Words That Never Pass Away Except in Some Forums

 

Imagine a chemist or an engineer or doctor thinking that what came before in his field, the accumulated wealth of knowledge and of best practices, is no longer of value and foundational for what he does now…

 

One major modern-day theological misconception comes from assuming that the Pharisees, one Jewish sect of many in Jesus’ day, represented the opposite of Jesus’s teachings.  Assumptive preaching, directly or indirectly, seeks to make a contrast between the Law keepers and Jesus. The Law, presented as antiquated, and the Jews, presented as Law fixated, are projected in a negative light. Jesus and his followers, presented in humanistic fashion, in a positive light. In so doing, the Pharisees and the Law have become stereotyped in the minds of many and with it, Jesus has become stereotyped. With mischaracterization comes misapplication of the gospel.

What is juxtaposed in the gospel are the encounters Jesus has with those of his day and the prevailing opinions about the Law and about the Messiah. Jesus speaks to Pharisees, scribes, religious leaders, prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans, fishermen, the blind, the lame, the sick, the rich, the poor and to political power – Pontius Pilate – and to a massive crowd. These occurrences reveal Jesus’ dealing with misunderstandings of the Torah. Jesus’ countering their perceptions of the Law caught many off guard and troubled the righteous who lived by the Law. To ward off their concerns and not willing to destroy one iota of the Law, Jesus says to the Sermon on the Mount crowd “Don’t suppose that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy them; I came to fulfill them!” Not one iota of the Torah will pass away until all is fulfilled with the New Creation (Matt. 24:35).

With his Sermon on the Mount Jesus offered the big picture truth – the Law of Love should be the arbiter of our intents and actions as the fulfillment of the Law. This is God’s intentions for his created beings (Matt. 7:12). The Law basically said “Don’t do this and if you do…” Jesus, in the his sermon, explains his interpretation of the Torah to the Jewish crowd (Matt: 5:17-20). He counters each of their “You heard it said…” understandings by telling them to look at the Torah his way. He summarizes the Torah and the Jewish understanding of the righteous being admitted into the New Creation with “Well, then: you must be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

One important consideration to keep in mind with regard to framing a picture of the law is that the gospel writers did not intend to paint an across-the-board history of the time of Jesus. This context was provided by the intertestamental scribes. The Jewish community and the gospel writers knew their writings. The gospel writers stated purpose (John 20:31) was to write an account of the One they called the Messiah. This is the focus of the gospels, not “Law bad, Jesus good”. None of their accounts diminish or denigrate the Law or the Law keepers. Their accounts tell us of Jesus’ juxtaposed encounters and ways of thinking about the Law and life in a Jewish contemporary context. Matthew’s gospel account in particular addresses issues of concern for second temple Jews including matters of the Torah and righteousness which is mentioned over and over again in his account.

Another basis for the assumption that the Law had been negated and done away with is the fact that Christians are not obligated to follow the Law. For one thing, animal sacrifices were no longer required. Jesus – the Lamb of God – sacrificed himself for us. The righteous were to do the same. The assumption that the law, with its instructions and blessings and curses was done away with is a misunderstanding of the sending of the spirit at Pentecost upon those who believed in Jesus as Messiah. In fact, Pentecost confirms the words of the Law and the prophets: “the “word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” (Deut. 30:14)

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh ,… Ezekiel 11:19

 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31;33

There are some who draw many parallels between the giving of the Torah and the giving of the spirit at Pentecost: The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost. Others line up the dates: The Giving of The Ten Commandments was on Pentecost.

The Torah, the instructions, never went away. In fact, it is right in front of you. Here’s Moses telling the children of Israel this very thing:

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ “Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. Deut. 30: 11-14 (emphasis mine)

The English word “law” is a translation of the Greek word nomos. And, nomos is a translation of the Hebrew word “Torah”. Deuteronomy, as quoted from above, is a restating of the nomos – the law, the Torah. And, as stated above, one cannot presume that a Moses needs to be dragged off mountain top to restate the law. The law is a by-your-side tutor. So, one is without excuse regarding the knowledge of God and his Torah (restated by Paul in Romans1:18-32).

The Torah is teaching, instruction, and “best practices” to point the Jews the way to walk, to learn to be holy as God is holy. The Torah contains blessings for those who obey the Torah and curses for the those who choose not to obey. The Torah life is not a life of bondage. Rather, it is a life with boundaries. (Boundaries are conflated with bondage these days). The Torah for the Jews and especially for the Qumran community was not a religion but a way of life.

The wisdom literature of the Scripture speaks about observing the law – the Torah – to become wise. This includes home schooling one’s children in the Torah.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching (torah). Prov. 1:8

The Apostle Paul, the chosen emissary of Jesus to the Gentiles, would speak also speak to the Messianic Jews regarding how to understand Jesus in relation to the Torah, especially in light of the fact that Paul did not require the Gentiles to follow the Torah. Many today assume that meant Paul disposed of the law for Christians. The trained as a Pharisee and law observant Paul taught a different approach to the Torah in accordance with the resurrection of Jesus and his kingdom on earth (Gal. 3: 19-20). The thinking that the law was made irrelevant by Jesus was countered early on by Paul as he taught that the Messiah delivered on his covenant faithfulness:

The Messiah, you see, is the goal of the law, so that covenant membership may be available for all who believe. Rom. 10:4

Like Jesus, Paul didn’t dismiss the law. And, like Jesus Paul made it known that obeying specific laws was secondary to one’s intent and love for the One who redeemed them to walk in love. Perspective, God’s perspective is what mattered most and not man’s attempt to practice the Law.

Circumcision is nothing; uncircumcision Is nothing: what matters is keeping God’s laws. 1 Cor. 7: 19

This perspective, as taught by Jesus (“Except your righteousness exceed that of…”) and later by Paul to the Jews who wanted to be declared “righteous” to be accepted in the age to come, also made clear that the law brought God’s people only so far.

We are Jews by birth, not Gentile “sinners.” But we know that a person is not declared “righteous” by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.

That is why we too believed in the Messiah, Jesus: so that we might be declared “righteous” on the basis of the Messiah’s faithfulness, and not on the basis of works of the Jewish law. On that basis, you see, no creature will be declared “righteous.” Gal. 2: 15-16

It would be hard to imagine a chemist or an engineer or doctor thinking that what came before in his field, what works and what doesn’t work, is no longer of value and foundational and to declare a new way. But, it is easy for social engineers to discard what came before, including the law, to invoke a societal tolerance of all manner of license against perceived authoritarianism.

The gospel as dispensed today in many churches leaves out the historical context of the Law (and of Jesus) and coaxes out stereotypes. The Jews of Jesus’ day are presented as under the heavy yoke of the Law and obsessive about rules and regulations and keeping the law. Jesus is presented as chastising them for bothering with the law and not being more human. Some preaching will go so far as to say that the law was a failed attempt by God to make his people righteous and that Jesus came to discard it and to try a new way.

Jesus is presented as setting people free from the Law and therefore accountability so that they can be their own person. And, erroneously, the Jews are presented as caring about the Law and Jesus caring about people. I have seen Jesus presented as enlightened man of peace and love. Often on social media I have seen Jesus hailed as a Progressive along with Che Guevara and other radicals. Others on social media have stated that Jesus is OK with homosexuality based on the thinking that God made them that way and the law Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin. is pre-Jesus and therefore invalid (Jesus as social-justice warrior).

Others, including a well-known Jesuit priest on social media, have implied that the Law is authoritarian and “conservative values” and therefore must be vilified as uncaring and Jesus as humanistic “Progressive values” to be embraced. These pagans worship their gods and follow their laws even sacrificing children to them in the name of Jesus the Progressive.

The effects of suppressing the truth about the Law is seen in our culture and individually, as accountability is thrown out the door with the law. Lawlessness abounds, anarchy follows and in-your-face mocking of the righteous. “Law bad, Jesus good”.

