Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘cross’

My apologies to those who have already waded through the multiple chapter version of my story.  While I began this blog with the intent of showing how God delivered us from false religion posing as truth, the greatest part of my story is when Jesus saved me.  It’s not about how I got smart and chose God, but how He saved and worked change in my life before I even knew I needed Him.  This version of the testimony will soon be in a small booklet along with stories of other women saved and changed by God’s grace.

Found by Love

Many people, realize it or not, are looking for a kind of love they have never found.  We demand it from family and friends, and no one seems able to live up to our expectations.   Broken relationships litter our lives as we continue to want the warm fuzzy feeling that doesn’t fade with time.  In our failed search, we may try to numb the craving with work, chemical addictions, sex, shopping, food… the list is endless.  Just the fact that we desire this elusive love is evidence enough that it must exist somewhere.  So many promises, so much disappointment.

But even my search for love was selfish, seeking it for what it could do for me.  In spite of this, Love found me.

My life started fairly normally, born to a middle-class family which attained the standard two children and a house in the suburbs. Normal, except my father was a pastor in a Christian cult. I knew from a young age we were different and considered our way of life superior to those who went to other churches. We believed other Christians would eventually be required to accept our teachings to be saved.

My first memory of recognizing the deep love of Jesus came during a series of evangelistic meetings my father held. He showed a film series on the life of Christ which had come from a mainstream Christian source. Through the films I fell in love with Jesus and was very touched by his love, compassion, and suffering. The crucifixion affected me in particular. I wasn’t old enough to understand theology, but I could perceive a great love, and a purely good man who didn’t deserve the cruelty.

My parents enrolled me in our local denomination’s school, but after my first year, my father was moved to mountain community with a tiny struggling church. My mother home schooled my brother and I for the two years we lived there, on a forested three acres. Except for our church, we had no other interaction in the community. The mountain range we could see at the end of our long driveway became a comfort to me. When everything else began to disintegrate, the mountains never moved.

One winter night, after a mid-week prayer meeting, the destructive fire smoldering under the surface of my parents’ marriage ignited an explosion. They fought for hours. Everyone cried. I told them I loved them both, and I just wanted a whole, happy home. This blew over for a time, but I remember this first outward expression of their serious problems. My mother then began to confide in me often about her discontent and sadness. When she spoke of separation and divorce, I assured her we would be okay.

During this time I felt an urge to be baptized. I had been taught even as a small child that we should never claim to be “saved”. We spoke only of someone being “converted”. In our world this meant someone had studied our 27 church doctrines, agreed with them, and been baptized. I’m not sure what motivated my request for baptism, but I believe it was a desire to be good and do the right thing. I wanted to be acceptable to God, but did not understand there was no work I could do to earn His attention and love. Nor had my own incurable, selfish inclination to sin been revealed to me. I believed if I tried hard enough, I could succeed at being a good Christian as defined by my church. I didn’t see the symbol of death in the baptism which shows we can’t fix ourselves. We must agree to die with Christ, and be raised to His Life.

The final crucible came for my parent’s marriage, and it failed under the pressure. They could no longer maintain the facade, and my mother decided on divorce. I cried alone one day several months later when I sensed the void of a missing parent, but this was the only time I remember allowing myself to grieve. My job was clear – stay strong and be there for them.

As my parent’s relationship dissolved, a simultaneous upheaval was taking place in our denomination. My father was not able to stay in the ministry as a divorced man, but he was already in the process of questioning some of the foundational, distinctive doctrines of the church, as many pastors in the organization were doing at the time. Their founding prophet had come under scrutiny and found to be a fraud, and many people’s eyes were being opened to the truth-twisting teachings of the church.

Doubt about everyone and everything began to creep into my soul. I reacted with an attitude of anger and rebellion toward my church, which at the time meant I was also angry at God. Even though my mother had enrolled us in their church school where we attended for the next eight years, I did not accept the prophet or believe we were the end-time “remnant church” as they taught. But rather than seek God and the truth of His word, I turned to the world.

My senior year I went to live with my father and attended public school for the first time. Moving from a religious sub-culture in a big city to a small town where everyone had grown up together, I didn’t fit in, or even try to. But I soothed my loneliness with male companionship, as I had learned to do as early as the 2nd grade. Only now, boys wanted much more than to hold hands. I made good grades, worked more than one job, paid for all my car expenses and clothing, and appeared mature and responsible. But I was not able to completely hide the inner reality which eventually expressed itself in a lifestyle of promiscuity, alcohol, and drugs.

