H.I.V.E. Christian Accountability Model

The purpose of personal accountability in the Christian Church is to confess. We need to say out loud to another human being both “who we are now” and “who we want to become”. Once those two confessions are made, we can then form a personal discipleship plan that confesses further, “what we are going to do”, in order to become the ideal we believe the Bible puts forth. Sanctification, or the progressive of achieving the biblical ideal doesn’t just happen by accident. There is the cultivation of the work of the Holy Spirit in obedience to Scripture for us to do. The will is freed from sin (imperfectly) so that it can be surrendered to the will of God. But there is no real surrender to God that doesn’t bring about surrender to a local community of disciples, the church. And there is no real surrender to the church that doesn’t have its end in surrendering ourselves to specific people, like pastors, mentors, and spiritual friends.

Accountability, if practiced rightly, brings humility, intentionality, vulnerability, and expansion to the Christian personally and to the Church corporately. It is why we live in community. It is why there were Apostles who were themselves disciples first. We are to entrust what we hear and see in them to “faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) It is not just a matter of hearing truths in sermons and assimilating them into a theological framework, though that is important. Truth is to be lived out, observed and imitated as well. Christ embodied the faith in the incarnation for the Apostles to see and imitate. They, in turn, embodied it for the first post-ascension disciples. It is from that seminal stage that the world has come to know “the only True God, and Jesus Christ Whom” (John 17:3) He sent. Christianity is an embodied Faith. It changes our minds and our actions.

It also spreads through the ancient means of confession too, as the Word is combined with an observable witness in the local church. How will the world know that we are disciples of Jesus? By the way “you have love for one another”. (John 13:35) This an observable phenomenon that cannot be denied by a skeptic. The Gospel calls sinners to life from out of the world, indwells them with the Holy Spirit, and brings them into a community of people that should provide for them a pattern of life to follow. This community itself is a powerful witness for Gospel expansion. Tim Chester and Steve Timnis hit the nail on the head in their book “Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community” where they wrote,

“if church is central to the purposes of God, the local congregation must be central to the practice of mission. There cannot be mission apart from the local church. The local church is the agent of mission. It is the context in which people are discipled. There can be no sustainable Christian mission without sustainable local Christian communities. The life of the Christian community is part of the gospel message of reconciliation and part of the way by which that message is communicated.”[1]

Further, quoting Leslie Newbigin, Chester and Timins say, “the only heremeneutic of the Gospel is a local congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.”[2]

In the process of confessing what we believe the Christian ideal is, and confessing our short comings we become able to see the places in our life that we need to focus on in order to bring them under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Peter encourages us to take this approach to our spiritual progress when he writes in his second letter,

 

” His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-8) 

Thomas a’ Kempis agrees, writing in his famous work, “The Imitation of Christ”, “If each year should see one fault rooted out from us, we should quickly go on to perfection.”

Confessing “who we are” and “who we want to become” enables us to put together an actionable plan for our spiritual progress with another mature believer. It allows us to see more clearly the areas we need to focus our daily prayer and other spiritual disciplines around. It provides the climate for several other positive things to occur in our life as well.

Firstly, forming our spiritual ideal and voicing it to someone else can give rise to correction as most of us have a woefully narrow understanding of what it means to be a disciple who is being formed into the image of Jesus Christ. Accountability with another believer opens up the possibility of having our understanding of discipleship enlarged by challenging the narrow nature of our personal ideal. This provides the potential for us to grow in humility.

Secondly, we are forced to consider what the ideal really is. The Christian may say Jesus Christ is my ideal, yet, they may have never really considered what it means to imitate the life of Jesus and His Apostles. This provides the potential for us to grow in intentionality.

Thirdly, it also creates the incredible blessing of finding, in the modern era, what early Celtic Christians called, “Anamchara” or “soul friend”. Human relationships are not currently flourishing for many different reasons. The invention of social media, longer more erratic work hours, atomization of society, divorce, proliferation of entertainment and hand held devices have all contributed to our de-humanization. Few people have deep long term friendships outside the Church, and fewer Christians than ever before have a “soul friend” within it. This provides the potential for us to grow in vulnerability.

Finally, Gospel-centered growth in humility, intentionality, and vulnerability brings deep transformation to the lives of individual Christians. The Kingdom expands and grows within like leaven hidden in flour. But when those individual Christians are dedicated to one another in a loving network of accountability and worship (a Community of Disciples/Church) a deep abiding love that is not of the world proves the veracity of the Gospel to watching family, friends, and co-workers. This provides the potential for fruitful expansion of the Christian Gospel outside the existing community as well.

H.I.V.E.

honeycomb

[1] Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community pg 88

[2] ibid pg 89

Luther and the Five Solas

Luther-nailing-theses-560x538Martin Luther was born to November 10th 1483 and died February 18th 1546. He began and ended his life in the same city Eisleben, Germany. He had what one might call a foxhole conversion. Caught out in open country on horseback in a terrible thunderstorm he made a vow to God that if God would save his life, he would serve him the rest of his life. For Luther, a Roman Catholic, serving God with your life meant becoming a monk. Erfurt was Luther’s spiritual home. It was where he studied and where he would the monastery as an Augustinian Monk in 1505.

 

Luther threw himself into the life of a monk. Torturing himself in an extreme ascetic lifestyle. Going without sleep and food for long periods, exposing himself to cold, beating himself with a leather strap. He once said that if anyone could’ve earned their way into heaven through being a monk it was him. He confessed his sins in confessional for hours each day. He had bouts with Satan, crying out in his monastic cell against the enemies accusations against him which he keenly felt. He could gain no assurance of peace with God and his mind was constantly fixed on the wrath of God due to sinners. He was a sinner. He was guilty before God. And he could find no way to undo his own condition before the Judge of the World.

