Nov 04

Flying on Instruments

Flying on Instruments

 

But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved. Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.                                                  (Hebrews 10:39-11:1 NLT

 

Some years ago a friend of mine was renewing his instrument flying license, and he asked me if I would like to go along. Enjoying flying as I do, I jumped at the chance.

It was a lovely sunny day, and the instructor and I, looking out the windows, could enjoy it. But my friend could see none of that, because he was wearing a large dark visor that completely blocked his vision of anything but the instrument panel of the plane, as would be the case if he were flying at night or in clouds.

As I recall, the instructor flew for the take-off, and then turned the controls over to Bill (not his real name). At this point, I was really hoping that Bill had learned his lessons well, because he and we were completely dependent on his ability to follow the instruments. There are three that are absolutely vital: a compass, a turn and bank indicator, and an altimeter. The first determines what direction you are heading, the second tells you what attitude you are in: straight and level, turning, or climbing or descending, and the third, how high you are. It is absolutely essential that the pilot follow these instruments, because when we humans have no external point of reference, our senses are completely unreliable.

After we had flown awhile, with Bill responding to the instructor’s instructions about compass heading, turning, and climbing or descending, the instructor said we were ready to head back, and called the airport tower for directions. Looking out, I could see the airport far away on our right. But as the flight controller gave Bill his directions about heading, attitude, and altitude, I watched us move around and slowly begin to line up on the runway. If we drifted a little right or left, the controller’s calm voice would guide Bill back again, and by the time we reached 500 feet and Bill could lift the visor and land us visually, we were lined up perfectly.

As I watched this all from the back seat, I thought: this must be how it is for the angels looking on at us. They can see our destination perfectly and see whether we are headed in the right direction with the right attitude and at the right height. We can’t see it at all, and unless we can find some external reference points, some instruments, as it were, we are lost. But thank God, we do have an all-sufficient instrument, the Bible, the Word of God, and we do have the voice of the Flight Controller, the Holy Spirit, sounding in our ear, telling us how to read that instrument. Maybe sometimes the angels hold their breath as we, unseeingly, drift off the flight path. But again and again they must smile at each other, seeing how, not listening to our conflicting senses, but following the instruments, we, still unable to see the runway, are yet lining up perfectly. What a day it will be when the Controller says, “Ok, you can lift the visor and come on in.”

Oct 28

Called To Live In Freedom

Called To Live In Freedom

 

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. So let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.

                                                                                                            Galatians 5:11-16 NLT

 

Paul goes Jesus one better, doesn’t he? Jesus said the whole law could be summed up in two commands (Matt 22:37-40), and here Paul says it can be summed up in one! I suspect that Paul means that if we truly love God, we will be able to love others, and that that is the goal of the whole thing. But whether we say one or two, is that right? Is the law about love?

 

Most of us don’t think so. For most of us, the law is about a whole bunch of demands. It certainly has nothing to do with love. The gospel, on the other hand, is about love, and the gospel has set us free from the demands of the law. That means we are free to do what we want, confident that we will be forgiven. But that is exactly where Paul will not go.

 

The apostle is thinking along these lines: if we try to use God’s commands as a way to make ourselves good enough for God, our sinful determination to have our own way (“the sinful nature,” or “the  flesh”) will always defeat us. We will be in bondage, always trying, and always falling short. But the Cross tells us we don’t have to make ourselves good enough for God; he has already forgiven us in self-sacrificing love. We are free!

 

But free to do what? Run amok? Live like the devil? Never! Now, having received the Holy Spirit through the Cross, and thus being filled with the love of God, we are free to fulfill the purpose of the law in the first place: giving ourselves away for others in self-sacrificing love. Why do we not dishonor our parents, murder, steal, slander, commit adultery, and lust after the possessions of others? Because God will get us if we do? No! It is because we cherish our parents’ reputation; we cherish the possessions, the life, the reputation and the sexual integrity of those around us. Spirit-filled believers have been set free from their demand to have their own way, and are enabled to care more about others than themselves. They are now free to fulfill the true purpose of the law: love.

Oct 21

Revive Us Again

Revive Us Again?

