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Instructions on the Care of Your Soul

“Oh my soul, and all that is within me,” Psalm 103:1

I had a really significant conversation several months ago.

A friend and I were talking about our experiences with mental illness– anxiety, depression, and all the related symptoms that tendril and thread from the two.

Within the discussion, I shared with her that I had been under a blanketing depression since November. At the time of the conversation this depression was four months strong. I shared with her that what was strange about this depression was that I had a distinct feeling of being sustained even though I was self-aware of my depressed state.

It is an odd sensation to feel not OK and OK at the same time. Peace?

I felt like the Lord was hiding me under His wings. I had a feeling of safety and security that is actually quite antithetical to depression.

There was a deep sense within me that I could wait. I could wait on the Lord. I could wait for the clouds to break. It was going to be OK, and in fact it already was OK because God was there with me, and not just with me but was so near and involved in my situation that He had made Himself the very structure that was keeping me warm and dry while it poured outside.

Many times in my life depression has put its cold hand on me. Never until this past year have I had the experience of feeling like my body and its chemicals were depressed but my soul was OK. My body was broken but my soul was just bruised.

I was not dissociative from my physical reality. My soul was feeling the fight. My mind was foggy. I wanted to live on Reese’s and chocolate chip cookies, and because I’m a grown-up, I did. My emotions vacillated between sad, angry, and lonely. My will had spurts of intense positive resolution in response to the general malaise and defeat.

But! My spirit’s security in Christ spoke comfort where there was none. My spirit spoke future into the places where the past was on parade. My spirit spoke one word at a time so my tired brain could process truth. My spirit spoke about Christ when my soul wanted to speak about itself.

My soul wanted to talk about me– my thoughts, my wants, my unfulfilled desires, my frustrated dreams, my longings, my justifications, my failings, my hurt, my hurt, my hurt, my hurt, my hurt.

My soul wanted to talk about others– the injustices they had inflicted, the disappointments they perpetuated, the yelling, the controlling, the manipulation, the lying, the cheating, the stupidity, the ways they made me feel so alone, so exposed, so crushed and stifled, overlooked, forgotten.

That was my soul. My spirit wanted to talk about:

Christ.

I told my friend, that my experience these last months taught me that we must tell our souls to acknowledge God.

David the psalmist commands: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul!”

He says, “Do it soul! Rally. Rise up. Bless Him. You don’t want to, but you must. Soul! Hear me. Bless the Lord, oh my dear, sweet, sad, rebellious, self-sufficient, deficient, beloved-of-God soul.”

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not His benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desire with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5 (NIV)

Psalm 103 mentions God’s love 4 distinct times and  His compassion also 4 times. His forgiveness, His redemption, His renewal, His healing and restoration, His commitment to  righteousness on His children’s behalf– these are the layers that fill out the depiction of God’s love and compassion toward His own. David calls these qualities, “God’s benefits.”

“Praise the Lord, my soul; and forget not His benefits.”

What part of David is commanding his soul?

There must be a sort of super ego to his ego if his self has a self to talk to his self.

Does self=soul? Is there more or less to our “selfs” than a soul? Is a soul different than a spirit?

The soul is our mind, will, and emotions. For someone with mental illness, like my-self, the idea that “the self” is equivalent to the soul would be damning. My mind, will, and emotions are seats of my sickness.

I hopefully maintain the belief that “the self” is tripartite. Being tripartite means that we have three parts: spirit, soul, and body. Or it could be body, soul, and spirit depending on whose in charge within you.

I believe that David’s spirit was commanding his soul to acknowledge the Lord. Our souls are the things prone to wander.

Our spirits are that part that was killed by Adam and then made alive by Christ. 

To me, the soul is double minded, sometimes an ally of the spirit and at others an accomplice of the body. The spirit is perhaps always an ally of the Holy Spirit? But the soul is surely fickle and must be commanded. (“Cain, sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” Genesis 4:7 NLT.)

I’ll throw a little theological conjecture in here: Is it our spirit that is saved; our soul that is being saved; and our body that will be saved? Maybe: Our spirit has been declared righteous (justification). Our soul is the thing being made holy (sanctification). Our body will be saved from destruction one day (glorification).

