Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jayopsis.com 2012 Year in Review

Wow- what a fun year for Jayopsis.com!

Here are a few fun stats and trivia:

#1 Question. What does "Jayopsis" mean?

A poem that connected to me early on was William Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis" which was a put-together word of two greek words- "Thanatos"- death and "opsis" eyesight or view. So, the poem was "A view of death"

After a google search to confirm its uniqueness, I settled on "Jayopsis" which is "Jay's view" or as I think of it "my two cents worth".

Stats:

I doubled page views in this 12 month cycle as much as I had done in the previous history of the record keeping app on this blog.

At the end of 2011, I had 12, 549 page views for the history of the blog.
As of today, 12/27/12- I have 26, 118 total views- 13, 569 for the year!

My biggest month in 2011 was 1,417 views in Jan.
My biggest month in 2012 was Sept with over 1600 page views!

The biggest posts of this year was "Jesus, the Troublemaker" Matt. 12 on June 28
and "Soul of the Lion"- last post on Sept 18

Most read posts of all-time:
EntryPageviews
889
Nov 11, 2011, 2 comments
582
496
161
Jan 6, 2011


Pageviews by country- All-Time:

EntryPageviews
United States
22052
Russia
627
Sweden
496
Germany
246
United Kingdom
207
Canada
177
India
132
Netherlands
131
France
107
Denmark


106


123























I love getting comments- most are more interested in e-mailing me, but I would rather you comment on the post itself. Most commentary includes great ideas and good balancing points.

I have had fun interaction with a reader from Charlotte, NC and good challenges from Portland, OR.

Looking forward to exploring a whole range of topics in 2013.

Blessings!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What I Can Learn from the Baby Christ

This Christmas season, I happened to 'latch on' to the following pieces:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King


In 2,000 years- the reception hasn't really changed. I recently read an article on the dwindling influence Christianity is having at home and in the middle east. The Middle East is being pressed down in persecution, our homeland is being seduced into silence.

The problem is that without Christ, things do not get better. The blessings of God's common grace to all has been experienced by all. Biblical mandates and attitudes make the world better.Very few in the opposition realize that. What they hate about Christianity is their own aversion to it or a failing of those responsible for following it. But the message of the gospel gets lost in fray.

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!


The humbled state of Christ just kept appearing to me over and over. I saw Him as vulnerable. A babe completely at the mercy of someone else's protection. A startling vision in Rev. 12 captures this fragile moment:

And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. (Rev. 12:3)

The humility of Christ is well documented and lifted up by Paul in Philippians 2 for us to marvel and mimic. I can't really capture what it meant for Christ to be found in this state: someone said 'The Infinite becoming an infant'. And this was no babe in a palace- this was a babe born into third world status.

Holy infant so tender and mild 
Sleep in heavenly peace!


So this kept haunting me, over and over. Who can explain this? Who dares to understand?

But just as tender and helpless- fragile and vulnerable- with fire and danger attacking- with disease and poverty present- This sweet Jesus babe was as safe as any secure and strong place in the Universe. He was firmly in the Hands of the Sovereign God of All!

Though a dragon seemed poised to strike- the power and opportunity at its prime- there was no probability of it happening.

Even Satan knew this- this wicked fiend knew the Scriptures himself-  he quoted Psalm 91 as he tempted a starving, humbled servant in the wilderness in Luke 4:

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;
Satan knew and still knows the most vulnerable aspect of God's providence- CHRIST.

Do you ever feel helpless? Powerless? Open for destruction?

If you try to live through this situation without God- you are more fragile than you even know.

I have always been so impacted by this quote from the German theologian David Strauss:

In the enormous scene of the universe- amid the whirl and hiss of jagged iron wheels- amid the deafening hammer blows- man, a helpless and defenseless creature, finds himself- not secure for one moment- any second an imprudent wheel may seize and rend him, a hammer may crush him to a powder- and worse- the sense of abandonment is awful.  
And this is any human state apart from the security and provision of the Creator.

Today could be the greatest realization you could ever make- "I am NOT self sufficient. All my fight and toughness is not enough".

Jesus gave a great clue to security and peace:

Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew18:4

 What do I learn from the Christ child? Though He put Himself in a place of vulnerability, He was never fragile.

He was in the safest place in all the universe...... in the shadow of God's wings...........

May we be willing to be found as fragile and secure.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

God's Great Gifts- Things to Ponder on Christmas

I have been digitizing old VHS tapes for the past several days. The past 20 years are now thumbnails of digital info- moving snapshots of our past lives and fleeting, precious moments that will never return.

It has had an amazing impact on my heart and brain. Re-igniting old memories that have lay dormant for years must do something within the cortex of that lobe of the brain where memories are stored. I have felt 'deep' or introspective, I have felt a strange peace that is a mixture of sadness and pure joy, I have slept a deeper sleep that I remember in a while, and I have had strange dreams.

I have laughed out loud and slipped out some silent, small tears- all of this part of Christmas.

I know we say in our words and prayer this time of year, 'the gift of God's Son, the helpless babe in the manger, born to set men free'- I recite these almost flippantly- but it has dawned on me that I am over flowing with many 'gifts'- things that can only be given by the Creator God who has manifested Himself as a loving Father!

I wanted to search out this morning one of these MANY gifts. I want to thank God for giving me the gift of 'saving faith'- a gift I would not have were it not for Him.

