Wednesday, March 31, 2010

History is "His Story"

I will be using the month of April to write about how events of history were guided by God's providence to produce the real life events that set the stage for gospel proclamation. This is a view of history that is quickly being lost in our society today.

A problem with history is our desire to 'find the next new thing' in the annals of the past. I am reading a biography of Napolean right now and I am struck by how many times the writer says, "We used to believe this... but now we feel this way." Now that statement would be good if there was solid evidence to support that change and indeed we should always let the facts shape our perception.

But my experience has been- "Well this just couldn't have happened because of...."  and what they present is highly subjective and based on presuppositional opinion. Over time, these opinions - undergirded by impressive degrees- cause the conventional wisdom to be altered more under consensus than cogent truths.

 "Jayopsis" means Jay's view...and I will be honest, my pre-supposition is based in the existence of a living Creator Who has clearly shown Himself in space, time, and history. I fully accept the Bible as His revelation to man... and today I begin with History as His story:

I start my historical view based on the middle east- particularly the peculiar story of the Jewish people and all the tribes and nations around them. I take the 5 Books of Moses (1 author, not many) to be excellent history of the creation and fall of man. All human beings are decendants of the original parents- Adam and Eve and offspring of the flood survivors- Noah and his family.

The more a person begins to see the Nation of Israel as a people that God chose to reveal Himself to- call unto Himself,- and prepare the world for His message of salvation in the person and work of Jesus Christ- the clearer the current condition of the world becomes. The Bible is the foundational history book:

It tells us Who God is

It tells us about the nature of man- how did things get so messed up?

It tells us about God's provision and His plan

It tells us what is our duty now

It tells us what is coming next

One exciting thing about  reading old literature (like Shakespeare for example) is that human nature is still the same. Yes, technology has changed (Amen to that!) but the basic heart desires and cycle of life- conditions of existence- are so consistent that we recognize pride, jealousy, immorality, charity, frustration, fatigue, hunger, anxiousness in all of our tales of old.

One final factor in C.S. Lewis' conversion was how enthralled he was with redemption stories. And one day, Tolkien asked him, "Jack, why do you love the stories of myth but won't give yourself to the real story of redemption that all of these others allude to?" (my paraphrase)

I say the same to you..... as you read my blog over the next few weeks- ask yourself a question. Would I be at least willing to consider the Biblical world view and the life and message of Jesus?

Again to paraphrase Lewis, we believe in Christianity like we believe in the sun. Not so much that we see IT, but the fact that by it we see everything else. God's story makes the most sense of where we are and who we are. And, if God allows, one day you will be able to exit your own miserable story and walk in His. And trust me, it is one glorious walk!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Senses and the Seder

After years of reading about and hearing testimony about, I finally attended my first Passover Meal last night. It is an amazing, rich, and symbolic ceremony that has been faithfully done for over 3500 years among the people of Israel.

The experience, as a Christian, moved me to tears as the smell and tastes put me in touch with our Covenant-keeping God and His story of redemption and salvation.

This was performed in a Christian church by a Christian who has studied and participated in this event for a long time. I want to be careful here in that my desire is not to offend any orthodox Jewish believer, but the many references to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as the Messiah was inspirational.

Of course the context of the Passover has to be linked to the story of Moses and the Angel of Death passing over the houses of the Israelites who covered the doorposts of their homes with the blood of the lamb. But as a Christian, I see all of the Old Testament as God's interaction with real history to provide a stage for His dramatic entrance as the God/Man who dies to take away the sin of the world.

I take both testaments together. 'The New Testament is in the Old Testament contained, The Old Testament is in the New testament explained'. And God's Word is so rich and so deep.

In this over 2 hour ceremony I got to enter into the rich symbolism of God's story.

A couple of points:

1) The Bitterness and Bondage of Sin. The Seder is built un a foundation of purity. White linens and the purging of leaven in a huge part of this. Children are involved in finding and getting the Father to remove the leaven. We eat bitter herbs (in my case it was horseradish) to create the taste and memory of the pain of sin. We taste the salt of tears as this life is spent in the shadows of sin and shame. And we also get to mix the bitterness with sweetness as hope to hang on. The seder ceremony is clear- God must judge sin.