Moses and the Ten Commandments – Gustave Doré

Imagine listening to a singer’s performance and the singer and musicians didn’t care about tonality, meter and pitch. Imagine that they didn’t care about what came before musically and what worked to harmonize their performance. The sounds they make are jarring to the ears but you listen because it is promoted as avant-garde, unheard of and en vogue. You leave the performance feeling unsettled because the music didn’t resolve – there were no tonic chords only an establishment mocking dissonance. The ‘music’ was unconstrained and lacked direction and meaning. Yet, you feel proud of yourself that you were involved in something unconventional and iconoclastic. Later, at dinner with your companions, you rave about the performance. You want to come off sounding, liberal, broad-minded and, …Progressive, and not like so many others who are so conventional and lacking your insight. There is preaching today just like that today. “They declare themselves wise, but in fact became foolish.” (Rom. 1: 22)

Finally, there are three Psalms in which the Lord’s instruction is central to understanding life before God: Psalm 1, Psalm 19 and Psalm 119. The writers show a strong desire to know God and His ways. The Psalmists want God’s instruction more than life itself. We would do well to do likewise, since man does not live by bread alone.

 

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There is so much more that could be said about Jesus and the law, so I commend the following:

Required reading: the chapter Did Jesus Abolish the Law of Moses?  Mind the Gap: How the Jewish Writings Between the Old and New Testament Help Us Understand Jesus by Matthias Henze

 

Living Out of Context

 

A recent Twitter conversation offers some insight into the thinking of many.

Background: a presidential candidate presents himself as Christian and gay. A Twitter post highlighting this candidate was replied to by a well-known religious figure (XYZ). The reply stated unequivocally that you cannot be Christian and gay. (I am purposely leaving out the names (and politics) involved because there is a greater issue going on here. Politics adds another level of misanthropy to an already contentious and serious issue lurking beneath.)

In a reply to XYZ’s censuring Twitter post, a gay man (rainbow flag tagged) replied:

 “Jesus NEVER SAID ONE WORD about being gay He did however warn us about false prophets – like XYZ.”

After reading many similar replies over the past two years the selective blind-men and the elephant thinking behind such responses goes something like this: Jesus the Progressive revolutionary showed up one day to bring about change we can believe in. God’s initial project – keeping the Law – was too off-putting and not inclusive. Besides, there are no more animal sacrifices the Law required. Jesus deemed the project a failure. And so, he rejected that plan and began a new one of love, grace and mercy, of inclusion and diversity. To make his point Jesus had to kick some butt, the butt of those who judge and of hypocrites (since man is the measure of all things and feelings are truth). And because of the new radical program imparted by Jesus, Biblical accounts like the account of Sodom and Gomorrah therefore must be revised to fit the new narrative: God’s fire and brimstone judgement was not brought on by the attempted homosexual rape of Lot’s guests but due to people not being welcoming and inclusive. Does this sound familiar?

As I have witnessed time and again, the standard replies from gays and social justice warriors (SJWs) on Twitter (as evidenced above) is that Jesus, as Condemner, did not mention homosexuality and therefore gave it a pass. This way of thinking, of course, is not inclusive (except in revisionist form) of all that happened before Jesus showed up, nor of the whole of Scripture and its narrative of the Enduring Context. These gays and SJWs live out of context.

Though the gospel accounts record Jesus saying that he did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but came to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17), it seems that many today think that Jesus did abolish the Law and the Prophets in effect. They understand the gospels as Jesus freeing people from the letter of the Law and offering a more human (read liberal) way of living apart from the Law. They posit a contrast between the (negative) Jews who sought to please God by keeping the Law and the (positive) Jesus who they believe taught that you can only please God by having faith and love. The law-following Jews, stereotyped, are seen as rigid and obsessed with the Law the many deem antiquated. Jesus is seen as modern, flexible and love obsessed. Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees is brought up as the example of this contrast.

The Pharisees were devout men who sought to keep the letter of the law. Jesus did not upbraid them for doing so. Rather, he challenged their keeping the spirit of the Law, their intentionality. And, it would be wrong to superimpose the understanding of the Law held by the Pharisees onto all Judaism at the time of Jesus. The Pharisees were among several religious groups at that time. Each held their own interpretation of the Law. It would be equally wrong to interpret Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees as his rejection of the Law and his replacing it with love.

When the Pharisees test Jesus “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus summarizes all of the commandments with words from the book of the law, the Torah’s Deuteronomy (6:5): Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. And, from Leviticus (19:18): ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

The gospel writer Matthew, whose account was intended for a Jewish audience, recorded Jesus’ the above encounter with the scribes (Matt. 22:34-40). His record of the Sermon on the mount is all about Jesus infusing the Law and Prophets with its intended meaning: to create a people who would represent the true humanity to the world.

When Jesus says, “You’ve heard that it was said…” Jesus is not contradicting the Torah. Jesus was providing a radical interpretation of its meaning and effect – to produce righteousness and life in his kingdom on earth. Jesus ends his sermon with “Be perfect, therefore, as your father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

Like Matthew, the Apostle Paul, a scholar of the law, was keen to present the gospel within the context and continuity of the law and the prophets. He strove to make it clear what the law was intended for and not intended for. Early on Paul was adamant to write that the law was not what declared us righteous or gave us life or the promises of God (Rom. 4:13). He wrote to the church in Galatia in this regard and to admonish them (and Peter’s recent behavior) regarding the Law’s matter of circumcision, Gentile believers and being in the Messiah. He states that his law-keeping heritage is not what produces what is freely offered by the One Who is Faithful to the Law and its promises:

“We are Jews by birth, not “Gentile sinners”. But we know that a person is not declared “righteous” by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.” (Gal. 3:15)

Later in the same passage, he writes of the law’s purpose:

Before this faithfulness arrived, we were kept under guard by the law, in close confinement until the coming faithfulness should be revealed. Thus the law was like a babysitter for us, looking after us until the coming of the Messiah, so that we might be given covenant membership on the basis of faithfulness. (Ga. 3: 23-24)

Earlier, Paul writes of the law, the babysitter, keeping him in line with God’s intention:

Let me explain it like this. Through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with the Messiah. I am, however, alive – but it isn’t me any longer; it’s the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live by the faithfulness of God. (Gal. 3: 19-20)

And…

Let me put it like this. As long as the heir is a child, he is no different than a slave –even if, in fact, he is master of everything! He is kept under guardians and stewards until the time set by his father.

When we were children (babysat children), we were kept in “slavery” under the “elements of the world.” But when the fulness of time arrived, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that he might redeem those under the law, so that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Gal. 4: 1-5).

Pauls’ letter to the church at Rome is an explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ by means of its coherence with and continuity of the Old Testament. Paul writes, as above, that the Law was given to God’s people to shepherd them until an Israelite would one day come and completely obey the perfect law of the Lord (Rom. 5:18). Out of God’s righteousness, his covenant faithfulness, came Jesus, the Messiah, who obeyed his Father perfectly. Pauls’ letter to the church in Rome goes into great detail about the righteousness of God – his faithfulness to the covenants he made, as recorded in the Torah. God’s law would be fulfilled by God’s covenant. The reason God made a covenant with Abraham was to undo the sin of Adam and its effects, as revealed by the law. The law babysat those who received the covenant, keeping them in line with God’s promises until the Faithful One appeared and rescued the world.

 

Returning to the opening conversation, it is important to note that Jesus came to his people Israel. He spoke in the context of what they knew: the law and prophets. He did not speak to pagan issues such as idol worship and homosexuality. The law forbade that behavior. The Jews in Jesus day were well aware of this. Jesus commissioned Paul as “apostle of the gentiles” (Rom. 11:13). Paul did speak to those issues. Maybe that’s why many today reject Paul’s writings and choose an ends-justifying-the-means lawlessness.

In summary, if one hangs their hat on a just few chosen words of Jesus that justifies their worldview, then God’s worldview[i] as recorded in the Law and the Prophets and continued in the New Testament is meaningless to them. They are living out of context, just like the prodigal son.

