Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Robin commented on the previous thread that he dreamed of his wife prior to meeting her, which is an extraordinary thing. I have never had any experience quite like that, but it reminded me of something that happened a long time ago that has always been inexplicable to me.
Déjà vu and related phenomena can usually be explained as a glitch in memory. Our brain seems to store something we see before we initially process it. Perhaps the conscious part of our mind is occupied or temporarily distracted which the subconscious mind is taking everything in. When we, seconds or microseconds later, do attend consciously, it seems familiar. Almost all of us have had déjà vu experiences, and, speculate as we might from a rational, causal perspective it’s hard to shake the uncanny feeling.
During my college days, I transferred from one university in the system to another. The first couple of years I was closer to home and in a smaller town. It was easier for a hillbilly kid to adjust. I had just arrived on the new campus as a junior in the fall. Somehow I got invited to somebody’s place for a party on Friday or Saturday night. I walked in with another guy or two, spotted an open place on the floor, out of the way, and headed for it. I sat down on the floor, hoping to go basically unnoticed. Instead, when I looked up, a girl was staring at me. The odd thing was that she looked extremely familiar. She was a cute little girl, which normally would have gotten my attention at some point anyway.
I could not figure out where I had seen her before. It did not seem odd that she would be staring at me as we obviously knew one another. She was a freshman. She was from a city I had not set foot in except briefly for a ball game when I was nine. She had never been to my hometown, would not have been able to find it on a map if I told her where to look. Yet the only thing we seemed not to know about one another were our names. While this might be a set up for a YA romance of the paranormal, and Christina would not have made a bad Scully, I was in no way ever going to be a Mulder.
In that I am remarkably average, it is not that unusual for people to mistake me for someone they know. I have been mistaken for a couple’s nephew and said to resemble anyone from the Hulk to Jay Leno to the mayor of the town where we lived in Texas. It’s quite possible that Christina thought I looked like someone she knew or had seen. I suppose it’s also possible that she looked like some other pretty girl that I knew – except she didn’t. It was not that I was confusing her with someone I knew. I knew her, and she knew me.
We did not become friends, lovers, confidantes or anything else. I talked to her briefly a couple of other times, asked her to go to a movie once then backed out, and saw her walking around the campus another time or perhaps two. I have no idea what happened to her. And yet forty years on, I remember her. I remember that experience of knowing someone I had never met and of her knowing me. In fact I think it might have been the sense that we already knew the other person which kept us from developing any relationship – as strange as that sounds.
Now, if I believed in reincarnation, I would have a straightforward explanation. Perhaps she and I had been related in a previous life. If I believed in a pre-incarnate existence of the soul, I might think she and I had been pals on a playground in heaven. If I were forced to try and explain in depth how it felt to meet her, that last scenario would be a good starting point. I did not know Christina the girl. I knew her angel. She did not know the funny-looking, backward country boy but the soul that wore and wears that ungainly exterior.
Someone will say, out of the billions roaming the planet’s surface, with the multiplied billions of contacts between those individuals, something like what Christina and I felt is bound to happen now and then. Maybe that’s so, just a statistical anomaly, randomness at work.
I tend to think there was something else to it. Something I’ll understand some day.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. - Joel 2:28
Many years ago in a little town in Texas, an older gentleman with whom we attended church told of a dream he had about the then nearly desolate church being filled with people. It happened some years later that the church grew significantly, though I tend to think his dream spoke of a greater fulfillment. I'm always struck when reading through the first couple of chapters of Matthew how critical dreams are. First Joseph, traditionally viewed as much older than Mary, dreams that he should go ahead with his marriage. Next the Magi, also doubtless older men, are warned in a dream against returning to Herod. Then Joseph is told in a dream to go to Egypt. After Herod's death, he dreams that they may return home. Finally, he settles in Nazareth because of a dream.
