2 Old Shoes (part 2)

I don’t think words in a blog post can properly convey how much I longed to be a worship leader. It was the year 2000 when i realized for the first time that this could be a job that I loved. We had been part of the same church for 11 years and the worship leader at the time left and I felt like this was something I would pursue. Alas, the timing wasn’t right, and the church moved on with someone else. For another 4 years, I burned with a passion to lead worship and actually sent my resume (sparse as it was) to some churches to no avail. Then my opportunity came when the worship leader at the time unexpectedly resigned. My time had come! On my first day of the job, I hit the ground running and I threw myself into the job. I loved going in to work every morning and I honestly didn’t want to leave. I was finally getting the chance to really use my musical gifts and get paid to do it.  It wasn’t a job that made you rich financially, but I didn’t care. I absolutely loved what I got to do everyday, planning worship services, talking theology with the other guys on staff, mentoring young musicians, just everything about it.  

One of my friends on staff used to always talk about this book by John Piper called “Don’t waste your life” and I was mildly interested at the time.  I was reading an author by the name of Dallas Willard, a Christian philosopher, which I know sounds like an oxymoron, but it was in reading his works that I started to develop ways of thinking beyond the box of evangelical cliches that I had grown up around.  Reading Willard spurred me on to think deeply about what biblical Christianity was. He passed away about a year ago, and I thank God for him.  Meanwhile, my friend kept bringing up Piper and this other guy he listened to via podcast, which was a new technological phenomena at the time. This other guy was Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Highland Village. You remember from my last post that we are members there, but it’s an interesting journey how we got there. I remember listening to Chandler at my friend’s bequest and actually finding him sort of obnoxious and over the top. The depth of his vocal tone was like Howard Stern, and he seemed to be equally shocking in his content.  This guy was preaching, I mean preaching!  Looking back, I realize how far removed I was from hearing this kind of bold presentation, especially the last few years I worked in the church. I gave him a few listens and just basically wrote it off and went back to reading Willard. 

Around the same time, I was starting to podcast John Piper. I was too busy swimming in the philosophical waters of Willard that I didn’t have time to read Piper. So I listened to his sermons. I was a little put off by his style which reminded me of “old timey” preachers, but in spite of that, I couldn’t dismiss the weightiness of the Word he was preaching, especially when it came to the Sovereignty of God. While all this is going on, I began reading a blog written by an old school friend. This friend was actually the son of a teacher I had in high school who I was basically in awe of and had the deepest respect and admiration for. It seems he was the only one who could ever get me to study and in turn aim to please the teacher.  As a high schooler, I knew this teacher was a Calvinist and I was fascinated to hear him talk about it.  My earliest exposure to Calvinism was a younger child when my parents told me about it. But all I really knew about it was pre-destination, which is pretty much the extent of what every non-calvinist a.k.a Arminian knows about it.  So I began to comment on his blog (my teacher’s son) who was a Calvinist himself and it’s during this period of time that I began to learn of Reformed Theology. I was being bombarded from all sides, blogs, sermons, books, and let me tell you, I argued with him constantly through the comments I made on his posts. But there was something always gnawing at my soul in the debates with him. I was fighting a losing battle because I was trying to argue against something I knew was true. The truth that God is totally Sovereign over everything and does as pleases, and that what ever pleases him is just, right, and true. I began to see that Calvinism or Reformed Theology was not as minimalistic as the TULIP acronym it’s known for, and that there was more at stake than the doctrine of predestination. It was much bigger. We’re talking the Glory of God kind of big.

A friend of mine chided me the other day about being too theological and said that a theologian is something one becomes after he’s saved and the implication was we don’t need theology to become a Christian. As I replied to him, “everyone’s a theologian” in the strictest meaning of the word, and your theology is a determining factor to you becoming saved in the first place, outside of God’s sovereign grace of course. 

Becoming Reformed in my theology wasn’t instantaneous for me.  It was actually the blooming of a seed that was planted in my heart decades earlier. It was no longer synonymous with fancy theological terms like depravity and perseverance of the saints. No, for the first time, I began connecting this theological system to something more familiar to my brain.  The Gospel. 

 

Advertisements

I’m dead

Raising-lazarus When I was little kid and we would play games like cops and robbers, we would shoot our pretend guns at each other.  Whenever I was shot, I would fall to the ground and as my friend approached me to finish me off, I would say in a low voice, "I'm dead".   Oh, the silliness of a dead man informing others of his demise with a confirming voice.  It's silly because dead men don't whisper "I'm dead", they just are.  They don't whisper anything!
In the New Testament a guy named Lazarus was dead.  He didn't whisper "I'm dead" to his friends and family.  No, he was unable to do so. The bible makes it obvious when it reports that Lazarus was in a tomb for a few days and as the KJV eloquently puts it.  "He stinketh".   When Jesus arrived, as the rest of the story goes, Lazarus was resurrected from his tomb completely wrapped in his burial garment still emanating the stench of death.  How did he rise from the dead?  Simply by the word of God, namely the phrase "Lazaurus, come forth". 
You see, if Lazarus couldn't tell people he was dead, then he sure couldn't ask Jesus to bring him to life. It just wasn't in him. He was dead.  It's the same with spiritual birth. Dead in our sins, we carry its stench  upon us until one day uninvited grace comes upon us and our hearts are regenerated and our faith is awakened.  This is the greatest miracle God performs!  I don't understand it fully, I just believe it!

