Sunday, June 17, 2018

How I Got Clean from Drugs and Alcohol


I grew up in a medium sized town named Wausau, Wisconsin.  I’m 33 years old today.  I started using drugs and drinking when I was 17 years old.  My parents got divorced around that time.  And I got expelled from high school for threatening to blow up the school while I was high.  My first drugs were pills from the doctor that made me feel good.  And I got into drinking, and smoking dope shortly after that. 

My main drinking and drugging career took place from age 17 to 27.  I really loved to get high, and drink, and smoke cigarettes.  I really enjoyed getting together with friends, going to parties, getting drunk, meeting girls, and all of that.  I had always been super nervous around people, and around girls, so I was really excited to find something that took that fear away. 

I felt like I had found “it.”  You know?  I found my magic.  I had a secret weapon to somehow deal with the world.  Everybody seemed so put together, they didn’t have anxiety like me, they didn’t struggle to find their place.  Later I found out that’s just the face people put on, they have those same struggles, they just hide it better than me.

When I was 20 I caught my first drug charges.  I ended up sitting 30 days in jail for that, then I got a drunk driving, and a disorderly conduct.  In the police car I was threatening to kill the family of the police officer who was driving.  That’s how I get when I’m loaded.  I smashed up my moms car.  I got put on papers, then got revoked off papers, then I was off papers again, then I was back on papers. 
When I was 23 years old, when I got my 2nd DUI.  So I went to a treatment center, for the first time, and I actually stayed sober for about a year after that.

And in that times, it’s just amazing what being sober can do for a life.  Everything in my life got better.  I was going to 3 meetings a week, but slowly I stopped going to the meetings. I was in college at the time, and I wanted to be able to participate in the college party life.  I felt closed in and unable to talk to people again.  I felt disconnected from the people around me.

This really began the low, low part of the journey. I was in treatment centers and mental hospitals 12 times. I kept trying to stay clean, and then I’d relapse a month later, a week later, a few months later, and I would just run out of steam and go back to what was familiar. It was like when I was clean, I felt awful.  I felt so depressed, anxious, miserable, hollowed out, like there was a big hole in my chest.

I had gotten into stronger drugs by then and my drug of choice was destroying my body.  At age 26 I overdosed, and nearly died in the ICU.  Then it happened again at age 27.  I was dangling from the cliff of death itself, and there was no hope.  None. 

The loneliest place a man can be is when he’s given up all hope that things can ever change. And you resign yourself to death.

Then came the moment.  I’d read the Bible.  I’d studied the word.  But it never quite clicked in my mind that I should cry out to Jesus from the depths of my soul for help.  But it came into my mind that night.  And I fell onto my knees, a bloated, near death, complete monster of a man, body falling apart, and I cried out to Jesus Christ for help so hard that it felt like everything around me shook, and the well of darkness within me cried out for mercy to Jesus Christ the King in Heaven.  And Jesus swept in, and over the next few days, I started going to AA meetings again. 

Jesus told me, go back to AA.  That’s the last place in the universe I wanted to be.  Anything but AA.  But I went.  And I got sober.  I stayed sober.  In my first 90 days I got a sponsor who worked me through the steps and I actually did the stuff they told me to do, I actually turned my will and life over to God, I actually wrote down my inventory honestly, sharing every awful detail, page after page, it was 47 pages long, and I just poured my soul out to my sponsor in the 5th step.  I went on for 12 hours the first day and another 4 hours the next day. 

I turned over my character defects to God, and He started removing them one by one.  I began making amends to my mom, my dad, my sister, to old friends, and to other people in my past.  I actually did it.  I didn’t fight, and argue, and complain and then refuse.  I kept doing it.  I was dedicated, I wanted recovery very badly.  Because I had hit rock bottom. 

I went to about 10 meetings a week during my first 18 months in the program.  I went to 7 AA meetings, and usually 3 NA meetings a week. And I started hitting Celebrate recovery meetings up at the church on the hill.  So I was praying each night to Jesus, asking Him for guidance, reading the Bible constantly on my computer on biblegateway.com.  And I asked Jesus what next: He sent me to a church, I asked a lot of questions, got involved with ministry, I joined the prayer team, I joined a small group, and I just kept praying and praying, and asking Jesus for another day clean. 

But something had changed. Because in the past all those times I’d tried to get clean and stay clean I was trying to do it myself.  I was trying to force myself to be a good person and go to my meetings.  But I couldn’t do it myself.  Today it’s all about God almighty. Jesus is the engine in the center in my recovery vehicle chugging me forward.  Without the engine, I would always slip back after a few months.  But now with Jesus powering the whole project, and God almighty being the one I constantly turn to in my own weakness, God provides all the power I need to stay clean and sober and work for Jesus. 

I serve Jesus now.  That’s the trade off.  There’s no half-measures.  I serve Jesus now with my whole life.  Plain and simple.  Anything else is hell, literally.  That’s what you have to do, give it all to Jesus.  And give control of your life to Him, like I mean you literally check every decision with Christ in prayer.  It ain’t easy. But it can certainly be done and more in the power of Jesus.  So all this happened by Jesus, not by me. And that’s how I got clean and stay clean each day. 

Related Posts:
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  3. Mighty Men, Men of Valor, Men of Honor, Men of Renown
  4. What is the Gospel?
  5. Does man need God in Western Civilization: Young People are Hungry for the Truth
  6. Real Christianity: Clothing, Buildings, Money, & Extravagance
  7. The Stairway to Heaven
  8. The Modern Man
  9. Imagine a Perfect Universe: Genesis, Revelation
  10. Life Formula for the Growing Christian

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Israels flight from Egypt to the Promised Land: A Divine Image of the Christian Life



The overarching theme of the book of Exodus is found in the deliverance provided by God to his people, as He delivers Israel from bondage, declares his supremacy over the false gods of Egypt, and supernaturally delivers Israel through many miraculous events.  The theme of deliverance continues from an outer deliverance to an internal deliverance in which God provides Moses with His commandments and sets Israel on a path of redemption.  The ultimate theme of Exodus is the goodness of God exemplified in his provision of deliverance, and important in this theme is the mode of His deliverance: God works through a man, but the deliverance itself is provided 100% by God himself.  This points us to the future coming of Christ when once again God would do 100% of the delivering of His own work and power. 

The narrative of Exodus follows closely the life of Moses and his interactions with Egypt and the ancient Israelite people.  Moses is undoubtedly the key individual in the book of Exodus, which follows his exploits as God begins to reach out to him to establish the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt.  It’s interesting that God chooses to reveal himself to Moses through a burning bush.  

God said to Moses then,” I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8 New International Version).  

What’s revealing about God’s interaction with Moses is that God chooses to work through people, specifically one person: Moses.  God describes how He has heard the cries, probably referring to prayers of Israel and He is concerned for them.  God chooses to share and reveal parts of His plan to Moses during their interaction at the burning bush.  God works through people, is the big take away from this interaction. God shares his plans with Moses, and even allows Moses input on how things should transpire.  Moses requests help, someone to help speak for him, and God interacts with this request and provides Aaron. Of course Moses did all the talking anyone, but perhaps Aaron's presence gave Moses the courage he needed to step into his calling. 

Now we’ll look at how God interacted with the Egyptian Pharaoh. Pharaoh is a proud and stubborn leader, and God understands that about Pharaoh.  So God declares victory over Pharaoh in the ten plagues that show God’s supremacy over the false gods of Egypt.  It says several times that Pharaoh hardened his heart against Israel (Exodus 7:13, 8:15, 8:32, 9:7). And only after Pharaoh repeatedly hardens his own heart, of his own choice, does God then take that situation and magnify it to declare His own glory and supremacy over Egypt’s false gods.  Exodus 9:12 (NIV) says “the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.”  

God’s interaction with Pharaoh is telling, God doesn’t violate Pharaoh’s free will he only magnifies and makes use of Pharaoh’s own poor choices to magnify and exemplify His own goodness, mercy, and deliverance for Israel.  Despite critics who will bring up “God hardening Pharaoh’s heart” as some sort of evil committed by our God, it turns out once again, that we’d always be wiser to trust God’s goodness even when we don’t understand fully.  Time and careful study will always show that God is perfect and holy, and we are the ones who struggle to understand and often attribute malaise to our God, when God is perfect and we are the wayward ones.  But in our fallen nature, that’s the last thing we want to own up to.  Instead of trusting God, we turn and try to judge God, but it is always wiser to trust Him.   

There is one profound truth in the over-arching saga of the exodus from Egypt. The book of Exodus shows how the Old Testament is actually all about Jesus.  The entire saga of the Exodus points us forward to the time when Jesus Christ would come, and become our all atoning sacrifice, as the spotless lamb on the cross.  And just as death passed over the Israelites because of the blood of the lambs painted on the door frame, so the blood of Jesus would open the door for our deliverance into eternal life.  

A teacher once said that Israel's bondage in slavery in Egypt, deliverance through Moses, and testing experiences on the wilderness journey to the promise land were all a grand reference to the Christian experience. I didn't believe him at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I think he's quite right.  Or more accurately, God is right.

Let's consider it: We start with Israel completely enslaved in Egypt, being forced to construct great monuments to false gods, and build toward the pride of man.  

This is quite similar metaphorically to our situation before Jesus.  We're powerless, and enslaved to sin: sexual sin, drugs, drinking, lying, stealing, whatever sins they are.  They are our master. We are in chains to these things, and have little ability to be set free. In fact we're forced to work for those things, over and over and over, never getting anywhere.  

There is no escape on our own.  Something or someone always has to come in and make it possible.  That's where God enters the fray.  But He doesn't dive in and do it all through miraculous events.  Instead God meets with one person, Moses, someone who has lost everything, who has fled his whole life.  He's been in the desert for forty years.  And God changes his life and sends him on the mission to set Israel free.

God works through people, and often God works through one single person who is yielded to His will.  But God chooses that person, and puts that person to work.  God chooses the one to be yielded, it's important to make that distinction. We raise our hand and say "Send me Lord!" But ultimately God has set up the situation in which the offer is made, just as it was with Isaiah.  

God displays His great glory in deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  This action is a process, God doesn't just deliver Israel suddenly.  Instead there is a process of plagues and judgments that fall on the false gods of Egypt.  And Egypt undergoes punishment for their poor treatment, slavery, abuse and injustice toward the Israelites in their midst.  

It's the same with Jesus Christ and His victory over the world through sacrifice.  Jesus Christ plainly shows the world it's sinfulness, when the world so often wants to play at being ethical, and play at virtue signalling, and displaying a false sense of moral superiority.  Jesus cuts through all that.  His words pierce to the heart of who we really are as corrupt, sinful people.  His words condemn the worldly powers and worldly structures of authority.  And when Jesus returns in glory to establish His kingdom, we see very similar plagues and judgments poured out on the world at that time.  

Egypt undergoes judgment after judgment from God, and Moses meets before the Pharoah, humbling him with the power of God.  And finally, the first borns of all Egypt are visited by the angel of death.  The symbolism is rich isn't it?  It's a horrifying scene, to be sure.  The Egyptian children are dying because of the arrogance and hubris of their leaders.  Thankfully, it's clear from God's character that such children, below the age of accountability, would be saved in heaven.  In any case, we see that the sons of Egypt die because of the brutality and evil of their leaders and people.  And we see how the Israelites are saved from the angel of death: By making a sacrifice, and wiping the goat's blood on the doors of their houses.  What's interesting about this sacrifice is that they are told they must slaughter a spotless lamb without defect, and then they are told to cook and eat the lamb.  It reminds one of the Lord's supper. 

So they Israelites were protected by the sacrifice of the lamb and the blood on the doorway. And how are we saved today?  The temple of our heart, the house of our soul is washed with the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood of Jesus, which was offered up for us, so we could be free from the judgment of sin that is coming on the world.  Therefore when we do as God orders, and receive His son Jesus Christ, we are saved from judgment and condemnation, and delivered from slavery.

God declares His validity over all the false gods of Egypt through the plagues. After the death of the firstborns, finally, Pharoah allows the Israelites to leave.  But they leave with blessings and riches, as gifts from the Egyptians for their four hundred thirty years of slavery. In fact the word says that Israel was paid homage to as if it were a victorious plundering army!  It's the same when we get saved by Jesus.  Not only are we saved from judgment and condemnation and from hell, we are given adoption as sons and daughters to God himself.  We are counted as children of God, and we become heirs of the kingdom of God.  We become soldiers of God, in His kingdom program. 

One might assume that sin and death would now leave Christians alone, since they've been saved by Jesus.  But that is not the case.  Just as Pharoah changed his mind and decided to ride out and destroy the Israelites, so sin also pursues us in our Christian life.  And how can we escape it?

The Israelites were fleeing from slavery, but slavery was coming for them once again.  The chariots and armies of Pharoah were storming out to re-capture Israel.  They fled, and suddenly they came to the banks of the red sea. Moses stands at the banks of the red sea, it seems impossible, and hopeless, and they are all about to be destroyed.

This is exactly the same in the Christian life!  We struggle in sin and we think we can't possibly live a truly holy Christian life.  We think we're always going to be stuck in the messy goop of sin and brokenness, and that we can never escape it.  But that's not true!  We can live a truly holy, God honoring life.  We can be truly free from sin! But it takes a daring faith in God, and a willingness to cry out to God for deliverance from the slavery of sin.  Yes, it seems impossible.  We huff and puff over it, and grumble that we should rather stay back in Egypt, and remain in sin.  We claim Jesus, as we hide in the slave slums of Egypt, lost in sin, and truly, to stay in Egypt, to live in sin, while claiming Jesus, is simply to be on the road to eternal destruction.  

So we have to cry out to God, and dare to walk across the waters on dry ground.  That's what God does for us in the Christian life.  If we dare to believe that we can truly escape the bondage of slavery, the waters do indeed part for us.  And we walk across on dry ground.  Or if need be, we walk on the water itself, just as Jesus did, when He walked out on the water to His disciples caught in the storm.  And Peter understood this, beckoning Jesus to call him onto the water, and Jesus called him to himself.  

The sad fact is many Christians never make it past the parting of the red sea. They never dare to truly follow Jesus out of sin, because it just seems too hard.  So they go live in the shanty towns of sin in Egypt and comfort themselves at night that Jesus has washed them clean, as they live in daily slime and sin.  And there's is a fearful fate indeed.  Do not remain in Egypt!  Do not live in sin!  If you do, you will not live eternally, plain and simple.  Walk upon the waters.  Cry out to God to make dry ground for you to walk on.  He will provide.  Dare to believe.

The Israelites cross on dry ground.  And the army that pursues them is caught in the snare of the waters, and is totally destroyed.  Sin is crushed and destroyed by God, it's pursuit is broken, it's power is utterly demolished, and it's ability to influence us is smashed to weakness.  All of this is done by God entirely.  God parts the waters.  He does the miraculous work.  All we do is the foot work of believing and walking across the dry ground He has provided.  Some would say this is "works righteousness" and many will try to paint us into a corner, calling anything we do in response to God's work as "works righteousness."  Brothers and sisters this is a false, faulty argument that fails to prove true.  All we do is respond to God's work by walking through the opening He has provided.  Would our walking matter at all if He did not part the waters and provide a path to safety?  Of course not.  Does our walking along the dry ground He's miraculously provided take anything away from His mighty miracle?  Of course not.  God provides the clear pathway, we simply walk upon the road. God provides the walkway, and He closes the path behind us on our enemy, sin, when the time is right.  It's amazing.  

Next we see the people in search of water, exhausted, thirsty, and struggling in a barren land.  Have you ever felt this way in your Christian walk?  I know I have!  I've felt spiritually depleted, sick, tired, and troubled many times in my Christian life.  And those tests and trials will come!  So once again we see that Moses cries out to God, and God provides twelve wells for the people, and seven palm trees!  Symbolism much?  The twelve wells for the twelve tribes of Israel?  And what about the seven palm trees?  This reminds me of the seven lampstands before the throne of God, which are the seven angels that support the seven churches of God in Revelation.  Additionally, it could be referencing the seven spirits of God, which work in the world.  Beautiful symbolism indeed!  

Now it's important to remember that all these events in Exodus literally happened.  They literally went through these experiences in Egypt, the red sea, and the wilderness.  But what God does is He actually imbeds symbolic imagery into real life events, and then when later generations read about what happened, they see clues and pointers toward God's larger meta-narrative, His grand plan for history.  It's quite beautiful how God works in this way.  It's quite amazing, and shocking actually.  It goes to the other-ness, and the mysterious nature of who God actually is.  His abilities and ways go far beyond our own.  

Next in the narrative we see that God's people are hungry, and do not have anything to eat.  But God provides bread from heaven for His people to eat each day.  Once again we the symbolism of the Christian journey, such as in the Lord's prayer, when it says "Give us this day our daily bread."  God provides for our daily nutritional needs. But there is something deeper here as well: In the Christian life our daily bread is not the mana from heaven that God provided to the Israelites, our daily bread is the broken body and blood of Jesus that was crushed for our iniquities on the cross.  This daily bread sustains us through our daily Christian walk, as we daily walk covered in the blood of the lamb of God (Jesus) and walk in the perfect robe of His righteousness, being careful to not soil it in the sins of the world. 

Now we see as the Israelites continue their journey they enter the "wilderness of Sin."  We see once again that the people are without water, and struggling.  And they cry out to Moses for help in this situation.  And Moses seeks God.  And God once again provides water for the people, but this time, miraculously, as Moses strikes the rock.  

We see a time when Israel is going through trials, tests, and temptations.  Does this sound at all familiar to the Christian life?  Of course!  We as Christians go through endless trials, temptations, and tests by God.  These struggles are meant to test and refine our faith in Christ.  

God put the Israelites through similar tests in the wilderness.  And He taught them to trust in Him, and to be careful to obey His laws and precepts.  It should be a very stark warning to us, that this generation of Israel really failed to trust in God, have faith in Him, and obey his precepts.  The same danger is available to us as Christians, and we must be careful to obey the teachings of God in the New Testament, and the word of God overall.  

Next we see Israel coming up against an enemy, the Amalekites.  Moses appoints Joshua to be his General, his war leader, and Joshua rallies the troops to victory, while Moses stands overlooking the battle, with the staff of God raised.  This picture shows us an image of God's sovereignty.  God is sovereign over the battle, and it is His power and sovereignty that brings victory in the battle. The people simply do the foot work of matching forward, and fighting the best they can.  But victory comes from the Lord.  



God calls Moses to Mount Sinai after the victory over the Amalekites. This is similar to our deliverance and new life that we receive in Christ. Jesus has saved us. He saves us first, in our mess, in our disaster, covered in sin, he saves us. But then He calls us to himself. And He calls us to repent of all sin, and to walk in Christ-likeness all our days. This is sometimes referred to as a second blessing, or as a moment when we realize that God must have all of us, not some, but all of us. God called Moses to Mount Sinai, and said to him, "You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me." -Exodus 19:4b-5 NLT

First Jesus saves us, then He calls us to total devotion to Him.  If we ignore that call, and remain in sin, falling away is certain.  

God gives his instructions to Moses, just as we receive the instructions of Jesus through the Apostle Paul and the other New Testament writers.  Then we see a division in the camp, with the building of the golden calf.  And Moses demand that those who are with God join him.  A division occurs.  In fact Jesus divided people in a similar way.  Whenever Jesus spoke in crowds, people would be divided, some would believe in him, others would reject and fight against him.  

The Levites turned to support Moses. And Moses told them they must kill those who turned against God, even to their neighbors, sons, daughters, parents, and friends and so on.  Very interesting.  Jesus said that you must hate father, mother, son or daughter in comparison to the love we have for Him (Luke 14:26). 

I could go on and on, but this brings us to the end of Exodus. Many other metaphors and comparisons can be made throughout Deuteronomy and Joshua, but we don't have time or space to go on any further!  The point is, the Christian life is a journey. And we need to be cautious to obey Jesus Christ, follow His teachings, and live a truly Christ-like life.  Too many Christians live worldly lives, we must be totally dedicated to living holy lives in Jesus.  The Old Testament, the book of Exodus, and the escape from Egypt are all pictures of who Jesus Christ is to us, and how He saves us.  Remember that, and study diligently. 

                                                                                                        
References
Lockyer, H. (1961). All the Men of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Heart of Love: What am I seeking in Life? Does it Line up with my Faith?


We live to follow certain core desires that exist beneath the surface of who we are.  And we should really check those things out and figure out what's going on there.  

It seems like many people live for self-gratification.  Many live for desires for pleasure.  That's fairly common.  Others live for the goal of success, and they pursue that underlying intention through the lens of that which they consider to be success.  Others pursue family, the ultimate desire of getting married and having children.  And they see their pursuits in life as based around that goal.  

Though we don't necessarily realize what we're doing, it's beneath the surface.  Many pursue money.  I remember one time I asked a reporter who was about to interview me for an SA food drive, "Why do you do what you do?  What's your plan for life?"  And he seemed surprised by the question, and he said,"Really I'm just after money; making more money."  I'm paraphrasing.  But it's interesting that something within us so deep, probably from a very young age, can drive our entire life.

My mind was geared toward success for many years.  And then for many more years my mind was geared toward hedonism, abhorrently chasing after anything that felt good.  

Now a core desire in my life was to be a writer.  Why?  I wanted to be immortal.  I wanted my name to be remembered.  In my agnostic atheistic mindset in my late teens and twenties, I felt it was my only hope.  But it was also about self-aggrandizement.  I wanted to show the world that I was important and valuable.  I wanted to say, "Hey, I'm special, I'm unique, look at me, and see how awesome I am!"  It's a self-idol in more ways than one.  I wanted to be a celebrity I suppose.  I bet that's true for many of us.  

Many pursue various things, just as I did once. One you hear a lot is happiness.  They want to be happy above all else.  Others pursue fame, like myself.  And I think a lot of these core desires can accidentally transfer over to the Christian life.  

As a Christian now, a follower of Jesus, what should my core desires be?  How can we make a transplant and switch our core desires from based on self, and what we learned in the past secular world, and receive new core desires?  Well the truth is many of us already have.  This is of course a work of the Holy Spirit.  When we're regenerate, created anew in Christ, we have many new hungers that suddenly bristle up to the surface.  And if we water them, and respond in obedience to the Spirit's leading then those new hungers grow and flourish.  

Then again, if we insatiably feed the hungers of our flesh and indulge in the endless pleasures of the world, those new hungers can tend to dwindle and fade.  

I've asked myself recently about my core desires, and I've been considering which are most dangerous, as a threat to my Christian mindset.  And let me be clear: This whole search is a work of God, I'm certain of that much.  It's always a work of Him, even if I think it's my own idea.  

This is very difficult to admit, I must say, but let's delve into it: What have my core desires been as a Christian?  I think it's often been self-aggrandizement.  Not always, and not fully, but that is the great danger.  My name, in big shiny lights, and all the world thinking Justin is such a wise and useful theologian.  God forbid such a mindset!  This is truly a terrible thing.  And we see it a lot in the celebrity pastors of our day and age.  We see a desire for acclaim in the world, and the love of the masses, as the centerpiece I think.  They want to be known as great teachers of the law of God, but they fool themselves.  Just like I have often fooled myself.  

How many times have I written an article, or preached a message, or done a good deed, and I really did it to aggrandize my name, instead of glorify the name of God?  How often has my desire been to show my own value and usefulness, instead of the incredible working of God in the world?  How often has it been about me, when I touted that it was all about Him?  What a terrifying question!

The human soul is so prone to feckless endeavors such as these.  And as much as I wish I were above such things, I'm not.  None of us are.  It's so deadly.  And it makes me worry that all the work I put forth will be burned up like dross, and totally destroyed.  

What can I do but pray earnestly about this theme?  What can I do but struggle against my own self?  The "self" is the most deadly enemy of the Christian, as Spurgeon said.  It's like a hall of mirrors, because the "self" is essentially me, and it's the mindset I don't notice because I'm living it daily.  But if I turn my mind inward, then I can look upon it.  

Remember what Clarice said to Hannibal? "You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself?"  It's not easy to look upon ourselves unvarnished.  It's ugly and it's scary.  But what exactly are my core longings that guide and control my actions?  I must know, or I'm liable to destroy myself on the way to heaven.  There is far too important an affair, this journey of life, to botch it with self-will run rampant!

Let's see.  I want to be a minister of the gospel.  Fair enough, God has clearly called me to that.  I want to be married and have a family.  Alright, good enough.  I want to write books, and such things. Fair enough.  But what about those not so savory desires?  Like to be well known?  To be seen as a great man?  To be seen as a man of God?  Does that matter?  It most certainly does.

But are all these desires inherently evil?  No, not at all.  Well, some of them may be.  But to be respected and loved by our neighbors is not an evil desire. To desire to use skills like writing ability to create works of art and idea, that is not evil. Once again we return to the core imperative, and the proper first focus. We must consider the order of things.

What should be our correct mindset?  First of all, glorify God in all we do.  No matter if it be doing dishes or making a meal or preaching a sermon to 40,000 people or writing a book or talking with a friend, the mindset should be to do it to bring God praise, and to bring God honor!  That is a very, very high ideal.  And it's antithetical to how we live in America.  This is a "me" culture.  We have to recognize that and fight against it.  That "me" attitude seeps into every area of my life and it can just as easily seep into my Christian life and practices.  So let's fight it.

How did Jesus live?  Jesus lived a very humble life.  He didn't live to glorify himself, but He lived to glorify the Father.  Jesus of course was deserving of infinite glory, honor, and praise being the very son of God!  Yet He was setting an example for us.  He was showing us how to live, in humble service to the Father.  

It's not a theory, this life of Christ.  We have to live it.  Jesus was yielded to the Father, so much that his mission of dying on the cross was the ultimate insult.  He was mocked, spit upon, whipped, beaten, and murdered for our transgressions.  He yielded to all of it.  He didn't stand up for himself, as so often I want to stand up for myself and defend my "rights" in the situation.  I don't mean liberty in a political sense, I mean the desire to show my opinion and push for my viewpoint and selfishly defend myself.  I can hardly bite my tongue in that situation, yet Christ didn't murmur a word as they patiently drove nails into his wrists and feet. How can this be?  The horror!  And my own gall to live in such ego! Shameful, truly. Will we never learn to blush as humans?

So what does it look like to re-orient core longings of the heart?  That is the question!  It is the only question.  How can we change? This isn't for the faint of heart, is the first thing!  

Wow, this is really digging deep.  But it's good, it's great.  It'll really make us so much more effective for Christ.

1. Recognize what we push for in life that isn't in line with Christianity.
For me, this looks like selfishness, self-seeking, pleasure seeking, entertaining myself, and worst of all prideful self-aggrandizement.  Ancilliarily would be seeking happiness, true love with a woman, and cowardly running from conflict.

I'm not called to those things as first pursuits of my life! Those are not good things to have as the chief desires of my heart.

2. Identify the biblical opposites of the false pursuits of the heart that we struggle with.
And we're not talking a direct opposite here.  We're talking about the Christian worldview opposite, as exegeted from the scriptures. 

The opposite of selfishness is selflessness. But in a Christian concept, this would mean serving God first.  The outworking would mean that it should apply to all things of life.  

Then the real questions becomes: How far am I willing to go with this?  That is the question.  How wacky am I willing to be in my radical devotion to Jesus?  This pushes against materialism, capitalism, selfishness, and all the precepts of American culture.  

But what of it?  Dare we push into this ground as well?  We're getting into some serious sacred cows and brass idols of American society. We're talking inner room, holy of holies here, we've got our worship to God in the main chamber, but behind a curtain in the back there lay the true idols to self, that we really worship.  No one dares to go into the inner room, the secret chamber behind the curtain of that temple to self and knock over the asherah poles and golden calves. Dare we?  

We must. Yes, I must. Because Jesus has paid it all for me. That is a reality, not a slogan. Jesus is alive right now.  In fact, in reality, consciously, I will look Jesus in the eyes and He will judge my life and every decision I made.  It's not a theory, it's a reality.  And I owe him my all, not just some.  I abjectly refuse living as a cultural Christian, living toeing the line, one foot in the world and one foot in Christianity.  That is nothing, and death, and hell!

There is no halfway.  There is only the wide road to hell and the narrow road to eternal life.  It is more narrow than I had first realized in my early Christian walk.  This is indeed a very narrow road.  And antinomianism is preached all over the church, presenting the gospel as a free gift, without any need to repent or live for Jesus.  But that's not the message of the scriptures, not even close!

Selfishness, and self-seeking must become God-first living.  What does that look like?  How does that feel? What does it mean for the ways of my life?  I'm not sure yet.  I'm wrestling with it.  But it must be a beautiful way of life...

What about pleasure seeking and entertaining myself?  That seems to be how I spend 99% of my free time.  I entertain myself, I enjoy the pleasures of vanity fair, the worldly cities of plenty.  I go about the places of Babylon, the secular kingdom of the world and I indulge in all manner of pleasures, delicacies, rides, events, movies, music, foods, and so on.  Is that how God wants me to live?  I often wonder about this one.  Because on the one hand, God wants us to enjoy things in life, right?  God wants us to enjoy food, and nature, and artistic works, and music, and architecture, and the various good things of life, right?  I suppose that's probably true.

Though I don't see a lot of that in the book of Acts, or the gospels, or the pauline epistles.  I don't see a lot of verses to back up that sort of indulgent mindset.  I really don't.  Especially when it becomes our chief concern, and let's be real, for most of us it is our chief concern.  I would say quite a bit in the church as well.  We play church, we rush through our devotions and prayers and then head off to a fancy restaurant, or put on a movie, or play video-games for six hours.  

What we do with our free time is quite telling I think.  Is our first concern God or self-pleasuring?  This is a tough one.  Once again it goes to chief concerns.  Is self-pleasuring at least secondary to God?  Or are they co-equal?  Or is God, in your heart, secondary to seeking pleasures?  It's a good question to wrestle with.  

What is the opposite of pleasure-seeking?  Maybe that's the wrong question.  Perhaps the right question is where are we seeking pleasure?  Are we getting it first in God, and then in the gifts God provides in the world?  That is the right order.  Our pleasure-seeking should be centered on God, as John Piper calls it, Christian hedonism.  We should desire to take great pleasure in God, by glorifying His name. 

Lastly, self-aggrandizement.  This one is the most deadly I believe, by far.  It's rooted in pride, selfishness, and ego.  And one of the worst and most terrible displays of this awful sin is when a pastor goes from yielded servant of God, to a self-serving self-glorifier.  It's insidious I think, and it can happen over a short or very long time.  And pretty soon it's not so much about the scriptures, but about how the pastor explains it so well.  And over time the ministry is all about glorifying the man or woman behind the podium, instead of glorifying the God who reigns the universe.  God save us from such a deadly nightmare as this!  Pride always leads this way.  And it's the sin that ruined Satan, who was once Lucifer, the light bringer.  Pride leads to selfishness, self-aggrandizement, self-glorification, and the awful desire to place myself above God. And that happened with Satan.  And Satan lost everything.  Let us not fall into that deadly of deadly trap!  The key to victory is humility, laying flat before a holy God and participating in my own infinite surrender to Him.

3. Prayerfully practice the Biblical Principle until it becomes the new normal.
The answer to these false longings of the heart is to fight, fight, fight.  First of all, we must fight in prayer before God.  God will help us.  God will deliver us.  Just like anything else, God will save us from these evil desires.  We'll always be tempted to sin in these ways, be sure of that, but God can lead us so far from those desires, and toward Himself that we hardly entertain the thought when it arises.  God will lead us to himself and so we must seek His face.  We must seek God to overcome these sinful longings that we struggle with.  It begins in steadfast daily prayer, crying out to the Lord!

Secondly, practice the new attitude.  If we want to be set free from selfishness, we'll have to try to practice service to God first.  If we want to be free from pleasure-seeking, we'll have to practice taking pleasure in God first.  If we want to be free from self-aggrandizement we'll have to watch our motives closely and practice lowly, meek self-effacing surrender. And a humble attitude to bring glorification to God.  

It doesn't sound easy does it?  It isn't.  But we can do it, because of the first step, wrestling constantly in prayer with God.  God will help us.  God will do more than help us, He will deliver the victory on a silver platter.  Because God wants us to be conformed to the image of His son Jesus.  So He will help us overcome self.  That's what all of this is about, it's about overcoming self and glorifying God.  And we should do that, if we really want to be authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.  This isn't easy.  But God is mighty to save.  

Don't give up.  This will be a journey of days, weeks, months and longer.  Keep fighting, and keep struggling for the victory.  God will provide.  Trust in Him. Amen. 


