Archive for the ‘A Life in Practice’ Category

January 19, 2015

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIV)

The implication of the word “became”, of course, is that The Word was something other than flesh from the beginning. Jesus later declared to Nicodemus God was spirit, which follows that Jesus was spirit before the incarnation.

Just so we’re clear about history and the legends of human religions, incarnated gods were not all that unique as a teaching. Every major religion has its incarnated god who does something special to reveal the Creator’s will. Oddly enough, the god incarnated usually justifies the doctrinal stance, lifestyle or specific practices of the said religious future.

What does this say of Christianity?

Christian thought grows out of the teachings of the apostles who distilled the message they claimed to have learned from their teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. Apparently the writing of the four gospels (or more, if we include The Gospel of Thomas and other apocryphal writings) spoke of a need at the time for four different styled versions similar in content. Two thousand years later we find ourselves attempting to make sense of the original intent which distance and opinion have twisted or obscured to a greater or lesser degree.

The first thing to attack for detractors of Christian teaching is the incarnation of the deified Jesus, called the “Anointed One” to set Him apart as the Messiah Savior. It stands to reason those who object to this basic tenet taught first by the gospels and subsequently the Epistles would cast doubt on it vehemently. It’s the easiest target to doubt. The moment, however, one recognizes the apparent dichotomy or outright fantastical nature of the gospels’ claims a reaction sets in which defines what the person does next.

Stop right here to reflect how we react to doubt about our favorite teacher.

The first reaction to objections for anyone who believes whole heartedly is defensiveness. We humans cast about ourselves like cornered animals desperately looking for an answer or anything that will shut up those telling or yelling at us about what they consider to be myth–at best–and outright manipulative lies–at worst. How to justify such a belief in a fantastic story such as Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension in an age of science turns many into blubbering defeated believers or hard headed ignorant champions–neither of which is helpful.

I do not see why we beat each other up so much about an issue which at this time in history is pretty much moot. All the evidence doesn’t point away from or to a god or our God creating. Creation just is; we just exist; everything was made by some power more vast than we can imagine and probably more simple than our imaginations allow for at any given argument.

We know light travels at 186k+ miles per second, which then signifies for the creationists a real conundrum when we see exploding stars so far away their light is only now just reaching our best telescopes. I don’t know how far away they are and I’m not gonna’ argue the point except to say our ignorance keeps us looking like fools whenever we make assertions about the age of the universe. We don’t have the biblical authority to draw conclusions about timelines and limits because what we call the Bible is written without a timeline in mind. I mean, just look at the story of David in 1 & 2 Samuel. The incidents skip back and forth along the timeline depending on what the author’s point is. Genesis gives a symbolic/metaphorical timeframe in the seven days of creation because before the sun’s creation God created light. Days on earth can only be measured by its rotation around the sun. Therefore the first two days of creation were not earth days by our measure but something wholly other, which suggests (and I believe demands) we understand creation differently than tradition would dictate.

Atheists claiming conclusive proof there is no god or the Judeo-Christian God specifically have the burden of proof to present. If our God is spirit, then their assertions must first rule out the spiritual dimension before they can conclude anything for certain. I don’t say they are foolish for being atheists, merely their choice is not a fact set in stone but an interpretation of the facts already known. It’s easier not to believe in anything–ok, may be not socially–than deal with all the myriad claims of gods and goddesses running amok in history and human idealism. I don’t blame agnostics or atheists for their stance since I share their disillusionment and doubt since most religions misrepresent their doctrine of peace with genocide or war.

The stakes in this game we call life are not only high but vital to how we conduct ourselves during our time on earth. Belief in anything defines and directs not only our outlook but the interaction we have with other human beings. I’ve noticed on nearly every occasion I interact with other people about strongly held beliefs that each one looks on everybody else in the conversation with either outright disdain, sympathy, condescension, or worst of all pity. Each one of these responses grow out of an opinion based on a strongly held belief in one’s own view of reality–or it’s counterpart insecurity. Each perspective of reality, however, might be (and is to my grasp of reality) debatable. Since strong debate has already occurred in history to the point of killing millions of people over it, I would say we’ve about exhausted our arguments and methods of convincing others.

The best argument for Christ has to be the way it changes the believer.

And when I say “has to be” I’m not asserting that it is the best argument for a given debate but the only one capable of demonstrating the truth of what is taught in any debate. Unfortunately, with over 1 billion fragmented believers fractured even further into a combination of large to small denominations we have a credibility problem. The loudest voices rule the public discourse as a general rule. It makes no difference whether or not these people shouting down the opposition come from a knowledgable point of reference or not since what they do sets the stage for the observer.

On several occasions I have spoken to street preachers running the gamut of emotional pleas with their mostly reluctant, bemused, amused, or offended audience. The general consensus from all of them is that they are called to preach to save the unchurched/unbeliever from hell. Now while I can’t dispute their claim to their particular calling, my understanding of Jesus’ teachings lead me to believe shouting out to strangers about love while speaking of punishment for refusing Him is about as effective as telling a stranger’s child you love them while abusing them in some way. Both are manipulative and harmful, belying the very love we claim to support.

And it may be I’m wrong, that the God I serve believes in bringing in the lost by hook or by crook; scaring the hell out of them or throwing them into the darkness to suffer.

From the teachings and stories of how Jesus interacted with acknowledged sinners I don’t think “scare them into heaven” is the gospel’s message though. A city on a hill just shines it doesn’t attack other cities, the jungles or wild places around it. It offers safe haven to citizen and traveler alike with a loving acceptance–albeit disengaged–of its detractors and its supporters. It witnesses to its characteristics by lighting up the darkness–not for the purpose of contrasting itself to the darkness (which happens by default) but to see clearly. Those who don’t want to see clearly will leave the city or try to destroy its light. Those who ache to understand defend it by becoming part of it, adding and increasing the reach of their own light.

How does all this rhetoric relate to the incarnated Jesus?

The greatest miracle Jesus ever performed was life transformation. Those who focus on healing miss the point. Those who decry the world’s sin miss the point. Those who attempt to shout down the opposition miss the point. Anyone who declares the gospel as a means to world domination or wealth have missed the point. The message of the gospel can be summed up very simply: If we love God through Jesus, we will value not only ourselves but the people around us more. The value we place will not be merely utilitarian but wholesale care for the inner and outer person. We will be changed from demanding our own way to finding ways to lift our lives out of the the traps, holes we or others dig for the purpose of setting artificial limits. The teachings of Jesus tell us we will learn to live to the greatest possible limit of our beings. We will not attempt to change the world through means historically proven to fail human progress. We will not ever disparage truth for past held opinions or limited perspectives, but will embrace it fully.

Gospel of John: The True Light

January 5, 2015

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:9-13 NIV)

Light does certain things for us we take for granted. In a spiritual sense we use the words “revelation” or “reveal” to indicate something hidden or unnoticed being brought to our attention. Of course physical light doesn’t necessarily reveal anything hidden behind or in something else as much as it simply dispels the darkness enough to see. What light doesn’t do physically is rid our world of shadows, for it is through the use of shadows that we see dimensionally.

