Love, which is the complete dwelling of God in those who by means of dispassion are pure in heart, for they will see God. To Him be the glory forever. ― John Climacus,The Ladder
On a day set apart to listen in silence, the last day, I serve only to ensure that his words live.
Two angels facedown, wing tips to wing tips over the body laid upon a slab of stone, which is now the foundation stone of the City of Life and Garden of Peace. The custodians of the Word whispered in responsive repetition to unify their intelligences and wills. United, they avowed the last embodied words of his earthly ministry in aboriginal flesh. They enunciated until the tomb’s stone walls whispered in responsive testimony to a stony world and unborn assemblies of those yet to come to hear. In reflection, those called out embody his words in their flesh as living stones… who are sculpted, inscribed, and mediated by angels. In fulfillment, in further ways and greater things, reborn through infinite ages, we are heard to the end.
“Whom are you looking for?”
“Whom are you looking for?”
“I told you that I AM. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.”
“Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?”
“I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple areawhere all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.”
“If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
“Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?”
“My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
“You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
“You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”
“Woman, behold, your son.”
“Behold, your mother.”
“It is finished.”
Echo of whispers even from the past…
“Not a bone of it will be broken.”
“They will look upon him whom they have pierced.”
Hear the angelic testimony, come to his words thirsty, as he was… echo them into the future, into your flesh and your world, until he answers you, in person, risen from your tomb…
“Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water.”
Reflecting on just these words we can know important things, in a simple way, about his earthly ministry that we will follow, if we speak his name on earth. He is, and he is the One who is. He is always liberating captives and healing God’s creations. His way is never violent, yet his way embraces the violence of embodied suffering for our Father’s will. He’s looking for witnesses, true witnessses. Where people follow his kingly rules, where people are truth-filled, there is his Kingdom; it’ll never be where people judge falsely. There is ultimate and unavoidable accountability for all powers and authorities, in every dimension of Creation. There is a Glorious weight that assays the sin within a soul and deflates vainities within an ego. This answerability is perfect love that never puffs up. He is always creating a salvific, Spiritual community that is alwayssuperior and onlyanalogous to a family in the flesh. He is unbrokenly human yet thirsty and pierced.
The crux of the matter today is that he completed his assignment through great suffering, which we will follow… or die trying. His role in love is fulfilled, the model of love that God desires was finally established perfectly on earth, long before any of us were born to accept our imperfect roles. Only devils try to change this plan of love, because angels never will forget what they witnessed and guarded, even when human desire and pride within “his people” abandon love. Finally, let’s not forget the future among the ashes, the enjambment of last things… there is what happened next, on the first day, and will happen soon for all those who come and receive.
For all the vain, earthly fireworks about death and destruction, for all the lofty notions in low theology or selfish teachings, and for all the religous folks forever running amok… it is real easy to lose the plot. Afterall the sound and fury of men, God’s Story is just a love story for God’s glory in all Creation. Sometimes it is Days of Wine and Roses or Failure to Launch, maybe Casablanca or An Affair to Remember, while for other times it is Mr. and Mrs. Smith or When Harry met Sally, it could be anyone or all. The important thing to remember that love is and love is happening, because He is love.
In that spirit, I asked Jesus for a word that I could relay to his beloved in meantime, past all the smoke and mirrors, all of the common guns and butter “Christ-haunted” agendas, safe and separate from today’s holy terror and ungodly glories. I asked ‘if he had one chance to tell you something intimately‘ above all the other voices… for this night and at this particular time… no matter what comes or what other tidings anyone may try to sell you. I was dumbfounded at how quickly and clearly I got an answer, and kept getting it back in January. It seemed a bit silly, yet it’s profound beyond compare. I was gobsmacked because it’s by one of my favorite song writers and a favorite singer of mine; they combined in a song that I never heard till we had this dicussion January 3rd.
Ascend, children of God, ascend eagerly. Let your hearts’ resolve be to climb. Listen to the voice of the one who says: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of our God,” Who makes our feet to be like deer, “Who sets us on high places, that we may be triumphant on his road.”
Run, I beg you, run with him who said, “Let us hurry until we all arrive at the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, at mature adulthood, at the measure of the stature of Christ’s fullness”. . . . for God indeed is love, and to Him be all praise, dominion, and power, forever and ever. In Him is the cause past, present, and future of all goodness throughout infinite ages. Amen. ― John Climacus,The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool. If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; But if you refuse and resist, you shall be eaten by the sword: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken! – Isaiah
And I am giving counsel in this matter, for it is appropriate for you who began not only to act but to act willingly last year: complete it now, so that your eager willingness may be matched by your completion of it out of what you have. For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have… — an apostle born irregularly (talking about more than just money)
Obedience is the burial of the will and the resurrection of humility. — John Climacus
Often, in the very stream of being rescued, we feel great and are lulled into a belief that everything is done. We think all our problems are over and our role is finished. Grace misconstrued can have that effect. In this state, at these times, we are tempted to stop and rest on our laurels, dream about a distant future, and construct our own expectations of how God should fulfill his promises. We must avoid this beautiful trap by willingly pressing forward to the real prize no matter what, treating the two imposters of success and failure as one in the same.
I wrote a poem in the dark night of March 23rd of 2005. I’ve shared it before, but never the story about it. Attenuated at the end of a very long tether, I was shocked and shone some of what was to come in the next months and years. I thought my beloved and myself were home free, but things were grim and brilliant all at once. I knew too much and not enough, as if knowing more would’ve helped. I was not resting well, and Jesus asked me if there was anything I wanted. So I asked something I always wanted to know, but never had the opportunity nor taken the face time, as those are the rare occasions I try just to listen.
I asked when he knew exactly, with some detail, how and when his earthly ministry would end. He said he knew as the Sun set on Tuesday of the first Holy Week. Even then, he didn’t know everything. There’s the fact that he is the Son, not the Father who knows all in advance, despite the fact that the Son gets the last say for the willing, humble, and obedient. There’s also the underlying stochastic processes that stand behind the dynamics of life in the flesh. Moreover, let’s not forget, the capricious nature of the crowd’s will that may turn on a mustard seed. His answer un-nerved me, because it was not the omniscient and magisterial revelatory answer that I expected. It was small like me, not great like him. It was completely relatable and comprehensible to me in that moment. I knew it was true because that is the Jesus I’ve known since my soul awoke, and the same one I’ll always know.
We talked about Micah, now called chapter 6 (initially verses 7-8 to be exact), about how he and his would suffer for others. We also discussed how he felt about and thought of the people from there through the subsequent oracle, into the last chapter, the end, then and now, grieving that many would still be devastated no matter what he or anyone else would do. That’s him… always thinking of others, and also, he said he thought about the story of Absalom’s reconciliation to David, Absalom’s rebellion, and David’s escape from Jerusalem. We also spoke of how that projected into things playing out in a then distant future, and we discussed how you can know something well without knowing exactly. That’s him too… dropping something insightful yet hard to square with the fresh understanding I just gained.
