Saturday, December 13, 2008

Oh really?

This article from Reuters was on Yahoo this morning...

U.S. says lacks intelligence to fight pirates in Somalia

MANAMA (Reuters) – The United States lacks the intelligence needed to pursue the fight against pirates on Somali soil, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Saturday.

I just had to laugh.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The real Obama?

Honestly, I am not really political at all. However, the lies and deception that were so much a part of this entire political season have drawn me in. I will pray for our new president, but at this point I am not sure I can trust him. We will see....

From the Associated Press

CHICAGO – Barack Obama is signaling a shift in tactics and temperament as he moves from candidate to president-elect, picking sharp-elbowed Washington insiders for top posts. His choice Thursday for White House chief of staff — Rahm Emanuel, a fiery partisan who doesn't mind breaking glass and hurting feelings — is a significant departure from the soft-spoken, low-key aides that "No-Drama Obama" has surrounded himself with during his campaign.
And transition chief John Podesta, like Emanuel, is a former top aide to Bill Clinton and a tough partisan infighter, though less bombastic than the new chief of staff.

The selections are telling for Obama, who campaigned as a nontraditional, almost "post-partisan" newcomer. People close to him say the selections show that Obama is aware of his weaknesses as well as his strengths and knows what he needs to be successful as he shifts from campaigning to governing.

"No one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel," Obama said in a statement announcing the selection."

Hmmm... the gentle leader's first selection for his staff is a pit bull.

I may soon find myself fighting the temptation to say, "I told you so...."

But I won't. I won't have to. We all know that this is how socialism works. Utopia by force. The kingdom at gunpoint. Selfishness is the defining principle in a fallen world. Love is the work of the Spirit in our hearts, not the government forcing us to share our toys whether we want to or not. The ideals of socialism are beautiful. But it will never work until Jesus returns to rule on the earth. Then, I believe we will see the Book of Acts on a grand scale. This is what our new president doesn't seem to understand.

And this acknowledgment of a "shift in tactics and temperment" didn't come from some right wing blog. Its the AP. These are folks who worked very hard to get him elected.

The Lord is King, and that's all that really matters. But, it will be very interesting to watch this whole thing play out.

And Jesus will be working every step of the way to win the hearts of people into His magnificent kingdom.

Ezekial 34

For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. ... I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

Psalm 46

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"

But Jesus hung out with sinners...

Luke 5

And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

I was reading this morning, and came to this passage. It is often abused by the perversions of grace so commonly found in western "Christianity". People love to point out that Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes. That idea, pulled out of context, is used to justify a lifestyle of worldliness and carnality. We generally try to clean things up a bit, but we don't live all that much differently than "the world". We spend our time and money just like the kingdom of darkness. We watch the same movies and television that glorify sin without even a twinge of conviction. We pursue personal affluence in the name of God's blessing. We party with the best of them. And we ignore the last half of the passage. He hung out with "sinners" in order to show them the truth of His love, and call them to repentance. He was consumed with a purpose, "to seek and save that which was lost." He wasn't just "hangin' with his boys", having a beer and talking about the local football team. He was calling people out of the kingdom of this world and into the kingdom of God.

Let me be clear. There is a legitimate time for rest and relaxation, but we don't step out of the kingdom and back into the world to get "refreshed". What a deception! The gospels seem to indicate that when Jesus needed to re-charge his batteries, He would go off to spend time alone with His Father. How much better off would we be if our tiredness or "burnout" moved us to seek the Lord rather than plopping down in front of the television? We are in a war every moment of every day. Why do we feed ourselves at the table of our enemy when we are weary and hungry? Doesn't make much sense.

Jesus told his disciples, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." We know about it. Sometimes, though, our flesh hungers for the food of this world. What are we going to feed ourselves on? You are what you eat.

A couple of more passages...

James 4

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (If this is true, we seriously need to find out what it means!) Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

1Peter 1

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

2Peter 1

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Speaking of the heroes of faith, the writer of Hebrews tells us,

Hebrews 11

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone 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 for them a city.

Lord, give us a heart that longs for "a better country". Give us that deep revelation of your amazing love that will enable us to discern the defilement of this present age. Deliver us from the christian religion that promises heaven but leaves us unchanged. Give us a heart that longs for your appearing, and for the fulfillment of the prayer for your kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

Help, Lord.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

thoughts from Jeremiah

I was reading in Jeremiah this morning...

Jeremiah 32:16-19
"After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, then I prayed to the Lord, saying, 'Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You, who shows lovingkindness to thousands, but repays the iniquity of fathers into the bosom of their children after them, O great and mighty God. The Lord of hosts is His name; great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, giving to everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds;"

Jeremiah had been prophesying judgment to the God's people. They were not walking in His ways, and they were going to be evicted from their land by the Babylonians. Then the Lord told Jeremiah to buy a piece of the land, as a sign that God would bring them to repentance, and return them to their land once again. In this prayer, Jeremiah was declaring his faith that God was able to do what He promised. He knew God would indeed empower Babylon to destroy their cities and carry them off into captivity. He also knew that when the time was right, the Lord was fully capable of restoring them to the land. He knew this judgment was not unto death, but unto life. God's intention was to humble them, and restore a heart of devotion, and dependence on the One who brought them up out of Egypt. His discipline was a manifestation of His love. It was severe, but we can know with certainty that His perfect wisdom determined it to be necessary in accomplishing His good purpose.

God's response to Jeremiah's prayer is interesting,

"Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?"

He then goes on to detail the sin of Israel. Idolatry, rebellion..."They have turned their back to Me and not their face; though I taught them, teaching again and again, they would not listen and receive instruction..."

His judgment was clearly justified.

But, He then immediately declares the true desire of His heart.

"Behold, I will gather them out of all the lands to which I have driven them in My anger, in My wrath and in great indignation; and I will bring them back to this place and make them dwell in safety. "They shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. "I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. "I will rejoice over them to do them good and will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul. "For thus says the Lord, 'Just as I brought all this great disaster on this people, so I am going to bring on them all the good that I am promising them."
Our God will never tempt us, but He will test us and discipline us as He sees fit. We must have confidence that it is always done out of His Father heart of love. Ultimately, our cooperation in faith will bring us into greater intimacy with Him, and fuller experience of His incredible purposes for our lives.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has preparedfor those who love him."

