Friday, October 30, 2009

no rinse required

This morning, as I emptied the dishwasher and reloaded it [don't be impressed, I'm too often not that helpful], I was disappointed by two realities. First, I loathe stacking "clean" dishes in the cabinets only to find that they're not really clean. The wash and rinse cycle cleared most of the food, but the dry cycle only served to baked remaining particles to the ceramic. I go out to the garage and get a chisel from my workbench.

Because of the first irritation, I have a second one: I must rinse each piece of dinnerware [even water glasses, just to be safe] to guarantee that everything will be clean. In the end, I have become the dish washer and the appliance under my counter simply stores plates, bowls and silverware until someone gets around to putting them away.

One of the biggest reasons why we "work" for our salvation is that we don't believe that the cross of Jesus is sufficient to wash away the stain of our sin. Grace sounds too weak. And so we believe that we must pre-rinse our lives in order to present ourselves on the rack to Jesus so that He might finish the cycle of making us clean. My good deeds underestimate the deep power-scrubbing of the cross and overestimate the added benefit that any of us could bring to our own life change.

Truth is, we are saved by grace alone so that "no one can boast" [Ephesians 2:8-9]. In other words, grace makes human effort unnecessary so that saved people end up proudly pointing to the cross instead of their own contribution. We make the mess. But only God can sanitize our souls. We bring nothing. But the cross is powerful enough to make me clean. The old hymn asks and answers the question: "What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

shock value

Six weeks ago, my outdoor spotlights stopped working. So, I removed the switchplate in my foyer and stared at the twist of wires linking four toggles together. I had flipped the circuit breaker in the garage but the thought of navigating bare wires gave me pause. I hate electricity. Actually, I love electricity [I wouldn't be typing this blog without it], but I can think of 120 shocking reasons why I'd prefer to keep my distance.

So, I called my friend, Kevin Hill. He's a professional. Kevin is well-grounded in all things electric [pun intended]. He immediately went to work snipping, stripping and switching wires...while they remained hot. That means that a current was still flowing to the switches Kevin was fixing. But, time and familiarity have enabled him to handle the power without fear.

Ravi Zacharias, noted contemporary speaker, once commented, "Do not let your familiarity with God rob you of the wonder of God." His warning was to every God-lover who could grow so used to God, that they cease bowing in holy fear at His holiness, cease standing awestruck at His beauty, cease being humbled by His majesty. In short, they "handle" God without any trepidation of His Divine voltage.

Notice the warning in Exodus 19:10-12:

And the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, 'Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.

God's people were cautioned to consecrate themselves before God. That is, they were to prepare themselves before meeting God. The next day, when God descended, they were to restrain themselves--not rush the mountain--lest God's power knock them off their feet forever. If God never changes, He possesses the same "electricity" He's always had. I must be on guard not to let my own familiarity with Him rob me of the everlasting wonder of who God still is.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I've been 'called'

You've heard someone say this before: "God called me." Sometimes, this little phrase is used like a 357 Magnum--to neutralize objection. If God called me to protest that cause, leave this church, kiss that girl or change academic majors, who's to argue? I wonder how many selfish (and sinful) pursuits have been undertaken under the guise of God's calling.

Still, there are times when right-minded people are impressed with Divine leading. I have a friend in Austin who was called by God to launch a new church. It wasn't a kind of self-centered neo-church venture to make a name for himself. Instead, God was moving him to launch a church to reach a marginalized group of people his present church wasn't designed to reach.

Good call. And, God-called.

But, how do we distinguish between the genuine call of God and the temptation to do our own thing and simply affix God's name to it in the end? I think we must look at the subjective and objective elements of Divine "calling."

On the one hand, God's "call" is subjective. Many biblical people had the benefit of hearing God's voice, having angels appear at their bedside or stumbling across blazing bushes with unmistakable directions on what to do next. However, God more often moved "in the hearts of His people." Men and women experienced God's movement internally. It's that moment when we are suddenly excited or alerted to a need; where our spirit resonates with an opportunity; where our heart is weighted with a burden. At this point, a person cannot study or test these subjective feelings. All they know is that the Spirit of God is moving them in a particular direction [John 14:26].

