Amazing Grace for a Wretch Like Me

Have you ever heard the song “Your Grace Is Enough?”  If you have been around church for anything length of time chances are that it has been sung as a worship song or played as mood music.  The chorus very simply states, “Your grace is enough for me.”  I have heard this song and sung in probably hundreds of times in the past 10 years, but the words became incredibly alive to me about a month ago during a church service.  The band began playing music, and I immediately recognized the tune.  However, when the leaders began to sing, I could not lift my voice to join in the refrain.  At that moment God showed me an incredible truth that I had simply been failing to recognize and a subtle lie that I had exchanged it for…

The past five months have been some of the most difficult in my spiritual journey.  Ideas that I have about God have been challenged, the way that I read and interpret the Word has been tested, and I have failed to see that God is at work. I have been reminded of my deep sinfulness and how easily I am distracted.  There have been tearful nights full of sorrow and nights of deep pain in which the tears simply would not come.  Simply stated, I did not experience or recognize the nearness of God for much of the second half of 2013.  I did not lose my Bible knowledge, and I tried my hardest to cling to Psalm 73:26-28, maintaining the nearness of God as my good.  All my attempts at reassuring myself by what I know were futile.  I slowly began to recognize that all my efforts to recall Scripture were not enough because I was not believing and trusting the truths that I have so long held to.  All the knowledge in the world is not able to overcome a lack of faith and lack of belief.  I realized how pointless my knowledge was if I was not believing… 

During all of this everything from an external level seemed wonderful.  I was doing well in school, performing my job as an RA, and even started dating an awesome, godly woman.  All those externals were not enough to alleviate the pain that I felt or the darkness in which I walked.  My prayers were mechanical and powerless.  My time spent in God’s Word was obligatory.  My conversations about spiritual matters often lacked the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.  My understanding was weak and my faith grew smaller and smaller.  I was being humbled beyond measure by the weaknesses that I recognized.  There were days that pain drove me to cry out to the Lord and to run to Him, but most days I only went to Him because I knew I was supposed to and that I desperately needed to.  There was no urgency in my pursuit and practice of His presence.  I was clinging to faith and clinging to love, hoping simply to weather the storm…

I remembered my godly heritage and the way that I used to approach the throne of God with my friends and loved ones.  I remembered the times that I had urgently sought the face of God believing that He would hear my prayers and respond.  I remember times having His eyes and His heart for people.  I could recall conversations in which the Spirit flowed through and broke down walls and barriers in other’s lives.  All the memories served only to deepen the pain and remind me the degree to which I had fallen.  There was no solace in remembering only an overwhelming feeling of guilt…

Then that night at Blue Ridge when we began to corporately sing that His grace is enough, that He has reached down to us, that He wrestles with our hearts, it all began to make sense.  It was not an instant enlightenment that began to wrangle me up from the pit, but instead it was a spark that began to illuminate.  That night I realized that I often believe that God’s grace is enough for everyone else except for me.  FALSE!  It is as if I think that I should know better than to commit certain sins or to give in to temptations and am therefore undeserving of God’s grace.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Throughout this period of darkness I was quick to extend an invitation to God’s grace to others, but I was unwilling to accept it myself.  Certainly I could make no excuses or come up with any good explanations to explain my lack of pursuit of God and desire for Him.  Certainly my sinfulness was too great to be pardoned because I know better….

What I didn’t realize is that this attitude is nearly blasphemous.  It ultimately is a belief that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross was not enough for me.  How foolish and arrogant a thing to say!  It is a slap across Jesus’s face to say that He spilled His blood as a sacrifice for the covering of all sins, but my sins are too great to be included in that.  My life was demonstrating that I still felt as though I had something to earn.  The moment that a restored relationship with God becomes contingent upon my own works of merit is the moment grace has been eradicated and a law of works has taken its place.

Please read all of Ephesians 2 to get a better idea of what I am saying, but below I include verses 3-9.

Ephesians 2:3-9 (NASB)

Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

For a long time I have boasted in my own spiritual strength, in my ability to seek after God.  However, I have come to so clearly see that it means nothing for me to seek after God if He has not taken the first step of initiative.  I no longer want to neglect or deny the grace of God poured out in the blood of Jesus Christ.  In Him I have believed for my salvation, and in Him I must continue to trust for the sustaining power that makes me alive. 

Since that service about a month ago, I have learned a host of things that I can do to improve in my walk with the Lord, but the foundation of it all is remembering His grace.  He has changed me and humbled me in so many ways.  I am not who I once was and my progress and growth continues to be up and to the right.  Every season looks a little different, but He will continue to carry me through each one.  I look forward to what the next season holds as I attempt to eliminate distractions and run into His presence and as I return to the simple truths for the foundations of my deeper spiritual musings. 

The Lord truly is my light and my salvation, and He will always continue to be my song…

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Are You Even Saved? Moving Out of Comfort to Consider Whether We Truly Live

I want to recognize from the start that this is a dangerous topic to approach and an incredibly difficult question to address.  It is my prayer right now that I would not write from my flesh, but that the Spirit would overshadow my flesh as I write these words and propose these questions. 

The subject I address here, as even evidenced by the title, sounds quite scary when you really stop to consider the implications of your answer to it.  For years of my life I assumed that I was saved. This is a dangerous assumption.  Consider the implications of a wrong assumption.  ETERNAL DEATH.  SEPARATION FROM GOD. 

I am not claiming to be perfect.  I am not claiming to have all the answers.  I am simply writing out of conviction and recognition that feeling uncomfortable is often a good thing because it stimulates growth.  It removes us from our static circumstances and the kingdom of thought we have constructed to preserve comfort and self-facilitated stability.  God’s grace saves and sustains us, but we must first be saved if we are to walk in the overwhelming love of the Father.

Matthew 7:15-23

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.   A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.   Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

One of my great fears is that we walk in the midst of a generation of Christians in America who think they are saved, that they have become members of the kingdom but they have not.  Look at this passage in Matthew 7.  People who come before the Lord on the Day of Judgment may declare God as Lord with their mouths, may have practiced and performed what seem to be powerful acts of ministry, and yet never truly knew God.  In the midst of the comfort we can perform spiritual tasks and principles while remaining completely self-reliant and never seeking the face of God.  On the day when Lord returns, will he find comfortable religious people who meet in church buildings for social purposes or even for good causes, or will He find people who have sought Him because they desire to know His heart and practice His ways?  Will the deception of our comfortable lives deprive us from entering into intimate relationship with and knowledge of God?

