Christianity 201

September 24, 2015

Through a Glass Darkly

Today, a guest post from the blog Flagrant Regard. A longer version appears at the link in the title below.

‘Through A Glass Darkly’ – A Lesson On Spiritual Renewal

“We are all messed up like a person compromised with impurity; even all our right efforts are like soiled rags. We’re drying up like a leaf in autumn …”
Book of the prophet Isaiah, Chapter 64, verse 6

THE JOURNEY GETS MESSY

At the point of our conversion (or in my case, my reconversion), we’re given a new perspective by God which allows us to see more clearly the world around us and how broken it is. At the same time (and maybe more importantly) we are given much needed insight with respect to our own soul and moral character and how poorly developed they truly are. We become aware of God’s unmerited love for us but receive along with that a glimpse of how distant our goodness is from the goodness and purity of God. And because of our new, clearer perspective, we find ourselves humbly asking God for strength and the ability to live our salvaged-by-Grace lives for Him with a sincere determination.

But at some point, after this ‘great awakening’, we lapse back into familiar ways – well I believe most of us do – and find that the things of the Spirit become less important or engrossing compared to the urgent issues and distractions that make up our day-to-day existence. Still having the Spirit of God within us, we may become aware of this lapse, but often feel helpless to deal with it. And then guilt sets in – the biggest nail in the coffin for a once spiritually inspired, enthusiastic mindset. So we pray, “God get me out of this funk.” Or, “Make me better than I am.” Or, “Fix me (or things) again so I can feel connected to You!” But these repeated requests or prayers often come across as a seemingly useless endeavour. It’s like trying to repair or clean things up with broken and dirty implements.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

As our spiritual energy and connection to God seems to diminish, we feel caught in a loop and a dryness of the soul begins to overwhelm us. This is a dangerous ‘tipping point’ for some believers. If they don’t feel or see enough of God’s power in their lives, they walk away from the faith and give up ‘trying’.

HOW YOU BRING AN END TO A SPIRITUAL RUT

Here’s the thing: you can’t. As your spiritual life continues, you will lose connection with God frequently and all your efforts to rekindle the excitement or ‘vision’ you had the day you knew God had entered your life will, in your mind, amount to a hill of beans. You’ll feel adrift in stagnant water and those living waters Jesus promised his followers are somewhere on the other side of dark mountains that have seemingly hemmed you in. Welcome to the valley of the shadow of death. You have now joined the ranks of every single believer who’s ever asked God to change them! This might come as a shocker, but you were meant to arrive here.

“Why?”, you ask.

kitten distressed

Because it is at this time, God is about to reveal to you that everything you think you have done or have attempted to do to put things right between you and Him is not unlike your trying to clean a pair of glasses with dirty rags. And as long as you continue to assume you’re the one who has to clean up your spiritual lenses to restore clarity, perspective and objectivity to your own soul-view you will fail miserably because God has set it up that way.

Again, you ask, “Why? Why would God allow me fall so hard if I am doing my best to put things right?”

He does this so that He can reveal within us His power, His strength and what His vision for you truly is. It’s only when every light you’ve tried to keep going has gone out that it’s His time to shine! When your knees have hit the floor it’s then He eagerly shows you how strong His arms are by pulling you back up. He takes your worn-down perceptions – all the methods that you thought were going to keep you connected to Him or ‘spiritual’ – and tosses them into His washing machine. Then He hands you back those things that are really needed to really make a difference in your world, your outlook and life-experiences.

God likes to show off – the Scriptures evidence this repeatedly with respect to His character and/or his modus operandi. Deep in our personal valleys, if/when we continue to walk by faith (what little there may be of it at times) He will restore our spiritual sight by showing us who He really is by answering our prayers from an unexpected angle or entering our world in ways we never would have anticipated.

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“Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”
~ G.K. Chesterton

This kind of thing – beautiful and powerful spiritual renewal – happens frequently over one’s lifetime in the hearts of those who humbly walk with God. Admittedly, it takes a lot of patience and waiting for it to happen. But God helps with that too … just hang … on … a little … longer!

Wash, rinse, repeat.

This is God’s style of restoration and it’s so welcomed, especially when we’re spent from our trying so hard. With respect to our dealing with ourselves and God, preacher and author, John Ortberg, instructs us to ‘try softer’.

