Sunday, July 31, 2005

It is another solemn day as the Lord deals sternly (or graciously) with me. To see a fraction of the depth of your own depravity, especially as someone who is supposed to be a "good Christian", is difficult. We all, as Christians, will admit it and joke about it, but to really feel the sting and feel that sickness in your stomach is something different. I am a selfish, idolatrous, hardened, bitter, unloving man who seeks his own glory -plain and simple. I am a man who constantly struggles with the simplest rudiments of faith. I am unkind to those I am supposed to be most kind to. I am selfish and preoccupied with self and my own intentions when I am needed most by those around me. I can't even pray for someone else, or pray with someone for someone else, without focusing back upon me and my own lack or struggles or faults.

There are too many specific instances to list, but they are all coming rushing to the foreground lately. It is good in a way, though it is painful. It makes me want to curl up and die or at least go to bed and hopefully wake up feeling better and being changed. Oh, I wish it was that simple. I know that this is the way in which God has ordained to change His saints -so for that I am grateful. It is through the slow, methodical exposure of wickedness. It is that constant reminder that we are utterly helpless and, hopefully if we are given the strength to see it, that Christ has regarded us in our misery and answered to the fullest measure.

What can I do now that I am privy to the wicked passions of my own heart? Well, I can resist them. In fact, I must resist them. Even though it seems difficult indeed to imagine I am dead to sin (Romans 6) in Christ Jesus, yet it is what the Word of God says, and it says that because of this I shall resist the passions of the flesh. Aside from that, I can just be on my face in prayer and fasting -knowing that I cannot change my heart. Perhaps I can pull off some outward behavior correction, but without the change of heart it will not lost. My own resolutions are dirt. It must be a change wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and I know that this is a big part of it -recognition. To recognize and get a taste of our own ugliness in specific ways gives whole new meaning to the common knowledge held amonst us that we are sinners. To say, "I am a sinner" because I know I do bad things like everybody else is one thing. To know, in my deepest heart, that I am a wicked and idolatrous creature worthy of death and scorn, with the smell of sulfure oozing from my pores is something different. I do not just do bad, I am bad. And I see how much more I am bad because of the specific evils and evil desires that gush from within like a fire hose.

God have mercy! It is good to know that I am a pardoned man, though at moments like this the darkness is so thick I can scarcely comprehend or find comfort in it. But what I really want is change. I want to honor God. I want to please Him. I want to lift up His name in all I do, think, and say. I desperately want the blackness of my own heart to be so over-flooded with light that it runs and hides or, even better, is completely devoured and extinguished from my soul. To know I am accepted is good, but to praise God and express love to Him and bring glory to His name is the only true end to which we are accepted and redeemed, and the only fitting one! I crave it, I starve inside, I am weary and hungry, but I know this is good. It is good. I just wish it did not hurt so much. I wish I loved the way I ought. I wish I was not bitter and spiteful, but was instead gentle, humble, tender, forgiving, compassionate, merciful, and utterly captivated and consumed by the glory and majesty and love of God.

Again, GOD have mercy upon me. Hear my cries! Change me. As David cried, put in me a "right heart" and a "steafast spirit!"

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Making a name for myself...

Sounds sick just to type it. See! I get what I ask for! A friend said to me jokingly, "Don't pray for patience, because if you do you will get nothing but trials to build your patience!" The same goes for asking for sight -sight to see the blackness of your own sin, sight to put your finger on specific things. This is one thing the Lord was pleased to show me -that I am one who likes to make a name for himself. I like to have the answer, to say something uplifting, and many times there is a heavy taint of this. I have the desire to magnify the LORD, but right by my side, clinging to me and bound in my flesh like a tumor is the desire to magnify my own name as well. It is seeking to please men rather than seeking to please God alone.

In what ways do I do this? Well, one way I do this is in wanting to answer everyone -either in defense of truth or to answer their question. Again, there is a desire to help, to magnify the name of the LORD, but also a sinfully sick desire to make my name known. This is the way in which I see it most. This is why I often sinfully neglect my true callings (family, etc.), because they do not attract the attention of men or build me up in sinful pride. How wicked and profane! If my concern was primarily the glory of God and to please Him, then oh how different things would be!!!

