Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Lord’s Voice Through the Voice of a Friend

Psalm 17:4 With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.

In the life of David, who would become king over Israel, there were key moments when the pressures of daily life stressed him to the point of ungodly action. How many of us can relate to that!!

This verse in Psalm 17 was possibly written in the aftermath of an encounter that would press David, and tempt him to take vengeance for the sake of his own reputation. In 1 Samuel 25 we read about a  fool named Nabal who refused to give David and his men assistance when they were in need, and who had also derided David as a worthless man. David’s response was to move to strike this man, and to kill him and all his servants.

Nabal’s wife, Abigail, was sensitive to the Spirit of God, and recognized God’s hand on David, so she moved to intercept him as he was on his way to take revenge. She saw David with God’s eyes, and called him to rise up to the standards of God’s purposes for David. Basically, she said to him “You are better than this! Let God deal with this fool, and you, David, stay true to God’s vision for your life!”

David responded with humility, and God did indeed deliver him and prosper him as a result.

Here’s the key: David heard God’s voice in the words of a courageous woman, and avoided a trap that would have negatively affected him for the rest of his days.

There are two things to consider. One is this – under times of pressure, do we have the humility to hear God’s corrective or directive word through unlikely people? If so, much pain and trouble may be avoided.

Second, do we have the courage to speak to someone else when we perceive by the Holy Spirit that they are headed down a destructive path? It takes a courageous person to be a true friend in those times, especially in an age where we are reluctant to have an opinion on someone else’s choices.

Whether we are on the giving end or the receiving end of such a thing, what is required is a listening ear that is sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is saying. Our Father really does have our best interests at heart, and His word will save us a lot of trouble.

All we need is the humility to listen, and the courage to obey.

Gary Wiens

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

For My Sake - Jesus

I was reading yesterday from Oswald Chambers’ little volume on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and came across this potent paragraph:

There is a difference between devotion to principles and devotion to a Person. Jesus never proclaimed a cause; He proclaimed personal devotion to Himself—For My sake. Discipleship is based not on devotion to abstract ideals, but on devotion to a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. . . (P.4).

The words “for My sake” jumped out at me, and some things that had grown fuzzy and unclear over time suddenly crystallized again: the fundamental reason Jesus gives me for obedience, holiness, and faithfulness to Him is simply because I love Him, and He is worthy of my affections. Period.

There are many secondary motivations for living, or attempting to live, “the Christian life.” But the primary and therefore most important reason is because of love for the Son of God. He deserves my love and devotion, and how I live, talk, emote, relate to others, think in my secret heart – all of it affects Him. Jesus is a person in love with me, and how I respond to Him and to the situations of life impacts Him as the lover of my soul.

It’s pretty plain in the Bible – the first and greatest commandment is about loving Him with every part of my human being. My heart, my soul, my mind, and my physical strength are all drawn into this command: Love Me with everything you’ve got!

The message of the Sermon on the Mount is clear. I can’t do this without the Holy Spirit. He is the true Lover of Jesus, and the One who empowers me to love Him the way the Father loves Him.

Because of life’s difficulties that confront us day by day, obedience and faithfulness that is not motivated and empowered by love will soon deteriorate into angry legalism and religious intolerance at best, or at worst an abandonment of faith and hope. Only love for Jesus and love for others for His sake carries the power to keep my heart fresh and soft, my emotions tender, and my life journey on the right path. Only Jesus is worthy of everything, of all my love.

Help me, Holy Spirit – for His sake.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Why The Resurrection Is So Important - Randy Alcorn

It’s Resurrection Weekend, and I want to share this article by Randy Alcorn on the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here is Part One - enjoy!

Why The Resurrection Is So Important – Randy Alcorn

In the late 1990s, a group of scholars assembled to evaluate whether Jesus actually said the things attributed to him by the Gospel writers. Although they employed remarkably subjective criteria in their evaluation of Scripture, members of the self-appointed “Jesus Seminar” were widely quoted by the media as authorities on the Christian faith.

Marcus Borg, a Jesus Seminar leader, said this of Christ’s resurrection: “As a child, I took it for granted that Easter meant that Jesus literally rose from the dead. I now see Easter very differently. For me, it is irrelevant whether or not the tomb was empty. Whether Easter involved something remarkable happening to the physical body of Jesus is irrelevant.”1

As a child, Borg was right. As an adult—though considered a spokesman for Christianity—he couldn’t be more wrong. What Borg calls irrelevant—the physical resurrection of Christ’s body—the apostle Paul considered absolutely essential to the Christian faith. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins... [and] we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of redemption—both for mankind and for the earth. Indeed, without Christ’s resurrection and what it means—an eternal future for fully restored human beings dwelling on a fully restored Earth—there is no Christianity.

