Midlife Reflection of a Mature Christian

When unchallenged and unconfronted by people who know us, one inevitably becomes uncorrected and imbalanced, and lacunae develop in one’s introspection. One’s mind becomes pre-programmed to avoid these mostly unexamined and consequently sensitive areas, and it permits oneself to sally forward “assured” of our own righteousness.

Why “sensitive”? Because to examine these lacunae forces one to acknowledge a tension between the comfort our introspection has provided and the reality of our own need for repentance and forgiveness: for reformation.

As humans we seek to live a managed life, but God seems to insist that we live a formational life, and He will orchestrate circumstances to ensure that no blind spot remains unchallenged. The solution is not to exert greater control, but to confess, repent, receive forgiveness, and embrace new learning with humility and gratitude.

“What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”

The secret to avoiding this (practically speaking) is a commitment to community: to knowing and being known. This is a determined investment in the process of becoming vulnerable to being known well and the responsibility of knowing others well. The personal character quality required is humility.

Sacrifice as Portal

Where did life begin? In Eden. In Eden were all the necessities of life: nourishment, shelter, communion, knowledge, purpose, and identity.

What is a sacrifice? The separation of body from life by a blade, and consumption of that body by fire.

What did God put at the entry to Eden? An angel with a fiery sword.

What are we to conclude? Access to life is made via sacrifice, and the life you want is a result of being separated from your flesh, and letting former things be consumed that you might find new life, no longer in the flesh, but in God.

I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

The significance of an animal offering, the reason why the aroma of the animal turned into rising smoke becalms God’s “burning nostrils” (the Hebraic term for God being angry) is that it represents a complete offering to God, nothing is reserved, all is given, fulfillment is realized in giving up one’s tenuous claim to physical life and finding new purpose in being made living spirit-rising smoke/cloud. We think of it as violence, God views it as total dedication, and in receiving that offering He imbues the animal with spirit (transforms it into smoke, and receives it into Himself, whose glory is always seen on earth as fire or smoke, pillar or cloud).

Please consider the previous paragraph provisional. I’m exploring something here; I know I’m on to something, but I wouldn’t want to be pinned down to defending it as presently expressed.

A Perspective on Grief

In Christ, all death brings about new life.

“You started life in the cozy comfort of your mother’s womb, but then you got squeezed out, screaming. You died to the womb to come alive in the world. Then you had your first day of school, your first date, your wedding, your first child, your first grandchild, the death of your mother and father. Each of these crisis moments is a small death that shatters the world as you know it. If life carries on at all, it carries on with a new, unknown horizon. No wonder life can be terrifying. You’re constantly dying to this to come alive to that.”

Sacrifice is an act of separation, of division. The animal is divided into parts, some of which are laid on the altar, some of which are thrown away, in some cases some of which are eaten and some of which are given to God.

Adam is put into a comatose state, as if he died, and his ribs are separated. When he rises again, God has brought about new life from his side.

Christ is hung on the cross and his ribs are separated by a spearhead, and from his side flows blood and water, which gives rise to new life.

Grain yearns to reach fulfillment by virtue of being separated from its husk, ground and baked, that it might rise to new life as bread.

“Sacrifice is a pathway, a movement through death to new life. In sacrifice, we die to one state so we can rise in an exalted state.”

Are you grieving, Christian? What is dying or to what are you dying? And what is being given new life or to what new life are you rising?

This meditation was inspired by a couple sections of Theopolitan Liturgy by Peter Leithart (including pages 51 – 55). The quotes are from those pages and the ideas are restatements of, or were provoked by, ideas from the book, applied to the concept of grieving.

Confession

Vibrating with rage, the misshapen, bony finger pointed at me. “He is a law breaker,” the Adversary screamed.

I stepped behind Jesus and his shadow fell across me: “I confess, I am blameless,” I said in grateful relief.

Pondering Interrelationship

If “cultures are patterned environments of material things” we must ask, whence arises a zeitgeist? One cannot divorce the two, and yet each material thing itself has no spirit. Together, however, they engender a spirit of the age, which is unmistakably perceivable and formative.

Freedom of Speech

Tim: Prove to me that Freedom of Speech exists.

