Month: December 2013

Predestined

…In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4b-6 HCSB)

In love

As we consider what God has done this verse tells us that it was done In Agape (love). God’s love shapes all of his actions toward us.

He Predestined

Destiny – The inevitable or necessary fate to which a particular person or thing is destined; one’s lot.

Predestined

    1. To fix upon, decide, or decree in advance; foreordain.
    2. Theology To foreordain or elect by divine will or decree.

In the time when Paul wrote this book people were used to the idea that a far off Roman Emperor or Official would issue a decree that had direct impact on their life. For example, in Luke 2 we read that Caesar Augustus issued a decree to take a census and everyone went to their own city to register for the census. A decree ordained the destiny that Joseph and Mary would travel to Nazareth.

The Greek word proorizō is translated as predestined. It comes from two root words pro – “in front of” and horizō – “horizon”  meaning that God has placed in front of believers a horizon or boundary a destination.

us to be adopted 

In ancient Rome the notion of family was much stronger than it is in our day. In each family a paterfamilias was the “head of household” but this was extended to include the adult children and remained in force as long as the pater (father) was alive.  The paterfamilias had legal authority over the family and even the power of life and death in earlier years.

It was common to adopt not only children but adults into families as a way to forge close ties. When such adoptions were made, unlike adoption in our time, both families became connected. It became common practice in the empire for the Roman Emperor to adopt his successor. Augustus Caesar was adopted by his great-uncle Julius Caesar and he later would adopt Tiberius who adopted Caligula and so on.

through Jesus Christ 

The word translated through dia – (A primary preposition denoting the channel of an act) indicates that Jesus the anointed Messiah is the channel or means by which this adoption takes place.

for Himself

Everything about this act points back to God. It was his good pleasure, kindness or will to do this. It was to the praise of his glorious grace to do this in the Beloved (Jesus). There is nothing here to suggest any merit or decisive act on our part in this transaction.

What does this mean?

As a Roman citizen from Tarsus Paul knew the Roman customs of adoption. He had probably seen this firsthand. Paul is the only author in the New Testament to use this term to describe the relationship of the believer to Christ.

In Romans 8:15 he contrasts our old state as pneuma douleia (spirit of slavery) to our new state as pneuma uihothesia (spirit of adoption) allowing us to refer to God as Abba.

In the Gemara (a Rabbinical commentary on the Mishna, the traditional teaching of the Jews) it is stated that slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by this title. It approximates to a personal name, in contrast to “Father,” with which it is always joined in the NT. This is probably due to the fact that, abba having practically become a proper name, Greek-speaking Jews added the Greek word pater, “father,” from the language they used. Abba is the word framed by the lips of infants, and betokens unreasoning trust; “father” expresses an intelligent apprehension of the relationship. The two together express the love and intelligent confidence of the child.
Abba – Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

Before the foundation of the world, God laid out a horizon before us, a path that would lead from that of the slave who was forbidden to call the head of the household “Abba”, the slave who operated in a spirit of fear to the adoption, the placement as a son in the family with all the rights and privileges purchased for us by Jesus Christ. God did this for Himself, for the praise of His glorious grace.

He did not see anything in me deserving of this and that is the beauty of it. The unworthy, fearful slave lifted up by the firstborn (pre-eminent one) Jesus Christ to become a son.

Chosen

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love
(Ephesians 1:3-4 HCSB)

choose (chooz) To select from a number of possible alternatives; decide on and pick out.

I can clearly recall the ritual of choosing. As a young child at Elmer Thienes Elementary School in Connecticut. The year was 1974 and at lunchtime the boys would gather near the ball diamond to play kickball. Those who were athletically gifted would be captains and they would one by one choose the members of their team. They made the choice based on their knowledge or estimate of the ability of the potential players. One by one they tried to make the best choice until  they got to the last kid which was often me.

God Chose Us

Paul in writing to the “faithful saints in Christ Jesus at Ephesus” said that God made a decision to choose “us” (that is Paul and those saints). We can extend this statement to say that God chose saints regardless of their location (Ephesus, Corinth, Thessaloniki etc.) and regardless of location in time whether the first century or the present day. Therefore I, and perhaps you as well if you are in Christ, am chosen.