My friend’s response to my belief that we have an impetus on us to command our souls was, “This is why we must take care of them.”

I need to take care of my soul.

That comment was really provocative to me. I had to really think about it. I am prone to being hard on my soul. After all, left to its own devices, my soul is one half (with my body) of my flesh. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, ” said Paul. However, it is clear in Psalm 103 that God loves my soul and my body too.

So, I have to credit my friend for piquing my interest in what the Bible has to say about caring for our souls.

The Corinthians of the New Testament fell into the Greek fallacy that “the self” is just the material vs the immaterial, and that only the immaterial mattered. (The immaterial being the intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual.)

The Christian scriptures in no way support this view.

God breathed our spirits out, He imagined our personalities, and He crafted our bodies.

So it behooves us to know what God says about soul-care. Not what our culture says—our culture is steeped in the human potential movement— but rather what God says about the instructions for the care of our souls.

 

 

 

 

Testimony

Testimony Shared at Cypress Church Gonzales: “Do you love Me?”

I had the privilege of sharing my testimony today at Cypress Church Gonzales with Dave Anderson. In the teaching today, Dave gave instructions from John 21– Peter’s reinstatement after denying Jesus 3 times. My testimony of being a disciple, denying Jesus, and then being reinstated is the object lesson. You can find my testimony starting right before the 23:00 minute mark.

Click here to listen.

And below is a “transcript” of my testimony. These are technically my notes but I followed them very closely if you are like me and prefer to read over listen.

Testimony: John 21 

I.  Dave has asked me to share my testimony as a sort of insight into how a person, like Peter, can go from being a passionate follower of Jesus, to denying association with Jesus, and then being called back to serving the Lord as a disciple again.

A. My testimony is a lot like Peter’s. In fact, the easiest way to describe my experience as  a disciple is through the pieces of Peter’s story that are scattered throughout the gospels. 

B. In John’s gospel, we meet Simon Peter in the very first chapter and are told that he was brought to Jesus. 

    1. His brother said, “We found the Messiah!” Peter was brought to Jesus. Jesus looked right at him and said, “I’m going to call you Cephas,” meaning Rock. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells Simon, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

Woah!

C. When I met Jesus it was very much like how Peter met Jesus. My parents brought me to church. 

  I encountered Jesus and knew that He was my Messiah, my Savior at a very young age. 

  And I experienced that feeling of Jesus looking right at me and saying, “I am going to call you by a special name for a specific purpose in my Kingdom.” 

  • And I responded to that very special encounter with Jesus just like Peter did! Peter was an ardent and dedicated disciple, as was I. 
  • Being a Christian was exciting and satisfying to me in my youth.

II.  My mentor growing up, a woman named Anne, used to say Peter was, “Ready, Shoot, Aim.” 

  1. We get many glimpses of Peter’s heart throughout the Gospels. But John’s gospel, chapter 13 particularly, paints him this way: 
    1. Peter didn’t understand Jesus (John 13:7). He wanted to, but He didn’t always get what Jesus was saying.

1. Peter was all or nothing (John 13:9). 

Peter wanted to be close to Jesus and in His confidence— to be His confidant the way that John was (John 13:23-26). 

Peter was passionate (John13:37). 

Peter was the first to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah (in Mark 8:29). He was bold and he was on board!

B. Peter’s theology about the Messiah was pretty accurate according to the rabbinical interpretation of that day- a conquering militant righteous king and deliverer— we see this at Jesus’ arrest when Peter felt it was totally appropriate to swing a sword at someone!

  • However, in John 18:10-11— When Peter drew a sword and chopped a guy’s ear off to keep Jesus from being arrested— we see that his theology was not in line with what Jesus had told Peter about Himself, or what the prophets meant when they depicted the Kingdom of God and the Messiah.
  • He believed Jesus was the Messiah, but what He believed about the Messiah was incorrect. — You and I also, can’t just believe in God we have to believe what God says about Himself.

III.  We also know that:

A. Peter chose to stop short of the cross; he chose to stop short of following Jesus to suffering (John18:15-17). 

B. Did you know John was the only male disciple at the cross because he was the only one who stuck with Jesus the whole way from Gesthemane to the Sanhedrin to the Cross?

