Saturday, June 13, 2009

We done moved...

Hey folks. Just a note to tell you that we've moved this blog over to http://onfollowingchrist.wordpress.com

There's a much more powerful platform there. I hope you'll come over and read and contribute. We will continue to write as the Lord leads.

Be blessed,

Paul

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Prayer That Overcomes

I have spent a lot of years of my life – more than I would like to admit – praying for things the "old fashioned" way.

It was all very impressive, I'm sure. Great articulation. Plenty of emotion. Even weeping and wailing at times. If they had an American Idol for pray-ers, I would have had a shot at the gold.

The only problem was that I didn’t have a whole lot to show for it, except maybe sore knees. Very few real answers came down the pike, just a lot of spiritualizing on my part. Heaven seemed to increasingly take on the timbre of brass. My faith waned, my overcoming power faded, and my walk dwindled to near-nothing.

Looking back on it now, I would venture a guess that the reason the whole enterprise collapsed under its own weight is because this emphatically was not the way Jesus taught us to pray for our needs.

The prayer of faith

Indeed, Jesus gives a radical formula for the prayer of supplication, one indicative of a different relationship with God than anything before.

And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God.

“Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.

“Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.

[“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”] - Mk 11:22-26

There are several requirements in this instruction, and they point to some startling presuppositions. Let's take a look at them.

Faith in god

First, we are told to have faith in God. Immediately our attention is turned away from the law, and from both the condemnation it brings to sinners and the pride it brings to hypocrites. All that self-focus is no good. We are not to have faith in ourselves, and we are not to beat our breasts, thinking that getting prayers answered depends on our perfectly keeping rules and regulations.

Instead we are to focus on our unchanging God. We are to live our prayer out at a higher relational level altogether, one based on His promises and not our performance.

The implication here is a revolutionary revelation of God as the loving Father, the generous gift-giver, who is eager to bless, and indeed, who is restricted in blessing us only by our lack of faith.

This is not a God whose arm we must twist in order to get results! We do not need to persuade God, cajole or bargain with God, and certainly we should not foolishly try to manipulate Him, in order to get Him to bless us. No, this is a God who is waiting for His sons and daughters to claim the inheritance that has already been laid up, purchased at so great a Price at Calvary. Indeed, must it not grieve God that His son took such pains, yet so often the gifts He purchased for us go unclaimed?

Authoritative prayer

Secondly, we are told that our prayer should be authoritative. Notice that Jesus immediately has us talking to mountains, telling them to move on along! It is obvious that He fully expects us to be doing this stuff, and doing it successfully. Note very carefully: it is impossible to persuasively command a maintain to be cast into the sea while we have a sniveling, moaning, worm-like attitude. I know of no mountains that are going to respect such a prayer. The mountains that I'm familiar with respect only one thing: authority.

Now, you might wonder where we get this authority from. Take a look at the familiar Great Commission statement recorded by Matthew.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” - Mt 28:18-20

For our study, note two things. First, all authority has been given to Jesus. That means, very simply, that there is nothing outside of His authority. Fair enough.

But now look at the first two words of the next verse, "Go therefore". "Therefore" is indicative of implication or causality. In other words, because Jesus is invested with all authority, we are to go. And the logic behind that says that we too are invested with all authority pertinent to our task, because we are his regents.

That doesn’t mean that all creation is subject to us as it is to Jesus. That would be absolute authority. It does mean, however, that when we are about the King's business, we carry His full weight of authority, just as if He were there in our place.

Our first reaction to that might be to think it's crazy. How could little old me, with all my weaknesses, blind spots and stumblings, have that kind of authority? Note in the next verse that Jesus confirms the scope of our authority, by leaving our field of prayer wide open. His teaching pertains to "All things for which you pray..."

Consider an old story from Jamaica. Traffic cops there stand on little elevated platforms to supervise intersections. One day a certain cop was stricken and unable to continue. The traffic scene quickly became chaotic. At this point a young boy climbed onto the platform and began to direct traffic. 10-ton trucks obeyed a 80 lb boy's commands to stop and go. Their doing so had nothing to do with his power, it was because he was standing in the place of authority.

