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Real Peace

Could it be that any lack of joy in the Christian’s life (certainly mine) is because of a less than total surrender to Him?
I tend to hold on to my toys and activities as entitlements rather than gifts from Him. And it’s not (I suspect) the activities themselves, but the attitude with which I hold them that turns them into idols. As soon as I say ”Mine!” I start to lose ground.
To surrender involves faith, in the trust sense of the word; complete, surrendered trust that would be just as happy with something as without it, because Jesus is my main concern. Then I would understand that whatever He (who exists and knows best) has allowed in my life will truly work all things for my good and His glory: and that I trust Him enough to surrender my ego completely to Him. I must stop saying “mine” not just to my possessions, but to my very life: my sense of pride, my security, my very future. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews‬ ‭11:6‬)
If I really trust Him (as opposed to merely believing in Him or agreeing with Christian doctrine) I can then take a real interest first in Him, and then in others before myself; I can afford to because I’m secure in Him, and my worries and plans fade into the background. In a word, to be completely humble; to forget completely about myself and love Him and others first; I can just let go in sweet release. REST. What amazing freedom that would bring!
When the Bible tells us “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” ‭‭(I Thessalonians‬ ‭5:18‬), it is a declaration of that total trust and Lordship of God in our lives—even, or perhaps especially, in the bad times. Trust when the sun is shining is easier than trust when things look out of control; dark skies are the test of (and the opportunity to exercise) real trust in God. Perhaps this is even one of the things God uses to change us.
To really experience God’s peace in difficult times, you must be totally ”in”. It seems to me a structural necessity that He be the Lord of all if we are to really enjoy rest. 
”Whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). He can’t be Lord if we refuse to trust Him.

Faith and Sex

I recently finished reading the Song of Solomon. It is just filled with the sensuous, intimate detail of the marriage bed. Anyone who thinks the Bible is for prudes will be in for a shock.
The Song of Solomon has, for millennia, been likened to the relationship of Christ to the Church. Spirituality is astonishingly personal – almost in a sense similar to sexual intimacy. This is, I think, why discussion of spiritual issues is avoided in polite company, and why differences about it often offend. It touches something intimate inside us, as personal as our sexual lives.
It’s easy to see how sexual expression has become, in our modern age, to be taken more seriously than religion (as an aside, it’s interesting how sexual crimes are considered particularly heinous – for they, more than any other sort of crime, have a spiritual component. They scar us on a level that normal violence doesn’t). Yet Christianity, while it wholeheartedly endorses healthy sexuality, puts strict guidelines on it for the Christian, and here it runs against the spirit of our modern age. I think that should Christians in society be marginalized, it will be because of this. But they won’t be dismissed as old fashioned prudes. They will persecuted as haters, viewed as invalidating some by insisting there are legitimate limits on sexual expression.

Transparent forgiveness

“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew‬ ‭6:6‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)
Sometimes genuine forgiveness must be transparent – a secret work known only to you and God. Real forgiveness starts in the heart; if you have to tell the person you forgive them, is it possible you’re just trying to show off you’re the better person? 
To forgive in secret is a kind of death. The death of pride, of lording our good works over others, the death of getting credit for a good work. Doing the right thing and not caring if anyone finds out is the mark of real love and service.

Why I am Not a Progressive

At first glance, modern liberal or ”progressive” thought seems to have a great deal of common ground with Christianity. Social justice is emphasized, and the Bible has a great deal to say about the poor and marginalized.

But there is an underlying contradiction.

Progressives pay lip service to Christianity – and fight for what they think is justice. But I believe there is a sometimes unspoken assumption that all their subsequent doctrine is based on: the idea that people are basically good. This denial of human fallibility is opposite of the Biblical worldview. Christianity stresses the fact that all humanity is fallen and in need of redemption that we cannot achieve on our own. Our hearts are ”desperately wicked”. There can be no real justice until this fact of human nature is considered. 

Why is this so important? There are a couple of reasons.

First, it informs our relationship to God and, for this discussion, our fellow humans. The Bible tells us we are proud, self-centred creatures with a radically insecure nature, and that this has separated us from God, and our fellow humans. We attempt to self-medicate with sex, entertainment, power and material wealth.

