Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sunday Morning Sanctification

This is note-form of my Sunday time with God on a morning when our home church will not be meeting.[1] I was free to focus on whatever new things Father was doing without thinking of my usual responsibilities for getting ready for our church fellowship.

I share this as encouragement for you to consider how your morning time with God can be a very real and personal encounter with God’s word and his Spirit so that you know what God is speaking to you about, you can see what he is doing in your life and around you, and you have responded to your heavenly Father with an affirmation that you are setting out to put his words into practice.[2]

The note-form of this post may also give you a sense of how you could share your morning journey with your fellowship of believers.

Prelude: so much turmoil to work through to have a genuine experience of “the peace of God, which surpasses understanding”![3]

Start: how to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue” when faith is taking a beating, insecurities are pounding against the shore of my heart (so to speak), and virtue feels like the most overwhelming obligation I have ever faced.[4]

Consideration: why not remind myself what comes before this to help my sluggish mind tell the truth to a weary heart for the encouragement of a parched soul?[5]

Gift of grace: “in the sanctification of the Spirit”.[6]

Journey: in-between, “the foreknowledge of God the Father,” and, “obedience to Jesus Christ,” is, “in sanctification of the Spirit”.[7] Wow! Between what the Father has determined for my life in his foreknowledge, and what Jesus is calling me to live in my obedience to him, is the personal activity of the Holy Spirit to sanctify me into the image and likeness of my Savior. THAT is where grace wants me to look before my faith can obey Jesus’ will!

What God is saying: what he calls me to do to make every effort to supplement my faith with virtue is not dependent on me; it is dependent on the sanctifying work the Spirit is doing in me. My part is to join a work in progress.

What God is doing: sanctifying me by his Spirit in such ways that my experience of this sanctifying work of the Spirit feels bigger and greater to me than my efforts to sanctify myself with virtue (and everything else Peter lists[8]).

How I am joining God in his work: I am (present continuous) consciously relating to the specific works the Spirit is doing in me for my sanctification in order to take the next step of making every effort to supplement my faith with virtue.

Conclusion: I feel like I have just read a chapter in which the gist of the story is made clear (it’s about the Spirit’s sanctifying work before it’s about my participation in that work), and now I will turn the page to the next chapter where the personal details of my maturing in Christlikeness become very real and personal as I pour my heart into attaching to the specific things the Spirit is doing.

Whenever I share these things, I am aware that there must be at least one person out there who would gain encouragement from adding my sharing to their own. Perhaps you needed this reminder from God’s word that, whatever God is calling you to do right now in “the obedience of faith,”[9] the Holy Spirit is supremely ahead of you working sanctification into your life in a real and personal way.

With that in mind, is there something you have felt the word and the Spirit leading you to do that you can now say “yes” to because you see that he is already doing that work in you?

Perhaps Paul’s words would make this clear:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.[10]

Notice that, even though Paul refers to us working out our own salvation with fear and trembling before reminding us that God works in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” he means it works the other way around. The key word is “for”. In other words, we do our work because (for) God is already working.

Today’s focus simply encourages us that, whatever our heavenly Father is working in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” his Holy Spirit is already sanctifying us to that end. By faith, let us join them in the personal specifics of their will and work right now.

