The music was rockin, the worship inspiring, the sermon challenging. There was coffee, (Starbucks none the less), donuts and greeters to make me feel welcome. The church information was highly visible and it was obvious a lot of planning and effort went in to making it easy for people to get involved. Everyone was friendly and inviting. They did everything right. One thing was missing; the Awe.
Now don't get me wrong. As far as churches go this one appeared to be "happening". I'm not criticizing this fellowship of people. I believe their hearts are right. I believe they want God and are seeking Him; and there were moments that I was inspired and moved with emotion. But I want more.
Where is the encounter that transforms? Where is the heaviness of presence that moves worship beyond mere sentiment and feeling? Where is the divine anointing that once characterized the people of God?
The God I have served my whole life; the God I have preached about for twenty years; the God that I want my kids to experience is a God that is so much bigger than what is encountered in the average church service. I want...no, I need to encounter the Healer. I need to encounter the one who spoke the storms away; the one who's gentle voice brought demons to their knees; who's words mastered the un-masterable. I need to encounter the Living God; not the clichéd figurehead that exists in our splintered American religious kingdom.
I'm done with going through the rituals. I'm through with protocol. I'm sick of psychological parlor tricks that tweak my emotions. I WANT JESUS! I want the one who's teachings offended the Pharisees on one hand and brought hope to the prostitute on the other. I want my Lord. What does that encounter look like? I don't know anymore. But I know this - when it happens, my first thought when I leave the parking lot will not be where we should eat.
I'm hungry, but not for food. I'm hungry for that which man driven "religion" has stolen from the Church. I'm hungry for the incarnate body of the living Christ; not this cold, ecclesiastical machine, well oiled by the talents and efforts of man that has taken its place. I want Him!
My spirit echo's Isaiah's when he cried out:
"Oh, that You would rend the heavens! That You would come down! That the mountains might shake at Your presence-- As fire burns brushwood, As fire causes water to boil-- To make Your name known to Your adversaries, That the nations may tremble at Your presence! When You did awesome things for which we did not look, You came down, The mountains shook at Your presence. For since the beginning of the world Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, Nor has the eye seen any God besides You, Who acts for the one who waits for Him." (Isaiah 64:1-4 NKJV)
It's that encounter that I'm seeking for with every fiber of my being. I will not stop or be satisfied with anything less. I don't believe He wants me to.
There is major misconception about sin and what God requires that has been perpetrated, albeit ignorantly in most cases, by many in the church, especially holiness circles. Whenever the New Testament speaks of keeping the commands of Christ, we tend to immediately think of the Ten Commandments and the do's and don't s of our Christian culture and religion. The problem with that is this, repeatedly in the gospels and throughout the New Testament Jesus redefines "the law" as love; love toward God and each other.
I've heard it said my whole life that the ceremonial laws, governing ritual and physical cleanliness, were fulfilled in Christ, but the moral laws, especially the Ten Commandments, are still in tact. While it is true that the ceremonial laws were indeed fulfilled by Christ, it is interesting to me that in Galatians 4 when Paul speaks of the covenant we are no longer under, he speaks of the "one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage." (Gal. 4:24) The covenant from Mount Sinai included the big 10.
In fact in Romans 13:8-10, the Apostle teaches, "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." Continually throughout the New Testament we are told that the requirements of the New Covenant are fulfilled with Love. The entire law (not just ceremonial) was wrapped up in the Old Covenant and was fulfilled in Christ.
His death ushered us into a new agreement with God, the fulfillment of which is based, not on a strict standard of rules and regulations where the slightest slip-up results in our condemnation, but on two principles that capture the heart of God and reveal His passion and driving motivation; Love Him with everything in you, and love others with that same fervor.
So what do we do with the old law? Paul goes further in Galatians 4 to say the the old law, given under the covenant at Mt. Sinai, (which includes the 10 commandments) brings bondage and death. Paul continues to teach that the old law, (the one that we typically reference when we think of sin and holiness) was simply our tutor that revealed to us our utter helplessness to be completely righteous in our own effort and strength. The Law was given to convince us of our need for a Savior. The old agreement with God found in the Law was sufficient until the new agreement was procured in Christ. Under the New Covenant, God's requirements for holiness are fulfilled when we love Him with our whole being. Love for each other is the natural outflow of such divine passion.