God in making his choice was free. That is to say, He could have chosen otherwise. The fact that he chose me says nothing about you. He may or may not have chosen you. Some questions then arise.

  • Chosen for what?
  • On what basis did he make his choice?
  • Did I have a say in this choice?

Chosen for what

“…to be holy and blameless in His sight” – Ephesians 1:4

He has chosen the way that he will see or consider me. The two words that describe His view of me are holy and blameless.

  • Holy – Living according to a strict or highly moral religious or spiritual system; saintly
  • Blameless – Free of blame or guilt; innocent.

Anyone who knew the facts of my life would say that I am neither of these things though I might aspire to them. Is God saying that he prefers to believe a legal fiction rather than the plain facts when he considers me or is there a very real sense in which I am holy and blameless? If there is such a sense then does my conduct matter? Of course it does because my choices result in evil when I choose wrongly. The world has more then enough evil in it already. I must not add to the disaster.

He Chose Us In Him

There are three pronouns in this phrase. He, us and Him.  The translators capitalized He and Him suggesting that they refer to divinity as is the convention.

  • He — the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (v3)
  • us — the saints (v1)
  • Him — Christ (v3)

What does it mean to chose us “in Him”? It can only mean that our relationship to Him (Christ) has some bearing on the choice. He could have said “He chose us.” but adding in Him adds some meaning. The word “in” in this sentence is a preposition and “Him” is the object of the preposition.

preposition – expressing the situation of something that is or appears to be enclosed or surrounded by something else. “living in Deep River”

So we could say that I am enclosed in or surrounded by Christ and that God’s choice is not simply me but me “in Christ”. God chose me surrounded in Christ to be holy and blameless.

When did he make this choice?

Before the foundation of the kosmos (world). Before the big bang. Before Adam, Abraham, Moses, David or anyone else existed God chose me. This means that God chose me long before I existed.  The implications of this are staggering.

  • God knows everything that will ever happen from the beginning of time to the end and he knew it before anything was created.
  • He created the kosmos knowing every being that would exist and what they would do.
  • In spite of the great evil and resulting suffering that would be perpetrated on his creation he still chose to create it which, if he is indeed good, means that the eventual outcome will be worth the price paid in suffering.
  • He created beings that would rebel and he would have to deal with their rebellion by sending his Son to die on a cross.
  • He chose some (or perhaps all) of his creatures to be holy and blameless “in Christ”.

Life on the Timeline

If you watch a video you can pause the playback at any given moment. The subjects of the video would consider that moment “now”. As the viewer, you can rewind, or fast forward it to observe a moment in the “past” or “future.”  These terms: “now”, “past” and “future” are subjective references to a point on the timeline and the subjects of your video are bound to life on the timeline but you are not.  So when you think of Walter White from the TV series Breaking Bad, are you thinking of the meek & mild Walter White of the first episode or are you thinking of the ruthless, murdering drug kingpin of the last episode? Because we exist on the timeline we cannot conceive of what it must be like to consider both and everything in between when we think of the creature named Walter White.

In fact, we tend to think of people only in the moment we call “now” or perhaps in the most recent moment that we have recollection of them. But God must not think of us in the same limited way. When God thinks of me, he thinks of every moment of me from the crying infant to the infirm aged man taking his last breath.

Before the foundation of the world, God could see the timeline. He could see what his creation would do given the choice to act. He could see what I am going to have for breakfast today and could (if he chose to) reveal to me exactly what it would be prior to my making it. Does this mean he “predestined” me to have oatmeal? Does it mean that I had no real choice in the matter?

Of course, God probably doesn’t mind one way or the other what I have for breakfast. But if he did, he could influence my choice. Perhaps he could remind me of the smell of eggs and bacon. Or he could command an infestation of worms in the oats so that I throw them out and eat something else. What he would not do is simply change my mind for me. At least I don’t think so.

If God’s choice for me was to be holy and blameless then which me is he referring to? By that I mean that there is a sense that the Ron of 1974 was a very different creature than the Ron of 2014. Of course, neither Ron could be considered holy and blameless by any stretch of the imagination. One spot, one stain, one blemish committed across these 50 years of living would make me not blameless but blame-worthy. The cumulative effect of living in this fallen world with a sinful nature ensures that by the time my life is ended I will most certainly be judged as unholy and yet scripture says he chose me to be holy.