I would be reluctant to change the course of my life based on a dream, no matter how vivid and convincing. Nevertheless, I can attest to the damage that not dreaming does to a person. Lack of sleep means a lack of dreams. I am always a better, more balanced person - and that's not saying much - when I get a chance to process everything in dreams, when my sleep is less disturbed. It is almost as if dreams denied from lack of sleep invade my waking hours. It makes me wonder about people who do senseless things, the perverts, the suicides, and the serial killers. Are they simply overwhelmed by undreamt dreams?
In Proverbs 29:18 we read: Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. The KJV says the people perish without vision, but the throwing off of restraint is simply the prelude to death. As a nation, we seem to have stopped dreaming. We are blind. We have no respect for any prophetic voice. I am not talking about the people who call themselves "prophets" or, perhaps worse, "prophecy teachers". The prophet's job is to proclaim God's truth and call His people to repentance with power, not give somebody a "word" about his backache. Prophecy, dreams and visions pull back the curtain on the machinery behind the play. It reveals what is normally hidden, unearths the buried truth, exposes the lies that support the daily delusions.
As Christ could not have come into the world or survived to reach Golgotha without the dreams of men, so we will see no restoration or revival until our vision of the kingdom is quickened. We need old men to dream Reality again.
Monday, July 29, 2013
He makes wars cease throughout the earth. He shatters bows and cuts spears to pieces; He burns up the chariots.
"Stop your fighting — and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth." - Psalm 46:9-10 (HCSB)
Every once in a while a particular translation while open up a new door on a familiar passage. Almost every translation except Holman's says something like, "Be still and know that I am God ...", but in the context of the Lord making wars cease, the command to stop fighting does make sense. The very accurate NASB is good, too, "Cease striving...". One could say, "Be at peace." Peace is a vital, essential concept in the Bible. We should be at peace with God, have the peace of God, and, as much as possible, be at peace with one another. I was talking to a Christian recently regarding a fairly important decision, and he talked about the necessity of having "peace about it." All other signs aside, I would say that peace of mind and heart is the primary indication of the Holy Spirit having control in our lives.
God urges us to stop fighting, and I think that applies as much to internal conflicts as to external. His will for us is peace in every situation. Conflict is meat and drink to the devil. Ah, but aren't we supposed to be fighting for truth, justice, and the American way? We are told to "fight the good fight of faith" certainly. But what does the fight of faith involve? Mainly it means struggling to stay in faith. And what does faith provide? Peace. As contradictory as it sounds we really are fighting for peace.
Even the well-known instructions for spiritual battle from Ephesians 6 center on standing, holding firmly to one's ground behind the shield of faith. In other words, we can trust God despite the outward appearance of things. Our "war" is to maintain that perspective, to recognize that none of the weaponry of the enemy can do us harm so long as we stand in faith and do not waver. In the midst of the most intense conflict, in the most oppressive attacks, we may be at peace. Peace through strength - not my strength but God's strength which is limitless.
What about struggling against sin and imperfection in my own heart? That struggle, too, can be won through ceasing to fight. Sin and failure arise from my old nature, as the new nature received through Christ and the Cross is not capable of sin. If I attempt to suppress sin, who is laying down suppressive fire? The same one who did the sinning in the first place. Again, victory is won by standing in Christ. I confess and acknowledge my imperfections before God without any attempt at justifying what I have done. And that is it. I return to peace and resume my place in the line.
If you think that's being too easy on the sinner, I would argue that, most of the time, failure comes from trying to operate like the world does, from over-thinking things, from trying to figure out what the future holds, from fear, from condemnation, from living in the past or getting dragged down by past sins and regrets - i.e., from not being at peace in the present moment. There is a difference between conviction and condemnation. Conviction says humbly, I have failed. Condemnation says hopelessly, I am a failure. Conviction leads to a correction and deliverance. Condemnation has never saved nor helped anybody.
