Life on the Altar: The Life We Are Called to Live (LOTA) is now available! A year ago I began a series of blogs entitled, “Life on the Altar,” and I shared that I would be putting these posts into a book in the summer and fall of 2021. I am thankful to announce that the book has come together by God’s grace, and I pray for His glory.
I will be promoting the book in the coming weeks. I hope you will consider reading it and passing it on to others. Also, If you are able to leave a favorable review on Amazon, I would appreciate that as well. Thank you friends for your support during the writing process. I believe strongly in the message of this book and pray that it will be a rich blessing to you.
I want to thank those readers who have followed Drawing Near in 2021. In the last six months, I have laid the groundwork for a book that has been on my mind for some time. The preliminary title is “Life on the Altar: The Life We Are Called to Live.” The theme comes from Paul’s application of the gospel in Romans 12. Following his systematic presentation of the Good News in Romans 1-11, Paul pivots in Romans 12 to begin answering how we are to live as followers of Christ.
Driven by the commands and exhortations of Romans 12, my prayer is to offer a fresh look at a basic command for the Christian. In a time of confusion and chaos across the cultural and evangelical landscape, I hope to bring a simple word for a confused time as we think of what it means to present ourselves to God and live in the obedience of faith.
The Elders of FBCG have given me the month of July to hopefully finish the work. I have begun the writing leave, partially this week ,and in earnest on Monday. It is a thrilling and exhausting experience, and I would appreciate your prayers for the time of July 5 and August 2. I’ll keep you posted.
A Podcast on “The Meaning of America”
RecentIy I have been tuning into the podcast, Life and Books and Everything. This week one of the hosts, Kevin DeYoung, offered a very helpful analysis of how we should view the dual citizenship believers have in this world. How are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20,21) to understand their citizenship in the United States of America?
As we approach the 4th of July tomorrow, I found this podcast valuable for several reasons:
In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Pain has a way of getting our attention like nothing else. Indeed, it is a megaphone that awakens us to difficult realities of life: the death of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, the shattering of marriage vows, the collapse of a nation, the trauma of violent crime, the devastation of natural disasters, and thousands of other heartbreaks that fill this groaning planet. We don’t have to look far to find suffering and we can be sure that one day pain will come knocking at our door.
Gratefully, the hope found in God’s word has not left us in the lurch regarding the suffering of this life. We find in Scripture that suffering is promised, and we also find precious assurances that God is with us through it all. The psalmist declared with confidence, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
The whole prospect of following Jesus Christ is a call to die. Life on the altar as we have seen in this series is a picture of dying to self for the sake of God’s Kingdom agenda. In yet another paradox, our dying to self, our presenting ourselves to God as living sacrifices, becomes the pathway by which we truly live as God intended. This life in Christ brings not only promised joy and peace, but continues on forever and ever. This eternal perspective becomes the ballast that keeps us steadied in times of pain.
World Magazine shared the story of Ernesta Wood several years ago which captures the beauty of multi-generational faithfulness to the gospel. Wood, who at the time of the article was 88 years old, displayed “photos of her 53 descendants, nearly all Christians. Once a week for the past 16 years, she has sent them letters—777 in all…filled with stories.” Some of her accounts are dramatic:
Her blind grandmother miraculously saw Wood’s grandfather minutes before he died. Other stories cultivate a sense of God’s presence in less dramatic moments: Once, her parents’ pet birds escaped but returned to their cage before dark, just as her mother had prayed. Another letter told of how Wood stayed safe and her car remained intact as she was driving 65 mph down the highway without realizing she had a flat tire.
The letters testify about tragedies as well. Wood’s first husband, Clyde, was a pastor and a pilot in training. He died in a plane crash when he was 54. Wood remembers sending her children to school that morning and praying, ‘Lord, help us to accept whatever happens to us today as from your hands.’ Then came a phone call: The plane was down, and one of the pilot’s legs had burned. She assumed the other pilot was hurt and drove to the hospital to pick up her husband. There she learned he was dead. Wood stayed calm and wrote about the comfort of knowing her early morning prayer had been answered amid the family tragedy.