  1. The servant girl, in Luke 22, who asked Peter if he was a disciple was asking so that he could go into the Sanhedrin with Jesus and John. 
  2. Peter could have followed Jesus to the cross. Instead he said, no, no, I’m not one of His.

3.   He lied about knowing Jesus so the he did not have to suffer with Jesus. 

C. The faith of my youth was Peter’s to a tee. I wanted the Lord. I was dedicated to all points of spiritual discipline. I wanted God to lead my life. I told a friend recently, “When I was young I was willing to be so weird for Jesus!” 

1. It is often easier to be extreme for Jesus than it is to be faithful to Him.

D. But I had a very immature understanding of Jesus. 

  1. I thought I understood what “Messiah” meant or how the Kingdom worked, but I really did not understand. 
  2. I definitely didn’t understand the Cross— I was eager for God’s Kingdom to advance, but I could not be close to Jesus’ heart until I had come close to suffering, because the Cross is suffering. 

IV.   In Luke 22:31, Jesus tells Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…”

A. When I was 23 years old, I suffered a psychotic break. That means that I experienced a complete break from reality with delusions and hallucinations. I was like the crazy people in movies, or the people talking to themselves that you avoid during street ministry. 

B. For a month long period, I was insane. I had an intense mood swing of hyper-activity. I couldn’t sleep. I was talking at lightening speed. And behaved in erratic and irrational ways. I went missing for a brief time. I was not lucid or sane at all during this time. I was forcibly hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder.  

C. At that time, I did not know anything about mental health or mental illness, neither did my family. It felt like a death sentence. It seemed like this illness was going to destroy my whole future.

D. This experience was very scary. It was embarrassing. It left me feeling deeply insecure about my identity— how could I be useful to God, or to anyone, if my mind could just break at any moment? 

E. The hyper-active “mania” mood swing was followed by a heavy depression. I could not understand why God bothered making me, if He was going to make me so defective. All of my hopes, expectations, and dreams were dashed. The Bible tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick,” (Proverbs 13:12). That was true for me.

F. For seven years after my “manic” episode and the psychosis, I could not approach God and I stopped identifying myself as a Christian. I stayed far away from church. Not only did I feel let down by God, but my psychosis had so many spiritual and supernatural elements to it, that I became afraid that if I prayed or read my Bible I would go crazy again— that was a terrible lie of the enemy that I accepted. Fear and disappointment kept me from Jesus for seven years. 

G. This was 7 years of intense sifting. My faith was being sifted…so that it could mature.

V.   Like Peter, when my moment of testing came, the moment to use deeds not words— “I’ll follow you anywhere, Jesus! I’ll be obedient to the point of death!” became: “…but bipolar disorder? No Jesus. I’ll stay out here by the fire… When the servant girl comes to ask if I’m yours, I’ll have to politely deny You. When the servant girl invites me into the Sanhedrin, into Your suffering, I’ll politely decline. Bipolar disorder doesn’t fit into my model of Christian suffering. When the servant girl asks, I’ll say, ‘I can’t go to that cross.’ That cross is too costly! In fact, maybe, Jesus, You’re not the Messiah I thought You were. I’m going to stay outside. I’ve just realized that everything I thought I was sure about, I’m not so sure about.”

A. So instead of following Jesus toward the cross He had for me (like John did), I ran away from my Lord, alone, and weeping bitterly (like Peter did in Matthew 26:75)

B. My diagnosis with a mental illness brought me to a point where Jesus didn’t make sense to me. Like a disciple, I had heard everything He said. I had loved the teachings. I had followed Him around and believed the miracles. 

C. But I could not follow Him to the door that the cross and the resurrection were behind. My own personal “door to the Sanhedrin,” the door that if I went through it, led to my flesh being crucified, where all my self-sufficiency and pride would be brutalized by mental illness.

D. I have often told people that my psychotic break and receiving a life-long diagnosis of bipolar disorder was like experiencing my own death.

E. Would I get to be completely restored by Jesus’ resurrection power? I was too afraid to find out. That was the door I just couldn’t go through with Him. My faith was too immature to allow Jesus to walk me through my mental illness. I thought He abandoned me and that I’d be better off on my own.

VI.  Jesus prophesied over Peter, and I believe this is for me too:

A. He said “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to have you and to sift you like wheat, But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have repented and turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  (Luke 22:31 paraphrase.) 

