Agonizomai: August 2005

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fishing For People or Profit?
Luke 4:1-7 (ESV)
1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." 5 And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.

There is so much here; the fact that Jesus was preaching/teaching, fulfilling His central purpose of communicating the gospel, as indicated in the preceding verses; the eagerness of people to hear, and the power of His preaching; the flow of events in a natural way, but a way that served the predeterminate counsels of God, and which itself established facts and symbols that would encourage the saints in generations to come.

A couple of things stand out above the others. One is the fact that when the Lord uses the vessel that has been willingly provided at His behest, He will bless superabundantly. The other is that He is the blessing, and whenever there is the obedience of faith displayed in me, what I am doing is yielding the vessel of my being to the expression of the glories of His righteousness.

At this point there may be a temptation to jump right on this and to try to offer something to the Lord for the purpose of getting a blessing. And He will often honour that. But if the blessing that I am anticipating is really a veiled appeal to my flesh I miss the point entirely. In Christ God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3) It’s not about me and my desires, though God is intimately careful of my needs. (Matthew 6:24-33) My focus is not to be on anything that I want, except insofar as it is the desire to see Christ glorified through the obedience of my faith.

In this case the blessing is twofold, as it often is. First, they were real fish that were caught. They were beneficial to the livelihood of Peter, who got his income by fishing. But they were a blessing that came unbidden from the Lord in His sovereign response to a simple act of Peter yielding his vessel for the Lord’s use. Peter had no other purpose than the obedience of the moment. He had no blessing in mind.

The simple purity of this truth is humbling and breathtaking at the same time. At one stroke it undercuts the blasphemies of the word/faith and prosperity teachers who exhort millions to sow a faith seed by giving money in order to get a blessing from God. It exposes that sort of chicanery as the fruit of the pit in which it was spawned.

The second part of the blessing is quite apart from any physical considerations. It seen is in the acted parable, or the symbolism of the event. When I yield to Christ He will make me fruitful though my own labours alone can produce nothing. When He is the one working in my vessel the results will be substantial. These are fruits unrelated to my own perceived earthly wants and desires. By yielding my vessel my purpose has become His purpose, and His purpose is to save and to keep souls from the misery of hell. It is while He is doing some part of that through me that my earthly needs are met - until that time when He calls me home.

Peter and and his partners didn’t go on from this event thinking of Jesus as the One Who would continue to make their fishing enterprise profitable. They didn’t add two and two to get five. It was never about the business of fishing, but about the purposes of the God of heaven. It was about fishing for men. And they got the point. Do I?
Grace Flowing From the Throne
Douglas Wilson over at Blog and Mablog has a very succint and insightful piece called "Renewing Covenant", which descibes so much more eloquently than I ever could the Lord's sustaining grace in believers, filling and empowering them even in worship, so that He might be all in all. It's a wonderful picture of the endless flow of the gifts of His grace - from His throne to us and back again.
Quote of the Day - Aug 31/05
The highest worship of God is the preaching of His word
Martin Luther

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

What the Old Saints Knew
Some truths are more rarely put to the fore in today's evangelical climate than in the past. The exceeding sinfulness of sin, the transcendence of God and the bondage of the will are three that come to mind. Though the gospel is often watered down today it is always good when those who have fought the good fight before us, and who have since gone on to glory, remind us that we can discover nothing new . The old maxim "If it's true it's not new and if it's new it's not true" is a good approximation of Ecclesiastes 1:9.

When I read this quotation from C.H. Spurgeon over at Ingrid Schlueter's blog it was a good reminder to me of my own lack of originality. The glories of the indwelling Christ outworking through His saints have been known by all the true saints since Pentecost. They have not all described His operations in the exactly same way, but they have known the same Christ.

Though we gain knowledge of our Lord through hearing and studying the Word of God, that Word is made alive in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who forms Christ more and more completely as we grow up into Him. There is nothing wrong with this sort of experientialism. It is standard Christian fare that has been known by all the saints throughout the ages. It's just that when we think like the world we will always be falling off Luther's horse on one side or the other. Either we will fall into the coldness of knowledge for its own sake or we will spiral into sensation and feeling in the place of knowledge. Both are distortions of the truth.

