According to the Riches of His Grace

Referring to Jesus’ death on the cross, the Bible tells us “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the    riches of his grace;” (Ephesians 1:7)

Redemption refers to the actual penalty of sin being paid. Forgiveness refers to the personal offense to a holy God being pardoned. It is important to understand that these two take place according to the abundance of God’s grace – His undeserved favor.

Suppose you are trying to raise funds for, say, The Society for Wayward Cats. You go to see a millionaire. You say with all the sincerity you can muster, “Mister Millionaire, would you help save wayward cats?” “Yes, I would,” he replies. You wait with bated breath as he writes out a check. He hands you a check. You look; it is for $5. That $5 check would be “out of” his riches. But if he gave you a check for $10,000 that would be “according to” his riches. That would help a herd of wayward cats!

Think you have gone too far for even God to forgive you? Know that God’s saving work in Christ – redemption and forgiveness – is not “out of” but “according to” the riches of his grace.

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Saint or Rebel?

One evening I received a visit by a pastor who had been dismissed from his church. He asked the people of the church why they were letting him go.     He said his church people had told him, “All you preach is obedience.”  I said to him, “I guess they didn’t want to be obedient.”

I understand that preachers can get stuck on certain themes and become one note musicians. It often happens when they stop studying or are having too many demands on their time and cannot study. However, it is a curious thing that professed Christians would dismiss a pastor because he told them that they should obey God.

The Bible tells us, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, ‘I know him’, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.” (I John 2:3-5)

Although being accepted with God – “saved” if you will – is by grace through faith and “not of works” (Eph. 2:-8-9), assurance of this is not based in some mystical religious feeling but upon objective facts. One of those objective facts is a willingness to obey God. All I can say about someone who claims he has accepted Jesus and yet has no desire to obey Him is a doubtful and reflective, “Hmmmm!”

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Nothing But the Truth

For many years I have served as either a law enforcement chaplain or as a reserve police officer. My exposure to this world has taught me there are often many sides to a story. The perpetrator, the victim, law enforcement and the lawyers involved may all have different versions of the same event. These versions can be tainted by desires.

The accused desires to remain free. An officer may desire to close a case and lawyers certainly desire to win a case. The victim may desire retribution or vengeance and might say things with a certain slant. The point is that what we desire can influence what we say is true or how we say what is true.

In the end a judge or jury makes the determination of what version of events is really true. But even then, the question remains as to whether the real objective truth has been known. The Bible book of Romans  says that  “…. God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” (Romans 2:16)

What is really true is seen by the One Who knows the secrets of the heart. As one sci-fi drama said years ago – “The truth is out there.” Human desires notwithstanding, one day the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth will come out.

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Eating Dirt

Several years ago a 20/20 type program ran an episode about folks that ate various kinds of dirt and clay. Folks were filmed spooning varieties of earth into their mouths and, seemingly, enjoying it. One ABC news article (“Eating Dirt: It Might Be Good for You” (Oct. 3, 2005 By Marc Lallanilla) quoted one lady as saying the dirt she ate “melts in your mouth like chocolate. The good stuff is real smooth. It’s just like a piece of candy.”

Weird, huh? Experts call this this phenomenon “geophagy.” So what does one call someone that eats dirt?  I suppose that if those who eat plant life are called vegetarians then I guess a devourer of the stuff plants grow in would then be called a geophagarian. I’ll go with it! However, for brevity sake I think I will call geophagarians just “geos”.

Various experts have opined as to why geos eat dirt. Some think that it has to do with some sort of deficiency in nutrients that is an inherited characteristic. In other words, they were born that way. Others thought that dirt eating was a mental disorder similar to pica, the abnormal urge to eat non-food items such as paint or soap.

But some nutritionists asserted that this soil consumption is normal and even claimed that the eating of dirt, especially by pregnant women, might be wholesome. They would argue that dirt was the world’s first mineral supplement. Hmmm, the jury is definitely out on that one for me!

No one knows just how many geos there are in this world. They do not tend to broadcast their dietary orientation. It would be a safe guess that they are a small minority, but perhaps not. The fact is that we do not really know what percentage of the population is either wholly or in part geophagarian. It is a given, though, that geos truly believe that their dietary proclivity is healthy and natural and that there is nothing wrong with it. I would think that most of our society might disagree. That is probably why, I suppose, that most geos keep their diet to themselves.

But I wondered what would happen if the geos of this world made themselves known in mass? What if they came ‘out of the closet’ so to speak? What if they organized and began to tell how their lives were miserable because they are not accepted by society and that they have to eat meals in seclusion or only with other geos? What if geos sued their employers because they brought topsoil in for lunch, grossed out fellow employees and were let go? What if a business fired a geo employee because it lost customers because the geo was observed snacking on chunks of clay? Could the company be sued for discrimination?  That would certainly make the evening news!

