Thursday, November 30, 2006

Was Paul a Spiritual Failure? (Romans № 20)

Welcome to one of the strangest sections of Paul's letter to the Romans! I believe this passage warns us to seek to understand what the Scripture means, not necessarily what the Scripture appears to say. Consider Paul's conundrum:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom 7.14-24 ESV)
Okay, are we to take from this passage that Paul, as he is dictating his letter to Tertius (16.22), is revealing to the Romans his own deep spiritual bankruptcy? I mean, if the Apostle Paul was such a miserable failure as a Christian, how uplifting would that have been to the Church at Rome who gathered and heard someone read such a depressing letter of abject spiritual defeat? Was Paul a Christian wasteland of failure?

If Paul is speaking of his present spiritual condition, what would that tell us of the overcoming Christian life? It wouldn't exactly cause us to break out in an impromptu singing of Victory in Jesus would it?

Thank God, I believe there is another answer, one that fits quite nicely into the context that Paul already has been expounding on; I believe he is speaking of his previous spiritual frustrations under Torah, before he came to faith in Jesus Christ. Rabbi Saul of Tarsus had a problem obeying—from the heart—the very Torah he espoused.

For example, notice how he speaks of law in this passage. Paul the Christian apostle never drove people to Torah; he drove them to Christ. He isn't speaking of the gospel, here. Rather, he is speaking of obedience to Moses' Law.

If that's so, then why does he use the present tense that makes it sound like he's speaking of his current condition at the time of writing? The Greek "historical present" offers us an answer.

Put simply, in Hellenistic (New Testament) Greek, a writer could recount a past event using the present tense when he wanted to write forcefully and dramatically.

Let me give you a biblical example from John 14.8a:

λεγει αυτω φιλιππος κυριε...

literally, it means, "He says to him [Philip], 'Lord...'"

or, in more grammatical English,

"Philip says to him, 'Lord...'"

However, your favorite translation may say,

"Philip said to him, 'Lord...'"

Why switch the Greek present tense, "he says" with the past "he said"? Because that's standard English. John recalled an event that happened decades ago. Still, the aged apostle uses the historical present to write in forceful Greek.

You'll find this feature in all four gospels.

We English speakers use a form of the historical present today. Let me create a story that allegedly happened last week. Here's the fictional scenario:
"I'm standing in the Charleston Town Center at the food court. This lady—a perfect stranger—walks up to me and says, 'I want to give you something.' She then hands me $100 and then walks away!"
Since this fictional account is set in the previous week, the past tense would have been appropriate:
"I stood in the Charleston Town Center at the food court. This lady—a perfect stranger—walked up to me and said, 'I want to give you something.' She then handed me $100 and then walked away!"
The past tense is appropriate, but using the present tense to retell a past experience is also appropriate; it's more dramatic.

Okay, time to wrap up this long entry. Suffice to say, I think Paul is speaking of his failure to keep Torah from the heart, and not speaking of a present failure to keep faith in the Spirit.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Law and Sin: Partners in Crime? (Romans № 19)

Paul makes a fascinating (and controversial) comment in chapter 7 of his Romans letter:

"For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit." (Rom 7.5-6 ESV)

The apostle declares that Torah, the Law of Moses, actually contributed to the sin of Jews! This is startling in its implications! Is Torah an accomplice with sin to condemn us before God?

In this section of his letter he comes to the defense of Torah. He doesn't want the Romans to believe that the Law is evil; rather, he needed the Christians to appreciate the necessary job that Torah accomplished. Read his thoughts on the matter:

"What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure."
(Rom 7.7-13 ESV)

Paul makes an astounding statement, one that surely could offend many Jews of his day: Torah was given by God to show people how sinful they were, and how hopeless it was to seek salvation by good works. The Law of Moses simply revealed the rebellious heart of a person depraved before God. Heed Wesley's thoughts in his Explanatory Notes on sin in the last part of vs. 13:

"So that sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful - The consequence of which was, that inbred sin, thus driving furiously in spite of the commandment, became exceeding sinful; the guilt thereof being greatly aggravated."