The awesome news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are released from the bondage of the old law and are no longer made righteous by adherence to it. Instead we are made righteous by trusting and resting in the One who satisfied the old requirements by His death on the cross. That is not to say we have liberty to break the ten commandments; Paul also warns in Galatians not to use our liberty as a license to sin. It does however mean that when we concentrate on loving God and loving others, the other commands will take care of themselves.
Our problem is that we are under the New Covenant but still try to meet the requirements of the old one. We heap the requirements of the Old Law on ourselves and others demanding strict obedience. The result is self righteousness, bondage, and condemnation under the guise of holiness. The liberty that Christ died to secure, goes out the window along with our peace and holiness. Oh we may have good days where we made all the right choices and feel we have measured up, but by and large we find our Christian walk is more of a roller-coaster ride of success and failure.
We find ourselves living in the latter part of Romans 7 where Paul describes the experience of wanting to do good but consistently falling short. Why is this? Because righteousness, holiness, and godliness has never and will never come about by human effort, ability or desire. When we concentrate on the old standard of living set by the Old Law, we quickly find it unobtainable.
When however, we stop striving to be something we are not and begin to focus on loving God, and in faith trusting Him to transform us and bring our hearts and desires in alignment with His heart and desires, we find both liberty and power to live holy lives characterized by love, not legalism. When this becomes our focus we find ourselves testifying along with the Apostle, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
(About the author: Marjorie Todd was born in 1936. She began serving in ministry as a song evangelist at the age of 15. She and her husband Chester Todd served in the pastorate from 1962 until his death in 1989. She is an author, songwriter, and poet. I'm blessed to be her son.)
I stand and sing with the congregation to the accompaniment of several different instruments, A praise team leads us. They stand with eyes closed, faces lifted to heaven, bodies swaying, arms waving, and now and then a little shout of victory. They are putting their heart and soul into it for that wonderful presence that hovers near.
A few months ago the music was too loud for me, and I wondered why they couldn’t just turn the volume down a bit. Then one day I discovered a new use for cotton. I just put some in my ears and now the music is just right. Now I am not at all distracted by the noise. In fact I am reminded that all through the bible we are instructed to make a joyful NOISE unto the Lord. Saints of old sang, danced, played their instruments, anything to give praise to God. I cannot imagine that they were quiet. I don’t think anyone asked them to turn the volume down a bit.
I am reminded that years ago I played my accordion in the church orchestra, and right beside me sat my friend, Emerson, playing his sax. We wouldn’t be too far into the service before our song director, Pearl, would begin to sing louder and louder, then she was skipping across the platform, her feet and hands keeping time to the music. She never missed a beat. She was putting heart and soul into every song. Suddenly we became aware of a holy presence. Emerson and I looked at each other, and he gave a little nod-our code for “Let’s jazz it up,” and jazz it up we did. We began to play louder and louder, adding trills and extra notes, and slurs, he on his sax and I on my accordion. We put our heart and soul into our music in an effort to do our best for that wonderful presence that filled the service. What a time we had! I think maybe some of the older folk wondered what on earth we were doing, and even Pearl gave us a questioning look once or twice.
Today I wonder if perhaps we have lost something over the years. Maybe we should seek a remedy for our own problem of being distracted by the ‘noise.’ Maybe we should just put some cotton in our ears, and join in the worship with all our heart and soul. It could be that we will, once again, feel that blessed presence that transforms.
- Written by Marjorie Todd
I love The Church. I truly believe that one of the most beautiful things on earth is the Body of Christ at work, actively loving God and ministering to others. When the Church of Jesus Christ, filled with the power and presence of His Holy Spirit, functions in this world as He intended them to function, I dare say there is no more powerful agent for change, nor is there a better testimony to the existence of a loving, living God.
More and more, however, I find I'm reaching a point of exasperation with what the American religious institution has become. I refuse to believe that this quarrelsome group of people, that tears pastors to shreds and tramples over those who are hurting simply for the sake of their comfort and tradition, is the bodily incarnation of Christ that God intended the church to be. I know that we are human and none of us are perfect..."just forgiven." But how long are we going to use our imperfect, fallen flesh as scape goat to justify what is nothing more than our selfish, stubborn will clamoring for its own way? I would never presume to know the motives of a person's heart, nor am I claiming to sit in judgement of someone's soul. The fact is, however, that in every eternal judgement situation in Scripture there is a sorting that occurs; sheep from goats, wheat from tares, etc., and in each case those on the left are surprised to be there, which means they believed they would be on the right.
