A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight. -- Proverbs 11:1
Friday, December 6, 2013
The Lord likes for us to be in balance with one another. This is not some kind of forced, false equality or superimposed fairness. In a Christian community, we complement one another. If we were truly all the same, no one would be of much use to anyone else. As we used to say about a universal part, it means it doesn’t fit anything. Or, it works equally poorly wherever you put it.
A just scale requires calibration. It requires a standard, a known weight or quantity. We have to measure our truth not by the whims of fashion and the ever-shifting poles of worldly opinion, but by the absolute and eternal reality. Whatever we wish others to do to us, do also to them. Let the butcher use the same scale to measure out the beef he sells as the cow he buys. I am always amused by the slackers who lament poor service, and the liars who are upset that they have not been told the truth.
This is a pretty good summation of my political views. We don't need so many rules. We just need everybody to play by the same ones and for them to be applied equitably.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. -- Hebrews 12:3
As we have said before, it ought to be that when we do the right thing, take the right path, repent, or resolve then things ought to go well for us. People ought to see that we are doing good or trying to do better and give us support and encouragement, or, at least, not attack us. It doesn't always happen that way. There are the Barnabas people out there -- the sons of encouragement who will help us and root for us, and thank God for them. But a lot of people will be negative and hostile.
We have to expect that. If we are walking the strait and narrow road, we have to stay on it regardless of opposition and discouragement. Somebody is going to misunderstand. Another will be offended. Others may try to "help" us by telling us that if we were on the right road, it would not be so rough, better take the detour. No.
Do you know why they call it the Indianapolis 500? The guy who is ahead after the first lap may not even be on the track for the 500th lap. The 24 hours of Le Mans is a lot different than the 24 minutes of Lamar. Do you know that no one ever won a marathon by being the first runner to complete 26 miles? You have to run another 385 yards to the finish.
Personally, this is a problem I have. I want to quit because I'm tired. I don't seem to be accomplishing much. I did my part back in '88 or '98 or '08, and I want to call it "good". But I can't. I have to keep going. That's the bad news.
The good news is that tomorrow may not be as tough as today. Some days you can win just by showing up. Sometimes the victory is to keep moving.
The Lord does not expect us to go on without rest and relief and refreshment. He has rewards for us along the way. For people like me who have a tendency toward depression, it is important to remember that every day is not the same. I feel that way sometimes when I get stressed and sleep-deprived -- that it will never change, that the nightmare will never end.
It does. My Father has been good to me in so many ways, so many times. I do get a break now and then before I break. It could happen today. Carry on.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. -- James 2:12-13
I was talking to someone recently who said that a certain prominent local Christian of our acquaintance had always looked down on him because he drank. "You," he said, "never do that."
I laughed and said it was only because I couldn't. The truth is that we all have our weaknesses, and, as far as I have seen, there are no exceptions. It does seem that some Christians do not view greed, jealousy, gluttony, or gossip in the same light as other, more flamboyant transgressions. While Paul does emphasize the egregiousness of sexual immorality to the Church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), just a few paragraphs before (1 Cor. 5:9-12), he lists such immorality in equivalence with greed, swindling, drunkenness, and idolatry. More importantly, perhaps, he cautions us against judging those outside the Body: But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?
My occasionally hard-drinking friend is not a church-goer. God is dealing with him, and I will leave the judging of his life to the only righteous Judge. For my part, I will encourage moderation. And mercy. Mercy has the advantage.
It is true -- never doubt -- that we are always judging ourselves. If I were to go to hell, it would be because I condemned myself to it. There was a time when I could not have understood that, let alone accepted it. I think I learned some of the lessons of mercy from my granddaughter. At least dealing with her and the overwhelming, unconditional love I have for her made it clearer to me.
When I was very young, probably half a century or so ago, Dad gave me a Jersey heifer calf. She was light reddish brown with a white belly and white up on her sides a little. She even had a triangle of white on her forehead pointing down toward her nose, and she turned out to be a pretty good milk cow. Her calves helped put me through college, bought my second car and a motorcycle or two. I had been reading some juvenile-oriented biography of one of the Pilgrim fathers -- probably William Bradford, I don't recall, who allegedly had a lamb which he named "Mercy". That's what I named my calf.
Mercy has always had positive connotations for me. I say it, ask for it, and need it -- a lot. Patience, gentleness, meekness, humility, and many other virtues, I find quite evasive. Mercy, alone, seems to come more easily. Perhaps it is a gift, as Romans 12 lists among the gifts a person may be given "acts of mercy". We are told specifically that in doing acts of mercy one should be happy and cheerful, almost as though cheerfulness were part of the virtue.