We live in a culture that places exorbitant value on security and comfort.  The American church in general shies away from uncomfortable questions and topics.  It is not my desire to attempt to wow you with overzealous, shocking statements.  It is merely my desire to create a little discomfort, to open the door for a small amount of healthy insecurity.  My sincere desire is that the following questions and statements will drive you back to the Word for answers.  If you are truly saved, asking these questions will not be dangerous because you have an anchor both sure and steadfast (Hebrews 6:19-20).  All of that being said, this time must begin with you taking a serious inventory of your life by dropping your safeguards, leaving your comfort zone, and subjecting yourself to the Holy Spirit.  Allow the Spirit to search your heart,, all of the self-seeking motivations and sinful tendencies. Use the following questions as a guide to facilitate questioning at a deeper level.  Do not gloss over these things.  The danger of missing the truth is incredibly real.  O how easy it would be right now to cling to an ideal you have developed about yourself and your relationship with God.  Loose the defense mechanisms.  Let down every wall.  Throw off the chains that bind you and hold you as slave even still.  Open yourself up to a greater freedom and perhaps even more abundant life than you have ever known by laying down the desire to save face and be accepted by people.  This is between you and God.  PRAY now because your life depends upon it.  PRAY to allow the Spirit in deeper than you ever have before.  Lay down the fight, and consider:

Are you truly saved?

Is there evidence that you have been changed?

Do you walk in a new nature, the nature of the Spirit of Christ?

Are your words about God and the prayers you offer up more than mere intellectual assents to knowledge of a system of religious practices?

Do you have a relationship with the Father, or are you self-reliant, focused on carrying out a system of religious practices and principles?

Is your mind bent on eternity, or are you focused on gratifying desires through temporal pleasures and momentary satisfactions?

Do you hear the truth?  Does the truth make you free?  What desires drive you?

John 8:31-47

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”  Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever.  So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.”  They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus *said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.  But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me,for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.  Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”

It would be so easy in the comfort we have here to effectively waste our lives by spending our time chasing after things of this world.  Jesus’ frustration with the Jews mindset is incredibly clear in this passage.  Though they claimed to believe, they were not listening to the words of Jesus.  They were not fully putting their trust in Him.  They did not recognize the truth of the things that He was teaching them.  They could not understand the new relationship and covenant with God that Jesus was inaugurating and as a result could not recognize the new way of life that it would bring.  Do you recognize that believing in Jesus, is believing the truth of who He is.  It is coming under the conviction of the entire Word of truth.  Who we are is called into deep question by the very character of Jesus.  The promise of freedom that Jesus gives is in believing that He is better, that His way is the only way.  It consists of taking on His life.  Do you hear the Word of truth and treasure it?  Is “truth” merely a set of principles and system of knowledge to you, or is it your lifeblood?  Does truth provide life for you, driving your desires and your decisions.  Has the person who embodied Truth, Jesus Christ, consumed your life and burned off everything, all of the sin, that once enslaved you?

John 14:6  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

Read the following passages with new eyes and allow them to call into question your very character and nature.  By the power of the Spirit use these inspired words of God to test your heart and behavior to understand if you truly stand in the grace that has been offered through Christ’s sacrificial, substitutionary death.

James 1:21-27

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.  If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 2:14-26

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, isdead, being by itself.  But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?  You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.   In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Philippians 2:1-16

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.  Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.

Hebrews 12:1-14

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, theauthor and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father ofspirits, and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble,  and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.  Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.

 How big of a role ought the Word to play in our lives?  O, how the Truth ought to consume us!  But do you value it?  Is it more precious to you than the riches of this world?

Are you a merely a hearer of the Word and not a doer, never taking the truth to heart and moving to action?  Do you know your frame?  Do you know who you are meant to be in your new nature?

Do you live for others or for yourself?  Even in your service, do you do it for yourself or because you have been so possessed by Love Himself?  Are you driven to remain unstained by the world?  Do you live set apart?

Do you serve mere shadows and worship a designer god who is not the true God?  Is your religion worthless?

What use is it if you say you have faith, and there is no evidence of that faith?  Has that type of faith truly been implanted in your soul and pierced your heart?  Is your faith DEAD?  Does your level of faith in God merely put you on par with the demons?  Would you even be willing to consider that your faith may be useless?  Works are the fruit and evidence of a changed heart, a heart that draws near to God in faith.

I am asking a lot of questions.  A lot.  I realize that, but I don’t think we ask ourselves enough questions a lot of the time.  I am convinced that we do not work out our salvation as we are commanded to do in Philippians 2:12.  I have previously written of Jesus’ incredible example of obedience, but such obedience does not come easily.  It requires great measures of work and effort.  Being set apart from the world and refusing to succumb to the world’s philosophies and methodologies demands an aggressive and determined effort.  There is no halfway.  There is no partial surrender.  Only absolute surrender will suffice.  Does your behavior align with the Word?  Will your life be vain?  Will you truly hold fast to the calling with which you’ve been called?

Look at the words of the charge.  Understand the Father’s discipline.  See that the questions and the struggle are for our good and sanctification.  Have you resisted to the point of the shedding of blood in your striving against sin?  How determined are you?  Is your determination founded on Christ and what He has done?  Do you set Him as your goal?  Are your eyes fixed on Him?

Do you see what I am getting at?  There is an urgency that we so often lack in the way that we walk, in the way we deal with sin, in the direction of our affections.  We become so focused on ourselves and on things of this world.  We cling to temporal things for stability.  We seek the acceptance of the world and even of our brothers and sisters before we seek after the approval of God.  We must question the things that we value and the things that we seek, because there is no true value apart from the risen Savior, apart from the presence of our God and King.

II Corinthians 5:1-9

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.  For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.  Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.

I end with the same question I started with.  Are you really saved?

Have you been gripped with desire for another for another home?

Has it become your ambition to be pleasing to God no matter what place or condition you find yourself in?

If I am certain of anything, it is that the glory to be revealed far outweighs the present weight and pain of our separation from the Father.  There is eternal glory that has been offered to us.  Complete satisfaction and lasting security belongs to those who truly believe.  But we must continually ask ourselves some tough questions and consider where we our desires are leading us and what we are focused on.  We must work this out, trusting in God to provide the strength in our overwhelming weakness and our satisfaction in the midst of the deep darkness that surrounds us.  Another world beckons all those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ.  Those who are in Him long to be with Him.  When He returns will there be true faith found on the earth?  I close with a quote by Jim Elliot, a man who gave his young life wholly, but not perfectly, for the sake of the gospel.  We can all take a few cues from this line in the way we approach life, in the way we surrender…

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Philippians 3:7-14

Living In Reality With God: Avoiding the Error of the Pharisees

Who is Jesus?

How do we talk about Him?

Is He merely an ideal to us?

What is the danger of ideological musings?