Related Posts:
  1. The Army of God will have Victory after Victory
  2. The Church of Laodicea & The Church of America
  3. How Holiness Theology Transformed My Understanding of Christianity
  4. Fasting and Prayer: Why You Should Fast Twice a Week
  5. An Investigation of the Biblical Concept of Hell
  6. Why Do I Exist? A Quick Look at the Human Life
  7. What is the equation that shows us how to inherit Eternal Life
  8. How to Repent of all Sins in your Christian Life
  9. God will Uphold His Army: Standing on the Truth
  10. To Those Who Overcome: How to Be Free from all Sin

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Forgotten Teaching in the Church: Holiness


“…By the power of the Spirit we can overcome challenges and can advance towards the fulfillment of that which our conversion promises – victory over sin, the life of holiness, and mature Christian living.” -Diane Leclerc, Discovering Christian Holiness, p. 192. 


Can I really be holy as He is holy?  Yes. It is the calling of each follower of Jesus to reach whole sanctification, which reflects a blameless, spotless state of salvation holiness, through which the believer is preserved to the day they will stand before Jesus, and give an answer for their lives. 

The blessing of complete sanctification is only possible through the inner working of the Holy Spirit. We must never forget that.  Without the Holy Spirit, there is only legalistic self focus.  This leads nowhere but to pride.  Human effort is of no use at all (John 6:63 NIV). 

So what is our part, if the work is of the Holy Spirit?  We respond to the Spirit through God-guided action. The three responses to the work of the Holy Spirit, which must be engaged in by the believer are: Full repentance in every area of the believers’ life (in the Spirit) to reject and turn away from sin, full surrender by yielding completely to the leading of Jesus (God must have all there is of me), and full engagement with God to learn and receive perfect love. To reiterate: complete repentance, complete surrender, and complete love.

First we consider the concept of full repentance, or perhaps better stated: The process of engaging in sanctification. According to the Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine (2013) “God’s sanctifying work is a life-changing experience whereby we are empowered to make radical changes of direction in our lives…” Christian sanctification engenders the concept that the believer has died to sin, and instead lives in the Spirit (Galatians 2:20 NIV). 


So to be sanctified, a believer must be active in “crucifying the flesh” and living to the Spirit. The Apostle Paul often cited common sins that believers struggle with, then contrasted those sins with the true life of purity that believers must live (1 Thessalonians 4:3, 1 Corinthians 6:10-11, Romans 6:6). 

 This means that believers must be zealous, and repent of all active sins in their lives. In some ways this first aspect of sanctification is similar to the reformed view of sanctification, as a gradual process (Boyd & Eddy, 2009). However, sanctification in the Arminian-Wesleyan view punctuates the process with moments like “initial sanctification” and “whole sanctification” where concrete results can be attained (SA HoD, 2013, p. 194-195). Once again it must be emphasized that this process of repentance can only be achieved through the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Our response to the work of the Spirit is to be thorough (and total) in repentance and growth (Romans 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). 

How do we do this?  Through a great deal of prayer, and acts of will, of going to God, in trembling and sorrow for sin, and making an act of the will to repent.  In some cases, indeed many, something greater may be needed, wherein we need to talk with our pastor or an accountability partner, or look up some books on freedom from sin, because often the claws of sin go in very deep, especially if it's a lifelong sin.  But let me emphasize: Jesus Christ can and will break every chain.  Often though, resources are helpful, like books, 12 step groups, small groups, and meeting with a pastor/friend.

Next we consider the concept of complete surrender to God. The process of sanctification should not be regarded as a lifelong process of struggling toward an impossible ideal (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 172). Instead full sanctification is possible in this life, and it should be viewed as possible and attainable long before glorification. And part of that full sanctification is total surrender to the will of God. Christians are called to radical, full obedience to Jesus Christ. This means to place God and His kingdom program ahead of any other concern (Matthew 6:33 NIV).

Often the experience of a full surrender occurs after a crisis experience, though that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 173). But often in the search for holiness a believer will try to achieve holiness through struggling in the flesh, instead of yielding to the Spirit (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 173). 


 This can lead to a crisis experience, of being “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” where the believer comes to realize that sanctification is found not in endless struggling in the flesh, but in total yielding and surrender to God. The Holy Spirit then guides the life of the believer, causing the believer’s mind to reject sin and hate sin, and turn away from sin. The Spirit then re-orders the lifestyle of the sanctified believer to consider God first, and him or herself second. 

William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army experienced a moment when he realized God needed all there was of William Booth, 95% would not do! So Booth surrendered his whole body, soul, and spirit to Jesus. And God used him in mighty ways. At the heart of total surrender, which stems from the Keswick view of holiness, sanctification becomes a resting obedient faith in God, instead of a work of man (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 174). This concept is an expression of the Keswick “Deeper Life” view of sanctification (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 172). But the concept of surrender tends to transcend such categories, and is mentioned often by Wesley is his reflections on holiness (Wesley). 

I recall in my own Christian life, I felt the sting of sin on a daily basis and felt it foreign to myself.  I didn't want any of it.  I wanted something greater, a true freedom from sin.  But all those around me, in the churches, seemed fairly content to remain in sins of various kinds.  I was longing after a road to victory over sin, but I didn't know where it was.  And it seemed so hard.  But now I realize in the holiness tradition that there is a glorious, beautiful road that every Christian must follow, out of sin, out of the flesh, and into the fullness of sanctification.  It will seem impossible.  It will seem like too much.  You'll be in so much sorrow, and you'll want to slide back into the mire with the rest of the modern church, caught in all manner of sins.  Don't give up.  Many, many others have walked this difficult road of holiness. You can do it too!  It will be very hard, but without holiness no one will see the Lord.  

