Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Truth of Being Unequally Yoked

With respect to my fellow bloggers and sisters in Christ, I have noticed a severe lack of truth when it comes to being unequally yoked in marriage. In searching for comfort, I have found time and again, feel-good blogs about how to “thrive” in a marriage where the woman is the believer and her husband is not. While this is certainly a noble topic, I have to wonder why these bloggers don’t go the extra mile and peel back the curtain to tell of what it’s truly like being married to an unbeliever? 

Are they merely giving advice? Are they not unequally yoked themselves? Is this out of fear of airing dirty laundry? Is this due to the unspoken rule with our brothers and sisters not to dig in, and be real and gritty with each other? I have debated with myself on writing this piece for a long time. But I know there are a great many women who are in the same position I am, and if I can comfort them with the same comfort I have been given of God, then praise the Lord and let’s get this written.

My husband and I both confessed Christ when we married. Eighteen years later, he confessed agnosticism. Even though I had claimed Christ as well, I wasn’t truly saved by our Lord until 2011. Therefore both of us had been false professors upon our marriage, yet neither of us knew it. We have now been married for twenty three years, by the grace of God.

Since my true conversion, the only “thriving” I have come to know is an unspoken truce in my household. The only way to truly “thrive” as other bloggers have counseled is to ignore the elephant in the room. No amount of pleading or preaching will convert our husbands, as that power belongs to God alone. And so we pray fervently for Christ to save them as we try to live according to 1 Peter 3:1-2. This is walking in full trust and faith in Christ, which means the believing wife must have an abiding heart and an abundant life with the Lord Jesus on her own.

Without a spiritual head to lead her, it is absolutely vital for the believing wife to seek Christ with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength. He must be for her the godly Husband, washing her with the water of His Word. She must lean upon Him; she must dig in and seek Him with every breath, every heartbeat. He must be her strength in her weakness, or she will be ill-prepared to give an account should an argument arise with her spouse about her Christianity and why she believes what she does.

The believing wife needs to come to the point where she seeks Christ apart from her husband, and she must be willing to go to church alone. She cannot lean on her husband to find a church, she must step out and do it herself. She must obey Christ when it comes to raising her children, and this also requires a great deal of faith and trust in Him to do what is right. An unequally yoked wife who does not live and breathe prayer will be a defeated woman. An unequally yoked wife who does not rest in her union with Christ shall live a life of agony.

There is no greater heartache I know than the realization that your spouse is on the road to Hell. There is no greater hungering and thirsting for righteousness than in an unequal household. There is no greater loneliness than being unable to share the deepest intimacies of your heart with the one you love.

The separation of eternity is already present in an unequally yoked marriage. The believing wife will not find joy where her husband finds joy. The unbelieving husband doesn’t want to hear of what brings his wife ultimate joy, namely Christ. For each of these there is oppression in the household, which is why I mentioned the only way to “thrive” is by truce and quietly trusting the Lord to work, should it be His will.

Even so, the believing wife will have her eyes wet with tears day in and day out. Her relationship with Christ must grow deeper, stronger, and more substantial if she is to survive. And yet, this drives the wedge of separation deeper into her marriage. To avoid acidic barbs against her faith, she learns to talk in generalizations in order to keep the peace. She can attend church, go to small groups, and find contentment in studying Scripture, yet she can share none of these with her spouse.

This brings her more and more upon the shoulder of Christ, where she trusts in Him to be for her the tenderness she needs, the holiness she needs, the man she needs. It is possible the unequally yoked woman has no familiarity with sanctified masculinity. What does Christ look like in the heart of a truly regenerate man? Sometimes upon the sadness she already experiences, she longs for what other women have – a godly marriage. But she must learn to lay down that desire for the greater purpose of Christ in her life.

Sometimes her marriage simply survives by surviving one more day, day-by-day. More often than not, it is prayer that upholds it, telling the Lord her marriage stands by His grace or falls by His will. As long as Christ extends His grace, she is willing to obey 1 Corinthians 7:13.

Because the wife and her husband don’t have much in common, they often spend leisure time apart from each other. If there are children who believe, the unbelieving spouse can become jealous or bitter toward the close relationship the kids enjoy with their mom, as she is able to share her love for Christ with them. If there are unbelieving children in the family, the believing wife will cry and lament all the harder for faith that Christ will step in where her husband has not, and lead her children into all truth.

