Romans 8:1 – No Condemnation

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I am writing this at 12:30 am on a Saturday night, my children having woken up repetitively for the last several hours, due to a boisterous and noisy house party down the hill from our house.

After increasingly broken or non-existent sleep I grew more and more frustrated. Eventually I decided to get up and do something about it. I got dressed, left the house exhausted and somewhat delirious with lack of sleep and anxiety, with some vague idea of causing some sort of disturbance of my own. Perhaps a broken window or at the very least, a phone call to the police.

After walking past the offending houses and marking their addresses, I returned home. But I didn’t go in the front door, instead I asked myself, how, or what would I pray if I prayed for the people in that house. Drinking and yelling loudly from their hot tub,  totally unaware of their own effects on others.

Do I pray for vengeance? Then remember, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.”

Do I pray for judgment? I remember, “Judge not, lest you yourselves be judged.”

I ask for forgiveness, and remember, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

So what then? I find myself searching through my memories of scripture and see that the same Jesus that later Romans 8 will tell us is sitting at the right hand of God, who is indeed interceding for us, whose image we are destined to be conformed into, the same Jesus who would have the one without sin cast the first stone, is the one who covered my sins, when I was out in the world, greedy for selfish gain.

We were all by nature creatures of wrath, destined for destruction, and these poor folks, seeking satisfaction in wildness, companionship, and strong drink, are like us walking with our accuser to the judgment seat. If they meet not the judge on the way, and come to terms with him quickly, then they will be imprisoned forever. And they will never get out until they have paid the last penny.

So I prayed like this:

Lord,

Help me. Help these people who have disturbed my life, and disturb theirs to shake them from their stupor. Let the emptiness that comes with the morning light drive them to seek the source of the light. Forgive them Lord, and teach them wisdom. Teach them truth and forgiveness.

A short evening of selfish gathering and I am near to asking for judgment on them or passing it on them myself. God, you are the merciful God, for who is like you? Who passes over iniquity and gives mercy and steadfast love to all who call on his name? My whole life was bent on destruction and through no strength of my own, you saved and forgave me. Paid for with your life. Thank you God, give me patience and endurance.

It came to me then, that I stood for a moment between two future versions of myself. I looked at my hands. Healing hands?

I looked at the stone that I had put in my pocket and placed it on the rail in front of my house where I stood. It seems to me that throughout the Bible, stones are used for one of two things. They are either used to kill sinners, or they are used to build an altar.

So I looked at my single stone altar, an altar of remembrance, of warning, and laid on it my right for earthly punishment and judgment for others, I laid on it my disdain for those who remain unaffected and unchanged by the Spirit of God into better men and women, and laid on it my own plans for self-protection.

When Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” He certainly knew that Paul would write “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And so by the grace of God, I passed no condemnation, and hope that I never shall, until I agree with the great gathering of Christians on the judgment day to approve every word of our Holy Judge and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lord.

That Holy Amen.

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Psalm 62:5-8 – Wait in silence.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

selah

The term “selah” is often said to meant as a call to consider, to meditate on what has been written. And that is what I set out to do this week.

This is a Psalm of confident assurance in God and God alone. This is not the desperate reassurance or the reminding tone of last week’s verse not to fear but trust in the Lord. This is a declaration of God’s greatness, and if nothing else, a lesson for us to rest quietly in the power and wonder of God.

God is a refuge for us, not only doing battle on our behalf, but also encasing us in security. Though from our own point of view we are surrounded on every side, we fear evil and the reproach of the unbelieving public, and feel as though our skin has the edge of their spears already poised and ready to pierce, we see not the spiritual reality.

Psalm 62 rectifies the difference between our eyes and God’s eyes. David declares to all who would hear, “Don’t struggle! Don’t seek for vain glory, or trust in money or your strength!” When Isaiah says “all men are like grass”, he mirrors David in verse 9, “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.”

This may be one of the biggest perspective switches that have started to breach into my view in the last year. All this, the whole story, the whole song and dance of my time on earth, is not primarily about my relationship with God, though it is an extraordinary and inscrutable thing that he would allow such an exchange. No the story is ALL ABOUT GOD. He is glorious. He is righteous. He is powerful. He ordains and holds ALL THINGS. Not only did he create the universe, but Hebrews 1 tells us :

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

You and I have troubles and trials sufficient to fill our minds and fill every single day. Allow yourself to be quiet for a few moments. Listen for his voice. Forget your own weakness. Tell your soul, for God alone to wait, for your only hope is in him.

