Friday, May 18, 2018

The Story of the Bible

There is a great deal of confusion about the Bible.

Satan, the great deceiver, likes it that way, and is always working to this end.  When people know and understand the truth, they are much harder for him to deceive, so he has a strong tendency to promote confusion.

He keeps bringing back two major points of confusion, which present as "new" ideas, but in reality are very old heresies.

Heresy #1:  We don't need the Bible.  We only need Jesus.

Heresy #2:  Christians only need the part of the Bible that is about Jesus, and that is the New Testament.  We don't need the Old Testament; it is irrelevant.

First, let's tackle the idea that we don't need the Bible, we only need Jesus.

This idea sounds like it might be all right, because Jesus is, indeed, the centerpiece of our faith.  These days, this idea usually comes to us via catchy or guilt-inducing phrases such as:

"It's not about a book, it's about a person!"

"Our faith is not based on a book, it's based on an event!" (Meaning the resurrection.  Not the crucifixion, mind you.  The resurrection.)

"If you love your Bible so much, you are making it an idol.  Don't idolize and worship your Bible!  Worship Jesus!"

But tell me, how can I worship Jesus, if I do not know Him?  And how can I know Jesus, or know anything about His purpose, His origin (or whether He actually has an origin), or the events of His life, unless there is an account of these things?  And what is the Bible, except an account of the history of God's redemptive work through Jesus Christ?

We need the Bible, because it is a long, continuous, miraculous thread of historical revelation that points us to Christ.  Without the Bible, we would have no knowledge of Christ.

Can I please just quote some scripture here?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through Him all things were made; without Him, nothing was made that has been made.  In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. . .  The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  (John 1:1-4, 14)

Jesus Himself is the Word of God.

Let's think about that for a minute.  Jesus is the Word of God.  What are words for?  Words are for communicating, for sharing information, ideally for sharing truth, and for forging relationship through understanding.  Jesus is all these things.  Jesus is God's communication to us, His revelation of Himself.

The Bible, the Holy Scripture, is also God's revelation to us of Himself.  God has revealed Himself to us so that we can know Him.  Love Him.  Worship Him.  As God presented Moses with the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai amidst fire and cloud, so God presented the disciples with Jesus on a different mountain, in a great cloud, and transfigured Him with dazzling light to reveal His divine glory and authority, in the presence of Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-5, Mark 9:2-7, Luke 9:28-35).  Jesus is God's message to us, the completion of all His great and perfect promises.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17-20), the completion of the promises (2 Corinthians 1:20).

We have arrived at Heresy #2 (above).  If Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (who spoke God's promises), then how could we possibly think that we don't need to study the Old Testament?  How could the exact thing that Jesus came to fulfill be irrelevant?

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law.  Some people misunderstand what this means.  They like to say, "Jesus fulfilled the Law, so I don't have to."  Their assumption seems to be that Jesus did all the difficult, good things that God required, and then laid down His life as the perfect sacrifice to pay for sin, so now the rest of us are free to participate in as much sin as we please, since Jesus bought our way in to this new "freedom" ("Freedom in Christ," they say, missing the point entirely).  This makes absolutely no sense, and it rises out of ignorance of both the Law and the New Testament (see Romans 6:1-15; we aren't freed to participate in sin, we are freed from the bondage of sin).

Since I'm defending the Old Testament, let's look at what we need to know about the Law:

The Law contains two parts.  When you read it--in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy--you will notice that there are two different categories of things the Law addresses.

The Law explains that God wants to dwell among His people (Exodus 25:8-9).  It gives detailed instructions for how the Israelites should construct a tabernacle, set up a priesthood, and offer sacrifices to facilitate this co-dwelling.  The problem is that sin had entered the world through Adam and Eve, so there was a blockage in accessibility between Holy God and fallen man.  This part of the Law enabled people (those who would obey) to gain access to God, while they waited for the promised Messiah to come with the real solution.  Messiah would complete the restoration of the God-man relationship through perfect forgiveness of sins that would be possible after His freely offered self-sacrifice (see Hebrews 9:22-28).  Since Jesus, the Messiah, has completed His mission, we no longer need to offer sacrifices for sin.  This effectually makes the sacrifices, the priesthood and the temple obsolete.  In fact, instead of dwelling in a hidden, holy chamber at the center of a temple, God now dwells in every believer, through His Spirit.  Each one of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).  We are forgiven in Christ and indwelt by His Holy Spirit in our very bodies.

