Determining to Know Christ and Him Crucified

A couple years ago we had a season in South Korea. Upon our arrival my children immediately noticed that their Grandpa had hung this beautiful transparent poster of Christ crucified upon a glass door. What took place after this was the most remarkable thing to me. In the morning, just upon waking, my children go over to it and without a word just stare for minutes at a time. It was as if they would fall into the great abyss of the crucifixion speechless and in awe. Throughout the day, without explanation they would return and look. Dumbstruck, I would watch on with tears in my eyes and ask for the same intrigue… the same wonder to overtake me that was so consuming to them.

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

-The Apostle Paul

This scripture has been paramount in my life for a little over ten years. I return to it often in order to reset my own system with the system of the apostle. Something of a simultaneous reckoning takes place and I rewire my mind back to this specific purpose to know only Christ and him crucified. In order to do so, I often need to cut some wires that have begun crowding the electrical box of my mind and heart. I yank them out and I throw them away. Then I pray… I pray that this one wire of Christ and Him crucified would again be plugged into the mainframe of my mind and heart and carried out in my own will and emotions. I determine within myself, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that this would be the consuming flood of purpose carrying my life along on its waters until we reach that glorious beach of resurrection. As a fencing champion relinquishing his sword in the midst of the battle I surrender.

When a man determines to do something he is set on the goal until it is accomplished. Paul does not mistakenly use this language here. For him this is exactly what has taken place within him as he testifies, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live…” (Gal. 2:20). We cannot all say that the same is true for us.

The determination we see within the apostle can actually be quite unfamiliar to the daily routine of our lives. And yet this is not something we can just add to our routine – no, it is far more consuming than that, far more detrimental to our pretty little worlds. Quite the opposite, we must die to our routine, and it, and us, must also become crucified with Christ so that the life we live in the flesh we live in the Son of God. It is all consuming and all encompassing and requires our certain crucifixion. It is as if you are standing on the brink of a sinkhole and wondering how deep it is when all you see is black. 

Yet this tunnel is the tunnel with the most glorious light at its end.

The light at the end of that abyss is the hope of becoming lost in Christ alone, while being yet found. There is only Christ, and Him crucified there. As His followers we must all jump in!

In jumping we do not allow this determination to remain a vague spiritualized idea. This determination must pass from idea to form as the clay was transformed into man by the hand of God in the garden. We must allow the breath of His Spirit to breathe into us again and raise us up from the dirt, that we might be pushed down into it again…. and again, just as He was. To know Christ and Him crucified is to allow Him to reciprocate our own crucifixion.

But no one likes to die!

This is certain. Dying is not something that is nostalgic. It happens once and you do not experience it again… unless of course you are the wicked who die a second death, or the apostle who dies every single day. “I die daily.” Paul’s words resound from 1 Corinthians 15, a reverberating echo, having ridden the shockwave through the chapters stemming from where we have started in chapter 2.

For Paul, death was nostalgic.

Every day he relived his death that was bound up inside the body of Christ on the Cross. When his flesh began to live again, then death was nostalgic, as he crucified Paul’s motives to the crossbeam and allowed Christ’s to live. We peer into the coffin of the apostle often as he tells the truth of his state: God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10We are fools for Christ’s sake… we are weak… we are without honor. 11To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.

Here is death… and yet here is life.

Indeed the funeral dirge is sounding in this genuine list of apostolic accolades. Each title is dressed in black as the spiritual morgue continues filling with true apostles. Before any man can claim to be apostolic, I have to see proof of this resume in his life––not his PhDs or MBAs. The apostle is living as one who is dead and this is equally how he perceives himself and the world perceives him. His life is lived calling out from the coffin of who he was, as he re-buries himself daily allowing the resurrected power of Christ to keep his body of death in the ground while the testimony of Christ walks on before him.

There is an odd requital at work in determining to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, in that, when you determine to only know only this, you are actually determining to know many other things. Namely, meekness, humility, kindness, servility, mercy – and the list goes on. It is in fact these very things that are pre-filling Messiah and driving Him to so willingly to lay down His life on the cross––to become crucified. If He was not these very things, our Gospel story would be avidly different, most likely having its termination point in a radical zealot Jesus who overthrew the Roman armies, instead of a man crucified by them. When a man then determines to know only Him and His crucifixion, the man is determining to know and become the attributes that gave Jesus the humility to be led as a Lamb to the slaughter. And rest assured, the Lamb will again come as the Lion King (and I don’t mean Sinba).

There is also theology to consider when we determine to know Christ. A commonly used phrase that drives me wild is, “Just Jesus man!” What people typically mean by this is: You don’t need a bunch of theology, Jesus is enough. This is interesting because theology simply means “What man knows about God.” The person who says, “Just Jesus brother!” has a belief system about the Jesus he speaks of, and it is his own theology. Being introduced to Jesus without theology is one thing, and it happens often, but worshipping Jesus in Spirit and truth without theology is not possible. We all have a theology, it’s simply what we think we know about God. It is actually irresponsible to leave vague definition to what we believe about God. It does Him and His Son a disservice. It equally does the person a disservice because they can remain in this odd state of immaturity for years thinking, “Just Jesus man!” However, as a large ship with a small rudder, the right theology directs our ship to Messiah–– Who He is, and what He is going to do, and instructs us to be like Him. 

Jesus is perfect theology, and in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge… (Col. 2:3).

Our New Testament starts with the sentence: The genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, son of Abraham. This is one of the most incredible statements in the entire New Testament and one that strangely often means hardly anything to “Christians.” On a couple occasions, that one verse has been read to orthodox Jews and the response is outrage. Impossible! They shout. Because this phrase is one of the most powerful things the Bible can say about a person. This one verse speaks volumes about the person it is addressing. This great alarm sounds the warning for the reader to return to the 39 books prior and understand what it means to be the Son of David and Abraham. It provokes us to understand Jesus through a theology found in the Old Testament.

To determine to know Christ is undoubtedly determining to know the Scriptures that tell us the most about Him. This Man’s story begins in Genesis, not Matthew, and to understand what Paul means by knowing Christ, we must know the same words Paul knew because the New Testament did not exist was not something Paul read to learn about Jesus, it was what Paul wrote in regards to what the Old Testament had taught Him about Jesus. The glorious abyss of finding Christ in the TaNaKh, is to behold the heirloom of Jesus beauty, the embryo of His person. It is actually very interesting that Matthew doesn’t start his gospel by saying Jesus was the Son of God. His point is being based from the Scriptures of Genesis 12-22, and 2 Samuel 7 which are God’s covenant words regarding the promised one of Genesis 3:15 who will crush the serpents head.

The other process taking place in 1 Cor. 2:2 is that the apostle has also determined to know nothing else. This is a hard one to swallow. I have often knelt in prayer and asked the Lord to help me know nothing else except Christ and Him crucified. Then, within fifteen minutes I am often determining to know something else… usually something worldly like the news or social media. I don’t have the answer for this I blatantly confess! It remains an odd mystery to me that Paul could use such a blanket statement. It gives me hope to know that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” (2 Tim. 3:16). Paul was telling the truth because He was writing inspired of God. Therefore I let this resolve, this overwhelming determination, consume me, teach me, reprove me, correct me, and train me in righteousness––I am ok with knowing nothing else.

When I was a boy I was determined to fly jet-fighters. There was a peace that would overtake my childhood mind as I pondered what the earth would look like from up there. I imagined the quiet amidst the roaring engines of that metal bird. I longed to rest in-flight between heaven and earth. This dream, albeit concocted from youthful naivety, was a pillar of determination in my mind. I am now 35 and have never seen the inside of a jet-fighter. You know why? Because determining to fly jet-fighters meant determining to learn many other things for many years. The idea of flying was fantastic and yet I have never flown because I was not determined enough to undergo the many challenges this determination would produce.

Determining to know Christ and Him crucified is similar. It is one thing to read the crucifixion accounts in the Gospels and think I determine to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. It is another thing altogether to relate to Him in His sufferings… to undergo a crucifixion of your own… to actually lay down your life and relate to Him there befuddled of knowledge unrelated to Him. Many times, a meek response can be a level of suffering. Other times suffering can be serving undeserving people or your enemies. At times, suffering can be having your life and actions completely overlooked or disregarded. Rest assured, many of us who choose to determine this will experience these things and more as preparation for the glorious day we meet Him there in the place of enduring physical pain and possibly torture and death as we become like Him in His death…

…and so somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:10-11).

My dad, who was a pilot, once told me that flying an airplane is like flying an iron dinosaur through the air. “It’s loud and clunky,” he said. “The birds… they are the ones that really fly!” He then talked about “heaven” and with glossed-over eyes would imagine the day he would spread out his own arms and fly. I am long past the age of being able to fly that jet-fighter but I am young in the hope of flying in the resurrection of the righteous! I am connecting new wires that support who Christ is, and still cutting old ones that divert attention to other things. I am resolving that my determination remain steadfastly fixed upon Messiah and Him crucified. As scary as it is, I want to draw near to Him in the fellowship of His sufferings and be conformed to His death. I want to stumble through the darkness of that pit, bleeding, weeping, and following in His footsteps only emerge into that light at the end of the tunnel and hear, “Well done…”

The joy that will be ours on that day will pale in comparison to the sufferings we endured in this life. Take hold of that hope and plow on!

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” -The Apostle Paul

Let Love Abound

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ…” Phil 1:9

From the musty prison cell where Paul sits comes a prayer for the church in Philippi. When the apostle starts something with, “And this I pray” it is best we tune our ears to those intimate words. Paul felt the need to pray for the small church of Philippi, most likely under 50 members, that their love would abound (overflow) still more and more. When dealing with people inside of a church I don’t think that any of us needs to ask why Paul might have prayed such a thing. We can be very unloving and selfish people! To understand however the love Paul is speaking of we need to revisit the place of where his definition of love would have been conceived––the Old Testament.

The love in Paul’s mind is not ambiguous and certainly not generalized sentiment, but it is a strong and well-defined love derived from his understanding of Who YHWH was in the Old Testament (Tanakh) Scriptures. The prayer that love would abound comes from the idea that YHWH had done and was currently doing this very same thing, and simply mandated for His followers also. For the Christian this might be the hardest process for the Holy Spirit to enact within us. I am rarely found letting love overflow to the people surrounding me.

