Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Missing Piece of the Puzzle in Evangelicalism: Holiness before the Lord

There is a missing element, a missing piece of the puzzle in modern day evangelicalism.  I've always felt that.  But I couldn't figure out what it was.  I thought for a while that perhaps it was a missional attitude, an emphasis on evangelism.  I was really, really sure for a while that it was zealous missional evangelism.  But now I realize that I was way off.  The missing piece of the puzzle was always right in front of me, actually.  It was inscribed on the altar of every Salvation Army corps I attended, where it said: "Holiness unto the Lord."  

I never understood what that meant.  In fact I asked several people, and they didn't know what it meant either.  Holiness preaching and teaching has largely left holiness movement churches.  Very, very few pastors preach holiness anymore.  It's a lost teaching.  It's the missing piece of the puzzle.  It's what I've been aching and yearning for in my spiritual life, day in and day out.  I've wanted it so badly, but it's always seemed just out of reach.  So what does it mean, to be holy to the Lord? 

The scriptures say, 1 Peter 1:14-16 (ESV) "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”"

Holiness is the work of God in us, as we yield to the Spirit of Christ, who conforms the inclinations of our heart, and our outward conduct toward holy (set apart) living.  

Too many Christians today are living in active, willful sin.  And it needs to stop.  This is not how the Christian life is to be lived. We must repent (turn away from evil) and stop sinning.  God has called us to a holy life in Christ Jesus.  

Jesus Christ has washed away our sins.  But we must be careful not to dirty our robes (Revelation 3:4).  Thankfully, even if we sin after having come to know Jesus, we can bring those sins before God, ask for forgiveness in Jesus, repent, and we are washed clean once again (1 John 1:9).  So it's never too late to repent, as long as we're here on Earth, and still alive in the flesh.  But once we stand before God, we will be judged according to how we lived (2 Cor 5:10).  And for us pastors and teachers, we'll be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1).  

So what are the common sins we struggle with today?  Sexual sin is the big one, and the various layers of it: Top layer would be adultery (sleeping with another man's wife, or another woman's husband), fornication (having sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage), and masturbation.  Repent of those first.  And ask God for help in doing that, day and night.  The next layer is pornography, get free from that.  Finally, the last bastions are fantasizing (playing images through in your mind) and lusting in your heart (indulging in staring at a scantly clothed man or woman).  Break free from those.  

Sex really comes up first because it's the area most of us try to get away with, because the urges are so powerful. But honestly, if we live in sin like this, we're not going to be going to eternal life in heaven, we're going to be going to outer darkness.  We'll be conscious there. And we'll know that we're never leaving.  I'm not trying to use scare tactics.  I'm just telling you what the word of God says.  Take it seriously. 

I know some teachers may have taught you that you can never lose your salvation. They lied to you, and that doctrine simply isn't in the word of God.  The Bible talks again and again about falling away and shipwrecked faith, and we're urged constantly to "continue" in the faith and "abide" (remain) in Christ (1 Timothy 4:1, Rev 2:4-5, 2 Cor 11:3, 2 Peter 2:20-22, Romans 11:19-22, Matthew 24:10-13, John 15:1-8).

Other sins that are fairly common are stealing, lying, mistreating parents, being a lukewarm Christian, watching certain R-rated movies, smoking cigarettes, using drugs, drinking to get drunk, manipulation of others, cussing, idolatry (putting something before God), envy, divisions/dissensions, fits of anger, and so on (Galatians 5:19-21). 

As it says in the scriptures, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (ESV) "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

We often avoid these lists of sins like the plague.  Why do we do that?  It's in the word of God.  We shouldn't be afraid of it.  It's the truth.  And if it bothers the church body, so be it, maybe we need to be bothered a bit more.  

God has called us to holiness.  So we must be holy, as He is holy. That does not mean generating our own holiness through human effort.  Not at all! We've been gifted with the righteous, perfect holiness of Christ.  We wear it like a garment, like a robe around us each day.  We simply must walk in a way that we aren't smearing the mud of sin all over the righteous robe.  

We've been adopted by God, and grafted into the body of Christ. We call God daddy! So if we've really received these promises, we should walk in beautiful, humble, meek holiness. As it is written, 2 Corinthians 7:1 (ESV) "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God."

The fear of God has been the greatest strength and weapon toward holiness in my life thus far.  And yes, the fear of the Lord is widely mentioned in the New Testament, as well as the Old (Luke 12:4-5, Matthew 10:28, 1 Peter 1:17, 2 Cor 5:11, Acts 10:35, Hebrews 11:7).  The fear of the Lord, and the trembling before God, realizing God can send me to heaven or to hell, that has sent me fleeing toward holiness.

