The Captive Heart- Matthew 5:38-39, 1 Peter 2:24, Colossians 3:13

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

COMMENTARY

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also
Yesterday we discussed that the only form of justice our fallen world can provide is “an eye for an eye.” It is fair, but also harsh, and it is destined to worsen the whole human experience over time.
Jesus, of course, recommended a different way. By taking the insult, having the right to lash back in kind, but yet not doing so, the cycle of harm comes to an end. For the first time it becomes possible for the human situation to actually become better instead of worse. It’s an exciting prospect, but who has the strength to do it? How do we find the power to let go of vengeance, when our mortal frame cries for it?

Who bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we should live unto righteousness
Our heart cries for justice. There is an eternal force that sees offense and demands retribution, and that force resonates through us all. It is one of the laws of this world, and it cannot be denied, the compensation of an eye for an eye must be answered. What we need to recognize, though, is that it already has been.
When my fellow brother or sister has offended me, the offense that I would do to make things even has already been endured by Christ. He stands in for them, having that right as their spiritual father, and takes the pain until things have been made equal to what I endured. And because that balance has been made, I no longer need to hurt my brother or my sister. I can forgive them instead.

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye
And what is more, I am not only able to forgive them, I am compelled to! For I have also been forgiven by Christ, and not because of any merit of my own. I have been forgiven undeservedly, thus creating an imbalance, which that same eternal force of justice now compels must be matched by another act of undeserved forgiveness. Because I have been forgiven freely, I feel that I must forgive another freely.
And just like that, the self-destructive cycle of the world applies to us no more. It is not that it has been broken, it is that it has been fulfilled (Matthew 5:17).

The Captive Heart- John 15:19-20, Exodus 21:24

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot

COMMENTARY

But because ye are not of the world, the world hateth you
In our lives, others will hurt us. Indeed, we experience this unpleasant heartbreak when we are still very small. Our parents are harsh with us and our peers make fun of us. Those we depend on for support and love while still so vulnerable betray us instead.
When we get older the circle of criticism goes out further. When we are children our view is limited to immediate family and friends, but when we grow older we become aware of the greater world. And there we discover that there are those who call us evil and wish we were eradicated. It frankly doesn’t matter which ideology or belief we subscribe to, there is always someone who sees our way of life as the source of all the world’s problems.
We feel the truth of Jesus’s words: that we are not a part of this world, and because of that the world hates us. This experience is true for all of us, for all of us are foreigners to this Earth. We don’t belong, and we distinctly feel the friction of that.

Eye for eye
And, of course, the natural reaction to being hurt by that friction is to hurt back again. An eye-for-an-eye is the rule of this world, it is simply the best form of balance and justice that the mortal realm can provide.
It is a hard law. Each of us will transgress it at some point, because we are imperfect. Each of us will unquestionably wound another, and then balance will demand that we must be wounded, too. Thus we must all be hurt, but should we just try to be hurt as equally as possible? This would mean each new invention of cruelty must eventually be permeated through the whole. The entire world situation could only become more miserable. In a way it is fair…but what a horrible fate for us all.
Can anyone question that somehow we need to be saved from this mortal condemnation?

The Captive Heart- Romans 5:12, 15; Revelation 21:4

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

COMMENTARY

By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men
Previously we discussed how each of us have come to recognize that our world is harsh and unfair. The way of this earth is that we come to misfortune, even when it is not our fault, even when it is no one’s fault. We don’t have to succumb to sin or be abused by others to already know sorrow. It comes and finds us where we are, and no amount of doing good will prevent it.

For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain
Yet in all this there yet remains grace. For though we suffer undeserved sorrows, through Jesus we also receive undeserved joy. Today we are given rewards that we do not have the merit for, and in the next life all the agonies of this life, even the ones we did deserve, will be purged away by God, Himself. And then dismay will be counterbalanced with joy until the scales have been made right and order restored. But even then the blessings will still continue, tipping forever further into the good.

The Captive Heart- Ecclesiastes 2:11, 15-18

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.
For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.
Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.

