Bartimaeus on the road to Jericho. It has always fascinated me, in reading Scripture, how much Christ got done in a day. His days were filled with ministry. If you do a quick search of Scripture for the words "that same day", it might surprise you what stories are linked so closely together.
These two stories are not linked by a "that same day" passage, but Christ met these two men one right after the other at the end of Luke 18 and the beginning of Luke 19. Let's consider it.
Jesus was followed by a multitude of people. A crowd followed Him when He passed Bartimaeus on the road, and it was this same crowd of people that surrounded Him once He entered into the city. Within this crowd, was a short man named Zacchaeus. He wished to see Jesus, but because of his stature, he couldn't see a thing (Luke 19:3). So he had a bright idea. He would climb a tree! (Luke 19:4)
The interesting thing to me while studying the Lord's interlude with Zacchaeus, was how very alike the Rich Young Ruler he was, and yet, his story takes the opposite path. I have compared and contrasted Bartimaeus' life to that of the Rich Young Ruler, but it struck me when reading this passage in Luke 19:1-10 that Zacchaeus is also a parallel to him.
We aren't told how old Zacchaeus is. I have seen him portrayed in movies as an older, rotund fellow, likely with a balding head, but we don't know. The passage doesn't say. What it does say is that Zacchaeus was a tax collector. But not only that, he was the chief tax collector (Luke 19:2). In this way, he was a ruler, a rich ruler. Whether or not he was "young" makes no difference.
Now think of what he did when he tried to see Yeshua. He climbed a tree. Climbing a tree is something children do, certainly not a grown man. Certainly not an important, rich, chief tax collector! Why, he might stain or rip his clothing. He might fall. He might be made a laughingstock. But in the moment, he simply doesn't care. He wanted to see Jesus! I don't think this was necessarily a conscious effort on Zacchaeus' part to humble himself, but that's certainly what he did. And I believe it is this humbling moment that caught our Lord's eye.
The text says Christ called him by name. It's possible that He knew it simply by being God, but with a multitude around Him, it's also likely many were pointing and laughing at the "hated" tax collector in the tree. "Look at Zacchaeus!" I can imagine the crowd mocking him in that moment. Perhaps Christ overheard his name. Whatever the scenario, what is important here is that our Lord called him by name (John 10:3).
Christ defended Mary of Bethany's tender heart when she anointed Him with oil. He made sure her act of love did not fill her with shame when those around them began to rebuke her. I wonder if He did the same with Zacchaeus? If those in the crowd were indeed taunting the man in the tree, Christ's words that He must stay at his house today would surely have quieted the crowd. Zacchaeus would have been well aware he was not a popular guy. Tax collectors were hated, Jews who turned on their own people to serve Rome and line their own pockets. Perhaps Zacchaeus would have felt a certain amount of shame for being short, for climbing a tree, for looking the fool.
But this humbling moment is when Christ honors and exalts him by declaring to one and all that He'll be dining at his house that evening. This makes more sense to me when the crowd begins to grumble in Luke 19:7. How miffed they were Christ didn't choose them, such upstanding citizens!
As for Zacchaeus, the text says he received Christ joyfully (Luke 19:6). This reminded me immediately of the short parable Jesus gave in Matthew 13:44, of a man who finds a treasure in a field and sells all he has with joy to obtain it. Imagine - everyone hates you and all that you stand for, and yet this man who people say is the promised Messiah wants to eat at your table. What a glorious honor! Zacchaeus didn't take it lightly.
The honor Christ bestowed upon him compelled Zacchaeus to honor Him in return. Perhaps Christ gave him a sermon similar to the one He preached to the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-22). But unlike the Rich Young Ruler, Zacchaeus gladly gives away his riches. He immediately gives half of it to the poor, and the other half is spent paying back those whom he defrauded fourfold (Luke 19:8).
He knows his joy is not wrapped up in his wealth. He has found in Christ something far greater than money. I doubt Zacchaeus started the day knowing he'd give up his wealth, but that's certainly how it ended. He ended the day infinitely richer than when he began! The Lord Himself declared salvation had come to his house (Luke 19:9). Zacchaeus chose what the Rich Young Ruler had given up - treasure in Heaven (Mark 10:21).
Not only did Jesus declare that salvation had come to Zacchaeus' house, but that he is also a son of Abraham, thus reminding the people that he, too, was an heir according to the promise, and giving him back his respect in the community. Since he gave up his wealth to the poor and to those whom he defrauded, it's highly likely he also laid down his job. The end of the passage has Christ saying the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). All would now know that Zacchaeus, this lost, wretched tax collector, had been restored by the promised Messiah. And if that was true, then no one was without hope!
The lesson we learn from both Zacchaeus and Bartimaeus is not necessarily giving away all your money. Bartimaeus had no money, he was a mere beggar on the side of the road. Zacchaeus was not a beggar, he was a very rich man. However, the lesson remains the same: they both gave up everything they had to follow Yeshua. They surrendered their all to become all of His. They gave it up with joy. They rejoiced in leaving it all behind, not for their own fame, but for the glory of the One whom they loved with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
That is the cornerstone of true faith in Christ - turning from your idols to follow the one true God. Loving Him high and above all other loves. Praising Him no matter the personal cost to you. Crying out to get His attention when you have no hope left to give. Climbing a tree and humbling yourself in the process just to get a glimpse of Him. Does this describe your walk with Christ? Are you desperate to get closer to Him no matter what? Even if someone tells you to be quiet? (Mark 10:48) Even if they call you a sinner? (Luke 19:7)
Within the lives of these two men, we see the fruit of true salvation. It is a devotion to Christ that is so strong, it transcends this world with its riches and comforts. It follows Him no matter what it costs. It is forgoing all that you've known to know Him. It's glorifying Him to such a degree, that it is the glory of your life to praise Him. It is realizing nothing else in your life has eternal value except knowing Him and making Him known.
