Friday, July 10, 2015

The Flavor of the Month: A Call To Personal Righteousness

Growing up in South Florida, I spent many warm afternoons on the beach. I don’t know if it’s the salt water or what, but I always (to this day) have to have ice cream whenever I leave the beach. There was this local beachfront ice cream shop in my hometown which I used to frequent. They had a special “flavor of the week” to try. Where I live now, there’s a popular frozen custard shop which offers a “flavor of the day”, with wildly popular success. Now if “variety is the spice of life”, then a rotation of frozen flavors is healthy. But is it healthy when we apply that same concept to things other than frozen treats? Is it healthy to continually focus on what is “trending” in the world around us?

I’ve notice a growing trend of late, wherein people become extremely intent on whatever is currently trending (the “flavor of the day”, if you will). It dominates my Facebook feed, the local news, the conversations of my friends, and so on. And no sooner does it burst onto the scene with explosive force then it seems to fade away into the ether just as quickly as it came in, because it gets replaced by the next “flavor”. Just take recent “trends”, for example: First, it was Ferguson. Then, Baltimore. Freddy Gray. Bill Cosby, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, the Church Shooting in Charleston, the Confederate Flag debate, the Gay Marriage Vote, the Oregon cake bakers, the vaccination debate,  the unstoppable US Women’s World Cup soccer team. And that’s just the past 11 months. These topics rotate in popularity so much that it’s almost hard to keep track.

Why is it that people jump all over these “hot topics”? Could it be that they are looking for a distraction? John Piper once said that “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time”. So what is it that we seek to be distracted from? Based on my own observations, and the confessional conviction of my own heart, there’s a good chance that we seek to be distracted from our own personal pursuit of righteousness. Just take a look at the titles of popular literature in your local Christian bookstore. Back around the time I was born, books with titles like “How Then Shall We Live?” and “The Pursuit of Holiness” were flying off the shelves. Now, titles like “Your Best Life Now” line the shelves.

An unbridled pursuit for personal righteousness (and growth in sanctification) is widely lacking in the Church today. In our ease and comfort, it becomes much easier to discuss things outside of us than it is to look inside our own heart;  to look at our own nature, which Calvin called a “perpetual factory of idols”. Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living”, yet so many of us who profess the name of Christ willingly allow our own lives to go unexamined every day, in favor of getting sucked in to whatever the masses happen to be discussing on Facebook or at the water cooler.

Dear brothers and sisters, where is the call for personal righteousness? Where is the desire to “conform” more “into the image of His Son”, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29)? Why is it that we’re concerned more with what Bruce Jenner had for lunch than in crucifying our own flesh? Why are we not initiating conversations on social media about how we may grow in Christ and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24)? If we spent half the energy and concern we devote to social media trends toward our personal righteousness and obedience to the scriptures, our churches would be full of people on a new level of personal sanctification, on fire for God and His word. Shouldn’t that be what we’re impassioned about? Shouldn’t that be the focus of our conversation? “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about THESE  things.” (Philippians 4:8).

Again, let me reiterate, that this call to personal righteousness stems more from personal conviction in my own heart (and confession therein) than it does from being on a high horse (or high pulpit) and pointing my finger downward. At the end of the day, you are not accountable for the actions of Bruce Jenner, Bill Cosby, or Michael Brown. You’re only accountable for your own. The only answer to that problem is Christ. Therefore, the only response needs to be an impassioned desire to grow more into His image, even at the painful cost of personal introspection of our sinful hearts and continual mortification of the sin that is found there.

I hope you are reading this and nodding your head in agreement. However, don’t think that I am oblivious to the daunting difficulty of the task to which I am calling you. Like Martin Luther, I personally struggled with the role of my effort in sanctification. Was I working enough toward my own holiness? Could I ever work enough towards it? It took a page from my hero, Oswald Chambers to open my eyes to the truth about the doctrine of sanctification, and totally change the angle from which I look at personal holiness. In his widely popular book My Utmost For His Highest, Chambers writes:

As workers, we have to get used to the revelation that redemption is the ONLY reality. Personal holiness is AN EFFECT of redemption, NOT THE CAUSE OF it. If we place our faith in human goodness we will go under when testing comes…. Christian workers fail because they place their desire FOR THEIR OWN HOLINESS above their desire TO KNOW GOD” (emphasis added)

Sanctification (and the working, more and more, toward righteousness) seem so overwhelming because we focus on the work itself. We get so bogged down in the steps toward righteousness and bettering ourselves that we forget where those steps our headed. In an interview, J.I Packer once reminded us of a humbling but powerful truth: “What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we have in life? To know God. What is the best thing in life? To know God. What in humans gives God most pleasure? Knowledge of himself”.

