The Walk of Liberty

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Galatians 5:14

The ability to walk is a significant milestone for any human being, expanding the vista of one’s surroundings and experiences; it is a gateway to physical freedom.

The word “walk” is found throughout the Bible.  I think of Psalm 1 describing the pathways that the righteous avoid, symbolized in terms of the various positions from walking, to standing, to sitting: a retrogression from mobility to immobility.

I think of Jesus commanding the paralytic to rise, take up his bed, and walk.  I think of the apostle Peter, instructing the man crippled from birth to arise and walk in the name of Jesus.

In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul talks about “walking in the Spirit”.  As I read this chapter, I perceive that the Christian walk involves the interdependencies of the virtues of faith, hope and love.  Paul mentions the words “standing”, “waiting” and “walking”.  It is faith that enables us to live in the Spirit, and to stand fast in the liberty given by Christ. It is also faith which builds up the “hope of righteousness.” Hope gives the grace to wait for desired ends. But it is love that makes faith work!  Think of how powerful love is: as faith and  hope enable  the first step, it is love that sustains the walk.

Love is the fulfillment of the law.  Walking in the Spirit, led by the Spirit, is walking in love.  It is living and stepping outside the boundaries of the law, into the realm of total liberty.  Walking in love demolishes the lusts and desires of the flesh and its pertinent bondages, yielding and turning into reality the very fruits of the hope of righteousness through faith.

Love never fails.

* photograph: by Hugo Romano

Leave All Carry-On Luggage Behind!

“… is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?” Matthew 6:25

I just landed after two long legs of flights from the US to Asia. Exhausting.

For countless times, I have heard the pre-flight instructions from the cabin deck, but for some reason, on the first leg of the trip, the same trite sentence reverberated in my mind like the after-shocks of a violent bolt of lightning: “In case of an emergency evacuation, leave all carry-on luggage behind.”

Why?  Why shouldn’t I hold on to my handbag with my cell phone, cash, passport,  credit cards, jewelry, make-up, keys to my car and home, and other things I hurriedly stashed for travel emergencies?

Because an emergency landing is a matter of life and death.  Because nothing else matters but the very lives of the passengers.

And what of the luggage left behind?  Critical times require critical thinking.  Triage.  Luggage contents may or may not be replaced, but there is a limit to their value.  Even the world’s greatest treasures have a finite monetary amount.  Numbers go on to infinity. There will always be a calculated amount which puts the worth of these earthly treasures in their proper places.

Not so with human life.  Despite the atrocities of slavery which imputed monetary value on human slaves, the worth of a person cannot be measured.

How succinctly Jesus pointed to the central truths of our existence in this world.  How often He admonished the people not to lay up treasures upon earth, but to lay up treasures upon heaven: to provide for eternity, to ensure one’s place in the Kingdom of God. Centuries ago,  a wise emperor of Germany, once described heavenly treasures in these words: “Such goods are worth getting and knowing, as will not sink nor wash away if a shipwreck happens.”  In today’s jet age parlance, such goods as will not sink nor wash away if an airplane emergency evacuation on the ocean happens.

That was some flight.

* Photograph by Above the Ocean by Colleen Lane

Marks of the Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

The Lord’s discussion on the Beatitudes begins with the attribute of being poor in spirit.  I do not believe that the ordering of the conditions for blessedness was purely by chance: Jesus had a particular reason for calling out this trait first and foremost among the others.  Thomas Watson (1660) describes it in these terms: “Poverty of spirit is the foundation stone on which God lays the superstructure of eternal glory”.

What does being “poor in spirit” mean?

Contrary to what some believe, it does not mean being poor in a material sense, and shunning worldly riches.  It is also not the same as being “spiritually poor”,  that of being without grace and having no sense of one’s own moral poverty; nor is it the same as being “poor-spirited”, that of possessing a mean base spirit, acting below oneself.  (p. 2)

The Greek word for “poor” means being destitute, not only of outward, but also of inward comfort.  Following the lines of this definition, those who are poor in spirit are “those who are brought to  the sense of their own sins, and seeing no goodness in them, despair in themselves and look wholly to the mercy of God in Christ. It is “self-annihilation”, a kind of emptying of self so that God is free to fill the soul with His grace through Jesus Christ. (p. 2)

Why does Jesus begin with poverty of spirit in the Beatitudes?  It is because herein lies the foundation of everything that follows in the Christian experience of salvation.  Unless one is poor in spirit, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.  Without being poor in spirit, one cannot mourn, or be meek, or merciful, or hunger and thirst after righteousness.  Being poor in spirit ushers in all the rest.  (p. 2)

What are the marks of a person who is poor in spirit?  Here are some attributes: (pp. 5-7)

* One who is weaned or detached from himself.  In so doing, he becomes an empty vessel so that God can pour in the precious wine of His grace.  In contrast, one who is puffed up in his own self-sufficiency and self-excellence is not fit for God’s grace; he is already full: “his hand is full of pebbles — it cannot receive gold”.  But the poor in spirit are those who are broken in the sense of recognizing their own unworthiness.

* One who is a Christ-admirer.  He runs to Christ in his nakedness to be clothed in the garments of the Lord’s righteousness; he sees himself in a state of death and clings to the tree of life; he sees that all his riches lie in Christ.  Everything is Christ, Christ is all in all.

* One who is ever lamenting of his spiritual estate.  Like a poor man who is about to starve, he ever looks to God, laying down his life at the gate of mercy and living upon the altars of free grace.

