Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Day!

Happy New Year

Image by Andreas-photography via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many people, there's a surge of hope during this season.  A New Year is born, fresh with possibility, alive with optimism.

Before I knew the Lord, I was a bit confused by it all.  Life hurt in the past, life hurts now, and life will hurt in the future.  Who cares if the calendar changes? And besides that, my past efforts at self-reform always failed, so why would I put stock in any new resolutions?

Add to that my cynical (but accurate) view of the televised licentious reveling that I refused to watch, my awareness that those partiers really drowned their sorrows and doubts in alcohol rather than in true hope, and you can see why New Year's Day never meant much to me.

Isn't it amazing how one cynical and hopeless person can look down on others for even trying to find hope?  Honestly, I think that's how I felt…like they were fools for trying at all, never mind that they were looking in all the wrong places.

I know, I must have been a real bummer, right?  But I never had to sleep off a hangover the next morning, so I was ahead of the game in at least that one respect.

Fast forward to today, to New Year's seen through believing eyes.

New Year's Day still doesn't mean much to me, but for very different reasons. 

His mercies are new every morning!  (Lam 3:22-23)

Aren't you glad you don't have to wait 364 days for a new start when you blow it on January 2nd?  Any day…in fact, any moment can mark a new beginning.  Every time we repent of our sin and turn to the Lord, He makes us clean and gives us fresh resources.

Aren't you glad the hope is real, produced by the Spirit, and not by spirits?

Don't get me wrong.  I have nothing against New Year's Day, or the idea of celebrating it (in ways that honor the Lord).  It's not my aim to throw a wet blanket over what the day represents.  I do hope to elevate the possibilities of every other day in our estimation.  Because the potential of every day rests not in the calendar, but in the Lord who holds our times in His hands (Ps 31:15), who knows every day of our lives in advance (Ps 139:16 HCSB), and who promises to give us the strength to meet those days' challenges (Deut 33:25b).

And I'm writing this because, frankly, I need the reminder.  I'm not naturally an optimistic person. 

I'll bet you had already guessed that.

I don't awaken every morning with a song of praise on my lips, or with excited plans for the day, or feeling renewed and "ready to go."  My first morning feelings most days can best be summed up as "Oh no, I'm awake."

I gave up on New Years' Resolutions years ago, but maybe it's time to risk a new one.  Maybe what I need to do is write "Happy New Day, Lam 3:22-23" on an index card on my nightstand, where I'll see it every morning.  Maybe what I should do is resolve to put my trust in the Lord…not that each day will be intrinsically happy and trouble-free (I'd have to commit intellectual suicide to do that), but that each day is a new gift from God in which He promises to work all things, even my hardships, for my good.  Maybe I should refuse to accept the morning "Ugh" that usually fills my soul, and should deliberately seek to accept the truth of God's good plan for me this day.

It will be very hard not to sneer at that index card and rip it off of the nightstand.  Seriously.  I am not at all certain it will last more than a few weeks at best. 

Yes, I'm a believer, but my faith has some definite weak spots.  Like mornings.

What do you think?  Does anyone think I should risk it?  Anyone want to issue me a dare?

Or would anyone like to join me in trying it?  I might be more likely to try it if I knew I wasn't alone…

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Monday, December 28, 2009

"Rediscovering God in America" – Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a review of the book, "Rediscovering God in America" by Newt Gingrich, with photography by Callista Gingrich.

I'm not able to give the glowing report I had originally hoped to give.  Here's why.

On page xviii is a statement by Gingrich which is not backed up with a quote from any Founder:

"'True religion' was any religion that cultivates the virtues necessary to the protection of liberty." 

The entire introductory portion of the book seems to support a Deistic foundation rather than a Christian foundation for our country.  Gingrich seems to think that, because the Founders supported religious liberty, then they must have had no specific faith of their own.  Some, of course, did not.  But later in the book one finds many quotes from our Founding Fathers which either directly praise Christian principles as basic, fundamental, vital, etc; or which quote from the Bible.  This belies the image of vague universalism which Gingrich seems to attribute to the Founders as a group.

However, the book does later provide nice religious mini-biographies of earlier American leaders, a good compilation of quotes, and some passable (though hardly stellar) photographs.  Collectively, these do show that faith has historically been welcomed in the public square and in government.  For that reason, this book can be a good addition to a Christian reference library.

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I am required by law to notify you that I received a free copy of the book under review.  However, the book was given to me free and clear by Thomas Nelson before my review was posted, and it remains free to me regardless of whether my review was positive or negative.  Thomas Nelson's instructions to Review Bloggers encourage honest criticism, both positive and negative.  What I have written is my unbiased opinion, and it was not influenced in any way by the receipt of the free book in question.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

God Gave His Word

2nd quarter of 17th century

Image via Wikipedia














God spoke His Word into a virgin's womb two thousand years ago, and He speaks His Word into our hearts today.

