Sunday, December 30, 2007

School of Hard Knocks

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
Philippians 4:11
God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. I haven't been able to miss this truth behind almost every book of the Bible that I have read since I was first gripped by this sentence about two years ago. King Solomon, the wisest man to ever live apart from Jesus Christ, said that "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). There are no new truths and there is one primary source for all truth: the Bible.

I don't think there is a day that goes by in which I don't pray to God: Be most glorified in me by making me to be most satisfied in you. So as I meditated on this verse from Philippians, I couldn't help but to think about how God goes about answering such a prayer.

I am struck by the fact that Paul says, "I have learned...". He doesn't say, "I have discovered" or "I have realized" as though what he has obtained is something he stumbled upon suddenly. He says "I have learned" and to me the implications for this are significant.

Learning takes an accumulation of knowledge. It usually involves a teacher and often involves going to school. As I think about what Paul says here, I can't help but to think that he is talking about having been in the "school of hard knocks" with the One who can teach like no other can teach. He had stumbled and fallen, failing over and over again to be content in the situations that God had placed him in. One example of this is when he had the thorn in his flesh that it took him being three times denied the removal of before he learned how to be content with what God had given to him (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). And that comes after a long list of ordeals in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 that make him qualified to speak of "whatever situations".

My point is this: I think that I have had this idea that God answering my prayer of Him being most glorified in me by making me to be most satisfied in Him means Him revealing to me once for all a heart/mind set that I just need to enter into in whatever undesirable situation I might find myself so that I can be happy in Him. If I could just find that place...

But I don't think this is how Paul learned to be content. I don't think that for Paul being content is a mindset he has received that he can now apply to whatever situation he finds himself in. I think being content is the posture of his heart that he has learned because he has been in whatever (every) situation!

Paul is writing this letter from a Roman jail cell. He can preach to the Philippians about "rejoicing always" (Philippians 4:4) and "not being anxious about anything" (Philippians 4:6) and having "the peace of God, which surpasses understanding" (Philippians 4:7) because he has preached this to himself and knows firsthand this experience of the grace of God. He can tell the Philippians to find their joy and peace in thinking about whatever is honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8) because this is what he has done to find his contentment when the pain is real. That's why he can say: imitate me (Philippians 4:9) and the God of peace will be with you.

It took Paul a lifetime to learn what it means to be content in whatever situation. And everything God placed in the path of his life was to bring him to to the place where he could say what he says in Philippians 4:11 without deceiving himself. Everything. The lows and the highs. And this much is true: it was not the path of least resistance. But it was the only path that led to a freedom that Paul couldn't have known any either way. And neither can I.
"...through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."
Acts 14:23
Father in Heaven, thank You that You are in the business of setting slaves free. We are slaves in more ways than we know. To require a certain lifestyle to be happy is slavery because the moment we lose it we are in bondage to misery. I don't want that life Father. So please do whatever it takes to teach me how to be content in whatever situation. Make 2008 and every day of the rest of my life be about learning contentment in whatever situation. Teach me how to experience the pleasures of this world in such a way that when You take them my joy doesn't go with them. And teach me to suffer in this world in such a way that I can be sorrowful yet always rejoicing. Grant me to receive the pains and pleasures that You grant each day as Your answer to my prayer. And let me never stop praying that prayer. May You be most glorified in me by making me to be most satisfied in You, forever. And in that prayer being answered may the world somehow through my life know Christ's infinite worth. In His precious name, Amen.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Pearl of Greatest Price

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:45,46

The Puritan theologian John Owen on what it is to have the Pearl of greatest price:

Men…have no real acquaintance with Christianity, who imagine that the placing of the most intense affections of our souls on the person of Christ, the loving him with all our hearts because of his love, our being overcome thereby, until we are sick of love, the constant motions of our souls towards him with delight and adherence, are but fancies and imaginations.

Though all our refreshments actually lie in the streams, yet by them we are led up to the fountain. Jesus Christ, in respect of the love of the Father, is but the beam, the stream, wherein though actually all our light, our refreshment lies, yet by him we are led to the fountain, the sun of eternal love itself.

There is no man whatever that hath any want in reference unto the things of God, but Christ will be unto him that which he wants….Is he dead? Christ is life. Is he weak? Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Hath he the sense of guilt upon him? Christ is complete righteousness….Many poor creatures are sensible of their wants, but know not where their remedy lies. Indeed, whether it be life or light, power or joy, all is wrapped up in him.

Let us receive [Christ] in all his excellencies as he bestows himself upon us; – be frequent in thoughts of faith, comparing him with other beloveds, sin, world, legal righteousness; and preferring him before them, counting them all loss and dung in comparison of him … and we shall not fail in the issue of sweet refreshment with him.

To have the eternal glory of God in Christ, with all the fruits of his wisdom and love while we ourselves are under the full participation of the effects of them, immediately, directly revealed, proposed, made known unto us, in a divine and glorious light, our souls being furnished with a capacity to behold and perfectly comprehend them, – this is the heaven which, according to God’s promise, we look for.

…the more we behold the glory of Christ by faith now, the more spiritual and the more heavenly will be the state of our souls. The reason why the spiritual life in our souls decays and withers is because we fill our minds full of other things, and these things weaken the power of grace. But when the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ and his glory, these things will be expelled (see Col. 3:1-5, Eph. 5:8). When we behold the glory of Christ by faith every grace in us will be stirred up. This is how our spiritual life is revived (see Rom. 5:3-5, 2 Pet. 1:5-8).

As my two week class studying the Puritans draws to a close today, these are the descriptions that are etched in my mind of the Pearl that John Owen and the Puritans as a whole treasured. They knew Jesus Christ not just as Lord but perhaps more importantly as their Treasure. And I must ask myself if the life that I live in the 21st century reflects the same value of the Pearl that the lives lived by the Puritans in the 16th and 17th centuries reflected. The Pearl's value has not changed because "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). And if He is infinitely valuable, which I do believe He is, then I am the one who is farther away from the truth of His value than the Puritans.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…
Philippians 3:7,8
Father in Heaven, forgive me for the way that my life in the 21st century gives testimony that Jesus Christ has depreciated in value when set next to the lives of the Puritans instead of moving closer to a true apprehension of His infinite worth. Though they fell short, and we always will as finite creatures, may You today give us sovereign grace to create in our hearts intense longing, delight, admiration, and love for Your Son that You demand in spite of our utter inability to create or sustain such affections. May You continually enlarge our hearts and never let them fall beneath the point where they are bursting with yearnings for Him. In Jesus' infinitely precious name, Amen.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Something Greater Than the Temple is Here

Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.
Ezekiel 40:4
These are the words that the prophet Ezekiel hears from the man who stands before him in a vision he receives from God. Pay attention not just with your eyes, not just with your ears, but with your whole heart because that which I am about to show you is wholly your purpose for being here. These are the instructions to Ezekiel before he sees or hears anything else.