So here’s a conundrum we face as Christians who believe Jesus gets rid of all darkness: darkness is not evil in and of itself. Those who do evil use it to hide their intentions, actions, or the extent of the consequences, yet that only makes it an amoral tool. Therefore shadows cannot be said to be evil either since they reveal the shape of everything around us. Shading is a technique of the artist; God being the originator of art used it to great effect then created eyes that would recognize what it meant.

If shading is not evil, then what does the true light do?

To understand the answer to that question we have to quote Jesus for the clue to light’s mission: “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:20 NIV) Right. Now we know the reason those who practice evil choose the darkest shadows–to hide their evil. In contrast, “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:21 NIV)

Those live by lies prefer shadows because it’s harder to see contrast where light is faint. Of course a good liar prefers a little light in order to sell the lie with just enough truth to fool the buyer.

John the Writer answers his own dilemma later on, which means we are getting ahead of the story here a bit. But establishing why those in darkness hate the light right from the beginning allows us to follow John’s reasoning better, I think. Jesus, The Word, is the true light which came into the world, and though the world was made by Him, it did not recognize Him as anything more than a man. Nor does the world at large acknowledge Jesus as anything more than a good man/prophet in the present either.

What’s even more heartbreaking is the fact that Jesus came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. Now that is a failed mission if ever there was one.

I dare say none of us likes being told we are someone or something other than who or what we truly are or desire to be. Jesus, by John’s testimony here, is God, Creator, The True Light, and Savior of all mankind, yet the very people He chose as keepers of this truth, refused to receive Him as such. In fact they rejected Him outright.

No discussion of light and darkness would be complete, however, without a glance at one of the more revealing statements Jesus made.

““The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22, 23 NIV)

What we’re able to see–be it an issue of healthy eyes or darkness so deep nothing can be seen–determines what we consider light. Someone raised in the gloom of the deep forest and never seeing the direct sunlight would consider even minor increases in light to be great revelations. Another person living in open where they experience the sun’s rays in full force would look on the other’s little rays as weak. Perspective dictates what we consider to be great light.

That last statement what we consider to be light actually being darkness is scary sad. At the same time how would some of us know? I mean, when a person is kept in a prison of ignorance, shame, oppression, or whatever how can they know anything different? Yet it also goes right to the heart of the issue of availability in the sense that if true light is available but is refused in favor of darkness, then what can be said about someone’s perception?

Psychologically, lots.

For instance, a person conditioned to darkness receiving light for the first time would react instinctively to shield themselves from it. All we have to do is just walk into a well lighted area in the morning from a dark bedroom with sleep in our eyes to experience that issue. Light hurts us the first time we experience it with our eyes wide open–and anyone walking around in the dark knows we don’t have to squint to see so our eyes must be open wide.

Yet Jesus’ assertion “if what you consider to be light is actually darkness, how great is your darkness then?” confronts our notion of truth. As I have grown in understanding of what is versus what I wished to be–or was taught should be, it becomes clear that expectation, while being good on the one hand, clearly spoils the pot for reality on the other. A person who is taught that they can do anything will find out one day what “anything” means. Everything about our existence demands limits. A bird cannot be dog, a dog a cat, a man a monkey, and so on. The limits of intelligence in one species might be the very form given to another. Perception notwithstanding reality demonstrates a need for caution where truth and wishful thinking meet.

Jesus extends the “right” to become children of God. The Jews are natural descendants of the patriarchs chosen by God to be His people–children. We, through our Savior, become so by incarnated nature of the blood of Christ. The blood carries the identity, the stamp of the being. We take on His nature through the blood making us Children of God. In a similar way as Christ we experience resurrection or “rebirth” as it were through and incarnation.

John’s discussion of this subject pretty much dominates the rest of his book.

Candid Cross Talk

May 17, 2014

Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 HCSB)

So much has been and is being said about the Bible that I worry anything I add to the discussion won’t really be worth the time. A pastor friend of mine sent me a video of a guy making fun of the American Christian argument for marriage. The lyric could be summed up as “I want a marriage like they had in the Bible…” sung with one voice doing all the key parts of a quartet. While I thought it was funny, the significance of his argument came through loud and clear: Christian will find it difficult to prove the American version of marriage from the Bible. Now while the dude got one fact wrong (Jehu had Jezebel thrown off the balcony not Ahab) his point is well stated and poignant.
The Christian conundrum is pretty hard to argue if in fact we try to debate on commonwealth–or may be cosmopolitan–terms. The Middle Eastern–and especially ancient ME–view of life is a mystery to most of us and quite foreign to modern thought. Unfortunately, the entire Bible is written from this perspective. Yet it shouldn’t be. Most contemporary Christians accept at face value much of what they read in the Bible and as sacrosanct truth to be adhered to without question. I don’t think it’s that simple. For us to understand what is being said we need some idea of what the connotation is of any conversation, right? I mean, if I come into the middle of a conversation without knowing the topic first and begin giving advice it might by some miracle of chance be right on but is more likely to hold no resemblance to reason or intelligent input. Too often we don’t listen before we speak to our shame. We Christians may not like the questions the world throws at us to answer but we must deal with them intelligently and with some sense of humility. I believe our job is to take the principle mores of the Bible not the ethnic or cultural customs of the era as such.

The freakish nature of our world is that we all think we have something to say in the oddest places. I’ve given advice to people without considering all the factors involved and later wondered why they even took it to heart. There’s a particular arrogance which comes with any strongly held viewpoint, at least in the human experience. I listen to some Christian apologists and marvel how easily they criticize those who think outside our box. It’s as if we believe (and far too many of us do) everyone should see our God as THE truth of the universe without question just because we do. At the same time I look at the other extreme and wonder what’s all that different besides holding a different opinion about what’s true, since many of them approach it the exact same way they criticize theists for doing.

Paul’s assertion about the believers in Corinth being the rejects of their society could be seen several ways but the one I prefer, because to me it makes the most practical sense, is he wanted to make the point of how far the gospel brought them. The message of Jesus ennobles, educates, calms, expands the mind and heart of any who accept it. If it doesn’t do any of these things for a person’s outlook, the understanding of the good news has gotten skewed by the world’s vision somehow. Anyone who becomes closed minded or emotionally distant–or any number of things which supplant the fruits of the Spirit–misses the point of Jesus mission. One simply cannot mix the world’s vision of the cross and Jesus as the Christ with what He claimed is His stated mission and expect to get a clear vision of the gospel message. Religiosity presents the same problem.

Now what does all this have to do with the wisdom of the cross?

The cross reversed the winning logic. It simply changed the parameters by which we, as Christ’s followers, understand how the war against evil/sin is fought in the world. The war is for hearts not countries, lands or power. The cross was God’s ace in the hole, His secret weapon upon which we are to pattern our lives. The power of Christ goes to the crux of the problem; the hub of reason’s source; the center of the issue to completely adjust one’s thinking about who we are and where we stand in relation to Him, first, then the rest of mankind. When we grasp the significance of “turn the other cheek” for example, we don’t become the world’s whipping posts but strong-minded followers of the way of love. Evil cannot conquer the heart which has been bought by the love demonstrated on the cross.

