Beholding Vanity

With our eyes wide open, paying attention, observing the world around us, we notice and interpret the people, events, objects and places from the perspective of our world view. We instinctively assign value to what we see based on our belief system, according to our understanding of our purpose, and our perception of what will serve this purpose. Those who pursue the temporal see a certain kind of value, and those who pursue eternity see another.

As the Psalmist views this world, he asks the Father to turn away his eyes from beholding vanity, and to quicken him in the divine way. (Ps 119:37) He doesn’t want to stop looking, to be blinded to the world, to not be aware of life; he knows vigilance is godly. (1Pe 5:8) He’s asking to be energized in his world view, to be realigned along God’s eternal perspective. He wants to see the emptiness of the temporal realm for what it is: vanity. (Ec 1:14)

Our belief system governs how we focus our vision, and actually influences what we perceive. If our focus is on the short term, we’ll only recognize the natural, assigning value to what serves our own broken, temporary convenience and pleasure. Sowing to the flesh, we’ll be blinded by the corruption of lust and indulgence. (Ep 4:17-19) God isn’t mocked (Ga 6:7); our only reward will be short-lived, shallow, carnal pleasure. (Mt 6:5) It never satisfies (Ec 1:8), because it isn’t designed to.

In how many ways do we behold vanity? Distracted by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life? Loving the trappings of this evil world? Attaching ourselves to incidentals, taken up with things of no eternal import? (Php 3:18) How often are we, like the disciples of old, out of focus, expecting Christ to enjoy trinkets with us? (Mk 13:1-2)  This is not of the Father, but is of the world. The world passes away, and all its lust, but he who does God’s will abides forever. (1Jn 2:16-17)

As Christ bare His cross, brutally beaten and scourged, He saw across eternity; those weeping for Him, should rather have been weeping for themselves and for their children. (Lk 23:28) Seeing from God’s perspective changes everything.

As we assign value to what we see, as we let our hearts focus, let’s think eternal: what will it be worth in a million years? That’s its true value now. Everything’s either priceless or worthless (Php 3:8); there’s nothing in between. (Mt 6:19-20)

Let’s ask God to quicken our spirits so that we can see things as they really are, either planted of God (Mt 15:13), or doomed to eternal fire. (Jud 1:7) Godly conversation, holy focus and engagement, is in Heaven (Php 3:20); believers are already seated there in Christ. (Ep 2:6) Let’s live like it.

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Sound Wisdom

I love Jordan Peterson (JP) – like the father I never had. His book, Twelve Rules for Life, is filled with sound wisdom, godly instruction – things I wish my father’d taught me. (Pr 3:21)

In his straightforward, brilliant, humble manner, JP’s helping me understand fundamental life principles, things I wish I’d been taught when I was young, and had been able to teach my kids. It’s priceless. (Pr 4:7, 12:1)

JP isn’t a Christian, not just yet, doesn’t even claim to believe in God; he’s a man who’s struggling to find the truth in the fear of a God Who might exist. If what he’s found so far is any indication, he’ll be a believer before he’s done. He’s seeking and knocking like no one else I’ve seen; he’ll find. (Mt 7:7-8)

Below are his 12 rules, with some summary notes and supporting scriptures.

