Wednesday, October 18, 2017

More Salt, Please!

Matthew 5:13 NKJV
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men."

Have you ever been put on a sodium free diet? You soon found yourself saying, “More salt, please!”

Each of us has heard the remark: "Isn't he just the salt of the earth?"  William Barclay said that Jesus provided us with an expression that is “The greatest compliment that can be paid to a man” (The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, p. 114).

Salt symbolizes purity.  Jesus tells us that we are to be the salt of the earth.  We, Christians, must lift the tone and standard of our civilization through Christ’s holiness being lived out in us. As we elevate the standard, the civilization follows by elevating its standard. As we lower the standard, the civilization follows by lowering its standard.

William Barclay: “We all know that there are certain people in whose company it is easy to be good; and that also there are certain people in whose company it is easy for standards to be relaxed.” (The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, p. 116).
If we, as the Church, want to see the world live up to a higher standard, we must be willing to be salt--purity.

Salt has been used to preserve food for millennia.  In Jesus time, the Galilean fish were salt cured to prepare them for shipment throughout their region. 
Dennis Kinlaw tells a story about salt-curing ham in his childhood.  “Some jobs in life are hateful and yet necessary.  I remember one of those from my teenage years. In those Depression days, there was no such thing as a refrigerator.  If meat was to be kept, it had to be salted heavily.  Every fall I knew that one day I would come home from school in the afternoon and find a gutted pig lying on the back porch.  I knew there would be no playing ball that afternoon.  My job was to rub salt into the pieces of that pork as my mother cut them up.  The only thing that brightened that unpleasant task was imagining the smell of bacon frying for breakfast or the taste of ham when company came.

“One day we were having some special company for supper, so mother took me out to the smokehouse and pointed to the largest ham hanging from the rafters.  I pulled it down, opened the sack, and laid the beautiful ham out for my mother to cut.  The big butcher knife penetrated the best portion of that ham, and I waited with anticipation to see the meat.  Then I had two simultaneous and shocking perceptions.  One was of the frown on my mother’s face and the other was of the most offensive odor I have ever smelled.  The ham was full of maggots.  My mother looked at me with dismay and said, ‘Son, not enough salt.’”  (This Day with the Master, December 14).

“Not enough salt.”  Same-sex marriage. Adultery. Fornication. Drunkenness. Addictions. Transgender invasions of bathrooms. Children dying in the streets. Law enforcement officers slaughtered. “Not enough salt.”

More salt, please. Sin putrefies. Salt preserves.

Even animals will flock to a salt lick. Deer hunters will place an agricultural salt block in the woods or meadow to attract their prey. Salt pleases the palate. It tastes good.

Christ-followers are that flavor in a broken, hurting, sin-cursed world. We offer hope, zest, life, and purpose to an otherwise chaotic and meaningless existence. We extend passion for living to lost, hopeless people.  E. Stanley Jones puts it this way: “The Christian is to be salt not merely to save life from moral putrefaction.  He is to save life from losing its taste and becoming insipid” (The Christ of the Mount, 1931, p. 88).

Salt seasons. BUT, Jesus says that salt can lose its ability to season. Once its savor is lost, it cannot be regained.  What an alarming warning! Tasteless, worthless, trod under foot. Judged as outcast.

Someone has said that “The world is so churchy, and the church is so worldly, that you can’t tell the difference!” Jesus says that believers who have “lost their savor” have played the fool, become stupid, tasteless, insipid, carelessly discarding their treasure of purity of heart and life.

But the warning is against losing (playing the fool) our zest, our savor, our flavor. Insipid. The warning is against becoming so exposed to our surroundings, so corrupted by other influences, so decayed and decrepit in our faith that we just fit into our surroundings.

