Dear Children

Letters From A Father's Heart

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

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

 

Advertisements

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

*Be An Encourager

Dear children

When I was about fifteen or so, a friend called me on the phone while another friend listened in to our conversation. He brought up the friend who was listening and I had a lot of negative things to say about him. A little later the friend who was listening in called doing the same thing.  I’ll never forget that.  But worse, even though life went on with these guys, that is to say, their knowledge of how I talked about them in their absence didn’t seem to phase them.  Nothing changed, as far as I could tell, between us.  I’m not sure whether that would have been the case had the tables been turned.  That’s because they were better people than I was.  I wish I’d known that then.  The Bible tells us to let nothing be done through strife or vainglory but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.  (Phil 2:3)  This is not a command for church life, but a command for life in general, and you would do well to make every effort to live it out even though it goes against your sinful nature.

When I was young, and even when I was much older you see, I was like a black hole.  My entire worth, life’s meaning, and all my effort in life revolved around the gaining of praise and appreciation from my fellow man.  That was a sad state. But worse, it was a one-way street.  I never praised another for their accomplishment. I only sought it. It simply never occurred to me that others might have had, to some degree, the same need or desire. And even if I had seen some reason to praise someone else, I wouldn’t have.  I saw the success or unique abilities of others as a threat to my own place in this world, and the last thing I would have done would be to encourage anyone. I actually found it to be strangely comforting to hear negative things about other people in general, and my friends in particular. Everything in life, you see, was on a scale.  And so it was my mission to bring everyone down to my level.  I can tell you, dear children, that a mentality like that will bring you pain and hardship, and worse, it will bring those around you pain and hardship too.  Not only will you not ever really like yourself that much, you won’t be able to like anyone else either.  And it will cut you off from some of the most valuable life’s lessons that you could ever learn in being a decent human being.  But worse than that, it will cut you off from learning how to love and be loved.

I somehow reasoned then that if I was better at everything, or could hide it when I wasn’t, then I would be more liked by others. I would have worth. It was of course nonsense, yet I believed it.  I had no one to help me work through these deficiencies in life skills.  I didn’t even actually know I had any deficiencies, and I’m sure if I had known I would have worked tirelessly to hide them.  Looking back, however, I now realize that they were like neon signs to the world around me.  So if I have anything to do with it, you will not suffer the pain and sorrow that I did because of this warped view of yourself among the people of this world, and reality.  So here are a few pointers:

First, you have your own gifts and strengths that were given to you from God.  As life goes on it will become ever more clear what your particular strengths and abilities are.  And God didn’t put those gifts in you just for your own benefit, but also for the benefit of others.  People around you need what God has given you.  As you discover these gifts, it’s up to you to develop them.  It’s also up to you to redeem them so that they will be put to use in God’s kingdom and not Satan’s.

Second, others will have similar gifts as you, and some will be better at exercising them than you will be while others will not.  That’s a fact of life.  If you have a gift in music, and you decide to exercise that gift on the piano, know that there will always be a better piano player out there somewhere.  Let that person inspire you.  He is not a threat.  If that person happens to be your friend, then esteem him as the better player.  Be delighted in your heart for your friend when he excels.  You do have control over such things.  It’s fine to be challenged by your friend to be better yourself, for the purpose of developing your gift.  Avoid pride and competition with your friend for vainity’s sake. Such will not work righteousness in your heart, and it will not develop the depth of your friendship.

When I was young I raced motorcycles.  On one particular day, a friend of mine was in first place and I was in second and he fell.  But he was far enough in front of me that he had time to almost get up and get going again before I could pass him.  So when I approached him I didn’t go around him like I should have, rather I purposely ran into him in order to knock him back down.  I couldn’t have my friend, of all people, beating me in a race. That’s the kind of guy I was. I should have been happy for him to win fairly.

Third, help your friends discover and develop their God-given gifts.  Look for people’s strengths and point them out.  Build them up at every opportunity.  Help them in their weaknesses too.  But train yourself in sincerity.  Flattery is ugly and it has no place in you.  Always check your motivations in everything you do. Never lie to a person about their abilities in order to gain their favor. It’s my hope that you’ll have enough confidence in yourself, and your own gifts, to not seek or need to use such trickery to get someone else to approve of you.

Fourth, not everyone is going to be your best friend forever.  I can even guarantee you that there will be some out there who might not like you that much, even though they don’t really even have a good reason.  They may not even know themselves why.  And you might feel the same way about someone else too.  This is life.  Accept it without malice.  Decide to love that person anyway doing nothing in retribution for a feeling they may have about you that they cannot even help themselves.  You will not win everyone you meet as a true friend and that’s fine.  That’s just the way it is.