Nate: Exists in the USA or exists as a God-given right?

Tim: Both.

Nate: How do we know that free speech is a God-given right? God speaks. We are commanded to imitate God (Ephesians 5:1), therefore we must have the right to express ourselves as well.

Does the right of free speech exist in the framework of the United States? Yes. The first amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Note here that the freedom of speech is inextricably connected with the freedom to exercise one’s religion. The civil government is God’s construct; it cannot restrict what He has commanded.

To elaborate on the first paragraph… we have a God-given responsibility to speak. Responsibility invokes authority; one cannot be given a responsibility without also receiving the commensurate authority necessary to fulfill that responsibility. God speaks; God commands us to imitate Him, ergo, we have a responsibility and the inextricable authority to speak: the right to free speech, unrestricted by a construct also given its domain of authority by God. An authority which can never impose itself upon the authority given by God to other created entities, like the right to free speech, or the unregulated exercise of religion

Weariness & Religion

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 11:28-29

If you find that Christianity exhausts you, draining you of your energy, then you are practicing religion rather than enjoying a relationship. Jesus said that a relationship with Him would bring rest to your soul. Your walk with the Lord will not make you weary; it will invigorate you, restore your strength, and energize your life.

     Hard work or lack of sleep can make you tired. This fatigue can usually be remedied by a good rest. But there is a deeper fatigue that goes beyond physical tiredness. There is an emotional exhaustion that comes from experiencing heavy burdens and draining crises. There is a tiredness deep within your soul that comes from carrying the weight of the needs of others. You can go on a vacation, but your soul will not be restored. This condition can only be rectified by finding rest in Christ.

     Some zealous Christians want to do all they can to serve Christ, and they exhaust themselves in the process. It was to these that Jesus extended His invitation to go to Him and learn from Him. Jesus spent most of His earthly ministry surrounded by needy multitudes. He faced relentless opposition, He often prayed throughout the night, and He rarely had any privacy; yet He always received the rest and strength that came from His Father. It was not that Jesus did not work hard but that He knew the path to spiritual rest. Are you weary? Go to Jesus and let Him give you His rest. His rest will restore your soul and nothing else can.

Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God Day by Day, pg 349

It is ironic that these comments are written to accompany Matthew 11:28-29, since that passage emphasizes the nature of the word religion, as used in scripture. Blackaby, however, inaccurately contrasts relationship with religion, using the word differently than does the Bible.

Religion comes to us from the Latin word ligare: to bind; which also serves as the root from which we get ligament (which binds muscle to bone). Religion, in other words, is comprised of the practices (or lifestyle) which bind our affections to a god. What does a yoke do? Binds two oxen to one another, and to the purpose and direction of the ox-driver.

The mistake, then, is not in practicing religion, but in attempting to earn God’s affection and blessing. There are, of course, only two religions: true and false, or Christianity and Paganism. The contrast should not be described as between religion and relationship, but between true religion (inclusive of healthy relationship) and legalism. Dallas Willard was fond of saying it this way, “Grace is opposed to earning not to effort.”

Another way to say this would be that the mistake is not in laboring, but in who one is laboring for (inclusive of for oneself). The religion vs relationship dichotomy is false, and we do ourselves a disservice by continuing it. We also impugn God’s plan for our good in so doing.

All relationship requires submission to forms to survive and thrive; without it the relationship atrophies. What if we attempted to preserve our marital relationship without spending time together, without dedicating ourself exclusively to that man or that woman, without prioritizing that relationship above others?  I can only find rest in my relationship with my wife if I have properly nurtured that relationship by practicing its forms.

“Take my yoke upon you…” what was a yoke for? To enable the oxen to work together in concert with the farmer’s purpose. Want to enjoy rest for your soul? You were saved, according to God’s eternal purpose, so that you might walk after Him, practicing His assigned ways.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

Sunday Afternoon

Slow ministrations,
and tender they are.
 
A child’s trusting questions;
a maid’s querying scruple.
 
A gentle zephyr
ruffles sparrow wings.
The book in my hand
settles to my thigh,
My bent fore-finger
piercing its pages.
 
My weary spirit weighted
by trenchant worldly worries.
 
