AWE – SOME

we can, and should, awe-some. I choose to reserve such respect, admiration to very few; but at the top of my list is my wife, Karin Riggs.

AWESOME! We say it often. Too often. Like using the word LOVE all the time for things that have nothing whatsoever to really do with love. “I’d love to see someone kick such and such’s tail in!” “I love ice cream,” “I love snowboarding,” “I love… yada yada yada…”

When I say to my wife and my children, “I love you” – What do they hear? ‘WOW! I mean as much to my dad as his new fishing rod! I wonder if he will throw me in the lake if I don’t do what I’m supposed to?

The on-line WORD dictionaries define AWE:

“a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”

“an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like: in awe of God; in awe of great political figures.”

I’m a little concerned about God and great political figures in the same example, but it is what it is. Such was AWE as a noun. As an adjective AWESOME is defined as: extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear. “The awesome power of the atomic bomb” – quite a bit away from ‘Our God is an AWESOME God…’ to go to the atom bomb but, C’est la vie!

I would most likely fall into a strange category of people who are trying their best to not follow culture on this one but say rather, we should ‘AWE-some’ and in that ‘some’ are VERY few human beings.

God is AWESOME. I am filled with AWE and wonder in the love of Christ! The Holy Spirit’s work in my life is AWESOME! I will also exclaim such awe when viewing the majestic grandeur of God’s creation. Usually it happens on a dark night, far away from city lights, looking up at a host of heavenly lights; it can be an AWESOME sight! The unmatched grace of an eagle in flight or the intricacies of a spider’s web on a split-rail fence still wet with morning dew. Those things are awesome because their creator is awesome. He is the One for whom we should have an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration and fear.

There are other parts of God’s creation which deserve at least a quiet moment of ‘awe’ or a grasp of the awesomeness of a particular part of nature.

The title… AWE-SOME means just what it says. We should awe some and not very many. Many things might be ‘ah-some’; give you a quick minute or two of amazement; but to really be in AWE, that is a very special category.

What brings me to write this after midnight, when I should be asleep, is watching my wife these last few days and recollecting some things from the past.

Dr. Karin T. Riggs, M.D.

Karin and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage this August. Success in marriage is a partnership, sometimes 80/20!  in our case, Karin is doing the heavy work!

On Friday night, after a long week at work, anticipating a long weekend, she arranged to have six of our eleven grandchildren overnight. Not just a typical overnight but a ‘let’s sleep in the camper in the driveway… Mamaw is bringing in a movie and food for us to celebrate the first night of summer vacation!’ It was that kind of overnighter.

On Saturday, she rode with me on our Harley trike for four hours to raise money for preventing veteran suicide. (“SAVE 22” a great cause, please get behind it if you can!) Then, once we were home, she was helping out another of our children. Did I mention she helped our granddaughter sew a custom designed dress ensemble for a horse-back riding show and a grade in school?

I’ve listened to her talk with patients everywhere we go. They love her and always stop to talk to her. I’ve listened this week as she counseled a patient on the phone as she does so often – no matter what she was supposed to be doing. I’ve watched tears fall as she shares a prayer request for patients and others, she has learned of through a friend who have suffered great losses. After 30 years of practicing medicine, she has not become hard and calloused about her patients; but even more so she is touched by them in ways I cannot explain. She shares her love of Christ through her life, her actions, her words of comfort. I see how she aches and her heart breaks over pain for people she loves dearly.

I watch her feed and bathe the babies and I think to myself this godly woman, who is so incredibly intelligent, so lovely, so loving, so self-effacing, has been God’s precious gift to me for all these years. She hears me tell her ‘I love you’ but she cannot know how very deeply, unendingly in love I am with her; even when she frustrates the beejeebers out of me. I know how frustrating I am to her… she ran out of beejeebers about a dozen anniversaries ago!

(Beejeebers is a word, or at least an idiom – but I don’t like to call even strange words names, so I won’t call it an idiom- the Free Dictionary and the Urban Dictionary both include in the definition it is a less heretical term than its origin ‘bejesus’ which of course I have to look it up too since the dictionaries claim it is sacrilegious… In their definitions I could not find any ‘religious’ connotation, other than an old Irish exclamation of surprise. (I would absolutely LOVE -see, there I go again, to share with you the Urban Dictionary’s example sentence they use for it; but you’ll have to look that one up yourself. Hint: if you find the word ‘shizzing’ in it, you’re there. And, yes, I looked it up, and no – shizzing is not even an idiom!)

I apologize to for digressing but, to my point, God the Father, Jesus Christ, His Son and the Holy Spirit deserve awe, our overwhelming admiration, reverence and fear. His creation, we can attest, is awesome in many ways from the bubbling of a country brook to the babbling of a baby and in His creation we can, and should, awe-some. I choose to reserve such respect, admiration to very few; but at the top of my list is my wife, Karin Riggs.

The Loss of One

When an officer is killed in the line of duty, the Thin Blue Line becomes, at once, thinner and still stronger.

Who has not suffered loss? Who has not, in quiet of those moments as the soul awakens at the dawn of a new day, sought to understand the questions of why? In searching to understand the nature of loss, I find that those who have written before me seem to be focused on the how and why and not the more important questions of why not and what’s next? Certainly, there are those who have penned volumes on how to overcome grief, to move on in life; but, that is not my meaning.

The question of what is next, when we face the loss of one so dear to us, is not one of, how do I cope with life without my loved one; nor is it, what comes next for the soul who has ceased to walk his earthbound road. For the Christ-follower, those questions have been answered through the lives of those before us and in the sacred pages of Scripture. The sure and certain hope of a resurrection to new life answers the latter and the former is clearly understood by our desire of the heart to serve the Lord no matter what station of life He has allowed for us. Our direction for the way in which we should go and the strength by which to travel that road are found in the Apostle’s words, ‘This life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.’ Strength of resolve, strength of faith is given to us by God’s Holy Spirit as we have both the need for it and the vessel within which to carry it. One of our purposes before such a crisis is to grow closer to Christ so that He may form us into just such a vessel.

I have also found in my years of observing our human condition that intertwined with our spirituality is that a true sense of immortality is present in each of us. We know, even though we may not understand, that our being realizes that we are meant to live forever and that there is only but the changing of one form, destructible, for another, the immortal. Even the most secular of minds seems to realize that even as his body has aged, the person that he is, inside, is the same as when he was decades younger. Though certainly wiser, we hope and matured. One author wrote that, as we age that which we express as virtue is more related to a lack of energy than a strength of will. Still, we move forward in the ever-diminishing race of time and, as we go, we find that with each loss of some part of ourselves there is a corresponding increase in another for which we had little awareness previously. The loss of the ability to move any great distance is replaced by an appreciation for those things close at hand. It is with this line of thinking stirring inside of me that I pause to consider the loss of yet another law enforcement officer at the hands of a felon.

The Thin Blue Line stands as a symbol of the impervious nature of our commitment to keep anarchy from reaching the civilization, seen in the microcosm of our homes and neighborhoods, our communities and towns that we so dearly love; more for the people who are in them than for the brick and mortar of which they are made. When an officer is killed in the line of duty; the Thin Blue Line becomes, at once, thinner and still stronger. The loss of one may be but a ripple in the thousands who bear the badge of authority daily to keep The Line strong here in America; yet, still that ripple will reach every single member of that army of knights sworn to do battle for the king. Not only the knights, but each of their respective families. There is a true sense of there but by the grace of God go I. None are immune to the possibility that each day that shift may be their own EOW (End of Watch) so every single death is felt by the thousands.