The past couple weeks I have been observing a dangerous trend in Christian conversation, that is conversation that is theological in nature.  The danger in theology is to reason and postulate without developing application.  This danger is especially prevalent for those who are intellectual students of the word of God.  However, the layman and common man, especially in an American culture that so highly values knowledge, does not escape the danger of appeasing their conscience by simply reasoning and talking about God.  Without practicality, theology is pointless and profitless.  God is not nearly as concerned with our ability to reason and store up knowledge as He is with our ability to apply the knowledge we attain properly.  Theology affects reality and does not merely exist in theory.  When we talk about theology in a lofty manner, we often end up developing a false reality, a theoretical world.  This is the same danger the Pharisees ended up encountering in their study of the Law.  They ended up serving a mere shadow and copy of the reality of God (Hebrews 10:1-10).  They missed the point of the Law in all of their reasoning about it.  The lofty character of their conversation, study, and learning produced a spirit of self-righteousness.  They ended up chasing an outward ideal of righteousness that they could not inwardly attain to, and when Jesus arrives on the scene they are called out for their hypocrisy and pride (Matthew 23).  The new covenant Jesus brings puts the faultiness of their philosophy and the crudeness of the their self-righteousness on display (Hebrews 8:1-7).

Now I must ask again.

Are we seduced by the philosophy of our culture and the ways of the world that regard the attainment of knowledge and facts as a measure of success and prestige?

Has knowledge become the supreme goal of our spirituality?

Have we developed a lofty theology that is entirely unpractical in nature?

Have we talked about Jesus so much in a theoretical sense that we have lost sight of who He is?

Has Jesus become a mere philosophy, a set of ideals and principles, or do you know the God-man?

Is God’s power openly displayed in your life, or has your knowledge of theology developed a pride that self-righteously seeks a justification by works rather than the one acquired by faith alone?

Can your practice match and measure up to your theology?

Do you really want to know God, or does it appease you to merely know about Him?

I know these are hard and probing questions that can easily be misconstrued.  I am certainly not opposed to the study of God’s word to discover more of His character and to develop, to the best of our ability, a theology that accurately portrays His nature and character.  However, I am sick of conversations that belittle the King of Glory, Jesus Christ, who left His heavenly throne to endure the consequences of the curse of sin in order to redeem a fallen Creation.  How often do we flippantly mention the name of Jesus or the gospel of grace?  If we fail to make much of Him, much of the Father, much of the Godhead, in our practice of theology, we fail to truly know Him.  If our reasoning about God never moves past theory, we never experience the power of God demonstrated through us, the abundant life promised to us, or the unfathomable joy that stems from knowing God personally and intimately.  Knowledge alone can never produce true life because abundant life comes only through the abiding presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.

John 17

Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.  I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We areWhile I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.  But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.   I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil oneThey are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.  I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.  The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.  Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

Have we forgotten that God truly became a man?  Jesus endured the elements.  He felt the cold of winter and the extreme heat of the Arab summer.  He experienced pain when He stubbed His toe or jammed a finger.  He experienced a pain most men or women could never fathom in the beating He incurred prior to His gruesome execution.  He experienced emotion in the same way we do.  He cried when Lazarus died (an extremely deep and vast concept all its own).  He experienced the elation of those who were healed and restored.  He became angry when made aware of the perversions and sins taking place within the temple.  Jesus walked this earth the same way we do, one foot after the other.  At times He needed solitude, so He went off to the side of the mountain to spend time with His Father.  Jesus is no mere ideal, not simply an example.  He lives in us.

John 14:6

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me.”

Do you see the depths of this assertion that Jesus makes in the midst of His address to His disciples?  He tells His disciples that He goes to prepare a place for them and when asked the way to get there, He makes a bold statement.  There is but one way to the Father.  No man will reach the Father apart from Jesus Christ.  We will not save ourselves through the attainment of knowledge and the implementation of a system of principles based on the learned character of God.  The truth is a man.  Life comes only through this man.  He is the only way.  Paul points this out often in the theology of salvation he teaches to the Romans.  We cannot live a godly life apart from the power and spirit of Christ in us.  He gives us life.  However, we still must have knowledge of this life He gives.  That is how Christ establishes the Law.

Romans 3:21-31

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; or the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.  Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also,since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.  Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

Romans 8: 9-11

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 1If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

The Jews did not recognize and could not understand the coming of Jesus because they were trapped in an ideological way of thinking.  Part of the purpose of Romans 2 is to eliminate the ideals and presuppositions perpetuated by Jewish thinking in order to establish the truth of the good news of Jesus.  How man ideals have we developed when we think about Jesus and the good news He brings?  My fear is that we have developed many ideals and presuppositions that we attach to the gospel, perhaps not verbally but internally, that elevate the gospel to a lofty theology or ideal that is effectually impractical and surreal. My fear is that we are not truly coming to know Jesus the man, our Savior.  My fear is that when we talk about the gospel we think only of a list of facts and a set of principles.  The depths of His riches and mercy extend so far beyond man’s reason and the knowledge of this world!  Do we wonder why so many men and women who claim to be Christians are actually asleep?

Sleeping Christians have traded the Truth for a pursuit of knowledge only to become puffed up and self-righteous.  They miss the mystery and power of a passage such as the one above from Romans 8 that explains our ability to pursue and attain a practical righteousness through the presence of God in us.  We spend time reasoning and talking about our fickle and evil affections.  If Christ lives in us will we have any choice in regards to the direction of our affections?  If we abide in the vine will we not find true Life (John 15)?

I question whether we really want to know God. I know in my own experience that often times I have settled for mere knowledge and neglected spiritual power that is truly transformative.  I have attempted at times to be a “Christian” apart from Christ, a Christian in theory and not in practice.  We have all seen and been challenged by Christians who seem to have something that we do not, those who seem to have a walk so much deeper and closer to the Father than ours.  We have envied their relationship with the Father not taking time to examine the shortcomings of our purposes, which affect our relationship with Him.  Where does the separation originate?  What really is the difference?

In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning states, “Perhaps the real dichotomy in the Christian community today is not between conservatives or liberals or creationists and evolutionists but between the awake and the asleep.”

What causes us to sleep?  What is dulling our consciousness?  Why are some clearly awake while others remain?

I return to the question: do we really want to know God, not just know about Him?

I don’t know if this post maintains continuity.  I am simply pointing out a deep problem that I have witnessed in my life and my conversations with others.  I recognize that much of the message that I desire to convey is deeply spiritual in nature and cannot be put into words.  It is my prayer that the Spirit will convict your heart even as He has been convicting my mind and causing me to ask these questions.  I realize that I provide no solution to the questions I have asked or the problem I have pointed out.  I don’t think there is an answer I can provide or that I am qualified to give.  Only God can give you the answer, and only His presence and power can truly wake you up.

Are you awake or are you asleep?

Will you be found ready upon Christ’s return?

Will you spend your life living for a mere ideal, a shadow of the heavenly things?

Or will you spend your life alive and awake in Christ?

