Saturday, June 26, 2010

Stopping sin or chasing joy?

I often hear repentance explained as turning from what I was doing and heading 180 degrees in the opposite direction.  My experience is more like my body turns around and starts walking in the other direction, however my eyes stay focused on the original direction I was headed!  Couple of observations here:  1.  that's pretty rough on the ole neck, 2.  it makes it hard to see where I'm going, and 3.  it calls into question whether or not I've actually repented.

Satan has called my Father's character into question such that I find myself believing the father of lies over what I know to be true about my real Father.  Said another way, the Lord tells me to turn to Him, to press on towards a relationship with Him, a relationship for which He designed me before the beginning of time.  The devil says that the pursuit of what I want will bring me true freedom, joy and contentment.  Of the two messages my flesh takes pride in the idea that I know what is best for me.  And so the battle lines are drawn and I fight between what I want to do (good) and what I end up doing (the bad).

I love how the Lord uses His Word to give me examples in the physical world of what is true in the spiritual.  Go back to Genesis chapters 18 and 19 for instance.  Abraham's nephew Lot lived in Sodom, a town that was less than a moral place to live.  God tells Abraham what He's going to do, Abraham pleads for both Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his family are to be saved from the coming destruction and the angels go tell Lot and his family to get a move on.  You remember what happens from here - the Lord rains down burning sulfur and wipes the two cities off the face of the earth.  Do you also remember the instructions the angels gave to Lot (Gen 19:17)?  One of the instructions stands out to me, the one that says ,"Don't look back."  What did Lot's wife do?  She looked back.  What happened to her?  "But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." - Gen 19:26, NIV.

My repentance looks very much like Lot's wife many times.  I turn from my sin because the Lord tells me too, yet I look back over my shoulder to see that which is familiar to me, that which I don't truly believe I can live without.  Okay, maybe I'm stretching and saying that Lot's wife represents how I repent.  After all I'm pretty partial to destruction and seeing burning sulfur fall from heaven would be a pretty cool sight to see.  I see a principle here, but is there another example of "looking over my shoulder" that confirms what I see with Mrs. Lot?

How about Exodus and the Israelites leaving Egypt?  It takes Pharaoh ten plagues to finally let "My people go" then the Lord tells Moses "watch this" setting up the crossing of the Red Sea and wiping Pharaoh's army out.  You'll also recall that Israel told Moses to leave them alone and quit trying to free them from the Egyptians!  I don't know about you but I say this to the Lord when crucifying my flesh gets difficult.  I tell Him, "Listen, I know You think I'll be better off doing it Your way, however right this minute I don't see the benefit and its tough not doing what I'm used to doing."  I look over my shoulder at the, although ultimately destructive behavior, Egypt I'm used to.

Israel received the word of the Lord that they would possess the promised land.  The direction in which they were headed led to God's promise for them!  Jesus promised me an easy yoke and light burden (Matt 11:30), however I have to follow after Him without looking back to the way I used to do things.  Like Lot's wife I want to look back and see where I was, the sin I'm missing.  Like Israel, although I'm heading to a better place, a place promised to me, a place for which I was made to inhabit, I grumble that the trip is hard and my bird in the hand (my sin) is, at least in my mind, better than the two birds waiting in the bush!

Israel complained a number of times to Moses about going back to Egypt.  They were hungry and said to him, "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt!  There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." - Ex 16:3, NIV.  Egypt was not a fun place!  Israel was enslaved for over 400 years.  There were whole generations that new nothing but slavery, and yet the generations that experienced God's deliverance out of that awful place actually looked back saying they'd rather be there!

That's me!  I look back to the pleasures of past sins and say, "Why couldn't I just die in my sin where I didn't have to try so hard?  It was miserable, but I got enough of a pay-off from the sin to at least make moments tolerable."  As I write this I'm amazed at the short-sightedness of my flesh, how quickly I turn from my Father, His promises, His character, the promised land of a relationship with Him, and am willing to trade it for something that I know only leads to death!  Israel said they'd rather die in Egypt without the Father than live in the desert with Him!  Every time I choose my sin over Him I say the exact same thing.  I know the wage for my sin is death (Rom 6:23), that the benefit of doing what I want to do leads only to death (Rom 6:21), and that as I turn from what I used to be and pursue Him, He has holiness and eternal life for me (Rom 6:22)!

So, Talley, stop sinning.  Ah, but there's the rub.  The enemy keeps my head focused on the, although temporary, fleeting, and ultimately deadly, pleasures of my sin.  The enemy says the Father selfishly wants me to serve Him which results in slavery to Him; a slavery that by definition means a joyless existence spent in joyless, toilsome service devoid of pleasure, satisfaction and contentment.  IT'S A LIE!!  I spend all this mental time trying to reconcile what I want to do (sin) with what I ought to do (obey) because I believe the lie that obedience is contrary to joy, peace, contentment!  God is not the liar, Satan is!

So what did Jesus do and why?  Jesus went to the cross because of the joy He knew was waiting for Him on the other side (Heb 12:2)!  His eyes and His body were both going in the same direction because He knew that where He was headed, although unbelievably hard and agonizing, was best.  What does the author of Hebrews say we ought to do?  "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus..." - Heb 12:2a, NIV.  How can I fix my eyes on Jesus if I'm looking over my shoulder at the comforts and pleasures of my sin?  I can't do both, I must do one or the other.  Therefore, stopping sin is not about walking toward Him with my eyes looking back.  I stop sinning because I'm too busy doing His will for my life!  Do you see the difference?  I can't make myself stop sinning; neither could Paul for that matter (Rome 7:15).  What I can do is abide in Him (John 15:4) bearing the fruit (not making the fruit!!) of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), and doing those things He's already planned for me to do (Eph 2:10).  Basically I'll be too busy obeying to have time to sin.

Why in the world would I want to obey someone else?  Am I not entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  How could slavery to Him give me life, liberty or happiness?  Amazingly enough Jesus speaks directly to this.  "If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father's commands and remain in His love.  I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." - John 15:10-11, NIV.  If Jesus obeyed the Father and did so because of the joy set before Him, does it not make sense that I would obey the Father as well?  My joy is complete in obedience to Him, not in slavery to my sin.

Father, please forgive me if I've misrepresented You or Your word in any way.  Please forgive me for my continued trips back to Egypt, for believing the lie that my joy will be complete in the pursuit of my sin and not in obedience to You.  I love You, Lord.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My mother-in-law's wisdom

We went to family camp in Chattanooga a few weeks ago.  That basically means Anna took care of all our children for a week (actually nothing new about that) and I "visited" for the weekend.  During the mornings there was time for family devotions where all the grandchildren came together in Juju's cabin and for an hour or so we would discuss Proverbs 3:5,6.  Each morning Juju would take a portion of the scripture, break it down word by word, and have the children give examples of "trust" or "lean" or "acknowledge" so that five years old to teenager had the opportunity to learn the verses in their own language.

I had reservations about whether or not you could camp out (no pun intended) on just two verses for a full week.  Really, don't trust myself but trust God, rely on His wisdom not mine, and He makes my paths straight...not too much there, right?  You should've seen Juju going around that room, each child asked the question "What does it mean to trust?" or "What does understanding mean?"  The way she engaged each one exactly where they were was incredible to see.  I heard five years olds talking about trust using examples of how the know they parents will do what they say they'll do.  Eight year olds talked about how God knows more than they do and so His understanding is better than theirs.  It was something to behold.

Anna takes after her mother like that.  You ought to see her in our house on a daily basis.  My children have wisdom beyond their years because of her and the Holy Spirit.  I find myself often looking to Anna when I'm trying to explain something to the children and saying, "Honey, what am I trying to say?"  It's as if the Father gave me an interpreter who understands both adult and child.  Anna speaks in pictures, analogies, metaphors; her wheelhouse is communication.

For whatever reason one of the words that stood out to me was "lean" in verse 5.  It's interesting to me that the Lord does not say, "Blindly do what I tell you to with no thought whatsoever."  He's given me the faculty of thought, a mind that seeks to understand, and a will that executes around what my intellect decides upon.  That said, I don't lean on my understanding such that what supports the decision is me, but rather His wisdom.  I trust Him with all my heart and merely use the mind He's given me.  Again in verse 6 I am to acknowledge Him in all my ways because He is the one who will make the path straight.