I would be content and joyful just to pray for my family, something which is unseen to anyone except God. I would devote my time to nurturing my children and dying to myself daily for them. I would love my wife in that way that Christ loved the Church. And to even hear their anger and scorn toward me at times, justified or unjustified, would be of no consequence because my duties, my whole life, would be about serving the Living God. He would be my single audience!!! I cannot express how I long to be like this, but I am glad that, as I sit here and type, it is gushing through the crack. I pray the LORD would bust the crack wide open so that the entire wall would be destroyed. Still, it is so good to see the wickedness that so entangles me.

Maybe someone will read this and recognize the same thing in themselves. I know I am quick to hear something like this and say, "oh man, that guy I just talked to could use to hear this..." or "that pastor from that church definitely needs to hear this." Yeah, I think it. I do. Then I remember one of the first things I can recall from the Bible -from way before I was converted; way back to when I was a kid in CCD class. It was Jesus' words about removing the plank from my own eye before I point out the speck in my brother's. Yeah. Pretty simple, huh?

I'M the one who is haughty, man-pleasing, sinful, and eager to exalt my own name. It is the utmost of idolatry -placing myself even near the place where the God alone rightfully sits and reigns. To think that God says so many times that He does things for His "name's sake." It is an incredible, humbling thing to see that God does everything for His own glory. It's something that brings us, His creatures, us sinful idolaters as we all are, to gnash our teeth and curse the heavens!

This is the contrast I need, though. I need not only to see that I exalt my own name. I need also to see how beautiful and right it is for the name of God to be exalted. It is the only name fit to be exalted, and it is the Name that, when exalted, is 100% in line with the heart of the Great I AM. This is why it is wrong for us to exalt self... because we aren't God! God's name alone is worthy of praise, of adoration. And the greatest thing about it is that exalting the name of the Most High brings joy to His saints. We explode with praise, and it issues forth from our mouths and radiates from our souls.

21 "But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went.
22 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. (Ezek 36:21-22)

To seek my own name's glory is dirty and cheap and petty. It is so because the thing which is pure and precious and invaluable and glorious is the exaltation of the Name of the LORD. It is the only name that can be called "holy".

May God continue to humble me and show me the greatness of His name so that my heart's desire will be to exalt Him rather than self and to please Him rather than garner the praise of men.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

No title for this one. I just want to write some things because I can. It's a good thing to be able to think and write the things down. I just listened to part of a great sermon while walking on the treadmill. I was moved greatly, and I thought, "I will write something in my blog about this." As I sat down to write, I thought again, and again. Why was I so intent on trying to come up with something that would be so great to convey? Its like I feel this force pressing me to appear cool, to man-please or know that I have done a great thing by uplifting somebody. There is something so artificial about it all. To even write about it makes me squirm in shame.

Anyway, I remember walking on the tread-mill, staring at the wall, and listening to John Piper preach. What really struck me is how woefully ignorant I am of my own sin. I want to be humble, loving, gracious, merciful, tender, yet also firm, vigilant, and truth-defending. Yes, I want to be changed and to have that balance, but then I thought and prayed, "Lord, before balance, show me where I am unbalanced and therefore that I am unbalanced!" I think I was smelling my own pride and the stench was overcoming me. I sensed its presence, but I could just rebuke it blindly.

That is what I want, though. I want to see where I am lacking, where I am brittle and jagged when tenderness is needed, where I am wishy-washy where courage is needed. I know it is there -I just want to see it. I need to see it. I don't want to see it so I can wallow, but I want to see it because it is like a cancerous sore growing on my back that needs to be removed. I thought more, and I thought about Jesus -the perfect man, the perfect preacher, pastor, the perfect Christian. There is something so humbling about looking at the man Christ Jesus. I so often can only catch a faint aroma of the difference between His ways and mine, while the reality is a gulf too big to see across.