After one year in college, I landed in Texas, married to a man I had met at the end of my senior year. We partied a lot, but so did everyone else we knew. I never thought past the moment at hand. Being with someone who would love me and be there for me controlled every decision I made, although this is only seen in retrospect.

God blessed me that first year with a beautiful baby girl (the one bright spot in my early adult life), and shortly after she was born I began working in a fast-food restaurant to supplement our income because my husband rarely worked. We survived with public assistance and the help of his parents.

I began to attend a support group when I became aware my husband had moved from the young, immature party scene to that of alcoholism. Contrary to what he and his family claimed, he was most certainly an addict. I needed this confirmation, and knowing I wasn’t the only one struggling with this helped tremendously. They also explained how my reactions and attempts to control him were adding to the problem.

During the traumatic time of dealing with the monster of addiction, my husband and I were involved in a serious motorcycle accident which could have killed us both. This event marked a turning point for me. Not only did it give me plenty of time to evaluate the life I had nearly lost, but I also became aware of a loud inner hunger for a deeper meaning in life. Men had failed to fill my needs and I wanted answers to the purpose of my existence and help for life’s pain. But I still directed my spiritual search away from the Bible and Christianity.

One day I was in a health-food store searching for a supplement that would help my multiple-fractured leg heal faster. The recovery process dragged on much longer than expected, trapping me at a time when I wanted to be free to leave my husband, my dismal job, and the depressing, small Texas town. A sweet, grandmother-type behind the counter asked if I needed any help. She expressed genuine concern for me as she looked past my obvious physical injuries and perceived my inner pain. I found her so easy to talk to. She offered suggestions for my emotional well-being as well as physical health, and invited me to attend a weekly meeting of like-minded people, a New Age study group.

I became instantly attracted to their teachings and quickly dove into pursuing this new path to knowledge. Occasionally something would directly confront my previous understanding of God as the Creator, Christ, and sin – but I would dismiss it as my past primitive understandings. I began to meditate regularly and believed I could directly alter my life through positive thoughts and affirmations. Good and evil were explained has higher and lower frequencies of energy, and I desired communication with higher spiritual guides. I learned of channeling and other psychic phenomenon, experimenting with them myself.

But this enlightenment was not helping my marriage. In spite of my search for healing and wisdom, I still refused to seek the only One who could heal and love me as I craved. Even though my Alanon support group talked of a higher power, it remained an abstract idea. The pain of living with a man who continued to put drugs and alcohol before his family became too much for me, especially when I saw our alcohol-related accident had changed nothing in his life. As soon as he was physically able, he returned to the same friends doing exactly as he had always done. We divorced when our daughter was only about a year old.

My husband had been a huge disappointment, but my selfishness had hurt him as well. My love for him was motivated out of my emotional need which sought to control him for its own interests.  This counterfeit “love” became hostile instead of nurturing when the needs were left unmet. Our failure to love one another as God intends left our daughter with a broken beginning and no remembrance of a home with both of her parents. I hoped she would not be able to miss what she never had, but the divorce affected her deeply as she grew up.

After our divorce, I felt a need to ask him to forgive me as I realized more and more how much I had hurt him too.  We reconciled and remained friends for a time, until he re-married.

As was my custom, I quickly found myself in another relationship.  As an old friendship turned into romance,  I tied the knot again about a year later .  I know most believed this would be a short-lived, rebound marriage.  But in spite of myself and my hastiness, God gifted me with a loving, responsible man.  About a year after we married, He blessed me further with a precious baby boy.

When my son was just a few weeks old, overwhelming thankfulness kept welling up in me. I knew I couldn’t take credit for the blessings in my life and certainly had not “manifested” them with my mind or words. I had not turned to God before in my hard times because they were the obvious consequences of my bad choices. I couldn’t imagine a God who would have anything good to say, or give any help to someone like me. But when He did anyway, without my asking, my cold heart began to melt. I had a deep desire to worship and thank the Source of the blessings in my life, but how could I ever turn back to simple-minded Christians and go to a church?!

