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My Testimony In Real Time

And the darkness has not…

I began a devotional today called “HIStory,” which is a six-week devotional through the Gospel According to John. I’ve always loved this Gospel because, of all of the Apostles, I think John would have been a great poet or lyricist for a band.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:1-5.

I can picture the opening of his gospel being sung in musical form by some progressive rock band from the late 60’s and early 70’s.

But one thing I’ve always wondered about the word used in verse 5. The ESV translation that I am fond of using says the darkness has not “overcome it.” Other translations are different. In the New American Standard Bible, the darkness did not “comprehend it.” In the American Standard Version, the darkness “apprehended it not.” The New Living Translation has my favorite: the darkness “can never extinguish it.”

So what is this word? I have consulted some commentaries on this but, to be honest with you, I cannot understand what is being said. Translating the true meaning of a word from one language to another is a delicate business in these times. Translating ancient text appears to require a lot of heavy lifting that this young Christian is not ready for yet. Somewhere down the road, perhaps, if the Lord wills it.

I don’t want to sound nit-picky at all when it comes to what John 1:5 is saying. But I will tell you why I love the NLT version.

As a rebel sinner brought into the family of God for reasons only known to Him (it certainly has nothing to do with my upstanding moral character or any good choices I made), I have switched sides in a spiritual battle. I turned my back on a life of sin that I loved before Jesus, to paraphrase Ezekiel 36:26, traded my heart of stone for a heart of flesh.

For someone like me who has given Christ the throne despite the fact that I am not a trusting person by nature, I need constant assurance of God’s inevitable victory. I don’t care what the darkness comprehends or apprehends. I want it defeated- especially the darkness that lives within me. I need to know, especially in these troubled times, that God not only knows what is going on but is on the move in the middle of it completely unphased by the slings and arrows of human beings. I have to know that all of the darkness of the world (and Heaven knows that you can turn on the 24-hour news outlets or read social media for five minutes and see one hideous example after another of it) will not extinguish the light of Jesus.

It’s not that I think those other words are wrong. Certainly, we who love living in the filth that our sin produces like one of those people on the TV show “Hoarders” cannot comprehend it or understand it when someone shows up with a roll-on dumpster and cleaning supplies.

But I like the darkness cannot “extinguish” the light for a more personal reason. I’m thinking back to those early days of my life when I thought my father (may he rest in peace) could do anything and everything. I had that understanding that my father could protect me and keep the bad things away from me. Life and experience revealed that my father was a human being with some great aspects to him and some that were not so great (I am sure my son experienced this with me at some point).

For the longest time, I wanted my dad to be perfect. Those were misplaced feelings on my part since my father (like everyone else on earth) could not be perfect if he tried. But as I sit here typing this I think that those desires were natural. I’m thinking they were put into my by The Holy Spirit with the intention that I aim that feeling that “my dad can do anything” and aim it right at God.

I believe my Father in Heaven can do the impossible. The Holy Spirit has already done the impossible by penetrating the light that is Jesus into the darkness that was my existence. And even though my darkness was vast and seemingly impenetrable, it did not extinguish the light of Jesus. And it is the Lord who is my protector, defender, comforter, and all of the things I first thought my father could do.

The darkness cannot extinguish the light of Christ.

And for that, all I can say is Amen.

The Verses That Make Me Cry

Just for a fun, I tuned in on YouTube to a debate between Reformed Baptist Apologist Dr. James R. White and The American Atheist President David Silverman in what has turned out to be a very lively debate. The duration is over three hours so, obviously, I am watching it in bits and pieces. But I have to tell you it has been a very lively and spirited debate thus far. You can check it out here.

Perhaps the biggest thing I came away with thus far (I’m only half way through it) is the opening statement and first rebuttal. He painted the picture of Jesus coming into creation as being like a rescue party to a shipwreck at sea. And when the ship came in, the people not only were happy being in the shipwreck, the people at sea spat on the rescuers and dove beneath waterline because they didn’t want to be saved. They liked where they were. Much like human beings in sinful rebellions. Much like I was for most of my life.

