Thursday, April 26, 2012

Is "No Law" Lawlessness?

                                                      (student doing homework by the river)

I am reading an interesting autobiography by Asa Mahan who lived from 1799-1889.
For 30 years he was president of American colleges and was the first President of Oberlin College.
He was a very intelligent man and a deep thinker who had some very interesting insights that affected how he ruled in his position of authority.

He tells how very strictly the colleges of his day were ruled by protocol.  From the President down to the lowly Freshman every 'caste' division had to be recognized by every one giving first place honor as to seating or greeting to any member of a 'caste' above them.
Also the colleges were governed by a long list of 'rules' and regulations strictly enforced and students monitored.
Mahan, as a young man entering college , was handed a paper itemizing the long list of rules.  He said he never read to the end of the list, yet graduated as one recognized for never having violated the college rules.
Mahan was always perplexed and concerned about the disregard for the rules by the college students and the violence/bullying between the 'castes', the hazing and every attempt made to get away with breaking a rule.

After 15 years of holding the President position in various colleges he he began to wonder what would happen if he did something never tried before -- something very radical and unconventional.  He decided to conduct an experiment to test his theory.

He was president of Oberlin college for 15 years.  The first year the school opened,  in his first President address to the student body he spoke to them about how every one of them knew what was right to do , what the correct conduct in a given situation was, how to behave one to another and how to be respectful of authority.
Therefore he said, there would be no official list of rules.  Each student would be expected to live by his own conscience ,  ruled by his inner knowing of right and wrong.  Accountability, responsibility would be what each student held  himself to personally.

Mahan's theory proved to be right.   When there was a list of rules to focus on governing behavior, the student's attention was on  how to circumvent or break those laws and see how much they could get away with.
When instead the President put them on a self-honor system every student found in himself a desire to live up to the trust and expectation of their President.
Mahan said that the behavior was exemplary in every student , except for two of the youngest boys who finally decided that since no one had been punished all year for mis-behavior obviously there was no punishment.  So they tested the system, getting into a fight.   Mahan grabbed each of them by the scruff of their neck and applied the discipline needed.   There was no further trouble.  

I thought about this example of college rule and I realized how the insight Mahan had as President was really patterned after the wisdom of God - insight God had from the very beginning.

The Old Testament law was the college list of do's and don'ts.  As it says in Gal 3:24  "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster ...."    The law was to teach us to understand right from wrong and instill in us the discipline and yearning to live righteously.   But the law could only go so far... it could not do what God's desire was for us.
God's goal for man is stated in the second half of Gal. 3:4 "to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith."
If the law could not justify us , what could ?

God gave man the 'law'  to train man's conscience but the law encourages man to focus on finding the technical loopholes and the minimum requirement.   By the time Jesus came the Jewish leaders had so added to God's commandments they were trying to enforce a  list of over 600 laws.   The people were discouraged.
No matter how hard someone tries to keep a 'list' of rules, it is only a matter of time before one or more are violated or overlooked.
So God brought out His 'honor system' .  The New Covenant.
Jesus cleared away the sin question, by His own sacrifice providing the payment due so man could find 'free' forgiveness.  Free simply by sincerely desiring it and a willingness to 'sin no more'.

God says of His New Covenant -  "But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, (after the Old Covenant)  saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people."  Jer. 31:33

God said, "I have put my law into your hearts/consciences to  know  what is right and what is wrong ...  I give you now only one covering 'law'   - the law of love.  "If you love the Lord your God and your neighbour as yourself" (Luke 10:27) you will  in everything you do be pleasing before Me.   There is no 'sin' possible under the law of love.  "He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him". I Jn. 2:10

But just like the little boys who thought that they could do as they pleased since there was no 'list' so also believers are held to a higher standard.  Living by the law of love means a 24/7 lifestyle of an obedient heart.

May we agree with Paul's prayer ... "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:"  I Th. 3:12
When  one day we stand before our Lord on 'graduation day' , may we be found  perfect in His righteousness, having walked in obedience to the commandments of God because we loved God and truly loved each other.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Not the Whole Picture

(little moth sitting on our kids' front door the other morning... waiting to be featured in this post... smile)

All good guesses in yesterday's comments but CB was VERY close in her guess as to what yesterday's photo was - it was indeed part of a moth - not its wing but its body.
Above is the photo from which I blew up the one little part. It is quite easy to pick out that part, isn't it ? The skeleton face ?

It is humbling sometimes to realize how much difficulty we have in discerning the whole from a part - even when we know it is only a part.

I think there is a good spiritual analogy that can be derived from this fact .

