Lord, Don’t Let Me Fall

Falling isn’t fun, whether it’s caused by clumsy feet or weak spiritual will. By God’s grace, however, the latter isn’t necessarily fatal. Psalms 37: 23-24 says, The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand. (NKJV)

Lots of people try to avoid sinning because they’re afraid of going to hell; they view God as the Heavenly Parole Officer, just waiting to slap the eternal cuffs onto their weak wrists. The Lord’s apostle John took a different view: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  (1 John 4:18 ESV) According to that powerful passage, we are not to fear God’s punishment. But how can be “perfected in love”? Verse nineteen gives us the answer to that key question. We love because he first loved us.  (4:19)

So then, loving God is automatic for Christians. Right? Wrong! Just because we’ve, “decided to follow Jesus,” doesn’t mean we know of God’s love in giving His Son over to ridicule, torture, and death to free us from the eternal penalty of our sin’s guilt. To know of God’s love we must at least begin to know God, and only His Holy Spirit, working through our ever-deepening understanding of His Word by prayer and meditation, can give us that knowledge. But heed Apostle Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge. This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. Some in the Corinthian church understood the liberty we have in Christ, but they were proud of that knowledge and ridiculed the “weaker brethren” without such understanding. Bible knowledge alone makes us no better than Satan’s minions. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!  (James 2:19)

While I’m not afraid of going to hell—praise God! Jesus took care of that—I am petrified of damaging my Savior’s holy name through my thoughtlessness and sin. When I pray, “Lord, don’t let me fall,” I’m deadly serious. I love my Lord and will not besmirch His name.

 

Where Is Your Closest Idol?

An idol is anything you place between yourself and God. It’s something to which you pray and offer sacrifices. The Bible speaks of idols manufactured of wood, stone, silver and gold, but it doesn’t limit them to those materials. Idols can be of flesh and blood. Instead of the dumb idols of heathen religions, we hold idols such as money, possessions, property, vocations, recreation, power, and even loved ones, if we place a higher priority on them than on God. But possessing idols doesn’t stop there; if we spend more time primping before our mirrors than offering our heartfelt praise and petitions to the only living God, we have an idol. If the TV demands more of our time than ministering to our families, or helping others in need, we have an idol. The same could be said of gaming, shopping, or even working. If that is the case we may just have idols.

How can we pray and offer sacrifices to all those things? If we gain gratification from them in exchange for time offered to them, they may be our idols.

Please don’t think I’m trying to guilt trip you. I’m not suggesting that you have to live as a monk, constantly praying and reading your Bible. Not at all! I’m simply urging you to keep worldly pursuits and spiritual pursuits in balance. For instance, after a day’s work in the New Life Center thrift store … my sore feet prove it … I looked forward to just vegging with Netflix, but after watching one program I felt led to read today’s Our Daily Bread, which suggested this topic.

Am I “Saint James” for doing that? Hardly! I simply enjoyed a moment’s lucidity, motivated, I’m sure, by God’s Holy Spirit. He wanted to speak to me through the devotional which, in turn, motivated me to write this piece, preaching to myself all the while. I don’t know how to type with fingers pointed back at myself, but I’m trying (figuratively).

Don’t think that praying and offering sacrifices to yourself is always positive. I well know that engaging in negative self-talk, instead of asking God for positive change, can be a prayer of sorts. I also know that flagellating yourself emotionally can produce a perverse sort of self-gratification. I know because I spent many years doing just that, even after I offered my life to God through Jesus. Nothing can be a greater joy-kill than negative self-talk.

Our most devastating idols are the ones closest to us, because they make seeing beyond them well nigh impossible. Please, pray for God to open your eyes to all the idols in your life, then ask Him to give you the grace to strike them down. Only then will you gain power over them. God worked through prayer in the Old Testament, and He can work for you now.

C.S. Lewis on Immortality

Once again, Uncle Jack gave me pause to think. And what I think will follow what He thought.

