Pondering Truth In Christ

Apr. 20, 2018

1 Corinthians 13:5 NASB. (Love)… “does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered.”

Dare we say at the outset that love is not reactive but instead proactive, regenerative, and creative? And divinely so! Yet how do we arrive at love, so as to love as Jesus loved?

Love is not just a feeling of affection on a human level - where I love my spouse or I love my dog. It is also not the sense of “falling in love” with someone, or even falling in love with an ideology or religion. So let’s stop right here for a moment to realize how easily we can be fooled by a feeling of euphoria, even about abstract thought. For some this is quite attractive.

Yet how many people are convinced that this “high” is “proof” that the Holy Spirit is active, who are drawn into a religion (be it “Christian” or otherwise), simply because they are drawn to what they hold as an ideal, fueled by seeing their current religious situation as not what they’d want it to be? Beware of such moments, for the devil lurks at every window of opportunity to lead us astray into falsehoods which demolish the clear and simple gospel of devotion to Christ, and especially Christ’s devotion to us! (This does not include of course the possibility of leaving an apostate congregation or denomination.)

The practice of Jesus’ kind of love is what Scripture calls us to as the ultimate. This requires a prayer life including opening oneself up to the searchlight of the Holy Spirit - the very presence of the Great Physician Himself - Who speaks the Word of forgiveness. With this He delivers us little by little from what lurks within - uncharted darkness that largely characterizes our interior being. As this goes on, Love that is in Christ alone shines forth in ever increasing magnitude as this darkness is dispelled. Out with the bad; in with the Good, so to speak. 

We may not even realize that such darkness is lurking within us, holding us in some aspect spiritually captive! When we see it for what it is, and how it so mercilessly keeps us in the dark, there is nothing for it but - by the power of the Holy Spirit - to surrender ourself to the Lord’s provision for our salvation and the restoration of His likeness in us. In so doing let us hear Him impart to us, and receive, the priceless proclamation and command, “Thy sins are forgiven thee. Arise; go and sin no more!” 

This “treatment” of receiving forgiveness may have to be sought multiple times throughout life in various applications to the “sin within” (original sin), which to say the least is an understatement. So it behooves us to pray according to Psalm 19:12 (NLT), “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults.” 

All of these lurking interior conditions prohibit the manifestation of Christ Love in and through us. God alone by His own infinite love must remove them. Our part (relating as sin sick patient to the Great Physician) is to admit to this and to receive His “treatment” - by grace through faith - which has already been created for us in Christ Jesus: forgiveness, renewal, and restoration. This is the goal of Confession and Absolution. 

We return then to the eye opening request in Psalm 19, this time including verse 13 (Amplified Version): “Who can discern his lapses and errors? Clear me from hidden [and unconscious] faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I shall be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of transgression.” (Highlighted emphasis mine.)

On a personal note - in offering up the essence of this prayer to God - I have begun to perceive where I am impatient (far too much of the time), unkind (a lot more than I want to be), and jealous (due to thinking that much of life has passed me by but has been granted to someone else), or feeling wronged in a myriad of ways which may not even be true or real. Bragging and arrogance may also cloak themselves beneath a facade of colorful pretenses and images of ourself we’d like the world to see. We all wear to some degree or another this thin veneer that is so very easily scratched! Yet if this facade is to be put off and the humility of Christ put on, then being a “put on” must be put off. How so?

This reality can happen, as our sanctification must be a continuation flowing out of our justification: “by grace through faith lest anyone should boast”. Per Ephesians 2:8.

Religious rites and rituals - whether on the one hand extreme with complex liturgies, or the other hand extreme in the direction of the most simplistic praise choruses followed by sermons - are never to become substitutes for our “metaphysical” reality in Christ Jesus. They ought to point to that which already is in Him! Let’s repeat that: Religious rites and rituals are never to become substitutes for our “metaphysical” reality in Christ Jesus. They must point to that which already is in Him! If this is not understood, then we wind up as the ancient Jews, mistaking rituals and procedures as substitutes for relationship with the living God. 

This is not how He intended it, even though the Lord Himself carefully prescribed every detail of ritual for those days, from the layout of temple and tabernacle, to procedures of sacrifice and worship. Why then did He go to all that trouble? It was not so that people would fall in love with religion and rituals, mistaking the forms for reality, but so that when they saw and heard the message of the Messiah and the Gospel enacted in the rituals, they would perceive it and fall in love with Him!