Here is a starter question. How do I know I have saving faith? And the answer is strange. Part of the initial evidence is that I dare even ask the question. I believe a big key in sorting out true faith is that a true believer wrestles with whether or not he has it in the first place. If you aren't willing to put it on the table for inspection, you might be face to face with reality of knowing it is not there.

So ask God to give you Holy Spirit eyes and place what faith you think you have, as weak and small as you think it may be- and do some comparison and investigation.

PRE-ANALYSIS AGREEMENT:
Before you enter this exercise- you need to make a declaration: "I am going to use God's Inspired Word as my only rule of faith." If any part of this analysis is conjecture based on my feelings or flawed logic, I pray that may be put away. This is not what I think, or how I feel- what does God's Word say? I will not be quoting exhaustive Scripture in this blog post (but I should)- but my hope is that it reflects the entire scope of Biblical counsel.

ANALYSIS A: COMPARISON TO FALSE FAITH
I need to run through my list of faiths that are not true, Biblical saving faith. I need to be willing to look at my heart/mind/will/emotions/experience/memory/word/deed and see if I fall into some of these categories.

1) COMPARTMENTALIZED FAITH: This is a big one. We live in a highly post everything culture where we shish-kabob our lives according to our fancies and whims. We have to understand that a multi-cultural, relativistic American society does corrupt our understanding of 'saving faith'. Add to that American roots of rugged individualism and powerful autonomy and we have a recipe for what the Bible labels "holding to a form of godliness, but denying the power within (2 Timothy 3:5)".

No- we have to fight this one. Saving faith is taken as a whole. As Paul Helseth powerfully defended  in his book, Right Reason and the Princeton Mind, "They (Princeton Reformers) recognized that the operation of the intellect involves the 'whole soul'- mind,will, and emotions-rather than the rational faculty alone, and as a consequence they insisted the ability to reason 'rightly' i.e., the ability to see revealed truth more or less for what it objectively is, namely glorious- presupposes the regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit on the 'whole soul' of a moral agent."

How we compartmentalize faith:  I tend to do it by making it merely a mental exercise. I can get fooled into believing if I learn more facts, I am increasing in saving faith. So my compartment is AN EDUCATIONAL FAITH- but others can trend into non-attached FORMS as well. I believe there is EMOTIONAL FAITH, getting revved up for Jesus and worked into a frenzy. There is a DO GOOD faith- where maybe the service or mission trip is the feel good event of the summer.

No- we need to guard ourselves from staying detached in these things. Saving faith connects all of the areas. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Shema, Deut. 6:5)".

2) LOGO FAITH: One of the icons of our 'post-everything' culture is the sloganeering of causes. Sometimes called the "Disneyfication of America" sociologists have written in mass about how mass communication technology has created a 'world of simulation' where high culture and low culture are combined and any sort of grand narrative is lost. I have always thought that Grant Lyon's book, Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Postmodern Times, captured this idea very poignantly.

The overarching image that Lyon's attaches to is a Harvest Day Crusade day that was hosted by Disneyland in Anaheim, CA in 2000. This Christian festival seemed innocuous enough. One of the event organizers had a great quote: "We saw Disneyland as an opportunity to bring God's kingdom to the Magic Kingdom. We felt that, as they opened the door to us to share Christ, we wouldn't turn down the opportunity just because other things take place there. Jesus is the example for this."

I am not being critical of this at all. Christ needs to be going EVERYWHERE. But the symbolic image of Christian marketing in the Mecca of consumer marketing could not be ignored by Lyons.

"A bizarre sounding collaboration...an ancient, premodern religion is found... interacting with the epitome of post modern culture- the artificial, simulated, virtual, fantasy world of Disney."

I need to be careful here- there were huge parts of Lyon's book that were instructive and thought provoking. I do think the biggest flaw of Lyon's approach is confusing the visible and invisible Church.

The bigger point here is what the Disney culture influence has done to 'virtualize and simulate' faith by transforming it into slogans and fancy logos. Spy magazine defined it this way: "Disneyfication is the act of assuming, through the process of assimilation, the traits and characteristics more familiarly associated with a theme park....than with real life." 

So what does this mean? Here is how Disney has impacted church ministry and caused some to hold to a faith more characterized with logos and slogans than saving faith.

Theming: Everything relates to an overall 'theme'. The problem is that the theme is always a sanitized  and organized abstraction and not reality. In themes, everything fits. But we all know that real life carries conundrums and problems.

Merchandizing and Consumption: It doesn't take long to realize that the theme can sell. I still get shudders sometimes when I walk through Christian bookstores. What are we selling? Why are we selling? I am not against selling books and books have ministered to me in so many amazing ways- but the packaging and theming should make us wary of what is missing.

Prescriptive Empathy: This is a tough one to define. Disney employees are taught to smile and interact in such a way that park attendees think they are having fun and not working. A logo faith teaches us all the proper terms of endearment- but it is an act. I say, "I will pray for you"... do I actually do it?

Self-adulation: The toughest consequence of a logo faith is that I buy into the ultimate consumer mindset- all of this is for ME and my pleasure.

So here are my questions about LOGO faith. Do I just recite the Jesus answers? Have I learned all the themes, present a clean put together life of faith, but in the end.... there is little or no connection to the Holy God of the Universe. Do I measure my growth in how I feel? Do I evaluate worship based on what I get?