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[1] One of the benefits of being a home church is the freedom to adjust to things that are going on in our families so that we can meet at different times or places, and in different ways than usual.
[2] Matthew 7:24-27 shows the wise and foolish builders who both heard the words of Jesus but only the wise man put those words into practice. James would give his “Amen!” to this by reminding us that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17), and, “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). Just remember that we are saved by grace through faith without works so that our faith is made alive to now do the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10 again).
[3] Philippians 4:7 (context: Philippians 4:4-9)
[4] For a few weeks, our home church has been focusing on II Peter 1:3-11 where Peter first reminds us that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,” and then calls us to “make every effort to supplement your faith” with the qualities of “life and godliness” that make us increasingly more like Jesus. This week’s focus has been on what it looks like for me/us to, “make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue…”
[5] Everything in the Christian life begins with whatever God is doing by grace that we are called to attach to by faith (see Ephesians 2:8-10). Many people who grew up in the church developed a “works-based mindset” that focused on what we “do” in the church far more than who we “are” in Jesus. Dysfunction in homes can produce trauma that teaches us to always focus on what we are supposed to do to keep the peace rather than how we live as the beloved children of God. I often need to look at the things God is calling me to “do” and remind myself that everything I do flows out of everything God has done and is presently doing. Jesus’ word-picture of himself as the vine and us as his branches makes this clear (John 15:1-11). I must always know what Jesus is flowing into my branch before I will be spiritually healthy within my own soul so I can then flow the same things into the lives of others.
[6] I Peter 1:2 (context: I Peter 1:1-2). There have been a lot of things going on that so easily tempt a mind to worry and fret. I always encourage people to begin our time with God admitting to God how we are really doing as deeply as we can identify it. We then have the added blessing of discovering how personally God will speak his word into our hearts regarding those very things.
[7] “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (I Peter 1:1-2).
[8] II Peter 1:5-7
[9] Romans 1:5; 16:26
[10] Philippians 2:12-13

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Shepherdly Care for ODD Believers

For a long time I have had to labor over the discrepancy between the joy of the obedient-faith life we are called to and the joylessness of the ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) life that is supposed to be a thing of the past.[1]

We have all seen it. Our good-behavior Christian living works for a while as everyone seems to get along, but all it takes is one person starting to question how we are really doing and suddenly a psycho-ninja-warrior springs out of the darkness of our basement dungeons and starts fighting against EVERYTHING God is doing to find us and set us free.

My quandary is, where do I focus my ministry when the ODD sin is so evident? In other words, when all my efforts to teach the goodness of God’s word as it applies to anything involved in our drive to ROAR (resistance, opposition, arrogance, rebellion) is met by more ROARing, what is a Shepherd-Guy supposed to do?

The answer is given very clearly in God’s Book so that every pastor/shepherd can tune his heart to the Father/child relationship in which the pastor can rest in doing his part while trusting the Father with the responsibility for everything else.[2]

First, the broader view of the plan involves both a positive and negative focus. The positive is, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”[3] The negative focus is, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”[4]

The understanding here is that, before addressing any distinctive problems among God’s people, there needs to be a general character of pursuing “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”[5] When the pastor has enough people in his church seeking God in such ways, and calling on the Lord together with pure hearts, the foundation is in place for addressing any specific discrepancies in the Spirit-filled lifestyle of the congregation.

Second, the specific plan for helping an ODDly behaved Christian also begins with a general clarification of the pastor’s character in relating to everybody, and then narrows the focus to the ODD behavior forced on the church.

The pastor’s character in relating to everyone in the church is, “And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil…”[6] If that is the way a pastor is growing in the Lord,[7] he is a blessing to all the people who are not quarrelsome or ODDly behaved, but then quite ready to add the ODD churchian to his ministry activities.

The specific instruction to the pastor in relating to ODD congregants is, “correcting his opponents with gentleness.”[8] Yup. That’s it.[9]

What is the chief characteristic of the person in question? Opposing.

What is the primary aim for a pastor in helping this person? Correcting.

What does an ODD person need to see in a kind and patient teacher who is seeking to correct him or her? Gentleness.

Now here is an issue that many pastors will have difficulty with because it seems to be inherent in our fleshly tendencies: leaving all the rest in God’s hands.

I say this because the present church culture seems to be poisoned with a demand for “results” that is idolized above the hunger and thirst for righteousness.[10] Pastors need to let themselves treasure the value of “correcting his opponents with gentleness,” as the focus of his righteousness-by-faith while also trusting God with whatever he is pleased to do in the other person’s life.

God’s part in the picture is described as, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”[11]

To clarify, all the things we wish would happen in the other person are GOD’S WORK!