Pray.  Ask the questions.  Ask the Father to wake you up. Pray. 

Do not fall into the sin of the Pharisees and the Jews.  Lay aside pride and self-righteousness.

Can you see the ways that you have made Jesus out to be a mere fact and concept?

Are you willing to do something dangerous and submit your mind to Christ?

Will you allow your knowledge and theology to move beyond theory and reasoning?

Will you confront your sin and allow your failures to become real to you?

Immediately prior to Brennan Manning’s quote about the dichotomy found in Christianity, between the awake and the asleep, he says, “The ragamuffin gospel reveals that Jesus forgives sins, including sins of the flesh; that He is comfortable with sinners who remember how to show compassion; but that He cannot and will not have a relationship with pretenders in the Spirit.”

Pride and self-righteousness are sins of the flesh that God cannot tolerate.  Will you be found out to be merely a pretender in the Spirit, someone who knows a lot about God but never truly experiences intimacy with Him?

Will you spend your life sleeping when the offer to experience wakefulness beyond comprehension has been presented to you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Necessary Change of Perception: Eliminating the Partiality Complex

 AMERICA

Oh no.  We know where this is headed.  Another post about how messed up America is and how desperately it needs to return to the Father.   Another essay demonstrating the degree to which America has left its roots and turned from God.

Well I hate to disappoint you, but my writing now is not critical of America as a whole.  My purpose in what I am about to write has nothing to do with political reform or financial gain.  I write from a place of deep personal conviction and intense realization of an incredible grievance and travesty in my own life.  The problem I now write about is a consequence of Christian philosophy in predominately middle-class, suburban churches in America.  Many such churches double as social clubs, self-help groups, political gatherings, business endeavors, or charity centers.  The pursuits of churches such as these seem noble, but at the core are incredibly empty, self-centered, and detrimental to true pursuit of God.  It is difficult to deny these assertions, and your experience likely confirms my accusations.  At this point you may be steaming with anger or simply annoyed.  Stop.  I assure you that my purpose in writing is not judgment and that I share equally in this problem.  I have been convicted of my sin and had to deal with the same issues I will address hereafter.  Stop before you continue.  Set your emotions and self-image aside.  Do not take my words as personal affronts.  Rather, let the Spirit work through these words and observations.  Pray now, pray as you read, and please be honest with yourself.  This post is not meant to be pleasant or easy to read.  It is meant to dig deep, so open your eyes and let the Spirit search your heart.  Pray.

Members of churches such as the ones I described above have developed an interesting and concerning philosophy and at times have attempted to incorporate and combine the American dream with the call of Christ.  I do not have time to go into how the idea of the American dream is fundamentally flawed from the perspective of the gospel so I will simply state that the American dream based on American societal and cultural philosophy is the attainment of pleasure and success through the attainment of possessions, power, and popularity.  In churches composed of predominantly comfortable, middle-class members, it is nearly an imperative to develop a philosophy that incorporates the principles of the American dream.  Many who come from the type of churches I am describing do ministry work and “spiritual” activity in order to promote themselves and gain popularity and power through a sense of spiritual attainment and authority.  Their focus is not on loving God or loving others and is resultantly sinful.  The heart of the issue is clear; when the American Dream is brought into Christian philosophy it is no longer a Christian philosophy clearly identifiable with the message of the gospel and the cross of Christ.  Perhaps the best name for such a philosophy is a “spiritualized American dream.”  It is fundamentally flawed and inherently wrong, yet scores of American Christians adhere to it without even recognizing the error in their thinking.

American culture operates based on systems and classifications.  We are organized into groups based on what kind of job we have, how much money we make, and how influential we are.  Success is measured as a function of these three categories as I previously mentioned.  It leads those who live by worldly philosophy to view those who do not have as much money, power, or fame as less valuable.  The person who works the cash register at McDonald’s is viewed as unsuccessful, unmotivated, and ultimately less valuable than the famous neurosurgeon or wealthy professional athlete.  A person’s value is judged based on their ability to contribute to society and to build their own proverbial kingdom.  

With all of this in mind how could the church adopt or even incorporate a philosophy that operates on such flawed values?

How does such a perspective influence the way we view ourselves and others?

Is this a partiality akin to the racism and sexism that has dominated our world for the entirety of its history?

The answers to these questions are indications of a disastrous dilemma.

I must begin with my story over the past several years.  I have spent time ministering to people in a variety of settings and environments over in that time.  I have been to Brazil on the foreign field and likewise served in urban, suburban, and rural settings here in America.  Everywhere I have gone, I have come to see more and more that American Christians are often quite flawed in our thinking.  I have seen how I served and ministered at times for my own benefit.  I have been guilty of valuing myself above others and developing categories that I immediately insert people into.  I have attempted to love less desirable members of society with a lesser love, a different love, than that with which God has loved me.  At first I didn’t even realize I was doing these things, but as time has progressed God has deeply convicted me of these fundamental issues in my thinking.  My mindset in ministry has often been flat out sinful. When I evaluate and judge others to be less valuable than myself, it is a personal affront to God.  When I attempt to love people differently than He loves me (unconditionally and incomprehensibly), I distort His very character.  When we operate in such a way, the consequences can have eternal significance in the lives of those whom we assault with our words and insult with our actions. 

I will develop these thoughts more deeply as this post continues, but I would like to begin by providing some more specific examples of categories and harsh descriptors that we all have likely seen used or used ourselves at some point in our lives.

Drug Dealer                                                                                     Stupid

Autistic                                                                                              Lazy

Mental                                                                                          Degenerate

Welfare                                                                                            Outcast

Factory Worker                                                                                   Poor

Learning Impaired                                                                        Unsuccessful 

Criminal                                                                                            Mediocre

Nerd                                                                                                 Unpopular

Takers                                                                                               Mooches

 

Many of us may never explicitly or verbally use these labels to describe people, but we still have a fundamental issue that causes us to devalue the lives of individuals that have made poor decisions, have a physical disability, or choose not to work hard.  People in these positions deal with judgmental glances and incessant verbal assault for the majority of their lives to the point that they begin to believe the lie that society tells them.  They believe they are not valuable and have no real purpose. Ultimately, they live lives corresponding to the label they are given.

I have come to recognize that I am incredibly partial, demonstrating greater openness and love to those who look like me, act like me, or measure up to what I maintain to be succesful.  I have seen the damage words can do.  Words certainly have the power to speak life or to bring death, a blessing or a curse (Proverbs 18:21, James 3:9-12).  The issue of the value that others hold is of paramount importance, and the words we use to talk with and refer to others are critical.

Take a moment to ask yourself whether or not you participate in such verbal abuse or partiality.  It is a sneaky sin and can easily go unnoticed.  Spiritual reasons can quickly be contrived and taken out of context to justify a continuance of such a value system.  Don’t do it.  It is unbiblical and contrary to the character of God.  Stop.

