Sunday, September 25, 2011

Grace, Faith and Yielding

I've said before that grace is that thing which makes us into something we cannot become on our own.  But I think people just don't get it.  There's more to it than just sitting back on our laurels and soaking it up, and that's where I believe people generally error.

I have been misunderstood to be making grace into something it's not.  And I can't say that I blame them, since I seemingly suggest that we think about it in non-traditional ways.  But a traditionalist I am not, so if you're looking for run of the mill traditional thought on this subject, then you might as well move along now, because you're not getting it from me.

Sovereignty

So, lets start with sovereignty.  What is it and what is the opposite of sovereignty?  Lets start with the converse, the opposite of sovereignty: what is that?  If you're thinking "man's free will" is the opposite of sovereignty, then you get the Gong (remember the Gong Show?) - in other words, "no: man's free will is not the opposite of sovereignty."  Not convinced?  Well, then lets take a look at Meriam-Webster:
  1. Obsolete : supreme excellence or an example of it
  2. Supreme power especially over a body politic
    • freedom from external control : autonomy
    • controlling influence
  3. One that is sovereign; especially : an autonomous state 
The take-away from this definition is two fold: the first thing we notice is the concept of autonomy and freedom from external control.  The second thing is it's controlling influence.  In other words, you being sovereign, get to make your own autonomous, controlling and influential decisions free from external control and external considerations (that's free will, by the way).  See?  Man's free will is not the opposite of sovereignty, free will is sovereignty defined.  So, what is the opposite of sovereignty?

Grace

I submit to you, that grace is the opposite of sovereignty.  Whoa, hold on a minute: didn't God in His sovereignty fore ordain that we should be saved by grace?  How then is grace not sovereign?  Well, for starters, you're confusing God's autonomy in choosing the mechanism through which salvation is effected with the mechanism itself.  Did God choose to use grace?  Yes. Was that decision sovereign?  Yes, of course it was.  But is grace sovereignty defined?  No, it's not.  Consider the scripture  
 ... {while} in our transgressions, {He} made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that {salvation} not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.. (Ephesians 2:5-10)
Wow, that sounds like a lot of sovereignty to me, doesn't it to you?  And you'd be right - there is a lot of that  being expressed there.   But lets take take a look at something else:
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (John 3:18-21)
Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. ... But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:11-15)
So, what's the point?  The point is faith: belief and trust is faith: "for by grace you have been saved through faith" and "He who believes in Him is not judged."

Thus, the necessary rhetorical question is: can a person be saved who lacks faith?  Obviously, the answer is no.  Thus, salvation (which comes by grace) only happens in the presence of, or as scripture puts it "through faith."  Therefore, salvation is not an act of sovereignty on Gods part, but an act of God in conjunction with the faith of the sinner.  Thus, sovereignty says "I will do this thing outside of any consideration of you", whereas grace says "I will do this thing only in conjunction with you."  Which is why repentance and reconciliation are required for salvation: repentance (my turning towards God) is the turning away from that which causes offence and reconciliation means to change mutually.  Both only occur through trust and belief (faith).
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  (2 Corinthians 5:18)
.. solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21)
In the two verses above, we see our requirements of entering into that ministry of reconciliation through faith.

I understand that for some, this is a hard thing to grasp.  But we must separate what God does from how He chooses to do it:
So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  (Galatians 3:5)
And the rhetorical answer is "by hearing with faith."  And so it is with spiritual gifts: while they are freely given (charisma - grace gift), they are not exercised without our cooperation.  Which means we are not puppets of God.  We can choose to exercise our gifts and follow God, or we can choose to run away like Jonah.

Cooperation

In one sense, the only valid work we can do with God is cooperation.  In many cases our cooperation is just as simple as faith.  In other cases, it's yielding ourselves to Him.  In other instances, it's resisting the devil and drawing near to God.  All of these actions are examples of our cooperating with God.  Finding someone willing to cooperate with God is of paramount importance to Him:
I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.  (Ezekiel 22:30)
The passage above is a clear example of the results of sovereignty and grace.  One one hand, God was ready to destroy the land  (sovereignty), but on the other hand, He wanted to show mercy and save the land.  But what was lacking: "a man among them who would ... stand in the gap."  What was He looking for?   Fortitude, intercession, faith and cooperation: a space to express grace.