I believe this is vitally important for a number of reasons.  1.  His ways are not my ways such that if I lean on what I believe to be the right answer I'm bound to make the wrong choice (Isa 55:8).  2.  He already has good works ordained for me to accomplish.  If I'm focused on what I think I won't see what He's trying to accomplish (Eph 2:10).  3.  When He created everything, the why, the how, all of it, I was no where around to comment on it or add my two cents.  My guess is He still doesn't need my two cents and that I'd be better off going with His will than mine (Job 38:4).

I also like the idea of Him "making" the path straight.  It certainly makes metaphorical sense why I can't see very far ahead as there are twist, turns, obstacles in the way.  Funny thing is, if I look behind me I see that what brought me to where I'm currently standing is a straight path.  Looking ahead, leaning on Him, seeking His will in all my ways and He goes before me straightening that path.  His perspective is such that He has an "aerial" view of the landscape.  When I fly I can see all the roads, the intersections, the mountains, etc.  Out of my window I can see lets say 20 miles in any one direction which means I can see, in a straight line, two points.  If I'm down on the earth I can't see point B from point A and there are turns I have to take to get there.  The Lord's perspective is such that He sees points A and B, the straight line between them, then He condescends to come down and make the path between them straight "on earth as it is in Heaven."

Lord, thank you for your willingness to meet me at my point of need.  Thank you for leading me in Your ways by Your Spirit.  Please keep me out of Your way long enough for You to will and act within my life to accomplish Your purposes.  I love you Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What do you mean by "God's will?" Part 2

I've received some great feedback and I thank you for it.  From a pure semantics stand point I'm apparently trying to figure out what He willed as opposed to what would please Him.  Said another way, I want to know what He has said "will happen" versus what He has said "pleases" Him.  There are plenty of other vocabulary words out there that will help to split hairs; ordained, willed, purposed.  Let's assume for a minute that I "figure out" which is which.  What good will that do me?  Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not advocating intellectual laziness, a throwing in of the mental towel or just saying "have faith."  Bottom line I think I'm struggling with the search for meaning in my decisions and actions.  What part is me and what part is Him?

I have this bad habit of spending more time and energy trying to figure Him out than in executing what I already know about His will.  His commands are, I believe, very specific revelations of His will for me.  For instance I am to love Him with my whole self and my neighbor as myself (Luke 10:27).  It is His will that I be sanctified (1 Thes 4:3).  He doesn't want me to conform myself to the pattern of this world but to discern His will for my life by the renewing of my mind (Rom 12:2).  He created me specifically to accomplish good works that He has laid out for me (Eph 2:10).  When I get a "yes" to a prayer request I am assured of that answer coming directly out of His will (1 John 5:14).  Finally, and here's the kicker, I know that anything I do that is in accordance with His will is done only because He worked within me to accomplish His will (Phl 2:13)!

It would seem that a better use of my time and energy would be in the discernment of His will for my life with a mere peripheral intellectual pursuit of understanding the interaction between our wills.  It's funny (not ha ha funny, but interesting) that I get more wrapped up in "how could that be His will" and standing in judgment of what He either allowed or did as opposed to "am I personally pursuing His will?"  I get more wrapped up in how He justifies His actions, His will, in comparison with His supposed character (again, insert your "How could He let this happen" event).  I will even look to His will for someone else, usually someone who has something I want but which the Lord has seen fit to not give me, and ask the Father, "Well, what about them?"  Fortunately I'm not the only one to have done this (John 21:20-22).

So what do I mean by His will?  I'm coming to the conclusion that the personal answer to that is "What do You want me to do today?"  He's given me enough direction to be in the middle of His will for 18 hours or so that I'll be awake today.  I will give Him praise when I accomplish His will because He has worked in me to accomplish His will.

Father, please forgive me if I've misrepresented You or Your will this morning.  I do want to understand how it all works, however please work within me to will and do Your will as its already been revealed.  Thank you for loving me.  I love you, Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What do you mean by "God's will?" Part 1

I remember conversations after 911 about whether or not it was "God's will" that the planes flew into the towers.  If I take a sovereignty tack and say that nothing happens outside of God's control, that for those called according to His purpose He works all things out for their good, then there's an argument to be made for it being His will.  That said, the murder of over 3,000 people doesn't intuitively make sense to me to be defined as "God's will."  Don't get me wrong, my intuition cannot be relied on for truth as I am still sinful and must account for the effect of the fall in all my judgments, while at the same time the Holy Spirit speaks to me through my "conscience" which communicates my intuitions to me....My point is this, how can murder (or any other sin for that matter) be God's will?

Where I want to go with this is to better define what we mean by God's will.  The first kind of "will" I want to look at is found in the following verses:  Psalm 40:8, Nehemiah 9:24, Nehemiah 9:37, Psalm 30:5, Psalm 51:18, Proverbs 11:1, Proverbs 15:8.  Each of these verses has the Hebrew word "ratson", the root of which is "ratsah".  Guess how the Hebrew word is translated in each of the verses (I'm using the ESV).  In order, its translated as follows in each verse:  will, would, please, favor, pleasure, delight, acceptable.  In short if we're talking about God's will as that which pleases Him, those actions in which He delights and finds acceptable, then we can easily say that 911 (please fill in your "how could God allow this" event that has more personal meaning to you) was not God's will because it was not pleasing to Him, was not looked upon with His favor, did not delight Him and certainly did not please Him.

 So if I'm going to look at His will as that which pleases or delights Him then I can't necessarily say that everything is His will.  That said, aren't there things that He wants happen that do happen as a direct result of what He desires, like when He created the earth?  More to come....

Saturday, May 22, 2010

He knows His will - He knows when too

I don't know about you, but I find myself frustrated with how He times the revelation of will.  I realize there's a certain amount of arrogance that says He needs to tell me when He's going to do something, but I can't help it.  I often pray for His intervention then go on to show Him how I think it ought to occur!  I hope His response is an "Oh, Talley" then He nudges Jesus and says, "He's trying to hint at how I need to answer Him again!"  Jesus laughs and says, "Remember when My brothers wanted me to go to the Feast of the Tabernacles so My disciples could see more of My miracles?  They didn't believe in Me yet, but I knew that was not My time and waited."

I will offer that what follows is possibly not what the Lord had in mind when John wrote his gospel, specifically 7:1-14, but my time spent with the Father yesterday morning spoke to me.  Read the following excerpt from John's gospel:
"After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. 2 But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
6 Therefore Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. 8 You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.” 9 Having said this, he stayed in Galilee.
10 However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11 Now at the Feast the Jews were watching for him and asking, “Where is that man?”
12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”
Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews.
Jesus Teaches at the Feast
14 Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach."
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996 (electronic ed.) (Jn 7:1–14). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
I've highlighted the portions of the scripture that I want to address. Let's set up some context here:  Jesus recently fed the 5,000, walked on water (whole other story there with Peter) and had many of His disciple desert Him over His teaching about being the Bread of Life. We find His brothers taunting Him and saying, "Hey, if You really want to show off why don't you go to the Feast so everyone can see all Your miracles?"  I pray that way sometimes.  Admittedly I don't feel as if I'm taunting Him, but I basically lay down a "challenge" and say, "This is how I want to see You."

It's funny to me to see grown men basically calling Jesus a chicken!  Even with that accusation Jesus' response is to go back to His mission and when He wants to execute it.  "Now is not the time, guys.  I get that you want me to act in ways that fit within your box for Me, that you want to rub the lamp and have Me pop out to do your bidding, but you've got a messed up view of how this whole thing is going to work."  I do that to Him all the time!

His brothers go on to the Feast in Jerusalem, but what does Jesus do?  He goes too!  They don't know He's there, nor does He show up when they expect.  It wasn't until halfway through the Feast that Jesus begins teaching in the temple courts.  Did you get that?  He was teaching in the temple courts, not performing miracles like His brothers suggested.  He had a plan that was better than, more important than, and certainly more mission minded than theirs!

