Monday, November 7, 2016

The Affliction of the Christian

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?

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

The Identity of a Christian

In this world, we hear a lot about identity. People identify as this or that, and in so doing, have found a group of people, a culture, or an acceptance by which they fit in. Some call their group their "tribe", a similar bunch of people who hold to their ideals.

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.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

All My Fountains - Release Day - Free Read!

Today is release day for my newest book, All My Fountains! This book is offered online as a free read - you're welcome to download it, share it, print it out, quote it, but never for profit! I pray this book blesses you. It took me two years to write - not for any deep subject matter, but rather, because I believe the Lord needed me to fully live the subject matter in order to bring true edification to His Church. Without further adieu, here is the blurb and the link to the free read. Enjoy!


Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us Two Great Commandments; to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Many strive to love others through kindness, charity, giving, and goodness, but who among you strives to love the Lord God before all other loves?

The four attributes of the First Great Commandment are like an engine which serves to love God to the greatest of our ability. When one link breaks, the entire chain suffers. If there is no strength to pursue God, we therefore pursue the world. If the mind is not involved, there can be no growth in sanctification. If the soul isn’t willing, then you're a false convert. If your heart isn’t on fire, there is no furnace to fuel a deep abiding love.

Scripture tells us all our fountains are in Him. If we’re to live abounding in His wondrous grace and glorious love, then every brook, every stream, and every river of our lives must be redirected to flow toward Christ Jesus. It is only then this resplendent Fountainhead channels His rivers of living water to overflow the banks of our hearts. Open the floodgates, brethren, and hold nothing back from loving our great God.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A Scandalous Love

If we're being honest, a devoted, loyal, loving commitment to the Lord Jesus is something we should all strive to obtain. Knowing Him more, seeking Him more, praying more, studying more, being more of a disciple should be the focus of our lives. We know the Two Great Commandments, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. We go to church, teach our children, and try to live accordingly.

But what does this kind of love for the Lord look like in practice? How should a heart devoted to Christ express itself? How close does God allow us to get to Him?

Answer: Scandalously close.

Anyone who knows me, reads this blog, or keeps apprised of the things I write knows that Mary of Bethany is one of my Biblical heroines. For me, she embodies the epitome of the adoring Christian. She is the only person in Scripture who is described as being at Christ's feet, not once (Luke 10:39), not twice (John 11:32), but three times (John 12:3). Once to learn, once to weep, once to adore.

While we stand in awe of her heart toward Christ, what does her devotion tell us about Christ Himself? A great deal. Through Mary's example, He invites us to be closer to Him. He accepts our intimacy, and He will not rebuke us for wanting more of Him, even at the expense of others' reproach.

Not only was Mary of Bethany at the Lord's feet three times, she is also the only person the Lord defended twice. Once to her own sister (Luke 10:41-42), and once to His own disciples (John 12:2-8). He cherished her tender heart and would have no one rebuke her for learning of Him or loving Him. His words, likely spoken gently to those He rebuked, still carried the weight of His authority, and no one dared challenge the Messiah as He simultaneously honored Mary's heart while confronting the resentment and bitterness in their own.

His defense ensured she would not be ashamed of loving Him openly. In the story of Mary, we see a gentle young woman whose spirit could have been crushed. Her bruised reed could have been broken; her smoking flax could have been extinguished. Being put in her place, as it were, she would have been humiliated and shamed before so many people. What could she possibly say that would have justified her actions before the crowd in the room? Therefore, she said no words to explain herself. However, we find that while she remained still, the Lord Himself fought for her (Exodus 14:14).

It is no wonder, then, that Christ would receive His most intimate worship in the flesh from Mary of Bethany. Let's consider it.

In the account in the Gospel of John, Mary anoints our Lord's feet with her expensive perfume (John 12:1-8). But the Gospel of Matthew gives us a clearer picture, that she anointed His head and body also (Matthew 26:6-13). Mary came into the room, broke open her perfume, poured it on Christ's head and body, and finished by anointing His feet, wiping them with her hair. No one spoke during this exchange. I imagine it would have been a room filled with talking and laughter, until this woman, until Mary makes her way to her Lord. She's not here to serve; what is she here for? Why did she come?