 

The text that would begin to change his life was Romans 1:17, “For in it (the Gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” He had read this passage many times. The “righteous shall live by faith”, but he was not righteous and so excluded himself from it applying to him. But one day he saw that “the righteousness of God was revealed from faith for faith” and that the righteousness of God proceeded from the Gospel, which is Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. His perfect work. Luther could place his faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and be justified or made innocent before God. Luther would not have to fear the wrath of God any more. His long nights battling with Satan and enduring bodily suffering as well as his long days of misery in mortal terror of hell were over in a moment. He was freely justified by for God by faith in Jesus Christ. He began to write, talk, and debate others openly about the Roman Church’s error concerning how man is justified before God. At first this involved complicated arguments from Scripture, early Church Fathers, and other Roman Catholic authoritative writings. But Luther began to see the problem more clearly once the debating began. The Roman Church had elevated the writings of men to be equal in authority to sacred Scripture. And so from Luther’s early work, and from other Reformers of his era that followed him the Five Solas were developed. In the beginning these Five Solas were mainly discussed and applied around the doctrine of Justification. But over time their utility grew to help form the backbone of all the reforms that would eventually bring into being a Church that existed apart from the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Church. What began as a re-discovery of a single lost doctrine, Justification, became a full-fledge recovery movement to excavate the foundation of the original Apostolic Church. The reformers, including Luther, eventually left that corrupt and false union built around the “doctrines of men” and set out to bring to light the “One True Religion” that was established by Jesus Christ and to form a more perfect union established on the Gospel.

 

The Five Solas, or the five Latin phrases used at first to define how man was made innocent before God, or Justification, but which later came to also help uncover the foundation of the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” are as follows

 

Sola Scriptura-             Scripture Alone

Sola Gratia-                  Grace Alone

Sola Fide-                    Faith Alone

Solus Christus-             Christ Alone

Soli Deo Gloria-          To God Alone Be The Glory

Communion With God: Overcoming Resistance Part 5

cutting down a treeLast week I shared some rather intimate details with you all to try and demonstrate a very important aspect of sin often overlooked in the modern church. Because we are Western, we tend to categorize things in order to teach them. That’s not bad, it has given us a highly developed and robust theology. But, in the case of sin it has caused us to miss some important connections between the kinds of sin. Things that used to be understood by the Church when she had more spiritual fathers within her.  1 John 2:15-17 describes “the World” or the mystery of sin unleashed in the human heart by the Fall of Man as, “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Instead of thinking of these three descriptions of sin as categories, think of them as a tree.

The desires of the flesh are the fruit of the tree. Often these are the things that bring us to Christ. Our lives and bodies are raging and out of control. We cannot hide these sins very well or for very long generally speaking. They are the first sins the Holy Spirit reveals to us and grants us repentance from. We are not talking about perfection here. We are talking about growth in grace and repentance.

The desire of the eyes, or what Paul calls “the passions” lead us into the more physical sins of the flesh. So anger grows into wrath. Sexual lust grows into sexual immorality. Desire for entertainment grows into sloth. Desire for food grows into gluttony. None of these things are bad. In fact, most of them are natural to the image of God within us. Anger is often due to a sense of justice placed in us by God. Sex is a natural passion and the most intimate action that a man and woman can share. Ease gives us time to meditate on God or enjoy His creation. Food is necessary for the body. The fruit of the desires of the flesh grow on the limbs of the passions.

I spent about five years in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) before I became a Christian. It is to the shame of American Christians today that often AA understands the human soul better than the church. AA understands that a) a spiritual change has to take place and b) that a fearless moral inventory has to be taken. So every alcoholic that ever succeeds in their program has to deal with him/herself. They have to tunnel down to the “why they drink?” Funny, when I became a Christian in the mid-1990’s I was told two things that have served me very well. First, spend time with God every day. Second, keep a short sin list. I spent most of the first year I was a believer having God reveal to me almost daily some sin I had committed against someone else. I made a lot of phone calls. I went to a lot of peoples houses to ask forgiveness. I made a lot of embarrassing phone calls to other Christians that I had met since I had become a believer to tell them that I had lied to them or sinned against them in some way. It was humiliating. I had gotten two DUI’s before I became a believer. I spent the first two years I was a Christian begging for rides to Bible Studies and church services. Every time I met someone new I had to explain why I didn’t have a car. It was humiliating. Or should I say, humbling.

During those first two years I unburdened my soul from sin like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. Look folks I’m going to tell you something almost no one will tell you anymore. Jesus Christ has purchased your pardon. You are completely forgiven of all sin past, present, and future. It is a finished work. But you, by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit must apply that finished work. There is spiritual work to be done. Which brings me to the very roots of sin, the pride of life.

Let’s go back to my own story. I was mess inside when I became a Christian. I had been angry for so long that I didn’t know I was angry. When the Holy Spirit revealed to me my anger I had to start down that rabbit hole to find out where it led. Where it led me was to my father’s living room. Not to confront him for being relatively absent from my life, but to ask him to forgive me for being a bad son. I had been a terrible son. I had been in trouble for a decade. I’m sure I had caused him a great deal of embarrassment. So I went to his house and asked his forgiveness. And he forgave me. I had envisioned a Hollywood ending where he asked for my forgiveness and we embraced. That did not happen. My father died a few years later having never sought my forgiveness for anything. I left his house that day upset with God. Why did you make me go there? Why was that so necessary? But in the quiet of my heart I heard God clearly say, “because you have to die son.”

tree by the roots

The root, the very root of my reckless addictions had been an insidious pride. My father had sinned against me. He owed me an apology. I was angry because what others had done to me. ME! At the bottom of my sin I didn’t find others, I found only me, always me. This is why many people are unsuccessful in the spiritual life. They are always picking fruit off their tree, or sawing limbs away. But if you know anything about fruit trees you know that these actions cause fruit trees to be more productive not less. These things have to be dealt with at the roots. You have to “take up your cross and follow Christ.” A person on their way to their execution doesn’t care what people think of them. Things become crystal clear to the dying. It is those that want to live that are always confused. “Any man that will save his life will lose it” eternally. Any man that wants to keep it eternally has to lose it in the here and now. In the clearest terms, you and I have to put ourselves to death. But how do we do that. Well it is easy and hard.

