Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Aroma of Life to Life

FALLn flower by ViaMoi

Once she hid, alone
Guarding a dead husk,
Hoping it still lived.
Precious, it was,
And the only one
She would ever have.

It did not respond
To her touch
Or anyone else's.
Deep inside she knew
It had no breath.
But if she admitted
That it had none,
Then she would have to admit
That neither did she.

You see
It was
Her soul.

It rattled, dryly scraping
In the slightest breeze
And she hoped those were sounds
Of life.
But the truth was a terror
Which haunted her dreams.

One more wound,
One more grief,
One more betrayal,
One more lie,
And the tiny spark of life
If there was one
Would surely ebb away.
She would become a zombie
The walking dead.

The image awakened her in a cold sweat
Night after night.

How can
A dead
Soul live?

She had no close friends.
Even her family
Was kept at bay
By her smiles which lied.
She was okay
Or at least she would be
If everyone would just
Leave her alone
To stare at her husk
And convince herself
That it lived.

People make demands.
They drain you.
I'd love to have something to give
But I only have this husk
And I will die without it.
Better to live here, alone
Than to let anyone take it from me.

A dead
Soul's better
Than none.

But there was an aroma
A scent
Which sometimes drifted into
Her loneliness
And when she smelled it
She wept
For joy.

But it didn't happen often.
What can dry husks savor?

Most of the time
Rage simmered
Against any and all
Who even dared to want
Much less need
Anything from her.

You're trying to kill me.
You will use me up
Until there's nothing left.

Then He came.

She knew He was behind
Everything that happened
In the universe He'd made.
So she hated Him
Most of all.

And yet
He brought
That scent

And on one dark night
He did the unthinkable.
He picked up the husk
And showed it to her
Forced her to see it
For what it was
For the very first time.

Ugly rot
Decaying stench
Lifeless corpse.

It lay in His hand.
A scarred hand.
And she knew she was helpless
Against Him.
He could close His fist
And it would be crushed

And yet
Her fear
Met love.

Her gaze, for once
Forsook its idol
And moved upwards
To see His face.
Pounding heart
In mortal peril
Yet felt calmed.

Though He slay me
Yet will I trust Him.

How could
She feel
This way?

She knew before she looked.
The husk lived.
She lived.
The perfume infused a soul
Which once could not draw breath.

Every whiff I sensed before
Was a miracle from His hand
I should not have been able to smell it
But He knew I needed to.

All those years
When she had thought she was
The guardian of her soul
It had been Him
All along.

Tender One
Living Water
Reviving Breath

She is safe.

Life still hurts.
But she has no more dreams
Of zombies.

Life still hurts.
But she no longer
Craves her solitude.
At least not all the time.

Life still hurts.
But life is sweet
Because she knows
How it feels to be
Without it.

Life still hurts.
But no one can take it from her
Because it rests in the hands
Of the One who will someday
Take all the hurt away.

Life still hurts.
But love grows
Where fear no longer reigns.
And it especially grows
When it senses that aroma
From the souls of others.

Precious, beloved others
Even those she's never met
Still move her heart because
They share His life.

Life still hurts.
But those who bear
His aroma
Touch her with it
And she knows
A foretaste
Of healing.

Even some of those who were
Her family by flesh and blood alone
Are now her family in the Spirit, too.
And there is joy
Even when there's heartache.

The perfume wafts
From petals crushed.
The Rose of Sharon
The Lilly of the Valley
For love's sake
Bruised for her.

For you.

Can you
Smell it
As well?

Rose_at_University_of_the_Pacific by Taylor J. Skinner


Copyright Betsy Markman, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why This Jesus?

