Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hell Fire or Healing Fire?

Fire. There is so much surrounding this one, four-letter word! Immediately I think of flames, lapping in a fireplace, wood crackling, and that wonderful smell! What are the purposes for fire, though? I'm just going to list the few that come to mind: heat/warmth, cooking, destroying, melting, softening metal, purifying metal, ridding waste, light, etc, etc.. and the list goes on!

There are so many spiritual implications that are shouldered on the word "fire" and the idea of burning, melting, destroying, etc. I think most often, in religious circles, fire is spoken of in context of hell and eternal damnation. The fire is where a sinner will burn forever. The mental picture is torturous and terrifying! Some fundamental evangelists will use the "fear-factor" of the lake of fire to frighten people into a "saving relationship" with Jesus Christ. I have to admit that this tactic is like tiny needles digging under my fingernails. (If I'm being very honest!) I simply do not agree with frightening people into a love relationship with their Savior. Now, don't misunderstand me. I absolutely believe that Hell is a real place, and it will be horrific for those who are not covered in the blood of Christ. However, I believe that evangelism should not stem solely from a fear of burning for eternity! (I digress) My initial point is not to discuss methods of evangelism, but instead to focus on the first view of spiritual fire: destruction.

Let's consider the source of destructive fire. It is directly coupled with the stealer of life and bringer of death: Satan. It dwells in his living space and is the main decor for his home. He uses it to swallow whole those who are not a part of the family of God. It is a fire that is never-ending.  It sucks the life out of all who come in contact with it. The place with the vastest amount of this fire is of course in Hell. However, I do believe that we can experience tastes of these flames here on Earth as well. The only way that you can possibly survive is to have a shield of protection around you! (aka Christ's blood) This fire can completely destroy someone if they are not nestled tightly in the wing of the Almighty. It does not produce beneficial results. It only brings destruction.

The second type of spiritually implicated fire is Healing fire. Again, I love a good oxymoron. Fire is probably the furthest thing from a healing source than you could ever imagine. However, that is what makes my mind and heart so sure that it is another beautiful tool that the Lord uses for our purification and redemption! Scripture uses many references to this type of fire, in several different methods. It speaks of the "refining fire", which is the same process that fine metals, such as gold, go through to separate the pure from the impure. Basically, the metal is melted, and the impurities rise to the top to be scraped off and removed from the remaining metal. The process is tedious, and much must be removed in order for a pure result to be established. When this analogy is applied to our human hearts, we can see how this would be difficult to be completely broken down in order for the impurities to be removed, but oh, it is worth it for the end result!

The scriptures also speak of the fiery trials that we, at times, walk through. These can be any sort of things: illness, death, family hurt, grievances, destitution, poverty, etc. This is the reason I was stimulated to post something about fire in the first place. I see, daily, people walking through various fires, and it is painfully evident when people are not protected through the flames or when they do not understand that they are not alone as they trudge through. It is also abundantly clear when others are so fervently focused on their Savior that they feel no mal-effects of the fire, even as they are in the midst. They, of course, still feel the pain of the moment, but they are far more sure of the redemption that is about to follow! A dear friend of mine has been faithful to remind me at least once or twice a week that "God redeems whatever He allows". Through the fire that I have been allowed to walk through over the last several months, I have been entirely unable to deny the fact that the Lord is walking with me through it. He is not simply ahead of me or behind me, unattached and separate... He is directly beside me. Completely, wholly, with me. And I know that on the other side, He will redeem all that He has allowed in this fire. I do not begin to pretend that it has been easy or that I have not doubted and had many experiences of falling on my face, feeling utterly hopeless. I am simply grateful that my Father has been faithful to send messengers of hope and reminders of His presence when I am too weak and too angry to see it. You see, believing and trusting that the Lord is sovereign does not mean that it is easy or fun! It simply means that you have a rock to grasp onto tightly when there is nothing else solid in your sights! I know that although I have experienced suffering and have not always handled it well, the Lord does not love me based on performance or my response! He loves me based on His Love! That's it! ahh.. so amazing!