First, you have to spend time with God in His Word frequently. Second, you have to keep a short sin list. Here’s what that means. You have to stop fitting God into your life. He has to become your life. You must bend yourself, by His grace and Spirit, to Him and His Word. Anything else is not discipleship and will not put you to death. How do you do that? Find a group of believers and give your life to them. Secondly, within that group of believers find a mature believer that you can trust absolutely, and spill your guts to them. Tell them everything you struggle with. Everything. Even the most embarrassing and hidden things. Hold nothing back. There is a reason why Christians are instructed to “confess your sins one to another and pray one for another”. There is a reason the Scriptures tell you that “he that covers his sin will not prosper.” Any sin that you leave hidden is a sin that generally is a deep idol, with deep roots, that you alone are not strong enough to pull up yourself. You hide that sin because of pride. That sin inhabits your passions and continues to erupt above the surface like a semi-dormant volcano occasionally spews lava through the cracks in the earth. Be careful, there was once a man after God’s own heart who did that and it ruined his family and his kingdom. Years later and in an intensified form it ruined his son and divided Israel for centuries. You must die. God has given you His Son, His Holy Spirit, His grace, and His Word to deal with you. He’s given you everything for life and faith.

Communion With God: Overcoming Resistance Part 4

forge

In the last blog on this subject I compared the Father’s role in communion to be both like the fire and the anvil of a blacksmith. When you are near the Lord in communion and you gaze upon His perfection your imperfections begin to rise to the surface. There is an inner heat provided by the Holy Spirit in the soul of the willing when it is before the Lord in humility. The hammer blow of God’s word strikes while the iron of the soul is hot against the immoveable anvil of the image of the Lord and the imperfections are removed from the metal and it is left purer and in a different shape than it was before. Only communion with God brings this about. Nothing else will do. But what are the imperfections of the soul? What sort of things come to the surface to be exposed and shattered off the iron of the soul in the smithing process of communion?

Forge and Anvil 2

1 John 2:15-17

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

The love of the world is the imperfections in the iron of the human soul. The World is not a place but evil desires. The old King James version of the Scriptures used a nastier word here for desires, it called them lust.  The World expresses itself in three essential manifestation, desires, passions, and blinding pride. For our sake here rather than speaking of two types of desires we’re going to refer to them as Paul does in his letters, as desires and passions.

Desires of the flesh are driving sensations that find their expression in physical pleasure. The most obvious in our context being sexual pleasure, gluttony, and various forms of addictions. They are surface oriented, meaning that they are not easily hidden from others, often disrupt our life, and are frequently the first issues the Holy Spirit reveals to us. This revealing by the Holy Spirit produces a godly sorrow and ends in biblical repentance and turning away from them. They are devastating to the human soul without Christ and can remain a struggle for those with Christ depending on the Father’s gift of grace. But they are only fruit. They are not the root or the tree but only the outward manifestation of deeper issues. Things like passions.

I grew up in a broken home. My parents divorced when I was six. I never cried about it at all as a child. It surprised my mother. She once told me on the phone that she thought that I reacted strangely when she told me my dad wasn’t coming back home. For about five years after that day I tried to put my family back together by being the best kid I could be. Whether it was making the all-star team in baseball or straight A’s at school or being class president I did everything I could do to try and make everything right again. When I failed, I spent the next eleven years trying to burn it all down. By the time I was seventeen or eighteen I was a raging alcoholic and daily marijuana user. At twenty-two my life was a wreck.

wrecked car

The day I came to Christ was the first time in all those years that I realized how angry I had been toward mainly my dad. If you had asked me if I was angry I would’ve said no. It was stunning to me to find out how enraged and unforgiving I really was. Like Christian in Pilgrims Progress I knew what it was to have a weight come off my back. But the truth is I had born the weight of it so long that I didn’t even know it was there. What does this have to do with anything? Everything.

My life was destroyed through out of control desires. But I drank, did various drugs, engaged in a host of dangerous behaviors because of my passions. I was angry. I hated. I wanted my life back and my home back as a little kid and no one knew how much I was hurt or how much I had born. Truthfully, even if they had, there was no one I knew of to tell me the things I’m telling you now. Passions are far more dangerous than desires because desires are just the fruit of passions. In fact, one will never progress in the Christian life passed the stage of dealing with desires until they commune with God and allow Him to reveal to them through His Word and Spirit all the old man’s hiding places in their heart. One cannot put off the old man and “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10) if he or she has never identified the old man in all his manifestations within us. God does not do this on the day you come into the knowledge of Him in Christ. You could not bear that knowledge in your immature state. It is revealed to you over time in communion with Him as you learn His Word and the Holy Spirit speaks to you through it during the trials of life. Even in Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery programs they realized that a person had to take a “fearless moral inventory” of their life and come to grips with who they really are. Christ delivered me in a moment from what four years of Alcoholics Anonymous could not by revealing to me the source of my destructive, out of control desires. The source was my raging and out of control passions manifested in anger, bitterness, and hatred. But passions are not the root either. They are the limbs the fruit grows on. There is yet something deeper. Something that supports the life of the bough and limbs of the passions. The root of all is the blinding “pride of life”.

We’ll save the “pride of life” for it’s own blog later in the week..

Communion With God: Overcoming Resistance Part 3

**Note

I use the term “scientist” in this blog to describe a Christian(s) who possesses a modern  mindset that focus’ solely on intellectual ascent as faith. While not admitting it to themselves or anyone else aloud, they really believes that any subjective Christian experience is superstition rooted in Charismaticism on the one hand or Roman Catholic Mysticism on the other. It is the product of the modern scientific worldview that has been recently brought over into the Christian Faith. Pre-enlightenment Christians (including the reformers who were at the dawn of the enlightenment) who believed in a Spiritual World beyond our own would not have understood how we ever reached this conclusion. Nor do I believe that they would recognize much of what goes under the banner of evangelical Christianity as distinctly Christian. I believe they would rightly see it for what it is, a thinly veiled deism rooted in a materialistic understanding of the World. A man-made religion with the fear of man as it’s cornerstone not the Son of God.

