Thursday, April 30, 2020

Thinking Out Loud





Upon reflection on this week's questions, my first reaction is one of humility.   I know, to speak of humility infers you don't have it.  But how might I assess the "greatness" of my conversion.  I know what I have been saved FROM.  I know the blessings that have been bestowed upon me. But greatness? I almost want to say I've been converted to mediocrity because I haven't done anything great. Any good has been Christ in me...

Now as to the implications...I really will not share some of the experiences of the Holy Spirit in my life here and now.  There are times and people with which I am sufficiently comfortable to talk about that.  Certainly being able to clearly discern what is and isn't sin is an implication.  But what happens when we start talking about "hearing" the voice of God.  In a recent episode of a television show one of the characters went on a tirade about those so called Christians who talk about hearing from God and how  horrible they are and how they ruin religion for all true Christians...the mockery went on...

I vividly remember several psychological tests I had to take before being ordained, before entering the mission field, and other significant occasions.  They always ask, "Do you hear voices in your head?"  Those of you who know me well, know the temptation I faced with that question..."No I hear them in my feet!" "Why yes, are they bothering you?" I could go on. Those kinds of questions are" ripe for the harvest."

What might the Spirit provide for in the coming year? What might God be asking of me? These are questions that require serious contemplation. But they do infer that we hear from God. I wonder how many of us feel that we do? I don't mean in a small quiet, convincing way.  I have had and anticipate will have strong convictions about certain matters.  Lord, should I... Lord, is it your will that I...

Listening for and to God is a trait that we develop and it requires a lot of practice. My brother in law, John gave me a book once by an organization called "Pray America."  It told the story of a woman missionary who spent her life in India and had the responsibility of running an entire hospital thrust upon her. She soon engaged the board in a process of "listening prayer" where in they would "fence" themselves in prayer by renouncing Satan, and anything that would thwart the will of God.  They would clearly define God, as the Three-in-One, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and commit to acting immediately and decisively on whatever they heard from God. And they would ask the question.  Some critics have called this the Magic 8 Ball approach to prayer. But my wife and I have used this style of prayer. And wow!

Now to be sure there is a lot more that goes into it.  Primarily, trust. Secondarily, commitment. And I would not suggest it to those young in their prayer lives.  But it provides a great opportunity to begin to hone one's ability to hear the voice of God.  And hearing from God is one of the great implications of a Spirit-filled life.

Well, this is just some of my muddle-headed ruminations before I start recording my responses tomorrow.  If you have questions, or something to add, feel free to drop a comment.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Capter 1 Questions


Week 1: The Size of the Soul, Chapter 1


Please do yourself a favor and DO NOT attempt to answer these questions on 

first reading. Read the questions, slowly and purposefully, perhaps writing them 

down for consideration later in the day or for review before bedtime and then 

review them again tomorrow, waiting at least a day or two before recording your 

answers.  It will be most helpful to keep a separate journal of your thoughts and 

reflections. You may well find it useful to review in the future.

  1.  Do I feel that I have been converted “only to mediocrity” or to greatness?

    Why?

  1.  In what great ways have I been used or hope to be used by God?

3.  What are the implications of being “Spirit-filled”? What difference has it

     made or might it make in my life?


4. What great things might the Spirit of God do in me and through me in the

     year ahead?



5.  What is God saying to me about this? What do I need to do about this?

     What changes will I make in my life, wisdom will I seek, or practice will I

     establish accordingly?

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Painting as spiritual work...


Painting, gives one time to reflect. This kind of time, where one engages in activity which allows the mind to wander, to contemplate, to question, is sparse in most of our lives.  We busy ourselves with our work life (8-10 hours/day), eating and socializing (2 or so hours a day), sleeping (8 or so hours a day) which leaves 4-6 hours a day for other activities. These other activities include watching tv, showering and prepping, driving, etc. One begins to see how little time we leave ourselves for contemplation, prayer, devotion and other such activities.