The Prodigal Son 1888 John Macallan Swan 1847-1910

 

I am reminded of what Grace said at the end of the goings on in C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength:

 

Those who call for Nonsense will find that it comes.”

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[i] We read in Genesis that God created heaven and earth. It was to be a His temple. Images of God – humans – were placed in the temple. Humans were to tend to it. Humans failed. The garden, the temple, became despoiled by sin. The law would not only act as Israel’s guardian but also the guardian of creation. If humans mess up, the creation is hurt.
Abraham was chosen to undo the sin of Adam. To make this happen, God promised him descendants as many as the stars and a tract of land. His descendants would be the caretakers of that smaller garden. Israel failed as the true humanity. They could not keep the law. They went into exile.
A Savior came to rescue the world. The kingdom of God on earth was initiated. The church was founded with the giving of the Holy Spirit into the likes of Peter, fallible humans. The church was created to reveal the true humanity to the world. The image of God would be restored in humans. Humanity and creation are to be redeemed as the church awaits the appearing of the Lord and final redemption.
God dwells with man in the New Heaven and New Earth. The law of the land: justice, righteousness and peace. There will be no, “Jesus NEVER SAID ONE WORD about …” It will be UNDERSTOOD.

 

Don’t Adjust the Contrast

 

From a humanities perspective, God’s word to us is a study in contrasts. Distinctions of people, places and things are noted on page after page. The Creator, who dwells in unapproachable light, provided those created in His image with eyes to see and ears to hear so as to discern the dissimilarities with a handbook of juxtapositions as a guide. And so, we read of light and darkness, good and evil, love and hatred and much, much more. Let’s take a look. 

At the beginning of the God and human narrative one can read of a void and then a creation, of night and day, of sea and dry land, of heaven and earth, of human and animal, of male and female, of right and wrong choices, and of the garden and not the garden.

Later we learn of Egypt and the Promised Land and of leeks and garlic and of milk and honey.

Israel is given the Ten Commandments to contrast right from wrong behavior towards God and others.

Slavery or freedom are predominant alternatives posed to Israel.

Israel must choose between serving idols or serving the One True God.

The Torah provides Godly practices to do and unclean pagan practices to avoid.

The Psalms of Solomon (eighteen psalms) serve a didactic role as they describe the ways of sinners and their end and the way of the righteous and their end.

The wisdom literature of Proverbs encourages us to consider the ways of the wise and the foolish.

Ecclesiastes talks about contrasting seasons and perspectives.

The prophets reminded Israel of the alienating contrast between seeking God’s hometown blessing through obedience and exile from the City of Peace because of disobedience. Isaiah contrasts the fate of the Babylonians and Israel (Is. 26).

Daniel the scribe presents us his account of dreams and visions which contrast beastly rulers and beastly empires with the coming righteous and just reign of the Son of Man.

The intertestamental Jewish writings repeat and augment the differences found in the Old Testament:

Unrighteous rulers and the Messiah; Antiochus IV Epiphanes and The King of the Universe (2 Maccabees)

Fallen angels and holy ones of God (1 Enoch 15)

The fate of the unrighteous and the righteous at the time of the resurrection and judgment (4 Ezra 7).

 

The Gospels record the polarizing life and teaching of Jesus. Here, briefly, are some of the dichotomies Jesus presents through parables and encounters:

Sand and rock.

Lost and found.

Blind and seeing.

Out of your mind and in your right mind.

Pride and humility.

Wheat and chaff.

Sheep and goats.

Water and wine and the best wine.

Blessings (Matthew 5) and woes (Matthew 23).

Virtue signaling righteousness and honest to goodness righteousness.

Truth and untruth.

The world and the kingdom of God.

The self-righteous and the humble.

The wide way and the narrow way.

Faith and sight.

Life and death.

First and last.

There is a contrast within no contrast: the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

The fierceness of Jesus’ gaze and his tears over Jerusalem and at a funeral.

(Jesus does not contrast the rich and poor as do Progressives based on their power-gathering political ideology. Instead, Jesus contrasted the poverty of material mindedness with the richness of righteousness mindedness.)

 

The Epistles continue the contrast narrative begun in the Old Testament and reiterated in the Jewish writings between the testaments. With this univocal background and the unequivocal words of Jesus, the writers of the epistles provide the theology and practical application of the Kingdom of God on earth using opposites. Here is a list of some those:

The righteous and the unrighteous.

The justified and the unjust.

The reprobate and the rescued

Those who have exchanged truth for a lie and those who dwell in truth.

Those who do not acknowledge God and those who

Those with a stubborn and unrepentant heart and those who “by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life”.

The glorious inheritance in Christ and the minimum wage of death

There are those who say you may have faith but I have works and those who show their faith by their works.

Those who live by faith and those who live by sight.

Those who say one thing and do another and those who love in word and deed.

False teaching and teaching that has been handed down.

The physical body and the spiritual body.

The body used for immorality and the body as the temple of God.

Saints and sinners.

The Levitical priesthood and Melchizedek’s priesthood.

Light and darkness.

Throughout Scripture we read of the people of God and the enemies of God. The opposing forces clash in the last days. They and the whole universe reach a summing point in Jesus.

 

The Apostle John, in The Revelation of Jesus Christ, testifies that mankind’s entrenched polar opposites come together for the Lord of the Universe’s final division:

The letter begins with a heart-stopping contrast: “I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!”

Seven letters to churches delineate “well done” times and sharp warnings about dysfunctional times.

John’s apocalyptic letter details…

Those written in the book of life and those not written in the book of life.

Hades and Heaven.

The lake of fire and the river of the water of life.

Demonic forces and angels.

Satan and the Son of Man.

The Beast and the Lamb.

A war to end all wars and a peace to end all wars.

The lion and the lamb.

 

Despite all the bally-hoo touting rainbow-colored “diversity, in the end all of the temporary social constructs will be torn down to reveal the definer of persons and groups to be result of choices each has made with black and white alternatives. Note, Jesus did not say, “I am for your way and your truth and your lifestyle”. Even Jesus did not choose his own way but the Father’s. Had Jesus chosen that which was offered to him by the Satan in the desert and later by Pontius Pilate where would mankind be?

With all of the contrasts, binaries, dichotomies and lack of ambiguities in the God and human narrative that are re-voiced from start to finish, it’s as if God wanted us to “choose this day whom we will serve”.

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In C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra novel, Ransom questions the Green Lady. He is trying to understand why he was invited to Perelandra and about its world and its ways. At one point the Green Lady responds:

“Since our Beloved became a man, how can reason in any world take another form? Do you not understand? That is all over. Among times there is a time that turns a corner and everything this side of it is new. Times do not go backward.”

Hypercatastrophic Cardiomyopathy

 

A recurring diagnosis in Scripture, as the augmented title suggests, is the enlarged and unresponsive heart. We can read accounts when God brings into certain character’s lives situations which reveal the true condition of that character’s heart. I am reminded of Pharaoh and the Exodus account. 

Pharaoh, you will recall, wanted Israel to remain slaves. Pharaoh wanted the cheap labor for his building program. God, seeing His people’s suffering, wanted them to be set free and go to the Promised land. And, God wanted Exodus for Israel in order to fulfill His covenant promises. Now, of course, God could have just snapped His fingers and made that happen. But, as we read Scripture, we find that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:210) so as to bring about the necessary change of heart.

Signs and wonder were produced to reveal a different authority, but to no avail:

Each one threw down his staff, and it became a serpent. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up the other staffs. Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said. Exodus 7:12-13

Sending plagues on Egypt exercised Pharaoh’s will. But, the only change to his heart condition was that it became enlarged and unresponsive. After the fourth plague we read…

and the LORD did as Moses requested. He removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not one fly remained. But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go. Exodus 8:31-32

The last test of wills, the death of the Egyptians’ first-born children, was a Pharaoh heart-changer:

Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, “Get up, get out from among my people, both you and the Israelites; and go, serve the Lord, as you said. Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go, and [ask your God to] bless me also. The Egyptians [anxiously] urged the people [to leave], to send them out of the land quickly, for they said, “We will all be dead.”  Exodus 12: 31-33

As we read on, we find Pharaoh rejecting the pain and suffering of his people and hardening his resolve once again. He pursues the Israelites. But, the Red Sea dissolves his resolve.

