Thursday, March 27, 2014

Unabolished Law

 We do not love more than Christ did. This has been a repeating idea in several of the books i've recently read, and it's true. As much as we water down the Gospel to make it purely "loving," we overlook the idea of Christ in the temple with a whip, shouting, and throwing tables. He also spoke truth to people's sin, cast out demons from people who hadn't asked for prayer, and had little regard for public opinion when He spoke. Much of what He said was harsh.
 We skip much of the Old Testament because, frankly, God just seemed rather ticked off. We don't want to mess with God when He's grumpy.
 But here's the thing; we write off unappealing passages and entire books of the Old Testament because, well, we say, "That's Old Testament." Christ fixed all that, didn't He? Who needs Levitical Law when we have Christ? Who needs Deuteronomy, Numbers, or Exodus, either? Might as well drop part of Genesis, too, since it has a mitzvah or two that we aren't overly fond of, right?
 This is idolatry.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law (Torah) or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law (Torah) until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments (mitzvot) and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
 Is Heaven still here? Is earth still here? Then the Law, the Torah (the Law of the books of Moses), does still apply. He, Jesus, even went so far as to say we're not even to relax even the least of them.
 Why would God have written it if only to void it later? Is not the Bible infallible? Is it truth? Or is only part of it of concern for us in the Anno Domini? You may say, "That's Old Testament," but i tell you right now that it is still Testament. If the Ten Commandments are still worth following, why not the rest? I'll tell you why--because the Ten Commandments aren't all that hard! We're okay with them because we can manage them without it creating too much derision between soul and Spirit.

 You may say God's not like that anymore, but i tell you that He is eternal and unchanging! He is the I Am (not to be confused with "I Was;" this is not a temporary statement, but a statement of His nature; He Is)! He does not change like the seasons, He does not go back and forth as the tides.
 You may say He is ruthless, and i would agree; He is ruthless in His pursuit of those He loves. And He is ruthless against those He hates. But how can God hate when God is love? Well, reading over the book of Psalms will confirm that He hates a great many things, including violent and wicked people.
 "But that's not my God," you might say. Precisely. A god made in our finite definition of "good" is much more appealing to us than the universally "good" and true God. To deny the Old Testament God is to deny the One Christ calls "Father."
 He was, He is, and He is to come. Anything that He was, He also is and also will be.

 Do not think this a fit of rage, for this is a moaning of remorse.
 I do not wish to condemn, i only wish to encourage teachers to do what is necessary in order to become "great in the kingdom of Heaven." So often preachers give potent laxative to the order of the Old Testament in some attempt to nullify its authority, but the Word of God is eternal authority, Old or New Covenant. This, again, is an idolatrous misconception. This is a futile attempt to make God in our image, to set Him in a cast to be formed as small, weak, and impotent. The truth of the death of the Law of sin is that the sacrifice has been made.

 I also understand how Paul said that death with Christ and resurrection with Him has made the Law dead to us, but looking at it from Christ's words, the Law is fulfilled and certainly not to be relaxed. The Law of sin, the rituals determined for redemption, this is what is dead to us. The Law has been fulfilled, Christ our provident propitiation. The Spirit descended like a dove, the Lamb was slain, the birds have been rent and their blood spilled and sprinkled with hyssop, whatever it was that had to happen for sin to die, it happened. But that doesn't mean the Law is to be ignored. We can't behave as though it has been relaxed or abolished.

 This is not a free pass to live however we wish. This is a costly pass to enter into the holy of holies, or rather it is a costly pass for the holy of holies to enter into us.

 God was wrathful, He is wrathful, and He is to be wrathful.
 God was ruthless, He is ruthless, and He is to be ruthless.
 God was patient, He is patient, and He is to be patient.
 God was compassionate, He is compassionate, and He is to be compassionate.
 God was merciful, He is merciful, and He is to be merciful.
 Above these things, and Christ our proof, God was love, God is love, and He is to be love.
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)
 Christ is the single offering to prove that God was, and is, and is to be loving, faithful, merciful, and compassionate.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fringes of Revival

 Something is happening in the state of Christianity, and it's both depressing and exciting. The Church is evolving, in a sense. Some ways for the better, some ways not so much.

 For the bad, many of us are becoming more and more like the world, which is tragic. The image of God is becoming the likeness of society, and it's cancerous. We have reasoned the Holy Spirit out of our teachings of the Bible because, frankly, we don't know how to handle Him. He frightens us. Makes us uneasy. What we most see about Him is the unforgivable sin of blasphemy of the Spirit, and so out of fear of committing this sin we instead completely neglect the fact that He is referred to as a Comforter, Advocate, Helper, and the like. And in our exclusion of the Spirit we have made ourselves double-minded and wayward. We can preach and teach, but without the Spirit, it is all hollow. Nevertheless the Gospel has been preached, but what example is a Gospel that has no power for those preaching it?
 When those who are easily influenced see a Christian leader on stage (or anyone merely claiming to be a Christian) living an adulterous life with the world (in love with the things of the world), flippant in morals and loose in conviction, carefree with their words, actions and very thoughts, they think, "Real Christianity doesn't look too hard." What they see presented as "real Christianity" is actually a facade.
 When a person's public life and private life have shewn themselves to be entirely at war, it's easy to think they have two kingdoms at war with one another inside of them, but there is only one, and that kingdom is capable of showing itself as a work of "light."