Fanaticism and paranoia, as well as a host of other problems the world experiences, melt down in the presence of the white hot heat of Christ’s love through the Holy Spirit. The contrast between religiosity and the gospel grows more pronounced every step for the gospel brings freedom not only from sin but to think. The very notion that heavenly wisdom closes down the mind is antithetical to the message of Christ. Jesus quotes the book of Proverbs often in this teaching, which shows He honors knowledge and wisdom, both of which promote understanding and learning.

A Christ-follower never forces the gospel on others. No where in the NT will we read the disciples forcing through social, political or the threat of war anyone to accept Jesus as the Way. It is simply not to be found in the message anywhere. Has it been done in His name? Absolutely. Have those doing so used Scripture to justify their efforts? Without a doubt. But the Christian’s command structure doesn’t justify such methods. We are to be children of peace, our weapons the methods of the cross. The apostles preached without requirement or coercion.

The message of Jesus Christ crucified is death to the preservation of the world’s ideal of self and resurrection to God’s new creation. The death we die is spiritual first before the physical means anything at all. God spoke the original universe we know into existence from nothing as far as we understand it. Nothing into something means there were no raw ingredients hanging around to make it. Thus the message of the cross is in the very make up of the universe itself.

The essence of Paul’s message above is simple: God takes that which isn’t and makes something. It’s far too easy to brag about human accomplishment when all the ingredients are there to make something a success–like the cross. A famous musician can draw attention to issues he or she cares about whereas us “unknowns” struggle to get our neighbors to care about what we believe is vital. Yet God chooses to use us to affect the world.

The math of heaven becomes evident when we think about the apostles’ standing in the world they inhabited. These were obscure men in an obscure and mostly despised country occupied by a nation which looked on them with disdain. Their teacher and mentor was an unknown rabbi from a small village on the outskirts of the Jewish territory. His influence only went so far as the borders of Israel’s economy and He died as scapegoat of the political elite. His views were exceptionally Jewish, defiant only in their simplicity, and focused on grace, mercy, love and justice. At the time of Jesus’ existence other teachers were far more influential, well known and effective than He could ever think of being.

Yet these powerless men changed the world as we know it and set in motion a Way of life which stood in contrast to the norms of every society of that era and since. Think about recent famous Christian apologists and teachers. Who taught them? Who brought them to the place where they could speak with such passion, depth and insight into the spiritual? Do you see what is wrong with our take on what makes a person special? The man or woman who taught Charles Spurgeon shares in his success and reach. The man or woman who influenced Billy Graham shares in his successes in God’s view because it isn’t about the fame or influence but the heart. The man who mentored Dwight L. Moody shares in his disciple’s later success by God’s estimate of things. Humans, of course, don’t remember his name but God does.

I lived in South Africa for only 3 1/2 years. In that time I met some of the most beautiful people who would influence my life ever after. Two women touched me in profound ways for which I am forever grateful. One was Mrs. Rice (at least I think that was her name) who saw in me potential for great things as well as warning me to be faithful to the greatness God placed in me for His work. She wasn’t speaking of fame or fortune but influence.

The other was a motherly woman who spoke into my life only twice. The first time is just an image of a home open to all the kids on the street where she reigned as queen of love and acceptance. She reminded me so much of my own momma that I began to call her that–which is probably why I don’t remember her real name. Once, at a retreat set in the YFC campgrounds outside Johannesburg, we got into a deep conversation about beliefs. I think it was the next day when she spoke to me again. I had been sharing my views from the denomination I grew up in most enthusiastically the day before and she looked troubled when we parted. I thought it was just because I had been so profound that she was doubting her own position. But nope! She came to me and asked permission to speak into my life. Her words struck me like hammer blows, “Please don’t take my word for this, Jonathan, but go pray about it and if I’m wrong, I will be happy. But I think you have a lot of denominational pride.”

She went on to say a few more things but that message (not the exact words since it has been nearly 30 years) stuck and shook me up. That night I agonized over this issue because my denomination dominated my life. The next morning the truth stood out crystal clear: yes, I did. I went back to her and confessed it. To my recollection she didn’t look triumphant or pleased with herself, instead she smiled and said something to the effect of, “God wants us to be His alone and free.” Much more was said most of which I probably internalized and forgot the exact words, but I lived the message after that.

Human institutions while necessary for organization and concerted effort are not as important to God as they become to us. Of course He will use them but only when it will affect the heart neither He is limited to or by them. Paul’s declaration of God’s desire to use the despised, rejected, obscure and un-noteworthy of humanity to accomplish the message of the gospel just reinforces the miracle. The doctrinal emphasis most of us get caught up in misses the point of the gospel as far as I’m concerned. The message of the entire Bible is meant to correct our treatment of others and reconnect us to God versus give us a performance based life. Love is the foundation which secures the rest of our choices, attitudes and behaviors to Christ, the corner stone.

The cross is not a symbol of cool example of martyrdom but a demonstration of sacrifice for others those who follow Christ are emulate in the way they treat others. It states emphatically our lives belong to love first–or Love, as another name for God. Love as an emotion is not god but God is love, and I would dare to postulate that one of His names is Love. I can’t emphasize enough how the cross changes the way we think, reason, and live. Sacrificial love is not about dying physically as much as it is about dying to our ties to human attitudes and methods.

Next blog entry I would like to take on the wisdom of the cross by using the Sermon on the Mount, for I believe Jesus explained it best.

The Wisdom of “Christ Crucified”

April 24, 2014

...But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. (1 Corinthians 1:23 HCSB)

So…am I missing something? Christ crucified is evidence of God’s wisdom? Ummmm…how? Why?

What wins a war the best: conventional weapons or great tactics?

That’s the problem with questions like this because they seem to be asking something with an obvious answer–or at least obvious choices. I hate surveys which have no option for “other” because I’m at the mercy of the questioner. And if I have to answer the question with one of the two options given, the survey is skewed away from who I am to whatever the surveyors prefer or know about. It also depends on who is asking the questions since all of them (the questions) could slant a certain way.

Now while I don’t object to this as a freedom and privilege of the free, I do strenuously deny the results mean anything as far as proving the point those writing the survey wish to make. Which is exactly what the human race has done with God’s Word. We come at it with our own agenda, naturally, then to prove our interpretation we create artificial conundrums (as if the world doesn’t have enough already) to show how our grasp of God works best. So the above question is a good one but irrelevant to God since He works outside of our scope of possibilities. Where we only see two choices He sees a myriad–and may be endless–possibilities.

Just so you know, I am not saying “we” in order to disguise an implied “you” here. I catch myself doing this constantly and to date I really don’t think there’s anyway of stopping those tendencies. I can limit the mistakes I make when I become aware of them by getting to the root of my reasoning, but I don’t think there is anyway to totally prevent mistaken ideas from occurring since my own filter is faulty too.

