Sunday, December 28, 2008

What is a Christian?

What is Christianity and what is a Christian. Those questions seem so easy, so time tested and so well defined two thousand years removed from the life and death of the Author and Founder of our faith. But there is much disagreement, and in fact rancor, concerning the answer to those two basic questions which should by now be settled but in reality continue to have a widening cross section of definitions. Let us examine the issues that surround what is Christianity and what is a Christian.

What is Christianity? That question must be answered fully within the context of who is Jesus of Nazareth. The exclusive source of authoritative information on this question comes only from the written Scriptures we call the “Bible”. All other supposed references are counterfeit and should not be given any weight, except those that add support to the Scriptures themselves. The postulate is this: If Jesus was God in the flesh and was sent to provide salvation for sinners, but He did not leave a clear and well articulated revelation concerning Himself and His mission, then how productive can it be to those who are in need of His redemption? The answer, of course, is that He did both – He came to die for the forgiveness of sins and offer eternal life, and He indeed left a written revelation of Who He was and what He did.

So a Christian is a sinner who has believed that Jesus was the Son of God, died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, and rose from the dead. This sinner has embraced by faith Christ Himself as His only redemption and has decided to follow Him in his life. Christianity is the true collection of these believers and not the visual, organized, and labeled denominations which can contain a mixture of outward professors and true believers. Only God can accurately discern that important difference.

There is much debate on what outward manifestations, both in quality and in quantity, substantiate and give the assurance that a sinner who speaks words of faith is actually born again into Jesus Christ. There is also vigorous debate on what a person has to believe to be considered a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. These two main issues continue to divide the community of believers to varying degrees, ranging from friendly disagreement to fierce rancor and judgment.

Now many draw certain doctrinal lines in unmistakable detail while others seem to have vague and uncertain lines. There are arguments about the role of repentance, the immediacy of conversion, baptism, church membership, predestination, tongues, and a laundry list of other issues both core and subordinate. There are certain issues that most evangelical believers feel are absolute and without room for compromise which include the deity of Christ, the substitutionary core of the cross, the bodily resurrection, and even the authority of the Scriptures. And these issues define Christianity at its foundation since a person can be profoundly committed to a caricature of Christ and not the revelation of Jesus of Nazareth. Truth is important, and levels of compromise usually breed more dangerous levels of compromise which can eventually lead to complete falsehoods.

The purpose of my article will begin to unfold at this point since I will not be dealing extensively with these articles of faith but of the life which projects and obeys Christ and His Word. The general understanding of how a Christian reflects Christ, separate from verbally sharing the gospel, centers on love, forgiveness, kindness, and other similar attributes within that same interactive genre. There are many unbelievers who exhibit such generous traits among the community of humankind, so it becomes more difficult to distinguish a gracious believer from a gracious unbeliever. But is should be expected, even assumed, that a genuine follower of Jesus Christ would live a life of graciousness, love, and impartial and universal hospitality. And to be fair, all of us fall embarrassingly short of that goal but some have become blind to that goal in and of itself. And that is the centerpiece of this post.

How can we as committed Christians, dedicated to following and emulating the example of the Incarnate Master Himself, roam about the community called humanity with an arrogance and erudite dismissiveness that does not reflect the essence of Christ’s life, to say nothing of Christ’s cross? The hollowness of ungracious and disrespectful words only create the echo of an unspoken paradox that not only is incongruous to our faith, but is indeed counter- productive to Christ’s overall mission and profoundly misrepresents the Redeemer Himself.

I have disavowed the arena of politics for many reasons, however one good reason is the lack of respect and graciousness the candidates afford each other. Throughout the primaries there are lies, innuendos, malice, rancor, gossip, character assassination, personal attack adds, and many times an obvious display of distaste among the different players, only to be externally swept under the carpet after the nominee is chosen, and the viewing public is supposed to accept the mirage that they have always had a deep affection for each other. It is that kind of disingenuous metamorphosis that has led many to define politics as only a platform for self aggrandizement and permeated by manipulation without much real substance or truth.

But the body of believers known as the church should not mirror that political mess. How can we tell the world we love each other when many times discourse is filled with rancor and attacks and with an obvious lack of respect for the other? And when people read Christian blogs that contain malice, wounding sarcasm, self righteousness, and a stream of demeaning rhetoric that leaves the issue and attaches itself to a human host with the intention of draining the God given life out of them, are we not mirroring the political process and calling it “Christian”? No one who engages in such behavior can claim to be doctrinally pure or Biblically faithful since the Scriptures are replete with admonitions of humility, grace, mercy, and the cornerstone – love.

There are these days many doctrinal truths that are being questioned and even dismantled, but in the midst of all of that there are other, more unrecognizable and clandestine truths that are being abrogated and dismantled. These are the core issues of Christlikeness that extend far beyond the average systematic theology library, these are the actual issues of the very life of Jesus Christ being translated through the prism of a believers life. It is surely not enough to pass a theology test and claim that in and of itself showcases the Savior in our lives, because the dark and unregenerate world knows nothing of Biblical theology, but just as the thief on the cross recognized, the world understands love, forgiveness, and supreme humble sacrifice for others.

The church continues to fracture concerning God’s Truth, however we who hold to the core elements of that truth must not ignore other truths as a way of substantiating our faithfulness to these selected and foundational truths. Like the builder who establishes a concrete and sure foundation for his house, but then proceeds to build upon it with paper mache, so are we if we align ourselves with the foundational truths of Christ and His redemption and then present them upon a platform of smugness, personal rancor, and an ambiance of self righteousness. In many ways that suggests that God’s truth needs our help and without the addition of our oratorical malice that truth lacks the power it needs.

“Speak the truth in love” is our command, and these backyard blog brawls must be rejected even when the truth that is promulgated is pure. The finest steak covered in arsenic sauce must not be eaten and arsenic covered by steak must similarly be avoided. As a follower and representative of Jesus the Christ our mission is to both spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and live the life of Jesus Christ as well. Both are not only partners, they must be Siamese twins, each completely dependent on the other for life.

Let us be ambassadors for Jesus Christ in word and in deed, to His eternal glory.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Politics - What Have We Learned?

And so ends the protracted presidential election season that runs practically for two years but usually begins much earlier. A freshman senator with only two years of national experience has been elected as president, and even with his youth and inexperience he has proven to a formidable candidate with an unusual degree of intelligence, patience, and political acumen. Regardless of our political persuasion, we can pray for his safety and that we as believers can lead a “peaceable life”.

But watching and listening during this entire political narrative has showcased many things. The fact that an African American has been elected as president in a nation where only forty years ago he would have been denied equal rights is amazing and speaks well of the racial progress that has been made here. As long as men are still fallen racism will exist, but tens of millions of white Americans cast their votes for Barak Obama which many people thought would never happen, at least not yet. To his credit Obama ran as a candidate, not a black candidate, which in the end was what many white people were looking for.

And within the political contest there was of course the usual back and forth, the rough and tumble of political seasons. Gossip and name calling, insinuation and character assassination, old stories and new ones, were a few of the aspects of a campaign that replaced substance with slogans and themes. Joe the plumber, change we need, not ready to lead, and chants of “yes we can” were much more effective than detailed plans of future action, which judging by previous presidential campaigns, are mostly worthless promises that will fade after the election. Ah yes, the satisfying ambiance of an American presidential election that has wasted over a billion dollars with travel, campaign adds, and a general strategic plan to manipulate the electorate to vote for the particular candidate. And throughout the process, we revel in our freedom that allows us to be manipulated not realizing that usually the candidate with the most money wins. Curious, no?

But what about us as believers? What have we seen during this campaign that would distinguish us as followers and imitators of Jesus Christ? Was our speech seasoned with grace and our attitudes clothed with humility? Did the church treat Barak Obama with respect and honor, even while disagreeing with some of his moral issues? And even though many of us would not consider him to be born again, could we rejoice in his journey which led him from very difficult circumstances to be where he his? Were we as believers able to be a shining city on a hill which projected the light of God’s grace in the midst of the carnal turmoil and the ungracious cacophony of political rhetoric? Or for the most part, armed with our moral righteousness, did we blend in and participate with a tangible collaboration with unbelievers?

I have heard the most unchristian and ungracious verbiage from believers this year, including many that are usually humble and gracious otherwise. Speaking as if they are speaking for God, many have been unkind and judgmental in their castigation of “liberals” which is a derisive term meant to project people as socially immoral and economically socialist while being unbiblical silent about the redemptive love God has shown for those very people. It begins with an unbiblical “love” for this country, and escalates into an entirely unredemptive discourse during election cycles. And believers by the millions will listen to carnal murmurers and complainers called talk show hosts who accumulate wealth by attacking others mercilessly. Is there anything less Christian?

