“But I Do It Anyway”

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Once a church, abandoned and now left to rot
“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”

Romans 7:18-20, NLT

I hesitate to tell you this, but I have not found any hidden secrets to becoming a holy person.

To be sure, I wish I had figured this out sooner. I would very much like to come to you with the secret formula. I would easily latch on to this idea of a “magic wand” for every hurt. I think it would be good; and then again, maybe not. I’m certain it would be too much power for me to wield.

But the authentic Christian life is hardly formulaic. It seems to defy any attempt to explain, and then guide anyone else into that special place of true obedience or holiness. I’m supposing that you are just like me. I truly want to be right. I would love to be holy. But it ain’t happening. I always seem to end up back in the place I started from. Always, defeat and failure. (Rats!) Romans 7 is not an excuse to sin, but it seems to be an observation of our present condition.

I’ve always been mystified by the conundrum that is Romans 7. You see, I really want chapter 8, but I’ll settle for 6, and 5 would be good. But poor Romans 7 never gets considered. It’s been in limbo, I don’t really know what to do with it. (I honestly avoid it, after all chapter 8 is so good!) But way deep down, I have a strong sense I’m missing something vital and important.

I suppose it might be compared to making a really good ‘discipleship smoothie.’ Of course we must add to our blender Rom. 8. (Bananas.) And I suppose many would add Romans. 6. (Strawberries.) However, a lot of us would hesitate to include Rom. 7, we’re not really sure why. (Cauliflower?) Quite a few commentaries also hesitate.

Many good teachers and preachers regard chapter 7 as parenthetical. They suggest that Paul is describing his life before coming to Christ, and certainly not in a ‘present-tense’ discipleship. (Definitely a brain-twister.)

When I look at the Gospels, I see, across the board that those– the healed, forgiven, cleansed and made whole were always the most desperate. They have nothing, they bring nothing– they meet no requirement, but stepping out into pure poverty. They are the “zeroes.” (What about their smoothies, or don’t they get one?)

I don’t believe, at this point anyway, that there is a singular doctrine of sanctification. Perhaps we can truly do nothing in precise alignment. There is no such thing as a microwavable discipleship, and no instant breakfasts to be had. We truly come with a desperate faith– and we will end up with just a desperate faith.

This should be incredibly humbling to us all. It seems it takes some real repetitive lessons to learn humility as we meander (tra-la-la-la) down the way of God’s road of discipleship.

“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am!”

Romans 7:21-24, NLT

Please (someone?– anyone?!) challenge me on this. I tell you, chapter 7 chafes, and then disrupts my comfortable life. Will I always be so misaligned? Or am I just a lousy excuse for a Christian disciple? If I’m out of line and screwed up– please let me know. “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:68.)  This happens to be my cry at this present moment.

“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”

–Mike Yaconelli

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(Lord, have mercy on me.)

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Furnace People Understand Suffering

converter_furnace“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined.   Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.

Isaiah 48:10

“Once we have come through the ‘furnace of humiliation,’ desperately, fearfully clinging to Christ for all He is worth, then we are fully equipped to march into somebody else’s furnace.”

‘Blessed with Bipolar”

Becoming a real and an authentic person starts with some basic responses that we’ve made in the presence of Jesus. Amazingly, this simple faith becomes the sole prerequisite granting us the right to enter in the promises of the Lord. If you have those promises you may enter in. However without faith in those promises you won’t find anything real or true. You cannot handle the Kingdom of God unless you’re walking out a brokenness and humility.

Furnace people will often recognize those without any real and tangible connection with God’s work. There are furnace promises, but they, without truly understanding them will walk around in a deception. Often ‘they get religion.’ These are those who land on “the rocky soil.” They become ‘quasi-disciples’ will do and say things that they really don’t really understand.

But furnace people have the connection to that which is honest and true. They rarely enter into anything false or manipulative.  Their own hearts are transformed by the fire, and only then are qualified to minister God’s grace. Only furnace people can enter in. You will know them by their scars.