Our focus should not be on the social “flavor of the month”, nor should it be on building up a sweat toward making ourselves more holy. Rather, it should be on simply knowing God better. If that is our only aim, our only drive, then the “effect” of that (as Chambers tells us) will be “personal holiness”. “Seek ye FIRST the Kingdom OF GOD… AND.. HIS righteousness. THEN, all these things”, like methods and means personal growth in holiness, “will be added unto to you.” (Matthew 6:33). In short, if you think the work of becoming righteous is too overwhelming for you, you’re right. It is. But that’s not your job. God is the One who sanctifies. The only thing you have to worry about is knowing Him better. The more you seek the presence of the Holy, the more you will find (slowly but surely) that you’ve been changed into something holy as well. When you got to the bathroom at night, you are so glad there is a light in there. Why? Because it allows you to see yourself clearly. The light allows you to see what imperfections you have in the mirror, so you can change them. You are grateful to have the light for this reason. It’s the same with the light of God. The more you love Him, the more He is going to reveal what needs to be changed… what He is going to change in you.

Celebrity and social movements have their places. Each gets its “15 minutes” in the spotlight… but they are not worth near the attention that we give them. Why not focus our energy not on “the grass that withers” or “the flower that fades”, but on “the word of the Lord” which “remains forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Lord, give us the strength to exchange the “flavor of the day” for the Savior of every day.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Invisible Man: Reflections on Good Friday

This Good Friday, I got to witness a local small-town church put on a live-action performance of some of the traditional “Stations of the Cross”, reenacting different stories that took place along Christ’s journey from His “trial” to His death.  Shivering teenagers braved the brisk winds in their tunics. The red feathers on Roman centurion helmets fluttered in the breeze… and in the middle of it all, there stood 3 main figures: A Nike-shoed Jesus figure (beard, fake blood, the crown of the thorns, the works), the church minister (a proclaimer of the gospel), and a church deacon to read the scriptures.  In the background stood the few community Christians who came together to watch the action…and in the far distance stood a lone cameraman covering the event for the small-town 5:00 news.

Each player in this public community display walked from station to station, with the small crowd following. The path marked out paralleled along the sidewalk of the town’s main drive, all the way back to the church. The voice of the read scripture was quiet, barely heard. The minister, also barely heard, told of what this read word means to our lives… and all in the middle of an otherwise busy street on a typical small-town afternoon.

As I observed this, I couldn't help but think that there has got to be some sort of metaphor here for contemporary Christianity. In the midst of a noisy, everyday secular life stands 3 major players: Jesus Christ Himself, the Word of God, and the faithful proclaimer of that word (aka your local evangelical church pastor). Walking behind these down the road are the small remnant of believers who choose, in spite of what others may think of them, to publicly follow all three… all the way to the Cross. The disciples didn’t do that (save John). The throngs of people shouting “Hosanna” and the hundreds who were healed didn’t do that. Yet, the faithful remnant, by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, follow Christ, his word, and biblical teaching to the letter every day (or at least they should).

Then there are those who “while seeing, do not see” (Matt. 13:13). First, you have the “cameramen” of the world….those who follow Jesus, but only to the extent where they can take the true gospel of Christ home with them, to later edit it… thereby not only polishing it up but also removing any parts of it that might be disagreeable to the masses; parts that might make them “uncomfortable”. Finally, there are the others into whose context this drama of redemption is inserted. Some might slow down long enough to catch a glimpse in their rear-view mirror. Others might drive on by, just rolling their eyes. Still others might rev there massive truck engines as a cruel mocking joke (yes, that actually happened).  

