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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Circuitous Road to Truth

I’ve been thinking a lot about truth lately, particularly in light of the idea that we are now said to be living in a post truth world, where it is feared that some have ceased to desire truth, preferring, instead, to choose their own reality.

In my opinion, this is nothing new. I would say that, from the moment Eve bought the serpent’s alternative version of truth, everyone on the planet has fit that description.

I would suggest that God Himself is truth, and therefore the source of all reality, and that, regardless of our opinions, he alone always has and always will impart truth as he chooses.

I believe that, in the Garden, humanity decided to trade the one True Reality derived from the one True Source, for the Deceiver's offer of the opportunity to pursue knowledge (speculation) on our own, detached from the Source, with the Deceiver ever doing his best to throw us off the trail.

Arriving at truth on our own was already impossible even  without that added impediment.

Regarding all that exists and even what does not exist, there is a truth. Truth is ultimate fact, not an educated guess or an opinion based on experience. It is the indisputable reality of what is.

No human, however, can know the entire truth of even a single thing. No one begins to possess the ability to perceive even all of the questions that would need to be asked and answered in order to arrive at the truth of just that one thing.

We could spend our entire lives deciding, with limited and faulty data, what we will believe is true, never knowing just how near or far from reality we are.

I grew up in a denomination that claimed to possess “The Truth,” as opposed, not only to the World (read: Non-Christian), but to every other denomination as well.
What an intoxicating position to hold. What hubris!

Yet, we all do that to one extent or another, don’t we? Every one of us, at the core, wants to think we are right, as opposed to anyone who dares to disagree with us.

So, if, as I am suggesting, God is the only source of ultimate truth, and he reveals truth as he sees fit, yet humans, including Christians, disagree on so much, what does this mean?
My opinion is that what I believe at any given moment is all I’ve got. 

My understanding of truth is evolving and will change as it is informed, shaped and tempered by scripture, study, preaching, conversations, etc., but, in the end, what I believe will always be uniquely mine.

Does that mean that truth is relative? Absolutely not! But, I do believe that our perception of truth, at the core, is always personal.

As no two snowflakes are exactly alike, no two people’s perceptions of truth will be identical.

God, the only True Source of what is, has always met humanity, both individually and as a whole, right where they are, as opposed to some theoretical state of where they should be; because, ever since the fall, in relation to ultimate reality, humanity has never been where they should be.

In the person of Christ, God literally met all of mankind right where they were, both individually and corporately, from the first human to the last, with Truth.

Jesus specifically identified himself to us as the Truth (John 14:6). What, then, is the significance of God gifting Truth to us in the form of his Son?

I believe, first and foremost, that God sent his Son to provide a means of forgiveness for humanity’s original decision to accept the lie that effectively separated us from truth, and for everything that followed as a result of that decision. Then, through Christ, God's purpose was to restore in us the direct connection to the Source.

In 1 Corinthians, chapter 2 we read that God’s plan was always to give us the Spirit who searches “even the depths of God,” so that he can communicate, directly to our spirits, the very mind of Christ! To me, that’s a staggering concept, and seems about as personal as it gets.

I believe that God reveals truth in a general way to everyone, but I also believe that he meets each individual that has been called according to his purpose, in a uniquely personalized way, according to their own specific make up and needs.

I know there are some who balk at the metaphor of life being a journey, but, for me, the idea that each person has their own unique, God-guided trek to the same destination, with a specifically created route, having its own starting point and varied stopping points along the way, seems to best align with scripture and makes the most sense. 

This understanding affords me the option of relaxing and simply respecting what God might be doing with someone else, even when it appears they are heading in the opposite direction of where I am and, therefore, going in what appears to me to be the “wrong way.”

I can recognize, from the head-shaking twists 
and turns in my own life, where I learned something valuable at each “wrong turn”, that these supposed detours are actually what prepared me for the next leg of the trip.
Paradoxically, the divinely-directed-journey framework also gives me the freedom to voice my concerns regarding the direction someone else appears to be heading. My warning may be the very thing God intends to use to turn them in a new direction, or, against my own intent, my words could be the very thing that solidifies their determination to stay on that particular road, down which God himself is actually taking them.

It is God who leads us and he is trustworthy.

He may connect us with each other at a point on the way, only to eventually send us off in different directions.

He may put us in one place and leave us there for the rest of our lives, or lead us in and out of various local church bodies,  holding very dissimilar beliefs.

We may even travel awhile completely apart from a local church, while still acknowledging a strong connection to the Church Universal.

The relieving bottom line is, that no one knows the entire truth but God and, thankfully, he is the one directing not only my path to understanding his Truth, but yours.

