Lookout Points

One door closes and another opens. The way is always forward not backward even if it seems like I moved to the side. That being said, there are moments when the way provides lookout points to assess where I’ve been and where I’m headed. I have come to view these lookout moments as pauses or breaks in the action. The hustle and bustle of life has a way of swallowing them up. When the way provides breaks in the action, wisdom demands that I respond in kind. It’s so very important to recognize where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. Someone once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I agree with that assessment wholeheartedly.

I’m not suggesting that introspection is the ticket. Maybe I’m splitting hairs a bit, but my gut tells me that there’s a difference between introspection and reflection. The former requires that I look inward for the answer while the latter searches outward. The tagline to The X-Files show has some basis in reality: “the truth is out there.” When I scan the horizon at this current lookout point, what do I see? One thing I realize is that my view seems partially obstructed by my finite condition. Some of the path is perceptible, but some of it isn’t. When I glance behind me, the view is clear. I see the dark and shadowy patches as well as the lush ones and those moments that were somewhere in the middle.

Now, the way forward seems more or less visible to the naked eye; however, I can’t help noticing that I’m looking for higher ground in order to get a better view. From where I stand, I see what I am able to see. I want to see more, to know more. Way off in the distance, I see the final destination. It’s a glorious sight, and my heart yearns for it. There’s still much more of the journey that remains. I know that as I keep moving forward, the moments between here and there become clearer. Each step requires faith in my Lord because this fuels hope and perseverance during the rough and tumble moments. Faith is also the sight needed for perceiving people, places, and things along the way. Without it, I’m a blind man ambling along the way oblivious to moments of blessing and danger.

Not only does faith in Jesus give me sight, but his word lights up the way that I walk (Psalm 119:105). What I find ironic about this is that the journey is real and takes place on this physical earth; however, the only way that I can truly navigate it requires that I have spiritual or unseen things in my possession like faith in him and the indwelling presence of his Spirit. Both of these grant me the ability to make sense of his word in order to apply it to my life. If I don’t have faith in Christ and the indwelling presence of his Spirit, I’m a blind man on the way. It doesn’t matter how clear the path is, or how bright and sunny the weather is, a blind man is blind. It was a wonderfully, gracious and merciful act on the Lord’s part to enable me to see. The journey demands it.

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A Land of Images

Southern California is home to Los Angeles, sometimes called the City of Angels. Hollywood makes its home here along with a large portion of the entertainment industry. This is the place for images and image-makers. Some of the local radio stations interject the following quip in between songs, “Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world.” That in itself creates an image of this city in the minds of listeners. Thousands of people flock to Los Angeles for the glitz and the glamour. Of course, glitz and glamour are merely artifacts or side effects of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. It seems to me that I can describe Los Angeles as a city of images.

The reason that I bring this up has to do with something that I read in the Bible. I have been reading through the Old Testament (OT) book of Jeremiah for a one-year, Chronological Bible Reading plan. I came across the following verse: “…For it is a land of images, and they are mad over idols” (Jeremiah 50:38b, ESV). Now, the immediate context of this verse and passage centers on the future judgment coming upon the nation of Babylon. The Spirit of God inspires Jeremiah to characterize this ancient, world empire as a land of images filled with men and women who are mad over idols. I could not help seeing the parallel to Los Angeles.

I live in a city of images filled with people who are mad about them. Billboards line the freeways and streets of Southern California. Everywhere I look I see something vying for my attention. The steady flow of images is like an avalanche upon the soul. I understand the point behind marketing and advertising; however, there is something desensitizing about them. Commercials, television programming, movies, magazines, radio programming and more all have the ability to suck the life out of human beings. The images coming through these various forms of media become idols. These are the men and women to admire and/or to follow. Eat these foods, consume these drinks, and life and energy return to your body.

For the Christian, his life and energy issue from the Lord not the world. In Jeremiah’s day, big bad Babylon set the tone for its citizens and those it conquered. King Nebuchadnezzar and his successors made sure that devotion to Babylon’s ethos remained wholehearted under penalty of death. For example, the famous account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego illustrates this perspective quite clearly, but their miraculous deliverance by the Lord also highlights his ultimate sovereignty over all kings and kingdoms (Daniel 3, ESV). There is relief for God’s people in godless nations, but this is not a principle for living in the kingdom. Sometimes the Lord delivered his people, but other times he did not as in the life of Isaiah, John the Baptist, Stephen, and the apostles Peter and Paul.

