Friday, November 30, 2007

Cause Captured Christianity

We are Christians, believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We by God’s grace have been given light that can now see the Risen Christ, our sin, and what He has accomplished in our stead. Upon our conversion we start a journey to surrender all of our lives to Christ, and our mandate is to preach the gospel to every creature. Why every creature? Because God’s heart of redemption beats for all sinners everywhere. The Father hasn’t chosen a bunch from America, very few from Iran, a bunch from England, very few from India, and so on. God’s spilled blood of forgiveness is for everyone and His desire is for His gospel to be carried to every sinner. That is our commission, our mandate, and it should be the heartbeat of the spiritual body of Christ as it was in the incarnate body of Christ.

But so often we get caught up with other causes, other issues, many times causes that we would never have championed aside from the illuminating grace of God. One of these causes that we so often find spiritual solace in is abortion. Abortion is the murder of the unborn and it is a sin against God. Every Christian should abhor the practice and many women have come to Christ and experienced the forgiveness that only God can give after having had an abortion. Praise God for His mercy and grace!

But abortion is not our message or even our calling, preaching the gospel is. The only reason I am against abortion is that I became a Christian and the Holy Spirit graciously led me into that truth. Now when we have that perspective we must always remember two obvious realities, one about ourselves and one about others. First let us never forget or act as if we gained this knowledge on our own and that we somehow should behave or speak in a prideful or self righteous way about our position concerning abortion which actually is God’s position. There is such a thing as being fervent in conviction but humble in tone and communication. We have been given an amazing gift after God saved our souls, we were inhabited by the Spirit of Truth who systematically began a process of illumination that continues to this very day.

When I was first saved I still believed in evolution so I became a “theistic” evolutionist which means that God used evolution as part of His plan. It was about a year later that I saw that evolution was incompatible with any literal reading of the Scriptures so I repented and was changed. But without the Spirit I still would have clung to that view. Should I now be proud about my view and look down upon others who haven’t seen what God has shown me? Jesus Himself told us that his disciples shouldn’t feel proud about their Jewishness and that God could make stones praise Him. God hates pride and the pride that sometimes emanates from His own children is particularly repulsive considering they were born and kept by God’s grace and not of themselves. So if you are pro-life, be clothed in humility about it. Some of my personal heroes are the women that work in Crisis Pregnancy Centers all around the country. Not only do they reach out to girls and women in crisis, they present and live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only eternity will reveal how many women and sometimes their families will spend eternity with Christ because of the humble and sacrificial witness of a Crisis Pregnancy worker.

The second reality is that only the gospel can change a person, and if we desire to save the unborn it must be done through the regenerating power of the Spirit of God. I find it abjectly repugnant and even unchristian to criticize the unsaved for their blindness in this area. Even the lady who was “Roe” in Roe v. Wade has changed her stance because she came to Christ. Like hollering at a blind man to watch where he walks, we as believers take a page from Fred Phelps when we castigate the spiritually blind for not understanding spiritual or even moral issues. How easy it is to pick apart the lost, how hard is it to shed tears for those same people. It is so easy to use demeaning words that call people murderers and the like, but when do we pray and fast for those who are caught in the deception?

And why do we use the Constitution to ”prove” abortion is wrong as if the Constitution is inspired? When will we realize that we as the body of Christ operate within another kingdom, infinitely higher than this democracy that we have attempted to portray as “Christian”, and with a written revelation not written by men but by God? Our calling is to live and preach Christ and all these causes will follow. Our life is Him, our passion is Him, and our message is Him. Grieve for the lost with all their misguided views and beliefs and remember God loves them and people like me used to be them. If Christ made Himself of no reputation and came down in the likeness of sinful flesh should we not humble ourselves and with words of weeping not caustic pride let our lights shine before them so perhaps they will repent and believe?

Our cause is Christ. Let the world dabble in politics, our cause is Christ. Let the world battle over morality, our cause is Christ. Let the world picket, protest, and boycott, our cause is Christ. Our cause will be Christ and Christ alone forever.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Abiding in Christ

Jn.15:4 - Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
Jn.15:6-7 - If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

The word abiding carries with it much more than staying on the Lord’s side, much more than being doctrinally pristine, and much, much more than being so convinced of your own interpretive worthiness that the majority of your time is taken with chasing ravens and not chasing Christ. This world is no friend to our Savior and it offers no genuine help to anyone who seeks to abide in Him, so if we actually desire to abide in Jesus we must bow down because the door is low and the entrance narrow and the applause is silent. And it is no even trade to sacrifice the glory of His presence on the altar of pursuing others and their errors.

Abiding is living and breathing in Christ, not just doctrinally and positionally, but a tangible and experiential life that operates mysteriously within the very Person of the Living Christ. Learning about it will not suffice and hearing about it will not bring its reality, it must be entered into with a sacrificial hunger that refuses to be assuaged by any obstacles and it begins with a complete surrender to the Spirit in our thoughts, which is a difficult challenge to any of us.

We are so given to our perspective driven thought life that slips the reigns of the Spirit’s control and usually results in measured carnality. It is the unseen and protected playground of our unrighteous mental behavior that we have let so fester that we no longer even realize how offensive it is to the Spirit of Holiness who dwells and abides within us. Oh we don’t usually think of heinous acts of violence or immorality, but we can casually judge and demean others sometimes with a simple glance which immediately provides enough kindling wood for a very comfortable fire with which to warm our fleshly and self righteous minds. And if our minds are not crucified and turned over to God’s Spirit we will never fully abide in Christ and partake of Eschol’s fruit.

It is not enough just to crucify our minds, we must enter into an abiding with Christ facilitated by the Spirit of God. In Matthew 12 Jesus gives a teaching about a man who drives an unclean spirit from his mind and although he has swept his mind clean he hasn’t filled his mind with anything else. The Lord says that not only does the unclean spirit return, he returns with other more wicked spirits. Our abiding in Jesus is more than a mental housecleaning, much more. It must require a meditation and embracing of the Savior in all His fullness, and our abiding comes with the full knowledge of His Lordship over our entire lives and a manifestation of that knowledge.

Please do not get the impression that we can think about Jesus during the day and in that is abiding in Christ, no, this will go much deeper than simply thinking, this abiding must bear fruit. Jesus Himself says in a very serious and warning manner that any branch that does not bear fruit is first pruned in order to help the fruit bearing process. This is no benign metaphor by which our Lord is saying He will gently remove some things that have hindered the growth of fruit. This is a painful and sometimes savage pruning that removes the things that like vines have surrounded our hearts and become the objects of our fleshly love. Have you every attempted to remove vines that have infested shrubbery? It is a painstaking and tedious process that requires some cutting and ripping and when you think you’ve removed all of them you suddenly see more that had eluded your eyes.

And such is the pruning process of God’s Spirit, necessary but painful. And as in shrubbery these vines are feeding off our hearts and sapping the spiritual strength that rightly belongs devoted to the True Vine. It will take time and there will be things that have remained hidden and have entrenched themselves as parasitic strongholds in our hearts and minds. And when you prune a bush that has been taken over by vines you will begin to see empty places that were camouflaged by vines but now make the bush much less full. And while we submit ourselves to God’s pruning we must be careful to replace these hollow places with the meat of God’s Word and the Person of Christ. There is no easy way but the end is glorious in its honor to our Lord and Savior. Embrace the pain and offer it as a living sacrifice of repentance.

As serious as the pruning process is, if there is no fruit the Savior issues an uncompromising warning. He says in Matt.12:6 that if there by no fruit that branch will be cast into the fire. While others may attempt to dismantle the eternal implications of the Lord’s teaching it would do us well to consider all the possibilities of His Words, even the most distasteful and unnerving.

But let us return to those who desire to abide, not just avoid getting thrown in the fire. What does it mean to abide in Christ since not only are we commanded to do that very thing, Jesus said without Him we can do nothing. The key which unlocks the door to abiding in Christ is found in Matt.12:3 and Matt.12:7 respectively. Remember the man who had chased the evil spirits away from inside him? Well the Lord says that the way in which we get clean is through His Word. What power there is in God’s Word when it is received by faith, it has the power to clean the evil and depraved heart of a sinner. Just because we live in a day in which Bibles are sold in grocery stores, do not let the fact that the Bible is sold as merchandise mold our thinking into believing the Bible to be just a beneficial book surrounded by other self help books on the shelf. The Words of those scrolls, now presented in Gutenberg’s form, are spirit with the Creator and Redeemer’s power inherent in their essence.