2) A New Appreciation for the Lord's Supper/Communion. When I saw the Passover meal and where Jesus instituted the Lord's supper, I was blown away. 'This is my body broken for you' was the afikoman (the middle of three stacked matzah- broken- hidden- found- redeemed by a coin- appears- a first fruit) the 2nd Person of the Trinity who was crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected. The Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. When Jesus offered the 3rd cup after the meal He said, 'This is the 'cup of the new covenant' was the cup of blessing as can be seen as a marriage/betrothal cup of Christ toasting His bride- the church. I belong to Him in faith, I have been bought with a price- the precious blood of Christ. It is the Cup of Redemption.

3) A New Inspiration to Prepare: Jesus did not drink the last cup of the Seder- the one after the Halel (the haleluiah). As the bridegroom, He has departed to prepare a room for me. The Father will allow Him to return, like a thief in the night. I am promised to Him and I need to stay alert and be prepared and faithful. From now on when I dring the cup of the new covenant, I will remember Whose I am- I have been paid for in full.

My encouragement for all people- Jewish or Gentile- Rich or Poor- Slave or Free- to look upon the offer of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who offers a relationship that is received as a gift through repentance (giving ourselves up to Him) and faith (trusting His acts and promises)- and call upon Him and wait for the Day of His return where will will drink the last cup in the New Jerusalem. Want you join me?

Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 19: 6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our Godthe Almighty reigns.7 Let us rejoice and exultand give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come,and his Bride has made herself ready;8 it was granted her to clothe herselfwith fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

At War- Standing Firm

I Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
 Remember that great scene in Lord of the Rings where Gandalf stands on the bridge and faces the Balroc?
 With a fierce energy and passionate voice he stands firm and shouts, "You cannot pass. I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Ud√Ľn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass."

There is a part of spiritual warfare that we often miss and that is the art of 'standing firm'. Holding to- clinging to- not wavering. It is holding against the storm, resolute and unwavering.

We see this in Scripture- Jacob clinging to the Lord, "I will not let you go until you bless me". Jesus setting His face toward the cross for the joy set before Him, Paul finishing the course, Shaddrach, Meshach, and Adendego saying the Lord will deliver us, but even if He doesn't, we will not bow before you O King.". It is a mindset that says, "Though the whole world leave and forsake the Lord, I will yet stand."
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.
I think there a couple of application points to this:

Perseverance- we have to get tougher and learn to dig in and stand firm when momentum swings against us.We tend to relent way too early in the game. Think of a goal line defense. We teach the defensive linemen to get low and hunker down. Go low and grab grass and push with all you have. Is there anything more exciting than a defense holding on a 4th and 1? Pushed back all the way down the field, but holding the other team out creates great energy and momentum. YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

How many more marriages would survive with this mindset?- 'I'm going to endure a little longer and see if the tide may turn- Lord, help me.'

In the Book of Revelation- 5 of the 7 churches are not getting good marks from Jesus. He says to them, 'repent'. These churches have become loveless, distracted, materialistic, and full of false teachers and immorality. Yet, nowhere in the 7 letters does the Lord say to the unbelievers.. "Leave and go find a better church."

No- He indicates to stay, repent, and strengthen the things that remain.

This is my final post of the series 'AT WAR'- but I will tell you that I have never seen Satan more visible in His assault on the faith. I have the largest prayer list in 25+ years of keeping such lists.

Financial hardships, job loss, cancer, disease, divorce, false rumors and gossip, immorality, drunkenness or substance abuse, pain, regret, quarreling, apathy, laziness, selfishness. At times, it almost feels like Satan has been set loose as found in Rev. 20:7. We have brothers and sisters in real pain and dire circumstances. We need to pray and love and serve.

But the message never changes..... STAND FIRM.
Tell the Devil.... YOU SHALL NOT PASS

And the result of that kind of faith and that kind of fight? "Your labor in the Lord is NOT IN VAIN."

And what about when we fail and fall? There is good news in the gospel. It matters not if you try and fail and try and fail again- what matters is if you try and fail... and fail to try again.

May God's grace and peace keep us steady in the storm! It's a glorious day to battle in the joy of the Lord!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

At War- A Different View of Spiritual Warfare

I have been taking the month of March to write a little about spiritual warfare. If you look back, everything up to now has been fairly consistent with the idea of an armor clad believer, sword drawn, with the three enemies on the attack. There are ample verses to support this view.

