Faith’s Other Side

What’s bright is not always beneficial.

In today’s Our Daily Bread devotional, Mart DeHaan wrote about trusting God, and included a short poem by that famous Greek author, Anonymous.

Trust when your skies are darkening,
Trust when your light grows dim,
Trust when the shadows gather,
Trust and look up to Him.

Sometimes our faith gets turned on end when God seems to work against us, rather than for us. If in those difficult times we want to, as Apostle Paul wrote, “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” we have to check out the the faith-coin’s other side. If you haven’t guessed that hidden message, read Anononymous’ poem again. That’s right; it’s trust!

You’ll find trust easy to grasp when your world is progressing swimmingly, but you may find it more illusive when you feel like you’re up to your eyeballs in piranha. So, what’s the key to flipping that faith-coin? The psalmist knew the secret:

It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes.
(Psalm 119:71)

Find your “statutes” in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. I’m not talking about the Ten Commandments and other laws found in the Torah, but the godly principles that apply to us as directly as they did to God’s people Israel. That verse from Psalm 119 spells out God’s purpose in allowing affliction in your life; if you have founded it on the Rock, affliction drives you to His Word for faith-building. If faith were a building, trust would be the roof that keeps you dry and safe in the worst storms. As long as I’m pushing metaphors to the limit, 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 gives you a Bill of Materials for your house.

Oh, you may think the pounding rain, the gale-force winds, the torrential flood, and the thunder and lightening will get to you, but as faith brings trust, trust brings, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, (that) will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

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.”

Another View of Creation

I just discovered an oddity: a Christian scientist. Not an adherent of Christian Science, but a scientist who, though once and atheist, is now a Christian. I discovered him through a video titled, “Francis Collins Denies Intelligent Design.” Like me, you have probably never heard of Dr. Francis Collins. If you click here you can learn why what he says is important.

Dr. Collins’ position on the origin of the universe won’t sit well with the Evangelical Christians that I know; he says creation and evolution are perfectly compatible, and that science and faith are parallel world views with little bearing on one another. While his position is reasonable, I’m not convinced that God’s eternal Word created the universe through a Big Bang. He certainly could have created the universe with the appearance of age, like the young-Earthers preach, but I have to wonder why. Here is Collins’ rationalle for his position:

Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time. God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings. After evolution, in the fullness of time, had prepared a sufficiently advanced neurological house (the brain), God gifted human with free will and with a soul. Thus humans received a special status, “made in God’s image.” We humans used our free will to disobey God, leading to our realization of being in violation of the Moral Law. Thus we were estranged from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.

If you find this presentation reprehensible, I challenge you to act like a Berean and search the Scriptures to see whether or not these things are true. We all have a great body of beliefs that we have received through our church culture, and we need to know, from the Bible, why we believe them.

As I alluded above, I don’t buy it, especially the human part of his story. The Bible clearly states that God made Adam from the dust of the ground; we didn’t evolve with the other animals, from the same single-cell organisms that floated around in the primordial soup. As for the literal, six twenty-four hour days of creation, while I readily admit that God could have done the job that quickly, I need to see more Biblical evidence to arrive there. His ways are not our ways, and similarly, His understanding is not our understanding. I think the part of Genesis 2 that catches me is verses four and five: This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. The word for “day” is the same one used in verse one and all the other references to days of creation. Verse four uses “day” as a period of time during which God created the heavens and the earth.

Feel free to weigh in on the debate, without name-calling and emotional rants. Show me book, chapter, and verse for your position. If I’m wrong, I want to know why.

Combover Religion

A young fellow with whom I once worked teased me about my combover hair style. I should place “hair style” in quotes, which I just did, because I haven’t bothered with such vanities since my early ’40s. It’s not that I didn’t care about my appearance, it simply wouldn’t have done do any good. To make appreciable inroads on my graying hair and growing paunch, I would have been forced to pursue unthinkable means, such as dying my hair, and (shudder) exercising. I still have hair more or less covering my pate, but now it’s practically all white. And my paunch? Well, let’s not go there.

In titling this piece, “Combover Religion,” I’m not commenting on the brothers’ hair styles. Rather, my statement involves covering up the “bald spots” in our faith, experience, and behavior. Unlike my head of hair, we, the church, aren’t especially transparent about our shortcomings. This isn’t about our hidden sins, if there were such things; I’m talking about our faith-challenges. You know, our little disappointments with God and the brethren, our battles with excesses, and our inflated testimony.