Not long after I began to experience this longing, we received an invitation to visit a church with a friend. I had many fears and objections, although I had started to pick up my Bible from time to time. One Sunday, at the end of the service, the pastor stopped to dwell for a moment on the simple gospel. I heard the truth about turning away from sin, and forgiveness through what Jesus had done by willingly laying down His life.  My mind was flooded with a picture of Jesus and my own guilt before God swallowed me up for a moment as I realized He was very real. I had turned my back on Him, playing the spiritual whore, and I could not think of any acceptable excuse for this. Deep down I realized I had always known the error of my chosen path. This was my unveiling, seeing myself in the light of the purity of Jesus – seeing the true nature of my sin. But He beckoned me with the same love that had drawn me there in the first place. He was not condemning but offering me Life. I came to Jesus that day, in tears and in thankfulness. The weight of guilt and shame lifted away and I was humbled by the truth that this forgiveness could never be earned or deserved.

This experience was so much deeper than the words someone preached, but the words moved with the Holy Spirit to open my eyes.  Just as Paul said in Romans, the gospel of Christ is the power of God for salvation.

As of this writing, seventeen years have passed, and He has not failed my husband and I through any trial.  He has not failed to give correction as well as provision. He is the faithful Father all broken human children crave. I have made many, many mistakes, misunderstood many things, and continue to do so. Yet He is always there leading, guiding, blessing, pruning, and drawing me into a closer relationship with Him.

He has come to the broken places from the past, the lost child feeling forgotten and rejected, and become the Parent that never abandons or sees me as the object to fill his own empty needs, because He is wholeness.  He has healed the feelings of worthlessness and despair.  Not all in one day.. but as these places are reached in the journey.  And it continues.  (I am not blaming my parents, but all human parents fall short, including me!)

He has allowed pain and suffering because it provides opportunities for growth the blessings alone cannot give. In Spirit and Word He continues to come near, heal, and reveal. I am forever thankful for how He pursued me with His love and life in Him is new every day as I learn to love and know Him more.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1,2

Read Full Post »

In many ways I am thankful for our time in the Hebrew Roots Movement, simply for the perspective we gained.  I find it so difficult to express in words the magnitude of the contrast between a law-based approach to the Word of God and  a Christ centered one (so this post might be a jumbled mess).   In the HRM our eye was filled with the Torah and the modern nation of Israel.  I was recently looking over the website of a self-proclaimed Messianic “prophet” and had to dig long and hard to find any mention of  Yeshua.  I finally found Him mentioned almost in passing, and no New Testament scriptures were referenced anywhere in all his teachings that I could find.  I asked him via email what he believed regarding Yeshua, and he agreed we were reconciled to God through His atonement, yet this fact was not worthy of addressing in his writings. (And of course not applicable if we refuse to obey the Law of Moses.)  Plenty of criticism of Christianity for not keeping the Torah, and other such things, but no gospel.  Not even a false one.  Our focus was not much different. Of course we claimed faith in Jesus, but we seldom spoke of Him unless it was how He upheld the Law in some way.

Reading the gospels now, we sense so strongly the tension Jesus created when He began to declare His  authority both in Word and in demonstration. The point of contention truly was His authority.  The religious leaders were not remotely interested in genuine righteousness or justice.  The Torah put them in the “seat of Moses” so they were not about to let anyone rob them of the influence and authority this gave them.  When Jesus challenged them and the Law itself, establishing His own authority as God, they sought to kill Him.  They said..”What will we do?  Look.. the whole world is following after Him!”  Even Pilate sought to set Him free “For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. ” Matt. 27:18.

John tells how they came to take Him in the Garden and He asked, “Who are you looking for?”  They said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”  He said… “I AM”.   My Bible translates it “I am he” but the footnote says the pronoun is not there in the Greek.  John 18:6 says that when He spoke this, they drew back and fell to the ground.  This is the name of God.  Did it occur to them they were seeking to kill God in order to sustain their own authority?  Isn’t this the bottom line for all of us?  We all have chosen our own authority at some point over God’s.  When we have done so, we also are members of the angry mob yelling “Crucify Him!’

Jesus declared I AM several times through the gospels.  It seems like a subtle way to say.. “I am God, and this is what God is for you.”  I AM the bread of life, I AM the water of life, I AM the light of the world.  In all these things He was showing Himself to be the sustenance of our humanity, our true Source for life and light, and the fulfillment of all the types and shadows contained both in the Law and in the mighty acts of God in the past to sustain and deliver His people.  At the end He prayed to the Father, “I have made your name  known to them.”

