Where’s the Fire?

How often have you asked that question (of no one in particular) when others have roared past on the highway? If given the opportunity to answer, those speedy drivers would provide a variety of excuses for their haste, but I’m reasonably confident that, “I’m going to a fire,” would not be one of them.

I wish they were speeding to the fire, the same fire that descended upon one hundred twenty of Jesus’ disciples who waited in Jerusalem as he had ordered. Their obedience brought about the greatest, most powerful fire of all ages.

Acts 2:1-4 LEB And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in the same place. (2) And suddenly a sound like a violent rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (3) And divided tongues like fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. (4) And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability to speak out.

Pentecost is not a singularly Christian event. What we call Pentecost originated as the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, when the Jews celebrate God’s giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Our Pentecost, however, commemorates a different law-giving, under the New Covenant of God’s grace.

Everyone knows the story about Jesus’ exchange with the lawyer who asked Him how to inherit eternal life.

Luke 10:26-28 NKJV [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (27) So he answered and said, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND,’ and ‘YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'” (28) And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

Everyone back then agreed with the first part of Jesus’ answer, but ranking the second with the first was far less common, and shows that this particular lawyer was on the right track. When asked to define, “neighbor,” a typical lawyerish response, Jesus presented His parable of the good Samaritan.

Luke 10:30-37 NKJV Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. (31) Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. (32) Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. (33) But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. (34) So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (35) On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ (36) So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” (37) And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Obviously, Jesus felt quite strongly about His Law of Love. Apostle Paul referred to that New Covenant as the “Law of Christ.” And perhaps his closest disciple, John, wrote a lot about love’s necessity in the Christian life.

1 John 4:7-13 NKJV Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. (8) He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (9) In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (10) In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (11) Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (12) No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. (13) By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

And that brings us right back to God’s Holy Spirit. Many people ask, “How can I know that I’m filled with the Holy Spirit?” Though some denominations teach that speaking in other, unlearned languages is the necessary evidence for that, God’s Word says otherwise. Without going into an exhaustive treatment of “tongues,” I will point the inquirer back to 1 John 4:12-13 above. Love is not a passive feeling, as “being in love.” The only requirement for that is a bellyache, chest pain and shortness of breath whenever you think of your, “loved one.” Or you might be having a heart attack. Christ’s love, however, demands action, and those who know His love will show it by loving even their enemies. That selfless, unconditional love is how God’s Holy Spirit set fire to the world.

So, do you drive like you’re going to a fire, or do you live like you’re on fire with Jesus’ love? Remember His command, “Go and do likewise.”

Who’s Packin’ Whom?

John Bunyan’s Christian

Where I live, some of the natives speak a bit differently, compared to us short timers; my late father-in-law Charlie spent his younger years working cattle in Montana’s “over east,” which is similar to Australia’s outback. If you’re a ranch hand, you don’t “carry” your tools and supplies, you “pack” them. That’s the way Charlie put it.

Folks who live on the prairie, whether Montanan or Australian, soon learn what survival requires of them: physical strength, tenacity, resourcefulness, family coherency, loyalty, humility, boldness, and it doesn’t hurt to pack a good carbine and side arm.

Back in Prophet Isaiah’s time, folks packed their gods whenever they moved their camp, and it never hurt to have a good fetish along for the journey. But Isaiah tried to enlighten them with God’s words:

Isaiah 46:1-4 ESV Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. (2) They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity. (3) “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; (4) even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

Isaiah spoke of God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, who burdened themselves by carrying idols around with them. They were nothing more than dead weight; man-made of wood, stone, precious metals and gems, they couldn’t ease the people’s burdens … they were the people’s burdens. They were impotent and mute, so why would anyone think them worthy of worship?

God’s message to his people? “Stop carrying your own burdens. Stop weighing yourselves down with material possessions that are supposed to make you secure. I Am the One who will bear you up! I am the One who will carry your burdens! I will carry and save you!”

Church, we are God’s chosen people, faith-children of Abraham, priests of God’s new covenant of grace, under his High Priest, Christ Jesus. We must not pack around our impotent security-gods, but call upon the living, self-existent God, who created us to rest in him, to be born, and not to bear. If you have any confusion about who’s packin’ whom in your life, ask the Master Packer to open your eyes, then repent of your sin of self-sufficiency.