I do not believe Mary simply poured her perfume upon Christ without getting any closer. I believe she touched Him to do so. We know she touched His feet. I'm sure she touched His head and hands as well. I imagine she made sure the perfume went into His hair by running her fingers through it, and kept it from rolling down His face. Or, perhaps if it did trickle down His face, she might have swept it from His eyes and made sure it had a path down His cheeks. Did she hold His hands in hers while continuing to anoint Him there? Would she have rubbed the perfume up His arms?

While she poured her perfume upon His feet, she likely perfumed His calves and shins as well. She had no towel; perhaps she realized too late she wasn't properly prepared. So she unbound her hair to wipe Him, and gave Jesus a rare privilege in the sight of her, a gift given only to a woman's husband.

In so doing, she also perfumed herself.  I love that. She and Christ shared the same fragrance.

I imagine this scene was so shocking, so scandalous, you could have heard a pin drop. No one dared to speak because...this just wasn't done! What was happening? Where had this lady's propriety gone? Perhaps they didn't dare speak because the Lord didn't say a word. What would He do? They waited to find out.

What I find fascinating is that this level of adoration for the Lord Jesus Christ is unique in the Gospel accounts. The Apostle John rested His head on Christ's chest at the Passover meal, but that was after Mary's anointing. Could it be he finally understood in their last days together that he could be so open with Jesus? Touch is one of the most intimate forms of communication. You can say so much with a rub of the thumb, the swipe of a finger, or the cup of a palm on one's cheek.

No one dared touch Jesus in this way. No one but a humble young woman from the tiny town of Bethany. Her opulent outpouring revealed the bankruptcy of those hearts around her. While they murmured about the "waste" of the perfume that could have been given to the poor, the Lord recognized her act for what it was - true, spiritual worship. To the astonishment of all, Jesus declared Mary of Bethany would be remembered for her adoration, wherever His Gospel was preached (Matthew 26:13).

Doesn't that make you stop in your tracks? Doesn't it take your breath away? What a magnificent honor! What a glory for Mary, to be remembered as the one who adored her Lord above and beyond anyone else. I cannot think of a better legacy than that. In fact, Christ's words are fulfilled in my own home, as I have a portrait of Mary anointing Christ's feet on my dining room wall.

Now, I daresay this high and lofty love for the Lord Jesus Christ is still looked upon in our day and age with an arched brow. People still murmur behind our backs, even those who profess to be Christians themselves! There are many theologians and preachers who have rebuked believers (usually women) for loving Christ above and beyond the level of those around them. While I understand the temptation is there to look upon Christ in an inappropriate manner (being that we are women and our Lord is a glorified man), I do believe many err in extinguishing the smoking flax of women's tender hearts.

Who else but a woman could have anointed Christ in such a scandalous, beautiful, intimate way? You cannot help but see the romance in Mary's anointing. I don't believe Mary wanted Christ for her earthly husband, but she certainly accepted Him as her heavenly one. She, more than anyone else, understood what He would face in Jerusalem. From sitting at His feet, she learned His ultimate fate, and she needed Him to know, before He died, how much she worshipped Him.

In her anointing, she gave herself to Him completely, heart, mind, body, and soul with wild abandon. This is far and away above anything we give to our earthly spouses. This is agape love, which blows away eros love in its unconditional adoration. In our quest to quash anyone from gazing upon Jesus with eros love, are we also quashing a budding agape love?

To the untrained eye, agape love could mimic qualities of eros love, with regards to Mary's "wild abandon" mentioned above. A heart that's fully surrendered to Christ above all else remains to this day a scandalous love. Why? Because like Mary, when we adore Christ with every breath, with every heartbeat, we likewise reveal the bankruptcy in the hearts of those around us.

