Don’t Let the Stink Stop You – Blessed are the Meek #5

Since it’s been nearly 3 months since the last post on the topic, here’s a review of the series on meekness[1] so far.  The first two posts contrasted two characters from the movie The Matrix, Agent Smith and Neo, to Jesus.  Agent Smith was the “Malevolent Incarnation,” who used and enforced rules to keep people in their place.  Smith can’t stand the stink of humanity and just wants to be free of it.  Neo, the hero of the Matrix series, is the “Ambivalent Incarnation” who wants to free mankind from rules, but otherwise wants to let them be as they are.  However, under Neo’s no-rules philosophy of “everyone should do what they want,” there is no foundation from which to object to anything someone else does, including brutal oppression.  Any objection is also an objection to the same philosophy Neo claims to hold, and “no city or house divided against itself will stand.”[2]

Jesus, contrasted to these, is the “Benevolent Incarnation.”  Jesus is more aware of the problems that make Agent Smith repulsed by us and that make him want to control us, but He also does not leave us alone with no way to overcome our problems.  He rules us for our good, and because we cannot meet His perfect standard, He lived it in our place, then died to cover the cost of our failure.  He wants to fix our stink, not because He hates us as Agent Smith does, but because He loves us in spite of our stink.  He refuses to allow us to stink forever, as Neo would.  He is benevolent, not malevolent or ambivalent.

Meekness is the third step in the Beatitudes, an intentionally sequential series of statements that describe what’s involved in following God, like gears in a machine: “First, being poor in spirit means that we have emptied ourselves of all illusions that our plans are better than God’s.  Second, mourning the state of ourselves and our world means we are emotionally engaged.  That we care.  In the third Beatitude, being meek is where we begin to engage our will, submitting it to God as our benevolent Lord.”

He wants us to also be benevolent incarnations, however we often don’t want to engage the third gear of meekness, where “the rubber meets the road” so to speak.  But if we don’t embrace it “the first two Beatitudes alone can leave us in a place where we’re a mess and the world is a terrible place and there’s nothing we can do about any of it.  It can be a place of depression and despair.”

Martha almost found herself stuck in this place when Jesus returned to Bethany after the death of Lazarus, her brother.  Jesus found the family mourning, then: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”  (John 11:39).  Jesus intended to raise Lazarus from the dead, but for Martha the stink was all she could think of.  Patently, Jesus encouraged her, the stone covering the entrance to the tomb was moved, and Lazarus walked out of the grave alive!

Don’t Let the Stink Stop You
Does the stench of sin keep us from being meek?  Do we, like Agent Smith, just want people to behave so we can go about our way?  Or does our obedience come first?  Jesus wants us to live as He lived, but we only can if we accept His righteousness and become invested in it at all levels of our being.  If we are truly poor in spirit and mourn our sin, what’s stopping us?

God won’t tell us to move the stone from Lazarus’ grave – that was Martha’s task. It also was not Jesus’ task.  We don’t do what Jesus would do, but what He would have us do.  He could have moved the stone Himself, but He wanted Martha to participate in His work, but to do that she had to be willing to be uncomfortable.

We all are often in Martha’s place, struggling with what Jesus wants us to do.  He asks us to do things that don’t make sense to us, that don’t make sense to the world, and sometimes it stinks (sometimes literally).  Jesus wants to bring His people to life, as He did with Lazarus, but there may be a stone He wants you to move, and it will only move if you have faith in Him stronger than the stink involved.

Meekness is the Cross
Meekness means carrying the cross the Father assigns to us.  For Jesus it was taking on all the sin of the world, not just by His death on a literal cross, but also by proactively taking on the consequences of it for the benefit of others.  We stink but He did not leave us alone.  For us, carrying the cross involves taking on some of the stink of the world, stepping into the suffering of others and offering the life that only Jesus can give.  What an amazing contrast this is to what’s so common today: pointing out sin everywhere and demanding those “other sinners” pay the price, or demanding that government solve the problem somehow, or withdrawing from problems that seem too big to do anything about.

