Posts Tagged ‘salvation’

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.

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Absolute Futility? Really?

January 22, 2014

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“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Everything is futile.” (Ecclesiastes 12:8 HCSB)

Too many of us fall prey to the notion that everything we do is futile. I’m in a situation right now where every investment (financial and work ethic energy) didn’t pay off, which means I lost the day and it’s time to leave the field. To be honest, I felt the need to change paths years ago but hated giving up before trying every avenue to make self-employment work.

It hasn’t.

Oddly though, I don’t sense futility or despair in its failure. Certainly I know feelings of frustration, loss, sadness and failure but no real sense that I didn’t give it my all. That said, I probably continued plowing through when I should have walked away a couple of years ago. I just didn’t know–did you?

The reason this blog is called Jonny’s Habit is because I make it a practice to study what I believe is God’s Word twice everyday even if it means just reading a verse without comprehension. Habits form our behaviors as well as influence our attitudes and outlooks. This blog entry probably sounds too personal for most but let me be clear that it was always intended to be. I am not someone who philosophically looks at life through a telescope at a safe distance because I don’t believe we can always be certain of our conclusions.

The last nearly twenty-odd years have been educational, humbling and revelatory for me. Through so many experiences I have come to realize personal limits and understand the world around me through that perspective. That said, I also realize someone else in my position would have made a better profit of the opportunity than I did because they have that knack.

I don’t.

Saying so doesn’t make me negative on myself nor does it mean I’m giving up on life. It does mean I recognize time and chance defeated certain goals while prospering others. Being honest about myself and others is about seeing life for what it is over dreaming of what could be. While the latter is great for moving forward, sometimes it limits the now and the hard choices we have to make. I have also learned I am more resourceful and able than I ever thought possible before now. Saying that doesn’t mean I think I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread came into existence, rather I’m better at seeing where my abilities truly lie versus just guessing.

All that said you’ll now understand what I say next in context of Solomon’s declaration that everything is futile. I think I understand the truth of his words and where he’s coming from, but I don’t buy his conclusion as the final word on the subject.

“Resistance is useless,” the Vogon guard declared. I read Solomon’s solemn statement and laughed because the book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made them mindlessly true for the situation the protagonist, Arthur Dent and his companion found themselves in. This part their story was the very first thing that came to mind when I read Solomon’s conclusion. If you’ve ever read the series (there are 5 books in the trilogy–yes, I said five!), you’ll know how things turned out and that the seeming impossible took place. Hey, it’s a book where the impossible is probable, ok. The point is that we sometimes borrow trouble in the form of worry about the future when all we can do is plan as best we can for as many eventualities as possible and live in the now.

As much as any of us hate change it comes anyway, inexorably, steadily, yet sometimes so fast we don’t have much time to adjust while at other times so slow we don’t even realize it’s happening. The one thing time teaches is as much as things change much stays the same. As much as the cosmetics, methods and attitudes adjust, they are still variations on a theme which remains constant.

For example: We might have conquered certain forms of slavery but it still exists. Prejudice still operates strong in the light of human activity though it wears a disguise of acceptance in certain circles. If you’ve ever heard yourself or someone else say, “I accept everybody and can’t see why people don’t accept everyone too…”, you have just demonstrated why prejudice remains strongly entrenched in the human psyche. As another example, attitudes about providing basic necessities might have changed in the way we access it but the need is still there at the root.

Modern society only thinks itself different because we have procedures and styles our history didn’t–or did but we don’t recognize it.

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Concluding thought: The outcome of truth in Solomon’s paradigm is not in ours since the cross. Jesus changed our reality. It doesn’t make Solomon’s words any less true for his era, but it does change the outcome and hope for the future. A life merely lived for the now will be futile, one lived for Christ holds lasting promise. It also changes how the truth is perceived. Perception is the key here not just the words. Truth doesn’t change our understanding of it does. For instance the sun has always been something humans knew about but its place in the solar system (another unknown until recent history) was misunderstood. The truth of the sun didn’t change our perspective did.

Again, another example is the bread analogy. Basic flat bread is oil, water, salt and flour. The moment we add anything to the bread we change its consistency and possibly flavor. Solomon’s assertion of no afterlife in death, the futility of industry while we live and the need for us to go ahead and live anyway is like the basic flatbread. Jesus’ gospel adds yeast and honey to end up with something that rises and tastes good. We call both bread (truth) but the latter one changed the way we perceive what is possible.

The ingredients are basically the same in both Solomon’s and post-Jesus’ era except Jesus takes away the futility by adding eternity as a final outcome. This changes everything by adjusting our priorities. What we do on earth counts in heaven if we continue to live and think in the paradigm of Christ’s life and message.

Winners, Losers, the Luck of the Draw, Fate….

July 5, 2013

I have seen something else under the sun:  The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.  Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come:  As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.  Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12.

 

Over the years I have made certain passages part of the building material for my spiritual house.  The above is one of them.

Watching the world go by as a participant and an observer I noticed talented people who languished in obscurity while those less so thrived, became popular and started whole movements within the culture or the world.  The first time I read this book my head was in a different space about its point—the reason for the instruction.  Right now, years later, I’m completely convinced Ecclesiastes is a spiritual reality check.

Too often we who attend the Christian gatherings we call “church” get so fixated on the religious or ethical teaching that we believe society should listen to and practice we forget to live.  The other thing that happens more naturally is the subculture which begins to squeeze out all others.  This latter situation, while a blessing in some ways, tends to make us exclusive, withdrawn from the macro society, and in far too many ways which matter, we stop being involved in it as salt and light.  The best way to describe it is:  sometimes we live for our future heaven so hard we forget to be alive on earth in the now.

I’ve drawn away from mainstream Christian association over the last several years due to a gradual shift in my understanding of the abundant life taught by Jesus.  Most of us read the stories of the New Testament and see not just highlights of Jesus and the apostles’ lives and work but the whole of it.  Somehow when we read the Bible we forget the daily stuff such as in washing clothes, bathing the body, eating, sleeping, and the list could go on and on.  Too frequently we see these stories as the whole story not just a snapshot of how God works.  If we look at the miracles of the Bible and stop to think about how often they happened, we would get sense of how rare these occurrences were.  People lived years without anything worthy of an epic story being written.  In other words they had to live in the daily routine for long periods before anything even resembling miracles or adventure took place.

