What’s the Hurry?

I’ve often asked that question when “Mr. Wheeler” can’t seem to abide with my speed limit driving, and at the first opportunity, or occasionally before the first opportunity, he streaks around me, just to throw on the breaks at the next traffic signal or turn off at the next intersection. (Thanks for the illustration, Goofy.)

That used to be me, as my Facebook picture shows, so I already know the answer; hurrying originates as procrastination or an over-full schedule, so we leave at the last possible moment, thinking all will be green til we get there. Of course we all know about the best laid plans, etc., but somehow we fail to consider the near-certainty of Murphy’s Law coming into play at exactly the wrong time (which is, after all, how it works). Before long, hurrying becomes a habit, then an addiction.

Medical science tells us that our adrenaline response “evolved” as part of our flight-or-flight instinct. If that’s true, our nearly constant adrenaline flow is unnatural, placing the sort of stress on our bodies that we place on over-amped electric motors or supercharged automotive engines. In short, we can’t last as long if we’re always in a hurry.

My problem with rushing around is it undermines the peace I have in Christ Jesus. We already have the supernatural peace that comes from knowing our eternal destiny, as well as the peace we get from knowing, loving and communicating with God through his Holy Spirit. That’s all quite wonderful, and just part of our reward for following Christ, but our lives are filled with more immediate, even urgent, issues than that. While our peace that passes understand is God’s gift to Christ-followers, we must deliberately apply it to life’s everyday choices if we want to enjoy its maximum benefit.

Apostle Paul dispensed profound wisdom to the church in Philippi, but excerpting just a few words from the following passage would not do it justice:

Philippians 4:4-9 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Verse four asserts a foundational, spiritual principle that Paul repeated for emphasis: We must rejoice always, not only when things are going swimmingly. But know that such rejoicing is only possible when a life is fully given to God through the Lord Jesus. Verse five tells us to drop the “manly” act. Verse six deals succinctly with anxiety. But even with the sure-fire solution that follows, actually allowing God to remove anxiety from our lives takes constant vigilance. And particularly love verses eight and nine, as they challenge me to the max.

This “always” passage gives us a verbal portrait of Jesus, a behavioral target for our constant striving. And the ultimate reward for diligently pursuing Christ-likeness? God’s peace!

So, don’t hurry after your petty, earthly goals, but make your quest for God’s goals your highest priority.
(Note to self: Follow your own advice! ;^)

Caution! Read the Label

Warning! May be addictive.

Yesterday I bought a jar of sunflower kernels (that’s the seeds without armor). As I hadn’t enjoyed such a treat in a very long time, and I went to the store hungry, I naturally bought the beckoning jar of golden pleasure. After enjoying a modest snack—I kid you not—I stopped today and read the label:

INGREDIENTS: SUNFLOWER KERNELS, SEA SALT, SUGAR, CORN STARCH, CONTAINS 1% OR LESS OF THE FOLLOWING: MONOSODIUM  GLUTAMATE, MALTODEXTRIN, SMOKED TORULA YEAST, DRIED CORN SYRUP, SPICE, GARLIC POWDER, ONION POWDER. (Emphasis mine)

I was aghast! Why would I want to take all that junk into my body? I thought I had read the label; it said, “Dry Roasted Sunflower Kernels (with sea salt),” but I hadn’t read the entire label.

So, I relearned a valuable life-lesson: Always read everything on the label.

You were “fearfully and wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139:14), and your Maker even provided a detailed label so you could know exactly what’s inside; it’s contained within our User’s Manuel. Of course, the Bible doesn’t tell us all the minute, physiological details of our composition, but it does reveal the really important stuff; you have a body, a soul, and a spirit, and each of those require certain things to prosper, or even to survive. For example, your body needs nutrition (preferably without all the garbage in those sunflower kernels), shelter, and hygiene. Your soul—including your mind, personality, temperament, and emotions—need to take on strong, positive character. Your human spirit is like bleached, white flower; it “tastes” great, but lacks anything to sustain life. God designed the human spirit to work in concert with his Holy Spirit, but that all ended when Man chose to disobey God’s clear command—his only command, by the way—and believe the serpent’s lie.

If you’re a Christ-follower, you already know all that, but did you know that your behavior and attitudes can shackle the Holy Spirit’s work in your life? If we subscribe to the “Stinkin’ Thinkin'” mentality, or refuse to cultivate spiritual fruit, we grieve God’s Spirit and open ourselves up to the unpleasant, even catastrophic, consequences.