The holy Law reveals unholy depravity. This is to cause us to despair of our own righteousness and to chase after grace through Christ. As Paul writes elsewhere:

"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.' Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith.'" (Gal 3.10-11 ESV)


"But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith." (Gal 3.22-26 ESV)

One last thing before we end part 1 of this sermon entry. If Paul was right when he said, "I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died" [Rom 7.9 ESV] then why did God give Torah at all? In other words, if ignorance of right and wrong would have kept people free from the condemnation of sin then why didn't God allow humanity to walk in total darkness, thus saving everyone?

Well, there are two problems with this view.

1. This is contrary to the holiness of God. God hates wrong and he wants his creation to do right.

2. There still is the law of the conscience that everyone, without the Law, would be judged by (Rom 2.14-16). No one is exempt from it. Nobody (except the mentally incapacitated) is without a conscience; even pagans had some sense of right and wrong, however imperfect (or warped) it may have been.

Torah is the fullest expression of written code that shows a person how sinful he is.

Dead to the Law of Moses (Romans № 18)

This tree is dead; it no longer can be a thriving tree because this hollow log is forever dead.

This is Paul's point to help Jewish Christians who may be struggling to understand that their obligation to Torah (the Law of Moses) is over.

We begin chapter seven of Romans with Paul explaining that, for Jewish believers in Christ, their days of being under Torah are over. Faith in Christ (and the indwelling of the Spirit) have supplanted Torah. Let's look at Paul's argument:

"Or do you not know, brothers--for I am speaking to those who know the law--that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress." (Rom 7.1-3 ESV)

Paul begins his persuasion with an analogy. If a wife's husband dies then she is free to marry again because the death voided the marriage covenant. She can't be considered unfaithful to her husband because his death ended the obligation. She can't be married to one that is dead.

Paul continues:

"Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death."
(Rom 7.4-5 ESV)

This continues on his theme which we examined recently.

Christ died = we died in him
Christ was buried = we were buried in him
Christ was resurrected = we were resurrected in him

In other words, as Christians "in Christ" we are members of the Elect Son of God. What happened to him has happened to us in a spiritual sense.

Paul says, "Jewish Christians, you are dead to Torah; therefore, you are released from it. You are now in a New Covenant—you belong to Christ, not Torah."

Concerning the phrase "the body of Christ" John Wesley adds in his Explanatory Notes:

"Offered up; that is, by the merits of his death, that law expiring with him."

According to Wesley, Christ fulfilled Torah and, thus, rendered it dead.

In fact, the apostle makes the point that Torah caused the unregenerate soul to want to disobey it. (There's a weird quirk in sinners; if they know a law or ordinance a part of them wants to rebel against it.) Torah marked out the parameters of right and wrong—but couldn't enable anyone to obey it.

For Paul, though, the answer is the Holy Spirit:

"But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit." (Rom 7.6 ESV)

This is central to Pauline thought; he makes great emphasis of a Torah/Spirit dichotomy. Read Paul's admonition to the Galatians:

"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith-- just as Abraham 'believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'?" (Gal 3.1-6 ESV)

Do you see the significance? If you want to live under Torah you have to do so without the Holy Spirit's powerful presence in your life—and you will fail. Torah never saved anyone. It has always been by faith. In this New Covenant we have an embarrassment of riches in Christ.

To attempt to hold on to Torah is not only foolish but it's spiritually disastrous.

Torah or the Holy Spirit of Christ. What is your choice of the two?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Slavery to One or the Other (Romans № 17)

In American culture the topic of slavery is a delicate issue; because of the country's past enslavement of Africans there are tender emotions to this day.

Sadly, slavery was a fact of history for many cultures. At its height at least half of the population in Rome were slaves. Slavery was an inescapable fact of life for the Romans that Paul wrote to when he penned his theological apology (defense) of the gospel.

Paul used common metaphors of the day to drive home his point to his audience. Slavery was one of them. Consider his words:

"For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification."
(Rom 6.14-19 ESV)

Since Paul already exhorted them to make a once-and-for-all surrender of themselves to God (Rom 6.13) he then explains the implications of such a conscecration: you consciously choose to become slaves to God.

