Thursday, April 27, 2017

Delight in Steadfast Love

Dear Father,

You delight in steadfast love, justice, and righteousness, and I delight in You. Give me the desires of my heart. Rejoice over me with gladness and loud singing.

I love You and diligently seek You, to know and understand Your deep thoughts and Your gracious ways, intimately, and to love the One whom You have sent, the firstborn of many brothers. For Jesus is my first love, and eagerly seeking You is my first work. Come, make Your home in my heart.

With all my love:
All my heart, mind, soul, and strength,

April 26, 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Derailed, But Not Impaled

Can you be derailed and not be impaled? Absolutely! I was.

I've been derailed recently; over a month has lapsed since I last posted on this blog. Actually, there were a few derailments in this short period of time. A lot can happen that can keep us busy, or not happen which requires even more work. It hurts not being able to do what you'd love to do.

Most of all, worst of all, I was derailed and distracted from my first love: spending time with my Father. It was depressing. I was perplexed that so many worldly things were snatching my time away without asking my permission. Yes, it was underscored by a hope that would never fade. Joy was merely masked for a moment. But, unwanted company was at my side, clawing for attention.

If the subject is Bible doctrine, I love to write it, speak it, study it, teach it, and coach with it. I also love riding my Rocky Mountain mountain bike. Yet, for the past four weeks I didn't write, and barely studied. Nor have I rested easy, making it challenging to focus on anything. I didn't ride much either.

A few days ago, I was riding around the parking lot where I live and my mountain bike split in two. CRACK! BAM! The pavement kissed me hard, fast, dry and gritty on the cheek. I hate when that happens. I didn't kiss it back. Fortunately, I only got a couple small scrapes. Nothing broken, except my bike. I kept the sores moist and bandaged, and they've since healed, also fortunately. But, the lesson goes on...

I've fallen in life, too, and had to get back up. Financially. Career-wise. Relationships. I've also fallen away from God, when my faith was weak. Humbled, I drew near to Him again. My thoughts were scattered several times, not knowing who or what to believe.

But, now I'm refocused on His word and strive to understand His thoughts. Many lessons have been learned, the hard-as-pavement way. But, now I know what and why I believe, and for that I'm grateful.

If only the bike had been maintained, the snap of the frame could've been predicted and avoided. I wouldn't have been smacked by the pavement. It could've been on a rugged trail somewhere, and much bloodier. No need to turn the other cheek, I got the message.

If only my walk by the Spirit was maintained, I could've predicted and resisted the distractions, and instead soaked in the comfort of my new identity in Christ. I wouldn't have had to be jolted awake and reminded of my highest priority, my deepest desire, and His love for me. It would've been ingrained. Not like the pavement crumbs in the skin of my cheek. But, like His love quickened in my transformed heart.

If I come out on the other side wiser and stronger, isn't falling good?

Hardly. The common theme in all these lessons is not the healing, which is a good thing. It's the loss of time, which is not good. I'm stubborn when it comes to learning that lesson: things profound but not screaming for attention should be my highest priority.

A sense of urgency is to be applied to what is truly most important to me. It is my reason why. Why does it matter? Why am I here? Why do I believe and do the things I do? I'm fooling myself if I think I can attend to important things later in life. How many chances will I get until I get it right? Later in life is now.

A dear friend reminded me of this process --the scraping and healing, proud falling and humble exaltation, coming to know the glory and love of Christ by sharing in His sufferings-- when he shared some verses about our suffering in this world. May I focus on Him all the more, now, and not wait for the next reminder.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

So, why wait? Eternity starts now.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 
(John 17:3)


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 3) - How Can I Be Saved?

Rest for Your Souls...

How can anyone be saved? This question jumps ahead a bit from where we left off, a leap of faith if you will (ha ha, pun intended). We considered a bit of the 'what' and 'why' of salvation, and there's more to come in that regard. But, let's take a moment to consider what God is doing here by investigating the 'how' of salvation.

I hope looking at how one is saved will contribute to your understanding and appreciating His perspective of what "Salvation by Grace" means, according to what the Bible actually teaches.

It's been awhile since I've posted, so feel free to review those as needed. The previous two questions were "Saved? Saved from what?" and "Why do I need to be saved?" So...

How can I be saved? Believe.

How can anyone be saved? Trust.

How can one be saved? Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Trust Him for the salvation of your soul. Rely on Him 100% to take responsibility for your eternal life. After all, He did the work, all of it.

Scripture answers this question simply, directly. But, you wouldn't know it from common religious teachings. Many religious leaders either over-complicate salvation. Or, they hardly talk about it and instead talk about principled-living. Both groups claim to know what God wants; either obey these rules and barely avoid punishment, or apply these principles and live a prosperous, godly life. Often what's taught is a confusing mix of the two.