I don't know what the point of this is, but thats the beauty- I don't have to have a point! :P I thank God for giving me sight, even sight to see that I do not see my own filth in its true light. It's a good thing. I am perplexed, but I am thankful. I am humbled, but I am loved. I pray for more sight, that I may be one who is humble and tender and loving but also steadfast and solid and unwavering -not for the sake of knowing that I am, but because it is beautiful and right and the way God wants -it brings glory to Him. I want to beam it toward Him like gigantic spot-lights. I want to praise and worship Him with my life and know what it means to love others so purely and fully because I am so captured by the love of God so deeply. I can't bear the ugliness otherwise. I want to be conformed more into the image of the Son -something that seems so impossible but also is so completely and consciously desirable.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Change of Mind

Heading northbound on I-5 a few days ago, heading back home from San Diego, I was thinking as I looked around at creation. I saw trees and mountains and the sky and all kinds of beautiful formations of color and matter, yet my mind was thinking about something else. I was stewing inside, soaking in the Person of Christ. It was a very particular way -not just a general, "Ooooh. Isn't Jesus great?!" I was reflecting upon my role as a husband, head of household, and father. It is a difficult role -one I struggle with. But then I began to reflect upon Christ, the Head, the Husband of the Bride, the Head of His people, the Priest, the King. I caught a glimpse of some things, of His majesty, of His humility, His grace...

See, in particular I was still cooling down from an argument with my wife. I was feeling hurt and disrespected, especially in front of the children. "She does not respect me," I dripped. "How can I get her to respect me?" Then I saw in my mind's eye the Lord Jesus. I saw Him being reviled, being disrespected, being treated as dirt, yet being Lord of the universe, being King of Kings. I saw Him not reviling back, not complaining that people do not treat Him as they ought, but instead entrusting Himself to the Father all the more. Suddenly, it was like rays of heaven were streaming down. They were penetrating my bitterness and exposing sin. It was then that I wrote this:
"It is not just that I recognize sin in myself. It is that the sin is
shown to be cheap and ugly because righteousness strikes me as being supremely
beautiful and desirable. I think this is what repentance is. This is
an act of God."

This is repentance. It is an awesome thing -a change of mind, a change of heart. I am seeing very clearly how specific it is, also. One can be convinced that something is bad in a general sense, but being convinced in particular detail about what is bad about it because that which is right and good and pure and holy shows itself in brilliance to our souls -as being lovely and Christ-exalting and beautiful and desirable- is something different. The radiance of this light shows the blackness of the sin to be ugly and dirty and worthless and undesirable.

I know it is an act of God. The Word of God tells us this, and my experience tells me as well. It is God applying His Word in a special way. I wish I could grasp the secret operation of the Spirit of God, but all I can do is see it witnessed to in the Scriptures, see the fruit of it in the lives of other brothers and sisters in Christ, and experience it in my own life.

This brings to the forefront a few things about repentance: 1) it is an act of God upon the soul -not a thing man decides about, 2) it is always in reference to something specific, and 3) it is borne through content -information reaching the mind and then the heart. It may be through hearing the Word proclaimed or remembering it, but it always involves the Spirit of God applying the truth of God.

There is something very sweet about repentance that I cannot put my finger upon. That may seem strange because we often think of repentance in the context of judgment. When people are commanded to "repent!", it is normally in the context of our sin and failure against a Holy God. What I mean about repentance being sweet is that what we are turned to is always sweet to the taste and glorious over the soul. That holiness that emanates from God, the specific "right thing" revealed to us has a sweet aroma. In that moment we lay prostrate before God, yet what we see that is right that shows us as being so wrong is just too glorious to not bring us to exult in God and praise and worship Him. How or why this happens I do not know. Perhaps it is because there is also the apprehension of mercy, that we shall not be condemned. The specific reason is a mystery to me right now. Maybe some day I will grasp it, but for now I can just admire the splendor.

Monday, July 11, 2005

If We Confess Our Sins...