———————————-

forge and anvil

In part one of this series we called ourselves to consider whether or not we really believe in a spiritual realm. If we are scientists and materialists we really don’t. All there is, is all that we can see. Life is empirical. If I can’t hear it, taste it, touch it, smell it, and see it then it isn’t. This belief has come from the science lab not the Scriptures. Reformed Christians in particular tend to shy away from subjective experience believing falsely that it is either rooted in Charismaticsm on the one hand or Roman Mysticism on the other.  We tend to be very academic. This has had a devastating effect on the church’s ability to pass the faith from one generation to another. As our children grew up in a scientific world we fed them a science-like faith made up of propositional doctrine only (I said only). And since our claims can’t be empirically proved but MUST be subjectively experienced (think “you must be born again”) it has been discarded as superstition no matter how well organized our statements of faith have become. The belief that there is another world and that the spiritual realm can be experienced by the Christian in this life is of paramount importance. It is the antidote to the plague of the scientific that has come upon us. The tide will never be turned by academics. Love good reformed theology. Read good reformed theology. Know propositional theology, I do. But love and know God more. He is a being not a set of propositions. Propositions are important for our understanding of salvation and growing in faith but God saves and sanctifies by His Spirit. His Spirit applies the objective truth of the Word subjectively and really to our whole person.

In part two I tried to get very practical. I basically asked, “What is the real center of your life?” What does your life revolve around as the planets do the sun? Was it communion with God daily and weekly? If not, then Jesus really didn’t have the “pre-eminence”. In order to give Him His proper place in our life the Christian needs a very important device, a day planner. I’m kidding. But not really. Discipleship and Discipline have the same root. Disciples of Jesus live intentional lives following Him daily. Intentionally scheduling our communion with God is a first step to building the discipline of communion into our lives. Once we begin to frequent the Throne Room of God the place grows sweeter to us and we find that our scheduled communion over flows the banks of our soul and floods the other areas of our life with His Presence. Truly believing that there is a spiritual Mt Zion (Hebrews 12:22) is one key, but frequenting Mount Zion is another. Communion with God in the Spirit is an indispensable part of the Christian life. If Christians would give a one-tenth of the time to communion with God that they give to church growth strategies much of what ails the modern church would fall away. No amount of strategy is going to get people to take up a cross and follow Jesus to an execution. But if they once could experience His goodness and beauty they’d do it in a second.

Now I’d like to delve a little further into what occurs in the life of a believer when he/she begins to commune with God on a frequent basis in order to know Him as a being. First God honors their faith by revealing himself to them.

Hebrews 11:6

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

 

Faith lays hold of the Throne of God and one of the aspects of Biblical faith is that the believer is convinced that God rewards those who seek Him. But rewards them with what? Cash? Cadilacs? No. Himself. He reveals himself to those that seek Him. The Psalmist had come to know this truth. He says, “The Lord is my portion;” (Psalm 119:57) The first blessing then is that God in the Holy Spirit comes to human persons and fellowships with them. They experience Him one being to another. I’m not going to describe it. I have had no visions and I hear no booming clear voices. But man was made in His image. We are not animals. There is a part of us that is like Him to the extent that it can know Him. Because of it unregenerate persons are without excuse because they can perceive His existence, goodness, and Godhead through the observation of Creation but choose to suppress the truth in a grand lie. If unregenerate persons can know He exists, regenerate persons can know Him in much more than just by observable theistic evidences. Giving a head nod to the evidence of God’s existence or to Jesus’ historical resurrection is not knowing God. It is knowing facts about God. The Bible tells us that we can know Him as one person can know another person.

John 14:18-23; 26-27

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.

John 15:4-5

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

The Holy Spirit’s dominant role is to reveal in a subjective way that Jesus is Lord. That Jesus has life. That Jesus gives life and peace to human persons. That the Bible is true. That God’s Law is Holy. All the ancient creeds referred to the Holy Spirit as Jesus did, with a personal pronoun. The Scriptures ascribe being to God in Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and these terms are in general relational in nature. The key for the Christian to understand is this, that a personal knowledge of God comes to us in the same way all true interpersonal knowledge comes to us. Through prolonged discourse and personal interaction with another person. In this case that person is THE PERSON, the Fountain of all persons. A Spirit that in some mysterious way you yourself are uniquely created in the image of, and that has given a spiritual life to you that not all men possess.

The second thing that occurs in the believer’s life is that we become aware of our sinful selves. That’s not a bad thing, though admittedly it can bring some difficulty into our lives. The difficulty it brings is trying, like forged metal releases scale (impurities) when hammered on an anvil, so does the heat of the Lord’s Presence cause our impurities to come to the surface to be hammered away on the anvil of communion. The more we come to know God the more we desire to be like Him, while at the same time, the more we also realize that we are not like Him. The rabbit hole of our impurities is deeper than we ever imagined.

When one becomes a believer in Christ and surrenders to the work of the cross he is surrendering to essentially two works. One is the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. The second is the subjective work of the Holy Spirit to form us into the image of Christ himself. Both involve the Cross, one is a glorious moment of objective judicial clearing, being made completely innocent before God’s bar of justice. The other is a refining process that lasts the whole life through but that is worth every minute. It brings us the satisfaction we were created to have but that we lack because of the effects of sin. Humans are unhappy because they are fallen. They are both guilty of sin and unrighteous in life. Redemption is a clearing of our guilt and the forming of our life into a righteous one, not perfectly, but in actuality. This is difficult because of remaining sin but it is truly satisfying because righteousness is what we were created to be and do.

Communion with the Divine is where humans are changed, not in the class room setting.

2 Corinthians 3:18

18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Doctrine is good and accuracy in theological truth is to be sought after, and if we are to be successful as a student, accomplished. But doctrine, if it is rightly understood, should bring you into greater personal experience of the Divine. If it just makes you a better apologist, or if it causes you to spend significant time on the internet arguing about the Faith with other people in the Faith who are 98% the same as you in all the dogmas, then you might have an intellectual obsession that you’ve confused with faith. If that’s the case, it could be a millstone around your neck.

