Sunday, December 27, 2015


   Some things I get angry about because I go looking for them, like debates about KJV onlyism or comments about why Calvinists don't believe in missions. Sometimes, it's my own fault, me being a "sucker for punishment" as my sister once called me. But other times, ammunition for my frustration is lobbed into my lap, and this blog turns into the place I wind up responding to the issues I see.

    About a week back, a friend of mine and I got into a discussion about authority. Some things she said (not beliefs she held to, but occurrences that had happened) seriously ticked me off, and I decided then to write a blog post about it. Too much has happened for me to be able to do that, but I'm finally getting to it now! This friend's story is not mine to tell, so I am not going to share any details of it here. Suffice to say, it was enough to make me sit in a chair and stare sulkily at a Christmas tree for quite some time, frustrated that I could do nothing to remedy the situation or address the problems.

    But today, I hope to spend some time discussing the issue of handling authority. I've already written before (here) about authority, but I'm going to restate many of my statements there, possibly just for the sake of therapy to calm my temper :), but also because in order to think through your response to authority, both godly authority and abusive authorities, we need to know what the Bible says about it.

    There's a common idea in conservative Christianity that authority is boundless, that the voice of your authority is the voice of God, and that these authorities reveal God's will for you. These views vary in how far their authors take them; I've heard some say that if you were to directly contradict the Bible in favor of obeying your authorities, God will hold your authorities accountable instead of you. I've heard some say that what's revealed to you through your authorities becomes God's will for you and that you are required to obey it or sin against God. Those tend to be some of the more radical views I've seen, but there are a plethora of these viewpoints.

    I'll admit, I am not neutral about how I view these positions. To me, these are some of the more dangerous lies the church has ever bought into. There's an element of attractiveness to the idea that someone older and wiser than me can explain to me the harder things and the uncertainties of my Christian life, simplifying the uncertainty of things like finding God's will and staying attuned to His leading into simply taking the word of my tangible, physical authorities. In a way, it's an easier, more secure feeling way. It's always easier to listen to the voice of men rather than the voice of God.

    There's another draw to this argumentation beyond just attractiveness to the certainty of it. There's also a definite attitude of holiness (sometimes even superior holiness) that is not always but often taught unknowingly along with this attitude of stringent submission to authorities. You're only holy, or sometimes it's taught as you're more holy, if you remain in obedience to your authorities, and those who don't are not holy, or at best, are simply not as holy as those who do.

    The sum of the argument I will be attempting to refute this evening can be shown in this statement from ATI/IBLP website that says, "If you resist God-given authorities, you will experience God’s judgment." Or this statement, "Those under authority are accountable to God for their responses to authority. Since God placed authorities over us, to obey them is to submit to God’s design and authority in our lives." (Emphasis not mine) While the obvious lines drawn in the two statements above are softened by comments following them about our ability to "appeal" if our authorities ask us to do something contrary to God's Word, the message is clear (even in the language of the appeal. An appeal is a request, not a statement of conviction).

    So, is this a Biblical concept? I do not believe so, but for the sake of consistent argumentation, let's address one of the most powerful verses in defense of an authoritarian (I use this term for lack of a better one. As far as I know, there is no name for this particular belief system). Rom. 13:1-3 says (KJV, the more often quoted translation for those that prefer this sytem),“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

    At first glance, this seems like an open and shut case for the authority position, does it not? But I would contest that no believer in Christ would ever argue this verse in the authoritarian position taken to its logical conclusion. In short, no one believes this verse literally and by itself, only interpreted through other passages. No Christian would ever espouse rejecting Christ if your authority told you to. Why? I'll answer that question momentarily, but answer it in your mind. Why, if the passage commands we be subject to the higher powers (in this case specifically government), do we not feel under the need to submit in all things to the rule of government?

