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Posts Tagged ‘sanctification’

“As a father has compassion  on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:13,14).”

If there has been one mantra in the eight years Dr. Gregory House has been around to utter his philosophies it is,”People don’t change.”  This is why the conclusion of the TV drama”House” was so suprising.

In the final episode House apparently is on a typical path to self destruction, except this time he seems to definitely intend to do himself in for good. This is so he can avoid having to go back to prison for violating his parole.

His suicide is apparently prompted also by the fact that he can’t be there in the last months for his dying friend, Dr. James Wilson, because he has to go back to jail. Wilson has five months to live and House’s remaining sentence lasts six.

As he lies on the floor of a burning warehouse, injured and stoned on heroin, House is arguing with an hallucination. Dr. Cameron, a former subordinate and love interest, is telling him that he is cowardly.

The Cameron in House’s mind is telling him that he is just debating with her as the place burns down around them to let the time pass so he doesn’t have to decide whether to get out and live or just pass on in  the flames, as she is suggesting he does. (He’s earned the right to die and leave this world of pain, she has told him.)

“You’re afraid of this decision, and you are trying to argue until fate takes it out of your hands. You’re taking the cowardly way out. And worse… you’re too cowardly to even admit you’re taking the cowardly way out”, the imaginary Cameron tells House..

House replies,”You’re right. But I can change.” For someone like me who has watched the series for years, this statement comes as a shock. As noted above, this violates a major House life principle.

House stands up to go, yet apparently is too late. The flames seemingly engulf him.

However, as we viewers learn later, he has escaped out the back door. He has faked his death.

Wilson, giving a warped eulogy at House’s funeral, thinks at that point that House is dead by his own drugged out hand.  House’s friend tells the funeral patrons:

“House was an ass. He mocked anyone —patients, co-workers, his dwindling friends — anyone who didn’t measure up to his insane ideals of integrity. He claimed to be on some heroic quest for truth, but the truth is, he was a bitter jerk who liked making people miserable. And he proved that by dying selfishly, numbed by narcotics, without a thought of anyone. A betrayal of everyone who cared about him.  A million times he needed me, and the one time that I needed him…”

Those who have followed “House” over the years would wholeheartedly agree with Wilson’s summation of the curmudgeonly doctor’s character. However, even as he speaks he is getting a text from House that says,”Shut up you idiot.”

Wilson understands from the text that House is alive and well.  He leaves the funeral and meets up with him. When Wilson sees House, he tells him:

You’re destroying your entire life. You can’t go back from this. You’ll go to jail for years. You can never be a doctor again.

House replies,”I’m dead, Wilson. How do you want to spend your last five months?”

The reason House has decided to go on and has engineered this whole circumstance is so he can be there for Wilson. For once, House does something completely out of character, unselfishly giving up his future and right to die (if he wanted to) for his friend. Apparently, people can change, at least according to the writers of this series, who have spoken the opposite through Gregory House for the last several years.

At least they posed the question.  Their portrayal of Dr. House over the years does beg the question,”Can people really change?”

Pastor Bob Merritt was faced with this question when he was confronted by a leadership consultant hired by his church. Merritt had been ordered by his church board to undergo counseling by a man Merritt calls “Fred” as a condition of further employment.

Merritt had watched his church grow from 350 to several thousand in two decades. However, as he describes in his book “When Life’s Not Working”, his method of leadership was brusque and unrelational.

Merritt had to listen to Fred and his assistant read a two hundred page document bearing the results of interviews with friends, family and coworkers which revealed his faults. For two days.

Merritt told Fred, who worked around the country with numerous CEOS, “I don’t know if I can change”.  Fred told him that statistically only 40% of his clients did. The other 60% percent stumbled on to things like lost marriages and careers.

“When Life’s Not Working” reveals that Merritt is one who did change. The key to it, he says, is humility: take the negative feedback you get seriously.

Merritt says two things drive people to consider change: fear and pain. Apparently Dr. House was confronted by both in that warehouse and decided to finally change.

Last week I was also debating with myself if I would ever change. I am not much older than Merritt, who is 53. When you get to this age, change is difficult.

I was fed up with my lack of progress in my character. As a Christian, I was hoping for much more transformation by this time.

I have had the chance recently to do a little gospel sharing with friends, and it occurred to me that I ought to share the gospel with myself to see if I was truly in the faith, or at least to help me review the fundamentals of Christianity.