If you read further on in John 7 you see that Jesus about got Himself killed because of His message. (John 7:25-31)  This was not what His brother's had in mind at all.  They were mocking Him, trying to get Him to do miracles and prove His claims about Himself, yet Jesus goes and throws down the gauntlet saying the Jews in the temple courts did not know God!  Why does God do that?  He sends the King to earth in a stable.  He establishes His covenant of grace through the death of His Son.  He tempts men to seize Him and kill Him.  Could it be that I don't think the way He does, that my plans are not His plans? (Isa 55:8)

This is how He applied it in my life:  He goes ahead of me and is waiting for me when I get there.  His plan is infallible and is based on His counsel, will, and wisdom, not my frail, sightless, and selfish will.  Even when I don't think He's there, He is.  When He shows Himself He does not "ride in" to see what is going on, He steps from behind the curtain in the room with me and says, "See, I'm here.  I've been here the whole time.  I went ahead of You, I walked beside You on the way, and I was your rear-guard during the journey.  You can never be out of my presence, I won't allow it.  My will is already in motion, my plans cannot be thwarted by man, and peace unto you, Talley, because of it."

I often want Him to go to the Feast do what I want, yet I'm grateful in hindsight that He reveals Himself at the Feast when He knows is best.  He shows Himself and answers my prayers better than I could've hoped.

Father, I love you and thank You for Your time.  If I've in any way misrepresented You please forgive me and convict our hearts by Your Spirit of what is true.  I love you, Lord.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Test #5: Do you still sin?

STOP READING!!!!  Pray first before you read anything following this sentence as He can give you better answers by His Spirit to what He's talking about in 1 John about sin than I ever could!!  That said, I'm going to do my best to listen to Him and see what He means by, "No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning.  No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him." - 1 John 3:6, NIV.

First rule - we can't take this one verse, omit context, not look at the rest of scripture and say that somehow if I sin I'm not a Christian.  Why?  Because of 1 John 2:1, "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One." - NIV.

Second rule - just because I sin and He speaks on my behalf does not mean that I get to water down the message He's giving me in 3:6.  Hold on because I'm going to make another attempt at looking at a language I've not learned...Greek.

First, take a look at the following:

1. aorist — The aorist verb tense is used by the writer to present the action of a verb as a “snapshot” event. The verb’s action is portrayed simply and in summary fashion without respect to any process. Heiser, M. S. (2005; 2005). Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Logos Bible Software.

2.  present — The verb tense where the writer portrays an action in process or a state of being with no assessment of the action’s completion.
Heiser, M. S. (2005; 2005). Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Logos Bible Software.

I don't know about you, but when I was in school I NEVER paid as much attention to tense as I find myself needing to do now.  I had breakfast with a friend yesterday and made the comment that I'm glad the Lord used Greek for the NT as opposed to English as Greek seems to be a much more robust language.  At any rate, using the two definitions above lets compare 2:1 to 3:6 and 3:9.

2:1 uses the Greek word "hamartano":  to sin.  3:6 and 3:9 use the Greek word "hamartano" as well.  The major difference is that in 2:1 the verb tense is the aorist and in 3:6,9 the tense is the present.  As best I can tell it is the "snapshot" sin versus the "ongoing" sin.  Said another way, if I am living a life separate from Him I am by definition living in sin, a constant state of being, the state of being in which He found me before raising me to life with His Son (Eph 2:4-9).  Because Jesus speaks for me before His Father my "one off" sins, those committed post salvation, are covered by His blood.

Here is how the test works in my life.  Am I convicted that what I've done is wrong?  Am I concerned about a trespass against Him or do I have a vague moral objection to my actions?  Is my lifestyle one that would provide no evidence of salvation?  I'm not saying this very clearly....

I enjoy playing golf.  It is an infuriating and rewarding sport (okay some will debate with me the "sport" aspect due to all that walking and loafing about).  Let's assume the life of sin looks like using a baseball bat to hit the ball around the course, par is a random number made up by each individual player, and 18 holes has no real meaning.  Salvation looks like Arnold Palmer walking up to you with a bag of golf clubs, lessons on the rules of golf and how to swing the different clubs in the bag.  Post salvation you now know to start off in the tee box of hole one (unless the course is crowded and they send you off on number 10, that's okay too) and you only have the number of strokes equal to par for that hole within which to get the ball in the hole.  What happens when you don't get the ball in the hole at or under par?  Does that mean that you are in the same boat as those running all over the course with baseball bats?  Absolutely not!

My life is spent on the driving range (reading, praying), going out on the course (the rest of my day), hitting slices of the tee box (aorist sin), playing out of the rough into the fairway (forgiveness and restoration) and hopefully not 3-putting!  By His grace I am no longer playing the right game with the wrong tools (present sin).  This is important to me because I am tempted to take what I read in 1 John 2 and 3 while listening to the enemy in my ear telling me that there's no evidence of my salvation, that I am falling short.  By His grace and mercy I have fallen short (Rom 3:23), but He paid the price for me (1 John 2:1,2).

Father, please forgive me if I've in any way misrepresented Your word or watered it down this morning.  I don't want to make light of the sin that I commit, yet the accuser would have me bogged down in shame and condemnation, not the freedom You offer through Jesus Christ.  Please lead us in wisdom and discernment and the conviction of Your Spirit.  I love You, Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What is Your will?

Does this situation sound familiar to you?  You spent more time in prayer these past few weeks than you have in a long time.  A decision looms that will impact not only you but those around you as well.  It's a good decision to make, but its not one made in a vacuum.  You continue to seek out His will, what He wants done, and to be honest, the decision looms without a real direction or answer yet.

Funny thing is, its not time for the decision to be made yet.  There is a time set for when it will be made, a time of prayer that is planned prior to making the decision, a discussion to be held after the prayer, and then on to the decision that you anticipate will be unanimous amongst those involved.  The point is you don't need to know His answer right now.  Does this sound at all familiar to you?

I can't take not knowing as a "lack of communication" on His part.  I remember when grades would be posted after a test; it wasn't that the professor was holding out on us, it just wasn't time for the information to be made available (I can say that the time spent between the test and the posting of the grades was full of prayer!).  I don't tell my children what I got them for their birthdays until they open their packages.

He's under no obligation to "let me in" on what He's doing until its time for me to know.  Because of who He is I can trust that I will find out when I'm supposed to, that the answer I receive will be the best one possible, and the answer will bring glory to Him.  I guess I'm saying that I've come to see it not as Him holding out on me, but on Him waiting until I can handle His answer.

Proverbs 3 tells me He directs my paths and makes them straight when I rely on Him, not me.  Romans 12 tells me that as I continue to renew my mind (read that as the Holy Spirit renewing my mind for me), through time spent with Him in His word and/or in prayer, I will be able to discern His Holy will for my life.  Pentecost in Acts shows me that if I will wait on Him and His timing He will show up with not only the plan but the resources with which to carry it out.

We were discussing what the Lord's will was for our lives in Bible study a few weeks ago.  One concern that rose amongst us was what if we missed what He was saying and messed up what He wanted us to do?  Let me ask this question in response:  How would you know that you weren't in His will?  Asked another way, what analytical process would you use to make the determination if your past decision was or was not "correct" with respect to identifying His will for your life?  I offer that the process by which you review the decision will be much like the one you used to make the decision in the first place; you will seek His face, His counsel, and His confirmation/assurance that you did what He wanted you to do.

So let me ask you, how does the Father speak to you?  For me its through His word.  He leads me by His Spirit to passages that speak directly to the answer I need (sometimes).  He speaks to me through my wife more than anyone else.  The Lord also gives me peace once a decision is made that is in line with what He wants done.  In the end I have to rely on the Holy Spirit's conviction within me that the decision made is the right one.  By "right" I mean in line with His will.  The challenge for me is to spend time listening to Him and not talking at Him.  When I ask Anna a question I will typically shut my mouth and listen to her answer.  My habit with Him is to ask, ask, ask, then get up and move on.

Father, I love You and need Your Spirit to speak to me.  Please remind me to sit with my mouth shut long enough for You to speak!  If I've in any way misrepresented how we discern Your will, please forgive me and point us by Your Spirit into truth.  Thank you for loving us.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Test #4 Do you acknowledge Jesus as the Christ?

1 John 2:21-23 reads as follows:
"I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.  Who is the liar?  It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ.  Such a man is the antichrist - he denies the Father and the Son.  No one who denies the Son has the Father:  whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also." NIV
Remember that John is not writing to unbelievers, but to Christians.  (John wrote his gospel so "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that be believing you may have life in His name." - John 20:31 NIV)  "I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do," leads off this particular passage.  It would appear to me that the early church was fighting off those who would say that Jesus was merely a prophet, a good man, a moral teacher, but certainly not the Christ.  John goes on in verse 26 to say, "I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray," and in 3:7, "Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray."

