Judgement and examination

1 Corinthians 4:3 – “… I do not even judge myself.”

2 Corinthians 13:5 – “Examine yourselves…”

Examination and judgement are not the same. In court examination is done by the lawyer then judgement is passed by the judge.

In some sense examination offers the hope of correction while judgement concludes the matter.

As we walk with Christ, the Son of the living God, I think it is important to remember these distinctions, both towards others but just as importantly toward ourselves.

We must examine ourselves lest we become complacent or run off the tracks.

When we start to judge ourselves, then we have fallen into the snare of the enemy and are doing his job for him.

Revelation 12:10 – “…he who accuses them before our God day and night.”

What good can come of that?

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Which is easier?

Matthew 9:5 (NIV) Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?

It occurred to me the other day that I always treated this comment by Christ to the Pharisees as kind of a throwaway line. Like it was really more difficult to say “get up and walk” with the miracle behind it rather than to just forgive the sin.

“just forgive the sin.”

I realized what others have known for millennia, Christ knew just exactly how hard it was to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” since “for this reason” He came.

So yeah, it was way harder to go to Calvary than to do a miracle.

But I couldn’t leave it there. I kept mulling it over in my head and it occurred to me that man is approaching the ability to do some of those miracles, like giving the lame the ability to walk again, or to enable the blind to see. This is truly awesome and a wonderful thing.

But we can’t even begin to say, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Oh some will argue that psychologists have been doing this for years, but not really. They may be able to help deal with the guilt, but they can’t cleanse the soul.

What Jesus did on Calvary, and what God sealed with the Resurrection was bonafide sin forgiveness. Wiping away the guilt and regret, really and truly giving us a way to know we have peace with God. Not the hope that if we are good enough, or try hard enough the mistakes we make and have made will somehow be outweighed by our efforts. He gives us the Hope that God through Christ has made a way for us, the way for us, to finally be free from the vicious cycle of failure and disappointment.

Not that we never fail again, but we need not be condemned by it.

And that freedom transforms us, making us the people we have always wanted to be, secure, confident and satisfied, knowing that we are His children and he is watching over us.

That is a miracle indeed.

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Contradictions in the Bible

I classify Biblical contradictions into 3 categories; contradictions of account, contradictions of interpretation and contradictions of concept.

The Bible is not just a book of religious wisdom and insight, it is also a work of history. As such it is liable to the accusation that it is inaccurate in its account of events. These would be contradictions of account.

As it turns out contradictions of account are really hard to establish. The number of people who actually have put in the time and study of history, anthropology, language and the Bible itself is small enough that it is highly unlikely you are one of them. Furthermore those who have, regardless of which side of the fence they start from, bring their own prejudice and (scholastic) reputations to the endeavor. As a result most of us have at best, third and fourth hand knowledge of the context or details around any contradiction of account and multiple differing opinions from experts in the field.

These disagreements (among qualified individuals) do not generally change the story. For example there isn’t disagreement in the accounts that Christ was crucified (public verifiable death), buried and then appeared to many. So the evidence for contradictions of account often depend on the baggage carried to the investigation.

The next type of contradiction is a contradiction of interpretation. The best way to explain what I mean is to use an example. Consider the exchange between Satan and Christ in Matthew 4. Satan quotes Psalm 91 to Christ, who quotes back Deut. 6:16. Both are scripture, so is there a contradiction? Why did Deuteronomy trump the Psalm?

As a friend of mine explains, “the Bible is not a spell book.” Which is not to say we can’t or shouldn’t claim the promises of God. It is to say, however, that you cannot control God through His words any more than you can control Him through His love. This is a contradiction of interpretation rooted in our misunderstanding of who God is. Christ’s response to Satan’s temptation is to clarify just exactly who is on the throne. When we stop and think about it even a little it becomes obvious we cannot manipulate God, and if we understand who He is we would not want to. Contradictions of interpretation are particularly common around passages like John 14:14 or Matthew 21:21. So common in fact they came up in James 4:3. A clear understanding of this point can be elusive.