God defeated the opposition and is in the process of winning the war against sin through the most unconventional means: the cross. The unconsidered option became the method of choice over all the other “tried and true” agreed upon options out there. The Jews expected (and in some cases still expect) the messiah to wage a conventional war mixed with Mosaic miracles against their enemies in order to establish their supremacy in the world. The cross turns this–and any other convention man offers as established methodology–on its ear, declaring the losing side as the winner and apparent winning side as losers.

How can this be?

Look, I’m just a human so my grasp of the eternal is spotty at best, but I believe the reason God used such a method is so that no human could declare themselves the source of His success. In other words the method establishes the war as a spiritual one with a spiritual outcome. To win the war in the spirit realm we must fight against the “flesh,” which can be summed up as the efforts of humanity to right itself with the spiritual on their own.

Unfortunately, some biblical scholars have misinterpreted the word Paul uses (flesh) to mean the physical reality and human body but this poses dichotomy for them. God created the physical right? Therefore it follows that if He established what we know as the physical realm and called it good, then calling it sinful is…? Do you see the problem here? God doesn’t create active sin just the default option for it. So if God is the source of salvation and nothing humans do affects the bottom line, then His use of the very method with which humans tried to defeat Him would make sense. Paul’s argument against the “flesh” speaks to the human spirit racked by sinful tendencies not the physical body itself. If he includes the body itself, then he does so not as a state of origin but as a vessel of memory for the works of sin. So our physical selves are infected with the virus of sin–or, better yet, the intoxicating nature of a drug we began taking in Eden. For sin is a self-induced addiction we introduced into our nature through choice not a disease we caught by exposure, therefore it can’t be a virus it has to be a spiritual substance we binge on in order to get a godlike high.

Human leaders with spiritual education crucified the Savior of the world. They took the spiritual representative of heaven and tortured, mocked, lied about, then killed Him. Whether they recognized Him as God”s messenger or not the NT doesn’t really clarify, although it does say the Jewish leaders understood and could not refute the miracles as supernatural in origin. The NT even intimates these same leaders knew the resurrection happened but paid off the witnesses to lie about the fact.

What was so important that these supposedly spiritual men would betray an innocent Man to His death?

For some it would have been protecting their power while many others held a fixed idea of God which Jesus refuted and demonstrated to be wrong by His unique interpretation. Those with political motives might also have some fairly religious motives as well for the human psyche is complex. The leaders with fixed ideas of spiritual truth would have rejected Jesus’ demonstrated power to interpret their traditions and laws as having an evil source instead of originating in heaven. We’ve already discussed what fixed thinking does to one’s ability to assimilate new information as truth. From what I’ve witnessed in the world of beliefs it isn’t too farfetched to believe that the leaders who called for the death of Jesus were sincere in their perspective of God. Jesus, while not being the outright antithesis of this viewpoint, dispelled the illusory traditions built up around the law, prophets and historical legends taught every Sabbath. Yet we don’t see or hear of Jesus bucking the system out of a rebel attitude. His appears to prefer revelation over dissent.

I believe the war zone isn’t a physical battlefield but a spiritual one for dominion of the mind. So the cross is about winning the heart and mind to God first, which, if my history and understanding of this is correct, changes everything else to follow. The wisdom of this approach stands diametrically opposed to the methods of all humanity. No culture, however, has every been assimilated or won over through the force of arms or idealistic laws of behavior. Instead it’s the conversion of the desires of the heart.

It seems God fights for what matters most. Possessions, resources, respect of the community and a host of other things we value don’t matter as much as how a person thinks. The heart of the person dictates the actions; convert that to love and you have a whole different expectation for the outcome.

When the U.S. invaded Iraq we thought the liberation from tyranny would be enough to win the hearts and minds of the local population. To date we have lost the war for their loyalty due to bungling the personal part of the equation. While we beat the crap out of Saddam we neglected to respect both the culture and feelings of the populace. We changed tactics in Afghanistan too late to make a difference and now wallow in a riptide of political intrigue followed hard by complicated loyalties we never took the time to fathom.

God decided to take on the human mind. The instructions for His methods are pretty simple but sometimes get buried in human hyperactive need to control or earn salvation. Of course the problem, as I stated above, is our odd twist on the message of the Bible. We exclude one book or chapter as irrelevant while over emphasizing another. We do this in every area of our lives as well. The method of the gospel can be summed up when Jesus told the woman at the well in Samaria: God’s goal is to convert us to worship Him in spirit and truth.

The wisdom of the world bases its reasoning on the stronger argument, the stronger army, the stronger political or religious party. The wisdom of the cross, while not exactly ignoring all of these others as possibilities, bases its reasoning on the winning of hearts and minds. As I–and others smarter than me–have said many times before: if we want to change our behavior, we must first change the way we think.

Juxtaposed

April 3, 2014

James does a great job of presenting the contrast in wisdom:

Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace. (James 3:13-18 HCSB)

