Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Glorious Triumph

No lock nor key will save that day,
the things reseved by he
who wants all souls dead as prey,
for the Chosen shall be free.
For the gates of hell,
They shall not prevail.
No, the gates of hell,
They shall not prevail
Against the One,
the Rock on which we stand.

He is Jesus! He is Jesus,
Who brings us life,
And redeems us from the Grave.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How's Your Breathing?

Breath in.

Breath out and hold. (Really, do it! It will make sense later.)

Sometimes I wonder why God has made the body to function as it does. I know that our body is designed to constantly need a constant influx of oxygen and an expulsion of carbon dioxide. (I hope you’re still holding your breath. If you neglected to follow directions, shame on you.) Couldn’t God have created us to not need it? That’s a rhetorical question, of course.

Now breath again.

Was that not a great relief to breath in again? As I try the same exercise rereading what I’ve written, I start to get a tingling in my chest, my toes start to curl and my body starts to fidget uncontrollably. My body is telling me that I need some air!

I can’t tell you much about the biological aspects of what is happening when we stop breathing. I just know we begin to suffocate. I know I don’t like it. I feel my finiteness. It reveals my need of something outside of me. And while it is something that is usually there, it is something I really have no control over.

Over the past several months, I have been focusing and meditating on two huge subjects: the Gospel and faith. I’ve learned a lot about both. It has been awesome! I’ve in no way perfected it, but that’s the beauty of justification: having been declared righteous in the sight of God because of Christ’s imputed righteousness upon me (Thanks Josh!).

Getting back to faith, the Lord has given me much more clarity with the necessity of faith in fighting sin than I have ever had before. It is only by faith through the working of the Holy Spirit that I will ever find true, God pleasing victory. Anything outside of faith is “Cainic” (Hebrews 11:4), if I may be so bold as to coin a term or so dumb as to mess up one that already exists and forget its existence.

Now that I’ve got that down pat (sprinkled with a pinch of sarcasm), I figured I should be on the easy street to godliness. One moment, I’m praying, “Lord, help me to live by faith. I recognize that you are infinitely better than anything the world can ever offer me.” And, the Lord leads me into sweet fellowship with Him. Then as I’m walking down the yellow brick road of “holiness”, I find a loose brick and fall flat on my face. How could this be? I had sought the Lord and had been living by faith.

Then it dawned on me. Somehow, I had forgotten to continue to live by faith. I had ignorantly thought that since I had put my faith in Christ a few hours ago, that it would still be good for now. I had realized that living by faith is just like breathing: it must remain constant and consistent.

Romans 1:17
For in it God's righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.

When we breath, that breath is efficacious for that moment. The second we stop breathing, we start suffocating. The very instant, we stop living by faith, we start suffocating spiritually. Just as the breath I took when I began writing this is no longer efficacious for this moment, the faith that I had two hours ago is no longer efficacious for this moment... now.

So, as we go through each day, we must constantly and consistently live by faith. The moment we stop, we should feel it. If you don’t, check your pulse. It should be just as natural for us as breathing. And with each new breath of faith, we will become renewed and invigorated with power of the Holy Spirit and the righteousness of Christ that has been poured out on us who believe.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stop and Think

In elementary school, I was that kid that kid in class that never seemed to pay attention. I was either tapping my pencil on the desk or the person in front of me or I was doodling in my notebook. When I was in third grade, my teacher told my mom that I had ADHD. Subsequently, my mom decided to have me start to go see someone to try to deal with my inability to keep focused in any classroom setting.

Looking back, there were a lot of things that I disagree with. But, one of the things that she drilled into my head was, “Stop and think.” I got so tired of hearing her say that all the time. She wanted me to be in the habit of periodically stopping what I was doing and evaluate whether or not that’s what I should be doing. One good opportunity to use this strategy would have been when I was draining the ink from my pen at the back door where our dog liked to jump and let us know she wanted in. But, I didn’t. Several good opportunities would have been over the summers when I was terrorizing my sisters while my parents were at work. My sisters will definitely vouch that I didn’t take those opportunities. The list of missed opportunities could go on and on... and on. But, if I had, what illustrations would I have for my posts?

