“Dorian Gray: Portrait of A New Creation?”.

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Feb 282021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Dorian Gray: Portrait of A New Creation?”.

     In his book, Death In The City, Francis Schaeffer, in 1969, saw with an accurate prophetic eye, what we are living out today.  He begins his book with these words-“We live in a post-Christian world!”  He details the enormity of what this means, and then says, “Do not take this lightly!  It is a horrible thing for a man like myself to look back and see my country and my culture go down the drain in my own lifetime”.  He declared the West was in the process of abandoning its spiritual heritage and is now wallowing in sin, immorality, and apostasy. (I would love to hear his opinion of where we are today).  He continued, “The only perspective we can have of the post-Christian world or our generation: an understanding that our culture and our country is under the wrath of God.  This is serious business.  Do you think a country can throw away its Christian base and remain as it has been?  Jeremiah would say, ‘you should be crying!’ “  Ravi Zacharias has picked up the mantle of Schaeffer, and in his book Deliver Us From Evil, warns of the same calamity, and tries to show us how to recover from this Evangelical disaster, though he is not optimistic that it will happen.  In that book Ravi names one of the popular influences that contributed to the collapse of the Christian moral point of view.  It is the book by Oscar Wilde titled The Picture of Dorian Gray.  The book was written in 1890, but it still having a detrimental effect upon our culture.  Zacharias says, “If there is an image that mirrors the mind of the West today, it is strikingly reflected in… The Picture Of Dorian Gray“. This familiar story describes an exceptionally handsome young man so physically captivating that he drew persistent and awe-stricken adulation of a great artist.  The artist talks him into being the subject of a portrait, saying he had never seen a face more attractive and pure.  When the picture is done and presented to young Dorian, he is so fixated and enraptured with his own looks that he expresses the longing to live any way he pleases, utterly abandoned to any passions and desires, without restraint, and without consequences!  Any disfigurement from such a dissolute life, he wished would mar only the picture, leaving his pristine face unblemished!  Like Faust of old, Dorian gets his wish granted.  He launches off into a life of uncontrolled wickedness.  The details of the novel shocked the Victorian culture of the 1890s both in England and France!  He plumbed the depths of sin and wickedness, sensuality and even murder!  All his vices left his physical appearance completely untainted.  One day, he encounters that portrait he had hidden away, only to discover it bore the horror and scars of a life scandalously lived!  Being afraid that someone else might see the portrait, and discover his hidden life, he buried it among goods he kept in the attic.  But one day, his artist friend discovers it.  Overcome with grief the artist confronts Dorian and implores him to turn from his wasteful life and seek God’s forgiveness!  The artist tells him, somewhere it says, “Come let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.  Though they be red like crimson, they shall be white like wool.”  In a fit of rage Dorian grabs a knife and kills the artist, silencing his convicting voice!  The story reaches an emotional climax when, Dorian, no longer able to stand the indictment of the picture, reaches for the knife once more to destroy the portrait and remove the only visible reminder of his wicked life!  The moment he thrust the knife blade into the canvas the portrait returns, miraculously, to its pristine beauty, and Dorian Gray himself lay stabbed to death on the floor.  The ravages that marred the picture now disfigured his own countenance that he was unrecognizable to the servants who heard the scream of death and came rushing in to help!