I love the fact that Scripture does not tell us that we will not walk through these fires; it does tell us, though, that we will not walk through them alone! In Isaiah, God comforts us and tells us that when we walk through the fire, we will not be burned, and the flames will not consume us. He tells us not to fear. He says He will walk with us and hold us by His righteous right hand. How beautiful! What a process of furthering faith and establishing strength it is to be so dependent on holding tightly to the hand of our Father as we walk through these fires. He will NEVER leave or forsake His children. He does not promise a perfect existance and abscence of trouble, but He does promise that we will never walk alone! Ahhhh... what comfort! The beauty of the fire lies in the moment, on the other side of the fire, when we can turn around and see all that is left in the ashes behind us. Our protector does not allow the impurities to follow us out of the flames. The sin and filth of this earth remain behind in the ashes. What is left is strength, surety, faith, hope, and an everlasting handprint on our palm where the God of the universe held on so tightly and brought us through.

So, consider this: destructive fire contains the same properties as healing fire, but the purpose and result could not be more opposite. How is it then that we fear one and welcome the other? I think upon further speculation, we see that they both initially present the same: traumatic event, pain, suffering. But praise God that the result is so different. One results in death, and the other results in life! Let us not fear the flame or the pain. Let us welcome them! Turn around and see the ashes that are left behind. They do not define you; they are a symbol that God refines you! Because regardless what fire it is that we find ourselves in the midst of, we can know that we are protected and that it will leave us refined, strengthened, and beautiful!

Let this be the year of the Lord's favor! Let beauty be your defining characteristic! Allow the Lord to rebuild all that has been destroyed in the years past. Bring on the Fire, Lord! Let me have it!

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins;
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations."
Isaiah 61:1-4

Friday, January 1, 2010

Apostate or Apostle?

The term "apostacy" is a fairly new one in my vocabulary.(apostacy: the state of having rejected your religious beliefs or a cause (often in favor of opposing beliefs or causes); the act of abandoning a party for cause)

 In my Bible Study, my friends and I have been trudging through the book of Hebrews, and the subject is projected very boldly in the early chapters of the book. There are so many references to the "disobedient" or the "hardened hearts" or those who have turned away, etc. Through the first several chapters, I have felt a little uneasy about the reference to those who will not inherit the promised land because of their disobedience. However, in chapter 6, I reached a point of intense turmoil in my soul!

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace."- Hebrews 6:4-6

I was completely floored when I read this passage! In my complete understanding of the whole of scripture, I do not feel that this acurately expresses the character of God. God is a gracious, forgiving, loving God, right? He sent his son to die for the disobedient and the sinners, right? Right!! So, how is this  passage possible or relevant?

I am learning that this is not inconsistant with God's character at all. It is in fact very much consistant! He is a loving and gracious God. BUT He is also a jealous God! His only request of us is for us to believe in the one who was sent. To deny all other gods. To set Himself as the focus of our lives. If we do this, we WILL taste the goodness of Him and experience the fullness of a relationship with Him. So, how does this work? If we have commited ourselves to Him, and have welcomed the presence of Christ into our hearts, then we are saved. So then, can we lose this salvation??

This is where the concept of "apostacy" comes in. The COMPLETE turning away from a relationship with God. Not a "professed" relationship or a false religious experience, etc. Not just small actions of disobedience or rebellion. This is speaking of a complete and utter denial of the presence of God in your life and discarding the possibility of having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

This passage cause anxiety for me on several levels though. As my friends and family know, I was raised with a solid foundation of scripture, and I have experienced a love relationship with my Heavenly Father from a young age. There was a time, as a result of pain and suffering in my family, that I did have a period of intense rebellion where I verbally denied the very presence of God in my life. Now, I have to admit, that I did continue to know in my heart the truth that God continued to love and protect me even during this time, and as I look back now, years later, I am overwhelmed with God's mercy and protection during that time! It is not the righteous He came to save... He came to save the sinners! (Romans 5:8)

Therefore, what does it take to be a true apostate? As I stated above, a complete turning away! As I ponder this, I think it should not cause, as it has in me, anxiety. However, I do believe that it absolutely should cause us to fear God! I think so often we take our salvation and the intensity of what Christ did on the Cross for granted. We sin with the knowledge that God is a forgiving and loving God. We sin believing that the all-consuming Grace that God gives us will negate our responsibility for our actions. How foolish!! I have to admit that I am like an ungrateful child more often than not. I carry on in my day-to-day and do not realize the sacrifice that was given so that I CAN live! Oh, how I WISH I could keep in my sights the delicate balance between believing that Salvation is only by Grace through Faith and also on my responsibility to live a life that glorifies God.

