I just learned with sadness of the passing of Dr. Bernard Nathanson. Nathanson’s life was a bit reminiscent of that of Paul of Tarsus. In the early 1970s, he pioneered the ushering in of unlimited abortion in the United States. As this compelling and eloquent obituary states, he personally performed thousands of abortions, including that of his own unborn child. Say what you will, Nathanson was not in it merely for the money. He believed in what he was doing.
But at the appointed hour, truth unbidden barged in on Nathanson’s life. When he finally saw an ultrasound of a live abortion, a moment which he later immortalized in the Silent Scream movie, he realized the moral horror of what he had done. Unable to deny the truth, Nathanson turned completely around and became a forceful advocate on behalf of human life.
And more than that, his awakening opened up for him an issue he had previously been closed to – his own compelling need for forgiveness from a God he knew was morally perfect. Jesus said that everyone who seeks finds. Nathanson’s crushing weight of sin drove him to the only assurance of forgiveness we are given, Jesus.
While Nathanson’s passing is the end of an era, there’s encouragement in his life for us. Our God is so big that there is no sin He will not forgive, if only we come to Him with a sincere heart and ask. Paul the great apostle persecuted the church murderously, but when he finally saw the truth, he too could not deny it, and he converted. When God forgives, He forgives completely; it is a done deal. Despite Paul’s past, God chose him and commissioned him to be His vessel:
This man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. -Acts 9:15
Later Paul would testify:
I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. -1Tim 1:16
So it is too, with so many of us, who early in our lives found the lies taught by our morally adventurous culture pleasing to our flesh, but who later discovered the terrible cost of sin, a cost that in many cases had been hidden from us.
Nathanson courageously embraced truth at great personal cost. There was a massive disruption of his professional associations and his friendships, to say nothing of his finances. For this reason, leaving his previous error behind, he went on to become a moral giant. Like Paul he earned the right to say:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. -1Cor 15:10
There is sadness in loss, but the grace of God marches on, collecting trophies such as Bernard Nathanson. He is an example for us of casting off sin and every weight of encumbrance, and pursuing grace and truth, even when it is costly to do so.
There’s a well known story in the Bible, about a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years. She came to Jesus from behind, secretly touched the hem of His garment, and was healed. It seems like a simple story, but there’s much going on beneath the surface that you might not be aware of. When we examine the story, we find that both Jesus’ and the woman’s behaviors seem strange, until we understand the religious and cultural context of Israel back then. And in finding that key, we will come to see what is really the most important part of the story. First let’s take a look at what actually happened.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.
And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.
She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”
And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”
And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.
And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” – Mark 5:24-34
The scene is one of near chaos, as crowds throng around the Savior. Just previous to our excerpt, a Jewish synagogue leader named Jairus had come up to Jesus and fallen at His feat, pleading with Him to come and heal his young daughter who was dying. The girl was fading fast, and Jairus was uptight and in a hurry, so Jesus tells him “fear is useless; only believe”, and they start off to the girl. But then this woman with a chronic bleeding problem comes up from behind, touches Jesus’ cloak and is healed. Jesus senses that power has gone out of himself, and, despite Jairus’ desperation, stops and makes an issue of it. The disciples are incredulous – with all the people thronging around, many of them must have been touching Jesus. So what’s the big deal? But Jesus is intent on finding the person who was healed. Finally, the woman comes in great fear and falls to the ground trembling before Jesus, telling all. Jesus blesses her and continues on His way with Jairus.
There are some interesting questions here. Why did the woman come up to Jesus from behind? If she wanted a healing, why did she even from the outset intend on only touching Jesus’ garments rather than His person? Why did Jesus make an issue of this healing, when almost certainly many people in this vast crowd must have similarly been coming up, touching Him and being healed? And lastly, why did the woman finally come forward in fear and trembling, rather than with joy and exaltation at being healed of her long-standing disease? Indeed, the Gospel of Luke expands on why the woman even come forward at all:
And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. -Luke 8:47
According to Luke, the woman was not merely lost in the crowd, she was actually hiding in that crowd! What then was this woman so afraid of?