He is good, and worthy of our faith and love!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

sober times

As I sit here reading, thinking, and praying, my heart is sobered. For many years I have carried a sense of the spiritual desperation of our times in western culture. I sometimes get accused of being a "gloom and doom" type, but I can only repeat what both Billy Graham and Leonard Ravenhill have said. "If God doesn't judge America, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah."

Its not about divine anger, but divine, holy love.

In our society's lust for pleasure, comfort, and ease, we have turned further and further from His ways. Covetousness and greed are destroying our economy. Sexual immorality is destroying our families and our youth. A loving Father cannot just sit back and let that go on forever without stepping in to intervene. Is His divine discipline coming upon us now? I don't know. I am not a prophet, and would not dare to speak as one. But deep inside, I am struck by the fear of the Lord. A part of me cries out, "Lord, have mercy!" Another part of me prays with sober resolution, "Thy will be done." Whatever He does, we know its done with a desire for our deliverance and salvation. In His letters to the seven churches, Jesus continually called them to fresh repentance. In their failings, He called them back to Himself. He is faithful and true. He takes no delight in the death of the wicked. His desire is always for redemption, but He will not look the other way if we walk in willful disobedience to the ways of His kingdom.

"If you love Me you will keep my commandments."

'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline;"

I was struck by several of His warnings to the churches.

Chap. 2, verse 4 "I have this against you, that you have left your first love."

Chap. 3, verses 1-3 'I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 'Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 'Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent."

Chap. 3, verses 15-16 'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. 'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

Familiar passages, for sure. I just want to know that I have not left my first love, and that I am neither spiritually asleep or lukewarm. He is calling us to faith that produces faithfulness. He is calling us to be a peculiar people, set apart unto Him. He desires us to be like David who said, "One thing I have desired, that I will seek after..." And like Paul, whose heart cried out, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ," I want that heart to burn within me. The stuff of this world wants to quench that fire.

Whether we avert national financial ruin in this moment in time or not, we live every day before our Lord Jesus. Let us allow Him to lead us to that place where at the end of our earthly life, we can say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Meditation in Leviticus

Hey... I was reading in Leviticus this morning (when was the last time you started an email with that??? ha), and I got to chapter 9, and read this...

Lev 9:1 On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel,
Lev 9:2 and he said to Aaron, "Take for yourself a bull calf for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without blemish, and offer them before the LORD.
Lev 9:3 And say to the people of Israel, 'Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both a year old without blemish, for a burnt offering,
Lev 9:4 and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a grain offering mixed with oil, for today the LORD will appear to you.'"
Lev 9:5 And they brought what Moses commanded in front of the tent of meeting, and all the congregation drew near and stood before the LORD.
Lev 9:6 And Moses said, "This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you." ….

Lev 9:22 Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings.
Lev 9:23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people.
Lev 9:24 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.

I left out the middle, because it was detail specific to that time and place, and covenant. We would tend to sort of cruise right by this as irrelevant to our lives today, but I was wondering, is there a principle here for us? We could see this as simply old covenant law of offerings, or we could see this as an example of faith-filled obedience. Moses told them that the Lord wanted to show them His glory. We are all up for that. They believed in this promise, evidenced by their full obedience to what He told them to do to prepare for that event. And He showed up in a pretty awesome manner. It wasn't legalistic works. They didn't "earn" His appearance by doing what He commanded. They prepared themselves in faith, believing that He would do what He said.

On the other hand, you dont see them trying to turn it into a formula, either. I haven't found the chapter where Moses says, "Hey, we're gonna have another one of those glory meetings this weekend. Everybody get your stuff ready for the big sacrifice." The Lord told Moses that He wanted to show His glory to the people, and they all responded. But they didn't come to the conclusion that if they did the same thing again, that He would show up on demand. He is faithful to keep His promises, but He is also the sovereign Lord and King.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Others may, you cannot

I read this a long time ago...

If God has called you to be really like Christ in all your spirit, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility and put on you such demands of obedience, that He will not allow you to follow other Christians, and in many ways He will seem to let other good people do things which He will not let you do.

Others can brag on themselves, and their work, on their success, on their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing, and if you begin it, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all you good works.

The Lord will let others be honored and put forward, and keep you hid away in obscurity because He wants to produce some choice fragrant fruit for His glory, which can be produced only in the shade.

Others will be allowed to succeed in making money, but it is likely God will keep you poor because he wants you to have something far better than gold and that is a helpless dependence on Him; that He may have the privilege of supplying your needs day by day - out of an unseen treasury.

God will let others be great, but He will keep you small. He will let others do a great work for Him and get credit for it, but He will make you work and toil on without knowing how much you are doing; and then to make your work still more precious, He will let others get the credit for the work you have done, and this will make your reward ten times greater when He comes.

The Holy Spirit will put strict watch over you, with a jealous love, and will rebuke you for little words and feelings, or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem distressed over.

So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign, and has a right to do what He pleases with His own, and He will not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealing with you. He will wrap you up in a jealous love, and let other people say and do many things that you cannot do or say.

Settle it forever, that you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit, and that He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue, or chaining your hand, or closing your eyes, in ways that others are not dealt with.

Now, when you are so possessed with the Living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this particular personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule of heaven.
–G. D. Watson

Challenging. I want to walk with Him in this way.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

He loves me

I have been returning to the Song of Solomon lately. Been away too long. Listen to what the Bridegroom says to His Bride.

"Behold, you are beautiful, my love; Behold, you are beautiful..."

God says that to you, and to me. The uncreated Creator of the universe tells me I am beautiful to Him.

And He knows all about me.

Amazing... absolutely amazing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Are you listening?

I have been spending a lot of time in Hebrews the past few days. What an incredible book. It is at once deeply encouraging, and deeply challenging. This faith of ours is not to be taken lightly.

Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

God has spoken..

God has spoken to us.

God has spoken to us by His Son.

Lord, give us a heart to listen.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

God's chosen

From the AP

JERUSALEM - Vice President Dick Cheney said Saturday the U.S. has an "enduring and unshakable" commitment to Israel's security and its right to defend itself against those bent on destroying the Jewish state... "America's commitment to Israel's security is enduring and unshakable, as is our commitment to Israel's right to defend itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel's destruction," Cheney told reporters before an evening meeting with Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

Lord, give us the grace and wisdom to remain faithful.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The violence of God

Below is an email I wrote to a pastor I know who has been blogging about the difficulty of reconciling Jesus and His message with the violence of God in the Old Testament. You can read his thoughts at:


And here are my "two bits"...


