Latest Entries »

Parallels

2 Cor 4:7-18

Sometimes life is hard. Bad stuff happens to good people, even those who want to do their best to please God. And this troubles us.

But nobody wanted to please His Father than Jesus Himself, and He suffered more than anyone. And everything in the Christian life has to do with our identification with Him, of our being “in” Him, part of Him, part of His body.

Jesus suffered on earth and died – and rose again.

So do we. This should hardly surprise us. If our Lord suffered on earth, do we think we shouldn’t? And if we suffer the same way – suffering injustice, trial and mortality – we are also promised we will also share in His resurrection.

Jesus endured, for what followed was greater. Likewise our “light affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”. So must we endure, for what lies ahead is greater. We have been promised nothing less than an eternal, physical existence with Him: this is the hope of every Christian.

Marriage and the Culture of Heaven

In the same way that Heaven demonstrates the other-centredness of love, it’s not a leap to see this at work in functional relationships. Lovers are not mercenary when they love their mate; it’s only when they think about what’s in it for them that they become so, and at that instant they cease to love in practical fact.

And this, by the way, explains why cohabitation and casual sex are disapproved of in the Bible.

Marriage is the binding of oneself by an oath to choose to love in spite of feeling; an admission of the fickleness of our hearts, and the taking of a vow to do acts of humility and love – to put the other first in practical fact even when it no longer serves personally or satisfies.

And there is perhaps an important point to make here: Love is a choice and an act before it is a feeling. Many will jettison a marriage because they don’t have the feelings they used to.

But did we expect otherwise? You can’t make yourself continue to feel something by force of will. Your feelings can change as quickly as your digestion or the minute a pretty skirt walks by.

Common law relationships make it easier to reduce love to a consumer relationship since there is no binding vow. They just move out when the relationship gets uncomfortable. That marriage is not honoured as much as before is not that there’s anything wrong with it; people just don’t believe in making a vow they don’t intend to keep. That’s at least honest, but it still puts self before the other; it’s still a consumer relationship instead of a promise.

Love is humble: humility is not thinking of how bad you are, but if thinking of the other before oneself. And that is what a marriage vow is about: that you will put the other first even when it no longer serves. It is love as a positive moral choice, rather than merely a reaction to how the other person makes us feel.

Heaven

“There is nothing in Heaven that the mercenary soul can desire”. CS Lewis

Is it selfish to desire Heaven? I think not, and a moment’s thought makes this plain. Let’s unpack it. A few quick thoughts:

a) God is love.

b) If you think about it, the nature of love is to look outwards, to the other. The Father loves the Son; the Son honours the Father. The Holy Spirit exalts all. God sends His Son for us; Jesus lays aside His glory, is born in a barn and is killed on a cross. He puts us first.

c) This self-abandonment, so evident in the Trinity, is essential to the nature of love. A letting go of ourselves is not so much a requirement as a structural necessity if we are to know God as our Redeemer and Friend. We can’t see Him when our own lives block the light; when God commands love, He invites us to the kind of self abandonment that has always existed in the Trinity.

The culture of Heaven is love and is therefore essentially other-centred. Nobody there seeks their own advancement since they are focused completely on living for and glorifying God.

When Jesus said there was no greater love than the laying down of one’s life for another, He illustrated this and then demonstrated His total commitment to us on the cross. If that’s the kind of love we must have to dwell in Heaven, it’s not hard to imagine there are many who wouldn’t like it there. Those who do desire it already display God’s work on their hearts.

Answers to Prayer

Answers to Prayer and Free Will

We sometimes are troubled that God does not always answer prayer the way we would expect, especially since the Bible tells us that we are precious to Him.

Life still appears random, and we ask ourselves if things are just happening as they would happen. We don’t see God’s hand notable in daily life.

Or we are told He does answer prayer, but if we aren’t seeing Him move it’s because we don’t have enough faith.

I wonder if both ideas misunderstand our real situation.

If God is the Creator and outside of time, we may reasonably expect that He is sovereign and can work all things out according to His plan; and if He truly desires our good, that He hears us. But because He desires relationship with created, finite beings, He must grant them free will so that relationship can be consensual. That’s where things get messy.

If the free will of humanity is a real thing, then it’s nonsense to expect a direct correlation between prayers offered and desired results. There will be notable instances, perhaps even miraculous deliverances; but to get what we want every time we pray is to ask the impossible. Some thoughts:

1) Sometimes there are conflicting needs, situations and desires of praying individuals – whose prayers get answered?