    The answer is all too simple. In matters of conscience, nay, in all matters, by submitting to Christ, we are in submission "unto the higher powers." This is based on the one principle that I believe correctly balances this authoritarian worldview: My one supreme authority is Christ and Christ alone. All other authorities and my obedience to them are of lesser importance than my submission to my Lord Jesus Christ.

    That position (which I will explain Biblically in a moment) balances the dangers of over emphasis on human authority by transforming my unquestioning obedience to humans into a thoughtful and conscientious life of submission to Christ first and my human authorities only after my initial authority is pleased. My first and foremost authority (and the one that ranks above and trumps all others) is Jesus Christ Himself.

    Now, why do I make this argument? Frankly, because Jesus leaves us no other. The Jesus of the gospels never, ever leaves even the vaguest possibility that there is another option in following Him that involves following a human being rather than Him or that He will direct your steps through someone else. Rather, He demands full, unfledged, unflinching allegiance and submission not to His followers or to your authorities but to Himself. Whatever authority relationships are given in the NT are secondary to the demands Jesus makes personally.

    Lk. 14:25-33 is one text that I preached from in Africa and one that is near to my heart. My Bible labels this passage "The Test of Discipleship", and I personally believe that is a very apt name for what Jesus says. I won't quote the entire passage (though please read it yourself), but He starts off with these amazing words that don't really fit into the authoritarian mold. "...if anyone comes to me, and hates not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, and yes, even His own life, He cannot be my disciple. Whosoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."

    If you want clearer words denying that any authority (not even your own parents) or any relationship (not even your own wife) can overpower the leading of Christ in your own life, you'll be hard pressed to find them. These are clear, hard English words that clearly enunciate the fact that if we claim the name of Jesus, it means we must be constant and wholehearted followers after Jesus, not followers of His followers. Our first allegiance and authority is never to our earthly father who then reveals what God wants for us or our pastor who shows us God's will and doctrine for us to believe. If we don't cling to Christ with a love and radical affection (and obedience) that far surpasses our allegiance to our own families and friends (yes, and pastors), then we are in grave danger.

    Gal. 3 also provides an eye-opening insight into our status with God in the New Covenant. In the OT, our access to the Father was regimented and harsh. The Jews and only Jews had access to God through the law. Only the high priest could approach the holiness of God, and only a priest could approach God and intercede for the people. Only the prophets could receive His revelation and His will. And the hierarchy didn't stop there, because once this first tier of people received the news from God, then it was passed along under the authority of the men of the tribes as leaders of families to the enact and guide their families that way.

    The OT was rigorously regimented in how God related to mankind in revealing His will and in man communicating back with God. But we see striking change occur in the NT. Suddenly, there is no upper tier of people to whom God reveals His plans who must then reveal it to us. There is no detached "Holy of Holies" that cuts God off from His people, that only an elect, special, holier few can come inside. Rather He offers the same offer to all of His elect, that His Holy Spirit will come upon each of them and will guide each of us into all truth.

    Gal. 3:28 says,"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." I want you to notice the clear picture drawn, a direct contrast between Old and New Covenants. Before there was a line between Jew and Gentile. If a Gentile wanted to be close to God, he had to be circumcised and become a Jew. Before, slaves were the bottom of the ladder, the last ones in the social hierarchy. But now, they have equal standing with God, equal ability to discern His words and follow His leading. Before, women were lower class citizens who God spoke to and directed through men. Now, they have equal standing with God, and thus equal ability to hear from Him.

    All that to say, God is no respecter of persons. God no longer works by class, showing one hierarchy of people His will who are then to reveal it to the masses. God doesn't withhold His leading from certain people as if they are unable to understand it and instead show it to their authorities to impress it upon them. He works directly with His people, not in a hierarchy or ladder of cultural, social, or religious standing.

    As I close this post, I want to take a moment to address concerns I have with the authority position. Today, there are many who believe that maybe there are some people who just take these teachings too far and that while that's wrong, it's not terribly harmful. I believe such an attitude misses an understanding of how detrimental these teachings can be.

