Thursday, September 19, 2013

RnR [Hope]

This weeks read and reflect is obviously from the Milton Vincent's A Gospel Primer and I'm going to try and talk about five HUGE sections (although combined took up a total of less than ten pages): All Things Crucified, Part 1 and 2, Hope of Heaven, Mortifying the Flesh with Fullness, and Thankfulness Enriched by Relief.

I'm borrowing this book, but I've realized that I need my own copy to read, reread, highlight, mark up, and take with me where ever I go. He has this amazing way of summing up the gospel message and preaching it to himself daily and as he does this, his life is forever changed. Here's a few ways he describes that change:

All Things Crucified

Vincent's first sentence under this section is quite a way to start, "The gospel is not simply the story of "Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2); it is also the story of my own crucifixion." (Galatians 2:20, 6:14, 5:24, Romans 6:6, Luke 9:23, 1 Peter 2:21-24)

My own crucifixion?

In referencing the above mentioned verses I began to realize a central theme: my old self is crucified on the cross with Jesus. I've known that. Especially since I'm not the same person I was a few years ago (thank goodness). Still, what Vincent says next is the part that blew. me. away.

Crucifixion hurts.

That got me to thinking. There's nothing pretty about the death of Christ on the cross. The movie "Passion" gave a pretty clear view of that. (Although not clear enough, because Jesus wasn't even recognizable as a human being and he endured the humiliation of being naked.) Still, I cannot watch this without bawling my eyes out.
Not only did he endure a beating that left him unrecognizable as a human being, but he was then nailed to the cross.
He then became sin and endured God's wrath on our behalf. WE DESERVE THIS DEATH and he took it instead. So when Vincent states that "crucifixion hurts" and that Christ's crucifixion is "... also the story of my own crucifixion" I wondered where he was going with it.

"I must seize upon every God given opportunity to be conformed more fully to Christs death, no matter the pain involved."

That sentence in and of itself left me feeling overwhelmed, but his next paragraph struck every heart string I had left, "When my flesh yearns for some prohibited thing, I must die. When called to do something I don't want to do, I must die. When I wish to be selfish and serve no one, I must die. When shattered by hardships that I despise, I must die. When wanting to cling to wrongs done against me, I must die.When enticed by allurements of the world, I must die. When wishing to keep besetting sins secret, I must die. When wants that are borderline needs are left unment, I must die. When dreams that are good seem shoved aside, I must die."

I must die. Fill my life with YOU, because there is quite literally nothing good in me. Help me live my life to glorify you and give up selfishness, anger, hate, the desires of this world, "Not MY will, but YOURS be done." That is one hefty thought: I must die.

Just when I thought that my brain and heart couldn't take any more, the next section starts out with an equally amazing sentence, "Thankfully, the gospel teaches that dying is not an end, but a beginning." (Philippians 2:8, Ephesians 1:20) Although crucifixion is painful and giving up the things of this earth like dreams, drunkeness, sexual immorality, lieing, gossiping, &etc. (because those things pull us farther away from a perfect, holy, and just God); giving up our self (the dying of our self) draws us closer to God and to heaven. The moment you accept Jesus as your saviour (Romans 10:9), you are a new person! You are no longer a slave to sin! Death is a way to life (Luke 9:24)! "These facts surrounding Christ's resurrection stand as proof positive that God will not leave me for dead, but will raise me similarly, if I would only allow myself to die." (p. 42) (Romans 6:4) By allowing your old self to die, you become Christ-like. By embracing this new life, Vincent explains that you, "...taste the power of the resurrection of Jesus himself (Philippains 3:8-10). The death to which Christ died is the death to which I am also called, and the death to which I am called is my entry point to union with Christ and life at it's fullest. (p.43) So come what may, I'll let no one take this death from me." Wow. Come what may. This life is filled with trials and adversity, but embrace them because they are building  your character and drawing you closer to eternity! Which is a perfect lead into the next section... .