I think that Resurrection (what ever it exactly means) is so much profounder an idea than mere immortality. I am sure we don’t just “go on.” We really die and are really built up again.

He was right about our really dying and being really built up again, but what kind of death do we face? Obviously, we all die physically, suffering the corruption that our Savior was spared. That is the death of the flesh. But there is another death that must precede physical death, in order that we might gain the resurrection to which Lewis referred. That is the death to the flesh, referred to in the Bible as death to sin (Romans 6).

Honestly, I struggled with the whole “dead to sin” thing for years after I came to Christ, not because I didn’t want to die to sin, but because my actions told me that I had not yet achieved it. Every time I opened the New Testament I stumbled into it; if I was saved I was dead to sin, but I wasn’t, or at least I didn’t seem to be. But, praise God, I also stumbled upon Romans 8:1-2, Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

Of course, that begged the question of how I knew I was in Christ Jesus. My first answer to that troubling question was, before my rebirth I sought every opportunity to sate my carnal impulses, but was never satisfied. After my rebirth I wanted to be in Christ, and my sins grieved me terribly.

My second answer was what the Bible calls, “the witness of the Spirit,” (Romans 6:16-17) in which we suffer with Him that we may be glorified with Him. Suffering with Him includes the grief over sin that I mentioned above. When Jesus fell on His face praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground. Was He grieved because of the physical suffering ahead of Him? While that would worry me terribly, I think His grief lay in the fact that He, the perfectly righteous, eternal Son of God, would shortly bear upon His body God’s righteous judgment for all the world’s sin. And that judgment would separate the man Jesus from His Father God, resulting in Jesus’ anguished cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

And my third answer (Do you remember the question?) is my absolute certainty about my eternal fellowship with my Savior. That certainty grew from the most fragile of faith-seeds to a confidence that surmounts even my, at times, shaky faith due to my tendency to rely on the seen, rather than the unseen (Romans 8:24-25). I can’t praise my Savior enough for that assurance, and I can’t wait to do it in person, for eternity.

Mom’s Colored Maid

Mom’s colored maid

Whoa there, egalitarian*! I hail from a solid Catholic/Democrat family. You have to understand that Political Correctness hadn’t yet been born in the ’50s and ’60s. People of color were just beginning to strive for basic human rights, and I applaud their sacrificial efforts. Truthfully, I am also a person of color: Pink, with blue undertones (According to the makeup expert I used to work with.).

Mom’s “colored maid” was a portable dishwasher painted in coppertone—no, not the tanning lotion—and equipt with a detailed set of instructions for its proper use. What brings me to this distant memory is the dirty dishes I found in my apartment’s dishwasher, after the wash cycle had finished. Their state contrasts starkly with the photos of sparkling clean dishes illustrated in the promotional material that dishwasher and detergent manufacturers publish to sell their wares. The problem? My housemate failed to follow the instructions faithfully. You know, the one about rinsing everything thoroughly before placing it into the dishwasher. And conversely, never try to wash items encrusted with dried-on food in the dishwasher, if you hope to have them come out sparkly-clean, as per the promotional material.

Perhaps you’ve guessed that this post isn’t about sanitizing dishes. It’s about following our Manufacturer’s instructions, such that our souls will come out of this life sparkly-clean.

Jesus and His letter-writing apostles gave us perfectly clear instructions as to how we must conduct ourselves to please His Father, and live with Him in life eternal. If you want to meet Jesus sparkling clean, you must follow His User Manual to the best of your ability; shortcuts will leave you encrusted with dried-on sin, unfit for His use.

Now that sounds pretty severe, I’ll admit. Without God’s loving grace, none of us would have a marshmallow’s chance in a dishwasher of joining our Savior in eternity. Please don’t risk missing out by taking God’s grace for granted. You’ll never be perfect in your body of flesh, but to be satisfied with your imperfection means you just don’t get it.