Hence my love of painting, landscaping, gardening, and fishing. It allows me time to contemplate the important parts of life. When we lived in Wellsboro, PA, I used to love to climb onto the lawn tractor and cut lawn. Again, time to think, to pray, to question... A lot of sermons were developed on the tractor.

As I was painting, this morning, the thought occurred to me, based on Chapter 1 of Tozer, have I only been converted to mediocrity?  Has my life in Christ made any significant difference for the Kingdom? I'm not looking for encouragement, or support. It is an important question.

My painting, like a lot of my work, can occasionally get a little sloppy. You know the "just good enough to pass muster" sort of quality.  No one will see. No one will know.  In what areas of my spiritual life have I compromised on zealousness in order to maintain peace?  In what areas of my ministry have I  been less than forthright in my statements, too tolerant, or reduced my expectations, inappropriately? You know, the devil's playground of "compromise"!

I came to some good conclusions, not of things I can revisit and correct so much as things that I can do differently in the future.

In retirement, I don't need to compromise in order to keep from angering parishioners. I have a pension so I don't need to seek employment subjecting myself to someone else's standards in order to produce an income.  I am free from some of the hindrances others may face. I have time to spend on contemplation, prayer, and devotion. I have and will continue to dedicate more time to that, hence this study.

There were a few more personal convictions laid upon me regarding how I might live a healthier, holier, more righteous life which I don't have any interest in sharing.  But that time...just that time by myself with the Lord.  It was great.

My prayer is that you will make the time for such activity. Quality time ALWAYS arises from a quantity of time. You just can't schedule quality time. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

The details...


Process


In any event or activity, there always seem to be questions of order, process, et cetera. The following is an attempt to answer questions on this Book Study.

1. Anyone is welcome to participate. You do not need to register, to inform, or otherwise communicate with anyone.  It can be between you and the Lord.

2.  You are invited to copy, paste, and print the questions or otherwise record them in a journal or notebook.

3. You may feel free to ask questions or make comments in the "comments" section of the blog to facilitate broader understanding and growth. We're all in this together. COMMENTS MAY BE MADE ANONYMOUSLY IF YOU SO CHOOSE.

4.  You may play stalker and just observe from a "safe" distance.

5.  If you choose to communicate with me, personally, please use my proton mail address.  If you need that, leave a comment and I will get it to you.

6.  The idea is to read the material early in the week and to consider it, just letting it run around your mind for a couple of days.  The questions will be posted each week on Wednesday, and again I'd suggest just pondering them for a couple of days.  And toward the end of the week take some time to answer them in a journal or notebook for future reference.


7. I do not expect any of us to necessarily agree with all of the material, but I hope that we might all take the material seriously, and answer the questions honestly.  Again, I'd love to see some comments, questions, etc on the blog to make this a more conversational engagement.

8. At some point we may try a Zoom/Skype/GoToMeeting type gathering to discuss it in more depth. Who knows?

9. PRAY! Pray for wisdom, for learning, for growth in understanding. God's not finished with any of us, yet.


Chapter 1



 For those who have not yet received their copy of The Size of the Soul, or who have not yet decided whether or not they want to engage this journey, I am providing a copy of the first chapter for you to review.  I will be posting the questions later this week but want you to have time to read, perhaps to re-read, and then to consider the content of this brief chapter prior to considering the questions.  Each chapter is equally as succinct and brief.  This is only to whet your appetite or to provide a bridge for those who have purchased or will purchase the book.  This is the only chapter that will be provided on this site.  Feel free to post comments or questions and or to respond to others comments or questions.  Please do, however, remember that this is a public forum and Christian charity and  decorum are expected.

It will be helpful for those embarking on this journey to keep a notebook to record the questions and responses as a means of self- accountability.

CHAPTER

1
________________________________________________________________

The Size of the Soul

     Persons out of Christ often try to comfort themselves with the remembrance that they have never in their lives committed any really great sin.  Little trifling acts of wrongdoing perhaps, but nothing of any consequence, so surely God will overlook their rather insignificant transgressions when he settles their accounts.  

     In the first place, a man's status before God is decided not by the number and enormity of his sins but by whether those sins have or have not been forgiven, whether he is on God's side or the side of the devil.