The drama, however, remain unphased by all of these. There were many who, by their noise… by their deception… by their critiques… by their unbelief… tried to silence this divine drama when it played out 2,000 years ago. Today, there are still those who seek to do the same, and the voice of opposition grows ever stronger. But the drama of redemption rolls along unphased. Jesus Christ’s divine sacrifice on the cross stands in the public square… fully visible to anyone who will stop long enough to see it… and yet so many don’t. Many will stop only long enough to smile and say “Well isn’t that nice?” or “I wish these nut jobs would stay indoors”, never truly taking part in the painful drama that was played out on their behalf. When Jesus said “Take up YOUR cross and follow me”, He was talking about dying with Him; about walking the same road HE walked. But, for many, that’s by far too uncomfortable… that requires far too much commitment… that requires way too much sacrifice.

Many “believers” are happy to watch their kids wave branches in church on Palm Sunday… and many more are pleased sing and dance and smile and rejoice with the happy, resurrected Jesus in the pews on Easter morning…. And yet, MANY Good Friday services sit 95% empty. Why is that? The answer goes so much deeper than “It’s hard cuz work during the week”.  Could it be because no one truly wants to think about the Jesus on the cross? Could it be because it is our guilt and shame that held Him there and we’re too afraid to even think about it, let alone confess it? And yet, we have the nerve to call it GOOD Friday?

Good Friday can only be good if all three players in the divine drama are present, each with their own special benefit for your life. I have no doubt that many Christians are willing to focus on Jesus (resurrected or otherwise). But where are all those same Christians to be found when it’s time to listen to (aka study) God’s words in the Bible? Where are those same Christians when it’s time to listen to the man called by God to proclaim His word from the pulpit, in order to help you learn and grow in righteousness? And where are those same Christians when the opportunities of life call for you to pick up your cross… to come and die to yourself … in order to find yourself buried and raised in your Savior?  Those Christians are nowhere to be found… because they let the busy noise of everyday life… the distractions of a loudly sinful culture… and the cold winds of discomfort for publicly following Him overwhelm them… Most importantly, they take their eyes off the One in the center.

Many of you know that God said in Psalm 46:10 “Be still (“SHUT UP!” in the Hebrew) and know that I am God”. Well, if we are going to make this Good Friday GOOD, we too need to shut up and put Jesus back into the center. We need to strain our ears and listen intently to the word and its exposition as they are being proclaimed in the midst of the noise. We need to tune out all other distractions and never take our eyes off Christ as we follow Him. We must never seek to edit, change, dilute, or cheapen God’s word or Christ’s gospel (see Revelation 22:18-19). Finally, and with most difficulty, we must take up our cross and die with Christ… finding true abundant life that He paid the ultimate price to give us. Then, and only then, can Good Friday truly be good.

“Though none go with me, still I will follow.
Though NONE go with, still I will follow.
Though none go with me, still I WILL follow.
No turning back. NO turning back!” 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

DOCTRINE: It does the Body good

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires."
(2 Timothy 4:3, NASB, emphasis added)

Recently, a pastor expressed to me his growing discomfort with churches refusing to specify their denominational affiliation in the name of their church. For example (we'll pick a generic one), Grace Baptist Church becoming Grace Community Church or Grace Fellowship. While I certainly notice this trend (and have yet to voice an opinion on it), I think there is another trend in churches that discomforts me more. Shakespeare points out that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet", so I would happily belong to a church with a strange name on the outside, so long as I knew what they corporately believed on the inside was biblically solid.

Many churches today don't even have formal (written) statements of faith. They do not openly express what they believe regarding the key doctrines of the faith... and when you prompt the leadership of the church as to why, they tell you things like "We just believe in Jesus". I certainly can understand that... but even JESUS had firm doctrines of the faith that He held to (and even some He created).