Repentance: It is God’s kindness that is meant to lead someone to repentance.[12]

Knowledge: The “fear of the LORD (not of the pastor)” is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge in the other person.[13]

Truth: Jesus is “the truth,”[14] and the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth”.[15]

Come to their senses: Jesus showed, in bringing the demonized man of the Gerasenes “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind,”[16] that he can bring anyone to their senses, and demonstrated this further in Paul’s Damascus Road experience that he can do this for anyone.[17]

Escape from the snare of the devil: We are told how to be safe from the devil’s snares through equipping the church with the whole armor of God so we can “stand against the schemes of the devil.”[18] The devil is described as “a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”[19] Paul is now telling Timothy how pastors help those believers who have succumbed to a snare and need help getting out.[20]

I find much comfort for the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”[21] This covers both the Scriptures that guide us into how to avoid succumbing to temptation, and our need for deliverance when we fall prey to the devil’s schemes. Ultimately, we have a Savior who came “to destroy the works of the devil,”[22] and what he has already accomplished on the cross is always available to apply to any works of the devil that are holding God’s sheep captive.

As older brother John wrote, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”[23] It is this advocate the pastor trusts to help the ODD believer escape the devil’s snares. The pastor simply continues a relentless ministry of gentle correction in faith that Jesus will deal with the other person in the way that accomplishes the greatest good.[24]

After being captured by him to do his will: this helps the pastor understand why God is the one who changes the ODD believer’s heart. The wayward sheep has been captured by the roaring lion to now do his will instead of God’s. God has to work on that ODD Christian’s heart to set him free.[25]

I have no idea how this got to be such a long blogpost! I think it’s because I needed to counsel myself in these things (joining the Spirit in his work of counseling me) as much as to share them with anyone else.

I simply know that pastors can face a lot of disillusionment in trying to help ODD believers, especially if they have an ODD Believers’ Club going on in the core group. The more we can simplify our ministry to such people in the gentle correction kind of way, while walking in such love-relationship with our Shepherd so that our own need for comfort and help is satisfied, the more our perseverance and waiting on the Lord will help the most people.

Now, if the unthinkable has happened, and an avowed ODD person has seen themselves in the mirror with this post, perhaps you have a gentle under-shepherd who would love to hear from you. Go share with him that Jesus has seemed to grant you repentance as you read along, leading you to know and understand the truth, and that you have suddenly felt like you have come to your senses and desperately want to escape the devil’s trap. If you have a pastor trying to follow Paul’s example, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith”,[26] go and share your surrender to Christ so you can rejoice together. You can be quite sure that your pastor may very well need that encouragement right now.

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” cries the Psalmist.[27] And so we join God’s work to this end.