We lose any sense of remark-ability. Bland. Insipid. Savorless. We become ordinary, despairing, hopeless, complaining, critical people. We gossip, lie, fornicate, steal, cheat, deceive, manipulate, coerce, and live in drunken inebriation; and we call ourselves Christian. No flavor. Or we may simply dwindle in our passion, our zeal, our zest for life in Christ, until we are neutered into harmlessness, defanged and declawed until no longer dangerous, by a world system of tolerance which seeks to normatize us into submission to its conventions. Jesus says, that we lose our flavor, by playing the fool.

Rebecca Manley Pippert wrote a book on evangelism titled Out of the Saltshaker & Into the World.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:  "Everything else needs to be seasoned with salt, but once the salt itself has lost its savor, it can never be salted again. Everything else can be saved by salt, however bad it has gone--only salt which loses its savor has no hope of recovery. That is the other side of the picture. That is the judgment which always hangs over the disciple community, whose mission is to save the world, but which, if it ceases to live up to that mission, is itself irretrievably lost. The call of Jesus Christ means either that we are the salt of the earth, or else we are annihilated; either we follow the call or we are crushed beneath it." (The Cost of Discipleship, 1959, p. 117).

More salt, please.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Further Loss of Civility

Colossians 3:12-17
"Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."


Our culture suffers from a loss of civility. We speak to each other in rude soundbites. We play a game of "gotcha." We expose one another's weaknesses and failures in a perpetual attempt to scramble to the top of the heap and pronounce ourselves as pre-eminent. All too soon we are knocked from our perch. 

Hour after hour of cable news viewing, social media networking, and much of our interaction will condition us to incivility and unkindness. Our speech deteriorates. Our conduct degenerates. Our lives becomes angry.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: "When we forget what is due to ourselves and to others, when the feeling for human quality and the power to exercise reserve cease to exist, chaos is at the door."

Chaos has knocked and we have granted cultural admittance. 

You are made in the image of God. Everyone else is too. Live like it today, by God's grace. Welcome kindness. Let it flow from a heart of perfect love. Live in peace. Thank God and others. Sing. Rejoice. Live largely in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Are you a tree or a shrub?

Jeremiah 17:5-10 NKJV

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.”

I love wood. The gleaming red of Eastern Red Cedar, the dark depths of walnut, the tight grain of oak, the vivid contrasts of poplar with its white, green, black, and red shades of colors, and the black knots embedded in the firm, tight grain of hickory.

I love to study wood grain: flamed maple, birds eye maple, quilted maple.

The grain of a burl.

A slab of undulating, irregular cypress shaped into a coffee table.

A gnarled juniper carved into a statue of a wild pony sniffing in the wind.

The twist of a vine around a curly stick.

The gnarl of diseased wood.

A fungus formed diamond in a diamond willow.

The brush of color from a fungus that has penetrated air dried lumber.

I love wood. It fascinates me.

A tree, a board, a sapling, a log, tongue and groove, shiplap, d-shaped, round, square, exposed beams. Walls, floors, furniture, frames, guitars, walking sticks, a dashboard in a luxury car. I love wood.

David, the Psalmist, must have loved wood. He prepared cedars from Lebanon for its construction. He opens the Psalms describing people as trees. Jeremiah must have loved wood, too. Jeremiah describes people as shrubs and trees, prompting the question, “Are you a shrub or a tree?”

A fleshly person is a shrub. I have seen the endless stretches of mesquite in West Texas. The willow flats of Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming have stretched before me on the bottom land of Jackson Hole, reaching toward Jackson Lake. I have roamed the scraggly brush-covered landscape of a reclaimed surface mine in Eastern Kentucky.

Jeremiah says that a shrub of a person is cursed by God. A spiritual dwarf is one concerned about human strength, means, and methods, proclaiming personal strength while demonstrating weakness. The shrub of a person has a heart of self-trust rather than faith in God, and is consigned to fruitless and uninhabited desert wastelands.

