Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Are you ready for some...thing more than football?

If you're a football fan at all, you know the theme song of Monday Night Football that Hank William, Jr sings...Are you ready for some football?!! I'm a football it as a matter of fact. But there are lots of things we should be longing for and preparing for ahead of some the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

We are celebrating the sacrament of Communion this week in church. We have, on our web site, a tab you can click that takes you from the Home page to of the Resources we offer are Communion questions. Unfortunately, very few know that we offer these questions, so I thought I'd offer them on my blog today...

First, take time in advance to prepare by reading 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: What are some things we need to prepare for? “Is my heart prepared as far as faith in the promises related to the sacrament? Am I really understanding that Christ is offered to me—His body, His blood, His life—that my organic union is strengthened through the sacrament? Am I prepared to believe that as I eat and as I drink? Am I acknowledging my need for the life of Christ to flow into me in deeper measure? Am I guilty of not preparing adequately for the sacrament?” Do I come to the Table believing I participate in the Supernatural? After all, if, as we learn in 1 Corinthians 11:29-30, coming in an unbelieving, unrepentant manner to the Table can cause sickness or worse, how much more are we to expect that if we come humbly, confessing our need and believing in God's goodness shall we we expect supernatural help for life and Spirit-empowered transformation?!

Second category of questions: “Am I believing the Gospel promises and living in light of them daily?” In other words, “Am I truly understanding the wonder of my justification? Do I really have an illumined heart that understands what it means to be treated just as if I’d never sinned, and just as if I’d done everything right? The promise of the life of Christ is offered in the sacrament to enliven that grace and to illumine my mind and heart to that doctrine. Am I believing that through union with Christ, I’m dead to sin, but alive to righteousness?” Another way to look at it, “Where am I living in self-reliance? Where am I using the sacrament as an opportunity for self-reformation rather than trusting the life of Christ to transform me?”

Third group of questions: “Am I ready to receive the life of Christ specifically, according to particular needs in my life?” In other words, “Where do I perceive in my life the beginning of hardness of heart? What areas of a sin am I giving in to more and more, and not really that repentant over? That is where I need the life of Christ to be strengthened in me. Where do I perceive that I’m sorely tempted, that I’m particularly tempted, and I need the life and blood of Christ to enliven me against that temptation? Where is my repentance shallow? Where am I sorry because I feel guilty and not sorry because I offended God’s holiness? Where am I not truly hating and despising my sinfulness?”

Fourth category: “What particular sins have I committed this past week that need repenting of? What sins of omission? What have I not done that I was supposed to do? What sins of commission? What have I done that I wasn’t supposed to do? What needs to be repented of that needs the life of Christ to transform me over? What idols are thee in my life that I’m trying to suck life and joy from, rather than getting life from the life of Christ Himself?”

Fifth category: With respect to the communion of the saints, “Am I living in light of my communion with others? See, if I’m organically united with Christ, and you’re organically united with Christ, then we’re united to each other. Am I living in light of that? Am I deeply concerned for the spiritual well being of Christians around me? Am I willing to forgive those Christians who have wronged me in any way? Am I concerned for those yet to be converted, that they would become converted? Looking at the Supper as an installment of the final supper, am I desiring the return of Christ, or am I too at home in this life?

Then lastly, am I willing to rest in the work of Christ, in the work of the Holy Spirit, even if I don’t experience anything? Am I willing to wait on the experience of the power of Christ, even though I may not feel it?”

One of the great tragedies of the contemporary church is that we have a tendency to de-supernaturalize the Christian life. We tend to deny the power of the Risen Christ in our midst when Paul reminds us clearly in 1 Corinthians 5:4, that as we assemble in the Name of the Lord Jesus that the Power of our Lord Jesus is present! Christ is spiritually and supernaturally present with the Church, especially in the Sacrament of Communion...are you ready?!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Henri Nouwen and the Mission of Oak Mountain

I posted a link of an article by Henri Nouwen the other day entitled “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry.” It is a fantastic article…but it was also very encouraging to me with regard to the ministry of our church.

Read the article by clicking here.

Our Mission Statement reads as follows: “To glorify Jesus Christ by equipping every member to:
Seek Grace from God
Share Grace in Community
Show Grace to All.

What excited me is that our Mission Statement and Nouwen’s article fit “hand-in-glove!” Seeking Grace from God involves us seeking transforming grace from God through public and private worship…and parallels Nouwen’s emphasis on hearing the Father’s rejoicing over us (Zeph 3:17) through Solitude. Before we will move out in strength and love toward others, we need to be confident that we are loved and cared for—that we are NOT orphans! Apart from this element of “Seeking Grace from God” we will be trying to prove ourselves worthy or giving in to the lies of the world, the flesh and the devil that we don’t have what it takes to move out in strength and love toward others.

Sharing Grace in Community is parallel to Nouwen’s emphasis on Community where we experience “forgiveness and celebration.” Community is the place where the truth of God’s love for us and the hope of His transforming grace in us is spoken to us with strength. The Christian life involves solitude and Seeking Grace from God, but the Christian life, contrary to much popular opinion is NOT primarily about “privatized spirituality!” In the context of community we are affirmed as children of God, created by Him and re-created in Christ to represent and reflect God to others. The Community of the Church is where we experience the tangible expressions of the Father’s love…we are healed and restored to wholeness in the context of community.

Finally, as we experience the Father’s love through Solitude and Seeking Grace from God in public and private worship; and as we experience restoration through Community (and also contribute to other peoples’ restoration), it leads us outside ourselves in ever greater measure and we are propelled into ministry. In order for us to engage in ministry, we are called to exercise a radical trust in God, that He will, by the Holy Spirit, powerfully minister to others through our feeble attempts at service. We are to “weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.” We are not to give in to the lies that we don’t have what it takes to bring restoration and wholeness to others…rather we are to believe that God can use “cracked pots” (or “crackpots”…whichever you prefer), to transform lives.

I’m so thankful that God has affirmed our Mission Statement through such a fantastic article. Let’s trust God for the grace to go from theory to implementation!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How Can You Stand Next to the Truth and Not See It?

One of the lines from U2's current hit, "I Know I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" is "How can you stand next to the truth and not see it...change of heart comes slow." As I look back on my Christian life, I can give my "Amen!" to the truth of that verse. It is a sad Amen, however...because much pain results from change coming so slowly.

I began my Christian life shooing out of the gate like a rocket...or so I thought! It was something new that I could pour myself I had done with swimming and basketball and academics throughout my life. It wasn't too long into the Christian-life-thing that I realized it was different. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't seem to maintain a sense of peace before God based on my performance and a matter of fact, the harder I tried, often the more defeated I felt!!

It was years before I realized that I had never visited the truths of the Gospel that must lay the foundation of Christian living...above all, the truth of justification by grace through faith...the promise of the Gospel of grace that through hope in Christ, God looks at me "just-as-if-I'd" never sinned and "just-as-if-I'd" perfectly obeyed His commands (see the Heidelberg Catechism Question #60!).

When I began to be gripped by such a gospel, my spiritual life changed, and it was as if for the first time, as Francis Schaeffer wrote in True Spirituality, "the sun came out and the song came!"

My first thought was, "If THIS is the Gospel, then how come I haven't heard it before?" I soon learned that lessons of grace had been all around me, I just didn't have the eyes to see or the ears to hear...I stood "next to the truth" and did not see it! Here's one example: as a new believer in Christ I read Oswald Chambers' devotional, "My Utmost for His Highest." Just this morning my sweet bride sent me this morning's devotional from that classic it slowly, especially in light of what I've just written:

"I realize I am saved by believing. It isnot repentance that saves me, repentance is the sign that I realize what God has done in Christ Jesus. The danger is to put the emphasis on the effect instead of on the cause. It is my obedience that puts me right with God, my consecration. Never! I am put right with God because prior to all, Christ died.

When I turn to God and by belief accept what God reveals I can accept, instantly the stupendous Atonement of Jesus Christ rushes me into a right relationship with God; and by the supernatural miracle of God's grace I stand justified, not because I am sorry for my sin, not because I have repented, but because of what Jesus has done. The Spirit of God brings it with a breaking, all-over light, and I know, though I do not know how, that I am saved.

The salvation of God does not stand on human logic, it stands on the sacrificial Death of Jesus. We can be born again because of the Atonement of Our Lord. Sinful men and women can be changed into new creatures, not by their repentance or their belief, but by the marvellous work of God in Christ Jesus which is prior to all experience. The impregnable safety of justification and sanctification is God Himself. We have not to work out these things ourselves; they have been worked out by the Atonement. The supernatural becomes natural by the miracle of God; there is the realization of what Jesus Christ has already done - "It is finished.""

I had read that devotional as a young believer...probably multiple times! It went right over my slipped right off my "teflon" heart!

