This Momentary Beast

Occasionally we think of our lives and how they are affected by our sin.  (Usually we are more consumed with how the sin of others affects our lives, but we’ll set that aside for the moment.) At a certain point also some of us consider how our sin, stretching back to Adam, has affected Creation, corrupting literally the entire world.  There is nothing our sin has not tainted.

And so – I thought, which is always a dangerous thing – what about time itself?  How has our sin, collectively and individually, affected time?  We unconsciously think in terms of aging and decay: everything fades with time.  Even when we talk about enjoying the moment, we lie to ourselves.  Every moment we find ourselves enjoying is in the past by the time we realize it has brought us happiness.  We are grasping at our histories even as we seize the day.

The greatest joys of our life become wearisome to us, given enough time.  And what is this, but the greatest of sin’s corruptions? Given an eternity to worship our Creator, we chose to steal a moment of sinful pleasure, and we’ve been doing it ever since.

We took the beauty and wonder of eternal discovery, eternal growth, eternal intimacy, and we corrupted it through our sin into nothing more than a relentless destroyer, a slavering beast.  And beast it remains, devouring each second of our lives.  It knows neither joy nor remorse: and beauty having become beast, it slips its fangs between the seconds, rending our futures instantaneously into our pasts.  Fears and hopes, joys and sorrows, they become, as the great Preacher said, vanity.  The beast we call the present devours all.

Or perhaps this explains it better: there are whiny children at Disneyland.

Through the wide, ever-hungering jaws of the present every moment of the future in this world must pass.  Until…

Until our mockery of God’s creative power – our sin, our efforts to remake everything in our own image, our twisting of dominion into rebellion – ceases.  For while the beast is sovereign over every single moment of human history since Genesis 3, it reigns at the sufferance of a Sovereign greater still.  And that Sovereign is set not simply on redeeming men, but every aspect of His glorious Creation.

Consider this.  There will be a moment when weariness ceases.  When hope beyond anything we’ve ever dared to hope is realized, and does not become part of the past, but an eternal victorious moment in which we dwell forever.

“Further up,” C. S. Lewis cried out in The Last Battle, “and further in!”  I hope he gets to lead us up the mountain one day, for I will gladly (truly, unabashedly glad for perhaps the very first time in my immortal existence) follow.

And the Present will sleep contently at the foot of its King, hunger sated.

Law: A More Excellent Way

If civil law is simply a social contract, then it rests on a foundation no firmer than desire. If ethics spring forth from the human heart, what then of the higher things – or indeed, how do we recognize the higher as distinct from the base? For my desire to steal I merely enshrine in law, and it becomes ethical: a virtue. I posit that some people are not really people; killing them is no different than butchering a hog. Again, I look in the mirror and see an ethical man, for my desire – become law – tells me what it means to be good. But what, then, of honor? What of duty? What of self-sacrificing love? What place have these things?

No, my friends. We must categorically reject the thinking of this age. There is transcendent truth, and it is real. We recognize love, and honor, and duty. When their stories are told, our spirits soar. We rejoice. And we cannot resist them, for indeed, desire does not define virtue. Virtue is written on the human heart, by One far greater than us. We can seek to understand this. We can embark on the greatest journey of our lives. The alternative is to be caught up by our own desires, slaves to their fickle whims, never satisfied, endlessly manipulating each other. There is no heavier burden for men to bear than that of their own desire.

Yet take heart, for all is not lost. There is a glorious, transcendent, and firm foundation upon which to build. And it is never too late to place upon it the first stone of a more excellent way.

Of Wonder and Deep Magic

Consider this: the soul-soaring delight of a child receiving a gift upon which his heart was set. This is a wonder.

Consider this also: how the child’s delight pales in comparison to the joy of the parent, the gift-giver. This, too, is a wonder, and brushes the edge of a deep magic.

To understand this is to understand the heart of the True King.

18.5% of Us are Dead*

The American Empire, when the sun of history sets on it, will go down as one of the most monstrous and deadly of all time. And it wasn’t even a different people group we slaughtered… we devoured our own children, for no better reason than the fact that they were inconvenient to us, interfering with our pleasure and indulgence. God have mercy. Since 1973, we have killed over 54 million [edit: actually 57 million] of our children. OUR OWN CHILDREN. The numbers are so large they almost cease to mean anything to us. Yet we consider the Nazis the face of evil, who murdered approximately 6 million Jews. And they were evil, terribly evil, and we are out-killing them 9-to-1 and counting, while considering ourselves good and right. And please keep in mind, as you move to vote in November, the Democrats think murder on this scale is a fundamental “right”, and the Republicans have repeatedly chosen to continue funding this “right”. Neither should receive the votes of God-fearing men. Make no mistake, there will be a reckoning for this. Evil does not go unpunished. True patriotism is this: we must repent, and we must remove the evil men and women who would do this from positions of power.

