A Time for Dignity

Eric Metaxas featured Mel Lawrenz’s book, A Time for Dignity, which espouses a novel approach to the idea of dignity; not only does it demand respect, but humanity is incapable of negating it. Why? As God’s special creation, we possess the dignity He imparted to us at conception, and no one can steal what God has bestowed.

Of course, that does not prevent depraved human beings from trying to violate others’ human dignity; witness the Nazi’s shameful treatment of Jews in the ’30s and ’40s. All bullies are guilty of the same transgression, which is nothing more or less than trying to glorify oneself by diminishing another’s worth.

By contrast, I feel God’s commission to recognize others’ dignity by respecting everyone, regardless of how little they seem to deserve my respect. The easiest, most straightforward means of showing respect is simply to listen to them. Yes, some people try to take advantage of my respect by shining me on or lying, hoping to con me. But that is on their head. There is an advantage to having few possessions.

For Want of Light

 

On ships of war, the men below decks at night exist in a dim, red world, lest when called to their battle stations in the outer darkness they should succumb to night blindness. In the same way, we must willingly live in relative darkness, so we might fully see what God places before us in His subtle, spiritual light.

Isaiah 50:10-11 New King James Version (NKJV)

10 “Who among you fears the LORD?
Who obeys the voice of His Servant?
Who walks in darkness
And has no light?
Let him trust in the name of the LORD
And rely upon his God.
11 Look, all you who kindle a fire,
Who encircle yourselves with sparks:
Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled—
This you shall have from My hand:
You shall lie down in torment.

Guilty as charged! I would love to be alone in that verdict, but alas, I am anything but.

My confession is true; I have ventured forth into self-generated light, imagining it was from God. I should have heeded Isaiah’s admonition: Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely upon his God.

Is trusting active, or passive? It is active, as we discern and reject the world’s—and the self’s—seductions. But it is also passive, as we wait on God’s light, as opposed to trying to generate our own.

We live in a performance-oriented culture, and that drive taints the church’s works. We constantly audit our own productivity, and that of others. We encircle ourselves with sparks, walking in the light of our own fire and in the sparks we have kindled.

Let us not turn our work for our Lord into a competition, always striving to make points against “them,” while refusing to acknowledge the fruit “they” bear, lest they pull ahead of us on some celestial scoreboard.

SANTA CLAUS GRACE?

My previous post laid out some pretty stringent requirements for salvation that seem to leave no room for our human weakness. If that were all of God’s revelation to us, we would be in seriously bad straits. But there’s also this little thing called, “grace,” and it’s not to be taken lightly.

Searching, “did evil,” produced twenty hits in the KJV’s Old Testament. Each time, God judged that generation with some calamity that lasted until Israel begged His forgiveness and repented of their adulterous ways. And each time they repented, God gave them victory over their oppressive enemies. That’s grace.

Popular misconceptions have God either wearing a red suit and long, white beard, or throwing lightening bolts at anyone who steps out of line, but those who seriously read the Old Testament will see the depths of God’s love and grace toward His wayward people. God used all that failure, and all that judgment, simply to show us that we have no hope for salvation outside of His grace.

The fact that you’re reading this indicates your interest in things Biblical. The teaching of God’s inexhaustible grace is the hinge pin of all Bible doctrine.

Here you will find a treatment of God’s grace that, while not exhaustive, is thorough enough that you may learn something about it. Though I recommend the article, please know that I don’t agree with every point the author makes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am right in my conclusions, or that he is wrong. Weigh his propositions by God’s Word. If nothing else, it will give you insight into the teachings of Calvinism.

With all this teaching about God’s grace, remember that He is not Santa, keeping a balance sheet of good and bad boys and girls. From the age of accountability, we are all on God’s “bad list,” and only by obeying the good news of His grace can we hope for eternal life with Him.

Danger: Quicksand!

Psalms 37:23-24 ESV
(23) The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way;
(24) though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.