There is supposed to be a difference, and it's supposed to reflect at all times instead of in beneficial circumstances alone.

 Here's the good; not to say it's exclusive to any specific age-group, but this has caused a great mass of young adults in the 18-24 year old age bracket to stand up and say, "We will be different!" There is a great nation of believers who have grown worse than cold; they have grown lukewarm. But like Joshua and Caleb, some are taking their stand and saying, "Choose this day who you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve YAHWEH!" and, in essence, "Though there be giants about, the greater the struggle, the greater the glory!"
 It is indeed far worse to be lukewarm (or halfhearted) and to act like being saved is no big deal, because it shows no power of redemption to those who are lost; it causes them to see something that can be ignored because it has all the appearance of being a mere option. This damages the image of Christ. If He has saved you and called you His own, you are a new creation, not in part but in whole, and you are not the same. If you are truly saved, you are no more of this world than He was when He walked the earth. We need to get our mind right and act not just like something changed in us but that we are not at all the same. After all, it's not for our glory but for His that He has saved us.

 There are those who have contrasted the halfhearted and apathetic by becoming radicals. We call them radicals, at least. These are, simply put, those who have conceded to the fact that they're remade, reborn, and reformed in His image. These radicals are those who, when they walk into a room (or a church), every head turns. The mutterings of various conversations become hushed tones. They bear an image unlike anything commonplace, they exude something like conviction but also like love. And everyone notices how drastic the difference in these people is. Before a word is spoken by them, people say in their hearts, "I want to know what that peace and grace is like."
 It's been my prayer to one day be so apparently born of this unworldly race that people feel the love of God flowing from me in such a manner.

 It is something to be striven for, of course, but i've tried hard enough to know that it can't be managed by my own strength or will. It doesn't take as much fight as it takes surrender.
 To quote a band called My Epic,
"I used to think I had to write these songs just so.
For Heaven's sake and for my own, I put myself through Hell,
But I quit striving for perfection; surrendered up to it instead.
And now the songs keep pouring out, and I cannot contain myself."
 (from the song, "Lazarus")

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

One Bad Apple

 There are certain things that have a cascading effect. Sin leads to sin leads to sin; where sin abides, sin increases. Where faithfulness abides, faithfulness increases. Over the ages, i'd like to say God has, in some aged-like-fine-wine sort of way, become more faithful, but that's not so. The moment of absolute faithfulness to His people was the moment when He said, "Let there be light!"
 I say this because He already existed as omniscient and total. He did not need light, for He was already the light (we are given the image of the Spiritual "light" of God in Revelation 21, where it says, "And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb."). That means the first Word of creation was for us, not His, yet it was for His glory.

 Without getting too far off-track, let me explain the cascading effect; if you have a seed you can plant it and it will grow; if properly pollinated, and granting you don't cut the bloom(s), it will go to seed. If it is allowed to go the way of nature, it will drop several seeds, each one creating a new plant. Each one of those will multiply and, before several seasons have passed, one seed has taken over an entire field.
 Another example is the all-too-familiar saying, "One bad apple spoils the bunch." Basically, during the decomposition process of certain fruits, ethylene is emitted, and that speeds the ripening process and, soon thereafter, rots neighboring fruit prematurely. One rotting apple in a bag or basket causes the adjacent to begin to decay, and it subsequently "infects" the next, and so forth. Potatoes do this, too.
 So there are two metaphors in nature for this effect, one showing how good things multiply if left to their natural devices, and one showing how things turn sour if not quarantined immediately.

 To apply this in the Spiritual, as said, sin creates sin successively. What starts as "minor" sins, such as envy, can, if not put into submission, grow into a "major" sin, such as theft. Anger turns into hate and then into violence and finally into murder. Lust into adultery, gossip into slander, and so on. This is why the emotion of sin is the same as the sin itself. It must be killed before it takes root, before a bruise on the apple festers and spreads.
 Likewise, faithfulness does the same; one act of faithfulness will, if not put into submission, result in another. Giving a few cents could, through the same process of virulence, eventually lead a person to buy lunch for a stranger or far better things.
 These are but simple examples, and there are far more profound ones, but they suffice for the intended message.