The problem with the subjective nature of calling is that it's...well...subjective. I know that my heart is deceitful above all things [Jeremiah 17:9] and, what I "feel" may not be what is true. So, if I'm not careful, I may conclude God is calling when, in fact, I'm just pushing my own agenda. What I need are "objective" confirmations of God's subjective calling on my life. I have relied on several objective benchmarks to help me discern when God is leading:

1. The truth of Scripture. What I feel in my heart must correspond to what is written in God's Word. If God has spoken one way long ago, He will not lead me in another today.

2. The affirmation of community. If I am being led by God's Holy Spirit, and the same Spirit in me resides in other godly people, then the Spirit in them will resonate with the Spirit in me. This is one of the grand benefits of community. Together, the whole Body works toward common purposes and the protection of its members.

3. Correspondence with my resources. God gives each person spiritual gift[s] for the work of ministry [1 Corinthians 12]. Most often--though not always--God's mission for me will align with the resources God has already given to me for the work of mission. In other words, God will not usually call people to something that does not align with spiritual gifts, natural abilities, personality or passions. [To be fair, I must admit that Moses didn't feel completely qualified to stand before Pharaoh. But, his prior leadership position in Pharaoh's palace was a resource that gave him standing at a later time].

4. Curious change in circumstances. When I graduated from seminary, I felt that God was calling me back to our church in Austin. The greatest obstacle to our departure from Denver was the sale of our home. Immediately after the church asked me to come, I received a phone call from a friend who said, "I've heard that you might be leaving. I'd like to buy your house." No kidding. That call was God's confirmation of His calling. When the circumstances of life curiously line up to support what God is saying, that can be a great confirmation of where God is leading.

Many times, God provides one or more of these benchmarks to clarify His calling. But, in the end, to follow God's calling is an act of faith [Hebrews 11:6]. And, while we might search for the signs, we ultimately say "yes" to Him because we trust Him in wherever He leads.

Monday, October 12, 2009

overcoming spiritual deafness

We have been studying the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3 for the last couple of weeks. IN these two chapters, Jesus speaks to a select group of churches in Asia Minor and issues a unique message to each--sometimes commendation, sometimes condemnation and sometimes, a little of each. But, the common element of each letter is in the last lines: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says."

At one level, the command is silly because we all have ears. I've never met an ear-less person. But the command is also serious because the presence of ears on either side of our head is no guarantee that anything is getting inside. We must choose to listen to what the Spirit is saying to us. In the case of Jesus' letters through the Apostle John to each of the churches, the Spirit's message was quite clear. At other times, the Holy Spirit isn't so obviously clear. So, how do we "hear" what the Spirit is saying?

The Holy Spirit speaks in a variety of ways. First, the Spirit speaks through conviction [John 16:8]. Because the Spirit resides in the Christian [John 14:17, Romans 8:11], He "speaks" to us in the way He moves our heart. When we feel uneasy about something we're doing, we are likely sensing the directing hand of the Spirit.

Second, the Spirit speaks through God's Word. In John 14:26, Jesus said, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." When we read and study the Bible, God's Spirit resonates within us as we decipher and digest truth. It is His Spirit which is communicating His heart to us [see also 1 Corinthians 2:6-16].

Third, the Holy Spirit also leads us through other Believers. Because every Christian is indwelled with the same Spirit [1 Corinthians 12:13] and grafted into one Body, we can count on the Spirit in one person to "coordinate" with the same Spirit in another. This is another reason why biblical community is so important. As we spend time together, the Holy Spirit leads us in our life with one another.

The anticipated danger of Jesus' message to each of the churches is that, though having ears, they might choose not to listen. And, for each of us, it's possible that we might suppress the Spirit's conviction, ignore the Spirit's truth and isolate ourselves from the Spirit living in community. If we do, we'll become spiritually "deaf." On the other hand, if we listen to what God is telling us through His Spirit, then we become spiritually in tune to the living God.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

lessons in purity

For the last several weeks, I have been preaching a new series: "SEVEN: Pursuit of the Perfect Church." Through this survey of the 7 churches of Revelation, we are learning how to become a less-than-imperfect church. Through the church of Ephesus, we learned a lesson about love. At Smyrna, we learned about persecution and suffering. In Pergamum, we learned about the importance of truth. This week, we travel to Thyatira and are reminded about moral purity.

To help us hold a high standard, my family uses an Internet filter. I know there are a hundred different software programs available. But, I personally endorse SafeEyes. I have been incredibly impressed with how the software blocks or allows sites and allows me to manage the amount of time that my children spend on the Internet. If you don't have a program, let me encourage you to check it out. It's a very low price to pay for high living.