That kind of language isn’t the popular method of modern evangelization. We are usually implored to come to Jesus because of the overwhelming sense of hurt and pain that many of us have in this life. Certainly, this is not to minimize those true feelings. We have been hurt. We are in pain.

But let’s be honest, if many of us look back on our lives, we’ve done more than our share to hurt others and to cause them pain. We have been victims but we’ve also been perpetrators spurred on by “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).

We’re rebels. Criminals. And as you can deduce from the sins that I have confessed on here, I was an accomplished criminal. I’ve hurled insults, hit, and spat upon the Lord, my creator just as much as those who lined the path where He carried the cross that would be used to crucify him.

I’ve heard it said that Christianity is the last refuge of scoundrels. It is appropriate that I be a Christian being that I am a scoundrel. And when I read this passage from Romans 5 again the other day, I began to cry.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” -Romans 5:6-11.

For a rebel like me, who has been straining under the weight of a condemning conscience and years of sinfulness, these are the words I want to hear. I need to hear them. There are so many things in my life that cause me, like Adam and Eve, to run and hide from the Lord. Things that I believe keep Him at arms distance. To read those words gives life, peace, and rest for my weary, selfish, and rebellious soul. I tear up when I read them or even think about them.

Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God came looking for me. My sin caused me to run from Him. But when I look at the words of the Apostle Paul, I see there is no reason to run from my Creator. Jesus knows of my rebellious acts. It’s why He came to die. I could not make the peace with Him. He made it with His blood.

And I have tears just thinking about this.

Praise the name of Jesus.

No Room For Pessimism

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[a] for those who are called according to his purpose.” –Romans 8:28. 

Another blog about Romans 8:28? Yes.

I finished Dr. R.C. Sproul’s brief devotional “Understanding God’s Purpose” this morning. It was a good study and I intend to read more work by him somewhere down the line. In yesterday’s devotional, he brought up Romans 8:28. Paraphrasing what he said in the devotional, this verse leaves no room for pessimism in the life of a Christian.

At the center of all of this is the fact that I am a natural-born pessimist. If anything can go wrong, I’ll be the first to see it and I will be the first to worry myself senseless about it. It’s a family trait. My father tended to hide his pessimism well but my grandmother was the queen of worriers.

There’s my car which takes a few seconds to start after I turn the ignition in addition to my concern over how the new transmission was installed. There is a pain behind my left knee which extends into my backside (some people have claimed this is sciatic nerve pain. I haven’t looked up the particulars on WebMD since I fear to become a hypochondriac). There are job-related stresses; the worry over how the children are faring; and how to pay for the wedding that I pray will happen soon.

Where did all of this come from? I can’t testify for anyone else but me, but as I sit here thinking about it, there are a few things at work.

First, there is the tendency for us human beings (particularly here in the United States) to believe that we are gods. That’s nothing new. According to the Bible, that was the aspiration of Adam and Eve. What might be different is that this is the message we get flung at us from multiple directions in our education system, TV, radio, social media, etc. All of these things tell us we are special. Certainly, we are. But the problem is (as I may have written about in a previous post)  they go much further. Because you and I are special, we deserve things.We should have our way all of the time. We should treat ourselves all of the time. We should buy the best things in life as often as we can. Our guy or gal should have won the presidency. Everyone should believe as I do- and if they don’t we unfriend them or dismiss them as disparaging term x, y, or z.

But, as we are well aware, human beings cannot get their way all of the time. Our guy or gal didn’t win the presidency. We can’t afford that. People disagree with us. It’s quite possible that a few of them don’t even like us.

And it should have been a no-brainer to me that I couldn’t have my way all of the time. After so much of society told me that I was special and could have it my way all of the time I sunk into pessimism to the point where I thought I was born under a bad sign. That God didn’t love me. That He was out to inflict harm upon me. Blaming Him for my troubles instead of where it belonged- with me.

Yet, with everything I’ve written and confessed to you, dear reader, I look at my past and see the hand of the Lord working and drawing me toward Him. And I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the Holy Spirit has reasons unknown to me for why He would want me among His people. By now, you shoROmansuld have more than a good idea that I am far from a paragon of virtue and faith.