B. If you are being sifted, when you are being sifted, and you think, “I can’t get to the other side of this suffering with Jesus. I can’t go before the court of public opinion and be judged and humiliated, falsely accused and afraid with Jesus. I don’t know that if I stick with Jesus it’ll all turn out ‘alright’ in the end. That’s not a cross I can go to— any cross but this cross, Lord. I must have been wrong, because this does not look like Christian victory. I don’t think this is a Messiah that I can follow…What was my life as a disciple for?”

C. Jesus has prayed for you. (And Jesus’ prayers are always answered!) He has prayed that your faith will not fail. He knows you will “turn again” to Him, and when you have turned again you will strengthen your brothers.

VII.   When Jesus rose from the grave he told the women: “Go tell my disciples AND Peter,” Mark 16:7 (ESV). Other versions says, “Go tell my disciples INCLUDING Peter.” 

  — Either way it is translated, Mark 16:7 tells us two things: 1. Peter had separated himself from the group of disciples. 2. Jesus still had plans for Peter.

  1. He still had plans for me during the 7 years I was in denial. He still has plans for you. Even if its been years that you just couldn’t bear the name of Christ, He still has plans for you as His disciple.

B. In John 12, Jesus tells his disciples: Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

C. And His question to me, His question to you, His question to Peter is “do you love me?” 

D. No matter what has transpired between you and God, all He wants to know is: “Do you love me?” 

1. Pain, disappointment, confusion, shame— these turn many away from following the Lord. But Jesus turns us to Himself again with the gentlest question: Do you love me?

2. Today, I say:

“Yes, Lord, you know I do.”

3. And I hope today that you will also say: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

VIII. Dave has been giving some wonderful instructions and insight on just how it is that we say that to Jesus. So I’ll turn it back over to him. 

Too Much Talking

“If you make the Lord your refuge,” Psalm 91:9

Here we are at the final installment of Too Much Talking: Spiritual Warfare in the Book of Job.

About half way through writing this series, I started to hear Psalm 91 every time I turned my attention to Job.

(It is just 16 verses if you’d like to familiarize yourself before reading on.)

The events in Job’s life do not seem to match up at all with the triumphant declarations of invincibility that the psalmist puts forth.

But Job’s experience of God is perfectly envisioned by the psalm.

The events in the psalm: God will rescue you from every trap, protect you from disease, and though thousands fall around you, no evil will touch you.

Certainly not how it happened for Job. God told Satan it was “ok” for him to set traps, inflict disease, and while everyone else was flourishing to dash Job down.

This brings up a terrible uneasiness, a question for the ages: Are all of God’s promises for all believers?

And if not, why not me?

That was my question in the moments when I was regaining lucidity after a six week long psychosis, and four weeks “imprisonment” in a psych ward.

I had tried so hard to be faithful, obedient, and true. I was a real and honest believer. Why weren’t God’s promises for me? Had my little bit of existential questioning in college really warranted such rejection from God? Such a betrayal of our contractual obedience-for-blessing arrangement?

My mom had a Bible that she kept in the car while we were growing up. Every morning on the way to school, she would have me read Psalm 91 aloud to my siblings and then she would pray over us to have a good day.

How is it that my mother could request the specific blessings of Psalm 91 over and over, and still have me be stricken down with a condition so emotionally mutilating as bipolar disorder?

But today, I read the psalm again and I start to see that Psalm 91 takes place on a battlefield.

There is war and plague and snares and enemies all around in Psalm 91. We are surrounded.

The events in Psalm 91 in fact do match the attacks against Job. But the psalmist has a perspective that I certainly lacked in my worst times, and a perspective that Job had to fight to gain.

This perspective is that the events in my life do not equate to my experience of God’s faithfulness in a 1:1 ratio.

Another way to say it is, victory and defeat are opposites but there is always a battlefield between them. The battlefield does not define victory, or defeat, but it is where they are decided.

Psalm 91 doesn’t describe a life free of trouble, it describes a person being American Ninja Warrior-ed through troubles on the backs of angels and by the hand of God.

The events of the psalmist’s life include traps, disease, stumbling blocks, terrors, arrows, disaster, evil, plague, lions, and cobras.