1. Wrong Conclusions
Pro 14:12 There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the ways of death.
Seeing only the part and not the whole causes us to draw wrong conclusions.
So often we look at something in our life, a tragedy, a situation, or a problem, and we cannot figure it out -- we cannot understand it or make sense of it.
We do not recognize that it is a blown up piece of the whole picture.
We judge as though it were the whole and consequently proclaim it to be what it is not. Then we act upon our false assumptions and end up frustrated and angry with the results.
We feel anxious or bitter , blame anyone else involved and even become upset with God.

How differently we would evaluate a 'piece' of our life if we could just see the whole picture. But only God sees the whole picture and He most often with holds that from us.
Does having only a piece not make us choose whether or not we will trust Him? And is it not also a 'fence' to keep us dependent on God wherein lies our security?

Pro 3:6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.

2. Focusing on the Part can Render us Powerless
Focusing on a 'piece' of a life portrait can fill us with such fear, or worry it leaves us paralysed - unable to discern or even think clearly. All we can think of is how to escape it.
I showed a friend the blown up photo of the moth piece and asked her what she saw. She said what she saw was rotting flesh that so repulsed her she couldn't even look at it.
I asked her if she didn't see a 'face'. Even after suggesting to her there was a face she could not see it. All she saw was rotting flesh.
Grabbing a pencil I sketched a quick pencil drawing of the 'skeleton face' and showed it to her.
She giggled and responded that the pencil drawing looked funny. She was then able to see the face in the photo with an easing of her emotional repulsion looking at the photo.

Sometimes a situation or tragedy is so horrific to us that we feel only extreme fear or repulsion. We can see no way to deal with it -- all we want is to escape - to run as fast and as far as we can. We can so no answer, no solution -- and it is impossible to hear God for the 'noise' of our emotions.
Then we need someone to come alongside in compassion, listen to our fear and quietly show us a 'pencil drawing' to help us see without the panic. When we become quiet we can then hear God's voice in our agony and feel His comforting peace and presence in the midst of chaos.

I Cor. 13:12 "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known."
Psalm 46:10 "Be still and know that I am God."

3. The Gift of Wisdom
Sometimes we cannot see the forest for the trees. We are too emotionally and physically overwhelmed with our situation to be able to see beyond the 'piece' to discern its place in the whole - or even to believe that it could have a God-intended purpose or end.
But God will bring people alongside who are able to see what we do not see.
Just as CB recognized that the 'piece' was part of a moth when others missed it, so also people can speak into our life and help us see that there is a bigger picture that God sees and knows.
CB did not have the 'perfect' total picture , so also we will never have the perfect picture as God sees it but we have God's Word and His Spirit to give us the spiritual insight and wisdom we need to face any situation and to understand the God that allowed it into our life.

Jas 3:13 "Who is wise and understanding among you?Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom."
1Th 5:11 "Therefore comfort each other and edify one another....."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What is it ?

Looking at the above photo what do you see? What do you think it is ?
Answer tomorrow ! (with a fitting analogy)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why is Death the Punishment for Sin?

“ For I am the LORD, I change not; …...” Malachi 3:6

God, as the Creator of all we know has the sovereign right to establish His own standard of right and wrong and system of justice.
It is interesting when we look at our world we see how inescapable is the standard God set forth from the time of creation. How closely a civilization builds its justice system on God’s justice system directly determines what kind of society it is.
His ten commandments are even today a bedrock of right and wrong in a courtroom or in everyday life.
God is a God who does not change - and neither does His standard of justice.

When God was giving the ‘law’ to Moses He established the justice system of retribution for wrongs. In whatever way a man was ‘harmed’ by another, there needed to be a restitution or price paid in ‘kind’ . In Lev. 24 we are told …. animal for animal , eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, etc.
Life for Life ... "And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot". Duet. 19:21
Like for Like was the only ‘restoration to wholeness’ that was lawfully right.

For example, if I give someone a valued piece of pottery and ask them to guard it well and they through carelessness chip it, there is only one way that they can make it right. For them to return to me the chipped pottery does not ‘restore’ or pay for the damage. The only thing that will make it right would be for them to find a ‘perfect same as’ piece of pottery and return the undamaged one to me. It must be the ‘perfect like’ in place of the broken/damaged one.

Before God created the earth and all that is in it, there was only the perfection of God’s heaven. Not only was God perfect, but all that was around him was also perfect. Nothing but indescribable beauty surrounded Him and filled His heaven, including the angels who served Him. Not least of which was the most beautiful of them all , Lucifer, the angel leading heavenly worship.
But then, Lucifer, became proud and in becoming proud, entertained arrogant thoughts of being like God in ruling by his own desires and over a domain of his own. He persuaded one third of God’s angels to follow him in his rebellion.
God, of course, could allow no such thing -- it was open rebellion in His face. Lucifer and his followers were banished from their estates and forever condemned in their sin.
We know God as a forgiving, merciful God .. Why did He not find a way to forgive Lucifer and the angels who followed him ?