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Be as strong as you can be, in mind, body, soul and heart. (1Co 16:13) Our nervous system responds differently when we face difficulty voluntarily rather than as a victim. There’s no virtue in self-imposed weakness. Individuals can take down empires, change the world; one who stands for truth in love cannot be defeated. So, stand! (Ep 6:13-14)
  2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. (Ep 5:29) People take better care of their pets than themselves. Self-hatred/disrespect/unforgiveness is inconsistent with God’s love for us. Act like you’re your own best friend, think of your future self as someone you need to care for.
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you. (Pr 13:20) People who don’t want the best for you aren’t your friends. Not only can you separate yourself from them: you should. Set proper boundaries; seek out people who’ll help you be your best self, and be that kind of friend to others.
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. (2Co 10:12) Make daily incremental changes in your life, towards a goal of perfection (Php 3:12-14); compound interest is at work, and works both ways.
  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them. (Ep 6:4) What I wish I’d heard as a young parent! This is Dare to Discipline on steroids, with a nuance that’s both encouraging and unarguably wholesome.
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. (Mt 7:5) If we can’t set your own house in order, what business do we have trying to influence anyone else? People and social systems are much more complex than we realize, and we can easily wreck havoc with simplistic ideas. Humility applies wisdom first at home, verifying its utility through experience.
  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient). (Mt 6:33) Life isn’t about happiness, it’s about purpose. Find your path and walk in it.
  8. Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie. (Ep 4:25) When we lie, we corrupt our own ability to perceive and interpret reality. There is never a good reason to do so. Speaking the truth in love always brings habitable order out of chaos. Articulate the truth in love as well as you can, to yourself and to others, and it clears your mind and spirit to see even more truth.
  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t. (Ja 1:19) Don’t be gullible, yet recognize you don’t know it all. (1Co 8:2) Be willing to learn from anyone and everyone.
  10. Be precise in your speech. Speech conveys information, precise speech does so efficiently, requiring less time and effort. It is a way of honoring others, loving them as ourselves. Anything less is unrefined, tainted, corrupt.  (Ep 4:29)
  11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding. “The spirit that interferes when boys are trying to become men is no more friend to Woman that it is to Man. It will object, just as vociferously and self-righteously, when little girls try to stand on their own two feet. It negates consciousness. It’s anti-human, desirous of failure, jealous, resentful, and destructive. No one truly on the side of humanity would ally him or herself with such a thing.”
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street. Why does God allow evil and suffering? It is the price of being, growing, and limitation. Pay attention to the intermittent rays of light sprinkling down into a suffering world. Enjoy them, and be reminded that the wonder of Being itself makes up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it.

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Why Hidest Thou?

Sometimes it seems like God’s far away, hard to find, like He’s hiding, especially in dark or painful times. It’s natural to ask why God isn’t more in-your-face, especially to unbelievers and atheists, why He isn’t making things so much more obvious. Why does He choose to reveal Himself like this, in what may seem like such a covert or obscure manner? It’s a reasonable question; even the Psalmist asks it. (Ps 10:1)

In the context of God providing sufficient evidence of His existence and character, the question itself betrays a lying presumption: that God hasn’t already left us ample witness of Himself. God affirms otherwise: He’s given us infallible proof (Ac 1:3), such that there’s no excuse for not knowing and glorifying Him (Ro 1:19-21): Creation itself proclaims the glorious existence of God in every language, among all people. (Ps 19:1-3) Those who complain about a lack of evidence for God are ignorant and blind at best (Ep 4:17-18): it’s overwhelming and abundant, once we see it, but God must first open our hearts so that we’re willing to see it.

In the context of why God doesn’t answer all our questions, or why He allows pain and suffering instead of intervening and protecting us, the question often nurses a complaint, an assumption that God isn’t always perfectly revealing Himself in every time and circumstance. This then is a kind of idolatry, making God out to be as we’d like Him to be, rather than enjoying Him as He is, and it doesn’t get us very far. God doesn’t do the dog and pony show to entertain and amaze us; that’s the enemy’s way. (Re 13:12-13) We must trust that God has an end goal, a glorious purpose in everything He does and doesn’t do.

Asked as a general inquiry into the nature and heart of God, which is evidently how the Psalmist asks it, wanting to know Him more deeply, to understand a bit more why He does as He does, there’s rich treasure here. (Ro 11:33) There’s a hint given us in Revelation: when God fully manifests Himself, it appears that every created thing outside of God flees in a dreadful panic, looking for places to hide. (Re 20:11) So, it appears that if God didn’t vail Himself in some way, that very few of us on Earth would be able to function very much, if at all. We’re all still broken, struggling against sin to varying degrees, yet God’s absolute, undiluted holiness incapacitates everyone and everything that remains tainted with sin.

For God’s enemies to be able function, to act like enemies, to play out the saga of human history as God has ordained (1Pe 2:8), the struggle of good versus evil, He must allow His enemies to live apart from Him, alienated from Him. This requires Him to take a back seat for now, as it were, and work behind the scenes, largely unnoticed.

But a Day will certainly come (1Co 3:13) where God will no longer be back stage, but will be front and center. (Je 10:10) At that time there’ll be no more deception, no more ambiguity, no more uncertainty, only absolute holiness and insane depravity, ultimate light and unbridled darkness, extreme fullness and extreme emptiness. Everything and everyone that God hasn’t planted will be rooted up and rooted out (Mt 15:13) – nothing alien to Him will abide His presence. (Joe 2:11)

Until that Day, let’s enjoy the privilege of seeking Him, pursuing Him, aligning with Him, cleaving to Him and abiding in Him in every way that we can, so that when He shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. (1Jn 2:28)

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Be Content

The key to living in contentment, free of covetousness (Ep 5:3) and lust, lies in a promise: God has said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” (He 13:5)

This promise is found in multiple places, as a promise to His people as an holy nation (De 31:6) comprising all of God’s children (1Pe 2:9), and to individuals (Jos 1:5) called according to His purpose. (Ro 8:28) How does this great and precious promise enable us to partake of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4), curing us of covetousness?