In the last entry, “Which Jesus?” we looked at the heresy which claims that it’s the name of Jesus that matters, not His actual identity. In other words, it doesn’t matter who you believe Jesus is or was, it only matters that you believe in someone called “Jesus.”
I referenced an article which showed alarming statistics about American Christendom’s view of Jesus (including the belief that He was a sinner), and then I made the following statement:
Whenever someone claims to believe in Jesus, it might be wise to ask, “Which Jesus? Why Him?”
The previous entry then went on to address the first question. Today’s entry will look at the second.
Why Him?
"Behind Door Number Three" by Anyjazz65
Why should people believe in the Jesus of the Bible, and not the Jesus of the New Age, or the Islamic version, or the Mormon version, or the Jehovah’s Witness version? If the above-referenced Barna statistics are accurate, many of America’s self-described Christians don’t take the Bible seriously enough to even use it as their source of information about who Jesus is.
Why should people believe in our Jesus, the one the Bible teaches?
I can almost hear the reply coming back, “Because He’s the true one, that’s why!”
I know, I know, and that works just fine when you’re talking to people who are already convinced of the truth. But it falls flat on the ears of those who are not convinced. My question is on behalf of those people, the outsiders, the ones who need a good reason to believe in the true Jesus Christ. What can we offer? On what can we base our appeal?
Can we appeal to tradition, to upbringing? Do we want “insiders” to stay true to Biblical teachings just because they were raised that way? Then how do we justify asking people who were raised in other faiths to convert to ours? Clearly, if we try to convert outsiders, then we don’t really believe that being raised in a faith is a good enough reason to be loyal to it.
Do we want people to accept the truth of the Biblical account because there are so many wonderful proofs of the historical and prophetic accuracy of the Word? Well…there’s nothing wrong with winning someone’s mind with a good argument. I’m very grateful for solid Biblical apologetics. But while convincing the mind may be important and helpful, I don’t believe it is sufficient. What happens when someone comes along with a better-sounding argument? Do we want people to be tossed to and fro with every new scientific theory or religious whim that can be presented convincingly?
On what can we base our appeal for their faith? Should we fall back on the “Cover all your bases” approach to enlightened self-interest, the fire-escape theology which says, “Hey, if I’m wrong, no harm done to me, but if you’re wrong, you’re going to burn in Hell, so you might as well play it safe and…” (Here the witness usually inserts some act that he wants the other to perform, such as repeating a prayer.) We can’t appeal to true faith with such an argument, since by definition those who are using “Jesus” to cover First Base are doubtless using others to cover Second, Third, and Home. Besides, every religion out there can use the same argument right back at us. The Jehovah’s Witnesses may not have a Hell to threaten us with, but they can tell us that we’ll be annihilated and miss out on Paradise Earth if we don’t believe in their version of things. The New Ager can threaten us with a loss of pleasure and power in this life, and a less-desirable reincarnation. I can’t really imagine a weaker appeal than the “just do it to be on the safe side” approach…especially since true saving faith can’t spring from it.
Ok, so let me ask you. Why do you believe in the Jesus of the Bible?
If it’s your tradition, that’s wonderful…but is that the only reason? What if you’d been raised some other way? Would you be just as loyal to that way, because your faith is just something handed down like old clothes?
Have evidences in science or convincing religious outlines led you to believe? Great! But do you feel a sick twisting in your gut when someone makes a logically appealing argument for another path? Could you be wrong? How do you know you’ve heard the best argument out there?
Or are you just trying to do whatever you can do to buy up fire insurance for the next life? Do you have a policy with someone named “Jesus?” Is that what faith means to you? How many other policies do you have? If this is the only one, do you find yourself wistfully hoping it will do the trick for you? What’s holding you back from buying more policies elsewhere?
Is it pride? Is there something in your soul that rises up in anger if someone dares to imply that you could be wrong? Is your faith in your own inherent “rightness” more than in Christ?
Why do you believe in the Jesus of the Bible?
Are you squirming now?
Or are you smiling?
If you find yourself described in one of the “shakier” reasons for faith above, please don’t push your concerns away. They could be the best things that have ever happened to you. The Lord is calling you to seek Him, so let your response be, “Your face, Lord, I will seek (Ps. 27:8). He is wonderfully good to those who seek Him (Lam. 3:25), and He will be found by those who seek Him wholeheartedly (Jer. 29:13). Immerse yourself in His Word. Ask Him to grant you a heart that hungers and thirsts for Him, that is possessed by Him, sealed by Him as His very own. Ask Him to make you new, and to give you a heart that loves Him. If you don’t sense His answer right away, keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking (Matt. 7:7). His delays always have a good purpose, and His timing will eventually show itself beautiful (Ecc. 3:11). Hope in Him, because He will not always hide His face (Isa. 8:17). Know this: we are always seeking. Either we are seeking Him, or we are seeking idols. So no matter what, keep seeking Him!
If you were smiling through my probing questions, I know why.
You believe because of His Spirit in you. You know Him. You sense Him. You love Him. He convicts you of sin, convicts you of righteousness, and convicts you of judgment (John 16:8). He pours the love of God into your heart (Rom. 5:5). He is God’s “Seal of Ownership” on you (2 Co. 1:21-22 NIV), and He testifies to you that you belong to God (Rom. 8:16). These things aren’t mere points of doctrine to you. You know His touch.
New scientific theories, new clever-sounding arguments, new heresies cannot move you. You don’t appeal primarily to tradition, to intellectualism, to superstition, or to pride for your confidence. Those things may factor in, but they aren’t your main focus. You simply can’t help knowing the Spirit is there, just like you can’t help knowing there is air in your lungs.
You can say along with Martin Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Your feet are planted on the rock, because you can’t deny that it is under your soles. You remember how it felt to flounder on sinking sand, and you know that Jesus is the Mighty One who put you on the solid ground. Let all Hell be unleashed against you, and though your feelings may sway, and your confidence may have seasons of weakness, your overall conviction will stand firm. Why? Because you’re so strong? No, because it is God who makes us stand firm in Christ (2 Co. 1:21 NIV). You certainly do feel your own shakiness, but you also feel His omnipotence. And so you stand.
And it shows. (I’m telling you this, brother or sister, because you probably aren’t aware of how much and how often you affect others for Christ. Because it’s Him working through you, you aren’t self-conscious about it.) Others see Him in you, which is far more valuable than if they could just see you. The good works which you do are different from those untouched by the Spirit. You impact lives with something they may not even be able to name.
Help them name it. Help them name Him.
How? To go back to our previous question, to what will you appeal?
But of course that’s the wrong question, isn’t it? God forbid that we should try to manipulate others, trying to do in our flesh what only the Spirit can do. We don’t appeal to a thing, we appeal to Him. We may use whatever tools God leads us to use in any given situation, whether apologetics, or reasoning, or whatever. But if salvation is a miraculous work of the Spirit (and it is!), then we must first and foremost pray for Him to speak through us, and share Him with our lives and our words. Tell them who He really is. Tell them what He’s done for you. Tell them of a salvation that’s for here and now, not just for the future. Ask them if they have any sins that they hate, and if they’ve longed to be free. Those who are still in love with their sin will mock, but you will not have failed because of it. You will have succeeded, because in obedience to Christ you will have sown a seed that another may water. (If you lead an unrepentant person in a “prayer of salvation,” then you will have failed, because there’s no salvation without repentance.)
Others will listen to your witness, because the divine Gardener has been tilling up the soil of their hearts. Because you are speaking the Way, the Truth, and the Life to them, your words will resonate with the work that the Spirit is doing in them. You may not be saying anything fancy or impressive, but in cultivated soil the truth will take root. The Spirit will make sure it does.
Do not fret over your “inability to witness.” A witness is one who speaks of what they’ve seen, what they’ve heard, what they know. If you truly know Him, you can be His witness. If you truly love Him, others will be drawn to Him as well. If you are truly led by Him, then those who are also feeling His pull will recognize the direction you’re heading.
Do not fear, child of God. Just walk and talk in simple faith and obedience. God will use your witness in ways you may not know until you stand with Him in glory.
If the Spirit of Jesus
is shining through you,
Others will trust
in the true Jesus, too.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Which Jesus?

"Paper people" by Brokenarts

One of the blogs I follow, Challies Dot Com, pointed me to the following article. It’s a real eye-opener about the state of modern Christendom, and I hope you’ll read it. (Then come back here when you’re through.)

1 in 3 'Christians' says Jesus sinned

We talked before about what it means to believe; in other words, what saving faith is. But now, in light of the “sinful Jesus” article you just read, I must ask you, “What does it mean to believe in Jesus?

One can assume, I think, that anyone who calls himself a “Christian” would claim to believe in Jesus. It would seem, however, that whenever someone makes such a claim, it might be wise to ask, “Which Jesus? Why Him?”

Which Jesus?

Scriptures are full of references to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the benefits of believing on His name. See, for example, Acts 8:12, Acts 19:5, 1 Co. 6:11, and 1 John 3:23.

Perhaps one of the most misused references is this one:

"Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Rom. 10:13)

Is the name of Jesus some sort of incantation, a magical word that, when spoken, gives eternal life? Or does believing in the name of Jesus mean believing His identity? Does calling on His name mean calling on Him?

In many Hispanic cultures it is common for mothers to name their children Jesús. That’s perfectly fine, of course, but I don’t think anyone would argue that I could be saved by putting my faith in one of those children, even if they have the “right name.” They are a Jesus, but they are not the Jesus. And yet many seem to believe that the truth about Jesus’ identity doesn’t matter, so long as you name His name.

A very prominent evangelical leader recently prayed a globally televised prayer, watched by millions of people. He closed his prayer “In the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesús, Jesus…”

That makes my blood run cold.

I don’t have a problem with using the Hebrew name of Jesus (Yeshua), or the Spanish name (Jesús), or any other translation of the name, as long as you’re talking about the same Jesus. But when you refer to Isa, you are not speaking of the same Jesus. Isa is the Islamic version of Jesus…a merely human prophet, not the son of God. (Islam emphatically states that God has no son.) Isa did not die on a cross or anywhere else. He does not save. Isa is not God, but will lead people to believe in Allah. He is subordinate to Mohammad.

Excuse me, prominent evangelical leader? Isa changed your life?

Play all the slippery word games you want, but equating Isa with Jesus is either elevating this Islamic prophet to godhood (idolatry) or lowering Christ to a merely human level (blasphemy).

It’s not the “name”…mere letters spelled out, and spelled differently in every language. It’s the name…the identity.

Suppose I had a neighbor named Barack Obama. Suppose he asked me to pick up something at the store for him. I might go to the store and say, “I’m here in the name of Barack Obama to get a gallon of milk.” I might use that name to get special treatment, to cut ahead in line, whatever. But when people found out that the Barack Obama I was referring to was my regular old neighbor, and not the guy in the White House, they would have every reason to be furious with me.

Or suppose that same neighbor should now assume that he holds the reins of power in the nation, because his name was voted into office. Would we respect his interpretation of the election results?

We all know that we can go to Mexico and refer to George Bush as “Jorge Bush,” and as long as we’re talking about the former President of the United States, we’re talking about the same person. Names aren’t primarily about spelling and pronunciation.

Everyone knows that “name” refers to identity…until we start talking about Jesus. Then, suddenly, it’s okay to talk about a totally different person by the same name and pretend it doesn’t matter.