Have you ever watched a mystery unfold in a movie?  I enjoy movies where you really can’t predict the outcome.  They hold your attention till the very last minute when everything is finally explained.  The climax of the whole story is to know the TRUTH about what had taken place.  We read the Old Testament now with full knowledge of how Jesus fulfilled it.  We lose sight of the climax factor in the story.  Try to imagine reading the Bible for the first time with no knowledge of the outcome as you read.  Do you realize how HUGE Jesus is to the scope of the story the whole Bible tells?  He is just not one of many interesting stream of characters, He is the climax of the history of the entire human race!  How on earth can we shove him under the table as essential for salvation, but unnecessary in knowing God and His will for us?  How can we look to a contract with an ancient people for our ultimate revelation of who God is?  This is a good definition of insanity now that I look back on it.

So many gain followers by merchandising secrets, but the truth about God is no longer a secret or a mystery!  It has been declared and made manifest in His Son!  Instead we get bored with that simplicity and try to find some other complex hidden thing that no one else has ever found in the 2000 years of the faith.  I promise you.  There is no new truth under the sun.  Lies are often recycled, but truth has been made plain.  We can grow deeper in it – but it doesn’t move.

I have been working through the Gospel of John several times and am seeing a very interesting picture I hope I have time to write about soon – if I can get a working outline.  Jesus truly is everything.

Read Full Post »

Gen 1:3  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Hebrews 8:5  They (the Levitcal priesthood) serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

Hebrews 10:1  For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.

Colossians 2:16, 17  Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.   These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Galatians 3:19  Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made

John 8:12  Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

2 Corinthians 4:6  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

I saw this as a picture, so I don’t know if I can explain it clearly.

In the beginning, the very first thing God gave us was light.  The Word says he separated the light from dark, which created a day – the beginning of time as we know it.  God and man had nothing between them.  He spoke to them and taught them.   Man was not afraid of God, and was naked before Him without shame, the essence of purity and innocence – a perfect creation.  The Word even says, a Son of God.  (in the NT geneology of Jesus).

Having no knowledge of spiritual darkness, man was deceived to reject the light of God and the world was plunged into darkness.  Sin came between God and man.  Man ran and hid and was ashamed of his nakedness.  He was exiled from his home, and the way to the Tree of Life was blocked.

But God came near.  As He came close to Adam he offered him hope.  The light of God still shining, His Presence could not be completely obscured by the darkness.  His light was broader than the obstacle of sin, and sin cast a shadow on the earth, in the form of a sacrifice.  God gave His first promise, the first shadow of what was to come.  Sin could not overcome the light or distort the truth of the light.  When the light shone on it, even the very shadow pointed to a future light to come.

In Noah, Abraham, and Moses, He drew near again, a little closer each time.  The closer He came, the clearer and larger the shadow became around the wall of sin, and His plan became more visible.  He came so close to Moses that his face glowed with the glory of God.  The shadow cast on the earth from Sinai was magnificent.  He commanded His people to live in this shadow of His love where they would be preserved and prosperous.  But once again, man chose darkness even over the shadow.

At the appointed time, God moved His hand into our space and time, and came to be with us, the true Light came into the world.  No more shadow.  No more sin.  No more shame.  Those who were in darkness far off who never even knew of the shadow were called into His Light.  Man is still choosing the darkness, and some prefer the shadow.  If you are walking in the Light of Christ, you have no need for a shadow (or lesser light).  We are restored, redeemed, and children of the Light.  Praise God for His undying love toward us, who have all at one time or other, chosen the darkness over His light.

John 3:17 – 21  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

1Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Read Full Post »

I recently entered a discussion with someone who expressed concern that I might be a little too heavy on grace and feel-good verses in the Bible and not heavy enough on the requirements of God. He is not SDA or Hebrew Roots, but an evangelical Christian who is zealously living out his faith in a way that puts 99% of us to shame. I have a great deal of respect for him and I understand his genuine concern for Christians to walk worthy of the Name they carry. I am very disgusted to see and hear believers justify their sin on the basis of grace.  None of us are perfect, but a believer should never justify himself in his sin. If he is not grieved, I also have to wonder if his faith is real. Our discussion moved into what defines legalism.  I am not in a position to discern if he is a legalist or not, but am responding here to some explanations he gave me.  I found it interesting to be having this discussion with someone in the evangelical world rather than with members of the various law-centered groups I have belonged to in the past.   I decided to post this so I can refer people here instead of repeatedly explaining my position over and over.