Communion with God is where He reveals himself to you, and connected to that, He also reveals you to you. There you find the image you are to be formed into. There you will find, if you dare go there unveiled (without works of the law that you have done) that the heat (forge) you need and the solid object (anvil) you need to be hammered (Word) on to remove the impurities out of the iron of your being are both one and the same, God himself. For iron to be purified and shaped it has to come into contact with both.

Forge and Anvil 2

Blessings! Look for Communion With God: Overcoming Resistance Part 4 next week

Communion With God: Overcoming Resistance

Overcoming Earthly Resistance Part 2

Now that we have settled in our hearts that we are not scientists, that the Bible clearly teaches that there is a Spiritual Realm, and that we can go there now not just in the future. Let’s move on to overcoming the more practical aspects of communion with God. I’ll start with a word picture.

Think of your life as a solar system, a group of planets. Now name the planets. Name them marriage and family, work, hobbies, community service, friendship, etc. etc. Like our physical solar system needs a star at it’s center to provide enough gravity, warmth, and light, so too your life as a being needs the right star to form it’s center. Planets can hold a moon, but they can’t hold other planets. You, your family, your job, money, entertainment, none of them have enough gravitas to keep the planets in your life anchored at the proper distance from one another. None of them can keep your personal solar system from spiraling out of control and bringing extinction level collisions among the planets. So, the question then becomes, “What is the center of your life?” If you answer, “God is the center of my life.” How would you respond if I said, “prove it.” I’m not asking what you what you think is the center of your life? I am asking you what IS the center of your life? They can be, and likely are with most people, two different things.

What do you think about the most?

What is the first thing you think about when you wake up?

What is the last thing you think about before you go to bed?

What does your day revolve around?

What does your week revolve around?

What do you talk about most often?

What do you spend your free time learning?

These questions help us get closer to discerning what the center of our life really is. Most of us live in self-delusion. Jeremiah wrote well when he said, “the heart was desperately wicked and deceitful, who could know it?” The modern Christian has come to think that God is suppose to fit into his or her busy life. This is idolatry plain and simple. The truth is that followers of Christ are suppose to be building their lives around God and His Kingdom as a planet revolves around the sun. We don’t fit Him in, He fits us in. The first and most foundational principle of communion with God is this,

Colossians 1:17-18

17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” 

Now the Scientist (Christian Intellectual) will quickly move this into his doctrinal statement, affirming it with strength, playing the keyboard warrior on social media proclaiming loudly that everyone is a false teacher that dare question it. Good for him. He is right doctrinally. But let him ask himself, “Scientist, how does this truth inform your life outside of your intellect? How is this truth guiding your feet? How is this truth effecting your schedule? Is the Lord preeminent in everything?” Better yet here is a practical and specific question. “What do you do with the first hour of your day?” Is it mindlessly scrolling through social media on your iPhone? Is it watching television? Is it thinking about work and what you have to do that day? Then the Triune God is not practically preeminent in your everyday life. When is the last time you scheduled that choice first hour of the morning for communion with God? The first step in overcoming earthly resistance is found in a little word I just used that you probably missed. The word is “scheduled”.

The Christian is called to a life of intentionality. He or she no longer has the luxury of bouncing around in life like a pinball in a pinball machine. Paul says we are soldiers and athletes. The thing both soldiers and athletes have in common is a training regimen. I used to run 5k’s, 10k’s, and half-marathons. I also was a tri-athlete for a while as well. I read books on how to train myself. I made out training and nutrition schedules and “religiously” (funny how that word is used isn’t it) adhered to the planning. If we expect to build a life of communion with God it will take a plan. It necessitates a schedule. Whenever a man and a woman begin a relationship that both hope might end in marriage what do they do? The go on a date. A what? A date. A “scheduled” event where they agree to spend time together focused on one another. They don’t go on one date, they “schedule” lots of dates. Not because they are adhering to a “schedule” but because they enjoy being together. Now this question is about to hurt and I only ask it out of necessity. Why are your dates for communion with God so few and far between? In human terms we only do that when we don’t really enjoy spending time with the other person. Or when we don’t know them very well and the time is spent awkwardly. The first few dates sometimes are awkward. We are chatty and don’t allow any “awkward” spaces of silence. But when you know someone well just being in the room with them is enough. This is an imperfect human analogy so I hope you will forgive me, but enjoyable dates lead to marriage, which is the deepest state of human communion where two people merge their lives into one. I am afraid too few Christians today give themselves to communion and most will never experience the earthly manifestation of the reality that is typified in marriage. What I mean is this. When one spends time regularly communing with God over a prolonged period of time there comes a point where it spills over into the rest of your life. The Omni-Presence of God moves out of the doctrinal realm too and into the practical. Take a moment and sing that old greatest of hymns “Be Thou My Vision” to God and youself. It is the Beatific Vision. What all true believers desire. Go and desire it.

1 Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that thou art –
thou my best thought, by day or by night;
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

2 Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father; thine own may I be,
thou in me dwelling and I one with thee.

3 Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise;
thou mine inheritance, now and always;
thou and thou only first in my heart,
high King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

4 High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

 

 

The Nashville Statement, Queerology, And The Fruit of the Spirit

The recent publication of The Nashville Statement has unsurprisingly evoked strong condemnation from the broader culture. I live in Nashville so I was prepared for Mayor Megan Barry’s quick and unequivocal condemnation. It’s to be expected as she is who she is. She never claimed to be a Christian in any meaningful sense. What concerns me most is the confusion that is coming out of various corners of Christendom.