And so it is with us. It's not about our power, it's about whom we represent. So if we expect to get results to prayer, we must pray with authority. And that leads to the third requirement.

Belief that what we are praying for will happen

It's impossible to pray with authority unless we actually believe that what we are praying for is going to happen. Jesus is clear that we must believe this, without doubting, and not merely from the head, but from the heart. There are some important implications here.

First, the question of God's will in the matter must be settled. If we are not sure what God wants to do in a situation, we simply cannot have prevailing faith. If there is any lingering doubt on this point, we must take the matter to God before we can proceed. Otherwise, we are moving ahead of God in our own strength, and either the matter will come to nothing or we may even risk making a great mistake.

Often there will be a period of abiding as we seek God's will. We may have to examine a matter before both the Word and our conscience, making sure there is no offense in it. Other times we will definitively hear God's voice and immediately know without a doubt what we are to do. But whether clarity comes quickly or after a period of seeking and assessment, we must settle the matter of God's will before we can proceed to overcoming prayer.

Once we're clear on what God wants to do, our heart will be free to move forward. From a platform of peace we now can launch out with power. And as we increasingly see our vision with more clarity and substance, our faith level increases, and with it power.

Believing it is done

And that leads to the last faith requirement. Not only are we to believe we are going to receive our wish, we are to believe we have already received it. To the natural mind this too seems crazy, but it's only an extension of the previous principle of believing. God's vision and power are unhindered by time, and the Kingdom begun by Jesus is an assault on the enemy's plunder ahead of the Kingdom's coming in fulness. God calls the things that are not as though they were, and He is calling us to do exactly the same.

This hearkens back to having faith in God. Since we count the matter accomplished, we are not striving, rather we are resting and confident. God's power is perfected in our weakness, so all we need to do is be willing vessels of His intercession. He will do the rest.

All this makes sense. If we are plagued by doubts, there is no way we can have the requisite power. If were are uncertain, we will not have the joy of the Lord – and that joy, Nehemiah assures us, is our strength. If we're not convinced, we are going to drag ourselves to the battle. We're going to be looking for failure to occur, and by a self-fulfilling dynamic, failure may well come.

But if we fully believe we're on the winning side, we will go at it whole-souled and enthusiastically. We'll go the extra mile, put in the extra hours, turn the cheek time and again if necessary, all the while expecting to win. And we'll persevere until we bring forth the victory.

Forgiveness

There is one final requirement to prevailing prayer, one that may seem out of place at first, and that is our need to forgive our offenders.

We may ask what on earth forgiving others has to do with getting our prayers answered. The answer is that the entire process of supplication is one of uniting with God to draw His power down into a situation. We simply cannot draw near to God if we have unilaterally set ourselves up as judges of others. That is an offense against God's sovereignty, for He alone has the right to judge, and He alone has the qualifications to accurately judge the true motivations of the heart.

If we come to God with unforgiveness in our hearts, then we are making our requests while at the same time we are offending Him. What's more, the chances are very high that even if what we are requesting is a good thing, our heart motivation in it may be as self-centered as our lack of forgiveness. In that case, God would be hesitant to grant our wishes, lest receiving them do more harm than good to ourselves and others.

Our prayer regards some aspect of "the horizontal' or our fellow man, so it is essential that we relate to that horizontal aspect correctly. We must forgive in order to have a pure heart, and only the pure in heart see God – that is, get their prayers answered.

Conclusion

So we see that Jesus has instituted an entirely new way of not only praying for things, but actually of relating to the Father. This would be impossible without the foundation of the New Covenant of His Blood. This is the better covenant – actually, the perfect covenant – by which we are no longer under bondage of the law for righteousness (Rom 10.4). Now we are free to relate to God, not based on our own nonexistent merits, but on Christ's, which are infinite.

So let us enter the throne room boldly, yet reverently, for help in time of need, in full faith that God is both well-able to grant requests and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. If cleanse our hearts of unforgiveness, prove His will, and then allow faith to assure our hearts, we can be sure that we will not go away empty-handed.

The Cost Of Discipleship

How many leaders do you know of, who at the very height of their popularity intentionally thinned their supporters' ranks? Precious few, I'd guess. Yet that's exactly what Jesus did!

Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them,

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.

