I have just ordered a Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappucino (say that five times fast) in a local bookstore for a little under 5 dollars. A little price to pay for the immeasurable pleasure it will bring me. From where I sit I can see the Science Fiction/Fantasy section, and numerous books fill the shelves. Each of those books have a price, some small, some large, and not necessarily based upon the size of the book. Thinking about money and prices reminded me of an unfortunate conversation I had some time ago.
I was asked by someone I was working with what I thought of a certain lady, namely, “Is she hot?” To which I responded, “It hadn’t occurred to me to think of it.” He continued on, growing a good deal more crude, eventually asking me, “Would you sleep with her for a million dollars and all the whiskey and tobacco you could desire?” (I have just had my thought stream interrupted with the arrival of my coffee – it is indeed exquisite; I may write a poem praising its virtues). I responded to his question by saying, “Well, none of those things attract me, so, no, I would not.”
He then proceeded to draw up an elaborate scenario, in which, if I did not sleep with this woman, an entire school bus of orphans would be killed. I had no clue what to say, and instead of coming back with a witty response, I simply said something like, “I don’t care to think about that” and walked away.
However, it brought some interesting thoughts to my mind. Was there any sort of price on my morals, or on my beliefs? I have heard people say in a jocular manner, “I would never do that; unless someone offered me a million dollars.” This is, of course, a ridiculous statement; who would offer anyone a million dollars to drive over a hundred on the interstate? I do understand that; but if a million dollars were truly presented, would I compromise on what I believe was right? Would you?
Or take the extreme example that my coworker gave me. Would I sin, that I might save the lives of those orphans? Thus my morality price tag would not read “$1,000,000”, but “100 Orphans”. It’s an interesting dilemma, isn’t it?
Yet often, the price tag for us is not so large. The average person is not tempted to assassinate some political giant for profit; not, often the temptations that come to us are much smaller. In a moment of passion, a young couple, who had every intention of keeping themselves chaste for their marriage, will find themselves in a compromising situation. Or a man, who had every intention of keeping his cool, will find himself in the aftermath of an outrage. Is it wrong to say that they had conditions on their morals? Subtle, but perhaps they thought, “I will keep myself chaste, unless I just feel like I can’t control myself any longer” or “I’ll keep my cool, unless this little bolt on the lawnmower won’t come off like I want it to.”
Of course, keeping yourself chaste, especially if you are young and romantically entangled with someone, consists of keeping yourself out of potentially compromising situations. These are simply the thoughts that come into my mind as I think about this issue of prices. In a sense, it goes back to what I mentioned last week, about how we are all criminals. We would never steal something in our current state; but driven to desperation, and knowing the depravity of our hearts, what crimes might we commit?
I think also of the saints and martyrs of old. There are many who have not yielded in their beliefs one inch, even to the cost of their lives. But there are also many who had a price on their beliefs. Their price tag simply read, “Threat of Death and Torture”, or something similar. They were faithful up to that moment; but like Demas, they loved the present world more. It is somewhat like Peter’s declaration in the Garden of Gethsemane: I will follow you, even to death; but when the moment came, he fled. Most of us will not be threatened with death in our lifetime (though I think we would be better people for it). Yet perhaps we should live in such a way as to expect it by dying to ourselves daily.
I think of Christ’s words to his disciples: Count the cost. Count the cost of what? Of following Jesus; of Christianity; of living a set-apart life from the world. Though we do not work for it,there is, in the truest sense, a price tag on Christianity. It reads, “Your Life”. God doesn’t just want our devotion; He wants us. All of us. In the end, it’s the only one I’ve mentioned worth paying for.
So it’s summer time – that time of year when movie makers in Hollywood cackle maniacally as innocent movie goers spend bright summer days in dank, dark theaters watching the popcorn fillers they put out.
Actually, I don’t suspect that happens. But it is true that the a lot of popular and anticipated films are released during this delightful season known as summer. It’s probably because they know that teenagers will be out of school, and when there’s little to do at home, they will congregate at theaters.