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” -Romans 9:15

 

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” -Jeremiah 29:11

So if I can see His hand working in my past, which led me to Him, then I have no reason to doubt that He will watch over my future now that I am in a relationship with Him.

There is no room for pessimism.

Second, as I look back over my life, I somehow got the impression that a sign of God’s favor in my life would mean that I would have no problems at all. I don’t know where I got that idea from at all. In fact, as I look over the course of my life at things that I thought would bury me or ruin me, I see that I grew and learned valuable lessons from those things. The pain of those lessons led to a higher level of living and, ultimately, my faith in my Lord.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

So what does this have to do with pessimism? If I am right and the hard times in my life caused me to learn lessons that resulted in a better life, why should I not expect hard times in faith? And if I experience hard times in my walk with Jesus with the knowledge that God is working all of this together for good, then it is as Dr. Sproul said, there is no room for pessimism in the Christian life.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” -Matthew 5:11-12. 

These two verses, in addition to many others that I am not thinking of right now, make it clear that not even Jesus promised us an easy time in our walk with Him. Why should it be different for me? Who do I think I am to think that the fact that my car might not start or that this trial or that trial means that God is trying to punish me.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” -Romans 5:1-5.

There is a point to it all. And when we take these verses and others and fuse them together with the fact that God works all things together for good then there is no room for pessimism in my life as a Christian.

Now if I could only just flip a switch to stop worrying and to automatically think optimistically as my faith tells me to do.

These things take time.

 

Living Through This

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28 (NIV)

To me, Scripture is a finely cut diamond. Every time you turn it or look at it at a different angle you’ll see something new.

Romans 8:28 is like that. I remember the first time that I saw it, I was shown it by a Pastor in rural Iowa in 2003 after I had just gotten fired from my job as a journalist in Freeport, Illinois. This was during one of my attempts at a Christian life. I frankly deserved to be fired from that job. I did not take it seriously and didn’t have the heart for it so, frankly, I did not invest in it like I should have. I made reporting errors and called the integrity of the paper I worked for into question so I deserved the ax.

What’s interesting to me now as I look back from the space of 14 years is that I had the audacity to take Romans 8:28 and apply it to myself as a victim. As if my editors didn’t have anything better to do than to pick on me and fire me. As if I had nothing to do with what happened!

As I write about my past and look back through the perspective of my relationship with Jesus, I often wonder “was that actually me?” Or “what was I thinking?” Or “you wouldn’t let Christ into your life because you wanted to act like that?”

But I digress.

The pastor was correct to give me Romans 8:28 as a verse of encouragement. But not because I was the victim of an injustice, as I thought when I was 24. Now, this 38-year-old sees that meaning of this verse from a different angle: “You screwed up. Time and again. On many things. God will use all of it for the good that He plans on doing.”

I’m seeing the verse in a completely different angle now.

Yesterday, I began a brief devotional called “Understanding God’s Purpose” by Dr. R.C. Sproul. As you may have read, this is a part of my effort to build my spiritual foundation on basics rather than my previous attempts at a Christian life where I looked for knowledge that would make me feel superior to my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Goodbye to all that.

Joseph from the latter part of the Book of Genesis is a story that has come to my attention more a couple of times in the last year. When I started on the Dave Ramsey baby steps program in the middle of last year and was overwhelmed by the size of my student loan debt I began to feel despair. Ramsey was hawking the Max Lucado book “You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times” which dealt with the story of Joseph.

The constant refrain of the first chapter, Lucado wrote was “You’ll get through this. I don’t know how, but I know that God is going to work this our for good.”

Now it’s Dr. Sproul bringing Joseph to life again before me.

After his odyssey through his brothers’ betrayal of him; rising from the depths not once, but twice; and all of the setbacks, he finally came face-to-face with his brothers. And then came Joseph’s famous quote “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

In the devotional, Dr. Sproul wrote: “The divine intention was the exact opposite of the human intention. Joseph’s brothers had one goal; God had a different one. The amazing truth here is that the remote purpose was served by the proximate one. This does not diminish the culpability of the brothers. Their intent and their actions were evil. Yet it seemed good to God to let it happen that His purpose might be fulfilled.”

