Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Christian's Heart for Sinners

Lk.7:34 ...a friend of sinners.

The inhumanity to man from other human sinners is something to behold and about which we should stand ashamed. There is nothing so utterly distasteful and spiritually repugnant as one sinner judging another, except when a follower of Jesus Christ joins his hands with the fallen and usually antichrist press in a concerted effort to bring to light the sins of some person. And the doctrinally partisan way in which this type of gossip journalism is meted out is another revelation in motivation. And when the dust settles and the sordid facts have been fed to the carnal curiosity of the general populace, the conduit tucks himself in at night with a feeling of a job well done. And a job for Christ nonetheless.

It is time for all us to make a line of demarcation between aggressively standing for Biblical truth in the face of a disintegrating orthodoxy, and the self righteous pleasure that is derived by investigating and perusing the internet to discover and uncover the sins of people including professing brothers and sisters in Christ. How could it be possible that someone who professes Christ can hook up his or her e-mail to secular news sources in order to be alerted to gossip news about the moral failures of others, including other Christians? Until recently I would have never dreamed that technology was possible, much less that anyone would invite that type of news into the sanctity of what is supposed to be dedicated to Christ.

And then to think that a Christian would use that technology to draw dirt about others into their consciousness, and then take that secular story and link to it so others could go to read all about it, is beyond my ability to fully understand and even believe. I was raised as a fundamentalist and we were discipled to avoid reading anything like that whether it was true or not. I do not refer to aberrant teachings and doctrinal distortions, no, I speak of relishing the chance to post the personal sins of others and give a creative commentary, and these sometimes solely originate from lost and secular reporters who enjoy degrading anything Christian. Gutenberg prints God’s Word, we print salacious details of the sins of men and women. Gutenberg called, he wants his press back.

And these wonderful stories run the gamut from divorces to immorality to stealing to pornography to homosexuality and everything in between. A cabaret of sinful activities that draw our fallen interests like the sirens of Sirenum scopuli which, like they, lead people into the jagged rocks of destruction. It’s not enough if someone is destroying their lives, we must spread the news and let everyone enjoy the show. Most of the time we can do nothing for this complete stranger and his calamity, but what does that matter, we still can enjoy spreading the gossip under the shallow and disingenuous contention that you are warning others.

Sin is a dirty business and recreating its history in the personal narrative of other sinners so that different sinners who have mentally committed the same sins makes the publisher a heartless sycophant who fancies himself a servant of God Himself. Have we forgotten the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery? Was our Lord condoning sin, or tolerating transgressions as serious as adultery? Jesus Himself seemed to be drawn to the greatest of sinners and He saved His sternest rebukes for the self righteous. The whole world is in the evil One and already stands condemned with or without our regurgitated narratives copied from the lost pens of sinners who are rejecting Christ themselves.

And just recently a fifteen old young girl named Miley Cyrus has become road kill for the vultures. Does her lifestyle lend itself to destruction? Of course. Is she and her parents wrong if they allow provocative pictures of any kind to be taken of a fifteen year old? Of course. But to approach her mistakes and sins, not knowing with any amount of certainty her spiritual status, with a publishing effervescence that would make the Watchtower envious is neither right nor Christian. This young girl needs prayer and counsel not sweeping condemnation from across the globe and with a special critical interest from within the community of grace receivers. I know many professing teenagers who have done much worse and without any complicity from their guardians.

We are called to contend for the faith and be true to God’s truth, but we are never called to rummage through the trash cans of people’s lives looking for some sin so we can take that dead carcass, bring it to life once again, and feed it to the letching mind’s of people who cannot be praying in earnest for someone like this young girl. It is impossible to both accuse and intercede simultaneously. You cannot serve two masters, you will either serve redemption and hate damnation, or serve damnation and hate redemption.

Brothers and sisters, there is so much hurt and emptiness in this world and the hollow lives that so many live need the voice of light and life to speak into their circumstance. Oh yes some need correction and some even reproof, but never as a public post of redemption less information. Love covers a multitude of sins, and we must carry the broken and rebellious lives of sinners to the cross, not the blogasphere. Where is this heartless Christianity coming from, and why do we feel such a compulsion to rush to expose and not atone (cover)? The devil is well capable of continuing the destruction he so willingly began in these lives, we as repairers of the breach should carry the torch of forgiveness and restoration.

All our correction must be done within the church and not as a public lynching of celebrities and strangers alike. Let redemption course through our lips and lives, even from among us who are considered doctrinal fundamentalists. There is nothing so dead and so lifeless as heartless judgmentalism, it stands in stark opposition to the cross of our dear Lord. And whosoever takes pleasure in the calamity of others does not abide in Christ. Our enemies must be our prayer lists, and those who stumble and fall must be the ones we pick up, treat their wounds, and place them upon our own lives and carry them to restoration. Christianity is more than just staking out positions and watching out to gleefully report the misfortunes of the defenders of other positions. If that is all we have in Christ then we of all men are most miserable.

Little girls, targets of a sensual society, struggle with being affirmed on an appearance and sexual level. All the media outlets do more than suggest that girls are required to look and act a certain way in order to attract boys and in fact be accepted with the female clique, but we as believers must not only reject such notions, we must have empathy and understanding for those little girls who have succumbed to those lies. And in the case of Hollywood little girls, well, they sometimes have no choice because the vicarious and monetary interests of the adults have steered them into a hollow lifestyle that eventually will create a caricature rather than a follower of Jesus Christ. We must take hold of our outrage and allow the Holy Spirit to turn it into a redemptive spirit of compassion that elicits deep prayer and exudes compassion instead of rejection. Christ will look beyond sin in order to redeem and so should we follow in His steps.

Ours is not to construct some repulsive mirror of the National Enquirer or any of the television gossip shows, this world must see a difference in how we treat sinners and their rebellion. We should love the Rosie O’Donnel’s and the Madonna’s of this world and be Christ to them if perhaps one day the Holy Spirit gains access into their hardened hearts. Any harsh or brutal words we might cast their way will pale in comparison to the judgment that awaits them, so we are not called to pronounce the obvious but share the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to the most vile and militant of sinners.