Father, reveal to me the inner motives that move me. Show me, Lord, my true purpose for living. Examine me, Lord, for any impurity that inhibits my growth to Christ-likeness. And thank you, Father, for the privilege of praying in Jesus’ name and authority. So be it.

C.S. Lewis on Suffering

Refiner’s Fire

My title for this post sounds like a total bummer, but Uncle Jack’s contribution is just the opposite.

The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered [freely]. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and [obstruct] to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
From C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain

I doubt there’s a better explanation for our suffering. Besides that, the greater our suffering in this world, the greater will be our joy when we meet our Savior face-to-face.

Sin produces suffering, but not in a direct proportion. Sometimes the relatively innocent suffer greatly, while truly evil people seem to get off scot-free. Once again, that isn’t God’s fault, as due to God’s gift of free will, and the sin that flows from it, suffering is anything but proportionately distributed. Yes, to those who are not Christ-followers it seems terribly unfair, but justice and fairness are not related. Christ-followers take the fact that God is ultimately just by faith, even though we may not see the short-term justice of any particular situation.

How can we “blindly” place that kind of confidence in a Being that we can’t see? Because we can see what he has done in and for us, and we love him because he first loved us. Christ-followers are the most fortunate people on earth, since we perceive all beauty with gratitude, as a blessing from God, and if we have our heads on straight, we even perceive all suffering with gratitude, as a refiner’s fire allowed by God.

Admittedly, suffering isn’t fun, but thanks to God’s perfect wisdom, it will amplify our blessings in this world, and the next.

Philip Yancey on … Lots of Things

Philip Yancey has gained celebrity by thinking, and writing, outside the evangelical Christian box. One Scripture passage that comes to mind, that might be one of Yancey’s theme statements is:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1 NKJV)

Today’s church may not mandate such commandments as circumcision and observing the Sabbath, but it imposes such rules as each denomination or congregation deems necessary to “be a Christian.” With the same spirit as the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time, we try to formalize Scripture’s principles into sacrosanct commandments, then presume to apply the Biblical model of church discipline against those who fail to obey them. That exactly fits Apostle Paul’s definition of a yoke of bondage.

Apostle John said, If anyone claims, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how is it possible for him to love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20 EMTV) Whenever we act out negative emotions toward someone, we aren’t loving them, and on the love-hate scale that certainly falls on the hate side.

We can’t like everyone; even Jesus disliked the hypocrites who judged all those who didn’t live up to their artificial standard of piety. Temperament-conflicts can put us off toward someone, but when we allow that dislike to become disregard, we do not love them as Christ does. He died for the ungodly, and that is anything but disregard.

Romans 5:6-8 EMTV
(6) For while we were still weak, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
(7) For scarcely on behalf of a righteous man will anyone die; yet on behalf of the good, perhaps someone might even dare to die.
(8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Yancey learned about God’s grace the hard way, after he had rejected religious Christianity because of the ungodly attitudes he witnessed as a child. Now he lives and preaches grace, and so must we.

About God….

 

About God....

Proof that not all ideas are good ideas.

Click here to view this author’s refreshing ideas about God’s nature and personhood. The author, who apparently is or was associated with MIT—student? professor? staff?—makes no mention of Jesus, so I deduce she or he is not a Christ-follower. And the author’s reference to C.S. Lewis’ insightful thoughts on generic devotion indicate a respect for at least one Christian’s ideas.

This is a good read, with but a shadow of new-age philosophy, and though it is a bit lengthy, reading to the end will reward you with some true wisdom. Thanks for your insights, O nameless contributor.

Conservative Actors and Other Oddities

Wonder of wonders, a Cool Guy Conservative

The Hollywood in-crowd might be called the Liberal Club. It’s like a high school social clique where the movers and shakers hold so much sway that the little people try to be popular by association. The litmus for acceptance to the clique is how well you can humorously slander President Reagan without being brought up on sedition charges. Only the Charlton Hestons of Hollywood dare spurn the liberals, knowing they will become the butt of endless jokes, yet without responding in kind. Can you imagine Heston getting all bitchy about the ridicule? That’s the Liberal Way, not the way of real people.

Speaking of ridicule, have you ever noticed how social liberals react to valid criticism? Name-calling and personal slurs are their specialty, rather like junior high school girls.