One of the recent patterns of my study of Christ has been to attempt to think outside the box of my understanding.  Jesus travelled from place to place right?  What did He and the disciples do during the hours and days they journeyed?

I don’t know the exact answer to that but I know how life works a bit in the daily grind.  I also know we put a veneer of spirituality on everything—for instance praising God.  Instead of religious excitement I would love to see more people imitating Jesus in their everyday.  They say the highest form of flattery is imitation right?  So why do we see cold, hard religious people instead of Jesus people more often?  Jesus was kind, gentle, loving, accepting, able to speak to anyone and generally full of wisdom—which means to me He grasped perspective.  At the same time He could be tough as nails when it came to God’s reputation.

In Romans 9, as I’ve mentioned before, we read about the subject of predestination.  It fascinates me how we have twisted the meaning of this simple idea into something mystical or fairytale-like without being aware of how childish the “reasoning” is.  I’ve heard about people who were perfectly healthy and fully mobile praying for a parking spot near the front, as if God thought these people should be preferred over those who really needed it just because they were too lazy to walk.  I’ve heard stories of people asking signs from God about natural occurrences—such as a light changing green to red—never stopping to think about God’s teaching on His will.

One thing the key verses above have done for me is removed the fatal out of my thinking.  I recognize my cultural and personal instruction permeates the way I reason so I’m pretty sure the cure for it is not realized as yet in me.  On the other hand, I’m more aware of how little control I or anyone has over other people’s choices or views.  This being the case, I’ve become an observer of the human placement game.  Never heard of it?  It’s all around us.

Let’s think about an artificial situation in which several people are involved—one which, however, could be a reality for anyone of us.  Scenario:  I step into the street to go from my parked car to the coffee shop and just as I reach the middle a truck careens around a corner hits me and I’m left in the street with broken bones or dead.  Now let’s take this situation apart and think of what could have been the cause of the effect.

First, we must establish that crossing the street is necessary from our point of view.  So there’s something on the other side we want to do, see or experience therefore we make a decision to cross.  At the same time, a person who is driving under the influence made a decision to put themselves behind the steering wheel and go somewhere which coincides with my exact position.  What we have here is two random factors working with other random factors such as street lights, stop lights, crosswalks, businesses being open, etc.  Each one of these factors become intrinsic to me getting hit by a car.  Only one is at fault.  One random decision made by a person whose judgment has been impaired.  That one choice decides the outcome of my day.

In the course of these decisions, we have what appears to me to be a clear road, so I step into the street.  Just as I reach the far lane the dui in the making careens around the corner hitting me full on, causing me to fly up into the air and on my way down I land square on my head crushing my skull and spine.  The reality here begins to get murky, since what happens next depends on trajectory, angle and force of impact.  There are three main outcomes of this tragedy in process:  1) I die.  2) I’m paralyzed to one degree or another depending on where the spinal cord is damaged.  3) I walk away with injuries that haunt me the rest of my life but I’m able to function and move on.

Within these three consequences lie a myriad of combinations built on the percentage of each.  The precise definition of the accident only becomes apparent when we get past it somewhat.  Oddly, God’s will here is exactly what?

At this point most Christians begin to talk of God’s will and what He might want for my life, ignoring, or perhaps being unaware of, the natural occurrences involved.  I don’t want to criticize these brothers and sisters but I do want to point out that puppets on a string don’t have any choices to make and cannot be held responsible for their actions or the outcomes; therefore hell or heaven as a punishment or reward hold no meaning.  However, if we are free moral agents and our choices are real, albeit spectrum based—i.e. God gives us a number of options to choose from like ingredients for some dish of food, then the “flavor” of the outcome depends not on God’s direct intervention but His created spectrum of combinations.  Every single combination has been created by Him just as every equation ever discovered by human beings was already there waiting to be found.

So what can we say about God’s will?

First, we must admit that He warned us to stay away from sin—which means to aim at a target and miss it.  The target in this definition is becoming like God, making sin the antithesis of that goal.  The moment sin enters our combination of options the unpredictable (for us that is) nature of His creation takes on a sinister meaning.

Second, choices matter.  God created options for each one of us which also applies to every other human being.  Each choice affects the outcome.  If the above driver wasn’t drunk, his choice would affect the outcome differently.  If I hadn’t crossed the street at that particular time or ever, a completely different set of options and outcomes would have resulted.

Third, the word “predestination” taken apart is “pre” meaning already created or existing before, and “destination” which is a place or condition or goal.  If we stick with its obvious meaning (as in the reasoning I’m using), then we don’t have a preordained destination but merely one which exists before my choice.

I need to discuss this a bit more, even though I know I’ve written about it before (that rhymed).

For illustration purposes let’s look at the options as a house with several rooms and doors.  Each door is a choice; each room is a destination.  When one enters a room, they can be said to be “predestined” to enter it if they use its door.  In this logic we are not forced to enter the room nor use the door, but if we choose to enter the room through that door, we will be “forced” to enter by dent of its location and existence.  The choice was not forced but the destination is preset as a choice.

How here’s a more complex example:  Picture a staircase.  Now off each step we see two alternative steps to the right and left.  Each of the three represents a choice.  Say at step nine I choose to take the right step to the second floor landing, the result will be that I won’t reach the second floor in exactly the same spot the main staircase does.  My experience of climbing the stairs will be different to a degree.  The similarities remain such as there are stairs to be climbed or gone down, each step can be taken or I can skip one or several depending on the reach of my legs, and there is a bottom to the them as well as a top.  What will be different is where the landing is.  The alternative stairs also have a myriad of choices off them as well giving us opportunities to go three directions again.  Do you see how complicated our choices are at any given moment?  I’m sure you’ve seen movies such as Spider-man where Aunt May cries,  “If only I had stopped your Uncle Ben from going after you, he would be alive today!”  And that is probably the truth.  The story took him down one branch of stairs which led to him confronting a thief who chose to shoot him, which then resulted in his death.

