Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wretch (Repent Part 2)

The first instalment of these posts regarding repent...


I recommend reading the repent posts in order if you have not had a previous opportunity to do so.  I mentioned Deuteronomy 9:5 in passing. I want to circle back around to this verse and the verses that come directly after this to begin this post.

"It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.  Remember this and never forget how you provoked the Lord your God to anger in the desert.   From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord.  At Horeb you aroused the Lord's wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you."   Deuteronomy 9:5-8

I was raised in a loving, Christian home.  My parents are currently both alive and kicking and love Jesus just as much now as they ever have.  I am deeply grateful for them.  Growing up in this household, it was a little tricky for me to grasp what it meant that I was a sinner.  On the one hand, our denomination was very strong about talking about sin and the reality of evil and sin.  If anything, I would say it may have even been a bit heavy handed.  However, the focus seems to me to be on sinful actions and guarding against the dangers of "slipping into dangerously sinful activities".  This is NOT going to be a post that slams my previous churches, however.  Their willingness to clearly acknowledge the reality of sin will reappear later in this post as a major positive.  My point is that teaching people about their true nature of sinfulness outside of Christ is a tricky business to say the least.  

A helpful thing to look at are two wrong extremes to get us started.  One is some version of the monks who use the whips to beat themselves into "submission to God" or to punish themselves when they sin.  The other is the pastor and church who refuse to even mention the word sin within their messages.  "It is too negative of a term and has been mentioned enough in the past."  The fascinating thing is that BOTH of these exist.  How can we look at the same scriptures and have wrong extremes that are this widely apart?  One answer is that neither of these practices are based on any scriptural teaching.  Instead, they are reactions against some experiences and practices they have seen.  They are pendulum swings that are motivated by their OWN WISDOM to either deal with their own sinfulness and a lack of others to acknowledge it or to deal with others who have mishandled the reality of sinfulness and caused great hurt. 

This is where this gets very personal.  Growing up, I reached an age where one very specific category of sin(if I should even use that term) began to make me very aware of the reality of sin within my life.  It was sex.  In my early teen years, I began to realize that sex had a major hold in my life.  This was something I wrestled with and even reached out to important adults within my life for help.  In spite of this, it derailed my attempts to live a life devoted to God again and again.  As I got older, it got darker.  I rode a roller coaster of sin and repentance for many, many years.  At many points, I walked away from even trying to break free from this part of myself and tried to blaze some sort of a new trail that was not centered around Christ.  It was misery.   I want to camp out there for just a few minutes.....misery.  Words cannot describe roughly a decade that I put God, those closest to me, and myself through.  Even now as I write this, it is hard to revisit it.  I don't revisit it very often.  Misery is too small a word.  All the words in the thesaurus that mean the same thing as misery could NOT capture the essence of the level of shame, disgust, frustration, and hurt I felt for falling from walking with Him and having good relationships with Him and my family and friends to what I had become.....MISERY.  I cannot bring myself to wish this on anyone else.....BUT, consider this.

"Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.  When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is --that she is a sinner.'  Jesus answered him, 'Simon, I have something to tell you.' 
'Tell me, teacher,' he said.
'Two men owed money to a certain moneylender.  One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both.  Now which of them will love him more?'
Simon replied, 'I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.'
'You have judged correctly,' Jesus said.  Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman?  I came into your house.  You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little."   Luke 7:36-47

This period of my life and the years immediately after it where I began again to seek to break free from the power of sin and give my whole heart to Christ was used by Him to push me towards becoming a little more like this woman.  This is THE KEY!  It is strange to say, but God WANTS us to understand our sinfulness.  I do not believe He intends for us to become aware of it the way that I did.  I believe only He is able to simultaneously open our eyes to the true nature of our own bottomless pit of self centeredness in what ever form it takes WHILE simultaneously using that to drive us to worshipping him for freeing us from the crushing burden of sin.  We CANNOT go the route of denying sin, and I would even pray the strange prayer that we genuinely become more aware of our real nature in and of ourselves and how miserable it is.  I don't want this to crush us, but I do believe we must be broken by it.  You do not wash Jesus's feet with your tears if you do not truly recognize from what it is that you have been freed from.  I pray that we would all find ourselves weeping at His feet.  Thank you, Jesus!

Saturday, July 18, 2015


The first time I spoke with him was to inform him that I had asked his daughter to be my wife.  He was kind and gracious to me then.  

The first time I met him was as we left to attend his younger daughter's high school graduation.  I had come directly from work and had tried to speedily clean up and change clothes from work clothes into "church" clothes.  Unfortunately, it came to my attention on the way to the ceremony that there was a large streak of axle grease I had missed in my rush to get clean on the underside of my forearm.  I was very embarrassed, but he was a mechanic and had gojo to get me clean.  He was kind and gracious to me then.