If we believe that God is the one doing all of the verbs of our salvation from beginning  to end then we can trust him to take each of us where we need to go.

Although it is our natural inclination, we do not need to fear or despise the way of another because it does not mirror our own.

Yes, there are warnings throughout scripture of wolves masquerading as sheep. We are admonished to be on our guard and to test the spirits, because there are false teachers and prophets. The Deceiver and his offspring are real, but God has assured us that it is not possible for him to ultimately deceive those who are chosen in Christ (Matthew 24:24). The Shepherd always guards and goes after his sheep.

As we live out our lives, our understanding of truth will, assuredly, never look identical to another’s, but we can respect each other on the way, trusting God as the Source of all Truth, and rest in the promise that, 

“[T]he Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:26-28

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Angels Did Not Lie

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”                            Luke 2:14

“And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men"
 – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I was listening to Christmas music the other day as I was making Dutch Apple Pie for Christmas, when the song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day came on.  The words in the verse above struck me with even more force than they usually do.  I stopped my peeling and chopping for a minute to think about the seemingly insurmountable amount of division and ill will in the world right now.  The song continued to its crescendo of hope, but I was left pondering the seemingly failed promise of “Peace on Earth.”  Did the Angels lie, I wondered.  Where was this illusive promised peace?  Had it ever existed in human history?
The next day I happened to see a post where someone quoted Luke 2:14.  I stared at it and thought that it was misquoted.  I was raised with the King James translation of that verse which ends with, “And on earth peace, good will toward men.”  This English Standard Version rendering of the words jarred me.  
This peace, of which the Angels sang, was promised specifically to “those with whom [God] is pleased!”  If I didn’t know the gospel, I would have thought, ‘Well, that explains everything!  There may be a couple of people out there with whom God is pleased, but they are the only ones who have peace.  The rest of us are out of luck!’ 
I do know the gospel, however, and suddenly my spirits lifted.  The “peace” Christ came to bring is not the same “World Peace” for which every beauty pageant queen has wished.  It is the peace between God and man.  The very “Shalom” of God. 
It is the lost peace spoken of in Isaiah 48:18,                                                                                                “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!
    Then your peace would have been like a river
    and your righteousness like the waves of the sea….”
It is the promise of restored peace as found in Isaiah 66:12
"For thus says the Lord:
‘Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,
    and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,
    and bounced upon her knees.’”  
It is the peace, the reconciliation, that could only come through the one human with whom God has ever been well-pleased, his Son.  That baby, about whom the angels sang, was the only one who ever “paid attention” to the commandments of God and whose righteousness was like the waves of the sea.  His obedience alone allowed the river of peace to become an overflowing stream to the nations.  
The Angels’ song may not have promised the universal peace on this earth for which we long, but that unfulfilled longing points to its ultimate fulfillment for all who take refuge in Jesus, the promised Messiah.  First, in him, we receive, right now, our peace with God and from that peace we have the assurance that we will one day enjoy an eternity of peace in the earth made new.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Get Your Story Straight

I’m a story kind of gal.  I understand life best through stories.  Donald Grey Barnhouse reportedly said, “All of life illustrates bible doctrine.”  I have always taken that to mean that everything I experience in life can be put into story form to illustrate something about scripture.  The flaw in this reasoning is that my story will always be colored by my understanding, or lack, of the reality of what scripture actually says.

For a good part of my life, I read bible stories and most other stories, with a moral point of view.  I was either the hero or antihero.  The story illustrated the kind of person I should or should not be but, either way, it was all about me.  Then, when the gospel found me, I suddenly saw that I had been reading those stories all wrong.  The gospel taught me that Jesus is the hero of every story.  Even the best of human beings can be only a dim light pointing to the brilliant light of Christ.  The only parts that were about me were the anti-hero parts, and their purpose was not primarily to show me how to be a better person, but to open my eyes to the kind of person I really am and, thus, to my need of a savior.

We have a recliner that sits right in front of the picture window in our living room, but we seldom sit in it, preferring the sofa or the loveseat.  The other day, however, I plopped down in the chair and looked out, and there, right at eye level, was a cardinal sitting in a nest, looking back at me.  It was a relatively small bird, and, because it was hot outside, its beak was open.  “Oh, it’s a baby,” I thought, “and it’s probably waiting for the parents to come feed it. 

I was sad that I had missed the entire chapter where the egg or eggs hatched and where the babies cheeped incessantly and the poor parents had to make endless trips to meet the demands for food.  I was glad, though, that I would at least get to witness the last few days of this little one’s time in the nest.  It definitely looked ready to leave at any time. I did see a male cardinal zoom past a few times, but never witnessed the bird being fed. 

