Saturday, December 29, 2012

And They Will Know Us By Our...........?

If a quick perusal of the last month’s Facebook postings is any indication of what many professing Christians want to be known by I am wondering if God will recognize them. My understanding of what defines a Christian at least as far as I can tell from Facebook is that the true born-againer is a liberal hating, Obama-hating, gun-control hating, Muslim hating, homosexual hating, social spending hating, big government hating, abortion rights hating, higher tax hating, same-sex marriage hating, public school hating politically conservative church goer who flies the American flag and can’t stand the fact that our country is being flooded with illegals. Now, before you go and get mad—thinking that I am saying I love all these things—don’t, because I don’t. I too, struggle with the many ungodly and just plain stupid positions our political leaders and social advocates are so bent on pursuing. But, having said that, we as believers are not best defined by what we hate unless what we hate is sin and our own sin first and foremost. The Bible makes the point that what best defines those who follow Christ is love—for Him, each other, righteousness, and sinners. Thus, getting on Facebook to tell us what you hate in everyone else and about everyone else is not the best way to introduce yourself as a follower of Christ. In fact, its not even the best way to combat the very social evils you are so eloquently fuming about. Until Christians begin to love sinners more than they love hating sinners we will never make a social difference in this world. Until we spend less time bashing sinners on Facebook and more time finding a few to spend time with, get to know, actually try to understand, and then love more than they love their sin we will never make a difference because it is doubtful we will ever lead anyone to Christ. Furthermore, until we love others and especially those whose social agendas, policies, and practices we find disagreeable, distasteful and even disgusting more than we love hating their sin or their views on gun-control, same-sex marriage, and the national debt we, like them, are nothing more than noisy gongs and clanging symbols (1 Cor. 13:1).

Friday, December 28, 2012

The War Within

Christianity is war, plain and simple. If you don't know this and you are a Christian you are in trouble. It is a war far more real than you think. The fighting is intense, lasting and real victories are hard won and more rare than you think, casualties abound, retreat is commonplace, and taking and holding ground far more costly than ever imagined. Our war is the ultimate reality all earthly wars point to. They are but the picture, as real and terrible as they are. Our spiritual war is the reality as unreal as it sometimes appears to be. Our weapons are not made of metal and plastic but are divinely powerful designed to destroy all that is in us that is opposed to Christ. Our enemy is a brutal, savvy, treacherous, highly skilled, and unbelievably enduring foe whose greatest strength is its close proximity to us....for our enemy is always with us 24/7. It is none other than our sinful flesh, our old man, if you will, whose nature it is to oppose, fight, and if it could, destroy the spiritual life within us that is becoming more and more glorious everyday as it is being conformed moment-by-moment into the image of Christ 24/7 whether you realize it or not. Our enemy will never quit, be reformed, tamed, surrender, tire of fighting, or concede. Its fight is to the death and only in our death will its head never rise again. But while our flesh presents itself as such a formidable foe it can be defeated even if not destroyed. It can be resisted and it can even be used to encourage our battle hardened and weary souls when seen aright for what it is and why it is. You see, the mere realization that we have a sinful flesh that opposes us in our desire to pursue Christ assures us that our pursuit of Christ is real and something the enemy of our soul finds worthy of opposing. The truth Christians must learn and can only truly learn through spiritual hand-to-hand combat with an enemy who seems to prevail against us at every point is that the mere fact that we are being opposed by and opposing our sinful flesh provides us with an assurance of salvation we could find nowhere else. For you see before salvation, we were at peace with our sin but at war with God. After salvation, we are at peace with God but at war with our sin. Listen, I know firsthand how ugly this battle can get. I also understand how demoralizing and discouraging it often becomes to lose battle after battle. But don’t diminish the value of the battle whether won or lost. Only believers are at war with their sinful flesh and thus, the greatest value may not lie so much in your success as much as in the fact that you’re in the fight.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Post-Christmas Observation

Christmas is over, the tree has dried up, the presents are stacked up, the trash can is filled up, the credit card is racked up and some of us are just plain fed up. Fed up with yet another Christmas that didn’t deliver what we thought or at least hoped. Oh, it produced a fast burn that brought excitement into life until the batteries wore out. But then Christmas and all the trimmings turned into a slow fade, which left many just as disappointed, discontented, disillusioned, and dissatisfied with their lives as they were before going deeper in debt trying to buy another year's worth of happiness and holiday cheer. But, you know what, maybe the real problem isn’t Christmas’ failure to deliver. Maybe, just maybe, the real problem is that we are far too easily pleased. You see, our willingness to settle for artificial trees, plastic toys, paper plates, and disposable Christmas lights is very much indicative of the root problem we all struggle with—that of filling our lives with the throw-away-stuff of life so that we have no room left for what the Lord of life promises, which is life itself in Christ Jesus. Quite simply, we are so obcessed with filling our lives with temporary and inferior pleasures—we have missed the ultimate eternal point of life, which is Christ Himself, the source of all true joy and happiness. May 2013 be a year in which we aren’t so easily pleased!