The key phrase is But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart…for it spells out what is going on behind the scenes of the play we write for public consumption. Notice the principle characteristics of heavenly wisdom tie in nicely with Paul’s fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, 23. Human wisdom hates hypocrisy when it’s made public and someone else but practices it without batting an eye when the spotlight is diverted. Those exposed as acting (which is what hypocrisy means) in public displays of righteousness while being somewhat or wholly other than in private are crucified on the cross of public opinion and scorned. Unfortunately, many doing the crucifying and scorning hide similar or even worse attributes behind their stage curtains and backdrops. Which means they are using the misfortune of someone else to divert attention away from themselves.
The believer lives out in the open for the most part. Oh, we shouldn’t trust just any person off the street with our hearts or inner struggles since the world has a tendency to turn on anyone who displays weakness. Jesus declared, “By their fruit you will know them.” If we display the characteristics of the world’s desire for blood when dealing with sinners, then we are no different. It’s no wonder so many people become bitter about the message of the gospel when its self-proclaimed practitioners fail to show the key ingredients grace and mercy.
Yet here’s the kicker: What do we expect out of sinners? What do we expect out of even those sinners washed in the blood and saved by grace?
Our expectations set us up for disappointment when applied to fallible, fallen and recovering sinners, even those saved by grace. What we believe should almost always stand juxtaposed with what is. Again, what we believe ought to be the norm often flies in the face of what exists and has never changed since the beginning of the world.
Those who follow my blog might remember the entry from Ecclesiastes where Solomon declared, Don’t be excessively righteous, and don’t be overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Don’t be excessively wicked, and don’t be foolish. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp the one and do not let the other slip from your hand. For the one who fears God will end up with both of them. (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 HCSB) What else can this mean except that we should acknowledge both traits reside in us–albeit not peacefully. Paul claimed the two natures were at war with one another (see Romans 7:22, 23). If this is the state of every follower of the Way, then who has any advantage over anyone else? And if the Word of God declares all sold under sin and no one righteous without the blood of Jesus, who has the right to condemn anyone else?
This being the case does this mean we throw in the towel and give up trying to change ourselves or the world for the better? No. Yet neither does it mean we expect the impossible. Where sin affects the reasoning power the perspective skews to a lesser or greater degree. It’s impossible this side of glorification to find an un-skewed POV anywhere on the planet because everyone’s affected–or infected might be a better term. The moment someone begins their advice to me or anyone else within my hearing with words like “If the world or church would just…” I realize I’m listening to either a power-monger or an idealist.
According to the gospel, in order to get rid of oppression we must get rid of sin; to get rid of sin we must purify the human race. How do we purge the sin out of a race of practicing sinners? What sin goes first? Who’s sin gets targeted as the worst of offenses?
Again, to get rid of lying, cheating, murder, sexual deviancy, abuse, or any other evil infecting the human race to its ruin we don’t get rid of the people, ideology, or make stricter laws governing behavior but focus on the core cause of these. Behavior grows out of the thought life and inner reality a person is either educated to or chooses to believe. Culture is just a name we put on a lifestyle/modus operandi for a group of people who live in a region. They (and we in our own) develop beliefs, ethics and social structures based on the most powerful and, thus, influential voices among them.
Understandably we don’t think of the historical development of our culture because it happens so gradually the changes appears natural–or as naturally as those in control of an area present it. I’m not being cynical merely as realistic as I know how to be in order to point out what makes things “right” or “wrong” in a given context. I am amazed how little we notice the reasons for the changes made in society. For instance, why do women wear burkas in certain Middle East cultures? We could say it’s because they come from Muslim backgrounds and that’s what that religion/culture does, but that would be inaccurate since some Muslims don’t make their women wear it.
So what would be the reason behind a burka or dress style in any given culture? Many different factors could contribute to a current style or pattern. The climate, religious affiliation, family ties, government structure, and a host of other factors contribute to said culture. Now take into consideration the fact that those in power are just as often capricious, willful, self-absorbed, conceited, highly opinionated and, in some cases, ignorant in a cosmopolitan world sense, as they are just, well informed and open to diversity and you have the makings for oppression and ignorance being dictated to the ruled. What if one of the early advocates of the burka realized that his wives didn’t get noticed and stolen as often? Quite understandably that leader would be anxious to protect his “property”, posterity and sexual outlet. Look at the reasons why the ultraconservative leaders of the Islam object to an uncovered woman and you’ll see lust at the bottom. Just like blaming the woman for the gender of the child, the determination of which has been proven beyond a doubt to reside in the male sperm, blaming lust on a them removes responsibility for a man’s behavior or choices and puts it on others.
American Christianity is no different since there are sects who declare “modesty” is the best prevention of lust. If I, as a man, don’t have a problem with lust, a woman should be able to go naked in front of me and cause no alarm. But men lust after women with clothes on so it’s a no go situation and completely not the woman’s fault. I’ve seen women dress conservatively and still get lustful looks from men. So blaming others for my internal attitudes, once I have the reasoning power to choose what I will believe, is a lie.
Still, the burka could have started out as a way for women to protect their skin from the harsh desert sun. The poetry of ancient Arabic cultures speak of the milky tint of a woman’s skin as desirable so it would follow that the early Bedouin women would probably have begun wearing a scarf to cover all but their eyes in order to preserve their skin. It’s not that farfetched to reason some of the attitudes about women began quite innocently only to develop into laws of decency much later.
Just take a moment to think of habits, family traditions or accepted norms within the society or subculture in which we were raised. The reasons might not have meaning or any good purpose other than preference behind them. Which, in hindsight, almost takes the joy out of some of our most cherished traditions, making them seem shallow in light of how seriously we hold to them now as the “right way” in contrast to others. In this context our vehement defense of our methodology or tradition as “just the way it’s done” is defensible only as it pertains to a harmless practice of preferences but really contains no moral authority over those who live differently. Yet we will defend the imposition of our ethic, social structure or religious belief to the death and often decide to go to war with those who believe a diametrically opposed viewpoint as means of conforming the world to our preferences.
Comfort has a lot to do with our actions. We have no way of knowing if the person doing the dictating might be mentally disabled, the child of violence or sexual abuse, or a lack of education resulting in holding onto superstitious beliefs based on a hallucination or drug induced vision. How do we know? The aristocracy of Europe were, for the most part, the only ones educated to read and write, yet look at the atrocities and oppression they brought about.
In the church I come from the “prophet” was hit in the face by a rock when she was young which left her sick for a long time. During the 1840s she had visions which might or might not have been really from God but since the evidence of her past points to brain damage it’s more likely these were brought on by a damaged frontal lobe. I honestly don’t know at this point, neither will I argue for or against her visions because my point is we give trust to the outspoken far too easily.
The moment someone declares a revelation from God I start looking for the motivation behind it. What’s in it for them? Prestige? Power? Pleasure? Redemption? Hope? There’s an old saying which goes something like this, “When a preacher shakes your hand keep the other hand on your wallet.”
You see, humans don’t do anything from uncomplicated motives. Even the best of us, if we’re willing to delve into our psyche, make our choices out of a mixed bag of motives or reasons. Even if no hidden agenda can be discovered, the reasons we choose to go with one option over another grows out of a history of choices, biases, teaching and socioeconomic pressures.
The only thing to rescue us from bent choices is heavenly wisdom. Of course receiving daily doses of it and immersing ourselves in the source manual doesn’t guarantee we will be wise for that takes submission–coming under the mission of–to Christ and what He stands for. We can be defeated before we are even out of the starting gate by latching onto meanings without fact checking or testing the spirit with which we came to our conclusion.
Pure wisdom from heaven filters through human minds which are full of distorted images and misdirected truths to be interpreted by our biases. Denying the possibility is unwise; denying it happens with all of us is downright foolhardy, a lie we first tell ourselves then foist on others. If you don’t believe me, just count not only the number of denominations within the supposedly “unified” church of Christ but all the world religions and try to find some unifying factor. The only common thread will far too often be a complicated reasoning based on obscure motives. Almost always people accept or reject a “truth” based on their bias of the moment. The few who actually do their homework might escape it but usually default to whatever thought process fits their current comfort zone.
A believer who values truth above everything else will admit the biases and prejudices which run him or her. The only people I trust to give me good advice are the ones who I know recognize their own faults and are in the process of taking steps to grow away from them. Anyone who displays the pride of comparison or condescension not only loses my respect (for the their opinion not as a person) but my trust. When I see someone abusing the authority which God established (again, not specifically for them but the benefit of all) that person will lose both my respect for their authority and counsel.
The servant of Christ is a purveyor of peace and gentleness. One who preaches purity or any other truth without these traits has the form of godliness but without the power of the Spirit.

Fooled By Appearance

February 23, 2014
What is behind the mask is always more important.

What is behind the mask is always more important.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. (1 Corinthians 1:18 HCSB)

So what is real wisdom? Paul claims there is a contrast between the truth of the cross what the religious and logicians think. Where is the line drawn and why? What makes heaven’s wisdom so different from the conventional earth-bound variety? And, anyway, didn’t God make it all, so what’s the fuss?

