Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Friday, December 19, 2014

Masquerade



And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”  And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:8-10


Generally, those who read this passage about a repentant tax collector think about the good that Zacchaeus did in his new-found generosity.  I am one of those who think that actions speak louder than words and that being a giver is virtuous.  Whether I would admit to it or not, there’s a part of my brain that thinks Zacchaeus “saved himself” by giving away his possessions and restoring what he had gained by extortion. 

But if we look at what Jesus said, there’s something more going on.  We can’t save ourselves no matter how good we are.  The Lord seeks us as if we were lost sheep, gathers us up and takes us home.  Salvation came into the house of Zacchaeus when Jesus entered it, but it all hinges on who we are.  (Note:  Father Stephen continues his excellent series on morality, and I’m just saying, Amen, here today.) 

Zacchaeus didn’t need to repent because he was an agent of the Roman government and a scallywag.  He needed to remember that he was a “son of Abraham”, that he was part of a covenant that put him in communion with God, and made him, and us, as 2 Peter 1:4 says, “partakers of the divine nature”.  The little man had fallen into sin and corruption because he did not know who he was.

And so it is with us all.  No one is going to go to hell because they lied, murdered, fornicated, cursed and swore, or whatever else.  We do those things because we are dead and in hell, because we are separated and isolated from communion with God, because we are living according to the flesh.  Frankly, if there’s no way back to God except the path of self-improvement, there is not much reason for me to stop living like a devil because I am not going to make it anyway. 

I watched part of the movie Charade recently.  Imagine you had a face like Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn.  Instead of showing the world that face, you decide to wear a gorilla mask all the time.  The mask is ugly, and it causes people to reject you, and it causes all kinds of problems in your life.  It’s filthy.  You can’t keep the stupid thing clean, and it stinks.  It makes you sweat and is almost unbearable in the summer.  You do what you can to make it look better and less hideous and to make it more comfortable, but nothing really works. 

Take off the damn mask.

Christ has given us His life.  He took our old life to the Cross, put it death and buried it. 


There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

William Law on the Obstacles to Humility



EVERY person, when he first applies himself to the exercise of this virtue of humility, must, as I said before, consider himself as a learner, that is to learn something that is contrary to former tempers and habits of mind, and which can only be got by daily and constant practice.

He has not only as much to do as he that has some new art or science to learn, but he has also a great deal to unlearn: he is to forget and lay aside his own spirit, which has been a long while fixing and forming itself; he must forget and depart from abundance of passions and opinions, which the fashion, and vogue, and spirit of the world, has made natural to him.

He must lay aside his own spirit; because as we are born in sin, so in pride, which is as natural to us as self-love, and continually springs from it. And this is one reason why Christianity is so often represented as a new birth, and a new spirit.

He must lay aside the opinions and passions which he has received from the world; because the vogue and fashion of the world, by which we have been carried away as in a torrent, before we could pass right judgments of the value of things, is, in many respects, contrary to humility; so that we must unlearn what the spirit of the world has taught us, before we can be governed by the spirit of humility.

The devil is called in Scripture the prince of this world, because he has great power in it, because many of its rules and principles are invented by this evil spirit, the father of all lies and falsehoods, to separate us from God, and prevent our return to happiness.

Now, according to the spirit and vogue of this world, whose corrupt air we have all breathed, there are many things that pass for great and honourable, and most desirable, which yet are so far from being so, that the true greatness and honour of our nature consists in the not desiring them.

To abound in wealth, to have fine houses, and rich clothes, to be attended with splendour and equipage, to be beautiful in our persons, to have titles of dignity, to be above our fellowcreatures, to command the bows and obeisance of other people, to be looked on with admiration, to overcome our enemies with power, to subdue all that oppose us, to set out ourselves in as much splendour as we can, to live highly and magnificently, to eat, and drink, and delight ourselves in the most costly manner, these are the great, the honourable, the desirable things, to which the spirit of the world turns the eyes of all people. And many a man is afraid of standing still, and not engaging in the pursuit of these things, lest the same world should take him for a fool.

The history of the Gospel is chiefly the history of Christ's conquest over the spirit of the world. And the number of true Christians is only the number of those who, following the Spirit of Christ, have lived contrary to this spirit of the world.

"If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." Again, "Whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world." "Set your affection on things above, and not on things on the earth; for ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." [Rom. viii. 9.; 1 John v. 4.; Col. iii. 2, 3] This is the language of the whole New Testament: this is the mark of Christianity: you are to be dead, that is, dead to the spirit and temper of the world, and live a new life in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

But notwithstanding the clearness and plainness of these doctrines which thus renounce the world, yet great part of Christians live and die slaves to the customs and temper of the world.

How many people swell with pride and vanity, for such things as they would not know how to value at all, but that they are admired in the world!

Would a man take ten years more drudgery in business to add two horses more to his coach, but that he knows that the world most of all admires a coach and six? How fearful are many people of having their houses poorly furnished, or themselves meanly clothed, for this only reason, lest the world should make no account of them, and place them amongst low and mean people!

How often would a man have yielded to the haughtiness and ill-nature of others, and shown a submissive temper, but that he dares not pass for such a poorspirited man in the opinion of the world!

Many a man would often drop a resentment, and forgive an affront, but that he is afraid if he should, the world would not forgive him.

How many would practise Christian temperance and sobriety, in its utmost perfection, were it not for the censure which the world passes upon such a life!

Others have frequent intentions of living up to the rules of Christian perfection, which they are frighted from by considering what the world would say of them.