I went to sleep afterwards, and awoke sometime in the night and just scribbled this out in one go. I still have that piece of paper, but it’s just proof. Further proof, some of the things we discussed and I wrote that night never made any sense, not a lick, until recently. Now they’re dead-on and all the way live. I had a suspicion that might the case ultimately, so I always kept them near my heart and close at hand. But all that is just doggerel compared to knowing how he feels and what he thinks. That is the prize that brought me peace, then and now… only because he was willing.
His secrets cry aloud, we have no need of tongues. His heart keeps open house, while our doors widely swing. An epic in His eyes, His Love wears no disguise.
Our truths are all foreknown, His anguish we self-reveal. We are naked to the bone, His nakedness His only shield. Overselves is all we wear, we keep His Spirit spare.
His Love will endure, the dead will speak the Truth. In language strict and pure, we stop our lying mouths. Desire wraps our clearest cries, Witnessed agony carries us to the skies.
The Lord Cries Out
Hear, then, what the Lord says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice! Hear, O mountains, the Lord’s case, pay attention, O foundations of the earth! For the Lord has a case against his people; he enters into trial with Israel. My people, what have I done to you? how have I wearied you? Answer me! I brought you up from the land of Egypt, from the place of slavery I ransomed you; And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. My people, remember what Moab’s King Balak planned, and how Balaam, the son of Beor, answered him. Recall the passage from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the just deeds of the Lord. With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow before God most high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my crime, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.
(Be willing to walk humble loving goodness and do justice tommorrow night at sundown)
It happens, I do not know how, that most of the proud never really discover their true selves. They think they have conquered their passions and they find out how poor they really are only after they die. — John Climacus
And Christ’s law and His Apostles twelve he taught, but first he followed it himself. ― Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
You can’t pass on what you haven’t got. — Anonymous
The Human Spirit that is a Lamp of the Lord
Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.
A king’s wrath strikes terror like the roar of a lion; those who anger him forfeit their lives.
It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.
Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing.
The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.
Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?
The righteous lead blameless lives; blessed are their children after them.
When a king sits on his throne to judge, he winnows out all evil with his eyes.
Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”?
Differing weights and differing measures— the Lord detests them both.
Even small children are known by their actions, so is their conduct really pure and upright?
Ears that hear and eyes that see— the Lord has made them both.
Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare.
“It’s no good, it’s no good!” says the buyer— then goes off and boasts about the purchase.
Gold there is, and rubies in abundance, but lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel.
Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger; hold it in pledge if it is done for an outsider.
Food gained by fraud tastes sweet, but one ends up with a mouth full of gravel.
Plans are established by seeking advice; so if you wage war, obtain guidance.
A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.
If someone curses their father or mother, their lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness.
An inheritance claimed too soon will not be blessed at the end.
Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the Lord, and he will avenge you.
The Lord detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him.
A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?
It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows.
A wise king winnows out the wicked; he drives the threshing wheel over them.
The human spirit isthe lamp of the Lord that sheds light on one’s inmost being.
Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure.
The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.
Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.
Protestation of Integrity
Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, And I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Examine me, O Lord, and try me; Test my mind and my heart. For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, And I have walked in Your truth. I do not sit with deceitful men, Nor will I go with pretenders. I hate the assembly of evildoers, And I will not sit with the wicked. I shall wash my hands in innocence, And I will go about Your altar, O Lord, That I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving And declare all Your wonders.
O Lord, I love the habitation of Your house And the place where Your glory dwells. Do not take my soul away along with sinners, Nor my life with men of bloodshed, In whose hands is a wicked scheme, And whose right hand is full of bribes. But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; Redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on a level place; In the congregations I shall bless the Lord.
Jesus Christ is the wise King, so he sends Light to his people so they can know him and themselves. Unfortunately, “his people” routinely forget him and cannot even recognize themselves, even if they looked in a mirror. At the root of this failure is an issue of integrity. James is a floodlight on that issue. But, before James and his brother, Jesus, humbled himself and came in the flesh, there were many other lights. One brilliant example is man named Jeremiah.
Jeremiah was a great lamp of integrity sent to “God’s people” as they came to a fork in the road. Instead of embracing and sharing the light, they tried to snuff out the Light and fell even farther. They called the prophet all kinds of bad names and punished him repeatedly as much as they could. Of course, they failed and God snuffed them out instead. They were blind and couldn’t see reality clearly, but instead of checking themselves they said Jeremiah was just a hateful liar and nothing he said could be true because they didn’t see it happening. Amazing how idolaters, who cannot even tell the truth about themselves, the weather, or world events, fraudulently claim to speak of Spiritual realities. A blind doubling down is the mark of a devil. However, despite all the devils and liars, Jeremiah never changed the message and he did it over decades— I believe only Hosea witnessed longer in that mode but he had an easier time of it. Jeremiah didn’t double down. He keep coming at them in different ways (from laments to exhortations, searing prose to gut-wrenching poetry, lofty oracles to straight up telling off the wicked) for Righteousness’ sake, until God said “release.” I don’t think the Deuteronomic Reformation that occurred under his ministry is a mere coincidence… You must see that God is the only One who can double-down righteously. That is integrity. And what is a fall in the Spirit other than God’s release?
Jeremiah walked about like Diogenes for more than 40 years. An unremarkable man with a pure heart as God’s lamp looking for honest people, who was mocked, ridiculed, and punished for his efforts. I believe he’d rather have died and the people be saved than been right and watch them fall into captivity and desolation… the source of his life-long laments and sufferings was righteous integrity. While religious elites got fat and false prophets who tickled the people’s ears got rich, he kept grinding out the truth in pits and the dark streets. Born into a profoundly spiritual clan, he was properly prepared, even as a youth. Extra-biblical tradition reports he was stoned, a forerunner to Stephen. Even if that isn’t true, Stephen and Jeremiah knew all along that it is better to be stoned by the disobedient elect than blow smoke up their vanities and be released by God. Job taught us all that we should always praise God no matter our present circumstances, and weep for the horrors coming to the unrepentant before we ever take time to weep for our own difficulties. Our horrors will pass while their horror, occulted and spread by their pride and filthy lucre, once come will never end. So we cry for them even as we are called away, even after they are gone we grieve. For what is grief if not love’s integrity surviving the trauma of an end?