Why are these overly complex things taught? Because the simplicity of the gospel is offensive to our sin nature. So, in order to avoid being offended by the cross, that is, the complete entirety of the work of salvation done by Christ on our behalf, and to still sound authoritative, there are teachings about having to do something as if to prove we really believe or (worse) to earn a good standing with God by doing what He says. It gratifies the sin nature to think we can do good and be pleasing to God. Yet, He doesn't want our works or any efforts before we're saved.

as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 
(Romans 3:10-12)

To the religious, religion is mostly about obedience to rules, especially moral and ethical rules. Many Christians proudly claim to obey the Ten Commandments. This often translates into what some experience as judgment against them, as if they're not worthy to be saved, or their positions on political issues are the hurdles that must be overcome. Others see this as hypocrisy and are left confused. How can one claim to be obedient to such high standards as God's righteousness and be imperfect at the same time? Why do some act as though they are being made perfect via behavior modification when they are not and cannot?

To the 'spiritual but not religious', spirituality is mostly about manifesting the rare and intangible qualities of love, kindness, gentleness, awareness, inner peace, joy, etc. Again, the emphasis is on behavior modification, perhaps overshadowed by strong emotions, as if it's how we feel that determines our Christianity. It's about being passionate, compassionate, humane, gentle, caring, loving, and even tolerant. It involves calming rituals, singing spiritual songs, and reaching out to others to improve their quality of life. These are all good things, but they are not the gospel of our soul salvation.

To those who point out James 2:26 and echo, "Faith without works is dead," I say go back and read the whole chapter. See that James is not talking about the salvation of your soul. He's talking about a practical faith that is useless to our fellow human beings if it is not put into action. First, one believes and is saved, then they learn what God's purpose is for the church, the body of Christ (versus Israel) through study of His word. After we know His plan and purpose, only then can we do the works for which we were created in Christ Jesus. I'd also say go back and study Romans chapters 3 and 4. No one is justified by works. Rather, we are justified by His grace as a gift.

Yes, we should have moral integrity, respect for authority, and compassion for our fellow human being. We should be joyful and rejoice in our hearts, yet weep with those who weep. But those are not the things that save our souls.

Salvation is a gift of God offered freely to all, and given to those trust and believe in it. He did all the work. All of it! Completely!

It reality, what God wants is simple:

[God,] who desires all people to [step 1] be saved and [step 2] to come to the knowledge of the truth.
(1 Timothy 2:4)

Step 1: Be saved. 
Step 2: Come to the knowledge of the truth. 

Note that Step 1 is a prerequisite. This isn't like losing weight and then having to maintain the weight loss. God gives us a deposit of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our salvation (Eph 1:13-14). I think we can trust and rely His guarantee. So, start there; be saved and understand what that means.

Next time human wisdom claims to know you need to do, listen to what God has hidden from the learned and wise of this world and revealed to babes, the humble in spirit; it is simply by His grace we are saved through believing in His solution, the work of Christ. The Father gives it to us because He loves us, not because we've earned it or somehow proved we believe or are worthy. Here, then, are two simple passages that make it plain:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 
(Ephesians 2:8-9)

Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." 
(Acts 16:30-31)

I think these passages most directly answer the question of "How?" It also becomes clear it is all about His grace and His work. It seems to me the only ones who don't believe in the simple gospel are the ones who find it hard to believe it could be so simple. They are hard-pressed to make it about somehow making ourselves worthy to be saved. But, as John MacArthur said, "If you could lose your salvation, you would."

When you truly come to Him, and know you trust Him, your inner response will be like a huge sigh of relief: rest. His own Son was the sacrifice required by God to justify the unrighteous. His sacrifice is what mattered entirely. Believe in it, trust in it, rely on it, rest in it, like a sleeping baby, born again, in the hands of a loving Parent.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Shack Chat

Read 'The Shack?' Seen 'The Shack?' Love 'The Shack?' Hate 'The Shack?'

I hesitate to say anything about the book or the movie. There's plenty being said already. The problem is people are taking sides. One side, pro-Shack, claims to be true to the relational and forgiving characteristics of God, while the other side, anti-Shack, claims to be true to the holy and majestic attributes of God.

Is it evangelical or blasphemous? Both sides cannot be right at the same time because each requires the other side to be wrong. If it's evangelical, it can't be blasphemous. If it's blasphemous, it can't be evangelical. Which side is right?

I think both sides are wrong; the story is neither evangelical nor blasphemous. I'll bet both sides are now united in at least one area: "This guy is nuts! What is he talking about? We can't both be wrong!" Here's what I mean...

