Saturday, January 25, 2014

Now just who is a saint?

Guest writer, Phineas Clodfelter,Jr.

My thinkin’ is quaint, and a scholar I ain’t,
But I just got to thinkin’ ‘bout bein’ a saint.

Saint Francis and Joe, and others we know,
For arrivin’ at sainthood, how far did they go?
Now their good deeds and prayer had to be somethin’ rare,
But their great contributions musta’ started somewhere.
My thinkin’ is quaint, and a scholar I ain’t,
But I couldn’t help wondrin’, could I be a saint?

If I told anyone, I knew they’d make fun
And call me plain stupid, misguided, or dumb.
So I’d ask and I’d read, wondrin’ what did I need
To look better to God, and complete my good deeds.
But the more that I learn’t ‘bout the points I had earn’t,
The more I concluded that I’d prob’ly be burnt!
My thinkin’ is quaint, and a scholar I ain’t,
But I couldn’t shake thoughts about bein’ a saint.

Now my friends at the church left me in a lurch,
Sayin’ I should just chill out, and not have to search.
So I tried for a time to leave worries behind,
And just act like the others, bein’ normal but kind.
I splashed on restraint like some thin, off-white paint
Just to make me look holy, but my heart said, “You ain’t!”
My thinkin’ is quaint, and a scholar I ain’t,
Feelin’ more like a snake than the least of the saints!

Now hypocrisy’s cold, and the tension got old,
So why be a two-face, and stay in the fold?
Could salvation be real, heaven be a good deal,
Or was life here and now, just to see, taste and feel?
Now it sounds good from here, “Just indulge without fear,”
But it smelt like a rat whisprin’ in my left ear.
My thinkin’ is quaint, and a scholar I ain’t,
But I got common sense ‘bout what is and what ain’t.

But if not saint nor glutton, well then, what besides nothin’
Could I do with my life; somethin’ real, with no bluffin’?
And if hell’s fires burn, I sure needed to learn
To make peace with my Maker, but where could I turn?
Well, I thought the Good Book was the one place to look,
Steerin’ clear of professors, slick deceivers and crooks.
My smarts ain’t a lot, and a scholar I’m not,
But with God as my Teacher, I could surely be taught. 

Then, so simple to see, in John one and John three,
'Says that God’s only Son, came to save ones like me.
In verse six of fourteen, unmistakably seen
Is that Jesus alone can be God’s “go-between.”
Jesus, seekin’ the lost, came to pay the full cost
For redeemin’ believers by death on the cross.
My thinkin’ is quaint, theologian I ain’t,
But so far, seemed too simple, was my only complaint.

From the “wise and the prudent,” see these things are hid,
But made plain to the simple, with faith like a kid.
“But,” I thought, “what good deed, ceremony, or creed
Shall I bring to this Jesus? What from me does He need?”
From more reading time spent, seems God’s message was sent
In two words, oft-repeated, just “believe” and “repent.”
See I’m not awful bright, my intelligence slight,
But it just made good sense to consider God right.

Well, repent means to turn—change direction, I learned.
But then somethin’ within that, seemed to make my gut churn.
To repent sounded right; yet instead of delight,
Stirred up somethin’ like dread that I wanted to fight.
And that churnin’ within churned again and again,
As through dark days and nights, I rejected this Friend.
See, I’m not full of learnin’ nor too quick at discernin’
But a battle of spirit was the cause of that churnin’.

See, that dread deep inside and desire to hide
Came from stubborn self-will, and my self-centered pride.
What deep roots in my soul had this lust for control,
Just to be my own ruler, and set my own goals!
And how tightly I clung to things this life had brung,
Quite forgettin’ that death would reclaim every one.
My mind’s not too numb. See, there’s room for just one
On the throne of my life, either me or God’s Son!

What has since come to light: there were three in that fight,
With God’s Spirit and Satan pulling me left and right.
When I stood with proud air, Satan drew to his lair.
When I bowed in conviction, he pushed toward despair.
While inclined to God’s Word, God confirmed what I heard.
Thoughts of saving myself were dismissed as absurd.
I’m not smart as can be, but two ways I could see.
The choice now was clear. It was just up to me.

And then, even more scared, I could see I’s ensnared
By my sin and my self.  ...But I knew Jesus cared.
If ‘twere nothin’ to feel—just a tidy, cold deal—
Though salvation made sense, it just wouldn’t seem real.
But by faith I could see, in His deep agony,
As He suffered and bled, He was dying for me!
Such a death-blow to pride, leaving nowhere to hide!
So I fell at His feet, and for mercy I cried.