Its been a few months since I have written. We last talked about God’s purposes for ethnic Israel, and my daughter was getting ready to get married. I appreciated and enjoyed our exchange, and the wedding was absolutely awesome. The Lord blessed it in every way.

I have had some things in my heart to write to you for a couple of months, and your most recent blog posts have motivated me to take the time to put my thoughts together. As I have told you before, I listen to your messages every week. (Scorpions, Eggs, and Prayer was incredible) I was one of the original "podrishioners". Along the way though, one of the things I have felt like I sensed operating in the background was a difficulty reconciling the love of God with His role as our Judge. I understand that. Your thoughts on Psalm 137 make the difficulty pretty clear. Our human understanding of love and goodness doesn’t often include raining down fire from heaven to destroy whole cities. I don’t claim to fully understand how it all works, but I have a few thoughts I would invite you to consider. Some will sound familiar, as I learned them from you.

Let me start with a quick story. A true one. My dad worked for the power company, climbing poles and making sure we all got light when we flipped the switch on the wall. He used to work with a guy who would read his bible in the truck at lunch. To my knowledge, my dad is not a believer, and has his own struggles with the Christian faith, but he made an observation about his co-worker at dinner one night that I will never forget. It seems that this guy had an unusual highlighting system for his bible. He would be reading along quietly, and then he would say out loud, "No... I can't agree with that." And he would pull out a magic marker and black out the part he didn't like. When he told the story, my dad looked across the table at me and said, "That just doesn't seem right." I had to agree. Martin Luther wanted the book of James removed from the canon. It seemed to conflict with his understanding of the kingdom. And now you seem to be suggesting something similar to accommodate your own struggles with passages of scripture that don't fit with your understanding of God and His ways. I respect your struggle, but if you start down that road, I don't think you will be able to stop with the OT. Let me explain why.

First, I want to address an idea you repeat frequently. In establishing the basis for our understanding of what God is like, you often refer to the passages from Hebrews, and Colossians to say that God always looks like Jesus dying on the cross for His enemies.

He is the image of the invisible God,


He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature

This is a beautiful truth, but you seem to define what it means a bit narrowly. Truly, Jesus is just what these verses say. "In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell." But… that doesn’t necessarily mean that God always looks like Jesus dying on the cross. Jesus doesn't even always look like Jesus dying on the cross. The NT scriptures describe several other aspects of what He is like, and therefore what God is like.

Here are a few examples:

When Peter was describing his commission from Jesus, he said this in Acts 10:42,

"And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he (Jesus) is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. "

Later in Acts 17 Paul also describes Jesus as judge,

"Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

And again, in chapter 24, when Paul was sharing his faith with Felix, it says he, "reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment." Its says that "Felix was alarmed," and he sent him away.

In I Thessalonians Paul tells the church about a time "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."

When you look at the Revelation of Jesus, He is pictured as the one who breaks the seals that release terrible judgments on the earth.

Rev 5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, "Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, ...

The next few chapters describe what happens as he opens one seal after another. It isn’t pretty. The slain Lamb is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the righteous judge of all the earth. I would guess that you probably go with a symbolic interpretation of Revelation, but that doesn't really matter in this discussion. Symbolic or not, God inspired John to describe Jesus as the one releasing these judgments on the earth.

And my point is this. The judgments described in Jesus’ teaching, Paul’s letters, and the Revelation are every bit as horrific as anything you see in the Old Testament. I am including with this email a list of about fifty passages from across the New Testament that talk about judgment. The gospels, epistles, and Revelation; Jesus, Matthew, Luke, Peter, Paul, John, and Jude… they all talk unashamedly about the judgment of God. Jesus was not embarrassed to talk about what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, the judgment of Sodom is referred to nine times in the NT. The apostles were not the least bit uncomfortable with their understanding of God and Jesus as Judge. If we believe that God is love, and we both do, then I think we have to somehow make peace with the idea that His judgments are an expression of His love.

What are some of the ideas we have to deal with?

First, regarding the scriptures, Paul wrote to Timothy,

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."

Paul encourages Timothy to continue in his studies in the "Old Testament" in order to be equipped for the ministry he was called to. He doesn't warn him to skip over the parts that make God look mean or unloving. In fact, the phrase "all scripture" makes it pretty clear that he views the "bad parts" as significant to understanding the big picture.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding..."

Solomon seems to understand the pitfalls of reliance on our own reasonings to figure out what life is all about. In Repenting of Religion, there was one main point that really impacted my thinking about our judging one another. It wasn't a completely new thought, but you brought it forth in a way that permanently changed my understanding. Basically, its the idea, no, the truth, that I don't really know very much. I can only observe the behavior of the person next to me. I can't see into his heart. I can't know all the things he has experienced in life to make him the person he is today. Only God knows those things, therefore only God is qualified to judge him. Before I read that book, I always interpreted the statement, "Judge not, lest you be judged" as a thinly veiled disguise for compromise and worldliness. Now I see that I am simply not equipped for the job of judging.

I think this is a great opportunity for the application of those same principles. We can't see things as God sees them. Not completely, anyway. When He destroys a city, we naturally recoil in fear, and possibly in some level of revulsion. "What the heck was THAT all about???" From our limited human point of view, it doesn't really look much like love. But we don't have all the information and understanding that God has. Its the whole Job principle. I truly believe that our "judgments" toward God regarding those "behaviors" we find troubling would fall away if we knew what He knows.

If we can't comprehend the reason for the 8 second delay between us and the car ahead of us, how can we possibly understand all of God's dealings with His universe?

We would both agree that the overwhelming evidence of both scripture and life gives us a picture of a God of incomprehensible love. There are arguments against that idea that can be raised by those who are unwilling to put their trust in Him. Birth defects, the emergence of HIV, philosophical questions that don't lend themselves to easy answers; all of these things can create a roadblock of sorts for some people. We need something that goes beyond our best answers to intellectual questions. We need the truth of His absolute goodness revealed by the Spirit to our heart in a way that gives us an unshakable foundation to stand on. That will never come through human reasoning. I believe the truths of God are reasonable and coherent, but only when you have the foundation of that spiritual revelation of His goodness and love. That comes when we are truly "born again" of the Spirit. Paul prayed for the Ephesians, "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened." We need that desperately.