The people we come in contact with every day all have the same unique and inherent value in the eyes of God.  We are all created equal.  Do you hear what that is saying?  You have no more ascribed worth the panhandler you pass on the sidewalk and no less than your wealthy boss.  God created Adam in His image (Genesis 1:27), and as a result every person to come after bears the image of God.  He uniquely forms people in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16).  There is no distinction and no partiality with God.  The same message of hope through Jesus is available to every person on earth. 

The universality and inclusivity of the gospel is a message made clear to Peter in Acts 10.  Up to the point of this revelation and vision the apostles and disciples had primarily if not solely been taking the message of the gospel to the Jews.  They maintained a message promoting and ascribing greater worth to Jewish descendants, heirs of God’s physical covenant with Abraham.  Yet if we turn back to God’s promise to Abraham it is clear to see that God’s goal is to bring a blessing to the whole earth through the line of Abraham (Genesis 17:5-7).  This is not to belittle the standing of the spiritual Israel in the Old Testament, but it is to say that God did not intend to redeem only one people.  If you read Acts 10 and 11 to see Peter’s interaction with Cornelius and his report to the council of elders in Jerusalem, it is clear that there is a drastic shift in his perception and mindset.

Acts 10:28-29, 34-35

And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me…” Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”

 

Do you see the consequences and results of this revelation?  

God does not show partiality.  He does not regard one person as more or less valuable than another.  This is clearly seen in Jesus’s earthly example as well.  He spent time with people in every level of society.  He called fishermen and tax collectors to follow.  He ministered to lame and sick, the wealthy and powerful. He showed the same love to all.  How dare we call any person unholy or unclean?

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

This is probably the most well known verse of Scripture throughout the earth among the pagan and Christian alike.  Have you ever stopped to seriously consider the implications of it?  When Jesus says “the world,” He is not merely referring to the earth that we live on.  He was referring to those who bear His image who wonder the face of this planet.  In saying “God so loved the world,” Jesus makes it incredibly clear that there is no distinction with God.  God has loved every person on the earth with a love greater than this world has ever known.  He loved the world so much that He was willing to lay down His heavenly throne to walk on a cursed earth and suffer a gruesome death that He might restore the immortality and brokenness of the crowning being of His creation.  The death that Jesus died for you and I, he died for the prostitute and the priest, the genius and mentally handicapped, the gangbanger and the CEO.  His Love carries no weight of partiality.  He died for every human-being trapped by the curse of sin.  He died for the man who molests children or spends his money on prostitutes.  He died for the fruitful member of society who is considered to be a good person.  He died to set us free from ourselves, and His blood makes each one of us whole.  It restores the intended design.  Can we even begin to understand this love He has shown?

Micah 7:18-20
Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity
And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?
He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in unchanging love.
He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities under foot.
Yes, You will cast all their sins
Into the depths of the sea.
You will give truth to Jacob
And unchanging love to Abraham,
Which You swore to our forefathers
From the days of old.

These are the closing verses of the book of Micah.  God spent the first 5 chapters chastising Israel for their failure to follow Him.  In those chapters, God repeatedly rebukes His people for their failure to trust Him and their propensity to chase after dead, worthless idols.  He then reminds His people in chapter 6 and 7 about what He has done for them. God tells Israel that He will ultimately judge their oppressors and that His chastisement and judgment is for their good.  He promises to remind Israel of His righteousness and to show them His good purpose and plan for their restoration and salvation.  He reminds them of how He has proven faithful in the past.  The entire book culminates in the three verses above.  Read them again.  What do we find?

We find truths that provide incredible comfort and truth to a dark and broken world.  God shines light into what appears to be a hopeless situation.  These verses are promises and a revelation of God’s character.  He does not cling to remembrance of our sin and iniquity, nor does He maintain His anger forever.  He does not find joy and delight in His judgment and anger.  No, He delights in UNCHANGING LOVE.  He prefers compassion and forgiveness.  God would rather cast our sins into the depths of the sea and to remember His covenant with those who believe in Him.  He is light and truth.  He is love.

1 John 4:8-9

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.

God sent Jesus that He might bring life to dead men in a dying world.  In this He has demonstrated His essential character.  He is love.  This is what Micah points to.  This is what Jesus demonstrates.  It is what God has stated repeatedly through many prophets over the course of history.  We see it all over Scripture.  God is a restorer and redeemer.  God is love.  If we attempt to show a different kind of love to people based on our perceptions, judgment, and valuation of them, we have not truly come to know God.

1 John 4:16-18

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.  God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also we are in this world.  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.  

 

The world is full of fear, shame, guilt, judgment, darkness, brokenness, pain, frustration, and disappoint.  How dare we find ourselves fighting against God by presenting a counterfeit love?  How dare we perpetuate judgment and superiority?  How dare we view ourselves more highly than we ought?  How dare we find our pleasure in authority, power, and things of this earth?  Why do we choose counterfeit gods and broken philosophies?  We must begin to step up to the plate and live as redeemed and restored representatives of God’s amazing, unchanging love demonstrated through Christ.  We must start to live differently.  Our perception must change.  We must be the salt of the earth and light of the world.   The rocks will cry out and demonstrate God’s majesty and love if we fail to love as He has.  Our church culture is in need of change all across America.  We need to open our eyes and begin to see humanity in light of God’s design and His image dwelling in each and every person.  This world is in desperate need of unchanging love.

Jesus loved the ordinary, the outcast, and the exceptional with the same love.  He valued the prostitute, the doctor, the tax collector, and the centurion all the same.

Stop chasing the American Christian dream, a foolish spiritualized worldliness…

Stop living for the things of this world…

Stop adopting the value and that culture places on people…

 

It is human nature to categorize and group, but we must stop placing value on the categories we develop.  That is what culture does.  That is what this world does.  It is not what Christ did. 

 

Start opening your eyes.

Start changing your perception.

Start loving with a love that is not your own, His love.

 

WE LOVE, BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED US…

Seek My Face Not My Hands

I know the last post I made was extremely long, and blogs are not supposed to be that long.  Hopefully I can do a little bit better job of keeping this one short and succinct, but I am making no promises, as this subject has been a burden on my heart as of late.  The content discussed in this article is incredibly foundational and also controlling.  Before you even begin reading. STOP. PRAY.  Allow your heart to be prepared for what could be a hard and convicting lesson.  Open yourself to the Spirit, be honest with yourself, allow Him to search your heart (He’s going to do it in regardless.), and be open to whatever He may say or ask you to do. Really. PRAY.

Desire.  Hunger.  Appetite.  Longing.   Yearning.

What images do these words conjure up?  

Do thoughts of evil lusts immediately prick your conscience?

Or do good things like an ice cream sundae or a day at the beach come to mind?