The other part of the Law is not specifically about how to approach God.  These directions are practical (maybe even pragmatic) instructions for how people can best survive in a fallen world cursed by the effects of sin.  God explained how people should treat one another, so they could live peacefully together.  He gave Israel beautiful principles of justice that would help them mitigate the violence that sin inflicts on humanity.  He taught them to eat the meat of the least disease-prone organisms (no bottom feeders or carrion scavengers!).  He taught them how to wash their hands to promote personal hygiene, for goodness sake, thousands of years before germ theory was discovered.  He taught them to quarantine the sick to prevent the spread of disease.  He even taught them to rest the land every seven years (an alternative to crop rotation).  And yes (I know this is increasingly unpopular these days), He gave them instructions for how to cultivate the healthiest possible family structure through sexual relationships defined by faithfulness and judiciousness.  When Jesus came, He did not overturn any of these things.  He expanded them (Matthew 5-7).  He knew that once His followers were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they would have more, not less, aptitude for following--and loving--the ways of God.

The part of the Law that deals with tabernacle, priesthood and sacrifice is sometimes called, "The Ceremonial Law."  This part of the Law was made obsolete after the finished work of Christ, although we can still learn much about the heart of God and the beauty of His redemptive plan if we will study it.  On the other side, the practical, day-to-day directives in the Law include, "The Moral Law."  The Moral Law is something like the Laws of Nature or the Laws of Science.  It's the way things work, which you can learn through experience (usually painful) or through study.  God created both the physical and the spiritual universe, the visible and the invisible.  Within His laws, we find both physical and moral principles for the way things work, shortcuts which God revealed to His people to save them pain and trouble, if only they would obey (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).  The book of Proverbs has a good deal of moral law in it, as well.

We love the Old Testament because it reveals God to us.  It shows us how much He loves us, and tells us of His mighty works and miracles.  I recently heard a famous preacher declare that the God of the Old Testament was not full of grace, and I wanted to tear my hair out.  God has always been full of grace.  The Old Testament shows how lovingly our gracious God bore with people who failed to obey Him again and again.  He always responded to their cries for help when they became desperate.  Even near the close of the Old Testament, when God had to punish His people during the captivity, He had graciously given them prophesies since the days of Moses, and all through the centuries, promising that He would gather them back as His people after seventy years.  His anger never lasts, and He always provides hope.  Every single book of the Old Testament points to the promise of the coming Messiah, the grace of God that would appear in human flesh to sympathize with us, relate to us, save us and bring us home.

We love the Law because it reveals the way of righteousness to us.  It helps us learn to live in love, joy and peace, as God desires for us.  The Law is good! (Romans 7:12, 1 Timothy 1:8)  The Law explains how we can live lives that are holy and pleasing to God.

The big confusion comes from mixing the idea of obedience to the Law with the idea of salvation by grace.  Please let me clarify, because it really isn't that hard:

Nobody can ever be saved through obedience to the Law.  Obedience to the Law does not produce salvation.

Salvation is a gift from God, and it comes only by faith in Jesus Christ, faith which God graciously awakens in us.  This faith enables us to believe that Jesus died and shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  The only way to be saved is to understand our sinful state, hate it, turn from it, and cast ourselves on the mercy of God, who promises to forgive and cleanse us by the blood of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection.  His death atoned for our sins and justified us before God.  His resurrection demonstrated the power of the Holy Spirit that raised Him up from under the cumulative sins of all humanity, and also raises us to a new life of living righteously through the Holy Spirit's power (Ephesians 1:17-23, 5:8-10).

Obedience to the Law 
can never produce salvation,
but salvation and the indwelling Holy Spirit 
will always produce obedience to God's ways--
not merely producing outward obedience to the Law,
but producing hearts that actively seek righteousness.

The Bible is the story of God's plan for humanity.  The Bible begins with a perfect garden that contained two very significant trees, one whose fruit would lead to eternal life, and another whose fruit would burden humanity with the knowledge of evil.  The Bible ends with a city that has a river running through it, and on each side of the river stands the tree of life, yielding fruit every month, with leaves for the healing of nations.  At the center of the Bible, at the heart of this story, there is a single tree, a bare, cursed tree.  This tree bore no leaves, nor any fruit.  From its limbs hung our precious Lord and Savior, with nails through His hands and feet.  He was undoing the curse of the tree that brought the knowledge of evil, so that eventually all evil will be eradicated, all trees will bring forth pure blessings, and paradise will prevail for all eternity.

