Thursday, October 11, 2012

Titus: The Power of Purity

"Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless - not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." - Titus 1:7-9

In the first chapter of Paul's letter to Titus, Paul lays out the necessary characteristics of an Elder or overseer (an overseer of the "flock"). We often read these character descriptions and say "Yes, an Elder at my church must have these personality traits!" (and yes, this is true), but we don't take it a step further and realize that we must require these same things of ourselves, in our own lives. As Christians, we are ALL "entrusted with God's work". What is God's work? In John 6:29 it says: "Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." Being entrusted with God's work has nothing to do with WORKS or ACTIONS, it is not a role or a job in a church. The work of God is to put our belief in Christ - to stand firmly behind the ultimate work that God has already done. And this is what is asked of every Christian - there could not be anything more fundamental in the life of a Christian than this concept of "God's work". So then, it is only natural then to say that we are accountable in the same way that the "Elders" and "overseers" are, as talked about here in the book of Titus. In order for the power of Christ in us to be truly effective in our lives, and in our witness to others through our actions, we must behave in a pure and holy fashion, in a manner completely different from the way natural man is inclined to live. We must strive to be blameless. Otherwise, we become hypocrites, not only in the eyes of man, but in the eyes of God.

"To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted." - Titus 1:15-16

Paul presents us with a great paradox in this section, but a very important one to tackle. He is confronting and rebutting the idea that man can be saved and made pure by customs and rituals - in other words, by works. This belief was leaking into the church by way of false teachers trying to reinstate the validity old Jewish traditions of purification. This section of the letter can be read quite literally, as Paul commenting on the ritualistic dietary customs of the Old Covenant, saying that for those washed in the Blood of Christ, there is nothing that can or cannot be eaten - all is purified. But I do believe that this section can be interpreted in a much deeper way, in a way that can be applied directly to our lives today: Apart from the saving work of the Cross, there is not a single thing that man can do that is good or pure - there isn't a single thing we can do apart from Christ that will not burn away when He returns. Christ's sacrifice on the Cross is EVERYTHING! For those who place their faith in that, it is powerful enough to cleanse and wash away every stain - everything becomes pure. Jesus' blood on the cross takes every short-coming, every burden, every struggle, and does away with it. All becomes cleansed and worthy in the eyes of the Lord. Conversely, apart from Christ's saving work, all is corrupted, even the kindest word, the most generous heart. This is the power of the Cross, and also the power of Sin. Sin turns every single good work into darkness, into death. But the Cross is Sin's undoing, and removes darkness and death from the picture altogether - every work is cleansed, every sin is done away with!

The paradox is this - because of the grace extended to us through Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, we are freed from sin and the endless cycle of sinning, going through acts of repentance, sinning again, repenting again, and so on. The full and eternal price has been paid, once and for all. That being said, the visible outcome of Jesus' power in our life is turning from sin and living a blameless life, as described in the first section. It is not that we are given the freedom to sin without consequence, but it is that we are given the freedom to choose a life lived for God, rather than living life as a slave to sin. Without Jesus, this isn't even an option - without Jesus, Sin is our inevitable reality, and death is our inevitable destination. 

We must take a close look at our hearts, we must search our lives for any trace of sin, any trace of unholiness, and pray for the strength to turn from it. The wages of our sins have been paid in full, but still we must lay them down and let them go, lest they deceive us into thinking we are in the light, when in reality we are wandering in the darkness of our old, broken self. Do not let your sin rob you of the new and blameless life Christ has in store for you!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Be the Hands

"If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." - 1 Corinthians 12:26-27

It was in the year 2009, at my Uncle's wake, that I clearly remember seeing the effects of sorrow on my loved ones, on my very family. And it was then that I also began to understand the importance of joining people in their mourning - the importance of sharing sadness together as a group, and supporting one another in that experience. As Eugene Peterson says in his book Five Smooth Stones For Pastoral Work, "When private grief is integrated into communal lament, several things take place. For one thing the act of suffering develops significance. If others weep with me, there must be more to the suffering than my own petty weakness or selfish sense of loss. When others join the sufferer, there is "consensual validation" that the suffering means something. The community votes with its tears that there is suffering worth weeping over." 

