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As Far As The East Is From The West

I was meditating on David’s words in 2 Samuel 22 and 23 as I was writing for my next 10 Week Bible Study. I was struck by just how surely David saw himself as clean and righteous. He knew he was pure before the Lord, even though we have such an exhaustive witness in 1 and 2 Samuel to the contrary.

David was a man who knew how to sin, and how to sin big. But even greater than David’s ability to sin was his knowledge and surety that there was a God who forgave extravagantly. David understood that through his repentance, God made him a completely new creation.

David trusted in God’s faithfulness to forgive our sins, like he says in Psalm 103.

as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:12

The apostle John continued this same theme by saying this:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

Forgiven and Forgotten

In 2 Samuel 22 and 23, David repeatedly speaks of himself as clean and pure. He claims that there is no sin in him and that all his life he has lived righteously. How is that? Because he knew that through repentance God would forgive and forget all his sins.

David’s confidence in his forgiveness caused him to live differently, but it’s the way God wants us to live today. We can be free from the bondages of sin and death if we will fully embrace God’s forgiveness and grace through repentance.

Yes, repentance often looks like making amends with the ones we have wronged, but when we trust God that He has forgiven and forgotten, we can take on that same freedom of spirit to no longer live under the burden of guilt and shame.

How about you? Would you like to live like that? I encourage you to spend some time this week meditating on 2 Samuel 22-23:7. Knowing how badly David screwed up but that he could speak this of himself, how would that change how we view ourselves? How would that change your life? How would that change your relationships?

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Yes, Powerful Flawed Egos Existed 500 Years Ago

500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 things he wanted to see changed about the way the church handled things, mostly the selling of indulgences. I won’t go into exactly what all that meant; a quick Google search will land you a thousand explanations of his grievances.

I am fascinated by this event for another reason today. When Luther nailed his theses to the door of the chapel, he wasn’t trying to start a new church. Quite to the contrary, that would have been something only a heretic would do, so it was the furthest thing from his mind. October 31, 1517 was not Martin Luther’s attempt to start the Protestant Reformation. It was his attempt to begin a Catholic Reformation.

Deeply Flawed

Unfortunately for Luther, the Pope was a deeply flawed human being. I’m sure that Luther knew he was being a bit of a troublemaker with his actions, but he could not have perceived just how much trouble he was going to start. I encourage you to read the text of his theses as a whole and I believe you will agree with me that what he ended with is not what he started with those 95 theses. Because Luther was ultimately dealing with a flawed human being, things went very differently than he had intended. It was only years and decades later that those 95 theses nailed to the door in Wittenberg became what is known as the Protestant Reformation.

Those two words are a paradox. Reformation generally comes over time from within. Rebellion is what generally results from protest. How then can we view what Luther did 500 years ago as a reformation?

Unfortunately for the Pope, Martin Luther was a deeply flawed human being. In the same way that Rehoboam gave a harsh answer to his subjects, and thereby lost his kingdom, the Pope dealt harshly with a man he had underestimated. The disagreement that ensued was not between to meek and mild mannered men. No, the Protestant Reformation was birthed out of the lesser parts of the nature of two very political, driven and flawed men.

Years later, after Luther had begun what would eventually become the Lutheran church, other reformers began raising up proclaiming that Luther had not gone far enough in his reformation of the church. John Calvin, John Huss and many more like then would begin new movements, further fracturing what had been known up to that point as the Holy Unified (Catholic) Church. Martin Luther and the Pope had unwittingly opened a can of worms that we still feel the effects of today.

Emmanuel, God With Us

What fascinates me about all this is that God was in the midst of all of this. Flawed men, making flawed decisions fractured the church to pieces and God stood watching, smiling as they went. How is it that God smiles upon and actually blesses the flawed actions of flawed men? It’s because that’s the only type of people He has to work with.

It was the Pope’s and Luther’s big personalities that conflicted that eventually led to the separation. It was almost every other leader’s big personality and ego that led to further fractures, yet the Lord has blessed almost every new factions’ actions abundantly.