Preachers & Their Churches

Much is said these days about pastors neglecting the proper, biblically expected, and in fact required work of giving themselves to the preaching of the Word of God. By and large, the majority of men filling our pulpits have tragically given themselves to a seeker-driven, customer knows best, culturally sensitive, and God-diminishing brand of sermonizing unknown to the prophets and apostles in our Bibles whose preaching was more often than not introduced by the clarion call “Thus saith the Lord”. On the other hand, not much seems to be said, at least in my hearing, about those churches that accept this kind of preaching as the norm and see nothing empty, powerless, anemic, or do I dare say it, wrong with it. While many are asking, “where are the men?” I am wondering “where are the churches?” I mean, whatever happened to those churches that took their calling as “the pillars and supporters of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) seriously and insisted, no, demanded that their preachers “Preach the Word!” (2 Tim. 4:2)? Perhaps, if more churches understood and took to heart their calling more preachers would too. As in the riddle about the chicken and the egg, the question of who comes first, thus resulting in the other, the Bible preaching preacher or the Bible believing church—neither is independent or unnecessary to the other. Personally speaking, as a man who has pastored a couple churches, here and there, I have always preached best to those churches, who like Cornelius, in speaking to Peter in Acts 10:33, make it a point to remind me: “. . . Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Regeneration of Charles Wesley

One of my favorite hymns, "And Can It Be That I Should Gain?", was written by Charles Wesley in May of 1738.  He wrote it two days after he was brought to saving faith in Christ.  What many Christians may be unaware of is that the words to this hymn are Wesley’s description of how God finally broke through his agonizing heart to bring him to saving faith in Christ.

You see, for several months Wesley, even while serving as an ordained minister of the Church of England as a missionary to Georgia in what is now the United States, knew he did not belong to Christ and that Christ did not belong to him.  He agonized over his lost condition but was unable to find assurance of salvation and the forgiveness of his sins regardless of how good and how hard he worked.  Out of desperation he sought the help of a Moravian preacher named Peter Bohler  who asked him, “Do you hope to be saved?”  “Yes”, replied Charles.  Bohler then asked him, “For what reason do you hope it?”.  “Because I have used my best endeavors to serve God.”  Bohler, realizing Charles was trying to produce his own salvation through his good works, shook his head and said no more to him.  And Charles, even more frustrated, exclaimed, “What?  Are not my endeavors a sufficient ground of hope?  Would he rob me of my endeavors?  I have nothing else to trust to.”

A few months later however, Charles did come to understand that his works were not enough to save him and so he began to pursue faith thinking that faith would save him.   But now the problem he was running into was that instead of seeking Christ—he was seeking faith.  Faith had become the new work, which he substituted for his former good works.  A glimpse at Charles’ journal reveals the struggle he was having.

May 13.  I waked without Christ; yet still desirous of finding Him . . .

May 14.  The beginning of the day I was very heavy, weary, and unable to pray. . . .I longed to find Christ. . . .

May 16.  I waked weary, faint and heartless . . . In the afternoon I seemed deeply sensible of my misery, in being without Christ.

May 19.  I received the sacrament, but not Christ . . . I looked for Him all night . . . I waked much disappointed, and continued all day in great dejection.

Then on May 21, everything changed.  After writing about the “violent opposition and reluctance to believe,” he was experiencing in his own soul as he considered the Gospel, God broke through and caused Charles’ unbelieving heart to finally see, believe, and receive the truth.  Here is how Charles described it:

“The Spirit of God strove with my own evil spirit, till by degrees He chased away the darkness of unbelief.  I found myself convinced, I knew not how or when, and immediately fell to intercession.”

Two days later he wrote the hymn which has become my favorite.  The words of the hymn come from his journal. 

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love!  How can it be
That Thou, my God, shoul’st die for me!
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and follow’d Thee.

Charles Wesley never forgot the day God ripped the scales of unbelief from the eyes of his heart and gave him sight so that he could see the beauty and magnificence of Christ so that in his heart of hearts he truly desired Christ and was now able to finally believe in Him for the salvation of his soul from the wrath of God for his sin.   A day in which he describes God as having “diffused a quickening ray” that woke him up and lit the dungeon of his soul with the divine light of regeneration so as to finally be able to see, love, and follow Christ.

The apostle Paul describes this day, this moment, this process, we all passed through who have been brought to saving faith in Christ as the day in which God “shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).  Just as God said on day one of the creation week, “Let there be light” and there was light—once He declared His Light to shine in our souls there was also light, and for the first time in our lives we were able to see the beauty and attraction of God in the face of Jesus Christ and we, like Charles Wesley, woke up, found our hearts free, rose, and went forth believing to follow Christ.  This is what it is to be regenerated or as Jesus calls it in John 3:3 to be born again.

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