At the end of my time here, I would like to say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." We should not wait for the graveyard to rest in peace.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
It comes out in Keats' poems with struggling gleams through consciousness of suffering and despair:Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearthOf noble natures, of the gloomy days,Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darken'd waysMade for our searching: yes, in spite of all,Some shape of beauty moves away the pallFrom our dark spirits.In this there is a suggestion that truth reveals itself in beauty. For if beauty were mere accident, a rent in the eternal fabric of things, then it would hurt, would be defeated by the antagonism of facts. Beauty is no phantasy, it has the everlasting meaning of reality. The facts that cause despondence and gloom are mere mist, and when through the mist beauty breaks out in momentary gleams, we realise that Peace is true and not conflict, Love is true and not hatred; and Truth is the One, not the disjointed multitude. We realise that Creation is the perpetual harmony between the infinite ideal of perfection and the eternal continuity of its realisation; that so long as there is no absolute separation between the positive ideal and the material obstacle to its attainment, we need not be afraid of suffering and loss. This is the poet's religion. – from Creative Unity by Rabindranath Tagore
Friday, July 26, 2013
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. - 1 Peter 1:3-5
Jesus told us to lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven where it may remain incorruptible and secure. Through Christ, an everlasting inheritance is being kept for us, not in the dark, sealed vaults of banks or in an earthly fortress guarded by men who pass away, but in the eternal light of heaven under the watchful eyes of God who neither changes nor sleeps.
Salvation begins in this life. As a seed is planted and new life sprouts from the earth, immediate evidence of our new life in Christ begins to manifest itself in a short time on the physical plane. Even as we mature and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit, this will be only a promise of what is to come. It is not until the old husk is shed and the new seed is planted in death that what we are and what we have will truly be revealed. The soil of heaven, if you will, is of a different nature and imparts to that which is hidden in it a virtue fuller and more lively than the earth's limited nourishment can invoke.
Paul's analogy of the olive tree in Romans 11 is a convenient one. The Cross is often referred to as the Tree. We, like branches broken off the Tree of Death, are grafted into the Tree of Life through faith. Where we could bear only the bitter fruit of death before, we now partake of the nature of that into which we have been joined by faith and the grace of God. Thus begins the laying away of glories for the next stage of this new life. There are plants that will grow in one season and send down heavy roots. If we seek to gather seed from them in that first season we will be disappointed. They must die back over the winter and come out again, exploiting what has been stored away in the hidden roots to produce viable seeds.
Our lives here will wither and pass away having served their purpose. The destiny for which you and I were born, foreknown by God and for which we have been engrafted to Christ may never be seen in this world. But in that "last time", on that Resurrection mornin', as the song says, the trials endured, the sometimes ugliness of human existence, the senselessness and futility which marks so much of what we see will all be reconciled in the beauty and truth to be unveiled when we rise into the new day, the new season of that heavenly life.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Live in continued peace. But understand that peace does not depend on the fervor of your devotion. The only thing you need to be concerned about is the direction of your will.I almost think that would be better if I had stopped at "Humbly confess your faults". I believe that the rest flows from our expressions of dependence upon the Lord and our awareness of our transparency before Him. If we are not careful our efforts to be "detached" will make us more attached because it becomes our focus. We are in God's presence. We can't not be. Our distance from God, as Tozer said, is not spatial but relational. Thus we may take a positive turn toward God and by default we lessen the world's hold upon us.
Give that up to God without reservation. The important question is not how religious you are, or how devoted, but rather is your will in harmony with God? Humbly confess your faults. Learn to be detached from the world and completely abandoned to God. Love Him more than yourself and His glory more than your life. The least you can do is to desire and ask for such as love. God will then pour out upon you that special love which only His children know, and He will give you His peace. -- Fénelon, "The True Source of Peace is in the Surrender of the Will"
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. -- 1 John 4:18
Often times we are involved in relationships that are fear-based. Some of us work out of fear of losing all that we have or not having enough. Sometimes we live and act out of fear of punishment. Our behavior may be limited and defined by our fear of legal repercussions. We may not go certain places or do certain things because of the fear of death or injury.