I like the florid, big issues present in the greatest stories ever told, but I live on what little I learn to apply. So based on my poor and limited understanding of Jeremiah’s day and personal grief, I only have a few take-a-ways which resonate with other great stories, so I strongly believe they are truths. The true weight of a person’s soul, in the Light they reflect and refract, is directly proportional to their faithfulness to God’s will for their life. Many times God does not spare us from consequences of our sins (communal nor personal), but if we are willing, He uses our trials and losses to purify us and others… always because He loves us and others, even in release, even when He knows the war He’s sending us into, even before we were born in the sin and inequity of the womb.
The word of the Lord came to me: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. “Ah, Lord God!” I said, “I do not know how to speak. I am too young!”
But the Lord answered me, Do not say, “I am too young.” To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you—oracle of the Lord.
Then the Lord extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying to me,
See, I place my words in your mouth! Today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, To uproot and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.
As a general rule I don’t make elaborate educational constructs out of oracluar poetry, all kinds of clap-trap sins and false doctrines are floating about in churches today because of that fundamental error. However, I know that “lose speech” in song, parable, or verse is vital to the functions of narrative to create unity and inform right vision. So I am sure there are a few things that I can know form the seed of Jeremiah’s call that reflect true light on God’s will. He, as we, can be fearless if we are telling the truth with integrity, even if it might cost us our life. The Spirit isn’t dull (in any sense) but those teaching or preaching without integrity are simply flailing about with a rubber hose not the sharp rigidity of God’s Word. They will not receive God’s authority… Not ever, but they might be very popular or rich by earthly standards. But if we know God, in reality, and are honest about ourselves we can be faithful, especially in sufferings, poverty, and exclusion, indeed we ought count them as gain. We also come to see that despite unrepentance, God is still kind to sinners and the self-righteous for a time, often for a very long time time. But we know that deferment ends, so we should not get angry at God about it nor should we gloat beneath our breath in the waiting. Like Jeremiah, we should never cease in doing good even though the face of love changes to fit the situation rightly (ie great mercy towards the penitent while also heated ferocity in the face of injustice).
For me personally from, “The words of Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, one of the priests from Anathoth, in the land of Benjamin,” to “Bring us back to you, Lord, that we may return: renew our days as of old. For now you have indeed rejected us and utterly turned your wrath against us…” I draw the lesson that I must always strive towards intimacy with my God and Lord… I must always strive towards intimacy with my God and my Lord… I must always strive towards intimacy with my God and my Lord. We don’t read laments enough, and if we had preached Jeremiah (besides the most cited rosy couple of passages ripped from context) enough I doubt our impending consequences and repercussions would be so dire today. So now we really need to understand the right role of Jeremiah, because the lack of integrity is just a wound that can be healed, while suffering trials due to a lack of integrity repeatedly is just plain wasteful. If you do the latter, then you’ll just keep to doing stupid crap over and over just to play the victim. The former is just a fallen nature crying out for rectitude beneath peeling skin. Don’t be wasteful, accept purification toward holiness. It may “feel” bad or embarassing for a momnet but it is Spiritually empowering forever.
Converse with God like the prophet, don’t drone-on in monologues like the religous folks who ignored both God and Jeremiah, just to follow theirown noses. Speak with frank honesty to God and all people in all things; it’s not easy but simple once we’ve dropped your idols to do it in love. Jeremiah’s “meanest” polemics were acts of Love, which cost him personally. Keep hope alive by living in truth and Spirit, that’s right worship and our eyes are on the Prize. Let that active, dynamic vision inform our faith, so even if we don’t see the next right move we’re probably already doing it. Be courageous and fail sincerely cleaving to Jesus, unless we’re failing we really aren’t trying. God wants to hear it all from us, pain to praise, from the gut up to open our mind and heart. Pour it all out to Him and He’ll over-fill us. Do this all a long time and we’ll have the kind of integrity that the Spirit can dress with authority… and then hang on, like Jeremiah did, because then things transform and change even if others, who claim to have sight, call us blind. Don’t be a yahoo or gongoozler, be a plumb line that the Spirit can work from. He’s always on the level but our foundations are naturally inclined to shifting, braking bad.
Fear not when we fail! I cannot overemphasize that enough. If God can use a man like David to reset the foundations of his House, then He can and will use anyone who’s got the integrity to lavishly repent like David. Oh David, David, David… thank God for him too, but we’ve got that story for another day. He does deserve a shout out, in a memorial song, a forerunner to Palm Sunday in the return of the Ark, because he wore integrity and ephods more immodestly than Jeremiah. Whereas the prophet maintained unflinching situational awareness, something few others could, David ran and fell blindly and repeatedly, but he proved integrity’s great utility in return, like any of us might.
Defilement of Integrity Comes from Self not Enemies
The Tradition of the Elders: Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles [and beds].) So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’
You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ Yet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’(meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.” He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”
When he got home away from the crowd his disciples questioned him about the parable. He said to them, “Are even you likewise without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) “But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
It is easy to stare at enemies too hard to examine one’s self frankly. What is clear to Jesus’ Spirit is somehow always out of sight for most religious leaders and professional spiritualists. Human teachings and traditions tend to occult God’s Word overtime, in practice they gloss and refract the Truth. It is actually their intent and nature. It was true then, and it is still true today:
In all honesty, I adore, almost worship, many things a few of the names the “Reformed Thug Life” pilloried in love above, and I’ve studied most of them. I am simply using relatable, real humor to illustrate a greater truth. If we were a crowd of physicists, we might simply discuss layered lens effects, measure them, and purpose refraction and focus adjustments. But if we don’t even know the true nature of the simple mystery of light, then how is it that so many have murdered and condemned, in thought and deed (against God’s commands), for the utterances contrived in their own mouths concerning the unfathomable Mystery, which they will never fully understand? One could make a similar point of any sect or teaching tree within any religious system. It is good that so many historically situated models and culturally contested metaphors have been used. They’ve been necessary failures to reach every people group, but insufficient for the cause they claim to own with their violence. Their own methods betray them, as all their human constructs will dissolve in their trembling flesh the closer they themselves are born to the Truth, each in their final moments. They’ve helped fulfill a promise, but no one of them is the promised One. None of our own ideas and words should be stumbling blocks, not ever. Each of them have been servants, of various worth, but we do not worship servants, let alone the limited ideas of compromised slaves. We worship only the One worthy of worship, in Spirit and truth, not in human apprehension and language. We worship in reality, not vanity!
