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.