These Words can cleanse the vilest heart and wash away the most grievous collection of transgressions from any sinner born of a woman. And the miracle of conversion is that it is the processional of God’s miracle working power but it is far from the recessional, it is the first step of a journey that will be filled with the manifestations of God’s power both visible and unseen. And these Word’s will clean away the dross and weights and sins from a believing follower of the Lord Jesus, and this is the prerequisite to abiding in Jesus, the True Vine. The Word of God is the cleansing agent that alone has the power to cleanse.

And as awesome a miracle as that is, remove now your sandals and listen to the Savior as He lifts the veil and gives us gracious directions about abiding in Him. In verse 7 Jesus says that if we abide in Him and His Words abide in us we have power with Him in prayer. What did the Apostle who Jesus loved tell us that Jesus’ pre-creation name was? The Word, which was with God and which was God. There is not just a connection between God and His Word, God is His Word. Oh the mystery of the written Word of God that has been given to us! Somehow by the miraculous working of the Spirit God takes the written Word and infuses it into our spirits and in that process He manifests Himself to us. Beginning with saving faith when the believer experiences a personal Bethlehem as Jesus is birthed inside his spirit via the Spirit, from that moment the Word must now be his life. Continuing the metaphor of the Savior’s earthly life the new born Christian grows in grace and the knowledge of Christ by the power of His eternal Word which is in actuality Jesus Himself. Growing and growing this believer continues to mature until, if he is passionate and unrelenting in his pursuit, he arrives at Calvary, as did the Son of God.

Perhaps you were mislead as you reach the cross, maybe you envisioned a different kind of abiding in Him. You wanted to go to the empty tomb first and experience His resurrection without having to visit Golgotha first. Oh no, there is no resurrection without the cross. And what is the cross to us today? It is being so changed by the power of the Word of God that we can say with Paul, “I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live, but not I, Christ lives in me,” and with that reality comes the revelation that our lives are His and His life is ours.

Somehow over the years the church has lost the cross. Oh we still mention it and wear it as jewelry, but we no longer stress the sacrificial experience by faith that provides the avenue of death for ourselves and our fleshly appetites and desires. Embracing the cross is now limited to conversion and then is tossed off as one of the childish things. Nothing could be further from the truth, the cross must still be a place of cleansing and self denial for the believer, and without denying ourselves we cannot abide in Him. Much of what passes for abiding today is a counterfeit, and like being weaned onto low fat ice cream until real ice cream is too rich for our palates we have grown accustomed to a kind of low fat abiding in Christ.

We are used to having our spiritual commitment being a convenient part of our busy lives and it is usually the first part that is sacrificed when the time grows short. If a man reads a devotional book for fifteen minutes a day he is considered a devoted follower. Yes, he may be when compared with the measuring stick of today’s experience but he surely falls short of what the Scriptures declare as being a disciple of the Savior and indeed when compared with some of the saints of days gone by. When we stop for a moment, letting the cares of this world go, and we consider Who Jesus is and how He has drawn us into His life, should not seek to surrender to His life?

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of his face;
Content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

The cross used to expose us to the wretches we are, but now it is misrepresented as a stepping stone for our earthly success. Abiding in some hedonistic definition of Christianity is not abiding in Christ, and in truth, abiding in Christ is rare today and its exhibition seldom recognized. Without the cross there can be no true abiding in Christ and the cares of this world, the shallowness of faith, and the lack of spiritual teaching hinder many from abiding in the Lord Jesus in whom are all the treasures of heaven and earth. Few desire more than the salvation of the cross, but when confronted with embracing the disciple’s journey of sacrificial faith inherent in the cross most turn aside. Jesus on the coss is believed, but our place upon our own cross is seen as fanaticism and surely not for today’s culture.

Oh come all of us who have believed on His name, embraced His sacrifice, and committed to follow Him for the rest of eternity, let us dig deeper in Him and shedding the works of our own hands let us abide in Him and Him alone. Forever.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cleansing the Temple

Isaiah 56:7 - Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
Matt.21:13 - And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Mk.11:17 - And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Lk.19:46 - Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Every vacation Bible school student is taught the story of how Jesus went into the same Temple in which He was dedicated and circumcised and made a whip and turned over the money changing tables and cleansed the Temple from that uncleanness. The Temple had become a place where poor people were charged excessive amounts of money for flawed animal sacrifices, and this was done right at the Temple gates. Jesus not only rebukes them as thieves that are defiling the Temple, but He quotes the Prophet Isaiah saying “for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people“. This is just before the Lord’s crucifixion and Jesus was surely making many major statements both to the Jews at that time and for us today.

Many people attempt to portray Jesus as benign and without any anger and with that they teach that God Himself has no anger today. Jesus showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery, He showed patience to Peter’s often outbursts, He even pleaded for forgiveness for His executioners, but somehow Christ’s wrath explodes when faced with abject wickedness in His own church. The corruption of God’s church seems to be the most intense object of God’s anger. Most of the churches referred to in the book of Revelation are rebuked and warned from God’s own mouth. God has little patience with those who would corrupt His church and one doesn’t have to be clairvoyant to understand why. Jesus is protecting His sheep from contamination.

So what application is there for Christ’s church and us as individual believers today? I am sure, like all of God’s Word, that the applications are many, but I will deal with and expound the two most obvious teachings gleaned from this event in our Lord’s life. The most obvious principle that Jesus is teaching concerns the merchandising and the doctrinal variance that weans God’s people off of meat and onto that which leads them away from God. In Christ’s time the Scriptural view of a blameless and spotless sacrifice that should reflect the coming Messiah had imploded into a sacrifice that could be the refuse of the herd and one by which money could be made. It was blasphemous.

Look around at the ecclesiastical expressions of Christianity today and wipe your eyes as you see what man has done to God’s unspeakable gift. Of course there are the obvious liars who promise that God will make you rich by giving to them and people by the millions, deceived by the lusts of their own flesh, follow after these false teachers and give to make the preachers wealthy personally. How could anyone believe such unbiblical teachings? The depth and power of deception is far greater than we have ever been able to realize, and if you say with confidence that you could never be deceived then you have placed yourself as a candidate for deception. Maybe you will never believe the health and wealth deception, but that is only one of many thousands of deceptions whose unifying purpose is to silently shake people away from the truth, turn them unto fables, and in so doing lead them away from Christ.

Although the health and wealth deception is very prominent, there are several new and rapidly growing deceptions that may not appeal to the lusts of the eye (wealth) but appeal to the pride of life. One of the strongest idols that man has ever bowed before is his own mind. The intellect of man has now moved into a prominent place in some of the newer movements that have arisen from within the church itself. Some of the identifying aspects of these movements are first and foremost a transitioning away from the basic truths of the church in past generations, and in many cases a total rejection of even redemptive views and what part Scripture plays in gleaning those truths. This is no boy crying wolf, this is much worse that most of us could imagine.

Please do not underestimate what is happening today, and just as in Jerusalem Christ is cleansing His temple again today. And in Jerusalem He cleansed His house just before He would return to heaven, today He cleanses just before He returns to Jerusalem. Oh how we should grieve for our brethren that are unknowingly following a spiritual concoction that emanates from the idol of men’s minds. Any time new revelation becomes frequent and predictable, a red flag should arise in our spirits. When a preacher doesn’t use the proven truths of the church but builds his own new and attractive foundation, we should run and adhere Paul’s admonition to be simple concerning evil. And when you survey the composition of the listeners and discover them to be predominately white, middle and upper middle class people, much of whom have some post high school education, then you must ask yourself what is it that is drawing them and not so much others.

Some wavering movements use music to draw, some use extravagant promises to garner followship, but some use an intellectual approach that allows the listeners to identify and understand much which ministers to one’s pride, and yet they present just enough new and mysterious interpretations so as to maintain both the hunger for more and the air of idolatry toward the teacher himself. You see, people are excited to identify with this teacher because he isn’t just presenting the gospel and Biblical truth with an unusual anointing and with a genuineness that both builds up and tears down, he is redefining truth and we are a part of his revolutionary journey that is finally correcting all the errors taught by the men of church history who we thought were used of God to expound God’s truth.