In book of Daniel we read of kings who are heart-tested. King Nebuchadnezzar receives a dream and a vision (signs and wonders) which clearly delineated the outcome of his life. Yet this king went on his way, without a change of heart and full of himself. He just accommodated himself to there being another god to account for. Daniel, the scribe, recounts the king’s life for king Belshazzar:

O king [Belshazzar], the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar kingship, greatness, glory, and majesty. And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. He killed those he wanted to kill, kept alive those he wanted to keep alive, honored those he wanted to honor, and degraded those he wanted to degrade. But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he acted proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was stripped from him. He was driven from human society, and his mind was made like that of an animal. His dwelling was with the wild asses, he was fed grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and sets over it whomever he will.  Daniel 5: 18-21

 

Unlike king Nebuchadnezzar, King Belshazzar was not given the opportunity to have a change of heart. In the presence of thousands of his party guests, Belshazzar sees a mysterious hand writing on the wall. Belshazzar empties his bowels (Daniel 5:6). Above is the introduction to Daniel’s interpretation of the writing. The interpretation, revised for this post: “King, you have been weighed on the scales and you’ve been found to be deficient of heart-health. You are going the way of all enlarged-hearted people.”

And so it came about …

During that same night Belshazzar the [last] Chaldean king was slain [by troops of the invading army].  So Darius the Mede received the kingdom; he was about the age of sixty-two. Daniel 5:30-31

Israel’s prophets declared the hardness of Israel’s hearts.

“But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart. Jeremiah 18:12

Jonah took a hard heart with him as he walked away from God’s calling – preach to the city of Nineveh. But his hard-heart period ended with some fish oil in the belly of a great fish.

The prophets were referred to in describing Jesus’ kingdom ministry and mankind’s heart condition:

Although Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still did not believe in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. The gospel of John 12:38-41

The end condition of mankind with self-induced Hypercatastrophic Cardiomyopathy is given to us by the Apostle John:

The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk.  And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts. Revelation 9:20-21

The end result of mankind with self-induced Hypercatastrophic Cardiomyopathy is given to us by the Apostle Paul:

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Romans 2:5

~~~

How does one self-induce Hypercatastrophic Cardiomyopathy? Here’s a short but comprehensive list:

By dehumanizing yourself. By becoming like the idols you give yourself to.

Denying one’s human existence is an act of God.

Through practice. Deny yourself nothing. Indulge yourself and call it liberty, freedom and rights.

Practice porneia (i.e., adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, use of pornography).

By valuing your existence in terms of dollars or sexual encounters.

By calling yourself “gay”.

By defining truth as what your friends let you get away with saying; by saying 2 + 2 = 5

By lying.

By denigrating your senses with alcohol, drugs and Epicurean pleasures.

By deceiving your yourself. By saying sin is what people do to me or sin is what I get caught doing.

By giving ideology preeminence over truth.

By attributing the spiritual, including recorded signs and wonders, to sentimental wishful thinking.

With complacency, lethargy, lack of spiritual exercise. By sitting in front of the TV or the internet.

Never acknowledge sin you’ve committed; refuse to tolerate any sense of sin, see guilt as weakness.

Scapegoat.

Surround yourself with affirmations of your behavior

By equating things which are not equitable: equal rights with equality, i.e., male/female union as equal to a homosexual union; equating wealth with gain and poverty with loss.

When the love you sought rejects you, you seek power over others.

By not forgiving.

By grieving the Holy Spirit.

By needing a life at gunpoint every day to provoke a change in your heart: “She would have been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor

 

How do you recognize those with enlarged and hard hearts? Let’s start with these characteristics:

They act like Richard III, a man who killed family successors to the throne to secure England’s throne of power for himself. Aka, a self-absorbed monster in Shakespeare’s play Richard the III: “I am determined to prove a villain/And hate the idle pleasures of these days.”

They seem to be wearing a Full Metal Jacket: Self-protected and fully inured against any outside stimulus that might affect their mindset. They are deadly to others.

They are glazed over and Gargoyle-like.

They seem to be shrinking. They are becoming the miniscule citizens of C.S. Lewis’ “grey town” in the Great Divorce.

Their thick skin is really dragon skin (see Eustace Clarence Scrubb in C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

They do the exact opposite of the now well-known Five Love Languages:

They seek affirmation at all costs to others. They do not affirm others unless those others have affirmed them.

They avoid touch. Anyone touching them would know the cold, hard empty shell that they have become.

They demand gifts of power, of rights. They vote for those who give them these “gifts”. They, instead of giving gifts, seek more tokens to put in their pinball machine life. Giving gifts is intolerable to them unless it brings them more affirmation and more power over others.

Their acts of service consist of virtue signaling (which costs nothing) and voting for those who affirm their lifestyle and for socialism to pay for it.

They spend no quality time on anyone except for those who feed their narcissism.

~~~

How does one reverse Hypercatastrophic Cardiomyopathy before your time is up? It will take some life-saving surgery. And, there is only instrument that is able to cut through an enlarged hardened heart:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrew 4:12

Post-surgery, be prepared to have your eyes wide open, your hearing passages enlarged and your unresponsive heart quickened.

For my brothers and sisters in Christ I pray with Saint Paul:

To have the eyes of your utmost self opened to God’s light. Then you know exactly what the hope is that goes with God’s call. Ephesians 1:18

 

A prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of heaven and earth, have mercy upon me a sinner.

Though you have been faithful, I have been unfaithful. Though you have been true, I have been untrue. I have hardened my heart and have received only a portion of the results of my stubbornness and pride. Have mercy upon me and forgive me. I repent of my wickedness and my resolve to harden my heart.

I ask that you put within me a new heart, and a new spirit. Remove the heart of stone from my flesh and give me a heart of flesh. I ask this in your name. Amen.

What Am I Not Forgetting?

 