     The power of this book lies in the question: Can an individual or society live with complete disregard for the moral and spiritual laws that God has placed within His creation without paying the ultimate price?  Can the soul of a people abandon God’s laws without paying a high price?  As much as we may wish we can abandon all restraints, and go our own willful and sinful ways, calling black white and white black, there is still a high price to pay.  There is a high cost to low living, our generation has even rejected the message of Oscar Wilde in this book, and lived more according to the life Wilde lived early on.  Wilde is famous for advocating living however one wants to live.  He said, “nothing succeeds like excess”, and “nothing is good or bad, only charming or dull”.  He said, “I can resist anything…but temptation!”  That kind of life left him dead at the age of 46, dying ten years after his masterpiece!  What most people do not know is that Oscar Wilde, before he died, is said to have repented of his wicked ways, sought to join the Church, and was refused because of his famous wicked past!  He is quoted as saying, “Ah! Happy day they whose hearts can break, and peace of pardon win!  How else may man make straight his plan, and cleanse his soul from Sin?  How else but through a broken heart may the Lord Christ enter in?”  His prayer?  “Come down, O Christ, and save me, reach thy hand down for I am drowning in a stormier sea than Simon on thy lake of Galilee”.  He had made several trips to the Holy Land and was amazed at the accuracy of the Gospel stories and their accuracy concerning Christ.  In one of his children’s books he tells the story of a giant whose life becomes only winter.  One day a child comes and invites him to come to a garden of paradise that is Spring returned.  When the giant questions who this child is, he discovers this is a child who has nail scars in his hands…and those scars are the price paid to enable the return of Spring and Paradise.  Oscar Wilde wanted to write a fifth Gospel story to elaborate on the truth of that message.  He never lived long enough to write that book.  Maybe the miraculous restoration of the picture of Dorian Gray was parable of the picture of one Oscar Wilde finding restoration in becoming renewed in Christ? God only knows.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says “We are saved by grace, through faith, it is the gift of God, not of ourselves lest any man should boast.”  We seldom read Ephesians 2:10. It says, “for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”.  The word “workmanship” is the word “poema”.  It means “masterpiece”.  Our saved, redeemed, restored souls and lives are God’s eternal artwork and masterpiece.  When we see our own portrait, and that of our society marred by unbridled sin and wickedness, bearing the high price of low living…the only hope for our generation is a new portrait, one bearing the marks of our Savior’s transforming touch.  The Portrait of a New Creation!  Let the new painting begin! Our world desperately needs His artistic touch!  We all need to be transformed by the Love of God, from the God of Love.  What a Loving Portrait He makes of us!

“SIN: Refine Our Sins or Remove Them?”

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Feb 212021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “SIN:  Refine Our Sins or Remove Them?”

     In the First Epistle of John, the Aged Apostle is writing to his little children in the faith, seeking to teach them to experience the Word of Life, just as he and the other Apostles did during “the days of His flesh”.  He encourages them to join in the partnership and fellowship that enables them to follow Jesus, just as they did, letting His Eternal Life be manifest in their lives.  Jesus, the Eternal Life who existed in the beginning with the Father, and became flesh and dwelt among us, walking a divine life, as the Sinless Righteous Son of God, is our Example and Enabler.  Jesus choose the Vine and the branches as the metaphor of life and fruitfulness for the Christian life.  Being in Him, as the branches are to the vine, shows how His life can flow through us, producing fruit, more fruit, and much fruit. (See John 15).  John calls this kind of relationship as a Walk in Life.  It is also a Walk in Light.  Jesus was light, and in Him was no darkness at all.  When we are empowered by His Person, Presence, and Power, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we can walk as He did.  Just a real as when Jesus commanded Peter to walk on water (Matt. 14:28-29), and He miraculously empowered him to do so, so with us!  Jesus said, “He that commits sin is a slave to sin, but those who know Him, intimately, knowing the Truth, is set free”( John 8:34-36).  Such a relationship makes one “free indeed!”  John in I John  chapters 1 and 2 indicates that knowing Him as “life” and “light” results in waling in “Liberty” from sin.  This is a subject that needs to be emphasized to Christians today!  It is true that our sins have been “removed from us as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12); and that “our sins have been cast into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19); and that they have been “cast behind God’s back” (literally “between His shoulder blades” Isaiah 38:17; and that they are “remembered against us no more” (Isaiah 43:25/Heb. 8:12), every Christian knows that in daily practice, that sin is still our besetting issue.  Even the great Apostle Paul called himself “as miserable wretched man” and asked “who will deliver me from this body of death”(Rom. 7:24).  Every Christian can identify with Paul’s confessed dilemma.  Josh Billings vividly describes the catch-22 that describes most Christians when it comes to their battle with daily sin.  He says, “The hardest sinner of the whole lot is one who spends half his time sinning and the other half in repentance!”  Most Christian find themselves praying like the Ancient Roman writer Seneca, who prayed “Oh that a hand would come down out of heaven and deliver me from my besetting sin!” The writer Goethe, described this dilemma when he wrote the following poem- “Two spirits dwell at odds within my heart; And each from the other would gladly part; One seems with a single urge possessed; To keep the friendly earth within my heart; The other draws me forth in a willful quest; Of visions to an inner world apart!”  We live our lives like Lewis Carroll, in Through the Looking Glass, describes the Lock running around looking for the right key, asking “won’t someone please unlock me?”  That unlocking key is to be found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   Jerry Bridges, in his book Disciplines of Grace, says “Preach the Gospel to yourself.  Face up to your own sinfulness, then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and Righteousness”. But just knowing Jesus, through saving faith in His work on the Cross, though the basis of forgiveness, is not enough for victory alone, it must be applied to daily life, availing ourselves to His Person, His Presence, and His Power through a divine incarnation of Christ in us, our only “hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Paul calls this a mystery!  That is the only answer to the failure of Christianity to deal with the sin problem in a practical way.