How does this apply to our assurance of salvation?  Let me build a little more on the "Jesus as Christ" theme first.  John 14:6 reads, "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  Paul affirms the "one way" in Romans 5:17, "For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ." - NIV, emphasis mine.  The writer of Hebrews affirms this as well in 9:27,28, "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him." - NIV.  My point?  Jesus is the only way to God, He is the Christ (Messiah).

The question still remains, what does admission of His role as sole way to the Father have to do with assurance of my salvation?  Read the following from Matthew 16:13-17:
"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?'  They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'  'But what about you?' He asked.  'Who do you say I am?'  Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'  Jesus replied, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven.'" - NIV, emphasis mine.
The only reason you assent to His role as Messiah is because the Father has revealed it to you!  That's why you can have assurance!  He called you, you didn't "figure out" that He is the Christ.  Jesus says this about Himself, "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep who are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also.  They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." - John 10:14-16 NIV.  [Remember our discussion of "know" from the Greek "ginosko"?  This is an intimate knowing, more than a mere sensory observation.  This is the "know" between the Father and Son, one not shared between the Father and those who are not His.]

Conclusion:  Jesus is THE way, THE truth, and THE life; no one is going to the Father except through Him.  You don't "get it" that He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life unless it is revealed to you by the Father through His Holy Spirit.  Because you call on Him as Messiah, Christ, Savior you have the assurance of your salvation.  You didn't call Jesus Savior on your own!  His Holy Spirit within you did and does!  Your assurance is about Him and not you!

Father if I in anyway misrepresented Your word today, please forgive me.  Convict us by Your Spirit of what is true.  Remind us that how we "feel" about our salvation from one day to another is not what matters.  What matters is You, the fact that You don't change, that truth is not subject to emotion, that You called us and secured us in You for all eternity.  I love You, Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Test #3: Do you love the world or Him?

I should use the title "How do I know I love Him more than the world?"  I've got to be honest, I'm pretty fond of the world.  By "world" I mean my house, my cars, my job, vacations, etc.  Basically I find myself more "in love" with what He's given me than with Him.  This prompts me to ask the question if I love Him more.  I can't remember where I first heard it, I'm sure it was in a sermon somewhere, but there are multiple words in the Greek language which we translate "love" in English.  For example, I love my computer and I love my wife.  I certainly hope there is a different kind of love for my computer versus my wife.  I love football and I love my daughter.  I love the world and I love God.

1 John 2:15-17 reads as follows:
"Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the wold, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." NIV
Let's first look at "love" and try to get a better handle on which love John is discussing.  In the verses above the Greek word translated love is agape. The following is a brief description:
"THE NEW TESTAMENT LOVE-WORD agape has been so sanitized and compromised that we now have a word for love that we like. Of all the words for love studied so far, agape is the one word for love we shouldn’t like. The other loves are different; we’re supposed to like them.
The beautiful word hesed is the beautiful love: steadfast love. The gentle word racham is the gentle love: compassion. The delicious word philos has a great sandwich named after it: the philly cheese steak. These are all good loves. We can burn out showing all of them. But in their proper place and with the proper balance, these loves are supremely, satisfyingly human. They are also wonderfully divine.
But agape is a pain in the neck. Agape is brutal love.
Why else would the Greeks eschew this word? Was it because they knew what it really meant?
Yes, of course, because they knew that agape is the love-word for absolute, unself-centered, brutal sacrifice. Its central meaning for the New Testament derives from Jesus’ death on the cross: “For God so loved (agapao) the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is about God sacrificing his Son. Steadfast love, compassion, and delight are all part of God’s love for us, and they are all part of the sacrifice. But the sacrifice is agape. Jesus liked the sinners he spent time with; steadfast love was his only way of thinking; compassion for him was like breathing. But in his act of agape, his tone changed, and so did the tone of his disciples."
Hansen, D., & Goetz, D. L. (1998). Vol. 1: The power of loving your church : Leading through acceptance and grace. The pastor's soul series; Library of leadership development (99–100). Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House.
I want to show the difference between agape and philos for just a minute.  1 John 4:9,10 tells us that God showed us agape  by sending His Son to die on the cross for us, that He loved us not because we loved Him.  Contrast this with John 21:15-17 and Peter's response to Jesus.  I'm going to substitute agape and philos in there discussion to make the point of difference between the two:
"When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you truly agapao Me more than these?'  'Yes Lord,' he said, 'You know that I phileo You.'  Jesus said, 'Feed My lambs.'  Again Jesus said, 'Simon son of John, do you truly agapao Me?'  He answered, 'Yes, Lord, You know that I phileo You.'  Jesus said, 'Take care of My sheep.'  The third time He said to him, 'Simon son of John, do you phileo Me?'  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you phileo Me?'  He said, 'Lord, You know all things; You know that I phileo you.'  Jesus said, 'Feed my sheep.'" - John 21:15-17 NIV
Peter is admitting to Jesus the kind of love he has for Him and its not the same kind of love that Jesus had for Peter!  1 John tells us that the Father is deeply committed to us to the point of sacrificing His Son for us, yet Peter says "You're a good friend."  Do you see the difference here?  I am called to agapao my wife as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:25).  He loved me before I loved Him; He gave His life so that I might have life; His love came at a price to Him.

Let's bring this back to our test of whether we love Him or love the world.  Take a look at our passage with the Greek:
"Do not agapao the world or anything in the world.  If anyone agapao the world, the agape of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." NIV
 Are you willing to lay down your life in the pursuit of the world?  Will you sacrifice your family for the "cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does?"  I offer that you cannot have agape for more than one master.  Matt 6:24 tells us, "No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and agapao the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money." NIV.   I would offer that "money" in Matthew and "world" in 1 John are interchangeable; you can either love God or love the world, but not both.

I've got to tell you, the more I read this passage the more convicted I am of my sin, of my pursuit of my ends and not His.  I can see why Paul told us to "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling!"  I think of the time I spend chasing after this world, the money I spend, the thoughts I think, the words out of my mouth...I could very easily spiral into doubt of my salvation.  And here is where I realize that as I look to myself, my track record, my ability, my commitment to Him; I miss the point.  He loved me first!  He paid the price already!  Here is how we are assured of our salvation even in the midst of our sin:
"This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence whenever our hearts condemn us.  For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything." - 1 John 3:19,20 NIV
Does your heart condemn you for your pursuit of the world, for your sin?  I've found that salvation wrecks my enjoyment of sin because of the guilt, remorse and repentance His Spirit stirs within me.  By virtue of the fact you are convicted in your heart of your sin, You are saved.  Please remember that salvation is not based on your works (Eph 2:8,9) nor is your post-salvation life with Him!!  You can't get in because of you and you can't earn a continuing spot on the roster because of you either.  Your agape for Him is from Him, by Him, and through Him.  It is from His love for you that assurance is gained.

Father, please forgive me if I've misrepresented You or Your word today.  Please convict our hearts by Your Holy Spirit of the truth and guide us in Your way.  Thank you that our assurance is based on what You did, what You continue to do, on Your very character, and not on us.  I love you Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Assurance Test #2 - Obey His commands

Do you obey the Lord?  Not perfectly, or all the time, but is it in your mind to obey Him?  Let me ask it another way, when you are considering taking an action, are you asking yourself if it is pleasing to Him or in His will for you to do?  The point I'm trying to make is that if there is consideration of your actions in light of who He is, you're in!
"We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands.  The man who says, 'I know Him,' but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But if anyone obeys His word, God's love is truly made complete in him.  This is how we know we are in Him:  Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did." - 1 John 2:3-6 NIV (emphasis mine)
Jesus already gave us this test back in the gospel of John:  "If you love Me, you will obey what I command." - John 14:15 NIV.  

What exactly are the commands we're to obey?
"One of them, an expert in the law, tested [Jesus] with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'  Jesus replied:  'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'" - Matt 22:35-40 NIV
Do you see the connection between obedience and love?  Which comes first, love or obedience?  Who loved first?  John tells us later in his book, "We love because He first loved us." - 1 John 4:19.  If I were to put this in a flow chart it would go God loved me -> God saved me -> I respond in love and obey Him -> my obedience is loving Him and walking as His Son did on this earth.

Obedience is evidence, not currency for purchase, of my salvation.  It should be noted as well that the yoke Christ gives to us is not a burdensome list of regulations.  It is the yoke designed for people that are already tired of trying to earn their salvation.  "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." - Matt 11:28-30 NIV.