 And, while i could never hope to be an example of sinlessness (that is Jesus alone; i'm merely a shade of the first Adam that is trying to stand in the Light of the Second Adam), i've come to understand the key ingredient to quelling sin; love. That sounds generic and cheesy, but it's a very solid truth. A great love results in great faithfulness; if you love your spouse you will not cheat on her, if you love your child you will not withhold necessary things, if you love your parents you will not do what they said not to. On the contrary, if you love your wife you will love showering her with affection and adoration, if you love your child you will discipline them and cherish them, if you love your parents you will do what they ask of you without grumbling. Love creates devotion. To love God is to obey Him. To love God is to honor Him. To love God is to run to Him in times of distress, as a child to their Father.

 I have tried to fight sin on my own terms, in my own means, and failed every single time. This is no coincidence. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and that's not an excuse; it's a fact. The times i've run to God, cried out, "I love You" to Him when being assaulted, though, He turns my focus away from whatever it is that's leading me away and turns me back to Him.
 This is why loving God is the greatest commandment; it causes us to eagerly obey the others. This is why loving our neighbor is the second; it causes us to get the focus off the bad of ourselves (sin) and onto the good of others. In other words, our desire for sin becomes a desire for God when we love Him and others instead of ourselves. Make a point of doing a small act of love and it will beg another. Continue sowing the seeds of faithfulness and it will turn into joyous servitude, but will also turn you away from prideful sin.
 Our cure for sin is genuine love, for God and for our neighbors/enemies. Here's how; envy, when quelled with love, is turned into generosity, anger is into hope for the object of your bitterness' well-being, gossip into encouragement, et cetera.
 Abide in love, and you will abide in obedience and uprightness. Where sin is sown, sin will continue to spread. Where love is sown, love will abound.

 If we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, joy in obedience as well as refuge from Satan's attacks shall be added unto us (i firmly believe these to be included in "all these things". After all, if seeking that first had no Spiritual promise it would hardly be meritorious, and every last word of Christ is laced with merit.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Costly Grace or Free Grace?

 After reading a paragraph i find to be borderline heretical from a book that has been otherwise wonderful, i am left with a writhing discomfort, grumbling and angry.
The specific quote is, "Paul understood that preaching truly free grace could lead a person to think they can live in sin. That's how amazing and how free God's grace is. We haven't truly preached grace in all its freeness until people say, 'Soooooo, does this means I can keep living in sin?'"
 I understand the idea here; he's not saying that we should live in sin, but he is presenting a false sense of grace if people do think it was without cost. I'm not into the free grace message. In fact, it makes me nauseous to think of grace being free. Indeed, it is something without monetary cost; the poor in Spirit are those who are called blessed and will be filled. To follow Christ wherever He goes is to be without home or pillow or even food for the next day. It's something that apparently favors the poor and, therefore, might seem "free." But it's the farthest thing from free, and i can't sit and hear the message of a costless grace without verbal objection or at least a sorely clenched jaw.
Psalm 4 says, "Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord."
 Realize the importance of the progression here. First, be angry. Second, do not sin. This is an anger that stirs up for the sake of something being righted, such as a misrepresentation of grace. Following that anger is contemplation and a great searching-after, such that keeps us up at night, perhaps tossing and turning, perhaps exchanging our comfort of sleep for night-long prayer sessions. After this, we are to be silent; to listen; God will speak, and we must listen or else we act in rash haste that leads to destruction. Then offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

 Grace comes without monetary price, but it is actually the costliest thing in the universe.
 Giving up things for God has proven to be greatly beneficial for me. Albums, hobbies, movies, shows, what-have-ye. Giving these things up does not grant me any kind of righteousness, for righteousness comes from Christ alone. It does, however, clear out room in my self, which allows Christ to have more room within me.
 This is why we are dead to the law; we are no longer "bound" by the law, which means it's no longer a burden or a chain or an enslavement. It is now a joy. When i do something that i know Christ would want me to do, i become enthused because i know i'm making Him smile. It fires me up to do something else, something bigger, something better. It stirs up the desire to please Him even more. The more distractions and earthly joys i am rid of, the more joyous i am to let them go. This is how we're not bound by it; because it is now a joy.

 And that is not the cost of grace, that's me getting sidetracked. Let's look at that last verse once more; "Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord."
 Offer right sacrifices; sacrifices holy and acceptable, or pleasing, to the Lord. And the sacrifice God wants us to make is of ourselves. He wants us. This is why included in the Word of God is a verse that says, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship"