I always tended to be an intellectual type. And though my parents sacrificially provided everything we kids needed – it wasn’t always easy, I know, and I will bless them forever for that – there really wasn’t much sense of affection, belongingness or guidance as I grew up. As humans, we tend to project our earthly experiences onto God, especially family of origin issues, and because of that, I’ve often had a hard time trying to relate to God’s love. I saw that love written in the Bible, I heard it preached, and I’ve certainly even had wonderful times of communion in prayer and worship, but generally I’ve not understood or even had a functional belief in God’s love for me.
Instead, the motivation I could relate to for God saving us was the one I had seen in my parents – a commitment to high principles and ideals, to doing what was right. God was going to see through what He had started. It was His duty, as the one whose idea Creation was, to put an end to the evil and chaos that had spoiled it. And after all, He had His reputation to restore. He had been slandered in the Garden, when the devil charged Him with withholding good from humans and ruling over them for His own selfish pleasure. That had to be set right.
So the most I could relate to was that God saved us in order to do the right thing, but in my heart’s thinking, love and intimate interrelatedness had no place in it. He remained aloof from us.
But I hadn’t followed through the ramifications of one foundational point far enough. God knew everything that was going to happen before it occurred. He so easily could have avoided placing Himself in the position of having to do the right thing, and having to preserve His reputation, all at such a high cost, merely by not creating in the first place.
But create He did. Now God, the Self-Existent One, is perfect is every way and has no needs, so why did He do so? It boggles my mind, but He whose joy is already perfect takes joy in being a “cheerful giver”, in giving us life and happiness. He did not have to do it. But in order to give us a life of unending bliss, He committed to a path that would lead to Jesus dying a horrible death on the Cross. He esteemed it all to be worth it, so that He could share his glorious nature and have communion with us
Not duty, not vindication, but Love – love is why He made us, and love is why He paid the price to redeem us.
The distinction between love, as against principle, being God’s motivation toward us is beyond enormous. It is the difference between a personal and impersonal God. It is the difference between having an arrangement and having a relationship. It is the difference between being alone in a crowd, and really belonging. In short, it is the difference between just existing and being gloriously alive.
Over in 2 Corinthians, Paul gives us a compelling graphic image:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2Cor 3:18
The right person could probably write a book on this one verse, but basically it tells us that as we gaze upon Christ’s glory, that glory fills us and transforms us into the very image of Christ that we are beholding. And it tells us that there is no end to it. As we keep beholding the glory, we keep being filled with more glory.
We can do that because we are “with unveiled face”. Anyone who has entered into covenant relationship with God through Christ the Lord has given Him the right to apply Christ’s holy blood as payment of our sin-debt. Just as the veil of the Jewish temple was torn in two when Jesus accomplished His vicarious, sacrificial death, when we trust Jesus for salvation the veil that separated us personally from God is torn away. We now have the right to behold our glorious God and Father in all His holiness, not through the keeping of law, not through external religion, not through any works of our own, but through the merits of His Son, our mediator.
Jesus the “only-begotten” Son of God has through His resurrection become the “first-born of many brothers”. We are adopted into the family of God, not as servants, being mere cogs on the wheel, but as brothers and friends. It is not a cold business arrangement we are called to, it’s a loving family unit. Mere principle is not the glue that holds it all together, and neither is vindication of God’s name. Rather, God’s unfathomable perfect love, lavishly poured out on us, is the very substance of our shared union.
Oh, how glorious heaven is going to be! That is why Paul could speak of all the woes and sorrows of this fallen world as a relative “momentary, light affliction”! It’s hard to see that sometimes, when troubles and sorrows come roaring in, but we need to keep reminding ourselves of it, because the beatific vision of God is where His “zoe” life is found.
Scripture warns us that God’s people perish for lack of prophetic vision. I’ve found that when I lack vision and can’t find my way through a situation, I need to repair back to the one central vision that drives the whole life in God. And that is the vision of who He is, what He has done and is going to do, and what ultimately drives His wonderful plan for us.
And the reason for that plan, and for the great and precious promises He has given us, and for the amazing introduction to grace that we already enjoy, is that He loves us eternally, with a limitless love beyond our ability to understand.
