Monday, October 26, 2015
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, Take away all iniquity; accept what is good ... I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. -- Hosea 14:1-4
I don’t have much time again today, but the poignancy of this passage caught my attention, and I thought I would share it. Too many of us have lived under a cloud of inadequacy. In a way, that is to be expected. We are not God. We will never and can never be perfect or perfectly pure, our best efforts fall short.
We have stumbled. We will stumble. All that we can do is take our words and return, but that is all that is asked of us. My prayer today -- truly every day, is that the Lord will sift through the contents of my life and separate the wheat from the chaff, casting away the false, the useless, and the wicked and marking down and keeping what is good.
The most amazing thing is that we can expect Him to hear and answer that prayer, not because we have done so much that is good but simply because He loves us freely. Is that not a wonderful thought?
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. -- 2 Thessalonians 3:5
Bob was talking about imagination and education last week, which started me thinking about imagination in Scripture. Oddly enough, the word imagination appears more frequently in the King James Version of the Bible than in modern translations. A good example is Genesis 8:25 which in the KJV read, in part, “…for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth …” where the ESV reads “… for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth …”.
Meanwhile, I did find two occurrences of the word in the ESV, first, Proverbs 18:25 – “A rich man's wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination.” The other occurrence is Acts 17:29, “Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” Well, of course, the imagination makes images, but they can be useful, correct images or erroneous images. We can use the imagination to understand what is unseen, such as the electrons on an atom. We can also use the imagination to mislead and deceive ourselves, as we were talking about a little yesterday.
Perhaps there is a connection between heart, spirit, and imagination. We can have a self-directed imagination, or we could have a God-directed imagination, one that is a vehicle of the Spirit to bring truth into our lives. We can use our imagination to indulgence in fantasies and daydreams, or it can be an agent of spiritual understanding and transformation. The icons, images, trappings, and rituals of Orthodox and Catholic Christianity are meant to engage the worshipper’s imagination. The same is true of music and the lyrical poetry of worship songs in much of Protestantism.
There is something of a conflict between the “normal” world of sense perception, of everyday language and common, superficial reality and the world that opens to use through the imagination. I think of the several writers and poets who used alcohol, often to excess, to quiet the common in order to connect to the sacred space of imagination. Prayer ought to be a place where we surrender our imaginations to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to direct us and guide. This seems to me to be what Paul is saying to the church at Thessalonica.
We cannot sense the love of God or the perseverance of Christ through touch, taste, hearing, smell or sight. There must be another channel through which we can perceive and grasp these realities. As we study, worship, and pray, may our hearts be open to the Spirit and what He wants us to see and experience with our spiritual sense.
Monday, October 19, 2015
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? -- Jeremiah 17:9
As you may know, the name “Jacob” means “supplanter”, i.e., “tripping up insidiously by the heel”. Jacob went so far as to deceive (with his mother’s help – probably a whole other study) his own father in order to obtain the blessing he desired.
There is always a danger and a snare that we risk deceiving ourselves as we attempt to obtain desired blessings from God. To deceive God is impossible – and we realize that, for the most part. Instead the heart hides from its intentions and refuses to accept and acknowledge its own motives and desires. We justify our actions and do our best to make them sound noble, generous, and merciful. All the sickness gets projected outward to those around us, the “system”, society, or even to God who is too harsh or demanding or judgmental or whatever it may be.
Jacob – and we are all Jacob – cheated his brother and fled from his justifiable anger. But we have to wonder if Esau was all that bent on murder. There’s no doubt that Jacob deserved a sound and solid whipping. When the brothers meet after 20 years, Esau isn’t even concerned about that, and Jacob had found one more deceitful than himself in Laban at whose hands he had suffered.
Often, when we deceive ourselves, we live in fear because something deep inside tells us we have acted perversely. In fact, it could be that fear and dread are among the most common and sure signs that we have tried to fool ourselves. If I find an area of fear in my life, I should look closely at it. If I face it, I may find myself undeceived, as Jacob was. It was on his way to deal with his deceptive heart that Jacob met the Angel of the Lord and wrestled with Him at ford of the Jabbok which he renamed Peniel for he had seen God face-to-face.
