Monday, October 31

What About Halloween?

Every year we seem to haggle about the validity or the place of Halloween in the Christian's life. Obviously--I hope--witches, ghosts and zombies do not comprise the fodder from which we believers derive our sustenance for a holy life! That being said, I really appreciate any emphasis that draws us back to the spiritual bottom line. In the case below, we see wherein lies the origin of one of the most important days in all of history. Set in the Reformation and the person of Martin Luther, we find grounding in that which is far more blessed and beneficial than--to say the least--candies and treats. Read and be blessed if you love Christ and his Church. Thank you James Emery White for your blog. Please see my closing comment at the end of his article.

All Saint’s Eve
"It was 1521.

A man by the name of Martin Luther stood in front of the Holy Roman Emperor, along with an array of other leaders representing the religious and political establishment of the day, to answer charges of heresy.  “Martin, how can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of scripture?  Would you put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that you know more than they all?” pressed the brilliant Catholic theologian Johann von Eck.  “I ask you, Martin, answer you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?”

The words poured, first from his heart, and then from his lips in his native German:  “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  God help me.  Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.  Amen.”

Martin Luther was born in Saxony in 1483.  Schooled in Erfurt, he later fled to an Augustinian monastery.  Literally.  Caught in a thunderstorm, in terror before the lightning, he cried out, “Help, St. Anne, I will become a monk!”  Despite this less than auspicious beginning, from that point on Martin Luther was a man of the church.  And from this man of the church came the greatest reformation of the church in history.

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century which altered the course of Western history in seismic fashion.  As Graham Tomlin has written, there can be little doubt that Martin Luther ranks
“as one of the most influential European figures of the last millennium.  Marco Polo and Columbus opened up new continents, Shakespeare and Michelangelo produced some of the most sublime pieces of art, and Napoleon and Hitler changed the political face of their centuries.  Yet Luther and the Reformation he triggered have made a huge impact not just on Europe, but...throughout the rest of the world. Protestantism shaped a whole new way of life for countless people across the Western world and beyond, which coloured their  approaches to God, work, politics, leisure, family – in fact, almost every aspect of human life...[including] the early development...of the United States, and in the emergence of democracy and economic and religious freedoms in Europe.”
And to think it all started with this simple monk nailing 95 thoughts on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany.

On October 31st, All Saint’s Eve.

The Reformation was more than theological; it was ecclesiastical.  It was a reformation of the church.  Even the famed 95 theses nailed onto the Wittenberg door say nothing about justification by faith, the authority of the Bible, the priesthood of all believers or any of the other well-known Reformation doctrines.  Instead, they look like a treatise on church practice.  And for Luther’s day, this meant a treatise on life itself.  And it was revolutionary:  Luther’s ultimate vision for reformation was for a church where each member could play an active and decisive part, the distinction between clergy and laity could be dissolved and every believer be seen as a priest, and thus be able to powerfully “espouse the cause of the faith” to a lost and dying world. . . . 
Closing Comment
I would add that it is precisely when Christ is the true Head of his Church that individual believers are allowed by the Spirit to exercise their God-gifted graces of priesthood, growing in holiness as the same Spirit empowers them. Now, that's truly hallowed (holy) and leads to a sanctified (increasing in holiness) Church. We must be very, very careful not to allow religious heretics to wrestle away from the true church her divine inheritance. We repeat with Luther, "Here we stand. We can do no other."

Wednesday, October 26

Would You Call Yourself Godly?

The Psalmist David says this, " . . . Preserve my life, for I am godly; . . . " Now this is certainly not ALL that he says. But he does say it, something which I believe few Christians would be willing to voice today. Right? I asked our Wednesday morning class this, and they all seemed to agree, that we are not prone to say such things. Yet, staring us in the face is this line in Psalm 86. It's not a misprint, and though we must always read a verse in its context, just quoting this line does not do the context any real harm. 