The unbelieving husband will see the blossoming relationship his wife has with Christ, and perhaps will grow jealous of it, or perhaps become depressed, as he realizes he cannot give his wife all that she needs and therefore she seeks it in another. Of course, all godly wives, despite the spiritual health of their husbands, should seek Christ above and beyond anyone in their lives, including their spouses. Christ has made this a command for all of His disciples (Luke 14:26). But the unbelieving husband will think this is a shortcoming in himself, and perhaps seek less intimacy with his wife. Or perhaps he will try harder to connect with her in the only way he knows how, by worldly means, which ultimately falls short because his wife walks by the Spirit and thinks on heavenly things.

The believing wife will enjoy spending time with her husband and connecting with him, but he will not fulfill her, as she longs for the fragrance of Christ in her life. She will realize her husband doesn’t truly know her, he only knows the surface of her, not the depths of her. The closer she gets to Christ, the more she comes to know her life is hidden with Christ in God, that to live is Christ, and that the life she now lives is Christ in her. Due to her unbreakable union with the Lord Jesus, her unbelieving husband will never know her true identity in Christ unless he comes to know Christ for himself.

In all these things, I do not see “thriving”, I see a truce. I see broken hearts, pain, agony, lamenting, and unspeakable loneliness, not just for the believer, but for both parties involved. There is great wisdom in Scripture about avoiding this unequal yoke at all costs. If anyone is considering marriage to an unbeliever, know your life will be marked by suffering and loneliness, and the odds will be stacked against your marriage to survive. Marriage is not a way to evangelize. You will either become more carnal and worldly yourself and thus turn away from Christ to accommodate your spouse, or you will turn more fully to Christ, bringing more tension and separation into your marriage.

In light of the reality of what it’s truly like to be unequally yoked, here is my advice to my fellow sisters with unbelieving husbands.

Obey Scripture. Don’t always try to evangelize your husband. Your efforts might have the opposite effect and repel him if his heart isn’t good soil. God will draw him if it is His will. Live by 1 Corinthians 7:13 and 1 Peter 3:1-2 and continue to glorify Christ in your life. Perhaps your patient witness for God will be used by Him one day.

Read Scripture. You cannot hear from Christ if you are not constantly in His Word. As women alone on our spiritual journey, it is essential we hide God’s Word in our hearts to comfort and sustain us. His Word is a lamp unto our feet. If we do not shine that lamp into our lives, we will be walking in darkness.

Pray. A woman who isn’t in constant prayer and communion with her Savior will not have the strength and the peace she needs to get through the rough days. But don’t merely pray for your husband’s conversion, pray for your own strength, for God’s grace over you, for His peace, for perseverance, for endurance, and for wisdom in His name. You will need all of Christ’s spiritual blessings in order to equip yourself for this spiritual battle. And make no mistake, this is a spiritual battle. It is absolutely imperative we meet this battle by putting on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20) day after day after day after day.

Seek the Lord. This might seem redundant with reading Scripture and prayer, but seeking the Lord is, in my opinion, a deeper pursuit than casual Bible reading and tossing up prayer. Seeking Christ is digging into Him, studying His Word, agonizing with Him, pouring out your heart, spending time with Him, praying without ceasing, bathing your prayers with tears, and wrestling with Him while refusing to ever let Him go. An unequally yoked wife needs to abide in the Vine, because without Him, sisters, we can do nothing.

Cling to Christ. Along with seeking Him, we must cling to Him. We must constantly edify ourselves with singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in our hearts to God. We must never be ashamed to praise Him in front of our unbelieving spouse. We must freely speak His name, for the name of Christ Jesus is polarizing and divisive, while talking about ‘God’ can often be generic and unspecific. We must stand for His truth and His doctrine, even if the cards seem stacked against us. The believing wife must be so familiar with Jesus that her first instinct in times of trouble is to pray for help, for peace, for grace, for strength. In the heat of the moment, she stands in silent prayer, knowing the Lord Himself shall fight for her. She must realize that Christ is her Savior, not only against sin and death, but in her time of need as well, and we have many examples in Scripture of our Lord defending and rescuing weakened women from angry or bitter men.

