We’re often told that Christians shouldn’t beat themselves up for their sins and yet so many do it. Maybe that’s because the advice has been understated. Maybe we should go one step further to say that Christians mustn’t beat themselves up for their sins.
I’m reading Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life for the umpteenth time. This quote reminded me today why this book is a classic:
What then of our attitude to Satan? This is important, for he accuses us not only before God but in our own conscience also. “You have sinned, and you keep on sinning. You are weak, and God can have nothing more to do with you.” This is his argument. And our temptation is to look within and in self-defense to try to find in ourselves, in our feelings or our behavior, some ground for believing that Satan is wrong. Alternatively we are tempted to admit our helplessness and, going to the other extreme, to yield to depression and despair. Thus, accusation becomes one of the greatest and most effective of Satan’s weapons. He points to our sins and seeks to charge us with them before God; and if we accept his accusations, we go down immediately.
Now the reason why we so readily accept his accusations is that we are still hoping to have some righteousness of our own. The ground of our expectation is wrong. Satan has succeeded in making us look in the wrong direction.
Our salvation lies in looking away to the Lord Jesus and in seeing that the blood of the Lamb has met the whole situation created by our sins and has answered it. That is the sure foundation on which we stand. Never should we try to answer Satan with our good conduct but always with the blood.
I’m in an online group that’s reading chronologically through the Bible in a year. In today’s reading from 1 Samuel, Israel having suffered a defeat at the hands of their nemesis, the Philistines, brings in the big guns by sending for the ark of God to go before them into battle.
Rather than giving them the edge they hoped for, the ark itself got taken by the Philistines as spoils of war. To add insult to injury, they place it in the temple of Dagon, their god.
The next morning, the Philistines find Dagon face down in front of the ark. The next day, the same thing except this time Dagon’s and head were broken off. Dagon isn’t the only one to suffer from the presence of the ark. We’re told that the Lord’s hand was heavy on Philistines until they sent it back to Israel.
I’m also reading another book called Grace and Personality by John Oman. In discussing the order of the first three requests of the the Lord’s Prayer (God’s name to be hallowed, his kingdom to come, and for his will to be done), he has this to say,
How often is that order reversed! Let us do Thy will, that Thy Kingdom may be gradually brought in, and, in the end, every heart be inspired by the true reverence! The result is striving and crying, with the perpetual menace of defeat and the increasing shadow of despair. But the servant of the Lord should not strive, nor be, after that fashion, morally strenuous. An essentially apocalyptic hope, a dependence, not on man who runs, but on God who gives the victory, dominates this prayer as it does all our Lord’s teaching; and the ground of it lies in beginning with our relation to God, and, only through it, passing to man’s achievement. The order is first reverence, then surrender, then obedience, yet always one and indivisible, even when successive in their manifestation.
We don’t need to defend God. We need to worship him and surrender personally to his will. Efforts to “defend family values” undermine the faith of the gospel. Conceptually, they represent a god no more powerful than the one for whom the jihadis riot.
Everyone offers it. Few understand it. Many think they have it but know they do not. They talk of freedom but they are “free dumb.” Simply put, freedom is doing what you most want to do. Everything else is a degree of slavery. So, if I ask you, “What do you most want to do?” and you answer with anything other than what you are currently doing, then you are bound in some way. If you believe yourself to be free, then you are free dumb.
I have found that Jesus Christ alone offers true freedom. He has liberated me from regret, fear, and insecurity. He has pulled me into his loving embrace and I want nothing more. I want him like Paul did in Phil. 3:10-11. He is my great treasure and my aspiration. I have found limitless wonder, joy, and power as a willing subject in his perfect law-less reign. Sadly, those who reject him often do so because they believe he wants to hamper their “freedom.” They are free dumb.
Perhaps those who reject him think this way because of “believers” who are afraid to declare with Paul, “All things are lawful for me.” Such adherents speak judgment and rules as they drag the chains of their misguided responsibilities. All the while they are mute to the truth that sets us free. They are free dumb.