I was surprised at how many conservative—that’s a euphemism for Republican—actors there are: Jimmy Stewart. Gene Autry. Cary Grant. Ronald Reagan. Gary Cooper. But wait, I used the present tense in my introduction for conservative actors. I’m afraid the list gets much shorter with that qualification. Let’s see, there’s Adam Sandler, Chuck Norris, Kelsey Grammer, James Caan, Drew Carey … the list goes on to 143, most of whom are new to me, but I’m far from being an authority on celebrities.

And what is a celebrity, anyway? Celebrity comes from celebrate, and I’ve scarcely seen any reason to celebrate most celebrities, unless their stupid choices deserve accolades. Yes, many of them are competent performers, but by that standard shouldn’t a talented physician, machinist, or policeman be celebrated as well?

Of course, you’ve found this tirade on a Christian blog, so maybe I’d better include some Christianistic commentary. One of my pet peeves is the inextricable link between Evangelical Christians and political conservatism. Dubbed the Christian Right, I find myself asking, “What are they right about?” Yes, there are the watershed issues like government supported abortion and school prayer (a non-issue since the early ’60s), on which virtually all Evangelical Christians align themselves to the conservative side, but what about the Second Amendment controversy? True Christ-followers are personal pacifists (as opposed to those who refuse to take arms for any reason) because the New Testament doesn’t command, or even condone, violence for personal reasons. Many will argue that the “turn-the-other-cheek” command applied only to Bible-times, when the Roman occupiers persecuted those who refused to worship the Caesar, and perhaps they’re right. But the line I hear from Christian, Second Amendment supporters smacks strongly of a militant attitude, illustrated by the, “… cold, dead fingers” bumper stickers. Nowhere in the New Testament are we told to defend our rights, but rather to die to self, which includes the rights we hold so dearly.

My friend Steve submitted a valuable qualifier to the issue of Christ-followers taking up arms. He pointed out that we must prepare to defend others’ rights. This is an issue where we must be in touch with our inner motives. Where anger or pride motivate our taking up arms, it is sin. And where our pure motives require armed resistance, we must maintain vigilance over our motives lest the sin of self corrupt our witness and dim our light.

No doubt I’ll catch some flack about that position, but I believe it’s Biblical. And everyone has a right to his opinion. Right?

“Da Law is Da Law”

"Da law, son, is da law."

“Da law, son, is da law.”

That title seems quite obvious, if a bit folksie. I mean, what would the law be if not the law? What messes people up is the existence of two sets of laws: Physical law, and spiritual law. God created both, and both are quite real and binding.

Folks tend to get a little testy when we right-wing fundamentalist, evangelical Christians quote spiritual law to them. For instance, the one that says Jesus is the only way to Father God. I’m no mind-reader, but I suspect a stubborn refusal to change their lifestyle motivates their pique. Or maybe they’re thoughtful objectors, refusing the idea because demanding conformity to one religion, i.e., Christianity, seems too narrow a requirement for a loving God to make.

Jesus was good at spinning parables to illustrate a point, so I’ll try my hand: A man aboard a skydiver drop-plane gazed through the open door at the landscape far below. With the powerful engine droning in his ears, and no anxiety to cloud his thinking, he mentally calculated  his precise drop position for a perfect, on-target touchdown.

He knew he still had time to don his sport parachute rig, with all its instrumentation and emergency ‘chute, but he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to go to that much trouble. “After all,” he told himself, “the physical laws aren’t all that binding. Besides, that stupid ‘chute messes up my targeting.”

His pilot tried to tell him there was only one way he could jump out of that airplane and survive the fall, and that was to use his parachute.

“That’s a narrow-minded position to take,” said the expert skydiver, “I’m an expert skydiver, and I can shape my body into a lifting-body to land spot on without a scratch.”

The pilot tried to argue with him, but the man would have none of that nonsense. Just as the pilot thought to bank the plane steeply to the left and prevent the expert skydiver from exiting, the man dove right out of the open door, without his parachute. Turned out he was right; he hit the target spot on.

