Learning Lowliness [Philippians 4:13]

There is something profoundly holy about learning to be lowly.

11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

– Philippians 4:11-13

I don’t know about you, but I always used to think Paul was talking about high and lofty things – great things, super-natural super-human things. And I’ve thought that all my life–up to a minute ago when I read the context to that infamously quoted verse, Philippians 4:13.

See, the thing is, Paul wasn’t talking about moving mountains.

Go back and read verse 12 again:

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

‘Oh yeah, and I can do all things through Christ.’

Well, all what things did he say? How to be abased. How to abound. How to be full, and empty, to abound, and to suffer.

Don’t get me wrong. I know Jesus can empower me to see miracles happen right before my eyes – I’ve seen them happen. But there’s something profoundly comforting about knowing this: that I can be empty by the power of Jesus. I can be hungry by the power of Jesus (I don’t say because of). I can suffer by the strength of Jesus.

It’s about rest again. Paul learned to be content no matter what the external circumstances. Why? Because he knew that Jesus is enough strength for anything. I said Jesus is enough! I can trust absolutely that no matter what, whether I’m hungry, whether I’m so full I don’t want to see another bite of food again, whether I have enough money to sow into others or I’m just barely scraping myself by, I can do all things through Christ who is my strength. I can rest and be content in his love no matter what circumstance. And you know what the first thing that came to mind was when this all hit me?

Maybe Jesus wants me to learn how to ‘do’ abased in the strength of him.

What if there is more blessing for me in learning how to be content in suffering by Jesus’ strength than there is in learning how to move a mountain? Or do you think it could be possible there’s something profoundly holy about learning to be lowly? Maybe this is the next step in learning to rest – learning to rest in the strength of Jesus anywhere; hungry, fed, rich or poor.

Jesus, teach me how to rest in your strength no matter what circumstance you send me into.

Grafted In [Ephesians Part I]

For “whatever reason” I’ve been reading in Ephesians the last couple days, thinking about what it means for me to live “in” Jesus, and more deeply, wondering if I would really say I do. Actually, that has been my question for a long time now: “am I really doing this?” To which the resounding answer in my core is “No way.”

I’ll come back to that.

I’m looking at the first three chapters as a whole, starting with the redemption story that never gets old though Paul could tell it a hundred times to bring a new gem to the surface with each retelling. He takes two chapters to remind the Ephesians how Jesus saved them and it’s all just too wonderful not to read all at once and over and over. If it made any sense I would copy those whole two chapters down, but you can read them for yourself and spend all the time you like reveling in the wonder of God’s goodness.

But alright, here’s just a smidgen of what I’m talking about:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. [!]

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both[a] which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.[!]11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.[!] -Ephesians 1:3-12

Don’t get weird on me, but I just want to go through that all and insert an exclamation mark on the end of every sentence, because Holy Gracious Redeeming Loving Father God! It just can’t get any better (but it does).

I want to close in on chapter three where Paul calls Gentile salvation a mystery – for of course; until Jesus’ arrival, the Jews were the only people chosen by God and yet, He had a plan for the rest of the nations all along:

The Mystery Revealed

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.

Purpose of the Mystery

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship[a] of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;[b] 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. – Ephesians 3:3-13

Everyone that had been in the outer circle, now grafted into the body of Christ, dwelling jointly in Abundant, Eternal Life. And the result?

Appreciation of the Mystery

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,[c]15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:14-21

I’ve gotta stop right here and tell you, this isn’t going where I thought it would, because I keep finding more every time I go back.

Jesus, through his love sacrifice, delivered on the Promise he made with Abraham and forever gave himself an inheritance to the Jews, and grafted the Gentiles into that Promise. And this is what Paul desires, when grace and salvation and righteousness have been realized, ‘guys, now that your faith is solid, and you get love, here’s what I want for you:’ and I just love the way the Old King James puts it:

17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. – Ephesians 3:17-19

‘And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.’

Now that you dwell in Christ, I pray that Christ dwells in you.

Now that Jesus knows you fully, I pray that you would know Jesus fully.

Oh, And P.S…

Welcome to the family!

Jesus, I choose to live rooted in you; thank-you so much for this immeasurable gift. I live so often with you so far from my mind, I think, because I have no measure for what you offer. Give me a new revelation of the breadth, the length, the depth and the height of your love for me daily – or should I say, help me to notice these revelations you’ve already set in motion for me!