So as I fought with myself over whether or not I could change, I did that. I sat on my sofa and reviewed some key principles:

* All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory , including me (Romans 3:23);

* The payback for sin is death, both spiritually and eventually physically (Romans 6:23);

* It is appointed for men to face God’s judgment after they die (Hebrews 9:27)

* God sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins so we wouldn’t have to face this judgment, proving His love (Romans 5:8);

* Jesus not only died, but He rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-5);

* His resurrection is for me, too, if I accept it through believing in Him (John 11:25,26).

* Believing in Jesus  means receiving Him and entering into his family (John 1:9,10);

* This salvation from my sins and death is not because of my performance, but is a gift that I need to accept by faith (Ephesians 2:8.9).

Jesus illustrated the nature of his salvation when some religious leaders brought him an adulterous woman. Here is the account from the Gospel of John:

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:2-11)

When I get to heaven I want to ask Jesus what he was drawing in the dirt. Some people think he was listing the sins of the religious leaders who were ready to condemn the adulterous woman.

I don’t know, but I am wondering if he was reminding Himself that we humans are indeed dust. This realization of that Jesus understands my frailties as a human being relieves my soul.

Although I want to pursue his command to “sin no more” and change, I am grateful that He cuts me some slack. This makes me love Jesus even more and want to become the best person I can be for Him.

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“Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water (Psalm 114:7,8).”

I guess you can say I’m restless.  I have to be to be moving into my 10th home of the last 9 years this weekend.

I’m searching for something I suppose. Why else would I be dragging my family all over creation.

Perhaps what I am looking for is what Neil Young calls a “heart of gold”:

“I want to give
I’ve been a miner
for a heart of gold.
It’s these expressions
I never give
That keep me searching
for a heart of gold
And I’m getting old.”

I wonder if I’ll ever get there. I know I’m not there yet, and yes, I’m getting old. It can all be extremely frustrating. I keep looking for gold and come up with nothing but hard rock.

“I’ve been to Hollywood
I’ve been to Redwood
I crossed the ocean
for a heart of gold
I’ve been in my mind,
it’s such a fine line
That keeps me searching
for a heart of gold
And I’m getting old.”

I also have crossed the ocean searching. I’ve been to Hollywood, too (well, at least to LA). I’ve even explored my mind, which I guess what all this blogging is all about.

Sometimes I think I have gotten there, and then I fail. Neil Young was right. There is a fine line between the mind and the heart. At times the two are close. At other times they are a million miles apart.

British man of letters Samuel Johnson is given credit with saying,”The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  It doesn’t matter a whit if you don’t follow through.

I feel like the Psalmist, who wrote,” How long must I wrestle with my thoughts  and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death (Psalm 13:2,3)”. And I’m getting old.

I’ve searched the world over for Neil Young’s heart of gold, and I have flummoxed my mind poring over ideas about it.  Yet, my heart seems more iron than gold. My heart is sick,  not just because of its rocky material, but in longing for change and it not coming (Proverbs 13:12).

No man can help me. After all, only I know the poor quality of my own heart. Oh, others can see it, too when it produces junk and pebbles, but they  don’t know its joys and griefs, not really (Proverbs 14:10). 

After all my hunting, it has to be true that there is only one place a heart of gold  can be found: from Jesus Christ. He’s the One who said,” Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me (John 14:1).”

Didn’t Jesus also say,”Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).”

A peaceful, frutiful heart comes from Jesus Christ, not from wandering the earth and the mind looking for it. But I’m getting old.

Another English wit, Charles Caleb Colton, coined the phrase, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Those of us who honor Jesus Christ seek to model our lives after Him, but such efforts are futile without His heart. If they come from a heart that hasn’t been altered by Him, the results are nothing but fool’s gold. They’re worthless.

Oh, we should imitate Him. He said so. After he had washed his disciples’ feet, He said this:

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:13-17).”

The frustration has come with me in failing to follow my Master’s lead. Perhaps it is a lack of faith that causes the lack of success. Did not Jesus say,

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it (John 14:12-14).”

 Shortly after saying this, Jesus also told his disciples He was sending the Holy Spirit to help them. It could be my own failings of heart come from not being in tune with the the Counselor.

The bottom line is that imitation is not good enough. We have to be the real deal.

Neil Young was a great admirer of Bob Dylan. In fact, Dylan sung background vocals for the hit “Heart of Gold.”

Dylan hated the song, though.  Dylan said,”I used to hate it when it came on the radio. I’d say,’That’s me, it might as well be me.” But it wasn’t him. It was someone trying to sound like him. 

Neil Young wanted to sound like Bob Dylan, but he was not Bob Dylan. He didn’t have Bob Dylan’s heart.

Could it be God feels like Bob Dylan when he heard Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” song when He sees us trying to do good things without His heart?

This may well have been why Neil Young tired of the song himself. It wasn’t him, it was Bob Dlyan.

“This song put me in the middle of the road,” Young said. “Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride, but I saw more interesting people there.”

Young preferred a tougher trail than to be a phony, even though his imitation of Bob Dylan was his only Number 1 hit. 

Could it be it was something else besides being a Bob Dylan clone that brought out such lyrics from “Heart of Gold”? I think so.

Young wrote them when he was handicapped by a back injury. He couldn’t lift heavy things. He had to switch to a lighter acoustic guitar, thus producing a lighter style, and his number 1 song.  It wasn’t the Dylan imitation that brought him success, it was those lyrics borne from suffering.

A heart of gold can only come from suffering in this life. We aren’t born with it. Jesus has to give it to us. It’s a rougher ride, but we meet more interesting people there. And we meet Jesus.

He enters our hearts, but He has a lot of cleaning up to do. I’m glad He’s there,  that’s He’s present with me in the suffering. But I wish He would hurry up and finish, ’cause I’m getting old.

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“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (II Corinthians 5:7)!”

Close to the end of one of my least favorite jobs, my boss was evaluating my work before I was to be transferred to another location.  She told me that there had been too much “hand holding” going on with me.  I can’t exactly remember the context of the remark, but it had something to do with her perception that I should be farther along in my training and not require so much assistance from more experienced personnel.

I am sure she was probably quite right. It wasn’t long after that  discussion that I quit.  I just wasn’t cut out for the type of work I was doing. It wasn’t my cup of tea, and I am sure in retrospect that  I would never have improved in my performance even if the company had trained me for ten more years.

There are people, on the other hand, who don’t make progress for other reasons besides a lack of aptitude for the job at hand. These people fail at their tasks, and in their lives, because of a lack of character.

The Bible calls this kind of person a fool. The wise author of Proverbs says that fools are not worthy of honor (promotion in a job, for instance).  They require constant rebuke and discipline.  Furthermore,  the wise man says they are undependable, unresponsive to argument,and ultimately useless.  No one should expect a fool to change, if they remain foolish (Proverbs 26:1,3-9,11).

Christians don’t have to be fools. In the old days, before Jesus came and instituted a better way, the people of God needed hand holding to follow God.  But we don’t anymore.  We’re fully capable of living as people of godly character because God has given us the internal spiritual resources to do so (Hebrews 8:6-12).

There’s no need to go back to the old way of living before we decided to follow Jesus.  Those days and the habits that came with them are dead and gone. His way is superior anyway.

So the next time we are tempted to engage in stuff we did before we really knew Christ, we ought to remember that we don’t have to be foolish.  Instead, we can act like the new creation we are because Jesus gave us the means to do so.

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“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:25).”

“…ture World”. “…ed Robin”.  As I was driving down the road last night I spotted these electronic signs.  Because I live around here and know these businesses, and because I possess background knowledge of the English language, I could make out the complete names.

But the power outages didn’t do much for my thoughts about these companies.  My first inkling was that the faulty monikers were truly signs of the times.  I mused that these businesses could’t afford to keep full electronic nameplates going.  Or worse, they didn’t care to.

There are companies that repair these electronic signs.  One of them talks about the need for keeping these signs spiffy on their website: “Dirty signs, faded colors, missing letters and faulty bulbs do nothing for your businesses image. From a good cleaning to a one-time service need to a yearly maintenance contract, the Service Neon Signs Service Department will keep your corporate image fresh and professional.”

When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we received a good cleaning.  We are like a brand new electronic sign, bright and flashy and exciting.  But as time passes we need maintenance.  If we don’t get it, our own faith becomes stale and we don’t do much to help others with theirs either.  Who wants to learn anything from a buzzing, faulty, semi-dark fellow human?

We have a part in our own repair job. The apostle Paul says we are to continue living in Him.  We have to maintain our faith, staying grounded in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:6,7). 

We also have a repairman handy.  Jesus is living this day and is interceding on our behalf with the Father to protect us from our ongoing power outages.  He keeps us fully functional.  He doesn’t do a half-job.

It’s nice to know a good Maintenance Man because we live in a dark place.  It’s good to have a reliable Person to call when the lights go out.

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“I will listen to what God the LORD will say; He promises peace to His people, His saints— but let them not return to folly (Psalm 85:8).”