*The 2010 Census reported there are 308.7 million Americans; using the number of total abortions at 57 million, that is 18.46% of the current US population.

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (10)

Q. 10. How did God create man?
A. God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.

God created man and woman on the sixth day (Genesis 1-2).

So let me make several dramatic statements which were not really dramatic for about 6000+ years of human history, up until this modern, enlightened age.  Warm up that sense of outrage, because I would hate to see someone strain themselves in the coming paragraphs.  Take it slow, with lots of time for interjections like “how dare he!”  and “that misogynist!”  Remember, there are only so many hard-core expletives in the English language… use them wisely.

People have dominion over animals, and animals are not people.  In both Genesis 9 and Acts 10, men are permitted to eat of anything that moves upon the earth.  Not only is vegetarianism uncalled for, it could be a sign of weakness in your faith.  The life of the noblest beast is not morally equivalent to even the most depraved person.  True, that an animal has never rebelled against God.  And yet dominion over the beasts of the world was given to man.  Or, to refute several bumper stickers I have seen, your dog/cat/pet is not your kid.  Not even close.  We live in a society that slaughters it’s human children wholesale, and elevates members of the animal kingdom to human status.  If you were to kick a stray dog on your way to get an abortion that kills your unborn child, you could go to prison.  For kicking the dog.

Men and women are both created by God for different purposes.  Coming together in marriage, they form a covenant picture of the New Covenant, of Christ and the bride He gave His life for, the Church.  Men are not women.  Women are not men.  The roles of men and women are not interchangeable based upon our desires.  Men and women are equal before God, absolutely.  They are equal in value, in the same way that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are equal.  They are not equal in every way, particularly in their roles, which were designed to be different, even as Jesus Christ submits to the will of the Father who sent Him.

Your gender is part of God’s design, and not simply an accident of biology.  It was not a mistake, and God was not confused in your Creation.  It is not your possession, to do with as you will.  It is an intrinsic part of who you are.  God created mankind male and female for His pleasure and His glory, not yours. And it is He who brings them together (Genesis 1-2).

And now that these radical statements have angered those indoctrinated in an American culture of choice, which is probably a significant percentage of those who will ever read this, I’ll sign off… only 97 questions to go!

In Speech, Grace

The Word is pretty clear: your tongue is a raging forest fire… to which the anonymity of the interwebs is gasoline.

Let me ask you to consider three things as you discourse to the glory of God online, or even in person.  By which I don’t mean texting each other in the same room.  “In person” is that quaint old-fashioned notion of looking another human being in the eye and fully communicating, with all its verbal and non-verbal components.  Give it a try sometime!

Gracious in our speech often comes down to our consideration of the person with whom we are speaking…

 

Do we consider them as a human being, with feelings, thoughts, ideas, and desires, none of which completely line up with our own?

This is not to say that every idea holds equal merit, but to recognize that we start at different places, travel along different trains of thought, and arrive at different places.  Things connect for one person very logically or very emotionally, and the next person might not follow their reasoning or the chain of feeling.  Take the time to think it through.  Ask clarifying questions before you decide you know exactly what someone means, how they got there, and where they’re going.  Think especially hard before you tell them where to go and how to get there.

 

Do we consider that a person’s goal should be differentiated from their methods?

Take the oft-very-calmly-discussed (/end sarcasm) issue of gun control.  Vehement disagreement surrounds this issue, but let me point something out.  Many of the people on both sides of the issue have the same goal in mind.  We read a story about a child accidentally getting shot, or a man killing his co-workers, or a government oppressing its citizens, and what do we want?  We want fewer dead children.  We want those co-workers to still be alive.  We want citizens to thrive under good government.