Do you feel as though your brethren wouldn’t esteem you as highly if you revealed your personal glitches? If we were to go by that concern’s frequency, not a one of your faith-family could take exception to your crooked halo. (I could replace that twenty-three word sentence with, “nobody’s perfect,” but it wouldn’t be as colorful.) One foundational problem with most of our churches is, we fail to practice what Jesus preached.

Don’t get me wrong; not all churches are ruled by pretenders. In fact, the body with whom I fellowship consistently supports and helps those who aren’t the picture of personified sainthood. We aren’t perfect, and don’t expect perfection in anyone else. If the folks at your church come across as perfect, you need to find another place to fellowship, where the folks accept one another without “combovers.” To view all the “one another” passages in the church’s Instruction Book, click here.

C.S. Lewis on Christ Alone

Uncle Jack’s critics call him a universalist because of such statements as, “… we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.” If that were the extent of his statement on the issue I would join his critics in trying to discredit him, but it’s not, and I won’t. To establish the full context of his statement, here is an excerpt from his, Mere Christianity:

Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him. But in the meantime, if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself. Christians are Christ’s body, the organism through which He works. Every addition to that body enables Him to do more. If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them. Cutting off a man’s fingers would be an odd way of getting him to do more work.

The main Scriptural reason for criticizing Lewis’ statement above is Apostle Peter’s declaration recounted in Acts 3-4:12, “This One is the Stone counted worthless [despised] by you the builders, the One who has come to be into the Head of the Corner (Psa. 118:22); and there is salvation in no other One, for neither is there any other name under Heaven having been given among men by which we must be saved.” (LITV)

This brings us to the inevitable confrontation with that dreaded word: theology. Two main schools of thought exist among evangelical Christians: Calvinism, and Wesleyan-Arminianism. Please note the -ism behind each of those titles that mutates ideas into institutions. Over-simplified, Calvinists believe that God chose His children before creation, and somehow, those “elect” will hear the gospel of Christ and believe unto salvation; it’s, “sorry, Charlie,” for everyone else. The Wesleyan-Arminian (Holiness) school of thought declares that anyone who, by their own free will, hears Christ’s gospel, believes it, repents of his sin and bears the fruit of God’s Spirit, is one of God’s elect by His foreknowledge. Both views ignore or rationalize Bible passages that seem to support the opposing side.

I heartily agree with Lewis’ statement that, “God has not told us what His arrangements about (those who never heard the gospel) are.” Calvinists say they were never members of God’s elect, while Holiness people, at least on this issue, remain silent where the Bible is silent. With Lewis, I doubt that God will hold anyone responsible for their honest ignorance, but because of such passages as Acts 4:12, I can’t agree with his statement that we don’t need to know Him to be saved through Him.

Lewis aptly sums up his thoughts with, “If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them.” I warn the doctrinal nitpickers that there are worse things than being mistaken about points of dogma. God will not hold anyone accountable for honest error, but the unloving, the judgemental, the zealots, are subject to the same judgement as they were in Jesus’ time. Just because they now call themselves, “Christians,” makes no difference at all.

C.S. Lewis on Effort

Uncle Jack has always had a way of eliciting controversy; religious liberals accuse him of being too conservative, and religious conservatives accuse him of being too liberal. He brings out the extreme range of opinion among Christians. While I disagree with him on some theological points, I’ve found much more agreement with his Scripture applications. His statement on effort, from Words to Live By, is a case in point.

Many things—such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving unaffectedly—are done worst when we try hardest to do them.

So true, but Lewis didn’t mention the self-control required to do those things without trying.

Did I hear you say, “That’s nuts!”? Well, it’s not nuts. The only way to develop positive behaviors so you do them automatically is by developing the appropriate habits, and that takes self-control.

What motivates those positive habit formations? God’s Holy Spirit, working through frequent exposure to, study of, and meditation on his Word. That is the very first godly habit, and all the others flow from it. When God opens your eyes to the awful wonder of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for your sins, and the depth of his love for you—personally—that motivated him to submit to that torture, you will want to let him speak to you through his Word. God will show you that he is love, and as Jesus demonstrated his love by dying on the cross for you, so you will want to demonstrate your love for him by crucifying your own desires for self-gratification, and obeying him even when you don’t feel like it.