The last type of contradiction is the contradiction of concept. These are in fact logical contradictions. The idea that eternal God could come in the flesh and die is a contradiction. It is a fundamental aspect of God that He is infinite and it is a fundamental aspect of man that he is not. Salvation, prayer, the Bible itself are all contradictions to the way we imagine things could, would or should be. I Corinthians 2:14 says it best, these things are foolishness.

The last contradiction of concept is, this foolishness works. It comforts the broken, strengthens the weak, overcomes the strong, cleanses the heart, stimulates the mind and satisfies the soul. The fact this works comforts me and strengthens my faith. Think about it, if this were a contrivance of men, it would be rational at a human level. The fact that it only makes sense within the framework of a faith submitted to Him testifies of its divine origin.

And why not? Isn’t it perfectly logical that the foolishness of God would be wiser than men? In fact how could it be otherwise?

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Faith, Hope, Love and Snowflakes.

Faith, hope and love make life worth living. They are first things. Just as success, power and money are second things. Second things are only bad when the get out of order with first things. This perception of primacy and order is a common one as recorded through the centuries and so I am confident asserting its truth.

Faith, hope and love though essential cannot be forced. We cannot “work up” real faith any more then we can “work-up” real love. So how do we get them?

I think it works something like this.

Faith, hope and love involve a choice. If you think about the I Corinthians 13 list a bit you see that all the attributes of the list can be put in the context of a choice, choosing to be patient etc.

I believe what happens is there are times when God, in His mercy, frees us from the compulsion of our self centered lives, from the fruit of evil choices and gives us that moment of grace to see the true and the false, the wicked and the good and allows us to choose. In that moment we plant a seed.

We do not make that seed grow any more than the farmer makes his crop grow, but having made the choice we are provided the opportunity of subsequent choices to nourish or neglect what we have planted.

In the end we reap the fruit of our choices, faith hope and love or doubt despair and selfishness.

This idea of a journey or a progression, a series of events that develop richness of life or leave us destitute, is also common in literature and by extension to men.

What we need then, for those moments, is a reason, a signpost, a rubric to know which choice we want to make, because deciding beforehand makes the actual choice easier.

Consider snowflakes.

Snowflakes have a lot in common with humans. Each one is unique, just like every other one. Both snowflakes and people are fleeting occurrences, here today and gone in a moment.

The question is, are people of any more worth than snowflakes, do they have any value beyond their uniqueness? More meaning beside what they can do for us?

If there is a God in the universe, the consummate union of power and goodness, one who gives meaning to goodness, the answer must be yes. If there is no such being the answer, though less clear, must ultimately be no.

It should be no surprise then that those who come to the end of themselves, who look down the road ahead and see with clarity an empty hole, are prime candidates to begin their journey following the signposts in the other direction.

All that is required is the grace of a moment of choice and the willingness to choose life. God brings the increase.

for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.Romans 10:10

… so choose life in order that you may live…Deuteronomy 30:19

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Why try?

Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV) “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

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

If it doesn’t depend on me, or my “Righteousness”, the natural question then becomes, “Why try? I’m saved, going to heaven. Why be uncomfortable while I’m waiting?”

The problem here is that the question is flawed.

Let’s back up a minute and remember what “Not of works” really means. It means we don’t “earn” it.

Most of us operate within some form of effort and reward system. We “keep books” if you will and expect that if we work for something our effort will be rewarded. We use this system every day to choose courses of action to get what we want based on the effort we expect our desire to require. This becomes so ingrained in our behavior we are usually not even conscious of the process.

Then we meet Christ and He gives us grace, providing the forgiveness and redemption we could never “earn” with a system of effort and reward (the Law). But that system of effort and reward is so integral to what we know we try to fit His grace into that framework.

And like the “Foolish Galatians” we go back to the Law.

Which brings us back to the question, “Why try?”

Behind the question is the old bookkeeping system. Why do I have to put any effort in to something I already “own”? The books are balanced!