Any questions? Read 1 Peter 1:13-16 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (14) As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, (15) but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (16) since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44)

Building a Glitch-Free Christ-Follower

A few years ago I made the mistake of offering to build a computer for a friend. I bought all the components and assembled them carefully, routing the connecting wires for a neat appearance and efficient air flow. But that was the easy part. Correctly installing and configuring the CPU and motherboard required a careful reading of the Instruction Manual.

But even that was easy compared to the task of building and equipping effective disciples of Christ. Unlike building a computer, much of the hard work falls to the one being built. We absolutely must study God’s Instruction Manual to achieve our most glitch-free performance. Contained in that Instruction Manual are sixty-six books, ghost-written by forty people from three continents over roughly 2000 years. Maybe I should say, “Holy Ghost-written,” as God’s eternal Word is the one true Author.

If the Bible seems too daunting as life’s Instruction Manual, God’s New Testament offers some concise summaries of how Christ-followers should behave. One such summary is contained in chapter twelve of Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church. Here are a few key verses:

Rom 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.

The apostle refers here to his brief essay on genuine, spiritual love in 1 Corinthians 13, with emphasis on verses four and following. If you haven’t read it in a while, it’s time you prayerfully review. As far as the second half of this verse, remember what Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone.

Rom 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;

 I’m afraid that doesn’t leave much room for factions, jealousy and power-plays. The practice of showing deference to others, especially to those with whom we don’t click, has largely gone out of style. Our lives and interactions today are all about our personal rights, while we leave our responsibilities flapping in the breeze.

Rom 12:11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;

The Christian life is necessarily proactive. Maintaining that diligence, fervency and servant spirit takes constant effort.

Rom 12:12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,

These are three essential works of faith, without which we will die on the Vine.

Rom 12:13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Everyone loves to hear preaching on generous giving (NOT!). The saints’ needs are as critical today as when Apostle Paul wrote these words, so where is our joy of giving? It has disappeared in our desire to accumulate things and live comfortably. I dare say we could all give much more generously if we would just deny ourselves a few nonessentials. Do we really need frequent dinners out? Does every driver in the family need their own car? Is that home theater truly an essential possession? And what about snow cats, motorcycles, RVs, and vacation homes? Nothing is wrong with having such things, as long as having them remains secondary to helping the needy.

As for practicing hospitality, I stand as guilty as anyone for neglecting it.

Rom 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

We’re emotional beings, so when some jerk cuts us off in traffic our fleshly impulse is to think or say unkind things about them. Does that not sound like persecution? Just because it’s not an overt challenge because of our faith doesn’t mean it isn’t.

Rom 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Let’s keep these actions in their appropriate places. We must feel with people, and certainly not tell them that what they are feeling is unnecessary, wrong or inappropriate. Simply sharing their joy or grief seems like it should be a simple thing. Why then do we always think we have to fix it?

Rom 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

The same mind as whom? Obviously, that refers to Christ Jesus, because He was never haughty and always associated with the lowly. We church people too often offend in respect too esteeming our personal wisdom too highly, so anyone who disagrees with us is just wrong, pure and simple.

Rom 12:17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.

This reinforces verse fourteen’s difficult point. Today’s worldly doctrine tell us that we must fully vent our emotions and let our heart lead. God’s word doesn’t prohibit emotional display, but we must keep a positive, uplifting and redemptive bearing. Of course we won’t always feel that way, but that doesn’t mean we can shoot off our emotional mouths when the impulse hits.

The second half of this verse refers to Paul’s statements in Romans 14, about respecting the weak brother’s beliefs for his sake, and not your own. You can’t please everyone all the time, so this is calls for spiritual discernment.

Rom 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Disclosure time: Here is my personal weak area. When I cause a grievance, especially with a brother, the resulting guilt crushes me, stealing my peace and leaving me in a general funk. That’s not what God calls for here. We must not take too much relational responsibility upon ourselves, but accept, and repent of, what falls to our account.