For it was His proclamation of old - through sacrifice, ritual, word, and song - that God was revealing His saving, transforming love through Jesus Christ. God, Who is Spirit and Creator, revealed His Way of Love for us, physical and human, received  by grace through faith. He was revealing through these forms the Way to transcend our fallenness and defilement through the remission of sins by the application of forgiveness so that we can love as Jesus loves. 

This is, always has been, and ever shall be so, only through the blood of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. Redemption and salvation are by Jesus Christ alone, Who has ransomed us from sin, death, and the authority of the evil one! He has made us once more His own, “that we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. This is most certainly true.” (From The 2nd Article, Luther’s Small Catechism.)

Let us never fall prey to getting lost in ritual! It is story. It is communication of the drama of salvation - enacted, spoken, and sung. But it is not an end in itself, no matter how simple, or contrastingly ornate or beautiful (with potential toward burdensome works). Let us relate to it as it is - visible, auditory,  and participatory “word” - a tool revealing Christ, pointing to Christ, in all His splendor and authority, in Whose already finished redemption is the extension of the forgiveness that brings about the remission of our sins.

I’ve often prayed about what forgiveness really means, wanting to know and to understand this working of the Lord. It has taken many years of asking, seeking, and knocking. It seems a simple thing to many people, but not for me. What has been revealed is but a fraction of what is to come!

How so? The proclamation of the forgiveness of sins is the medicine that brings about the remission of sins - the inherent, congenital, terminal condition which is upon fallen humankind. This means everyone! This proclamation is God’s grace directed to all who are fallen under this condition, abiding in death and darkness. Forgiveness is announced, for example, in liturgy, upon confession of our sinfulness. How receptive are we to what we are hearing? Do we receive it and participate in it in life?

The Spirit, through the truth proclaimed, must “overshadow” every human soul contained in man who is physical being. (Just as Christ was physically produced in Mary through the Spirit, so He is to be spiritually reproduced in us!) Forgiveness is the “axe” of the power of the Word of God being laid to the “root” of the sinful condition within man, for it cannot exist in the same space as the Light of God. Simultaneously, with each blow of the axe, a soul is set free from sin, self (ego/pride), and Satan’s power. The Holy Spirit, every time forgiveness is pronounced and received, makes His inroads - destroying the old regime and supplanting and replacing it with the Kingdom of Heaven. 

We are God’s “inheritance” in and under the Lordship of Christ Jesus, precious to Him beyond imagining! This is what forgiveness restores to us - the right to become the sons of God! What a marvel! With this “declaration” comes transformation - to be made Christlike through the Blood of the Lamb! We could even say “sublimation” - not in the Freudian sense - but by the spiritual sense of Holy Spirit’s work of elevating us through purification, converting something inferior (due to the Fall) into something of highest worth to our Heavenly Father.

This is not theology only, but the reality into which we are called to participate in Christ Jesus. Are we, or are we not, new creations in Him? That is the question. We become new creations as we are born again of water and the Spirit. But as all newborns, we must grow in grace and knowledge of God through Christ.

It is the action of the Unseen Almighty’s love that never gives up on mankind or individual human beings. Purification means that through much tribulation we enter the kingdom of heaven (and the kingdom of heaven enters us!) Darkness must be supplanted by the Light of Christ within us. Yet it is never by the hand of man - who is the recipient of this work. Seeing our shortcomings and where they will take us, there’s nothing for it but to surrender fully to the all consuming Love of Christ under the direction of the Holy Spirit and receive forgiveness.

What anciently rooted itself in the race of humanity through deception is such an insidious thing that it cannot be approached in the power of humanistic self effort. We are no match for the adversary. This sin condition is of such an altogether “alien” Luciferian construct and magnitude of being, that it is only by way of forgiveness through the Blood of Jesus Christ that there is sufficient power against it! Let us never underestimate the value of forgiveness!

We see this exemplified in the Old Testament accounts of Israel coming against the giants who ruled the Promised Land. There was no natural strength against them to be found in the efforts or weaponry of Israel on it own. Overtaking and conquering them could only be accomplished at the Word of the Lord. When Israel was faithful to the Word of the Lord, the occupational forces were routed. It was the only way.