A common scenario for you or I might run like this:
“Hey Nik, you busy?”
“No, not really. Why?”
“Do you want to see [fill-in-the-blank] tonight?”
For me, I’m not a big movie person. I do enjoy the theater experience on occasion, but only for a few films. However I am a good sport and do enjoy hanging out with my friends, so I am willing to go with people I enjoy being with, even if it’s not a movie I am particularly excited about. My problem then becomes not necessarily the quality of the movie itself (though I do appreciate it since I am spending my money), but the content of the movie.
Cue this Friday’s feature.
Plugged In is a resource put out by Focus on the Family, and they do Christian movie reviews, looking out for any objectionable content, such as crude language, sensuality, violence, and spiritual themes. However, they also look for the Positive Content. They don’t simply rip movies apart for the fun of it. They take it piece by piece so that the viewer knows what they are getting into. Usually they don’t even tell you outright “Don’t see this movie EVER!”, unless it happens to be exceptionally terrible (they said one movie needed a surgeon general’s warning, because it might cause cancer).
In addition to movies, they do music, television, and some video games. They also write up Q + A’s for family movie times, focusing on the positive and God glorifying aspects of the good movies, and have a blog on various subjects in the culture at large. It’s a pretty impressive resource, and has saved me personally from going to see movies I would not have liked, and prepared me for the movies I did end up seeing.
So instead of innocently walking into the black hole known as your local theater, bring a light in, and be prepared.
I’m sitting outside on my front porch, listening to the sound of rolling thunder and falling rain. It is one of my favorite things to experience, and perhaps my favorite type of weather. The rain calms me, reminding me of that poetic passage in Isaiah, “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and waters the earth… and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it might give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be… it shall not return to me void.” I love rain; but that is not the subject of this post. This post is one that is more like the thunder, the holiness of God.
As I was reading G.K. Chesterton’s grand Father Brown detective stories, I came across an interesting idea (often in these stories, Chesterton sneaks in theological quips). A criminologist was asking the old priest how he had caught so many villains, for by this time Brown was famous for his unique ability to seek out the criminal. Father Brown simply replies, “Well, you see, it’s because I murdered all those people.”
He does not mean this literally, however. What Father Brown is getting at is the fact that he can understand why someone would murder another man, why they would so desperately long after a precious stone. He compares it to a child’s desire for some sweet or candy, bringing them to point of pilfering it for themselves. When the priest is able to put himself in the thief or murderer’s position, he is able to find them with ease, saying, “If I had been in his position, and had nothing better than his philosophy, heaven alone knows what I might have done. That is just where this little religious exercise is so wholesome.”
The man he is speaking with asks him if that would give him a higher tolerance of crime. Brown goes on to say, “I know it does just the opposite. It solves the whole problem of time and sin. It gives a man his remorse beforehand… You may think a crime horrible because you could never commit it. I think it horrible because I could commit it.”
This brings me to the subject of this writing, the problem with civilized Christianity. By civilized I mean that type of Christianity into which we have been born today, particularly in the South of the United States, but it includes much of Western Christendom. This is not to say that anyone born into a Christian home is at odds; it is simply an idea that has been put into Christianity – or perhaps I should say “lost”.
Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 3, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
So often we forget that this verse applies to us. We forget the gravity of our sin; I will honestly say that I don’t think I know the weight of my own sin. We must understand that not only have we done wicked things (and if you don’t think that you have, you do not know yourself), but that we are wicked to the very core. We are all criminals, murderers, thieves, down to the depths of our hearts. Paris Reidhead aptly puts it in calling us, “Monsters of iniquity.” This is what we are, outside of grace.
This is also why Father Brown is such an effective detective. He understands this idea, that we are at heart criminals. He understands that, in such a place, we might do the very same, if not worse. In one particular case, Father Brown has just revealed to a group of “civilized” Christians that the man they thought had slain someone in a duel was actually a treacherous, cold-blooded murderer. Father Brown’s rebuke to them is thus:
“There is,” said Father Brown dryly; “and that is the real difference between human charity and Christian charity. You must forgive me if I was not altogether crushed by your contempt for my uncharitableness to-day; or by the lectures you read me about pardon for every sinner. For it seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. So you tolerate a conventional duel, just as you tolerate a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.”
