Monday, September 18, 2017

What We Call Exposure God Calls Freedom

The Bible makes the point that the fear of man is a snare. In other words our fear, or if you prefer our concern, over what others think about us can end up entrapping us.

In the case of trying to deal effectively with and defeat our sin addictions, or if you prefer--sin struggles or besetting sins, our fear of what others think about us will entrap us in our shame to the point that we will not pursue the only real and lasting means of freedom there is, which is confession or what we often think of as self-exposure.

No one and I mean no one wants to be exposed for who they really know themselves to be and what they know themselves to have done or be doing. In fact, if I were a betting man, I would be quite confident wagering a couple month’s salary that one of the biggest fears most Christians have is the fear of exposure.  Most of us are deathly afraid of having our past as well as our present hidden thoughts, motives, attitudes, actions, words, and especially our besetting sins made public for anyone and everyone to see. And if you don’t think we’re all that concerned about what others think about us—what’s the first thing we do when we find out someone has hacked our Facebook account and posted something morally questionable or ridiculously stupid in our name? Well, obviously, we get rid of the post ASAP and then make sure we get the point across several times that “it wasn’t us” never-minding the fact that if the truth really be known--what was posted was fairly mild compared to what we know to be true about ourselves.

All of us, myself included, are very much concerned with how others perceive us, actually see us, or know about us and especially our failures. We don’t want others, especially our peers, to think less of the image we are working tirelessly to project of ourselves. The problem with all this however, is that we are projecting an image of ourselves that is not real thus forcing us to live and perpetuate a lie all because we value the opinion of others more than we do the truth and the only opinion which really matters—God’s. This devaluation of God and over-evaluation of man leads us to run from the one thing that can free us from this trap of shame that keeps us from experiencing eventual freedom from our sin issues and greater intimacy with God. That one thing is exposure in which, we expose ourselves before God and man for who we really are—sinners, what we are really struggling with—sin, and what we really need forgiveness for—our sin.

The Bible puts it this way in Proverbs 28:13: “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses [exposure] and forsakes [repentance] them will find compassion.” In other words, what we call exposure God calls freedom.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Why Is There A Picture of A Coast Guard Boat On My Blog?

That's a good question.  The fact is, I served in the U.S. Coast Guard for a few years back in the day.  I started in Kodiak, Alaska and then was transferred to a rescue station on Lake Michigan where I was a small boat coxswain on a 41' rescue boat.  In the Coast Guard, the coxswain is the person in charge of the boat, its crew, and how the mission is to be carried out.  So, basically my job was to ensure our boat and crew were ready at all times to assist and rescue those who were in danger of perishing.  It was also my job to make sure my crew didn't get sidetracked and lose sight of our mission.  The mission, not us or our concerns, was the priority every time we went out.    

So, in part, my affection for the Coast Guard is one reason for using such a picture.  But, its not the only reason.  You see, the Coast Guard's mission is to rescue people who are in trouble and in danger of peril.  As I see it, that's the church's mission too.  We are to be involved in rescuing the perishing.  And this picture reminds me of that so that when I find myself immersed in all the nitty gritty of church life especially the administrative details, the inevitable internal conflict that comes when sinners rub shoulders, and yes, the good stuff too, I don't forget that first and foremost we're a rescue outfit.  We are tasked with the mission of rescuing, with the gospel, those who are perishing.  And we do it all for the glory of God and the eternal joy of those people who will believe the gospel and be rescued.


Our Eternal Weight of Glory Will Blow You Away

What if I were to tell those of you who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ that your greatest occupational duty or job, if you will--the one that will be the most rewarding, most fun, most adventuresome, most interesting, most exciting, and really thrilling with absolutely no negative downside whatsoever—is being prepared for you right now, even as I speak?  And what if I were to tell you that you are being prepared for this job, this really awesome responsibility and in fact great occupation through your suffering, trials, afflictions, loneliness, heartaches, pain, grief, sin battles, and even your failures?  Would you believe me?