* One who is lowly in heart.  As rich men are haughty, the poor are submissive.  The more grace he has, the more humble he is because he now sees himself as a great debtor to God, yet forgiven of his debts;  he lives, yet it is not him, but that Christ lives in him; he labors, yet not he, but by the grace of God.

* One who is content to take Christ upon Christ’s own terms.  The proud sinner will contend and bargain with Christ: he will have Christ and the world’s pleasures; he will have Christ but retain his own righteousness.  “But the poor in spirit sees himself lost without Christ, and is willing to have Christ upon the Lord’s own terms, a Prince to rule him, as well as a Savior to save him”.  He is as Paul when brought to the end of his rope, to the very depths of knowledge of his own human frailty, he calls out to God saying, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” (Acts 9:6)

* One who is an exalter of free grace.  There are none who so magnify God’s mercy as the poor in spirit. As those who are poor are innately thankful, those who are poor in spirit greatly proclaim the goodness and mercy of God, they “bless God for the least crumb which falls from the table of free grace”.

We must labor to be poor in spirit.  “Christ begins with this trait, and this is where we must start if ever we are saved. “ (p. 6)

* Reference: Thomas Watson, 1660, The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1-12, “Poverty of Spirit”. 

* Photograph: Waiting for the Tide by Kevin Temple

Steps to Increasing Faith

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Matthew 6:33

My previous post was on the nature and causes of “little faith” as expounded upon by Dr. Martynn Lloyd-Jones.  I continue on this topic of faith to present Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ prescription on how to make one’s inadequate faith grow.

The three-step process for increasing faith can be found in the verses of Matthew 6:31-33.

Jesus exhorted the multitude to “take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, how shall we be clothed?”.  The Lord gave two distinct reasons:  First of all, food, drink and clothing are the very things that occupy the minds of Gentiles, and second, the Heavenly Father already knows we have need of these things.

The first key to increasing faith is understanding what type of people the “Gentiles” are,  as described by Jesus. The word “Gentile” is synonymous with the heathen.  Jesus was preaching to the Jews, God’s chosen people, who had the oracles of God, and had special knowledge of Who God is.  As Christians, we can lay hold of and apply this teaching to our lives because we have become privy to the revelation of God’s Kingdom through Jesus Christ. The heathen, on the other hand, have no knowledge of God, and live their lives limited in their own thoughts and “without God in the world”.  (p. 136)

Jesus asserts that the Christian view of life is to be different from the heathen’s mindset.  What are the world views of the heathen?  At one end of the spectrum, there is the belief that everything that happens is accidental: the theory of contingency.  Dr. Julian Huxley and others who hold this viewpoint allege that there is no purpose whatsoever in life, there is no design or order, and that everything happens by chance.  The other end of the spectrum is the fatalistic view that a person can do nothing about life because everything has already been predetermined by some higher power. Both contingency and fatalism lead to worry because one is never certain what is going to happen next. (p. 137)

The Christian view can be described as the “doctrine of certainty”.  Life is not controlled by “blind necessity”, but certain things are definite and well-grounded because we are in the hands of the living God.  So as Christians, we are to put this certainty over against the pagan doctrines of contingency and fatalism.  A person’s beliefs are evident by the way one behaves when the crises of life come.  According to Jesus, we are to be different in our thinking, not to adapt the heathen philosophy of worry over food, drink and clothing.  If we think that way, then we are but spiritual worldlings.  One way to increase our faith, therefore, is to see that children of God are to live the life of faith, not to face the difficulties of life as the heathen do, but live in the light of that faith that they profess. (pp. 137-138)

The next key lies in the second reason put forth by Jesus about not worrying about material necessities: “For your heavenly Father knows you have need of these things”. Hence the second principle by which one can increase and enlarge one’s faith is implicit faith in and reliance upon God as our heavenly Father. We are not alone, God is always with us.  Earthly fathers care about their children: multiply that by infinity and that is how God cares and thinks about us, whatever our circumstance. (pp. 141-142)

The third key is found in verse 33: to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.  In other words, “we are to concentrate upon perfecting our relationship to God as our heavenly Father”.  Jesus implicitly says, “if you want to seek anything, if you want to be anxious about anything, be anxious about your spiritual condition, your nearness to God, and your relationship to Him.” The Gentiles are seeking the worldly things. Seek ye rather, seek ye first and foremost and above everything else, the Kingdom of God.  This should be top priority. Jesus added that we also need to seek God’s righteousness.  This essentially means we are to seek righteousness and holiness.  Hence this is the way to increase faith: “The more holy we are, the nearer we shall be to God. The more holy we are, the greater will be our faith and our assurance and therefore our claims and our reliance upon God.” And this comes with a promise that if we truly seek God first, then “all the other things will be thrown in the bargain”.  (p. 145)

In conclusion, these are the ways to increase faith:  Do not be like the heathen in their views about life, remember that God is your heavenly Father and knows everything about you, and seek to be more like your Father, and live your life to be closer to Him each day. (p. 145)

*** Reference: David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount”, Martino Publishing, CT, 2011, pp. 135-145.

*** Photograph by Artemis 

First Stroll

First Stroll

I remember butterflies
and spring grass
and ivy climbing to heights
of ivory towers, testing
perimeters of leaden grilles
against foggy glass.

We sat on the stony steps
of Winants Hall,
lingered for endless moments,
and after a while
walked up a hill where the bell
tower stood
still in time
as the train to Trenton whistled
down the railroad tracks.

by D.G. Vachal © 2012

*** photograph: Ivory Tower by spiritflare@Flickr