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I’ve been learning a lot, since June, about spiritual warfare.  God told me to focus on learning about it and practicing it.  The other day I wrote down a list of what I’ve learned to do when I recognize attacks.  I thought it might help you out.  Or you might help me out by adding to it or correcting anywhere I’ve overstepped.

 

Responses To & Wards Against Spiritual Attacks:

 

Prayer

Obviously there are so many kinds of prayer.  First of all, I can simply ask God for what I want or need.  Jesus truly says, “Ask and you shall receive.”  I want to try to live that, to find out the fullness of what it means.  Talking to God keeps me close to Him, keeps my perspective pointed His way.  I pray Scripture sometimes, as God leads (Ephesians 6:10-20 if I can’t think of anything else).  I call out for help from the God who is mighty enough to deliver me from my enemies.  He is a shield, a help, a comfort, a refuge.  And He can guide me to the purposes He has for me – the things His enemy is trying to distract me from.  He can show me how to move past the ambush.

 

Thanks

So many of the spiritual attacks come in the form of doubting God’s word and character.  Thanks remembers who God is and what He has done and what He has promised.  It names them like a claiming for my collection.

 

Praise

Praise takes thanks a step further.  It shouts to the world that my God is good.  I feel like it’s less defensive and more offensive in this spiritual battle, a tactic that has the enemy of God wishing he could avoid bringing the subject up.

 

Rest

God created rest.  It’s just a fact.  He made us to need it.  Rest is related so intimately with waiting and trust.  It is an outward submission to the fact that while I do nothing, He is able to work.  He doesn’t need me; I need Him.  And so I still my body and even sleep sometimes, committing my concerns to my good Father.

 

Enjoying Good Gifts

If one of the lies is that God isn’t good, it gains power when I refuse to take the good that God gives.  He uses these gifts to refresh us and to speak to us of His love.  We have to be receiving from God.  If we are dependent on Him, it doesn’t mean that we just let Him do everything.  It doesn’t mean that we only take from Him the things we perceive as useful for the battle.  We take everything He gives.  In the midst of sorrow, if He gives laughter, we take that too.  We remember that the battle isn’t a punishment; it’s a privilege.  So I don’t act like a child pouting in time-out; I taste chocolate and dance in the yard and I thank God for His wisdom!

 

Encouragement

I’m so glad that God didn’t make us to fight these spiritual battles alone.  I heard a preacher say once that God called the Church to spiritual warfare – more than He called individuals.  I haven’t figured out what that means or if I agree entirely, but I do know that the members of the body of Christ have been given gifts to build each other up for the ministries God has prepared for us.  I love it when my friends tell me they are in this with me, when they remind me of truth, when they admonish me to persevere.  Sometimes I even beg them for it.

 

Prayer Together

This one has been coming up in my thoughts a lot lately, and I feel conviction that I’m not very good at making it happen.  I believe that when we recognize spiritual warfare, we should come together to petition God together for strength, guidance, and victory.  For whatever reason, I think we’re supposed to be doing this in groups and not just alone.

 

People

Sometimes I get to be around people who aren’t aware of the battle in my life, and even that can be a bulwark against spiritual attack.  It is good to be around humans.  We minister to each other.  We are made in the image of God, objects of His love, and instruments of His righteousness.  It is good to be reminded that God is at work in lives, in situations completely unrelated to my battles.  He grows people.  He answers prayers.  He wins.

 

Speaking/Writing/Remembering Truth

When I’m in the midst of the weightiest attacks, sometimes the only things to cling to are prayer and truth.  I can start small, naming the truth I see about me: “That is a window.  Today is Thursday.”  And then I can tell myself, journal, or tell others truths I know about God.  I can remember things He did in the Bible.  I can remember what He did for me yesterday, last month, last year, or when He saved me the day I turned six.  One very important thing to remember is that God freely gave His Son to pay for my sins.  Paul springboards from that truth to asking, “Will He not with Him also freely give us all things?”  It doesn’t make sense for God to give us His most precious possession and then to hold little things back just to be mean!  The final type of truth that I focus on is who I am in Christ: “I am chosen.  I am sealed.  I am empowered.  I am loved.”