I have written this because my heart is heavy over seeing a young girl pounced upon by saints and sinners alike. It is spiritually unseemly in the extreme, and I would suggest to all who consider themselves fundamental and orthodox in any way to rethink how we approach and speak of sinners and their sin. The doctrine debate continues unabated, the theological slide still must be corrected, and false teachers and heretics must and should be called out. But sinners, lost and save sinners, who stumble and fall, should be shown compassion and restoration and redemption. All of us have sinned and just the sin you and I will commit today is enough to send us to hell forever if God hadn’t shown us grace instead of judgment. There is nothing that misrepresents Christ more than a sinner who has received grace but has little for others.

There was one front page upon which God published my sins. The page was made from wood and the ink was red, very red. The ink had smeared and ran down the page, but the message was ever so clear. And one glorious day God brought me to that page and for the first time I read both my sins and God’s forgiveness. And after I read and understood I asked God what I must do to be forgiven. Jesus asked me whether I believed in Him and His forgiveness and I replied that I did.

“But what about my sin?”, I asked my Redeemer.
“What sin“, He replied, “I see only righteousness now…”.
He proceeded to command me to go and bring others to this same place.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Confessions of a Fundamentalist

I am a fundamentalists, whatever that is. Many years ago someone defined five tenants that must be believed to be considered a fundamentalist, but many militant fundamentalists added many other things to that short list. Today the word has been stripped of any legitimate definition and in fact is now applied to Christians who are sometimes mean and entrenched and seemingly without much compassion. It has morphed into a slander rather than a theological position. But in the final analysis I am one.

I believe the Bible is God’s unique and exclusive Word to all of mankind. I believe Jesus died for the sins of every single person ever born and I believe He rose bodily from the dead. I believe that only by faith in Christ by a living sinner can anyone be saved from hell and inherit eternal life. I believe Jesus is coming back to this earth to set up His kingdom again and it is a real and visible act just as tangible as His first visit. And I believe all the rest, whatever that means.

But I have within my spirit a lockbox that I do not easily share because it is often misinterpreted as weakness or even a contemplation of compromise. But confession is good for the soul so they say and maybe you too have some thoughts and desires that you commune with inside the sanctity of your own heart, away from the prying judgments of many who will never understand. These are not sinful desires, I have those as well, but these are longings and questionings about serving and worshiping Christ. And many of these thoughts are outside the fundamentalist manual and are forbidden in mixed theological company.

Now before I share my heart let me say that some of the practices I will share are exhibited by people who do not hold to sound Biblical doctrine including a version of the gospel to which I can never embrace. That is the reason for the word “confused” in my title, but nevertheless I continue to attempt to be honest with what I do see as Christ’s within the framework of a flawed theology. And I will not significantly deal with these theologies since that is not the reason for this post, neither in my experience is it productive since everyone has an answer, an excuse, and a way to alter words to either soften the error or even out rightly profess absolute conformity to all that fundamentalists believe doctrinally. While holding the empty cookie jar and with crumbs decorating their faces they loudly deny eating the food in question.

But there are some aspects of Christian movements that have sprung up within the last several decades that I must admit appeal to me spiritually. I have read a very little of a man named Shane Clairborne and his ministry. I believe he is called an emergent and sometimes a Quaker and I am sure I could find little in his doctrinal view with which to be in agreement, he may even be seriously in error in important areas of truth. However, he has lead a small movement called “The Simple Way” which endorses a simple way of living that significantly minimizes the hedonistic accoutrements that usually accompany a well rounded western Christian lifestyle. And along side that lifestyle comes a commitment to minister to the “least of these” including the homeless on the streets of Philadelphia. I cannot help myself, I find that much more than interesting, I find it desirable.

Many of us fundamentalists eschew the health and wealth movement as heretical and antithetical to genuine Christian teaching, but in our personal lives we practice many of the same teachings that we claim to be against. We have creatively carved out sections of our lives we use to concentrate on financial gain and success, and we exhibit an open love and attachment for things. We store up treasures for our future consumption and when these portfolios grow we proclaim God’s blessing. We ask God for strength to run the rat race but we never ask Him what part of that race is at odds with His specific and general will for the believer in Christ. How can it be Scriptural and how can it represent God’s heart for God’s people to hoard money for themselves while millions perish physically and spiritually? Unless there is another divine revelation, that western lifestyle goes against every teaching in all 27 books of the New Testament and does not reflect the living commitments of the early apostles and the community of believers.

I confess that when I read of a group of people who have purposed to withdraw from the western society that is built upon financial success and personal pleasure I am envious. And more than envious, I am haunted by the seemingly reasonable prospect that this is the way God desires His entire body to live. I also confess that my motives are mixed since I fully recognize that one of the residual effects would be that much of what now causes me to worry or fret would be eliminated. But that is residual, the core principle being that our lifestyle would be dedicated to Christ and more accurately reflect the eternal aspect of the gospel by rejecting that which consumes the entire western cultural experience. And perhaps when the world saw us meeting their needs and rejecting our own materialistic and hedonistic needs they might very well consider the Christ we preach.

Mother Theresa is another example. She did not share Christ with her Hindu patients and that illustrates a ministry that cannot be considered Christian. No Christ, no Christianity. But her life and commitment is something that should speak to all of us. Because of the nature of her shallow theology the devil deceives us into rejecting everything she did wholesale when in fact if someone who believed the gospel of Christ would have sacrificed to the same level what fruit could have been born? We exhibit the same excuse when we speak of the cults by saying they are working their way to heaven and that is why they are so committed. And we fail to see the self indictment in that statement.

And so I am confessing that I see the western lifestyles of evangelical Christianity as unbiblical expressions of the culture and not the New Testament teachings. How easily we have twisted and tortured clear teachings to mean almost the exact opposite of what they are saying. And when a verse is clear we have become adept at softening and contextualizing it until the biting truth is nothing more that a cultural guideline. When Paul says, “And with food and clothing be content” we have taken that to mean you can pursue wealth and pleasure, and store up much money for retirement and vacations, as long as we are content with food and clothing. And when Paul states that some have made financial gain a measure of godliness and God’s blessing, we ignore it and still give God most praise for monetary advancement except maybe for salvation itself.