The quack of a drake;
a fluttering finch;
The whisper of wind
through rose-red leaves.
The white petal-head
nodding in the breeze.
 
A hard-backed wooden chair,
and welcome interruptions.
 
Cross my scarred heart
adheres a fragile
epithelial;
Layer’d by the voice
Elijah perceiv’d
upon Mount Horeb.

Mid-life Observations on Marital Intimacy

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” Genesis 1:1-2b

What is the significance of this verse? Existence without purpose yields darkness rather than light. Purpose in the hands of a competent craftsman brings light…and beauty, and wonder. One made in the image of God, takes (what is his to take) and shapes: nurtures, cares for, reforms, and bends to his will in order to improve, to provide, to shelter, to invoke glory.

Having begun we wend our way through the creation narrative reading, “And God said,” thus connecting the litany of actions with the purpose of verses 1 and 2, until we get to verse 26, where we read, “Then God said,” which tells us that we have arrived at God’s ulterior motive. All that preceded this moment was preparatory for what we are about to read. Having done all this; having formed the universe and imbued it with purpose, God arrives at his goal;we pause with baited breath… and read,

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over (all that I previously fashioned). So, God created man in his own image….

…and man alone, in His image. All that has preceded the making of man was made by God, but not formed in His image. Man, therefore, is an imitating being; designed to follow the pattern and purpose of God and God’s actions.

And in like manner, we now arrive at my ulterior motive for this post. I contend that we may conclude God was intently purposeful in His design of all creation, including of mankind. So, what may we learn by observation of marital intimacy?

Men are designed to be hard when the occasion requires.

Men experience pleasure being themselves as a result of having been gentle (gentleness is strength under restraint; the stronger you are, the gentler you may be).

A man cannot live life in a hardened state, but prepares ahead of time to be ready when called upon.

The joy of a moment is enabled and enhanced by preparatory denial.

Men rise to the occasion and provide what is needed.

The satisfaction of a goal achieved is reached by virtue of planning.

The delight of spontaneity is enabled by previous preparation.

One’s purpose must be received and shared in order to be achieved.

As a hardened one, a man’s greatest longing and pinnacle experience is reception by and intermingling with softness.

Hardness is exhausting; softness is comforting. Provision exhausts; reception inspires and renews.

Pleasure is good, but momentary, and not to be the main focus of our daily pursuits.

As life goes on it becomes increasingly evident that mutual interdependence is required for each partner to be most thoroughly themselves.

The pinnacle of pleasure is intimate, private, and unveiling; within the protective bonds and boundaries of covenant shelter, dignity may be safely shed in the face of pure delight and total acceptance.

Mutual satisfaction and ultimate personal expression is conditionally experienced within the confines of, and after the provision of shelter and sustenance.

Fruitfulness is the natural result of careful preparation and mutual service.

Woman is the glory of man, because in her softness she celebrates, enhances, and embodies what it took a man’s hardness to provide. Hardness, however, is not comforting and man therefore longs to see, to touch, and to connect with the softness his flinty determination has provided for and enabled.

God the ‘Father’

Children come with a built-in, living instruction manual called parents. Calling God “Abba, Father” means accepting things like, “Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching.” (Proverbs 4:1-2 ESV)

Covenant of Redemption

I read the following words in Fountain of Federalism: Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenantal Tradition by Charles McCoy and J. Wayne Baker today, and I think it sparked a light bulb moment.

“Second, federalism understand the relationships between God and the world and among humans as based on covenants among their members, some tacit and inherited from the past, others explicit and made or renewed in the present” (p 12).

The idea of tacit vs. explicit covenants sparked what seems to me the implications of the above quote, and which I have attempted to state succinctly as follows:

When eternal, inviolate beings have a tacit understanding of relationship, formed in virtue of their purposive unity and common character, that agreement forms what in human terms we call a covenant.

The term “covenant” is required to lend the strength of Divine imitation to human relational compact(s). In other words, implicit agreement among the Godhead is, by virtue of their nature, a covenant in human terms, though human covenants must be explicit due to the depravity of human character.

This is why it is proper to speak of a “Covenant of Redemption” among the Trinity, even though such a covenant, as such, is never named in Scripture.