To which man does this passage refer? I think it’s addressed to the one who delights in the existing One’s(YHWH’s, Yahweh’s, Jehovah’s, or the LORD’s) Way, which of course is the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6). If one delights in Jesus, and His Way, the existing One establishes or directs the course of his life. That can be taken as an absolute statement, as one who delights in God’s Way will not easily go against that inclination. If he does, verse 24 and 1 John 1:9 apply, and he will not be cast headlong to destruction, but the existing One steadies and sustains his hand.

I visualize an explorer blazing a path through the jungle, where he encounters a wide mud bog. Being a careful explorer, he realizes the possibility that it is quicksand, and his Guide cannot show him a way around it. His Guide locates a downed log, long enough to span the bog, and just big enough to do the job. As he mounts the log he finds it precarious at best; he needs his Guide’s steadying hand. Being a klutz, he loses his balance and begins to fall into the quicksand, but his Guide pulls him back onto his narrow path.

What an encouragement, that I don’t need to worry about falling into the “quicksand!” My Guide will keep me on His path despite my human weakness, because I delight in His Way. Of course, this promise excludes anyone who insists on delighting in, and pursuing, his own way.

THE THORN IN MY HEART

St. Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

Apostle Paul wrote of several aspects of his life that could cause him to be proud:

2 Corinthians 12:1-4
(1) It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:
(2) I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a one was caught up to the third heaven.
(3) And I know such a man–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–
(4) how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

(Romans 11:13) For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry,

(2 Corinthians 12:12) Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.

Most scholars believe Paul spoke of himself regarding these wonderful claims. Yet, in all these, he glorified God rather than himself, and for one reason:

2 Corinthians 12:7-10
(7) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
(8) Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
(9) And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

What a truth! The eminent apostle recognized a fundamental spiritual law: that everything we naturally think we know is completely backward compared to God’s eternal truth.

My Thorn

I have a few physical issues, but none so deep or painful as to be compared to Paul’s thorn in the flesh. For that I thank my Creator, God’s eternal Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. My thorn is entirely different from anything physical; it is a thorn in my heart.

God’s Word calls the seat of our emotions, faith, mind, will, and temperament, the heart. Of course, God doesn’t mean that muscular blood-pump in our chest, but the in-most home of our nonphysical functions.

My personal thorn pierces a number of my heart’s functions, and my born again life’s work has been dealing positively with it. Here’s a litany of my heart’s bleedings: my emotions are too tender, my faith is too weak, my mind is too loud, my will is too weak, and my temperament is too fearful. Just ask any women who have been in my life.

I praise God, though, for the way He’s used that thorn, and the incorporeal blood that drips from it. My tender emotions give me empathy for others’ suffering. My weak faith makes me skeptical of anything that is not of God and His Word. My loud mind is also analytical, giving me a sensitive bovine manure-detector.

Let’s see, what possible redeeming value could my weak will and fearful temperament have? They work together, feeding off of each other, and have always been the cause of my deepest regrets, so I must dig deep to find the answer. For one thing, weak will prevents me from overpowering those around me. Even though some really need overpowering (that’s where the fear flattens my resolve), apparently God wants me to leave that job to someone else. Or is that a cop out? There are times when I realize that God has placed me where I should assert myself, such as sharing my faith and dealing with others’ wrong demands, and I pray constantly for the assertiveness to overcome such resistance when needed.

God’s Solution

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Jesus bore that cruel crown of thorns to tell me that my sins pierced His divine soul. How trivial my personal thorns are in comparison.

Though we sometimes must seemingly dig to China to find God’s richest blessings, those gold nuggets give us unrivaled cause for grateful rejoicing. Join me in praising Him for the hard things!

A Textual Contradiction?

Ancient Hebrew manuscript

Regarding Isaiah 9:3

Here is where various translations diametrically disagree, one taking a positive and another taking a negative disposition on the subject.