Could it be that there is yet to come (from my perspective) a moment when God’s assessment of me will be holy and blameless? There is only one such moment where God’s assessment, God’s judgement will matter and that is on the great and terrible day of the Lord.

I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books. (Revelation 20:12 HCSB)

On that day we become unbound from the timeline. All of humanity from the first to the last standing before God at the same moment. All accountable to God. All judged according to their works.

And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15 HCSB)

God’s choice, before the foundation of the world was to have my name written in the book of life. Me, the sinner, the liar, the cheat, the list goes on and on. He chose to see me surrounded by Christ, holy and blameless.

 

Eternal Speaks to Temporal

Perhaps the most striking difference between God and man is that God is eternal. He exists outside of time and this gives him a unique perspective. The closest I can come to imagining God’s perspective is to pick up a book and turn from page to page at will. If I want to read the last chapter and then turn back to the beginning I can in that sense know the end from the beginning.

If I were to interact with the people in the story I could tell them things that were going to happen in the future with absolute certainty. So much so that it would be easy to confuse my knowledge of their future with my creating their future rather than they themselves making the choices of their lives.

Time and inferences based on time fill our language. For example, if I say that I have a “plan” I am saying that based on the information about the past that I have at this moment my intention for the future is to do this or that. Of course we understand that if my information is incorrect or circumstances outside of my control may make my plan untenable.

What then does it mean to say that God has a “plan”? Certainly His plan is not subject to the same frailties that makes my plan so likely to fail. He knows the end from the beginning. So then to use the word plan with God really doesn’t make much sense except to say that God has intentions for the future and unlike our intentions His will happen exactly as He says they will.

Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like Me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will. (Isaiah 46:9-10 HCSB)

God’s timeless nature also means that there are no surprises, no new discoveries for God. He is not caught off guard by anything or anyone most of all me. While I am constantly in the process of self-discovery, he knows me more completely than I ever will.

God’s Choice

What then does it mean to say that God chooses? Whatever it means, it most certainly does not mean that God chooses in the same way that we do.

  • We choose in ignorance He chooses with perfect knowledge.
  • We wait to find out if our choice was a good one. He knows the end from the beginning.
  • We often regret bad choices that we make when we see how they turned out. He regrets nothing having known the outcome before the choice was made.

Yes, scripture speaks of God “regretting” that he made Saul king. I believe that God is condescending to our temporal understanding to describe an emotion that is something like regret but something that our language has no words for. God was not unaware of the eventual outcome of Saul’s choices when he told Samuel to anoint Saul king.

When contemplating the trinity we often confess that we cannot possibly understand how a triune being can exist.  C.S. Lewis said this would be like trying to explain a three-dimensional cube to a race of beings that exist only in two dimensions. You could point out to them it is similar to a collection of squares but such beings would have no point of reference to imagine such a thing.

Likewise, because of experience of life is an unfolding of choices and consequences, sowing and reaping, we cannot imagine what it must be like to know the outcome of a choice prior to making it without having forced the outcome. If I say, I know what you will do tomorrow and you indeed do exactly as I said you would, are you then doing what you would have freely done apart from me?

Did I “make” you do what I said you would? If you committed a crime, could you argue that you are not accountable because my foreknowledge of your actions meant that I must have caused you to act in such a way?

We think like this because we cannot conceive of a world where the outcome is guaranteed without forcing it to be what we want. This causes us to imagine God in our image. Such a God would then force the behavior of man and the circumstances of nature to fit the outcome that we want and yet the bible asserts that our choices are free and accountable. This is a mystery just as profound as the trinity.

For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will (Ephesians 1:4-5 HCSB)

When we think of the future we imagine an infinite number of possible outcomes. Could it be when God thinks of the future he does not imagine possible outcomes but knows the one eventual outcome? To such a being what does choice even mean? Does choice ensure the outcome or does the outcome influence the choice or is there some sense in which both are true? The scripture asserts that God made choices in eternity past and that these choices affected the chosen such that the outcome is guaranteed to be exactly what God wants.

Cursing and Binding The Enemy

Imagine this. You are at a small group bible study sharing prayer requests when Fred says. “Pray for me, I’ve been really depressed.” The group leader then prays for Fred.

“We curse you spirit of depression and bind you in the name of Jesus!”