“Often the people in the Gospels who got in the most trouble with Jesus were the ones who thought they were working hardest on their spiritual life. They were trying so hard to be good that they could not stop thinking about how hard they were trying. It got in the way of them loving people. … there is an alternative: Try softer. Try better. Try different. A river of living water is now available, but the river is the Spirit. It is not you. … Don’t push the river.”
~ John Ortberg, from the book, ‘The Me I Want To Be’

WHAT’S THE WORD ON ALL OF THIS?

I cannot emphasize this enough: the Bible and its guiding principles as presented to us through the many colourful characters who authored it is like having a legal representative with you when you are in your darkest trial and at your lowest ebb. It stands beside you to instruct you when direction is seeminly absent. It is there to remove (not add to) your guilt when you may be completely bereft of feelings, spiritual enthusiasm or at the tail end of your faith. There is NOTHING you are experiencing (including the dryness of soul and even the disdain for all things spiritual) that has not been experienced by those who went before us – from Adam to Amos, Joseph to Jesus, Paul to Peter.

Read the Word and wait. Don’t read it, and you’ll feel utterly alone. I don’t care if you’re a literalist or a liberal – the Power of God is in that set of 66 books. You will find God in those words (try to resource a good translation like the New International Version or The Voice) and they will comfort you and set you up for that glorious moment of restoration – the big wash – that is coming to restore you to a fresh awareness of God’s will for your life and a clarity of vision that only He can provide.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In the medical field, visual clarity isn’t something that occurs by one’s trying to see better or by applying a plethora of home-remedies. It occurs via the efforts of a skilled outside agent who is able to alter the eye’s lens in order to enhance or correct poor vision. Similarly, we must await God’s agent – the Spirit – to restore to us the perspective, outlook and vision we are deeply in need of to get through this thing called life. We cannot experience these necessary renewals through any amount of redo’s that we embark on, no matter how sincere our effort.

Wait for God to be the Saviour He truly is. You will not be disappointed.

“But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength. They will soar on wings as eagles. They will run—never winded, never weary. They will walk—never tired, never faint.”
The book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 40, verse 31 (The Voice Translation)

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”
Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 10, verse 13 (New Living Translation)

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, chapter 7, verse 10 (NIV Translation)

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.”
Book of Revelation chapter 3, verse 19 – Jesus speaking through John the disciple to the church in Laodicea (N.I.V. Translation)

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”
Paul’s letter to the Phillippians, Chapter 2, verse 13

“To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
Second letter of Peter, chapter 1, verses 1 thru 4 (NIV Translation)

 

©Flagrant Regard; used by permission

August 16, 2015

Lord, I Can’t Do This; Please Get Somebody Else

A few days ago we looked at how Moses was reluctant to be God’s chosen mouthpiece and his reasons why God should get someone else. Our particular focus there was the public speaking aspect of the job God was calling Moses to do.

But sometimes it’s not public speaking, we have other reasons why we just wish God would choose someone else. (After writing this, I realized there’s also a tie-in to our devotional from two days ago; that often we just wish we could be somewhere else.)

I never really thought of this verse in this context until a sermon I heard this morning, but certainly God understands when we are struck by our limitations:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses – Hebrews 4:15a

and an earlier verse in the same book:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity – Hebrews 2:14

In Christ we have a role model, who as he took on a mission that, in his humanity, as Calvary loomed large, caused him to ask if there were not a better way or a different way. It’s like he was almost saying, ‘Maybe someone else can take over at this point.’ Okay, I know that’s not the way it works, but you do get a sense of the anguish that Christ as feeling at that time.

But sometimes we hesitate to enter into the mission God has for us because of condemnation. This is a difficult subject to address because sin needs to be dealt with before a person is fit for public ministry (which might include everything from teaching a class to helping at the soup kitchen.) But sometimes the condemnation is simply an attack of the enemy.

I John 3:20 states,

If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

From the Forerunner Commentary at BibleStudyTools.org:

When we commit the occasional sin, are we no longer acceptable to God? Is our fellowship truly cut off? While it is true that sin separates us from Him, do we remain unsatisfied because we feel there is no communion? Once again, God’s grace rescues us from what would otherwise be an impossible situation.

The answer to this confounding situation lies in a change of our natures arising from repentance, receipt of God’s Holy Spirit, and—perhaps above all—access to God through Jesus Christ. Through these come fellowship and experience with Them throughout the remainder of life and access to God’s merciful grace when we fall short. There can be no doubt we are saved by grace through faith. Our depression and extreme self-condemnation reveals a lack of faith in God’s willingness to forgive upon repentance. Though works are required of us, we cannot earn our way into the Kingdom through them because they will forever fall short in providing payment for sin.