I am like you. I like answers to my questions. I can sometimes struggle when I encounter ideas that create "cognitive dissonance." But then I remember what you taught in Repenting of Religion, and I seek to return my heart to a position of humble, child-like faith, acknowledging my own limited understanding.

"God, I don't really know what you are doing here, but I trust in your goodness. I know it would all make sense if I could see things as you see them. Until I can, I will simply trust in you, and not in my own understanding."

I love you my brother. You have been a great blessing to me, and many of my friends. I have great faith in the significance of your calling in our generation. I am thankful for your life.

grace and peace,


Thursday, March 20, 2008

I have a question...

Is Jesus the Lord of your life, or is He your hobby?

More to come...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thank you MSNBC !!!

Interesting story about yet another way to escape from reality. It's about an hallucinogenic drug taken from a plant originally grown in Mexico.

Here is a quote from near the end of the story,

It's hard to say how widespread the use of salvia is. National and state surveys on drug use don't include salvia, and because it is legal in most states, law enforcement officials don't compile statistics, either.

Congratulations MSNBC!

You probably just increased the use of this legal drug by a factor of ten.

Well done!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Itching ears

I had a thought today. I think it sums up much of American Christianity. It was a simple statement.

"Many church leaders are teaching people to live for themselves in Jesus' name."

Religious humanism. Its not a new phenomenon. The prophets talked about it, and what God had to say wasn't very positive.

Jeremiah said, "An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes? "

And Paul warned, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. "

Lord, open our eyes to see Your purpose and calling for our lives.

Monday, February 25, 2008

an understanding of grace Pt. 11

Back to my story. Now where was I?

Oh yes... doing this dance. The grace works two-step. But I had realized that I needed to learn a new dance.

Maybe it could be called the glory to glory waltz.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

I had received new life the only way you can, by grace. But I almost automatically reverted to my own strength and efforts when it came to living the Christian life. I had to break the cycle. I had to learn to dance the grace step every day. I wish I could say I had a magic formula that would guarantee freedom from the "works" thing in four easy steps. I have no formula. Not really. The scriptures do instruct us in “means of grace” by which we lay hold of the good things He has for us. Prayer, fasting, worship, meditation in His word, and others. But again, we have to be careful. These activities position us to receive from the Lord, but they don't earn us anything. God doesn't owe us a certain amount of revelation after so many hours of prayer and study. He simply promises to reveal Himself to the seeking heart, and His word teaches us how to seek after Him. As we spend time before Him, our minds are “renewed” and we gradually learn to live in grace. In His presence, we see things the way He sees things. And as we see things as He does, we will learn to live in dependence on His grace in a continual way. No more religious two-step. We dance with God from grace to grace. We will still slip into the "strength" of our own works now and then, but as we refocus the eyes of our heart on Him, our hearts are freshly humbled in thankfulness, and we settle back into rest. The rest of faith. The life of grace.

I remember that simple sentence the Spirit whispered in my heart a few weeks ago.

Grace is for every moment of every day, forever and ever.

Lord, help me learn to walk with you in that way.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

an understanding of grace Pt. 10

So... anything goes huh?

Paul made it clear that self-righteousness is absolutely “no bueno.” Well then, the obvious question is,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

Seems like a pretty logical question. A teacher I really respect said that this question will always come up when grace is taught accurately. Seems pretty reasonable if Paul himself was asking it, even if it was rhetorical. He is the one who forcefully told us to put no confidence in the flesh. Our righteous works are useless in dealing with our guilt before God's judgment seat. The only thing that will save our necks is the gift of righteousness. The only hope we have is in the cross. If that is true, well, we might as well just sin our brains out. More sin, more grace. Yee haw! You could almost say that every new sin we commit adds to the value of Jesus work on the cross. But Paul continues,

By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

He didn't let that idea go very far.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

That we too might walk in newness of life.

Not in heaven some day.

Now, today.

The sixth chapter of Romans is... wow. What can you say. We died with Him, and are raised with Him. That's an amazing idea.

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Free from sin? No longer enslaved?

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

What was that question he started with? Something about continuing in sin so that grace could abound? In Paul's mind, that might be a logical question to the novice, but once you begin to understand what Jesus was doing on the cross, it becomes nonsense. But today there are still many who “turn the grace of God into licentiousness.” To them, grace means you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, and its all forgiven, even if your heart is unrepentant. Many have no intention of every willfully giving up their favorite sin. And they can find plenty of teachers who will twist the scriptures to make them comfortable in their deception.

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

In Paul's understanding, being under grace was the key to being free from the power of sin. Grace enables us to "present... your members to God as instruments for righteousness." The gift of righteousness is what enables us to walk in righteousness. We're not talking about sinless perfection. We are in a life-long process where the Holy Spirit within is transforming us day by day. But the child of God will have a sincere desire to experience the righteousness that has been declared over us. If a person doesn't have a genuine desire to actually walk in the ways of God, there is a real danger that they haven't had a genuine encounter with Jesus. The difference between self-righteousness and kingdom righteousness is motivation. The legalist is selfishly motivated to earn God's favor and acceptance. True kingdom righteousness is an expression of love and gratitude to the One who loves us so much that He took the penalty of our sin upon Himself. We walk uprightly because we know that it brings joy to His heart. Its a life set apart as an offering of thankful worship.

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"

We pursue a life of righteousness because He is worthy that we would love Him with all of our heart and seek to bring joy to Him in all of our ways.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Are we a little obsessed?

Okay, just this week I ran across these two articles.


And then there was this one back in December.

Now, I fully realize that sex is God's idea. I understand that the intimate relationship between a man and his wife is both beautiful and holy. And extremely pleasurable by His design. But I think we have possibly crossed a line somewhere. Perhaps, in our desire to remove the religious stigma from sex, we have bought into the world's approach to the matter.


an understanding of grace Pt. 9

A little bunny trail...

So who gets in on this grace thing?

We know that Jesus died “for the sins of the whole world.” The scriptures tells us in at least two places that God desires all people to come to repentance and the knowledge of the truth. It also tells us clearly that all do not do so. Righteousness is a gift. Its free, and cannot be earned, and yet, not everyone recieves it. What's the deal?

