Tag Archives: sanctification

In the Spirit of Lent

As I prepare to preach through Lent to Easter, I’ve been contemplating the meaning of this season. It’s a time of much-needed inner reflection for the church. It couldn’t come at a better time in my own life right now. And I suspect for everyone else as well.

The season of Lent covers the six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. It’s a time of preparation as the church looks forward to Passion week and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. This season involves an intentional focus on inner reflection through prayer, repentance, and self-denial. It is when we become acutely aware of our own brokenness and need for salvation.

Why do I need this season? I need it because I’m often tempted to look at others instead of myself. How can I help others? What is wrong with “the world” and how can I can help to transform it? As a pastor and teacher, it’s easy to live in this mode of existence. It’s easy to ignore what’s on the inside.

Also, I have noticed that as Christians we often need a little balance in our lives—equilibrium in our faith and practice. I think it’s possible to live in God’s love and grace, learning to live in freedom, and then forget something that is critical about ourselves and the gospel: we’re sinners saved by grace.

Bonhoeffer said that “cheap grace” is grace without discipleship, grace without repentance and the cross. Costly grace reminds us that practicing self-denial and repenting of sin is the call of every Christian.

Sin isn’t to be taken lightly.

Sin is “missing the mark” of God’s holy and righteous character, which is fully expressed in Christ. It’s a misuse of human energies, a breakdown in divine fellowship, and of human community. Sin is rebellion within the human heart against God’s best for his creation. It’s a spiritual distortion within humanity.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11 NIV

We can’t be lazy and careless on our journey with Christ in community. We must be intentional in the working out of our salvation (Phil 2:12). We need to remember the sin that is at work in us and the urgency of having it removed from us. This then requires us to look in the mirror, allowing God to chisel away the rough edges. The chiseling may hurt a little.

You can feel it when the cross meets your flesh.

Let us agree with Paul and claim this salvific truth concerning our identity:

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20 NLT

So what about those sinful inclinations? How are we doing with temptation? Are we, by the power of Christ, overcoming sin at work in our lives? What measures are we taking to stamp out our anger, our lust, our gossip, our greed, and our cynicism? Have we allowed anything to become an idol in our lives?

Are we counting ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ?

I do believe that Lent is also a good time to reflect on the problem of evil. Things are not as they should be. And if we’re going to walk in God’s love and grace through the purging process, we need to know from whence evil comes, and why we struggle with sin in the first place.

“Consider this: sin entered our world through one man, Adam; and through sin, death followed in hot pursuit. Death spread rapidly to infect all people on the earth as they engaged in sin.” Rom 5:12 VOICE

If we do not accept that the cosmos is not as God intended it to be, as a result of human sin on the earth and angelic (demonic) rebellion in the creative evolutionary processes of the primordial past, then we will inevitably attribute evil to God, instead of acknowledging the culprits who are responsible—ourselves and Satan who is the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2). Blaming God cuts us off from our only source of strength and salvation.

I submit to you that if there is any place in our hearts that wants to attribute evil to God, including our so-called “natural” proclivities, this makes naming our sins and repenting of them all the more difficult.

We will say things like, “Well, God made me/them this way” or “God is to blame for evil” in my life and the world. But if we accept that Jesus of Nazareth is the God-man, fully human and fully divine, we know the truth about the Creator and his good will for us. Christ reveals the divine will for our broken humanity.

We know that God in Christ is bringing order to the chaos. The good news of the Kingdom is that God has taken responsibility for the free world he created by becoming a human being and experiencing the darkness of our fall. He took up our sin and rebellion and nailed it to the cross (Col 2:13-15).

Jesus was crucified and raised for our sanctification. He calls out a people, a church, to accept this free gift and transform this broken world by the power of his Spirit. He wants us to participate in sorting it all out.

Sin has been rendered powerless. Death has lost its sting! Christ took on the powers of darkness and defeated them through holy living, even unto death. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead has been given to us.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3 NIV

What will we do with the Spirit’s power this Lent? Will we quench the Spirit or will we let him have his way in us? The future of the church is wrapped up in the way we respond to the Spirit that is at work in the world, seeking to reconcile all things to God, and bring healing to the nations (Col 1:19-21).

Be strong and courageous. Call sin what it is and repent of it.

Stop looking at the sins of others, and reflect inwardly toward your own need for sanctification. It is there that we will find healing for our souls in this season of renewal. Blessings on the journey.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

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Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (6 of 7)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18

In the previous installment, I showed how Jesus challenged worldly wisdom on several levels. His entire life and ministry was an affront to the wisdom of the age. The person of Jesus is a major obstacle to the worldly mind.

At the heart of this challenge is Jesus’ own claim to be more than a man from Nazareth. His greatest offense was in aligning himself with God—both in his Kingdom mission and divine identity (Matt 21:33-46; Jn 3:16; 14;9b).

There was (and is) nothing palatable about Jesus Christ of Nazareth to those who love the world and have made their home in it. There is simply too much to stumble over when Jesus is not accepted on his own terms.

If you’re just joining this blog series, I said in the introduction that I’m using seven provocative statements as a way of summarizing the radical life and teachings of Jesus. This is why the world system hates Jesus of Nazareth.

And why the world hates those who follow him.

Before we wrap up this series with a final statement and overview of what has been covered, we must consider yet another controversial and often misunderstood aspect of the gospel of Christ. This concerns Jesus’ attitude toward sin, and a world that refuses to repent of it for the Kingdom.

6. Jesus Was Loving and Intolerant

Jesus lived in a Roman world that prided itself in the so-called “tolerance” of others. You could see this tolerance most clearly displayed in the Pantheon—a sanctuary of religious tolerance—that housed all of the gods of empire.

Rome boasted that it was the land of the free. There was freedom to celebrate religious and cultural diversity. As long as people played the system, followed the rules, and habitually pledged their allegiance to Caesar, they could live a relatively peaceful life—reaping benefits of empire.

While tolerance never made it to any written list of cardinal virtues, it was expected of every good citizen. Be tolerant in so much as the Roman way is protected and preserved. Rome defined tolerance and guarded it by force.

But the limits of this tolerance would become visible if and when someone threatened the Pax Romana (peace of Rome)—the Roman way of life. They would surely suffer Roman ridicule and violence, even a Roman cross.

Whether it be in ancient or modern times, a rejection or intolerance of societal norms is seen as ignorance and bigotry. The world’s tolerance ultimately requires that the only standard be no standard at all.

“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” G.K. Chesterton

It is good to be informed about differing opinions and respectful of another person’s point of view, but the tolerance of the world goes further by denying a fundamental basis for truth. It scoffs at objective truth claims.

It’s an old question. “What is truth?” Pilate asked Jesus (Jn 18:38). A few chapters earlier, Jesus said this to his disciple Thomas:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 NIV

In the original Greek, the words of Jesus are emphatic on himself being the way, the truth, and the life. It should read like this: “I MYSELF am the way, the truth, and the life” (εγω ειμι η οδος και η αληθεια και η ζωη).

This exclusive claim is anything but tolerant, according to the way the world defines tolerance. It is this very claim of Jesus that the early Christians upheld when they said they belonged to “The Way” of Christ (Acts 9:2).

It is no wonder that Christianity could not be tolerated by Rome. Seen through the eyes of a Roman, Jesus and his followers were intolerant, hateful bigots, and a subversive threat to a “civilized” society.

Jesus made an exclusive claim to be the only way to God. It’s the sort of thing you would expect from a guy that believes he is God in the flesh.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Jesus uses his authority to speak on the destructive nature of sin as human disfunction which misses the mark of God’s holy design. Sin distorts the image of God within the individual and breaks community with God and others. It’s a misuse of human energies.

“In a world that has lost a sense of sin, one sin remains: Thou shalt not make people feel guilty (except, of course, about making people feel guilty). In other words, the only sin today is to call something a sin.”  Christopher West

Jesus, the sinless savior, loved sinners (Matt 9:13; Rom 5:8). He saw the world before him being held captive by sin and the devil (Mk 10:45). Because of this he loved the most wretched of sinners and treated them as victims. He didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it (Jn 3:16-17).

“Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.” Luke 5:31-32 MSG

Out of this love Jesus was motivated to confront sin at work in people. Jesus heals the sick and says things like, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (Jn 5:14b NIV). This willingness to call out sin was not like that of the self-righteous, law-loving Pharisees. Jesus means to redeem.

Recall the story of the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11).

The religious leaders bring the frightened woman to Jesus. They want to know if he will follow the letter of the Law and stone her to death. Jesus writes something cryptic in the sand, causing all of those ready to execute her to drop their stones and leave. He says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (v.7). BOOM!

Pay careful attention to what Jesus says next.

“Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” Jn 8:10-11 NLT

Jesus rebukes those who are self-rightous, and he reveals that his followers are to get down in the dirt with people. You open the sinner’s heart with God’s merciful love, so that repentance may give way to new life.

Jesus is showing the way to repentance for all who desire the Kingdom.

Jesus was no legalistic Pharisee. But he also wasn’t a libertine either.

According to Jesus, freedom isn’t about doing whatever you want, or even living in a society that does what it pleases. Instead, Jesus lived and taught that the gospel of the Kingdom is that salvation is received by grace, actualized through faith, and worked out in obedience to his commands.

True freedom is found in the cruciformed-looking Kingdom of Christ. It’s the new world God is shaping. And he’s doing it one disciple at a time.

If you’re going to follow Jesus, you need to know that the world doesn’t tolerate those who are intolerant of the Zeitgeist (spirit of the age), whose real leader is Satan himself (Jn 12:31; 16:10-12; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 6:12).

Jesus-followers should speak the truth and act in love for the sake of reconciliation and redemption. Like Jesus, we are willfully intolerant of the world system, because some things are just stupid and sinful.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Read the final post:  7. Jesus Revealed the New Way to be Human.


Jesus, Lover of My Soul

“While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” Mark 14:3

I’m not gonna lie to you.  There are things that I just don’t like about the way in which the Lord works with us.  In time, I do see the wisdom and the genius in it, but I have yet to grow accustom to the periods in life where the Lord is breaking you like the woman’s alabaster jar.  It does help to remember the breaking is for Jesus.

Maybe you’re like me.  I keep thinking about what’s in the jar… and the aroma that will fill the room.  I like those moments.  I often find myself trying to skip to the “good stuff”… wanting to leave the jar the way it is.  But the Lord is concerned with the process of breaking vessels.

If you’re looking for a big theological word… it’s called “sanctification.”  It’s being continually fashioned into His holy image.  For He knows the aroma is the reward of a willing piece of clay.  He is that aroma.  And His fragrance comes only through a crushing blow to our souls.

I have been giving this a great deal of thought.  I think the nature of this process is interwoven into the very fabric of the Triune God.  I don’t know what all that means yet.  Nevertheless, I do believe that it is somehow rooted in the community shared by the Trinity.  The Lord of heaven knows about self-denial.

Yes, the Lord must grow us up into His image through self-sacrifice.  It is what exists between the Father, Son, and Spirit.  Without a continual denying of self, the believer will not be fashioned into His image, nor can he be built together with other living stones.

The sweetness of the sacrifice will never come unless there is a willing disciple who is broken and spilled out.  The Potter makes us and therefore has the right to break us.  And that breaking can only bring forth a glorious display of His beauty IF we will surrender our constant obsession with self and learn the altruistic faith that unlocks the depths and riches of Christ.

I’m learning that I can give up my desire for control and hand the reins of my life to Christ.  He has relieved me from my post of being the watchman of my own soul.  You know what I’m talking about?  You know… that feeling when fear and uncertainty set in. It causes us to scramble.  It says, “I’ve got to do something!”

“For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against my enemies.”  Psalm 61:3

If I can only remember the Lord is not only the watchman of my soul… He is the watchtower.  I climb the stairs of this tower… I see the Lord there… and he reminds me that He has indeed relieved me of my burden.  I’m not the captain of my soul.  I’m not the “master of my fate.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The command of Jesus is hard, unutterably hard, for those who try to resist it. But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy and the burden is light.”  (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 37.)

I guess it’s just really difficult to grasp.  Lord, did you really mean your “yoke is easy” and your “burden is light”?  Have you really taken care of all my needs in one sweeping victory?  Will you cloth me like the flowers of the field?  Is your well really that deep?  Living water?  Lord!  Help me to receive it!

Jesus said, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” And I cry out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24)

So… I start my descent back down the tower… taking what the Lord has shown me.  He knows I’ll be back soon.  And He never grows tired of my coming.  He never grows weary of reminding me how much He loves me.

It reminds me of the movie 50 First Dates (2004).  Lucy (Drew Barrymore) was involved in an accident that caused her to forget everything about her life.  She could be reminded of who she was, but after she slept during the night, she forgot it all and was back to square one.  (The movie is worth watching… check it out.)

Henry (Adam Sandler) loved her so deeply.  He decided that he would make a video for Lucy to wake up to every single day.  The video would remind her of who she was, where she was, who loved her, and whom it was that she loved.  Henry was committed to having his bride fall in love with him all over again… each and every day.

Henry reminds me of the Lord.

This truly is the greatest mystery to me: the Lord’s ability to bring life out of death; an empty tomb after a bloody cross; a new man from the mud and mire of a self-centered existence.  And He does it over and over again… new creation breaking through the old.

There is not a word in my vocabulary to describe the creative power and foolish magnificence of my Jesus.  And no matter how often we forget it… the Lord is patient and his mercies are new every morning.  He is glad to begin again with us.

Things move much slower in the Lord’s economy.  Not only is the Lord slow, as we consider slowness, but His way is foolish.  He moves when we sit.  When we are weak, He is strong.  When we fall, He rises up.  When we stop, he starts.  When we die, He lives.  Are you getting the picture yet?

“Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”  Psalm 127:1

So… relax.  Stop trying to make something happen in your life and in the church.  Let go!  Enjoy the Lord where you are… in the season He has you.  He loves you.  Trust that He will work it out.  Believe He will bring it to pass.  Turn from your own thinking.

See the Lord there in the tower of your soul.  He’s watching.  He’s got you covered.  Every morning He’s there… telling you who you are in Him and that He loves you all over again.  Brothers and sisters, receive it.

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”  The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” Lamentations 3:22-26


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