My Infinitesimal Understanding

A few minutes ago I let my mind wander to God while relaxing on my bed, and I thought about how much I’ve learned about God over the past few years. As I lay there contemplating my infinite, eternal Lord, I realized that my vast knowledge <(8-P) amounts to nothing compared to all that He is. Yes, His Word tells us all we need to know about Him. And yes, His Holy Spirit reveals His personal message of truth to each of us. But my pea-brain is woefully ill-equipped to grasp even the most elementary understanding of His infinite Being.

In view of that humbling truth, I wonder how other Christians can boldly stand so cock-sure of their ideas about God and His Word. Face it, any embellishment of God’s Word, such as commentaries and systematic theologies, are only some human being’s conclusions, regardless how carefully they’ve studied it. So taking Luther’s, Wesley’s, or Calvin’s statements as tantamount to Holy writ is foolish in the extreme. Remember the two builders that Jesus mentioned in Matthew 7:24-27? The wise builder built on the Rock, not on his ideas about it. Our understanding of anything is nothing more than shifting sand.

Agreeing to disagree is not compromising on God’s truth. Standing, immovable, on ones personal understanding smacks of personal pride, and remember, “I” is at the center of both pride and sin. So, if you’re absolutely convinced that your personal understanding of God and His Word is spot on, you’d better dig down to the Rock for your foundation, or great will be your fall.

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).

Critique

Capture

On sitting through a TV movie called, MELTDOWN: DAYS OF DESTRUCTION, my only choice for redeeming an otherwise wasted ninety minutes is to draw a spiritual object lesson from the experience.

The scenario has fat, bald, money-grubbing Republican (my surmise – not stated in the movie) Jared Olsen insisting on executing an experiment against the advice of good-guy Nathan. The experiment? Nuke a perfectly innocent asteroid that wasn’t even in danger of crashing into Earth. You know, target practice. You can see the story coming, just like I did; the nuke split the asteroid, with the biggest piece—roughly the size of Iceland—heading Earthbound. When it ricocheted off the atmosphere, all the scientists thought we had dodged a major bullet, but they soon learned that this close encounter of the worst kind had nudged our garden-planet closer to the Sun. Of course, all the flowers, as well as billions of people, began wilting forthwith.

At the top of my list of technical blunders in that flick stands the fact that any change in our solar orbit significant enough to cause temperatures to climb so quickly would have generated such catastrophic, worldwide earthquakes that everyone would have died long before we could develop a corporate sunburn. Add to that, a moon that would have either crashed into earth or set off on its own interplanetary voyage, and you can see that would have been a bad day indeed for everyone concerned.

Don’t worry, the first two blunders of my list are enough to demonstrate the producers’ scientifically careless attitude, so I won’t belabor the point with the rest of my long and boring list. Said careless attitude illustrates the superficial approach that characterizes naturalistic scientists’ observations of the physical universe. Simply put, they make the best observations they can, given technology’s developing state, run a few explanatory theories up the flagpole, shoot down all but one, and reap a Nobel Prize for it. Of course, all scientists are not atheists, but academia pretty much ignores those who refuse to toe the naturalistic line.

Do you ever wonder why so many good church kids graduate from college as atheists? Most of the blame goes to the fact that state-funded higher education is misnamed; it’s not education, but naturalistic indoctrination.

Another great portion of blame falls at the feet of Christian education, which fails to teach church kids how to think critically. The religious establishment believes that the best response to public education’s naturalistic indoctrination is to simply tell kids not to believe it. They’re afraid that teaching our youth critical thinking will cause them to question what they’re taught about God. But guess what; they will anyway. Wouldn’t we be better off teaching young people the correct use of logic? To fear that is to doubt God’s credibility.

Yes, this is a critique, but not of a movie. It’s the church that deserves healthy criticism.

(For a follow-up post, see, Solution.)

Other-Worldly Phenomena

Reporting supernatural-sounding and appearing phenomena has become all the rage, but I can’t help being skeptical. Ignorance of cause brings about all kinds of hysterical reactions and explanations. I tend to go with the “pranksters” explanation until more data is available. People can be ingenious when creating hoaxes, and there are more than enough high-power audio systems throughout the world capable of generating other-worldly sounds.

On another tack, secret scientific research may explain such things, but I can’t imagine it being so wide-spread unless it is in the area of transportation. New forms of propulsion may generate loud, unheard of, noises, and spread it far and wide.

If these were supernatural phenomena, I suspect they would be more widespread. On the other hand, prophets of the Bible explained what they saw and heard according to their limited frame of reference. They may well have previewed what is happening today and were unable to explain it.

If these manifestations are of the end-times variety, worrying about it will profit us nothing; our only sensible response is to obey God’s clear commands and be ready when He comes. If you aren’t sure of your eternal destiny, God’s Word will tell you all you need to know to assure your eternal salvation, and here’s a link to a common-sense gospel presentation. Why fear the unknown, when our Savior knows all and loves all?

Baseline Christianity

Our Daily Bread came through again. This time with a reminder from Scripture of how we are to behave as followers of Christ.

Two senses: 1, Minimal behavior standards; 2, As in baseball, the path we must follow.

Tit 3:1-8 ESV
(1) Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,
(2) to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
(3) For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
(4) But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
(5) he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
(6) whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
(7) so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
(8) The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

(1) Ungodly leaders can never take control without God’s permission, so whether or not we agree with our authority figures, we are obligated to obey them. The exception to that principle only applies when said authorities direct us to violate God’s clearly expressed teachings. Be careful, though, challenging the authorities requires godly discernment, and will be costly.