“But, hang it all,” cried Mallow, “you don’t expect us to be able to pardon a vile thing like this?”
“No,” said the priest; “but we have to be able to pardon it.”
He stood up abruptly and looked round at them.
“We have to touch such men, not with a bargepole, but with a benediction,” he said. “We have to say the word that will save them from hell. We alone are left to deliver them from despair when your human charity deserts them. Go on your own primrose path pardoning all your favourite vices and being generous to your fashionable crimes; and leave us in the darkness, vampires of the night, to console those who really need consolation; who do things really indefensible, things that neither the world nor they themselves can defend; and none but a priest will pardon. Leave us with the men who commit the mean and revolting and real crimes; mean as St. Peter when the cock crew, and yet the dawn came.”
“The dawn,” repeated Mallow doubtfully. “You mean hope — for him?”
“Yes,” replied the other. “Let me ask you one question. You are great ladies and men of honour and secure of yourselves; you would never, you can tell yourselves, stoop to such squalid reason as that. But tell me this. If any of you had so stooped, which of you, years afterwards, when you were old and rich and safe, would have been driven by conscience or confessor to tell such a story of yourself? You say you could not commit so base a crime. Could you confess so base a crime?”
We must remember not just who we are in grace, but who we were apart from it. This is Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 2:11 – remember who you were, that you might impart grace to those who have none. We must not proudly vaunt ourselves over and against our fellow men. We must have the words of Christ on our lips, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”
And in all this, the rain and thunder walk run together. The thunder cries from heaven against our crimes; the rain cleansing us from them. And both come from heaven.
The two stories I referenced:
My name is Nik, and I am a hypocrite.
I have written many a post in my day, in both this blog and my old one. However, I have not always lived according to what I wrote. No one ever wants to become a hypocrite, least of all me. Yet, inadvertently, I have become the very thing I have hated. Perhaps you say I judge myself to hard; but if I say one thing and live another, what do you call that?
I have lied.
I have cut corners.
I have let my eyes wander.
I have toyed with unholy thoughts.
I have been irritable.
I have wasted time.
I have presented myself as spiritual when I haven’t been.
And not only that; what about the things I have not done?
I have not loved my neighbor as myself.
I have not used my time to pursue God.
I have not been devoted to my spiritual practices.
I have not cared about the lost and dying world outside my door.
What am I?
I am all this and more:
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.” – Romans 3:10-18
I am a criminal worthy of damnation. The worst sin is not necessarily an act; it is an attitude. It is called pride. It can infiltrate the highest levels of religion; and far too often it has found a home in me.
“… if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
All the above? That’s the Old Nik. According to Romans 6, Old Nik is dead and buried; has been for some time now. He pops his head in every once in a while; but he is dead. He has legally been ousted. The New Nik is here. I am no longer all of the above.
I am in Christ.
I am pure.
I am free from sin.
I am accepted with God.
I have been adopted as His son.
He has given me…
“…beauty for ashes”
“… the oil of joy for mourning”
“… the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” – Isaiah 61:3
How has this happened?
“And, having made peace through the blood of [Christ’s] cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight…” – Colossians 1:20-22
Though I utterly deserve to be damned by God, I have peace with Him because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I no longer have to wear a mask and pretend I’m good or spiritual, because in Him, I actually can be good and spiritual. There is no room for pride at the cross. It goes; for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. I can only live the life He has called me to by His grace. Nothing else can do it. Only by His grace; only by Him.
