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

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Building Permits

Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them.  Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them. – Ezra 5:1-2

Probably around 538 B.C., the Persian king Cyrus issued a decree to allow the rebuilding of the temple.  When the exiles returned and began to rebuild, they began to encounter opposition.  Religion itself is not necessarily offense to the flesh, so long as it benefits and respects the fallen nature and gives it its due.  The king’s decree had been intended to placate the religious instincts of the various conquered and subject peoples.  As far as the empire was concerned, there was no difference between the Lord God of the Jews and the gods of the Assyrians or the Elamites or some other tribe.  But God is different. 

True spiritual worship of the one true and living God denies the primacy and ascendency of the flesh.  It rejects the restrictions and rules of the carnal nature.  Building, specifically rebuilding, the temple typifies the resurrection life of the believer and exalts the supremacy of the Spirit.  This led to resistance on the part of some of the non-Jewish people who had been settled in the region around the ruins of Jerusalem. 

Oddly enough, the first thing their enemies did was offer to help:

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the LORD, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers' houses and said to them, Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here (Ezra 4:1-2).

The old nature is always ready to jump in and help us out.  Like Zerubbabel, though, we have to understand that the flesh can have no part in the new life.  It has been crucified and put to death in Christ.  All it can offer is corruption, all it does will pass away.  We are building for eternity, to stand the test of time and the purifying fire: 

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.  For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—  each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done (1 Corinthians 3:10-13).

When their offer of help was rejected, the adversaries began to plot against the builders, sending letters to the king to stir up suspicions and rumors of rebellion.  The Christian seeks always to live in peace.  We are not troublemakers, yet, over and over, this is exactly what we are accused of being.  Because we do not wish to go along with the fashions of the world, because we cling to “old-fashioned” truth and the values associated with it, we make the modern, secular world uncomfortable. 

We are loyal subjects of the True King.  Our enemies are the ones who have rejected the King’s authority and follow after the usurper, the rebellious prince of this world.  They project their own rebellious thoughts and intentions onto us.  We seem to have a secret.  We must be hiding something.  Because they have ulterior motives, they accuse us of having occult agendas. 

Sometimes the attacks get so intense that we forget our mission and purpose, that we are here to build the temple.  That is exactly what happened to those exiles.  Their enemies stirred up King Artaxerxes to issue a decree to stop the construction.  From about 530 B.C. to 520, work was halted and the temple sat exposed and unfinished.  This brings us to the point of the passage quoted above. 

The temple of God is built by the Word, the prophetic, anointed Word.  It is cannot be completed by secular force.  Like the “weapons of our warfare”, our tools for building are not carnal, but mighty through God (2 Corinthians 10:4).  Instead of pulling down strongholds, they are mighty to build up in the kingdom of God.  It is the truth and our faith in the truth that encourages and empowers us to press on in the face of the adversary's denunciations and contrary decrees. 

The temple is never going to be built if we wait for permission from those who do not understand the things of the spirit.  We do not need secular authority or the permission of temporal power.  We have the words of Jesus Himself -- And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matthew 28:18).  What He says, we can do.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Triumph of the Cross

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. -- Galatians 6:14

Holy Week seems a good time to consider the Cross, its meaning and its implications for us.  It is central to Christianity, as Paul makes plain here and in many other places.  There is the historical cross, a real piece of wood to which Jesus of Nazareth was nailed and upon which He died.  The cross has, too, a metaphorical meaning.  We are to take up our cross daily, bear our afflictions and troubles as Christians and learn to walk in faith with our eyes upon God’s truth and our hope in Him.  The Cross is also a figure of speech for all of the doctrines that make up the gospel as well as for the death of Jesus. 

Death by crucifixion was an ignominious, inglorious, humiliating public death.  It spoke of the weakness and insignificance of the individual against the power and prestige of the corporate state.  To the world, the death of Jesus is a shame, both in the sense of being tragic and in the sense of being a disgrace.  We will say of a person who dies “too soon” in some accident that the death is a shame.  We feel it was unnecessary, even pointless.  The world will say of Jesus that He was a great teacher or a great philosopher, that, like Socrates, He was put to death for the sake of jealousy, envy or religious conflict.  It was really too bad.

Jesus does not allow those who believe in and follow Him that option.  We have to understand that He came to die:   Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour (John 12:27).  The Cross is both pit and pinnacle, His darkest hour and His greatest triumph. 