This will be my key verse for the next while. Studying Ecclesiastes set me on a path for about a year to deconstruct reality and reassemble it into a Christ-centered truth. Since 1 Corinthians 1 & 2 speaks directly to this point I want to focus on the book to see how Paul expands on it. He spends nearly 2 chapters dealing with the contrast between human wisdom and God’s. I need to refocus my own heart on heaven’s wisdom because while I see the contrast and understand the difference, my understanding of Jesus took a beating. I recognize in myself many preconceptions born of unsubstantiated or supported traditions lurking in the corners of my psyche which needed to be brought out into the light and put into perspective.
I’m sure many people would be scared for me. Admitting to doubt and frustration with the gospel’s wisdom seems to be blasphemy in certain circles of Christian thought. To me, however, doubt is the beginning of searching for truth and wisdom. Before we can turn to Christ as the Light we have to doubt our own understanding of what we believe to be light. Far too often that which we believe illuminates our path turns out to be darkness reflecting enough light to fool us, disguising the dangers. Quite frankly I don’t doubt the gospels or scripture just some of our interpretations of it.
Too often I have been fooled by the polished arguments of those in authority with a seemingly endless knowledge of truth. What I found behind the stage, pulpit, books, memorized scripture and authoritative stance made me doubt their conclusions because they didn’t practice the very things they preached so hard. I’m not cynical merely aware that if an ethic or teaching is not practicable to those who preach it, there’s either something wrong with them or their understanding of the teaching.
Since I believe no one on earth is infallible or complete in their grasp of God, the natural thing to do for me is to hesitate to swallow what anyone wants to feed me without first examining it. I also don’t doubt an ethic just because those who teach it are hypocritical (the Greek word for an actor is hypocrite) about practicing it only in the public eye. I know my own struggles with righteousness due to my sinful nature and therefore also refuse to condemn anyone who finds it difficult to practice it.
But I believe there is light for those who want it while also recognizing our inability to handle or understand what we see. I can’t remember where I read this next thought, but I believe it came from C. S. Lewis: A person who has lived all their lives in the dark caves and confusing tunnels underground will not be able to handle or grasp the light in its fullness when they finally find the way to the surface. Our eyes grow accustomed to the light as we walk toward it yet still the full force of the sun will take some getting used to before one can live on the surface under the open sky. Sadly, because of the brilliance and power of the light from the sun (Son) most of us will remain in the cave to varying degrees–the mouth of it where there is shade; back a few feet so all we get is a glimpse of what is available; or as far back as we can and still see a speck of light.
So there are some issues and preconceptions I want to address in the coming study within myself and the world around me. By no means do I intend or ever even declare that I’m outside the cave and living fully in the light. I wouldn’t really know how to measure where I am positionally and refuse to waste my time attempting to know what only God could reveal. What I can tell you is I see a light in front of me and I am continuing to walk, stumble, crawl, or run as I have energy, but in no way do I think I’ve reached the mouth of my cave. And since I know human nature pretty well by now, I doubt anyone reading this has reached it either. I expect some to be further ahead in their journey, some just a few feet in front, some even with me, and others behind. Whatever! Hopefully, my journey will help someone in the process. Let’s see if we can step a little closer to the light of heaven together.

Destiny Looks A Lot Like…

February 11, 2014

Knowing truth is one thing; understanding it is something else completely.

Let me expand on that statement a bit.

From the perspective of the gospel I know I am a sinner saved by grace right? I have past sins which destroyed relationships, hurt my forward movement, affect the now, and might affect the future. Just because this is true does not mean I cannot move in the direction I choose or continue to pursue life, love and happiness. Wisdom declares time and consideration a person’s friend.

A person who advises anyone from a fear of failure, a critical spirit, condescension, or some form of repressive behavior will hold a slant on life which cannot be completely trusted. This doesn’t mean we can’t listen to their advice or mine nuggets of experiential wisdom from what they say. For if we pay attention, discernment will guide us to take in what is helpful and reject what is harmful. Wisdom looks not only at the losses which might occur from a choice but also weighs the benefits and assesses the risks of success.

On the other hand, focusing on the positive truth to the exclusion of the negative truth is a mistake. We cannot grow if we refuse to deal with how our mistakes and failures affect us or what we can learn from them. Some people who want us only to look at our successes when telling our story; but a life is also defined by loss and failure in many ways because what we do in response to those two things defines who we are and will become.

In other words, our “destiny” looks a lot like the potential held in our personalities, abilities and goals. Now if we choose to include Christ into that mix, then we add onto our “destiny” constant refinement to the aforementioned characteristics. The more I know about the “who” of me the better decisions I will make spiritually, physically, socially and in every other way I relate to the world. Yet knowledge in and of itself without wisdom lacks the ability to squeeze the potential out of these raw “talents”.

A perspective which conforms to reality also recognizes the variables in life and the opportunities vary for everyone depending on their environment, culture, education, family dynamic and personality. Solomon deals with this concept beautifully:

Again I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise, or riches to the discerning, or favor to the skillful; rather, time and chance happen to all of them. For man certainly does not know his time: like fish caught in a cruel net or like birds caught in a trap, so people are trapped in an evil time as it suddenly falls on them. (Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12 HCSB)

So we see his teaching about doing our best with all our might and investment is tempered with a reality on the other side of his argument for industry and happiness.

Look at what the editor/commentators say about Solomon:

In addition to the Teacher being a wise man, he constantly taught the people knowledge; he weighed, explored, and arranged many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and write words of truth accurately. (Ecclesiastes 12:9, 10 HCSB)

He searched out wisdom not only for the pleasure of it but also without regard to the source. If you read the beginning in the book of Proverbs, you’ll see Solomon’s approach was collecting from many different sources not just his own religion. Now read his story to see what happened to him in the final tally. It wasn’t his search of wisdom which sidetracked him. Knowledge alone did no good. Some theologians have taken Ecclesiastes to be his swan song or evidence of repentance. I’m not going to argue for or against that conclusion because I find of a lack of evidence either way too problematic to conclude anything about him. What I will say is that nothing is guaranteed.

Solomon held the highest position a person can have yet squandered it for the purpose of treaties in the form of wives from other nations and cultural diversity within his own uniquely fixed part of the world. The compromises he made to accommodate his foreign wives by building temples and shrines for them in which to worship stole his heart away from the very God who blessed him with such a position in the first place. His ecumenical stance wasn’t necessarily wrong as a diplomacy method but it was for the unique place he inhabited as God’s ambassador in the world.

We all compromise to one degree or another with the world around us–it’s not only how we continue to function but a must for navigating the confusion we call “life”. There are, however, a few compromises none of us can afford. One is what Solomon got caught up in–not only allowing for & tolerating other religions in the world around him but letting them build shrines and temples where only his faith belonged. And I’m not talking about just the physical buildings because eventually he began to take part in the ceremonies and rites of these other religions. His reasoning probably started out as research, then fascination, and ended with buying into them.

I’m open to America’s diversity, where every religion, creed, ethic and opinion should be respected and left alone. What I’m not open to is anything but the one I have chosen to rule my life being present in the inner sanctum of my heart. That said, I have compromised the vision for my life by allowing others to persuade me to theirs. Not that this is wrong if I find I want a version of what they offer, but it is if I know in my heart their vision or goals for me don’t fit who I am or what I want for my now or future.

