Oh, How I Love Your Law!

Daily Office Meditation: 6th Week of Easter – Wednesday

(97) Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. (112) I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes Forever, to the very end. (114) You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word.
Psalm 119:97; 112; 114

(13) Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. (14) Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (15) And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (16) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
James 5:13-16

(22) “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. (23) “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. (24) “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? (29) “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. (30) …Your Father knows that you need these things. (31) “But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.
Luke 12:22-24; 29-31

OK, so this Psalm always perplexed me. As a child, I had a lot of issues with the rules… so the idea of loving the law seemed anathema to me. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize more and more that this principle is at the center of the Christian life. As Romans 12:1-2 tells us, the core of Christian transformation is in the renewing of our mind. The key is in verse 112 of the Psalm: “I have inclined my heart to perform your statutes…” This inclining of the heart is the active pursuit of the renewal of your mind in Christ Jesus.

As we encounter Him, read and meditate on His word, and declare/practice His truth, we begin to love what He commands. We find that in His service is perfect freedom. This was the contradiction I wrestled with as a child. I wanted everything my way, but in submitting to God (or His authority in my life at the time) I found deeper joy and peace. This was by no means an easy transformation, but gradually my parents said they began to feel like I was on their side.

As we align our will with the Father’s (mostly through a revelation of the goodness of God in our life), we begin to have powerful and fervent prayer. As our hope is found in His word to us, our prayer becomes participation with God instead of a plea to God. We begin to see the problems in our lives through God’s eyes and our faith is raised to pray for the sick and suffering. We press into God’s plan on earth, the Church, and we experience the kingdom of God through obedience. It becomes a positive feedback loop. We pray for God’s plan, we obey God’s plan, experience God’s peace, ask Him for His plan, obey His plan and so forth.

Therefore, Jesus says to us, “Do not be anxious… But seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.” God knows what you need, He has incorporated them into His plan. Seek His plan, and all that you need shall be added unto you. C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” All our anxiety is answered in this: “Your Father knows that you need these things.”

This is no prosperity Gospel, God may know that you need a crucifixion. Jesus invitation is summed up by Bonhoeffer, “Come and die.” God will transform your desires through your personal cross so that your will becomes aligned with His. And, while God absolutely does desire prosperity in all aspects of our lives, He cares for more for our soul than for our bellies. (bellies symbolically representing our craving for fleshly things)
Trust God, die to yourself, fall in love with His law, and ALL these things shall be added unto you.

21

the ocean breeze breathes through

the march to death

the ground, sandy and shifting, beneath the knees

o, sweet earth!

Free, at last.

in the Name of Love

Rachel weeping bitterly

refuses comfort

my brother who loved and laughed and lived

is lost

a sword piercing my soul, also

“he is free!”

no bridge spans the chasm of grief

the emptiness that consumes

my God, my God…

died too, once

Jesus wept at a tomb

no stranger to grief

Comforter, comfort me

defeater of death, bridge the chasm

breathe life, set me free

Musings on Baptism and Foreshadowing

Baptism IconReading in Joshua today I noticed a trend that is repeated throughout the Old Testament: the crossing of the Jordan as symbolism of God’s salvation and His presence with the crosser. It’s been taught throughout Church history that the crossing of the Red Sea as the people fled Egypt foreshadowed our salvation through the waters of baptism. We also see Elijah fleeing King Ahab after calling down a drought on the land by crossing the Jordan. When David is warned of Absalom’s betrayal, he and his people cross the Jordan which becomes a barrier of protection for them. So we see the salvation symbolism in the crossing of the Jordan and, by extension, in the waters of baptism. We also have the story of Naaman, the commander of the army of Syria, who comes to Elisha for healing from his leprosy. He is told to wash in the Jordan. When his servant convinces him to humble himself and follow Elisha’s instruction, he is cleansed through the waters of the Jordan. It’s amazing to me how all these stories are weaved together to provide the backdrop for the institution of Christian baptism. The final way we see the crossing of the Jordan as a symbol of baptism is in the confirmation of God’s anointing.

When Moses has died and Joshua is taking command of the children of Israel, God commands Joshua to have the bearers of the Ark of the Covenant stand in the center of the Jordan river. Joshua tells the people that God will confirm his anointing and presence with Joshua by parting the waters for the Israelites. We see distinct foreshadowing as Moses brings the people through the Jordan the first time but does not bring them into the Promise Land. Joshua confirms his anointing by the parting of the waters and takes the people into the promise land. Later in Scripture we have a similar occurrence as Elijah is on his way to be taken up into heaven. The path to this taking up into heaven lies through the Jordan and he parts the water with his cloak rolled up on his staff. Elisha asks him for a double anointing and Elijah promises it to him if he sees him taken into heaven and takes up his mantle and staff. This happens. The confirmation for the elders of Israel who are waiting back on the other side of the Jordan is Elisha’s return and parting of the waters with Elijah’s mantle and staff.

Joshua, the one who leads into the Promise Land, and Elisha, the inheritor of the double anointing, both have their ministries confirmed and began in the power of God shown through the crossing of the Jordan. John is the second Elijah, preparing the people of Israel through the waters of the Jordan for Jesus. Then we see Jesus come and His ministry is confirmed and began through a display of God’s power in the Jordan! God is a masterful story-teller.

The completion of this thematic arc is found in our own baptism. The symbolism is depended as we are told in the New Testament that we are “buried with Christ in Baptism, and raised again to newness of life.” We participate in the heritage of God’s anointing, presence, resurrection, cleansing, and salvation as we are baptized ourselves. We are embodying a mystery thousands of years in the making. Praise God!