Go to church. Ladies, I cannot stress this enough. GO TO CHURCH. Find a sound church in your area, and go become a part of a church body. Get involved. Make relationships. Get to know your pastor. As Christians, we are Christ to the world, and also Christ to each other. If you are living in a “drought” of faith in your home, you must go to the oasis and drink. Christ never intended for His sheep to live alone in the pasture, but to sharpen each other, as iron sharpens iron, to do life together, to praise His name together, and to pray for each other. If you have no spiritual headship in your home, seek headship at your church and ask for the elders and pastors to pray over you often. What your husband cannot do, your brothers in Christ will do. Our brothers and sisters will help disciple us and edify us and encourage us when all hope seems lost. We are the Body of Christ, and one member of that Body cannot live by itself on a lonely hilltop, we must be connected with the others, as we are one just as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:22-23). Regularly meeting with those who love Christ week after week is a healing balm to a weary soul and a beautiful foretaste of Heaven. Do not forsake meeting together with fellow saints of Christ.

Obey Christ above your husband. If you have a husband who does not “let” you worship Christ either at home or at church, you must obey Christ over him and let the chips fall where they may. Submission to one’s husband does not come before submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. If this costs you your marriage, so be it. Christ is greater than your marriage. Listen to me, sisters. These are hard words, I know. But are you ready and willing to give up absolutely everything to follow Christ? This is what He commands of His disciples (Luke 14:26). The believing wife must come to the point in her Christianity where she is willing to follow Christ no matter the sacrifice to her personally. This is costly; this looks like foolishness to the world. But greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world. Jesus Christ is Almighty God, and choosing to follow Him is never batting for the losing team. What you lose on earth you gain in heavenly riches. We stand in victory when we stand with Christ. But this calls for tremendous faith, of which we must pray the Lord provides us. It is much easier to speak these words than to live them. But in my own experience, I have yet to be let down by my faithful God. It could be that God rewards my faithfulness to Him by holding up my marriage. If the Lord Himself fuels my devotion to Him, then He shall bless me in it; He shall be with me in it. He shall never forsake me, and He will likewise never forsake you.

Dear sisters in Christ, if you are unequally yoked, seek the things that are above and live your life of faith openly. Never be ashamed of the Lord Jesus Christ in your home. He even warned us, that a man’s enemies will be those of his own household, and that a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household (Matt. 13:57). He came not to bring peace, but a sword, and this will bring a son against a father, and a daughter against a mother (Matt. 10:34-39), even spouses against each other. But He has not left us orphans. He has given us a Comforter in His Holy Spirit. Therefore seek the comfort of God and fervently ask Him again and again to supply you with all you need. Christ must be the strength that carries you through, or you will lead a life of defeat rather than a life of victory in Christ.

Remember the words of the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 4:12-14:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

As hard as it is to do, we must surrender our loved ones to the will of God, and like Abraham, lay them on the altar and let God do with them as He pleases. I often remember Christ’s words to Peter when he asked our Lord about the fate of the Apostle John in John 21:21-22 – “What is that to you? You follow Me!”

Amen. What is that to me? In all things God shall be glorified, whether by His mercy or by His wrath. We should continue to pray for those we love, and beg and plead and cry out to God for His mercy. And yet, if He chooses instead to glorify His wrath, we must, sisters, we MUST be able to have faith, praise His holy name, and cry out through our tears, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven!”

O, Lord Jesus, please comfort all Your unequally yoked daughters in the tenderness of Your glorious love, and be for us our Balm of Gilead, our Precious God, and our Beloved Bridegroom.

In Your name we pray,

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Women Teaching Women - A Glorious Gift of God

I am of the belief that when Scripture asserts a woman should not teach or have authority over a man (1 Timothy 2:12), it means exactly what it says. That is not to say she can never teach anyone, but she cannot teach men. That does not mean she has no authority, rather she has no authority over men. Of course, this is in a church setting, meaning women are not to be preachers, pastors, deacons, or elders of a local church. However, I do believe there is grace in the workforce concerning schools, boardrooms, and offices, and that the Apostle Paul only referenced a woman's authority in the order of the church and not life in general.

If a woman cannot teach or have authority at all, then we need to rip Titus 2:3-5 out of our Bibles. Older women are to teach younger women what is good, and how to love their husbands and children according to the Word, so that the Word be not reviled.

There are some in certain circles who rail against this mandate, claiming God has given them, a woman, a gifting to teach. Why would God do so if He didn't intend for them to pastor a church? They seem to believe that women teaching women is some lesser good, an oppression of sorts, or a second-rate job. God is holding something good back from them, and thus they often grow bitter toward Him.