For some time now I’ve realized I made decisions based on the fears and desires of those of my inner circle for my life which were wrong for my own goals. The end results have been devastating for I now have a big hole to dig out of without much help from those who influenced me. Don’t get me wrong, the decision to compromise was mine alone but when we attempt to put a square peg into round hole by clipping the corners it still leaves gaps. The gaps are glaringly apparent so that even those who helped us “round off” the edges of our square look helplessly on the mess with chagrin. That is, of course, unless the round hole is big enough to accommodate the square’s corners, then clipping isn’t necessary but the gaps remain.

To be fair it goes the other way as well. A circle might fit into a square more comfortably than the other way around but there will always be gaps.
In Solomon’s case it wasn’t even a question of fitting in but a full blown apostasy on his part. Taking the very blessing God gave him he used it to extract God from his life. He reformed his allegiance to include other gods and paid the price. This book might be his way of saying “don’t do what I did” but none of the records which speak of his life say he turned back to God. Solomon squandered his calling in favor of the temporary and paid the price.

After years of searching out what it means to have a “calling” as Christian I’ve come to the conclusion the mystery is all man made. What we term as a “calling” caries connotations of specific personal or career choices we must make and if we don’t make them, we have failed God. Which, in the end, just becomes another way to sin and feel defeated. Instead of thinking of a career or personal map the writers of the Bible put our calling in the form of an ethic for life.

Yes Paul makes a distinction by saying some are called to be apostles, teachers, pastors, etc., but these weren’t career choices rather he saw them as gifts with which to serve others. Not all the apostles were missionaries like him, in fact some rarely travelled at all. Not all the teachers were paid staff or supported by the church; not all of the elders were pastors. We serve a function within the place we find ourselves not as a career but it must grow out of who we are.

I am a musician. I love touring, traveling, playing and singing live, the whole recording process and I could go on. I don’t like dealing with paper work or office management stuff. I’m pretty good at the big picture and methods by which the day to day stuff can be done efficiently yet not the one to accomplish it with the same efficiency. Artists in general, by nature, are distracted people. They live in a world of ideas, ideals, pictures, language, thought and reaction to the immediate and grande world around them.

I’ve listened to the more organized people in my world tell me how to get the chaos of my filing system under control. I’m now laughing–not in derision but sympathy for them. Telling someone like me to be organized like an accountant or office manager is like telling an office manager or said accountant to write a song or paint a picture like the improve artist. Sure there are overlaps but this isn’t the time to discuss them. We are speaking of contrasting reality here not just what is possible for these poler opposites. There will always be combinations of traits just as there will always be a myriad of ways to live. What I’m saying is we wouldn’t have an Einstein if he weren’t distracted by math and obsessed with the abstract. The guy sometimes went out of the house without pants but that’s part of his charm not a detriment to his intelligence.

What all this comes down to is value. Utilitarian thinking is healthy only in so far as it applies to the purpose of an object, project or person in a job situation. When it begins to be the sole reason we do or value anything and anyone its own purpose gets thwarted and perverted. An artist who can’t be bothered to tie his or her shoes but creates incredibly beautiful art of one kind or another gives humanity part of its characteristic diversity. I would also say part of the charm of humanity’s collective personality grows out of the quirks, idiosyncrasies, perceived weaknesses, not just its gifts or functions.

The next time you look at a tree think of it in a collective form–as a bio-mechanical machine first, then as a beautiful work of art. See the grass as a safeguard against erosion as well as a waving sea of green beneath which life happens as much as it does above. Solomon’s perspective in Ecclesiastes isn’t negative but an acknowledgement of both sides. In theology understanding a book takes seeing it from the perspective of the author (if that info is available), the era or time it was written, and who the audience is expected to be. The other factor theologians look for is repetitious phrases or words. Once we understand the context within these parameters we can begin interpreting the actual message.

The most repeated phrase besides everything is futile is a variation of I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. (Ecclesiastes 3:12 HCSB). While I haven’t counted the times he says this, I do know he says it quite a bit. Recognizing that we can expect bad stuff to happen prepares us to deal with whatever comes, right? Taking the time to enjoy life come what may in whatever way we can makes more sense when we know it is made up of both.

Our happiness, in other words, should never be dependent on the times we live in, the family or community we find ourselves born into, or the specific situation we face at any given time. We can still smell the flowers in our sadness, still love the people we value and definitely give whatever we find to do everything we have in us.

The Teacher

February 7, 2014
I built this door which leads into a recording studio.  To enter here means one is destined to enter the building.

 I built this door which leads into a recording studio. To enter here means one is destined to enter the building.

In addition to the Teacher being a wise man, he constantly taught the people knowledge; he weighed, explored, and arranged many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and write words of truth accurately. The sayings of the wise are like goads, and those from masters of collections are like firmly embedded nails. The sayings are given by one Shepherd. But beyond these, my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12 HCSB)

Knowing truth is one thing; understanding it is something else completely.

The first time I read Ecclesiastes I felt I had finally arrived home intellectually. I can’t explain it any other way because up until then my logic followed whatever my church defined as truth. Solomon however points to a reality which happens, not just what is hoped for in some distant future. It seemed to me that he sounded determined not to sugarcoat reality. I really needed this mechanism to cope with my own life at the time–and since.

At first I objected to the word “futility”, which in the King James is translated “vanity” and in another earlier version, “meaningless”. As a Christian the mere suggestion Solomon might be speaking truth left me confused and not a little anxious to explain it away. Thank God for wise friends and family, they gave me insight enough to get me through my own crisis of faith later on. The gist of this wisdom being: our Bible gives progressive revelations in place of just simply spelling out everything from the beginning. Now that Christ has come we know our present and future regain their value, although much of what we think is valuable will burn. So the believer in Solomon’s era saw death as the end of all their efforts which made these futile or meaningless in the grand scheme. The believer in Christ receives a promise that everything we do in the now affects the rewards in the future, yes, but also creates the atmosphere of heaven on earth.

Of course, our hope doesn’t mean or equal comfortable houses with secure incomes because no one in the early church even considered that part of the promise. Only through our modern interpretation where greed disguised as righteous claim on the promises of blessing and covetousness disguised as desiring all God has for us do we come to the conclusion God will give us that kind of comfort this side of glorification. If all the apostles save one died a martyr’s death while proclaiming the rewards of living for God, then our conclusion must include their end. When Paul speaks of having everything we need for life and godliness, he’s not talking about wealth. For if he was speaking of the American dream, 2 Corinthians 11 wouldn’t declare his trials as well as blessings.

Being able to look at that which sucks rotten lemons or celebrate the beauty around me and just identify it as such helps a great deal. I have fallen in love with truth–no matter the source. The caveat of my love for truth is that I don’t always know what that truth means or how to connect the dots (the various truths which exist). I see so much which leaves me confused, stressed out and generally lost to any kind of gasp on the purpose of much of what I see that I confess to letting go of worrying about stuff I can’t explain or solve.

Solomon helped me sort out a lot of the unknowns as well as the unknowable from the arena of reason. And I don’t use the word “reason” to signify the why of things or to point to definitive answers or anything but the method by which we arrive at our conclusions. Most of us have never even discovered the information in front of us, whether from lack of attention or being too preoccupied, in order sort fact from fiction to get at the truth. Nor do I believe humanity has the wisdom to discern the purpose or meaning behind most of the truths we think we have figured out to date.