Although I am decidedly non-participatory in politics, I could never vote for someone who espoused abortion, that would seem to me to trump all other issues. However the body of Christ has rejected being quiet and prayerful, exercising their right to vote in a demonstration of faith and obedience to God while remaining faithful to His commands about being humble, gracious, and being conduits of reconciliation. Instead the “religious right” has embraced Biblical morality and joined in the roar of the political war, and jettisoned the imitation the life of Christ and the sacrifice of the cross. The profound message of the gospel is sacrificed upon the altar of national morality, which usually is only given lip service by politicians whose biblical morality runs a fresher course in election years.

Where is the gospel in all this? And I recognize it is difficult for believers to extricate themselves from such a mess since we have been told since birth that the political process is our duty and Christians must be “engaged”. Well, we are not just engaged, we are now married to a process which represents the accuser to a much greater degree than it represents the Heavenly Father. In reality, the essence of Christianity, believing and imitating Jesus Christ, has been lost through a redefining and what it means to follow Christ which is now centered primarily on the righteousness of our moral views and not the painful crucifixion of our entire lives. We refuse to be defrauded or maligned, and we will retaliate with force and self righteous portrayals of our moral and economic enemies, including nasty and hurtful labels and a general dismissiveness of all their accomplishments. Some will even go so far as suggesting that our opponents are anti-christ..

It continues to be a disgusting display of rancor and unchristlike behavior that is counter productive to the gospel and the spiritual life of the church. And speaking from experience, I know what it is to feel nothing but disdain for people like Pelosi, Reid, Kennedy, and men like Barak Obama because I used to be caught up with politics. It seems to squeeze out the worst in people, and the evil one has succeeded in hiding the light of the church under the bushel of partisan politics. Can we not see, as well as feel, that our attitudes and speech are not emulations of Christ? Have we become so “politically active” that we have become blind to our own spiritual wretchedness as we mimic the unredemptive discourse that always fuels the political debate? The hypocrisy of our own candidate is minimized while the hypocrisy of the opposing candidate is maximized which illuminates the overwhelming hypocrisy within our own hearts.

I would suggest that all believers take inventory of the spiritual productivity of participating in the political process. But if you still feel an obligation, should we not do it with a different and unique spirit that is remarkable with the general context of that process? Shouldn’t Christians use the political season the preach the gospel “in season”? Should we not vote with humility and a profound sense of God’s sovereignty and protection? And in the midst of strife and attack, shouldn’t the church be participating in that unfortunate spectacle with the message of reconciliation and not with adding to the partisan strife? Call me old fashioned, call me an ostrich, but I believe that politics can and should be used as a vehicle for lifting up Christ, not for the continuing mirage that suggests that carnal mess accomplishes God’s will.

Should Jesus tarry, perhaps in 2012 we as believers can be used of God to spread the gospel to the lost hearts of people who must be by now hungry for change in their own lives. Up till now in political seasons we have only offered them the cotton candy of political elections whose “hope” dissolves soon after the final vote is counted.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Monster Called Racism

One of the most astonishing and wondrous spectacles in the history of America, and even the world, has been the assimilation of the black race into mainstream America. I will attempt to illuminate only a few of the barriers that were placed in their paths, as well as the overwhelming odds that were against them. And then I desire to suggest that overt racism still exists in America, but hidden racism is much more prevalent. And, sadly, there is still racism within the Church of Jesus Christ as well.

For the most part the black race was introduced into America via the hulls of slave ships, and similar to the Germans dividing Jewish families, many black families were separated and sold to different slave owners. Many were forced to mate with strangers like a bovine attempt to construct genetically superior specimens. Many were used as concubines to say nothing of the free labor they provided. The black man was stripped of his leadership and even manhood, and the fruits of that are evident today. The horror of slavery on a personal level remains a savage mystery.

What I am describing is not just some antiseptic event in history, it was as evil as evil can ever be. Hundreds of thousands of slaves died from all sorts of diseases and starvation, many cast overboard before they even arrived in America. Many wished they had died on the trip. To describe the horror of those ships is impossible, and to understand the pain and suffering and abject fear that was foisted upon those people cannot be comprehended, and in fact, most people never pause long enough to ingest such thoughts.

The evil that man is capable of committing upon his fellow man is breathtaking, and most of us do not wish to learn about the shame of our slavery except as an answer on an American history quiz. Many whites feel very uncomfortable discussing the slavery issue because they fear some will paint the entire white race with culpability. I did not cause or participate in slavery personally, but that is no excuse for me being ignorant about that human exploitation, especially as it is tethered to some of the issues in the black community and family structure.

Hundreds of thousands of white men died attempting to preserve the institution of slavery, while many white men died attempting to preserve the union and by extension abolish slavery. But it would be a exageration to claim the nation's motives were completely pure. And when the slaves were set free, the government did precious little to provide vital ways to assimilate them into mainstream American society. To the contrary, they were ostracized and persecuted and separated from the general white population. Segregation had replaced outright slavery, and the national shame continued in a different form. Demeaning names were invented to further diminish the personhood of blacks, to say nothing of them aggressively being prevented from being full fledged citizens.

The government turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the continuing plight of our black neighbors. They were denied the vote, they were denied employment, they were denied adequate schools, they were denied justice when murdered, and in general many treated their dogs better than they treated the black race. The hatred and prejudice and in fact overt and malicious racism continued. Who can forget black women and children, as well as men, being beaten and attacked by police dogs because they marched to bring attention to their sub-citizen treatment? And many “white” evangelical churches practiced and preached racism from their very pulpits, some even teaching some tortured Biblical principle of God marking the black race with a curse.

And so through the difficult decades, slowly but surely, this relentless and resilient race of former slaves have gotten up time and time again and plowed forward in a society that never wanted them in the first place. To be sure there were rabble rousing blacks that were counter productive to the civil rights movement, but just as all the rest of us they were not perfect and foresighted. But some gave their lives so that others may see that “dream”, and so we come to today.

I could never vote for a pro-choice candidate, but that is not what I am addressing here. We now have a black Supreme Court justice, a black woman as Secretary of State, we have had a black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, black cabinet officers, and currently a black candidate for president. Millions of white people have now actually voted for a black man for president, and that should make us proud. I could not vote for Barak Obama, but I see in him Dr. King’s dream of equality, and his rise to national prominence is a testament to the magnitude of change that continues to happen in our culture.

I, though, have heard Christians who bear the “conservative” moniker make ever so delicate statements that slightly reveal a latent prejudice still breathing in evangelicalism. The white ears of America were listening intently to see if Obama would exhibit some “Jesse Jackson” type of rhetoric, while many black ears listened to see if he wouldn’t say those same things. In the end, I think this exceptional young man has carried himself well and has been uncommonly balanced when it comes to race. He hasn’t rejected the sordid history of the treatment of blacks, and yet he has had the courage to chastise his own race. He has walked a tightrope that frankly seemed impossible to navigate only a few years ago.

I would exhort all of us who name Christ as our Lord to pray for Barak Obama even if you cannot vote for him. There are still natural brute beats lurking among us who would gladly assassinate him, and even knowing that, he and his wife have still taken on that dangerous challenge. Racism is a monstrous sin that cannot have any place in either our lives or our hearts. All of us see another race as different, but we cannot allow that to translate into prejudice of any kind. I support no candidate, but both McCain and Obama are heroes of different sorts.

If we as believers cannot support Obama as a candidate, let us openly show him love and respect for representing an incredible journey of a race that began in the hulls of slave ships and now is running for the highest office in America. I for one appreciate the magnitude of this achievement. It is time for the church to rise up and show the gospel in the midst of a carnal battlefield in which hatred has made more than a cameo appearance. Our calling as followers of Jesus is a significantly different path than the one this current political atmosphere has generated.

Let us appreciate the racial benchmark of this election, but let us show compassion and intercession for the salvation of the ones we must disagree with on moral issues. They are the Mary Magdalene’s of our culture, and we, like Jesus, should shine the light of redemption and love so that against the backdrop of an ugly mess, we might shine forth as lights in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation. Barak Obama’s salvation is infinitely more important than his political career.