I teach English in an intensive program.  Intensive means the work is highly concentrated in a short amount of time.  This requires a lot of work from both teachers and students.  There is a lot of homework and a lot of tests.

Sometimes I know my students are tired of being tested.  As a teacher I get tired of giving them, and grading them!  But there is something about the intensity of the program they are in that produces language learning quickly, if the students are willing to go along.  They can’t coast and succeed in this school.

At my age I am getting tired of getting tested by the Lord.  But His program for me is analogous to the intensive English curriculum my school implements every day.  As my school has a brief eight weeks to move a student along to a higher level, so God has only our short lifetimes to prepare us for eternity.

There is something about righteousness that does this. The Psalmist says, “Righteousness goes before Him, and prepares the way for His steps (Psalm 85:13)”.  If God is going to be involved in our life pathway, then we have to clean up the road before He takes a walk down it.  We can’t coast and take easy street.  God is aiming for moral excellence in our lives and wants us free from guilt and sin before we take the final step into eternity.

Like a language student, we all begin our intensive program at different levels. Some of us have a long way to go before we gain proficiency.  For others, previous life training puts us further down the road to graduation.  It may not seem fair, but that’s the way it is.

Maybe this is why for some of us, me included, it seems as if God is forever stern with us and life seems hard.  We feel like that when it comes to our relationship with the Lord that we will never “get it”. We just have too  much to learn and we don’t understand the textbook or the teacher.  It is all just too hard. 

We feel this way in our relationships with the Lord because we want to please Him, but we don’t know how.  This is because godliness is a mystery.  At least that’s what the apostle Paul told Timothy. In fact, he said that  the incomprehensible nature of godliness was “beyond all question” (I Timothy 3:16). The story of the ultimate godly person, Jesus Christ illustrated this.  His life is a puzzle that can only be understood through God’s revelation.

If living the Christian life is such a riddle,  then the only way to solve it is to go to the Author for the right answers. We have to quit struggling and allow for (even ask for) God’s power to work in our lives, the same power that worked in the life of Jesus:

“He appeared in a body, 
was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, 
was preached among the nation, was believed on in the world, 
was taken up in glory.”

 It’s a cliche, but for many of us for whom the Christian life has become one big effort-filled battle, we have to “let go and let God”.  This doesn’t mean we give up our own part in the process. We still have to apply what we know about pleasing the Lord, even if it is limited.  

But once we do that, the same power that brought Jesus to Earth, raised Him from the dead, took Him back to heaven and spread His name among the nations is available to us.  Knowing this and living according to this truth should be extremely freeing when it comes to living for the Lord.

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“…Aim for perfection…(II Corinthians 13:11).”

We  have all had situations in which we are involved in conflict. These conflicts may occur in the workplace, at home, in the neighborhood or among friends.  They make life miserable.  Who likes confrontation?

The author of Psalm120 was no stranger to conflict.  He expresses his frustration that he lives in an atmosphere of anatagonism.  When the Psalmist opened his mouth, the people in his neighborhood opposed him.  Perhaps it was the way he said it. He was supposedly uttering peaceful words, but by the time he was through the neighbors were sharpening their knives.  He couldn’t win.

We can all relate.  We’ve all watched our words become an inferno and thought,”What did I say?” 

The tongue is just a symptom of what is in our heart.  We’re not perfect.  That’s why the gospel is so great. Jesus died for our sins so we wouldn’t have to be judged eternally for our imperfections.  With Jesus, there is grace.

Those of us who know very well our sins and weaknessess rely heavily on the fact that one of God’s attributes is His grace.  He cuts us some slack because of Jesus’ work on  the cross.  I have been quite grateful for His grace the last few years as I have been dealing with my faults.

The one thing I seemed to have forgotten, however, is that God does in fact want us to be godly.  Proverbs 20 has an interesing dichotomy, though.  First the author tells us, “The righteous man leads a blameless life (v. 7)”. But right aftert that he writes,”Who can say,’I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’? (v 9).

The bumper sticker that says that Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven is quite true. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least aim for perfection.  Where we get into trouble is when we emphasize grace and forget the holiness that comes from Jesus, also.  

Paul’s wish for the Corinthians was,”May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of  the Holy Spirit be with you all (II Corinthians 13:14)”.  What I have discovered is that the fellowship of the Holy Spirit cannot be obtained without holiness, and holiness cannot be obtained without Him. 

Therefore, we ought to at least give perfection a try.

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