Passionate Listening that Avoids Volcanic Eruptions

Quote

“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.”

Jesus in Matthew 10

Do you find it as intriguing as alarming that Jesus taught by graphic illustration that one’s indifferent rejection or hard-hearted rebellion against a God-appointed message or messenger of Truth brings consequences that would make being consumed by a fiery volcanic eruption of hell upon our head pale by comparison. “More tolerable than Sodom and Gomorrah” does not sound a good thing nor right, does it? Volcanoes always wreck devastation wherever and whatever they even come near to touch. Honestly though, haven’t you always discovered that true Truth has a sure and prickly edge on the one side as well as a comforting, inviting touch upon the other? That is why we handle Truth with care, and why we entrust the care and keeping of truth to but few in the high calling of the role of teacher or preacher. We do not play fast and loose with the Word of God as to drop it carelessly in the lap of a novice regardless of how excited he may be for sins forgiven. “…not a novice lest he fall into condemnation incurred by the devil…”

The “good news”

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My boys with Niagara in the background.

that truth brings is fabulous once we embrace the terrible gravity of the bad news of our native condition. So in this case it looks as though the volcano-type threat on the head means precisely what Jesus says by way of calling Sodom and Gomorrah alongside as His witnesses.

Just who was that Angel of the Lord, now? Who was the Captain of the Lord of Hosts? Who issued the command and then passed through Egypt that terrible first night of Passover? The message of Jesus was not only nor simply a message categorized by love: He clearly prescribed wrath as the remedy for rejection. This principle is revealed elsewhere as instruction of accountability and stewardship as taught in the saying, “To whom much is given, much is required.” We would say today, “You snooze, you lose.” (For the faint-of-heart I’m quite sure He possibly ended this gnarly topic with our comfortably familiar and light-hearted adage, “Have a good day now… Y’all come back now.” Or maybe He did not for He presided over His kingdom as a faithful Son who faithfully discharged truth to the children He instructed by never failing to speak the hard sayings.)

“You snooze, you lose, sucker,” is another way we express neglectful indifference today.

It is probably not ordinarily in our ever-flowing stream of typical thoughts that when we sit under the sound of the gospel this day, (or any day), it is to be with a reverent accountable attentiveness befitting one who has privilege to hear the direct proclamation and instruction of our Creator and Owner, upon threat of death and hell for simple indifference or disregard of the messenger, regardless how ugly he is. (Good gosh! Do they make an automated shock collar for one who tends to doze off during the sermon?) To listen carelessly or to adorn our response with the smock of indifference exposes our very life to grave danger. It is no small matter to attend to preaching adorned with “words of life and beauty as they teach faith and duty.” (Phillip P. Bliss) I suspect such truth-oriented preaching that brings such hideous consequences for ungodly indifference is more rare today than we suspect. “To the one it is an aroma of life… to the other an aroma of death…” (2 Corth 2:16) Horrible thought… though I must confess it forms a facet of the basis of my ministry to prisoners. I earnestly plead with them to receive, to choose life, to flee the wrath, but it is with a clear presentation that we tinker with matters eternal of life and death, heaven and hell. These are things eternal upon which we live, and of which Lewis stated, “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.” That is why Truth matters and why it matters how we respond to it.

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Danger is just over the rail. It is that close. Danger is always at hand, crouching where truth and beauty reside. Amy responded appropriately to the implied threat of the guard-rail, and I did not have to tell her to GET OFF the rail. We see signs. Do we hear God?

“All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.” Lewis

Yet how safe we are from peril and destruction in the one Refuge so freely offered in “the only name given under heaven among men by which we MUST be saved.” And again, how naked and bare, how stripped and undone we see ourselves as we are exposed to wrath not deferred, (not propitiated), should we do as the Jews who deemed themselves unworthy of eternal life as they rejected truth in Jesus as proclaimed by Paul. Their deference was to self and tradition, and their desire was to remain slavishly in blind bondage rather than received fulfilled law in Christ by the free grace Paul preached.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.” When we listen and when we purpose repentant obedience to the King’s gracious life-giving commands that proclaims a message of Divine accomplishment, we are actually actively running further into the Kingdom by Way of the road of holiness as we draw nearer, nearer to the throne of grace, from whence our Help comes. Listening is an active life-saving activity and not a spectator sport that allows you to “time-out” and sit upon the sidelines as preacher preaches. “Waiting upon the Lord” means I engage God where I am. Paul referenced personal responsibility this way:

1 Corinthians 9:26-27 (NASB)

“Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

Here is a concluding poem once known and sung by many it seems almost in another age…

Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life,
 Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life;
 Words of life and beauty teach me faith and duty.