For what shall it profit a man if he is elected President of the United States and loses his own soul? God have mercy on him and may the Holy Spirit use believers as a colossal gospel light that breaks through politics and impacts sinners for the kingdom of Almighty God.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Taking a Painful Inventory

Several hundred years ago Christians from different parts of the world left all they had and set sail for America. It would be a rugged lifestyle and the challenges would be legion. But by God’s grace they established a spiritual beachhead from which God would grow a part of His body. Many missionaries would then go out from whence they came and circle the globe with the message of the everlasting gospel. God has used the church that dwells in America to bring many sinners to Himself and glorify Himself even to the uttermost parts of the world. There probably is not one section of this darkened world that has not felt the anointed footstep of a messenger of the gospel who came from America. This is not in any part a testament to America, this is the Lord’s doing and is it not wonderful in our eyes!

But as the years progressed something happened to God’s church in America. We began to learn the way of the heathen, and we allowed our children to be reared by the culture and not God’s Spirit through us. The fruits of a Christian became redefined and diluted, until anyone who has ever mumbled some words about Jesus is considered a Christian. The depth of commitment has dwindled down until the spiritual life of a church member represents a part of his well rounded American existence. We are no longer considered different in any way, and because we have polluted ourselves with politics we are now considered right wing moralists instead of amazing vessels of God’s gospel grace.

Our families continue to burn down and we continue to attempt to douse them with empty buckets of sexual instruction and a list of “how to” teachings designed to bring us earthly happiness. The call of a career drowns the still, small voice of the Spirit’s call to missions, and doctors and lawyers are exalted above an unknown cleric working for a missionary organization in Ecuador. God’s ways are not our ways and yet we pretend to know His ways with mathematical certainty. We read God’s Word as if it was about us, and we treat it as a manual for happiness instead of a blueprint for holiness. Instead of the Word being sacred it has become an earthly tool leading to earthly success.

The church continues to jettison the Son of God as an aside, being understood as the Savior but not as a present Lord whose grace is so powerful we cannot but help speak the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ. We draw men with earthly promises while hiding the Lord Jesus among words of cultural confusion because Biblical words are deemed outdated and irrelevant to this fast paced evangelical community. Waiting on the Lord now means waiting in the line to buy Christian concert tickets. This generation knows nothing of the term “prayer closet” much less the reality and glory that once manifested in such holy places. We minister in the seen and neglect the ministry of the unseen.

It was said of the young and gawky Evan Roberts that no one could define the source of his power since he was not a great orator or even pleasant to see. It became apparent in his twenties that like a great iceberg, his ministry was significantly more in the unseen world than in the seen. To minister in the unseen is foreign to the church today, we spend five minutes praying for a two hour service and leave contented when in fact God’s unmistakable presence never showed. For every tear shed in a Sunday morning gathering there are a thousand laughs and smiles, even if the plight of the unregenerate is taught.
It may too late, and yet we could cling to Samson and how God used him mightily at his end, even though it was own sin and disobedience that led to his blind bondage. We party too much, we play too much, and in we posture way too much. The reality of the theology we profess has become dammed up and kept from permeating our souls and lives for all to see, and we are blind to it all. Preachers tell us how great we are and how pleased God is with our half-hearted devotion to Christ, and we believe them. And these same preachers have become wealthy by teaching heresies and dipping deep into the pockets of the blind listeners as well as stealing God’s money openly and with hubristic relish.

We hold National Days of Prayer as if God hears that formalistic cry coming from the lips of idol worshipers mixed with Christians as well. That is not prayer, that is hollow ceremony that worship the shadows of days instead of bowing before the Savior Creator in humility and broken repentance. Words without actions only indict, they are carnal issues of the heart that are constructed according to the wisdom of the flesh and not the uncomfortable revelation of the Spirit Himself. Religious formality and pageantry has replaced rooms of sweaty intercessors prostrated in elongated sessions of beseeching the God of all Living to come and bring repentance and righteousness. And our ears are comforted with the theology of our spiritual standing before God and closed to the conviction of God’s Spirit exhorting us to practical holiness and desire.

Fun is free while sacrifice is at a premium. We hear messages on how to fix our earthly lives and not our spiritual walk, and yet we claim to be followers of Christ. The Christ of Scripture had nowhere to lay His head and He warned those who desired to follow Him to count that cost, but today we have formulated an American Christ who desires us to enjoy all the hedonistic accoutrements that the heathen enjoy as well. And in the midst of a lifestyle that cannot resemble anything about Christ we claim a committed followship of the Biblical Jesus.

We use the first two years of our conversion experience as a history lesson of past dramatic changes instead of how the dramatic changes that continue today began. We seek to see how much of the behavior of the world we can participate in without technically becoming sin, and even if we do avoid certain outward sins we become prideful and legalistic about it. We seem to be much more passionate about stacking the Supreme Court than we are about pleasing the Supreme Judge. The evangelical church in America has redefined the abundant life to mean grabbing all we can of this world with the paramount goal of achieving happiness.

We have become as a wild ass, snorting the air and frolicking without restraint, and now we have jumped the Lord’s fence and are grazing in the pasture of the heathen. Where did we leave the shepherd, and where did we begin to shepherd ourselves? The situation is desperate, and yet our church houses remain dark at night during the week. Where are the calls for fasting? Where are the calls for solemn assemblies seeking repentance? Where are the tears? When will we see preachers come to the pulpit so drawn and weary from all night watches and deliver their souls not just their sermons? Where are the shepherds who count their lives as nothing in hopes of gaining the approval of heaven?

Is it too late? Is there no room for repentance, and has judgment been dispatched without the possibility of mercy? Have our eyes become so blind that we cannot and will not see our own spiritual situation? There is still a season for God’s people to become explosively serious about Christ and His kingdom once more. There is still a season for an awakening that sees the fields of the world as one and obeys the Spirit’s call to go. There is still a season of grace wherein God’s people can examine their own lives and allow the Spirit to circumcise our hearts, melt the ice, and baptize us once again with fire from heaven’s altar.

How deeply is the heart of the Father grieved when he sees the tepid and passionless devotion that describes so much of the church, and instead of a vibrant race, we appear to be sleepwalking through the motions. God knows that the day approaches when our faith will become sight, but He must long for us to reward Him with a supernatural devotion that sees that day as if it were here. Without faith it is impossible to please God, and without works our protestations of faith are lifeless corpses.

As Isaiah of old, we need a fresh vision of the Lord Jesus, high and lifted up, and sitting on a throne. Let us open wide our unclean lips and allow the coal from heaven's holy altar to cleanse us from the words and desires of the flesh and supplant them with the Words of the Most High and His Everlasting Gospel. Do not our hearts burn within us, and can’t we feel the Spirit provoking us to envy? Until the last trump of God, until the last sinner comes to Christ, and until we draw our last breath, God continues to exhort us to “Seek the Lord while He may be found”.

Help us, Lord Jesus.

Friday, September 19, 2008

God is Love

God is love. Think on that for a moment. The Scriptures certainly declare that God does love, but that verse proclaims that God actually IS love. Divine love is not an emotion as we humans define it, no, it soars higher than our ability to even wonder, much less capture it in earthly words. Unexpressed or unrevealed love is not love at all. Claiming to love and yet not showing it with acts of substantiation is nothing more than fond musing.

But let us meditate upon the love of God itself. God’s love is not some emotional attachment, and in fact much of the anthropomorphic allegories about God’s emotions are for our benefit and understanding. God’s love is action, and more specifically, redemption. Before the first moment of creation as we know it the Scriptures declare and we should surely realize that God knew every particle of future history as if it was yesterday’s news. So when God created, His plan was all inclusive as it pertained to us made in His image.

Curiously the Genesis account reveals no conversation where God proclaims His love for Adam, and indeed throughout the Old Testament the word is used sparingly. The fact that God loves is moot and unremarkable without a revelation that is pertinent and effectual to the object of that love. Actions speak louder than words is a divine principle that God Himself has taught to us, and at times God has proved Himself to His people. He has proved His might through many awesome deeds, He has proved His longsuffering by His mercy and vice versa, and He has proved His grace by many acts of undeserved kindness. The inherent attributes within the Godhead cannot be separated from or even examined apart from the deeds that not only substantiate and showcase them, but those deeds are God and His attributes.

Now if a husband gives flowers to a next door neighbor, does that substantiate his love toward his wife? What if that same husband gives flowers to both his wife and the next door neighbor, does his wife receive her flowers just as if she was the only recipient of his love, or is her perception of his love diluted with the removal of the uniquesness of his love toward her? Take all the creation, enjoyed by God’s friends and enemies simultaneously, does that substantiate God’s love for His people when these artifacts of creation are enjoyed by everyone and even traversed by Satan and his demons as well? Does God’s universal provision for everything living prove that He loves every creature, or does it prove God’s kindness and that this scenario is part of God’s overall plan?