Well—believe it or not this is what the Bible teaches in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 where the apostle Paul makes the point that God is using our afflictions, pain, and suffering to produce for us an eternal weight of glory. Essentially, what Paul is pointing out is that . . . .as believers, the secret to not losing heart and becoming discouraged with our troubles, afflictions, heartaches, failures, suffering, pain, grief, and yes, even our sin--is knowing that God is using these very things to not only prepare us for Heaven but specifically to be able to enjoy heaven to the hilt. And it is this enjoyment of heaven that Paul refers to as an eternal weight of glory.

We don’t use the word “weighty” very much anymore but back when we did it had the idea of something important which had a certain heaviness to it in the sense of a weighty responsibility, a hefty obligation, an important duty, and even an all-consuming occupation.  So what Paul is saying is that through our afflictions God is preparing us for some kind of weighty responsibility and full-time all-consuming occupation, if you will.  And then he qualifies this eternal weight by describing it as having something to do with "glory”.

The word “glory” from which we get “glorious” is referring to that which is full of splendor, beauty, brilliance, grandeur, magnificence, and wonder so as to be fully marveled at and enjoyed with intensity.  It is what Jesus can’t wait for us to see, experience, and enjoy in John 17:24.

"Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."

And if our enjoying His glory is what Jesus is looking forward to then it must be big.  To see and enjoy God’s glorious presence and His glory in all that He has prepared for us in Heaven will be the adventure, pleasure, and purposeful occupation of an eternal lifetime.  Here's a dismal illustration in comparison to what Jesus wants for us but it at least gets you thinking along His line of thinking.  Can you imagine getting a job at Disney World and the boss tells you the only thing you have to do—your primary responsibility—you’re duty and the very  reason you get up every morning is to come here and enjoy me and everything that is in this park to the best of your ability.  That is what I am paying you for.

And what the Bible wants us to see is that God is using our afflictions, our trials, our suffering, and yes—even our pain to refocus our spiritual eyes, senses, and perceptions on what is real, valuable, and eternal as opposed to what is transitory, fleeting, inferior, and really nothing more than fruitless joys in comparison.  That is what He means in 2 Corinthians 4:18 when He tells us that what we can see, perceive, and comprehend on this earth and in this life are temporary but what we can’t see and comprehend yet, because it is simply beyond our ability to see, perceive, comprehend, and let me add—enjoy yet—is eternal.

So, our momentary light afflictions of living life in a sin-ridden, sin-loving, sin-sick, sin-afflicted, ever dying and suffering world as people who are afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down is preparing us for heaven so that we can fully enjoy it.  Our afflictions are producing within us a taste and a desire for something far superior and far more enjoyable than anything we have ever known or imagined. And this enjoyment of heaven is described as an eternal weight of glory because it will not be a half-hearted, temporary, fleeting, momentarily enjoyable diversion from pain or an interruption of life’s routine boredom.  

In essence, what God is doing in all of our pain and afflictions is rewiring us for glory.  Because in Heaven that is what life is all about—enjoying the intense, unending, ever-increasing, tangible, actual, palpable, rapturous, and real pleasure of God's glory which will unrelentingly capture your full attention and appetite—once God has rewired you to be able to take it all in.

Friday, April 28, 2017

You're Either Taking Ground Or In Retreat

One of the things I have learned over the years both from Scripture as well as my own personal experience is that no matter how mature in Christ, how passionate about the gospel, how effective in ministry, and even how greatly we have sacrificed for the Faith all of us are still very much prone to wander from the Lord and life we love.  And it doesn't take much to get us wandering.  For many of us its not as much an intentional wandering as much as it is caused by the unintentional neglect of spiritual priorities.  

One of the vivid examples the Bible gives us of such neglect is found in the Book of Nehemiah.  In this autobiographical report, Nehemiah gives us a “play by play” analysis of everything that took place when he traveled from the Persian city of Susa to Jerusalem to lead in the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem as well as lead the people in a spiritual revival.  The climax of this revival is seen in chapters 8-9 where the people, upon hearing the Word of God, read and taught, respond by confessing and repenting of their sins.   Then in chapter 10, they signed a covenant in which they promised to obey and honor the Lord from here on out.  

What a tremendous response to the preaching of the Word of God.  I’m sure Nehemiah was ecstatic.  What preacher wouldn’t be thrilled to have a whole nation respond to the Word of God in such powerful expressions of love and loyalty to the Lord?  