Wow – this sounds great doesn’t it? So much authority and power but I have some questions about this.

  • Is there such a thing as a spirit of depression?
  • Is it biblical for Christians to “curse” a spirit?
  • Does Jesus’ words to Peter about binding and loosing in Matthew 16 give me the power to bind a spirit?

Spirit of Depression

A psychiatric disorder characterized by an inability to concentrate, insomnia, loss of appetite, anhedonia, feelings of extreme sadness, guilt, helplessness and hopelessness, and thoughts of death. Also called  clinical depression.

Depression is real. There is no doubt that nearly everyone will experience at some point a degree of depression. There are many people in the Bible who suffered from depression.

  • David
  • Saul
  • Jeremiah
  • Jonah
  • Ezekiel

In reading about these episodes of depression there are no indications that for any of these people that the cause was a “spirit of depression.”  Nor was the cure for their depression found in deliverance from the “spirit of depression.”

The fact is, there is no biblical evidence for a “spirit of depression.”  The idea that I can eliminate depression, addictions or other problems from my life simply by having someone pray to deliver me from a demon is attractive because it is much easier than the hard work of dealing with the actual problem.

By encouraging people to think this way you might actually be making the problem worse because the person suffering from depression may not seek other kinds of treatment that might actually work.

Curse The Spirit

Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 1:8-9 NASB)

Did Jesus, the disciples or their close associates ever “curse” a spirit? No. There is not a single example of this anywhere in the New Testament. When they did encounter a demonic spirit they commanded it to leave. If cursing a spirit was an essential tool for the Christian you would think that Paul might have mentioned this in his writings about spiritual warfare but he didn’t. There are no instructions on how to curse spirits or other elements of deliverance ministry.

Binding Spirits

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
(Matthew 16:19 NASB)

Many times I’ve heard sincere believers say something like this.

“Satan, we bind you and render you helpless in this situation. As a matter of record, you are hereby bound in the Name of Jesus.” From then on, we thank God that Satan is bound and unable to work in the situation. We refuse to give him any place. – Kenneth Copeland

Is this what Jesus meant for Peter to do when he said this?

When Peter and John were beaten by the Jewish leaders for teaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4) did they bind Satan to render him helpless? No.

Paul casts out a demon from a fortune teller in Acts 16 and is thrown in prison. If there was ever a time to bind Satan this was it. Did they bind Satan? No, they were “praying and singing hymns to God.”

When Paul is writing to the Ephesians to teach them about spiritual warfare he tells them to “put on the full armor of God” but he neglects to mention anything about binding Satan.

When Paul is struggling with his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12) which he refers to as a “Messenger of Satan” why doesn’t he bind Satan to eliminate the problem? Why does he instead ask Jesus to take it away?

If believers can bind Satan and demons rendering them helpless I have some questions about this.

How long does the “binding” last? Apparently not very long since people keep doing it. Do you get to specify a binding period or does the binding sort of wear off after a while? If Christians can bind Satan, why didn’t they bind him in the first century and keep him bound? When Jesus is telling his disciples about the persecution they will face why doesn’t he remind them to “bind Satan” so that he will be helpless?

What is the scope of the binding? Kenneth Copeland says that “Satan is unable to work in the situation.” How do you define the situation?

If I say “Satan, I bind you.” does he say “Regarding what exactly?” Don’t you think we need some rules or guidelines on this?

If you bind Satan you must

  • Specify the exact situation he is bound in
  • Specify the length of time the binding should last (not to exceed some maximum)

Soon our prayers would begin to sound like legal contracts.

Satan is bound by the party of the first part regarding the depression of Fred Jones of 123 Main Street in Snohomish county as reported at the bible study for a period not to exceed 48 hours. This binding shall remain in force preventing any harassment of Fred including feelings or worthlessness or despair. Upon termination of the binding period, Satan will be free to resume depressing activities until Fred requests additional binding. However the binding will only take effect when 2 or 3 faithful believers actually lay hands on Fred and say the words “We bind Satan.”

Can’t I say “Satan, I bind you in every situation, for all people, for all time.” wouldn’t that be optimal? That way I can just do away with Satan once and for all.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time. (Revelation 20:1-3 HCSB)

This is the only “binding” of Satan that I can find in the New Testament and it isn’t done by a believer but by an angel and not until the end of the world.