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following  the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature  children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even  when we were dead in our trespasses,  made us alive together with Christ  by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable  riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved  through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.   – Ephesians 2:1-9

Even our faith is a gift from God!  If you are struggling with doubt, don't look back on some decision you made, whether you made it or not, if you followed some formula, or whether it was authentic.  Look to the mercy of God!  A.W. Tozer reminded us in "The Attributes of God", that God doesn't just have mercy, HE IS mercy!  That means His mercy is infinite! We need to stop listening to the accuser who wants us to look to ourselves, and listen to God's Word which states emphatically that salvation is from Him.  Not only do unbelievers need to hear that salvation is from God (the gospel), but believers likewise need to hear that their salvation was from God,(the gospel) not their own well meaning intentions!

Thank God He chose us before the foundation of the world! Thank God He still raises the dead!

The Spirit of Legalism

I’m not going to worry about writing a grammatically perfect blog post. I’m not going to sweat out the form too much. I’m just going to blurt out what I have on my mind. I am a legalist.

Pharisee
I'm not going to worry about writing a grammatically perfect blog post.  I'm not going to sweat out the form too much. I'm just going to blurt out what I have on my mind.   I am a legalist.  And here's the part you're not going to like too much.  You also are a legalist.  Obviously, this is going to be a post for Christians because the unbelieving world will have no idea what I am referring to, albeit they're legalists too. They just don't know it yet.  They will read this and think I'm talking about courtrooms and lawyers.  For that matter, there is probably a great segment of Christianity that will not know what I'm talking about either. 

Legalism is a term I came to know late in my teenage years although I can't pinpoint the event or place I first heard it.  What I did learn quickly was that I was surrounded by legalism.  I was, in fact, immersed in it.  My mind was legalistically saturated like a chicken leg in Crisco!  I came to understand that to be legalistic meant to be "rules driven".  Even though salvation was preached as a free gift of God, you found out after you "get saved" that apparently it wasn't free after all.  Now after you make a decision and get baptized, you are required to jump through hoops of fiery legalism one after the other until the end of time or eternity, whichever lasts longer.  When I tell friends of mine who didn't experience this growing up that these hoops were things like hair cut above the ears, prohibition of movie theaters, no drinking (don't even let it touch yer lips!!) no slacks for women,  no mixed "bathing" (they meant swimming, but somehow it turned into a bath…yucch!) and certainly no dancing of any kind and  Oh, no card playing either, not even gin rummy, they stare at me like a statue.

Thank God for the truth of His Word that teaches that I am not morally capable to meet God's standard of holiness! Thank God that He made so clear that there is nothing I can do to earn His love!  It is by Grace that I am being saved through faith!   It's not due to my self-righteousness, but his righteousness transferred to my account that I am considered in right standing with my Creator! 

In my zeal to run as fast I could from legalism the past 20 plus years, I really thought I was making headway.   What I failed to realize was that I was becoming a legalism legalist!  In other words, escape from legalism became my religion!  Distancing myself from the self-righteousness of my past resulted in another form of self-righteousness!

What I've come to realize in my journey, is that legalism comes in many forms.  There's legalism in every religion and denomination.  Case in point, there are churches who are anti-religion so they become non-denominational, but in reality have become their own denomination. "Non-denom" has become their "denomination".  How silly! 

There are many forms of legalism, yet one spirit that drives them.  It is the human spirit.  When you get down to it, legalism is really superstition.  Superstition is the idea that good things or bad things happen to you because of external circumstances like a broken mirror, a black cat and/or human actions like crossing your fingers or carrying a rabbit's foot.  

By nature, we think that external circumstances like illness, tragedy, natural disasters are indicators of our own personal lack of Godliness.  We also naturally think that there is somethng we can do in our own power to earn God's pleasure such as church activity, moral behavior, or good citizenship.  As Christians we are quick to dismiss this because we all believe the Bible about these things.  Yet, our actions indicate otherwise.  This is how the Pharisees lived.  They viewed lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, women, and children as spiritually destitute.  Their cup was clean on the outside and a toilet inside according to Jesus.  That is true of all of us.  Our natural selves are unflushed toilets that need a good scrubbing!  (there are legalists who don't like that I said toilet)

As I search the scriptures, I have found only one solution to the human dilemma of legalism.  It is painfully simple.  Receive.  Receive Grace from God.  Receive the gift of His righteousness!  Receive the preached Word of God! Receive receive receive!  Don't do anything.  Just sit down and trust Christ to serve You!  Christianity is not driven by Christians serving God.  It is driven by God serving us!  Sounds selfish doesn't it?  Don't hear me wrong, God is not our butler.  In reality, it is more self-serving and dishonoring to God when we reject His gift.  Since Eden, mankind has been rejecting infinite joy and choosing self serving emptiness!  This is the highest offense to God imaginable.  Imagine, choosing an apple over the creator! 

Be careful when you become a fugitive of legalism.  It might be the very spirit of legalism that sustains your fleeting steps.