Praise the Lord! Let us live as these men lived, and leave this world behind as we follow our Good Shepherd all the way to Glory.
Amen and amen.
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
The first time I heard the above quote by C.H. Spurgeon, it grabbed a hold of my heart and my imagination. Well, the same might be said of anything Spurgeon wrote, as he is my all-time favorite preacher. But the reason why it stood out for me was because these words are a glaring contrast to the soft sermons I've heard over the years from various pulpits.
I don't think I've ever heard a sermon on Sunday morning emphasizing the immeasurable worth of our Lord Jesus Christ. When the Lord finally led me to faith in Him, I remember coming to the realization that we must seek God for God, and not solely for His blessings. Christ is worthy because of who He is, and not because He is a way out of Hell. That rocked me, because even though I loved Christ to a degree, I came to realize by the Spirit that He must be treasured, as where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:34). That means Christ doesn't want "love to a degree", He wants our whole heart, our entire devotion, and every ounce of our adoration.
The Spurgeon quote, "If Christ be anything, He must be everything", captured my imagination because ... with this understanding, that Christ is worthy and must be treasured, then Spurgeon's words are true. If Jesus is God who came down to save us and give us union with Himself unto eternal life, then He is everything, the only thing, that has ever, will ever, or for ever matter.
I believe there are two reasons for this.
First of all, I don't believe it is possible for this body of flesh to continue in the strength of the previous day. Even Christ Himself told us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." (Matt. 6:11) Just as our flesh needs to eat physical food daily, our spirits likewise need to eat spiritual food daily, namely the True Bread from Heaven, which is Christ (John 6:32-33).
This means that we surrender to Christ, not once upon our conversion, but every single day. I'm sure you're familiar with the phrase "dying daily" or "taking up your cross" to follow Him. If we fail to do this, we're trying to borrow from yesterday the strength we need today, and that simply cannot be done. Yesterday is gone! Have you ever wondered how some Christians seem to live by the Spirit, day in and day out, with a certain otherworldly endurance? These are the ones you recognize that have been with Jesus. They are feeding their souls upon Him in prayer and study. But not only that, they have chosen - that very day - to surrender to Him as they did the hour they first believed.
To choose heavenly glories over worldly vanities gives our spirit a certain transcendence that even the unconverted recognize. This is the peace of God which passes all understanding. We can only obtain this peace by surrendering to Christ in the moment and communing with Him right then and there. This gives us the strength to overcome the lusts of our flesh. I suppose this is why the Apostle Paul counseled us to "pray without ceasing." (1 Thessalonians 5:17) This isn't some cute verse to slap onto a coffee mug, but a necessary requirement to live a life fully surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ. In order to walk by faith, by the Spirit, with a heavenly endurance, we must be a people of prayer.
The second reason why I believe many struggle to live a victorious Christian life is that they haven't fully surrendered to the King of Glory. I am not questioning the sincerity of anyone's faith, rather I want to stress a very significant truth. What does it mean to surrender? It means to lay down one's own "reign" over their lives. In days of old, the surrendering king forfeited his lands, his people, and his riches to the conqueror. In the same way, when we surrender to Christ, all things that once belonged to us now belong to Him.
This means we live life with open hands, not clenched fists. We are freed from selfish ownership and have become selfless stewards. Surrendering to Christ breaks us of our idolatry. If our possessions, our careers, our family, our pets, our wealth, or our health belong to Him, then we rejoice if He shall give -- or if He shall take away. Thus everything in life becomes a focus of praise and worship.
Hear me now, if we have genuinely surrendered to Jesus, we don't get to set the terms of our surrender. All too often we have heard stories or know someone who lives with clenched fists (or perhaps even ourselves?). They are angry at God. They assumed the Christian life would be easy. They've come to realize that God often works through suffering, and they have grown bitter. They don't want poverty, illness, or pain to intrude upon the perfect picture they've created in their mind's eye. They don't want sweat, tears, or agony along the way.
But Christian, here's a sobering question - have you truly surrendered your life to Christ? If you have, then your life belongs to Jesus to do with as He wills. If He has chosen to glorify Himself through your pain, then you should thank Him and praise Him for the opportunity to glorify Him at all.
We must ask Him how we can glorify Him even more. We need Him to show us how and to give us the strength to do so.
If our lives aren't going as we had planned, then we rejoice, as it is being lived out according to His plan. God tells us that His ways are higher than our ways, as high as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:9). Since the moment of our surrender, the "title deed" of our life is now in HIS name. We are His purchased possession (1 Corinthians 6:20, 1 Peter 2:9), bought with His own precious blood. Many of us sing about this in church on Sunday, but are we then to deny Him throughout the rest of the week?
