Open Sez He

Okay, titling this piece after a quote from “Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor” may seem somewhat frivolous, but there’s a method in my obvious madness.

Popeye is perpetually involved in the war between good and evil, but the only way he can win is to keep a can of spinach handy. Of course, you can see the spiritual parallel; we’re helpless against our enemy Satan without God’s Holy Spirit, but he doesn’t come in a can though some think getting his attention is formulaic.

Another Popeye parallel is his motto: “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.” That applies to us directly, as our pretenses never determine who or what we are. You can act religious all day every day, get to church first and leave last, and keep a sanctimonious frown tattooed on your face, but if you haven’t submitted to Jesus out of love and gratitude for what he did for you, it’s all a pretense.

The last parallel I have is a bit of a stretch; In the Sindbad cartoon, Popeye said, “Open sez me,” when he wanted entry to Sindbad’s treasure-cave.” God’s Holy Spirit says to us, “Open your heart and mind to me.” It’s possible to sincerely profess faith in Christ without ever opening up to him. Are you not sure if that describes you? Ask yourself if you open your heart to your pastor, your brethren, your family and friends, and even your enemies. Do you open your mind to God’s Word? True Christ-followers practice God’s love, giving themselves to others as Jesus gave himself to us.

Clever—or not-so clever—cartoon parallels aside, Christ will hold each of us accountable for our response to his total sacrifice for us. Are you a child of God through Christ Jesus, or just a pretender?

Brain Dead

Well, not brain dead in the literal sense, but I feel that way. Unlike Homer Simpson, though, I fully realize my current depth of stupidity. A couple of circumstances are conspiring against my creative thought processes: First, a case (not a half-case or a six-pack) of asthmatic bronchitis is keeping me planted in my chair; even though I’m on the mend I am anything but peppy. Second, my “stay-awake” medicine is awaiting my doctor’s prior approval, leaving me firing on half my mental cylinders. How can one lousy ream of red-tape take so long to be completed?

I have so much to be thankful for, however, that even mentioning these trivial trials seems ungrateful. That leaves me wondering how I would handle real hardship. But I know my loving heavenly Father will give me the grace to accept, and spiritually prosper under, whatever he allows to come my way. I love his promise through Apostle Paul’s words: And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:19-20)

Depression and Anxiety

How’s that for a downer of a title? If you’re reaction to others’ mood disorders is, “Just suck it up,” you don’t suffer from them. They can’t be dismissed simply as, “the blues,” or the temporary funk of low spirits. Chronic affective disorders are physical issues, caused by screwed-up brain chemistry.

I am too familiar with depression and anxiety, having discovered after a heart attack in ’97 that I’ve always suffered from clinical depression. Too bad it took a myocardial infarction to educate me in the issue.

But don’t despair (If you’re like me, that’s hilarious advice.), there’s pharmacological help out there. But first, how’s your insurance? Don’t worry, I’m not an insurance salesman; I asked that because I discovered a marvelous medication that serves me as a very effective mood-stabilizer when used with an antidepressant (The two medications deal with two entirely different issues). It’s called Provigil, and it’s very expensive. Provigil is a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, marketed as a solution for narcolepsy, shift-work disorder, and obstructive sleep apnea. The experience is similar to that of mild amphetamines, but without the awful side-effects, like addiction. As it’s a controlled substance, getting it requires a doctor’s prescription.

Even with that panacea, though, healing my depression and anxiety requires drawing close to my Savior through almost constant prayer and Bible meditation. But don’t worry, I’m not talking about always kneeling with your hands folded, your eyes closed, and a sick-looking expression on your face. The Bible tells us, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17) If you consistently pursue that course, God’s Word will become part of your frame of reference, filling you with hope and trust in your Lord. Believe me, he works through his Word, even if you can’t find passages that apply to your specific issues.

And remember, it’s not YOUR depression and anxiety; it’s your enemy Satan’s very effective tool for dragging you down. Please don’t let it characterize or define you.

C.S. Lewis on Crushed Hopes

C.S. Lewis’ wife Joy

From a letter to Mary Van Deusen dated April 10, 1959

I know all the different ways in which [misdiagnosis of terminal illness] gets one: wild hopes, bitter nostalgia for lost happiness, mere physical terror turning one sick, agonised pity and self-pity. In fact, Gethsemane. I had one (paradoxical) support which you lack—that of being in severe pain myself. Apart from that what helped Joy and me through it was 1. That she was always told the whole truth about her own state. There was no miserable pretence. That means that both can face it side-by-side, instead of becoming something like adversaries in a battle-of-wits. 2. Take it day by day and hour by hour (as we took the front line). It is quite astonishing how many happy—even gay—moments we had together when there was no hope. 3. Don’t think of it as something sent by God. Death and disease are the work of the Devil. It is permitted by God: i.e., our General has put you in a fort exposed to enemy fire. 4. Remember other sufferers. It’s fatal to start thinking ‘Why should this happen to us when everyone else is so happy.’ You are (I was and may be again) one of a huge company. Of course we shall pray for you all we know how. God bless you both.