As they struggled, the Lord asked a question of Jacob: And he said to him, What is your name? And he said, Jacob (Genesis 32:27). That is, he said, I am the deceptive one, the supplanter, the one who surreptitiously trips my brother from behind. When God had the confession and the heart exposed, He could make a change: Then he said, Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed (Genesis 32:28).
Or, as John told us: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Tell the truth.
Friday, October 16, 2015
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. -- Proverbs 3:7
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. -- Proverbs 16:25
I have seen quite a bit the last few days about an article someone wrote describing the “modern man”. The piece has been the subject of ridicule in certain quarters. I have not read more than a few of the twenty-some marks of the modern man, but I think I get the idea. I am not a modern man by that writer’s definition, and that does not bother me in the least. My goal, which I doubt I will reach in this life, is to be a wise man.
Sometimes I get caught up in trends -- for example, I have boots with square toes. Most of us follow fashion now and then. We upgrade our electronic devices, wear boxer-briefs, or eat hummus. Hairstyles and clothing styles come and go, but values, principles, and truth are eternal. The modern man follows the trends. The wise man seeks the truth.
The modern man cultivates good opinions among his set of friends and associates. He wants to be thought of as knowledgeable and sophisticated by those whom he admires and envies. The wise man desires a good report before God and to be a righteous witness in the world. He genuinely loves his fellow man but does not trust himself to him.
The wise man knows that there is evil in the world, that there is no safety or security in this life and no guarantee of tomorrow. He makes prudent plans for the future but lives fully in the present as in eternity. The modern man believes that humans are better and smarter and kinder than they were 50 or 500 years ago, that the future will always be better than the past, that values have evolved, that truth is relative to the age, and that traditions are mere amusements.
The modern man has some admirable traits, no doubt, but most of them have been picked up from the Christian world view that he is now convincing himself is archaic, barbaric, and crude. The wise man is in the world but not of it, a possessor not possessed, seeing the snares that lie behind lures.
Civilization can endure so long as it is based on reality. The wise man builds on the Rock. When we, as a whole, destroy the foundations, the house will not stand. The modern man builds on the sand.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. -- John 13:14
Humility and meekness do not arise from weakness; both are evidence of true strength and power. In the third verse of this same chapter, John says that Jesus was motivated to rise from the table and take the servant’s place because He knew that He had been given all authority by the Father, that He had come from God and was about to return to God.
If we truly know our place in the cosmos, humility is not humiliating. Service cannot be demeaning to a child of God. Meekness liberates us from the confines and restrictions of the ego. We are able to lay aside the mask and be as they were in the Garden, unashamed. This is the delusion of the world system, that self-exaltation and arrogance are marks of strength, that hardness of heart is sensible, and that scorn, mockery, and unbelief are enlightened.
The Lord is the straight edge that discloses how twisted and deviant our commonsense thinking has become. It is a hard thing to lay aside pride and abase ourselves, yet there is no compulsion. We are not giving in, just giving. We are not acting out of fear but out of love.
I was helping clean the house of a family member several years ago. The place had been allowed to get absolutely filthy to the point that when I first walked in, I nearly gagged on the smell. The person started insisting on paying us for the work we were doing. After a while, his attitude began to annoy me. I rather unkindly snapped out, “You don’t have enough money to pay me to do this.” I know he was just trying to thank us, and I apologized for saying it the way I did, but it was true. I would not have done it at gunpoint – only out of love and concern. A legion of Roman soldiers could not have forced Jesus to bow before Caesar, but He was willing to get down on his knees and wash the feet of those who followed Him.
“Why is the sea the king of a hundred streams?” asked the Ancient Sage.
“Because it lies below them.
Therefore it is the king of a hundred streams.”
(Christ the Eternal Tao, chapter 49)