Covetousness is an unholy wanting, seeking after that which is forbidden us in Torah (Ro 7:7), pursuing what is contrary to God’s purpose and will for us. (Ro 12:2) It’s ultimately a form of idolatry (Col 3:5), creating a god of our own liking, a fundamental denial of the infinitude of God, an attack upon His goodness and faithfulness, rooted in that primal lie that God’s Law is keeping something good from us. (Ge 3:5) Lust is the desperate heart cry of one who fails of the grace of God (He 12:15), who’s forgotten the power and wisdom of God. (1Co 1:24)

Knowing that God is with us, that He is sufficient to supply all our need (Php 4:19), frees us from all unholy desire: if God has forbidden it we don’t need it, and it would ultimately harm us and dishonor Him. Trusting God is knowing His pleasure is ultimately for our welfare and His glory, that He’s sovereign, and that He’s perfectly good.

Being content with such things as we have, in having our basic physical needs met (1Ti 6:8), is not merely a reference to the material things of life; it extends beyond to all that we need. By His Word through His Spirit, God is equipping us with everything we need to live for Him. (2Ti 3:16-17) We aren’t perfect, for sure, and while we should ever be striving to add more virtue and knowledge to our faith (2Pe 1:5), we can be content that God is our sufficiency (2Co 3:5), that He has designed us with the gifts, experiences and temperaments that are perfectly suited to His unique and glorious purpose in each of us. (1Co 12:18).

Grasping the infinite treasure that is ours in God leaves no room for unholy passion; the cure for our covetousness is found in His promises. Contentment is an enabling grace that’s learned (Php 4:11), a soul discipline, a pillar of spiritual health.

Let’s ask God to incline our hearts away from covetousness towards His testimonies (Ps 119:36), and then apply ourselves to root out every trace of lust with the very nature of God, by letting the truth of His Way penetrate every crevasse of our mind and soul. Every step toward godliness and contentment is great gain. (1Ti 6:6)

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Salvation Is of the Jews

When Jesus Christ challenges Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee, in  relating with God, He says, “Ye must be born again.” (Jn 3:7)

Since this is in the New Testament, and we never hear it taught from the Old, it’s easy to think that being born again is relatively novel, something Moses, David and Abraham knew nothing about.

But Christ is speaking before the Cross, before He dies and rises again, so nothing has actually changed since Mount Sinai, when God revealed His Law, or really even since Adam. There’s no New Testament scripture at this point in time, yet Christ acts as if Nicodemus should already know about being born again, as if it’s obvious from the Old Testament. (Jn 3:10) How significant! If we don’t see being born again in the Old Testament like Jesus expects, what makes us think we understand it?

In a similar encounter, Christ challenges a woman and says something just as striking. “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” (Jn 4:22) He’s saying that if we don’t understand the salvation presented in the Old Testament, the oracles of God committed to the Jews (Ro 3:1-2), then we don’t understand salvation at all; we’re worshiping in ignorance. Not a good place to be.

In a third encounter, Christ tells an equivalently insightful story of a rich man suffering in Hell, concerned that his family will follow after him into its flames. He asks Abraham to send an acquaintance back from the dead to warn them. Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” (Lk 16:29) The claim is that Old Testament scriptures are a sufficient witness of the gospel. But the rich man pleads, convinced that the Old Testament is insufficient; if someone they knew rose from the dead to warn them, then they would repent and be saved. But Abraham is firm: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

Not only is the Old Testament a sufficient witness of the gospel, it is so overwhelmingly sufficient that if one isn’t convinced through it, then nothing will convince them.

Salvation is of the Jews: accomplished by Christ, a Jew, and revealed by and through Jews, God’s chosen people, in the scriptures God has transmitted to us all through them. This doesn’t mean we have to become Jewish in order to be right with God (1Co 7:18-20), but it does mean that the gospel of the New Testament is exactly the same as the gospel of the Old Testament. If the gospel we believe in isn’t an Old Testament gospel, then it’s a false one. (Ga 1:8)

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Build Bulwarks

God can do anything He wants whenever He wants, and no one can do anything better than He can, so when He tells us to do something, it isn’t because He needs our help; He’s giving us an opportunity to become, to grow, to be transformed.

