Be Careful What You Wish For – Roman Road 6

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.   Romans 1:28

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Despite our protestations to the contrary, we human beings want what we want. We invest a lot of energy in trying to be less selfish, or at least appearing to be less self-interested. Sooner or later, however, the reality of who we are comes to the surface. Our greatest desire is for our greatest desire.

On its surface, this doesn’t appear to be a negative trait. And if we are pure in heart and consider the greater good when evaluating our own interests then the probability of a positive outcome is measurably higher. But let’s not fool ourselves; we are not pure in heart and our idea of the greater good takes self into account before other.

This is what Paul has in mind as we begin to walk down the Roman Road. He makes a simple case for our greatest desires to be guided by the will of God rather then our natural self-satisfaction. Without diving into a deep theological morass he makes the case that what can be known about the natural order is self-evident to all people. To put this another way, we can evaluate what is proper according to the natural order and therefore judge when our desires are not in alignment with that order.

It’s here that the awful reality of accountability before God strikes our hearts. If we cannot claim to be ignorant of the way in which God intends for things to be then we will only be left with two choices, align with God’s will or our self-will. The consequence of this decision is clear as well.

When we choose and elevate and exercise our desires contrary to the plain evidence of God’s order and will, the possibility that we will find ourselves in a dangerous position increase exponentially. That dangerous position — that horrific position — is that God may turn us over to our desires. Paul makes this awful proclamation three times in the span of four verses and it catches us off guard. The omnipotent God who could force us to toe the line instead appears to throw up his hands and say “have at it!” Enjoy your desire and the consequence of that choice.

“Not fair”, we exclaim. We want the product of our selfish desire without the consequence but this is contrary to the evidence all around us that Paul has pointed to. You can’t have one without the other. It has never happened and it never will since it contradicts the created order.

The direction of our will sets the foundation for the gospel that Paul unfolds as we walk further down the road together. God does not force us to accept his will in place of our own. He makes the superiority of his ways evident to all. He makes the extent of his love for all transparent. He gives evidence to his desire in Jesus. Then God says choose. This call to choose is put in human language by Moses (Deuteronomy 30:19); “choose life.” Not choosing life can result in nothing but death.

Grace and peace to you.

Patience in Leadership

PATIENCE

“What would you like for breakfast?” mother would ask.

“Ice Cream,” came the reply. The actual food requested was immaterial as it was a cycle of equally inappropriate breakfast items.

“No, I think we’ll have porridge this morning.” Mother did not introduce so much as an extra breath before pulling out the pot in which the oats and water would soon be simmering. She knew–because her mother had trained her as had her grandmother trainer her mother–that a diet of ice cream, cookies or cake was not the foundation of a successful day or life. She was immune to the disappointed voices and saddened faces when the desired bowl of chocolate chip appeared as the mottled beige of oatmeal, perhaps sweetened with a touch of brown sugar. Mother knew her role and she looked to the day when her children would become adults with their own children, perhaps smirking at the fleeting thought of being that grandmother who gave her grandchildren everything they wanted. Even ice cream for breakfast.

But mother said no and meant it. She knew that her role was to nurture and raise you, and she did it. And aren’t you glad she did?

Leaders of God’s people must be equally steadfast in adhering to the promises of God despite calls to ‘turn back’, ‘stay here’ or ‘make us gods who will go before us’. While Moses trembled in the presence of God who outlined the way in which his people would engage Him and worship Him (Ex 20-31), the recently freed people became restless and demanding (Ex 32). Forgetting what they had witnessed in their escape from bondage, forgetting the grace that had secured them from the angel of the Lord, forgetting the protection that God had promised and demonstrated, forgetting the provision of food and water; forgetting. Forgetting, either by lapse or design, but forgetting nonetheless. Forgetting, and demanding that their wishes be satisfied.