 

Fasting and Self-Denial

Mostly my experience with fasting is experimentation.  I ask God whether to fast.  I don’t understand all of how it works or why God made fasting to have power in spiritual warfare, but Jesus said it, so I believe it.  Maybe it has something to do with recognizing my dependence on God for the sustaining of my life.  I think there is something to be said for self-denial, for practicing being led by something other than the impulses of what my body or mind want.  Plus, since the body is pretty good at sending those impulses, I can use them as a reminder to focus on God and to pray.

 

Obedience

The Bible warns me to take heed lest I am also tempted, when I’m pro-actively engaged in the spiritual battle.  So I regularly evaluate whether I’m being obedient.  How have I failed to do what I know God wants me to?  I put on the breastplate of righteousness, believing that pursuing good works God has called me to puts me in the places where He can readily use me to intercede for others.  When I am obedient, I am not so distracted with repenting – and I am not fighting to regain the foothold I had given over to the Devil.  But I also remember that my God is merciful.  When I fall, I cry out to Him and He forgives.  His grace strengthens me for obedience; it isn’t something I do apart from Him and then bring myself before Him well-armored in my own good works and strength.  Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  I have to let it be Him working in me.

 

Reading and Hearing Truth

I want my mind to be saturated with truth so much that it can’t even hear the lies of the Devil.  I want to be so confident in the truth that deceits are easily identified and turned back.  So I read the Bible, read books about factual things, listen to Christian lectures or good Christian music.

 

Work

Rest is important, but so is staying busy.  The last thing I need is down time when my prayers are exhausted and I’m bored and the temptation comes to chase after my own pleasure.  Work is therapeutic.  It is a taking-back from the chaos, a living out of the dominion God called the first Man and Woman to.  In a way, that’s the same thing happening in spiritual warfare.

 

Calling On Jesus’ Name

This one is potent.  If I feel strongly oppressed, I need to speak Jesus’ name aloud, to claim the authority of the King of Kings to fight this battle for me.  It’s also pretty potent before God.  If I’m confident enough that my prayer is for Jesus’ sake, for the bearing fruit in His kingdom, I present my supplications in Jesus’ name.  And Jesus promised that whatever we ask the Father in His name, we can have confidence that we have from Him.  This is another form of acknowledging the truth of God’s promises.

 

Rebuking Demons

Sometimes I need to take seriously that there are personal creatures scheming against me and that they do not have authority to oppose me, because I am a chosen ambassador of God in the world.  I openly resist the Devil, and trust that the Bible is true when it says “He will flee from you.”  I don’t know how long it lasts, or exactly how this works, but I try it because it is taught in Scripture.

 

Prayer For Others

The spiritual battle does not just affect individuals, so I pray for others potentially involved to be guarded against the schemes, temptations, and opposition of our spiritual enemy.  I pray for them to put on and take up the armor of God, being strengthened with His might.  I pray for them to be vigilant.  I pray that God would hedge their families, their health, their jobs, their travel – and anything else that seems relevant or that God leads me to pray for them.  I pray that they will be in right standing with God, repentant of sins and practicing righteousness.  Intercession is one more thing that I think the spiritual warfare is opposing in the first place, so to go forward doing it seems to me a good idea in resisting the attacks.

