Wednesday, 27 January 2016

How should we then live?

"I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." ~ Col 2:20


Mint fresh morning -
Day dawns anew
Astir with life, with sound.
Bird cherries swell out
Fat and deep red ripe,
Branches heave and dip
Weighted with wings...
From glossy black to LBJ's
All gorging, feasting, flitting
Trees bursting with abundance
A rowdy rackety,
Blissful clamour.
Like dimpled children
For the simple joy of life.

Simple joys. Somehow my days are made up out of these. All too often overlooked while I'm gazing into the distance, waiting for something amazing to happen. A profound purpose to be revealed.

Inadvertently, I have been looking for a theme to take shape during the first weeks of this year. A verse from Scripture. A word. Direction. A few vague concepts started taking shape. Some good lessons were learnt. Truth confirmed. The Truth - being "so precious, that it is often surrounded by a bodyguard of lies" ~ Winston Churchill.

But in my heart remained, not a theme or a word, but a simple question. "How should we then live". I remembered it as the title of a book by Francis A. Schaeffer. I never read the book from cover to cover, but it did make an impression on me, and the question has surfaced again. Consequently I confirmed that it is in fact a quote from the Bible - and then my excitement and curiosity was really piqued. God tells the prophet Ezekiel, a Watchman for Israel, to warn the people of the consequences of their infamy and stubborn state of their hearts. "Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?" (Ez 33:10 KJV)

They "pine away" under the weight of their sins. But hear what the Lord says to them: "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live."! A few verses later He says: "The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him... and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it." And then in verse 16: "None of these sins he has committed will be  remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live."

Oh, the height, depth, length and breadth of grace. An outline of the answer to my question was taking shape...

According to Schaeffer, "How Should We Then Live" traces Western history from Ancient Rome until the time of him writing this book, along three lines: the philosophic, scientific, and religious. He also makes extensive references to art and architecture as a means of showing how these movements reflected changing patterns of thought through time. Schaeffer's central theme is: when we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal triune God, this provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives and by which we can judge society. This leads to what Schaeffer calls "Freedom without chaos."

But when we base society on humanism, which he defines as "a value system rooted in the belief that man is his own measure, that man is autonomous, totally independent", all values are relative, and we have no way to distinguish right from wrong, except for the philosophy or belief that a morally good action is one that helps the greatest number of people (utilitarianism). 

Because people disagree on what is best for which group, this leads to fragmentation of thought, which has led us to the despair and alienation found in society today. He argues that modern relative values are based on Personal Peace (the desire to be personally unaffected by the world's problems) and Affluence (an increasing personal income.) He warns that when we live by these values we will be tempted to sacrifice our freedom in exchange for an authoritarian government who will provide the relative values. He further warns that this government will not be obvious like the fascist regimes of the 20th century, but will be based on manipulation and subtle forms of information control, psychology, and genetics.

A lot to take in all at once, but alarmingly relevant for our times, if we consider that this book was written in 1976. Schaeffer wrote prophetically, and I believe, as Ezekiel; he was giving us, God's people, a warning, the consequence of living by worldly values, and the biblical solution (the absolute by which we should conduct our lives).

The next part of my answer (and confirmation of the outline established earlier), I found in this verse: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing." (Gal 2:20,21)

I no longer live. Some people feel that one can't take scripture literally. Think of the saying "Surely as I  live and breathe...", How can Paul then make this statement: "I no longer live but Christ lives in me."?

I died with Christ: Laid down my life as my own. My sins were crucified with Him. What I was before I accepted His life, no longer exists.

Through that death I was made alive again with Christ. Now it is no longer I who live, it is Him who lives in me. If this is accepted as an absolute, the life I should live no longer becomes a future goal but a current outflowing of who I am in Christ. The life I live in my body, His temple, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved and loves me beyond understanding, and died for and with me so that I may live again with Him!

But, even as Jesus lives in me, there is still nothing I can do to gain my own righteousness. I cannot, do not, set aside the grace of God, now that Christ lives in me. Jesus is the mirror through which God sees me. I need His grace, I cannot keep His law. If I insist on living by the law or a set of laws in order to be justified, why then did Christ have to die?