And 1/3 of professed “Christians” in America believe in a Jesus who is a sinner.

Can a sinner save anyone?

Who is this Jesus in whom we are to believe…the only Jesus who can save?

John 20:31 is a good place to start. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Believing in this Jesus gives life in His name.

Do you believe in the Jesus who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth (1 Pet. 2:22), who bore our sins in His own body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24), who is The Way, The Truth, The Life, and the only way to the Father (John 14:6)…is this your Jesus?

Do you believe in the Jesus who holds the keys of Hell and Death (Rev. 1:18)? Do you believe in the Jesus who is the judge of all mankind (John 5:22), who will separate the saved from the lost, will welcome the saved into Heaven, and will condemn the lost to their eternal punishment (Matt. 25:31-46)? Or does your version of Jesus take sin lightly…the very same sin that scourged and crucified Him? Is your Jesus perfectly fine with people worshiping self, and Satan, and sin? Is he perhaps a Jesus who also sinned?

Peter wanted to make sure that we knew which Jesus he preached:

let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the 'STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED BY YOU BUILDERS, WHICH HAS BECOME THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE.' Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

(Acts 4:10-12, emphasis added)

Pretty specific, wasn’t he? Jesus (Yeshua) was a very common name back then. So Peter made it clear that he meant not just any Jesus, but the one from Nazareth who was crucified and rose again. The reference to the “rejected stone” refers back to a messianic prophecy in Ps. 118:22, further specifying Jesus’ identity as the one who had been promised.

It matters which Jesus you believe in.

And listen to this one:

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

This is no “Prophet Isa,” subordinate to the prophet Mohammed!

Is the Jesus you believe in the same one? The one who will be highly exalted by every creature in Heaven and earth and everywhere else? Here’s a hint…if you highly exalt Him above everything else and look forward to the day when every tongue confesses Him, if you long to see Him honored even now, if you so honor Him with your worshipful, obedient life, then yes, you probably believe in this Jesus. If you pay lip service to such a Jesus, but your life reveals that you think far less of Him, then the Jesus you truly believe in is not this same Jesus.

(Allow me to clarify here…I’m not talking about being sinless or perfected. That won’t happen to any of us until Heaven. I’m not asking about your performance so much as the desire of your heart and the direction in which you’re growing. What do you truly believe Jesus has a right to expect from you? That will reveal who you believe He is.)

If you believe in a different Jesus, is it not because you would prefer a different Jesus? Have you rejected the Jesus of Scripture in favor of an idol to whom you’ve given your heart?

Oh, I could go on and on, but I think it’s time to wrap up with one slightly different but related point.

Do you want further proof that the name of Jesus cannot be used as an incantation to save you from the Evil One? Listen to this.

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches." Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?" Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. (Act 19:13-19)

The name of Jesus was used as an incantation by those who did not know Him, love Him, or belong to Him, and it backfired. As a result, the name of Jesus was not denigrated, but was rather glorified. Why is that? Hadn’t it failed?

No, turning the holy name of Jesus into an incantation blasphemes it.

The true faith in Jesus which resulted from this event was marked by the fear of God, confession of sin, and a radical turning away from that sin. Those are the things which glorify Him.

There is salvation in His name alone…but only if we’re using His name honestly, to refer to Him. Our faith must be in Him!

(Next time we’ll look at the 2nd question: “Why Him?”)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Morrison on Ps. 62:1

I've been struggling with discouragement this morning. To be honest, it's been building up for a couple of days, partly as a result of worldwide and national events, and partly because of more personal matters. But it seems to have settled on my shoulders most heavily today.

The Lord knew just what I needed to read in my daily devotions, and I thought I'd pull out some excerpts to share with you.  This is a synopsis of a devotional by G. H. Morrison.


Leaving It There
"Leave it all quietly to God, my soul." Ps. 62:1 (Moffatt translation)

Much of the joy of childhood springs from the trustful relationship to somebody who says, "Leave all that to me."Christ_in_Gethsemane (Wikipedia)

We are not here just to understand. Now we know in part and see in part. We are here to glorify God by trusting Him even when we do not understand. And such trusting carries its own evidences in the rich inward peace it brings as if our life were in tune with the Eternal. "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me.(John 4:34)" His meat was neither to probe nor to expostulate. When the cup was bitter, when the cross was heaviest, when the lights were darkened in the Garden of Gethsemane—He left it all quietly to God.

The opposite of faith is never reason; the opposite of faith is sight.  Someday we shall arrive and understand. We shall see His face and His name shall be on our foreheads—it shall be written out in the region of the brain. Meantime we have a life to live, a heart to cultivate, a service to perform. "What is that to thee—follow thou me."

Again, we are to remember the psalmist's counsel in the hours when we have done our best—and failed. The higher the service that we seek to render, the more are we haunted by the sense of failure. The man who has no goal doesn't fear failure. But in higher ministries, when soul is touching soul and we are working not in things, but lives, how haunting is the sense of failure. Every Sunday School teacher knows it well, every mother with her growing family, and every preacher of the Gospel. So little accomplished, so little difference made, so little fruit for the laborious toil, although the seed sown may have been steeped in prayer. Well then, are we to give up in discouragement? Are we to leave the battle line and be spectators because we hear no cheering sound of triumph? My dear reader, there is a better way, and it is just the old way of this gallant psalmist—"Leave it all quietly to God, my soul."

Often when we fail, we are succeeding. We are doing more than we have dreamed. We are helping with our rough, coarse hands because Another with a pierced hand is there. Do your best, and do it for His sake. Keep on doing it and don't resign. And as to fruitage and harvest and success—leave it all quietly to Him.

Friday, January 23, 2009

When Jesus Turns Off The Lights…

When Jesus turns off the lights, the darkness is palpable.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
Rev 2:5

What is the lampstand?Candlestick

According to Rev. 1:20, the seven lampstands in John's vision are the seven churches to which Jesus was about to speak. One of those churches was the church at Ephesus, to which He gave the warning above.

If the lampstand is a church, then what does Jesus mean when He says, "I will remove your lampstand?"

It's a troubling warning, to say the least. 

What is a lampstand's job? Is it the light, or does it hold the light? Does it create light, or just display it?

What happens when the lampstand is removed?

Some take it to mean that the church will lose its influence in the world. And I'm sure that's part of the truth. But I'm not convinced it's the whole truth. Because you see, no one lights a candle and puts it under a basket.

Nor do they light a lamp
and put it under a basket,
but on a lampstand,
and it gives light to all
who are in the house.
Mat 5:15

I don’t see Jesus taking away a glowing candle and hiding it under a cover. If He takes away the lampstand, it's because its fire has gone out.

The lampstand isn't merely unable to give away light. No, the truth is far more desolate than that.

It no longer has any light!

If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Mat 6:23

America was once a lampstand. It may not have been a “church,” and may not have appeared in John's vision, but nevertheless, it held up the light for a time.

Watching The Truth Project last night, I heard once again the thundering voices of our nation's founding fathers, proclaiming unashamedly the name of Christ, honoring Him, giving their allegiance to Him, and warning that our nation and its Constitution would collapse if the nation abandoned Christ.  Yes, America once held up the light…imperfectly, because the men who held it were flawed.  As are we.  And what is that light which our nation once displayed?

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."
John 8:12

As long as I am in the world,
I am the light of the world."
(Jesus) John 9:5

"You are the light of the world."
(Jesus to the disciples) Mat 5:14

Jesus is the light of the world because He is light. (1 John 1:5)

We are the light of the world because we are the lampstands that hold His light.