His experience, however, is shelter, rest, refuge, safety, rescue, armor, protection, being upheld, being answered, being honored, being rewarded, and given salvation.

When you are suffering, people want to identify for you all the many things you are doing to cause or perpetuate your suffering.

As we’ve seen in Job, people ill-at-ease at the sight of a Christian stumbling are quick to diagnose spiritual disease and to prescribe over-the-counter piety.

But the Book of Job prescribes exactly one remedy to the person whose hopes are dashed, whose tragedies are endless, and whose own friends have become their oppressors:

“Make the Lord your Refuge.”

Psalm 91 sounds so triumphant not because there is nothing bad happening in the life of the psalmist, but because he will not be removed from his fortress.

The psalmist is living in the shelter of the Most High, under the shadow of the Almighty, in the refuge of the Lord.

God’s guantlet to Satan was that no matter what Satan did to Job, Job would not leave his spiritual fortress. He would not blame God. He would not curse God and die.

I was moved in my worst years. And it did nothing but make my struggle worse, longer, and more intense.

I refuse to blame the victims of hardship for their broken hearts; but that doesn’t mean, dear Broken Hearted, that you have license to sin. Let me tell you, blaming God will not bring you to an alternate route of victory. Self-will, self-help, self-denial…all the ways we try to fix things ourselves are an affront to the perfect architecture of our Shelter, Christ.

To be rescued means that you were once in danger. To need armor and protection implies war. When you’re told “do not fear,” it means there is something to fear. In order to crush lions and serpents, you have to encounter them.

And we are tasked with one thing: To declare of my Lord, He alone is my refuge, my place of safety, He is my God, and I trust in Him!

Job was honorably assured of his own goodness from the beginning. His transformation was to become unshakably assured of God’s goodness. No matter how “good” we think we are, life is insufferable if we do not know that God is good.

Our shelter is not in declaring, “I am innocent!” It is in declaring, “He is my God, and I trust in Him.”

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”

It can sound so hard to stick to an avenue, advocate for the truth, and adhere to a lifestyle. For people like me, who have gone through months at a time where feeding, dressing, and bathing myself are genuine chores, doing something so upstanding as the Christian life sounds exhausting.

There are many fulfilling “doings” in Christian life. But Psalm 91 tells us:

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”

In John 6:29, Jesus tells a crowd in the synagogue at Capernaum, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one He has sent.”

Our belief and our confession are tightly interwoven. When you can’t do any other work, be encouraged that the only work that matters is what you declare of your Lord.

Speech is warfare.

 

Testimony

Interview at Cypress Church: How to Explain “Being Born Again”

I had the incredible privilege of being asked to share with my church family yesterday. Find the link highlighted below.

Here is a wonderful message from Ben Sobels, co-author of the Discipleship Gospel and pastor of my home church, Cypress Church in Salinas, CA. Pastor Ben interviews me toward the end of his sermon as the object lesson of sorts.

The teaching is on John 3:1-8– Nicodemus asking Jesus, “how is a man born again?”

Questions People Asked Jesus #1: How Can One Be Born Again?

Too Much Talking

“My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer,” Job 42:8

In the last post, we explored how the Book of Job informs the discussion around “how someone is saved?” The answer of course is “calling on the name of Jesus.”

Job called on the Mediator, the Advocate, the Redeemer. I would assume that all of us have personalized names of Jesus that we call on.

Most importantly though, when Job called on these names of Jesus, he wasn’t praying to Jesus. He was praying to God the Father in the name of the Son.

Whoever calls on the name of the Son will be granted pardon and freedom by the Father. Whatever you ask of the Father in the name of the Son you will receive.

We pray.

There is a very important, very contested prayer that has been intimately linked to salvation. Can you guess?

That’s right, the good ol’ Sinner’s Prayer.

The Sinner’s Prayer has gotten a bad rap as being the hub of “decisionism.”

Decisionism is an idea that our salvation is sealed when we decide to accept Jesus’ offer of salvation. For some this smacks too much of works and not enough of grace. It represents an immature concept that it is your decision to accept Jesus’ sacrifice that saves you rather than Jesus’ deliberate act of sacrificing Himself that saves you.