If you remember nothing else from this blog, remember this singular shining truth -
We don't set the terms of our surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. Our lives are His to do with as He pleases. We know Lord Jesus is not some frivolous Greek god who's bored on Mt. Olympus and makes us jump for His own entertainment. No, our God works all things for our good and His glory. It is up to us to have faith, to pray, and to praise Him, no matter our circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Therefore, in order to absolutely lay down the autonomy of our lives to this blessed God, we must come to see that "if Christ be anything, He must be everything." And if He is everything, then it is our privilege to glorify Him no matter our circumstance. True surrender to this King is not weakness, it is strength, and I daresay it is the only true strength in this universe. Why? Because we have the Holy Spirit of God living within us, the very same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead! (Romans 8:11) Nothing is impossible for Him. He is able to preserve us through the strength of His power. And it is God's magnificent power, sustaining us through weakness, which glorifies Him to the world.
How amazing, Christian, is this glorious gem:
Victory is gained through surrender!
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Many who know me would say I have been a Christian my whole life. Since I was thirteen, I've had a certain affection for Jesus. A friend of mine once told me I needed to ask Jesus into my heart, and I did - many times. I watched all the religious movies. I knew many Bible stories. Even read the Bible and had some of it memorized. I used my allowance money to buy Christian music and posters, I went to youth group, and I wore Christian t-shirts to high school.
But to my amazement, God opened my eyes to a truth that had me seriously take stock and ask myself some hard questions. For most of my life, I was not regenerate. I wasn't granted the repentance leading me to a knowledge of the truth in 2 Timothy 2:25 until 2011.
Don't get me wrong; I knew about repentance. It was spoken of in certain circles. It was generally taught that if one accepted Jesus into their heart, that's all it took as far as repentance was concerned. That was the definition of repentance as I had understood it for years - accepting Christ into your heart and generally being sorry for your sins. It was a "change of one's mind", yet never once did I hear that repentance was a change of one's life.
However, what I didn't know, and what the Lord has only recently made clear to me, is that I had no idea there are two different roads of "repentance". The first is worldly sorrow which leads to death, and the second is godly sorrow which leads to life. Only one repentance is true.
Godly sorrow, on the other hand, is having the Spirit unveil to you exactly how wretched you are before a holy God. It is humbling, a stripping down to the bare bones of who you really are, realizing you have no righteousness of which to speak, and that all your deeds are evil. It is being shown how your life does not align with Scripture, and overhauling your entire existence to obey Christ's commandments. It is having your affections changed, to hate the things God hates, and to love the things God loves. It's coming to a realization that you want to be holy as He is holy, regardless of the cost. It is throwing away anything this life has to offer for Christ and Him crucified. This world and it's trinkets no longer hold any sway over you, and you find them all to be as cardboard, smoke and mirrors, or ash in your mouth. The sins you used to love now revolt your spirit. You recoil from sin as if from a hot stove. If you should stumble into sin, you weep, not because you have violated your personal morality, but because you've sinned against Almighty God Himself. Anything that grieves Him now grieves you. You see yourself as the "chiefest of all sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). Therefore you beg Him with a tearful plea to create in you a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within you. Christ has rightly become the object of every ounce of your loyalty and affection.
In other words, godly repentance is putting away your sins (Ephesians 4:31, Colossians 3:8, James 1:21, 1 Peter 2:1) and becoming a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), having new affections by the power of His Spirit (Psalm 45:7, Philippians 4:8), while conforming into His image (Romans 8:29) by walking as He walked (1 John 2:6).
Let me be very clear - worldly sorrow is very deceiving. Many who read this might scoff and think, "That's not me, I'm obviously a believer." I'm still reeling from what God has revealed to me. But let me outline for you why I believe I was never truly converted in the first place.
I cussed. I drank, not overly so, but I have been roaring drunk a few times in my life. I had sex before marriage. I rarely read the Bible. I certainly never studied it. If I prayed, it was for material things, or for my own personal advantage. I would get angry when God didn't "follow through". I pursued fame and fortune in the romance novel industry more than I pursued Christ. I compromised myself and wrote erotic fiction. I never cared about making disciples. I never taught my children about Christ. I didn't care about church. I didn't think I needed to learn anything about theology. I made excuses for the smut I would write, justifying it because it was popular. I honestly believed my books wouldn't be so blessed if God didn't honor them. I frequently prayed for God to advance my erotic stories. I had no problem with writing "Jesus" or "Christ" as cuss words. No problem with open-door sex scenes. No problem with slang and erotic jargon for body parts. No problem with lude jokes or crude words.
The list goes on and on and on.
Folks, if you haven't read my testimony about "returning to Christ", I highly suggest you do. However, reading the above paragraph and truly taking inventory for the first time about the fruit of godliness in my life, I can trace back my true, godly repentance to this moment in 2011: Saying No to the World and Yes to Jesus - My Testimony.
Please note, however, that I no longer believe I have "rededicated my life to Christ" but that this was the moment I became a true believer.
What happened to me? Giving you the short version, I decided to read the book of Acts one day because I'd never read that book. I was bored, so why not? After finishing it, I wept, knowing the utter bankruptcy of my "belief" when held up in comparison to the bold, courageous, and marvelous faith of the Apostles. You could argue, "But those were the APOSTLES!", however, even ordinary members of the first century church put my faith to shame.
