Once Upon A Time

I may be accused of bending too far over in this post, but I’m a romantic at heart, plus I love analogies that can be used to point us to our condition and who we’d be apart from Christ.

That being said, I’ve recently become a big fan of the TV show “Once Upon a Time.” I only heard of its existence within the past few months, thanks to my mom. Basically, it’s about all the fairy tale characters you read about and saw in movies as a child, but they all interact with and live in the same land. The evil queen (from “Snow White”) terrorizes them, but there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. She seeks vengeance by putting a curse on them, which sends them to our world; a town named Storybrooke. There they are given false memories and don’t remember their world or real past (except of the evil queen, who keeps her memory and is the mayor). Snow White and Prince Charming have a baby girl, Emma, right as the curse is arriving. They stick her in this magical wardrobe, which will only transport one person to our world. They believed that on her 28th birthday, she would return and save them from this curse.

There’s a lot of actors in it (Ginnifer Goodwin, included) that I really like, and it’s always cool and soothing to see so many familiar faces in one TV series. Plus, who doesn’t love a good fairy tale? The way their stories intertwine is so intriguing and makes for a suspenseful, fun watch.

As I quickly made my way through the whole first season, my overactive mind kept finding these analogies within the stories to us and our relationship to God, and His plan for us. Obviously the curse the evil queen cast on all the fairy tale characters that plucked them out of their world and made them forget who they were, reminded me of because of sin were were cast out of the Garden of Eden and we were blind to our need to salvation. But because our Savior, Jesus Christ came and lived the perfect live and died the perfect death (for our sins), and because God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, He has allowed the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, so that we are no longer under the curse, but are free from it; although we are trapped in these bodies and in this world until Christ comes again, as He has promised. And much how Charming and Snow sacrificed raising their baby and put her in an enchanted tree wardrobe, God sacrificed His only Son by allowing Him to die on the cross in order to save and reconcile us to Him. Of course, Snow and Charming didn’t have to let their baby die, and none of these fairy tale analogies carry any weight in comparison to what God in Christ has done. I just find it fascinating and beautiful when secular stuff still points back to a higher power, and our need for a savior.

Advertisements

A Battle of the Wills

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” – Romans 7:15-25

I have been reading through the book of Romans and read chapter seven this morning. Verses 15-25 made my heart ache and this flood of tears pouring down my face came out of nowhere. I have memorized and read this passage many times and realize it’s true about me, but never felt it more acutely than I did this morning. I thought back to what seemed like 1,000 moments  yesterday when I was so aware of my brattiness and pride, yet it seemed like a losing battle. I was repulsed by what I saw in myself – shame filled me. But even the shame I felt yesterday was mixed with selfishness. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. Today, as I wept, I mourned and then praised the Lord for his amazing grace and longsuffering love towards a wretch like me, and the fact that I have others (especially Chris yesterday) who demonstrate and show a grace that reflects God’s towards me – whether it comes gently or as a rebuke. May I seek, by His grace and Holy Spirit, to love and forgive others as He already has when He died for me.

A Few Problems With Us and American Christianity

We are so eager to go out and create a legacy of some sort, to change lives with the gospel, to minister effectively, pray for revival, and to make systems better. All of these are wonderful, godly desires – if they’re from the heart. But (and I ask myself this same question) how many of you are doing that SAME thing, on a SMALLER scale, with the family, loved ones, friends, bank teller, hair stylist, recluse neighbor, etc. in your lives? How can God entrust us with the bigger things in life if we can’t be faithful in the little things He’s so abundantly blessed us with and put in front of us? Or how can we even be as effective? Food for thought.

On both a bigger and smaller scale, as I mentioned earlier, these are wonderful, God-given desires. But, we have to guard the intentions of our hearts. Because anything beautiful can become twisted. We see it everyday around us – this tendency to worship the creation rather than the Creator. We all have this struggle between being Pharisaical and pursuing/living out holiness.

Each of us, to varying degrees, is a Pharisee. We’re religious hypocrites. We’re assured of our own righteousness because of what we do and do not do, instead of what Jesus had done for us. Anytime we read a verse about the Pharisees, we need to realize that they were the ‘Bible guys’ – they were the serious, devoted Biblicists….