A friend sent me an article earlier today from the Huffington Post entitled, “I Am Still A Faithful Christian” written by a man named Matthias Roberts. Mr. Roberts is a “theologian” who hosts a podcast called “Queerology”. The basic point of Mr. Roberts article in Huff Post is to state that he and others like him are faithful Christians and men like R. C. Sproul, D. A. Carson, and John MacArthur (popular evangelical theologians) are harsh and hateful people that do not know what the Bible teaches. Mr. Roberts believes that Jesus’ silence on homosexual behavior has liberated him and therefore he can be a faithful follower of Christ and practice homosexuality. Mr. Roberts states that he believes on Jesus, professes faith in Jesus, and has seen the fruits of the Spirit in his life. Ipso facto he is a faithful Christian. Yet even the text he cherry picked out of the Scripture in an attempt to prove his genuineness works against him. The man is quoting the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23,

“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Now this man’s general ploy is to claim that Jesus never condemned homosexuality as sin and that the Apostle Paul corrupted the “true way” and cannot be trusted as a teacher. Therefore all the Apostle Paul says in his writings which very clearly condemn the practice of homosexuality as sin is not admitted into this man homosexual affirming theology or what he likes to call “Queerology”. But….. and this is a big but, he quotes Paul on the “fruits of the Spirit” giving the Apostle authority as an author of sacred Scripture. Paul himself predicts this type of response from men like Mr. Roberts in Romans 2:15,

“15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them”

Here we have a man that makes his own rules, accepts what he wants out of Scripture and disregards what he doesn’t like. He accuses evangelical pastors of sin because they believe the Bible accurately communicates the whole range of sin while excusing himself on unfounded grounds. Here we have a man that selectively receives authors of sacred texts. He even selectively receives, in the case of Paul, one portion of Scripture while denying others by the very same author. In this case in particular he even excepts one “part” of the text but rejects another “part”. Go back and look at Galatians 5:22 quoted above. Specifically look at the underlined portion, “against such there is no law.” Mr. Roberts has a major problem. The very text he quotes comes down on his head as the fruits of the Spirit are composed of things that do not violate the “Law of God”. Practicing homosexuality is easily found in Scripture to be against the Law of God. Therefore, one cannot be regenerated by the Holy Spirit and able to affirm and practice things not in keeping with the Holy Spirit’s nature and character as affirmed by Paul and Mr. Roberts himself per his quotation of Paul as an authority. No matter. Mr Roberts will likely quickly abandon ever quoting that text or any other text by the Apostle Paul ever again. Not meaning to be nasty here, but I wonder if he even knew where the “fruits of the Spirit” text was found, or who authored the phrase.

The friend who sent me the article was not surprised however by Mr. Roberts ridiculous assertions. This person was surprised that a friend that had attended a reputable evangelical college, whose father was a missionary, who attended an evangelical church, and who works presently in an evangelical ministry posted the article on social media with the caption, “I stand with him.” I dare say there are a great many more of these people in evangelical churches than we probably currently think. I pastored students for many years. Most of them now in their early 20’s. Among the young ladies in that group almost all of them currently are being tossed on the waves of homosexual acceptance and its partner in crime third wave feminism. Both at their root reject the Bibles teaching on gender and sexuality. They either generally deny Paul as an inspired author or think we’ve progressed beyond his backward hetero-patriarchal view and therefore parts of what he wrote are no longer Scripture though they once were. Confused? Radical social theories on so-called equality have ventured into the real world and into real churches and are laying waste to the hearts of young women and men who are leaving evangelical churches in droves because they believe in a historical Jesus, professed faith in him, and see the fruits of what they think are the Spirit in themselves. They think, like Mr. Roberts that they have in their back pocket a “Get Out of Hell Free Card” because they walked an aisle somewhere, sang some nice words about Jesus frequently, continue to think He is a good teacher, and someone dunked them or sprinkled them with water at some point in the past. They think the fruit of the Spirit is a feeling apart from a standard (against such there is not law) and the standard is no longer God’s Law but their own feelings. But the call of Jesus is to “lose your life” and “take up your cross and follow Him.” But many in the modern church believe that Jesus would never ask Christians to do anything hard like abandon their sexual preferences (lust) or submit to authority (humility) or lay down their own way of life and submit to another (law).

What further astounds me about all this is the way evangelical church leadership has in general responded to the current world we are living in. We take no responsibility for not making disciples. Some how it is Hollywood, or Facebook, or our children’s worldly friends, or some other boogey man who is responsible. The truth is that the church has been so consumed with entertaining her parishioners and trying to get people into her Sunday services that we failed to take account of what the methods we were using were going to do over a long period of time. For 50 years we’ve been working a great bait and switch game where we entertain them into the doors and then at some point, once we had them in the building, we planned on making the switch and starting the discipleship part. The problem is we never got around to making disciples and teaching a full orbed faith that one could live by and that provided answers to difficult questions. A faith that provided the rational and the power to repent of and forsake sin. As my grandmother used to say, “We’ve made our bed so now we get to lie in it.”

Friends there are just no easy answers here. We just have to start making disciples again. Stop the frills, the entertainment, and the baiting and switching. We have to begin with the Truth that Christ Jesus died on the cross to save us from the wrath of God and to deliver us from the power of sin so that we can repent of sin. We must learn the answers to the hard questions by getting to know God’s Holy Word more thoroughly. Finally, we must live out the “way” of Jesus with others in a biblical community, holding each other accountable, and submitting ourselves to one another in real love. Real love never chooses to willfully violate the Law of God. The fruit of the Spirit, or the evidence that someone is a faithful Christian is found not in their acceptance of the sin of others. That is a false human love. Instead it is found in their refusal to accept sin in themselves, to repent of it, and to help others repent of it as well. Mr. Roberts is not a faithful Christian. But that is not because I say it, but because he has accepted sin in himself and has encouraged others to do the same. Seems like the Apostle Paul has something to say about a person who does this. It even comes right after the Apostle discusses homosexual sin, the particular sin that Mr. Roberts and other accept and affirm.

Romans 1:26-32 

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die*, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

 


 

*Please note that the author is not advocating the death penalty or violence be done to anyone in disagreement with his point of view by quoting Romans 1:32 as that is not what Romans 1:32 is advocating. The Apostle Paul is making the point that all men have sinned and that the penalty for sin is death and that God judges men as sinners. For this reason Jesus Christ came to die. To deliver humankind from the wrath of God and to bring us into a place of mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. This is the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. All who believe can have eternal life. The authenticity of a persons faith however is demonstrated by their repentance of sin and turning to the way of God. Without repentance faith is, as St. James says, dead. Meaning, it is not a real and living faith. Again, faithfulness is the mark of a real disciple. A disciple who has a real faith, who really accepts the authority of Jesus, and who really has the indwelling Holy Spirit, brings forth the fruit of the spirit against such there is no law.