I desperately hope many will read those words of hope from C.S. Lewis. Of course, my little blog has far less exposure than other on-line Lewis enthusiasts and resources, but if even one hurting individual reads this for the first time, this post is worth the effort.

As I seem unable to leave well enough alone, I’ll list my thoughts on Lewis’ sage words below:

Even in this day of unprecedented diagnostic accuracy, doctors still make mistakes that are no less devastating than in Lewis’ time. We can’t help entertaining wild hopes, even in the face of grim probabilities. When those hopes get dashed, we naturally feel violated, even victimized. While that’s a natural, human reaction to misfortune, we must absolutely guard against self-pity, as it places us in judgment over God’s greater purposes for us.

Lewis’ wife Joy was one who wanted the brutally honest truth of everything. That’s how she came to believe in God and accept his gospel of redemption in Christ Jesus. Seems like most people, though, want only good news about their physical condition, and live in denial of the bad stuff. Even their outlook on national and world events suffers from such foolish optimism, leading them to support political candidates who pander to their unrealistic expectations.

Too often, we ruin the happiness we once had, and could still have, by agonizing over what might happen. Tragically, even Christians, who should actually anticipate physical death, worry about dying. Personally, I look forward to meeting my Savior face-to-face; it’s just the transition that bothers me. Lewis’ reference to Gethsemane is so true, even though Jesus’ prospects were infinitely worse than any we might face.

I love Lewis’ help #3 above, especially his analogy of a fort under siege. We must also remember that our loving God never allows misfortune lightly, but always for a redemptive purpose.

Very few of us will ever face the level of faultless heartache that C.S. Lewis faced. And even if we do, we know that Jesus suffered infinitely worse heartache, and physical torture than we ever will. At least be thankful for that.

C.S. Lewis on Feeling Religiously “All Glowy”

As fatuous human beings, we easily and often let our emotions rule the day. C.S. Lewis had some things to say about religious feelings.

It is quite right that you should feel that “something terrific” has happened to you (It has) and be “all glowy.” Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean, it is not the sensations that are the real thing. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be—perhaps not ever—experienced as a sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

What Lewis called, “all glowy,” we call a “Jesus high,” or something to that effect. In my Bible reading, I can’t recall many Old Testament accounts of “glowy” emotions, except perhaps in King David’s praise psalms and Solomon’s Song of Songs. The New Testament reports of some folks who were quite joyful after being healed or forgiven of their sins.

My own emotional experiences reflect my awe when I meditate on God’s magnificent greatness, or at least the minuscule part of it that I can perceive, and especially his grace and faithfulness toward me, even when I was steeped in sin. I have some academic idea of why God the Father allowed his incarnate Word to become a man, only to be blasphemed, marginalized, humiliated, tortured, and murdered. But I can’t even begin to grasp the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice from his Father’s perspective. Fact is, I can hardly bear my joy over what his gift means to me, or my grief over the suffering that I caused him.

As Lewis so effectively stated, all those intense emotions are just an added bonus, and have nothing to do with the actual salvation experience. I must say, though, that anyone who becomes reconciled to God through his Son’s blood, and doesn’t feel immense gratitude, has the understanding of a worm (nothing personal).

Proud of Being White?

AWHMI followed a link to a Facebook page called, “American White History Month.” On it, I found a slogan with which I, though about as white as one can be, cannot agree. With it, however, I found a true statement, which I will quote first, “Never apologize for being white.”

I’ve done many things during my sixty-eight years for which I could indeed apologize, but why would I apologize for being what God made me? That would be like apologizing for being male, or human. Though males and whites, indeed, all humans, do despicable things, we don’t do them because we are a particular sex or color; we do them because we are sinful.

The second slogan on that page proclaims far more than its creators realize. “Proud of our race and heritage,” seems dangerously close to taking credit for God’s creative work. We didn’t choose to be born white, and of European heritage, so how can we be proud of that? We can certainly be glad of it, and thankful for it, just as people of color can be glad and thankful for who they are. Following, are Bible passages that deal with pride and its consequences:

Ephesians 5:15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21

1 Thessalonians 5:15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

1 Timothy 4:4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Pride in something, and gratitude for it, are antithetical, if at once, one takes credit for it, and gives credit for it. So, which will it be? The passages above, and many more, command gratitude, but never does God’s Word tell us to take pride in what he gave us; even though we may have worked hard for something, or even invented it, we didn’t create it. Such pride is most certainly one form of evil.