It is impossible to understand the New Testament if you do not understand the Old Testament.  The Old Testament tells us that there is a God who is the source of all life and goodness, and that we live separated from Him because of a rift caused by the original sin.  The Old Testament tells us all about God's plan to fix this problem.  Why is there even a nation called Israel, and why are there people called Jews?  The Old Testament explains this, too.  Israel exists because God planned to send Jesus as a human person, with genetics and a family background (Romans 9:5).  God chose Abraham to be the father of the nation that would eventually beget Jesus for the blessing of all nations (Genesis 12:3).  This is the whole point of Israel and Judaism, and it is the reason why God protected and preserved the documentation of their history:  It's Jesus' history!

It's all about Jesus, and of course Jesus is the most important part.  Without the Bible we wouldn't know anything about Jesus, and in effect, we wouldn't have Him.  We need the Bible in order to know Jesus.  The more we know and understand the Bible, the better we are able to know and understand Jesus.

Jesus Himself said, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God,'" (Matthew 4:4).

Every Word.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Plagiarism and the truth

Sometimes I want to write a book, and sometimes I cannot even wrap my mind around how hard it would be, if I didn't write pure fiction.

I can't figure out how, at age 52, I could keep from plagiarizing by accident.  If I read something in, for instance, a John Piper book, ten years ago, and I internalized it, what if I don't remember that I read it there?  What if the things I learned, over time, simply became my way of thinking, and I don't go through the exercise of thinking back through where every thought might have had its seeds of origin, once I get thinking?  Or what if I remember that I read something somewhere, a long time ago, but I have no idea where it was that I read it?  What about that?  Am I morally obligated to go searching until I rediscover my source?  Is there a point at which knowledge becomes one's own, rather than the property of the person who originally taught it to you?

Here's something else.  I sometimes find that when I'm studying the Bible, I have some thoughts, and then I start to notice things--in a sermon, on the radio, in a conversation or an internet article--and they correspond to what I've been thinking.  I've always taken that as a sign of encouragement, an indication that I am on the right track, and others also see what I see.  If we are all finding the same truth, then it is likely that we are on the right path together.  I've always taken this as encouragement, but when I think of actually trying to write something, I get all frightened.  What if I write the same thing somebody else writes (or has already written), and I get accused of plagiarism?

(I don't worry too much about what happens here on this blog, because it is casual, and unofficial, and entirely free from monetary gain.)

I recently watched a documentary on Amazon Prime called, "The God who Speaks."  It was really, really good.  I resonated with it.

It dovetailed with some points I have written about in these blog posts:

Thankful for the Bible
Groaning for Home
Sin, the Promise, the Law and the Word of God

I hope this only means that we all love Jesus and are led in our hearts and minds by His Holy Spirit to ponder on and discover the precious truth.

God wouldn't want us to copyright His truth, would He?  Doesn't He want His truth to be shared freely?  Doesn't He want His ministers to teach with humility, being more concerned that truth is dispersed to those locked in darkness than that they receive due credit for their discoveries?

If it's new, it probably isn't true, and if it's true, it probably isn't new.  So anything true is by nature recycled.  Maybe we don't need any more books.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A Schubert Story

Most of the time, the foreshortening of my phone's camera drives me crazy, but once in awhile it renders something well, such as in this wistfully whimsical capture of Schubert:

Schubert is probably the cutest dog in the world, and exceedingly beloved.  This must be why we invest ridiculous sums of money in his veterinary care, which is endless, because he has terrible allergy issues affecting his skin and the inside of his mouth.

Schubert patiently, trustingly endures all manner of health routines.  We soak his feet in epsom salts, squirt drops into his ears, brush his teeth and rub antiseptic gel into his gums.  We lather him with allergy shampoo and make him stand, shivering, for 7 minutes before his rinse and (worst of all) blow dry.  He eats nothing but one hypoallergenic brand of dog food and his multiple medications and supplements, which he receives with much pomp and circumstance every evening in a small ball of cream cheese, his favorite.  His med-yoo-seen, we call it, and he comes running, sliding on the rug in the last lap towards my fingers extended with the smeary prize. We call this his magic carpet trick, and all of us are very proud when his form is on point.

Recently, we switched from an insanely expensive daily allergy pill to a slightly less insanely expensive monthly allergy shot.  Yesterday, he received one of these shots.  Poor guy.  He always gets into the car full of so much happy anticipation.  Then, as he realizes that the car is following the route to the vet's office, he begins to shake and tell us, "Oh no.  I have made a terrible mistake."

Shot completed, Shawn and I left him in the house and headed off to an appointment together.  We returned home at lunchtime, famished, and sat down to eat.  We were so hungry that it took us a moment to realize that no furry friend had come to greet us.  I went off and searched the house for him.  I looked in all the usual places...

He wasn't on the sunporch.

