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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Friday, January 30, 2015

Legend of the Fallen

And he said to all, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. -- Luke 9:23

Jesus bore our burden of sin upon the cross.  The good news of His death, burial, and resurrection is the revelation of His love for us, our salvation, justification, reconciliation, and peace with the Father.  He offers to take the burdens that weigh us down and wear us out, and in exchange, He offers us a sack of slack to carry, a yoke that is easy and light.  How does this square with the daily cross Jesus says each of us must take up?

I have been talking around this, I think, all week.  I’ll probably talk around it today, too.  The Cross frees us from the captivity and delusions of the world, the flesh, and the devil, but I’ve still got this natural human life to live out.  We do not suddenly get translated to heaven when we rise from the waters of baptism.  It would be a lot easier to be a Christian if that were the case. 

Instead, we spend the rest of our lives dealing with, resisting, renouncing, and, ultimately, overcoming the sin nature.  As I may have noted in the post about 1 John 3, Matthew Henry argues that Jesus did not carry away “ our moral infirmities, our proneness to sin”.   I don’t know about anybody else, but I know for certain that my own “proneness to sin”, if it has been taken away, still calls home a lot. 

My problem in this world is me.  That’s the daily cross.  It’s my tendency to blame other people, my feelings of selfishness and self-righteousness, my inclination to believe that I am better, somehow, than the people who get in my way.  It’s easy for me to think that life should please me and go my way, that others exist for my benefit, that things should be fair and that, at the same time, I ought to be able to do pretty much as I please.  So, constantly, daily, I get up and I pick that cross up, and I do a hundred things that go against the grain.  I give in.  I give others the benefit of the doubt.  I help somebody else.  I sacrifice, and, if I’m not careful, at the end of the day, I get to thinking I’m a really good guy.  As Rick and Father Stephen point out, self-improvement is a loser’s game.  The reason I carry this cross isn’t to make me better but to put my old, fallen self on fully display for what it is. 

I watched I Am Legend, which might not have been the best choice under the current conditions, but I got through it.  I watched the alternate version which makes more sense.  One thing that really hit me is when Neville is offered the chance to leave and join other survivors, he resists, insisting that New York City is his site.  “I can still fix this,” he shouts. 
That’s one of my favorite phrases.  I can fix this – except, I can’t.  I can’t fix my self.  But I can take up my cross and bear it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

My Liberation Theology

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. -- Psalms 103:6

If we wrestle not against flesh and blood but with spiritual foes, it makes sense that oppression, that is, circumscription of or constraints upon our liberty would be spiritual as well.  

I’m a member of the NRA.  I have been for years and will be for many more years.  Personally, I am very conservative.  Politically, I am libertarian and vote Republican most often, occasionally voting for Libertarian or other third party candidates.  I spend a lot of time complaining about intrusive bureaucracies, government schools, and the oppressive, obsessive, statist control freaks that want to tell me how to live.  I don’t think they are any better or wiser than anyone they are trying to intimidate and control.  We ought to try and elect people who will leave us alone; nevertheless, politics is not capable of ultimately rescuing us from despots and tyrants.  We need to be free before we can enjoy freedom.

No one ever became a better person because he or she was restricted from doing bad things and harming themselves and others.  It’s true that sometimes people in prison, for example, turn their lives around, but that’s because they realize the bondage they are in, and they decide they are going to change their lives.  Being caged can get your attention, but it doesn’t, by itself, change you.

Liberty, freedom from oppression is more than just a state of mind.  We will never be free apart from Christ.  So long as we live by the old nature, we live as slaves of sin.  The Cross releases our will and allows us to freely choose to serve the Lord – because, as Dylan says, we’re going to serve somebody.  In fact, the process of learning to be a servant of God, becoming a disciple, is essential to our liberation.  

Even though our position has changed when we confess and receive Christ, our minds still have to be renewed.  We have, especially some of us, a lot of mental strongholds behind which the enemy hides and from which he attacks the new man.  Those have to identified, taken and destroyed.  We do that through disciplines such as prayer, worship, communion, confession, submission and obedience to authority, studying the Bible and fellowshipping with the saints.   

No one can really give another person freedom.  A slave is one who waits for someone to come and free him (Ezra Pound).   Even Christ can only offer us our liberation.  The Lord makes it possible; He works righteousness and justice.  It is up to us, though, to decide we are going to accept and live in the freedom He is creating for us. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Puce or Mauve

Lileks used puce in today's Bleat.  I thought it was a color -- like puke, perhaps, so I looked it up:

puce -- a colour varying from deep red to dark purplish-brown

I thought, Wait, that sounds like the carpet we had in a house, which I was told to call "mauve".

mauve -- a moderate grayish violet to reddish purple, or, any of various pale to moderate pinkish-purple or bluish-purple colours

What does any of that even mean?  And where does is leave my all-time favorite color, maroon?

 maroon -- a dark reddish brown to dark purplish red.