Before, during and since the protestor’s reformation, God has blessed both the Catholics and the Protestants. Both churches have grown immensely since that day. Miracles, signs and wonders have taken place within the Catholic and Protestant churches. How could God so richly bless all these flawed people?

Like I said, God can only use flawed people, because there isn’t any other kind of person. In His grace and mercy, God chooses partnership with us, mere humans, to carry out His plans on earth. He uses men to lead His church. Flawed men and women. That is how He began and it is how He ordains things today. He uses our strengths and weaknesses together to administer His church. He works through the personal and corporate failings of people to bring about amazing results.

In the same way that the Lord was not intimidated to split His chosen people into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, the Lord was not intimidated to split His church into two factions: Catholic and Protestant. It is not the Pope or anyone else who actually runs the church. The Holy Spirit conducts the affairs of the church. There are many men and women He uses to accomplish what is on His heart as He has done from the beginning.

The True Leader

The Holy Spirit is the true leader of the church. He is the one common factor through nearly two thousand years of a church, that despite wicked men’s best efforts, still exists. Somehow the Lord has carried His holy church through the failings of flawed men and women and come out ahead. Today, Protestants and Catholics have reached more people with the gospel of Jesus than anyone in 1517 could have imagined. There are still many, many deeply flawed people on both sides, and the Lord still continues to use them mightily.

The Protestant Reformation began five hundred years ago because two men, Martin Luther and Pope Leo X, could not come to an agreement because of their own egos and hubris, and the Lord loved it and blessed it. He blessed it not because He loves men’s egos and hubris, but because He loves His church.

And that is what it is to this day: His church. Protestant or Catholic, Lutheran or Pentecostal, Anglican or Orthodox, they are all God’s one holy unified church. Our true leader is not a Pope or an Archbishop of Canterbury, but a Holy Spirit who still moves and acts today like He did in the days of the early church.

That’s why I am here and it’s probably why you are reading this today, because God loves us despite and because of the actions of flawed mankind. There is no greater evidence of His love and grace today than the fact that all these churches still exist five hundred years after that famous act of protest.

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Origins of the Spiritual Gifts Test

I have never liked “Spiritual gift assessment” tests. Every one I’ve ever seen has seemed to be a way to compartmentalize the working of the Holy Spirit to best suit a church or denomination’s needs and beliefs.
This article just confirms what I already felt–that they were developed not to enhance the Holy Spirit’s activity, but to combat activity and theology counter to those developing them.
The first spiritual gift test was developed by people educated at Dallas Theological Seminary, a house that had a longstanding tradition of barring entry to anyone willing to admit having ever spoken in tongues. All other tests, including Wagner’s, were copycats of that original test–which was nothing more than a copy of a Myers-Briggs test.
The best way to discover your spiritual gifts is not to take a test, but to learn how to commune with the Holy Spirit. He is the one who gives all the gifts from prophecy to helps, not a 126-question survey. Paul tells us to ask for the spiritual gifts we want, especially prophecy (1 Corinthians 14).
You don’t have a “gift-mix.” You have a Holy Spirit. He will give you as much as He wants and as much as you ask for, so please, ask for more.
Please read the linked article for the background I’m referring to here.

The Struggle Is Real

Over time, as we struggle with sin, we grow weary of fighting it. Given enough time, we will face a choice: do we keep calling it sin and continue struggling, or do we rename it and claim that we have defacto overcome it?

This is a very real choice for any sin. You name it and it looks the same. Do you eat too much? Give up struggling with it and join a body-positive movement. Be proud of the body God has given you even though your doctor and scripture may say otherwise.

Or take homosexuality, the cause dejour to rename these days. The struggle is real, it is persistent and it is unrelenting. I have watched many people struggle with this over years and even decades, only to finally decide they are tired of the struggle. They choose to rename it. No longer do they call it sin, but a sexual orientation. God made them that way. It is time they embrace it and celebrate it. No more struggling! It’s magic!