The interesting thing about legalism is everyone thinks they know what it is, but you can’t find anyone who will admit to being one. The very nature of the problem prevents people from seeing they have it. Only by looking to Jesus is this veil removed.

Your assertion that legalism is not defined in the Bible, as well as your own definition of it (that it is simply requiring more than God does) are both the hallmarks of how legalists often defend their positions. Using the phrases “what God requires” and “in order to be accepted by God” also are red flags to me that someone is confusing their legal standing with God, based on Christ’s all-sufficient work alone, and their own success in living up to the righteousness of God they see in Scripture. Even in your explanation that “what God requires is constant repentance for sin” in order to maintain His approval, you are creating an impossible standard that cannot be quantified. I can never know if I am even aware of every sin in motive, action, or omission. The fact that it may be hidden from me makes it no less a sin and no less in need of cleansing from my life. Our justification and approval before God however can be measured at 100% immediately in the moment of our salvation. It does not diminish to 80% or 25% on any given day based on our ability to keep our repentance up to date. If it is possible to fall back into unbelief (big if) then it would go from 100% to 0%. There are no in between states of being. You are in Christ, or you are not.

Legalism – which is coming to God through any other means than through faith (believing ALL He has promised) – is rebuked in its many forms all through the Bible in the Old and New Testaments. People do this in various ways, and for a wide array of reasons.  We often live by the natural reflex of our fallen nature.  We tend to think something has to depend on us, try to do God’s work in our own way, or accomplish what only God alone can do. We try to get around really submitting to God by looking like we love him on the outside, while still following our own agenda and keeping our secret sins. While it often does manifest as a focus on man-made traditions or standards, it’s definitely not limited to that. We most certainly can be a legalist attempting to obey only God’s commands alone. It can also come in an over-emphasis on God’s laws instead of the Lawgiver (a form of idolatry) and man’s efforts instead of God’s work.

The worst forms of legalism in my opinion are those that teach you cannot be saved (and/or stay saved) unless you successfully meet God’s requirements in your Christian walk. They say, “Yes Jesus died for your past sins, but you better toe the line from now on or He may throw you back out.” There is an element of uncertainty here that can never be overcome and does not bring the “full assurance of faith” described in Hebrews. First of all we can’t find a clear picture of how high the bar is because people come away from Scripture with so many different conclusions about what our obligations are; and secondly, we can never truly know if we have “arrived” or if we have fallen. Even if you do not believe “once saved always saved” there is still much more assurance available in our relationship with Christ than this form of legalism allows. The opposite danger is for the legalist who has not received Christ to take comfort in his obedience as his assurance, filled with pride at his own performance. He is the Pharisee who prays, “Thank you Lord that you have not made me like this pitiful sinner I see over there.”

The New Covenant is conditional only in the sense that God’s covenant with Abraham was. Belief. Read what happened when God made the covenant with Abraham. God did it all, promised it all, and performed it all. He made the oath with Himself. Abraham was involved only to the point that as a bystander, he believed what God had promised. God called it righteousness. He wasn’t perfect either in living out his belief. He fell into doubt and works and tried to make the Promise come about how he thought it should happen.  Galatians equates this action of Abraham with the Sinai Covenant.  Both of these examples are demonstrations of the failure of works.  Works can’t bring about the Promise of God, and works don’t ever hold up our own promises to God.   In Christ, we are of the faith of Abraham. We believe the promise of God, but neither are we always perfect in walking in the Spirit when we find opportunities to do it our way.

Sinai was a temporary covenant intended to show man he can’t fix himself, and to foreshadow the perfect finished work in Christ.  He made this covenant with Israelites and all those who would agree to be circumcised and join them. (God’s principles are not temporary, but this contract and many details within it were.) It contained conditional blessings and curses depending on their obedience – having to do with the temporary physical realm. Salvation was never promised through this covenant, only earthly blessings and the status of being God’s Chosen People.  (Even though Israel broke the covenant, God promised them they would never cease to be a nation before Him.  He has kept that promise.  He has also promised to completely restore them.  God never breaks a promise.) The conditional nature of this covenant based on performance is never implied in the New Covenant. Obedience in the New Covenant comes as a RESULT of an unconditional promise, not a prerequisite.  Some legalists see the New Covenant as nothing more than the very same terms and laws as the Old Covenant – except Jesus gave you the power to keep up your end of the bargain now so you have no excuse for failure.  This is completely out of line with Hebrews, Romans, Galatians.. Acts..    Short of quoting the entire New Testament, this is trying to live for Jesus under Mt. Sinai, still making promises we can’t keep because like it or not, we are still living in fallen human flesh.

