Dear Children

Letters From A Father's Heart

On Free Will

Dear children,

Man’s free will, and whether he has it or not, has been in contention within the church for a long time.  And where one stands on the issue can give a lot of insight into their beliefs about the attributes of man and God. Let me be the first to concede that, in a sense, man does have free will. He has it in the same way that a bird has free will in deciding on the location of where he will build his nest. But I’m quick to add that man doesn’t have free will in the same way that the bird doesn’t have the freedom to decide whether or not he’s going to build a nest at all… in a general sense.  A bird cannot not build a nest, and man cannot not sin.

Following this reasoning, you too have the freedom to choose which sins you will partake in, but you don’t have the freedom to decide whether or not you will sin.  Yet still, the entire concept and the disagreement on the matter is more precise than all that. The real question is whether or not a man has within himself the free will to ”accept” Christ as his Savior. The ramifications of how one ultimately answers this question are many and far reaching hence the divide you will discover that exists in the Church.

So to help you think this through, consider this: An evangelist visits your home and presents you with the Gospel. You listen carefully to what he says and, based on your own sovereign free will, make a decision to surrender your life to Jesus. Then that evangelist visits your neighbor and he rejects the same message. A month later, you and your neighbor are both killed. Now, which one of you will have reason to boast that you made the right decision? Is it ultimately because you’re smarter than you neighbor that you can boast? Or because you’re a better person? In the end, you can see that no matter how you look at it, you will have reason to boast before God and man based on your decision.

Another ramification is the requirement that God subject His will to the will of man. If our salvation depends on our own merit in any way, then God is reduced to an entity that anxiously sits in heaven hoping and fretting over the question of whether or not we will make the right decision, which necessarily insinuates that we are capable of making the right decision.  God is made smaller and man larger. It’s also worth considering that God actually has the power to convince everyone to follow him by use of some miracle or something, yet He doesn’t do it. No, instead he leaves it up to the smart men to beg, plead and cajole, to make better arguments and so on. Also, man is made to appear larger in his own eyes. It places those who are considering God in the seat of judgment and neutrality concerning God’s offer of salvation, and that’s a seat that no man by any means ever occupies.

You also need to understand that the real reason that man wants to appropriate free will for himself is that he is embarrassed to serve a God who decides who He will and will not save. It seems so unfair to the worldly thinker because he holds man in such high esteem. We must understand, however, that we are not the center of the universe, God is. He is the arbiter of all things. He is holy and perfect, and he would be holy, perfect, and all loving even if He didn’t deign to save one man. His love and righteousness is. It is not dependent on what happens to any man. God owes man nothing. That is our human position and condition.

But these are also the same reasons that we have to celebrate, and be joyful, and filled with thanksgiving when we find ourselves hidden in the cleft of the rock that is Jesus our Savior. What words can I use to describe such a reality? They fail me. So we may praise God for what He has done.

This is why I pray for you all the time. I ask God to take your hearts, to make you His, to save you for all eternity. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed a more fervent prayer, yet it is never fervent enough.

Your father

 

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Don’t Worry About Whether You’ve Put God In A Box But Rather Whether You’re In His “Box”

Dear children,

For years I’ve fretted when I’ve heard someone make the accusation that someone is, “…putting God in a box.”  This is one of those problematic things because it’s intertwined with truth. It is possible, for example, for us to exalt man while at the same time dethroning God. And to the extent that we do that, we are putting God into a human box. I’ll discuss this in more depth later, but for now, let’s look at the box God actually is in.

When we speak of a box, what we’re really talking about are limitations. And when we place limitations on God, it might well be said that we are putting Him into a box. But there are limitations concerning God that we ought to consider; some involving us and others involving Him.

One of the sides of the God exists in is, we might say, a moral side. God can’t sin. Now that’s not to say that He can do anything we like and because He’s God, it’s not sin. That’s not what I’m saying at all, and when you hear these sorts of things about Jesus, they should be considered as heresy. What I am saying is that God cannot act in a way that contradicts His nature.

Another side of the box might be considered a logical one. You’ll hear the question, can God create a rock so big that He can’t move it? It’s a trick question designed to prove that it is impossible for God to be without limitations. But God is limited by His own logic. He can’t, for example, make a square circle.

There is another side which is based on epistemology. These limitations, however, are more about us than Him. We were given five senses and it’s through these senses that we experience and interpret our world. I personally contend that our thinking and emotions are a sixth sense of sorts, but even given that, we are limited in what we know and what we can know as human beings. God affirms this when he tells us that our thoughts and ways are not like His thoughts and ways. So our understanding of God is necessarily limited, and as such is in a box. How does the finite know the infinite? How does what we know compare to what God knows?  What words exist that can describe to us, in any meaningful way, those things for which we are not equipped to comprehend?

This side of the box can be seen in language also. Someone might quote 1st John and say, “God is love.” But how one defines these three words, “diety”, “being”, and “love”, will have an ultimately limiting effect. And, conversely, the idea expressed by God in this passage is limited to what he meant. We can’t redefine the words and remain true to God, and we can’t remain true to God while redefining his words. So consequently, God is confined by His revelation to us in His holy Word by what He meant. God does not bless any sin for example, no matter how much our culture has embraced it. So for Him to not punish sin, or to be unjust, or to not exhort us to live righteously as He has determined righteousness, would be unloving.

Another side of this box, it might be said, is God’s law. God forbids creating for ourselves a God that is not. We are not given license to create another God under the guise of “all things are possible” with God. We are forbidden to create a god that is more to our liking, or to superimpose onto the one true God revealed to us in scripture any old thing that suits our fancy. In the great falling away that you will be living through, there is a tendency to subject God to the moral whims of our culture, and then to judge Him according to those whims, or to release Him from a supposed box so that He can make the claim that he has subjected Himself to those whims. To do so is severe hubris, and it’s dangerous.