Follow these instructions and you will find yourself more closely resembling Christ’s attitudes of love for others.

Solution

Thanks to my good friend Andy, I see the need to expand on my previous post, “Critique.” While the title reflected only a movie review, it included the question, “Do you ever wonder why so many good church kids graduate from college as lukewarm Christians, or even atheists?” What follows is my answer, in the form of a scathing indictment of Christian pulpits and parents, including myself.

The Problem

Can we prevent our children from going astray? Of course not. They are as individual as we are. Without starting battles we can’t win, though, we must prepare them for their inevitable interaction with this corrupt world system. But how?

The Solution

Desensitizing our youth to the world’s lies begins with the pulpit. And the fault for failing to do so also begins with the pulpit. Parents must understand that allowing our children to face the world unprepared is the worst kind of sin, predisposing them to stumble when faced with life’s inevitable faith-challenges. The fault also lies with us parents, who choose to remain weak in God’s Word and prayer, often demonstrating before our children the worldly attitudes that the Bible prohibits. We also cause them to stumble through our example of self-indulgence, enjoying the very entertainments that weaken their fledgling faith.

The popular church cliche is none-the-less true for its overuse: Sitting in church no more makes you a Christian than sitting in a car lot makes you an automobile. We make our kids attend church and Sunday school, which are good things, but good things aren’t necessarily the best things. Our best and most important work is not drilling Bible passages or catechism answers into them, but modeling Christ’s love when life seems to bury us in its refuse, and we can only do that by maintaining an intimate and teachable relationship with our Father God. As with any relationship, that requires constant, proactive maintenance, and is what following Christ is all about.

Click here for a commentary on Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter twelve, wherein he outlines some essential principles for authentic, Christian living.

And remember, discipling our children in Christ’s love is not optional (Proverbs 22:6).

THE HABIT OF ME

“Thou art the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

Philippians 2:1-5 ESV
(1) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,
(2) complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
(3) Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
(4) Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
(5) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

Meet one of the many Bible passages that cause me to be very conscious of the three fingers pointing back at myself (as opposed to one at someone else—the thumb doesn’t count). My first impulse upon reading this was to mentally accuse my grandkids of doing everything from selfish ambition or conceit, of being self-centered and divisive. Yet, when my first reaction to a Bible passage is to point the bony, judgmental finger at others, I am the greater offender.

Father, when my first thought is to apply correction to others, rather than to myself, please forgive me. I know better. Thank You for forgiveness through Jesus’ blood, for it’s in His name I pray.

Another “One Another”

My pastor of a few years ago—don’t remind me how many—preached a series of “One Another” sermons. I searched, “one another,” in Bible Gateway and hit on  instances where the phrase is used for exhortation in the New Testament, but Jesus Himself expressed the heart of all those exhortations with His command, “Love one another.” To cop a popular Christian cliche, “it wasn’t a suggestion.”

I am a nine-finger-typist, so trying to type with three fingers pointed back at myself presents serious issues. Although I said that in jest, I must confess that I am a major offender of Jesus’ Great Commandment.

So, here’s a partial list of the epistle-writers’ applications of Jesus’ command to love one another:

  • Romans 12:9-12 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. (10) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; (11) not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; (12) rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.
  • Romans 13:8-9 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. (9) For the commandments, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” “YOU SHALL NOT MURDER,” “YOU SHALL NOT STEAL,” “YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS,” “YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
  • Romans 15:5-7 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, (6) that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (7) Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
  • Galatians 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
  • Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
  • Ephesians 4:1-3 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, (2) with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, (3) endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
  • Ephesians 4:30-32 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (31) Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. (32) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
  • Ephesians 5:18-21 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, (19) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, (20) giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (21) submitting to one another in the fear of God.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (18) Therefore comfort one another with these words.
  • Hebrews 3:12-13 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; (13) but exhort one another daily, while it is called “TODAY,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
  • Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (24) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, (25) not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Aw, come on now. That’s not a lot of Scripture. These are only twelve Bible passages that you should already know, if not have memorized, and they are only a small part of the epistles’ instructions for godly conduct within God’s church. Of course, these don’t apply to you directly, as you no doubt already have them mastered (yeah, right). But with three fingers pointed back at yourself, and in a spirit of Christ’s love, exhort those brethren who fall short. Come to think of it, you might want to visit your ophthalmologist first.