My situation is much different from Joseph as my wounds were largely self-inflicted. But as I think about my past, as far gone as I was in my sin, I see the statement “You meant evil…but God meant it for good” in another light. When I was in bondage to my sins away from my Lord, the sins I did, I did because I wanted to do them. I desired to commit evil. But I believe by faith that God will take the evil that I performed and turn it around to use it for His good.

To give me glory? No. To give Him glory.

I struggle with that as I sit here typing this. In the case of the women I used in my past, I hurt them. One of them was my ex-wife, someone I stood at an altar with and swore that I would love her forever. As I wrote before, I cheated on her with women I used for a cheap thrill.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)

I understand that Jesus saved me, but I do not believe that gives me the right to be flippant about my past or my sins. People were hurt. I hurt them.

All I can do at this moment is pray that my terrible actions result in the glory of God working in their lives. I believe He will. He said He would.

And that gives me faith that I will get throught his. God will work all of this out for His glory.

Thoughts on an Ash Wednesday

Hosanna, my long-suffering friend from Colorado, sent me a song in celebration of my surrender to Jesus. She’s been a dear friend to me- long past the point where she probably should’ve been. I’ve made fun of her faith during my lapses between attempts at Christian living, and at other times I have just been a plain nasty person to her.

Yet she was praying for me, even though I don’t think I deserve to be prayed for. Or, more than likely, Hosanna was praying for me because specifically because I wasn’t a person worth praying for.

I think of Hosanna on this Ash Wednesday as all of my brothers and sisters in Jesus as we enter into the season of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. This song is very appropriate for this time of year.

I feel a bit like the prodigal son from Jesus’ parable. And, as everyone knows, there are many other prodigals like me. Either we were raised in Christian houses and wandered away from anything to do with the faith, or we thought our hearts were close to Him but our hearts were far from Him, or we were spiritually abused or abused physically or emotionally in the name of Jesus, or (just like the prodigal son in the original parable) we wanted to do things our way and indulge in the ways of the world, or any number of reasons I haven’t written here.

And many people in our lives gave us up for dead. We were/ are so far gone that many people forgot about us or assumed we would never change our ways.

But Jesus didn’t forget us.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5: 6-8. 

And there were/ are people in our lives who knew this and they prayed for us with a faith that God can and does reach anyone no matter how far gone we seemed to be. They were the people this song describes. They were praying for people like me because they believed God could reach us.

What about you, dear reader? Were you far gone like I was? If you were, do you know who prayed for you when it seemed like all hope was lost?

It wasn’t just Hosanna. I’m sure it was my mother and other family members  Christians I have met in my travels in Colorado, Illinois, and my home state of Iowa. People I’ve met in my various attempts at a Christian’s life. People who knew I had demons. People called out for my dry bones to come alive as the song said.

I pray that my life and testimony bear witness to them that God does hear the prayers of the righteous and that we, all of us, should never stop praying for anyone, even as far gone as they appear to be.

I wish I could hug them now and pray with them and for them. I would love to sing hymns and modern songs of praise with them. But for now, as I type this on a mild evening (for a March 1st in Iowa anyway) I will have to be content to sit here and write this post.

If you ever prayed for me to come home to Jesus, thank you. This prodigal has come home.

“Lord, come through to me.”

Hope City Church, Waterloo, Iowa

February 26th, 2017

“Lord, come through to me.”

Those words came into my head as Pastor Q began to deliver the message this morning. I think I know why.

In my previous attempts at a Christian life, I would do the obligatory thing and take a friend of mine to church. And I would pray that our Lord would “get through” to the lost soul that was seated next to me (who didn’t know Jesus like I did, I smugly thought). These thoughts would come into my head despite the fact that I was still unrepentant and knee deep in addictions and superficial legalism to the point where I resented Jesus.

Those people might’ve been closer to Jesus than I was at the time.

I found myself thinking the same thing in the moments leading up to the sermon. People are coming to Jesus every week at Hope City Church it seems. I found myself praying that the Lord would get through to more people this week.

What right did I have to pray that? Was I in a position where, after only a few weeks, I could say I mastered the faith and am more of an enlightened Christian than anyone else? I suppose I could try to make the case for that if being a Christian were nothing but levels of enlightenment.

But, as I have been studying Scripture, working through the “Beginning a Relationship with Jesus” devotional, and listening to the messages of Pastor Q at Hope City, I am discovering, for the first time, that the heart of Christian faith is my relationship with Jesus. And to enter into a relationship with Him is to find out what He is like and what He wants and doesn’t want.

Then another thought occurred to me “You should pray that the Lord gets through to you with His message this week.”

And I prayed: “Lord, come through to me.”

It was a good time to pray that, since Pastor Q’s message this morning seemed tailor-made for me straight from God though I know good and well that many others are struggling with the same things. It was the fourth in the five-part series “Longing for Eden” dealing with The Garden of Eden section of Genesis.

A side note: In past times, the entire Book of Genesis would be incredibly problematic for me with my background as an academic, cynic, and overall snob. If you would have mentioned the Book of Genesis to me, I might have gone off into a rant about how the story was completely implausible and that the entire Garden of Eden story was, at best, a Jewish creation story. Do I still approach Adam and Eve with some questions and some skepticism? Yes, I do. I will be happy to share them on some other post down the road.

What Genesis 3 provides for me, even with my questions on some of the details, is something I have seen at work in my wanderings through the world: humanity is broken. I have zero difficulties believing that God created the world. And all I have to do is wake up and turn on the news (something that I’ve ceased doing in the last six months) to understand that depravity is moving in the world. I can also look at the relationships in my own life to see that something is amiss, which was the topic of Pastor Q’s sermon on Sunday.

The Fall in the Garden damaged the intimate relationship human beings have with other human beings. In my sermon notes, I have Pastor Q saying “We long to know and be known as we are still be loved as we are.” It’s not surprising that after their sin, Adam and Eve decided to hide when they heard God walking in the garden.

What was going on through their minds was/is going through my mind right now I attempt to escape the feelings of guilt and isolation that resulted from my sinful behaviors. To be sure, freedom has been achieved in Christ and I take the freedom He offers. But I think I am being realistic in my belief that it will take time.

Pastor Q outlined three areas where original sin affected our relationships with one another.

  1. Guilt.
  2. Fear
  3. Shame

In my relationships with other people, all of these worked together but I especially feel fear and shame in dealing with other people. Pastor Q defined fear in the expression of the emotion that “Who you are is unsafe with me around.” I’ve felt that way around people most of my life. If they knew about “the real me” they wouldn’t want to have any kind of surface-level friendship (let alone intimacy).

Guilt and fear combined to form shame which Pastor Q said attaches negative worth to who you are as a person as opposed to what you do. So I hid. In some ways, I am still hiding although my relationship with Jesus is slowly helping me emerge in Hope City Church.

The three truths that Pastor Q  said would lead to intimacy were:

  1. Speak truth
  2. Learn to trust
  3. Take your time

As I look at this list, I see that these things can be used to apply to my relationship with Jesus in addition to my fellow humans. With each other we are supposed to follow Ephesians 4:15:

“speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”

That truth serves as the foundation for learning to trust. Now that I think about it, this spiritual journal is my way of speaking truth to myself and the world. And as I proceed in Christ, I will be doing the third point, taking my time.

Which is why I am praying earnestly for the Lord to come through me.

 

Legalism

In my previous attempts at a Christian life, I drifted heavily toward legalism over a relationship with Jesus.

I can’t say for sure what makes people drift toward legalism in their Christian life, but I can explain why I did: Some of these things I have written before. In no particular order:

  1. I wanted to be God over my own life rather than give Jesus the throne of my life.I had too much confidence in my own willpower even though there was no power in my will in many areas of my life.
  2. When I did want God in my life, I wanted Him as an elixir to temporarily drive away the misery that my selfish life and decisions drove me to.
  3. When I was getting high off of God, instead of pursuing a real, permanent relationship with Him, I would avoid it by sinking into legalism- trying to maintain being in the good graces of God by following rules.
  4. Part of what drove my particular blend legalism is I wanted to feel superior to other Christians. I wanted to know more because I thought knowing would make me better than you. And if I believed this particular blend of Christian doctrine (and I swung around from Calvinism to Catholicism) not only would I win honor and glory as a defender of a particular branch of faith, God would overlook the fact that I wasn’t interested in a relationship with Him or the fact that I had no interest in leaving the sins that cause me to feel miserable enough to use Him as a drug in the first place.