...not even hiding amongst the pillows on the daybed, as he sometimes does.

He wasn't keeping watch out the living room widow.

...not even slacking off on the job.

He wasn't cozied up on the futon in my study,

neither awake nor asleep.

I finally located him, huddled miserably on the blue chair in our bedroom.

I carefully lifted him, and he moaned miserably.  I carried him down to the kitchen, where Shawn took a look.  We were both concerned, but not knowing what exactly to do, we finished our lunch.

It was a lovely day, so after eating, we decided to take a walk.  We leashed up Schubert, and I carried him out to the boulevard across from our corner, where I set him down.  Schubert didn't cry, exactly, but he looked at us with a face full of woe, and turned back toward the house.

"Something is wrong with him," I said to Shawn.  I have a gift for stating the obvious.

We put him into the house and walked without him, a grueling walk for me, filled with worry and lupus symptoms and too much sun.

After our walk, I worked on some computer tasks, and Schubert snoozed on the futon nearby.  I googled his allergy shot, which claims to be natural and bio-friendly and free from side effects.  I called the vet's office and asked if side effects are common after this shot.  They said, "Virtually never, but if he is still feeling poorly tomorrow, you'd better bring him in so we can check for underlying issues."

Shawn told me, "Right, because we haven't spent quite enough on him yet this week."  Usually Shawn is a big softie about vet bills for this little guy, but there do come days...

Around suppertime, Schubert got really bad.  I carried him to the sunporch and laid him on the daybed, because that is one of his very most favorite places to lie, and he could be near us while we ate.  Usually he burrows amongst the pillows with wild abandon, but last night he just lay stiffly on his side across the middle of the bed, feet sticking straight out in front of him.  He was oddly still.

It gave me the creeps.  I kept going in to check on him.  He looked from a distance as though he were asleep, but close up, I could see that his eyes were wide open, and he was looking around, although holding his body stiff and still.  I touched him gently.  He flinched and moaned, but turned his head toward me and licked my hand softly, telling me, "I trust you, mom.  You are a good lady, and I know you will help me feel better."

Shawn had to leave for an overnight business trip in Kokomo, Indiana.  I'll admit, I was feeling mighty sorry for myself.  My son's apartment building burned down three days ago.  I had a significant lupus headache and aching legs.  And now my dog was going to die while my husband was in Kokomo, Indiana.  When poor little Piper died, it was February, so we could keep his body in the cold garage until his burial.  But yesterday was a warm spring day.  The bugs have been coming back.  Whatever would I do with Schubert's body if he left me while Shawn was gone?  I felt Schubert's skin, and he was burning up.

Around the time Shawn left, I got out Schubert's med-yoo-seen.  I also got out an 81 mg aspirin tablet.  Shawn has those for his heart, although he rarely takes them.  I remembered that when Piper was a wee pup, barely two pounds worth of canine matter, he had a reaction to a puppy vaccine, and the vet said he could have one half of a baby aspirin.  I figured Schubert needed something, and he seemed as likely to die without the aspirin as from it, so I tucked it into his cream cheese ball with his other meds.  Hearing me working with the cream cheese (or maybe smelling it), Schubert stumbled over to claim his treat.

Then we did TBG time for moms and dogsTBG time for moms and dogs is Schubert's most absolute favorite thing in all the world.  After the sun sets in the evening, Schubert spends approximately 100% of his time sitting on the brown blanket on the sectional in the living room in the dark, hoping for TBG time for moms and dogs.  Last night, he got it.  We watched an episode of Escape to the Country (a British house hunting show), and he curled up next to me.   It seemed as though the aspirin offered him some relief.

After the show, I carried him outside and set him in the grass for his last outing before bed.  He limped around pitifully, did what needed to be done, and then loped directly back inside, stumbling on the threshold. He was confused, because usually med-yoo-seen follows the last outing, but he had already had his med-yoo-seen.  I got a single morsel of hypoallergenic dogfood out of the cupboard, and lured by the promise of this reward, Schubert toiled upstairs to bed on his own four legs.

We both got ready for bed in record time.  Due to my lupus headache, I may have skipped some steps.  Schubert was curled up in his little bed under mine even before I'd finished putting on my pajamas.  Exhausted, I fell asleep immediately and slept until 4:30.