 

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow [walk in] my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36:25-27 NIV

 

When we pray and ask God for revival, what do we have in mind? What are we visualizing a revival will look like? In most cases, I suspect that we are looking for religious ecstasy with accompanying signs of spiritual power.

 

To be sure, the spiritual powerlessness of the contemporary church and the lifelessness of much of our devotion is an affront to God and a sign to the world that something is wrong. But on the other hand, all too often revival movements that have focused on religious ecstasy have run amuck. Church history is littered with stories of heresies and sexual excess that have arisen from great revivals. Why is that, and why wasn’t it the case with the revival led by John and Charles Wesley in England?

 

Should we try to squash the ecstasy that comes when we are face to face with God and know ourselves fully clean in his presence? Of course not, and we could not if we wanted to. So there was plenty of ecstasy in the Wesleyan movement, especially in the early days. John and Charles were even accused of promoting “enthusiasm,” which meant “fanaticism” at that time. But that supposed “fanaticism” did not come to define the movement. Why not?

 

The reason is because the Wesley brothers were not seeking ecstasy, they were seeking the Biblical God and his character, and to get rid of everything that prevented that ethical character from being reproduced in them and their people. Notice the scripture printed above. What will be the result of Spirit-filling?  It will be a certain kind of “walk,” one whose direction and character are dictated by God’s instruction manual – his “torah.” The goal of revival for the Wesley’s was nothing less than holy living.

 

So it should be for us. Holiness should be a wedding of godly character and ecstatic experience, and if that wedding is truly done and done right, then the joy of his presence will flood through our ethical righteousness, while the reality, consistency, and solidity of our ethical righteousness will be the anchor for our ecstasy. Revive us again.

Oct 14

I Love Your Law

I Love Your Law

 

“I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought your precepts. I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, for I delight in your commands because I love them. I reach out for your commands, which I love, that I may meditate on your decrees.                                                                                                                              Psalm 119:44-48 NIV

 

When we read the above verses and then remember that the Apostle Paul says Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13) we do a doubletake. What’s going on? What is going on is not either/or, but two sides of a single coin. Is God’s instruction manual for life (that’s what “torah,” which the English Bible translates “law,” means) a bad thing. Never! Thank God he has shown us how he designed us humans to function.  That’s why the psalmist can say he can walk about in freedom. The torah is a blessing!

But Paul says it’s a curse! What he is describing is the result of having misunderstood what the torah is for. If we think that torah-keeping can make us acceptable to God, as the Pharisees did, we have got it backwards and our persistent inability to keep the torah will indeed curse us. Nobody can be good enough for God except one man – Jesus. Every one of us, from Abraham on, comes to God by grace alone.

But look at all of Paul’s letters. What is Paul calling his new Christian disciples to do? He is calling them, now that they are Christ-followers, to live according to torah! Stop stealing, stop lying, stop committing adultery, etc. Why? To make themselves acceptable to God? Of course not! That is where the Galatians went off the track. No, Paul wants them to live that way because this is the life of Christ that is being now, praise God, being reproduced in us by the Holy Spirit, if we will just surrender to him.

The good news of the Gospel is that because Christ has cleansed the temple of our hearts the Holy Spirit has moved in with the marvelous power to make God’s torah no longer an impossible demand, but all that the psalmist dreamed of: our delight, our liberation, our testimony, our life.

Oct 07

Law and Grace

Law and Grace

 

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.                                                         (Romans 6:15-18 ESV)

 

The strength of the biblical teaching on holiness is that it synthesizes the biblical teachings on law and grace without doing damage to either.  You say, “What are you talking about?”  In the history of the Christian church it has been very difficult to keep law and grace together.  A classic example is in the Protestant Reformation with Martin Luther.  Luther had struggled to be a faithful Christian, and he thought this meant keeping all the commandments of the Catholic Church and of the Bible. But trying to do this, he found himself crushed and broken. So, as he got into the Word, and began to get a picture of the glory of the free grace of God, he came to see grace and law as enemies. Grace frees us from any need to try to keep God’s law, he taught.