In the final analysis, no matter what our ideas about God are, whether they’re heretical or not, they will always be confined by limitations. Someone might say, God would never send anyone to Hell. But to say such a thing is to put God in a box, on the outside of which is the possibility of Him doing just that. Or someone might say that there are many roads to God. That would be limiting God by not allowing that He has provided only one way.

So the real question is not whether or not we put God in a box, or even whether or not God exists in a box of sorts. The real question concerns our knowledge of God. We must continually ask, is what we think we know about God true? And how do we know if it’s true? We can look at the Pharisees as an example. What they thought was true about God wasn’t. We should look at their lives as an example of how not to be. But to not be like them doesn’t mean that we run into the ditch on the other side of the road. Truth is still truth, and any deviation from truth is a lie no matter how constrained or liberated it feels to us. So what to do?

I submit to you that we are all subject to God’s grace. If we are not deceived, it is only by His grace that we are not. The moment any of us thinks that we have an opportunity for boasting, we should fret. So ultimately, dear children, I’d say to you to not worry so much about whether you have put God in a box, but rather, if you must worry, worry about whether or not you’re in His box. With all of the deception that is now plaguing the Western Civilization in which you are steeped, I’d say that that’s plenty enough to worry about. And, also, I admonish you to pray dear children, as I pray for you and myself also. Pray that by His grace, you will walk a path lighted by His Word and that you will not stray to the left or to the right. Pray for revelation and a heart that can hear the truth, even when it hurts. And always keep in the forefront of your thinking that it is only by His grace that you will spend your lives free from deception.

Your father

Yes, Your Mother And Father Are Hypocrites… Sort Of

Dear Children,

The word hypocrite is thrown around a lot today; sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. Since words are the building material for our thinking, it’s a good thing to think about what they mean before we use them, and even after we use them, lest we discover that the building material for our thinking and communicating are faulty.

So why don’t we start with the definition of the word, “hypocrite”? To get to the root of the meaning we will look at the word hypocrisy. A quick google search defines it thus:

The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform;

Now I want you to think hard about this definition, but not in light of how other’s lives may be hypocritical, but rather how your own life is hypocritical. I want you to notice two important components in the definition. There’s the objective component, “the standard”, and then there’s the subjective component, “one’s own behavior”. So let’s start with an examination of these.

One method of escaping the charge of being a hypocrite involves the claim that there is no such thing as an objective standard by which all human beings ought to conform. This sounds easy enough on the surface, but life still forces the one who holds to this view into hypocrisy, because holding to the “truth” that there is no standard is in itself a standard. This view makes too many assumptions as it attempts to free the man for libertine freedom while holding humanity to the confines of a civil society. One can’t, on the one hand, for example, insist that there are no such things as objective moral standards, and then on the other leave their house in the morning and expect its contents to be there when they get back. According to their standardless standard, they have no right to impose the moral standard, thou shalt not steal, on their neighbor. But those who live according to this extreme do just that, and so qualify as hypocrites. They say there are no absolutes, then expect others to live as if there are.

But it gets worse. According to this standard of standardlessness, one can’t even make the charge of hypocrite without becoming one. If there is no objective standard that applies to all human beings, then it only follows that living a life of hypocrisy doesn’t fall short of any standard becasue standards don’t exist.

But we, your parents, don’t live that way. We do have a standard. And, we not only preach that standard, we have taught it to you as best we could. And I also realize all too well that where there is a standard, there is the opportunity for hypocrisy. What’s worse is that our standard includes a prohibition against hypocrisy. We have no problem with, “thou shalt not steal”, and we have no problem with, “hypocrisy is sinful”, even though we are guilty of both. So it would seem then–if we do not forego the trial of thinking–that no matter what happens hypocrisy is impossible to escape. As for me, I’d be inclined to agree with that suspicion except for one thing, and that’s the Gospel. But before we get into the Gospel, and its application to this topic, let’s explore the subjective and objective just a little further with a little story I made up.

A man robs a bank. The police show up and surround the building and the robber is trapped inside and so takes hostages and begins to make demands. During the standoff, he manages to kill seven hostages, one because he found out that he was gay, one becasue he could see that he was a foreigner, one because she was Muslim, one because he was black, one because she was a woman, and he hated women, one because he was poor, and he hated poor people, and one because he could see that he was a man wearing women’s clothes. He also raped two women, one of which he made pregnaunt and then forced her to have the baby. But alas, in a stroke of genius he manages to escape his predicament with over a million dollars that he didn’t even need becasue he was already very wealthy. He was just greedy and wanted more, plain and simple.

On the way home, after stealing another ten dollars from a homeless person, he stops by his extremly rich buddy’s store to buy a bottle of liquor and a hundred cartons of cigarettes to hand out to minors in his neighborhood. While there he noticed a young boy, who was obviously very poor, slipping a nickel-piece of gum into his pocket. When the boy attempted to leave with his stolen good, the robber alerted the store owner that the kid was shop lifting, and he lectured the kid that stealing was wrong.

So here’s my question to you, was what he said to the kid true or false? Was the kid stealing? Yes. Is stealing wrong? Yes. This story highlights the confusion that we can find ourselves in when our sins mix themselves up with each other. We find comfort in making counter accusations of being a hypocrite when anyone points out our sin. But you need to know two things. Your failure to hold to a standard does nothing to negate the existence of that standard, nor does it mean that you can’t point to that same standard and assert that we are all accountable to it.  And just because someone else has fallen short of it, the same is also true. It doesn’t mean that they can’t point to it as a standard that you ought to make every effort to live up to, even though they’re failing to live up to it themselves. To realize that there is a standard, and to pretend there isn’t because of the fear of being considered a hypocrite is a form of oppression. That oppression swings the door wide for anarchy and beckons it in. No one wants to live in that kind of Hell on earth. But unfortunately, that’s exactly where the culture in which you live is headed. No one can point to a standard because once anyone does the response is predictable. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”, you might hear. “Are you perfect? Then what gives you the right?”  None of these pay homage to the standard. They only ridicule anyone who suggests that its best for everyone if we all do our best to live up to it.