“I’m not implying that I’ve already received “resurrection,” or that I’ve already become complete and mature! No: I’m hurrying on, eager to overtake it, because King Jesus has overtaken me. My dear family, I don’t reckon that I have yet over taken it. But this is my one aim: to forget everything that’s behind, and to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead. I mean to chase on toward the finishing post, where the prize waiting for me is the upward call of God in King Jesus.” -the Apostle Paul, Philippians 3: 12-14  

~~~

“What did I forget?” I’ve asked myself this dozens of times. The question comes up in the grocery store and when I am cooking a meal for the family and when I am getting into the car ready to pull out of the driveway. I have asked this when I am finishing a project at work. “What did I forget?”

In each situation there is something in the back of my head telling me that I am forgetting something. As I mentioned, this happens often. But, thinking about what I need to forget didn’t occur until this past week. I read the above verses in my study of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church.

Oh, yes. I’ve read those verses many times before. And when I did, I glossed over the words as if it made sense at a prosaic level. This time the words nudged me and maybe because I am older now.

During this past week I worked out on the elliptical machine at the local fitness club. There is a TV screen above the machine. I typically watch the business programs which include stock futures (I’m an early bird). When the business program goes to commercial I surf the channels.

That morning there were two other programs that caught my interest. The first was a show about a select group of marines going through extensive training to become recon marines. The second show, What Not to Wear, includes us in a fashion makeover. Typically, a reluctant twenty-something is confronted with her wardrobe and her appearance. Both shows seemed to me to be reality checks before the participants moved on.

The Marine recon show depicted the guys going through intense physical training beyond anything they ever knew they could endure. During the exercise the men ‘forgot’ what they knew and pressed on for the upward call to become recon Marines. Not all of the fifty men who entered the program finished.

As typical for What Not to Wear, the hosts had their ‘client’ try on what she usually wore and then critiqued the outfit with her as all three stand in front several mirrors. During the next step in the fashion transformation, the hosts pull the client’s brought-to-the-program clothes off the rack and throw them into a garbage can before her. They want her to forget about them and move on. Without saying as much, they want her to become mature in her view of herself and how she appears to others. Many of the young women wore sloppy attire or clothes a teenager would wear. The hosts prompt their ‘client’ to take herself and her appearance seriously. They want her to dress age and life situation appropriately.

During the next step, the hosts show their TV ‘client’ a manikin dressed in clothes they consider she would look suitable in. After detailing “why” the clothes would befit her, they send her shopping for a new look. I would say, a “resurrected” look.

Forgetting what you know is not easy. Several marines stopped short of recon transformation. On What Not to Wear, many a ‘client’ grimaced and some wept as their habit-formed clothes were tossed in the can. Not wanting to forget makes going forward even harder.

 

Forgetting. Where do I start?

As I read Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I was reminded that I have done things which are not at all within God’s good graces. I have sinned in God-defying sinful ways. I’m sure I must have gotten God’s attention. And, more than once. But, as with the Pauls’ own admission of not having achieved sinless maturity, I press on. My own recognition and then confession of sin, like Paul’s, moves me forward to the goal of the upward call of God – resurrection, new life, in Him – the Alpha and Omega, the No-beginning and No-end, the Mercy that follows me all the days of my life.

The words of I john 1:9 are critically important to anyone who wants to remove sin’s dead weight and “to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead”. What John, an eyewitness of Jesus, records is critically important to pressing on and forgetting.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The First Letter of John, 1:9

 

The wonder of advent reminds us of Jesus’ first coming and of his second coming. The Kingdom of God on earth began when Jesus inaugurated it during his first coming. Yet, “sins and sorrows grow” and “thorns infest the ground”. There is much injustice, strife, and wickedness taking place. The Kingdom of God is not mature. It is a work in process. On every groaning level of creation there exists a huge amount of tension between the first coming and the second coming.

The same tension applies to the individual who confesses and renounces their sin and seeks to go on to maturity in Christ. This tension will either makes us or break us.

 

What do I need to forget? Three encumbrances come to mind: status, sentimentality and sin.

Let’s start with status. The world we live in favors world status. Paul reminds the Christian in Philippians 3: 20, “We are citizens of heaven…” Prior to that, at the opening of Philippians 3, Paul warns the church about those who trust in the flesh-the bad works people. Then Paul writes, “Mind you, I have good reason to trust in the flesh…” Paul reminds the readers of his background, a Hebrew of the Hebrews background. He writes, in effect, that his status does not bring him closer to the prize – gaining Jesus. Before stating his forgetting of his status, he reminds us of Someone who ‘forgot’ his status.

In Philippians 2 Paul records an early Christian poem, which contains the words…

Who, though in God’s form, did not

Regard his equality with God

As something to exploit

 

Instead, he emptied himself,

And received the form of a slave,

Being born in the likeness of humans.

 

Sentimentality. The desire–the toxic craving–to relive the past, to re-feel. Ugh. You can’t run a race when you are standing in a tar pit. Paul doesn’t go there, even though his memories were astounding: “…my one aim: to forget everything that’s behind, and to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead.”

 

Sin. Let’s forget the sin which has so easily beset us. Like the Psalmist, I cry out…

“If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” Psalm 130.:3

“Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, LORD, are good.”  Psalm 25:7

 

Record keeping. The Evil One and those in sync with him will tell you that are unqualified to run and win any race because you failed before. They will say, “You will never be mature because you were immature before”.

Yes, there are those who keep a record of my sins, for ‘safe keeping’. They believe that by standing on a record of my sins they place themselves on higher ground. It doesn’t. Side line opinions are air and hold no weight unless you give them weight. As far as the east is from the west so far has God removed self-serving opinions from us. Don’t go back to the trash and dig them out.

 

 

“What am I not forgetting?” is a most important question.

One last word:  Consider, that often a lack of forgetting is coupled to a lack of forgiveness. A lack of forgiveness leads to unresolved anger- a root of bitterness. Perhaps a root of bitterness has a grip on both your legs and you are not able to “chase on toward the finishing post, where the prize waiting for me is the upward call of God in King Jesus” let alone stand.

 

Walk On – The Isaacs

 

In Christ Alone – Brian Litterell

What Ever Happened On the Way to Wisdom?

 

Where then does wisdom come from?

    Where does understanding dwell?

It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,

    concealed even from the birds in the sky.

Destruction and Death say,

    “Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.”

God understands the way to it

    and he alone knows where it dwells,

for he views the ends of the earth

    and sees everything under the heavens.

When he established the force of the wind

    and measured out the waters,

when he made a decree for the rain

    and a path for the thunderstorm,

then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;

    he confirmed it and tested it.

And he said to the human race,

    “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,

    and to shun evil is understanding.”

-Job 28

~~~

As children our mother and father would read a chapter of Proverbs after every weekday dinner meal.  With lilting voices and raised eyebrows they would teasingly “note” the passages related to children listening to their parents as in, “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” (Prov. 23:22)  Us kids would snicker, “Yeeeeah, dad.” A desire for wisdom was fostered in me during those times.

As a teen I read a Tyndale House Publishing compilation that consisted of five Psalms and one Proverb for each day of a month. After several months of reading, my soul started tuning to the A-440 of wisdom’s standard pitch. I found delight in the harmony of wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding. In fact, the tritone became a lifetime prayer:  “Lord, I ask for wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding.”

Seeking the simple matters of wisdom with humility would soon become a gift of discernment for me to use. And though confusion (a characteristic of evil) is everywhere, I could see what was true and what was false, the good and the bad. Now, I will say that most people do not like to be around polemics. So be it!

There is nothing on this earth like finding a wealth of wisdom. And wisdom is free for the asking, unless, of course, your feet stray off the path of wisdom.  Then, according to Proverbs, you will pay Big Time! And that is where we find our nation wandering today – having turned out off the path of wisdom and mired in the slough of deconstructionism.

The “folly of fools yields folly”:  Self-actualization mumbo-jumbo, social media promoted narcissism, psycho-therapy nursed introversion,  university humanities programs which have switched out revelatory wisdom-of-the-ages study for belly-button gazing identity politics, atomistic Enlightenment preaching – all of these “elements of the world” are man-made ear plugs drowning out the shouting of Wisdom in the streets.  Reject ages-old wisdom and you make an ass of yourself!

~~~

I find it fascinating that the writers of Proverbs who were inspired by the Holy Spirit and were living within a patriarchal world used the imagery of a woman to reveal God’s mysteries, that which has been hidden, to us. See Proverbs 1:20-33 and 9:1-6.

Perhaps it is a reference to what is common in all cultures across time – women have traditionally epitomized the foundations of home, marriage, family and of prudence, while men could be typified as Trekkies who “go where no man has gone before” (and sometimes go where no man should ever go, see Wisdom’s admonition below) and then return home to journey another day. (Please note: Both female and male roles – in general, one earth-bound, the other as planetary trailblazer – are of equal importance for human flourishing.  One role should not be placed above the other.)

And Wisdom as woman is very vocal in her appointed calling!  Wisdom clamors to be heard!

“Wisdom shouts in the streets.

She cries out in the public square.

 She calls to the crowds along the main street,

to those gathered in front of the city gate:

“How long, you simpletons,

will you insist on being simpleminded?

How long will you mockers relish your mocking?

How long will you fools hate knowledge?

Come and listen to my counsel.

I’ll share my heart with you

and make you wise.”  Prov. 1:20-23

 

Wisdom is no Sophia-come-lately:

 “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.”  Prov. 8:22-23
~~~

Now you must set your own cosmological foundations with wisdom.  Here is short list of Wisdom’s ways to whet your appetite for more “wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding”.

Wisdom says to observe and then take responsibility for yourself:

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise. It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”  Proverbs. 6:6-8

I have yet to find the Scripture verse that says “Go to the candidate, you sluggard; consider his/her ways and be taken care of for life.”