For those of you who think God was a consuming fire in the Old Testament, but that he really mellowed out in the New Testament, quick question, have you read Revelation? Yeah, the part where God sends fiery judgments and utterly destroys the world for it's wickedness? (Revelation 15)  God hasn't changed. We've changed, we've become provincial, concerned with what people think, and we want to twist the message of the Bible.  But it doesn't need to be twisted.  It needs to be preached as it's written. 

Holiness is a gift from God.  Cry out in prayer for true holiness.  Fast and pray for holiness once or twice a week.  Invite a mindfulness of God, recognize God's presence with you throughout the day, as brother Lawrence did, and allow that presence to transform your conduct.  Pray and then take action.  Seek out resources, support groups, accountability partners, Christian counseling, and whatever God may lead you to, to have victory over sin, and receive holiness from God.  

Holiness is perfect love, a transformation of our heart, the inclinations of our attitudes toward a great, overcoming desire to do the right and live in the right and walk closely with Jesus, to love Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors deeply, with real love.  Holiness is ultimately about true, perfect love.  A godly love, for God and the people we serve.  

Be patient with this process of holiness. Allow months, and years for it's growth.  But do not procrastinate either. Allow God to transform you.  Fight for holiness, by yielding to God.  Surrender to the filling of God, and invite Him to save you from yourself.  Give your whole heart to God, and He will transform you in all holiness to completeness in sanctification. By this, when you stand before God, and your judged or rewarded, based on how you lived, you can be confident to know that God will see you in robes that are unsoiled, and pure, because of our great glorious savior Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Orthodoxy, Orthopathy, and Orthopraxy: Know it, Feel It, Live It

The Christian faith is not mere ideas, not a series of facts or depictions of reality, no, it's more. It's alive, and burning brightly like a fire.  It's not mere emotions either, there's daily practice to it, a true walking and living of it.  Yet it is not about doing, but it is about believing, and not just a vague emotion or vacant assent to, but there is a deep, specific, clear set of concepts, fact and truths in which we yield our minds to.  And at the center of these three areas of truth, feeling, and living, we find a person, the person, the God-man Jesus Christ. 

We're surprised a great deal, surprised by Him.  Surprised from behind, by our love for Him.  We're surprised by joy.  Surprised by peace.  Surprised by trials.  And amazed by our own inability to come to know Him in our own efforts.  We're amazed by our failure and amazed by the fact of our total dependency on Him for anything good to be in us.

There are tears that flow. They flow deeply and meaningfully. There are truths, truths that run so deep, and cut through so many layers of society, of philosophy, of history, and deep into the mind.  And joy in the knowing. Mysteries that God delights in revealing to us. There is a difficult practice, a fighting, a warring, a yielding to God. 

Too often we fail to explore.  We get up and leave, just before we ought to.  There is so much to explore with our God.  There is such a journey of relationship, when we willingly engage with Him. Let us consider it...

Orthodoxy, to know. Of course my favorite thing is to know. I love knowledge, I love wisdom.  I love to study and learn. The greatest truths are to be discerned in the words of God.  To know is to understand the world.  To know is to understand what is wrong with the world.  To know is to see the truth beyond all the lies and propaganda of our world.  Christianity is paradox. The obvious answer of this world seems right, but then we realize the paradox, that it is not. We always have to think twice. Thinking once, the gut reaction leads us one way, then the second thought, well, that's where we realize the paradox.

"If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows...then we must starve eternally." -C. S. Lewis

Jesus said, I am the light of the world.  Jesus said I am the bread of life. Jesus said I am the resurrection and the life. Jesus said I am the good shepherd.  He said I am the gate for the sheep.  I am the true vine.  I am the way, the truth, and the life.  

Without orthodoxy there is no Jesus, without Jesus' words, there is no Jesus.  Without the Bible, there is no Jesus.  Jesus is discovered in orthodoxy, in truth, and the knowing of it.

"Poetry too is a little incarnation, giving body to what had been before invisible and inaudible."
C. S. Lewis

Orthopathy, to feel.  We are not mere machines, programmed with data. We do not simply assent ourselves to core truths, no matter how important they are, they are not the end.  To know God is to feel Him.  To know God is to feel His presence with us.  To know God is to feel deeply the emotions of life, the joys, yes and the sorrows. 