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.

To Arms! To Arms!

Meet AK 47, the insurgents’ weapon of choice.

Conservative news sources say our government is threatening our rights, to the extent that millions of U.S. residents are “prepping” for the “SHTF” scenario. God speed, rugged individualists.

I guess Preppers are the same folks who used to be called, “survivalists,” but now many more people are arming themselves, hoarding provisions, and fortifying their homes against looters, even if some of those looters are wearing the uniform of the very government that is supposed to protect the people.

The elitist news media—that’s most broadcast news sources—paints those who might be willing to fight for our Constitution as pillaging brutes, and all the Kool-Aid-drinking lemmings accept that sort of lie without question. So “we the people” allow the powers that be to pass punitive executive orders and legislation to keep the folks in line.

As Apostle Paul said, “I speak as a fool.” The above paragraphs present the extreme right end of the conservative spectrum, but as Christ-followers, our role is not to take up arms. If we will obey Christ’s Great Commandments, which Apostle James calls, “the perfect law of liberty,” we must submit to the corrupt authorities and endure persecution with patience and love. Such spiritual guns and bullets will be far more effective than trying to kill government enforcers. I pray that God’s church will grasp our peace in Christ and never let it go, regardless how much suffering we must endure. Jesus said we must be salt of the earth, which serves as both a flavor enhancer and a preservative.

Jesus said, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.(Matthew 5:16) Wherever persecution reigns, God’s church spreads, and when that happens here, the remnant will shine with God’s eternal glory, bringing the abundant sheaves into His eternal storehouse. Praise God for His marvelous wisdom!

As for our God-given rights, I’d like to see the Biblical basis for our constitutionally guaranteed rights. The only God-given right I know is our right, as His children, to expect Him to be true to Himself and His promises. I’m plum tickled pink with that, and don’t expect any more. When our entitlements go belly up, the church will have to start taking care of its own. If it doesn’t, it’s not God’s church.

What a shame, that the LDS religion holds the standard for charitable giving higher than God’s church cares to match? The trouble with that religion, though, is such giving is mandated as brownie-points toward edification to godhood. But that’s human nature; fallen man gives so that he may get back. Whether it’s karma, God-brownie points, altruism, grudging responsibility or tax deductions, we want to know, “What’s in it for me,” before we part with our ungodly manna. I call it ungodly because we grasp God’s provisions near to our hard hearts out of love for money and the stuff it will buy, when we should consider everything we have holy unto the Lord, out of love for Him. When I say, “we,” I mean God’s church at large.

I personally don’t believe God requires us to tithe under the New Covenant of grace. What He does require, though, is far more than a simple tithe of our income. To obey God, Christ-followers must give of our earthly resources sacrificially, according to the principles Jesus laid out during the Sermon on the Mount. For every point of law He mentioned, He upped the ante. But the standards Jesus laid out are not required for salvation; they follow salvation, as the fruit of God’s Spirit that believers will bear.

If you’re walking just a hair’s breadth inside your idea of God’s requirements for salvation, or if you’re trusting in worldly weapons and wealth for survival, you’ve got it all wrong. Obviously, you’ve neglected to don the only armament that matters eternally: the Whole Armor of God. So, TO ARMS, God-style!

Extraction!

“Just relax. This won’t hurt a bit.”

Does anyone else love to hear the dentist utter the word, “Extraction?”

Okay, I lied, but with the benign purpose of illustrating a crucial, Scriptural principle. If I’d really meant the “love the word extraction” bit, the authorities wouldn’t allow me to live in the general population. Who knows where such insanity would lead.

As Lou Costello often said, “I’m a baaad boy,” for neglecting my dental health, resulting in the need to extract my broken tooth. While that’s one kind of extraction, we also necessitate another kind of painful extraction through neglect. Extracting habitual sin from our lives is more painful than getting a tooth pulled, even if the pain isn’t physical. And we must do it to alleviate an even more persistent disease than an abscessed tooth, yet without anesthesia. That’s right, we can’t even dull the pain of sin extraction, but knowing the blessed relief that awaits that procedure makes it bearable.

Romans chapter six is a pivotal point in the New Testament. It takes God’s teaching about law versus grace, and applies it to how He expects us to live our lives.