In fact, Paul's point to the Romans is chilling; whether they surrender to God or not, they are already slaves to Someone or something, either God or sin.

Note the two options people have in slavery:

Slaves to Sin
slavery to sin whose end is death
slavery to impurity and to ever increasing lawlessness

Slaves to God
slavery to obedience whose end is righteousness
slavery to righteousness, which leads to sanctification

There's no way around it; you are a slaves to Somebody or something.

Paul continues:

"When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 6.20-23 ESV)

What do you want? Do you want—

1. Slavery to sin → spiritual death → increased depravity → point-of-no-return spiritual death in hell
2. Slavery to God → righteousness → sanctification → eternal life in heaven

You have to choose one and there is no "Option 3"; which of the two do you choose?

Sunday, November 19, 2006


For several Holy Week services I have portrayed Judas Iscariot.

In a living re-enactment of Leonardo's "Last Supper" painting, men have dressed as Christ and his apostles. Each "apostle" would sit at the Passover table and hear "Christ" say, "I tell you the truth, tonight, one of you will betray me." The apostle would then freeze in place until his time to speak.

Playing Judas is a daunting task; I take my role seriously and attempt to get into Judas' head. To do so I've gone to a sad place. I think Judas was a complex man, filled with avarice, hatred and demonization. He remains the greatest traitor in human history.

It's a big and emotionally draining role for anybody to play. Strangely, though, it gives me some solace because, of all of the men portrayed on the stage those Holy Week nights, the part of Judas is the only one I feel I deserve to play.

I've sold Christ out, and for far less than 30 pieces of silver. I hesitated to repent before I was saved and, to my shame, I've needed to repent (often) for sins following salvation. I'm not trying to sound pessimistic, here, but let's face it: Our very correct stand for Wesleyan holiness has contrasted sharply—at times—with our practice.

"Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve." (Luke 22.3 ESV)

In his Explanatory Notes John Wesley writes a chilling commentary for the the first part of the verse:

"Then entered Satan - Who is never [lacking] to assist those whose heart is bent upon mischief."

And Satan is always accompanied by darkness.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Stay On The Road

There are reflectors on the side of this country road to keep night drivers from veering off the road and over the embankment; the reflectors are signposts of warning.

As Wesleyans we believe that a true Christian can veer off of the Road of Faith, i.e. can apostatize and become unsaved once again. It's not a comfortable doctrine; I wish I could believe in eternal security. However, both the Scriptures and life experiences have taught me that once in grace does not automatically mean always in grace.

In his Sermons on Several Occasions, # 19, "The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God", John Wesley expounds on the text of 1 John 3.9a, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin"; in this passage he describes how a believer can fall into sin:
You see the unquestionable progress from grace to sin: Thus it goes on, from step to step. (1.) The divine seed of loving, conquering faith, remains in him that is born of God. 'He keepeth himself,' by the grace of God, and 'cannot commit sin.' (2.) A temptation arises; whether from the world, the flesh, or the devil, it matters not. (3.) The Spirit of God gives him warning that sin is near, and bids him more abundantly watch unto prayer. (4.) He gives way, in some degree, to the temptation, which now begins to grow pleasing to him. (5.) The Holy Spirit is grieved; his faith is weakened; and his love of God grows cold. (6.) The Spirit reproves him more sharply, and saith, 'This is the way; walk thou in it.' (7.) He turns away from the painful voice of God, and listens to the pleasing voice of the tempter. (8.) Evil desire begins and spreads in his soul, till faith and love vanish away: He is then capable of committing outward sin, the power of the Lord being departed from him.
This is a disastrous situation!

Wesley likens the Christian life as an action/reaction relationship toward God. God breathes life by the Spirit and the soul of the believer reacts in, "an unceasing return of love, praise, and prayer, offering up all the thoughts of our hearts, all the words of our tongues, all the works of our hands, all our body, soul, and spirit, to be a holy sacrifice, acceptable unto God in Christ Jesus."

What if it doesn't happen? What if a soul grows cold toward God?