It's wrong to take sides and miss the huge opportunity being made available.

With quarreling, any chance for a discerning conversation about spiritual matters, that could've taken place, is shut down before it starts. Rather, what's become important is to pick a side.

Is that the goal? Do we want people to pick a side based on how persuasive that side is in the review of a fictional book or movie? Isn't there something much bigger to discuss?

In quarreling, both sides are dismissing the other side's claims. If you think that is effectively evangelizing or contending for the faith, think again. Coming to one side because we want to avoid the other is like having the same motivation as a rebellious teenager.

Neither side is gently teaching nor reasonably considering the whole truth of God, with the audience at hand, from a Biblical perspective. Rather, each side is stating why they are right and the other side is wrong.

As a result, all of us are missing out on the opportunity to come to the full knowledge of the truth according to God's word.

If we're arguing, count me out. I don't want to be associated with either 'side'. But, if we're discussing biblical doctrine, by all means, count me in!

As a Christian, I believe there's one thing we can all love about 'The Shack', even if one hasn't read the book or seen the movie or wants to; it can start a wonderful conversation about things that concern God,

who wants all people to be saved and come to the full knowledge of the truth.
(1 Timothy 2:4)

According to Scripture, it's not about picking sides. It's shameful to shut down someone who is questioning or yielding to spiritual information. If unsaved, then who are we to judge who shall be saved? Paul talks about being all things to all people that he may save some...

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 
(1 Corinthians 9:22b)

If they are saved, Paul refers to hindering their growth in truth and grace as putting a stumbling block in front of a brother or sister.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:13)

Who's to say God won't use a fictional story for good? The main character of the story, Mack, is obviously questioning and then yielding to spiritual information, albeit from a fictional stand-point.

In reality, isn't this how we all came to Christ, whether gently as a bubbling brook, or harsh as a winter gale? "For such were some of you..."

What if this situation were real and Mack was your neighbor? How would you respond to his inquiries and objections? How would you reconcile your answers to Scripture and show him God's reality versus your own opinion?

What if Mack was as quiet about spiritual matters in real life as represented in the story? He saves the hard questions for God and hides them from his own wife, even from his own life. Would we be so courageous as to bring up the fresh memory of an ugly tragedy in order to get him to open up?

I've asked myself those questions. I don't know if I could do it, or even should. Could I handle the grief and anger he must feel and would potentially unleash in my presence? Or would I merely walk away from this tipping point saying, "That must be tough. I can't imagine. I'll pray for you."

This situation is, in fact, real. We have neighbors who have questions and objections. We have neighbors who have been hurt so deeply we cannot imagine. We have neighbors who would fight tooth and nail against the grace of God.

Personally, I'm grateful for such fictional works if it affords me the opportunity to lead others to God, or to at least engage in some conversation about spiritual matters, such as grace and truth.

Perhaps, I'm especially grateful for those works if human trauma is in the way of someone being genuine and vulnerable. It takes a lot to create a safe place. I don't know how to unlock someone's heart so forcibly held shut. If fiction is the catalyst that creates opportunity for the hurt and lost to talk about God and Scripture, so be it.

Yes, 'The Shack' is a powerful work of fiction. It might just be the key to unlock eternal questions in your heart. But, let's remember, it's only fiction. It does not accurately teach Bible doctrine and we shouldn't expect it to. That's not the role of a work of fiction.

But, neither are we as Christians accurately teaching Bible doctrine if instead we are busy establishing and picking sides, as if the characteristics and attributes of God could be separated.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. 
(Ephesians 4:15-16)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Home in My Heart

What follows are two letters to God written last Saturday and Sunday...

Dear Father (Feb 25, 2017 #14),

I've got so many things on my mind and heart. Confession*, writing, money, healing, doctrine, health, reading, time, prayer, work, career, taxes, social groups, evangelizing, teaching, inner child, family, friends, fitting in.

I haven't cried in a while. I know I need to. I also haven't had a good belly-laugh. Wouldn't hurt. I know I need to eat right and exercise. Most of all I need to stop, drop and pray.

Love, Dwight

Dear Reader: I did stop, drop and pray that morning. The fellowship with the Father was exactly what my soul needed; it was refreshing. I was worried about many things, like Martha, instead of focusing on the One thing that mattered most, like Mary (Luke 10:38:42).

* By confession, I merely mean that I acknowledge what He already knows. He is just and right to forgive me and cleanse me from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Dear Father (Feb 26, 2017 #15),

I prayed and do pray. Let me not hesitate to stop, drop and pray ever again. I love You so much, Lord.