Repentance and faith. This was the message of all the New Testament preachers. Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul... they all declare this to be the invitation.

Mat 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."... Bear fruit in keeping with repentance... "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, ... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

Mar 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

Act 2:38 And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Act 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

Act 17:30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

Act 26:19 "Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.

Today, we emphasize faith, with very little talk of repentance, but the New Testament pattern is really the opposite. The first step was always repentance. There are one or two passages that mention faith without mentioning repentance, but if you look at those passages, a repentant heart is usually apparent. Most of the time the message begins with a call to repentance. Why?

I think the answer is really pretty simple.

God is into reality. Sin really is evil and destructive. It is the source of all suffering and pain and darkness in the world. Sin is not just bad because God says so. He says so because He knows that it is bad. His perfect wisdom and love cannot allow it in the world where He has fellowship with His creation. His plan of redemption doesn't just deal with the penalty of sin. It deals with the sin itself. We repent and believe on His atonement on the cross. We are born again. We are “raised” with Him from spiritual death to new life with His Spirit within. And that Holy Spirit that comes to dwell within us begins a process of revealing the very person of God to us and setting us free from our sin at the deepest level of who we are. That selfishness is replaced by His perfect love poured out in our hearts.

American christianity reduces the salvation message to a plan for getting people into heaven in spite of the fact that they are living in rebellion against God's ways. The angel told Mary and Joseph, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Today we tell people that He saves them IN their sins. Repentance is made to be an option for the radicals, the ones who are the “super-Christians.” Many will call repentance “works” if you make it part of the gospel message. This is totally contrary to a straightforward, honest reading of the New Testament. Paul described our calling as a “ministry of reconcialiation.”

Reconciliation takes place when two people actually resolve their differences. If I have done something to offend you and caused a break in our relationship, I cannot expect you to forgive me and be restored in our friendship if I fully intend to continue doing the behaviour that offended you in the first place. If I have been having an affair with your wife, and ask you to forgive me, but have no intention of discontinuing the relationship with her, should I expect you to want to be friends again? On a human level, we would consider that ludicrous. Somehow, though, we think that God will forgive us and accept us back as His children and friends when He knows we have no intention of turning our hearts from the sin that separated us from Him in the first place. I think this is infinitely more ridiculous than the same idea on a mere human level.

Repentance is not religious works of righteousness. Repentance does not earn us God's forgivness and acceptance. Repentance and faith position us to receive the gift of salvation. If we will turn in our hearts from the life of selfishness, (sin), and trust in Jesus death on the cross to satisfy the just penalty of God's law, then He will forgive our sins, declare us righteous, and restore us to a real relationship with Him. We will be reconciled to God. Think about what I just said, and read what Paul wrote to the Corinthinans.

2Co 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.... For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.... Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

God's plan is not about getting sinners into heaven after they die. Its about reconciling them to Himself. Its about restoring them to the relationship they were created for. Getting into heaven is a by-product of that process. Forgiveness is not the main goal. Its one of the early steps in the reconciliation process. It is essential, but its not God's primary purpose. Forgiveness of our sins is merely the beginning of an eternal journey of fellowship with our Bridegroom and King. I don't mean to diminish the awesomeness of being forgiven, but its not the main thing. Walking with God is the main thing. Knowing Him, and experiencing life as He intended it for us is the main thing.

Jesus prayed it in John 17, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Its all about knowing Him. So who is this grace for? Its not just a free pass out of hell. Its for those who truly desire to turn from their life of selfishness to know and love and serve Him.

Its for those who sincerely want to be reconciled to God.

Its for those who, like Abraham, want to be a friend of God.

Friday, February 01, 2008

an understanding of grace Pt. 8

The Cross

The cross has always been a stumbling block. Paul wrote of the offense of the cross. This is God's solution to the problem of man's sin and rebellion??? God in the flesh, dying a gruesome death at the hands of those He came to save? Without the help of the Spirit's revelation, that could be a pretty tough idea to swallow. But... with His help, we see the awesome wonder of God's wisdom.

God had a problem. Yea... that's right. He was in a quandary.

(Okay... He was never wringing His hands in worry, but there was a difficulty to be resolved.)

His mercy moved Him to forgive us and restore us to the relationship He created us for, but His justice had to be satisfied for the good of all creation. If He just forgave us without regard for the consequences of violating His ways, He would undermine the integrity of His own word and of the very concept of justice. The revelation of the absolute evil of sin would be greatly diminished. If God could just shrug His shoulders and “Aw shucks” at our selfishness and rebellion, well then it must not have been that big of a deal in the first place. No... the seriousness of the crime required that the righteous punishment must follow. God had a plan that not only satisfied the righteous requirement of truth, it underscored it. It magnified it. Justice would have been met if we simply had spent eternity separated from the One who loves us, but His mercy and compassion would have been dishonored. The cross satisfies both.

When Jesus became a man, and lived a perfect, sinless life, and then voluntarily allowed Himself to be tortured and finally crucified, He made the boldest of statements that will echo throughout eternity. He showed us how deadly serious sin is, and how absolutely committed He is to upholding righteousness and justice. He will not simply “look the other way.” And He showed the height and width and breadth and depth of His love for us. He satisfied justice and opened the way for a mercy that is beyond comprehension. Every dimension of His love was demonstrated for all to see. Our appreciation for what He did will grow for all of eternity. A billion years from now we will be more thankful than we are today. And a billion years later we will be more thankful still. It's amazing. Amazing grace. If we will turn from our selfishness and believe that the sacrifice of His life on the cross satisfies the justice of God, He will forgive us of all our sin, declare us to be righteous, and restore us to full relationship with Himself. We are reconciled to Him. We receive the gift of eternal life. We become children of God. We experience “unmerited favor.”

It's called the grace of God.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

an understanding of grace Pt. 7

How does grace work?

I want to take a few minutes to explain my understanding of how grace works. I am not going to expound on the dozens of scripture passages that God has given us to enable that understanding. I trust that my ideas are rooted in biblical thought, but for the moment I just want to lay out what I believe.