     A.W. Tozer addresses the failure of modern Christianity to provide relief for the Christian today.  He wrote, “Religion today is not transforming people, rather it is being transformed.  It is not raising the moral level of society, it is descending to society’s own level, and rationalizing that it has scored a victory, because society smiling accepted its surrender!” “Christian Liberty is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. The abuse of the harmless thing is the essence of sin!  A man by his sin may waste himself, which is to waste that which is on earth that is most like God.  This is MAN’S GREATEST TRAGEDY AND GOD’S HEAVIEST GRIEF!”  When the Angels announced Jesus birth, they said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).  That is what the Hebrew name Jesus means-“Yahweh saves”.  But Jesus did not come to just save us from the” penalty of sin”.  He came to save us from the “power of sin”, and eventually from the very “presence of sin”.  We live in the reality of the first mission of Jesus.  That is our justification.  “If any man be in Christ, there is therefore now no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1). But Paul asks, “Since Grace abounds, should we let sin abound too?”  He answers quite clearly, “God Forbid!” (Romans 6:1)  In the Greek it is “me genito”-“may it never be so!”  Tozer says that we as Christians need to take a long look at this situation to resolve it.  He wites, “We Christians must look sharply at our Christianity.  We must make sure we do not refine our sins, without removing them!” Maybe that is what we as Christians are most guilty of-“refining our sins” but not “removing our sins!”  On one occasion Charles Spurgeon was visiting Cambridge College.  He was shown a bust of Lord Byron on display in the University Library. From one side all the glory of Lord Byron was so apparent.  Spurgeon said, “what a man!” The librarian told him to view the bust from the opposite side.  Spurgeon gasped, “What a demon!”  By design the sculptor has so made the bust.  He wanted to show, not only the two faces that resided in Lord Byron, but the two faces that reside in each one of us!  Eugene Peterson, author of The Message paraphrase of the Bible, was given a portrait, painted by his Church custodian.  It was horrible.  Peterson asked why the painter had painted him that way.  His response was, “I wanted you to be reminded of what you could look like is the grace of God was not active in your life!”  Peterson put it on the wall of his office as a daily reminder.  We all need such a portrait!  Adrian Rogers described the difference between sin in the life of the sinner and the saint.  He said, “The sinner leaps into sin and loves it!  The saint lapses into sin and loathes it!”  Basically that is true.  Sin takes a toll in every way on the life of the Christian. The Bible says, “The way of the transgressor is hard!” (Proverbs 13:15).  David, after committing adultery and covering it up with murder, talks about how he suffered because of it.  He wrote “When I kept silent about my sin, my bones wasted away in groaning all day long.  Day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped from me!” (Psalm 32:3).  Solomon, the wisest man in the world, chose to follow a life of idolatry and immorality.  His evaluation was what he wrote in Ecclesiastes.  Lesson learned!

     The only help for  the Christian is to face his sin truthfully and with sincerity.  The best book I have ever read on the Psychology of Growth in the Christian life is in a book by W. Curry Mavis.  He was professor of Psychology at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.  He wrote a great book titled The Psychology of Christian Experience.  In it he says that for a Christian to have any progress toward maturity and victory over sin daily, he must be truthful and sincere about his choices and life.  He quotes Joseph Goldbrunn, from his work Holiness is Wholeness, “When the soul does not live up to its own truth, the vision of God’s truth becomes clouded.  Spiritual wholeness involves our whole thinking, our whole emotions, and our whole will.  Without full involvement we have no accurate spiritual perception!”  J. R. Sealy concurs.  He says, “The one incurable vice is insincerity!” that is not being truthful with ourselves! J.B. Mozley puts it even more succinctly…”The victim of passion may be converted.  The thoughtless may be converted.  The ambitious may be converted…anyone of these.  But who will convert the hypocrite?  He does not know that he is a hypocrite.  The greater the hypocrite that he is, the more sincere he must think himself to be!” That is the dilemma that the Christian who has blinders to his sin has!  Wearing a mask as to who we are, hides the truth from others, but also hides the truth from ourselves, therefore cutting us off from any of God’s daily remedies to our sin problem. Anne Morrow Lindberg dealt with this issue clearly.  In her book Gift From the Sea, she writes, “I am shedding hypocrisy in human relationships.  What a rest that will be!  The most exhausting thing in my life, I have discovered is to be insincere.  That is why so much social life is exhausting: one is wearing a mask.  I have shed my mask!”  Christians could avoid a lot of spiritual exhaustion by heeding her advice. Shed the masks! My favorite poet of all time, Thomas Stearns Eliot, called this insincerity “the hell of make believe”. In his poem, Murder In The Cathedral, he writes “In the small circle of pain within the skull; You shall travel and tread the endless round; of thought to justify your actions to yourselves; weaving a fiction which unravels as you weave; pacing forever THE HELL OF MAKE BELIEVE; WHICH NEVER IS BELIEF!”  The wisest man in the world, Solomon saw this clearly.  He wrote, “Keep your heart in all diligence-out of it flows the issues of life!”(Proverbs 4:232).  Again he admitted, “He that covers his sins shall not prosper!” (Proverbs28:13).  T.T. Munger agrees-“God has nothing good or high in store for one who does not resolutely aim at something god and high. A purpose is the eternal condition of progress and success!”  The Christian that longs for a higher purpose and aim than struggling daily with his sin, and trying desperately to cover it up can find help and hope! The story by Max Bearborn, The Happy Hypocrite, tells of a man who falls in love with a beautiful lady.  To win her he put on a beautiful mask to hide his hideous nature.  He succeeds and she marries him.  But eventually his past catches up with him.  He is forced to take the mask off and reveal his true nature.  But in the interim, due to his love and relationship with his new wife, when he removes the mask, everyone is surprised to find out that his ugly features have been transformed to the beauty of the mask!  He therefore becomes the Happy Hypocrite.  Paul tells us if we will keep on beholding the unveiled face of our Saviour Jesus.  Love Him daily.  This intimate relationship with Him with transform us from glory to glory, (II Corinthians 3:18).  That is what the Apostle John is telling his little Children. Jesus is your answer not only to the penalty of sin, but also the power of sin, and someday the very presence of sin.  You have an Advocate with the Father. Jesus Christ The Righteous One!  Let Him transform you-daily!

“LAST DAY FAITH-LASTING OR LAPSING?”

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Feb 142021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:  “LAST DAY FAITH-LASTING OR LAPSING?”