Is there a stinky situation you’re aware of, but avoiding?  Being meek toward Jesus means we’re on board with His plan of salvation and willing to do our part, whatever that is.  Sometimes all that’s needed to bring someone life is moving a stone and enduring the odor.  While the smell was enough for Martha to hesitate, to Jesus it was part of the cost of living and dying for us.  He was willing to bear it, and if we meekly move the stone, Jesus will do the rest.


Post Script
Sometimes I put off writing thinking the time is better spent on the people and situations right in front of me.  Is hiding behind a screen and keyboard just an avoidance tactic?  At other times I know that each person’s meekness includes a response to their own calling and use of their specific gifts: “if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching.” (Romans 12:7). Meekness is difficult, and I pray we all find better balance as we grow in Christ.  Do the things God calls you to, even if it stinks sometimes!


[1] If you have the time, the previous posts are here: [1], [2], [3], and [4].  But I’ll summarize here as best I can.
[2] Matthew 12:25

The Cross of Christ is History

Christians rightly focus on the historical fact of the life, death, and resurrection as the foundation of their faith.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:14 – “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”  For Christianity to matter, these things must have actually happened.  Therefore, a lot has been written providing evidence that these events happened, and that Christian faith is not based on speculation, but on solid history.

Today I’m going to take a different angle on the significance of the “historical” part of “historical fact.”  This post is about the more straight-forward meaning that these events happened in the past.

Why This Matters
Because Christ lived in the past, the life of righteousness He lived for us, and that we inherit through faith, is unchangeable.  There is no other life that could be lived, or will be lived, that could be better or achieve more than what God intended it to achieve.  Perfection is assured because it already happened.  He has not fallen short.

Because Christ died on the cross in the past, He did it in consideration of every past, present, and future sin of His people.  Nothing you, or I, or any of His people have done, are doing now, or will do in the future, can undo the cross, because it has already happened.  He will not change His mind, and He will stand by those who have faith in Him.

Because Christ was resurrected in the past, He has proven that death cannot hold Him and that He will raise His people to new life as well.  He is alive now, and aware of everything happening not only in the global 24/7 news cycle, but also in the hearts and minds of every man.  The same power that raised Him works in His people, telling them through His Spirit that there is no better plan than the cross to create a world where man perfectly loves God and loves his fellow man.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 6:5-11

In a world full of pain and despair, “Preach the gospel at all times. And if necessary, use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Do You Have a Caged-Up Gorilla in Your Trunk?

I’ve been a fan of the rock band King’s X for many years and am currently reading King’s X: The Oral History, a book by Greg Prato that chronicles the history of the band entirely through quotes from the band, those who have worked with the band, music journalists, and other musicians.  They have a musical style all their own, combining heavy rock influences with complicated arrangements and Beatle-esque vocal harmonies.  Some even credit them with inventing the “grunge” genre, not just by often tuning their instruments to a lower, heavier tone, but also through their gritty lyrics as a contrast to the “hair metal” that dominated rock in the early and mid 1980s.  On top of the musical style, I also liked that in the late 1980s and early 1990s there were a lot of Christian themes in their lyrics but written around the reality of their struggles with their faith and with aspects of Christian culture and the music industry.  Unfortunately, these struggles continue for them, and only one of the three members seems to still be a Christian.

One of the reasons I bought the book was that it promised to cover “every song” in their catalog, and since some of their lyrics are enigmatic, I wanted more of the story.  The rest of this post is about one of those songs, how the book (understandably) didn’t explain it, and what I was able to get from it anyway.

When I unwrapped the book, the first thing I did was to find the hoped-for explanation of the lyrics for “Six Broken Soldiers.”  Written by the band’s drummer, Jerry Gaskill, it’s a different style than other songs and the lyrics seem intriguingly random.  Flipping through pages, I quickly found Jerry’s only comment on the song:

“It’s always hard for me to talk about lyrics, because I don’t like to say exactly what I’m thinking, because then that takes away from anything that you may get from it. When I write, I put everything I feel and think into each line, so it comes off very ambiguous sometimes, and even unintelligible sometimes. But I have specific things I’m thinking when I wrote that. Basically, it’s just me talking about me.”[1]

Jerry Gaskill

Bummer.  Although I was hoping for more specifics, I definitely understand an artist’s desire to let the audience interpret the work in their own way.  So, if “it’s just me talking about me,” what do I see knowing that, and re-reading the lyrics?  Below I’ll go into some of the lines and my take-aways, but it might be handy to have the lyrics, which you can find here, or if you want to hear the song, click here.  There are parts of it I don’t get, and will skip in my comments, but which meant something to the author and that might mean something to you.