Fifth, and mostly, encourage all at every opportunity.  Some are gifted by God as encouragers.  For others it takes work and we never get that good at it.  But nevertheless, be on the lookout for things to encourage others about.  And remember, do it with sincerity. Not only does everyone like being encouraged, they need it, just as you do.  Expect nothing in return for your encouragement.  I’m sure that there are others out there like me who couldn’t give an encouraging word if their life depended on it.  They need it more than anyone else I think.

Finally, beyond God, people are everything.  They, like you, bear God’s image.  Your relationship with people will be a big determiner of whether or not you will live in joy.  Boasting and showcasing your gifts, which God gave you, will not bring you joy, only pride masquerading as joy.  Be joyful when you see what God has given to someone else, or what God is doing in another’s life.  Be satisfied with what God has given you.  Life is very momentary.  The pride of life and the lust of the flesh lie to us.  They promise a joy that never comes.  They are like the thirsty man drinking saltwater.  It only makes him want more until it kills him.

I pray that you, dear children, will be humble of heart.  I pray that you would work hard at developing the gifts that God has given you, and that you will be generous with your gifts, and most of all that you would be generous at building others up.

Your father.

 

I Have Food That You Know Nothing About

Dear children,

In John chapter four there is the account known as Jesus talking to “the woman at the well”. The part of the story that I like is when Jesus’ disciples return from their food-buying expedition into town. It seems that lots of things are going on around Jesus, and His disciples are worried about Him nourishing his body. But he replied to them in a tiniest of parables. He said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”   But the disciples didn’t hear a “parable”.  They heard a stated fact.  So Jesus explained, My food,” said Jesus, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 

In your christian lives you will have ample opportunity to work on one project or another with your church. And you can have a great time with your church family in these outreaches or whatever.  But there will be those times when you do something, almost on a whim, and it turns out to be amazing and satisfying.  You will realize that you have just been involved in a sort of miracle, something that cannot be attributed to mere happenstance.  Here’s one of the few examples in my own life.

Many years ago, on a warm summer’s afternoon I was driving from Nashville to Chattanooga.  Just out of Nashville I saw a man hitchhiking.  Without much thought I made the decision, just as I was passing him by, to pick him up. As he approached the car I got a better look at him, and realized that he was quite scary looking.  For just a moment I contemplated peeling out of there before he could get in.  But I didn’t.

He was quiet as we drove along.  His head was almost shaved, and he had lots of scars and tattoos.  He said he that he had just got out of prison and was trying to get to Florida.  When I asked him what he was in prison for, he dryly answered, “murder” as he stared emotionless out the front window.

As we drove his eyes began to grow heavy as he fought off sleep.  I told him he could recline his seat if he wanted, but he would not allow himself that kind of vulnerability with a stranger, and I understood that.  So I was quiet.

Wanting to witness to him in some way, and being a little afraid myself, I decided to plug in a praise and worship cassette.  I thought that might at least put him at some ease in his weariness.  As we drove I began to get an inkling that I ought to buy this man some food. And so an internal argument ensued  in my thoughts about the matter.  All I had on me, you see, was a credit card, and I didn’t want him to know that I had it.  After all, I was already thinking about my plan if it turned out that he wanted to commandeer my  car in Chattanooga.  So I put the matter to rest, I would not be stopping, or so I thought.

Somewhere in rural Tennessee between Nashville and Chattanooga, on a Sunday afternoon, where businesses were scarce, most being closed for Sunday and with soft worshipful music and the lullaby of the road singing their sleepy songs to both of us, a sudden loud and continuous noise and vibration started us from our daze.  I entered the emergency lane and learned that though it was still holding air, the tire had come apart.

It so happened that we were right at an exit off the freeway, so I followed the ramp i[ tp the stop sign as I contemplated a tire change.  But as I came to a stop I saw two things that changed everything.  An open tire store, and right across the street a Golden Corral.  As far as I can remember, those were the only two businesses open.  This was a rural stretch of I-24.  It was over 20 years ago, it was on a little two lane road that happen to intersect the freeway, and there weren’t lots of businesses around.  Just these two as far as I can remember.  But what is important is the fact that I then realized that God wanted this man fed, and He was going to feed him, and I was going to be the one who did it.  That was impeccably clear to me as I rolled to a stop.

The whole experience became a wonderful one.  It is an experience that I think only a Christian can appreciate.  It was the maker of the heavens and the earth, the creator of all things, deigning to use me in his work.  I can tell you that there’s nothing like it in this entire world.  I took my car into the tire shop and told them to replace the two rear tires then I offered the hungry soul with me an all you can eat feast.  It was a special treat to watch that man eat, and to see the excitement in his eyes.