In Christian circles, desire is a word that often comes with an overwhelmingly negative connotation.  When we hear a preacher will be speaking about desire, our thoughts tend to go immediately to abstinence, resistance, and suffering loss.  Certainly we are taught to do away with our fleshly lusts and desires now that we are in Christ (1 Peter 2:11).  In no way do I desire to contradict the important message that we must discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness and refrain from chasing after the things which the world desires (1 Timothy 4:7-8).  Jesus Himself taught those who followed Him to stop seeking eagerly after the things that the Gentiles seek telling them to not even worry for their necessities (Matthew 6:31-32).  However, I have noticed a trend in my life that I think is common in Christianity today in America.  We are prone to settle for shadows of the real thing (GOD) and to chase after earthly things that will not last.  Many of the desires that we classify as wrong and evil are actually good and natural.  The problem arises when we attempt to satisfy those desires by unnatural and unintended means.  Our desires have been tainted by the burden of sin, and as a result, we stop seeking the face of God for the satisfaction of our desires and start looking around us to fulfill our desires.

We hunger for food because we need food.

We want to drink because it brings both health and pleasure.

We desire wealth for the comfort and ease that it can bring.

We search for love because we were intended to live in the context of relationships. 

We long for intimacy because we were made to be completely transparent. 

We want to be closer to God because we were designed to be close to Him.

We read the Word because we desire God’s blessing.

We pray because we desire to be heard and want God to move in our circumstances.

When these desires are distorted what do we become?

GLUTTONS DRUNKARDS SELFISH PROSTITUTES IDOLATERS

When our desires become distorted by sin and we make the fulfillment and our will and affections our supreme goal, we become ravenous idolaters and pleasure-seekers.  Our plan quickly begins to align with cultural measures of success, and we seek self-glorification in all that we pursue.  Our lives become hedonistic, self-seeking, and geocentric when we focus on this world and fail to consider eternal consequences.  This is a good description of the way American society and culture function, but certainly we do not see the same darkness in the Church and in Christianity?  Unfortunately, I see a tendency in myself and Christians all around me a frequent desire to seek glory for themselves.   This tendency is incredibly dangerous and deceptive because those well-learned and well-established in the Scriptures (Pastors, ministry leaders, theologians, students of the Word, etc.)  can bend Scripture to justify their self-seeking desires allowing desire for self-glorification to masquerade as a desire to glorify God. 

Could it be that we seek to self-glorify because glorification brings satisfaction? Could it be that we settle for mere shadows and that our desires are too weak when we seek only to glorify self?

Could if be that our greatest satisfaction is tied to glorifying God which we were created to do as beings made in His very image and crowned with His very breath?

The depravity of man illustrates the tragic mark of sins stain.  It has corrupted our desires so that we point to ourselves rather than pointing to the Creator.  The Creation has come to worship itself rather than the omnipotent Creator.

Perhaps by way of illustration I can demonstrate this travesty.  When it artist paints a masterpiece, it is said that the painting bears the mark of its creator.  There are elements of the painting that make it unique in the very same ways that the artist is unique. The painting points to its maker because it bears his mark.  In the same way, we are made in the image of God.  We are His handiwork and we point to Him because our form demonstrates a variety of His deepest attributes.  Yet when we seek praise for ourselves, we fail to recognize the source of our mastery and beauty.  To use again the analogy of the masterpiece painting, it would be as if the painting cried out to the patrons of the arts, “Look at me!  Aren’t I wonderful beyond all imagination?  I am beautiful and unique.  Is there any other such beauty on the earth?  Worship me!”  The masterpiece forgets the origin of its marks of beauty.  Its beauty is born out of the soul and skill of the artist and not its own defining qualities.  As Christians, we are prone to make the declaration of the painting.  We may not say it as clearly and distinctly.  We may make ourselves feel better by coating such declarations with Scriptural and spiritual justifications while the one we are designed to point to its pushed to the background…

Back to the fundamental issue of sin and how it has brought us into this pathetic state.  Sin is a rebellion against God’s established character and disobedience to His explicit commandments.  He is the designer and shaper of our appetites.  Yet sin has given us knowledge of both good and evil giving us alternative routes to sometimes more instant gratification.  So often we choose immediate satiation over complete, eternal satisfaction.  Yet through God’s commandments and in His character we find the means of ultimate satisfaction.  Shouldn’t we trust that the One who created and designed our appetites knows how to best fulfill them?  If we follow His commandments in obedience perhaps we will find that not only will we glorify Him, but we will also find the consummation of our desires?

So far I have discussed the problem of desire from different angles, but what is the proper response for those who claim to be part of the bride of Christ, the Church. 

Psalm 27:8

When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.’”

Problems in Christendom commonly arise when we seek His hands rather than seeking His face.

(Remember that’s what this post is called.  I promise everything you just read had a point.  I’m just going to close it off now.  Just making sure you didn’t forget what this whole post is about.)

What does it mean to seek God’s hands over His face?  When we begin to look for what God can do for us, instead of simply seeking His face we can know that our desires are headed the wrong direction.  When we begin to draw up plans in our circumstances and ask God to make them happen rather than asking for His will to be done, we know that we are desiring God’s strength over His abiding Presence.  When we search for miracles and a sign, we may be longing for His power rather than intimate knowledge of and relationship with Him.  For those who are ministers, it begins with seeking to build your kingdom and living to make your name famous rather than dying that you might live for Him.  We can easily perform Christian disciplines out of a desire for Him to give us our hearts desire.  When we begin to experience seeking fulfillment of desire by these means, we can be sure that we have bought the life that God is not enough and we need what this earth has to offer as well.

There is an epidemic of misplaced desire in churches across this country.  These churches seek to make a name for their particular church or denomination rather than seeking to make much of the name of Christ and to preach the gospel.  Christian leaders do this by adulterating the word and attempting to use it to make a name for themselves.  Almost all Christians do this at one point or another when they refuse to obediently submit their will and affections to the King (read the last blog post if your struggle is in this area).  In all of these cases, we simply do not have the faith to believe that God is enough.  We believe there is more to be had than Him alone.  We assimilate the culture.  We begin chasing things of the earth and present age.  We fail to hold Christ as the ultimate treasure.  As a result, our prayers are not born out of a desire to converse and commune with God, but to have His hands on our side for the fulfillment of our plans and accomplishment of our will.  This is a travesty!