Restored By Grace [Pornography, Part 2]

“My Grace is sufficient for you–“

Early on as I realized just how deeply I’d become entrenched in pornography and masturbation I stumbled across Paul’s story of his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12 and I instantly connected.

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me,“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

-2 Cor 12:7-10

I’d grown up in church but so much of the Bible was completely new to me at this time, even though I’d read the entire New Testament out of what I thought was fervor but really was only an attempt to one-up my church peers. That’s another story. When I stumbled over this encounter of Paul’s it blew me away almost as much as reading Galatians for the first time (wait a minute, he can’t really mean we aren’t saved based on what we do!?). But I took it to heart and I held on to it, even though I couldn’t grasp how I could possibly be strong in my weakest moments; I felt like the most disgusting person in the entire universe of existence in those moments.

Eventually I began to look for resources to help me, even though I was loathe to. All the stigma surrounding my addiction actually warded me off of looking for help because I felt that no one really had my solution or knew what I actually needed. But it started with a short little quiz I found on xxxChurch that would tell me if I had a sexual addiction or not. My results came back positive, of course–not that the results mattered in the end, I already knew I was hooked. But the affirmation was somehow almost a comfort because my issue was now valid and legitimate.

Years later I finally signed up for a course called The Way of Purity from Setting Captives Free at the prompting of a friend I’d grown considerably close to at that time. There were daily lessons that would take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour for me to complete, and at the end there were questions which would be forwarded on to the volunteer accountability partner the program assigned me. Grounded on replacing my addiction with a fulfilling relationship with God, I found the course was almost exactly what I’d been searching for, and I experienced considerable breakthrough during the time I spent with it.

However, I never completed the course. When the questions came at the end there would be one that would ask if you’d fed on the Word and in prayer since the previous lesson, then there would be a couple that would ask if you’d looked at pornography since the previous lesson. If you had, your accountability partner would reset you to day one and you’d have to start the course over again. I did well for a while; the course and my accountability challenged me to actively put up barriers between myself and any source of pornography. It was from one of these lessons that I finally was convinced to start using an internet filter called K9 Web Protection–because it was free and I couldn’t be convinced to spend money to help myself. But then I slipped up and it was back to day one. I made another attempt at it, failing again. I was ashamed every time, but I was also tired of taking the same first lessons over and over, the material was getting boring and I just wanted to keep going–I thought if I could just keep going instead of starting over all the time I could achieve complete freedom by the end. So I lied on my lessons when I had a little slip, and I gradually let myself go.

I ended up admitting what I was doing and repented to my accountability partners. I dropped out of the course with a shame that became bitterness as I blamed my failure on the repetitiveness of the course and being made to start over even though I’d pleaded with my accountability partner to let me keep going. It was an unfortunate ending to what was essentially a solid resource.

I went back to trying on my own. I phased in and out of believing that I could just ignore it and let it fade away. But it got so bad that I was experiencing demonic dreams and presences while I was away from home for a house-sitting job and it culminated to a point that I had to let my parents back in on what was going on.

They gave me a book called Every Young Man’s Battle by Fred Stoeker and Steven Arterburn, and I literally devoured it. It was primarily Fred’s story of sexual addiction, and it made me feel like I wasn’t alone anymore after all these years; these guys knew exactly what I was dealing with, and showed me how to fight. I enjoyed it so much that I went out and purchased both the sequels, Tactics by Stoeker and Arterburn, and Hero, written by Stoeker and his son Jasen. Even more than Every Young Man’s Battle, Tactics gave practical game-plans to being an over-comer, and Hero showed me the legacy I could create for my family. But as great and as encouraging as those books were, I still struggled.

Some time in the middle of all this I had an encounter that I didn’t grasp at the time, but still is changing me today. I had just slipped up and God spoke to me, much like he had to Paul about his thorn. He told me,

“It’s not about your purity…it’s about Mine.”

And I got it, but I couldn’t believe it. “You mean, it doesn’t matter that I’m dirty, it just matters that you’re clean?” it agreed fundamentally with what I knew was true about God’s love and grace, but it was too good–and it didn’t fix me.