Our view of human nature affects our political views and institutions as well. If we feel humanity is perfectable we will put in place structures and Conditioners to reeducate and condition the masses. This is exactly what progressives are attempting to do.

Yet the fact of human nature remains, and the Conditioners are humans too. If they know best, what lies behind their own moral compass? Idealism and naïveté can combine to form oppressive, authoritarian government: for those who rule over us (flawed humans themselves) will become the final word in what is fair and best for society. In their fight for victims of real or imagined injustices they must suppress the rights of the supposedly unenlightened majority. Government will decide what constitutes hate (it could be any opposing opinion), and “thought crime” becomes a disturbing possibility. 

The really frightening part is that when such people are in power, they can feel a moral sanction to do almost anything to their opponents, since they feel they are doing it for the good of humanity. CS Lewis said he would rather suffer at the hands of a robber baron than an Inquisitor, since the first will leave you alone after he’s got what he wants: but the Inquisitor (since he fights for the perfection of society) will keep going until you are converted – or eliminated.

And if the human heart is prone to selfishness, should we always trust claims of victimhood? it’s certain that some have been oppressed, but anyone can claim this. Not all are so honest or introspective as to question their own reasons for feeling put upon. But a healthy distrust of one’s own perceptions is more often than not called for. 

And even people who really have been treated unfairly are still flawed humans. Progressive thought seems to attach moral superiority to victims not just when the oppression happened (which is fair enough, since at least they did not initiate the wrong perpetrated against them) but as somehow intrinsic to their nature; that they are somehow better people because they are victims. A moment’s thought dispels the untruth: a person was bullied in the schoolyard can still act selfishly to his siblings when he gets home.

The underlying theme of Christian doctrine is that people matter because they are created in God’s image (and so have intrinsic value and rights) but have separated themselves from Him through the abuse of their free will. We are precious, but flawed. This is one of the reasons I am a Christian: its view of humanity fits the facts we observe about human behaviour now and in history.

Progressives exalt the individual but do not condition this understanding with the observed facts of human nature. They hold human will as sovereign, but in their idealism feel society is perfectable if the right programs, politics and conditioning are promoted. This is a recipe for authoritarian government.

Progressives do not view our present society – with its admitted imperfections – within the context of history. Our society is an amazing outlier when compared with the rest of history. Never before have so many people had access to food, education, medical care, and material prosperity. Progressives seem to be obsessed with correcting past injustices but don’t appreciate what they have. 

It is true that injustice still exists in our modern society, and by all means we should work to always improve. The question is how to do so; we must keep in mind the basic facts of human nature, a thing that progressives fail to do. I have noted for years that the societies that have the sunniest view of humanity have given rise to the most oppressive, authoritarian forms of government. 

What’s Your Non-Negotiable?

Modern ideas of inclusivity accept people based on the one thing they feel is essential to their being, and their choices and self concepts  – what forms their primary identity – are held to be supreme.

But this is not the way of the Christian. For those who trust Christ, all other interests must be subject to His Lordship, and their identity is found in Christ alone. Their old life is reckoned as having died with Him on the cross (Romans 6:11).
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”‭‭(Galatians‬ ‭2:20‬ ‭NKJV‬‬). 

Our natural life has passed: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:24‬ ‭NKJV‬‬). 
God’s grace is offered to all, but it follows that only those who realize they need forgiveness can ask for it; only those who are willing to put their old life under the cross will be capable of finding the new.

Changing Our Hearts

If there’s one thing that is a solid data point, it’s that the world is a mess. And if we’re honest, we would have to admit that the problem is our own hearts; we find a moral gravity that pulls us toward selfishness. Only Christianity tells us we can be given new hearts. But how is this accomplished? How does the Cross change our hearts?

 If we admit our desires and moods are affected by sin, we should have a healthy suspicion of them. We test them against God’s Word. If they run counter to it – and we would follow our Master – then we have a Cross to carry. We deny these temptations and seek God’s grace to live a life that pleases Him, recognizing the price He paid to redeem us. Loving, deliberate obedience to God’s word and trusting Him (even when we don’t understand) is what I have found changes the heart in practical fact.  We will often stumble: but God’s grace justifies us. We repent, pick ourselves up, putting our failures behind us (since He has) and start anew.

It’s funny how sorrow and joy can exist simultaneously in a heart. I think this is because the opposite of sorrow isn’t joy, but happiness. 

Both sorrow and happiness are superficial and created by our circumstances. We’re happy because we got a raise at work; we’re sad because someone said an unkind thing.

But Joy is different. It is a state of the soul, a permanent foundation that all else exists on top of. This is why Jesus can be called a ”Man of Sorrows” (Isaiah 63:3) while also being ”anointed with the oil of joy” (Hebrews 1:9).

Happiness is like a holiday, a necessary rest and a blessing from God: but sorrow is where the work on our hearts gets done. Though rooted in our circumstances, it can cause us to face life’s Big Questions and thus push us towards God. There is a reason the Bible says by sorrow the heart is made better (Ecclesiastes 7:3). 

Sorrow from the circumstances in our lives can actually be an instrument of lasting joy if it causes us to realize our need of God. God forbid we should seek happiness for its own sake: it will only make us shallow, selfish people. I need to take all of life with a spirit of gratitude and lean on God as much as I can.

And that is what I’m trying to do. Sometimes sad, and sometimes happy: but with increasing joy underneath it all. God is my Father.

Poverty and Privilege

“Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.” (Proverbs‬ ‭28:27‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

“Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.” (Proverbs‬ ‭10:4‬ ‭NIV‬‬).

The cause of the poor has always been emphasized in both the Old and New Testament. God hates oppression and injustice, and His people are to always maintain their cause. 

But the due reward of diligence has also been stressed; God has created us moral, choosing beings who have the dignity of choice in determining our outcomes in life. 

It follows that some are poor through no fault of their own, and that we are to help them. Others are poor because they make destructive choices that carry natural consequences. How far our help to these should extend is more complex. Not all poverty is the result of oppression; neither is all wealth.

What should the Christian position be on this? As far as I can tell, beyond meeting immediate, emergent needs (food, shelter, warmth, security) without judgement, Christians must work to provide equal opportunity to all, to smooth out difficulty and barriers – and then leave the ultimate outcome to the choice and effort of the individual.

To stress equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity defeats the moral component of our choices and acts as an enabler to those who deliberately choose destructive paths. It is, in the long run, to be complicit in their moral and physical poverty, since it does not judge the vicious circle of indulgence that is the main component of their distress.

Trust and Rest

What I know about God is not the same as to knowing Him enough to really trust He’s got my life in His hands. This has to be the heart of Christianity. ”Justified by faith” isn’t faith in a creed, but in a Person: that He is there, and that He keeps His promises. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews‬ ‭11:6‬)

If you can trust like that, you can rest. But I don’t think the key is to force yourself to have trusting feelings, but to try to know Him better, and then navigate life on what you know instead of how you feel. Your actions and choices demonstrate and confirm your faith, sometimes in spite of how you may feel at a particular moment. 

Read the Word and pray daily. Build habits of mind and heart that will help you know Him.

What is identity? We used to identify mainly by race or biological gender – physical facts we can’t change – but a now whole new ways of identifying ourselves has been given legitimacy. 

How we want to behave or feel about ourselves is now part of identity as well. This is dangerous ground if we agree with the Bible that humanity is flawed on a basic level: that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. Do our own desires or self-concepts constitute legitimate identities?

And what if those behaviours run counter to how the Bible tells us Christians are to live?

Syncretism is a 10 dollar word for trying to combine different world views to try to come up with something that suits us. This is where Christians have to be very careful that they don’t combine the spirit of the age with biblical thought. Some will say that God made us a certain way as if that legitimizes our desires; but while God made us, but we must never lose sight of the fact that these inclinations are distorted because of our fallen natures. They may be leading us into sin.

The Christian’s identity is found in Christ alone. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”‭‭Galatians‬ ‭3:28‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Our old desires are said to have died with Christ on the cross: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:24‬ ‭NKJV‬‬).

We are new creatures: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (II Corinthians‬ ‭5:17‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

And that is something to get excited about.