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The Christian Life Is War

Before you came to Christ you were spiritually dead. Among other things, there was one thing you had no ability to do: wage war against yourself (see previous article for more on that).

Trying to grow spiritually apart from Christ looks like chopping down one idol only to swiftly replace it with another. It looks like propping yourself up on the backs of other people, and when they fail you everything falls apart. Parting from sin feels like putting a knife to your own heart. Perhaps you turn to self-help books, and build a great facade, but inside, there is nothing but empty deceit (Colossians 2:8). Spiritually you are headed nowhere but closer and closer to death.

Pretty depressing isn’t it? But it is not so for the redeemed! Believers have new spiritual realities, as they have been “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1Peter 1:23).” That “word is the good news that was preached to you (1Peter 1:25).”

You believed in the gospel with faith, and have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1Peter 1:3).” Your hope is alive, and your hope is a person, who is always faithful and ever present.

Nevertheless, the Christian life is war. It is war that we declare primarily against ourselves, against the sin that remains in our flesh. We must wage this war every single day. If we don’t engage the flesh wins out.

I think of Jesus’ words to the disciples as they slept through Christ’s turmoil in Gethsemane: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).”

Galatians 5:17 expresses this so well: “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

There is a sense in which the same old reality remains: You cannot wage war against flesh in the flesh. Paul said “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18).” Notice that Paul qualifies his statement by saying “that is, in my flesh.”

So then, we have an enemy within. The good news is that God’s word teaches us that Jesus Christ died and was raised so that “we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).” This abundant “newness of life” is something we have been granted, and something we must “walk in.”

How can you walk in a reality that you are not remembering? Paul acknowledge that he could not live out Christianity in his own flesh. Do you know what that means? It means that this is not a battle to be fought by personal resolve and willpower alone. Why? Because your flesh has no strength to obey. Neither can it be silenced just by grieving its’ reality and hating its’ presence. To quote a great hymn “Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, these for sin could not atone…”

You can’t begin to war against your flesh today without remembering and walking in the new realities that have been granted to you in salvation. Sorrow over sin and resolutions will quickly drive you low if you fail to cast yourself on His promises. Stay tuned for my next article (God willing)- which will be on God granted realities for waging war.

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When Your Profession Has No Power

Shortly after I had asked “Jesus to fill the God shaped hole in my heart” at fifteen years old, I went to a Christian bookstore for the first time. I came out with a Teen Study Bible and a poster for my bedroom. Finding a poster that I wouldn’t be embarrassed of was hard work; A lot of flipping past rainbows, butterflies, and kittens was involved. I found one poster that appealed to me, black with scrawled writing on it, and a scratchy, blood streaked cross. This is what it said:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” -Matthew 16:24-25

I cannot tell you how many times that poster glared at me. Or maybe I was glaring at it. It sounded hardcore, intense, life changing. It didn’t reflect the soft peddled message of Christianity I had heard, neither did it reflect my experience. That poster stared me down, hanging above my own reflection in the bedroom mirror, and kept on telling me to do something that I had no power to do.

Deny myself. Lose my life in order to save it- In order to find it. The commandments of God weighed heavy on my soul and there was no ability in my flesh to carry them out in a way that would please God. I was supposed to go out my bedroom door and die to self. Live for God. Obey commands that were only burdensome, and only death to me.

Romans 7:10-11 “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing and opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.”

That is the condition of a spiritually dead person hearing the commandments of God, feeling the weight of His law, and recognizing that at the very core of your being you cannot fulfill them. I couldn’t make that sin-loving person in me die in order that I might live. I could not, in the weakness and corruption of my flesh, deny myself and follow after Jesus Christ. For that dear friends, I needed to be truly born again, not of the flesh, but of the Spirit (John 3:6-8).

2 Timothy 3:2-5 talks about people who inwardly hate righteousness while loving self, money, and pleasure, all the while “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” They might look alright on the outside, at least to a distant spectator. But there is no effectual power in their lives. No power to obey God, live righteously, or overcome sin. In their hearts, there is no desire even to do so.