3) INSTITUTIONAL FAITH: It is hard to sperate a LOGO faith from an INSTITUTIONAL faith because they are bred in the same petri-dish. An institutional faith is where I have allowed ny daily work in a Christian environment to substitute for personal, saving faith. Do I read my Bible? Yes, in faculty devotions, writing blogs, teaching Sunday School, preparing lessons. Do I pray? Yes, weekly prayer meetings. Staff meetings. Opening and closing events. Do I worship? Yes. We have a chapel every week.

This is one I have to fight. And when I leave the institution for vacation or the weekend. Does my faith follow me? Do I have a personal pryer life, Bible study, or worship? Do I share my faith?

4) BIBLE BELT FAITH: Oh boy! Another tough impostor!  This is one where we are all good people and acknowledge the good Lord. We attend church and don't rob banks. We give money and sing Amazing grace. But there is no real spiritual recognition of our depravity. There is no real hatred of sin. There is no felt desperation of the reality of hell. God is warm and furry, a cosmic Santa Claus ready to dish out good gifts but absent in times of distress. It will all just work out, let it be.

There are other types of false faith: religion, liberalism, status, in fact all idols are held to by a type of 'faith'.

ANALYSIS B: PRACTICES TO EXPLORE SAVING FAITH:

A SIMPLE GOSPEL:

I JOHN 5:11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

1) SIMPLE TRUST: It is so important to remember that faith has an object- faith is not a work. The power of our faith is not faith- the power of our faith is the power in what our faith is in. In Matthew 17 Jesus says:
Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
I have always applied this as it is not the amount of faith applied- but the source. A great comfort in your fight of faith is a quiet voice that says, 'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus- just to take Him at His word."

2) FITFUL FIGHTING: Jacob wrestled with God until daybreak. We must be willing to engage Him the same way. God, I will not let you go until you show me. I think He enjoys that. A willingness to wrestle is actually evidence of the Spirit.

3) DEEP ROOTED DOCTRINE: If you want to dissect whether you have a saving faith versus a merely speculative one- you have to be willing to dive into the roots of God's Word. If you haven't done so in a while- you may need to freshen up on Romans or find balance in I John. You may need to let Jesus's commands in the gospels hurt and heal.

Again, I turn to Helseth here:

The Princeton theologians approached the task of theology not as arrogant rationalists would have done, but as Biblically faithful Christians have always done. Indeed, they sought to discern the difference between truth and error not by appealing to magisterial conclusions of the rational faculty alone, but by hearing the text with 'right reason', which for them was a biblically informed kind of theological aesthetic that presupposes the work of the Spirit on the whole soul of the believing theologian.

Finally, saving faith is a gift that we receive by saving faith.
Heb 12:12 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Want to be blessed the Christmas?

Here you are, presented once again with the Christ in the manger. Even as Christmases past have slipped by..... here is that offer once again.

You and I have messed it up again and again- over and over- falling short of all that God intends us to be. 

Even as you feel your pride wanting to justify and excuse away- even as you feel the deadness of rejecting it- please review these beautiful doctrines of salvation by God's grace.

Reach out to Him right now- Your sins have been cancelled and removed. Do you trust that?

Simply trust. "God I cannot do this. You have to do this. I am a rebel and you have not been my King. Is it too late to come home?" You know the answer.

Fight for it. There are those who will tell you you are too bad. You think in your heart you are too good. Don't let it go. Capture the childlike magic of new birth! Don't let Him go!

Dig Deep. Spend time this holiday break searching the Scriptures.

Thank God for the gift of saving faith.
Tell someone else what you have done.
It will be the best gift they get this year as well!

John 5:39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me,


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Possibilities Looking into 2013

I am still praying through which direction to begin for jayopsis.com in 2013.

Maybe you have an idea or opinion?

A: I have thought about developing the series: The Best of the Bible. I have highlighted 160 passages which would be 'what your grandfather has underlined in his Bible' and devotionals based on those 'all time favorites'.

B: I have also though about a weekly study on the attributes of God using J.I. Packer's classic, "Knowing God" and the old Dan Dehaan book, "The God You Can Know".

C: Another plan in the hopper is an attempt to explain a Christian epistemology for students. How can we discern TRUTH in a mudslide of information. This would draw heavily from John Fram's book- The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.

Love for you to leave me a comment below:

Best of the Bible

Knowing God

Finding Truth

or maybe you have another great idea.

Love to hear from you!

or email me: jayopsis@gmail.com

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Benefits of Retreating

CHARGE!

The surge of adrenaline, the power of numbers, the surge one feels when we choose fight over flight.




RETREAT!

We think of this as a time to cut losses and turn tail and run.  Flight is chosen over fight.




As I come to the end of 2012. It is so easy to see my days as a frantic running to and running from. Remember that famous phrase about 'life in the jungle'?


Is this life? Am I just running aimlessly, merely existing, swinging or fleeing?

I have been stopped in my tracks over the last few days by an important principle that jumped out of Matthew 14 and is supported in Luke and many other places in the Bible. And it is a key to one of my big goals should 2013 arrive and prove the Mayans were wrong.

Matthews 14:13-23b:
 Now when Jesus heard this (the beheading of John the Baptist)he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, They need not go away; you give them something to eat. They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.