Hope of Heaven

There's one paragraph I have to share from this section, "... a gospel-centered heavenward focus yields enormous benefits to me while on earth. The mere hope of seeing Christ in glory releases the purifying influence of heaven upon my life from day to day (1 John 3:3). Also, knowing of the future love that God will show me in glory enables me to love my fellow-saints with a heaven-inspired love even now. .... Hope of eternity with Christ in heaven also enables my heart to thrive during the most difficult and lengthy of trials here on earth." (p.44)

Remember my reflection on his section about how Trials are my Friends? That last sentence, "Hope of eternity with Christ in heaven enables my heart to thrive during the most difficult and lengthy trials here on earth." THAT'S why Christ calls us to lay up treasures in heaven, because nothing can be destroyed there (Matthew 6:19).

Mortifying the Flesh with Fullness

This section was so good that I wrote sentences from this part in my Bible. First things first, mortifying? What does he mean by using that particular word? When I think of using mortifying I usually think of embarrassing, or shame, humiliation, etc. I decided to look it up and one of the definitions stated, "to subjugate (the body, passions, etc.) by abstinence, ascetic discipline, or self-inflicted suffering." Self-inflicted suffering reminds me of a character from "The DaVinci Code" who mutilated himself as a punishment for his sin. That's as far away from the gospel message as you can get. The punishment was already taken - on the cross! There's no need to punish yourself, accept the gift of forgiveness and move on! It doesn't mean, however, that the "moving on" process will be fun, painless, or easy. When your old self is crucified on the cross it is painful because you let go of those sinful desires of your previous life. I was very into the party scene, for example. I would get drunk, be sexually immoral, wake up and do it all over again the next day. Giving up that life also meant giving up hanging out with those friends who participated in that life style. That doesn't mean they're no longer my friends, or that I shouldn't witness to them, it simply means that the drunk lifestyle was crucified on the cross and no matter the pain involved, I had to give it up. So in a sense I did "subject myself" or "disciplined myself" or created a "self-inflicting" pain because giving it up was not easy or fun. Now, I don't want to go back to that lifestyle because I realized that my life is more joyful and more fulfilling now than it EVER was when I thought I was having fun. So when Vincent wrote about "Mortifying the Flesh with Fullness" it came alive to me when I applied it in that sense.

"The key to mortifying fleshly lusts is to elimante the emptiness within me and replace it with fullness; and I accomplish this by FEASTING ON THE GOSPEL. ... Indeed, it is in the gospel that I experience a God who glorifies Himself by filling me with His fullness. (Ephesians 1:22-23)" (p. 46)

My sister describes "the emptiness" as a heart wound. We ALL have a heart wound, and we try to fill it with things, like alcohol, drugs, a new car, a new house, a large savings account, new clothes, friends, a new girlfriend, babies, husbands, but NOT ONE OF THOSE THINGS will fill it completely. Those are temporary fixes to an eternal problem. If you don't fill it with Christ you'll forever feel empty. Christ is quite literally all you need. Jesus tells us that He is the bread of life, we seek for food here on earth because we are constantly hungry, but Jesus tells us to seek "... the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you." (John 6:27) We will have DEEP SATISFACTION by filling that emptiness with Christ, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." (John 6:35) He's not talking about the physical hunger pains we feel, but the utter emptiness we feel within the depths of our soul. By preaching the gospel to yourself daily, or as Vincent says in this section by "FEASTING" on the gospel, we realize and understand how desperately we need HIM, and we can trust fully that HE will meet our needs and that no matter what we endure here on earth we have hope in a perfect, fullfilling, amazingly beautiful eternity with Him. Because without Christ, we would endure the HELL WE DESERVE.

"As for my specific earthly circumstances of plenty or want, I can see them always as INFINITE IMPROVEMENTS on the hell I deserve. ... Life's blessings, however small, always appear exceedingly precious when viewed against the backdrop of the wrath I deserve."

In other words, we have every reason, because we deserve the wrath of God that Jesus endured on the cross, to give thanks in ALL circumstances, good or bad. (1 Thessalonians 5:18) It reminds me of Betsie Ten Boom who was thankful for the fleas that infested their prison barracks. Remember when I wrote about that story? If not read it here, if you don't want to read it there, read Corrie Ten Boom's book The Hiding Place. Her story is a fantastic reminder to give thanks, even during trials and tribulations, because WE HAVE HOPE. We simply need to persevere because our death simply means an eternity in heaven.

And in THAT hope: that Christ lived, died and rose again, is all I need to rest on - nothing else matters in the grand scheme of things. 150 years from now I won't care about the things of this earth, because my flesh will be dead and my spirit with God. And I'm super excited about that!

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