They embrace the "cultural" defense, that Paul was speaking to the women of the day, not women of the church at large. But if Paul's words weren't for the entire church, he wouldn't hearken back to the Genesis account to ground his argument for why this is to be. And it is in the Genesis account where we see a very similar sin spring from the hearts of Adam and Eve, that in forbidding the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they believed God was holding something good back from them.

A woman with a gift of teaching has been given by our Lord to the women of His church, and this is a glorious gift, not something lesser. A woman who thinks less of the privilege to teach her sisters is the one oppressing these women, not Scripture. If she truly has the gift of teaching with a unique way of digging into the Word and an understanding of Christ not many others have, then grumbling against teaching her sisters is doing them harm, not good. It is not progress for women to refuse to teach only women. It is not honoring our sisters in Christ to complain about teaching them.

Often, theology circles are for the men. Men read dusty theology tomes, men read old, dead preachers, men study and dig in to Scripture, men go to Christian conferences, and men lead the church. Often this is because much is expected by Christ of His sons, not only to lead His church, but also to lead their wives and children as well. But imagine a woman who loves learning of God just as much, who reads dusty theology tomes, who adores old, dead preachers, who studies and digs in to Scripture, and who goes to Christian conferences because it is her passion, not because she's tagging along with her husband.

These are the women who are the gifts of Christ to His daughters.

Women often flourish under the spiritual headship of their pastors and husbands, but not all women have diligent husbands who wash them with the water of the Word. Not all women will understand their pastor's message. Not all women are scholars, not all have the same gifting to fall in love with theology. These are the women who are "stuck", for lack of a better word, doing arts and crafts for ministry, or who are stagnant in their faith, not sure how to grow closer to Jesus.

Who else but a woman can speak into their lives, who understands their same hardships? Who can make these specific hardships into illustrations for teaching? Can a man comfortably speak of breastfeeding, menstruating, or the minutia of childrearing from the pulpit? Can a man soothe her feminine heart if she has been rejected, hurt, or is terrified of men? Even our pastors know when it's time to step aside for a woman to minister to another woman, and this is the glory Christ has given His daughters to teach each other.

At the risk of sounding overly critical, it is often the women's ministry that gets the backseat in churches when it comes to learning about and loving Christ. Women, as mentioned above, do art projects, or bake casseroles, or are on a prayer chain, or volunteer as greeters, or have a book club, or go on playdates, the list goes on. These are not bad in and of themselves and are often the very things a church thrives on, especially prayer. But what is missing from these off-shoots of women's ministry? Where is the fragrance of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia out of the ivory palaces?

Where is Christ?

Church, hear me now:

We cannot do ministry for Christ apart from Christ. We cannot reach the lost for Christ at the expense of Christ.

This is the reason why a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. This is the reason why she is more precious than rubies. A woman who knows her God and His Word is a priceless treasure for any church, because she will be the one who can train up the women in the way they should go. She is the one who can speak into their lives in a true and living way, who can capture their imagination from a woman's perspective. She is the one who can relate our Lord Jesus to her sisters in such a way that men cannot. She will know the heart of Mary of Bethany as she wept at Christ's feet and wiped them with her hair. She will know the stabbing pain of a woman who's lost her child who nursed at her breast. She will know the intense loneliness of widowhood, the burden of being unequally yoked, the pain of having no husband. Only women who've walked these paths can minister to women with these precious things.

This is one of those special graces I spoke about in another blog post, Does Christ Give Women a Special Grace? We are to comfort others with the same comfort we have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). There are some paths in life only women can walk down. Women need to know Christ just as fervently and urgently as men do. Yes, Christ gives women certain gifts with regards to teaching about Him and His Word, but these gifts are for His daughters, our sisters in Christ.

What do I have in common with a man that I can speak wisdom into his life as a leader of his church, his wife, or his family? What do I have in my heart if I wish to teach him outside of my knowledge other than rebellion and pride? And if I harbor this bitterness in my heart, have I just disqualified myself as a teacher of women by bringing reproach upon the Word of Christ? Shouldn't humility in our hearts and submission to God's Word be the fruit of our lives?

Women teaching women is a beautiful, wondrous gift from our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not something lesser, as if God were keeping something good from us, no, this is a very specific glory, one that holds high our God and King in the hearts of His daughters. This is a privilege only women can do for other women. Imagine a woman, so in love with the King of Glory, her eyes so full of His light, her heart so on fire for His Word, her soul so passionate for His glory, that when she comes before other women in her church and reveals to them the splendor of Christ's majesty, how will our Lord move among His beloved daughters? She will be the match that lights the dry kindling of these women's hearts afire! Praise the Lord!