Jesus Himself is the example as to both the journey, destination, purpose and pace of life.

The news of John the Baptist's murder had to be tough on Jesus. Because of His deity, it would be incredible naive to speculate on what was going on with Jesus here. But because I do share in His humanity, I know how I would feel in the light of that news.

How sad and hurtful it is when our loved ones leave. And that pain is magnified because of the evil circumstances that took His cousin.

He wanted/needed to withdraw. So He went to a 'desolate' place- but the crowd followed.

And I love His response.... I am not going to send them away, I love them, I will feed them- and they all ate until they were satisfied.

He sent His disciples along. He stayed back to finish the hard work..... and then He retreated and the text is a little ironic... He was alone- but He was not lonely- because He was doing what was evidently a huge passion- face to face with the Father in prayer.

When we feel loss....retreat and pray
When we have great success....retreat and pray

And this is what is missing in my life. All of my running, charging, falling down, and getting exhausted, getting prideful when things are good..... nothing is put in proper perspective because of the missing discipline of getting alone with God and "Making" time for private, personal prayer.

So this has to be a part of my new year planning- scheduled time with my heavenly Father. Finding His heart and purpose for my life. Being more inclined to His will and not mine. Being more energized for His glory and not mine. This is what we all have been designed for.

I'm going to post again about the direction of this blog for 2013.... but in the meantime, will you pray for me to put "RETREAT" on my list of resolutions for the coming year?


I found it so interesting that as I am about to meditate on this, Ray Ortlund tweeted the exact idea:


"But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray... And the power of the Lord was with him" (Luke 5:16-17). Coincidence? 

May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face shine about you this holiday season! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Getting Into A Christmas Frame of Mind

Tuesday: (12/11/12)

It still has not arrived.

I don't know why, but I have seemed to be as far away from Christmas spirit as a human can be. The Christmas music has been bothersome and Christmas movies have seemed stale.

I don't like when I get this way. I live very mechanical and cold- doing my ritual. I feel almost like I am just existing and not living.

The last few days, it has bothered me enough that at least I am voicing a prayer- "Lord, forgive my cold heart. Please help me in renewal and love".

I also know what is working against me. The weather has been a downer. My health is not great...not sick enough to miss work, but not well enough to feel good. My clothes feel tighter, a reminder that I have not done well in eating and exercise since Thanksgiving. A headache and stuffy nose has made my sleep a nightly fight.

The traffic and noise hides any feeling of excitement or joy for the holidays.

What do I need to do? I need to humble myself, confess my sins, and patiently wait on God for that renewal.

I am a few days into a plan.


  • Watched my eating and pushed hard in exercise.
  • Time in the Word.
  • Prayer.
  • A walk in the woods (it was good).


I also have a few projects planned. I tried to help my wife out more last night.

I have another fun project planned as well. And will start that today.

"Father, what good would it be for another Christmas to come and go and I just watch it pass by. Have I become old and jaded to the great gift and the season of childlike magic? I'm praying that you help me return to that Christmas Frame of Mind."

Wednesday (12/12/12)

Amazing what a prayer and plan can do.

Am I there yet?... not quite. But I did feel my heart at least wake up from the dull pounding of ritual and routine.

I shared on a prayer request from that I desired prayer- I said I was more scrooge then Christmas Christian... and I do fully believe I was prayed for.

Projects have helped.

Did some small maintenance type of things around the house- and I need to do more. I want to be active in doing some things as service to Lisa and my family.

Exercise helped. I particularly liked getting in the steam room after and taking time to pray.

I turned my radio to the station playing Christmas music and it was good to have on.

But the next project was major heart engagement. I took some equipment home to digitize our old VHS tapes, which are quickly fading with age. I spent most of last night, saving my oldest daughter's very first year of life. The video is pre-birth to 6 months.


Wow. I guess the picture is Chevy Chase, locked in the attic, reliving the old memories with a tear stained smile.

I can't wait to do it again tonight.

I got up this morning. I feel much better physically. I put on a Christmas tie. Enjoyed a morning devotional from Dr. Mosbacker and excited to engage some students today.

THURSDAY (12/13/12):

Well- the world didn't end yesterday...... been fitting for 12/12/12 but God's plan and patience reigns!

Typical of a week, had a step back at the end of yesterday with some discipline issues hitting my e-mail late in the day. Dealing with feelings, attitudes, and behavior this time of year is always fragile. It did have me praying a lot, asking God for wisdom in handing out consequences that support fully our policies and procedures, trying to be consistent with past precedent, and engaging these students in a way to help them- even though it sometimes means temporary pain.

But I am reminded that the Christmas story isn't necessarily easy, clean, or nice. Jesus came into hard circumstances, and a dark world. There was violence surrounding him and a war waged for the souls of men. There were horrific casualties and hard fought wins.

Yes, I am in a Christmas frame of mind- but it is a real one- not nostalgic. It is a reminder that I am a pilgrim and my longings will not be quenched in this life.

I am thankful for the joy of what God's gift meant for us.
I am humbled that He loves me regardless of my Ebenezer ways.
I desperately need His second return- to make this world right and free us from our curse of sin.

To be honest, I am too overcome with sweet and sorrow, gratitude and joy, anticipation and weariness to properly express the time with words.

