Thursday, February 22, 2018

Unconquered Territory (5)



Cast cords of love around my heart, then hold me and never let me go.
May the Saviour’s wounds sway me more than the sceptre of princes.
Let me love thee in a love that covers and swallows up all,
That I may not violate my chaste union with the beloved;
There is much unconquered territory in my nature,
Scourge out the buyers and sellers of my soul’s temple,
And give me in return, pure desires,
And longing after perfect holiness.  

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett, Banner of Truth, page 345.

There is much unconquered territory in my nature,

I am not sure that the word “nature” is the best word here, for our old “nature” died with Christ (Romans Chapter 6) and we have been given a new nature, His nature. God is not interested in renovating or improving the “nature” we were born with - He is interested in putting it to death, which He has done...oh if we would only recognize it.

Having said this, there is a sense in which we can say that there is unconquered territory within us, at least I can say it - I don’t pretend to understand the inner workings of humanity or of myself, I get a glimpse at times, but I am actually pretty dumb about the whole thing. This is one reason why I am driven to Christ and His Word, for I cannot help myself; I can deceive myself but I really can’t do much, if anything, to help myself. Many of us are masters at deceiving ourselves. Thankfully God’s Living Word penetrates to the depths of our innermost being (Hebrews 4:12) and does what only it can do...reveals sin, unveils Christ, and transforms us into His image...this comes about as, by His grace, we surrender to Him and submit to His Word.

I am reminded of accounts of isolated Japanese soldiers who, not knowing of their nation’s surrender, lived in jungles decades after WWII ended thinking they were still combatants...combatants in a war that ended long ago. Are there areas of my life that have not surrendered to Jesus Christ? Are there pockets of my inner person hiding from Jesus and His light and Word? Are there fortified cities? Are there underground tunnels? Have I erected walls, fortresses?

I wonder if I climb behind barriers so I don’t have to come out and trust God, exposing myself to Him and others? I wonder if I buy into the world’s disinformation about life and its values; do I submit to the fears and anxieties of the culture? How sad to live in a land in which Christ is Lord and yet not know it. How sad to live in His Kingdom, in territory that He has truly conquered, and yet be deceived into thinking that His victory is incomplete.

Well, as I said above, I don’t understand all of this but I do know that we can trust our kind and loving heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus - for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; that is amazing love - to think that God loves us; you, me, others - I’ve never met a person whom God doesn’t love; I’ve met folks who I don’t love - shame on me - help me Lord to love as you love.

We can take consolation and hope in Paul’s words to the Christians in Philippi (Philippians 1:6): “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (NASB)

Here’s the J.B. Phillips translation, a nice one: “I feel sure that the one who has begun his good work in you will go on developing it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

I like that idea of “will go on developing”.

Lord, help us to surrender ourselves to you, let there be no territory within us that You have not conquered.



Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Unconquered Territory (4)



Cast cords of love around my heart, then hold me and never let me go.
May the Saviour’s wounds sway me more than the sceptre of princes.
Let me love thee in a love that covers and swallows up all,
That I may not violate my chaste union with the beloved;
There is much unconquered territory in my nature,
Scourge out the buyers and sellers of my soul’s temple,
And give me in return, pure desires,
And longing after perfect holiness.  

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett, Banner of Truth, page 345.

That I may not violate my chaste union with the beloved;

Paul writes to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:1 - 3), “I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me. For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”

John the Baptist said (John 3:28 - 30), “You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

One of the earliest songs I recall as a young Christian is, “Oh How I Love Jesus,” I especially recall singing it at a youth camp in the hills around Frostburg, Maryland. This past Sunday I sang it in a church in Prince George, VA. - decades and miles of life and roadways have not diminished the sweetness of that song, of those words, of the simple melody. This hymn is based on 1 John 4:10 and 19:

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins...We love, because He first loved us.”

The Great Commandment is that we love God with all that we are, and others as ourselves (Mark 12:28 - 31).

Paul desired that the Corinthians have a pure love for Jesus, have a pure relationship with Him; he emphasizes this with the words “pure virgin” - one would think that the word “virgin” in and of itself would be enough to make his point, but he wants to ensure that no one misses how emphatic he is, hence two words, “pure” and “virgin.” We, the church, are to have one Husband, Jesus Christ, and we are to be faithful in that relationship.

