Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Sins of the Fathers

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. -Ephesians 4:31

"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall."

Early in my Christian life, this lament of Jeremiah rose off the page to smite me on the cheek. I well understood that, in my life at least, the affliction and wandering proceeded from the bitterness.

I recalled that bitterness had poisoned my relationships, especially those with women. I recalled the bitterness of spirit with which I left behind the church family in which I had been raised.

As God began to grant me understanding, I often puzzled over the several passages in which the sins of the fathers are said to be visited upon the children. Each is responsible before God for every deed done in the flesh, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14). How could these things be reconciled?

Then I began to read about spiritual warfare and the word "stronghold" came up. A place in my own heart from where the devil, entrenched among evil thoughts and attitudes, could sally forth to defeat me time and again.

I cannot say how the significance of this word  could have escaped a lifelong student of military history. Only one mention of it in the New Testament, but what a powerful statement!

Strongholds were something to be demolished, torn down without mercy and only through God the Spirit's power. 

Then I began to read about generational strongholds and the confusing passages about the sins of the fathers became clear.

How well I recognized those traits, both good and bad, I inherited from my parents. That they inherited from their parents.

How could we not absorb the atmosphere in which we have been raised? But the real question is this: Are we not to be struggling constantly to put off the old and clothe ourselves with the new? 

Having been convicted by the words of Jeremiah, I leapt at the opportunity to be rid of this affliction. For such it was, and I thank God daily for the Spirit by Whose power I am able to overcome this and my many other sins.

But especially bitterness, which I am taught wells up out of an unforgiving heart. What right have I, who have been forgiven much, to withhold forgiveness for any piddling and trivial offenses with which I have allowed myself to be wounded?

For, make no mistake, in light of our cosmic rebellion against the One who made us, even the most grievous of wounds we can inflict upon each other are indeed light and momentary.

To forgive, as Shakespeare noted, is divine. For how else but by God's power could I overcome my innate self-centeredness and overlook what is essentially carelessness on the part of others? Or to put it more directly: their failure to love me as much as I love myself.

The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). A necessary part of this is conviction of sin. Our goal (our constant struggle) is to be rid of all those things in us that come between us and God. We will attain this goal in the life to come.

In the meantime, the battle continues. Odd, isn't it that we should experience joy in the midst of that battle?

I will not let an angry, unforgiving heart rob me of that joy. Will you?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Way, In a Manger

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6

We have two new additions to our family at GPC. Welcome to Knox Gallimore and Elizabeth Preuett. And congratulations to proud parents Kyle and Kerri Gallimore and Justin and Martha Preuett.

As in the Harry Chapin song, they "came into the world in the usual way."

Which brings us to the reason for the season. A baby, born in the usual way a couple of thousand years ago. But this baby had many strange and wonderful things prophesied of him and made many unusual claims about himself. 

In fact, to many "religious" people of the day, these claims were simply too outlandish, blasphemous even, to bear. So they killed him.

And we look back today upon that time and those people and think, "How foolish."

But there are still those, some of them "Christians," who would deny either the miraculous birth (by a woman who had never known a man) or that this child (being born of woman) was God in the flesh.

Or both.

There have always been (and will be) those for whom the Word of God is not enough, but must be measured by human reason. Sight, not faith, is their criteria.

It all goes back, I suppose, past the original sin to the original temptation, "Did God really say...?"

But for we who have been blessed with the gift of faith, we celebrate the birth of Him who announced Himself as "the way" to the Father.

And it really doesn't matter that December 25 might not be the exact day of His arrival into the world, or that the early Church may have pre-empted some pagan holiday or other.

The thing is, He was born. The Word truly became flesh and dwelt among us. Even His name was truth, "God With Us."

This is what we celebrate. And if we do so in the midst of the gloom and chill of winter, all the better. For now is the winter of our discontent made bright in the Son of Heaven.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Strange Things

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. -Jeremiah 33:3

When Jesus pronounced forgiveness to the lame man set before him, the onlooking crowd thought it strange, not to say blasphemous.

Knowing the thoughts of their unbelieving hearts, he bade the man to rise up and walk. And the crowd was amazed and pronounced it strange even while praising God.

Isn't it so, in our own lives, that we often thank and praise God while being amazed at the sometime strangeness of His ways?