Teaching science or sociology or astronomy or anything else without clearly and forthrightly meshing it with the gospel of Jesus Christ is the idolatry of men’s mind. Jesus’ words about becoming like a little child ring hollow in many so called evangelical circles today. The cerebral aggrandizement of titillating philosophy is by definition a round table journey without a destination and serves only to cement into people’s theology that we can be certain about almost nothing. Meeting in a rented bar is not an issue, it is what has drawn people to that gathering enough to pay to hear some preacher expound upon issues that secular scholars could just as well present. To claim that is a Christian meeting without a clear gospel presentation is nothing more than a lie. But these are some of the things that Jesus through the power of the Spirit wishes to cleanse and commands us not to be a partaker of those carnal gatherings and meaningless monologues. God is not impressed with anyone’s intellect and God says, “Let not the wise man glory in is wisdom”.

Now there are other movements that are entangled with a different misguided methodology but which are still the exhibitions of the mind of man. Any theology that considers itself to have exclusive insight into the very fabric and workings of redemption directly from the mind of God, coupled with an obsession to preach and teach that particular view chronically, is again an emphasis on the intellect of man. Within the true church of Christ there are Biblical views that have been turned into idols and which are used to look down upon all other views as errors, shallow, and even “levels of unbelief”. While these are not dismantling the gospel, they have become more than just another sincere view concerning the intents of God, they have become doctrinal dwellings built upon intellectual pride and self righteous certainty. And like the former movement I addressed, this one has a common characteristic. The preponderance of systematic presentation of that particular view complete with historical quotes, redundant arguments, and verbal swipes at others views are rarely balanced with challenges to the sins within their own camp. Presenting doctrinal truth in pride is like offering a steak dinner on a garbage can lid.

But what about the different movements within our own individual hearts? How many minor and major movements have we entertained within the hidden resources of our own hearts complete with personalized components that minister to our own flesh? While we excoriate the emergent movement for their lack of doctrinal integrity are we being exposed by God for our own spiritual integrity? What spiritual integrity, you ask, I am orthodox in every way. Let us return to that specific event in our Lord’s like and take notice that it wasn’t just the manifestation of error that Jesus addressed, He also addressed the lack of spiritual manifestation in the form of prayer. And now our self righteous protestations that we have remained doctrinally faithful fall powerless within the anemic manifestations of our prayer lives. Many people will become more offended at what I have shared before than what I will share now about the prayer lives of the church collectively as well as individually.

There was Hannah as she prayed and the Word says she was so broken and so earnest she wept sore and could only move her lips but her voice would not come. Even the high priest, Eli, thought she was drunk because of the demonstrative nature of her prayers but she assured Eli that she had a sorrowful heart and she says she had “poured out her soul before the Lord”. Did you hear that my Christian brethren, she had poured out her very soul before the Lord. When was the last time you prayed in a fashion that could be described as pouring out your soul? Oh these “Polly want a cracker” prayers do little more than provide a conscience salve for our religious spirit but those certainly move no mountains. We march into the sanctuary on Sunday mornings and the “service” is comprised of more announcements than soul searching prayer. Where are the tears that authenticate the depth of our passion before the God who hears our prayers, where are the fastings that discipline the flesh and seek to focus our spirits? And with all the many departures by our brethren, where is the desperation?

We have become adept at researching and cataloguing the errors and sins of others but have we grown in length and depth and passion in our prayer closets? The individual prayer closet as well as the corporate prayer gatherings have become a disgrace and only reflect our level of unbelief in prayer itself. The church has been fragmented in all sorts of different doctrinal directions and the world itself lies in the Wicked One and yet the church house remains dark at night save for some committee meetings or some other activities. The Master kneels before heaven on the very night He was betrayed and yet the church refuses to kneel before heaven as He is betrayed again. Dry eyes gather on Sundays and dry eyes return home having enjoyed a nice and tidy doctrinal dissertation that usually re-emphasizes and reaffirms rather than challenges us to our very being so we run to the prayer closet and pour out our soul before our Savior and Maker.

Of course the Holy Spirit moves in many different ways, but why are our services so very predictable and scripted? Why doesn’t the Spirit’s ministry ever move the entire congregation with such a convicting sense of God’s presence that it moves people to their knees in tears? Why is the parking lot always filled with smiles and never tears and even groups in prayer? I am not speaking of wild emotion outside Biblical guidelines, I am speaking of prayer that corresponds to the spiritual realities that we say we believe are taking place today, to say nothing of prayer that actually substantiates our systematic theologies on the subject. Jesus said our gatherings should be remarkable by our practice of prayer and yet we have organized them around music, preaching, and many other things and have left the defining essence as peripheral. Nothing can be accomplished with Christ and His power will never be manifested without prayer.

The Scriptures say we should pray without ceasing, strong prayers, tear filled prayers, prayers with fastings, and some elongated prayer gatherings that shun the confines of schedules and time. The days are evil my friends, but we have been lulled into feeling a sense of our own accomplishment simply by remaining faithful to basic doctrines when in reality we have not attended to our own garden. Let us allow Jesus to cleanse our own temple from all the fallow ground and things that have kept us from spending the time in His presence that demonstrates we acknowledge that His power alone is sufficient for these things, to say nothing that we love Him and not just the facts about Him. Let Him cleanse us of ourselves, for in the end, we are our greatest stumbling block.

After the Lord has cleansed His Temple what will be left?

Sunday, November 25, 2007


In the book of Acts the Holy Spirit records some of a discussion between the Apostle Paul and certain philosophers in at Mars Hill. While unfolding a path to the gospel Paul says “in him we live, and move, and have our being”. His point to these unsaved men was that they still were dependent upon God for everything.

Having spent the better part of two months in the hospital over the last six months, and not being allowed to walk because of the healing of my fused ankle, and having to be dependent overall on my family for almost everything, I fight frustration. But in the midst of it all (I am writing while in a hospital bed) which includes a continuing serious infection, I asked the Lord to teach me something spiritual about my experience. This is some of what I’ve learned.

One of the most difficult principles for a believer to learn is to acknowledge and even embrace our total dependence of the Lord. We seem to be good at acknowledging our dependence upon Christ for our salvation, that is our strong suit. But when it comes to resting in Christ for our everyday lives, we come up short. In my situation when you are accustomed to working, driving, and generally being in charge of your own daytimer only to find all of that removed from your control, you then realize how dependent you’ve become upon yourself and how subtly you have allowed God to be a spectator.

Now it isn’t that I purposely and disrespectfully pushed the Lord aside, but we can be blinded by our own management while giving lip service to God’s control. Do we ever worry? That is one of the symptoms of self management. Do we get impatient or frustrated over things that do not go as we had planned? Do we take some pride over being self sufficient? All these thing and more creep into our lives and deceive us into thinking we are moving in God’s Spirit when we actually can be operating in the flesh.

So here I lay in the hospital again and I ask two things from my brethren. Lift up my name to the Father in Jesus’ name, and ask God to help you depend entirely upon Him for everything. God bless all of you and especially Bless the Lord O my soul!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Essence of Christ

Phil.2:5-7 - Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, though it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant…

Every attribute that can remotely be called good was inherent in Christ Jesus. And all these attributes were without measure and surely eclipsing anything known to earthly man, for this man was the Lord from heaven. Love was His and shown in many ways. Mercy and grace and patience were all revealed throughout His short journey in this world. He was the manifested Son of the Living God and He manifested God through the prism of a human frame.

But perhaps the essence of Christ in His incarnation was humility. It all begins with Mary. An obscure and unremarkable peasant girl, maybe as young as 13 or 14 years old, is chosen by God for the unfathomable privilege of providing a womb through which God would send His Son. She has had no notoriety or fame before Gabriel’s visitation and after the Day of Pentecost in Acts she will disappear as neither Paul, Peter, or John will even make mention of her again. So God did not choose a woman of great education or stature, He chooses a young girl who will both gather no glory for herself and also give God all the glory of this majestic mystery. Her spirit immediately humbly acquiesces to Gabriel’s message and she says, “My soul does magnify the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for he has regarded the lowly estate of His handmaiden…”.