Well after his twelve year success in leading in this great work for God among his people, Nehemiah needed to return to his day job as the cupbearer to King Artexerxes back in Persia.  In preparation, he did what any good leader would do under the same circumstances and made sure his leadership would be carried on by qualified men.  Once theses arrangements were made, he then left to resume his service to the king.

Now, fast forward twenty some years and Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem, only to find that in the approximately two decades that he had been gone, the people had drifted back to the way they were before he had come the first time.  I’m sure he was shocked to hear about and actually see for himself that the mountaintop experience of twenty years ago had become a distant memory in the people’s minds and hearts.  And I’m certain that he must have been greatly saddened to find that the people’s zeal for God’s praise and glory, twenty years ago, was no longer a driving force in their lives.

Nehemiah 13, is the record of how quickly and gradually God’s people can move from a spiritual high to spiritual decline.  Its a good reminder to all of us that even in our strongest and most vital of moments with God, we are still very “prone to wander from the God we love”.  

It appears, from reading chapter 13, that the people began their departure from Nehemiah’s reforms in very small and seemingly insignificant steps that amounted to not giving full attention to all of God’s Law.  A careless attitude toward the Temple (13:4-9), a failure to take seriously the corporate worship of God (13:10-14), a disregard for the Lord’s Day (13:15-21), a nonchalant attitude on the part of the spiritual leaders toward their responsibilities (13:22), utter disregard for God's standards on marriage (13:23-27), and leaders who followed rather than led the people (13:28-30).

Spiritual and Biblical reform is always an ongoing experience.  If not, it, very quickly, becomes “dis-reform”, which more often than not leads you and I back to square one in our walk with the Lord.  Whatever progress you have made in Christ, whatever growth and maturity you are enjoying, however far you have come spiritually—don’t forget—until Heaven, when sin is completely removed, your heart is still prone to wander from the God you love.  Therefore, as Proverbs 4:23 commands:  “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Repentance Is The Means To Happiness

Repentance is not an end in itself but rather a means to a fuller, richer, and greater enjoyment of God.  To the degree that we are willing to repent of our sin-to that degree and that degree only are we able to experience and enjoy God's fellowship.  If unwilling to repent of sin as unbelievers we lose any hope at all for a positive relationship with God.  If unwilling to repent of sin as believers, we, while still possessing a relationship with the Lord, forfeit fellowship with Him and any enjoyment in this relationship.  On the other hand, if willing to repent of our sin completely, we gain complete fellowship with God.  If our repentance is somewhere in between so is our experience of fellowship with and enjoyment of God.

According to the Bible, we cannot love the world and God at the same time (1 John 2:15).  It is simply impossible for a person to love such diametrically opposed entities as God and the world at the same time.  However, this is not what most of us try to do.  We usually do not find ourselves completely at one end of this spectrum--loving only God or loving only the world.  But, in all honesty, we do often find ourselves somewhere in between don't we?!  And to the degree that we love the world or our sinful fleshly desires we do not love God.  Our love for God and our experience of God's love for us correspond to our love for the world and our sin.  If our love for the world increases due to sin then our love for the Father and our experience of His love decreases.  If, on the other hand, our love for the world decreases through repentance of sin then our love for God and our experience of His love increases.  Thus, is the value of repentance.  Our repentance then is not an end but rather a means to the end of loving God and experiencing and enjoying Gods love for us in a greater and much more intimate way.

Therefore, God's commands to us to repent of our sins and turn to Him are commands for us to leave our inferior pleasures behind so as to find superior joy, happiness, and fulfillment in pursuing God and His pleasures.  Repentance then, rather than being a "kill-joy", becomes the portal through which we find true joy.  God is not commanding us to stop sinning to deny us but to delight us.  He is calling everyone everywhere to repent and turn to Him (Acts 17:30) in order to let them drink from the fountain of all true and lasting pleasure.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Going Deep! Why Does The Bible Call Jesus "God's Only Begotten Son"?

Ever wonder why the Bible calls Jesus "the only begotten Son" in John 3:16?  Jonathan Edwards, the American pastor-theologian of the 18th century and the guy who is better known for his sermon entitled, "Sinners In The Hands of an Angry God" has a robust take on that question which I want to try and accurately summarize here.  If you'd rather go straight to the horse's mouth, so to speak, just get yourself a copy of Edwards' unpublished essay on The Trinity. You might want to pick up a dictionary specializing in 18th century terms and prose while you're at it.  If you don't have the time to pick those up you can take your chances with my summary.

