Beauty

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by Jeff Foerster

Reading in the book of Exodus I came upon preparations for the tabernacle: tools and implements, rings and curtains, tables and altars. Intricate instruction and specific detail laid out by the Lord, to Moses, for its construction and operation. In the midst of this I found, “You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.”

I was caught by the latter half. I read on, but it wasn’t finished with me. By the end of chapter 28 there it was again: “…for glory and for beauty.” Like the knockout punch in a bare-knuckle brawl, I couldn’t shake off its effect. Beauty. Huh? In my ignorant mind most of the description read more like a manual than something befitting of that word. Why “beauty” amongst all the many details written in the book of Exodus?

True, God is concerned with glorifying Himself, and rightly so. I get this. Glory is due our great God. Mighty in power. Absolute in purity. Wholly righteous and just. Perfect in every way. But … what is this “beauty” thing? What does it do? How does it work with justification, propitiation, and expiation? How does it promote, enable, or further sanctification?

Beauty.

I sat with this for a time.

In all the grind and grit of life beauty can get lost. But beauty is as much a part of who God is as His power, His purity, His perfection. I think Moses understood this when he petitioned God: “… show me Your glory!” Moses wanted more of God. He wanted to bask in the presence of the Almighty. Moses wanted to be surrounded with God’s beauty.

I myself see God’s beauty in Revelation 3 and 4. The Lord of Heaven and Earth promises me (and you too, Christian) that I will not only be in His presence, but that I will be granted the right to sit upon the throne with Jesus! Wow!! If you don’t have in mind what this means, read Revelation 4:1-11.

Some of you see beauty through Jesus’ sacrifice in spite of the horror and shame of the cross. Look. Look deeply. Delve into the word and seek out the beauty of God.

All the bits and pieces of beauty we have around us in this life are a sampling, a precursor, a mere aroma of the glorious beauty we have in our Savior Jesus Christ. I think the Westminster Catechism gets it right when identifying the chief end of man: to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever. This, is the essence of beauty.

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The danger of ‘false conversions’

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By Larry Short

In a new book by Vince and Lori Williams, Falsified: The Danger of False Conversions, the issue of how some modern-day churches (many of them classifying themselves as “seeker-sensitive”) water-down the Gospel message is tackled. (Christian Post has a good review of this book.)

The Williamses’ thesis is that a one-sided view of conversion as simply expressing a belief in Christ, as promulgated by many churches, has led to a high number of converts who have missed the key truth that conversion also involves repentance (turning from sin, to God).

In other words, Jesus not only provides complete forgiveness from sin (available to us as we believe in His grace), but also the power to live a changed life (available to us as we cast our lot with God in dependence on His Holy Spirit).

As a child, I clearly remember being told that the way to be saved was simply to believe. Romans 10:9 was frequently quoted: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

So true. And yet, Scripture clearly indicates that there are different kinds of “belief.” There is, for instance, the kind that fallen angels have: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.” James 2:19 would seem to indicate that mere “theological” belief is not the type of belief that Paul is talking about in Romans 10:9.

But then there is the kind of belief that John the Baptist spoke about in Mark 1:15, when he said: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!

When the time comes for true conversion, wholesale change, the first step is repentance.

There is also the faith that the writer of Hebrews speaks of in chapter 11, as he recounts Old Testament heroes whose belief drove them to obey God, to seek to please God, to take risks for God. “All these people were still living by faith when they died” (verse 13). Faith wasn’t simply a theological expression of belief. It was a way of life, of changed life.

Such belief (in the good news of God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness) must be coupled with repentance. For salvation is not merely “fire insurance” designed for some life hereafter, in the sweet bye-and-bye. A biblical view of eternal life shows that it begins in the here and now. Jesus said in John 10:10, “I come that you might have life, and that more abundantly.” He wasn’t simply talking about Heaven in that verse. He was speaking of conversion, the life that He purchased, that He desires us to have, from this point onward: forgiven, free, cleansed, pure, and holy. Not just holy, but also wholly … wholly owned by God.