 

Attention to God’s Works

Like remembering what God has done in the past, and being around people in whom God is active at present, I can look around me right now and observe the wise and powerful works of God.  These things don’t have to be spiritual, though sometimes they are.  I gain encouragement watching God change the seasons, open up wildflowers, bring a bee buzzing by.  I watch Him move the hearts of “kings.”  This isn’t quite the same as praise or thanks, because it precedes them.  First I slow down and give heed to what God is doing – I set out looking for it.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Christians have hope.  We know that we are loved: created by God, died-for by Jesus Christ.  When we placed our trust in Jesus, our sins were forgiven.  In Christ we are a new creation, freed from guilt and condemnation.  God made our spirits alive so that we could now have fellowship with Him.  Our lives have purposes: to honor God and to walk in the good works He prepared for us.  After this life, we will spend eternity alive again with our Savior, delivered from sin and pain and death.

 

There are those who do not have this hope.  They feel the void from rejecting the love of God.  But God is still offering.  He offers forgiveness, fellowship, purpose, and eternal life.  Then God commissioned us to spread the good news of this offer.

 

People who lack this hope face serious consequences.  Every day they live in rebellion against God, multiplying their sins against Him.  This wickedness has consequences now and forever.  When life is hard, they want to give up.  Many do, and take their own lives.  And as they pass from this life, they enter an eternity of punishment for their sins.

 

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” – James 5:19-20

 

Men, why are you doing these things?  We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them.” – Acts 14:15

 

It is unloving to do nothing as these people continue in sin and hopelessness.  To endorse or honor their sin is the least loving thing you could do.  It offers them no way out, and demonstrates your own lack of faith in the God whose character and glory are being betrayed.  But love must be our motive in speaking to the unsaved: love for them, and love for God.

 

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” – 1 Peter 3:15

 

Let your gentleness be known to all men; the Lord is at hand.” – Philippians 4:5

 

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.  Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” – James 1:19-21

 

And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” – 2 Timothy 2:24-26

 

Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.  Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” – Colossians 4:5-6

 

Humility and grace go together.  Humility recognizes that we also would stand guilty before God, but for the merciful sacrifice of Jesus on the cross in our place.  We have received God’s grace, and know that for the lost to receive God’s grace as well is their only hope.

 

But I am writing today primarily to admonish you all to take a stand against the “unfruitful works of darkness” which are the causes for the “wrath of God [coming] on the sons of disobedience.”  We as followers of Jesus Christ need to take a stand in two ways: first, in our own lives, to strive for holiness even as He who called us is holy; second, in our witness to others.  Christians do not need to compromise with the enemies of God in order to offer hope.  There is no hope offered when we tolerate the sins separating men from their God.

 

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.  For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.  But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.  Therefore He says: ‘Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.’  See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” – Ephesians 5:11-17

 

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.” – Colossians 3:5-7

 

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.  For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not be partakers with them.” – Ephesians 5:3-7

 

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

 

Finally, as you may have guessed by my title, I am addressing a specific situation in which many Christians are being tempted to honor sin or endorse lifestyles of rebellion against God.  The names we have for these lifestyles today are not found in the Bible.  But the Bible is clear in its reproach against what is today called Homosexuality, also “Gay”, “Lesbian,” “Bi-sexual,” and “Trans-gender.”

 

As you can read above, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, being “effeminate” is a sin against God for which exclusion from the Kingdom of God is just.  (Thank God for His grace, by which even such sins may be forgiven and overcome!)  Also in that list is fornication, which generally covers every sexual sin.  God intended sex for the context of marriage between man and woman.  Everything else rejects God’s design and inserts our pretentious wisdom.  (We should repudiate all sin, along with homosexuality, as shown by the various lists in the Bible.)

 

In the Old Testament political laws for the nation of Israel, homosexuality was a perverse sin punishable by death.  This political law is not in effect today.  The USA has no such law.  However, the Mosaic Law’s condemnation of that behavior represents God’s perfect moral righteousness.  To God, such conduct is an abomination.

 

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination… For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people.” – Leviticus 18:22, 29

 

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” – Leviticus 20:13

 

Lest you be unconvinced that all forms of homosexuality are still abominations to God and sins against Him, read what Paul wrote to the Romans (in the New Testament, after Jesus had risen from the dead):

 

Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.  Amen.