The most powerful form of love found in the Old Testament is YHWH’s covenant love which in Hebrew is checed חָ֫סֶד . This word appears around 250 times in the Tanakh, always referring to the very specific promises God has made to Abraham and by relation to Israel. In our bibles it is normally translated as lovingkindness but this doesn’t quite emphasize the depth of its true meaning. It literally means covenant loyalty which to YHWH is His bond of love to Israel. When employed, it communicates the idea that His love is so strong and so faithful that the covenant He has made will never be broken on His end.

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love (checed) shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (Is. 54:10)

This is an amazing concept, and furthermore, the premier definition of how we as believers in YHWH and His Son Yeshua ought to understand love. YHWH defines His love in simple faithfulness to the covenant He made with Abraham. Furthermore, it gives the clearest context to the meaning of agape love, which is the strongest form of love found in the Greek New Testament. Agape love, in how Jesus and the apostles perceive agape to be when they use it, is most likely directly connected to the idea of the Hebrew word checed since this was the strongest context they would have had to define this type of love. Stemming from this idea comes the exhortation Paul makes above, as well as Jesus’ very simple words that the entire Law and Prophets are summed up in Love (agape) the Lord Your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:40; Gal. 5:14). 

When Jesus hangs all the Law and Prophets upon something, we take care to notice the hook upon what He is hanging. It is love – and it is actually the strongest type of love – a tenacious love that is forgiving seventy times seven (Matt. 18:22), turning the other cheek when hit (Matt. 5:39), blessing when reviled (1 Cor. 4:12), leaping for joy when persecuted (Lk. 6:23) and covering a multitude of sins (1 Pt. 4:8). This is why the greatest of these is love – because love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8).

Recently I found myself in a major situation with a close friend whom I love. Over a period of several months however, because of our conflict, I became very unloving. In the midst of the conflict which began to seem unbearably irreconcilable, another friend exhorted me to, “let love abound.” Though I persisted that I felt wronged and that my friend was in the wrong, this was the only exhortation that my friend had left me with – “Let love abound.”

It was the most simple thing he could’ve said but it was the “word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hb. 4:12)… and that is exactly what it did! My heart was revealed and judged before that Scripture and the solution to the problem was simpler than I had ever perceived: Let love abound. The very problem was that I was not letting love abound––I was letting my own will, flesh, and rights abound.

As this verse continued to judge my heart’s intent I became increasingly grieved to the point where I had to write this post. And here is my public confession: I have not lived as a man that has allowed love to abound! To anyone that I have harmed with my intense personality, to every person that I have wronged with my “words of truth” that have cut you, and to every person that I have slandered or back-bitten, I repent. With tears before the Father in heaven I repent! 

I want to be a man who loves like YHWH loves lest I never become a man.

YHWH picked the hardest people to love. Just after crossing the red sea, they grumble against Him. While He is there still making the covenant with them at Sinai, they make an idol before His eyes and worship it. After He delivers them into the promised land, they turn away from Him unto other idols. He expels them from the land in discipline and yet He brings back a remnant. He draws near to them in the flesh and they crucify Him. He destroys their temple and casts them from the land again, and yet God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! (Rom 11:1)Simply, For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” Says the LORD your Redeemer. (Is. 54:7-8) Yes, it is true, “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us (Israel); He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and unchanging love to Abraham, which You swore to our forefathers from the days of old (Mic. 7:18-20).

In the fashion of YHWH we are to “be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

I want to love like YHWH. I want to imitate the God of Israel in my love. I want a love that passes over sins committed against me. I want a love that is compassionate in the face of betrayal, and merciful in the presence of judgment. This is YHWH’s checed, His strong covenant love, a fixed love that “shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you” (Is. 54:10). Seeing how YHWH loves Israel in the Bible gives me hope that by His Spirit I can love in this same way. I can be wronged and forgive. I can be hit and not strike back. I can be reviled and pray blessing. This is what is bound up in the death of our great God and Saviour as He “suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pt. 2:21).

I want to follow Him and therefore I will love as He has loved.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

“…may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” 1 Thess. 3:11

Love is not an option that is presented to the Christian, rather it is the very object which makes us disciples of Christ. It is also the standard by which we are judged on the Day of the Lord as both apostolic prayers directly connect (Phil 1:9; 1 Thess. 3:11). I have felt His burning eyes lately staring into my heart to see what’s there. I have heard Him saying to me very gently, “Son, I am not going to ask you about your biblical theology on the day you appear before me.” At this I weep and come back to the simplicity of the new commandment Jesus gave us. I want my heart to be established without blame in holiness before God our Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints! I want to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ! Paul hinges both of these things upon LOVE abounding in our lives. This is our response to His Cross, this is not salvation by works! Therefore, let us continue fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hb. 12:1-3).

The Lamb to the slaughter is leading the way of love and Paul was following Him all the way to his own head being lopped off. This is apostolic––the life laid down in love––as Stephen the martyr mimics His Lord, falling to the ground and uttering the same words as His savior, “Forgive them!”

But love is so hard! Yes, so let love abound. But, that person has sinned against me in the most horrible way! Indeed, let love abound. But it’s all their fault! You might be right, let love abound! We cannot do it by our own strength, so let us not deceive ourselves with such vanity. Rather, let us turn to the Holy Spirit in prayer and cry out for the Helper’s help that we might imitate YHWH and His Son, and abound in love towards each other. This is His command and the highest honor we can give Jesus is by simply following it as best we can.

Rather than my words, let us end with Paul’s exhortation from Galatians 5-6:

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5For each one will bear his own load.

The Lamb to the slaughter is leading the way of love! Let us follow Him though it cost us everything.

 

The Idolatry of Sex and a Lifestyle of Praise

 

A form is there before you and you gaze upon it. Though your knees may not bow your heart does internally. You want it… and you want it to want you. Yet, it may not even be just that you want it, there is something deeper happening… something stronger than just a desire or want. You may have written it off just as, “humans are sexual creatures”, and that modern psychological form of deception is the puppet string causing your eyes to bob up and down upon different bodies throughout the day. Then, you go home, go into your room, close the door, and defile yourself with the unsatisfied fulfillment of selfish intimacy.

The secret place has become defiled and shameful. I know this firsthand…

Jesus says, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Yet, there is no reward for this other kind of secret place. The Father is indeed watching… and weeping. There, your act is worship to an unseen demon… a creature that hates you and wants to murder you despite your awareness of its presence. The place in your mind where you are supposed to “love the Lord Your God with all of” has been tyrannically ruled by lizards of lust for decades– their constant flicking tongues hitting the cerebral with a bombardment of sexualized emotion.

We live in a culture that is perpetually “turned on”–– driven to find release.
But, can we actually be released from it? I wasn’t sure until the last couple years.

You give in again and again and you don’t know why. You feel trapped in your mind. You have bowed before the idol of sex so many times to your own shame and you just want it to stop. You feel defeated, guilty, and ashamed of yourself. You feel a fake because you can’t speak to someone about the Lord while this hides just behind your eyes. But the truth is that you do love the Lord! This is why you feel so ashamed. You want to please Him, but you’re caught in failure. Can we transition to loving the Lord more than this lust and overcome it? Can we live whole-heartedly and self-controlled before Him and resist these horrific temptations?

Can we actually love the Lord God of Israel with all of our mind?

Yes.

Wounding

My first sexual experience was with a woman in her thirties when I was six. I still remember the “funny feeling” in my stomach and being very uncomfortable as she asked me to come into the dark room dressed in an open robe with only lingerie on. To worsen the situation, a pornographic vampire movie was playing on the TV in her dark room…  Then I black out and only come to as I leave the room feeling sick to my stomach. My mind still doesn’t know whether this is one or multiple experiences merged into one. It was during those young years I was also exposed to hardcore pornography for the first time. It was in a large meeting in the auditorium of my elementary school in the second or third grade… the crinkled up piece of magazine paper being secretly passed from small innocent hands to another was engrained upon my mind as the unforgettable snapshot. I didn’t want to see it, but I wanted to see it. When I was nine or ten my cousins introduced me to their father’s Playboy and Hustler collection that led to an insatiable addiction even though we didn’t know what we were doing. We were so young we only said that we got “that funny feeling in our stomachs.” Around that same time a male teacher at my elementary school began putting his hands on my body after school hours. My brother had the same teacher and experienced the same things and we would only come to know this many years later… Within those same years my cousin forced me to watch him masturbate, making it the only condition by which he would allow me to play video games in his room. I still remember hating it, and yet him saying over and over “LOOK! WATCH!” I was instructed in evil that day, and I followed suit soon thereafter. All these things led me to have an addiction to pornography in my young teens that provided the context to be molested by a male neighbor in exchange for pornography as a teenager, to have my first consensual sexual encounter with a woman when I was sixteen, and to fully lose my virginity by age 19. It was all downhill from there – an unquenchable slide towards immorality and disregard of my own purity as well as others’.

Many can empathize with this story. It is a very sad and grieving empathy we share…

Many, if not darn near all of us, were taught sex outside the covenant of marriage. Those illicit encounters, that I am so sorry we have experienced, undoubtedly created our “worldview” and perspective of sex. Such small minds and innocent bodies should never have had to endure the torture of others’ negligent promiscuity; and yet those very others most likely endured the same abuses themselves by their own perpetrators in a perpetuation of this gross cycle. Who is to be blamed with so many variables in play and with the detrimental effects of sin snowballing upon the children of this age? The Lord will surely judge on the day of His appearing. I know that the Father has wept many tears for the children that have fallen victim to such events – and this means He has wept over what happened to you.

Can the cycle be broken?

Yes.

Our wounds are very real, and I was recently awakened to the reality of just how deep these things can affect a person especially later in their adult life. As the childhood mind forms, the pathways it is taught to think in become highways by which information travels into the mind and is interpreted. Many of these paths were defiled for many of us as children which taught us to think sexually therefore – even about the things that are innocent and pure. But friends, there is hope! I will address victory, but we first must handle the other side of the coin.

Idolatry

Our minds being given to sex is not purely because of wounding. Although it started there, we must also admit the truth––we have surrendered to our wounds and allowed our minds to wave that white flag instead of fighting the good fight. We have allowed our wounding to become the scapegoat for sex being our idol.

The sin of idolatry is rarely equated to sex today. We look on every corner of our western worlds and there is sex, and yet somehow we are removed from the idea that it might be an idol. Instead we call it a “struggle.” To put all of the blame on wounds is to not admit the truth of our love of sex. This is a reality that must be addressed by believers.

We love sex. But can we love the Lord our God above it?