I remember the atmosphere was very hushed at that funeral home. We whispered when we spoke, and walked as lightly as we could manage. We sort of floated in and out, between the main viewing room and the lobby - some people would step outside occasionally for a cigarette, some would wander over to the Guest Book and gaze over the names written in it. Friends and relatives put on their strongest faces, and some even managed to smile hopeful, but sad, smiles. There were hugs all around, yet it was eerily evident that we were all as equally inside our own heads as we were present in that place. It was hard to be present - it was hard to be there with each-other. It was even harder to think of what to say. What is there to say?

My aunt pulled me aside at one point. She gave me a long hug, and I could tell she'd been crying. I asked her how she was doing.

"You know, it's hard to really understand, it hasn't really sunk in. You know?" I nodded in agreement. "But I'll tell you what - I had the strangest dream last night, you wouldn't believe it. I'm not sure what to think of it. I was alone in the house, and even in the dream, I knew Tom was dead. I could feel it. And then, before I knew it, there he was - he'd walked right into the room. I was so shocked, I cried and laughed and ran to him and gave him the biggest hug. He took my hands and held them, and we stood there talking for such a long time, just talking - talking about everything. It was so strange, he almost looked young again. After awhile, he looked back over his shoulder, then looked back to me and said "Well, I have to be going now." I knew what that meant, and I tried to convince him to stay - I knew if he left, he wouldn't be coming back. I tried and tried, but he kept saying "It's time for me to go". I wouldn't let go of his hands, I just held on tighter and tighter. He started to disappear, slowly fading away, and all the while I was still gripping his hands in mine. He looked at me and said, "Don't be afraid - don't cry. You aren't alone!" By this time he had faded away almost completely, everything but his hands in mine. I still held on to them. And then slowly, he reappeared - but it wasn't him anymore, it was your dad, it was Stan. I was holding his hands, not Tom's. And he stood with me, he cried with me ..." My aunt paused for a long time. "I don't know where that dream came from, but it sure was nice to be reminded about that."

And it was true. Throughout the time my family was gathered together to mourn the loss of Tom, and to celebrate his entrance into the presence of the Lord, my dad was there. He was present for everyone, a shoulder to cry on, a rock to stand on. It wasn't that he was cold about the situation - on the contrary, he entered into grief just as we all did. Tom was, after all, his brother. But he made himself available to grieve with his loved ones, and then most importantly, move the family towards steps forward, away from the grief, out of the darkness. He led the family not with a hard heart, but with careful, Christ-centered, empathy. He acted as Christ would act - with compassion, and with the attention needed to reflect into every experience the message and power of the Gospel.

I don't know if this dream that my aunt had was a vision from God, if it was a message of comfort from beyond the grave, or if it was just the result of grief and her restless mind. But I do know that it pointed to an important truth, a truth that was very necessary for her to understand at the time, and a truth that was very necessary for me to dwell upon and take to heart. 