Please come make your home in my heart (John 14:23). Work in me, both to will and to work for Your good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). I know You love me, Father. For You did not hesitate to offer Your own Son as a sacrifice (Romans 8:32) so I could be reconciled to You (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Nor did You hold back Your own Spirit so I could know You deeply (1 Corinthians 2:11-12).

Much Love, Dwight

Dear Reader: I hope the Scripture references in the letter above are not a distraction. Rather, I hope you can read the letter for what it is, but also look up those references and meditate on the context therein. These are God's thoughts I have in mind when writing these things.

I pray you also are transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2) and sanctified by His word (John 17:17). Remember, God rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Friday, March 3, 2017

My First Attempt to Interview Myself

This is not quite what I had in mind. I envisioned a funny (funnier) and fast(er)-moving video for getting a simple point across. It was to be my baptism into video production for this blog.

Truth be told, it could be better. But, it is what it is, and I decided to share it as is. At least I tried! Anyone care to provide some anonymous brutally honest constructive criticism?

I'll give it another shot, maybe with the same or similar subject. I'll make it shorter, more like 5 minutes instead of 13:40. Scene switches can be faster. Also, I need to speak in quotable sound bites. 

Until next time... (watch out Weird Al, this is pretty weird!)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 2) - Why Do I Need to Be Saved?

Why do I need to be saved? Why does anyone need to be saved? Because that's where life really begins. The life God intended, where we can grow into the fullness of Him, knowing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, begins with salvation.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 
(Ephesians 3:14-19)

Wow! Yes, those are heavy verses. But, it's also a wonderful passage filled with Great News of God's plan that goes beyond the Good News of the gospel. I can grow up to be a man because I was born of the flesh. In the same way, I can grow up as a Christian because I was born of the Spirit.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 
(John 3:6)

And this growing up as a Christian is not a behavior modification program. Nor is it a program where people mock or condemn others. Rather, we're talking about transformation by the renewing of our minds. We're talking about being renewed day by day even though our outer bodies will fade away with time. We're talking about being filled with God's Spirit. There is eternal life in the Spirit. There is only temporary life in the flesh.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 
(Romans 12:2)

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 
(1 Corinthians 2:12)

Believe it or not, salvation is not the goal, although it is a necessary step. I know full well salvation being the goal is what's commonly taught in long-established denominations. Most churches make Christianity all about salvation, and most Christians are not 100% certain if they are saved. 

I believe that teaching is a sad, grave error. God really desires two things: 1) that all people be saved, but also 2) that all people come to the knowledge of truth. To get to step 2, one has to get past step 1. Why should we stay stuck on step 1?

[God,] who desires all people [1] to be saved and [2] to come to the knowledge of the truth. 
(1 Timothy 2:4)

Unfortunately, not everyone wants even the first step, to be saved. Many don't believe in God or His word, the Bible, where He explains what salvation is. Many others resist the Holy Spirit by insisting on their own works of law or by performing acts of righteousness. But those activities don't justify either. It is only by grace through faith.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 
(Romans 3:20)

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 
(Titus 3:4-7)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 
(Ephesians 2:8-9)

For the ones who are saved, most Christians then either make everything about salvation (such as maintaining it), becoming better a better Christian via human virtue (such as integrity and morality), or strive for tangible blessings (such as the so-called 'prosperity gospel').

One way or another, people imagine for themselves what they must do next. Very few actually look deeper into God's word and wonder, "Okay, I'm saved. I was called by God. But why? What's His reason for calling me? What exactly, according to Him, am I being called to?"

This question about why I need to be saved used to plague me for years. The popular reasons I heard over and over for why I needed to be saved didn't seem right. It boiled down to this:

  • God is real angry and everyone deserves to burn in hell. 
  • Luckily, He saves a few people because He is full of grace and mercy.
  • So, we'd better do our best to appease Him. We might get lucky.

Huh?! Do you really think if He's that angry anything I do is going to help? Hardly! More importantly, the more I looked for these reasons in Scripture the fuzzier they became. Rather, grace-filled verses gained clarity. It wasn't about keeping the law and trying your hardest not to sin. I saw phrases like "God so loved the world" and "unsearchable riches of Christ" and knew, because His Spirit told me and I listened, not because I followed religion, that there was more, much more, even after salvation.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 
(2 Corinthians 3:7-8)

Yes, there's a sad ending for those who resist His Holy Spirit. But, considering He wants such amazing and unimaginable things for me, why would I resist? Why would anyone? He wants us, all of us, and did everything possible, more than what is humanly possible, to enable that to happen. He offers all of Himself, freely, even His Spirit, by His Son. We have a choice; to seek, or not to seek.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 
(John 3:17-18)