Only Two Places

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For sin has only two places where it can be:
it is either with you, so that it lies on your shoulders,
or it lies upon Christ, the Lamb of God.
And if it lies on your back, you are lost,
but if it rests on Christ, you are free and blessed.
Chose then, and take which you will…

–Martin Luther

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Absolute Ideals and Absolute Grace

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The Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murders and temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace.

–Philip Yancey,
The Jesus I Never Knew

A Narrative Reversal

christ-1d-copyBecause the true story of the world has been lost in the seemingly endless epic of sin, Christ must retell — in the entire motion and content of his life, lived both toward the Father and for his fellows — the tale from the beginning. Says Athanasius, the Logos became flesh in order to reestablish the original pattern after which the human form was crafted in the beginning, and to impress anew upon creation the beauty of the divine image . . . It is because Christ’s life effects a narrative reversal, which unwinds the story of sin and death and reinaugurates the story that God tells from before the foundation of the world . . .

–David Bentley Hart,
The Beauty of the Infinite

Sin and the Love of God

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When we believe
that God is something
other than a lover,
it is inevitable that
we will sin.

–Peter Kreeft

Published in: on 05/09/2016 at 10:08  Leave a Comment  
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Love is not like that

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No man, whether good or bad, can lay claim in strict justice to the love of God, because love is not like that at all. It has to be given as a free gift, or not at all. The sinner who is ready to accept love as a gift from God is far closer to God than the “just” man who insists on being loved for his own merits. For the former will soon stop sinning (since he will be loved by God), and the latter has probably already begun to sin.

–Thomas Merton,
The New Man

Published in: on 02/20/2016 at 4:52  Leave a Comment  
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A time to kill

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“For everything there is a season, and a time
for every purpose under heaven
. . . a time to kill” (Ec. 3:1,3).

“Thou shalt not kill” clearly puts murder out of bounds for everyone. It’s Command #6 of the Big Ten.

End of discussion.

However, there is one important exception, and it comes straight from the apostle Paul. “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13 NIV).

There’s a death warrant out for the “misdeeds of the body,” and we are authorized—yea, commanded—to kill. Every last one of them is to be put to the sword. We are to listen to no pleas for mercy. Not one is to be spared.

Why such drastic action? Is this not an extreme measure?

The apostle pulls no punches. His argument is simple and strong—if you don’t put them to death, they will put you to death. Somebody is going to die, it’s either you or them. There’s a battle going on. Your life is on the line.

We are to soften the sentence for none of these fiends.

To “live according to the flesh” looks most attractive. Its forbidden pleasures are tantalizing—but make no mistake. They’re out to kill. Your soul is at stake.

Death and life are before you. The Spirit is willing.

You choose.

–Jurgen O. Schulz

When God comes in

8fec65aa copyLord, come into my heart. It’s hard for me to get the door open very far, but if at the Incarnation you managed to squeeze into an embryo, perhaps you could make it into my heart too—even if I only manage to crack it open a bit.

Sorry about the clutter inside. There are things that shouldn’t be here, but come to think of it, the first place you came to wasn’t exactly a clean scrubbed hospital room—it was a barn. That being the case, perhaps you would venture to enter my heart too.

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I have been told that sin is something you do not look upon or come close to. However, if a bad smelling cow shed was your place of your birth, there’s probably no place you wouldn’t come if invited. That’s a relief.

As a matter of fact, you seem to make a point of coming to where things are not as they should be. You walked and talked and ate with fallen, failing people; it appears that sin doesn’t keep you away.

And interestingly, when you come, sin decides it’s time to leave. It flees like darkness before the light. It melts like wax on a candle.

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Thanks for coming into my heart. I know there’s still a lot of stuff that needs to go, but because you are here, I have a feeling it’s not going to stick around for long.

And not only that, but your presence causes everything that is wholesome and true and lovely to flourish and grow. When you are around goodness goes viral.

It makes me wonder why anyone would ever keep you out.

–Jurgen O. Schulz

Hearts made for God

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Pride struggles to push us to the top of the heap. But the top of the heap is not vacant. God is there, high above all. Ambition drives us to seek power and glory—but the glory and power are Yours, Lord. The promiscuous man or woman is looking desperately for some kind of love in return, but fails to see the love of God, offered freely and without condition . . .

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Others search restlessly for satisfaction in this or that sensual experience, but only “at his right hand” are there “pleasures forevermore.” Truly our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You, O Lord . . .

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In other words, sin comes when we take a perfectly natural desire or longing or ambition and try desperately to fulfill it without God. Not only is it sin, it is a perverse distortion of the image of the Creator in us. All these good things, and all our security, are rightly found only and completely in him.

–St. Augustine
The Confessions of Augustine
In Modern English

Sin is Relational

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Divine goodness is not just perfect, it is more than perfect. It spills out beyond itself like sunlight. It is agape, generosity, altruism, self-giving, self-sacrificial love. God seeks intimacy with Man . . . “Your creator shall become your Husband,” says Isaiah (54:5). To that end, He makes covenants, to prepare for the fundamental covenant, marriage.

