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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.

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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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Clean-up on Aisle 7

If you’ve ever worked in a grocery store (I have; many, many moons ago!) you know what that dreaded overhead announcement means.

“Clean up on Aisle 7!”

Bring the mop and bucket, because someone just dropped a jar of pickles all over the floor.

Glass shards and smelly juice everywhere. Embarassment. Inconvenienced customers. And someone has to go out of their way to fix the mess.

Most days, I feel like my life is a continual cascade of pickle jars – and bread crumbs, and coffee grounds, and detergent, and milk – spilling all over every aisle imaginable. The volume of my own sin and folly – even after decades of walking with God – is disheartening.

Then I read, as I have this past week, of episodes where other Christians, and church leaders, spill their stuff all over aisle 2, and aisle 8, and aisle 15 – and it almost seems like one living, breathing mess. Scandal, hypocrisy, impurity – with no end in sight. And this isn’t unique to 2015 – it has always been thus. The struggle is real.

Yet Peter calls us to “keep (our) behavior excellent among the Gentiles.” We are to wage war against sin (not indulge it), so that the world sees our good works springing from a heart of holiness.

All this contradiction.

That is why we need God’s infinite grace, His undying patience. Because there will always be a mess on Aisle 7. And He has committed to cleaning it up – and fixing us up – through the sacrificial work of Jesus, and the steady, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

It is scandalous, this grace. How can God forgive murderers, adulterers, blasphemers, hypocrites, and backsliders? How can He keep putting up with all of my inward-scandals, my heart-sins, my disbelief; sweeping up glass shards day after day while slowly…oh so slowly…renewing me into His image?

What capacity to forgive – beyond anything we can begin to imagine!

There is only one conclusion – God is all-in on the messy work of giving new life to broken people. We’re all disasters, spilling stuff hourly and, many times, trying to hide the mess and deny that it was our doing.

Sometimes – often – I become discouraged by all the contradiction around me and inside me. But today, I must remember – God is up to the task. From the first pages of Genesis to right now, the human race, in sin, has been a colossal mess, and no believers have been exempt from dropping their pickles.

Let’s at least be honest before God and one another, about the reality of the brokenness we’re in. Brothers and sisters, pastors, and God Himself will be continually called to clean things up in Aisle ___ . Yet we also get to see His hand at work – patterns of sin broken, new light and life imparted, the image of Jesus steadily shining forth in each other, even in the chaos of a fallen world.

So let us rejoice, not in our attainments, but in His amazing capacity to love as a Father. All that stuff on Aisle 7? It’s meant to point us to the One who is perfect, and who will renew all things into His image. Even us.

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The essence of the Christian faith can be found in this amazing sentence:

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

Genuine Christianity includes belief in Christ, joined to a personal and ongoing experience of Christ’s deliverance of us. It’s not an abstract set of dogmas. It’s an unfolding story of escape.

Escape Gospel

I wrote about the in whom we have aspect in this prior post. But let’s back up and look at what this passage tells us about rescue.

1. First of all, note that deliverance/rescue/salvation is not a mere bullet point in a list of orthodox dogmas. “We believe in a; and in b; and in c; oh, and by the way, we believe in rescue; and in this; and that; and the other…” While the Christian faith, like any and every other belief system and worldview (including atheism), includes a series of beliefs, the biblical gospel involves far more that a mental framework. It is founded on an individual and corporate experience of escape – a rescuing from moral and spiritual darkness – performed by the hand of God Himself through Jesus Christ. This is an audacious claim. We don’t adhere to dead truths from a mythical God; we believe in a living and active God who does miracles in people. Darkness-defeating deliverances. Today.

2. Also, the Scripture is very plain about the reality of darkness. It is moral. It is spiritual. It is universal. And it is powerful – such that every single human being is in its grip, and we cannot escape without rescue from a much more powerful God of light and love. The first step in God’s rescuing work is making us realize how hopelessly we are enchained in darkness. We’re not good. We’re not neutral. We’re not filled with enlightened intelligence. And, enslaved in our chains of moral folly, we cannot free ourselves. The gospel is for the hopeless leper; to the self-sufficient soul still in the grip of darkness, it simply sounds like foolishness.