Resurrection Is Physical 

The major Christian creeds state, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” But I have found in many conversations that Christians tend to spiritualize the resurrection of the dead, effectively denying it.† They don’t reject it as a doctrine, but they deny its essential meaning: a permanent return to a physical existence in a physical universe.

Of Americans who believe in a resurrection of the dead, two-thirds believe they will not have bodies after the resurrection.2 But this is self-contradictory. A non-physical resurrection is like a sunless sunrise. There’s no such thing. Resurrection means that we will have bodies. If we didn’t have bodies, we wouldn’t be resurrected!

The biblical doctrine of the resurrection of the dead begins with the human body but extends far beyond it. R. A. Torrey writes, “We will not be disembodied spirits in the world to come, but redeemed spirits, in redeemed bodies, in a redeemed universe.”3 If we don’t get it right on the resurrection of the body, we’ll get nothing else right. It’s therefore critical that we not merely affirm the resurrection of the dead as a point of doctrine but that we understand the meaning of the resurrection we affirm.

Genesis 2:7 says, “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The Hebrew word for “living being” is nephesh, often translated “soul.” The point at which Adam became nephesh is when God joined his body (dust) and spirit (breath) together. Adam was not a living human being until he had both material (physical) and immaterial (spiritual) components. Thus, the essence of humanity is not just spirit, but spirit joined with body. Your body does not merely house the real you—it is as much a part of who you are as your spirit is.

If this idea seems wrong to us, it’s because we have been deeply influenced by Christoplatonism.†† From a christoplatonic perspective, our souls merely occupy our bodies, like a hermit crab inhabits a seashell, and our souls could naturally—or even ideally—live in a disembodied state.

It’s no coincidence that the apostle Paul’s detailed defense of the physical resurrection of the dead was written to the church at Corinth. More than any other New Testament Christians, the Corinthian believers were immersed in the Greek philosophies of Platonism and dualism, which perceived a dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical. The biblical view of human nature, however, is radically different. Scripture indicates that God designed our bodies to be an integral part of our total being. Our physical bodies are an essential aspect of who we are, not just shells for our spirits to inhabit.

Death is an abnormal condition because it tears apart what God created and joined together. God intended for our bodies to last as long as our souls. Those who believe in Platonism or in preexistent spirits see a disembodied soul as natural and even desirable. The Bible sees it as unnatural and undesirable. We are unified beings. That’s why the bodily resurrection of the dead is so vital. And that’s why Job rejoiced that in his flesh he would see God (Job 19:26).

When God sent Jesus to die, it was for our bodies as well as our spirits. He came to redeem not just “the breath of life” (spirit) but also “the dust of the ground” (body). When we die, it isn’t that our real self goes to the intermediate Heaven and our fake self goes to the grave; it’s that part of us goes to the intermediate Heaven and part goes to the grave to await our bodily resurrection. We will never be all that God intended for us to be until body and spirit are again joined in resurrection. (If we do have physical forms in the intermediate state, clearly they will not be our original or ultimate bodies.)

Any views of the afterlife that settle for less than a bodily resurrection—including Christoplatonism, reincarnation, and transmigration of the soul—are explicitly unchristian. The early church waged major doctrinal wars against Gnosticism and Manichaeism, dualistic worldviews that associated God with the spiritual realm of light and Satan with the physical world of darkness. These heresies contradicted the biblical account that says God was pleased with the entire physical realm, all of which he created and called “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The truth of Christ’s resurrection repudiated the philosophies of Gnosticism and Manichaeism. Nevertheless, two thousand years later, these persistent heresies have managed to take hostage our modern theology of Heaven.

Our incorrect thinking about bodily resurrection stems from our failure to understand the environment in which resurrected people will live—the New Earth. Anthony Hoekema is right: “Resurrected bodies are not intended just to float in space, or to flit from cloud to cloud. They call for a new earth on which to live and to work, glorifying God. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body, in fact, makes no sense whatever apart from the doctrine of the new earth.”4

† For Paul’s exposition of the resurrection of the dead, see 1 Corinthians 15:12-58.

†† The basic principles of Christoplatonism are explained in chapter 6, and a more complex explanation of Christoplatonism’s false assumptions can be found in appendix A.

††† Even if Christ’s resurrection body has capabilities that ours won’t, we know we’ll still be able to stretch the capacities of our perfected human bodies to their fullest, which will probably seem supernatural to us compared to what we’ve known.

1  Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 129-31.

2  Time (March 24, 1997): 75, quoted in Paul Marshall with Lela Gilbert, Heaven Is Not My Home: Learning to Live in God’s Creation(Nashville: Word, 1998), 234.