But I too was fed in more ways than a physical meal for my physical body.  I was fed by doing God’s will and his work.  And when we are fed in that way, it is better than the best of the best in gourmet feasts.  Most of us, I’m convinced, have very few opportunities like this to actually see God’s hand move.  But I am also convinced that it need not be quite so rare.  That day, I missed a golden opportunity.  Today I would have no problem to almost immediately strike up a conversation concerning the Gospel.  Then, as a new Christian I was afraid.  I don’t know why.  As I’ve introduced the Gospel to more and more hurting people it has gotten much easier to do.

That day was a blessing to me more than it was to that poor man.  He didn’t hear of God’s redeeming love from me that day, as he should have.  But I caught a glimpse of God’s sovereign hand at the price of two tires and two meals.  I have learned since then to reject, outright, the notion that the Gospel is preached without words.  There are many many organizations and people who expend themselves in alleviating human suffering.  But that’s all they do.  Preaching the Gospel is the only hope that the cause of that suffering, which is man’s unredeemed heart, will be dealt with.  Jesus said that fixing up the outside of a man was nothing more than whitewashing a tomb full of dead men’s bones.  Jesus deals with the heart through the Good News of reconciling man with God.

I pray for you therefore, dear children, as you walk through this life that you will feast on doing the will of him who sent you and finishing his work.  The field is indeed white for the harvest, so I pray that you will go forth, and reap a barnful of food that you will find eternally satisfying.

Your father

Believers believe And Skeptics Are Skeptical. That’s What They Do.

Dear children,

I must tell you that many times in my Christian walk my faith has been shaken.  And, I’ve learned a few things in the process that I’d like to pass along.

First, remember that your faith is faith.  We do not have faith in what we can see but what we can’t see.  If we could see God in the same sense that we can see the sun, we wouldn’t need faith, we’d just look up and there He would be.  But while we must have faith that God exists, it isn’t a blind faith, or a faith that we have in spite of evidence to the contrary.  No, there are millions of reasons to have faith in God based on lots of evidence and sound arguments.  But, as the scriptures point out, all the reasons in the world are not enough if God does not grant us the gift of faith.  As His enemies, man will look for any reason to reject Him, reasonable or not.

I make this point so that you will do everything in your power to keep your faith.  There will be times when it will be weak, or even seemingly non-existent.  It is then that you need to contend for it.  You must fight.

It’s much easier to be a sceptic and simply look for a way to pick everyone else’s world apart while at the same time having faith that there is no truth in your own world.  The sceptic doesn’t have to bother with making his beliefs consistent.  He can attack Christians for believing that there is absolute truth on one day, then accuse them of lying on another day.  He can talk about how important it is that all be well educated in one breath and then in another insist that life is ultimately meaningless.  He can decry that children are unhealthy while doing everything in his power to make sure their slaughter is legal.  He is a sceptic.  His basis is not have to have a worldview or belief.  His basis is that there is no basis, and on that basis he seeks simply to question and destroy the basis of other’s.

You will know this person when you meet him.  He has questions, but he doesn’t want answers.  His questions are not based in a search for answers, indeed he doesn’t even believe there are any.  Rather his questions are nothing more than darts aimed at your faith.  He doesn’t offer anything in replacement of your faith, he simply doesn’t want you to have faith, and for good reason.

The Bible says that you–if you are in Christ–are the light of the world and that light exposes evil deeds.  All humans know deep down that there is a God, and they know that they are sinners.  So they spend their lives suppressing that truth in order to anesthetize themselves against their ultimate destiny.  If they can snuff out your light, it will sooth their inner souls concerning that eternal destinies.  They will be tireless in their efforts to reinforce the lies that they have bought into in order to serve their sinful flesh and its desires.

But peace with God is worth more than any temporary and shallow experience that your flesh promises to offer.  It is not temporary.  It cannot be stolen.  It’s not based on your own abilities to earn it.  It’s not based on your beauty, intellect or riches, all of which are fleeting.  It will be with you in good times and bad and to the end of your days.  It will allow you to look back at your life and say, it is well.

Dear children, I so desire that you will find the pearl of great price; the joy found in peace with God.  To be cynical, angry and bitter, and at war with God is the easy road.  Just follow your heart.  It’s downhill all the way.  But to follow God will bring you Joy and peace, which I pray that you will wear like a garment throughout your lives.

Your father

God’s Love Is Not Like Man’s Love

Dear children,

I confess my shortcomings.  I have the common deficiency of man in that I am not qualified to discuss God’s love, for who can know it?  It would be a worthy life’s goal in fact for you to actually search out the depth of His love in hope that you might understand a sliver of it.  If you do that much, you will have exceeded your father.  Still, there are a few things concerning God’s love that I do feel qualified to address which mainly concern what God’s love is not.

We humans think we understand a few things about love.  But what we understand more than anything is our love of self.  For example, consider Elvis Presley’s hit song, “Love Me Tender”.