I also am confessing that I see the event and production essence of the modern Sunday morning church service as a departure from the New Testament and spiritually unproductive many times in the lives of believers. New and better and creative are the goals which when achieved draw the crowds back for more. Hundreds of thousands of professing Christians sit in Sunday morning pews who have practiced their Christianity during the week on the same plane as their lost neighbors and substantially less than their Mormon and Watchtower counterparts. I find the typical “God bless us and our nation” prayers, led by a staff member, as a pitiful offerings and merely a caricature of true and seeking prayer, a mirage and not the substance. The entire process, complete with parking attendants and greeters and ushers and the entire entourage of trained people managers, is a well oiled machine that accomplishes its goal of human organization but does nothing to enhance the spiritual atmosphere which should be the entirety of the purpose for gathering.

Sunday morning is now an event which has been perfected during the week by well meaning performers, but when announcements take more time than prayer God is not impressed. It is an exercise in redundant religious pageantry that for many provides little more than the appetizer before the customary Sunday dinner. And when the pastor regurgitates a message that was purchased on the internet and complete with jokes and object lessons, well, that is not New Testament Christianity. I am one who sees the absolute necessity for a format change as it pertains to the Sunday gathering of believers. Substantially more prayer, more testimony, more confession, the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, and other ways to invite disciples to minister to the Lord and to others as well.

I see meditation and times of quite reflection and refreshing before the Lord as something that enhances rather than detracts. When I was first saved I did not know one other born again Christian. I had never been inside an evangelical church and I had no one to help disciple me. I would read the words of Jesus because I could understand them more clearly and I also would pray alone in a room, sometimes with only candlelight, and sometimes with incense burning. These were just tools to block out the world and I had not borrowed them from other religions and their practices. As a matter of fact, the Tabernacle of Moses had all those things. I have sometimes in these later years prayed in a room with candlelight, incense, and soft praise music. I absolutely disagree with studying eastern mysticism and incorporating their spiritual practices into Christianity, but that is not what I am doing.

I often find the hustle and bustle of the pre-service gathering to be somewhat irreligious and resembling more like a bus transit station rather than a group of blood bought believers gathering to meet and worship the Risen Christ. I realize that you cannot “atmosphere in” the presence of God but I also realize that some atmospheres are much more conducive to blocking out the temporal and seeking the eternal. Not mysticism but certainly experiencing the great mystery which is Christ and His glory. We have brought the sacred down to earth and removed the heavenly majesty and we have carved into a convenient earthly religion. We carry the Ark upon ox carts of our own cleverness.

I confess that I am hungry for a less American and more spiritual encounter with the Risen Christ when believers gather to worship. The concert atmosphere does nothing for me and the announcements and pay down the debt pleas just remove the freedom and life from what should be a concerted desire to be cleansed and changed by meeting with the Lord of our lives. That is not to say I am not edified by sometimes loud and celebratory music, I am. That is not to say I am not edified by soft and seeking worship music, I am. I love free and God centered worship music that lifts up our Great God. It is all the other stuff and the lack of things that could capture our spirits to focus on the Great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.

I am a fundamentalist, whatever that is. I am not afraid to worship in a charismatic meeting; I am not afraid to go to a reformed church meeting; I am not afraid to attend an all night prayer meeting; and I am not afraid to admit having a gnawing hunger for more of Christ and His presence in my life. And I am not afraid to go into some areas that are supposedly forbidden to fundamentalists. Compromising doctrinal truth does not have to be the by product of seeking to Christ in a deeper way and entering into His worshipful presence in atmospheres that others use improperly. There seems to be a blanket of spiritually searching believers who continue to ride the religious horse of predictability and relevance while others feel that altering truth can bring thirst to their parched souls.

Jesus is beautiful beyond words or thoughts. He has paid a price for our souls far beyond our pitiful abilities to fully comprehend. And this Magnificent Lord and August Savior, bids us come and learn of Him and worship at His feet. How have we allowed that privilege to become predictable and stagnant? Why have removed the mystery and glory and constructed a pragmatic worship experience that allows us and our needs to be front and center and has made God’s presence a forgotten thing much less something diligently sought after? We do not need some new and innovative doctrinal changes, we need a revival of seeking the Risen Christ within the truths He has so graciously revealed to us and the generations before us.

We do not come together to evangelize, but and if that occurs we praise the working of God’s Spirit. But when we gather, as believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Himself, we gather to seek and be with and worship and be changed by Him. There is no greater purpose and this spiritual gathering is not to be conformed to the dictates of our hearts or this world, it is to be guarded as a spiritual incubator designed to accommodate the Spirit of God and His working in our hearts to be drawn to our Wonderful Savior. Music cannot open our eyes and manipulation can not illuminate us to His glory, only by God’s Spirit working through a willing people can we ever hope to actually be in His presence and be changed.

And so these are some confessions of a fundamentalists who sees a need for God to change our direction and to deepen the stakes and lengthen the cords of our journey to know Him. Not abandoning His truth but deepening them in our spiritual lives. Some things seem uncomfortable, but perhaps that is what we need. Let us ask the Heavenly Father to once again fill us with a thirst that can only be quenched by His presence, and that we will not be satisfied with where we are in our journey, but we will take up our cross and pursue Him with a fresh spiritual vigor that cannot rest until we meet Him and are changed by His heavenly glory.

There is a spiritual rest in that which is devoutly to be desired.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

All Preaching is Topical

There is from some corners a certain arrogance about the style of their preaching. Their assumption is that a verse by verse preaching style is not only desirable, it is superior. This would be true except for one very conspicuous truth. All preaching is topical. Let us deconstruct that straw man and see it for what it actually is, a self righteous attempt to attribute supremacy to preaching methodology. It cannot be ignored that most of the men who claim this about their preaching methodology abhor elevating methodology in almost every other arena of Christian communication. And as you will see, this claim is without merit and leads to hubris in the very thing about which we all should have humility, the preaching of God’s Word.