     The soldier who mutinies is held responsible for his mutiny even if he does nothing more that stand up and let himself be counted among the rebels. His crime lies in his break from his superior and his willingness to go along with the enemies of his country.  That he performs no extraordinary feats of violence may mean no more that that he is an ordinary fellow incapable of great deeds of any sort for or against his country.

     Sins of great magnitude may indicate an energy of the soul which if turned in a right direction can lead far up the way toward spiritual perfection. Conversely, there is a meanness of soul that inhibits and restricts the scope and intensity of even the most common activities.  When such a soul is converted, it may be only to mediocrity.

      On his own testimony Paul before his conversion was a great sinner (1 Timothy 1:15).  He persecuted Christians with great violence and wrought havoc with the followers of Christ. After his spectacular about-face he turned his magnificent equipment over to the Lord and the whole world knows the result.  The same energy of soul that had made him a dangerous enemy of the Christian faith made him a powerful advocate of the faith once his eyes had been opened.

     From this we learn that feebleness and timidity are not to be confused with righteousness.  To sin but weakly is not the same as to do good.  Lack of moral energy may prevent a man from enjoying himself in sin, but he is in sin nevertheless. His weak effort at neutrality does not deceive God who knows the secrets of every man's heart.

     The size of a man's soul is likely to determine his success or failure in the rough, competitive world of the 20th century. And after his conversion to Christ, it will go far to determine his usefulness in the kingdom of God.  Undoubtedly there are many genuine Christians who are not doing much for their fellow men nor for the Church into which they were born by the miracle of the Spirit's regeneration. Such as these need to hear the words of Christ, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is to come upon you" (Acts 1:8). the only hope for a restricted heart is the mighty in working of the Spirit. He can enlarge the mansion of the soul; but only can do it.

* * * * * * * * * * * QUESTIONS WILL BE POSTED ON WEDNESDAY * * * * * * * * * * *

Again, books may be ordered as per the below information. There may be host of other options, these are just the one's I generally make use of.



         Paperback $9.99
     

           eBbook $2.39


          Kindle $2.99

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Another reason to pursue holiness...












This morning's sermon by Rev. Dr. Calvin Sayles, of the Jonesboro Heights Baptist Church of Sanford, NC provided yet more good reasons to pursue holiness, two of which are:

  • [Hebrews 6:4-6] For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt; and

  • [Proverbs 26:11] As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.  
Wow! If the grace and mercy, the joy and excitement of forgiveness itself isn't enough to motivate us to turn from our ways, then realizing that continuing in our sin is akin to re-crucifying Christ and returning to our vomit like dogs  should be.

Having said this, however, the sermon DOES NOT dwell on the negative, by any stretch of the imagination. It includes a shout out to the likes of Jerry Clower and pivots on the love David had for the Lord.
 

It's worth attending to.

You can find it here.

 

 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Consecrated, Sacred, Holy...


The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a precious image in Catholic iconography.  A search of the term "consecrated" usually brings up pictures of ordinations or weddings. And holy is defined by Merriam-Webster as exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness, while sacred is defined as dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity .

And each of these misses the fully relational Biblical concept.  While each word has it's own origin even a cursory understanding of the Biblical use of these terms will bring to light how similar they are in meaning or intent for us and how they apply to believers specifically.

     There is one Hebrew word for all: קָדַש, qadash, to be set apart for use.
 
     The Greek similarly uses one: ἅγιος, hagios - set apart by (or for) God.

A very similar word is used for the "elect."

     Hebrew: בָּחִיר, bachir - chosen 

     Greek: ἐκλεκτός, eklektos - chosen out (by God for the rendering of special
                                                 service to Him)
     
This is such a simple, plain, straightforward concept for us.  God chooses us. He sets us apart for His use.  This act of election, consecration, of making holy or sacred is His work toward us.  When He chooses us, He MAKES us holy, he consecrates us. We become sacred.


 And just to drive the point home, both languages use 
the same word for "SAINT".        