Then, a day or so later, I peeked out the window and saw that the nest was empty.  I don’t know a lot about birds, except their habits at my bird feeding station, but my husband, who knows a bit more than I do, informed me that once birds leave the nest, they do not return, so I resigned myself to the fact that the baby was gone.  However, later that day, the baby was back in the nest.  My husband was surprised, but not too worried.  I, on the other hand, immediately assumed that something was wrong.  The baby just sat there, with it’s mouth open, waiting, and as far as I could tell, no parents were coming to feed it. 

By then I had done some reading on birds leaving the nest, and I now knew this was highly unusual.  I began checking throughout the day.  Sometimes the bird was gone, and my hopes would go up, but it always quickly returned.  I confess that I sometimes stood near the window and talked to the bird, who couldn’t really hear me, but always looked right at me as I spoke.  “What are you doing,” I asked.  “Are you okay?  You really need to learn to feed yourself now.  It’s pretty clear that your parents are finished raising you.  You won’t last long if you keep coming back here and sitting in the nest all day.”

You can easily see how my advice to the bird and my penchant for stories that illustrate bible doctrine was lending itself perfectly to the moral storyline: "God has given us everything necessary to succeed in the Christian life, but we can’t expect him to baby us forever.  There comes a time when we each must  learn to fly and take responsibility for our own spiritual lives.  We need to stop returning to our little nests and go out into the world sharing what we have learned." Right?

But, remember the flaw, that my story will always be colored by my understanding, or lack, of reality? 

After several anxious days, I had a sudden shift in my understanding.  “Wait a minute,” I said to the bird, “What if you’re not a baby who won’t leave the nest?  What if you’re actually a small mother bird sitting on your eggs?”  The cardinal stared back at me.

It has been about a week now.  The small mother bird sits vigilantly in her nest, leaving only briefly to get food.  Yesterday, she and the male cardinal valiantly chased off a flock of birds who dared to land in the tree.  She is protecting those eggs with her life.  The baby birds inside those eggs are contributing nothing to their growth and safety.  Their nurture and care is total.  And, even after they hatch, their every need will be met.  The babies will still be utterly dependent. 

I was reading the story wrong.  It wasn’t about me and my responsibility, or you and yours.  As always, it was about God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—who incubates us, protects us, nurtures us and nourishes us.  It is about our utter helplessness and vulnerability, and how our needs are abundantly met through his provision, not our own. 

How precious is your

Steadfast love, O God!

The children of mankind

Take refuge in the shadow

Of your wings.

They feast on the

Abundance of your house,

And you given them drink

From the river of your delights.

Psalm 36:7-8

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Solid Ground

Emotionally uprooted,
Not sure where I belong.
The things I once was sure of
Now suddenly seem wrong.

Unmoored, adrift and frightened,
No solid ground in sight.
I wonder where I'm going
And who will heed my plight.

Alone, unheard, unnoticed,
Afraid to lift my voice,
Afraid to be disparaged,
Afraid to make a choice.

Distressed, ashamed, remorseful,
Embarrased at my state.
I'm not sure how I got here
Or what will be my fate.

I lay my case before God,
And ask for his regard.
I tell him of my sorrow,
How life is just too hard.

I wonder, will he hear me,
Or will he turn away?
Will he be disappointed
At what I had to say?

I bow my head in silence
And wait for his rebuke,
Knowing that his charges
I'm too tired to dispute.

"My child," he gently whispers,
"I know you feel alone.
I know you feel uncertain
As you're facing the unknown.

"But know that I am with you,
I am your solid ground.
You feel as though you're missing,
But you are truly found.

"I see you and I hear you,
I know your every tear,
And I will never leave you,
There's nothing you need fear.

"My love for you is endless,
Dependent on my Son.
You cannot ever lose it,
That battle has been won."

Sunday, March 19, 2017

In Light of the Vertical

 Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,
    and the writers who keep writing oppression,
 to turn aside the needy from justice
    and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be their spoil,
    and that they may make the fatherless their prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
    in the ruin that will come from afar?
To whom will you flee for help,
    and where will you leave your wealth?
Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners
    or fall among the slain.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.  Isaiah 10:1-4

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
    is God in his holy habitation. Psalm 68:5

Do not rob the poor, because he is poor,
    or crush the afflicted at the gate,
for the Lord will plead their cause
    and rob of life those who rob them.  Proverbs 22:22-23

 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.  Deuteronomy 10:17-19

Since the election, many of my friends, and even family, have wondered if I’ve ‘done gone and lost my mind’ because I have posted numerous articles and opinions which are critical of the current administration’s actions and policies. It has been suggested that I am off topic, the only real topic of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Some have thought that I am putting my trust in politics and politicians instead of God, expecting our nation and its leaders to fulfill the directives of scripture.  Others have made it clear that they believe taking a public political position will alienate people and might close their minds to anything “spiritual” I might have to say.  And, many think that I just can’t get over the fact that my candidate did not win the election and that I simply have a bad case of “sour grapes.”  (To that last one I have to say that I did not really have a candidate that didn’t win, I had an anti-candidate who won.)