As mentioned earlier, there is a tension between the two extremes of excessive guilt and feelings of worthlessness in contrast to the casual, careless, irresponsible, “God will just have to take me as I am” disregard of our responsibility to glorify God in all we think, say, and do.

This is why John says, “God is greater than our heart.” He is ever willing to accept us as Christ—even though we personally bring Him blemished offerings in our life’s experiences—as long as our attitude has not turned to trampling the sacrifice of His Son underfoot and treating it as a common thing.

We will never enter into God’s acceptance and fellowship based on any work of offering we sacrifice to Him. The only thing He will accept is the unblemished offering of Christ’s life, and because it accompanies or precedes us into His presence, we are accepted, have communion with Him, and are fed.

[read more at Bible Study Tools]

Ephesians 3:12 states:

 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

If we find ourselves in a battle, Ephesians 6:13b reminds us:

…[W]hen you have done everything you could, you will be able to stand firm. (ISV)

Our local congregations are in need of people who are able to give their time in ministry service, but many are afraid to step up because of what the commentary above calls excessive guilt; however, our texts today I hope help us see that this may just be another tactic of the enemy to get us to quit.

Don’t get discouraged and don’t get overcome by feelings of inadequacy.

 

 

 

 

 

August 27, 2012

The Three ‘Rs’ That Jesus Taught

Back in February we introduced you to Scott McCown.  Here’s another one of his posts on three priorities in Jesus’ ministry that appeared on his blog The Morning Drive at the top of this month:

“Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic, taught to the tune of a Hickory stick . . .” So say the song lyrics. But that never made sense to me.  I thought that spelling was important.  There are not three “R”s but one “R”, one “W”, and one “A” – but I digress. Thinking about school starting brought that old song to my mind and as I was preparing an outline for last Sunday I saw three “R”s in what are some of Jesus’ final instructions to His apostles (Luke 24:36-52).

1. Remember the Law of Moses, Prophets, and Psalms
Luk 24:44-45, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,”

The Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms comprise the Hebrew “Bible” Jesus says that all the promises and prophecies about the Messiah come to pass in Him.  What is the probability? In the 1960′s Dr. Peter Stoner of Westmont College in Santa Barabara, CA studied the probabilty of one person fulfilling Biblical prophecy.  He determined that the probability of one person meeting eight (8) OT Messianic Prophesies = 1:100,000,000,000,000 (One in One Hundred Thousand Trillion). That would compare to covering and area the size of the State of Texas  two feet deep in silver dollars, then randomly dropping one marked coin from an airplane flying overhead. After that use heavy equipment to mix the coins thoroughly.  Then blindfold a person and have them walk and having them stop only once to select ONE coin and them choosing the marked coin.

Jesus fulfills all 300+ Messianic prophecies (some count over 400).  Here are just a few:
o Gen 3:15
o Zech 9:9
o Zech 11:12-13
o Psa 55:12-14
o Psa 22
o Isa 53

2. Repentance
Luk 24:47, ” . . .repentance  . . .  should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, . . ..”
Repentance is not simply saying, “I am sorry.” Repentance is not, “Oops! I got caught.” Repentance requires a knowledge of sin – Rom 3:20. Repentance is a change of mind and a change of Life Style. 1Th 1:9 ” . . . how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”  Repentance is turning: 1) to God, 2) from idols, and 3) to serve God.

3. Remission of Sin
Luk 24:47, ” . . .  forgiveness (remission) of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations . . .”
We are  all legally guilty! (cf. Rom 3:9-11, 23). We are guilty even if we are unaware of our violation of God’s law.  We are guilty even if we do not feel guilty.  Because we are guilty we need remission of our sins.

To remit is to dismiss, release, or forgive.  That is what Jesus came to do (cf. Mat 26:28). In Christ our sin is:

  1. Taken away
  2. Not imputed
  3. Blotted out
  4. Washed away
  5. Purged
  6. Covered
  7. Remembered no more.

We are therefore, SET FREE.  We are Legally Justified (cf. 1Co 6:11)

What a GREAT, LOVING, GRACIOUS God we serve!