“For this reason God gave them up to vile passions.  For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.” – Romans 1:24-32

 

Over the past decade or so, the world has been told that a person’s “sexual orientation” is something he or she was born with.  I agree that people may be “born that way,” but only in this sense: that all men were born with a sin nature, spiritually dead and enslaved to the Devil.  (See Ephesians 2.)  Romans 1:26 tells us that humans practicing homosexuality have rejected “nature.”  What they are doing is unnatural.  Think, as a Christian, what it means to claim that a person was born with a sexual orientation that is an abomination to God; it means God created them that way!  Would He do such a thing?  He teaches in the Bible that He did not!

 

This passage in Romans also warns that there are material and spiritual consequences, in the present life, for a lifestyle of homosexuality.  Other teachers have exposited the list of consequences in this section of Scripture, and speculated as to the manifest consequences we see today.  You can read God’s list for yourself, and follow up further if you desire.

 

Finally, the last phrase of Romans 1:24-32 rebukes those who “approve of those who practice them.”  Do not be one of those people.  Do not honor those who have so rebelled against God.  Mourn those who died without repenting.  Weep for the destructive toll this sin is taking on our country.  And preach hope to them, the hope that comes from submitting to God, who alone ordains salvation and righteousness.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

 

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There’s a lot of cynicism about the Church today.  And while I am stimulated by argument, by addressing something I identify as wrong, I don’t think of myself as a cynic.  Rather, this confrontation with status-quo is inherently hopeful.  I invest energy because I think Church could be better.

Before I left my last church, a few people were leaving slowly.  And my friends who were staying, they wondered why.  “There’s no such thing as a perfect church,” they argued.  “So why search for another kind of bad?”  Which reasoning rather baffled me.  What were they praying for?  Why did they do anything in the Church?  Didn’t they believe our community could be better?  And if we can get better, isn’t it possible that something better already exists?

Now, there may be other arguments for hanging around a church that is not as close to perfect as you hope.  But to say that leaving a church is for people with unrealistic expectations is silly.  Whatever your choice, your reason for staying should be the same as your reason for leaving: hope.  If you stay, be hoping to see God grow your church to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.  If you go, may it be because you hope that God has more designed for the Church than the divided and sterile institution you’re leaving.

I didn’t leave the institutional church in despair.  There was hurt and disappointment over the group of people I had been congregating with.  But there was joy over the release God had given me – not release from fellowship or love or truth, but release from schedules and structures and enduring a view of Church that I no longer believe.  I went out looking for people of God doing life together, praying together, participating together in teaching and worship and celebrating Communion.  My search has been for a high view of our Bridegroom as the Head of His Church, of a supernatural (but orderly) view of the Spirit of our God as He orchestrates lives and relationships and meetings.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.  And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.  But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” – Hebrews 11:13-16

I am persuaded that there is something better than what I have experienced.  And I will desire it and pursue it.  The things I write on ChurchMoot really excite me.  What I read in the Bible about Church excites me.  The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.  Christ is purifying and strengthening His gloriously beautiful Church.  He’s preparing a place for us.  There are visions of unity and purpose and power.  A joy in knowing that we believe in, serve, and wait on an Almighty and Good God.

What’s more, I have hope that the people of God are being awakened to the biblical descriptions of Church.  Now when people realize church is broken, they’re seeking answers from God, and acting on them!  No longer will they betray the Body of Christ by their silence, by their tacit approval, by being accomplices.  They don’t want the world to think that what it knows as Church is the Beloved Bride of a Radiant Savior.  He purified for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works!  They want the world to see a light set on a lampstand, not some pitiful ember fading into darkness.