Communion With God: Overcoming Resistance

Part 1 Overcoming Earthly Resistance

In human terms praying is easy. It really is nothing more to the unregenerate mind than making wishes into the darkness and hoping that they fall on some unknowable deity’s likely deaf ears. Usually for things that we want that are of a purely material nature. This is the prayer life of a pagan….. or a church goer who is a moralistic therapeutic deist. If you’ve never heard that term then I suggest you read the book, “Almost Christian” which is a compilation of social studies done among church attending teenagers which found that those surveyed believed that they were suppose to be good, that life was suppose to get better, and that God was essentially there, but unknowable. Rod Drehr in his now famous book, “The Benedict Option” believes that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (here after MTD) is a virus colonizing the Christian Church in the West. I agree with his assessment.

My antidote to MTD however is different than that prescribed by most pastors. I do hit moralism hard from the pulpit. I hope that my recent sermon series on The New Covenant and the Law of God has been helpful in that area. I also go out of my way to make sure people understand that life is not going to get better but instead you will grow old, get sick, and die while being betrayed and betraying others all along the way. Life most certainly will not be full of therapeutic improvement. We should not hope for heaven on earth for it is a fools errand that will end in utter disappointment. But these two areas are not my main focus. If you’ve been with me for a short time or a even just a little while then you will know that I hammer on the anvil of communion a lot. When I say communion I do not mean the sacrament of the Lord’s Table, nor your place in the mystical universal body of Christ. When I say communion I mean getting to know the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ by spending time with Him in His Presence.

Why do I spend so much time encouraging people to commune with the Lord you ask? Mostly, because I do not believe that a proper intellectual understanding of grace (against moralism) and the clearly deteriorating course of this world (against therapeutism) is enough to counter the Deism in MTD. Our key weapon will not be found in the classroom. We are the most theologically sophisticated church to ever exist. We have more knowledge at our finger tips than any other generation in history. We are the inheritors of the most thorough doctrinal statements to have been written to date. Yet, none of those things stopped the tide of declension. While I do believe that returning to a doctrinally pure historic Christian Faith is important and so I hammer on that anvil a lot too, I do not believe that intellectual learning alone will bring about a significant movement to return the spiritual heritage that our children have had stolen from them. In fact, intellectual learning can be a little bit of the problem. Let me explain.

The modern world is scientific. We all learned the scientific method in school. We have all been taught that there really is no unexplainable mystery in the world. It’s all machinery and mechanism. It all unwinds like a clock. Trees use sunlight to make photosynthesis. Clouds form around nuclei. The wind is an atmospheric event. There is no mystery. We inadvertently have brought this worldview over into the Christian Faith. We study the Bible using hermeneutics, the scientific study of sacred text according to rules (which is good and indispensable btw). We have a clear understanding, if we are protestants (which I am), how man is justified before God and saved from His wrath. We have a pretty clear consensus (if we are not charismatics) why miracles have generally ceased and what gifts of the Spirit are still functioning. On the reformed end of the Protestant Spectrum we are loathe to be associated with Charismaticsim on the one hand and Catholic Mysticism on the other so we shy away from anything that seems subjective at all. Yet, what is Christianity without personal subjective experience? I suggest to you that it is nothing but another form Deism. A theologically correct version of Deism which uses all the right words and phrases but leaves no place for entering, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, “into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”. There is a place for subjective experience of the Divine in the already while we await the not yet. It is in the experience of the Divine that humans, who are created in the image of God, are changed. It is in the experience of the Divine that Christians must return to faith in again. We are not scientists and so we must stop being scientists. Learn theology. Give yourself to heremnuetics. Know how to define your terms. But if your theology, hermeneutics, and well defined terms do not lead you into the Presence of the Divine and joyful worship of Him in the Spirit (an invisible mystery that you experience) then they are millstones around your neck and you my friend have missed the point of the Gospel which was to bring you into the Throne Room of God. Go an learn what this means,

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:6-8

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captivesand he gave gifts to men.” Eph 4:8

Do you believe in the power of the crucifixion and resurrection to justify and save you? Then why do you not believe in the power of the ascension to bring you into the Presence of God and change you from the earthly glory of your first birth after the image of Adam to the heavenly glory of your new birth after the image of Christ by the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:16-18

16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Before we can push passed the spiritual resistance to communion, we must first push passed the earthly resistance. Do you believe that you can know and enjoy God in this world or not? I carefully phrased that last bit just for us reformed folks. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 1 asks,

“Question: What is the chief end of Man?

Answer: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

The reformers did believe you could enjoy God, and not just with your mind. Why did Paul count everything as rubbish? “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:8) He said “KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD!”, not knowing about Him. The difference between the two is more vast than the universe. If you want to commune with God the first step is to abandon the scientific pursuit of knowledge about God as you primary means of knowing Him. I didn’t say completely abandon it. I said abandon it as “the primary means”. Begin to make time to spend in the Presence of God. Let the knowledge you have about God from the Scriptures guide your time and thoughts when you go to be with Him. You cannot commune with God without the Word, but God is more than ink on a page. God is a Person (the Person from which all being comes) to be known and experienced. Man was created in His image and so there is something about mankind that is different than the rest of creation. He could walk with God, “Who is a Spirit and does not have a body like men” as the children’s catechism tells us. Adam communed with God in the Garden. Communion is what He lost and communion is what Christ restored in the ascension. When Christ was seated at the right hand and exalted, the Father sent the Spirit into our hearts to adopt us (Romans 8:15), regenerate us and wash us (Titus 3:5), but also to bring us into communion with Him.

John 14:20-23

20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

In order to overcome the earthly resistance to communion with God, one must first repent of the (un)belief that you cannot subjectively experience God. The Word gives rules so that you can discern the spirits (1 John 4:1), use them. But don’t abandon communion with God by the Holy Spirit for fear of Charismatic or Catholic nonsense. Put your theology to good use. Let it guide you into genuine Christian experience. Go to Him and leave your (Reformed) Deism behind you.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10) 

 

Why The Name Solomon’s Porch Christian Community

Why the name Solomon’s Porch?

