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The Fight Within: The Work of Our Souls

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In his brief but profound work “The Way of Man“, Martin Buber wrote:

“At first, a man should himself realize that conflict-situations between himself and others are nothing but the effects of conflict-situations in his own soul; then he should try to overcome this inner conflict, so that afterwards he may go out to his fellow men and enter into new, transformed relationships with them.”

I am not sure of anyone has summarized the goal of the walk in the Abrahamic faiths quite so well.

This is not unlike what God told Cain after the rejected offering:

“If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

We already know the unfortunate end of that story – a brother, murdered in a fit of anger.  This is a stark reminder of what can happen when we do not keep our souls in check.  In fact we can take this back even further, to Adam in the garden.  Therein lies a picture that fits quite well with our current situation:

“Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground”  (Gen. 2:7)

And further:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.

“Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;

By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.””  Gen 3:17-19

Man is but dust, dirt.  The dirt of the earth is now cursed.  And now this dirt-man must by the sweat of his brow toil against the dirt if he is to produce fruit.  Dirt working against dirt; us working against ourselves; this is our internal conflict.

Some say we are not called to works.  This depends on the perceived end-result.  Paul tells us that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works.  So comes salvation.  James tells us that faith without works is dead.  There is no contradiction here – only different aims.

We are to have faith and works together to be sure; faith for our salvation, and works for our sanctification.  Even if we believe that in a moment salvation can be attained and forever secure a place in heaven, the “work” of sanctification has only just begun.

And yet some say “but it is God that does the work in us.”  Certainly.  He does His part.  Our work is to do our part.  The scriptures call us to persevere in the face of trails and adversity, to flee our lusts, to overcome temptation.  We are expected to act accordingly, not merely pray and hope.  This is our work, our portion, our contribution in the purification of our souls that we have been entrusted with by God.  If we do not undertake this work we are called to, we will lose hope and lose heart, and in that process we lose our faith.  Thus faith without works becomes dead.

We shall pass through a refining fire in the end, every one of us.  This is why Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians:

“Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor”

and further:

“If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.  If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

Salvation is not the goal of our belief; it is merely our starting point.  It is where we take the baton with God running along side us, and we run the race, we fight the good fight.  If we do not run, we do not grow, and the dirt-against-dirt conflict within us will not produce fruit.

If we neglect this necessary work on our own souls in this life, we will indeed toil to produce fruit.  We will fail to love properly, and thus fail in the highest calling.

 

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Written by jhonse

December 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Salt and Light: Taste and See

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I was with some friends one evening, some of whom I would get together with quite often as my spiritual support team.  A debate arose about whether something such as evangelization is more important than simply living the Christian life (or at least, faithfully striving to.).  Then it hit me like a bolt from the blue (or rather, from God) that Jesus said we are to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-:14).

Many have struggled with the salt part.

Light, we think, is easy:  we are to shine, somehow, to others, by some mysterious light God gives us, to draw others to God through us.  First, easier said than done – which I mean literally:  It is much easier to talk the Christian talk than walk the Christian walk – to be a follower of Christ in everyday life.

Back to the salt.  So many speculations about what this salt means!

I will not list any of these for you to keep an open mind.  But looking at it from another angle, I felt God showed me that night that LIGHT is something you SEE, and SALT is something you TASTE.   You do not HEAR either of these things.  Hence it is not about the talk; it is not about what you say.  It depends on if others SEE God through you (For God is light – 1 John 1:5), and if you leave a taste of God behind for them.  You do not do this through words then; you do it by example.   David in his Psalm did say “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” (Ps. 34:8)

Are we giving others a taste of God by the way we live?

Copyright © 2010 Justin Honse

Written by jhonse

May 23, 2010 at 12:51 am

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Why Do We Shun Tradition?

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Tradition.  Why do we seem to despise the word so much?

Who?

Us.  Christians.  Which kind?

Evangelicals, born-agains, non-denominational, and others.  I know, I am one.

We are the kind who tend to distance ourselves from Jews and even Catholics, even though they share many aspects of our faith and we all believe in the same God.  Unfortunately we seem to abhor the term ‘tradition’ and automatically throw it out, thinking it is useless. I used to do this myself, but now feel that is in error.

I do not think tradition should ever overrule what is written in scripture, as I consider scripture the ultimate authority, as God’s word. But, if there is something in a religious tradition that is useful – that helps us live more rightly as we ought – why do we not embrace it?

What are we scared of?

We know we are saved by grace through faith, but does that mean we should not strive to do good works too?

Written by jhonse

March 23, 2010 at 10:06 pm

What Was Sodom and Gomorrah Really About?

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If you ask any given person, Christian or not, what the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was about, they would most likely answer “homosexuality.” I would consider myself a conservative Christian, and until recently would have answered that question the same way. After much study and consideration however, I no longer believe that is the answer.