These practices of cursing spirits and binding them is simply unbiblical. That is to say it is not taught nor commanded by scripture. It is based on a misunderstanding of Jesus words and is simply nonsense.

Some will argue that it is harmless but I don’t think so. When we start engaging in practices like these we substitute fantasy for reality. Rather than doing the hard work of biblical change we search for the magic pill that will fix us by making the boogeyman go away.

The Chief End of Man

“I assure you: When you [Peter] were young, you would tie your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to signify by what kind of death he would glorify God. After saying this, He told him, “Follow Me!”  (John 21:18-19 HCSB)

When we think of glorifying God what kind of things come to mind?

  • Someone speaking great things about the works of God
  • Someone singing a beautiful song
  • Someone performing a charitable act
  • Someone dying?

Yes, in life we glorify God in many ways. Perhaps the most powerful way is in the things we say in do in the last moments of life. Peter in the last moments of his life would indeed glorify God. In old age Peter was tied to a cross and had his hands stretched out (cf. 1 Clement 5:4; 6:1; Eusebius The Ecclesiastical History 2. 25).

How did his death bring glory to God?  It affirmed the truth of the message he had been proclaiming. Had Peter, when the chips were down and the stakes were high, recanted his faith so that he could live; no one would have blamed him. But, it would have said something about the truth of the message he had spent his life proclaiming.

If Peter really believed what Jesus taught when he said “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.” (John 11:25 HCSB) then why try to avoid dying? Why recant your faith if this is really true? The fact that Peter did not seek to avoid death but rather was crucified upside down meant that he held to this belief to the very last. This testimony is powerful, profound and glorifying to God.

Suicide and Suffering

As a Christian I agree with the 1647 Westminster Confession when it says “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory. (1 Corinthians 10:31 HCSB)

Paul reminds us that the great purpose of our life is to bring glory to God. In everything we do, our lives speaks volumes about what we believe. The old saying that actions speak louder than words is another way of saying this. They are louder because they are more difficult to fake. Hypocritical actions are, in time, the surest way to know a hypocritical heart.

Like it or not, my life speaks a message and one day my death will also speak a message. The actions of my life and the actions of my death will speak more loudly than the words I write here. What will the message of my death be? Will it be glorifying to God or will it be the act of a defeated and depressed man who couldn’t find the strength to go on?

Previously I wrote in a very desperate moment of struggle that I would prefer to die than to continue living in this suffering. Though writing this in the very public internet is difficult for others to hear I’m glad that people in scripture felt comfortable enough to reveal that they too faced this struggle.

Some people in Scripture felt deep despair in life. Solomon, in his pursuit of pleasure, reached the point where he “hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Elijah was fearful and depressed and yearned for death (1 Kings 19:4). Jonah was so angry at God that he wished to die (Jonah 4:8). Even the apostle Paul and his missionary companions at one point “were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

GotQuestions.org – What is the Christian View of Suicide?

I am firmly convinced that suicide is wrong and that I must not take my life because it would mean that the last act of my life rather than glorifying God would cast doubt on the very message that I treasure so deeply.  Like Peter, I want my death to glorify God. I want the last days of my life on earth to be a testament to the grace of God to sustain me in spite of my pain. I want my endurance to the end to confirm the faith that I cling to and testify to its truthfulness. Perhaps, like Peter, God has given me an opportunity to make a great statement in my death and I must not interfere with his purpose in one final act of rebellion.

Unless we are taken suddenly, every last one of us will one day face this kind of suffering; a body failing and withering before our very eyes. In this season of life all pretense falls away. What will be revealed then?

Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4 HCSB)

God in his gracious mercy has allowed me to experience a trial of suffering that produces endurance and endurance must do the work that will make me mature and complete.  This maturity is eternal and far more important than my temporal comfort.

Every day my life is telling a story. Every day it speaks volumes and one day it will speak of the death of one of God’s beloved saints. I pray that the message it speaks that day is one that brings Him glory.

The Battle of Cain

In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also presented an offering–some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he looked despondent. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  (Genesis 4:3-7 HCSB)

Cain was the first child born on the planet according to Genesis 4:1. He had the benefit of speaking directly to God (Gen 4:6) and yet things ended badly for Cain. He was the first person to be born under the curse.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned
(Romans 5:12 NASB)

What I find most interesting is God’s characterization of Cain’s plight.