I believe those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with this same wild abandon of agape love are the ones who are given the same promise as this timid woman of Bethany - throughout the ages, they are the ones remembered by the Church, wherever His Gospel is preached.

Amen, Lord, let it be. Praise Your holy name!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Psalm 23 - A Short Study on the Believer's Life

I have done a more in-depth study of Psalm 23 on this blog before, but just recently while thinking on this Psalm again, I began jotting down some things I hadn't thought about then. The 23rd Psalm is so well-loved, I knew I'd have to share it on my blog. This one is only a short study. I pray it blesses you.

The 23rd Psalm is the life story of a believer in Christ. He is our Shepherd, and this Psalm opens with that declaration. The life of a Christian begins with faith in Jesus, and with a confidence that He is not only the Good Shepherd of the flock, but that He is my Shepherd, and actively seeking my personal care.

This Shepherd sees to it that I have both food and drink in green pastures and still waters, while giving me His peace which passes all understanding. By this peace, He restores my soul, for it is upon drinking His Living Water that we shall never thirst. Our souls are renewed by trusting in this Shepherd and following Him, for it is only through Christ we have peace with God.

Behold, however, the hard times come, and it is by our faith and remembrance of His goodness that our souls remain restored and at peace.

Notice we are not spared the valley, we walk through it. Even though the valley is 'of the shadow of death', we fear no evil. Whatever we encounter is not to be feared. Evil cannot harm us while Christ be with us. Why? Why such confidence in the face of evil shadows?

The Lord's discipline is what comforts. His rod smites our evil tendencies while His staff keeps us on the path of righteousness for His name's sake. It is the Lord who keeps us, whose rod is also used to smite the shadows should they wander too close.

Within this valley the Lord prepares a table before us...where? In the presence of our enemies. Not in Heaven with our brothers, not in peace among our friends, but in the presence of our enemies. No matter how they rage and cry and howl and jeer, they cannot stop the feast of God. The evil in this valley cannot lift a finger to keep Almighty God from preparing this table.

Though the darkness presses in, Thou anointest my head with oil. Though the battle rages on, my cup runneth over. I have found both favor with God and have plenty by His hand.

Shadows have no power over the Light. When our God shines forth in glorious splendor, the day breaks...and the shadows flee. And what is the effect of living in the light of the Most High? It is simply this: that goodness and mercy shall follow me, all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

From the declaration of the Lord as my Shepherd to dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, we see the entire arc of the Christian life. It is the Lord who leads, and who restores. The Lord never leaves, but is with us to both correct and protect His sheep. The Lord prepares the table and anoints our heads with oil. We have been so richly blessed, that our cup is not only full, it runneth over. And while we follow our Shepherd, His goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives.

From start to finish, the believer's life is a work of the Lord. By His power and grace, we fear no evil. He is the one who preserves our faith.

In Him, we have all we need.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Magnificence of Christ

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. ~Psalm 27:4

Christian, there comes a time in your life when you finally see the Lord Jesus Christ high and lifted up, the Holy of all holies, and the resplendent King of Glory. I'm not talking about some lofty "church speak", I'm talking about experience, about wisdom, and about knowledge, not about something parroted throughout various congregations. The Church has seemingly lost a high view of her Bridegroom, and this has resulted in many a believer "ho-humming" through their faith.

Lately, I've come in contact with several people via social media who claim that since we are made righteous in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), we do not need to live righteously. To claim such is viewed as a "works based" salvation. Repentance=works. Holiness=works. I am surprised these same folks don't claim that faith=works, since we must have faith in order to be saved. But I digress.

Any astute student of Scripture knows that both repentance and holiness are all over the Bible. But even if we push these doctrines aside and say repentance and holiness are not needed, there still remains one little problem: being born again; becoming a new creation; being created in Christ Jesus; the old has gone, the new has come. 

The glaring hole here is simply this: when we believe on Christ, we are made new.