But I get it now, I’ve learned a lot since then. The bottom line is, it’s not about me, or what I do. It’s about God’s grace for me. The New Covenant is all about finding our sufficiency in Christ–he is everything I am not. He wasn’t telling me that my sin was okay because he was perfect, He was telling me that because of His grace, I could dwell in his purity, and mine wouldn’t matter anymore because His is so much better, anyway.

The struggle is still real. But the more I focus on it instead of Jesus, the stronger it becomes in my life. And what I’ve learned–what I knew a long time ago but could never put into words–is that I don’t have to try to stop. I’ll fail every time. But when you look at Jesus, everything else disappears, and when you become rooted and grounded in Him, He becomes the only thing that captivates you. So here’s my answer from one sex addict to another–and what I believe to be true of any addiction: stop trying so hard. The more energy and attention you give it, the more energy it will take from you to fight back. You’re focusing on the wrong thing; your addiction is just a side-affect of your deeper heart issues, and only Jesus can heal those. That’s where your answer lies. That’s where this generation’s answer lies, in the grace and love of the person of Jesus. It’s not about your effort, your perfection or your purity, it’s about His. His grace is sufficient for you.

Church, Unite

“If we had more young people around here we’d get smarter,”

As the technical brain behind the system, I’d been asked to take a look at my previous church’s presentations computer to work some bugs out of the interface with the projector. It was a simple enough job, but the prospect of going back even for it was…awkward. I spent most of the day thinking about times gone, mulling things over in my head I thought I’d had settled a year ago. And then the comment that really got me thinking.

“If we had more young people around here we’d get smarter,”

Oh, you have no idea.

But what really got me going was this: the same people that trust me to know what’s going on with the hundreds of micro electrical circuitry inside a computer don’t seem to trust me to know anything they wouldn’t about, say, the Bible. Or God.

And you know something? There are a lot of people that have a lot of years on me when it comes to God. But I’ll tell you. the gospel isn’t as complicated as troubleshooting a computer, never mind the dabbling in hardware and software modifications I’ve done here and there. It just isn’t. So how is it that my belief counts reliably on one thing but not another when I’ve spent equal amounts of time studying and practicing both? Do you really want to get smarter with what I have to show you?

Bear with me – this is not a rant article.

I only ask one thing. Stay open. Keep your ears open, keep your mind open, and don’t let someone’s age or experience determine the value of what they may have to teach you; God talks to babies.

When I was removing myself from my previous church I was strongly encouraged to break ties with everyone. And for the most part, I was ready to. But I don’t agree with that anymore. I was talking to Jesus a few days ago and thinking about the underlying issues that caused me to make up my mind about leaving, and he just said something to this affect: “Son, don’t concern yourself with politics,” And he reminded me that he doesn’t use perfect people because there are none. And I just felt all my thoughts finalize right there.

I don’t regret leaving; I still know it was right for me. But I would have done it differently. Because the truth is I was cutting ties when I should have been building bridges to people. It’s not about breaking ties, it never was, and that’s not even in my nature.

What I wish is that people would see the truth, and decide to change direction.

What I dream is to see the young and the old sit down together and learn from each other; the young have valuable insights into the Word of God, too. What I dream is to see the church unified, learning together, resting in the strength of Jesus.

So who wants to be with me?

Least of These

“I don’t tell many guys this…”

His eyes tear in that I’m-being-my-strongest-broken-self way as he tells me of the decades of pain he’s carried since childhood and only recently become truly aware of. I nod, meanwhile conscious of my efforts to make my posture look as understanding as possible.

Do you want to know what I think is sad and regrettable? The way we (and by ‘we’ I really mean ‘me’) consider it within our ability to decide who is worthy of our care and kindness.

Maybe I should start from the beginning.

Jesus showed me someone in need, but the first chain of experiences I had of them made me hard–I decided that this was not a person I liked right from the start, and while given my position at the time it may have been well justified to be incredulous and even suspicious, through the course of time since I’ve learned something; you can’t pick and choose who deserves compassion. Because the honest truth is, I tried not to have it, but I’ve cultivated too much love in myself, and it couldn’t help but manifest when in contact with one who needed it from just one person for once. Before I knew it I was inviting him in–you’re inviting me into your house?!–offering him something to eat and drink, and calling up to my wife to heat up some leftover chilli. Any other time I would’ve told you I didn’t even like the guy.