After her husband’s death, Wood moved in with her parents, then traveled as a teacher with the Jesus Film Project. She lived in Russia for a year and wrote to her grandchildren that the exact amount of money needed for her to live overseas that year, $27,000, miraculously came the day it was due. She wrote about new converts, prayers answered, and joy. Wood also visited Mongolia, Cambodia, South Africa, Croatia, and other countries. She hated flying, especially after her husband’s death, but she embraced the adventures and chronicled stories of God’s worldwide work.
In 2007, Wood, then 76, married Cliff Wood, 80, five months after their first date. More than 700 guests attended their wedding, and two grandsons served as the officiating pastors….While giving a tour of the grandchildren’s photos hanging on the walls, Wood laughs at a photo of her and Cliff, two octogenarians, rolling by the White House on Segways. She remembers blowing past another elderly lady in a wheelchair who shouted, ‘You go, girl!’ That could be Wood’s refrain, as each of her weekly letters quotes Psalm 118:17: ‘I will not die, but live, and tell of the works of the Lord.’”
Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp have written a helpful book entitled Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. In one of their chapters, they ask the question, “Why bother?” Of course, they are asking, “Why bother with relationships at all in light of how they are often painful and troubling?” Lane and Tripp argue strongly, and biblically, that instead of calling for a détente on all relationships, we should see them from this perspective:
“God wants to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we would see our need for a relationship with him as well as with others. Every painful thing we experience in relationships is meant to remind us of our need for him. And every good thing we experience is meant to be a metaphor of what we can only find in him.”
Not only do we have to deal regularly with our own sinful attitudes and tendencies, which makes life hard, but we have to work through painful relationships in the course of living our life as a follower of Christ.
God’s plan is not to avoid problems, but to work through them by his grace and for his glory. The relationships in a local church become the training ground for all believers to learn to love as Christ loves us (Ephesians 4:31,32). We are prone to speak in generalities about loving others. We prefer to love people from afar where they can’t mess up our comforts and preferences. Truth be known, the following describes us well,
“To dwell above with the saints we love, Oh that will be glory;But to dwell below with the saints we know, Well, that is another story!“
One of the great promises of God is that he will never leave or forsake his blood-bought people. This promise was fulfilled in part by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and through the indwelling Holy Spirit, God’s presence is in us and with us…always.
The New Testament presents many times over the importance of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of the church. Beginning with regeneration, believers are baptized by the Spirit. We are command to walk by the Spirit in our pursuit of an obedient life before God. Believers are called to be filled with the Holy Spirit which is commanded in a tense that communicates a continual being carried along by the Spirit. In Galatians 5, the fruit of the spirit is presented by the apostle Paul as the fragrance that should come from the believer’s life as opposed to the deeds of the flesh.
In addition to these different aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry, the apostle Paul spent considerable effort to instruct the church on spiritual gifts. The New Testament records five instances in which spiritual gifts are listed. The lists are varied with nineteen gifts mentioned in all, and sometimes different words are used to describe the same gift as with serving and helping. We come to one of the lists of spiritual gifts in Romans 12:6-8, the text reads:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Paul wrote to challenge believers to use their spiritual gifts with urgency and purpose. Sadly, many are like the disciples in Acts 19 who responded to Paul’s question about the Holy Spirit by saying, “We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Their ignorance was honest as they were experiencing the transition from the old covenant to the new covenant without the aid of the New Testament. They needed to be taught what God had done through Christ and Pentecost. Twenty-one centuries removed we are living at a time, to quote Martin Luther, where “the Spirit and the gifts are ours.” Life on the altar is lived in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit as we use the gifts and talents God has given to us. This is an informed spirituality. God wants us to know how he has gifted us for his kingdom work. The bestowal of spiritual gifts are divine enablements for the task at hand. They are gifts for the journey.
Some of the most comforting promises in the New Testament are those that refer to the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of the believer. My thoughts immediately go to the Upper Room and Jesus’ parting words to the disciples. After the shock and awe of his announced departure, Jesus said to them, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” Jesus pledged that he would not leave his disciples as orphans. With his departure “another Helper” would come who would be like him in supplying everything needed to obey his commission. As we can imagine, this was a difficult teaching for the twelve. How would this happen?