Wesley warns:
For it plainly appears, God does not continue to act upon the soul, unless the soul re-acts upon God. He prevents us indeed with the blessings of his goodness. He first loves us, and manifests himself unto us. While we are yet afar off, he calls us to himself, and shines upon our hearts. But if we do not then love him who first loved us; if we will not hearken to his voice; if we turn our eye away from him, and will not attend to the light which he pours upon us; his Spirit will not always strive: He will gradually withdraw, and leave us to the darkness of our own hearts. He will not continue to breathe into our soul, unless our soul breathes toward him again; unless our love, and prayer, and thanksgiving return to him, a sacrifice wherewith he is well pleased.
Call it what you will: apostasy, losing salvation, forfeiting salvation, backsliding, etc. Yes, Wesleyans uphold that a regenerate Christian can relapse into an unsaved, unregenerate state. The Saint becomes the Sinner.

What is the proper response to this sobering realization? Wesley again has advice for us at the close of her sermon:
Let us learn, Lastly, to follow that direction of the great Apostle, 'Be not high-minded, but fear.' Let us fear sin, more than death or hell. Let us have a jealous (though not painful) fear, lest we should lean to our own deceitful hearts. 'Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall.' Even he who now standeth fast in the grace of God, in the faith that overcometh the world, may nevertheless fall into inward sin, and thereby 'make shipwreck of his faith.' And how easily then will outward sin regain its dominion over him! Thou, therefore, O man of God! watch always; that thou mayest always hear the voice of God! Watch, that thou mayest pray without ceasing, at all times, and in all places, pouring out thy heart before him! So shalt thou always believe, and always love, and never commit sin.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Crossing That Bridge When You Come To It

The title to my blog is easier said than done, isn't it?

At least, it is for me.

I think about the bridges I have to cross and I imagine potential bridges as well. I worry about the bridges and I fear the potential ones. I think about a lot of bridges in my life.

After telling his audience that seeking the Kingdom of God first would allow everything else to fall into place, Jesus then uttered these remarkable words:

"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Mat 6.34 ESV)

What astounds me most—by far—isn't that the Lord told us to focus on today instead of worrying about the future. What astounds me most is his unfettered truth that each day has trouble [KJV "evil"].

In his lexicon Joseph Thayer gives different glosses for κακια as

1. malignity, malice, ill-will, desire to injure
2. wickedness, depravity
2a. wickedness that is not ashamed to break laws
3. evil, trouble

We can't pray and fast away trouble. It comes to us daily in one form(s) or another. It's inevitable. It can be physical, relational or emotional. Pain is pain, troubles are troubles.

Adam Clarke, from his Commentary:

"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof - Αρκετον τη ημερα η κακια αυτης, Sufficient for each day is its own calamity. Each day has its peculiar trials: we should meet them with confidence in God. As we should live but a day at a time, so we should take care to suffer no more evils in one day than are necessarily attached to it. He who neglects the present for the future is acting opposite to the order of God, his own interest, and to every dictate of sound wisdom. Let us live for eternity, and we shall secure all that is valuable in time."

Read this phrase from Clarke again: "He who neglects the present for the future is acting opposite to the order of God, his own interest, and to every dictate of sound wisdom."

It's literally sinful and anti-productive to worry about the future.

May I listen to the Master's words.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Crossing the Line Drawn in the Sand (Romans № 16)

In the last sermon on Romans, we saw that a Christian is already dead to sin (Rom 6.2). The question, of course, is obvious: If we are dead to sin, why do so many Christians keep falling into the ditch of sin, perpetually caught in the vicious cycle of sin-repent-sin-repent?

I believe it stems from two problems:

1. A failure to understand that a Christian is dead to sin. (If you think you can't stop sinning, you won't.)
2. A failure to appropriate by faith what is already fact. (If you don't stand on this New Testament promise, it won't be effectual for you in practice.)

As Paul himself says, "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Rom 6.11 ESV)

In other words, the apostle says, "You're dead to sin. So be dead!"

This sermon blog entry deals with two Scriptures. Consider Paul's words:

"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness." (Rom 6:12-13 ESV)

From this I made three points in my sermon. I will be quoting from the New Testament translation by Charles B. Williams for accuracy on rendering Greek verbs into English.