3  R. A. Torrey, Heaven or Hell (New Kensington, Pa.: Whitaker House, 1985), 68-69.

4  Anthony A. Hoekema, “Heaven: Not Just an Eternal Day Off,” Christianity Today (June 6, 2003), http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/122/54.0.html.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Transcendent Longing for Home

Over the past couple of months I’ve been involved with a number of senior citizens in my city, driving the bus that takes them on outings, or to the bank, grocery store, or all-in-one places like Target and Walmart. During this brief time, some friendships began to emerge with these seniors, and one of my favorites has been with Glen. Having just turned 84 years old, Glen had some trouble remembering things, but his sweet spirit and lively sense of humor made him a favorite of many at the center where he lived.

In one conversation with Glen, I asked him what he was looking forward to, and his answer was immediate and clear: “I’m looking forward to being home in Heaven.” We began talking about life and faith, and it became clear that Glen had a real and true relationship with Jesus Christ. His statement about “being home” stuck with me, and provoked some deeper thoughts on this final aspect of transcendent longing.

All of us want to be “home.” We yearn for that place, for that setting that feels right, where we are complete and comfortable and safe. We watch programs like “Fixer-Upper” or “My Lottery Dream Home” and feel the tug in our hearts about finding the place to live happily ever after, where our desires are fulfilled, and where peace and contentment rules the day. Every fairy tale has that perfect ending, the culmination of a life journey that leads us home. My favorite worship song at the moment, Hillsong’s “Behold (Then Sings My Soul)” concludes with the phrase “Behold, the Lord our God will lead us home.”

It’s the residue of Eden that is alive in every human heart. It’s the transcendent longing for Heaven, the real and tangible place that is our eternal home. I believe the knowledge of and longing for Heaven has to be squelched and denied if it is not to be believed. Billy Graham looked forward to going home to Heaven, but the tragedy for Stephen Hawking was that he had no home to look forward to. I’m afraid he’s had a rude awakening, although who can predict the mercies of God?

Glen went home yesterday. He went to church with his friend, Linda, and had a heart attack, in his Father’s house. I didn’t know him for long enough, I didn’t know him well enough, but I’m certain of this – the transcendent Home I’m yearning for is the same Home that Glen desired. I’ll see him again, along with all who have gone before, and we will surely live happily ever after – in Heaven, at home.

Gary Wiens

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Transcendent Longing for Beauty

The yearning in our hearts for the Beautiful is perhaps the most difficult longing to put into words. Beauty is the least tangible of the transcendentals, and has become terribly obscured in our time. We have largely removed Beauty from our spiritual consciousness, replacing it with concepts and doctrines on one hand, or with a preoccupation with self-help and comfort on the other. While those realities certainly have their place, by neglecting Beauty we inadvertently sabotage our ability to touch the fullness of those derivative benefits.

In our natural experiences, we have succumbed to the adage that “beauty is only skin deep,” and have therefore overemphasized the external in order to preserve the fleeting illusion of physical “beauty.” We have separated the idea of beauty from the other transcendentals of love, truth, and goodness, and have made an idol out of external attractiveness. By doing so, we have given place to “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” that St. John declares to be from the world system and not from the Father (1 John 2:15-16).

As a result, we celebrate the current fashions of the entertainment industry while conveniently separating them from the ugliness of the narcissism and perversion that characterizes that segment of society. They may be attractive, but because they are not good and true and truly loving, they are not Beautiful.

We are told in Isaiah 4:2 that in the last days of natural human history, “the Branch of the LORD (a reference to Jesus) shall be beautiful and glorious…”. In other words, the Spirit of God will reveal the character of Jesus, His person and work, His attributes and eternal majesty in such a way that will surpass all our comprehension, and we will ultimately be dumbstruck by the overwhelming revelation that He is Beautiful!

We are instructed in Psalm 29:2 to “Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” We are invited to explore the realm of the LORD that is truly beautiful, that will ultimately satisfy our yearning for Beauty, and we are promised that at the return of Jesus to the earth, His glorious and beautiful Kingdom will be truly and completely established.

And we will be satisfied.

Gary Wiens

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Transcendent Longing for Goodness and Justice - Part B

The cry for justice in current culture is growing louder, even as it becomes more and more apparent that the cultural institutions and the people who comprise them are incapable of producing the goodness and justice that our souls long for. The temptation is to give in to cynicism and even despair under the pressure of failed attempts to produce justice, but that pressure can actually steer our souls toward hope, if we will allow it.