In that moment, God pulled back the curtain and made me come face-to-face with my idolatry and sin. I needed to make a choice - my sins? Or my God? I wrestled with Him on this issue, I won't lie. While my testimony linked above has a "dialogue" between myself and God, please know I never heard God's audible voice. These convictions were raining down on me, confronting me every time I opened Scripture.
"Do you love Me?"
The question our Lord asked Peter plagued me. Over and over again, Christ asked me this same question, and I knew in my heart of hearts that if I truly loved Him, I needed to be obedient and lay down my sin. I knew it would be hard and it would be painful, embarrassing, and quite possibly I'd face a backlash. But how much did I really love Jesus? O, brethren, with my whole heart! That was the moment I turned from all that vile wickedness, retired from writing lude romance, and decided to live my life solely for Him and His glory alone.
What fruit did my heart bear afterward? More than a mere affection, I now ADORED Christ. His name alone was enough to overflow my heart with a depth of love I had never known before. My affection had turned into a flaming fire. Christ had become my Treasure (Luke 12:34). I had a deep desire to see Him glorified, not just in the world, but in my life. I wanted to make disciples and advance His Kingdom to the ends of the earth. I began studying the Bible and finding how much I loved to read it and unlock its secrets by taking my own notes within the margins. I fell in love with theology and couldn't get enough of Charles Spurgeon, the Puritans, and others who have written of God's great glory, beauty, and majesty. I had a heart for the Lord's people. I loved attending church. I stopped cussing. I retired from writing filth. I decided now to write only for Jesus and help others see His great glory, beauty, and majesty. I had a deep desire to obey Christ, despite what others might say. Friends and family noticed a definite change in me, some thinking it for the better, while others murmured it being for the worse. Holiness and righteousness became my delight, while ludeness and crudeness repelled me.
Now, while my conversion happened in 2011, I didn't know it until recently. I had been happily skipping through life thinking I had rededicated myself to Jesus. How is that possible? Well, God reveals things in His time. In an effort to know more Scripture, I decided to try and memorize the book of 1 John. While reciting these verses over and over to cement them in my head, they sunk deeper and deeper into my heart. It didn't take long at all for the Spirit to show me the truth of it.
Like a lightbulb going off, I knew I was not a true Christian until 2011. I had not been obedient to His Word. I had been openly and brazenly walking in darkness. There was no fruit of godliness in my life, no sanctification, no resembling Christ. No one would have known I was a Christian if I didn't say, "I know Him!" But there is 1 John 2:4, condemning my own words by my own actions.
Don't get me wrong, we are not saved by our works, but on the finished work of Christ alone. However, our conversion is proven by our works (James 2:20), and by the fruit in our hearts (Romans 6:21-22).
Oh, my sweet brethren in Christ, examine yourselves to see if you are truly in the faith! (2 Corinthians 13:5) What kind of fruit is your heart producing? Do you have a worldly sorrow that leads to death? Or a godly sorrow that leads to true repentance and life everlasting?
The moment I realized (and was blown away by) the fact that I have not been a Christian for most of my life, I knew I had to be obedient to Christ in all things. 1 John 2:5 says - "But whoso keepeth His commandments, in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we that we are in Him." When I was sixteen years old, I made the decision to be baptized. It had been my own choice, but I hadn't understood that Christianity is much more than merely "making a decision", the Christian life is about a heart change that leads to a life change which points straight to Jesus.
Knowing that, I decided to love Jesus and be obedient to Him by getting baptized now, this time as an true believer. Hallelujah! \O/ Why didn't God reveal all this to me sooner? That's a good question, but I don't think I would have accepted it any sooner in my life. Up until a few weeks ago, I would have told you I had rededicated my life to Him. But God makes everything beautiful in His time, and I trust that He gave me this testimony of repentance and obedience at this time to reach someone in His name and for His glory.
Praise the Lord! Let us all repent unto the Lord with a godly repentance that leads to life, and make glorifying the majesty and beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ the sole focus and the greatest purpose for which we live.
Amen and amen!
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Today, I ask that You teach Your Bride how to love one another. It seems many of us are pounding the drum of truth while also smacking the clanging cymbal of lovelessness. Do not allow those for whom You died to grow bitter or jaded against other believers. Do not allow us to hide in cold indifference, rather beseech us to pray for our brothers and sisters, and also our enemies. Give Your true children tender hearts that do not abide by false doctrine, yet neither do they crush the broken reed nor extinguish the smoking flax.
Let us be filled with both truth and grace.
If our brethren stumble, I ask You help them up through the hands and feet of Your Church. Love them tenderly through us. Break our hearts for their broken hearts. Humble us. Do not allow pride or self-righteousness to eat away at those You love, who look to You and say, "Thank You, Lord, that I am not like other men." Close that vile door to the enemy. This is the doorstep of Hell, and against Your Church, these gates shall not prevail.
If we truly are one of the last generations before Your glorious return, I ask for You to grow us into mighty oaks, with deep roots, fed by Living Water, and pruned by the Great Husbandman Himself. Transform our generation into one that resembles the boldness and faith of Your Apostles, of Your First Century Church, of the martyrs who have died for Your glory through the ages, of the Puritans who expounded biblical truth through the Reformation and beyond, of those stoic men of old, men of prayer, with mothers, daughters, and wives of great faith.