The alarm clock went off early- 4:50- and we stayed there fighting the battle, cold vs. warmth- but my wife being the warrior faithfully hit the floor and I followed.

Sweat clothes....quiet Christmas music on the way to the Y. I rode the bike for a break and found Pandora's Praise and Worship station to be soothing and beautiful.

Easy 30 min.- barely a sweat- but was weary from 2 hard days of running.

On the way home- so thankful for all Christ has done for me. The family videos I have been digitizing have been incredible evidence of God's special blessings and protection.

In the office early, just sitting here at my desk, about to take on a big day with a lot to do.

Two more regular days, 3 days of exams, and I will have a special time. Julie will be home soon. And we will gather together again for Christmas.

Thank-you God for answering my prayers- I am so heart ready to enjoy each moment, drink in the music, and celebrate a special occasion- the inauguration of the Child King!

My prayer is that all of you find more joy than sorrow in special time of year!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Hard Glorious Frustrating Beautiful Road of Christian Sanctification


Call me a joker, call me a fool 
Right at this moment I'm totally cool 
Clear as a crystal, sharp as a knife 
I feel like I'm in the prime of my life 
Sometimes it feels like I'm going too fast 
I don't know how long this feeling will last 
Maybe it's only tonight 
CHORUS 
Darling I don't know why I go to extremes 
Too high or too low there ain't no in-betweens 
And if I stand or I fall 
It's all or nothing at all 
Darling I don't know why I go to extremes 
“I Go to Extremes” Billy Joel

Questions: What is my life about? If I am a believer in Christ, why am I still on the planet? Why didn’t God just catapult me straight to the heavens upon conversion? 
Part of the answer is that we are in an amazing and miraculous period referred to as ‘sanctification” that is- we are being molded and set apart as a vessel of service to the glory of God. 
There are many Biblical passages we can look at to investigate the process by which we are putting off (actually putting to death) the Old man of sin and putting on the righteousness of Christ. 
There are two passages I want to use as a foundation for information to share with you what Christ is doing in my life and an outline of what we all can do to “walk in the light as He is in the light”. 
The first passage is an introductory reminder in Psalms 119:1-10
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless,who walk in the law of the Lord!2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,who seek him with their whole heart,3 who also do no wrong,but walk in his ways!4 You have commanded your preceptsto be kept diligently.5 Oh that my ways may be steadfastin keeping your statutes!6 Then I shall not be put to shame,having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.7 I will praise you with an upright heart,when I learn your righteous rules. 8 I will keep your statutes;do not utterly forsake me!9 How can a young man keep his way pure?By guarding it according to your word.10 With my whole heart I seek you;let me not wander from your commandments! Blessed are those whose way is blameless,who walk in the law of the Lord! 

We live in a “How to America”- How to win a million dollars, How to install surround sound. In our quest for How to we often miss the instruction book- We cannot neglect the Bible- Christian books, magazines, programs, music are all great- but don’t allow them to substitute the pure refined milk of God’s word.- The Holy Spirit will only be enabled to produce gospel fruit in your life with the tools available to Him by scripture- Holy Revelation. 
God’s word is fine tuned to steer us down the road of sanctification. 
Michael Horton wrote a recent article called “The American Religion” I wanted to read a small section of that as food for thought. 
Just imagine a first-century Christian hearing an average "testimony" in a modern church. Here's someone who has lost his job and has been imprisoned for believing that Jesus Christ is the only Savior and King. He may also be fed to lions or turned into a lamp for Nero's garden. And this first-century believer is sitting in one of our meetings listening to a well-meaning brother or sister saying something along these lines: "Since Jesus came into my heart, it's been one blessing after another. I got a new job and I've claimed prosperity and healing in all areas of my life. It fixed my marriage and made me feel good about myself for the first time in my life. So what do you have to lose? Try God! Give Jesus a chance! He'll turn your scars into stars and your sorrows into stepping stones." How do you think your first-century Christian friend would react to such a display of uniquely American religious pragmatism?
We do not find a single instance of conversion in the New Testament based on the usefulness of Christianity vs. other religions. Instead, the issue is always objective truth. Either Jesus did or did not rise from the dead. Either he was God incarnate saving sinners by his life and death, or he was a deluded imposter. So what if it "works" for you! Mormonism has worked for millions, as have other cults, sects and non-Christian religions. False religion is very good for people in this life, but the end thereof is death…this… falls short of St. Paul's assertion that "If Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain....If we have only been able to trust Christ in this life, we are of all men the most to be pitied" (1 Cor.15:18). The Apostle, for one, saw the validation for Christianity in the truth of the resurrection as a historical fact, not in the utility of Christianity for living a jollier and fuller life.