Screwtape on Using Religion As a Christian’s Stumbling Block

Screwtape (C.S. Lewis’ demonic character) shows real ingenuity in his approach to tripping up Christians.

Success here depends on confusing him. If you try to make him explicitly and professedly proud of being a Christian, you will probably fail; the Enemy’s warnings are too well known. If, on the other hand, you let the idea of ‘we Christians’ drop out altogether and merely make him complacent about ‘his set’, you will produce not true spiritual pride but mere social vanity which, by comparison, is a trumpery, puny little sin. What you want is to keep a sly self-congratulation mixing with all his thoughts and never allow him to raise the question ‘What, precisely, am I congratulating myself about?’ The idea of belonging to an inner ring, of being in a secret, is very sweet to him. Play on that nerve. Teach him, using the influence of this girl when she is silliest, to adopt an air of amusement at the things the unbelievers say. Some theories which he may meet in modern Christian circles may here prove helpful; theories, I mean, that place the hope of society in some inner ring of ‘clerks’, some trained minority of theocrats. It is no affair of yours whether those theories are true or false; the great thing is to make Christianity a mystery religion in which he feels himself one of the initiates.

Of course, the “him” to which Screwtape refers is Wormwood’s personal project, an unsuspecting Christian. Lewis appears to grant him greater discernment than is typically true; I’ve known many “Christians” who displayed pride in their religious affiliation because they either don’t know, or care about, the Bible’s warnings about vain pride.

“Spiritual pride” is an oxymoron. Whenever a Christian takes a, “big I, little you,” perspective based on his position in Christ, chances are he’s not “in Christ” at all. That includes making snarky, patronizing comments to or about atheists or homosexuals, regardless how snarky or patronizing they are.

How easily we forget that the only damnable sin is that of rejecting Jesus’ offer of forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation with the Father. Think of such rejection as a refusal to pray as King David did in Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” What is “the way everlasting?” Well, its map is God’s complete Word, and it’s called, “the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Unlike GPS, or Screwtape, it won’t mislead you.

C.S. Lewis on the Incarnation

 

Da Vinci’s Annunciation

The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

From Mere Christianity

Before God fathered Jesus, His only begotten Son, our Savior existed as God’s creative Word. I think Lewis understated his metaphor, though; the picture of a human lowering himself to become a slug is simply not low enough. My mind pictures a human being becoming a bacterium for the sole purpose of eradicating the fatal, Beelzo transgvirus-1, also known as the sin virus.

Lots of folks have trouble with the Biblical statement that Jesus was the only begotten of God, due to their misunderstanding of Trinitarian doctrine. The alleged paradox lies in the idea that Jesus, God’s divine Son, had a beginning, and as God is eternal, that couldn’t be true. As a clever workaround, wordsmiths came up with the phrase, “begotten, not made,” in the Nicene Creed, but they needn’t have gone to all that trouble. The truth is far simpler; Jesus of Nazareth, though He was indeed born in the flesh, was not born of the flesh, because His Father is God Himself. As such, Jesus is the perfect man, the second Adam, who unlike the first Adam, never rebelled against His Father.

In other words, God the eternal Word became a mortal man at Jesus’ conception, enabling Him to be at once, immortal and mortal.

I hope that clears up the “only begotten” aspect of Jesus’ incarnation, so you’ll know the simple answer next time someone asks you the hard question.