So, how can you stand next to the truth and not see it...easily...VERY easily....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Water Cannons

There are worship wars in the church today...what style is Biblical, what instruments should be used, should only hymns be sung or only contemporary music used? What is more relevant, etc. Thankfully at Oak Mountain we have been spared such battles. However, water wars are another matter altogether. By God's providence, Oak Mountain is a Presbyterian Church placed smack-dab in the middle of one of the most staunchly Baptist strong-holds in the country...not that there's anything wrong with that! For the most part evangelical Baptists and evangelical Presbyterians agree on most things.

One of the things that is hotly debated, however, is baptism...the mode and the subjects of baptism. Baptists assert that the only subjects of Baptism are people who profess faith in Jesus Christ and the only Biblical mode is immersion. Presbyterians believe that people who profess faith in Jesus Christ AND THEIR CHILDREN are the proper subjects of baptism and the truly Biblical mode is sprinkling.

Let me say that no one's eternal destiny depends on where you come down on this issue. Let me also say, however, that I do believe there are huge practical implications and even "blessings of grace" involved in where we stand on this doctrine. The only thing that I really get bothered by in this discussion is thoughtless blather that doesn't even take the debate to Scripture. Tradition alone is not where the debate should take place...for any Christ-follower the discussion must take place at a Biblical/Theological level.

So, for those of you who are desiring some real substance to the debate, let me offer what I feel are some important passages to consider:

I would always begin with Colossians 2:11-12 where Paul basically equates circumcision and baptism (which then begs the question of who the proper subjects of baptism are because circumcision was applied to 8 day old male infants as well as adult men who would convert to Judaism);

Then I would turn to Acts 2:38-39, where ALL the Jews at Pentecost understood the Covenant language of baptism as referring to Abraham and circumcision and children of believers; children Peter even expressly refers to. No Jew present could fail to make the connection between Genesis 17 and the baptism that Peter is talking about in Acts 2; Genesis 17, which alongside Romans 4:11, answers the Baptist objection that baptism is an outward sign of an already inwardly present faith. We know that saving faith that brings a right relationship with God could NOT be present when circumcision was applied to an infant...yet it WAS still the sign of faith and the righteousness that comes by faith...and was commanded by God to be applied to the infant!

Then I would refer you to Ezekiel 36:24-32 as a passage that brings the symbolism of both circumcision and baptism together.

Finally, I would also say that the mode of SPRINKLING is present in the statements made in Hebews 9:13,19,21, Hebrews 10:22, Hebrews 11:28, Hebrews 12:24 and 1 Peter 1:2.

In my mind, especially in light of Acts 2:38-39, NO LONGER INCLUDING CHILDREN OF BELIEVERS IN THE COVENANT SIGN OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES BY FAITH would be a change among God's people so incredibly dramatic, that a change of such magnitude would have to be PLAINLY AND CLEARLY taught. It is NOT clearly taught in the New Testament. Therefore, apart from such clear teaching, the evidence is clearly on the side of infant baptism continuing the Biblical tradition of infants of believers being recipients of the sign of grace. I would say to my Baptistic friends (and they ARE friends and fellow family members in Christ!), I don't need to show you where infant baptism is taught in a verse; rather, you would need to show me clearly that the covenant sign applied to children of believers has ceased.

Happy studying!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Who is FIRST?

Two of the best quarterbacks in college football...Sam Bradford, he plays for Oklahoma...he won the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football last year. If he would have gone pro early, before graduation, he would have been offered millions and millions of dollars. He came back to play another year...and he got hurt. He recently he did this video with Colt McCoy, the quarterback of Texas, archrival to Oklahoma. After being hurt earlier in the year, Sam came back and played on Saturday, against Texas and Colt McCoy...he got hurt again...probably resulting in the loss of millions of dollars. He believes God has a plan for him and he is willing, along with Colt McCoy, to be SECOND, with the Lord first. After he got hurt on Saturday, ESPN interviewed him briefly...obviously he had no prep time to develop a thoughtful answer...he spoke in the same terms he uses in this video...God has a plan...I'll trust Him! Wow! Are you willing to say Christ is first, I am second?! Cry out for grace!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Clock is Running

I had the privilege of seeing U2 perform in Dublin at Croke Park on July 24. The local papers summed up my own assessment...perhaps one of the greatest U2 gigs ever! Now I get the chance to see them again in Atlanta tonight...with my youngest son.

One of the things that struck me during the concert in Croke Park was how many times the screens flashed a countdown; a stopwatch-like clock running down. I wondered during the concert what it meant, and I've thought about it several times since. I'm looking forward to seeing it all again tonight!

But what does it mean? Last night, I was reading Psalm 90, A Prayer of Moses, the man of God. In verses 12-13, Moses writes these words:

So teach us to number our days

that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Return, O LORD! How long?

The clock is ticking…so we must number our days…We only have so many days. Do we live in light of that reality?

We are to live in light of the fact that we only have so many hours to make a difference in this life. The more we live in light of our mortality, often the more wisely we live out our days. When we realize the clock is ticking, we more easily focus on what is important.

The clock is ticking.

Notice the line that we see several times in U2 lyrics: “How long?” In Sunday Bloody Sunday, in 40, we sing along with U2, “How long? How long to sing this song?” The clock is ticking...the Return of Christ is nearer today than it was yesterday. Moses prays: Return, O LORD! How long?

Perhaps U2 is calling us all to think about numbering our days. The time is short. Live in such a way to maximize your minutes. Make a difference! Live with purpose! Don't just exist…live!

If you’re going to the concert (or have already been), notice the emphasis on time. Even if you are NOT going to the concert…Time is winding down.

Time is running out…will you number your days?

See 1 Corinthians 7:29-31!

The clock is ticking...

Monday, October 5, 2009


Because of the Fall, because of our brokenness, we are all thirsty in this life. We may not even recognize our thirst, but it's there. It's built into our souls. We ARE a thirsty people. What we thirst for, ultimately, is Christ. The heart demands a drink that only Jesus can serve up. That drink is Himself, poured into our hearts by His Spirit (see John 7:38).

We can drink deeply of Christ, free of charge, without cost (see Isaiah 55:1-2). However, if we fail to drink of Christ, we will STILL drink...we will always live in such a way as to attempt to quench our thirst. If we don't drink of Christ and the promises of grace contained in the Gospel, we will seek drink elsewhere.

We are a people that so easily ignore the Gospel and go after other wells (see Jeremiah 2:13). Those "other wells" are also called idols. An idol is not a statue of wood or gold in our day. An idol is simply anything we pursue in an attempt to secure a pain-free life. An idol is any "drink" we pour ourselves in an attempt to cope with life apart from Christ. Think through a list of all the idols you are tempted to pursue.

Throughout the day today, we WILL drink...and we will constantly be on the look out for things to quench our thirst. The question is, will we drink of Him Who Satisfies; or will we drink of that which is like a mouthful of salt-water...drinks that just magnify and increase our thirst, leaving us frustrated?


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Daniel's Priorities, My Priorities??

I've been reading through Daniel...what a book! What a man! Ultimately, of course, what a GOD behind the man!! Daniel 9 reveals the means of grace through which God grabbed Daniel's heart: Daniel 9:1-2--He read and understood the Scriptures. It's interesting that Daniel knew Jeremiah's words were Scripture just as Peter knew Paul's words were Scripture. If we want to experience the power of grace, we must spend time in the Word!
Daniel 9:3-19--Daniel was a man of prayer.
The Word of God and prayer--the means of grace that God uses to change our lives.
Daniel 6--Daniel was so committed to the necessity and importance of prayer that he risked his life to engage in it! How come I struggle to risk even re-arranging 30 minutes of my day to engage in it?!
May we all seek grace from God that we might be a people of the Word and prayer...hmmm, interesting that the early church sought to follow the same priorities--Acts 2:42!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

And to Love I Rhapsodize

I have had U2's song, "Window in the Skies" stuck in my head for the past couple weeks. The more I listen, the more I love it all over again! And the more I listen...the more I learn. What a song of Hope, Faith and Love (to borrow a line from U2's song, Stand Up Comedy). What a song of joy...and from that perspective I'm reminded of their song, "Magnificent." Bono has given back his voice to the One who "left a window in the skies," to sing whatever He wants him to; "Love left a window in the skies, and to Love I rhapsodize."

Bono has been struck by a Love that undoes shackles and overcomes "karma" through grace. Bono sings confidently of the Love that left an undeniable witness...a "stone" that has been removed, leaving nothing but an Empty Grave. Bono sings joyfully of the Love that removes all debts, brings hate to its knees and enables him to cry out, "I've got no shame," because the finished work of Christ on the cross has removed shame for the believer.

In response to such love, in giving back his voice to the One Who loves, Who made a window in the skies, Bono tells everyone who will listen: "to Love I rhapsodize." Bono's response to the Love that gave His Only Son, is that he will sing, rhapsodize." "Justified, til we die, you and I will magnify, The Magnificent."