The real rub with decisionism and the Sinner’s Prayer is that anybody can hedge their bets by saying a prayer and then go about their merry unrepentant way and say “I’m saved!”

I’ve personally had people tell me that they “would never lead someone through the Sinner’s Prayer” as a means of entering into a saving relationship with Christ. The reasoning is that it creates a presumption of salvation.

A presumption of salvation rarely holds up during trials.

I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer when I was four years old. I chose without my parents’ knowledge to be baptized at five years old.

Yet, I was aware as a child that I continued to sin. I thought mean things, underhandedly picked on my siblings, and had an attitude toward my teachers sometimes.

I distinctly remember sitting in the bathtub at around seven years old praying the Sinner’s Prayer over and over wondering if it really “worked.” Was I really saved; since apparently I was still a bad girl.

Where was the proof that God had accepted me?

I continued into an obsessive compulsive pursuit of holiness in junior high and high school. I was the case in point that religious fervor can make a person insane, as early French psychologists had claimed.

My young “faith” experience was not so unlike Job with his overkill sacrifices for even imagined sins.

But when my bad days came, I wasn’t so sure of my salvation as Job was. I didn’t know the names of Christ on which I could call:

Great Physician, Wonderful Counselor, Balm of Gilead, Suffering Savior tempted in every way like me, Man of Sorrows familiar with every pain, strain, and stress, Bearer of Burdens, Lover of every unlovable personality, Restorer of demoniacs, lepers, and whores, Freedom Fighter for those in bondage and enslaved.

I had relied on the praying of prayers to save me.

It is not praying the Sinner’s Prayer that saves you. It is God answering the Sinner’s Prayer that saves you.

So, if you have prayed the Sinner’s Prayer but hardship has driven you into the wilderness and you’re not sure if you are or ever were saved, my question to you is:

Do you believe that God will answer your request to be saved?

In my wilderness years, I felt God had not answered my sinner’s prayers— years and years of prayers— He had not saved me from psychosis, panic, shame, and “badness.”

At the time, I felt that I had experienced my own death and there was not eternal life on the other side. There was just this expanse of meaninglessness in the 50 or so years I was bound to have left on earth.

I felt completely cut off from God. Whether by His doing or mine, we were not on speaking terms for seven years.

Somewhere within me, I know I still believed that through prayer God stoops down to grip us in His unbreakable grasp. I know this because in the height of my broken-heartedness, I demanded of my mom, “do not pray for me!” 

I didn’t want to deal with God and I knew my odds were best if everyone agreed to disassociate me from prayer.

Not long before the hardest time of my life, I had to yield. I prayed in frustration, “God, if I’m ever gunna come back to You, You have to do it ‘cause I’m not going to.”

And God said back, “Game on.”

I believe that’s the prayer I needed to hear myself pray– the one that was waiting for God to answer.

The few years after I prayed that prayer were filled with a whole lot of things getting worse. They were full of God intervening. During this time I learned how to pray because I learned that God hears.

I learned how to cry out in Jesus’ name because I needed miracles. And the miracles came— such as, “God you have to save my husband, You must!”— or, “please have mercy on my unborn baby, don’t let my medication harm her, please give her a perfect heart.”

Praying over and over, “Mercy, God. Mercy. Mercy, please. Mercy.”

Like Esther, I learned to rush into the throne room unsure of whether the King would allow my petition but sure that my only hope was in asking. (Esther 4:9-5:2)

When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the golden scepter that was in his hand. So, Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. And he asked, “What is it Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given to you,” Esther 5:2-3.

Esther had been terrified of entering the king’s court without invitation. The law said she could be killed for such presumption. She was scared enough that she had all the Jews in Souza fast and pray for her for three days before she approached her own husband, the king, to ask him for the salvation of herself and her people from a plotted genocide.

She needed permission to ask and the extension of his favor indicating that he was willing to hear. Salvation was already secured when King Xerxes promised to accept Esther’s request.

There was this same saving quality in Job’s prayer for his wicked friends. That quality was that God promised Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar that He would accept Job’s prayer on their behalf.

The Sinner’s Prayer, like every prayer I’ve ever prayed, has no effect outside of God’s promise to accept it.

Did the Sinner’s Prayer make me a Christian? Yes.