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No pagan ever suspected the possibility of such intimacy, even with their finite, anthropomorphic gods: that is, the relationship scripture calls “faith,” or fidelity. And therefore no pagan ever understood the deeper meaning and terror of “sin” either, for sin is the breaking of that relationship. Sin is to faith what infidelity is to marriage. Only one who knows the wonder of marriage can know the horror of infidelity.

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That is why Jesus . . . took sin much more seriously than any pagan possibly could, and why He paid the ultimate price—His own life—to save us from it.

–Peter Kreeft
The Philosophy of Jesus

Art: Benjamin West

Sanctification

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In “Beauty and the Beast,” it is only when the Beast discovers that Beauty really loves him in all his ugliness that he himself becomes beautiful.

In the experience of Saint Paul,
it is only when we discover
that God really loves us
in all our unloveliness
that we ourselves start
to become godlike.

Paul’s word for this gradual transformation of a sow’s ear into a silk purse is sanctification, and he sees it as the second stage in the process of salvation.

Being sanctified is a long and painful stage because with part of themselves sinners prefer their sin, just as with part of himself the Beast prefers his glistening snout and curved tusks. Many drop out with the job hardly more than begun, and among those who stay with it there are few if any who don’t drag their feet most of the way.

But little by little—less by taking pains than by taking it easy— the forgiven person starts to become a forgiving person, the healed person to become a healing person, the loved person to become a loving person. God does most of it. The end of the process, Paul says, is eternal life.

  –Frederick Buechner
Beyond Words

Artwork: Scott Gustafson

Transformation

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The sinful heart
is never transformed
by conformity to
the imperatives
but only by relationship
with the One who
cleanses hearts.

— Elyse M. Fitzpatrick

Sin is centrifugal

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“We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way…”
(Isa. 53:6 NIV)

The power of sin is centrifugal. When at work in a human life, it tends to push everything out toward the periphery. Bits and pieces go flying off until only the core is left. Eventually bits and pieces of the core itself go flying off until in the end nothing at all is left. “The wages of sin is death” is Saint Paul’s way of saying the same thing.

Other people and (if you happen to believe in God) God or (if you happen not to) the world, society, nature—whatever you call the greater whole of which you’re part—sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that pushes them away, that widens the gap between you and them and also the gaps within your self…

Sin pushes others away and
widens the gap between you and them
and also the gaps within your self.

Sex is sinful to the degree that, instead of drawing you closer to other human beings in their humanness, it unites bodies but leaves the lives inside them hungrier and more alone than before.

Religion and unreligion are both sinful to the degree that they widen the gap between you and the people who don’t share your views…

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Original sin means we all originate out of a sinful world, which taints us from the word go. We all tend to make ourselves the center of the universe, pushing away centrifugally from that center everything that seems to impede its freewheeling. More even than hunger, poverty, or disease, it is what Jesus said he came to save the world from.

–Frederick Buechner

Love must triumph

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Christ, the gift of God’s present forgiving love to every man and woman, is the door through which alone we can enter into our provision of hope.

Until we know the love of our Father’s heart to us, 
as manifested in Christ, the future must always be 
to us at best a dark and doubtful wilderness.

But when we know that all that we have conceived of our Father’s love, is as nothing to the reality—that he is indeed love itself—a love passing knowledge—a shoreless, boundless, bottomless ocean-fountain of love, of holy, sin-hating, sin-destroying love, which longs over us that we should be filled with itself—and be by it delivered from the power of evil—then, indeed, we are saved by hope, for we know that love must triumph and fulfill all its counsel.

–Thomas Erskine
(1788 – 1870)

Image: Robert Pejman

The yoke is on you

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And to try to be happy by being admired by men, or loved by women, or warm with liquor, full of lust, or getting possessions and treasures, that turns you away, soon, from the love of God; then men, women, and drink and lust and greed take precedence over God; and they darken His light. . . . And then we are unhappy and afraid and angry and fierce, and impatient, and cannot pray, and cannot sit still. That is the bitter yoke of sin; and for this we leave the mild and easy yoke of Christ.

–Thomas Merton
(1915 – 1968)

Drawn not driven

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The Gospel
is more powerful
in wooing us from our sin
than the Law is
in frightening us
from it.

–Frederick Dale Bruner

Amazing grace

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Grace means there is nothing we can to do make God love us more —no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciation, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less —no amount of racisim or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder.

Grace means that
God already loves us
as much as an infinite God
can possibly love.

–Philip Yancey
What’s So Amazing About Grace?

He calls your name

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The devil knows
your name but calls you
by your sin.
God knows your sin
but calls you
by your name.

–Ricardo Sanchez

Published in: on 01/28/2014 at 7:24  Leave a Comment  
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More than sin management

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Being a Christian is less
about cautiously avoiding sin
than about courageously
and actively doing
God’s will.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer
(1906 – 1945)

Not a blessed thing

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Neither the lost coin nor the lost sheep was capable of any repentance at all. The entire cause of the recovery operation in both stories is the shepherd’s, or the woman’s determination to find the lost. Neither the lost sheep nor the lost coin does a blessed thing, except hang around in its lostness. On the strength of this parable, therefore, it is precisely our sins, and not our goodnesses, that most commend us to the grace of God.

–Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment

Image:  James Tissot

Where it starts

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The beginning
of man’s rebellion
against God was,
and is, the lack of
a thankful heart.

–Francis Schaeffer
(1912 – 1984)

No matter how far out to sea

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Why do we swim away from Him in our times of need? I believe it is because of the fact that we may not think He will forgive us. Maybe you believe that you have done too much. Maybe ran your bill up more than you can pay. But I’m here to tell you that no matter how far you have gone out to sea the Lord will not leave you. No matter how much you hurt the Him, He still loves you.

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If you are thinking right now that you can’t go to the Lord with something, think again. He went to the cross for us so He could be there when we need Him the most. Go to Him with what you need. Jesus is the lifeguard that will brave the currents and will go after you no matter how deep or how cold the water is.

–Tony Rhoda

The hierarchy of happiness

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If God is God – and so he is –
the hierarchy of happiness begins
with him, not from the other end.
The closer we are to God, the happier we are.
The further away from him, the poorer.
Sin, which is a flight from God, is no fun.
It gives no joy, fulfillment or peace,
and constantly betrays us.

–Carlo Carretto
I Sought and I Found

Published in: on 09/30/2013 at 4:39  Leave a Comment  
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No such corner

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They [human beings] wanted, as we say, to “call their souls their own.” But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner.

–C. S. Lewis
The Problem of Pain

Published in: on 09/12/2013 at 4:21  Leave a Comment  
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Overcoming sin

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He who does not give up prayer
cannot possibly continue
to offend God habitually.
Either he will give up prayer,
or he will stop sinning.

-St. Alphonsus Ligouri
(1696 – 1787)

Retreating from Love

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All sin is rooted in the failure of love.
All sin is a withdrawal of love from God,
in order to love something else.
Sin sets boundaries to our hope,
and locks our love in prison.

–Thomas Merton
No Man Is An Island

Extreme mercy

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There is more mercy
in Christ than
sin in us.

—Richard Sibbes
(1577–1635)

Published in: on 06/12/2013 at 5:17  Leave a Comment  
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This is the way!

Road Shafts of Autumn Sunlight

Sin is “novel,” goodness is natural. The truly Christian person is the truly natural person. He is not living against the grain of the universe, but with it. He is not barking his shins on the system of things. He knows his way about in a universe of this kind—he knows how to live. I know exactly how I feel when I sin—I am orphaned, estranged, and everything within me cries, “This is not the way.” I also know exactly how I feel when I live the Christian way—I am universalized, at home. Everything within me cries, “This is the way!” His way is my way.

–E. Stanley Jones
The Word Became Flesh

Looking for God

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Every man who knocks 
on the door of a brothel 
is looking for God.

–G. K. Chesterton

Image by Vlado R. Vasilev

Published in: on 04/12/2013 at 2:42  Leave a Comment  
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Melted by mercy

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To your mercy and grace
I credit my sins being melted like ice;
to your mercy and grace I credit
whatever evil I have not done.

–St. Augustine (354 – 430)

Published in: on 01/21/2013 at 12:04  Leave a Comment  
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An easy yoke and a light burden

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The Christian way is the natural way to live; therefore, it is the way of the easy yoke and the light burden. The idea that sin is natural and the Christian way unnatural is a paralysis upon the Christian movement. It is false. God made us “good”. We have made ourselves bad. But the good is good for us, and the bad is bad for us. To be a Christian is not hard—not to be a Christian is hard.

When you live against Christ, you are
living against the grain of the universe.
You are frustrated and unhappy.

Carlyle says: “Sin is, has been , and every shall be the parent of misery.” Conversely goodness is, has been and ever shall be the parent of happiness. To follow Christ is not to follow a law, imposed and unnatural; but it is to follow the law of life—the law of my life, your life, our lives.

You fulfil yourself when you follow Christ.
You frustrate yourself when you follow some other way.

I John 5:3 says: “His commandments are not burdensome.” Why? Because he puts nothing on us? He puts everything on us. He dumps the world and its troubles into our hearts. Then the burden is burdensome? No, for his burden is the same burden that wings are to a bird, sails are to a ship, love is to the heart.

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When I say to an audience just before lunchtime, “Go to lunch,” is that command burdensome? No for their stomachs say the same thing.

What Jesus commands
our inmost nature commends.
It isn’t hard to be a Christian;
it is hard not to be a Christian.

A man came . . . and said, “Mr. Jones I only know one verse of Scripture, but I know that one is true: “the way of the transgressor is hard.” The Christian way is “hard”? It is supernaturally natural—you find Christ and you find yourself; you do his will and his will turns out to be your highest interest. His yoke is easy and his burden is light—for his yoke is my yearning, his burden is my blessing. His will is my freedom.

–E. Stanley Jones
A Song of Ascents
(emphasis added)

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