"There is a road from the eye to heart that does not go through the intellect." -Gilbert K. Chesterton

Those first Christians, in the ancient Roman empire, doused in kerosene and set afire to light the streets of Rome, they felt the pain.  Those first Christians, arrested by Nero, and sent to the lions, they felt the pain of their death. But perhaps they felt something else, as they saw the glory of the kingdom of God... they felt love. And joy.  And peace. 

I long to feel God and to commune with God.  But there is little communion with God in a vacuum, though the times I've felt him most deeply have been in times of personal prayer and meditation, turning my eyes to Jesus. But I feel God, when I serve God.  I feel God, when I'm at work for God.  I feel God when I preach the gospel.

And God communicates to us through experience.  He speaks to us through the larger events of life. 

“Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.” 
-Malcolm Muggeridge

To experience God is what we are hoping for in this Christian life.  To really have relationship with God is the goal.  In daring to go deeper in emotion, do we find a new depth to our relationship with God.  But emotion in a vacuum, with minimal truth or action, is a recipe for disaster, milquetoast therapeutic deism can result, or even prosperity gospel, or simply superficial Christianity, a cherry picking of feel good verses. 

Orthopraxy, to practice. Is being a follower of Jesus just on Sunday morning?  No.  Living it is the hard part, day in and day out.  I suppose that's why I was drawn to Methodism, which emphasized the daily practice, a method of living differently.  I want so badly to really live out my faith.  I want to make sure it's real.  I'm not messing around here being a Christian, I'm deadly serious about it, and I'm going to make the maximum impact for the kingdom of God.  That's what it's about. 

I want to live it.  I want to pray an hour a day. I want to faithfully attend a small group.  I want to head over to Bible study. I want to ready my Bible, literally every night before bed!  I want to witness faithfully for an hour a week to people I don't know.  I want a real praxis. And I will do it.  I will, God willing. 

Orthodoxy, orthopathy, and orthopraxy. It all fits together, to form a true worldview that is functional in all areas of life and mind. 

"Order your soul; reduce your wants; live in charity; associate in Christian community; obey the laws; trust in Providence." -Augustine, ancient theologian

Related Posts:
  1. Fasting and Prayer: Why You Should Fast Twice a Week
  2. An Investigation of the Biblical Concept of Hell
  3. Why Do I Exist? A Quick Look at the Human Life
  4. What is the equation that shows us how to inherit Eternal Life?
  5. How to Repent of all Sins in your Christian Life
  6. Should I Tithe 10% to my Church?
  7. God will Uphold His Army: Standing on the Truths of God's Word
  8. God's Fingerprint on Reality: Emotions of Life
  9. To Those Who Overcome: How to Be Free from all Sin
  10. How to Serve as a Leader in Christian Ministry

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Pilgrim's Forest: An Allegorical Dream of Fallenness

Despair, yes, ruin... and self destruction. These are things common to our world.  Something inside of us, an impulse draws us toward the wrong, even when we know the right.  Something inside, it's not even a decision, but an impulse takes us away.  It causes us to sabotage that perfect relationship.  It causes us to leave that great job.  It sends us back to the bottle after years sober.  It's an impulse, that of self-destruction.  

This cancer permeates reality. Yet reality persists.  It's laced through the rotting stump, in the forest of this world.  It cuts through in the wild fire triggered by the lightning strike.  It leaves ashes.  But life persists, somehow.  

After all, don't we exist in a temporary reality, a broken, fallen place?  I can see the straps and trappings and duct work, I can see all the equations and temporal realities and time space phenomenon that hold it all together just begging to come crashing down.  I see it when a storm rushes across the horizon.  I see it when lightning cuts through the dark clouds.  I feel it when the ground shakes beneath me during an earthquake.  The clock is ticking on this entire universe.  It is destined to be burned, and remade. 

Long ago, I fled into a shimmering sphere, a beautiful mysterious expanse in the woods outside the door of my life as it was. I had dreams about it, I wrote about it, but I'm not sure I ever really understood what it was, until now.  It was the mirage world, the alternate universe hidden all around us, the world of self-ruination. I finally understand what it was, that world I entered twenty years ago.  One day, I went into that deep dark woods, with shimmering lights within it.  

It was so beautiful. Yet so foreboding.  I felt the fascination, and also the terror. That majestic woods, the lanterns and golden lights hanging from the trees, the bizarre mysteries I encountered there.  I recall it so clearly now.  And of course the dangers, the deadly nature of the forest, and all that I encountered there...

It was a labyrinth of extremes, beautiful and hideous. It was safe and warm, yet cold and treacherous.  A reality that consumed my life, like a virus.  It was growing, and growing.  