Lead us back to the Rock from whence we were hewn, and polish us into a Bride with no spot or wrinkle, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Yes, Lord, this is my prayer to the God of the Saints today. Breathe LOVE upon us, that we may more perfectly resemble You and bring glory to Your beautiful name.
Call Your sheep into the fold and lead us out of this world to behold Your glory, if only with the eyes of our faith while we remain in this flesh. If we be pillars in Your House, make us strong in spirit though our flesh is weak.
Holy Spirit, teach us to be Christians who bear fruit for our God, namely those most noble fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Sanctify us, most holy God, in Jesus' highest name.
Monday, November 7, 2016
Affliction. Many of us hear this word and flinch from it. The natural bent of our hearts is for health and wealth in our lives, which is likely why the false gospel of "prosperity" is so popular in our day and age. No one wants to live through affliction, and certainly no one in their right mind would pray for it!
And yet... if I were to make a choice of which chisel in God's tool chest works the best to conform us into the image of Christ, it would have to be this most unwelcome chisel of affliction. I have pondered this topic for a very long time, and it's taken a while to put my thoughts into words. I believe its because our Lord needed me to live in affliction for a season to fully comprehend the "why" behind it all.
Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. For a disease of this magnitude, you don't know what it's like until you know what it's like. My mother has RA as well, and I was always sympathetic toward her, but I never knew the level of pain she had to deal with. That is, until I began to feel my hips and knees screaming at me going up and down stairs. Until my first flare in the knuckles of my right hand. Until I lay crying at night whenever I needed to roll over in bed. RA can affect every synovial joint in the body. The body's own immune system mistakenly begins to attack synovial tissue, which over time destroys bone, leading to deformities. RA can also severely affect the eyes, heart, and lungs. So believing this disease merely affects the hands or the feet is wrong. This is not your "grandmother's arthritis"; many prefer to call it "rheumatoid disease" rather than "arthritis", as it affects much more than one's joints.
Medications help slow the disease down, but it cannot stop it completely. There is no cure for RA. One might help inflammation by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly at the direction of a physician. But unless RA goes into remission, the majority of sufferers deal with pain on some level. While medications slow RA down, they do not always help with pain. They might lesson one's pain, but pain is still prevalent in the life of one with rheumatoid arthritis.
Why would God saddle me with this lifelong pain? Why does He give His children affliction anyway? My story might not be your story, but we all have a story, amen?
Perhaps we cannot fully know the reasons why until we look back upon our lives in Glory. I firmly believe the will of God is a mystery, and we only know what He wills us to know. Sometimes, God's logic can seem backwards to us. But even saying that, here are a few reasons why I believe God afflicts His children.
God disciplines every child He receives.
"For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son He receives." ~~Hebrews 12:6
When one first comes to Christ as a new believer, they must repent of their sin and believe on Him who saves. God's chastening in this manner purges our sin from us. Those idols we were once in love with, such as drinking, sex, greed, success, self-righteousness... they are kicked out and Christ places Himself on the throne of our hearts. This process can be painful to one who is used to walking in sin. Friends and family might not understand. It's altogether possible believers might be forsaken by those they love if they grow closer to Christ. Even though this discipline cuts us to the quick, it is necessary for our Lord to have His proper place FIRST in our lives. In other words, this discipline is meant to focus our lives where it is supposed to be focused - on CHRIST and HIS glory.
Affliction purges our pride.
It is very hard to puff up with pride when one is stooping down in pain. It matters not if this pain is physical, mental, or spiritual. Being faced with one's weaknesses in a specific matter teaches us our absolute, utter dependence upon God for everything. The penchant of our flesh is to think too highly of ourselves. Many times, in order to work through us for His Kingdom, our Lord has to "get us out of the way", for lack of a better term. We are told to love others as ourselves, and to place others before ourselves. But pride places us at the front of the line, and secretly believes we're better than everyone else. Therefore, God humbles us with affliction in order to get the focus off ourselves to more perfectly love others. When God empties one of their pride, no good work for the glory of His name is too "low" to stoop. Since our Lord Jesus Christ stoops to us, God likewise wants the same mind in us (Philippians 2:5-7).
Our weaknesses serve to show others the strength of Christ.
Our Lord told the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that His strength is made perfect in weakness. The Apostle Paul's response was that he would boast all the more gladly in his weakness so that the power of Christ might rest upon him. Why is this? Because Christ is able to do far more abundantly above all that we can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). If we are able to accomplish amazing things with the black backdrop our weakness on display, even the world pauses and recognizes another power is at work here - the shining power of Christ. How can one's faith be so strong if they're dealing with such a harsh ordeal? It is the power of Christ. How can they find joy in the midst of such tragedy? It is the power of Christ! He sustains us as the strength of our hearts (Psalm 73:26), therefore He drains us of our strength in order to showcase His own.
Affliction teaches us to look to Heaven.
Romans 8:21-23 tells us creation is in bondage and is groaning with us to be set free. This groaning turns our eyes from trusting this weary, temporal world to look to the eternal goodness and mercy of our Lord Jesus. He has promised to make all things new (Revelation 21:5). This promise fills us with hope and turns our eyes toward Heaven's horizon. Our afflictions help us to cry out for Christ's return to complete the work He has begun in each and every one of us (Philippians 1:6). Affliction frees us from thinking on earthly vanities and teaches us to look forward to our eternal rest, setting our minds on things that are above (Colossians 3:2). When this happens, we can find rest in knowing our affliction is only temporary, and we will one day be set free into a glorious inheritance (Colossians 3:24). Therefore, affliction is the hammer that breaks our idols. Nothing on earth can possibly compare to what is coming!
