October, 2017

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My Natural Way (Is A Total Shipwreck!) Or The Horror Of Myself

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

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(Photo by K.R. Keyser, September 2017, all rights reserved.)

Shame is absent from modern thinking. People argue that their natural inclinations are right. If they feel something, then it must be natural and therefore, it is permissible. This mindset is especially evident in the increasingly permissive sexual mores. Lust is legitimized, and immorality and perversions are no longer viewed as harmful or aberrant. Premarital chastity, marital fidelity, and heterosexuality are increasingly mocked and set aside as abnormal. In particular, homosexuality is not only tolerated it is celebrated and privileged as a sacrosanct lifestyle that one may not question. Since the essence of sin is dethroning God and usurping His right to determine our behavior, it is not surprising to see the suppression of shame along with the proud vindication of one’s lifestyle choices. The Lord, however, views things differently.

A Once Beautiful Ship, Now Marred

   Mankind is not currently in the same condition as when the Creator fashioned it (Gen. 1:26-31; Gen. 2:25.) We are fallen, broken, and sinful rebels (Gen. 3:1-19; Rom. 3:23.) Sin twists our minds (Rom. 1:28), hearts (Jer. 17:9), wills (Rom. 7:8-11), and ultimately destroys our bodies. (Rom. 3:9-20; Rom. 5:17-19; James 1:15; 1 Cor. 15:18, 21-22.) So, looking to ourselves for legitimacy is a fool’s errand. It is just as absurd as looking at a ship (like the one in the photo above) and deeming it appropriately sea-worthy. When it was first launched, it sailed with no difficulty, but after it was irreparably damaged it was condemned as worthless and beached on the rocks of Spanish Wells. Similarly, we human beings are twisted and broken by sin and in ourselves are condemned in the eyes of a holy God.

Thankfully, our Maker does not scrap us like the pictured fishing boat. Instead, He decided before the foundation of the world to save us: a process that includes deliverance from condemnation to a righteous standing before God, as well as becoming new creatures with minds, hearts, and wills that function in accordance with His pleasure (John 3:3-21; John 5:24-25; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; Heb. 10:16.) As Titus 3:4-7 expresses it:

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

God works to transform our natural state – both spiritually and physically – into the glorious liberty of His children and to conform us to His Son’s own image (Rom. 8:9-30.) By His Spirit living within and working within Christians, He transforms their hearts to love what He loves and hate what He hates. Their minds begin to think His thoughts after Him (Rom. 12:1-2; Phil. 2:5) and their wills desire to do His will (John 7:17; Phil. 2:12.)

I Once Was Lost, But Now Am Found

 John Newton, the infamous slave-ship captain turned preacher and hymn writer, put it beautifully:

“The image of God, in which he was formed, was defaced, and a far different image set up in his heart, even of him who had seduced him from his allegiance; darkness in the understanding, rebellion in the will, sensuality in the affections; the justice of God threatening a penalty he could neither satisfy nor sustain; the commandments of God still challenging an obedience he had no longer any power to yield. The very gifts and bounties of God, with which he was encompassed, designed not only for his comfort, but his instruction, to lead him, as by so many steps, to their gracious Author, became eventually the occasions of withdrawing him farther from his duty, and increasing, as well as aggravating, his ingratitude. Thus stood man towards his Maker. With regard to his fellow-creatures, self-love and inordinate desires having raised a variety of interfering interests in the breasts of all, peace withdrew from the earth. Every man’s heart and hand was set against his neighbor; and violence, rage, envy, and confusion, overspread the world. Nor could he be easier in himself; hurried by restless desires towards things either unsatisfying or unattainable, haunted with cares, tortured with pains, tired with opposition, shocked with disappointment; conscience, like the hand that appeared in Belshazzar’s feast, Daniel 5, writing bitter things against him, when outward circumstances allowed a short repose: and vanity, like a worm, destroying the root of every flower that promised the fairest bloom of success. Behold a few outlines of the picture of fallen man! Miserable in his life, more miserable in the continual dread of losing such a life; miserable, most of all, that neither his fancy can feign, nor his fear conceive, the consequences of the death he dreads,—which will introduce him to the immediate presence, to the tribunal, of an incensed, almighty, ever-living God!