 

Jonny’s Proverbs #1

January 28, 2014

Knowing truth is one thing; understanding it is something else completely.

The End of the Matter

January 27, 2014

 

Justice is a part of judgment.  It is the image of determining the weight of the actions from two sides

Justice is a part of judgment. It is the image of determining the weight of the actions from two sides

When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14 HCSB)

I recently sent the above scripture text to a friend of mine who responded with, “Wow that’s a scary one.” I text one or two verses everyday and most of them speak to the positive side of God’s love and expectations but this one…

Here’s the thing: the thought of being judged scares the begeebers out of most of us because we know we have skeletons in our closets and/or our spiritual house isn’t very tidy. We use the fear to induce obedience but find it just isn’t enough motivation to keep the pet sins at bay. None of the prevention methods work because we are addicted to getting our own way by hook or by crook.

Now while I can see some sense in our keeping the skeletons out of sight of the general public, it doesn’t work with God. Yet, like four year old children, we continue to behave as if somehow we can fool even the Holy Spirit into believing all the nonsense we foist on other people. Speaking of the Jewish nation in contrast to the Gentiles, Paul writes: What then? Are we any better? Not at all!

For we have previously charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. (Romans 3:9-12 HCSB)

I find it amazing when pastors feel they have to hide behind a facade of sinlessness, all the while assuring their parishioners of their continued need of Jesus. If what Paul claims is true, then anyone with a mind for the Word will see through the disguise and shake their heads–or worse. Though we might not call it a lie, none the less that’s what putting on a good face is when we know we have pimples or worse.

Paul commands in another place: Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25 HCSB) The facades of perfected wisdom, righteous methodology, and piety should be avoided at all costs since any allusion to such a state is a lie. But here again is where it gets sticky for us because the “sheep” feel let down and afraid of a pastor or leader who admits to faults. On the other hand, every hidden thing will be brought into judgment before God.

There’s no escape from judgment–either human or divine.

What to do?

I’ve come to the conclusion, after years spent living and speaking openly to the world around me, we must show discretion and wisdom even in sharing ourselves with others. Admit to sin, yes, but the continuous struggle and deep anguish we feel about it cannot be shared with everybody precisely because most people can’t handle the truth! (I hear Jack Nicholson every time.) That’s why we don’t confess our sins to the babe in Christ rather assure them we struggle too without getting into specifics. They have enough of a burden dealing with their own problems without worrying about their leaders. At the same time, if the person we are counseling struggles with one of the more public problems that we also experienced, we can use our experience of failure, forgiveness and growth to inspire them to keep hanging on.

I challenge every single person reading this blog to be vulnerable and not lie to the body of Christ.

In my view the best witness of God’s power is not in the miraculous healing of the body or adjusting circumstances to fit our needs but in the mysterious change happening in our hearts. A new Christian will look up to those who teach the Word, as they should, which can be a good thing in the right context. However, if we are not honest with them about our own struggle against sin, they will learn to fear their own failures as unnatural, themselves as unable or somehow less in touch with God, and finally devolve into either a white washed tomb or give up all together.

There is nothing new under the sun–meaning, everything, including every manifestation of sin, is currently and historically been a problem.
Through our vulnerability and humility before the body of Christ we demonstrate the miraculous changing of His Spirit at work in our lives. This change, to be noticed, must be lived in example not words to affect those following us. If the greater percentage of communication is non-verbal, then we should consider our witness in that proportion. I ask you: What’s more inspiring? Seeing a person you admire never make a mistake or watching them crash and burn only to get back up with renewed determination to keep moving forward?

For me it’s the latter. I am definitely a hippy still and despise fakes more than I can say. I determined not to be one by living on the outside of my skin–metaphorically speaking of course ;-). The people I found who couldn’t handle the truth of my own struggle with sin wasn’t the new Christian however, because they seemed to be encouraged to keep moving forward, but the brothers and sisters in Christ. We like our images dressed up and pretty for everyone to look at don’t we?

Without fail those who put up a facade have a stench of death about them for they live in fear and…There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:18 HCSB) It stands to reason–through the logic of the message of Jesus–that everyone who builds or maintains facades is not perfected in love because they are afraid to be known. Again, I’m not saying we reveal what’s in our inner closets or let everyone indiscriminately into our private chambers (metaphorically speaking). Not everyone can be trusted with such intimacy. Not everyone can be trusted with truth.

No, the gospel doesn’t command us to be forthright with those of a devious mind or who gossip as a way of life. We owe no one anything but the debt of brotherly love. Trust is earned. Yet a sense of openness remains the only way to live–and by “live” I mean truly be alive. God’s command through Jesus is:

“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 HCSB)

I don’t think we can get any clearer than this. Just picture what a lamp does, where it stands and who can see it, then the point becomes obviously clear. A person who hides behind actions which do not reflect their inner world lives two lives which are at odds with one another. One who lives in the light as He is in the light is unafraid to be seen–even if the light flickers, goes out for a time or simply isn’t as bright as someone else’s.
Yet Jesus also cautioned us:

Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7:6 HCSB)

In the context of this command Jesus also tells us not to judge or we will be judged in exactly the same way, and to first remove the sin in our own lives before we try to remove it from someone else. This context is vital for our understanding of what it means to give to dogs and pigs what is holy and valuable. If we can’t remove the sin from someone else without first removing our own, it means (to me) we are never qualified to remove it, for we are never completely free from sin this side of the redemption of our bodies. Our hard drives (physical memories) have been so corrupted we will never clearly see how to do the required surgery others need without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Yet here’s where it gets sticky: The pearls of the kingdom must point to the teachings and blessings the Holy Spirit bring, yes, but the removal of sin is a holy work that only God can do, therefore we are not to hand the cure of our addiction/disease off to those who are not Him.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. (John 15:5 HCSB)

The fruit of the Spirit is?

The flesh produces no fruit only works. Look at the phraseology of Galatians 5:19 begins with: Now the works of the flesh are obvious… Therefore, I conclude works are a byproduct of the fruit not the fruit itself. Every fruit mentioned in Galatians 5:23 focus on what is done in the heart first; if the heart is changed, then the actions will follow. This work of change is not ours to do rather we submit to the Holy Spirit’s influence and presence which then produces such fruit.

We don’t give to dogs the job of taking out the planks and specks in our spiritual eyes nor do we give the pearls of the kingdom to those who would trample them. This does not mean however that we put our lamp under a cover (facade) at all. A light says nothing to a listener, it simply shines as a result of the fire igniting the fuel within. The fruit of the Spirit is sufficient for this task; preaching is not.

Jesus’ command is that we bear fruit–He is the vine, we are the branches. We don’t bear anything but death on our own. The whole duty of humankind is to fear God and keep His commands right? Our spiritual duty is to let the Spirit bring about the change in us so radically that the world sees a light shining from our very beings. This is a supernatural light and will never be reproduced through human effort.

This, then, is all that is required of us.