In the following treatise I am going to proffer this thought as a divine truth:
The atonement is not only the greatest exhibition of God’s love, it IS God’s love and is the greatest revelation of God Himself.

I am convinced that the cross, with all the inherent redemptive qualities in open revelation as well as hidden mystery, was the event where God completely offered, showed, unveiled, and proved the existence of both His love and He as love. In fact, the cross was God’s love exhibited by the substance of its redemptive sacrifice, and all human words that attempt to shed some understanding on that event communicate enough truth to elicit saving faith, but fall infinitely short of capturing the divine substance that has always dwelt within that act.

Rom.5:8 - But God proved His love toward us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

The word for “proved” means to exhibit, to introduce, or to present. God presents His love not through trees or mountains or stars, and He doesn’t use great and flowery words of devotion and emotional attachment, no, God’s love is the cross. Some human words to set the stage and outline that event are necessary, but the love that is projected in that one death by torture is unfathomable. But it is the recognition of the parameter less love that makes it sacred. The love that has always existed within the divine nature is uncovered and displayed on the cross of God’s redemption. It is not only the height of God’s love, it is the only complete revelation of that love.

All of created history has been unalterably tethered to God’s love which is the cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The cross says “I love you with My love which is through My Son on the cross”. Before the cross all of God’s statements of love for His people Israel were whispers through His Word and through the blessings and earthly deliverances God had brought them through. Temporal and fleeting but with a fragrance of coming redemption they were, but the whispers of God’s actual love were ever so delicately spoken of in the prophetic annunciations embedded in the sacred shadows to be revealed in an act so surprising, so unsettling, and so perfect that only with the Spirit’s illumination can we now see the obvious perfection in the prophetic mysteries.

God’s love comes riding on a donkey in a prepared vessel still unbroken. And this love continues on a journey to a prepared place where this incarnate box will be broken and the fragrance, the majesty, the color, and the unspeakable love of God will come streaming out to paint the landscape of history in such a glorious revelation that none dare to ask if there is more. And the Author and Exhibitor of this love seals this unveiling with the word “Tetelestai!”, it is finished. This work of atonement is the depository in which God poured all His love, and all other supposed expressions of divine love not tethered to the cross are fabrications at worst and misunderstandings at best.

Eph.2:4-5 - But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace are you saved)

As we see in this verse God’s love always leads to redemption. Without the offer of redemption love is hollow and nothing more than a verbal pronouncement that is void of any substance or authentication. The redemptive quickening of dead sinners is the purpose of God’s love. God doesn’t just say He loves, God shows He loves. The work on the cross is not only one in a long line of loving proofs from our Creator, it is THE proof and substance of God’s infinite love. Without the atonement and the offer of redemption God’s love would be nothing more than a kiss on the forehead as we entered hell.

Does God love those who are in hell? Without the offer of redemption still intact I would be suspicious of that love since as I have shown God cannot love except through His Son on the cross. So all who reject God’s love while still alive on this earth and go into eternity lost, they enter that eternity separated from God’s love forever, while to the redeemed “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”. I cannot see how God can love those in hell since the atonement which has not covered them is not only the vehicle through which God can love a fallen sinner, it is God’s love period. Without the cross the eternally lost are separated from God’s love forever.

Eph.5:2 - And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.

Even when God commands us to walk in love He includes a redemptive quality as well. Our love for others must be exhibited through the prism of redemption which flows completely from the cross as both our salvation and our example. Much of our cultural rebukes and our condemnation of certain sins and sinners does not contain God’s love since it has no redemption. Anything that is not refracted through the prism of the cross is not the authentic love of God, and to walk in love we must take up that cross and make it our own.

Since I believe Christ died as an offering for all men, and that He tasted death for every man, I believe God extends His love to all sinners before their death. This can only happen through the sacrifice of His Son, and without at least the availability of redemption, there is no divine love. The only reason that God’s wrath has not been realized upon the unregenerate sinners is because of His continued offer of redemptive love. God loves all sinners through the atonement, but once that atonement is closed and the entire company of the elect are secure, the love of God ceases to be offered to the eternally lost.

Our reformed brethren would count the non-elect as in that status upon birth and even before, while many of us conclude that is not actualized until death. Suffice to say that distinction is surely insignificant.

I Jn.3:16 - Hereby we perceive the love of God, because He laid down His life for us…

Again we see the cross of redemption as the looking glass not just into the love of God, but at the very substance and reality of that love. And when captured with, by, and inside the redemptive refuge of that love, nothing can separate us from its hold. Let me explore further the concept of separation from the love of God. Paul tells us in Romans chapter eight that no charge can be brought to God’s elect, and that when God spared not His own Son for us, well, that cannot be trumped. God’s love through His Son on Golgotha renders all the elect inseparable from the power and reality of that colossal love. And this redemptive love is God’s love itself, unable to be parsed or divided or diluted and passed out in partial form to all His enemies. A sinner is either in God’s love through the cross or he is outside that same love, there is no shallow “I love you a little” type of divine love. God’s love is pure, it is complete, it is whole, it is eternal, and it is redemptive.

The unregenerate sinner, still living and exposed to the potential of God’s gospel love, is still outside God’s actualized love but still within the possibility of receiving God’s atoning love. And as such God still offers and extends His love through the gospel to all sinners everywhere, and although they are not yet recipients of God’s redemptive love, they are offered a seat at the banquet table of God’s love through the shed blood of the Master of the banquet. It may be semantics but perhaps they are recipients of God’s offer of love and as John noted, this love is so strong and powerful, it draws all sinners simply by the strength of its residuals and aura. In essence, God loves all sinners through the cross.

But when a sinner rejects or dies outside redemption, the offer dies with him. And in the end, when the last sinner is saved by the grace of God’s love, the atonement is complete and the entire sacrifice on Calvary has been used in its totality to redeem the elect with none “left over” for those in hell. The potential is now closed and the door to God’s scarlet ark is now closed with only those souls saved inside. But as the verse in I John says, we can only perceive the love of God through the cross. An all powerful Creator can make a million universes with a word, and that is amazing but provides no portal into any love. He can know everything, and He can have no beginning and no end and in that we are awestruck, but it still offers no proof or demonstration of His love.

Only the cross demonstrates, authenticates, and in reality reveals the love of God. All other perceived glimpses are sparks that have come from Golgotha. All good and perfect gifts, when examined more closely, are beams streaming from God through His Son and His cross. Without the loving cross of peace, God would most certainly still be at war with all His creation, and us most especially who rebelled so profusely and so completely against our Creator.

Lastly let us consider that God is the Father of Lights in whom there is no darkness or shadow of turning. God’s love has no levels and no vacillating intensities. Imagine a match lit in the daytime in your front yard. Of course you can see the flame, but the light has little impact on its surroundings due to the diffusion of all the other lights during the daytime. But imagine that same light lit under ground in a cave without the intrusion of any outside light. That small flame stands as the only illumination in that place and it draws all eyes either to it directly or to that which it reveals. And so it is with the atonement contained in our Lord’s cross and the open display of God’s love.

God’s love through the cross stands alone as the only illumination in the midst of total darkness in this world and it draws all eyes to it directly or to that which it reveals. There is no divine love outside the sacrificial Lamb of God and it remains the only light of God’s love ever given. All acts of mercy or divine philanthropy are spiritual fingers that point to this cross, for without the atonement mankind is an object of God’s wrath, fixed in His judicial crosshairs, and soon to be judged.

There remains one and only one expression of God’s love, and that is the redemption paid for and offered through the cross. It is not only God expressing His love, it is God’s love. So the next time you meditate upon the cross, allow the Spirit to attach His very Words to this breathtaking and astonishing event...

"God is love".

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Being Saved but not Being a Christian

To live is Christ...
Just what is a Christian? What does it mean to be born again, and after being born by the Spirit into Christ what should we expect coming from such a person? Of course we expect the testimonies about freedom from drugs, marriages saved, and many other large and unmistakable issues of bondage and sin. And those manifestations are all to the glory of God.
But is that it? After our lives have been changed dramatically from some major sins, does that complete the process? When Jesus said we are the light of the world was He referring to being delivered from alcoholism? When He said we are the salt of the earth was He referring to giving up cursing and coarse language? When Paul said we are epistles read of all men was he referring to our systematic theology? Just what kind of life should a believer be living in this present world?
I have found that most unbelievers never notice that we do not drink or smoke or even curse, these things have very little impact on people around us. Those issues may well be led of the Spirit in our own lives but those things are not what draws the attention of people who do not know Christ. What affects people are the relationship and interaction issues of our lives. The compassion, the love, the grace, the mercy, and the overwhelming “differentness” of our lives.
It is impossible to fully exhibit the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it has become fashionable to be content with something far less than what should be a demonstrable revelation of Jesus Christ through the prism of a redeemed sinner’s earthly life. We seem to salivate on judgment rather than forgiveness, exposing error rather than living truth, and projecting downward rather than lifting upward. We have been given the greatest and most eternally perfect gift imaginable, the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and yet we sometimes assess others with the requirements of Pharisaical law. Why are we not willing to show uncommon and remarkable grace emanating from that grace that abides upon us?
We can claim that we are saved, but at the same time not be a Christian. That is because our claims that we are saved are based upon a profession of faith in Jesus Christ which guts the fullness of the word “Christian”. The word Christian means someone who is like Jesus because of his faith in Christ. It is not limited to a one time profession which has led to our redemption but then does not lead to a lifetime exhibition of that same Lord and Savior. Hollow is the systematic theology that proves a Biblical soteriology without also tethering that same saving grace to the richness of the life of Jesus Christ reborn in the heart of a redeemed sinner.
And somehow we have provided a set of sins that suggest either a proof or doubt of a person’s authentic conversion. These are usually centered on drinking, cursing, sexual sins, and other outward exhibitions of the sins that are so often attributed to a sinner’s lifestyle. The freedom from the practice of those things should indeed mark the life of a follower of Jesus Christ, but is that all we should be? Should our lives be nothing more than a reflection of several twelve step programs or are there deeper and more profound expressions of the Risen Christ in the midst of a darkened world? Is it Biblical to shed one’s life of some major sins and then continue to live your life with the same greed, pride, self-centeredness, and a degree of disagreeableness that mirrors the same coming from those who know not the Lord Jesus?
Gal.5:22 - 23 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, ...
Gaze and meditate on the fruits of the Spirit. Let us look anew at what our lives should project and remember those fruits are meant to project our Savior and Lord and not us. I realize we all have fallen short of attaining perfection when it comes to reflecting and even living these revelations of our Wonderful Lord, but in these days it seems we no longer place them as goals and have replaced them with an exam on systematic theology which many times is defended with no trace of those same fruits. And when that scenario takes place that person may very well be saved but he is not being a Christian. And so our emphasis is on being saved and not being a Christian. How sad and unbiblical and, in fact, how unchristian.
We spend much time learning doctrine which is good, but how much time do we spend learning how to be like Jesus and how to walk in His steps? How many gatherings include sessions of confession with each other about how we may have acted unlike Christ during the week? How many Sunday School classes have the title “Being a Christian” or “Being Like Jesus”? Have we come to a place in the church that we no longer even sift our words and lives through the prism of what it means to be a follower of Christ? Are we content with being pro-life and pro-family but will not address the more obvious contradictions in our words, our tone, our demeanor, our grace, and the overall inventory of what should be the discernable light of Jesus Christ among those who know and live with us - and - more specifically our "enemies"? People should be able to experience a difference in us that goes beyond a set of four or five behavioral sins, they should sense a demonstrative essence of grace and love and hope that is above our human ability to manufacture.
They should see and hear and experience the Living Christ is us, the hope of glory. And this is not just accomplished by a display of our addiction-free lives, this must come from the living waters flowing from within us. So often we can defend a particular point of doctrine, or perhaps an entire array of doctrines, and actually not defend Christ simply by the way we speak and interact with others. The Christian community is filled with hate speech and an insatiable desire to find and uncover the sins of others. In a tortured attempt to expose the sins and shortcomings of the church we now have people whose actual motive and ministry is to provide people with a tabloidesque type of journalism that recounts and rehashes and even editorializes the sins and moral failures of others. This is not Christ and this only diminishes the light we are supposed to shine.
Where is doctrinal purity in the list of fruits? And when there is disagreement among believers, should that not provide a wonderful backdrop against which we can display the fruits more perfectly? “To live is Christ” says the Apostle Paul and that should be our creed as well. We can “win” an argument or even present something that is true and yet not be acting as a follower and imitator of Christ. It must grieve the heart of God when those who profess His name speak and act in a manner that hides Who He is and disguises Him as someone else. Make no mistake, living like, not just for, Jesus is not the easy road. It requires more than just knowing doctrine, or supporting pro-life candidates, or even evangelizing the lost. The truly sincere believer who desires above all to allow Christ to live through him will find the road narrow and not well worn, he will think that some of the directions cannot be correct, and he will find the going very slow and most times only rewarding to his inner man.
Let us look in the mirror of God’s Word. And we cannot look just at our favorite systematic theologies, we must look for and even seek the most uncomfortable and self indicting words that come from the Father's mouth. A stone sculpture cannot be formed with feathers, it takes hard chiseling with a tool that is sharper and harder than the stone it is molding. If we actually desire to live as Christ, we must choose to be chiseled, choose to endure pain, and choose to be crucified. We must choose to remain silent when attacked, choose to return good for evil, and choose to remain dead when provoked.
We must not only be saved, we must be a Christian.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Clothed With Humility

I Pet.5:5 - …and be clothed with humility…

The Spirit doesn’t suggest we be somewhat seasoned with humbleness. He doesn’t teach us to just barely keep ourselves in check with a smattering of humility. He doesn’t nudge us to tone it down and show a little humility. No, the Holy Spirit sets the bar infinitely higher than those easily reached plateaus. God desires us not only to act humble, and not just feel humble, no, He says be clothed with humility. What does being clothed with humility actually look like?

In the end being clothed with humility is a crimson garment of skin, hanging dead on a cross. Do what you will to this garment, mock it and you get no response. Say all manner of evil against it and still no response. Draw more blood and it only adds to its glory. Reject this garment and still it offers its love. And only when you have put on this garment will you understand its meaning and power made perfect in its humility and in fact humiliation.

As you walk inside this garment you will hear words of unkindness and attack as nothing. You will not see anything good about you except the garment in which you are clothed. You will find complete fulfillment that makes selfish responses unworthy of your garment. This garment reminds you of the grace which forgave you of your sins and it allows you to love those who have as yet no garment. This humility shrinks from self praise and is embarrassed by any mention of its own works regardless how sincere and sacrificial.

We as followers of the One who hung almost naked on those planks of death are to somehow emulate that infinite humiliation with a living humility about our own situation that should reflect Him and not us. Speak a word against the Savior and we are grieved, speak a word against us and we receive it as a platitude for Him. How often do we say great and swelling words of humility that profess us to be nothing and Christ as everything, only to respond with aggressive defense when personally challenged? And sometimes even returning evil speaking for evil speaking reveals our utter lack of humility about ourselves. Every time we defend ourselves we take from His glory.

And what is this? Our example, our Lord, lifts up the very instrument that caused Him such humiliation and through His servants preaches it throughout the uttermost parts of the world. And look again, the Lord Creator of all brings with Him the very marks of humiliation to His heavenly throne and eternally displays them for the entire universe to see. What humility is this? What utter humiliation is this that beckons us to follow and reflect? How can this humility do anything but drive us to our knees in Godly sorrow over our own hollow hubris and self righteousness? We are again undone by the glorious example of He who holds the stars and yet became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

This Lamb of God wore the spit of sinful man upon His face and responded with forgive them. This Prince took the stripes upon His back of flesh and yet walked to the cross which awaited to humiliate Him in death. This Son of the Living God bowed His head and wore the cursed thorns as a crown of humble glory for the wicked and self righteous world. He went to Golgotha, yea, He sought the cross. How can we ever even scratch the surface of that loving humility? It will redound for all eternity to God’s glory and yet the Spirit bids His followers to follow in His steps. How often do we desire to avoid humility and run straight for the Garden tomb? Resurrection, yes! The humiliation of the cross, no! We think too highly of ourselves, and in fact, we should never think of ourselves, only of Him.

