Accountability

The financial industry, and the government agencies that oversee it, pass stringent regulations to prevent profiteering. That is completely understandable, as our fallen human nature is rife with greed and avarice; many people will do anything for a buck, or a million of ’em

Profiteering, though, isn’t exclusive to the financial industry, or even the government bureaucracy. Religion has more than its share of greed and avarice, if not for material gain, then certainly for a reward in the afterlife. These days we hear of Muslim “holy warriors” blowing themselves up to take the infidels with them, all to gain the martyr’s status with its reward of seventy-two virgins—or so the story goes. Yet, there is are examples of religious opportunism far closer to home.

Christendom offers many examples of religious opportunism, from multimillion dollar televangelists to the small church’s big donor who expects to run the whole little show. I call them big cogs in little gears; they don’t mesh, and are proud of it.

Regardless the arena or the scale, fallen humanity loves to opt out of accountability. We fancy ourselves as our own authority—even as we give lip-service to our devotion to God.

A less obvious, though far more common, religious opportunism is taking Apostle Paul’s inspired words out of their Scriptural context. When the apostle wrote of our liberty in Jesus, he did not mean to suggest that we could get away with taking God’s grace for granted, as many so easily do.

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 NKJV
(12) For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?
(13) But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “PUT AWAY FROM YOURSELVES THE EVIL PERSON.”

Those who use Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10 to justify an opulent lifestyle are just as guilty of misusing Scripture as Muslim martyrs, and their judgment is just as sure. Some of us have the gift of earning wealth, but forget about Jesus’ words regarding treasure in heaven.

Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV
(19) “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
(20) but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
(21) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What we begin as a, “rainy-day fund,” takes on a life of its own, ruling us with a dictator’s iron gauntlet or hob-nail boot. You’re right, I didn’t mention spiritual or moral responsibility, but your treasure’s location speaks to those as well.

Atheists balk at accepting God’s existence either because some “Christian” demonstrated unchristian behavior toward them, or because if they did they would have to be accountable to Him. Why can’t God’s church see that principle just as clearly?

Hurry Up and Wait

“How can I help you, son, to feel more comfortable here?”

People in the military’s basic training always have drill instructors breathing down their necks, usually yelling. The poor recruits have to run wherever they go, and it’s never fast enough for the D.I.s.

When they reach their destination the D.I. yells at them to form up in ranks and files … and then wait for his good pleasure. That’s where the saying, “Hurry up and wait,” originated.

Hurry Up!

Since you found this on my blog, you already know I have a spiritual application in all this:

2 Corinthians 6:1-2 NKJV
(1) We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
(2) For He says: “IN AN ACCEPTABLE TIME I HAVE HEARD YOU, AND IN THE DAY OF SALVATION I HAVE HELPED YOU.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

First, there’s the, “Hurry Up,” part. Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, who should have already been Christ-followers. Yet, he urges them to accept the Lord’s salvation.

If you are at all familiar with the Corinthian letters, you know it was a most worldly church. In fact, it was a church in name only, and many, if not most, of the attendees were nominal Christians, and were possibly even men and women of influence, or whatever served as the church board in those days. Trouble is, they influenced the church in the wrong direction.

To Receive, or Not to Receive …

I had thought that one could either receive, or not receive, God’s grace, but this passage plainly declares that one can receive God’s grace in vain. No Bible-believing Christ-follower would say that St. Paul was wrong, but many seem to ignore it.

The letter to the Hebrews issues us a challenge, and a warning:

Hebrews 2:1-3 NKJV
(1) Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.
(2) For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward,
(3) how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,

And Wait!

But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 NKJV)

Okay, the above two passages may not be topically linked, but I think they go together nicely. Evildoers, i.e., those who are easily angered, wrathful and fretful, are evildoers, causing harm to themselves and others.

Waiting on the LORD means we are at His disposal, always available for His good pleasure, like a waiter or other servant. It also means we are willing to wait for Him to direct our lives, rather than running willy-nilly, trying to get things done for Him without His direction.

That Means Patience

Galatians 5:22-23 ESV
(22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
(23) gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Patience is one of the hardest parts of the Spirit’s fruit to get right. Patience and meekness, or gentleness, closely pair under the heading of love, which is really the heart of all the qualities of the fruit of God’s Spirit.

The longer I live in Christ, and the closer I get to my Father, the more I realize just how far I have to travel for the fruit of God’s Spirit to be fully manifested in me. Like I said, patience is the hardest part.