We are not a cult.  We are the Redeemed.  Joyful.  Saying so.  Hopeful.  Believing it is our God who builds His Church.  Waiting for our Messiah to come back – begging Him to come quickly!  We are loving, caring for each other, not afraid to weep or to rejoice.  The God who created the universe, the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead, indwells us.  He speaks through us, comforts us, guides and instructs us.  The same God who rattled the Early Church prayer meetings with mighty rushing wind is among us.  Let that be known.  Let it be proclaimed.  Don’t contain it in schedules and corporate models.  Joy might be practiced, but not rehearsed!  Truth should be so familiar that it can be ad-libbed.  We share in a life that is saturated with God, with no distinction between the times when we are doing ordinary work and when we are worshiping.

God called His people to abundant life, life in Him.  My hope for the Church is that we embrace it.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I have always struggled with the word “propitiation.”  In Awana’s elementary-school books was included 1 John 4:10, an excellent verse I don’t regret memorizing.  All of my friends at the time struggled with the pronunciation of the dauntingly long word.  A few years’ practice rendered us able to speak the word, and Awana supplied a definition sufficient for rudimentary comprehension.  I believe their paraphrase was “the payment Christ made for my sins.”  At about the same time, I attended my parents’ Sunday morning Bible study at which the teacher was discussing the concept of propitiation.  He described it as “the mercy-seat of Christ, through which man has access to God.”  To a fifth grader the two definitions were not nearly similar enough to be joined.  I understand the word has to do with redemption, with sacrifice and salvation.  For years that has had to get me by.

The word comes up, you know, a grating little piece of ignorance: a something I cannot understand no matter how hard I try or what sources I reference.  Searching for the Greek word in Strong’s Concordance is not all that helpful, adding nothing to my understanding of the English word.  So I read the verses that say “propitiation,” pretend to understand while wondering why I don’t.

And last week it happened.  I wasn’t even reading very closely.  A page was open, and my eyes lit on the word “propitiate,” the verb form of “propitiation.”  All at once I saw the root word, sitting right there, disguised by the ‘y’ converted to an ‘i’: pity.  A series of clicks could be heard in my brain as the meanings fell into place.  Pity is strongly associated with mercy.  Add the prefix, “pro,” and you have something that advances or makes the way for active mercy, for pity. The substitutionary suffering Christ endured for my sin was what made forgiveness possible before a just God.  Jesus is the living way by which we enter the holy of holies, where the mercy seat used to be in the Temple.

(It just so happens that, when I went to look up the etymology of propitiate and of pity, the dictionarians have not noted a connection, but associate the word “pity” more with “piety,” or duty than with “propitiate.”  Nevertheless, I feel I have much better grasped the meaning of propitiation, and still wonder whether the two words share roots.)

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I have a friend, my age, who is married.  To most 25 year olds, this is not surprising.  But I mean what I say, that I have ONE friend who is married and my age.  So she holds a special place in my row of confidants.  Loving her has never been hard, and envying her is unthinkable.  Her story is beautiful, and I treasure it.

The tale her life weaves is different from mine, and that is good.  She was married 4 and a half years ago, but she remembers before.  More than once she has encouraged me to embrace the days God gives me, as He gives them.  Before she was married, she spent time on tour with a Christian conference, interning with a youth ministry, and on a mission in Thailand.  She doesn’t regret ending those things to become a wife and a mom (a busy mom – 5 kids!), but she values them for what they were to her, and values them more for being special to that season of her life.

Just this month, out to eat delicious Italian food and celebrate that significantly frightening birthday of mine when I turned 25, she repeated her exhortation.  This time she made clear that she doesn’t think the only way to make the most of one’s singleness is mission trips.  Her life isn’t the only way.  Her story is hers.  In fact, she said she rather likes having me live close!  “One day you’ll look back, and this time will seem short.  You’ll wonder why you worried.”  I didn’t tell her I worried.  Good friends don’t have to be told, I guess.

But I pondered for a moment.  The waiting hasn’t been short.  I don’t ever want to forget that, because that cheapens this time.  For years I have been enduring hope, striving for hope – and patience and faith.  This has to be for a reason.  God is doing work in me; I haven’t stalled in this in-between season of singleness.  And He is doing work around me, through me.  Living at home, I have an impact on my family.  Being single, as my friend said, I get to spend more time with friends.  And who knows what God is up to with the man who will be my husband some day.