Praise be His glorious Name, forever.
An excellent message received via the ElijahList, dealing with different ways we can be hurt, and how to find the power to overcome and turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
In Betrayal – “I Love You”
While He was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss Him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”—Luke 22:47-48
“Beloved one, I am Love that will not let you go. To those of you who have walked in the pain of betrayal from dear ones you have trusted and loved, I release the grace to overcome such pain and crushing disappointment. My Love is more than you will ever need to forgive betrayal. Reach deep inside of Me and find a place of forgiveness from which to draw upon. Rest your souls in Me. Let Me cover the scars of betrayal with the healing power of My love. Be not battle weary, but allow Me to kiss away the effects of the lies, the greed and the fear from others that led to your betrayal.
“You have shared in My cup of suffering, so that you might also share in My cup of Joy. My heart overflows with love for you. My love is freedom, My love is unchanging and all-powerful in the pulling down of strongholds that would keep you from flowing fully in My grace. My love is your storehouse in times of great need. Child of My heart, I love you; betrayal is overcome by the Cross.”
In Denial – “I Love You”
It is good for the heart to be established by grace –Heb 13.9
It’s been a while since I posted, so I thought I’d try to catch up. This has been the most amazing growth season for me since I was first Saved back in 1980.
In a nutshell, what’s going on is brokenness turning over fallow ground, necessity sowing seeds of change, and tears supplying the rain. With the passage of time, “someone warming them from below”, and my reintroduction to the Gospel of Grace, which I once knew but had somehow lost sight of, those seeds have been bearing a rich crop.
I’m finding that issues that have dogged me for many years are gently dissolving away. Challenges arise, then I watch them get knocked down in real time. And like the dead soldiers floating in the Red Sea after Moses and the Israelites crossed over safely, I don’t think I’ll be seeing them again.
I’m learning so much that I don’t know where to start, so I’ll only give a brief synopsis. One thing I’m learning is not to defend myself. In the past, when the voice of the accuser came on me, I’d have my familiar script to read back to him. It was all very logical and sound. The problem is that it originated in the soulical realm, the mind. Consider the wonderful verse in Isaiah:
No weapon forged to be used against you will succeed; you will refute everyone who tries to accuse you. This is what the LORD will do for his servants – I will vindicate them,” says the LORD. – Isa 54:17
Notice that last part: “I” will vindicate them. I realized that I was doing an elaborate and unending kabuki with the accuser. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the script to him, but he always comes back. The Holy Spirit has been increasingly showing me lately that I need to silence myself and let Him handle the defenses.
So I’ve stood down. I’m resting in the Lord, holding my peace. Remember that old, great song, “If I hold my peace, and let the Lord fight my battles – victory, victory shall be mine”. That’s what’s happening here. I want the resolution to come from deep within my being, from the workings of the Spirit, so that when this is done, it will be done permanently. I want the past to be passed, once and for all. This is it.
Grace is so beautiful. To think that my sins are not imputed to me! It’s been so long since I felt the reality of that, and a great weight is off me. When I mess up, I don’t have to deny or avoid the facts. Do you know how great that is for mental and emotional health? It’s the very basis of it. I can relax. I feel genuine gratitude for Jesus setting me free, and gratitude is wonderful for the soul. I’m more conscious of His love, and my love reflecting back has increased. Simply put, I’m being set free and empowered.
I spent much of today doing yard work. There are some water issues here – pooling on the lawn, washing out the gravel drive – so out came the shovels and the steel rake, and I went about grading and trenching. The Spirit was so sweet I would have been happy if I could do this the rest of my life. I don’t need advancement, I don’t need popularity, I don’t need much more in the material realm than food and covering. As long as I have the Spirit of God, I felt today that I had virtually no other needs.
As I worked I had a vision of the Lord sitting on His throne, His glory radiating from His face. The light of His glory hit me and went through me. I saw that this was the heavenly hope we all must have, to strengthen us for the ardors of the journey. And I saw that by granting me the vision, the Lord was gracing me with that strength. Realizing that, just being able to love Him turned that yard into heaven for me.