Wisdom leads to wise words and to righteousness.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,

    but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.” –Prov. 10:11

Wisdom can see that evil is a synthesis of good and evil.  (e.g., sex and homosexuality). That is why evil can be so tempting.

Evildoers do not understand what is right,

    but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.”  -Prov. 28:5

Wisdom knows when to speak up and when to be silent.

“To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.”  Prov. 18:13

Wisdom warns and defends.  Upon rejecting wisdom, Wisdom says,

“Then they will call to me but I will not answer;

    they will look for me but will not find me,

since they hated knowledge

    and did not choose to fear the Lord.

Since they would not accept my advice

    and spurned my rebuke,

they will eat the fruit of their ways

    and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.

For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,

    and the complacency of fools will destroy them;

but whoever listens to me will live in safety

    and be at ease, without fear of harm.”  -Prov. 1: 28-33

Upon accepting wisdom, Wisdom says,

“Then you will understand what is right and just

    and fair—every good path.

For wisdom will enter your heart,

    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

Discretion will protect you,

    and understanding will guard you.”  -Prov. 2: 9-11

 

Wisdom acknowledges the meritorious efforts of others.

“She watches over the affairs of her household

    and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children arise and call her blessed;

    her husband also, and he praises her:

“Many women do noble things,

    but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;

    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Honor her for all that her hands have done,

    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”  –Prov. 31: 27-31

 

Wisdom is its own reward.  You won’t need to pat yourself on your back or require a “Participation Trophy” . Wisdom does that for you when you make the right choice.

“Blessed are those who find wisdom,

    those who gain understanding,

for she is more profitable than silver

    and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;

    nothing you desire can compare with her.

Long life is in her right hand;

    in her left hand are riches and honor.

Her ways are pleasant ways,

    and all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;

    those who hold her fast will be blessed.”  -Prov. 3: 13-18

And,

“The wealth of the wise is their crown,

    but the folly of fools yields folly.”  -Prov. 14:24

 

Wisdom is an antidote to confusion in a world that increasingly embraces moral relativity – all values are to be made equal.

“The simple believe anything,

    but the prudent give thought to their steps.”  -Prov. 14:15

 

Wisdom keeps good company:

“Walk with the wise and become wise,

    for a companion of fools suffers harm.”  -Prov. 13: 20

 

Wisdom, to paraphrase a quote from William F. Buckley, stands athwart the wide road yelling, ‘Stop’!

Regarding the prostitutes along the great wide way, wisdom says,

“Now then, my sons, listen to me;

    pay attention to what I say.

Do not let your heart turn to her ways

    or stray into her paths.

Many are the victims she has brought down;

    her slain are a mighty throng.

Her house is a highway to the grave,

    leading down to the chambers of death.” -Prov. 7:24-27

And,

 “Give careful thought to the[c] paths for your feet

    and be steadfast in all your ways.

Do not turn to the right or the left;

    keep your foot from evil.” Prov. 4:26-27

 

Wisdom accepts correction.

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.”  -Prov. 12:1

And,

“Whoever heeds life-giving correction

    will be at home among the wise.”  -Prov. 15:31

 

Wisdom seeks knowledge.

“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,

    for the ears of the wise seek it out.” –Prov. 18:15

 

Wisdom doesn’t deceive or treat a neighbor unfairly.

“Differing weights and differing measures—

    the Lord detests them both.” –Prov. 20:10

 

 

Wisdom applies healthy introspection.

“Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure;