This is not to say that the hope for Heaven, for a life far better than the one we can have here on this fallen earth, is not a key part of the believer’s sustenance. But the “fire insurance” view of salvation, which says, “Heaven is the only thing that matters,” is as out-of-balance as its opposite, the view that God’s kingdom will only exist here on this earth. The statement that eternity begins now is true in so many ways; life after death must logically be a continuum from life before death.

A scriptural view of the saved person demands that their life bears evidence of their conversion. In John 15:16 Jesus told His disciples: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last — and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” And in Romans 7:4 Paul wrote: “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” As Jesus said, in Matthew 12:33, “A tree is recognized by its fruit.”

Many agree that “false conversions” have indeed compromised and corrupted many in our modern-day churches, causing many to live with a false sense of security, believing that they can live however they want (living for themselves rather than for Christ) here on earth since they are “guaranteed” entry into heaven. One has to wonder if Christ won’t say to such people, when they cry out, “Lord, Lord!” in the day of judgment: “Depart from Me … I never knew you!”

How about you? Do you simply “believe the right things” (theologically speaking)? Or have you truly repented of the sin that drove Christ to the cross? Have you turned away from your dead life, toward the new life that Christ offers? Does the fruit borne in your life bear evidence of the seed planted in your heart?

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Sex and evangelism

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by Stan Peterson

What do sex and evangelism have in common? When Christians bring these topics up in conversation, both tend to produce feelings of guilt, anxiety, and shame. I will save the talk on sex for a later date, but for now let’s talk evangelism. The guilt that comes from not being obedient to Jesus’ command (Matthew 28:18-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”) can be overwhelming. All I have to do is look at my life and see that I have fallen short of the glory of God in this area.

The anxiety and fear that comes with sharing our faith will lead us in one of two directions. The first direction is paralysis — our guilt paralyzes us into a passionless state in which we lose all enthusiasm to obey, for we are regarding man above God. We prostitute ourselves to comfort and grow indifferent towards God and His heart. The second way fear will manifest is through our pride when we become defensive and arrogant. We become controlling and take on an “I am right you are wrong attitude.” Statements such as, “I was persecuted for the sake of Christ” spew forth, when in all reality we should be saying, “I was a controlling jerk.”

When we allow guilt and fear to shape our lives as opposed to the Gospel, we stay in a state of distortion. Our minds are no longer being renewed by truth but are being swayed by our sinful flesh, the lies of the enemy, and the world. This often leads us into shame. Shame will destroy us by fueling the distortion of ourselves leading us into a place of bondage.

How do I break this crazy cycle of guilt, shame, and bondage brought about by my disobedience and a pattern of unhealthy thoughts? We need a miracle. We need God to reveal our rebellious hearts and kiss us with His mercy at the same time. God’s goodness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). As we embrace the truth of the gospel and receive our identity in Christ, the chains of guilt, fear, and shame are broken. By the Truth, Jesus Christ releases us into freedom, a freedom to love God in a greater capacity, a freedom to love others in a greater capacity. God’s love fills us, and as we are filled with God He spills over, touching all around us. We find ourselves loving our enemies instead of avoiding them, blessing our neighbors who curse us, doing good to those who hate us, and praying for those who spitefully use and persecute us.

Our evangelism must be based on God’s love and freedom, not on guilt. This is the only way we can fulfill the Great Commission. Evangelism is not a method to be used, or a program that can be taught, or an argument to be won. True evangelism will flow from a heart that is connected to God. This is not a duty to be performed but a privilege to be delighted in. Will you join with me on this journey? Let us together break the chains of shame! “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

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What is Lent? Should Christians observe it?

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By Larry Short

“Lent” has been a traditional Catholic/liturgical observance, but in recent times has been gaining more traction among evangelical Christians. What is it, exactly, and why is it growing in popularity?

