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Broken, blind, defiled, and in denial.

These are the labels we wear outside of Christ. And, as long as we remain in denial, we vehemently deny it. Doesn’t change a thing.

We’re broken. Blind. Defiled. And trying to cover it all up with denial-fig-leaves.

Until God puts a spiritual mirror in front of us and gives us a glimpse of reality. Yes, God makes us miserable – or, to put a finer point on it, God exposes our awful misery while shaking us out of our senselessness.

Ironically, it is the recognition of our hopeless moral sickness that leads us to the Savior.

Breaking the Rules

Jesus was well known for many things. His compassion. His healing power. His wisdom.

But He was also a rule-breaker.

Not just those man-made rules, mind you. He purposefully violated natural laws. Again and again.

You just don’t heal a virulent disease like leprosy with a touch. But, Jesus did.

Giving sight to someone born blind? Not possible. Jesus did that, too.

Raising the dead? Definitely against the rules. Of course, that didn’t stop Jesus.

Or, as I was reading this morning in the gospel of John (chapter 2), taking six large waterpots full of water and transforming them into wine for a wedding celebration in the town of Cana. Not cheap swill, mind you. The good stuff. Cana Cabernet.

Hundreds of people witnessed His miraculous works. Even His enemies couldn’t deny them.

According to the rules, we just can’t do this supernatural stuff. I’ll probably swing by the pool in our housing development today while walking the dog, and I guarantee you, no matter how vigorously I wave my arms and how loudly I chant some magical incantations, that H2O isn’t becoming anything but pool water. I might entertain the neighbors, however.

I’m subject to the Rules. Natural law. Science.

Only Someone ABOVE natural law can break these rules. The One who rules nature itself can override natural law and do supernatural things. And when it comes bringing life out of death, that is the main point of Jesus’ gospel.

Being “born again” is experiencing rule-breaking, live-giving, supernatural re-birth. The gospel of hope is for the dead and the guilty and the powerless.

He takes the plain, tasteless, even polluted water of my soul and pours in the wine of His grace. He opens spiritually-blinded eyes. Transforms a sinner into a worshiper.

water into wine

When God makes a Christian, He breaks all the rules. There is no such thing as a “natural” Christian. Where Christ is, there is super-natural life.

When it comes to our salvation, one of the most comforting thoughts is that God is “all-in.” Some people imagine (much to their needless worry) that somehow Jesus is convincing a reluctant Father to do a big favor and be nice to sinners; or that the work of the Son and the Spirit are somehow disconnected and perhaps even at cross-purposes; but all such unworthy notions should be put away when we read the testimony of the Scriptures.

Trinity sanctifies

The mystery of the Triune God of the Bible is great – and anyone who claims to have wrapped their head around the depths of the essence of the One-God-Three-Persons of the Christian faith is either a genius of the highest order, or else delusional (I vote for the latter).

But that doesn’t stop us from affirming, as Charles Spurgeon does above, the clear teaching of the New Testament: that God is united in His love, His intentions, and His work. God’s purpose is one – and He is all-in on our salvation.

We are sanctified (progressively purified and made holy) by, in, and through the single purpose and all-in activity of the living God – Father, Son, and Spirit.

AllIn

Today, we may feel spiritually dead. We may have defiled ourselves through some indulgence of sin last night. We may be filled (again) with doubts and anxieties. We may even feel like opting-out.

Has any of this changed God? Not a bit. His eternal purpose remains steadfast; His love is unfailing and unchanging. When God gives a covenant promise, it is not up for negotiation or renewal. His purposes are a cord of three strands, which cannot be broken.

All things are of Him and from Him, and He will bring all of His redemptive work to completion.

Our hope is not in a “part” of a fragmented or fickle God – it is in all of God, who is all-in.

(I don’t even know why I bother writing. This article by Rick Segal is far more eloqent – and more hopeful – on similar themes…)

Why do so many of us have very conflicted reactions to social and political developments in our country? The turmoil we’ve been through as a nation over the past few weeks (racist shooting; flags; Supreme Court rulings) has brought it all to the surface in a new way for me.

You see, I am one person; but, like every one of us, I view life, and live it out, through two lenses. One the one hand, _____________. On the other, ___________________.

>> I have a personal worldview, and those beliefs lead me to think and speak and act one way.

>> I am a citizen of the United States, and that reality also shapes my feelings and actions into certain (other) directions.

Here’s an example. Let’s say I’m out walking my dog and you come up from behind and stab me – you stinking coward, you. Couldn’t even face me. I hope Mystic rips into your leg. Anyway, as a person, I may have a reaction of anger, perhaps to the point of desiring vengeance. I (and my rather imposing sons) may want to pound you into oblivion.

To spice things up, let’s also say you’re a Mexican, and I’m Donald Trump, so I now have some personal bigotry to throw into the mix as well…

Hopefully, I get some sense talked into me, and, eventually, I am even brought to the point of extending forgiveness.

All of those feelings and reactions go on at the personal level. What I am NOT allowed to do, however, is mix the personal with that which is at the societal level. That is, as a citizen of Franklin, TN, USA, I have to embrace the rule of law and let societal justice take its course with you, even if I still want to rip your head off – or choose to forgive you. As an individual, I may wish you well; but as a citizen, I may feel the tug of a certain double-mindedness about also wanting justice done.

And it doesn’t matter how you or I feel about racial heritage. I can’t enlist any sense of bigotry into the application of law. That is all out of my hands, and must be handled impartially by the government.

Do you see the two layers here? They produce different responses.

The teachings of Jesus inform me what to do on a personal level. But they aren’t to be applied one-for-one to our citizen/state relationships. <—(look, if you get nothing else out of this too-long essay, get this point. So much ill-informed Bible-verse-abuse happens by people trying to take the Bible’s principles addressed to individuals and the church, and applying it to the state. Judge not? Love your neighbor? Forgive? -these are not addressed to the state, but to the people of God).

That’s why I often find myself with layered reactions…because my response to things on a personal level may be quite different from my response as a citizen of this country. Hence, I think and speak with two voices at times.

Let’s take, as an example, the ongoing movement toward obliterating moral (and societal) categories of gender and sexual expression.

As a Christian individual, dealing with individuals who may not share my beliefs, it is my role (before God) to love all of my neighbors. That means I am to treat members of the LGBT community with kindness, respect, and open-heartedness; affirming not only our shared human fallenness, but also our shared human dignity. I may not wish to participate in, or affirm, specific beliefs and practices that I believe are contrary to the will of God (as is my right and duty); but that does not give me license to hate others whose sin happens to be of a different shade than mine. Jesus is our personal example – He welcomed fallen sinners of every stripe.

My Facebook stream was lit up last week with rainbow-colored avatars. I have many friends and colleagues who have a worldview different from mine. That’s not an accident – it’s a choice. I choose, as an individual, to build relationships with a myriad of people of many different backgrounds.

Also, I am not to try to impose my beliefs upon other individuals through coercion. Dialogue and persuasion, yes – that is the essence of freedom of speech and religion in a civil society. Coercion, no. I can vote my values (including moral perspectives), just as every other individual citizen can and will, but I cannot impose religious practices on others – just as I don’t want others to impose on my religious beliefs and practices.

Because, you know…..America.

And, the larger Christian community (the church worldwide, and individual churches everywhere), is to have a similar posture. We are to love our neighbors and welcome them to Christ, who cleanses each member of His community. We speak what we believe God has spoken, without fear – but it is not our job, as a church, to impose a theocracy onto our community through government coercion. The church may speak to, but it may not govern, society. This is not the place for Sharia law.

May I put it more bluntly? A church-controlled government would be anti-American. Why do you think our founders fled to this land?

