No Longer I

“For if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” For our Lord Jesus Christ came for this very reason, that he might change, and renew, and create afresh this soul that had been perverted by vile affections, tempering it with his own Divine Spirit. He came to work a new mind, a new soul, and new eyes, new ears, new spiritual tongue; yea, to make them that believe in him new men, that he might pour into them the new wine, which is his Spirit.

This is from Macarius in his Homilies, an Eastern Church Father whom John Wesley admired and employed often in his thinking.

It resonates with me because it expounds on one of my favorite Scriptures, 2 Cor. 5:17:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

In the margin of my Bible next to that verse I have written:

God does not want to make me better, but new.

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New!   The person who puts their entire self under the blood of Christ will not rise up a better version of their old self but a completely new one!    So radically, so fundamentally, does Christ make a change in our hearts that you are no longer you, but Christ in you, the hope of glory.

There is a story about Saint Augustine following his conversion where he passed by one of his former mistresses on the street.    Seeing him walk by she yelled after him, “Augustine, it is I!”    Without turning back Augustine replied, “Yes, but it is no longer I!”

Augustine had been made new.    Jesus said that for any of us to see the kingdom of God we must be born again (John 3).   Tragically, we have far too many people who have come to God to be made better but refuse to be born again!   They refuse to be made new.

If you are beset with sins and habits which you are convinced you cannot shake I have good news for you.   When you come to God broken and open for His cure, willing to obey His words before all others, willing to lay down your old life not to ever take it up again, you will walk away a new creation.   You will be born again.   His promise is sure and true.   The dead are still being raised by Jesus.   I know this to be true because I was once a dead man…..but God!   Thanks be to God I am no longer I.

God doesn’t want to make you better, but new!   Praise God!

Is It Well With Your Soul?

I am reading a book on John Wesley’s theology for today titled, The New Creation, by Theodore Runyon.   A passage about assurance, and Wesley’s quest of it, spoke to me because it named what I think was once a cancer in my own heart not very long ago. 

In the years leading up to Wesley’s conversion experience, where his “heart was strangely warmed” and he knew that Christ had died for him, for even him, he was convinced that there must be some inner witness of the Spirit with his spirit that he was a child of God.  Yet he didn’t posses it.  

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August Spangenberg, a Moravian leader, posed questions to Wesley which unsettled him.   Questions like, “Have you the witness within yourself?  Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?”   Wesley reports,

I was surprised, and knew not what to answer. He observed it, and asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ?”  I paused, and said, “I know he is the Savior of the world.”  “True,” he replied, “but do you know he has saved you?”  I answered, “I hope he has died to save me.”  He only added, “Do you know yourself?”  I said, “I do.”  But I fear they were vain words.  

I identify with the father of Methodism in these words above.   I recall preaching and speaking of Jesus being the Savior of the world, and believing it to be true, yet not truly laying hold of this for myself.   The cross was good news for my listeners but I did not know it’s power in my own spirit.  

How difficult it is to lead anyone where you yourself have not been.  

It is so easy to get swept up into the tidal wave of causes, of programs, of things that in the end are nothing but works and in the doing of all this stuff we gain a false sense of assurance that we are children of God.   As Jesus said, we should have the one but not neglect the other.  We ought to be concerned with our neighbor but this ought to arise out of a deep love of God.   Holiness, what Wesley defined as a “recovery of the image of God, a renewal of soul after his likeness,” must become the heart’s cry of us all, particularly those of us who bear the name “pastor.”  

I have great respect for Wesley because he saw the deficiency in his own heart and was honest enough to confess it, and repent.   On May 24, 1738, he found that assurance he so desperately desired and as a result the world was turned upside down through the preaching of a man who laid hold of God, convinced that God had laid hold of him.  

So I ask you, as I ask myself:

Do you know Jesus Christ died for you?  Do you know that Jesus shed his blood for the forgiveness of your sins?   Does the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead, bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God? 

Lord, may Your grace and mercy give us no rest until we can say with assurance, Yes!  It is well with my soul! 

O Ye Of Fickle Faith

Two days ago I got some news that I wasn’t expecting, which ruined for the moment the plans I was making for myself.   My wife, knowing my concern and sadness, sent me the following text while I was driving to work:

I’m sorry honey!!!  God is in control of our lives even when others make mistakes.  Keep your hope in God.  He knows what is best and when it’s best.   I love you.

The past few days I have been asked by a few friends if I could pinpoint one of the primary differences in my life today as compared to the life of 2 summers ago.   My answer, in large part, is found in the spirit of that text.

God is in control.  Hope in God.   God knows what and when is best.  Trust Him.

It is easy to believe God is in control when things are going your way.   When you wake up to a bright, sunny day, when the coffee is hot and strong, when the car starts and has plenty of gas, when your boss gives you a promotion, when you are healthy, when your spouse is on your side and your kids are being obedient – in all these things we give thanks to God, as we ought.

But what about when there is a raging storm outside, when the coffee pot is broken, when the car breaks down on the side of the road, when you show up to work and are given a pink slip, when you get diagnosed with cancer, when your spouse cheats or leaves and when your kids drive you crazy – in all these things we tend to think God is absent or to blame.

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I confess that I often lack the faith to believe God is in control of all things, that all things work according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11).    I confess that I often lack joy when I face trials of various kinds, which are designed for the purpose of increasing my faith (James 1:1-4).   I confess that when I feel persecuted or tormented I far too often become self-absorbed rather than see this as an opportunity to bear witness to the glory and majesty of God (Luke 21:12-13).

In Mary Beth Chapman’s moving book about hope and struggle through the tragic death of their daughter she shares how they, as a family, had their faith deepened.    While the pain was still very raw, she describes how her husband, Stephen, would go into his sound-proof recording studio in their home and scream at the top of his lungs,

You give and you take away!   Blessed be the name of the Lord!   You give and you take away!  Blessed be the name of the Lord! 

He was quoting Job 1:21.   I had tears in my eyes as I read that for the first time, and again as I type them here.   Why?  Because it’s a faith I find so humble, trusting and vulnerable.    It’s one I see so often lacking in myself, and sadly, in much of the church world.

It is a faith that gives God glory in the midst of the storm, even though, paradoxically, it names Him as the author of it. It’s the faith of Job.   Though he lost everything dear to him, he refused to curse God.    His ruminations over what happened to him neither led him to believe God was absent nor that He was to blame (in a pejorative sense) but rather, God is the author of all things and that He is good and trustworthy.    If God is truly good, and if God is truly in control, then whatever befalls Job is re-imagined through that lens.   This is ultimate trust.  This is ultimate faith.    “Yet though you slay me,” Job said, “I will trust in you” (Job 13:15).     Job knows that life and death occur by God’s hand, according to the counsel of His will, and it’s all good for those who love God (Rom. 8:28).

 
And lest we think this God is archaic, one of some ancient, Old Testament understanding of God, Jesus reminds me that it is the God he knows, and trusts explicitly.   Sent to earth to die a horrible death, he prayed that this cup – one predestined by His Father – be spared him.    The pain he was about to endure he did not attribute to an absent God nor did he blame him, but instead prayed, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”    Like Job, Jesus prayed, “Yet though you slay me, I will trust in you.”

This trust resulted in an Easter miracle.

Granted, this God offends our modern sensibilities of what is “good” and “loving.”   It isn’t one that appeases the masses, or tickles itching ears who long to have their best life now.

My wife remembers all too well the many times she was told by a godly woman that the pain her husband (me) was inflicting upon her were opportunities for her to repent, to run to God, to worship Him.   For years she resisted this counsel, believing instead that if God were love He must be absent, or to blame, or did not love her very much at all to allow this suffering in her life.    She couldn’t stand to hear from women who testified that if she would only trust God, she would one day be giving Him thanks for her afflictions (just like David does in Psalm 119, numerous times).

Today, however, she is doing just that.   As her text above demonstrates, my wife has learned that the faith she thought she had was a fickle one, tossed and torn by the events of any given day.    Today, by the grace and mercy of God, she stands as a Job-like example to me of one who strives to pray, “Though you slay me, God, I will trust you!”

Seeing such faith in action leads me, and I hope you as well, to pray, “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!”  (Mark 9:24).

I Killed Him

Due to illness we did not attend church this morning but had family worship at home.   Being Pentecost Sunday I read Acts 2 and we discussed the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.   But this post is not about that.   It’s about the conversation that took place because of my 8 year old son’s curiosity and fear over a confession I wrote in the margin of my bible.

I didn’t quite understand the worry in his face when I asked if anyone had any questions following our bible study.   Maddox looked as though he were about to cry as he pointed with a shaky finger to the words I scribbled in the margin…

I killed Him.

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“What does this mean, Daddy?”   The question opened up an opportunity, no doubt initiated by the Holy Spirit, to talk about something every Christian needs to remind themselves of often, for we so easily forget.