O, precious Yeshua, I ask for You to raise up mighty women of God who adore You high above all other loves, to find their courage and their voice to love You before their sisters, and to teach and inspire others to do the same. Give Your church women who will disciple other women in Your Word and the knowledge of who You are, that we, as daughters of Christ, might be filled with all the fullness of God!


Monday, February 26, 2018

A High View of Christ

Demand more from yourself with regards to knowing, loving, and obeying Christ. More often than not, we become too comfortable or too busy to personally nurture our relationship with our Lord. What we don't realize, however, is that we're starving ourselves. Christ called Himself the True Bread from Heaven (John 6:32). Yet how often can you honestly say you've feasted on Him? How often have you felt at spiritual peace, filled with all the fullness of God?

We are told in John 15 to abide in Christ. We are also told to have His Word abiding in us (John 15:7). These are the keys to answered prayer. But a great many of us are content merely to go to church, do Christian things, or pray stiff, wooden prayers rather than pursue Yeshua with all our heart and soul. The reality of the knowledge of Christ is missing in today's Christianity.

The Apostle Paul knew the Lord Jesus in such a way that he counted everything as loss in order to win Christ. Why? Because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord (Philippians 3:7-11). Paul's great pursuit, the goal of his life, the magnificent glory set before him was knowing Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Everything else paled in comparison. You might say Paul's life is the antithesis to ours. All too often, it is Christ who pales in comparison to our jobs, our families, our vacations, our possessions...even our church. O, dear brethren, what a backwards people we are! This should not be! The longing within the Apostle Paul is the very same longing that should be alive in the heart of every true believer.

One's life should revolve around this consuming passion:

I must know Christ!

No matter the cost, no matter the labor, I must know Christ lest I die! There are many who confuse doing for Christ as abiding in Christ. Yet being active in ministry, while beneficial for the church, will not feed the people of God beyond what you feed yourself.

"They made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!"

This message is not only for the Christian in the pew, but also for the one behind the pulpit, and perhaps even more so for the shepherds of Christ. In our salvation, we have been found by Jesus, and yet the mystery is this - we must pursue Him in order to grow in grace and Christlikeness! Christ unfolds His wisdom to the seeking Christian, to the one who asks, seeks, and knocks (Matthew 7:7).

However, more than merely being curious or inquisitive about our Lord, we must get a glimpse of His beauty in order to fuel this lifelong pursuit. Once a believer catches a glimpse of the unfathomable glory of Almighty God, everything else in life pales in comparison. I believe this is the point where Paul was at in his walk, so dazzled by the beauty of Christ that he couldn't bear to tear his eyes away. How do we get this longing deep in our hearts? How do we inspire ourselves to do this and bring revival to our lives?

We can do nothing. This is a work of the Holy Spirit of God. Only the Holy Spirit can fill our hearts to overflowing with the living water of love to Christ. But do not despair, Christian. You have but to ask Him to flare your love for Christ into a consuming fire, and He will not hesitate to open the door to deeper intimacies with Him. It is the Father's will that Christ's church know Him to the full. If we pray God's will, we know we have what we've asked of Him (1 John 5:14-15). 

I am of the belief that the abiding Christian, the one who is truly alive with love for Christ, who has seen His beauty, who adores His Word and saturates their entire lives in Him, who is not satisfied with the joys of the world, but who thinks on heavenly things, who pants after God like the deer pants for the water brooks, this is the very Christian to whom prayer is supremely precious. It is this believer whose faith has been tried, who knows they are rooted and grounded in faith, who is ferocious in prayer. This is the one who despairs at the shallowness in our churches, at the superficial love to our Lord, who cries out like Jeremiah in tears for others to look up and catch a glorious glimpse of our Lord Jesus Christ! If these gazed heavenward for just a moment, if they but asked Christ's Holy Spirit to open their eyes to see Him in His glory, they would drop their worthless trinkets and pursue that eternal Treasure with the greatest of joys.