Do we hold His light because we've adopted a creed? Because we've prayed a prayer? Because we attend church on Sundays and do good deeds?

No?  Then how do we get this light?

For it is the God who commanded
light to shine out of darkness,
who has shone in our hearts
to give the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face
of Jesus Christ.
2Co 4:6

God shines the light in our hearts! He is the one who gives it. And He is the one who can take it away. (See Job 1:21.)

According to the passage in 2 Corinthians, the light we display is the knowledge of the glory of God...the awesome, holy, pure, incorruptible, unbearably bright Shekinah glory of God...all found in one place and one place alone…in the face of Jesus Christ.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
Rev 2:5

Does this nation even have its lampstand any more?  I have grave doubts.

True, there are lights here. There are Christians who carry the light because they behold the glory of God in the face of Christ, and their own faces glow in response. But the world around them still sits in darkness, untouched by their shining.

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
2Co 4:3-4

And why did God allow Satan, the god of this age, to do this?

And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
John 3:19


they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
2Th 2:10-12

For those who love darkness, there is a judgment. In poetic justice, God hands down a sentence of perpetual darkness which cannot see even those few shining candles which remain.  Lovers of darkness are blinded.

So where is hope?

  • We must fight for just laws, but laws never cured blindness.
  • We must hate sin and be angry about it, but hatred and anger never restored sight.
  • We must make sure our own lights burn brightly, but no lamp ever made blind eyes see.

Where is hope?  It is in the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who alone can shine into hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  While we fight for just laws, while we hate sin, while we seek to hold up the light, are we beholding His glory in that precious Face?

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2Co 3:18

If our main focus is on our political agendas, we will not be gazing on His face.  If our vision narrows to see only the sin of our neighbor, how will we see Christ?  If the source of our light is not our transformation into His image, then whose light are we really shining?

Why has America lost its light?  It’s not because darkness has overcome it.  Light always triumphs over darkness.  So why is darkness now prevailing?

Have we, as individual believers, lost our light?  Are we trying to replace His light in us by kindling lights of our own?  If so, let us heed this grave warning:

"Who among you fears the LORD? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely upon his God.

Look, all you who kindle a fire, who encircle yourselves with sparks: walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled— this you shall have from My hand: you shall lie down in torment.
Isa 50:10-11

Beware of self-made lights!

Christians, what is our focus?  Where does our fire come from?  From self, or from gazing on the face of God?

  • If we are not God-centered, there will be no transformation in us. 
  • If we are not God-centered, our hatred and anger towards sin will degenerate into hatred and anger towards our neighbor. 
  • If we are not God-centered, our activism will be ultimately self-centered
  • If we are not God-centered, we will spend far more time trying to change externals by force of will and law than we will spend on our knees pleading with God to grant repentance to those who oppose us (2 Tim. 2:25), and asking Him to shine in their hearts as He has shone in ours.

Father, please grant us repentance, turn our hearts back to You, and enable our lights to shine brightly once more as we gaze upon You.  And then, dear Lord, please open the blinded eyes of those around us, and help them see not us, but You.  You are the Light, and all our lampstands are in Your hands.  Kindle us, Oh Lord, and place us on a hill where we cannot be hidden…not for our glory, but for Yours alone.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


Photo from YlvaS via Flicker

Monday, January 19, 2009

Who Can Be Sent?

Monday Manna
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:
"Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?"
Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."
(Isa 6:8)

What a glorious chapter Isaiah 6 is! Can you imagine Isaiah's frustration with trying to boil Photo of the Book of Isaiah page of the BibleImage via Wikipediadown that awesome experience into a few words? Moved by the Spirit, he said exactly what he was supposed to say, but he was limited by the finiteness of language. I'm sure he wished there were some way to explain the glory, the awe, the terror, the majesty. But the Spirit led him to write what he wrote, and so we do well to examine what God felt was important enough to tell us.

He tells us many things in this chapter, but one of the most important is the answer to our title question.

Who can be sent?

I didn't ask, "Who can go?" "Going" is simply a matter of deciding on a direction and heading that way. Anyone can do that.

Not just anyone can be sent.

So who can be sent by Almighty God?

First and foremost, it must be someone who has had a genuine, miraculous encounter with the Holy One. Isaiah certainly did (Isa. 6:1-5). So did Moses (Ex. 3:2-4), and so did Paul (Acts 9:3-6). Before God sent them, He showed them Himself.

"But wait," you may protest. "Are you saying I can't be sent by God without a miraculous encounter like that?"

Well yes, and no. You can't be sent without a miraculous encounter. But it doesn't have to be "like that."

It can't be said often enough. Salvation is a miraculous encounter with God. It is more than just a miraculous encounter (for example, Balaam had miraculous encounters without ever being saved), but it cannot be less than that.

You probably didn't see God face-to-face when you were first saved, but the eyes of your heart were miraculously opened to see Him as never before. You probably didn't feel the pillars of the temple shake, but something in your soul trembled at His presence. You probably were not struck with physical blindness, but you must have been struck with how spiritually blind you had been before He gave you sight. You who were spiritually dead felt life coursing into the veins of your soul when you first met Him and were saved by Him. You were made new. That's nothing short of a miracle. Without such a miraculous rebirth, there is no salvation.

Christendom is full of false prophets who come in His Name, who make the best-seller lists, get their own TV shows, and rub elbows with the world's political elite...but whom He never sent (Jer. 14:14).

Who can be sent? Those who have had a miraculous encounter with God, and who have been devastated by an awareness of their own sin (Isa. 6:5). Dear discouraged brother or sister, do you feel that your sin disqualifies you from service? If you are one who is growing to hate your sin, growing to love God, growing in holiness, then you most certainly can be sent. There are only three kinds of awareness of sin, you know.
  • Minimizing how evil it is and cherishing it
  • Relishing how evil it is and cherishing it
  • Understanding how evil it is and hating it.
Only a miraculous, saving encounter with God can produce the third option. Those who see their sin for what it is and repent of it can be sent...even though they still are imperfect. They just keep hating their sin, and keep repenting of it as they go. But there's more to this "sending" than that.

Who can be sent? Those who have a miraculous encounter with God, who are devastated by their sinfulness, and who are cleansed by Him (Isa. 6:6-7).

We aren't cleansed by "forgiving ourselves for our own mistakes." When I find a dirty cup, and my child needs a drink, I cleanse that cup thoroughly before sending it on its drink-giving errand. I don't trust it to clean itself.

God, through Christ, does the same with His chosen vessels. No, he doesn't generally use burning coals. Such symbolism has its place, but it's nothing more than a metaphor for what has to happen within. Our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29), and He refines us as in a furnace, purifying us for His glory (Isa. 48:10-11).

Lastly, those who can be sent are those who present themselves with no strings attached. To be sent is to go because of the command or bidding of someone else. It is not self-directed. It's not based on mood or personal desire (though mood and desire may agree wholeheartedly in many cases). Isaiah offered himself in Isa. 6:8, but didn't learn the difficult and painful nature of his mission until Isa. 6:9-10, or how long his service would last until Isa. 6:11.
Those who only want to "go"
will come to God with their own agendas
and expect His blessing.

Those who want to be sent
leave their agendas behind
and actually receive His blessing.
Have you experienced His miraculous saving work? Do you know what it is to be devastated by your sinfulness and overwhelmed by His forgiving grace? Do you hate sin and repent of it with loathing? Has He cleansed you so that you're new (though still not perfected)? Are you committed to serving Him on His agenda rather than your own?