His funeral will be held …

The Bible’s New Testament is God’s spiritual law, also called the law of Christ and the Royal Law, because the King of kings died, was burried, and resurrected to establish it. It’s also called The Perfect Law of Liberty because through Christ we have freedom from sin’s compulsion. Whatever you call it, it’s all love; God’s love brought it about, and our response is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8). It’s as simple as that. All the do’s and don’ts that religion throws at us are just attempts at codifying what should come naturally to believers, as, “we love because he first loved us.”

The southern sheriff was right, “Da law is da law,” and for those of us whom Christ bought with his his very life, that is the law of love.

Paletool’s Bulls Eye

The (no doubt) Copyrighted Instructables Bot

I don’t usually expect to find quotables on instructables dot com, but this is one I have to share. Though the above link is for instructions on building bamboo arrows, the author gave some interesting social insight:

I firmly believe that in Preindustrial Societies, the onus of learning was on the pupil. Anyone who wants to succeed will find a way to learn.

Real learning is an active endevor. We learn best by carefully observing and doing. There will be failures. There will be frustration and tears. Not everything will be obvious nor will the reason for every step be readily apparent. It is not the duty of the teacher to drag every unwilling pupil along nor argue every point to their satisfaction every step of the way. Failure is not something to fear but is something to learn from. If you don’t like the teacher or the methods, either suck it up or find another teacher.

by paletool

I completely agree with Mr. Paletool, but for one point: The entitlement attitude among students did not begin with the industrial age. Neither is it limited to the manual and academic arts.

Christ’s students of today, still known as disciples, stand under Apostle Paul’s clear command: Do your best to present yourself to God tried and approved, an irreproachable worker, setting forth the unaltered word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15) Though Timothy was a preacher, Paul’s words bind the rest of us rank-and-file disciples just as firmly, mandating our obedience to his unaltered word of truth.

If I seem to harp on the word “unaltered,” I do so for good reason. Wherever we turn, we’re faced with conflicting claims about what the Bible teaches, often preached quite forcefully and with flashy showmanship. A popular pulpit-trend is preaching from Bible paraphrases, some with more interpretation than truth. Another is preaching from the KJV without explanations of what the archaic words really mean, or worse, using such misinterpreted words as the bases for wrong teachings.  Each of us, however, bear the sacred responsibility to discern for ourselves the truth of what we hear from the pulpit. To do that, we must constantly pursue an intimate relationship with God, and consume his Word on our own, regularly, broadly, and in depth, allowing his Holy Spirit to speak to us through it.

“Oh, but I’m just a layperson, not trained in Bible stuff.”

Not to worry, babe in Christ. You don’t have to know everything about God’s Word to develop an effective B.S. (Bible Slander) detector, but you must care enough start climbing that learning curve now. And if you really don’t care a whole lot, why did you read this far?

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.

Like Math

Have you ever noticed that studying Apostle Paul’s letters are like studying math? Yes, math class requires some memorization of math facts—those are the annoying sums, times tables, axioms and theorems—but math’s heart lies in its concepts, which must be learned step-by-step. Miss one concept, and the rest won’t make sense.

To be understood, the church must teach God’s word in the same way. Isaiah, after decrying the tribe of Ephraim’s cavalier attitude toward teaching God’s word in chapter twenty-eight, declares to their shame how they would be taught by their enemies.

Isaiah 28:11-14 For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the LORD will speak to this people, (12) to whom he has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear. (13) And the word of the LORD will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little, that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. (14) Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers, who rule this people in Jerusalem!

We too, often treat God’s gospel in the same way, harping on John 3:16 til the world vomits it out as too much of a good thing. While they will never give us the opportunity to teach them systematic theology, our example of God’s love toward one another, and toward the unlovable, will win them over before mentioning Jesus’ beloved words.

Once they come to faith in Christ, can we then bomb them with all our Christian rules and regulations?

No way! After they’ve tasted the gospel’s milk and allowed it to bring them new life, we must first love them as advertised. Then we must spoon-feed them “precept upon precept,” until they graduate to God’s red meat.

Thing is, though large Bible study classes familiarize the church with God’s word, nurturing new believers through them is a logistical nightmare. That’s like trying to teach trig to first graders. Instead, we must disciple them individually or in small groups, beginning with God’s most basic truths and working through the hard teachings, til they are ready to disciple others. As that’s the way of both math teachers and Jesus, we’d do well to follow their example.