1. Consider yourself dead to sin (because you are).

"So you too must consider yourselves as having ended your relation to sin but living in unbroken relation to God." (Rom 6.11)

There comes a point in every Christian's life when he realizes the extent of Christ's salvation. Each believer must get to the point where he says, "I'm dead to sin. The old me is dead. I'm not a sinner anymore. I'm a saint."

2. The reign of sin must be broken (available through the atonement).

"Accordingly, sin must not continue to reign over your mortal bodies, so as to make you continue to obey their evil desires, and you must stop offering to sin the parts of your bodies as instruments for wrongdoing," (Rom 6.12-13a)

The realization that one is dead to sin must be followed by action. The Christian must say, "Since I'm dead to sin then I'll be dead to sin! I'll repeatedly choose to say, 'No' to the things I used to say, 'Yes' to when I didn't realize I'm dead to sin."

This step involves the Christian making conscious choices to refuse to give in to the old temptations that used to trip him up over and over. He must refuse to do the things that lead to sin; this is a life self-analysis. What trips him up? He has to say, "Not anymore!"

3. Once-and-for-all consecrate yourself to God.

"... but you must once for all offer yourselves to God as persons raised from the dead to live on perpetually, and once for all offer the parts of your bodies to God as instruments for right-doing."
(Rom 6.13b)

Have you ever resolved to lose weight and went ahead and really lost it? That's a human example of what can happen on a Holy Spirit level. When a person determines, really determines—once and for all time—to have God as his Lord, having forsaken sin, the world and the devil, and be utterly surrendered, submitted and obedient to him, he steps across the line drawn in the sand.

If a professing Christian tries to ignore this process he will keep falling into the ditch of sin. Count on it. If he offers God the offering of himself, he can say with Paul elsewhere:

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
(Gal 2.20 ESV)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Light From Wesley's Greek New Testament

ταυτα δε αυτου απολογουμενου ο φηστος μεγαλη τη φωνη φησιν μαινη παυλε τα πολλα σε γραμματα εις μανιαν περιτρεπει
(Acts 26.24)

John Wesley was smart.

While we tend to think of him as a horseback riding evangelist, we must not forget that he was a man of education, an Oxford educated scholar and linguist. Read portions of his Journal entries:

"I began to learn German in order to converse with the Germans, six-and-twenty of whom we had on board. On Sunday, the weather being fair and calm, we had the morning service on quarterdeck. I now first preached extempore and then administered the Lord’s Supper to six or seven communicants." (October 17, 1735)

"I began learning Spanish in order to converse with My Jewish parishioners; some of whom seem nearer the mind that was in Christ than many of those who called Him Lord." (April 4, 1737)

"I met Peter Bohler again, who now amazed me more and more by the account he gave of the fruits of living faith—the holiness and happiness which he affirmed to attend it. The next morning I began the Greek Testament again, resolving to abide by 'the law and the testimony'; I was confident that God would hereby show me whether this doctrine was of God." (March 23, 1738)

"I began writing a short French grammar." (March 6, 1750)

"I read over Mr. Holmes's Latin Grammar and extracted from it what was needful to perfect our own." (October 15, 1750)

"I removed to Threadneedle Street; where I spent the remainder of the week, partly in prayer, reading, and conversation, partly in writing a Hebrew grammar, and Lessons for Children."
(February 10, 1751)

"I began reading over the Greek Testament and the notes, with my brother and several others; carefully comparing the translation with the original and correcting or enlarging the notes as we saw occasion." (December 12, 1759)

It does no good to pretend that all are of equal intelligence. Wesley arguably was a genius; most of us are not. Genius, however, isn't necessary to be effective in the work of the Kingdom of God. One of my favorite Wesleyans, William Carvosso (another great soul-winner), didn't write a sentence in his native English until he reached 65 years of age. Still, God used John Wesley—and God used William Carvosso.

It doesn't matter how educated or intelligent you are; it only matters how obedient you are.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Meeting God

When does God meet us?
When does Christ manifest himself to us?
When does the Presence of the Spirit of the Lord come and visit us?