Such was the state from which Jesus Christ came to save us. He came to restore us to the favor of God; to reconcile us to ourselves, and to each other; to give us peace and joy in life, hope and triumph in death, and after death glory, honor, and immortality. For he came, not merely to repair, and to restore, but to exalt; not only, ‘that we might have life,’ the life we had forfeited, but ‘that we might have it more abundantly,’ John 10; that our happiness might be more exalted, our title more firm, and our possession more secure, than the state of Adam in paradise could boast, or than his posterity could have attained unto, if he had continued unsinning . . .” [i]

Transformed Vessels, Sailing For Glory

Like a reclaimed and restored ship, the Lord is transforming believers into an eventual form where we will be suited to live with Him in glory for all eternity (2 Cor. 4:16-5:8.) Morally, emotionally, mentally, and physically they will be suited for the Father’s house (John 14:2-3.) Their formerly “natural” fallen and sinful state, will give way to the supernatural transformation of God’s saving work. Shame and self-justification will be things of the past. God’s glorified people will realize the purpose for which they were created and redeemed (Phil. 3:12-4:1.)

God’s redemptive work allows us to be honest about ourselves: we are damaged and cannot fix ourselves. It also removes our shame, because Christ’s sacrificial death enables God to forgive our sin and declare us righteous (Rom. 3:19-26.) We bow to the legitimate lawgiver – the only arbiter of truth – our Creator who made us to enjoy abundant life with Him forever. We do not need to redefine ourselves in unrealistic (or debased) ways. If we know Christ as Lord and Savior then we are said to be “in Christ,” or to say it differently, we are “accepted in the Beloved One” (Eph. 1:1-6.)

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[i] John Newton, “Sermon II: On The Savior & His Salvation,” in Six Discourses (Or Sermons) As Intended For The Pulpit in The Works of John Newton, Vol. 2, ed. Richard Cecil. (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 282-284.

The Wonders of Grace (Spurgeon on the Savior’s interaction with the Centurion)

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

“When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.’ And his servant was healed that same hour.” Matthew 8:10-13

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“. . . [I]n the narrative before us, he marvelled at the faith of the centurion. From this we learn that we ought not to be so engrossed with the wonders of science and of art, or even with the wonders of creation and of providence, as to become indifferent to the marvels of grace. These should occupy the very highest place in our estimation. The seven wonders of the world are nothing when compared with the countless wonders of grace. That man must be foolish who does not admire the works of God in nature; he is frivolous who does not trace with awe the hand of God in history; and he is even more unwise who despises the masterpieces of divine skill and wisdom which are to be seen in the empire of grace. In the kingdom of God the wise man only wonders once in his life, but that is always: fools think not so, but they are void of understanding. The museum of grace is richer than that of nature. A heart broken on account of sin is a far greater wonder than the rarest fossil, whatever it may tell of ancient floods of the sea or convulsions of the land. An eye that glistens with the tears of penitence is a greater marvel than the cataract of Niagara, or the fountains of the Nile. Faith that humbly links itself to Christ has in it as great a beauty as the rainbow, and the confidence which looks alone to Jesus, and so irradiates the soul, is as much an object for admiration as is the sun when he shineth in his strength. Talk not of the pyramids, the Colossus, the golden house of Nero, or the temple of Ephesus, for the living temple of God’s church is fairer far. Let others glory in the marvels they have seen but be it mine to say unto my Lord, ‘I will praise thee, for thou hast done wonderful things. Thy love to me was wonderful. Surely I will remember thy wonders of old.’”

C. H. Spurgeon, “A Blessed Wonder,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 16. Originally preached on June 12, 1870. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1870), 337–338.

* Paolo Veronese, “Jesus & The Centurion,” in The Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain; public domain; accessed on 10/23/17 here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jes%C3%BAs_y_el_centuri%C3%B3n_(El_Veron%C3%A9s).jpg

Hope, Real & Imagined

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12[i]

And He said to them, ‘What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?’ And they stood still, looking sad. One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, ‘Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?’ And He said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to Him, ‘The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.’” Luke 24:17-24, NAS

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:19-20

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:19-20

“Before we get to today’s interview, I want to say how profoundly saddened I am by the series of catastrophes, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and now the mass shooting in Las Vegas. To everyone who is suffering, to everyone who has lost a loved one, or been injured, or lost their home, or their job, to everyone who is still in shock from being a witness, we are thinking of you, and hope you find whatever it is you need to carry on.” Terry Gross[ii]