“O come taste and see,” say the scripture and me,
That the Lord is so good, who can heal and set free!
For confusion, gave sight; for cold darkness, warm light;
For my guilt and vague longings, gave me peace and delight!
Now ho-hum seem to be all religions I see,
But God’s grace is amazing, that can save you and me!
See, I’m not a big wheel, or quite one for big speels,
But it makes one more eloquent, just to know somethin’s real.

Now I study and pray, what the Bible might say,
To be useful and please my dear Lord every day.
And Paul’s letters, so true, speak to saints—not a few—
There in all of those churches; and “ten thousands,” says Jude.
'Seems the saints march toward Home, in a number alone
That’s determined by God, not the big church in Rome.
Yes, my thinkin’ is quaint, and a scholar I ain’t
But by gum, I’ll be dim’d now, if I ain’t a saint!

Copyright 2014, Larry D. Gibbs

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Truth Vs. Imagination

The truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth.

In all human activity, how much effort is spent getting at the truth! At the crime scene. In the courtroom. In the research lab. And on and on, even to the replay official's booth. We want the truth and won't stop till we get it.

A theory of relativity.

But in realms of philosophy, ethics and religion--the very disciplines that can help define who we really are--we're now told to forsake the traditional approach. In something akin to trading in the scientific method for a public opinion poll, we're asked to abandon our quest for objective truth (which can set us free), and rest on a spurious footing of feelings and preference. Oh yes, we'll still use the word "truth," but with a new definition. My truth is what's "right" for me, and yours is what's "right" for you.

Tolerance? Yes, but...

Clearly, in a free society we tolerate individuals, their preferences, and their lifestyles; but with limits. Limits are imposed on certain actions by individuals and groups to protect the safety and dignity of others. If you believe in the concept of crime, you know that one's own preference toward committing murder or theft cannot justify murder or theft. And if you have a proper sense of reality, you know that murder and theft are not curbed by gentle thoughts, a nice environment, or ...well, imagination.

Imagine...

Imagine there's no courtroom
It's easy if you try
In streets walk no policemen
Crime's heyday long passed by
Imagine harmless people, living for today

Yes, it's easy if you try  ...until you face facts. Nowhere since Eden (in its early days) has there been such a utopia, nor is it conceivable ...without the eradication of evil from the human heart. In the meantime, we need laws and enforcement of some sort.

Imagine there's no illness
It isn't hard to do
No HMO's, no research
And no morticians too
Imagine all the people, living endlessly

It requires us to suspend what we know from everyday observation and experience, but yes, we could choose to imagine it. And since we're having fun...

Imagine greater freedom
In the NFL
No clock, no rules, no sidelines
And no officials too...

Just sayin'...

And now in making my point, I may have become offensive, so I ask for tolerance. Maybe I'm abusing the spirit of John Lennon's words, or making him a straw man. That's not the intent. I don't deny the quality of his poetry or the sincerity of his ideas. But if he was at all serious about the song's propositions--no heaven, hell, countries, religion or possessions--and its conclusions--tranquility, peace, and brotherhood--then we should be able to apply his logic elsewhere. By now we should have been able to successfully bring about greater freedom and gratification simply by imagining a result and joining together in agreement. In response, someone says, "It's possible; we just haven't done it yet," to which I reply...

Back to Reality.   Please.

Rather than bringing greater peace and freedom, a denial of truth--specifically truth about good and evil--opens a door to disorder and destruction. For that reason, I find the following verses easier to imagine than either Lennon's or those above.

Imagine there's no courtroom
It's easy if you try
In streets walk no policemen
To gangs we must comply
Imagine all the people looting every day

Imagine there's no health care
It isn't hard to do
No HMO's, no research
Morticians busy too
Imagine all the people dying needlessly

Imagine greater freedom
in the NFL
No clock, no rules, no sidelines
And no officials too
Imagine all the chaos of this once-great game

The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart

If recognition and application of truth is necessary in the realms of law, health and sport, how much more in those of morality, ethics, and spirituality, where the root of the problem lies. The drive in the human heart toward peace and utopia is countered in that same heart by the drive to have one's own way, in his own way. The words of Jesus Christ cut through the haze, as he says, "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies."

Hope for mankind?