Lent is the period of time (40 days in length, not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday (which fell this year on Feb. 22) and Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter, and the day marking Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and Last Supper, just prior to the Friday of His passion).

The day before Lent begins is known as “Shrove Tuesday,” or more commonly “Fat Tuesday,” because it is sometimes regarded as a day of feasting and celebration before the observance of Lent. Wikipedia says: “The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer — through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

As evangelical Christians I think we must guard against the idea of “penitence” or “penance,” which would say that we must undergo some sort of suffering to pay for our sins. In His death on the cross, Jesus has paid for those sins, once and for all, burying them in the deepest sea! The idea that we could possibly pay even an iota of the sin debt we owe God, ourselves, is incredibly ignorant at best and arrogantly prideful at worst.

But I think the other things on Wikipedia’s list … prayer, repentance, almsgiving (giving to the poor), and self-denial (within reason) … can all be spiritually healthy things. While only the more liturgically-oriented among Christian churches have typically formally observed Lent, a number of Christians in less liturgically-oriented churches (such as our own) have taken up the practice informally, because they have found its benefits akin to the biblical benefits of fasting, and it helps prepare one spiritually for Easter. In fact, the 40-day period associated with Lent is thought to correspond with Christ’s 40-day fast and wilderness temptation, at the beginning of His public ministry. Many Christians therefore find Lent a good time to identify with Christ and to focus on prayer and spiritual goals.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of fasting, the concept is to deprive oneself of food or some usual practice or luxury for the purpose of devotion to prayer and spiritual goals. In my life I have occasionally used fasting to sharpen my prayer focus and to demonstrate (to the Lord) seriousness in my intent to approach Him in utter dependence for His help and intervention. Jesus gave the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) to demonstrate the importance of us praying with dogged persistence and faith. In my case, I find it useful to set a specific prayer goal and commit to the Lord that I am going to deny myself something that I normally enjoy, for a period of 40 days, in order to identify with Christ in His dependence upon His Father and to communicate the seriousness of my desire for Him to hear my entreaty.

If we do fast, though, an important point is not to do so for the sake of being seen (by others) as “spiritual!” That was what the Pharisees did. Jesus says in Matthew 6 that fasting, like prayer and giving, should be done as privately as possible, directed for God to notice, not those around us! (By the way, did you ever notice that He says there: “when you fast” … just as He says “when you pray” and “when you give.” We definitely should be practicing each of these spiritual disciplines in order to be healthy!)

Speaking of health, as an aside: I also find Lent incredibly useful for setting and achieving health goals! This year, for instance, I am committing to give up foods which I enjoy but would nonetheless probably be healthier without (red meat and pork, refined starches and carb-heavy foods, sweets/desserts, cheeses, etc.) and substituting in their place healthier foods (fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, fish and poultry, whole grains). My goal is to lose 2 pounds/week and help stabilize blood sugar and blood pressure, both of which I struggle with to a certain extent due to lifestyle and heredity issues. I am also committing to exercise an hour a day, and to use this exercise time as part of my prayer focus time.

Last year I found that by reducing calories and eating healthier, along with regular exercise, helped me to lose weight and feel stronger both physically and spiritually.

(Probably something I should do all year ’round, and not just during Lent, right? Maybe someday I will have that kind of self-discipline!)

Others I know who observe Lent have found creative ways of self-denial that don’t necessarily involve food or drink. Some give up various forms of entertainment … computer games, movies, TV or listening to music. Others give up eating out at restaurants, getting a daily coffee at Starbucks, or similar things (which also helps them save money which then can be contributed to a specific spiritual purpose!). Still others give up things which have become a habit but which they don’t necessarily consider incredibly healthy, such as social media (several friends gave up Facebook last year during Lent).

And others skip the self-denial part, but instead focus on certain spiritual goals related to giving, reading, devotion, meditation, memorization, Bible study, prayer, etc.

I think an important point is that Christ would not wish us to be “legalistic” about observances such as Lent. If it helps us sharpen the focus of our relationship with Him, then great! But it shouldn’t be a negative burden or expectation that we place on ourselves or others. He came to bring us freedom from such things.

Are you celebrating Lent this year, or have you in the past? What has been your experience? I’d love to hear more, so please comment on this blog (below), or go to Elim’s Facebook site and comment on the wall associated with this “Last Word.” I am praying that if you decide to observe Lent in some fashion, either this year or in the years to come, it will be a blessing that will move your relationship with Jesus forward in big ways!

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High above Mossyrock

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by Gordy McCoy

Are you experiencing cabin fever? Do you feel the need for a road trip, despite the rising costs at the gas pumps? How about a walk in the woods that is good for your soul? Linda and I found a wonderful walk that we will never forget.

This is not an easy walk and by this I mean, it was challenging. It was challenging for a few reasons. First of all, I was recovering from my last knee and foot surgery. And then there is our short little dog, Brody, that made the trek with us. He was recovering from several surgeries from a life threatening, pit bull attack. And then there’s Linda, who was having shortness of breath from some health issues. So here we are…an unlikely trio for a walk up a hill. But we had a focus and a purpose.

The focus was what is at the top of the hill, a beautiful white cross, towering above the Mossyrock community, a symbol of love and forgiveness. We spotted it when we were traveling on highway 12 heading for Mossyrock, and we were drawn to it. We found the road that led to the base of the trail that went to the cross. We found a little Catholic mission and we went in, and although we are not Catholic, we were intrigued by the reason the cross was put there.

As this adventure progressed, we were convinced He had a reason for us to “go to the cross.” So off we went. It turned out to be a very warm day and this actually made the trek harder on us, but necessary, for Him to get His message deep into our hearts. The journey to the Cross was much harder for Him, not because of weakness, but because of the strength of His purpose. Our journey up this hill has stations where we could rest and think about His journey to the Cross. Our journey had switchbacks for us to regain strength, but there was no turning back for Him. He had a focus. We had a desire to see the cross up close, He knew what was waiting for Him on the Cross. We kept thinking how hard this journey was for Him and it added new meaning to Him dying on the Cross for us and also because of our sin. The whole time we were going up this trail we never once got even a small glimpse of the cross. We got tired, and thirsty, but we knew we had to keep going. We knew it would be worth the climb.

It wasn’t until we got to the very top …and there it was. It was so beautiful, the symbol of our salvation. We prayed and praised Him as we looked up at this pure white cross. And then, we turned around and looked at the valley below, it was an amazing mountaintop experience.

In reality and symbolically, on this journey, He has brought us so far and set our feet on the mountaintop. He wants us to realize how far He has brought us and what He has brought us thru, over our almost 42 years together. We felt invigorated and victorious, He had brought us here. He wanted us to persevere and then experience the view, the cross and His creation. We felt His love, His peace and we were so filled with encouragement. We did it! Together … with Him leading us. As we walked down the hill we kept thinking how blessed we are. So thankful for Him and His faithfulness. For His protection and healing. For His presence.

Here are a few facts about this Crosswalk we went on. The cross weighs 47,000 pounds. Yes, that’s right. It’s made from white concrete so it is white inside and out. Pure white. The cross is lit up at night …so beautiful …so visible. The trail leading up to the cross is well maintained with benches along the way to rest, and be still and know that He is God. You will find as you make this journey, a build up of emotion that overflows when you reach the top.

The cross, being a symbol of forgiveness is made up of a series of sevens. The foundation of the cross is seven feet deep and seven feet square. There are seven steps that lead to the platform and the support column is seven feet high and seven feet square, on top of which stands the cross, that from that point is 70 times seven inches, or approximately 60 feet.

Easter this year will be different for us as we take another look at THE CROSS and what it means to us. We need to realize how hard it was but He knew it would be worth it …for us. So if you get a chance to go to Mossyrock, make the journey to the top of the hill …the view is so worth it!!!

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