So here I am reading my text with the sense that I need to prepare myself for what is about to come. This is important. As God is speaking to Ezekiel, so He is speaking to me because "the word of God is living and active" (Hebrews 4:12). I need to get this.

So I proceed to read what seems to me to be the longest chapter in Ezekiel up to this point. And what does it say? The entire chapter seems to be a tour of a temple directed by the man who is speaking to Ezekiel. Seemingly making his way through every searchable corner of this structure with "a measuring reed in his hand" (Ezekiel 40:3), the man proceeds to take a measurement of what must be every possible dimension seen by the human eye. Cubit by cubit, nothing is overlooked. The gates, the chambers, the altars, the windows, the courts, the entry ways. Nothing is left unattended. And this doesn't stop at the end of the chapter! It goes on for the rest of the book (eight more chapters)!

And as I read, the words from the beginning of the chapter spoken by the man in the vision to Ezekiel echo in my mind, "look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I show you, for you were brought in order that I might show it to you" (Ezekiel 40:4). Hear what? There doesn't seem to me to be anything to hear. Show it to me? A carefully measured building? Is that what "it" is? Why Lord? Why is this so important?

And then I came to these words as the chapter drew to a close: "This chamber that faces south is for the priests who have charge of the temple, and the chamber that faces north is for the priests who have charge of the altar. These are the sons of Zadok, who alone among the sons of Levi may come near to the LORD to minister to him" (Ezekiel 40:45,46). Some parts of the temple were only accessible to certain people. They were forbidden to everyone else. There were divisions in the temple that kept some in and others out. And this is the way it would be. Until...
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Matthew 27:51
In the moment that Jesus finally "yielded up his spirit" (Matthew 27:50) to death on the cross, this is the first immediate effect that we learn of. The curtain that made for separation of the accessible from the inaccessible is destroyed so that there is now nothing in the temple that is inaccessible to anyone. There is nowhere that the priest can go that no one else cannot also.

And with the following words from the Lord Jesus as mediated through the Holy Spirit, God graciously opened my eyes to see what the "it" is.
I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
Matthew 12:6
That it is a He. He is Jesus Christ Himself. The it is more than just a structure, but instead is the One whom the structure was always meant to point to. That's what the Jews didn't get when Jesus told them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:18). He wasn't talking about a building. He was talking about His body. He, in His Person, rather than a location is the only place that we can meet the living God.

And the implications of this truth for me are this: Chris, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show Jesus Christ to you. Declare all that you see of Him to the house of Israel.

Look at what?
Jesus Christ in His Word. Hear what? The words that Jesus speaks. Set my heart on what? All the manifold perfections that radiate from His glorious countenance. Why? Because I exist in order that Jesus Christ might be displayed to me, I would see Him and savor Him and enjoy making much of Him forever. And the insuppressible outworking of this is that I will declare all that I see of His infinite beauty and worth to those around me.

This is what will happen if I believe that Jesus Christ is greater than the temple. And this is glorious. But I must ask myself, "Do I really believe that Jesus Christ is greater than the temple?"

That's an indicting question, to which we must not be quick to say "yes". But we must instead search our hearts and minds in order to arrive at the truth of what's really in us. So how do we know if we really do believe that Jesus Christ is greater than the temple or not? We look at how the temple is described with precision in detail and completeness in description and then we ask ourselves this question: If I were to write everything I know about the Person and work of Jesus Christ, would it surpass that which I read about the temple in its precision in detail and completeness in description? If not, then I don't have evidence to show that Christ is greater than the temple.

Make no mistake about it. The temple is great. Jesus assumed this when He said that something greater than the temple is here otherwise it wouldn't be saying anything to make the point. If the temple isn't great, who cares that something greater than the temple is here?

The temple is great. That's why its description is so massive and detailed (though at times it can seem like we don't need to be told all that we are told about it). But Christ is infinitely greater such that the detail upon detail described at such great length with which we read about the temple in the Scriptures is dwarfed so that it is as nothing when set against all that there is to know about the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Could it be that we have such lengthy descriptions about the temple in the Old Testament so that we would feel the force of the statement Jesus makes about Himself when He says: "I tell you, something greater than the temple is here" (Matthew 12:6)?

How do you describe Him who is greater than the temple? How do you measure Him? Are you aware of the cubit by cubit details of His Person and work? Do you see His multifaceted dimensions:
  • as the One who never had a beginning but has always existed, through which all things were made (John 1:1-3)?
  • as the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3)?
  • as the means of grace through which the Father makes his sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45) instead of releasing the fullness of His wrath on all since we are all God-belittling, hell-deserving sinners?
  • as the One who, being in very nature God, made Himself nothing to be born as a man (Philippians 2:6,7) so that He could live in a fallen world and experience all the effects of sin without ever yielding to it for the sake of identifying with us and providing us with help in our time of need (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15,16)?
  • as the One who, being above the law because He created it, came under the law to fulfill that which was never required of Him but required of us who hopelessly could never fulfill it (Galatians 4:4-5, Romans 8:4)?
  • as the One who had our infinite record of debt nailed through His hands to the cross by His own Father so that its legal demands may no longer apply to us and we might have forgiveness with the Father (Colossians 2:13,14)?
  • as the One who is all of our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30), providing every good thing inside of us?
  • as the One who always lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25), so that we may not make shipwreck of our faith (because we would if He weren't praying at every moment) but instead persevere to glory?
  • as the One who will one day do away with our sin-ransacked bodies of death to give us new glorious bodies just like His (Philippians 3:21) which will not be able to sin?
Oh, how overwhelming is just this list of the infinite excellencies in Christ Jesus! Yet I know I don't see anywhere near enough. There is no doubt in my mind that a description of all that Jesus is, written by John Owen or any of the Puritans, would make the description of the temple in Ezekiel look like a post-it note. And yet they still would never have been able to come close to all that there is to be known about Christ! I want to see what they saw of Christ because, if God were to grant me such grace, I know that I wouldn't stop in my pursuit to see more but would make this my life.