The positive are: ASV, Brenton, ESV, GNB, NASB, NKJV, YLT
The negative are: KJV, LEB, Webster

Without an understanding of textual criticism, I perceive a contradiction in the negative rendering, with the clause following it. Why would God tell us first, that He had multiplied the nation, and then that He had not increased its joy, followed by telling us of their joy as in harvest?

Albert Barnes addressed this issue thus:

And not increased the joy – The Masoretes here read in the margin לו  lô “to it,” instead of לא  lo’ “not.” Eleven manuscripts, two of them ancient, have this reading. This reading is followed by the Chaldee Paraphrase, the Syriac, and the Arabic. The Septuagint seems also to have so understood it. So also it is in the margin, and so the connection demands; and it is unquestionably the correct reading. It would then read, ‘thou hast increased for it (the nation) the joy.’ Hengstenberg, however, suggests that the phrase may mean, ‘whose joy thou didst not before enlarge,’ that is, upon whom thou hast before inflicted heavy sufferings. But this is harsh, and I see no reason to doubt that an error may have crept into the text.

I had tentatively sided with the KJV on textual issues, but here is a gross exception to that assumption, where the KJV makes no sense at all in its rendering. Please note that I did not title this piece, “A Biblical Contradiction.” While God faithfully preserves His Word’s meaning and application to our lives, in his sovereignty, he allows us to make mistakes where it contributes to His purposes.

What sayest ye?

Who Do We Worship?

First, What Is Worship?

Technically, it is an expression of our lowliness compared to our object of worship. It demonstrates recognition of another’s superiority or sovereignty over us. Praise is an expression of worship that recounts the qualities and works of the one we worship. I didn’t capitalize “one” in that sentence because we too often worship our temporal gods of material goods, people, or positions of power.

Today’s worship is usually programmed to elicit worshipful feelings, even if the content is non-Scriptural. Too often we feel we’ve failed to worship if we somehow fail to reach that tearful ecstasy. Despite all its wonderful aspects, Pentecostalism has elevated emotional response to where it can become the main priority of worship, with a neopentecostal worship style becoming the norm for Evangelical churches.

Now look! Did I say emotional worship is wrong? Not at all, as long as it isn’t our main priority. If our tears are in response to our love for God, or our conviction of sin, and not merely emotional contagion, God is well served by our tears.

God, or Jesus?

That’s a trick question. Jesus is the human expression of God, the eternal Word, so worshiping God is worshiping Jesus the Christ, the unique Son of God. In the same way, worshiping Jesus is worshiping God.

CAUTION! We can easily analyze the heart out of worship, and getting hung up on technicalities is the heart of legalism. Speaking of hearts, God knows and understands our deepest motivations. If love for God motivates our worship, it glorifies Him even if we fail to understand all the Scriptural particulars.

We mustn’t worry about how we worship God, whether we focus on the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Instead, we need to concern ourselves with obeying God according to the light He has cast upon His Word.

Amazing Grace

No one will ever get living for God exactly right. That’s why He gave us 1 John 1:8-10.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

If you can’t praise God for that, you don’t know Him as you could.

Why I am Not a Calvinist

I was raised Catholic, and if there’s any confusion among Protestants reading this, that means, “Roman Catholic,” or my preferred label of “Romanist.” Their dogma is about as far from Calvinism as ideologically possible, but that’s not why I have a problem with Calvinism.

Considering my conservative view of God’s Word, it’s a wonder that I don’t embrace Calvinism; some of the best Bible scholars, both now and throughout history, are or were Calvinists. Yet, they are missing one significant fact about God: The eternal, self-existent One governs His universe outside of our temporal constraints. Yes, God understands time. He aught to; He created it. Thing is, we limit God according to our understanding of creation. For example, we call God, “Him,” even though He is neither male nor female. The Bible anthropomorphizes Him by speaking of His hands or wings, and non-believers do the same by thinking of Him as a wizened old man with a long white beard, gazing at us through a heavenly telescope to catch us in misdeeds.