Fallen people have a tendency to supersede God’s risen Word and co-opt his people. We live in a rough neighborhood even if our own house is in perfect order. We’re going to fail and be hurt, perspectives will bend and brake, there will be loses by Design. Our loves take a beating. We change and God does not. Our project is to reconcile a creation in relapse Jesus’ Way, and that means we have to go outside and get a little dirty in outreach. But don’t over-extend, set a pace, and take it easy. Take care, so that ritual in practices or doctrines about a faith never occult a Jeremiah-like relationship with God, others, perceived enemies or those who call themselves righteous friends. We fall a little more every time reputation becomes more important than godliness, or as I say personalities are put before principles. Jesus straight up condemns it like Jeremiah did, and calls those involved in such spiritual lewdness hypocrites. It is the “hardness of heart” (and some hard-headness too) issue that seemingly binds the Book more often than not. Doctrine is a wonderful servant and a horrible master, all at the same time. It is like money that way, any human creation has the prospect of becoming an idol. Don’t do it! It happens most often when we’re in denial. When we hide our pains and mistakes to impress “friends” more often than we make painful mistakes seeking to reconcile “enemies,” all hell ensues and we lose ourselves. Integrity that we want, the kind God desires, heals us as well as our “enemies.”
The principles that Jesus knew about Spiritual warfare are the same as the ones “the oldschool master,” Omar Bradley, knew in the rebellions of flesh:
Westmoreland recalled summer maneuvers in 1936, when he commanded a cadet battalion assigned to defend a hill. When the troops opposing him succeeded in taking the hill, Bradley, who was umpiring the maneuvers, summoned Westmoreland to his side:
“Mr. Westmoreland,” he said, “look back at that hill. Look at it now from the standpoint of the enemy.”
Turning, I became aware for the first time of a concealed route of approach that it was logical for an attacker to use. Because I had failed to cover it with my defense, he as umpire had ruled for the attacking force.
“It is fundamental,” Major Bradley said calmly but firmly, “to put yourself always in the position of the enemy.”
Bradley was not interested in scolding Westmoreland, but in ensuring that he took away from the experience of defeat an element that would be key to victory [in the future]: the principle of putting yourself in the place of the enemy. It is common to speak of great commanders—men like Napoleon, Lee, and Rommel—as having possessed a genius for getting inside the mind of their opponent. When Bradley counseled Cadet Westmoreland to put himself in the position of the enemy, he meant nothing so mystical. Instead, he brought Westmoreland literally to his opponent’s position and invited him—again, literally—to seewhat the enemy saw and, from that perspective, to ponder the available options. As Bradley understood tactics, putting yourself in the enemy’s position was a practical means of getting inside his head. The exchange with Westmoreland was vintage Bradley, eliciting a principle of war fighting that is profound yet founded on the commonest of common sense. – Historynet
Me? Me talking about integrity is just as bad, if not worse, than Moses talking about humility. So I try and keep the poverty John Climacus calls out in my head (above) and the repentance the Psalmist glorifies in my heart (below). If I do that, then on occasion, I know God found me integrated enough to do good things and a few incredible things. I want to know how poor I am today so I am not so shocked when I die. To that end I have seldom presumed an enemy, like many do daily as if it were an affirmation of faith… Actually, the constant renaming of enemies might be an affirmation for the real enemy. But Satan ain’t a proud sinner nor an apostate. He just holds them captive, while they do their dirty deeds on their own. His knowledge of God is formidable, beyond any of those “reformed thugs” pictured above. His belief could be perfect, if not for his proud disobedience to God’s commands, which is his greatest weakness.
So I have found, like Jeremiah and Jesus, that God may overcome our enemy through me if I remain obedient, however imperfectly, over the long haul. This is true no matter which way they come at me. In fact, Satan himself hasn’t pursued a frontal assault on me since ’89. Since then he’s used everything form penthouse centerfolds to deacons’ committees. It has been a hoot! And I’ve often failed because I am stupid and proud, but so far, like David, when God thumps me, I rip my clothes and my life and cry like I need to drink snot. I can still put a three-year old to shame. Beyond that, I keep it simple. I call no flesh an enemy, while I keep watch for vile spirits to come at me from any direction, especially in my heart-life. And my mind? Man, I try to avoid that place by serving others, asking only for God’s will for my life today and his Power to carry it out. My results vary, but he hasn’t once ignored my request.
Most of my learning curve has been busted on my “friends,” folks who were supposed to help but weren’t in right position when I was, like shaman in a plague ridden town. At the time I was miffed for a beat, but now I have a way to respond that God painfully cured in me and my miffed-ness. When they demand that I wait… I out wait them. If they said something ridiculous like “be Moses”… I’d do what Moses did but not strike the Rock even when the people struck me. If they instructed me “do as I do”… I learn their rules better than they know them and keep serving them long after they broke their own rules and betrayed me. There’s got to be an easier way, but this one is simple enough for me. And today, I am most grateful to God that He not only delivered me from all those [explicative] duties, but also, despite my worst efforts, He glorified Himself in my flesh and in broken worlds. Like I said, it’s been a real hoot! Moreover, because of all that, I’ve learned not to be in a hurry, no matter how bad I think it is, because once I get through that test, there’s another coming, again. Service in his Kingdom never ends, but the sooner we leave our kingdoms to enter into His, the sooner everything gets healed and glorious… that’s the restoration God’s logos in the cosmos, from our hearts literally to the heights of the sky to the depths of the oceans. There’s a lot to restore, so get to step’n.
Lived Intergration is the Devout Comsumation of Love in Action
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on their behalf is for salvation. I testify with regard to them that they have zeal for God, but it is not discerning. For, in their unawareness of the righteousness that comes from God and their attempt to establish their own [righteousness], they did not submit to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for the justification of everyone who has faith.
Moses writes about the righteousness that comes from [the] law, “The one who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will go up into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will go down into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say?
“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart…”
…Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.
Every time I look at the blank screen slowly filled with perfect quotes, scriptures, songs, and stories over the months prior, or years, or even decades, and then sit down to fill in the blanks I am terrified and feel foolish in the process. Every time, but God always says the same thing, “don’t worry we’ll fill in the blanks.” I still feel like the tail wagging the dog with common sense and broken syntax, so let’s take our exit today with a shred of integrity by sharing a humorous story oft told, but I was reminded of last by the greatest Baptist I’ve ever known, about a decade ago.
An Amish farmer was driving his plain horse-drawn buggy down a back road, when out of the distance flew up a classic Cadillac convertible so huge it took up most the little farm to market road, and passing by so fast it spooked the noble steed, jerking the buggy so abruptly it broke a spoke. All the farmer could make out between the whale-tails and below the dropped top was the personalized license plate that read “I TITHE.” So the farmer, rig-hobbled, nursed the buggy and the horse to the store, where the Cadillac was still chugging down gasoline, the devils’ own brew, into its cavernous tank.