There is no need for a church institution to confer that title on us. God does that when he chooses us and sets us aside. We become saints. Not perfect individuals as Merriam-Webster would like us to believe in its definition of holy (as exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness), but as it defines sacred (dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity.)

So, as I have written and preached before, so many times, the question for each of us becomes, "what are we doing to make ourselves useful to God?"

How are we making ourselves available? 
          How are we using our gifts? Our resources? 
                    How are we getting training or acquiring knowledge?
                              How are we exercising our faith to become more fit for His use?

These are the questions we'll be asking over the next 42 weeks.  
Can you give an hour a week for thought and prayerful reflection? 
Drilling down on why we do what we do and what we might do better?  
It probably is only a matter of motivation - Do we want to grow in Christ?

 How big is your soul? How big would you like it to be?

There are ample means of such growth, and if you are already engaged in purposeful, directed, spiritual growth (not an accidental sort of when I think about it or if I have time for it) please pass by this opportunity.  But if you are game, if you are desirous, if you are willing, please plan on joining me.  Get the book and make the commitment.  You are already holy. You are already a saint. You are consecrated. It's time to grow in our holiness or sanctification. It's not for sissies or those who, like the seeds along the path, sprout up quickly but are quickly gone.  It's for those who want to abide in green pastures, grow in fertile soil, produce fruit.  I pray that is you!




Friday, April 24, 2020

The Day of the Lord...



There are times when scripture virtually leaps off the page and gives me one of those epiphanic, "aha!" type moments.  This morning is one of those times. In 2 Peter I read:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. [2 Peter 3:10]

Okay. Fine. Got it. It's gonna happen! We need to be ready. But that wasn't the great "aha!"  It was what followed immediately:

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.
[2 Peter 3:10]

"Zonkers!" as my friend and brother-in-Christ John Watton would say. (Shout out to Canadians eh?)

Living holy and godly lives SPEEDS the coming of the day of the Lord?

Not that that should be our motivation. Peter, driven by the Holy Spirit, says that SINCE Jesus is coming and the earth and heavens, as we know them, will be destroyed, we ought to live holy and godly lives AS we look forward to the day of God and speed its coming, as if this was something perfectly natural, normal, a way to pass the time.

Peter goes on to cite Paul's consistent position in all his letters on this matter, and that the delay of the Lord's coming means salvation (that is that others might enjoy our secure standing).  Also that since we have been forewarned about this that we should  
 
be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. [2 Peter 3:17]

Yet again another warning not to be like the world, like those around us who flaunt the wisdom and the warning of God Himself.  

But it was this "speed its coming" that packed the punch for me this morning.  It brought to mind Paul's statement about the hardening of the hearts of Israel  in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in [Romans 11:25].

It reminded me, yet again, that there is a timetable on which God's plan for the salvation of humanity is working.  A definite and definitive time frame in which He is working. A quota of Gentiles needs to be met.  All the nations must hear the Good News. There will be a great falling away of the faithful. There will be a great increase of lawlessness. Persecution of believers will increase...and other such matters will take place.  Scripture testifies to this again and again. To be sure some of these events are already taking place and there is very little we can do about that.

But what we can do, to speed things along is to live holy and godly lives and to preach the good news to the world, to every tribe and nation.

You may not be called to evangelistic work.  Not everyone is. The Spirit gifts each of us in different ways,some to apostleship, some to preaching, some to administration, et cetera. But EACH AND EVERYONE OF US is called to holiness and to godliness.

And then the bombshell occurred to me. What if our refusal to grow in holiness and righteousness was one of the reasons the day of the Lord is delayed? What if we looked at our spiritual laziness as a hinderance to the Kingdom? 

Now I am not suggesting that we can prevent the second coming. God's ultimate will cannot be thwarted. But certainly we can hinder his work through our own intransigence.

Without becoming legalistically oriented, we each of necessity, need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  We each need to be on our guard so that we may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from our secure position.  And I guess this is why I've become so enamored of the holiness tradition - not in a Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch! sort of manner as much as in a do kindness, do love, stand firm, preach the good news, avoid sin, purify yourselves sort of manner.