So the question I want to lay out on the table here is this... WHY are Christians today so afraid of doctrine? Why is what they believe either somewhat unknown or otherwise unstated? Why do they keep to the basics of Christianity, but when it comes to probing deeper into the finer details of scripture, they are trepidatious? While I'm certainly not the expert on the mind of the contemporary American Christian, let me propose a few of the reasons I think words like "doctrine" have become taboo:

1. The Church doesn't emphasize it. Many people can plead ignorance when it comes to going deeper into God's Word because they have never been encouraged to do so. Churches may fail in this regard for a variety of reasons. These include, but are not limited to, not wanting to be offensive or controversial, designing a worship service for the non-Christian ("seeker-friendly", aka unbiblical), emphasis by the leadership on the same message ad-infinitum presented in a variety of different ways, apathy by the church leadership for anything doctrinally below the surface ("keep it simple"), or even a lack of confidence that their congregation can handle the "meat" of deeper doctrines rather than the "formula" they're being given now ("let's preach through the gospel of John again rather than teaching Ephesians or Romans"). Long story short, churches need to commit to doctrine themselves and encourage their congregations to do the same.

2. It's hard work. An emphasis on doctrine being in decline is possibly for the same reason that Sunday School is in decline. People favor the comfort of relational fellowship (small groups, for example), and while that is good, that doesn't give churches (or individual Christians) the right to de-emphasize teaching God's word. With that teaching (like any teaching) comes holding one's students to an expectation of learning something... going deeper... asking the hard or life-applicable questions... synthesizing the meanings of those answers into the practice of everyday life.. and so on. To the average American Christian, that sounds a lot like school. Our kids feel they get enough school during the week, and our adults think they're done with school. For example, according to the Jenkins Group, 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. 42% of college graduates will never crack open a book again. 70% of American adults haven't stepped foot in a bookstore in the last 5 years. And yet we're supposed to ask these people to not only read, but to study? Both weekly in church and daily at home? The short answer is... YES. That's exactly what we're supposed to do.

3. It's difficult to understand. Translations of Greek and Hebrew texts, lengthy genealogies, long historical narratives, challenging New Testament vocabulary words like "propitiation". These are enough to rack anyone's brain, making you want to throw up your hands and say "I give up. I don't get it". While these concerns are certainly understandable, they're not a valid excuse. That's the bad news. Here's the good news... You have HELP. Why do you think your pastor spent all that time in seminary? Why do you think he has all those books on his shelf in his office? If you don't understand something, ASK them. If you're too shy, fear not. There are a ton of resources (free or otherwise) to help you understand every word, phrase, and passage in the scripture. Search for them. The problem is... these things take time. Study of God's word is definitely a thing where you get out what you put in. A five minute devotional daily, while helpful, is like Steak-Ums in the microwave, whereas probing the depths of God's word in diligent study is like an aged Filet Mignon. "Your words came to me, and I ATE them, and Your words became to me a JOY and the delight of my heart" (Jer. 15:16)

4. Knowledge is Power. Going deeper into God's word and what He has to teach us will open up whole new worlds of possibility. Most Christians have no problem acknowledging that God has given them a Spirit of love (2 Tim. 1:7), but few seem to emphasize that He also gave us a Spirit of POWER and a SOUND MIND. Encountering God deeper gives us strength and equips to face the difficulties of life, and many Christians fail to probe deeper into their doctrines because they don't believe that God is sovereign enough to give us that strength... that power... that sound mind. And even if He was able to give us that power, many Christians don't want it, because...

5. With great power comes great responsibility. Why is it that people don't like stepping on the scale or looking in the mirror early in the morning? Quite simply, because they may not like what they see. The main purpose of the Word of God is the same reason for our words in everyday conversation... to, ultimately, reveal more of the person we're listening to. The deeper we probe into God's word, the more we come to know Him (surprise, surprise). The uncomfortable part comes in the fact that the more we know what He IS, the more we know what we, by comparison, are NOT (See Isaiah 6). Many Christians don't want to dive deeper into their faith for fear of what they might find there... both their dependent unworthiness and the subsequent accountability to change themselves, becoming conformed more and more to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). People fear that change and would rather settle for less accountability that comes with being a Christian on doctrinal cruise-control. After all, "ignorance is bliss", right?