In humble silence the farmer descended to light on the dirt and to meekly proceed inside, while his horse took a breather in the shade. The noble gaul whinnied in alarm as the Cadillac owner came upon the buggy mann and grabbed his shoulder too quickly. The ferhoodeled fella was a sight dressed to the nines. Slicked back, oiled hair too, shaved and shorn close, perfect teeth, shark-skinned suit, a tie so long you knew he was compensating for a short-coming, with a fine gold chain carrying a demure but gilded cross over the tie, and of course shoes that cost more than the farmer made in a year. Shoes the farmer didn’t even know existed, let alone how much they cost or what shoes like that “meant.”
The snazzy guy spoke first… of course, “Tell me sir, I’ve heard about folks like you but never had the pleasure to make your acquaintance.” The farmer squinted to find the man’s soul, so the evangelist continued, believing he had taken his audience captive, “I’ve looked at how you folks stay simple and don’t act like you’re part of the world at all. But I don’t need to understand your religion, I just want to know one thing: Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”
Sensing the Englischer’s earnestness and what might be a soul, the polite farmer quietly answered as doctrinally as he might in evangelisse formulae, “We tend our gaarde, love our wife, as we serve our Gotte in Gelassenheit.” Then the fancy Dan squinted to retort like a lawyer, “No sir, all I want to know is are you saved?! Yes or no?!” The farmer nodded in silent acknowledgment, smiled, and conspicuously scribbled quickly onto an old piece of paper that he silently pulled from his pocket. He then neatly folded it with the quiet of a tomb and handed it to the brash hand of creature with a lot of prefabricated questions from a loud world without answers.
The inquisitor opened the note and scanned it quickly to ask another question, again too quickly but slightly more informed, just slightly, “What is this? Why are you evading the only question that could save your soul?!” Sensing the bellicosity rising in the man’s voice and some confusion crying to the Light betrayed behind his scaly eyes, the farmer again spoke quietly but more directly to the man’s spirit, “Those are the names of three of my enemies, please, ask them if I know with the only One that saves.”
All godly folks like Mary or Jeremiah know the blank, almost jaw agape, stare that people (who think they know better) fall into when God’s integrity overflows their cups and washes over another’s spirit. It ain’t even a fight. They ain’t no enemy at all. It becomes a fairly frequent yet uncommon occurance, as we fight the real fight everyday to keep the inside of our cups clean, first and foremost. After a beat, the owner and grocer walked out and said, “Guder mariye, mein faehicher schreiner. Why are we here?” The farmer removed his hat to say, “We redd up to exchange gifts, but now I willkumme Gotte… He brought me here today to cobble a broken wheel, for difficulty is a miracle in its first stage.” The inquisitor couldn’t find right words… as gasoline spewed out on his Cadillac and hissed on the searing limestone below.
Household Code for God’s Lamp
A Psalm of David
I sing of mercy and justice; to you, Lord, I sing praise. I study the way of integrity; when will you come to me? I act with integrity of heart within my household. I do not allow into my presence anything base. I hate wrongdoing; I will have no part of it. May the devious heart keep far from me; the wicked I will not acknowledge. Whoever slanders a neighbor in secret I will reduce to silence. Haughty eyes and arrogant hearts I cannot endure.
I look to the faithful of the land to sit at my side. Whoever follows the way of integrity is the one to enter my service. No one who practices deceit can remain within my house. No one who speaks falsely can last in my presence. Morning after morning I clear all the wicked from the land, to rid the city of the Lord* of all doers of evil.
Please remember the King and God this week with integrity, the Way Jesus said… starting inside working it to the outside.
With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. – Jesus the Christ
Do not be surprised if you fall every day and do not surrender. But stand your ground courageously and you may be sure that your guardian angel will respect your endurance. A fresh, warm wound is easier to heal than those that are old, neglected, and festering, and that need extensive treatment, surgery, bandaging and cauterization. Long neglect can render many of them incurable. However, all things are possible with God. – John Climacus
Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. — G. K. Chesterton
A Psalm of Courageous Trust in God
The Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
The Song of Deborah
On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:
“When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves— praise the Lord!
“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I, even I, will sing to the Lord; I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.
“When you, Lord, went out from Seir, when you marched from the land of Edom, the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water. The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai, before the Lord, the God of Israel.
“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths. Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel. God chose new leaders when war came to the city gates, but not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel. My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord!
“You who ride on white donkeys, sitting on your saddle blankets, and you who walk along the road, consider the voice of the singers at the watering places. They recite the victories of the Lord, the victories of his villagers in Israel.
“Then the people of the Lord went down to the city gates. ‘Wake up, wake up, Deborah! Wake up, wake up, break out in song! Arise, Barak! Take captive your captives, son of Abinoam.’
“The remnant of the nobles came down; the people of the Lord came down to me against the mighty. Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek; Benjamin was with the people who followed you. From Makir captains came down, from Zebulun those who bear a commander’s staff. The princes of Issachar were with Deborah; yes, Issachar was with Barak, sent under his command into the valley. In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart. Why did you stay among the sheep pens to hear the whistling for the flocks? In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart. Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan. And Dan, why did he linger by the ships? Asher remained on the coast and stayed in his coves. The people of Zebulun risked their very lives; so did Naphtali on the terraced fields.
“Kings came, they fought, the kings of Canaan fought. At Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo, they took no plunder of silver. From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong! Then thundered the horses’ hooves— galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds. ‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the Lord. ‘Curse its people bitterly, because they did not come to help the Lord, to help the Lord against the mighty.’
“Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk. Her hand reached for the tent peg, her right hand for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. At her feet he sank, he fell; there he lay. At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell—dead.
“Through the window peered Sisera’s mother; behind the lattice she cried out, ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’ The wisest of her ladies answer her; indeed, she keeps saying to herself, ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils: a woman or two for each man, colorful garments as plunder for Sisera, colorful garments embroidered, highly embroidered garments for my neck— all this as plunder?’
“So may all your enemies perish, Lord! But may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.”
Then the land had peace forty years.
Besides being one of the oldest bits of the scriptures, Deborah’s song has some of the most dramatic interplay between heaven and earth, and the nexus of all God’s “badassery” is a courageous and righteous woman. Of course, it is set in “occupied territory” to heighten the drama of external real world changes. But it was her internal confidence in God that came through a long-term relationship with the Holy One of Israel, that made the dramatic changes possible, even against the backdrop of a very male-centric stage. Not only did her confidence keep her going against all the odds, it also moved a reluctant but important man to have confidence in God too. Courage can be communicable. In alliance, Deborah led the Israelites to overthrow oppressors in a very “Old Testament way.” The manner of “arising” changed formally, but not substantially, in the New Testament. In the unity of Christ, God’s people from every age are all fulfilled, despite any momentary or perspectival discrepancy; we are without real difference.