What a blow to self effort is this realization! This has to be the revelation of Paul to the Church: it is not, it never was, nor shall it ever be by our own might or power; but this “regime change” within us must be strictly by the power of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Word of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. This is how we not only receive forgiveness, but are transformed and the likeness of God in us is restored (That likeness is love!). Where Peter was given the revelation of the identity and therefore the authority of Jesus Christ, Paul was given the Word of revelation on how His kingdom is to be built upon the foundation, the Rock! And unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it. (Per Psalm 127:1)

It is so easy for human ego to become enamored of offering God religious works, and this easily morphs into religious pride which always stands like a mountain in the way of the all-sufficiency provided by God in Christ. When that mountain exalts itself, it stands in the way of Christ's love and likeness being formed in us. When man thinks he has a better “religious” way, ironically all that he does is to shake his fist in God's face as he sings, “I do it my way.”

May we ever be wary, diligent, and vigilant about the deception of religious forms replacing the reality of the substance that belongs to Christ alone and our relationship to Him built on that. Certainly religious forms can be beautiful and intriguing drama presenting the salvation story, but if they supplant it as reality - and this happens often and easily since idolatry lurks in the hearts of men - let us ever speak to that mountain and say, “Be thou cast down and leveled never to rise again. Stand down and take your place!" 

So be it according to Your word, O Lord God, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ all powerful, all sufficient name. Amen.

PS: One would think that the prophetic unfoldments circa 70 A.D. should have been sufficient evidence of the message to the churches about God’s dealing with such devices. Yet man continues to substitute ritual for the reality of relationship with Him, in the face of the cry from the cross, “It is finished!” Let us surrender ourselves to God for forgiveness and repentance of having substituted any other way that supplants His Way through Christ Jesus! Amen.

Respectfully submitted, Soli Deo Gloria!

Apr. 4, 2018

I was just thinking about the story of "the two" on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35. It's amazing to me how every time I read Scripture, I notice something a little different, or something I did not comprehend before in some passage I've read dozens of times before. Or it raises another question. Such is the case here.

This account seems to point to the idea that it takes the Lord to open one's eyes to some things, and that will happen when we are ready to see it. It happened to "the two". It happens to me often when reading a passage I've read dozens of times before. There is always more to see, sometimes more than meets the eye! Does that happen to you as well?

Two men were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It was about seven miles. Only one of these men is named - Cleopas. Who the other was the story does not say directly. That's the first thing I noticed with this reflection on the Word - that only one of them was named. 

They are joined by a third man. It is the risen Jesus Christ, but they do not recognize Him. They lament to Him of the events of the past week, how all their hopes were dashed because their Lord had been crucified. What puzzled them further was that some of the women who were followers of His had come to them and had spoken of having a vision of angels who said He was alive! Then some of them also went to the tomb to discover that He was not there, but they did not specifically see Him alive.

 So Jesus begins to open the Scriptures to them from Moses to the Prophets, as to how it all revealed Him, But still they did not recognize Him Who was walking with them. Since it was growing late, they extended hospitality and asked Him to stay with them.

During supper "... He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight." (Now you see Me; now you don't!)

How much this sounded to me like that last time He and the twelve had dined together, when He blessed the bread and the wine, and said, "This is My body; this is My blood."

They were so thrilled at having had this encounter with their risen Lord, that they returned immediately to Jerusalem to find the eleven and those who were with them, to testify that the Lord was indeed alive.

For some reason I had always been under the impression that "the two" were of the number of the original twelve disciples. Since they were finding the eleven (minus Judas) (soon to be Apostles), it stands to reason that "the two" were followers of Jesus but not among the original twelve, which is also something different that I noticed with this reading.

The last verse, after they walked all the way back to Jerusalem, after Jesus vanished physically, reads, "Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when He broke the bread."

Somehow this reminds me of a line from an old hymn, "O blest communion, fellowship divine..."

Holy Spirit, Please open the eyes of our hearts and our understanding, that we - also, always, and only - may be believers, perceivers, and receivers of such comprehension as enjoyed by "the two", and may know true fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whose precious name we ask this. Amen.