Because I have never been particularly political, I am not bold by nature, and I care more than I really should about what others think of me, I have been brought up short by these criticisms, and have regularly retreated to ponder the truth of what was said or implied. 

For many years, I have had only one message, that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in the finished work of Christ alone.  I was highly suspicious of any talk, not just political, that hinted at how Christians should live, because I had been blinded for half my life by churches whose primary proclamation was Christian Living, where Christ was merely a footnote in the prequel. That deadly emphasis had kept me from having any assurance in Christ.  It kept my focus on me and left me either feeling, self-righteously, that I was doing pretty well, or, despondently, that I was a failure and a fraud. 

God’s revelation to me that my obedience did not save me, but, rather, that it was Christ’s obedience and his punishment for me, in my stead, which saved me, changed my entire life!  I was not willing to be confused again, or to risk confusing others, by engaging in any conversation about living in light of the cross. 

Then, two things happened.  The first was that I began to grasp the idea of the vertical and horizontal planes in relation to God and humankind.  The vertical plane is my relationship with God.  It represents the It-is-finished standing of salvation, accomplished by Christ for me, to which I contributed nothing but my sin.  It is a completed, historical fact.  I am secure in Christ.

The horizontal plane represents my relationship with those around me.  The way I relate to the world flows out of my vertical, settled relationship with God.  The vertical plane has an effect on the horizontal (the way I live).  The fact that I am secure in Christ and have been given undeserved grace and mercy will generate in me a desire to show that same grace and mercy to those around me.  The horizontal plane, however, does not in any way affect my settled relationship with God in the vertical plane.  My behavior in the horizontal will not “unsave” me.  God still watches over me, guides my feet, leads me, convicts me and sometimes disciplines me in regards to my behavior, but that is because I am his child.  My place in the family is not threatened.

The second thing was the election.

I have already mentioned that I have never been very interested in politics.  I’ve had my views which I almost never expressed, and I always voted my conscience; but, when every other election was over I paid little to no attention to what happened after I left the voting booth.  I’m not suggesting that’s a good or a bad thing, it’s just the truth.  But, for me, and for many others, this election was different.  I can’t explain it necessarily, but I haven’t been able to ignore it either.  It has created in me a sense of urgency, a need to speak up, to sound a warning.  No matter how hard I’ve tried to “let it go”, I can’t. 

I have been told that the policies this administration is proposing are not very different from previous administrations, from both political parties.  My research tells me this is, to some extent, true. I have been told by many who voted for this president that they felt the same urgency regarding the previous administration, and I believe them and respect their experience.  I know that some who voted for Trump are greatly encouraged by his seemingly miraculous win and have found hope, in that win, that his presidency will be a blessing for our country.  I have also heard many say they were so distressed by the choices they had in this election that they cried as they cast their votes.  Feelings are on the surface and are raw in a way that I have never before witnessed.  Regardless of how things may have been in the past, for me, things are different now.

I cannot answer for what anyone else believes they must do or not do in regards to living horizontally in light of the vertical.  I only know that as I watch my country moving in the direction of self-protectionism and pursuing fiscal policies in such a way that widows, orphans, the poor, afflicted, and even sojourners are being put and/or left in harm’s way, I cannot be silent. I must speak up for them, I must stand with them, and I must do whatever I can to help them. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Pursue Freedom

I had a realization today. Strong negative responses are attached to actual occurrences, events, things that happen to us. We, therefore, might assume that we will have strong positive feelings about the lack of a negative occurence, but that is not always the case.

For example. I looked forward, in retirement, to enjoying not having to do certain things, like not having to work on weekends and holidays, or when it snowed, or when I was sick. And while I experienced fleeting satisfaction as the workless weekends and holidays came and went, for the most part, my life as I am now experiencing it, simply went on as per the new "usual". I merely gave a passing nod to the non-event.

This explains to some extent, I think, why, for many, after suffering all of the misery in an unhappy marriage, the freedom of divorce may not seem to deliver on its promise. The absence of the misery doesn't automatically produce equal and opposite feelings of relief or happiness.