 To present ourselves wholly to God as a sacrifice, just as Jesus was sacrificed for us. That's the cost of grace right there; Jesus was sacrificed for us. Our grace did not come cheap, and it did not come free. It came at the price of, "Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
 If you tell me that grace is free, we're going to have issues. If it didn't cost you the life of the One who loves you without condition, your greatest treasure, then you need to pull yourself off the throne of your heart and take a stroll to your own personal Golgotha and weep at the foot of His cross for a while. If we haven't preached a message of grace that makes someone say, "Sooooo, i loathe myself for what i've done,"* we're not preaching the true cost of the cross of Christ. This is often overlooked, but one of the greatest things that leads us to repentance is guilt. Worldly sorrow leads to death, godly sorrow to repentance. If we mourn like the world we will die like the world, but if we have sorrow like Christ's (note the accounts and causes of His weeping) we will be led to repentance.
 Grace is costly. It cost us Christ, the Word of God. It costs us ourselves as we present ourselves as living sacrifices. It is not free, and to see it as a "get out of Hell free" card is an abuse. It is not merely a means of being saved ourselves, but a means of salvation to the whole world for the glory of God. After all (as stated in a prior post), to break down "Redemption," which is the chief aspect of grace in our lives, in etymological terms, means to be "bought back." The very term implies a great cost.

"Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations." (Ezekiel 36:31)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ye Rocks, Full of Glory

Before reading this, i urge every reader to look up Psalm 139 and reflect on it for a few moments. For sake of ease, here are links to it in the ESV, NKJV, NASB, KJV, and NIV. Now there's no excuse that you couldn't read it because you didn't have a Bible handy.

 It has been upon me to condemn sin much lately, as it seems oft-overlooked because we're afraid of offending people. Of course we should never be malicious, and our intent should always be out of the two greatest commandments; love for God, and love for our neighbor. It's easy to get our motives mixed up, and the best method of correction (of self) is solitude with God. Prayer, reading His Word, and meditation.
 But this post runs a different course.

 Honestly, i'm not into the whole, "God showed me this while i was counting change the other day," thing. Story-telling, especially that of true stories, has never piqued my interest as a person reading or hearing about God. Even C.S. Lewis' story-telling, though his fiction is a thing of beauty and deserving of much respect, his true-to-life reflections make reading seem slow at times (in this far-from-connoisseur's opinion). But nevertheless, he had learned something, and felt the original medium in which it was originally revealed to be the most obvious approach when it came time to relay it. And so true-to-life story-telling of the mundane is not without purpose.
 So here's an attempt at relaying a lesson taught to me.

 This past Tuesday while on our way home from running some errands, my dad and i were stopped at a light, and across the street in the ditch was some tall coastal grass (about waist-high, depending on how tall you are - i guess it could've been about calf-high to Goliath or about chest-high to Nicodemus). The sun was setting, the wind was blowing softly, and the waves in the stalks were some of the most beautiful i've ever seen. If you've ever watched The Count of Monte Cristo, during the fight between Edmond and Fernand in the barley field; that's how this looked save the budding sorghums. With ripples reflecting in the distance had that fake-looking sheen to it that's often seen in cloud-filled, copper sunsets. My dad and i concurred that it was a beautiful sight, and we exchanged similar and generalized, "God is good," kind of statements.
 But as plain as it is -just grass- it's something glorious. It's something holding onto that original design of God. Though it's been several thousand years since He created the first blades of grass, it still retains the same makeup as the original design. It reaches Heavenward and, like the Seraphim, cries out, "Holy, holy holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!"

 From the grassy lawns to the baby still being knitted together in the womb, the earth speaks -screams even- of His glory. In verse sixteen of Psalm 139 (did you read it??), it says that He saw our unformed substance. All the glory we may give to God was presumably hidden in the earth, yet nevertheless it was there, in the earth in those ages from whence (this is the result of reading English literature; please pardon) we came to be. When He spoke the earth into being along with the quadrillions of stars in the universe, He saw the dirt He would form us with. And He designated a portion of glory to it that we might give back to Him. That glory is in you, crying out to be released back to Him.
 There is glory in the very carbon atoms of those blades of grass, and He designed it to give glory back to Himself. And if we won't return it, yea, even the rocks will cry out. He will be glorified.

 Truly, the earth is full of His glory, and it cannot be contained.
 We may try to withhold it, but our bones, dry and dusty as they may be by the time of His magnificent return, will be helpless but to shake and rattle and shout in chorus with the rocks, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!"
 There is no better place to start this exudation than by seeking the light of His glory, Jesus Christ. Only when He resounds within can He resonate without.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Taming The Tongue

 Cussing is not mentioned directly in the Bible, therefore we have no legitimate (read: Scriptural) authority to say that it's a sin. So i don't say it is one. This is merely a collection of some of the reasons i (emphasis on the fact that this is the personal conviction of one who is far from being scholarly) believe Christians shouldn't cuss and why i put such a weight on the utterings of our lips (especially those in thoughtless response to disaster).