I see a double meaning in the line: first, to show love in response to being loved, Bono sings/rhapsodizes. Again, from Breathe, finding the courage to love, to walk out, into the streets, arms out, with a love you can't defeat." Second, it is TO Love, To the God and Father of Jesus of Nazareth, Bono rhapsodizes.

Bono is unashamed to sing out the Gospel, singing out the truth that "to every broken heart, for every heart that cries, Love left a window in the skies." From "I'll Go Crazy:" "How can you stand next to the truth and not see it?"

Bono is struck by what Love is doing in his own life...again I'm reminded of songs from NLOTH--"every day he dies again and again he's reborn" from Breathe...this is what Love is doing in his life, and in every life willing to bend the knee and bow the heart to the Savior.

"Love makes love where love may please, the soul and its striptease..." again we are reminded of a line from Breathe where the band in his head is playing a striptease. Bono loves to poetically reveal the Gospel as that which brings us our highest delight and greatest much pleasure in the Gospel that it can almost be put in terms of sensuality. At God's right hand are pleasures evermore...true pleasure of soul.

"Please don't ever let me out of here." Bono is singing that he is "in the sound," the sound of amazing grace. Again, from Breathe, "I found grace inside a sound, I found grace, it's all that I found...and I can breathe; Breathe now." It's the sound he's crying for in Get On Your Boots..."Let me in the sound." Its the sound that we hear in Fez-Being Born..."let me in the sound." It's the sound of the Lamb who makes a heart as "White as Snow." "Please don't ever let me out of You." Never fear, Bono, those whom Christ justifies He also glorifies...we are secure.

We do everything to forfeit the love of God...we "hurt each other," we do "everything but murder you and I...but love left a Window in the Skies..." Nothing shall be able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ.

"Oh can't you see what love has done? Oh can't you see what love has done? Oh can't you see what love has done...and what it's doing to me?"

No wonder Bono walks out on stage during the 360 tour and says each night..."I surrender." We all have that Moment of Surrender point in time...every day.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Love Left a Window in the Skies

So far the encores for U2's 360Tour have been the same: Ultra Violet, With or Without You and Moment of Surrender. That was the encore when I saw U2 in Croke Park on July 24 and I’d like to hear those three songs again in Atlanta on October 6…plus one…Window in the Skies.

You can listen to U2 songs over and over, and often, a song you’ve heard a hundred times “speaks to you.” That happened to me this week as my iPhone, on shuffle, played “Window in the Skies” from U218 Singles. What a great song…and what a great song to play as an encore, which at U2 concerts are always meant to send us away with a message ringing in our ears...and hearts.

Bono begins by singing, “The shackles are undone, the bullet’s quit the gun.” He is singing of the amazing truth that through grace the shackles of slavery to sin and death have been removed. So have the shackles of self-condemnation and self-absorption! The punishment at the Hand of a Just Judge has been taken away by a Substitute…thus, the bullets are taken away…for those in Christ, wrath is shooting blanks!

Then, “the heat that’s in the sun (hear “Son”) will keep us when there’s none…when the coldness of the world and the freeze of a broken planet come upon us, there’s the Son filled with the warmth of His love!

“The Rule has been disproved.” The rule of law that says unless you are perfect, you will die, both physically and spiritually. The rule of law is more like the rule of karma—you get what you deserve. Grace disproves the rule of The Law which condemns us to judgment. Grace in Christ grants us what we don’t deserve...favor where we deserve rejection.

I’m fairly confident I’m interpreting the lyrics properly, because the next line is too obvious to miss (how can you stand next to the truth and not see it?!)…

“The Stone, it has been removed.” On the first Easter, the Stone was rolled away, revealing that the Crucified Lord had been raised from the dead! So, as a result of the hope of the resurrection…

“The grave is now a groove.” The grave, for the believer, is simply a seemless groove into a God-filled eternity…no more crying, no more pain, no more sorrow, now more sin. Death has been defeated!

“All debts are removed.” The debt we owe an infinitely holy and just God because of our failure has been paid in full by the One who came to live the life we couldn’t live and die the death we couldn’t die…

“Oh can’t you see what LOVE has done?...Love left a window in the skies.” There is NOW a way we can look into the heavens and SEE our Creator! We can look in upon God and He looks down upon us in Christ with favor, delight and care!

More tomorrow on this great song…would love to hear it in Atlanta!!So far the encores for the 360Tour have been the same: Ultra Violet, With or Without You and Moment of Surrender. That was the encore when I saw U2 in Croke Park on July 24 and I’d like to hear those three songs again in Atlanta on October 6…plus one…Window in the Skies.

I’m sure you’ve listened to U2 songs over and over, as I have, but sometimes a song you’ve heard a hundred times “speaks to you.” That happened to me this week as my iPhone, on shuffle, played “Window in the Skies” from U218 Singles. What a great song…and what a great song to play as an encore, which at U2 concerts are always meant to send us away with a message ringing in our ears...and hearts.

Bono begins by singing, “The shackles are undone, the bullet’s quit the gun.” He is singing of the amazing truth that through grace the shackles of slavery to sin and death have been removed. So have the shackles of self-condemnation and self-absorption! The punishment at the Hand of a Just Judge has been taken away by a Substitute…thus, the bullets are taken away…for those in Christ, wrath is shooting blanks!

Then, “the heat that’s in the sun (hear “Son”) will keep us when there’s none…when the coldness of the world and the freeze of a broken planet come upon us, there’s the Son filled with the warmth of His love!

“The Rule has been disproved.” The rule of law that says unless you are perfect, you will die, both physically and spiritually. The rule of law is more like the rule of karma—you get what you deserve. Grace disproves the rule of The Law which condemns us to judgment. Grace in Christ grants us what we don’t deserve...favor where we deserve rejection.

I’m fairly confident I’m interpreting the lyrics properly, because the next line is too obvious to miss (how can you stand next to the truth and not see it?!)…

“The Stone, it has been removed.” On the first Easter, the Stone was rolled away, revealing that the Crucified Lord had been raised from the dead! So, as a result of the hope of the resurrection

“The grave is now a groove.” The grave, for the believer, is simply a seemless groove into a God-filled eternity…no more crying, no more pain, no more sorrow, now more sin. Death has been defeated!

“All debts are removed.” The debt we owe an infinitely holy and just God because of our failure has been paid in full by the One who came to live the life we couldn’t live and die the death we couldn’t die…

“Oh can’t you see what LOVE has done?...Love left a window in the skies.” There is NOW a way we can look into the heavens and SEE our Creator! We can look in upon God and He looks down upon us in Christ with favor, delight and care!

More tomorrow on this great song…would love to hear it in Atlanta!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

U2 Croke Park, Steve Stockman Review

My friend, Steve Stockman, who has written a book on the spirituality of U2's music, Walk On, has a blog called Soul Surmise. He was at the same concert myself and a few other OMPC folk were at in Dublin on July 24. It was amazing. Here are Steve's thoughts from his blog and his review:

"Perhaps my most quoted quote to my students is Frederick Buechner’s definition of vocation; “The place where your deepest gladness and the world’s greatest hunger meet.” I spend a lot of time pastoring students to that point where they find out what they were created to be and how that can penetrate the needs of the social order. Four songs into U2’s first of three homecoming Croke Park gigs Bono is singing about how he was born to sing and was given songs to sing. Nearing the end of Magnificent the fourth song in a row from the new album No Line On The Horizon, Bono stand arms open and declares “I surrender.” It is a surrendering to his God; it is a surrendering to the people (the fans) whose hard earned money put him on this stage, in one of the biggest stadiums in Europe, literally one or two miles from where he grew up; it is a surrendering to his place in the world, where with three chords and the truth, as he once said, he could meet some of the world’s deepest hunger. And as I watch I am thinking that this is where I hope all of my students get to, because that man and his three mates are without doubt right on the vortex of their place in the cosmos.

There is a deepest gladness about this particular gig. Is there some relief that the first of three 82,000 capacity gigs is jammered? Is there relief that after the criticisms about their music and even tax decisions they are back in the arms of their own; their families and fans and familiar streets of home? Is it that they are just happy in their own skin, doing what they do best? Whatever there is a looseness, even in the tightest of sounds, that makes the gig seem all the more uplifting; yes, a trademark but sharper than ever. The first half hour is just full on rock n roll of a stadium shrinking kind that perhaps only Springsteen could hope to emulate. As I said the splendid Breathe kicks off into four more from the new record. No Line On The Horizon is rockier than on the album and Get On Your Boots finally proves itself as a U2 banker, all hard core Edge riff and communal chant. After Magnificent it is Beautiful Day and Elevation and you wonder how these almost fifty year olds can keep it up.

The first breather gives the band a chance to shake it up. On acoustic guitar Desire seems more alive than in years and then the reinvigorated Stuck in A Moment gets served up with American grit. A wee shout out to a gloomy recession hit Ireland was full of pride and inspiration as well as a welcome to the hordes of visitors who had come to see U2 where U2 need to be experienced. An impromptu stab at Brendan Behan’s classic Irish folk song The Auld Triangle was stumbled over with some fun and laughter and a band in their very deepest gladness enjoying the night as much as the crowd.

They weren’t finished with the new arrangements. One got an Adam Clayton bass groove that prevented any danger of diminishing returns but most surprising of all was the complete reinvention of I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight with Larry out front with a drum round his neck and Bono interweaving the party and spiritual side of the song to maximum effect. Unforgettable Fire sounded refreshingly familiar and its inclusion along with MLK and a set ending Bad, as well as of course the mainstay Pride, might suggest a commercial eye on the Remaster Edition due for release in October but whatever the reason the effect was brilliant. Likewise Ultraviolet as the first encore was another reminder of the goodness of songs not tried for years.

All of it was a rat-a-tat-tat of great tunes from band holding the crowd in the palm of their hand for two hours and twenty four songs. The sense of celebration and Beuchner’s gladness was palpable. Opening act Damien Dempsey had said how great it was to be alive and I thought about his words as I simply revelled in the spiritual celebration that this band was giving out. If you want a great rock n roll show no one gets close but if you are looking for another dimension the theology is deep and poetic.

Of course as well as deep gladness these guys also meet the world’s deep hunger and tonight the build up from Bloody Sunday to Pride brought us to a Martin Luther King for 2009 and Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi in house arrest for almost twenty years. MLK was a prayer sent up for her and of course Walk On was originally about her anyway so at the crescendo of that there was a parade of people on stage wearing Suu Kyi masks in solidarity, to keep her face in the conscience of the world. Later Bono handed over to the Archbishop of the U2360 Tour and a film preach by Desmond Tutu encouraged us to keep children suffering from AIDS and Malaria alive so that they would become doctors, teachers and scientists. This is not just good music but music that is trying to be good for something.

You can’t help but wonder if that person in U2’s Christian fellowship way back in 1981 who told them that God had said they should give the music up because it was not spiritually useful was in Croke Park? If so, what would they have thought? Had U2 believed them and become teachers and whatever they might have become would these four men have affected the world in anywhere near the way that they have? And what about within themselves? Would they be doing whatever with the same deep gladness and celebration that you could see tonight? Thank God they ignored it and found their vocation.

To the end and a stroke of typical confidence and courage had U2 close the night with Moment of Surrender, a seven minute slow burner from the new, critically and commercially questioned, record. U2 have never said goodnight with a throwaway hit. From 40 to Yahweh there has been a spiritual blessing before the journey home and this is their theological masterpiece. Of course we are back to that endless theme in their catalogue and that moment at the outset of this show – surrender. As we watch on those big screens these four men, just four ordinary looking men, leave the stage you become aware how incredible it is that they can achieve the astounding impact that they have just made. And we are back to finding that place where deep gladness and world hunger meet. These men are perfectly in their reason for existence. They say they have found grace inside a sound and you simply want them to let you into that sound. They are a force of nature !"

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bad Doctors

I turn 50 this summer…it had to happen eventually. I go in this morning to hear the results of my half-a-century physical! I hope the news is good. But what if there is something wrong? What if it turns out I have a diseased liver or diminished kidney function? What if I have high blood pressure or cholesterol that is off the charts? And…what if the doctor, knowing these issues, simply ignores them or looks me in the eye and says, “Eh, its no big deal”? What a poor physician that would be!

I fear that at times pastors and leaders (and parents and friends?) in our day are poor physicians of the soul. I fear that in our evangelical sub-culture, we at times see cancer and just ignore it…or, at the very least, fail to treat it. Imagine that. Imagine someone being eaten up with cancer and the doctor, though knowing about it, failing to aggressively treat it.

Our Lord Jesus is the Great Physician. The Apostle Paul was a good Intern…as was the Apostle Peter. They were good shepherds.

In Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening for today, both devotionals deal aggressively with the possibility of cancer of the soul. I find it very interesting that the devotionals for today are right in line with where we are in our study of 1 Corinthians.

Last Sunday’s message on 1 Cor 10:1-3 was an “oil checker” for sure. As in Hebrews 6:4-6, we learn just how much grace we can be exposed to and still not be saved. There is a common grace at work in the Church that can lead to all kinds of “enlightening” but does not save. There can be profession of faith without possession of faith. As in Israel, where all passed through the Red Sea and received water from a rock and manna from heaven, we can be WITH Christ and not be IN Christ! Are YOU in Christ?

Read Spurgeon’s devotions today! If you’ve already read them…read them again! They are the “check-up” for your soul this day! Read the gifted way Spurgeon, as a good doctor, communicates the seriousness of the possibility of cancer of the soul!

As Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who SAYS to Me, “Lord, Lord!” will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Notice: some will have cast out demons in the Name of the Lord. Some will have worked miracles even, in the Name of Christ. Still others will have prophesied…and yet Jesus, on that Final Day, will say, “Depart from Me…I NEVER knew you.”

Picture the doomed in hell pointing their fiery fingers and shouting: “There is one! One who professed faith. One who thought by good deeds or a passable Christian lifestyle, that they were in the Ark of Christ and would escape the Flood of Wrath.” “There is one who was a hypocrite on earth and now will be a citizen of hell…forever!”

Read again Spurgeon’s words: “No greater eagerness will ever be seen among satanic tormentors, than in that day when devils drag the hypocrite’s soul down to eternal damnation.” Strong medicine these words are! Stronger than most of the medicine delivered in many grace-driven churches.

The Power of grace enables physicians of the soul to speak so forcefully against spiritual cancer. Gospel Physicians know that grace is no mere sentimentality of divine love, but instead is Divine Power poured out upon a human soul…and if poured out and received, grace MUST have it’s work! Grace will and must change a life.

Spurgeon ends the Evening Devotional as I have ended many sermons: “…there can not be faith in the heart unless there is holiness in the life.” Now, obviously that holiness is incomplete, and even ebbs and flows through seasons of life, but…

That is NOT works salvation! That is exalting the wonder and beauty of grace! Grace is not mere “fire insurance” against the flames of hell. Grace is God’s love poured out in transforming power.

Any healthy soul at THIS POINT, should be aware of areas of the life that are not pleasing to God. Any healthy soul at this point should be more concerned than they were at the beginning of this devotional, over the condition of their spiritual life. Any healthy soul MUST be running to the Cross right now and crying out, “Oh Christ! Have mercy!” Any healthy soul must be laboring right now to be found in Christ and in His righteousness alone. Any healthy soul right now must be humbled by existing sin in the life and hoping afresh in the work of Christ that makes clean and justifies in the sight of God. EVERY healthy soul at Oak Mountain should surely be WALTZING right now! The Three-Step Dance of GRACE with our Loving Partner, Jesus. Repent! Believe! Fight!

It is the UNHEALTHY soul that is thinking: “Ah, good for you, Bob! There are many out there who need to read such a devotional. Thankfully MY OWN soul is not in need of such examination, but I need to make sure so-and-so gets this one.” The unhealthy soul never imagines the possibility of being one who on the last day hears, “Depart from Me, I NEVER knew you.”

Let’s face it…the bar of spirituality in the Church today is not as high as it has been in the past. We need REVIVAL! Revival starts with a work of the Spirit leading us to fresh repentance. Revival starts with a fresh work of grace which reveals how desperately we need a fresh work of grace!

Revival begins with souls who have been given the grace to read devotionals like Spurgeon writes today, and after reading, cry out: “Oh Christ! Have mercy upon me! Change me! Restore me to my First Love…and do it NOW!”

Enough with examinations and check-ups that only look for visibly diseased limbs and exteriors! We need some real lab work sent off! Is kindness growing in my soul? Do I love money and possessions too much? Is there a fire in my belly for the word of God and the Church of God and the people of God? Am I burdened that Christ be believed upon and exalted and glorified and honored in the world?

Am I repenting and grieving over my self-righteousness as much as my self-indulgence? Am I repenting over my religiosity as much as my irreligiosity?

Am I as repentant over my lack of concern for the poor and diseased as I am over my lack of concern for the unborn? Am I as concerned over my problem with gossip as I am with the culture’s problem with gambling? Am I as burdened over the sins of the “Right” as I am over the sins of the “Left?”

Am I as grieved by personal, private sins which I see in myself as I am by public sins I see in others? Is Christ my First Love? Is it Him and Him only that I must have in life and nothing else matters?!