As you meditate on these Scriptures about God's Word, remember that they speak of Jesus, the Word Made Flesh.

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This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true.

(Ps 18:30)

And the Word became flesh….

Jesus said to him, "I am...the truth" (John 14:6)

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For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. (Ps 33:4,6)

And the Word became flesh…

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True... (Rev 19:11)

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3)

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Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. (Ps 107:17-20)

And the Word became flesh…

You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matt 1:21)

In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. (Luke 7:21)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

(John 10:10)

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My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! (Ps 119:25)

And the Word became flesh…

And Jesus said to him, "I am…the Life." (John 14:6)

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Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word. (Ps 119:41-42)

And the Word became flesh...

Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb… (Rev 12:10-11)

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My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. (Ps 119:81)

And the Word became flesh….

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

…Christ Jesus our hope… (1 Tim. 1:1)

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Your word is a lamp to my feet

and a light to my path. (Ps 119:105)

And the Word became flesh…

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4)

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You have exalted above all things

your name and your word. (Ps 138:2b)

And the Word became Flesh…

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:9-11)

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Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself (Pr 13:13)

And the Word became flesh…

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)

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Your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it.” (Isa 30:20-21)

And the Word became flesh…

…Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

(John 21:14)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

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The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isa 40:8)

And the Word became flesh…

I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore. (Rev 1:17-18)

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For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isa 55:10-11)

And the Word became flesh…

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:4)

He said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God… (Rev 5:9)

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To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it. (Jer 6:10)

And the Word became flesh…

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. (John 8:43)

Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be… mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. (Luke 18:31-32)

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Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jer 23:29)

And the Word became flesh…

…His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace… (Rev 1:14-15)

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. (Rev 19:15)

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This season we celebrate because…

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…

(John 1:14)

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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Faith of a Found Sheep

"Sheep" by Tabery

I watched a fascinating documentary Sunday night.  It was called "Breaking the Maya Code."  No, it wasn't about any of the current New Age Mayan Calendar furor, or any attempt to rekindle the ancient religion.  It was a program for people fascinated with languages (as I am), and for those who like to see a good mystery being solved.  How did those bizarre hieroglyphs finally get deciphered?

But it's impossible to look far into Mayan writings without seeing references to their demon gods.  And this engendered some deep conversations with my children.

The program gave an account of the terrible things the worshipers had to do to themselves in order to summon the demons.  "They'd have to be crazy to believe that stuff," one of my children said.

"No," I replied.  "They'd have to be crazy not to.  Real stuff was happening.  They were encountering truly supernatural beings.  Without the knowledge of the One True God who is higher than those demons, how could they not worship them?"

As I thought about it, I was once again struck by our natural human gullibility.  Even the most ardent skeptic is gullible…he falls for his own skeptical reasoning every time!

Am I a believer because I'm clever enough to be one?  Because I was lucky to be born in a nation with freedom of religion? 

Or am I a believer because the Good Shepherd sought me and found me?

I kid myself if I think I can take any of the credit for the fact that I believe in this God and not another one.  If I believe because of tradition, or a good argument, or a feeling in my gut, there are plenty of adherents to other religions who appeal to the same things.  And they go to a totally different god.

The fact is, if the Good Shepherd had not sought and found me, I would certainly have followed my gullible head, my gullible heart, or my gullible appetites deeper and deeper into false religion.  I know, because even my Christianity was false religion for most of my life.  The truth was right in front of me, and I could not see it until He opened my eyes.

I know what I know, and I know it because of the Holy Spirit inside of me.  But can I prove it to you?  No.  Plenty of adherents of other faiths also know what they know, and many have spirits inside of them which confirm their beliefs.  Evil spirits masquerading as light.

You could ask me, "How do you know you're not one of those deceived ones?  How do you know that the spirit within you is not one of the Evil Ones in disguise?"

I could not give an answer that would satisfy a skeptic.  No matter how many assertions I can give, or how I can break it all down, eventually we'd have to come to the point in which I simply say, "This is what I believe.  This is my faith.  It rests in Jesus Christ…who He is, what He has done, and what he is doing on my behalf."  And the skeptic would feel he had won a victory.

I know that faith in the True God through Jesus Christ is the victory (1 John 5:4).  But how can I be satisfied with a faith that I can't prove?  Should it worry me that I can't prove it?

Sincere people appeal to faith from every point on the religious spectrum.  Everyone knows what they know, and everyone has their reasons.  After a while it all just becomes a circular argument. 

In response, many throw their hands up and say, "No one can know.  There can't be only one right way.  All roads lead to Heaven."  And so they reveal that they do not have faith in Jesus Christ as He described Himself…the only way to God (John 14:6).

Gullible, gullible sheep, wandering around and bleating. 