One would think that such thoughts would have a debilitating effect upon the forces of good who seek to restrain evil that raises its repulsive head. Like the nemeses of ancient times, the Hydra – as each vile head was cut off, another grew in its place; the strength of the Thin Blue Line seems to react to the loss of even a single officer by becoming even more resilient. If human characteristics can be given to an image like The Line, its determination grows with each strike against it. Any attempt to breach The Line by an assault against one of its own can be the precursor for its growth in its ability to endure and its resolve to never fail. Perhaps those human characteristics that we confer to The Line are merely reflections of those characteristics of the men and women and the families that make up that very real personality that we respectfully call the Thin Blue Line. It is humbly, then, that we come before God and ask that He continue to bless all who stand The Line; that He would protect the warriors as they seek to battle the forces of evil who seek to destroy. For we know, just as we sense our own immortality; that this battle is not ours; but His, and that He has already won the ultimate victory. We know, too, that our job is to stand strong in His strength and to be girded with the armor that the Apostle Paul described in Ephesians chapter 6; the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the sandals of the Good News of the Gospel of Peace, the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit.

Perhaps the resilience of the Thin Blue Line comes from the blessings each member of The Line receives from God. For as Paul writes in the same passage in Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” 1 Certainly the death of one of our own diminishes us all, in some regard; but, it also brings us back to the source of our strength. Our strength can be renewed and we then can fly upon eagles’ wings.

On a Scale

We have all been asked that question in some form or another… On a scale from 1 to 10 how would you rate…? In 1978, I received my first collegiate ring. With a stone of deep blue, it was crested on its center with the scales of justice, reflective of my degree in criminal justice. The scale of justice is held high in the one hand of Lady Justice, who is blindfolded and carrying a sword in her other hand. Blind to preference, to position, status, race or creed, wealth or poverty; she remains in our history as a noble representative of what our system of justice should be. I know many noble minded persons who have dedicated their lives to being certain that the scales of justice are, in fact, balanced before the weight of true and tested evidence can be brought before determiners of guilt or innocence. Her shelforiginal name in the Latin is Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice and she is often accompanied by Prudentia the goddess whose name is contracted from providentia the ability to see the future as a sage might discern how best to proceed.  Representing the ideal of governing and disciplining oneself by reason, Prudentia’s accoutrements of a mirror and a snake allude to careful reflection and caution in moving forward. The Greek’s, whose gods and goddesses aligned with most of the Roman’s, called Prudentia ϕρονησιϛ (https://fellowshipoftheminds.com/tag/prudence-latin-prudentia) which is now usually translated as practical wisdom or rational choice. Together the pair would call for a careful weighing of all evidence upon the merits of each, alone and then choosing the best course for discipline.

What brought me to consider Lady Justice was a set of the scales of justice which I own. I was looking over a few items that adorn the library area of my study when it caught my eye. There sits, front and center the scales of justice and above it is the American and Christian flags, two symbols of my heritage, my faith, and my loyalty. Immediately to the left of the American flag is a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Immediately to the right of the Christian flag is a Bible from my father, which was given to him by a military chaplain, as he was recovering from wounds received when his ship was sunk off the coast of Normandy, June 6, 1944. Also there, among a few of the memories of my police and military service, stand three American Eagles from a larger set. These three are titled, “Courage Honor Sacrifice”, “Never Surrender” and “Never Forget”. The trio set the tone for what this small display means to me.

Among the books visible in the photograph are ones from the Ohio Retired Police Chiefs’ Association, a book from my time at the FBI National Academy and a book from my basic training days with the United States Air Force. More than my article or the information about me inside these books, each reminds me of people that reflect the titles carried by the three eagle sculptures.

Two retired chiefs, one who was gone before the Ohio Retired Police Chiefs Association was born and another who has been the heartbeat of the organization and the motivation behind many of my writings on honor within our ranks. They represent well Courage, Honor, Sacrifice. One was Chief George Ziga of the Alliance, Ohio Police Department and the other Chief Marion Taylor of the North Olmsted, Ohio Police Department. Near death, Chief Ziga admonished me, a young chief then, to stay true to my God, my values, my family and my profession. Anyone who ever knew Chief Ziga would tell you he represented the model for each of those objectives. Knowing Chief Taylor, his professionalism is informed by his Christian faith.

From the NA came a man, an FBI Special Agent, that I got to know while he was an instructor at Quantico. Now, a plaque and an annual service award commemorate his service which ended while on special assignment in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the war in the mid-1990’s; less than ten years since I first met Livio A. Beccaccio. He is the epitome of Never Surrender. The award named for him is inscribed as follows: “The Livio A. Beccaccio Award is a living memorial presented to a FBI National Academy Associate member who has demonstrated exemplary character through an act of heroism, outstanding community service, innovation in law enforcement, or leadership reflective of that by which FBI Special Agent Livio A. Beccaccio lived.”

(http://www.fbinaa.org/FBINAA/About_Us/Awards___Scholarships/FBINAA/Members_Only/Awards_and_Scholarships.aspx?hkey=0346bbf8-a0ce-4a5b-87cc-65f5ffb87148)

Finally, from my days at Lackland AFB, San Antonio, Texas, at the tail-end of the Vietnam War, a SSgt who took on a rag-tag flight of trainees, who had been to hell and back with our first TI who suffered severely with PTSD in the days of Vietnam when such a diagnosis was unknown. He was likely tagged as ‘shell shocked sergeant’ who probably never received any help. Our second TI, SSgt Gillam was a man of character and morals who knew his own true north. He took us from not knowing which end of the rifle the bullets exited to men prepared to move on in training and ready to head into harm’s way, if so ordered. He had seen and understood the cost of Vietnam and he stands strong as a model airman to never forget our POWs & MIAs, all our veterans, but particularly those from Vietnam; nor would SSgt. Gillam ever expect us to forget 9-11. Four men who represent the strength of the U.S.A.’s justice.

The bedrock of our criminal justice system, here in America, rests upon the scales of Lady Justice. Our honor is passed as a torch from those chiefs who took their oath with their hand upon the Bible and their hearts indwelt by the God of that Bible. Our freedom comes from the sacrifices like Livio Beccaccio, thousands of other fallen officers and even more men and women who don the shield every day and stand that thin blue line. Our heritage is passed to our next generations when we remember those who fought valiantly on foreign shores and here at home to keep the flag of America flying high.

Just as the banner of red and white stripes and shining white stars on a field of blue continue to fly and represent the most blessed nation on the face of the Earth, so too must our faith in the One Lord God who made us One in Him, compel us to live by faith and not by sight. We will always know times of trouble in our land and often they come from our own actions or our failure to act. But we, as citizens of America and saints of the Kingdom of God can know that Christ has already won the final victory. He calls us to remain faithful to our calling and to take up our cross and follow Him!

I know that there isn’t some fantasy goddess who holds the scales of justice in her hands. God’s Word informs me that it is Christ who brings justice. Isaiah prophesied and Matthew recorded Jesus quoting the prophet, ““Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles.” (Matthew 12:18 NKJV) Speaking of the role of police officers, Jesus also said, “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Romans 13:4 NKJV)

It should be no wonder to us that, as I thought about those items on my shelf, those men came to mind in such a context. Each one of them were men of faith. They lived out remarkable witnesses because of that faith. Not one would claim any greatness on his own and certainly none would lay any claim to being anything apart from what they are within the Lord.

Law enforcement today is much maligned by the liberal media. Christians are too. Both are in good company since Christ, Himself, was counted among the criminals, scoffed at, beaten and abused. In America, the system may not be perfect, still though, the admonition of John Adams, a founding father and president concerning our legal system is upheld. “Better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man convicted.” The scales of justice balance out pretty well. Compared to other places I have seen firsthand, I’m proud to live and have served in America’s criminal justice system where restoration is possible for those who choose wisely. Likewise, for those who choose unwisely, there are consequences. On a scale of 1 to 10… I’ll score a ten that I’d rather be tried for something I’ve been alleged to do here in the United States than anywhere else in the world. I praise God that my life and my family are under the protection of American police officers and I thank Him daily for every single one of them and pray for their safety.

 

What Do I Do Now?

When pressed to choose, I will obey God rather than man. The outcomes are always and already in God’s hands.

With the U.S. Supreme Court decision this week (June 2015) that legalizes gay marriages nation-wide, I was asked by a godly friend of mine, “What do you intend to do now?” As I thought that through the first reflection that I had was that America has, as a government, stopped following the Judeo-Christian God years ago that the nation was founded upon. This is just another log on the fire of what I believe will be the eventual lessening of the U.S. in world affairs. Recently I heard a self-proclaimed expert on Bible prophecy explain that the reason the U.S. is not mentioned in biblical prophecy of the end-times is because it  is under the hidden name of Babylon. I did not listen very long. There is no way with a literal-biblical hermeneutic that anyone can make the argument that the U.S. is Babylon of Revelation. Most have said for years that Babylon in Revelation is Rome because of the papacy; but, I believe that Babylon is Babylon – just ask ISIS. America is not mentioned, thus we are not important in the last days because we, like the rest of the world turned our back on Israel and on God.  What do I do now?

I am going to follow the admonitions of Christ. His commandments were: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might. Love your neighbor as yourself. Go into all the world and make disciples, first in Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. In Micah 6:8 we read: “What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” I will preach only God’s truth. The Bible tells us, “Your Word is Truth”

When it comes to me as a pastor and performing wedding ceremonies. I already will only marry those I believe to be born-again believers in Christ. We go through that in premarriage counseling and get the issue settled. Will I marry a gay couple? Peter said it best before the Sanhedrin when they were told to stop preaching Christ crucified and resurrected. In Acts 5:29 we read: “But Peter and the apostles answered and said, “We must obey God rather than man.”

I determined a long time ago that I am willing to go to jail for my faith and my family. Someday it may come to that.

Until then, we are admonished to obey those placed in positions of authority over us and to pray for them. I will do that.

What do I do now? The same things I have tried to do already – through the faith of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, I will love God with all that I am; love and care for others, share Christ whenever and wherever the Holy Spirit opens the door staying true to the TRUTH of God’s Word. I will do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before God. I will pray for our nation and its leaders. When pressed to choose, I will obey God rather than man. The outcomes are always and already in God’s hands.

A Response from the President
A Response from the President

Finding Our Place in Heaven

We can live each day, joyously, victoriously, in grateful appreciation of the heavenly home that has already got our name on the mailbox!

Recently we treated the topic of having only about ten minutes left in your life and knowing that it was soon to be over. The topic was spurred on by the recent crash of a Lufthansa flight into the side of the Alps, apparently on purpose. Those on the flight would have known for about ten minutes that they were about to crash. Today we want to take that a step further and consider finding our place in heaven. As we mentioned in the previous offering  there is no biblical support for St. Peter standing at the pearly gates of heaven deciding who should or should not enter.  The GOOD news is that for those who have accepted Christ as Savior, they are already in heaven! You ask how that could possibly be since every morning you wake up and you are still living and working on the mortal plain. If we read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, the Lord has already given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places and predestined us to adoption. What Paul is helping the Ephesians to understand is that if they had accepted Christ’s forgiveness for their sins, then they were already citizens of the heavenly kingdom. Perhaps an analogy will help us to understand it a little bit better. God had already created a way for us to be adopted us as His children.

Imagine, if you will, that you are a child whose father was in the US Air Force stationed in Germany. When you were born you were born on the U.S. Air base but within the country of Germany. Because you are the child of a U.S. airman you are automatically a citizen of the United States even though you have never set foot in the U.S. Someday you will travel with your parents back to the U.S. and when you arrive you will have credentials that show you are a U.S. citizen even though you have never been in the U.S. and you are immediately admitted. You were, positionally, a U.S. citizen though you had never been in the U.S. That is what Paul meant when he said that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Just as the child of an American has all the freedoms and rights of every other citizen positionally without ever having been in the country or, for the believer who is positionally a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, never yet having been in the heavenly places.

Paul writes that we were preordained to adoption as sons. Let us use the same example only with an adoption. The U.S. airman and his wife are living in Germany. Both are U.S. citizens. They have an opportunity to adopt an infant who is of German descent. He is, in fact, a German citizen. Once they adopt the little German infant the boy becomes a citizen of the United States positionally because he has never been in the U.S. and was not born there. In this scenario we will make it so that as he gets older, to have his American citizenship he must renounce his German citizenship. He may still have not been inside the United States physically, in fact he may still live in Germany; but his position is one of a full U.S. citizen; adopted as a son of a citizen and given full rights as a citizen. No one will dare deny him access because he is already a citizen. Imagine if when he got to the entry point and they learned that he was the son of the president! The welcome home mat would certainly be rolled out!

When we accept our position as a child of God we will walk up to those gates as a Child of the King; a royal heir to all that is God’s! Talk about a red carpet arrival! The Bible tells us that the angels marvel at us because of what God has done for us. They have been with God since He created them, yet they can never experience being the recipient of the full love we have received and can never be adopted as God’s children. As a Christ-follower, we are children of the King with full citizenship in heaven, instilled with all the rights and responsibilities that are part of our citizenship in heaven.

That is the meaning of Paul’s words in Ephesians chapter 1. I trust it will provide you with comfort knowing that you, if you have accepted Christ as Savior, have already attained your position in heaven. Jesus said, I go to prepare a place for you and if I go, I will come again and receive you unto myself. What a spiritual blessing in the heavens we have already received that our place has been secured, Paul writes, that it is sealed by the Holy Spirit. For those who argue then that we can somehow lose our place there is to believe that we, as failed human beings, Jesus said He understood that we were dust, could take something away from God who has sealed us with the Holy Spirit! Those who live in such a way that one would say they would be in danger of losing their salvation should examine themselves to see if they ever had salvation to begin with. Like the seed that fell on shallow ground and never took root; many need to return to the cross and seek that original forgiveness and then their lives will be eternally changed. The outcome of their human life will be radically different.  Praise God for that!

We have covered a great deal of theology in one lesson but perhaps a reminder for us all. We can live each day joyously, victoriously and in grateful appreciation of the heavenly home that has already got our name on the mailbox!

An Inquisitive Look Into Freedom

In what some have labeled America’s ‘Post-Christian Era’ it would be difficult to get a majority consensus that even the Bible holds absolute truth.

 

Knowing the Truth:

An inquisitive look into freedom

                  Dad's pocket watch

 True North Ministry logo

Once More from the Top

 I have maintained for some time now that I learn more from teaching than I ever reciprocally provide in the form of knowledge to others; of that I am fairly certain.  Such is the case already in this first week in a study of spiritual disciplines that I am teaching for Baptist Bible Graduate School. 

A Thesis: There is an inordinately strong link between Truth (the capital ‘T’ truth of scripture) and the Spiritual Disciplines.

Understanding Freedom

Donald Whitney, an author on the subject of Spiritual discipline wrote, “There is freedom in embracing the spiritual disciplines.”[i] Whitney follows the writing of Richard Foster to argue that the Spiritual disciplines, rather than being restrictive and binding are the means to spiritual freedom. Foster goes so far as to call them the “Door to Liberation.”[ii] There is a quantum leap between the idea of the spiritual exercises or the acts that Christians do, (not so much as apart from God but as a requirement of God in living out their daily life as a Christian) and Jesus’ own words recorded in John 8:32. In one of the longest interactions that Jesus has with the Pharisees recorded for us by the Disciple John, brother of James; Jesus explains to them that “If you abide in My word then you are truly disciples of Mine and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”[iii] He goes on to say in a correlated statement; “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”[iv] There is, then an apparent relationship between the singular freedom of which Christ speaks in John 8:32 and the escape from death in 8:51. In explaining to the Pharisees who He was; He described Himself as the ‘Son’ and He declares that if the “son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”[v]

It is important at this point to identify and perhaps define the ‘Freedom’ about which Christ refers. Clearly it involves a freedom from death and extrapolating the fact that Christ, Himself, died a physical death not long after this conversation; then it is not from physical death that this new found freedom provides an escape. It most certainly effects then the spiritual death, a death which leads to an eternity separated from God in a place called ‘Hell’  prepared by God for Satan and his angels; an eternal abode for those who do not receive Christ as Savior.

Another Bible teacher, Elisabeth Elliott is quoted by Whitney as saying that “freedom and discipline have come to be regarded as mutually exclusive when in fact freedom is not at all opposite but the final reward of discipline.”[vi] If one is a connoisseur of ‘B’ Westerns then the term ‘final reward’ will strike a familiar chord as often used in conjunction with ‘the last round-up’ which was, of course, a synonym for heaven. Having heard Mrs. Elliot teach on several occasions, I do not believe she is advocating that by keeping the spiritual disciplines, a Christian will receive the freedom from spiritual death that Christ refers to in John 8. That would equate to a works received entrance to heaven. It is more likely that a better turn of phrase would have been that freedom is the end result of discipline rather than final reward. Regardless, though, of Mrs. Elliot’s soteriology, there remains a clear link between spiritual discipline and freedom; whether that is freedom from spiritual death or perhaps another type of freedom such as a freedom to live a fuller Christian life or have the freedom for a closer Christian walk with Christ. These are ideas worth considering! When one recalls that Richard Foster made a link between the disciplines themselves and spiritual freedom, to what specifically was he referring?

Defining Spiritual Disciplines

It is appropriate perhaps to define the ‘spiritual disciplines’ that are referred to here. A short list just to give the reader an idea of them includes, prayer, fasting, quiet time or solitude, intake of God’s Word which is more than simply reading but, reading is one method of intake; memorization, and meditation. The purpose in each is to grow in Christ-likeness and they are not linked in series, as such to one another, that is one need not do every type of discipline in order to gain this closer walk with the Lord but that a focused exercise of some combination of them is required; hence the term discipline. It is a required work, an exercise with an end goal in mind just as Paul described a boxer who trains and does not flail at the air but disciplines himself to be good at what he has chosen to do, or a runner who trains to compete for the prize by keeping his focus on the goal. If the authors quoted earlier are correct then, a part of that goal in becoming more Christ-like is freedom; a release, perhaps from what Paul, again, called the ‘sin that so easily besets us’. By keeping our focus, our thoughts, our attitudes on the things that are above and keeping our whole-selves trained in spiritual growth, we put behind us the preoccupation with sin and its temptation.

As quickly at the concept of completing or exercising the spiritual disciplines can devolve into a ‘works’ mentality – that is –  it is what we do that matters in our relationship with Christ; it is important to stress that the Christian can do nothing apart from Christ. It is the Holy Spirit abiding within the Christian that enables the human part of us to do anything at all that is remotely spiritually inclined. Apart from the power of God, the Christian has no ability to even consider the effective exercise of the disciplines. To attempt such an endeavor without the Holy Spirit would be to flail at the air like Paul’s fighter. The person would become exhausted in the actions but the exercise would have had no effect whatsoever.

The Capital ‘T’ Truth

In what some have labeled America’s ‘Post-Christian Era’ it would be difficult to get a majority consensus that even the Bible holds absolute truth. Many mainline Protestant churches will not be uneasy with the idea that there could be error within the biblical manuscripts. To say that the Bible is authoritative in everyday life, requires a background in Evangelical Christianity. There are some faiths that will hold that Truth can be found in the Bible but not go as far as saying that the Bible is Truth. Jesus, Himself said, in His great Priestly prayer to His Father that, “Thy Word is Truth.” There can be no greater witness to verify that God’s Word is Truth than Christ’s own statement. It is then, as we follow the logical if –then connection: If the Truth Will Set You Free and the Bible, God’s Word, is Truth; then the Word of God will set you free. The Primary role of the spiritual disciplines is to come to a deeper more abiding understanding of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit through God’s Word. The extrapolation leads to the conclusion that if Spiritual Disciplines lead to a deeper understanding of the Bible, God’s Word, then those Disciplines lead to freedom.

Spiritual Disciplines and Truth

The final analysis brings the investigator back to the primary conclusion that it is not that completing the spiritual disciplines brings one to Freedom by way of a works mentality. Rather, it is that completion of the spiritual disciplines which brings one to a fuller appreciation and comprehension of the Bible. That deep and abiding knowledge of the Scriptures that comes from exercising the spiritual disciplines brings one to Truth, the Truth that sets you free. You are free from the Spiritual Death that is the result of sin because the Grace of God has given you that Freedom through Christ’s sacrifice which the Holy Spirit will bring you to trust through God’s Word. Freedom, too, from the daily onslaught of sin’s temptation. Not that the temptation will not rear its ugly head, but that you will have received the tools by which the Holy Spirit working within you will dismantle those temptations and bring you to victory over them. 

FREE INDEED

A classic song from the ‘Revolution’ days of the sixties by Janis Joplin titled ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ has the standard refrain, “Freedom’s Just another Word for Nothing Left to Lose; Nothin’ don’t mean nothin’ if it ain’t free.” As cynical and discouraging as those ‘blues’ lines are, they pose a dramatic disconnect to what Freedom in God’s Word is speaking about. What does fit is that the Holy Spirit brings to the believer the grace of God which, for the believer, is free… That’s somethin’ that means somethin’

 


[i] Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, NAVPRESS: Colorado Springs 1991 (p23)

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] John 8:32 (NASB) Ryrie Study Bible MBI: Chicago 1978

[iv] John 8:51 (NASB) Ryrie Study Bible MBI: Chicago 1978

[v] John 8:36 (NASB) Ryrie Study Bible MBI: Chicago 1978

Shadows

“…it made me wonder how many shadows I have left behind.”

Recently I had the opportunity to do something very different…. it caused me to think about something that I don’t believe I’ve ever considered before. How many shadows have I left behind after I have moved on? What made me ask such a question was a photo I took of my son Daniel’s shadow on the beach the other day. There it was, plainly visible on the sand and I snapped a photo of it and then we started to walk on but as we did, I looked at the photo and the shadow was still clearly there, on the sand. No, it hadn’t really stayed behind, only the image on my camera but it made me wonder how many shadows I have left behind.

We talk about the impact that someone has had on our life, usually for the good, sometimes not. We say how they influenced us or made our day brighter. What about those who cast a shadow across your life – not really there, not making a bold presence known or a physical reality of their time in your life but those who are just a shadow passing by? Shadow  In the Bible there are times when those who wre sick and injured just waited for the disciples to pass by so that if Peter’s shadow would fall across them they could be healed. It was just his shadow, nothing more except that the Holy Spirit was empowering his shadow to bring the healing to others.

In Acts 5 we read: ” And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.  And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”

Shadows are often connected to darkness… lurking in the shadows, the shadow of death, while people were residing in the shadows…  Yet, shadows cannot exist without light and the brighter the light, the darker the shadow. Although an oxymoron perhaps, it seems that normally when light increases, dark decreases but not when it comes to the shadows.

How often have we allowed our shadows to cross one another’s paths without notice, without real contact and an unawareness of the brightness of the light that has brought those shadows together?

Think on your shadow. How many shadows have you left behind? How dark is the shadow you leave because of the brightness of the light within you?

Just something to ponder.

The New King James Version. 1982 (Ac 5:12–16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.