We are merciful when we give someone what they do not deserve. Sometimes we get this mixed up because we think of innocent people condemned to death who are reprieved by a call from the governor. However, if the person is innocent, that is not mercy; it is justice. Mercy is when the guilty are forgiven. When we do not condemn those who have wronged us, when we spare those who would not spare us, when we are good to those who have hurt us, that is mercy.
In me, the Lord has accepted the unacceptable. He has pardoned and reprieved the culpable. Through Christ, His mercy conquers the judgment and damnation I have so rightly earned. How can I not be merciful?
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. -- Psalm 116:1-2
It is understandable that one would love God for paying attention to his cries for help in time of need. We call out in petition and supplication because the situation is beyond our ability, if it exceeds the power of the human mind and the human hand to remedy. Notwithstanding that all are not always willing to admit it, there is much that is beyond us, questions we cannot answer, puzzles we cannot solve.
Yet once we know the Lord hears us and cares to listen, once we truly grasp this ever-present reality, we may, with the psalmist, find, greater than relief, a positive joy almost compelling us to keep on calling to Him. His presence draws forth from us deeper longings for communion and what Christianity weakly names fellowship.
There is, for me, essentially one reason to go to church: I am a better man in the presence of my sisters and brothers. We may get labeled as hypocrites because of this. That's not what it is. I used to be able to lower my shields in church, to put aside, for a while, the visor and helm. I don't go and fellowship in a local church much any more because I bear the scars of the wounds I received in the house of my friends. These days, I am more circumspect and, sadly, a lot less trusting that just anyone with a hymn book in his or her hand on Sunday morning is my brother or my sister.
There are still those with whom I share Christian camaraderie, who keep me from wandering over the edge -- including some of you reading this. I appreciate every one. The One, though, who knows me best and who is undeterred by any defense, shield or armor is the One who listens in the dark of night. Almost breathless until I breathe out, the Lord hovers over me. He waits to hear my soul's expression.
I have been very thirsty and, a few times, hungry, when nothing was there to satisfy me. Other times I have started to drink cool, clear water only to realize that I had been unaware of or ignoring my thirst. In fact, not too long ago, I noticed that thirst makes me irritable and edgy well before I am aware of the physical signs of the craving.
In times of sickness or loss or tumult, we may know that our only hope is in the Lord. But there are often those smaller annoyances and stresses and even, perhaps, failures that call forth our calling to His listening ear.
Monday, December 2, 2013
And when they go out into the outer court to the people, they shall put off the garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers. And they shall put on other garments, lest they communicate holiness to the people with their garments. -- Ezekiel 44:19
Most of us would like to think that the Lord would want to "communicate holiness" to His people. A stricture such as this seems, in our day, excessive and exclusive and elitist. The priests are the only ones who get to go into the temple. They don't earn the right to minister, but they are born to it. The whole idea does violence to our egalitarian posture and democratic mindset. Why should the people be denied the benefits of holiness? Whatever that is.
The old model of the Aaronic priesthood served its purpose, but it was flawed by the weakness of man and limited by death. Jesus is our Great High Priest who entered but once into the Holy of Holies, finished His work of expiating all sin, and sat down at the Father's right hand (Hebrews 4:14-16, 9:11-12, 10:12). Still, it is a model which can tell us about our condition and about the remedy.
The truth is that we must reject and abandon the old nature -- everything of the old nature. That's hard to conceive of, especially for people who are naturally meek and mild and not given to rebellion or selfish ambition. Some of us are born good. OK, not me. Some of you. Growing up, I had a cute little blonde cousin, Deb, a few years younger than I was. She was -- and as far as I know, is -- a sweet and gentle person, a throwback, perhaps, to her grandmother, my aunt, who was of a character radically different than any of her nine violent, vicious, hot-tempered siblings. You couldn't offend Deb. A harsh word never came out of her mouth. If one of us accidentally hurt her, physically or emotionally, she would try not to cry in front of us, lest we feel regret for our roughness. How could God say to a person like little Deb that in her flesh dwells no good thing? On the surface, it doesn't seem right, but He does say it: It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.
That's the message the rigorous separation of the sons of Aaron is meant to convey. Light and darkness have no communion. One is either in light or in shadow. We are either living and walking by the Spirit in faith, or we are in bondage, in the shackles of the flesh. There can be no alliance between the holy and the profane.
Ah, but, I say, I have this strength, this talent, these resources, this wealth. Surely my skill and intelligence are of some value. Surely God does not expect me to abandon this and embrace only the poverty of spirit?
That "good" part of myself has to be purged and refined. It must be abandoned to the sacrificial fires of judgment. If what we see as good goes up in smoke, well, we misjudged it. If it endures -- even if it endures, it may be unrecognizable, so transmuted as to leave us wondering as to its continued value or usefulness. But we are free to take up whatever is left and make the best use of it in our obedience.