I do not bring this up to broach the subject of suffering and the corresponding theological problems that ensue. The key point to remember is that Stephen and John the Baptist enjoyed an earthly, covenant relationship with the Lord like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. All of five of these men enjoy the blessed, heavenly fellowship of the Lord’s presence as I type this up. They are in heaven awaiting their glorification at Christ’s second advent. Most, if not all, of Babylon’s citizens and rulers cannot say the same. The Lord raised up Jeremiah in order to warn this ancient empire about its impending doom. This demonstrated his love, his mercy, his longsuffering, and the certainty of his coming judgment.

If the Lord did not hold back his earthly judgment upon Babylon and its people, there is no reason to expect future relief judgment day. I realize that such rhetoric sounds alarming and harsh, but that day is coming. All of the warnings and admonitions from Christ, the apostles, and Christians throughout human history testify to the absolute certainty of judgment day. When I think of my current city, Los Angeles, I feel the sorrow of the Father’s heart toward this city and its people. Open their eyes and hearts Lord by your Holy Spirit in order to receive your truth and Kiss the Son. Grant your people, Lord, the grace, humility, and boldness to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the message of reconciliation. Amen.

Cecile Richards on When Life Begins

Ms. Richards says at the end of the video that life begins at birth. If this is a true statement, then ending any pregnancy prior to delivery does not constitute killing an innocent life. Of course, this is the main point of contention that the pro-life camp has against Ms. Richards and all those who agree with her. If human beings are not persons in the womb, then it is arbitrary to say that they are persons at birth. When does a human being have dignity and worth as a person? Who makes that determination? What are the criteria for deciding when human beings are worthy as persons?

Those questions are not to be taken lightly. Human history is chock-full of example after example of human beings denigrating one another regardless of race, gender, religion, etc., etc. When a culture or society no longer bows the knee to its Creator, and accepts the truth that all humans bear the image of their Creator, then all bets are off when it comes to valuing human life. The worldview expressed by Ms. Richards in the above video is thoroughly godless and downright demonic. According to Jesus, the enemy is the one who steals, kills, and destroys. The enemy is the one who was a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies.

Abortion steals, kills, and destroys innocent life. Abortion is murder and a participation in the works and ways of the enemy. There are no two ways about it. One key deception in the West that makes abortion possible has to do with elevating personal autonomy over and above anyone and anything else. The individual is god almighty not God Almighty himself. Human beings are the arbiters of right and wrong. We determine the meaning and purpose of our lives. All of this is blasphemy and a recipe for eternal destruction. Ms. Richards reveals how deceived she really is by expressing that the question of when does life begin is irrelevant because it is a matter of opinion.

Ms. Richards is way off with that answer because her response puts another’s life in jeopardy: the unborn child. When she says that life begins at birth, her response has more to do with metaphysics and theology than it does with medical science. Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that has to do with the nature of existence, or what makes something what it is. By saying that life begins at birth, Ms. Richards really means that the unborn are not persons until that point. This is a secular worldview, which removes the Lord from the picture. Now, it is every man for himself. Ms. Richards’ view is anti-human, anti-God, and evidence of the spirit of the antichrist (1 John 2:18-22).

My heart grieves for the millions of innocent lives lost due to abortion. I grieve for my nation and what lies ahead unless the atrocity of abortion comes to halt. There is a part of me that has anger toward Planned Parenthood and their affiliates. I see another part of me that aches for someone like Ms. Richards. She has no idea what lies ahead in her future. She might believe that this life is all that there is to human existence. Unfortunately, she is wrong, dead wrong. Unless she repents from her present life of sin and receives Jesus by faith, the lake of fire awaits her. It is a horrific fate, and I genuinely do not want to see her in that place. It is time to stand up and be accounted and intercede for the Lord’s mercy, compassion, and grace.

 

Owning our Faith

Allow me to begin this entry with a question.  What does it look like for Christians to own their faith?  There has been plenty of ink devoted to answering that question.  I do not claim any expertise in the disciplines of missiology or eccelsiology, which deal head on with the doctrinal and practical implications of that query.  At the turn of the 21st Century, an entire church movement began with the express purpose of exploring new ways to tackle such an old concern.  I am alluding to the Emergent/Emerging church movement and its well known faces such as Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, et al.  Sadly, these men and their movement have arrived at answers and practices that scarcely can be called Christian.