Acts 17 tells the story of Thessalonian Jews dragging Jason and other believers into court with accusations of “turning the world upside down.” Are we still that church? Are we still making more than a subtle difference in our world? When did we, God’s church, loose that power? What compromise do we make that grieves God’s Spirit in our lives and churches?

The answer is easy: We have once again sold our souls to the enemy, trading the Way of Christ for playing church. We allow the world’s values and perversions into our homes by calling it, “entertainment.” We compromise our holiness to seem relevant, even cool, in our world. While all of these shortfalls are also true of me personally, this last one is true of me especially: We over-think our faith, trying to make it humanly reasonable, unable to believe what doesn’t make sense, living by sight, and not by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).

If that indictment seems like no big thang, I even have to wonder if we are in Christ at all. If we’re okay with an impotent church, is it truly God’s church?

Caution! We need to carefully and completely read the Label God placed on us, then follow its instructions, not to the letter, as that is legalism, but by his Spirit. Only then will we complete Jesus’ Great Commission.

The ISIS Apocalypse (warning, graphic image)

Please forgive this horrible image, and remember that this is not a man, but the vestige of one who is now with his Savior. Rejoice for him, for his hope is now fully realized.

I received a long e-mail detailing the horrible atrocities that the hoodlums of the Islamic State are perpetrating against Christians in Iraq. I’ve seen graphic images of children without heads, and heard of the rape and pillage of Christian families. And my feelings go beyond outrage, to apprehension, and even fear. “How long before they take over our country, as they promise?”

That is my fleshly reaction to this evil that seems to be spreading, unchecked, but when I look to my Savior instead of such scare tactics, my response is quite different. Of course it’s easy for me to sit in this comfortable chair in front of my computer monitor, smack in the middle of one of America’s havens of freedom, and say I truly believe none of this Islamic State business is taking God by surprise. The truth is, God is not wringing his hands and desperately commissioning the West to step in and correct all the hideous wrongs. Rather, God is allowing this genocide to wake up his church, to open our eyes to the fact that we are not safe in this world, that our safety is spiritual, and that no matter what happens to our property, families or selves, he is always faithful. We are not to fear those who can kill us physically, but only him who controls our eternal destiny (Matthew 10:28).

I believe God is giving grace to his beloved Christ-followers when we face persecution, and even execution, for his name’s sake. He cannot abandon us because he is Love personified, but he can and will allow whatever our hardened hearts require, in order to make them soft toward him.

Never think that Father God is made of stone, that he feels nothing for his suffering church. Good heavens! He gave his own beloved Son over to worse torture than ISIS, or any other Satanic force, can dish out, so we his enemies could be saved.

My prayer is first, that God will glorify himself through this time of tribulation, and second, that his suffering church will look to our Savior for his supernatural peace, and die with psalms of praise on our lips. We dare not submit to a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (1 Timothy 1:7-8).

So look up, for our Savior is drawing near, and pray for gratitude, and courage to face whatever God allows in our future.

C.S. Lewis on the God of Last Resort

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It is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up “our own” when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him.

Well said, Uncle Jack.

One fundamental(ist?) problem faces those of us who try to earn brownie points with God; he is entirely self-sufficient, and needs nothing we have to offer, including our good works, money and stringent obedience to religious codes. The truth is far more simple.

First John 4:16 tells us, “God is love.” As personified love, God needs nothing more than people who willingly receive his love; that’s you and me. I’ll venture onto a limb to say that love received is love returned, and that’s all he wants from us. “We are loving because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 DNLT) We not only return God’s love, but because of God’s love, we love others, including those we can’t stand.

What may have begun as our last resort has become our first and only choice. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.b The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

A Lesson From Prince Rupert

Prince Rupert of Bavaria discovered an interesting phenomenon that makes glass harder than steel. This YouTube video from Smarter Every Day demonstrates its properties.

Did you notice how the exceedingly strong lump of glass could only be broken by snapping the weaker, tail-section? That suggests an equally mysterious phenomenon within God’s church; as strong as the church is against outside attack, internal stresses can explode it.

When glass is held in a flame until it’s hot enough, it begins to flow like an extremely thick liquid, with its high-viscosity holding it in a single mass. Similarly, when God’s church is spiritually hot enough, it too begins to move, and like a liquid, it fills voids in people’s lives. When the church cools, however, it becomes brittle enough to break easily under stress.

I found the almost-instant, explosive force flowing from a break in the relatively weak tail particularly fascinating. God’s Spirit holds his church together and strong through the people’s individual characteristics and interpersonal dynamics, but the tiniest break can release those dynamics explosively and travel through the church at lightening speed.

The enemy will most certainly use the church’s internal stresses to fracture it, but that can’t happen as long as it’s kept hot by the Holy Spirit’s fire.

