The Balance Beam

August 24, 2008

I was watching women’s gymnastics in the 2008 Olympics and more specifically, the balance beam. I still consider myself somewhat of a novice when it comes to what is good and what isn’t on the beam. For example, the commentators, who typically are seasoned gymnasts, make known every tiny mistake that is made, whether I see it or not.

China started off on the beam. Everything looked ok; smooth and enjoyable to watch. It looked as if it was easy and that most anyone can do it with enough practice. It appeared to be an unimaginable virtual world as I glanced in the background of what the high definition camera captured. Thousands of people were glaring at one person, sliding, twisting, jumping and flipping on a four inch wide beam. As the difficulty level rose, so did my adrenaline by trying to picture myself on that beam. I could even feel my palms begin to get clammy with each twist and turn.

The first girl made a few mistakes that I did not necessarily notice until the commentator said, “You see she had a balance check, there; that’s a deduction.” Apparently a “balance check” is when, at any point, the gymnast adjusts their balance during a move or in transition. In many cases, it may represent a slight leaning, extra pause or the most obvious, falling completely off the beam (which I’m assuming is simply a fall, since they are only “checking” the floor). They deduct points with each of these seemingly trivial mistakes that continually frustrated me, the viewer. The problem that I had with these deductions is that each one of them was verbalized by the commentators so that millions of people know that, “she had a balance check” or “she missed the third flip on that turn.” Very few people would know that any of these things happen, unless they fall off the beam or don’t stick the landing. Probably the only reason I am frustrated, is in my selfishness, knowing that I most likely could not even walk across that beam without having a “balance check.” These girls are doing flip twists, using hands and feet along with intricate balancing techniques, not including the dismount, which I will never be able to do for the rest of my life. And if they make a slight slip or movement not in the original routine, it is brought to the attention of millions in a matter of seconds. Tyranny.

I tried to imagine if God were the same way about my sin. After watching a ‘Mark Driscoll’ sermon last week, an illustration he used penetrated my mind regarding the forgiveness of sins. He stated, “Imagine if God sent you a statement each month of all the sins you committed.” I thought about that sermon as I watched the balance beam event in the Olympic women’s gymnastics. Each move or slight deviation from perfection is clearly a deduction, and frowned upon. Justifiably so, our sins are the same in the eyes of God. Sin is defined as “missing the mark.” We all miss the mark everyday and in more ways than we even realize. If we are not morally perfect, i.e. perfectly fulfilling the Ten Commandments all the time in thought and deed, then we are missing the mark. So God, in His divine justice and righteousness, could remind us just how short we have fallen from His infinite Glory by sending in monthly sin statements. But we are clearly reminded of our fallen nature by our own conscience, His Spirit and His Word. For God says,

“Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations.”
Ezekiel 36:31

If the judges of the balance beam are just, then they will deduct anything that falls short of a perfect routine. In the same way, because God is just, He must punish anything short of His righteousness and glory, i.e. sin and rebellion. His very name is at stake. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord,” says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.”
Ezekiel 36:23
The obvious difference in the judgment between gymnast judges and God is that man is fallen and fallible, tainted with sin. A man’s observance of a gymnast on a balance beam may or may not result in a deduction. It is a glorified opinion. All faculties of judgment, visual observations and rationale are a mere creation of God (among all things). Yet our sin distorts and perverts everything that may seem perfect or may possibly be perfect from our sight. In other words, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect score’ on this earth because every one of us is fallen and rebellious. Even in the Olympics, the standard in which we are judged is indeed, another man. All world records are set and broken by sinful man. We have made ourselves our own standard; that way we never fall short because man’s ways are good in his own eyes.

In the spiritual realm, the only standard is absolute moral perfection. The standard is to be exactly the way that God declares Himself to be in His Word. It is a command. Anything less is infinite rebellion and deserving of infinite punishment because He is just and His very name is at stake. There is not a possibility that God will ‘miss’ a sin as if He were a judge for the Olympic gymnastics. He sees all, knows all, decrees all and judges all in His righteousness.

“Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.”
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

As each gymnast steps on the balance beam, the performance of the act is subject to the strictest judgment that the very experienced human judges can offer. But, even the greatest judgment offered by man is fallible. It falls infinitely short of what a true righteous judgment is because the standard is finite and fallen. This is why the Olympic Games are perilous, mundane and worthless in the eyes of God [for those who do if for their own glory] because it consists of man glorying in himself by judging himself according to his own standards. The greatest athletes in this world are glorified and seen as great because of his accomplishments in the eyes of man.