Refrain

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,
 Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.
Christ, the blessèd One, gives to all wonderful words of life;
 Sinner, list to the loving call, wonderful words of life;
 All so freely given, wooing us to heaven.

Refrain
Sweetly echo the Gospel call, wonderful words of life;
 Offer pardon and peace to all, wonderful words of life;
 Jesus, only Savior, sanctify us forever.

Refrain

Phillip P. Bliss

 

God calls us to prepare this day to tremble before His word. In this hell of mess we witness in our world as the devastating consequences of sin advances into land and home, we have hope and there is light in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God says to not fear nor be dismayed, He will be with us and help us. Consider these Truths worthy of implementation as we listen today with a passion and an expectation that pleases the Father. The message of Heaven brings:

1. His pervasive presence.

2. His unfailing promise of a righteous cause.

3. His sure providence that accomplishes His purpose.

Does your worship evoke the volcanic rumblings of the authentic presence of Holy God or does it resemble more the sound of war?

How quickly we go from the fire and rumbling presence of Holy God to merriment and idolatry in the midst of Covenant Community worship.
  Reference Moses on the Mount with Jehovah, and then the god of the golden calf celebrated with revelry at the foot of the mount. Such a short time… 40 days. Such a short distance… the height of a mountain. Does your worship  evoke the fear and trembling of the Holy One of Israel or does it “sound of war in the camp?”

The sounds of war in the camp… when in fact seasoned saints recognize it as the deceptive and enticing sound of idolatrous merriment…

And here are we, some two thousand years the backside of Calvary, yet this is relevant and something to think about today; perhaps something to repent of and depart from as the Spirit moves. Do you worship in Spirit and truth or are you engaged in an event or happening that leaves off the spirit of truth?

Staying on Point. Complete the Mission!

He said to them, “Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.”Genesis 24:56

  
(Another George Dobbs Photo)

Abraham’s oldest and most loyal servant has completed precisely one-half of his assigned task: he has located Rebecca, the God-chosen bride-elect of Isaac, the son of promise remarkably born of Abraham and Sarah in their old age. The servant now purposes to stay on point by completion of his task via a quick return to Abraham and Isaac with his prized beauty. Rebecca’s mother understandably has scruples over such a speedy, “shotgun-styled marriage” of sorts. Rebecca’s opportunistic brother Laban likewise wants to delay nuptials by hindering her return to Isaac for perhaps less than legitimate or honorable reasons. We can easily speculate that perhaps he hoped to garner more gifts of gold and silver from Abraham’s faithful servant before their departure for marital bliss in the Promised Land.  (We definitely see in his subsequent future dealings with Jacob in matters pertaining to his daughters, Rachael and Leah, that he is a man given to money, manipulation and deceit. Put the guy in front of a camera and he could have had a brilliant career as a televangelist!)

Abraham’s wise servant having clearly discerned the hand of God, perhaps even recalling his master’s recent charge and assurance that “God will send His angel before you” is having nothing to do with delay. Rebecca is called alongside to affirm her desire with the servant’s intent, which remarkably but not surprisingly perfectly coincides with his plan… “Let’s get the heck outta here now!” Thus a speedy return is determined to be right, and the matter is settled. They immediately leave bound for the Land of Promise in obedience to their perception of the revealed will of a God who has clearly ordered their steps in this matter. Delay is out of the question! Abraham is aged and Isaac is waiting as he mourns the loss of his mother. (A mother’s departure is always painful and untimely even for adult sons. Rebecca’s mother here exhibits another type of pain as leaving and cleaving is fleshed out of and then into the mother-daughter relationship.)



Consideration…

God is interested in our attentive, trained sensitivity to the details of the leading of His Spirit in our lives by our subsequent timely, responsible, obedient faith-walk. God leads or prompts but we still must respond. The call of God’s will does not mean God removes all obstacles nor all adversaries, rather expect them in abundance from near and surprising sources. Some adversaries have valid concerns and need only time and patience to become advocates assured of God’s wisdom in a matter. We also do well to anticipate adversity from those who have some power by virtue of inherited positions of authority. 

Perhaps opposition may be experienced from other insignificant spectators who think they have a “dog in the fight” as they stand on the sidelines offering needless and worthless commentary. We are called to stay focused on God’s purpose and glory. Obedience to the will of God always supersedes man’s opinion. On some level I am not required to offer explanation for why I am doing what I am doing beyond the revelation of God and His Word to me in my life. A gracious but firm “sit down, shut up and stand aside,” may become necessary with some of the more obnoxious irritants. I have found I personally still struggle to refrain from commentary about others as God’s wisdom in their life may be contrary to my opinion (or desire). My opinion is not critically significant in most cases. God’s glory in our obedience is. The call to stand and see the salvation of the Lord takes great pains to implement and patience to… well just waiting and standing. (I am sure Moses would validate that it is difficult to stand and wait when an army is bearing down upon you.)