There is nothing that lifts us up so high as when we bow to Him. There is nothing that so mightily reflects Him as when we stand in the midst of persecution with joy and praise to the Risen Christ. There is nothing that so exalts Him as when we are abased. Our commandment is not only to reject returning evil for evil, it is to bless them which curse you and do good unto them which despitefully use you. Forbear and forgive with gentleness and meekness of heart is our journey, and the path to which we are called leads continually to Calvary. How our flesh detests humility, and so often our carnal minds construct some imagined scenario in which we stand as mighty soldiers, unjustly attacked and treated despitefully, and if we don’t return fleshly fire we most certainly articulate a pitiful inventory of our innocence and publish an inflated story of our sacrificial discipleship, all of which are obstacles not reflections of our Lord.

The Lord Christ refused to retain his untouchable eternality, exalted and separated from sinners, but condescended with the mystery of the ages and came in the likeness of sinful and repugnant man. That alone is without sufficient human definition and reveals a colossal, love driven humiliation. Just living as a man would have been a most breathtaking portrait of divine humility, but to actually seek the cross is without any words with which to draw any comparison worthy of the evidence. Even the angels were dumbfounded at such a spectacle and were ready to intervene if called, but they, like us, could not fathom how deeply God would bow to prove and provide what His enemies desperately needed.

And yet the Spirit through the great apostle beckons us to carry that cross as a garment of our own death and His glory as well. We are to put on Christ and reckon ourselves dead. What words does a dead man speak? How indignant is a dead man about untruths spoken of him? How ready is a dead man to respond to attacks against his character? How many lies, how many mockings, how many insults does it take for a corpse to leap from his coffin and defend himself? Does this corpse have his limits and is there only so much he can take?

Let us die to ourselves and in that death watch as God rolls away the stone of our flesh and allows our Savior to resurrect in our lives anew and afresh. We have nothing about which to defend, much less to boast. Our only boast is Christ and in Christ do we live. To roam about in our own desires and lusts and self righteousness is to walk in death. Lay down the lusts of the flesh and remove the grave clothes of our own making. Rejoice when pummeled and suffer persecution in silent worship of the One we serve. It is of no benefit to Him when we are offended at others. Great peace have they that love thy law and nothing shall offend them. A dead man takes no offense, and a resurrected follower of Christ hears nothing but every word that proceeds from His Master’s lips.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Manifestation of Christianity

I Cor.2:4-5 - And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of men’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

There is much, much talk today in Christian circles. It comes in volumes through books, radio, television, blogs, preaching, teaching, and many other forms of media meant to provide a platform for…talk. Yes, talk is at a low premium today both in secular genres and in Christian formats as well. The brain thinks, it then sends the communication of that thought to specific muscles and nerve endings, resulting in forced air coming from the lungs and vibrating chords in the larynx, finally escaping through the mouth and contoured by the lips, volume, and a general manipulation of the sound waves to create…you guessed it…talk. Most everyone can talk, so it is of no great consequence to hear someone talk and even in evangelical spheres almost anyone with a voice box can and does talk for God.

But as they say, talk is cheap because it usually doesn’t take anything more than wind. People talk who do not believe what they are saying and people talk about things about which they are generally ignorant of and many times are regurgitating something they have been taught by some else’s…talk. So like grabbing a baton, one person listens to another talk and emulates his words if not indeed his style. Some talkers eventually garner a following because of the creativity and stylistic components in the way they talk. Many people are saying the same things and yet some rise to popularity while others saying the same things talk to much smaller crowds of talk receivers. This is due to both tangible and intangible elements.

Now come and sit in the imaginary bleachers with me and let us watch as millions of professing Christians hop in their cars and drive to a building that usually is in debt, and they sit and listen to talk. Some preachers talk verbatim from a copied talk of someone else; some talk from a script they have created by reading or listening to another’s talk; while others have constructed a logical thought process from the Scriptures and it now comes forth as…talk. So in essence we have become followers of talk about Jesus. Read again the verses above and see that Paul did not just talk, he through Christ manifested the works of the Savior.

Some of those works were helping the poor, some were enduring suffering and persecution, some were just supernatural manifestations of God’s love. But some were dramatic and powerful manifestations of God’s power which were not meant to exalt the Apostle Paul, but were used of the Spirit to allow sinners and saints alike to experience the presence and power of the Great God they claim to know and follow. The gospel spread like wild fire across the greater Mediterranean world on the wings of the demonstration of God’s power in gracious suffering, persecution with forgiveness, and many different revelations of the miraculous power of Jehovah Shammah, the God who is here.

To be sure the gospel was preached and lives were changed and believers were birthed, but this gospel was preached not with 40 minute talks followed by a return to unaffected normalcy, this gospel captured attention by the sheer power that was demonstrated by the lives that spoke this message of the kingdom. With no man made lighting, no spectacular sound systems, no nicely coiffed men dressed in cultural splendor, and with no visual electronic screens meant to enhance their talk, these pitiful but powerful followers of the Risen Christ carried the tangible demonstration of resurrection power in the cities into which they were led. They were divine conduits of redemption by much more than just…talk.

I realize the church has over the years given the written Word of God a primal place in the proclamation of God’s gospel, but is has now atrophied into a poor excuse for the powerlessness of God’s body on the earth and basically reduced us to a series of talks. To be sure the visible sacrifice of Christian workers who have heard the Spirit’s call is more than just talk, as is the thousands of missionaries who have left everything and serve in the uttermost parts of the earth this very day. These are more than just talk. But does God require of them and does God exhibit his power through them and not the church as a whole? Do we just continue to talk and listen to talk mostly void of the supernatural manifestations that authenticate that the words are spoken in the presence and approval of Almighty God?

I am not “talking” about the contrived pony shows that perpetrate counterfeit spiritual theatrics but have no value in the eternal gospel. I do not speak of the money making schemes and the blasphemous talk that creates an atmosphere of suggestion that God is speaking, and then financially rapes the listeners to line the pockets of ravenous wolves. I do not speak of the new movements that suppose that aspects of the eastern religions will provide a newness and interest in the easily bored western Christian church. But I also am not “talking” about the redundant trail of listeners that sit in air conditioned auditoriums and listen to their favorite teacher/talker and leave with a feeling of contentment with both the fulfilling of a religious obligation as well as leaving content with just hearing the Word as they have every week with no real manifested reality, especially in light of the narratives of Acts.

Let us be frank with ourselves, we do a lot of talking with very little manifested reality of that which we say we believe. We say we believe people who die without Jesus go to hell for eternity, and yet our witness is anemic and so void of passion and urgency. We spend more on our dogs than on missions. We say we believe God answers prayer and yet the lights in the church building are not lit during the week nights for praying believers to come and petition God for His power. We say we believe God provides for His people and yet we borrow obscene amounts of money from the world’s institutions. The world looks for something that manifests a reality different than their own, but all they see from God’s church is a paltry political agenda that mirrors those who espouse no God at all.

Have we not come to the end of ourselves? Is it not time to sow in righteousness and tears and lay prostrate in prayer and repentance before our Risen Lord until He rains His power again upon His church? Why could Elijah call down fire from heaven in an open rebuke of Baal’s false prophets and all we have is…talk? When the lights go out in our house and all the power goes dead, do we not run to the electoral box to find the problem? Do we not call the power company and report an outage and expect them to come quickly and return the power to us? Don’t we have perishables that may soil with refrigeration? How can we bathe without hot water? Yes, we realize the long term implications of living with no power in the natural, but we have settled into a powerless Christianity that operates by organization, financial cooperation, and a business like structure in the church usually held together by…talk.

Where is the supernatural love of God that should be coursing through the church and flowing to a dark and needy world? Where is the grace that so extends to sinners that their attention is aroused as they suddenly realize there is hope for the vilest among us. Where are the demonstrations of the Spirit that cannot be explained by the machinations of men? And where are the lives that are so dramatically changed by God’s power that the light they give off cannot be ignored? Where is the manifested reality of the Risen Christ that we, by our talk, portend lives inside us?

Who would go and hear a man give a talk about how strong he is without him ever manifesting that strength? You might go once, even twice, but soon you would grow weary of hearing such talk without any authentic proof. The testimony of Christian martyrs have been used of God to bring many into the kingdom, and yet in today’s church most refuse to abide quietly and with grace even the slightest inconvenience or persecution. Our defense is talk and our offense is talk, rarely do we see a manifested reality of the power of Christlike silence. We can very eloquently expound the doctrines of imputed righteousness, salvation by grace, the indwelling of God’s Spirit, and many other Biblical truths that are quite at home in our systematic theologies but rarely escape to be powerfully displayed individually or corporately by Christ’s church.