God created mankind to live in a real and intimate relationship with Himself. When man rebelled against God in the garden of Eden, there was a break in that relationship. Adam and Eve were now separated from God, spiritually and legally. They had violated the one rule or law He had given them. They had sinned. And that sin has spread like cancer to all of mankind. God is love, and love has many attributes that are described throughout the Bible. One of those is His justice. He is the righteous Judge over all of creation. His desire from the beginning was to forgive and restore man's fellowship with Himself, but He had to do it in a way that also upheld the integrity of His justice. If He were to simply forgive us without the just penalty of our sin being paid, it would undermine that integrity. It would violate the absolute truth and wisdom of His ways. But God had a strategy to provide a way where He can forgive our rebellion and satisfy the just requirement of His truth about what is right and good for mankind.

God's teachings for our lives are not arbitrary. They are not some good ideas He came up with one morning over coffee. They are His perfect wisdom and understanding of the way man should live. The Lord knows that violation of these truths will result in pain and suffering and destruction. And seven thousand years of life on planet earth have proven that conclusively. In His righteousness and justice, He had to set a penalty for violating those laws that would reflect the absolute evil and danger that is set in motion when they are broken. In this penalty, all of creation, both now and throughout eternity, would have to understand the seriousness of sin and rebellion against His ways. In true justice, the penalty has to fit the crime. In His perfect wisdom, that penalty is spiritual death, separation from the One who created us. As the King of the universe, He cannot allow sin to go unpunished. It would be unrighteous. It would violate the perfection of love that is His heart. So, from before the foundation of the world, He had a plan. He had a plan that would allow Him to justly forgive our sin, while upholding the integrity of His justice.

It was the cross.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

an understanding of grace Pt. 6

So whats wrong with a little legalism?

As I have read through Galatians in the past week, I am again amazed at the vigor of Paul's opposition to legalism. Its not that I think he goes overboard or anything. Its the passion that I am impressed with. You would expect him to be strong in his stand against sexual immorality, or thievery, or maybe murder. Those are obviously sins that very few would argue for. But why the big deal about self-righteousness? A little legalism never hurt anyone did it? I mean, at least the folks are behaving properly. In Agape Force, when you were accused of being legalistic about something, a common reply was, “I'd rather be legal than illegal!” The idea was that being a little too strict in your pursuit of holiness was better than compromise with sin and “the world”. That can be tough to argue with. I guess I should define my terms here though. Some people define legalism in a way that makes any sort of adherence to a set of moral convictions as being “legalistic.” Others will apply that label to those who are committed to the practice of spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting. Usually the disciplines or convictions of the person they are talking about make the person who is crying “Legalism!” feel as though they stand condemned if they don't follow the "legalist's" example. I am not talking about the personal disciplines or moral convictions of one's life. And I use the terms self-righteousness and legalism interchangeably. Its an approach to God where we are trying to earn his acceptance through our good behavior. If we will just keep all the rules, then God will like us, and let us share in His kingdom. Some refer to it as “works.” Very few people try to live from a pure form of legalism. Its almost always a mixture of grace and good works. Its the dance I was telling you about. We come to salvation by grace, receiving the gifts of forgiveness and righteousness. And then we subtly slip into this routine where we depend on our own good works in day to day life until we consciously sin in some way. Then we come back to Jesus for grace to be forgiven and restored. Shortly thereafter we begin to trust in our own righteousness once again. Anyway, I have explained that idea pretty thoroughly earlier. Its a trap that the enemy loves to get us into. Paul saw it as a genuine danger to our spiritual lives. And it is.

What is it that God is doing in our hearts? In II Corinthians we are told that,

“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”

That those who live might no longer live for themselves... Don't let the “might” fool you. Its not negotiable. Its His plan.

The first commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. God is love. Perfect, unselfish love. Agape in the Greek. That is what God is trying to do in our hearts. He wants to set us free from the selfishness that ruled us as rebellious unbelievers. He wants to reproduce His love in our hearts. He is not concerned with getting us to behave properly. I mean... He is concerned with that, but he wants it to be the by-product of His love poured out in our hearts.

When Samuel was examining David as the possible choice as king of Israel, God said to him, “Man looks on outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Paul said that he wasnt concerned about what people thought of him because the Lord would one day judge the thoughts and intentions of a person's heart. God is after transformation of our entire being that starts on the inside. It begins when we are born again. Our spirit is made alive to God, and His Spirit comes to dwell inside of us. And then the transformation process begins. Step by step, He reveals the selfishness within us, and teaches us how to live in His love. Like a Master Potter, He is molding and shaping our hearts and we are being changed from the inside out. We are gradually conformed to the image of Jesus, His perfect love formed in us.

So... God is out to cleanse us from the selfishness inside. Well that's where the problem with self-righteousness comes in. Its that “self” part. When we are trying to earn our acceptance with God, that very pursuit itself strengthens the selfishness inside. Everything we do to win His love is motivated by this selfishness. We do all the right things for all the wrong reasons. And every “righteous” act sends those roots of selfishness deeper into our soul. That's why Paul despises legalism as much as the grossest sin you could think of. Its motivated by the same thing. Selfish people are motivated first and foremost by that which brings them happiness. If drugs and casual sex make them happy, then they do drugs and have as much sex as possible. If going to church and mowing the lawn of the widow next door makes them happy, then they do that. But if the “righteous” behavior loses its appeal, they may eventually turn to something less righteous. Not necessarily though. Their fear and guilt may not allow them to do anything really “bad.” It may feel better to deny their darker desires than to give in to them. But, at the end of the day, their driving motivation is that which makes them happiest. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. Everyone wants to be happy. But when your own personal happiness and fulfillment is the primary motivation of your life, you are selfish. And the selfishness that makes a person do good things is the same thing that makes a person steal or kill or commit adultery. The murderer and the legalist are the same person. They simply find their fulfillment from different pursuits. The heart is the same. Its selfish.

Its sinful.

And He wants to set us free from it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

an understanding of grace Pt. 5

On to Galatians

As I re-learned Philippians, I felt like the Lord directed me to begin to read through Galatians. Surprise, surprise... an even stronger argument from Paul against legalism. Not intellectually stronger, but more emotionally intense. In fact, you could safely say he was ticked off.

Gal 3:1-4 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Did you suffer so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain?