As for our heritage, we are a nation born of Christian principles, and that, according to our Constitution’s Establishment Clause, is where our national Christianity ends. As Premier Obama said, America was never a Christian nation. Fact is, we can take pride in no nation governed by fallen human beings, as everything they do is based in sin, even if it seems noble. But we can, and must, remain thankful for it.

Now, Where Was I?

Have you ever had a thought that needed to be expressed, but unforeseen interruptions such as PASSWORD ISSUES blocked your progress? No, of course not! That sort of thing only happens to me.

Don’t worry, reading audience, I haven’t lost it quite yet. Such interruptions seem only to happen to me. Everyone’s daily walk is filled with happenstances and interruptions. As a wiser man than I once said, “Life is what happens to you on the way to fulfilling your plans.” An even wiser man said, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”(Proverbs 16:9) And then, just to squelch all argument, he also said, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” (Psalms 146:3-4) Are you the “prince” of your life?

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”(Psalms 50:14-15) Sometimes, dredging up sincere gratitude in difficult situations seems like a sacrifice, but if you belong to God through Christ Jesus you really have no choice. Your flesh will always struggle against a spirit of gratitude toward your Father God. Why? Because that carnal nature is its own god.

You must find gratitude in your heart for each day God gives you, while always maintaining readiness for them to end. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” (1 Timothy 4:4) “Everything created by God” includes each day he gives you, or whatever circumstance ends them.

By that perspective, an “Incorrect Username or Password” message seems rather trivial.

King David’s Evening Prayer

If anyone ever knew how to pray from an intimate relationship with the Lord God, it was King David.

Evening Prayer of Trust in God. For the choir director; on stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have relieved me in my distress;
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer.
O sons of men, how long will my honor become a reproach?
How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception? Selah.
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself;
The Lord hears when I call to Him.
(Psalm 4:1-3)

What an encouragement! King David approaches God directly, boldly. Today’s popular prayer-style begins with, “O Jesus, I just want to …,” as if apologizing for bothering him. Listening to our prayers is no bother at all for God. If we think about it, he hears all our thoughts anyway, and as he possesses all the wisdom in the universe, considering our petitions is, for him, a no-brainer. As for granting our requests, he already knows what’s best for each of us, so if what we want is best, he already has it under control. If not, his answer will be “wait,” or, “no.”

I think our prayer time might be better spent by thanking God for meeting our needs, and praising him for who he is, naming his attributes and what they mean to us. Jesus said to wear out the unjust judge with our pestering, but God isn’t unjust. Jesus applied that parable in Luke 18:6-8. “Cry” in the passage above doesn’t mean crying with tears or whining. It means cry out to God with shouts. That speaks of desperation, as when we reach the end of ourselves and are forced to fall on his mercy.

After King David petitions God, he starts in on his enemies, whom he addresses as “sons of men,” and rightly describes as lovers of what is worthless, and bound to deceit. Then he compares himself with those deceivers, implying that he is a godly man, set apart for his Lord. And finally, he brags just a little about his Lord listening to his prayers.

All that David claimed for God, and himself, is true, because he was rightly related to his Lord. Today, anyone who truly wants that relationship with God can have it, and even more, if they accept Jesus’ sacrificial work for themselves, sincerely repent of their dead works, and dedicate their life to obeying his Great Commandment.

“More,” you say? Yes, much more, as all who belong to God through Christ Jesus also have his Holy Spirit abiding in them. And you can’t get closer to God than that. He wants you to boldly declare your needs to him, just as he wants to grant them according to his infinite, perfect wisdom.

Prayer’s purpose is not to conform God to your will, but to conform you to his will.

King David on Prayer

(Psalms 4:1 ESV) To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David. Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

King David approaches God in prayer directly. Today’s prayer-style begins with, “O Jesus, I just want to …,” as if apologizing for bothering him. Listening to our prayers is no bother at all for God. If we think about it, he hears all our thoughts anyway, and as he possesses all the wisdom in the universe, considering our petitions is, for him, a no-brainer. As for our requests, he knows what’s best for each of us, so if what we want is best, he already has it under control. If not, his answer is “wait,” or, “no.”