Resistance to the will of God is expected and normative to those whose senses are not trained in matters spiritual. Yes, and we know that resistance to the will of God in the spiritually mature can only be overcome by grace, and this presupposes faith-works in its completion. We do not naturally gravitate toward obedience in response to the call of the cross but by grace alone. Grace eventually teaches us to love and obey the cross as we submit to His will to be done, not ours. We also have and do nothing that makes an indelible mark upon eternity except it be done in faith. God is not interested in glorified efforts of our flesh. Without faith it is impossible to please God. The flesh profits nothing. 

When God clearly shows us the way to walk… when God speaks and we hear His voice say, “This is the path, walk ye herein,” at some point hesitation or timidity becomes sinful procrastination that opens the door of rank disobedience. Waiting upon the Lord becomes sinful neglect after we hear Him say, “He has told you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Justice, mercy and a daily dose of relational faith are all safe bets in doing the will of the Father. 

We are called to faithfulness in doing God’s will even if we have to go alone and even if we have to turn to the right or left as this faithful man replied to Laban. (I have found lots of Laban’s. Lots of them. They hang out and around serious-minded believers often offering irrelevant commentary calculated to hinder obedience to a lifestyle characterized by a faith-walk. Their way is always best. They often refuse counsel even in the context of Biblical principle clearly laid out. They are easily threatened and insist upon their way or the highway. They love to exercise both real and pseudo-authority by being wordsmiths skilled in manipulation of the masses. They are men of sight, not men of faith.

And then of course the world is filled with obvious unconverted opportunists such as The Donald Trump’s who wear a thin veneer of religiosity for personal gain and power. I think even Liberty University picked up on his pretense. But I digress… Let me return to matters eternal.

A pastor friend once offered a profundity in a sermon in response to the difficulty of a believer being obedient to the will of God in the workplace where rank ungodliness abounds. He said, “What did you think they would do, not tell dirty jokes just because you are there? Did you actually think that they would rather sit around singing hymns? That does not matter and that will not change; you are called as salt and light. You are to be lights in the midst of darkness holding forth the Word of truth right in the midst of them, and when the occasion arises to speak the Word… boldly in love affirm what the Word of God proclaims about a particular situation or abomination. It is then that you might expect the conversation to terminate.” (Andy had a way of saying things that one can never quite escape. And he was so correct on so many things.)

Obedience to the will of God involves a cost. Remember Christ? Remember He said to “Do this in remembrance of Me”? Do you remember what the bread and cup represent? His broken body and blood? Remember too… He did it for joy set before Him as He submitted Himself to the will of the Father as He loved and died for the unlovely.

Abraham’s servant was the point man on mission operating under the auspices of his master’s desire. Jesus of Nazareth likewise operated under the decree of the Father in speedy purposeful obedience which merited the Father’s commendation of, “This is my Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” And this is why we need Him. As we flail about seeking the will of God with occasional aspirations of obedience to it, we often fall short of the mark. At times we even neglect to pick up bow and arrow to shoot at the target of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus to “be perfect as He is perfect.” Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ who has won us an obedience by merit of His perfection of always doing the things in timely manner to validate His credentials as the only begotten of the Father. We stand in Him and in His work alone.

We need Him. We need Him even when we believe we are recipients of the grace to have a good day of speedily doing the revealed will of the Father as we “return to our Master’s house,” to complete the task. Perhaps we then need Him more as we have then become recipients of more grace and have acquired more debt. We know this for sure: God’s will becomes transparently clear as we offer ourselves as living sacrifices with renewed minds, and as we show ourselves as examples of those who believe. How else will the kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven?

The purposes of God were advanced by the diligent effort of this one faithful man to accomplish the given task. He would not relent but knew full obedience to the assigned duty was satisfied only upon his return to his master whom he knew to be a man who owned the promise of God. Eternity hung in the balance of his resoluteness to withstand adversity and reasonable arguments to delay in doing the right thing. He stands in scripture as a model man of God who could not deviate from his mission. We too must aspire to be single-visioned recipients of grace to stay-on-point for the glory of God as we move toward completion of our life mission. 