Deborah was very human and limited, as Jael was called for a little “wet-work to wrap up lose ends.” Deborah wasn’t perfect; she may even needed some imperfections to identify with Barak’s initial fears to usher him from the starting gate. God can use our lack of confidence at times just as elegantly as he can use women, despite all bias against them. It pleases God to forgive our failures as we become more faithful. Notice how Barak’s lapse in the previous chapter does not appear in the song (God winks approval). Despite the timidity to sharpen Deborah, Barak makes it into the “Hebrews hall of fame.” Pretty sweet recompense for failure transformed, the point is that God lifts us to overcome, maybe even “save,” our oppressors as we become more obedient and willing to follow him (that even holds true for men too). Lastly, we can see, in rather dramatic and bloody fashion, that a people’s collective wellbeing is contingent on their Spiritual condition. Seems to be the most forgotten, misunderstood, greatest, and most often repeated failure in the Book: “God’s people” finding ever new ways to do the same old garbage, and yet, God lifts up the faithful from them as they repent over time, to greater things. God brings victories they cannot achieve by themselves or with the aid of any other people or spirits.
The Tower of Courage
Not convinced about the form and substance thing? I don’t blame you, so let’s turn to a mighty woman in the new testament. In my opinion, drawn from my limited knowledge of the gospels and 1st century eastern Mediterranean societies, she is the most courageous person of all those intimate with Jesus. I believe her persecution and betrayal by misogynist church history proves my point, instead of diminishing it. Yes, it is the inimitable and estimable Ms. Mary Magdalene.
At one point, perhaps the most perilous point in salvation history, Mary and two other women were the only souls who carried the entire Gospel for the whole world and future of all good things. I mean, I’ve seen a thing or two and been on some crazy trips for God, but the sheer weight of the Word on that occasion I cannot image. The terror and shaking and bewilderment of being the first to witness the entire cosmos being remade from an empty tomb out. I think only women could carry the fulcrum of all existence and being, like a baby in their body. Talk about a living, breathing tower of righteous courage, wow!
I am glad Mary didn’t have too much time to think about the Resurrection but enough time to overcome her fear and regain her speech (in both Mark’s terminal emendations). And of course, I believe the longer ending because “the other disciples,” the men, did not believe and blew Mary off by name. So Jesus had to come to the rescue, again, and of course the first two men didn’t even recognize he Himself. You’ve got to believe that Mary or any of those glorious female disciples would have known him by his walk miles away and his smell with their eyes closed. I thank you and God for the save ladies, or we all might be dead in our transgressions from worshiping gentile cultural artifacts through dark powers for our self-glorification like so many others are today. I pray in thanksgiving daily for you all.
The only real weakness we can know about Mary was that at some juncture in her life she gave the enemy a foothold and wound up with seven demons. Now, I am sure poverty and oppression by gender colonization had a significant role in her situation, much like it would have for the woman at the well, or any female back then. But here’s the pesky “however,” I know from experience you cannot entertain that many foul spirits without some level of consent. I know. I’ve never been possessed. I have been oppressed and put myself in a situation where I felt like giving up the Ghost, but decided to entertain bad company instead. Maybe the first one seduced her while she was contemplating suicide, we can only speculate. The point is I do not judge her; I empathize. And I live that empathy productively by working with men and women coming out of similar situations. For Ms. Magdalene inspires me when I think of her service to my Lord, against daily forms of attack and hate I can only image as a priviledged man. Like my wife, Mary literally impresses the hell out of me.
Who better to exorcise demons than those who used to entertain them? I adore all Holy people who have known less sin than me, but I’ve never seen a greater sinner run from an actual exorcism like a few “Godly men” I knew. I don’t blame them, and of course they’re forgiven. They just needed to learn it was not their calling despite their spiritual bravado. But I know for a fact that Mary could get the job done, even if I ran. Mark tells us so. And that maybe the point for God, he gave the greatest weight ever concerning his greatest earthly glory, the Resurrection, to her. The only other one who comes close is Paul. He was a murderous enemy too, but I’ve known many self-righteous men who kill in their god’s name. Unfortunately, it’s still fairly typical. I saw it done on TV recently, by some pagans screaming out Jesus’ name. But to be living haunt for demons and come back to life in that manner? That’s obviously next level terror and glory. Ms. Magdalene is indubitably God’s work, couldn’t be a pagan god, and they were both courageous for our encouragment.
Like Paul and the pagans who he targeted, God took Mary’s epic, even demonic, failures and drew out from it His greatest glory: the world ending news of Jesus’ Resurrection that ultimately leads to his recapitulated coronation over all creation. She was the first to see that, so I am holy jealous of her. And like Deborah, she translated that long suffering service into the liberation of God’s people. So for me, she’s only behind Jesus and just ahead of Paul, serving as a role-model of what God can do with a persistent reprobate and complete sinner destined by our own will to hell.
By God’s grace, under pressure as a child, when the churchmen first read to me about “the bad lady” in John’s Apocalypse to scare me, all I could think was “somebody needs to help that poor lady… why isn’t anyone helping her?” I held my tongue because I knew they didn’t want to hear it. What kind of creatures teach a child to hate billions of people in the Lord’s name? I felt violated and filthy because I already knew, somehow preternaturally, that they were trying to teach me hate, even though it will probably take the literal fires of hell for them to confess the truth of that matter.
Later I learned that they had codified their craven sins, fear-based anti-Gospel, and epic exegetical failure in the Westminster Confession. Later too I learned a wise woman proved that the only monsters children have under their beds are the ones their parents put there. Still later I learned that long ago a wise man said, “As long as anger lives she continues to be the fruitful mother of many unhappy children.” But on that very night long ago, after my prayers, God told me someone could help the lady everyone else feared and hated. Someone would desipite the fact the guilty only speculated from hate, and they could not know her true identity because it would be atime before she fully revealed herself. I’ll never forget his adoring smile that always lifts my spirit. It felt so good that it hurt, still does. But I do forget their hateful grins as they tried to abuse the soul of a child. Little did I know the path, how much more hurt and dismissal, I’d have to follow like Mary, but I greater in failure, just to witness it happen in the distant future.
Another Disciple’s Courage
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courageso that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me…
…But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you…
…Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.For we live by faith, not by sight [so] we are confident. I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make itour goal to please him [not our selves], whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For wemustall appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
Bonhoeffer’s Encouragement on “Costly Grace”
Originally written to churches occupied and compromised by political fascism along with a legion of other dark powers in 1937 Germany:
“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing….
Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins…. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin….