Perhaps you find yourself convicted and don’t know where to start with correction.  I am convinced that far too many people who claim to be Christians today don’t know what it truly means to desire and seek God.  As a result of the comfort and freedom that we are surrounded with in America, it is easy to be nominal and identify yourself with religion by name only.  Many people do this without even realizing they are bearing no fruit and have never truly converted.   Such people seek only a safety net for eternity, and fail to recognize the depths of their brokenness and longing.  At times, all Christians in America settle into apathy and inactivity.  This must stop.  Understanding and recognition of errors like these in our lives requires fierce introspection and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  More often than not, Christians who settle into an apathetic, inactive lifestyle have never sought the face of God or beheld His overwhelming glory.  They do not even recognize that there are greater things to be sought than the things of this world. The error of seeking his hands only is not limited to those who are spiritually dead, though.  You may think yourself to be spiritually strong.  You do all of the write things.  You read, pray, and meditate.  Yet you may still be in the camp of those who have never sought His face.  You may be counted among those who seek only your own benefit.  You may still be wasting your life away chasing after shadows.

While I am convinced that many Christians have become content in apathy and others blinded by religious practice, I am even more convinced that one glimpse of His glory will forever captivate the heart.  If we seek His face, He will become to us an all-consuming, completely satisfying desire.  As long as we seek His hands only, this will not happen and we will continue in emptiness.  The cunning schemes of the enemy love to prey on those who seek God’s hands only.  When you seek only His hands and see your will coming to fruition, you may be quick to claim that God is “present” and His glory is “near.”  It is only a fallacy and illusion.  Your desires will continue to lead you on a path of destruction and you will not come to know God more deeply.  We must learn to pray according to HIS will if we are to truly behold and experience His glory.  We must make Him our greatest treasure and live for a land that lies beyond this world (Matthew 6:19-20, 13:44).

In closing, we must stop attempting to manipulate our circumstances and impose our will.  We must cease praying according to our will for our glory.  We must seek His face alone.  When Moses beheld the glory of the Lord in the burning bush, it left Him forever changed.  He stopped living life His way and started following God’s way.  As a result, he found complete satisfaction.  God is calling out to everyone on this planet.  The earth declares His glory (Psalm 19:1-2).  He knows what man is seeking and will never find apart from Him.  And He is calling out to you today…

“Seek My face!”

What will your response be?  Will you continue living in futility for your own glory or will you die so that He might be glorified in you?  Will you make Him your treasure now?

(Matthew 6:19-24, 30-33, Luke 12:28-34, Colossians 3:1-3)

I implore you!

Seek His face alone…

Death: The Acceptable Price of Obedience

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As I set out to capture and summarize the concept of obedience from some of the richest passages in Scripture in a small, unworthy space, I know that I face a nearly impossible task.  Entire books could be written on each of the passages that will be discussed, and many books have been written on the topic of obedience over the course of the last 2000 years.  It is my hope to bring these passages together to paint a compelling case against the average follower of Christ today.  A plethora of topics come into the forefront when discussing obedience so it is my prayer that the Spirit will now take control and give me greater understanding, enlightening my heart even as I write.  My desire is that this exposition would be powerful, but I also know that there is no power in words alone.  I cannot construct a compelling case apart from the Spirit moving on your heart.  It is my prayer now that the Spirit will move on me as I write and will illuminate your eyes as you read.

Now, here begins this epic adventure.  The story starts by rewinding in time back to the life of a man named Abraham.  He was far from a perfect man as evidenced by many of his faults and mistakes listed in the book of Genesis.  However, he was also a man of unparalleled faith.  In fat, there may be no better Scriptural example of faith than Abraham.  He is given the largest portion in Hebrews 11, which is a documentation of the incredible faith of many characters in the Bible.  Yet we hear the story of Abraham over and over again growing up in church and Sunday school that we fail to recognize that these were actual events.  I must admit that I have not begun to recognize the gravity of his decisions for obedience until very recently.  Abraham made up His mind to be obedient to God; there was no price that he was unwilling to pay for obedience. 

Have you placed a maximum price on your obedience? 

Do you find yourself negotiating over God about acceptable prices?

Have you decided that there are things that you simply cannot and will not forfeit in this life in order to follow God wherever He leads?

Hebrews 11:8-12~NASB

“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  By faith even Sarah herself receivedability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.  Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as deadat that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

We see from the account here in Hebrews 11, that Abraham’s obedience directly correlated to his faith.  Faith and obedience are interchangeable terms.  Faith in God produces for the believer a hope beyond all comparison.  Faith takes God at His word, what He has promised, and acts in obedience accordingly.  When, through Christ, we put our faith in God, the only proper, worshipful response is obedience.   Abraham put complete faith in this personal God that had revealed Himself and given Him promises of blessings He could not fathom.  When God spoke or commanded, Abraham moved.

When God called Abraham to leave his home and family, Abraham packed up everything and went.

By faith he and Sarah conceived a child well past childbearing age.

Over and over, when God called, Abraham moved.

He did not hesitate.

God promised Abraham that He would make Abraham into a great nation, and that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed.  The child, Isaac, given to he and Sarah was the heir of that promise.  This was God’s ultimate promise of His plan for redemption.  God would bring the Savior of the world, His Son, through the lineage of Abraham. In this way, Abraham would be the father of all those who came to believe.  Here is where we turn to Abraham’s greatest example of obedience, a representation of our Savior’s obedience much further down the road. 

Genesis 22:1-12~NASB

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”  He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Imagine this situation. The child who was born to you when you ere 100 years old. Your lone heir through whom the entire world is to blessed. The one God promised to bless and build a nation out of. Lying on top of wood you chopped and an altar you built with your own hands. To be sacrificed to the very God of the promise.  Imagine picking up the knife to kill your one and only son in order that you can burn his body in sacrifice to an unseen God.  Why?  Why would God ask Abraham to do such a thing?  How could Abraham follow through with such a command?

The answer comes from Hebrews 11.

Hebrews 11:13-19~NASB

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.  By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.”

Abraham realized that the promise he was living for and that God had given him went beyond this world.  He was living for a different country, a land to call his own.  There was no looking back to the old way of life or the comfort that he had come from.  His decision was to follow God no matter where he would lead.  God had proven Himself faithful time and time again when Abraham had obeyed.  How could Abraham choose to disobey now?  Instead Abraham chose to believe that God could raise his son from the dead.  He knew that God would be true to his promise no matter what.  Rather than entertaining even the idea of obedience, Abraham believed that God would grant life to his son.

Look back to the end of the passage in Genesis.  God ultimately stops Abraham from killing Isaac, but He took Abraham to the edge.  Isaac was the most precious thing in Abraham’s life, but Abraham refused even to withhold that from his God.  He was willing to submit and surrender everything in order to follow.