The Church has a tremendous need for those who have withstood the furnace of humiliation. After we endure its ugliness, and its great evil, we’ll discover that we’re in an altogether different place than when we first started. The Church is waiting for those who went in and then come out on the other side.

I was thinking today about Joseph, and his ordeal, as found in the Book of Genesis chapters 37-50.  He was a rare kind of person. Perhaps, one in a billion. You may emulate but never attain his faith. His confidence in the Lord was true and unassailable.

ironworker (1)Furnace people have the ability to function gracefully at this particular stage.

Furnace people are sovereignly brought to a place where they can minister the grace of God into desperate situations. We must convince ourselves, that furnace people have a gift.  They have been through the worst.  They may be battered and bruised.  But they still stand.  We must look to these who are the gracious agents of a loving God.

Our brothers and sisters have carried the Word with wisdom and grace. They come to us, through the fire. Will we recognize them when they come?

My hope is that you would personally grasp what God has worked in you. That really is your true directive.  The things good or bad, that have happened to you are part of how you’ll understand grace. He awaits for you to respond.  Will you come to Him, through the grace you find in the flames? The most gracious people you’ll ever meet are those who endured God’s furnace.

 “He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.”

Malachi 3:3

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A Holy Romance

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What if I told you that the universe was built for romance.  To be sure both scientists and psychiatrists might see that idea both simplistic and perhaps even dangerous. And while we may not understand life as clearly as we could, it surely isn’t a passionate romance– or is it? Please consider: Why couldn’t the universe be the arena of a furious courtship between Jesus Christ and His followers? I’m one of millions who believe this is precisely the case.

I’ve been reading the Old Testament book of Song of Solomon the last few weeks and have thinking a lot about this very intense allegory between a shepherdess and her lover.

It is full of passion and of public declarations of love and desire.  Kisses are exchanged. A dialogue is developed, and truths are volleyed back and forth from character to character. Sometimes it’s hard to follow, but the book is an exquisite work of God’s love, and grace, and passion for your soul.

We can, and should cry out for a revelation of Jesus’ presence. He really is there and He is waiting for your response.

Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth,
    because your love is better than wine.
The smell of your perfume is pleasant,
    and your name is pleasant like expensive perfume.
    That’s why the young women love you.
Take me with you; let’s run together.
    The king takes me into his rooms.

Songs 1:2-4

Scripture as a whole leads us to believe that romance is much more substantial then we dreamed it could be.  But if we can, we should visualize Jesus’ love for us as being his motivation for doing what he has done, and is doing.  Love is what keeps him from letting us go!

My illness can be heartrending; it drives me straight to Him, and I cry out for Jesus’ hand. I may sink, but He’s right there to pull me out. My depression is His invitation to intimacy. Things can get pretty ugly, pretty quick, if I decide not to reach out for His outstretched hand. Trust me on this. (Matthew 14:29-30). I swim like a stone.

cropped-cropped-heartThere are piles of scripture that declare His heated love for you.  I believe there exists a holy romance that Jesus has for your soul.  Love continues to motivate him to reach out repeatedly for you.  Your devotional life (as Christians like to call it) is nothing more than your dialogue with Him as He saves you from a certain destruction.

The ancient Jews regarded the book of Song of Solomon to be the ‘holiest of holies’ of scripture and set apart to be read during Passover. 

You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;  you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.”

Songs 4:9, ESV

Captivated over me. Hmmm. Quite often I wonder what He sees in me. Why should I be honored like this?

I think that our pastors and teachers need a “theology of romance” to clarify the place of discipleship in our hearts. Good theology is always warm-blooded. Instead of cold doctrine we need a fervent passion to work it through our lives.  We are a bride after all– the bride of Christ, and we must be reminded of that by good pastors who understand.  “I am my beloved and he is mine.”

“Who is this sweeping in from the desert,
    leaning on her lover?”

Songs 8:5, NLT

 

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