“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. - Lk 14:25-35

Evidently it was becoming misleadingly easy to follow Jesus. Too comfortable. Too much a country festival. Hey – free loaves and fishes, healing, great preaching – it's a party! What's not to like?

Here we see the essence of the man-centered Gospel: what can I get out of it?

It's natural and understandable, but Jesus would have none of it. It was the very antithesis of the attitude He Himself brought to earth, and He knew that those with their own agenda would quickly fall away. So He abruptly returned the focus to God by emphasizing the demands of discipleship.

It is God who is driving the whole plan of salvation. It's for God's pleasure that we were created, have been redeemed, and finally will be glorified. Yes, we reap unspeakably glorious benefits from being in relationship with Him, but the priorities of the Alpha and Omega must come first and last.

We are in a battle

Placing God's priorities first is especially crucial in the current battleground. Fallen creation affords us three enemies – the world, our own flesh, and the devil – that will do anything to get their own way. Each of them will come at us in turn with either the velvet glove of temptation or the iron hand of persecution in order to lure us or force us into their mold. Unfortunately, their mold is opposed to God's will of sanctification for us.

And so we have a choice - God's path or the path of least resistance.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. - Ro 12:2

The three enemies of our soul know exactly how to get to us. A cherished relationship, a personal need or the subtlety of the devil all can tear at the fabric of our being when we stand for God. But God works all things for our good, and it is this inner struggle that leads directly to His essential work of separating soul from spirit:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. - Heb 4:12

That's not an easy process, but through it our spirit becomes free, indeed, of the fallenness of this present age. Remember, Jesus came to institute His Kingdom "ahead of time", before the ultimate Renewal of all things. We therefore do not have the luxury of sitting by, idly waiting for the Kingdom to come in its fullness. We are called to be faithful in "unrighteous riches" in order to inherit eternal rewards.

The peril of falling

Not to stand for God when a boss, a parent, a spouse, the state, or financial reality, is pressuring us to fall away leads to a hypocritical condition that can best be described as spiritual schizophrenia:

“But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’

and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards;

the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know,

and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. - Mt 24:48-51

The key to that evil slave's problem was his erroneous conclusion that his master was delaying. He let his focus drift away from the Lord and ended up losing faith. Without faith, he inevitably fell.

How to stand

Likewise, the way to stand firm against temptations and pressures is to keep our focus on the Lord. Jesus is always with us - right here, right now. If we're convinced of that, we will be strong and not deny Him.

“O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, In the secret place of the steep pathway, Let me see your form, Let me hear your voice; For your voice is sweet, And your form is lovely.” - So 2:14

Our pathway also is steep, and we need to see our Lover's form in the secret place in order to stay strong for the arduous ascent. This is why we should be continually abiding.

Jesus gave a hard word when He told us we had to cut soul ties to everyone and everything in order to truly follow Him. But as always, He spoke the truth. In response, the key for us is to count the cost and decide where we stand.

“For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?

“Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him,

saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ – Lk 14

For the glory!

And let us not forget the rewards:

Momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, - 2 Co 4:17

So for the glory, and for the glory of the Name, let us purpose to count the cost and then leave all to follow Christ.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, - Heb 12:1

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Master Strategist

I've been very slowly reading Paul Billheimer's Destined For The Throne. I can't buy into everything he says yet, but he is bringing out some very interesting points that have augmented my own thinking on some foundational issues.

I've understood for a long time that God knew, before He "rolled up His sleeves" and began history, that Creation would fall and that the sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus Christ, would be necessary to save it from eternal destruction. This is what the Word means when it tells us that the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world. - Rev 13.8

If that reality is new to you, take a moment to dwell on it. Seeing the end before the beginning (Is 46.10), and the terrible Price salvation was going to exact, it would have been so much easier for God to say, "Nope, nice idea, but it's just way too expensive. Who needs the aggravation? For a bunch of ingrates?" He could have declined, and no one would have been around to feel bad about the decision. No harm done.

But He went ahead with The Project. And we must ask why.

God's "super-redemptive" love

I've come at this every way I know how, and have concluded that there is only one possible answer. God is passionately in love with us. Now, I don't mean that He's desperately, forelornly lovesick and swooning over us. He emphatically is not out of control. He is not a fool for love. He is not Dion's "Teenager in Love". He still is awesome and majestic, sovereign in knowledge and power, and unshakably enthroned over Creation.