First things first though--Edwards understood that the word "begotten" was not being used to speak about the Son of God as having a point of beginning, origin, or birth.  Rather, the word was used, especially in John's writings, to communicate the idea of the Son of God existing as a "unique and one of a kind" type of Being completely equal to and always existing alongside the Father as a separate person from the Father (Jn. 1:14, 18; 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:9).  So, how is it then, if the Father and the Son are two separate co-equal and co-eternal divine Persons that the Father is the "begetter" and the Son is the "begotten"?  What does the Bible mean when it states that the Son is begotten of the Father?

Essentially, Edwards makes the point that because God is unlimited in His knowledge He knows everything perfectly and comprehensively about everything and everyone including Himself.  Now, knowing everything there is to know about me may not seem like a big deal but God knows everything there is to know about everyone without exception.  And if that still doesn't impress you, try this on for size--God knows Himself and everything there is to know about Himself as an Infinite Being with a perfect, full, and totally comprehensive knowledge.  In other words, God, Who is, by virtue of His being Infinite, unknowable, knows fully and comprehensively everything there is to know about Himself.  That is impressive!

Edwards explains that God has always had perfect and totally comprehensive knowledge of Himself.  Therefore, God's perfect knowledge of Himself is as eternal as He is.  Furthermore, because God's knowledge of Himself is absolutely perfect in every detail His knowledge of Himself is really nothing less than a perfect reduplication of Himself.  It could not be otherwise.  If God's knowledge of Himself is absolutely perfect, all-encompassing, and fully comprehensive then for it to be all those things it would have to be more than a mere picture, thought, reflection, or idea--it would have to be a real person just like Him.   For how could God have a perfect knowledge of Himself and it not be exactly the same as Him?!  And if it is the same as Him it must be another person just like Him in every way completely equal to Him and as eternal as he is.  It  would have to be the One we call Jesus.  (2 Cor. 4:4, 6; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15, 19; 2:9;  Heb. 1:3)

Edwards put it this way:

". . . that idea which God has of Himself is absolutely Himself.  This representation of the Divine nature and essence is the Divine nature and essence again: so that by God's thinking . . . there is another Person begotten, there is another Infinite Eternal Almighty and Most Holy and the same God, the very same Divine nature.  And this Person is the second Person in the Trinity, the only Begotten and dearly Beloved Son of God; He is the eternal, necessary, perfect, substantial and personal idea which God hath of Himself."

This, then in very simplified terms is Edwards answer to how Jesus Christ can be co-eternal and co-equal with the Father so as to have never begun yet still be begotten.    

Monday, April 10, 2017

Another Day--Another Chance To Say "No"

I like to remind myself, from time to time, that every day I wake up and find myself conscious and breathing is another day to fight sin in my life so as to make much of Jesus by my life.  I don't know about you, but, it seems to me that I am fighting some sin issue or another in my life every day.  
And the fact is, some days are better than others.  That's a positive way of saying that some days are worse than others.  Regardless, however, of how the previous day's battles went I can always count on another day and another battle as long as I am still this side of glory.

When I was a younger believer this was not a comforting thought or proposition.  Much of my time in prayer used to be asking God to take away the battles, to remove the temptations, and to make me invincible to falling.  Now, there is a sense in which I am thankful for the battles because they not only serve to remind me God has not taken me off the battlefield, they are also my opportunities every day to express in a very real and tangible way my loyalty to my King.

Someday, when this life is over and real life begins there will be no more personal battles with sin for me and what a glorious day that will be.  However, on the other hand, I will never ever have the opportunity, out of love for and loyalty to my Savior, to say "No" to temptation again either.  So, now I don't ask God to remove temptation or my sin issues from me.  I ask for His help to prefer Him over them and thank Him for giving me another day to fight--another day to say "No".

Pursuing the Glory of Christ as though He were the most important pursuit in all the world--Because He Is!

" Looking for the Blessed Hope and the appearing of The Glory of our Great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Titus 2:13