The Early Morning Chain Saw Incident 

So I am sitting here at 3:30am banging away as a one-fingered wonder on my iPhone tuning up a blog confession or profession of sorts, and I hear a chain saw in the distance. With concern I wonder what the heck Neighbor Chris is doing with a chain saw at this time of day, and ponder if perhaps a tree has fallen and injured his head. I then arise to look off his direction thinking, he is nuts. But I know Neighbor Chris is not nuts, so I am vexed with confusion, and a flash of concern enters my mind as to whether I am experiencing a personal Twilight Zone moment. Maybe an auditory delusion of sorts? Geez… and where is my coffee?

But the 3-digit code for “I Need Help” 911 still persistently flashes before my mind’s eye. 

My coffee has fortunately just finished percolating so I pause to pour a cup of java. And there I discover the chain saw sound buzzing in distant background, now drawn nearer. My percolator is moaning with fresh steaming hot nectar of the gods, #CommunityCoffee with #Chicory, a morning treat that growls and moans to revive my fainting body. And then I remember my accusation against my Old-Friend Coffee from a few days past of how coffee (in some unspoken manner) freely yields forth properties of a type of exorcism. Am I being punished? 

Yet I still anticipate my cup of groaning coffee with joy! And I thank God, Neighbor Chris has not gone and got himself all drunked-up or confused over the time of day, nor has a tree fallen on his house or head or worse.

And I have a day of this to anticipate as the sun still sleeps but my mind is awake and raging in predawn activity with fresh hot coffee in my hand, as roosters sound in unison just outside trying to convince their respective harems that the sun rises because of their virility in crowing. Life in the country! And the giant chain saw mystery is solved!

All is well. Peace on earth among men with whom He is pleased!

Careful. Better Re-Read the Entry Requirements. (This may be easier than you supposed.) But remember…there are no mulligans and no grading on the curve. 

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”Jesus

  
How paradoxical that you lose if you try more than believe. You lose if you work to the neglect of His work. The beauty of completeness of God in Creation as I see represented in George’s picture cannot be improved upon. It was all “very good.” In similar fashion the work of the new creation established by Christ by His labor for profit of His people is complete, “It is finished.” He entered into His rest. He sat down at the Father’s right hand “after He had made purification for sins.” Heaven and earth are one. Reconciled. All rebels are called to stack arms and sign terms of peace. We “have peace with God through Christ…” Herein we too find rest through and in Him. We bring nothing to the table but need and thirst that He alone can satisfy. “In Him we are made complete. And He is the Head over all things…” We enjoy peace; hostilities have ceased. “He has commanded all men everywhere to repent and believe.” Now how hard is that?



These principles of representation and substitution are at the heart of the gospel of peace, for therein is the imputed righteousness of Christ revealed. (That’s the one that counts!) The righteousness that sustains us in the coming Day is righteousness revealed to those who become as children in the Gospel, “from faith to faith, just as it is written, but the righteous man shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1)

We who believe embrace the truth of Jesus’ words, “The flesh profits nothing. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and are life.” Those who rest in Christ are beginning to understand the paradox that the harder we work to outdo the scribes and Pharisees the more of their likeness we embrace. Righteousness is not a badge of honor to be adorned and worn as we stand and primp in front of a mirror gazing upon our own beauty; it is a gift to be received as we gaze upon His beauty, His stunning and redemptive perfection. We are content to boast in the Lord. “Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.”

I recently heard Doug Wilson say, “If you have never been accused of antinomianism you probably are not clearly preaching the gospel of free grace.” (I had basically just accused him of that, kinda-sorta, for liberty he took in some statements of “God not caring about a believer’s sin,” and he graciously gave helpful clarification at the recent 2016 Auburn Avenue Pastors’ Conference.) His defense of grace made an indelible impression upon me. I believe it true. Wilson pointed out that Paul spent an abundance of his time defending His gospel against this very charge. 

Why not close here?
Philippians 3:7-11

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 

When God Looks at Us and Says to Others, “Hey you guys, watch this…”

“Some thoughts on the frequent impossibility of initially (or ever) reconciling our observations of God’s purpose and wisdom with the inconsistency of our life, faults, sins, righteousness and/or agendas.”

We want to think of a God who acts and accomplishes good “in spite of” man’s sin in His predictably safe role of “Heavenly Responder” to our calamities. (And He does this in some respects.) God fixes our mess-ups. In a sense what we really desire is a God who MUST ALWAYS act in a certain prescribed manner for then He is controlled, and we find comfort in the known. However scripture reveals an expanded view of God, a LARGER GOD who incorporates personal sins, failures and simple faults as a first cause in the advancement of His purpose and kingdom. The boundaries of God’s wisdom, ways and power always exceeds our greatest imagination and certainly our loftiest understanding. God has woven His plan eternally beforehand by decree as He acts “because of” His purpose and glory through normative human events including our sin, and not “in spite of” our deviation from or dereliction of revealed will. His secret will abides perpetually perfect; “it belongs to God.” Things revealed we own in imperfect experience which validates His perfection. Did God decree my sin? Or is it somewhere comfortably tucked away into that mysterious catch-all box labeled “The Permissive Will of God”?