A few weeks ago I got together for “coffee” at Starbucks with my pastor, Scott. Neither of us had coffee. He probably had 10 cups before I got there and I didn’t really feel like pumping a ton of caffeine into my system at 9pm. Those of you who know me are probably thinking this is moot because you know I’ll probably be up all hours of the night anyway. You’re right. But, why make things worse.

We started out with small talk. He asked how Ben was doing and I gave him the update. We then talked about the Millennial Kingdom for a bit and he gave me some good things to think about. After that, our conversation moved to sin and sanctification.

The Lord has really been at work in my life and has been teaching me a lot, especially through recent circumstances. And, the Lord has been giving me a lot of victory over temptation to sin. There have been several times where temptation has come into my life and I’ve been so overcome with worship that I didn’t even desire the sin. There have been other times, however, where the temptation has been tough and I’ve had to grit my teeth, dig deep and press on. After a while, that can very tiring. It feels like I’m barely getting through it by the skin of my teeth. Sometimes even that can seem discouraging. I’m not expecting the war over the flesh to be a bed of roses, but seriously, does it have to be this hard?

He talked about the three types of people who are facing temptation. First, there is the guy who says to just give in because it’s going to happen anyway. Second, you have the pharisee who doesn’t sin because he afraid of punishment and pride. Lastly, you have the man who loves the Gospel. He chooses not to sin because he understands that the Gospel: Jesus, is so much better.

With the first guy, his heart remains unchanged. The second guy’s heart is only restrained, and for all intents and purposes, still unchanged. The third guy’s heart, however, is changed by the Gospel. I’ve realized that for a long time I was the second guy. But, God isn’t glorified because a guy chooses not to sin because he’s scared of what will happen to him if he sins. God is glorified when man chooses not to sin because his heart has been changed by the Gospel through faith (Hebrews 11:6 - “Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.”).

Through much of our lives, the pharisee mind set is drilled into our heads. We didn’t lie to our parents because we were scared of getting in trouble. We obey the law because we fear going to jail. Now, we’ve translated that into our walk with God: We resist sin because we are afraid of judgement and condemnation, or we don’t out of pride (Look at how much I’m living for God.).

The reality of it is, our judgement and condemnation has been taken on by Jesus Christ through His work on the cross if we have put our faith in Him to redeem us from our sin and made Him Lord in our life.

Romans 8:1 "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death."

Unfortunately, in many cases, I still find myself in a position of just restraining my heart. How do we change this? How do we get ourselves out of this pharisaical mind set? Through regular “check ups”, as Scott put it. We regularly stop and think: What is my motivation? Am I treasuring the Gospel? Do I not sin because I fear retribution from God or a condemning stare from other men or because I love Christ more than that sin? Do I love and live out the Gospel?

The reality is, resisting sin because our heart is merely restrained and not changed is not really much of a victory at all. God is still just as displeased with the state of our heart just like he was with Cain in Genesis 4. True victory comes when we realize that the joy of being united with Christ, being in fellowship with God and having the Spirit dwelling inside is so much better than anything any sin could ever offer! We taste and see that God is good (Ps 34:8) Because of that, I desire to please God; not because I’m afraid he will do something bad to me. As John Piper so often says,
“GOD is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Muhammad Ali Complex

In memory, rather mournful celebration, of the death of our Savior, Jesus Christ, I spent today reading the accounts of the Betrayal, Prayer, False Trial, Crucifixion and Burial of the Messiah throughout the Gospels.

There were a couple occasions where I got a little choked up. The King, Creator and Sustainer of everything that everything that ever was, everything that is and everything that ever will be gruesomely died a shameful and painful death to bear the sin of those who have hated him, of whom I am included.

"So forever will I tell, In three hours, Christ suffered more than any sinner ever will in hell."*

Betrayed, torn, beaten, mocked, stripped, blasphemed, falsely tried, ridiculed, hated and left to die the horrific death of the Cross. He knew that was coming: "And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!'"
Basically, "Guys, my blood will be shed as I drink the Cup of the Wrath of God. Not only that, but it will be made possible since one of you, my twelve closest friends, are going to betray me."
And what was their reaction?
"It's not me!"
"Well, Peter, I'll tell you for sure it's not me!"
"Woah, Thomas, don't give me that look, it's not me! Nobody loves Jesus more than me!"
"Hey, hey John... what are you getting at. My mom already talked to him about making me one of the greatest!"
"Hey Jesus, I'll drink the cup with you."
"Sit down Peter. You bark's bigger than your bite. Besides, I'm going to be the greatest!"

I call it the Muhammad Ali Complex: "I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was." Sinful arrogance.

AND THIS ISN'T THE FIRST TIME THIS HAPPENED!!! This makes the second time in Luke that Christ prophesied of His death and they just turn to arguing about who's going to be the greatest!!! (Luke 9:44-46)

Momentarily, I was appalled. In the shadow of the most selfless act that ever was and ever will be, in the presence of the most Humble Servant ever, they were filled with pride and arrogance. Don't they know this is The Last Supper??? Don't they get it that Jesus is going to be crucified??? Then, it dawned on me. We do the same thing, if not worse. We've got the 20-20 hindsight view of the Work of Jesus Christ and we do the exact same thing!!!

We love the limelight. We love to show off our Spiritual Gifts as if they are produced by us in the first place! We argue and bicker about who will be the greatest among men. We paint amazing facades to cover our broken reality just to make think people think we are sweet!

Apart from Jesus Christ, WE ARE NOTHING!!!!!! Again, apart from Jesus Christ, WE ARE LESS THAN NOTHING!!!!!!

How dare we assume our works are anything more than menstrual rags (Isaiah 64:6) and feces (Philippians 3:8) before God! "Without faith, it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God."(Hebrews 11:6) The only thing that makes me righteous is the Work of Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection!!! My works become a sweet smelling savor before God because it is the Holy Spirit doing it through me!

Let us not only be thankful but also humbled as we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Messiah. And, as Jesus Christ served and suffered for others, let us serve one another in true, Spirit-worked humility.

* This is from one of the most theologically packed musicians I have ever heard, Shai Linne.

The Cross (3 Hours) by Shai Linne

Verse 1
There’s something you gotta see, journey with me
It’s approximately 30 A.D.
In the land of Israel- the city of Jerusalem
But on the outside there’s screams and loud cries
Through faith, this scene can be seen without eyes
The mean shout lies and seem to sound wise
As we inch through the crowd, we need to be cautious
A Roman execution, men on three crosses
But all the focus is on the one in the center
The gate closes behind you- no one can enter
The sight you behold is so odd, you’re stunned
The man hanging on the cross is God the Son
12 noon, it’s pitch-black because the sunshine’s lacking
Your minds can’t fathom this divine transaction
As slowly the sound becomes mostly drowned
You realize that you’re standing on holy ground


So forever will I tell
In three hours, Christ suffered more than any sinner ever will in hell (4x)

It’s where we see Your holiness- at the cross
We see that You’re controlling this- at the cross
We see how You feel about sin- at the cross
Your unfathomable love for men- at the cross
It’s where we see Your sovereignty- at the cross
We see our idolatry- at the cross
We know that there’s a judgment day- from the cross
May we never take our eyes away- from the cross

Verse 2

We’re now in the realm of the sublime and profound
With God at the helm it’s about to go down
The Father’s wrath precise will blast and slice
The priceless Master Christ as a sacrifice
Willingly, He’s under the curse
To be treated as if the Son was the worst scum of the earth
The scene is the craziest
Jesus being treated as if He is the shadiest atheist
How is it the Messiah is in the fiery pit
As if He was a wicked liar with twisted desires?
The One who’s sinless and just
Punished as if He was promiscuous and mischievous with vicious lust
The source of all godly pleasure
Tormented as if He was a foul investor or child molestor
How could He be bruised like He was a goodie two-shoes
who doesn’t think that she needs the good news?
He’s perfect in love and wisdom
But He’s suffering as if He constructed the corrupt justice system
We should mourn at the backdrop
Jesus torn like He’s on the corner with crack rock with porn on His laptop
What is this, kid? His gifts are infinite
But He’s hit with licks for religious hypocrites
He’s the Light, but being treated like
He’s the seedy type who likes to beat His wife
He’s treated like a rapist, treated like a slanderer
Treated like a racist or maybe a philanderer
Jesus being penalized like He had sin inside
Filled with inner pride while committing genocide
I could write for a billion years and still can’t name
All of the sins placed on the Lamb slain
But know this: the main thing the cross demonstrated
The glory and the holiness of God vindicated.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shadow: The Golden Almost Retriever

I've recently managed to travel back home to PA again. My dad had another birthday on March 9th, so I went home to take him to a hockey game as a reminder of how much those games he took me to as a kid meant to me and how I love spending time with him. That, however, is something for a different post. The subject of this rant is a little more hairy.