Easy Rider

Some off-ramps don’t appear worth taking.

“Enter by the narrow gate;
for wide
is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction,
and there are many who go in by it.
(Matthew 7:13 NKJV)

Seems like everybody has written or sermonized about the broad way versus the narrow, or the easy way versus the hard. We’re talking about destinations here.

When Jesus delivered his sermon recorded in Matthew’s gospel, chapters five, six, and seven, most of His audience were common folks, like you and me. His message hit home for them, as they knew they were sinners.

The elitist religious leaders, however, were also listening, and of course He wasn’t talking to them; no one could tell them anything because they were teachers, lawyers, priests, and scribes who knew it all. That’s not to say all of today’s teachers, lawyers, and clergypeople are know-it-alls, but … well, you know what I mean.

When I examine my conscience I know Jesus was talking to me when He sat on that rock on the hillside, as the broad and easy way has always been my default path—until, that is, I decided to give myself to God through Jesus Christ. But old habits die hard; I still struggle with self-control, occasionally reverting to my old ways. Now, however, my reaction to those slips and stumbles is entirely different; where I used to seek every opportunity to sate my fleshly desires, now such slips grieve me deeply. That’s how I know I’ve changed. Another change is taking my sins to God straight away, and begging for the grace to truly repent.

Wonder why I didn’t say, “ask forgiveness”? That’s because as long as I am in Christ, my sins are forgiven. And that’s even more reason for me to feel grieved when I sin; it’s like adding another thorn to Jesus’ crown of thorns.

My reborn self doesn’t want to ride easy any longer, but I pray for God to keep me on the hard and narrow way until I can give my Savior a big hug with tears of gratitude for what He has done for me.

Public Enemy #1

How peaceful are they?

First, lets dismiss the gangsta rap group, Public Enemy, although their name gives an accurate picture of their value to society. History gives us a long list of people who were tagged with the label, “Public Enemy #1.” Back in the twentieth century that label belonged to gangsters and mafiosos. Today that dubious distinction is obsolete, replaced by the “most wanted” list that includes drug cartel kingpins, serial killers, and terrorists, both domestic and foreign.

All of that is consistent with the natural, human perspective, but there is something that the public perceives as an enemy that is more to be feared than all of the Ten Most Wanted combined. That public enemy is peace and quiet.

I tend to accuse young people of stimulation addiction, as so many of them live with earbuds permanently implanted, feeding a constant stream of loud, popular music, or video game audio into their consciousness. But young people aren’t alone in their addiction to constant stimulation. “Adults,” including myself, seek constant entertainment and news media saturation. My personal addiction is tech/military documentaries, movies and TV police procedurals. It seems I too am afraid of silence.

The prophet Elijah experienced the eternally existing One as a, “still, small voice,” and preachers admonish us to seek that sort of communication with God. Yet, how are we to hear His voice when our senses are constantly saturated with distractions?

We Christ-followers gripe about not hearing His voice, but do nothing about achieving the personal quietness necessary to hear our Lord and Savior. Even our corporate worship is often boisterous.

Habits die hard. Addictions, much harder. But are we to settle for less than God’s best for us? And His best for us is intimate communication with Himself. He made us for that purpose, and anything less promises only unfulfillment of God’s glorious promises, and frustration of our ultimate purpose.

Yes, but how?

How can we break our noise addiction? First, we must realize, and then confess, that it is quite real in our lives. Second, we must pray for God’s conviction, as to refuse to change makes it sin. Third, thank God for the infinite grace that He shows when we fail to seek His best for us. His love for us is unfathomable, and if we claim to love Him in return, yet willfully disobey Him, we reveal our hypocrisy. Apostle John wrote, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

Like all addictions, electronic media addiction is tough to crack. I don’t know of I could break its hold on me cold turkey, but I can try to cut down by substituting other activities that would strengthen me, rather than continuing to weaken myself by sitting mesmerized by Netflix and YouTube.

I want to honor God with my life, but I can’t do that by staying planted at home watching entertainment. Please pray for me, and the millions of other media-addicted Christians, for God to break us free, so we can love the lost to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Did It Again

Did it again, committed one of those sins.
Question arises: Did I learn any lessons?

Grieved my spirit, and God’s as well.
But only defeat comes, if on it I dwell.

Searched my heart, but I must search deeper
For the solution of my soul’s Keeper.

I was born solely to glorify Him;
Is my best to continue in sin?