Anything other than the demonstration of perfect faith and righteousness according to the law is infinite blasphemy in the eyes of God and makes a mockery of His Name. Therefore, any judgment according to man is irrelevant to the judgment of God and His ordained precepts. In this perfect decree, the illumination and preciousness in the shining forth of the Father’s Glory is represented in none other than the perfect Supreme Being, Jesus Christ.

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, his in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the world of His power, when he had Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”
Hebrews 1:1-4
Because Christ is the exact representation of the Father or, in His being, the visible image of the invisible God, the only satisfaction that is even possible to the Father, the Creator of Heaven and Earth and ultimate judge, is the righteousness of His Son. It is infinitely important to realize the standard in which we are judged. We are judged in accordance to the Law or according to the exact righteousness of the Father. The treasure of the Triune Covenant lies in perfect righteousness, love and harmony as the Father glorifies the Son and the Son glorifies the Father. It pleased God to bruise His Son in that Christ Himself upholds all things by the word of His power, and having purged our sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3). This perfectly glorifies and satisfies the Father in the Supreme exactness of His Son. The standard is to be exactly like God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Because God’s Name is so glorious, His infinite love is proved in the sacrifice of His Son. Although He is perfectly just in punishing all sin by sending every sinner to hell because His name is so beautiful and Holy, His perfect decree and covenant was to incarnate this righteousness in Christ. During this incarnation, the consecration from the Son to the Father represented the perfection in the form of a Divine Man, i.e. God in the flesh. Since the death of man is caused from his own sin, the only true gift that any man can ever receive is eternal life through Christ. The only true gift man can receive is God giving Himself to man, by the death of His Son.

“And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation. But the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”

Romans 5:16:17

The Olympics are enjoyable to watch. But, injustice is seen all over the screen as flaring opinions launch into the air about what is just and what isn’t. Each race, dive, routine or game is judged according to the standard of a rebellious soul. Although God is indeed completely good and Sovereign over all these things, the real judgment is to come. The true judgment is on how we treat one another or speak to one another. The true judgment is according to our deeds in convergence to the God [god] that we serve.

“And as it is appoint for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” Hebrews 9:7-28

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Count it all Joy

August 14, 2008

“My Brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” James 1:2

When I was first filled and illuminated by the Holy Spirit as a late teen, enlightened by the Scriptures along with the Grace and wisdom of God, I was sure there would be few problems that occurred throughout my life until glorification. I did not necessarily know what a trial was. Any tribulation in my life up until salvation was the only real challenge I thought I would encounter, forever. My preconceived ideas of Christianity involved simply praying to receive what I want, and receiving favor because I now “belong to God.” After all, The Creator of the Universe had chosen me before the foundation of the world for me to bear His name and glorify Him throughout all eternity. Would God take anything from me that I have? Would He not give me something that I want? Would He cause me hurt and pain?

It turns out that my preconceived ideas about being a Christian were exactly the opposite of what is true. Although being saved is the greatest thing and highest calling for a human being in the history of the Universe, it is also the most difficult [on earth]. It is great because it means that Jesus Christ has passed over our sins by 1.) shedding His perfect blood to bring us back to life or justifying us and 2.) reconciling us with God so that we inherit eternal life instead of eternal destruction. But, it is difficult upon the new birth because we are now literally separated from the rest of the fallen world. The ground we live on is cursed and every human being naturally hates God until He performs the miracle of salvation within the soul.

Once the new birth takes place, i.e., the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are guaranteed eternal life (1 Corinthians 1:22). It is the most profound mystery of all time. It perplexes the greatest of worldly minds and thinkers (who are still fools in the eyes of God). Yet, in the midst of this infinite blessing, there can and will develop the greatest trials, obstacles, temptations and tribulations known to man. This can only be true to the Christian, mainly because only he has obtained knowledge of the truth, by the Spirit, to accurately represent a biblical worldview. We are no longer at one with the world. Those who love the world are at one with it and do not disagree with it. One who loves the world develops personal philosophies about life and how they (personally) come to knowledge of “truth.” It is a most pleasing doctrine to a man that is cut off from the Grace of God as they revel in self-lordship.

As the unregenerate or unsaved person encounters a trial of some sort, the only natural avenue to take is to pity oneself while simultaneously pleasing the flesh and senses with some sort of idol worship. Many result to drugs or anything that causes them to obtain a certain temporary feeling of relaxation or comfort. Apart from Grace and adoption by the Heavenly Father, it is a steadily declining state that never fully recovers. When a trial arrives or a storm comes, what is already an infinitely deadly sinful state simply enrages into a forest fire of sin. Although, there are various circumstances of trials and tribulations, the wicked heart remains the same as God either effectually causes it to glorify Him or to continue into further sin and ultimate destruction. A primary example is the story of Cain and Abel. As they both brought forth an offering, one was clearly favored over the other and therefore, one glorified God while the other did not.