I was a non-repentant, hypocritical mess who completely missed the point. Looking at what I just wrote here I see my sin and pride left my religious beliefs in a terrible gordian knot.

Now that I’ve arrived at a point where I hate my sin so much that I admit powerlessness and let Christ have the throne, I find myself in the early days of an actual relationship with Jesus. These few weeks convinced that my particular blend of legalism is only cured by an actual relationship with our Savior.

On Thursday, I began the short devotional series  “Beginning a Relationship with Jesus.” Day one of the devotional contained this, which spoke to my heart:

“The story of the Bible makes it clear that the point of knowing Jesus is for a relationship, not rules. As you begin to explore what God tells us about Himself through the Bible, you are going to find that being in a loving, committed relationship with Him is the main thing.

“So saying that the main idea of Christianity is to follow teaching points is like saying that the main idea of marriage is to share your household bills. Not exactly what we hope for in a great love story!”

One of the incidents the authors of the devotional cited was after the Fall in the Garden of Eden.

“In Genesis 3, we read about Adam and Eve choosing to turn from God and live life apart from Him. When the relationship was broken, God came looking for Adam and Eve. He didn’t come to punish or shame them but to restore the relationship.”

He asked them where they were. But the authors added a dimension to this story that I had not considered before. God obviously knew what happened with Adam, Eve, and the apple and He knew where they were. According to the authors, God was looking for reconciliation in the broken relationship.

Another angle they suggested was also interesting. “Where are you?” could refer to asking where Adam and Eve were in their mental/emotional state. I’ve been in arguments where the words “Where is your head at?” were uttered. Or as Kelsey Grammer’s character, Dr. Frasier Crane asked another character on that long-running sitcom “Tell me, what color is the sky in your world?”

As I type, I think of the famous Sermon on the Mount from Matthew where Jesus’ discourse dealt with rules. In issues such as adultery and murder, our Lord not only never said: “If you want to be with God, simply stop sinning and follow these rules.”

Reading the text from Matthew 5:1 through 7:27 tells me that Jesus’ message was that we are screwing up and are completely missing the mark even when we think we are following all of the rules and that the distance between God and us is so great that we need a relationship with Him.

I’ve fallen so far from Him that any attempt at “being good” or exercising will-power is the ultimate act of futility. I need a savior.

That is not to suggest I am being anti-law or that I believe the rules do not apply to me as I used to. But that’s another topic for another day.

 

 

 

Nothing Fancy

The final day of the Fight Devotional for those of us doing it a Hope City Chuch is tomorrow. I’ve enjoyed it very much as I have seen much of myself in the character flaws of Samson.

But where do I go from here? As far as I know, Pastor Q hasn’t announced anything yet.

I was scrolling the different reading plans available on the same site that Pastor Craig Groeschel posted his Fight Devotional on, a site called Bible.com. There are a lot of tempting options for where to go next. One was Rachel Cruze, the daughter of Dave Ramsey (whom I LOVE) with a Bible study on her new book “Love Your Life, Not Theirs,” which I’ve been anxious to read for some time.

There was another called “Apologetic 101: A Survey of Christian Apologetics” by Jeff Myers.

One of the times I made an attempt at the Christian life, the early 2000’s, I studied apologetics which is the discipline of defending the Christian faith. I used to listen to James R. White and follow the work of R.C. Sproul and heard their expositions on doctrines of the Christian faith, and the threats it faces.

There is nothing wrong with apologetics. In fact, 1 Peter 3:15 states, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” I will probably write about some apologetics issues down the road in this blog. And by down the road, I probably mean years.

There were two problems with my approach to apologetics:

  1. Frankly, I got too fancy too. The time I spent hairsplitting theology was frankly like ordering  Coq Au Vin when all I needed was a ham sandwich. The timing was all wrong. I could have better spend my time investigating prayer, studying God’s purpose, and other basic foundations of my faith.
  2. I’m not even sure what Coq Au Vin is. Much like I was not sure what apologetics was. I just wanted to sound fancy. It was all part of my need to impress, be looked upon and adored rather than actually studying the basics of the faith.