Because of my sin, that glory also carried a purging heat with it. It wasn’t exactly comfortable. This is my concept of purgatory, if you will – as scripture says, we are translated in the twinkling of an eye, but to the degree that we have built on wood, hay and stubble, we are saved as through fire. It’s not punishment, it’s purification, and it takes place in the heavenly context of God’s love and glory. We don’t have to pay for our sins – for 30 days, or 15000 years, or whatever period of time that struck the religious hierarchy’s fancy that day. We can’t pay for our sins, and to say we can is contrary to scripture (see parable of unforgiving servant, Mt. 18), bondage to us, and frankly, an offense to the Blood of the Son of God. If we could pay for our sins then why did Christ die?
The Lord also showed me today that the next mountain I will possess is Peace. He has shown me three areas in my life that need clarity and resolution. And I have not the slightest doubt that His leading me to see the need and to pray about it is a sure harbinger that He fully intends on setting me to it, bringing me through it, and giving me the victory.
The three areas have a commonality centered around what I consider perhaps the most important concept in Kingdom living today – human authority and its limits. We need to know how to deal lovingly, forgivingly, and rightfully, with parents, church and secular authority, not only for the sake of resolving past issues, but because new trials are coming.
All this is essential, because resolution of issues leads to righteousness, which is the foundation of peace. And peace in turns leads to joy, which leads to power (see Rom 14.17 and Neh 8.10). And power is what we need in order to live victoriously.
I’ve been thinking about Caleb lately. Someone pointed out that when the Israelites finally made it into the Promised Land, after their forty year detour for unbelief, Caleb, now eighty-five years of age, requested the area with the very mountains in which those giants that had intimidated Israel resided. He said, ~God may be kind to me and give me victory.~ Caleb was unpresumptuous, but behind it was a faith of forged iron and the courage of a lion. What an extraordinary spirit. Caleb went on to defeat those giants and possess the land for himself and his descendants.
So I’m excited about what’s been shaking, though the challenges are great. I want to emulate Caleb. As the Lord opens doors, I want to say with humility, the Lord may help me, but I know beyond doubt that if I am willing He will glory Himself in me. He is looking for people just like that, to prove Himself strong on their behalf (2Chr 16.9). I want to be one of those people.
I hope you are being blessed. May His glory fill His church to overflowing.
My personal Grace Awakening continues apace, but the past two days have been characterized by rest.
Rest is new to me, and not natural to my old nature. I’m a confirmed Type A, driven, entrepreneurial sort, so don’t blame it on me – I simply do not know HOW to rest! But that is changing.
A couple of times in the past few days I have seen in my mind some thing I thought of doing, and then distinct from it I simultaneously saw my motivation for doing it. And the motivation was rooted in gaining the acceptance of man.
That’s what a person does when he grows up without such acceptance, and it’s understandable. But it’s not something that God can bless, because it’s not holy. Our source – our only source – must be Him. If we rely on the whims of fallen man to justify ourselves, we build on shifting sand indeed.
The problem is how to free oneself of this bondage. That’s where the Word and the Spirit come in. And the Word and the will of the Spirit of the New Covenant can be summarized in one word: Grace.
Can it be that God really grants forgiveness independent of our worthiness? That is the Gospel, yet I suspect that many Christians have not inculcated that truth into their souls in a practical way. I know that despite all my study, I hadn’t by a long shot.
We are like the unjust servant in Mt. 18 who, completely forgiven of a huge debt by his king, goes out and beats his fellow servant over a far smaller sum. It may not have been greed that motivated him. It’s quite possible that the truth of being FULLY forgiven didn’t really sink in, and that he still felt pressured, perhaps by pride, to pay back what he could.
I’ve observed that the fellow slave we beat on the most is usually the one that is most convenient. And when no one else in around, the guy that is left turns out to be oneself. How ironic that the torturers mentioned in that parable actually can be the very one being tortured. When we’re not in a state of grace we become our own worst enemy.