Jesus gives us two doors to enter by which we find salvation or death:  the narrow gate, leading to life; and the wide gate, leading to death.  Depending on which we choose each one is a preexisting (already created beforehand) established destination determining our eternal outcome.  No one is forced to choose one door or the other but whichever of the two we choose our choice determines the results.  We cannot choose to enter the narrow gate of life and be given death instead, nor enter the wide gate of death and be given life as a reward.  The choices are as final as the destinations.

Back to the text.

The rewards of life don’t always go to the people most deserving of them.  There are plenty of examples throughout history of talented, wise, educated and proactive humans who languished in obscurity and poverty.  We don’t have to go too far back to notice some of the most celebrated painters of our current era died ignored, penniless and troubled.  Van Gogh could hardly sell his paintings for enough to buy a drink let alone a mansion.  Yet his paintings sell for millions in today’s auctions.  He receives accolades posthumously, doing him no good whatsoever but somehow it makes us feel as if we are honoring him.  It’s not enough.

The world is unfair, capricious and given to the erratic whims of the fallen nature—even our own.  It is said the only way to solve a problem or begin helping ourselves out of a condition is to identify the problem.  Here we have discovered the one thing that haunts, destroys and ultimately misaligns humanity from a life well lived or rewarded.  We build religious institutions, social organizations or political think tanks to try to anesthetize ourselves from the real issue as religions and the secular world scrambles about attempting to control the erratic results of it.  Sin—the one ingredient in the food causing it to taste bad and go rotten, without which the improvisational universe would become a place of glory for all.

If we feel we have received a bum deal, let’s recognize our lives are not affected by merely our choices but anywhere from one to a billion-plus choices of other people.  Oppressed people can have the best work ethic alive and remain repressed, impoverished and full of unrealized potential.  The most powerful humans will still face death and lose everything their work ethic and privilege of birth or hard work and opportunities afforded them.  All we have to do is think back to leaders who were fools and wise men who were geniuses to realize life is not a gamble but an intricate dance among the opportunities.  Those of us in what we call The Free World have more opportunities than say an Untouchable in India but we are all subject to time and chance.  What’s more God made it that way on purpose—His purpose—in order to surprise our journey with the unpredictable joy awaiting.  Sin and death have robbed us of the ability to look forward to the outcome without worry or fear of what might await us in the dark.  Jesus came to restore God’s design, and in that alone we find hope.

In Search of Many Schemes…

August 25, 2012

So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out the wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly.  Ecclesiastes 7:25.

 

To illustrate his point, Solomon uses the following analogy:  I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains.  The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.  Before anyone gets all huffy about this “diatribe” to women, remember Proverbs 31 praised the woman of virtue.  Solomon collected the sayings in that book, which means he wasn’t against women in general, just bad girls.  If you want to compare the amount of times he spoke against women to men, the weight of evidence will be on the male side.

Then what’s he trying to say about women and men in this rather hard observation?

Well, for one thing he’s not saying women are bad in general.  So let’s ask a question:

 

Is the woman the trap or is the man’s desires for her the problem?

 

I say both.  James 1:14…but each one (man) is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Our biggest “fail” as humans is our unwillingness to look our own desires full in the face.  Or, to be more precise, to look at ourselves in the mirror—literal or figurative—and see who we are without blinders, philters or anything which might hinder a true reading.  Solomon declares that women can snare, trap and chain a man, yet he also chides men for being fool enough to go looking for easy sex.  Oh, he doesn’t mention that word but it is implied.  Men act as their own worst enemy in a quest for sex without consequences.  I’ve know a few women who want this too, but women pursue sex for slightly different reasons than men as a general rule.  That’s not to say a woman can’t be narcissistic because everyone knows better than that; rather, their general goals make sex a means.

Earlier in this chapter we read: There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.  If this is true, then when Solomon says at the end of the chapter:  Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things—while I was searching but not finding—I found one upright man in a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all.  This only have I found:  God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.  Ecclesiastes 7:28, 29.

What we see here is a “connect the dots” kind of logic.  If there is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins, then even that one upright man in a thousand is in search of sex outside godliness.

Why is there not an upright woman with that upright man?

Because, though God made mankind upright, they have gone in search of many schemes.  We are the product of our own desires.  Our world’s condition is a direct result of mankind’s search for anything to quench the thirst for pleasure outside of God’s design.

I refuse to condemn any sinner for being such since I know I am one myself.  If everyone who claims Christ as their savior looks in His perfect mirror, they will know the truth and humbly accept they have no right or place to condemn anyone.  Wisdom is justified by her deeds.  A man who conforms to wisdom realizes his own weaknesses; a woman who does the same recognizes her own failures to hit the bulls eye.

The biggest fail in my view is the refusal to admit our own sinfulness.  For if we not only admit it but gladly point it out—not in general but in fact, we become a true light for grace, mercy, forgiveness and restoration.

The Expectation Upset

July 12, 2012

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:  a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.  Don’t be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?  Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool—why die before your time?  It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.  The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.  Ecclesiastes 7:15-18.

 

In Solomon’s time the “guru hermit” or holy man on the mountain was just beginning to become really popular—or may be it already was and we just don’t have records of it.  Whatever the case, purity of spirit and action has obsessed the human race for eons.  That need to be sinless (which means slightly different things in each culture) drives many to solve it by separating themselves out from the common rabble of humanity in order to seek oneness with God or holy living.

It doesn’t work very well, for almost without fail you can take the sinner out of the temptation but you will never by this means take the sin out of the sinner.  Yet we keep trying almost desperately to work the method just right—if we can just purify our thought patterns enough, or live in the right community of people, or meditate only on holy things, or make better laws…You get the idea.  Christianity took this idea and turned it into monasteries where men and women lived separately in order to quell the “sinful” urge to have sex or be tempted by the flesh.

I hate to repeat myself (I really do hate repeating myself but do it all the time) but it didn’t work very well.