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I in no way agree with the world’s assessment of the ODD life, their explanation for this propensity (which is far more common than they imagine), or their treatment. God’s view of sin, pride, idolatry and rebellion is the superior one. I simply present this for those church folk who have already hardened themselves against anything the Bible says to describe their resisting-the-Spirit behavior because they can’t let anything ruin the “good Christian” fa├žade they have created to hide in. They would rather look like an awful Christian who self-justifies what they are doing than be transformed through the renewal of their minds into the Spirit-filled Christian they could be in surrender to their heavenly Father.
[2] While I absolutely denounce the Touched By an Angel (I know I’m dating myself) heresy that salvation is about us reaching up to God as best we can and God reaching down to cover the rest, and I absolutely trust the good news of great joy that our Savior has saved us by grace alone through faith alone, we cannot escape that the Christian life now involves us joining God in his work with things we are supposed to do on our side while trusting God to do the things that are on his side.
[3] II Timothy 2:22 (yes, I know that “flee youthful passions” is a negative, but the primary focus of the exhortation is the positive side of what we pursue together in Christ)
[4] II Timothy 2:23
[5] Romans 14:17 (context: Romans 14:13-23)
[6] II Timothy 2:24
[7] I say “growing” rather than “perfecting” because even pastors can only make progress in this lifetime, with none of us ever achieving perfection until the return of Christ. Paul told Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress (not perfection)” (I Tim 4:15).
[8] II Timothy 2:25
[9] This can be elaborated with other Scriptures that describe different qualities of a pastor’s ministry to the flock, but this keeps the focus on the aim as it especially applies to Oppositionally Defiant Christians, that they need gentle correction.
[10] What Jesus introduced in Matthew 5:6 as, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” is characteristic of the gospel’s effect on God’s children, that there is a “righteousness of God” that is “from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith” (see Romans 1:16-17). Everything is about the righteousness of faith, and so we let ourselves always hunger and thirst for what we are still lacking in this regard.
[11] II Timothy 2:25-27
[12] Romans 2:4
[13] Proverbs 9:10 (plus: Proverbs 1:7; Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 33:6)
[14] John 14:6
[15] John 15:26 (plus: John 14:17; 16:13; I John 4:6; 5:6)
[16] Luke 8:35 in context of Luke 8:26-39
[17] Acts 9:1-18
[18] Ephesians 6:10-20
[19] I Peter 5:8
[20] Jesus showed the church that he does not take lightly people letting Satan fill their hearts with sin when he addressed Ananias and Sapphira’s sin of lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). The apostles addressed a similar situation when Simon the Sorcerer received Christ and then came to covet the Apostles’ ability to lead new believers to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9-24). Peter rebuked Simon for his sin and told him that he was “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:23). My point is simply that believers can and do fall into such snares and need rescuing as quickly as possible.
[21] Matthew 6:13 in context of the Disciples’ Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13
[22] I John 3:8
[23] I John 2:1
[24] Since we’re dealing with how to handle ODD Christians rather than dead-in-sin unbelievers, Paul’s encouragement that, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28), most definitely applies, and the pastor’s faith in this reality helps him stick to his side of the work!
[25] For anyone who still objects to the idea that any of these ODD things can happen to Christians, every warning to stand firm against the devil’s work is because the devil’s work can work on Christians if we do not stand firm, or do not resist what Satan is doing. God calls us to both stand firm, and also to, “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:22-23).
[26] II Corinthians 1:24
[27] Psalm 133:1 in context of Psalm 133:1-3.

Saturday, May 2, 2020


So, Thursday was what I call a “Higher”.[1] It was characterized by a couple of wonderful experiences of sharing the good news with people in the morning, a great time with our daycare kids during the day, and a meaningful relational time with our church in the evening.[2]

Yesterday was a Deeper,[3] with a handful of attempts to reach out to people that exposed their anger towards me and the themed message that attachment with me is not part of their plan if I get them mad. I didn’t like the way it made me feel.

Today I awoke to a Sigh morning.[4] Although it was a Saturday and I hadn’t set my alarm, my body still woke up at precisely the time my alarm goes off every other day. So, I got out of bed with a readiness to find out what Father had in mind to address how I was doing.

Here’s what I discovered.

On Thursday, Father addressed my propensity to PREPLAN things. He brought me to confess the wrongness of doing that, and to put my faith in his leading into whatever he wanted me to do with whomever he wanted me to minister to. The divine appointments showed his grace in helping me to do just that.

On Friday, throughout the course of the day, Father addressed my propensity to REPLAY things. Not only is it wearisome to spend so much time preplanning how I would handle conversations if they ever happened, but it is equally as wearisome replaying conversations that did not turn out as well as I had hoped and trying to figure out all the things I could have done differently.

This morning, Father made both of those noticeably clear to me and then exposed the common denominator: angry people and Attachment-Light-Always-Off people (hereafter referred to as ALAOFF). As he reminded me of various things I have faced in life, these are the two traits in people that have affected me the most.

And then I saw something. These are not two kinds of people. The angry people who traumatized me with their abusive tongues were partnered with a very clear ALAOFF relationship in every other area of our relationship. On the other hand, the ALAOFF people partnered their detachment with an anger that simply went and hid whenever there was opportunity to attach to me in a painful situation.

Suddenly everything became clear. The predominant reason angry people get angry at me is because I am threatening their minefield of self-protection around their attachment-pain.[5]

In other words, the whole idea of people turning off their attachment light is so that it stays dark “in there” so they don’t have to see things that happened to them and how those experiences affect them to this day. When I come nosing in to their hidden places and shining my attachment light around to see how things are going, I am breaking the rules of secrecy that require darkness to hide in.