Many refer to this as “expository preaching” which means that they read a verse or a few connected verses and expound or expose their meaning. This style is very good and affords opportunities to preach and teach God’s Word many times going all the way through one particular book. I have preached many messages within the context of exposition. But that style neither guarantees accuracy nor affords methodological parameters that aid in revelatory precision. Methodological pragmatism has no bearing on truth and/or error, only the careful and prayerful study by the human conduit is a factor in how clear and accurate is the truth which is preached.

It is also quite evident that as we read and interpret verses expositorally, we many times bring all our doctrinal biases to bear and give them place within the style of verse by verse preaching. Listen to two men who have different theological views on a subject, and these two men are committed to expository preaching. Listen as they preach through a New Testament book, verse by verse, both claiming original language credentials, and both sincerely attempting to remain faithful to the original contextual meanings. Listen as these two men teach some very different views. I have heard that many, many times and so have you. My point being that expository, verse by verse preaching lends no more of a safeguard against error than does most others types of preaching including topical preaching.

Of course when arriving at truth from Scripture one must draw from the entirety of Scripture and indeed investigate context and background, but that carries with it a topical flavor as well. Systematic theology itself is a packaged and organized reference material that is designedly topical. So as I have suggested, the theology that one espouses usually rears its doctrinal head within the verses being preached expositorally.

Historically many anointed men of God preached from a topic and drew verses to that topic, which is what topical preaching actually is. Spurgeon, Whitefield, Edwards, Luther, Wesley, and most great preachers of the past used topical sermons to communicate God’s Word. I have a treasure trove of Spurgeon’s classical sermons based upon certain Scriptural topics. The cross, the resurrection, the incarnation, the Scriptures, and a hundred other topics are wonderfully and powerfully preached through the anointed lips of Charles Spurgeon. And using a Scriptural topic as your base does not handicap the preacher one bit as it pertains to preaching faithful truth.

The sum total is this: If you have an unscriptural view of some doctrine, you will find a way to see it taught even when teaching verse by verse. And when some preacher proudly proclaims his hermeneutical prowess based upon the construction of his sermon style he is not only being prideful, he is significantly exalting a methodology and thereby diminishing truth itself. The Holy Spirit is the revealer and guide to all truth, and He is well able to unfold God’s Word through many different methods.

But let us examine this verse by verse way of preaching that claims superiority over the topical methods. If you look closely you will see that every book in the New Testament contains many topics. Every chapter contains one or more topics, and every verse deals with at least one or more topics. The entire Bible is a collection of divine topics. And when a preacher opens his mouth to teach he is dealing with a topic. Even expository preachers have a three part series dealing with topics. Every sermon deals with a topic and topics, and even if you teach verse by verse through one book of Scripture you will undoubtedly speak about several topics. All preaching is topical.

But somehow a person leaves a topical church and joins an expositorial church and they believe they have had an epiphany. If indeed they are learning and exhibiting Christ more deeply and profoundly in this setting, there three plausible reasons.

1. Their former pastor wasn’t teaching the Word regardless of style.
2. The expository style helps them personally learn more effectively.
3. They’ve been told this style is what God wants.

Delivering God’s truth by preaching God’s Word can take several forms. Some teach whole books while others teach verse by verse while others teach Biblical topics. Jonah’s sermon to Nineveh certainly wasn’t a verse by verse message, and Peter and Stephen and even Paul did not just dissect one Old Testament verse after another. As a matter of fact, the sermons in Acts were basically overall narratives of God’s dealings with the saints of old and how it culminates with Christ. Paul’s letters to the churches were topical and doctrinal, not verse by verse Old Testament exegesis. The writer of Hebrews does quote certain Old Testament verses and expounds upon them, but it is all in a topical context. It is my favorite New Testament book.

So do not get enraptured with preachers that claim superior methodology in preaching, God has used all different approaches. The flesh of man is not satisfied with suggesting better truth or more anointing or even more accurate theology, our flesh will even stoop so low as to claim my style of music is better, my way of worship is better, and of course my preaching structure is better. And the word “better” is translated by some as “God approved”. That kind of self serving definition obfuscates the permeating attribute without which God will resist.

Humility. Simple, profound, and elusive humility.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Heart is Dying

I Cor.1:17-18 - For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

The facts of the gospel can be known and recited and even explained by any agnostic. They can be communicated through the simulated voice of a computer and in fact a parrot can be taught to mimic the basics of the gospel particulars. The devil himself can readily quote you Bible verses and the actual message of the everlasting gospel. Hitler, Stalin, and any literate human monster could read any portion of God’s Word they were asked to just as accurately as could Spurgeon himself. Reading and reciting God’s Word is not the problem, for indeed to recreate the sounds of human words takes no more sincerity than an electronic synthesizer. What is missing is the heart.

The psalmist exclaims he seeks the Lord with his whole heart and Paul tells us with the heart we believe. We cannot be satisfied with a pop quiz knowledge of Biblical truth, we need to seek it as if it were gold which indeed it is. The gospel must be our life not our past, and the heart of the gospel is the cross. All of it must burn within us, continually bursting forth through our lips and our lives and moving us always to praise and worship the Author of all Salvation. Our gospel is not some dry and algebraic equation that is more logic than love, more facts than faith, more argument than adoration, and more doctrine than devotion.

Without heart there is no depth, no meaning, it is hollow and void, and just as in a human being without heart there is no life. The heart represents the core, the center, the life giving essence. And so it with the gospel. The very heart of the gospel is the cross. It is that single act of atonement from which we draw life. The cross is the center of the gospel and without the cross the gospel has no meaning and is worthless to us. From the very first Word of creation spoken by Jesus Christ to that day just before Passover in Jerusalem, the cross had been God’s destination and purpose. When the dust of the earth had swirled into Adam and when God had breathed His very breath into this human form, the cross was in both Adam’s and God’s future. And on that day that Adam became a living spirit, somewhere on the earth grew a tree, a tree from whose seed would come another tree. And after that unbroken lineage one tree would grow that would provide a two plank altar upon which God would sacrifice His own Son.