2) God knows what we need better than we do, and if God dwells in the past, present and future all at once as the Bible suggests, He sees outcomes we can’t. We are finite beings who live in time, and we often can’t know the long term results of the answer we desire. He does.

3) Besides this, we may consider that the results of our physical actions are limited by our own physicality and mortality; but when we pray, we invoke a power that stands independent of time. Prayer could be a much more powerful force, and a Heart greater than our own must balance our requests against our ultimate good and His plan for the universe.

4) And sometime we ask amiss, for our own pleasures. We trust our own hearts a little to easily: yet the Bible tells us the human heart is wicked and deceitful; self-centredness is the default position of the human heart. Even among His chosen, we must unlearn a lifetime of looking out for number one, and sometimes what we ask for has some of this in it.

But what about when we have done nothing wrong, and God just doesn’t seem to be there?

5) I wonder if God sometimes answers prayer in large strokes, with the complex good arising out of many smaller things that seem like reversals and trials at the time.

One example that comes to mind is Joseph in the Bible. Sold into slavery by his brothers, I don’t doubt he cried to God and wondered why he was left to languish in an Egyptian prison. Yet this trial put him in the position to save his family and changed him from an arrogant upstart to a gentle, forgiving man. It took decades before he was able to connect the dots and see God’s hand.

6) And what of Christ’s passion? Our Lord prayed for deliverance in Gethsemene, yet it was not offered. The Jewish leaders freely chose to have Jesus executed; and they are described as blameworthy even though we are told it was God’s plan from the start.

7) Waiting and trusting develops our souls, puts on spiritual muscle. What we become is more important than our comfort. And if our wills really are free, I don’t see any other way God can amend our bent nature. We have to swim against the current if we are to be changed in fact.

Read Psalms. Lots of wonderings, yet the Psalmist remains faithful. The Bible is quite clear that sometimes faithful people endure terrible trial.

Read Hebrews 11. Some were saved or brought great deliverance; others suffered and were even killed rather than deny their allegiance to God.

When we trust, even our effort is more relaxed. To do our very best because of the gratitude we have for Our redemption is one thing; to work hard because we don’t think God will come through if we don’t is another, and I wonder if this attitude informs much of our work for Him. To do our best and then to be able to rest at the same time is the key, I suspect, to avoiding burn-out. Understanding God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge is part of this.

In the end, I think the Bible describes a God who is eternal and sovereign; whose plan will prevail, and who wants to change our hearts. He moves many things to accomplish His will; and our freedom is one of the things He works with. His work in and for us will not always be obvious.

Verb or Noun?

A simple truth, elegantly expressed.

Mitch Teemley

Some things can be both a verb and a noun (fish, call, ride). But I only know of one thing that must be a verb before it can be a noun: Love.

this-beautiful-random-act-of-kindness-was-photographed-give-this-awesome-guy-a-like-for-caring

View original post

Truth and Mercy

If we are to come after God, it’s important that we know Who or What we seek.

Doctrine is about understanding certain facts about God, ourselves, and our relationship to Him. Until we understand our true situation we can’t appreciate what He has actually done for us, why He’s done it, and what our response should be.

A seeker of truth must be quite ruthless with him or herself, and be constantly aware of their own tendency to project their personal preferences into their belief systems. For to believe a doctrine that is merely agreeable to is to make God in our own image. It’s do-it-yourself religion.

A starting point would be to determine the reliability of the Bible and its authority. Is is really God’s word, or just the creation of a particular culture? What does it tell us about people and God? How does it relate to the world we see?

The Bible tells us a number of uncomfortable truths about ourselves, things not agreeable to human nature.

It tells us of a good God, the source of all sensible statements about the worth of all people and the goodness of creation.

It tells us of how we should treat others. So far, so good.

But then it tells us we break that moral law (as does experience), and are guilty before Him; and that the abuse of our free will has separated us from Him.

It tells us of what He did to make a way back, and how we can freely choose to return on His terms: by changing direction and choosing to trust in Christ’s atoning work and resurrection instead of relying on our own efforts.

This understanding is key. We need to understand we can’t save ourselves, or even change our own hearts. We need to distrust our own motives, and to understand our constant need of His grace.

But we can then look past our brokenness… to HIM. The redeemed soul understands its situation, but also knows that He’s saved us, not because we deserved it, but simply because He is love. And that because of that we are truly safe, and truly saved.

It tells us that the very power of death is broken, and that we have an eternal hope.

We need to hold these as truths in our hearts before we can come to God for mercy and supply. To do otherwise is to not know what to ask for and to tell Him there are parts of our lives He is not allowed in to.

The gospel is radical. God wants our whole heart, and will use life’s trials to keep us coming to Him for help. The changing our hearts in practical fact is God’s work, and He will make us into true sons and daughters if we will let Him.

Faith and Forgiveness

The heart that really understands God’s power can afford to forgive, to live a generous, open life.

To resent and hold things against people is the mark of a shrunken, insular spirit, turned in on itself and trying to live on its own meagre resources.

The Crisis

“…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
‭‭I Thessalonians‬ ‭5:18‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to talk about your feelings. David did this. Jesus did too; He is even called “a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief”.

But that’s a lot different than becoming bitter. Bitterness happens when we allow ourselves to believe that the situation that’s made us sad is beyond hope. We cave in to despair, and we resent God (if He’s even paying attention); we ask ourselves how He could let this happen.

We come to a point of crisis; our spiritual direction hangs on the razor’s edge. What will we choose: hope, or despair?

Small steps; it’s the direction that matters. Every small choice establishes us a bit more on one road or the other.

Complaining becomes a bad spiritual habit, and we must fight against it every day. This is why scripture tells us to give thanks in everything. It is a decision to voice our trust in God – even when we don’t understand, even when He seems a million miles away.

Our faith is tested this way all the time. When the sense of His support is taken away will our hearts still point to Him? That is what we are being trained in. The cultivation of good habits takes effort, like any type of exercise.

We are told to “guard our hearts”, and we cooperate with God when we choose thank Him for all. A trusting, thankful spirit honours God and develops us into true followers of Christ.

Enduring Faith

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:3-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

How is the heart changed?
When things are good, we tend to kick back and relax. We get lazy, and we start to take things for granted.

But troubles and pains drive us to our knees, exposing our frailty and need of God. We pray.

It’s humbling. Prayer is a request, so first of all we are coming to God on His terms. We look not to ourselves, but to Him for help. It’s a good place to start.

And as we pray, we develop perseverance and character as we wait on Him. The perseverance comes from disciplining ourselves to hope, even when sight seems to say God is absent. And it’s that discipline that builds character, a habit of trust and reliance on God. The waiting on Him is one of the things that changes you.

A moment’s thought tells us this is the only way it could be. It wouldn’t be a trial if things made sense or God’s presence seemed nearby. It’s when the feelings of doubt seem so strong that the decision to trust anyways does its work. It produces the steel God wants to put into our backbones, the character of a heart changed in practical fact.

And I think we need to regard this as the central issue in our lives. We often compartmentalize and regard our faith as a way with dealing with our larger life, merely a coping mechanism of some sort. But if He really is our Lord, then the changing of our hearts is the real issue, and what we go through to get there is merely the means to achieve this. Realizing that our lives are bigger than our circumstances lifts us out of despair and restores perspective.

The poet Keats said “The world is a vale of soul making”. I don’t doubt it.

Do You Believe?

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭4:5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

We often talk about faith like it’s a state of mind we can work ourselves into, but I think it’s actually a lot simpler than that.

One use of the word is to believe something is true. We examine the evidence and decide whether we actually believe there’s a God or not, or whether Jesus really existed and rose again. And while that’s very important, it’s not the whole story; nor do I think that’s what defines a Christian. It’s when we are willing to bet our lives and future on the reality of what He has done for us that we are saved. It’s “believe” in the sense of trusting the character and ability of someone who has made you a promise.

God has promised us eternal life and bodily resurrection. This seems sort of abstract and in the future, so it’s not that hard to convince ourselves we can trust Him with that. But He has also promised that He will use all things for our good, that He is in control and that He will provide what we need. When I lose my job, or am sick or bereaved, will I continue to trust? If I do, I really can rejoice, even when the chips are down.

Trust in this sense is almost a statement of allegiance. Do I trust Him, or my own efforts? Do I trust Him enough to lay down my arms and trust that He really is love?

Happy Easter! He is risen!