Growth in holiness always has the danger of becoming a legalistic trap. But a passion to obey that which we have been commanded is considered as love for Christ. "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching".
[John 14:23]

So maybe curse less and encourage more. Accuse none but exhort all. Put off the old and put on the new.

And so I will pursue that desire for holiness and the path of holiness that I might become more and more like Him whose name I claim, and maybe, just maybe speed things up a bit, even as I pray, Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Puritanism




Relatively recent events in my life have led me to an increasing desire to revisit the grounding of my faith, particularly the theological assumptions and the associated principles on which I base my behavior. Long held assumptions about the "sacramental" nature of the Lord's Supper and Baptism are being called into question. Questions about the appropriateness of a Christian consuming alcohol or smoking or social associations with nonbelievers.  And all of this has raised the central question of what happened to the holiness traditions of the Puritans and those of the separatistic Pilgirm movement in America, both Calvinistic in nature but frustrated with the inability of the reformers to fully impact the church structure.

The presbyterian tradition in which I was raised seems to have lost it grounding in sanctification or growing in righteousness, along with many other mainline traditions.  Even  the baptist tradition in which I am currently engaging for worship and fellowship, generally speaking, seems to have lost a certain edge along those lines.  While there is still something of a legalistic righteousness in both traditions (i.e. don't drink, or don't discriminate) the whole tenor of a life focused on growing in righteousness, progressive sanctification (which includes separation) seems too often mired down "churchianity" .

Sanctification is often seen as a three step process: deliverance from the love of sin (which takes place upon the new birth) when we begin to love and have a desire for righteousness; a growth in grace (a noteable change in behavior and a daily walk with Jesus as we become more and more like Him; and the fullness achieved in the day of the Lord (when body, soul and spirit are finally and completely transformed for eternity in our glorified bodies).

It has been a long time since I have heard such talk come out of a mainline pulpit, which is why the Puritans fought as hard as they did for transformation and why the Pilgrims, with their separatistic ways, left (particularly) the Church of England to come to this new land.

(from Wikipedia) - 

The Puritans were English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries, who sought to purify the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices, maintaining that the Church of England had not been fully reformed and needed to become more Protestant...

Puritans were dissatisfied with the limited extent of the English Reformation and with the Church of England's (Anglican) toleration of certain practices associated with the Roman Catholic Church. They formed and identified with various religious groups advocating greater purity of worship and doctrine, as well as personal and corporate piety. 

These Puritans settled in New England (as "non-separating congregationalists") and brought a distinctive "ethos" to early America, an ethos based on biblical values.

 
 Pilgrim                           Puritan

The Pilgrims (from the latin peregrinus meaning traveler), on the other hand, were separatistic Puritans seeking a holy land (think "on a pilgrimmage" - which currently resonates with my soul). They were a very specific movement which sought to be separated from the Church of England and moved first to the Netherlands before leaving to come to America specifically to establish a new church in a new land, beginning their work at Plymouth Colony. (These hardy souls even banned Christmas from Massachusetts because of the profligate debauchery which had come to be so evident in those celebrations, feelings I share about our contemporary celebrations of the holiday.)

The whole concept of "purity" sought by both the Pilgrims and the Puritans became watered down in many of the mainline traditions, but remains alive and well in some of our holiness traditions such as the Church of the Nazarene, the Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventists, and the Wesleyan Church as well as lesser known Free Methodist, Free Presbyterian, and Pentecostal Holiness traditions.

"So what?" So this.  The focus of this blog, over the next 10 or so months will be "The Size of the Soul" by A.W. Tozer who examines the issue of holiness, revival, and abiding faith in a particular way. 

SPOILER ALERT: The main assumption of the book and this blog is that:

We often spoil our Christian witness, through our public behavior, in coarse speech, loose moral standards, tolerance of unrighteous behavior, and a lack of generosity, amongst other things. 

We allow little, petty sins, our trifling acts of wrongdoing, to help us feel righteous, thinking "well we've never committed any great mortal sin".  But it's that very smug, self assurance that keeps us from growing in righteousness and holiness, from becoming more like Him.I have even heard self professing Christians use terms like "well we all sin, don't we?" as an excuse for their behavior, as if that made it okay.