This temple is accessible by all so none has excuse for a deficient knowledge and description of the One who is greater than the temple. This temple isn't only accessible by Puritans, or biblical scholars, or pastors, or priests who have charge of the temple or altar (Ezekiel 40:45,46) which was only a shadow of the things to come, of which the substance would be Christ (Colossians 2:17). But all who call themselves followers of Christ must be able to give evidence to the fact that something greater than the temple is here in Christ otherwise we have been granted access in vain! And God grants access to no one in vain. So either we have access and can give continually growing evidence to it or we don't have access.

This is our infinitely valuable Savior. So let us look with our eyes, hear with our ears, and set our hearts upon all that is shown to us of Jesus Christ, for we were brought into this world in order that Jesus might be displayed to us and treasured by us.
I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
Matthew 12:6
And nothing else in the world matters. May He be our lives.

Father in heaven, thank You that You created us for one reason and one reason only: to show Your glorious Son to us so that we might see Him and treasure Him above all things. Yet how easily distracted we are. Forgive us for the ways that our description of Your Son would bring great dishonor to His name because of its deficiency. Forgive us for the ways that our list of great and glorious things to declare about Your Son is infinitely insufficient. We know that it always will be but I ask that You would give us eyes that are intently looking, ears that are resolutely listening, and hearts that are unflinchingly set upon all that You reveal to us about Your Son. May our eyes be looking nowhere else. May our ears be listening to nothing else. May our hearts be set on nothing else, except for that which gives us more of Him so that we will love Him more. We don't want to lie to the world by living to show that something greater than Christ is here. Overwhelm us with His greatness so that we would overflow to those around us with declarations of how magnificent He is. We long for that day when we will see His greatness in ways we can't even come close to in this life, when we will love Him with the perfect love with which You love Him. In Jesus' great name, Amen.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Pilgrims In Conflict

This is the Puritan identity. Pilgrims in conflict. The Puritans lived at all times with an overwhelming knowledge that this world was not their home. They were pilgrims on a journey to their heavenly dwelling. So they didn't expect to find comfort in this life. Instead, they expected to find conflict at every turn that required them to fight through it if they were to continue on their journey. Therefore, they knew that the end of conflict could only mean one of two things: either they had reached their destination having arrived in Heaven or they had ceased to fix their eyes on Jesus.

So why did the following statement that J.I. Packer made on the first day of class--as we began our tour of Puritan theology that will last two weeks--land on me with such sobering force to crush any hopes of sustained "comfort" in this life?
God has not promised to shield us from conflict in this life. He has promised to give us the strength to fight through it.
I think the reason that a statement like this lands on me with such impact is because it collides directly with the Christian identity that I have embraced, whether knowingly or unknowingly. So why is my identity as a follower of Jesus different from the Puritans' identity as followers of Jesus? Could it be that I have inherited a "Christian identity" that hasn't come from the Bible?
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:7,8
In writing to his apprentice Timothy, this is how Paul sums up the life that he has lived. Looking back, he describes his life as a fight that he has had to battle through every step of the way such that he wouldn't have made it to the place he currently is had he ceased to fight at any point. Looking back, he describes his life as a race that he has had to continue running at all times despite injury and fatigue such that he wouldn't have made it to the place he currently is had he ceased to run at any point. Looking back, he describes his life as an active, vigilant, aggressive guarding of the faith at all times such that he wouldn't have made it to the place he currently is had he become passive at any point. Paul embodied the Puritan identity. He was a pilgrim in conflict, knowing that his life as a Christian was to fight. And he knew that there were only two possible scenarios in which he would no longer be fighting: either he had abandoned Christ or he had been brought home to his Savior.

And so it is of anyone who would call himself a Christian. One might say that the apostle Paul was called to live a life that not all believers are called to live. To that objection I respond with the words of Charles Spurgeon:
Do not tell me that the apostle was an exception, and cannot be set up as a rule or model for commoner folk, for I shall have to tell you that we must be such as Paul was if we hope to be where he is.
And if the prince of preachers isn't sufficient to calm our objections, then we must argue with the inspired apostle himself who instructs Timothy to do exactly what he has been doing.
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called...
1 Timothy 6:12
Why does Timothy or anyone else who follows Jesus have to fight? Because this is what it means to have faith. It is the fight of the faith, Paul says. Where there is no fighting there is no faith. Why? Because the sovereign God has ordained, according to His infinite wisdom, that the only way we can take hold of eternal life is by fighting for it.

Do we feel the force of this yet? Let it sink in.

I don't know about you, but this is devastating to me. And I can't help but to wonder if these truths feel as devastating to a Christian living in a third world country as they do to me as a spoiled, privileged Christian living in plush, luxurious North America.

Everything in me that I've inherited from the society I have grown up in tells me to do whatever it takes so that I can get to a place where I don't have to fight. This is what the American idea of retirement is rooted in. Work hard to make lots of money when you are young so that as early as possible you won't have to work anymore. Especially as a black person, I can't help but hear the voices in my head saying to me that those who went before me fought so that I wouldn't have to. I can't help but hear the voices in my head of my parents saying to my sister, brother, and myself that they came to the United States and struggled to support themselves and make it through college and raise us so that the three of us wouldn't have to struggle.

And what's the result? This very moment I desire to have a set of life circumstances that, were God to grant them to me, would eliminate any need to fight. It would be a life of everything I ever wanted filled with comfort and ease. And you know what? There is nothing wrong with desiring that as long as one thing is clear: Not in this life. That is reserved for heaven and heaven only.