At 4:30, I awoke with my head full of thoughts about leptospirosisLeptospirosis is a deadly infection that dogs can get from exposure to wild animal urine.  We have foxes in our neighborhood, and last year, a neighbor's dog nearly died from leptospirosis, which he allegedly contracted by licking something upon which an infected fox had urinated.  On Saturday, Shawn had gone down to The Bottoms with his chain-saw to clear a fallen tree off a path.  I'd taken Schubert down to check on Shawn, halfway through the job, and a neighbor was there.  The three of us chatted for awhile, and then I noticed Schubert licking and eating something on the ground.  It's never good for an allergic dog to eat anything unknown, so I'd pulled him away and taken him home, but I woke up at 4:30 a.m. this morning, haunted with the idea that my dog had been licking a spot where there was residue from fox urine, and now he had leptospirosis and would soon die.

I listened for him, but there was silence under the bed.  I couldn't sleep, could barely even breathe.  I wanted to gather him in my arms and cuddle with him on the futon, but his odd quietness frightened me.  Finally, at 5:30, I collected my pillows and the cotton blanket from the back of the blue chair, and went to the futon by myself.

In the dark on the futon, I listened to the clock tick, and slowed my breathing to its rhythm.  In through the nose, smell the flowers, count of eight ticks.  Hold for eight ticks.  Exhale through the mouth, blow out the candle, count of eight ticks.  Repeat.  Focus on the ticks and the tocks.  Breathe.  Don't think words.  Count and breathe, breathe and count.  Sleep came in a wave of mercy.

I awoke to a very gentle and whiskery sniffling in my face.  He'd found me, and he was alive!  Our unspoken conversation went like this:

Schubert:  Hey mom!  I love you!  Why didn't you tell me you were here?

Me (stroking his fur softly): I wanted to, wanted so badly to, but every time I touched you, you groaned.  I was afraid I would bother you or hurt you, and actually, I was afraid you might be dead.

Schubert: I'm not dead!  I'm a happy guy!  See, I can wag my tail for you!

Me: Look at you!  You must be feeling better, sweet puppy.

Schubert (curling up next to me, making maximum contact with his furry back, crowding me deliciously): This is so nice!  I love this!  I wish you would have told me earlier that you were in here!  Let's get some good zzzzzs in before the alarm goes off!

And thus began a most joyful morning.  When we arose, Schubert barked and frolicked for his breakfast, just like usual, and although he slipped and tripped a bit due to some stiff hips, he seems to have loosened up quite nicely.  He's back on the job, barking at the birds in the front yard with exuberant gusto, and I don't care if that is redundant, because redundant joy is a great blessing.

It didn't even bother me when the garage door was broken and I couldn't get the car out to go to Bible study.

P.S. Happy May Day!

Monday, April 30, 2018


Reading ... Well, I'm trying to read Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper, but it is very heavy and intense for me.  I must be the biggest baby ever, but I'm feeling more in need of encouragement than challenge right now.  I'm reading through the Bible, and just finished Ruth, so on to 1 & 2 Samuel.  I like this part, and I'm glad to be past Judges.  On Saturday, some books arrived from Amazon, and I'm just beginning The 10 Greatest Struggles of Your Life, by Colin S. Smith. I find him to be full of truth, love and encouragement, so I'm looking forward to reading this book about the 10 Commandments.

Playing ... I have not been playing anything.  Maybe I should ask Shawn to get the Dominion games out again.  I've been walking again more; walking had waned in the long, bitter cold winter.  Walking is exercise and exercise is related to sports, so maybe it counts as playing?

Watching ... I watched the news Friday night, to try to glean information about my son's apartment fire.  It seems like I've been watching some basketball with Shawn, but that might be over now.  We had been watching The Crown on Netflix, but an inappropriate and disturbing episode featuring Princess Margaret put us off.

Cooking ... I've been in a major cooking slump, but "recently" I made a couple pots of soup.  I also discovered that a rather nasty GF brownie mix I'd stocked up on is much improved if I add a bunch of walnuts, chocolate chips, dried cherries and coconut.  Warmed and served with vanilla ice cream, this is a a treat unlike any I've had in ages.

Calling ... nope.

Crafting ... no, but I've been putzing in the garden a little.  I planted some zinnias and nasturtiums, and I'm excited to see if they come up.  We also recently installed a new bathroom floor in our bathroom, which was a satisfying project, if not a "craft."

Loving ... God's gift of the Holy Spirit.  He's always with me.  My Immanuel.  I'm so thankful for the peace and comfort He brings, as well as the times He gives me words and understanding.

Disliking ... all the bills.  My, but we racked up a lot of bills recently.  Many are health related: hospital, doctor, medicine, lupus blood labs, dentist, wisdom tooth extraction.  Also car repairs, a new furnace and AC unit, and I fear to look much deeper for what more I'll remember. They balance tenuously in a cattywampus pile on my desk, and I mostly try not to bump into them.

