Liberty in the Spirit

Dennis McClendon, November 1, 2015 (a variation on “A Paradoxical Creation”)

A paradox is an idea that seems to make no sense, but in reality, is true. Here is a simple paradox. I can drink water, breathe water or stand on water. This seems like a contradiction to the uninformed. If I think of water as only a liquid only one of those seems true. But in the light of wisdom, I am confident that I can stand on frozen water and breathe air with water vapor in it.

I have spoken before of God’s paradoxical creation.

It is a paradox that God stands alone in majesty, yet He made us in his image. He is three, yet one. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet the one true God. The three are distinct from each other, each uniquely God, and yet they form His whole being. A contradiction? No more than that we ourselves are body, mind, and spirit. The three are distinct from each other, each uniquely us, and yet they form our whole being. Of course, this is an oversimplification. Let us avoid the Sebellian heresy. It is a great mystery that the fullness of the Deity dwells in each person of our triune God. True, we are made in His image and are one with him through faith, yet we are not Gods. We are simply His handiwork.

Let’s consider for a moment the human trinity, made in the image of God.

Body
It is a paradox that these our bodies are made in God’s image, yet they malfunction. Our bodies consist of some 100 trillion cells, with identical DNA from conception, all uniquely you, working together in an astoundingly complex symphony of organically-fueled, electrically-charged biochemistry, so that we can walk, talk, see, hear, smell, touch, taste. 98% of these cells are replaced every 6-9 months, mostly from material in the food we eat, so not only is the saying true that “You are what you eat”, in less than a year there is literally a new you! Add to this the fact that we are all carrying with us, right now, over 1000 species of microorganisms that actually outnumber the cells in out bodies, so in that sense, we are not ourselves! When this amazingly complex balancing act slips out of balance, we experience sickness. Yet we often choose to throw it out of balance by how we choose to do things, what we eat or drink and how much, and what we expose ourselves to in our natural and spiritual environments. Why?

Mind
The human brain is considered by scientists to be one of the most complex objects in the universe. With enough blood vessels to stretch from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine, and enough nerve fibers to circle the earth 4 times, these nerve fibers communicate with each other through some quadrillion connections. This amazing matrix of command, control, and communication infrastructure consists of a mere 3 pounds of tissue. Each day it processes data on a scale rivaling some of the worlds largest digital networks. Furthermore, the human brain, the organ most responsible for conceiving, designing and developing the great works of literature, art, architecture, engineering and science, runs on about 20 watts of power. The brain is the seat of the mind (or soul in some interpretations), an amazing gift from God that enables us to envision, invent, innovate and assimilate knowledge into wisdom. It is a paradox that in spite of having this wonderful gift, we often retreat into ignorance and foolishness. Why?

Spirit
It is the spirit of God that truly distinguishes us from the rest of creation. God has made it part of our being. By His Spirit we become transcendently sentient, or aware of infinity, eternity, of God’s person living within us. It is a paradox that we are the only thing that God breathed His Spirit into, yet we find it so difficult to maintain the communion with Him who cultivates spiritual fruit in our lives.

Why do we do this?! Scripture gives two primary examples: the first, shame, that’s what Adam and Eve felt when they ate the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of good and evil and realized they were “naked”. In other words, “We’ve done wrong, it has affected us profoundly, we can’t let God see us like this!”, and the second, fear, is what caused the Hebrews to shun God’s invitation to have a direct audience with Him at Mount Sinai. In effect, they said, “Whoa! You’re too big, You’re too powerful, You’re too noisy… and, basically, we’re too afraid. We want to keep our distance. Talk to Moses and let him tell us what you said. Almost 200 passages in scripture deal with fear and being afraid. Many of them instruct us to fear God. About half of them are either God telling us not to be afraid… of Him, or of things and people around us. A contradiction? No! A paradox? Yes. To fear or not to fear? That is the question. The answer? Yes! Fear God when we try to go it alone. Do not fear to commune with God, for only in this communion do we hear… can we obey.

This communion cannot be replaced with the trappings of religion. That is, buildings… rules… rituals. Those may be good, but only in a present relationship producing direction from God.

Take this building for example. We have taught all along that the church is not a building, the people are the church. Yet when God made it clear that it was time for the building to go, many of our congregation went elsewhere. Some, because the truly desire a full-service local body of Christ to meet their family’s need’s, but I suspect that many are simply too attached to the tradition of a church with a building as a starting point, that without the building, we can’t have a church. I see no evidence whatsoever of this in the New Testament. In fact, what is written is that the early church met in the temple courts and in each other’s homes with happy hearts!