Recently a good friend of mine asked me the question: "Are you happy?" I paused for a few moments because I didn't know how to answer the question. Upon further reflection, I realized that if this is the question we are constantly asking ourselves in this life then there is no way we can live the Christian life the way it is meant to be lived. Don't get me wrong. I'm a Christian hedonist! I believe that we are to make it our chief aim in this life to be happy... in God! That's why I responded to my friend by saying that I was happy but I have to fight every day for that happiness. It doesn't just come to me when I wake up in the morning. I must do battle in my soul each day from one hour to the next to keep myself happy in God rather than letting my heart drift towards satisfaction in other things, even seemingly harmless. That's why the question "Are you happy?" feels like the wrong question to ask. Because it makes happiness seem like it is dependent on having a certain set of life circumstances. If the circumstances are right, I'm happy. If not, I'm unhappy. The better question to ask is: "Are you fighting the fight of faith?" Because if we are doing this properly, then happiness is a necessary consequence.

From my understanding of the Bible, happiness doesn't depend on circumstances. It depends on whether I'm fighting or not. And in this, it rises above circumstances.

The Puritans understood that we were created to have perfect communion with God, to honor Him, worship Him, and enjoy Him with the fullness of our entire beings consisting mainly of our minds, wills, and affections. But because of the Fall, that perfect communion was destroyed and our minds, wills, and affections are inclined to other things. We naturally don't want communion with God. We would rather commune with another human being or ourselves than with God. We would rather enjoy sleep or a meal than enjoy God. Our minds conclude that television or work or academic pursuits are better objects of our wills than God. But through Jesus Christ's incarnation and death, we can be restored to our original purpose, perfect communion with God. And so we fight by the grace that He alone supplies through the Holy Spirit to set our minds, wills, and affections on God instead of other things--day by day, hour by hour. This is the fight we are in: to become more and more like Jesus who honored, worshipped, and enjoyed His Father with the entirety of His mind, will, and affections. And this is the fight that we will be in until Jesus comes or calls.

This is why John Owen, the man considered to be the greatest Puritan theologian, wrote the following in a letter to a friend:
Strive to love Christ more, to abide more with him, and to be less in our selves: He is our best friend and [before] long will be our only friend. I pray God with all my heart that I may be weary of every thing else but converse and communion with him.
If we don't strive to love Christ more, to abide more with him, fighting everything in us that hinders our communion with Him, why in the world would we love his appearing that Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 4:8? John Owen, as well as the rest of the Puritans, were people who could love Christ's appearing because they knew that His appearing marked the end of their fight with sin, their fight against everything that blocked them from perfect communion with Christ because when He appeared they would be brought into that perfect communion.

And so Owen, when he had come to the day of his death, said:
The long-looked for day is come at last, in which I shall see that glory in another manner than I have ever done yet, or was capable of doing in this world!
Will we be able to say that on the day we die? Is seeing Jesus face to face the "long-looked for day" for us as it was for Owen? Is the longing of our hearts (and the evangelical Church at large) that Christ would appear, so that we will no longer have to fight sin but instead be able to worship and enjoy Him perfectly with our minds, wills, and affections for all of eternity? Is that what we see in the behavior of the Church today? Or do we long more for something else that we wish to enjoy in this life? Health? Better looking bodies? More money? Husband? Wife? Children?

The reward that Christ has to give Paul on that Day is only for those who love His appearing. We will only love His appearing if it brings us to the end that we have been striving towards. We will never love His appearing if we are not fighting. And if this is the case then, as Spurgeon said, we will never be where Paul is wearing the crown he is wearing.

So we must never look for the day in this life when we will no longer have to fight. Instead, we must shift from fighting against God's sovereign wisdom to fighting against our wretched sin: our unbelief, our mistrust of the infinitely faithful One!

Oh what precious friends the Puritans are! Let us follow them as our guides and embrace their identity as pilgrims in conflict who fight all of our days, knowing that "we are strangers and exiles on the earth" and living as though we "desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one" (Hebrews 11:13,16).
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:24,25
Father, thank You for the Puritans as examples of those who went before us and died in faith. Forgive us for the way that we have misunderstood what it means to be Your people. Have mercy on us for the ways that we love other things more than we love Your Son's coming. I thank You that You don't give me a life consisting of my ideal circumstances because if You were to do so it would be my undoing. I would be destroyed because I would be too busy having a good time to see the horror of my sin so as to make every effort to mortify it. But I thank You that You give me discomfort so that I might know that all is not well and so become aware of the treason I commit against You daily. Grant me a greater knowledge of my sin. Grant me a greater hatred of it. Remove every inclination in me that moves away from fighting and in its place grant an unshakable resolution that I would fight each day to kill my sin and enter into richer communion with You. Sanctify me each day by Your Holy Spirit so that as I grow in holiness, I would grow in hatred of even the least remnants of my sin, and thus grow in my love for Your Son's appearing because He will do away with every last iota of sin within me. Thank You that that Day will come when we will be delivered from this body of death! May it come quickly so that You will be perfectly glorified in me by making me to be perfectly satisfied in You alone. In Jesus' precious name, Amen.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

To Know Him

Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
Hosea 6:3
I was made for this. You were made for this. To give ourselves to the never-ending pursuit of knowing God in the fullness of His being. This is the goal of the gospel.

And it took years of enslavement to sexual lust and the gratification found in pornography to figure this out. Confessing my sin didn't break the power. Setting up filters on my computer didn't break the power. Distracting myself with other things didn't break the power. One truth did: that I am made to know and be satisfied with the supremacy of God in all things. These two paragraphs written by John Piper encapsulate this truth that had a cataclysmic effect on my life:
Little souls make little lusts have great power. The soul, as it were, expands to encompass the magnitude of its treasure. The human soul was made to see and savor the supremacy of Christ. Nothing else is big enough to enlarge the soul as God intended and make little lusts lose their power.


Therefore, the deepest cure to our pitiful addictions is not any mental strategies—and I believe in them and have my own ... The deepest cure is to be intellectually and emotionally staggered by the infinite, everlasting, unchanging supremacy of Christ in all things. This is what it means to know him. Christ has purchased this gift for us at the cost of his life. Therefore, I say again with Hosea, let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.
Those two paragraphs have forever changed my life.

For my entire teenage life, my soul, which was made to be large and filled with the infinite Christ, was no bigger than a marble. So small earthly pleasures to me seemed transcendent. The buzz of an orgasm filled me to overflowing so that this is what I continually longed for. This was the satisfaction of my soul so that no matter what I did to fight such desires the need remained the same.

And then I read what John Piper wrote. Better yet, I heard him preach it. I had never in my life or in any book I read about how to fight lust heard anyone say the truth that is contained in those two paragraphs. And then he said this: "If you aren't reading substantial theology, I don't know how you are fighting your lust."