Oh, BTW. This is not your meal ticket to sin uncontrollably and indiscriminately. “Grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires,” not to embrace them as we are instructed to live par excellence to Another’s glory.  

A simple reading of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah in Matthew 1 indicates that this principle of God’s purpose in frail men and women is true. The “all things after the counsel of His will” really means “all things” without exception. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rahab, Ruth, David, Bathsheba, Solomon, et.al. are all prominently listed and known for occasional terrible life choices. They also displayed remarkable repentance. You would think the Genealogy of Jesus would read like a “Who’s Who in the Faith” It doesn’t, and yet it does. And God embraces them (and such as these) as those people of faith of whom the world is not worthy. God uses the common and ordinary vessels of clay and bestows them with honor and favor. 


And I look in the mirror and bless God for sufficient grace to embrace my past and present frailty and failings as I look future and say, “He is able.”

And then yesterday in God’s unpredictable and initially most uncomfortable providence I attended the glorious birth of a terribly deformed baby with a condition incompatible with life, of which mom and dad were aware from the early stages of the pregnancy. They chose life and full-term delivery. Others would have likely made a bee-line toward the abortion option as an escape route. As an added bonus this mom weekly had to undergo terrible punctures with a ginormous needle to relieve excessive amniotic fluid buildup. And she still smiled. I was both fascinated and moved deeply as they loved the child before and after birth for those few moments she lived; and God was glorified and His purpose has begun to be satisfied. Was it their sin or the baby’s sin that ordered these events? No, it was for the glory of God in the first cause. That is what Jesus said and that is where I live, and that is what I will share all the days of my life. 
 
I still learn and really must try harder to minimize giving commentary and complaint on what God is up to when I witness or experience an interruption or implosion or explosion, or just normal life. It is often best to refrain from giving advice on what God is up to in the trendy aspects of life. I rather should focus on growing in grace and faith by training my ears and eyes to hear and see as God says, “Hey you guys, watch this…” I should encourage others to see the smiling face behind Life’s frequent frowning providences. It’s God’s way, thus it is God’s wisdom. “Hey guys, watch GOD in this as He brings glory to His name.” I recently learned this and daily need reminders. I am thankful He is patient with the stiff-necked… so very thankful. 

“He has done all things well.”

“He makes all things new.”

Thanks again to George Dobbs for another beautiful picture. Follow him on Facebook if you desire to see more. 

“He is Not a Tame Lion”

Abimelech had in an ignorant innocence of a sort taken Sarah, the wife of Abraham, into his harem and as such incurred swift judgment from God. Abraham and Sarah were each complicit in this potential disaster and threat to the godly seed. Abimelech repents as God comes to him in a dream for clarification of the danger he has placed he and his nation in since his enlistment of Sarah as a member of his Philistine entourage. Abimelech pleads ignorance and declares innocence since he has not touched Sarah, who at 90 is apparently still a gorgeous and desirable woman.

Here is the Scriptural content and then the end game with a thought toward present day application.

Genesis 20:6-7

Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.

“Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

Genesis 20:17-18

Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children.

For the LORD had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

Application:

When the prophets of God and the people cease to be all God has called them to be, and when the message of God is lost in transition because of fear or deception or other human frailty, the purposes of God are endangered. The judgment of God falls upon any and all in the vicinity in such cases. God “carpet bombs” on rare occasion. (Reference Egypt and God’s judgment upon the nation for Pharaoh’s sin. Also, ask yourself when you last ran into a card-carrying Philistine…)

The Lord God is a jealous God. He is not to be trifled with; His purposes will advance with or without our pursuit of His glory, but never apart from the zeal of the Lord Most High for His own name’s sake. The earth would cease if God submitted his purposes to the whims of men, yet He marvelously shares His glory and shows His lovingkindness to multitudes who do His will and heed His word as they advance His glory in humble steps of faithful repentance. 

“…who works all things after the counsel of His will.”


I hope the correlation between this Biblical example and the failure of leadership in the church today and in the nation at large is clear enough. God’s purpose and God’s kingdom will advance and come; our participation is optional from eternity’s perspective. God will raise up a faithful people. He always has. 


“He is not a tame Lion.”

Lewis