Several years ago I heard about two monasteries—one for monks and one for nuns—a short distance apart where archeologists discovered a tunnel running from one to the other.  In a freakish revelation they found the bodies of aborted and birthed babies at the bottom of a well in the nunnery.  It turns out the monks and nuns were taking care of business while forbidding everybody else from following their own urges.  And it’s not that everyone is living a lie either, necessarily, rather the problem we face denying our own created reality turns our lives into one big long stressful failure to measure up.

Our created reality requires us to eat, sleep, cultivate our environment, develop personalities, establish character, grow hair in places we’d rather not, see color, taste food, have preferences which differ from others in our own family, be adventurous, be quiet, and I could go on.  Yet one of our worst faults is how we approach these subjects.  When we look at our sexuality as if it’s sin by default, resistance will be futile since we are built to reproduce.  Not only are we designed to reproduce but also to experience pleasure while doing it.  To use another example, food tastes good to us because we have taste buds.  We have taste buds because God designed us to enjoy food—or, if you prefer, evolution wanted us to survive so made food taste and smell good so we’d eat it.

Whatever the reason we do these things, they exist.  Considering them a product of sin only sets us up for sin since we not only have the urges for smell, sex, taste, touch, etc., but the capacity to enjoy them.  Our problems come from overindulgence.  Almost every time there is issues surrounding one of these pleasures cum necessities.  We don’t have to search far before we see narcissism in the background.  When pleasure gets misused, we tend to blame the pleasure over the person’s lust for it.

Drugs for numbing pain are good while healing; used as a form of recreation they become dangerous.  I don’t object to them being used as recreation because in and of themselves I see no problem with sitting back to enjoy a nice ride. But, when they are used as a means of escaping responsibility, dealing with our problems or daily lives, they are harmful.  Let’s be clear on something:  Objects are neither good or evil, happy or sad, useful or useless, until we apply some tangible goal to them.  The moral value of anything comes in how it’s used not in its existence.

Even circumstances hold only the value we give to them.  For instance, let’s say I lose my job due to the economy but it spurs me to start that business idea that’s been knocking around in my head for years.  If I look at the loss as something to grieve over (which it is a loss), then I may not do anything else.  But if I see it as an opportunity, then a world of possibilities open up.  I’m not suggesting that losing a job is good or something celebrate, rather often it’s our attitude about our abilities and lives which make the difference in how we respond.

Bringing more of my perspective to bear on this subject:  I believe the fall put a hole in our hearts and spirits we will forever be trying to fix.  Jesus gave us the fix, claiming (audaciously enough) that it was Him, but something went wrong.  I think Solomon answers our problem quite nicely when he writes:

 

This only have I found:  God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.  Ecclesiastes 7:29.

 

Humanity’s paranoia grows out of our separation from the head, which is Christ.  Of course many who don’t hold to Jesus as the Way, let alone God incarnate, object to my conclusion.  But that just illustrates this truth more poignantly.  We can’t deny the reality of what’s lacking in our own psyche when the entire human race is one big piece of evidence to prove it otherwise.  Even modern Christianity demonstrates it doesn’t believe its own teachings (remember the Golden Rule) by attempting to make laws for everyone based on tenets the others don’t agree with in the first place.  When we talk abortion, health, addictions, ethics, and a host of other topics, we have to be careful not to require Christ-like laws out of those around us who believe in something else.  The early church was comprised of a motley crew of slaves, poor, a few wealthy people and Jews.  Very, very few of them politically connected, and still less who were extremely wealthy.

The American view of truth is just that—the American view.  The Bible was written in an Eastern mindset, which means for us to grasp the truths in it we have to understand the culture, times, traditions, practices and other things before many of them will be clear.  Applying our own culture to an agricultural based society means we will definitely make some mistakes with our conclusions.  As another example, men or women who use their own POV to explain the opposite sex’s motives 9/10 get them wrong because we think differently about some stuff.  It isn’t that we are completely different in our needs, we just go about meeting them differently.  For instance (not to get sidetracked too much), men are emotional creatures and cry too, we just don’t do it for the exact same things all the time.  I have a friend whose son got married a few years back.  I knew how tied to his kids he is, so I teased him about the boy moving out and he told me to stop or he’d start weeping openly.  This is a man’s man.

No, we all have the same needs, it’s the customs and traditions we develop to meet them that are different.  Essentially, however, each of these customs and traditional guidelines or laws set up avenues to meet our needs as a society and protect the individual in some way.

In Christ the only way to holiness (a holistic lifestyle dedicated to God) comes through being attached to Him.  He’s the vine, we’re the branches.  We don’t bear fruit because we have the ability to do so but because we’re attached to the vine which gives its nutrients.  No one will become holy by separating themselves out from society.  What has a “wise man” (or woman) got to say about marriage if they’ve never been married?  Have you women who’ve raised children had friends who never had kids try to give you advice about them?  It’s annoying because they usually don’t have a realistic viewpoint let alone perspective.  No, true wisdom on any subject grows out of exposure to that subject in either personal experience or being involved in it through others.

Monastic living is religion in denial.  Denial of our reality is a setup for failure.  Failure brings despair and futility, along with anger, envy, depression, self-hate, and a host of other negatives.  The only way to find success in living good lives is to accept the evil in our natures while holding onto the good we find in Christ.  Yes, it makes us feel split in half, but the only way to heal a wound is to acknowledge we have one in first place.  Our souls/spirits are wounded by original sin and our own developed sense of it.  Keeping this truth in mind, while submitting the whole mess to Jesus to clean up, guarantees success.

For The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.  Or, as another version interprets it:  The man who fears God will hold onto them both.

Circling the Block

December 12, 2011

Whatever has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past into account.

And I saw something else under the sun:  In the place of judgment—wickedness was there, in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

I thought in my heart, “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed.”  Ecclesiastes 3:15-17.

Let’s digest this together for a bit, what ya’ say?

Before we go on I need to declare my belief and faith in this book as intrinsically factual and true.  This is an important statement because what comes next flies in the face of convention.

When we say we need to take an account of some part of our lives, business (social, economic or religious practices) or possessions/wealth, it’s the same as saying “take stock of…” in another context.  To check the accounts of financial records simply means adding and subtracting the ebb and flow of it in order to see if they balance out on the side of profit or loss.  It’s not that deep of a concept, really.  The phrase “take stock of” just needs to be dissected minimally to see from where it originates:  The stock house or room.  To check the stock means (I’m really not trying to insult your intelligence here, just focusing on why we use these phrases) to count what’s available or lacking.