– Scott McCown

Here are a couple of other recent posts at The Morning Drive:

June 2, 2012

A Dose of Spurgeon

Each week Phil Johnson at the blog Pyromaniacs (aka Team Pyro) posts a “weekly dose” of writing from Charles Spurgeon. (This is not the first time we’ve “borrowed” one from Team Pyro.) Here are a couple of recent ones: The first is a response to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the second one deals with people who still feel the stains of sin and feel they haven’t repented enough or are not penitent enough.  Some of you may want to bookmark Team Pyro and make it part of your regular reading.

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from “The Real Presence, the Great Want of the Church,” a sermon preached Sunday morning, 11 February 1872 at the Met Tab in London.

IS IT NECESSARY to say that the Lord Jesus Christ is no longer corporeally present in his church? It ought not to be needful to assert so evident a truth; and yet it is important to do so, since there are some who teach that in what they are pleased to call “the Holy Sacrament,” Christ is actually present in his flesh and blood.

Such persons unwittingly deny the real humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, for if he has indeed assumed our humanity, and is in all points made like unto his brethren, his flesh and blood cannot be in two places at one time. Our bodily humanity could not be present in more places than one at one time, and if Christ’s humanity be like ours it cannot be in an unlimited number of places at once; in fact, it can only be in one place. Where that place is we know from Scripture, for he sitteth at the right hand of God, expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.

Unless you are to suppose that the humanity of Christ is something altogether different from ours, it cannot be here and there and everywhere; but to suppose that it is a different humanity from ours is to deny that he is Incarnate in our nature. Our Lord Jesus told his disciples that he would go away, and he has gone away. He ascended into heaven, bearing humanity up to the throne of God.

“He is not here, for he is risen.”

~Charles Haddon Spurgeon


The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from “Repentance unto Life,” one of Spurgeon’s earliest sermons, preached on Sunday morning, 23 September 1855, at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.

ANOTHER MISTAKE many poor people make when they are thinking about salvation . . . is that they cannot repent enough; they imagine that were they to repent up to a certain degree, they would be saved.

“Oh, sir!” some of you will say, “I have not penitence enough.”

Beloved, let me tell you that there is not any eminent degree of “repentance” which is necessary to salvation. You know there are degrees of faith, and yet the least faith saves; so there are degrees of repentance, and the least repentance will save the soul if it is sincere.

The Bible says, “He that believeth shall be saved,” and when it says that, it includes the very smallest degree of faith. So when it says, “Repent and be saved,” it includes the man who has the lowest degree of real repentance.

Repentance, moreover, is never perfect in any man in this mortal state. We never get perfect faith so as to be entirely free from doubting; and we never get repentance which is free from some hardness of heart. The most sincere penitent that you know will feel himself to be partially impenitent.

Repentance is also a continual life-long act. It will grow continually. I believe a Christian on his death-bed will more bitterly repent than ever he did before. It is a thing to be done all your life long. Sinning and repenting—sinning and repenting, make up a Christian’s life. Repenting and believing in Jesus—repenting and believing in Jesus, make up the consummation of his happiness. You must not expect that you will be perfect in “repentance” before you are saved. No Christian can be perfect.

“Repentance” is a grace. Some people preach it as a condition of salvation. Condition of nonsense! There are no conditions of salvation. God gives the salvation himself; and he only gives it to those to whom he will. He says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” If, then, God has given you the least repentance, if it be sincere repentance, praise him for it, and expect that repentance will grow deeper and deeper as you go further on.

Then this remark I think, ought to be applied to all Christians. Christian men and women, you feel that you have not deep enough repentance. You feel that you have not faith large enough. What are you to do? Ask for an increase of faith, and it will grow. So with repentance.

~Charles Haddon Spurgeon

January 18, 2012

Confessions of a Recovering Legalist: Ten Things Jesus Never Said

Ever heard of “Christian karma?”  Some people think God works that way; that some things that come into our life journey are ‘payback’ for choices we made, and things we did in the past.

Yesterday we dug up a classic interview clip from 100 Huntley Street, Canada’s daily Christian talk show, produced by Crossroads Christian Communications.  Can you handle a video clip two days in a row?  We decided to see who Moira Brown has been interviewing lately, and we found this one, with author with Will Davis, Jr., author of Pray Big and the new Ten Things Jesus Never Said.

Note: The link takes you (sometimes)  to the 2:30 mark in the video where the discussion of this book begins; you can go back to watch the intro if you wish.  If it doesn’t you can jump to 2:30.  You can also look at ALL the interviews from the television program at this link.