Purplish red or reddish purple, of course, that's a huge difference.

You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, How have we wearied him? By saying, Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them. Or by asking, Where is the God of justice?  -- Malachi 2:17
For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are wise—in doing evil!  But how to do good they know not. -- Jeremiah 4:22

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! -- Isaiah 5:20

Like puce, maroon, and mauve (the gay puce), a lot of things in the world are really shades of gray.  They are nuanced.  The distinctions are not always clear cut, and how we see a situation does vary, depending on the light.  Customs and attitudes that made perfect sense in a more agricultural, family-farm, Waltons kind of world have to be re-examined for the high-tech, social media, urbanized environment today. 

Yet, there is good.  There is evil.  There are things that ought not be done.  Some cultures are rotten, wicked, and vile.  Some aspects of our culture are disgusting. 

I don’t know what puce is – and neither does anybody else.  You want to call it puce?  It’s puce.  You want to call homosexuality normal?  It’s not.  It’s a pathological state that is often associated with extremely self-destructive behavior.  I know that it was acceptable in Greek culture.  So what?  Infanticide and slavery were also acceptable that same culture.  It doesn’t sound too enlightened to me. 

I don’t mean to pick on homosexuals.  Calling stealing “wealth redistribution” doesn’t make it right, either.  Promiscuity, fornication, adultery, divorce – those things are all bad, no matter how common they are these days.   Self-defense is good.  Killing those who pose no threat is bad.  Making women less than human – whether done by Islam or feminism – is wrong.  Lying and deception – even especially when done by the government, is evil.   

Like Charlie Daniels, I am a simple man.  There’s the law of the jungle:  might makes right.  There is the law of the mob, AKA, democracy.  Then there is the law of the land.  In this country, it is the Constitution.   If a person doesn’t like the Constitution, there are a whole bunch of other countries in the world. 

The same is true with God’s law.  His law is truth and reality.  The fact that we don’t always like it and that it sometimes thwarts our desires doesn’t change it.  This is how things are.  This is good.  We can call it evil.  We can rail against it.  We can pass our own laws to counter it.  In the end, we will conform to it or be judged and broken by it. 

As we were saying yesterday, once we are in Christ, the law is written on our hearts.  We receive the clean heart and steadfast spirit for which David pleaded (Psalm 51:10).   We see things differently, clearly.  The carpet is definitely maroon.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rebel Souls

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.-- 1 John 3:4-6  

John gives me trouble.  I have wrestled with him before, and I probably will again.  Obviously, sin is a rejection of and rebellion against the law of God.  Jesus was free of the sin principle, but He was also completely free of sin, living always, every moment, in harmonious accord with the Divine will. 

Lawlessness is an interesting word.  Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction ...
(2 Thessalonians 2:3).  The man of lawlessness is an antichrist, of whom John says in this First Epistle, there are many.  The lawless ones may, at times, associate themselves with the called-out ones who belong to Christ; however, they are never a part of the Body because rebellion and transgression of God's law are too much their identity.

Jesus is the opposite of lawless, yet He is the greatest revolutionary, leader of the greatest rebellion in all of history.  Whom did He rebel against?  The prince of this world.  Jesus overcame the devil, and in doing so, released us from bondage to that which had ruled over and enslaved us.  Now, the world and its dethroned, deceptive prince no longer have any authority over us.  Now we, too, are rebels, not against the Lord and His law, ... but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).    

But the reason I have such a struggle with John in his letter is that he makes it sound as though those in Christ must be always free from any imperfections.  I've met some pretty saintly, holy people, but I've never met anyone I thought was perfectly sinless.  Being in Christ, we are delivered from the weaknesses of the mind and body.  That's why the New Testament speaks of having one's mind renewed.  The Christian has a new understanding, new insight, a new way of seeing, perceiving, and interpreting the world and life.  What the Lord does not remove is our "proneness to sin", as Matthew Henry puts it.

We have a new nature.  We can't operate the way we used to operate.  There is now light that shows us the repulsiveness and malignancy of sin.  Nevertheless, we must always be wary of deceit and deception.  Delusions are all the devil really has left.  And we have to be especially aware of our own potential for self-deceit.  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:22).  If we do fail, though, there is always room for reconciliation, for God ... is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


Monday, January 26, 2015

How To Love God

And he said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  -- Matthew 22:37-39

Why didn’t Jesus tell us to love God as we love ourselves?  Our love toward God is based on God’s goodness.  We love God in obedience.  We love God in adulation and adoration.  We love God based on knowledge, i.e., with all the mind, through revelation, with all of the soul.  God is deserving of love.  Apart from God, humanity would have no love, only protective instincts, something that evolved to preserve the species and propagate our selfish genes.    