 

This is true, as far as it relates to coming into a saved relationship with God. Nothing we have ever done or will ever do can make us acceptable to God. It is God’s free grace in Jesus that does this. But the danger is that we then begin to apply this idea to the Christian life: “It doesn’t matter how I live; I’m saved by grace!” If the Roman Church submerged grace under legalism, the modern Protestant Church has submerged the holy living that God expects of us under the cover of grace. We say, “It’s alright that I don’t live a life like Christ’s, because I don’t need to.”

 

But perhaps you are saying, “Wait a minute! You have shifted your ground. We were talking about the law, but now you are talking about Christ-like living.” Actually I have not shifted ground. The core of the law, its ethical requirements, is nothing other than a Christ-like life. The law gives us the content of such a life. And the good news that John Wesley discovered in the Bible is that it is not a matter of law or grace. Rather, as Paul says in the passage for today, grace not only brings us to God, freeing us from the wrong idea that we have to work our way into God’s favor, it is also the means, through faith (“obedient from the heart”), to enable us to live the life of God before a watching world..

 

Sep 30

Face to Face

Face to Face

 

The one thing I ask of the Lord—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life….

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”  And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”                                                                                                                                Psalm 27:4, 8 NLT

 

Although I have read Psalm 27 many times, something struck me in a new way in my most recent reading of it. I thought, “This psalm is about relationship with God.” And it is. The opening words make that clear: “Yahweh is my light and my salvation.” It does not say, “Yahweh gives me light and saves me.” It is not about what he does for me, but who he, in himself, is to me and for me. I think then of Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, the life” (John 14:6). These are all in him; get him, and you get them; don’t get him, and you don’t get them. It’s all about personal relationship.

But I mustn’t seek a relationship with God through Christ in order to get these things. They are all byproducts of the main thing – knowing him! And that’s what we see in this psalm. Does David want deliverance and protection? Of course. Does he look to his God for them? Yes. But look at the underlying theme: I don’t want to live on my own with a little help from God in the rough places. I want to live in his very house. I want to experience his presence. I want to have conversation with him (the NLT rendering of v. 8 captures well the sense of the Hebrew “your face will I seek”).

On the other side of the coin, what would be ultimate loss? It would be for God to turn his face from me, to turn his back on me (v. 9). But that will never happen so long as there breathes in us one desire to be his. “Even if my father and mother abandon me, Yahweh will hold me close” (27:9 NLT). What a thought! To be held in his arms, to gaze into his face, to hear his whisper in our inmost ear. That is salvation.

Sep 23

Self-consciousness

Self-consciousness

 

At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves…. “Who told you that you were naked,” the lord God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”

                                                                                                                        Genesis 3:7, 11

 

Have you ever thought about that? Why didn’t Adam and Eve know they were naked before they disobeyed God, and why did they know it after they disobeyed him? I can’t prove it, but I think I know the answer. Before they disobeyed God, their lives were completely in his hands and as a result they were completely un-self-conscious. Some people say, “Oh, this is just a myth to explain our change from childhood to puberty.” No, I think it is the other way around. Our change from childhood to puberty mirrors what happened to our first mother and father. Furthermore, I think this is what Jesus meant when he said that we must all become as little children if we want to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:15).

 

What am I saying? I am saying that when Adam saw Eve, he wasn’t thinking of himself at all; he was just looking at the most gorgeous creature on earth. It was the same with Eve. When she looked at Adam, all she saw was a luscious hunk. But what happened when they decided they could not trust their Father to give them what they needed, and that they were going to have to supply their needs for themselves? Now when Adam looked at Eve, all he saw was Adam reflected in Eve’s eyes, and it was the same for Eve. They no longer saw each other, now all they saw was themselves, and what they saw was shameful in its limitations and its inadequacy.

 

Ever since that day, we, their children, have walked through life with a mirror fastened in our hands. Of course, in this life since that day, we will never be free of self-consciousness, and it is not by any means all bad. But, oh for the freedom not to have to worry about whether we are getting all we have deserved (of course not – thank God!), or what others are thinking and saying about us. To be other focused, and not self-focused. And that is exactly what 100% surrender offers us, the chance to get ourselves off our hands and onto his. Finally, that is the difference between David and Saul – poor Saul never got Saul off Saul’s hands.