That being said, is it possible that our American version of the church is composed largely of those horribly deceived people that think they are right but are in fact not? What is the distinguishing mark? The same mark it has always been; "they shall know you are my disciples by your love for each other." That is the identifying factor that marks the Bride of Christ. Can you honestly say that the average American Church is known for its love? While we passionately profess the love of God, the sad truth is that American "Christianity" is often known more for what it opposes that for what it professes. Tragically, more often than not, even when many associated with the "church" do attempt to demonstrate God's love to those outside their circles, their attempts are so laced with self-righteous condescension they look more like jerks than Jesus.
Let me reiterate that I love the Church. The Bride of Christ is a breathtakingly beautiful creature. How long, however, will we indulge this impostor bride masquerading as the Lord's betrothed? How long will we continue to make excuses for sinful arrogance in the guise of holiness? How long will we tolerate heartless adherence to ritual and tradition at the expense of honest and sincere relationships? We have become far too content with a hollow shell of godliness devoid of love and power. I believe God is stirring His beloved to rise up in His name, manifest Him through the power of His spirit, and throw off this warped mutation defaming her character. There is an awakening happening among those who love God. He is rekindling the passion of His people. He is stoking the flame of their supreme love, and the days of this institutional, religious usurper are numbered.
My father loved to work with his hands. When he was not in the pulpit or studying, one of his favorite things to do was carpentry - - and he was good. I remember as a child, watching him work on a bunk bed he was building for me. It was a massive, sturdy bed that towered above me, with intricate routed carvings of horses and cowboys. I remember marveling at it and thinking, "Wow. My dad built that."
Over the years he had gathered a rather large collection of carpentry tools, some quite expensive. He was very protective of his tools and went to great lengths to take care of them. Sometimes when I would help him, my childish ignorance of the value of things prevented me from being as careful as he would have preferred in handling his tools and he let me know about it very firmly. Eventually I knew to lay the saws, hammers and other implements of the craft down gently, not simply toss them or drop them haphazardly when I was done working with them. He considered them an investment and wanted me to learn how to respect and care for things that were valuable to others.
When my father died, he and I were working outside. We were putting up a fence around some rental property when he collapsed with a massive heart attack. In the course of about 20 minutes he was dead. Later that night as my family and friends gathered at the house to comfort my mom and I, it dawned on me that all of his tools had simply been left on the ground. Then the realization hit me that they no longer mattered. They were now insignificant to him. They could lay there and rust and my father couldn't care less.
We live in a world consumed with what it can possess, and when we possess it we immediately set our focus on obtaining more. We error by trying to live in a balance between what is physical and what is spiritual. The vitality of the Christian walk consists in the very act of being unbalanced with the bulk of the weight in favor of what is spiritual.
1 John tells us, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever." (1 John 2:15-17 NKJV)
I must live in this world, but this world must not live in me. My affections cannot center around that which is temporal. Anything I put my heart into becomes precious and valuable to me, and as my love for it grows, it eventually becomes an integral part of the foundation of my identity as a person. My identity, security and self-worth is only as secure as that which it is built on. When the object of my affection is removed, lost or dies, a part of who I am goes with it.
We must live with the realization that nothing physical in this world will last. It's not a question of IF it will end, but WHEN. Our identity then must lie in the things of eternity and ultimately in the One who inhabits eternity. A person grounded and formed in God will never be shaken because God Himself will never be shaken. When my heart is set on the things of God and eternity, I find my true worth. It is only with eternal eyes that we can properly view that which is mortal. An accurate perspective of Heaven is the only thing that gives us an accurate perspective of earth.
"You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You." (Isaiah 26:3 NKJV)
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1 NKJV)
Imagine that I wanted to send a friend a book, then decided to write him a note on a small piece of paper as well. I wanted to be sure that he got them both so I put the note inside the book. Though they are separate items, I wouldn't have to mail them seperately. I would simply need to mail the book. Because the note is in the book, it goes where the book goes. Spiritially speaking, this is what it means to be "in Christ". When by faith, I surrender my life to Him, and trust Him for forgiveness, God places me "in Christ". I no longer have to strive for God's favor; I have it because Jesus has it. I no longer have to strive to be holy; I am holy because HE is holy. I simply remain in Him and all the benefits, blessings, resources, power and love that are His are now mine. This understanding explains why Jesus put such an emphasis on abiding in Him in John 15:
"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full." (John 15:4-11 NKJV)
When we abide in Him our Christian life lives itself. God no longer demands perfection from us because He has included us in His son who is perfect. Does this release me from living a holy life? Absolutley not. Rather, it enables Christ's holiness to surround, flow through and be reflected in my life. My focus then becomes abiding, not striving. He died to sin, therefore, because I am in Him, I am dead to sin as well. He lives in righteousness, therefore, because I am in Him, I live in righteousness as well. This truth motivated the Apostle Paul's revelatory proclaimation in Galations 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
Are you abiding? I hope so. It's the only way to live.
"Lord, I abide in You today. I rest in Your favor, acceptance, and redemption. Because I am in You, I will live in Your life, love with Your love, and walk in Your power. Strengthen my faith and let my patterns, thoughts and actions reflect this truth today. Thank You for including me. In Jesus' name, Amen."
What do you think and feel when you hear the word “Church”?
In our society this word conjures up memories and emotions as diverse as the denominations that represent it. For some the church is a wonderful experience of community and intimacy that is indispensible in their spiritual journey. When they hear the word “church”, their heart glows and they anticipate Sunday morning like a child waiting for Christmas Day. They can’t wait to gather with their friends and family to worship together the God they love and serve.
But there are others; people who hear the above description and think, “I remember when it was that way. I wish it could be that way again but I’ve been hurt so often and deeply that I’m tired of hoping such a place exists anymore.”
I’ve heard it said that the church is often like Noah’s Ark; if it weren’t for the storm outside you couldn’t stand the stink inside. This may be a witty quip intended to add a bit of humor to a sad situation but if you just chuckled or raised your eyebrows in agreement, there was something of truth in this statement that resonated with you. That means you’ve been hurt or know someone who has been hurt by the church.
Now, I understand there is no perfect congregation. The fact is the church is made up of imperfect people with faults and quirks that sometimes make ripples in the calm of unity. But what do you do when those ripples become waves that knock you for a loop? Where do you go when the stink inside the ark becomes more unbearable than the storm outside? What happens when you realize that when you hear the word “church” you get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach and it dawns on you that the pleasant memories of the past have been replaced with feelings of disappointment and tears of hurt and anger?
The brutal fact is that many in this world identify all too well with the last three questions. Such experiences are far too prevalent and widespread in today’s world for us to continue to ignore and dismiss them. It shouldn’t be this way. Something is wrong. This is not what God intended His church to be. There is a sickness in the body of Christ and we must find a cure if we are to survive.
I’ve seen too many pastors with emotional breakdowns because of verbal attacks brought on by “old saints” of the church whose ministry expectations the pastor did not meet. I’ve counseled too many ex-church attendees who love Jesus dearly but no longer want to have anything to do with organized religion because they crossed the wrong person in the congregation and ended up as the main course on the gossip buffet. And yes I know we are all human. We are flawed people who often make mistakes, but when those professing to be the temple of the Holy Spirit regularly exhibit in their character arrogant, self-righteous, ego-centric attitudes and actions, you can no longer play the “I’m only human” card. We are supposed to be different. We are supposed to reflect Christ. They will, after all, “know us by our love for each other.” Tragically however, more often than not we are known instead by our arguments, contentions and divisions.
The typical “church” in America has become a cliché unbelievers use for religious, narrow minded, bigots that are the epitome of hypocrisy. A friend of mine took a religion class in college where his Zoroastrian professor observed, “Christianity is a wonderful idea. Someone should actually try it sometime.”
Webster defines the word “perversion” as, “…a diverting from the true intent or object; a change to something worse...” I believe this word is a good fit to describe this phenomenon of inconsistency we see in the identity of the present Institutional Church. When we look at the typical religious establishment in America today, we do not see a portrait of a Biblical Church, we see a perversion of a Biblical Church..
For many years I have endeavored to reconcile the way Scripture describes the church with the contradicting attitudes and actions of those professing to be a part of the church. The discrepancy between the church that is preached about on Sunday mornings and the church that the world typically encounters throughout the week has become too great to ignore any longer.
This is a call to action; a call to the remnant of the Body of Christ within the walls of the religious structure housing the Church of God. It is a call to those who are disturbed about what they see masquerading as the Church. It is a call for change. The Body of Christ is much too beautiful to remain disfigured and marred by impostors posing as His disciples but manifesting the character and behavior of His enemies.
Even as I write this I suspect that there are those who will read this, say “amen” to my last statement, then slip on their pharisaical robes of self righteousness, picture someone they know who hasn’t lived up to their moral expectations and assume that I am joining them in the battle against the unrighteous hypocrites. If that is you, then understand this: the unrighteous hypocrite is not the believer struggling to overcome sin in his daily walk; rather it is the arrogant, religious person who has deemed themselves the spiritual sheriff of those around them.
The judgmental, haughty soul, who no longer acknowledges his own sin but prefers instead the indignant smoke screen of exposing the faults and failures of others while basking in the comfort of their own holiness, does more damage to the name of Christ than all the imperfect, guilt ridden, saints trying desperately to work out their salvation on a daily basis. Remember, it was the Pharisee who looked at a sinner and said, “I’m glad I’m not like them.” The followers of Christ were those in the crowd of everyday ordinary people who stood out, not because of their “holiness” but because of their Master.
This is a call to declare again who it is we follow. It is a call to disengage from the senseless squabbles and battles of a self consumed religious establishment that has long since forgotten why it exists; to leave behind the pull of denominational superiority and theological litigation. It is time to realize that the only name over the door that matters is His; to realize that we have no case to argue, we simply have a gospel to proclaim. It is time to abandon the nets of our own ecclesiastical comfort and pursue again with reckless passion the One who called us to be fishers of men. It is time to rally ourselves around our Savior and make His Kingdom the priority of our lives. It is time to set our eyes on Him and Him alone and settle it in our hearts that we will fight no battles save those for which He gave His life. It is time to get ourselves out of the way and allow God to restore His people.
What does that restoration look like? I don’t know completely. But I know it doesn’t look like the state we are in now. I don’t have all the answers, but He does. The restoration and healing of His body that must take place will not come about through more programs, leadership strategies and human ingenuity. His church will be restored when the individuals who make up His church determine within their heart to seek His face again, tune their ears once more to the sound of His voice and follow the gentle tug of His spirit.
Sound cliché to you? Does it seem simple minded and naïve to believe the answer is to honestly seek and obey? Revival has never been complicated, just costly. It will cost us our agendas, status, schedules, programs, methods and preferences. It will require us to think differently than we have been thinking. It will demand a reprioritizing of our values, time and lifestyle. It will cost us the same thing it cost the early church: everything.
The world is dying, Church. Souls entrusted to us are being lost. It’s time to count the cost of discipleship…and pay it!
I am a holiness preacher. My dad was a holiness preacher. I come from a long line of men who believed, taught and lived the experience of holiness. I’ve studied it in seminary, wrote papers and essays on the subject, preached sermons about this experience of entire sanctification and even grieved over the lack of emphasis on it in our churches.
In April of 2004, however, I had an encounter with God unlike anything I had ever experienced. This encounter caused me to reevaluate what I believed about holiness and the experience of entire sanctification. Before anyone accuses me of heresy let me stop here for a minute to say that I believe in the sanctifying power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God now more than ever.
For several years I had been struggling with the issue of holiness. It was not that I didn’t believe in a second work. My problem was with the people I had encountered, many of whom sat in seminary along side me, who testified of the experience openly, but in secret, when the “masks” were off, struggled with sin just as much as people who didn’t believe in the work of holiness. I guess what disturbed me most is that, the more I saw this in others, the more I determined in myself to live a holy life. Yet the more I tried to be holy, the more I found myself lying at the feet of Jesus in failure. I was convinced that when I failed, it wasn’t because God hadn’t sanctified me, but because I had not spent enough time in prayer or the Word. Every time the Lord renewed me, I would rise more determined than ever to be the man God wanted me to be.
This continued cycle of failure, victory and resolve, lead me to the place of desperation I found myself in as I drove down highway 36 two months ago. I had been dealing with attitudes in my life that I knew were not pleasing to God, but no matter how often I “consecrated” them to Him in prayer, I continually found myself repenting of them.
So alone in my car I began to have a very honest conversation with God. “Father,” I said, “I am tired of this and I don’t know what to do.” Then I said, “It’s not that I don’t trust You; I trust You completely. The problem is that I don’t trust myself.”
Then, in the secret places of my heart I heard God say, “And that, my son, has been your problem your entire Christian walk. You have trusted in your prayers of consecration and your ability to commit yourself to me to make you and keep you Holy. I know you believe I can do it. What I’m asking now is do you believe that I will do it?”
Then it happened. As my heart answered, “Yes Lord, I believe.” The Holy Spirit descended upon my car, and somewhere between Rockville and Danville, I encountered the living God in His sanctifying and liberating power! In an instant, the war was over. Attitudes I had unsuccessfully strived so hard to conquer, He destroyed with no effort. Battles I had fought my entire life, He ended without lifting a finger. For the first time in my life, I knew the meaning of the words, “If the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free.” This happened on a Wednesday. The preceding Monday morning, God had awaken me to tell me that He wanted me to preach on entire sanctification the following Sunday. Little did I know that He was planning to use me as the illustration.
So what is different now? Prior to this encounter, my beliefs about holiness, though sound theologically, were based on what I had been taught and what I had been told I must have experienced. I had studied this doctrine throughout scripture and could effectively argue its biblical soundness and validity. I had prayed prayers of consecration to God and, though I didn’t feel sanctified, had accepted “by faith” that God must have done the work. And so, I had gotten up from the altar many times intensely determined to live the life of holiness.
Now I realize that this is something that we are unable to do but that God is more than willing to do if we let Him. He does sanctify, but not because we have prayed the right prayers, spent hours on our knees or had the strength to conquer temptation. He sanctifies because He promised us He would. Our part is to present ourselves as a sacrifice, but it is God who wields the knife.
Does this mean that I am perfect? I would like to say yes, but you may talk to my wife and find out otherwise. No, it means that I am dead. Do I have the strength to live a holy life? I repeat; I am dead! Dead people don’t have anything. Nor do they do anything. The life I live, I live in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The strength in me is not me it is God. Does temptation still knock on my door? You better believe it does! But now it is the Holy Spirit who answers and not me. And trust me, He is far more effective in dealing with temptation than I was.
Why do I write this? I write this to those who, like myself, have struggled with the doctrine of holiness their entire Christian walk; struggled, not because they didn’t believe it, but because they have hungered for it so much that in their desperation to reconcile what they believe with how they live, they have stopped short of the actual experience. Instead, they have settled for a holiness based on human effort and “spiritual acts” performed under the guise of faith and not on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Let me assure you, the experience is real! I have come to know in a new way the truth of that old chorus,
“There is a river that flows from deep within.
There is a fountain that frees the soul from sin.”
There is freedom unlike any you have ever known! There is a work of grace that makes the heart content and ends the war of the soul! There is a living God who in one second can shatter chains you have spent your life trying to free yourself from! No only can He do it, but He wants to do it, and He will do it! And believe me, ‘If the son sets you free, you will indeed be free!”
A while ago I was watching a documentary on The Travel Channel about the historical birth of Jesus. It was one of those documentaries that was boring enough to make you want to find something else to watch, but interesting enough to catch your ear just as you were about to turn the channel. As I listened to the experts bicker back and forth about whether or not Mary would have been riding a donkey on the way to Bethlehem, I was struck with the absurdity of pondering such details about an individual’s life more than two thousand years after their death.
What was so special about a small Jewish baby, born illegitimately to a young Jewish peasant girl from nowhere, in the middle of nowhere? Why does he provoke such interest? What makes his life so significant? Is it because Jesus came to be the basis of the Christian religion? I don’t think so. When was the last time you saw a documentary debating the details of the birthplace of Mohammed, Gandhi or Buddha, or any religious leader for that matter? What is it then that sets Jesus apart from every other religious leader to the extent that we want to know every detail about every aspect of his life?
I believe the answer is that Jesus made preposterous claims about who he was and why he was here; claims that he was God incarnate; claims that he was the only means of salvation and eternal life; claims that he would die, come back to life, go to heaven and return again for those who love him; claims that we would laugh at if we could dismiss one thing: his resurrection; the report of millions of people throughout history that Jesus not only rose from the dead as he said he would, but that he is presently alive and active in their everyday life.
Were it not for the belief in his resurrection, the details of his birth and life would be relatively insignificant and unimportant. Alister McGrath observed that, “The uniqueness of Jesus was established by the New Testament writers through the Resurrection and the subsequent recognition that Jesus was none other than the living God dwelling among us.”
What makes the question of the resurrection so important are the implications that are raised by its validity. It brings us face to face with that which transcends our understanding and forces us to deal with the reality of the existence of God. Doctor William Craig stated, “If Jesus of Nazareth really did come back from the dead, then we have a divine miracle on our hands and, thus, evidence for the existence of God.”
Not only does this mean that God exists but that the claims of Jesus are true, and this God has made personal contact with man in such a manner that demands a response. In addition to this, if Jesus rose from the dead, then that gives undeniable supremacy and validity to the Christian faith. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important doctrine of the Christian faith. The significance of every other principle, teaching, and theological tenet within Christianity hinges on the validity of this great event.
Having said that, let me say that I believe that the Resurrection is an event that is impossible to prove to everyone. What I mean by that is this: you can present all the evidence in the world for the resurrection, (and there is a lot of it), and still not convince some. Even if you could produce the testimony of an eyewitness who was inside the tomb and literally saw Jesus begin to breathe, get up and walk out, you would still have those who deny its validity. Why? For some, it is easier to believe a lie rather than acknowledge the existence of a loving God who holds us accountable for our actions.
As for me, I am irrevocably convinced of the resurrection, not simply because of the undeniable evidence that points toward it. I am convinced that Jesus lives because of His daily presence in my life. I know Him, and what's more important is that He knows me. He is my Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and Commander in Chief. He is my Counselor, Comforter, and constant companion. He is my Sustainer and Strength. But what continues to amaze me day after day is that He is my best friend. He has been a friend to me when I was not a friend to Him. He has been faithful to me, even when my faithfulness to Him has wavered. Every promise He has ever made, He has kept unequivocally. He is my passion and that which give my life meaning. Everything good in me He created, and everything bad in me He crucifies if I let Him. He truly is my all in all.
Luke Timothy Johnson said, “The resurrection experience that founded and that grounds the Church is not based on the transitory encounters of a few people on Easter day or for forty days thereafter, but on the experience of power through Jesus by generations of people across the centuries and continuing until today.”
I think the old Hymn said it best, “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.”
The following is one of my favorite poems written by my Mother:
I Love You Daughter
“I love you daughter,” He said to me
When the way was dark, no light to see.
“Don’t try to walk, but just stand still
That I may show you my perfect will.”
So I stood still as He spoke to me,
For the way was rough and I could not see.
Then I saw Him come in victory sweet
To guide with care my trembling feet.
As we walked along, He took my hand.
I’m glad I stood when He said stand.
“I love you daughter,” He said to me
When the way was bright, no clouds to see.
“Let’s walk today just you and I
Where loved ones fail and friends pass by.”
We walked together where the path was dim,
And He drew me tenderly close to Him.
My heart was broken, t’was a brier-strewn way.
But I’m glad I walked with Him today.
“I love you daughter,” He said today.
But I walked alone on the narrow way.
My body was sick with fevered pain.
There was no shelter from the chilling rain.
The way was dark, the mountains steep.
The stones were sharp that pierced my feet.
The burning tears that filled my eyes
Only hid from view the sunlit skies.
But then He came and walked with me,
And it mattered not that I could not see.
We often walk, just He and I,
Where loved ones fail and friends pass by.
Where chilly rains and winds that blow
Would harm for ere my ransomed soul.
Where raging storms would mar His grace,
And darkened clouds would hide His face.
But all of these can never harm,
When sheltered safe in His loving arms.
With Him beside me every day
I’d rather walk a brier-strewn way.
Of peace and joy naught can compare.
When Jesus walks beside me there.
by Marjorie H. Todd
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