Sunday, September 22, 2013

No Greater Gift

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds," then he adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more."
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 
Hebrews 10:14-31
     Wow. That is a sobering thought. On one hand, I want to laugh and weep and shout for joy because the hefty cost of my sin has been paid; finally, fully, and for all time. I am not longer obliged to continually make sacrifice after sacrifice for my sins, for my staggering debt is canceled in Christ. As the hymn says, "Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe." It is a good thing to be forgiven; a freeing thing.

     However, when I spend a silent moment thinking back on all the times I have misused others or thought myself wise or nursed my own wounded feelings or innumerable other ways I have placed myself first before God and others, I am astonished that He would even bother to stain His purity to pay the debt of my stingy, crude, and self-serving soul. Even after I accepted His Lordship in my life, I have strayed--a fact which sickens me in my moments of clarity but which also seems oh, so reasonable in the heat of the emotion or the circumstance. In fact, the very meanness and pettiness of my emotions are exposed in the face of such noble compassion, and I find I want to sob with shame that at one time in my life, I rejected Him Who is so much more worthy of my love and devotion than I am of His. I am so grateful that He did not give up on me then.

     Even more sobering, however, is this thought: Now that I do know the truth, dare I be flippant with it? Do I dare to toy with sin, knowing the astonishing price that was paid on my behalf?  The more I walk with God, the more I see how deeply the sin nature is ingrained in me, the more I see that nearly every action, thought, and motive of my heart is dreadfully tainted and twisted with it. So seeing, I desperately cling to Him, pleading with Him to free me from the struggle between my dead flesh and my new found life in Christ. This is the other hand, the partner of the emotion I began with... the sobering reality of the cost, the understanding that a willful spurning of such a gift leaves no room for further mercy. This is the utter extent of mercy, the epitome of it. There is nothing else to give, no other sacrifice can be made. He has already given all. It would be a grave blunder to understand the extravagance of this gift and nonchalantly toss it aside.

     With these thoughts in mind, it is much easier to see how little this world and the things of this world really are. I write these things down in part because I know that, just like a child, I am prone to become distracted with what seems so real around me, prone to wander from my Father's side. Always, however, He reminds me that He is my greatest need, He is the fulfillment of all my desires, He is eternal and unchanging--indeed, He is everything. All the rest--the good and the bad, the beauty and the  pain, friend and family and enemy alike--all will pass away. But His words will never pass away. His love will never pass away. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ will never dim nor fade, its value will never diminish or its totality fail. It is enough. He is enough. And when I get to the end of all things, there really is nothing else, no other way by which I may be saved. Should I, or anyone, choose to shun His exorbitant grace, then that one rejects Life itself. All that is left for such a one is the pale shadow of a swiftly fading flower.

     Lord, may we not chase such fleeting fictions as this world offers, but may we instead be blissfully and joyfully beholden to You!

 Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
Psalms 128:1-2

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Enduring Faithfulness

Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts. 
Psalms 119:89-94

     For some days now, my thoughts have turned to praise; my heart has been full of worship. I have had moments of just plain fatigue-born forgetfulness, but then suddenly this fierce joy comes welling up again. I am not a singer, but I sing. I find I am thankful for the hardships, thankful for friends, thankful for my work, thankful even for pain.

     It is a curious thing that brought me to this place. It was a weekend full of bone-crushing exhaustion coupled with my typical pre-migraine sense of spiritual void. It would be difficult to explain fully and so I will not try. It is enough to say that in the thick of it, I called upon the Lord for energy and clarity of mind the day before a task He had given me to do so I could prepare. He did not give it. Instead, that Monday I experienced a dramatic worsening of symptoms followed by a horrendous migraine that sent me to bed at 6:30 full of medication that did no more than polish the sharp edges. The sense of abandonment was heightened by so many other factors, many so personal that I cannot relate here, and I can only really share the barest glimpse of what went on inside my heart and mind. As it was, I felt utterly defeated and abandoned, and when the next day dawned I was angry and resentful of God.

     So silly, really. As I look back, I realize that I was simply and precisely committing the sin of unbelief, not to mention nursing my wounded pride. Apparently I allowed my feelings free reign and temporarily forgot Who was God and who was just the clay. While things did not go my way on that day, it certainly cannot be said they went badly. In fact, all was well and God did show up--in the nick of time--to give me the strength and resources I needed to do what He had told me to do. What a fool I was to doubt His faithfulness!

      At any rate, it is this experience that brought me to the edge of my faith and caused me to peer over to recall exactly what life was like before I knew my Lord. Before Christ, my life was empty; entirely, utterly empty. Oh, I had my family and I had my home and all of that, but on the day when I felt that God was not merely distant but had actually left me completely, I felt that I was bereft of a reason to go on. It is difficult to explain in words, for words do not do the experience justice. But words are what I have and so they must suffice. It was as if God, in His infinite wisdom, withdrew Himself from me completely so that I would be able to profoundly recall what it means to live in darkness without Him.

     It has heightened my passion for Him and for His word in ways I cannot express. I have joy unquenchable knowing that I have had my faith stripped to the very bones and found that it is built on Christ alone and not on feelings or circumstance. Without Him, there is truly nothing but death, darkness, decay. In Him I am alive, blessedly and fully alive. This gives me a much greater passion to shine His light into the dark and horrible places of the human experience, to share the wonder of no longer belonging to this ball of water and rock but to Someone immeasurably, infinitely greater.