Aaron should not have forgotten however. Aaron who had witnessed the miraculous work of Yahweh firsthand. Aaron who had learned to trust God alongside Moses and who, as the interim leader of the Hebrews, needed to stand firm in that trust despite the length of Moses’ absence. A leader needed to stand and say “No!” No, God has given us a vision for the future as His people and we will not deviate from that vision. No, God’s providence will not be denied. No, God’s grace will not be discounted. No, the freedom from bondage given to us by grace will not be ignored.

The leader of God’s people must be patient and steadfast in leading them forward toward the vision that God gives. Many will want to stop along the way citing ample food and water supplies but the leader must continue the march. The leader must not hesitate, even when the siren songs of comfort and tradition tempt people away from the path. Even when trouble appears to be insurmountable and failure sure, like the Red Sea stretched endlessly before them and Pharaoh’s army speeding from the rear, the leader of God’s people must wait patiently for God to move and he must lead the people to do the same.

Because God will move, just as He has promised. At just the right moment and in exactly the right way.

THERE’S NO I IN INTEGRITY

Integrity is the foremost measure of character between you and me. The dictionary will define integrity as an adherence to a code of values, but even that is ambiguous. Integrity means that you will do what you say you will do and I do what I say I will do. Anything less and the bond between us begins to fray and eventually snap. When it finally breaks it’s much like the rupture of a taut Achilles tendon. The two ends will curl away from each other and must be stretched under great pressure to even come close enough to begin the net back together. There is much pain and a long period of time elapses before the bond is trusted again, if it ever is.

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Well, actually there are two. I and I. You and me. Integrity is the foremost measure of character between you and me. The dictionary will define integrity as an adherence to a code of values, but even that is ambiguous. Integrity means that you will do what you say you will do and I do what I say I will do. Anything less and the bond between us begins to fray and eventually snap. When it finally breaks it’s much like the rupture of a taut Achilles tendon. The two ends will curl away from each other and must be stretched under great pressure to even come close enough to begin the net back together. There is much pain and a long period of time elapses before the bond is trusted again, if it ever is.

In leadership, whether in the church or in a secular setting, surveys have demonstrated over and over that the most important character trait in a leader’s integrity. If people are going to follow a leader into battle or into ministry they must know that the leader’s word is rock solid. They do what they say they’re going to do. Always. Without excuses. Even if it requires sacrifice on their part.

They are often misappropriated verse in the epistle of James speaks to the impact that integrity can have.

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. James 2:18

It is as easy to claim to have faith as it is to pound your chest and claim the solidity of your integrity. Because we do not exist in a vacuum it’s also easy enough for those around us to evaluate our claims of both faith and integrity. If we claim faith in the God of the universe and His Son Jesus Christ but live lives contrary to the obedience and character demanded of a recipient of his magnificent grace that our faith is certainly questionable. In the same way, proclamations of integrity fall on deaf ears when our actions demonstrate that we cannot be trusted. The Christian leader who finds themselves in this position also has a ministry that is over before it starts. God is not going to bless something that begins by bringing dishonor to His name.

Our hope would be to be found like Israel’s leaders Samuel. After having led Israel for decade after decade Samuel stands before all the people and lays himself bare. (1 Samuel 12:1-4) He states without hesitation that if he has wrongly taken anything from anyone he will repay. If he has cheated or oppressed anyone he will make reparation. If he has been less than honest in any of his dealings he will confess and make right any illicit bargain. “I will make it right” are Samuel’s farewell words before Israel and his God.

The people reply “you have not cheated or oppressed us,” and “you have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.” Samuel had integrity.

Six Things God Knows About YOU

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And He Wants You to Know He Knows…

Christians will rightly spend time coming to know the attributes and Word of God in order to “know” Him better. To develop a relationship with God is to know what he has revealed about himself and come to see how those attributes affect one’s life. There is also a symmetry to relationship and it increases in depth and meaning when we contemplate those things that God knows about us. Not only does God know these things about us,He he also wants us to know that He is mindful of His people in this way.