Have I turned liberal? Have I come out of the closet? The answer to both questions is no (and for the record I’m straight.) What I have done however, is read the story in context, and ventured to be honest with myself, which is sometimes difficult to do. In this case it is difficult because Sodom and Gomorrah was guilty of the same things that I, and possibly you, are also guilty of. Keep reading.

Genesis 18, the chapter before Sodom and the surrounding cities are destroyed, is critical in understanding the story. There also another key verse in the book of Ezekiel. Let’s start by summarizing Genesis 18:

Abraham sees three men (who are actually angels) in the distance, and offers them to take a break from traveling, wash their feet, and have some food and water. Abraham and his family prepare a feast of bread cakes, milk and curds, and meat from a calf. This hospitality is an important theme here. Keep in mind that just a few short verses ago, (and in Jewish tradition, just three days prior) Abraham circumcised himself (Gen. 17:26). It goes without saying this was extremely painful, and Abraham was probably not up to waiting on guests, but he did just the same. Abraham’s example here is where the Jews teach their mitzvah of hospitality from. Consider that the Hivites were in such pain three days after they were circumcised they couldn’t even fight back to save their own lives (Gen. 34:25). The New Testament may be referring to this show of hospitality in Hebrews 13:2, which reads “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

After the angels eat, they reveal to Sarah she will have another son next year. Then God (understood to be represented by one of the three angels) considers whether or not He should reveal His plans for Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham. He chooses to do so, and explains He will go down and see for Himself if they are guilty. Abraham questions if God will destroy the righteous along with the wicked, and after some deliberation and pleading, the final answer is that God will spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there are at least 10 righteous people found.

When Genesis 19 begins, it is evening, and two of the three angels from Genesis 18 are entering the city of Sodom. Abraham’s nephew Lot, who lives in Sodom, sees the angels from the city gate. Lot offers them hospitality, but they refuse. Why? Why would the angels refuse this hospitality, when they recently accepted Abraham’s?  The answer to this question is crucial. Consider this: God said He was going to go to Sodom Himself and see if they are guilty according to its outcry (Gen. 18:21). So instead of accepting Lot’s offer of hospitality, the angels’ initial plan is to sleep in the town square. The reason the angels want to sleep in the town square is to give the city a chance – to see if anyone else from the town is willing to offer them a place to stay for the night. Why? Because as God discussed with Abraham, if there are 10 righteous people, He will spare the whole place. God is omniscient; He already knows He is planning to save Lot and his two daughters, so if at least seven more people can show themselves righteous, Sodom would not have been destroyed.

Unfortunately we know the outcome of the story – Sodom and the surrounding cities are destroyed because there wasn’t enough righteous people found in them. If my summary of the story thus far doesn’t sound familiar to you, it is probably because I didn’t mention how the men of Sodom wanted to sexually assault the angels. And I didn’t mention this because it is not the emphasis of the story. Did it happen? Yes. Was it wicked? Yes. Is homosexuality prohibited by Jewish law? Yes. Is it the chief sin for which Sodom was destroyed?  No.

Ezekiel explains it like this:

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”    Ezekiel 16:49

Sodom was a wealthy city, and according to the Midrash, the Sodomites disliked strangers and would even flood the approaches to their town to keep people out. Even when Lot admonished them, the people of Sodom were quick to reconsider his resident status and call him an alien (Gen. 19:9). They did not want outsiders affecting the wealth of their city. Sound like any other place we know?

In fact, one source I studied mentioned the possibility that the threat to the angels wasn’t necessarily made by homosexuals – but was rather a punishment to unwelcome guests of the town, which is what the angels were. This may explain why Lot offered his daughters to the town mob – if the threat was specifically against strangers, then Lot could be reasonably certain they wouldn’t take him up on the offer.

Even if this is not the case, the dynamic of the story has changed, for me at least. Now I read this story as a warning against being a prideful country, and even against myself, in the event I would be unwilling to help the poor and needy. The sexual assault is really an anecdote here; God was testing the people of Sodom for righteousness and hoping to find it. Unfortunately He did not. Will He find righteousness in America? Will He find a willingness to help the poor and needy in you?

Written by jhonse

March 17, 2010 at 1:39 am

Do I Have To Teach My Kids About God?

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In today’s day and age, even if we are believers we may take the idea of passing on our faith to our children casually.  Can we “make” our kids get “saved”?  No, that is the job of the Holy Spirit.  It is one thing if you have done your best with your child(ren) and they have still rejected God; if so this is not written to badger you.  But please, do NOT take a casual approach to the passing on of the faith.  The generational link between you and your kids is key!  Don’t believe me?

How many generations from creation did the first murder occur?  One.

And once destruction came upon the whole of the ancient world as a flood, how many generations were there from Noah to Nimrod, whose Kingdom was Babel, who, as Josephus writes, incited the people against God for destroying their forefathers, who lead to the building of the Tower of Babel until God scattered them because of their pride?  Let’s see… Noah, Ham, Cush, Nimrod.  Three generations after Noah.

