Sincerely, God

Art.lincoln1.cnn
The picture shown here is believed to be the last photograph of Abraham Lincoln.  The photo was recently discovered in a family photo album of Ulysses S. Grant.  His great-great grandson suspected that the tall human figure in the center of the picture could be Lincoln and that the structure in the background was the White House.  Keya Morgan, a Lincoln Historian, was brought in to determine the truth of the matter.  He deduced that several things in the picture pointed to the fact that Abraham Lincoln was indeed the central figure in the photograph including the height, the hairline and facial hair, and of course the general surroundings.  Finally, he asked a very important question of the Grant descendant.  He encouraged him to take the photo out of the album and look at the back of it to see if the original photographer had signed his name.  Morgan explains, "If you don't know who the photographer is, it's like not knowing who your father and mother are,"  When he did, he turned it over he saw the seal of photographer Henry F. Warren with the following inscription, "Lincoln in front of the White House".  Astounding!

Indeed, it is astounding to think that something as obvious as reading the back of a photograph was overlooked in the identification of the central figure in the image.  I wonder how many times General Grant's family members gazed at the picture in curiosity.  As they examined the photograph over the years, did they engage in fervent discussion and debate over the identity of the tall figure?  If so, how amazing is it that no one ever thought to remove the picture from the album and read the back of the photo?  Surely, the questions would have been settled in their minds long before the historian came along. 

This historical discovery reminds me of our search for God.  In our curiosity and wonder, we observe the innumerable evidences that surround us.  We marvel at the natural creation, and engage in the beauty and artistry of this world.  In doing so, there is a natural yearning within us to worship!  So, we do.  We worship everything in the created order with only a tip of our hat to the creator. 

Yes, we acknowledge the existence of God.  We even find great comfort in discussing and analyzing Him.  We read our Bibles and use it like a handbook for good living.  We even acknowledge the Bible as the very Word of God.  We wear t-shirts promoting His causes, and bracelets espousing His moral value.  We know the story of the cross and can recite it with ease.  Still, despite our saturation in Christianity, we ask deep questions regarding His identity.  We might not ask them out loud, but they ring incessantly in our ruined souls.  Who is this Christ? 

Just as the curious soul fails to flip the photo and have His questions answered once and for all, the ruined soul ignores the very documentation that he holds in his possession.  It is in the sciptures, that we find God's signature.  He has authenticated His identity from Genesis to Revelation.  From the moment He reveals the plan of redemption to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, to His future expectation of the great Revelation, we are overwhelmed with God's Gospel. 

If we have eyes to see, we realize that Jesus Christ is the central figure in Genesis, Isaiah, Revelation, and every book in between!  Though not as obvious as the 4 gospels, when we look for Christ in any part of the Bible we will find Him.  We see Him as Lion, Lamb, Judge, Saviour, Creator, Redeemer, and King!  He is the leading actor in this unfolding drama, and we're bit players. 

If we have eyes to see, we will be broken and humiliated when we discover that nothing in the Word is about us.  It is about Christ. 

If we have eyes to see, we will rejoice in the truth that is not about us.  If the Bible was about our forgiveness, our fulfillment, our hopes and dreams, our righteousness, ironically none of those things would be possible! 

If only our eyes would be opened to the truth of God's glory!  We would see that His glory is everything we could ever hope for.  His glory is our hope for redemption! His glory is our hope for eternal fulfillment! His glory is our only shot at righteousness!  

We should rejoice that God revealed Himself and His desire for glory.  I don't know why He chose to do so in an ancient document.  Maybe that's all we can endure.  I do know that when it comes to the Word of God, if you don't know who the author is, it's like not knowing who your Father is.

Advertisements

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.

Realization

Realize
Belief is a dangerous word.
  This stems from the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a universally accepted truth about what belief is, what constitutes as belief, or whether belief even matters at all.  Within the body of Christ, there is a disagreement on how to define it, whereas outside the body of Christ, there is a consensus that it only matters to each individual conscience, in other words, there is no belief that everyone should adhere to. 

I want to primarily address belief within the body of Christ.  In some religious backdrops, belief is primarily defined as adherence to certain Biblical information.  This is often referred to as intellectual assent. For example, if you ask almost any Christian about who Jesus is and what His work was on this earth, the vast majority of those questioned will respond with the same answer.  Almost all will reply that He is the only begotten Son of God who came to this earth as a man to die for our sins so that we might receive salvation.   This answer confirms at the very least that there is a common belief, or more specifically, a mental agreement with the facts about Christ. 

The majority of the church reasons that the Bible is correct when it
states "by grace are you saved through faith, not of yourselves lest
any should boast".  When asked, most will admit that we can not do
anything to make ourselves acceptable to a Holy and Righteous God, that
we need His grace in order to be forgiven and restored.  We also freely
admit that is is by simple faith in Christ and His work that we receive
the life saving grace He bestows.