Desire, imagination, and poetry can be helpful, but don't have power in themselves to change reality. They may inspire us to make our own lives better, but we're severely limited. The truth is, man is flawed, fallen, and needs help. But that truth alone cannot set us free. It must lead us to One with the power and willingness to help. There is one who claimed both attributes, and supported the claims with real evidence, the Lord Jesus Christ (see John 5:30-39; 8:28-29; 10:14-18; 11:39-45). Repent and trust Him today!

"If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." John 8:36




Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Right View of Rights


Who has the right to define our rights?

If left to individuals we may expect chaos, if to government, abuse.
We look to the Founders, but they never assigned themselves such authority.
Instead, they recognized pre-established rights, authored by Someone greater.
They credited the basis of these rights to certain truths;
truths they simply, yet boldly, called “self-evident.”

When it comes to rights, the Founders got it right!

The Declaration of Independence--brilliant.
Doesn’t much of its brilliance shine from its simple reliance on truth?
Jefferson, committee, and Congress, however disparate in theology and philosophy, nonetheless agreed on specific predicating truths in their argument for a new nation. Not stopping there, they and other colleagues used the same truths as foundation and anchor for our actual government.

What truths?
A deliberate reading of the first two paragraphs of the Declaration reveals no less than five: 1) the existence of God, 2) the supreme authority of God’s laws (natural and otherwise), 3) man’s creation by God, 4) the equality of men (humans) by virtue of their creation as equals, 5) the existence of “unalienable” rights, endowed by God.
The obvious point, which drives the claim for independence, is that
God is the source of basic rights,
which neither king, decree, nor institution have any authority to take away.
The Founders saw firsthand the unjust denial of people’s rights, but knew that such denial does not destroy those rights, it instead calls for rectification and liberation. In that sense, the Founders were not only justified,
but even obliged to do what they did.

To re-define rights is simply not right.

In the construction of a great edifice, though it may span 2 ½ centuries and undergo various corrections and revisions, the weight of the building must be kept on its foundation.
Though the truths cited are timeless, and cemented in our founding documents,
there’s a problem.
The rights resting on those truths must be properly understood and applied to public policy. This must be done by humans, sometimes elected, sometimes appointed, always fallible, and often corrupt.

Corrupt officials, legislators and judges have often hidden their corruption
by evasion and deception, violating the rights of others in the process.
Now a broadside is underway against the integrity of the whole system.
Junior tyrants in Washington, taking advantage of a largely uninformed/misinformed public, are pushing destructive policy based on a re-interpretation or distortion of American rights.

Members of the Supreme Court suddenly endowed a previously unknown “right of privacy” with sufficient authority to unseat the longstanding right to life of the youngest Americans. With such precedent and logic, how long can we uphold the safety of the oldest Americans? Or the weakest Americans?

A supposed set of “reproductive rights” excuses and accommodates the immorality of some, while violating the time-honored right of conscience of others: employers, caregivers, churches, landlords, taxpayers, and again, the unborn.

Society is currently being molested by the sudden campaign for a re-definition of marriage. An aggressive minority demands so-called “gay marriage,” which is neither, and which implies that little human demagogues can unseat God as the Author of human rights, and the Judge of what’s right.
In the face of these assaults on our wonderful form of government and our great nation,

The time is right for a defense of true rights.


It's important to remember that as great as our nation is and has been, it is a temporal entity.
In the words of Scripture, "We have here no continuing city, but we seek one to come" Hebrews 13:14.
But temporal things do matter. They can reflect the character, and advance the cause of eternal things; for good or for evil. For those of us who are Christians, may our prayer be that America as an institution should halt its slide toward the latter, and return to the former.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


In Response to “Why Christianity is Far More Sensible”

I appreciate Marc Barnes’ post, “Why Christianity is Far More Sensible than Whatever You’re Doing Right Now,” on Patheos.com. I share his view that Christianity offers the best explanation for suffering, but differ on the substance of that explanation. When we discuss ideas that affect the direction of people’s faith, and in turn their fate, we are treading on serious ground indeed. I’d like to fairly, but firmly challenge a couple of Marc’s points.

Note that man was given an intelligent mind, but the Fall brought damage to our psyche as well as our physiology. Our natural thinking is not only suspect, but actually bent toward error. “There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” Prov. 14:12 (also Jer. 17:9, Rom 3:10-12, I Cor. 2:14).  Just to say, we do well to check and correct our thinking with God’s corrective and directive authority, Scripture. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” II Tim. 3:16. BTW, this need for correction and instruction goes for both individuals and institutions.