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

For those of you reading this who don't know, I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I struggle greatly with OCD manifesting itself in spiritual matters. It can be extremely exhausting and the cause of great distress, turmoil, and utter anguish. You feel as though your mind is spinning out of control, yet there is nothing but confusion and terror. When an obsessive fit comes, your heart pounds, your chest is tight, your stomach is knotted, your jaw tightens, and yet you try as you might do what you can to just do the things you need to get done in life. Most of us are ashamed of it, and almost all of us try to hide it from others, even those most close to us, because we feel if we tell them we are falling into it again they will grow weary with us eventually. It is a peace-killer, and it is a relationship-killer, too. But thank God we can learn to cope with it.

Anway, I have decided to look again at this verse above because I know many people who struggle like I do obsess about confessing sin. Some compulsively confess sins hundreds of times a day, sometimes the same sin repeatedly for hours even. This may sound silly to some, and someone reading this might be like "you just need to stop". Yes, if we could we would. So, in order to help people like me, or even just Christians who have a weak conscience when it comes to the concept of confessing our sins, I hope to address briefly not the whole matter but specifically what the nature of this promise is and what it is to confess.

The promise that "if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins..." is much like the other promises such as "everyone who believes in Him has eternal life". It is not a calling to a transaction, one which we must make sure we do and do correctly in order to receive the benefit, but an assured promise to the weary soul that the God of the universe who is now our Father will blot out the sins of the ones who come to Him contritely acknowledging their sins before Him. Just like "everyone who believes in Christ shall be saved" points us not to an act (believing) but instead to the firmness, suitability, and sufficiency of Christ, so also the promise in this verse above points us to the faithfulness of God in forgiving us. It is by nature assuring, as with all such promises. I know that when the conscience is burdened, and we are full of anxiety, it seems hard to imagine that God could still smile upon us. But this promise assures us that He will not only smile but cast the burden away as well. so we need not fear and should uncover to Him the burden that condemns us within.

I know many of us have a propensity to look within. When a promise comes that seems conditional (uses qualifiers or begins with "if"), we focus upon the condition rather than the thing promised (or the Promiser). I thank God that He has shown me the gentleness of such promises, the smile of His face in them. I was thinking last night as I laid in bed -although there is so much I don't know and so much that I cannot grasp or connect in my mind, it is a great blessing to know His promises. They are so personal, and by nature, assuring. In them God speaks a word to us that, when illuminated to our minds by the Spirit, melts away anxiety. In fact, the whole world melts away for that moment. It is just us and our Benevolent God who comes to assure us and bring us gladness and comfort. They speak to the anxious, sin-weary soul, "I am here, and it is ok. Come." They communicate to us the objective certainty of His mercy. I did not see that a few years ago. I know it has been through times of personal inner anguish that God has grown me in understanding in these areas. God does work all things for good, even when it seems like there is a shroud of darkness covering our minds and hearts. I thank God.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Teaching and Teachers

“I believe that, at this present time, we are in great danger of being burdened with a crowd of so-called converts who do not really know anything as it ought to be known. They attended a revival meeting, were much excited, and thought they were converted; but just ask them to explain to you the simplest truths of the gospel, and you will soon discover how little they know. Could they explain the three R’s, ruin, redemption, and regeneration. Do they know what the ruin is? Do they know what the remedy for that ruin is? Do they understand at all what it means to be born again? Do they comprehend what the new nature is, or what “justification by faith” means? Perhaps someone says, “They do not comprehend your theological terms.” I do not mind whether they know the meaning of the terms that are familiar to many of us; but do they know the truths themselves? There is a certain degree of Christian knowledge which is absolutely necessary to salvation.”

-Charles Spurgeon

A neat Spurgeon quote. It gets me thinking. This is what I fear about false teaching -and I don't mean teaching sprinkling versus immersion; I mean teaching anything that deviates from the Gospel where man has no claim and God saves purely by grace by Christ alone -versus a gospel of works-righteousness whereby man makes a claim upon God and God responds. God has given us the Word, but He has also given us teachers who are to proclaim and teach what the Word says. It is not as though teachers just stand there and read from the Bible and thats it -although, it wouldn't be a bad idea in many situations (hehe). Still, teachers and what they teach are an integral part of the Church. Teachers proclaim and instruct and explain, and people listen. That's the sobering thing -people listen and often take very much to heart what teachers say. God expects a lot from teachers and will hold them to stricter judgment. If that isn't enough to freak out anyone who seeks to communicate the truths of God, I don't know what is.