Affliction separates the wheat from the chaff.
Who is the false convert and who is the true son of Heaven? Throw them into the furnace and you will soon find the chaff singing a blasphemous tune. It is only the wheat who will remain rejoicing through the fire; though He slay them, they will hope in Him (Job 13:15). Affliction turns false converts bitter, as they blame God for their circumstance. After all, they were such "good Christians". Why is God doing this to them if they dotted all their i's and crossed all their t's? It is as if they feel God "owes" them for XYZ, and thus they walk away when God doesn't perform. This is the unfortunate reality of those who hope in the false "prosperity gospel". What happens if instead of health and wealth, you get pain and tragedy? We must come to realize prosperity is an idol. We come to God for GOD, not for any other reason. We love Him. We adore Him. We want to glorify Him as the passion of our lives--even if we must sing in the furnace. Both Peter and James say afflictions serve to strengthen our faith, not make it bitter (1 Peter 1:7, James 1:2-4). Therefore, while the chaff's heart bristles in the furnace, the wheat's heart is refined to be more precious than gold.
Affliction reveals the loveliness of Christ.
"I know, O LORD, that Your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." ~~Psalm 119:75
There are some lessons of our sanctification we cannot learn but through the valley of the shadow. Despite our natural bent to believe the Lord has forsaken us in these times, we are told in Psalm 23:3 that this valley of death is the righteous path. Certain graces seem only to be given when one walks this treacherous road. When can we know God as Protector if there is nothing from which we need to be protected? How can we know His tender heart when there is no need for Him to be tender with our grieving hearts? How can we experience the fullness of His gentle hand when our souls be not under assault? How can He prove His faithfulness if His faithfulness be not tried? This way of affliction reveals to us new facets of the ineffable Beauty of Jesus Christ our Lord. We have known Him for His mercies, but through the trials of affliction, we now know Him for His tender mercies. He is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, the King of Glory, the Lord of Hosts, and the God of Heaven and Earth, and this very God deeply cares for our wounded hearts. I have found my sweetest communion with Christ to be on my darkest days, when I feel I can't go on, when I have nowhere else to turn, I look into His countenance and am swept away by His compassion, specifically for me. He is so good to us, and I daresay this truth cannot be fully known unless we have walked with Him down these dark and lonely roads of affliction.
Christ Himself promised us affliction because the world hates Him.
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." ~~John 15:18-19
We are associated with Christ as His Body, His people, and those who love Him. Therefore, we are hated of the world because of it. This hatred of the world will lead to persecution. "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you." ~~John 15:20 Christ promises us tribulation in this world (John 16:33). He specifically says He did not come to bring peace, but a sword, and that family members will be against each other (Matthew 10:34-35). A prophet is not without honor - except in his hometown, among his relatives, and his own household (Mark 6:4). We are told not to be surprised when these fiery trials come as though "something strange" were happening to us. We are to expect affliction and persecution as Christians (1 Peter 4:12-16). Darkness hates the light because the light reveals their deeds (John 3:20-21). This is why the world hates Christ and His Church. We reveal their evil deeds, and they love their sin more than righteousness (John 3:19).
Affliction makes us more like Christ, who was Himself the Man of Sorrows.
This is, perhaps, the main reason why I believe affliction to be God's greatest chisel to conform us into the image of Christ. Can you think of a man who suffered more than Yeshua of Nazareth? Here was God in flesh, who'd left His glorious Throne, who was exposed to such vile blasphemy - to His face, no less - who would have gathered the people under His wings if they'd let Him. He faced a people whom He Himself had created, who rejected Him, beat Him, spat upon Him, and crucified Him, which is likely the most gruesome way mankind has devised for others to die. Christ is well-acquainted with grief, all aspects of it, physical, mental, and spiritual. God the Father turned His face away from Him upon that cross. I cannot imagine what that must have been like for Him, who had eternal fellowship with the Godhead to be forsaken in the darkest hour of history. In fact, Christ has suffered in ways that we cannot, because in His suffering, we are therefore spared. Christ suffered on our behalf so we would know that when we suffered, it would not be permanent. Our Savior knows exactly the depth and width of unimaginable suffering. We have a great High Priest who knows our pain! (Hebrews 4:15-16) In this way, whenever my body is groaning from pain, piercing pain, unbearable pain, I know my beloved God has walked this road before me and knows exactly what I'm going through.
And that, my brothers and sisters, is what makes the Lord Jesus Christ so altogether glorious in my sight. If we want to be like Him, we must suffer for His name's sake. If we are to be children of God, we are to pick up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). It is my pleasure to suffer for my precious Bridegroom. If my little life can somehow bring Him glory through my pain, if He can advance His Kingdom through my obedient heart in the midst of my affliction, then may it be, Lord Jesus. Let me be like You! Come and chisel this life, until through my affliction, You have polished me into a woman of God with no spot or wrinkle. Purge the world in me and fill me with the Heaven in You!
Yes, Lord, this is my prayer.