Thus do the impressions which we have received from living in the world enslave our minds, that we dare not attempt to be eminent in the sight of God and holy angels, for fear of being little in the eyes of the world.

From this quarter arises the greatest difficulty of humility, because it cannot subsist in any mind, but so far as it is dead to the world, and has parted with all desires of enjoying its greatness and honours. So that in order to be truly humble, you must unlearn all those notions which you have been all your life learning from this corrupt spirit of the world.

-- From Chapter XVII of A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Return of the King



But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!  Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name! -- Psalms 80:17-18

Abraham was told that he would be the father of many nations.  His descendants were multiplied and ruled over the Land of Promise, reaching an apex in the reign of Solomon.  Apostasy led to fracture, defeat, and exile, but the children of Abraham continued to be fruitful and many returned to settle back in their homeland.  Meanwhile, the Lord had gone from widening the cone to narrowing it until it came to one young maiden to whom an angel made the most significant announcement in history.  As Paul says, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, And to offsprings, referring to many, but referring to one, And to your offspring, who is Christ “(Galatians 3:16).

It all comes down to Christ.  Here is the Israel of God, the Prince who “…went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return” (Luke 19:12).  The Lord did indeed go into a far country, into the depths of hell and death, and He returned. 

If we read Luke’s version of the Parable of the Talents, it is a little different, for it includes the detail that the citizens of the country over which this nobleman already ruled, when he had departed to receive his new kingdom, sent a message after him that they did not wish to have him as their lord.  When the man returns, he distributes his favors to the faithful, but he also deals with the rebellious:  But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me (Luke 19:27).  The gentle Jesus, meek and mild.  When judgment fell upon Jerusalem in 70 AD, this parable was at least partially fulfilled. 

That is the bad news.  The Good News is that the Lord lives and reigns today in His kingdom which shall have no end.  Through His death, burial, and resurrection, He offers life to all.  Those who are made alive in Him may be confident that when they call upon Him, He will answer.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Faith Gives Us Sight



I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, … -- Ephesians 1:16-18


I have to be brief today, but I want to focus on a phrase that has made me smile through many years:  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened. 

The Spirit of God comes and opens, as it were, a new vista for us.  Jesus opened blinded eyes that men might clearly see the physical world.  The Holy Ghost enables us to see clearly the spiritual world and those things which are eternal, never passing away. 

Jesus touched one blind man who said that he saw “men as trees walking”.  I wonder if this is not my state sometimes.  I perceive spiritual truth but dimly.  It does not come into sharp focus, and thus it is easy to dismiss as my over-active imagination.  Those trees really can’t be moving around.  I must be mistaken, and I am, for they are not trees, but they are walking. 

As we mentioned yesterday, everything is as the saints, the sages, and the Word say it is.  The truth stands at our shoulder while we look off to the horizon, waiting for it to come over the hill.  MacDonald told us:  All mirrors are magic mirrors. 

Our “glorious inheritance” is not limited to where we go and what we receive when this physical body dies.  The Promised Land is ours now, and, having entered by faith, we will see.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Keep Calm and Flail On



Now Ornan turned and saw the angel, and his four sons who were with him hid themselves, but Ornan continued threshing wheat. – 1 Chronicles 21:20 (NKJV)


That’s a questionable translation of the verse, but it makes me wonder if, when the Jebusites left Jerusalem, the descendants of Ornan might have ended up in Scotland with their blood still flowing in the veins of some of my kinfolk.  It wasn’t like it was a less than awe-inspiring sight:   And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. (v.16)

I think it is more likely that the “continued” doesn’t belong, and the chronicler was simply explaining what Ornan (not to be confused with Onan and his flailing) was doing on his threshing floor, as the old KJV implies.  In any case, Ornan did not run and hide.  Instead he went to David and offered him the ground, the threshing sledges for fuel, the oxen for a burnt offering, and the wheat for a grain offering.  He recognized that this was holy ground.   

Traditionally, we are told that this is the same spot where Abraham built an altar on which to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  It is featured prominently in any modern picture of Jerusalem as it is near the Dome of the Rock mosque on the temple mount.  The parallel passage is in 2 Samuel 24 where Ornan is called Araunah whose name means “Yahweh is firm.”  God is our Rock.  The temple would be built on something that would not sink or shift. 

I may be sometimes as Ornan is depicted here:  in the presence of the miraculous but so caught up in the mundane that it does not fully register.  I admit that I am torn between admiring a man who would just keep on threshing wheat and thinking that he ought to have been more shaken up.  I mean, there was a plague.  Seventy thousand people had died already.  Yes, that’s bad.  I have wheat to thresh.  Some kind of frighteningly glorious being shows up in mid-air with a sword stretched out over your head.  That’s impressive.  This wheat is not going to thresh itself. 

In a way, I think we ought to be like that.  Keep calm and flail on, because it isn’t about our emotions but our obedience.  After all, it’s all around us.  Everything they tell us in songs and sermons, it’s all true, and it’s all right here, right now.  Christ is in us.  We are transformed.  Heaven is everywhere present.  We are immersed in it.  The whole world is on fire with presence of God.  And it is good to let that presence overwhelm us on a regular basis.  No one, though, can live like that every minute of every day. 

More and more, I realize that the secret of Christianity is in plain sight.  We hear it and read it all the time.  Yet we continue to struggle, trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in our hearts and lives.  There is no shortcut to finally hearing – if it is final.  Our ultimately useless efforts are, paradoxically, essential to our enlightenment.  Flail on.