Celebrating ... Spring!  Finally!  And some plants I thought were dead are starting to show tiny green signs of hope.

Feeling ... Inexplicably peaceful.  Thankful.  A sense of wonder.

Listening ... to the clock ticking.  These days I listen to Scripture Lullabies a lot... when I go to bed, when I wake up, and everywhere I drive.

Wanting ... everybody to love Jesus.  I long for community, family fellowship seasoned with the love of Christ and the joyful anticipation of His promises.

Saturday, April 28, 2018


(a picture from a different April--April 2009, in Liverpool, NY)

My son's apartment building experienced a major fire yesterday.  The fire was on the third floor in the northwest corner of the building.  My son lives on the first floor, in the southeast corner of the building.

The building was evacuated, and there were no injuries.

The fire started at about 6 p.m. and it took firefighters over two hours to put out the flames.  The building was built around a central atrium, and the atrium roof caved in.

My son was working a 3-11 shift at work, so he just heard about it from afar.  He called us.  We were out running errands, so we tried to drive by and see what was happening, but the roads were all blocked off, and all we could see was emergency vehicles and flashing lights in the distance.

Although there was no fire damage to his section of the building, there was extreme water damage all over the first floor.

As far as I am aware, nobody has been allowed back into the building to see what happened to their possessions.  Because my son was at work, and not evacuated during the fire, he has his wallet and his phone, which is more than a lot of the people.

The building never seemed studious, but the news reported that a lot of students lived there.  I feel bad for them, having this happen right before finals.  They would not have been the privileged students.

My son went home with a friend from work, after work.  He sent me a text at about 12:30 a.m. to let me know that he was in a safe place.

I am thankful that he was not injured in this incident.

I look to God as I wonder what will come next.  Faith is thanking God in advance for what He will do, trusting His goodness and perfect wisdom.  I entrust this to my precious Lord Jesus.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear 
though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved 
into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

There is a river whose streams 
make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her;
she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
He utters His voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come behold the works of the Lord,
how He has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the chariots with fire.

Be still and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.


Psalm 46

Monday, April 23, 2018

about shame

Shame is an unpopular subject.

Obviously, shame is a very negative emotion.  It is like embarrassment, only far worse.  My old Webster's dictionary defines shame as: "A painful feeling of having lost the respect of others because of the improper behavior, incompetence, etc. of oneself or another."  Shame is when you don't want to show your face, or when you shouldn't want to show your face.

Often it seems that those who ought to be the most ashamed of themselves are the least ashamed of themselves, but that is an aside, so back to the point:

Shame is an unpopular subject, an unpopular idea.  I heard a teaching very recently, where the teacher declared that shame is the primary tool of the devil in attacking the sons of men.  His premise was that God does not want us to be shamed, and that shame somehow caused the Fall of Adam and Eve into sin.

This man's explanation of how shame was the primary cause of original sin was so poor that I simply cannot regurgitate it.  No logic carried the thought.  He was wrong, point blank.

Shame did not cause the original sin.  Pride did.  Ambition.  Lack of faith.  The desire to be like God, while mistrusting and disbelieving God.  An aspect of fear--the fear of missing out on something good--might have been at play, and maybe even curiosity.  But shame was not a causal factor in this event.  Shame was the result.  Shame was the result of disbelief in the goodness and faithfulness of God.  Shame was the result of giving the lies of Satan more credence than the truth of God.  Shame was the result of sin.  Shame is always the result of sin.*

Additionally, Satan did not use shame to tempt Eve to sin.  That would be ridiculous.  This was the original Fall, before there had been any sin, so there could not have been any shame yet.  Satan generally draws humankind into sin with some sort of enticement.  Shame is not an enticement.  Satan entices through deception.  Satan uses deception as his primary weapon, not shame.

Shame is the remorseful feeling we experience after we sin.  Guilt and shame are very closely related.  Guilt is the fact that one has done something wrong, a fact that can be established and proven.  A person can also feel guilty, and feeling guilty is almost identical to experiencing shame.

I don't think Satan can actually affect our feelings directly.  I'm not positive that I'm right about that, but I don't think he can.  What Satan can do, what he does all the time, is lie.  Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).  He is very accomplished and effective at lying, so much so that we often think he can do more things than he really can.  He wants to domineer and intimidate us, accuse and discourage us.  He loves to hold out a shiny trinket to lure us into danger, and then laugh out loud while he watches us fall into the depths of shame.

Guilt and shame are the natural consequences that follow sin.  They are not all bad.  Just as it is healthy to be able to realize that the iron is hot, and you should not keep your finger in contact with it, it is also healthy to feel shame and remorse after you sin, so that you will realize your soul needs repair, and the behavior that led to your shame should be avoided in the future.