We live in a culture that avoids emotional transparency, avoids any amount of public vulnerability. When you ask someone how they're doing, nearly without hesitating, they will answer "Good" or "Fine", and then repeat your question back to you. You then say "Good" or "Fine", and continue. It's a meaningless exchange, seemingly something we feel we are required to do before getting to what we really want to talk about. But this is a shame, to treat such an exchange with such carelessness. There is no way to judge the truth behind the response that you get, even if you wanted to. The walls are put up, and your ability to help, your ability to be a listening ear or a supportive shoulder, is stopped dead in its tracks. But is this response due to the fact that so many people who ask the question in the first place don't really want to hear the honest answer? When I ask someone how they have been, do I really want to hear them say "Not so good"? Because then I'm required to act. Then I'm forced out of a false comfortable place where everyone is fine all of the time. I'm required to either take on my role as a representative of Christ, and show this person love and compassion, to share in their burden, or else I reject the call and leave the person vulnerable, open, and essentially emotionally abandoned. It is a serious decision to consider. Let me say this to you, reader - don't ask the question if you're not willing to hear the honest answer and act. Don't inquire into peoples lives only looking for a positive response, and then become sheepish and awkward when you don't find what you were hoping for. We are called to be the hands of Christ in the world. We are called to hold the hurting, bring comfort to the weak - and this does not mean just "fixing" peoples problems (we are not called to be Emotional Mechanics). This means entering into suffering with our brothers and sisters, sharing the sorrows of life. Often there is nothing to fix, only something to bear. This life is wearisome, and we are called to weather the storm together. Through this act of obedience and love, we are given the opportunity to point to the saving truths of the Gospel. We are given the chance to bring comfort to those in need, by acting as a representative of the King of All Comfort, the Only One who can truly save and heal. We are given the gift of being able to speak truth and hope into the lives of broken and hurting people, not through our own power, but through His. And this is a great gift, indeed!

"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." - Galatians 6:2

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Son of Man, Stand Up!

"And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me." - Ezekiel 2:1-2

All too often, we look at God as someone we run to only when we are in our greatest need. When we are desperate, when we are lonely - when we have run out of options and have no idea where else to turn, it is then that we look to God and say "Father, please help me!" Don't get me wrong - this is a fine time to turn to Him. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that the Lord can work good through all things, and the Lord can and will rescue you from even the most hopeless of situations. Not only can He do this, but He is always merciful, willing to love you even at your most unloveable.

The problem is that we try to take advantage of this. At other times in life, when we are feeling the joys of love, the highs of success, or even when we feel the comfort of stillness, we forget that God is, even then, who we must to turn to for our daily strength. It is not enough to run to Him in times of great distress. We cannot treat our Holy Father like a vending machine, punching the right buttons when we need a quick fix, something to stave off the effects of our sin. To do this is to completely demean the character and position of God. It could even be argued that to do this is to try to put ourselves in a position above Him. We recognize His power to change our lives, to rescue us from circumstances that seem insurmountable, yet we treat it as though we have the right to call on the power of God whenever we feel the need. The very power that created dust from nothing, and man from dust, we try to wield like magic.

We must not look to the world for our daily needs! We must not believe that we can rely on the power of others, and rely on ourselves, for the strength to get up and get through every day. Man is completely broken, completely unable to sustain life, and if we try to continue like this, we will one day be tragically let down. Without the power of Christ in me, I will let you down. Without the power of Christ in you, you will let me down. We cannot sustain each-other! 

God called Ezekiel to be a prophet for Him, asked him not only to speak judgement to a very rebellious people, but also to bear judgement on their behalf. But it was not only in this task that Ezekiel needed the Spirit to strengthen and guide him. In order to stand up and receive the words of the Lord - in order to stand up at all! - Ezekiel needed the Holy Spirit to fill him and put him on his feet. He was completely humbled before God, facedown in worship and awe, and it was then that God filled him with the Spirit, stood him up, looked him square in the face, and spoke to him as a loving father. "Son of man", he called him - the very same term used to describe Jesus in the New Testament. God loves the Spirit-filled man, but one cannot be truly Spirit-filled without first being called by the Lord. And one cannot truly hear the call of the Lord without first submitting and humbling themselves before Him. 

So let us not try to stand on the strength of man, but instead let us bow before our Creator, and let Him who loved us before the creation of the world sustain us. Let us be filled with the Spirit, and stand with the strength of the Lord! 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Choosing the Path Above!

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may Live." - Deuteronomy 30:19

Before I got married, among many wise words and well-wishes, amidst the handshakes, hugs, and slaps on the back, I was given this piece of advice: "Every morning, you need to wake up and choose to put her first. Every morning, you must wake up and choose to love. Don't go through life thinking these things will come naturally. It may not seem this way, but the choosing is not as or more important as the doing - it is part & parcel, inseparable from the act. Love isn't true if it isn't chosen."