Read theology? Are you kidding me? That just seems like another distraction to me. Such were my thoughts. But Piper wasn't kidding. He said it with life and death seriousness and urgency. So I decided to take him up on the suggestion. And I learned that he wasn't lying either.

There is a new world of wonder that opens up to you when you begin to descend into the depths of the infinite riches in glory of the sovereign God who spoke this universe into existence, the God who upholds all of creation by the Word of His power, the God who has existed for all eternity never having had a beginning. When you begin to ponder the majesty of such grandeur, it takes your breath away and little else begins to matter. You begin to wonder why such a Creator would lift a finger to spare you from His impending wrath. You tremble at the fact that millions are passed over and consigned to eternal torment while you are undeservedly granted to see your need for the Savior so that you can enjoy eternal pleasures at His right hand. And you become heart broken that you don't love Him as much as you ought to because you see that He is infinitely worthy. An unseen world has been opened up to you and you now make it your aim to live here following the lead of the apostle Paul: "Therefore we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).

The soul is enlarged in experiencing the joy of the unseen world so that, as you are continually set on it, the pleasures of the seen world no longer offer appeal. They're simply not big enough. They're not powerful enough. You need something more massive, more soul-staggering, more breathtaking. Sex won't do it. Money won't do it. Television won't do it. Movies won't do it. Video games won't do it. And your heart has one cry: "Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD" (Hosea 6:3).

This is my life. This is why I can't stop reading theology. I don't know any other way to press on in knowing the LORD and keep my soul enlarged than to incessantly fill my mind with glorious truths about the unsearchable depths of His character. I need to know Him. This is why I am going to Regent College for two weeks to study Puritan theology. It's because those saints of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries knew how to go hard after God. I need to be around people who hang the banner of Hosea 6:3 over their lives. Such is true of John Bunyan, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Baxter, and company. They are precious friends to me.

I must keep my soul large because I know that the moment I stop pressing on to know the LORD is the moment my soul will shrivel down and those little lusts will begin again to seem overpowering to me. I do not for one second think that I have moved on past that and am immune. I fear being in that place again because I am not naive about the nature of my heart. Our hearts CANNOT be in neutral if we will love God. Paul says we must "fix our eyes." We must fix our hearts in a manner that is vigorous and forceful. This is active. We must never relent. We must press on because the moment we cease to do so is the moment we are "destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6).

We must grow in the knowledge of our infinitely glorious God. We are not playing games. Eternity depends on it. We must strive to enter through the narrow door (Luke 13:24). Do you know Jesus this way? Do you see and savor Him? Are you captivated by His glorious countenance? Are you filled with awe at the radiance of His beauty? Are you amazed by His perfect righteousness? Are you filled with wonder that He always lives to intercede for you at every moment so that you may not sin? Is He supreme in your affections?

If you need some help with this (we all do), watch this and may the Lord in His grace by His Spirit open the eyes of your heart to see more clearly the perfect "image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15) so that the risen Christ would reign supremely not just in the universe but in your heart:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
John 17:3
Father, enlarge our souls to be what You created them to be. Forbid that we become little sailboats that get swept up in the tide because we are having too much fun to fight. But let us be massive battleships that steer the course and continually fight because we know what is at stake. Father I plead with You to grant us the strength to press on with all that we have to know You and to do so with great joy knowing that the pursuit will never end but will always continue with ever-increasing happiness because You are infinite and we are finite. And that is why eternal life is to know You. Because we will never fully exhaust the riches of who You are no matter how hard we try. Let such impossibilities make us gloriously happy. May You be most glorified in us by making us to be most satisfied in You. Forever. And so cause us to spread a passion for Your supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. In His precious name, Amen.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Do You Really Know That God Is The LORD?

The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men." So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.
Ezekiel 24:15-18
Without any explanation, without any discussion, without any apologies, the LORD takes away from His servant Ezekiel the wife of his youth, the "delight of [his] eyes" (Ezekiel 24:16) in a flash, in the blink of an eye. But not only this. He, furthermore, tells Ezekiel that he is forbidden from mourning or crying (v.16). And what do the Scriptures tell us is the response of the prophet? "So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded" (v.18).

Say what? No questioning the motives of the Almighty? No seeking answers to imply that an explanation is necessary? No shaking his fist in the face of the Creator so as to put His goodness on trial? I am astounded by such a response! I know very little of relating to God in this way and realize that such a response says alot more than I think about the way I see and relate to the Lord of hosts. I expect God to tell me His reasons for doing what He does. I expect God to answer all of my questions (in a way that I will deem as satisfactory even though I may not admit it). I am inclined to define for myself what it means for God to be good. Where, I ask, do such expectations and inclinations come from? Is this the way the Bible teaches that I am to interact with the only wise God? According to this passage, Ezekiel doesn't interact with God in this way. Why not? What I want to know is: Why does Ezekiel respond to God's actions the way that he does? How is it possible for him to do so? In answering this question, my aim is to know if this indeed is the way I am to interact with the Almighty and how it is that I do so.

After taking away the life of Ezekiel's wife, the LORD then proceeds to instruct the prophet to tell the house of Israel that, just like He acted toward Ezekiel, He will "profane [His] sanctuary, the pride of [their] power, the delight of [their] eyes, and the yearning of [their] soul, and [their] sons and [their] daughters whom [they] left behind shall fall by the sword" (v.21). In other words, He is going to intentionally afflict and grieve the house of Israel just as He did to Ezekiel in taking away his wife, the "delight of [his] eyes" (v.16). Notice the repetition of the same phrase "delight of your eyes" in the Lord addressing Ezekiel alone (v.16) and the house of Israel (v.21). And just as Ezekiel was forbidden to weep or mourn, so is the house of Israel (v.23). In this way, Ezekiel, in the experience of losing his wife, is to be a sign for Israel in what they are about to experience. And the end goal for the house of Israel in all this is that they will know that the one who called them into covenant is the Lord GOD (v.24).