So the Incarnation begins in humility. Fast forward nine months and we see an obviously pregnant Mary walking and riding among the throngs that are traveling to the destination of their taxation. No one notices and no one is aware that the Creator of the universe is among them and will shortly come forth in the likeness of a man. So many people came to Bethlehem that there was no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph so they had to make their bed in a stable. And it was in this environment that Mary gave birth to Christ and He was laid in a feeding trough, a manger. Even the poorest in Judaea would not have laid their baby in a tough, but such was the first place the Lord Jesus came to rest on this earth. Lowliness, meekness, and humility were the foundation of His entrance.

Now as unremarkable and humble a birth that Bethlehem afforded, the town of Nazareth was even more humble and seemingly unworthy of anything special. The childhood of Christ was so unpretentious that the Scriptures only include the events of one pilgrimage to Jerusalem, no other mention of Christ’s childhood is recorded. So His childhood remains indistinguishable from any other boys growing up in Nazareth. Humble and indistinct, He was known as Joseph’s son which was another way in which He showed His humility by allowing some to surmise that He had come through the loins of Joseph when in fact He had been born of the Holy Spirit Himself.

Now the Incarnation itself, that God would come as a man, was an incredible act of humility itself. The condescension in that manifestation is beyond our ability to comprehend. And after approximately thirty years of abject obscurity we see the Incarnate Christ approaching the Jordan River. Surely He has come to take over John the Baptist’s ministry, but look, the Creator bows to be baptized by a man and in humility He keeps His identity a secret when He could have shouted it upon the housetops. Think long on this, many who witnessed the Lord’s baptism wrongly assumed He was being baptized for the remission of sins which of course He had none, but His humility again insulated Him from any need to protect His reputation. How different He was than are we.

Follow Jesus in His earthly ministry and watch Him endure mockings and betrayals, demeaning and rejections, and yet He continues to exhibit a teaching of humility and selflessness, and perhaps His strongest teachings surrounded the traits of a disciple who must forsake himself in order to follow in Christ’s footsteps. Those are so easy to relegate to some powerless metaphors so as to remove the sacrifice that must accompany a true disciple. Surely Jesus could not have meant that we must forsake everything to follow Him, could He?

Fast forward again as the Lord enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and to the cheers and hosannas of the Jewish crowd. They laid palm braches before Him as if He were a king, so how can that be described as humble? Please remember that Jesus knew they were praising Him for selfish and misguided reasons, you see, they had assumed He was coming to take them out of Roman bondage and so in essence the entire scene was a lie. But the Lord did not require His reputation to be untarnished, or to be recognized as to who He really was, no, his humility granted grace and mercy to the lips that sang His praises now and would call for His death in a few days. And you and I take up an offense for the slightest misrepresentation of our precious reputation.

Look now, He kneels to pray in that sacred garden fully realizing Judas was cementing His betrayal at that very moment and yet still He prays. We are distracted by a loud car and yet the Lord prays with His betrayal being negotiated and His disciples asleep. Again His humility was such that He needs no protection or defense because His approval was never from man anyway. Soon the military mob that He knew was forming would come to arrest Him at the direction of one who He had shown such love. Behold, He goes without violence and even rebukes Peter for defending Him. What kind of man is this that seems to embrace injustice and even insult to His holiness? This is no ordinary man and this is no ordinary demonstration of humbleness in the face of universal rejection, this is the essence of His mission.

Look again as He stands before Ciaphas and Herod and Pilate, innocent and yet accused as guilty. Perhaps now He will complain and find fault with His faithless disciples, perhaps now He will rise up in indignation and throw off the chains of colossal injustice and proclaim Himself Master of the Universe, perhaps now He will summon the armies of heaven and destroy all those who have mistreated Him so severely. If you await such a scene you will be eternally disappointed for the Lord of Glory continues to endure the disdain and scorn of sinful men and He stands in embarrassing humility and accepts His fate even before His purpose is revealed. And if that show of unthinkable humility doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, perhaps this will. He stood there and endured it all for you.

Look further. He is beaten, whipped, mocked, and probably almost killed before they stop. He is clothed with the garments of mocking not praise, His beard which was a sign of Jewish manhood is ripped from His face, the disgusting spit from the lips of men who kissed whores now adorns His face, that same face is punched while blindfolded, His prophetic mantle is challenged to locate who punched Him, and thorns, the sign of the curse, are pressed down into His scalp as a scornful crown. He is a mess and one might ask what further humiliation will He endure, how much further can they desecrate God’s Son?

We are now ready to enter into the greatest and most profound act of humility ever witnessed by the eyes of history. Remove the sandals from your heart for this is holy ground and can only be understood even in part by the illumination of the Spirit of God. That God would come as man, that God would be unrecognized, that God would be mocked, that God would be beaten, and that God would be judged guilty are untold mysteries to the natural man. But that God would die, and that by murder, and yet that by crucifixion is a mystery of humble love that may never be fully understood throughout eternity. How can God die a brutal, torturous death that doesn’t even afford Him the privacy of this injustice but carries this crucifixion out in open public, and God Himself assures it is recorded in the pages that will live as an everlasting witness to what they did to Him and what He has done for them, both of which revolve around the same spectacle.

Listen as God draws His last earthly breath and bows His head and dies. God dies? GOD DIES??? The word humility is a poor description of this event and the depth of that selflessness is hidden in the treasure of the Godhead only peeked at by a regenerate sinner given revelation by God’s Spirit. Equally confounding is how can God die and why would God die. You and I might give our lives for our children and maybe our mates, but that list suddenly drops off the cliff as to who we would actually give our lives for. Would we give our lives for Hitler? For Manson? For a child molester? And even these examples fall short of accurately representing what Christ did for sinful man since we are infinitely closer in moral substance to Hitler than Christ is to man. Oh yes, we are rebellious enemies of the Creator who without the ministry of God’s Spirit do not care for anything but ourselves.

So when Christ resurrects from the dead, when the stone rolls away from the mouth of death, and when the dead God walks from the grave alive forevermore and victorious over death, only then can we glean some perspective as to the depth of His humility against the backdrop of who He actually was. So if this is the Christ, Son of the Living God, who was that we saw upon the Roman cross? That beaten and bruised body, that bloody and grotesque form, was this same Christ revealing an obedience unto death that will always be the single most sacrificial act of humility which was accomplished for us. And this act of selflessness was given for even those who would still reject Him. This cannot be captured by words or even thoughts, and I struggle to think sometimes my own words tether Him to the linguistic parameters of man’s language while the enormity of His cross soars beyond the understandings of angels. But so let us never cease to aim higher with our words and with our thoughts and surely with our praise of Him who bowed down to enter Golgotha’s door…….for us.

Now if the essence of Christ was humility, what should the distinguishing mark of our followship be as believers? In the midst of a sinful and rebellious world, what should we strive to project to the inhabitants of this darkness? Oh yes we must preach the gospel, but wrapped in what package? Should not our humbleness be a distinguishing feature of our lives and words, and not just as methodology, but as an actual expression of the Christ who lives within us? And in the midst of disagreements among the followers of Christ, even serious disagreements, don’t we have an obligation to the Christ we follow to remain humble and selfless even if we deem ourselves to be correct and used of God?

The runaway train of disdain and scorn and demeaning humor has left the station and in so doing the humility of Christ has been left behind. Reflect on what we just visited about our Wonderful Lord and look through that prism and see if you can identify that same spirit within the unraveling discourse that parades as Christian but mostly resembles the former television show named “Crossfire”. There is a dramatic difference between defending truth and behaving like Jesus and it is possible to pursue both while it is also possible to pursue only one.

There is power in Christ’s humility including the approval of heaven itself. In our families, in our workplaces, in our churches, in the world, and among ourselves we must display and consciously exercise the humility that exhibits His life and not ours. The world must see that we are not forcing Christ upon them, we are humbly offering Him to them. And one way in which they will see that is if they see that same humility displayed among us, His believers. Humility in God’s church is a commodity that seems in short supply in today’s rights oriented Christianity, but the full power of His humility remains an untapped resource through which God will entrust the fullness of His Spirit. If we continue to reject the humility we see in Christ’s life we will continue to have what we have now, a room filled with talkers, each with a piece of the argument, and each believing that the success of their position depends upon the cleverness, literary prowess, and volume of their theological presentation.

Somehow our Savior did not need those ingredients, His power was made perfect in weakness. Maybe we should give that a try?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hold Fast

I Thess.5:21 - Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

II Thess.2:15 - Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

II Tim.1:13 - Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

Ti.1:9 - Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

Heb.3:6 - But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.

