Wednesday, March 29, 2006

 

An oldie from my journal . . .

I wrote the following in my journal on December 20, 2003, but I read it this morning and wanted to share it. Here ya go:

We humans make lots of excuses for our behavior or for our “petty” failures (read—SIN), but deep in our own hearts we all know that only one thing matters. Only one thing is of utmost importance in life. Yes, in our honest moments, in those times when we aren’t looking out for number one or getting the “break” we believe we deserve, in those times of utter clarity and reason, we know. Oh do we know!

Yet we are so fearful of giving voice to it, aren’t we? We are so afraid to admit the one thing that is genuinely important.

What is that thing? It is the smile of acceptance, that is what we all long for in our deepest hearts.

Why do different groups clamor for "rights"? They want acceptance. Deep within the heart of every human being is a groan, an ache, a holy desire for acceptance. Admit it, you just want someone to accept you, warts and all.

Yet in those awful moments of clarity, another truth stands out like a beacon. We are all (in some sense, at least) utterly unacceptable. It is the inheritance from our ancestors Adam and Eve, and it is the result of our own foolish choices. We have blown it, failed, let someone down, sinned, screwed up, been a disappointment, embarrassed the family or the company.

In short, we are sinners. We all know it.

Who has the unmitigated gall to claim complete perfection on his or her own right? No one who is honest. And yet, in spite of these two seemingly opposite desires and truths, we are ashamed (or is it afraid?) to admit it. We know it in our hearts, but we pretend that it isn’t important. Why is that?

Well, I don’t pretend to have all the answers (even in those moments when I think myself perfectly capable of searching out the depths of the universe and explaining them!), but I can say this much--we have this desire and this fear because God put it there. It is in our humanity. It is part of us.

The Psalmist prayed many times, “God let me not be ashamed.” Wasn’t he saying what is particular to all humans? The long version of this statement for most of us may be put this way--“Lord, don’t let me be found out. Don’t let the truth of my sin or failure be made known to others. Let me be accepted.” This attitude is endemic to all humanity, it is part and parcel of the nature of sinful humans.

And God has an answer for it.

When he came searching for Adam and Eve, he said, “Adam, where are you?” He was LOOKING for Adam, the human he loved. It was Adam who hid from God out of shame. It was Adam who claimed to be unacceptable. God never said that. In fact, God judged Adam’s act, but showed mercy to Adam.

Do you see it yet? God accepts you! As Jeremiah says in chapter 17 of his prophecy—“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Oh, but don’t stop reading, he also says, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind.” The Lord is greater than my heart (1 John 5). He knows what my heart ought to look like, and if I am his child through Jesus, he has given me a new heart, a good heart, a pure heart, an unashamed heart!

God accepts us. He accepts me. He is not ashamed of me. I do not embarrass him. Do I believe it? In my moments of spiritual clarity I think I do.

Satan wants us to continue on in the false idea that somehow we don’t measure up. Oh, there may be some truth to that, but it is a partial truth. The rest of the good news is that Jesus did for us what Adam could not. Jesus did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We measure up because Jesus measures up.

Is God ashamed of Jesus? No, a thousand times no! He also cannot turn aside his loving gaze from the fruits of his Son’s sacrifice and ministry.

Yet, we continue to trust in our humanity, our abilities, our own flesh to measure up to God. As Jeremiah says:

Jer 17:7-8
7 " Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD
And whose trust is the LORD.
8 "For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.”
NASU

Trusting in flesh will get fleshly results, but trusting in God will yield godly fruit.

Lord, teach us to trust you in all things. Teach us to live out of hearts fully alive to you. Give us authentic experiences with your grace, your love, your acceptance of us. Help us to grow in grace until we literally ooze the very character of Jesus out of every pore of our lives. For the furtherance of your kingdom, teach my heart to live this truth.


Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

 

The Surprise Topic is--"Circumcision"

Rom 2:28-29
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. NASU

Circumcision is not a "painless" endeavor--never has been, never will be. How's that for understatement?

Circumcision involves a painful process that results in the removal of a very sensitive and delicate part of the anatomy. The wound created by circumsion must be cared for so as not to avoid infection. Our topic today is about a more invasive form of circumcision, however. Today I want to consider circumcision as heart surgery.

The passage above refers to a circumcision of the heart. Why is this surgery needed?

The reasons for the inward surgery include purity, obedience, and sanctification. The Spirit of God removes the sensitive areas of our hearts, those areas we do not let others touch indiscriminately--those areas into which we allow few if any of our friends.

The area for removal is secret as well as sensitive. The surgery is hardly pain free. When the Spirit begins to cut off those secret areas of our hearts, he removes and exposes things we would rather leave unknown and secret.

The healing of these wounds can take time too! It is no small thing to have God's surgery of circumcision performed on your heart!

How does this surgery take place? How is it performed by God's Spirit?

Often it is done in the red hot bed of trials or harsh circumstances. Rarely does God perform this kind of surgery without the benefit of hard times--just ask Job, or Moses, or Paul, or even Jesus himself, who "learned obedience through suffering." When God removes what we think is good--job, relationships, security, etc.--sometimes he is doing his best to expose the secret stuff that he really wants to cut away from our hearts.