God saves men through means, particularly through the Spirit applying the Word of God and/or the truths contained therein to the soul. It is not that God cannot and does not work in spite of our false teaching -He thankfully does, but let's not get to think that God works in a vacuum. God sovereignly works through appointed means. We can't forget that. And yes, God does use the very smallest of means, at times, to bring souls to Him in even the most parched spiritual lands. Praise God for this. My big stink with false teaching is not that I think somehow God can't work. It is not that the false teachers hurt my feelings because I disagree with them. It is not because I have an insatiable need to have everyone on the same page. It is not that I am being impatient with the teachers themselves -because we are all in different places along the same path. After all, we are all in different places. It has nothing to do with me at all, and it has nothing to do with those who teach false teaching. It has to do with the hearers.

First, I can't think of anything worse than having a person think they are safe when they are not. It reminds me of the false prophets of Jeremiah's time -preaching "peace" where there "is no peace". We gobble that stuff up. Second, I can't think of anything worse than sending real sheep, truly converted ones, off into falsehood. But doesn't God use that, too? Of course, but we can't confuse the secret providence of God with what we are called to. The apostles never excused such things by deferring to the fact of God's sovereignty. The apostles referred to something called "sound doctrine". To them it was a defined, knowable body of teaching -not exhaustive by any means, but still essential. They taught it, defended it, and even rebuked each other for walking outside of it (like when Paul openly rebuked Peter). But that is just the apostoles, right? We live in a different time, and we don't have their authority. No, they also taught others to teach it, defend it, and gently correct others who oppose it.

This is what I want to explain to others. When I personally insist upon theological truths it is because the truth of God is wonderful, freeing, glorifying to God, powerful, joyous, heart-breaking, heart-renewing, man-shriking, Christ-magnifying stuff. It is food for the soul and builds up the body in Christ. It is both necessary and awesome. It is not that I have a chip on my shoulder to try to ruin people who disagree with me. It is that people actually hear the stuff teachers teach them, and many of them don't know better to know if we are off-base. So let us insist upon God's truth, for the sake of the sheep, but also for the sake of the teachers. If we love our brothers, will we not want to do whatever we can so that, by God's grace, they may be rescued from error? And for the sheep, will we just say, "God will providentially keep them alive, so it doesn't matter if we feed them slop instead of the finest grain and produce? In fact, if they are barely fed at all God will still catch them." I hope not. Would we say that about our own children?

How does this practically fall into our lives? What do we do when a brother is teaching something treacherous to those who hear him? I wish I knew precisely how to handle it. I wish I knew the full extent of that "sound doctrine". I wish I had the discernment to always know when the line has been crossed. I wish I had the wisdom and love to know what to say and how to say it when those situations arise. I wish I knew, also, that speaking up would always result in change for the better -because what do you do when nothing changes? Its not that everything is hidden, though. There are certain things that are obvious from Scripture about this -like mingling works with faith or putting a claim upon God, making him our debtor, for salvation. Those are obviously way past the line. Paul made no hesitation in saying that those who teach such things ought to be eternally condemned. He also made no hesitation in saying that the Judaizers, who were adding circumcisions, should keep going and emasculate themselves! So much for calm, reserved piety :). Still, when confronted with a similar situation, how do I address my brother? I wish I knew exactly. All I know is that I must do it with gentleness and love, as Paul instructed Timothy.

I am not a teacher in a church, so perhaps my idealism is because I have not dealt with the pressures of being a teacher among those who blatantly teach against things I hold dear. I hope it is not just idealism, and I don't believe it is. Nonetheless, I know I am speaking as an outsider who doesn't have really any experience within a church setting when it comes to this stuff. I pray if I am wrong that the Lord would show me.