Marc states, “sin is what went wrong.” Correct (Rom. 5:12)!  He states, “it [the cross] is not an example of suffering, it is suffering.” Also correct, indicating that the suffering of Christ on the cross is effective--it accomplishes something. What accomplishment? I think Marc would agree, it accomplishes payment for people’s sins. But the Bible carries it further, saying that it is 1) the only acceptable payment (Heb. 10:4-14, I Pet. 1:18-19), and 2) the fully effective payment for sin (Isa. 53:11, Rom. 5:18, Heb. 10:14, etc.).

Marc builds the following case: 1) Christ is infinite, therefore 2) His suffering is infinite, and 3) thereby His suffering encompasses all other suffering. I’d like to contest this line of reasoning because, of the three assertions, I only see scriptural evidence for the first, that Christ is infinite. He’s infinite, that is, in certain ways. As God, He’s all powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, and eternal. Though it defies imagination that such a being could, or would, suffer and die for sinful mortals, He did, and His suffering is absolutely sufficient, as per the verses cited above. That his suffering is infinite does not necessarily follow. Look, Christ is “meek and lowly.” Does that mean infinitely meek and lowly? Then how shall He “rule the nations with a rod of iron”? Christ came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” Does that mean His seeking is infinite? Will He therefore seek forever, endlessly traversing the lake of fire--the destination of all the lost (Rev. 20:10, 15; 21:8)?

I would ask Marc, in what way is Christ’s suffering infinite? In time? Does it go on throughout eternity? That would contradict clear statements that His sacrifice was specific, timely, and final. Hebrews 10:12 contains one such towering statement: “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God.” Complete. Finite. Finished!

Is Christ’s suffering infinite in quality? I can’t presume a competent answer, but it does seem to ring true. However, Marc seems to be saying more--that Christ’s suffering is infinite in quantity. He offers the analogy of Bob owning all the blocks, therefore any block you have ultimately belongs to Bob. But how do we know that Christ possesses all suffering? A heartwarming thought, but does it have a real basis? Not a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s notice, true. “Lo, I am with you alway,” true. Jesus, the “man of sorrows,” having sampled every variety of testing,  became a “high priest… touched with the feeling of our infirmities” Hebrews 4:15. But notice these statements are directed toward His followers, His children. He doesn’t promise to bear the burdens of those who reject Him. His words to religious-but-lost Pharisees were not so heartwarming. “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” Matthew 23:33. 

Here’s a serious question. Revelation 20 says the devil will be cast into the lake of fire and “shall be tormented day and night forever.” Does that suffering also belong to Jesus? Did Jesus suffer for Satan, or will He suffer with Satan? Throughout eternity? Where’s the “joy that was set before Him (Heb. 12:2)” as He looked beyond the cross? 

Another question, if all suffering belongs to Jesus, how can anyone go to hell (as Jesus taught)? Will He be there with them? Maybe their suffering flows backward to the time when Jesus was on the cross and is absorbed into His. Pardon the bit of sarcasm. We know there are myriad things spiritual and metaphysical that go beyond our comprehension, but I believe the concepts we’re intended to accept by faith are clearly presented and established in Scripture. “So then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” Romans 10:17. That is wonderful and exciting to me! For those who have “ears to hear,” God provides a clear explanation of the truth, not from fallible men or organizations (which all are), but from His inspired and preserved Word!

In contrast to its silence on the presumed infinity of Christ’s suffering, there is something that Scripture does indeed emphasize--strongly and repeatedly. Not infinity, but righteousness. Righteousness is the standard for acceptability before God. Nothing else will do (Isa. 64:6, Mt 5:20). So, our being unrighteous, God’s perfect plan of redemption required a perfect, righteous sacrifice for us (I Pet. 1:19, Heb. 9:14). This concept is offensive to some, and represents the “foolishness of preaching” (I Cor. 1:21). Foolishness, that is,  to the lost; but the “power of God and wisdom of God” to those who believe (I Cor. 1:24).

God has provided only one way. The just must die for the unjust (I Pet 3:18), the sinless for the sinner (II Cor. 5:21), and the righteous for the unrighteous (Rom. 5:8,18). The “Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) must be a “lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Pet. 1:19). In our weakness and utter inability to keep God’s law, we needed a Savior who actually fulfilled the Law (Rom. 5:19; 8:2-3). Why is this significant? Because it reveals that Christ Himself is the only way, the absolute way of salvation.