What about the tithe? (Malachi 3:10) That’s a rule. 10%, right? The law is right there in the book! But what about Deuteronomy 14:23 which reads, “Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord…” The first several chapters of Leviticus speak of guilt offerings, grain offerings, sin offerings, peace offerings, and the priestly portion. And even before the Law was given, both Abraham and Issac used the tithe as a standard for giving to God. My point is that rules may be good, but giving in communion, directed by the Spirit is far better. 2 Corinthians 3:17 reads, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Galatians 5 reads that, “no law stands against the fruit of the Spirit.” On giving, Jesus and the apostles taught cheerful, sacrificial giving, not out of compulsion, but out of grace, thanksgiving, and the knowledge that none of it is ours anyway. It is summed up in 2 Corinthians 9:6, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

I honestly believe that we humans tend to lean on these traditions, in part, because we are afraid what God might say if we really listen. 10%, I can deal with, but what if he asks for my whole paycheck. He might! I’ve seen it happen. But that person was blessed in being led by the Lord. And guess what? He still provided for all of her needs.

Yes, He might ask u s to do something uncomfortable, like the time my dear sister in the Lord felt led to ask my teenaged niece… full of angst and sporting a full mohawk at the time… Asked to go up to the altar and ask God for salvation. I thought she was making a mistake, but my niece received the Lord that day.

2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

Thankfully, our Creator, Father, Abba, by the blood of Yeshua (Jesus), has lit a path back to Him, giving us abundant life through His Holy Spirit. Still, we, His people, the redeemed of the Lord, must be ever diligent to hold each thought captive to the obedience of Christ, in communion with the Holy Spirit, if we are to see this abundance in our daily walk, minute to minute.

God stands alone in majesty, yet He made us in his image

He wants us to inherit a blessing yet we often maintain a curse He wants us to inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9). He wants us to worship Him with all of that wonderful image. What is the greatest commandment? Deuteronomy 6:4-5 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.[a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 1 Corinthians 1:9 and 2 Corinthians 13:14 say that we are made for fellowship with Him.

He wants us to return to the image of Him that we are created to be

God is love. A crucial component of love is the freedom to turn away. Free will. We have no reason to turn away from God, but he had to give us that choice. If our love for Him was to be real, we had to choose Him.

In body (service vs. entertainment/pleasure) Many of us are far too caught up in the pursuit of pleasure and entertainment. Certainly, there is a place for this, but it must be in proper proportion, and it must edify the body, personally or corporately. This balance can only be found through communion with God.

Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

In mind (wisdom of God vs. wisdom of the world)

Genesis 3:6 Eve saw that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was desirable for gaining wisdom. However, the wisdom she gained was not the wisdom of God. God’s wisdom cannot be gained through disobedience. No. This was worldly wisdom. This wisdom was never meant for us to have.

James 3:17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

1 Corinthians 2:14-16 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

In Spirit (boldness/victorious/loving vs. fearful/defeated/loathing)

2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

We are made to bear spiritual fruit (John 15:8, 16; Prov. 8:19): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control, yet we are too often spiritually barren

We are made to extend the power of God through His spiritual gifts: message of wisdom, message of knowledge, faith, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in different kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues. Yet, all to often, we exhibit spiritual weakness. Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 2:17-18: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”

1 Corinthians 2:2-5 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Romans 8:15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

1 Corinthians 2:11-13 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

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Evangelical Sociopathy?

Here’s my rebuttal to a characteristically poor quality article HuffPost put up with a characteristic click-bait title, “Has Evangelical Christianity Become Sociopathic?”

The article accurately asserts that blatantly mixing politics with religion has usually left a stain on religion. Still, religious people have a duty to vote their conscience. Political leaders of any sort of religious persuasion rightly govern with guidance from their moral foundations if they have any integrity. Some of our most highly regarded national leaders have been religious people.

With regard to the last national election, the Democratic Party had moved so far to the left that it created a backlash from the right and far-right. Moderates on either side became silenced for fear of supporting a lunatic, even though that’s what both parties offered. The dialogue became so polarized that large portions of both sides found the other side’s candidate absolutely repugnant. Even the less committed voters on each side found the other side’s candidate totally repugnant. They either had to abstain, hold their nose and vote for their party’s candidate, or sell their soul and cross the party line to vote for someone they felt was worse by an order of magnitude.

I can only hope that last election cycle was an outlier and not the start of a trend. That said, using that election to paint all conservative evangelical Christians as sociopaths when their other choices were Clinton or abstention is, well… crazy.