If you are somebody like I was, then I have good news for you. “The letter (that is the written law) kills, but the Spirit gives life (2Corinthians 3:6).” If the law has produced death in you and you have seen that you have no ability to fulfill it (and fulfill it you must, James 2:10), then the law has done its work in you. Perhaps, you have been living as a false convert like I was. Maybe you’ve attended church since childhood but have never received forgiveness for sins, a new heart and Spirit, and in Christ the promise of eternal life. Or maybe you don’t care about God and you don’t even pretend to. I don’t know.

If you don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, then at this point I’ll refer you to a series I did a few years back called “An Appeal to the Modern Mind,” which discusses salvation at length. Or, if you only have a bit of time part 4 of that series: How Does Jesus Make Entrance Into His Kingdom Possible?

If you are a believer, chances are part of you still resonates with some of the struggle I described. Though we are no longer slaves of sin (Romans 6:6), our new reality still includes a daily war with our remaining sinful man, or flesh. As Galatians 5:17 explains “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

I want to write some more about that war and how to wage it, so check back in soon. God bless.

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A Thorn To Bless

What will I do with satan’s thorn
Lodged deep in weakest access point?
No pill to take
No treatment makes
It well, no method has supplied
A cure,
Steps stumble; Backward falls
The soldier, boldly with a limp
But limping on
He goes, he goes,
A carefully crafted grin
All turmoil within.

Paul called his a tormentor,
Assailant of the flesh,
A harassing messenger
Its’ agent being death.

What wickedness with cruel intent
Should drive the thorn so deep?
What does he gain
From this my pain?-
But not my soul to keep.

God, the guardian of my soul-
He does not sleep.
No armies march past Him
While I do weep. Continue reading

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A Word on Worship Styles

Note: From the start I want to clarify that when I use the word “style” I am not referring to words, or lyrics. By the word “style” I mean varying instruments or sounds, as well as the posture or outward appearances of worshippers. Words, particularly words of truth that honor God, matter immensely, but that is a whole other topic.

Few topics can get Christians more heated up then worship styles. Some churches pride themselves most emphatically and almost solely on having “great worship.” If they visit a church that doesn’t use drums and the worshipers don’t raise hands, they might say something like “the sermon was great, but it’s too bad the worship is dead.” Or even “It’s really too bad the Spirit’s not there.” You might think I’m joking but sadly I’ve heard it with my own two ears.

On the other hand, organ only, hymn only, Psalter only (etc, etc) church goers can see concert clips of people jumping up and down, hand raising, clapping (etc,etc) and think there’s a lack of reverence and nothing happening other than an ecstatic, hyper-emotional, rock fest.

I guess the question we should all ask ourselves is this: Does God want us judging one another’s worship styles? Should we dissect the way, or style, in which another person offers praise and thanksgiving to God, specifically in song?

I don’t think so. Here’s why: Continue reading

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O Love That Will Not Let Me Go: A Hymn For The Weary and Discouraged

One of the reasons I love this hymn, written in 1882 by George Matthison, is for its rich poetic content. If you like, here is the story surrounding the hymn. The lyrics deserve to be read slowly, and you will find Chris Rice’s version of the song below.

“O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.”

A verse that comes to my mind is Psalm 119:25 “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word.” The composer is a weary soul, a flickering torch, in pain, in rain, laying down in the dust, feeling as though this life’s glory is dead. But he knows what he needs. And he knows that what he needs will not be found within himself. He knows there is another source. Continue reading

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Before the Throne of God Above: A Hymn For the Sin-Grieved Soul

Sometimes Christians lose sight of the gospel. I’ve been there. You give yourself over to ruthless self examination and slip into works righteousness thinking that loses sight of hope. You’ve seen that your heart is fickle. One second you worship God and the next you curse men who are made in God’s image (James 3:9). You read Proverbs about fools, and nagging wives, those who are quick to anger, stinginess, pride, and laziness, and you see more of yourself painted than you would like to see. Perhaps you read Matthew 5 and 6 and you’re struck by your own harsh words, love of money, lustful thoughts, or nagging anxieties.

If you lose sight of the cross, then you lose sight of God’s love for you. You think only of His holiness and wrath and start believing He does not want to hear from you. Do you need to grovel? Do you need to be punished? Do you need to just “get right” before you can approach God again? How can He be appeased?

