chief of sinners.” I used to think I came across as a “nice guy,” but God had to use family and friends to open my eyes to my effect on them. There was no easy way they could break the truth to me that I wasn’t as nice as I wanted to believe, and I still feel bad about placing them in that uncomfortable position. Though I listened to them, asked God’s, and their, forgiveness, and repented of that sin, I have a long way to go before God gives me mastery over it. At least by God’s help, through my family and friends, I’m headed in the right direction.

No Small Thing

Today’s Our Daily Bread shared Jesus’ grief when his friend Lazarus died. Wouldn’t you think that Jesus’ foreknowledge of Lazarus’ death, and his resurrection, would have shielded Jesus from this death’s emotional impact? Why, then, did Jesus, the Author of life, weep at Lazarus’ grave?

I think Jesus felt this intense grief because he is the Author of life. What mixed feelings the Creator must have felt when he breathed into Adam the breath of life, knowing even then that his beloved creature would sin and have to die. But he also knew that not only Adam and his descendants would suffer death; the Word’s plan of salvation required that even the man he would one day become, the virgin-born Jesus of Nazareth, would pay the ultimate price for sin he would never commit.

Life is God’s love-gift. Because God is love, he created mankind in his image so he could bless us through fellowship with himself. When we see someone holding a conversation with their reflection, we assume they’re bonkers. And even more so if they kiss and caress their reflection. Since God isn’t crazy, he has no use for a simple reflection of himself, so he gave us the one divine attribute that makes us unique: personal volition, or free choice. But without alternatives, there is no choice. So God issued just one Executive Order: Do not eat of the tree in the garden’s center, or even go near it. History tells the tale of their choice through endless accounts of mayhem, much of it committed in the name of religion. If that’s not the definition of irony, what is?

Death is the great, sin-born tragedy that rains down on the just and the unjust. We all pay that price because we all share the guilt. But God’s Word speaks of a second death, that makes our inevitable physical death seem like a small thing.

For those who faithfully follow Christ, having realized their depravity, begged his forgiveness from a contrite heart, and repented of their self-centered lives, physical death is indeed a small thing; it’s just the doorway to eternity with God, where we will fully enjoy the divine fellowship for which he created us.