Deference … Again

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Please bear with me while I once again harp on the attitude we are to practice toward one another. I was going to add, “in the church,” but upon reviewing the above Scripture passage I didn’t see that distinction made. This is one aspect of the Great Commandment that Jesus defined in Mark 12:28-34.

29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

We need to continuously examine our actions, and where needed, adjust our attitude toward others, especially those whom we dislike. Personality conflicts will happen, but we must never allow that to override our love for those irritating people.

I just noticed a rather significant statement in Mark’s account above, where Jesus said, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” In Deuteronomy 6:4-5, from which Jesus quoted, the author used God’s personal name: YHVH, though to be pronounced, Yahovah. So here is Jesus, whom the Jews thought to be a usurper and blasphemer, declaring God’s perfect unity. That either took a lot of nerve, or Jesus was uniquely qualified to declare it.

So, “Deference!” Are you, in lowliness of mind, esteeming others better than yourself? For your sake, I hope so.

Lessons From the Rich, Young Ruler

Today’s Our Daily Bread title is, “Giving It To God.” So, what is, “It,” and why? Let’s put the account of, “The Rich, Young Ruler,” under a magnifying glass to find out.

All three synoptic gospels cover this event, so we know it is note-worthy. Luke said the guy was a ruler, though he didn’t mention his jurisdiction. Matthew and Mark said he was young, which agrees with his inquisitiveness. As an aside, have you ever noticed that as we age we tend to “know” everything worth knowing? Truth is, when we quit learning we quit growing, and anything that has quit growing is dead. You may think you’ve quit growing because you haven’t grown taller in years, but your cells keep reproducing to replace any damaged or dead cells, or if you’re a body builder you are growing muscle mass (to impress the opposite sex or enhance your self-worth?). Anyway, let’s see what we can learn from that inquisitive leader.

  • The young man ran up and knelt before Jesus (Mark 10:17), showing that he was desperate to learn, and considered Jesus his superior.
  • He called Jesus, “good Teacher,” showing his esteem for him.
  • He said, “What shall I do …?” which from the outset was the wrong question. So Jesus answered it anyway, but not in the way the young man would have preferred.
  • He used the phrase, “inherit eternal life,” demonstrating that he realized simply being a religiously faithful Jew didn’t entitle him to gain eternal life.
  • Jesus asked him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but one: God.” (Mark 10:18) Jesus gave him the choice of either retracting his “good” statement, or admitting that Jesus was God. But Jesus left that hanging, as he narrowed in on his instruction.
  • Jesus said, “You know the commandments ….” And Matthew’s narration has him saying, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The young man follows that with, “Which ones? (Mark 10:19)
  • Then Jesus obliges him with six of the Ten Commandments (five in Luke). Matthew adds part of the Great Commandment, making it seven (Matthew 19:18-19). Mark’s account extrapolates “Do not covet,” to “Do not defraud,” in the spirit of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
  • Matthew’s account quotes the young man as replying, “All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?” Mark and Luke leave out the question, which is implied. We can safely infer that the religious young man sensed he was falling short of God’s requirements, despite his faithful obedience to Moses’ Law. That speaks … no … screams of religion’s impotence in the spiritual realm. Matthew’s inclusion of, “love your neighbor as yourself,” plows even closer to God’s true requirements for receiving eternal life, but it’s still no cigar (so to speak). So, what in this guy’s religious observance is still lacking?
  • “Sell what you have,” as in, liquidate your possessions, “and give to the poor.” Please note that Jesus didn’t say, “make the check out to, J-E-S-U-S–S-O-N–O-F–J-O-S-E-P-H.” So, where would the money have gone? Straight to heaven, via the stomachs of those who couldn’t otherwise eat. That’s what “love your neighbor as yourself” truly means. Should Jesus have considered the possibility of creating a welfare class of “po folks” who feel entitled to support? Of course not! In those days people were rarely poor due to their own laziness. Unlike today, able-bodied people always found at least menial work sufficient to keep themselves from starving.
  • So, how did this rich young ruler respond to Jesus’ advice? He walked away dejected, as it was just too much to ask. His response typifies today’s attitude toward possessions. Of course, that’s only the unbelievers’ attitude. Right? Sorry, but wrong. Simply persuading today’s pew-sitters to tithe is a major chore, let alone prying them loose from their excess possessions. Most churches have to beg and plead for the funds necessary to keep the lights on and the preacher’s kids in shoes. This should not be!