Ok, why was that word study important to our take on the judgment?

God will take the past into account, meaning weigh up the good with the bad, right?  So if this is true, then what has to happen for the “financial” (in the spiritual sense, of course) to be in the black or at least even?  I can answer this from two perspectives, I think, with ease, but first let’s work with Solomon’s question from his worldview.

Habits are behaviors or attitudes which come back around on either a regular basis or when a stimulus of some sort pushes a specific habit button.  What has been will be again.  Though Solomon is probably speaking about inventions, conventions and human relationships or accomplishments, his words can also apply to our deeds.  Why else would he include the subject of the judgment in a discussion of things going around in a circle (or cycling back around) to reinvention?  But what caught my attention was how he looked at the judgment, so let’s dwell on that, since we’ve already discussed the repetition of history.

In the Jewish economy the law provided forgiveness through sacrifice, yet it required restitution through either paying four times the amount stolen, a payment of some type to those wronged by rape, accidental death or debt, and, finally, death in extreme cases where premeditated murder or violent theft occurred.  But in every case, repentance did bring mercy from God; the debt to Him could be paid through sacrifice.  I don’t know what happened in Solomon’s case since we aren’t given anything past this book and the accounts of Kings and Chronicles, but the book seems to suggest something happened at the end of his life to turn him back to his God.  Oddly enough this works for me, given the copious examples in Scripture of some real scoundrels receiving mercy.  A man who lived most of his life in pursuit of pleasure and wealth found it all to be meaningless at the end of a race he won by all accounts and standards.

From the perspective of one whose life is now hidden with Christ in God, it seems to me to be easier to find grace in the sludge of human relationships—at least from the One who counts.  In this case we know a grace Solomon could only hope for but had no chance to see.  If I stand on my own in the judgment, my life is weighed by how my deeds balance out.  The bad thing is:  If I sinned even once in my life, the sin outweighs everything else good I did by God’s accounting, so I’m lost anyway; so one tiny sin or an excessive amount matters little when coming to the judgment.

Yet here’s where it really gets good:  if I’m like the thief on the cross, about to die for a life of crime and violence, and repent with a sincere heart, the blood of Jesus covers me like a white wedding garment and all my stinkiness is erased.   In other words, His good outweighs the world’s bad by the infinite power of the death and resurrection of Christ.  His good is weighed on the scales of the nature of His being, the Son of God; which makes Him God as well (see John 10:31-38).  The infinite nature of God outweighs by infinity the rebellion it takes to deny Him, which is the essence of all sin.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord prevails in the accounting.  Like a good friend of mine, Jerome says constantly, “When someone asks me how I made it into the kingdom, I’m gonna’ say,  ‘I don’t know.  I’m with Him!’”  then he’d point over his right shoulder to signify Jesus.  That’s all we get in the judgment; it’s the all or nothing clause; it’s a winner (Jesus) take all (anyone who submits to Him and all creation) situation.  Nothing can be added to Him and certainly nothing taken away.

But there is one final addendum to this subject I’ve just begun to understand.  The issue of the reward for the righteous never really made it on my radar until a few years ago when I read it again in the book of Revelation.  I’m not going to go into this in depth right now, but what came out of it and every other text which speaks of this subject is that our salvation is guaranteed by the blood of Christ.  The crown and rewards in the kingdom however are based on the trend of our life in His service.  If the good outweighs the bad, we receive a reward; if not, we squeak through the fire of His judgment saved, but with the sludge of sin burned away and all that remains of our entire lives is the foundation of Christ and the apostles (refer to 1 Corinthians 3 for Paul’s illustration).

I’m good with that, how about you?

Taking Out the Kinks

September 5, 2011

What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.  Ecclesiastes 1:15.

 

I couldn’t go on without addressing this statement a bit.

Solomon is speaking from a purely human perspective without including a miraculous God in the mix.  In construction I find the truth of this standpoint fairly regularly.  The moment you put a twist in copper pipe, for instance, the kink remains even if the twist is mostly straightened out.  No matter how one works on the bent pipe, it never comes right.  Because of what copper does (as well as most other metals) once it’s kinked the crease tends to leak eventually.  I’ve stuck rods down in the hole of the pipe trying to pry the kink up but nothing worked.  Eventually I just have to replace the kinked section.

Yet God isn’t limited by our deficiency.  What we lack in spiritual or miraculous power cannot be measured or counted for sure.  Yet God is infinite, we are so very finite.  Our imaginations can take in the possibility of life outside our physical world, but we can’t seem to design or create creatures that reflect these actual beings.  My point is:  our reality only includes the five senses or what we can “see”/know through equipments we conduct to detect that which is beyond our ability.

A person looking at creation through the eyes of a god-less perspective will be limited in their ability to see it.  No matter what the Bible describes as the whole picture, anyone who limits their scope to a purely physical reality will miss the greater spiritual truths waiting for those who connect with it.  The only way the greater picture is open to our viewpoint is through the crucified and risen Savior.  Jesus becomes a filter for our calloused spiritual eyes.  Solomon could only look forward to such a possibility, though he doesn’t mention it in this book, because such a truth had not occurred to anyone until Jesus came in the flesh.  We understand who Jesus is now because we can look back to His revelation but up to the time of His resurrection, no one would have considered such a possibility.

What is lacking cannot be counted

Though Solomon may not be making this point, the Spirit is through his words, I believe.  All Scripture is God breathed, which points us to something God would have us understand.  What Solomon’s despairing viewpoint educates us to is the hopeless redundancy of mankind’s life cycle without the atmosphere of Eden.  Nothing changes, even though we make progress in knowledge or technology, the character of mankind remains the same throughout these advances.  It’s no wonder the world fails to see Jesus as anything but spiritual teacher, guru or great example of human conduct, for they lack the spiritual insight to grasp Him in any other way.

Without God’s intervention, what is broken cannot be fixed; what is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking will never be known let alone counted.  For us to be whole beings, we must be directly connected to Him.