Sometimes it happens when we sit and wait.

Sometimes the visitation occurs unexpectedly.

In his book, Christ Manifested, John Fletcher includes this advice:
Though the Lord works by means, in general, He ties Himself to none of them, and sometimes works without any. The same Spirit which fell upon Cornelius while Peter preached, fell upon Peter on the day of Pentecost, without any preaching. And the same Lord who opened Lydia's heart by the ministry of Paul, opened the heart of Paul by the sole exertion of His own power. From this we learn that, whilst on the one hand we must not, like the profane and the extremists, tempt the Lord by neglecting the use of any of the means He has appointed, so on the other hand, we must beware of confining God to particular means, times, and places, in the way that the bigoted and superstitious do. Remember that when we are cut off from all outward means, it is our privilege to wait for the immediate display of God's arm, in the use of the inward means.
Trinity may meet with you during holy communion.
Trinity may overwhelm you during a sermon.
Trinity may rapture your spirit during worship.
Trinity may fall upon you during prayer.
Trinity may visit you unexpectedly.

Pray to meet your God. Expect him to come. He will, when he chooses.

Monday, November 6, 2006

A Reminder of Our Mortality

A few days ago I went to Shawnee Park in the Dunbar-Institute area.

Here's a picture that I snapped of the Indian burial mound.

From a burial mound, a cemetery, an archaeological dig or news coverage of a fatality we are reminded that death is the ultimate fate of life. No matter how far medical science advances—short of The Day of Resurrection and Judgment—we all will die.

I'm only in my mid-thirties but I realize the 20's are long gone; I'm approaching mid-life. Reality strikes us that we are mortal, something we've known but, with the addition of years, it becomes more somber a thought.

After the death of his friend, Lazarus, Jesus traveled to Bethany with his disciples. He first spoke with Lazarus' sister, Martha.

"Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha said to him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?' She said to him, 'Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.'"
(John 11.21-27 ESV)

I'm glad I believe in Jesus. If I didn't then I have nothing to solace me as years pass.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Churches That Look Like Churches

The First United Methodist Church of Dunbar, West Virginia, has inspiring stained glass windows in its sanctuary.

They can help draw a worshiper's thoughts to the things of God. Sadly, with the cost of such sacred works of art--and the current trend for a church building to look "modern"--stained glass windows probably are rarely seen in new places of worship.

In today's entry of Fetter Lane please allow me to offer a personal opinion. As visual people we need symbols and art to remind us of God. We need the sight of the pew Bible and Hymnal resting comfortably in its slot, the cross on the communion table, and the color spectrum dancing along the walls as the sunlight shines through the stained glass windows. We need symbols and art in worship. In worship, we need beauty.

In 1758, Wesley records the following in his Journal:

"Sunday, November 5 (Norwich).--We went to St. Peter's Church, the Lord's supper being administered there. I scarcely ever remember to have seen a more beautiful parish church: the more so, because its beauty results not from foreign ornaments, but from the very form and structure of it. It is very large and of an uncommon height, and the sides are almost all window; so that it has an awful and venerable look and, at the same time, surprisingly cheerful.
"Monday, December 4--I was desired to step into the little church behind the Mansion House, commonly called St. Stephen's, Walbrook. It is nothing grand, but neat and elegant beyond expression. So that I do not wonder at the speech of the famous Italian architect who met Lord Burlington in Italy: 'My Lord, go back and see St. Stephen's in London. We have not so fine a piece of architecture in Rome.'"

I can't quote to you a Scripture that justifies my opinion; I just like a church building to look like a church building and not a convention center.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Reflecting His Glory

It's amazing what images you can see in a pooling of water!

I like this photo because of the reflection of the bare tree branches and blue sky overhead as the fallen leaves litter the water beneath. (Can you tell I've been on a nature motif lately?)