If on the corners of western streets there were enormous golden idols with many arms covered in snakes and a Christian were seen on that corner bowing down before the golden creature, and later say in his accountability group, “I was struggling with idolatry today,” who would scoff? That man would be rebuked! Yet, we passively distinguish. This is the clever reality of billboards, magazines, tv, and movies––although it is that same type of foul false-god receiving attention and worship, it has learned to disguise itself well and mask its agenda. This idol has learned to charade itself as another thing altogether…

 

Idolatry is so easy to label in nations like Nepal and India because of its blatancy. It still happens there in the flagrant fashion of bowing down before golden statues. This form of idolatry manifests mainly in external form. Not so in the west. On the contrary, idolatry has become a predominantly internal practice. Indeed, with both forms the heart is what is engaging in the idolatry, but I am primarily speaking of the practice. With Nepal, there is a daily practice of going to the temple and touching, kissing, and bowing down before physical idols. With the West, there is a daily practice of opening up magazines, watching movies, checking out people as we check our social media, and then touching ourselves. Within all of those spheres there is a driving relentless agenda of sexualized content which in turn turns the heart, and moreover keeps the heart constantly swamped with erotic material even if you’re not looking for it.

Does the mind bow to the image? 

Yes.

Is this idolatry?

Yes.

This is not loving the Lord with all of our mind. But can it be overcome?

Yes! But we must be sober minded!

Think about ancient cultures. Sex is often a part of the rituals contained within the programs of idolatry. The false gods have always had sex within their scheme of worship because they themselves are un-pure, and defiled––apostate from what is holy. Behind the false gods however are very real creatures, demons, who hate humanity and exist for the purpose of deceiving us. They long for the worship that belongs to Jesus…

Have you ever considered the pagan god statues of greco-roman culture? They are typified as naked and sexualized, and yet powerful and secure. Surely that has some odd effect on the psychology of humans. Sex and power is embodied in the pagan gentile gods because they are actually unholy and powerless demons. This is the paradox.

Temple prostitutes are a character we’re familiar with from the Bible. Sex and idolatry went together throughout the bible, likewise in this modern era. The forces of darkness understood long ago that sex was an integral part of idolatry and it has been incorporated into their worship for millennia.

We must open our eyes to the truth of what’s happening!

The same idolatry is in fact still happening today. When sex has been equated and related to idolatry of all sorts for history past, then it should inform us of something deeper than a struggle taking place today. We must have this foundational understanding of the roots of idolatry and its application to sex if we are to ever see it for what it is and overcome the temptation to bow down to its idol. We must see it as turning away from the Lord God of Israel and worshiping another god.

It is idolatry.

In stark contrast to the pagan gods of the nations, YHWH––the God of Israel––has always maintained a standard of beautiful and undefiled purity. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 Jn. 1:5). He commanded that no form of Him ever be made because he knew what was in men’s hearts. I think He foreknew that men would inevitably portray Him the way the Greeks and Romans did their gods. The Greeks and Romans are case and point of what man believed the “gods” were doing––partaking in drunken orgies! The God of Israel wanted no such gross portrayal of Himself. He has kept Himself and His form more pure than the god-concoction man could have thought of. Even today, His main expression is seen not in a powerful deity seated on a throne with naked women surrounding Him and lightning bolts being thrown from His hand–– but in the glory of a weak man hanging upon a Cross!

Oh the depths of the wisdom of the knowledge of God!

The wisdom of man is there confounded and the glory of YHWH is magnified. This is the God that we worship. This is the God we long to be faithful to! There on that crossbeam is

“…Christ, in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Col. 2

YHWH’s biblical worldview presents the context of sex as a life giving act that affirms and validates the covenant between a man and a woman every time that it takes place. In that holy act, the man and the woman are one flesh, testifying of their vow and the day that they left their father and mother, joined themselves to each other and forsook any chance in the future of doing that act with another person. In this light, the act of sex within covenantal marriage is worship unto the Creator who thought of this and created it for the purpose of purity. It is in fact the only act that humans partake in which is directly creational–– a life is made by the act and a person is born. It is remarkable that something that is so exploited today as filth in the industry of pornography, is actually so filled with light and truth within the marriage bed!

I see your point, but why is the struggle so deep?

Recently it all just seemed so simple to me. Wounds and idolatry––

We are broken, and sex is worshiped…

Adultery is the anti-climactic end of the idolatry of sex. After having worshiped this filthy idol for so many years it is the fatal outcome and the very reason why so many succumb to its trap.

Upon the first act of adultery the biggest deception of having believed that it would be fulfilling becomes plain. I doubt that any man thinks to himself just moments after the first act of infidelity, “This was worth it!” At that very moment the woman who has carried his seed in her womb for nine months enduring the pain of childbirth multiple times out of love for him–– the very woman who has endured the in-laws and attempted to overcome the hurdles out of love them for years, the same woman that has spent endless hours of working through problems and coming to resolution with him, the only woman who has fallen asleep next to him in bed for many years is not there in the bed with him––she is at home alone with their children! The adultress, with whom he just defiled himself, has endured nothing for him except her own driving lust and brokenness that produced this horrible outcome. His true lover, His own flesh, the one who bears the vows of their wedding day in her heart and on her ring finger lies helplessly alone at home with their kids wondering why he had to work late again. She will almost certainly, very soon hear the crushing words of, “There’s someone else.” What a tearful, grievous outcome, and yet is one that is now commonplace.

The weighty implications and perspective of such a scenario when viewed outside the “hot perspective” of those within the deception of adultery is staggering. Adultery is the most paradoxical conclusion a person in the covenant of marriage can make. What great betrayal it is that takes place in total contradiction to the covenant between the husband and the wife!

In reality, separated from the gross fantasy the adulterer has now lived out, he is simply worshipping the idol of self-indulgent sex. He is actually worshipping himself even though he might not ever be conscious of it. It is controlling him and driving him. It is possessing him and usurping worship that belongs to Jesus, and praise that belongs to his wife, his flesh, his covenant. Oh what a great devastating lie this one has believed. It is no wonder the God if Israel has such strong regard toward this sin.

All of the men reading this now will secretly attest to this truth: our hearts are incredibly adulterous. It is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and an unrelenting cry before the throne of God to keep us pure that we do not commit adultery. I know this because I am a man, and I’ve walked in total transparency with a lot of men. I’ve also grown up in a church where a fair percentage of the men therein committed adultery in some way or another. I praise God that I have an earthly father who has remained faithful to my mother for these 41 years and never given in to this horrific sin––keep up the good fight dad!

The bombardment will soon find its end!

The Lifestyle of Praise

By the time I reached my thirties, the abusive events of my childhood had taken a detrimental toll on my mind. I did not feel that I could love the Lord with all of my mind many days, because my mind interpreted simple everyday events and interactions as sexual. A mere compliment from a woman could filter through the sexualized pathway created in my six year old mind and turn into something it was not. A simple smile or introduction could lead my mind to immediate improper thoughts. It seemed adultery was creeping closer and closer to me and I feared being the man that would let his wife and family and most of all, the Lord Jesus, down.

This is about as raw and transparent as it gets.

I would hear about other people’s struggles and it never seemed to be at nearly the same level of intensity as mine. I wasn’t intending to peg myself as unique, but the battle that I experienced was very different from others’ I knew. There were times when I would have demonic dreams, intensely pornographic and defiling, for weeks on end––waking up gasping for air and wondering how to escape the trial. I would fight the desire of lust, and keep my eyes on the Cross as much as I knew how. I would cry out to the Lord, I would remain in prayer and the Scriptures, and yet about every six months I would finally come to a place of feeling overwhelmed and give in to pornography. Even though I had previously been free of pornography for a 5 year period, this took place for the last 3-4 years. With this as the reality, loving brothers encouraged me to step down from leadership for a while and seek healing. This is when this blog was put on hold.

Making myself idiotically vulnerable did not come without a cost. I made it my devastating goal to tell all the details to other brothers of every sin I would commit. This transparent sharing of struggle with other brothers seems to often be the first step that is neglected by other Christians I know who have fallen into adultery.

Whether deeply wounded, or giving into the worship of sex, we, brothers, cannot afford to hide our sin!

I am convinced that the Lord Jesus carried me through the hardest of trials because of His great mercy, and because I was willing to embarrass myself over and over before other brothers with the truth of my darkest sins. If you are in that place of hiding in your sin, HUMBLE YOURSELF AND COME INTO THE LIGHT. Boldly I would like to ask you to come out and tell someone what’s happening before it’s too late and you really mess up. This pre-strike mentality does something in the Spirit that certainly thwarts the enemy. If you keep hiding he will prevail over you and it is only a matter of time. This isn’t pessimism, this is honesty based on 35 years of personal experience and observation.

When it all peaked for me, our family was still overseas as missionaries in Nepal. There was a lot of deliberation with my leadership over what was happening. The demonic dreams got to a place where I was overwhelmed, very discouraged, and tired of enduring such horrible nights. I would fast and pray, and remain in the Scriptures, but it would not cease. By the grace of God, our mission in Nepal was in a place where it was time to turn things over to the indigenous leaders we had discipled. It was their turn to run with the torch. Even the guys we discipled knew my weakness and walked with me through it. How could I hide it from them? This also led the way in vulnerability being part of the gospel witness in showing our need for the Cross.

In November of 2016 I officially posted the message that has been on my blog static page since. I wanted this open confession to be the help others might need to break free. I wanted my tiny candle of light to pierce the great darkness of this world wide web with a brutal confession of weakness that I might boast in Christ alone. I also wanted to be completely transparent with those who have read this blog and received encouragement from it, or help in the Scriptures. It needed to be known that the man writing these things was broken, and that He wanted to give himself to this time of consecration so that with purity he could be a faithful witness for the future. I didn’t want to be a fake.

Although I do believe that I will be partially broken until the resurrection of Christ, and that my mind will not be fully sanctified until it is completely changed on the day of His appearing, I can tell you that this time has taught me many things and matured me in the faith in many ways. Having undergone 12 weeks of counseling sessions, prayer, and deliverance the first couple months of this year, there were many things that were “gotten to the bottom of.” I steadily emerged to a new place in my mind where I felt space to “love the Lord.” A new strength arose in my spirit that loved the Lord deeper and more fiercely than the lust of the flesh and its temptations. For the first time in many years I felt strength to overcome the sin of lust.

It has now been over two years since I have given into pornography! I have resolved to never return to its vomit.

The Lord’s work is not finished, and yet I am finding new strength to love with Him with all of my heart. The despair and embarrassment that I and my family underwent as we submitted to the consequences of my sin has born fruit that I would never take back. Submitting to the discipline of the last two years was well worth it.