This also relates to why the absence of a catastrophic event can never come even remotely close to having the same impact as a catastrophic event does. People, if told that a massive terror plot was just uncovered and thwarted, will give a relieved and grateful sigh, then go on about their day. Even if they are told that this event could have been of the same magnitude as 9/11, an event which they might have experienced to one extent or another, their response will naturally be minimal in comparison.

The negative feelings from experiences in the past are not erased or replaced with joy engendered by the cessation of those experiences; and negative things that never happened leave little to no imprint at all.

While we may receive actual benefits as a result of distancing ourselves from misery or narrowly escaping disaster, we may not experience emotional benefits.

So, if escaping the negative is not enough to produce the positive, what is? For me it is intentionally exploring what it means to live fully in the freedom found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Knowing that I have nothing to prove or earn, I can seek new experiences, create new life events, find things which give me a sense of purpose, that bring me excitement and get my creative juices flowing.

You can too!  We can find ways to replace the end of misery or the escaping of death with new life, new adventure and fresh hope. We can dare to pursue things with enthusiasm; dare to speak our minds and hearts. We can love. We can be pot-stirrers. People may think we're crazy, but let's go ahead and live boldly. Let's not just escape the negative, let's pursue the freedom we've been given in Christ. Let's dance!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Faith, Contamination and Belonging

After I posted my last blog based on the first part of Matthew 3 which, among other things, dealt with what “bearing fruit in keeping with repentance” might look like, a friend pointed out that I had not included faith in that list of fruit.  I chewed on that for a while.

Those baptized with John’s repentance-baptism were not professing their faith in Jesus.  They were not baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  John’s was a different baptism than that with which we, as Christians, are familiar.  In fact, it was different from anything with which the Jews were familiar as well. 

Prior to this time, there were primarily two situations where Jews would have experienced something akin to what we consider baptism.  One was for those who became defiled by coming into contact with something that was considered to be contaminating, e.g., a dead body.  In order to cleanse themselves of their defilement, they were required to immerse or “dip” themselves in water collected in a pool.

Water purification was also one of the three requirements for the conversion of a proselyte to Judaism.  In that sense, it was a membership ritual.  Converts had to be immersed before they could “belong”.  

The individuals themselves performed both of these ritual cleansings.  John’s repentance-baptism, by contrast, was administered by John, who acted in a priestly role, and seemingly in competition with the temple rite of purification through sin offerings. 

In the instituted sacrificial system, the person bringing the sin offering would confess to the priest the specific sin for which the offering was being made and then he would place his faith in the sufficiency of the sacrifice for the forgiveness of his sin.  I can’t say with certainty, but I can imagine that, despite the fact that its intention was the opposite, this system, because of the fallen nature of mankind, would foster the belief that one was paying for his own sins.  ‘I committed a sin for which I am bringing one of my own possessions as payment.  I, therefore, can have faith that God will accept this transaction and forgive my sin.’
John’s proclamation of repentance-baptism took the people out of the familiar and gave them a completely new perspective.  All sin was now placed in the context of contamination.  They were all defiled—as unclean as if touched by death.  Their sin also placed them on the outside, looking in, as surely as if they were foreigners.  They could see that their ancestry did not ensure their belonging.  Forgiveness of sin could no longer be viewed as a pay-as-you-go transaction.  Repentance could not be a public apology for show.  It was now permanently fused with the need for water cleansing, which must be administered by another.   Repentance called for a complete change of everything they had ever understood about themselves and about God.  Their faith, at that point, was temporarily placed in the sufficiency of John’s repentance-baptism, in preparation for the coming of the one true object of faith.

When Christ came, then, to receive this repentance-baptism from John, John rightly understood that Jesus should be the one administering and he should be on the receiving end.  There stood Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, not provided from the flock of a sinner, but provided by God as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world.  Jesus had nothing for which to repent, nothing that necessitated water purification.  This repentance-baptism was not even a feature of the law that God had commanded all to fulfill; but, by submitting to it, Christ did two things. 

First, he affirmed and established the pre-eminence of baptism, this means of water cleansing for the forgiveness of sins, over the specifically Jewish sacrificial system of purification via sin offering. This repentance-baptism became the foundation for the baptism Christ later established.

Secondly, and most importantly, he fulfilled through his righteousness on our behalf the requirement of perfectly turning to God in full submission and completely turning away from all wickedness, which is the true meaning of repentance and something that we can never fully do on our own, no matter how hard we try. 

Because of what Christ completed at the cross, this perfect repentance and cleansing are gifted to us; as is the faith we receive from him to believe and accept those gifts.