HOWEVER…I am not only an individual with a personal worldview, I’m also a citizen of a nation founded on freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and here is where a “double-mindedness” comes in for many of our fellow Americans.

There are individuals who have a different take on gender and sexuality (the roots of this movement, from a societal perspective, reach firmly back into the cultural revolution that took place in the 1960’s). Cultural mores are shifting. Some would say this is progress, others would say exactly the opposite. We can agree to disagree.

But when a 2-3% minority can, fueled by the megaphones of the media and education complex, and backed by courts who have abandoned the Rule of Law in favor of Fiat by Opinion, impose its will on an entire nation – well, that’s a threat. Not merely a threat to individuals (though it is), and churches (though it is), but it’s a threat to our freedom, our heritage, as a nation.

This ruling – mark my words – will lead to suppression of free speech and free exercise of religion. To everyone’s loss. The mask of “equality” will soon drop off, and the aggressive marginalization of those who believe in objective truth and morality will accelerate. Don’t even try to argue with me. Just watch.

So – I can speak kindly with my neighbor, but does that mean I must feel kindly about an agenda that I believe, as a citizen of a free country, is unhealthy and destructive? Am I guilty of “hate” for having a conscience and a less-popular worldview?

Freedom does not mean eliminating opposition with court-issued clubs. We call that tyranny. Thousands bled and died for our freedoms. And when their blood flowed on the battlefield, it wasn’t so that bakers would be forced to compromise their sincerely-held convictions, then be penalized and silenced by a court order.

I resist imposed immorality and gag orders as a United States citizen, just as I (or an atheist) would resist a theocracy. I can love individual people and communities who are different from me, without embracing culture-cleansing agendas.

Many moderate people of a liberal persuasion actually understand the looming issue of religious suppression just now breaking on our shores. They may prefer live-and-let-live – but unfortunately, the tyrannical agenda is always driven by those on the extreme. Just ask the Muslim world.

Today’s minority can be tomorrow’s majority, and vice-versa. Yesterday’s oppressed can be today’s oppressors. Demeaning and dehumanizing other citizens by broad-brushing them (as individuals or groups) with labels like “bigot” or “hater” is nothing other than xenophobia dressed up in a new shade of hypocrisy. Have we really made progress, when an active suppression of those who believe differently from the new “in” group – nowadays, an imposition of secular values and practices, imposed by court strictures – is de rigeur in our society?

The seeds of moral relativism planted in the ’60’s have come to full flower. We are moving, progressively (pun intended), into the anarchy that leads inevitably to tyranny.

As an individual, and as a citizen, I get to love my neighbors AND speak my mind, even when there is more than one layer to these things. What you see above is civil discourse based on sincerely-held convictions. If you think it’s hate speech, then you, my friend, are part of the problem.

You may want to check your tyranny at the door.

We’ve been surrounded all week by talk about equality. The hateful shooting in a Charleston S.C. church has brought to the surface the enduring existence of racist thinking in the minds of some; though it has also brought to the fore the remarkable response of forgiveness from many of the families impacted.

This was a hate event that turned into a grace event.

In light of that, what does the Christian gospel have to say about race relations?

Actually, a lot – but I want to focus on one foundational passage that should forever settle in our minds how we think about others that are “different” from us (as individuals or groups):

…in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

May I give a little bit of context for this remarkable, we’re-all-on-the-same-level passage?

The Christian message came into a time and place where the Israelites – the physical descendants of Abraham – were “the chosen race.” This was nothing inherent – they did not possess superior humanity – but it was strictly through the election of God.

God was “with” Israel – and everyone else was an outsider. Gentiles were dogs. Samaritans (half-breed Jews) were despised. The sense of superiority was both tribal and religious.

That was the reality; and throughout human history, from the ancient past to the current day, you’ll never find a time when people of varying tribes, races, cultures, and belief systems did not look down upon, make war with, and subjugate others. Tribal strife in the Middle East is nothing new. Slavery, ethnic cleansing, oppression – where and when have these ugly practices NOT occurred??