ONE: He knows how you’re put together. You are not just a random assembly of cells. You are a vessel so unique and valuable that God imprints his image upon you. This is not a licensing deal; God has elected to take an active role in the knitting together of those who will bear the divine image (Ps 139:13; Jer 1:5)

TWO: Because of his intimate involvement in shaping the vessel of his image, the Potter also knows your heart and mind. He knows you to the depth of your personality and soul. He knows what makes you tick and what ticks you off. (Jer 17; 1 Kg 8:39)

THREE: Every corner of your heart is familiar territory to God and there are no shadows obscuring any feeling from His gaze. He knows your joys and triumphs as well as your hurts and troubles and He cares about both. (Ps 56:6; Ps 103:13)

FOUR: God knows your needs even before you can find the words to declare them. This might be a challenge to understand sometimes because, as people, we often are more aware of our surface desires than we are of our deepest needs. God does not struggle with that differentiation and wants to help us to recognize what our deepest and most fundamental needs are. (Mt 6:8)

FIVE: The irreplaceable image of God baked into every human being creates within them a desire to be reunited with the creator. In other words, God knows that you want to know him even before you become aware of that desire. In this knowledge God has commissioned his Spirit to be about the work of heightening awareness and creating opportunity for this reunification to occur. (Eph 1:17-19; John 17:3)

SIX: Your name summarizes the essence of who you are as God demonstrated to Moses with the thunderous “I Am” and God knows your name. You are not a chance occurrence, but rather, an infinitely valuable creation, known and treasured by God. (Is 43:1)

SIDE BY SIDE: 2 audacious lists

Two Lists Will Revolutionize Your Relationship with God

Praise the Lord, O my soul; and forget not all his benefits–   Psalm 103:2

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In a busy life it is all too easy to miss God at work. We can become so wrapped up in our daily lives that the sometimes subtle moves of God all around us can fade into our surroundings and we walk right by.Some will not be noticed and missed forever. Others will be sensed at the amygdala level and later, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, will receive the full attention of the brain. We can call these ‘near misses’.

It’s certainly possible to proceed through life unaware of God at work. We can remain faithful and repentant to the best of our ability. We can just exist, naïve to what we are missing but this is a difficult position to maintain. Once the Christian has tasted the briefest experience of knowing the living, active God at this level, he is driven to experience more. This is by design in the relationship between God and human kind and it serves a purpose in the course of discipleship.To become cognizant of God at work begins to form our confidence. He has promised to be at work and we have seen him at work. Confidence builds faith. Our witness to the work of God trains us to place ever greater trust in His promises. Faith builds boldness. If God has been faithful in promise A He will be faithful in promise B despite appearances to the contrary. Greater trust, greater faith and audacious boldness lead to the fullness of life promised to the people of God.

Two sheets of paper can start the trust building exercise. On page one, list the experiences you have had that evidence God at work around you. This is an easy list to start since the first experience you have to record is your own salvation. Build from there recording moments in which you have seen God at work in your life or the lives of others. Make note of the transformation that occurred. Search the scriptures for promises that align with that experience. Write it all down and set it aside.

The second sheet of paper will contain a record of near misses, those times in which you walked past God at work only to realize it later. Perhaps it was an evangelistic opportunity or a moment in which you could have encouraged another person, brought correction for them, comforted them. We call these near misses because the Spirit reminds us after the fact that we passed by the Father without notice. This activates the Reticular nerves and we become more aware of our surroundings, seeing things that had not been noticed before.

When you have completed both lists place them side by side. Ask yourself, if God has been faithful and actively working in those instances on list A, won’t He also be faithful and active when you become more aware of the moments on list B? Of course! The witness of list A builds your confidence and your increasing confidence contributes to a deepening faith. That faith and your heightened spider-sense will transform you from being an observer to one actively seeking to be involved with the Father’s work. Now, you’re living.

image by Ana C.

Learning to Kneel – Three

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So God created man in his own image, in the image God he created him; male and female he created them. Gen 1:27

The first two chapters of the Bible are a commanding call to worship. In these verses we experience the beginnings of God’s revelation of Himself to His creation, a revelation that drives us to our knees as we encounter it. The first words of revelation point us to recognizing the person, presence, power, plan and purpose of God. As our personal relationship with God intensifies, our instinctive response is to worship.

The person of God is revealed through the creation account. It reveals that God is a creator, fashioning something (everything) from nothing. He shows himself to be sustainer, life giver, lover and provider. God’s divinity is on display; no greater being commanded Him to create or what to create. He acts of His own volition. He reveals Himself to be desirous of relationship with another like Him, thus man.

The presence of God reveals that we were created in such a way that we might be aware of His constant presence. Dulled senses can allow us to avoid recognizing it but it grates against our created state. When we allow ourselves to notice the presence, our natural response is to worship.

The power of God is revealed in the magnificence of His creative process. He spoke, it happened. He created, He review and He blessed. All creation sings His worship. Have you ever seen a sunset, the waves against the coast or the intricate society of an ant hill and not seen creation bless its creator?

The plan of God is revealed in His creation. Time propels the plan forward. It demonstrates a God that is moving creation toward an objective. The Bible reveals the objective, a new creation of Heavens and earth. Worship is our part of this plan.

The purpose of God is revealed and that purpose is communion with humankind. He created us with balance as our natural state: labor/rest, worship of the creator/enjoyment of the creation. The purpose is to have companionship with His creation and to have it respond appropriately.

The person, presence, power, plan and purpose of God in creation call us to a single response, worship.

Grace and peace to you.

image Lawrence OP

A Word for My Brother & Sister Pastors

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Prophetical-Priestly Ministry by Darius Salter

It’s fascinating how things fall into your lap when you least expect them. Serendipity is the word often used to describe favorable circumstances like this when you discover something grand has come your way unexpectedly. Christian sagacity trends not towards luck though, but instead, toward an understanding of the work of the Father and Spirit in concert. Salter’s book landing in my hands was just such an event.

Prophetical-Priestly Ministry was published in 2002 to little fanfare. A quick search for reviews of the book comes up short; it is ignored on Amazon and the single entry at ChristianBook.com is a restatement of the title. The silence is understandable. The book is not about how to grow your church, new ways of reaching post-moderns, or new secrets of the life of Jesus. These books fly off the shelves into pastoral libraries. Books that serve as correctives such as this are often ignored. And I believe, ignored at the peril of the pastor and their church.

Salter’s message to pastors is simple: return to your core responsibilities. Speak the prophetic word of God into the lives of your congregation rather than feeding them messages about how to have their ‘best life now.’ Stand as the priest for God’s people rather than their cheerleader or worse, their manager. He says “Prophet-priests specialize in diseases of the soul; sin, despair, depression, loneliness, alienation, anger, hostility, pride, greed, avarice, addiction and fear. The list is almost endless. Of course, these sicknesses eventuate in the systemic evils of ethnocentricity, nationalism, exploitation, oppression, and racism.” The message in this thin volume calls us back to the service of the congregation and gets us away from parading around selling books or conducting seminars on how to fill more seats in the sanctuary.

The author critiques the current ‘worldly’ ministry that he sees all around the American landscape (in 2002 and worsening since). The Church has gotten entrapped in the self-fulfillment culture and, in some cases, has moved away her first love. God is a second thought in the worst of these environments. The ministry has become enablers. We promise spirituality while allowing our people to remain in their materialistic, pluralistic lifestyle. The gospel becomes a casualty of the latest charity initiative or small group study topic.

I didn’t go looking for this book. It appeared in a weekly-specials email and something moved me to purchase it. Initially, it arrived and made its way to the book shelves to be read later. I picked it up after a time and was immediately struck by the message that the Spirit brought to bear through Brother Salter’s words. I was stopped cold when the Spirit brought my feeble ministry efforts up against those of Francis Asbury,

For the elect’s sake, Asbury ceaselessly uttered the Word through Scripture reading, prayer, exhortation, teaching, and family worship. Every overnight stay would involve spiritual examination of the residents and subsequent catechism. There would be no idle words. “My mind was powerfully struck with a sense of the great duty of preaching in all companies, of always speaking boldly and freely for God as if in the pulpit.” This included calling “the family into the room and addressing this pointedly one by one concerning their souls.”