The Gospel does, however, impose itself into this situation, so let’s dissect it a bit. It has two components, the bad and the good news, that apply to our discussion of hypocrisy. The bad news is that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God is sinless. He is no hypocrite. He can and does point to His own standard, and holds all men accountable to it. In fact, all of humanity is under God’s judgment for falling short of His standard. But the good news is that He loved the world so much that he provided a way of escape from His justice. That escape is through Jesus’ righteousness and His atoning sacrifice. We, your parents, make no pretense of righteousness. We do admit, to ourselves, to God, and to our fellow man that we have fallen short, not of our own weak standard, or any standardless standard, but of God’s holy and righteous standard. We, at the same time, like the robber in the story, point to His standard as the standard by which all will be judged by God, even though we ourselves have fallen under that same judgment. We do realize that that looks a lot like hypocrisy to those who have not sought refuge from God’s judgment through Jesus. But we don’t point to ourselves as holding to the standard, only that there is a standard by which we are all held to account. And we call all men to repent, just as I, a man whom you’ve watched up close and personal live a sub-standard life, call you to repent also.

But it’s not like we repent and live a life of righteousness. No, we repent and then live a life of repentance. We sin, we repent, and we call all men to live repentantly also, and there’s no hypocrisy in doing that. And yet still, I don’t claim to not be a hypocrite. I only claim that to the extent that I am a hypocrite, it’s wrong and sinful, and I pray God will grant me the faith and grace to repent and change.

My dear children, there is much hypocrisy in this day; yes, very much indeed. And, yes, it’s in the Church too just as it’s in your own home. But there’s no less of this sin to be found in those who stand outside the Church and point their crooked little fingers at Jesus’ Bride and accuse it day and night of hypocrisy. They should take Jesus’ words seriously and remove the log from their own eye before they attempt to help the Church remove the speck from its eye. And in the same way, beloved, if you find yourself observing the same thing in me, I pray that you would do the same. It’s my prayer, in fact, that you, dear children, would live as unhypocritical a life as you can, and by doing so you will be able to perhaps help your own father remove the logs that blind him so much. My need is excessive, and nothing blesses me more than to have my own children rise up to help me defeat the formidable foe of hypocrisy that plagues me.

Your father

Muse Intentionally

Dear children,

I couldn’t decide between think and meditate in the header for this letter. But then I thought that muse kind of landed between them both, because as you know, to muse is to think, and to meditate is to think, and to think about things is to meditate, and so on.

When I was a new Christian I began to think about what my mind was up to. I know you’re very familiar with my command to you to think about what you think about, and so I wanted to expand on that a little and give you some pointers on how to meditate or muse intentionally.

First, realize that at no time are you not thinking about something. And also realize that it is possible to arrest your meandering mind and give it direction for periods of time. In fact, I think the more you do that, the longer you can do it, and the more natural the harnessing of your thoughts is, as you become accustomed to doing it. But I don’t know that for sure. It seems to be the case with me. when you’re in control of your thoughts, and you’re thinking about what you’re intending to think about, then I would call that meditation. Meditation is intentional thinking. We can see an example of this in Psalm 119 wherein over and over David extols meditation on God’s law. Right away in verse 4, for example, he tells us, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. you have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.”  At a glance, this might appear to mean that we should obey His precepts diligently. But I think it goes much deeper than that and involves meditation. We are to keep His precepts in our heart in the same way we would keep a treasure in a safe. And while we might lock a valuable thing away in order to protect it, keeping something in our heart is different. It is not locked away and protected until we need it. No, we keep something in our heart not by locking it away so much is by meditating on it and allowing it to infiltrate the whole of our life.  So by “keeping” his precepts, we put them in our hearts, and then we bring them up often and muse about them. We can see that 119 is not a Psalm about meandering thoughts. No, in this Psalm we see intentional thinking extolled.

Second, we meditate by memorizing scripture for a basis of meditation. One of my favorite analogies for meditation is the cow chewing its cud. The cow chews and swallows his food and later he regurgitates that same food and chews it again and again. To memorize scripture is to take food into our minds like eating it to take food into our stomachs. Later, when we’re driving, or waiting in a line, or accomplishing a mundane task, we pull that scripture to the forefront of our thoughts, we recite it and think about what it means. Some of my best times of meditation are while ironing clothes, for example. But remember, being able to recite a scripture to yourself is not meditating. No, to meditate involves inquiry, which brings me to my next point.

Third, to regurgitate scripture and chew on it involves asking yourself questions. If I asked you what scripture your father chews on perhaps more than any other, you probably would tell me “…for those who are according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the spirit, and those who are according to the flesh are according to the flesh“. So my meditating on this passage might look something like this:

Am I according to the flesh or according to the spirit? What about my decisions today? Were they according to the flesh or the spirit, and which ones were which?  Did I say that thing I said earlier because I wanted to impress my friends concerning my knowledge of the Bible?  I think perhaps I did. I wonder how much of what I do is based on pleasing and impressing man, and how much of it is based on pleasing God? I can see how I’m very much according to the flesh, even though from the outside I might appear spiritual. How important is it to me that I appear spiritual to others. What can I do to become more “according to the spirit”? Think differently? What were some of my thoughts then that lead up to my decision to impress? Could I have arrested them and not followed through? Is it possible to arrest such actions? Oh my LORD, please help me to be according to the spirit. Please show me how I am living in self-deception, and therefore am really living according to the flesh and thinking that I am according to the spirit.