This is driven home as we see it repeated by the LORD to Ezekiel in v.27: "So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the LORD." The parallels in v.24 and v.27 are striking:
Thus shall Ezekiel be to you a sign; according to all that he has done you shall do. When this comes, then you will know that I am the Lord God.
Ezekiel 24:24

So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the LORD.
Ezekiel 24:27
Twice the LORD moves from what Ezekiel will experience to what the house of Israel will come to know. The house of Israel doesn't know something that they must know. But Ezekiel isn't included with them. Look again at v.27: "So you (Ezekiel) will be a sign to them (house of Israel), and they (house of Israel) will know that I am the LORD" (emphasis mine). The LORD addresses Ezekiel and Israel as two distinct entities because, quite simply, Ezekiel knows that He is the LORD and the house of Israel doesn't, say what they will.

Do you see that? The implications are staggering! God is, in effect, saying that Ezekiel demonstrates by his actions the knowledge of what it means that He is God, the One who is sovereign in commanding and doing what He will. Our lives look a certain way when we really know this! And they look completely different if we don't, regardless of what we may say.

The psalmist cries out: "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth" (Psalm 8:1)! Before we can embrace God as our master who will use His infinite power on our behalf, we must acknowledge that He is Yahweh, the great "I AM", the One who eternally is and exists in perfect glory and majesty without ever figuring created beings into the picture. He is the absolute One! He is the infinitely wise and powerful One whose ways are higher than our ways and whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9) so that we shouldn't even dare approach the throne of the Almighty without His first summoning us to His presence. Perhaps our quickness to want to enter into arguing with the One who sits on high shows that we don't know that He is the LORD.

What does it mean that God is the LORD, the great "I AM"? Moses receives that revelation in the desert:
I AM, I AM, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty...
Exodus 34:6,7
The house of Israel, in Ezekiel's day, was filled with iniquity and transgression and sin and they needed to know particularly that what it means for God to be the LORD is that He will not clear them. Were He to clear them with the knowledge of their guilt, He would cease to be the LORD. And this will never be.

Ezekiel, on the other hand, knew that the first thing it means for God to be the LORD is that He is merciful and gracious. Every blessing that he had in his life, including the delight of his eyes (his wife), was owing to free and unmerited mercy and grace so there was no way he could lay any claim to it. There's no doubt in my mind that he joined the chorus that Job sang with the words: "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). In other words: "All that I have, the sovereign LORD has given to me though I don't deserve it. So how could I begrudge Him for taking what rightfully belongs to Him?"

But, for me, the best part of Ezekiel knowing that God is the LORD has to be that He is the God who abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness. For those who trust Him and love His sovereign throne and His infinite majesty, He will not stop loving them or demonstrating His faithfulness towards them because that is what it means for Him to be the LORD! By His own definition! Were He to cease to abound in faithfulness and dispensation of love towards those who exalt His holy name, He would cease to be the LORD! And this will never be. This is where the hope of Ezekiel must lie. Indeed, this is where the hope of all God's people must lie. As we trust Him and walk in obedience to His commands, He never ceases to pour out steadfast love and faithfulness out on us no matter how much affliction or grief we might suffer. What we must strive to learn is that, in ways that usually won't be revealed on this side of eternity, the affliction and grief is no less a part of the steadfast love and faithfulness poured out on us than the pleasures we welcome. God knows what is good better than any and He is "preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17). God never stopped being good to Ezekiel in taking his wife away. And He never stops being good to us if we truly know that He is the LORD. Oh "let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23). Indeed He must be, for this is precisely what it means for Him to be the LORD!
... if we are faithless, he remains faithful -- for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:13
Father in Heaven, help us to know what it means for You to be the LORD! We know so little. Indeed, many of us have inherited a vision of You that isn't from the Bible. In a society that exalts self, we inevitably breathe air that causes us to define You as only in relation to us. But, oh how mistaken we are. For You are the God who existed in all Your perfection before You ever set forth creation. Infinite in wisdom, infinite in power, infinite in love, infinite in happiness, infinite in faithfulness, infinite in goodness. You were all these things before we ever came into being and You didn't need us to exist in order for these attributes of Yours to make sense. So grant that we would be a people who know that divine goodness, divine faithfulness, and divine love are defined apart from us. And make us a people who have the eyes to see and know and experience these precious characteristics of Yours at all times because they are most certainly always shining. By Your grace, may You please lift us from such lowly thoughts of You to higher altitudes where we will breathe the pure, biblical air of Your resplendent majesty for all of our days! Do this for Your sake I pray. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thank You Heavenly Father for My Earthly Father

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:4
Thinking about my dad is often difficult. I am inclined to focus on all the ways I don't feel like he was the father I needed him to be during my years growing up. So it is no surprise for me to walk into the store to look for a father's day card and feel like all of the cards I browse through would be nothing more than cheap sentimentality as pertaining to my relationship with my dad.

But that's because the vast majority of the cards in the store don't highlight what the most important duty is for a father. They often describe the ideal father in terms that make him look like the best father in the world. But that's not how the Bible describes the ideal father. I now know that the most important role a man can play in his son's or daughter's life isn't to try to be the best father in the world to them, but rather to try to point them to the One who is the greatest Father in the world, the only perfect Father: our heavenly Father. In both cases, the best a human dad can do is try. Because in both cases he will always fail to do so successfully.

So I was more thankful for my sinful, imperfect earthly father on this father's day than ever for the ways that he tried to live as a pointer to my heavenly Father all of my years growing up.

I am eternally grateful that my earthly father never spared me punishment when I broke the laws he set before me because now I know that there is a punishment from my heavenly Father that I dare not doubt the severity of.

I am eternally grateful that my earthly father exerted authority over me and demanded respect from me so that I feared him because now I fear nothing more than disobeying my heavenly Father's will or trifling with Him as though He were someone I could talk to as a peer.

I am eternally grateful that my earthly father never gave me a reason to doubt his strength or that I was protected in his presence because now I know that my heavenly Father is the ever-present, unfailing, unshakable Rock who upholds me with the saving might of His infinitely strong right hand.

I am eternally grateful that my earthly father worked unceasingly so as to provide for my every need because now I know that my heavenly Father works for me so that I will never go without.

My earthly father fell short in more ways than I could count. But by God's grace, as He so loves to do, my dad's meager five loaves and two fish were used to produce an immeasurable result in my life. I don't doubt for one second that I know who my heavenly Father is today because of the fact that I was given an earthly father who would show me something, albeit imperfect, of who He is. I wonder how many of my friends don't know God as their heavenly Father because they never heard their earthly father tell them "no". I wonder how many of my friends don't know God as their heavenly Father because their earthly father spared them the rod every time. I wonder how many of my friends don't know God as their heavenly Father because their earthly father gave them little by which to recognize Him. Oh, how good my heavenly Father was to me in giving me the earthly father that He did! Were I to have had what at times growing up would have been my own choice of an earthly father, I probably wouldn't know God as my Father today.

Thank You heavenly Father for Your immeasurable mercies that are poured out in every millisecond of my life in ways I can't comprehend. I tremble at such grace.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

To Live Is Christ

My heart was encouraged and challenged as I read the following creed composed by, Jason Harms, a musical artist who attends John Piper's church in Minneapolis.  Every statement made in it embodies the heart cry of the apostle Paul when he says that to live is Christ (Philippians 1:21).  I especially delighted in #8.  I want to know what it means to embrace such a spirit and posture in all of what I do in this life.  For this man it's making music.  For some it's building houses.  For some it's teaching 1st graders.  For some it's writing computer software.  For others it's dancing or playing basketball or swinging a golf club.  How do we do all of these things to explicitly point to the infinite excellency of our Creator and away from ourselves?  How do we receive all of these gifts of ability and expression in such a way that the Giver really does get all the glory?  I want to know so as to live in such a way and bring as many with me as possible.  May the Lord teach us more fully each day how to, "whether [we] eat or drink, or whatever [we] do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)."  Do you really know what this means?  I know I don't, but I thank God that through Jason Harms I am now a little closer.

"€œFor from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen."- Romans 11:36.

God was pleased to make man, and God made man with the capacities to create. Apart from God, man would not be, nor would man have any artistic, creative ability. Therefore, to engage in any artistic expression of man as though it were apart from God, is to both dishonor God, the Author of man and of artistic expression, and to deny ourselves the full pleasures that God has intended for our enjoyment in art; culminating in our enjoyment in Him, through Jesus Christ.

So with God'€™s help and to the glory of Jesus Christ alone, as I engage with art, 

I. To grow in the knowledge, love and enjoyment of God as I embrace God's skillful, aesthetic emanation of what God knows, loves and enjoys of Himself.
(Romans 1:19-20, John 17:25-26)

II. To pursue eyes that see as God sees as I am presented with all that He has put to image in what He created.
(Romans 1, 1 Samuel 16:7)

III. To boast only in Christ in my artistic labor since all things were created through Him and for Him, and in Christ all things hold together.
(Colossians 1:15-17, I Corinthians 4:7)

IV. To understand how, and to acknowledge that, my standing before God is exclusively dependant and grounded in Christ's work on the cross, and is in no way earned by any worthy artistic labor I engage in.

[Colossians 1:18-23].

V. To put my hope for satisfaction and provision in God alone through the work of Christ, and never rest my hope on art, audience or self.
(Deuteronomy 8:3).

VI. To pursue the joys of faithful obedience as a bondservant of Christ in all that He has called and charged me with in the arts.
(Galatians 1:10)

VII. To take pleasure in art for the sake of enjoying God; the Giver of art for my enjoyment.
(1 Timothy 6:17, Ecclesiastes 2:24-25)

To labor to artistically articulate the kind of beauty that will continue to satisfy even after my effort at the tangible representation of that beauty has long been consumed or destroyed.
(1 Timothy 6:6-7)

IX. To labor in the arts in such a way as to lay up as much treasure in heaven as the Holy Spirit enables and my faculties allow.
(Matthew 6:19-21)

To seek the edification of others through my artistic labors.
(Romans 12:6-8)

XI. To not bed with the creeds of sterility, mediocrity or spineless-complaisancy as they all trade the grandest joys for the quick and temporal.
[Revelation 3:15-17].

XII. To not defile myself as I study, with much discipline, the "€œliterature and language" of the arts.
[Daniel 1:4)

XIII. To discipline my body and mind towards the skills that God has bestowed upon me, and that in the strength that He gives.

(Exodus 36:1, I Corinthians 15:10)

XIV. To prize humility, as humility is more valuable and more beautiful than the most aesthetically pleasing work held in the hand of pride.
(1 Peter 5:5, Philippians 2:3, Proverbs 22:4)

To seek the full pleasures to be had in art by engaging art through engaging God.
(1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Jason Harms

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Righteous Shall Live

None of the transgressions that the has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.
Ezekiel 18:22
But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice ... None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.
Ezekiel 18:24
The righteous shall live. The unrighteous shall die. It seems like an easy enough concept. For "whatever one sows, that will he also reap (Galatians 6:7)." Sowing righteousness reaps life. Sowing unrighteousness, or wickedness, reaps death. And it is our own doing. "For the righteousness that he has done he shall live (Ezekiel 18:22, italics my own)." And for "the sin he has committed, for them he shall die (Ezekiel 18:24, italics my own)."

But there is a problem. "None is righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10)." Paul here quotes the psalmist (Psalm 14:1-3, 53:1-3) in declaring the universal truth that no man is righteous. There is no man or woman conceived by two human parents who is not corrupt, who is naturally inclined to do that which is good (Psalm 14:1). The infinitely wise God knew this perfectly well when He instructed His people through the prophet Ezekiel that by their righteous they would live (18:22). God, knowing that no child of man is inherently righteous, was then either playing cruel games with His people in telling them to be something that they could never be or there was another sense in which He defined their righteousness than an inherent inclination to do good deeds.

Looking at the context of these verses in chapter eighteen of Ezekiel makes it clear that the latter is the case. In verse 22, the righteousness done by a person, by which he will live, is set against the backdrop of the transgressions that he has committed. We know this because God makes it clear that these transgressions will not "be remembered against him (18:22)." Though there is unrighteousness that he has done by which he should be condemned, it will not be counted but only the righteous deeds that he has done will be counted as the basis by which he will live. So we see that righteousness performed by a man is necessary if he is to live.

But then God sets this hypothetical man who turns from unrighteousness to righteousness against another hypothetical man who turns from righteousness to unrighteousness. This man too, just like the former, has righteous as well as unrighteous deeds that he has performed. And the difference between the two men is that, whereas the first man has his unrighteous deeds forgotten and only his righteous deeds remembered, the second has his righteous deeds forgotten and only his unrighteous deeds remembered! His unrighteous deeds that he has done will be counted as the basis by which he will die.