“And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Able also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but he did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against his brother and killed him.”

Genesis 4:3-8

What seemed to be a level playing ground from conception and birth, irrevocably played out into what was to be the first murder in the history of mankind. The favor and Grace of God upon Abel over Cain was extolled in the particular trial that Cain was presented. Namely, his offering was not accepted or respected by God. It was a predicament for Cain that, indeed, caused him to be very angry. Instead of being delivered, his anger developed into rage that caused him to murder his very own brother. Since he did that, the Lord said,
“So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” Genesis 4:11

Because the regenerate soul has a different eternal destiny than the unregenerate, he is dealt with differently. His sins are atoned for and they are not ultimately used against him. Although sin is and will be involved in almost any trial due to the deceptiveness of our own hearts, it is ultimately used for our good and the ultimate glory of God. For example, a seemingly impossible perceived situation or scenario by man will be one that develops into a possible storm with a difficulty that is unable to be substantiated by any human being. Thus, the purpose is clearly not in or of ourselves.

As Christians, it is our duty to recognize that we cannot create or deliver ourselves from any trial. Because of this fallen world, they will inevitably come. As the same temptations in the Christian arise in the trials to please the flesh because of our fallen nature, we are called to count it all joy when these various trials come about. James tells us to let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:4). Only the Holy Spirit can genuinely do this work as we are caused to see the ultimate perfect work of Jesus Christ and how He responded to the various trials and temptations. After the perfect impossible storm has indeed risen and bloomed into full growth, the agony that sometimes causes the Christian soul to cry will bring him to his knees, giving him power to plead for deliverance instead of falling into sin.

Because the unregenerate soul is ignorant in the knowledge and power of God, he is self-sufficient in all of his ways. That is, when trials arise, he will attempt to overpower them, in his utter weakness. James is quite aware that Christians have the propensity to attempt to be self-sufficient and reminds us that in the moment we do so, we prove to be double-minded and unstable in all our ways (James 1:8). We begin to expect things from God because we believe, in our ignorance, that we should be able to produce and provide things ourselves. We believe in the midst of a calamity and/or trial that we can deliver ourselves. Despite any and every circumstance known to man, in complete humility, we are called to be subjected to the wisdom and will of God. He causes us to be that way.

We truly apply the Gospel in our lives when, in the midst of various trials, we continually learn to rest in Christ. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Many Christians have read and reread the above Scripture without truly applying it or interpreting what it actually means. It is truly an impossibility to know Christ and what “resting in Him” even means without first being called to be a Christian. Jesus first says,
“Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Matthew 11:27
If Christ has revealed Himself to you, causing the new birth, then as long as you are on earth, you are resting in Him. To rest Him is to love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. To rest in Him is to trust that He is your deliverer from all spiritual warfare or any trial and tribulation. To rest in Him is to know that He created all things, knows all things and is Sovereign over all things, including every trial or scenario. To rest in Him is to repent, believe and know that all of your sins are forgiven, forever.

Every trial for the Christian is purposed to continually conform us into the image of Christ. Trials and tribulations, despite how long and unruly they seem, are the necessary means that God has chosen to sanctify those He loves and disciplines. We must cast our crowns before the feet of the Holy One that delivers us from them, knowing that we truly have nothing and deserve nothing. To obtain patience, we must demonstrate patience. To obtain kindness, we must demonstrate kindness. To get, we must give. To live, we must die. Rejoice in your trial, Christian. Know that God is making you like His Son. What is impossible with man is possible with God. Rest in Him and count it all joy.

“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
James 1:12

After attending a few ‘Shane and Shane’ concerts in the last few years, I have developed a specific liking to their worship style music. I know that each song is specially anointed to illuminate a certain attribute of God or harp on a specific verse or chapter in Scripture to allow me to dwell on His glory. But, it is not just the words that are amazing. It is not just the eternal life-changing truths resonating through my soul that make all the difference. No, I like the amazing giftedness and harmony between Shane Everett and Shane Barnard. As one who appreciates the acoustic guitar and its finesse beauty, I enjoy the astounding musical talent in the string picking of the Shane’s. The euphoric worship atmosphere created by them has attracted many Christians from everywhere and from different walks of life.

