Saturday, June 30, 2007

No Longer Condemned

She had sinned. The sick feeling in the pit of Jessie’s stomach grew, and a heavy weight seemed to fall onto her shoulders. As she recognized her sin, she was overwhelmed by the feeling that she was unclean. Filled with revulsion at herself and acutely aware of her unworthiness, she became timid to approach God in prayer. She had failed, after all— and not only once. Although Jessie had repented, the words guilty, guilty, guilty still echoed in her mind.

Learning to deal with sin is one of the fiercest struggles in the Christian life—and often, one of the most discouraging. I have discovered that the more time I spend studying God’s Word and in prayer, the more my own hideous unrighteousness is revealed to me. In the illumination of God’s holiness, my sinful thoughts and behavior are laid bare. In fact, my knowledge of my own sinfulness is growing continually. Like Jessie, you and I may listen to a convicting sermon or message, and then leave the building filled with an overpowering sense of discouragement and frustration, not joy. Even after repentance, the guilt that my sin has wrought often burns within me. The nagging question is: Now what?

It’s tempting to think that the feeling of guilt which results is beneficial. Somehow, we think that if it’s so painful, it must be a good thing—but it isn’t. C.J. Mahaney put it best:

“Don’t buy the lie that cultivating condemnation and wallowing in your shame is somehow pleasing to God, or that a constant, low-grade guilt will somehow promote holiness and spiritual maturity. It’s just the opposite! God is glorified when we believe with all our hearts that those who trust in Christ can never be condemned.”

The Answer: the Cross

Two nights ago, I lay awake in bed, unable to sleep. Suddenly, I felt a strong sense that God desired me to get out of bed to kneel prostrate on the ground. Although I do not often pray in that position during the middle of the night, I knew that there was a specific reason for it that night. I began to pour out my heart to my Father, and immediately, one of the main things that He impressed upon me was the glorious truth of Romans 8:1. The verse cries triumphantly, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” None! All our sins were atoned for at the cross where Jesus died. He suffered the penalty that we deserved, and the burden of our sin has been completely removed. We are forgiven and set free! I needed this reminder on Thursday. I had once again been feeling the weight of my failure to live up to God’s commands, and consequently, I was discouraged and frustrated with myself. But as I prayed, the wondrous truth of the gospel changed my disheartened attitude into thanksgiving and joy. Jesus suffered a brutal death on the cross for the very sin that I committed yesterday, and last week, and this morning. Because Christ is the propitiation for my sins, there is now no need for condemnation!

In fact, when we linger in our guilt, we are telling Christ that His sacrifice was not enough. We are adamantly insisting upon carrying a burden that He has already removed forever. If you have placed your faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, you have been justified by His blood. You now stand spotless and blameless before God’s throne-- clothed in the glorious righteousness of the Son of God!

Why, then, is it so easy to fall into this pattern of self-condemnation, when God so clearly desires the message of the cross to be ever-present in our hearts? A fundamental misapplication of the gospel lies at the root cause of this issue. You and I feel condemned only when we do not let the power of the gospel transform our lives. Our minds must be constantly renewed by the truth of God’s Word, and we ought to make it our daily goal to search out the depths of God’s unmerited grace towards us. God wants us to be firmly convinced of our position in Christ! When we meditate on the life-transforming truth of the gospel, we will be filled anew with awe and wonder at the great God we serve, not weighed down with guilt.

Acknowledge your sins before God. Admit the depths of your depravity and confess with tears the sinfulness of your heart to Him. “But don’t stop there!” says Mahaney. “Move on to rejoicing in the Savior who came to save the worst of sinners. Lay down the luggage of condemnation and kneel down in worship at the feet of Him who bore your sins.” Yes, recognize your sin. Then turn to the cross with a heart brimming with gratitude and joy, for there is no longer any condemnation for those in Christ Jesus!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

To Nibble....

My diet requires no sugar but quite a bit of healthy food. Unfortunately, my taste buds require quite a bit of sugar, and could care less about the healthy stuff. Usually, I can withstand the urge to give in to my demanding taste for sugar because I know the pain I'll be in later. But today was understandably difficult. I decided to make chocolate chip cookies for my family. For those who may not know, cookie dough is a long-time favorite of mine. And while I was placing them on the pan, I began snitching little scoops. As I was about to plop the tenth spoonful of cookie dough in my mouth, my hand mechanically froze in midair directly over my mouth. My eyes, still focusing upward waiting to taste the delightful morsel, dropped and followed my hand back to the bowl. Ooops! Just in the nick of time, my conscience began whispering softly to me, you know you shouldn't be having that... I rolled my eyes and sighed. I had gotten off easy that time, or so I thought. Seconds later, my conscience decided it wasn't done and gave me another jab. I began to feel convicted that my spiritual life resembled the many nibbles I had taken from the cookie dough. Ouch.