COMMENTARY

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever.
I hated all my labour: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.
Ecclesiastes is a most interesting book. There is not another volume in all of scripture that is so pessimistic and fatalistic. The Preacher describes a world where consequence does not match behavior, where the good and the evil meet the same fate, where the lazy prosper and the hardworking remain desolate.
And quite frankly, the world he sees is not inaccurate. For while we have some level of control over our fate, it is minimal at best. So much is left to chance and whim. At some point or another we all come to the same realization: “life isn’t fair!”
And that is correct. Life is not fair. How could it be? We live in a fallen world, where injustice and imbalance will forever hold sway. This is a very hard pill for us to swallow, for it is in our nature to believe in order and balance. It takes a breaking for us to finally accept that the world does not match what our hearts know it should be.
And this is the entire point of Ecclesiastes, to show the hopelessness of the material world. If there was no God, if there was no heaven, if there was no measuring of justice and recompense in the hereafter, if this world were truly all that there was…then things would be very bleak indeed.

The Captive Heart- John 16:33

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

COMMENTARY

In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
We have spoken about how we tend to fear the world, and have a strong desire to conform to it. This eventually leads us to compromise our conscience, which results in us feeling broken and unworthy.
And so we are, for we have traded God for carnality, and have consigned our fate with the rest of this temporary, soon-to-die world. The pain that we feel is nothing more than the accurate and appropriate realization of our own condemnation. Our fates are now sealed with this world forever.
Or so they would be…if one had not come to overcome the world. When Jesus speaks of his conquering the mortal realm, it has two applications in our life. The first is that he is able to ransom our hearts from the fallen world tp which we have sold it. He brings us back to belonging to heaven, and not to earth. The second application is that he can overcome the fear of the world in our hearts, so that we do not feel so compelled to sell ourselves to it again in the future. He both frees us, and enables us to remain free.

The Captive Heart- Matthew 26:73-74, 1 Samuel 8:4-5, 7

And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

COMMENTARY

Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man
Yesterday we examined how Saul and Aaron succumbed to their fear of the people, and did something that went contrary to their conscience because of it. Today we have another example, that of Peter denying the Christ.
What I find particularly interesting in Peter’s situation is the exact pattern of his failure. It is his speech that brings him into disharmony with the masses around him, his manner of words shows that he is a Galilean, and an associate of Jesus. So what does he do? He changes his speech. He curses and swears and denies. He will conform his words however he needs to to disassociate himself from the truth. Our social fears lead us to conform, even to our own condemnation.

Make us a king to judge us like all the nations
And the Lord said unto Samuel, they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them

As the Lord spelled out to Samuel, the choice to conform to the masses, contrary to our own conscience, is us rejecting Him. It is as simple as that, and I think the aching of our hearts shows that we already know this to be true. The excuse “they made me do it,” just never tastes right in the mouth.
Even so, we do need to understand the reality that each of us will be afraid at times, we will conform to those around us, and we will reject God in so doing. It isn’t a good thing, but it is a reality that has to be acknowledged. It is simply part of the package of mortality. Given that fact, it becomes clear that we need a Savior to rescue us from the masses.

The Captive Heart- 1 Samuel 15:24, Exodus 32:21-23

And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.

And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

COMMENTARY

I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, because I feared the people.
What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them? And Aaron said, thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
Saul and Aaron were spiritual giants of their times. A king-prophet and a high priest intended for greatness. However each of them showed moments of weakness, times where they disrupted their streak of faithfulness by going contrary to their own conscience. In both cases, this sudden shift of spiritual trajectory was due to their fear of the people.
To fear the people is understandable. Being “swayed by the masses” or giving in “to peer pressure” are common foibles of humanity. When we are outnumbered we have a sense of possessing less mortal power. Our survival instincts recognize that the masses have the ability to shun us, brand us, or even kill us. When we succumb to that panic, we will do whatever we can to save ourselves. So yes, it is understandable, but losing oneself out of such fear it still as heart-rending as losing oneself for any other reason.
Indeed the guilt of wrongdoing is now coupled with the shame of weakness. It is a hard thing when each of us discovers that in spite of knowing what we ought to do, we do not have the strength to see it through.

Personal Commitment: Month 2

June’s Review)

For June I continued regulating my use of media, and also started a practice of checking in with myself every couple hours, and giving my soul what it needed to remain grounded and connected.

For the first of those goals, I do feel that my media remains in a better balance, though there still comes the occasional indulgence from time-to-time. A pattern that I have recognized in those indulgences is that I am always trying to distract myself with something that is one level less pleasant than what I should be doing. So, for example, if I know that the house needs cleaning, I will try to justify consuming media instead. Whereas if I know I should be getting to task on a difficult patch of work, then suddenly cleaning the house seems very appealing!