OK, so I'm not exactly arguing that a commitment to deeper Christian doctrine is easy or un-demanding. I'm simply arguing that it's worth it. God's word is meant to be a delight to us... a love letter... for our loving God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His word. It is, therefore, highly beneficially for you to read... study... know that Word as best you can. It can only help you. Don't believe me? Try it. Pick a portion of God's word you've never read before... one you've always been afraid to turn to. Read it. Study it. Ask questions about it. Get answers. Then go back to the passages you love. Probe them deeper. Study specific words and what they actually meant from the person (and in the time) they were written. Whatever you do, go deeper. If necessary, demand your church go deeper too... but start with yourself. For if you go deeper, seeking to fall in love with the great doctrines of blessed Scripture, you will be surprised at the wellspring of blessings that will come as a result.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Passion Fruit

But I have THIS against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
(Revelation 2:4, ESV)

For His sake I have suffered the loss of ALL things and count them as rubbish,
(Philippians 3:8b, ESV)

Case #1: A pastor visits another church for a concert, which features a talented choir from Africa. In addition to the beautiful harmonies and upbeat rhythms, the pastor easily picks up on the contagious energy and passion the group brings to their worship. As the group moves and smiles during their worship, he can't help but do the same. Part of the reason, the pastor feels, why their passion and energy in worship is so noticeable is because he feels he doesn't see that same response from the congregation during the worship in his own worship services. He knows the differences in worship are cultural, but can't help feeling like that's not the only difference at play in the worship.

Case #2: In a small village in central Haiti, a man wakes up on the dirt floor of his hut, just before sunrise. He smiles when he realizes it's Sunday morning. The middle-aged man quickly throws on his clothes on and goes outside. He starts walking barefoot down a stony dirt path. His feet are mostly numb from the callouses he has accumulated over the years. He walks for hours, even crossing a river at one point (which goes up to his waist). He eventual arrives at his church, about 15 minutes before the service starts. The man sits down briefly, to rest his feet, which are now swollen and bleeding slightly. He then gets up and starts singing and praising God in the worship service, which he fully expects to go on for at least four hours (maybe more), after which he walks back to his hut, smiling and singing all the way.

Case #3: An American mom wakes up at 8:30 AM on Sunday morning. Her church's one-hour worship service starts at 9:30 in the summer and she realizes she has overslept. Her husband lies motionless beside her. She feels there is simply no way she can get all the kids out of bed, clean, fed, and dressed in time to make it to church. The kids are already used to sleeping in during the summer, so it will be even harder to get them ready now. Claiming defeat, she lies back down and goes back to sleep. She will need her energy for her son's baseball game later. 

Maybe its because I'm a self-proclaimed "church-aholic", but can't help but wonder where the passion has gone from the church today. If you look back 50 (or so) years ago, church was so ingrained in the culture that nothing was open on Sundays. It was assumed that you be going to worship in the morning and be Sabbath-resting" in the afternoon (with maybe a little football on the side for the guys). The same is true in other parts of the world today (as cases #1 and #2 hopefully illustrate).

So what happened? How have we come to a place where going to church is no more significant (or exciting) than going to your corner Starbucks and ordering a frappuccino? Why is God only one of our focuses rather than the focus? Why are the parents not outraged with the city-league junior tackle football coach schedules a game for Sunday morning at 11:00. Why are we so accepting? Why are we so quick to brush off church, if there's something more convenient on our schedule? Shouldn't the worship of Almighty God in His house... where He speaks to us from His own word be WORTH clearing our schedule for?

The problem, I fear, is the same as that of the disappearing shoreline at your local beach. Erosion. Bit-by-bit, day-by-day, year-by-year things we like are slowly creeping higher and higher on our priorities list, while the God who created all those things falls ever so lower and lower on that list. That's the problem.

So what's the solution? Well, the good news is... it's an easy one. The bad news is... it's going to be an unpopular choice. The simple answer is... PUT GOD FIRST. If you seek God first (Matt. 6:33) and obediently respect the Sabbath day (Ex. 20:8) as sacred (lit. means  set apart in the original texts), then God HAS to honor your efforts, because they put HIM first. The problem is ... this means saying "NO" to some things.. a lot of order to ensure God is first in all things... but Paul makes it clear in Philippians 3 that gaining Christ in the exchange is by far better than any of those things we give up.