 We all -or at least most- know that verse that says that what comes from the mouth is the overflow of the heart. As Matthew 15 puts it,
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (v. 10-20)
 That's puts a great weight on words. Even still, it does not denote cussing specifically. This is rather towards instruction and teachings; every plant that God has not planted will be rooted up (every teaching not from God will be destroyed); and if the blind lead the blind then both fall into the pit. Whatever instruction we subject ourselves to is the same way; it will be rooted up if it's not from God, and those we let ourselves be led by, if blind they be, will lead us into the same pit. Whatever instruction you receive extra-Biblically, be careful that it does not enter the heart without first being subjected to the Word of God.

 Here in Romans, Paul mentions the great importance on the tongue;
...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
 With the mouth, there is a matter of  confession made unto salvation. It's not simply words that come from the mouth, but the extension of the heart. If our heart is driven by God, our words will be from God and, therefore, good (we will share the Gospel -literally Good News- with our mouth). If our heart is evil (or not of God), we can still lie about being righteous but even the profession of righteousness is unholy. The very saving power of Christ works in our heart, but it is not brought to fruition until it reaches our lips as confession.
 We may confess without coming to salvation, but we cannot come to salvation without confession.

 James has some of the stronger depictions of the importance of what we say;
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)
 The essence of this is (along with the following passages), if we do not control our tongue, it will control us. Our belief system, our faith and our hope, is worthless if we do not "bridle [our] tongue[s]." Living in the world but not being of it is the only way we can be unstained from the world. We must wear the armor of God if we're to keep our inner-man from dirt, filth, bruising and beatings. Part of that armor, the shield of faith, mandates works in order to remain. These works, which reinforce our protection from the proverbial elements, are those such as visiting orphans and widows in their affliction; the works of faith which include consoling the mourning, giving to the needy, listening to the heavy-hearted, speaking to the empty, and the like. Of course, there are more works than these, these are but simple examples we may start with in everyday life.
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. (James 3:2-5)
 James, the same fellow who stated that religion without temperance is worthless, says that the tongue is boastful, and that if we do what we say we are perfect in our ability to control our every action.
 The imagery of the ships' rudders is one that strikes me quite profoundly; even if the winds are blowing eastwardly, a skilled sailor may use the sails and rudder to direct a ship westwardly. Likewise, if we are living a way of righteousness, the rudder must be controlled correctly; we must not allow this small member to turn us off-course.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (v. 5-8)
 This is the specific direction the tongue would try to set us; Hell. The Truth shall set us free, we often hear, but how much easier a lie is to tell. Not only that, we don't have to keep track of what story has been told when only the truth is. It's our nature to lie, to blaspheme, to spew wrath or poison, because we have a tongue that craves it. Our throats are an open grave, and the venom of asps is under our lips; what comes from us is deadly unless we are able to control it. Antibodies come from venom. Fire burns forests, but a clean fire purifies. The tongue is a great weapon or a great tool, never to be underestimated, and the natural inclination is evil because it is "set on fire by hell."
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (v. 9-12)
 This, the final passage i'll use, says that we inevitably do one of two things with the mouth; bless or curse. It is impossible to genuinely praise God with holy lips (see Isaiah 6 for reference) if we use them to curse. These curses are perpetuated by the same whose prayers are detestable to God. If we sing a shout of Hallelujah praise, or if we join the chorus of the Seraphim in a reverent, "Holy, holy, holy," or if we go into the closet and pray in silence, it churns the heart of God with repulsion if we spew venom outside of these scenarios. Sadly, i've watched people who commonly and unabashedly make vile remarks about people based on appearance or accent or vocabulary six days a week raise their hands in praise to their Maker within the walls of the church on Sunday, but it pains me to consider that their worship is met with detestation by God. They have cursed the image and likeness of God; how can they bless that from which these people were formed? It would be a lie to say i've never done this same thing, and it's shameful to admit, but it is growing less common with help from the experienced Pilot.

 The first reaction to a frightening or disastrous scenario is perhaps the greatest insight to what the heart is filled with.
 This is precisely why taming the tongue, be it against lies or slander or blasphemy (or, though unmentioned, cussing), is so important. And this is impossible by our own work. It can only be done with the help of God.


What is "good"?

There have been several times as of late where i've heard that term used (usually as it escapes my lips while describing a book, food, a movie, someone's goodwill, you get the idea), and it's struck in me a great need of dissection of it. After all, Jesus said to call no man good for God alone is good (trying to quote Luke 18 by memory; it's something of that facsimile). So what do we call good? God called creation good, so is the land good? Is light good? Is the separation of darkness and light good? Vegetables, fruit, animals, is everything good?

Everything about creation was good except for one thing; God saw that it was specifically not good for man to be alone (which is a completely different topic altogether in the literal sake, but it fits into this). It wasn't good because the light was good by nature; he did not call the darkness -a thing which cannot be measured- good, but rather the light -which can be measured in lumens- was good. The waters came together and it was good. The birds according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kind, the plants according to their kind; these were good because they were representations of God's creativity. They were good because the waters came together (in fellowship became seas). Plants and animals reproduced their own kind and were, therefore, good.