Now REMEMBER: the therapy recommended by Scripture is NOT to “turn over a new leaf;” it is NOT to “turn your life around.” The prescription for cancer of the soul is running to Christ in helpless dependence. It is despairing of any solution within and hoping afresh in Gospel Grace.
If we are, in fact, in Christ, remember the Promises:

“There is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

And, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to FORGIVE us our sins AND to CLEANSE us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

I, for one, NEED to be forgiven; AND, I NEED to be cleansed, changed, transformed! I both NEED and WANT revival! How about you?!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Can't Get No...Satisfaction

Ok…I’ll admit it…I love listening to the Rolling Stones! Their lives might be a mess, but they’ve made some sweet music. Who can’t get into their classic hit, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”? It seems that even Charles Spurgeon might have liked to blog on that one…

In his Evening Devotion for today, Spurgeon uses one verse from the Flood account. As the waters were receding, Noah sent out, first a raven…if flew around, found some trash in the world that could satisfy it’s hunger for garbage, and stayed away from the Ark, never to return.

Then, Noah sent out a dove…a bird with higher standards apparently, and because it could NOT find a suitable place to rest in the broken and judged world, it returned to the Ark. Seven days later, Noah set it loose again…this time after flying around it found an olive tree…yet it returned to the Ark and rested there once more, having brought a newly plucked olive leaf in its mouth. Finally, after waiting another seven days, Noah released the dove once more…and this time the dove did not return.

Spurgeon uses the Ark as a symbol of Christ and salvation from the wrath to be unleashed upon the world. Spurgeon reminds us this morning that the world is a place of destruction and brokenness and trash and garbage (though this is the point of the devotional, we also know that in many ways, though, the world is a glorious ruin, still revealing much of the goodness of God). So….here’s the deal…are you more like a raven or a dove?...

Can your soul find delight in the ruins and trash of this world? Or, are you dissatisfied with anything the world can offer and recognize you possess as soul that is only ever ultimately possessed by the joy and hope of being in Jesus…the Ark of your life?!

Spurgeon says that we will be known by our delights…ravens can feed on things of which the dove simply will not partake. The dove does not find any place to rest in the broken world. The dove realizes that the only pleasures in life are to be found in the Ark!

As Spurgeon writes, if you feel you can stretch out and rest comfortably in the world, it is not a good sign of the condition of your soul. But if you find yourself singing along with Mick Jagger, applying it to this world, and are crying out, “I Can’t Get NO…Satisfaction” then the condition of your soul is rather healthy indeed.

If you find your own estimation of your spiritual life is one of struggling, yet realize you find no rest in sin, no real joy in the things of the world, no satisfaction in “the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh and the boastful pride of life,” be encouraged…there is the sign of true spiritual life within you.

The Christian simply can find no rest in the muck and the mire, the runny soot of this world. The Christian recognizes that only the lush green of True Life will satisfy. The True Christian will keep flying until it finds The One Who is Life Indeed. The True Christian understands that it is only at God’s Right Hand there are pleasures forever more.

The True Believer in Christ knows, sometimes more clearly than others for sure, that this World of Muck is, as Spurgeon writes, “Meaningless, Meaningless, Everything is Meaningless” divorced from an intimate, saving, Spirit-filled relationship with Christ.

So…what are you this morning…a raven…or a dove? Will you fly back to the Ark…to your Savior…and ask that He might continue the work of transformation? Will you ask Him this morning to rid you of your raven-like characteristics and to form you into the dove…according to the Nature of His Own Spirit?

When it comes to the things of the world, may the song of our soul be: “I Can’t Get No…Satisfaction!”

May your song be that of the Psalmist: My soul…find REST in God alone! Ps 62:1, 5

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Are You a Half-baked Believer?

In this Morning’s devotional in Spurgeon, he cites Hosea 7:8—“Ephraim is a flat cake not turned over.” Ephraim was another name for the people of God. It is possible to be a child of God and be similar to a pancake that is “half-baked.” Are you a “half-baked” believer? Do you go off “half-baked” in your doctrine and behavior? Is your faith only “half-baked?”

If the flame or heat of the “burner” is the heat of God’s love and grace, what portions of your heart and life have been untouched because you have never been “turned over”?

What are the areas of “half-baked” obedience in your life? Or, put another way, how does being half-baked in grace lead to the continuous practice of partial DISobedience?! What areas of rebellion are still yet to be purged through the heat of God’s love? We cook things thoroughly to make sure bacteria is destroyed…how has our half-baked spiritual life led to the bacteria of sin remaining untouched in certain areas of our lives?

Is grace doing a complete work in your soul? What portions of your relationships, your behaviors, your attitudes, your conversation, your convictions, your recreations, your priorities are still left untouched by the heat of God’s grace?

Remember, the heat of grace doesn’t merely purge the “bacteria” of sins of commission, but must cook away the sins of omission as well. To focus only on stopping negative thoughts, words and behaviors is still to remain “half-baked.” We must cry out for grace that warms the soul toward positively engaging in thoughts words and behaviors which pleasing to God which we tend to ignore.

We will never be completely spiritually “cooked through” until we die or Christ returns. Yet we must always keep in mind that there is no area of life which the heat of grace is not to touch. We must seek to bring both the private and public life to the heat of grace.

Spurgeon also points out that a pancake “half-baked” and “unturned” tends to burn on one side. At Oak Mountain we talk about being “well done” or “heavy-footed” in one of the steps of the Waltz. Some of us are “over-done” in the Repent step; others in the Believe step; still others in the Fight step. We must allow grace to do it’s work so that we would be evenly cooked and dance the entire Waltz.

If the heat of grace is limited to only certain beliefs and behaviors and doesn’t touch other areas of life, we can become too “hot” about certain issues. We can become people with Christian “hobby-horses” or believers who only ever sound one note. We can minimize the wonder of God’s infinite nature by reducing His interests to only those things that capture our hearts. There is nothing wrong with pursuing passions and burdens, but we must remember that our passions and burdens are not supposed to be EVERYONE’S passion and burden. That is the beauty of the Body of Christ.

If we remain “half-baked” we can become self-righteous and Pharisaical about our own passions and begin to judge others who don’t share the same heat. Or, we can actually fail to see that such an intensely “focused” holiness can leave vast areas of our hearts untouched by gospel righteousness. We can begin to think that the God of infinite passion only shares the singular passion of our own lives. We then become Zealots rather than people with integrated, balanced lives. Food that is “half-baked” is not very tasty…and Christian lives with narrowly focused passions are often not very tasty in the sight of the world either.

So, what to do? Cry out to God to “turn you over!” Don’t fear the heat…it is only ever the heat of love. Ask God today, right now, to take those areas of your life that are seemingly little touched by the heat of grace and cry out to feel “the sacred glow!” Let those areas of life that are “over heating” cool a little. Allow yourself to feel the weakness of the flesh and the danger of the “bacteria” not yet killed by the heat of the Spirit. Cry out that you would know the inconsistency of your spiritual life…hot on some things, cold on others.

What turns us over? Community for one thing. We all "bake" at different temperatures and have different ingredients...we need to be around each other so that the "uncooked" elements of our hearts are exposed. Consistent time in the Word is another way we get "turned over." Think of some other ways the Spatula of God can flip you over!!

Ephraim was like a flat cake, not turned over…how are you like Ephraim this morning? Where are you in need of a more even heat of grace?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why Were You Born?

In the song Magnificent on U2's new album (No Line on the Horizon), Bono cries out that he was born to sing for Someone. Many might think this is a song to all U2 fans...and I guess at one level you can take it that way....but what the song is really about is Bono's acknowledgement that he was born to sing for the Magnificent...for Christ. What I want us to consider today is the fact that the song's lyrics are really true for ALL of us. Every human being was created to Sing for God. We may not have Bono's voice, but we are made to sing!

In Numbers 21:17 we meet up with the Israelites singing a song of praise to God because He had graciously promised to give them water for their journey in the wilderness.

One interesting side note is that this passage follows closely on the heels of one of my favorite gospel passage in Scripture. In Numbers 21:4-9 God had sent fiery serpents to bite the people because they were grumbling and complaining in the desert. They were helpless to save themselves from the fatal venom...all they could do is cry out to God and look in faith to the bronze serpent that God had commanded Moses to lift up on a pole. In John 3 we learn that this incident was a prefiguring of Christ: as the serpent was lifted up, so Christ was lifted up, that whoever looks to Him in faith will be saved from sin. However, we must be reminded that it is also the picture of sanctification and life change...whenever we recognize and acknowledge the venom of sin coursing through the "veins of our souls" afresh, we have no other recourse but to look to Christ again in fresh faith that the transforming power of the blood might "neutralize" the venom of sin and we may be changed.

It is AFTER this rebellion of grumbling and complaining and whining that God then shows great grace by providing undeserved water to quench the thirst of His people. How amazing that even after our rebellion, God still graciously provides what is more than sufficient for our needs!

As God's people hear that He is going to provide water, they break out in praise to God for the well. Each Sunday, Each Lord's Day, we are given the privilege to praise God for the past week's provision of grace and praise in anticipation of future grace in the coming days. I'm reminded of how often in the Psalms that we as God's people are COMMANDED to "Sing!" We were born to Sing for Him!