The real question I'm trying to probe at here is this... Why don't we see that gaining Christ is better? Why don't we pursue Him, understanding that, when we do, He will reveal himself within all those other things we desire (Christ in soccer practice, Christ in family time at home, etc.). We need to stop reducing Christ and/or Church to just another check box on the To-Do list... and start demanding that He be first in every area of our lives. We need to insist on anything that competes with God for our attention being made a distant second to the God who has died to redeem us and set us free.

If you find yourself too busy for God, His Word, or the work and worship of His Church, then you need to start trimming the fat.... while savoring the meat of a tender relationship with Christ. Demand those priorities for yourself and your family, and I guarantee it will surprise you what blessings are in store.

... and as you seek to put God first in all things, rearranging your priorities accordingly... do so with an uncontainable passion. The Christian life is hard, but it is never a downer. If we know that Christ is of "surpassing worth" (Phil. 3:8a)... and truly believe there's nothing better than HIM... then we better start acting like it. We better start bearing passion fruit... because real  spiritual passion fruit, just like real physical passion fruit, is delicious. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Losing Neverland

"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child;
but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
(1 Corinthians 13:11, NKJV)

"Responsibility... What's that?
Responsibility? Not quite yet.
Responsibility. What's that?
I don't want to think about it. We'd be better off without it"
(MxPx, Responsibility)

If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, 
I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up! Not me!
(J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan)

You may have heard it said that youth is wasted on the young. As a fairly young person myself, one might think I might take offense to such a statement... but actually... I'm inclined to agree with it. It saddens my heart to look around and see so many of my contemporaries... so many of the people in my generation... living for so many of the wrong things.

Maybe it's because I was raised "old school", but it just seems to me like so many people in their early-late 20's (at least the ones I've observed) spend most of their lives in pursuit of passions which seem rather hedonistic. To best summarize, it appears to me that they want the benefits of being adult without the responsibility of being adults. The work they do during the week, if any, is to get them to the weekend (in order to squander what little they've earned). Ambition, drive, creativity, calling all seem to take a backseat to the leisure of the moment.

Not that it's wrong to be entertained, by any means, but not to the extent that you live for that. When a young person lives their life with a "What can ___ do for ME... right now?" attitude, this can be problematic for them... perhaps not at first, but eventually it will. "If the party doesn't entertain me, I'll leave"... Then they take that same attitude into church.... into their finances.... into their relationships.... the eventual results of which are  all damaging.

We expect this kind of behavior from the non-Christians. So did Paul, knowing full well he was a "child" himself at one point.... but that's just it... AT ONE POINT... in the past... He equally admits that now he has put those childish things away. What I don't understand is how Christians still seek to hang on to their "childish things"... why they still choose to "think like a child"... especially when living a life of Christ is infinitely more rewarding. 

Why does our young, 20-something culture (even among the Christians) need to be defined by selfishness, drunkenness, sexual liberality, hedonistic entertainment, hallow relationships, and the like? Why are "fruits of the spirit" rotting off of trees so young... fruits like patience....kindness... faithfulness... and even (God forbid) self-control ? Why does it seem like those Christians who seek to live pure, responsible, Spirit-led, Christ-centered adult lives are the quiet remnant in the culture? Why do so many wonderful young adults (who are all around good people) live life with a Peter-Pan-like attitude... never wanting to grow up (at least not for a long time)? These are the same people naive enough to think they are Christians while they are still holding on to the "chilish things" of the world, like some sort of hedonistic security blanket. It just doesn't work that way (at least not according to the Bible).

Isn't it time we young Christians took a stand against such spiritual compromise? Isn't it time we admit that we're in our 20's... we ARE adults... we HAVE grown up... and consequently re-prioritize what we're living for? I say this just as much from personal conviction as I do from a rebuke of others. One of the biggest regrets in my life, to this point, is the amount of time I've wasted (much of which on personal entertainment). Entertainment is good but not the thing we should be living for.