Then came Pentecost, and the Spirit of the living God was given to the church. The disciples then began to understand that God did not dwell in a building made with hands, but the living God dwelt within every believer, just as Christ had promised. In Paul’s letters, he would emphasize the seal of the Spirit on the believer’s life and that “anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” Through the saving work of Christ, the new covenant established that God’s law would not be written on tablets of stone, but on the heart of the believer. The prophet Ezekiel referenced the new covenant with great hope as he declared the word of the Lord:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
The Spirit’s Power for Altar Living
I’m drawn to this important doctrine because the Holy Spirit’s power is essential to presenting ourselves to God as living sacrifices. Life on the altar is not empowered by human grit but by the Holy Spirit. I believe we could include the beautiful ministry of the Spirit in Paul’s reference to the “mercies of God” in Romans 12:1.
I remember well my first year at the University of Kentucky walking through the free speech area and hearing a woman with a high shrill voice waxing eloquent in open air. I remember her name was “Sister Cindy,” and she was quite skilled in enumerating the sexual sins of college co-eds. Her voice took me back to a childhood memory of a neighborhood mom who would yell at her son early in the morning to get the trash to curb before the garbage truck passed.
Sister Cindy in the free speech area was a first for me, and certainly she was an aberration. Indeed, there are many gifted women in the Body of Christ who teach with great skill and because of that, coupled with cultural pressures, the last thirty years has seen a steamroller movement in the evangelical community to usher women into the role of pastor. This month Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in the Southern Baptist Convention with 53,000 members, ordained three women into pastoral ministry. In many streams of the evangelical community, women are encouraged to pursue such roles, and a number of women hold prominent, global preaching ministries.
As a convention, Southern Baptists have taken a stand on this issue in our statement of faith (Baptist Faith & Message 2000) which reads that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” This conviction flows from the biblical text which we believe to be foundational for our faith and practice.
In 2007, I made some interesting discoveries in preparing for our church’s 100th year anniversary celebration. I learned that our local body, the First Baptist Church of Gonzales, Louisiana, was constituted around the same time as the following companies: Harley Davidson, United Parcel Service (UPS), Blue Bell, Walgreens, and Kellogg’s. In thinking about our local congregation of a few hundred compared to these corporate giants, I was taken by both the contrast of size and purpose between us. These corporate giants have massive resources for the communication and sale of their products, while our little congregation operates on a meager budget comparatively.
However, God’s work is done in this world not by might, nor by political power, but through the empower of the Holy Spirit. The church is charged with declaring and living the message of grace found in Jesus Christ, and we trace our roots to the gospel movement recorded in the New Testament over two thousand years ago. Jesus’ parting words to the disciples was to go into all the world and proclaim this good news. Every church is given that honor, and this mission is given with God’s promised success.
I once read that pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig. We display pride and its viscous foliage with little effort. In other words, we don’t have to work hard for pride to be manifested in our lives. Even noble and good things can become soured by this pernicious sin. Pride flows freely from our fallen hearts and tracing its roots is not difficult. All we need to do is look back to Eden where Adam and Eve took of the forbidden fruit and catapulted the human family into the misery of this fallen world. Since then, we all contribute to the groaning of this creation, and that in large measure comes from the sin of pride in our lives.
Throughout Scripture, God is on record with what he thinks about pride. In the book of Proverbs, we read that God abominates “haughty eyes,” and we are warned that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Jesus taught that it was “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” The apostle James asserted that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The word “opposes” describes God’s ongoing hatred and opposition to pride. The apostle John referenced the “the boastful pride of life” in his warning to believers against loving this present world system.
What makes pride so elusive is how easily it flows into everything. Pride is a stealth sin that can fly under the radar and wreak havoc before we identify it. With such a formidable struggle before each of us, what hope do we have of putting off pride and putting on humility? Thankfully, the counsel of God’s word is not silent on how we can recognize pride. God has given means of grace, holy habits, that we are to pursue in our lives.