Mark Driscoll

It’s not just about doing, but why we do it. Are you seeking to do good for others and drown yourself in ministry because you’ll feel better about yourself, out of duty or because you feel you’ll earn more of God’s love, grace and forgiveness? Are you doing it to prove a point or prove yourself to others?

That is such an impossible feat and crushing goal/burden. You’re doing it from a fear – and as Scripture tells us, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18 NKJV)

You can’t earn any more or any less of God’s love and grace (insert Romans 6:1 here). He paid it in full on the cross. It is finished. There’s such freedom in that to then to fall more in love with Christ and joyfully live out and serve others with the purpose of showing them a glimpse of His perfect love and holiness.

Look at how Jesus did community and missions with every kind of person. One of the main problems with the church in America today is that we teach people to be narrow-minded with all these “do’s” and don’ts” instead of showing and teaching them from the Bible what it looks like to pursue holiness on the straight and narrow path. “For the gate is narrow and the way is HARD that leads to LIFE, and those who find it are FEW” (Matt. 7:14). On that note, we often want to interpret Christian living through our American lifestyle. Or we’ve been told that Jesus is like Tinker Bell – just sprinkling the love dust – and that He wants our happiness in the way of health, wealth and prosperity. Many are turned off and disillusioned by this lie that looks “good.” We’ve managed to Americanize “Christianity.” We see in churches, especially in the Bible belt that it’s become our social feel-good-about-my-spirituality-and-meet-people club. But on the flip side of that – we can’t become bitter, blame or discredit entirely the effect of the church in people’s lives. Who are we to play God in that sweeping determination? And we most certainly shouldn’t use it to fuel our pride and justify ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but more and more I realize how I am my greatest hinderance and enemy to pursuing Christ and Christ-likeness. And the longer I live and am a Christian, the less I feel I know and progressed. I pray you feel the urgency and call — to then pray for more of the Holy Spirit and live it out. It’s HARD. The apostle Paul said he had to beat his body black and blue (not sure if that’s literal or figuratively, but you get the point). I pray that I will discipline my heart to look at every choice/action/thought (from the smallest to the biggest) through the lens of eternity and not from my short-sighted, selfish one.

Man’s Fate: Restless Wanderings

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.” – J. R. R. Tolkien from The Lord of the Rings

One of the main reasons I admire and look up to writers such as John Bunyan, C.S. Lewis and, most recently, G.K. Chesterson is how powerfully they use words and illustrations to point us to who we are and who we’re meant to be in Christ; who’d we’d be without Him; where we’d end up without Him; and where are focus should be as a Christian. As a writer, I have this fascination and appreciation for certain literature, but these writers take it to the next level because they’re pointing to the center and foundation of my universe: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Below is an excerpt of an excerpt that was a post in my darling, best friend, Michal’s blog Woman Alive. I love the imagery this evokes and the longing it stirs in my soul. Oh, to write with this much verve one day….

“`My pilgrimage is not yet accomplished,’ he replied sadly. `I have become a pilgrim to cure myself of being an exile.’

“Something in the word `pilgrim’ awoke down in the roots of my ruinous experience memories of what my fathers had felt about the world, and of something from whence I came.  “`My grandmother,’ I said in a low tone, `would have said that we were all in exile, and that no earthly house could cure the holy home-sickness that forbids us rest.’ …

“Then he said, `I think your grandmother was right,’ and stood up leaning on his grassy pole.  `I think that must be the reason,’ he said–`the secret of this life of man, so ecstatic and so unappeased. But I think there is more to be said.  I think God has given us the love of special places, of a hearth and of a native land, for a good reason.’

“`I dare say,’ I said.  `What reason?’

“`Because otherwise,’ he said, pointing his pole out at the sky and the abyss, `we might worship that.’

“`What do you mean?’  I demanded.

“`Eternity,’ he said in his harsh voice, `the largest of the idols– the mightiest of the rivals of God.’

“`You mean pantheism and infinity and all that,’ I suggested.

“`I mean,’ he said with increasing vehemence, `that if there be a house for me in heaven it will either have a green lamp-post and a hedge, or something quite as positive and personal as a green lamp-post and a hedge.  I mean that God bade me love one spot and serve it, and do all things however wild in praise of it, so that this one spot might be a witness against all the infinities and the sophistries, that Paradise is somewhere and not anywhere, is something and not anything. And I would not be so very much surprised if the house in heaven had a real green lamp-post after all.’

– From Manalive, by G.K. Chesterton.

Instant Gratification vs. Eternal Satisfaction

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” – Prince Caspian (C.S. Lewis)

So often (sadly) we fail to see the big picture. Why? The simple answer is because we rely and look to our human instincts and ergo, we’re limited. Think of it this way: Ninety percent of a glacier is underwater. That’s a TON of ice you can’t see. Is it there even though you can’t see the full glacier? Absolutely.

Even in reading through Scripture we can view Bible stories and characters as individual happenings. We fail to see the overarching theme that weaves them all together and how God is continually pointing to His glory and the gospel (the cross of Christ and the coming of His eternal kingdom). We can never be guilty of giving God too much glory, but the old man in us is fighting to make God small and to fit him in a box where we can bring him down to our level of understanding.

Because we fail to acutely feel the weight of how we grieve Christ and the eternal implications of our actions, we aim for instant gratification, much like Esau who sold his birthright to Jacob to fill his belly or like the prodigal son who didn’t want to wait for his inheritance. We look at them, but do we see them in our own hearts in how we act or think? Sure, what they did seems big to our minds if we compare them to us and we might even be tempted to think, “Ha, how stupid was Esau. Seriously? I’d never do something that foolish.” In reality, your “little” failings are no less sinful than what Esau did.

That’s why I love the analogy Paul gives of the athlete. Who’s excited about the Olympics? It is right around the corner and it only happens every four years. These men and women have trained rigorously and sacrificed so much. They have a goal. “I press on toward the goal for the upward prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Phil. 3: 14-15). There’s a lot of discipline involved. If you workout, bike, run, etc. — you have to eat a certain way to get certain results, you have to push your body and there are times where you want to quit or just rest or do anything but.

So, how do we see the big picture, have the eyes of our hearts opened and grow so that Christ becomes bigger and we become smaller? The direct answer: Faith. Faith IS seeing. How do we get more faith? I’d encourage you and myself to continue to pray for more of the Holy Spirit, diligently reading His Word, hiding it in our hearts, disciplining (“beating our bodies black and blue,” as Paul the apostle says) our hearts and minds. Old habits die hard and new habits are even harder to form. Prayer, a spiritual mentor/friend and diving into the Bible are so vital in making our hearts more aware of our secret sins.

I love what Matt Chandler, head pastor at the Village Church says in his recent book on the gospel:

The gospel of Jesus is epic. When Jesus says he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky, he is saying that the gospel is about the overthrow of evil itself, not just about our sinful behavior. When Jesus casts out demons, he is saying that the gospel is about his authority and God’s sovereignty. When Jesus heals the sick and the lame, he is saying that the gospel is about the eradication of physical brokenness. When Jesus feeds the five thousand, he is saying that the gospel is about God’s abundant provision through Christ to a world of hunger. When Jesus walks on water or calms the storm, he is saying that the gospel is about his lordship over the chaos of fallen creation. When Jesus confounds the religious leaders, overturns table, tells rich people it will be hard for them, renders unto Caesar, enters the city on a jackass, predicts the temple’s destruction, and stands silent before the political rulers, he is saying the gospel has profound effects on our systems. When Jesus forgives sin and raises the dead, he is saying the gospel is about individuals being born again, but he’s also saying that the gospel is about his conquest of sin and death.

– Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel

Do we see the bigger overarching theme? As Chandler pointed out, there’s a deeper more poignant theme running through what often we treat as individual stories or messages. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re powerful and God-glorifying in themselves, but how much more so when we realize what they all point to and are about: the cross and his kingdom. In both the chaos and tragedy, the victories and laughter, he is in and glorified through it all. As John Piper says, God is not an ambulance. Nothing takes him by surprise. The shooting in Aurora, Colorado didn’t. Was he grieved? Absolutely. Was he glorified? Absolutely. You might have this question at the back of your head: Why does God allow bad things to happen? (click the hyperlink to go to my blog on this topic). Tim Keller also has a fabulous sermon on that very question: Suffering: If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world?

Let me end with these closing questions. Which perspective do you look at your circumstances and base your decisions? Temporal or eternal? Which do you find infinitely more gratifying and full of hope and peace?

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

The Reckoning

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

My thoughts and emotions have been extremely loud lately. It’s hard for me to quiet them enough to think straight to write this post. Ah, that’s why I love my 4-mile runs on the KT (Katy Trail). I get my thoughts and heart mostly unsnarled and back in focus.

To be honest, I started out my run tonight feeling very fretful. Fret and self-doubt have been trying to devour me the past few weeks. There are times I’ve felt beaten down to the ground – both at work and in my spiritual living. I feel bloodied, dragging myself onward with an unawareness of where I’m going – living, because I must. Perhaps to look at me, you’d never know. But I that’s the case with a lot of people, but we’ve been taught to conceal pain well. Ah, but not only to conceal it – to smother it and have not been taught to attack and address it with the right heart and perspective. You don’t have to look hard to find pain. I am always so moved by the lyrics in the song, “A Place Only You Can Go,” by NEEDTOBREATHE:

Pain is alive in a broken heart. The past never does go away. We were born to love and we’re born to pay the price for our mistakes. Grace, she comes with a heavy load. Memories, they can’t be erased. Like a pill I swallow, he makes me well. But leaves an awful taste.

Tonight, on my run, I re-realized about myself three things: 1) Worst things are happening to people all around me and my situation can always be worse (such a “Pollyanna” moment, I know), 2) I’m the greatest enemy to my joy and 3) God withholds nothing good from me.

God withholds NOTHING good from me. WHAM. As that thought and truth came to my mind towards the end of my run, it nearly stopped me dead in my tracks with the weighty yet lightness of it. Why then am I fretful? Why then am I anxious? Why then am I acting like a whiny 5-year-old who needs a nap (well sleep probably would help me)? The Lord delights in me and I’m fighting against Him and His love – His desire for GOOD for me. I threw back my head at the glory of it, of Him — and repented of my stupid pride, my desire for wanting my cheap version of good and glory for myself. My dad once told me a truth I’ll never forget: “Rachel, God has a good plan for you because He is a good God.” He is incapable of evil. (James 1:13)

To rewind a bit, in the middle of my run tonight, listening to and getting lost in the lyrics of the NEEDTOBREATHE album “The Reckoning,” (why yes, I’m on a NEEDTOBREATHE binge right now – moving on) I thought about how much I love the constants in my life and was praising the Lord for them. Then I stopped myself — if God gives me the constants, surely He gives me the inconstants (the painful, inconvenient and good ones) as well. Each are there for a reason. For instance, the inconstants cause me to appreciate so much more the constants – and the constants are a place of rest, refreshment and comfort. BUT the inconstants are there to grow me, cause me to see more of my heart, to wrestle. So, instead of despising them, I praised the Lord for them. I can’t but help think of the line from The Princess Bride, when Westley tells Buttercup, “Life IS pain, Highness. Anyone telling you differently is selling something.” But pain is what the Lord uses to MAKE us. I can list numerous examples of it. Perhaps you’d like to share with me the instances you see it manifested throughout Scripture and even in your own life. Twould be great comfort food for your soul to think on those things, as Philippians 4:8-9 tells us: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things….practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.”

So, I started out my run fretful. Ended my run hopeful. “…and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

Tongue-tied

“The Spirit without the Word and you blow up. The Word without the Spirit and you dry up. But, the Spirit and the Word together and you grow up.” – Adrian Rogers (long-time pastor of First Baptist Church of Memphis, TN)

(by contributing writer Thomas H. Duke [with a few additions by Rachel B. Duke])

In our time, tongues are an extremely (if disproportionately) divisive issue.  I say “disproportionately” because speaking in tongues is really not an important matter at all when considered in relation to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  I will share with you my primary objections to tongues, as they occur to me.  These objections are inspired by discussions with a godly man in my life, and what many theologians, pastors, and Spirit-filled men over the ages have to say.

But, keep in mind that my treatment here is a summary treatment.  Many capable men have devoted a great deal of time and effort to this issue and written extensively on it.  Overall, I am thoroughly convinced that the issue has been decisively decided against the position of those who advocate speaking in tongues.  Thus, while I am convinced I am right on this, I am not willing to divide with a brother or sister over this issue.  For your part, I encourage you to search the Scripture (especially, 1 Cor. 12 – 14) so that your conviction on this (and every doctrinal issue) is grounded in your considered understanding of God’s Word and not in the opinion of any man.

Here are ten summary objections (not in any particular order of importance) I have to speaking in tongues.  Some are doctrinal/theological. Some are practical.  They do not make an iron-clad case for the cessation of miraculous gifts (I am not going to make that argument here). Rather, they show that the modern practice of speaking in tongues is unscriptural, deeply flawed and erroneous.

1.  Love, not tongues, is the greatest manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in the life of a person. (1 Cor. 13:1 – 8 )

2.  Speaking in tongues (and the manifestation of any other “miraculous” gift) may or may not be a sign of a person’s salvation.  In other words, a person may speak in tongues and not be saved.  (Matthew 7:21-23)

[These first two points are very significant to me, because proponents of tongue-speaking present speaking in tongues as (i) the greatest manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a person’s life and as a sure-fire sign of salvation.  They are wrong on both counts].

3.  Speaking in tongues is not the mark of a “second blessing,” the additional “baptism of the Spirit” or entrance into a higher form of Christianity.  All true Christians are baptized in the Holy Spirit.  (1 Cor. 12:13)

4.  Not all Christians did or will in this age speak in tongues.

5.  Based on church history alone and the testimony of many, many godly men, speaking in tongues has largely, if not completely, ceased. Most godly men and theologians concur that speaking in tongues died with the apostles. And there is evidence to this end….as in 2,000 years of it. Look at St. Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, etc. They never spoke in tongues and yet they were more Spirit-filled and godlier than you and I can ever expect to be in this lifetime.

6.  Those who practice speaking in tongues do not abide by Scriptural directions.  (1 Cor. 14:22)  For example, tongues are allegedly spoken in public worship without the presence of an interpreter, which Scripture calls for (1 Cor. 14:27).  Also, women, according to the Apostle Paul, are NOT permitted to speak in tongues in the public worship.  (1 Cor. 14:26, 34)

7.  It appears that those who advocate speaking in tongues ignore or downplay practical godliness.  This is often associated with a disregard of biblical doctrine and a de-emphasis of the word of God.

8.  Speaking in tongues often displaces the word of God and, thus, the main emphasis and teaching of the word of God, as primary in the lives and worship of those who claim to practice it.

9.  Speaking in tongues, I would argue, is similar to other forms of public worship that become customary in a congregation or denomination.  People “speak in tongues” because it is expected, encouraged, cultivated, like the raising of hands or rhythmic swaying to music.  In other words, if you are told that the “sign” of your salvation is speaking in tongues and everyone around you is speaking in tongues, you are going to make unintelligible noises along with everyone else in order to fit in and be accepted by them.  Thus, it appears that many instances of “speaking in tongues” has nothing at all to do with the Holy Spirit, but with human production.  I say this, not based on speculation, but on the report of many people who have come out of this practice.

10.  I doubt speaking in tongues was as universal in the first century church as proponents of speaking in tongues claim.  Paul expressly deals only with the Corinthian church on this issue.  That means either that the other churches under his care were not (routinely) speaking in tongues or that it was not a problem for them.  I tend to think the first explanation is the correct one, i.e., the other churches were not (routinely) speaking in tongues.

Now while these matters are interesting, never, never, never, lose sight of the “main thing.”  The main thing the word of God emphasizes is the glory of God in the salvation of sinners through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Perhaps, then, an 11th objection to tongues is that is stokes people’s pride and is so blasted self-centered and self-exalting.

And that’s a wrap, folks. Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke