Monday, August 31, 2009


So I read Judges today. Yep, all of Judges. What a strange book. It's like the people of Israel need a flashing neon sign at all times telling them that God is with them because the second after His appointed leaders die, all hell breaks loose, and the Israelites start "doing evil in the sight of the Lord" like it's their job. By far, the most important thing I learned from this most interesting book is God's love of using messed up people to accomplish His will. If you don't know the background to Judges, then let me lay it out for you.

Israel has successfully entered the promised land, and Joshua, the leader who took over after Moses croaks, decides it's high time to kick the proverbial bucket as well; leaving Israel without a true leader. No worries though, as long as they continue to worship God they'll be fine. Not a problem right? And this is where we start seeing how incredibly thick we as humans are. Idol worship ensues, as does mixing with other non-Jewish cultures after "unsuccessfully" (they didn't even try) driving them out like they were suppose to. The story goes downhill from there, fast, so God (because He is just and hates evil) allows the surrounding countries to defeat and oppress them. Then God, in His compassion, hears the cries of His oppressed people and raises up from among them a hero (Judge) who will lead them in battle and keep their enemies in fear. The Judge frees Israel, and they rejoice in God until their hero dies. Then BAM, like they hit a fricken spiritual brick wall they immediately slide back into idolatry and immorality. God allows them to be conquered again, and again saves them from their anguish by using a Judge. Their reverence for Yahweh again lasts only as long as the life of their war leader, and the process starts over again and again and again and again (etc.).

My fascination with the stupidity of the people is only eclipsed by my astonishment of the personalities God chose to raise up as leaders. Gideon was a wimpy polygamist who needed so much reassurance (miraculous signs) from God that he was going to be victorious that it practically wiped out any level of faith the man may have had. Also at the end of his life he set up several idols to other Gods much to his discredit. Perhaps the best known Judge, Samson, did just about nothing righteous. He slept with prostitutes, was married to a woman who tried to kill him three times before succeeding, and the one "Godly" act he did was done in disobedience. The time when the Holy Spirit was upon him, and he killed 1000 Philistines, he did so by grabbing the jaw-bone of a dead donkey, which explicitly went against God's commandment to the Jews to not touch dead things. God chose to empower this guy as he was in the process of disobeying Him. He payed for it though. His eyes were gouged out, and he was turned into Philistine party entertainment. With his final prayer, he asked God to give him the strength to bring the structure down. Whether or not taking out 3000 Philistines while you kill yourself (as Samson did) can be considered a righteous act is up for grabs.

One doesn't have to just read Judges to find this trend. David (the man after God's own heart) was a bloodthirsty, adulterous, unstable, murderer; Jonah (one of the first missionaries) was a vengeful legalist; Abraham (the Knight of Faith) tried to sell his wife for his life twice; all the disciples were cowards and morons; Paul was a persecutor of the saints; Jeremiah was a whiner; Moses was a stuttering murderer; in fact, most of the people who have more than a brief mention in the Bible have major flaws. And yet, God uses them. Over and over he delights in taking what is broken and turning it into a shining light for the glory of His name. Over and over he uses incredibly flawed people to accomplish His heavenly aims. He consistently brings Himself glory in His incredible redeeming nature. Ultimately sending His son to perish on a cross, crushing Him with the sin of those He has chosen to forgive.

So I ask you, what are your darkest sins? The ones you nestle deep within you and pray nobody ever stumbles across. Think of your blackest and sickest moment. The moment when the sin you fight the hardest won its greatest victory against you and managed to drag you down into the most loathsome pit you've ever been in. The moment you can only think back on in shame, weakness, and overwhelming guilt. Visualizing it? That very moment, the one you are the most ashamed of, is the very moment Christ died for you. It was that very sin that He bore on the cross that day. In that instant it was your turn to hear the words of your Savior softly whisper, "The price of sin is death, and you had a price to pay. I payed it. You are forgiven." I pray today that you would believe that. That you would know the cross to be sufficient enough to cover your transgressions. That you would not hide from God out of shame and fear. Take heart, for there is no condemnation for you!

However, God is not satisfied with merely forgiving you. No, He wants so much more for you than just that. He wants to use your life in His ongoing saga of redemption and grace. Yeah, you may believe yourself to be a broken, miserable, sad excuse for a human being... just God's favorite kind.