Then, with Isaiah you may say, "Here am I, send me."
  • Not because of any self-confidence, or your ability to make yourself popular with the masses. The false prophets have plenty of that (Luke 6:26).
  • Not because of your qualifications. God chooses foolish, despicable nothings to do His work (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
  • Not because of your achievements, but because of His purpose and His grace which He has given to us (2 Tim. 1:9).
  • Not because of your plans for being used. Remember Moses' plan for serving God and freeing His people? He thought he'd do it by murdering Egyptians who mistreated Jews. God had much more supernatural plans for him than that.

It is purely God's work in you which makes you usable.

You may object, "I'm saved, but I've never been sent anywhere."

Haven't you? Whom did God send to your workplace this morning in your shoes?

It isn't only the flashy, history-making assignments which come from God. If you walk by the Spirit of God, does He not send you? Whether you "feel sent" or not, every task that your hand finds to do is one that He sent you to do. Living in the light of that truth is how we obey the commands in Col. 3:17 and Col. 3:23-24.

It's easy for me to raise my hand and say, "Send me!" when He asks for someone to write for Him. I'm grateful to have a tiny corner of the blogosphere in which I can be used for His glory. But it's not so easy to walk into a piled-high laundry room with a "send me" attitude. It's not so easy to approach the kitchen saying, "Here am I, Lord. Your servant."

I guess I need more of that awesome reverence for God, more hatred for sin, more cleansing from Him, more abandonment of my own agendas in favor of His. I'm guessing maybe some of you do, too.

Oh Father, grant us the fear of the Lord as You promised in Jer. 32:40. Grant us repentance (2 Tim. 2:25) and a holy hatred for sin. Cleanse us and make us fit for Your use, enabling us to gratefully accept whatever roles you give us. Then, no matter how unqualified we are in our flesh, we will still be able to say, "Here am I, send me!"

This week's Monday Manna is being hosted by Joanne Sher at "An Open Book." Please drop by there to see more insights on this passage

Friday, January 16, 2009

Morrison on Psalm 19:12

Morrison on Psalm 19:12

"Think of the way in which children grow. How silently they creep towards their heritage! It newborn feet - _MG_4072Image by sean dreilinger via Flickrseems but yesterday since they were little infants and busied with the first stammerings of speech. And today they are fighting their battle with the world, and the mystery of life has touched them, and they are launched into the boundless deep—and still are children in their mother's eyes. We are all rocked to sleep by what is gradual. We let ourselves be tricked by what is silent. We miss the message of God times without number because He whispers in a still small voice.

And just as we are often dulled towards God, so are we dulled to our besetting sin, for it has grown so gradually and strengthened with our strength and never startled us with any uproar. It is easy to see the sins of other people, because in a moment they are displayed to us. We see them not in the slowness of their growth, but in the sudden flash of their fulfillment. We see them as we see some neighbor's child whom for a year or two we have not set our eyes on, and then we say, "How the child has grown; I never would have recognized him!" That is how we can detect our neighbor's sin. That is how we fail to see our own. It has grown with us and lived in the same home and sat at the same table all the time—until today we are living such a life as God knows we never meant to live, and tampering with conscience and with purity as God knows we never dreamed to do. Had the thing leapt on us like a wild animal we should have aroused our manhood to resist it.

But the most deadly evils do not leap on us. Cat stalking a preyImage via WikipediaThe most deadly evils creep on us. And it is that slow and silent growth of all that at last is mighty to confound which lulls men into the strange security which always is the associate of self-ignorance."

G. H. Morrison (1866-1928)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Current Events: The Pre-Inaugural Prayer

This week I've decided to participate in the Current Events Wrap-Up Meme, which unites Christian bloggers in discussing, as you probably guessed, current events. Now, I'm not typically a "Current events" type of blogger, but something I read on the Christian Worldview Times really stuck in my throat. I quote from that article:Inauguration of President-Elect ObamaImage by ajagendorf25 via Flickr
President-elect Obama has asked V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, to deliver the invocation at a pre-inaugural event this Sunday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Bishop Robinson said he had been reading inaugural prayers through history and was "horrified" at how "specifically and aggressively Christian they were." He states, "I am very clear that this will not be a Christian prayer, and I won't be quoting Scripture. The texts I hold as sacred are not sacred texts for all Americans, and I want all people to feel that this is their prayer."

Robinson said he might address the prayer to "the god of our many understandings," language that he said he learned from the 12-Step program he attended for his alcohol addiction.
And, once again, I find myself grieving for our once-great nation.

Remember that wonderful audio sermon I linked to yesterday? In it, Paul Washer points out that most people are not victims of false preachers/teachers. The word "victim" implies passivity and innocence. No, the Bible doesn't say that in the last days, people would love to have sound doctrine, but they simply can't find anyone to teach them truth. Instead it says that people will not endure sound doctrine, and will "heap up for themselves teachers" who will tell them the lies they want to hear (2 Tim 4:3).

The reason we have so many false gospels, so many false prophets, so many false teachers is because people will not endure the truth. There may be some "victims" of false teachers, but most who flock after the wrong shepherds are getting exactly what they want. And when people hate and reject the One True God long enough, He pronounces on them a frightening judgment; namely, He abandons them to their idolatry (Eze. 20:39), and lets them destroy themselves with it (Rom. 1:28, best read in its entire context).

And so, in this once-Christian nation, we have the Pre-inaugural prayer given by someone who is "horrified" by the Christianity in his predecessors' prayers.

Horrified by the Christianity!

On the 20th, I hope Christians everywhere will join in fasting (if possible) and praying for our lost nation. As I've said before, our new President isn't the problem. This Bishop isn't the problem. The problem is the corrupt, godless nation who wants to be led by such men.

God have mercy on us!

This week's Current Events Wrap-Up Meme is being hosted by Julie at The Surrendered Scribe. Drop by there for links to other entries based on today's news.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Sermon You Must Hear

I know that 70 minutes is a long time...a long time to waste. It may seem to fly by if we're enjoying our prodigal use of it, but we're accountable to God for how we spent it. Someday we'll realize just what an awesome gift every moment has been, and we'll regret far too much with regard to our investment of it. At least, I know I will.

70 minutes is not a long time to spend wisely. And I have a heartfelt recommendation for how to spend 70 minutes very, very well.

Listen to this sermon.

Paul Washer is a rare sort of preacher, a modern-day Jeremiah. A weeping prophet who thunders. A thundering prophet who weeps. (I use the term "prophet" to refer to one who speaks the word of God boldly and with integrity, not to one who tells, or claims to tell, the future.) Brother Paul will not tickle your ears. He will not mince words. He loves the Lord and people too much. And of all the wonderful sermons I've heard him preach on the Internet, this has to be the best. Please, please take the time...make the time to listen to it prayerfully.

His burden in this sermon (and others) is to reclaim the Gospel of Christ, wrenching it out of the hands of prosperity preachers and easy-believists who have corrupted it, and showing its rightful place as a masterpiece of life-changing grace. I urge you to listen, to let the purity of Christ's gospel light a fire in your soul. Allow it to ignite more passion for the God who really saves, and saves to the uttermost, those who come to Him in repentance and true faith.

And finally, please remember to pray for all those who, like Pastor Washer, hold fast to the integrity of the Word in these perilous times when men will not endure sound doctrine. They will all come under attack from the Evil One, and they're only human. So pray for them, that God would keep them pure for His Name's sake.

Please let me know how this sermon touched your heart by leaving a comment below.