I desire to be an Apostle. (apostle: a person who carries out the mission of Christ in proclaiming the work of Him) I desire for my life to have the purpose of proclaiming the work of Christ on the Cross and His salvation of sinners, such as myself. I desire for my life to be one that glorifies Him. Lord, let me be guarded from the posibility of becoming an apostate. Lord, protect my heart and my mind from the lies of this generation, but rather to be an apostle to those who do not know you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Living Sacrifice

Romans 12:1 "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship"

Living but sacrificed? Alive but dead? Oh Scripture, you are so notorious for pricking our minds and pushing us into contemplation on a phrase that is only two words! :)How I love that God desires for us to engage our minds in order for our spirits to be established in Him!

This idea of being a sacrifice while living has intrigued me and caused much stirring of my heart for several years now. How can we be a sacrifice and yet live? Does He not realize that in order to be a sacrifice, you must actually die?! How can we be alive and yet dead at the same time? Ah, I know, the death and sacrifice does not refer to our physical bodies, but to our spirits. Death to the "old self" and resurrection in Christ into our "new self": our justified, sanctified, glorified new identity that solely consists of CHRIST!

The other aspect of this concept that I think should be considered is the thought that as a living sacrifice, you continue to live, so the need for a sacrifice is continual! It is not a one-time event. It is necessary constantly. Every minute of every day. We are called to die to ourselves as our spiritual act of worship. In other words, the only thing we can do to prove our love and devotion to our maker is to lay ourselves down and be determined dead. This is the only way for us to be filled again with HIS life!

Now, I am queen of analogies, and my understanding stems from relating concepts to visual and experiential comparisons. Since I am a part of the medical field, specifically Oncology, so many things relate to cancer, treatment, and such. This idea of "living sacrifice" and dying to our sinful self in order to be alive in our justified self, mirrors a patient with a type of advanced cancer of the blood who is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant.

Basically, the patient's entire being is infiltrated with cancer, seeing as it is a cancer of the blood. It has traveled through every organ, consumed every part of the body. The cancer represents sin. In a bone marrow transplant, a patient receives clean, pure, perfect blood cells to replace the cancer cells. However, in order for the transplant to take place, a patient must first be put through RIGOROUS chemotherapy treatments in order to completely anihilate the contaminated cells. The blood is wiped clean! The patient is left vulnerable and empty. They have nothing left in them. If it were not for other intense therapies, a patient left in this state would surely die. The process is miserable, and there is much suffering in the midst of it. However, just as the patient reaches this point of complete and utter vulnerability, the transplant takes place! They are filled with new, fresh, pure cells! (In the transplant unit, we call this their "New Birthday"--we sing and everything.. it's awesome!) Once they receive these new cells, they are determined in "remission". They are free of cancer. They are alive!

OK. So, the analogy is: We are filled with our sinfulness. Completely consumed with it! We NEED to be filled with the righteousness of Christ, but we can not be filled unless we are emptied first! The emptying process is a painful experience of death to the sin that has consumed us for so long. However, just as we are completely emptied, Christ comes and fills us to overflowing with His perfection! We get a "New Birthday"!!! Praise be to God! Oh, Lord, allow me to die! Empty me of all of my cancer cells and fill me with YOU!!

Now, I clearly recognize that none of us can fulfill this calling perfectly... We will continue to sin, thus reqcuiring daily sacrifice. This is why we need the covering and redemption of Christ to be the ultimate sacrifice for us. He is alive, and yet He died. He is, and always will be, THE Living Sacrifice, making it possible for failures like me to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and have the privilege to lay all of me down at HIS feet! Praise God for His perfect gift!!!