Isn't it time we leave Neverland? Isn't time we close the door, "putting away childish things" and live our life for what (or should I say Who) really matters? The ironic thing is... people are living hedonistic lives to try and put more value on themselves... when in reality, God has already put more value on you, His child, than you could ever put on yourself. I say it's time we grow up, with God's help... and I hope you'll take a stand, joining me on this journey out of Neverland and into the Promised Land. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I Must Decrease

"And I said: 'WOE is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips,
and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!
(Isaiah 6:5, ESV)

"My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things:
That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior
(John Newton)

I had a strong desire (for a while now)  to begin creating this new blog. Maybe it was because I became a pastor. Perhaps it was because writing down the spiritual lessons in my life would somehow be christocentrically therapeutic. Whatever the reason, I've wanted to start blogging here for quite some time now. However, until now, I seemed to encounter the same road block to starting this blog over and over again....namely, "What do I write my first blog on?"... "What will be recorded as my first contribution... my first thoughts... my first steps in this sure-to-be-wild theological venture?"

Surely, what I write first greatly reveals a lot about the kind of person I am... and therefore, those first words I type are so important. Whether I'm over-thinking this or not (I tend to do that from time to time), I felt that I didn't have an opening message to write, that truly (and honestly) reflected who I am... until now.

I love the book of Isaiah. I find it quite inspirational in so many ways. Chapter 6 is often well known, and even more often quoted in theological circles. Dr. R.C. Sproul (one of my heroes) points out that this passage is the only one in scripture where something is repeated 3 TIMES (the most emphatic literary tactic in all of Hebrew literature)... and WHAT is being emphasized in this repetition? The HOLINESS of God. 

As noticeable as God's holiness is in this passage (clearly) my mind always seems to shift back to Isaiah's response. Maybe it's because I can identify with him (I don't know). The truth is... we are sinful people... and if there's one attribute I want people to understand about me first, it is that I am a sinner, badly in need of God's grace. That same gracious God also desires to have a relationship with His people. Relationships start with encounters. There's just one problem (and mark it well)... Whenever you have an encounter with the Holy God, you are forced to come face-to-face with your UNholiness. It's the same reason that you can't see how dirty you really are until you step into the light. In fact, when Isaiah came face to face with the splendor and holiness of God, he couldn't even speak.... and when he finally could speak the only thing he could utter from his stammering lips is "Woe is ME!"

God has a way of showing me (and hopefully, us) what a great and Holy God he is. That always drives me to my knees. Moses sang a worship song after he crossed the Red Sea. Noah built an altar in worship as soon as he stepped off the boat. David unashamedly danced in the streets. Joseph wept when he was reunited with his brothers. My own tendency, when I continually encounter the faithfulness of a Holy God in my life, is the same as the hymn writer: "...and from my SMITTEN heart, with tears, two wonders I confess: The wonders of redeeming LOVE AND my UNWORTHINESS". It is in that 'redeeming love' that I reflect on my own unworthiness, to the point where it blows my mind that God even thinks of me at ALL (Ps. 8:4)... let alone LOVES me (Is. 43:4)... loves even to the point where he SINGS over me with delight (Zeph. 3:17)

That is a value which I know full well I cannot place on myself. John Newton knew it too. You didn't need to tell the former slave trader that he was a sinner. The guilt of his own sinfulness is clearly reflected in his preaching. However, it wasn't one thing he knew... it was two. He was a great sinner AND Christ is a great savior. Christ's being a great savior is the ONLY hope that sinful man has. That's the ONLY way our victories can be victories at all (Gal. 6:14). 

In all honest introspection, I know full well that I will never understand how great a Savior Christ is until I first understand how great a sinner I am. Therefore, in closing, if you are to know anything about me, know this... Any positive work I do, any influence I have, any hearts touched by the words on this page (written with trembling hands), anything good that anyone ever says about me... It's NOT ME... The REAL me is a sinner "justly deserving God's displeasure". If I am anything good at ALL, it is because Christ, my Savior, died for me and now lives within me, guiding me every step of the way... and I'm okay with that... because, in the end, HE will get all the glory... and isn't that where it belongs anyway? As a writer, and as a Christian, I may not know much... but two things I do know: "I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior".