Saturday, November 14, 2015

Finding Strength for the Day of Distress

“If you are slack in the day of distress, your strength is limited” (Proverbs 24:10).

It is simply too late to hope for strength to endure the day of distress if we are not prepared for it in advance.  If we knew, for example, that we were going to box a skilled fighter in three months from now, and we did no physical exercise and mental preparation in anticipation of that fight, then our strength will indeed be limited and our defeat will be a near certainty.  Likewise, in the arena of spiritual warfare, if we are not disciplined and exercised, if we are indeed “slack in the day of distress,” the limited strength we have to draw from will run out before the day is over.

Unfortunately, for many, that day of distress is here, and regrettably, not enough preparation has been made to endure it.  It is now too late to take Solomon’s advice, to “Remember...your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).  Yes, the day of distress is here in all her glory, and sadly, there is little faith on the earth.  It is too late, for example, to pray and not lose heart; or is it?

Vain repetitions in prayer are forbidden, but desperate repetitions are encouraged.  To be exercised in prayer is to be strengthened in your prayer life to handle a day of distress.  “And he [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.  He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.   And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.”  For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”  And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says.  And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’” (Luke 18:1-8).

The ultimate question is asked: “Will he find faith on earth?”  It is assumed that anyone who cries out to God day and night has faith; it is assumed—I surmise—because the background in which these perpetual cries are made is black with hopelessness.  The looming day of distress is breaking, and time to prepare for it is evaporating.  But “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), and like that persistent and desperate widow, who seemingly made no progress in overturning injustice, we must pray and not faint until “justice prevails throughout the earth” (Isaiah 42:4).
“Look at my chosen one, who pleases me.  He will bring justice to the nations.  He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.  He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth” (Isaiah 42:1, 3-4).  Indeed, let us “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3).  Ultimately, justice is God’s business, mercy ours.  “Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1).

Thursday, November 12, 2015

True Repentance

I have noticed a subtle error as of late regarding the concept of repentance.  Recently someone said, “Repent not of some behavior but rather change the way you think.” And if the mind change is directed to someone already walking uprightly, then yes, a mind change alone without a corresponding behavioral modification is all that is needed.  But what are the chances that that person exists?  Nil!

If a mind is wrongly oriented, then behavior corresponding to that wrong orientation is inevitable and immediate.  Perhaps if you caught someone at the exact moment they formed a wrong thought, but before they executed the bad behavior that follows wrong thought, they would only need to repent of the thought and not the bad behavior also.  But what does Christ say?   “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).  Ah, the level of guilt is subterranean and hidden from apparency.

Behavior is not the determining factor of guilt in the kingdom of God, but man who sees the outside is not God who sees the inside, so guilty behavior remains the determining factor in the kingdoms of this world.  This might seem to substantiate the idea behind “Repent not of some behavior but rather change the way you think”—being that it was said by someone in the kingdom of God—but this is not the case.  It is true that changing the mind is the primary definition of repentance, but it also includes the attitude or will; this complicates what constitutes genuine repentance.  The intent behind behavior is the dominant factor of consideration when determining guilt or innocence in the arena of judgment.  Behavior may be the flower and mind the trunk, but the will is the root.
Perhaps a change of mind from one mindset to another is sometimes all that is needed and requested, a change from one worldview to another, but this presupposes the willingness of that mind to change.  A change from adolescence to adulthood, for example, is not repentance per se, but certainly it requires a change of mind of sorts (and a willingness to grow up is behind that).  In this way, yes, “Repent not of some behavior but rather change the way you think”; but the addendum to mind change is behavior change, so it is incorrect (in practical terms) to think of mind change and behavior change as separate things.  Though behavior is not the determining factor of guilt in the kingdom of God, as I stated earlier, it is not excluded from consideration; deeds will indeed be judged!

The overarching point I am trying to make is that genuine repentance does not distinguish between thought, action and intent.  True repentance involves all three of these aspects.  A repentance from good to better, however, is seemingly more complex, and sometimes this type of repentance is required, but even in that, guilt is intrinsically behind it (even when it is not apparent to man’s discernment).

Look at Job for example.  Job was righteous and blameless according to God’s own testimony concerning him, YET, he repented in dust and ashes (implying real guilt) when he actually heard and saw God for himself.  He had based his righteous and blameless walk on what he had learned ABOUT God, but when he ACTUALLY heard and saw God for himself, he repented of his lackluster level of compliance, and began to walk righteous and blameless on a higher level of compliance.  Before God thundered at Job from the whirlwind with these guilt-ridden words, “Who is this that darkness counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2), Elihu said to him, “For God speaks once, and even twice, yet no one notices it [including you, Job].  In a dream, a vision of the night [one may hear God’s voice], when deep sleep falls on men while slumbering upon the bed, then He opens the ears of men and seals their instruction, that He may turn man aside from his conduct, and keep him from pride” (Job 33:14-18).

We are not responsible for what we do not understand in the same way that we are responsible for what we do understand excepting that pride is often the reason for our lack of understanding.  If pride is behind our denseness, than we are guilty even if we no longer see the connection.  And even denseness by immaturity, though assumed innocent, is not innocent if that immaturity is born of the blinding influence of pride not repented of.  According to Elihu, God is working behind the scenes always to keep man back from pride, a pride we are no doubt prone to, or otherwise, why would God so work while we sleep?  It is a forever an eternal truth that the publican pounding his breast and lowering his head is justified rather than the Pharisee—who though externally and comparatively better than the publican—is nonetheless guilty because of self-righteous pride.  Everyone who genuinely loves Him will repent in dust and ashes when they see and hear Him directly for themselves, no matter what position or condition they find themselves in when that occurs.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Curse of Carnality

“Cursed be the one who does the Lord’s work negligently, and cursed be the one who restrains his sword from blood” (Jeremiah 48:10).

This harsh word is not given without conscience, nor is it meant to promote evil and violence in any fashion.  It is, however, meant to demonstrate a most regrettable and deplorable condition of those born of spiritual incest.  It is spoken in reference to the Moabites (meaning “from (her [the mother’s]) father”), a people born of incest, a people specifically born of Lot and his eldest daughter.  Though righteous Lot is deemed righteous by God, he is perhaps the greatest example of how the righteous are scarcely saved.  He undoubtedly remained too close to sin for too long, and though God delivered him and his family (excepting his pillar-of-salt-wife) from the condemnation and consequent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he had to work through being “oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)” (2 Peter 2:7-8).

The Moabites and Ammonites are the peoples made from the offspring of Lot’s eldest and youngest daughters respectively, and they are, because of their perverted origins, representative of an inverted and confused stream of life.  They were a constant antagonistic force against Israel, and therefore representative of flesh that always wars against spirit.  Their type in the New Testament is the carnal Christian.  Apostle Paul speaks of them.  “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?”  (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).

Immediately following the scathing indictment in our text verse, we read, “Moab has been at ease since his youth; he has also been undisturbed, like wine on its dregs, and he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile.  Therefore he retains his flavor, and his aroma has not changed” (Jeremiah 48:11).

Carnal Christianity is a contradiction in terms; how can that which is inherently spiritual be carnal?  Lot’s daughters were never meant to offspring such disfigured creatures.  Righteous Lot, however, cannot be thwarted ultimately.  These bastard offspring, these hybrid monstrosities, though impossible to sustain as created, are a redemption process away from becoming true Israelites.  Mere men exist, but they are not what God is making.  The offspring of Christ are divine, pure and undefiled.  The redemption process, therefore, designed to remove flesh to bring spirit to light—and performed by circumcision (the application of the cross)—must be initiated and completed.  But the problem with Moab is the same problem with carnal Christians; they both are at ease (not warring against their flesh), undisturbed (indulging their flesh), not emptied from vessel to vessel (bastardizing spiritual gifts by not giving them away but hoarding them for themselves), and have never gone into exile (they have never left the ground or country of their native nature).  In other words, they are enemies of the cross of Christ!

We who are the true circumcision are by definition those who embrace the cross so as to break the curse of carnality, and by that result, we are those who walk no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit.  Avoiding the cross is to do the Lord’s work negligently, and restraining the sword from blood is to avoid the cross in its proper application of removing flesh from spirit.  “Brothers and sisters...there are many, of whom I have often told you, and now tell you even with tears, who live as enemies of the cross of Christ [rejecting and opposing His way of salvation], whose fate is destruction, whose god is their belly [their worldly appetite, their sensuality, their vanity], and whose glory is in their shame—who focus their mind on earthly and temporal things” (Philippians 3:17-19).

“Woe to you, Moab!  The people of Chemosh have perished.  ‘Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the latter days,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 48:46-47).  Always there is hope when a “nothing is impossible” Lord God Almighty is involved.  Though Moab was historically decimated (“the people of Chemosh”—sun worshippers, lessor light lovers, natural light lovers), a kinsman redeemer married a lone and solitary Moabite woman named Ruth and restored the fortunes of Moab in one fell swoop.  God took an inverted, selfish and polluted progeny stream, and redirected it into the lineage of Christ.  The Moabite people are now but a whisper of what they once were, but technically, they survived the attritional forces of redemption.  Likewise, carnal Christians might eke into heaven, but only as a shell of what they were meant to be.  It is as what befell the Israelites who “lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert”; God “gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (Psalm 106:14-15).

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Matured Expression of Humility

The first and foundational posture of humility is one that expresses repentance by groveling in the dust in the position of prostration, but the last and highest posture of humility is one that is pictorially depicted by someone rising up and walking into the fullness of their destiny by obeying the entire counsel and will of God.  But this mature picture of someone walking in humility never OUTGROWS prostration; it rather GROWS OUT of prostration.  Walking before God and being perfect subsumes the previous steps of life and is necessarily dependent upon those previous steps to get to the ultimate erect posture that is the prerequisite posture for walking.  In other words, the humility of prostration is like a baby picture, inceptionally wonderful and promising; but the humility of walking with God is like a portrait of Enoch, eternally wonderful and the consummation of someone who walked with God consistently until he fulfilled God’s perfect will for his life.

Walking uprightly is even more humble by nature than contrition because contrition implies episodes of failure to walk uprightly.  And God’s ultimate goal or design for man is that he walk with Him, not grovel at His feet.  Sure, there is a sense wherein the heart of any uprightly walking man is paradoxically prostrated, because uprightness of action can only be achieved by prostration of attitude.  Just because “before honor comes humility” (Proverbs 15: 33) does not mean there is no humility in honor; quite the contrary: honor is the coronation or fulfillment of humility.  To not get up and fulfill specifically what God has in store for us is inherently prideful.  If God, for example, says to point out another person’s sin in loud and bombastic terms, and instead you fall on your face to intercede and bemoan his condition, then the proper expression of humility—in this particular case—is to cry out in a loud and bombastic way.

Humility is too often expressed only in baby clothes and seed form, but the end of humility is best expressed as a man walking humbly before God until a crystallization of godly character is realized.  Indeed, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).  Mature humility is therefore about transcending our roots and making fruit, about overcoming the very things which used to bring us to prostration in the first place.  A picture of humility can be visualized by thinking of someone being completely fleshed out and fitted into a mold surrounding their entire body.  It would depict their three dimensional form and the amount of space displaced to fit them there.  Symbolically, this physical displacement of mass represents the parameters or boundaries of the full extent of that person’s responsibility before God; to not fill out the entire space would be to deficiently walk in humility.  A healthy maturation is only achieved if, as one matures, responsibilities and requirements grow with him.

To fulfill the will of God is the same thing as fulfilling one’s destiny, and humility is about our destiny and the will of God becoming the same thing, about solving the seemingly paradoxical dilemma of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will coexisting simultaneously in perfect harmony.  It is about our responsibilities and freedoms existing within the same space and time, about the boundaries which define the parameters of our own Promised Land (the extent of where we dare to live and breathe and have our being) being fully possessed and owned forever free and clear.  Ultimately, we can only be humble in proportion to the gate of our stride as we follow hard after Him; as God enlarges our steps beneath us, we become more and more brazen and determined to possess our full inheritance.  To grow into incrementally larger spaces, to inhabit more and more of the promises of God, to find that the lines have, indeed, fallen to us in pleasant places, this is the matured expression of humility, the song of humility and one of the primary chords of our existence.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Without Excuse

“For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are WITHOUT EXCUSE” (Romans 1:20).

“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12).

There was a period of time in my life some years back wherein I found myself seeking a new or more profound experience with God.  I found myself unwittingly calling my search “a need for an epiphany.”  Then one day I decided to look up the definition of “epiphany,” and discovered that it meant (amongst other things), “an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity.” But as I pursued epiphany, I discovered insidious error on my part.  As our text verse says, “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen.” To ask for more evidence in light of evidence already manifested is, at the least, a waste of time, and at most, evidence of “an evil heart of unbelief.”  Since I already knew God, worshipped God, and needed no further proof of His existence, to “crave” an epiphany was to potentially open myself up to the devil disguised as an angel of light.
“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign (attesting miracle) from You [proving that You are what You claim to be].’  But He replied and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation [that is morally unfaithful to God] craves and demands a [miraculous] sign; but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’” (Matthew 12:38-40).

Jesus indicted the scribes and the Pharisees because they did not know the time of their visitation.  He was standing in front of them in full manifested form (He was their epiphany), yet they did not discern it.  Likewise, the deity of Christ is a manifested reality to anyone who might discern Him as such.  For the Christian, the revelation of who He is grows until the morning star rises within their hearts until they see Him as He is; their initial epiphany is the final and only epiphany needed except to grow into its fullest measure.  We place our faith in Jesus Christ because we already have enough evidence to do so; our faith is therefore complete and settled upon the fact of His “eternal power and divine nature.”  Increasing enlightenment is now only for our enrichment and fellowship, not to provide further proof of what we already know concerning His deity.  When the disciples asked Jesus, “Increase our faith,” He simply replied, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed” you could do such and such.  No increased faith or further evidence is needed to convince a convinced mind; in fact, and as a matter of precedence, Jesus might indict someone who asks for more evidence by calling them “evil and adulterous.”

Note, in the following verse, how faith (the evidence of things not seen) is established before even the revelation of Jesus Christ is manifest.  “In this you greatly rejoice…that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:6-8).  In other words, enough evidence has been supplied for Christ to demand obedience and perseverance with or without further enlightenment.

The one sign the Lord conceded to the scribes and Pharisees was that of Jonah the prophet.  The obvious reference was to how, in type, Jonah prefigured our Lord in his death, burial, and resurrection.  Both were three days and nights in the belly of hell, Jonah in the sea monster, Jesus in the earth.  “Out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice” (Jonah 2:2) was Jonah’s specific cry, and the type cry of Jesus Christ in the grave in our stead.  The signature realization of Jonah is the signature realization of all of mankind: “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy” (Jonah 2:8).  The only question then becomes “will I realize that I observed lying vanities in heaven or hell?”  Will I forsake my own mercy until it is too late, or will I come to my senses and cease looking to lying vanities (to myself, others or stuff), and instead look to truthful reality (Jesus)?

Oh, we are so without excuse!  In fact, “Do men fall and not get up again?  Does one turn away and not repent?  Why then has [my] people...turned away in continual apostasy?  They hold fast to deceit, they refuse to return.  I have listened and heard, they have spoken what is not right; no man repented of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned to his course, like a horse charging into the battle.  How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’?  The wise men are put to shame, they are dismayed and caught; behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, and what kind of wisdom do they have?  From the least even to the greatest everyone is greedy for gain; from the prophet even to the priest everyone practices deceit.  They heal the brokenness of the daughter of my people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.  Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not within her?  Harvest is past, summer is ended, and we are not saved.  Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?  Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored? (Jeremiah 8:4-6, 8-11, 19-22, 22).

Just as the unsaved are without excuse, so are the saved that do not allow God to heal them sufficiently so as to inherit their full salvation.  When God asks, “Is there no balm in Gilead?”—He means—“Is there no medicinal value in that heap of evidence I have shown you concerning who I AM and what I AM capable of?”  Where do I get this interpretation from?  Gilead is a city within Israel known for its medicinal balm, and it is a Hebrew word that means “perpetual fountain” or “heap of testimony” or “witness; a mass of testimony.”  So, in other words, “Is there no healing virtue (balm) in a perpetual flow of evidence (Gilead)?”—or, as I have already stated—“Is there no medicinal value in that heap of evidence I have shown you concerning who I AM and what I AM capable of?”  Do you recall how the Lord chided with his disciples about their unbelief?  Indeed, if the Lord was ever to lose his cool, it would have been over the disciples’ unbelief.  Nothing angers our Lord quite like unbelief, and especially in the presence of HEAPS OF EVIDENCE!  Without faith it is impossible to please Him; He is not pleased (He is angry) with those of His children who refuse to BELIEVE Him.  Like Jonah, who heard God but did not obey Him (superficial faith at best), those who obey their own inclination (lying vanities) rather than God—those who foolishly look to themselves (lying vanity)—are those who ultimately forsake their own mercy.  There is no doubt that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, nor can there be any less doubt that He takes no pleasure in those of His children who wickedly depart from the living God by allowing “an evil heart of unbelief” to take up residence inside their temple.

My searching for an epiphany was grievously wrongheaded, even pharisaical-like; it is asking God in unbelief, not even fleecing Him in faith.  Signs and wonders are meant to follow them that believe, and are there not for the believer, but for the unbeliever that walks in the believer’s wake.  When a believer continues to seek them for himself, his heart is not right with God.  One who wishes to be further enlightened before he obeys even initial enlightenment cannot possibly be seeking truth because truth is inherently a verb—it implicitly requires obedient action.  Rationalization is the only possible motive one can have for pretending to be a seeker of truth when he already knows the truth but is unwilling to obey the truth.  We are without excuse, all of us who know the truth but do not live it.

It took being in the sea monster’s belly and a trip to the roots of the mountains at the depths of the sea to make Jonah realize that paying attention to LYING VANITIES (human nature) results in forgetting God and His mercy.  Dear God, “May I realize this truth before needing such drastic measures!”  God reveals Himself to infants in Christ, not to those raised up into the matured stature of their own natural man.  “We are just a vapor (a vanity, and a lying vanity at that!) that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).  It’s as if we’ve already given up the ghost!  “Men of low degree are only vanity and men of rank are a lie; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than breath” (Psalm 62:9).  “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath” (Psalm 94:11).  “Stop regarding man whose breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?” (Isaiah 2:22).  This is the root problem, and Jonah personified it.  Yes, he prefigured the Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection from the dead, but it was only there in the sea monster’s belly (representing the bowels of hell) that he realized he had placed his trust in LYING VANITIES, his OWN HUMAN BREATH or NATURE.

Unfortunately, many will only come to the realization of their need for a redeemer in the bowels of hell.  Those who are healed superficially are those who do not understand the utter gravity of their situation.  They have no revelation of the poverty of their person, how vaporous or vain they really are.  But I finally had my epiphany: my epiphany was that I didn’t need an epiphany.  I already had the revelation, THE epiphany.  Now all I needed to do was wait on God to perform His word to me.  No miracle, however great it might be, can convince me any further.  I KNOW God’s word is not only true, but true for me, and WILL come to pass.  I am without excuse!