Twice here he calls them foolish. Why? Because they had truly received the gospel, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and now were reverting to a righteousness maintained by keeping the works of the Law. Someone had come into their midst and persuaded them that they were “saved” initially by faith in Jesus, but after they received their forgiveness, they were dependent on their own obedience to the Law. Sound familiar? I was starting to see a pattern. Pretty perceptive, huh? That's exactly what I was doing. I had received this incredible gift of merciful forgiveness and new life in answer to a simple prayer, but now I was mostly depending on my own goodness to make me acceptable to the Lord. Oh, I trusted in His grace whenever I would “blow it”, but in between my failures I was depending on my own ability to do the right thing. Grace was my “Get out of jail” card that I would pull out and play whenever I needed it. But, in the walking out of day to day life, I unconsciously looked to my own obedience to His laws to make me righteous. Once again, if you had told me that this was what I was doing, I would have energetically denied it. I “knew” that salvation was by grace alone. I was blind to my own self-righteousness.

Paul didn't stop at calling them foolish. He was concerned that they may have suffered for the gospel “in vain.” He saw this shift to self-righteousness as a serious danger. And he had some really strong things to say about the teachers who were leading them in this direction. In fact, he makes one statement that is almost shocking to find in the Bible. He often uses the issue of circumcision as the example of trusting in our own works. The Jews had historically referred to circumcision as that which set them apart from the “uncircumcised” Gentiles. Its a pretty good example. A man allows himself to be cut in his most tender and private area as a sign of making covenant with God. And back then, they didn't have hospitals and anesthesia. I won't elaborate. So Paul is talking to the Galatians about these false teachers who are requiring Gentile believers to be circumcised and he says this,

I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

Yikes! If you don't know what he is saying there... well... I will let you do your own homework. I will just say that Paul is obviously not very happy with the direction of their teaching.

Gal 5:3-6 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Again, Paul is not just talking about circumcision. It represents the whole life of self-righteousness.

You who would be justfied by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

We don't need to get into the debate about what it means to have “fallen away from grace.” I will only say that it is NOT good. Can't be.

My hero Paul is deeply, almost violently, opposed to works-righteousness.

The Holy Spirit seems to be showing me that I have fallen into that trap.

This is not good either.

Monday, January 14, 2008

an understanding of grace Pt. 4

The Realization of my Self-Righteousness

I spent several weeks in the third chapter of Philippians. How could I have so misunderstood one of my favorite passages? Paul was trying to get free from self-righteousness and I was using his words to pursue my own. Just a little ironic. And then the Holy Spirit began to show me a pattern in my life. It was sort of a dance I was doing with God. I call it the Grace Works two-step. In the beginning, it was all about mercy and grace. I had been a foul-mouthed, immoral, drug dealer. I was a really nice guy, but I was also pure evil. A friend named Jay from college spent almost a year talking to me about Jesus whenever I would listen. At the same time, a girl at work was doing the same thing. It was like a 1-2 punch, day in and day out, and went on for almost a full year before I finally surrendered to the Lord. I went over to the guy's house one evening with the intent of getting started with this Christian thing. I didn't know what I needed to do, but I was ready to begin. There is actually a lot of really juicy details to that story, and God is the awesome hero, but I will tell it fully another time. Jay and myself and my best friend David spent the entire evening talking about the kingdom, and when it was about time for us to go home, I told them that I wanted to “do this thing.” Jay said, “I thought that was what you came over here for.” I bowed my head and closed my eyes, and he lead me in a prayer of repentance and commitment to Jesus as my Saviour and Lord. I had the single most powerful experience of my life as the Holy Spirit washed over me and filled my heart. (please forgive the religious language... I don't know how else to describe it.) It was absolutely overwhelming. I was speechless. And I was changed. A new man. Born again. It was amazing. I was a different person from that night forward.

I began to “learn” about the Christian life. I was really hungry for more of God, and His plans for my life. I went on a weekend retreat with a Christian group from our campus, and met some people from the Agape Force for the first time. I was deeply impacted by their teaching, and more than that, their passion for God. I wanted that, and at the end of the semester, I moved to Denver to work with one of their teams in the inner city. It was only supposed to be a summer, but ended up lasting almost ten years. It was the gift of God for me. I loved the people, and was totally excited about their vision of sharing the gospel with people who wouldn't normally hear it. It was really close to heaven for me.

But here I am, about five years later, and the Lord is showing me how dependent on my own works of righteousness I have become. I had learned a lot from His word, and the excellent teaching I was able to hear on a regular basis. I desired to live the radical Christian life, and I was getting really good at it. I didn't have any delusions of perfection, but somewhere deep down inside, I had an idea that I was headed down the fast-track in that direction. I had pretty well conquered most of the big sins in my life. I was really hungry and zealous for the kingdom of God. And I was working with this awesome ministry full of really godly people. Yep... I was feeling pretty good about the direction of my life.

But I lived my life in that dance I mentioned. The Grace Works two-step. It was a dance that I didn't even realize I knew.

I was constantly moving from the gift of righteousness to my own. On Sunday we would worship, and experience this great thankfulness for His salvation and His goodness to us. Then on Monday, I would get up and pray and seek after Him for the strength and wisdom to love and serve Him with all my heart. That's a good thing to do. But there was something wrong in my heart. My prayer on Monday wasn't always motivated by the same gratitude in worship I had experienced on Sunday. In fact, most of the time it was motivated by the desire to maintain His approval by my good behavior. I didn't want to fail Him, and possibly be rejected for it. If you had told me that this was what I was doing, I would have denied it. I knew in my head that He didn't relate to me in that way, but feared in my heart that He did. It was unconscious, but it was real. Deep down, I was driven by fear. I genuinely loved Him, and wanted to please Him, but didn't understand how that really worked. "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness," but I had come to believe that God was measuring me by the quality of my own works.

So I would “try really hard” all week, going just as long as I could without committing any major sin. The longer I made it without any biggies, the better I felt about myself. It made me seem acceptable, like God could actually like me. (The little stuff like pride and envy didn't count.) And then it would happen. I would eventually give in to some sort of temptation, and I would sin. The gentle conviction of the Holy Spirit would settle over me, and I would turn to Jesus in brokenness and faith, asking for forgiveness. He would embrace me in a fresh expression of His "unmerited favor", and comfort and strengthen me. It's wonderful when He does that.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

He is awesome, and my heart would overflow with fresh love and thankfulness for His grace. And then the next day I would begin the “works” step again. I would pray, and read my Bible, and make new resolutions to live for Him with all my heart. The longer I made it without any gross sin, the more lovable I would feel. And then of course, I would give in to another temptation of some sort, have to run to Him for mercy, and do the “grace” step one more time.

Works, grace, cha cha cha.... works, grace, cha cha cha... its a pretty easy dance to learn.

And its a really hard one to un-learn.

Friday, January 11, 2008

a grace thought

As I sat in the prayer room the other day, I felt like the Holy Spirit whispered in my heart,

"Grace is for every moment of every day, forever and ever."

The significance of that simple thought will become more clear as I develop my thoughts on this subject.

An understanding of grace Pt. 3

The First Step

It's really interesting how the Lord began this part of my journey in His Word. The third chapter of Philippians had always been one of my favorite chapters. Its like that for a lot of “radicals.”

Verse 7-10 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death... (ESV)

This passage is loaded with inspirational material for the person who wants to be a whole-hearted, totally sold-out lover of God. “I count everything as loss... I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish... that I may know him and... share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Wow! Now that was an example I wanted to follow. I had read those verses many dozens of times in my devotional times. If you dropped my bible on the table, it would probably fall open to that page. I think most of it was underlined in at least four different colors. The different hues didn't mean anything in particular. I just wanted to underline it almost every time I read it. So, a day or two after my conversation in the van with Rexie, I return to this familiar passage. And the Holy Spirit was waiting for me. I started with the first verse, sort of skimming through that first part on the way to the good stuff. You know... the death to self, loss of all things, radical stuff. But then He stopped me. “Go back to the beginning.” So I started with the first verse again, reading a little more slowly and attentively.

Verse 1-7 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh--though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

I flashed back to the grace conversation. And I began to realize that I had been misinterpreting one of my most treasured passages of scripture. Now... I think its perfectly legitimate to use these verses in dedicating ourselves to whole-hearted discipleship. I am sure Paul would have included that in his heart cry to “count all things as loss.” But his primary intention in this passage is to dedicate himself to the grace of God. He begins with a bold declaration. “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.“ This makes his main point pretty clear. We put no confidence in the flesh. He then gives a fairly detailed description of his “spiritual pedigree” and finishes it with the amazing description of himself, “as to righteousnesses under the law, blameless.” That's an incredible thing to say. Did he mean it? Did he really believe that he was blameless under the law? There's nothing there to indicate that he was exaggerating or being rhetorical. He meant what he said. But he said it to make a point.

“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

Paul wasn't talking about earthly belongings or accomplishments. He wasn't talking about position or power. He was talking about anything that he might point to in making a case for his own righteousness. His bloodlines, his obedience, his zeal; all of it was loss. He was so determined to live by “the righteousness from God that depends on faith” that he considered anything that would distract him from that to be a hindrance. He didn't want his own righteousness. He wanted the gift of righteousness. He wanted to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God.” He was blameless before the law, but wanted nothing to do with that. He saw that the righteousness that comes from God through the cross was superior in every way to even the purest and best righteousness he could come up with through his own strength and efforts. He wanted to be absolutely dependent on God's mercy and grace for his right standing before His throne.

So how was I trying to live?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

An understanding of grace Pt. 2

How it began

I was driving down the highway, on the way back to our ministry headquarters in Lindale, Texas, after a time of outreach in a small town in Arkansas. At this point, I have been walking with Jesus for six or seven years, most of that in Agape Force (or AF as we usually called it). The rest of the team was in the back of the van, and my friend Rexie was “riding shotgun”. It was her job to keep me awake and alert so that we could all make it back in one piece. For some reason, on that drive, the subject of our conversation turned to grace. That sounds pretty normal for a couple of young people in a Christian organization, but it wasn't. We didn't talk about grace much in our ministry. We talked a lot about being totally sold out for Jesus, and prayer, and revival, and evangelism, and everything related to being radical for God; but we hardly ever talked about grace. Really. Hardly ever. It sounds odd, but looking back, I understand it. Grace was considered to be a given. Everyone understood grace. It was “unmerited favor”, God's Riches At Christ's Expense. “By grace you have been saved...” It was taken for granted that everyone understood grace. Or, it was assumed that they didn't understand it. We had a term for what we perceived as a wrong understanding of the concept. We called it “greasy grace”. We felt like much of the church was trying to “slide” into the kingdom without repentance or dealing with their sin in any way. Talking about grace a lot seemed to be a smokescreen for living in sin while wanting to claim a spot in heaven. We believed that what the church needed to hear about was repentance and holiness and living for God with all your heart. Not bad stuff. The mistake we made was to take the truths of grace, and justification by faith, and assume that we all understood those. To a very great degree, we did not.

So, Rexie and I are riding down the highway, talking about grace, and the Holy Spirit begins to stir a hunger in my heart for greater understanding of this truth. It was the beginning of a very focused three month journey that would change my relationship with God forever.

An understanding of Grace Pt. 1

How many people have tried to explain the grace of salvation? Probably too many. But I will make one more attempt. Why? Do I think I have an understanding that has eluded the saints down through the ages? No, not at all. So why take the time to put forth an explanation of my perceptions? If nothing else, it will serve to clarify and sharpen my own thoughts. Or, it might provide the means for someone else to point out and correct my misunderstanding. Or maybe... just maybe, it will be helpful in challenging someone else to pursue a clearer and stronger grasp of this all-important truth.

As a young believer, I spent almost ten years serving in a missions organization called Agape Force. It was a wonderful season of my life, living and working each day with other young men and women who were committed to serving the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. We lived together in community, sharing a life of prayer, worship, study of the scriptures, and bringing the gospel to the unchurched in many different ways. We were extremely zealous, sometimes referred to by other ministries we worked with as the Green Berets in God's army. We had as our theme song an anthem that included the line “to win the lost, whatever may be the cost.” We were in love with Jesus, and wanted to know Him, and to make Him known to others more than anything in life. This passion was also our Achilles heal. It was our strength, and it was our weakness. It was our point of vulnerability.

We live this life on a battlefield. Every day. John tells us, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.“ The kingdom of darkness is continually looking for ways to cause us to stumble and fall. There are really only two basic strategies. One involves getting us to fall into sin. He will tempt us with the pleasures of this world, and the appetites of our flesh. But, if he can't effectively capture us with blatant sin, he will put on his “angel of light” disguise, and come after us with religious lies and legalism. “If I can't get them to fall back into sin, I will just get them to fall on their face in legalism.”

Either way, we miss out on the kingdom of love that God has called us to.