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
(Genesis 4:7 TNIV)]

If you do what is right

Cain was doing something that wasn’t right. We don’t know exactly what God commanded Adam and his family regarding offerings but we know that by Genesis 4, which must have been 20 or so years after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, they were presenting offerings to God.

In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. (Genesis 4:3 TNIV)

Cain was the first man born under sin to feel the struggle between good and evil deeply within. He was outwardly doing something that looked good but inwardly a torrent of anger and jealousy were raging.

Why? Because God accepted Abel and his offering but Cain… well that is a different story.

but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. (Genesis 4:5 TNIV)

It mattered to Cain greatly that God would accept him and his offering. The fact that God did not accept him and his offering made Cain angry. The fact is, Cain must have known the right thing to do because God challenged him with this fact. “If you do what is right…”

Will you not be accepted?

Cain wanted to be accepted by God. Obviously he cared deeply about this. Yet when confronted by God and given this simple opportunity Cain responded with anger and violence. You might think that it would have been much simpler to do the right thing. There is something deeper going on here. It is truly fitting that the first man born under sin was overwhelmed by sin’s power. He was, as Jesus describes man under sin, a slave.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. (John 8:34 TNIV)

Thus began the revelation of man as sinful. Think of it, the first man born under sin also became the first murderer.

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:8 TNIV)

Cain had every advantage

  • Direct knowledge of God
  • A very direct warning from God about sin
  • No doubt in his mind about the truth that God exists or what he wants

In spite of all this, Cain did not make the simple choice to obey God.

People often say… If God revealed himself to me in some dramatic unmistakable way and told me what to do I would do it.

No you wouldn’t. Like Cain, sin is crouching at your door. And like Cain, though you should master it, you simply don’t have the ability to master it on your own.

This isn’t a knowledge problem. The fact is there is more than enough knowledge of God to convince anyone.

This isn’t a law problem.

  • Didn’t Cain know what he was supposed to do?
  • Didn’t he know that he shouldn’t kill Abel?

Cain’s story reveals man’s greatest need – a savior.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36 TNIV)

Free… yes, but the struggle continues. Sin crouching at the door… the call to master it and often the failing that follows.  Whatever Jesus meant by “free” he most certainly did not mean that the struggle would be ended.

He also did not mean that the struggle with sin doesn’t matter either. As in, well I can’t seem to stop sinning so I might as well sin all the more so that grace may increase.

Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. (John 8:35 TNIV)

The issue wasn’t about doing but about relationship. A place in the family. No one should ever say that our doing doesn’t matter. Clearly, it matters to God. But a slave, no matter how much good they did would never be able to change the fact that they were a slave and not a son.

It desires to have you

Strange to think of sin as having desire. This implies that sin is something more than an evil act but rather a rational entity. One that thinks, acts, desires.

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin’s power. For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. (Romans 7:14-17 HCSB)

Paul tells us that sin has power. And it’s power is such that it acts through our bodies through our fleshly desires. Was it sin’s power that caused Cain to pick up a rock or a stick and strike Abel until he was dead? Is this the state of natural man sold into sin’s power unable to do the right thing even if they knew without a doubt that God exists and what he wants?

Paul said a shocking thing; “it is sin living in me.” this wasn’t a devil-made-me-do-it kind of excuse. It was rather a frank confession that he still faced this struggle which left him feeling wretched.

And what is the answer to this wretchedness?

Asceticism, a severe self-deprivation for ethical, religious, or intellectual ends, says go to a place where fleshly desires are far away, perhaps a desert cave and practice rigorous discipline. Vows of poverty, silence, chastity etc. This practice of monasticism has revealed throughout history that the problem of sin is not simply external but internal and that the willpower of even the best of us cannot overcome it.

Licentiousness, lacking moral discipline or ignoring legal restraint, especially in sexual conduct, says in effect “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em.” and history has also shown that such a life cannot produce what all men, including Cain, most desire which is to be accepted by God.

This hopeless state can only be overcome by Grace.