In dating or, to use the more quaint and apparently outdated term, courting, the party with the least fear has an advantage. To fear less, even to care less, is, within the world system, the way to go. There would seem to be a positive correlation between love and fear in that the more we love, the more susceptible we are to fear of loss. Every parent knows fear with regard to their child. Everyone who cherishes something experiences dread now and then over the possibility that it might be damaged or destroyed. Yet, the Bible says "perfect" love is the antidote to fear. How can this be?
John's focus is love for God and the love of God. This world and all that it contains is always passing away, but God is eternal and unchangeable. It is our relationship to the Eternal which counters and eliminates fear. Faith and love are closely related. If we love someone, we generally have faith in them. Loyal and faithful service is an expression of love. To be able to trust someone is to have no fear as to their favorable intentions toward us.
Of course we know that good intentions on the part of even the best of individuals cannot guarantee results. This is not the case with God. If He intends to do us good, good will be done us though mountains must be cast into the sea. To know the love of God, the perfect love of God, is to trust perfectly, to be confident not only about His good intent but His ability to shelter us even in the midst of storm and trial.
I was talking to a man yesterday who just returned from China. He was there speaking to members of the underground church. It was a humbling experience. These are believers who suffer under an oppressive government and are persecuted, sometimes in the extreme, for their faith in and love for Jesus. Preaching about a a pretribulation rapture sounds somewhat hollow to people who know tribulation that we cannot imagine. The same would be true of many of the Christians in Africa as well as those who suffer under Islamic regimes. Fear would be justifiable in China, in Sudan, and in Iran just as it was in some places and at times in John's day.
Yet to those who know God and trust Him fully and completely, fear is replaced by love. The process may be gradual or sudden, once for all or somewhat uneven, but it is happening. The more we know of Him, the better we understand Him, the more we love and trust, and the less we fear. It can be a barometer of sorts for us. When our love for the Lord is as perfect as the Lord Himself, we will be fearless.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel... -- Acts 2:15-16
When the Holy Spirit is poured out upon God's people their experiences will differ widely. Some will receive new vision, others will know a new liberty in soul-winning, others will proclaim the Word of God with power, and yet others will be filled with heavenly joy or overflowing praise. "This ... and this ... and this ... is that!" Let us praise the Lord for every new experience that relates to the exaltation of Christ and of which it can truly be said that "this" is an evidence of "that". There is nothing stereotyped about God's dealings with His children. Therefore we must not by our prejudices and preconceptions make a water-tight compartment for the working of His Spirit, either in our own lives or in the lives of others. This applies equally to those who require some particular manifestation (such as `speaking with tongues') as evidence that the spirit has come upon them and to those who deny that any manifestation is given at all. We must leave God free to work as He wills, and to give what evidence He pleases of the work He does. He is Lord, and it is not for us to legislate for Him.
Let us rejoice that Jesus is on the throne, and let us praise Him that, since He has been glorified, the Spirit has been poured out upon us all. As we accept the Divine fact in all the simplicity of faith, we shall know it with such assurance in our own experience that we shall dare to proclaim with confidence -- "This is that!" -- Watchman Nee from The Normal Christian Life
This is from a section in Nee's book about "The Diversity of Experience". In it he relates the different manifestations of being filled with the Holy Spirit as experienced by Charles Finney, R.A. Torrey, and Dwight L. Moody. Moreover, what Peter in his message calls the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy does not match up to the signs the prophet seemed to forecast.
Because I was a member of the Assemblies of God, when I taught about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, I always taught that it came with the evidence of speaking in tongues. I don't feel bad about doing that because if anyone asked me, as they sometimes did, why they "couldn't receive", I told them to seek God and not worry about tongues or any other gift. Personally, I sought the gifts of wisdom and discernment since those seemed -- and still seem -- in very short supply in most churches of any stripe.