I nibble a little of God's Word here and there, enough to satisfy my craving for Truth. But the nibbles are not enough to satisfy the hunger I should have for God. Tasty little bites every other day is not what God expects of the Christian, nor can I grow in godliness, discernment, and wisdom.. I must study and meditate on what God has written in order to grow in these areas. It must become more than just impromptu bites here and there. Psalm 119:16 says,
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
I had come upon that verse in my devotions, but I pretended to ignore it and move on. But there was my conscience once again poking and prodding me to sit up and take note. I neglect God's Word more than I read it. Another nice jab to my flesh. Double ouch!

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the New Attitude Conference. Oh yes, I had a grand time meeting people, worshiping and studying the Bible with fellow believers, but there was a hidden torment within my soul that was equally great that same weekend. As the first worship session started on Saturday night, I was feeling distant towards God and because of this, my worship to Him felt fake. Was I lifting my hands heavenward because 2,999 other people were? I knew something was terribly wrong, but I couldn't put a finger on my problem. Here I was about to spend an incredible weekend listening to inspiring authors and teachers, and I felt estranged from God and everyone else. I knew God was in the Kentucky International Convention Center, it was I who was wandering around in a galaxy far, far away. God wants us to draw near, but how do you bridge a chasm millions of miles wide?

I found a seat among the thousands of others who seemed to be enjoying an intimate communion with God, and I sullenly pleaded with God to remove this distance from me. Lord, I want to draw closer to you this weekend. I want this distance between us to end, this gap to disappear. I want an intimate relationship with you...because I need you more than ever. But why this separation? How did this happen?

Simply because I was neglecting God's Word. It wasn't rocket science. When I fail to spend time in God's Word, my relationship with God becomes distant and joyless. I confessed my sin of neglect and recommitted myself to a daily diet of God's Word. But to let's be real here, it's easy to make a commitment to commune with God daily at a convention with thousands of other worshipers. But would I feel the same urgency and desire when I was back at home?
"The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." Matthew 26:41
Old habits die hard...
Now that I've been home a few weeks, I'd love to report that every day has been a wonderful day of feasting in God's word. I wish I could say that my relationship with God is in tip-top shape, but truthfully it's far from there. I've begun the tedious process of retraining my "old-self" to quit nibbling and spending more time digging deeper into the richness and vastness of who God is through His Word. Just like with the cookie dough, I must resist the temptation to just sneak a nibble of the sweet stuff and neglect the meat. Quick nibbles provide an instant burst of energy, but do nothing for my relationship with God long term.
"Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." -Psalm 34:8

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Why Glorify?

When contemplating the subject of God’s glory, I have sometimes wondered why God desires so much to be glorified. Conceit and pride are wrong in human beings; yet it seems odd that a righteous God who honors humility would so loudly proclaim His own glory.

John Piper addresses this question in his book, Desiring God. I think he provides some excellent food for thought, closely related to these previous posts:

“[A reason] people stumble over the teaching that God exalts His own glory and seeks to be praised by His people is that the Bible teaches us not to be like that. For example, the Bible says that "Love seeks not its own" ( 1 Corinthians 13:5). How can God be loving and yet be utterly devoted to "seeking His own" glory and praise and joy? How can God be for us if He is so utterly for Himself?

The answer I propose is this: Because God is unique as an all-glorious, totally self-sufficient Being, He must be for Himself if He is to be for us. The rules of humility that belong to a creature cannot apply in the same way to its Creator. If God should turn away from Himself as the Source of infinite joy, He would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself. He would commit idolatry.

This would be no gain for us. For where can we go when our God has become unrighteous?....
No, we do not turn God's self-exaltation into love by demanding that God cease to be God. Instead we must come to see that God is love precisely because He relentlessly pursues the praises of His name in the hearts of His people.

Consider this question: In view of God's infinite power and wisdom and beauty, what would His love to a human being involve? Or to put it another way: What could God give us to enjoy that would prove Him most loving? There is only one possible answer: Himself! If He withholds Himself from our contemplation and companionship, no matter what else He gives us, He is not loving.

There is the solution! We praise what we enjoy because the delight is incomplete until it is expressed in praise. If we were not allowed to speak of what we value, and celebrate what we love, and praise what we admire, our joy would not be full. So if God loves us enough to make our joy full, He must not only give us Himself; He must also win from us the praise of our hearts-not because He needs to shore up some weakness in Himself or compensate for some deficiency, but because He loves us and seeks the fullness of our joy that can be found only in knowing and praising Him, the most magnificent of all Beings. If He is truly for us He must be for Himself!