But God has a solution. Completely independent of our works or worthiness, He lavishes debt forgiveness upon us. There is only one condition, but that condition is so outlandish, so unthinkable to the flesh that it can be the hardest thing for us to accomplish: we must humble ourselves to accept the offer.
Another amazing irony is how even the Gospel can be taken as law. As we know, above all, law makes sin manifest and brings condemnation. If we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven. Am I loving my enemies enough? Doubts are bred, we try to fight the battle in the mental and emotional realms, and we become like a dog chasing its tail. All the while we’ve lost sight of the Giver of all good gifts, His kindhearted will that we live freely, and His power to deliver us to that state.
Instead, God’s forgiveness is freely given up-front. “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more”. The absolution comes first, then the power to conquer sin. The order is critical to our spiritual health,. Otherwise, we will be futilely fighting this battle in our own strength, as the New Covenant simply degrades to another Old Covenant, appealing to Pharisees but destroying those of honest conscience.
I took a break from reading The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life1 today. But I’m filling in with Tozer’s delightful The Pursuit of God. It is beautifully written, but more importantly, it has a rare anointing for drawing one close to God. I was tempted to post the second chapter, The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing, and I will do so if someone requests it. Meanwhile the whole book can be downloaded at ProjectGuttenberg.org. After I download these things I format them for Word, where I can add my own footnotes, mark-up, etc. I can save you that step if you contact me.
1 BTW, Smith’s use of the term “Happy” is legit. The happiness she directs us to is borne of holiness, and that holiness is a product of grace, not works. This is not a man-centered gospel, but the true Gospel of grace that she so wonderfully advocates.
I can’t write too much yet about what I’ve been experiencing and learning the past few weeks. It has been earth-shaking to the max. I have been drinking in God’s grace so deeply that years of weariness, caused by trying to walk Christianity out in my own strength, has been released in my soul as my restraints loosen, washing over me as it oozes out. So presently I really can’t do much, but it’s a good feeling because I know it’s the precursor to freedom and empowerment.
It began about three weeks ago, when a friend on Facebook tipped me off to the videos of Joseph Prince. He really has a handle on the Gospel of grace that Paul preached. Paul was persecuted for his Gospel for reasons we still often do not fully understand – that it’s a radical departure from the keeping of the Law; and it’s a radical departure from anything religious man (and man is religious, no matter what particular costume he may be wearing, including secularism) could ever concoct.
For three days I went on a “Prince Extravaganza”, soaking it in, finding new Life. The power of grace began to be released in my soul. Whenever old doubts and anxieties would appear, a simple faith would arise to deflect them: everything was in God’s hands, and He is so very able to take care of me. It literally was like a light would go on in my soul, and the tension would be immediately released. It was miraculous.
Then, through Andrew Strom’s Revival list, I came across the site SermonIndex.net. Poking around, I found a Watchman Nee article (there are about 160 there; it’s a great resource), The Gift, or the Giver?
Nee very insightfully makes the point that the ultimate test of faith and intimacy is to see beyond our Isaac, to God Himself. It’s not about how much Isaac pleases us, it’s about being pleased and consumed with the larger principle of God’s will. That little synopsis does the piece a disservice, but that’s all I can write right now. I strongly recommend reading it.
Reading a few other things at that site, I went looking for Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. I eventually found that for download at ProjectGuttenberg, but before I did I struck out at CCEL.org. But while at CCEL I spontaneously downloaded Hannah Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.
WOW! I read the book decades ago, but this time I feel like I’ve been hit by a freight train, full-on. And yes, I have died of the injuries! That is, my flesh died. My paltry attempts to live the Christian life died.
Now I see that it’s all grace, it’s all Him. It’s Him working in me through faith. The whole salvation, justification, glorification plan is His from the outset, our job is to receive and believe. As Nee says, its Luke 15 context proves that the Prodigal Son story really is about the Father regaining what was lost, not the son finding himself.
As I said, I’m too much in process to say much more yet. But I wanted to flag my readers that my absence here has not been wasted time. God is doing something marvelous. And I wanted to leave a breadcrumb trail in case any of you are looking for some great viewing/reading material.
Hope to check in soon. Until then, be, and stay, blessed.