Because who am I to decide who deserves my kindness or friendship? Because ‘the least of these Jesus’ brethren’ probably aren’t the pleasant, nice people that you think they are; they’re dirty, disliked, vulgar–but what do you expect from broken people?

Jesus, I don’t want to decide any more who deserves what I have to offer – you tell me it’s not about being deserving any more, anyway. Show me what your unbiased compassion looks like. You gave yourself for me though I’ve never deserved it, so I’m willing to give myself to others even if they don’t deserve it.

Freedom Like You’ve Never Heard Before

liberty

21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

                                                                                                           – James 1:21-25

I found this in James earlier this week, and something caught my eye. At first it was the word perfect, but then I looked at liberty and all but forgot perfect. But first, why  don’t you go ahead and read the first two chapters of James so you have some context to what we’ll be talking about today.

The word in the original Greek text (Strongs G1657 – click on the word for a lexicon entry) is ἐλευθερία–or for those of you who don’t actually read Greek it transliterates to eleutheria – it translates to “liberty” all of the 11 times it is used in the New Testament. The image above is the entry in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon for this word, and I’ll tell you why liberty excites me so much.

The first and lengthier entry follows so:

a. liberty to do or to omit things having no relation to salvation (1 Cor 10:29); from the yoke of the Mosaic law, (Gal 2:4; 5:1,13; 1 Pet 2:16) from Jewish errors so blinding the mental vision that it does not discern the majesty of Christ, (2 Cor 3:17) freedom from the dominion of corrupt desires, so that we do by the free impulse of the soul what the will of God requires … i.e. the Christian religion, which furnishes that rule of right living by which the liberty just mentioned is attained, (Jas 1:25; 2:12) freedom from the restraints and miseries of earthly frailty … manifested in the glorious condition of the future life, (Rom 8:21)

The second, and much shorter entry is simply:

b. fancied liberty, i.e. license, the liberty to do as one pleases, (2 Pet 2:19)

Now let’s take this new concept of liberty back to the context and see what James was talking about. Take a look back at James 1:25 again:

25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

Perfect law of liberty. The reason this phrase piqued my interest at all in the first place is because until now I’d believed James to be quite traditional, and here we have a law, right in the middle of James’ letter clung to by traditional thinkers for his pro-works message, but it doesn’t sound very traditional! He appears to be saying that people who do whatever they want–even if they put aside every scripture unrelated to salvation–and simply follow their desires, are blessed.

Wait a minute. You might say. Who’s gonna keep them in line?

Well, let me introduce you to something–rather Someone–John the Beloved calls The Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend[a] it. – John 1:1-5

Verses 14-18 go on to declare:

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 John [the Baptist] bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’”

16 And[e] of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son,[f] who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

From this–not to mention the rest of the book of John–we know that Jesus is the Word become flesh and Jesus the logos–the very spoken word of God–declares the Father. So what does James say about this Word? Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (1:21) but it’s not enough to just hear. It’s not enough to sit through church every week–it’s not even the same! 

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. (1:22-24)

I can just hear the urgency–but be DOERs of Jesus, not just HEARERs; you’re just fooling yourself otherwise; you have no sense of your identity outside of Christ. And the method? Looking into the perfect law of liberty and continuing in it. The real question now is what is the perfect law of liberty and how do we do it? If I were to put what I’ve learned so far into a basic statement I would say that the law of liberty can be summed up as simply being true to our desire; does that sound like the life of a Jesus-doer? I believe it is, so much so that I would say it is the crux of living in the New Covenant.

Does it still seem like there’s a missing piece to the puzzle–like how we are going to keep people on the straight and narrow with a law that lets them do whatever they want? You’re right, but it’s not like that. If you still think there’s something missing, or that this law sounds like chaos, you may not have understood the gospel or what Christ did on the cross. Colossians 2 says this:

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins[c] of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (2:8-17)

The New Covenant’s life in Christ involves total transformation; you can’t enter into the law of liberty without being cut off from your old self and implanted, as James says, with Jesus’ spirit. Salvation is of utmost importance to liberty because salvation produces liberty. There would be no good desire in us unless Christ cut our sinful nature away. And with the Spirit of God in us, there is no longer need for that old covenant system of doing things, because as Galatians 5 declares, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. It should never be a bad thing for people full of the Spirit to do whatever they desire, because what they desire is what God desires. I believe we continue in the law of liberty, the new covenant law of love, by remaining true to His desire in us, and following His voice.