I'm no better.  I was just blessed to be found by the right Shepherd.

So tell me something.  When we get talking about faith, and how circular it can be, and how unprovable it can seem, does it make you nervous?  Do you wonder if you have true faith, and not just a tradition handed down from your ancestors?  Do you wish you could find some kind of meter that would tell you if you believe hard enough…if your faith is sufficient to make up for your inability to prove it all?

Let me tell you what has brought me peace in that regard.  When skeptics challenged me back before I was truly saved (when I was self-deceived), my defense used to be, "I know what I know," said with a proud set to my jaw and an angry knot in my gut because someone was challenging me.  There was no way I was wrong!  Or perhaps there was a sick queasiness in my gut because their challenge had hit a weak spot.

Now there's much more confidence in my soul because of the Spirit inside of me, but even so, there are still times when I wonder about my faith.  And at those times, I have an answer I never would have dreamed of before I was saved.

"Whether I can prove Him to you or not, I am sticking with the God of the Bible as revealed through Jesus Christ, who paid for my sins on the cross and was raised for me.  Why?  Because if you could offer me any other god, I would not want it.  Jesus is enough for me; I want no other."

It doesn't prove my faith is the right one, but it forever answers the question of whether I genuinely have faith in Christ or not.  Skeptics may ask us to prove that our faith is the right one, but that's not what Jesus asks.  He asks:

“Do you want to go away?”

(John 6:67)

Faith's response is this:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

(John 6:68-69)

Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

(Ps 73:25)

And so, the question is settled for me.  I may not be able to prove anything to the skeptics, but that doesn't bother me any more.  I don't need proof.  It's too late for arguments, too late for persuasion.  I love.  I love Him.  And though my love is far from perfect, it is certain of its object.  Jesus is God in the flesh, The Way, The Truth, The Life, and the only way to the Father.  That is who I love. 

And however it is properly defined, faith cannot be less than this:

A certainty born of love.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Love's Transforming Power

King's Cards! Elvis Impersonator Playing Cards

Image by Archie McPhee Seattle via Flickr

Does it matter what we love?

There are two ways that I can think of to address that question.  One is, "Do the objects of our love matter?"  And the other is, "Do the consequences of our love matter?"  Today I'd like to look at the second question, because I believe we are destined to become like what we love.

We live in a hedonistic culture which loves its entertainment, even the most depraved varieties.  And many, even within the church, will scoffingly ask, "What does it matter?  What's the harm in it?"

Does it matter what we love…what we focus on, what we commit our time and energies to, what we're devoted to?

Devotion…now there's an interesting word. Webster's Online Dictionary defines it as:

1 a : religious fervor : piety b : an act of prayer or private worship —usually used in plural c : a religious exercise or practice other than the regular corporate worship of a congregation
2 a : the act of devoting <devotion of time and energy> b : the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal

Wow...love, devotion, and worship are very closely related, aren't they?

Does it matter what we love?

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deut 6:5-9

Those who love the Lord as commanded…aren't they really the only ones who are likely to teach His word diligently, to walk a life of integrity before their children, to pass on His legacy to the generations to come?

One of the things that love does is beholding…gazing at the object of its affection.  What effect does this have on us?

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

2 Co 3:18 

We are transformed according to our love.  There is no neutrality.  Should we really be surprised by that fact, when love, devotion, and worship are so closely tied together? 

So what happens to those who give their devotion to the idols of this world…gold, silver, the latest gadgets, the trendiest amusements?

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.   They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

Psa 115:4-8

We find a similar "transformation" mentioned here:

Thus says the LORD: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after  worthlessness, and became worthless?

Jer 2:5

Our idols, whatever they may be, are spiritually dead and worthless.  Do we really want to become like them?

Perhaps nowhere in Scripture is the dangerous aspect of love's transforming power spelled out more clearly than here:

They…became detestable like the thing they loved. Hos 9:10b

It would seem that we have serious choices to make.  Do we want to behold Him and be transformed from one degree of glory to another, or do we want to fix our hearts on sin and become detestable ourselves?  What affections will we encourage, feed, and finance in ourselves and our children?

Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

1 John 3:2-3

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Monday, December 14, 2009

A Question of Identity

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Book of Daniel, Bible

Image by FineShots via Flickr




The following is a fictionalized piece based on the life of a man who found God to be faithful even when everything seemed to be falling apart.

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A young man he was, full of the vitality of his youth, the blood of nobility pulsing in his veins.

In exile.

He lived in a strange netherworld, a bizarre limbo. His nobility served him well, because it had given him a position of privilege in the land of his conqueror, his new king. And yet he was not free.

This young man was but one of many who had been ripped from their beloved homeland and forced into the service of those who were slaves themselves…slaves to pagan gods whom the young man despised.

He and his good friends sat in their place of tutelage, studying the language of their gentile conquerors.