But the Bible also switches metaphors about these types of things. I believe it is for us to keep a balanced perspective on the dynamics of our life and our purpose. An example of this is 2 Timothy 2 where Paul uses military examples, athletic examples, and agricultural examples to bring out this point of discipleship and passing the gospel on to others.

It is this third metaphor that I want to focus on this morning- the farmer. We have so little knowledge of this in our culture today, yet the Bible is rich with all of these analogies. Wheat, tares-vines, vine dresser, seeds sown, sower and the soils, and the last part of I Corinthians 15 and on and on.

So I want to spend a little time getting us to think of winning in the area of spiritual warfare as progress and GROWTH. Seeds shooting roots, roots digging in, shoots pushing through, and growing strong despite the storms of life and multiplying fruit over many seasons of life.

There is a multiple metaphor in the Old Testament about being a tree planted by the water. An example of this is the great dichotomy found in Psalm 1
1:1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Think of the strength and use of such a tree. Consider how much a beautiful tree glorifies God. Joyce Kilmer rightly proclaimed, "Only God can make a tree."

Can we trust God, with great patience, to grow us up into towering Oaks of Righteousness? We are so vulnerable in the early stages, young and tough, and then very hard to kill. Even if we are left a stump- we will yet yield shoots and fruit.

This type of tree takes great nourishment. This type of tree takes a long time. These trees are twisted, bent, even have some knots and notches- but they raise their arms in God's glory. I will comment later on the warfare of 'standing firm' and what that means to our lives in Christ.

Monday, March 08, 2010

At War- Casualties and Courage

I'm using the month of March to write about spiritual warfare.

Because we are in a war, there are real casualties. There is real pain. War involves sacrifice and there is both a fog of war and a battle hum that often creates doubt to winning or losing.

If you read I and II Timothy along with Philippians sometime, you get a picture of Paul, after years of faithful fighting- recounting the casualties.

I Timothy 1:3- certain men  teaching false doctrine, involved in controversy
1:5 they wander from love, pure heart, and good conscience
1:19 some have shipwrecked their faith
1:20 Hymenaeus and Alexander handed over to Satan
II Timothy 1:15 'everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me' including Phygelus and Hermongenes
2:17 Hymenaeus and Philetus wander away- godless chatter spreads like gangrene
3:10- Paul's persecutions
4:10 Demas deserted Paul because he loved the world
4:14 Alexander the metalworker did Paul great harm

And yet- he never despairs.. Paul continues to be filled with hope and joy.

Re-read Philippians and remember, this is Paul IN CHAINS
vs 3 I Thank God
vs 4 I pray with joy
vs 6- confident of victory
vs 12 what has happened to me has advanced the gospel
He says over and over I rejoice......
He says 'cheered', 'confident', 'eager'
Read chapter 3- wow - One thing I do- forget the past and strain toward what is ahead...I PRESS ON
Read chapter 4- rejoice- rejoice- rejoice- do not be anxious- pray with thanksgiving- peace will guard your heart and your mind- rejoice- I can do all things through Christ- I am amply supplied- your gifts are a fragrant aroma......

We gathered our small group last night and shared the battle... there is pain and worry and persecution. We prayed. I looked over my list this morning... it is long. I have never had a time in my life where there are so many spiritual and material needs. We have some real pleas for breakthrough.

But God is good. He is always faithful and he is the King and Victor! Let's keep pressing on!
The harder the struggle, the more glorious the victory.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

At War- Triads, Tactics, and Schemes

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Eph 6:10

Scripture says we have three enemies: the world's system, our flesh, and the devil. In Revelation we see an unholy trinity of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.

The world is against believers in that the system in place works against the righteous. It is a system built on fortune, fame, power, and pleasure. In Revelation we are asked to come out of Babylon, that is the corrupt city of man- filled with injustice, a city red with the blood of tooth and claw, and a land that lures the unsuspecting to their slavery and doom.

We are in the world, but not of it. An interesting concept. The obvious ways to miss this is to be in and of the world.... or to be totally out of the world, so removed that we do no good as salt and light. In this culture, you will feel like you are always swimming upstream if you profess allegiance to the Kingdom of Christ.