What God requires is absolute and complete perfection. No less. To say He demands less is to find a loophole somewhere (maybe another form of legalism?) I fully admit I can never meet God’s requirements. Only in Christ are they met. In Christ I stand fully and completely forgiven, past, present and future. If this is a dangerous truth – it would be only to those who have not truly known Christ. No one who knows Him can take Him for granted and respond to this flippantly. Result, not Requirement. It’s what God deserves from us, and develops in us – our reasonable service – a living sacrifice. There is no fear of condemnation in failure, but hope and victory when we give it to Him. If we are stubborn, He is faithful to discipline, not reject. (speaking as one who has been more stubborn than submissive). Can I fall into unbelief and throw His gift back into His face? Theoretically I guess it would be possible, but I can’t imagine it. Paul says the “The Love of Christ controls us.” That’s a pretty strong power. It flows from Him to Him and through us to others.

Jesus commanded us to obey Him and He said if we abide (not strive) we will have fruit. I have heard sermons detailing the “to do” list of how to abide in Christ. But Jesus gave a very simple explanation of His own command. “And this is my command, that you love one another as I have loved you.” To have the love of Christ – that is our command. “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.” But we don’t trust love. We run back to the many details of the letter of the Law, not realizing that Love IS the highest law. It covers morality, justice, compassion. It speaks to every situation. It raises the definition of sin considerably higher as well. I Corinthians 13 shows love is a more excellent way in every way. Self cannot exist on the throne in its presence.  It is the very essence of God Himself.  But this is not a reason to reject the Word of God which reveals He is also a God of wrath against wickedness and sin.  God is full of paradoxes we struggle to balance out. But children do not fear his wrath. We may need to stand in fear of his rod, but not his wrath.

We cannot be transformed to resemble the life of Christ by gazing at the ministry of death (the Law engraved on stones). It serves to show us our depravity, but does not offer any help or hope. (hence the name Paul gives it)

2Corinthians 3:17, 18: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

You cannot behold the Glory of the Lord and not be changed. Isaiah’s instant response was, “I am a man of unclean lips…” We realize our need AND we get the coals from the fire under the throne of God – to cleanse us – the power of our death to sin and a resurrected life!(Romans 7 & 8 )

The legalists in Judaism asked Jesus,

John 6:28, 29 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

The very next word a legalist says is “But…” There is no but. As with Abraham, so with us.

Everything else grows out from there, and the Promise of God does not depend on the level of maturity we achieve from this point onward. Our rewards in the Kingdom are, but not our destiny of eternal fellowship with God.

If we belong to God I believe we will love Him and bear fruit, but I also think we need to be careful in judging the fruits of others. Not only can we be fooled by fake fruit that looks real, but we can also sometimes miss genuine fruit and pass judgment when we have no right to do so. I do believe we need to be accountable to one another in humility, with a great deal of discernment and love, not being puffed up – remembering what we are without Christ. Very few people can hold others accountable in love and humility. Paul said he wrote to the Corinthians, those hard sounding letters, in tears. I don’t see that too often in those who wish to expunge sin from our midst.

I am deeply grieved as you are by “believers” who live as if they have been set free to sin. I don’t know how anyone who has truly seen Jesus and realized the gift of God could not care if they spit on Him an bring shame to His name by calling themselves a Christian. But as I’ve already stated and continue to be redundant, this horrible situation is not cured by placing external demands on people. They must see Jesus as He is and fall on Him in brokenness, either as a lost person, or an immature believer either one. The solution is the same. It is the only way the heart is changed.

Where the Spirit has fruit (Gal. 5:22) legalism also has fruit which is cold, hard, unmerciful, and demanding. It is also often arbitrary because when rules are the focus it becomes impossible to be consistent. It doesn’t understand “exceptions” as Jesus tried to explain to the Pharisees, reminding them of how David ate the bread that was only for the priesthood. It can’t bend for mercy. Judaism has written volumes of Talmud trying to clarify and protect the Law. Legalism of any form always has to do this. People react to the the FRUIT of legalism without realizing the root problem. That’s why they can’t put their finger on what it is.. they sense something amiss, but the root is hidden deep. Often people who are the most disturbed by it have the same problem and they don’t even realize it. There are few things more fierce than legalists battling each other! 😀