I killed Him.  It’s what I wrote in the margin of my Bible next to Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Portico, where he is rehearsing once more the history of Israel and their guilt over murdering the Messiah.    Acts 3:14-15 reads,

But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead.

I killed Him.

At some point over the past year during my devotional reading the Spirit spoke those words to me, placing me there on the scene – at Pilate’s sham-of-a-trial, at the walk towards Golgatha, at the foot of Calvary – hissing and jeering the entire time, insisting that I will not allow anyone, not even God, get in the way of my own self-interests.

I was there, driving the nails through the hands and feet of the Author of Life, because my sin and shame made it His passion to let me.

I killed Him.

All of my betrayal, lust, selfishness, pride – all the pain it caused all those I thought I loved, all the depression, anger, loneliness, and despair  – was on his shoulders as I hoisted him up on the cross to die.

I killed Him.

It’s a heart-wrenching thing to realize, that you killed the Author of Life.   If you are so fortunate to have the Spirit whisk you away from your current place and set you down at the foot of the cross I assure you you will never be the same again.    When you see the weight of sin this Sinless One bore for you, for all the world, the veil is torn and religion dies, only to be replaced with what John Wesley called “a heart strangely warmed.”     Religion is replaced with holy passion and yearning, and sin – that which enslaved you the day before  – loses it’s deathly grip.

It’s easy to lay the blame elsewhere. It’s easy to watch the death of Jesus unfold like a bystander then rail against the social powers-that-be, the evils of society, the injustice of a fallen world.    I was once a pastor who was so wrapped up in the social sins I saw, in large part because I did not want to see the personal sins within.   Getting wrapped up in the social evils which make for good Facebook or Twitter fodder was far more appetizing (and crowd pleasing!) than sitting alone at the foot of Calvary, weeping over my own sin which put my Jesus there.

I don’t ever want to lose sight of the cross or my explicit hand in the whole bloody affair.   I don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that Jesus was on that cross for me, dying for the very things that made me take a hammer to his hands.   I don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that I killed Him.

And yet, amazingly, He still loves me.   What a Savior!

 

Son, Come to your Senses

Yesterday my wife and I were talking about the radical lengths required for real reconciliation to transpire.     We both agreed that as a couple we both had to abandon our right to have rights and humbly confess that we were both in need.   She for different reasons than I, obviously, and perhaps she will speak to that from her perspective in a later post.

As the outright offender in our marriage, it might seem obvious that the very least I or anyone in my position can do is take a posture of complete and utter servitude and humility, willing to surrender any and all rights for the one betrayed.    Yet you would be surprised to know how many people refuse to come to this place (and how long it took for me to get there myself!).   They are sorry (at least they think they are) for what they have done, and they desire to reconcile with their family but they want to do so on their own terms, or at best, expect some compromise in the negotiations.    The following sentiments are expressed far too often by people who want reconciliation:

She expects me to leave my job!  Is she crazy?  I want to get back together but she’s totally unreasonable! 

She’ll take me back but only if I drop all my friends.   It’s she or them, she says.    I want our marriage to work but her ultimatums are ruining our chances!

She says that for us to work out I need to give up the internet.    I don’t mind cutting back some, but I have to have it for my job.  She doesn’t get it. 

Such negotiations are the exact opposite of the truly penitent.   As Amy and I thought about the sacrifices necessary to reconcile we were reminded of the story Jesus tells of the prodigal son in Luke 15.    When this son “comes to his senses” after living unfaithfully as a son to his father, he determines to return home and say,

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.   I am no longer worthy to be called your son.   Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:18-19).

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Absent from this confession and plea are any grasping for rights.     The son returns with head bowed and heart torn, willing to be treated as a slave rather than a son.   Can anyone imagine this prodigal returning home to say that he is sorry for squandering everything and betraying the love and trust of his father, but dad, I want my old room back?    Dad, don’t ask me to clean the pigsty cause I’ve been living in it long enough.   Dad, you need to show me some consideration, as I’ve been through a lot.  

Let me be blunt.  If you have been unfaithful to your spouse and are bargaining in these ways or others you are not truly repentant.  You haven’t yet come to your senses like the prodigal son and are deluding yourself into thinking you still have rights.    The tension and angst your feel and the reason reconciliation seems so impossible is because you won’t die to yourself completely but still hold out hope that you can keep some of the old man around, though perhaps dressed up in new clothes.