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
On two separate occasions Peter received the call, “Follow me.” It was the first and last word Jesus spoke to his disciple (Mark 1.17; John 21.22). A whole life lies between these two calls. The first occasion was by the lake of Gennesareth, when Peter left his nets and his craft and followed Jesus at his word. The second occasion is when the Risen Lord finds him back again at his old trade. Once again it is by the lake of Gennesareth, and once again the call is: “Follow me.” Between the two calls lay a whole life of discipleship in the following of Christ. Half-way between them comes Peter’s confession, when he acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God….
This grace was certainly not self-bestowed. It was the grace of Christ himself, now prevailing upon the disciple to leave all and follow him, now working in him that confession which to the world must sound like the ultimate blasphemy, now inviting Peter to the supreme fellowship of martyrdom for the Lord he had denied, and thereby forgiving him all his sins. In the life of Peter grace and discipleship are inseparable. He had received the grace which costs.” — The Cost of Discipleship (45-49)
Stories of the Corageous
An oath is a verbal recitation of a heart-felt call to duty, by an invocation of the Spirit through which He will transform your soul as a witness to others. It’s a vow to faithful testimony with your life. If Balian’s oath isn’t “enlightened” enough for you, then you can take Melchizedek’s, as cited by Isiah and spoken by Jesus in Luke’s Witness (more on that later). If that’s not right for you either, then I have never seen, or heard, any body going wrong with living out the Beatitudes as a code. There are plenty of right ones supplied in scripture. Ask God for one best suited to his call on your life. I waited decades across various missions under temporary orders (akin to nazarite vows). The hardest part for me was not waiting on God for my final one. But it took great pains to graciously decline all the oaths men tried to make me take in their gods’ names for the worlds they wanted to rule. I live and die only for the one that Jesus rules, the One without end.
No matter the oath or vow… if people say it but do not live it, then they are simply liars or cowards. Those failures are often part of the Way, but those plot points are not the place to close the Book and go to sleep. Stay awake, learn what we all need to understand, and remember it in pain. Any oath sanctioned by God, as I’ve always know him, is first and foremost an order to keep God first and foremost in every area of my life. That is fidelity, and obedience just naturally flows from it’s wake, as courage flows form obedience’s wake. That’s the trick to real virtue, avoid the attempt of obedience in legalism as too many not have. Do not stare at and over analyze every event as a win or loss of courage, like a tally on a score card. You’re looking two wakes back from the boat. Spiritual principles are salvific and scary to self-adoring DOAs and they hate them. They even have teachings to dismiss them… as if they could.
In the land of the living, the principles simply uphold our daily behavior. They work best under the engine cowling, away from attention or public display, somewhat hidden but always obvious in operation if the boat is floating and moving. The rescued don’t become obsessed with the water as impressive as the waves maybe; they’re still an epiphenomena, a side show, while the boat is the substance of conveyance. So we remain constantly awake and aware of the waters about us. But we also strike a balance. I think of it as part of taking it easy. We avoid an over-fascination with virtue in action. That enthrallment, never the virtue itself, can be just as bad as just plain ole sin. Staring at after-effects is like staying stuck in the past, dying in stasis. We don’t over-read our press clippings, while keeping them at hand. We always take appraisals of our character, good or bad, with a grain of salt. As spirits seeking human experience, we realize that we’re not that good at being bad nor that bad at being good. In forgiveness, we press onward into our relationship with God like Jesus in pain and doubt. Remember who He is and who we are in Him, and all the other stuff, good and bad, will follow. Now, if our wakes are not matching the fruits of the Spirit, then we ought to abandon ship and start swimming. I have once or twice.
How do we avoid the bravado of the Titanic or the delusions of the good ship Lollipop? We keep our eyes on the prize, same as keeping it simple, or remembering our oath, our relationship to God that only he ordered and reorders with us rightly. And despite all the pain and anguish a royal prophet once raved ‘and it pleased God to do so,’ in doubt that glorious order could rise up from such horrible disobedience and chaos. It’s the creation story writ small in our flesh to become one flesh in Christ Jesus. A good order in creation is necessary, according to God, in every salvific event for right living, even if it feels bad for our comfort and condems all other gods.
Stephen knew “the Boat code” and followed it as he walked through a fire and overcame foul beasts greater than Daniel’s, and he didn’t miss the mark. Was he perfect? Heck no, he testified a memorial history of God and God’s people. Was it complete and exhaustive? No, but it got the job done. Did it sway the mob? Nope, they got worse. So what did he do after such a triggering exposition of history? Did he further explicate his theology or correct all their teaching errors like Jesus? No, he got as simple as possible, looked to Jesus standing to receive the prize, and walked out of there like an angel. He left a very glorious wake that we can all read today, a witness who was the hotshot of doctrine in his day, a fella named Saul, who the gentiles call Paul. Talk about the tail wagging the dog today! Sometimes God’s sense of humor in closing out loops just makes me laugh till I cry.
I don’t believe that I know courage well-enough, but I have known enough courageous people to know a few things. Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” Hemingway later elaborated in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald that “grace under pressure takes guts,” only to add that no one makes money on guts but violin string manufacturers. Both my grandfathers showed guts in WWII, one literally and the other deferred saying that repairing electrical networks on capital ships keep him away from the courageous opportunities. I came to find out through some of his friends that he had some times. The grandfather who received a purple heart and some other hardware as a medic, told me how afraid he was most of the time, and neither of them received a check for their guts at any time. Just as neither talked much about any glory arising from all the terror and fascists they mastered for our sake, like Jesus.
As a child, I always wondered why my heroes didn’t act or talk like the heroes the world rewards. Asking myself, “what’s wrong with all those people… why aren’t they helping like pappaw?” It was probably a big part of the reason I chose, when God allowed me, to serve and work for and study peoples in crisis, and even heroes in crisis. The more I learned and the older I got, I kept coming back to the Book and the examples above. They weren’t thinking about being courageous or scheming, “what situation can I put myself in to be courageous and cover myself in glory?” Far from it, first responders will tell you today how courage works. They train until the training becomes mundane, over and over again, even when it seems silly and wasteful to an outsider, until the principles are unconsciously at work in their actions. They know the rules and follow them like an instincts renewed. They put in the time in the field. And they listen to experience and stay humble.
They do all that work so that when the time comes to confront a crisis, their minds are so focused on their code and their bodies remember what to do from muscle memory so well and they listen to their superior so closely, that the fire or storm is simply not an issue. No matter how bad circumstances get, right focus occults fear. Trained eyes are normally on the prize and the next right move is typically simple, seldom easy but usually simple. What they took an oath to be and what they do are one in the same. The inexperienced cannot tell the dancer from the dance, while the experienced knows that formal discrepancy is without substantial difference.