Did I speak in tongues? Yes, I did, and if I attend a Pentecostal meeting today where I somehow manage not to get so annoyed I feel more like speaking in hillbilly, I am liable to begin praying in tongues. Sometimes when I'm praying, especially for someone else, I will break into tongues. In a service, my rational mind says it's probably mob-think; in private, it's just a habit. My rational mind doesn't know everything and is wrong on a fairly regular basis.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit, whatever that means, is mostly beyond our normal ways of thinking and understanding. It is nonetheless a reality that is available to anyone in Christ. It is something we are called to seek continually.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21)
Monday, July 22, 2013
And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. Now when all the people came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint. Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.” – 1 Samuel 14:24-30
This passage has always fascinated me, in part because I have always connected it to the phrase in Ephesians 1:18, “… having the eyes of your hearts enlightened.”
Saul himself is worthy of study in depth, and his laying this rash and counterproductive vow upon his army is quite typical and telling with regard to his personality and motivations. Saul behaved in a manner consistent with his view of God. To him, the Lord was harsh, demanding and pitiless. He thought God could be appeased like a vain earthly ruler by spoils and sacrifice and flattery. He seemed a reluctant king, one who came to rule with a low opinion of himself, yet he often acted unwisely and even arrogantly as if he were striving to live up to his position in a pathological way. He did not understand grace but at the same time thought he could substitute zeal, performance, spectacle, and sacrifice for obedience. Saul missed his calling. He would have been the perfect mega-church pastor.
He would have also made a pretty good Pharisee: But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in (Matthew 23:13). That entire chapter bears reading frequently.
The honey that dropped to the ground, like the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God, was freely and readily available. No one had to pause in the pursuit of the enemy to prepare clean food. This was literally a God-send that the warriors would be given renewed strength and refreshed to continue the battle. Saul’s prohibition cut off God’s provision.
I cannot even begin today to express all that is in my heart regarding this. The honey drops to the ground all around us all the time, and we cut ourselves off from it through legalistic thinking, through worldly thinking, through a conventional religious mindset that relegates God to specific situations, that restricts the work of the Holy Spirit to certain times and states of mind and emotion, that compartmentalizes our lives and tries to spare God from the rigors of daily interaction with all the grit and grime we face. I am guilty.
God does test us and try us at times. He challenges us to help us grow and become more fitted for the abundant life of the kingdom. But He wants us to live victoriously right here, right now – to overcome our fleshly inner Philistines. He makes the resources we need readily available. He expects us to take advantage of what He offers us because it will be needed to accomplish the objectives He has set for us. When we turn to God and ask for help in times of crisis, when we ask for mercy, when we ask Him to sustain us, we are not succumbing to temptation. Some people seem to think that we just have to tighten up the belt and keep going to overcome weakness, otherwise we are somehow not really serving God. It is not so.
The thing is that we do have to begin the process. The provision will be there when we need it. The Israelites hit those woods at exactly the right point in their pursuit when they really needed renewal. Over and over, Christians will tell how they received refreshing, provision, and deliverance exactly when it was most effective. But we have to be out there on the trail, doing God’s will, making an effort to obey, to carry the fight to the enemy before we can reach that place of provision. If I stay holed up in the cave, I’m never going to have honey dropping from the trees.
Finally, not accepting what God offers us leads to sin and defeat. As the Israelites pushed on, they came upon livestock abandoned by the Philistines (vv 31-35). If they had not been ravenous with hunger, the pursuit and destruction of the Philistines would have continued. As it was, they fell upon the spoil and began to kill and eat the meat “with the blood”. Saul’s injunction had negative consequences in the lives of his people.
We can expect God to provide for us, not just physically, but spiritually. We can trust Him to give us what we need when we need it to strengthen and sustain us. Self-denial and self-control are essential when it comes to physical desires. Fasting is a good and beneficial practice. The giving up of our little luxuries and comforts, now and then, helps us to keep God first in our lives, as He should be. Yet the Lord will offer us comfort by His Spirit. We will be able to recognize God’s hand in it because it will not conflict with the goal for which He has us striving. Like eating that honey that fell from the trees, we won’t even have to break stride in order to partake of it, and we will emerge with enlightened eyes and a new power and determination to finish the course.