Though to us it often feels as though we stand upon a precipice, with God as the rope that ties us off, David encourages us to realize that we stand upon the mighty infallible wall of God’s providence. So if you have worry, or fear, or doubt, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

Amen.

Psalm 56:3-4 | What can flesh do to me?

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?

In this past week the study and memorization of this passage has already proven helpful. Like all who follow after God, some days finding glory in his words and hanging and meditating on every one, being obedient, praying without ceasing, and seeing Jesus as supremely valuable are easy. But other days temptation is around every corner, my mind is altogether unable to focus on what is good and right and profitable.

I’m not someone who often fears physical harm. But what I do fear is losing focus. Coming to Jesus only when I am desperate only to find when he comforts me and gives strength to me I will grow complacent and make an idol of the closest thing to catch my eye or interest me.

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it! Prone to leave the God I love! Here is my heart Lord, Take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”

David wrote Psalm 56 “when the Philistines seized him at Gath.” And his response is stunning. The beginning of the psalm is David’s only appeal to God for the removal of his trial. “Be gracious to me, O God.” That is all. The entirety of the psalm shows a curious lack of some of the most common Western Christian’s prayers. A prayer for removal of difficulty and the affliction of others.

David knows, or writes more than he knows of something so key. When he is afraid, he puts his trust in God, the God who has written down his name in his book before times eternal. The God who knows and keeps and “upholds the universe by his word of power.”

What can man do to him? God has already called him his own, just as he has called you, if you continue on in the faith, and therefore eternity and glory are sealed. But what may be in David’s words, and have been in my prayers, are the words of pleading for protection against his own flesh as well.

“Lord I am beset by many trials, I feel in my heart that I grow afraid and weak. I feel my heart wander from you, my flesh is what challenges the greatest treasure in my life, and that is your presence Lord, and it is my love for you, even that given by your hand. Strengthen my heart that I might never fear that my own flesh might lead me astray. Have mercy on me. Be gracious. But do justly, and never let me out of your hand.”

David trusts God to call all things into account, that no one who does evil is “getting away” with anything when they come to the judgment seat of Jesus. v. 8 says that God counts all of David’s tossing and has a bottle to catch every one of David’s tears that He might hold them up on that day as a weight to measure out the punishment for the wrongdoer.

Finally, for me, verse 9 holds the words that comfort my soul, and ease the burden of trust. that “Then (when justice comes) my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me.

If you forget verses 3-4, remember those eight words in times of trial.

This I know, that God is for me.

Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways? “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

This is the response of the apostle Paul after he writes to the church in Rome, telling of how God saw fit to graft in people not of Israel into the vine of salvation. He tells of how God let the people of Israel lapse into unfaithfulness, that his justice and mercy might be shown both to gentiles and not only the people of Israel, based on a promise that is equal in power.

When God called the people of Israel into his hand, to be his people, to follow him, to know, and to obey his commandments and show the world his greatness and righteousness, the vine was full. There were no limbs cut off and no space for you and I on that holy vine. We were lost and destined for destruction, bundles of dry sticks set aside for the fire.

So we too, now, since the coming and sacrifice of Christ, have a place to graft into that salvation, into that adoption! No wonder this is Paul’s exclamation! What a joy! Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! We have no bloodline to claim, we have no assistance to offer, we have no nationality, no perfection, no intelligence to plea. More than our lack, is his great self-contained power, glory, and good pleasure! How unsearchable are his judgments! How inscrutable are his ways? And after this, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

The focus of this passage is that glory be given to God.

We are saved through no merit of our own, by the God of the universe, the one of whom Isaiah likewise speaks in Isaiah 40:12-13

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
Or what man shows him his counsel?”

The implied answer to all of these and Paul’s questions are NO ONE.

No matter what the world considers wise, no matter what our emotions or experience claim and cry out, no matter what power we think we have, what we think we’re owed or promised, God deserves all glory and all praise. You did not orchestrate your own salvation, you are in his hand because he chose you before the world began. Not because he knew you would believe, but because as the psalmist writes, “All that pleases him, he does.”