It just dawned on me, He wants me to love Him above all else.  Seriously, look at the verses above; look in His word and prove/disprove what I'm writing.  It looks like He wants me to love Him - obedience will follow as evidence of that love.  He wants my heart, not a list of acts that I've done either for Him or in His name to prove to Him why He should love me.  There was a group of men Jesus called "whitewashed tombs" because they had the obedience down, but they didn't have their hearts in the right place.

Let's bring this full circle.  The command is to love Him such that obedience results in a heart that is His.  Said another way, what do you get for the person who already has everything?  The only thing I have to give Him is my love.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tests for assurance

How do I know that the Lord saved me?  We saw in Philippians that Paul instructed us to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." - Phil 2:12b.  Peter tells us to do much the same thing in 2 Peter 1:10a, "Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure."  So before we get into all of this "personal work" to "ensure" I'm saved, I want to point out a few other verses to remind us Who is doing this work.
"Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours" - 2 Peter 1:1 (emphasis mine)
"for it is God who works in you to will and act according to His good purpose." -  Phil 2:13 (emphasis mine)
 "We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  However, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him' - but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.  The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him?  In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us." - 1 Cor 2:6-12 (emphasis mine)
We're going to embark on various "tests" that when appropriately applied add to our assurance of what the Lord did and what He continues to do in our lives, not how we have worked so hard to assure ourselves.  Said another way, these tests will give you objective evidence of what He is doing, not what you are doing.  I start with the verses above to make the following points:  1.  the faith you have, you received, and it is as precious as Abraham's, Peter's, Paul's and yes Jesus' faith in our Father; 2.  It is God who works in you, not your generation of effort to make yourself better; and 3. You were given the Spirit of God Himself when He saved you and it is by the Spirit we have any understanding of what "God has freely given us," and not enough intellectual work on our part to apprehend His grace.  Conclusion:  assurance is a mission of the Holy Spirit within each of us.  I encourage you to do as a friend of mine said to do, "Believe your belief and doubt your doubts."  The questions you ask are prompted by the Holy Spirit within you.

So with that preamble, what does John have for us?  To begin with he's writing to believers as opposed to unbelievers.  Chapter 2 of 1 John opens, "My dear children" which says to me he's writing to fellow family members.  It's possible I'm reaching some here, so please read for yourself and check what I've said against what the Holy Spirit shows to you of the mind of Him who inspired 1 John in the first place!  That said, I'm fairly confident I'm spot on and the rest of the book appears to reinforce that.

The first test I see is in verses 6 and 7, "If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin."  I believe John further describes this test in verses 8 - 10, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives."

Have you ever wondered why part of the "sinners' prayer" is the forgiveness of sins?  Why would this not be something that even a non-believer would do?  Let me ask it this way, if you're not convicted of an offense, of a wrongdoing, how likely are you to say you're sorry and ask forgiveness?  I see it much like "moral inertia" where you continue acting in a certain way until a "moral force" impacts you and changes the course of your actions.  Said another way, if you don't know its wrong you keep doing it.  John is saying that if you claim to be without offense you're a liar.  Furthermore John says that a right response to the Holy Spirit's conviction of our sin is confession and seeking forgiveness.  My friend, your question of assurance is in itself the evidence of your salvation!  If you were not His you would not recognize your sin against Him!

So, Test #1, are you lying to yourself saying that you walk in the light and have no sin, or does the Holy Spirit convict your spirit of your offenses against Him resulting in your confession of short comings?  Said another way, if your response to your sin is remorse, regret, repentance and seeking forgiveness - good news, you're in!

Father, please forgive me if I've misrepresented You, Your word, or Your truth.  I so much want to get past the flaming darts of the accuser who would have me turned inwardly on how bad I am as opposed to responding in worship to You because of how holy You are.  Be with, make us effectual in the execution of Your will today.  I love You, Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Blessed Assurance

There have been a number of deaths in our circle of friends lately.  We had another funeral on Wednesday this week for a man who had a heart attack while jogging.  Both of the funerals I attended spoke of the love of Christ, His redemption, and the fact that both men were now in heaven with their Father and Brother.  There was absolute assurance of their eternal life, that their loved ones would miss them only for a time before reuniting with them in glory.  It begs the question, "Am I really saved?"  I don't offer this as a flippant question, however I am comforted that I'm not the only one to ask it.  The apostle John wrote 1 John "so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13)

Whenever I struggle with my personal salvation (by the grace of God I can say that my bouts of doubt have decreased tremendously over the past 10-15 years as there is abundant evidence, at least to me, of the changes He wrought within me) it is usually in context not of His promises, but my doubt that those promises can cover me.  Said another way, I have a PhD in sin.  The idea that I am let off hook by His grace and mercy is at times overwhelming and I "can't" believe that He would save me.

I'd like to dive into where that "guilt" originates.  First of all I want to separate "guilt" from "shame".  Guilt is good.  Guilt says, "Poor choice; let's do it this way next time."  Shame says, "You're worthless.  Of course you sinned; that's all you do well.  Why would He waste His time with you?"  Guilt is short lived much like a corrective turn on the steering wheel to get you back in the middle of the road whereas shame is long lived like jerking the wheel, rolling the car, and sitting on the side of the road berating yourself for the rest of the day.

So why shame?  Do you know what "Satan" means?  It means "accuser."  Satan pours that venom in your ear that takes healthy guilt and remorse, the Holy Spirit within you trying to correct your steering, and turns them into hatred, self loathing, and the putrescence of hell oozing out of your pores.  You may think I'm overstating the result of the shame, but my experience is an overwhelming, physical sensation of weight pressing in on my chest, a desire to remove myself from all contact with people, and a dark cloud of self-loathing.  In short, not pretty.

Zechariah talks about Satan's accusations as well as God's response:
"Then He showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.  The Lord said to Satan, 'The Lord rebuke you, Satan!  The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!  Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?'  Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.  The angel said to those who were standing before him, 'Take off his filthy clothes.'  Then he said to Joshua, 'See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.'  Then I said, 'Put a clean turban on his head.'  So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by." - Zech 3:1 - 5
A couple of items to note in this passage:  Satan stands and accuses you of your sins.  He points out how filthy they are, how hypocritical you must be to sin in light of your "supposed" salvation.  He points out your filthy rags, your lack of standing before Him, and the futility of trusting in Him.  Who tells Satan to shut his pie hole?  The Lord Himself!  It is not Joshua standing up and quoting scripture and "standing on the promises of God."  The Lord fights this battle and says in essence, "I have saved this man, He is mine and I have snatched him from living under the condemnation of your accusations, Satan."  Secondly, our Father won't leave us at a mere silenced enemy, He clothes us with rich garments and takes away our sin.  Third, I don't see any response from Joshua in here.  I may be reaching to say that it had nothing to do with his intellectual assent or spiritual confirmation of the forgiveness of his sins, but it certainly appears to be one sided in the provision of forgiveness and silencing of the enemy.  Fourth, although there is certainly no mention of anything going on within Joshua's mind or spirit, I would point out that post-event, it matters not whether Joshua was worthy of any of the gifts the Lord poured out on him.  Satan could certainly revisit Joshua and try to remind him of how unworthy he was, anything to take some of the victory away.  Furthermore, since it is the Lord who forgave the sin, since it is the Lord's good and pleasing will to offer that forgiveness and nothing can oppose His will, Satan's lies do not change the reality of the forgiveness, it can only taint our enjoyment of it.  Fight then against demeaning His forgiveness by focusing on how bad you are and instead use that energy to point to the awesome love of your Heavenly Father who has overcome all!

I take you to Zechariah to lay the ground work for why we have 1 John.  The accuser would have us focused on our sin and not on the love of our Father.  John wrote so that we would "know that we have come to Him," 1 John 2:3.  I find there are different kinds of "knowing."  The word "know" in this passage is how I know my wife.  It is an intimate knowledge, one that is broad in its understanding and deep in its richness.  The Greek word is ginosko (used 25 times in 1 John) which is translated elsewhere as "sexual intercourse."  What's my point?  John wants you to have a serious knowledge and apprehension of your salvation!  By comparison the word "know" in verse 11, "he does not know where he is going" is the Greek word eido which refers to perceptions of the senses, something that can be seen or observed.  You can see the difference between the two.