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Sin: Freedom

michelangelo_-_the_creation_of_man1

Last post I detailed my thoughts on how sin and goodness work in our lives, how sin bends our souls and we are all crooked. The post before that talked about how sin affects every one of us because of the Fall. This week is the best yet. What is Christianity’s unique solution to what is wrong in the world? Jesus. So here is a basic outline of God’s redemptive plan for this broken world He loves so much.

While we were dead in our sins, God sent Jesus to be sin and to nail our sin to the cross. Through this death and resurrection, Christ defeated sin and offered us a way of new life. This new life is given freely to us with the forgiveness of sins and the freedom from the slavery of sin. Jesus bought our lives by his death from the slavery of sin. By His resurrection He made the way for us to rise to new life and live free from sin.

Because every command of God is motivated by His character, the new life is not about avoiding sin, but about becoming more and more of the person whose character reflects the love of God (the result being sinlessness). Before Christ, we are marred images of God and we cannot help but sin by our very nature. As new creations in Christ, we are being straightened out or transformed into the type of people who cannot sin by their very nature.

Let me clarify, I believe that man can do good without being Christian. I believe the Bible teaches that the law of God is written on our hearts, represented in nature, and is a part of our nature as broken images of God. People like Aristotle have developed the idea of virtue, that goodness is like working a muscle, the more you do it the more it becomes a part of you and a habit. In this we can all make choices that are good or sinful and these will be reflected in who we are. But without Christ, we would still be slaves to sin who would eventually become so twisted and broken by sin that we would die (and continue into eternity walking away from Love and all goodness, i.e. hell).

With Christ, we are being transformed into His image and will walk through death into eternal life. This process takes a lot of surrender, a lot of self-discipline, and yet is wholly born out by Christ’s work in us. As Christians, we can participate with Him in changing us or we can resist this process. The consequences of resisting that process include suffering. By God’s grace, our suffering of the consequences of sin leads to further obedience and life. Let me emphasize this point: suffering is NOT God’s punishment for sin, but the natural consequence of sin. God does not prevent suffering because that would be an invasion of our freewill, but instead sends the Rescuer to change us into ambassadors of compassion and transformation in this world.

So if sin is a lifestyle contrary to the nature of God which leads away from life, joy, and peace and into death, brokenness, and fear then why would it not be loving to speak the truth about sin? It is absolutely loving to encourage people to live towards standards of right and wrong. This must be done with love, humility, and discernment: see my post on ToleranceBut let us continue to dialogue with each other and the world about what is right, because life and death are in the balance.

A hymn printed in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and called Christ our Passover summarizes some of these concepts by mashing together verses from 1 Corinthians and Romans:

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast,

Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.

The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God.

So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.

For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Sin: Crooked

Crooked

Last week I posted my first post on the nature of sin which discussed the Fall. This week I am going to argue that we often think incorrectly about what sin actually is. Most often people associate sin with breaking the arbitrary and antiquated rules of the Bible. Some people think that sin is a made up concept used in church to manipulate people into conforming or to scare people with the consequence of hell. I am going to argue that “sin” is anything that is contradictory to the nature of God.

“Sin” means in Old English to “miss the mark” as when an archer is shooting at a target. In our lives, sin is to miss the standard that God has set for us. Now one crucial thing here: God did not command certain things as wrong “just because”, He actually grounds Goodness in His very character.

In this way, we avoid the Euthyphro Dilemma: is good merely commanded by God or a standard above Him? (both are seen as logically problematic). The Christian God falls into neither category by existing as the standard in His character for what is “Good.” To use a C.S. Lewis example, God is the straight line by which we measure all other lines to perceive whether they are straight.

This brings up another important aspect of sin. Sin is not breaking the rules God has given us,although not following God’s command is sinful because God commands goodness by nature.. Jesus said it best when giving the greatest commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” These commandments embody God’s character because He is Love. Anything contrary to God’s holy love is sin.

So what about all of those commandments in the Bible? According to the logic above, every commandment in the Bible originates and hangs on love. When Paul writes to avoid sexual immorality, lying, slander, etc., it is because those things are not loving to God or our neighbor. Further, we see throughout the New Testament that the wages of sin are death, that when we sin we become enslaved to sin, and that sin warps our soul. Therefore, sin is also not loving towards ourselves because freedom only comes through avoiding sin and doing good.

This is where we get to the meat of the matter. Not sinning = conforming to God’s character. This makes not sinning a positive matter and not merely prohibitory. As we choose to love, we become more like God. As we sin, we further bend and twist the image of God within us. As I mentioned in my last post, due to the fall the image of God within us was marred. The process of redemption consist in restoring that image within us. This is what makes sense of heaven and hell for me. As we choose goodness, goodness becomes a part of our character and becomes our default and vice versa. Heaven is the eternal progress from glory to glory, constantly choosing good and becoming more fully human. Hell is the opposite, constantly choosing self-love and obliterating the marred image of God within us. Hell is not a prison sentence, it is a choice.

Lots of worldviews have a similar view of sin. Maybe their views aren’t grounded in God but the concept of virtue vs. vice has been around since Aristotle. Most of those worldviews then give you a process by which you will be able to master yourself and choose goodness until you reach some level of paradise or enlightenment. The problem with this process began with the Fall. We no longer have the power within ourselves to save ourselves. We are already twisted beyond self or even communal redemption. We need new life. Otherwise, we are already on the path to the eternal choice of sin which leads to evermore death. If we examine all of our efforts and the efforts of those around us, I think we will see that this is the case. Next post, we will look at the unique solution offered by Christianity.