The Gift of Example

July 14, 2011

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:9.

 

We don’t usually see statements from a teacher in today’s atmosphere which points us to follow his example.  I know from my own experience it’s usually “do as I say not as I do” more often than not since most people don’t (not because they can’t) follow their own advice.  Yet Paul encourages them to learn from his example, even though he’s under house arrest and awaiting trial for treason.

Notice, however, that the promise of God’s peace rests on those who imitate their mentor.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s revealing that the assurance of God’s presence is promised to those who imitate their teacher as he imitates their common Master.  Paul isn’t telling them to do something he’s not willing to live out in front of them.

Right there the gauntlet is thrown down for every teacher, preacher or mature believer in Christ.  Most of us agree our lives become examples of how to live this walk, but what most of us practice is one thing in public and another in private.  Although there should be private conversations and activities, I don’t believe we ever should change how our character expresses itself.  If we tend to be kind in public, this should be the same personae we practice in private.  If we are moral champions in public, our private practice should reflect it.

Everyone agrees this should be the norm, in theory, but I don’t know very many people who actually live this way.  I’m constantly disappointed by those in authority showing in private something entirely different than what they teach.  I think it’s one of the reasons why I tend towards blending my public/private practices.  If I joke about something in private to just friends, I do my best not to pretend I don’t find it funny around other people who might be more conservative or liberal than I am.  To live what I don’t believe is acting for the approval of others and fake, which in the end a deliberate lie.  On the other hand, I might abstain from certain subjects or practices which offend or hurt someone else.  This is out of consideration for them not hiding my general lifestyle from them.  For example, I have a friend who is a recovering alcoholic and when she is invited to a party, I don’t drink around her so that she doesn’t feel alone.  This isn’t to say she believes I don’t drink generally, she knows I do, but out of consideration for her well being I abstain.

The Greek meaning for hypocrite is “actor,” a person who performs a written part in order to entertain, inform or impress the audience.  We have made the word mean “fake” whereas Jesus and the apostles meant it to mean someone who performs for the applause of men.  In other words, if hypocrite prays in public, he/she prays not to communicate with God but to impress those listening with their spirituality and depth.  If one such person does accepted spiritual practices, mores and outreach, they do so for the approval of their subculture in the specific body of Christ they attend.  This practice, Jesus condemned.  Every time He rebuked the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law He called them down for their dual personalities.

I’m not condemning being culturally astute or appropriate with the age group we’re with or the community in which we find ourselves.  That’s wisdom, but to pretend to be some ideal that traditional Christianity manufactured out of the cultural bias is foolish.

We are to celebrate everything God created as holy.  The perversions and twists of sin might taint His creation, but that doesn’t mean it is unholy or to be frowned upon.  Just because people are greedy, selfish, lustful and a host of other things doesn’t make money, sex, bathing or whatever else comes as natural products of our efforts to live, unholy.  Everything done within the context of the God’s parameters is holy.  Nothing He created is to be treated as sinful unless we step outside His design or boundaries for it.

Here is the prime reason why we need teachers, preachers, and mentors who live the ethic they espouse out in the open.  Are you a married leader in the church?  Celebrate your marriage, love, sexuality and relationship triumphs and struggles in full view of the body so that those who are new at this may have an example to follow for themselves.  If we act like we don’t struggle in our lives, how will those who face these struggles like we do ever find a clear path through them?  Again, if we don’t demonstrate by our practices what it means to live out the grace, mercy, transformation and light of God, then those who look up to us won’t know how to do so either.  If we practice hypocrisy (acting for the applause of the church traditions), then those who follow will believe this to be the norm for believers and either become adept at it or discouraged with it because their lives are in disarray.

Paul languished under house arrest, yet his example showed his walk with God thrived.  He grew tired of imprisonment, discouraged, frustrated and joyful all in the same letter.  He showed that he struggled at times and had to remind himself of God’s continued presence.  Everything he instructed the Philippians to do he had to learn by trial and error himself through the Spirit of God.  He lived out loud.

If we want to be effective for the kingdom of God, we must, must, must live out loud so that those who watch may understand His mercy, grace and the miraculous transformation which only comes when we practice humble submission to His will and presence.

The Right Kind of Justice

July 8, 2011

Whatever is right, whatever is pure…

 

Now once we mention truth you’d think the spectrum of stuff covered would be met, but Paul goes on to expand that thought to things that are right and pure.  Doesn’t pointing to truth cover everything pure and right?

Yes.  Yet at the same time truth includes things that are evil as well, for there are impure truths we face daily.  Truth points to whatever is rather than the myth or story we build up around it.  For example we might not want to admit we feel covetous of  someone’s property so we decide to build up a justification for our greed and explain away our desire to make ourselves believe the lie (if that’s possible) and fool others into buying our story.  Our rationalization doesn’t make our motives pure nor does it make them right, but they are still true.

The word used for right in the NIV is translated just in the KJV.  I don’t believe it’s any accident these words are related to each other, for whatever is just is also what is considered right as well.  The confusion with these ideals grows out of the fact that we compartmentalize our lives so much we forget the relationship between them, forgetting they are intertwined.  The Greek word denotes the state of being right or right conduct as interpreted by Vine’s.  Yet it isn’t about self-righteousness, a world-based comparison or confidence; rather our state of being right is judged by the standard created by God.

This state of rightness goes hand in hand with that of purity, which by any definition usually means uncontaminated by another element.  For instance, the purity of gold is measured by itself; for gold to be pure all other matter must be removed.  In order for our Christian walk to be pure all other rational ideals must be purged from our operating manual.  Not that we aren’t supposed to be aware or educated in the other ethics, far from it, but our modus operandi must not be based on them.  The measure we use as believers comes from Christ alone, and through His lens we interpret what we know as true.  In other words, what we call “evil” gets its designation from what Jesus calls evil.  Any deviation from His Word is evil by this standard of measurement.