Of course, this is a condensed version. And the more scripture you know the more your meditation can expand. For example in the meditation above, if I have it memorized, Romans 12:2 might come to mind:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, (and desire to impress others) but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

And all of this while ironing my shirts? Yes, and a lot of other things as well. There you are meditating on God’s Word, and “keeping it”  in the midst of life.  And keep in mind also that you’re not just limited to a specific word-for-word memorization, although I think that’s the best. Sometimes your meditations will lead you to other passages that you have a general memory of . And often your vague recollections will cause you to open your Bible and find that passage so that you can see if your general understanding is what it actually says. I have many times looked up passages and discovered treasures that I’d not noticed before. And many times this led to my desire to memorize those portions for further meditation.

And forth is the reward. Memorizing and meditating on scripture makes you hungry for more. There is no end to the questions that I have. And often is the case that I don’t have answers for those questions. And also often is the case that I can’t find answers in the Bible. But this is old news to me now. I’ve lived with unanswered questions only to have scripture eventually answer them. I’ve spent years on some questions, like questions concerning God’s law, and does it still apply to us. Or, what is a Biblical understanding of the word love? I am right now, as I write this, asking the question, what is faith? And I’m learning that I’m eaten up with faithlessness and also that faithlessness is a predominant problem in the Western Church. I’m amazed at how something so central to our “faith” can be so misunderstood, or passed over, or not even there.

So in conclusion, remember that it’s normal to have unanswered questions. Ignorance will be an ongoing fact of life for you and everyone you meet. The humble person realizes this, and so should you. No one has all the answers. But it’s also normal to get answers too. But, my main point here is that, in the end, meditation leads, not only to wisdom and understanding, but also more hunger for God’s Word as questions are satisfied in your heart with Biblical answers, and that that very hunger is a reward all its own as we begin to imbibe the reality that scripture is trustworthy, and good for instruction, and is food for our souls.

As your father, I pray that your life would be a life of meditation on God’s word as you read, memorize, study and meditate on it. It is a trustworthy lamp unto our unsteady feet and you are living in dark times and will be traversing a rough path.  Don’t stumble. Know his Word, and then build your life, including your thought life, on it, and it will keep you from many a snare.

Your father

 

If You Don’t Get Into The Pot You Won’t Get Cooked

Dear Children

I’ve told you of the analogy of the frog being cooked in the pot. The main point is that man can handle small changes that span generations, but he can’t handle large and sudden changes. It wasn’t that long ago that I can remember people shaking their heads and saying that “gay marriage” would never happen. Today it’s man’s law in this land and many of those who said it would never happen have embraced it. Why? Because they were living in the pot, not outside of it. Yes, they gave in to the zeitgeist, but they didn’t give in all at once, but little by little. So this brings us to a question that you need to understand the answer to. Do you live in the pot, and how does one live outside of it?

As always, the best way to answer such questions is to go to the scriptures which contain truth for all time, which is another way of saying that they contain the truths which have existed outside the pot for time immortal. And even though you will watch your friends and relatives have their religion boiled out of them time and again in the pot that is this world’s ways and thinking, if you remain in the truths of God’s Word you will be able to, yourself, hold onto your faith in your Lord and Savior.  You will see and understand things differently, and have confidence in what you know, and understand what you observe in this evil world.

Looking to the scriptures we see things like, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”  Jesus is giving us an analogy here comparing the one who is basing his worldview and life’s decisions on what the ever changing word of man says, and what the the non changing Word of God says. It’s easy to live in the pot. All you have to do is allow this world to program your thinking by uncritically accepting every message and premise it transmits to you in its music, its entertainment, its news media and its institutions of education. I can promise you that if you do that your opinions will drift from this to that, always aligning, as if magically, with what this world want’s you to think. The 2nd chapter of Hebrews also warns us  with this admonition: “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” God knows that man doesn’t change drastically. He drifts. He fades like a bright colored garment left in the sun. And all the while he is unaware, sure that he’s being steadfast until he begins to read his Bible and finds problems with what it says rather than allow it to find problems in his heart.

The purpose of the pot is to cook food.  Flesh is put into a pot and boiled to prepare it for consumption. In the same way, this world is in the business of preparing you for consumption. It does so by making you comfortable with ever more vile sins, until you have lost your bearings and have gotten to the point of not having the strength to resist the will of this world.

We also get insight on this in Ephesians chapter two: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience… carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  The Bible is crystal clear on this. Either we follow the “course of this world”, or “the wide path which leads to destruction”, or “mammon”, or “the way that seems right to a man but leads to death”, or, we follow Jesus, whom this world hates. Nothing unifies the world in a single cause like the name of Jesus. The world wars constantly with itself, for that is its way. But it will unify in its rebellion against God Almighty every time, because it lives in the pot. It is being prepared for destruction.

So in the end your life will be marked by war no matter which way you go. If you hop happily into the pot you will be at war with God. If you follow Jesus, you will be at war with your own flesh, this world and the prince of this world, Satan. The first will promise peace, peace, peace… always out there, always achievable some day, once you’ve gained enough understanding, acceptance, kindness, beauty, education, money, respect, possessions, security, power and love. It will ever be out there in the future as you rise every day to chase the sun.

Not so with following Jesus. To be reconciled with God is peace that surpasses this world’s understanding. To not owe the creator of the universe a debt that you can never repay is true peace. To not hate God because you are his debtor is peace this world cannot understand. To love God because he paid that debt is a love this world will not comprehend. It is this love that will give you the strength you will need to follow Him; to not only hear His words but to do them, and to endure the hardships that will surly be coming your way because of your life outside the pot.

