Sunday, May 31, 2009

Not Me

One more Sunday school in church and the topic "Backsliding" comes to an end. We have already spent four consecutive sessions digging in this sensitive matter with the help of Allan Douglas' One Hundred Bible Lessons.

Considering myself the role more as a facilitator and bible student than as a Sunday school teacher, I've also once asked "who will be the next to leave the Lord?" and the quick initial response, with others too I believe, was "not me!"

With this in mind, it should be realized that we are just allowing ourselves more vulnerable to the enemy's attack. A timely warning by Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:12 should instead restrain us from trusting our own strength: "So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!"

To note, a believer does not backslide in a snap. It is a gradual process which starts from "many little things" and have grown into outward manifestation of terrible sins. It's like giving a finger to sin and the next thing you know, your whole body and soul is already in bondage with it.

Now, having understood the danger of overconfidence, we might want to figure out the symptoms of a backslidden heart. Taking Douglas' definition, backsliding is "turning away from God (1 Kings 11:9) and "growing cold... leaving the first love (Revelation 2:4)." He stressed, "speaking generally, backsliding is growing cold and losing interest in the Lord, the Bible, prayer, church attendance and witnessing, and turning toward the world."

I admit that as the lesson progresses, the frailty of men becomes more evident. Though convinced that we are all kept by the grace and strength of the Lord, still, staying in shape remains a daily battle.

Certainly, Christ is always able to keep us (2 Timothy 1:12), however, if we deliberately refuse His grace and assistance, we will fall. But for those who have grown cold with God, His invitation to return (Jeremiah 3:22) and the promise of pardon (Hosea 14:4) are always true for the repentant soul.

The true believer of Christ hates backsliding, but joyfully lives on looking unto Jesus.

Heart vs. Mind

I remember as a child of a senseless question "which comes first, the chicken or the egg?" Time and time again I could hear funny arguments of people, whether they seriously mean it or not. But I know you got it right after drawing the answer from the creation story of Genesis.

But when it comes to our Christian faith, which ranks first - the heart or the mind?

Much have been heard that if you feel it is God's will then go for it. Some Christians are getting more feelings-oriented or emotionally saturated in pursuit of knowing God. To them it seems one is nonspiritual if worship singing, prayer or quiet time are not accompanied with emotional experience.

While people who are allergic to rationality exist, intellectual believers also thrive. Evident to their language, they not just extremely believe that they are doctrinally correct but also hold the more scientific, academic or technological bible study. Sad to say, spiritual discrepancies manifest when the intellectual upload is unmatched with the experiential download.

After a brief discussion of the two negating primacies of the heart and of the mind, a statement can now be drawn out. If there is a primacy of the heart then there is also a primacy of the mind. Is it not a contradiction that the two primacies coexist at the same time and in the same matter?

To conclude and hopefully arrive at clear-cut answers, I'd like to quote the words of Theologian R.C. Sproul, who authored Essential Truths of the Christian Faith.

With respect to the primacy of importance, the heart is first. If I have correct doctrine in my head but no love for Christ in my heart, I have missed the kingdom of God. It is infinitely more important that my heart be right before God than that my theology be impeccably correct.

However, for my heart to be right, there is a primacy of the intellect in terms of order. Nothing can be in my heart that is not first in my head. How can I love a God or a Jesus about whom I understand nothing? Indeed, the more I come to understand the character of God, the greater is my capacity to love Him.

God reveals Himself to us in a book [the Bible]. That book is written in words. It communicates concepts that must be understood by the mind. Certain mysteries remain. But the purpose of God's revelation is that we understand it with our mind that it might penetrate our hearts.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Brokenness: The Heartfelt Change - Part 2

In The Heart God Revives, Nancy Leigh DeMoss uncovers the contrasting characteristics of proud, unbroken people who are resistant to the call of God on their lives with the qualities of broken, humble people who have experienced God's revival. Prayerfully read each item on the list as you ask God to reveal which characteristics of a proud spirit He finds in your life. It is always a fresh start to confess these to Him, then ask Him to restore the corresponding qualities of a broken, humble spirit in you.

Proud People...Broken People...
focus on the failures of othersare overwhelmed with a sense of their own spiritual need
have a critical, fault-finding spirit; look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope, but their own with a telescope; look down on othersare compassionate; can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven; esteem all others better than themselves
are self-righteous; look down on othersesteem all others better than themselves
have an independent, self-sufficient spirithave a dependent spirit; recognize their need for others
have to prove that they are rightare willing to yield the right to be right
claim rights; have a demanding spirityield their rights; have a meek spirit
are self-protective of their time, their rights, and their reputationare self-denying
desire to be servedare motivated to serve others
desire to be a successare motivated to be faithful and to make others a success
desire self-advancementdesire to promote others
have a drive to be recognized, and appreciatedhave a sense of their own unworthiness; are thrilled that God would use them at all
have a subconscious feeling, “This ministry/church is privileged to have me and my gifts”; think of what they can do for Godhave a heart attitude that says, “I don’t deserve to have any part in this ministry”; know that they have nothing to offer God except the life of Jesus flowing through their broken lives
feel confident in how much they knoware humbled by how very much they have to learn
are self-consciousare not concerned with self at all
keep others at arms’ lengthare willing to risk getting close to others and to take risks of loving intimately
are quick to blame othersaccept personal responsibility and can see where they are wrong in a situation
are unapproachable or defensive when critiziedreceive criticism with a humble, open spirit
are concerned with being respectable, with what others think; work to protect their own image and reputationare concerned with being real; what matters to them is not what others think but what God knows; are willing to die to their own reputation
find it difficult to share their spiritual needs with othersare willing to be open and transparent with others as God directs
want to be sure that no one finds out when they have sinned; instinct is to cover uponce broken, don’t care who knows or who finds out; are willing to be exposed because they have nothing to lose
have a hard time saying, “I was wrong; will you please forgive me?”are quick to admit failure and to seek forgiveness when necessary
tend to deal in generalities when confessing sinare able to acknowledge specifics when confessing their sin
are concerned about the consequences of their sinare grieved over the cause, the root of their sin
are remorseful over their sin, sorry that they got found out or caughtare truly, genuinely repentant over their sin, evidenced in the fact that they forsake that sin
wait for the other to come and ask forgiveness when there is a misunderstanding or conflict in relationshipstake the initiative to be reconciled when there is a misunderstanding or a conflict in relationships; they race to the cross; they see if they can get there first, no matter how wrong the other may have been
compare themselves with others and feel worthy of honorcompare themselves to the holiness of God and feel desperate need for His mercy
are blind to their true heart conditionwalk in the light
don’t think they have anything to repent ofrealize they have need of a continual heart attitude of repentance
don’t think they need revival, but are sure that everyone else doescontinually sense their need for a fresh encounter with God and for a fresh filling of His Holy Spirit