An example of the Bible’s ability to steer us in the walk of sanctification is found in Ephesians 2:8-10
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

What a great passage- we often leave off vs. 10 But it is a great balancing verse. 
The Spiritual walk with Christ is a beautifully balanced and properly paced journey that needs to be enjoyed as much as endured.
We have an impossible time living this kind of life. 
Why? Well we are sinners - the reformed idea of “total depravity”. It is a concept that is losing credence in our post everything world. 
Total depravity does not mean that we are as bad as we can possible be. It means we are born in sin, it is in our very DNA, and we are comfortable with sin and are immersed in our own sin and the sin of others. Any good that man is a gift of the common grace of God and the remnant of God’s image on his life. Everything we touch is tainted by sin. Do you believe this? 
We are subtly tempted to not believe this. The conventional wisdom of our day is that man is good. President Clinton was described as a good man who did a bad thing. Is this true? 
C.S. Lewis described our sin as having two distinct personalities- our animal self and our diabolical self. Sometimes we join a church and clean up our animal self- we have 2 beers instead of 20. But our diabolical self so twists our thinking, motives, and imaginations that we begin to believe that we are good and pleasing to God and he is lucky to have us. 
Now back to this passage: 
We are not saved by our works. When we speak of sanctification, we are not putting a plan together to make God happy with us. The Great Solas of the Reformation still ring true today- Christ Alone- Grace alone- Faith alone. We should never say “I am covered by Christ and I an active in men’s group”. Christ + nothing is where justification and adoption are found. 
Without the redeeming blood of Jesus, we are still in our sins- dabbling with life and losing our very existence. Building up a day of wrath for not acknowledging the precious blood spilled for us and our blaspheming of God’s Holy Spirit. 
Now this passage is like a beautiful highway- an expressway with day to day road signs and top down exhilarating travel. 
The problem is that there are two huge ditches on either side of this road.
 And we often steer right into them.

THE DITCH OF LEGALISM

       On the right side of this road is legalism- our diabolical self comes in and says- 'Oh you are cleaning up so well'- and you start feeling really good about yourself – and you start looking around at others- and in your desire to help them you package your rules and rituals and begin to try and help others. Before long, we find ourselves as self righteous Pharisees- looking down at sinners and trying to be everyone’s Holy Spirit.
I know the Pharisee well- I play him a lot. Our culture helps me play him very well. We have become the biggest opinionated and judgmental civilization in the history of man. We have talking heads on TV espousing one view after another and call it entertainment. I love it! I used to be an O’Reily junkie. The problem is that I began to love my arguments over loving people. 
The worst part of my Pharisee legalistic self is my gossip and criticism of others. I am not loving- I am condemning. We point out the 10% bad and refuse to see the 90% good. 
THE DITCH OF LICENSE
So I finally get out of the legalistic path and drink grace and liberty. Ahh! Christian freedom. It is glorious! Christ’s death frees us from the ceremonial and civil law. There is a better law- the moral law, written on my heart- the Sermon on the Mount puts it into my motives and mind- it is a beautiful thing! 
But just beyond Christian liberty is license. It is a ditch as derailing as legalism. Paul wrote in Romans “How can we who died to sin, still live in it?” In this state, everything goes- all truth is relative, I do what I think and I feel- there is no suspicion of my motives or actions. I do what is right in my own eyes and put it under the blood.
I walk into a situation, run to sin, eviscerate my conscience and say “I am forgiven”. Before long, I am powerless, hardened, and my God is my comfort. The irony of the ditch of license is that we love people even less than the Pharisee. I don’t care about their eternal destination. I am afraid of confrontation. If I stand for truth, it will indict me. So I walk around and tell people all is fine when I know we are growing colder and darker by the second. Loving someone means saying no - and that includes to myself.
THE PATH OF LIFE 
Out of that ditch I find this beautiful path- a balanced and tense walk with my Savior as He directs me by His Spirit and through His word in a new life- in this life I learn to love and lean on Christ- I become an admirer of people- I seek my way less and edify others more- I pour myself into relationships, especially my wife and children. I laugh- I cry- I get weary- I long for heaven- God picks me up at the right time- I fall in ditches- He cleans me off and starts me straight again- 1 step forward- 2 steps back- 3 steps- 5 back and when I lose hope- He allows the dust to settle and I look back and God’s kingdom has been built- in spite of me. To His praise and glory!

I wanted to list a few things that help me avoid these ditches: 
  • Devotion to the Word and Prayer
  • Unflinching commitment to consistent worship
  • Continuous Education
  • Private fasting- hobby/TV/delicacies
  • Prudent feasting- when the right moment presents itself- permission of the King
  • Small group accountability
  • Loving my wife well
  • Pushing work down my priority list
  • Crying out for God’s spirit- I am powerless to do it- I need to abide in the vine of Christ.
A final note: Be patient- God’s sanctification takes TIME. It is measured in decades, not in days. 

Well as we close- we do all of this to live the greatest of all the Solas- To God alone be the Glory- may we be great beacons of light to the glorious life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ-

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Anne Rice: A Christmas Christian




In 2009, I read Anne Rice's auto-biography:  CALLED OUT OF DARKNESS: A Spiritual Confession. It had a deep resonance with my heart! 

My first experience with Anne Rice was around 1998 when I finally read "Interview with the Vampire". As a boy, I loved monster stuff (Dracula, werewolf, Frankenstein) and had heard a lot of praise for the Vampire Chronicles. 

As I read the book, I was totally absorbed and very impressed. At the same time, it had the most sense feeling presence of evil I have ever experienced in a book. Not that I was repulsed by it, I was actually impressed by it. It was the truth of it that caught my attention- this work of supernatural fiction regarding the tragic life of godless vampires captured the tragedy of it all in dazzling images. 

Knowing a little of Louis and Lestat, it was delightful to read of Anne's return to the faith and mesmerizing to read her life story. It is also comforting to know that the proverb is indeed true: 'Train up a child....' 

I encourage this book and after reading it, I was especially gratified how Scripture captured her mind and shaped her theology. 