But for His grace I’d be a goner,
Yet, presuming on grace gives Him no honor.

Hear my prayer for strength from Your store.
Fill me up and I’ll sin no more.

You have better things planned for me.
Give me strength to rest, holy in Thee.

If Thou Wilt

Jesus heals the leper

Mark 1:40-45 tells of a leper falling to his knees before Jesus, begging Him to cleanse his leprosy. Did Jesus shun the leper as was typical of the good religious folks? Did He flee from the ostracized leper so as not to become ceremonially unclean?

No! Jesus, in His compassion, not only dealt directly with the leper’s plea, but He even reached out to touch the man’s scaly flesh.

We typically hear this passage preached topically, stressing the leper’s faith and Jesus’ compassion, which are important lessons for us to grasp. Along with the leper’s faith, though, we need to recognize the attitude he displayed in begging for Jesus’ healing touch. While the unclean man obviously believed that Jesus could heal him, he didn’t demand it, or even expect it. Instead, he humbly yielded to Jesus’ sovereign choice of whether or not to honor his faith.

How does this teaching align with today’s “Word of Faith” and “positive confession” doctrines? According to those, the leper should have demanded the healing, certain that it was Jesus’ will. Maybe he should have not even bothered Jesus, but rather affirmed that he wasn’t sick at all.

I realize the Word of Faith teaching isn’t quite that simplistic, that Jesus’ Holy Spirit gives us His authority over sickness and other misfortunes of life. Yet, how can we presume to speak His will to such matters, simply because we have faith? 2 Corinthians 12:7 seems to indicate that God, in His perfect sovereignty, does not always answer our prayer of faith to our satisfaction.

2Co 12:7-9
(7) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. (8) Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. (9) And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Even though the leper’s humility models the attitude with which we must approach our Savior God, where is the balance between expecting Him to fulfill His promises, and avoiding the presumption of demanding affirmative answers to prayer? Therein lies my personal struggle with prayer; though I believe with certainty that God can grant my pleas, I’m never sure that my will aligns with His.

One of my greatest fears is presuming upon God’s will, and thus bringing a reproach upon His holy Name. How often have I heard well-meaning brethren speak with a certainty that God will heal, or otherwise answer prayer according to their demands? And does such presumption escape the notice of unsaved observers? We often express dismay at most people’s gospel-resistance, but in view of so many believers’ religious antics, how can we expect otherwise?

If we simply know God’s Word and honestly proclaim Jesus’ gospel of grace, not what we want it to say, but only what it actually says, we can overcome much of the world’s hateful prejudice. But that requires that we love sinners more than our pet doctrines.

Lord, if Thou wilt, thou canst make us clean of our putrid attitudes.

Sorry Doesn’t Cut It

John the Baptist’s head on a platter

In Matthew 14:1-12, Herod, the mock-king of Israel, responded to his alluring step-daughter Salome’s demand for John the Baptist’s head on a platter with—well, God’s Word says it best:

[Mat 14:9 NKJV] And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded [it] to be given to [her].

So easily we preface our deliberate disobedience with, “Sorry Lord, but …” Then we try to condone our actions with a litany of excuses. Flip Wilson showed himself an acute observer of churchy behavior with Geraldine’s, “Da devo made me do it.”

My theology may be better than Geraldine’s, but my rationalizations are just as transparent. I pray for the self-control to resist my baser nature, so when I ignore the red flags I, in effect, tell God, “You didn’t answer my prayer,” diverting my guilt to the righteous One.

What presumption! I hold myself above God’s judgment by judging Him for treating me unfairly. How can God forgive such deliberate blasphemy?

Am I alone in this sin? Do such rationalizations cross your mind when you condemn someone else for their worldly behavior? When you envy someone else for their undeserved good fortune? When you rationalize consuming worldly entertainments as your, “liberty in Christ”? When you lust after material goods, presuming upon God’s future provision to, “Buy now, pay later”?

I plead, “Guilty as charged.” I must join the sea of sinners at the Judge’s left hand, bound for perdition’s miserable pit of eternal fire. And that would be my fate, if not for my Lord’s infinite grace, expressed in 1 John 1:6-10, where He pronounces the conditional, “If”:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Warning—We must not simply read those key verses. We must study them. Meditate upon them. Live by them, so we can claim God’s unfathomable grace.

Accepted in the Beloved

If you ever feel bumfuzzled, just review Ephesians 1:3-10. Seriously!