A similar post by a friend: http://www.cowtippinjosh.com/2011/03/im-a-hypocrite.html
The sermon that stirred these thoughts: http://ellerslie.com/Eric_Ludy_Sermons/Entries/2012/4/29_When_a_Pastor_Leads_a_Double_Life.html
Lately I have been meditating on the death of Christ and all that achieved for us, particularly the aspect of cleansing by blood. Perhaps that is why one particular line from the new film The Avengers struck me in a unique way. One of the main characters, known as Black Widow, has been a spy and an assassin in the past. She has killed numerous people, purposefully and perhaps accidentally. Because of this, the main villain mocks her, “You don’t just have red on your record; your record is dripping in blood. And you think repaying some small debt will change that?” Later, she confesses to another hero, “My record is dripping with red. And I want it cleared.”
This thought struck me: we all have records dripping with blood. It reminded me of Romans 3:
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
And again, in Isaiah 64:
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
I highly doubt any of you have been undercover spies for Russia and have assassinated multiple people. Neither have I. However, the simple truth of Scripture remains as this: we are all, without the aid of Christ and God, unrighteous. Our records are black with sin and rebellion against the Most High, and we deserve to be punished. Think with me about this for a moment. You and I both deserve the full weight of the punishment of God.
However, God has not left us in this miserable state with a bloodstained record. He says to ancient Israel, and to us all, in Isaiah 1: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
How is this accomplished? In ancient Israel, God laid down a law that said that all sins must be atoned for by blood. This process is very vividly described in the book of Leviticus. A bull or ram had to be offered; otherwise your sin was upon your own head and your blood was on your own hands. All these sacrifices were merely shadows of God’s original plan to permanently remove the stain of sin from our record. Thus, at just the right time, God came in the flesh, in the form of a child, Jesus, the Messiah.
Paul tells us of this marvelous mystery of redemption in Romans:
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God…”
Can you see it? Though our record drips with blood; though our hearts are black with sin; though we deserve the wrath of God as punishment; God has not abandoned us. Our record can be made clean; our hearts can be purged from the black of sin; we can be at peace with God, our Creator and Redeemer. How is this accomplished? Through the poured out blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Dear friends, if you are in Christ, then you have been made pure in God’s sight! That should be enough to make us weep with joy. Isaiah speaks this beautifully in 61, which testifies of the Messiah, Jesus:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound… to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness… I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness…”
We have been clothed in the very righteousness of Christ and through that have been reconciled unto God. When God looks upon us, He does not see our sin, but righteousness. Our record has been cleared, as though it never happened. This is not license to sin; far be it from me to take advantage of this unspeakable gift I have been given! No, this is all the more reason for me to live a life pleasing to God! If God sees me as pure, I want to be pure! I want to be purged inside and out from my sin!
Dear friends, do not take the blood of Christ for granted. It is not to be handled lightly. If you stand in Christ today, listen no longer to the lies of the enemy that say, “You’re impure, and you’ll always be impure, and there’s nothing that you can do about it.” Yes, we cannot do anything; but praise God, we don’t have to, because God Himself has already done it!
And if you stand outside of Christ, or if you have never thought this way before, then come to Christ. Let your cry be the same as King David’s: Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” Through Christ, you can be reconciled to God. You will be guilty no longer. Hear His words to the adulteress:
“Woman, where are your accusers? has no man condemned you?”
She said, “No man, Lord.”
And Jesus said unto her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
This song has been the meditation of my heart. Sit for a moment and just think on all God has done for us, and let that overflow your heart into praise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WpQA9ybz8c
“Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knows whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? Yet he shall have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 2:17-19
Solomon has a lot to say in the book of Ecclesiastes about the vanity and meaninglessness of labor. It was one of the many things he tried to find true inner satisfaction in his soul: he was the definition of our modern term “workaholic”. In chapter two, he even breaks down his thoughts in the above depressing manner. So working hard can be pointless because you are leaving it behind to someone else; the more you leave behind (such as an entire nation, as Solomon did), the worse it can be. Solomon also says that another type of work is vain: working for your own selfish desires.
“There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he has neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labor; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither says he, ‘For whom do I labor, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.” – Ecc. 4:8
He goes on to talk about how two are better than one, including the famous phrase, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken”. Thus we see the pointless life of a man who works for himself. He has no children who will inherit his gain; he has no partner who will also benefit; he simply works day in and day out unceasingly for himself, never stopping to ask, “What’s the point of all this, again?” I see this sort of attitude in many, not just rich people (though it is often evident in them as well). Each day has no purpose, no excitement; just “another day, another dollar”. They wake up, go through their routine, sleep, and repeat. Let us break from this cycle.