    To teach that an authority figure knows God's will better than you or is required to reveal God's will for you is to enslave entire congregations of believer's to the conscience and discernment of one individual. For that one individual to reveal God's will for others is not only unprecedented in Scripture (something that cause warning flags to jump out all over the place in our minds), but frankly is much more mindful of a Catholic doctrine than a Protestant one! 

    There is a second concern, a more subtle one, the idea of spiritual manipulation. This occurs when an authority figure holds his authority over your head to try to convince you that he knows God's will for you better than you can know God's will for you. Sometimes, this can even go so far as to label you as a rebel if you decide that you are not required to follow the teachings of mere men but are required to follow the teachings of your Lord.

    I have one response to this manipulation. Acts 5:29 records beautifully the apostles response to their authorities in the form of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin (who were not only their government authorities but were also considered their spiritual authorities). Their response to quick and to the point, pulling no punches, "We must obey God rather than men." 

    That, my friends, is the whole crux of the issue before us tonight. Our authority is God and God alone. Yes, He delegates that authority to other men (to a point) that we are to obey as long as they do not come between us and our first love, our Lord Jesus Christ. Any authority figure that attempts to manipulate by using their authority to draw in a direction away from how God leads you and toward their own preference or doctrine is an authority figure to be on guard against. A good authority presses us closer toward Christ and toward following Him, not drawing us away from following Him.

    The apostle's response is the most eloquent I could say tonight to sum up the entirety of this issue. At the end of the day, we must obey God rather than men, even men in authority positions. Even family members. Even pastors. Even presidents. Even friends. To call ourselves followers of Christ is to declare that all other relationships are subservient to my allegiance to Christ.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Cost of Christmas

   Merry Christmas! It's late Christmas night, and I hope everyone had a great Christmas today! I'm going to spend one more day talking about Christmas and hope no one shoots me for talking about Christmas on the 26th.

    We have plenty of songs to memorialize our thoughts about this day, songs that paint a mental picture. "Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head, the stars in the sky looked down as He lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay." There's an example of a classic Christmas song that paints a beautiful picture of our Saviors birth as a peaceful, pretty time.

    Again, I want to point us to a part of Christmas we prefer not to look at amid the incredible gifts that are our Savior's Advent. Christmas, the time we celebrate such enormous gifts to mankind was the time when our Lord was suffering an enormous cost.

    The picture we see in the song above paints a pretty picture of the manger scene, does it not? Clear skies, the baby Jesus peacefully sleeping in a manger of fragrant, golden hay, with softly mooing animals all around, right?

    Not a whole lot in common with a screaming teenage girl giving birth to a baby with no pain medicine on a manure stained, muddy floor. Or the newborn baby Jesus wrapped in stained, muddy rags and laid in a crude trough. Same picture? I don't think so.

    See, the advent of our Lord came at brutal cost to Himself. The reason this time of year is so incredible is, in fact, because of the incredible story it tells! The idea of God becoming man is so radical that it is unbelievable, but why? Why is it a crazy concept?

    Exactly because of the brutal cost to Himself. It's a crazy idea because we all can see, realize it or not, that God becoming man is an incredible humiliation, an insane demotion! And even aside from the obvious cost of Christ's advent (His death), we must examine that in coming as our Savior, His coming was at brutal cost to Himself.

    His coming was not peaceful or beautiful. It was not "silent night, holy night". It was a brutal night in a war-torn world. It was not a painless labor for Mary that night. It was not a care-free, relaxing night for Joseph. It was a wild night, a crazy night, a night the impossible happened.

    I don't say any of this to make us feel guilt or overly somber this Christmas season. I say this only to deepen our appreciation for what the advent of Christ means. The cost of our redemption was indeed very high. It just wasn't high for us; it was the lifeblood of our God. The cost was incredibly high for Him.