Jesus Christ is the Truth. And insofar as we have any truth within us it is not simply data that abides in us, but He Who is the Truth. The Bread of Life that we read and hear is transformed into the Person of the Bread of Life in our innermost being through the obedience of our faith. He is still "coming down from heaven" as our daily bread, even today. If we would know Him more we must study Him more and press into Him via the means He has provided.

Let's not neglect the fact that it is changed hearts that yield good deeds as fruit in due season. The emptiness of so much that is done in the professing church today is the result of trying to change behaviours without hearts being renewed. No amount of work on our own part, and no amount of encouraging others to work will be of any avail unless it is wrought in Christ. When we can say with Paul that "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20) we are abiding in the truth we have learned by yielding ourselves to the Living Christ to do His work in the world through us. Abiding leads to yielding and yeilding produces fruit.

For this reason, we saints are effectually called and given a new heart in order be transformed by the renewing of our minds. And while we are undergoing this we are to be displayers and communicators to the lost world of the same Truth in us that has the power to change other hearts and minds. The old saints understood that it is only God, through His Word and His Spirit in the saint, Who can achieve anything at all. They knew and lived by these simple axioms. And they surrendered themselves to Him producing His fruit in and through their obedience. In this way all the glory is known to be His and we will be kept from thinking that it is we who stand, instead of we who are made to stand by His grace.

Sustaining Grace
Speaking of being made to stand by the grace of God - I once read an sermon by C. H. Spurgeon called "Final Perseverence", in which he quoted the lines below. They were unattributed, but I believe they are from a hymn by Charles Wesley. I have been unable to find the exact title.

See a stone that hangs in air,
See a spark in ocean live!
Kept alive with death so near,
I to God the glory give.

These words have been a blessing indeed to me. For the entire hymn, read the post below.
I Am, I Am Out of Hell
"Lord, and am I yet alive,
Not in torment, not in hell?
Still does Your good Spirit strive
With the chief of sinners dwell?
Tell it unto sinners, tell,
I am, I am out of hell!

Yes, I still lift up my eyes,
Will not of Your love despair,
Still in spite of sin I rise,
Still I bow to You in prayer.
Tell it unto sinners, tell,
I am, I am out of hell!

Oh, the length and breadth of love!
Jesus, Savior, can it be?
All Your mercy's height I prove,
All the depth is seen in me.
Tell it unto sinners, tell,
I am, I am out of hell!

See a bush that burns with fire,
Unconsumed amid the flame!
Turn aside the sight admire,
I the living wonder am.
Tell it unto sinners, tell,
I am, I am out of hell!

See a stone that hangs in air,
See a spark in ocean live!
Kept alive with death so near,
I to God the glory give.
Ever tell- to sinners tell,
I am, I am out of hell!"

C. Wesley?

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Spirit Working in the Body
James Spurgeon (Howling Coyote) posted an interesting piece called "Alien Righteousness" on his blog on August 26/2005. He captures for me the simple truth that we stand not in our own righteousness, but in that of the Lord our God and Saviour. It is particulary encouraging when a brother in the Lord, indwelt by the same Spirit of Truth, is led to express that truth in ways that have spoken already to my own heart.

Several years ago it was laid on my heart to pen a similar piece called "The Prayer of a Righteous Man". At the time I wondered, "Am I on the right track? Have I gone awry in this area? Is this really what the Spirit is saying in the Word?" But when God shows that He has moved in the heart of another saint to show him the same truth then my heart is lifted up for joy. For it is at that moment that I recognize Who it is in us both, witnessing to Himself. Wonder of wonders, for truly all things are from Him and through Him and to Him. It is good to glimpse this, if only for a moment.

For those who are interested, my own piece follows below this post.
The Prayer of a Righteous Man
The Only Righteous Man, Praying

What a wonderful book James is! And how often I have misunderstood it. The only real comfort for me in that is that I am not alone. I am reminded of Martin Luther – "father" of the Reformation – who was tempted to think it ought to be expunged from the canon.