     I remember hearing Adrian Rogers, who passed away in November 2005, said in a sermon, “In the last days people will be deserting the Church like rats deserting a sinking ship!”  He was basing it on what Paul said in I Timothy 4:1 “The Spirit expressly says, in the latter days many will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits, and doctrines of demons”. Jesus, Himself inferred that, when He asked, “When the Son of Man Comes again, will He find faith, (people practicing their faith), on earth?” (Luke 18:8).  Are we seeing the evidence of that?  Since 2012 The Annual Church Profile of the Southern Baptist Convention denominationally wide has consistently shown that baptisms and Church membership and attendance are declining.  Steve Gaines, Past President of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Pastor of the Belleview Baptist Church of Cordova, (Memphis), Tennessee said, “we are not growing anywhere near a rate comparable to the population increase”.  The SBC is not the only ones experiencing this decline.  According to Pew Research “every major branch of Christianity has lost significant numbers-the biggest being the Catholics and the mainline Protestants”.  Churches of all denominations are closing or consolidating in record numbers!  According to Barna 73% of Americans say they are Christians, but only 31% feel Church attendance is important, and that explains why that same percent usually attend less than once a month!  Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Kentucky says “this is a new age, a secular spirit of our age, with headwinds blowing right in our face!”  Apologist Pastor Voddie Baucham, speaking at the G3 Conference last year, emphasizing the importance of the local Church, said “if we don’t understand the magnitude of the local Church, then what’s the difference between us and the Rotary Club?  If all of this is entertainment then why bother?  God has a plan.  It is the local Church.  It is Plan A.  There is no Plan B!”  As the experts try to explain the cause of the decline, we cannot wave the white flag of surrender!  I think part of the problem lies in the quality of faith that marks the maturity of the believers, or the lack there of, that has caused them to be overwhelmed by the spirit of this secular age, and demonic winds of change blowing on the rank and file of our members. There is an interesting passage of Scripture that talks about this very issue.  II Peter 2:7-8 says, “God delivered Righteous Lot, vexed by the conduct of those around him”.  The word vex here is the word-“kataponeo”-“to completely wear down and exhaust by repeated involvement”.  Then verse 8 says, “that righteous man, dwelling among them day after day, kept on vexing his righteous soul with their lawless deeds.  The second word vex is “basanidzo”- “to buffet, to torment, to beat against, as waves crashing upon a shore!”  The idea is a picture a structure standing on the shore, being battered by the waves and storm of the sea.  Even if it survives, there is usually great damage sustained.  Many times, the structure does not survive the battering!  Think of a lighthouse, standing in the storm to guide lost ships in the storm and darkness, being battered by the winds and waves of the storm.  That is the Lot Complex!  That may be the cause of Christians departing the ranks of the Church in these last days.  That may be the blight of our generation!  Jesus also said, “In the last days, iniquity shall abound, and the love of many shall wax cold!”  The word “wax cold” is “psucho”- “to blow on with chilling air”.  Listen to how Martin Vincent, the Greek scholar translates this verse-“the fervent love of many will be blighted of its spiritual energy by a malignant poisonous wind of evil”.  The question we have to ask and answer is how do we insulate our rank and file to protect their faith from such a last day onslaught, to guarantee they will survive faithful to meet the Lord when He comes?   Jesus was trying to prepare us to get ready for such an onslaught and build up a faith that can stand on the shores of this evil age, and withstand the day by day battering without a total eclipse of our faith.  How do we do that?

     Without offering a pat answer, I believe that the writer of Hebrews, in his great chapter on faith, pointed to the lives men and woman of faith, to show us how they withstood the challenges that battered them in their day, and yet ran their race victoriously.  We cannot look at all he said to emulate from them, but I would like to point out three things he stated will fortify us against those diabolical winds that blow on us continuously in these last days.  First of all, in the face of great evil, he points out that Abel was able to withstand the onslaught by his exemplary WORSHIP OF GOD.  “By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice (act of faithful worship) to God.”  The word “offer” is “proskuneo”- “act of worship”.  “God therefore testified that he was a righteous man…and even after his death…his life keeps on speaking as an example to others”.  The first ingredient to bring a strong faith is worship.  Faithful worship.  In these last days there is nothing more important.  The Church has believed the devil’s demonic lie that worship is not all that important.  Someone has said, “seven days without worship makes one weak!”  That is an incontrovertible truth!  If we neglect worship, we are setting ourselves up for failure in these last days!  That is why the author of Hebrews exhorted “Stop forsaking the assembling of yourselves together as the habit of some have become, in so much as you see the day approaching!” (Heb. 10:25). The very best definition of worship I have ever read is from William Temple.  He says, “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.  It is the quickening of the conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of our mind with His Truth; the purifying of our imagination with His beauty (perfection); the opening of our heart to His Love; the surrender of our will to His purpose-and all gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which we are capable”.  A life that is fortified with that kind of daily experience will be able to stand strong in the face of the winds of evil.  A.W. Tozer tells us that worship, that kind of worship is imperative and primary!  He says, “We are to be worshippers first and workers second.  We take a convert and immediately make a worker out of him. God never meant it to be so.  God meant that a convert should first learn to be a worshipper, after that he can learn to be a worker.  Then the work we do will have eternity in it.  When we give God what He is worth, (all our love and all that we are), we become more of who He wants us to become…all the rest will follow.  I am tired of being whipped into line, being urged to work harder, pray harder, give more, without being shown who Jesus is, and how much He deserves all of me, for giving me all of Him”.  Maybe when we deprive our faith of worship, we find ourselves distracted from the very one that makes us invincible!

     The second person of faith that is held up to us in Hebrews 11 is Enoch.  It says-“Enoch walked with God”.  Don’t rush over that statement of faith.  The name Enoch-(Chanokh) means “dedicated”.  Enoch was committed to walking daily in the presence of God, when everyone else was walking away, going their own way.  That has become the habit of most Christians in this last day.  Instead of rushing into the presence of God, when feeling the onslaught of the winds of evil from our generation, we let those winds beat us down, or blow us farther away from His presence.  He is the Rock of our Stability.  Every step you take in these evil days should be in close proximity with God.  The further you stray from His presence the more of a sitting duck you become.  Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of each evening.  It was by His design.  They learned of life from Him…not independently from Him.  Walking with God moment by moment throughout all the experiences of our day is the only way to survive in these last days.  We must start each day in His presence and we will soon learn to complete our days having walked with Him every step of the way.  C.S. Lewis warned us that that must be done at the start of each day.  He writes, “It comes the very moment you wake up each morning.  All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.  The first job each morning consists of simply shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.  And so on, all day.  Standing back from all your natural fussing’s and fretting’s; coming in out of the wind!”  (Mere Christianity). That is daily walking with God.  That fortifies our faith for these last days! Enoch did it daily until the day he was raptured.  What an example for us!

     The third example of faith is Noah.  Listen to what it says about him.  “By faith, having been instructed by God, concerning things not seen, but soon to come, moved with reverential fear, built an ark of salvation”. (Heb. 11:7).  II Peter 2:5 says that Noah proclaimed the righteousness of God, and the coming flood for 120 years.  The word flood is the Greek word “kataklusmon”-cataclysm.  In the last days before the flood, while the world continued on in their wicked rebellion against God, Noah worked every day building the ark of salvation according to the instructions of God.  When asked what he was building he warned of the flood and pointed to the ark as the only way of salvation.  He worked and witnessed daily to everyone who would listen.  He did that faithfully for 120 years.  The demonic spirit of the age prevailed.  But Noah withstood the winds of the evil age till the day the flood came and took them all away in destruction.  What an example of how we too can be strong in the faith in these last days.  Noah withstood ridicule.  He declared the truth though he could not prove it!  His faith helped him work and witness and God kept him strong!  He will do the same for us if we commit to that same activity as we see the day of His coming approaching.  How do we keep our faith from lapsing in these last days?  Worshipping God with a whole heart.  Walking with God-Practicing His Presence.  Working for Him-letting our lights shine in the darkness around us. Witnessing by “holding forth the Word of Life” to all that might have ears to hear.  That kind of faith can withstand the frightful forceful winds of this evil age.  That is the kind of faith that Jesus is looking to find in us when He returns again.  Keep the faith!  That kind of faith!

“ETERNAL LIFE: FROM GRACE TO GLORY”- The message of the First Epistle of John

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Feb 072021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “ETERNAL LIFE: FROM GRACE TO GLORY”- The message of the First Epistle of John 

     “Suppose we hear an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation . . . would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape. . . . Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing; at least the normal thing, the centre”. (G. K. CHESTERTON).  Such is the dilemma of trying to discover the real Jesus.  One of my favorite writers, Philip Yancey, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, shares what he discovered when he began to investigate the question-who is the real Jesus.  He writes,

     “I first got acquainted with Jesus when I was a child, singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ in Sunday school, addressing bedtime prayers to ‘Dear Lord Jesus,’ watching Bible Club teachers move cutout figures across a flannel graph board. I associated Jesus with Kool-Aid and sugar cookies and gold stars for good attendance. I remember especially one image from Sunday school, an oil painting that hung on the concrete block wall. Jesus had long, flowing hair, unlike that of any man I knew. His face was thin and handsome, his skin waxen and milky white. He wore a robe of scarlet, and the artist had taken pains to show the play of light on its folds. In his arms, Jesus cradled a small sleeping lamb. I imagined myself as that lamb, blessed beyond all telling”. (Philip Yancey The Jesus I Never Knew).  “Later, while attending a Bible college, I encountered a different image. A painting popular in those days depicted Jesus, hands outstretched, suspended in a Dali-like pose over the United Nations building in New York City. Here was the cosmic Christ, the One in whom all things adhere, the still point of the turning world. This world figure had come a long way from the lamb-toting shepherd of my childhood.  Still, students spoke of the cosmic Jesus with a shocking intimacy. The faculty urged us to develop a ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ,’ and in chapel services we hymned our love for him in most familiar terms. One song told about walking beside him in a garden with dew still on the roses. A little later, the decade of the 1960s (which actually reached me, along with most of the church, in the early 1970s) called everything into question. Jesus freaks—the very term would have been an oxymoron in the tranquil 1950s—suddenly appeared on the scene, as if deposited there by extraterrestrials. No longer were Jesus’ followers well-scrubbed representatives of the middle class; some were unkempt, disheveled radicals. Liberation theologians began enshrining Jesus on posters in a troika along with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. It dawned on me that virtually all portrayals of Jesus, including the Good Shepherd of my Sunday school and the United Nations Jesus of my Bible College showed him wearing a mustache and beard, both of which were strictly banned from the Bible College. Questions now loomed that had never occurred to me in childhood. For example, how would telling people to be nice to one another get a man crucified? What government would execute Mister Rogers or Captain Kangaroo? In physical appearance, Jesus favored those who would have been kicked out of Bible College and rejected by most churches. Among his contemporaries he somehow gained a reputation as ‘a wine-bibber and a glutton.’ Those in authority, whether religious or political, regarded him as a troublemaker, a disturber of the peace. He spoke and acted like a revolutionary, scorning fame, family, property, and other traditional measures of success. Today, people even use Jesus’ name to curse by. How strange it would sound if, when a businessman missed a golf putt, he yelled, ‘Thomas Jefferson!’ or if a plumber screamed ‘Mahatma Gandhi!’ when his pipe wrench mashed a finger. We cannot get away from this man Jesus”.

     “More than 1900 years later,” said H. G. Wells, “a historian like myself, who doesn’t even call himself a Christian, finds the picture centering irresistibly around the life and character of this most significant man. . . .The historian’s test of an individual’s greatness is ‘What did he leave to grow?’ Did he start men to thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him? By this test Jesus stands first.” You can gauge the size of a ship that has passed out of sight by the huge wake it leaves behind.  Jesus left a very big wake! Yet we view Jesus from our own context and perspective.  William Blake brought this out in his poem.  ‘The vision of Christ that thou dost see is my vision’s greatest enemy: Thine has a great hook nose like thine, mine has a snub nose like to mine. . . . Both read the Bible day and night, But thou read’st black where I read white’ (WILLIAM BLAKE).

     But the more I studied Jesus the more of an enigma He became.  Jesus, I found, bore little resemblance to the Mister Rogers figure I had met in Sunday school, and was remarkably unlike the person I had studied in Bible College. For one thing, he was far less tame. In my prior image, I realized, Jesus’ personality matched that of a Star Trek Vulcan: he remained calm, cool, and collected as he strode like a robot among excitable human beings on spaceship earth. That is not what I found portrayed in the Gospels. Other people affected Jesus deeply: obstinacy frustrated him, self-righteousness infuriated him, simple faith thrilled him. Indeed, he seemed more emotional and spontaneous than the average person, not less. More passionate, not less.


     The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen, and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic Law while acquiring the reputation as a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with the flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had uncompromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company.

     One day miracles seemed to flow out of Jesus; the next day his power was blocked by people’s lack of faith. One day he talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, he knew neither the day nor hour. He fled from arrest at one point and marched inexorably toward it at another. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told his disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept him at the center of controversy, but when he did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up. As Walter Wink has said,’ if Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him’.

     Two words one could never think of applying to the Jesus of the Gospels: boring and predictable. How is it, then, that the church has tamed such a character—has, in Dorothy Sayers’ words, “The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mile,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

     John wrote his gospel to show that Jesus was the Son of God that people might believe in Him and have eternal life as a result of their faith. (See John 20:30-31).  John wrote his first epistle to those who had already believed in Jesus, and had eternal life (See I John 5:13).  John was writing to define that eternal life.  It would be seen as a shared life, (koinonia) where Jesus incarnates His life into the believer, transforming him from grace to glory, manifesting itself in life, in contrast to death, liberty, in contrast to bondage, light in contrast to darkness and error, and finally love, in contrast to hate. John, in his Gospel, speaks of Jesus “becoming flesh and dwelling among us, and we beheld Glory, that of the only begotten of the Father, full of Grace and Truth” (John 1:14).  Then he begins his epistle telling those who believe in Jesus that his joy would not be full until he is confident that all of them are experiencing the eternal life, that will manifest itself by displaying the life, light, liberty, and love of the life of Christ, in our lives, for all the world to see!  One of the key verses in I John is I John 4:13 which says, “As He is, so are we, in the world!” False teachers of the day, Gnostics, were teaching versions of Jesus, and of God the Father, and of Salvation that was error!  John called it the “spirit of Antichrist”.  In his letter he defines the nature of the “real Jesus”.  This real Jesus was a manifestation of His Father, the true, real, and living God.  A “real Christian” is one who fleshes out the “eternal life” residing in him by the indwelling Christ.  During the next several weeks we are going to see what that really means during our series of message from I John. 

     The great writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky found Jesus as his Savior, while in a prison camp in Russia.  He fell deeply in love with Jesus.  In the following quotes he talks of how Jesus was the answer to his search for how to become a “real man”, and shares how he would love Jesus come what may.    “To study the meaning of man and of life — I am making significant progress here. I have faith in myself. Man is a mystery: if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say that you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery, because I want to be a man”. (Personal correspondence (1839), as quoted in Dostoevsky: His Life and Work (1971) by Konstantin Mochulski, as translated by Michael A. Minihan, p. 17)  “I want to say to you, about myself, that I am a child of this age, a child of unfaith and skepticism, and probably (indeed I know it) shall remain so to the end of my life. How dreadfully has it tormented me (and torments me even now) this longing for faith, which is all the stronger for the proofs I have against it. And yet God gives me sometimes moments of perfect peace; in such moments I love and believe that I am loved; in such moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple; here it is: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly, and more perfect than the Savior; I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one. I would even say more: If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth”. (Letter To Mme. N. D. Fonvisin (1854), as published in Letters of Fyodor Michailovitch Dostoevsky to his Family and Friends (1914), translated by Ethel Golburn Mayne, Letter XXI, p. 71).  If we could come to that kind of resolve at the end of these series of messages-as John told his Church members-“my joy would be full!”  Amen!