Mar. 31, 2018

Matthew 7:1-5 NASB. “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Here Jesus goes for the bullseye, right between the eyes, we might say. He has previously used the idea of the clear or single eye to reveal the necessity of having only the kingdom of heaven as our sole (soul?) preoccupation, unfettered from the concerns of the world. Once more He directs our view inward toward our own faults. The Amplified Version puts it this way (verse 3): “Why do you stare without at the very small particle that is in your brother’s eye, but do not become aware of and consider the beam of timber that is in your own eye?” He is directing us to look within with penitential intention.

The issue is, am I seeing my neighbor’s particle or my own beam (or sliver and log, per some translations)? Why is it that our Lord and Master always seems to point out His perfect view of inconvenient truths about our actual interior condition, when we’d rather point out someone else’s according to our imperfect view? What is going on here is perhaps that, while we’re noticing and even judging someone else’s imperfections, we’re failing to notice the truth about what needs to change within ourself. Yet we do not want to repent of it. Instead we may project that sin or flaw or fault onto someone else. We see our flaws in theirs, but do not wish to own up to it. According to verse 2, there a comeuppance involved in this - by our standard of measure it is measured to us.

But if we are seeing prayerfully and clearly what needs to change within us, by the searchlight of the Holy Spirit, so that the Kingdom of heaven may further advance in our own interior, we may have to admit to and confess a serious log jam! When we come from a view of self examination and true repentance, we will not be staring from without so as to fault find or judge our brothers and sisters.

This is not to say we will never notice anything about anyone else, yet it’s important not to use it to gossip or harshly criticize them. Often this is done to bolster our own ego so we can feel superior, but at the end of the day, that little emperor does not wish to acknowledge his own nakedness.

Instead we might try a different approach if we have a dim perception about someone else: We could use it as a mirror of reflection - turning our gaze interiorly as a point of self examination. We might instead come before the Lord in quiet prayer, asking, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23,24)

Jesus lovingly desires this for our eternal good, which always brings Him glory. When we see our own log or beam for what it is, we can then bring it to the cross, where we see this crucified and dead in Him. That is the awful cost of our sin and the transgressions that come from this fallen condition. Here at the foot of the cross, we cry out the penitent’s prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” 

He will never fail to bestow the forgiveness granted there through Jesus Christ. And we also hear Him say, “Go, and sin no more.”

In considering and confessing our own sinful log jam, we can admit that our eye has not been clear and single, but it has wandered where it should not, just as adulterously as David’s eye wandered toward Bathsheba. Holy Spirit guided conscience keeps the watchful eye to bring us back to where our eye must be, as a kind of inner prophet Nathan, convicting us and at the same time showing the way back to grace and the remission of sin, as we pray with David (Psalm 51);

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. 4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. 6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. 7 Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice. 9 Hide Your face from my sins And blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Your praise. 16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. 18 By Your favor do good to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, In burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then young bulls will be offered on Your altar."

There is work to do, and the truth is not “out there”; it’s “in here”. Jesus “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8) Let us align ourselves, by the power of the Holy Spirit, with the continuation of that good work which He has begun in us, to the glory of His name. Amen.

Mar. 8, 2018

Looking for “spiritual experiences”? Before heading off to the next church or religion on the “quest”, on the “journey”, on the “path” in the pursuit of what you think someone or some organization or institution might have to give to you, where you don’t think you’re being “fed”, how about a look at what’s right in front of you, and has been there all along? Try this one, if you’re looking for a “spiritual practice”.

 

"Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure - pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return." Luke 6:38 (NASB)

Jesus doesn’t even remotely give the impression that the answer lies in complaining about your church, what it doesn’t give you, or how others don’t treat you right. Nor does He suggest switching religions the way people do today - like changing your socks. What He does teach us, by both His own example and His words, is that the Kingdom is here and now, right around us, in front of us. He shows us that by a switch in how we think (renewal of the mind) and turning away from the blame game (repentance), and moving toward complicity with His Way of going about life (putting on the mind / attitude of Christ and surrender of our will to the Father), we can begin to be the catalyst for a transformed life full of answers, instead of questions and struggle and strife.

The above passage of Luke is at first a command followed by a promise. When the Lord makes such a statement, He is revealing a principle of the Kingdom of Heaven - where the experience of blessing flows from obedience to what He is telling us to do, on a consistent basis, as a habit. This is “spiritual practice” at its finest. We’re expected to comply so that we can receive the blessed result! And it comes to fruition rather speedily, since He also promises us, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11. If He has given a principle followed by a promise, in other words, it will happen as advertised, we might say.