The doctrine of the cross is that we have died with Christ (Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:3). The life we now live is by faith in the Son of God. Therefore, our worldliness was put to death and nailed to the cross. If our sins died with Jesus, so, too, did our desire to commit them. Herein lies the point of the whole matter. When one's heart is renewed by the Holy Spirit, He grants repentance (2 Timothy 2:25). This is NOT a work of the believer, this is a work of the Spirit. Scripture calls it opening our eyes (Luke 24:45-47) to understand the depths of our sins. The Spirit's job is to create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us. This results in hating the things we once loved (sin) and loving the things we once hated (righteousness).

We have become citizens of Heaven. How should we who have died to sin live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2) That is not to say we don't stumble in sin. We are still in our fallen flesh. Until we are glorified and fly away, we shall always be stepping in it, for lack of a better term. But the point here is that we cease from deliberately sinning.

Now here is the point I'm trying to make. The Spirit of God is molding us into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29). This is called sanctification. Our Christian walk should be a steady growth in godliness throughout the course of our lives.

Now, even if I've lost you, even if you don't agree with me with regards to repentance and holiness as works of the Spirit rather than works of our flesh, there's another thing to consider: our love for Christ.

When the Holy Spirit truly renews one's heart to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, an all-consuming love for Him takes root in their heart, growing ever larger and larger until their love for God eclipses and overshadows the love they have for anything else in their lives. Not many believers make it to this point in their faith, because in order to love God to this magnitude, one must seek Him and strive after Him, and long to know Him and pray and study. Longing for Christ Himself might seem foreign to some believers, but consider Mary of Bethany, who poured out her expensive perfume on His feet in unparalleled adoration. She did not come to Him for a blessing or a request. She came to Him for His own sake, and worshipped the Lord on a deep, personal level not matched by His own disciples (John 12:1-8).

Something clicks within a believer when they make Jesus Christ their Treasure. Their hearts are with Him (Luke 12:34). They gladly sell all they have to obtain that field (Matt. 13:44). They want to become like Him, and therefore, they begin to obey to His Word (John 14:23). They think on things that are good and pure (Philippians 4:8). They set their affections on things that are above (Colossians 3:2). This world and its pleasures become vanity and chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14), and they count it all as dung that they may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

The natural by-product of renewing your mind in this way (Romans 12:2) is that one turns from their sins (repentance) and walks as Jesus walked (holiness). These are not works by which we are saved, rather, they are the fruits of our salvation. It is the work of the Spirit in the heart of man. People who do not wish to live holy lives sold out to God are either grieving the Holy Spirit or false converts altogether. Regardless if Christ's righteousness now covers us, this is not a free license to sin. This also does not mean we can no longer sin. While it's true that our sins are covered by His sacrifice, what blood-bought believer of the Lord Jesus Christ would want to partake of activities that sent our Beloved King and magnificent GOD to the cross?

Christian, my dear brother or sister in Christ, please consider these words. Growth in Christ includes forsaking sin and increasing in holiness. Search the Scriptures to see if what I say is true. Be a Berean. Do not believe any preacher, teacher, or blogger over the Word of God. Their words blow away like chaff on the wind, but God's Word endures forever.

It is my prayer that the Spirit of God will open the eyes of all who read my blog to a new and living relationship with the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Yeshua, give us all new eyes to see You seated at the right hand of God. Allow us to see a glimpse of Your glory while we yet remain on earth, so that we might redeem the time we've been given and live for You. Let us not be content to hold You captive in the dark closet our hearts, rather, I pray You break free from the superficiality that grieves You and remind us of who You are - the Lord of Hosts, the King of Kings, and God, Most High. Likewise, remind us of who we are, no longer bound by sin, but saints of God, partakers of the divine nature, and a people of Your own possession. People You have called out of darkness, and into Your marvelous light.

Help us to give you the glory due to Your Name, and remind us that holiness is an act of worship, and it is beautiful (Psalm 29:2).

In Jesus' name.