The Word of God, through which all things were made, is good. Creation was good because it reflected God's personality (Word or, Logos). Adam did not just reflect God's personality; Adam was given the likeness of God, as well as the "breath of life," which also translates into "Spirit of life." He didn't bear a resemblance of God's creative personality, he looked like God, and had God's Spirit in him (i doubt Adam was a physical depiction of God, but he was created in the image of God). But there was no proxy of creation in Adam. He was alone and could not, like everything else in creation (excepting light, which was good to be kept separated from dark), be in like company, procreate or, if you will, wield the creative aspect of the personality of God.
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good... (Genesis 1:31)
Despite the alinearity of Genesis chapters one and two, i believe the term "very good" was reserved for after the creation of Eve because God saw in chapter two that it was not good for man to be alone, and when God saw the entirety of His creation, it was very good.

Then we tried things our way and things became very not good.

Creation stopped reflecting God correctly. The various animals and vegetation according to their kinds continued on, but even the ground was cursed. That makes things pretty well ugly. There was some sort of funhouse mirror effect where creation now looked back at God through a glass darkly. He saw sin whenever He looked at man.

For a long while, things here on earth were graced by moments of "goodness" from God, but we ceased to be good. In fact, we are called evil several times, and rightly so. One of the most intense occurrences being from Genesis 6;
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (v. 5-7)
That is a very in-depth look into how He felt. Wickedness was great, every intention of the thoughts of our hearts was only evil continually. We perpetuated nothing except evil. Our offspring were a curse, for wickedness consumed them. And though some may say that we're not evil by nature, i want to ask when the last time a child had to be taught to spew wrath, have a fit of anger, be selfish, lie, or any sort of evil thing was? Every inclination is only evil continually.
Nothing of ourselves says charity, not even our giving when it's not directed by God; if we make the choice to give to the poor and the needy, if the choice is not God working in us, we are looking for recognition, either by our fellow man, from God, or our own pride (as said in a prior post, pride and love are often confused for one another).
There is no such thing as a genuinely good deed done by man. There is no wisdom from man, only from God; the wisdom of man, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, leads to atheism, nihilism, universalism, and various other faulted philosophies. Even theology of God, if not wrought out of prayer and meditation and inspired by God, is a crippling theology.

Through Christ, however, there is redemption.
Many people see redemption as being set free from a prison, but the etymological definition is something i find most humbling. Re (back) + emere (buy or take).
Redemption is not just being set free, it's being taken back or bought back.
Through Christ, the Word of God, that through which all things were made and made good, we again have the Spirit of God in us, and through Him the creative purposes of "Let there be" and "He blessed them" return. We are taken back. Through Him, good comes to us (or else we come to good; take your pick) again. Good takes us back when we are redeemed.
Through Christ, we can be many people of one Spirit in true fellowship with God, the original and beautiful intention of creation. For this reason, we are not to forsake meeting with fellow believers. I'm not saying you have to go to a church to be Christian (that's above my authority to choose, praise God), but to see and reflect the creative and harmonious image of the idea of creation it is a necessity. It is not good for man to be alone. When we fellowship and several individuals come together in one heart, one mind, and one Spirit for the sake of glorifying God, it is very good.

To answer that initial question promptly, only God is good. But God takes us back from not good through the blood of Christ.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Pride and Love

 We should never discount love as the greatest tool to win hearts to Christ. Our love for people should be our wordless proof of faith. Without love, we surely have only pride which was the very cause of Satan's fall. Sadly, these two, though opposites (love being submission of the 'self' in order to elevate others, whereas pride, not hate, is the glorification of the 'self' in order to put down others), can tread a very thin line.
 Allow me to quote the second verse of a song much more eloquent on the subject than i could ever hope to be ("Failing In Love" by Cool Hand Luke).
"Would you tell me if you knew that I was dying,
Some sort of parasite that got into my brain?
Would I tell you that I thought that you were lying,
Ignoring evidence, ignoring all the pain?
There’s too much sugar, too much water."
 In the first verse, Mr. Nicks (the lyricist/vocalist) even goes so far as to say that if we don't speak the truth, if we don't proclaim the whispers in our ears from the rooftops, we have become the enemy of those perishing, not by saying the unsaved are dying.
 In that second verse, love takes an entirely new light, one where we plead with people for caution.

 Instead of tolerance for sin, we have an urgency. We must not lose tolerance for people, but culture is entirely different. We can love individuals and still remain vehemently opposed to the culture they come from--that we come from. More often than not, anger towards society is seen as self-righteous and hypocritical. After all, who hasn't sinned? Christ alone.
 If hypocrisy is about me, it is born of fury against the state of society. I am not claiming to be perfect. God knows how terribly flawed and vile i have been and am. It's human nature.
 If i am a garden, and Song of Songs says i am, and God is a Gardener, and i think He is, and my flesh is a weed, and i know it is, i must apologize for how busy He must be from pulling weeds.