(Photo of Paul Washer copied from I trust that they will not mind its use in the promotion of this audio sermon.)
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Friday, January 9, 2009

Guest Blogger - A Conversation With Omnipotence

This is a guest entry written by my brother, Rex Lewis. He and I have shared some interesting parallels in our lives, experiencing difficulties which God used to draw us to seek God-centeredness from the midst of our brokenness. I hope you will be blessed as you read one man's experience of the Holy Spirit's touch.

A Conversation With Omnipotence

It was a gorgeous December day in Florida. The bright sun, low humidity and mild temperature made it a perfect day for a stroll down by the water during my afternoon break at work. As often happens, my mind went to prayer as I strolled. The past few years have included one long, fiery trial that has led to many occasions when I walked along that seawall crying out to God for help and hearing nothing but God’s silence echo back. But this day would be different. Memorial Causeway Bridge looking left from und...Image via Wikipedia

As I headed down the hill toward the waterfront, a tsunami washed over my soul; a tsunami of disappointment at the lack of progress in my spiritual life. In the froth of that wave I saw the fear of man that so often paralyzes me, the all-too-present flesh that constantly haunts me and the all-too-halfhearted battle that I wage against it so much of the time. I knew that God saw them too, but all I could do was pick up a few examples, hold them up for His view and ask why.

He responded.

My heart both leapt and sank. It leapt because He had responded.

He had responded.

He had responded.

He had responded!

I was so accustomed to His silence that I was startled but encouraged. But my heart also sank because, rather than answer the question, He only made matters worse. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before; just a verse of Scripture. But it was so obvious to me that He had spoken it that the effect was chilling.

“Pursue … holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:” (Hebrews 12:14 NKJV)

“Oh, Lord,” my soul cried, “You have placed within me a hunger for that holiness. But how does it come to be fleshed out? I live in the constant fear of lapsing back into self effort.”

He spoke a second time.

“Sound familiar? ‘For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.’” (Romans 7:18 NKJV)

Again, the effect was not from any newness of the words. Rather, it came from the reality that He was saying them at that moment – to me. Like Abraham shortly before the destruction of Sodom, I was moved to phrase myself carefully. This may be holy ground, but it is also perilous.

“‘Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak:’ (Genesis 18:30a NKJV) How does this desire get fulfilled?”

Again, He responded.

“… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” (Philippians 2:12 NKJV)

Both the excitement and the fear were growing. This was a conversation, not just a comment. Yet how was I to apply that without self effort? I dared to ask and His answer, for the first time, included more than just Scripture quotation. It also elaborated

“‘For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.’ (Philippians 2:13 NKJV). I put the will in you. You take that will and work at bringing it to the outside. That’s pursuing holiness. Just realize that, whenever there is real success, it will be I who put the ‘doing’ in you as it has pleased Me.”

“Will you?”

“He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

As I said earlier. There was nothing really new in what was said. I have known all those verses for years. But this time they came in power. Power that alarmed me with its seriousness and calmed me with its gentle assurance. He is there. He is working. He will succeed. Praise His Holy Name!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why Should Everything Revolve Around God?

We naturally hate others.

We find it easy to despise those who arrange their lives around demanding attention, admiration, and praise (especially since they're pulling away some of the attention that we're sure is rightfully ours)!

We pity those whose souls are so full of leaks that they require constant re-inflation by everyone around them (especially since we flatter ourselves that we can stand on our own merits without anyone propping us up).

And yet we read in our Bibles about a God who demands worship.

Is God's soul full of leaks? The omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, all-glorious, eternal Holy One...does He need His ego propped up by measly little creatures like us?

Of course not! God forbid that we should think of Him that way!

Many would argue that God's self-sufficiency makes it impossible for Him to be God-centered, or for Him to want us to revolve around Him. And to the extent that we hold this view, we will bristle at what seems to be brazen egotism in some of God's statements (see, for example, Ex. 20:3, Ps. 2:12, Isa. 66:23, Rom. 9:17).

Those who make no pretense of loving Him will openly despise such statements. Those who pretend to love Him will either avoid such statements, or apologetically explain them away. Much of the modern Western "church" does precisely that. "Let's protect God from His embarrassing egotism, and protect people from being offended by it. Don't preach those passages. Make services man-centered, because nothing else is truly 'relevant.'"

How tragic! In the eyes of such people, the Emperor truly has no clothes. He parades around the universe, embarrassing Himself with His delusions and demanding admiration from others. The church's job is to cover up His shameful nakedness with a cloak of decent man-centeredness. How else could He possibly be acceptable?

Ironically, those who claim that they defend God's honor by protecting Him from His own God-centeredness find themselves in the unenviable position of dishonoring Him. They say that they reject God-centeredness because it is insulting to Him to "prop Him up with human ego strokes." But they end up insulting Him by holding up human-stitched figleaf garments in front of Him so He won't shame Himself with his embarrassing Napoleon complex, His pompous nakedness (as they see it).

They avoid those Bible verses at all costs!

God, have mercy!

Why is our self-centeredness a weakness? Because we aren't anything special, and we delude ourselves if we think we are.

Why is God's God-centeredness a weakness in our eyes? Go on...fill in the blanks. If we believe that it's wrong for God to be God-centered, then we really believe that He isn't worth the honor. He's just deluding Himself. There's really something greater He ought to bow to. (And what, may I ask, do we think that might be?)

"But wait," you may protest. "Even greatness should be humble. Just because someone is great at what they do, it doesn't mean they should lord it over others."

I couldn't agree more! Behind every great man are the parts he doesn't want seen. The great athlete may have a drug problem. The great preacher may hire prostitutes in the dark of the night. The great king may commit adultery and murder. Great accomplishments are not the same as greatness. No matter what we do, it doesn't change what we are. We are mere mortals. We are walking dirt, given life by the breath of God, and we will collapse back into dust the moment His breath is called back to Him. This is the basis of our humility. To the extent that we lack humility, to that same extent we have forgotten what we're made of.

"Jesus was humble," you remind me. Oh indeed He was (and is)! But I must ask you, what is the basis of His humility?

Go back and ponder that question. What is the basis of Jesus' humility?

Is He humble for the same reasons that we are? Behind all of His great accomplishments, is there some hidden shame? Is there some lack of greatness anywhere in Him?

Listen to the testimony of Job, who spoke to God face-to-face, hearing an impressive litany of God's accomplishments. Did Job see any lack in who God is compared to what God has done?
"I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees You.
Therefore I abhor myself,
and repent in dust and ashes."
(Job 42:5-6)
What he heard impressed him, but it was what he saw that humbled him. God's essence overwhelmed him.

And yet, in Christ, God proved Himself humble. His humility has a perfection that we will never fathom, precisely because His humility springs from flawlessness.

In the same way, His God-centeredness has perfections that we cannot fathom. Do not pollute His God-centeredness by comparing it with human ego! There is no comparison.

God is perfect in all His being, and that includes perfection in the truth. He cannot lie. He hates lies. And therefore, He cannot deny Himself. If He is the greatest, He will not lie about it. If He is worthy of an eternity of worship, He will not pretend otherwise.

Oh you who object to His God-centeredness, examine your heart! Is there not something in you which cries, "Why should everything revolve around Him...instead of me!"

Who is proud...the Perfect One who recognizes the truth about His own perfection, or the sinful wretch who wants to usurp glory for himself?