While I was home, I made an observation that I am more like my sister's Golden Retriever, Shadow, than I ever thought I would be. First, and not quite so related to the following story, is how annoying he can be... but I still love that dog. I've had friends, two in particular that I can remember, saying to me, "I want to be irritated with you sometimes, but I just can't." There's a lovable obnoxiousness about him. On many evenings in the living room, by the TV, you will find my parents watching their favorite shows. By their side will be the gigantic beast waiting for someone to pet him. When this doesn't happen after, say, five minutes, he begins his hunt for a resting hand. He will nudge his cold, wet nose underneath just hoping to get a few scratches on his back. I always love finding the spot on his side that makes his leg twitch uncontrollably. Or, he will grab his ball and keep dropping it on you until you throw it for him. He lives for it. He is, of course, a Golden Retriever... almost.

The next thing builds on his last characteristic of being annoying. While I was home, I went out back to throw his ball with him. Though, it's not much of a ball anymore. It used to be a black, miniature basketball. Now, it's a flattened, concave piece of rubber. None of his toys ever seem to last very long. He also lives to destroy his toys. I think he considers their structural integrity a challenge that cannot go uncontested. At any rate, in the arena of the back yard, there are two sure things with Shadow. He wants you to throw his ball for him. He is, as I stated earlier, a Golden Retriever... almost. See, when you throw the ball for him, he will run with all the energy his furry, little legs can muster. He'll scoop up the ball with his slobber-filled mouth and he will run straight back for you with the utmost tenacity. Then, the second sure thing, for whatever reason he will stop about ten feet short and will not go a step further. Like I said, he's a Golden Almost Retriever.

I don't know about anyone else, but I find myself living life that way. I start something and don't always quite finish it. While I did finish college, only by the grace of God, I found myself starting every semester with a goal of working really hard and getting amazing grades in all of my classes. I would call my mom every day that I could say truthfully, "Mom, I just wanted to let you know that I still have a 100% in all of my classes.” That usually lasted from the first day to somewhere between my first quiz and the two week mark of the semester. Then I would go to my default goal of passing.

I find this too often in my spiritual life as well. I find myself staring sin down like a matador stares down a bull. I'm determined to grab sin by it's horns and bring it down like the wild beast that it is. I start with the best of intentions and intensity. Then somewhere along the line, I find myself winded and giving up, allowing the very sin I fought to pin me down.

But, by the grace of God I haven't given up. I continue to fight the sin. As rough as the road has been at times, I continue to run the race. By the power of the Spirit, I am ferociously determined not to be a Born Almost Again Christian. I don't want to be a casualty of sin.

While there have been a number of occasions that I have wanted to throw in the towel and give up on what, at the time, seems like a futile fight, there is Something inside of me that won't let me. On just as many occasions, I have been tempted to question my salvation, and according to many of Paul's epistles, rightly so. But one thing that has given me the most assurance during those toughest times, I just can't come to actually giving up. There's something inside me that won't allow me to play dead and give up. And, there's only one answer I have for that, the Holy Spirit.

So, no matter how many times I fall and skin my knees, and I know I will, I know that I will always get back up and will continue to push forward. Not because I'm a super-sweet guy who does awesome at everything, but because I have the power and drive of the Living God dwelling inside of me and He will not let me quit. I believe the Lord has saved me so, just like Paul said in 1 Timothy 1, Jesus Christ could demonstrate His patience and grace to others He will save.
So believers, run with vigor and strength. But, when you fall, be encouraged when you get back up. It wasn't you, but the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within you. For those who have given up and have left Christ, or those who have never even started the race at all, put your trust in Christ and enter into that everlasting relationship with Him. Receive the power to run the race, finish the course and receive the prize of eternal fellowship with God.

Hebrew 12:1-2
Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God's throne.