Why then did the Lord say we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves?  I don’t love myself because I deserve love.  I don’t love myself because I am good, not even because I am better than other people.  I know my faults.  I may think I’m smarter than some other people, smarter even than some Nobel Laureates and graduates of Harvard and Yale.  But I know a lot of other people who are smarter than I am, so I don’t love myself because of my intelligence, my athletic ability, my rugged good looks, the size of my biceps, or any of my many and varied skills. 

I love myself “in spite of”.  I can’t really help it.  Sure, there are times when I screw up so monumentally that I say I hate myself, but I say that because I love myself and I am deeply disappointed in how I hosed things.  If I really hated myself I would rejoice in my own failures – and I have had plenty of opportunities.  That’s not the same as wallowing in self-pity, which some of us are prone to do.

That’s what Jesus means.  You love your neighbors in spite of their imperfections, in spite of the fact that they sometimes hurt you or offend you or mistreat you.  You love your neighbors when they persecute you and reject you, when they strip you naked, beat you, and hang you on a cross to die, suffocated by your paralyzed chest muscles.  You love your neighbor whether his boots are plastic or full-quill ostrich.  You love your neighbor when his clothes are second-hand and his hygiene is bad and when his wife carries a Coach bag that cost more than your car.    

One of the great lessons I learned was from my friend, Eddie.  Eddie had money, and he loved good cars.  He drove the most expensive Cadillac available, paid cash for it.  Nothing wrong with foreign cars if you’re a foreigner, that was his view.  But somebody could drive up in a new car of any kind, and he was just as happy and excited for that person as he would have been for himself.  “I love to see my brothers and sisters driving nice cars,” he would say.  He loved his neighbor as he loved himself. 

Jesus wants us to use His Golden Rule as the starting point.  Treat others the way you want them to treat you.  That is a good beginning in the natural realm.  When we step into the spiritual realm, when we begin to “rejoice with those who rejoice” even as we “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:5), we begin to see that there is no distance or distinction in Christ because the very same Holy Spirit, the very same Person, the very same God dwells in and gives life to each and every one of us.  

Thus we come to understand what John says in his first epistle:  If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Packages With No Return Address

Thus says the LORD, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives. Return every man to his home, for this thing is from me. So they listened to the word of the LORD and returned and did not go against Jeroboam.  -- 2 Chronicles 11:4

This thing is from Me.  It is critical to know when something has come from God.  We can take the attitude – and it’s possibly the best default approach, that everything is from Him, that there are no “second causes”, that God is in control of everything and nothing can happen without His permission.  In an overall sense, this is true.  He’s God; He does as He pleases.  That’s pretty close to what the Bible often seems to tell us. 

Even when something is instigated or incited by the Lord, our response is not necessarily supposed to be the same in every case.  In the passage quoted, the Lord, because of Solomon’s foolishness toward the end of his life, had decreed that the kingdom be divided.  He raised up a rival in Jeroboam and left only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to the line of David.  Through a prophet the word comes that the king of Judah and those who follow him must accept this turn of events. 

Conversely, we sometimes see God sending enemies against His people that those enemies might be defeated and punished.   The Lord did not, in those cases, desire passive acceptance but rather aggressive and active resistance.  “Que Sera Sera” is not a Christian song.  Life really is an adventure for us.  Routine and formulaic responses are of minimal use to us.  Sometimes we fight; sometimes we surrender.  Sometimes we have to fight a while before we surrender, or surrender a while before we fight.  I wish I had a rule of thumb or a guide or something to tell me which scenario I’m in this time. 

We do have a guide, but it’s not a thing, it’s a Him.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit.  He is here, with us and in us, giving us peace about what is happening and how we are responding.  When it runs contrary to our old natures – whether that’s because we’re naturally passive or naturally aggressive – we have to deny ourselves.  That’s what it means to die to self, to crucify the flesh. 

From a practical point of view, when we are in the place of decision, the Lord will meet us where we are.  I think more “advanced” saints need less outside confirmation than some of the rest of us.  Early on, I had a lot of people around me who would give me “good words” that resonated and helped me get going the right way.  It’s like having training wheels on your bicycle.  I really wouldn’t want training wheels on my motorcycle because I couldn’t corner at speed.  Over time and through experience, we are expected to grow and develop our relationship in the Spirit to the point where we can confidently seek Him and know His will in any situation. 

There will always, though, be places where we run out of understanding, where the light seems to fail at the most crucial passage.  Abraham with the knife raised over Isaac, David fleeing from Absalom, Paul wasting his last days in a Roman prison, even perhaps the Lord Himself crying out, Why have You forsaken Me?  In those dark corridors we put it all in the hands of God and walk by faith, not by sight.