Friday, December 30, 2011

The Rearguard

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Psl. 23:6

One of the books I read this past year was John Henry Jowett’s, My Daily Meditation for the Circling Year. I learned long ago that old books, written by men and women who knew God and people, can be, and often are more relevant than those written today. This is not to say that I don’t read living authors. I do. People like J.I. Packer, Alister McGrath, John Piper, Elizabeth Elliot, Elizabeth Skoglund, Ravi Zacharias, and others, speak to my heart and mind in much the same way. But I find the language of the old writers to be not only edifying, but pleasing as well. Perhaps it’s because they are more reminiscent of my beloved old King James Bible.

I want to share an excerpt from something Jowett wrote in a devotional he called, “The Rear-guard.” It seems appropriate at end of year, and its blessed truth spoke peace to my own heart. I trust it will to yours, too. Commenting on Psalm 23:6, he writes:

But why “follow” me? Why not “go before”? Because some of my enemies are in the rear; they attack me from behind. There are foes in my yesterdays, which can give me fatal wounds. They stab me in the back! If I could only get away from the past! Its guilt dogs my steps. Its sins are ever at my heels. I have turned my face toward the Lord, but my yesterdays pursue me like a relentless hound! So I have an enemy in the rear.

This year is nearly in the can. It cannot be relived or changed. What we can do, however, is preserve the good and bury the bad. Those actions, thoughts, and events that enhanced our own walk of faith and were an encouragement to others should be built upon, but the ones that left a bitter taste in our mouth and sadness of soul should not be allowed to hover ominously in the corners of our mind like ghosts; because between us and our guilt God has provided a rearguard made up of two invincible attributes: His Goodness and Mercy. And as Jowett says, “No hound can break through that defense…My Lord is Lord of the past as well as the morrow.”

So look confidently ahead, child of God. You’re covered before and behind!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

He Became Us

“For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.” (Heb.7:26)

Notice the verse does not say He became like us; that would have been magnanimous enough. No, He literally became us. And humanly speaking, that was ridiculous. In fact, while He lived among us, He was ridiculed over and over for that very thing: He claimed to be God come to this earth as a man. When I read the book of Hebrews I get the idea that the writer was as blown away by the Incarnation as I am (e.g., chap. 1). Then, as if to underscore just how unreasonable it is, he lists some of our Lord’s myriad virtues that mark Him as being nothing like us: “…holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.” For what earthly reason, one could surely ask, would such a One as He, choose to become us? And there you have it. It was not for any earthly reason, but, rather, a heavenly purpose.

He had to become us, so that we could become Him (Jno.17:22-23). It had to be an even exchange. He became us, without sin so that we could become Him, without deity. Frankly, our transformation is as unfathomable to me as His Incarnation. He didn’t deserve to die, and I didn’t deserve to live. But He could not live and die for us without actually becoming us; and we cannot die and live in Heaven without becoming Him. It has to be an even exchange.

I don’t begin to understand all the implications of this, but I understand enough to know that I have been made a participant in this Holy exchange. I am part of that heavenly purpose, not because of I deserve it but because He desired it (John 17:24). And I sing with Isaac Watts:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my all.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Where's the Joy?

“For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” Luke 1:44

“There seems to be less joy at Christmas than there used to be.” My husband made this observation recently, and we both agreed that as the festivities have overshadowed the Birth, the joy has gradually seeped out of the season. All that’s left is the gifts, decorations, food, traffic, long lines, flurry, frustration, and debt. Intermittent happiness and laughter, but precious little real joy.

Six months into her pregnancy, over-aged mother-to-be, Elizabeth, must have been glad to see her young cousin, Mary, coming to the door. But before she could give a word of greeting, Mary said, “Hello, Elizabeth,” and suddenly the baby boy in her womb could not contain himself. Long before he spoke those striking words of recognition at the appearance of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God…”, John introduced Him to his mother here by leaping for joy in her womb. And Elizabeth had the Spiritual discernment to know what it was. Because of “the fruit of [Mary’s] womb,” she was literally filled with joy.

I know that feeling.

Sometimes the abiding joy of the presence of God cannot be constrained and fairly leaps within me, mostly in personal prayer, or praise, or when I’m reading His words. Often when I’m singing, or when I’m writing (bless His name!) I feel I’ll burst with love and adoration for the Savior of my soul and Sustainer of my life. No other love I have can rival it for sheer joy.

I would contend that there is no way to be in the presence of God without experiencing joy. We may know Him and love Him and have His peace; but when we enter His presence, says Psalm 16:11, there is “fulness of joy,” whether you’re a babe in the womb or a aged saint at the end of life’s journey. Joy is ageless.

My wish for you this year is that your heart will “leap for joy” in presence of the Christ Child, now and always.