However, is the mere acceptance of information indicate true belief?  Doesn’t the scripture inform us that the demons believe the very same facts about Christ that most Christians do?  Yet, we don’t think of the demons as "believers" do we?  Because we know that true belief runs beneath the surface of mental agreement don’t we?

So once the facts are agreed upon, we often hear the call to "act" upon these beliefs.  This is expressed even in cliches like "if you are going to talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk."  I don’t know of many Christians who are satisfied just to know the facts about Christ.  I think most desire or at least reason that our lives should reflect our beliefs. 

The question I pose now is this.  When we recognize that belief is not just mental agreement, and that it is validated by action as James teaches in the New Testament, what do we do now?  Do we seek to validate our mental agreement with works?  Do we define every day as a "workday" in the Christian life?

Let me answer that last question with another question.  Is there anything more defeating to the human spirit than the thought that they can never be good enough or do enough good in order to be made worthy in God’s eyes? Yes, and that is the thought that I must live my life earning the gift of salvation after the fact!?   

I believe there is one important element that acts as the glue between mental belief and acted belief.  This bonding agent is simply known as "realization".  In order to reconcile the mind and heart, there must be realization.  Dictionary.com defines it as coming to understand something clearly and distinctly.

I remember in school studying for history exams.  Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention in class very well which resulted in late night cramming.  When you cram for a test, you try to memorize every fact on the review.  I became real adept at finding ways to remember things by writing silly songs or word association.  In essence, I was memorizing these facts so that I would remember them long enough to write them down the next day.  The next day, I couldn’t have told you a thing about Napolean, Rome, The Alamo, or the Declaration of Independence.  I never took the time to read about these events or immerse myself in them.  I was only interested in the surface information, and even then, not until the last minute. 

Years later, I would watch movies about the things I was taught as a kid, and the light would go on in my head!  It was really as if I was hearing these things for the first time.  Actually, it was the first time that this information was ever realized! 

As husbands, we often experience the phenomena of realization in communication with our wives right?  "You spent how much on a purse!!!" we scream.  Then our wives reply with something like, "I told you yesterday that I needed this purse and how much it costs to which you said, ‘ok"!

Our whole spirit changes, we come to life once we realize the truth. 

So, I think the disconnect between the head and the heart can be summoned up in this one important word.  Realization.  There are many who believe God forgave them of their sins, but they don’t forgive others.  There are many who believe Jesus is the Way, yet they explore other ways.  There are many who believe Jesus is the King, but they acknowledge themselves as King. 

If you are experiencing this disconnect, you might be asking "what do I do"?  That is a hopeless question when you think about it.  Trying to figure out what you are to do will only keep you disconnected.  Unless you begin to fully realize what you claim to believe, then you will never live as you think you should. 

Take forgiveness for example, if you truly believe you are forgiven because of what Christ did, then why do you keep trying to live your life earning the forgiveness that has already been extended?  The Bible uses the description "gift of God" which is very familiar language to the Christian, but not really believed.  If Christians really believe that Salvation was God’s gift, then they wouldn’t spend their lives trying to pay Him back. 

Indeed, it is a difficult thing to comprehend.  The Gospel is that we only need to receive the gift!  Receiving is the natural response to grace. When we carry a mindset of earning, whether it’s before our after our initial faith, we lose the essence of grace altogether.  We need realization to truly free us from this bondage. 

What if someone walked up to you and handed you a thousand dollars in cash right now.  What would be your response?  The natural human response would be to question the giver. "What’s the catch? What do I have to do?"   You would need some convincing that this money was free and you didn’t have to pay it back.  What it would take to convince you?  You would be convinced once you realized that this was a gift.  Maybe it would take several things to convince you like the giver to walk away and never be heard from again, or a shopping spree at the mall.  At some point, maybe that day, maybe a year later, you would finally realize that the money was a gift!  You would have a spirit of freedom!  Perhaps you would never be free.  Maybe you would live your life expecting the giver to show up at your door to collect a favor from you.

I truly believe that many Christians have never realized the gospel.  They’ve heard it’s content thousands of times and they could ace the written exam.  They’ve repeated prayers, they’ve stormed the altar, and they’ve taught Sunday school, but they perhaps never realized what they claim to believe!

There’s something else about the nature of realization.  It often requires time and patience.  As a minister of the gospel, I sometimes wish the process was faster.  I wish everyone would experience a Pauline conversion, a blinding light of accusation that electro-shocks our spirituality.  But for most of us, that’s the exception not the norm.

Luther
Sadly, many church leaders work on a dangerous assumption.  They assume that because mental assent runs rampant, that there is no need to deliver the gospel message with regularity.  They reason that people already know the gospel, and now just need practical advice on how to be a better person.  They fail to realize that the gospel is not only for those who haven’t heard it, but also for those who’ve heard it a thousand times. 

When asked why he preached the gospel every week, Martin Luther replied "Because you forget it every week."  In reality, it takes people a long time to realize the truth no matter how often they hear it. 

I wonder if a day will come when everyone who has ever breathed will realize the truth of the gospel? Hopefully it will take place in this life and not after.  If not, that will be a sad realization.