Hopefully you are living a life that makes your children want what you have, but our responsibility goes beyond that.  Even when God was pondering whether or not He should reveal His judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham, He considered this generational link, because it was up to Abraham not only to live rightly, but as God says “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” (Gen. 18:19).

It is quite telling that God considered this before revealing His plans of judgment.  Why? Because Abraham knows he is charged with keeping this covenant with God – which includes the generations after him (Gen. 17:9).  So by choosing to reveal the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is God’s way of showing Abraham, in great and terrible detail, what ultimately happens when the way of God is lost between the generations.

Written by jhonse

March 3, 2010 at 11:02 pm

What Should Our Response Be To The Poor and Homeless?

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In the book of Deuteronomy when God is giving instructions for the Sabbatic Year, He says some interesting things about the poor among the Israelites:

“If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. “Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you. “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’”  Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Does this describe our hearts toward the less fortunate?  Unfortunately many readers will disregard my question, citing that the context is the Old Testament; and we are now in the New Testament under Christ, and are not followers of Judaism, and so we are not obligated to fulfill the law.  Be careful of your hearts!

Jesus tells us the two greatest commandments are to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” and went on to say the second greatest commandment was to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus gives this answer in Mark 12:28-31 to a scribe questioning him about the greatest commandment.

Interestingly, at another time, an expert on the law asks Jesus “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). Jesus, in true rabbinical fashion, answers the question with another question: “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” (Luke 10:26).  The answer this lawyer gives is the same answer Jesus gave in the Gospel of Mark.  What should grab our attention however follows next in scripture:  The parable of the Good Samaritan.

In Luke 10:30-37, Jesus tells a story about a man who is robbed and seriously injured, and laying on the side of the road.  Both a priest and a Levite pass him by with no offer of help.  Ultimately a Samaritan provides help abundantly.  It is interesting that Jesus used a Samaritan as the hero of this story, in contrast to the priest and Levite, because Jews disliked Samaritans.  This can be gleaned from the anecdotal information in John 4:9 which reads “(for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)”.

So what does a Samaritan have to do with a homeless person?  Jesus’ point above is to show the lawyer asking him that even those you dislike are your neighbors.  The lawyer wouldn’t even say the word “Samaritan”, and instead uses the more elusive response: “The one who showed mercy toward him.”  In other words, He is saying you are not truly being a neighbor if you are unwilling to help.

Consider the sheer weight of the context in which these words are provided:  It is referred to by Jesus as the second greatest commandment, second only to loving God, and it is also given in direct response to the question “what may I do to inherit eternal life?”

I am a firm believer that the Hebrew scriptures are a parallel to the New Testament.  Jesus’ words directly echo the heart of the text of Deuteronomy.  However if you still dismiss this and say “Yes, but Jesus was talking to a Jew who thought he had to fulfill the law, that does not apply to me.”  Then again I say, be careful of your heart!

Written by jhonse

February 24, 2010 at 12:51 am

Are We Aiming For Adequate?

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Perhaps the problem today is that we aren’t aiming for amazing; we are barely aiming for adequate, so when things are good we are already content and  do not pursue God further.  We do not pursue life further.

The world today seems so disheveled and distanced from the time of Christ.  But rather than ask ourselves why we do not see miracles and healings, we either convince ourselves that those things are not what the Holy Spirit is working on today, or we simply resign to the fact that we don’t have enough faith altogether.  So rather than pursue those things, we find a spot of contentment with our physical, material and spiritual life being ‘good enough’.  As long as things are adequate for me and my family, why expend more time and energy?  Because the next step seems to be carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders – when we go beyond our problems we enter into our neighbors problems, and that quickly spins out of control until we are worried about lack of clean water and pandemics in distant countries that we feel we have so little control over.  So rather than feel entirely helpless and strive to figure out where to begin, it is much easier to just exist and know Jesus.  We get our faith, get a roof over our heads and set cruise control with our spirit.

There is much more, and we should not be content.  If we wonder why trials come it is because God does not want us to be complacent.  Our faith is a walk, which you cannot partake in it if you are standing still or sitting down.  God simultaneously offered Abraham blessings while he called him to action – they went hand in hand.  Further, once Abraham took the step and traveled to Canaan, God told him of even more abundance and blessings than he could conceive of.  This was not just because he was called, but because he took action in accordance with his call.

What is God calling you to do?  Have you asked Him?  Do you need to take some time and quiet things down so you can hear His voice?  We must remember that though we are made a little lower than the angels, angels are messengers of God, and we too are messengers of God.  What message does God want others to hear through you?  We were the pinnacle of creation – what are we doing with that?

Written by jhonse

February 22, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Posted in God, The Christian Walk