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No person should be allowed the luxury of holding a belief while ignoring its implications. Why? Because the implications of today’s prevalent beliefs shape the ethos of the next generation. For instance, suppose I had been born into a culture which had been largely shaped by the belief that the ability to overcome a rival tribe was conferred on me through a rite of manhood. Obviously, I would go through that rite. After several defeats I might come to question the effectiveness of the manhood ritual. I might come to believe that the rival tribe’s practice of cannibalism made them more powerful. Since cannibalism had not been part of my cultural ethos, I would probably find the idea of eating another human to be distasteful (pardon the pun). For me, eating another person would be hard, but propagating my ideas would be easy. Suppose I convince others in the tribe of my position and after another defeat at which I get killed, they decide to eat a couple of the felled rival warriors. What if after that, my tribe won the next battle? My tribe would most likely continue to dabble in cannibalism. Within two generations the buffet would be open.
Lately, I’ve encountered some pretty aggressive anti-theists. The messages coming from that camp are fraught with what I would label, “ideological dissonance.” So, just to do my part to help everyone come into personal harmony, I present this atheistic ontological syllogism for review:
P1- Meaning is an interpretive construct of a sentient mind.
P2- Sentience requires interplay between evaluative consciousness and memory.
P3- Consciousness and memory are products of chemical processes in the human brain.
P4- When the brain is destroyed, consciousness ends and memories are erased.
C1- Relative to the deceased individual, regardless of the details or duration, the life that he or she lived becomes retroactively meaningless.
P5- At some point, all brains and their products will be destroyed.
C2- Human life, regardless of the details or duration, is utterly meaningless.
P6- Resources invested in something which is utterly meaningless are wasted.
C3- The attempt to survive or accomplish anything is a total waste.
If you disagree, please tell me why. If you agree but still choose not to commit suicide, then it’s because you fear the only certainty of your existence. In short, your life isn’t advancing the human condition or accomplishing anything noble; you are just procrastinating. So, the most consistent atheist ethic would be “die today” or “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”
If you are living in the West, then you were probably raised with a value system which says that you should value human life. The basis of that value is, “all men were created equal” or some similar formulation. Your heart is trying to retain a borrowed ethic the basis of which your mind and mouth deny. So, feel free to keep going where you’re going, just please admit that you are going there.
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Here is my talk from Sunday. Listen if only because it has a cool name. It answers a lot of questions people ask about God and it may even be biblical! Providence and the Art of Camel Care
Ask my children, they will tell you that I can tend to get frustrated and freaked out. I’ve been known to throw a fit or two (or many, many more) when things don’t work out as I had envisioned. When I get like this, it’s a sure sign that I’ve relinquished something that’s important. Correction: not just something that’s important, something that’s absolutely essential. Correction: not just something that’s absolutely essential, the one thing that’s absolutely essential.
Perhaps you know where I’m headed with this so I’ll go ahead and go there. Open up your New Testament and land with me in Luke 10:38-42, the story of Martha and Mary. So, Jesus comes to their house and Martha does what any good hostess would do, she gets busy preparing a meal for her guests. So much is on the line for her – the satisfaction of her guests, the food which might go to waste if poorly prepared, not to mention her reputation as a hostess! Think of all of the potential negative outcomes which could result from this wonderful blessing of a visit from the Lord! She becomes a flurry of fingers and elbows as the sweat begins to bead on her brow. Then out of the corner of her eye she notices Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet. Her indignation heats up until it boils over onto Mary and Jesus, “Lord, my sister has put everything I’m trying to protect at risk. Don’t you care!”
His response is compassionate but firm, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I have a question to ask, “Would I get stressed out and frustrated if my greatest desire was for the One Thing?” Don’t we get stressed when we feel threatened? Yet who could threaten us if all of our joy were to be found in that which we could never be taken away?
If I were to live above stress, what sort of person would I be? What impression would I leave on those who observed my conduct in good times and bad? Paul tells the Philippians, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” When I live above frustration, I announce to the world, “The Lord is near.” In order to do this credibly, however, I must draw near to him. I must acknowledge the One Thing. I must allow my self-consciousness and self-importance to melt away in the light of his presence – the One Thing.