In some cases we have never truly embraced the Lord's provision of a deliverance from the desire to sin, that is to say that we have only embraced the new birth intellectually.  We actually enjoy being acceptable to the society around us.  We don't want to be seen as religious zealots. We don't want to be ostracized, rejected, ridiculed. And yet that is what will happen to every true believer who chooses to set themselves apart.  Becoming more like Christ is always a threat to the world.

Having penned these words, I appreciate that some may take offense, I may lose some readers, some friends, and even church folk who refuse the biblical counsel that we are to be perfect or holy even as our Father in Heaven is holy.  We won't reach that in fullness until we receive our new and glorious resurrection bodies but we are to begin now, if we want to be ready to receive them.  And that growth in holiness WILL be noticeable to those around us.

Stay tuned, it's likely to get rocky!


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Click bait...


Clickbait is defined by the Urban Dictionary as a link which entices you to click on it.The "bait" comes in many shapes and sizes, but it is usually intentionally misleading and/or crassly provocative. Clicking will inevitably cause disappointment.
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I notice this increasingly in the titles of news stories.  BBC has even written about the phenomenon.


Sometimes it is a picture of something or someone which inevitably is not an accurate reflection of reality.
Sometimes it is an exaggeration of the content of the story.

“Ebola in the air? A nightmare that could happen.”
         This headline is definitely going to get some clicks (“ebola” was the top search term in 2014 and this was the actual title of a CNN article in 2014), but the experts interviewed for the story claimed that the chances of ebola mutating to pread through the air are actually very small. The headline could just as easily have been: 
“Ebola in the air? Experts say it’s unlikely.”

Whatever it is, "clicking will inevitably cause disappointment."

This very concept is the basis of temptation and sin.  It promises something that will not be fulfilled or which indulged in will inevitably lead to disappointment, guilt or remorse afterward.

Lust, one of the great temptations facing our culture today, was defined by someone not so much as the unhealthy desire for a person or a thing as it is the desire to indulge the unhealthy desire.  It is the looking to see if that particular someone or thing is worth desiring. The desire for the feeling of  the desire itself.

And of course there are people, walking clickbait, that seem to want to embody this concept.

Greed is another great temptation we face.  We drive around looking at the big homes or desiring the fancy cars, and advertisements feed this by promising an end to all of our troubles if we buy into their fantasy...And of course there are those whose primary purpose in owning such cars or homes is to elicit jealousy or envy in others, the very essence of pride.

And on the other end, we have a Savior, whose advertisement is suffering, abuse, and death on a cross and who, through this very sacrifice and suffering, defines the meaning and purpose of life itself. "No greater love has anyone than this, that he lay down his life for another..."

It's unexpected good news.  Good Friday turns into Easter Sunday morning.

There are those who would like to question that sacrificial lifestyle, giving all without much concern for one's own well-being.  I once had a college chaplain suggest to me that J.O.Y. (love Jesus first, then Others, and lastly Yourself) should actually be Y.O.J. (love Yourself first, then Others, and lastly Jesus) because, "If we can't love ourselves,we won't know how to love anyone else."

It seems to me that this is the current social temperament.  Take care of yourself and your own first. Pay yourself first.  Mind your own business first.  And it seems antithetical to a faith that has always been focused on sacrifice.  God gave of himself in creation, giving of his very breath, to breathe life into man. He called us to sacrifice one day a week for rest demonstrating trust in him to provide through the other 6 days of labor. He called on man to sacrifice his best, the unblemished, the first born, the first harvest, for the offerings, as an indication of our trust in him to provide in the rest of the flock or harvest. And finally he gave of himself, to make the supreme sacrifice for us, those who were undeserving. God himself dying, paying the ultimate price for sins of which he had no part. Jesus lived a life of self sacrifice - no home, no house, no job, nothing, yet demonstrating a self-sacrificing kind of love, giving until nothing was left to give, and then dying, only to rise again in glory and to take his place as the first born of many, in heaven with the Father. And then trumps it all but sending us the Holy Spirit!

Paul, moved by that Holy Spirit, says:

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3:8-14]

He considered all his Pharisaical righteousness as nothing more than garbage (σκύβαλον - greek: skubulon - garbage or dung). He lost or let go of everything.  He wanted to know the power of Jesus' resurrection and participation in Jesus sufferings - because in Jesus resurrection is power, in the participation in his sufferings is power! He wants to become like Jesus, even is his death - because Jesus sacrificial death is the most extraordinary E.V.E.R.  And he presses on toward this - he pursues this kind of lifestyle, purposefully, straining, and letting go of anything and everything which hinders.
 


This is our call too; to let go of anything and everything that may be hindering us. For some it WILL mean selling everything we have and giving the money to the poor. For others it WILL mean moving from our present circumstances to a foreign country where we don't speak the language or understand the culture. For some it WILL mean giving up a life long dream BECAUSE it was our dream and NOT his! For some it will mean BEING STILL even when we "just have to do something" and for most it WILL mean doing things we just don't feel like doing. 

Our culture seems to have lost the sense of importance that self sacrifice holds.  Some are shining brightly in this "pandemic". Some have always sought to serve others without regard for their own well-being and safety.  But statistics show that, as a culture, we are volunteering less, giving away a smaller portion of our income, and looking more for personal recognition than for opportunities to serve, even though we have more time, more money, more knowledge, and more oppotunities than ever before.

How might this "pandemic" serve to awaken our sense of responsibility to freely give because we have freely received? Only time will tell.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Waiting to paint...

.

  Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.   [Ephesians 5:15-16]

It's a bit cool out this morning. I'm not quite ready to get out the ladders, brushes and paint, and go to work.  And as I reflect on that I wonder how other folks (who might be quarantined) are filling their hours.  Certainly many are still working, others home schooling, etc.  But as I visited Lowe's this morning I was astonished at the number who are apparently using this time to get some home improvement work done.

Scripture is filled with admonishments regarding staying busy. Life itself begins with instructions regarding our being placed in the garden IN ORDER to "till it and to keep it."


Gen 2:15 - The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.




Work is a good and God-honoring matter.  This passage indicates stewardly responsibilities for humankind as well as activity.  Later on we will learn that this very work will also, because of our sinfulness, involve "the sweat of our brow." (3:19)

Throughout scripture we are reminded of the significance of work.

Proverbs 10:5 - He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son
 
Proverbs 20:4 - Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing.

And if scriptural admonishment is not sufficient to motivate us then, perhaps, remembering for whom we are working may be an encouragement.

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." [Colossians 3:23]

And so too, let us remember the reminder which appears at the very  beginning of this post:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.   [Ephesians 5:15-16]


It would be easy to take this time of quarantine to rest too much, to become lazy, to indulge in binging on Netflix movies.  It would be easy to think of this as an extended vacation and to lie out by the pool (for those in southern environments) or to otherwise engage in unproductive activities.

 From a secular perspective, this time may simply be seen as an opportunity to clean out closets, the basement, or the garage, or to otherwise get those things done that we are forever saying we don't have the time to get done.

But from a Christian perspective, we simply stay busy because God encourages it, not in meaningless activities but in things which can bring glory to God.  So the question for us becomes, how are we redeeming this time?  Are we doing, what we are doing, as if we were doing it for the Lord?  Engage the day! Do the work of the Lord, whether it be cleaning out a closet or preparing a meal for a neighbor, answering the phone, or responding to the email.  I suppose painting one's house might even count, if it advances the Kingdom, makes a statement, if its done as if it were a working for the Lord!  Our attitudes are transformed when we take what we are given, as a gift from the Lord, and use them accordingly.  May you redeem this time, for the days ARE evil!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Stripping away the old...

The Door...


Carol is working hard on stripping 3 layers of paint off our front door.  Her idea is to get it all the way back to bare wood and then apply a "gunstock" colored stain before finishing. The top layer, which was black, surprisingly enough came off quite easily.  The middle layer, white seemed a bit tougher, more resilient.  But it was the base coat, the red, a bright fire engine red, that has provided the greatest challenge.

After a week or more of work and several coats of a good quality stripping agent she was about to give up and look at just painting.  She made the mistake of discussing this we me and my Tim Allen clicked in.  I retrieved my "Binford 5000" quarter sheet finishing sander, some 120 grit sandpaper an went to work.  BAREWOOD!

Except for those pesky corners and trim pieces which will take a little more direct effort!


 So what has this to do with my "reflections" on faith and life?  Simple.  There is a reason that the bright red paint, as beautiful as it may have been, is being so stubborn.  Whoever applied it, did not use a primer. And it is a oil based paint, which is always the better choice for exterior endurance.

It occurred to me (as I worked to try to demonstrate to Carol that her work had not been in vain) that removing all those layers of paint is a lot like the sin in our life.  It is multi layered.  Some are easy to erase. Others a bit more difficult. And some take time and a very aggressive approach.  But all require an outside actor.  Enter the Holy Spirit - "The Human Sin Stripper Extraordinaire!"

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. [1 Corinthians 10:13]

So going back to basics, sin is not something to which we must fall prey. Rather it is a choice that we make rather than seeking the way out which God has provided, the very One who directs, equips, and provides for us as we navigate our way to freedom. The multiple layers of sin in which we reside, by which we are known or through which we see ourselves, is NOT a natural state. It is one that we have "layered on" over time.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. [James 1:13-15]

And it is something which begins small, as per a sight/a view (as in a movie, a magazine, a picture) and is processed (through a thought, a consideration, some contemplation, or a fantasizing) and then bears fruit in our actions (behavior, speech, or attitude).  That sin, as it matures, lead to death.

A time comes when we need to wash that away.  In my decidedly Zwinglian leanings on Baptism, I do not believe that this takes place in infant baptism.  If we affirm that Baptism is the outward sign of an inward reality connected to a receiving of the Holy Spirit then, by needs of this argument, an infant neither has the need nor can demonstrate/affirm the reality.  Without delving into the deeper argument re: Confirmational activities, symbolic adoption into the family, whether or not "and his whole household" included children, I do believe, there comes a time in the adult's life when a recognition of the new birth, a spiritual cleansing, a gifting of the Holy Spirit becomes a reality and we begin to engage, with the Holy Spirit, in a purposeful stripping away of the sins.  The holiness tradition is very good at talking about "growth in holiness" or "sanctification" and "righteousness". Purity seems like a lost grace in much of the Catholic and Reformed traditions today.

But many of us may well find, that when we begin to get down deep, to that very foundational layer of our sin lives which needs to be removed, that the normal process won't work.  We need something radical.  We need to let that stripper set longer.  We need to more aggressively address the problem. Like an addict removing him or herself from the friends that enabled the addiction, like avoiding any and all contact with anything that would call the problem to mind, we may need to remove ourselves from a particular setting, a group of people (maybe including some of our family and close friends), we may need to go away for some time of reflection, stop using the computer, stop listening to the music, refuse to watch the movies.  But we do whatever it takes to get ourselves back to the bare existence before God.

And when we do we can shine in a way that we otherwise could not.

Our front door would have looked beautiful with a fresh coat of paint. It would have been easier, taken less time, required less effort, would have been a much less significant challenge.  And just another coat of paint would make the door attractive in some sense. But when Carol gets done, the natural would grain, the very essence of the wood, will appear, something that is only covered up by paint, like our sins cover our godly nature. The stain, like the touch of Jesus, will bring out the true grain. And the finishing work of the coating, like the work of the Holy Spirit, will give that door resilience, against the elements.

It is my hope, that going through Tozer's book The Size of the Soul" will be the motivation, to strip away the old, to remove ourselves from the layers of bad habits, and otherwise strip our spiritual lives down to the "bare wood" and then allow the Holy Spirit to wash, to cleanse, to stain, and to shine in our lives that, so we might be better reflections of the One in whose image we were originally created.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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