Why should everything revolve around Him instead of us? It would take an eternity to list the reasons. And there is no greater blessing He could offer us than an eternity spent enjoying those perfections as we praise Him. Yes, he demands worship, because it is utterly right that we should worship Him, and God demands what is right. But He has designed us to enjoy that find pleasure in it beyond anything we can fathom, so that His glory is our endless delight. He will not spend eternity yanking unwilling praise from unappreciative lips! He will find great pleasure in giving us the greatest gift he ever could give us, just as any loving parent enjoys seeing his children appreciating what he has given. And if the greatest gift He can give us is Himself, is it anything but kindness on His part that He gives it? Is it wrong of Him to enjoy our enjoyment of Him?

And yet He is humble. Look at Him, taking on human flesh, submitting to human spittle on his beard, to human insults and beatings, to the cross. If it is humility you long for, can you see that His is a humility greater than any human can ever show...and it is greater because it springs from One who has no imperfections? Can you see that His humility will satisfy your soul, as will all of His other perfections, in a way that no human humility ever will?

Is not His humility made far more glorious than ours, simply by virtue of the fact that He alone has the right to be proud?

What do you think He should do, if not giving us Himself as our greatest treasure? Would you have him substitute some other pleasure and give that lesser thing to us forever? What would you prefer to worship in the ages to come? If you reject Him as worthy of it, you must plan to put something...or His place. What would that be? Who would that be? Be honest.

Let us always be ashamed of our own pride, because it is undeserved. But if we are ever ashamed of His honest assessment of His own perfection, then it is because we believe it to be undeserved as well, and because we have forgotten His humility.
But without faith it is impossible to please Him,
for he who comes to God must believe that He is,
and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Heb 11:6

He who comes to God must believe that He is...that He is what? My friend, is it not required of us that we believe Him to be what He says He is?

Only those who diligently seek Him will be rewarded. And why would we diligently seek Him, if we did not believe Him to be the greatest thing we could ever find?

In short, isn't God-centered faith required?

If your soul protests, why does it do so? What sort of faith do you think is better? Why is it better?

He does not need our measly praise. Nor does He need our measly protection. He needs nothing from us at all. And yet, because of a love that surpasses our comprehension, He has created us to enjoy Him ecstatically forever. Those who want to do so are welcome to do so. Those whose pride recoils in horror from such a prospect will not be required to do so. They will instead be granted an eternity of His absence, and they will find His absence to be Hell. Literally.

Do not fear being God-centered. Do not despise God's God-centeredness.

He is clothed, not with removable rags, but with His own unimpeachable glory. Throw away those fig leaves you've sewn together for Him.

The Emperor has more clothes than we can possibly imagine.

Do you look forward to gazing upon Him forever?

(Photo from Stock.xchng by Brunatka)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Demon Faith vs. Saving Faith

In my last entry I offered the following challenge:

Think deeply about the following challenge question:Taken by Apollo 8 crewmember Bill Anders on De...Image via Wikipedia
How does my faith differ from the faith of demons?
(James 2:19)
Seriously, make a list. Write it down. What do the demons believe? Keep in mind that the demons have known God all of their lives, they have always seen Him with their eyes, they have witnessed every work He's ever done. Everything you know, they know, and much more. They have knowledge and belief, but not saving faith.

What do you have that they don't have? What is your faith that theirs isn't? Write it down. Seriously. Do it.

I covered this topic a little bit in November, 2008 (See "Reasonable Sacrifice?"). But I thought for the sake of continuity, it wouldn't hurt to revisit the ideas and perhaps add to them a bit, especially for those who may not have read that earlier entry. So here goes.

How does my faith differ from demonic faith?
  • Demonic faith knows that God is holy, and hates His holiness. It would love to see Him corrupted if possible. A human with such faith refuses to believe that God hates least not his sin. Or, he knows that God's holy standard condemns him, and he shakes his fist in response. He either refuses to obey, or he obeys with gritted teeth.
  • Saving faith knows that God is holy, and treasures that holiness. It rejoices in the fact that He cannot be corrupted. A human with this faith obeys because he loves God's goodness and rightness. When he disobeys (and he sometimes will, because he's not yet perfect) he grieves and repents, grateful for the forgiveness he receives. And just as anyone naturally gravitates toward what he loves, this person will naturally become more obedient.

  • Demonic faith knows that God is completely in charge, and it hates that fact. It does everything in its power to usurp His authority, ignore it, or rebel against it. A human with such faith will insist that humanity and human desires should be the center of the universe. His religion, if he has any, will be completely man-centered. He will reject the authority of Scripture, demand pleasure, freedom and rights at all times, and will only respect a god who agrees with man's preeminence. He may be totally self-centered, or may be a philanthropist serving humans other than himself, or anything in between. But God will not have preeminence. Humans (self or others) always come in first.
  • Saving faith knows that God is completely in charge, and wouldn't have it any other way. It trusts His power and has no confidence in the flesh. While it still isn't perfect, it grows increasingly obedient because of its trust in God's perfect knowledge, love and will. A human with such faith develops increasing peace, joy, and confidence because the burden of responsibility rests squarely where it ought to rest...on God. He takes Christ's yoke (he's not indolent), but he is free to serve unselfishly because he serves God first, and takes God's love to others.

  • Demonic faith must obey because it has no choice, but it gnashes its teeth and hates obedience. A human with such faith may be very religious; a strict legalist, in fact. But he wishes there were no such thing as this demanding God, and he casts a longing eye at every debauched sinner. "There, but for the severity of God, go I," he thinks, envying those who have it better because they are not enslaved by Christianity. He isn't even sure he'll like Heaven. (Without enjoying anyone else's sin vicariously like he gets to do on Earth, won't Heaven be boring?) But he figures he'll have to put up with God and His ways in order to avoid Hell.
  • Saving faith obeys willingly, trustingly, and even joyfully (not perfectly, but increasingly as time goes by). A human with such faith looks at the lost and shudders...not with pride, but with the certain knowledge that they are missing out on the best in this life, not just for eternity. He shudders, too, because he knows who he was when he was lost, and that he could so easily fall back into that life, but for the grace of God. He sees the chains of bondage to sin, and yearns to see the lost liberated as he has been. And his obedience does feel like liberty, because he's free to be the new creation that God made him to be.

  • Demonic faith may acknowledge that God's way is the only way, but it wishes for a different one. A human with such faith will trust in Jesus as a way, but not as the way. His thoughts of salvation center around the mercy he feels that humanity deserves, and not about the glory due to the Holy One.
  • Saving faith not only agrees that Jesus is the only way, but also sees how beautiful and right that is. It becomes jealous for God's glory with a holy jealousy. A human with such faith will read the Bible as a God-centered book, and will increasingly live a God-centered life, intent upon glorifying God so that others will see His unique worth. They will have a growing desire to see others worship God as God deserves, knowing full well that this will also be the only way that humans will ever find true joy.

  • Demonic faith depends on itself. It cannot depend on God for anything...not for joy, for pleasure, for salvation, for life, for death, or anything else. A human with such faith wants no savior, or at least will accept only a partial one. He adds his own works to Christ's, or else depends on his own works entirely. While he may decide to do something he calls "trusting Christ" for what happens after death, he cannot trust for what happens in this life. He trusts his own schemes for pleasure, his own plans for profit, his own ideas of what is best for himself on this earth.
  • Saving faith refuses to trust self for anything. It thanks, praises, and glorifies God because it has found Him to be the true source of all that it needs. A human with such faith recognizes his own incredible unworthiness, wouldn't dream of the possibility of saving himself, and will grow ever more certain that Christ is the fountain of everything he needs, of every delight he seeks.

To sum it up, demonic faith knows everything about God, and hates everything it knows. Saving faith knows less about God, but loves everything it knows and wants to know more.