Jeremiah challenges me to be a blessed man and not a cursed one. He tells me that a cursed man is self-reliant and forgets God. His personal growth is stunted, limited, and dwarfed. His narrative is self-centered and narrow in its scope. The cursed one lacks an overarching story of the meaning of life, rather has lived life with a sensual lust, moving from one taste, sound, and feeling to another in an elusive quest for satisfaction, never discerning what is truly good.

A Blessed person is a tree. The North Fork of the Kentucky River is home. The banks of the river are lined with sycamores. In its youth, a sycamore sapling is decorated in a lovely green, brown, and tan camouflage. As it ages, the camouflage of bark peels away, revealing a crown of white in the upper reaches of the tree. Ultimately, the entire tree will be covered in white. In the summer, a sycamore has leaves as big as dinner plates. In the fall, the leaves are golden. In the winter, the white bark of the aged sycamore sparkles like a cascade of diamonds on a frosty morning. Their aging beauty tells a tale of many floods, droughts, winds, and snows.

A tree of a person is one who trusts and hopes in the Lord. On the banks of the river, the tree reaches out and down with a lively and expansive root system that gives it a death-defying confidence in the blast of summer heat. Green leaves and fruit are its symbols of blessing, the consequence of trusting in the Lord.

Both a tree and a shrub have different destinies. Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.”

God wants you and me to be fruit-bearing, living, growing trees. His eternal judgment and reward is yet to come.

Are you a tree or a shrub?

PRAYER


Dear Lord,

I have seen both the cursed and blessed. The cursed are packaged in prosperity as well as poverty. The cursed have pursued material existence. Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smells have dominated their concerns. Spiritual pursuits have been neglected. The cry of the eternal has been ignored until its whisper can no longer be heard by the self-imposed hearing impairment of the cursed. Dwarfed. Miniaturized. Judged by God as shrubs.

The blessed are the ones who have listened to the bidding of the Eternal. They have judged their own values, worship, relationships, and decisions by what endures after life. They have lived for more than the sensual. Along the way, the blessed often experience great pleasure, but not because they sought it for its own sake. They sought You first. You have added earthly pleasure to their spiritual peace. The blessed live life with one overarching passion, to hear You proclaim: "Well done" over their lives. They live for the eternal. These well-lived lives are not charmed. No, they have the same suffering, sickness, and sorrow that is common to our shared earthly existence. But their response is different. Their response ever reaches upward, hopeful... to know You. Blessed. Rooted. Well-watered. Enduring. Fruitful. Trees.

I want to live among the blessed. Search me. Test me. Transform me. Know me. Make me a tree, not a shrub.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Amen.

Trees
by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see 
A poem lovely as a tree. 

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest 
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast; 

A tree that looks at God all day, 
And lifts her leafy arms to pray; 

A tree that may in Summer wear 
A nest of robins in her hair; 

Upon whose bosom snow has lain; 
Who intimately lives with rain. 

Poems are made by fools like me, 
But only God can make a tree.

Friday, October 13, 2017

For Such a Time as This

As a boy, my mother often told me the story of her pregnancy and my birth. She reminded me that although I am her oldest child, she was pregnant once before me. Mother's first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.

Mother was pregnant with me during the 1960 presidential campaign. John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon were the candidates. Evangelical Christians across the United States were alarmed at the possibility of a Roman Catholic president. The eschatology of the day featured Roman Catholicism prominently. Preachers and students of the Bible believed that the Roman Catholic Church would be the arch enemy of the true bride of Christ. They feared that a Catholic president would be the pope's puppet, leading toward suffering, the great tribulation, and the culmination of all things.

My pregnant mother confided to her own mother, my grandmother. My grandmother, who had given birth to all of her children in the midst of the Great Depression in the mountains of impoverished Appalachia, told mother, "I don't know that I could bring a child into a world like this."

That fear drove my mother to her knees. She fled to God's Word in prayer. Reading in the book of Esther, mother found God's comfort.
     "Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).