The fact of the matter is that our hearts ought to be so full of wonder at God's grace, there would be no need to be commanded to would be the supernatural, spontaneous overflow of our hearts. However, because of our sin and cold-heartedness, because of our distraction and our pride, we still must hear the COMMAND to sing praises to God. In the Psalms alone we hear the command or the determination to sing in at lest 61 verses!! Singing praise to God is not a matter of temperament or giftedness; it is a matter of the heart!

When I was converted as a sophomore at Penn State over 29 years ago, there were three changes God brought about in my life over which I exercised no will, exertion or effort. First, whereas I had never owned nor opened a Bible, within days of my conversion I had an insatiable hunger for God's Word...I literally could not put it down. Second, my language had been "colorful" as a "gym rat," cursing whenever I missed a shot on the basketball court. Within days of my conversion, my language had cleaned up without me even focusing on it! Third, I began to sing! I can still remember singing Christmas carols my first Christmas as a true believer. I had been in churches where carols were sung when I was a non-Christian over the years, but I had never sung...I mouthed the words without singing. When I was converted, I began to sing.

I know that personality does have SOME bearing on singing...but if you read the Psalms, God doesn't deal with temperaments....we are COMMANDED to sing!! But again, the real issue is not that we are commanded to sing; the real issue is this: what is going on in our hearts that we would refrain from singing? Even if we feel we have a terrible voice, that is a heart issue of pride and self-absorption. Even if we feel shy and self-conscious, that too is a matter of pride in the heart. If we just don't feel like singing, that is giving into emotions, or a lack thereof and allowing our emotions to rule our lives rather than using our renewed wills to whip our emotions into shape.

The question this morning is this: are you singing God's praises on Sunday mornings? If not, why not? I know we all sing alone with U2 blaring on our stereos...singing is a matter of delight, not temperament! We are ALL born to sing for Him!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Things I Wish I had Known as a New Christian

We had such a great discussion in our mentoring group this morning studying True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer Chapter 6, and it is so packed with nuggets, I thought I'd summarize in writing what we much for myself as for y'all!! I wish I had known this as a new believer and not until so many years after conversion!! I would have been spared a LOT of pain and confusion....

1. Because of the Fall we wake up each morning in an ABNORMAL world. We shouldn't be surprised when we face "thorns and thistles and weeds" in our relationships and tasks.

2. The victory over sin has already been decisively achieved, though we don't see the full extent of the results yet. We are to live to bring the reality of the victory and the power of the Kingdom into our day TODAY! Eternal life is not some far off place of another time, it begins at our conversion is to reform and redeem all of the spheres of influence we walk in.

3. The Christian life is not only true but supernatural. We touch the supernatural and are transformed by the supernatural as we live by faith. Christ is formed in us the same way the Physical Christ was formed in the Virgin we believe the Word, the Promise, of God. Luke 1:38: Be it done TO me according to Your word. When we face sin we are to feel as helpless as Mary in conceiving her Child on her own...she could not do was a HUMAN IMPOSSIBILITY...but what is impossible with man is possible with God. He calls into being that which was not, like He did at creation, by the Word of His Power...that is HOW the Christian life works! He calls into being spiritual fruit and supernatural change that we can not bring about by all our efforts and strategies.

4. A critical element to faith is latching hold continually to the promise of JUSTIFICATION. We are to live moment-by-moment in the reality of our justified standing: God, sitting behind the Legal Bench, is both Judge, Jury and Prosecutor. We ARE ALL guilty, both through Adam's sin and our own sins. We have no defense of our own. We are hopeless. Christ enters the courtroom as our Defense Attorney and pleads His own obedient life and death as our Proxy and Substitute. God then bangs the gavel and DECLARES us not guilty. But more than that, The Father does what no earthly judge can ever do: He not only declares us NOT GUILTY, He declares us PERFECT, SPOTLESS, BLAMELESS and HOLY in His sight. We are declared as PERFECTLY RIGHTEOUS as Jesus Himself. Christ's perfect RECORD of obedience legally becomes OUR VERY OWN record before God! See the Heidelburg Catechism Question 60.

5. A second critical element for faith to cling to is the promise of ADOPTION. Christ is uniquely The Son of God. He is the Second Person of the Trinity...He is God Himself. Yet, through union with Christ by Spirit baptism by grace through faith, EVERY believer becomes a child of God, an adopted son or daughter...with ALL the same rights, privilege, standing before the Father AS CHRIST HIMSELF. Because of union with Christ, the baptismal pronouncement over Christ, "This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased," becomes the Father's declaration over every believer in Christ!!

6. As we BELIEVE in Christ and the Gospel Promises of JUSTIFICATION and ADOPTION, we are transformed supernaturally by the Spirit of God. It is by GRACE experienced through FAITH in the Gospel Promises that the Holy Spirit transforms our lives. When we believe God's promise of our justification and adoption when we FEEL we LEAST DESERVE to believe it, that is precisely when the power of the Spirit most fully falls upon our lives. Again, keep in mind Luke 1:38--"Be it done TO me according to Your Word."

7. A third critical element for faith to cling to is the promise of REGENERATION. We are born again by God's Spirit. According to the Old Testament promise in Ezekiel 36:25-29, God will cleanse us from all our idols, He will sprinkle clean water on us (symbolized by New Testament baptism) He will give us a new heart and put a new spirit within us. He will removed from us the heart of stone (symbolized by Old Testament circumcision) and give us a soft heart toward Him. He will put His Spirit within us and CAUSE us to walk in His commands!! That is regeneration....the supernatural removal of the Old Man in Adam and making us new creations, new creatures in Christ. With new natures, new hearts and a New Spirit, we are now ABLE to say no to sin and yes to we walk by faith in the Gospel Promises. We are now responsible...response-able.

8. Sanctification occurs much the same way conversion grace through faith. Even our Doctrinal Standards teach this: See the Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 35, Larger Catechism 75. The Holy Spirit applies the benefits of the life and death of Christ to our hearts in ever increasing fashion resulting in the supernatural transformation of our lives. One difference between justification and sanctification is that sanctification occurs in varying degrees while there are no degrees to justification...we are fully justified from the moment we believe, but we are progressively sanctified each day as we walk in repentance and faith.

9. Sanctification occurs as we believe the Gospel (Galatians 3:1-5, Colossians 2:6, John 6:29, Isaiah 30:15, etc). Sanctification occurs as we learn to WALTZ--the spiritual "3-step" dance with Christ of "Repent! Believe! Fight!" There are ups and downs, ebbs and flows to the spiritual life. Growth begins with repentance: acknowledging our sin and helplessness before God. We can no more change ourselves by sheer effort and discipline than we could save ourselves by sheer effort and discipline. But we must not stop at repentance or we will wallow in despair. Repentance must lead to fresh faith. We are to BELIEVE the Gospel Promises afresh that our standing before God never changes because of our sin. Through union with Christ we are unchangeably justified before God and eternally adopted sons and daughters. We can do nothing to cause God to love us more than He already does in Christ; and we can do nothing that would ever cause God to love us any less than He loves Christ Himself (John 17:23!!). It is AS we BELIEVE these promises that the Power of the Spirit is unleashed in our lives (Galatians 3:5). This is what it means to ABIDE in Christ--we abide by faith...grace apprehended by faith strengthens our union with the Branch, Christ, so that His life-giving "sap" courses through our lives with transforming power. We are to BELIEVE that just as there is a "converting" power to the blood of Christ that saves us from hell, so there is a transforming power of the blood that delivers us progressively from the power of sin. As the old hymn, Rock of Ages, reminds us: the blood of Christ provides the DOUBLE CURE: it cleanses us from both sin's guilt AND power! Then, equipped with fresh faith and reminded of reality of our regeneration, we are to FIGHT the good fight and WAR against the world the flesh and the devil. We are to renounce the flesh and present our lives to righteousness. Then, if/when we fail, we continue waltzing!

10. We Do NOT arrive this side of eternity. There is NO ARRIVALISM, NO TRIUMPHALISM. Waltzing doesn't FIX us! Waltzing is how broken, limping sinners saved by grace are progressively becoming whole and healthy...but we are not completely healed until the Return of Christ. Grace enables us, empowers us and motivates us to persevere in faith so that grace by the Power of the Holy Spirit will continually transform us.

"Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in BELIEVING, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may about in hope!"
Romans 15:13

Friday, June 12, 2009

Streams in the Summer Desert Challenge

In Charles Spurgeon's Classic Devotional, Morning and Evening, this Morning's Devotional challenges us to a more contemplative life (U2's Unknown Caller issues a similar challenge!). Too often we read the Bible to tick off a "to do" so that we can think we are good little Christians. Too often we read the Bible intellectually for head knowledge rather than as an opportunity to listen to fresh WALTZ music.

The Waltz is a Three-Step Dance with Christ by the Power of the Holy Spirit that leads us to Spiritual Growth--Repent! Believe! Fight! Scripture is like a Holy Spirit REMIX every time we prayerfully approach Christ through it that presents us with fresh Waltz music.