It was a complex metaphor, appearing in my dreams, in my stream-of-consciousness writing, and in my mind's eye as I'd look off into the backyard.  

I was inexorably drawn to it, and I was convinced it was a positive good.  I was certain, that the journey through the forest, to the center of the reality, this vortex, would lead to paradise and salvation for my soul.

I recall an episode of Star Trek Voyager, where the crew thought they had encountered a wormhole back home, but they realized that there was some kind of deception taking place.  But as they got closer, they all fell victim to the seductive appearance and the belief that might finally make it home.  As they sailed into the wormhole, they didn't realize, they were sailing into the belly of a giant monster seeking to devour them and their ship.

The mystic forest, was a bait and switch, a trap door reality.  And beyond the gentle flickers of light and beautiful scenery there was great danger.  It was a trap.  And monsters would soon seethe through the doors of the reality to attack and kill me.  

That's where I went.  And I knew that I had to get to the meadow at the center.  I'd seen it in my dreams.  So I went deeper and deeper into this forest. I chased a mysterious owl through the forest, as well as a beautiful butterfly that kept appearing here and there.

I think I finally realize what this forest was... the great vortex of self destruction.  I recently viewed a movie called Annihilation, a rather gruesome, dark movie.  In this movie, there is an expanding sphere called the shimmer. Many went inside, and were lost in it. It was expanding, threatening to destroy the entire world.  So they sent a last team inside of it, five of them, and they discovered a beautiful reality, yet also deadly, and dangerous.  And the story bounces between the self-destruction of the main characters and the saga of their journey into the shimmer. I don't recommend watching this movie, it's very dark, even demonic, with brutal, disgusting scenes of murder and death within the shimmer, as well as adultery and demented sex scenes.  But it did help me understand something from my past...

I recall in my dream, the story of the forest, there were tornadoes ripping through fields, and terrifying sojourners along their way.  The tornadoes were vortexes perhaps, vortexes to hell, that I only nearly escaped.  But after that I went underground, to a place of crystal miners.  And they were mining the crystals surrounding the center of the forest, which had broken to bear broken fields.

I went deeper, and deeper.  I had been chasing an owl through the forest all that ways.  And then something terrible happened... I encountered myself, a dark version of myself.  It was almost like A Wrinkle in Time, and the dark version of Charles Wallace.  And I wrestled with the evil twin of myself, and defeated the evil twin.  The owl turned evil, and attacked the butterfly.  But the butterfly though crushed, appeared once again, and the owl was defeated.  And then the woods broke, and the forest disappeared, and the meadow came into view.

I realize what happened... the forest was the matrix of self-destruction, death, and brokenness in my soul.  The boy journeying through the forest was me.  At the center of the forest was the consummation of self-destruction, death.  The various encounters in the forest were delusions and hallucinations and false realities of the broken-state, mirroring and distorting true reality.  The monsters attacking me in the forest were Satan and the evil ones.

Yet something was frightfully necessary about the journey inward.  If I had fled from it, it would've invaded the real world and destroyed my life.  But by turning and going bravely into the depths of it, I was able to face it, fight it, and defeat the true enemy deep within this vortex: The brokenness in my soul, and the old self, the old man, the man of sin, within each of us, that must be put to death, for us to be reborn, and drawn into the new kingdom of Christ.  We must each face the darkness, and defeat it.  If we run from it, it consumes our waking states, if we turn and face it, and march on it's black gates, we have a chance, to defeat the evil in ourselves, in Christ, and crucify the old self, and become entirely new.   

I recall in the dream, in the vision of the forest, the underground cavern... where I saw the great figure standing above the waters... and the butterfly that kept appearing, and leading me away from danger... and the vision of counting the stars and the dialogues with the little boy named Luz, these were encounters and protection provided by God, as He came to me, protected me, and guided me toward the black darkness of caverns, where He would bring me to the point of ruin, and teach me to cry out to His son Jesus for salvation.  

At that moment, the fallen forest was destroyed, the false self was put to death, and the new self was born.  Do you know what's interesting?  The story doesn't end there.  What happens next, in the next two books I wrote, is that the boy became a man, was given a new name, fell from a city of delusions, and woke up in a broken world under siege by a dark kingdom.  Just a dream?  Another delusion? Or a metaphor to waking up in a real world in the midst of a fierce spiritual war? 

