Monday, November 22, 2010

The Freedom of Work

The following is a quote from Horatius Bonar, a Scottish pastor, as quoted in The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges (p. 207).  It is too good to keep to myself!

It is forgiveness that sets a man working for God.  He does not work in order to be forgiven, but because he has been forgiven, and the consciousness of his sin being pardoned makes him long more for its entire removal than ever he did before.
An unforgiven man cannot work.  He has not the will, nor the power, nor the liberty.  He is in chains.  Israel in Egypt could not serve Jehovah.  "Let my people go, that they may serve Me," was God's message to Pharaoh (Exodus 8:1):  first liberty, then service.
A forgiven man is the true worker, the true Law-keeper.  He can, he will, he must work for God.  He has come into contact with that part of God's character which warms his cold heart.  Forgiving love constrains him.  He cannot but work for Him who has removed his sins from him as far as the east is from the west.  Forgiveness has made him a free man, and given him a new and most loving Master.  Forgiveness, received freely from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, acts as a spring, an impulse, a stimulus of divine potency.  It is more irresistible than law, or terror, or threat.

Horatio Bonar,  God's Way of Holiness  (Durham, England:  Evangelical Press, 1979; originally published 1864), 51-52.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sacrificial Giving

This morning in preparation of Thanksgiving, I have been reminded of sacrifices.  The first groups that come to mind as an American are our men and women in the armed forces and their families.  We are so thankful for their personal, daily sacrifices (and should take the time to tell and show them!). 

As Christians, the overwhelming sacrifice we think of regularly is that of Jesus Christ, God as man, God taking His own wrath for my sin.  No sacrifice can compare to Jesus' humble, total, torturous gift of Himself on my behalf.

But if, in our Christian walk, we think of Christ likeness as gentleness, patience, and love apart from personal loss, we have lost focus.  Being like Christ is to put off my personal reputation and walk in obedience regardless of others' acceptance.  Being like Christ is to represent God at all times in all places verbally and actually.  Being like Christ is to submit to all authority with meekness.  Being like Christ is to bear the misunderstandings of others.  Being like Christ is to challenge that which is man-centered and self-centered and put it in the perspective of God, and God alone.

In this way, through daily, moment by moment dependence I become a living sacrifice.  My life, my thoughts, my actions, my choices are each offered to God as a gift.  "Is this what you would have me do, Lord?"  "Is this what you would have me speak?"  "Is this what you would have me give?"  The moments of my day then become a conversation with God.  I become that living sacrifice, a purchased gift with a specific purpose  (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

But what do I do when the cost is too great?  When God challenges my reason, my rights, my needs?  A dear friend shared this verse which resonates with me even as I consider giving the sacrifice of thanksgiving.  "God is the LORD, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar" (Psalm 118:27).  Sometimes, realistically, I can't give thanks.  Sometimes, realistically, I can't give God the obedience He desires.  Most of the time, realistically, I don't want to.  And this verse has become a repeated prayer, "Lord, if you must, bind me to the horns of the altar."  Only God can give me the motivation, the love, and the obedience that is required to please Him (Philippians 2:13, 2 Corinthians 5:14, Hebrews 11:6).  In giving to God what is His due there is peace and joy--not because God wins and I lose.  If that is my view of Christian service, I do not know the true and living God.

God loves me infinitely, purely, wholly.  In doing what He commands I fulfill my purpose and He receives the worth-ship that belongs to Him and Him alone.  This Thanksgiving I am praying for a more dependent, grateful attitude.  One that esteems God above all others, especially myself, even if it means tying my hands to the horns of the altar!  For "You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Bad Christian

"So I said to him, 'You know, Dad, you're a really good religious person, but you're a bad Christian.'" 
That comment has stuck in my head since yesterday afternoon.  A new friend was sharing herself with me and that is how she saw her dad, a pastor.  A tragedy for the people he ministered to, a tragedy for his family, a tragedy for his eternal self.  But I was encouraged by my friend's discernment.  Too many of us are "good religious people" but "bad Christians."
Here are a couple of things she brought up that are worth mentioning to those of us who minister in our local church Bodies:
1)  Once a notable member of the congregation brought three guests with her.  They were of a different race.  They were beautiful.  They were well-to-do.  And no one greeted them.  No one talked to them.  For weeks after that incident, everyone gave that church member the cold shoulder.  Hmmm. Would I react this way?
2)  Once a woman with a "spotted" past confessed her sin, God changed her life, but she was held at arm's length.  "She scrubbed the floors for those people, she made them meals, she washed the dishes after potlucks, and they treated her like dirt."  Hmmmm. Would I react this way?
I must say that, during our visit I did some dirt-checking of my own.  How do I think of others?  How do I treat others in our church Body?  If she were to come to our church, what would she see?  What do others see?  Do they see Jesus at work?  Or are we just a bunch of "religious people" playing church?
As we parted I shared an insight of my own.  "I've realized that it's not just about reading your Bible.  Even if people read the Bible everyday, it doesn't mean a thing until they come to the point of saying, 'God, you're right.  I'm wrong.  I need you to make up the difference.'"  And that is where Jesus Christ comes in.  There is no change--in fact, there is only petrification of stubborn pride--until I repent and submit to God.  Then, as I walk in the reality of my own frailty and failure, I am more accepting of others and more ready to point them to an all-sufficient, all-loving God.
I continue to chew on our conversation, with an eye on my attitude:  Am I defensive or repentant?  It's the difference between being a good religious person or a true Christian.