Love me tender,
love me sweet,
never let me go.
You have made my life complete,
and I love you so.

It’s a pretty little song; moving in fact.  And we can understand that there is an affection and attraction that occurs between a man and a woman, and that these attractions hold a special place in our hearts.  But even in this kind of love, when our emotions and chemistry threaten to whisk us away, much of what we experience is the love of self.

We can kind of gather this from the writer’s lyrics.  We can pick up on his obvious fixation on himself by asking a few questions like, What if she didn’t return his love with sweet and tender love?  What if she actually couldn’t complete his life?  What if she wasn’t pleasing to his eyes?  In fact, what if she did everything she could to resist his love and demonstrate to him every chance she got that she hated him?  Would he still love her? Probably not, because any man would love himself too much to put up with a response like that.  There’s no return in it.  Men and women are more in the habit of abandoning the one whom they once “loved” than they are in loving the unlovable.  But people don’t abandon those they love as much as they abandon the people who can no longer please the one person they love more than anything else in the world, themselves.

It’s probably as difficult for us to grasp who we are in Christ as it is to grasp who we are without Him.  We look at ourselves and cannot see the abhorrence of our sin, and our filthiness before a holy and righteous God.  In fact, in our sinful condition, we reject the very notion that we are abhorrent.  But in doing so we miss the love of God.  It is not fascinating for, say Ken, to pursue the beautiful Barbie and the paradise that would seem to come with conquering her.  That is the natural and normal way.  But what if Ken didn’t pursue Barbie, but instead pursued the dirtiest and ugliest woman he could find, one who not only hated him, but cheated on him every chance she got?  What would be “beautiful” about that love?  The answer, much! even if man doesn’t have the eyes to see it.

Now consider if Ken was a rich king, and he transforms this wretched woman into a radiant bride at the cost of his very own life?  By seeing it this way a different beauty begins to emerge.  It’s not like the handsome prince who pursues and eventually wins the beautiful bride.  He pursues and wins the worst among us, and then redeems them.  It is at that point also that we can begin to see that the more wretched the woman, the more beautiful His ultimate love turns out to be.  So in the future, when you read, “while we were yet sinners”, keep this in mind.  It is, to your father, five of the most beautiful and loving words in the entire Bible.

A formidable barrier to grasping God’s love is our love for our self which makes us see ourselves more highly than we ought to.  We see ourselves as deserving the love of God.  But we do not.  So I say this in the most loving way I know how,  God does not love you because you are special, or because you deserve it.  There simply isn’t anything in scripture that would suggest that he does.  If you were special enough to deserve God’s love, then you would have every reason to boast.  But the scriptures are clear, no man has a reason to boast.

So why does God love any of us?  I have no idea.  All I know is that I was a picture of the wretched woman who hated and despised Him, and He loved me.  We can also ask, why did God love Jacob and hate Esau?  But it would be a futile question.  Pray that God would show you His love.  Once you understand it you will begin to see, I think, that God’s love is not quite so cheap as to be earnable by any man.

This brings us to another point that’s difficult to talk about in this day.  God does not love everyone unconditionally.  You will hear this said a lot, but it is not true.  It is true that there is no condition by which we can earn His love.  And we might can say that God loves everyone in some sense.  He sends rain on the righteous and the wicked alike for example.  But to say that God loves everyone unconditionally cannot be found in scripture.  The real question that you need to settle is this one, does God love you?  And the only way you can answer yes is if you are in Christ, and Christ is in you.  Because God loves His Son.

So it is through the Cross that God loves us and this is blatant throughout scripture.  So I have an assignment for you.  When you read of God’s love in the New Testament, I want you to look for the cross nearby.  We can see it, for example, in John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world...”, OK there’s God’s love, and next comes the cross, “…that he gave His only Son…”  You will find that there are very few exceptions in the New Testament in which God’s love for man is pronounced without the cross being right there.  So to understand God’s love, we must ourselves not stray from the cross.

My dear children, to broach the subject of God’s love is a difficult thing to attempt while keeping this letter within the confines I have set for myself.  There is no end to such a discussion, indeed through the ages it has been a paramount topic.  Jonathan Edwards is attributed to be God’s spark that kindled a great awakening a couple of hundred of years ago.  The sermon he preached was entitled, “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God”.  That is a foreign concept today, but not to God.  It is in such a sermon, and its elements, that someone discovers the extent of the true love of God.

So, dear children, if you ever doubt that God loves you, pray.  Pray that He would love you.  Ask Him to show you His love.  Ask Him to manifest his love in you by transforming you into the likeness of His Son, and the radiant bride of His Son.  Ask him that His love would kindle a love within your own soul for your Savior and others.  I and your mother will be praying for you both also.

Your father

Post Navigation