So, what do we think about this? Was David an egomaniac? Hardly. It might be a bit of stretch to draw this conclusion without any further demonstration, but I think it is stated in such an unobtrusive manner that one cannot but imagine this to have issued from a normal spiritual frame of reference. If it was normal to David, why is it not normal to us? What are we afraid of? We think it sounds proud to make such a claim? Why? Again, I am probing here. Why would confessing that we are godly seem proud? I believe it is because we understand neither what constitutes a godly person, nor what constitutes pride. 

An oxymoron is a "figure of speech whereby two apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction," like "falsely true," or the famous one from the Peanuts comic strip where Charlie Brown would emote, "Good grief!" So, isn't it an oxymoron to declare one to be a proud godly person? Really?! At the very heart of the matter isn't humility a requirement before someone could be considered godly? Again, I ask, what is the problem then? Are we to assume that only David could say this in the history of mankind?

Consider something else, we must be honest with our self-assessment. It is assumed in Scripture. For example, Paul urges the Galatian Christians, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted" (6:1). Simply put, how could he make this appeal unless there were those in the church there who could look honestly at themselves in the spiritual mirror and find a spiritual person? 

Self-Righteousness or False Humility?
You know what I think? I think we have either fallen for the trap of 1) self-righteousness, or 2) false humility. First, self-righteousness. Who among has not known such? Maybe we'd admit we've been there ourselves? So, in an effort to avoid such false and nauseating Christianity, we never allow such holy declarations to come from our mouths EVEN IF we have been laboring hard in Christ to grow up in every way . . . into Christ" (Eph. 4:15). So, the fault is an overreaction, and that is a false way to think, and most often leads us into an equal and opposite error. Second, false humility. My Dad worked on the railroad with an older uneducated black man, but one who had a deep knowledge of love of Christ. He once told Dad in his unique way, "Him what can brag without lying, let him brag." OK, so no one is going to make a theology of such a saying. But I think he makes a good point. How, you may ask incredulously? Well, is our goal as true believers to grow holier, to grow up in Christ, to go from faith to faith (all biblical phrases)? Then when will we be able to say that we are in fact holy? Never? Really?? So, it's not really possible? God is just leading us along unwilling to tell us the truth that we'll never arrive? Who said anything about arriving? Heaven's holiness is one thing; earth's another. And we can be holy on earth. God help us to use biblical patterns and not fall prey to culture's inhibiting and false assessments. And that's what I think we've done. "Be holy as I am holy" is Scripture's word to us. And we will unwillingly deny it outright by our claim that we cannot be holy!! Really?! 

One closing comment on David in Psalm 86. I said at the beginning that the phrase "preserve my life, for it is godly" could stand alone in that no other qualifier would necessarily be necessary (like that?). But simply for argument's sake, look at the words just before and after it, "I am poor and needy." And right afterward, "save your servant who trusts in you--you are my God." These are hardly words of a proud man are they? Oh, no, they bespeak humility in the right place. 

Let us walk in faith and say so if we are not lying!!  

Thursday, October 20

A Meditation--Strong Faith = Humble Fear

. . . but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.” (Romans 11:20)

None of us is anything of ourselves, whether Jew or Greek, or . . . American! That brings it closer to home. A myriad ways exist whereby we may gloat, IF we don't see the larger picture--the true picture. All boasting is short-sighted, narrow-minded, ignorant. So, God came to the Jews, but more importantly, He came through the Jews. The intent was that all the world would be blessed through Abraham (Gen. 12:3). And that is indeed what God has accomplished through Jesus Christ. 

As the text above says, we "stand fast through faith," not through our good looks, or good works, or American heritage. Faith only, that is faith in the absolutely necessary finishing of the sacrifice of atonement accomplished only and completely by Jesus. If Jesus "paid it all" then, as the songwriter penned, "all to him I owe." No room here for boasting. Ever! 

Fear? Yes. Even as faith emerges from the heart of the one who looks only to Christ for salvation, so too fear equally blossoms where one's respect finds grounding in the true Savior apart from anything on our part. Such fear can sing, "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling." And that is enough.