Finally, we consider sanctification as an expression of perfect love. John Wesley wrote in A Plain Account of Christian Perfect (1854), “Will any dare to speak against loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves? Against a renewal of heart, not only in part, but in the whole image of God? Who is he that will open his mouth against being cleansed from all pollution both of flesh and spirit; or against having all the mind that was in Christ, and walking in all things as Christ walked? What man, who calls himself a Christian, has the hardiness to object to the devoting, not a part, but all our soul, body, and substance to God?”


John Wesley viewed sanctification as being centered on relationship with God (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 176). The work of God in the believer is to transform their heart into a life giving spring of perfect love that reflects the love of Jesus. It all stems from the heart. Wesley viewed sin as not so much actions, or wrong thoughts or deeds, but as stemming from a base attitude of the human heart (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 178). Thus God’s work in the believer, in sanctification was a circumcision of the heart (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 178). God cleansed the believer’s heart, which would set the heart ablaze, flaming powerfully with the love of God (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 178). This love expelled all sin, provided the believer with the virtues of Jesus, embodied the mind of Christ, and was attainable through faith and complete surrender to God (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 178). This is the Wesleyan “perfect love” view of sanctification (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 176).

We’ve briefly looked at the Keswick and Wesleyan view of whole sanctification, now let us consider the two other prominent views: The Lutheran view and the Reformed view (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 161). The Lutheran view is quite simple, suggesting that justification and sanctification are not separate incidences, but are sides of the same coin (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 162). Sanctification is defined as nothing more than living out the faith that one has already been declared righteous because of Jesus (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 163). This view sees the separation of justification and sanctification as a “religious scheme” to counter the danger of believers who once justified would presumably not live a holy Christian (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 163). So the Lutheran view is that the Christian has been declared righteous in Christ, and that’s the end of it, more or less. The problem with this view is of course that justification and sanctification are distinct in the scriptures, and salvation in Christ must necessarily include repentance of sin, and living a holy life, which seems to be excluded from the Lutheran view.

The Reformed view is that believers in Jesus have died with Christ and resurrected through faith, and by living in Christ, in the Spirit, holiness of life occurs over time (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 167). The reformed view suggests that Christ is the pioneering one who was and is truly sanctified, and by being sanctified Christ also may sanctify His followers (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 168). Sanctification is viewed as both definitive and progressive (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 168). So while Christ has declared forever those holy who have faith in Him, there is also a process of sanctification taking place (Hebrews 10:14). The Holy Spirit is the prime agent who guides the believer through the process of sanctification (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 169). In the Spirit believers are able to resist sin and grow in holiness. But the reformed view suggests that the believer will always remain a sinner saved by grace, and thus will always struggle with sin. Sanctification in its fullest form is thus never achievable. The danger of the reformed view is that so much is placed on the process, and it leaves danger for human pride, and for struggling in the flesh, and never being able to achieve a concrete end to the process (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 170-171).

Now, we’ve exhaustively considered the basic viewpoints of sanctification in protestant Christianity. But what good would it be for every Christian on the face of the Earth to be completely sanctified, if this did not engender safety in the arms of God almighty? A whole host could plummet to the depths of hell. But that is not what we believe, which is why the Salvation Army’s tenth doctrine states that the whole spirit, soul, and body may be preserved blameless until Jesus returns to claim His church. Many in antiquity, and in biblical times considered the division of the human being to be of spirit, soul, and body. The concept of blameless preservation is the reality that when Christ returns, He will return for a holy church, for a church without blemish or defect. He will have no concern for those who have soiled their robes of righteousness (Revelation 3:4-5 NIV). Additionally, 1st Thessalonians 5:23 (ESV) states, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For those Christians who are zealous to serve God, and who truly love Christ more than themselves, and who are determined to be fully sanctified and free from sin, God almighty is faithful and will without a doubt preserve them blameless until the very last day (2 Timothy 1:12, Philippians 1:6 NIV).

In conclusion, my calling to you today is to pursue true Christian holiness. Pursue the blessing of full sanctification.  Ache for it as in land without water, in a desert.  That's how I felt.  I felt lost in sin and immaturity in the Christian life.  But the key is this: If we dare to believe that God can do anything, and throw out that radical faith toward God, God will respond with mighty works in our lives that will transform our lives unto holiness. 


References
Anderson, N. D. (2012, March 23). Wesleyan-Holiness Theology. Retrieved from https://www.asbury.edu/about-us/cornerstone-project/holiness-initiatives/wesleyan-holiness-theology
Boyd, G. A., & Eddy, P. R. (2009). Across the Spectrum: understanding issues in evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Leclerc, D. (2014). Discovering Christian Holiness The Heart of Wesleyan-Holiness Theology. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House.
The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine (2nd ed.). (2013). London: Salvation Books.
United Methodist Communications. (2013, July 02). Our Wesleyan Heritage. Retrieved from http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/our-wesleyan-heritage
Wesley, J. (n.d.). Christian Perfection. Retrieved April 19, 2018, from https://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-40-Christian-Perfection

Related Posts:
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  2. The Church of Laodicea & The Church of America
  3. How Holiness Theology Transformed My Understanding of Christianity
  4. Fasting and Prayer: Why You Should Fast Twice a Week
  5. An Investigation of the Biblical Concept of Hell
  6. Why Do I Exist? A Quick Look at the Human Life
  7. What is the equation that shows us how to inherit Eternal Life
  8. How to Repent of all Sins in your Christian Life
  9. God will Uphold His Army: Standing on the Truth
  10. To Those Who Overcome: How to Be Free from all Sin