From an Unexpected Source

Sometimes we come across a morsel of spiritual truth or a reminder of truth, as in this case, when we’re not looking for one. This happened the other night while watching …

… okay, I’m a fan of old westerns …

… The Return of the Seven (1966), with Yul Brynner and Robert Fuller.

Two characters having a conversation:

Chris, played by Yul Brynner—a professional gunfighter who uses his skills to protect and rescue the oppressed (talk about a headache for the politically correct); and

A Catholic priest, played by Fernando Rey, who has realized that his zeal to rebuild a broken down church has resulted in the enslavement of poor, defenseless Mexican farmers from a nearby village.

The priest is ready to give up the priesthood because of what his actions have done to these people. Chris says (as I remember),

“You’re not down, you’ve fallen. It’s time to get up, at least as far as your knees.”

Yul Brynner knocks that line out of the park! I grabbed the remote (you thought all guys white knuckled the remote, right? Not always), and clicked the pause button. Rewind. Whoa!! That is some ‘right-on’ stuff from the man in black. Really, Chris wears all black.

Then it dawns on me that Chris, gun fighter/theologian, is probably quoting an old Puritan (which I can’t remember) who said that we—Christians—because of God’s sustaining and faithful grace, may fall, but we won’t fall completely.

It is possible, that Chris, gun fighter/theologian, was just using his spiritual gift to encourage the priest who was in the depths of despair. Either way, it is obvious from the outcome of the battle that the priest went back to his prayer closet, got up on his knees, and prayed. The Lord revealed His right arm and brought deliverance. The movie ended before we saw the spiritual renewal that spread to the nearby villages. I’m sure something like that would’ve happened, right?

Bottom line: let’s take Chris’ advice.

Reading About Christ on the Cross

Recently I picked up a book that I’ve had on my reading list for a long time. This was my book for vacationing at the beach. It’s a classic work by the late John R.W. Stott:  The Cross of Christ (2006. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.).  I am grateful for Logos Bible software for publishing this work. I’m the guy who reads with a highlighter and pen. Ebooks, especially in Logos, allow markups, notes, and easy cross-referencing.

“There is then, it is safe to say, no Christianity without the cross. If the cross is not central to our religion, ours is not the religion of Jesus.”

“Give me a sermon on the cross any day. If it be from the scriptures, it cannot but lift my heart to the One who lived to die as the Lamb of God. When is the last time that you heard a sermon series on the cross of Christ? If it’s been awhile, I encourage you to pick up this book and find the depth of the riches of the work of Christ Jesus on the cross. At the cross we find the death of our old man and new life with God. Most importantly we find Jesus. I think this quote from Stott is what motivates the curious mind:”

“But why? We return to this basic puzzle. What was there about the crucifixion of Jesus which, in spite of its horror, shame and pain, makes it so important that God planned it in advance and Christ came to endure it?”

Stott opens these questions beautifully and leads you into answers. The crucifixion is more than saying, ‘Jesus Christ died for our sins.’ What does that really mean? Why was this absolutely necessary? What was the cause and effect? Stott does not disappoint.

If you have read this book, you know the difficulty of dropping only a few of its quotes. Here are a few more and I encourage you to pick up the book, with a marker and pen–paper or ebook.

“Despite the great importance of his [Jesus] teaching, his example, and his works of compassion and power, none of these was central to his mission. What dominated his mind was not the living but the giving of his life.”

I love reading about Jesus, who He was, is, and is to come. If you’re interested in reading on the subject, here’s a couple of recommendations:

The Cross: God’s Way of Salvation, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

In Christ Alone: Living The Gospel Centered Life, by Sinclair Ferguson.

The Crises of the Christ, by G. Campbell Morgan.

Two final quotes from John Stott’s book:

“In conclusion, the cross enforces three truths—about ourselves, about God and about Jesus Christ.”

Stott does a brilliant job with the numerous subjects and issues that come out of Christ’s redemptive work at Calvary. At the risk of causing confusion, I drop this last quote. It is a mere taste of his logic while tackling the subject: The Problem with Forgiveness.