And to meditate how He has worked to accomplish His plan of redemption.

How a young man, who stole fruit, not because he was hungry, but for the pure deviltry of it, should become the greatest theologian of the early church and chief proponent of the doctrine of grace.

How an obscure German monk with strong doubts about his own salvation should embrace that same doctrine of grace and find the courage to face down the combined might of Church and Empire, thus sparking a mighty reformation.

How an English preacher should cross the Atlantic Ocean to proclaim those same doctrines of grace and awake an entire nation to God's grace and mercy.

Many are the strange personal accounts we could give of God's mysterious workings in our own lives to grant us faith and mercy. What an unlikely candidate for God's grace I find myself to be.

Strangest of all, and at the heart of the message of grace, is the account of how God took on flesh and became the Word, to live in perfect obedience, to die sacrificially, to rise miraculously, and to ascend in glorious power, from whence He will return in judgment and make all things new.

Strange indeed.

Happy birthday to me, and God bless us, everyone.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dead Men's Bones

Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you and ye shall live.-Ezekiel 37:5b.

Being a film buff, there are iconic scenes burned into my memory. In Casablanca, for example, when Victor Laszlo launches the nightclub patrons into a stirring rendition of "La Marsellaise," drowning out the Nazi soldiers' singing of "Die Wacht Am Rhein."

These memories occur sometimes at odd moments. Whenever I begin to read Ezekiel 37, for example, I cannot help but recall the graveyard scene at the end of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. 

And I picture Ezekiel, who has perhaps been in prayer, transported in the Spirit and set in the middle of a valley. As he slowly raises his head, the camera of my mind pulls back gradually to reveal bones, everywhere bones, dry bones in a vast amphitheater of the dead.

"Can these bones live?"

In the film scene, the character Tuco crosses himself, obviously convinced of the finality represented by the sheer countlessness of the graves all around him.

Ezekiel, being a man of God, has an answer more fitting to the person of faith:

"O Sovereign LORD, you know."

How perfectly in tune this is with Jonah's declaration that "Salvation is of the LORD."

The question is one of regeneration, restoring and renewing of life. A resurrection of the dead, actually. This is accepted throughout Christianity.

 At the heart of the dispute between the doctrines of grace and any other view of Christian salvation is the question, "When does this rebirth occur?"

Many would say that faith must come before the heart can be renewed from a heart of stone to one of flesh, one able to love and desire God and seek after Him.

We have but to remain in Ezekiel (11:19; 36:26) to see that this new heart of faith is nothing other than a gift from God. Even the Arminian slanted notes and references of the NIV translation I possess refer the reader to 2 Corinthians 3:3, where Paul speaks of the heart as written upon by God the Holy Spirit.

The question is not whether we are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). But, rather:

"Can these bones live?"

Not just dead bones. Dry bones. Bleached in the sun, scorched by the scirrocco wind blowing in off the desert. Is there anything as devoid of life as a dead, dried-out bone?

Certainly we find no record of the bones crying out, "Give us life."

No account of Lazarus pleading to Jesus for life.

Jairus' daughter did not send to Jesus to come and raise her dead body.

The two witnesses of Revelation 11 are raised by the "breath of life from God (11:11)" and nothing else.

At the heart of the discussion lies the ultimate question (if we would but recognize it), "Is God sovereign in all things?'

What answer could be simpler than "Salvation belongs to the LORD (Psalm 3:8a)?"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In My Father's House

Stop and let me tell you what the Lord has done for me. -Bro. Herbert "Red" Johnson's "Little Red Ants."

Earlier this week, I made a new acquaintance. In Walmart, of all places.

I was speaking to a friend of long-standing when this fellow walked up and began talking.

One of the things that struck me about this area when I moved here many years ago was the friendliness of its people. Even in the Sunny South, where I have lived all my life and where the graciousness of its inhabitants is an object of pride and delight, the folks of NW TN set the standard (so it seems to me) for openness and friendliness.

I mention that because this gentleman was obviously a northerner (by his accent) brought here by Goodyear (he mentioned) sometime in the way back when.

And no doubt he was captivated by the warmth of the natives to such a degree that he, being unused to such behavior (and desiring no doubt to enter into the friendly spirit of the region), developed the habit (I suppose) of accosting total strangers in public and yakking away.

I say this, mind you, not in a spirit of criticism, but merely to point out that the incident was slightly unusual. And endearing, actually. He seemed such a sweet-spirited man with a wonderful smile which lit his countenance throughout our conversation.

My old friend excused himself on account of previous business. One of the marks of our graciousness is our tendency (indeed our desire) to stop whatever activity we are engaged in to simply stand and talk, at times for an extended period.

So my old friend left and my new friend remained and we talked. Or he talked, mostly. We exchanged names and handshakes and he continued to speak.

I noted that most of his conversation concerned his father, who must have been long dead, given my new friend's age. He spoke of his dad's business success, of his many interests and abilities (golfing, hunting, fishing, even bowling) and his larger than life physical presence.

Sprinkled throughout his conversation was also an intimation (barely detectable unless you listened carefully) of his own failure to measure up to this man he so obviously worshipped so many years after the fact.

We talked, I don't know how long, until I made my excuses, shook hands once more, and extended an invitation to come and worship at GPC.

As I said, a rather odd encounter even in a region famed for its many odd "characters."

I reflected later on (as I do, partly because in a world ruled by a Sovereign God, there are no coincidental occurrences) about the almost exclusive focus of the man's conversation upon his father.

And, honestly, I began to be convicted.

I was blessed with a wonderful dad. What joyful memories I have of the countless ways by which he expressed his love for me, my brother and my two sisters.

But I have a Heavenly Father whose love far surpasses anything any earthly father (though we are blessed to have them) could express.

What if this Father were the constant topic of my conversation? The Psalms, especially, are filled with remembrances of God and His mighty deeds, His gracious mercy.

My new friend couldn't stop sharing stories of his dad. Why should I not be overflowing with conversation of my God and Father?

Isn't it strange and wonderful, the unexpected and unlikely people and circumstances God uses to remind us of Himself?

And of how my witness could be as simple and basic as speaking of my Heavenly Father's love.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Heavy Artillery of the Saints

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. -Luke 18:1

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.-1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

So I've been thinking a lot about prayer.

Over the last several months actually. The question occurs to me, as it does to us all, how do I better serve my Lord?

No great altruistic impulse going on here. Just basic stuff of the Christian life. I have been redeemed, only God knows why, so how may I express my gratitude? As always He loved first and all I can do is respond.

Prayer. It is so simple and so obvious. Can it be that we have overlooked this most essential of Christian duties? I honestly wish I could say that it is just me, but the evidence around me seems to show otherwise.

Could this nation have fallen into the sad state in which she finds herself if we Christians were a people of prayer? Could the Church be a drooping, declining witness to the Gospel?

I am reading a book called, Principles of War. In it, the author Jim Wilson outlines ten historic principles of warfare and relates them to our evangelical task.

He likens prayer to artillery preparation before the assault on the battlefield and calls for the concentrated use of prayer by the Church.

At the recent Reformation Conference at GPC, Reverend John Sartelle, using Revelation 8:5 for his text, likened the prayers of the saints to nitroglycerin in the hands of God.

Charles Spurgeon spoke of the prayer room in the basement of Metropolitan Tabernacle in London as "the engine room of the church." There, every Sunday as Spurgeon preached, members of the church gathered and offered up prayers for God's blessing of the sermon.

Yet this man of God, this "Prince of Preachers" called for more when he mentioned the likelihood that the Church was "putting forth its preaching hand but not its praying hand."

"Let us agonize in prayer," was his plea. This plea is valid for God's people in all ages. Would you agree that we can never pray enough as long as the fields are white with the harvest, as long as our King tarries in His coming?

We have a prayer group at GPC at 8:45 on Sunday mornings. There is a dedicated group which turns out faithfully each Sunday to lift up friends, family, our community, our nation, our little congregation and the Church militant. Praise God for them .

How about your church? Is there a group dedicated to prayer and if not, could you be instrumental in starting one? In Thessalonians 5:11, Paul urges  us to "encourage one another and build one another up." How better to do this than through prayer, both individually and together?

What a blessing it would be to see the whole congregation arrive early one Sunday to pray. If the prayers of a few can bring visual results, what would the prayers of many do?

Ah, brothers and sisters, let us "carpet bomb" Satan all the way to the gates of hell.

Come and pray.