John the Baptist sees himself as Paul sees himself, as a friend of the Bridegroom; it was his mission to see others wedded to Christ, the Messiah, and to fade into the background, rejoicing in the marriage of the Lamb to His Bride. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Whose name am I concerned about people knowing? My name or the name of Jesus? Who do I want to draw attention to? Me or Jesus? Whose ministry am I concerned about? Mine or that of Jesus Christ?

To whom does my heart belong? Does it have many lovers? Does it love many things? Is it enamored with itself? Do I worship the image in the mirror or do I worship Jesus?

As I reflect over my journey, I wonder what happened to the purity of singing “Oh How I Love Jesus” for I think that I soon became enamoured of this doctrinal distinction and that experience and those forms of worship and certain religious “cultures” and...well...the list sadly goes on and on. I was taught to assimilate myself into a religious culture rather than love Jesus; I was taught to conform my actions to religious expectations but not seek God to, by His grace, conform my heart to the image of His Son.

To be sure I was only taught what others knew (and I think they did their best), and to be sure that experience is (hopefully) part of our pilgrimage - seeking the face of our Beloved. If earthly marriage is a lifetime of learning I suspect the same is true of our heavenly marriage to Christ - the difference being that in our heavenly marriage One is perfect...thankfully He is perfectly patient  and gracious and loving.

To seek a chaste union with Christ Jesus, to live within that chaste union - is there anything higher to seek than to know Jesus in purity and love and fidelity? To seek as individuals and to seek as His Bride?

How many times have I been promiscuous in seeking things other than Jesus? How many times have I sought significance outside of Him? How many times have I introduced “things” into the church that were not centered on Him? Well...I don’t know the answer to all those questions and I can but trust Christ to be merciful and redemptive.

Who does my heart belong to?

What about you?


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Unconquered Territory (3)



Cast cords of love around my heart, then hold me and never let me go.
May the Saviour’s wounds sway me more than the sceptre of princes.
Let me love thee in a love that covers and swallows up all,
That I may not violate my chaste union with the beloved;
There is much unconquered territory in my nature,
Scourge out the buyers and sellers of my soul’s temple,
And give me in return, pure desires,
And longing after perfect holiness.  

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett, Banner of Truth, page 345.

Let me love thee in a love that covers and swallows up all…

One of the many things I love about swimming in the ocean is the experience of entering a vast body of water, vast beyond my comprehension, and yet for the few minutes I am in it I am momentarily a part of it. When I’m in the ocean I envision myself immersed in the love of God, I contemplate His great love for me, for us - it gives me an amazing peace.

Paul’s desire for the Ephesians (3:14 - 21) was that they would be “rooted and grounded in love” and that they would “comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” To be rooted in the love of God, to know the love of Christ - this is to be filled with all the fullness of God - this is to abide in the Trinity and to know the Trinity abiding in us. As the ocean covers and swallows up all that is in it, so does the above prayer desire that our love for God cover our existence, for as we receive His love as an ocean we can return that love to Him and share it with others.

Jesus (John 13:34-35) said the the distinguishing characteristic of His followers would be the love they have for one another. John writes (1 John 4:7), “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Jesus said (John 15:9), “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in my love.” We are loved with the love of the Trinity, and as we receive we are to give; give back to God, and give to others.

The love that Paul writes of in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 is the love of God living in His people. The placement of this passage is deliberate, it serves as the core of Paul’s discussion of the Body of Christ, of life in the church, life together - it energizes chapters 12 and 15 - animating Paul’s teaching on church life and worship.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I want love to cover my life as the waters cover the sea; I want to love God like that, I want to love others like that. I think there have been times I’ve paid lip service to 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, there have been times I’ve actually functionally disagreed with it.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

The fact is there have been many times I’ve been more concerned about being “right” than loving, there have been times I’ve cared more for “knowledge” than for love. While I love the thought-world, the world of intellect and reasoning and understanding, I have been slow to realize that Paul was right - without love all that we “know” doesn’t really mean a thing.

While I have learned many things from many people, the people I’ve known that have been the most “other” than me are not the ones who know more (of which there are myriad), but rather the ones who have lived lives of love, who exemplify 1 Corinthians Chapter 13. Those are the ones who humble me, those are the ones beyond my experience, beyond my understanding - and isn’t that the way it should be since the love they exhibit is the love of God?

The prayer I pray every morning is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will teach me to love them with all that I have and all that I am, with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love my neighbor as myself. Whatever I may not know intellectually can probably wait until I leave this earth, before too long I’ll have those questions answered - but I don’t want to wait to learn how to love God and others.

What about you?