Using the debate over the federal government’s constitutional mandate to control our national borders to demonize evangelicals is just nonsense. Go back a decade or more and you find plenty of Democrats, including the Clintons and Obama, advocating the kind of common sense immigration policies that now seem to be championed only in the conservative domain.

Most of the evangelical Christians I know speak out constantly against the politico-religious demagoguery this article accuses them of. So, I guess the writer’s assessment of evangelical Christianity as based on hatred and abuse may align squarely with the left-wing’s tactics, lately, of defining all of their rivals as hateful abusers, racists, bigots, misogynists, add-a-termphobes, greedy, selfish, or whatever. It doesn’t square with my experience from inside evangelical churches. Don’t get me wrong. Church should be a place where all are welcome to explore an encounter with God that leads to a better life. That means a lot of people in church may not be in a happy place. Church isn’t a place for perfect people. It is a place for imperfect people to learn to grow together in love. The people who run the evangelical churches I have been involved with understand this and work tirelessly to spread this philosophy, a philosophy taught by Jesus and His apostles.

This article uses the lunatic fringe, adds a dash of over-simplified contextual misinterpretation, and a heavy dose of broad generalization to achieve misrepresentation ad ridiculum.

But it IS what we’ve come to expect from HuffPost. You can find similarly twisted thinking from the far right from InfoWars by Alex Jones but I don’t recommend it.

Is New York’s HigherEd Plan Free?

Socialists among us are rejoicing at New York’s new plan to make 4-year college education “free”. First of all, let us clarify that this is not exactly the case. Of course, that is what one should expect of a socialized education program. After all, this is the government confiscating the wealth of some to give to others with the benefit of gaining the admiration, and votes of the others. So, the politicians who stand to benefit from this scheme, with Andrew Cuomo and Hillary Clinton at the front of the crowd, must do their best to oversell it and thus bolster their support among the recipients and those who prefer to have the government manage their philanthropy.

While the plan is fairly generous, it amounts to a subsidy of up to roughly $26,000 over the course of four years, and that only for contiguous attendance directly after high school. It doesn’t replace other federal or state grant money. It is intended to fill the gap between grants and total cost or subsidize those from families who earn too much income for other grants yet earn less than $100,000. It is unclear whether there will be any merit basis for eligibility.

Appropriate Intervention?

This all sounds great for the middle-class, college-bound, high school student. The problem is that it is accomplished by the state. In a constitutional republic, such as the United States, the state should only intervene this way if there is a problem where the public interest is clearly in jeopardy. Even Thomas Jefferson supported this, saying,

“… establishing free schools to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, and from these schools those of intellectual ability, regardless of background or economic status, would receive a college education paid for by the state.”

Jefferson spoke of “establishing”, not necessarily operation of such schools. He also spoke of merit-based scholarship, not free education for all.

Any intervention should be temporary, aimed at solving the problem rather than creating a dependent electoral constituency, and managed such as to ensure that it is not exacerbating the problem or creating new problems as unforeseen consequences.

What’s the Problem?

In this case, the State of New York is “solving” a problem that doesn’t exist. As a result, they are probably creating a bunch of problems that would most likely be managed best by the economic decisions of individuals in freer markets of higher education.

The only real benefit is the boost politicians like Andrew Cuomo and Hillary Clinton get from their constituencies.

The United States is seventh in the the world when measuring bachelor-level education attainment of people under the age of 25. New York ranks well above average among the states of the United States. The problem this addresses is the waning interest in the Democratic Party. And it addresses it by purchasing votes with redistributed treasure.

What are the Consequences?

Providing “free” higher education in such an environment will most likely shift the supply and demand curves in a way that increases the cost of higher education and also creates a glut of graduates, diminishing their value to the economy and thereby their earning power. It also shifts the dynamics of already existing free-market philanthropic solutions by artificially skewing the economic environment.

Another risk of this sort of intervention is that the quality of education will be reduced to keep the cost down. This risk always exists, but raising the political stakes by creating a benefit given by generous politicians increases the factors that motivate degradation of quality as a short-term, soft-dollar adjustment.

The only real benefit is the boost politicians like Andrew Cuomo and Hillary Clinton get from their constituencies.

Socialism Leeches the Gains of Free Enterprise

I realize that my more socialistic friends have faith that the State of New York will rise to the challenge of becoming a virtuous benefactor by giving bureaucrats the power to redistribute wealth yet again. I respect their burgeoning hope but I point to history as a reminder that, in the long-term, Socialism has proven, unequivocally, to be less efficient and effective than free enterprise. Socialism works best following a period of prosperity created by free enterprise. It then removes incentives to innovate and excel, rewards the unproductive, and punishes the brightest among us. The result is general social malaise of both mind and heart.