Have we learned nothing over the years of hearing this true story from our pulpits? Apparently, most of us have missed Jesus’ lesson. We conservatives constantly bellyache about our federal welfare state, yet few of us are willing to sacrifice our affluent lifestyles to give genuinely needy people a godly alternative. Are cars, entertainment systems, toys, recreational activities and “financial security” really important enough to disobey our Lord Jesus for them?

We call ourselves “Christian,” but we ignore Jesus’ Great Commandment. How does that work?

We praise God with emotional tears and uplifted hands, but we refuse to glorify him with our abilities, and the funds we derive from them. We act like self-made men, owing nothing to anyone—including God—for what we can do, and still we wonder why God’s church is stalled in its advance against hell’s gates.

I find myself asking, “Do I truly belong to heaven, standing in Jesus’ presence for eternity? Or does my self-centered attitude actually belong in hell?”

What Is Truth?

Someone responded to a WordPress blog comment by asking, “What is this truth your referring to? Is it what has been told and believed for thousands of years? Is it empirically proven without doubt? Or is it what certain individuals hold dear? You believe your name is ‘x3737y9z7z’ (the commenter’s username)  because someone told you, and you believe that your parents are actually your parents because the told you they were, these are truths to you, but it can be an entirely false assumption.

My answer: I’ll try to answer that as unambiguously as possible: Belief and truth aren’t necessarily the same. Pantheists believe in a multiplicity of deities. Unbelievers could say they’re daft, or they simply accept different definitions from those familiar to us.

Empiricism, like debate, proves nothing. Both depend upon Method for consistency, and consensus decides the standardized methods. You could say that the Scientific Method eliminates error, but you would be wrong. Scientific Method reduces error’s probability, but never to absolute zero. Also, empirical proofs depend upon technology, the development of which continues advancing geometrically. As new instrumentation, computers, and software enter the laboratory, experimental results improve, but perfect machines will never exist, because their creators aren’t perfect.

Science, in fact, never answers questions without raising many more. It is simply a flashlight that illuminates the darkness of ignorance, but never absolutely. Is such ambiguity a sound foundation upon which to build your world view? If you were to say that religion is even more ambiguous than physical science, I would have to disagree with you; just as scientific schools of thought conflict with one another, claiming to have a lock on their subject, all the while undergoing constant revision, so do all religions disagree with one another, teaching some degree of error, while each claims to own God’s absolute truth. So who can say which is the more questionable? The only absolute source of truth is the One who created it, the One who summarized his absolute knowledge and wisdom, and inspired responsible men to faithfully pass it from generation to generation as oral tradition, until it could be recorded in writing for their posterity. Today, we lack the benefit of such rigorous oral tradition, having to rely on post-manuscript, textual evidence as to God’s actual meaning. The problem is, even the most accurate, most carefully preserved texts require human minds to translate and interpret them. Only God himself can solve that problem, through his Spirit’s influence when we read his word.

You will likely tell me to explain the multiplied thousands of different takes on the same texts. That’s an easy one; God’s Spirit can only influence us as we yield our minds to him, and many of those who claim to be Biblical scholars are influenced more by denominational, commercial, and self interest than by God’s Spirit. And regrettably, I am not immune to error in applying God’s word to my own life, let alone to anyone else’s. That’s why, in the final analysis, honest Christ-followers (and I believe that’s the only kind) refuse the temptation to dogmatize, and expect God to sort it all out and advance his kingdom despite all our frailties and differences.

Only one perfect Truth exists, and Jesus ended all debate on the subject when he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

C.S. Lewis on Why You Are You

The Brocken Spectre

Listen up, people! This one is important. I’m only posting this excerpt from Uncle Jack’s The Problem of Pain on the off-chance that even one person will read it, carefully. So, here goes:

[God's] signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why, He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction. The Brocken spectre ‘looked to every man like his first love’, because she was a cheat. But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.

I’ve never seen this principle of individuality expressed so well: God is the Worker; heredity and environment are His tools. He loves our differences because He crafted them so carefully. “Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s.” You must not accept any other’s vision of your heavenly Father … Really! I never thought of that before. Didn’t He make our eyes, our perceptions, different? One of the Evangelical community’s great problems is we expect, even demand, that others see God as we do. Brethren! We are not clones! When God’s Spirit moves into your soul, He decides what about you He will change in the new creature that used to be you. You’ll still have the same name (and a New Name), face (but with His glory showing through), personality (unless you were a stinker), family (with the significant addition of your spiritual brethren), interests (unless they were ungodly), and job (unless calls you to another). You will, however, have an entirely new world view, resulting in an entirely new eternal destiny.

So, don’t worry about conforming to others’ expectations. Just be Christ to your world.