U2 has some songs on their Medium, Rare and Remastered release that are "re-mixes." Old songs re-mixed to different styles of music. Same lyrics, different music. That's what we should expect from the Holy Spirit as we read Scripture...same lyrics, different music...different WALTZ music. Different sins exposed that we must REPENT of. Promises brought to light in fresh ways that we need to BELIEVE. Commands and prohibitions that have fresh application to our lives and circumstances which require us to FIGHT to obey.

We must read Scripture PERSONALLY. Read Scripture for APPLICATION more than for head KNOWLEDGE. Read Scripture as a conversation with God...a discipleship appointment with the Father. If you read the Bible and find yourself thinking, "I know this already. I've read this passage or heard it taught 100 times!", you are not reading the Bible for all its worth! Change your approach to Scripture and you will be more hungry and motivated to read it!

Let me give you the Streams in the Summer Desert Challenge. One of the greatest Psalms in the Bible, and certainly the longest Psalm in the Bible, is Psalm 119. It is made up of 22 stanzas of 8 verses each. It is made up of 22 stanzas because that is how many letters there are in the Hebrew alphabet.

Each line of each stanza begins with the same English it would be like each of the verses in stanza one, Psalm 119:1-8, beginning with the letter "A." Then stanza two, verses 9-16 would start each verse with the letter "B," etc. It was crafted this way was so it could be more easily memorized! Feeling like a light-weight right about now? 176 verses make up the Psalm...when is the last time you memorized 176 verses??

So, here's the Streams in the Desert Summer Challenge: Over the next 22 days, read one stanza of Psalm 119 CONTEMPLATIVELY! The entire Psalm is about the riches of reading, learning, meditating upon, obeying and applying God's Word. WALTZ through each stanza over the next 22 days. Ask God for a hunger for His Word. Cry out for a heart that would understand and apply His Word. Confess any lack of hunger or thirst for Scripture. Make the Psalmist's words YOUR words. Pray slowly and intentionally through each word in each line if that's what it takes...and watch your hunger and heart for Scripture be transformed by God's Spirit.

Eat well!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Spurgeon--We Love Because He First Loved Us

In this morning's Spurgeon, the text used is 1 John 4:19: "We love because He first loved us." First of all this is a statement of fact regarding SUPERNATURAL consequences.

It is not mere emotionalism that causes us or compels us to love Christ and His kingdom. The love of God grants us new hearts as well as the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit, working in the New Nature, creates a love for God. This is just as supernatural as Day One of Creation when the universe was formless and void and God simply spoke, "Let there be!" and there was! We love because He first loved us! As Spurgeon writes, this is no mere admiration that bubbles up from naturalistic causes. Cry out to the Father for such a love to be spread abroad in your heart right now!!

This is also a statement of fact regarding NECESSARY consequences.

It is not possible that anyone born again by the Spirit of God lacks a love for God in return. Sometimes that love may be dull and passion may wane and there may be seasons where the relationship seems cool from our side...but don't let that hide the truth: if anyone is truly born again by the supernatural grace of God, love for God and His Kingdom is a NECESSARY consequence of God's love. If you have lost your first love, cry out for grace that would rekindle that love in the furnace of your soul right now!

We love because He first loved us is, thirdly, a statement of fact regarding ORDERLY consequences.

It is not that God loves us BECAUSE we love Him. God loves us unconditionally. He loves us first. We don't take the first step, He does. Then we take the second step...and as we grow in grace, we even begin to realize that it is God's love that enables us to take that second step and all the other steps to love God and His creation. Don't give in to the temptation to put the cart before the horse. It is Christ and His grace that creates a love for God; it is NOT your goodness and effort and love for God that creates any love in Him toward you.

This is, fourthly, a statement of fact regarding UNDESERVED consequences.

Spurgeon is clear that we don't deserve to be first loved by God. And even AFTER we have been loved by God, our response is so cool so often, that we deserve to have that love removed...and yet He will never leave us nor forsake us.

And then, finally, "We love because He first loved us" is a statement of fact regarding CONTINUOUS consequences.

As Spurgeon writes, this seed of love implanted in our souls by Divine Grace must be divinely nourished continually. This love must be watered. This love must be weeded. This love must receive nutrients. This love must receive Son-light! As Francis Schaeffer says over and over...we are not lifeless sticks floating down a current, doing nothing; we are human beings. As human beings, God has given us the dignity of being co-laborers with Him in creating a New Cosmos. We do play a role even in seeing that the Seed of Divine Love within our own souls is nourished by Divine Grace.

How do we do this? The simple answer is through the Means of Grace. We Read, Memorize and Meditate upon the Word of God on a daily basis. We learn to WALTZ through the Word, by Repenting of sin exposed as we read; by believing promises that grip us as we read; by choosing to go into the world fighting to obey the commands we read. We Pray through the Scripture that we read. We engage regularly in Worship and Fellowship. Engaging in these means of grace will not cause God to love us any more than He already does...but without them our awareness of His love for us will wane and grow dim...and unless we are feeding on God's love for us, our love for Him will also wane and grow dim.

We water the seed of Love supernaturally implanted in our souls most, however, by BELIEVING IN and RESTING IN His love for us!! As we believe and hope in His unconditional love for us, supernatural power rains upon us from on high, and increases our love response toward Him. The single most important work of God is this...that we believe (John 6:29!). God fills us with His Spirit and works the miracle of love for Him in us as we BELIEVE what we have heard in the Gospel (Galatians 3:5!).

We love because He first loved us...Is there a love for God in your soul today? Do you love what He loves because He loved you first? Are you taking your dignity as a human being seriously by engaging faithfully in the Means of Grace which are the conduit of even deeper measures of His love being poured into your soul so that supernaturally, you will LOVE HIM more?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Eat at Apollo's

There were many questions arising out of my message about meat offered to idols from 1 Corinthians 8. You can listen to the sermon from June 7, 2009 by clicking here or by visiting iTunes. The problem in 1 Cor 8 is that there are two terms that present difficult interpretive challenges.

In 1 Cor 8:11, "Brother" normally means a convert; yet “destroyed” almost always means eternal destruction. To make it more interesting, with both those issues, Paul also calls this person “a brother for whom Christ died.” it almost seems to set up a no win situation! The key, of course, is to seek to take everything in a "whole-Bible" context and to let the "clear" passages interpret the "unclear."

It seems to me that even within the letter of 1 Corinthians, Paul teaches that there are people who are called brothers who are not...for instance, in 1 Cor 5:9-11 Paul talks about not associating with anyone who "bears the name of brother" but is practicing unrepentant sin. So, it seems clear that Paul is talking about people in the visible, local church who are accepted as brothers, perhaps by a profession of faith, and yet may not be Christians at all...only time will tell. But in the meantime, other Christians are not to associate with them that the unrepentant brothers may see their sin and repent.

Another key reason I'm convinced that Paul is talking about our actions toward those with an unformed faith is what he says in 1 Corinthians 9. Specifically, in 1 Cor 9:19-22, Paul is clearly emphasizing that he is willing to give up his rights and liberties so that by all means he might win/save as many as possible. Paul is not talking about ticky-tack differences with respect to "gray areas" among Christians...he is talking about actions that might keep those with an unformed faith from coming to the cross. Our actions toward others matter in the grand plan of God regarding the spiritual lives of others!

As far as "the brother for whom Christ died," not being a Christian, what does this say about the atoning work of Christ? There are other passages that present that difficulty as well. For instance, 1 Tim 4:10 mentions that Christ is the Savior of ALL people, especially of those who believe. Just as there were universal, cosmic consequences to the First Adam’s sin (Gen 3:17-19), so there are universal, cosmic consequences to the Second Adam’s Righteousness (Rom 8:19-23). So, my take on both 1 Tim 4:10 and 1 Cor 8:11 is that there is a sense in which Christ lived, died and rose for ALL, but not in a salvific way (only the elect have Christ as Savior in a salvific way (Rom 9), thus He is ESPECIALLY their Savior.

There is a sense that we are called to remember the dignity and worth of every human being, that we recall that they are all image bearers and that since we don't know who the elect are, it MAY be that Christ died even salvifically for such a "brother" with a still unformed faith, and our actions have an impact on people. God is sovereign and we are absolutely responsible…as Paul mentions in Acts 20:26 (likely referring to Ezek 3:18!).

There is obviously a lot of mystery in these verses...things we just don't know that we must try to grapple with. Bottom line, 1 Cor 8 seems to be dealing with those in the visible, local church who perhaps have made a profession of faith, but who are not yet converted and through our wrong use of knowledge and liberty are drawn back into idolatry, away from the Church, never to return, and are lost forever...Hebrew 6:4-8 seems to address a similar group of people as does Hebrews 10:26-39. They may be non-elect, but we are still responsible for our witness to them…we are NOT hyper-Calvinists!!