But behind it all He has a deep love for us that simply will not be satisfied until we are fully reconciled to Him, and indeed, until we are in organic ontological union with Him. And that love was willing to pay any Price, even the death of Jesus, to realize that goal.

God, from the very beginning, had both Creation and Redemption in mind. And by Redemption I mean not only that He would restore Adam's race after it had fallen, but that He also would institute an entire new race, not of mere men, but one spawned from the Last Adam, the God-man Jesus Christ. We, as the Bride of Christ, will one day be "one flesh" with Him!
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. - 1Jn 3.2
As a certain pastor used to say, "Selah" on that for a while.

A secret kept

Now here's where Billheimer adds interesting insight. Paul tells us that the "super-redemptive" nature of Christ's salvation was kept as a mystery, not only to man, but to angels as well:
We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.- 1Cor 2.7-8
And Peter confirms:
As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries,
seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.
It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. 1Pe 10-12
So we see that while the prophets strained to see the glories of God's plan of redemption, the real meat of the matter was kept not only from them, but from the angels as well! And one of the reasons for this was to lure the devil into playing a key role in the very redemption of man!

Consider then, God, the Master Strategist. You know how great chessmen can play 50 games at the same time, against top contenders, and win them all? Or how about Bret Maverick in a high-stakes game, hiding a royal flush behind a poker face of stone? God's got them all beat, and immeasurably so.

God's enemies outwitted

So, satan sees that Jesus has become a man. This must have had him extremely nervous. What on earth could God be up to? God's not telling, and the angels don't know. So satan's employs his tactic of old by trying to make Jesus fall. He tries to trick Him, he tries to bribe Him, He tries to bargain with Him, out in the desert; nothing works.

Meanwhile Jesus goes around the countryside, preaching the Gospel, setting men free from sin, disease, self, and the law, and casting demons out left and right. He's doing major damage to satan's impoverished kingdom. The pressure is on. This simply cannot be allowed to continue.

And so satan sees a chance and jumps on it. If he can't make Jesus fall, he'll at least get rid of Him. He puts it in Judas to betray Christ, he agitates the crowd against Jesus, and he succeeds in putting Jesus to death.

Whew! At least that's over with! No more people being set free, no more forced expulsions. Jesus' attempt to set man straight on earth had been defeated!

But satan did not understand that God was the master chessman with more than one game going. And it wasn't the temporary earthly game He was concerned about, it was the eternal heavenly one. And satan hadn't a clue that behind God's poker face lay an unbeatable royal flush.

God victorious
When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. -Col 2:15.
There's a great scene at the end of Gibson's Passion of the Christ. The devil, who had been seen throughout as a cold, calculating woman, delighting in the sufferings of Christ with a heart of pure evil, now wails in unutterable anguish as she realizes her impending destruction has been secured, even as the veil of the Temple is rent and the Presence of God is loosed to dwell within man.

The devil indeed found out what the game really was, but too late to do a thing about it.

God had a plan from the beginning, and counted the Cost. As the parable tells us, He hid His treasure in a field for a season to protect it, and then in the fulness of time He paid the Price and bought the field, securing not only our redemption from the grip of satan, but our super-redemption into organic unity with God Himself.

What can you say to a God like this, but All Praises be unto You, Lord; I am Yours!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Political Correctness

I think I just committed an act of racial profiling - and what's more, it was a good thing. An Hispanic mother and her two young daughters came to the door, looking to pick up "Devon" to take him to school. "He doesn't live here", I explained. They were distressed, for if they didn't take him to school he wasn't going to get there.

They didn't know the address they were looking for either, so I couldn't help them that way. But then I remembered that a new family had moved in two doors down about three months ago.

"Is he black?", I asked. "Yes", the older girl answered. I explained about some black kids having moved in. Her face lit up, "That makes sense, because he's new in class!"

And so they thanked me, apologized for the bother, of which there was none, and everyone went on their way. It was a nice convergence of three races helping each other.