In about six hours God would atone for the sins of mankind in a way that no one could mistake. It was and is the heart of God on display, and the family titles were for our benefit. God the Father and God the Son are eternal and not created, so the Father - Son relationship was again so we could actually understand on some level the love and sacrifice and depth of what the cross meant both to God and of course to us. This is the heart of the gospel, this is the heart of salvation, this is the heart of God.

But sadly this heart is dying. There are many movements and teachings that have not been satisfied with altering and tampering with fringe issues of Biblical truth, they are zeroing in on the cross. Of all things, the cross. Let us explore the theology of the cross and when you have been enlightened and illuminated to what the cross is and what divine purpose was inherent in that very act, then you will be able to resist the foolish teachings of men couched in words of worldly logic and the fallen wisdom of men’s minds.

The clearest foreshadowing of the cross in the Old Testament is the Passover Lamb. The children of Israel were being held as slaves in Egypt and God Himself was going to provide deliverance for them. God was angry and He was about to kill the firstborn of every household in Egypt. There can be no denying that God’s wrath is deadly and in fact God does carry out His plan of death throughout Egypt. But God instructs Moses concerning a sacrifice, a blood sacrifice that will serve as protection from God’s coming wrath executed through an angel of death.

Each household was to take a lamb that was without spot or blemish and kill it. Do you see the picture? Even a child can see that this lamb would die in the place of the firstborn in each Jewish household, an act of protection and atonement. The blood from this lamb was not to be collected and hidden away, no, the blood was to be placed conspicuously upon the doorposts of the house itself so everyone can see including God Himself. Do not assume the blood issue would be just some ancient metaphor that would be more sophisticatedly translated in future generations including the New Testament teachings themselves. Not only would the blood issue remain undiluted as it reached the New Testament manuscripts, but in fact it would now be propelled into the spiritual stratosphere. No more animal, no sheep or goats or birds, the blood issue now must be drawn from a human source.

Hold on to your selves because it goes further and deeper than anyone ever imagined. No one saw this coming and no one could have imagined the glory of God's amazing and colossal plan of redemption. The final installment of the blood which would encompass and legitimize all the millions of gallons of animal blood that had been spilt, would come from God Himself. God in a human body would willingly shed His own blood and command men everywhere to repent and by faith place this blood upon the doorposts of their own sinful hearts. Who cannot, who will not, see the clear teaching in this connection? Listen and hear John the Baptist identify the Lord Jesus is terminology that every Jew would recognize as redemptive as well as messianic.

“Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!”

You see the death angel did not pass over the Jews because they had no sin, he passed over them because of the blood. This would continue to be revealed as Moses was given the law whose heart was the Day of Atonement, again centered in blood sacrifice. And all through the thousands of days the children of Israel spilled out animal blood as an atonement for their sins, and with that God was pleased to spare them. Not because of the animal blood, for the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins. But because every time the Father saw the blood He saw the blood of His own Son. The coming blood sacrifice would be all sufficient and the final sacrifice never to be repeated. In Christ’s death God was satisfied.

And just as the Jews in the Old Testament, God does not spare us because we have no sin. He who claims no sin is a liar and the truth is not in him and in fact he counts the atonement as unnecessary in his life. But the reason God spares us and actually embraces us as sons has nothing to do with us and is in spite of us. It is completely and totally because he sees the blood of the Lamb of God covering us in a holy blanket of redemption. We are free from bondage and free from death and the redemption that Israel knew has now been multiplied beyond human understanding.

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God!”

Hear me oh my brothers and sisters in Christ, we are the children of God Himself, grafted in by faith through the shed blood of Calvary’s life giving tree. Shout and weep for joy and shake your head in unbridled amazement, we deserved none of this at all. And every day is now our day of atonement, and if any man sins we still have our Advocate who is in fact our Atoning Lamb Himself! Can you not feel the Spirit rise up in your hearts? Have you not been brought to tears to think of the height and depth and width and length of the redeeming love of the Father applied to your own unworthy life? The Jews had only tasted a shadow but we have the incarnate substance. We do not just have a sacrifice, antiseptic and impersonal, we have Christ. Our bloody sacrifice has risen and He lives!!

This is the core and the heart of our confession, He is the object of our praise and worship. Oh the cross upon which we were nailed with this Passover lamb. Oh yes, I was there. I do not remember, I only know. The Lord Jesus took me with Him upon that tree, and although I did not suffer He cleansed me there. It was all of Him and none of me and when it was done I was offered eternal atonement in my very own name. The Jews in Egypt each had their own lamb but this Lamb is the only and exclusive One from which all must partake. His redeeming flesh must be eaten by faith and in that atoning meal we are healed. The table of communion is a sacred replica but the actual life changing meal of faith takes place in the spirit.

So the Holy Spirit comes upon the prophet Isaiah to give us an incredible and fearfully wondrous revelation of what happened at Golgotha on that bloody day. The 53rd chapter of Isaiah is a s clear a portrayal and revealing of the cross as any New Testament book and in fact many Jews are converted as they read this particular chapter since it is so very clearly speaking of Jesus and His cross. The entire chapter is a tear producing future narrative of our Lord and His coming sufferings. But in verse 10 the Spirit says,

“Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief: when thou shall make His soul an offering for sin…”

No human mind, left to its own puny devices, can understand this and yet no sinner saved by its truth can ever deny it. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and yet God was somehow using those Roman soldiers to sacrifice His own Son, and if fact Himself. The Creator acquiesces to His creation and allows Himself to be conquered by those He created. The depth of this selfless love is unfathomable. What do we, what can we see here. I am not speaking of some surface understanding, some doctrinal creed by which all say amen and go about their religious business. I am asking how do we enter in on a deeper level to what the Spirit has offered us through His servant Isaiah. I am asking how do we tap into the infinite treasure that is this cross.