It seems that God wants His children to hope in the doctrine of eternal security, but also wants us to never feel we can become complacent and presumptuous about salvation. He gives us assurance...and also gives us real warnings! We, and others, may be "called" brothers...and if we are we are TRULY brothers and sisters in Christ, we will persevere to the end because of God's grace...but if we get drawn back into idolatry and unrepentant sin, and leave, we were never really in Christ...and John addresses this issue in 1 John 2:19.

Fun stuff, eh? to show yourself approved...a workman who handles accurately the word of truth--2 Tim 2:15; and as Peter reminds us in 2 Peter 3:16, there are some things in Scripture that are hard to understand!!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Light My Way

Signs are pointing to a set list for U2 360 involving some old classics or even some "B" sides. In listening to everything from Boy to No Line on the Horizon, some of my own old favorites are sounding new all over again. One of the songs I can't stop listening to right now is Ultraviolet (Light My Way) from Achtung Baby.

The song, like most U2 creations, can be taken in different ways. On one level it is a love song, perhaps of Bono's love for Ali and his need for her help, even rescue. It could also be about a child's gratitude and need for a parent's love (the "opera" line perhaps referring to Bono's father, as it does in Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own). And like many U2 songs, it could also have a spiritual meaning as it relates to knowing the love and grace of God. Even in Scripture the love between a man and a woman is an illustration of the love Christ has for His Church and the need the Church has for Christ to light its Way (Ephesians 5:21-31 and also the Old Testament Book of the Song of Solomon). I'll let others discuss the first two's been my practice in these blogs to mine the spiritual vein.

The song begins with honesty, transparency and reality...a truly spiritual Christian understands the reality of this fallen world and the temptations of the flesh that pull us toward "getting it wrong." Sometimes we are so tired of fighting against evil that we get tired...we just feel like "checkin' out" and we realize that we "can't always be strong." God delights in such honesty. Our heavenly Father doesn't expect us to have it all together...what He deeply desires is our honesty and vulnerability. In Isaiah 57:15 we learn that God can not resist the one who is contrite, humble, broken-hearted. In James 4:6 we read that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

There is the realization in the song that "the day is as dark as the night is long." There are times when we walk in darkness even as we walk with God. In Isaiah 50:10 we learn that when we walk in darkness and have no light, we are to trust in the Name of the LORD and rely upon our God. When we feel like we are "in the black, can't see or be seen" that is the time for faith in the Light of the World (John 8:12). The Son of God is the Light of the World, the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2: But for you who fear My Name, the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings)...Baby, Baby, Baby, Light my way! Ultraviolet.

Sometimes it is our own sin that puts us in a place of darkness...and we can "feel like trash." But Christ can wash us "White as Snow" and "You can make me feel clean."

"You bury Your treasure where it can't be found." In the Gospels, the Good News of the love of God in Christ is illustrated as a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44). Also, all during the mission of Christ, He told people to keep His True Identity a secret, commanding those He healed not to talk about it (Mark 7:36; Luke 5:14; Luke 8:56). He even told the disciples not to tell others when they figured out He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:20). In many ways, Bono and U2 hide the treasure of the Gospel in many of their songs. It's buried treasure where only those who really want to find it, will. As Bono says elsewhere, they are being very smart and just sort of drawing their fish in the sand, as the early Christians did with Ixthus.

Bono sings of the "price of love, I know it's not cheap." The price of God's love was the infinite price of the cost of the Blood of the Lamb...precious blood. There is no such thing as "cheap grace;" there are only people who treat the grace of God cheaply. But if we hope in the Love of God brought to us through Christ, there will be Light and Peace. There really is a "silence that comes to a house where no one can sleep" if that house puts it's hope in Christ. Life can be filled with difficulty, but if we fix our eyes on Christ, there will be a peace that surpasses all understanding. The silence and stillness of peace and comfort from the Light of the World can come even in the midst of troubles that steal sleep from our eyes. "Baby, baby, baby, Light my way...Oh Ultraviolet."

There is an ebb and flow to faith...and doubt. There are times when we can "sleep on stones (Genesis 28:18)." There are times even when life is hard and rough, that our hope in God's love is secure...and we can sleep in peace. There are times when we feel and sense God's love so thoroughly that our faith seems indestructible. There are other times, however, when all we can manage to do is "lie together in whispers and moans." Prayer barely audible, faith barely we moan through pain, suffering and disappointment (Romans 8:22-26). Times when we are "all messed up and I had an opera in my head." Life can feel like an opera at a tragic story when all the songs are in minor keys...when it seems like the song will end, not in life but with death. Yet at those times, "Your love was a Lightbulb, hanging over my bed...Baby, baby, baby, Light my way...Ultraviolet."

Using his poetic license as a song writer, Bono could be treating the Spirit, as he often says, "as a feminine sort of thing." So, to cry out to God's Spirit with the prayer, "Baby, baby, baby, Light my way" is in no way irreverent, but Bono's normal poetic means of referring to the Spirit.

We all face times/seasons of darkness...and in those times, Who lights your way? Ultraviolet? The Sun of Righteousness?

"Oh sugar, don't you cry; Oh child, wipe the tears from your eyes."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rock and Roll Reads Ecclesiastes

I came across this video of U2 performing The Wanderer on YouTube. I would love to hear this on the set list for the upcoming tour!

The song reminds me of the Book of Ecclesiastes. The Teacher wants to go everywhere, try everything in a search for meaning...he tries seeking wisdom, engaging in pleasure, riches, sex, being a work-a-holic, marriage, poverty, foolishness, gluttony, drunkenness...he tries everything "before he repents." But where he ends up is to fear God and keep His commandments.

All is vanity...meaninglessness apart from a personal relationship with God. We were created for purpose...for Pascal said, "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You." And as Pascal said on another occasion: Each of us is filled with a cross-shaped hole in our hearts; yet we try to fill that hole with anything other than Christ...but hopefully, by grace, we are brought to repentance.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

When Will the Pain Stop?

Moment of Surrender, on U2's new album, No Line on the Horizon, is one of my favorite U2 songs of all time. What’s it about? It could be about a drug addict finally coming to the place of surrender as described in the Twelve Step program. It might also be about surrendering to God…as Bono sings about “falling to my knees.”

In many U2 songs, prayer is referred to as kneeling (She Moves in Mysterious Ways—“on your knees, boy;” Vertigo—“You’re love is teaching me how to kneel;” City of Blinding Lights—“Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel...luckily;” and many others!).

There are other Christian symbols in Moment of Surrender that lead me to believe Bono is singing about surrender to Christ…the Lamb as White as Snow. The last verse appears on as follows:

I was speeding on the subway
Through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way
Counting down 'til the Pentecost

The last line is significant. On the released version of the song, Bono seems to clearly sing: “counting down ‘til the pain would stop.” What is interesting is that on my iTunes download of the album which is accompanied by a Digital Booklet, the lyric appears as in's Discography section…“Counting down ‘til the Pentecost.”

This coming Sunday, May 31, 2009 is Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost is the Day the Church celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the early believers, 10 days after the ascension of Christ…and 50 days after Easter (thus the name, Pentecost).

Pentecost was also an Old Testament Feast Day—called the Feast of Weeks. It is also called the Feast of the Harvest or the Feast of Firstfruits. This Jewish feast celebrated the LORD as the Provider of all crops, all fruitfulness. The symbol in the Old Testament is the LORD as the Provider of material fruitfulness and Pentecost continues the theme of Provision as the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Church as the Provider of all spiritual fruitfulness...Levitate!!! (One of the songs on U2's "B-side" releases called "Medium, Rare and Remastered," clearly a song about crying out for the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is presented in John 14-16 as the Helper, the Comforter...thus, the One who helps our pain to stop.

In Moment of Surrender, Bono sings of going through the “Stations of the Cross” which is what the church meditates upon during Holy Week and Good Friday. But after the crucifixion and resurrection, there is Pentecost! It is one thing to be forgiven, to have a heart made White as Snow…it is another thing to be given the Power and Provision of the Holy Spirit...Levitate!!!

A drug addict or any other kind of addict (we’re ALL addicts of some kind!) can be forgiven and be released from shame and guilt through the Lamb as White as Snow. But we need more than forgiveness…we need power to live different lives! We need the ability to say no to the addictions of this world that can kill us and harm all our relationships. We need the Spirit Who Alone can empower us to go out into the world with our arms outstretched to serve and love and bring peace and kindness. We need the Spirit to fill us with compassion for the suffering. We need the Spirit to fill us with love for our enemies...Levitate!!!

We need the Spirit to fill our lives in this in-between time, this in-between life in this broken world, as we pack our suitcases for a place none of us have ever been…a place that has to be believed to be seen. We need the Spirit to fill us with courage and hope as we count down ‘til the pain will stop…we need the Spirit to fill us with faith as we continually cry out, “How Long? sing this song!!

This week, I’m joining Bono…and I’m counting down ‘til the Pentecost. Care to join me? Levitate!!!