As this world grows darker at an increasingly rapid rate, it will be ever more difficult for one to live in the cauldron while attempting to look like he is at peace with God. The days of living in lukewarmness are coming to an end. It will be difficult, and you will be sifted, as will I. I pray that your faith is true and sure, and that it will endure. I pray that God will remain faithful to you as you remain faithful to Him in His strength.  I pray that you will stand, and after you have done everything, that you will remain standing to the end, as I pray the same for your mother and myself.  God is able, this I know, to keep you.

Your father

The Joy And Value Of The Kingdom Of God

Dear children,

Jesus gives us two examples of what the kingdom of heaven is like in Matthew 13.  In one He says that it’s like a great treasure which is found by a man, and in the other he says it’s like a man who finds a great treasure.  In one of these instances there’s a sense that the treasure was found by accident, while in the other it seems that the man had been searching for something he knew existed, but didn’t know exactly what, nor where it was.  And that’s the way it goes.  Some people are not looking for Jesus, but they stumble over Him and find great joy.  Others search for a great thing and they discover Jesus.  The result is the same.

Notice how each of the men respond to their finds.  One of them has great joy over what he found, while the other values his new-found treasure.  I, your father, relate with the one who finds the great value.  I was searching for something, something that would make sense in this world which seemed to be descending into chaos around me.  Jesus became the treasure of treasures in my sight.  There was no turning back.

I think Jesus gave us these two examples–and he gave more–to help us, as brothers and sisters in Him, to understand each other better.  And while I am not without joy in Him, it is the value of the treasure in Him that appeals to me above all.  I find joy in knowing the truth.

But the truth can be harsh.  Reality, in fact, is harsh.  You are going to die.  Death will overtake you, and even though that seems like it is a million years away right now, it is much closer than you think.  This is reality, and all the diversions and fun you can muster up will only succeed in masking it.  This is depressing for many, and we don’t really like to think about it.  But I do, because it’s reality, and I want to live in reality.

 

When I was about seven I went to the front of the little Baptist Church and said the little prayer with the preacher. A little later I got baptised. I lived as a Christian for a few years after that, and had great joy. But as I got older everything changed; the world around me, my family, and even I myself changed. In time I began to fade away until I knew I was no Christian. I believed the lies of this world and I strove to have all this world had to offer. But when I got it, it didn’t deliver in happiness; only misery, hurt and pain.

I had become what I call a “flesh machine”. A flesh machine is someone who simply does everything their flesh tells them to do, to satisfy its immediate cravings. My entire life was centered on those cravings. It became the self-centered purpose for my existence. I could have said that, “I exist to please my fleshy desires, the lust of the flesh, the lust of my eyes and the pride of my life, and it would have been a true statement. But it’s a funny thing about your body as a “machine”, it only craves; it is never satisfied. It never has enough, and worse, it has no purpose to guide it as it is void of the Spirit. The scripture defines such a state as being “dead”.

But Jesus spoke of being born of “the Spirit”. He spoke of being born again. He spoke of picking up our cross and following him, which is a picture of killing the flesh and living according to the Spirit… which is life and peace.

Dear children, I gave myself over to the flesh for much of my young life, and in so doing wasted much of it living like a moron and being a fool. You have purpose dear children. You were created to bow before and worship your creator, and there is everlasting joy and rest in serving and submitting to your King and Master, Jesus, in His Kingdom. I have lived that truth out before you as best I can. And I pray that you would humble yourselves also before your creator, bow before Him and serve Him, and be wise, and not waste your life serving your flesh, which I can attest is a very cruel master.

Your father

The Centrality Of The Gospel

Dear children,

You will have ample opportunity to sit through many a teaching during your lives here in the western hemisphere.  You will hear teachers and salespeople go on about this and that and all the while you’ll be eagerly waiting for them to get to the main thing, that one thing that matters the most. And you’ll wonder why they’re taking such a long route around to get there.  I’m sure they have their reasons.  There’s lots of research that goes into how to hook someone into buying something long before that someone has any idea of the cost; which is generally that main thing that they’re taking the long way round to get to.

Well make no mistake my children that in this thing called Christianity, the Gospel is the main thing. And that fact will be underestimated by you and all you come in contact with for pretty much all of your life. Our problem as humans is that we have a hard time grasping the main elements of the Gospel. One of those elements is the depth of our despair; the totality of the wrath of an angry God, and the absoluteness of our wickedness in the hot light of God’s holiness. I am convinced that if we understood that one thing alone it would change everything. Indeed I hope you will spend a life time endeavoring to grasp it. The more you’re able to do that, the more you will find that your circumstances will not dictate your joy.

Another element is the cost of the Gospel. This is probably the most difficult to understand, and the fact that God’s holiness is woven into it makes it all the more difficult grasp. Jesus was holy. That, my children, is no small thing. He was perfect and righteous and in pure fellowship with the trinity, un marred by sin. And yet He took our sin on Himself. I’m sure that it’s beyond our human ability to grasp the cost involved when such holiness takes on sin in order to bring about this gift offered to man.

And another element is the love that was expressed for those who are His when He sent His son to die on the cross for sinners. If we understood the condition of the man that God paid such a high price to redeem, at that point when he paid the price to redeem it, we would be undone. We talk about love. But I’m sure that our words are rendered bankrupt in their attempts to express the totality of the Gospel. We were saved from God’s wrath, at a priceless price, into His love, by absolutely no merit of our own. There is simply nothing to compare to that. And in the same way that man seems to ever be discovering the secrets of the universe, I am convinced that His children will ever be discovering the awesome wonders of this thing call the Gospel; the “good news”. For indeed it was the best news any of us could have ever gotten.