Remember God’s ‘like for like’ law of justice ?
What had been ‘damaged’ / ‘misused’ by Lucifer ? Was it not the ‘life’ that God had given him ? God is the Source , the Being from which ALL life originates, flows and is given. All life belongs to Him. As it says in Job 33:4 "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life. and all God has to do is ‘recall’ that Life and "man will return to dust". (Job. 34:14)

Life, because it belongs to God is ‘holy’ … all life is meant to glorify God, all creatures with Life meant to fulfill the purposes of God and His desires. Because God is also LOVE ,He is only satisfied with perfectly happy creatures of His creation and He has given man instructions/commandments on how to live in perfect happiness, contentment and fulfillment. Anything we do contrary to that is a violation of His Life in us and is called ‘sin’.
If a creature ‘misuses’ the life that has been given him to harm himself or others or uses it to rebell against the God of Love that gave it , that is sin and must be atoned for.
So using God’s law of justice … like for like … that means Life for Life when sin against it is committed.
In God’s perfect heaven, there was no ‘death’ …. so there was no retribution/forgiveness possible for Lucifer. Life could not be given for the life that he misused. His own life is now tarnished, broken in sin … it could not atone for itself .. no more than the chipped pottery could be returned for retribution.
So Lucifer and his angels face an eternal punishment.

When God created man, He desires creatures that would choose to love Him, choose to serve Him -- creatures that would be children - His family in every sense of the word. A Being of Love that delights in calling Himself ‘Father’ needs children to pour His love out on.
To give his ‘children’ the freedom to come to Him because they loved Him and desired Him , He had to give them free will.
Free will, however, has a default of self-rule. Does God have free will ? Yes, of course.. He is sovereign. Does His freedom of self-rule -- creating/governing according to His own desires make Him a selfish Being ? No, because He is also a perfect Being .. in truth, in justice and in love and mercy and lovingkindness. For a Perfect Being to rule according to His own will and desire results in a perfect world.
But give free will to an imperfect being, then the ‘default’ to self-rule becomes something easily misused in that decisions/choices will be made without consideration of others’ well-being and for selfish reasons/goals. God’s will will be overruled by self-will. Every parent knows the ‘self-bent’ of their child when they begin to recognize the power of free will.

And so God, knowing that in creating man with a free will, He was creating a man who would fail, who would make wrong choices/decisions -- in other words ‘sin’ against or with the LIFE that God had given him -- God formulated a plan so that He would not have to condemn man when he sinned as He had to do with Lucifer.

That is why God told Adam and Eve … the day you sin, you will die. Death was not ‘created’ by God in His original creation -- only ‘sin’ brought God’s pronouncement of death into our world.
Why was death the punishment God decreed upon Adam and Eve ? Because only if there was death .. could their ‘sin’ be paid for …. LIFE for LIFE … can only be given where there is death.

A ‘broken’ life cannot atone for itself .. or one broken life for another broken life.. Only a Perfect Life can atone for a broken one. Adam and Eve both sinned and every man after them, there was no Perfect Life to give for broken Life.

We read in Rev. 13:8 that “the Lamb (was) slain from the foundation of the world.” We know Jesus did not come until 4000 years after Adam and Eve … yet God says for all intents and purposes He was ‘crucified’ from the foundation of the world. Why ? How?

God, in human form, Jesus, was the only Perfect Life that could be given to redeem the broken Life of every human being.
So how to apply the Life for Life before Jesus was slain ?
God set up, as it were, a line of credit. From Adam and Eve on, to the day Jesus gave His Life, every man could ‘borrow’ against that ‘reserve’ .
Every man could come to God with his ‘sin’ and with a token ‘life for life’ perfect animal sacrifice allowed God to ‘cover’ his sin until everyone’s sin debt would be paid in full by the Perfect Life for Life sacrifice of Jesus.
Animals cannot take away the sin of the world, (Heb 10:4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.) it is not really like for like .
But in establishing the animal sacrifice God was able to use the life of a perfect animal to apply the ‘line of credit’ to everyone who came to Him. And the people in bringing a perfect animal sacrifice for their sin … Life for Life... they were continually reminded how serious ‘sin’ was before God and that without forgiveness there was no fellowship/communion with God and no eternal living with Him.

In the old covenant sin was only ‘covered’,(Psa 85:2 Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin) it was not taken away as it is with the new covenant. ( I John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, He is faithful and JUST to forgive us our sins and to CLEANSE us from all iniquity) Why is He just ?? because Perfect Life has been given for Life -- and therefore we can be cleansed from our sin as if it never were ! In the new covenant the ‘line of credit’ is no longer necessary - every believer in Jesus draws on His riches of forgiveness directly - simply for the asking.