The perfect law of liberty, salvation and the new covenant–it’s all about freedom: freedom not to be used as a pretext to get away with doing wrong, but freedom to be who we were created to be. Scandalous freedom to do whatever we desire. Freedom to do what all true believers desire: the will of our Father.

More Than Reputation

I’m recalling a dream I had some years ago. It came to mind recently because of an encounter I had the other day that opened my eyes a good deal wider than they had been. It was a short and very revealing discourse that took place over a couple hours on facebook between someone and myself about grace, works and our responsibility as Christians. I’ll begin by describing the dream:

I don’t recall the details now (they are probably stored away in some old journal) but the main points I remember vividly. I was at the Adventist church back in Hazelton. I’d had this dream while still a part of that congregation. I don’t remember having been inside the building at all, only outside where it was very dark in the parking lot, and a particular pastor–the person I had my discussion on facebook with–(not associated with the Adventist church) was there with a worship band. They seemed to be playing on a stage in the middle of the parking lot, although it wasn’t clear what they were up on because all around them was a fire burning which did little to display the darkness, and if anything only added to it with black smoke. As I got closer I was compelled to get into the fire–although I don’t know why. I somehow got into the flames and rolled through it. There were other people on the ground burning in the fire; all I saw were charred, black bodies. I didn’t feel any pain from the burning, and got out of the fire without being harmed. I would describe this entire scene now–the band, the fire around them, the darkness, the smoke, and the literal heap of burned bodies on the ground–as wholly demonic, though this view isn’t entirely necessary; suffice it to say, something was seriously wrong with the goings-ons.

I left the parking lot and walked over to the lawn where I found a lot of people who seemed to be just milling around. It wasn’t dark on the lawn–in fact it seemed to be broad daylight. And then an angel showed up–bam–or maybe it was Jesus, but I don’t think so, because he talked like a messenger, although I don’t remember what he said–just that he was dressed in white and he was definitely heavenly.  He handed me a blowtorch, and when I took it I began running through the crowd catching people on fire. But this wasn’t a burning like what had been happening in the parking lot–in fact, I don’t remember seeing a flame on anyone. This was different; more real, more holy. I don’t know how to describe it–those don’t really come close to the feeling that came over me in that moment.

Of course, I’m relating this with the bias of new understanding. I’ve since found my place to be well outside of the Adventist church–well outside of any religion, really. But this pastor? There has in years since passed been a reputation of being alive surrounding his church and ministry. It’s where I got some of my very first tastes of Christianity outside the religious box.

This isn’t a personal thing, my focus isn’t even really on this particular person–although I’ve had a lot to think about over the last couple days–but I will say that I saw some deep cracks going through his foundation, and I was surprised at the opposition and downright scorn I received for my stance on grace. I was surprised because of the reputation I had grown to be familiar with over the years.

You’re probably wondering by now where the heck I’m going with this, because I’m having a little trouble getting around to the point in a way that feels right. (I just don’t have the words). What I’m realizing is that God has his own plans for me–not within the religious, not within circles of people who have reputations of being alive but aren’t. His plans? His plans don’t have anything to do with human organization be it religious or otherwise. His plans involve me seeing Him–not just angels–face to face so that I would be like him. His plans? His plans are so much better than anything I could ever contrive or hope to bring about by associating with the ‘right people’. Because I’ll be honest, I’ve thought many times that if I could just find the right people to associate with–if I could just find that perfect life-coach-slash-mentor-slash-father-figure-slash-saint to raise me up to conquer my fears and failures and do great things for God–

It’s a bunny trail.

And I think far too many young Christians like me are on it, and it won’t ever work for them. I had to leave the church building, leave behind everyone and every circle of people I thought were good images of living Christianity… Because the only person that God wants us to be like? Is Himself. And the only person I can look to to be like God, is Christ. And Christ’s work was perfected in me at the cross and when I am in Christ and he is in me…

All the Father sees in me, is Christ perfected.