As the concert begins, the heart pumps harder in anticipation of high hitting notes in the voice of Shane Barnard along with the seemingly perfect harmonizing of Shane Everett. Unlike many musicians, Shane and Shane sound just as amazing live in concert as they do in their recordings. Many impromptu adjustments to instruments and genre in particular songs keep the audience on the edge of the chair, if sitting at all. There is an unlimited appreciation in each song, that anticipates the next and so forth. Non-charismatic worshipers suddenly become charismatic as they worship freely, with hands in the air, at one with God. The concerts are so spiritually powerful, uplifting and invigorating that it is almost a disappointment when it is over. At the time of the concert, I feel closer to God than I have in a long time. During the concert, it is as if I just got saved all over again. After the concert, I am disappointed that I have not pursued God as I had during the extravagant, talented, anointed show that musically exudes my God better than most any other musician I know of.

Imagine the same effect without hundreds of people surrounding you thinking and feeling relatively the same. Take away the microphones, amplifiers and speakers. Subtract the sound board, along with the guitars and even the stage. Take away the concert altogether. Does that produce the same affect? Does it tap into the emotions in the same manner? Most importantly, do you think, feel and worship your God in the same way?

I notice a subtle wicked transition in my own heart when comparing certain musicians and/or particular events to worshiping God or knowing God more intimately. Shane and Shane are a perfect example to illustrate the obvious affect they have on me, not only spiritually, but emotionally. Why does God seem bigger and more glorious when the acoustic guitar sounds big and glorious? Why do I necessarily meditate on the angelic heavenlies more or to a greater extent when I hear an angelic-heavenly voice?

The truth of the matter is that God does not change at all from before the concert, during or after the concert, song or major event. In fact, God has not and will not change throughout all of eternity. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He is exactly how He has revealed Himself in Scripture. I am the sinner who has fallen from perfect fellowship. I am the one who changes from one minute to the next. I am the one who may worship the true and living God one day and turn right around to worship Baal or some graven image the next.

The type of worship setting, musical artists, church or conference should not make the difference in how we worship God or what we “expect from Him”. What should and does make the difference is first how we truly seek His presence in all things, every day. Not just at a Shane and Shane concert, Together for the Gospel conference or New Attitude conference. Christians are called to worship God and give Him glory in everything. We are to worship Him the same three months before the concert, the night before, the day of and the drive to the concert as we do during and after.

Even for true Christians, worshiping an imaginary God or idol is an easy trap to fall into at such events and in general. Even in the Old Testament and throughout all Scripture, we have been ones to have unclean and deceitful lips from a deceitful heart. Beginning with Adam and Eve to Israel, to the first century church A.D to modern day Christians. What comes most naturally to us is the propensity to sin and develop idols without even being aware. King David, however, was clearly not only aware, but prays what is called an imprecatory prayer that curses the enemies of God. That included anyone who ‘worshiped’ with unclean lips and heart. David did not want that to be him.

“Hear a just cause, O Lord, Attend to my cry;
Give ear to my prayer which is not from deceitful lips.
Let my vindication come from Your presence;
Let your eyes look on the things that are upright.

You have tested my heart; You have visited me in the night;
You have tried me and have found nothing;
I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.
Concerning the works of men, By the word of Your lips,
I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer.
Uphold my steps in Your paths, That my footsteps may not slip.

I have called up You, for You will hear me, O God;
Incline Your ear to me, and hear my speech.
Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand,
O You who save those who trust in You
From those who rise up against them.

Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
Hide me under the shadow of Your wings,
From the wicked who oppress me,
From my deadly enemies who surround me.

They have closed up their fat hearts;
With their mouths they speak proudly.
They have now surrounded us in our steps;
They have set their eyes, crouching down to the earth,
As a lion is eager to tear his prey,
And like a young lion lurking in secret places.”

Psalm 17

In David’s heart of worship, he had the humility and knowledge of the divine justice and mercy of God. God had particular mercy on David that caused him to continually plead for it. He also revealed to David His righteous judgment and justice on the wicked that caused him to continually plead deliverance from the wicked and Satan (the destroyer).

May our hearts of worship stem from the same premises and revelations that God has revealed to David in the Psalms. Let’s not observe the brand name of an acoustic guitar that rots away, yet the concert lights shine so brightly upon. May we not dare think about food or drink that we will not need in eternity while appearing to be worshiping God in spirit and in truth. Please do not obsess over who is a quality worship leader and great singer or not. But, may we meditate upon the precepts that God has ordained. May we pray for our enemies who do not know the Grace of God. We shall surrender our very thoughts, desires and wills upon the great Mercy of Jesus Christ, the perfect One who gave His life on a rugged tree. Let’s reflect in our consistent heart of worship the desire to be continually delivered from the ever present sin in this life until we pass into glory.