"But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." (2 Tim 2:23-26)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Heart Surgery

After reading my last post I had to make a few changes to it. I think it is very drastic to eliminate writing in the blog completely. There is nothing wrong with the blog itself. The problem lies within my attitude, and to see that my heart is being broken is actually a blessed thing. To be brought to dust is a blessed thing. It is God's "heart surgery" as a friend from back home calls it. It hurts, it strips us of any strength, but it leaves us growing in the right way. Or better, its like the pruning of the branches on the Vine in John 15. The Vinedresser cleans and prunes the branches, and that is going to involve pain. But as each sucker is cut off, more of Christ flows. So I am thankful. It seems odd to say, but I am thankful that I am weak, and I am more thankful that God has shown me how weak I am. To have a thorn in the flesh, or multiple thorns in the flesh, is a good thing. I know God's grace is sufficient for me, and I know the Shepherd will continue to lead me. I always think, in these times, of Peter and how he "wept bitterly" when he realized he denied the Lord as the Lord Jesus predicted. I know in some small way what it is to "weep bitterly". All of the things that went through his head... I can only imagine: sorrow, anger, confusion, guilt, despair...

The biggest thing I came face-to-face with is my own pride. Pride is a sneaky thing. Its not like smacking someone on the head or yelling profanity. You know pretty much right away with those things. Pride is a slumbering giant. It allows you to think you are doing well, but slowly it infects you and all you do. One day you wake up, if you wake up (by God's grace), to realize you have become a hideous monster and all that you do is tinged with the cold deadness of a pride-monster. Pretty amazing. I started to see that when I studied, when I read the Scriptures, it was to polish my nugget of knowledge and understanding so I could be powerful when showing it to others rather than to know Christ more and passionately disclose Him to others. Pretty evil.

Friday, July 01, 2005

It is Done

I am filled with sorrow, and even jealousy. Why am I so blind? I have received today what I have been missing. I "get it". I don't know if I lost it or if I never had it, but today my heart breaks. The only reason I will keep this blog alive is as a testimony to the working of God in my life. I had a post on the "gut of the Christian life" is wrong. There were some accurate things in there, but the gut of the Christian life is Christ. Yes it is lived in love, but Christ is the only Source. In Christ we have our joy and our whole existence. Lose yourself in Him. Drown in Him; become drenched in Him and all that He is for you and all that He has done for you.

This is what it means when I hear over and over that the Bible is not a "recipe book". There is no formula for loving as a Christian. There is a Source, and there are those who live upon the Source. There is Bread, and there are beggars who feed. There is the Vine, and there are branches. I don't know why I am finally getting it, but I am glad.

It is not enough to talk about Christ, to learn things about Christ and the dynamics of salvation. It is not enough, and very often, as in my case, the love for things about Christ eclipses Christ Himself. I am angry with myself, and even jealous of the brother who so graciously dropped the axe that culminated the sense of hollowness that has been accumulating. There is a time to write, to think, but there is a time to go and to do. Now is the time for me to go and to do. Christ is too wonderful, too blissful, too abundant, too satisfying, too awesome to just be enjoyed in print and just between the two ears. My heart breaks at the wasted time and energy. I know there has been good in it (not all wasteful), too, but I know my relationships have suffered from my monk-like attitude... cloistering myself away to learn and perfect my understanding of things, especially controversial things, and in many ways and times all unto my own glory. Forget it. Christ is too much of a Living Savior to not be loved outwardly, to not be lived, to not be talked about to others, to not be proclaimed from the ROOF TOPS. Do not just proclaim the doctrine of justification, proclaim the LORD and Messiah who is the Justifier! Lord, forgive me for my blindness. Forgive me for my incessant focus on things that are not You, all the while convincing myself that I am doing well. Forgive me also for my envy toward my brother in whom You have worked so abundantly. I long to have a heart that is so full of Christ, so utterly in love with Him that it oozes and drips of Him. I am broken, restore me. Change my heart and kill this self-glorying. Break the hardness of my veins so that the knowledge you have given me would become love and wisdom in the heart, and as such, would pour out of my fingertips and lips about the wonder of Christ our Savior. This is my prayer.