Yes, it did. At some point along the way, between praying it at 4 years old and the 29 years since, God accepted that prayer and became my Savior.

I have pretty high confidence that God loves to answer sinners’ prayers.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Romans 10:13

 

 

 

Too Much Talking

“I know that my Redeemer lives,” Job 19:25

In the nineteenth chapter of Job, we are given an answer to the historical Church’s most driving question: “How is a person saved?”

Christians minister the gospel skillfully in describing who saves– Jesus— and from what– human sinfulness and rebellion— and where– at the cross— and why– for mankind’s reconciliation to God for eternity.

Yet, we get rather clunky and divided trying to explain how a person is saved. What does a person do to enter into a salvation agreement with God? Who initiates? Where do I sign? How do you know the salvation stuck?

The primary schisms among Christian denominations are along the lines of soteriology, meaning “the doctrine of salvation” or “how is a person saved?”

Because salvation is on the premise of faith (“faith has saved you,” Luke 7:50), and because to say you have faith implies a belief in something that is contested, Christians can get really hung up on what beliefs a person should have orbiting about in their faith-sphere if we are going to call them saved.

Interestingly, Job doesn’t wonder about his salvation at all. He shows complete confidence in both the reality of his salvation and the efficacy of his salvation. But he doesn’t have all his beliefs straight:

How long will [Bildad] torture me? How long will you try to crush me with your words? You have already insulted me ten times. You should be ashamed of treating me so badly. Even if I have sinned, that is my concern, not yours. 

You think you’re better than I am, using my humiliation as evidence of my sin. But it is God who has wronged me, capturing me in His net…

But for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and He will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see Him for myself. Yes, I will see Him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! Job 19:1-6; 25-27

3 Salvation Principles that Job has right:

  1. Job knows that his salvation is between him and God.
  2. Job knows that his salvation shields him from all accusation of sin.
  3. Job knows that the salvation he believes in without seeing will be rewarded with seeing (aka, faith).

6 of Job’s beliefs about God:

  1. His Redeemer is alive (Jesus is eternal and God).
  2. He will stand upon the earth (first and second coming).
  3. After his body decays, yet he will have a body (resurrection).
  4. He will see God with his own eyes (also resurrection).
  5. God has wronged him.
  6. God has captured him in His net.

Job believes some right things and some really wrong things about God.

So, if a saving faith is contingent on having the right beliefs, does Job become more saved the more right things he believes? Or is Job not really saved until after God corrects his misunderstandings?

I used to think it was really cheesy when people would say “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” But it is kinda true at heart.

Sure, we have a religious set of doctrines that we argue over like any religion would. We have religious disciplines that cause us guilt when we don’t perform them. We cloister into communities of closely aligned beliefs, isolating ourselves even from others in our own religion that “aren’t quite right on such and such an interpretation.” We create platforms to do our good deeds and share our good ideas.

I like religion. It’s easy, satisfying, and intellectually stimulating for me. Christianity is a religion. However, Christian salvation is a relationship. It is an ongoing two-way street.

Salvation is like a call and response:

  1. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Romans 10:17
  2. Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved. Romans 10:13
  3. My sheep hear my voice, I know them, they follow me. John 10:27
  4. Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. Hebrews 4:7
  5. But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation, My God will hear me. Micah 7:7
  6. If you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. John 16:23
  7. No one can snatch them away from me, for the Father has given them to me. John 10:28

Here are the verses above organized as a “call and response” flow chart:

  • God speaks His word– We hear it– Faith is kindled.
    • We call on Jesus’ name– Jesus saves us.
      • Jesus knows and leads those who are saved– we hear and follow Him.
        • We hear His voice– we do not harden our hearts (repentance).
          • We wait for the Lord (perseverance) — He hears us.
            • We ask the Father in Jesus’ name– the Father gives to us.
              • Jesus holds us tight– The Father gave us to Jesus.

Really, this turns out to be more of a poem than a flow chart. It reminds me of Song of Songs. It’s like two people singing choruses of a duet back and forth to each other, the melodies echoing across a valley of opposing ridges. It’s like a young man and a young woman experiencing a touch and… then a response. It is like two people searching for each other.

How is one saved?

C.H. Spurgeon says that it “is joy unspeakable” to call Jesus, my Lord.