Related Posts: 
  1. Journey of the Christian through the Forest called Earth
  2. What is the matrix?
  3. Living in the Suburban Sprawl (Mountains beyond Mountains)
  4. Ancient Doorways in the Brickhouse: Fields of Green in your Dreams
  5. Depression & Meaninglessness: Where is God in the depths of sorrow?
  6. The Awe of Dreams & the Surreal
  7. Big Picture: The Solution to all the Problems of Earth
  8. What is the meaning of Life?
  9. You Oh Lord are my Strength: The Manifold Provision of God
  10. Daybreak: Examining the Problem of Pain

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Twelve Steps & Jesus: Steps 6 through 9

Click here for post on Steps 1 through 5

Previously we talked about steps 1 through 5, about how we want to admit our powerlessness over the drugs and alcohol, and that paradoxically because of that surrender we are then able by God’s grace to come to believe that God can free us from the mentality of addiction and commit our lives to serving and obeying God. Those are steps 1 through 3

Then importantly we talked about the fourth and fifth step, about the importance of being free from the baggage of the past, by putting it all down on paper, and then sharing it with a trusted friend or sponsor. When we did that, we felt the weight of the past lifted from our shoulders, and the sunlight of God’s spirit come into our hearts and lives.

Now we consider steps 6 through 9.

Step 6 says: “We Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

Step 6 is simply recognizing our former ways of living life, that didn’t work. Selfishness, anger, self-pity, being inconsiderate of others, those ways of living our lives failed us. They landed us here. So we recognize that we’ve got some defects of character, and we become willing for God to remove them. That’s the hard part, is becoming willing. Because pride wants to get in the way. But we have to humble ourselves and overcome that pride if we want to get well. Which leads us to step 7.

And Step 7 says: “We Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.”

So if we’ve recognized our character defects, mine was always fear, selfishness, and self-seeking, pride, ego, and manipulation. I always tried to play the game to make things go my way, and then they wouldn’t go my way, and then I’d flip out. Recognizing that stuff in myself was very, very hard.

Even today I can struggle with pride, and ego, when it should be all about Jesus, sometimes I make it about myself. And that’s not acceptable if I want to stay well. We have to recognize these things in ourselves. And once we do, then we take them to God. Because we can’t remove these defects of character. Only God can.

So then we ask God to remove them. Usually people will pray this prayer: "My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen."

Then we watch for opportunities to live differently. And each day we consider how we’ve lived at the end of the day, taking an inventory of our day, to see if we lived as the new man, or if we slipped back into old ways of thinking. We continue that process, in prayer, and in taking action and over time God removes all our character defects and makes us like Jesus.

If steps 4,5,6, and 7 are about getting right inside ourselves, then steps 8 and 9 are about getting right with the people around us.

Step 8 says: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

So if we’ve done our 4th and 5th steps, we have the list of the people we’ve harmed already. If not, then it’s pretty simple to point out who we’ve hurt. For me it was mom, dad, my sister, my grandparents, several close friends, and a few bosses and coworkers. We make a list of how we hurt these people, and we become willing to make things right.

Step 9 says: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

It’s pretty simple, but not easy. We go to the person we hurt, for me, we’ll take the example of my dad. I went to my dad. And now, from my perspective, my dad has hurt me far worse than I ever hurt him. There’s things I won’t go into right now, but it was difficult to come humbly to my dad and apologize for what I did. Because I would prefer to hear apologies from him.

But that’s not the purpose of the 9th step. It’s about cleaning up our side of the street. They may leave their side of the street dirty, but that’s not our problem. Never, ever, ever, when your doing an amends, never ever bring up anything they did wrong. Your there to clean up your side of the street. You can’t control what they do.

So like with my dad, I talked about how I stole from him, used him for money, manipulated him, and hurt our relationship. I didn’t bring up the divorce, or the fights we had, because its about my cleaning up my mess. And I apologized. I told my dad I was wrong, asked for forgiveness, and I also asked how I could make it right. Part of that was agreeing to regularly spend time with my dad, and call him. That’s what he wanted as part of the amends. We do that again and again with people we’ve hurt, and its interesting, you know the promises that they read in AA? Those are in the big book right after the 8th and 9th step. And the promises say “by the time we are halfway through we will know a new freedom.” And people always wonder: “halfway through what?” If they’d read the big book, it means halfway through their 9th step amends!

So in conclusion, work the steps in order. I’m still available to help anyone who wants to work on their 4th and 5th step. I’ve had two residents talk to me about that, and I’m still willing to help anyone with that. So come see me. I’ll also help you with the character defects portion or help with making the list of amends.

Do this process, just do it. Do it with a good sponsor. And you’ll see big changes in your life, and this will provide the foundation for a lifetime of recovery.