The ancient Chinese philosopher, Mencius, once said that “Only when there are things a man will not do is he capable of doing great things.”  I firmly believe that those leaders within the Emergent/Emerging church movement began asking sincere questions.  At some point along the way, McLaren, Bell, Jones, and the rest of their ilk arrived at answers that lead them off of the reservation of biblical Christianity.  They failed to heed the wisdom of Mencius’ words.  It is crucial to ask questions about what it looks like for Christians to own their faith.  I think this has the potential to maintain accountability and humility within the church.  It falls in line with Socrates’ words that the unexamined life is not worth living.

When the answers and its subsequent practices lead away from biblical orthodoxy, it illustrates an anything goes approach.  The plumb line of scripture goes by the wayside as a new breed emerges within the church by determining truth for itself.  This is outright rebellion to the plain teaching of scripture.  King Solomon wrote the following words thousands of years ago: “A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way” (Proverbs 20:24, ESV)?  Like any rhetorical question the answer is obvious…man cannot understand his way.  There is something elusive to understanding himself.  I love those wise words of both Mencius and Socrates; however, they must be tempered by holy scripture, which teaches that “…no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:11b; see Psalms 14 & 53, ESV).

Fallen humanity possesses an innate inability to choose life instead of death, good rather than evil.  When I quoted the passage from Romans three in the previous paragraph, this is precisely the apostle Paul’s point in his letter to the Christians in Rome.  These early followers of Christ seek after him because God worked a radical change within them by the Holy Spirit.  In theological language, this is called the doctrine of regeneration, which is one of the many glorious facts about the believer’s salvation.  Regeneration is the divine process by which God removes the stony heart for a fleshly one while indwelling us by the Spirit (Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:25-27, ESV).  In the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul describes regeneration as God giving spiritual life to those who were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:5, ESV).

What does all of this have to do with Christians owning their faith?  One answer is to recognize the divine work of salvation accomplished in me.  When I study Romans or Ephesians, it is vital to rest in the truth of what God did, is doing, and will do in my life.  My past, present, and future find meaning and fulfillment by virtue of salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV).  Another practical application toward owning one’s faith is to engage in thoughts, words, and actions that demonstrate the work of regeneration (Ephesians 4:21-25, ESV).  If I claim to be born again by the Spirit of God, then does my life show it?  According to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, those who have been born again live it, which is similar to the exhortations by another New Testament writer in the book of James (James 1:22-25, ESV).

One more thing needs to be said in clear terms.  I am not suggesting that posing questions, or undergoing self-examination about my faith in Christ is wrong.  What I would say is to be wise about how one engages the process.  This is not something to do apart from the community of believers.  I must choose wisely those men and women to walk alongside me.  When I am by myself, it is important to spend time in prayer with the Lord in addition to reading his word.  It is wrong for me to leech off of others; however, it is not wrong to lean on others.  The latter is a command straight from the bible (Galatians 6:2, ESV).  It is my hope that we Christians would walk by God’s light in dark places for the good of others and our testimony (Philippians 2:14-16; see Isaiah 50:10-11, ESV).

Brook Water and Stagnant Water

Webster’s dictionary provides two definitions for the word stagnant: 1.) not flowing; and 2.) not active, changing, or progressing.  A brook is a small stream or creek.  It is water that flows and breeds life.  Stagnant water breeds disease and death such as malaria, dengue fever, dysentery, and more.  I have pasted two images to illustrate the difference between the two types of water:

Stagnant Water

stagnantwater

 

Brook Water

brook water

I think it goes without saying that everyone prefers the brook water in the bottom photo to the stagnant one in the top.  In John’s gospel, Jesus promises to anyone who comes to him and believes that he will have “brook water” flowing within him.  I know that our Lord does not use that phrase instead he uses living water; however, brook water is living water in the sense that it teems with life (John 7:38, ESV).  For example, when it comes to the earth’s ecosystems, brooks usually flow into rivers or lakes.  What this means is that these smaller bodies of water pump life into the larger ones.  There is a constant flow of life that sustains it and develops it.

From my perspective, this is the point of Jesus’ words in John 7:37-39.  The Lord is not merely the creator of life, but also the one who sustains and grows it (Job 12:10; Psalm 33:6, 104:28-29; Acts 17:24-26, ESV).  This means that he is proactive with his creation; therefore, Christians reject Deism, which teaches that God stepped back from his creation after getting it started.  Christians also reject Pantheism because this view fails to distinguish God from the created order by equating them as one.  Lastly, Panentheism is another view that falls by the wayside as it asserts that the whole created order resides within God even though he is still greater than it.  All three of these perspectives remain attractive today for a variety of reasons, but those scriptures listed earlier in this paragraph blow them up to smithereens.

