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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rock, Razor, Remnant

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. – 1 John 4:1-6

All of human history comes to a point at the Cross. It is both the end and the beginning. What ultimately matters is what we do with Jesus. If we grasp that Christ came from the Father and walked the earth as God in the flesh, we cannot help being transformed. It may take years and struggle; we may never be able to fully articulate why it has such a powerful effect, but this truth will give us eternal life.

People don’t stumble over Jesus, the compassionate teacher. They stumble over God in the flesh because the concept is simply impossible. The more we know about the universe the more impossible it appears. The greater the scope and expanse of science, the more incomprehensible God becomes. The view from the summit of Olympus would seem to make nonsense of gods in human form. How in the vastness of a billion galaxies, flung across distances beyond calculation, how could there be a Creator? And how, if there is, could He possibly be contained in human form? And if He were, why would He appear and live among an oppressed people in a backwater of civilization? Why would He have a brief ministry of teaching a few rejects of questionable character then allow Himself to be arrested and put to death in agony?

These are not modern questions whatever the sophisticates of our day try to claim. You can hear them in the who-do-you-think-you-are taunts of the enemies of ancient Israel. They are the barbs in the sarcastic questions the religious leaders hurled at Jesus, in the mocking that He endured from the soldiers and the crowd. Even in the early days of the Church, there were those who wanted to temper the truth, make it a little more flexible, a little more palatable by backing off the most outrageous assertions. A softened blade may bend more easily, but it bends in the wrong places. It doesn’t hold the same edge, the edge needed to separate joint from marrow, soul from spirit.

No, the truth must cut and it must cut clean. Anything that takes the edge off and makes it easier to accept is not from God. We are the edge of the sword. The spirit of antichrist was on the loose in John’s day, and it runs rampant throughout the world today. The Kingdom has grown, but the anti-kingdom has grown as well. Antichrist holds sway in politics, art, academia, and pop culture. The truth in us is assailed daily from every side. It is easy to believe, as Elijah, that we are the only ones left. Even the churches seem to be under the spell of marketing and manipulation.

Yet, there is a remnant. The Lord told Elijah He still had seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal. There remain those who have faced the questions and answered still, “Jesus is Lord.” Not everyone will hear us, but we know one another when we meet, and we are all known of God.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Am Not My Jones

Getting through the first three chapters of First John has been a battle for me, and, as I’ve stated before, I am not sure why that is. I glimpsed hints of something greater as I worked through the verses, but I am at a loss to effectively convey any of it. When trying to look at it directly – always my bent – it disappears or resolves into something mundane as a plowhorse. I guess we’ll harness him and plough on soon, but for today, we’ll go fishing instead.

My wife frequently takes her mother to the library, and she will occasionally pick up books for herself, or, if something strikes her, she will bring one or two back for me to read. John Eldredge is a writer in the pop-Christianity genre, targeting men primarily in the 24-39 age group, at least that’s what I’d guess. I have trouble relating to a forty-something guy who has the time, the resources, and the understanding wife (named “Stasi” – no doubt with a heart over the “i”) to gallivant all over the West fly-fishing and climbing mountains. The message seems to be that it is OK to be a man and a Christian. I don’t mean at all to knock the man or his books, which I have only skimmed in the bookstore up until now. My point is that when my wife dropped a library copy of Eldredge’s Fathered by God on my desk, I had zero interest in reading it. On the other hand, I knew she would ask me about it, and occasionally she does bring me something of benefit so I don’t want discourage her, and the last thing I want to hear is a dissertation on how I don’t appreciate her efforts to make me happy.

To that end, after a couple of days I opened the book and in my best evelyn-woodhead-sped-redden-course manner proceeded to rapidly look at every page to find something that I might truthfully tell the wife I had found enlightening. The part about the author being attracted to a hotel desk clerk who reminded him of a girl he had done in high school didn’t look too promising as a discussion point. I was afraid I wasn’t going to find anything then I ran across this:

Jesus treats him [Satan] like a real person (not a human being, but a fallen angel with an intellect and personality). He doesn’t treat the temptations and accusations and assault simply as if they were weaknesses within Himself; nor does He act as if they will go away if He tries to ignore him. He directly confronts the demon present out loud, with authority, and with Scripture. (From a copy I made in my notebook at the time I read the book, so any errors are a result of my transcribing, and I apologize.)

The first word that came to mind when I read that was “projection”, but in the case of Jesus that is obviously not correct. The weakness was external to Him. The temptation did not arise from His nature which is not fallen as mine is. Go back to the Garden. The serpent was external to Adam. Prior to the Fall, man was united with God and the accuser was separated from him. The Fall united man with something alien while alienating him from his true Father. This remained the situation until the Cross put the unreal element out of commission.

If Paul is correct (and he is) in telling us we have died to sin – “reckon yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11) – then temptation arises from a sector that is not genuine to us. This is no projection but legitimate spiritual surgery that disconnects us from our evil Siamese twin. There is a reason why movies like Alien, The Thing, or Invasion of the Body Snatchers are so compelling for us. They illustrate a horrible truth we have trouble articulating. Something that is inside us or that can mimic us is destroying us.

When Christ died on the cross, He took that alien entity out. He forever severed the connection between man and the demonic. The old nature is not dead in the sense that it has quit kicking, but it is rendered inoperable. It hangs on only by deception. All the temptations and accusations I now face are outside of my spirit, and I should deal with them just as Jesus did. The darkness is not me. I am a child of God. I am righteousness and light.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Play is the Thing

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. – 1 John 3:16-24

Despite what we might think, our English word hypocrite is not transliterated from the ancient Greek word for socialist politician, nor is it from the related word for journalist. A hypocrite was an actor – though, admittedly, Hollywood elites do show an amazing affinity for fascist third-world dictators and warlords.

When Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, He was not implying merely that they said one thing and did another. He wanted His hearers to know that the Pharisees were actors, players in their own little production, pretending to be something they knew in their own hearts they were not. They spoke their lines and played their parts before the world, but their lives were another story. William Shatner was never a starship captain, and he knows that. Tom Cruise knew that he was not a Navy pilot. Sean Penn pretended to be Harvey Milk, but we know and he knows he is not a gay politician because he is married to Robin Wright was once pretended to be Princess Buttercup. Sean Penn also played a mentally challenged person in “I Am Sam” – the exception that proves the rule.

I have claimed to be a Christian for some years now, and I have also done things that are very un-Christian, even in that same time frame. My heart has not always been convinced that I am what I say I am. I have lived with self-condemnation. It is a miserable condition for a believer, and it is a condition that must be addressed. To live in that state of conflict for any length of time would surely result in insanity. John says that the remedy for condemnation is self-sacrificing love. Our actions, our deeds will reassure our hearts.

Who but God could have come up with such a counterintuitive plan for freeing us from the doubts of our heart? And it is the heart of man that is the whole problem. Jeremiah tells us that the heart of man is desperately wicked, and, he asks, who can know it? Yet God knows us perfectly. He does not need to be convinced. Our need is not to win Him over to our side. He’s already on our side, having made provision in His Son for us to be His children. Or, as Romans 8:32 says, He did not even spare His own Son, but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him freely grant us everything?.

Our good actions do not secure salvation for us. They do not put God in our debt. There even seems to be something contradictory in thinking that we are “here to help others”. Isn’t everyone more or less in the same boat? Sure, some people are born with more limitations or disabilities than others, but most of us, apart from government bureaucrats, politicians, ACORN, and the SEIU, consider it undesirable to be freeloaders, dependent on someone else for our bread and NGC (non-government cheese).

The one who benefits from my doing right is most of all me because I am the one who doubts and feels alienated. I am the one who needs to be convinced and assured and confident in my standing in Christ. My obedient interactions in the horizontal translate to greater confidence and assurance in my vertical interaction. I can converse with God in complete faith that my prayers will be heard and answered for I now know that I am abiding in Christ.

I am not always going to feel “right” any more than I always feel married. If I were counseling potential brides and grooms, I’d tell them it isn’t how you feel that keeps your marriage intact, it’s what you do. If we allow our feelings to dictate our actions, we will soon find ourselves in despair. If, conversely, we do right, our feelings will follow our deeds.

Friday, August 7, 2009


For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another, unlike Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil, and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. The one who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. – 1 John 3:11-15

(I seem to have been given at least a temporary reprieve from limblogo. I am still somewhat limited as to how often I can visit and how long I can stay. I’ll be reading most stuff offline and not able to comment as often as I’d like. Still, it’s better than not getting to see you all at all. For some reason it reminds me of the story about the family that took their baby to church for christening. On the way home, the baby’s older brother was weeping copiously. When his parents asked what was wrong, he replied, “The pastor said he wanted us to be raised in a good Christian home. But I want to stay with you guys!”)

You don’t have to watch children very long to realize that jealousy and envy are pervasive. I’ve been reading fairy tales lately. One of the most common themes is the damage done as a result of – I wanted to say “these emotions” but that isn’t right. Greed, envy, and jealousy are more than emotions. They are like built-in mind parasites – standard on every model since the Fall. In the story of Cain and Abel, Abel brought a blood sacrifice to the Lord while Cain’s offering was bloodless and thus unacceptable in atoning for sin. Cain’s jealous response was to cut his brother’s throat, in effect spilling Abel’s blood in a twisted imitation of the righteous act. I believe in original sin truly enough, but I don’t believe sin is ever original. It is always something good that has been warped and perverted.

Love is the good. Love twisted becomes possessive, covetous, acquisitive – focused on material illusion rather than spirit and truth. I find this in myself certainly, that most of my sins arise from a perception that I am lacking something, that I am not accepted or as good as someone else. I might never admit this in a conscious way, but, like Cain, Esau, Saul, perhaps even Judas, I resent the brother who seems to get the breaks while nothing I do seems to be good enough. All these characters failed, but the failure was not nearly as damaging as the attitude that arose from it.

I suppose one could argue that Cain brought an unacceptable sacrifice because there was something wrong with him from the beginning. There’s something wrong with all of us in that sense. God indicates that it is Cain’s reaction that endangers him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door: it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:6-7). Cain needed to master his emotional response to his failure, to employ his will in controlling his anger and bitterness.

It’s not easy, at least not for me. I find it hard to use my will to receive and believe truth. I tend to want some external confirmation of my worth and acceptance, and we all know that path can be destructive. Internal confirmation in the form of feelings can be misleading as well. Only the truth can set us free, and to know the truth we must choose it, will to believe and trust in truth.

I must also will to love. It can’t just be “feelings”. Could I will to love even Barry Manilow? That’s what it comes down to – do right. Fight the feeling. Forget “if lovin’ you is wrong, I don’t want to be right”. Too often it’s more like “if loving you is right, I’d rather be wrong”. Amazingly I would rather cling to my bitterness, my anger, my sense of being wronged, of being treated unjustly. I refuse to forgive. I’d rather be miserable in hatred than free in love.

To love others I will need to know what love is. I can find an explicit definition in 1 Corinthians 13, of course, but I can find it everywhere in the Bible – especially in the Gospels as I watch Christ operate in this world. To love others we must receive love. Like Jesus, we need to hear the Father telling us we are beloved. It is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, the love we are given by the Father that goes out to those around us. We can love because He first loved us.