    This Christmas (even if it's the day after Christmas), remember. The story of Jesus is not the story of peaceful sleep. It's the story of the wild God of the universe who broke ever rule for how God behaves with humans; He became us. To reveal Himself to us, to free us, He became us. At an extraordinary cost to Himself, both at His birth and in His death, He sacrificed Himself, for the benefit of His creation. That is Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

When Christ Came

    It's the night before Christmas, and all through the house, chaos is reigning, with noise from the couch. :) It's Christmas Eve tonight, and while I've had another post spinning around in my mind for the last week or so that I wanted to write, I am going to take a step back and spend a couple days (tonight and tomorrow) talking about Christmas.

     As we glide through Christmas season here in America, it's easy to get the idea that Christmas is all about peace on earth, goodwill, and lovely things. Our culture dictates that Christmas is shaped in such a way that we see the part we want to see and miss the rest, more specifically, the things that made "peace and earth and goodwill toward men" such incredible concepts and not just wise sayings from a Jewish rabbi.

     These are such amazing things during an amazing season for a specific reason. I mean, peace and goodwill toward men are concepts that most people ignore the rest of the year, though they're no less true. Why is this the time when people recognize these concepts of goodwill?

      Just the fact that we're celebrating "goodwill" implies there was a time when there was not "goodwill". That's the part of Christmas most people ignore. Goodwill and peace on earth is special because goodwill and peace on earth are the exception, not the rule, in God to earth relations.

     I knew this, but I had never spent much time thinking about it until we read over the Christmas story tonight as a family. We all enjoy and write songs about the parts of the story where the angels appear to the shepherds ("Angels We Have Heard on High"), where the baby is born ("Away in a Manger"), and the magii ("We Three Kings"), right? But the much less often read part of the story is the tragedy that follows the magii, the massacre of every male child in Bethlehem following Jesus' family's flight to Egypt.

     We prefer to ignore that part of the story, or at a minimum, we forget about it. But what this story details is a striking illustration of why Jesus came. There was not peace on earth or goodwill toward men. The earth was torn by sin since the fall. We were the objects of God's wrath and judgment, and as a part of the judgment for our rebellion, death entered the world. Of course, the poetic (and rightfully beautiful part of the story) is that through the death of Christ, death died, but even so, we do no service to a right understanding of Advent by dismissing the evil and the horrors of the state of the world before Jesus' incarnation.

    But the account given immediately after the incredible tale of a miraculous visit from the magii serves as a grim reminder of exactly why Christ came to die. He came to bring peace to a war torn world, to bring redemption to a people born evil, to be the hope of a hopelessly enslaved people. By focusing on the Redeemer, we must not lose focus of what He was redeeming us from.

    Under Him, Is. 9 (please take a moment and go read the first 7 verses of Is. 9) speaks of peace ushered into an otherwise destructive world. Jesus is spoken of us a ruling King and a leader, a ruler, a position that He holds in the shadows now and will one day proclaim in victory before all men. My encouragement to all of you is to spend a moment this Christmas considering what exactly we have been saved from in Christ. He is our Savior. We all get that. But is He our Savior from poverty? Our Savior from arguments? Our Savior from racism or bigotry?

     Maybe in a way. But first and foremost, He is our Savior from the fall, from our own wanton self-destruction. Most necessary to emphasize, He is our Redeemer, our High Priest, our Intercessor, and our Sacrifice. Most of us stop there, but He is our Redeemer from what? Our High Priest how? Our Intercessor for what? Our sacrifice why?

     The Christmas story takes on new meaning when we see that we were saved, not from cultural problems but from death and untold destruction, the results of our own decision. When Christ came, it was not to a beautiful manger full of soft, sweet hay, with groomed animals standing by, watching as Mary painlessly birthed our Lord.