As a result, God commended Abraham’s faith and gave Isaac back to him as a “type.”  The Greek word translated “type” is the same word used for parable throughout the gospels.  In saying this, the author was pointing to Abraham’s way of obedience and receiving back his son as an example of God’s sacrifice.  Abraham’s tale foreshadows the obedience of Christ who is our ultimate example…

Philippians 2:5-8~NASB

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  

Here Paul explains the attitude of Christ while commanding that this ought to also be our attitude.  Jesus was willing to lay down everything to be obedient to the Father, even His own life.  He submitted completely to the will of Father by becoming obedient to the gruesome death on the cross.  He left His throne on high to enter the world in an unheralded fashion.  He lived most of His life in relative obscurity as a carpenter’s son knowing all along that He was destined to die for the sins of the world.  Yet the suffering He would experience and the separation He would suffer were minute in comparison to His desire for obedience.  There was nothing that would stop Him from obeying the will of His Father.

But you say that Jesus was greater than us and it was far easier for Him to obedient than it is for us.  Jesus was born of flesh.  He was tempted in every way just as we are.  Read these verses…

Luke 22:39-44~NASB

And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.  And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.

Jesus wrestled heavily with what was being asked of Him.  His sweat filled with bloods and poured to the ground from His body under the weight of the agony confronting Him.  He longed for another way for His mission to be accomplished, but ultimately His words were “not My will, but Yours be done.”  Jesus obedience was unto death.  He submitted His will and desire completely to the Father for the sake of the Father.

Our desire and drive for obedience.  Our faith is so small.  In Christ we are promised persecution, yet we lived relatively comfortable lives without fear of harm.  Our lives are never threatened if we believe what we believe and as a result our faith remains stagnant.  We set a maximum price on our obedience because there is nothing to force us into being obedient unto death.  Should we not become obedient unto death?  If Jesus is our standard do we not have a lot of work to do? 

If we will truly follow Him we must die.   We must die to our will and our desires in order to submit in obedience to the will of our Father who has promised a weight of glory beyond all comparison to those who follow and endure.   We do not look enough like Christ.  We are mastered and held captive by our worldly affections.  It is time we wake up and follow the examples of Abraham and our glorious Savior, Jesus Christ.  Anything short of the attitude that was in Christ is disobedience.  Anything less and we find ourselves, once again, living for this world.  We must realize that this life will bring scars if we truly follow.  Where is your faith?  Will you take Him at His word and follow wherever he may lead?  Listen to the words of this poem by Amy Carmichael, the missionary to India, and allow them to convict you of incomplete surrender and failure to follow…

Hast Thou No Scar 

by Amy Carmichael

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who has no wound nor scar?

We must ask for greater faith.  We must learn to lay everything else down to obey.  We must follow our Lord at any cost…

 

                                              

 

 

 

 

Seeing the Weight of Glory

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II Corinthians 5:14-17 

“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.  Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

C.S. Lewis ~ closing of the sermon entitled The Weight of Glory

“Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning.  A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside.  The following Him is, of course, the essential point.  That being so, it may be asked what practical use there is in the speculations which I have been indulging.  I can think of at least one such use. It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.  The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the back of the proud will be broken.  It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror or corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.  It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.  There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and there is to ours as the lift of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.  This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.  We must play.  But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.  And our charity must be a real and a costly love, with deep feelings for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner – no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.  Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.  If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy almost in the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat – the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

Would it change the way we treat people around us if we realized that we walk among immortals, those destined for unspeakable glory or unimaginable horror?  It is very interesting that I came across this passage of Scripture and this sermon on the same day.  If I had not read them together, I likely would not have come to the question and this point on which I now write.

All my learning as of late has made many things clear to me…

First, in our society, we are prone to look only on outward appearance, failing completely to recognize the handiwork of each human life.  We minimize the inherent value of those we interact with viewing our own gain and glory as paramount.

Second, I have begun to recognize the eternality of the human soul.  We were created as immortal beings.  We remain immortal beings.  Although we are trapped by mortal flesh in the present, no soul ceases to exist after the body dies.  The only unknown remaining is whether that soul will continue on to eternal glory with the Almighty or unending damnation and separation from the One mankind was designed to glorify.

Lastly, I recognize how quick those who claim the name of Christ are to write people off and to seal the enemy’s letter of decrees against them.  It is evidence of personal dishonesty among Christ followers, failing to accurately judge the condition of their own hearts.  It is symptomatic of pride and arrogance in our position in Christ.  It demonstrates our rebellious desire to gain equality with God, the original sin (Genesis 3:5), even after observing the devastating impacts of sin on the world.  Grace and mercy are not stocks to be traded, sold or bought.  No, they are gifts freely given by Love Himself.  Freely. 

Do we so quickly forget the vileness and sinfulness of our hearts, the death we were trapped in before we were in Christ? 

Here we look to Paul’s instruction and admonishment.

What controlled those who labored tirelessly and endlessly for the salvation of the Gentiles?  Was it judgment or compassion?  Was it condemnation or love?  Are these things that we view as opposite’s event directly opposed to each other?  Or do we see them displayed in an unfathomable harmony in the life of Christ? 

Jesus judged the sinfulness of those whom He spent His time with.   He knew their spiritual condition and as a result had incredible compassion for them.  They were the outcasts, the lowlifes, the condemned, the discarded, the “sinners.”  He was quick to condemn the sinfulness of their actions and yet His great love drove Him to die that they might gain forgiveness.  Ultimately, Jesus was moved by love, a love that would rather die for another man than to see Him perish. 

Back to Paul’s declaration that he and his fellow workers were controlled by the love of Christ (v. 14).  He recognized that in Christ’s death, the invitation was extended to all of humanity to die.  Christ carried upon Himself the sin and filthiness of mankind to the grave.  Therefore, every person around us trapped in the deadness of sin has the ability to die to that death by placing their faith in Christ.  Ultimately, Christ’s death purchases life for every man.  So that is why we no longer live for ourselves, because Christ’s life dwells in us and takes control. 

We are so quick to recognize people according to their flesh and sinfulness not realizing that Christ purchased life for them just as much as us.  They may be trapped in disobedience, separated from God, yet Christ beckons them to come and die so that they may enter into His life.  They have been extended the offer to enter into Christ and become a new creation. 

Why then do we swiftly judge the sinner to be “not good enough” for the glory of Christ?

Were they not designed for this glory? 

It is not our place to either condemn or atone for others.  However, we do have the opportunity on a daily basis to live out the death and, most gloriously, the life of Christ so that we become intercessors on their behalf.  C.S. Lewis wisely points out that every man and woman bears the weight of Glory, God’s glory, being designed in the very image of God.  In humility, we must support each other as we enter into Christ and accurately learn to depict His glory.  We must cease to devalue, defraud, and depreciate one another for in doing so we belittle the very glory and image of the living God.  No one among us is ordinary for we were all designed to point to the Creator. 

Stop looking at outward appearances and judging according to the systems and principles of this world.  It is foolish and scorns the sacrifice of the Savior.  The Weight of Glory belongs entirely to Him.  We as immortal beings have simply been given the honor and privilege to bear it with Him…