We are a fallen HUMAN race; prideful superiority is woven into the fabric of our corrupted hearts. Not a single reader of this post is free from it – nor is the writer.

But into this mess came the radical message of the gospel of Christ.

All humanity had already been levelled under the dominion of sin. But the divine announcement of the Christian faith was that ANY and ALL could have equal standing with God based strictly on believing in the emancipation proclamation of Jesus as Savior. Jews and Gentiles; slaves and free; men and women; all races, backgrounds, cultures, standings in life, genders; even all stained with every variety of moral shortcoming and rebellion – ALL are welcome to turn from sin and come to Jesus, and be granted the status of spiritual offspring of Abraham. Chosen ones. Equally fallen, equally forgiven, equally adopted – equal in status before God and one another.

The body of Christ is one, composed of many. Different, yes. United in a common humanity and salvation? YES.

From the richest to the poorest, all robed in one righteousness, one faith, one hope. Jesus Himself. We retain our racial and cultural and other differences, of course; but all pride in such distinctions is obliterated.

This is why racism is so wrong; and this is how it is overcome. Apart from the gospel, racism is a fact of life. In Christ, racism must bow to a salvation that levels every human being before an infinite and wise God. You have to drop your superiority when you humble yourself before the living God.

Love wins, in other words.

And the amazing-grace response of the people of Charleston demonstrates that fact. Forgiveness, in the face of such hurtful hatred? It is the grace of God at work – so eloquently described by President Obama in that city’s memorial service this week.

Grace is what will overcome racism. Equality is not derived from something so flimsy as legislation, though laws can help usher in more equal practice. True equality is not acheived through the pile-on pronouncements of social media mobs. No – equality is ultimately a God-thing. Even the Declaration of Independence explicity declares that fact:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”

Equality is rooted in eternity. When we personally know God’s embrace of our unworthy souls, we will fully grasp that we are all equal; and then, in humility and gratitude, we will embrace one another.

I love Southern magnolias.

I was first introduced to these magnificent trees with their large, waxy leaves way back when I first went to college at Vanderbilt (in Nashville, TN). But since I was on campus only from Sept-May each year, I missed the best part – until I spent my first summer in Nashville after graduation.

The gorgeous, fragrant white flowers that bloom in the late spring.

I can’t begin to describe the scent of these things – it is so sweet and powerful that you must experience it to believe it. And, happily, our current home here in Franklin, TN has a lovely magnolia in the front yard, which we’re enjoying immensely right now.

The thing about white magnolia flowers, though – they don’t last long. They burst into glory and then fade off in a matter of a few days.

Magnolia

From bud to flower to gone in the blink of an eye.

Our life spans seem long by comparison, but in the light of eternity, they’re really not – we’re here today, gone tomorrow. I just received an e-mail yesterday about another high school classmate who has passed away. Wasn’t it just yesterday that a bunch of fresh-faced kids from Berlin (CT) High School were graduating, ready to tackle the world? Wasn’t it just a few moments ago that we were setting up the dunking booth at the Berlin Fair to raise a little money? Now we’re talking about medical procedures and grandchildren and retirement.

Our parents are leaving the scene (or have already left) and we‘re the generation between now and no more. How did that happen?!?

Reading in recent days in the New Testament book of 1 Peter has reminded me afresh of how brief our mortal lives are – yet, there is something far more enduring that is our true hope.