Why do we limit our ideas of what’s possible by our understanding of cause-and-effect? Calvinism teaches that we’re saved because God “elected” those who would be saved, individually, from time’s very beginning. In other words, we’re saved because He chose us. Isn’t it also possible that He chose us because we’re saved? Why not both at the same time?

Without going into a hodgepodge of doctrinal proof verses, I can say there is enough solid Scriptural evidence supporting both Calvinism and Wesleyan/Arminian holiness positions that I hesitate to align myself with either side. Can I lose my salvation? Absolutely not, if I am truly saved. Am I truly saved? I have the witness of the Spirit (Romans 8:16), so I must be. Right? Why, then, have so many who claimed that promise apostatized, not only leaving the faith, but vehemently opposing it?

When attempting to evangelize people we often ask them if they’re saved. When they answer, “I hope I’m saved,” we assume they aren’t. But God’s Word tells us, “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? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Romans 8:24-25) Apostle Paul said we “were saved,” meaning it’s a done deal. But we can’t “see” that hope, or it wouldn’t be hope. So we can’t know with a certainty that we’re saved. Claiming that would be claiming the same foreknowledge that only God possesses. According to Paul’s words, “perseverance” is the key to our ultimate salvation.

My intent here isn’t to place your faith in doubt. Rather, I hope to shake it just enough to send you into God’s Word to prove me wrong, and I look forward to seeing those proofs in the comments.

Tragic Reactions

San Bernardino Shooting Victims

Mention tragedy these days and most people’s thoughts go to San Bernardino. Reactions to that awful display of violence range from anger against Muslims to exploitation for various agendas.

Liberals have a hard time restraining their public rejoicing about the use of military-style firearms during that cowardly shooting spree. Managing straight faces, they moralize about the gun situation in our nation, proposing even more restrictions on their availability.

Racists see vindication for their hatred for anyone who seems different. Politicians are exploiting the situation for their own political ends.

Many Christians hope our nation will see Islam in its true colors, and pass controls on what their imams can teach. Little do they realize that infringements on one group’s religious freedom is like the camel and the tent; once his nose is inside, soon the tent is filled with camel.

Due to the love our Savior exemplified and commanded of us, much higher behavioral standards apply to Christians than to any other group in society. He told us not to judge others, lest we be judged for our own transgressions.

Oswald Chambers made a profound statement about judging that I must pass on:

Most of us are much sterner with others than we are in regard to ourselves; we make excuses for things in ourselves whilst we condemn in others things to which we are not naturally inclined.

I am not likely to walk into a meeting of coworkers and open fire on them with an AK-47, just as I did not take out my frustration and anger on my wife. Though I can be spiteful—a sin of which I must consistently repent—overt violence isn’t part of my temperament.

That being the case, I find “righteous” indignation an easy reaction to crimes of terror directed against civilian men, women and children. When a politician advocates deporting members of a particular religion because they may be radicalized, I self-righteously pump my fist in agreement, even though some “Christian” groups are similarly radicalized.

Whether or not such interdiction policies are consistent with the American ideal of freedom is irrelevant to God’s called-out ones, but our desire to implement such policies is terribly relevant. Our goal of furthering God’s kingdom must remain paramount, even in the face of terrorizing religious persecution. Jesus told us to love our enemies for good reason; only by so doing can God convict Christ-haters of their sin, and draw them to Himself.

Accepted in the Beloved

If you ever feel bumfuzzled, just review Ephesians 1:3-10. Seriously!

I began with verse six because it jumped out at me with some urgency while reading in Ephesians chapter one. “To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6)

Not to minimize the praise of the glory of His grace, I’ll focus on the latter part of the verse. First, throw out the word, accepted. I looked it up and found it means way more than just that; it means God has made us charitoō, or graceful, charming, lovely, and agreeable in His sight. He examines us with grace, and has poured out His favor and blessings upon us. God tells us here that we are favorably regarded as members of the “beloved,” which is agapaō, and everybody knows that’s God’s special kind of love.

Now, if that didn’t put a little Sonshine in your day, you really need help.