August 24, 2011

The Cross Identifies With 9/11

Something rather different today, but worthy of much consideration. This item by Ryan Halliday appeared as a web-only piece at Christianity Today under the title 9/11 Cross Should Offend

In a recent debate surrounding a cross displayed at the World Trade Center 9/11 memorial site, both sides agree on at least one point: the complaints by atheist litigants that the presence of the cross has caused them to suffer “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish” are less than credible. Even the commentators who have argued against the inclusion of the cross in the 9/11 memorial have nevertheless ridiculed these purported symptoms, assuming they are nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt at establishing legal standing.

But Christians should recognize that these seem to be the sort of symptoms many sane and thoughtful persons experience upon encountering an unwanted vision of the cross. Far from being silly, these four atheists seem to take the cross more seriously than many believers do.

Because the cross tells the world’s strangest story in an image, it has always provoked a variety of responses, most of which have been negative. In the first century, the idea that the crucified Jesus was God-in-the-flesh was considered, depending on one’s background, either a scandal or a joke. (As the Jewish-turned Christian theologian St. Paul put it, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”) A weak, suffering deity held little appeal and would have been easily dismissed, were it not for the early Christians’ insistence that the death of Christ was everyone’s problem.

Jesus’ first followers did not only assert that God came to earth and died, but also that culpability for his death was universal. “This Jesus, whom you crucified,” were the words chosen by St. Peter to conclude the first Christian sermon, directed to an ethnically diverse crowd, most of whom were not even present in Jerusalem on the day of Jesus’ death.

For the two millennia since Jesus’ resurrection, Christian orthodoxy has been consistent in repeating this same message: the whole world stands equally guilty of committing history’s greatest atrocity, an atrocity in light of which the events of 9/11 pale in comparison. God came to earth, and we killed him.

The Book of Acts records that upon hearing this indictment for the first time, many of Peter’s listeners were “cut to the heart.” Understandably so—the charge is enough to turn the stomach, darken the mind, and plunge the heart into despair. Or, in other words, Peter’s words were enough to cause “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish.” The atheist litigants have called the 9/11 cross “an ugly piece of wreckage,” arguing that it speaks of “horror and death.” On the basis of the New Testament, these statements are difficult to contradict.

But if the image of the cross represents humanity’s greatest collective failure, why would a nation cling to it as a sign of hope in the days after 9/11? The exchange that follows Peter’s sermon sheds some further light.

When asked to suggest a course of action, Peter advised his hearers, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”—advice which makes little sense unless one assumes certain premises. These premises, implicit in the Christian religion from day one, were intricately explored over the next several decades in the writings of St. Paul, who advanced what would become the best-known but least-understood tenet of Christian theology: that somehow the death of the perfectly sinless Christ was itself the event which atoned for all the wrongdoing of the sinful human race.

If true, this turns the cross into a profound paradox. The same event that condemns humanity also justifies it, standing at once as damning evidence of guilt and a doorway to forgiveness and innocence. What’s more, the very episode that shows humanity at its worst shows God at his best, as he transforms an act of wickedness into a display of mercy and love. It is difficult to imagine themes more relevant to the attacks of September 11.

Suppose God himself has suffered and died at the hands of evil men. Suppose God himself has shown the capacity for taking what was intended for harm and using it for good. Might this affect the way we ourselves face evil and suffering? Might this be a source of strength to someone who is waist-deep in ash and rubble, trying to loosen bodies from steel and concrete?

For the person who accepts this narrative, the cross is the only thing that makes sense in the face of a senseless tragedy. But for the person who rejects it, the cross serves as a reminder of an offensive and seemingly absurd accusation, adding insult to injury. The trouble with the cross is that it refuses to be the universal symbol of beauty that some would make it out to be—it speaks life to those who believe, but death to those who do not.

No wonder people disagree about where it should be displayed.

Ryan Holladay is pastor of Lower Manhattan Community Church, which meets two blocks from the World Trade Center site.

June 15, 2011

Removing Sin’s Stains

Invariably, when lists are compiled of what some consider goofy hymn lyrics, someone always nominates:

My sin, Oh the bliss of this glorious thought.