I highly recommend this excellent story of life and faith. Here are some of her comments: 

For more than twenty centuries, Christianity has given us dazzling works of theology, yet it remains a religion in which the heart is absolutely essential to faith. 

The appeal of Jesus Christ was first and foremost to the heart. 

So here is the story of one path to God. 

The story has a happy ending because I have found the Transcendent God both intellectually and emotionally. And complete belief in Him and devotion to Him, no matter how interwoven with occasional fear and constant personal failure and imperfection, has become the true story of my life. 

Before I can describe how I returned to faith, at the age of fifty-seven, I want to describe how I learned about God as a child. 

What strikes me now as most important about this experience is that it preceded reading books. Christians are People of the Book, and our religion is often described as a Religion of the Book. And for two thousand years, all that we believe has been handed down in texts. 

It’s important to stress here that my earliest experiences involved beauty; my strongest memories are of beautiful things I saw, things which evoked such profound feeling in me that I often felt pain. 

In fact I remember my early childhood as full of beauty, and no ugly moment from that time has any reality for me. The beauty is the song of those days. 

I vividly remember knowing about God, that He loved us, made us, took care of us, that we belonged to Him; and I remember loving Jesus as God; and praying to Him and to His Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, when I was very small." 

Rice’s Faith Begins to Crack 

She saw ‘good people’ with no faith.
She had a desire for modern world.
She had a conversation with priest- “He just said, ‘You are catholic- there is no life outside catholic church’.
Her heart wanted to explore.
She quit the church for 38 years.
Never prayed to God about it.
Stopped talking to God.
Began to see God as voice of authority over infinite compassion.
God could not have made a church so fragile- vulnerable to information- 'churches told you lies.'
Rice writes ‘Interview with the Vampire’- ‘an obvious lament for my lost faith’ 

Atheism Begins to Crack 

She began to study history- the more she studied history- ‘the more my atheism became shaky’- particularly the survival of the Jews-
She goes back to New Orleans and finds the Catholics warm and receiving
Struggle was waging- atheism held firm
Took trips to Europe and Holy Land- The Statue of Jesus at Rio de Janeiro- a spiritual experience-
She began to see His presence and also began to see that the Lord was pursuing her- EWTN-
Atheism was cracking…”I was losing faith in nothingness”
She saw people committed to ‘good’- ‘NO ONE WAS INDIFFERENT to conscious or to acute moral responsibility’.
Creation was speaking to me- the music of a violin sang to me of God-
Jesus weighed on her.. ‘He started a worldwide religion’ Why was America obsessed with Jesus- he was on their lips- Why was His name the most common curse word I heard? 

FINALLY she gave in to something deep… I loved God..I loved Him in Jesus… I wanted to go back 

“In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept me from Him for countless years. I simply let them go. There was the sense, profound and wordless,that if He knew everything I did not have to know everything, and that, in seeking to know everything, I’d been, all of my life, missing the entire point.” 

“And it was His knowing that overwhelmed me….His was the Divine Mind that made snowflakes, candle flames, birds soaring upwards…
He knew the answer to every conceivable question before it was formulated…
And why should I remain apart from Him just because I couldn’t grasp all of this? He could grasp it. Of course!”


Decides to write only for God- Her husband dies of a brain tumor
From 2002- 2005 devoured New Testament scholarship 

“ But it was the Incarnation- Jesus becoming flesh- “You became a child for me”
“Not only do I find no evidence for isolated Gospel communities, but I see no collaborative writing in the gospels at all.” 

The interplay of simplicity and complexity seems to go beyond human control.
She finds many Christians full of love and division is hurting the church. 
Last line :
"This book is about faith in God.
“It isn’t simply finding skeptical New Testament scholarship so poor, so shallow, so irresponsibly speculative, or so biased. That has indeed been the case.
“I became convinced that my urban atheist friends were to a great extent out of touch with Christian America”
"I am broken, flawed, committed: A Christmas Christian searching for that stigmata, for the imprint of those Wounds on my heart and my soul, and my daily life.”

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A Beautiful Letdown and the Presence of God


As I look back on this post of nearly 2 years ago, I cannot express with deep enough words how faithful God was to me in that time. He continues to do so today!
Jan. 2011 
I guess you can tell that I write out stuff. Why? It has always just come out of me this way. It started my freshman year in college when I began to keep a journal- and I found it healthy in two ways: 1) It is good to articulate/record what I am thinking and feeling and (2) it is a great resource to look back from time to time and see where God has taken me- memories- good times and bad. 

In 2004, I began to do it online- and I always wanted to be honest and real with it. Why would I do this? Isn't it highly self serving and narcissistic? I think there are some who see facebook posting and blogging as symptoms of the the most self-absorbed generation in the history of man. Is this just a big altar to SELF? 

I have always wrestled with this and prayed about it- I think I hold it with an open hand to God. It is so interesting to look back and see even where already some of my views have changed. I see typos and stupid posts. But I will leave it as it is- look inside and see a man- foolish and prideful- but sharing my heart- without fear because I am dead anyway- My life is hidden in Christ. I don't fully understand that but I accept it as my only hope. 