In other words, there is a force pushing against responsibility, trying to get me one step lower on the ladder wherever it can. And sometimes I have been able to fight that force, and sometimes I have given in.

The same is true for my two-hour spiritual check-ins. I have not attempted to abandon them altogether, but I do try to “forget” to set the next reminder on my phone, or justify that what my soul really needs right now is to unwind with media…every single time.

The temptation for each of my commitments is to compromise it down just one level. And then one more.

July’s Commitment)

So how do I wish to address this in July? Part of me says: “Life is meant to be spent pushing upstream. Gravity is always there, you just have to stand against its pull forever.” Another part says “Doing right things shouldn’t feel forced. You need to figure out how to get things sorted out in your heart, and then the desire for self-improvement will just flow.”

I think there is some truth to both voices. Life does take grit and determination, but also a paradigm shift can make that which was painful become pleasant.

Something I have noticed is hinge points where suddenly the desire to do good accelerates. Sometimes they come at random, such as when I happen to wake up on the right side of bed, and sometimes they feel deliberate, such as when I make a conscious decision to follow my conscience.

I will always hope and pray for the random moments of spiritual vitality, times where grace lifts me to places I cannot take credit for. But at the same time I can also strive more to be true to my conscience, thus opening the door for God’s light to enter my soul.

Which brings up a question: why do I ever not follow my conscience. And the answer is because I am afraid. I am afraid that if I stop doing the thing that feels important to me, and instead focus on what my conscience directs, that I will miss out on something, or leave something undone, or feel unfulfilled in some way.

My commitment for July, then, is to take a leap of faith. I lack trust that if I just follow my conscience, that things will work out. So let’s focus on that. I’m still keeping my other two commitments to regulate media use and regularly check-in with my soul, but now whenever I feel like giving up ground on those commitments, I am going to ask myself what I am afraid of, and ask myself to exercise a little faith and trust instead.

Thank you.

The Captive Heart- Isaiah 53:6

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

COMMENTARY

All we like sheep have gone astray
Arguably the wounds that cut us most deeply are the ones we inflict upon ourselves. We might respond to them with intense shame, believing ourselves to be irredeemably broken and fundamentally flawed, or else we might become defensive, responding with anger at any suggestion that we did something wrong.
In either case, we have an intense feeling that it is not okay that we are imperfect. Which, in a world without grace, I suppose would be true. In a world without grace, admitting that you had done something wrong, confessing your faults, and exposing your weakness could only result in condemnation without forgiveness. It would be a horrifying prospect. Thus it is little wonder that we feel like we have to put on a perfect face, even as we know that none of us are.

And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all
But, thankfully, there is grace, there is forgiveness, and there is a way to be loved even after we have done something wrong. All the horror of unremitting condemnation was faced for us by another. It was laid on the back of our brother. It is a sobering fact, but also the only way that this story could have a happy ending.
Because of our mortal frailty we have all gone astray, but because of His divine consistence we may all regather. We can be flawed, but live with the peace as if we had been perfect. We can learn from our mistakes, yet live as with the wisdom of having always known right. We can surrender all the bad, and preserve all of the good.

The Captive Heart- John 5:2-9

Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

COMMENTARY

Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool
Previously I examined our reluctance to admit when we are wounded or broken. But then, even when we are willing to admit as much, we still might struggle to know what to do with that fact. Once we know that we have a problem we tend to look for solutions, but if the correct solution is not immediately evident, we usually end up chasing fruitless remedies, or trying to medicate the pain with addiction and disconnection.
Such was the man at the pool of Bethesda, forever waiting for a healing that he was incapable of receiving. It was the place to go, the thing to do, the world’s solution for his problem. But it just wasn’t going to work for him.

When Jesus saw him lie, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
The man could not find his healing, because he could not meet the terms under which it was doled out. He was physically incapable of finding success. I have felt the same when I have said to myself I need to be healed by God, but I have to earn it first by becoming perfect. This is a physical impossibility, and if I insist on this path, I will only ensure that I am never healed.
Jesus comes with another offer, comes with terms that each of us can meet. It is simple: “wilt thou be made whole?” The simplicity of the way often makes us skeptical. True healing and change cannot come so freely we think. And normally, no, true healing isn’t and can’t be so free in our fallen world. That is why we call it a miracle.