Thousands of evangelical churches exist in almost every fifty mile radius in America, but why so little urgent displays of Christ’s reality? Why are there not many street corners filled with people holding signs that speak of God’s good news? Why aren’t the poor in our cities inundated by the passion of God’s people reaching their needs? Why don’t the hospitals find it necessary to limit the hundreds of believers that desire to visit and pray for the sick? Why do old people in nursing homes go without visitors who come with God’s love? Why do most churches have no active ministry to the city’s widows? Ministry to the city’s single parent homes?

Of course there is much room for teaching, and some talk is more beneficial that others. But what do we do when others talk untruth and error? Oh, we…uh…talk. Usually among ourselves as to how bad that other talk is. Special prayer meetings? Solemn assemblies? Fastings? Weepings? Oh no, just talk. Maybe a little louder or a little more caustic, but still just talk. And neither side has much of any demonstration of the Spirit with which to authenticate the truth we espouse, we are usually reduced to a “he said - he said” type of battle about which the world knows nothing. But our brother James assures us that faith talk without deeds is useless, and in fact he uses feeding the hungry as an example.

The world seems to see nothing more than talk from the church. They do not see a manifested reality of the Living Christ, one that unexplainably draws them to us and our God. These sinners hear us talk about them, but do they see us love them? They see us go to church on Sunday, but do they see us be the church in our neighborhoods when we return? Can we live a decade in the same neighborhood without much notice? And even when they come to our church gathering on Sunday, do they see the demonstrable power of the Spirit of God or do they see a well organized, well scripted mini-pageant centered around a mini-talk by a well spoken man? Where is the Lord God of Elijah?

The western church is not yet desperately hungry for a fresh revelation of what it means to be a surrendered follower of Jesus Christ. We have created our own comfortable definition of what it means to be a Christian, many times completely centered on belief talk, but without much concentration on being a revelation of Jesus Christ through acts of love, acts of power, and acts of selflessness amidst those who need to see in our lives what they hear from our lips. I fear we are captives of our own talk, and we now glory in that talk which has become centered around the doctrines, albeit true, that do not require revelatory deeds. Written talk reinforces what we already know, and a mature disciple is considered one who has learned to talk accurately about what he or she believes.

So on one corner of the street Christians meet to see an entertaining performance meant to teach some truth or principle, while on the other corner Christians meet to hear a doctrinal rehearsal about what they probably already know. And so many times the different spectrums of service structures do not challenge our lifestyles with a direct and inescapable direction from the Spirit. Any residual effects of the service dissipate before we reach the parking lot. We have heard the talk and remain basically unchanged. Sure there are personal moves of the Spirit, but can we as the church collectively profess to a consuming and unquenchable desire to see and be a part of a move of God’s Spirit that will reach those for whom Christ died with a pattern of supernatural deeds and demonstrations that cannot be dismissed as a program?

So there is much talk that goes beyond teaching, it has become a redundant outlet for the church’s compulsion to share our opinion with ourselves and call it following Christ.

Is it not time for us as the followers of Christ to do less talking and more demonstrating the person, presence, and power of Jesus the Christ?

Monday, August 11, 2008

You're Just Fooling Yourself

You say you believe in Jesus and you are striving to be just like Him.

You say He controls you and yet you speak things that cannot possibly come from His lips.
You say you love Him and yet you spend much more time with others than you do Him.
You say you want to please Him and yet you so often please yourself.
You say He is Lord and yet you’ve created your own plan and called it His.
You say you love His brethren and yet you breathe fire down upon them.
You say you love His Word but you pull out what pleases you and leave the rest.
You say you care for the poor and yet they continue to walk right in front of you.
You say you desire His kingdom and yet you’ve built your own.
You say you care about the lost and yet you shed no tears for their souls.
You say you are nothing and yet you take offense when someone attacks you.
You say you believe in God’s love and yet you speak words of hate.
You say you believe in mercy and yet you show very little to anyone.
You say you believe in a kingdom to come and yet you store up treasures here.
You say you are humble yet you let everyone know what you have done for Him.
You say He says love your enemies and yet you barely love your friends.
You say that eternity matters most but you get all stirred about earthly issues.
You say God answers prayer and yet you pray so little and so predictable.
You say you are growing and yet you act as if you’ve arrived.
You say you believe in God’s truth and yet you act as if it is yours.
You say you are filled with His Spirit and yet you speak and act like you.
You say you believe in grace and yet you live in law.
You say salvation is a gift and yet you refuse to offer it without strings you’ve made.
You say you believe Jesus and yet you return evil for evil.
You say you desire forgiveness but you refuse to forgive.
You search for the sins in others and are blind to your own.
You say you speak for Christ but your words are yours.
You say your life was changed and yet you sound just like before.
You say you desire reconciliation and yet you seek to destroy.
You say Jesus is your Master and yet you love the praises of men.

You say you believe in Jesus and you are striving to be just like Him.

You’re just fooling yourself.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Is God's Grace More Than Theology?

The church of Jesus Christ has become very adept at defining and explaining the word “grace”. Unmerited favor is sometimes proffered as a definition of God’s grace, but anyone who has been changed by that grace knows full well it cannot be captured in human words. And when we think about the cross upon which our Savior died and gave His life, we are again confronted with a grace that must be defined by a speechless worship. Words sometimes detract from that which is fathomless in God’s grace to us.

Every good and orthodox believer knows and appreciates that salvation through Jesus Christ is by grace and grace alone. There are no works, no good deeds, no good intentions, and no religious ceremonies that could ever earn God’s favor much less God’s grace. The word “grace” itself is at odds with any supposed righteousness from our point of view because if it is by works it is not grace. Grace stands alone as a pristine gift of God, untarnished by anything else. It is offered with no strings attached because, again, that would not be grace. Grace does not demand works either before salvation or after.

If grace demands works in any element of its offer it is not grace. And of course sinners, saved and lost, have a difficult time embracing a grace without works because our pride desires some way to be approved or saved or even substantiated by the fruit of our own hands. We wrestle with the words “it is finished” by the mouth of Christ concerning His death upon the cross. We want to elbow our way in to that redemption somehow by something we can do, even if it is extremely small and insignificant. And yet we have nothing, absolutely nothing, that could even be considered helpful to the grace of God through His Son. Anything we have is not only useless, it is counterproductive in any part of this redemption by grace. We should, we must, stand without one plea in our own defense, in an utter and complete need of God’s grace.

And when we have come to that place of admission, and when we have by faith been made a partaker of that grace, we are saved and we are changed. The works and discipleship that follows is not a part of grace, it is because of grace. The change in our lives was not a precondition for God’s grace, it is a visible manifestation of an internal effect of God’s grace in a believer’s life. The expanse and reach of such grace is immeasurable, and that grace empowered by love has reached the vilest of sinners and has wrought a metamorphosis that leaves the wisdom of this world confounded. How could salvation complete with eternal life be offered by grace, free and full, simply by faith? It is the mystery of eternity.

But now that we have discussed the theology of grace, let us examine how a living recipient of God’s grace can exhibit and share that same grace practically with others. This is not as easy as it would seem, and much of the church has lost any sense of being a beacon of grace. Of course some claim they are exhibiting grace, but it is nothing but compromise and goes against the teaching of Scripture. But much of the church walks with an air of self righteousness and looks down upon many who are either brothers in Christ or sinners for whom Jesus died. How do we who contend that we live for Christ show grace in this world, even to those who are walking in darkness or compromise? That is a spiritual discipline which continues to be out of vogue in this generation.

Showing and speaking in grace toward others is never an easy adventure since grace is not in our nature, we are always much more comfortable with our old friends - self righteousness and judgment. Even when it comes to friends we have a short grace fuse, however as it pertains to those enemies or doctrinal combatants we seem to have very little grace indeed. Is it not curious that those who stand by grace alone have so little to share with fellow gracians? Troll the internet and ingest the different posts and comments and you may well come away with a head scratching perspective. You may get the feeling that believers are out to consume each other by means of harsh and demeaning words not meant to convey a perspective but aimed to destroy those of a different view. Should we not speak words with some grace even to those who have strayed significantly?

So is grace a theology that belongs in our statement of faith and systematic theology but disappears when we enter the real world? Someone once said that what we do is what we believe, everything else is just religious talk. And so it is with grace. We seem to show favor to those we believe have earned it in our estimation, not those who similarly do not merit it in our estimation. I find Jesus showing head scratching grace to many who absolutely did not deserve or merit it. Peter himself denied the cross right in front of the Savior, and later denied he ever knew the Lord, and yet Jesus saw fit to allow him to preach the first New Testament sermon. Such grace.