On the day I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I knew exactly what it meant for the rest of my life. I knew it wasn't a trial the Lord would use to punish me, rather, it was one with which He entrusted to me. Even through my pain, and with the knowledge of all the pain and sorrow yet to come, that very day I did something I have never done when faced with affliction in my entire life.
Sunday, September 25, 2016
Does Christ give women a special grace?
It all started with Eve. When God created Adam, Adam found no one like him (Gen. 2:20). Therefore, God put Adam into a deep sleep and made a woman from one of his ribs (Gen. 2:22). Now that we have a fuller perspective from the entire canon of Scripture, we know that a man and woman, a husband and wife, represent Christ and His Church (Eph. 5:31-32).
From this, we know that there is none like God, and therefore He set out to create a people for Christ, a Church, a Bride, who would wear His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21) and be like Him (1 John 3:2). With this picture in our heads of how a woman represents the Church of our Lord Jesus, certain texts of Scripture take on a wealth of meaning, from the queen in gold of Ophir in Psalm 45, to the Proverbs 31 woman, to the spouse in Song of Solomon.
God speaks many times in His Word about taking care of widows. Women in the Gospels were loved greatly by our Lord. We see Christ conversing with a Samaritan woman (John 4:7), a Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:22), and a woman considered unclean (Luke 7:37-39). Over and over again, he gives grace where others judged harshly. Rather than giving a general grace, it would seem He gave a certain measure only to women. So many women were healed, touched, and defended by the Son of God, such as the prostitute about to be stoned (John 8:3-7), the woman with the issue of blood (Matt. 9:20-22), the little girl He raised from the dead (Matt. 9:23-25), and the infirmed woman hunched over for eighteen long years (Luke 13:10-13).
Women did not flee from the foot of the cross and it was to a woman the risen Christ first revealed Himself. These are remarkable graces He gives to His daughters. Even Mary of Bethany was allowed a closer intimacy than any of His disciples, by physically touching Him and anointing Him as a bride might do for her bridegroom.
The words Jesus spoke regarding divorce (Matt. 19:4-6) were not meant to keep one in lifelong bondage, rather, they were meant to keep men from so easily casting women aside.
Many feminists and modern women often bristle at the Apostle Paul and perhaps the Apostle Peter as well, for not allowing a woman to teach or have authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:12), or that the woman is the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7). But I believe these things are precisely why our Lord is so very close with women.
Paul hearkens his argument back to the Garden of Eden, that the woman was deceived first. This alludes that women, perhaps, are more susceptible to be deceived by the enemy, which would be devastating to a congregation of the Lord's sheep. If one does a casual study of women ministers and pastors, their churches teach to overlook sin in the name of "love", to name-it-and-claim-it with the heretical prosperity gospel, or they're members of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), of which John MacArthur touts, "It's not new, it's not apostolic, and it's not a reformation." All of these are dangerous doctrines.
Peter seems to imply a woman's physical strength is weaker, but perhaps also their emotional strength. Women are very nurturing and empathetic where men seem to be more critical and methodical. In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter says for husbands to "show honor to the woman as the weaker vessel."
I believe this is what Christ did, and still does, with women who believe in Him.
Consider Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. Christ's strength is made perfect in weakness. Paul said he would therefore GLORY in his weaknesses so that the power of Christ might rest upon him. If we take Paul's words and answer my original question posed: "Does Christ give a special grace to women?" I would have to say yes.
Christ, as an example for men, gives us honor as the weaker vessel, which also supplies us with a measure of His strength, something the strong in faith, in body, in emotions, does not need.
When a woman is godly, she becomes unshakable in her faith. She has a quiet, gentle spirit, which is very precious in the eyes of God (1 Peter 3:4). She is like a rock in a storm, when her mind is staid upon Christ, held in perfect peace which passes all understanding (Isaiah 26:3, Phil. 4:7). She becomes the backbone of her family as she more and more resembles the woman in Proverbs 31. She is the crown of her husband (Prov. 12:4), and her worth is far more than rubies (Prov. 31:10).
Every godly woman, therefore, who is being conformed into the image of Christ, can also be shown by her life and her example, that she is herself a picture and a type of the Church of Christ as a whole.
My dear sisters in Christ, let us go and enjoy our tender Savior, who gives us such beautiful graces as the daughters of the King of Heaven, both His honor and His strength, and let us not bristle as the weaker vessel, but let us rejoice that His power might rest more fully upon us. We are not second class or second rate, rather we are deeply loved and very precious to God. The strength of Christ is ours as women. Let us give Him glory as we glory in our weakness, which is itself the very glory of godly womanhood.
Monday, July 11, 2016
This sense of belonging is a powerful force. No one wants to be alone or maligned for how they identify. The world may shun them, but if they have their tribe, they're not alone, and there is someone who knows and cares what they're going through.
In looking for their "tribe", Christians are no different than other groups of the world. They come together in their own groups on Sundays looking for like-minded people. And while you may be thinking this post will be about identifying as a Christian to those around us, you'd only be half right.
Christians are new creations. The old has gone, the new has come. We are ambassadors of Christ, and as such, our mission on earth is to advance His Gospel to every tribe, nation, and tongue.
Because of this, our identity must be found in more than simply "being a Christian". We are not in a club, rather, we're citizens of Heaven. And what does the heavenly host do before the Throne of God?
They adore the One who sits upon it.