Examining yourself, sorrow over sin, focus on holiness, and a desire to change are all very good things. But to think about these things without remembrance of the gospel, God’s power and promises towards you, your thoughts will not only become burdensome, they will become faithless. The soul in that place, dear friends, whether saved or not, is in desperate need of the gospel of grace. Continue reading

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Abide With Me: A Hymn For the Dying

When I search my mind for a favorite hymn “Abide With Me” rises quickly to the surface. CyberHymnal.org gives us this information about the circumstances surrounding the writing of this hymn by Henry Lyte in 1847:

Lyte was inspired to write this hymn as he was dying of tuberculosis; he finished it the Sunday he gave his farewell sermon in the parish he served so many years. The next day, he left for Italy to regain his health. He didn’t make it though—he died in Nice, France, three weeks after writing these words. Here is an excerpt from his farewell sermon:

“O brethren, I stand here among you today, as alive from the dead, if I may hope to impress it upon you, and induce you to prepare for that solemn hour which must come to all, by a timely acquaintance with the death of Christ.”

I know of no greater hymn which so honestly puts into words the experience and struggle of those dying under the curse of disease, a thing I have not experienced but have seen. The lyrics in full may be read here, and below is my favorite rendition of this song. Please take time to listen and to read the words.

You might wonder why I would love this hymn so much, when its’ topic is dying. But it is not just about dying- it is about dying in and dying for the Lord. “If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).”

Jesus can “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:15).” He did this “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14).” “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (1Corinthians 15:56);” He has removed that bitter sting and broke that power which stood against us, condemning us, and He gives and will give us victory over these things. The bible testifies that a day will come when death will be destroyed, and resurrection life will be ours. For the Christian, death needs not be a topic of dread, but of anticipation.

Yet for all the good death will bring to us, anyone who has witnessed death knows- it is usually not as glorious as Hollywood makes it out to be. Disease has no pity; It has no respect for human dignity. It is a cruel tormentor, ugly and stealing from its victims, wasting them, and crippling with pain. Not always, but surely this is often the case. It is not so much the death, but the dying that can surely cast a Christian low, even in agony. Continue reading

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Just As I Am: Singing to God

It would be hard for me to fully express the role that worship songs- especially hymns, have had in my life. God used the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” to reach me when I was a teenager, finally and reluctantly confessing I was a sinner on my bed at night. Words I never knew existed in my memory bank came rushing back to me from childhood and all at once the word “wretch” struck my heart with tremendous force. I was a wretch, it was true. But the song said God had an interest in saving wretches like me. I didn’t know how yet, or why He could save a wretch like me, but I’m grateful He shone a light in my heart and kept on drawing me.

I had started attending church around that time, and having not grown up in one, witnessing people worship was fascinating to me. It just seemed amazing that people could really sing to God, and the looks on their faces were like they actually knew Him. I still have a poem I wrote as a teenager reflecting on what I experienced during this time they called “worship”:

I stand, swaying just enough
To blend in with the world
As they are wrapped up in their ecstasy.
Shouts of joy bounce off the walls
And I try to reach out;
To catch it without making a statement
Of my obvious attempts.

There are those who wear their love so
Glorious across their faces,
And I would expect them to be proud
Yet they are the meekest.

Often I hear words of great inspiration,
And the thirst deep inside of me pleads
To be filled.

(I smirk every so often, so that the
Stranger next to me won’t know the ways
Of which I have been intrigued)

I walked to the back of the room
Into a corner where no one would see,
And tried to speak a word to God
(To the air?)
My heart raced…
“It’s because you fear God!”
Or is it only for the people who have glanced back?

It’s kind of funny to have this poem as a little reminder of the foreignness and intrigue a “worship service” held for me then. I remember having a sense of the seriousness of singing songs to God. One Sunday morning I was singing a song, something about giving Jesus all of my life. But it wasn’t true. He didn’t have my life, and I knew it full well. I also knew the guy leading worship- a highschool friend, and that Jesus didn’t have his life either. I just remember shutting my mouth mid-song. How could I sing to God words that weren’t true? Words that I didn’t mean? The weight of it felt heavy enough to crush me so I fled, but on the way I asked the worship leader’s mom to send him outside when the singing was over. Continue reading

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One Body, Many Members

You never know how much you need a part of your body until it stops functioning as it should. I bruised my ribs a month ago. I thought for sure they were cracked or broken since they hurt so much, but it turns out they were “only” bruised or strained.