I think our prayer time might be better spent by thanking God for his provisions, and praising him for who he is, naming his attributes and what they mean to us. Jesus said to wear out the unjust judge with our pestering, but God isn’t unjust. Jesus applied that parable in Luke 18:6-8. “Cry” in that passage doesn’t mean crying with tears or whining. It means cry out to God with shouts. That speaks of desperation, as when we reach the end of ourselves and our circumstances force us to fall on his mercy.

David acknowledges God’s sovereignty in the righteousness he claims. “God of my righteousness,” attributes his righteousness to God.

(Psalms 4:2) O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah

While this was David’s prayer, it looks forward to Jesus’ experience with the Jewish religious leaders; crucifixion turned his honor into shame, after they expounded false accusations and sought after false testimony.

(Psalms 4:3) But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.

This is a pure statement of sanctification. The LORD sets apart(sanctifies) the godly for himself, and because they are separated from the world system, he hears when they call to him.

(Psalms 4:4) Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah

Ephesians 4:26 refers to this, and, of course, Apostle Paul got the interpretation right. This makes no provision for ranting and raving in anger, but rather, “ponder—or meditate—in your hearts on your beds,…” What are we to ponder? The offense that caused our anger? Not at all; one of the New Testament’s major themes is forgiveness. So, what else must we ponder to obey the Scripture? How about pondering God’s grace toward us, and applying that same grace toward the offender? “… and be silent,” doesn’t sound like sobbing, and it certainly isn’t, “the silent treatment!”

This is nothing more or less than applying 1 Corinthians 13 love when times get tough.

(Psalms 4:5) Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.

Here’s a great example of balance between formality and meaning. “Right” sacrifices conform to Jesus statement in Matthew 5:23-24, where he deals with anger and religious duty. Instead of storing up resentment in your heart, “put your trust in the LORD.”

(Psalms 4:6) There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”

Beginning prayer with something to the effect of, “Who will show us some good?” suggests the apostles’ fear during the storm in Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41 and Luke 8:22-25, where they asked Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?” Jesus responded with, “O you of little faith.” The difference between the faithless prayer and the prayer of faith is the “Panic Factor,” or appealing to God out of fear of circumstances, as a last resort.

While this may sound like the desperation of verse one, it isn’t. This faithless prayer accuses God of not knowing, or caring, about what’s happening. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I think, “Lord, we need a little help here,” would have been more appropriate.

(Psalms 4:7) You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

King David, writing of his experience with the Lord in prayer, compares his joy to that of bringing a successful harvest into the storehouse, where God abundantly supplies all his needs. This kind of unspeakable joy comes from God’s unfathomable, inner peace.

(Psalms 4:8) In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Here is the child-like sleep of knowing that no boogeyman hides in the night because, “you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

What Do You Want?

Our Daily Bread for December 4, written by David McCasland, made this statement:

When the apostle Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in the city of Philippi, he told them, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content…. I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Phil. 4:11-12). Paul was saying, in effect, “I’ve had my ‘wanter’ fixed.” It’s important to note that Paul was not born with contentment. He learned it in the difficult circumstances of everyday life.

Many folks idealize childhood, maintaining that children must learn to do wrong from their parents or other significant adults. Left to their own devices, they are little angels, rosebuds waiting to bloom. Therefore, you must let well enough alone, allowing them to seek their personhood unfettered, gently correcting them, but only to keep them out of immediate danger.

Funny thing about rose bushes, though, when left wild their roses grow stunted, never reaching their glorious potential. God’s Word provides examples of young people who grew up pampered, and all of them suffered for it. His Word—mainly the Proverbs—also provides many warnings on the subject.

But Apostle Paul’s statement above addresses just one key aspect of becoming well-adjusted to life: learning contentment, regardless the circumstances. And he learned it the hard way, having been raised in a Roman-Jewish family and educated under the best teachers. That must have cost his family a bundle, so you know he was given everything he needed, even a trade: tent-making. And you know that was a going concern in the Near-East of those days.

When young Saul of Tarsus came to Christ, though, everything changed, and not just his name. I’m sure his parents disowned him, yanking the silver spoon from his mouth. His day-job, teaching Jews the fine points of the Tanach, must have dried up, and as the Christians he began teaching were far from well off, he had to rely on donations, making up the shortfall between that and his expenses by plying the tent-maker’s trade.

But falling for Christ as he did, hook, line and sinker, he trusted his Savior’s love completely, and knew that whatever he really needed, God would provide. He felt none of the entitlement attitude that today’s prosperity gospel encourages, but he felt blessed, whether he prospered or found himself in need, because he was secure in Christ’s love. What peace is ours, when we come to that point in our spiritual walk when we know the difference between needs and wants, and can thank God for both.