What if nutritionists wrote scholarly articles and cited surveys that assert that eating soil is normal and ought not to be stigmatized? Hollywood celebrities that secretly partake of a loam enriched diet could reveal their dietary orientation and thus help break down societal prejudice against dirt consumption. Pressure could then be put upon legislators to make discrimination against geos illegal and laws passed outlawing and stigmatizing anti-geo expression. Sit-coms could portray geos as kind, gentle, hardworking, above average citizens who just happened to love dirt. Public school health curricula could portray dirt eating as just an alternate diet and school cafeterias required to include fresh mulch or clay on the daily menu. Could not happen? Really?

I can recall as a parent discouraging my toddlers from ingesting dirt when on outdoor outings. Generally, most parents would, when observing a handful of soil heading for their infant’s gobble hole react swiftly in halting that snack. Physical restraint and expressions like “Oh no” and “yucky” are often used on such occasions.

One wonders, though, in a geophagy sensitive political landscape if enlightened progressives might argue that parents were instilling geophobia into their children and thus creating a generation of the nutritive intolerant.  Conceivably, social services could be called and parents sent to dietary diversity counseling.

For my part, I do not care if someone eats dirt in the privacy of their own homes or back yard. I am somewhat libertarian in that regard. I would not refuse to do business with geos. I do not care what they eat as long as it is not another human being. I believe that geos have the right to be left alone.

However, I would have a problem if a geophagarian encouraged children to eat dirt or tried to convince them that eating dirt is somehow normal.  I would also have a problem if restaurants were fined or forced to close by the government if they refused to provide a soil diverse menu or declined to cater a geo wedding.  I, for one, would probably not patronize a restaurant that served dirt. My appetite, after observing someone eat mud while I am eating my soup, would tend to wane a bit. I would also tend to question the cleanliness of a restaurant that served dirt. Maybe it is just me.

My honest opinion about eating dirt is that it is…well – dirty. Call me intolerant. But to date, those of us who think that eating dirt is not normal or healthy, are still free to say so. Those days may be numbered. There may come a day when reason is turned on its head and normalcy is redefined to accommodate the bizarre, the abnormal, the anomalous and even the deviant.

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A Dishonest Question

I like honest, sincere questions, but a few decades ago there was an older, well-educated man in one of my classes who would ask dishonest questions. These questions were designed to show me up and prompt an intellectual jousting match after which he would, presumably, be seen as the victor. His questions were prompted more out of envy and arrogance than honest inquiry.

The Apostle Paul addressed a question concerning the resurrection by someone much like that man in my class. This question is recorded in I Corinthians 15:35 – “But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?”  Before Paul answers in subsequent verses, he addresses this “hypothetical” cross-examiner with one word – “Fool” (vs 36). In the Greek this word means “mindless, ignorant and/or egotistical.” It is a term for someone that really has not investigated or thought out matters but asks challenging questions as though he has done so. He is not a seeker of truth; he asks as a self-absorbed egotist trying to parade his superiority or justify his unbelief.

What kind of questioner are you, Friend? This Easter season as Christians celebrate the reality of the resurrection, let me encourage you to be an honest seeker. The One Who substituted Himself for you on the cross broke the chains of death to prove that His death accomplished all that was necessary for you to have eternal life. Got questions? Let’s put on the coffee and talk or visit us on Good Friday at 12 Noon or Easter morning at 11 am.

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The Arrogant Patriarch

The Arrogant Patriarch

Over the years I have met a generic person. I know this sounds a bit strange and the term “generic” may be a bit confusing, so let me explain. A generic person is not one person, but a kind of composite of people who share characteristics or traits. So this person is a composite of certain traits in people. These people are not all the same. They are different in many ways but they do share commonalities.

This person is ageless. One would think that this person would typically be “old” simply because we expect some of these traits from older people. Surprisingly, though, the people that have fit this generic description are not confined to the older generation. They are often younger people. Perhaps that is why they have caught my attention so readily. They have not been what most folks would typically consider “old.” I have witnessed these traits in people as young as 15. Most of them, however, have been between 17 and 55, the majority in their 30’s and 40’s.

This person is also genderless. I have witnessed these traits in both men and women.    I will concede, however, that most of the ones who have evidenced these traits have been men. But please understand that I refer to this person with masculine pronouns more for convenience sake than to imply that these traits are only witnessed in men. Hence I have called this person the “the arrogant patriarch”.

The traits of the arrogant patriarch are as follows:

A confidence in his own intelligence: I do not mean to imply that he is intelligent. He may be very intelligent. But what defines him is his belief in his intelligence. Sometimes he is neither intelligent nor educated but still believes he is intelligent. Along with this comes a certainty about his views and opinions being correct.