I recently re-watched Gone With The Wind- (I thought of my mom- she was so happy when they showed it on TV one year many moons ago- and we watched it over a two night period.)
So I watched it again- and like all classics- they grow with age. The older you get, and the more life happens- you see all the innuendo and political punches- and you appreciate it. Vivian Lee with all of her little facial cues gives my favorite acting job of all time. The irony is that Scarlett is usually pretending- so this in some way must have been one of the most demanding parts of all time.
What does 'Gone With the Wind' have to do with what I am walking through? 

God is a master director- all people, believers and unbelievers, are living out a real life and telling a real story. In the end, the director will show up and the drama will be finished, and it will be a grand story to His honor and renown. 

In every life, God ordains dark days- and these are complex things. Sometimes it is of our own making, sometimes it is suffering for righteousness sake, and sometimes it is just 'rain falling on the just and the unjust' - as 'Calvin would say the luck of life' (stole that one from a friend). 

When it happens- it is impossible to know all of the reasons why. And my guess is that we are NOT supposed to know all of the mystery.
So without any details or reasons- I do want to talk about what to do when this happens and what God does for His children when it happens. 

The summary is this: When God allows your whole world to crumble- it is at that moment when you have a chance to discover Him as the most Beautiful Person in the entire universe and find a deep joy in the pain that allows you to treasure true value in this crazy life. 

Now, we have 'mini-letdowns' all the time- little thorns that are designed to turn unbelievers to God and believers to focus on heaven and love the world less.
But what I recently experienced was a biggie. One that cuts too deep for words and shakes you down to the core. It is one of those things that make nights seem long and lonely. 
The visual is George Bailey on Christmas Eve-
 All alone- trembling, sweating, crying and wondering if there is any meaning or hope to life. When your inside pain makes your eyes feel too deep to see and your prayers seem in vain.

All of this seems so dramatic- and we all tend to over-dramatize personal pain. It even makes us angry that the rest of the world goes on. 

But I want to give a personal testimony to anyone who God allows to read this with an open heart. I would have NEVER chosen what has happened to me- I wish it on no man- I will not accept that it happened for sound reasons- but I am resigned to accept it as God's plan. (One day I am going to flesh out how 'God's Will' gets us in trouble- but I'm still searching Him out right now). 

But let me write about what I did and what God did for me and why I sing songs of praise to Him in the midst of the carnage. 

For a short time- He creates a distance. Usually during the long, dark nights. It has not been unusual for me to pass out dead tired at 10PM and wake up at 2:30 or 3:00 AM- my heart is beating defeat in my inner ear. And I lay there for hours replaying words and deeds- and all I can pray is "Help, I am hurting" and I say it over and over. ('The Raven' comes to mind as I write this). 

Now the good stuff- Every morning as the Sun came up- He met me in such a real way. And here is how it works- Read the Scriptures and pray- for some reason the OT really painted my heart with soothing medicine. The Psalms of Ascent (120-134)- The Book of Isaiah, and Ezekiel were the most helpful to me. I also encourage you to play Christian music during this time. I would put my ipod in my ear and run and run and run- Praise music just flooded my heart with grace and promises.

My family- wow- what a treasure! There is nothing like having your wife and children hug you and pray over you. My friends- thank-you. There were those here and far away who reached out as God's ministers. I heard beyond their words and felt their love- and my loyalty to them was cemented forever!
There are also some tangible things God did for me- right away- that were clear signals that He was in the midst of my pain.
I don't know if this is appropriate for every situation- but God's clearest message to me in this time has been"WAIT"- in other words be careful and not hasty. Speak less and pray more. Don't think about what I am going to do- instead seek Him and search Him out. 

I am going to list one other tool- if you ever find your life has been pushed down to the dust in defeat- here is something that has helped me. 

I am a theological junkie- read it all the time. I am one of those 'weird doctrine dudes' who actually study Bible commentaries. I am just being honest here when I write that- in my amateur and limited opinion- the greatest commentary ever written- the most readable- the most relevant- the most useful for the layman- the one that offers pure medicine for a crushed heart- is one on Isaiah: God Saves Sinners- Edited by Kent Hughes, and written by Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. 

If you want to find God is a deeper and richer way- after He allows the beautiful letdown- read Isaiah and read this commentary and you will fall on your knees everyday and cry out worship to God. Christ is that good. He is all I ever need and I'm sure I will have to re-learn the lesson over and over again until He appears. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. 

I have attached it as a link- you ought to buy it and try it.
 I will finish this blog out with some quotes from this book.

"Self salvation makes a lot of sense, until you try it. No one anywhere, even under ideal conditions, has ever figured out how to live well without God... even if you are (on a beautiful beach or resort) you will still need God. And being there without God would be hell. And being here, or anywhere with God can be heaven."
"Never outgrow the humility of brokenness before God. In becoming a Christian, you admit that your whole life has been wrong. As you grow in Christ, never leave that realism behind. Your failure is God's opportunity. Your sin is God's moment."
"The crisis of life is over. We find rest, not because we can cope with our attackers but because we are at peace with God."
"And that startling sense of our  acceptance in Christ is how we become the trusting people we should be, the broken people we should be, and the renewed people we should be. That's when nothing can hold us back from the newness of life, not even our own second-rate repentance."  

Whether this post has been narcissistic or witness- whether it is psychological manipulation or Holy Spirit confirmation- I will never stop proclaiming the incredible news... God saves sinners like me and it is never too late to cry out a simple prayer..."HELP!"