     No, our God was born into a manure stained stable, with a muddy floor and rough manger as the only furniture in the room as a screaming teenager brought her first child into the world. God didn't come into a scenic world, prestine and beautiful. His sacrifice came at incredible cost to Himself. And as His teenage mother laid the God of the universe into a roughly formed, wooden trough full of day old hay and straw, wrapped in filthy rags, she was looking into the face of the only hope for all mankind.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Interesting Stuff

    Here are some pretty cool videos I ran across tonight from a 1995 discussion/debate with such evangelicals as James White (now Dr. James White), Dr. Dan Wallace, Dr. Don Wilkins, Dr. Sam Gipp, and Dr. Thomas Strouse on the subject of KJV onlyism. I had only done a very small amount of research on this topic previous to this past month, but what reading and listening I have been able to do has been very eye opening to the nature of this controversy. And honestly, the more I've found, the more I realize I'm just scratching the surface of the entire discussion.

    Below is a series of videos from the discussion I described before. There are 39 videos, all 3-8 minutes long, each a clip from the discussion addressing a certain idea or verse that has sparked controversy during the KJV only debate. I've watched through video 30 over my lunch break, in the evening while cleaning my room, as I've found time over the past couple of weeks, etc., and have found them extremely interesting, so I thought I would share. Feel free to listen to all 39 if you want or perhaps sift through them and listen to a couple that may specifically address your questions regarding this debate.

Monday, December 14, 2015

When God Depends on Us

    I'm just a bit frustrated tonight... you know, my sister made the comment last year that I am a "sucker for punishment." It's a regular habit of mine to look up arguments and viewpoints of people who hold very different theological opinions as I do, and quite frequently, that winds up getting me frustrated. I'm working on just dealing with what I can and letting the rest roll off me, but it's a work in progress that isn't done yet. :)

    So just this other evening, I looked up some arguments for KJV onlyism. Honestly, I don't have a big issue with KJV onlyism. I personally use NASB the majority of the time, but it's not a hot topic issue for me. I've had plenty of KJV only friends that I've gotten along with fine. But the denomination that generally argues most vehemently for KJV onlyism is a denomination that I used to be a part of, so I spent a little bit more time poking around on some of their websites, mostly for old time's sake (or maybe my sister's right and I'm just a sucker for punishment). That was where I ran across this.

     Anyone who has spent any amount of time in that particular denomination knows that there is a big emphasis on "revival", a time of mass conversions and change in our country. I've heard both individual sermons and multiple month series on what is necessary for revival to occur in our country, so it's a concept I've heard a lot and honestly hadn't thought of in several years since I'd moved out of those circles and into more mainstream Christian theology.

     Anyhow, all that to introduce this statement. "If we're going to see revival, there must be: prevailing prayer, powerful preaching, personal purging." Now, I want to make something very clear. Strictly speaking, there is nothing incorrect about this statement (well, there might be a couple questionable points, but for the most part, it's not a bad alliteration). I mean, it's debatable whether or not you really need those things in order to have revival, but sure, as an opinion, that's fine. There's nothing theologically wrong with the statement, except for maybe the idea of purging being something I do on myself, but that's a side issue for the moment.

     Where I take issue with the statement is mostly because of my background in that denomination that makes me look deeper into the attitude behind the statement. There's something wrong if your formula for revival doesn't mention anything about the work of Christ or the working of the Holy Spirit. In fact, if you can get through your revival formula without mentioning God, something's wrong.

     My issue tonight is with the idea that the key to soulwinning/revival/missions is me. Yes, me. No, you won't hear it said that way, but that is the heart of the message. The key, the missing link to successful soulwinning/revival/missions is you! You need to do this, or that, try harder or present the gospel better or preach more powerfully or pray more prevailingly or purge more from your life. At the end of the day, God is waiting on you to get your act together (either you as a person or you as a church or you as a collective body of believers in America. The use of "you" varies) before He's able to continue on with His plan.

     He wants to send revival, but you're just not quite there yet, so He's stuck. Waiting on you, wishing you'd shape up. Poor God. Poor almighty Creator of heaven and earth, stuck, waiting for men to get their act together so He can get on with His plan!

     I hope the sarcasm above just gave you a glimpse into the problem with that attitude. If revival is basically dependent on me, we're in sorry shape and so is God's "sovereign" (that isn't so sovereign) plan. In fact, the beauty of God's sovereignty is gone. Instead, God is enslaved to man's self sanctification, waiting for men to fix themselves (a hopeless situation according to Scripture), whether the self sanctification is in the form of more powerful preaching or more personal purging or more prevailing prayer. In any of those cases, God is stuck waiting for man to get to work so He can continue with His plan.

     Basically, my hope is that we can get over ourselves. We're not the beginning and ending of God's plans. He's not waiting for us to get our act together so He's free to act. Actually, revival happens when God's Holy Spirit moves among people, drawing the lost to Himself and the saints closer to Himself. The idea of revival depending on us is not only daunting, but downright discouraging!

     How much "powerful preaching" is enough? How much "prevailing prayer" is enough before revival happens? Is God watching us as we vainly struggle to preach more powerfully and pray more prevailingly, waiting for us to purge just enough in ourselves for Him to finally be free to work? How much must we purge out of ourselves before God decides we're holy enough to do "His" part (as if the salvation of souls is divided in any way into God's part and my part)?

     I believe the things this quote doesn't say are, in point of fact, the more beautiful of the facts about salvation! That God saves those whom He chooses despite every difficulty and every conflict, despite a lack of powerful preaching, prevailing prayer, or personal purging is more beautiful by far! God has chosen for Himself a royal priesthood, a peculiar people in whom to reveal Himself, and He will save them, regardless of the state of the church at the time or of the country or of the world! He is not bound by humanity or by our shortcomings.

     Part of the beauty of Christ's sovereign plan of redemption is that it is not able to fail. He will not fail in saving those whom He intends to save. He cannot fail! God doesn't need us to accomplish His will, either in revival or anything else. He's God.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Good Quote

“We can grasp the full meaning of the Resurrection, we first have to witness or experience crucifixion. If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution or crucifixion, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith. Ironically, avoiding suffering could be the very thing that prevents us from partnering deeply with the Risen Jesus.”
                                                                   -Nik Ripkin, The Insanity of God

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

There is No Condemnation

    I still remember it clearly. I was in Italy for the Taekwondo World Championships as a member of the 2015 Team USA. It was my first international tournament, and my first event was individual sparring with Russia, a team with quite the reputation. Our team has had a history of getting thrashed to us by the Russians (I had heard the story before I left of one of the instructors in our area being knocked cold in his first round vs Russia), so there was quite a bit of intimidation there.

    When I finally got to the ring, the pressure of hundreds of people watching was too much. And as I walked out of the ring having just lost the most major fight of my taekwondo "career", I did it, the unthinkable. The perfect homeschooled, Christian teenager cussed as he walked out of the ring.

    As soon as I did it, the guilt was there. So I slipped on my tracksuit and my sunglasses and went outside to cool down and compose myself. And promise myself I would never do such a thing again.

    Take a guess what this perfect homeschooled, Christian teenager did the next morning when he lost patterns competition? Yep, you guessed it. I failed, again. Just 24 hours after I had promised myself that I would never do such a thing again, I fell to the same stupid sin.

    I tell that story, one that I'm very not proud of though no one but my coach knew about it until tonight, to illustrate one very important point, one we've all experienced before but we convince ourselves isn't true this time every time we trip and fail again.

    It's the idea that I can just make myself stop sinning. Maybe if I try hard enough, motivate myself enough, or muster up enough self will, I can convince myself to stop sinning, as if it were a habit rather than an ingrained fabric of our very natures. But no matter how much our previous track record should make us do a double take before we try this strategy again and again, we keep doing it, keep convincing ourselves that the secret to holiness and a sanctified life is more self-will, more effort, more determined behavior patterns.

    But it's a lie that leaves us more and more disillusioned as we slip deeper and deeper into the realization that I do not have the power of my self-will to defeat sin or counter my natural urges. As we try again and again, maybe winning sometimes, but definitely failing others, we gradually lose hope in my ability to resist temptation by pushing myself harder or for higher aspirations of holiness.

    And at some point, you will find yourself along the road of disillusionment saying, "What can I do? What possible other option is there?" And this is the point where so many believers slip, going either 110% toward higher and higher standards of holiness that instead propels them over a cliff into legalism, abandoning any pursuit of holiness and instead living a life of license under the guise of "grace", or leave the faith altogether, purposing that holiness was a bunch of garbage anyway.

    But there's a pivotal piece of Scripture I think we should examine while we're thinking about this idea of temptation. Rom. 7:14-24, "For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

"21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?"

    In case you haven't put it together yet, that is not the typical confession of a famous missionary to a church that's supporting him. You don't hear messages like this from pastors in the pulpit very often. Come to think of it, rarely will we as believers ever be frank and honest enough to actually say anything approaching a confession of this magnitude. And this is an apostle! This is the greatest missionary who's ever lived!

    I want you to put together what you just read. The man who authored most of the New Testament is confessing that "the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want." When was the last time you heard someone confess something like that to their best friend, much less to a body of believers by letter hundreds of miles away, some of whom Paul had probably never met!

    But astounding or not, Paul paints a fairly bleak picture, does he not? If this were a typical Baptist sermon, this would be the part where the pastor would come into the "application" portion of the sermon about striving for holiness against the flesh, trying harder, working more. But if we read the next couple of verses, that's not at all what Paul's reaction is. In fact, I think if Paul were in many of the congregations I've been in, he would have been accused of abusing grace with his next statements.

    "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin." Hold up, Paul. You close off with a statement that you wish you could do good, your desire is to do good, but that your flesh often wins out, but thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord? For what!?

    "Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Can you imagine ending a recitation of your sins and failures this way? My flesh is a constant battle. It consistently beats me, enough so that my desires to follow Christ and my desires for instant gratification and pleasure are at constant war. But... there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

    This is the rest for the weary soul burdened down by legalism and Pharisaical Christianity. This is the hope that inspires us to trust in the working of Christ for sanctification rather than my own self will. This is the peace with God promised to His elect, the fruits of His intercession before His Father for each of us. This is what it means to be redeemed.

    There is no condemnation. Despite our sins, despite our struggles with the flesh, despite all of that, there is no condemnation. There is no condemnation!

    The solution to sin in our life is not more self-will; at least, it wasn't Paul's. The solution is greater adoration and focus on Christ. An understanding of who He is and what it means to be His child brings us closer and closer to Him, further and further along our path of sanctification as He shapes and molds us into the person He wants each of us to be. Sanctification is an act of God, a gift of God, in each of our lives, not as the result of our effort and will, but as the result of overflowing grace, constantly making us new before God through Christ!

    There is no condemnation! 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

It has been revealed to me...

    I was shown something in a dream last night. I received very clear directions from a glowing, white figure in my dream promising health, riches, and wisdom if I would follow his advice: that I should follow this link: here, and vote for the picture on the top left of an Aussie puppy in the snow by an Aimee Crank. Which is quite coincidental, since my sister's name happens to be an Aimee Crank. Weird, right?

    I must be honest, I was already pretty healthy, but the riches and the wisdom haven't shown up yet. I'm still hoping though for a late night delivery by UPS (or maybe the glowing, white figure was cheap and didn't want to pay for overnight shipping for my riches and wisdom), but in the mean time, I thought I would post on here so y'all would have the same opportunity I did!

    Okay, in all seriousness, y'all, this is a photography contest my sister entered for a nice camera and some great lenses. I don't want anybody to feel like you have to vote or anything, I just thought I would spread the word for my amazing sis (She's pretty great...).