    I am clean and without sin”?” –Prov. 20:9

 

~~~

What the world needs now:  One night, over the shouting  of Wisdom, it was the heavenly host who clamored for our attention.  They proclaimed the birth of Jesus who “became for us wisdom (σοφια, sophia) from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption”. (1 Cor. 1:30).  Jesus, “wisdom from God” was before the foundations of the word; Jesus is everything you need to know, he is the Logos, the Word made flesh, Wisdom incarnate.

Do you hear the A440 of Wisdom in your ear?  tuning_fork

 

Don’t Inherit the Wind, Inherit The Relationship

fiddler47

Or…Looking for Value in All the Wrong Places

 

“There was a ruler who asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit the life of the age to come?”

“…for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to safely guard all that I have given him until the day of his return.”  The Apostle Paul, 2 Timothy 1:12

As I read the Scriptures, I have come to the understanding that whenever Jesus talks about money in terms of riches he resets the scale, the metric, by giving ultimate gravity to a Relationship with the Father. And so the reset is offered in the Gospel account of the rich ruler (Luke 18).

“Life of the age to come” is a relationship with the Father.  And all that the Father is is made available to the one who inherits it. Such an inheritance could only be acquired through a transaction made possible because of Jesus’ own relationship with the Father. Legal decisions on the part of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit would be required for such an inheritance.

“Life of the age to come” would perhaps be something perceived by the ruler as a means to continue his power and wealth generation without interference.

When asked by the rich young ruler “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit the life of the age to come?” Jesus first responds by connecting the dots about who he is – the legal authority and means to an inheritance and its Trustee.  Then Jesus reminds the rich man of the gold standard used by his servants in his earthly Kingdom: The Ten Commandments.  The gold standard of his Kingdom is that which orders right relationships – relationships between God and man and between man and his neighbor.

“Why call me ‘good’?” said Jesus to him. “No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments:  don’t commit adultery; don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t swear falsely; honor your father and mother.”

The ruler responds, “I’ve kept them all,” he said, since I was a boy.”

Thus, the man appears to imply that his accounts are up to date, his credit line is perfect. And like any successful businessman and devout Jew he may have wondered if inheriting “the life of the age to come” would be the return on his moral investment.

It occurred to me that material wealth was often perceived as a “sign” of God’s blessing in those days and as far back as the days of Job. What an inheritance “of life in the age to come” may have meant to the ruler:  a means to further his accumulation of wealth and possessions and influence…. God’s blessing…forever?

Read more of this post

What’s the Unitarian?

It is little wonder that the well-known ‘angry’ atheist Richard Dawkins wrote the anti-thesim book The God Delusion.  It is easily understandable especially after one reads the interview (excerpted and linked below) between a Unitarian Minister Marilyn Sewell and another anti-theist atheist the former Christopher Hitchens (Hitch).

 As evident from the interview, Marilyn Sewell, a minister, is utterly delusional in her understanding of God and Christianity.  And it is blatantly obvious that Hitch has a better understanding of Christianity than this Unitarian minister.

 Apparently from her bio Sewell has studied theology but I contend it is not Biblical theology.  Her questions and remarks as interviewer reveal her embrace of syncretism – a diversity of false beliefs and humanism blended with the truth of Christianity. Unitarian could be another term for syncretism.

 From her eponymous blog we are told that liberal believer and retired minister of the First Unitarian Church of Portland Marilyn Sewell is a former teacher and psychotherapist.  She has authored numerous books. Over a period of 17 years Sewell helped grow Portland’s downtown Unitarian congregation into one of the largest in the United States. At this point I must say that the fact that this woman and the Unitarian Church are misleading many is of serious concern to me. I must contend for the truth of Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 It troubles my spirit greatly when people like this liberal Unitarian minister use the name of Jesus Christ to preach “another gospel” and not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her message is a mish-mash of new age religion, liberal theology, social justice and cheap grace.  The ultimate message becomes half lie half truth:  “It’s not what you believe but how you live.” Ergo an embrace of diverse beliefs and social justice activism are at the forefront of Unitarian creeds.  As you’ll read, for Sewell just like the Episcopalian minister ghost in C.S. Lewis’, “The Great Divorce” all is metaphor, and therefore, cannot be taken seriously

 The deity of Christ, His death on the cross, His atonement for sins, judgement, heaven and hell, all are dismissed as being metaphorical, as not relevant to present human need and too exclusive a message to preach and teach.   Clearly this is syncretistic thinking and delusional with regard to the truth.  And because of its soft, socially acceptable version of theology the tentacles of Unitarian tenets are quickly creeping into evangelical churches across the nation.

 As a follower of Christ I am posting this information expressly to note the deception hidden in Sewell’s misguided words.  I have no problem talking about this interview in no uncertain terms. From the public record it can be noted that Sewell is a social activist and polemicist as was Hitch. They are/were each able to dish out pious platitudes at will and certainly, as their backgrounds would support, are/were able to hold their own in conversations regarding issues of faith and God.  So here goes.

 The interview took place prior to Christopher Hitchen’s January 5th, 2010 appearance as part of the Literary Arts’ Portland art and lecture series at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.  Hitch was political columnist for Vanity Fair, Slate, and other magazines, and known for his frequent contributions on the political TV circuit.  Hitchens’ pointed attacks against all religion has earned him regular debates across the country, often with the very fundamentalist believers his book, “God is Not Great”, attacks. Sewell, the interviewer, though, knows nothing about the fundamentals of Christianity. It would seem that Hitch is in a joust with Jello.

 Here are excerpts from that interview,  linked here

 Marilyn Sewell: In the book you write that, at age nine, you experienced the ignorance of your scripture teacher Mrs. Watts and, then later at 12, your headmaster tried to justify religion as a comfort when facing death. It seems you were an intuitive atheist. But did you ever try religion again?

Christopher Hitchens: I belong to what is a significant minority of human beings: Those who are-as Pascal puts it in his Pensées, his great apology for Christianity-“so made that they cannot believe.” As many as 10 percent of is just never can bring themselves to take religion seriously. And since people often defend religion as natural to humans (which I wouldn’t say it wasn’t, by the way), the corollary holds too: there must be respect for those who simply can’t bring themselves to find meaning in phrases like “the Holy Spirit.”

Well, could it be that some people are “so made” for faith. and you are so made for the intellectual life?

I don’t have whatever it takes to say things like “the grace of God.” All that’s white noise to me, not because I’m an intellectual. For many people, it’s gibberish. Likewise, the idea that the Koran was dictated by an archaic illiterate is a fantasy. As so far the most highly evolved of the primates, we do seem in the majority to have a tendency to worship, and to look for patterns that lead to supernatural conclusions. Whereas, I think that there is no supernatural dimension whatever. The natural world is quite wonderful enough. The more we know about it, the much more wonderful it is than any supernatural proposition.

The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God-as you might as a matter of fact-as, “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish-fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?”

I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning-at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.

Well, probably not, because I agree with almost everything that you say. But I still consider myself a Christian and a person of faith.

Do you mind if I ask you a question? Faith in what? Faith in the resurrection?

The way I believe in the resurrection is I believe that one can go from a death in this life, in the sense of being dead to the world and dead to other people, and can be resurrected to new life. When I preach about Easter and the resurrection, it’s in a metaphorical sense.

I hate to say it-we’ve hardly been introduced-but maybe you are simply living on the inheritance of a monstrous fraud that was preached to millions of people as the literal truth-as you put it, “the ground of being.”

Times change and, you know, people’s beliefs change. I don’t believe that you have to be fundamentalist and literalist to be a Christian. You do: You’re something of a fundamentalist, actually.

Well, I’m sorry, fundamentalist simply means those who think that the Bible is a serious book and should be taken seriously.

If you would like for me to talk a little bit about what I believe . . .

Well I would actually.

I don’t know whether or not God exists in the first place, let me just say that. I certainly don’t think that God is an old man in the sky, I don’t believe that God intervenes to give me goodies if I ask for them.

You don’t believe he’s an interventionist of any kind?

I’m kind of an agnostic on that one. God is a mystery to me. I choose to believe because-and this is a very practical thing for me-I seem to live with more integrity when I find myself accountable to something larger than myself. That thing larger than myself, I call God, but it’s a metaphor. That God is an emptiness out of which everything comes. Perhaps I would say ” reality” or “what is” because we’re trying to describe the infinite with language of the finite. My faith is that I put all that I am and all that I have on the line for that which I do not know.

Fine. But I think that’s a slight waste of what could honestly be in your case a very valuable time. I don’t want you to go away with the impression that I’m just a vulgar materialist. I do know that humans are also so made even though we are an evolved species whose closest cousins are chimpanzees. I know it’s not enough for us to eat and so forth. We know how to think. We know how to laugh. We know we’re going to die, which gives us a lot to think about, and we have a need for, what I would call, “the transcendent” or “the numinous” or even “the ecstatic” that comes out in love and music, poetry, and landscape. I wouldn’t trust anyone who didn’t respond to things of that sort. But I think the cultural task is to separate those impulses and those needs and desires from the supernatural and, above all, from the superstitious.

Could you talk about these two words that you just used, “transcendent” and “numinous”? Those are two words are favorites of mine.

Well, this would probably be very embarrassing, if you knew me. I can’t compose or play music; I’m not that fortunate. But I can write and I can talk and sometimes when I’m doing either of these things I realize that I’ve written a sentence or uttered a thought that I didn’t absolutely know I had in me… until I saw it on the page or heard myself say it. It was a sense that it wasn’t all done by hand.

A gift?

But, to me, that’s the nearest I’m going to get to being an artist, which is the occupation I’d most like to have and the one, at last, I’m the most denied. But I, think everybody has had the experience at some point when they feel that there’s more to life than just matter. But I think it’s very important to keep that under control and not to hand it over to be exploited by priests and shamans and rabbis and other riffraff.

You know, I think that that might be a religious impulse that you’re talking about there.

Well, it’s absolutely not. It’s a human one. It’s part of the melancholy that we have in which we know that happiness is fleeting, and we know that life is brief, but we know that, nonetheless, life can be savored and that happiness, even of the ecstatic kind, is available to us. But we know that our life is essentially tragic as well. I’m absolutely not for handing over that very important department of our psyche to those who say, “Well, ah. Why didn’t you say so before? God has a plan for you in mind.” I have no time to waste on this planet being told what to do by those who think that God has given them instructions.