That hope comes from the fact that there is One whose Kingdom is built on righteousness and justice, which are declared to be the foundations of His throne (Psalm 89:14). These two terms – righteousness and justice – are central promises of the Kingdom of God that will be established when Jesus returns to earth as the King of all kings. The promise of Isaiah 42:1-4 is that He will establish justice to the ends of the earth, and that nothing will deter Him in this quest. Our longing for goodness and justice will be satisfied, fully, when He returns.

What do these terms actually mean? Are they merely religious words that have little meaning for us, or can we understand them as the powerful promises they are? In my own study and meditation, I’ve come to the conclusion that righteousness means the perfect alignment and conformity of all things to the design that was in God’s mind when He created everything. To be “righteous” means to live fully in the perfection of God’s design for my life. Therefore, a Kingdom of righteousness (Matthew 6:33) will be the context in which every individual and every institution will live and operate in perfect alignment with the design and will of God. Because of Jesus, we will be everything we were created to be.

Justice, then, is the process of bringing all things, people and institutions, into that perfect alignment. When justice is established, all individuals and entities will relate and operate in perfect coordination and unity. What’s more, for those who live by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, this will not be a coerced reality, externally enforced. Rather, there will be the complete internal transformation into the image of Jesus, where every individual will freely choose to live in perfect alignment with God’s design and purpose. “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).

The impact of these truths is astonishing – we do not have to opt for a cynical, despairing outlook in response to our longing for goodness and justice. Those realities are surely coming to the earth. Goodness, righteousness, and justice will be the way of things. The wrongs will be made right, and evil will be done away. Jesus is surely coming!

And, importantly, we do not have to wait until that blessed day to begin to live like that. We can begin, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to seek after righteousness and justice in our own context. We can tune in to the Father’s voice, and receive His perspective on ourselves, on other people, and on situations. We are not forced to choose between objectionable extremes; rather, we can receive understanding from heaven, and wisdom in how to apply that understanding. The Kingdom is here now, through believers, even as we wait for the fullness when Jesus returns.

Let the longing for goodness and justice increase! Let our voices be raised in worship and intercession, calling for the Lord’s return, even as we extend our hands to work for righteousness and justice now.

The Prophet Amos said “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:4). It’s one of our deepest longings, and it will surely come.

Gary Wiens

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Transcendent Longing for Goodness and Justice

Perhaps you can picture the scene as it plays out. It can be among the children at the playground, or as we are experiencing as I write this, among the athletes at the Olympic Games. Whatever the level of skill, the participants are engaged in some sort of competitive activity – who’s the fastest, who’s the smartest, who’s … whatever! And suddenly, it’s apparent that some part of the game has gone awry: a rule has been broken, or maybe one competitor is simply so much better than the others, and you hear the exclamation – “That’s not fair!” Something has gone wrong, someone has experienced a development in the exercise that somehow doesn’t seem right, and the key thing is, we know it when we see it or experience it.

In our day and time, the cry “It’s not fair!” is shouted long and loud from so many different situations and voices. The term “microaggressions” (little annoyances about you that offend me) has become a part of our daily vocabulary, athletes and their coaches are accused of cheating to gain a competitive edge, and countless individuals have raised their voices against rampant abuse and misuse of people in a variety of settings. Our political process is mired in real or imagined scandal, and dirty tricks seem to be an element of every day life.

Why are we so up in arms about all of this? It’s because deep down inside, we know that there is a right way, that there should be goodness and justice in human relationships. Healthy and honest competition should be the rule of the day. People in power should not abuse those around them. Children should not be molested, or murdered in their school rooms. We yearn for Utopia, yet an honest look at “reality” strongly draws us toward a pessimistic reaction – “good luck trying to find that!” The cynical religious joke is “if you find a perfect church, don’t go there, because you’ll ruin it.”

In short, we know that something deeply important – goodness, justice – is broken, not only in our culture, but in every culture. Our problem is not that we know it’s broken – it’s that we can’t fix it, no matter how hard we try. Somehow, we humans seem to always return to our own self-serving motivations, and goodness/justice takes a back seat to our personal desire and felt need, regardless of the impact on others. And when an unjust situation is exposed to the light, the immediate reaction in our soul is that somebody, somewhere, has to pay for this! We want justice!

What faces us here is the same dilemma that arises in every one of these “transcendent longings of the soul.” We yearn for truth, for love, for goodness and justice. We know what should be, but we can’t find it or produce it. We long for perfection, we strive for it, we try to legislate for it, and yet the pursuit always, always falls short or breaks down before we can reach the goal.

Will there ever be justice in the earth? Will goodness ever win out, completely? Will evil and brokenness ever be overcome? I believe there is an answer to that question, and we’ll explore it in the next article. Stay tuned!

Gary Wiens