Back to Jesus’ words recorded for us in John 7:37b-38: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’  If there is anything worth taking away from this metaphor, then it is that true life comes from Jesus.  This life comes into all those who believe in the Son by the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  Here in this passage, the apostle John illustrates how two of the three persons within the Trinity (God the Son and God the Holy Spirit) work together in the conversion of sinners (John 7:38-39, ESV).  It is both miraculous and mind-boggling.  The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit has been promised to all those who come to Christ and believe (John 6:35-39, 44, ESV).  This world offers stagnant water, but the creator of it holds out living water.  Based on the above two photos, would you rather drink stagnant water or brook water?                    

 

The Seventh Beatitude in Revelation

My previous post highlighted the bookend-like use of the first and sixth beatitudes in the book of Revelation.  Now it is time to wrap up this series by exploring the seventh and final beatitude.  Here is the verse:

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (Revelation 22:14, ESV).

When reflecting upon this last beatitude, it is important to recognize who benefits from it.  The answer comes in the first clause: “…those who wash their robes…” (Rev. 22:14a, ESV).  It goes without saying that the surrounding context fleshes out their identity.  In the very next verse, the apostle John lists behaviors that exemplify people who have not washed their robes and reside outside of the city, the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:15, ESV).  This section of scripture reminds the reader of the apostle Paul’s list reagrding the works of the flesh found in Galatians 5:19-21.  He contrasts these with the fruit of the Spirit, which give evidence of a life transformed and obedient in the Spirit.  Basically, those who wash their robes do not exhibit the lifestyles depicted in Rev. 22:15 or in Gal. 5:19-21.  There is one more point to highlight about Galatians chapter five.  Paul concludes the section about the works of the flesh by declaring that those who practice them “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21b, ESV).  This is exactly what the apostle John depicts in Revelation 22:15 where the unjust live outside rather than inside the city.

Because I see a parallel between Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 22:15, this casts more light upon the meaning of the clause “those who wash their robes.”  I believe that it is clear from the context of Revelation chapter twenty-two that this clause describes all those born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3 & 5, ESV).  If this is the case, then anyone who is born again may rightly see himself or herself as the recipient of this last beatitude in Revelation.  A natural question at this point is the extent of the beatitude’s inclusiveness and exclusiveness.  The gospel must go out to everyone  in the whole world, which is the inclusive aspect known as the general call; however, the blessings attached to it only benefit those who receive it by repentance and faith (Romans 1:16-17; Ephesians 2:4-9, ESV).  This is the exclusive part of the gospel sometimes referred to as the effectual call.  There is one more piece of evidence linking the clause, “…those who wash their robes…,” with the believer’s conversion.  The apostle John uses it earlier in the book of Revelation to describe the great multitude redeemed from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev. 7:9 & 14, ESV).

If this beatitude grants blessings to all those who are born again, then it behooves God’s people to embrace them, to know them.  One piece of the blessing comes in the form of the tree of life.  This is a direct reference by the apostle John to the same tree found in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9, ESV).  In book of Genesis, the tree of life promises eternal life for all those worthy to partake of it (Gen. 3:22, ESV).  Because Adam and Eve sinned against God, the Lord guarded the way to the tree of life; however, in the New Jerusalem, this is no longer the case since all those enjoying eternal life have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb (Gen. 3:24; Rev. 7:14; 22:14, ESV).  Through Christ, sin and its curse have been removed from the redeemed and the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21:4, 27; see 2 Timothy 1:8-10, ESV).  What God the Father held out as a promise to Adam and Eve in the Garden has reached its ultimate fulfillment through the Son in the new creation.  If this does not cause one’s heart to leap for joy, then I doubt that anything will.

Before ending this post, I want to touch upon the other portion of the blessing where those who wash their robes “…may enter the city by the gates” (Rev. 22:14b; see Isaiah 35:8, ESV).  This verse fulfills the passage in Hebrews where the redeemed throughout all of history yearned for a better country being prepared by God (Hebrews 11:14-16, ESV).  If I may toss in something even more astounding, this promise of entering the city had been an expectant hope of those in the Old Testament.  Back in the Psalms, there is the following verse: “This is the gate of the Lord; and the righteous enter through it” (Psalm 118:20, ESV).  More than likely, this passage would have been sung by the Old Covenant people in adoration of God.  His people praise him in the present, and this continues into the eternal state.  What this emphasizes is that there is no end in sight for praising the everlasting God.  The reasons for praising him are manifold, which only causes awestruck wonder within me like the Psalmist: “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me” (Psalm 116:12, ESV)?  Somehow I think that every believer will find that question to be unanswerable in the New Jerusalem.

Repetition

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word repetition as an act of doing or saying something again.  Depending upon the context, the word may have either a positive or negative connotation.  Sometimes one’s job involves a series of tasks that remain constant with no chance for variation.  This type of repetition may lead some to experience boredom or monotony with the tasks and the job itself.  When it comes to education, repetition is vital for essay writing, reading analytically, solving math problems, or performing science experiments.  Teachers and professors will stay on one topic or subject for an extended period of time in order to ensure maximum retention.  Driving home the point is the operating principle.

The Lord operates in a similar manner like our teachers, professors, and athletic trainers and coaches.  He will repeat himself in order to drive home an important principle or set of principles.  This sounds basic and obvious, but it illustrates God’s patience and grace with his people.  It is this aspect of God’s character, his willingness to repeat himself, that demonstrates his Father’s heart to the fullest.  The reason that I am thinking along these lines is very simple.  During my morning quiet time today, I read Psalm 53. Big deal, right?  Well, I had this sense that there was another Psalm just like it in the earlier part of the book.  I told myself that it was in the teens.  I double-checked the center column references to my ESV bible, and it listed Psalm 14.  When I scanned the references to the fourteenth Psalm, there was a listing for Roman 3:10-12.

When I read over both the fourteenth and the fifty-third Psalms, I realized that the latter repeats the former even though there are slight differences with the wording.  It is as if King David copied Psalm 14 and numbered it fifty-three.  Did he experience boredom over writing the Psalms?  Maybe he thought to himself, “you know, I’m stuck in the midst of a terrible bout of writer’s block.  I have no idea what to write next.  I got it.  I’ll copy Psalm 14 because it’s so inspired, and I’ll change some of the words.”  I apologize to my readers and followers if that sort of embellishment offends due to its flippant or reckless view of David and the Psalms.  In all honesty, I seriously doubt that is how things went down.  Given the topic of this post, I think it is obvious that the Lord impressed upon David to repeat the fourteenth Psalm in order to drive home a lesson: mankind is corrupt in his nature.  It is this very lesson, which the apostle Paul repeats in his letter to the Romans.

What are the immediate and long-term benefits of such a lesson?  After all, there is something downright pessimistic about the view that mankind is inherently corrupt.  This is definitely against the prevailing cultural tide in our day.  Secularism and liberalism are two cousins who teach the opposite perspective.  Both of these -isms see mankind as progressing from a state of corruption toward a state of blessedness.  Each person or community has the ability within itself to reform and improve for the better.  It is this notion that drives the self-help literature and various expressions of religion and spirituality whether Christian or non-Christian.  By the way, the word Christian is an extremely loaded term like Evangelical.  Neither word retains its usefulness in categorizing people who espouse Jesus as Lord.  These are fuzzy and muddy times in which we live.  Let me get back on track here in order to bring things home.

If one reads through both the fourteenth and the fifty-third Psalms, it is not hard to spot the Psalmist’s cry at the end of each for God to save and restore his people.  This lesson of salvation is another reason for the apostle Paul to reference both of these Psalms in his letter to the Romans.  Both David and Paul emphasize that all of humanity is corrupt and lost in its state of corruption.  Each author looks to God and thereby points his reader to him as the one who restores and saves mankind from its corrupt condition. The purpose of Paul’s letter to the Romans is to reveal that Jesus Christ is the way of salvation by grace through faith out from one’s sinful condition (Rom. 3:21-26, ESV).  It is an offer that no one deserves, which is the exact meaning of grace.  There is a popular saying, or maybe it is an idiom, which states that “God helps those who help themselves.”  According to the scriptures, that saying is a lie.  God helps those who cannot help themselves.  In fact, God saves those who lack any and all ability to save themselves.

The believer’s salvation is a work of grace from start to finish.  When compared to the lost, the redeemed of the Lord possess nothing special.  The only difference between the two groups has to do with redeemed trusting in Christ for rescue from sin and death.  Each of those previous sentences grows out of the lessons found in both the fourteenth and fifty-third Psalms along with Paul’s use of those two passages within his letter to the Romans.  Both of David’s Psalms teach that mankind is lost due to a corrupt nature, and that God is the one who restores and saves mankind from this nature.  Paul jumps on David’s two lessons by revealing how God the Father provides Christ as the answer for mankind’s condition.  It is a most glorious way where there seemed to be no way.