It is of course a little bit out of context; the hymn writer isn’t reveling sin; a better punctuation would be

My sin (oh the bliss of this glorious thought)
My sin not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more…

Or an option to the parenthesis would be what are called em-dashes:

My sin — oh the bliss of this glorious thought —
My sin not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more…

The writer is rejoicing in the thought of sins taken away.   Other writers of that era wrote

You ask why I am happy, so now I tell you why
Because my sins are gone
And when I meet the skeptics* who ask me where they are
I say, ‘My sins are gone.’

or

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary

Of course, we don’t write those types of lyrics these days, and there is a whole imagery of sin forgiven and forgotten that is missing from contemporary books as well.  Corrie Ten Boom once wrote that God places our sins in the “sea of forgetfulness” and then put up a sign that said “no fishing.”   I once put it this way, “Forgetfulness is a human failing but it’s a divine attribute.”

Some contemporary authors have written that in fact God is capable of retrieving our sins from his celestial “hard drive” if He were to so choose, but doesn’t do so unless we happen to bring it up.  I think that misses the point of what we find in Psalm 103:11

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. (NLT)

And as far as sunrise is from sunset,  he has separated us from our sins. (MSG)

But experience is often a different kind of teacher:  Sometimes we do in fact wallow in our past sins.  It’s a technique of the Enemy to focus on our past failures so that we’re blinded to the truth.  The group Casting Crowns has a song that says,

I start the day, the war begins
Endless reminding of my sin
And time and time again your truth is drowned out
By the storm I’m in

What we need to do in these moments is remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness to his promise to cast our sin into oblivion.

Romans 8 — the passage many of you know as “There is therefore now no condemnation” begins like this in The Message:

…Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death…

And then there are Jesus words in John 8 to the woman caught in the act of adultery:

The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”
“No one, Master.”
“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”

~Paul Wilkinson

*Skeptics is how we would say it today; the original lyric is scoffers.

April 25, 2011

Spiritual Relapse

Today’s post first appeared at Thinking Out Loud under the title Spiritual Recidivism.

I remember the first time I heard the term recidivism, it was in the context of American federal prisons, as the word can be used to describe the situation where, after serving time, prisoners re-offend and are re-incarcerated. It’s a term I would image Chuck Colson‘s Prison Fellowship ministry discusses frequently.

Not being an expert, I can only guess at a few sample reasons why people might follow their previous paths and end up back in jail:

  • Crime is the only life they know; they haven’t been placed in a new direction or given enough new life skills, and they simply return to what they know.
  • They actually “learn” crime in prison from listening to other inmates; or they idolize other prisoners and see their exploits as something worth trying.
  • They fall back among former friends — people who didn’t do hard time — and get caught up in their lifestyle of illegal activities.
  • They either consciously or subconsciously miss the security and routine of prison life and/or feel “lost” in the outside world and are simply either expecting or hoping to get caught again.

Those are just some sample ideas, I’m sure there are more.

But I am equally guilty of recidivism.

I sin, and then I sense God dealing with me about it, and I repent and I abstain from that sin for a season, but then that temptation might call out to me. I’m not thinking of anything recent here, but it’s a pattern that most Christ-followers — including the Apostle Paul — are familiar with. I’m told that some sects — particularly the Catholic church’s earliest concepts of confession, and certain aspects of Mormon doctrine — teach that once confessed, you really shouldn’t sin the same sin twice.

So why do we?

Let’s see if we can follow the pattern above and get some insights:

  • A lifestyle of sin is deeply ingrained. This is where Charismatics and Pentecostals (among others) would say there is a need for something that goes beyond confession: Deliverance.
  • We actually “learn” sin from hanging around with other Christians who, instead of lifting us up, bring us down. Or, freed from one area of temptation, we don’t realize that without God filling the emotional or spiritual voids that exist, we are leaving ourselves open for other types of sin or distraction.
  • We go back to the people we knew before we determined to live a life of intentional spiritual formation. This includes people in the church who are simply not committed. It can also include media influences.
  • If we get deeply enough entrenched in a sinful lifestyle, we can become numbed to guilt, and our sin feels comfortable and enjoyable. Momentarily, the pleasures of sin outweigh the joy and satisfaction found in letting God direct our paths.

Here’s the full text from Paul I alluded to earlier:

NIV Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

To amend George Santayana’s well known quotation: “Those who fail to learn the lessons of their personal history are doomed to repeat them. “

Do you find yourself running down the same sin rabbit trails? Just as spring is bringing new life to the northern hemisphere, allow God to help you break free and enjoy spiritual new life.