I pray dear children that you would spend your lives digging ever deeper into the miracles of the Gospel, and that you would increasingly become undone by the magnificent, wondrous, awe-inspiring, boundless, transcendent beauty of Christ, and Him crucified.

Your father.

 

God’s Word, The Beacon Of Truth

Dear children,

The Bible is not a book suitable for fools, for it is the fool who approaches this work of works with the premise already set in his heart that the claimed author doesn’t exist. You must make up your mind about this your own self, but as you make up your mind, do so only after you’ve made up your mind about your own existence.

For one, you exist in time. One of the most profound passages in the Bible is God answering the question put to Him by Moses, “Who shall I say sent me”? The two words “I Am” was his answer, and this is our creator’s signature to His magnificent work. I was told of this passage before I read it, and it put me into an immediate state of awe and wonder. “I am” speaks of existence, but not only of existence, but an existence as it relates to time and space, or perhaps better put, to an existence from the perspective that is outside of both.

It is difficult to think outside of one’s own perspective. I am a westerner now living in the early twenty first century. My mind interprets all things from that perspective. And while I might manage to capture and confine a few of the influences bearing on me from the perspective of my 21st century western experience, I’m convinced that it is a hopeless endeavor to escape the myriad influences sufficiently to evaluate myself and my world from any other perspective. I can never say, “I am”. I can only say that “I am here and now”. Indeed my own history as late as yesterday is already fading from my grasp, and tomorrow is completely unknown.

Yet still, I am aware of a history that preceded even my own existence, but even the study of that is limited by my perspective and made more hazy by the perspectives of those who witnessed it and played their part in conducting it to the present. It is clear to me that man can never “be” in the same sense that the “I am” is. Man is a blind fool wandering around in the annuls of time, seeing his own short history of existence in the light of a dim flickering lamp that creates long shadows which hide truths. And he is completely blind as it regards his future. He is led about by a ring in his nose, that ring being his fleshy desires.

As a result of such contemplations of “time” you will inevitably be led to your origins. On this matter the Bible and your culture are not compatible. Pay no mind to anyone who attempts to reconcile evolution and scripture. If it be concluded for you that your existence is the result of evolution, then reject God and accept the consequences of that faith. But if it be concluded in your heart that the faith required to be an evolutionist is beyond your ability to reason, then reject it. Your father lacks the required faith to believe the tenets of evolution. It is an easier task for this feeble mind to see the “I Am” as the author of man’s existence, and so by extension your father’s existence. Still, I understand those who put their faith in a system of knowledge that denies the a coming day of judgement wherein an account will be required. Man generally prefers to see the world as he wishes it to be rather than how it really is. But know this, in the whole of it reality dangles precariously for any of us on the tiny thread of that portion of the total of truth which we hold to be true.

On the second matter, you exist in space. That is to say that you exist on a slab of land on a planet in a gravitational relationship with two heavenly bodies, all three of which are spinning and churning through the cold nothingness we call space. But more importantly than this, you exist in another sort of place that is multifaceted. You live in a family, a community, a region, a culture and a nation. And just as well, if you are in Christ, and He is in you, you live within a global community of believers who together make up the body of Christ. It is these facets that exert themselves onto your existence. They pull and push you this way and that. In fact the Bible calls it being “blown this way and that by every wind of doctrine.” Without some sort of stabilizing force in your life you will have no recourse but to look inwardly for direction, and in so doing subjecting yourself to feelings and the prevailing thought patterns in which you find yourself emmersed.

God’s word is the only answer for such chronological and spatial disorientation. It is a beacon on the horizon by which you can fix your position in time and space according to the great “I Am”. You will not be lost, your direction and purpose will be sure, and you will endure the course set before you, which, though not beaten, certainly not untrodden by former witnesses either.

I pray that God’s Word would become a lamp unto your feet, a beacon of hope, and a comfort in your trials.  I pray that you would hear and trust the promises of God and that you would set your face like flint in the direction that God has marked for you to go. I pray that you would not falter, that you would rise up as a mighty warrior in Christ’s army, and that where I have failed and fallen, you will succeed. May you in the end hear those blessed words, “Well done my good and faithful servant”. I desire nothing for you more than this.

Your father.

Forsaking The Body

Dear children,

A couple of years before you were born your mother and I happened to follow a minivan into a grocery store parking lot.  The words “Praise The Lord” were splayed in large letters across the back window accompanied by various Christian symbols and stickers here and there. So we were both excited to speak to the lady who was driving.  It wasn’t long before your mom asked her where she fellowshipped.  The lady responded in the strangest way.  With noticeable disappointment, she said, “Oh.  So yall are still doing that?”

Well, the “that” she was referring to was the act of attending church. And yes, we still were doing it, and still are.

Since that time I’ve seen quite a bit of this sort of thing among professing believers, and I think they are in error. You can’t leave the Church and still be the Church.  My hand in the other room does me no good.  It must be attached to my body to be of any use.  Besides, it needs my heart to keep revitalizing blood pumping through it whether I’m using it or not. Without that blood, it would simply rot. And when I see attempts by some to remove their gifts from service to the Body, it perhaps rightly seems a little rotten to me.

In contrast, I can also remember visiting a little Baptist church in Georgia on a Thursday evening not long after surrendering my life to Jesus. They were assembling to go out visiting people, sharing the Gospel and knocking on doors. While I was there I can remember speaking to an older gentleman who said he’d been a part of that congregation for 40 years. I now know with all confidence that that man had been through a lot with that little fellowship of believers for the same reason I knew he’d been through a lot with his blood kin; because in the end there’s really very little difference. It’s because that’s how long-term relationships are. It’s just reality.