One by one; when was the last time you (or I) sat even our immediate families down and questioned them concerning their spiritual welfare? Have we gone home by home and addressed these concerns with our faith families? Why not? Because we have succumbed to the Western individuality of the culture and we respect the personal nature of a person’s faith more than we do the calling we have received to be a priest and prophet.

Brothers and sisters, now is the time for a new awakening within the Church. Not the watered down awakening of “spirituality” in its myriad forms but for us to stand upon the walls ahead of our flock, intervening for them with God and speaking His word into their lives not matter how difficult. Find this book, read it, absorb it, and let the Spirit work it all out in your ministry.

Psalm 50 Call Upon Me in the Day of Trouble

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Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue:

He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God. (vv 22-23)

We read this psalm as a bracing splash of cold water in the midst of our self-centered religious practice. The modern Church gives us countless opportunities to think that it exists for us and by us. As God speaks directly to the assembled worshippers, He not so gently reminds us that this is not the case. It is all about Him and in these verses He calls His people to account.

Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God your God.

I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.

I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.

I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine.

If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?

Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me. (vv 7-15)

God needs nothing from us. We need everything from Him. Give Him alone the glory.

 

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The Penal Substitution View of Atonement

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The dominant view of the Atonement among modern Evangelicals is the Penal Substitution view. Simply defined, this view says that God the Father, because of His immeasurable love for humanity, sent His Son to die to satisfy the demands of his justice. In doing so, Jesus Christ took the place of sinful humanity and once and for all was the atonement for all our sins. There are several key elements that support this theory but at its core is the notion that sin results in the just penalty of death (Rom 6:23) and that, in love, Christ died in our place (Rom 5:8). His death took the penalty for our sin (Rom 3:25-26) satisfying the demands of the Father’s justice.

Historical Development of the View

Early church fathers such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Athtanasius included the idea of vicarious sacrifice in their understanding of the atonement but it was Augustine who synthesized the various themes into a comprehensive view of the Atonement. The penal substitution view became fully developed with the Protestant Reformers starting with Luther and then Calvin who formalized the ideas of Augustine into a cohesive whole.

We can use Calvin’s structure to understand the different aspects of vicarious sacrifice as he organized the idea through the use of three key theological concepts. Propitiation portrays Christ’s work in its Godward aspect. Through His sacrifice as our substitute Christ satisfied the demands of a just God: “The meaning, therefore, is, that God, to whom we were hateful through sin, was appeased by the death of his Son, and made propitious to us.” (Ref Rom 5:11 Calvin, Institutes II, xvii, 3). The idea of redemption encapsulates the humanward focus of Christ’s work on the Cross. (“Death held us under its yoke, but he in our place delivered himself into its power, that he might exempt us from it. This the Apostle means when he says, “that he tasted death for every man,”” (Heb. 2:9) ibid, II, xvi, 7). Lastly, to speak of reconciliation is to bring into view both the Godward and humanward aspects of Christ’s work. His death and resurrection serves to reconcile those who were previously separated by enmity and unholiness. (“These words (1 John 4:10) clearly demonstrate that God, in order to remove any obstacle to his love towards us, appointed the method of reconciliation in Christ.”, ibid II, xvii, 2).

Calvin also made a significant contribution to the understanding of atonement through his exegesis of Christ’s mediatorial work in the three offices of prophet, king, and priest. (cf. Institutes II 15:1-6) As prophet, Jesus proclaimed the grace of God and He assists the Church in her proclamation of the gospel message. Jesus the King rules over, guides, and protects the Church and as Priest, He expiated her sins by His sacrifice and even now intercedes on her behalf. We must remember that Calvin’s use of Church represents the New Testament view of the Church as the whole body of redeemed believers and not the organization itself. To those outside of the Church, he represents these three offices in name only.