They adore the Lord Jesus Christ.
In like fashion, Christians everywhere should do the same. However, many people choose to identify as one worldly thing or another worldly thing, which sets their Christianity on the back burner. This is not the mentality of the Apostle Paul. He did not identify as a rich and powerful Pharisee. No, he "counted it all as dung" that he may obtain Christ (Philippians 3:8). In other words, he threw it all away to gain Jesus!
Have you ever loved Christ in this way? Have you ever been, or are you now willing to give up all you have, all you own, all you love, even your own life, if it meant gaining Christ?
This is the true identity of a Christian: JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF.
He must become to us the sum and substance of all that we are. We must pursue only Him, focus only on Him. Our entire lives should revolve around our Lord and Savior. This means it is not Christ who is cast to the wayside; we cast away whatever it is in which we identify, before we identify in Him.
Ultimately, our identity is where we find our worth. In my case, am I a good wife? Mother? Daughter? Sister? Friend? I used to believe my writing is what identified me, and that my worth came from positive comments or glowing reviews. We can even trip ourselves up by trying to earn our way to favor by being "good Christians".
But this is not the way.
Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is also everything in between -- the very means to that end. One who places their identity in Christ can say with the Apostle: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me... For me, to live is Christ." (Galatians 2:20, Philippians 1:21). Therefore, Jesus becomes their all-in-all.
More than merely saving us from Hell, more than saving us from sin, the Lord Jesus Christ has given us the greatest of gifts -- Himself. "I am my Beloved's, my Beloved is mine." We are co-heirs to glory (Romans 8:17), seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-6, Revelation 3:21). We don't use Jesus as a way to bypass Hell -- no, He becomes to us our Heaven. In that way, Heaven is so much more than a "better place", Heaven is the Person and presence of Christ! In His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).
The natural overflow of Christ preeminent in one's life is that they begin to think on heavenly things; whatever is good and pure. They live to please God, not their own fleshly lusts. They worship in Spirit and in truth, not in some works-based validation that doing more in the church wins favor with God. This person no longer cares how the world views them because they have Christ, and in Him they have all they need.
Here is the test of a genuine Christian: serving Christ is not a slog, it is the glory of their life.
If I may, I would like to share a few snippets from my prayer journal to give a glimpse into what it means for me to find my identity in Jesus.
Give me nothing but You. Throw me in a dank, cold prison cell, but give me of Yourself and it will be to me a Holy of Holies. I meditate upon You all the day, every day, and I never tire of seeking Your face. Your Holy Spirit fuels me to find You and shines beams of glory into a new facet of You. I can't take my eyes off the very One who dazzles me.
You have made my heart a fountain that overflows with love to You. A feeble and leaky fountain it may be, but my love is Your Living Water, bubbling down from Your Throne to pour out of me. My purity is Your Purity. My beauty Your Beauty. My holiness Your Holiness. Please teach me and show me how Your Love can become my love. Slay me with it, Lord, until this flesh is dead in the grave and this spirit flies home to You -- even better, cause me to LIVE! and redeem this flesh to Your heavenly estate so that with THESE eyes, I will see God!Here's another example:
I am cherished by my God. How can this be? And yet, it is so. My life has always been meant to display Your glory. You have fashioned me into a vessel of honor, and I don't take this lightly. My entire existence revolves around Your will -- You determined to have me when I was nothing more than a spark in Your foreknowledge. You created me and came to me, thus creating me again. You allowed me to wander, which must have broken Your heart, yet in Your kindness, called Your prodigal daughter to come home even more zealous than before!
And now, the more I know, the more I know nothing, that I'm only scratching the surface of theology and the reality of You. I am blind to all other loves. I see no one but Yeshua. Make me bold for You, but not prideful; zealous, but not angry. Loving, but not compromising; meek, but not weak. O, Yeshua, conform me into Your image, that I may more perfectly resemble You.
True Christianity treasures Jesus above and beyond all else, even all other things by which we identify. Where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. If we come to treasure Jesus and point our lives in His direction, our hearts shall be with Him. But whatever we treasure more than Him is an idol. It is "another god" before Him. When this happens, we are not walking according to the First Great Commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Some people are so focused on finding their tribe and fitting in that they totally miss the point of all -- the END of it all -- which is the praise and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We do not "add" God to our lives, He is our life. We don't simply "love" Him, He is our Love. We don't believe in Jesus merely to "go to Heaven", His presence is our Heaven, and we have been given the amazing privilege, through His suffering and resurrection, of being where He is. Praise God!
Too many Christians do not have the Lord Jesus as the center of their lives. Why not, I ask? If He is the center of the entire universe, if the song sung around His Throne is the highest song that can be sung, how can we who claim to love Him be satisfied with any lesser song?
Think on this, and take it to God. Is Christ alone your identity? Or does your worth come from this world? Is there anything in your life you wouldn't lay down for Him?
Christ is our King, and to our King we bow. This world is not our home. Many of us have become too comfortable here. Let us pray to the Lord Jesus to realign our hearts with Heaven, and to help us love Him as He is worthy to be loved. Let us cater our prayers to fashion us into abiding Christians whose hearts overflow with His Living Water.
Let us not find our identity in anything other than our great God and Savior. This is my prayer for the glorious Bride of the Lord Jesus Christ, in His beautiful, holy name.