Forced to assimilate.

And right now this young man sat frozen, horror gripping his gut as his tutor smirked at him.

"Yes," the tutor gloated in his accented Hebrew. "Now you understand enough of our language to know why the king has chosen the name 'Belteshazzar' for you. We told him that your old name, 'Daniel,' meant "Yahweh is my judge.' Of course we can't have that sort of thing here, can we, Belteshazzar? So tell me, Belteshazzar, what does your new name mean?"

Daniel's nostrils flared and his breath came short. Help me, Yahweh. Help me! How can I take such detestable words on my lips? How can I bear such a blasphemous name?

"I'm waiting, Belteshazzar."

Daniel could scarcely breathe. "In your language," he replied through clenched teeth, "It means, 'May Bel Protect Him.'"

"Yes, that's right. But if the king sees your distaste for your new name, I doubt Bel's protection will be enough for you."

Daniel straightened and looked his tutor in the eye. "Yahweh's protection will be."

"Hmph. We'll see about that."

Over the years that followed, Daniel and his friends learned much about their new home of Babylon, and one thing stood out in every lesson.

The king is supreme. His word is absolute law. His edicts, once signed, can never be changed, not even by himself.

Even Daniel's new name had been given by this sovereign king. It could not be changed. By anyone. Ever.

I am doomed to blasphemy. Every time anyone calls to me, they invoke the blessing of their demon god on me. And every time I must introduce myself, I seem to ask for that god's blessing.

I hate it! How can I bear it?

Three times a day, every day, when he fell to his knees before the One True God, he begged Yahweh's mercy on himself for even using such a horrible name.

And never, never could he tell others his name as if he really owned it. He couldn't force himself to say, "My name is…" Instead he always said, "The king has named me Belteshazzar."

Daniel remained true to Yahweh, through tests and trials that put his life in peril, and through ordinary days that teased him with a thousand tiny compromises. He served a succession of kings, outlasting them all. Because of Daniel's powerful testimony, the miraculous gifts he possessed, and the wonders which God performed on his behalf, some of those kings developed some reverence for Yahweh.

Some did not.

Daniel's hair grew white. He fell into obsolescence, scorned by those who cared nothing for the testimony of their elders and had no reverence for Daniel's God.

And always, through the long years, Daniel bore that dreadful name. So three times a day, when he bowed before the One True God, he would affirm that "Yahweh is my judge. I will not ask for protection from the Abomination of the Babylonians."

No one called on him for counsel any more, or for the interpretation of dreams, or to use any of the wonderful gifts that God had given him. But he did not mind. He had never sought prestige among the heathen.

Yahweh is my judge. Yahweh alone.

Then one day, Yahweh came to him in His earth-shattering holiness. It was far from the first time, but Daniel could never get used to it. How does mere flesh bear the presence of the Holy One?

"Daniel, beloved one, messengers from the King will soon come to your door. They need you to interpret what My hand has written on the king's wall. I will tell you the interpretation now, and you are to go with the messengers and give the interpretation to the king. Have no fear of him, for he is a detestable man, and I will require his life from him this very night."

Daniel listened to the interpretation that God gave him, and then rose to meet the king's messengers.

"Belteshazzar," one messenger began, "The king has received a message from a god, written with a man's hand on the wall. He called all of his wise men, but none of them could interpret it. Then the queen came to him and told him to call on you, Belteshazzar. She said, "An excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation."

"Wait!" Daniel interrupted. "Did she actually say it that way? Did you hear it with your own ears?"

"Yes, I stood by the king to do his bidding. I heard her say those exact words."

Daniel did not hear another word. He walked with the messengers toward the palace, but his heart soared far higher, rejoicing in an infinitely greater Sovereign.

The king's word can never be changed. My name was commanded to be Belteshazzar until the day I died. But the queen…the queen herself, said I was "Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar." You, oh Yahweh, have overturned the king's edict. Blessed be Your name, for you have affirmed before the king's household that You are judge, You are my judge, and that accursed name does not really cling to me!

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To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone…

Jesus, Rev 2:17

The preceding was a fictionalized account, based on the true story from the Biblical book of Daniel. The pivotal quote comes from Daniel 5:12. I wrote this for all believers who, like me, are seeking to find our true identity in Christ.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

The Principle of the Path – Book Review

I have a confession to make.  Quite a while ago I read a really good book with the intention of reviewing it here…but I was in the middle of a blog series or something like that, and by the time I was through, I'd forgotten about the review. 

The book was "The Principle of the Path" by Andy Stanley.

First, allow me to tell you what this book is not.  That's because, if you're anything like me, you despise all of the New Age and occult teaching that pawns itself off as Christianity these days.  And a name like "The Principle of the Path" might set off a few alarm bells in your mind as it did in mine.  But there is absolutely nothing New Age or occult in this book.  It is not "The Secret."  Nothing like it.  It's also not about "self-actualization" or any of that nonsense. 