Though her time of singleness was short and cram-packed, mine is long and also full.  I don’t want to call this time fleeting, not only because of all that it contains, but because of what it represents.  There is a sacredness to waiting, something to be attained through practicing it. Without delayed gratification, there is no hope.  If one has everything one wants before you think to desire it, there is no desire.

But hope and desire were not made merely to serve romance.  Experiencing hope and desire and something about time that I still don’t understand – these train me for my walk with God.

We use words like thirst to describe how our souls long for God because God made us to sense need for water.  “God deals with us as with sons” – “for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?”  If God had not given us fathers willing to spank us, how would we know to relate to God this way?  So also, this yearning time, and stillness time point me to the yearning I ought to have for God.  Do I put my trust in His action?  Am I catching my breath every day thinking that He might come?  Is my imagination captivated by His promises?

This turns back again and says more.  I’m not the only one waiting.  God is waiting.  Just as He chose to love, and chose to suffer, and chose to be tempted, and chose to be born and to die, He has chosen to wait.  Eternal God has put Himself in time.  And time is not yet full.  In exercising waiting and containing myself to hope, I am learning about God’s hope and God’s waiting.  He has patience.

There is a praise song that alights on me like a vision of radiance.  “We will dance on the streets that are golden: the glorious Bride and the Great Son of Man…”  Think of the joy with which the Bridegroom will dance among His Bride, with which He will feast with her.  If that will be his joy, this strangeness called time will be part of his payment.  He knows that future and is waiting with eager expectation for the day and hour only His Father knows.  Somehow to think of God’s joy makes me want that more than I want it for myself.

Jesus is no Peter Pan, who lives only for the moment, forgetting past and future.  No, to live with an eye on the future that can only be reached by walking the present, that is grown up.  It is mature and sober.  But the joy it produces is most free and most giddy.  There is nothing unsure in the joy, even the excruciating joy of this waiting.  Peter Pan might enjoy the moment, but that is all he has; he must be ready for a turn of events.  The joy of Christ – and His Bride with Him – will be everlasting.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I’m in between churches right now – between congregations. All summer and fall I’ve been casually attending the meetings of various friends. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to not be obligated to make an appearance at any one building on a Sunday morning. I might tell a friend I’m coming, or I might decide Saturday night. Some Sundays I sleep in. Sunday morning heathenism is rather refreshing.

Except it isn’t heathenism. A lot of what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is of heathen origin. But heathenism is a lot more than skipping a sermon and praise concert. It is a lifestyle of rejecting God, and that I certainly have not done.

I believe the Bible teaches Christians to gather regularly with each other. That isn’t something I have abandoned either. My recent experience is filled with times of fellowship and encouragement with other believers. We do ministry together, hold each other accountable for our walks with God, philosophically tackle the dilemmas we’re facing, study the Bible, and pray. During these times we also tend to eat, to play games, to laugh and tease, sometimes to work. Kids running around get swept up by disciples of Jesus, who – like Him – love children.

About a month ago some friends invited me to their church. I went that weekend. This week they asked me what I thought, and didn’t I like it (since I hadn’t been back). And I froze, because, well, I did like it. The people were friendly and the teachings were biblical and stimulating. But I don’t think I’ll join. This Sunday I did go back there, though. And my friends’ thirteen-year-old son confronted me, “I thought you said our church was just ‘ok’.”

Hard to explain. This particular church is on the good end of mainstream churches. They have good doctrine. A lot of their money goes to missions. Kids are with parents in church for most of the time, and youth aren’t separated from their families. The music isn’t too loud or too self-centered. With a congregation of about 50, the pastor and teachers can know everyone.