In other words, the goal is the same, for both sides.  An enormous difference lies in the various methods we advocate to get there.   But if you want to keep the conversation civil, simply continue to call to mind (even when insulted) the heart of the other person, this living person made in the image of God with whom you are disagreeing.  Generally, they want what you want.  They want a better world.  They disagree about how to get there.  As an aside to Christians reading this, it is often a better witness to interact with a person like Christ would than to cram the Gospel down their throat as quickly as possible.  The time may come for an explicit conversation about Jesus: in the meantime, trying speaking like Him as often as you may be tempted to speak about Him.

 

Do we consider why a person holds the positions they do?  Often the issue is not the issue.

It is so very easy to classify and label people, then dismissively file them away in our brains as if we completely understand them.  This really ties into my first point above, but why someone believes what they believe is critical to truly understanding them.  That gun control nut you can’t stand might have had a curious nephew who found a loaded gun.  If you’ve ever attended the funeral of a child, the reaction is visceral.  You passionately never want anyone to go through that experience.  That gun wacko with 15 assault rifles that you know is just waiting to shoot an innocent person could have a family that was home and unprotected at the wrong time and place.  What would your opinion be about a gun in the home if you were robbed, your kids beaten and your wife raped?  Would you want others to experience that helpless agony?

When someone believes you care about them enough to understand the deep motivations behind their beliefs, trust is built, the type of trust that can survive even the most profound disagreement.  Seek to know a person’s heart, follow their path to understand their goals and their methods for achieving them, and you’ll have a solid foundation for real discourse.  As another aside for Christians, you’ll begin to show a person the love of Christ.  When the Word speaks of not judging others, its not that we don’t call sin, sin, and everyone just does what they feel is right.  It means at the deepest level, we freaking care.  And very few do.  This level of caring would set the Church far apart.  This level of caring could – and will – make the hard ethical truths we espouse much more intelligible to those we are called to love.

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (7)

Q. 7. What are the decrees of God?
A. The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.

There is probably no more contentious a subject within the church today than the sovereignty of God.  Over what is He sovereign?  We must answer, “everything.”  Some try to nuance their arguments against this total sovereignty by talking about what God could do versus what He does do, as in: the sovereign God of the universe could make His grace irresistible, but chooses not to do so, so that man can choose.

The problem with this idea is that it runs counter to Scripture (Ephesians 1-2, Romans 1-3).  We are all of us dead men, who will never reach out for a Savior absent His grabbing hold of us.  As at our natural births, a metaphor both Jesus and Paul use: we are intimately involved, yes, but not the catalyst in any way.  We are brought to life from death, we are born again, we are chosen from before the foundation of the world.

Does this mean God decides who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell?

Yes.

In whose hands would you rather this decision was?  Your own?  Read once more Psalm 14, 53 and Romans 2 (which quotes them both).  Left to your own devices, you would choose Hell.  Everybody, every time.  Have you read the story of God’s covenant people from the beginning?  The tragedy is heart-breaking and breath-taking.  Five weeks after crossing the Red Sea God’s people are accusing Him of sin.  That’s the people we are without the Holy Spirit.  No, you don’t want salvation in the hands of any man.  I sure don’t.  I know where my hands have been.

He also, incidentally, decided when and where in the vastness of time and space you would be born, what your interests would be, what your inclinations would be, what your taste buds would find yummy.  He determined your parents, when and if you hear the Gospel, if you are living now and if you’ll be alive in five minutes.  The moment of your birth and the moment of your death are HIs to decree.  And yet we tend to get caught up on the salvation thing.

When we say God is sovereign, we do take special joy in His sovereignty over salvation, yes.

But we mean much, much more: it (Creation) is all His, to do with as He pleases.  He created it, and He sustains it, and not one atom (or whatever we’ve discovered that’s smaller, nowadays) has ever done anything other than at His sufferance.  He wills and it happens.  Period.

You haven’t rolled the dice in a game of Monopoly, but that the sovereignty of God is on display.

Why then, sin and rebellion?  I can reply only that His glory is on full display in His grace and His mercy, alongside His judgment.  The question is not, why are some damned?  Paul tells us in Romans 9 what to do with such a question.  The question is, why are any spared?  His love should humble and amaze us, the church, His Son’s bride, His chosen people.

God’s sovereignty should bring you to your knees is terrified thankfulness, for He is truly awesome.

 

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (6)

Q. 6. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A. There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

A triune God is, of course, a physical impossibility, a contradiction in terms… according to the laws that rule reality under the Sun.  Yet God transcends (a word to keep in mind during your prayers and meditations on Scripture) His creation.  For God to be transcendent, He must by definition be larger than His creation.  He is beyond our understanding.