A further syllogism used by Marc is this: a) the cross is “an action of an infinite God;” b) “thus it is infinite in nature;” c) therefore “saving those in the past, present, and future.” Again, we’re dealing with infinity. The link between God’s being infinite and His actions being necessarily infinite is not supported. If true, then every act of God is infinite. How are the creation of man, the flood of Noah, and the parting of the Red Sea infinite? Yet all are clearly acts of God. The conclusion that the work of the cross saves those in the past, present and future is correct to a degree, but not to infinity. The problem here is that further, more spurious, conclusions might be inferred, such as this: individuals in any age of the future might be saved out of hell or “purgatory,” because, after all, “the cross is not bound by time.”

A more accurate, safer conclusion rests solidly on the following scriptures. Romans 4:3: “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness;”  thus, 1) individuals in times past were justified (saved) through faith. Romans 4:23-25: [Abraham is] “the father of all them that believe,” and [an example of “imputed” righteousness] “for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.”  Thus, 2) individuals in this present age are also saved through faith. (The definition of impute is “to attribute or ascribe,” and Biblically signifies a legal transference to one’s account.)  Romans 3:24-25: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood…” So, 3) Christ‘s blood sacrifice is the price of redemption.
Based on these verses (and truly many more), the conclusion I suggest is: faith is the means of access, and Christ’s sacrifice the actual basis of salvation for people of all (earthly) times.

So the cross can indeed save souls today as in times past. In that sense it’s timeless. Point well taken. The rest of the story, however, is that the clock is ticking. That’s why I specify “all times” as “all (earthly) times.” On one particular day, judgment fell on Sodom. One day the door of the ark was shut. One day death strikes an individual. One day this age of God’s grace will suddenly end. If this arouses a feeling of fear in a person without assurance of salvation, that’s good! Fear is an effective and legitimate motivator. While Jesus’ ministry was to positively seek and to save the lost, part of that was negatively warning them to “flee from the wrath to come.” If you recognize yourself to be outside the shelter of God’s mercy, consider this statement: “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” II Cor. 6:2.

I realize the post by Marc Barnes was just that--a blog post, written informally to provoke thought. He wasn’t writing a dissertation. My response here may seem overdone, but my point is not to try to outwit or insult Marc. I find him intelligent and thoughtful. I applaud his posts defending truths now under full-scale assault by our wayward society. I only caution anyone, Marc included, not to misunderstand or misrepresent, even by implication, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom 1:16). The Gospel is so simple, and requires such humility, that it’s understandable we’d tend to add to it, either by effort or intellect.

That leads to a final point. Again, not to insult Marc, but consider his following statement: “It [the cross] is the motion of humanity towards the Good.” If I’m not misreading this, it seems to imply that fallen man, epitomized by a murderous clan of religious leaders, a self-serving Pilate, brutal Roman soldiers, a blasphemous mob, and some runaway disciples--this fallen, corrupt train wreck of mankind--is voluntarily moving toward “the Good.” His statement seems to imply that. The truth: if humanity is moving anywhere, it is moving voluntarily and inexorably in the other direction!

Whatever the intent of Marc’s statement, it seems to miss the real point of the cross--certainly nothing about man’s merits or good intentions. Hey, rather than humanity moving toward the Good, isn’t it more like God moving toward the Bad? He moved toward us! And it’s not adequate to think mankind sort of lingers under a shadow of sin. Sin is not a disconnected influence causing us annoyance. It’s a deadly virus found in every cell of our fallen nature! “…ye will revolt more and more: the whole heart is sick and the whole head faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises and putrifying sores” (Isa. 1:5-6). “There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:10-13).

What, then, is the point of the cross? Though Jesus never sinned, nor was divested of holiness, He did take the position of sinner. He accepted the legal imputation and the judicial burden of sin. Though incomprehensible, this is clearly stated for us in Scripture. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” II Corinthians 5:21. In one act, God graphically demonstrated 1) man’s great wickedness, 2) God’s righteous wrath, and 3) God’s amazing love. But it wasn’t a demonstration only. It was a sufficient, efficient, and once-for-all work of redemption. Praise to the wonderful grace, wisdom and power of God!!

So is there any positive value in our suffering? Yes, I do agree there is. I’d love to delve into it, maybe later. The short answer is this. Among other things, suffering is a prompting toward redemption. Not itself an actual “motion toward the Good,” it’s a motivation to cry out for God’s help. The blind man’s suffering did not itself help cure his blindness, but it did prompt him to cry out, “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me!” In the work of grace, our suffering is instrumental but not efficacious; a motivation, not a method; it has meaning but not merit. In the words of  Toplady, “Could my tears forever flow, could my zeal no respite know, all for sin could not atone; thou must save and thou alone, rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.”