I have encountered this phenomenon in a man with a PhD from Harvard and a man that was illiterate. The PhD, a professed born again Christian, questioned the biblical account of Creation and other accounts and justified abortion to the 9th month gestation. The illiterate man insisted to me that the Bible was full of errors. When I challenged him to show me one, he left the room. Then his wife whispered to me that he could not read. But that did not stop him or the PhD from rendering an absolute opinion. These folks tend to have an opinion about most topics. He is so certain and confident about his viewpoint because he believes in his own intelligence.

The student /teacher dynamic: This trait is more felt than easily defined. But the subtle idea conveyed by him is that he is the teacher (or should be) and you are the student. He may not actually say that he is the teacher and you are the student. He is not necessarily abrasive. He just acts like he is (or should be) the teacher. It is connected with his belief in his intelligence. Some folks will readily accept him as the teacher simply because they are swayed by his manner. He believes he should be in charge and acts like it. This in part leads to the next characteristic of the arrogant patriarch.

The tendency toward conflict with others: Conflict comes with others because he tends to act upon his belief in his own intelligence. He believes that his viewpoint is the correct one and his decisions are the best. Therefore, it is only natural that others should do what he suggests or do things as he would do them. Any other way is deficient. When conflict with others arises because of this, it is not his fault. Other people are just too sensitive, or are jealous or threatened by his superior giftedness.  The problem always resides in others. It could not be in him.

The inability to follow: This guy is often perpetually unemployed or he is in business for himself. The reason for either circumstance is that he just cannot work for someone else. If he has a job, he is often in conflict with his superiors or disdainful of them. In a church situation, he is someone that has difficulty recognizing the leadership authority of a pastor (Hebrews 13:7, 17). Typically, he embraces the plurality of elders viewpoint in church governance, not because he believes it is biblical, but because it fits his personality. Complete equality in authority means less infringement on his independency. The truth is he is no more in deference to a plurality of leadership than he is to one leader.

 

One such man with whom there had been persistent issues in a local church was asked if he could follow the pastor’s leadership. His reply was, “A man is not a pastor because he says he is. He is a pastor if he is pastoral.” And who determines if he is pastoral? The patriarch. He was saying that if the pastor met his expectations, (the only correct criteria), then he would recognize his leadership. The problem is that all pastors have flaws and given enough time, the patriarch will find them. It is his justification for ignoring the counsel of a shepherd and following his own judgment. In his mind, he does not need pastoral leadership.

 

The tendency to pontificate about one or select Biblical topics: Often this person “goes to seed” on some area of theology or biblical interpretation. Often he becomes an expert on some biblical topic such as prophecy, family living, evangelism, election, living by grace or the nature of the church. It really does not matter what the topic might be, for he has mastered it. He is an expert and people who do not agree are ignorant or willfully rebellious against what he knows to be the truth. He outguns those who are ignorant of or not as studied in areas where he is a specialist. He rarely will deal with someone as studied as he. This, of course, confirms his belief in his opinions and ultimately his superior understanding.

A desire to limit exposure of his family or comrades to only his views: This trait appears virtuous as certainly all family heads, leaders and loyal friends should desire to protect those close to them from error. But this goes further than that. For when a family member, friend or loved one begins to be swayed by opinions other than the patriarch’s, he will often begin to resent the intruder’s influence. He will take steps to withdraw his family or friends from opinions he deems to conflict with his leadership. He will pull his child out of a class, require his family to sit only with him, or withdraw his family and go to another church. Sometimes no church is good enough because, to him, they are all in error or bound by unbiblical traditions. So he may form his own “church” where he is the pastor and where people can get the truth. If he stays in a church, he stays on the perimeter of involvement so as to retain control of information. This person will often home school / home church his family so as to “protect” them. But it really is not about protection of his family. He is protecting his patriarchal position.

A condescending attitude toward the opposite sex: If a man, he treats his wife or women in general not just as the weaker vessel but as the lesser vessel. If a woman, she tends to regard men as generally stupid and needy and takes a condescending attitude toward them. A man tends to think of most women as inferior beings by design and regards his role not just as protector but as director. Whether a man or a woman, this person tends to want to control the partner either by force of will or manipulation – all of this because of a basic belief in his superiority and of the partner’s inferiority. This is not to say that the patriarch does not love or care for the individual. He very well may love them. He is still manipulative and controlling.

These are seven common characteristics of this generic person that I have referred to as the arrogant patriarch. If you are one of them I am sure that you will not have kindly thoughts toward this writer. If you are not one of them, beware. You could easily become such.

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