Jesus Loves Barabbas

As Easter Weekend comes to its peak I’m sure many of us are thinking about that story that started in a stable and ended in a tomb–only it didn’t end, and that’s why we have a story to think about. I’m also thinking about it because I just watched the second half of Ben Hur the other night and had a minor revelation (even though it wasn’t particularly in the film). Consequently, I’ve been thinking about a certain character which I’m surprised isn’t mentioned by many grace teachers, yet is–in my mind–one of the most prime examples of grace, and certainly among the first to receive it so obviously. I’m talking, of course, about that man Barabbas.

And isn’t it true? How many sermons have you heard preached about him? When was the last time you heard someone – reading from the portion of the Gospels dealing with Christ’s trial – stop and say, “Now take this guy Barabbas for instance …” He’s the unsung hero. Only, he’s not a hero; Barabbas is a murdering revolutionary (as described by Mark).

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered how he’d been missed in the grace story. You probably already know where I’m going with this – that’s just how obvious it is. We’ll pick up the story in Mark, and I’ll be reading from the New Living Translation tonight.

Jesus’ Trial before Pilate

Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council—met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.

Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “You have said it.”

Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner—anyone the people requested. One of the prisoners at that time was Barabbas, a revolutionary who had committed murder in an uprising. The crowd went to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner as usual.

“Would you like me to release to you this ‘King of the Jews’?” Pilate asked. 10 (For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.) 11 But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. 12 Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”

13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

14 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

             – Mark 15:1-15

As far as I’m concerned you can just close the book right there! Pilot knew who was the innocent one – you don’t become governor of as politically fragile a region as Judea was at that time by being a poor judge. But an undeserving Jesus took the punishment (and much more) of notoriously deserving Barabbas.

Did you know Barabbas’ name means something along the lines of “Son of a/the father”? I’ve been learning to read Hebrew and as a result I’m now continually looking for deeper meaning in everything, particularly names. Barabbas’ name comes from the Aramaic roots  bar (בַּר – H1247) meaning “Son”, and Abagtha (אֲבַגְתָא – H5) meaning “God-given”. It might also interest you to know that in early manuscripts Barabbas was referred to as “Jesus Barabbas”, but “Jesus” was later left off; speculation has it that this was done either out of solemn respect or to avoid confusion, but either way that’s a bunny trail for another day. What I’m most interested in is the meaning of Barabbas’ name.

Imagine with me, if you will: it is early in the morning; the Jewish leaders have been up all night trying to make all their false witnesses agree. They’ve finally got all the falsified evidence the crowd needs and they bring Jesus to Pilate, since they cannot condemn him to death themselves. The Jewish high council is bringing accusation after accusation down on Jesus and he’s just silent; all he’s letting on to here is his kingship. Pilate’s confused. He can’t get this guy; if he’s innocent, why doesn’t he clear himself? If he’s guilty of something serious enough for death, why doesn’t he fight the charges, knowing his end?

So Pilate throws what he hopes is a curve-ball on the clearly envious Jewish religious leaders: for the customary release of a prisoner on Passover, he offers them Jesus. The crowds go wild–stirred up by the religious leaders–but not for Jesus – they want Barabbas, and they want Jesus dead.

So to keep the peace, Pilate handed the undeserving Son of the Father over to his soldiers to be brutally flogged and killed while that deserving “Son of the Father”–that notorious criminal Barabbas–went free, because of love, the newly adopted son of a Heavenly Father.

A sinner set free.

I came across this video of a sermon from Judah Smith almost immediately after I began looking into this Barabbas, and he says it all; if there is one thing you do this Easter, watch this video. Seriously. Turn down the lights, turn up the volume and have a tissue on hand, because it’s about to get real.

 

“Jesus stood there silent for he knew the will of the Father; he said “It’s fine Father; let them have Barabbas,” for Jesus knew that the Father would have to treat Jesus like Barabbas, so He could treat Barabbas like Jesus.”

Unmerited, undeserved favour.

“Barabbas thought it was the people that set him free–no, no, no–it was the love of a Heavenly Father.”

Avoiding Truth (For Those I’ve Left Behind, Part 2)

This is a bit of a thick subject; if you’re looking for something less focused on my church experience and why I left the church I grew up in, skip over to the next article.