Consider also the seven years of plenty followed by the seven years of famine:
It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do.  Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land. So the abundance will be unknown in the land because of that subsequent famine; for it will be very severe. Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.  Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance.  (Genesis 41:28-34)
God was acting in sovereignty, with providence and in grace in this example.  Through sovereignty and providence He provided the dream, the plenty and the famine.  Through grace he provided the interpretation, the produce and the ability to harvest the land.

Living by the Spirit

Which brings me to yielding.  I've often wondered how to reconcile being filled with the spirit (Ephesians 5:18), and walking in the spirit (Galatians 5:16) and dying to self (Matthew 16:24), and last but not least, being transformed by God (Philippians 1:6).  At times, they seem incompatible, and most certainly if you spend any time in the average church, you will get seemingly conflicting and incompatible ideas regarding all of them.  So I spent a lot of time considering spirit - what is it?  Well, God is spirit.  Jesus has given us the comforter, His Holy Spirit.  Jesus described spirit as wind.  I even determined that the effects of His Holy Spirit demonstrate the affections of God (that's a play on words, but it works out correctly).  I've understood that the spirit behind the 10 Commandments is one of protection, concern and love - not of "I'm a Holy God and I get to make the rules, so do or die."

Unfortunately, I've not come to any grand conclusions.  I've had to be taken back a step, back to yielding.  It turns out that in the moment by moment decisions that we are presented with, yielding to one thing or the other is what it all boils down to: do I perform this thing, or that thing?  Do this or that?

In the end, we've got to make a choice.  We will yield to the flesh, or we will yield to His Holy Spirit.  Is it that simple?  Apparently so, for God did say, "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." (James 4:7-8)  In order to submit, resist and draw, you must yield to His Holy Spirit and die to self: you must cooperate with God and in doing so, you receive grace to overcome.

Sometimes, yielding is not an easy choice.  But it is fundamental to living in the Spirit, dying to self, being filled with the Spirit and being transformed by God.  And it puts us in a position of living in Grace, as opposed to being fallen from grace.  For when we are fallen from grace, we are living in our own strength, making our own way and working to build ourselves up with our own hands.

Yielding to His Holy Spirit and living in grace is a much better option, don't you think?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Being The Intercessor

I'm on a different leg of the journey now, which isn't surprising.  It seems that I'm always discovering or learning something knew - I think it has something to do with Philippians 1:6.  Actually, a couple of things have captured my attention recently, but intercession has really been at the forefront my thoughts.

I've always understood (at least intellectually) the concept of standing in the gap.  As a matter of fact, I've been called to do that on several occasions, unbeknownst to those who were blessed in the end.  But it was the process of standing in that gap on at least one occasion that the gravity of the situation was made clear to me.  From that point on, being the intercessor or the one who stands in the gap had new meaning, a deeper and urgent unction that made the process, at least to me, a reverent burden with catastrophic consequences should one be flippant, ignore or fail in their responsibilities.

You would think that in and of itself would be enough for one person, that the lesson had been learned.  But I'm afraid that for me, it hasn't been.  For on that one occasion (that is most memorable to me), I understood the problem at hand.  I had lived it, I had made the same mistakes, said the same things, exercised the same misjudgements.  But somewhere along the way, God revealed to me the sinfulness of my attitudes and that it had to go, that I must to die to self in that regard.  So when I saw it in someone else, I understood it for I had lived it, and I was grieved because I knew it was something that the Lord despised.

I wrestled with it for about a day, and just at the point when I had determined that there was nothing I could do to change the situation (and there truly was not), and nothing I could do to change the person (and truly, there was not), I was ready to leave the whole mess alone and let God deal with it.  And it was then that I remembered Moses (Exodus 32):
The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” 
Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
 And I remembered Ezekiel 22:30:
I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.
And it was then that the Lord said, "so, you're just going to leave him be and not stand in the gap?"

I have no idea what the Lord had in mind for him should I refuse - and it doesn't matter.  I just know that I spent two or three days in constant communion and prayer until the burden was gone and I was released from my responsibilities as a gap stander.