Second, let me tell you who this book is not for.  It is not for those of you who have it all 100% together, who go to bed every night with the calm assurance that you've lived the day to the best of your ability.  So, the two of you who fit that description may stop reading here.

This book is for the rest of us, and what it does, it does very well.  I've never read anything by Andy Stanley before, but if this book is any indication, he is one of those rare talents who can take the obvious and state in a way that makes it seem fresh.  He drives his commonsense points home in such a way that I never found myself saying, "Well duh, I knew that."  Instead, I found myself wanting to begin applying the simple but profoundly true principle that I've always known, but never really embraced.

And what is that principle?  Let me summarize it in one sentence: 

Your final destination is determined by the path you choose and where it leads, regardless of your intentions

Nothing earth-shatteringly new, and certainly nothing metaphysical.  But even so, this book is enlightening, entertaining, convicting and inspiring because of Stanley's gift for imparting wisdom.  In fact, I need to read it again.  I waste too much of my life pursuing activities that lead nowhere, while all the while intending to have my life end up somewhere.

Perhaps the best endorsement I can give it is this:  It was so good that it made me want to put it down…and go pursue God's path for me!

 

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I am required by law to notify you that I received a free copy of the book under review.  However, the book was given to me free and clear by Thomas Nelson before my review was posted, and it remains free to me regardless of whether my review was positive or negative.  Thomas Nelson's instructions to Review Bloggers encourage honest criticism, both positive and negative.  What I have written is my unbiased opinion, and it was not influenced in any way by the receipt of the free book in question.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

To the Legalist Who Yearns for Freedom

Broken Chains - The Immigrants - Battery Park ...

Image by kempsternyc via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Please go back and read the previous post to get the background for this one.  Also please note that this entry refers only to so-called "grey areas" in Christian behavior.  At no time do I advocate disobedience to clear commands or principles.)

Do you feel guilty about desiring to do what you see other Christians doing…things which you can't do because you've been taught that God would disapprove?  Have you found that the Scriptures really don't forbid certain activities, but your conscience still won't let you engage in them anyway?  Are you wondering how you can get the freedom to indulge as others do?

Are you hoping that someone will tell you how?

I can think of two directions to take this problem, depending on where you are spiritually.  So I'm going to start by giving you a little diagnostic quiz. 

Please tell me honestly if the following describes your current experience of Christianity:

I'm not sure I'm saved, but I'm trying to act like I am,

I don't love God, but I'm supposed to behave as if I do,

I do love sin, but I'm supposed to behave as if I don't.

Now look at the description of "license" (sinful self-indulgence) below, and tell me if it fits the way you wish you could describe your life:

I don't love God, and I wish I could act like I don't

I do love sin, and I wish I could act like I do.

If that sums up your religion, you have far deeper things to be concerned about than whether or not you can enjoy a glass of wine.  The soul described above is in mortal danger, no matter how many cigarettes it does not smoke.  What you have is mere human religion, and what you need is a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.

But what if that does not describe you?  What if you truly are a believer; one whose love for God and hatred for sin are imperfect but growing?  What do you do if legalism holds you in its grip?

How do you find freedom?

First, I suggest you make sure you're looking for true freedom.  And true freedom is just as free not to do as it is to do.  There are many who are free to drink alcohol, but there are also many who have lost the freedom not to.  They are enslaved.  If it is truly freedom that you seek, you will not limit your search to "the freedom to do such-and-such desired behavior."  You will search for the freedom to do it and be thankful, or to abstain from it and be thankful.

He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Rom 14:6 NIV)

Being gratefully happy either way…either doing or not doing…doesn't that sound wonderful?

How do you achieve such freedom?  By seeking an ever-increasing love for God and an ever-growing satisfaction in His delights, so that whether you do or don't do certain fleshly activities, your heart will still be content in Him.

Is this the sort of freedom your soul longs for?  If so, I highly recommend the book that started it all for me.  It's "Desiring God," by Pastor John Piper.  You can read it online for free here, or purchase it at any Christian bookstore or online book retailer.  You may also want to read anything truly God-centered that you can get your hands on. 

Again, resist the urge to seek freedom to do a specific thing.  As long as you feel your happiness depends on your "freedom to do that," then your heart still lacks the freedom to abstain from it.  You are in chains to that desire, and your abstinence (if you manage to abstain) is joyless.

As long as your conscience forbids you to do something, do not indulge in it (Rom 14:23).  But if your heart aches for what you cannot do, bring that ache to the Lord as one who believes (or at least wants to believe) that He is the source of all the deepest joys.  Ask Him to increase your love for Him.  Seek freedom in Christ by seeking to delight first and foremost in Him.  Then trustingly obey Him so He can lead you in the right paths.  As your delight in Him grows, you may find yourself liberated to do things that you could not have safely done before.  Or, you may find yourself liberated to abstain without any serious pain.