And in Hebraic wording that is breathtaking even in English, the Scripture says in this bloody and innocent sacrifice…God was pleased. Pleased? Of course we can say “appeased” but the word is saying pleased. God the Father sacrificed His own Son for whom? Us? Sinners? Vile and rebellious sinners like us? Yes and amen, this is the gospel truth that reveals the heart of God and saves the sinner’s soul. And Jesus Himself knew and sought His act of atonement at Calvary. This did not take Him by surprise and He was not caught off guard, no this is exactly why He came. This was not just a Day of Atonement, this was the God of Atonement. There is still so much left, but this is the heart of the gospel.

And this is what so many today are attempting to dismantle and dilute and redefine, the glorious heart of the gospel, the cross. When you hear words like “alternative theologies of the cross” run from them like they are heresies, and in fact they are. When you hear emergent conversations about the cross plug your ears and pray for the pitiful fools that are being used to detract from the only thing that can save. This is no game and this is no light dialogue that is harmless, this current trend to write blasphemous views of the cross is an orchestrated attempt to remove the atoning aspect of the cross. Oh they may “allow” for the substitution atonement to have a place as one view, but that is rancid condescension that we must reject immediately as a placating conduit through which heresy can be brought forth. All of it is worthless sacrilege and those of us who know the cross and have been hung there with our Savior realize completely the image of the sin bearing Lamb of Atonement is utterly clear.

We know that the mystery of God bruising His Son for us is true, even if we surely cannot fathom a love such as this. The heart of the gospel has now been pulled from its Biblical roots and is now being doctrinally operated upon through words of enticing wisdom and the humanistic machinations of carnal men who hold not the cross in high esteem. And this is a doctrinal heart transplant, and the gospel heart they attempt to sew back into the Biblical cavity of truth is not the true heart of the gospel at all. It is a mechanical heart, a cross that has been manufactured by men’s imaginations and forged in the strange fire of unbiblical musings about different theologies. The gospel heart, the cross, is dying in these teachings and in the hearts of many who follow their pernicious ways.

There is much more to the atonement in the cross that I will deal with in the coming days, however I wanted to present a Biblical connection that reveals the glory of the cross for what it is against the onslaught of doctrinal attacks that are becoming legion in these perilous times. Stand fast and humble, and seek to deepen your devotion to our Savior’s cross, not just doctrinally, but devotionally in our own personal walks before our Great God. Reject the new teachings and run from anything emergent or liberal, stay the course and ask the Spirit to lead us into depths of revelation that doesn’t alter truth but substantiates it. It is not worth the contamination to find a nickel in the spittoon that is called emergent and emerging, especially when treasures of great worth are found elsewhere. Let all the great and swelling conversations continue, but we must be about our Father’s business. Devotion is God’s plan while reinvention is of the enemy. Many will fall away, but you my brethren, you must cling to that old and rugged cross.

The cross is the heart of the gospel, may it continue to beat life into our spirits as we seek to lift up the Savior and His wonderful sacrifice offered to the entire world!!

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Sinner's Sacred Survey...

I will never get used to the cross. But every once in a while, the Holy Spirit uses something to lift my heart out of this world and places it again at the foot of Golgotha’s wonder. Sunday, May 11, 2008 was such a day as I heard this song on the radio on my way home from church.


When I survey the wondrous cross

How have we taken our eyes off the beauty of that which is our life. Not just a glance, not just a look, but a total survey of every nook, every truth, every essence of the eternal magnificence of that which is the cross. Take all your theology, all your doctrine, all your preaching, and your Biblical lessons, and distill them all into one glorious wonder and you have the cross. The cross, oh the cross.

On which the Prince of Glory died,

And on that wooden altar hangs in all His bloody resplendence the Prince of Glory. Alive and suffering and then dead. Dead, you say? Oh please do not press me to give you some pitiful explanation of God’s death, it is beyond me to tell and beyond you to hear. The Prince, the Exalted One, the center of heaven’s adoration and the Creator of everything, suffers and dies. On the cruelest of altars and the most public of spectacles, the Prince, the Exalted Prince of all Creation bows His divine head and expires. And He Himself has insured His humiliation will be forever captured in Holy Writ for all to either mock or embrace.

My richest gain I count but loss,

What gain could be held up to His sacrificial cross? How much gold could be removed from this cold earth and shined and presented in exchange for the excellency of the eternal crimson redemption of all mankind? How much silver and how many jewels could compete with the gain offered in His cross? How much learning and science, how much fame and fortune, and which monarchy or ruling power could even begin to be held up against the everlasting gain held within the wounds of this Prince? Drivel and dung are they all when their mirage is exposed by the glorious reality of God’s Redeeming Lamb.

And pour contempt on all my pride.

And what of pride and self righteousness? How can they find any place in us as we survey Golgotha’s act of glorious mystery? We are all undone, a people of unclean lips emanating from unclean hearts. We all must stand condemned by the revelation of this holy selflessness as the Darling of Heaven hangs arrayed in such a bloody garment sewn from His own veins.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,

Oh please, my tongue, let it forever remain silent about any suggestion concerning any imagined goodness of my own. I have nothing, nothing to be sure, about which to boast. I could boast of my sin, I could boast of my lust, I could boast of my pride, but I cannot utter one boasting lie about anything good about me that would cause One so Holy to do what I have seen on this wondrous place of atonement.

Save in the death of Christ my God,

This is my boast, this is my glory, this is my life! The world wonders why I would embrace such an emblem of repulsiveness and defeat. The Leader is murdered and yet we receive it with joy unspeakable and full of glory. And they ask, why? I do not expect those to understand who have not been illuminated by God’s Spirit whose ministry is to lift up and speak of this Prince. Oh but once your heart is opened and the light comes streaming in you can never see the cross in the same earthly way as before. You do not see a Jew being punished by Romans, you now see ever so clearly the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Selah…

All the vain things that charm me most,

Spurgeon once remarked that when we first lay our eyes upon the Risen Christ we will think ourselves a thousand fools to have ever been attracted by anything upon this earth. All is vanity and vexation of spirit that is not of Christ. And the charm that draws my heart is my shame, and if things charm me most I beg for God’s cleansing.

I sacrifice them to His blood.