All of that is well and good, but the question still remains, "How do I know that I'm saved?"  Fortunately John gives us a number of different tests to use as evidence of our salvation.  We'll get into those next time.

Father, please forgive me if I've misrepresented You or Your word.  If in my attempt to word-smith an answer that makes sense I went to opinion versus Your word, please point that out and drive us back to You as the sole source for answers and assurance.  I love You, Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is it fatalism?

More questions have come up since we've started our discussion on free will.  One of them goes something like this:  if God has ordained all that comes to pass, then what's the point?  Why do I even worry about the choices I make?  There are a couple of surface answers that point us to why we do what we do.  One of them is that He told us to do it.  The "it" can be obedience (Ex 12:24), good works (Eph 2:10), prayer (Phl 4:6), etc.  This answer looks very much like the "because I told you so" answer I give to my children when I don't really have a great reason behind why I want them to do something.  So while it is a legitimate answer (His not mine) I've got to tell you it doesn't give me a great deal of intellectual satisfaction.
Let me for a minute highlight some of the characteristics of fatalism.  First of all fatalism is impersonal with no grand design other than the assuredness of future events regardless of my actions.  There is no end achieved, no reason behind each event.  Here is how Hodge said it in 1997:
"It is objected, in the fourth place, that the doctrine of decrees amounts to the heathen doctrine of fate.  There is only one point of agreement between these doctrines.  They both assume absolute certainty in the sequence of all events.  They differ, however, not only as to the ground of that certainty, the nature of the influence by which it is secured and the ends therein contemplated, but also in their natural effects on the reason and conscience of men." - Hodge, C. (1997). Vol. 1: Systematic theology (549). Oak Harbor, WA:  Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Our "ground of certainty" is in the eternal purposes of God (Ps 33:10, 11Jer 32:18, 19Jer 51:29).  The "nature of influence" is the ongoing story of God's interaction with mankind, in calling us to Himself, in His condescension to speak with us in a language we understand.  The "natural effects on the reason and conscience of men" are the following:  we have a purpose, we have been called to execute a plan, we are not accidents.  I'm sure there are others that you can come up with and I would encourage you to take some time to think about what it would be like if in fact we were ruled by fate and not our loving Father.

I don't want to shy away from the logistics of the question, i.e. if He is sovereign how do I maintain my agency and free will, however I want to point out something behind the question, or at least what I feel is behind the question.  I know with my children, especially when we come to an impasse on a particular subject, there is a sense on their part of fatalism.  Said another way, "Daddy, no matter what I say you're going to do what you want to do."  For my children they do not have the assurance that what I want them to do is what is best for them.  In all honesty there are times when I pull the "daddy card" and have them do what I want just because it is more convenient for me, i.e. go outside and play so its quiet inside.  What I hear in that statement is "I don't matter.  It's all about you and what you want.  I'm not important."  For my children, by virtue of their subjection to a fallen dad, that is at times probably true.  I hate it, but that's the truth.

Is that the way it is with our Father?  Is that why we ask the fatalism versus sovereignty question?  We are made in His image (Gen 1:26, 27).  A part of that image is ruler; He gave us this world over which to rule until we handed that job over to the enemy in Genesis 3.  Rulers typically make judgments, pass decrees, and are basically "in charge."  Satan didn't take kindly to the idea that he was going to be subject to the Ultimate Authority and said "I will be like God" (Isa 14:8-14).  As we're all aware that hasn't gone over to well with the Lord and it hasn't been, nor will it be, a great plan on Satan's part either.  He's already been defeated (John 19:30).

As an image bearer we are not Him, but a reflection of Him.  We are the moon and He is the sun.  He is the image and we are the mirror.  We operate in our "highest and best use" when we most closely reflect His image, His character.  I'm starting down a rabbit trail here, but I'm trying to make the following point:  Executing His will is that for which you were designed!  That is why, questions of free will aside for just a moment, you are most content, most joyful, and most satisfied when you are in the middle of His will, not yours.  You are the airplane designed to fly through air, not in the ocean.  You are the train designed to run on the tracks, not on the ground.  You are the submarine designed to explore the seas, not to verify the accuracy of MapQuest directions!

Satan would have you bound by questions of "how does this all work, how I can I be free to act if He knows what I'm going to do, if He's already planned what I'll do?"  Satan would have you resent Him for His control.  My brothers and sisters, take the time to resent Him if you wish, but I am telling you from experience it is a waste of time.  It is not a waste of time merely because it is futile to oppose an omnipotent God. It is a waste of time because it is futile to oppose my loving Father whose will is better than mine!  To be blunt, your will stinks when compared to His.  My will is tainted, fallen, broken and filled with pride.  His is perfect, holy, immutable, unchangeable, divine.  Of the two wills to follow, which will you choose?

Father, if I've in any way misrepresented You or Your word, please forgive me.  By Your Spirit please convict our hearts, speak to us through Your word, and lead us in Your ways.  I love you, Lord.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

More on grief

Today is better than yesterday.  Anna and I stayed up last night talking and trying to wrap our minds around the "why" again, only this time it was "why, when although we knew them we didn't know them really well, would there be such a profound sense of loss and pain?"  On top of that, what do we do with it?  For me it reminds me of sympathy pains when my wife gave birth to our children.  My stomach would sort of turn and cramp when I'd see her going through her contractions, but I certainly didn't experience it with her.  So for me I've had sympathy pains this past week and a half, sensing the loss not only of what was but what could have been.

For those that have lost a spouse or a parent I would imagine the sense of loss goes beyond sympathy to empathy.  They deal with not only the pain their friend suffers but they are reminded of the pain they went through and, to some extent, feel again.  They do not "merely" observe the others pain, they feel it in a way only a co-sufferer could.

I struggle with my own pain.  Nothing that has happened recently happened directly to me, yet I feel the need for comfort.  I was sitting in both the services praying, "Dear Lord, please take the pain away and replace it with your peace and comfort", and at the same time condemning myself for my selfishness; this wasn't about me, it was about them!  God, in His grace, brought to mind the following from Matthew 5:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
The mourning referenced here is not "mere" sadness over events and circumstances which cause pain.  It is in response to two things:  1.  my poverty of spirit caused by sin, and 2.  the impact of sin around me.  Said another way, my response to the recognition of my poverty is mourning as there is nothing I can do in and of myself to improve my position.  I stand before a holy God with nothing to offer on my behalf or in my stead to pay the price of breaking His law.  What other response is there?  When I see the effects of the fall around me I also respond in mourning, if not for their direct impact on me, then for their impact on someone else.  And that's where I've been for about two weeks now, mourning for how the fall is hurting people I know.

But my God does not leave me there, He promises to comfort me whether the pain is mine or vicarious.  I can tell you today that I am better as I focus not on the storm, but on Him, His character.
"I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, 'My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.' I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'  The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. "
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996 (electronic ed.) (La 3:17–26). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
 One other point that I want to make about grief and I'll move on.  In neither service did I hear anything remotely like, "Don't cry; he wouldn't want you to be sad and cry for him."  I can't tell you how grateful I was that instead we heard, "You grieve now.  You do what you need to do to walk through the loss."  I can tell you that grief un-grieved turns into bitterness.  We were made to feel and because of the fall we have plenty of opportunity to feel sadness, grief, sorry, etc.  If we try to avoid it we do ourselves and others a great disservice.

Jesus wept a number of times while He was here.  I remember He wept before He raised Lazarus from the dead.  Martha didn't go up to Him and say, "Cheer up, Jesus.  Lazarus wouldn't want you to cry for him."  Jesus wept over Jerusalem during His triumphal entry!  Don't tell me that we're not supposed to mourn.  But here is the difference, we do not mourn and weep as those with no hope!  That is why we can walk through the pain because of the surety of purpose, the surety of a reason, the surety of God Himself working it together for His glory and my good.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Grieve with hope

Death has touched my life differently than some people.  I remember my mother getting the call about her mother's heart attack.  I remember my brother Jeff who came home for about two weeks before going back to the hospital with a heart problem.  After that, though, I'm not aware of death really touching my life again until I was in junior high and we got a call about my dog Herman dying in North Carolina.

I'm sure this is not the same commentary on death that my parents would give.  I remember the sobs as my mom heard the news of her mother's death.  As Jeff was not my son I can never really understand just how grievous the wound must have been for both my parents when he died.  At five years old I knew something was wrong, but my parents never failed to make sure that I was loved in spite of their pain, that they grieved when they could but took care of me so that I didn't unnecessarily miss their presence.