We really can't live a mixed life. There is weird stuff in the regulations Moses gave to Israel. Don't yoke two different kinds of animals together to plow. Don't wear "wool blend" suits. How does that hurt anything? It seems silly, but it's a picture. A life that is mixed is a life that painful. The spirit and the flesh contend, and one is always making the other to suffer. If you ever get the flesh down, show it no mercy. Finish it off.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. -- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
My daughter has requested, apparently, that I pray and say a few words during her Thanksgiving celebration day after tomorrow. This is the preview; it's pretty simple and obvious.
If we look around at the world today, from Iran and the Middle East to China and other foreign affair disasters-in-waiting, from the impending collapse of the financial markets to the unemployment rate and health insurance or to the gangrenous stench in popular culture as personified by people from Miley Cyrus to Lance Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey to Obama, we have to wonder how we can be thankful for these circumstances.
As you already know, though, we are not called to give thanks for, but to give thanks in all circumstances. Not everything that has happened to us this year is good. Not everything that will happen next year will be welcomed. Yet despite the trials we face, we may rejoice for God is working constantly and ceaselessly on our behalf. Jesus says in John 16:33, In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
While we are troubled, while we face the unknown and the sometimes dreadful, we ought to pray at all times. Prayer, as someone said, it the acknowledgement that we do not have all the answers. In turning to the Lord in prayer we admit our dependence upon Him and thank Him for being with us and in us.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12)
I am sure those Pilgrims who enjoyed the plenty of that first harvest would understand. They had faced grave difficulties. Many had suffered and died, and more trials lay ahead. Not doubt the future seemed uncertain, perhaps even dark. Yet as strangers in this strange land, the Lord prepared a table for them. They could rejoice and give thanks that He had seen them through this far.
When we gather at our tables, let us be thankful, not only for the bounty and the blessings but for the One who provides. And if the feast be scant with few to share, give thanks and fill thy plate with joy knowing that the God on the mountain is still God in the valley.
Monday, November 25, 2013
After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” – 1 Kings 17:17-18
This widow to whom Elijah had been sent lived in Zarephath, in the country of Sidon. She may have been a righteous gentile believer in the God of Israel, but she was certainly not of the nation of Israel. This is emphasized when the Lord Jesus uses her as an example alongside Naaman the Syrian leper as an example of an outsider who was chosen and blessed: But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. (Luke 4:25-26)
In the better known part of the widow’s story, she is down to her last cup of meal and her last bit of oil when the prophet arrives at her home. She had gone out to gather sticks for a fire to prepare the last of her bread for herself and her son. Then they were going to die. Whether she meant they were resigned to dying of starvation or, perhaps, by more active means is not made clear. In any case, Elijah asked her to feed him first, and her response of faith had resulted in supernatural provision for her household.
When her son fell ill and died, the widow’s grief caused her to regret her kindness in providing a place for Elijah. Since she was an outsider, she may have felt inferior and unworthy of the goodness of God. It reminds us of the children of Israel, freed from Egyptian bondage, complaining – so frequently – to Moses that God had brought them out into the desert to kill them. I am no better. I have done the same thing. I suppose it must be the natural rebel in so many of us that wants to strike out against the one we perceive to be in authority. When we face what appears to be an insurmountable obstacle, when we think ourselves beaten and humiliated, we ask why we ever tried to do better or have better. We should have been content to accept the lower quality life of a reject and a slave. Now our failures are exposed to ourselves and to the world.
The widow had tried to do the right thing by trusting this word of God’s man. She had acted against her natural inclinations. All that had transpired in the interval between first seeing the prophet’s face and now, looking down at the cold, ashen face of her dead son, was compressed into a meaningless lump. All that mattered was that her boy was gone and God’s representative remained.
Her sins had not been forgiven and covered. The Lord had exacted His retribution.
The truth was, though, that the Lord had sent Elijah not to punish but to deliver. His presence had already extended both her life and that of her son. He had saved them from a lingering death by starvation. Apart from that, had they survived by some other means, there is no reason to think that the son might not have fallen ill under other circumstances. He lived only because Elijah was present.
Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again.” And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” (1 Kings 17:21-24)
We should never think that God’s mercy is overextended. Lamentations 3:22-23 reminds us that even in the worst of situations, The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
God has brought me out of some dark pits. Much of it was my own fault. I would get sick and tired of pulling the same stupid lamb out of one hole after another. Mercy, though, does not keep a tally. While the Lord does not encourage us to jump off cliffs, He never seems to tire of pulling us out when we are in over our heads, no matter how stupid we were in getting ourselves there.
I do wonder sometimes, though, if a person can get tired of being pulled out.