After pondering for a day or so, here is my answer to the thirteen-year-old friend: (it’s alliterative so I can remember!)
1) Plurality. There is only one pastor at the church. He’s the head man. I believe Jesus is the head of the Church, and that leadership beneath Him must be shared among more than one equal. Whenever real life cases are discussed in the New Testament, the word is used in the plural. (Elders) In this way they can model cooperation and problem solving. Congregations and pastors are kept mindful that Christ is the true head, and that the Church is His project. Also, when one is weak, there is another to be strong, the proverbial man to pick you up when you fall. Two are better than one and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Pastoring is a lonely job, being at the top instead of a part of your congregation as friends and brothers. My Bible describes a different sort of dynamic, where pastors are respected for being respectable and where everyone is exercising his gifts for the good of all: pastors, prophets, discerners, helpers, administrators, on and on.
2) Property. This was quite confusing to my friend, who expects people to scorn his church for meeting in the club house of a condominium complex. Whether you own a building, rent it, or have borrowed money from a bank to claim that you own it, all represent instances where the Church of God has used resources God entrusted to them not to do what He has instructed: caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and missionaries – but to have a separate place to meet. I believe churches are meant to be gathered in homes. Limited in size, surrounded by hospitality and everyday life, the atmosphere of house church encourages the participation of everyone, the familial fellowship of believers, and the synthesis of sacred and secular.
3) Preaching. The New Testament describes and even commends preaching. Except almost always the lecture style sermon was delivered to an unsaved audience. It is a tool of evangelism. And evangelism is not the purpose of the regular gathering of believers. In fact, the church meetings described in 1 Corinthians are much more open and unstructured than what we usually think of as church. No one was scheduled to speak. Anyone (any man?) was allowed to bring a word, be it a prophecy, a teaching, a tongue – as long as he spoke it for the edification of the group. He may share a testimony of God’s work or an instruction or challenge the Spirit laid on his heart to give to his friends. A teaching might be towards an identified deficiency of understanding or may flow out of the studies individuals are making during the week on their own. Prophecy may correct the direction the congregation is going, may identify weaknesses and strengths among them, may warn them, or may give them hope and vision for the future. Some verses indicate that individuals may also bring songs of their choosing to the meetings of believers, with which to encourage each other.

Now that I’ve said those things, I do believe that there is a place for the lecture-style teaching we call sermons. I really enjoy Bible conferences, and am not opposed to worship concerts where the band has practiced and is intending to honor God. When I visit my friends’ churches, I usually view those services as conferences, and I look for the Spirit-driven gatherings elsewhere. At this stage of my life I’m not content with the small groups and Bible studies that have been getting me by. So I’m still looking, reading books and searching websites from people who are practicing what the Bible teaches about Church. I’m excited to see where that leads.

Some questions remain, stronger tensions between the familiar and the ideal: how is authority supposed to work in the church? Is it important? Is it a matter of exercising authority or of submitting to authority? How much should we submit? What shall Christians do for evangelism? Wouldn’t it be better to team up? But is it wrong to invite people in to hear the gospel, or should we go out to them? Are women to speak in the church meetings? If not, why on earth did Paul say so? – Just to prove I don’t think I know everything!

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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To hear someone tell you that the keyword of Romans is grace is so much less than discovering it for yourself. Since God has been busy revealing grace to me everywhere I look, I should not be surprised to find it again in Paul’s famous epistle. To be honest, grace is such an overwhelming subject that I have been unable to think of one coherent thing to say about it. One facet I’ve been exploring is the concept of being “disciplined by grace.”

Last night at Awana our high school group (called Journey) was studying Romans. We’re actually on chapters 9-11, but a verse from chapter 6 caught my eye. “You are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) I’ve studied Romans at least three full times before. Always I’ve been so focused on the first half: not under law. Legalism has been such a danger to the church that its opposite, grace, has been neglected in study.