Let everything bow to His blood. If I gain the entire world let it be lost to His blood. Paul calls it the Blood of God and so it is, another layered mystery. But I cannot deny its cleansing power and the continuing place of sacredness it continues to hold in my heart. Let all but that most holy and powerful blood be sacrificed upon the altar of nothingness.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,

And now I am invited to a privileged spectacle before which I must remove the sandals from off my heart. I am the undeserving recipient of such a glorious sight, the view of faith that sees the Son of the Living God upon that rugged cross. This is no mental gymnastics and no New Age projectionism, no, this is a sacred work of the Spirit. I am allowed to see Him…Him…Oh my…Him. I should never have been allowed anywhere near Him, much less invited to view the sufferings which I indeed caused. This is not some curious voyeurism, this is worship in the deepest sense.

Sorrow and love flow mingled down,

Sorrow and love. Mingled and flowing inseparably down His Messianic form. How could this horror be God’s expression of love? How can I be watching both my punishment and my life being accomplished before my eyes in this single act of death?

Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,

The mystery is glorious, and this mystery bids me to follow and learn. I hear the centurian proclaim his wonderment as he says, “Surely this must have been the Son of God…”. And drained of myself I must bow and say, “Amen…amen, this was the Son of God who was thinking of me even in death…”.

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Surely a crown of untold gold and silver must adorn this sacred head. Complete with jewels from every nation and molded into the most elegant of headpieces, fit for any king. But yet what is this I see, thorns? A headpiece of cruel and sharpened thorns? A crown that both adorns and pierces as well? Who could worship such a mocked king as this? And who then are these humble worshipers that bow before this one whose crown is composed of such thorns? We are they who have seen with the Great Apostle who knew that the sufferings of this present cross will seed the ground of the spirit which will bring forth a harvest of glory revealed in the very being who now wears so rich a crown.

His dying crimson, like a robe,

He wears His blood like a robe. He is not ashamed to wear this not for Himself, but for us. A garment of hued suffering which will redeem that which was lost, even us. This not a coat of many colors, this coat's theme is deep red. This coat is sacrifice, this coat is suffering, this coat is blood, and this coat is death.

Spreads o'er His body on the tree;

His body looks completely bruised and bloody, swollen and worn, and showcased upon this cross as some kind of tortured trophy of justice, and yet victory pours from His wounds. Pitiful and yet powerful, this is what this Prince had foretold and even sought. This is His finest moment and even though the world will reject Him and His love, He will gather to Himself a body of believers who will forever praise His Holy Name.

Then I am dead to all the globe,

This world must now assess me as worthless, dead to all the success and grappling that seeks self elevation and the prize of wealth. They now see me as contaminated by a religious experience that taints my earthly usefulness. But they do not realize that once I was dead and now I live, I was lost and now I am found.

And all the globe is dead to me.

And what of this world? All its wealth and attraction has lost its glitter and the offer of the earthly kingdoms has become a weak and toothless competitor to the roar of Judah’s Sacrificial Lion. What could tempt those who cling to the bloody frame of some obscure Jew on an obscure cross, one cross among many thousands? What could this world offer us who have found everything in this glorious gore? The wise are now confounded, and the world must shake their head in utter amazement at this spectacle of once sound people now giving up their very lives to be subservient to this punished Prince.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

But what can I give in return to so great a salvation? Look around and see what God desires and what could possibly be an offering of such dimensions that it would do justice to His sacrifice. What if I owned an entire city? What if I owned an entire country? What if I owned an entire continent? Oh no, still insignificant and small. What if I owned the entire world? What if I owned the entire galaxy? What if indeed I owned the entire universe down to the very last molecule? And what if I gathered it all together and laid it before His cross as an offering of praise and an expression of gratitude? Wouldn’t that suffice?

That were an off'ring far too small;

The entire universe placed before Him in grateful sacrifice would be an insult and counted as nothing in comparison. Too small, too insignificant, too incongruous to what is displayed upon Calvary’s cross. Please remove such an offering, its presence only detracts.

Love so amazing, so divine,

How many lips would it take to describe such a love? How many books, how many words, how many comparisons could even touch the garment of God’s amazing love? To touch God’s love you must touch God Himself who is love. The amazing effect that this divine love has upon all that receive it is without complete understanding. To receive it is to realize its depth is beyond you. It all comes together and yet it continues to elude any comprehensive mental comprehension. To be drenched in God’s redeeming love is the single most transfiguring experience in a sinner’s earthly life. Would that word “amazing” could be multiplied by millions in its depth and length and width and height, only then could we even begin to communicate the love that drew salvation’s plan.

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

My life. It seems so insignificant and really unattractive to even me. How could God desire me? Oh my, I am writing through tears because I both am ashamed at my meager existence and yet eternally astounded and grateful that God allows me, desires me, to offer Him my life. And the only reason my life is worth anything is because of the One to whom I offer it. I will one day receive my opportunity to run and fall before my Risen Lord and I will recall the many moments my mind ran to Calvary while I dwelt on earth. And on that day, oh bless His Holy Name, I will dwell where He dwells. I will dwell where He dwells because He called me, a sinner unworthy of even a divine glance, to live and dwell with Him forever.

My tears hinder me to write any further, but I am grateful for the survey this sinner has been granted to once again be both filled and become thirsty as well for the wonder of God's glorious cross...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thank God and Take Courage

Acts 28:13-15 - And from thence we fetched a compass and came to Rehgium: and after one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli: Where we found brethren and were desired to tarry with them seven days: and so we went toward Rome, And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii forum, and the three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God and took courage.

Courage. The strength to do something in the face of opposition and persecution or even overwhelming odds. When the Monk Luther nailed his 95 points of opposition to the door of Castle Church it must have taken much courage. That act might have cost him his life and in fact he was in danger of death many times. When the deacon Stephen stood and proclaimed Christ in front of a deeply hostile crowd it must have taken much courage. When the apostles scattered into the known world to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ and his gospel they were filled with supernatural courage. Many times courage will cost everything.