As I was listening to some podcasts from Ransomed Heart Ministries I came across a couple regarding the Sabbath. “Huh,” I said to myself, “I didn’t know these guys had anything to say about it.” It was a perspective I’d never heard before – not at all legalistic, but also not the mystical concept of Sabbath in Christ. I say mystical concept because the understanding I’ve had of Sabbath has been about as material as a breath of wind. I mean, alright – the Sabbath was a representation of rest in Jesus, and no, the traditional old-covenant “Absolutely no labor” day wasn’t meant to be carried into the new covenant. But upon hearing a discussion between John and Craig about it I was reminded about something: we still need physical rest. That wasn’t the real revelation. The real revelation was, “It has never been about the Sabbath.”

So I guess I better explain that further, so you can get the revelation, too. But I’m going to be frank, and honest, and what I say might sound harsh.

My heart has been a little bogged down these last couple months. (You may have noticed my declining post-rate.) But what I heard God reminding me is bringing refreshment – it’s never been about the Sabbath. I didn’t leave the Adventist church over the Sabbath–or even the ten commandments, for that matter. These things definitely have been taught wrongly in mixture-covenant churches, but the flawed theology is only the by-product of deeper issues. I left because the Adventist denomination (denomination is just a fancy word in our enemy’s vocabulary for ‘divide and conquer’) is built on a history of lies (or concealed truth, whichever way you like to see it,) and false, unbiblical doctrine.

I’ll give you a minute to digest that. (I’m not going to go in-depth into those issues in this article, either.)

It wasn’t ever about the Sabbath, and honestly if it was just a Sabbath issue, I probably would have stayed. Because keeping one day in your week free from work, a whole day in which you can let your entire being rest, is a good idea, and necessary. You need to rest. You need to have times of rest and refreshing. You need to be able to step back from your work and just let God. But cunningly the devil sneaked in this focus on the Sabbath and the law, because when I look at just those things, I don’t see the reason for the decisions I’ve made. When I look at the Sabbath, I don’t see the reason where I was was not a good place for me to be. When I look at the law, I start to wonder if I’ve made the right choice – if I’m not just completely off track. But now that I’ve begun to see again where I’m at from God’s perspective–that’s hope. Because trying to put into words how I keep the Sabbath or the law differently than I used to just isn’t it. It doesn’t cut it, that’s not the pivotal point. The pivotal point is, “This system is built on a rotting foundation being held up by lies and manipulation.”

The subject of the Adventist church in any case is a depressing one for me – I just don’t want to go there. Even now I’m fighting myself over whether I should even finish and publish this post, and it doesn’t even look like I have a clear, legible piece of writing here. It’s sticky and messy and controversial, and it doesn’t make my heart come alive. (Is that any surprise?) I see a burning building, friends and family and others I love all inside–they aren’t even trapped, but they don’t want to leave because they don’t see the fire. They’d rather stay than face the cold outside, but it is the flames keeping them warm that are burning the house down. And my focus has been on the smoke instead of the fire, but if we only talk about the smoke that merely chokes us, how will we ever really see the flames that will devour us? I’ve been caught up with the symptoms of the real heart-issue of the church instead of the issue itself, and I believe keeping us wrapped up in the smoke-screen instead of the fire has been satan’s massive victory over the church – you just can’t go anywhere but around in circles until you get down to the core of it. But no one wants to look at that. It’s not comfortable. It’s scary. Truth is scary. Satan does well at keeping us in bondage through our fear of knowing the truth. And it isn’t even about the truth, is it… it’s about how different the truth might be from what we know now.

I’m beginning to be at a loss for words over it all, and because I haven’t been nearly as focused on Jesus, on life, but on trivial controversy, I’ve had nothing to sustain me. It’s a hard transition, because “comfortable” isn’t good enough anymore, and I know it. It feels like it’s time to move on, to snip those last ties and just dive completely into Jesus.

The Desert Priest

I realized something the other day as I was listening to the gospel of Luke.

John the Baptist was born into the Levitical priest-hood. According to Luke 1:5 his father Zacharias was a priest of the order of Abijah, and as if that were not enough, his mother Elizabeth was also of the line of Aaron.

I find this seeming little detail groundbreaking. Not only was John born of parents both of the levitical priesthood, but he is their first and only child, a miracle in their old age. Can you just envision the implications of this? Let’s take a look at the story in Luke 1:5-25:

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

                     – Luke 1:5-25 [NKJV]

Don’t miss verse six; “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”

Zacharias (whose name means “remembered of Jehovah“) and Elizabeth (whose name means “oath of God“) represent the Law. They are righteous, blameless – they’ve kept all the commandments and ordinances of God–not to mention they have the very blood of Aaron’s sons and daughters in their veins.