Here is where it gets a bit different.  My parents came to know the Lord because of my brother's death; first my mom and then my dad through her supernatural love.  If you ever have the chance to sit down with them and have them tell their story you'll be blessed by it.  The Father started with "mere" salvation and has wrought a miracle through my parents in the lives they've touched, not the least of which is a heritage of belief and salvation in their grandchildren.  The Father has touched people as far west as St. Louis, MO and as far south as Naples, FL here in the states.  God touched lives in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and India through my dad's jobs and my mother's faithfulness.  It started with Jeff.

The Lord has been incredibly gracious to me by allowing me the opportunity to see the purpose behind a loved one's death.  There are many areas in my life where the question "why" goes unanswered and I can't imagine a more painful and difficult unanswered "why" than that of a loved one's death.  All of this comes to mind as I don't have the "why" answered yet in two recent deaths.  I went to one funeral yesterday and I will take my family to the second one later this morning.  Both men were married, one had three children, and they were both younger than I.  One came to Rome to head up a Christian youth organization, while the other had a "come to Jesus" meeting with Jesus about three years ago and was noted for his desire to make sure everyone he met knew about his Savior.  Why, in the prime of life and doing His work, was now the time for them to go home?  Why are wives, parents, friends, children all left behind to live through the pain of their absence?

I have two brothers whose deaths gave me life.  Jeff got my parents' attention and Jesus saved them.  My parents got my attention and Jesus saved me.  My wife and I got our children's attention and Jesus saved them.  What I have to be careful about is the desire to alleviate pain (read that as avoid or not have to experience) to the exclusion of dealing with reality.  Said another way, I have the expectation, where it comes from I don't know, that I can wrap my mind around a legitimate reason for the pain such that I don't have to hurt.  It doesn't work that way today and it didn't work that way for Jesus.

I've got to tell you though, my heart is heavy and has been for the past few days.  CaringBridge was the source of one announcement and a text to my wife told of the second death.  Each of them came as a physical blow to me.  I felt the darkness press in, weighing me down, and making the simple act of breathing more difficult.  I wanted to hold Anna, find my children and hug them.  Honestly, I didn't want to take the time to find a "why" that would let Him off the hook for taking those two men.  When I hurt I lash out, just ask Anna.  She sits through my venomous tirades at her until I exhaust myself and we both realize its that I hurt, not that I'm angry.  I do the same thing with Him; I call Him all kind of names, rant and rave about the fairness of His will.  I hurt.

It never dawns on me until later, once my initial fight/flight calms down, that I don't want to fight Him and there is no where I can go away from His presence.  In His graciousness He sits through my upset at Him until I get to the point of hurt not anger.  When I get to the hurt He comes alongside and says, "I know."  He points me to the garden when He was betrayed.  Come to think of it, He was betrayed in two gardens.  He reminds me of the blind man that was born that way not because his parents sinned but so that He would bring glory to Himself through healing the man.  He walks that all the way up through history until He says, "Your brother Jeff is with me so that your parents would be ready for My call on their lives.  You'll be here one day because you heard the word from your parents.  My Son is here with Me getting His army ready to come back in power and judgment.  I think you're really going to like either riding with Him or rising to meet Him."

We got back from the second funeral a little while ago.  I'm still heavy, but lighter.  I'm still sad, but less sad.  I hurt, but I know from where the hurt comes; it's the pain caused by the effects of sin, not an unkind, unloving God who enjoys watching me squirm.  I've seen a wife stand singing and lift her hands in praise to the Savior who is holding her husband's hand.  I've heard a wife stand firm on the truth of God's character in the midst of her pain.  I haven't lost my spouse, surely their example of pointing to the cross can turn my gaze to Him.  Surely their faith and trust in their Father can strengthen mine.  For today I'll love Him as He is, not as my pain and the enemy would want me to see Him.  Today I'll live by faith because of who He is.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Jennifer Beard's comments on Easter

I read Jennifer's entry about this past Easter and how tough it was with loved ones dying.  I said the following on her blog:

We were in Chattanooga for Easter and went to church with my mother-in-law. The pastor gave an illustration at the end of the sermon that I believe speaks to the "missing but not gone forever" that I see in your writing.

He talked about a nice restaurant in Orlando to which they'd received a gift certificate. It was one of those place where they put your napkin in your lap. His wife got up to go to the powder room and the waiter, after she was up and gone, folded the napkin in some kind of fancy pattern and put it at her place.

There is a tradition, some places online I've found it referred to specifically as a Jewish tradition, about how the master of a household would use his napkin to tell the servants if he was done with the meal. If he got up, wiped his mouth, cleaned his beard, then wadded up the napkin and threw it on the table, he was done with the meal and not returning. The servants were then free to clean up the table without interrupting him.

If, however, the master wiped his mouth and beard the folded the napkin and placed it on the table, he was saying to the servants, "I'll be back."

John 20:6,7 "Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there,as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen."

Jesus threw away the burial linen because He was done with death, yet He folded the burial cloth because He was coming back. We'll she Mike, Shane, and Allie after we get there or He comes back.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Free Will

During our last meeting together the question of free will in light of God's omnipotence came up.  This particular topic does, I believe, come loaded with high levels of emotional attachment with differing view points.  Much of it, again in my opinion, comes as a result of semantics and people meaning different things by free will.  Example:  one person says that, "I can do whatever I want," as their definition of free will.  Another person says, "I can choose between the best options available," as their definition.  Before I go launching off into what I believe to be true, let me work on some definitions and the context within which I believe my will operates.

I want to start with two assumptions:  1.  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." - 2 Tim 3:16.  "He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change His mind." - 1 Sam 15:29a.  Conclusion - His word is absolutely true and we don't have to be concerned about being deceived by a lie or that He's going to change His mind on the ground rules by which we play.  2.  "Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against His Anointed One.  The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them." - Ps 2:1-2,4.  "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth:  It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." - Isa 55:10,11. "Then Job replied to the Lord: 'I know that You can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted.'" - Job 42:1.  Conclusion - it is His purpose that will be accomplished, not mine.

Why start here?  First of all I commit to you that I will do my best to stay away from opinion and stick with His word.  It is the final and only authority, period.  Secondly, the entire discussion of "free will" can only be had in the context that of the two wills, His and mine, if mine is at odds with His, He "wins."  His will trumps mine at all times.  There is not one example of a purpose at odds with Him that ever stood.  I guarantee you that you can find absolutely nothing in His word to the contrary.

Let me give an example in the physical world that may not be so emotionally charged.  Do you  have a choice about whether or not to operate outside the law of gravity?  You have free will, don't you?  You get to choose what you do, right?  Okay:  fly.  Go ahead, quit reading, and fly.  Some will say, "Okay, I'll got get in a plane and fly."  Yes, but you're still operating within the bounds of gravity.  There are four forces interacting on the aircraft:  thrust, drag, lift, and (you guessed it) the force of gravity acting on the mass of the plane.  Your choice does not supersede the context within which it is made.

Another example for those who don't like flying:  how about swimming?  Go swim like a fish.  Go underwater, open your eyes, then open your mouth and breathe.  My guess is that this will be a short lived trip as either your lungs fill with water or, due to a strong tendency towards self preservation, you simply come to the surface.  Again, your choice is superseded by the context within which it is made.

Okay, now lets go back to our "free will."  Back to the garden of Eden we go.  Adam and Eve chose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They wanted to eat because they thought they would be like God, at least that is what they had been told and what they chose to pursue.  Who won that one?  (Genesis 3)  I would argue that they had the "free-est" will of anyone in all humanity, and yet the exercise of their free will, when in opposition to Him, gave rise to consequences for their actions that were punitive in nature.  At the same time their decision to sin did not in anyway put the Lord off the path of His plan for me.  Their free will was only free within the framework of God's plan.