For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19 HCSB)

God said to Cain, “If you do what is right.” From this you might infer that the solution to the sin problem is to get people to do what is right. Knowing this God set out to teach humanity a lesson written across the pages of history. If your goal was to get people to do what is right you would need a law to teach them what right is. Of course the law would have to be incredibly detailed to prescribe right and wrong in any given situation and it would have to be accompanied by rewards and punishments for motivation. This is exactly what God did in providing the law to Moses. And what was the result?

There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. (Romans 3:11-12 HCSB)

Now we know that whatever the law says speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. For no one will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law. (Romans 3:19-20 HCSB)

The law is there to shut your self-justifying mouth. It is there to point at your behavior and name it… sin.  This naming is not for God’s sake but for yours. God knows what that behavior is but you might live in ignorance, not knowing that your life was being devastated by such a force. The first step to salvation is to know that your problem is not simply a behavior problem but a sin problem. And what a problem it is.

Cain’s life shows us that from the very beginning, the first man born under the curse of sin, humanity was depraved and murderous. Knowledge of God alone could not fix this. Law could not fix this. Humanity could not fix itself and we are no different.

The Simile of Adiposis Dolorosa

How are you?

This question is tossed about frequently in our culture. Most of the time when people ask this question, they don’t really want to know the truth. If you want to know. If you really want to know how I am then read on.

I am rare. Some unknown switch in my body was turned on a few years ago. Who knows… maybe I was born with this switch on. Whatever this switch is and whatever it does exactly remains a mystery to science.

Your body is an ever growing, living organism.  Some experts estimate that within  seven years every cell in your body is replaced with a new one. In the process known as cytokinesis the cells of your body with no conscious command from the brain replicate everything from the DNA and other parts of the nucleus to produce another living cell.  In all of us, this incredible process of life eventually goes wrong. A molecule is damaged by a free radical or some such tragedy and soon the cells produced no longer functions as they should.

Eventually the damage builds and the mind senses that something in this body is terribly wrong. This sense is not unlike the pain you felt when you twisted your ankle or when another kid slugged you in the arm. Yes, it is similar to that but at the same time quite different. You cannot put your finger on it or even find the words to describe it.

When describing the Kingdom of God, something for which words are severely lacking, Jesus used simile as a tool for understanding when he said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” and I shall follow his example as I attempt to describe for you what this experience is like… after all you did want to know how I am right?

An Old Car

ImageWhen I was a teenager I had a 1971 El Camino similar to this one. It was a vehicle that I inherited from the family business so it had a lot of miles and problems.

When I started the car it usually started on the first try but then when I put the car in gear as the engine strained it often quit. Then no matter what I tried it wouldn’t start for another 20-30 minutes. Many times you would find my car stuck at an intersection, a parking lot, on the side of the road as I tried over and over to start it; finally it would rumble to life.

I learned that, unlike other cars, you had to “know” just how to drive this one. You couldn’t just depress the gas pedal, you had to feel the engine sputtering and give it just enough gas at just the right moment. Eventually, one day the engine sputtered to a stop never to start again.

Adiposis Dolorosa is a Latin term which means “Condition of sorrowful fat.” In our day fat has become a bad word but it is essential to the function of your body. It’s most important function is to serve as a means to store energy; a biological battery if you will.

Whoever gave Dercums Disease it’s name must have thought that perhaps the fat was the problem. The patients were typically middle age females many of whom were quite obese. It became quite obvious to anyone who was near these patients that they were suffering hence sorrowful fat.

Curiously in my body the fat which was once smooth became filled with strange lumps. Some of these lumps are small and in a clump feel like gravel under the skin. Other lumps are larger perhaps the size of a grape. Some feel squishy like a soft old grape while others are quite firm like a marble under the skin.  In just a few months hundreds of these curious lumps grew around my ribs and torso.

Are they painful?

Sometimes, but not always. The pain of each one is not significant but together they cry out in a cacophony of pain that is hard to ignore. Even so, such pain is bearable but decidedly debilitating. It isn’t like the severe sharp pain of the badly sprained ankle, or the cut on the tip of a finger; pain like that can take your breath away and make you tremble in shock; but at the same time it can take your breath away or spontaneously bring tears to your eyes. This is where words fail me. You have never experienced anything like living in a body that is going horribly wrong moment by moment, there simply isn’t a word to describe it, there is however a word to describe the opposite.