"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." - Paul

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Healthy Disposition

The passage isn't preached very often. Indeed it is not one you use to grow your church with by any means. In fact, if you DO cover this story be prepared to have a bit more seating in your church the next week. Because I have no fear of "attendance", today's post will cover an event that is mentioned in all four gospels to varying degrees of detail. However, the lesson it holds flies in the face of much popular "Christian" reasoning.

John the Baptist was a man set apart for the gospel. His existence was prophesied in the Old Testament which foretold a "voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make His path's straight.'" (Isaiah 40:3-5) Gabriel, the divine messenger of God, payed his father a visit in order to announce his birth. He was born of a women who was "advanced in years," well past the time of her life where she should have been naturally able to bear children. He lived in the wilderness, ate locusts and honey, and his preaching captured the attention of thousands. While baptizing Jesus, he heard the audible voice of God proclaim Jesus to be the Father's Son. All in all, this man was obedient to God in every aspect of his life that we know of. He denied himself in every way, and his very existence totally depended on God. Jesus Himself referred to His forerunner as "the greatest among those born of women." (Luke 7:28) And here comes the tricky part.

Shortly after he baptized Jesus, he was thrown in jail by Herod for speaking out against Herod's adultery with Herod's brother's wife. The long dark days and nights in those cells did a number on John's steadfast faith, and he began to have doubts. Being the good spiritual leader that he was, he doubted his doubts instead of giving into them, and he sent a couple of his disciples to Jesus to ask him if "he is the one who is to come, or if they should expect another." (Luke 7:20) Jesus responds by using several prophecies from Isaiah about the coming Messiah. "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them, and blessed is the one who is not offended by me." (Luke 7:22-23) The first thing we should learn from this is that sometimes having doubts while we walk with God is okay. If the greatest man in history had doubts, it's only logical that we can too. Jesus certainly did not scold him. The second lesson is much tougher.

The list that Jesus gives them to recite back to John has a glaring and prophetic omission in it. Jesus purposely leaves out one of the Isaiah prophecies, "and the imprisoned go free." John was in the darkest moment of his life, a miracle life that had been completely devoted to the Lord, and he wasn't going to get out of his situation alive. A little while after receiving Jesus' answer, he was dragged out of the prison and up to a party room where he was publicly beheaded as a drunken gift from Herod to his daughter-in-law. In this life, following Jesus did not work out well for him. Prosperity gospel preachers (in particular) will NEVER touch this passage, and this isn't the only one they'll steer clear of. The bible never promises that all will go well for you in this life if you follow its advice. In fact, it doesn't take more than a skim reading of Paul to realize that he does everything but promise the opposite. You WILL have a hard time in this life if you truly give it to Christ.

Every disciple except for John, the one Jesus loved, met a violent and brutal end at the hands of the people they were trying to save, and John himself died in exile. Stephan's last breath was used to beg God's forgiveness for the men who were stoning him. Paul suffered hardships, floggings, stonings, cold nights, hungry days, ship wrecks, imprisonment, beatings, and in the end was beheaded in Rome. These were men who were entirely devoted to God; who gave every aspect of their lives for his cause, and they were murdered after living penniless and pain-filled existences. (I have yet to even mention the fact that the Savior we follow died an excruciating death after a hard life.) Most of us don't face these kinds of struggles today, but most of us will face dark and troubling times. Where then do we get this prevalent idea that life will be pleasant for us if we follow God, and why, when our lives go awry, do we feel anger or resentment towards God for our trouble? Why do a good number of "Christians" listen to this Prosperity gospel bull-crap when life shows itself to be contrary to the message preached?

To answer my own questions, its a heart issue. We still don't believe that we have wicked hearts. Ultimately we don't believe that we all deserve Hell. We don't believe that God, in His mercy, is offering us a way out of our unpayable debt. We seem to think that we're mostly good people, and we're doing God some sort of favor by responding to His message of salvation. Therefore, since we're being gracious enough to give our lives to God, it's expected that He should be so kind as to give us what we think will make us happy. Here's the truth: He doesn't need you. He doesn't need me. He has every right to do whatever He wishes to any of us at any point in time for He is sovereign and He is just. You're not here to live in "health, wealth, and happiness," you're here to glorify God with every breath. Luckily though, that's what will ultimately give us the most fulfillment and joy throughout the course of our lives and beyond. He has our eternal well-being in mind. Often times, we just can't see the bigger picture.

