Monthly Archives: April 2011

No Camping on the Shoulder

I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.  Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.  I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.  That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.  Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
2 Timothy 1:3-14 (NIV)

I am more convinced than ever that there are really no stopping points, no finish lines in the kingdom of God, at least this side of heaven!  (And I’m more and more convinced that there really aren’t any there, either!)

I think way too many of us have been trained to see our faith journey as a series of destinations, any of which can be acceptable as a final destination, or at least a long-term residence.  It’s kind of like our trip back in September – it was planned primarily as a series of intermediate destinations, some of which we stayed at only for a few hours, some for a day or two, and our midpoint, where we lived for 5 days before starting home.  As we planned our trip, if we focused at all on the actual “journey,” the hours and miles we would spend on the road, it was only to ensure that we chose the fastest, most logical route.  The “destinations” were the important part of the trip.

We can think of our “destinations,” such as salvation, baptism, and sanctification, as the main points of our journey, with any of them serving as valid stopovers or even ultimate destinations.  So, once you are saved, you can go one step further (when and if you feel like it) and be baptized, but salvation is the “important part,” so baptism starts to be seen as an extra, not an essential destination to go on to.  Then, if we want to at some point, we can pray to be sanctified – but it’s not seen as vital, because salvation is the “important part,” so you can just “hang out” there for the rest of your life.

How vastly different this is than the Bible’s view of our lives.  In the biblical worldview, the journey with God, the actual day to day progress, is the vital part of our lives and of our salvation experience, with several so-called destination steps on the way – essential, but not the focus; and certainly not a place to set up residence.

Salvation is a must (there is no entering on the way at all without it), but it is not a destination.  It is more like the onramp to the Highway of Holiness.  Baptism isn’t an option, but a solid requirement to continue on the journey (see Matthew 28:18-20), much like merging onto the highway instead of just stopping and camping on the shoulder at the onramp.  And Entire Sanctification isn’t a bonus feature if you feel like it – it provides the practical, day-to-day holiness without which we cannot see God (Hebrews 12:14), as well as the power to be a witness for the kingdom of heaven and to live our lives in total obedience to our Lord.  And from the moment that we receive the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit, we start to move along the Highway of Heaven, being led in by the Holy Spirit and growing in grace and love all the way to heaven.

The Christian life is not one of rest and leisure, but of “being about the Master’s business.”  We never “arrive” until we arrive at the gates of heaven.  We never lay down our armor or our weapons of spiritual warfare until we lay down our bodies.  This was what Paul and Peter and a lot of the early Church knew, and what Paul was urging Timothy to remember:  that we need to keep our gift(s) ablaze our whole lives.  That our lives in Jesus are not about kicking back waiting for Jesus to return, but about using the power, the love, and the sound judgment that the Holy Spirit gives us to consistently and continually change the world, one life at a time.

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Here I Am

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
Genesis 22:1 (NIV)

“Here I am.”  Three very small words in English, and only one in the original Hebrew.  But they contain a whole universe of meaning.

When God called Abraham’s name that day, Abraham’s instant response was “Here I am.”  I can almost see him in my mind’s eye snapping to attention, every sense on high alert for what the Lord wanted him to do; totally receptive to any message that the Lord might have for him.

In this case, the message was challenging:  He was to take Isaac, the son of the promise, far away and sacrifice him as a whole burnt offering.  But Abraham didn’t argue; his “Here I am” wasn’t just availability to hear, but willingness to obey.  Verse 3 shows Abraham rising early in order to obey this very strange command of the God Whom he served.

Three days later, just as Abraham was lifting the knife to kill Isaac as he lay bound and helpless on the altar, God again called out Abraham’s name.  And, once again, Abraham’s answer was “Here I am.”  This time the command was more reassuring:  God was releasing Abraham from the previous command because of his steadfast obedience to it.

Throughout history the great heroes of the faith (whether well-known or not!) have answered God’s call with “Here I am.”  Jacob (Genesis 46:2), Moses (Exodus 3:4), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8), and even Ananias of Damascus (Acts 9:10).  All of these responded to God’s call with alertness and with hearts prepared to obey.

I believe that God is still wanting people who wait eagerly for Him to call their name, who look anxiously for Him to direct their actions and who will be instantly obedient, no matter what He commands.  It reminds me of Psalm 123:1-2 (NIV):

I lift up my eyes to you,
     to you whose throne is in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
     as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
     till he shows us his mercy.

The eyes of a servant watch his master’s hand and the eyes of a servant girl watch her mistress’ hand so that they can instantly respond to the slightest gesture.  That is the same way in which we are to serve the Lord – constantly watching and listening, and ever ready to respond, “Here I am!”

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Watch and Pray

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Matthew 26:36-46 (NIV)

Peter had the best of intentions – there is no doubt about that.  Immediately before the short hike to Gethsemane he was loudly proclaiming his undying faithfulness to Jesus:  “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (26:35)  But here he was, minutes later, giving in to his flesh and leaving Jesus alone in His hour of greatest need.

I think a big part of the problem was that Peter couldn’t discern the enemy.  There was nothing to “turn on” his awareness that the battle of the ages was taking place only a few feet away from where he was drowsing!

Jesus’ request was heartbreakingly simple:  My soul is swallowed up in sorrow – to the point of death.  Remain here and stay awake with me.”  He just wanted some moral support as he faced down His own fears over what He knew was coming, and His sorrow over His own people who would not receive Him, and would, in fact, kill Him.  But even the disciples of His inner circle, James and John, who claimed to be able to drink from His cup, and Peter who would supposedly die before He betrayed Him, couldn’t even stay awake while He battled the terrors of death in His prayers.

And in falling asleep, they missed out on an opportunity to strengthen their own souls against the temptations that would soon be assaulting them.  Not temptations to engage in some blatant immorality, as we usually define sin, but the temptation to run away when they should have stayed.  Temptation to put their own skins ahead of God’s will.  Temptation to leave Jesus to fend for Himself.  And, in Peter’s case at least, temptation to deny Jesus when the chips were down.

How different it would have been if Peter and the others had only stayed awake and joined Jesus in the battle!  Jesus would still have gone to the cross – that was why He had come, but He would have gone even more strengthened and encouraged, and His followers would have been there cheering Him on instead of holed up in hiding.  Same result, but a whole different atmosphere.

I really can’t get away from Jesus’ warning to Peter, though:  “Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation.”  Any of us who belong to Jesus are at risk of falling to the schemes of the enemy.  When you come to Jesus, you become the target of the enemy; even more so if you intend to tell more people about Jesus and bring them into the kingdom of heaven.  This isn’t to make us paranoid, but wise.  The enemy is real, but his easiest targets are those who either deny his reality or their own danger.

If Peter needed to watch and pray, I do too.  If Peter could fall prey to temptation, so could I.  If Peter could deny his Lord when the chips were down, I can too.  The key is staying close to Jesus, staying alert, and praying alongside Him.

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