Christ

This is likely where many will stop reading. Oh how sad and detached we are from this beautiful Man! This is the only place to find freedom and hope so please keep reading!

Yes, there is a living Man who has never worshiped the idol of sex! Oh, how often we forget this! Jesus walked this earth for 30 odd years and never bowed his knee, mind, or heart to lust! The great Conqueror of wounds, sex and idolatry we worship! We often do not remember that this Man was killed because of our idolatry though He was infinitely pure, and then He rose from the dead, passed through the heavens and is seated at the right hand of God as our Great High Priest living to make intercession for us! If this reality were not true then the climax of this post would have been set upon that horrible hopelessness of us “just doing better in our own strength.” Yet, because of the sureness of this reality we can lift our eyes to the hope of glory and find the reason for choosing willful sanctification and worship no matter the cost.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). 

This biblical reality is stunning. The Man Christ Jesus never bowed his knee or his heart to idolatry of any sort, and yet He became those nasty things on our behalf, so that we are no longer in ourselves, but we are IN HIM––trapped in the glorious bosom of His righteousness, pure children of God destined to inherit glory and a kingdom with Him forever. The Father looks at us and sees His Son’s blood and righteousness, and He smiles with acceptance at our union to His Son.

This reality empowers us to abstain from sin as worship of Him.

What a testimony He has, and what authority Jesus’ prayers have before His Father to guard us, protect us, and deliver us from the temptations of the evil one. His vascular arms, pumping the very blood that was poured out on Calvary will carry us through to the day of His appearing!

We have very clear evidence of the strength of Jesus prayers in Luke 22:31-32. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Oh the power of the prayers of God the Son! As satan prepares the wheat sifter, Jesus is there before the father crying out that Peter would stand firm. On the hem of those prayers Jesus knows the outcome because Jesus prayers get answered! There is no one with more authority to pray for you then our High Priest, For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin (Hb. 4:15).

It must’ve affected Peter deeply to hear the cock crow and know that the Son of Man had been on His knees for him. But the power of Jesus prayer is revealed not in Peter succumbing to the pressure of denial, but in the restoration that takes place as Jesus restores him. The power of Jesus prayers led the traitor to become the leader who was crucified upside down. We also, upon the failure of our sin, must remember that His prayers have prayed beyond the sin that just consumed us and will carry us through to the end. Take heart!

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

This passage is immensely powerful. We fix our eyes upon Jesus so that we do not grow weary in striving against this idol of sex that so easily entangles us in our culture. He is the author of our faith because He walked it out perfectly, and will complete it in us!

In this cultural inundation of idolatry we do not lose heart because Jesus didn’t. Even in failures amounting seventy times seven, and in the grief and shame and remorse of our sexual deviances, we continue to try to lay aside every encumbrance. We do this by His Holy Spirit which He has given us to forsake the idols of our lives, the lust of the flesh, to turn away from her sexualized corners and fix our eyes upon Jesus! We must keep trying to cast down that idol of sex by the power of His Holy Spirit, and walk in His Spirit for you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). We must be willing to crucify those desires because those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires knowing that the Bible is clear that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10).

Our desire to enter the kingdom of God must be stronger than our other desires so that we might overcome the lust of the flesh.

Beloved friends, let us take up that Cross together, giving Jesus a fragrant life of praise instead! Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Rom. 12:1). Let us worship Him by continuing to sacrifice those evil inclinations to His Cross and letting praise ascend in their place. That Jesus may receive in our life the reward of His suffering, let us press on towards the day that His and our joy are fulfilled together in the consummation of the ages when His kingdom comes and every idol is abolished and our heart is renewed in the New Covenant of His Holy Spirit dwelling in us in fullness. That is the end-game, let us not forget!

We will be fully delivered! Our mind will be fully pure! Our heart will once again be fully innocent!

We can make it with our eyes fixed upon Him! So, let us un-fix our eyes from anything that would hinder the glory He deserves.

Can we do it?

Yes.

He is worth it.

Even so, Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

 

Deny Yourself

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“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, 4got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 6So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter,” (John 13:1-7).

In John 13 one of the greatest dichotomies in Scripture takes place. The God who appeared atop Mt. Sinai in a furnace of blazing thunderous glory kneels on the earth in His human frame and cleans the dirty feet of men. The event is enough to meditate upon for hours and bring us to our knees again and again at the servility of Jesus – God in the flesh, yet tragically, this glorious paradox rarely affects us enough. Often times it is not the misunderstanding of what is happening in this extraordinary story that leads to a lack of praxis, but rather a failure to ground this story to the electrical lines of our theology as their primary energy source. With such demonstration from God in the flesh, the power plant of John 13 ought to electrify our theological drive with the true power of weakness, and show us the course of God’s own wiring. Yet, somewhere along the way it seems the wrong line has been snipped by the church, and its subsequent explosion has resulted in the leaders of the body of Christ taking the place of the Pharisee standing in the temple a mile away, confident in his ministry, while the Lord of glory continues to model His methodology on His knees in the lowest part of Jerusalem. A rewiring must therefore take place to reroute our electricity back to the source of life.

The command to deny ourselves is not one that the human sympathizes with so easily. It strikes a chord within us that is not indigenous of the flesh, nor does it occur naturally, but is one that must be tilled into our soil with ox and cart until it produces the fruit God desires–– complete and utter surrender. It is timely, and it hurts, and it could be thought of as a miniature ox dragging a plow across our skin and through our hearts with the unceasing intent of breaking up the fallow ground, so that fruit might eventually be born. When we look through the veil behind our eyes and into our own minds we must admit that in the core of our beings we despise the pain of this reality. This is precisely why it must be the work of the Holy Spirit that accomplishes such things. Needless to say, the continual “Yes” in our hearts is what allows him to kill the poisonous seeds of self-righteousness and give way to the seedlings of humility.

There is nothing within a man that rises up in joy at the words from our Saviour’s mouth. “Deny yourself,” seems to be more of a curse than a blessing––yet properly so. We might call it: the ‘curse’ of the kingdom. In the world’s eyes throughout this age we are quite literally to be perceived as the cursed ones. They look upon you in last place and despise you. There, the least honored in the room of achievers, you sit facedown, the one who has lost all things in this life to gain Christ and yet to them you seem a total failure. Sadly, this is also the case with many Christians and their theology today. But it is in the sacrifice of living as one who is ‘cursed’ in this age, that is, in the intentional placing of yourself last and least of all, that a great retaliation of this formula takes place in the age to come with the ultimate reward that has only been earned from self denial: entrance into the kingdom of God! Indeed, we cannot move on from this “deny ourselves” for this is the very essence of the salvation we see Jesus embody in His life which apexes in His death on the Cross. In fact, self-denial is a sort of precursor to taking up our Cross. If taking up the Cross is the mountain that must be climbed by Christians, then denying ourselves is the base camp before the climb. The longer we camp there, the bigger the mountain may look, but the more acclimated we become to the challenge ahead. Tragically, we will never summit if we do not first make base-camp.

Let us consider the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus’ main exhortation on the denial of self. If the Sermon on the Mount is a sort of base camp, it may well be the place where the most careful predictions about the journey ahead are calculated, and where who is able to continue the climb is determined. I continually find the nine verses of the Beatitudes specifically to be the darnedest verses because of their efficacy in revealing my lack of self denial. Nevertheless, I want my life to be in agreement with Jesus’ own exhortation in Luke 14:27-32:

“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28“For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29“Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31“Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32“Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 

In this case, the Everest before us is the Sermon on the Mount. It is the summit we aim for. It is the war we prepare for, and the tower we are seeking to build. The person who is unwilling to accept these chapters as the aim for his life is unfit to be a disciple of Jesus. Saying yes to Jesus as our Lord and Savior inadvertently means saying yes to the Sermon on the Mount. Those few chapters are the very practical essence of what self-denial is, and the how to of laying down our lives. We are not believing we will perfect these chapters in our lifetime – for we only make it to the summit in the resurrection by His Holy Spirit! But we ache for them to be walked out daily by His grace, and each step uphill towards the summit reveals our hardened hearts that are desperate for that day. We must allow that ox and cart to keep plowing that hardened soil. We hate it, but our skin and hearts become fertile in the process and the seed of the inspired Word falls into them producing the fruit of the vessel that is meek­ and the life that seeks to be laid down.

Oddly enough, I seem to mostly find myself beneath this base-camp, wondering about the forest of my own issues. I will gladly lay down my life for myself in this forest, but I might never see the needs of others nearby. Indeed, I am the focus of the journey there, and I have no concept of base-camp, nor the peak that I should be climbing. Either this, or I have deceived myself into thinking I have already climbed that peak, and that the forest is prettier anyway. It’s a deception of the strangest kind, like the man who looks at himself in the mirror, turns around, and immediately forgets what he looked like.

My best friend used to have John the Baptist’s declaration written in green marker upon a cardboard sign that hung over the doorway to his room. Though it was such a simple reminder, he passed under its words every day so as to state, “I will submit to this reality!” That affected me so deeply that when he incidentally left the sign with me when he joined his wife in marriage I also put it over my door. I still have that piece of cardboard today and its words resound in my ears regarding a man’s simple mission in this life. He must become greater and I must become less. 

Let us not over-complicate such matters, but let us rather submit to them and join Jesus there in the grit of servanthood, in the dust of self-denial, girding ourselves with the power of weakness, anchored to the truth of Christ Crucified. Let the world be stupefied that we would choose such lowly decor as the hallmark of our lives in this age.

 

Seeing Clearly in the Haze of Theology

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Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the seemingly endless differences in theology. The different vantage points of interpretation can be likened to that of a thousand birds swarming around our brittle little towers of opinion. In ceaseless cycles of flight, their constantly flapping wings stir up endless, mounting gray clouds that eclipse what might have only moments before been discernible truth. The clarity we had is suddenly gone. It was faith, now it is obscured by the veil draped by men. And there, with your face only inches from that veil your eyes go blurry and you feel defenseless against the separation that lies between you and understanding.

Like a starfish on a beach that has just been crashed upon by the wave, we are washed out into the depths of men’s perspectives on the Bible, and there many of us sit, burdened by the weight of the water above us… desperate to understand the sun that is glinting through the waters above. How deep is it? How far away is that sun? A thousand fish have told you different answers. It’s hard to stay alive in such conditions. From the seafloor we either drown in the waters or try to emerge from their depths gasping for the air of truth.