Us Talking About Us
In general, I think the song describes the complexity of human personality, not just Jerry’s, but everyone’s, and how little we understand it.  First, the title of the song says a lot.  Brokenness is right there, but also “six” says we are broken in many ways.  We can all identify with having problems, and more than one of them.  With “soldiers” I think of our struggle against our problems, and that even the “soldiers” we have to fight them with have their own problems.  Our brokenness affects our ability to combat it and there’s no easy fix.

The opening verse suggests that our surrounding culture and heritage are not enough to solve these problems, and often don’t even care about them.  Is all we have an “American library” to deal with our sickness?  How often do you hear something on the news, or something a politician promises, and think – that’s exactly the answer to my specific situation?  Probably rarely, and even rarer if you consider whether they can actually do it, and on time for it to help you.  A lot of what is available to us is too vague and too ineffective to be what we really need.

The next part is series of seemingly random short phrases that are metaphorically part of our personality.  For me the lyrics include these parts:

  • Among the “Six broken soldiers in the trunk of my car”, there are parts of us we share with others (“Two of them speak”) and parts we’d rather not (“four go to bars”).  If this is what it means, then it also implies the parts we hide are much larger than the parts we let others know about.  All of it is baggage we carry with us everywhere we go, as in the trunk of our car.
  • “A caged up gorilla” – There are parts of us we don’t like, that might be harmful, and that we can barely control.
  • “three local bands” – There are parts of us that are experiences that led to where we are now, for good or ill.  King’s X had multiple, earlier versions before the current one, and so do we all.

Lastly, Jerry mentions an internal parrot that speaks multiple languages, all of them unintelligible, while “the audience he scans.”  Parrots repeat what they hear without understanding it so this line could mean there’s a lot that goes on inside ourselves that we don’t understand.  This echoes Paul’s frustration with himself in Romans 7:15 where he says: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  Our internal thoughts and motivations aren’t always reliable, and we don’t always know where they come from.

The parrot scanning the audience means he is looking for confirmation from outside that he is doing the right thing.  The irony is that when we don’t understand ourselves, why would we expect others to consistently understand us better and be able to guide us?  Do other people’s internal parrots speak more intelligibly than ours?  If they don’t, is popularity or majority rule a good guide for our decisions?  He has “sixpence and a quarter,” but doesn’t know what to do with it.

Not a very hopeful song, so what to take away from it?

First, that there is far, far more diversity inside of any one individual for even that individual to understand.  How can any society, armed with only an “American library,” hope to truly deal with people as actual individuals?  We can claim to respect the individual and stand for diversity and inclusion, but are such things even possible without vastly oversimplifying the situation?

Second, that there is far, far more brokenness in each individual for anyone other than God to fully diagnose and treat.  From what vantage point can we actually see the truth we each need, know the answers to our problems, and effectively apply them?

Before moving to the last section, I must clarify that I’m not saying human efforts at solving our problems are totally wrong and useless.  Many people manage their problems well enough alone and others manage with a lot of help from different sources.  Good friends, family, and in some cases therapy and medication, are very helpful.  We know a lot more about human psychology and other related topics than we used to.  The “American library” is not a static thing, but grows and changes over time, sometimes improving and becoming more effective, but not always.  Sometimes “progress” creates more, newer, problems before the old ones are solved.   Therefore, when honestly looking at the human condition with eyes wide open, we seem doomed to always fall short of a full solution with the resources we have.  What we have is not sufficient, but we have hope.

Where Does Hope Come From?
While our Six Broken Soldiers seem hopeless, there is an answer from outside our inner confusion and from beyond our material existence.  Members of King’s X are (or were) fans of C.S. Lewis[2], who wrote this description of mankind from Aslan, the fictional kingly lion who represents Jesus, in Prince Caspian, part of the Chronicles of Narnia series:

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve. And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth.  Be content.”[3]

Against our problems, we have far, far more dignity and nobility and talent than could possibly come by some cosmic accident.  We are each individual creatures of a loving God, and we have far more than an “American library” at our disposal.  We have Someone who knows us fully as the complex people we are, who loves us completely, and who was broken so that we might be delivered from our brokenness.