3. We’re not independent operators, as much as we’d like to imagine ourselves to be. We belong to a kingdom, and this is a binary (zero or one) reality. The kingdom of darkness. The kingdom of Jesus. No middle ground, no other choices. Until and unless we are delivered by Jesus, we remain enslaved in darkness. This, by the way, is why people so violently oppose the gospel. It undercuts our arrogance and imagined self-determination right to the taproot. The gospel is astonishingly inclusive – any and all are welcome – but also terrifyingly exclusive. One way to God. Only Jesus can deliver the darkness-shrouded soul. We need a specific cure, not a random medicine chest, for our deadly disease.

4. In the midst of all these hard and uncomfortable truths, love is the answer. Not some wispy ’60’s view of hippie mush-love, but the all-powerful love of the Father for His Son, and His love for us expressed through His Son’s sacrifice for sins. We need redemption and forgiveness first and foremost; and that is exactly what God extends to those in darkness. Cleansing where once was only impurity. Restoration where there was hostility. Healing in the midst of brokenness. Sight where once spiritual blindness ruled. Love is not smooth words afraid to offend. Love breaks chains and makes rescues.

5. The conclusion we draw from this – and it is reinforced over and over throughout the Scriptures – is that mere human moral effort is inadequate. Just adopting orthodox beliefs is insufficient. Taking on Jesus’ name with the lips while retaining a heart in love with the practice of sin is a lie. Real, living Christianity is seen where thankful, delivered, spiritually-awakened people worship the God who loves them, and love other imperfect people within the body of Christ and outside of it.

Do you want to witness the reality of God’s work on earth? Don’t crave signs and wonders in the sky. Look for the people of the great escape. That is the hand of God – and He invites you to come to Him for deliverance. Weak, wounded, broken, scarred, blind, enslaved, addicted, impure, dying – Jesus, the great physician, calls the sick to Himself for healing.

 

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Is Man an Intruder on the Earth?

Stewardship: God – Man – Earth *

We have been teaching that God created man and the earth together, as a symbiotic system, with man as God’s steward to rule the earth.

We are to manage, cultivate, and care for the entire planet and its inhabitants. This is clearly biblical; but it leaves us with a conundrum.

Why is everything so profoundly screwed up down here??

For the person who believes in naturalistic evolution (man and life and all that surrounds us is a product of non-supernaturally-directed forces), the answer cannot be something along the lines of a Fall into sin. But, in fact, for a race that evolved into intelligence and self-awareness, it sure seems odd that we are imposing a destructive dominion over the rest of planet. If you listen to those in the radical environmentalist camp, it’s almost as if humankind is an intruder, a disruptor, an out-of-bounds rebel against the natural order.

You know – kinda like a sinner.

The fact is, our stewardship over the earth is corrupted, because we are corrupt. Our sin is against God, not “mother earth,” but the effects are no different – we mess up our home environment, this planet, big time.

In the book of Romans (chapter 8), the apostle Paul uses the following stark imagery to describe the reality of our broken relationship with all of creation:

The anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

Not only have we broken our relationship with God by disobedience, thereby suffering ongoing corruption throughout our race, but we have subjected the entire earth to our corruption.

In other words, it’s a mess down here. There is alienation – we act like intruders, but it is because of sin. Sin against God is what leads to abuse of His creation.

We didn’t evolve into intelligent jerks. We devolved into intelligent jerks.

However, that’s not the end of the story. Those who are restored to a right relationship with God, through Christ, are to take up the mantle of their stewardship once again and faithfully exercise dominion even in a fallen environment. We do so recognizing that we groan, and the entire planet groans, until such time as God brings forth the full redemption and renewal of His creation.

Many people want to pick and choose what parts of the Bible they’ll believe, but the entire narrative of Creation – Fall – Redemption – Final Redemption is woven tightly into the fabric of the entire biblical account. It is a full worldview. And it helps us understand how we are stewards of the living God, even in the midst of messy corruption; waiting not for a day when man figures out how to save the earth, but being faithful stewards of this beautiful world until the day that God brings salvation to consummation for men AND the earth.

* This brief devotional is part of a 12-week study on the topic: Being Stewards of God <— (outline). We’re on week 2, discussing the relationship of man to his planet.

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