You write, “Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and the soul.” You use the word “soul” there as metaphor. What is a soul for you?

It’s what you might call “the x-factor”-I don’t have a satisfactory term for it-it’s what I mean by the element of us that isn’t entirely materialistic: the numinous, the transcendent, the innocence of children (even though we know from Freud that childhood isn’t as innocent as all that), the existence of love (which is, likewise, unquantifiable but that anyone would be a fool who said it wasn’t a powerful force), and so forth. I don’t think the soul is immortal, or at least not immortal in individuals, but it may be immortal as an aspect of the human personality because when I talk about what literature nourishes, it would be silly of me or reductionist to say that it nourishes the brain.

I wouldn’t argue with you about the immortality of the soul. Were I back in a church again, I would love to have you in my church because you’re so eloquent and I believe that some of your impulses-and, excuse me for saying so-are religious in the way I am religious. You may call it something else, but we agree in a lot of our thinking.

I’m touched that you say, as some people have also said to me, that I’ve missed my vocation. But I actually don’t think that I have. I would not be able to be this way if I was wearing robes or claiming authority that was other than human. that’s a distinction that matters to me very much.

You have your role and it’s a valuable one, so thank you for what you give to us.

Well, thank you for asking. It’s very good of you to be my hostess.

[end of interview]

 Note above that after Sewell’s reference to theologian Paul Tillich’s take on God as “an invincible tyrant” and after mentioning Freud’s dismissive take on faith (also well-known to Hitch), she wants to hear from Hitch about Tillich’s concept of God.  Listen closely to Hitch’s response:

I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning-at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.

 Wow!  The money line: “If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.”

 Even Hitch knows that this woman is way off the mark in her ‘theology’.  In this case Hitch doesn’t drop famous names from history like Sewell.  Hitch cuts to the quick with the truth of the Gospel as he knows it.  He quotes from Scripture:  “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (I Cor. 15:19). 

 Hitch has known Christianity from standing outside looking in while.  He does not like Christianity’s authority and the abuse of that authority (as I do not).

 Sewell, on the other hand, knows the hodge-podge Unitarian philosophy from inside out.  She knows all of its labyrinthine pathways leading to the utopian fields of humanism, new age philosophy and God is love-ism. The irony:  Unitarian ‘theology’ clearly advocates the contention of atheists that religion is about wish-fulfillment and fear of the unknown.

Here is Marilyn’s take on the conversation from her blog:

“The man is brilliant, but not wise; clever, but not deep; and a fundamentalist, in regard to religion, rejecting any form of liberal Christianity as bogus religion, not to be respected

Hitchens clearly has never studied theology, (This is rich.  See my comments above) and most of the comments he made concerning the Bible, Jesus, salvation, etc., were shockingly naïve (Hitch’s knowledge of Christianity trumped yours, Marilyn).  Where he has something to offer, of course, is his critique of religion and society, and all of the horrors and nonsense done in the name of religion, which I have no argument with.  It’s not exactly news that the Inquisition was a bad thing.  And that Catholic priests shouldn’t abuse altar boys.  And (his particular nemesis) jihadists shouldn’t blow up innocent civilians. 

Hitchens is the ultimate intellectual “bad boy.”  He performs.  He “debates.”  He entertains. All of which he does very well.   But this should not be confused with thoughtful discourse. “(I agree with this last paragraph of Marilyn’s)

 I would certainly argue from the details of the interview that Hitch knows Christianity well enough to be convicted by its message – but he rejects it outright.  Sewell, on the other hand, doesn’t know the truths of Christianity and appears to only embrace the parts of the Gospel that fit with the Unitarian belief in humanism – a theology of a coddling, benevolent and indulgent God who accepts you no matter what.

 Gospel truth convicts people of their sin and their separation from God whereas the tepid mollycoddling theology of Unitarianism destroys lives with its abandonment of truth and its good intentions. And as we all have heard, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Or, hell is full of good wishes and desires.  In the end Truth matters.

Are you seeking the truth?

 To find the truth about the Gospel of Jesus Christ read the four gospel accounts that record the life and death of Jesus Christ:  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  These historical eye-witness accounts are not metaphors as liberal theologians (Sewell, Elaine Pagels and others) would have us accept.

 Follow the Truth wherever it leads you and it will eventually lead you to Jesus Christ.  He is The Way, The Truth and the Life. I have been on the road of truth with Jesus for many years now.  I know Him and he knows me. 

 Truth and Love go hand-in-hand or not at all.

The Tree of Life Envisioned

Recently I viewed Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. It would be difficult for me to adequately describe the effect this movie had on me, the emotion and reflection evoked from me as a Christian parent who has lost a child.  This movie operates, more than any I have ever seen, on an intimate meaning-of-life level while the breadth of its vision enables us to direct our eyes away from ourselves and out into the vast cosmos. And in doing so, synchronicity with creation is summoned.

 Life’s deepest and most pressing questions, the universal “whys” behind all of life are posed using the simple narrative of the lives of the O’Brien family of five. Underlying the film’s basic premises of wonder and questioning is the ancient wisdom book of Job, for me the touchstone of the film.  I believe that each viewer’s prior contemplation of life’s deepest questions would certainly individualize the film’s impression on the viewer.  Without individuation, though, the movie is just an amalgam of exceptional pictures and music – a mood piece. I see The Tree of Life as being a spiritual movie and not a religious documentary and therefore I believe it will affect each viewer differently.

 Without going into too much of the narrative detail, detail which may deprive you of the movie’s impact, here is my initial impression of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life:

 Though I was ready for the usual exceptional visual imagery – Stanley Kubrick’s movies come to mind – that is part and parcel of Malick’s cinematic talent (see also his Days of Heaven) I was blown away by the large scope of the movie:  creation, the meaning of life, the existence of suffering, nature and grace and the Creator. 

One of the visual and emotional pleasures of this movie is that the images are offered to us in prolonged time frames – there are no frenetic montages matched to every blink of the eye. The absence of the modern movie restlessness allows us to contemplate the force of those images. We are then able to react with deeply held authentic feelings and at the same time not feel the need to immediately dispose of those feelings so as to be ready for the next emotional roller coaster ride of images. In this way the movie parallels life:  creation and real life takes place over time.  I believe the movie honors the fact that God takes time to accomplish His purposes – in the universe and in the saga of our lives. And, as the movie depicts, we do not understand God’s ways but, as I have seen, God, who is outside of time, uses time to reveal His Nature and His Grace to us.

 Malick rolls out before us a grand sweeping chromatic scroll of the universe. The visual imagery, often shown in natural lighting is enhanced with beautifully evocative musical selections including works by Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Smetana’s The Moldau River, Preisner’s Lacrimosa, Cassidy’s The Funeral March and Górecki’s Sorrowful Songs Symphony. Such music invokes us to come present to the spiritual within our souls.

 The awe-inspiring and overwhelming dynamic universe centers around and is grounded by a tree in the backyard of a family’s home in Waco Texas, circa 1950s. Using a minimalist script this family of five provides creation’s human narrative: father (emblematic of nature), mother (emblematic of grace) and their three young sons.  The father, the mother and Jack O’brien, the eldest son and main character give us our viewpoints. Later on in the movie Jack’s character is played as an adult by Sean Penn. The adult Jack becomes an architect who creates buildings derivative of his own hard-edged “nature”.

 Within this family life narrative we see birth, growth, maturation, anger, relational distance, death, sorrow, loss, envy, survival, strife and sin. Along the way the ever pressing questions of life are whispered to our ears using voiceovers.

 As I mentioned the display of the immensity and dynamism of the created universe provides the backdrop for these most important issues of life, questions that this family of five and certainly any sane person on earth ponders at some point in their life:  Where is God?; Does God see what is happening?; Does God care? Are we left on our own? What about evil? What about the loss of a child? Why is there suffering?

 After the death of her son Mrs. O’Brien asks, “He was in God’s hands the whole time, wasn’t he?” “If God is good and cares about us, why does he make us suffer?”  Throughout the movie we are engaged to ponder these hard questions and to once again look through a glass darkly for the answers.

 Watching this film I was also reminded of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and the philosophical lessons Smerdyakov learned from Ivan, regarding the impossibility of evil in a world without a God.

 In depicting some of the range of God’s creation we see vast spatial distances which hold myriad galaxies and we also see, looking through other end of the telescope, intricate microcosmic details.  We are reminded that the Creator God is ever beyond our finite comprehension. For this reason I am thankful that Malick chose to countenance theism and not a Woody Allen-type nihilism that turns its back on God and mocks Him every time.

 The movie begins by referencing the oldest piece of wisdom literature in the world, the book of Job. The stage is set with God responding to Job who had cursed the day he was born after being overwhelmed with trouble, suffering and loss.  From Job 38:4, 7:

 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation … while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

 Throughout the movie there are other paraphrased Scripture references including Job 13:15, “I will be true to you whatever comes.”

 I believe I also heard a paraphrased reference to Paul’s letter to the Roman church during a scene where Jack is praying: “I know what I want to do but I can’t do it.”  Also, there is an oblique reference to Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church regarding the character of love:

  “There are two ways through life:  the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things. The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.” Mrs. O’Brien, The Tree of Life

 Beyond the infusions of Scripture, I saw revealed man’s unconscious need to bump up against someone bigger and stronger than life itself. And though we are infinitesimally small compared to the enormous universe we matter to God.  In another wisdom book of the Bible, the Psalms, the shepherd boy David speaks in awe of God’s intimate knowledge of His creatures,

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”

  The film doesn’t seek to answer the questions of life but only poses them offering up grace as the consummate reconciler. As a believer in Jesus Christ I am transformed daily by God’s grace.  Just as important, I am forgiven and reconciled with God because Jesus Christ was nailed to another tree – the cross. His resurrection now provides me access to the Tree of Eternal Life. I know the One Who is the Answer.

A tree of life was planted in the garden long ago…

  “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”…

 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

 

While we ask God “Where are You in all of this?”, God is asking us “Where are you?”

Soul Train?

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James,

“To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:

Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Lord, clear the Church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her, and bring us back to apostolic methods.” C.H. Spurgeon from Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?