I began with verse six because it jumped out at me with some urgency while reading in Ephesians chapter one. “To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6)

Not to minimize the praise of the glory of His grace, I’ll focus on the latter part of the verse. First, throw out the word, accepted. I looked it up and found it means way more than just that; it means God has made us charitoō, or graceful, charming, lovely, and agreeable in His sight. He examines us with grace, and has poured out His favor and blessings upon us. God tells us here that we are favorably regarded as members of the “beloved,” which is agapaō, and everybody knows that’s God’s special kind of love.

Now, if that didn’t put a little Sonshine in your day, you really need help.

C.S. Lewis on the Attractiveness of True Holiness

Here’s an excerpt from a letter that Uncle Jack wrote in 1953:

I am so glad you gave me an account of the lovely priest. How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing (and perhaps, like you, I have met it only once), it is irresistible. If even 10% of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year’s end? (from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, vol. III)

How right he is. I’ve walked the path toward holiness—note, I didn’t say I’ve achieved it—for much of my adult life, and I’m seldom bored. Apostle Paul told us that we are dead to sin. Why, then, is living without sinning impossible for me? And I think it’s not just my own personal problem; Apostle John told us that … well, I’ll let him speak for God directly:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 NKJV)

Anyone who says John wrote that to non-believers hasn’t read its context. While we are dead to sin, temptations and their resulting sins still plague us. So, if we are dead to sin, which God says we are through Jesus’ redemptive act, why do we still sin? Looking back to Romans 6:2, the apostle says, “How shall we who died to sin live in it any longer?”

Please know that this isn’t a cop out, but there’s a huge difference between living in sin and occasionally sinning. I make sense of it by comparing my attitude toward sin before I was saved, to that of after I was saved: From shortly after my birth to when I confessed my sinfulness and asked God to have His way with me, I sought out opportunities to sin. It was my way of life, and I didn’t want it any different. While my horrendous sins were relatively minor compared to some, I came to realize that God doesn’t grade on a curve. A deliberate lie is just as damning as adultery or murder, and I was a liar from early childhood.

Thing is, we’re habitual critters, and the life we live before we come to understand and accept the gospel leaves us with certain … ah … regrettable behavioral patterns. But God understands that and grants us grace as long as we refuse to take it for granted, striving to grow ever closer to God and live in a way that glorifies Him. And believe me, that is anything but boring.

C.S. Lewis, on Forgiveness of Sins

Topsy Turvy Church

This passage is from The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis. Though some may take exception to the idea that Christians aren’t automatically forgiven for all sins, he makes a very good Biblical point.

We say a great many things in church (and out of church too) without thinking of what we are saying. For instance, we say in the Creed “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” I had been saying it for several years before I asked myself why it was in the Creed. At first sight it seems hardly worth putting in. “If one is a Christian,” I thought, “of course one believes in the forgiveness of sins. It goes without saying.” But the people who compiled the Creed apparently thought that this was a part of our belief which we needed to be reminded of every time we went to church. And I have begun to see that, as far as I am concerned, they were right. To believe in the forgiveness of sins is not nearly so easy as I thought. Real belief in it is the sort of thing that very easily slips away if we don’t keep on polishing it up.

We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us. There is no doubt about the second part of this statement. It is in the Lord’s Prayer; was emphatically stated by our Lord. If you don’t forgive you will not be forgiven. No part of His teaching is clearer, and there are no exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t, we shall be forgiven none of our own.

The Scripture passage to which he referred is from Matthew 6:11-15. One could try to dispute Lewis’ conclusion, but the Lord was pretty clear about it. Maybe you will tell me that He was speaking at that moment from the Law Dispensation, since He hadn’t as yet performed His Redemptive Act.

I’m afraid that goose won’t fly, friend. As with the balance of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke from the only perspective he had, that of grace. Why would He speak from the Law’s perspective when He would, in a short time, fulfill the Law?

If you insist on the Law idea, what about First Corinthians’ love chapter? Remember all the awful things St. Paul did before he met Jesus? Loving forgiveness did not come naturally to that Pharisee. He had hated Christians and Gentiles, but he taught unconditional love to the Corinthian church.

Nope, if you harbor a grudge, refusing to love and forgive anyone, you can’t expect Jesus’ blood to cover your unconfessed sin. Otherwise, you’d be no better off than members of the Islamic State or the KKK. Is your grudge worth that?