Heb.4:14 - Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

Heb.10:23 - Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)

Rev.2:13 - I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

Rev.2:25 - But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.

Rev.3:3 - Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

Rev.3:11 - Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.

There have been other dark days in the history of the church involving martyrdom and severe persecution, but these are the days in which it will take more than a passing lip service commitment to hold fast to Christ. The multilayered deceptions are strongholds of magnificent creativity and have become so unrecognizable and are even presented as orthodox Biblical avenues of true discipleship. These are dangerous days and must be navigated with humility, boldness, and a hunger and thirst for God’s truth and the approval of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The admonition to “hold fast” in the previous verses are not some benign suggestions to help us achieve Christian success, no, these are dramatic warnings that have eternal consequences inherent within them. I am one who doesn’t believe a true Christian can “lose” his salvation but I do believe that a believer can depart from the faith and eventually count the blood of the covenant through which he was sanctified as an unholy thing. Does it get any more serious than that? Even if you do not believe that completely, do not discount it entirely and give unfaithful Christians any comfort and thereby soothe their consciences. No one can sin away their salvation, but sin can harden the heart to such a degree a person will eventually deny their faith or be deceived into embracing a lie. Who can dissect that mystery fully except to say this is no time for games, these are days to gird up our loins and follow the cloud of God’s fire that beckons us to hold fast until the end. Melodramatic you say? Probably vastly understated indeed.

In order to hold fast you must examine yourself to make sure you are in Christ by faith. Not some mealy mouthed profession that didn’t even change your life and heart, but a faith that gave your entire life over to the Lord Jesus and began a journey that had some observers rejoicing and others confounded. We have too many professors of religion whose lives blend in with the course of this world, too many who have no divine light shining through their lives that substantiates their verbal profession of Christ. No one can be saved by anything other than faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but when true faith is placed on Christ the irresistible seed of followship is implanted in that believer’s heart and the fruit of that conversion will begin to manifest in his life.

A fruitless Christian life is a Christless life that often is a mirage, a shadow, and a counterfeit that blinds the person to his condition while religion assures him of his eternal reward. How can a person hold fast to something he has never laid hold of first? And how can the Creator of the Universe take residence within a person’s spirit without generating any evidence of that colossal visitation? We must lovingly but firmly warn all the religious bystanders of their peril because in the end we will be held accountable as well as they.

But if you are indeed a true believing follower of Christ you still must be fully aware of the devices of the Evil One. The devices of deception are panoramic in today’s Christian community including pragmatism, shallowness, doctrinal departure, universalism, ecumenicalism, and many other subtle tools controlled by the forces of darkness. We must hold fast or we ourselves may be swept away. Oh be careful, attractive books, persuasive preachers, friendly people, convincing arguments, new Scriptural interpretations, and many other tools of leverage seek to dislodge us from our faithful hold on Christ and His teachings. And sometimes those who are departing may seem friendlier that some who are not, but the demeanor of people is not our spiritual compass, only the Word and the Word alone must always be our rock upon which we rest.

The Scriptures have well said that their will be some who promise liberty but will themselves be drawn into bondage. Remember, a life that is defined by moderation, sacrifice, and a humble separation from the attractions that defile is not legalism, it is the narrow walk of a disciple that accentuates His life not ours. A believer at a gathering of sinners who stands and speaks words of faith to those in need in the midst of hedonism and carousal can be a strong light of witness, but that same believer smoking, drinking, and cursing and attempting to witness has a hedonistic bushel covering any light he might have. In short, he appears as a party goer and not a disciple. I do not speak of a self righteous removal that hugs the corners and judges the world, no, I speak of a powerful life of faith that shines the light in the midst of the darkness while not partaking of their evil deeds and by God’s grace rescues some. Let us hold fast to the teachings of separation, those that cleanse our outward lives in order to remove any stumbling blocks and glorify our Master. It is not popular today on earth but it still is pleasing to heaven.

And we need to hold fast to the foundational teachings that have always defined the Christian faith. I think the three basic doctrines that are the targets of attack are the nature of Scripture, the nature of Christ, and the nature of salvation. Let me say that both Calvinists and Arminians who are solid in Biblical faith are holding fast. Both believe in salvation by grace through faith and both believe strongly in the three doctrines I listed. Their differences lie elsewhere and although the differences are important they are not part of any departure. There are however Arminians who are departing and hyper-Calvinists who also have change the gospel, but to be fair the hyper-Calvinists are miniscule compared with the parameter-less Arminian watershed that is accommodating any and all streams of unbiblical thought.

Preachers who are tickling ears today are legion and very popular, many of whom are leading great swelling congregations away from true Christianity and into a spiritual morass of undefined teachings that seek to lift up man and not God. Stories and jokes and smiling tales of success have replaced solid Biblical teachings that challenge and seek to strengthen the hearers to exalt Christ in their mortal bodies. Judgment and hell have been sidelined in place of promises of financial prosperity, while some are systematically dismantling the doctrine of hell itself. Meeting the earthly needs of sinners has replaced meeting their eternal needs. I find it breathtaking how quickly the changes have come and the evangelical landscape does not even resemble any former generation, as a matter of fact, many mock former generations as backward and unenlightened.

But we must not be satisfied with creating easy inventories of obvious error, we must never neglect our own devotional vineyards because in the end, unless there is a massive and supernatural revival, the masses are not returning. And God forbid our eyes are dry and our hearts uncompassionate when we speak correction, pride stinks before God and He will never accept truth wrapped in the stench of our self righteousness. My heart is heavy when I see what many are saying and teaching and following because even during my early years at Bible College some of things would never have been dreamed possible much less embraced.

We can carefully tweak our methods and we are not bound by singing hymns, and we must be careful not to teach legalistic things about which Scripture is silent because that removes our credibility. Our calling is not to point out the world’s sins as if this generation was the first to pursue wickedness, no, our calling is to point out that their sin has separated them from a loving but just God who has paved a redemptive escape through the blood of His own Son. We, like Christ, are not sent to condemn the world but to preach Christ and Him crucified and that the world through Him can be saved. What a glorious privilege we have to spread the same good news that saved us from eternal destruction.

But hold fast to your first love, doctrinally and emotionally, truth and devotion, outwardly and inwardly, and do not be moved by what is taking place today which will only increase. You will be tempted to wrath and fleshly retaliation but always move in the love of God and with a humility that recognizes our utter dependence upon Him and that only by His grace have we come this far. Do not lose your joy and never be consumed with the controversies, be consumed with Jesus. Hold fast to your brokenness and contrition before our Lord, and hold fast to the time in your prayer closet, it must be your life. Pray for our wayward brethren and the lost world, but most of all pray that God will continue to break us and make us in the image of Him who we serve and adore. Every day must lead us through Calvary and out of that glorious tomb with His life pulsating through us. Weakness will sometimes be strength, boldness might be love, humility will be power, and the battle is His and we His unprofitable servants. We are revealing His victory not winning it. We cannot control the hearts of others, but we can hold fast to our own hearts of obedience and devotion toward our wonderful Lord and Master.

Hold Fast.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Christianity I Do Not Recognize

This commentary is not written in anger or in pride, and I share my observations with a profound sense of sadness and with a recognition of my own shortcomings which are many. I believe I have had a somewhat unique perspective in that I have friends from across the spectrum of doctrinal persuasions, at least from within the blog “chat room”. But it is apparent that the reflection, as well as the definition, of Christianity itself has changed and continues to change. Some contend this is good and healthy, but I must humbly disagree.

The post Pentecost church began as a small band of newly saved Jews who knew less doctrine than the average 12 year old Baptist Sunday School boy. They had no New Testament and the core of their faith was that Jesus was the Christ, their Savior. Many in those early days, including the Apostle Peter, did not even understand the universality of the gospel offer, having confined it to the Jewish people. As the decades passed the Holy Spirit continued to both reveal New Testament truth hidden in the Old Testament Scriptures as well as teaching through apostolic revelation. Somewhere around the fourth century A.D. the New Testament canon began to be crystallized and the church began in more depth to see new truth.

For centuries the gospel spread throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa, but during that time the Roman Catholic Church was born and enveloped most of Christianity while changing the way of salvation and teaching that true salvation is through that church. Again centuries past and then God in His unfathomable wisdom chose a multi-flawed German monk by which to light reformation fires that would spread throughout Europe. Justification by faith was reborn and the church again began to grow. Centuries passed and most of the evangelical church shuffled off the remaining vestiges of Roman Catholic ceremonialism and God graciously sent preachers who scoured the earth with God’s redeeming gospel. Salvation was preached, sinners were saved, and even revivals were experienced.