But as I have circled back to this gap standing doctrine, I have learned that there is something else that I was unaware of before:

The Identification of the Intercessor

I really didn't get this the first times through, but it's becoming clearer to me now.  There are examples of this identification of the intercessor all through out scripture.  I alluded to it above, in the quote from Exodus 32.  But there's more to the story.  A little later on, we find that
On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!
This is one example of standing in the gap, of being the intercessor:  it is a "take me instead of them" attitude, a "count me just as guilty as they are" and "account their guilt to me" position.  When you stand in the gap, or protect someone else, you identify your whole self with them.  It is this identification that is integral to the act of interceding on the behalf of another.

The apostle Paul said that
I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (1 Cor 9:19-32)
Paul is speaking to the point of identifying himself with those to whom he was a witness and on whose behalf he interceded.  In his case, he was identifying with or becoming one of the people to whom he spoke and to whom he lived out his life.  In other words, he knew that from the perspective the Jew, the Gentile and the weak, an acceptable sacrifice was to become one of them, to understand their life, their hurts, and their perceptions of reality from their point of view.  This identification gave Paul an authority in their lives, not because he was an apostle, but because from their point of view, he was one of them.

Jesus also identified Himself with us:
Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.
These actions of Jesus resulted in Him sitting down at the right hand of God and living to make intercession for us. (Mark 16:19, Hebrews 12: 2).  But don't miss the other points of these truths: it was for the "joy set before Him" that he endured the cross, which in the end enabled Him to take His place of intercession.

And in seeing the joy set before Him, how does one thereby endure the cross?  By dying to self.  For we all are to take up our cross daily, resulting in the same thing: dying to self.  Intercession is not just about praying: it's just as much about dying to self as it is about living your life in such a way that another is edified, which is love, for "love edifies" (1 Cor 1:8), and we all know that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.

I knew someone once, I'll call him Crosby, who took on the task of mentoring a young man, which we'll call Nash.  Nash was your typical young college student who had definitive ideas about life and how the world should work.  Crosby on the other hand, had been there and done all of that and had thus far, lived a long, full life in the Lord.  He had been to seminary and earned several degrees.  Furthermore, as being in his early 60's, he viewed himself as an Elder in the church, and as one who had earned some respect.  He clearly believed he had a lot to offer in a mentoring relationship, or any relationship for that matter.  Nevertheless, the mentoring relationship eventually broke down and the meetings ceased.  It was explained to Nash's parents that the young man simply didn't provide Crosby the proper respect and that as such, the relationship couldn't move forward.

As a mentor or accountability partner (as we like to call it these days), it is not our place to choose the death, or the dying to self of the other person.  How God chooses to work in some ones life is His business, not ours.  Our job is to facilitate the process (Eph 4:15-16).  If we enter into an accountability or mentoring relationship and start nit-picking this thing or that thing, then what we're actually doing is judging the other person.  And any one who judges another person usurps God's authority makes himself a judge of the Law (James 4:11).

What Crosby did was fail to identify himself with his younger protege.  He found a particular spec in his brothers' eye and neglected to see the log in his own eye.  And having not removed his log so that he could better identify with his younger brother and help Nash remove his spec, his completely missed the opportunity to be an intercessor for his brother. (Matt 7:1-5)

You see folks, if you want to stand in the gap, if you want to be an intercessor for this or that, then you must get serious with God.  You really don't have a right to tell someone to not steal or cheat or refrain from drunkenness when you yourself are a cheat and a thief and drink too much.  If you really want to be the George Mueller of your generation, then pick up your cross and get busy with God and die to your selfish desires.  Revival comes through and after repentance.  If you truly want revival, then first find out what God wants removed from your life, those hidden, unyielding areas; give them up and remove them.  And once God has brought revival into your life, intercede on the behalf of another, then another, and so-on until God gives you (and/or others) the authority to intercede for your entire church or community.  That's what Moses did.  He started with a burden for his people as son of Pharaoh's daughter, then spent a number of years in isolation from his people in Egypt where his vision for their freedom died and God made him in to a different man (Acts 7, Exodus 3).

So don't assume that this is an easy, overnight process.  Bible scholars tell us that Jesus lived on this earth 33 years and we know that He spent at least three years of concentrated devotion for one purpose: to identify with His people so that He could go to the cross, die to self, fix His eyes on the joy set before Him, and live to make intercession for us all.
I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. (Ezekiel 22:30)
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

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