Therefore, come to Jesus, bring your Six Broken Soldiers, and ask Him to heal all of them.  He is an infinite resource.  There’s nothing about you He doesn’t already know and understand, and nothing He does not have a solution for.


If you don’t know how to do that or what that means, read this earlier post about what it means to have a loving, personal relationship with our Maker and Lord Jesus, who guides and empowers us to love as He does.


[1] Prato, Greg. King’s X: The Oral History (2019).  P. 97.
[2] Their first album was titled “Out of the Silent Planet,” and they later released a song referencing a chapter in “That Hideous Strength,” two books written by Lewis.
[3] Lewis, C.S.  Prince Caspian (1951).

The Transfiguration: A Preview of Glory and Delight

Last week I posted about Psalm 36:8, where David thanks God that His people may “drink from the river of your delights.”   Since the word for “delights” is the plural of Eden, these occasional sips God provides us point to a past and future paradise.  These delights strengthen our hope of heaven and strengthen us to live in this world for Him.  Jesus provided such a moment for His disciples in the event known as the Transfiguration, when Jesus took His disciples Peter, James, and John up a mountain for a vision of His future glory.  Matthew records in his gospel that Jesus “was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”[1]

Moses and Elijah also appeared and spoke with Jesus, perhaps representing the law and the prophets of the Old Testament and how it all pointed to Jesus.  Peter wanted to make this moment last, and offered to “make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.[2]  But it was not intended to last long, yet.

The Transfiguration was a preview of heaven, a sneak peek into what eternity will be like, a promise of future blessing under Jesus, the glorified King.  The fulfillment of everything the law and prophets hinted at will be realized.  However, Moses and Elijah soon disappeared, Jesus and His disciples descended from the mountain, and the disciples very soon struggled as we all do, but they persevered as we also must. Pray that God will make eternity real to His people today, even if for only a moment, giving a “drink from the river of your delights” and strengthen us to live for Him.


[1] Matthew 17:2
[2] Matthew 17:4

Let God Speak to Your Inner Wilderness

I’ve written recently about John the Baptist[1], who announced the coming of Jesus, baptized Him, and led the way for His ministry to begin.  This John was identified with “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’”[2] prophesied by Isaiah.  Today I want to describe a little more about the passage from Isaiah 40:3-5, which says:

A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
            make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
            and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
            and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
            and all flesh shall see it together,
            for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’”

Is Isaiah talking about a massive, miraculous geological event, creating an easier route for Jesus to take to His kingdom?  Perhaps in the future something like this will happen, but I think Isaiah is saying that God’s power over nature is a symbol of His power to reform and perfect us into the character of His Son Jesus.

Before Jesus comes into our lives, we are a spiritual “wilderness” full of “uneven ground” and “rough places.”  The path of our salvation begins in this wilderness, an unorganized chaos of thoughts and desires.  We are like “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”  However, the power of the LORD enters our low valleys – our guilty secrets, shame and depression – which will be raised up.  It progresses through our mountains and hills – areas of pride, self-sufficiency, and our desire for power – which will be made low.  God, with the same power that created the universe, removes all obstacles to the coming of His kingdom to us, and to the world.  He has given us His word, His Spirit, and fellow believers to strengthen us, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”  (Ephesians 4:13-14)

John the Baptist called his followers to confession and repentance.  In announcing the coming of the kingdom of God, John anticipated a time when our internal and external wildernesses will become a paradise.  Until then, we each have different hills and valleys, different uneven and rough areas.  Until then, the world remains full of false doctrine, cunning, craftiness and deceit.

Today, pray that the powerful voice of our LORD will reach into your wilderness and remove obstacles on the path to His kingdom.  Pray that His word and His Spirit will reveal His glory.  Pray that all believers will answer the call of “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” to build up His church.

Amen.


[1] See recent post here.
[2] Isaiah 40:3, quoted in Matthew 4:3.