(2) Apostle James wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26) But he also had much to say about the tongue’s evil potential in chapter three. People will rub us the wrong way, but God gives us no choice but to speak well of everyone, or keep our mouths shut.

(3) No one is a worse sinner than we were before we gave ourselves to Jesus. Oh, we may have done less heinous things, but sin is sin in God’s eyes.

(4-7) This speaks for itself; how can I improve on God’s Word? So, here’s another passage that reinforces this idea:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

(8) These divine directives aren’t optional. If we are truly saved, we will sincerely try to obey God’s Word. The idea of carnal Christians is a myth perpetrated by false teachers, catering to false believers. Those following Peter Pan religion, refusing to grow up in the Lord, are deceiving themselves. As we strive to follow Christ, we will make mistakes, even thoroughly blowing it occasionally, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t trying.

If you are following Christ to the best of your ability, don’t let the enemy heap condemnation on you when you slip up. Apostle Paul said, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Romans 8:1-2) Just remember, if you weren’t saved you wouldn’t feel grief when you wander off the baseline.

Pray consistently. Learn from God’s Word. Stay close to your Savior, and you’ll turn your base hit into an eternal home run.

Just Ask

The Humanist View of Knowledge

Confession time again; I often fail to tell God what I need because I expect Him to already know my needs, and know them better than I do.

Well, that is true; He knows my heart, my circumstances, my wants, and my needs, because He knows me perfectly, through and through. But I just realized (duh!) that one of Jesus’ miracles tells me a key truth about what He wants us to do when we need something. Mark 10:46-52 tells of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar whom Jesus found sitting by the road to Jericho.

Jesus asked him what he wanted. Now, I used to puzzle about why He would have to ask. I mean, Jesus is God, and knows everything, past, present and future. Right? So, why did Jesus have to ask what he needed? From what Jesus said when His disciples asked when He would return (Mark 13:32), I saw that Jesus could choose not to know something. Maybe He chose not to know Mr. B’s mind. Or, I think more likely, Jesus wanted him to confess his need so that when Jesus healed him, there would be no confusion about the power that did the deed.

Regardless of Jesus’ reason for doing that, He gave us a most valuable lesson in prayer. So:

(7) “(You must)Ask, and it will be given to you; (you must)seek, and you will find; (you must)knock, and it will be opened to you.
(8) “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
(9) “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?
(10) “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?
(11) “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!
Mat 7:7-11

Ouch!

In the following excerpt from The Problem of Pain, Uncle Jack (C.S. Lewis, for the uninitiated) plows a bit too close to my own fence, and I hope, yours as well:

Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. For about a hundred years we have so concentrated on one of the virtues—“kindness” or mercy—that most of us do not feel anything except kindness to be really good or anything but cruelty to be really bad. Such lopsided ethical developments are not uncommon, and other ages too have had their pet virtues and curious insensibilities. And if one virtue must be cultivated at the expense of all the rest, none has a higher claim than mercy. . . . The real trouble is that “kindness” is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that “his heart’s in the right place” and “he wouldn’t hurt a fly,” though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy: it is not so easy, on the same grounds, to imagine oneself temperate, chaste, or humble. You cannot be kind unless you have all the other virtues. If, being cowardly, conceited and slothful, you have never yet done a fellow creature great mischief, that is only because your neighbour’s welfare has not yet happened to conflict with your safety, self-approval, or ease.

Folks think I’m a nice guy, an impression I don’t try hard enough to discourage. Instead, I’m a counterfeit, a fake.

“What’s wrong with being thought of as nice?” you may well ask.

“Nothing,” I may well answer, if I weren’t a Christ-follower. You see, anyone can be nice with the proper motivation; maybe she’s singularly gorgeous, he holds your promotion in his clammy hands, they’re well-connected, or you just want to be liked. Under such circumstances your niceness is for your own sake.

Uncle Jack pointed out a painful truth, “… though in fact he has (or I have) never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature.” Here’s a personal example: I know a sister in the Lord who possesses both inner and outer beauty. I used to help her with the yard work on her large, corner lot. My motivation was both selfless and selfish, er, mostly selfish, as I wanted to be close to her and make brownie-points. Was I kind? Or was I simply cunning?

Apostle John, in his first letter to his children in the faith, said a lot about godly love.
1Jn 2:15-16 NASB
(15) Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
(16) For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

While that is all truth, allow me to focus on, “the boastful pride of life.” When I actively seek to be liked, I indulge in that sort of pride; I think I’m a nice guy and want others to think of me in the same way. That has nothing to do with love of my Father God or any of His children, and is instead, worldly. For a Christ-follower, that is a solid no-no.

Some may feel that I am overthinking this issue, but if my concern brings me closer to embracing godly attitudes I’ll overthink everything I read in the Scriptures.

C.S. Lewis on Free Will

Here’s the best, and shortest, analysis of personal volition, or free will, that I’ve ever seen. Go, Uncle Jack:

The sin, both of men and of angels, was rendered possible by the fact that God gave them free will: this surrendering a portion of His omnipotence (it is again a deathlike or descending movement) because He saw that from a world of free creatures, even though they fell, He could work out (and this is the re-ascent) a deeper happiness and a fuller splendour than any world of automata would admit.

From Miracles

Truth be told, and to the irritation of both sides of the divine sovereignty issue, the Bible clearly spells out both God’s absolute sovereignty, and man’s personal volition. “How can that be?” you ask. It’s easy if you’re God. Just don’t limit God to your ability to understand His Truth. Ever!