And yet He makes Himself known as three Persons in one essence.  And from the glorious relationships we see here – between God and Son, between Son and Spirit, between God, Son and Spirit – we find the pattern for every human relationship.

Son submits to Father (God).  Spirit submits to Father and Son.  God directs the Son, and Son directs the Spirit.  And yet, in their roles and responsibilities, all are equally and at the same time God and one God.  It makes you a little dizzy, but it is also a wondrously perfect unity from diversity.  When you consider relationships, such as those laid out in Ephesians 5-6 and 1 Peter 2-3, here is the pattern.  Are men and women equal?  Masters and slaves?  Parents and children?  Absolutely, in one sense.  Are there differing levels of authority and responsibility between them even as they are equal in substance?  Absolutely, in another.  Men are not more valuable than women, nor women more so than men.  Yet in marriage men lead, and women follow.  Equal even as they carry out differing roles, roles assigned by the Creator and modeled within Himself.

God has taken a small piece of His Mystery and made it known to us.

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (5)

Q. 5. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

Many good conversations can begin with contemplation or questions about God and His nature.  What does nature reveal about Him? What do men reveal about Him?  Ecclesiastes wrestles with these questions, as do many of the Psalms.  Our tendency is to rely upon our senses to engage reality – to live our the argument of our philosophy (whether we realize we are a living argument or not) from inward to outward.

Considering this question in a meaningful way helps us to begin in the right place in all our musings: with the One God, and His character, His words.

I understand the popularity of the current so-called atheism like I understand the drive for quicker, faster technology in our handheld devices: while requiring no real effort, we at once feel stronger, more powerful, in control.  We aren’t, of course, and in our more honest moments we know we aren’t.  The iPhone [insert current model number] does not make you more powerful, or more smarter, or more anything.  Except stressed, probably.  And in the same way, the cry “there is no God!” does nothing to solve the problems of either society or the individual.  If anything, it makes real answers impossible to find.  The absence of a source of absolute, foundational Truth within the universe would logically eliminate any meaningful conversation about the validity of one worldview over another.  And yet look at the anger of the typical atheist, particularly as it is aimed toward religion, and you will discover truth:

Their words say “there is no God.”  Their vehemence says “I am mad at him.”  And we must embrace the atheist around us, living with them in grace and truth, for such were we, in every meaningful way, prior to the Spirit’s quickening us to Life.  But understand the real conversation is never about whether or not God exists.  It’s about the devastating consequences of sin, where the blame lies, and what the solution is.  That’s the real issue.

Romans 1 gives us a good understanding of even the most irreligious culture.  All men know there is a God.  Both from within, and from the constant witness of the reality in which they live.  Denying and suppressing this truth, they seek out something else to worship, for worship they must.  They were made for it.  We call this worship of anything else, idolatry.

There is One God.  He is Living, and He is true.  Amen.

Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (4)

Q. 4. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

When we contemplate the Transcendent Creator of the universe it is difficult, because in the analysis we have no adequate words.  Everything falls short, which is at the heart of the commandment against idolatry: even the most respectful, reverent images we could make of our God fall woefully short.

We are created in the image of God, representing Him within the finite bounds of Creation in a very limited way.  We are like Him and yet altogether unlike Him.

It is important to think through His infinite nature (to the extent that we can), His eternal existence and complete lack of change.  This is difficult for creatures who pretty much define their lives by change, but nonetheless necessary if we are to avoid important pitfalls in our faith.  For example, justice, truth, goodness and mercy begin with God, not any external standard.  There is no standard by which God can be judged, for He is the author of every standard.

I have heard men and women say “well, if God is that way, then I cannot worship Him.”  And this is an absolutely true statement, up to a point: none of us can worship God in our natural fallen state.  We are wholly incapable of worship (Romans 1-3, Ephesians 1-2), being dead in sin.  But that isn’t what they really mean.  What they really mean is that they have a concept of justice they’ve gotten from somewhere, a concept of mercy, a concept of goodness, and now they will compare the Transcendent, Unchanging Creator to their standard.  Generally as they do this, they are blind to the breath-taking arrogance of their position.  As they read Scripture, they interpret God’s actions through their filter of what He should be in their minds versus who He is revealed to be, and they go astray.

Beware this: if you worship a god that you are comfortable with, who contains no element of fear for you, whose mystery is largely solved in your mind…

…you do not worship God at all.