Somehow the ribs are involved every time you bend down and stand up, lie down and get back up, lift, carry, twist, or when you happen to need to breathe. All these things became unusually obvious to me because they became painful.

I noticed a term recently while reading my bible I hadn’t given much thought to before. In fact I wasn’t really sure what it meant.

Ephesians 4:25 says “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”

“Members one of another.” The term puzzled me. I discovered that the same term is found in Romans 12:4-5: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

It occurred to me that I wasn’t thinking of the term “members” properly. I was thinking about membership in the way that we think of members of a club or gym. But that isn’t the kind of membership God has in mind. God is talking about members as body parts. Specifically, many individual parts, joined as one, and making up “one body in Christ.”

There is another important section in Ephesians 4 about this. Ephesians 4:15-16 says “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

The picture here is fascinating. God has equipped the body, which 1 Corinthians 12, makes clear is His church, with different people, or parts, who have different gifts “for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:6)” of the entire body. This body is joined and held together by “every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly” in order to grow up into the likeness of Christ and “build itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16).”

Colossians 2:16-19 makes it clear that you shouldn’t allow anyone to “pass judgment” or “disqualify” you who is “insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head… ” That is, not holding fast to Christ “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God “(that’s the rest of verse 19).
God has described the church as His body, and the head being Christ. He speaks of its people as beings joints and ligaments (as seen above), as well as feet, hands, eyes, and ears (1 Corinthians 12:14-21).

1Corinthians 12:19-21 says “If all were a single member where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”

Wouldn’t that be the height of lunacy- to look at one of your body parts and say, “What’s the point of this one? I don’t need it!” Or “As long as I’ve got my eye sight I’m good. Who needs hands?” You would either be an insane human, or in this case, a really arrogant eye ball. Continue reading

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Share It With Me- A Poem for My Daughter

Share It With Me

God’s wonders all around
It takes a two year old to see
The tiny movements in the feet
Of the gathering bee.

This day if I alone
Went for a walk down by the slue
I would not tromp through long, thick grass
To find the dragonflies like you.

I would not leave the trail
To weave and spin beneath the trees,
Leap from stumps, or watch squirrels bustle
Or hear the rustling breeze.

For an hour we could
Toss stones, and in ripples rejoice;
A nursery rhyme’s a prize told
To you in mommy’s voice.

Dandelions become
Flowers, picked and clutched in my fist,
And berry picking not a chore
But a picnic and bliss.

I would have missed the moon
If you’d not pointed to the sky
And the jets roaring overhead
As swift they pass us by.

Such clutter adulthood
Bestows with busyness and rush
I had forgotten how to lie
In grass and there to hush.

To you life is a gift
One that you open without shame
And throw yourself headlong into
‘Tis pleasure and a game.

To be so free from cares
In life, you will not always be
But while you are dear, precious gift
Keep sharing it with me.
Adelle

My blog is not a “mom blog” and I know this isn’t my typical post. Maybe you wonder how it correlates to “Come to Christ.” This poem is a reflection of the delight I have in my daughter’s good delight. Parenting toddlers is often connoted with dread and difficulty, not so much with delight. We’re all familiar with the phrase “terrible twos.” For sure, it is a task that challenges us and tests our patience at times. Sometimes I don’t feel like “dealing” with toddler things today. But more often I am overwhelmed with the beauty of this relationship and the joy of parenting my daughter. She is a gift from God, so I will celebrate that here. There’s not a lot of celebrating children in our culture today, and I think God is pleased when we rejoice in them.

I’m teaching her about Christ, and she’s teaching me too, about all the simplistic, wonderful things God has granted us to enjoy in His creation and in the love of family. His care is displayed in these marvelous things, and I am grateful. When I enjoy my child, I do so with a love for God. All good gifts here point us back to praise the giver- all praise be to His Name!