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The Best Gift

It’s October 18th; just another day for most, but for me, always a good day to pause and reflect.

I was given life-outside-the-womb on this day, 56 years ago. It seems more like the blink of an eye. Yet here I am in middle Tennessee, with 5 wonderful kids, a loyal and loving wife, a warm extended family, a God who has “rescued me from the domain of darkness, and transferred me to the kingdom of His beloved Son,” a fulfilling career, a great network of cool and creative people, and I’m feeling something that has been an elusive experience for most of my life.

I have never been happier.

Not just because of the circumstances, but because, in all my sin and folly, I’m drawing a little bit closer to God day by day.

Life, and new life – that is the best gift of all.

It’s one thing to hear, or see, something beautiful to the senses. And, it’s a qualitatively more wonderful experience to meet someone who is fascinating.

But the real beauty is in going deep. Time spent in contemplation, reflection, and communion. Making new connections of mind and soul that take a few scattered gold coins and turn them into a fortune.

That’s what meditation is for. It’s gaining insight. It’s self-aware application. It’s soul-digestion.

It is expansion.

Meditation is not the emptying of yourself. It is knowing your emptiness, pulling up to the pump, and re-filling.

Meditation

We humans have been given an extraordinary gift – the capacity to contemplate. We rob ourselves when we settle for digital distraction, which only serves to occupy the bare surface of the mind and heart before the next sensation comes along.

That’s junk food. Meditation is how we create a nutritious, 3-course meal.

A couple of days ago, I read this passage from the (always excellent) devotional volume by Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening:

Revolve in your mind that wondrous word, “faultless!” We are far off from it now; but as our Lord never stops short of perfection in his work of love, we shall reach it one day. The Saviour who will keep his people to the end, will also present them at last to himself, as “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish.” All the jewels in the Saviour’s crown are of the first water and without a single flaw. All the maids of honour who attend the Lamb’s wife are pure virgins without spot or stain. But how will Jesus make us faultless? He will wash us from our sins in his own blood until we are white and fair as God’s purest angel; and we shall be clothed in his righteousness, that righteousness which makes the saint who wears it positively faultless; yea, perfect in the sight of God. We shall be unblameable and unreproveable even in his eyes. His law will not only have no charge against us, but it will be magnified in us. Moreover, the work of the Holy Spirit within us will be altogether complete. He will make us so perfectly holy, that we shall have no lingering tendency to sin. Judgment, memory, will-every power and passion shall be emancipated from the thraldom of evil. We shall be holy even as God is holy, and in his presence we shall dwell for ever. Saints will not be out of place in heaven, their beauty will be as great as that of the place prepared for them.

…and the thought struck me – how often do I ponder the work of salvation as positive – absolutely re-creating me – as opposed to just the removal of sin?

God, and His law, will be magnified in me?? Can that be??

Therefore, it isn’t my destiny to “barely make it” through this life of fallenness – no, God is infusing my life, and will infuse my life for all eternity, with Himself. And He won’t stop and cannot be stopped. This led to very liberating contemplation which I am even now enjoying as I re-read the words.

Yet how often have I read and heard such words with dull ears and a sleepy heart, so that the benefit never takes root?

A new perspective is often the key to unlocking deep levels of freedom and change. It’s not enough to just take in words, images, and other “content”. We need to gain clearer vision, continually. Daily. There’s no short-cut to practical acuity and wisdom – it comes through contemplation.

Scratching the surface of information or relationships may give us a form of breadth. But we don’t need more roots; we need deeper ones. We don’t need more snacks – we need to digest and assimilate. Meditation is the pathway to greater insights and life-giving understanding.

 

Doors Unlocked

So far on this brief vacation in the Finger Lakes with my brothers, I’ve noted at least 3 occasions when we’ve left doors unlocked.

Front door. Patio door. Car door.

At least we’ve practiced equal opportunity negligence. Thus far, happily, without consequence.

One reasonable excuse is that we’re in unfamiliar/rental surroundings, so these things happen. But negligence can lead to consequences, whether in familiar or unfamiliar territory.

DoorsWhile walking in a state park yesterday, I spotted a broken-down building with these broken-down doors. I immediately thought of how the Scripture talks about doors and windows into the soul – and the need to guard our hearts.

The fact is, if we leave the doors of our soul unlocked to temptation, sooner or later, sin will both break out and break in.

How we need grace to guard our hearts, lest we end up being ransacked like this.

What sins are you toying with right now that threaten to kick down your doors? Let us turn the lock of repentance, and believe what we are told that if we play with fire, we will eventually get burned.