Friday, July 19, 2013
But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. – Jude 20-23
I had to go to town yesterday, and on the way in, I heard Albert King playing “Angel of Mercy”. I got to thinking that, sometimes, “a little mercy is all I need.” The dictionary definition of mercy is “compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one's power.” Mercy can also be that which gives evidence of divine favor, as when something mitigates normally expected consequences. We call God merciful because, as the only righteous Judge, He has the discretionary power to pardon us in Christ. The Cross is the ultimate mercy for humanity as it is undeniable evidence of God’s love and favor toward us.
Jude wrote to believers in a difficult time. It seems, though, less about persecution than confusion. Many who had joined themselves to the Church had done so out of selfish motives, and they were using Christians and Christianity for their own personal gain. Some scholars speculate that Jude’s epistle was written around Flag Day in June, 2013 AD, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but, regardless of the place and time, we can see that apostasy and thoughts about the end of the age are not new.
We also see that in times of trials, mercy is not only our hope but our duty. It is the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that delivers us from death to life. It is our mercy in thought, word, and action that delivers those around us from the power of delusion. The Lord may ask us to be apologists, teachers, evangelists, prophets, intercessors or whatever the situation warrants. Sometimes we just need to assuage someone’s doubts and lack of understanding. At other times we may have to battle demons of darkness toe-to-toe. Always we are to have mercy and to show mercy to the suffering, the misguided, and even to the wicked around us.
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. (Matthew 10:8)
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. -- Proverbs 18:21
We have seen that illustrated recently as people spoke as witnesses to an event and a man's life hung in the balance. On the battlefield, combatants receive their orders and deal death accordingly. Death rains from the sky by remote control on the words of someone in authority.
In schools our children are taught nonsense that will kill them if those words are not countered. People who pursue sin to their destruction change the meaning of words to hide that which is against nature behind a pleasant screen. Religious leaders stand in places of authority and make declarations that can lead to repentance and life or complacency, ignorance and death.
What we say is important. For one thing, it is a reflection, sometime distorted of what we think. As Jesus said, "...[O]ut of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45)
And, really, sometimes the best thing to do is just shut up.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19)
For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's voice with many words. (Ecclesiastes 5:3)
For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. -- Galatians 5:18
Like everybody else my age or older, I learned to do arithmetic systematically, adding and subtracting and “carrying” a number over to the next column or borrowing from the next column. There is a difference between methods, techniques, or tactics for getting a correct answer and the underlying “laws” of arithmetic. When I was nine and was asked to subtract 37 from 110, I followed the rules and worked out the answer. Half a century on, I can give you the answer without going through the same process even mentally because I understand the reasons behind the rules. I have developed my own way of getting the correct answer by, you might say, following the “deeper” laws of arithmetic.
In Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expounds on the law with a template, repeating, “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you ….” Behind the letter of the law is the Spirit of the law. We are all born with an innate or embedded copy of the moral law, just as we are all born with an ability to count. We have to learn the consensus on what we call the numbers, but most any small child with four pieces of candy and three friends can figure everybody ought to get one. It only becomes a problem when somebody wants two, or all four.
God gave us explicit written laws as a help. The most perfect copy of His law, His approved methodology, we might say, is in the Law of Moses, but humans in tribes, clans, cultures and nations throughout history have had their versions adhering, more or less, to the general outline. That there are knock-offs and imitations serves to reinforce the value and validity of the genuine version.
The Lord wrote His Commandments on stone, but His desire has always been for them to be inculcated in the hearts of humanity, not as something superficial, but in understanding (see Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26-27, among others). He found, though, that our hearts are stony and hard. We are most likely to look after our own interests and be less concerned about the effects of our decisions and actions upon others. The law written on stone with its penalties, punishments, and curses helps to keep us from running completely wild, but we are always looking for loopholes, wondering how far we can stretch things and how much we can get away with.
In Christ, through the Cross, our hearts are replaced with His, just as the Lord said would happen. Now the written law is only a reminder for the Holy Spirit indwells us and encodes true righteousness and love, the principles that underlie the commandments, into our new hearts. The law has gone from being our jailer to our mentor to our chauffeur.