Solomon’s Porch is the first place named where the apostles and new disciples gathered together for worship early in the Book of Acts.

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico (or Porch). (Acts 5:12 ESV)

We want to also be a place where disciples gather to learn more of the teachings of Jesus and to emulate the Apostle’s testimony. Worship, discipleship, and service are what marked the early church in The Book of Acts, and we want them to be our marks as well.

Why Christian Community?

We are a church. But the word church is loaded with wrong mental images. When I say the word “church”, people almost automatically think of brick buildings, steeples, and one hour events. But the church is an ancient Christian Community. At Solomon’s Porch we have a saying we use all the time. We say, “we are not a meeting to attend but a community to be a part of.” Nothing is for sale, so we don’t want you to buy anything when you come. We deeply reject the consumer model of Christian fellowship. We want you to come and be a part of a community committed to worshiping our Heavenly Father, being discipled in the way of Jesus, and serving each other and the poor.

How do we foster an environment of worship, discipleship, and service?

First our worship gathering is pretty unique for the modern era. We follow 4 T’s on Sunday mornings. We hear the Truth (Apostles Teaching) first, we take the Lord’s Supper Together (fellowship) second, we share a meal or “break bread” (Table) together  third, and we gather around the Throne of God for prayer and praise at the end.

We also have ministries in our community where we encourage our “Gospel Partners” (our members) to serve the poor. The Branch Food Pantry in Antioch and Rescue 1 Global are the two main ones. We encourage our “Gospel Partners” as disciples of Christ Jesus to pursue a solid theological foundation and hands on ministry together. We strongly believe in what the ancient church called “Faith and Practice”.

Intrigued? Come worship and serve with us.

 

Sanctification and Being a Creature

I became a Calvinist when I was 25 years old. Well, actually, it is not so much that I became a Calvinist at 25, but that is when I discovered that a significant portion of Christianity loathed the sovereignty of God. I couldn’t understand it. I still don’t frankly. But that is beside the point. I went around for several years after that being a jerk for Jesus. I was the kind of guy that R. C. Sproul said that you ought to lock in a room for a few years after they roll into the reformed camp. But a significant event happened when I was 27 that changed the course of my Christian walk and shaped me into who I am today as a pastor in Jesus’ Church. My younger brother died in a car crash.

The death of my brother was sudden. He was just shy of being 25 years old. He was drinking and driving. It devastated my family, especially my mother as you can imagine. But it was hard on me too. You see our parents had divorce when I was 6 and my brother just 3. I had been in some ways fatherly to him. He had until just a few weeks before his death lived with me. I had been saved from drug and alcohol abuse myself just 5 short years before this happened. I had taught him as a teenager to live the type of life that led to his demise. I was guilt ridden and angry at myself, or so I thought. But as I spent time with the Lord and wrestled with the consequences of God’s sovereignty during this time period, I came to a new understanding of sanctification. Sanctification, or, “being formed into the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29), I came to define as, “becoming comfortable with being a creature.”

You are a creature, meaning you are part of creation, not the Creator. Yet I lived the first 22 years of my life acting as if I was the “Creator”. I thought I should be treated better by others . I judged others. I felt the world should revolve around me and that people should do as I wished. Yet, those things belong alone to the Creator, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only He can command that type of allegiance, for He alone is worthy of that type of adoration. Becoming a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, is to repudiate our false god complex. Or as Moses wrote in the Torah, it is to confess,

[4] “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [5] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [6] And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6 ESV)

Or as the Psalmist would write, it is to admit,

[10] For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. (Psalm 86:10) 

Or as Paul would declare,

[5] For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (1 Timothy 2:5)

or

[17] To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17 )

To be a Christian is to be among those that admit, I am a creature. One thing I have learned about creatures is that they are not in control. They do not choose their birth, nor their death, nor the manner of their death. For a moral creature to take the life of another moral creature is to venture onto ground reserved for God alone. It is murder. It is “transgression” for man, but it is the right of God. For God to choose the time of my death, length of my life, manner of my demise is within His prerogative as Creator to do. Suddenly I realized, I was not angry at myself for my brothers death, I was angry at God…. because of His sovereignty, the very truth I ran around telling people I loved and couldn’t understand why they didn’t. Suddenly I was sympathetic as to why they just couldn’t bring themselves to admit to it. I empathized with them. I didn’t agree with them. But I did empathize.

In the midst of that terrible time I discovered the amazing peace that comes with being and accepting myself as a creature. I had felt it to some degree after I had forgiven my father. A story I’ll save for another blog. But this time it was much more profound. I went from screaming “why” in that dark night of my soul, to accepting that my brother was gone and it was not for me to know the “why.”  I wasn’t happy with the answer I got. But, and this is a big but, I realized that if I could not allow God to fix the time of my brother’s death, how could I accept the myriad of other areas that God’s sovereignty touched. If I couldn’t accept it, I would be back at square one, living as a god here on the earth. Except, I wasn’t good, and I knew it. I’d already seen where that road ended. I had also already tasted the goodness of God and the peace that came with surrendering my life to God. There, in those days and weeks, and in other days and weeks that have occurred since then around other events that hurt me and left me bewildered, I found the secret of Gospel sanctification. When you combine seeing yourself as an incredibly loved child of God that the only begotten Son of God gave His life to save, with a profound surrender to His being God and you being a creature, in that synergy, in that space, is found Christian sanctification and in no other. All the events of your life lead you, as a believer, to the cross and to the Throne of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He will not be sovereign over them in your life, until He is sovereign over you. You will not be sanctified, formed into the image of Jesus Christ, until you learn to,

“[5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [9] Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, [10] so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, [11] and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11 ESV)

Here you see Jesus, though He was God, resigned to being a creature, carried along by the will of God, until it brought Him to the cross. This life brought Him to the exalted Throne. And this life will bring you there as well. What a Savior, “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15

To my brother, Jon Gavin Mack 12-30-75 to 11-15-2000, and to the good God who have me 24 years and 10 months with him.

Soli Deo Gloria