If there is any hope for restoration you are going to have to be the first to die.     A necessary part of that death is a dying to self – to your rights, your dreams, your ideas of what the marriage ought to look like, your former life altogether.    This is the path so few are willing to walk.   But I can assure you that you do not walk it alone.    You can know that as a forgiven sinner, as you walk a path of humility before your spouse and others whom you’ve hurt, that you are walking the path of Jesus, who took your sin upon his sinless shoulders like a lamb being led to the slaughter (Isa. 53).    “Consider him,” the author of Hebrews writes, “who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:3).

If the Son of God, who did not deserve it, could endure with patient humility such hostility from us, surely you, who does deserve it, can endure the evacuation of your rights for the sake of true repentance and reconciliation.

If not, then son, may you soon come to your senses.

 

 

“Daddy, can i have 40 dollars?”

Brody, my 6 year old, needed a new video game for his DS.    The question came up at dinner last Saturday and continued to be asked until it was time for bed.

Daddy, please? Daddy, I need it!   Daddy, can I?   How can I make 40 bucks daddy? 

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If you are a parent, you no doubt have experienced the incessant and persistent neediness of your children.   There are moments when it feels as though every 3 seconds they are calling your name, wanting this, needing that.    You love it, don’t you?  Or maybe you are like me, and during those moments you just want to cover your ears and lock yourself in a quiet room and eat Oreos.

Sunday morning I was enjoying my quiet time before everyone woke up, doing some dishes, when I heard the pitter-patter of feet behind me.

It was Brody.

The first words out of his mouth that morning were, of course, “Daddy, when can I have that 40 dollars?”

As my flesh reared up and prepared to tell him to go back to bed and not bother me again about that, the Spirit of the Lord spoke into my heart, saying,

You are so unlike your Daddy in heaven, Chad.

Father stopped me in my tracks.  The truth of this revelation had my full attention, then continued…

Your Father, Chad, never tires of his children’s needs.   He never grows weary of their want.  In fact, He is drawn to it.   Unlike you, He does not hide from need but runs to it.

Oh, and Chad, I want you to be more like Me.

There are times when I get lulled into thinking Jesus and I are so alike.  The world’s idolatry of self-sufficiency-as-virtue can easily lure me into loosing touch with the wholly-otherness of God, thus reducing Jesus to a peer I sometimes use to justify the life I’ve already determined to lead rather than surrendering to him as Lord, knowing my every breath hinges upon his word.

And so it is that this word that ruptured my world Sunday morning at Brody’s request is precisely what I needed, because it is through reckoning the great gulf that exists between myself and Father that I can truly appreciate and depend on His Son, who reconciled me, and us, bridging that gulf and making it possible to become like Daddy.

And the truth I am still in awe of today is that our Father in Heaven never tires of us.  He never grows weary of the needs we bring to the throne of grace.   He won’t bar the door and indulge Himself in Oreo cookies and earplugs.  His love, patience, and compassion is so unlike my own, and for this I stand amazed, and humbled.

Perhaps this is why Jesus said the kingdom belongs to children.   Children are constantly in need.  Their very lives hang in the balance of a parent who loves them.    And according to Jesus, age does not relinquish our need, despite our prideful attempts to assert otherwise.   In fact, presupposing we have no needs, that we are doing just fine, thank you very much, is an affront to God, and blocks us from receiving all that our Father desires to give us as His children (Rev. 3:17).

Pride blinds us to our greatest need which is Jesus, and we can do no better than realizing we have this need.  He has never stopped calling to any and all who would listen,

Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest  (Matt. 11:28)

How awesome it is to know we have a God who does not respond like us earthly parents to need! We must come to know this God, and trust that our requests, no matter how trivial they may seem are not annoying God but displaying our dependence upon Him.   It reflects a heart that is willing to humble itself before God as a child, and our Father is waiting for such worshipers!    Run to him with your need!

In his book, Orthodoxy, G.K Chesterton pens this beautiful description of our Daddy who, unlike you and I,  never gets tired of need.

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

It is my desire to become more like a child in the hands of my Father in heaven, needy and dependent upon Him for even the smallest details of my life.    I believe this honors God, positioning me rightly before Him and others, serving to transform and renew a mind that so easily falls prey to the pride of life.   I also desire to become more like Him in my response to need around me, to not grow weary or impatient but filled with His Spirit, abounding in grace and mercy.     In my own strength I know this is not possible, but my Daddy does the impossible!