Another example:  Moses kills the Egyptian, flees Egypt and winds up in Midian for 40 years.  Did his decision to murder stop the Lord's plan for Israel?  Pharaoh exercises free will that set him and the nation of Egypt at odds with the Lord's will; 10 plagues later Israel is released.  Pharaoh decides that one more attempt at wiping out the Jews is the best choice and sends his army after Israel.  The Lord wipes out the army in the flood waters of the Dead Sea.  Did Pharaoh have free will, the freedom to choose?  Absolutely.  Did his will put the Lord out in the slightest as He executed His will?  Absolutely not. (Exodus 2:11 - 14:31)

Even before the exodus you'll recall the tower of Babel.  When man decided to make a name for himself the Lord opposed him and scattered us across "the face of the whole earth." (Gen 11:1-9)  In direct contrast to this use of free will we have Abraham who was willing to sacrifice Isaac because the Lord told him to do so.  What was the Lord's response to Abraham's obedience?  "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.  your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me." - Gen 22:17, 18.

Does this mean then that if there is disobedience His purpose can be thwarted?  Uh, no.  You'll recall that prior to Israel crossing into the promised land the Lord, Moses and Joshua had a meeting.  During that meeting the Lord said the following to them:
"Now write down for yourselves this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for Me against them.  When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their forefathers, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting Me and breaking my covenant.  And when many disasters and difficulties come upon them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants.  I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath." - Dt 31:19-21
It is reassuring to me that in spite of His knowledge of my sin, past, present and future, He follows through with His promises to me.  "See now that I am He!  There is no god besides Me.  I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, an no one can deliver out of My hand." - Dt 32:39.  Friend, feel free to choose all day long, to set yourself in opposition to Him if you so choose, but I beg you to think twice before doing so.  "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.  For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."  - Dt 30:19-20

I think that the effects of Satan's temptation of Adam and Eve are rather insidious around the whole issue of free will.  You'll recall that Satan tried to tell Adam and Eve that God was holding out on them.  Satan says you can choose for yourself outside of the will of God and it will be better for you.  Only when you exercise your free will can you be like God! that it?  Is that why this is so hard for you, for me?  Bear with me here for a second:  I can be like God if I choose.  Isn't that what Satan said would happen?  He attacked us at the very core of our being, the fact that we were made in the image of God.  HEY GET THIS...WHAT IS GOD'S CHIEF END???  TO BRING GLORY TO HIM!!!!!  So when we used our free will to bring glory to ourselves we broke with our design which was to bring glory to Him.

My dad told me about "departing" an aircraft, how you can intentionally make it quit flying.  Do you remember the flat spin that Tom Cruise got himself into in "Top Gun"?  He had one engine flame out which caused the aircraft to spin; not how the F-14 was designed to create lift and fly.  As a result the plane tumbled out of the sky.  I think much the same thing happened in the garden and continues to happen today.  Our will is most free when we choose to glorify Him by virtue of the fact that we act most like Him when we do so.  We "depart" from our "performance envelope" when we choose that which is in opposition to Him.

One last example of how we can choose to oppose Him, yet even then His will is not thwarted.  You remember my Savior, Jesus.  Was there ever anyone so confident, so assured of His standing with the Lord and with man?  I love His interactions with Pilate, especially when Pilate asks Him if He realizes that he has the power to "free You or to crucify You?"  Read Jesus' response - "You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above.  Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." - John 19:11.  When He was arrested He said, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" - Matt 26:53, 54.  He exercised His free will to execute His Father's will, not His own.

Let me ask you this question?  Did we crucify Him or did He decide that He would lay His life down for us?  Asked another way, was it the will of the Jews and Pilate that put Jesus on the cross or His Father's will?  I believe the answer to this is found in John 10 verse 18.  "No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.  I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.  This command I received from My Father."  Jesus chose the cross.  In doing so He freed our wills, wills that were slaved to sin and an inability to glorify Him.  We are closer to the garden today because He chose to execute God's will.  Can I do any less?

Father, please forgive me if I've in any way misrepresented You or Your word.  Our "free will" is only free as we use it to glorify You.  Please, by the Holy Spirit, speak to us and either confirm what was written today is in fact true based on Your word, or if I have missed the mark that You will point out in Your word where the truth lies.  Thank You for loving us and meeting with us to reveal more of who You are.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More on Omnipotence

We've spent time discussing the fact that God is omnipotent, however I want to discuss how different He is than we in the utilization of power.   I remember in elementary school when the teacher would leave the room she would leave one of us "in charge."  Basically we were to use our "power" to tell on those that we didn't like, whether they were being loud or not.  There was power I didn't want either.  I hated when I was chosen to advance the film role when the cassette tape beeped at me.  I inevitably turned the film the wrong direction to the moans and laughs of my classmates.  When I was junior class president in high school I really enjoyed telling others what to do for the homecoming float, or setting my foot down on where we were going to have prom.  Basically, I either used power for my own ends or I didn't like the responsibility that came with the power bestowed on me.  Even typing this I realize that the power I had was ceded to me, not something I inherently possessed.

My Father is different though.  By His very nature He is all powerful such that no act of His in any way depletes the power He possesses.  Because of His character He is neither tempted to corruption nor corruptible in His purposes. He "does not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man, that He should change His mind." - I Sam 15:29.  "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." - Pr 19:21.  I want to spend a few minutes on His purpose and what He has chosen to do with His infinite power.  Please take a minute to read the following excerpt:

A covenant is a compact or agreement made between two parties binding them mutually to some agreed upon obligations and benefits. Much of the history of salvation can be traced by noting both the presence and the contents of biblical covenants. Covenants may be either bilateral (“two-sided”), where both parties are obligated, or unilateral (“one-sided”), where only one party is bound by the agreement.
Genesis 15:9–21 offers the best illustration of the unilateral type of covenant. The verb “to make” a covenant is literally “to cut” a covenant. Thus when one made a covenant, several animals were brought, cut in half, and arranged opposite each other. The person or parties making the covenant would then walk through the aisle formed by the carcasses and say in effect, “May it happen to me as it has happened to these slain animals if I do not keep all the provisions of this covenant.” (Compare Jer. 34:18–20.)
In a bilateral covenant both parties would take the oath. If one defaulted, the other was released from any further obligations. But in the case of Genesis 15:9–21, the “smoking fire pot with a blazing torch” pictures God as the only One who walked between the pieces and thus obligated Himself alone to bring all the blessings and benefits of the Abrahamic covenant. God’s blessings were apart from any works of obedience on the part of Abraham or any of the patriarchs who followed him who also enjoyed the benefits of this covenant.
Dockery, D. S. (1998). Holman concise Bible commentary: Simple, straightforward commentary on every book of the Bible (14). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

I want to point out a couple of stark realities from the description of the Abrahamic covenant:  1.  My Father knew that I was not going to be able to live up to my end of the covenant and 2.  My Father slew His Son to pay for my half of the covenant.

I'm a banker by profession and I spend a lot of my time trying to manage risk.  A business needs cash for expansion, I sit down with them to look at their financials and their expansion plans.  We discuss things like balance sheet leverage, cash flow leverage, or fixed charge coverage:  different measurements I have for the health of a company and its ability to pay me back after I make the loan.  We enter into a contract that obligates me to give them the money and which obligates them to give it back.  Within the language of the loan agreement I put in "loan covenants."  These are performance benchmarks which, if broken, put the borrower in default on their loan.  I have the option to call the note and demand immediate payment since they have not lived up to their end of the "covenant."

I can tell you that I have not knowingly entered into any loan agreement with a company not assessed as capable of paying me back.  Why would I put my money at risk if I know I will not get it back?  My Father, even when the stakes were immeasurably higher, decided to originate a covenant to which He knew I couldn't hope to contribute.  He looked at my balance sheet, the comparison between my assets and liabilities.  He looked at my income statement, my generation of good works to reduce liabilities and build equity.  He compared my generation of good works to the shear weight of my liabilities and saw that I would never be able to generate enough obedience to offset the depth of my depravity.

Then He made the deal, signed it for the both of us, and paid the price so that I could benefit from the blessings of the covenant.  "Paid the price" isn't but three words, but I want you to think of what that price entailed.  His body was rent by nails and a spear; and that wasn't the worst part of it.  All of the wrath stored up since the beginning of time, all the wrath to come as more and more sin is committed, it was all pored out on Jesus.  My Father sacrificed my Brother so I could live.  My sin killed Him, and yet our Father looks at me through the blood of His sacrifice, loves me, and calls me His own.

That's omnipotence.

Father, please forgive me if I've in any way misrepresented You or Your word this morning.  By Your Spirit please speak to us and confirm within us your awesome love and power that prompted you to enter into a covenant for which You had to pay.  Thank You for loving us.  In Jesus' name, amen.