My Life has been given to me for the glorifying of Jesus and for His good purposes for me. If I misuse that life to pursue my own interests , or to fulfill my own fleshly desires, then I am ‘sinning’ against that Life that belongs to God. How aware I need to be to ‘use’ my ‘life’ -- not just my given earthly life span -- but the moment to moment use of it , being careful that I am truly using it in a way that will glorify the God to whom it belongs.

Col 3:17 "And whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him."

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Thinking Few

By chance I came across a 'thought' provoking rhyme the other day.
It goes like this...

"Though man a thinking being is defined,
Few use the prerogative of mind,
How few think justly of the thinking few,
How many never think at all, who think they do!"

The author of this little poem is a woman named Jane Taylor. Not having heard of her before and being curious I did a little google search and found that she was an English poetess who died in 1824 at the age of 40 of breast cancer.
Surprisingly, every one of you would be able to quote readily for memory something she wrote ! "Twinkle, twinkle little star..." - so familiar yet is never credited to its creator Jane Taylor.

The 'thinking' poem has stuck in my mind because more and more I see that 'thinking' is becoming a prerogative of the past.
I read a great deal written by and about people of ages past and I am always struck by the contrast of depth of their thought to the writing of today. From an early age, learning/thinking was expected even of the very young. Sport/entertainment was not priority of those who wished to make something of their life. A boy of 13 was in university already fluent in Greek and Latin as well as other languages.

In our age has 'thinking' become to the mind what 'fast food' has become to our palates? Do we prefer 'others' do the preparation and we just swallow undiscerningly?

How much value is in the preparation?
I read the other day how 'time and obesity' is directly related. The question was asked, "How often would you eat French fries if you had to peal the potatoes, cut them up, soak them in ice water, heat the oil, and fry them?"
Often the more healthy the food, the more time/effort in the preparation. At the very least it must be purchased fresh and washed. To cook from 'scratch' takes much more time than to tear open a box or thaw a frozen entrée in the microwave.
When cooking from scratch, what heightens the enjoyment of the food is not just in the eating of it but also the handling of the ingredients, the awareness of blending flavours, the smells of cooking, and the building anticipation of tasting it. Also taking the time for presentation and table setting and fellowship around a table adds to the experience and resulting 'health' to the body and soul.
Is it the same with 'thinking' ?
Information, so quickly and easily accessible, floods our minds and like fast food addicts we quickly gulp on the run.

It has been shown that when information enters our brain , there is a small window of time that gives us the option to 'think' on this information and then store it to long term memory. If we do not stop to 'think' , the brain decides that the information is not important and treats it as 'trash' deleting it from our minds.

What hinders us from 'thinking' as in mulling information/concepts/ideas over in our minds, considering, meditating, absorbing , and storing in a way that makes it available to draw on when wisdom is called for?
I think the two biggest hindrances to the thought life are noise and busyness. Both are huge distractions and a drain on our energy. Then when we do finally have a moment to just 'sit' we reach for a remote or computer keys or some 'toy' of choice that our electronic world offers. We live in a world where 'quiet' has become uncomfortable to many. And thinking needs 'quiet'.

I see how this trend has also influenced how we do church.
Worship has taken on an emphasis of 'loud' and physically interactive leaving little room for encouraging reflective and spiritual thoughtfulness.
I see fewer and fewer people bring their bibles to church and often even those who do leave them lying unopened on the pew.
There is something that detracts from our ability to retain when scripture is flashed on an overhead screen rather than us reading it from the bible in our laps.
I also see that doctrine/theology is becoming a subject to avoid. What we believe is becoming something undefined and we rather feed on a 'fast food' diet of love and acceptance. Not that those are not important but 'home cooked' love has main ingredients of truth and time - both of which take the discipline of thought.

As Jane Taylor's clever rhyme states, God created man a thinking being.
So how important is it to think ?
The scriptures readily and clearly call man to think, to reason, to discern, to question and to test, to talk. No fast food offering from God.
We are called to be "transformed by the renewing of (our) mind, so that we can prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Rom. 12:2
The bible declares that thinking defines who we are .... "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he" Prov. 23:7
David understood the need for solitude.... "Meditate within your heart on your bed and be still." Ps. 4:4b
The Hebrew word for meditate has in its meaning "to ponder, imagine, study".
The very first Psalm expresses the importance of meditating in our life. It declares that the one whose "DELIGHT is in the law of the Lord and who meditates therein day and night" is the man who is blesses in all his ways and in all he does !

As lack of exercise weakens the muscles of our body so also laziness weakens the most important muscle of our body - our brain - our mind needs a healthy active brain!
Exercise of body or mind takes discipline and will power! But the rewards are great!!
"Think on these things" Phillipians 4:8