What bothered me about the incident is that it reminded me that our benighted powers-that-be have deemed mentioning race to be a bad thing. Under the beneficent regime of political correctness, how many times have you read of a dangerous criminal on the loose, and been given all kinds of identifying information save for the one parameter that would immediately reduce the field by anywhere from 50% to 85%: his race?

My guess is that they don't want to feed racial stereotypes, both on the side of whites fearing non-whites and of non-whites having poor self-identity.

Those are laudable goals, but the problem is with their outcome-based strategy in reaching them. They are not telling us the truth and it is hurting us.

First of all, it hurts all of us to have criminals running free because the public has not been adequately equipped to identify them. So some guy could continue to murder, rape, and steal, while we're merely told to be on the lookout for a male between 5'-7" and 5'-9", when the simple inclusion of race would narrow the field down by 50% - 85%.

Secondly, it hurts us all because if we're going to build trust and reconciliation, not only will opportunities need to be opened up for the disadvantaged, but communities with a high incidence of crime will need to get honest about their problem.

A few minority leaders have been honest about this. Jesse Patterson and Bill Cosby come to mind. But for every one that does tell the truth there are one hundred who instead demagogue on race.

And our spineless celebrity politicians, who care only about their careers, their lifestyle, and their pension, go along with the politically correct danse macabre, all the while posing as great humanitarians.

You cannot bring reconciliation through political pressure based on misinformation or disinformation. You do it with respect, good will, and truth-telling. The Bible tells us to speak the truth in love.

And the problem of social manipulation doesn't concern merely race. More and more of our Christian heritage and of the influence of the Word of God on our institutions is sinking into the mud, and we can only conclude that the Church - that is, people who love Jesus Christ - is going to increasingly find itself the target of political, economic, and cultural pressure. Simply put, it is becoming illegal to be a Christian.

I have an online friend who penned a take-off on the Song of David: "Oppression has silenced its thousands, and tolerance its tens of thousands."

It's a shame, because as my little racial incident this morning showed, the races can acknowledge their differences and still get along and help each other. That's what good will does. And it does it despite, not because of, manipulation by cultural elites.

The West is rapidly approaching a quasi-Marxism, and the church is increasingly finding itself a remnant, outside the halls of power. We already see this under the Obama administration, and dramatically so. But though the church will be "on the outside", hopefully it won't be "looking in". Hopefully it will instead fix its gaze on the Rock from which it was hewn, take a cue from our long-persecuted brothers in China and elsewhere, and again become the dynamic movement we see in the Book of Acts.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Presence of the Lord; Death and Life; Morality Trumped by Love

Things have been changing lately, in subtle but tangible ways.

Nothing exteriorly has changed (unfortunately, from my POV), but I have had a new sense of God's Presence.

It's both a more constant sense and a stronger sense. It has absolutely surrounded me at times. And it has had a new quality of solidity about it. I almost expect to be able to see it or feel it physically, but I'm not quite there yet.

I was thinking that the best thing about this Presence is that it causes me to remember to rest in Him when I begin to go off into my own anxieties.

But a new revelation came just a while ago. I found myself responding to the Presence by telling Jesus that I loved Him, but then I realized that that wasn't quite accurate. I paid closer attention to the feeling and then I identified it. It wasn't that I loved God, it was that He loved me!

That distinction may seem esoteric, but I assure you it is not. True love originates only from the Author of love. We reflect His love back only because He first loved us -1Jn 4.19. The order of incidence is extremely important, otherwise we are operating on soul power.

When Gibson's Passion of the Christ came out a few years back, I saw it in the theater and thought, "I'm glad I saw it once, but there's really no need to go through this again."

How wrong I was. It took me a couple of years, but I became drawn into a "Passion Marathon" a while back, where I simply could not stop watching the film each evening for over a week. And the parts that transfixed me, that I skipped around to, actually were the brutal parts - the scourging and the crucifixion itself. As I watched, I received a greater revelation than ever before that this was G-O-D suffering and dying. This was the greatest crime perpetrated in the history of Creation, and it was perpetrated by none other than GOD HIMSELF. Jesus Himself said, "No man takes my life; I lay it down on my own initiative" -Jn 10.18. He could have called twelve legions of angels to rescue Him, but He chose the Cross. -Mt 26.53

So much for morality. As I watched this astonishing Sacrifice, my little moral world imploded. It wasn't that the moral framework that I had tried to build my life on - and that I had very effectively used to protect myself from giving myself away - was wrong; it was that it was inadequate. Morality did not have the power to save me. Love did. In the face of my desperate, pathetic need for Life, morality was completely impotent. It was love and love alone that drove the Sacrifice that brought me Life.