Grace becomes incredibly necessary here because none of us are untainted by the world and therefore our interpretation of truth will be skewed by our sin.  I’ve watched the church flounder with how to live a right-eous life untainted by the world.  The church I grew up in believed and taught that we were to have very little association with the world around us to the point that even childhood friendships were restricted to other kids within the body.  My folks weren’t this strict and seemed to see no sense in that attitude, but no matter, the prevailing practice still influenced the way I thought and acted.

The first inkling I had that something was amiss was when I read 1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  My take on this text is no matter what we strive for in Christ, our understanding of right will be somewhat skewed by our sinful nature.  I’m not saying we can’t find truth or grasp the fact/reality of righteousness, but we must practice what we discover with a humble realization we may not have a clear picture of the truth.  Over the years I’ve relearned many truths taught in the Bible over and over again.  Just when I think a truth is clear and no more can be learned from it I’ll read another text that sheds a greater light on it.  If Paul proclaimed without shame that he hadn’t arrived just yet (and this declaration was made towards the end of his life), then I see no reason for any shame on my part for lacking a full understanding either.

 

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  2 Corinthians 3:18.

 

It’s interesting Paul words it this way for it fits right in with the point I’m trying to make here.  Our ability to see through the eyes of the Spirit comes from taking off the veil of the old covenant’s glory.  The Jews of Moses’ day wanted to block the sight of God from their vision because it not only hurt their eyes and stunned their minds but it convicted them of their sinful/separated condition.  I’ve heard quite a few sermons using this passage in Corinthians to lambaste the reaction of Israel at Mt. Sinai for their fear and revulsion (?) of God’s displayed power.  And maybe the preachers who call them down for it should.  At the same time, I just see us holding onto and teaching the basic elements of grace without any desire to go to a deeper understanding of what it means to experience such a wonder.  Dietrich Bonhoffer declared such a grasp of grace as “cheap” because it never led to greater obedience or sacrifice on our part.

My point is human nature hasn’t changed all that much since those freed slaves turned away from the glory reflected on Moses’ face.  Think about it a minute:  they couldn’t take the glory of God reflected on a human face—a fallen, recovering sinner like Moses—which was barely a minute fraction of the full force of it.  Whenever I begin talking about the things of God as I’m learning them, I’m amazed and disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm or interest within the church at large.  It seems the general populace of the body of Christ wants only so much truth and then feels content to hang out there.

That attitude doesn’t fly with God.  Though many of these juvenile believers will be saved on the Day, they won’t be commended for their disinterest in spiritual depth or growth.  I’ve received plenty of rebukes from even pastors who think I’m too heavy with what I tell people…and granted some of what these people say is true…But I know that anyone who hungers for the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of Truth will get weird looks and/or shunned for their enthusiasm.  I had a couple of pastors I’ve served under tell me pointblank, “You’re no preacher, Jon,” in an effort to humble me, I guess.  I don’t know why they felt the need to make this point since I’ve never pursued being in that profession for Christ nor do I attempt to preach at all.  Instead I testify to what I’ve seen and heard; if anything, I consider myself merely a witness to for Jesus.

In my somewhat myopic opinion of these preachers’ expressed views, they said this to me because of some threat they felt with my status as a musician in their church.  Each time I agreed with them, then told them what I’ve written here—in different words, of course, but the message was the same.  I’m not writing this to express my frustration with these men, instead I’m pointing out their need to put me in my place is a sign of competition and immature spirituality.  Those who strive to know God, understand the need to testify about Him.  I’m no preacher, and probably not even a teacher for that matter, I am, however, a seeker of truth and believe that Jesus is the Way to that end.  As a part time worship leader, I stand on a platform where I can say anything I want pretty much.  That gives me power for the few minutes I’m on stage directing musical traffic.  An immature Christian takes this kind of opportunity and uses it to address their pet subjects or peeves, while those growing from glory to glory learn the platform is a place to declare the reputation of God—or, put another way, His work in their lives.

Every place Jesus healed someone just about, they were told to testify to what God had done for them.  A preacher needs to be careful not to squelch this—while at the same time reigning in those like me who might be longwinded.  It’s a delicate balancing act, I know, for I needed rebuke for my unconscious (and thereby inconsiderate) use of time in the worship.  What should have been encouraged was the technique of speaking up for God.  Instead they sought to squelch any expression other than worship through song.  But praise and worship is not just about singing, it also includes declarations of God’s work in our lives and during this time we should  be calling on the body of Christ to speak out what God has done for them.  As a leader in worship, it’s my job to give them permission through my example.  Otherwise it becomes a preacher/worship leader dictatorship and one sided praise from the pulpit where the congregation just becomes a bucket we pour into.  They might join in through singing, but generally it boils down to spiritual entertainment rather than a corporate worship.

Purity is the state of being untainted by selfish ambition, pride of place or need for being center stage.  A person truly seeking God will shun the spotlight of human glory for that of God’s.  In other words, they will use the platform they’re given to reflect His glory and not their own.

I confess I am not pure.  I’m not even sure I’m right.  Where I can say with confidence that I’m on the right path to these truths in Christ is when I rightly divide the Word of Truth.  I desire that ever increasing glory which inspires a hunger for more.  That is growing pure and right.  The just shall live by faith; those who desire purity seek justice; being right means being pure; being pure means being just.

How about you?

The Pattern

June 2, 2011

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the patter we gave you.  For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!  Philippians 3:17-4:1.

Two phrases stand out as fulcrum points here.  First, we have Paul encouraging his readers to follow his example and the believers who adhere to the pattern he and his partners gave them.  Second, he makes it clear the pattern is the method by which they should stand firm in the Lord.

I would love to know exactly what that pattern looked like lived out according to Paul and Associates.  Words are not meaningless but they don’t convey many of the nuances which would clear up some of the debate 2000 spiritual rabbit trails bring up.  Actually, I think Paul does a good job describing the pattern to the Philippians, but I’m curious to know how it applies in specific situations he doesn’t address.

Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the principle of remembering our citizenship is in heaven while making a living and coping with the earthly realities.  Since I’ve read many of his other letters with similar instructions but more practical guidelines, I don’t believe he is telling us stop living in the world or making a place here.  I do think he’s warning us not to get too attached to our “stuff” here because it’s a temporary situation.

