Sunday, November 30, 2014

Changing the default setting


At one time I thought that because all sin is forgiven, then I am free to do whatever I please. It didn’t take long to figure out that if what I wanted to do did not fit with the will of God, then it was sin, and sin puts me in bondage – every time.

Applying this to the Christian mind, I cannot be free if I believe lies, but am held in bondage to fantasy and falsehood. My mind is only free if I believe the truth, which strongly implies that freedom means obedience to the truth. That is, if I really believe it, then there are no other options but to follow it.

Paul must have heard the same rationale about freedom, for he wrote this: “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

I don’t have to be too wide-awake to realize that once I give in to believing lies, I begin to sin. And once I give in to sin, it leads to more of it. Without Christ, I’d be a slave to all sorts of selfish and sinful behavior. With Christ, there is a way out.

Paul describes that way: “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.”

Everyone is a slave to something. I’ve quoted David Foster Wallace before. He didn’t know Christ, but he did understand a vital truth: “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship… is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough… Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you… Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is… they’re unconscious. They are default settings.”

He is right. I need to pay attention all the time about what I choose as my master. If it is pleasing myself with whatever I might fancy, I will never get enough, will never be satisfied. However, if it is Christ, I also cannot get enough, not because He does not satisfy, but because there is no end to the riches that are in Him. Not only that, He offers freedom. He said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32)

Paul ended his words (above) with this: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:15–23)

Wallace never found out that there is a way to change the default setting. We cannot do it, but faith in the Lord Jesus Christ changes everything. Instead of being stuck with sin, He sets me free to worship and serve Him. What a warm and wonderful thought for a cold and snowy day! 



Saturday, November 29, 2014

Something to think about . . .


Today’s devotional puts down rational thinking in favor of always agreeing with God and the authority of His Word. While that sound commendable, I’m not certain that it is possible or even what God wants.

A few years ago someone told me that the strongest faith is built in those who think it through, who argue the pros and cons and do their best to make sense of living for Christ. Instead of accepting faith in Jesus something like the “don’t worry, be happy” song, the people who wrestle with biblical concepts can at least explain them better to others than those who never question anything.

Paul writes to a young pastor named Timothy. He warns him about false teachers who are “treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” He says they have “the appearance of godliness” but deny its power. Timothy is told to avoid such people for some of them work their way into households and take advantage of weak women. He characterizes these as “burdened with sins” and “led astray by various passions” – ever learning but never able to know the truth. They are “corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” He says they will not get far for their folly will be revealed. (2 Timothy 3:4–9)

Then this wise Apostle turns his attention to Timothy and commends him for following Paul’s “teaching, conduct, aim in life, faith, patience, love, steadfastness, persecutions and sufferings”  . . .  that he endured and from which the Lord rescued him.
As I read this list, I thought how much I would like to have those qualities and be able to commend someone else for following me and developing the same.

Yet Paul also gives a warning for this. He knows from experience that living such a life has negative repercussions as well as positive. He says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:10–13)

Living like Paul did affected Timothy, but it didn’t have the same positive results on everyone. Some hated him for being a godly person, even tried to kill him. Paul was not surprised and he didn’t want Timothy to be surprised either. After all, Jesus was God in human flesh and He was despised and crucified because of it.

Paul encouraged Timothy to keep trusting God and continue to rely on the Word of God. He said, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14–17)

Then and now, thinking with the mind of Christ involves learning how to recognize it. That comes from two things. One is realizing God is not into the ‘name it and claim it – become healthy, wealthy, and comfortable’ game. Paul did the will of God and suffered because of it.

The second one is becoming totally familiar with the Word of God. It is in the Bible that we find out how God thinks, what He says, and what His will and values are. By letting that be our wisdom and our guide, we will be made complete . . .  but we will be persecuted because of it.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Progress?


About two years ago and just after we moved from a house to a condo, and from a church we attended for twenty years to another church, I started taking a degree in theology and began praying that God would work in my life. My desire was for a deeper love for Him and a deeper commitment to do His will.

Without relating a long story or all the details, God paid attention to my prayer. He put things in my path that were unexpected. I learned truths about myself, also unexpected. After months of being tried and tested, even feeling battered and bruised, I could see that my prayer was being answered. However, I had no idea this would involve such a battle. When someone asked me what I was learning in the degree course, I said, “I never realized that I was such a sinner.”

Jesus knew. He also knew that anyone who follows Him will begin to walk in a light that exposes far more than they could ever see apart from Him. He knew that as His child, I needed to grow up, something that a child seldom realizes or even understand. And growing up involves growing pains.

This is why He said to the crowds that followed Him, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. ‘Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’” (Luke 14:25–35)

In these verses, hate is a relative term. That is, compared to the love I’m to have for the Lord, all other affections will seem like hate. I’m not there yet, but at least am now aware of how far short I am in the ‘love of God’ department, and how much more I could love Him compared to all the other loves in my life.

In these verses, Jesus challenges my willingness to carefully assess the cost and invest everything I have in His kingdom. This goes far beyond abandoning material possessions. That is actually easier than most would think. What Jesus means is an absolute, unconditional surrender of everything. As His disciple, I can retain no privileges and make no demands. I cannot safeguard any cherished sins; treasure any earthly possessions; cling to no secret self-indulgences, or put any other relationship over the relationship I have with Him. He wants my commitment to Him to be without reservation.

I thought I had done that before all the moving and changes. I thought I had done that when I prayed wanting to do that. What I understand now is that absolute surrender rides in the same train car as sinless perfection — it isn’t going to be fully realized this side of heaven. Lord, I hear You, and I know now that the best I can hope for is an occasional glimpse of what I asked for, just enough to be more obedient than I was last week, more deeply committed to Jesus than I was yesterday, and more in love with Him than I was a minute ago.



Thursday, November 27, 2014

And the winner is . . .


Our ‘home group’ has been looking at the book of Revelation (and we are none the wiser in understanding it), but this passage is still my favorite. Slowing down to “phrase” it makes it more so . . .

Now war arose in heaven,
Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon.
And the dragon and his angels fought back,
but he was defeated,
and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
And the great dragon was thrown down,
                 that ancient serpent,
                 who is called the devil and Satan,
                 the deceiver of the whole world—
                 he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying,
“Now the salvation
and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Christ have come,
                 for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down,
                                  who accuses them day and night before our God.
                 And they have conquered him
                                  by the blood of the Lamb and
                                  by the word of their testimony,
                                  for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them!
But woe to you, O earth and sea,
        for the devil has come down to you in great wrath,
                 because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:7–12)

Whatever else Revelation means, however anyone might interpret it, this passage says two definite things. One is that Jesus defeats the devil! He tossed the enemy of all humanity out of heaven and even though this evil one was allowed to come here to lie and destroy, these verses speak clearly of his defeat. In fact, the verb in “they have conquered him” is in the indicative mood, which in Greek means “it’s a sure thing.”

No maybe about it – the devil met his match in Jesus Christ. The blood of the precious Lamb of God has sealed his doom. Not only that, those who give testimony to faith in Christ also most certainly conquer him, even if it means a martyr’s death – and that is the second definite thing.  

Again, whatever else Revelation means, however anyone might interpret it, two things are not only clear but absolutely certain: Jesus wins, and because He wins, His people also win. Hallelujah!


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Phrasing verses makes them more convicting


One of the more helpful things my Greek professor has taught is how to “phrase” a passage of Scripture. This isn’t the same as parsing, nor is it like the diagramming we used to do in high school English. I like this better because it forces me to slow down and really look at the passage I’m reading.

Also, I used Bible software that has the capacity to show me the Greek sentence structure with the English words (I’ll never be able to read Greek). That structure shows where the proper emphasis goes, and in some cases, this avoids a flawed interpretation.

Today, I didn’t use the software, but tried phrasing according to the English structure. The professor says that each person might do it a bit differently, so the rules are not too rigid. The passage is from Titus, a letter Paul wrote to a young pastor who may have had an unruly congregation. Since I like to make to-do lists, this came out looking a bit like one, with a “to-not-do list” included as a play-by-play reminder of what life was like before Christ. (Tabs don't work in Blogger, sorry.)

Remind them               to be submissive to rulers and authorities,
                                   to be obedient,
                                   to be ready for every good work,
                                   to speak evil of no one,
                                   to avoid quarreling,
                                   to be gentle, and
                                   to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
For we ourselves were once foolish,
                                           disobedient,
                                           led astray,
                                           slaves to various passions and pleasures,
                                           passing our days in malice and envy,
                                           hated by others and
                                           hating one another.
But                  when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
                       he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness,
but                  according to his own mercy,
                       by the washing of regeneration and
                       renewal of the Holy Spirit, 
                              whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
so that            being justified by his grace
                       we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
But avoid       foolish controversies,
                     genealogies,
                     dissensions, and
                     quarrels about the law,
for they are unprofitable and
                   worthless.
As for a person who stirs up division,   
                after warning him once and then twice,
                have nothing more to do with him,
                knowing that such a person is warped and sinful;
                he is self-condemned
(Titus 3:1–11)

As I read this over a few times, it is not too difficult to see the mind of Christ in those positive lists. This is how He wants me to live, because this is how He thinks.
I can remember when my life looked mostly like that “foolish, disobedient” list, but because (and notice the way that word “but” begins a few lines) I have been justified by His grace, my life has changed. 

Those who believe in God need to think like He thinks, and devote ourselves to good works. I’m to avoid arguing about things that do not matter and lest I think such spats don’t matter either, look again what He says should be done to those who are divisive. I would never want that to happen.

Jesus was not a weak, wimpy person, but neither was He feisty and argumentative. I can stand for truth and the gospel, yet not quarrel with others. To see how I measure up, I’m thinking of putting check boxes in front of those lists.