God graciously allows us to feel guilt and shame so we will perceive our need to receive forgiveness and enter into a restored relationship with Him (those with seared consciences, who do not feel shame, are much farther from salvation than those who feel the pain of shame and remorse).  I have a friend who shared with me about the day she was saved, and she said with glowing eyes, "All I could think about was the wonder that my sins were forgiven!  My sins were forgiven!"  If we never felt the weight of shame, we could never feel the wonder of having it lifted, washed away by the grace of Christ Jesus who loved us and gave Himself for us.  We could never feel the intense gratitude, or the overwhelming joy.

So yes, the confusion.  You see, there is true shame, which comes from our sins.  And there is false shame, which Satan flings at us to keep us down after we have been forgiven and washed clean through the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

There is also shame that arises from things other people have done, shame that should not be assigned to a victim of someone else's sin, but through the lies and deception of Satan, it is.

Notice, the tactic of Satan is deception, lying, perverting the truth.  The result is shame.  But the tactic is always to deceive, to hide the truth.

This becomes particularly insidious in certain cases.  Take, for example, the story of a little child who is sexually abused.  A little, innocent child, raped in body, mind and soul.  Satan will grab such a  foothold and start whispering lies that very day:  "You aren't worthy.  You are dirty.  You are bad.  You deserved for this thing to happen to you.  You asked for it.  You are not like other people.  You will never be like other people.  You are flawed and marked.  Nobody loves you, and nobody ever will."  These are terrible lies from the pit of hell.  The child will be full of shame because of these lies.

As these lies become ingrained into the child's psyche, the child will act on the identity that grows out of the lies.  This is where the damage is especially insidious: As the lies Satan plants in the innocent child's heart take root, the child might begin to commit sins of her own, her own personal sin.  These sins that she commits will add to her shame, and ostensibly "prove" that the lies Satan fed her were "true."  Now she really is personally guilty.  At one point, she was an innocent victim, but innocent victims can become discouraged with the idea of virtue and plunge themselves into their own personal swamp of sinfulness.   Satan, the accuser, says, "You're a worthless person.  You're just gross."  The child--who may never have heard of our rescuing Savior--believes the devil and succumbs to the sucking quicksand of miry clay.

Praise Jesus, though, He lives to rescue us from the miry clay.

He drew me up from the pit of destruction
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
~Psalm 40:2-3

I think we can categorize most shame into four categories.

Category 1 Shame is normal, rightful shame, the shame we feel when we transgress against the perfect, holy, loving God who made us.  It leads us to repentance and confession, whereby we receive forgiveness and freedom from sin through Christ.  2 Corinthians 7:10 says, "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death."

Category 2 Shame is when Satan tries to tempt us to despair and remind us of our former guilt, even though Ephesians 1:7 tells us, "In [Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace."  When we feel this type of shame, the proper response is to immerse ourselves in the truth of scripture and remind ourselves that our salvation is secure through the finished work of Christ.  Category 2 Shame is a type of false shame, based on the devil's lies about the completeness of our forgiveness in Christ.

Category 3 Shame is shame people feel because of some shameful act that was perpetrated against them or in some way touches and shadows them.  (Ezekiel 18 speaks to our culpability for our own sin, but not others' sin.) Category 3 Shame is a type of false shame, based on the devil's lies about where a person's responsibility lies.

Category 4 Shame results from acts of personal sin that follow as a result of lies believed after suffering Category 3 Shame.  In tragic situations, such as cases of childhood sexual abuse, we feel extreme pity for the person suffering this type of shame, and our pity is appropriate.  However, at its core, this type of shame is not completely different from Category 1 Shame.  It is the result of a person's personal transgression against God.  Furthermore, probably all Category 1 Shame is in some way Category 4 Shame, because we are all sinners, and we all hurt each other, continually.  Sometimes it is purposeful and sometimes quite by accident, but our lives intertwine in a constant series of missteps, people sinning against each other and causing more ripples of sin, except where grace intervenes.

A young mother has a disagreement with her husband before he leaves for work.  This puts her into a bad mood, and she speaks harshly to her little boy before she drops him off at kindergarten.  The little boy goes into his classroom feeling bad about himself, and tells the little girl who sits next to him that she is ugly.  Meanwhile, the husband goes off to work and flirts with his secretary because he is dissatisfied with his home life.  On and on goes sin, begetting more sin, until somewhere a miracle of grace breaks the chain and begins a new direction.