It Doesn’t Go Away

But it doesn’t work that way, does it? Learning to be happy with a body that suffers from over-eating doesn’t make the struggle go away. You have to create a new narrative that puts you at odds with others. Skinny people, dieters, doctors, etc. are the new enemy, not sin. Anyone who would try to “body shame” are now the enemy. So instead of going to war against the sin, we go to war against those who would try to help.

If it feels like I am picking on you if you are overweight, I am sorry. Gluttony is a “safe sin” in our American conservative Christian world, but it is no less damaging a sin than others that harm the body. We have almost collectively decided to redefine it as something different than what scripture does.

And that is why it is becoming easier and easier for people to redefine sin, because we in the church have decided there are just things we don’t want to deal with. We have made some sins okay while others are not.

Struggle with porn? No big deal. Cheat on your taxes? Who doesn’t? Eat too much? It’s not that bad. You feel like you’re gay? You need to step down from church leadership, get counseling and we’ll never look at you the same again. Sound familiar?

Picking And Choosing

The problem with making some sins okay and others not okay is that it opens up the license to redefine any sin and eventually all sin. This truly grieves the heart of the Lord.

The struggle is real, though, and redefining sin never makes the struggle go away. We mask the struggle instead by making new enemies. In essence, when we redefine any sin, we simply switch sides in the battle of holiness.

The redefinition of homosexuality has not taken the struggle away from the broken hearts of those being oppressed by it. They learn to redirect their pain and struggle against others who are the “haters.” Instead of their sin being the enemy, anyone who would hold to a traditional view of sexuality is now the enemy. But there is a better way.

Search Me

I have found that the Lord has never dealt with me about more than one sin issue at a time, but I have also found that if I ask the Lord for increased holiness, He never fails to deal with some sin issue in my heart. If we are committed to growing in our love for the Lord, it means we must be equally committed to seeking His holiness. That will give Him license to deal with the sin that exists in our hearts and actions.

The Psalmist said it like this:

Search me, God, and know my heart;

Test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

And lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

This is the heart of those who desire to know God more and more. Not only must we not give up on the struggle, we must embrace it and invite God into our lives to make the struggle ongoing. If we desire to grow closer to God, we must choose to allow Him access to search our hearts and eliminate every sinful (offensive) way in us.

That means that we will be inviting God to introduce an ongoing struggle into our lives as long as we live. For most sin issues, God can point them out, heal us and give us the grace to move on. For others, it will be an ongoing battle that keeps recurring.

God’s Big But

But, and what a magnificent “but” it is, there is something the Lord offers in return for our struggle with sin. The Lord is so overwhelmingly amazed by our desire to wrestle with and overcome sin so that we could know Him more and be closer to Him that He is actually undone by His emotions.

In the greatest allegory of His love for His bride, the church, God has this to say about those who choose Him amidst the struggle and trials of life:

You are beautiful as Tirzah, my darling, as lovely as Jerusalem, as majestic as troops with banners.

Turn your eyes away from me, they overwhelm me.

Song of Songs 6:4-5

Did you see that? God, speaking to His bride, the church, asks her to “look away” because He is overcome with emotion and wants to compose Himself. The God of the universe, our creator and judge, is so overcome with emotions when He thinks about us wanting to know Him more that it brings Him to tears.

He cries tears of joy over us.

Over you.

Over me.

When I understand the immense and intense love that He has for me, and how it moves His heart, it makes my struggle with sin seem smaller. It never makes it easy, but it makes it easier to declare war on sin and keep fighting. It doesn’t mean that I always win, but it means that I will never quit.

By knowing that God is so captured by our weak and broken love for Him that it actually brings Him to tears, it gives us the power to invite Him to deal with our sin, expose it and give us freedom from it. Even if that struggle may last another 70 years, it can make it worth it.

But we have to embrace the struggle.

The struggle is real.

The struggle is hard.

But the struggle is so worth it.

Articles Naturally Supernatural

Episode 016 – Judgment Part 2

Just can’t get enough of people judging you?

Neither could we. That’s why we made a second episode!

This is the second part of a conversation about the nature of God’s judgment in scripture and in our world today. You won’t want to miss it.

Or, you know.

You can listen to the episode on iTunes or in the Google Play Store.