So, I find it very interesting that God tells Israel to conquer cities outside the Promised Land (De 20:15), to besiege any city that doesn’t surrender without a fight (De 20:12), and to design and build engines of war, bulwarks of timber, to subdue it. (De 20:20) In each of these battles, God fights for Israel (De 20:4), yet there’s evidently always danger involved, where He might allow some of His own people to die. (De 20:5)

God could easily move everyone seek Him and obey Him, such that there’s no need for conquering cities; He could just as easily drop the city walls, like He did at Jericho, so there’s no need for long seiges; and God could easily arrange each battle such that no one from Israel ever gets killed. (Nu 31:49) So it makes me wonder, what’s He up to here?

I see it here as I do everywhere: God delights in fully engaging us as He does His will, working in and through our will both to will and to do according to His pleasure.  (Php 2:13) God does not fight our battles for us while we sit passively by and watch; He fights within us and through us, transforming us into His likeness through the challenge of adversity as we pursue His commands. So, how does building bulwarks to overcome God’s enemies serve to form the image of God in us?

For one, building devices to safely breach the massive walls of ancient cities took ingenuity, collaboration and tenacity. Every situation was different, and the army was always entirely volunteer (De 20:8); the constant stream of real-life challenges fueled the forges of brotherhood, forming bonds among men as only can be formed in the stress of battle. We learn and grow as much or more from struggling and failing as we do in our success, as long as we are all in, and not halfhearted in our quest. Putting our lives on the line, and the lives of our neighbors, in pursuing the commands of God together inevitably moves us to holiness and godly fear, a gift like none other.

In the final analysis, the goal of a spiritual battle isn’t simply to win it; God could win the war all by Himself without any battles; the ultimate outcome is already known. Yet it is in the crucible of battle that God forms our hearts after His own (He 5:8), and equips us to be workers together with Himself. (2Co 6:1)

While we may not live in the old promised land, and we may not participate in physical battles in spreading the kingdom of God upon the earth today, there is still a very real parallel in the spiritual realm, in the fierce battles for minds and souls, of which the physical ones were merely a type. In these, the need for unity, determination, discipline, holiness, wisdom and strength, the gift of brotherhood in seeking victory in God together, are no less real.

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The Creature Waits

Creation, all created things, evidently have a common consciousness: God says the whole creation groans together (Ro 8:22); created things are waiting, earnestly expecting the resurrection and manifestation of God’s children. (Ro 8:19)

Since the individual animals with this expectation are constantly dying, just like we are, the implication here is that all created things are excitedly aware that they will all experience the resurrection of the dead together in all its glory along with us. (Ro 8:21)

Interestingly, Albert Barnes says of this text: Perhaps there is not a passage in the New Testament that has been deemed more difficult of interpretation than this; and after all the labors bestowed on it by critics, still there is no explanation proposed which is perfectly satisfactory, or in which commentators concur. It appears that reluctance to accept its plain, apparent meaning might lie in contradicting science, which we ought not allow. (1Ti 6:20-21)

Yet recent scientific discoveries in the paranormal are indicating this very thing, that all life forms, plants and animals, are connected in a common consciousness across time, and even that inanimate objects participate in this. Perhaps they are indeed struggling together with us under the stain of sin, in a universe infected by Man’s rebellion (Job 25:5), waiting for the adoption of the saints. (Ro 8:23)

What if God has temporarily silenced the creature (Ro 8:20), to allow men to rebel against Him with less obvious incrimination for a time? (Ro 11:32-33) If all Creation were free to proclaim God’s praise now (Lk 19:40), where would hatred and rebellion hide until wickedness is to be exposed? (2Th 2:7-8) And what if, in that final glorious day, all of creation will join with us in praising our living, transcendent, almighty Creator … together!

This insight puts Creation in an entirely different perspective, and encourages us to both treat it with respect, and also to enjoy the miracle of God’s expression of Himself through it all so much the more.

The heavens declare the glory of God, may be much more than metaphor. (Ps 19:1) It is truly for His pleasure that they are, and were created. (Re 4:11)

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Intercession for Us

When a truly righteous person offers to pray for me, I feel honored, hopeful God will hear them. Appealing to the Supreme Power of the Universe on my behalf … what an unspeakable privilege!

What then do I make of the fact that God Himself prays for me? The Spirit of God Himself appeals to the Holy Father on my behalf, making intercession for me! (Ro 8:26) How can the Holy Ghost pray amiss, or not be heard? He Who knows and loves me better than I know and love myself always prays according to the perfect, unique will of God for me! (Ro 8:27) Wow!

And not only this, but the very Son of God also joins with the Spirit of God to intercede for me to His Father! (Ro 8:34) Two-thirds of the Godhead are already praying for me, perfectly, flawlessly, right now, without ceasing! Can I imagine that they will not be heard? That their prayers will be in vain? About anything?  Not a chance!

What else could I possibly need spiritually! Victory is in hand, not because of me,  or anything I can do or have done, but because God is doing everything that needs to be done to save me and sanctify me (Jud 1:24); He Himself is living out victory in me. (1Co 15:57)

How can I be depressed? How can I be defeated? How can I be lost? Who can lay any charge against me, when it is God Who justifies me? (Ro 8:33) Who can condemn me when Christ has died for me (Ro 8:34), quickens me (Jn 5:21), gives me eternal life (Jn 17:2) and lives in me? He’s everything I need: my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. (1Co 1:30) How could I ever glory in myself, or in anyone else but Him? (2Co 10:17)

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Christ Lives in Me

I have been observing that I don’t live in perfect peace as I ought; there’s definitely room to grow. I often tense up and experience anxiety over incidental things, worrying about what people might be thinking, or potential trouble that might cause me grief. How do I combat this?

One thought I’ve had recently relates to “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) Jesus Christ lives within me (Ga 2:20), thinking and feeling as a real person. The real incarnate Christ, Who lived, breathed and walked this earth 2000 years ago, Who created the universe (Col 1:16), lives within my spirit and will as a whole person, as a divine intellect, emotion and will; not a separate person from me, but not entirely the same either. I cannot quite explain this to my own satisfaction, but it is still very, very real.

So, along the lines of the famous question, “What would Jesus do?”, I’ve started asking myself, “What is Jesus doing? What is He thinking and believing and feeling in me, right now?”

In a sense, I think this may be described as a kind of putting on of Christ, a way of emulating Him, but it seems to me a bit deeper than this. It is acknowledging that Christ Himself is already in me living and doing according to His will, as a very part of me. As I acknowledge this and align with Him, He lives ever more freely and fully and undiluted in me, delivering me from fear, anxiety and worry.

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One Spirit

Belonging. Being part of something bigger than myself. It gives me a sense of connection, safety, acceptance, significance, purpose, intimacy, dignity. (Ep 1:6) It’s what I long for; I think we all do.

Crescent Nebula

It’s why we join clubs, societies, communities, churches, gangs, even get married and have families. It’s our instinct to give up freedom, independence and autonomy, to be connected with something larger than ourselves.

When rightly done, we don’t lose ourselves in giving up separateness, we discover ourselves in communion. In union with something above and beyond us, we become more uniquely and fully what God’s designed us to be. It’s a mysterious thing, this passion to belong.

It’s an instinct for a reason: we’re made to be one with Jehovah God (Jn 17:21), so joined with Him that we’re one spirit together (1Co 6:17), inseparable, indistinguishable in a sense.

We’re not identical in every respect with God, obviously, yet no line can be clearly drawn between God and those who are one with Him. Though He’s separate from and above us, He’s also in and through us (Ep 4:6), part of our very own spirit (Ga 2:20), closer than our breath. (Re 3:20)

In being one spirit with God, we’re still uniquely ourselves, and also connected through Him to all who are so joined with Him (1Co 12:13), members one of another, in eternal metaphysical communion (2Co 13:14), enjoying infinite intimacy, perfect family (Ep 3:15), ultimate brotherhood, divine marriage(Ep 5:32)

Longing to belong drives us to seek fulfillment outside ourselves; we aren’t designed to go it alone. (Ge 2:18) But if we don’t recognize this instinct for what it is, to lead us to God, to be one spirit with Him, the craving destroys us, and those around us. There’s no satisfying it outside the Divine embrace. (Ep 4:18)

As disciples of Christ we each belong to God, Who made us, crafted and fashioned us (Ps 119:73), not merely physically – but more importantly, metaphysically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, to be unique expressions of Christ. He reveals His nature and glorifies Himself uniquely through each one of us (2Th 1:10), through our story (1Pe 1:7), His story in us. (Re 3:12)

In uniqueness He’s joined us with Himself, and with all who are in Him, eternally one, yet not lost in our oneness. We cannot possibly be, and belong, any more than this.

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