The very basis of the question is the Law and not grace. It violates the spirit of the gift by trying to make it a Law. It is, after all, a “natural” question.

A better question might be, “What shall I do with this gift?”

Indeed how will we spend this freedom? Where will we invest this life?

“Why try?” comes from the old “bookkeeping” system where limited resources are spent to acquire what we lack.

“What shall I do with this gift?” Comes from the abundance of life we receive by grace and testifies of its sufficiency.

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Why can’t you keep the law through the law?

Have you ever wondered why Christians teach we can’t be good enough for God by ourselves?

If you think about it it seems like theoretically we should be able to meet the requirements of the Law of God. We have the rules, we have the capacity to choose, to will. It seems like if we just managed to put in that little extra effort we could fulfill the requirements. After all if Christ could do it why couldn’t someone else?

As I mulled this over it occurred to me that the whole idea of just putting in that next level of effort is logically flawed. The idea of keeping the Law by modifying our behavior through an act of will is inconsistent, doomed from the beginning.

Here is the logic:

The whole Law is summed up in the two great commands to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.  What that means is it requires Love to keep the Law.

If we try to keep the Law through the Law, i.e. as a set of rules, we are off the track before we even begin. Said another way, modifying our behavior to meet a standard violates the standard we are trying to conform to. We don’t modify our behavior to meet the letter of the standard, the Spirit of the standard modifies our behavior as the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.

Since it is clear* we must believe that God is both loving and just for us to have the love with which we may love our neighbor as ourself, it also follows that God must first love us. So we must first receive grace before we can even begin to keep the Spirit of the Law.

So when the Bible says in Romans 3:20 and Galatians 2:16 that no flesh will be justified by the works of the law, it is being logically consistent. We simply cannot be good enough on our own.

It just makes sense.

* If there is no God of Love there is no Hope or Faith to sustain our love of our neighbor.

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What is truth?

When I was at the men’s breakfast last Saturday I learned something kinda neat and that made me think about something else. So bear with me while I tell you the first thing to present the second.

We had a guest for breakfast who is a Pakistani missionary my church supports. Very interesting older man with quite the perspective on living somewhere you might be killed for your faith (and not just as a Christian). In any case he talked to us, among other things, about the Gospel of John Chapter 18 verses 33-38.

33So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

What he observed about these passages was the interactions of question and answer. In particular should we think Christ was being intentionally evasive or is there something else going on here. If you think about it a bit you will see that Pilate was asking a wrong headed question. What I mean by that is he framed a question that Christ could not answer in the way Pilate expected (yes or no) without misleading Pilate because of Pilate’s own preconception. So instead Christ answers him in a way to try to get him to think about what is really happening. When Pilate fails to make the leap Christ responds to the second question trying to show Pilate the difference between what he is thinking and what their interaction is about. Finally Christ explains to Pilate what he still refuses to “see”. Pilate responds with a rhetorical question and ends the exchange.

Now the thing about this exchange is that most of us have been on either side of a similar exchange. We think things are one way, but we’re so wrong about it our question can’t be answered as asked. The person on the other side is trying to get us to see that we just don’t get it, but we can’t/won’t break our viewpoint.

So the point is Christ was not being intentionally vague, in a similar manner we in various circumstances and for various reasons can’t or won’t pay attention to what is really going on. Eyes that don’t see and ears that won’t hear. This is not an uncommon theme in the Bible.

So I’ve told you the first thing, let me talk about the second.

I’m struck by the depth of the insight into the human condition of this passage and the many passages like it I find in Scripture. Whatever else you may think about the Bible or doctrines of infallibility there is a tremendous amount of real truth and insight in this book.

So the question is, does it seem reasonable that it was written as lie. Given the insight and truth revealed in the narratives is it more likely that it was written by deceitful or deceived men or that it is what it claims to be?  Which is the logically consistent view? Even if the answer lies somewhere in between there is still a broad range of claims there is sufficient reason for a person to heed. Yet many of us cannot or will not see that.

Just like it says.

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