Friday, May 8, 2009

Brokenness: The Heartfelt Change - Part 1

Whenever I see a ruined pinion (flight feather of a bird's wing), the word "brokenness" comes into mind. One of David's theme on his fifty first Psalm, brokenness unveiled his desperation to a merciful God. We read Psalm 51:17 (NIV), "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."

But what does it takes to be broken? What is brokenness? In three words, it's saying "I am nothing." Brokenness is submission to God's sovereignty out of our weaknesses. It is seeing our great need of Him.

God delights in a broken heart. For where there is a broken heart, there the peace of God is also revealed. Note that the verse ends with the phrase "you will not despise," in other words God will not take lightly a heart that is broken.

Truly a broken man is worthy to remember than a mighty man. David, who experienced how it is to be broken, is not anymore the giant killer but now a man bowed down to repentance.

The heartfelt change of brokenness can not be diagnosed out externally. It is something that happens from the inside out. With much careful thought, tears may not always mean brokenness. Yet on the other hand, it is difficult to be broken without tears, isn't it?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Seeking God Above Everything

"The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One. Many ordinary treasures may be denied him, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment will be so tempered that they will never be necessary to his happiness. Or if he must see them go, one after one, he will scarcely feel a sense of loss, for having the Source of all things he has in One all satisfaction, all pleasure, all delight. Whatever he may lose he has already lost nothing, for he now has it all in One, and he has it purely, legitimately, and forever." -A.W. Tozer(Adapted from "The Pursuit of God")

Whew! What a profound realization that every child of God may meditate prayerfully. The moment God captured our wandering hearts through salvation by faith in Christ, it has been His ultimate purpose that from a novice relationship, a growing intimacy would spring up.

Since then, I "have tasted that the Lord is good" (1 Peter 2:3). No question with that. God is good. Absolutely good, at all times. But as I allow the Lord to examine my inmost being, I see my immature views of His goodness. My mind was at used to define God's goodness based on blessings. Unknowingly, my concept of His worth depends on the benefits I can get out from that relationship. Simply put, I keep God so I can have my needs and wants met.

To dwell with this lifestyle, I am missing the big picture. While it is true that God does not withhold blessings from His children, enjoying gifts should not at all be the endpoint. I resolve that my utmost desire must to know Him more, seeking Him above all fleeting things.

I am reminded that it was not out of a careless thought that King David, though famed for his scandalous sins, was also the "man after God's own heart." Unexcused by sin's consequences, yet he was not hindered from coming back to God for repentance. From Psalm 27:4, David cried out:

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
God's marvelous grace continue to changing hearts. Those that hunger for more of God, lesser for self, for the quest of knowing Him. After all, how can we love an unknown God? Seek Him.

A Journey With God In Payer

"Apart from me you can do nothing," the very words of Jesus which until now convict my heart with utter helplessness. As theologian Ole Hallesby puts it "helplessness is the best summary of the heart attitude that God accepts as prayer. Only he who is helpless can truly pray."

Living as the Master did was, is and will never be trouble free as long as we are still in a corruptible flesh. We combat against daily struggles with sin, self and the enemy. Yet as I mirror myself earnestly before the Holy Word, then I find my unimaginable weakness. Awakened, I realize that I myself can not fight sin which is waging war against my spirit. After all, the battle is the Lord's, not mine. I must submit at His lordship and trust Him with my all instead.

Desperate of His relief, I prayed that more than deliverance from the wrestling match against my own human nature, I should otherwise long for dependence of Him. A heart that hungers more for Him, for His presence.

Rough moments in prayer may come sporadically. Sometimes I feel the warmth and refreshing touch of God in prayer, sometimes just numbness. Sometimes I sense the nearness of Him, sometimes just distance. Feelings of unworthiness at times creep in, but as God's grace beams light to my darkened heart, barriers are shattered, giving me spiritual freedom and victory.

If feelings alone were my absolute gauge for a meaningful private prayer life, then I am heading towards a road of misery. But thanks be to God! Faith, not fluctuating feelings, overcomes the dryness or coldness in journey with God in prayer. I must persist at all cost, even if emotions don't follow. After all, it is not the strivings that please God, but faith. Then as it is deeply rooted, fruits can flourish.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: FORGETTING what is behind and STRAINING what is toward the good to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Together with apostle Paul in Philippians 3:12-14, the Lord is not yet done with me. A beginner in prayer and will always be. A finite to an Infinite One. A forgiven sinner to a gracious Holy God. He is still working on me, molding me, as I allow Him to live in and through me.