The power of choice is not only something we were created with, it is something we were blessed with. Created as images of God, we were given a gift - to be able to think creatively, and thus create. To direct the very path of our life by making our own independent choices. This gift of choice is one of the things that sets us apart, and above, all other creation - because, unlike the rest of sentient creation, we have been given the ability to choose outside of our nature, to say no to our natural instincts and to take a path completely alien to what would be considered "normal" survival behavior. Consider this: survival is engrained in our basic make-up. A major aspect of survival is sustenance - finding and consuming food. This is an instinct at the very core of all living creatures, this is behavior shared by animal and human alike, from the smallest living creature to the strongest man. Yet there are times that the Lord instructs us to fast - to deny ourselves food, to put aside the most basic desire of our flesh as an act of obedience and worship to Him. To choose this act of fasting is to choose something outside of our basic survival nature. It is to choose something other, something alien, something set apart from the pattern of our broken instinctual routines - all for the glory of our unseen Creator. Is this something that a lion, a monkey, or a bird, could ever begin to comprehend? No. This is not to say a lion does not make choices - a lion can choose whether to eat Prey X or Prey Y, but at the end of the day, the lion will act according to its nature, and prey on something. It will never think beyond itself and its basic needs. It would never put the needs of others before the needs of The Pride, or give of its food to another animal going hungry. Is this a behavior seen anywhere else in creation? No - this is a gift given solely to Man.

Never take for granted your ability to choose! Every day, you can choose to treat your spouse with love, or else treat them selfishly. Choose love! You can choose to walk in holy communion with God the Father, to speak to Him and to follow the path He lays before you, or you can walk your own path, which is the way of empty self satisfaction - which is merely self destruction. Choose to step into the light, to lay down your selfish desires, and to see clearly and march forward with confidence! When you are at your desk, in your car, on your couch, in your bed - you can choose to converse with your Creator, or you will ignore His calls and live interacting only with that which is already dead. Speak to the eternal Lord, who is waiting and ready to listen (and even more importantly, waiting and ready to respond)! The more you commune with Him, the more you will desire deeper relationship, and the richer your conversations will be! 

I feel this is an important thing to meditate on. We have been given the ability to choose to live differently and set apart, to live in a way completely foreign, and it is of the utmost importance that we do so! We are, by nature, broken and sinful. If we do not choose to act, we choose the path of sin. We sin by nature, so if we do not choose to change the ways of our very nature, we then by default "choose" sin - if it can even be called choosing. I would hazard to say it is hardly choosing, but merely "being". The paradoxical "Choosing Not To Choose". We are on a collision course with death, magnetized in our very design to gravitate towards darkness. If we alter our course and set all sights and co-ordinates, full steam ahead, towards Jesus Christ, we are exercising the gift of Holy Choice, the gift given only to Man, God's Image, the creation set apart over all creation. To choose any direction but Christ is to act like any other animal, our eyes only seeing what is in front of our faces and choosing from those limited options - and that leads only to death. This is the true embodiment of sin - we are not fulfilling our purpose, or living as we were created to live. If you built an airplane to fly through the heavens, yet in the end all it did was taxi along the ground - you would consider it a failure, and you would most likely dismantle it and begin again. Is this the fate you would have for yourself? Or will you choose as you are created to choose - choose Christ and live! Choose Christ and soar to the Heavens as intended!

"Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, CHOOSE this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." - Joshua 24:14-15

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Greetings, Readers.

Hi, everyone!

This is my brand new blog. I couldn't think of a title that didn't sound pretentious, boring, or lame, so I asked my wife to help me out. Luckily, she came to the rescue with a few stellar suggestions - the first was "Small Mole". Although that is a great name, I felt it was lacking a certain something. Sure enough, second try was a charm. "Chest Hair", she said. Turns out, Chest Hair was already taken. But Chest HAIRS wasn't! Success.

I will update this periodically with writings about life, feelings, etc. Some things could be made up. Some won't be. Not sure. 

Anyway. Good bye.

-- E