The good news is that God knows what he is doing, and his scalpel is true. We can trust him to do the surgery well and to complete it. Trust him when times are hard, he will only remove what is necessary to complete your circumcision. Oh, it may feel like his scalpel is going to kill you, but it will not. It is for health that he prunes us and performs heart surgery.

His surgery on our hearts marks us as his people. It is a sign of his acceptance and love for us (remember Hebrews 12?). Without this surgery, without this circumcision, without this change of heart, we are not as easily identifiable as the people of God.

How do we respond to these things?

The only thing a patient can really do is to let the surgeon finish the work. Be still and know that he is God.

He will not remove too much.

He will complete what he starts.

Trust him.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

 

Shut up and listen!

For the most part of the book of Job, Job states his case forcefully and well that he is suffering without cause, that he has done no wrong to deserve his suffering. He even makes the bold statement, “Would that there was a mediator between me and God, then I’d state my case!” When God shows up, however, Job does not present his case. The story of Job tells us that that righteous, perfect man “put his hand on his mouth” after hearing God.

How often do we rush into the Almighty’s presence to “state our case” before him! Like Job, we have a just cause to promote, an injustice to prevent or overcome, or a problem to solve. We rush to God and argue our case, and sometimes in the midst of our arguments we find ourselves screaming so loud that we miss the most important part of the story—God is speaking. And the only proper response to the voice of God is silence. Shut up! Put your hand on your mouth! Listen!

After hearing God’s side, Job states, “I have spoken things too wonderful for me,” and he repented. Notice that Job’s repentance didn’t come after a change in his circumstances. Oh, he was still seated on the ash heap, still scraping his sores, still in physical and emotional misery—-none of that had changed a bit!

What changed? Well, instead of hearing the droning of his own pitiful voice, Job heard God. God spoke! God addressed Job! The God of Creation, who holds the stars in the palm of his hand, spoke openly and directly to Job. Job’s response was to close his mouth. His case, his problems no longer seemed paramount. God is speaking so all activity must cease. “Be still, and know that I am God.”

What did God say? Did he speak nice words of hope and encouragement to Job?

Not really, what he did was to question Job. He cross-examined Job in the greatest court of law.

No wonder Job was smart enough to be quiet! The greatest Lawyer and Law-Giver in the universe was grilling him.

“Job,” God says, “I want you to give me wisdom since you seem to be so smart. Where were you when I created the universe? Where were you when I separated land and sea? When I scattered stars in the sky? When I overthrew Leviathan and Behemoth? You were there, right, you are so wise, so tell me!”

God essentially told Job—“I am God, and you aren’t.” It might seem like a harsh message given Job’s circumstances, but it is true and in some ways it is comforting too. God is in charge, he sees all the angles, not me. God is the Creator, the Sustainer, the Advocate, the Mediator, the Lover, and he wants me to remember even in my darkest hour that he knows what is important and why things are going the way they are.

He may not explain himself to me, but he will come and remind me who is God. He will comfort me with the assuring words that he knows what he is doing. I may want to argue, to tell him how horribly wrong he is, but I know in my heart that the proper response is to be still, to put my hand on my mouth and let God be God. He doesn’t need my advice, my counsel, even though he asks for my cooperation. God is good, and he is God. Be still, and know that today.

Thank you, Father, for the timely reminder. Today, help us to find pools of silence in an otherwise busy day so that we can hear you talking to us.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 10, 2006

 

What is the cost of service?

Will a man serve God for nothing? Will he? Psalm 8 says that God has made us a little lower than the angels, a little lower than God himself. He has given us dominion and authority. Would I so quickly praise his name if he had not?

In the story of Job, Satan asks the infamous question—“Will a person serve God for nothing?” There is the real question of life; this is where the rubber meets the road. Take away all the “success” I may think I see—would I still serve God? Take away the honors, the hours of training, the degrees, the ability to think, the ability to write, the desire to teach, the hope of salvation, take away spouse and children, houses and lands—-would I then say—-“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord?” Would I demand an audience with God? Would I “state my case before the Holy One of Israel?”


Would you?


“Will a man serve God for nothing?” What? Is God asking me to work for no pay? What will I have left then if God takes it all away?

Perhaps a better question is what do you have that God did not give you through the poverty of his Son, Jesus? He became poor so that you might be rich. He became sin so that you might become the righteousness of God. He suffered death so that you might enjoy eternal life. He became the “medicine of immortality” so that these sinful lives could be completely redeemed and restored to their pristine and edenic form.

What privation can you not endure for him who has given all things? Romans 8 says, “He that did not spare his own Son, but delivered him over for us all, how will he not with him also freely give us all things?” The same chapter reminds us that we are “joint-heirs” with Jesus—-heirs of his good things, yes, but also heirs of his suffering.