After I had lived as a believer for several years, I came to a place that felt like spiritual death, in spite of all my fervent religious activity. I was in misery and thought I must need to try harder. I lost all desire to worship, to reach out, and wanted so badly to just give up because I saw no transformation taking place in myself or anyone else around me in the group we were in. We were very proud of some aspects of our “obedience” but it had not done anything at all to change the things that mattered the most. Finally through reading the gospels and hearing the words of Jesus I was terrified to realize the fruit I valued and was striving to produce had nothing to do with the kind of fruit Jesus said His followers would have. Mine was based on performance, His were centered in having my heart motivated by love – no fake imitations. I was so far from what I saw there that I knew I couldn’t even claim to be His follower at all, even though I appeared very religious, and led a very upright, moral life. It was a time of intense grief and repentance, but I am so thankful God revealed this sin to both me and my husband independently and nearly simultaneously. My deepest sorrow was that I had put Jesus in the backseat and had my “obedience” riding up front with me for all to see, and I was driving!! Now I endeavor to let Him drive, and I try not to be a backseat driver.  (He is now my chauffeur.)

Since then I pray for real fruit and God is continuing to answer. He is changing my heart and attitudes. I love people I couldn’t love. I am becoming less cold, hard, and judgmental. Instead I say, “But for the grace of God, there I am. Father help them!” It’s not the old me.  Because of the love He is pouring into me and through me, I read I John’s words where he says, “I write these things to you so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.” and agree – not because of what I do, but precisely because I know I didn’t do it, and none of it has come from me. All of God, none of me. The litmus test in I John, in context, is love – over and over he says this. But for some reason, people see the word “commandments” and run back to a list of rules on stone tablets. Those rules fall so short of what God wants to create in us. We are not without law. We have a higher law and a better promise.

Some legalists are not saved because they have never trusted the work of Christ, but believe they earn their way to heaven. But I know some have received the gift, but are not aware of what they possess. Both the legalist and the freedom-loving antinomian spend most of their time pointing out each other’s faults, but both need to see Jesus and the fullness of the Promise and the Sacrifice.

Read Full Post »

My four year old daughter and her younger brother excitedly ran to the playground they had been begging to visit for three days.  I sat on the bench watching them slide and climb.. for about 10 minutes.  When my mind stopped the habitual space travel of a lazy Sunday afternoon, my eyes and mind focused together on what my children were doing.  After dreaming of this place as if it were Disneyland, they were in fact playing around the playground on the landscape timbers that bordered the play area, trying to balance and walk around them.  Soon they tired of this and took to running and chasing each other around the wooden borders, wandering off to pick flowers, investigating a bird bath full of rain water and exploring the contents of a metal pail used as an ashtray in a nearby gazebo.  How could they so quickly tire of this thing they desired so greatly?  I saw a perfect example of human nature which demonstrated what the Holy Spirit began speaking to my heart over two years ago.  Two weeks ago,  the burden returned in full force and will not leave me in peace.  As the National Day of Prayer comes this week, what this picture symbolized to me will be the focus of my repentance and petition to God.

To be a Christian is a call to love and follow Christ in a very real way.  Our identity should never be in a subset of beliefs, often a name ending with an “ism” or  movement of some kind.  When we love HIM as we should, our focus becomes more clear.  Our desire is rekindled.   We find we cannot take one step without Him.  We realize all we do outside of Him is of no consequence.

I recently picked up a book my husband had purchased at a church planting seminar a few years ago.  I restlessly opened up to a random page as I often do trying to get  feel for what a book is about.  The page I turned to had this to say:

While I was an impressionable seminary student, I was given a definition (of church) that was really more of a description.  Church was explained as embodying these five characteristics:

1.  A group of believers that gathered regularly…

2.  That considered itself a church…

3.  That has qualified elders present…

4.  That regular practices the ordinances of baptism and communion as well as church discipline…

5.  And that has an agreed-on set of doctrinal beliefs.

These are all good qualities for any church to have.  Most of our churches, in fact, would meet these standards, but I think that this list is missing something very important.  I often ask groups what is missing from this description.  After a few minutes of responses, I generally tell them what I think is missing if they haven’t already found it.

Jesus is missing!

One of my most respected mentors, a theologian and career missionary, once told me that Jesus is assumed in the definition because it is believers who are gathered.  My response was, “Why would you assume Jesus’ presence but make sure that a qualified elder is present?”