Where they "stand fast through faith" they will also humbly blossom in the fear of God. Such a blossom emits a sweet nectar before heaven, a pleasing aroma to God. That is peace. Enjoy it.

Wednesday, October 19

A Meditation on Romans 10:3

For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:3).

I am interested in the words, ". . . being ignorant of the righteousness of God, . . ." Of what were they (or any people) ignorant when they push past God's righteousness in order to establish their own?

They are ignorant of its existence.
Many do no know of the wonderful holiness secured in Jesus Christ. This is one purpose of the gospel message to the lost. Others, like the Jewish nation here mentioned, were willingly ignorant, for the truth had been proclaimed to them in the law of Moses and throughout the entirety of the Old Testament. Indeed, Paul had already established their advantage, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.” (Romans 9:4). 

They had access to the truth. But then so do so many in churches today. Oh, that we would relish the righteousness of Jesus Christ and not fight to gain what is already ours! Oh, that more would accept its work in their lives and not let our enemy beat us up over sins forgiven.

So, some are ignorant and need to hear. Others have heard and still remain ignorant.

They are ignorant of its perfection.
No man ever had a pure righteousness. Due to his own spiritual malady, any effort on man's part becomes tainted both in design and application. Man, at best, can only cover over some sins, but never remove any nor especially obliterate all. In Jesus' atonement, not just the noticeable sins, but sin in its issue has been eradicated. Only He who is Perfect can provide the perfect sacrifice. It is complete, it is perfect, and it is efficacious. 

They are ignorant of its beauty.
Beautiful because of who secured it--the spotless Lamb of God. Beautiful because of who has been enabled to receive it--rebels worthy of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord. Beautiful for the completion each enjoys--forever sanctified in Christ.They who know their sin to be the worst find Christ's redemption to be the greatest. The shiny diamond of Christ's righteousness gleams brightest against the velvety black backdrop of sin.

Friday, October 14

The Raised Dead Sin Less

Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead

Romans 6:12–14,  12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Whom among the body of believers across this world has not admitted their own failure with regard to sin? Who doesn't need to confess often his own weaknesses? But what keeps the child of God from wanting to plummet down that long rabbit hole into the bazaar world of lawlessness? Shall we be moved by Jesus' self-sacrificing example? Perhaps. But sin so jades my heart that such an example doesn't stand out to me in that condition.

I like the phrase in Romans 6:13b, ". . . but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, . . ." What does that look like? Well, I imagine myself having died first. Then, Jesus comes along in my corruption and mercifully raises me from the dead. I had nothing to do with it. And I certainly had no power to enforce IF there were some way to think about it ahead of the act! No, I simply lie there, looking up into the kind eyes of him who immediately has rendered himself eternally dear to me and think, "I am speechless at the grace which overwhelms me and has raised me up from this body of stinking corruption." You see the way I am thinking? No longer am I considering the sin that had me preoccupied. I am now thinking holy thoughts, but not just holy, rather Christ-entranced thoughts. As I gaze into his eyes, being the first think that my renewed eyes set their focus upon, I am so overwhelmingly engaged in the beauty of the grace and kindness of the One who released me from bondage, that time will pass without my ever having considered sin of any kind.

Do you see then that the power to overcome our sinful tendencies emanates not from my running away from sin (though there is merit in it), but in my absolute absorption in the sense of deliverance, a deliverance undeserved, and therefore so greatly and increasingly appreciated. So, I present myself to my Master as someone who has been raised from death to life. This is victory out of awe. Meditate on that.

Sunday, October 9

Is the Church Seeking Fame?

Maybe Tozer wasn't all that popular in his day (d. 1965). I think he was. The following might explain why. Too often we are hearing the cry of accommodation from Christianity. But is it really Christian to do so? Read this and see how Tozer viewed it back in his day and see if much has changed.

Failure and Success: The Scramble for Popularity

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  --Matthew 5:11-12

Popular Judaism slew the prophets and crucified Christ. Popular Christianity killed the Reformers, jailed the Quakers and drove John Wesley into the streets. When it comes to religion, the crowds are always wrong. At any time there are a few who see, and the rest are blinded. To stand by the truth of God against the current religious vogue is always unpopular and may be downright dangerous....

Christianity’s scramble for popularity today is an unconscious acknowledgment of spiritual decline. Her eager fawning at the feet of the world’s great is a grief to the Holy Spirit and an embarrassment to the sons of God. The lick-spittle attitude of popular Christian leaders toward the world’s celebrities would make such men as Elijah or George Fox sick to the stomach....
Lot was a popular believer. He sat in the gates of Sodom. But when trouble struck, he had to send quick for Abraham to get him out of the jam. And where did they find Abraham? Out on the hillside, far away from the fashionable crowds. It has always been so. For every Elijah there have always been 400 popular prophets of Baal. For every Noah there is always a vast multitude who will not believe it is going to rain.
We are sent to bless the world, but never are we told to compromise with it.
The Next Chapter After the Last, 20-21.

Thursday, October 6

Walking In Soul Darkness

I realize I haven't posted for a couple of weeks, but while this is only a re-posting, it is exactly appropriate to some questions that have come up recently, most memorably in our Wednesday night Bible study last night. It is from Octavius Winslow and can be found online HERE. What do we believers do when we don't desire God, or in soul darkness when heaven seems made of brass and we cannot get through? Please read on . . .

Are you walking in soul-darkness, beloved? Is God hiding His face? Has Jesus suspended His sensible presence? and is this shadow, deep and dark, resting upon your spirit? Cheer up! It is not the darkness of unregeneracy, but the passing shadow of Christian life, and before long it will dissolve and vanish. Listen to the language of your covenant God and Father: “For a small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercies will I gather you. In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the Lord” [Isaiah 54:7]. The ‘small moment’ will before long pass, and the shadow will disappear- and the joyous language of your soul will be, “O God! You were angry with me; but Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me.”

With the shadow of adversity, in some one or more of its protean forms, all true believers are familiar. “The Lord tries the righteous,” and He tries them because they are righteous. Not more essential the knife that prunes the branch- not more necessary the fire that refines the gold-  not more needful the storm that rarifies the atmosphere- than is adversity to the growth of the spiritual life of the soul. Is not the experience of every believer in harmony with that of the Psalmist? “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Your word.” “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Your statutes” [Psalm 119:67, 71]. To no discipline is the divine life of the soul under greater obligation than that which thus prunes and refines, and which thus fructifies and purifies.

Sweet are the uses of adversity; and never so sweet as when most bitter! “Out of the eater comes forth meat, and out of the strong comes forth sweetness” [Judges 14:14], and from an adversity that looked so consuming- from an event that threatened, as with lion-strength, to crush every fair prospect of life- there has issued some of the costliest blessings in the believer’s history.

God fashions graciously the hearts of all His children alike; “for what son is he whom the Father chastens not?” [Hebrews 12:7]. All are tried. The family provisions are “the bread and the water of affliction.” “Humble and scanty fare this!” exclaims the worldling; nevertheless, lowly and distasteful as it may be to those who are living upon ‘husks’- that which they call food- there is in it an element of sweetness, and a power of nourishment and growth, which the living soul only knows and fully tests. “The full soul loaths a honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet” [Prov. 27:7].

Affliction times are fruit promoting times to God’s “trees of righteousness.” Afflictions deepen the roots, and clothe the boughs with the foliage and fruit of righteousness. Oh, who can fully estimate the real advance of the spiritual life of the soul in one hallowed trial, through one sanctified sorrow? The slumbering spirit of prayer is roused- the truant heart is recalled- trembling faith is strengthened- and the spirit shaded with sorrow and the soul bowed with calamity, turns to Jesus, and finds in the wounded and wounding hand of the Savior, the balm and the succor which ‘heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds’ [Psalm 147:3].