If grace is predicable and measurable, it is not God’s grace. If you can see a reason for grace, it again is not the grace of God. Watch how quickly people run to show grace to their doctrinal yokefellows and how quickly they run with law to those with whom they disagree. How disgusting it is to see followers of the Gracious One project self righteousness when indeed they have no righteousness of their own, only that which was given freely upon the dead body of Jesus who gave Himself in infinite grace. Whatever is not of humility is not of grace. Biblical doctrine without humble grace is not Biblical. Truth without humble grace is not truth. And Christ without humble grace is not Christ.

Showing grace does not come without difficulty and sacrifice. We are trained to respond with a selfish defense and a caustic retort aimed at disarming and even demeaning our brother or sister in Christ. Sharing an iron sharpening dialogue about doctrine often leads to the flesh, but when we are attacked personally we will respond in like kind and many times with graceless invectives that reveal what is truly in our hearts. Are we willing to endure untruths and unkindnesses for His sake? Are we further willing to avoid responding to personal attacks on our character? And further still, are we willing to show grace to those who have despitefully mistreated us, and said many untruths about us, and even used harsh and unchristian verbiage against us? Are we willing to close our ears to the choruses of our friends to respond, and to be questioned by our silence? Are we willing to bless those who curse us and be considered weak and not standing for truth? Are we willing to be criticized for not defending the faith once delivered to the saints? Are we willing to be labeled a compromiser? Are we willing to stand humiliated in front of everyone, unjustly?

He did.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Enemy Within

Search the blogs and bookstores, google the names of preachers today, and you will find conversations and dissertations on many Biblical subjects. The authority of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, the victorious life, and many other doctrinal issues are prevalent in the Christian media. You will find volumes today on practical “how to” subjects like how to be positive, how to be successful, how to get wealth, and a library of man centered articles and books. You will find resources in systematic theology and great preachers of the past and church history and denominational perspectives. At your disposal are references that teach on how to avoid evil, and why certain movements are veering away from Scripture, and why certain men are false teachers.

But you and I will be hard pressed to find a discussion about the enemy lurking within each and every believer. Our enemies are often identified as the devil, or Rick Warren, or Brian MacLaren, or some other popular movement that can be seen. But the church is in desperate need of an uncomfortable and vulnerable discussion about a very real and influential enemy, the enemy that lives and speaks and motivates us from within. The enemy is us. We have been so guilty of not only ignoring this fallen enemy, but so often we have incorporated him into our Christian walks and crowned him as boldness or discernment or spiritual courage. This enemy has seduced us through vain words and hidden agendas and impure motives, and blinded us into moving forward without a chronic pattern of self examination.

The self examination we need is many times not about any subject or issue, but it is about who we are and with what spirit we are being controlled. Do not assume that crucifying the flesh within is an easy and painless process, just recognizing the need for such inventory is a deep and excruciating spiritual truth, much less surrendering to the Spirit’s unabridged death ministry to our flesh. And there are protected doors within our flesh that will subtly offer other compartments of sin in deceptive gambits designed to protect our most treasured elements of practiced self. Simply put, without a time of complete self examination we will continue to live with the accumulation of self deceived issues. And this pattern can live and breath within the life of even the most Biblically astute believers among us. In fact, Biblical knowledge is sometimes used creatively by our flesh to keep us from recognizing our own flesh that dishonors Christ while drawing near to Him with our lips.

The weapon that will defeat our flesh is humility, and Christ-like humility can only come through the fellowship of His sufferings which is…the cross. Paul tells us the example of our Glorious Savior, the Creator of everything, provided the light of His own incarnate life as our example.

Phil.2:7-8 - But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Those words, when read and understood in the context of who He was, must cut our hearts before us. Our God, our Christ, came as one of us. That in and of itself is beyond us, but when the Spirit lifts the veil and gives a sacred glimpse into the Incarnate God man, and reveals the depth of His humility that allowed, yea embraced, death…even death by crucifixion, we are undone. It must be understood fully that this truth cannot be understood fully even while being an exhortation for us to follow. Crucifixion was humiliating for the worst of sinners, but for the sinless Lamb of God the humiliation is infinite. And yet we are directed to emulate the essence of that humility and thereby deny the flesh the spoils of sin it so desperately desires. Let us examine even the fringes of such an undertaking.

If we are not willing to endure pain and rejection and humiliation in our own lives, then this journey is not for us. If we are going to pick and choose our path so as to avoid the deepest roots of our fleshly entrenchments, then we can retire to the comfort of what we call our Christian lives as we now experience them. But if we can admit to ourselves in distressful honesty that we are in need of the cross inside our very hearts, then we must prepare ourselves for the crushing weight of the Spirit’s convicting light and His loving but uncomfortably powerful ministry of correction and crucifixion through genuine, open, and unfettered repentance. And this repentance must touch the little foxes that hide within the camouflaged recesses of our religiously wicked hearts. And if there are no surprises, no sufferings, no battles, no embarrassments, and no attempts as justifying or minimizing, then we have only touched the surface.

Have we even asked the question as to how we can show strength like our Master while forgiving the very ones who are crucifying us? Is there a divine power that speaks through humility in the utmost of authority and does not need the verbiage that comes from our flesh? Can grace and correction ride within the same words? Can boldness and humility coalesce? And can the Spirit of Christ be revealed through a conduit who has an ongoing penchant for duplicity? And in the face of these and other questions, does it appear that while we are concerned with watered down theology we are content with watered down humility that in actuality gives place to the enemy of God, our flesh? The lack of concern over how the Lord would have us speak and behave in these days of accessible communication is astounding.

We need a revival of seeking God as to how to behave in the Spirit of Christ. Just saying “I am nothing” is not any show of obedience, a computer can mimic those words that all of us know are required to be said. This is where the Apostle James’ perspective is necessary to glorify our Master. Words without deeds are useless, and saying we are followers of Christ without at least a sacrificial effort to become like Him is just as useless. Speaking the gospel without living it has led us to the general stalemate we now find ourselves in these last days. And being doctrinally orthodox does not reveal the life of Jesus Christ within a professing believer, and in fact it seems that being a “self aware” orthodox believer continues to lead many into fleshly hubris instead of humble grace.

We do not need a new definition of the gospel, we need a new demonstration of it. Many of us have strong convictions about someone like Mother Theresa not sharing Christ with dying Hindus and Buddhists, however are we not brought to shame and conviction from her humility? The consuming arguing that pretends itself to be defending the faith is not only unproductive, it can be counterproductive. This kind of interaction comes from the enemy that dwells within us and yet has camouflaged itself as a spiritual warrior. It basks in its own measurement of Christ and His followers, it assumes an exaggerated view of its own knowledge of truth, and it engages others from a tangible aroma of self righteousness that constructs a deluded and imaginary battle for the truth in which unchristian behavior can be justified. In essence this enemy convinces us of the rightness of the cause and then proceeds to blind us to our own state of spiritual need by keeping us distracted by an inflated view of our own value as a divine spokesman.

But the enemy within all of us, the fallen brother of Adam, has so often been allowed to act out even within the body of Christ. We seem to rely on him to facilitate spiritual victory while using the other side of our mouths to tout God’s power and sovereignty. And part of this so called victory includes diminishing and laying waste to those saints and sinners with whom we take issue. This enemy is not content to gently and graciously present our point of view, he must take no prisoners and keep record of the scalps. He minimizes and justifies his own shortcomings while illuminating and magnifying those of his targets. He sees no truth in the attacks that come to him, and many times will leverage those people from whom the attacks emanate to cease and desist. But he presents his attacks as both warranted and motivated by God Himself and must not be silenced.

It is past time for all of us to expose this enemy that dwells within as the scoundrel he is, and unmask his false claims of spirituality. Truth is interconnected and must be taught and presented and even confronted within the context of other truths that are just as valid. Truth is not a weapon to destroy but in the gospel context it is a vehicle of redemption which should never be served on a cold plate of self righteousness. In fact, truth should be shared upon the wings of humility that should define an unworthy recipient of God’s grace. And sometimes the revelation of God’s truth is most exposed and glorified in what appears to be defeat, and boldness in some circumstances works against the gospel and its message. All of us seek to be John the Baptist, but not many seek to be the Lamb silent before His shearers.

Standing on the platform of complete grace we should, as Paul suggested, count everyone else as more important than ourselves. We have severely overestimated our own worth and divine calling, and we have limited and redefined the admonition of “defending the faith” by giving that assignment to this vile enemy within us all.

Perhaps there is no more effective way to defend the faith once given to the saints than to allow the Risen Christ to live our lives for us.