    So seriously, guys. It's a great picture. Click on it. :)


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

But I'm Not Perfect

    I've spent a lot of time in thought this afternoon. Radical grace is an understanding that is fairly easy to understand but oh so difficult to comprehend, and I continually struggle with understanding how it applies to my life, whether I'm on top of the world in close communion with Christ or I'm walking through the fog in the valley.

    The all too common idea in Christianity is that being a Christian means you are a "little Christ", a miniature Christ. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that phrase used to preach a message of "push harder so you look like a "little Christ"! "You should be a sermon in shoes" as the kid's song goes.

    I don't know how long it takes to get a bit disillusioned with that message, but in my case, I am by now. I'm going to make a very different argument today, one that has nothing to do with preaching a sermon with our lives or becoming a miniature Christ by our self-will. I'm pretty sure if it were possible to become that little miniature Christ in our flesh, Paul never would have penned his words in Romans 7.

    Tonight, I ran across another passage of the Bible that speaks volumes to me about who I am in Christ. Rev. 7:9-10, 13-17 says, "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cried with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.' Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, 'These who are clothed in white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?' I said to him, 'My lord, you know.' And he said to me, 'These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

    "For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to the springs of the water of life, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.'"

    I struggle with who I see in this passage. See, my first thought is that these are the perfect ones, those church members and elders who just aced their life here. That one who prayed the long, theological prayer from the pulpit on Sunday? That one who had every answer to every question? That one who never seemed to doubt, whose faith and confidence in Christ never wavered? Those are the ones I see in this picture.

    But as I look closer, we don't see the perfect ones. We see the doubting Thomas, the foot in mouth Peter, the murdering, adulterous David, the thorn in the flesh Paul, the prostitute Mary somewhere in there as well, the murderer Moses, the questioning Job, the suicidal Elijah. We see this crowd of failures, mess-ups, and doubters. We see that guy with the tattoo, that girl with the nose ring, the guy who struggled with pornography, that girl who struggled with self-harm, that former headhunter, and over there we have an Indian temple girl.

    How did they get here? We look closer, wondering where the saints are. Where are the perfect ones? Where are the saints? And as our eyes shift from the crowd around the thrown, they rest on the center of attention, the object in the center of the room. The thrown, surrounded by this sea of faces, and on it, sits the Lamb.

    And then, out of nowhere, a thought pops into our head. "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you from darkness into His wonderful light." And then another, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God... For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." Suddenly, we see what it means.

    Who are these failures? These are the saints.
    Who are these sinners? These are the perfect ones.
    Who are these screw-ups? These are they who have washed their robes and been made white in the blood of the Lamb.  
    Who are these people? They are we.

    The crowd around the thrown is us, the screw-ups. The failures. The ragamuffins. The sinners. That's us! The crowd around the thrown is us. We are the saints.

    But we're not perfect! Maybe some of y'all are like me, at this point you're thinking in your head, "Brother, that sounds great and all, but you don't know me! If you knew my doubts and my struggles and my temptations, you wouldn't group me in this bunch! If you saw my average thought life, you'd kick me out the door! If you saw who I really am, you wouldn't be so sure!"

    But realize it or not, that's not who you are. There's two pertinent details here. 1.) In God's eyes, you're righteous. "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away, behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation... He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of Christ in Him." (2 Cor. 5:17-19, 21)

    2.) We are in the process of not just being recognized as perfect, but have even our natures transformed into perfection. "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 1:6) Not only has He declared us righteous and imparted His righteousness to us, but He is even transforming us, even if we don't see it, more and more into His likeness.

    We are those saints, those ragamuffins, whose robes have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. That's us. We don't realize it. We don't always see ourselves in that crowd around the thrown. But that's us, the mess ups, the sinners. We're the failures who have been made perfect and are being made perfect. We are they whose robes have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. Not ivory, or dinghy gray, or dusty brown, or any shade lighter than black but darker than white. We have been made white. Thank God!