Homeostasis

Homeostasis — also spelled homoeostasis or homœostasis (from Greek: ὅμοιος, “hómoios”, “similar”,[1] and στάσις, stásis, “standing still”[2]) — is the property of a system in which variables are regulated so that internal conditions remain stable and relatively constant. Examples of homeostasis include the regulation of temperature and the balance between acidity and alkalinity (pH). It is a process which maintains the stability of the human body’s internal environment in response to changes in external conditions.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeostasis

I wonder if you can feel Homeostasis? Is it what normal feels like? If the body was going horribly wrong, could you feel the lack of balance in the system? I believe that perhaps you can and that this indescribable feeling is something like pain but altogether different from it at the same time.

To the mind it comes as the realization that like my ’71 El Camino the command to go is sometimes simply not followed. The response is not one of the engine leaping to life but rather a sputtering that you learn to live with.

Everyone has felt this at one time or another but you knew that it was temporary. A flu perhaps that left you low. A few days in bed, some chicken soup perhaps and the bodies efforts are rewarded when the immune system expels the virus and the illness has run it’s course.

But what of an illness that is not the result of a foreign invader? What if the body itself had mis-transcribed some important instruction and is now failing in some important but not vital way? The heart is still beating. The lungs are still breathing but every day the system grows weaker.

The Unwelcome Guest

One day, like my El Camino the engine will stop never to start again. And how shall I feel about this? Culturally we are taught to shun death; never to speak of the unwelcome guest who will one day visit us all.

If you want to see strong emotion, just mention the idea that you might prefer death to your present condition of living. You will be soundly condemned and your sanity questioned. You will be accused of wicked thinking and perhaps even of plotting your own end in that most taboo of all acts… suicide.

The Grim Reaper will have his harvest one day. Our instinct to cling to life bids us to flee from him yet we know that in the end we all have an appointment we just don’t know when. Is it insanity to welcome that moment? To long for it the way that we long for a broken bone to be healed? Someone who thinks such things will be admonished to seek counseling; told to look on the bright side of things etc. told that they are loved, needed and wanted. Such things are probably true and useful advice but each of us will reach a place where we are simply tired and long for sleep. We long to simply end the pain.

What will it feel like when it comes? Will you realize that this is the final moment or will you simply cease to be? And then what? Will you awake to find a new you? Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon only to realize that your previous existence as a caterpillar was so limiting?

The Bible tells us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Like Paul, I long to depart and be with Christ which is far better. Like him I am chained in a manner of speaking. Because of those chains, Paul wrote some of his most important thoughts and we can still read them today. Because of my “chains” I pick up this parchment and pen and write to you, most excellent Theophilus. One day my words will not be able to cross over to you. My life will have become yet another testament, a statement to those who live on. You will conclude what you will about me.

My life is a complicated, intricate web of thoughts and actions inconsistent. A fight against that most insidious enemy of all, the me that fails to be the me that I wanted to be. How could it be any other way? That is your story as well and as soon as we choose to stop lying about that the better we will become.

When you lie in bed at night longing for sleep you will understand that no matter how hard you try to stay awake sooner or later you will close your eyes. In those moments just before sleep your body longs for it… your eyes feel so heavy and your head hurts.

What if someone told you that you mustn’t sleep? What if they said there were so many reasons to stay awake? What if they told you that you would likely have to wait years before sleeping and that to long for it was somehow wrong? They tell you these things for themselves, not for you. As for me, I’m tired. Yes, I know that in the typical scheme of things I should be able to stay awake much longer but my body isn’t typical anymore and I want to sleep.

Is this sad? Tragic? Yes, of course it is. If I had cancer of one kind or another your response would be so different. Even under the law in our state I would have the option to have a doctor hasten my death. This distinction comes only from the fact that doctors are confident that cancer will end a life and they have no such confidence about Adiposis Dolorosa. In fact, they cannot even say, one way or another, anything meaningful about life expectancy with this disease.

A few months ago when my story was more optimistic everyone wanted to cheer and hear it. We love the tale of the underdog rising up from the sick bed yet we never consider that this is the opposite of the typical story which ends so differently.  Perhaps you would prefer to believe a fairy tale. Fine but believing it does not change the inevitable end that we all face.

And so my friend I lie in bed waiting for sleep. I don’t know when it shall come but when it does, it will be a welcome guest.