"Pick up your cross, and follow Me." - Jesus

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Valley of the Shadow

(I'm going to preface this post by stating that it is for believers.) I'm sure you've heard it. If you attend any Christian conference or are apart of any Christian organization long enough you get what I like to call "the testimony." A man stands up front and begins to unravel a tale of woe. He was addicted to fifteen different drugs. He was sleeping around with twenty-three different ladies. He lived for drinking and partying six of the seven days of the week, and on the seventh, he felt empty and was contemplating suicide. Then, suddenly, Jesus found him in as miraculous a way as was possible, and he irresistibly gave his life to the Lord. That was the last time he ever sinned. The cravings for drugs, the suicidal depression, the overwhelming lust, the cry for human admiration, it all died away instantly. Now he reads the bible five times a day and always gets something out of it, God's call in his life is as clear as day, and his miraculous healing will always stand there as a testimony to his miraculous faith. After his uplifting speech, he flies off the stage and back to his seat.

As strange as this may sound, these testimonies always made me feel worse. I've been a Christian three times as long as that sucker, where are my wings? Why am I still hopelessly entrenched in an often losing battle with the same sins that plagued me the day I was redeemed? What a load of crap. A load of wordy, uplifting, feel-good crap. Because that NEVER happens. Oh sure, God might rescue you from a certain sin the moment He saves your soul. However, that isn't what happens to most people. Here's something you won't usually hear from church people, progressive sanctification happens horrifically slow and is immensely painful and/or dull. Instant sanctification, on the other hand, is a lie for those who still dwell among the living. The people who tell these "testimonies" usually act like the conversion was the end of a long and difficult journey; the hard truth is that the conversion actually marks the beginning, not the end, of the difficulties.

Just once I want to have someone stand up front and say, "You know, I've been a Christian all my life. I accepted Christ earnestly at a young age, but each moment is a struggle. Every day I have to fight for intimacy with my savior. Every single day is a tiring battle with the darkness I hide inside my soul. A fight to shine the light on the wickedness that is so much an ingrained part of me, so that my God can continue to painfully cut it out of me and replace it with Himself. Every second of the day from the moment I wake up to the time I lay my head on my pillow at night I am forced to consciously choose to die to myself. I feel unworthy most of the time. I fail so often that many times I've just wanted to give up, but I press on in the future hope I have that one day I will be free of the sin that I can't seem to kill. The one that consistently controls me, lurks in the shadows of my heart, and drags me into its clutches the moment I let my guard down. I long to be free of it, and my God has promised to sanctify me. I trust Him, but the meantime has been no moonlight picnic."

And Jesus understands this truth. Day by day we have to come to God admitting that we have nothing to offer Him for his grace, but "blessed are the poor in spirit." Moment by moment with have to, with God's help, continually struggle to put to death the flesh and seek his face, but "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." And moment by moment we have to cry out to God and mourn the fact that we are a broken and terrible mess and that we cannot fix ourselves, but "blessed are those who weep" and "blessed are the meek." "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." (Psalms 51:17)

If you ever come to the point where you feel like you're at the end of your spiritual rope, like God is just out of your reach, you are not only still a loved and cherished child of your heavenly Father, but you are exactly where He wants you to be, and the work He began in you, He will carry to completion. If you slip and fall along the way, you are not a condemned sinner, you are a saint who sins. Remember, you are the beloved of God. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue to follow hard after your God wherever He is leading you. Fear not, for He will never let you go, and although there might be a great deal of pain involved, the most secure place you could ever be is in the center of His plan for your life. There is no easy way, there is no fast track, and there is rarely any instant gratification. Obtaining the joy set before you will be a vicious struggle the whole way. Keep your head up, dig in, and hold on.

"Oh God, my hands are shaking again! Calm down, calm down. Now I can't feel the floor, and my vision takes its toll on me. I'm the desperate, and You're the Savior. I'm the desperate, and You're the Savior. Oh God, it's racing through my veins! I'm afraid there must be some kind of mistake. Oh, I'm in over my head again! Reach in and grab a hold of me! I'm so scared that I've started to slip! They say that I'll never change. I'll prove them wrong, prove them wrong. I hear the calling, but it's passing through. Clean me up, show me how to live. Tear me down, let me start again." - underOATH