This assumption betrays a problem in our churches, a serious one.  The church is often more about what we bring to the table than what God does.  I heard a Korean pastor who made a tour of the United States and at the end of his visit summarized his observations by commenting, “It’s amazing what you people can do without the Holy Spirit.”  I believe it was A .W. Tozer who once announced that if the Holy Spirit were removed from the churches in America on Saturday, most would go on the next day as if nothing had changed.”   (Neil Cole, The Organic Church p. 49,50)

This same Sunday that I took my children to the playground, our pastor preached a powerful message on Ezekiel 9-11 detailing how the presence of God had left Judah and his judgment was sure.  He asked if this happened to America, and the Church here, “Would anyone notice?  Would anyone care?”   Those are the questions burning in my mind as well.

My thoughts go back to Moses and the children of Israel.  After their sin of idolatry with the golden calf  they were punished, but still did not have the presence of God in the camp, but in the tent of meeting set up outside.  God had told them to go up into the Land of Milk and Honey, but He was not going to go with them.  Moses begged and pleaded with God,

And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”  Exodus 33:15, 16

Why do we, with a better promise and better Covenant,  so confidently march on with our agendas, not seeking the direction of Jesus, our Head, the Commander in Chief?  Why do we speak of the Holy Spirit as an abstract idea or theory, and have no expectation for the reality of His Presence?   We would not notice if Jesus left the building because we have not cared to invite Him into our affairs in the first place.

Why do we give God lip-service but behave as if He is not actually real or expect Him to move among us?

I could write pages on probable answers – but if we keep asking “why” after each answer, I believe we would eventually reach down past many symptoms and secondary failures to the ultimate source of the problem.  We love ourselves and our pride more than we love our Savior.  If we truly loved Him with all our heart mind and soul, as the first great commandment given, we would seek Him.  If we sought Him, we would love Him more and fervently desire to be in His presence.  We would be like David who longed for Him like a deer pants for water, a primal desire for life itself.  If we loved Him more, we would believe Him more fully in everything He promised.  If we believed Him, we would trust Him in all our ways.  If we trusted Him, we would follow and obey Him.  If we obeyed Him, the world would see Him through us.  If the world saw Him and not us, it would be drawn to also love Him, or hate Him, being confronted to make a decision.  As it is, we don’t bring anything of eternal value into the world when we promote ourselves and our “isms”.   The world may accept or reject us, our special message,  focus, or movement, our attitudes, our agendas.  But do they ever see Jesus?  Why did we stop longing for and earnestly following the one we call Lord?

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?   Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like:  he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.  But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”  Luke 6:46-49

How many Christians have much of a grasp on the actual words of Christ?  I hear so little of Him in churches it astounds me.   Why do we find it more interesting to talk about anything and everything and everyone else?  In the gospel of John Jesus repeatedly draws attention to the importance of His WORDS.  They are life.  John says Jesus is THE Word, both in his gospel account, and in Revelation.   His Word is still alive and ongoing through His Spirit, and how many of us are listening?  Some don’t even believe it’s possible to hear it in the first place.  He is a resurrected living and active Word.  He called us to be disciples, not passive pew sitters.  Disciples follow and do as they are instructed, in all humility and trust of their loved Teacher.  He has called us to take up a cross and follow, but He also promised that the burden of His yoke was light, and He would give us rest.  Seems to be contradiction, but only if we have not been sitting at His feet to understand.  The cross is what brings the rest.

Jesus,

Forgive us for loving so many things and leaving our first love.  Draw us to fall on our faces in grief and repent of being self-willed, idolatrous, covetous, proud.  Restore us to our first love –  a desire for nothing but You alone.  Fill our mind’s eye with a vision of your love for us and teach us that our high calling is in You, not ourselves.   Forgive us for our unbelief as we go about our lives as if  You are a distant spectator from heaven and not in us or among us as You have promised to all who would call on Your name.  Forgive us for seeking you mechanically without faith and longing, and often, not at all.  Forgive us for being amused with objects of so little consequence.  Grant us the ability to forgive our brothers and sisters, remembering we are no better than any other and have received the same mercy.   Give us true sight – to seek genuine fruit of Your Spirit and not the false external performance men so often admire.

Jesus, call us, your people, to humble ourselves and repent.  Fall on us with a fire that cleanses and empowers us for the days ahead, unless we be like Israel in the days of their judgment who said,  “If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.”   Isa 1:9

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.

Rev 2:4,5

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: