Friday, August 26, 2016

A Voice from the Past - Thomas a Kempis

Be ofttimes mindful of the saying, The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. Strive, therefore, to turn away thy heart from the love of the things that are seen, and to set it upon the things that are not seen. For they who follow after their own fleshly lusts, defile the conscience, and
destroy the grace of God.

Thomas a Kempis, 1389-1471, The Imitation of Christ, Chapter 1, 5, (Project Gutenburg, 1999).

How do we look beyond the present to focus on things unseen? What can help us to do so?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Are Morals Relative?

We live in a culture that has gone more and more in the direction of moral relativity and where everything is tolerated except intolerance. It has started in the area of sexual behavior, but has continually expanded from there. As a people our nation is, in fact, at the point of Romans 1:32, of not only doing those things but approving of them. But no matter how fervently people denounce conventional morality, they then turn around and erect their own new moral standards, such as pushing strongly for their view of equality. The idea of right and wrong seems to be bred into our bones.   

To avoid this, they argue that different cultures have different moral standards and that it is impossible to reach any absolute conclusion regarding moral principles. Now morality, like truth, is not determined by majority vote. If all the world once held that the sun revolved around the earth, rather than the earth around the sun, that did not make it true. Also, this assertion is just plain not true. It you look at various moral codes you will find differences, and certainly differences of emphasis, but the basic principles are found over and over again in different cultures. Also, the differences can frequently be explained by the differences in philosophy or situations of the people involved. Moral standards have the appearance of a deposit that was given to mankind in the beginning and has been passed down, with different people modifying it to fit their convenience. But the solution is not to throw out morality, but to throw out the modifications and find the original. Ultimately the problem with a relative morality, though, is that if morality is relative, where do you logically stop short of anarchy? What basis do you ultimately have for drawing the line at any behavior, if it becomes regarded as acceptable? Even if people are unwilling to press things this far, it will be purely due to a subjective dislike, rather than any commitment to principle.

How, then, are Christians to respond to this situation? We must avoid two extremes. We must avoid watering down our principles in order to fit in with modern viewpoints. This can sometimes be difficult because I need to constantly be asking, am I reading back my prejudices into Scripture? (This is complicated by the fact that prejudices can cut both ways, encouraging us to lay aside the Scriptural standard or to erect a stricter standard than Scripture genuinely requires.) But we are also in danger of becoming self righteous and looking down on people, rather then reaching out to them with compassion. We need to remember that we ourselves are saved by grace (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9) and cannot boast in our own goodness. It is often very difficult to show compassion without condoning. But it is only in this way that we can reach out to those who have exchanged the incorruptible God for something else that will not be able to deliver them from the sinful choices they have made (Romans 1:21-23).

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Whose Righteousness?

One of the questions regarding the breastplate of righteous (Ephesians 6:14) is whose righteousness is being referred to, Christ's or ours. When we put our faith in Christ we are declared righteous before God based on Christ's righteousness (Philippians 3:8,9: 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:21-26), But this should result in a change in our life (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Which is in view here?

I am convinced that the basic idea here is Christ's righteousness. It is this we should trust in and this we should build our lives on. And putting on the breastplate means trusting in and remembering that righteousness. But when we feel destructive guilt, guilt that does not lead to repentance and  going on with God, but to digging up old sins and inadequacies (2 Corinthians 7:10; Philippians 3:13-14; Proverbs 28:13), we must trust in God's forgiveness (Colossians 2:13,14; Hebrews 8:12; Ephesians 1:7). For accusing us of our sins is one strategy Satan uses to bring us down (Revelation 12:10,11; Zechariah 3:1-5; Job 1:9-12). (These verses specifically talk of Satan accusing us before God, but I think it is reasonable to infer that Satan's minions also accuse us to ourselves.)
But I also think that letting God change us does make a difference here. If we indulge our sinful desires, we give Satan an opportunity he can exploit (Romans 13:14; Ephesians 4:26,27; Galatians 6:7). Therefore, it is helpful for us to cultivate righteousness in our lives so that we may not find ourselves sliding further and further down the road to sin. But ultimately, the chief thing is to trust in Christ's righteousness. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Attitude of Economics

There is an idea that if everyone just behaves as selfishly as possible, it will all work out in the end. I call this capitalism gone to seed. I think this idea, that bad intentions will ultimately result in good, is totally unworkable. It also contradicts the clear Christian imperative to put others before ourselves (Matthew 7:12; Philippians 2:1-11; Romans 13:8-10). But business is an important part of life and one most of us will be involved in. So how do we approach it?

Working is the normal way that we should earn our living and even gain extra so as to help others (2 Thessalonians  3:10; Ephesians 4:28; Proverbs 6:6-11). This does not mean we should not help those in need  (James 2:15,16; 1 John 3:17; Proverbs 14:31), but  working should be the normal way to make a living. Now work was part of God’s original plan (Genesis 2:15), though it became laborious as a result of the Fall (Genesis 3:17-19). I am convinced that even in eternity, we will have things to do, but without the curse that results from the Fall (Revelation 22:3).  But in doing this we are not to allow unlimited scope to our greed. As workers we are to do our work well and honestly, as unto the Lord, even if we are at the very bottom of the social ladder (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; Titus 2:9,10). As employers we are to treat our employees well and pay them properly (Ephesians 6:9; Deuteronomy 24:14,15; James 5:1-6). We must also be careful how we treat our customers and the people we buy from and not try to cheat them (Amos 8:4-6; Leviticus 19:35,36; Proverbs 11:1). 

Now I am not claiming there is some absolutely determinable price for things based on something like the price of salt, as they tried to do in the Middle Ages. But I do believe that we, as Christians, must attempt to deal as honestly as possible with the people we work for or the people who work for us or the people we buy from and sell to. This is something that is not always easy to determine. But we need to at least avoid obvious violations. We cannot simply goof off, waste our employers time, or refuse to follow proper instructions at work. Nor should employers give inconsistent or unrealistic instructions, deal with undeserved harshness, or try to cheat people out of their pay. And we should not undertake business transactions with the intent of cheating people. This is not always easy. We may end up scratching our heads over what the right thing to do is in a given situation. But we cannot simply ignore the issues and follow our own selfish desires.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Touch of Humor - Specimen

How can we recognize profiteering in the name of Christ? When has someone crossed over the line?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Old Erich Proverb - Misunderstand

Human beings have an exceptional ability to misunderstand each other.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Voice from the Past - Francis of Assisi

Such was the will of the Father that his Son, blessed and glorious, whom he gave to us, and who was born for us, should by his own blood, sacrifice, and oblation, offer himself on the altar of the cross, not for himself, by whom "all things were made," but for our sins, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps.

Francis of Assisi,1182-1226, Letter to all the Faithful,  (From Wikiquote)

How should we who are not, at least currently, in immediate danger of martyrdom, follow the example of Christ? Are there right and wrong ways to do this?