My freedom or independence is an intrinsic part of this grace. The personal relationship with God is His grace to us. My worth is in Him. I am valued by Him. I am:

A child of God (1 John 3:2)
One born of God (John 1:13)
An heir of God (Gal 4:7)
A new creation (2 Cor 5:17)
Accepted in the Beloved (Eph 1:6)
Blessed with all spiritual blessings (Eph 1:6)
The righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:21)
Free from condemnation (Rom 8:1)
Complete in Him (Col 2:10)
An overcomer (1 John 4:4)
More than a conqueror (Rom 8:37)
Seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 2:6)

My insufficiency is totally covered by the completeness of Jesus. This describes my position as a child of God, not the possibility of perfection or good deeds.

My heart smiled when I looked back over what I'd sweated over and written. I had made a resolution to write short, uncomplicated blogs this year. Clearly my agenda, not God's...

He has answered my question - and I hope (in the process), some of yours also. I have not tried to give all the answers to a question which each person has to work out for him- or herself with God. Jesus is waiting and longing for you to work out your question(s), in a personal relationship with Him.

I will end with the final verse of a song called "I then shall live." A song written by Gloria Gaither in response to the same question.

"Your Kingdom come around and through and in me;
Your power and glory, let them shine through me.
Your Hallowed Name, O may I bear with honor, 
And may Your living Kingdom come in me.
The Bread of Life, O may I share with honor, 
And may You feed a hungry world through me.


Monday, 11 January 2016

The Freedom to Choose

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:14)

We have Flutterby's. Gossamer-winged and delicate, though strong enough to fly against the gusty wind. At the time when I planted a struggling honeysuckle creeper against the back fence, I had no idea it was going to turn into a wild and verdant vine, twisting its way under, over, through and around everything in its way. But it has brought the butterflies. Their flitting dances bring moments of lightness, grace and colour onto the moving canvass outside my kitchen window. There are the Monarchs, amber beings with bold black markings. Different varieties of Emperors, varying from a striking black and white to dusky shades of orange and yellow. Garden Acreas with small bottom wings and a sheer overlaying pair, which shimmer in the sun. Most recent visitors are two large black and blue beauties, which seem like two perfect paper cut-outs tossed onto the breeze. I watch, in awe of the Artist who created these creatures, their function, the way they have made our mountain abode their home.

I have been observing these aerial dances for a long time, while doing dishes or preparing meals. Not with scientific interest, I just find their lightness irresistible. It came to me the other day that God did not merely speak each creature into being. He took pains. With each minute part of creation, the perfection of its function, the grace of its movements, the splendour and variety of its colour.

I saw in stark contrast my own approach to some of my daily tasks. One may argue, I am not the Creator of the Universe and my small environment cannot exactly be compared to the vast cosmos upheld by His hand.

But if I am made in His image, with His imprint on all of me, should it not be my heart's desire to do all as if a fragrant and beautiful offering to the King of Kings? It would not change me into a higher being or a more serene mother (that would be a bonus...), but it would reflect more of the shining glory of Jesus who lives in me.

Halfway through my morning duties, I felt myself being halted and I saw the resentful state of my heart. True, there was no one to witness it, but I know a clanging gong when I hear one.

It is quite simple really. I have a choice. I can be the bricklayer putting one stone on top of the other, or I can be shaping a cathedral. A temple. A home where the Holy Spirit dwells. I can throw on a spirit of heaviness each day, or choose a garment of praise. I can clothe myself with kindness, gentleness, compassion, patience, humility. Or give in to the selfish needs of my flesh. I can bear the fruit of Him who lives in me, which is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, or I can choose to mirror the spirit of the times we live in, of this world.

I can pay attention to more detail. To dew-locked spiderwebs, distinctive bird songs, the eye-lock moments with my children, their sweet features, changing all too fast. The tired slope of my husband's shoulders at the end of the day, the loneliness of a neighbour. To the words I speak, the blessings I am able to give, the riches I am able to share. I can borrow a brush from the Master and imitate His strokes. The loving singularity of His grace.

We can choose to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ who in all His faultless beauty covers all our shortcomings, flaws and sins.

The bride steps from the cleansing flood and is handed a pure white linen robe and crown. She may wear it and be renewed in an instant, or cover it with her rags to save it and keep it spotless until she is ready to shine. The day is now. She chooses. Her Beloved smiles.