The birds are the words of men that crow and caw in mockery at the words of God being literal. The clouds are those men’s ideas that settle around us, and, while at first their appearance was so delicate and fluffy, we find that their bitter end is rain and cold. The theological waters have darn near become impassable because we don’t know the “original languages.” Ourselves, the tiny starfish, feel vulnerable to the weight of the waters, and sit on the seafloor trying to determine our next move. In fact, we are terrified to move. We just want to love the sun, who is Jesus, and we desire to feel His warmth… but the murky words of men keep us sunk, weighted down, holding our breath for the next wave of doctrine to roll over us. But, who will emerge and breathe in the clean air of the Gospel? Can you know the true Gospel as Paul did?

We are starving to understand what is true. Why does this great sea of theology seem so vast? Why does the Bible mean so many different things to so many different people? Why does each one of those people think their view is right? Like a ten-cheese soup in a caldron many just become a mixture of theologies, but do they ever arrive at the truth? What is truth? How do we find its anchor?

For many, the faith of their youth has become a wrinkled, pessimistic old man. Whether they weathered the sufferings of life poorly, or were stricken by too many “church people,” the end has become a fateful belief in nothing more than being good and the God of science. For others, they believe in the Bible and have kept the faith from their youth. Faith to them is a future hope of being delivered from the wrinkly nature of their deceptive hearts that are permeated with desire for sin. Their hope is fixed to a Man that will change their saggy bodies from mortal to immortal.

A few days ago I sat down with a Pastor much older than me who was also certainly more humble than me. Proficient in the Scriptures, there was nothing I brought up that he wasn’t already familiar with. This situation does not happen often because many people, yes even pastors, are oddly unfamiliar with their Bible. However, when this does happen the outcome is typically the same. The person I am speaking with will say, “Well, that’s just one way to interpret it, and I interpret that differently.” They will then expound upon the books that have told them differently and how they arrived at their conclusion. This makes me want to shout in their faces, “I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU’VE READ!” (I told you he was more humble than me…)

Why do I want to shout this?

It’s actually not because of arrogance, it’s because of deep emotional pain I feel over how simple God has made the Gospel, and how the theologies of men have distorted its simplicity.

Paul believed that anyone who preached another Gospel other than the one he preached was to be accursed (Gal 1:8;9). He also believed that men would be judged based his gospel (Rom. 2:16). Paul clearly says that he was given the gospel from Jesus Himself in Galatians 1, and in Romans 16 he says that he has been given understanding of the mystery that was hidden from ages past. Paul says there is one faith in Ephesians 4:4, and in Jude we are exhorted firmly to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all handed down (v3). Paul believed that he understood what this good news was. He longed for us to grasp it as well:

“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” (Col. 1:9).

Paul, our father in the faith, prayed earnestly that we would understand.

When Jesus was resurrected from the dead He spent 40 days teaching His disciples the Gospel that He wanted them to teach and preach (Acts 1:3). It was a 40-day intensive seminar with the resurrected King of Glory concerning the things of the Kingdom of God. Oh how often we miss the security of such Scriptures! Jesus Himself instructed those men personally, and the instructions and words He told them, they repeat all through the book of Acts. Be filled with the words of those sermons friends! Eat every word and savor them! Peer deep into the Scriptures they speak of and behold the future events they describe. It is the Gospel in its purest form as told from the mouth of the person of the Godhead, recycled by the men He purposely entrusted.

Acts 3: 18“But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.”

The point is that these men do not get it wrong! Paul’s confidence in stating that God will judge all men based upon the gospel he preaches is not arrogant––it is confidence by the Holy Spirit and Holy Scriptures, a holy boldness that he has been given perfect understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that will save men’s souls if they respond, or send them to a lake of fire if they do not. I long to have this same confidence. But, I have not ascended to the third heaven and heard the Gospel directly from Jesus’ mouth as Paul did. You probably haven’t either. So, for those of us who haven’t had that experience we have a very simple responsibility––do the things the apostles did, say the things the apostles said, and believe the things the apostles believed. However, the common problem is that there are so many people doing things the apostles did not do, saying things the apostles did not say, and believing things the apostles did not believe, all the while teaching and believing they are!

Now, here is where people’s minds go, “Well, who made you the judge afacelesswitness?!” And again they may stem the confrontational nature of truth and move on instead of respond.

I recently had a dream that my family and I were inside of a house during a tornado. The gripping fear that wrapped around the muscles in my body as though I were in the fist of a giant was some of the most tangible fear I have ever experienced in a dream. I grabbed my family’s hands knowing that I could not protect them and we stood in a circle. Our house began lifting off the ground and spinning. Then, from the depths of my being I began screaming the only thing that made sense, “WE HAVE TO CALL ON THE NAME OF JESUS!” I repeated this anthem from the top of my lungs until the storm moved over, setting our house down gently.

I share this because it is my theological position. I am screaming out loud and calling on the name of Jesus to see through the haze of men. I am plunging the depths of His Scriptures to find understanding and praying every time that the Holy Spirit would open my eyes to see truth clearly. I am asking the question of what is biblically consistent––giving Jesus the most glory? Through many hours of weeping over the texts and humbling myself before them, I have tarried, that they might affect me deeply and cause me to die to myself and live for Christ alone. I am swimming down beneath the ship of the apostles and trying to examine every detail of what anchors it, so that I might be found a faithful witness. Tuning my ear to Jesus’ words I am searching out the things He must’ve said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

We, like Pilate, must turn to the Lord and say “What is truth?” hopefully to receive the long quiet stare of Christ’s fiery eyes… signifying that the answer is within Him alone. We are sanctified by His true words as He prays to the Father in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” Receiving His words as truth is what sanctifies the people of God. Not allegorizing His words, nor symbolizing His words, nor transforming His words into the words of men.

A literal interpretation of the Bible is the anchor of the apostles and the key to understanding their doctrine and interpretation of the Scriptures. Men bring the haze, not God. We must peer through their theological fog and rejoice at the light of truth!

The argument over literal versus allegorical interpretation is fallacy! God’s word is truth. It is not ‘symbolic truth.’ Either He will do what He said literally or you don’t know what God will do––including save you from your sins! Because, how do you know if that also is allegorical or not!? How can you ever arrive at a conclusion or have a balanced filter of what is literal or allegorical? You cannot. It all becomes subjective reasoning. It’s as simple as that.

For many of us the journey has been long and contrary on the sea of truth and we have finally let down our anchors where the lighthouse of the Gospel came into sight. Our ships tattered and beaten––the once crisp sails now wind-blown like shredded ribbons licking the wind from the end of an old flag––we behold the glory of truth and finally rest in the peace of the Bible being literal from start to finish. Keep sailing your ships onward friends until you also find that peace amidst the torrential waters of modern theology! Do not ride their modern tides! Do not be swayed by new winds of doctrines, or “new perspectives”. No matter how fierce the storm, or how conflicting the waves, sail the waters with confidence and boldness that you may indeed arrive at the shore of eternal life to hear Jesus announce “You believed Me!” We joyously collapse into His arms on that day and breathe in resurrection. Even so, Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

Innocence, Joy, and Increasing Grief

journeybehindthefalls

Innocence

Many times I have returned to gaze upon a picture my parents took of me as a child. No older than three, bright blue-eyed, with summer-tanned long limbs and wearing nothing but a green and red striped t-shirt and saggy diaper––I am the quintessential boy-boy. The incredible emotion the boy communicates to me is nearly breathtaking. I hold a water hose in one hand which is clearly the object creating the intense joy prevalent in my child-face. It is an unbeatable grin… perhaps pure, innocent jubilance… as if to that boy he had captured the flailing giant green snake that is spewing transparent poison from its mouth as it twists and turns around from the power of the surging water. The grin is sheer triumph over the imaginary beast he has conquered. In the plain delight of such a moment my mother or father had somehow captured the snapshot on their old canon camera and it lives on to this day there on the faded 4×6 photo paper.

To be a man in his thirties and look upon the babe that I once was holds its own nostalgia. To reminisce this memory though it no longer was there in the forefront of my mind forced me to dig deep into the multi-layered issues of childlike innocence, the joy that erupts from the young, and to question the grief that settles in with age.

Children are filled with innocence. You see it when you look into their eyes and it directly relates to their naive joy. You know they are naive but it doesn’t take away from the effect their joy has upon you. Just this morning I witnessed several children, mine included, begin jumping up and down and screaming at the mention of going into Chik-fil-a and playing in the play-area there. The joy I see in them is confronting and often causes me to question the lack of exuberance I see within myself. The sparkle I see in their deep brown eyes repeatedly outwits me and like a jab to the ribs I double over in my spirit and ponder the details of the Christian story. What makes life so unenjoyable for adults?

I forewarn you, crafty fellow that I am, that this post will most likely not end the way you think. This is not a guilt rally which terminates in the shameful accusation that you as a christian are lacking joy and that you just need to have more! I am attempting to scour the depths of the characters in the Bible and mine a few typically unquoted Scriptures so as to level the playing field regarding the facade of christian jubilation. Let’s define the facade of christian jubilation.

The Facade of Christian Jubilation: The belief that one must always be joyful and exemplify that joy because at the end of the day you have been saved from your sins by Jesus. If you don’t model joy about the reality of your free gift of salvation then you are failing in general as a true Christian. Basically, fake it until you make it.

Simplified: Faking joy, or trying to be joyful because you are a “Christian,” even when you do not feel joy at all. This is usually based off of the belief that the Scriptures command this unceasing “joy” to be inherent to being a believer.

During this year I have been challenged several times on the forefront of what I believe about the Gospel. Particularly, I have been questioned about a “lack of joy” that a few people have perceived in my life. In one instance, I was told “Christianity is about being joyful.” In another instance I was told ,“I cannot believe in the gospel you preach because I don’t see enough joy in your life.” To be honest, both instances offended me, and although I talked through the issues with both parties, they neither cared to understand or believe what I tried to explain. This post is what I said and I’ll leave the decision up to you. These two brothers’ perception of “joy” challenged me to seek out the biblical understanding of joy, of rejoicing, happiness, and what the actual state of Christians should be. First, let’s look at the passages that have most likely already come to your mind.

Joy

It’s probable that Philippians is already at the forefront of your mind and it should be. Within this letter we have about 16 mentions of joy.