When Christ becomes your life, your joy, your all, you will not be enslaved by anything you have, or by anything you lack.  You will not be enslaved by anything you do, or anything you cannot do.  You will be affected (sometimes profoundly) by your circumstances, but you will not be owned by them.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Php 4:11-13)

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed! (John 8:36)

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Monday, November 23, 2009

The Confused Conscience

La Conscience (d'apr├Ęs Victor Hugo)

Image via Wikipedia

In response to my last post, a dear reader named Karin posed the following question:

Some folks have a wrongly calibrated conscience, i.e. it is sin to see a movie, to dance,to play sports or even shop on a Sunday, etc. etc. It would be wise not to do anything that goes against their conscience, but they see other godly believers doing it. That's where their struggle begins and their feelings of guilt about having their particular weakness are not based on truth. Not sure if I explained this well enough. What are your thoughts on that?

Karin, that's quite a good question.

Legalism is a deadly thing, and it often keeps its grip on people even long after they've begun to understand grace and freedom in Christ. On the other hand, some people throw off legalism and exchange it for sinful self-indulgence...just trading in one wrong for another.

Maybe before we can discuss this problem, it would be helpful to define what we mean by "legalism." I don't know what anyone else's definition is, but this is the one I've come up with that best expresses my understanding of it:

Legalism is an attempt to make the lost act like the saved;

to make those who don't love God behave as if they did,

and to make those who do love sin behave as if they didn't.

When people cast off legalism and turn to sinful self-indulgence, what we see is more honest, though not more admirable living:

those who are lost act like the lost

those who don't love God act like they don't

and those who love sin act like they do.

By contrast, when we are truly saved, grace changes who we are (gradually at times, and suddenly at other times), to give us hearts that delight in doing good. We are freed by God...not to do evil and get away with it, but to do good and love it. That is the truest form of freedom.

When it comes to matters of conscience which are not "black and white:"

I have met miserable and/or prideful legalists who don't do certain things, but I have also met joyful, free lovers of God who don't do those same things. The legalists are under compulsion not to do them, and the grace-led ones are free not to do them. (And still other joyful lovers of God are free to do them!)

Those who tend to have legalistic consciences may feel a great deal of guilt because of the attraction they feel towards the "forbidden" item or activity. And yet they desire to find the freedom that Christ promises.

(Allow me to stress again that I am not referring to clearly-defined sin, which all Christians should scrupulously avoid. I'm referring to matters which Scripture leaves up to individuals, but about which some Christians have tried to force their own convictions onto others.)

What should the guilt-ridden person do in this instance?

Scripture forbids us to do anything that we believe may be wrong (Rom 14:23). The heart which looks at something it believes is wrong, and chooses to do it anyway, is by definition a heart that is willing to sin. It doesn't matter if the activity was truly allowable. What matters is the attitude that said, "I think it's wrong, but I don't care if it's wrong or not. I'll do it anyway."

So how is the person trapped by legalism to be set free? Should he focus on the behavior in question, examining it from every angle to decide if it can be justified? Should he go see a Christian counselor to get cured of his hang-ups?

Perhaps. There may be some benefit there for some people. But look again at the definition of "legalism" above, and the definition of "honest self-indulgence" just below it.

Think it through. How would you counsel the person trapped in legalism who wants to be free, but is afraid of freedom?

I'd love to hear your feedback, and next time I'll give you what I believe I would say to such a person.

(P.S. While I would dearly love to have lots of comments on this entry, I do not want anyone to hijack it and turn it into a forum for arguing over whether certain "grey areas" are really black or really white. I will moderate all comments in the spirit of Romans 14.)

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Faith: A Work and a Fight

Boxing is a traditional Western combat sport.

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are saved by grace through faith, and not by works.  Nothing could be clearer in Scripture (Eph 2:8-9).  The faith that saves is a gift from God (Eph 2:8).  It is He who draws us (John 6:44), it is He who keeps us (1 Pet 1:5 NKJV), and it is He who circumcises our hearts to love Him that we may live (Deut 30:6).

And yet we are told that believing on Jesus is a work that the Father has given us to do (John 6:29), and that faith is a fight (1 Tim 6:12). 

How can that be?

I'm in need of that good fight right now.  I'm struggling with a particular temptation.  It doesn't matter what it is, and it's best if I don't tell you, because I want you to put yourself in my shoes with your own struggles, and fight the fight along with me.

If the Spirit of God does not yet reside in you, what I'm about to write does not apply.  What you need is a different, yet still miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.  I hope you'll start your journey by clicking on that link and reading more about it. 

When God brings a dead soul to life, it changes everything.  But nothing can really change until He does that work in you.