 Love, again, i say is our surest vessel of bringing hope to a world dying. Love is what caused the men in Jerusalem to "sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed [there]" (Ezekiel 9:4). These men are the ones who were not sentenced to execution. These men received a mark on their foreheads (perhaps like the seal of God on the foreheads of those who were to remain untouched mentioned in Revelation 9?).
 Love scarcely comes without a word of caution. In fact, it's not a great dare to say most acts of love are a word of caution.
 So here is a word of caution to those who are in Christ: Weep. Mourn. Rend garments in your sorrow for the souls who do not know the hope that lies in you.
 A word of caution to those not in Christ: "Go and sin no more." We (Christians) do not condemn you because we are all as guilty as you; we are forgiven, and beg of you to turn from your sin and ask forgiveness from God as well.
 Condemning a person's sin is not condemning a person, and this brings me back to the first paragraph.

 Love and pride sometimes walk so close together as to be confused with one another, and we must daily kill our pride lest our love become self-motivated and, therefore, prideful. It is easy to condemn the sin as though we had never committed the same. It's easy to confuse the sinner with the sin. This is where love and pride are contrasted; love is the desire to see someone become like Christ, pride is the desire to see someone become like us. I do not parrot the boldness of Paul by saying, "Imitate me," for i know my sins and shame (i would, however, when he calls himself bolder in written word than face-to-face). I would rather point to Christ's actions in my life through God's children, and say, "Imitate them." This may be shucking responsibility, but i have a lot harder time resolving myself to sin than God has absolving me . . . Actually, it was much more difficult and painful for God to absolve me of sins. I know because i know what Christ looked like on the cross, bearing no longer any human likeness or semblance. And i know that's what i should look like. This creates a great well of sadness in me, matched only by gratitude.

 Pride and love are often hard to tell apart when it comes from Christians. With that said, woe to those who would use Christ for their own gain, for their reward has already come, and they have stored up treasures not in Heaven but in Hell.
 For them, we should surely pray.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Purpose of "Rules"

We must consecrate ourselves.
That's a term we often misunderstand, but it's one that is crucial in this modern world.
The definition is, according to Merriam-Webster, "dedicated to a sacred purpose."
With television, internet, video games, movies, commercials, sports, and all sorts of hollow pleasures being shoved in our faces, we forget what consecration is. We think we've consecrated ourselves if we don't cuss, don't smoke, don't drink, and we get to church on Sunday. I want to address true consecration, and it will seem extremist in current relation.
There is no bend like on a graph where it follows the social norm. It is a straight line. In fact, it is that very line that the social norm bends away from or towards. It is the standard by which all else is measured.

In Exodus 19, Moses was told to consecrate people and a mountain (Sinai, to be specific). It was so that people were not to eve touch the mountain lest they be executed. This is consecration, and there wasn't even a television set for him to tell people to turn off. This is setting aside something (ourselves) as being so given over to God's purpose that if any worldly thing touches it, we are to sever it.
This doesn't mean to kill people, this means to kill relationships that are drawing us away from God, to rid ourselves of distractions, to cease anything and everything that does not draw us and others into a closer relationship with our Creator. When we give up our earthly identity to find identity in Christ, when we stop seeking anything of this world as a goal and set instead Christ as our sole focus, we have consecrated ourselves. We have dedicated ourselves to a sacred purpose, and this purpose is being like Christ.
In this place of consecration, sanctification is offered to us.

"to make (something) holy."
"to give official acceptance or approval to (something)."
Those are two of the definitions of sanctification. These are the fulfillment of consecration. When we set something apart for sacred use (as we should our everyday lives), we are setting it apart to be holy. This is impossible for man, yet what is impossible for man is possible with God. God brings it to fruition by meeting us in our flawed but striving state, and He puts something wholly righteous within us; His Spirit.
We will never achieve righteousness, holiness, or even something as general as "good" on our own. No one is good except for God. And, for the sake of contrast, i want to point out that what's not good is bad. God created the Heavens and the earth, He made man, and all the things He made, He saw that it was good. Because it resonated with His image and His Word and His Spirit. But when we disobeyed, even the ground was cursed, and there was nothing good on earth any longer. Without His Spirit, we are, simply put, miserable and pitiable beings.
When God meets us and finalizes our act of consecration by sanctifying us, we are still just as flawed of people, we simply have something good living within us.