The Cross shows us the vanity and futility of the world, putting it to death, crucifying the world to us.  We are, in turn, crucified to the world.  Our judgment about those things held in high esteem changes.  We judge now according to the standard of Christ, considering righteousness and a good conscience superior to worldly ambition, popular acclaim, and material acquisitions.    

Like the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness, the Cross is transformed from an image of loathing and fear to an object of hope.  It heals and counters the poison that has invaded the soul of man, offering an antidote and the new resurrection life in Christ.  We rejoice in the Cross which signifies the defeat and destruction of the enemy of our souls.

Friday, March 27, 2015

God Is Faithful

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.  1 Corinthians 10:13

God is faithful.  Sometimes, I just need a reminder.

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9)

Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. (Psalm 31:5)
The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy  (Psalm 111:7)
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. (2 Thessalonians 3:3)
 [I]f we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)
Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.  (1 Peter 4:19)
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)
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. (Revelation 19:11)

That should cover about every situation.  If I had a 1911, I'd have that last one engraved on it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Time of Ends

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. -- 1 Peter 4:7

The thing about the end is that it can be general or particular.  In Peter’s case, he was writing before the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Titus.  There was coming a particular end to a way of life and a worldview.  Josephus’ claim of over a million slaughtered seems incredible, and one wonders at how he arrived at such a number, but there can be no doubt the death toll and the aftermath were horrific.  While nearness in time may be applicable in specific instances, in general we can always say that the end is “at hand” in that all things are before God and near to Him.  As individuals, as nations, as humanity, we move toward the end for which we have been created. 

I was thinking about this last night reading Origen.  How is it that my life can matter in the vast flow of existence and consciousness?  It would be as though some self-aware bit of algae on an old tire in the Mississippi thought it was keeping the river in its banks.  I look too far and not far enough. 

I look too far beyond my immediate circle of friends and family.  There I know my words and my example, my principles and prayers have made a difference.  The world has not been changed but a heart, here and there, is more open and responsive to the Spirit, perhaps.  I do not look far enough if I do not raise my eyes above the close horizons of my own intellect and ability to the infinite power and grace of God.  He changes hearts, and each heart is a world opening out. 

We take thought as to how we are to live, consider the stewardship of our possessions in light of the fact that there is an end, and it is near, in one sense or both.  I am sure this seems foreign, outmoded, and out of touch.  A little later in his Second Epistle, Peter spoke of the mockers in his day who asked, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”  Yet there was a catastrophic and devastating reckoning at hand, and there have been a multitude in the centuries since that time.  Another end waits, if not for the whole world then for some state or some people or some city; if not for many for a few.  Always, the end is at hand for each of us individually.  The world ends for us, as the closing of a door behind. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Sidekick

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. -- Galatians 5:16

The more we seek God and seek to have our minds renewed by the truth and our lives transformed in that renewal, the less power the old nature has over us. 

Sometimes I think my natural, conscious mind, the one I’ve used so much and, God forgive me, been proud of now and then, is like the comic-relief sidekick in an old Western serial.  He’s kind of along for the ride, more trouble than he’s worth, and is prone to take undue credit for his part in a happy ending.  We would wonder about a heroine who was more taken with the empty bluster and bravado of the side-kick than the hero’s selfless courage, honesty, humility, and competence. 

The soul is the heroine.  She can listen to the spirit and love him, or she can be enamored of the flesh and his banter.  The flesh has a lot on his side in that he and the whole world system are in agreement and alignment.  They share a lot of values.  The flesh’s views get reinforced by everything in popular culture.  We are inundated with news and information and politics and all the rest telling us that the flesh is right.  All that matters is what can be experienced by the five senses, and you had better get it while you can.  YOLO.  I have to look it up every time I see it. 

If we live to the flesh, we are dead while we live – dead now in our sins and trespasses.  But if our heroine binds herself instead to the spirit, we enter into life.  It’s a good thing to remember that the life we receive from Christ, the only kind of life He has, is eternal life, beginning not when we die physically but as we turn and begin walking with and according the Spirit. 

One more thing about not gratifying the desires of the flesh, most of us have had the unhappy occasion to stumble and go wrong.  Even when it works out, even when I’ve gotten “my way”, I get no satisfaction out of it anymore.  I remember when sin was fun.  If wickedness had been as empty and unfulfilling when I was seventeen or eighteen as it is now, I would have quit a lot sooner.  Once you start walking in the Spirit, the old thrills start fading.  Part of that might be a natural result of the passing of time, but I see men and women my chronological age and older that still haven’t gotten the message.  It doesn’t mean that we won’t be tempted or that we won’t fall; we’ll just feel worse afterward, every time.