It is vital to understand that the fight of faith is not a struggle to believe out of thin air.  It is not a blind leap.  It is not closing your eyes and saying, "I do believe, I do believe, I DO believe!"  Save that nonsense for Peter Pan.

The fight of faith is a struggle to believe in what God has already revealed to you within your heart when He placed His Spirit there.  It is fought by those who are already made new from above, but are wrestling with the remaining weakness and foolishness and darkness which continue to plague us all in our mortal flesh.

How is this battle fought?

First we must understand that all sin is a failure of faith.  All wavering is a weakness of faith.

Here's where I'm weak, and where I often fail.  I'm tempted to believe that sin will give me much-needed relief.  I bet that's where your faith stumbles sometimes, too.

I can preach against my sin using Scripture (as in, "Thou shalt not…"), but that's likely to lead to one of two possible outcomes, neither of which is what I desire. 

  • I can rebel against the commandment
  • I can hold myself back from the desired behavior, but with resentment and a sense of "missing out on the best."

Both responses lack faith.  They completely miss the boat.

I want to use Scripture to preach my soul toward Christ.  I want to remind myself that at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11), that He is my Life (John 14:6, Col 3:4), that my joy is found in Him (Neh 8:10), that He is truly my deepest desire (Ps 42:1-2).  When I re-connect with these truths (which I already know to be true, because I have experienced Him), I find the strength to fight off temptation with the power of a greater desire.  And in this victory God is honored, desired, and glorified, not resented as inferior to some sin I'd really rather have.  

I don't have to make-believe.  I just need to renew my belief right now, at this moment, when my flesh is weak.

That is the good fight of faith.

Or what about this other facet of my unbelief?  I want to rationalize that my sin will just be a brief jaunt…so short it will be harmless.  How do I fight that?  By reminding myself that God's Holy Word describes sin as a snare or trap (2 Tim 2:26), and as a fiery dart (Eph 6:16).  It warns me that a momentary lapse can cost me for a lifetime (Gen 25:29-34, 2 Sam 12:10), and that God will expose everything on Judgment Day, if not before (2 Sam 12:12).  I can remind myself that dabbling in sin is like throwing rocks at a Tyrannosaurus, because I'm engaging myself in a macabre dance with powers far stronger than myself, bent on my destruction (Eph 6:12).  All of these truths are helpful, but I want to take my fight further.  Anyone, even the unsaved, can restrain themselves if they fear the consequences enough.  There is some faith in believing God's warnings, but the good fight of faith is so much more than that.

The good fight of faith always reorients us to God through Christ, and results in His honor and glory.

How do I fight this "It won't really hurt me" mentality towards sin?  By realizing that what happens to me isn't even the paramount issue.  The question is not, "What will my sin do to me?" but "What will it do to the glory of God?"  Can I claim to have true faith if I don't care about His glory?

True faith always glorifies God, but all sin belittles Him.  Do I believe He deserves to be revered as Holy, and to be publicly proclaimed as superior to sin?  Do I agree with His attitude towards sin…an attitude of hatred so severe that it led to Calvary?  If I don't take sin seriously, then what on Earth does Calvary even mean to me?  What's the basis of my Christianity if it ignores what Calvary means?  What kind of faith do I have if I want to make a pet of the viper whose head Christ has crushed?  Will I so dishonor Him as to try to waltz with His mortal enemy?

If I am not moved by such arguments, I need to do some serious examining of my faith.  I may have believed some facts about what Jesus did in history, but I cannot truly believe that He is all that He said He was, that He is the holy Son of God, and still believe that it's a trivial thing to spit in His face "just for a moment."

All of these thoughts are good, but if I seek to apply them in my flesh alone, I'll still not be fighting the good fight of faith.  And so I pray:

Lord God, in this time when I feel weak, please help me to believe what I already know to be true; to remember what You have already revealed of Yourself and Your worth and Your glory.  Help me to overcome the deceitful allurements of sin with the truth of Your superior delights.  Help me to refuse sin as only the first step of this fight, and to embrace You more tightly as the second.  Be glorified in my life today.  In Jesus' Name, Amen!

 

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Note to a Discouraged Friend

A friend has kindly given me"Ship" by marindbk permission to reproduce this note here (with personally identifying content omitted).  I'm sure there are lots of folks facing discouraging situations in this world.  If you're one of them, or know someone who is, I pray you'll find some encouragement here.

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Remember, a successful day cannot be measured by any of the gauges that the world uses. Success in God's eyes is measured in only one way...faithful dependence with love.  Even if you can't feel those things, just the stubborn act of seeking them is success. No one can prevent you from seeking Him, and He will be found by you when it's time.

(Of course you have truly found Him for salvation...but there's a day-by-day "finding" because we're all so blind!)  All of your other plans and hopes and dreams can be thwarted, but if your heart's cry is, "To whom else shall I go...You alone have the words of eternal life," then you have succeeded.

I know that you know there's nowhere else to go but to Him. And that's why I know He'll get you through.

Believe it or not, that stubborn dependence on Him, when all of life's trials scream at you to look elsewhere, will be a more powerful witness of His worth than any stroll down a spiritual "Easy Street." Demonic forces tremble at His presence, and He is tangibly present with those who depend on Him.

Seeing your dependence may be the most valuable lesson your daughter will learn in homeschool. She will feel the impact of your faith, perhaps more powerfully when it's hanging on by its fingernails than when it's resting in a hammock. She has a fight ahead of her, and it's good for her to see that God can bring someone through the tough times. She needs a God who is a mighty anchor for the weak, not just someone who cheers on the strong from the sidelines.

She'll know she can depend on Him because of what she sees in you. Right now it may be more important for her to see your dependence than to see any brilliant victory without obvious dependence. She'll see plenty of victories from you in the future (as she has seen them in the past)...but right now she needs to see that dependence is the path that will lead her there. You can show her your dependence right now with a tearful, end-of-my-rope prayer that refuses to acknowledge any other source but Him.

You have no idea how greatly you can honor Him in your weakness. But it's true. That's why Paul gloried in his weakness...because that's when God showed Himself strong. We tend to think of that "showing" in only one way...God strongly makes me a spiritual superhero despite my weakness. But that's not the only way He shows Himself strong.
He often shows Himself strong by bearing our weight...by being the very rope we're at the end of...and not letting us drop.

His "superhero" victories have their place, but they discourage many onlookers who have never experienced such things and aren't ready to believe that they're possible. But His "rope" victories... they speak to everybody. I believe He wants to speak to your whole family that way today.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A New Venture – And Why I'm Ready For It.

Ready to Fly (1) by Marcel Germain

This is mainly a theological blog, and it feels like the wrong venue for posting a whole lot about our new homeschooling adventure.  But I know that many of you are interested, so I've decided to resurrect an old blog of mine and give it a new identity.  My old "Betsy's Facebook Blog" (which really needs a new name, but I don't know if that's possible) is now going to provide updates about our homeschool.  I hope you'll bookmark it or subscribe!

It's late at night, and I have a ton of dishes to take care of, but I want to write a bit anyway about a subject that is close to my heart right now.

How do I know I'm ready to homeschool?

This isn't a question about homeschooling, but rather a question about readiness in general.  Other people may experience things differently, but I hope some of you will find my experiences helpful.

How do I know I'm ready?

  • Because I know I'm not ready.  Back before I knew my kids had special needs, I pictured myself as a homeschooling mom.  I had every intention of doing it.  The problem was, I had all the wrong attitudes and motives.  I was pretty arrogant, frankly, thinking I knew everything I needed to know, and I would be a perfect parent, and…well, I'll quit before I make anybody truly ill.  Bleh!  What a mess I would have made of it in my own strength!  Now, on the other hand, I know I can't do it, and I'm fine with that.  I know Who can do it through me, Who is leading, Who is providing, Who is my strength and joy and wisdom.  Without Him I can do nothing…but He's here!  And His command is His provision.
  • Because God really did insist on this.  There have been few times in my life when His guidance has been this clear.  Very few.  Even when the thought of homeschooling brought waves of terror, I could feel Him coming alongside with assurances.  No "pep talks," believe me.  Those come from the flesh.  This was His quiet Presence, and His calm assurance in the midst of my storm.  So perfectly clear.  To tell Him "no" would have been unthinkable.  All right, I confess, I did think about not going through with the homeschooling, but that was only when I mentally left Him out of the picture.  He wasn't willing to be left out for long, though, and whenever He tapped my shoulder (so to speak), "no" went out the window.  He's just too good, too trustworthy, too loving to refuse!
  • Because I'm no longer motivated by fear.  Back in my early days of homeschool dreaming, I was motivated by terror.  If the public schools got hold of my kids, they'd ruin them for sure!  (And of course the flipside was the same old arrogance, because I believed that if I was in charge, of course my kids would turn out as perfect angels.  HAH!)  Anyway, I'm no longer run by that fear.  The elementary schools that the kids went to were wonderful blessings from the Lord.  But even if they hadn't been, the schools still aren't in charge of my children's souls.  And neither am I.  My children's souls are completely in the hands of my sovereign God.  I am homeschooling now because I believe God has called us to do so at this time, not because I'm afraid of not doing so.  I think that's much healthier.

So you see, I'm ready for one reason, and one reason only.  I know I'm going to blow it plenty of times, I know I'm going to have times of tears and frustration, and I know I don't have what it takes.  I'm sure I'll be writing plenty of discouraged-sounding entries.  But God has willed this, and He'll see us all through it.   

What more could we possibly need?

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