Here's my point in all of this; we hate rules, we hate boundaries, and we hate restrictions. We hate them because they get in our way of doing what we want. However, when we love God, we don't see these things as hindrances because our goal is to be like Him, and our actions and attitude must change if we are to be more like Him. Rules are very profitable, but not of themselves. I've gone so far as to ask God to increase my convictions so that i may give more of my self to Him, and i would encourage others to consider the same.
If your goal when you wake up in the morning is to not smoke, cuss, drink, have sex, or just sin in general, you're missing it. If your goal when you wake up is to please God, then all these evasions of sin will come as natural as that first yawn. There will be struggles, there will be failures, but trying to please God is the only way out.

To go one step further, living in God's righteousness is a trial, of sorts.
If someone asks to borrow your car and they have a dozen speeding tickets to their name and have had multiple wrecks, are you going to let them borrow it? Probably not. If they have never been stopped nor have they committed any serious traffic violation, you'd be more likely to lend them your keys.
If we are flippant with the life God has given us (in other words, if we are reckless in our convictions, giving way to sin every time a demon rears its head or if we continually feed the 'self'), then God is probably not going to give us the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, nor will He give us the greater gifts of the Spirit. The grace is there, but He wants radicals willing to give up anything or to do anything for Him.
If we don't prove ourselves trustworthy to safeguard and to multiply one gift, or to even nourish it, why would He give us two or five talents when we so miserably failed with the one?
He wants us to try for righteousness. If we don't make the attempt to live as holy beings, He will not entrust us with holy things.

The Cornerstone

There is a theme in American politics about the First Amendment's "freedom of religion," though i find it interesting that the secular culture has tweaked it to mean "freedom from religion." However, freedom of speech is not freedom of speech and, therefore, Christians can not be quieted by the government, nor can any other belief or religious system.

Many think this country should be wholly secular, but that is impossible. The closest thing we could achieve, you might say, is an atheist culture, yet even atheism is a theist belief.
Theism is a belief in a deity (divine being). Divine meaning something with divinity. When we say there is no god, we are saying there are no morals. When we say we have morals, we are saying someone or something at some time reached some point of divination in which a standard behavior was realized. If we say this came from "evolution," then our would-be ancestors were divine. If we say this is ourselves in our own instincts (perhaps the most common), we say that self is divine. If we say it came from society, either as a whole or through some aristocratic group of intellects, we say that society is divine.
But we can not say that it came from evolution, a theory in which barbaric creatures became barbaric man. We can not say it comes naturally, lest we require taught how to kill, steal, lie, and betray (on the contrary, we have to be taught how not to). We can not say it comes from a society or a group of "enlightened" individuals that scratch and claw their way to the top without remorse or thought of others.
Sure, we have individuals that may clarify or even refine certain aspects of behavior, such as, speaking only of Eastern mystics, Mahatma Gandhi, Gautama Buddha, and some of the Dalai Lamas. And these so-called "wise men" are now deified. And they brought nothing that we didn't already know, they merely brought a new sense of accessibility to it. They were breaking no ground; they were, unknowingly, working with what had already been put in place; the preset Cornerstone.
If i widened the field beyond the mystics of far-east religions, it would be by vast majority Christians, most of whom were martyred. With that said, one person above all others refined our sense of coexistence, and that was Jesus Christ. And He brought no new law, either. He fulfilled it. He was and is the Cornerstone that all the other "greats" of morality didn't even realize they were basing their ideas on.

To try and bring this back to the introductory paragraph, Christianity is not political. There is no theocracy in it except that which is in the individual, in which case Christ governs everything in the individual (or at least He should), and then proceeds from said person.
There is theocracy in other religions; Islam, Hinduism, even Buddhism and atheism offer theocracy, yet because there is no change of heart within that comes from these religions, this god-governance must come from without and work its way inwardly. But it can't heal the heart any more than, as the all-too-common phrase goes, "a Band-Aid can cure a cold."
Any true change, any true "goodness" -as we can achieve goodness through Christ alone- must start within and work its way out and not vice-versa.

It is not a Christian idea to oppose moral deficiencies. It may be a Godly one, but it is not inherently Christian in nature. As said, mystics can understand things about God without understanding that it came from God.
Any man or woman can oppose, say, abortion. But it's only a God-fearing person that understands the baby's value from "before [He] formed [it]."
It doesn't take a follower of Christ nor even someone who believes in God to find it a vile, murderous ideal. But it does take a follower of Christ to know that we must "suffer the little children" so that they may come unto Him.
It doesn't take a wise man to know that stealing is wrong and that charity is "good". But only a man who knows God can fully act upon that greatest commandment which is to love God, and the second which is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
It doesn't take Christ in the heart of a person to know what's right and what's wrong. It takes Christ in the heart of a person to fulfill what's right and what's wrong. And though many say they're looking for Christ, little do we realize that He is looking for us as well; He stands at the door and knocks, He is the Voice saying, "Come up here!" He is the One waiting for us to open our hearts to Him. We don't have to look, we just have to open the door and say, "Hello, I made a room for You, please, come on in, make Yourself a home."