We as believing followers of the Lord Jesus Christ live in a soft and placating world. Unity at all costs, political correctness, acceptance of any and all views, and embracing the plethora of human thought about morality and religion are the hallmarks of the society of humankind. Common ground is the melting pot that husks every kernel of conviction and boils it into a bland and soothing stew, palatable to every whim of the flesh. You let me do my thing and I will cheer you as you do yours. Love has been distilled down to a genteel treatment of a blind man’s stumbling rather than attempt to guide his footsteps with the light of God’s grace and truth.

Courage is viewed by the world and the compromised church as boasting and conviction is intransigence. Truth is defined as your perspective and is catalogued as evenly viable as any other perspective. In the evangelical world there seems to be some kind of rejection theology that carries with it a rebellion against anything establishment in Christianity. Like the 60's much of the church is throwing off the yoke of truth and setting a course for newer and uncharted lands. Instead of deepening and refining Biblical truth this theology rejects the tested and offers a clean slate of theological doctrines with each person having their own piece of chalk with which to write.

In this new genre freedom is now applied to the believer’s whims and desires not the unfathomable freedom we find in the Lord Jesus. I can remember the freedom I felt and still do as the Holy Spirit came into my spirit on that glorious day in March of 1975, but that is not what the church describes as freedom anymore. Freedom to enjoy questionable entertainment, freedom to partake of things that we used to avoid, freedom to express yourself in vile and unbecoming language, freedom to dress inappropriately, freedom to enjoy the trappings of this hedonistic lifestyle and still maintain you are sacrificially following Christ. And rejection of God’s Word and the “ancient” translations and interpretations is now in vogue and considered spiritually sophisticated. This 60's style evangelicalism is dismantling the doctrinal mores that have been established for centuries and through their preaching revivals have ignited and entire cities have been changed. They are now “square”, man.

Well, we are presented with a choice. The times they are a changing and we cannot stand idly by and watch as sheep and goats alike are herded into pastures that are mingled with grass and hemlock alike. Well meaning and even committed believers have succumbed to incredible deception and many millions of marginal sheep have left the ancient landmarks and now follow the sirens of new theologies. They must have new, they must have relevant, they must have something that makes them feel good and that has application to enhance their physical existence in this world. Anything that is socially obtrusive is rejected as old school, and the heaven/hell theology of the Bible no longer lights their fire. And we must take courage as did our brother Paul.

This courage cannot come from rage or frustration, and it cannot be bitter and self serving. This courage must emanate from God’s Spirit and come forth through our lives and mouths and pens projecting strength and an unwavering commitment to God’s truth. It must be vocal and it must be humble, loud and yet loving, and in the end this courage must stand for Jesus Himself. Haughtiness must not have a place and we must never think of ourselves more highly than we ought, nor must we ever think any less of our Risen Christ than He deserves. It may require uncomfortable dialogue and sometimes it may invade friendships and even family relationships. The preservation of God’s Word does not rest on our shoulders, God Himself keeps track of everything and His Word is unfailing.

Our calling is a privilege, not as if God needed us to protect His Word, but our courage is draped in love and gratitude and faith. Our service to our Great and Mighty God is an offering of praise to His Holy Name and a reflection of the life changing redemption we have found in Christ. We cannot, we must not, be silent while the sacred things are mixed with the profane. Let us have the courage to believe, yes, to believe that which many say we cannot know for sure. Let us courageously see with the eyes of faith and surety the things of the atoning offer of the gospel while others attempt to peddle redefined doctrines that undermine the power of God’s Word.

Amid the wisdom to build bridges over which the gospel can be preached, let us have the courage to stand for Christ in every circumstance. In season and out, legal or not, let us speak and pray and preach His Majestic Name without which there is no salvation. Away with all the excuses about earning the right to share His gospel, our command is to go and preach to every creature not just the ones who allow us to do so. I have sometimes been strongly rejected when I have shared His gospel only to later discover the Spirit took my feeble words and enlightened a sinner to salvation. Always humble but always strong; always polite but always clear; always listening but always speaking; and always preaching while always praying.

There is no higher calling to service than to share Jesus Christ with a lost and sin darkened world. We have sometimes halted between man made strategies and cultural concerns and in so doing we have neglected to speak the Word that when planted can produce an eternal harvest. We hand people tracks as if we are handing them a parking ticket. We speak His name with fear not wanting to suffer rejection and social uneasiness. We resist praying His name in public so that we will not be criticized by others. We have over strategized and over pragmatized and over thought about demographics and a thousand other concerns that place the power upon our mental sophistication rather than His powerful Word of Truth. And the early apostles and disciples were persecuted because they filled entire cities with God’s Word. We have to organize Madison Avenue campaigns to get people to witness on some level - promote our church - promote sex - promote success - and promote a zillion programs without lifting Christ so He may draw sinners unto Himself. We need an influx of Holy Ghost courage to empower our hearts, mouths, and lives.

Take up the offense of His cross, the uneducated religious view that still says Jesus and His cross is the only way to heaven. Recall the former days when you were illuminated and recapture the joy of your salvation and be filled with the overflowing courage that comes naturally from walking with Him who is the fountain of all courage. And as the giants of unbelief unsheathe their swords let us shout with faith “Is there not a cause?!”. It will take more than a passive Christianity in these last days, it will take a courage that follows the Lord Jesus in a way that seems out of step with the religious tide. Upstream is our path while many float past us seeking more comfortable and modern venues of palatable Christianity.

It is not a burden or inconvenience, it must always be an opportunity to proclaim the unsearchable riches of God’s grace through the Lord Jesus Christ. And if persecution and criticism and mocking comes our way, embrace it with a humble and sacred gratitude, and as Paul did, thank God and take courage. Please remember my brothers and sisters in Christ, sometimes courage looks much different than the bellicose bravado that would be familiar to the world, it sometimes looks like an unceremonious death in the jungles of Ecuador, or a lonely jail in China, or a beating in Malaysia, or a painful death by AIDs contracted through the ones with whom we attempt to reach, or being passed over for some promotion, but all courage must to the follower of Jesus Christ appear as a bloody death at the hands of sinners, miraculously and supernaturally reflected through a human life. We are crucified but we still live…yet not us…it is Him in us.

And in that glorious truth, we thank God and take courage.