Paul, writing this letter from prison starts by stating his joy in prayer for the church in Philippi at their participation in the gospel:

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now…”

The man who has been imprisoned for his own participation in the gospel, has joy in considering that the Philippians are also choosing to participate in the gospel that has caused his imprisonment. In other words, it seems he feels joy that the outcome will soon be their empathizing with his sufferings––that they have chosen to participate no matter the cost for the furtherance of the gospel. He continues,

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus,”

meaning that Jesus will give them the strength to endure the same sufferings Paul is enduring until it results in martyrdom or until He comes again on His day in the future. We see that Paul again in verse 12 directly relates his sufferings (circumstances) to be for the greater progress of the Gospel.

So, in this first chapter we see Paul’s joy relates to the church being willing to suffer, and Paul’s rejoicing is in regard to the furtherance of the Gospel, in which he joyfully endures his own sufferings. In neither of these scenarios do we have an unwarranted, always-smiling face that represents “christianity.” That is to say, Paul doesn’t seem to be jumping around his jail cell in celebration simply because he is a Christian and has been saved by Jesus from his sins. Paul’s joy is deeply present within the context of suffering, and that it is unto something which is the furtherance of the Gospel so that Christ will be exalted in his body whether by life or by death, (cf. Phil. 1:20) and that people would be able to stand firm in this gospel approving the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ (cf. Phil. 1:10).

It is the day of Christ Jesus that in Paul’s mind is distinctly supporting this anchor of joy which will be manifested in the future. That future hope causes him deep joy in the present whether his face says so or not. Is this the same joy that believers possess today? Paul will go further into defining his sufferings and proclaiming that the church in Philippi must participate with him just in case there was any confusion,

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”

There is no mistaking what Paul says here. From his stinky, moldy, wet, cold stone cell he reminds the church to experience the same conflict seen in him. His soon beheading relays the same information to us.

I hope that we are beginning to see how Paul is defining joy and rejoicing in these passages. We see that he is definitely not saying, “Always smile lest people not know you are a Christian.” He is saying that he possesses deep, unshakable joy for the fact that he has been counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake, and he encourages others to do the same. We see that joy is in his heart when others participate in the gospel even unto their own suffering. His joy is attached to the day of Christ Jesus in the future when those who suffer with Him may also be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17).

The context of suffering is pertinent to understanding Paul’s demeanor. He sits in a cell––it has furthered the gospel. He resides in chains––it has encouraged others to participate in the gospel. He suffers for Christ-–he empathizes with others and encourages them to be like him. In these things he has joy––the gospel is being lived out in real time and space for the glory of Christ Jesus. What glorious things to possess joy over!

Paul will then plunge into the depths of beauty in writing Philippians 2 by exhausting the insurmountable splendor of our crucified Messiah and how we should be of the same mind as Him. Paul’s conclusion is simple: The Creator of the heavens and the earth became a human servant and died the ugliest death imaginable. Thus, we should do the same for Him. In this he rejoices as the chains dig deeper in his wrists still. He rejoices because Christ has counted Him worthy to be formed into the likeness of what he explains in chapter 2. He will end the chapter with the story of Epaphroditus who became sick to the point of death for the sake of the Gospel and command that such a man be received with joy by the saints since he almost died for Christ’s sake. There we again see joy manifested as they delight in a brother who has suffered for Christ.

On the heels of Epaphroditus is the reminder to rejoice! I wonder if we’re getting the picture yet? Paul is suffering. Christ is suffering. Epaphroditus is suffering. And Paul is telling the church in Phillipi that they need to suffer. However, in the midst of such strong exhortation around suffering is the language of joy and rejoicing! This is simple, yet immensely profound. Is Paul simply saying rejoice when you suffer for Christ? He continues to lump all of his sufferings into one glorious statement of having suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish so that he might gain Christ…that he might know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that he may attain to the resurrection from the dead,” (3:7-11).

We do not relate to this intensity. We think we do, but we do not, and we must take a small parenthesis here to explain how intense these words are.

(Parenthesis)

In a previous post entitled “The Making of a Faceless Person” we embarked on the journey of Paul’s self-perception––Paul’s face––being swallowed whole into the face of Christ. Indeed, this had happened for Paul. I doubt any one of us reading this can say that we have suffered the loss of all things for the sake of Christ. This passage persistently blows my mind (insert emoji of your choice).

It might be easier to rephrase these passages for better clarity. This is how I perceive it in my mind:

I have lost everything that I have ever possessed on purpose and counted all things as total sh*t so that I may only gain Christ Jesus as my sole reward. I want to know Him on the day of His power when He resurrects me from the dead, and this is why I have chosen to know Him know in the fellowship of His sufferings, hoping that He receives this weak response of self-sacrifice, not as a work by which I inherit the resurrection, but as an offering of love because I want to be a part of that resurrection in which I receive Him finally as my true reward.

This is how I perceive it being said, I, not the Lord. I have often called this section the resurrection sandwich. Paul places suffering between two statements regarding resurrection in vs. 11. It just seems clear that he is saying I want to know Jesus on the day of resurrection, therefore I take up my cross as He did, so that I might also be resurrected. This is not salvation by works in Paul’s mind––it is simply response to the glory of Christ crucified. It is fellowship with Jesus. Do not be mistaken friends, true intimacy for the chief apostle was not a morning quiet time, it was a jail cell where he was bound hand and foot by chains, slowly undergoing the metamorphosis of becoming like the cross of Christ.

I have recently asked myself the question: How will you relate to Jesus on the day He appears if you never suffer as He did? If I’m a soccer player and I walk into a room full of soccer players, we have common ground. We have fellowship so to speak. We all know the game, the equipment, the field, and we can all run a very long time playing this game we have in common. The question with Christ is far more reaching. When you stand in the room with Jesus, the overlooked rejected prophet/messiah who had a ‘failure’ of a ministry that resulted in His brutal flogging and staking to the crossbeam in execution––will He relate to your american dream? Will you have common ground with Him is the question? Did you play the game of life before eternal life by His rules? Did you understand the equipment of humility and servanthood? Did you run the race with endurance pressing on towards the goal to win the prize? Paul and the other apostles who were all martyred will relate to Jesus on this common ground. Imagine when Jesus asks Peter to recount out loud when he was crucified upside down… Peter might immediately think “Good grief I’m so glad I went through with it!” And in that moment he can relate to the same death Jesus experienced, upside down! There will be fellowship between the two of them, there will be common ground. For those who have never chosen to suffer for Christ’s sake, the same cannot be said.

I’m being a little over dramatic for the sake of emphasis. I am not saying that everyone must be martyred to relate to Jesus. I am saying that embracing the stigma that comes along with standing for Christ without compromise is the common ground that you will relate to Him on. There is an actual fellowship that happens with Jesus when someone curses His name and you do not shy away from your faith. There is a bond of affection between you and Jesus when you are slandered for being a Christian. True intimacy occurs in the flames of the stake, in the bottoms of the guillotine, and at the end of the scourge… We enter into this fellowship of sufferings. We follow their example.

Grief

Ending our parenthesis, we come to the end of Philippians chapter 3 where Paul makes a statement that will catapult us into the antithesis of joy. Grief. Here within the confines of the four chapters normally cited as the reason for why Christians should always be happy without cause is a crucial point. Direct your attention to verse 17,

“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

Here we behold Paul weeping over brothers who have turned away from the Cross to serve earthly realities; effectively they have stopped their participation in the gospel. His exhortation remains as consistent as before. Follow my example, and the example of those who walk according to the pattern. The pattern he has identified as willingness to suffer for Christ’s sake with joy, which is participation in the gospel and fellowship with Christ. He continues the section by fixing the hope upon the Savior who will bring resurrection life and power in the future for those who have followed the pattern, and he confesses that this event is what we eagerly wait for while we yet suffer.

Paul is weeping because these once participants in the gospel have seemingly refused the pattern seen in him and it will result in their destruction. The tears falling from his eyes contain sorrow over their final state.

Weeping is the antithesis of joy and rejoicing. We see the apostle in this epistle continually exhorting the believers to rejoice, yet here he is weeping. Does that not strike you as odd? I think this lends helpful insight into the essence of joy we are trying to discover. In the midst of Paul suffering in prison for the gospel, he is rejoicing in the day of Christ Jesus which will bring reward for his sufferings, while he weeps tears of grief over the brothers who were not willing to suffer and have become enemies of the Cross. This is an occasion for weeping.

What does it mean to become an enemy of the Cross? Paul does not tell us… or does he? An enemy of the state is opposed to the state laws. An enemy of the Cross is opposed to the laws of the Cross. The law of the Cross is suffering BEFORE glory. To be an enemy of the Cross is therefore simply unwillingness to suffer in this age-–believing that Christians should be blessed, rich, and having a joyous inheritance on this earth now. This makes you an enemy of the suffering beheld there, while the friends of the cross possess fellowship with Christ Jesus as they suffer in hopes of the reward in the next age.

Paul is surely familiar with Jesus’ words we find in Matthew 5,

11“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So, we rejoice in the midst of suffering because great is our reward in the kingdom of heaven. Paul is consistent with Jesus. In addition Paul is weeping over these men who will not inherit eternal life. This is the tension for the apostle. This is the subject we are attempting to unveil.

Unceasing Grief

In Romans 9 Paul lays bare his inmost being. We cannot skip over the language he uses and the terms he employs to explain his state.

1I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed,separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and thetemple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Firstly, Paul states that his following statement is the truth in Messiah, testified of as true by the Holy Spirit. You could even say that Paul is “swearing on the name of Christ and the Holy Spirit”, that what he is about to say is authentic and neither fabricated nor exaggerated. He takes what he is saying seriously enough to announce this before his statement. When I am giving a message to a group of people and I am about to share something personal to me that God has done to make a point, I will often preface it by saying, “I am going to share a pearl of my heart with you – please do not turn and trample it underfoot.” I make a statement like this to qualify the vulnerability out of which I am about to speak and that what I am sharing is absolutely true whether they believe it or not. It seems Paul is doing this same thing here.

Secondly, it is helpful to define the Greek words Paul uses in order to see clearly what he is saying.

Sorrow is from the root greek word odýnē meaning: intense emotional pain (personal anguish); consuming grief, which is emotionally lethal if experienced apart from God’s grace which comforts.

Grief is:  lýpē, meaning: distress, vexation; (figuratively) physical or emotional pain; heavy, heart-sorrow (grief) that brings a person down.

Paul’s use of the adjectives great  and unending only further and strengthen the point he is trying to carefully articulate. Understanding this helps us to define the intensity of Paul’s statement and what he was trying to communicate. I paraphrase: Before Messiah and His Holy Spirit there is something I must to tell you about me that is absolutely true. Deep inside of me exists a perpetual unending reality of intense emotional pain, consuming grief, great heavy hearted sorrow and vexation of soul at the current state of God’s people Israel. 