Against all our own wisdom and judgments, knowing our own hearts and the actions of others, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Oh the depths! Oh the riches! Oh the wisdom! So unsearchable and inscrutable! Everything is chosen and placed directly by the wisdom and power of the almighty God! So of course He gets the glory! All glory, forever. Amen.

Is Labour Dishonourable? – My Response to Nietzche

In a post by Orwell1627 (found here) entitled “NIETZCHE: The Dignity of Work” is summarized Nietzche’s view of work as a dishonourable necessity for the purpose of enabling true artists and purveyors of beauty to practice their craft. He claims that the idea that there is honour in work is simply a slavish defense mechanism in which the labouring man is able to fight pessimism with the idea that there is some ultimate purpose for his being made to work continually.

This is a very brief summary and I would recommend going and reading the explanation in its entirety, but I will begin my response.

My first challenge to this view of work as a dishonourable necessity is twofold. Firstly, the production of materials to be used in the arts. What shall we say of the man who collects materials to mix paints for the painter? Or of the builder of excellent violins? Or of the quarry men who unearth great blocks of granite for the sculptor? Am I to understand that these men take no part in the joy and beauty of the process and the outcome of such artistic pursuits? They are allowed no enjoyment of it at all? Is there not a deep honour in men who give their entire lives not only to pay bills, but with their work to finance those most artistically gifted? In this way do we not all take part in the artistic process? The suggestion is seems foolish. The second half is that if one were to choose any great novel or film or work of theatre, he would come to realize that the only stories worth telling are the stories of a character starting at some disadvantaged point, overcoming obstacles, and being victorious in the end. These are the stories of humanity, the ones that make us feel the beauty not only of what is seen, but to imagine depths of not yet existing beauty.

Nietzche also would (according to Orwell1627) claim that for a man to labour in our western 40-hour work week and attempt art on weekends would still be futile and wasted time because those 40 hours could have been spent creating art (I am not aware of any specific definition of “art” that this is based around). This assumes that all people are in some way artistic, and that “If only they had the time” they might be composing tremendous earth-shattering ballads, or etching the ceiling of some more beautiful Sistine Chapel. Where does he draw proof from? He has the philosopher’s benefit of never being required to touch the mediums he claims intimate knowledge of, and so with humanity, with work, and workmen he knows only by what he has heard.

He does not hear the pride hidden underneath the voice of the complaining worker at the end of a long day, reciting the difficulty he had in his exquisite execution of his task in spite of overwhelming odds. He knows beauty only as what the Greeks have claimed, and sees not the beauty of beads of sweat, toil, the pursuit of the valuable, the rest after a summers work, the excellence of a deep breath in the shade. He sees not the art in the internal conversation of a man who, on seeing difficulty ahead, girds his loins and prepares for battle, to face the deathly cold or scorching heat, for his clan, for his wife and child, and for the pride of his name.

A book could be written on the objection that he is only claiming beauty as the sole useful pursuit of man because that is what the Greeks have taught him. His vision of Art is too small, and his vision of value. But I will leave that for now in favour of illustrating through the words of one of my own favourite artists.

Perhaps chiefly, Leo Tolstoy not only saw the beauty in, but came close to calling toil the only beauty, or at least the basic core of the life well lived. In his well-known quote from Family Happiness:

“I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet, secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour – such is my idea of happiness.”

This quotation possibly better than any other encapsulates Tolstoy’s love for, appreciation and romanticism of the workman’s life. Indeed, hard work and morality were nearly the only things he ever wrote about.

G.K. Chesterton says about Tolstoy in his book Orthodoxy that Tolstoy romanticized peasantry because he was not a peasant. Chesterton also says that Nietzche romanticized war for the same reason. The true beauty, to him is Joan of Arc, who saw the beauty of valour and toil, and romanticized them, but was actually able to live successfully as a warrior and peasant.

Art is nothing without toil. All of men’s greatest true stories (and therefore inspiration for invented ones) come from a commonality among the greatest majority of people. These stories strike tones in common with all mankind on some level, that draw us together for or against some common object, and enable beautiful things to be seen in all that is done.