So as I continued to watch the Son of God brutalized to death, I realized the truth of Paul's statement
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died.
For if God Himself came and died on a torture stake, then nothing else is important except worshiping Him in every possible way. Simply put, my life was over.

Paul puts it this way:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. -Gal 2.20
So I sat there watching, and reflecting afterward, increasingly realizing that I simply had no more life; it was over. The "me" in me had been drained out. Yet for some strange reason, I wasn't dead, but I kept on living.

What was occurring was that the Holy Spirit was tilling the soil of my soul much deeper than ever before, and Christ's life was taking root at that deeper level.

If you grew up in a healthy environment where love was freely shared, it may be hard for you to relate to this experience. But if you grew up love-starved - perhaps you had parents who could not express love in a personal way, or perhaps you didn't even have parents - you will understand.

But really, even if you had a loving childhood, this experience is still open to you, because no human love is as pure or as deep as God's love.

So, I was in the kitchen making some cereal and reflecting on all this, when I saw, crystal clear, more clearly than ever before, the objective fact that I HAVE BEEN LOVED.

And what is my reaction? Perhaps oddly, I'm not jumping around the room. There is no shouting
Hallelujah! I'm just sitting here reflecting. An old Catholic contemplative friend I'm thinking of would be pleased.

But I am filled with a sense of solidity. I feel to a greater degree than ever before that my soul is on solid ground. There's a sense of permanence, of unchangeableness. A feeling of satisfaction, like after you've had a meal that had plenty of the kind of food that sustains.

I really don't know how to describe it other than mere words. And I don't know where it's leading. But I do know that I cannot go back. Even when it gets hard, and I want to shrink back - and I know that day will come - I know my spirit and conscience will not let me.

For since one died, all died. And I have died too. And I have been loved.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Why Shooting Abortionists Is A Bad Idea

Most readers don't need an article on why murdering an abortionist is a bad idea. But there are some of us who actually must go through the mental exercise in order to be at peace with the subject.

After all, the matter is serious. It is human beings who are being torn apart in the womb by these abortionists. And it is the women, men, and family survivors of abortion that are deeply affected. So the question arises, why then not take out an abortionist as a matter of defense of the innocent?

Two scenarios

Consider this. In Numbers 25, Israel was sinning badly. Through the treachery of the prophet Balaam, they had joined themselves to Moabite women and had sacrificed to the Moabite god, Baal. In plain terms, that means that immorality and unfaithfulness were rampant. At its most flagrant high point, Phinehas took matters into his own hand. He thrust his spear through two fornicators, putting an abrupt end to the party – and to the plague from the Lord that had befallen the Israelites. And make no mistake: the Lord honored Phinehas for it:

‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace,and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’ ” - Nu 25:12-13

But now consider another case, Israel's plight some decades earlier. While they were still in Egypt, trapped in slavery, the evil Pharaoh had decreed that all Hebrew babies would be destroyed immediately upon birth. The Hebrews had no human rights at all, so when a certain promising young Hebrew ruler, by the name of Moses, saw a Jewish brother being abused, he killed the Egyptian surreptitiously. Moses thought he would spark a revolt among his people, but the next day he found out that he had failed to unify the fragmented Israelites.

Moses' personal attempt to right a truly horrible situation had achieved exactly nothing, and he was forced to flee deep into the desert to meditate on that fact in the hot sun for the next forty years. It wasn't until God showed up, with a far better plan of deliverance, that Israel's captivity ended.

So what's the difference between the two scenarios? With Phinehas, Israel was under a binding covenantal system of law. To be sure, the nation had badly fallen in practice from this standard, but nonetheless the law was still in place and still binding. The problem was that the officials were not executing their responsibilities. So when Phinehas stood up and defended the law, he was successful and was honored by God.