I’ll never forget either of these two people. They both, little did they know, left a lasting impression on me.  I would rather be the latter than the former, and I’d rather you be as well. So let’s discuss a few things to be on the lookout for and to expect when it comes to the fellowship of the brethren.  I’ll discuss some things I’ve seen and perhaps some things to look for as you guard your relationships with your church family.

The Parachurch Ministry

Church is hard work, especially for the pastor.  Don’t ever forget that. Preaching on Sunday morning is but a fraction of his job, and probably the easiest and most rewarding part. For the rest of the week he’s holding together a congregation of sinners who all have their hobby horses to ride, axes to grind, pet doctrines to push, scandals, pregnant daughters, wayward sons, men and women abandoning their families, drug, alcohol and money issues, illnesses, deaths, births and lots more I’m sure. And if that’s not enough there are building issues, money woes, payroll and state bureaucracies to contend with.  But sure enough, on Sunday morning there are three or four hundred ears gathered to hear a message.

But there are some who see a congregation as a ready-made audience, just waiting to hear their important messages; and who knows, there might even be a little cash in it; you know, to “support the ministry”.  And without any of the work it takes to manage the storm that is the week in a pastor’s life, or without shedding any of the tears through the night with any of the congregants, and bearing any of the burdens of the flock, there they are, desiring access to this flock… through the back door so to speak.

“Para” means beside, and as such parachurch is an apt description of these ministries. They are headed up by folks who are walking alongside the Church. And while some of these ministries are worth their salt, perhaps most even, some are nothing more than parasites. They exist off the hard work of other people. They are not themselves in a church, but rather can be best described as functioning beside the Church. They bounce here and there, never really being part of a local Body, not really being accountable to anyone, but always kind of… nearby, feeding, if you will, off of the true Body. Beware of these. Approach them or participate with them with extreme caution. God is preparing a Bride for His Son, and I am confident that there won’t be any “best men” to stand “beside” that bride at the great wedding.

House Churches

House Churches have always had a special appeal to me, and I don’t think there’s any question that these churches were the norm in the early Church. And I see no scriptural basis to make the case against the “house church” today if it’s really a church; which is to say that if it’s living out the biblical mandate of coming together as a body of believers and functioning as the Body of Christ. I would be the last to say that house churches are of the Devil. But like anything else, beware. It might well be that there has been so much division and inability to get along with the rest of the body that a very small group has retreated into a living room somewhere and are finally able to be of one accord with one or two other families; until, that is, it all explodes. A good house Church will probably outgrow the house at some point, so it will probably either go very well there, or very wrong, but for sure it’s going to go somewhere. If you find yourself in a house church, make sure there is love for Christ’s Body found in it, and not just criticism of it. Make sure that there’s love of Christ there, and not just love of His doctrine. And make sure that the Word is preached, and there is communion. In other words, just as I said, make sure that it functions like any other healthy Body, or at least as healthy as any Body can be expected to be.

Loaners and Hyper Spiritualists

In my judgment, this probably describes the lady we met in the parking lot, though in our short encounter I can’t be certain. Nevertheless, we need to understand the truth about who we are as human beings so that we might ward off some of the setbacks that come with being such beings. One truth is that it’s in our very nature to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.  In addition, and just as importantly, we tend to see our own failures in a more favorable light than we do the failures of others. These two truths work together for the detriment of the Church.

It has been my experience that I tend to judge myself more according to my intentions and desires than my actions. At the same time, I tend to judge those around me according to their actions. Such tendencies can easily lead to spiritual snobbery, and indeed it has with me. But it’s far more complicated than just that. I’ve given to you only a couple of factors. There are more. So let me add another. We all, being just one part of Jesus’ Body, naturally see and experience things differently. So we can tend to hold everyone else to standards that we like, because of the gifts God has given us, while at the same time giving ourselves a pass on other important things. And sometimes when the rest of our congregation doesn’t snap-to in a way that we think they ought, why we up and leave because who wants to “worship” with a bunch of spiritual failures who aren’t serious about God?

I also think that some of our negative mentalities toward the church might be rooted in our tendency to think of the congregation in a general sense.  This “sense” might be derived from our negative experiences and judgments concerning individuals which our minds eventually conflate to a general representation of the entire local Body. Having developed that picture we then wrongly apply it to everyone individually, and at the same time, no one in particular.

If you work at thinking of your brothers and sisters as individuals, not as “the Church” in general, you may be able to ward off such a deceptive and destructive mentality. Still, I think we are all prone to such thinking, especially when we’re walking along the spiritual peaks; probably not so much while we’re in the valleys.  It’s actually much easier to get on our high horse then and to not think in terms of fellow individuals and their struggles.  But when we do think of the Body as individuals, then that might just lead us to think of ourselves in context also, which, as difficult as it is, is an excellent start down the road of considering our own failings.  Ultimately, loaners and hyper spiritualists, I think, have a difficult time of differentiating between their desires for the Church, and the many individual realities that those who make that church up are going through.  And then they have difficulty being a part of something that they see as lacking, or committing to a thing in which they are not the beginning and the end of. (See Parachurch) Many of these will transition through the next group before vacating the visible church.

Church hoppers

I’ve done no research on this.  I can’t say whether “church hopping” has ever been as prevalent as it is now, but I don’t think it has. Church is in many ways like marriage. A friend told me before I married your mom to keep both eyes wide open before the wedding, and afterward to close one. A prospective local body should be approached in the same way before you sign on with it.  And once you do, I promise you that you will find plenty of reasons to keep that one eye closed.  But your church is also like your wife or husband in that you don’t just up and leave because of a few problems.  It really is a part of your larger family, and even more so if your blood relatives are not believers.