This is what might be perceived as a key to the kingdom. It unbinds us from the cycle of want or debt, in which so many people find themselves today. Even if someone is not necessarily on hard times, and may just wish to be a blessing, then see what will happen with a little practice of generosity. 

And there’s one more point where this is concerned - that it’s done quietly without fanfare or bragging on oneself on social media about all the good we do. “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:2-4.

When we give or practice generosity, it’s important to do so very, very quietly. This is a spiritual practice that can be done any time, any day. We do not need to belong to the “right” church. It’s up to us to be as Jesus Christ in this life and world, to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth, both by prayer and the action that springs from the obedience of faith.

PS: Maybe the quietness and anonymity that goes with being generous keeps the ego, which wants notoriety and fanfare, out of it.

Mar. 3, 2018
This may be a bit difficult to follow. But here goes.
 
Sometimes there are situations where you cannot know something for sure - such as how some events actually played out centuries ago, due to lost documentation, various interpretations of those events or, yes, even purposefully redacted history. But because of these events or their impression, there seems to be an "effect" that still exists in the present - what people "believe" happened - and therefore it carries considerable weight with them. So, being convinced that something is of God, they embrace practices which are believed to be "Christian" which may fall under the category of traditions of men - something Christ warned about.
 
Some of these practices may have an impact that has direct bearing on the outcome of one's salvation, since they are out of line with the commandments of God and they muddy the living waters of the Gospel. Others may be quite harmless.
 
I find myself once more questioning a lot of these things. (Have I ever not been one who questions? No, probably not. And as much as it sometimes makes me squirm, I would not have it any other way.) So it becomes obvious that being a rugged absolutist may not be the most workable scenario in life.
 
Yet neither does being wishy washy about most things work very well either. 
 
What's reliable and practical and real? There are time tested beliefs and principles that support and enhance life (Proverbs calls this wisdom), contrasted with what eventually results in destructive ways (called folly). This is where it begins: with what works in life.
 
It pays, in my opinion, to be a healthy skeptic and not necessarily to be willing to hop on just any religious or "spiritual" bandwagon that rolls past. Some of these seem to be trends of late - like the "journey" of church hopping from one denomination to another, where "seekers" may be encouraged and then become convinced to substitute an institution of religion for a relationship with God. Perhaps religion and relationship need not be mutually exclusive of one another. However, caution is advised.
 
Somewhere along the line one must enter into the dialogue with oneself of either "Look before you leap," or, "He who hesitates is lost." I have leaped any number of times without carefully looking (comprehending?) first, and the result is that I'm now more of a hesitater. 
 
It seems as if life has been one big process of sorting through a lot of information, especially in this 21st century relativistic m.o. in which a lot of people are enmeshed. It's a Burger King world - "Have it your way." It is a virtual smorgasbord. We may not be able to hop into a time machine to determine what, for example, Emperor Constantine actually had in mind for the church or the empire that supposedly made history and thus determined belief and practice centuries into the future for many of "the faithful". Nor can we get inside his head or ascertain the source of his dreams and visions.
 
Yet the popular relativism from secular culture added to the mix  of religion makes everything entirely too fuzzy for some of us.
 
We can have clarity on not only perennial wisdom, but on the clear teachings of Jesus Christ that are even greater than the wisdom of Solomon. It is here that I find myself turning, rather than to the past and its haziness, or to the maelstrom of current thinking and ever shifting information and opinions. This requires a singleness of mind without becoming narrow minded, or so open minded that one doesn't know where one stands. It's a mental and spiritual balancing act. We are invited to ask for wisdom, and then move forward in faith without doubting. See James 1:4-6.
 
At this point, my comprehension of the institutional churches for the most part is that they're rather like the Borg mother ship, cruising through the Galaxy and assimilating Cling Ons (deliberately misspelled) throughout the centuries. What they espouse in the way of belief and practice may have little resemblance to what Jesus Christ actually taught and practiced. Yet they will declare themselves to be the "original, only true church". I have encountered this attitude on numerous occasions with a number of denominations or religious cults. And every time I do, that's the indicator to find the nearest exit.