G.K. Beale is quoted as saying: "It has been said that worldliness is what any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness seem strange"

ROMANS 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We also have a problem with our flesh. The Apostle Paul struggled with this in Romans 7 when he writes that he cannot do what he wants, but does the very thing he hates. He finds that sin is in him, the one wishing to do good. Our battle versus the flesh is another life long battle, a part of the sanctifying process where we are to starve the old nature and feed the new. We are saved by grace, and we are sustained by grace, but we need to strive by all the means that God has appointed to grow in grace. We have power in the Spirit to succeed- and it is a noble task because God's ways are good and prosperous choices.

Think about how good we feel when we are eating right and exercising- well spiritual disciplines work the same way. We are urged to train in godliness.

ROMANS 8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

GALATIANS 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

I TIMOTHY 4:7-8 Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

Our final enemy is Satan himself and the 1/3 of the angelic host who now serve him as demons. Yes, He is real and present and active.

It is his whisper campaign that begins the process:

"Indeed... did God say?....."

I have found that Satan's greatest attack in in my mind. He wants me to doubt and fear, he wants me to hide in the shadows of secrets and shame. The word 'occult' means 'hidden'. Satan is a stealth stalker, a master of disguise, a sinister killer. He is the greatest one on one killer of all time- his only defeat was against our Lord in the wilderness. And Christ won it by wielding the Sword of God's Word. Are we prepared for such an encounter?

He loves to divide and conquer. Unity, love, prayer, honesty, and encouragement creates problems for his tactics. He wants us to be divided and suspicious. He wants us to be posers. He is relentless.

Does this battle make you weary? Are we extra tired because we don't know how to take a Sabbath rest? Are we discouraged because we are isolated? Are we being held back by habitual sin? Are we powerless because we are prayerless?

I don't want to stop here.... because hope and good news awaits. My next writing will be on the joy of fighting as a son of the most high.... our greatest identity! Press on!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

At War- Wicked Weapons and Valient Victory

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.      2 Corinthians 10

I wanted to spend the month of March writing a little about the Christian at war. We wage a daily battle versus the world, the flesh, and the devil. The older I get, the more aware I seem to grow at the intensity of the battle and the devious and devastating attack of the enemy.

I sometimes avoid this topic because we tend to get a little squirrely  when it come to spiritual warfare- but in the last 6 years I have felt and experienced the attack in intense and very tangible experiences.

I also think that we tend to get a little too self focused in this subject. I sometimes adopt a 'woe is me when the wicked weapons take flight in my direction'.

Contrast this to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when He basically says, "Congratulations when you a persecuted for righteousness sake."

I want to start with good news: if you are being attacked, it is a sign that you are effective and dangerous. When George Whitfield visited the early days of Princeton, he made an interesting prediction in 1739:

“The devil will certainly rage against them; but the work is of God and will not come to nought”

A quick story: I used to teach literature at a Christian school in Birmingham. We had a teacher leave mid-semester and I was asked to teach his Bible class to finish the year. It was an interesting scenario because I had the same students for literature and then a few periods later for Bible. The difference in the two classes was amazing. There is something about teaching Bible that brought out attacks and attitude. It made me realize that if you plan to be a Bible teacher, you better have prayer support and take it very, very seriously.

Fortunately, that prepared me for my last six years as a Bible teacher- but I will tell you that it is still a battle in many ways. I have had to get much better at making every minute count and providing very little idle time.

I have some good friends who have taught or are teaching Bible and I will tell you that they all have stories that describe struggles in confidence, pain in marriage, accusations and lies, and the whisper of the enemy..... 'you're just a fraud' or 'you just need to give up'.

Another point is that we need to be aware of the tactics of the battle when it comes to the insurgency versus institutions. Part of the attack is to corrupt and deceive. This is done in so many complex and insidious ways.

The attack on concepts: think how our enemy has taken on important things like "marriage"- "fatherhood"- "Bible"- "Jesus"- think how good things have been corrupted and even how humor is more of a mocking of good things.

The attack on leaders: Satan's whisper campaigns flow as an undercurrent to erode confidence in the motives and integrity of godly men and women. We tend to pass along negative rumor and innuendo, usually without any factual support.

The attack on knowledge.. especially reading: This one really frightens me. As our reading scores fall in our culture, we lose the ability to read and use the Word- our only offensive weapon. Remember that Jesus responded to Satan with Scripture, but very few Christians today can handle Scripture in ways to respond to his deceptive questions and half truths.

As you read the verse at the top of the page- remember that we are fighting on the winning team- we are guided and protected by the winning captain. So we should walk in confidence and victory. Wage the war well!

I hope to write more later in the month.