The Necessity of Sacrifice

The violence of this view of atonement has been a challenge to theologians through the centuries and many, especially in modern times, have tried to posit alternative theories that move away from the theory. Why sacrifice was needed by God is necessary to understand in order to grasp penal substitution and this section will outline the conditions that form the answer. First, one must accept the sinfulness of humanity and how seriously God considers that sin. All humanity is sinful and in rebellion toward God (Rom 3:23). How seriously does God view our repeated failures, regardless of severity? Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden for one sin because His standard is perfection. James 2:11 reminds us that we are evaluated in the same light; a single sin brands us as a lawbreaker (cf Gal 3:10). Humanity requires atonement because of our sin and the fact that it makes us the enemies of God.

Cannot God simply forget about sin? To answer this question requires that we view sin correctly, as an affront to the very character of God. Our sin is not impersonal. The requirements of holiness are not externally imposed. Rather, the norms of the law express God’s character, the beauty and holiness of His person. Because sin violates God’s law (1 John 3:4) it is so heinous because it is personal rebellion against the person of God. To restate this idea, your sin is a personal attack against the person of God, not just an infraction against an arbitrary set of rules that He composed. The personal nature of sin defiles the holiness of God and it requires retribution. His judgment of sin represents His personal anger at sin (Jer 2:13) and human rejection of His lordship.

Sin, by its personal nature, must be atoned for by sacrifice. Therefore, if humanity is to be redeemed there must be a penal substitute if we are to avoid the punishment our sin invites. Into this world, God sent Jesus Christ to be the sacrifice that would take on our sins (Isa 53, cf. Lev 16:21-22 to view the substitution in practice.) Only the appropriate sacrifice is acceptable to the Holy demands of justice and Christ alone fulfills that requirement (Rom 3:25-26) and removes the curse of sin (Gal 3:10-14). Through His sacrifice believers are redeemed (Mk 10:45).

Conclusion

Penal substitution does not represent all that needs to be said about atonement but it is often seen as the foundation of all other theories of atonement because it focuses its attention Godward. It seeks to explain how human beings are reconciled to God and the reasons for the initial discord. God is holy and righteous and must judge the rebellion of those who sin against His Lordship. His love desires to redeem them but his justice requires payment of the appropriate penalty. Christ is the only appropriate substitute unless we are to stand for judgment on our own merits.

Soul Work

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“Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” Tolstoy

The modern Church, by and large, has cast aside an emphasis on individual transformation in favor of the consumer model that tries to be everything to everyone. Deep relationship with God and the wrenching change that results are replaced with the busyness of classes, small groups, and activities. As a result, the people of God lack a substantial foundation on which to stand when challenges arise or the cross that the Christian is asked to bear becomes too heavy. It’s time for some serious soul work.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

The life in full that the Bible speaks of is not about stuff, money, having it easy, or being free from struggle. The life that the Bible describes is one of change; internal change as directed by the Spirit and external change as you become a cooperative friend of God in His work in the world. Our primary calling is to be lifelong disciples, sitting at the feet of our Teacher and freeing up our souls to his transformation. Sometimes it will be easy and other times painful and difficult but we will always be different people as a result. We will be people more in tune with God’s mission, better dialed in to walk into the darkness, and committed to completing the race laid out for us to run.

The spiritual disciplines are the means by which we become more attendant to God and our relationship with Him. They are methods of intentionally bringing ourselves to the feet of the master. Hearing the pastor read a passage once per week or even just reading the Bible once per day are not going to transform us. It takes work – Soul Work – and dedication to muscle through the pain and to push aside the fear to become what God intends for us to be. Anything less than that and we’re just trying to do it on our own. How’s that working out for you?

Deep calls to deep… (Psalm 42:7)

 

Image by Christ Bartnik