Now centuries have passed again since those post Reformation days and for the most part the evangelical church has agreed upon the gospel and the ingredients of a true disciple. There were differences and legalistic streams that attempted to infiltrate the church, but generally the evangelical community agreed upon the basics. That is no longer true today. There are no longer minor differences of theology or even behavioral practice, there exists now great chasms of disagreement resulting from new ways of arriving at those views. And because these differences were arrived at because of new methods of Scriptural interpretation, these differences continue to widen and become more startling.

The changing eddies of Biblical thought and practice were at first confusing, then unsettling, and now have become the most dangerous attack on New Testament Christianity since the Roman Catholic Church swallowed the early evangelical world. And not only has the gospel and its atoning implications been modified, the lifestyle of a believer is now presented as congruent with the culture and comfortable with partaking of all the hedonistic trappings of that same culture. And this is not limited to the emergent church as such, these tendencies are taught and exhibited by the seeker crowd, the purpose driven crowd, the health and wealth crowd, and a large group of churches that do not align themselves with these specific groups but display the same practice and theology.

There is little if any teaching on sanctification as it applies to the element of separation, and the average evangelical would be ignorant of that term as it had been understood in previous generations. The number of professing believers that avoid alcohol, cursing, smoking, filthy movies, and other objectionable behavior is dwindling and in fact more and more pastors partake openly of these things and preach liberty to their listeners. No one can be saved or even more saved by avoiding these things, but the sanctification of a believer had always included his outward behavior and if indeed some things were not sin they were “weights” as Hebrews tells us.

I am not pronouncing a curse on anyone but I am sharing my distress in the light of church history, some of which I have observed within the 32 years of my personal journey. The Scriptures used to be interpreted literally and we understood that the common believer without original language credentials could still glean the simple and profound truths of the Word complemented by the teaching of an anointed preacher. Today some preachers expound the Scriptures in a way that seems to render all previous understandings as null and void and even inaccurate. I have listened to messages that I could not believe were supposed to be based upon the same Bible I preach from.

These are not minor issues of Christian conduct. Some would claim that no believer should enter a movie house which of course is behavior legalism, but that is not what appears to be happening here. The only discourse about personal separation from worldly things is usually in the context of dismantling the former teachings that dealt with such things. Of course there will always be some rules oriented, legalistic tendencies but now the door to liberty has been thrown wide open with no parameters, and the Scriptures that deal with these issues are redefined as petrified in the cultural context within the time they were written and therefore of little or no application in the modern world, and the etymological obstacle course complete with rabbinical and apostolic understandings remove any vestige of ecclesiastical and personal guidance and challenge for today.

Once you allow the Holy Spirit to remove any fleshly anger or pride, your heart gets heavy. And as unrecognizable as this new behavioral Christianity is, the theological teachings can be even worse. There are many streams of teachings that have left the stable including the nature of Scripture, the existence of hell, the substance of heaven, the eternal destination of followers of Mohammed, and many other disturbing departures of orthodox teachings. But I want to deal with one that targets the core of the gospel. There is now much teaching that includes atonement as an ingredient to a greater and overarching definition of salvation. This teaching uses a kingdom verbiage which includes feeding the poor, justice for all, spreading the wealth, and generally upgrading people’s earthly situation as the core of the gospel.

This is a major league departure from the faith once delivered to the saints that is exclusively spiritually redemptive through the forgiveness of sins by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. It stems from a focus on the gospels at the expense of the epistles and especially the Pauline epistles. If the gospels were sufficient for the complete revelation of the essence of gospel truth, then why did the Savior choose the Apostle Paul to whom he made the mystery of the gospel known? Jesus Himself made it clear that He had many more things to say to the church but until the Holy Spirit came no one would understand them. Let us be clear, it was Jesus speaking through Paul and not Paul’s private thoughts. So without the defining relief of the epistles, the gospel narratives can be made to tell whatever doctrinal story you desire. It must be the revelation of the epistles that give doctrinal interpretation to any gospel narratives and not the reverse.

And so here is my point, we now have teachings that the message of salvation is part of a holistic plan to bring in the kingdom of God which transforms communities based upon the humanitarian works of the church and not the life changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, some say that these works are part of the gospel itself. So that view contradicts the message of justification of faith and obscures the clear “Go and preach” mandate to “Go and change” which is a kingdom view of the mission that Christ has given to us. It is well meaning and profoundly wrong.

Do not underestimate the implications of such a theology, and some now even downplay the atonement essence of the cross in favor of some triumph over evil view. And with that they say that our mission is to triumph over the evils of this present world, those being poverty, disease, injustice, racism, and all the other manifestations of our sinful world. However lofty these ambitions are, they not only are not the gospel but they subtly and not so subtly do damage to the gospel. That is correct, any teaching that blurs the line between faith and works is deadly and unbiblical at its core. Jesus almost exclusively spoke to Jews and challenged their nationalistic view of a “kingdom” and it is not rightly dividing the Word to generate some gospel kingdom teaching from the Lord’s words in those narratives.

The cult “The Way” takes Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler and teaches that in order to be saved you must sell everything. Without the teachings of Paul who can say they are wrong, after all, those words are in red. Many times Jesus was probing and poking and providing a transitional teaching that would remove the comfort of Jewish ethnicity, self righteousness, and nationalism which would later be unfolded in its spiritual entirety through the New Testament epistles, written to the church and for its doctrinal foundation. To build a doctrinal understanding of salvation and the gospel without the foundation of the Pauline epistles leads to serious misunderstandings even though the humanitarian works of compassion seem to authenticate what we believe Jesus would do.

The only window into what would Jesus do today must be found in the book of Acts. They went in the power of the Spirit and preached the gospel. You see, we have lost our faith in the power of the gospel and now we need the ornamentation of humanitarian works which are duplicated by the unregenerate world. Good works are important as a way of exhibiting God’s love, but they cannot ever take the place of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a subtle but colossal error.

And so we continue to see the shift gain momentum, and sometimes the ones who desire to speak some correction only complicate the situation through caustic and self righteous verbiage that mocks and scorns men personally, and the phenomenon of scornful humor has now taken hold within the warm fortress of the “I’m glad I’m not like other men” club. That is not only overtly prideful it is spiritual laziness and lacks the compassion that we should exhibit toward those who have been captured by these deceptions. If they are our brothers then we should correct them in love and humility, if they are not our brothers should we not point them to Christ with the same love and humility? Either way scorn, name calling, and a general distasteful ambiance that is sometimes most unreflective of Christ’s overall ministry is counter productive.

And we ourselves must never research the sins of others at the expense of reflecting on our own. I am personally repentant of my own powerlessness and the lack of compassionate love in my heart for some of my brothers. We must forge ahead with our own personal journey to allow the Spirit to guide us in our views, our approach to others, our prayer lives, our humility, and our devotion to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. James says it is useless to say “be blessed” when our brother is in need and we have the capacity to help. In that same way, just verbally identifying the errors of others is equally as impotent, and if we refuse to pray for our own revival which will anoint us with His power and give us His strength to release the captives then we have become a harmless megaphone that soothes our conscience and allows us to “think more highly of ourselves” than we should.

Remember, although I do not recognize this type of Christianity, in the light of men like Brainard, Wesley, Edwards, Taylor, and others, I do not recognize their type of Christianity in myself. Let us pray, love, pray, remain humble, consume God’s Word, pray, witness, and always…pray.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Horror of God's Love

The Horror of God's Love

Love as we understand it is supposed to be a display of tenderness and gentle devotion, and two young lovers in a meadow sometimes comes to mind. Who can forget our first love when our hearts were drawn to someone in school or the neighborhood? We might have been drawn by their eyes or hair or personality, but something about them captured our hearts and we experienced for the very first time the emotion we call love. It was all so like a fairy tale.

But how can we fully experience God’s love, and what about the Father can draw us to know and experience His love toward us as well as materialize within us a love for Him? Will it be the beauty of the mountains or the brightness of the stars? The majesty of the oceans or the wonder of the human figure? The expanse of the universe or the warmth of a mother’s affection? Which of these or others will God use to exhibit His matchless love for us? Of course all of these fall short in communicating the Father’s love but they all come with finite beauty and limited majesty.