      The experience was two-fold. He also allowed me to come to the very point of despair so that He could remind me how important my plans are to Him. They are just as important as a single grain of sand; as useful as wind to a motorboat. You see, I like to plan and to be prepared. God prefers me to rely on Him. While I am in no wise suggesting that planning is wrong or evil, I do know that in this one instance, He was clear on His purposes: He had called me to perform this task and He would give me exactly what I need to do it--just not my way.

     And so today I sit down to finish this post that my three most blessed interruptions prevented the finishing of yesterday, the threat of a migraine lurking and dulling my thoughts, and I cannot help but still feel wonder at the faithfulness of my God. I cannot help but feel awe that He has allowed me the privilege of approaching the Throne of Grace. I have such joy that, though I am helpless and entirely in His hands, I have no need to fear for His hands are hands of boundless love, inconceivable forbearance, and a steadfastness unchanged despite the tumult of human history. Whether I like how He does things are not, I know that I can trust Him implicitly--even when His ways are incomprehensible to me. He is good, and His word is good. How could I but love Him in return?

The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes. 
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: "The right hand of the LORD does valiantly, the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!" I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD. 
Psalms 118:6-9, 14-19


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Really Real

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. 
Ephesians 3:14-21
     In today's world, the careful watcher might find a rapidly-accelerating decline of those who uphold the Word of God as true and infallible from cover to cover. It can be seen in high places and in low. A former pastor of ours recently wrote of an meeting in North Carolina in which a Dr. Kimball--a thoroughly degreed and educated leader in his denomination--stated that the Christian's claim that our understanding of salvation is the only way to absolute truth is inflicting global harm. Ironically, if others in his sphere of influence are led astray by his words, the harm he inflicts will be eternal. This makes me want to weep.

     Closer to home, I have had conversations with others who want to "be Jesus" to people by fighting for their rights even though the "rights" in question stand in opposition to God's commands and indeed against the very purity of His nature. Here, too, rather than "being Jesus," they are actually slighting His sacrifice as well as lending a hand in fastening the chains rather than leading others to the Truth that would set them free.  I have listened to dialog among churchgoers that could be considered witty, edgy, and bold if it were not merely exhibiting an "unhealthy craving for controversy" which Paul warned Timothy about in a letter so many years ago. It is unfortunate, however, that such dialog often ensnares the listener, especially those whose foundation is not rooted and grounded in the love of Christ. I fear for those caught in such a web.

     Too many times I have seen behind the scenes, so to speak, at church not passion for Christ bursting out in a public display of His love and grace, but just the show for the sake of the show, people turning on the churchy words, phrases, and even Scripture quotations in an ugly parody of true and humble devotion. This I find perhaps the saddest of all, for it is reminiscent of Jesus' discussion of whitewashed tombs--beautiful on the outside but inwardly full of death and decay.

      In all such cases, I find myself deeply grieved by people claiming the name of Christ who neither understand the gravity of sin nor the weight of Christ's sacrifice to atone for it. I am so sorrowful that these folks are either profoundly deceived or are deceivers themselves. I choose to hope for the former. Whatever the case, these things are merely drops in a storm-tossed sea teeming with misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and even outright mockery of what Christ has done. In all cases, I have come to think that the greatest problem is not so much a lack of intelligence or sound training, nor do I think the blame fully lies in allowing the culture to creep into the church (although that certainly is a part of it). The real culprit in this fiasco is unbelief, plain and simple.

     I honestly think that if these modern-day dabblers in philosophy truly, deeply, and passionately sought the face of God and found Him to be an actual fact and not an intellectualized ideology, their approach towards His Word would be quite different. If a mere hour was spent examining a patch of forest or grassland while speculating that a being powerful enough to make, not only this minuscule portion of teeming forest mulch, but an entire world of complex and inter-dependent ecosystems--to say nothing of the sun, moon, and stars that govern much of what passes on this semi-spherical ball of rock--well, then it would be difficult not to take a Creator like that seriously. If they believed He could do the fantastic things the Bible says He did, that would also give pause as well as lead to sincere worship!

     If there was a genuine understanding of the vastness and purity of God, of the "height and depth and length and breadth" of His power, His holiness, and forgiveness--and of Christ's humility and ultimate act of propitiation, it would only be too easy to take Him at His word. We would not bother wrangling about words but instead would devote ourselves to what His Word plainly says and live it. We would not only claim belief, we would live like we believed. His honor would be vital to us, more crucial even than our own. We would suffer when His name was mocked, hurt when His truth was doubted, feel joy when His truth was proclaimed and a reverent and awe-filled wonder when we looked into His Book or upon His creation. We would learn to love deeply and honestly, and we would learn what love means. We would find that love is more unyielding and uncompromising than stone and yet sweeter and more piquant once we have, ourselves, yielded. We would seek the face of God, and we would find Him beyond imagination and so holy we would find ourselves prostrate without even being conscious of our prostration.

      I find, also, that I long to live in those moments when I actually do see a glimpse of the Glory and can hardly breathe for the weight of it. I am passionately praying for my local church body and for the Church worldwide that we will all comprehend the height, depth, length, and breadth of the love of Christ. I am praying for passion and purity, for absolute truth and absolute devotion. I am praying for eyes and hearts to be opened to the reality of God and for His light to shine into dark places, exposing what needs to be exposed so it can either be healed or cast out.
     And in the midst of my fervent and sometimes tearful prayers, I cannot help but break out in joyful worship! For I know that no matter how dark the hour seems, nor how firm a grip evil seems to have, the One within me is greater than the one who, for a little season, runs amok in the world. I invite you to join me in loving and serving this very real, very present, vast and unchanging God!

 It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep! 
Psalms 92:1-5