Sep 16

A Passion to Be Like Him

A Passion to Be Like Him

 

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,                                                                        (Phi 3:8-10 ESV)

As we seek to be holy people the primary need is to exalt Jesus.   All too often we have suggested that holiness is an “it” that God does “it” in my life.  So we ask, “Have you got “it?”  Has God done this process, [this thing].  Have you had “the crisis?”

But the question is, is Jesus the sole, only, reigning Lord of my life?  Is Jesus’ mind being recreated in me?  Is Jesus being glorified by my behavior?  Are people being drawn to Jesus because of my life?  Is Jesus becoming more beautiful, more desirable because of what He is doing in my life?   Any movement that focuses on Jesus which calls attention to Jesus, which glorifies Jesus, can’t go very far wrong.  But if we make our emphasis on us, on our performance, our behavior, our actions, we are walking on the edge of the cliff.

Sanctification is Jesus.  It is not an “it.”  It is a HIM and if we will focus on Jesus, if we will put Jesus at the absolute center of our lives and deny His place to anything else, holiness is going to follow like morning follows night.  Exalt Jesus, focus on Jesus, focus on the reality.  Holiness is a passion not a performance.  It is a passion for Jesus, a passion to know His ways, a passion to know His life, a passion to be like Him.

Sep 09

Happy or Blessed? (2)

Happy or Blessed? (2)

 

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 (torah) of the Lord,  

       and on his law (torah) he meditates day and night                                       Psalm 1:1-2 ESV

 

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.                                                                           Psalm 2:12 ESV

 

Last week we talked about the first basis for being in a blessed condition. It is to know and delight in God’s instruction manual, his torah. But alongside that one there is a second, one that is introduced in the second Psalm. That is a proper relationship to Yahweh’s anointed king, his Messiah. Why don’t we instinctively turn to God’s Word for guidance for living and instead turn to the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers? It is because of the fundamental strain of rebellion found in all of Adam and Eve’s children. WE will be kings of our lives.

 

But that way is not the way of blessing; it is the way of disaster, as humans have proven ever since the third chapter of Genesis. So, if we are to be blessed, what must happen, according to Psalm 2? We must recognize our rebellious character, and recognizing it, turn from it by willingly allowing another King, God’s Chosen, to take control of us. But notice how the verse ends. It takes us beyond mere submission to the King who is justly angry at our rebellion, and instead invites us to crawl up into his arms and take refuge in that gracious love revealed in his Cross. There is blessing.

 

Can we be blessed and unhappy at the same time? Of course! All of us experience circumstances that are unpleasant and grievous. To put a mask of happiness on our faces in such occasions is simply to live a lie. But if we have been delighting to live in God’s instructions and are hiding in the arms of Jesus, we are blessed, because we have resources in his word and his presence to meet those circumstances and triumph through them.

Sep 03

Happy or Blessed?

Happy or Blessed?  (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 (torah) of the Lord,  

       and on his law (torah) he meditates day and night                                       Psalm 1:1-2 ESV

 

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.                                                                           Psalm 2:12d ESV

 

What is it to be blessed? Is it to be happy? No, it is not, for happiness is a fleeting emotion like every other emotion. But being blessed is a real condition that exists apart from any emotion. To be blessed is to receive good and favorable things, most especially the ultimate good, that life-giving fellowship with our Maker both now and forevermore.

 

The two passages printed above give us the ultimate bases for being blessed. They occur at the beginning of Psalm 1 and the end of Psalm 2. Many commentators believe these two psalms are intended to act as the introduction to the entire collection of psalms. The “book-end” effect resulting from beginning the first with blessing and ending the second in the same way supports that idea.

 

So what are the two bases for blessing? First, If we are to experience all the good things our Creator wants to give to us, we must not only be familiar with God’s instruction manual for life, his Torah, his Word, we must take delight in knowing it and doing it. Our Designer has given us the manual for experiencing life at its best. Why are we surprised when, having ignored it, our lives fall apart?