“The Bible takes sin seriously because it takes humanity seriously. As we have seen, Christians do not deny the fact—in some circumstances—of diminished responsibility, but we affirm that diminished responsibility always entails diminished humanity. To say that somebody “is not responsible for his actions” is to demean him or her as a human being. It is part of the glory of being human that we are held responsible for our actions. Then, when we also acknowledge our sin and guilt, we receive God’s forgiveness, enter into the joy of his salvation, and so become yet more completely human and healthy. What is unhealthy is every wallowing in guilt which does not lead to confession, repentance, faith in Jesus Christ and so forgiveness.”

Abusing The Goodness of God

James 1:16–17 (NKJV) — “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

When I think about the goodness of God there is an immediate overwhelming within. I know so little and yet in the microscopic glimpse of the nature of God I am left in speechless awe. Goodness is but one attribute of God and yet its depths leave us with a mix of thoughts and feelings–humbled, encouraged, loved, and joyful and wanting to know more.

God is good and from Him all goodness flows. Where else can it come from? There is no other living God. He has repeatedly announced that He alone is God and there is no other god besides Him. There is no other source for goodness, mercy, grace, and love to originate from. How grateful that He is good.

One of the challenges that we have in this life is that too often we use feelings and experiences to define reality and truth. When we do this, we fail to see and use God’s definition of goodness. His Word and His ways teach us the depths of what good is, and how to be good, including what  is and isn’t good. It is when we use other standards, criteria, or measurements to define and determine what is good that at the very least we miss the goodness of God. At the worst we abuse His goodness.

How is the Goodness of God Abused?

  1. The most common way is by thinking that goodness originates from within us or others, rather than the Originator—God (James 1:16–17). How can a created being, whose whole existence is dependent upon its Creator originate any goodness from itself … since “all good” gifts comes from Him? Any good that is within us and that we express is from God. It is because of God that we are able to be good to do so. He enables us to know and distinguish good from bad and to love good rather evil. For those who despise good and prefer to do evil and harm to others do not reflect the goodness of God, but as Jesus Christ said, “They are of their father, the devil.” We must remind ourselves that ‘God is summurn bonum, the chiefest good’;
  2. Forbid ourselves from partaking and enjoying God’s goodness, and as some, create rules to keep others from enjoying His goodness (1 Timothy 4:1–5). How does this happen? By not accepting everything that God has created as being good. The biblical context above gives a few examples of man abusing God’s good gifts.
  3. When we consider something that is of God as being merely, sorta, kinda good, or not good at all, for ourselves or someone else, then we have robbed Him of glory that is due Him. This applies to people that He puts in our lives, and also to things, events, and circumstances (Luke 7:33-35). Just because we cannot currently see good in something or see God’s usefulness and purpose for something does not mean that it is not good from Him. How shallow is that deduction? For example, it wasn’t until 2009 that medical science realized the good purpose of the spleen in healing after a heart attack. It wasn’t too long ago that science considered the spleen a useless organ of the evolutionary process. Not anymore. If God created it, it is good and has its purpose, whether we have discovered it or not.
  4. Accusing God of not being “as good as He could be” when evil is manifested in our world. Evil does not negate the goodness of God. We must learn to look for God in the midst of tragedy, pain, and sorrow. He is present. His goodness is faithful and He is faithful in His goodness–a lesson to imitate as His beloved children;
  5. We err by limiting God’s goodness as being solely benevolent. His goodness is also wise, righteous, just, holy, and in perfect agreement with the rest of His other divine attributes. One attribute does not contradict another. Each of His attributes perfectly expresses the others. As Paul Helm (emeritus professor at the University of London) wrote, “But the goodness of God has a deeper and richer (and more mysterious) character than benevolence alone.”; and
  6. We fail when we do not attribute the small graces in our daily lives to His goodness working in us and towards us and for us.