Each time we visited for special occasions and holidays, I was greeted with a hug and never left without a hug.  He always said, "We love you, son." as I left.  He told me stories about his life, Myndall's life, his family, work.  We played games and joked.  He was a wonderful father-in-law, and beyond being thankful for bringing my wife into this world, I will miss him and am thankful for his family.  They continue to grow closer and closer to the center of my heart.  

I want to share a quick thing that my friend Jason and I recently discovered.  We were both wondering why God chose to give specific instructions to John the Baptist's father to be sure to name his son John.  I then noticed that John the Baptist was the one sent to herald the coming of Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament, and the disciple John is given the honor of announcing the final revelation in the New Testament.  Jason discovered that the name John means "God is gracious."  God chose to announce the coming of his son the first and second time and to make it clear that the ENTIRE message proclaimed in between was surrounded by and built upon this one singular truth....God IS GRACIOUS!

I cannot wait to hear the story of how God welcomed you into your new heavenly home.  Much like you, I know He will be kind and gracious.  

Friday, July 03, 2015

The Purpose of Prophecy

I know that many dismiss the idea of prophecy altogether, and some others are altogether too consumed with it. However, neither of these wrong responses to prophecy determine whether or how we, as believers, should handle prophecy. Unfortunately, I think we get caught up in the back and forth between these two wrong extremes and either pick a side to fight for and defend or simply stay away from prophecy completely because it is seen as either too mystical or too divisive.

I will confess to you that I have occasionally been interested in it in the past, but I have largely stayed away from it because it seemed to cause more grief and rarely seemed to be a source of help in actually living the life of a follower of Christ. Well…… I was wrong.

That is what this post is about. The purpose of prophecy.

I’m going to start this discussion in a strange place. There is an undeniable cultural swerve in the last thirty years that has sent mainstream movies and books to regularly explore the idea of an "end of the world", "apocalyptic", or "post-apocalyptic" theme. Mad Max movies, the Hunger Games movies, the Terminator movies, and all those wonderful zombie movies and tv shows are just a handful of examples of the relative fascination of the world at large with THE END!

I will come back to THE END! in a moment or two, but the main reason I bring it up now is to point out the primary focus of these movies, books, and tv shows. They are cautionary about our current character flaws as a society and, most of all, they are almost exclusively man centered.

Prophecy in the Bible has one central purpose…. TO TURN US BACK TO REVOLVING OUR LIVES AROUND GOD. I don’t just mean it cries out, "straighten up and fly right!" I mean it reminds us, OR is supposed to remind us, that He knew the hugely important plot twist in this movie we call life was going to happen before it happened. He is in control. Always. We can choose to rest in Him. God chose to mention King Josiah by name and specifics he would carry out in a prophecy to King Jeroboam ….300 years before he was even born. God mentions the ruler Cyrus of Persia by name (Isaiah 44 & 45) and the fact that he would free the people of Judah from captivity 200 years before he did it. Jewish tradition holds that Daniel greeted Cyrus with a scroll that contained these words in Isaiah.   Daniel is given specific info regarding Alexander the Great that is incredibly detailed 200 years before Alexander lived. Are we seeing a pattern here? Did God give this info to these people so that people living in the times of these prophesied rulers could figure out some cosmic jigsaw puzzle and get a gold star from God when they reached heaven? NO, no, no! One more example, and then I’ll wrap this puppy up.

Jesus tells his disciples again(Matthew 16:21), and again(Matthew 17:22), and again(Matthew 20:17-19), and AGAIN(Matthew 26:1) that he would be crucified.  My favorite retelling of one of these times Jesus tried so hard to get them to hear him comes just after the transfiguration and the casting out of a demon.  In Luke 9:44, Jesus actually uses these words, "Let these words sink into your ears:  The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men."  WHY? Why would he tell them of such a horrible thing that was coming? It wasn’t to scare them. He was trying to help them so that WHEN it did come they could see that He KNEW this was going to happen, and He was not caught off guard by it. This could have also allowed them to have confidence that the other stuff He said would also come true… like that little thing we call the resurrection, but because they didn’t take the first one to heart, they were unable to be comforted and look forward to the miraculous plot twist God had engineered for the whole world.

Finally, back to THE END!

We are often freaked out by the thought of all these horrific things that are promised to be coming our way, especially when we see developments that seem to point to a possible fulfillment of "end times" in our lifetime. These prophecies are primarily there to help us to see past THE END! Because…….

(emphasis on if)

we are born again, the other stuff is true too, and THE END! Is not the end. To be precise, there is no end!

Are you born again?