For me, that is where I struggle to know the right thing to do. And then I see that it comes down to knowing what it is like to be real. When I reach out to people with a genuine sense that I am one of God’s “children of light” who is now “light in the Lord,”[6] and my most sincere attempts to be my real self with people triggers an angry response that immediately increases their detachment, the deep (implicit) part of my soul tries to echo the old belief that I must have done something wrong to get that person angry. Now I need to begin again to preplan the next conversation to try and get their attachment light back on towards me (however little it was on in the first place).[7]

Why is so important for us to constantly see these things in the way of the Beatitudinal Journey?[8] Why is it only “the poor in spirit” who are blessed by admitting what is wrong inside? Why does God keep leading his children into the “blessed are those who mourn” reality that grieves how we are really doing? Why does he keep taking us through the Higher/Deeper experiences where we meekly resign ourselves that whatever he is exposing (like preplanning and replaying meetings) is never going to fix what is broken? And why does he persist in shining his light into our hidden places until we hunger and thirst for the righteousness we begin to see in him because we certainly don’t see it in ourselves?

It is because it is only the poor in spirit who experience the kingdom as a treasure hidden in a field.[9] It is only those who mourn who are comforted with the reality of knowing God as they have never known him before. It is only those who meekly accept that they have nothing to contribute to their own deliverance who inherit all that belongs to Jesus Christ our Lord. And it is those who allow their dark hearts and secret places to hunger and thirst after the righteousness they see in their Firstborn Brother who “shall be satisfied”.

Now, how does that all tie in with the Scripture God has most been speaking through this week? Because Jesus wanted me to know what he was up to before I saw why my Deepers tend to sabotage my Highers. This is his word:

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence”.[10]

Guess where I get my propensity to preplan and replay conversations: “Through the knowledge of” people with explosive anger and attachment lights always off towards me.

Guess where I get freedom and healing in Jesus Christ: “through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”

Guess where we get our hope that knowing Christ will have a greater impact on us than what people have done to our souls: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.”

I expect to preach/teach on this tomorrow in our online home church time. Today, our heavenly Father wanted me to see how personally it applies to the real troubles of our souls, and how practically it will lead us to freedom and healing in Christ. As we turn our attachment light on to God, and pour out our hearts to him about all that the angry attachment-light-off people have done to our harm, he will show us all that his divine power has already granted for our fullest and richest experience of both life and godliness.

And that will win over anger and attachment-light-offness every single time.  

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[1] “Higher” refers to ways God speaks to us through his word where he lifts our attention up to things about him we haven’t yet come to know by experience. It is like an invitation to get to know him better than we have ever known him before.
[2] During the isolation of Covid-19, our church has been using online video-meeting programs to stay connected for our church times, prayer meetings, counseling and Bible studies.
[3] “Deeper” refers to things God shows us about ourselves, usually things we would rather not look at because they expose that we’re not doing as well as we outwardly portray. The also are invitations to get to know God better than we have ever known him before, but with a stronger focus on how much we need him rather than the “Higher” view that focuses on how great he is in ways we have yet to experience. The two obviously need to work together.
[4] A “Sigh morning” just means a morning where we can’t escape unresolved things that haven’t been fixed, and so a sigh of sadness, resignation, dissatisfaction, etc, helps express the unfinished business going on in our souls.
[5] I say “predominant” because there are times that people get angry at me because I have genuinely let them down.
[6] Ephesians 5:8. I speak of this individually like an LED light that is part of a whole array of LED’s that is “the light of the world” Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14).
[7] I need to clarify that I do not claim that my attempts to be real with people are so pure and mature that I never deserve negative reactions to things I do and say. I simply mean that it seems to be when I try to get to know people at a deeper level than the pseudo-performances of the outer person that there has been a consistent reaction of self protection that shuts things down (something Larry Crabb warned me about at the beginning of the 90’s).
[8] All this comes from the Beatitudes at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12.
[9] Matthew 13:44
[10] II Peter 1:3