You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:23-25)

When we see the fleeting blooms of spring, and the green-today-brown-tomorrow life cycle of grass, we are meant to realistically consider how temporary we truly are. Youth becomes old age at a bewildering pace. However…

There is permanence. It is not found in ourselves; but instead, in the immortal and unchanging God who created us and all things. Not only does the verse above reference the enduring and abiding and imperishable Word of God, but earlier verses in the chapter describe an eternal life that is anything but fleeting:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

An unfading inheritance that is kept – guarded – given – by the power of the eternal and unchanging God. Born once according to the flesh, we only have decay and death awaiting us. But born a second time, through faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ, we look forward to immortality. “Salvation” is not just some emotional experience on earth. It is deliverance from sin and death, and a (guaranteed) never-ending life in the presence of an ever-living Savior.

I will still always love the scent of magnolias, as fleeting as the enjoyment will be. But it makes no sense to put all my hope into this fading world. I will wither; but, through the grace and power of the gospel, I will be eternally renewed. I will die; yet I will live – because Jesus died and rose in my place, and shares His eternal life with me and with all who call upon Him.

That’s the promise of an unfailing God.

Is it really true that Christ heals all of our diseases (Psalm 103:3)?

We do well to pay heed to the encouraging words of the gifted English preacher from years past, Charles Spurgeon:

There is no relapse where Christ heals; no fear that His patients should be merely patched up for a season, He makes new men of them: a new heart also does He give them, and a right spirit does He put within them. He is well skilled in all diseases. Physicians generally have some specialty…but Jesus Christ is thoroughly acquainted with the whole of human nature. He is as much at home with one sinner as with another, and never yet did He meet with an out-of-the-way case that was difficult to Him. He has had extraordinary complications of strange diseases to deal with, but He has known exactly with one glance of His eye how to treat the patient. He is the only universal doctor…healing in every instance. Whatever our spiritual malady may be, we should apply at once to this Divine Physician. There is no brokenness of heart which Jesus cannot bind up. “His blood cleanseth from all sin.”

I’ve been to a lot of specialists lately. Even with all their training, each one is quite limited in knowledge and healing skill. Not so with Jesus. He knows every corner of my soul, and He has guaranteed that, in time*, I will be fully restored into His perfect likeness.

When we look at the accounts of Jesus in the gospel, we see His divine power meeting all sorts of diseases – physical and spiritual – and conquering them all.

  • Leprosy? -done.
  • Demonic possession? -done.
  • Blindness? -done.
  • Hardness of heart? -done.
  • Death? -done.

Think of all the people through the ages He has embraced with His powerful love!! The haters, the arrogant, the religiously proud, the disbelieving, the sexually immoral, the wandering, the despairing, the oppressed, the rebellious; murderers, thieves, liars, indifferent, self-satisfied, unstable….the list can go on for pages, for He has seen it all. And no-one takes Him by surprise or exceeds His power. Including you.

You gaze within and feel the discouragement of, once again, facing your temper. Your selfishness. Your immoral cravings. Your may feel ready, like Jonah, to leave your post and run off somewhere instead of obeying God. You feel the shame of your internal contradictions and wonder if there will ever be any deliverance. The deliverance is Jesus Himself; and we are to embrace his “all” in our case and say, “Lord, you’ve seen all this before; and you see me right now. I am not unique and I am not alone. I believe YOU – help me in my unbelief and discouragement. Your all includes me.”

Sometimes I like to look out over the ocean (on those rare occasions nowadays when I get to see a beach!) and think, “Who am I to think that all my foulness is bigger than that body of water?” Yet even the depths of ocean, which serve as an analogy of the love and forgiveness of God, are miniscule compared the reality of His infinite grace. All means all. Even all of me.

*ah, the inevitable asterisk. “In time.” We recognize that God chooses, at times, to bring immediate healing of some maladies (physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological), while in many cases He chooses to exercise His power over longer periods of time. I would just love for sanctification (the process of cleansing and purifying) to be immediate and on-demand – but the Bible makes it clear that we are to live in a long walk of obedience and faith, laying hold of the hope that ultimate healing of every effect of sin will occur when we pass from death to new life in eternity. Our glorification (all!!) is guaranteed; our gradual sanctification is getting us there.

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