In Luther’s case it's understandable, even if not excusable. A man who was given light to grasp the long-suppressed truth that we are saved by grace alone is apt to get a bit of indigestion over something that promotes the need for doing good deeds. God bless him. In the clearer light of another day he would surely have come to the conclusion that the book of James is all about fruit, and not about works of themselves.

Good works are the fruit of the work of grace in people’s hearts. And the work of grace is entirely the bailiwick of God. Good works come not from doing, but from abiding in Him Who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think. Luther knew it, but he was never quite able to see it in James.

It strikes me that a similar misapprehension surrounds prayer. We tend to think of prayer as something we do of ourselves. At first glance why wouldn’t we? Jesus Himself said, "When you pray…".
(Luke 11:2) There is no shortage of examples and parables from both testaments in which all sorts of people prayed. They prayed earnestly, urgently, faithfully, hopefully, fearfully – according to their need and circumstance. Many of us can just accept that knowledge and rest in it. But the grace of Jesus Christ has opened up the door to a deeper participation in the Divine Mind.

It was James himself who said, under Divine inspiration, "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." But first I would want to find me a righteous man. Where is there one to be found, since all have sinned and come short of the glory of God? If we have all gone astray and turned every one to our own way then where is there any righteous?

I think most of us who know the Lord can come to the understanding that we stand not in our own righteousness, but in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by the grace of God in Him. But if so, then by what right do we seek to own it? It is not ours to own, but Another’s. It is indeed given to us freely, but only so that we may continually – in fact eternally – be acknowledging that it is His. It is the most blessed, uplifting, praiseworthy thing to be found adoring God for His attributes, especially when He chooses to display them in us.

We look outward. We don’t look inward. And, even if our eyes do momentarily stray to ourselves we are not gazing upon our righteousness. Wherever we see righteousness, especially if we see it in us, then we must know that it is Christ we see and not us at all. We are inseparable from His righteouness. But it is always His in our eyes.

A man once knelt before Jesus and addresses Him as "Good teacher." Jesus replied ""Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone."
(Mark 10:18) Let that sink in for a while. Has it changed since then? When Jesus died and when we believed did we become good? Or is there still only One Who is good – that being God alone? And, if so, then what does it mean for we who are in Him?

I think it means that goodness is not imparted to us and left there like a lump for us to pick up and play with whenever we want. Goodness is the Person of Christ, to Whom we were betrothed through His cross, if we believe. We are now vessels of His goodness, being sanctified and emptied of all that evil "goodness" of our own that we had concocted in His absence. Things we invented in order to justify ourselves, or to rationalize our existence. When God looks upon us He sees the righteousness of Christ, not us. "For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing."
(2Corinthians 2:15)

So when God promises to hear the prayer of a righteous man, when He promises that it will have great effect, then I am reminded of the Father who always hears the prayer of the Son.
(John 11:42) For the only righteous man Who ever lived we crucified. And it is because God resurrected Him that He now lives in us, through the Spirit, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

The prayer of that Righteous Man – the only righteous man – is the one that God hears in us. Prayers originating in ourselves – in the flesh, in the old man – such prayers are of no avail. Prayers originating in Christ – in the Spirit, in the new man (which is Christ in us) – such prayers are the ones that have "great power in their effects." Such prayer is God Himself at work in us, aligning us to His will so that we are praying as Christ is praying in us by the Spirit.

Oh that I could finally and fully surrender to that sublime realization that He fills all in all – that it is He Who does all - and that mine is merely to watch and wonder while I bow down and adore Him at work in and through my surrendered being.

Why Agonizomai?

Jacob WrestlingThe origin of the word is found in the culture of the citizen state of Sparta. Those infant males who were permitted to live after birth were separated from their families at the age of 7 and put into warrior training in the wilderness under an experienced mentor. One of the exercises pitted two boys against each other in a contest called the "agon". They were stripped bare, slathered with oil and required to wrestle to the point of utter exhaustion in the broiling Mediterranean sun. We derive our word "agony" from the name of this ritual.

In the Koine Greek of the New Testament, the derivative word "agonizomai" means "to strive, to fight, to labour fervently". It is an apt word for the call to the Christian life. We are exhorted to sell all that we have and buy the field in which we have discovered buried treasure. We are told to count the cost of discipleship. We are commanded to lose our lives for Christ's sake and the gospel, so that we may find eternal life. We are exhorted...