Erudite and baroque minds, all much greater than mine will ever be, through the later church age have debated and murdered for the fallacious difference between belief and action. It is a non-starter for me because I learned repeatedly in reality that it is a debate is perpetuated mostly by the armchair clueless and distant self-absorbed. Jesus did not speak to people who presumed that such a discrepancy was possible. But he assigned rude names (e.g. white-washed tombs or hypocrites) with terrible futures to those who danced in the fallacy that their discrepancy matters, their judgment is somehow divine, when in reality it makes no difference. Deborah, Barak, and Mary all knew better. Paul entertains the fallacy of the gentiles only to burn it out of their minds. And lest they forget, it is in the scriptures, repeatedly, much to Descartes chagrin. To manifest such an ill fallacy, it took decades to centuries of concentrated gentile sophistry, diverse pagan wisdoms, and worldly desires for riches and rule to infect the body of Christ. Those that call themselves “the church,” or whatever else they like to call themselves, can go with Descartes and their pantheon of enlightened doctors to their mirage utopia. You know who I am going with? Yup, Jesus and all the other heroes, in reality, that I’ve been unworthy to know.
I have just one question for those who still prefer the delusion of their cherished ideas, which the Word of God calls foolishness: Why are so many self-nominated occidentals still asking 17th century questions of 15th century ideas for 18th century political answers, when they should be asking 22nd century questions of a mostly 1st century text for eternal Spiritual answers?! Their ship of fools is sinking, they’re losing souls, if they’d drop the stones they’d float! I am serious, because I can’t explain that kind of nonsense to angels or children.
I am certain what they practice is not courage. It is people measuring and remodeling a god en masse repeatedly for commoditized consumption, from the demagogues Pilate and Herod to the fascists that Hemingway and Bonhoeffer overcame. It is a historical fact that since the days of Noah, every abandonment of God’s will and each abomination committed in his Name all end with terminal totemic paganism. Cult worship of fictive kinship bonds that seeks supremacy of tribal identity by violence against any “other,” before they turn on themselves like a snake devouring its own tail. It is the repeating cycle of the disobedient sons and those worshipping lesser powers mid-air. You don’t need to be a prophet to see it, just read the Book or any other honest history of humanity. It is how a people devoid of real courage always end. The Jews have zealots still, the Muslims got Isil today, and the Christians…. well, let’s not manipulate the wound too closely today. Even though it has been festering a while, some might heal yet. So instead, we pray today most vehemently for a breath that some moore may still come out from their pagan wasteland to know Jesus in reality. But that is not our fate. We follow, however faulting, the Courage of the Cross, with our own.
A Couragous Life is an Analogy not a Parable
I like stories, so I’ll close with one that I’ve known for years but I did not “get it” until last August. It’s one my grandfather told me and one I later read about from several perspectives, including those of the main characters: Ike and Omar. It was an uncomfortable moment in a long and comfortable relationship between the two, which imparted liberty and focus to Omar. It was soon after D-day and the first leave Omar took in years. The year before a journalist had given Omar a “household name” that he did not want and D-day brought him fame he never felt he deserved. But Ike and he figured out it had taken a distracting toll on Omar, so Ike let him off the hook by literally putting him on the hook.
The move into occupied Europe was going to be bloodier and longer than D-day and all the time it took to plan. Ike needed someone to take on a duty that was designed to include significant failure. It was the worst job that someone had to do, and most the command knew it. It was a sacrifical move to strengthen the Alliance. Fundamentally it involved a marathon of blocking and tackling across every type of terrain and against varied unknown force strengths, all-the-while with the worst Allied supply lines in theater and a mission sheet that changed daily to protect others while outgunned and outnumbered. And sure enough, that duty brought two failures in particular that would haunt Omar’s place in military history. This of a man who could only replay D-day in his mind while on leave to figure how they could’ve achieved the same objectives with fewer loses. That weakness was exactly why Ike picked him, instead of some glory hog like Patton or a fancy Dan like Montgomery. And that’s why Ike made his four stars permanent, despite Omar’s reasonably valid self-percieved failures.
When Ike called Omar up to HQ, he gave “the [expletive] duty” to Omar and put him on the hook. Omar responded something to the effect, ‘By God Ike, I cannot be responsible to the American people if you do this I resign.’ Omar was thinking about the past, all the failures that haunted him, all the news clippings, all the people he’d rather just die for, and all his own doubts, instead of the war left to be fought (a victory that they both felt hung in the balance) and who he was to Ike. He was more concerned about the past than the future. That’s what happens, even to the best of people, when they think about themselves among the waves and wakes first whether for good, bad, or indifferent.
It is a good thing that he knew how Ike felt about him after so many years and battles, because it’s said that Ike gave Omar the meanest stare ever in his command. By some accounts Ike even became somewhat red-faced, only to bark, ‘Brad, I, not you, am responsible to the American people. Your resignation therefore means absolutely nothing.’ The exchange relieved tensions on both sides, as Ike’s face approached a normal color. Omar gave another retreating protest, and after another beat Ike redressed the farm boy who was a long way from home, ‘Well, Brad, those are my orders.” They took a pause, then Omar meekly and obliquely accepted by saying, ‘Well Ike… if that’s the way you say it is… okay.’ Ike just smiled real big and didn’t say another word. Omar didn’t need concern himself with anyone else’s opinion of him. Rightly restored and somewhat more libertated from self, Omar left as a solider should, and both acted as courageous servants should: thoughtlessly yet single-mindedly committed to the plan, following orders, however imperfectly, to finish the victory. And they won with real scars that few others know about, because every hero knows that no matter what you do, if you do not obey orders, then your actions mean obsolutely nothing to Command.
If only Moses would’ve been told this story, then he might not have taken his eye off the ball because of the people, not struck the Rock, and then marched right on into the Promised land. That’s a discussion for other masters to have, but it is a prime example of a biblical question worth discussion. For us today, and maybe for a while, the message should be to keep it simple, even when it takes courage not to worry about what people think of you first, even the people you love most, even when you’ve gone away to die for them. Omar and I have found that it is possible, when we trust our commander and share his will, focused on him while taking the next step in order. It is actually liberating. God’s will is simple; the Gospel is simple; therefore obedience to them is simple. If you keep simple obedience, no matter how many times or how far you fall, then one day you might look back on your simple sufferings, even as a child, and someone, maybe even an Angel of the Lord, could accuse you of being courageous. It is easy for your soul to go mute in response to that divine accusation. But you’ll never forget it as the heavens sing out respect of your endurance afterwards and forever, because you put the reality of Jesus first when he called on you.
A Song of David’s Courage for Us
To you, Lord, I call; you are my Rock, do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the pit. Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who do evil, who speak cordially with their neighbors but harbor malice in their hearts. Repay them for their deeds and for their evil work; repay them for what their hands have done and bring back on them what they deserve. Because they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord and what his hands have done, he will tear them down and never build them up again. Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one. Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.