The whole cosmos waits on tippy-toes to see the final redemption of humanity, and we are so selfish and close-minded as to think that somehow we “deserve” certain things or that we are mistreated when privation and loss come our way. God has freely given us all things with Jesus and through Jesus—that word “all” is mighty big. As Job said, “Shall we not receive evil from the hand of the Lord?” After receiving all these good things from his hand, am I going to dictate to him what I can now receive or not? How audacious! How arrogant!

God, nothing I have today is rightfully mine. I can claim ownership of none of the good gifts you have bestowed on my life. I may want to do so, but in reality I do not deserve them. Forgive each of us, Father, for thinking of our puny individual selves as somehow more important than the rest of your creation, even than the plan you have for us in Christ.

Like Paul, I have not attained that high calling to which God leads me yet, but I pray that he will give me grace and strength to press on today. O God, let me see more of the precious image of God in Christ revealed in my low life today. Teach me to receive the gifts you send my way today. Help me to quiet my mouth and mind so as to hear your voice in my life.

“Will a man serve God for nothing?” By your grace, Lord, I’ll try.

I think, however, that the genuine answer to that question is a resounding “NO!” Why? Because God is a lover, and lovers give gifts.

Humans cannot serve God for nothing because God cannot stop giving us things. Like a good Father, he continues to lavish his attention on us even when we think he has ignored us. He gives us gifts, sometimes in packages we do not appreciate or recognize, but he eternally gives them nonetheless.

I can set my mind to serve God for nothing, but he would still give me oxygen to breath, food to eat, life to live.

Lord, help our motives to be pure, and teach us to walk gratefully in your good gifts today. Thank you, Lord, that you have not stopped giving to us. Today, we will seek to serve you just because of who you are.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

 

What I am listening to today . . .

On the old CD player today is a smorgasbord--

1. Styx--Greatest Hits
2. Boston (yes, Boston!)
3. Derek Webb--Mockingbird (does anyone else find this album slightly depressing?)
4. David Crowder Band--Illuminate
5. Caedmon's Call
6. Bob Dylan--Oh Mercy

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

 

What is important?

Recently I have been privy to some debates between Christians on the issue of Calvinism and Arminianism, or the sovereignty of God vs. Free Will. Growing up as a traditional Southern Baptist, I recognize that Baptist history is notoriously schizophrenic on the issue--we are Arminians until you get saved and Calvinists afterward. In all honesty, in all my years as a Christ-follower, I haven't really changed that perspective much. As one of my professors used to say, "Somedays I'm Calvinist, other days I'm an Arminian." I realize that some of you would probably like me to make a choice, so go ahead and try to convince me if you must.

I have come to recognize that Scripture uses language full of tension--there is the language of choice (e.g., "Choose you this day," "Whoever believes" etc.) and there is the language of election (do you really need examples?). That tension has not really proven a difficult thing for me. In fact, more difficult than the tension in the biblical language is the fact that Christians I respect tend to see it as some kind of badge or victory to beat each other up over the issue. I mean, God gives us this perfectly good armor to wear and with which to fight the enemy of our souls, and we spend more time attacking each other with it (or else we spend our time polishing it and commenting on how powerful it looks) rather than getting out there and using it for its proper purpose.

All of this is basic introduction for an epiphany I had this morning. As I was driving to work, I was listening to an old cassette I made (appropriately entitled "Rock Warfare") on which I had recorded songs about music and spiritual warfare from several different Christian bands of the 70s and 80s. One song that caught my attention was from DeGarmo and Key (and, no, it wasn't JUST because these fellow are from Memphis, TN). The song is "Up on a Cross," and I wanted to share the lyrics with you. Think of the music as Rock Ballad and hum along.

"Up on a Cross"
Words and Music by Eddie DeGarmo and Dana Key
on Street Light
Copyright 1986

You say I must not sing or dance
They say the Spirit must come through
You say that I must be immersed
They say a sprinkling will do

(Chorus)
Will you still love me after I choose?
Doesn't the issue stand upon this truth?
Up on a cross he died for sinners
Up on a cross between two thieves
Up on a cross he died for you and me

You say a man has a free will
They say he isn't really free
You pray exactly what you feel
They memorize their liturgy

(Chorus)
Will you still love me after I choose?
Doesn't the issue stand upon this truth?
Up on a cross he died for sinners
Up on a cross between two thieves
Up on a cross he died for you and me

I heard the Devil's voice today

It is that last line that got me.

"I heard the Devil's voice today."

DeGarmo and Key do not define the "devil's voice." I don't think that they meant to implicate either side of the debate above.

I think that the "Devil's Voice" is a reference to our quibbling and fighting.

Ouch!

As a philosopher and a professor of Biblical Studies, that hurts.

I quibble a lot.

I hope in the future that any arguments I may have with my brothers and sisters will be over what is really important and not over doctrinal systems developed a few hundred years ago.

Here are my irreducible minimums--(1) the authority of Scripture and (2) the role of Jesus Christ in bringing humans and God together in salvation.

Let's talk, but remember, no quibbling. (grin)

I don't want to speak with the devil's voice.

Thanks for reading!

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