My Bible turned to Romans 6, I scanned the short two pages (including a bit of chapter 5). There, it seems, is the whole concept of being disciplined by grace. We know that faith produces works, that anyone who is truly saved will bear fruits of righteousness (which are by Jesus Christ). This does not happen on our own, but as a result of God’s grace, the activity of the Holy Spirit in us.

Even at the end of the passage, arguably the key verse, Romans 6:23 talks about grace. In every translation I checked, I find the word “gift” in this verse. Actually the Greek is charisma, which is accurately translated as gift – BUT is a derivative of charis, grace. Charis is used several other times just in Romans 6, let alone the other 15 chapters. So I suggest that we should read gift in verse 23 as “gracegift.” We miss so much in English. What charisma indicates is the product of grace.

In Romans 5-6 we see that grace:

  • Brings salvation. We are justified by faith, which gives us access to the grace wherein we presently stand. Romans 5:16 says that the free gift is justification of many offenses. Finally Romans 6:23 provides the contrast between the consequences for our sin: death, and the great gift we who are justified receive instead: eternal life. (See also: Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 2:11-12, Galatians 2:20-21)
  • Is the opposite of legalism. Galatians expounds this theme, and is echoed in Romans 6:14: “You are not under law, but under grace.” In Galatians I believe Paul uses “walk in the Spirit” as virtually synonymous with “under grace” in Romans. Galatians also says, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
  • Is not an excuse for licentiousness. Romans 6:1 asks the question: should we sin a lot, so that grace will abound? This is not an accurate understanding of grace. Grace is God’s power in us to walk in newness of life. Grace proves that sin does not have to control our lives anymore.
  • Enables righteousness. Throughout Romans 6 there is a taut balance between the necessity of righteousness as a product of grace and our new life through Christ and the danger of going back to the law, doing good for goodness’ sake. In between is also the horrible ground of doing no good at all, which would equally defeat the point. By grace are ye saved unto good works, which God prepared beforehand for you to walk in them.
  • Is our new master, rather than sin. The end of chapter 5 makes this point, which is then developed by chapter 6. Paul writes in 5:17 – “… much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by One, Jesus Christ.” Over at the Elect Exiles, Disciplined by Grace explains Titus 2:11-12 with regards to grace. First, it brings salvation. Grace’s second activity is teaching, which is the same Greek word Paul used in Ephesians 6:4: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Thus the word means to discipline, teach, train, rear. The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, but now grace is our teacher. Romans 6:14 says, “…Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.”

Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

For refers us back to the rest of chapter 6, all about being presently, as believers, under grace.

Gift is charisma, which I discussed above.

This gracegift is eternal life. Eternal life starts when we accept God’s grace and continues forever. It is life, not just a get out of hell free card. The grace of God gives us the life we now live in the flesh, by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. The life is through Jesus Christ, in His power, for His purposes, to His glory.

Our Lord tacked on to the end of Jesus’ name is a title of authority. The apostles recognized Jesus’ authority by calling Him Rabbi, Teacher, Master, Lord. John often referred to Jesus simply as “the Lord.” Here Paul is saying something about who Jesus is. He is our Lord, our authority. He is the Master, the giver of all good gifts. While the law came by Moses, grace and truth, John tells us, came by Jesus Christ.

We walk by faith and under grace. Faith talks about leaning not on our own wisdom, yielding control, following instantly and without explanation. Grace talks about leaning not on our own strength, praising and thanking God, obeying, but not because of rules – because we are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives, and “spiritual” gifts, and sanctifies us from sin. This washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit is as much God’s work as the mercy by which we’re saved. I sigh just in re-reading this paragraph, because the words and themes are found all over the Bible, not only in Romans. How exciting!

My life reminds me that walking by grace is the path of thanksgiving and rejoicing and humility and prayer often. All those we are commanded to do. Though I am not theologically a legalist, I sometimes find those hard to do, when I am depending on my own resources to accomplish anything, rather than seeking God. When I am, how impossible not to rejoice, to say with Jeremiah, “His mercies are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness!”

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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