But in the holy wisdom of God’s own counsel none of these created treasures are what God has chosen to reveal His everlasting love to us. Take a closer look and set your eyes upon a small hill just outside of the City of Peace, Jerusalem. Do not search for something warm and cuddly or even something pleasant to the eyes. The revelation of God’s love comes not with the normal expectations of man and his understandings concerning love, no, this revelation confounds the poetic and romantic inclinations of our hearts, this revelation is repulsive and frightening, but it is the powerful mystery that illuminates the divine love to the sinful heart of man. This is the cross, revealing the horror of God’s love.

What do I mean when I say horror? With that term I attempt to explain that the cross displays the depth of God’s love through the single most striking and chilling event that man can experience, the visual and elongated death of another man. A spectacle through which every sinner can identify because death awaits us all, but this death is so much different than any other, this is the death of God’s only begotten Son. Only the sadistic nature of a fallen man would be drawn to watch a tortured man die, but there is something about this death that has had a holy voyeuristic quality to it that has lasted until today. Something, some small inside voice says that there is more to this death than can be seen by the natural eyes, something spiritual and far more meaningful than a Jew taking his last breath at the hands of Roman soldiers.

The visual aspect of Golgotha is indeed filled with blood and water, sweat and agony, and the entire scene is most repugnant and yet there remains an attraction that is not explained by any sadistic element, this allurement has a redemptive essence that seems to seek some form of shelter from this bleeding form. People have worn it, made its sign, drawn its shape, placed it on graves, and it has found a place on and in buildings throughout the world. What is it about this death, this tortured punishment, that has so mesmerized much of the world?

Deep inside the physical nature of this death burns the inescapable motivation for it all, something that has had no beginning and existed before the first atom was spoken into existence. Underneath the bloody wounds lives the eternal love of God, the love that is now extended through this horror and which mysteriously flows out from those incarnate veins. No pleasant meadow and no tender scene comes to present God’s offer of love, no, a vicious and violent scene of torture and ultimately murder itself is the fresco upon which God expresses His love for us. The method of communicating this love, much less its very nature, is beyond the human comprehension since this crimson scene speaks of anything but love in the usual context.

This visual tells of murder and violence and vengeance and punishment, but surely not love. What kind of love lives and breathes in mutilated gore, and what loves reaches out through that which is feared most? Only the redeemed child of God can appreciate the meaning of Calvary’s mystery, but the horror of God’s eternal love draws from our bosom the sweetest emotions of gratefulness and praise for the measureless depths of that expression of divine love. It is the horror of it all that seems to awaken our souls to understand the august greatness of this love, and it is only the Spirit that can bring understanding to such a bewildering act. To say the cross was a selfless act is to severely diminish its glory, since it was God delivering His only Son for us all and that truth is incomprehensible.

But each and every sinner who, by faith, touches this love exposed in death, is transformed by its inexhaustible power. That God loves the universe is amazing, but that God loves mankind through the death of His Son is unfathomable. But that God would show His love through the horror of His Son’s murder to each of us personally leaves us speechless and indeed without the corresponding emotion that this act should require. To be horrified and yet loved at the same time remains a mystery, but it is the deepest redemptive mystery that will continue to redound to the glory of God throughout eternity. And deeper still is the mystery that when a sinner approaches this cross by faith, he himself becomes consumed by God’s love and made a part of this divine death, only to be resurrected into a new creature made in the image of God’s love, His Son. Selah.

And so a lonely man, as it were, barely walks His own beaten frame up the hill called Calvary, and allowing Himself to be nailed to the planks, and allowing Himself to be mocked, and allowing Himself to be unrecognized as Who He was, He lasts six agonizing hours before bowing His head in death. And the glory of this horror continues to shine God's love without measure even unto today. Please bid me no further for my words only detract, but grant me this one last thought. In the end, there is no love but God’s, and the cross is the blood spattered mirror through which to see it most clearly...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Remnant Mentality

Some blogs have used the term “remnant” to describe a small group of believers who are dedicated and faithful to Biblical truth. Part of the term is meant to distance this remnant from the different streams of compromise within the evangelical community. If you peruse the internet you might find that there are scores of groups that use the term remnant about themselves, but many of them would not include each other who use that same term as part of the remnant they define. So one remnant people dismisses another remnant people as not part of the remnant that they see as “God’s”. The New Testament only uses that term as it applies to the Jewish believers that embrace Christ in the church age, but no where does it use that term to mean a “super faithful” bunch holding down the fort against the onslaught.

I do not believe I’ve ever heard someone use the word “remnant” to describe a small group of faithful followers who didn’t believe that they themselves were a part of that remnant. Interesting. In the Old Testament, where that term was used, it was God Himself who identified that group not the remnant themselves. In this age of grace that term is self serving and leads to an inflated view of ourselves. What is the unscriptural criteria for being part of that so-called remnant? It is not enough for us to be called a sinner saved by God’s glorious grace, we must have more? Paul says he was the chief of all sinners but we are part of God’s elite remnant because of the incredible depth of our life of faith?

These blogs write about men like Brainard and Whitefield and others, and instead of exposing their own shortcomings against that backdrop they seem to imply they are the spiritual offspring of these men of faith. And so they claim to be the last days remnant who continue to protect the sacred truths that have been handed down to us through the centuries. There is much self righteousness in that view and it subtly diverts the ministry from compassion concerning people to disdain concerning any who are not a part of the remnant.

This remnant term reflects some of the growing self righteousness among those who claim to be faithful to Christ but have been unfaithful to His major call for humility. In fact God says He resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Why does God need to give grace to the humble? Because a truly humble person will correctly see himself as undeserving and an unprofitable servant while a proud person sees himself as a vital part of God’s favored remnant. Quite a distinct difference.

Many times the remnant mentality results in attacking the non-remnant camp as they see it and since you’re already part of the remnant they no longer seek God’s face to draw them closer, they are already close you see. These remnant people call for repentance but exhibit little themselves. To assign yourself “remnant” status is the epitome of spiritual hubris and inherently brings a disdain and judgmental attitude for those outside this elite group, even though God makes no such distinction. Of course God teaches believers can be carnal and backslidden, and some can even be professors while not being possessors, but no where does God say that a true humble follower of Jesus is part of some “remnant”. That has been invented by some so they can “think more highly of themselves than they should”.

We as blood bought grace receivers should walk humbly before our Lord, grateful that this grace is sufficient to keep our every wandering flesh from again seizing our lives, and we should never give ourselves any credit for anything, all glory goes to our Lord and Savior and His mighty power. We are not a remnant, we are His body. We live and breathe and have our being in Him, not some invisible remnant. We can be so prone to self promotion but that must never happen, let us keep our eyes on Christ who is the Author and the Finisher of our faith. It is tempting to use Old Testament battle language, colorful and flowery, and through those words exalt our own worth, but the life of Christ is one of humility, love, and selflessness.

That my friends is the greatest battle of all and not many desire to be a part of that “remnant”.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

When Doctrine Diverts Devotion

At the very outset of this post I want to openly and before the “Sanhedrin” proclaim my belief in the importance of doctrine. Doctrine is just another way of saying truth and Paul tells us the Scriptures are profitable for doctrine, so without doctrine we can get deceived very quickly. Being grounded in the Word means not only quoting verses but comparing Scripture with Scripture and coming to a fuller and more complete knowledge of God’s truth. It takes perseverance and time to study to approve ourselves as workmen in God’s Word and it has a reward inherent in the pursuit itself. It is not enough to know the first principles of Christ, we must be diligent about learning the Word both by faithful teachers and in our personal study. It is part of the difference between being a babe in Christ and moving on to maturity.

Studying doctrine is not just for the preacher or Bible college students, it is for every and all believers. Sadly it is evident that many if not most believers do not take that admonition seriously and the result is a baby church that is tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. To be versed in the Scriptures and what they teach is what brings a believer into maturity and it protects us from deception. Studying and learning God’s truths is a wonderful journey of revelation and faith that feeds the spirit and opens passageways of glory that we could never know with the limited power of our own minds.