It really doesn't matter where the sin originated.  Abusers were usually abused themselves.  Even indulgence is abuse, for that matter, and when you figure that in, you have nearly all the sin in the world covered.  It all goes back to the garden, where Eve and Adam reached beyond the words of God for something they suspected He was keeping from them.  Eve and Adam swallowed the devil's lie.

Sin is the problem, and it's the thing God hates most.  God hates sin because He loves us, and sin hurts us.  Sin always leads to shame and more sin, and it always creates distance between us and our wondrous Lord whose purpose is to restore us to dwell with Him in paradise.  There will be no sin in paradise.  That's why paradise is paradise.

We get so caught up in blaming.  It doesn't matter whose fault it is.  It doesn't matter.  The world is rough, but we can be released from the cycle, because Jesus paid the price for our forgiveness with His precious life.  No matter whom we might try to blame, the One Person who was totally, utterly, perfectly blameless is the Person who died to set us free.  Because of Jesus, we can be free.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
~Romans 8:1-2

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
~John 8:32

Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."
~John 14:6

Shame is the result of sin, and Jesus died to free us from sin.  Ultimately, being free from sin means being free from shame, too.  However, in order to lay hold of freedom from shame, we need to humbly repent.  We must admit that we have fallen short, and that even if something was somebody else's fault, the overarching sin problem is continued personally in each one of us.  If a particular person had not sinned against us, we still would have sinned: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23).

The glorious thing is that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  I don't think I'm ever going to get over Romans 5:8.  God loves us, even though every one of us arrives in this world broken and stained with the mark of sin.  He loves us and He is constantly at work with His mighty power and His righteous right hand, reaching out to pull us up out of the morass of sin and into His Kingdom.  The truth is, we are born sinners in need of a Savior.  The truth is, there is a Savior who is greater than anything we could ever ask for or imagine.  The truth is, we can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God and nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord

Shame is not the thing we need to escape.  Sin is the thing we need to escape.  True shame helps us escape from sin as we seek relief through the grace of forgiveness.  We must not fear the truth.  It may be painful.  It may cut like a double-edged sword, but the truth performs good surgery that leads to life and health.  Truth cuts away the cancer of sin.  Yes, there is such a thing as false shame, but when shame is false, it isn't the shame we need to escape.  It's the falsehood, the lie.

The truth is that we need forgiveness from sin, and forgiveness is grace, and that is where we find the end of shame.  In fact, this is the essence of the gospel. 

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,
of whom I am the foremost.
But I received mercy for this reason:
that in me, as the foremost,
Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience
as an example to those
who were to believe in Him for eternal life.
To the King of the ages,
immortal, invisible, the only God,
be honor and glory forever and ever.
~1 Timothy 1:15-17

Flee sin and run to the Lord, to the truth, the beauty, the light and the life.  To Jesus.

*If you read the entire post (and I know, it's long; I'm sorry), you will understand that shame is not always the result of the sin of the person who feels the shame, and is sometimes the result of someone else's sin, as the dictionary definition pointed out at the beginning: A painful feeling of having lost the respect of others because of the improper behavior, incompetence, etc. of oneself or another."  But I maintain that shame is always the result of some sin, from somewhere.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Please join me in praying over today.

Today, I will pray.

This is the photo from my April calendar, where the caption tells me, "Believe in new beginnings."

This has been a difficult year for believing in new beginnings.  The spring season has been like a suffering pregnant woman undergoing a long, unproductive labor.  Minnesota experienced two feet of snow in an April blizzard last weekend, and my lilacs don't look like the picture above; they look like this:

Still, the sky is blue and the leaves are budding out.  God is alive and well, and hope abounds.

Hope abounds.

So, we will pray. . .

Dear, precious Lord,

This is the day that You have made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it. 
(Psalm 118:24)

Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  
(Matthew 6:10)

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
(Matthew 6:13)

Sprinkle clean water on us, Lord, and make us clean 
from all our uncleannesses and from all our idols.  
Cleanse us, Lord.
(Ezekiel 36:25)

Lord, You are the God of Peace,
and You tell us that You will soon crush Satan
(with all his oppressive turmoil) under our feet.
Please do this, Lord Jesus Christ, 
and may Your grace be with us.
(Romans 16:20)

Summon Your power, O God,
The power, O God, by which
You have worked for us.
(Psalm 68:28)

Show us Your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us Your salvation.
(Psalm 85:7)

Precious, powerful, patient Lord,
please show us Your glory in the working of Your might
and the restoration of souls, for our good and Your glory,
even today.

Thank you that You are faithful and good,
and Your Will will be accomplished.