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."