But how? If work is vain, then should I stop working hard? On the contrary. Solomon tells us this in chapter nine:
“Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labor wherein thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest.”
Though this is a somewhat depressing reason for why we should work hard, it offers a unique perspective on why we should work. The average lifespan of a human being is around 70 years, often higher. Yet none of us know what will happen tomorrow; people perish at all ages from seemingly random causes. We cannot delay our work, saying that we’ll do it tomorrow. Since we can’t work when we die, we must work every day as hard as we can.
But what are we working for? Why work is riches and possessions are vain? Solomon’s perspective doesn’t help us much here, for it ends with death. You see, the book of Ecclesiastes is the thoughts of a man who looked at life from “under the sun”. His eyes were cast downward; our eyes ought to be cast upward.
I ran across this verse a couple days ago while reading. Paul is writing to the Corinthian church, and near the end of his first letter, says this:
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” – 1 Cor. 15:58 (emphasis added)
I hope you see what I’m hinting at in this connection. But first, let’s turn back in the chapter. One of my favorite hermeneutical maxims is, “If you ever see a ‘therefore’, you need to find out what it’s there for.” So what is the therefore pointing to in this verse? To sum up:
“So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin: and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Cor. 15:54-57
In this beautiful passage, Paul reminds us of the fact that life does not end with death; there is an eternal weight of glory beyond the grave.
These two perspectives together work like this: God has given us a short amount of time to live on this earth, and no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Therefore, work as hard as you can each and every day. Don’t just work for the sake of working, however; work for the things that matter: eternal things. It is not possessions that matter, but love. The thing that will be remembered in your life is not how many toys you got, but how you loved. How well have you loved God today, with your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself? That is what matters, and that is what will impact eternity.
Though life does not truly end at death, our work on earth will. What are we doing with the time that God has given us? What are we working for? Jesus’ model prayer was, “Thy kingdom come.” Let us work to build His kingdom.
Perhaps as you’ve gathered from some of my past posts (G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.S. Bach), I rather enjoy old things, particularly old things written by wise but dead men. Thus it is only natural to conclude that I rather enjoy hymns. This would be an astute observation and a true one at that. I do enjoy many modern worship songs as well, but there’s just something about the hymns of old that capture my attention. Isn’t it amazing to imagine that these songs have been in the family of Christ for a hundred, or even hundreds, of years? I consider them an heirloom passed down from generation to generation; or as one man I heard put it, they’re our “family songs”.
So now for what is perhaps my favorite hymn. For some reason, this was the first hymn I remember having entirely memorized. As far as I know (I could be wrong), I first heard it in Windsor, Colorado at the Ellerslie Leadership Training. Since then, I have come to see how the text embodies everything I believe and want. That hymn is “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” by Charles Wesley (the man in the picture).
Like many well known hymns today, this one originally had 18 stanzas and was published as “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion”. Verse 7 of this poem is the one that starts off the famous hymn, “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise…” which is based on a saying Wesley had heard: “Had I a thousand tongues, I would praise Him with them all.” John Wesley, his brother, compiled a hymnbook in 1767, where the seventh stanza was made the first and it was the first hymn in the book. If you sing this song in your church, you’re probably singing stanzas 7, 8, 9 and 10 of the original poem.
You can find the entire original poem here, which is very beautiful and incredible. Since each stanza was written in the same rhythm as the others, you can still sing them with the familiar tune of the hymn. Along with that, David Crowder has done this hymn an honor by creating a modern version that is catchy, adds a chorus and two of the old stanzas, yet still contains the heart of Wesley’s original hymn. That can be found here.
I hope you are blessed today, and may we all be assisted “to proclaim, to spread through all the earth abroad the honors of His name!” And remember what He has done for us; for “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free! His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood avails for me!” Amen.