2 Corinthians 9:15 "Thanks be to God for His indescribable Gift!"

Friday, December 18, 2009

Complex Simplicity

The term "complex simplicity" stems from my understanding of my Maker's grace. The aspect of grace that terms "simplicity" is clear: I am a sinner in need of a Savior; He saves me; The end! The idea of grace is so entirely desired by my heart that my initial, gut response is "but of course His grace is sufficient!!" However, upon further meditation on the state of my heart and life in relation to sin, my response is a little more grim. I tend to focus on the impossibility that there could be full atonement and reconciliation. The complexities that these ponderings present have caused me to experience a fullness of understanding that His grace is not only my greatest need; it is my greatest desire! Praise God that HE denies all impossibilities and fulfills all promises to make His own righteous in His eyes.

My attempt to explain my musings on the topic of His grace might be a bit disjointed, but hopefully will show the redemption that the Lord has for a sinner like me, feebly attempting to understand Him. The framework for my understanding stems from the teaching of my youth. Growing up in an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the teachings of Calvin were constantly imposed upon me. As a teenager, I did not give much thought to the theological implications of claiming to believe in Calvinism, so I simply listened, and somehow absorbed the doctrine without much thought towards it at all. Now, as an adult, at my ripe age of 26, (haha) I am beginning to adopt my personal understanding of the character of God and the fundamentals of a Christian life. Please don't misunderstand- I do not consider or call myself a "Calvinist". I do not claim to follow the teachings of any earthly man; I follow the teachings of Christ!

The concept of my total depravity is something that I can wrap my head around. This is probably the point that resonates with me the most. I am painfully aware of my daily failings. I am also in complete agreement that even my most righteous acts are as filthy rags, as Isaiah 64 explains. Simply looking at the pattern of my life, the roller-coaster of relational ups and downs I have in my spiritual journey, I see that my constant tendency is towards the selfish, the pleasurable, the instant gratification, and the thrill. My rationalizing brain of course tricks my heart into believing that "I am not really THAT bad" or "I do a lot of great things for people".. Which leads my posture from that of humility into that of pride, thus fooling myself completely that my rags are indeed royal robes! I am grateful that the Lord does not allow me to continue to view myself and my robes in this skewed way for long. He allows refocussing and humbling of heart to be able to see my rags as they are. Mine. The rags that I have created for myself in my own sin. I do not have the necessary fabric in my own store to even be able to create something resembling royal robes. Neither do I possess the funds or resources to purchase or create royal robes. Therefore, I recognize my need for the fabric to be purchased from an outside source, sewn by a master seamster, and gifted to me by a loving benefactor.

The concept of unconditional election is nearly impossible for my finite mind to comprehend. It constantly fails to take hold in my heart. I recognize that Scripture states that Salvation is by faith, not by works, so that no one can boast. However, the idea that I can do nothing to earn or deserve Salvation is, to put it bluntly, FRUSTRATING!!! My personality is such that I constantly am moving. I am a "doer". There is nothing I can DO to make God love me more! There is nothing I can DO to make myself more righteous! To most, these are probably freeing statements and a huge load off your back. To me, it is maddening! Ok, Ok, I agree that it is a completely freeing concept.. Especially because of my understanding that I can do nothing righteous aside from Christ.. (My rags are filthy, remember?).. But my constant struggle rests (another oxymoron) in the truth that His grace is HIS. Just like my sin is mine. SO, my resolution is that I need to quit attempting to reckon myself dead to my sin, and realize that the most important truth is that I AM (state of being, not active verb) ALIVE in CHRIST! He has done it all. Not because of me. Because of HIM. He chose, without any help from me, to save me! To determine me righteous in His sight.. all on His own! He sent His Son to die. He paid the price for MY sin. He bought the BEAUTIFUL fabric, sewed the robes Himself using the thread made of the very flesh of Christ, and has not only gifted me with the perfect royal robes, but has also dressed me in them and admires me and reckons me beautiful in His sight! Amazing. Simply, complexly, amazing!

This grace... It is not a one time gift. It is a life-long process. Sadly, I have to admit that more than a dozen times I have willingly traded my perfect robes, given to me out of sacrifice, for the rags. I have consciously chosen filth over sublime perfection. Grace is daily, my friends. His mercies are new every morning. GREAT is HIS Faithfulness!!

Let us all quit reckoning ourselves to whatever posture we think we ought to live in, and let's rest in the complex simplicity that we are ALIVE in Him! His grace is amazing. It is real. It is constant.

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship" Romans 12:1

PS. I love the oxymorons in scripture! I think I might muse on being a "living sacrifice" next..