God is the one Being in all the universe for whom seeking His own praise is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When He does all things "for the praise of His glory," He preserves for us and offers to us the only thing in all the world which can satisfy our longings. God is for us! And the foundation of this love is that God has been, is now, and always will be, for Himself.”

Read Desiring God online, buy the book, or visit John Piper’s website.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

The God I Love

The Pool of Bethesda...a place of hope, where Jesus healed many who were sick and crippled. In Joni Eareckson Tada's book, The God I Love, she describes a trip with her husband to that pool. For many years, she had dreamed of traveling to see this very pool. She also petitioned God for many years to heal her paralysis inflicted body. But God had other ideas for her life.
"I leaned on my arm against the guardrail. I whispered, "And now...after thirty years...I'm here...I made it. Jesus didn't pass me by. He didn't overlook me. He came my way and answered my prayer - He said no.

"Lord, your no answer to physical healing meant yes to a deeper healing - a better one. Your answer has bound me to other believers and taught me so much about myself. It's purged sin from my life, it's strengthened my commitment to you, forced me to depend on your grace. Your wiser, deeper answer has stretched my hope, refined my faith, and helped me to know you better. And you are good. You are so good."
Reading about Joni Earekson Tada's saga has greatly encouraged and inspired me. While I'm not wheelchair-bound, I do suffer from a chronic illness that robs me of energy and many physical activities. Because of this, I am often pleading with God to remove this illness from me and make me well. So far, He has yet to do that. I have two ways I can react to His reply: I can grow bitter and angry towards God and become upset that He hasn't healed me or I can look at it the way Joni does. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I can clearly see that God is healing me in various ways. Sure, my healing may not come in a physical form but in a spiritual sense.

In reality, Joni's principle is true for all of us. Most of you may not suffer from a chronic illness or be paralyzed, but all of us have petitions we send upward to the throne of God. Sometimes God chooses to answer those, sometimes He doesn't. Oftentimes we relate an answer to prayer with something happening in the physical realm, but God's healing is often unseen by our natural eye and sensed only by our spirit. Psalm 66:20 says,
"Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!"
God knows exactly what we need to live. He knows the number of the hairs on our heads, He calls the sparrows by name, and His love for us is as wide as the sky and as deep as the oceans. The next time you offer a prayer up to Heaven and things aren't going according to your prayer or your plan, I challenge you to look deeper and see if God is doing something bigger and greater in your heart.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Driven By Eternity

“Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.” ~ Sean O'Casey

We are but vapors in the wind. We are all flowers quickly fading. We are only pilgrims passing through earth’s time into another realm. Time here is zero compared to all of eternity. What is our goal? What is our mission?

So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:9-10

Most of you have probably seen the movie Beauty and the Beast, which depicts a story of a handsome prince who becomes a ferocious beast because of a lack of love. The beast’s time clock is an enchanted rose, of which he has to pay great heed. His mission is to fall in love before the last petal falls. If he fails, the curse will never be broken.

Now, think of our lives as a beautiful elegant rose. Job 14:2 says, “We blossom like a flower and then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear.” Each soft petal that wilts and falls to the ground is every year that slips through our fingers. And our assignment, unlike the beast, is to seek to please the Lord in everything we do, say, and think. 2 Corinthians 4:18—"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." We are challenged in the Scriptures to embrace an eternal mindset. What we do on this earth will be revealed in full at the judgment seat. We have to make every moment count. We have to live our lives in perspective of time without end. Our finite minds cannot seek to wrap themselves around such a mind-blowing concept!

We, as Christians, can leave an impact on someone that will either drive them to the cross or from the cross. Whether it is the result of an arrogant attitude, or from an act of unconditional love, we have the capacity to leave a lasting impression. Whatever the case may be, we have the power to bring life or death in any situation.

Deuteronomy 30:19: This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.

Thus, I encourage you to allow yourself to be driven by eternity, to look at your life through rose colored glasses, to remember that your life is but a flower quickly fading. I urge you, dear ones, to consent to being propelled by the love and fear of the Lord. Love, protecting you from the pit of legalism, and fear, protecting you from the pit of lawlessness. Our journey is a straight and narrow path. Make it your mission to run with endurance, to pace yourself with patience, and to complete your race with perseverance. Make it your goal to run and not give up!

"You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised." Hebrews 10:36

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." James 1:12

By Stephanie