…If a search engine brought you to this post, maybe God is trying to tell you something. Click here to watch a brief presentation on giving Him control of your life.

October 23, 2010

Coming to the Realization of Your Guilt Before God

This week in Canada, the top news story all week has been the trial of Russell Williams, a former colonel in the Canadian armed forces, who was in charge of the CFB Trenton , one of the largest bases, and was convicted of the murder of two young women and over eighty “fetish” break and enter crimes. The account of his actions has been unlike anything seen on television or reported in newspapers here, and we’re told that the media spared us many of the pictures and narrative details.

In the middle of the week, I was a few minutes late in turning on the evening National news and figured that the short report I was seeing would end, only to realize that the CBC network had suspended regular news in order to bring coverage of the release of the video of Williams’ confession. (Here in Canada, the network news comes after prime time, so this would be like your 6:30 PM newscasts in the U.S.)

The entire video runs about 9.5 hours; and the report fast-forwarded through it until about the 4.5 hour mark where Williams realizes that his guilt has been established. There is a very long interrogation period leading up to that point, and knowing how the story ends, you see the strain on Williams as he realizes there is no escape; his guilt is a foregone conclusion. The interrogator is very skillful in bringing Williams from thinking he is just being brought in for background information to the realization that his criminal actions are, in the minds of the police, an established fact.

It’s video unlike anything else we’ve ever seen before.

If you’ve ever been involved in leading a person into that process we sometimes call ‘crossing the line of faith,’ you know that there are various steps a person needs to go through in order to have the fullest understanding of both our part and Christ’s part in the salvation of men and women. One of the more simplistic devices — and I’ve dealt the danger of devices just a few days ago at Thinking Out Loud — is called “The ABCs of Salvation.” Acknowledge, Believe, Confess.

Step one is acknowledging your sin and guilt as seen through the eye of a holy God. Those of us who have already crossed the line of faith often don’t think twice about this, but for those outside the fold, this is actually a fairly big step, because many see themselves as fairly good people.

I wondered this week how people in the broader marketplace would fare if they were brought into a room with a “spiritual interrogator” not fully thinking that their guilt had been established, and how they would move through the process from innocence (think Adam and Eve just after they ate the fruit and nothing bad happened) to concern (think Adam and Eve covering themselves, even though nobody had ever suggested the idea of clothing) to being face to face with God (think Adam and Eve not responding at all once they are found out).

This is not an easy process. It was agonizing to watch the once giant of the Canadian military realizing the game was up.

Genesis 3:9 (NIV) But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

God wasn’t playing hide-and-seek and asking Adam for his physical location; he was asking him where he was in relationship to Himself.

It’s possible that the difficulty we experience in ‘making progress’ in terms of ‘reaching’ our neighbors and friends and coworkers with an understanding of the Christian message of redemption is that they can’t bring themselves to the place where they admit their guilt. But as in the case of the televised confession this week, the evidence has been weighed and the guilt has already been established.

All have sinned and missed the mark of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3: 21-24 (The Message) But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:22-23 (The Message) Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

Williams will not get a pardon for his crimes. But today, everyone can receive forgiveness and grace from a God of mercy.

October 10, 2010

It Is Hell, It Is Hell With My Soul

No peace like a river attendeth my way,
My sorrows like sea-billows roll
This heart-breaking lot has just taught me to say,
It is hell, it is hell in my soul

My sin — Oh the grief of this guilt in my heart –
My anguish, not part, but the whole,
All adds up to loss, and I bear it alone;
It is hell, it is hell in my soul

Now Satan can buffet, sore trials can come
When life is all out of control;
My conscience just burns, and dark memories haunt
It is hell, it is hell in my soul.

But, Lord haste the day that will chase off this night,
And scatter this doom from my soul.
With tears I repent, so, dear Lord, let me know
There is hope and relief for my soul.

With great condemnation I fall at Thy cross,
To confess, not in part, but the whole
Of a sin-blighted life, and to cry to be cleansed,
And to plead, “Take control of my soul.”

~Leonard Ravenhill

May 13, 2010

A Shelter in the Time of Storm

Whether your tastes run to hymns or modern worship, this song is both.   “I Have a Shelter” is a Sovereign Grace Music song, and on this video version the lyrics appear onscreen.   If this is new to you, play it several times.

O Jesus, I will hide in you
The one who bears my burdens
With faithful hands that cannot fail
You’ll bring me home to heaven.