In the earlier, Moses, scenario, the existing system of law was not covenantal to Israel, but was alien and hostile. There was no authority to appeal to, so Moses understandably chose revolt. But he failed because he did not do it God's way.

Our situation

Now, where does America fit into these models? We have left our position of covenantal law. Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord. Indeed, but though we still are a nation with many Christians, we are no longer a Christian nation. It's not merely that our leaders are not enforcing the law, it's that they have actually changed the law. In making abortion the law of the land, which quite simply has legalized murder, our highest institutions have placed America under a judgment that trifles Sodom's guilt. As Daniel predicted 2500 years ago (7.25), God's enemies have attempted to change the times and the law. And we have to admit that they have, in fact, been quite successful.

So unlike the situation with Phinehas, the breaking of God's law now lays not only at the feet of the individuals directly involved, but upon the nation that has told them it is good to do so. It is our very institutions which are in disobedience and have fallen. An entire generation has been raised under the repeated Big Lie that abortion is a fundamental right and a good thing.

The Bible is clear that where there is no law, sin is not imputed (Rom 5.13 and elsewhere). That doesn't mean sin doesn't bring tragic consequences - it always does - but it does mean that God grades eschatologically on a curve, that He understands when lies we've been shaped under have influenced our decisions.

Because of the Big Abortion Lie, many have done things they later come to regret. Often when a person who has been a party to abortion looks into the eyes of his own later child, he comes to intuitively understand the gravity of his earlier deed. There follows remorse and repentance. The prolife army is legion with people like this. That is why the guilt of abortion in our society cannot be placed only on the direct participants. The entire society has approbated their decisions. We bear collective guilt. And that is why we must not hate anyone involved in abortions. It is not ours to read their hearts. God alone knows the amount of Light they had when they sinned.

If it were a matter of just "offing" an abortionist or two, and being done with the problem, simple math would suggest that to be an effective and efficient course of action. But it's not. For the reasons described above, the roots of abortion go far deeper than the availability of an abortionist in Wichita, Kansas. And as long as those societal roots remain in place, other abortionists will spring up to replace him.

Violence is self-defeating

Indeed, anti-abortion violence has done more than anything else to set back its own cause, and it has done so by at least a generation. I was on the barricades during the 80s and 90s. I saw what the violence did to the prolife movement. The prolife voice had been burgeoning in American politics, not only in pulpits, but on editorial pages, talk shows, at the ballot box, from the bully pulpit of the Reagan White House, and in street demonstrations. It was the issue of a generation. But the violence instantly drove a titanium wedge between antiabortion activism and mainstream public opinion. It gave the opposition and their Big Media arm all the weapons they needed to pave the way for the passage of FOCA and for the subsequent RICO Act prosecutions. People began to stay away from our protests in droves, and political victory quickly vanished into the distant horizon. The anti-abortion movement was in a short time driven to the anachronistic sidelines of American politics. Tremendous harm had been done by a few zealots.

Now, as I hinted above, I sympathize with the motivation of sincere antiabortion zealots. I personally had to think this whole thing through long and hard before I had an understanding of the depth of the problem. I ultimately determined that because the nation had institutionally sanctioned murder, the responsibility for the abomination rested on more than the individuals directly involved, it also lay on the societal structure as a whole.

It is at that societal level that the change must come, if the change is to be permanent, for permanent change begins spiritually. That means that Christians must preach and live the Gospel, reaching out to the victims and victimizers of abortion, and to the silent majority who have sat by while our institutions were co-opted by the ungodly, bearing witness to both the love and the sovereignty of Christ.

It is through personal transformation that institutional reformation comes, one soul at a time until a viable political force is achieved. That's often an intergenerational process. The Phinehas model doesn’t fit our situation. The first Moses model fits all too well – taking matters into our hands will backfire just as surely as it did for him. The model we need to follow is the Second Moses model of doing things God's way – even if it means waiting in the desert for God to show up and empower us to do so.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hebrews 6: Restoration for fallen Christians

This is a little sketch on Hebrews 6, for Christians who feel condemned because of something they have done even after accepting Christ. So often the guilt and remorse of such a one is unbearable. Know that if your sin is unbearable to you because of a sense of offending Holy God, that indicates that your heart is not hardened. There is hope.