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Ms Gross’ compassionate words express the shared unspoken longings currently of multitudes on our planet. In the face of ongoing wars, famines, natural disasters, and the steady ongoing march toward eternity of humans great and small – of every race, class, and socio-demographic – our hearts cry out for something or someone to give us hope. The only suitable response to this cri de coeur is found in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hope In The Face Of Hopelessness

On the third day after His death, Christ’s disciples were perplexed and demoralized. In their minds, Messiah was both a political and spiritual Deliverer. How could He die as a cursed outcast on an ignominiously cruel Roman cross? Where now were their hopes and dreams of salvation? Life seemed at once hopeless and incomprehensible. In that moment of painful confusion, the Lord Himself drew near to remind them of all that the Scriptures prophesied concerning this mighty victor. In His words: “Ought not the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:26.) In the wake of seeming tragedy, He pointed them to what Paul later called “the hope and resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6.) Hope for believers is not a vague wish that is hopeful of finding “whatever it is you need to carry on,” as Ms Gross phrases it (and many others in the world would agree with that amorphous sentiment.) The Christian hope is not merely for this world: it connects us with eternal life that emanates from beyond this sorrowful scene of pain and death. As Paul points out: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:19.) To suffer for Christ in this world, and then have no resurrection or life after death would be a false hope of immense magnitude! But the next verse promises that through His resurrection Christ triumphed over death, and is the first in what will be a long line of physically and spiritually raised ones; the Captain of their salvation is bringing many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10.)

Comfort From Beyond The Grave

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The believer’s hope is focused on a person: The risen Christ! Our trust in Him is pictured as a “sure and steadfast” anchor, which is secured in the presence of the triune God Himself (Heb. 6:19.) As David Gooding eloquently writes: “What a hope Christians have! They have cast their anchor not in their fluctuating moods or feelings, or in their varying circumstances, or in anything else in this changing world. Christ himself as their precursor has taken their anchor right through into heaven itself and embedded it in the immovable ground of the presence and throne and character of God (6:19–20).”[iv]

We Have An Anchor That Keeps The Soul 

One of my friends from the crew of the Sea Gem (pictured above) told me of the importance of a good anchor. He told me that formerly the ship had the wring anchor; consequently, they would wake up in the middle of the night drifting – a dangerous situation for a seagoing craft! Imagine if one tried to use an anchor from a much smaller boat (like the Boston Whaler pictured below) on a crawfishing ship like the Sea Gem. What would happen?

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Clearly the smaller boat’s anchor would not do anything for the much larger vessel. Likewise, the rough seas of human life require a large anchor.

Only the hope provided by Christ, who died, rose from the grave, and ascended to glory can provide the unwavering assurance that is linked to God’s trustworthiness, justice, and holy love (Heb. 6:20.) Because the believer’s Forerunner, the Lord Jesus Christ has entered into the Father’s glorious presence, they shall certainly be there as well. As He said: “‘A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also’” (John 14:19.) Later He prayed: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24.) This is a sure and steadfast hope by which to live!

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[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible (NKJV.) Words in boldface and italics are my emphases.

[ii] Terry Gross, Introductory remarks to the broadcast, “Tom Petty to ‘Fresh Air’: ‘The Songs Meant a Lot to People, and it Means a Lot to Me’,” 10/3/17, Fresh Air with Terry Gross; electronic ed. accessed on the same date here: http://www.npr.org/2017/10/03/555302003/tom-petty-to-fresh-air-the-songs-mean-a-lot-to-people-and-it-means-a-lot-to-me [Emphasis mine.]

[iii] Photo by K.R. Keyser, 10/1/17, Spanish Wells, Bahamas; all rights reserved. Special thanks to the crew of the Sea Gem.

[iv] David W. Gooding, An Unshakeable Kingdom: The Letter to the Hebrews for Today, Myrtlefield Expositions. (Coleraine, Northern Ireland: Myrtlefield House, 2013), 141. [Boldface mine.]

[v] Photo by K.R. Keyser, 10/1/17, Spanish Wells, Bahamas; all rights reserved.