Welcome to Paul’s reality. I wonder at who might explain to Paul after the reading of such verses that he’s obviously forgotten that the purpose of Christianity is experiencing joy and he needs to break through into the reality of what Christ has done. “Come on Paul! Do you know what Jesus died for on the Cross? Stop misrepresenting Christianity!” No. Paul had a divine burden from the Lord because he understood something that we most likely do not. Have we erased the calling of grief from its Christian orientation?

Jeremiah had a very similar reality.

My sorrow is beyond healing, my heart is faint within me! …For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken; I mourn, dismay has taken hold of me. 8:18-21

“Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” 9:1

“Woe is me, because of my injury! My wound is incurable. But I said, “Truly this is a sickness, and I must bear it.” 10:19

Within the context of impending judgment is the prophetic heart burdened with grief at what is about to take place. Jeremiah’s apparent grief was carried within a heart that “understands and knows the Lord,” (cf. Jer. 9:24).

What about Jesus?

“When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation,” (cf. Lk. 19:41-44).

We gather from the way Luke tells this story that there had been something keeping Jerusalem out of Jesus’ direct line of vision as He rode atop the colt. The journey from Bethany can involve twists and turns around the small mountains outside of Jerusalem. We picture Jesus there, atop the virgin burro. Mobs of Israelites are there, possibly thousands upon thousands yelling ,“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” as they cast palm branches and their very own garments on the road before Him. Surely the festive nationalistic spirit of the messianic expectation was overwhelming as they praised this Man in belief that he was the promised One!

But did Jesus smile and receive their praise? Did He nod in affirmation of their chorus? The Scripture doesn’t record this. Instead, Jerusalem comes suddenly into sight and in the midst of such celebration, Jesus’ eyes look upon the city and well up with tears.

What a Debbie Downer Jesus was! Couldn’t He have been more merciful towards the cheering crowds? Why this blade of sorrow cutting through the air with such sad sword?

Although His weeping is not described in detail, we can assume that when God weeps there is nothing attention-seeking nor pretentious about it. The pure and undefiled emotion in Jesus’ declaration tells us of the deep burden within His heart–that the same great sorrow and unending grief within Paul was also bound up in Him––an integral part of His nature was bursting out. It is the very essence of the Man of Sorrows found in Isaiah 53. And there we must stop and meditate on the ludicrousness of the Creator atop an animal of His creation, surrounded by humans, His very chosen ones, weeping un-conjured tears at the condition of “distress and bloodshed” He saw in the city before Him.

What must’ve filled His heart as He beheld the city that He has chosen to be the eternal resting place of His feet? What overtook Him when he gazed upon the city where His throne––the throne of David––is to be established forever? The city which the nations will stream to saying “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and learn His ways!”, lay there before Him, arrayed in foreign colors as a wayward prostitute. Israel lay captive to Rome under broken covenant, riddled with the sin of the nations… and the Holy One of Israel looks on from a donkey just outside her gates. What a paradox!

We behold Paul possessing a perpetual internal state of sorrow. Jeremiah’s eyes gush flowing tides of tears. Jesus weeps atop the colt. The apostle, the prophet, and the King of glory did not express unending joy? Why do many Christians see weeping and grief as an illegitimate representation of Christianity, instead of as an integral part of being a true Christian?

These three men knew something… these men lived in reality. They were marked with deep burden that I would question many of us understand or ever partake of. When judgment is upon the horizon the response is not to be weirdly optimistic and dance in joy that many people are about to perish under the wrathful judgments of God coming upon the land. The response is to feel what God feels in the midst of it. This is what sets apart His friends who understand Him from the masse that claim His name.

There are numerous other verses to cite in such a post as this but time fails us. Paul and the apostles continually reference the groan of being delivered from this wicked age,

1For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, 3inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. 4For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. 5Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge,” (2 Cor. 5:1-5).

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what healready sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it,” (Rom. 8:22-25). 

Maybe you are the rare breed that smiles, laughs, and pretends everything is ok while they are groaning? Fantasy! Those of us who have admitted the wickedness bound up in these bodies of death are contorted in our innards while we long for the day of deliverance, the day of Christ Jesus, when He will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself,” (Phil. 3:21). This mortal has been given the Spirit as a pledge of the day in the future when he puts on immortality.

Increasing Grief

Yesterday I held my son and daughter in my arms and launched them through the air and onto the couch. Over and over, time and time again it was fulfilling for them to participate. It gave them joy. Often I feel that I am looking into their eyes and seeing the same things I do in that photo of me. I could compare it to standing on a rock at the foot of Niagara Falls and just watching in awe. I want what they have… their joy is powerful… more powerful than the waters surging over the shelf of Niagara. I desire to be filled with that powerful joy overflowing and engulfed in laughter that continues until I cry every tear out of the ducts in my eyeballs. That’s what I want! But… it’s not that simple is it?

Many times I have heard the exhortation that we are to be this way because we are simply Christians, and that is what Christians do: Be joyful! From what we’ve looked upon in the Bible though, it would seem that this is not the constant state of what Christians should be. Solomon says something in Ecclesiastes that teaches us true wisdom (whenever Solomon talks, I always remember that this was the wisest man that has ever lived on earth because God made him that). He says, “Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain,” (1:18).

As Christians we should be growing in the wisdom of the Gospel and increasing in the knowledge of Christ. If Solomon is right, which he is, then with the growth and increase of these things comes the growth and increase of grief and pain. This is the point that I have been attempting to get us to. I may not have done it well in this post, but I want us to consider these things.

When I am a child I don’t understand how out of order the world is, that murderers exist, and that child molesters could live on my street. I possess innocence and naivety to “bad” things. As I grow up I learn those things, and grief and pain settles in. If Solomon’s formula holds true, which it does, then Christians who possess wisdom should also possess grief and believers who increase in knowledge will also increase in pain.

In my thirties I behold the state of the earth in rebellion towards God and realize that things are bad. It causes me grief. I perceive that from the garden until now things have only increasingly become worse, and are only growing worse still, and this causes me pain. I know that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and I understand that most people are not fearing Him. This causes an ache. I see the firstborn people of God apostate and the land promised to them war-torn and divided. This causes true sorrow. I am wiling to suffer persecution in the midst of these elements and bear the stigma that comes with believing that Christ is the only mediator who can reconcile these things. In this I have joy. I know that the Father has fixed a day when He will vindicate His Name and His Messiah will descend on the clouds of heaven, give resurrected bodies to those who have suffered with Him and begin his reign on the throne of Jerusalem. On that day He will make Jerusalem a praise in the earth (Is. 62:7) and the gentiles will rejoice with His people (Deut. 32:43)! I groan for that day, and in this I have immoveable and unshakable joy. It may not manifest as a smile all the time. In fact, it might even be present there in the wailing and contorted face of sorrow… you just have to see it through a different lens. Christians don’t define what joy is–– Christ and the Bible does.

In my thirties I stare into the niagara falls of my children playing and it moves me… I miss that naive joy. I gaze upon that picture of me as a child and it steals my breath. I long to be that boy. I rejoice to know that this is not the end and I will soon be like my son and the boy in that photo again.

Even so, “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!”

 

 

The Making of a Faceless Person

Leaders on Vacation

“But whatever things were a gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish (lit. crap) so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11

Truly this is a passage that we should linger on until it moves us deeply to action.

This incredible passage of Scripture is a sort of magnum opus from our Father Paul, a member of the great cloud of witnesses before the Father in heaven. In these rich verses Paul describes the process of losing his face. Paul describes the face he once had, and then declares that this fleshly face known to many has become unknown and forgotten, intentionally drowned under by the tidal face of Christ. Paul’s life had completely vanished into Christ Jesus where he had purposely lost everything to gain nothing but Christ alone. What an immensely beautiful thing! Certainly we all long for this same reality. Paul’s face, the face that had been chiseled so delicately into Pharisee, circumcision, and zealous law-perfection had been swallowed whole into the endless bright and shining abyss of the face of Christ. We must also fall facefirst into this grand chasm in order that we might gain Christ and attain to the resurrection from the dead!

Many years ago this became a paramount passage in my life, although I am still seeking to see it realized as truth within me. This hurts my heart, and this post is a plea to ask you to allow it to hurt yours also.

I grew up in a Christian home, with Christian parents, and went to a church that actually represented authentic Christianity to me. The people were broken. The people were sinners, saved by grace! There was transparency and truth represented from the pulpit and even public confession of sins on multiple occasions. I grew up knowing that this was the way of the Cross––totally opposed to the idea that we could deliver ourselves through our own righteousness!

I worked in the youth group after High School serving as a sort of associate youth pastor in this church as well as a worship equipper for a few years. I loved leading youth because self-righteousness was rarely an issue. However, during that time I began to emphasize before others a sort of spiritual face. I distinctly remember boasting that my quite-time in the morning was two hours, when most peoples was one. I took pride in this, and noticed that it surprised people in the way I wanted it to. I received their surprise and praise gladly. My face began to be recognized as intense. 

This same boasting was evident in my life when I left the Lord for a few years and went headfirst into as much sin as I could handle. I boasted of the amount I could drink. I boasted in the women I manipulated. I boasted in musical talent. I boasted that God had called my name, and although I was in sin now, I would one day turn back to Him. This was yet another face of boasting and receiving praise from men.

When I did return to the Lord I went headfirst into one of the most intense large-scale ministries in America. Again, I began to slowly let me face be articulated by works. I was known as the “guy who fasts,” and even a “well of wisdom” to which I gladly bowed in thanks on my stage of glory. My spiritual intensity was now at the zenith of its sacrilege. The vanity in my heart was so hidden under the disguise of false humility that no one noticed. But even my humility was a sham–– a facade of what was truly inside. Even I was deceived, unaware of my own disgusting sin.

At times I would sit in the front of the room where we all gathered together to pray with my eyes closed. In my mind, I would dream of the day when God would finally confirm my spiritual purity and zeal by having me levitate off the ground in front of everyone, stamping His approval of my spiritual life in the eyes of everyone. It’s ok, I know you’ve never thought such things. But I, you see, was the chief of sinners without any knowledge of it. Oddly, the deception grew to new levels.

During this time I tried to climb the ladder within the ministry, trying to make my face slowly become more recognized, while maintaining it’s appearance of humility. I did well. I am a decently good looking guy, with an overly extroverted personality and natural leadership gifting. I have a likable charisma. With these things in place, it’s fairly easy to climb the ladder in a ministry. Have you ever seen an ugly person without charisma leading large-scale ministries? I didn’t think so. This is wickedness and opposed to the truth of the Cross. I was so locked in the deception of the love of self that I just kept trying to climb higher and higher… the spiritual rungs becoming the praise of men I continually sought.