Where’s the joy? Right here!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Immaculate Conception

“And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favour with God...And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word…” (Luke 1:30 & 38)

We’re all familiar with the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Christ. The fact that God condescended to man by way of a virgin girl’s womb. But you and I live in a time when a virgin birth is no longer miraculous. “Surrogate mothers,” who may never have had intercourse with any man, carry babies to full term within their womb, as one might rent out a spare room. The difference (and it’s a big one) is that these women are impregnated with sinful seed (sperm) of a sinful man; while Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit with the sinless Seed of the sinless God. Not only was Jesus’ birth consummated in a virgin birth, it was initiated by an immaculate conception. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones expressed it, “As the Lord’s divine nature had no mother, so His human nature had no father.”

In these two verses from Luke chapter one, I find two necessary requirements that had to be fulfilled before this miraculous birth. First, I see Divine Choice: “…thou hast found favour with God.” Mary did not petition God for the privilege of bringing His Son into the world. On the contrary, she was incredulous: “How shall this be” was her first response. Second, I find in verse thirty-eight, Human Acceptance: “…be it unto me according to thy word.” The order is critical. God always makes the first move, and unless He does, the second is impossible.

Am I the only one who sees a wonderful correlation between Mary’s experience of the indwelling Christ and our own? For instance, our salvation comes only as we too are recipients of Divine Choice. This may be worrisome to those who would presume to question the infallible justice of God because of their (unjustifiable) high regard for their own fallible sense of justice. But at the same time, just as Mary’s natural response was to acknowledge her own acceptance of this undeserved honor, you and I are required to willingly accept God’s gift of eternal life, and by extension, the privilege of housing the Son of God within us (Col. 1:27).

Here are some more similarities: I have already mentioned that both miraculous natal experiences involved the implantation of the Divine Seed by the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 1:23). Then, we, like Mary, have only the Word of God initially for assurance. Mary did not “feel life” until sometime later; and often “the witness of the Spirit within,” as 1 Jno. 5:10 calls it, is not always recognized initially by the new Christian. Just as the Baby Jesus formed within the body of Mary, so also Paul tells us as believers that Christ will be formed in us (Gal. 4:19). And we mothers know full well, as Mary’s miracle Baby grew within her, her own outward appearance had to conform to accommodate Him. Likewise, if the living Christ dwells within us, you and I, of necessity, are being constantly conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29).

The Babe in Mary’s womb was the hope of the world, and Christ within us is our “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Our only hope. Mary’s experience of an Immaculate Conception was physical, but miraculous; our experience of the New Birth is spiritual, but just as miraculous. “How can this be?” I wonder, as did Mary; but I too reply, “Be it unto me according to thy will.” Divine Choice and Human Acceptance — If you’ve experienced the latter, you can be sure you were a recipient of the former!

I can’t explain to you how overwhelmed I am by all the implications of the living Christ dwelling within me. We used to sing a wonderful old gospel song that talked about this:

Once far from God and dead in sin, no light my heart could see,

But in God’s Word the light I found — now Christ liveth in me.

As lives the flow’r within the seed, as in the cone the tree,

So, praise the God of truth and grace, His Spirit dwelleth in me.

With longing all my heart is filled that like Him I may be,

As on the wondrous thought I dwell, that Christ liveth in me.

Christ liveth in me, Christ liveth in me.

O, what a salvation this, that Christ liveth in me!

James McGranahan (1840-1907)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Alienated Through Ignorance

“Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” (Eph. 4:18)

Ignorance is not bliss; nor is it excusable. It is not the same as being unaware or a victim of the unknown. The first part of the word tells us why this is true: Ignorance is the result of ignoring, and ignoring assumes something that can be seen or known.

Under the Mosaic Law, there were offenses referred to as sins of ignorance, but they required a sacrifice just like premeditated sins (Lev. 4-5; Num. 15). I am aware that Paul told the pseudo-philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17) that God may temporarily “wink” at ignorance, but the rest of the verse goes on to say, “…but now [He] commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” Ignorance is not a handicap to lament; it is a sin to be repented of. The verse in Ephesians makes it clear that at some point it goes from being a head problem to a heart problem.

This is not to be taken lightly. Ignorance alienates us from “the life of God.” The abundant Christian life promised in John 10:10 is only a reality to those who are paying attention. People who ignore ample provision should not expect to be provided for. God has afforded us with everything we need to maneuver the bumps, curves, and pitfalls of this life; but if we ignore that provision (the Word of God, the indwelling Spirit of God, fellowship with other believers, etc.) we should not be surprised if we suffer numerous “fender-benders.”

We need to sit up and take notice, look at this old world clear-eyed and alert. If we are alienated from a life filled with God, it is not because of weakness, but because of ignorance…willful ignorance. And as Paul so often said: “Brethren, I would not have you to be ignorant…."

“Involuntary ignorance is not charged against you as a fault; but your fault is this: you neglect to inquire into the things you are ignorant of.” ~ Augustine