Do you see here that I'm not talking about perfection? The one with demonic faith and the one with saving faith will still sin. But there will be an ever-growing difference between the two, because they revolve around different centers. They may wobble a bit in their individual orbits, sometimes moving a bit further out or in, but their focal point never changes. An immature Christian may only see God more distantly than a mature one, but what he sees will draw him like gravity. Love will pull him closer, and will cleanse him and sanctify him as he goes. He doesn't become sinless, but he sins less and less.
He will increasingly hate the sin
that offends the God
he increasingly loves.

A non-Christian, his heart deadened by sin, will see nothing of the true God at all, because what he does see of God repels him, and he covers his eyes. He's committed to his center of gravity, and nothing but a miracle from God will change that. The closer his love pulls him towards his godless center (self), the more he will hate the God who offends the sins he loves.

What's your center of gravity?

Yes, you may wobble. Yes, you see through a glass, dimly. Yes, you stumble sometimes. But if you could have everything you want at this very moment, would your heart leap after the things of the flesh, or would it leap for God? If you could be freed from God, freed from Christ, and still avoid Hell, would that sound like a bargain to you? Do you think Heaven would be a great place to spend eternity even if Christ were not there...if it were only a place of endless fleshly pleasure? Or have you tasted and seen that the Lord is good...all the good you want, all the good you need? Are you just longing to be freed from this body of sin so you can enjoy Him forever? Would Heaven be boring without Him?

Do you, however imperfectly, revolve around the Son?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sober Reflections

One of Scripture's strangest biographies contains a warning for us as we start this new year.

Imagine with me for a moment. Imagine you're a pagan who suddenly encounters the Living God. Imagine that, over the course of a few remarkable days, you are repeatedly and powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit. Imagine having a face-to-face meeting with an angel and witnessing an undeniable miracle. Imagine your Spirit-controlled tongue speaking words of high praise and loyalty to God. Imagine being used by God to speak words so important and powerful and beautiful that they are actually included in the canon of Scripture. Imagine being so moved by the might and majesty of God that you were willing to face the wrath of a king in order to obey Him.

Would it be possible to do all of that and still be a lost, hell-bound soul?

Does a brief encounter with God mean that you're saved? Is it possible to look back in the past and point to a single, isolated experience upon which you can rest your eternal security?

The Bible answers a resounding "No" to that question. While the Bible certainly does teach eternal security, it can't be found in an isolated experience.
Faith in an isolated experience
is faith displaced from
its proper object,
which is God Himself.

Faith displaced from God Himself
is idolatry.

Consider the remarkable story of Balaam. You can find it beginning in Numbers chapter 22. Many of you are no doubt familiar with it.

Balaam experienced all of the miraculous, God-touched events that we imagined above. Filled with the Spirit, he refused the king's order to curse the nation of Israel, and instead powerfully blessed them several times over (Num. 23:8, Num. 23:20, Num. 23:23, Num. 24:10). He spoke magnificent words about the sovereignty and greatness of God (Num 23:19, Num. 24:4). His prophecies ranged so far that they even promised the coming Messiah (Num. 24:17-19).

Oh, how wonderful that experience must have been!

And yet...

Balaam was not changed. When the Spirit of God was finished with him, Balaam returned to his sorceries and conspired in a plot to bring the children of Israel to gross sin (Num. 31:16). He was eventually killed by the Israelites (Jos. 13:22), and ended up being mentioned three times in the New Testament as a warning example (2 Pet. 2:15, Jude 1:11, Rev. 2:14).

Now, the Scripture clearly teaches that when a person is truly saved, the Spirit comes and abides in him forever as a "seal" and a "guarantee." (see, for example, 2 Co. 1:22, Eph. 1:13-14). This indwelling of the Spirit is not a passive thing. He makes changes when He moves in. He produces holy living and fruit (Gal. 5:16-25) and He guides us (John 16:13). As the Seal of the New Covenant, He gives us a new heart and keeps us from departing from God (Jer. 32:38-40). He shows us God's love and gives us love for Him (Rom. 5:5, 1 Co. 12:3). He makes us entirely, utterly new (2 Co. 5:17).

But not every work of the Spirit is a saving, indwelling work. And Scripture tells us we must examine ourselves as to whether we're in the faith (2 Co. 13:5). Since New Year's Day is traditionally a day of reflection, I can't think of a more important thing to reflect on than this.

What has He done in you lately?
Legalism would ask, "What have YOU done for HIM lately," but that's not my question. We are not saved by our works, but by His work in us. So I ask again, "What has HE done in you lately?"

Do you feel the newness taking over? Is He changing your heart, your desires? Are your "good works" coming more easily and naturally through Him, or are they still forced by the flesh, by guilt, by religious expectation? Is love for God growing more fervent?

I'm not asking about perfection. (If I asked about perfection, and you answered "Yes," then we'd have real reason to worry!)

When you ask yourself about your assurance of salvation, do you consult a one-time experience? Or do you consult Him, whose work you are experiencing?

When you hear questions
about His work in you,
do you feel confused,
or do you know
what His work feels like?
Can you understand what I mean when I say, "When He's the one doing the work, you know it's Him, and you can't help giving Him the glory for it"? Or is His work something you've yet to experience?

The last thing I want to do is hurt the tender sheep, the true children of God with sensitive consciences who doubt their salvation whenever they see that they're still sinners. Salvation is a progressive work. We are saved once and for all from the penalty of sin, we are progressively being saved from the power of sin, and after death we will be saved from the presence of sin. How glorious is our God, and how wonderful are His ways!

To you, tender sheep, I give the words of our Savior:
Do not fear, little flock,
for it is your Father's good pleasure
to give you the kingdom.
(Luke 12:32)

But as bad as it would be to hurt the tender sheep, in some ways it would be even worse to lull the self-deceived goats back to sleep. So I leave you today with this challenge, based on James 2:19. It is my prayer that, after this challenge, the sheep will rejoice in their assurance, and the goats will come to Christ in truth so they can rejoice as well.

Think deeply about the following challenge question:
How does my faith differ from the faith of demons?
(James 2:19)
Seriously, make a list. Write it down. What do the demons believe? Keep in mind that the demons know God, they have known God all of their lives, they have always seen Him with their eyes, they have witnessed every work He's ever done. Everything you know, they know, and much more. They have knowledge and belief, but not saving faith.

What do you have that they don't have? What is your faith that theirs isn't? Write it down. Seriously. Do it.

If your answers give you assurance, ask yourself one more thing. Is that assurance based on what you've done, or on what He's done? If it's based on what He's done, rejoice, rejoice, rejoice in Him!

If your answer does not give you assurance, if your faith doesn't differ from the demons' faith, or if your assurance is based on something you've done, then drop all other priorities. Drop all other hopes, all other sources of confidence, all spiritual crutches. Come to God with the salvation you've made for yourself, and ask Him to replace it with the salvation He's made for you. Refuse to let go of Him until He blesses you (Gen. 32:26). Ask to be made new, to have not just a forgiven heart, but a new heart that grows in love for Him and hatred for sin. Ask not only to be His in Heaven someday, but ask to be His now. Refuse to put confidence in anything you can manufacture, any emotions you can generate, any words you can say. Put confidence in Him and only Him, even if you don't feel His answer right away.

Saving faith has no "Plan B." Come to Him, to Him, to Him alone.

And here's a word from the Savior to encourage your confidence in Him.
The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. (John 6:37)
Please leave a comment to let me (and other readers) know how we can pray for you or rejoice with you. You can leave your comment anonymously if that's easier, but please let us know.

Candle photo from stock.xchng by Alexkalina
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