Every time however that the door would seem ready to open for my big promotion God would do crazy things that would shut the door in my face and force me to go lower and lower. At one time, when there was opportunity for promotion the Lord actually made me leave the ministry for a season only to return with no status whatsoever. During that season God began to break me down and reveal my depravity. He began to reveal my need for the Cross. I cried at the realization and repented for my self-righteousness. As soon as the season was over though, I returned to the ministry and got right back on the ladder. The mystery of my depravity runs deep.

After five years of this spiritual zeal resulting in burn-out and spiritual fatigue in season after season, I began to wonder what was off. No matter what I did, how much I gave, how many fasting’s I accomplished––I didn’t feel pleasing to God! I also didn’t feel pleased with myself because I always lived under the accusation “you could have given more.” This is what was championed from the pulpit, and it was what I believed. I came to a desperate point. I was internally frustrated. I didn’t understand. I was finally broken.

And there… the most amazing thing happened… even now it brings tears to my eyes!

I

saw

the

Cross.

I “Beheld the Man.”

Although the Lord had continually interrupted my seasons trying to drive me to the Cross, I always “returned the favor” by trying to give Him more spiritual zeal. Whenever He showed me a little bit of His face I wanted to show Him that mine was just as beautiful as His through my works. I tried to go harder for God. I failed. Finally! When I beheld Jesus face on the Cross and the liberating understanding that He was the only means by which the Father accepted me JUST AS I AM, I slowly began to be set free. I slowly began to lose that face I had tried so hard to make.

Spiritual zeal and self-righteousness is like religious plastic surgery. You have the power to make your face look however you want it to. You can look a certain way, and it costs a lot for that to happen, but in the end your face is stiff instead of soft and a false representation of what you actually look like. You smile, but your cheeks don’t really move. You wonder why others don’t think you’re smiling when you’re trying so darn hard to look happy.

The beauty of the Cross is that we all stand there crushed beneath the beautiful force of relinquishing any and all forms of self-deliverance! We “behold the Man” God, there––naked, despised, dirty, and rejected. We realize that this is the true state of every mans heart and that Jesus became our horrid reality for all to see. Thus, we come out of the darkness and confess the depraved state of our own hearts entering into the glorious light of His freedom beaming from the Cross.

This is the foundation for the exhortation hereafter. When we come to a passage like Philippians 3, we need to first confront the face that we each have sculpted from our own works of self-righteousness. If we first do this, then the Bible can do its work.

We should first understand that what Paul is saying in Phil. 3 does not objectively apply to each one of us simply because we identify ourselves as “Christians.” Indeed, what Paul is saying here is overtly subjective in its context pertaining to the truth about himself. This verse is true about Paul, and for it to be true about us there is a lot of dying to be done. If I am honest, as this passage confronts me time and time again, the reality of its truth is still in very small seed-form in my life.

Let us seek to crystallize what losing one’s face is in Scripture. In Philippians 2 Paul begins his thesis of reputation and what becoming faceless was in his own mind. To paraphrase and add a little helpful context, he says: If you are a Christian, become like Jesus. He had the reputation of Creator of the Heavens and the Earth and yet He lived on the earth without His creation recognizing Him by this reputation. Most of His life was lived in the quiet city of Nazareth where He grew up as a child obeying His parents. He walked down Nazareth’s streets and stood in its public square and no one ever fell down to worship Him. There was not a whisper from Him of His NAME or the truth of His power. Jesus did not fight to be seen by His true identity, or to be given the worship and credit He deserved, but instead He let those accolades lay neglected and silent in the throne room of His Father where the angels still were day and night proclaiming them aloud. He became known as Servant on the earth He created, and even His title of Healer and Prophet were refuted by the onlookers at Calvary–”Physician heal yourself!” and “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself!” Instead of feeling the need to reprove their contemptuous voices He laid down His life to death on the Cross, silent before His accusers. The sign above Him would speak loud enough of the validity of His true identity although He never declared it with His own mouth: The King of the Jews. This was what Paul saw in Jesus’ face.

There is helpful perspective in understanding the loss of ones face by defining what keeping one’s face is. In the first several verses of Philippians 3 we see Paul announce the golden medals that once hung from his neck, the honors that he thought would deliver him into eternal life by means of his own righteousness. He gives his qualifications: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. Paul is giving what was beheld in the eyes of the world as achievements. He carefully explains the details of his face and how it was recognized. He believed that who he had made himself to be had accredited him righteousness. In hindsight he calls this confidence in the flesh. 

“Thus says the LORD, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD,” (Jer. 17:5).

So, we see that losing one’s face is tied to two things. The first is losing your reputation and praise in the eyes of man for the sake of gaining Christ’s reputation. The second is refuting the idea that any reputation you now have (within your own eyes or the eyes of others) contributes in any way shape or form to you inheriting eternal life––your self-deliverance must be laid wholesale upon the delivering shoulders of the Savior.

You are probably thinking, as I once did, “Glad that’s not me!” Paul once thought that also… and then a Man standing in blinding light knocked him off of his high horse. The blindness that came upon his eyes would allow him the three days needed to see into himself and mine those horrible caves of self-righteousness in his heart. When his eyes opened again I suppose he might have looked into the mirror and wept desperately at the horrid image of his own face. It would be vividly apparent to him that he looked nothing like the man he saw on the Damascus Road. He would come away from the experience Paul, as Saul was executed daily.

“I die Daily.” ––Paul 1 Corinthains 15:

Proverbs 16:2 is one of those verses we don’t allow to stick vibrantly at the front of our minds, but we should: All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives. That stingsEverything Paul thought he was doing for God was clean and righteous in his own sight, but he was actually only doing everything for himself and for the praise of men. He would not have inherited eternal life based on the biblical formula because Paul’s strength was from, for and of himself. However, it is in that blinding incident that Paul is made to see––just as the blind man in John 9. Jesus’ words to the Pharisees there (and by relation to Paul) ring out – “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (v. 41).

The confrontational nature of Scripture is that it confronts. You and me, the most wicked of sinners, are therein confronted–– standing face-to-face with perfect truth and its piercing gaze into our hearts––forced to either look away or respond. Those who respond inherit eternal life. Those who do not might believe they will inherit eternal life, but the Scripture cannot bear witness for them as for the former. As we read above in Jeremiah 17–– trusting in your own strength is actually a heart that is turned away from the Lord. This is the end-game of a deceitful heart that never allows the light of Scripture to pierce too deeply. In those deep dark chambers lie the most wicked of monsterous ambitions which glory in everything other than the Cross. Unless we allow those chambers to be exposed by the light of Christ the teeth of that beast will gnaws away at our soul. As Christians we must therefore allow the Scripture, moreover welcome it, to trouble, torment and distress us that we might be converted to living its words instead of merely reading them so as to enter the kingdom of light on that day. James reminds us that this is the goal:

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. James 1:22-25

Maybe there is a helpful picture here emphasizing our discussion. In Paul’s case, there is a purposed erasing of one’s face and reputation post the horse knock-off experience. On that day, rest assured that righteousness as he had never seen in himself or any other Pharisee questioned him from the divine radiance. From then on Paul held everything up to the reflection of purity he beheld looking up from the ground that day so that it truly shone light on how disgusting his fleshly ambition towards righteousness was. He was confronted by Jesus’ illuminating glory to believe the Scripture and to turn away from that mirror remembering his ugly face must be lost in the beauty he saw within the blinding light of Christ. For us, Christ’s face is shown in vivid beauty in the pages of Scripture, so we become those pages in daily practical life to glorify His work on the Cross. This wonderful albeit slow progression will not fail to consume your fleshly ambition if you allow it. It did so with Paul. On the contrary, another man looks into the mirror of Scripture and thinks his face is pretty good looking. He then turns away and believes that what he saw needed no improvement and lives on as he likes never conforming himself to Scripture because he believes he is already what he reads. I fear that this is the dreadful state of many of us and confess that I too am often found turning around forgetful of my heinous appearance.

Now let’s drive the point home.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20

Here, yet again, Paul makes a decisive statement about himself that does not simply translate to every believer. You might perceive this as odd, but let me explain. Often times this verse is used as a general statement about Christians. However, do we not see many people bear the name “Christian” whose lives are very clearly not crucified with Christ? There is no need to name names here, we should instead insert our own. Paul’s radical statement “I no longer live,” is actually true about him because this is the Bible without flaw or error. I cannot say the same for myself. Here I am once again confronted with the question: Have I yet been crucified with Christ? In the agonizing of my own heart I often see the truth. No, no I haven’t been. Too much of Stephen is still alive. But God I want to be! … Please help me Father to further lay down this life of mine to find Christ!

In the wake of Jesus’ Cross, forsaking all human ambition, zeal and self righteousness as the means to deliver us into eternal life is the goal of Christianity. In doing so we also despise the praise of man for we know what men see in us is held up to the infallible light of Christ. It is He that presents us faultless before the Father, it is we that hang our heads low as Mephibosheth and cry “What did you ever want with a dead dog like me?!” There was no confusion in the son of Jonathan’s mind––he couldn’t even carry himself into the presence of King David! As he would have laid on that floor and thought the King would surely kill him, the king’s merciful reception of him to his table would have erased Mephibosheth’s face of shame forever. From then on he would be known as son of David’s household, and member of the King’s table. His once identity of cripple was forever removed in the palace of King David when Mephibosheth had not even taken a step in his own strength to get there nor his lame reputation done anything to gain him entrance (couldn’t resist the pun).

The strength of the flesh is seen in the preservation of a face. Man’s ambition to do things for God instead of die to himself and be found in God are starkly opposed to each other in Scripture. Paul’s hatred for such gross sin is where such an intense symphony of pure words pour off the page of Philippians 3. Let us not only listen, but become one of the instrumentalists playing this magnum opus with our friend Paul the chief apostle to many and the chief of sinners to himself.

May Philippians 3 plague you as deeply as it has plagued me. Let it torment and distress you. Take a month and meditate on this chapter to see if there is any of your face remaining in your confidence before God. What are you recognized and known for? Take that and hold it up to the light of Christ and let it be consumed there in shimmering glory. Everything that remains that is you, take the hammer and nails and drive it into the wood of His Cross. You may find that you come away blind, whereas before, you were one who could see.