Driving through upstate NY State with my brothers yesterday, we noted how many properties had fallen into disuse and disrepair.

Once-thriving communities built on farming are no longer prospering.

Collapsed barns. Leaning silos. Boarded-up houses. Fallow fields.

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And then, in the midst of the decay, we spotted one brand-new, freshly-reconstructed barn. Someone believed, hoped, and invested.

Decomposition is not sovereign.

I look into my heart, and I see collapse and decay.

Yet Jesus sees a place for investment, a place to show forth His renovating power. He renews. He pours in life.

He lovingly cultivates.

Fields of weeds will bear fruit.

Debt-Free

During a well-crafted “State of the Church” sermon this past Sunday at Christ Community Church in Franklin, Pastor David Cassidy mentioned the encouraging fact that the assembly is debt-free – its facility and land are all paid for.

Of course, it is a biblical principle that we seek to owe no man anything, and being debt-free gives the church much greater flexibility in making forward-looking investments.

DebtFree crossWe recently sold our house in New Jersey and moved to a rental here in Tennessee, and for the first time in a long-time, we have no mortgage. And you know what? When we got that final signed paperwork, it felt pretty wonderful!

But that feeling of freedom is only a tiny window into the complete liberation of the church of God. The wonderful fact is, the assembly of saints in Jesus Christ is debt-free in an unspeakably glorious dimension.

Every sin paid for; past, present, and future. All spiritual debts discharged. Debt-free through the free and gracious gift of the God to whom we owed perfect allegiance – but before whom we morally defaulted – living instead for the futile pleasures of sin.

Through the atoning death of Christ, He paid off the debt we could never repay. And that payoff, signed with blood, gives us the liberty to be the freed sons and daughters of God.

Every time I step onto that campus, I want to think about what it truly means to be debt-free. Not owing people or banks any money is a liberating thought. Not owing the God of all creation, despite all of my moral corruption?

Priceless.

Entering into Rest

There is undoubted value in entering into regular periods of physical rest. We sleep for a reason. We take vacations for a reason. And, if the book of Genesis (and common sense) are any guide, a weekly day of detachment from labor is a very good thing.

Sunset restWe are not machines.

Rest, however, is not only outward. That part is relatively easy – pull the sheets over your head; schedule a trip to some quiet lake; tell the demands of work to take a hike on weekends.

Where I’ve always failed miserably is inward rest. I have a striving heart, often driven more by fear than confidence. Figure it out – now. Implement it – now. Oh, and by the way…perfectionism.

Uptight much? Real warm and fuzzy right there. Relaxed.

This season of life in Tennessee is, in part, a hopeful adventure into a new realm of inward rest. Bringing up kids, building a career, living in the northeast, and dealing with internal emotional-psychological-spiritual short circuits all along the way has been exhausting.

Yet, God never fails. He is taking me aside and teaching me. He is reaching into long-broken areas of my heart and healing. He is helping me to simply see and believe Him, Who is the ultimate fountain of all rest.

True rest is not merely a practice. It’s a relationship.

Figuring it all out, and implementing perfectly?? Not happening – now or ever. Seeing, and beginning to quietly rest? That plant is growing afresh.

Thanks be to God for His marvelous, patient, lovingkindness!

Hope-full Purification

Trying to be holy without standing on a base of hope is like….well, it’s like running through a dark wilderness with a broken compass, wearing worn-out moccasins while carrying an angry and sharp-beaked octopus on your back. During an ice storm.

OK, the analogy is imperfect, but you get the point. If you seek holiness without a firm anchor in hope, you simply become a guilt-ridden Pharisee.

Trust me – I know from experience.

We see the God-honoring way of becoming holy in I John 3:1-3:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appearswe shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

First, we embrace God in a love relationship. We become, and then ARE, His children (a fact, a fixed identity. Done deal.)

Then, we embrace the fact that our ultimate destiny – our future identity, secured by an all-powerful God – is total conformity to Christ. We WILL be holy. A done deal that is getting done now.

Finally, we then are able to take on whatever efforts to actively purify ourselves. Practical holiness becomes practical only when we embrace our identity, our beloved-ness, our destiny.

Holiness is hope-fueled. Guilt, fear, and moral pride only lead to an external straitjacket of attempted behavior-modification. Orthodoxy and effort without humble and grace-filled hope only lead to defeat.

The Christian has to unlearn Pharisee-righteousness by resting in faith first. THAT will lead to sincere striving for sanctification. Fueled by strong hope.

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