I would love to impress you all with my exegesis on the Holy Trinity or transubstantiation. It would really stroke my ego to regale you with my really deep thoughts about Calvinism vs. Arminianism or John Owens’ “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.”

But I am not ready for any of that. Who would get the glory if I did that? It wouldn’t be God since I would be talking about concepts related to Him for my sake rather than talk about Him for His sake.

This time I am determined to give Him glory rather than myself. I want an actual relationship with Jesus for His sake rather than for mine.

While I am sure that Mr. Myers wrote a great study that would very much be worth my time, I am far more interested in building a solid foundation for my house of faith to rest on at this time before I get into deeper waters.

I’m not good about prayer because I am not exactly sure how best to pray. And while I get the overall concept of JI want to study the very basics of my faith and how it applies to my life as a Christian. I want to better understand God’s purpose as He stated in the Bible. I want to serve Him rather than use Him as a means of advancing myself.

I have decided to go with the study “Beginning a Relationship with Jesus, ” a seven-day devotional by David Dwight and Nicole Uncie, which is based on their book “Start Here: Beginning a Relationship with Jesus.”

The motto this time is “nothing fancy.”

Fight Devotional Day 10

“He must increase, but I must decrease,” -John 3:30.

“You are not your own for you were bought with a price,” -1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

“For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” – Philippians 1:21.

I hated those verses for most of my life.

I’m starting to wonder if I ever really was Christian in the first place before a couple of weeks ago. Why? Because when I think about it God was like a drug to me in my previous attempts at a spiritual life. Being the selfish person that I was, I often found myself depressed, hurt, and alone, much of which was due to decisions that I made. Granted there were some events and people in my past that were responsible for some of those feelings, but the vast majority of my wounds were/are self-inflicted.

So I would use God as a drug. A temporary fix to the pain and isolation of my life. I would feel better for a time and then relapse back into my selfish life.

I bring this up because, even when I was using God as a drug to get me high and escape the pain of my life, I resented and even despised verses like the ones above. Why? Because I wanted to be the star of my own life and I despised any thought that someone else might be. Even Jesus.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you saw where such an attitude led me. I wrote yesterday that I have had many Delilah’s in my life-  The strip club. The buffet. The pack of smokes. The bed. The chat room. The selfish need for adulation and power.”The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” (1 John 2:16- KJV).

Is it any wonder why I wound up where I did? Or why Samson wound up humiliated and chained between two pillars at a Philistine shindig with his eyes gouged out?

We went back, Jack, and did it again to paraphrase Steely Dan.

Yet, as Pastor Craig Groeschel wrote in day 10 of the Fight Devotional, God was not finished in Samson. Or me.

“If you’re a Christian, you have resurrection power within you. Tap into it. Don’t try just to ‘be a stronger man.’ Satan loves making strong men weak. God loves making weak men strong. Don’t try just to “be a better man.” Be God’s man. Stop trying to tell your story. Start telling his. It’s not about you. It’s about him. Push those pillars down. Die to yourself so you can live for him.”

I no longer cringe at the thought of dying to myself or living for Christ. I was the star of my own show for 38 years and I don’t have a whole lot to show for it except a life filled with mostly disappointment and heartache. I finally let Jesus have the throne of my life because I got sick of fighting for the power and prestige that only belongs to Him.

So did I recently become a Christian? I hesitate to say that. Perhaps when I accepted the Lord in my teenage years it was the beginning of a long and winding sanctification process. It took me over 20 years to wind up at the point where I let go and let Jesus have his way.

My life is no longer my story. It’s His. To be honest, while I am relieved, I am not sure what all that entails or where this journey with my Lord will lead. Samson’s moment of surrender to the Lord was in the last minutes of his life. As of now, I’ve lived about three weeks after my moment of surrender. Lord willing, I will have longer. But I don’t know where this faith journey will lead me.

And perhaps that is what faith in Jesus is: trusting Him enough to put your hand and your fate in His, letting him lead you trusting that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippines 1:6).

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