"Strive (Greek = agonizomai pronounced ag-o-nid'-zom-a-hee) to enter through the narrow door, for many will seek to enter and will not be able." (Luke 13:24)

But Christian striving, arduous as it may be, is not the same as worldly striving. The unsaved man strives in order to effect a result which will add to himself - value, worth, acceptability, riches, acclaim and so forth. We Christians labour in order get out of the way of what has already been added to us. We strive to abide in the Person who will effect results in and through us. We fight by God's grace to remove from ourselves every obstacle to the Lordship and life of Christ in our own being. These obstacles are manifested in the wrong ideas and tendencies of the old man - a twisted and false perception of reality invented by our Christless selves. This old man - this corpse - is left chained to our new man in Christ so that we will desire to see Christ in us, rather than to see what we have been. We learn to hate the stench of sin in ourselves and to yearn for the sweet purity of Christ to fill us more and more. We want to see Him in our innermost being, to see Him at work through us in His world, and for Him to be seen by others in our place.

Though it is an inward battle, the fruits of our progress are also manifested in outward things. Attitudes, speech and deeds flow from the heart, as the Lord said. People will see fruit of the growing life and Lordship of Christ in us. The fruit is not to be confused with mere works. True outward holiness is the inevitable result of progress in the inner battle. When this battle is being won, the actual manifestation of fruit is effortless, one might even say even unconscious. It is reflexive. It flows from Christ in us. And it is He that people will see. Just as He conquered sin and death upon His cross so He will reveal that victory in us. All we need to do is to die when we are already dead. And our struggle, our striving, our agonizomai is to do just that. And then to battle to keep that corpse dead, because it is nothing if not stubborn. As we put to death the deeds of the body, so the life of the risen Christ will be manifested through our obedience.

In view of all this, it is small wonder that the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. For which of us in the natural state would see past the oxymorons of striving to be still - of dying in order to live - of descending in order to rise - of being humbled in order to be exalted - of losing all in order to gain eternity? Yet we know that we are discarding rubbish in exchange for riches. Christ is our treasure in heaven. He is our reward, of which we have the down-payment now in the Holy Spirit. Not only is He these things, but He is also our Way and our Life. He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. He is our righteousness, our glory, our Lord and our God - to Whom be all honour and glory and blessing and power forever.

This site is dedicated to encouraging God's people in the struggle to "be still and know that He is God". It will contain material that is more devotional than theological. I am a layman, not a minister. There may also be opinion, mysticism, poor hermeneutics (though not deliberately so), polemics and very little that would pass for the practical. Some academics and proper theologians might shift uncomfortably in their seats, if they bother to read any of this at all. Some may cry "Pietism" or even "Quietism". Arminians may be offended by the emphasis on God's sovereignty. Calvinists may be turned off by the mystical elements. Theonomists may be disappointed by the impractical nature of it all. Charismatics or Emergents may find it all too "doctrinal". But for right or wrong this is where Christ has brought me so far in my pilgrimage.

In short, this is a blog mainly about the inner life. It does not deny that there are other aspects of the Christian call pertaining to the personal outworking of that inner life. Some of the links given in the blogroll and elsewhere are included so that the reader might see the way that Christ, in the heart of His saints, is working out into the world. We can be sure that, wherever He truly is seen, the soil will have been ploughed deeply so that the seed may grow.

So, wherever you are coming from, feel free to exhort, rebuke, reprove, guide, correct and teach me. Only be civil and gracious, and let His light shine in you.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Luke 1:18-20
Blamelessness in God's Sight is Not the Same as Being Blameless in Our Walk

Luke 1: 18 - 20 (ESV)

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

Zechariah's enforced silence will prevent him from expressing doubts and thus deliver him from further hindrance to the testimony of John. Imagine if he had exited the temple in a spirit of unbelief, expressing that disbelief to others. How much more discipline would Zechariah have brought upon himself then?

Application: God’s judgment for a believer (one blameless in His sight, but not utterly experientially holy) is a chastening of love leading to repentance. It exhorts against further error and shows the correct way. We are never so holy that we are above the chastening of God.