Think of your own family. Think of our worst times, or maybe one of our worst days as a family. They were really bad weren’t they? And you know when I say really bad, I mean really bad. But did anyone throw up their hands and go join another family down the street, as if that family had it all together? Of course not. That would be unrealistic. I can tell you now that you will get angry with your brothers and sisters in Christ. So there, I’ve told you. So don’t be all shocked and surprised when it happens. Bad things are going to happen in all families and they’re going to happen in all churches. It’s just the nature of family. If you up and leave too quickly I believe you will find one of two things will happen. Either you will church hop until you discover that the whole idea of “church” is futile, then become a loaner. Or you will mature, settle down, and learn to navigate the bumps, twists, and turns of family life. My experience has been that I’ve had horrible experiences in our church, and I’ve been the horrible experience for others. I even think that I might just have been the horrible experience more often than I had horrible experiences with others.

We’ve been with our current church for 18 years, and in those 18 years I’ve seen a lot, and not all of it was good. But God is not shocked or surprised. In fact, the whole thing is His doing. He created it. We are all rubbing against each other and being formed into building stones that actually fit quite well together, which is biblical. It is actually a living out of Roman’s 5, where Paul tells us that we, “...glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” We are also told by James to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds because it brings about maturity. There’s no indication that these trials and tribulations are found only outside of your church body. No, they’re on the inside too. We are learning to love and forgive as we grow in grace together, and that’s something you just can’t get as a church hopper.

Conclusion

Now, with all this said, please don’t think I’m telling you to never leave a church. I would not ever tell anyone in an age such as ours, during a great falling away, when churches are abandoning the Truth of God’s Word in droves, to stay in a church come whatever. But it’s also not as easy as it may seem. Church leadership can ride the ragged edge of apostasy and you may find it difficult to know for sure if it’s time to abandon that local body in favor of a more solid and healthy fellowship. Add to this the relationships you will have formed over the years in your church, and it becomes even more difficult to make these decisions; because if you’re doing church right, you will be leaving deep relationships behind.  Much prayer, counsel, and discernment will be required. Still, I’m confident that the American church would be much healthier today if more Christians would take their commitment to their church seriously, and would not abandon their local bodies so readily.

But I can tell you with all confidence to never abandon God’s Church altogether. We are meant to be in fellowship with our brothers and sisters. And just so you know, sitting through sermons once a week doesn’t qualify as fellowship. We refer to our brothers and sisters in Christ as brother and sister for a reason. We are family. And that family is not so different than the one with which you share your home. There is anger, flare-ups, grudges, unforgiveness, moodiness, and failures of every sort. But there is also happiness, restoration, forgiveness, joy, laughter, celebration, and relationship. You get the whole gamut with both your family at home and at Church. So we don’t cut and run from our family, and we don’t cut and run from our fellowship in unhappy times. That’s just how it goes.

So dear children I pray that you will have discernment in your relationship with your local fellowship. It actually is a beautiful thing, and God will use it to mature and complete you as He uses you to do the same for others. Church is God’s doing. Don’t ever think you’re too good for it, of not good enough. I pray that your relationship with your local body will be rich and rewarding.

Your father.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” Says The Teacher. “Utterly Meaningless! Everything Is Meaningless.”

Dear children,

There was a popular bumper sticker for a while that said, “excrement happens”.   Of course, it used a much more colorful word than “excrement”, but I hope you get the drift.  It conveyed the notion that life comes at us by random chance, and that some of that random chance is not so good, and it just “happens” without any reason or purpose.   That sticker reveals a worldview that is inconsistent with the view that I hope you adopt in your short lives.

We know that things do happen to everyone in life.  So when things happen to you, the question you will need to ask is, how will I respond?  And how you respond will depend on your basic philosophy of life which will revolve around a sense of purpose.  The temporariness of our lives attempts to steal purpose.  If this life you are living right now, residing your bodies is eternal, then that changes everything.  But your body will die, and so these few hours, days and years you spend occupying it will be spent by you like so much money in your pocket; and then it will be gone.

Some will spend all of their “money” (time) in the futility of simply reacting to circumstances.  Every decision they make in life will be in reaction to external forces guided by internal desires.  For others, their purpose will be to experience thrills, sex, and adventures. And still, for others, it be spent to start and sustain a career, get married, buy a house and raise a family.  But in the end, all of these endeavors have one thing in common.  They all end in death.  All will have spent their “money”, and it will all be then be spent.

But I pray that you will embrace the only purpose that makes sense of it all.  I pray that purpose would undergird whatever kind of life you live. You must understand that the only way you can grasp this is to know that you are not merely flesh but instead that you are flesh and spirit.  While your bodies will be wasting away, you can know that inwardly you will be being renewed day by day in your spirit.  Your eyes will not be fixed on what is seen but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.  Your purpose will not be to breathe air and obey the whims of your flesh, but rather your purpose will be to do the work which God has prepared in advance for you to do.  Your goal and purpose will not be to simply enjoy life but rather to hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant” in the everlasting.

As I enter the autumn of my life I understand the book of Ecclesiastes more and more which says that life is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  And no matter what path you choose, you can know that as the end draws near it will all be meaningless unless you have grabbed onto the eternal purpose that can only be found in Jesus the Christ.

I pray that at an early age you will commit to doing just that, grabbing onto Jesus with all of your might.  I pray that you will be able to defend the few hours that have been allotted you from the attack of meaninglessness that comes in the form of promises to the flesh.  I pray that as your life comes to an end you will be able to say, “I served my Lord” as you ready yourself to meet Him, and not, “I had a lot of ultimately meaningless fun”.   May our Lord grant you the ability to serve Him with steady devotion.  Amen

Your father

Read:

Eclesiastes 1

Ephesians 2

2 Corinthians 4

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