This photo is a good segue to Paul's Scripture:
And all of us, with faces uncovered, because we continue to reflect like mirrors the splendor of the Lord, are being transformed into likeness to Him, from one degree of splendor to another, since it comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2Co 3.18 WmsNT)
Let's break down Paul's thoughts together:

1. Our Christian faces, unlike the fading glory on Moses' face, keep their faces uncovered...
2. because we keep reflecting the shekinah, the glorious Presence of God...
3. and because we keep reflecting the glory, we are being transformed into his likeness...
4. which comes to us in stages...
5. by the Holy Spirit is the one who continually changes us.

Concerning the reflection of the glory, and the transformation of the Christian, Adam Clarke expounds in his Commentary:
The word κατοπτριζομενοι, catoptrizomenoi, acting on the doctrine of catoptries, which we translate beholding in a glass, comes from κατα, against, and οπτομαι, I look; and properly conveys the sense of looking into a mirror, or discerning by reflected light. Now as mirrors, among the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, were made of highly polished metal, (see the note on 1Co 13:12), it would often happen, especially in strong light, that the face would be greatly illuminated by this strongly reflected light; and to this circumstance the apostle seems here to allude.
Concerning the resultant transformation of the Christian, Clarke continues:
So, by earnestly contemplating the Gospel of Jesus, and believing on him who is its Author, the soul becomes illuminated with his Divine splendor, for this sacred mirror reflects back on the believing soul the image of Him whose perfections it exhibits; and thus we see the glorious form after which our minds are to be fashioned; and by believing and receiving the influence of his Spirit, μεταμορφουμεθα, our form is changed, την αυτην εικονα, into the same image, which we behold there; and this is the image of God, lost by our fall, and now recovered and restored by Jesus Christ: for the shining of the face of God upon us, i.e. approbation, through Christ, is the cause of our transformation into the Divine image.
Reflect his glory, Christian!

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Hidden in the Cross

Have you ever heard a person pray for the minister before the sermon, "Lord, hide him in the cross"? In my case it's quite true.

This is my pulpit. It is, literally, a cross. (The lectern section is hidden from view, parallel to the crossbeam.) When people see me at the pulpit, they find me hidden in the cross.

There's no getting around it; we preach the unjust execution of the Son of God, his burial and his resurrection from the dead. As Wesley preaches in his Sermons, # 39, "Catholic Spirit":

"Dost thou believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, 'God over all, blessed for ever?' Is he revealed in thy soul? Dost thou know Jesus Christ and him crucified? Does he dwell in thee, and thou in him? Is he formed in thy heart by faith? having absolutely disclaimed all thy own works, thy own righteousness, hast thou 'submitted thyself unto the righteousness of God, which is by faith in Christ Jesus? Art thou 'found in him, not having thy own righteousness, but the righteousness which is by faith?' And art thou, through him, 'fighting the good fight of faith, and laying hold of eternal life?'"

If people are offended by it, that's not my concern. Yes, the gospel may be a stumbling block or foolishness to some [cf. 1 Cor 1.23]. I, as Paul, should not know anything among others, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. [cf. 1 Cor 2.2]

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

History On His Hands

When are bricks more than simply bricks?

Bricks are more than simply bricks when they have a history to accompany them.

A lady from my parents' church gave them a present; she gave them fire bricks (dating from the 1930s) from her mother's home. They are more than fire bricks to her. They are a connection to her mother. She wanted the bricks to be given to those who would use them and know the story.

Now Dad and Mom have more material for outside landscaping; the old fire bricks will continue to have a history with a new chapter being written in a story already stretching over several decades.

Child of God, you have a history with God. He remembers you; he has a story about you and he gave his Son as a connecting point to you. Of you God says:

"Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me." (Isa 49.15-16 ESV)

Of this engraving, Clarke says in his Commentary:

"This is certainly an allusion to some practice, common among the Jews at that time, of making marks on their hands or arms by punctures on the skin, with some sort of sign or representation of the city or temple, to show their affection and zeal for it. They had a method of making such punctures indelible by fire, or by staining."

Today, we need not fear of being forgotten by God. Jesus, as the Connecting Point between the God and man, is our guarantee of a present and future history with God.

Christ spoke of another set of engravings following his crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Jesus said to Thomas:

"Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe."
(John 20.27b ESV)

What is the only correct answer to such a glorious history?

"Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!'" (John 20.28 ESV)