And in its old age, the Law bears a son, and God calls Himself a gracious God, for John’s name means “Jehovah is a gracious giver“.

And John’s ministry? Preparing the way of the Lord in Israel:

14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”   

– Luke 1:14-17

John is the forerunner of the Christ, and this is why it is so important that John is a priest of the old covenant, because the Christ is the very personage of the new covenant, and it is only right that the lesser levitical priest herald in the greater Melchizedekian (Psalm 110:4) Priest–the High Priest of the order of the King of Righteousness!

I did a brief search to find out just who Abijah–Zacharias’ priestly predecessor–was. Abijah was the head of the eighth of twenty-four divisions made by King David in the priesthood (1 Chr. 24:10) and interestingly (though perhaps not prominent to us at this point), Abijah’s division didn’t return from the Babylonian Captivity (Ezra 2:36–39, Neh. 7:39–42).

Now let’s take a look at John’s birth:

57 Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.

59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.”

61 But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” 62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.

63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him.

– Luke 1:57-66

John’s coming was to mark a pivotal point for God’s people–the triumph of grace over law. Everyone wanted to call the new baby after his father, but finally in faith Zacharias declared the name which Gabriel had given – Jehovah is a gracious giver! His mouth was reopened and seeing the glory of God’s grace, the Law praised.

67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

68 “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David,
70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
71 That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
74 To grant us that we,
Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.

76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
78 Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

– Luke 1:67-80

I’m curious to know if anywhere before this the Spirit of God was said to fill someone rather than rest upon them; I recently heard that this was a difference between the old covenant and the new, that in the new covenant the Spirit of God dwells within rather than resting upon as is so often described of the Spirit in the Old Testament. The difference of a preposition–in instead of on. I haven’t verified that in any way to know how accurate it is, but if true it would seem that already there was a shift taking place as Zacharias became filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied over his son, the forerunner of the new covenant, whom Gabriel also declared would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even in the womb.

So John’s ministry was this: to prepare the ways of the Lord, to give Israel a knowledge of a new means of salvation, to give light to those in darkness, and to be a guide into the way of peace. In short, to prepare the way for Jesus Christ, the Messiah. And in John it is almost as though we see a mixture of old and new covenant, but John was no pseudo-covenant. He was the forerunner of the new covenant, preached the promise of salvation and baptized the people in water as a sign of faith and public act of repentance, and his lineage was of the levitical priesthood both by his mother and father, giving authority to his agreement with the coming of the Fulfillment of the old covenant, Jesus.

And in John’s (the disciple) gospel, when his disciples come questioning him about Jesus who has just begun a baptism ministry nearby, John the Baptist makes this declaration about Jesus:

27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. 35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

            – John 3:27-36

He says, “I’m not the Christ,” for the Christ could not bring about a change of priesthood and be of the levitical line of priests, and “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Because the old covenant was ready to be laid to rest. And finally John declares the new covenant: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life,” it’s always been that simple. And I don’t think that John’s desert-dwelling made him ignorant to the old way. He was the son of old-covenant priests! What do you suppose they taught him growing up? The Law. And his ministry was in part the same as that purpose of the law, to give knowledge of sin. But again his ministry was also “Jehovah is a gracious giver,” salvation and forgiveness through belief in Jesus.

To end, Jesus said this about John in Luke 7:

24 When the messengers of John had departed, He began to speak to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written:

‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.’

28 For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

– Luke 7:24-28

Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. 

Jesus wasn’t downplaying John, he was saying “Hey, John is the greatest man–there’s no greater human prophet than John.” But he also denotes something important: the least of the citizens of the kingdom of God are greater than John, and we know that this is because they are born of God Himself. John is the final piece in the old-covenant puzzle, and his purpose is to prepare the way for the new covenant Himself, Jesus. John is the greatest man in old covenant terms, righteous and blameless, born of righteous and blameless parents, he has abstained from wine and all other alcoholic drinks his entire life and his diet consists of locust and honey.

But after John came something, foreshadowed by the old ways, yet completely different:

The kingdom of God.