Mother immediately knew that God had a plan for her unborn child's life, that His hand was upon me, and that He would use me. Throughout my life, mother has often reminded me of this promise. The promise has given me courage, boldness, and purpose for living in the midst of dark and discouraging seasons of life. The promise has motivated me toward conquest when the task ahead appears insurmountable.

I know that God has purpose, design, intention, and direction. Life is leading somewhere... to Him. Fulfillment is found somewhere... in Him. How I live matters. Living to please God, a life well-lived for His glory, is important.

God made you too. No matter how random and confusing the path may be, He is pursuing you. He has purpose for your life. He made you to know, love, and serve Him in this life, and spend eternity with Him in heaven. Relationship with God gives purpose, order, and meaning to an otherwise chaotic existence. Know Him. Pursue intimacy with God. Let Him fill you with His fulness so that you may become His agent of grace in a broken, sin-cursed world... "for such a time as this."

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Seek Truth

Across recent decades, education has been shifting in America. Historically, education has accepted the role of producing good citizens. Character, integrity, and good will toward others lie at the heart of this historical commitment. The deliberative process of open discussion, debate, opposition, and compromise have been central in the progress of our free and democratic republic. A liberal arts education has been at the heart of such formation of body, mind and spirit.
I’ll never forget the semester when liberal arts clicked with me. I was in Paul Vincent’s English Literature class and Bob Neff’s Western Civilization course in the same quarter. Suddenly, I realized that I was studying the same thing but in different courses. I recognized the social construction of the disciplines. I did not yet know the word “epistemology,” but I had just stumbled upon its meaning. The path to knowledge was before me, and the journey of knowing was mine to take.
Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, Sr. emphasized that the pursuit of knowledge in a specific discipline would eventually culminate in the terminal degree. He wrote: "Are you searching for the center of reality? Do you know that the center is the Lord Jesus? He is the center of all knowledge and all truth. If you give yourself totally to Him, you will find yourself in the middle of all that is good and significant." I still remember the look on Dr. Kinlaw’s face and the chuckle in his voice when he asked, “What then?” What comes after the doctor of philosophy in any discipline? He grinned as he forcefully proclaimed, “Theology.”
Each academic discipline eventually takes us into the quest to understand God. When my children were in school, my watchword to them was “Study hard. Think well. Learn much.”
But the natural progress of thought from content to philosophy to theology has been co-opted in our halls of learning in recent years. The American watchword is “money.” The mandate has been “Go to college and get a degree so that you can get a good job and earn lots of money.” But materialistic pursuits prove their emptiness all too soon. Many millennial youth, college graduates, spend their days in dead end part-time jobs as baristas and bartenders.
It seems to me that the absence of God in academic and public discourse has led to emptiness in our families, communities, churches, and culture. We no longer pursue truth. We craft carefully shaped agendas. News is not objective. Politics is not noble. Wealth is not philanthropic. Self is central, folding in upon itself in an empty package.
Public discourse is not ruled by a quest for truth. It is dominated by political correctness. The carefully constructed, yet constantly evolving rules of public discourse shame the non-compliant into silence and elevate the social justice elite to dominance, until they too come crashing down in a heap of exposed shame. Nothingness encroaches in an attempt to overwhelm humanity in total spiritual and social darkness.
But just when I feel hopeless, desperate, and futile I remember. I remember that God is. God is love. God loves me. God loves all humanity. God gave His Son, made flesh, to live a sinless life among us. He died a sacrificial death on the cross where He voluntarily gave His life as an atoning sacrifice for the whole world. His crucifixion, death, burial and bodily resurrection give me hope of eternal life to come. By faith in Jesus Christ, I have that hope.

So, I too, am searching for truth. I find truth in Jesus Christ. Theology, revealed in God made flesh, helps me to make sense of the chaos. We were made for something. We are going somewhere. The journey from birth to eternity is ours to take, by faith. No, most teachers in our schools won’t aid this you on this journey.  But it remains the cry of the human heart. Take the journey. Seek truth. Build your life upon it. At the center, you find God.