Spurgeon adds that we are saved, first, by claiming the Redeemer as “mine.” My Redeemer lives.

Then you call out and hear. You ask and see answers. Or, you ask and you wait. He speaks and you come close. He awakens your faith and you yield your heart softly. You tearfully ask Him hard questions about Himself. He confides in you more. You misunderstand Him and you get mopey. He sweeps you up in the whirlwind. You might believe the wrong things about Him, but He will gladly prove you wrong, and win you over again.

Salvation is a call and response.

My lover is mine, and I am his. Song of Songs 2:16

 

 

 

 

 

Too Much Talking

“Go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves.” Job 42:8

Today is Maundy Thursday, “New Command Thursday.” At Jesus’ last Passover meal, He commanded His disciples to “love one another.” He then took bread and wine and instituted the ordinance of Communion in remembrance of Him.

Jesus joined together our remembrance of how we were reconciled to God with a command to be reconciled to one another. Love one another and remember me.

The Corinthians were famously and sternly chastised for showing disdain for Communion by simultaneously degrading the poor believers and preferring the rich believers in how they served Communion. Paul even postulated in 1 Corinthians that God was cutting off the lives of some believers before they could damage their witness anymore than they had already with this egregious divorcing of the remembrance of Jesus’ atoning work from the Maundy Thursday command to love your brothers and sisters in Christ.

And as we have watched the whole Gospel be prophetically unveiled in Job, the continual reminder of Communion is not overlooked in the Job narrative– that the body and blood of Christ was broken and spilled not just for our atonement and reconciliation to God but also for our reconciliation to each other.

Just as we are proclaimed blameless in faith, Job was proclaimed blameless in faith before it was proven by trial (James 1:2-3). Just as God achieves that blamelessness in us as He transforms us through the trials of Christian life, Job’s blamelessness was both started by God and completed by God. Just as God revealed a greater understanding of Himself to Job as Job contemplated a future Redeemer, Mediator, and Advocate, we receive the very Revelation of God when we receive a very present Jesus. And God had already accepted Job’s sin offerings in Job 1, but He still required a guilt offering between Job and his friends, so has God already accepted Jesus as our sin offering, yet requires us to continually recall that Jesus is also the peace offering and the guilt offering between ourselves and other people.

There are five categories of sacrifices and offerings in the Torah. And Jesus has fulfilled them all. Yet, we do participate in these Old Testament sacrifices and rituals in the two ordinances that the Reformers continued to honor as essential to the faith.

We explored the first one in the last post. That is baptism. Our purification bath, required by the law, but we do it only once because Jesus was the last necessary purification sacrifice and therefore we need only a last purification bath when we proclaim dependence on Christ for our purification from sin and death.

But Communion– the peace and guilt offerings– we remember continually throughout our Christian walk. And we partake in it at church together.

Of the five types of offerings described in Leviticus 1-7, two were to reconcile men to each other.

A peace offering, also called a fellowship offering, established something like a contract between two parties. It signified before God that they were committed to fellowship with each other and were dedicated to each others’ future prosperity. This is the kind of offering Abraham shared with Melchizedek in Genesis 14; and that Abraham shared with the three visiting angels in Genesis 18.

A guilt offering was an offering that one person offered before God to another person if something the first person had done caused a loss to the second. The guilt offering also included a monetary compensation.

Job’s friends were probably offering a guilt offering to him. They nearly cost him his faith. God saw their sin against Job and demanded that for them to be right with Him they had to get right with Job.

This principle is reiterated to us by Jesus in Matthew 5:23, part of the Sermon on the Mount: “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”

This sheds light on the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our sins as we forgive one another.”

As in everything, Jesus is the all-encompassing sacrifice. He has done a completed work.

However, He puts a collective impetus on us to specifically and frequently remember the aspect of His sacrifice that was done to unify us to one another. If we are partakers in His sacrifice for our sins, we are also partakers in His sacrifice for our offenses to our brothers and sisters in the church.

This is Communion. It is Jesus as the sacrifice Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had to make to Job.

After the Lord finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has. So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. Job 42:7-8

God deals with us individually and he deals with us collectively. He died for each of us individually and He died collectively for His Body.

His body was broken that we may be unified.

I am praying not just for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one– as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. John 17:20-23