Finally, I would suggest that I, the free man who is able to work hard, and enjoy well-executed joinery and carpentry, to listen to the finest music I can set my ears to, take a breath of thankfulness for a cup of hot coffee on a cold day, who can joyfully run and joyfully rest, can read Shakespeare and the Bible, am more archetypal of the ideal liberated open man than Nietzsche ever hoped to be. His principals betray his slavish devotion to the Greek cultural principles and reveal his never being liberated, and as we know now,  by his own principals, he was enslaved.

The true beauty is in anything examined carefully, held up to the light, and declared beautiful. Human art will only ever have the value that is placed on it by us, the power to create art lies precisely in our judgment of the thing to be beautiful. The attribute of beauty wherein its value is completely extrinsic is the same reason why it makes men fools who make it a god, and makes men crazy when it is claimed to be the chief end of man.

This is worth considering. Though if one were to find the source of true beauty, he would be not far from finding God himself.

The Desolation of the Locust

(Musical recommendation: Hallelujah – Joshua Hyslop
http://http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=p7q3EDTLQ-w)

The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
    the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
 I will restore to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
    my great army, which I sent among you.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Joel 2:24-27

Originally this post was supposed to be about my grandfather, who wrote a song once with the main line of the chorus being, “He’s given me back the years the locust had eaten.” In a positive folky tune. He would speak by way of explanation in his best Johnny Cash that, “The locust being the devil, see?”

I was going to write about the joy of having sins forgotten, putting behind the time that I spent serving darkness instead of the light, and not only forgetting, but redeeming those days. About how lovely a man my grandfather is. But that must be for another time.

Tonight my wife and I got a call, and though I could only catch bits and pieces through the phone by her ear I heard enough. Someone we had known, who struggled with drug addiction for many years had committed suicide.

That horrible, awful thing. The action that pure-hearted men and women will always feel heartbroken over. And touching us closer than I’d ever feared.

For so long this young person had struggled for light. There were periods of lucidity and hope, and times of regression and darkness, and in brightest moments, our friend has known the love of Jesus Christ. And I still don’t understand, not that I’m owed it, but can’t grasp the plan. I’m an analytical thinker and I just can’t find the pattern, the way things fit into place. The horror of the locust cloud covering over so many years of a sweet, struggling person’s life.

The mourning for someone I hardly know has just begun, but I’ll be trying to understand for longer than I’ll feel the sting of it. The mourning is complicated, I don’t know what I hope for this person, and I don’t know what will happen.

I know what I’ve prayed. I know I pray for hope in the midst of absolutely soul destroying desolation. I pray for peace for the addicted. I pray for unbelievable mercy, because I know what dark clouds have passed over my mind, and that by the grace of God I have been sustained and renewed. He renewed the years the locust ate from me.

I may differ from my Catholic friends on this point, but I pray also that our friend enter the gates of Heaven, led by sympathetic eyes and into holy grace.

There will you be given back every darkened day,
There will you eat of that which truly satisfies,
There will you see only the brightness of the Glory of God,
And despite your earthly shame at your affliction,
There you will never again be put to shame.
No distractions, for He is God, and no one else.
May he deal wondrously with you.

Only God knows the state of a human heart, and I am thankful that he does. He is sovereign and holds all things in the balance, for which I am also thankful, for it means that it is not a waste to send my prayers to him.

As I reflect on my own life, and consider what it is I truly deserve for all of my arrogance and pride, for all of my thinking much of myself and little of others, the moments I have shirked God’s law and scorned his sacrifice, and allowed the cross to become odious, I am laid flat on my face by this grace. I cannot fathom it. And I don’t want to. It will always be immeasurably more than my reach. In weaker moments, therefore, I hold to this promise:

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

O Lord, please do not tarry.

Reading and Response: Jan 6, 2016

Hosea 10:12
“Sow for yourselves righteousness,
reap steadfast love.
Break up your fallow ground,
for it is time to seek the Lord,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”

I was stuck on this phrase “break up your fallow ground” in my morning reading. After some thought it came to me that these are the areas that have been ignored. Areas yet untapped as a resource for being made into the image of God. There are areas in our lives that are laying fallow, and at some point they may not have been ready for growth, but being aware that a day may come for growth in this more difficult soil is key to expansion in faith and belief and sanctification.

So I prayed this morning that all areas in me, even in things I am not naturally disposed to, those areas can be used for growth and for blessing, not just for myself but others. Break up this fallow ground, it is time to seek the Lord, that He may rain down righteousness on me, and you.