It’s not hard to picture the type of people who live as enemies of the cross, although I’d still not like to be the one to name them very often.  Making a judgment call about anyone’s spiritual status is dangerous at best and down right detrimental at worst.  Still, we must understand this truth in Christ so that we are not the ones living as His enemies; for as Paul says elsewhere:  all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial; all things are permissible, but I will not be ruled by anything.  If we call Jesus our “Master,” then our lives must demonstrate the truth of this.

Paul called himself a slave of Christ; and it’s only within this context that we can read any statement in which he calls Jesus “Lord” or “Master”.  Unless we get this concept, we will misunderstand where we stand in the general mix.  If we get off on one little point, it can mean being off in a big way later on.  Anyone who knows basic Algebra or Geometry understands that even a small degree of deviation from the line means separation from it pretty quickly.  The smallest deviations are hardest to detect, however, since they move seemingly parallel for such a long time.  Give this deviation a few years to travel and we end up with a pretty big space between the original line and where we end up.

It’s one of the reasons I believe in humility where the Bible is concerned.  Everybody struggles so much to grasp even the simplest concepts Scripture poses for our instruction that I believe we need to stop worrying about how far we or anyone else might be from the truth.  It’s safe to just assume we are off in several ways and the different perspectives within the body of Christ forces us out of a complacent acceptance of our own spiritual superiority.

Again, in another place, Paul claims we live as aliens in this world.  In his POV “alien” would mean someone from another country not probing egg-headed beings from space; to the Philippians he makes the argument for their citizenship in heaven.  Anyone whose god is their stomach would find this truth a little disturbing, since a person would be known by their tribal or national affiliation.  So much of a person’s identity in Paul’s era wrapped itself up in national or tribal associations that someone without a country, tribe or family was either looked down upon or ostracized all together.  Anyone who claimed no loyalty to a group would be seen with more suspicion than someone from an enemy nation because mainly outcasts or criminals claimed such status.

Where we get our identity from tells those around us who we are.  No matter what anyone wants to believe about our job title, marriage status or whatever else people ask about at parties, our identity derives directly from our affiliations.  Who we are connected to sometimes matters more than what we do.  For instance, say a man is related to the president of the United States as a nephew or cousin but works as a janitor, he will get respect from not only his peers but anyone who finds out about it just because of this connection.  It doesn’t matter that he’s probably not well off or traveling in powerful circles; just the fact he’s related to someone that powerful gives him a certain amount of notoriety.

Our citizenship is in heaven, so our identity comes from there.  If we are preoccupied with “earthly” things, we misrepresent our country of origin.  When I go visit another country, I am an American still.  My accent, relationships and a host of other verbal and non-verbal cues tell everyone where I come from and to whom I belong.  But when I begin to blend into the population, take on their mannerisms, speak their language, support their economy and generally become nationalized, I am no longer strictly an American but something of an expatriate.  I can still do all this without betraying my country; however, the moment I do anything that goes against my country of origin’s interests, I become a traitor.  Even if I don’t renounce my American citizenship formally, going against its policies, traditions, or interests in that place betrays my claims to belong.

Now there are many who set up a host of rules and regulations for belonging to the Christian faith, and I’m not sure I want to argue for or against all these.  Let’s just suffice it to say, the Bible makes it really simple to be a member.  1 John 2:3-6 makes it abundantly clear what it means to belong to Christ:  We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands.  The man who says,  “I know Him,”  but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.  This is how we know we are in Him:  Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.  Simple, eh?

No, I guess it’s not, because we have 2500+ denominations out there to prove how many ways we can interpret what it means to “obey His commands” as well as a host of arguments and discussions over which commands we must obey.

Yet I do believe there is a simple rule for us to follow:  Imitate Jesus.  That might sound confusing, but really it takes away a lot of backwash from the water of life.  When Jesus says (as Matthew 18:15-20 records it) to confront sin a certain way, then we do it that way.  If in the same context He tells us to treat a brother or sister who will not be reconciled like a pagan or tax collector, then we must look first at how He treated these people instead of imitating the world around us—even the religious world to which we belong gets this wrong.  If Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners by going to their houses and eating their food, then I doubt He means for us to cut them off completely from our lives.

Do you see the difference?  The world accepts others based on sameness, agreement or capitulation; the Body of Christ accepts others based on the cross.  To live as an enemy of the cross is not only to be a glutton or sinner, but to continue in the world’s values.  If while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, then how should we demonstrate our citizenship to the young believers and those outside the body of Christ?  If Jesus demonstrated His love for us by dying for us before we even belonged to Him, then how should we treat those around us?

There are limits to this, of course, like I won’t attend an orgy of gluttony and/or sex just to show an unbeliever I care about him/her.  But I will come to his/her house at a time which is mutually benign because we are friends.  At the same time, those who betray the faith by continuing in unrepentant sin (and this knowingly), I am to have nothing to do with till they repent.  I know that sounds harsh, yet I can’t help but believe this was Jesus’ way of supporting the idea of refusing to enable someone’s destructive habits rather than punishing them.  In psychology denying someone support for their destructive lifestyle is considered wise.  Cutting them off completely is not good, though refusing to bring them into the inner circle where they might infect others with their bad habits is considered wisdom.

This is, of course, just a few examples of where the pattern comes into play.  As our understanding of the pattern grows, so does our practice of it.  God doesn’t hold against us when we can’t grow all at once.  If He did, none of us would be make the grade, quite frankly.  So if He doesn’t expect such an instantaneous change, neither should we.

The pattern Paul gave to the churches he established in Jesus’ name follows firm moral boundaries which include mercy, grace, rebuke, gentleness and a host of other positive traits.  We stick to morals not just because they are right (which they are) but because they are the essential ingredients to love.  We marry one person not because the Bible forbids multiple sexual partners but because this is the essence of love—it’s how we’re designed.  Understanding the reason for something strengthens the resolve of those who follow a teaching.  When we do so out of legalism, our moral stance becomes cold, calculated and harsh; when we do so out of love, our morals uplift, glorify and minister healing (minister here meaning “serve”).

Paul makes it abundantly clear only those who follow this pattern will stand in the end.