5 Reasons Why You Should Pray This

 … may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; Ephesians 3:18–19 (NKJV)

The goal of this request is to “know the love of Christ.”  To know His love in great depth, from and in every aspect of life. To know its heavenliness and its humble servanthood. To know what it is, how it is, and why it is that it may mold and change us to walk and talk 24/7 in a love that passes all understanding. I consider this both the goal and the prize.

We must ask the Father for such knowledge.  All knowledge of Christ is dependent upon the Holy Spirit, who reveals the Son to us (John 16:14). We cannot obtain on our own what is beyond us–it must come from Him because this is divine love. This love not of this world. This is the kind of love that the apostle John refers to in I John 3:1.

“… able to comprehend …” – This is more than academic knowledge, it includes experiential or relational knowledge of Christ and His love.

Who wouldn’t want to know the depths of the Love of Christ? Well, besides those who hate Him, who love the darkness, and/or love death more than life. If you know such a person, then pray to the Father that he/she “may be able to ….”

“… with all the saints …” It takes a new heart to comprehend such divine love. Jesus Christ is the giver of new hearts. Again, a reason to pray for those whom God has brought into your life. Pray for others that Christ would give them a new heart and that they would comprehend the greatness of the Love of Christ.

Here are FIVE reasons to include this in your prayers for others and for yourself:

So that we would …

1. be RULED by the Love of Christ. Guided, directed, constrained, and even disciplined by His Love. That our heart would be constrained by His divine love rather than our hearts rule us. Or for that matter, so that we would not be influenced by anything less that His Love;

2. GROW in our knowledge and love for Him;

3. gain CLARITY and STRENGTH in a love of Righteousness and a hate for unrighteousness and sin. As we grow in the Love of Christ our view of holiness and also of sin is directly affected;

4. WALK in, GIVE out, and DISPLAY Christ’s love towards others “… just as Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us.” Decrease in selfishness and grow in selflessness; and

5. SEE the power, beauty, holiness, and majesty of divine love.

How easy would it be to add another five reasons. I invite you to share other reasons for praying this.

Begin praying this today for those around you, as well as for the “all the saints.”

Building a Treasure Chest

When you read or hear something that arrests your heart, what do you do? Let’s say that it is something profound that causes you to stop your thinking process and ponder. You recognize these types of thoughts as something convicting—humbling or encouraging, or inspiring, or even greater? Does this happen very often? I think that it should, and if it isn’t, then I’d argue that you’ve become stagnant.

Did that sting?

From a prayer in The Valley of Vision:  “Help me to honour thee by believing before I feel, for great is the sin if I make feeling a cause of faith.”

If you have followed my blog or read one my books, you know that Scripture is all this and more. I’m going to presume that Scripture is a give-me on this subject, and goes without saying. This is about other types of treasures.

“A mystery of the Word of God; it fills you up and satisfies you, while leaving you hungry and unsatisfied.” – Pastor Johnny Hunt

By the way, I’m not talking about something only on an academic level. I am referring to something that includes the intellect but keeps going deeper. Let’s be clear here, I’m not referring to cotton candy snippets of positive thinking and self-esteem pill popping.

Does it challenge what you believe or how you see things or how you act or think? Does it bring reality to light, humble, inspire, or confirm and at the same time stir your heart God-ward? This is the stuff that enlarges your view and understanding of God, the work of Christ, and your walk with Him—the rich stuff. These treasures will vary in power and depth, length and affect, and they are good, so good.

“Most of the unhappiness in your life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself” Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

What do you do when you come across one of these gems? Do you write it down so that you can return to it like a cool spring fed well? Do you ponder for a moment and say, “huh” and more on? I encourage you to have place where you write these types of gems down so you can visit them periodically and especially when you need them to stir your soul. Perhaps the pages on the inside of your Bible—front and back; a small journal; or note cards.

From one of my favorite books—The Cross of Christ (John R.W. Stott): “The essential background to the cross, therefore, is a balanced understanding of the gravity of sin and the majesty of God. If we diminish either, we thereby diminish the cross.”