Often this passage of Hebrews is used to quash that hope just when it is most needed. I intend to show that that was not the writer's purpose at all; quite the opposite.

THE GOAL: CHRISTLIKENESS
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
And this we will do, if God permits.
To move on in Christ we need to lock in the basics and then press forward into maturity. Maturity does not so much involve agreeing intellectually with dogma, it involves Christlikeness, shown by having power to love and a sound mind. It's about Kingdom character, obedience, and effectiveness. It's about fulfilling our destiny in Christ.

THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,
and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God;
but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, whose end is being burned.
Now the case of believers who have fallen. Are they lost forever? This is one of the hardest passages of Scripture, and a first reading would seem to indicate so. To sin against the Name is a serious thing. There is nothing more serious. But we do not know the heart of the sinner. We don’t know how knowingly and willingly they sinned or to what degree the enemy tricked them. We don’t know the level of maturity they were operating from, where they had come from in life. Be careful about eschatological judging. Be careful about breaking a bruised reed or quenching smoldering flaxen, because that's something that Scripture explicitly says Jesus would not do.

To sin against the Name is indeed the most serious thing. He who does so is close to being cursed. Let's not nudge him over the line, lest we be judged guilty of a soul. Our goal should be restoration.

HOW TO RECOVER FROM A FALL
But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.
First, it was not the writer's intention to destroy hope of recovery. Rather, he extends it. His purpose was only to warn against falling in the first place, and that's a very different thing.
For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.
This reflects back on heart motivation. The fruit of salvation is good works and love of the Name. One mistake does not erase that, if it that mistake is repented. And the path back involves pursuing the fruit of good works and love of the Name once again.
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end,
Diligence will be required. Diligence is earnest, consistent effort. It is whole-souled devotion, involving mind, emotion, strength, and will.
so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Know that behind all this is God's promise. He will not abandon those who cling to Him for salvation. He has sworn it by the highest witness: Himself.
For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself,
saying, “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.”
And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise.
The next quality for recovery is patience. This is not a passive waiting by any means, as we have seen that diligence is necessary. Rather, it is waiting for the promises to manifest while we are sowing the seed and working the ground.
For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute.
In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath,
so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil,
where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. - Heb 6
God not only promised to bless Abraham, He swore to do so. The writer here extrapolates the blessing of Abraham to all Christian believers, who like Abraham are sons of faith, sons of the promise.

The purpose here is not to condemn anyone who has fallen, to dowse what little hope they cling to for recovery. No, instead he is extending a sure hope of recovery, if they will repent and commit themselves whole-souled to pursuing God. And he backs it up with the weight of God's solemn promise.

If you are in Christ but have fallen, rise up and seize the promises. Seize on God's good nature. Yes, sin has a terrible cost, but where sin abounds, God's grace abounds much more for those who flee to God for refuge. Do not make the profound mistake of letting God's promise of restoration go unclaimed. Get right with God now. Confess your sins and then extend faith toward God that He is able to restore you, according to IJn 1.9:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Lastly, we are given examples in Scripture of those who fell but rose again. These are trophies of grace that God has put on display to show the depths of His mercy to us who so easily fail. Paul's persecution of the church was overlooked, and the Lord reached down and saved him. He went on to be perhaps the greatest apostle.

You might argue that Paul wasn't in Christ while he was persecuting the church. True, but Peter was in Christ when he denied Him three times. Three is normally the number of completion, signifying that Peter's failing was thorough. Yet Christ received him back with open arms. Perhaps it was the depth of Peter's failing that caused Jesus to appear to him alone on one occasion. Perhaps things needed to be exchanged that can only take place on a one-to-one basis with the Lord. But in any case, Peter was received back and went on to be a great servant of the Most High God. And yes, he made other mistakes afterward as well (Gal 2), but he didn't let that stop him from serving Christ with his whole heart.

These things have been written for our encouragement, so that we don't lose heart. The Bible wasn't given to condemn us, but to save us. Understand the Author's motivation, and trust in His love. If you have fallen, seek repentance and the Lord's forgiveness, declare the past over, and pick up the mantle of your calling again and get yourself back into service.

May God richly bless.
Paul