Demanding complete doctrinal purity is cultish, and there is always doctrinal latitude among most believers and even among those who seem to focus almost exclusively on doctrine. Some of the most stringent and combative doctrinal proponents have differences of eschatology, election, and surprisingly soteriology. And like Abram chasing the birds from the sacrifice, we must never leave the devotion to the sacrifice and be satisfied with chasing birds. A disciple seeks the truth of God’s Word through searching the Scriptures, but his heart is always with the Savior.

Just as a believer who is lazy in his Bible study is shallow and vunerable to error, so is the believer who makes doctrine his place of devotion and becomes vulnerable to settling for a form of knowledge as worship. There is a wonderful mystery available for every believer where God can take the truths we have learned with our minds and infuse them into our spirits and hearts and incorporate them into our devotion to the Savior. Many people live their Christian life looking through the eyes of their particular doctrine or systematic theology and have been robbed of the blessing of a broken and contrite heart of worship before God. And many Christians are more interested in debating doctrine than sharing Jesus.

That is not say we should discard our beliefs about theology, no, but what it does mean that we should not always live as if we were in a classroom studying systematic theology. There are many times when we should commune with Christ with our whole hearts, devoted and surrendered to Him on the simple basis of a follower to his Lord and not with the minute parts of our doctrine in the forefront of our minds. There is a difference between Jesus the Christ and the systematized facts about Him. Knowing theology does not guarantee the presence of Christ, and just studying the Scriptures is not always diligently seeking Him.

I once gave my testimony of how wonderfully God had saved me. In my sharing I said I had “placed my faith on the Lord Jesus Christ”. A man then corrected me because that phrase did not align with his theology. I asked the man if that was all he received from my testimony, and could he ever be blessed without always listening for doctrinal issues? He said he always listened for doctrine. I believe a person can know doctrine and not have a heart of devotion, but true devotion will incorporate doctrine while keeping it as an enhancement and foundation of his devotion but never being an “object” of devotion itself. I know this seems like splitting hairs but it is not, we must be devoted to the Lord God who is a spirit who is revealed by the written Word but not totally captured by human words. This unbalanced focus on doctrine is why there is so little emphasis on prayer or fasting or waiting before the Lord, and in so doing we run the risk of worshiping with our heads and not our hearts. We must never lose the recognition of the mystery woven throughout the Scriptures or we have made God a mathematical equation.

And we have made up names that categorize certain views concerning elements of doctrine that the average Christian would not recognize. And if you are conversant with these terms you may be considered “mature” even if your are wanting in your devotional life. Monergism, Synergism, pellagra, semi-pelagian, pedobaptist, prederist, semi-prederist, and on and on goes the man made list of doctrinal views that are used sometimes in an attempt to reveal the depth of our knowledge by showing a categorizing scorn to other views. Let me tip my hand to you, I was saved in March of 1975. I did not know any of those terms or even what they represent.

The only doctrine I knew was that Jesus was God and the only way to the Heavenly Father and that by believing in Him I would be saved. I was saved listening to Billy Graham on television and my entire life was dramatically changed. I sold drugs to high school kids, I was promiscuous, I was violent, and I and three other men had been planning a bank robbery that involved killing the bank guard. And when I was saved everyone who had known me was amazed at the metamorphosis that they saw in my life.

I have shared that to let you know that many people would question some of Billy Graham’s doctrine, including me, but God still used him to reach me. So although doctrine among believers is important, God still desires our hearts along with our hearts. We cannot think that because we have all our systematic theology in place that God is pleased and satisfied, no, the Lord is looking for those who worship Him in spirit and truth. So who would be more pleasing to God, the man in my neighborhood who is “doctrinally sound” but didn’t witness to me or the man who is so devoted to Christ he cannot help but share the gospel with me? And who is more pleasing to God the man who is orthodox and is proud in his singing of hymns or the charismatic man who weeps before his Lord as he sings his redundant psalms because he feels so broken and grateful?

Learn God’s Word and hide his Word in your heart. Study to show yourself an approved workman before your Lord. Compare the Scriptures and even confront serious error. But always cultivate a heart of devotion to our Wonderful Lord and Savior. Do not let your heart worship theology, let theology enhance your worship. There is a vast difference between knowing more about God and knowing God more, and that difference can be measured by the fruits of God’s Spirit. And never, never be smug and self righteous about what you know, be broken before God that His Spirit has led you to a fuller understanding about who He is. Be aware that there are many devoted followers of Jesus that would not hold to some peripheral doctrinal points as you, do not shut them out but embrace them as your brothers and sisters even in disagreement. I believe God would have us do such because the world has stumbled over our needless divisions and smug doctrinal sectarianism.

A devoted heart of worship is a gift God offers to every believing follower of Christ, let us cultivate it faithfully in reverence and love in His presence.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Love Without a Demonstration is Dead

Adam is born through God’s life giving breath and suddenly the God of Love has a reflection of His own image. Now whatever the length and depth of that truth reveals, will always be partly a mystery but a truth nonetheless. Adam dwells in fellowship with the Father and in peace with God’s creation. God even creates a help meet for Adam to whom Adam can share his life and love while always remembering who it was who created Eve. But then Adam rebels.

Now all creation will see if God’s love extends beyond Adam’s sin, and if the love of God will elicit an offer of redeeming love, which from our perspective, is the deepest kind of love ever known. Is love expanded when it is offered to perfection or is it put to its strongest test when it is offered to rebellion with no guarantee of like kind return? Is the magnificence of love most transparent when it is offered completely without regard to the giver but with full regard to the receiver? And in a prophetic revelation of God’s redemptive love God clothes Adam and his wife with the bloody garments of animal skins, dripping with the impossible truth of God’s restorative love. It is the first looking glass into the coming glory of a future bloody scene, again offered to the undeserving.

Now let us examine what this act of redemptive love teaches us about the quality and expansiveness of that love. We can see here that true love always is accompanied by a demonstration, an offer, that reveals the quality of that personalized love. Sovereign love, sitting separate and august from contact, proclaiming an interactive love yet offering no redemption when one is available, can never be fully defined as love, especially not the type of love that says it not only emanates from God but is God. When God offered redemption to Adam He proclaimed His love was downward, with a glorious demonstration of condescending grace, incomprehensible in its understanding, and willing to intermingle with the condition of man’s sin so deeply so as to render all of man’s sin as gloriously forgiven and cleansed. Simply and profoundly by God’s love.

Every man is now born in the same condition as fallen Adam and just as Adam, God’s offers His redeeming love. Jn.3:16 simply states that God love is so great that He gives His love through His Son to everyone. God cannot claim to love all men if that love is void of the same redemption that was offered to Adam, that would mean that God actually does not love everyone. Some would claim that this would mean God must save everyone which would void God’s justice. God is not playing games either, but God’s love offer’s Rahab’s red rope to the entire world before the destruction must come.

What marriage is loving when its love only involves words? Real love, God’s love, is demonstrative, supernaturally demonstrative, and His demonstration of that love respects no person. The glory of God’s love is not that He offered it to one sinner, or even some sinners, it is that it is offered to all sinners. Any suggestion that God’s redemption is limited is to redefine the love that was shown to Adam and proclaimed by Christ Himself. James tells us that faith without works is dead, how much more love? How can we honestly tell people God loves them without a demonstration of that love to them personally? We cannot. Are we to take Paul’s description of God’s love whose breadth and length and depth and height is unknowable and limit that by the intellect of man? The word “limit” can never apply to God’s love, only man’s faith.

God’s offer of love substantiates the quality and power of that love. Christ speaks prophetically that when He presents Himself as God’s manifestation of love, He will draw all men to it. How glorious and wonderful, that God’s love has permeated man’s sin and demonstrated a redemptive love which is eternal. No one can ever challenge God by saying “Prove your love to me”, He has proven it openly to the entire world. Not limited, not finite, not even confined to the security of His own control, but dangerously and extravagantly poured out upon every single undeserving sinner. Even though it is offered to many, few will receive it, but still He offers it to those who refuse. And like Jerusalem who would not listen, God still calls those who refuse His love. No one will be able to arrive in hell and accuse God that no demonstration of God’s love had been offered to them, no, even those who will never hear of the cross will realize that God has no fault in the matter, the communicating His offer was never seriously spread by the many generations of the church, but the power and the tools to do so were always given to her.

We should as believers re-evaluate the truth and seriousness and of course glory of God’s love, and in that light, adjust the level of sacrifice that we are willing to give to have it reach the ears of those to whom it is given. That is what God desires and commands and it should be our demonstration of our love for Him.