Brethren, if we want revival in our lives, we must pray for it, and pray earnestly. We must be willing to be used by God to bring about any spiritual change in ourselves, our churches, our communities, and beyond. We must pray fervently for these. Pray steadfast for your church, for your pastor, for his doctrine, for the Spirit to move in the hearts of those who hear him. Be ready for God to call you specifically to jump in the fray if you happen to pray for these miracles. He does not expect you to be passive. But I implore you to demand more of yourself than a passive faith. I believe that while Christ works in His church at large, His work begins in the hearts of those He loves, His sheep, those who know His voice. Ask Him for this grace!

Set your heart on Him. Ask Him to help you with this. Pursue Him with all your strength. If you have no strength, ask Him to supply it. Ask Him to bring you to books and to fellow Christians who might help you and disciple you. Saturate your entire life with Him. Always be thinking on heavenly things. Every moment of every day. Always keep your eyes on His face. Pray without ceasing. Study your Bible, don't simply read it. Study it while bathed in prayer. Ask God questions as you read. Write down things you learn. Dig in and know Him. Inspire others to do the same as you have. Be the Christian who speaks up, who makes waves, who questions the status quo, who compares sermon notes to Scripture, and who will not let the truth of Christ's Word be maligned for as long as you draw breath. Ask, seek, and knock for these graces! Determine to make it the goal of your life to know Him as the Apostle Paul wished to know Him. 

Christ is God. He is our Almighty God. Nothing is above Him. No one is more important than Him, no knowledge is more worthy of knowing, no pursuit should ever be greater than your pursuit of the Son of God. Strive to give yourself a high view of Christ. Does He captivate you? Do not rest until He does. This is the heart and soul of Christianity - not merely saved from Hell, and not merely saved from the power of sin, but knowing our magnificent God and making Him known to others.

Christ has given us the right to become children of God - to know Him - to truly know Him! (John 1:12) Take a moment and think on that, beloved! We shall one day stand before Him and see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). Do you see Him, seated high and lifted up at the right hand of God, and smiling down upon you? O, Christian, do not look away! Never look away from those eyes which search your heart and mind. Focus your entire life on Him and Him alone! May His eternal worth and bountiful grace turn your eyes upon Him and captivate you until you march on to Glory! Yes, Lord, this is my prayer for all who read these words, wherever they are in the world. I pray for their sanctification, and I ask that You inspire them to move more purposefully in their faith, to bring glory to Your name, and to be so in love with You, so focused upon You, so filled with the Spirit of God, they don't even notice when the world falls away.

In this, Lord, may Your church make herself ready for Your Second Coming (Revelation 19:7). Even so, come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Zacchaeus, Make Haste and Come Down!

Ah, Zacchaeus. Most of us who've been to Sunday School or know our Bible stories have heard of him. He's the short little tax collector who's famous for climbing a tree to see Jesus. What you might not know, is that Christ met him in Jericho, literally minutes after talking to 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)

Christ saw him, bid him to come down, and stayed at his house (Luke 19:5).

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).

I have made mention on this blog that 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!

This was all for the glory of God. Christ's words about seeking and saving the lost confirm that He knew Zacchaeus was a sinner, but in His mercy, He saved him. Not merely a tax collector, but the chief tax collector. He went straight to the top, the most corrupt of them all! And yet Zacchaeus, being a son of Abraham, who humbled himself before the Messiah and gave all his riches away, is now - praise the Lord! - a son of the King of Glory.

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

Surrendered to Christ

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.

We, as Christians, are fond of saying that we have surrendered our lives to Christ. The word "surrender" inspires a picture of laying down our arms and accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior. Usually this refers to one's conversion, the moment they repented and turned to Jesus. However, many of us, if we're honest, are tired and weary. We don't understand why we strive so hard. We've surrendered to the Lord, but a struggle remains. It's not always easy, living this Christian life.

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 6:201 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!

Praise God!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

O Lord Jesus, Grant Us Godly Repentance

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.

Worldly sorrow and godly sorrow are outlined by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:10. Worldly sorrow is being sorry you got caught. It's being upset that you can no longer participate in a favorite sin. It's crying that you've violated your morality, and asking forgiveness in order to avoid Hell. It's wanting to be saved from sin's penalty, but not from sin's bondage, therefore sinful patterns continue. It is having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5). This is the repentance of the Pharisees, who cried out to God in a loud voice, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men." It can manifest itself as self-righteousness, thinking you do not need a Physician, or it can even become somewhat bitter at God for denying you from doing all the fun things in life. Worldly sorrow, according to the Apostle Paul, leads to death.

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

Prayer for the Saints

Lord Jesus,

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.