Romans 6:12-14 NKJV Therefore (since you are, “dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” you must) not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. (13) And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (14) For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

The command is as clear as any in God’s Word; letting sin “reign” in your mortal body means embracing its power to rule your life. Jesus defeated sin, and thus death, by His perfect sacrifice, a spiritual victory through His physical death, burial and resurrection. You and I, however, are still stuck with our mortal flesh until we shed it when He calls us home.

David Mathis, of desiringGod, made a helpful observation about the catchphrase, “We are in the world, but not of it.” I followed his word-search, and discovered it is not in God’s Word as stated. Brother David pointed out that God, in John 17, expresses the thought in the opposite order.

John 17:14-19 NKJV I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (15) I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. (16) They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (17) Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (18) As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. (19) And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.

First, note verse fifteen, above. Jesus prayed for His Father to keep us from the evil one. That means Satan has no control over us, as long as we are in Christ. Also note that Jesus prayed for our sanctification, or separation, from the world’s seductions. As far as the “not of, but in” statement, you can see those two clauses are not only in the opposite order of the catchphrase, but there is far more to being, “in the world,” than just existing here; Jesus never intended that we should simply endure until He takes us away, but He sent us into the world on His Great Commission.

Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Just remember that Jesus’ Great Commission—which is actually our great commission—is just one of many commands He gave us through the New Testament writers, and all of them spring directly from God’s Great Commandment to love Him with our entire being, and to love others as ourselves. So, back to that painful, sin-extraction, which is the only way we can fulfill our Lord’s Great Commandment, and thus, His Great Commission. Bad habits are hard to break, but God gave us the power of choice. Will you use it to placate your flesh, or to obey God?

The Lie’s Silver Lining

Funny, isn’t it, how so many lawyers want to be known as results-getters, but never admit to lying.

Matthew 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Some folks couldn’t lie their way out of a paper bag, but I don’t suffer from that malady. When I lived in and for the flesh, I “lied when the truth sounded better,” which was one of my mother’s homespun expressions. Even after I began allowing God to change me, lies came too easily. Oh, they weren’t whoppers, but they still weren’t the truth. Old habits die hard, but over my years of growing in Christ, lying has become ever more repugnant to me, until today those temptations to lie are about as influential to my behavior as are temptations to steal or murder.

Even in today’s church, expediency too often holds sway over truth. In that sense, Satan’s other name is, “Expediency.” Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44)

So, you’re probably asking, “What’s this ‘silver lining’ in your title?” The fact that the gospel’s enemies must lie to oppose it, proves it’s truth. In fact, lies prove lots of things, such as the character of the one speaking them. The news media’s lies, misrepresentations and innuendos, are a great illustration of that. Take, for example, the almost comical way Soledad O’Brien talks over Allen West, trying to fluster him in this video. It proves that “progressives” must lie to get their point across, just as their communist brethren so often do.

 “Progressives,” my eye!

The “progressive” entertainment and news medias busily prove my point with their unbalanced presentations of any scenario involving Christians, and especially preachers. How often have you heard the Network News mention a perpetrator’s day-job that has nothing to do with the alleged crime? Unless, of course, the perp’s day job is preaching in an evangelical church. News programmers defend their biased reporting by insisting that such knowledge is in the public interest. Right! It’s in their own interest to sully the church’s reputation whenever possible.

Then, there’s the popular entertainment media, of which the network news media is a de facto member, that consistently portrays homosexual characters as well-adjusted, fun-loving, everyday folks, often in committed, lifelong relationships that really should, after all, be considered legal marriages. And how do these same media moguls portray Christians? On the rare occasion when the scenario mandates a Christian character, they portray him as a mindless, wild-eyed, assault rifle-carrying fundamentalist, or a complete idiot, or both. Anyone who is not a media-engorged idiot would see such portrayals as the transparent lies that they are.

If God were not the beneficent, loving Creator that the Bible reveals to us, how long would He allow such slander to go on? Does the phrase, “Give us enough rope to hang ourselves,” ring a bell? Our Creator God did just that when He gave Man free will. With that “rope,” we can either hang ourselves eternally, or grab hold of it and allow Jesus to pull us out of sin’s quicksand. The choice is ours, and I’ve already decided where I want to spend eternity. Have you?