So then we must ask, if both men commit righteous deeds but only one lives, are righteous deeds themselves performed by a man the basis by which he lives? There is no way we can answer yes to this question because if it were so then it would surely follow that both men would live since they both perform righteous deeds, but that is not what the Scriptures say.

So what, then, is truly the basis by which a man will eternally live and not die if not the righteous deeds that he himself performs?

What will make a man turn from deeds of unrighteousness to deeds of righteousness?

What will keep a man from choosing to turn from deeds of righteousness to deeds of unrighteousness?

These are questions that we must ponder carefully and diligently. For the answers we arrive at are of eternal consequence.

Almighty Father in heaven, thank You that You are a God who has made Yourself known to us. You have made Yourself known to us primarily through Your Word and You have told us that You do not change. So grant that we would be a people who know You as You really are. May we love truth because we love You and so seek to be a people who know as much truth as is possible in this life about Your character, Your ways, and Your dealings with man by giving ourselves to unceasing, diligent study of Your Word. We don't want to be deceived and led astray so we plead with You to forbid that this would happen. But instead, by sovereign grace, would You please open our eyes to see things as they really are, to see You as You really are, and not just leave us to our own ideas of what seems to be. You alone are wise, Father, and we are foolish. So glorify Yourself in giving us the wisdom that You alone possess because the Giver gets the glory. May it always be so. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Curtis "Voice" Allen performed the following spoken word at Sovereign Grace's New Attitude Conference. It is a meditation on the infinite depths of the word "grace" that we can only begin to unfold in this life because it will take an eternity to comprehend. May this word never be taken for granted by those who have been redeemed by Christ.

Unmerited favor toward those who deserve wrath.
Unmerited favor toward those who because of sin wouldn’t desire to ask
Unmerited but given, inherited our sinning

Is salvation from predestination, Christ gave his life to change our
Is good health, when we deserve bad
It is unmerited favor to those who deserve wrath.
Is good relationships with God and with others
Is the reason we call each other brothers.
Grace forgets mistakes and gives new air to breathe
It the reason we sing, we pray and we read
Grace is the warm breeze when it's cold and the cool breeze when it's hot
Grace would be everything but some things it's not

Intense hatred for sin.
Is God righteous judgment for crime against him.
Is just as much God as Mercy, Love, and forbearance
It is Holy and Just and will make it's appearance
Is that reality we like to forget, when we lie, when we steal, when we hate
Is the result, of the sins of our faults becase of the fall
Is Jesus, who did nothing, who said nothing but is everything,
beaten 39 times with a whip that rips with an incredible sting
Is having a crown of thorns pressed down to your eyes
Is being innocent but yet crucified.
Is real as said in His word
Is toward those who deserve

Toward you
Do you think you do not deserve when God says judgment comes at every
Do you think wrath is somewhat true?
Do you realize that wrath should come after you
but yet, no, where wrath says goodbye grace says hello

Unmerited favor
You did not, you will not, ever earn
It is a gift that is free, it is a gift that is learned

Grace, grace, grace paid for my sins and brought me to life
Grace, grace, grace paid for my sins and brought me to Christ
Unmerited yet inherited, ah, grace amazing grace

Is God’s Response At Christ¹s Expense
Is God Remembers All Christ Events
Is God’s Reaction Against Creation’s enmity
Is God Relents Against Christ’s enemies
Is what the world sees but does not grasp but for us

Grace is unmerited favor toward those who deserve wrath

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Catalina Island: The Gospel According To Mark

It seems so simple Jesus,
Why do I struggle so?
When you promise to hold my hand,
Why do I let you go?
When all your disciples listen,
And even the unclean spirits obey,
I feel the hardness of heart set in,
And instead I just turn away.
Over your own mother and brothers,
You claim me as your true blood,
But instead of seizing my treasures,
I sit here and I play in the mud.
My selfish desires and cares of the world,
They impair my ability to see,
I number my possessions and my friends,
And not the miracles you've worked in me.
When I think of your awesome acts,
How you silence the winds and calm the seas,
None of them could ever compare,
To how you've treated my sin disease.
Yes, you are the greatest of physicians,
And you teach like no other can teach,
So why do I choose to sit still,
Instead of to you to stretch out and reach?
I see your desire for my faith,
I recognize my desire to fear,
When I can give mine in order to receive yours,
I have ears but I do not hear.
I'm so sorry to cause you such grief,
When I have nothing to offer, too,
To know you will never turn your back on me,
From the bottom of my heart I thank you Jesus,
I promise to not turn my back on you.

I wrote that poem in June of 2003 towards the end of a week long camp in which I studied the first half of the Gospel according to Mark. Tomorrow I return to Catalina Island for the 5th time and will be helping to teach through the second half of the Gospel according to Mark. I didn't know it four years ago, but my eyes were being opened to glory in a way that would irrevocably transform my eternity. And now I know that the only reason I continue to lay hold of this Jesus is because He continues to lay hold of me. I pray that my eyes would be opened to see more of His glory this week. I pray that the eyes of the students who come would have their eyes opened to see the glory of Christ in a way that would irrevocably transform their eternities so that they might say with the apostle Paul: "to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21)." This is work that the Sovereign God alone can do. Please pray with me that He would be pleased to do it for His name's sake.

...having the eyes of [our] hearts enlightened, that [we] may know what is the hope to which he has called [us], what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
Ephesians 1:18-21

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Zeal for the Glory of God is NOT Optional

Thabiti Anyabwile wrote a must read post yesterday addressing the question, "How zealous are we for the honor of our God?"

It just so happened in the providence of God that I was making my way through chapter 9 of Ezekiel that morning (before reading Thabiti's post) and afterward recognized how little zeal I have for the glory of God yet how unacceptable this is. The following is a response I wrote to Thabiti explaining how what he wrote about confirmed what God had spoken to me that morning.

"Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it." And to the others he said in my hearing, "Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity...but touch no one on whom is the mark."
Ezekiel 9:4-6
Bro Thabiti,

Thank you for the post. I love the providence of God in that when He speaks, you know He speaks!

For my devotional this morning the Lord had me meditating on Ezekiel 9. In the midst of the rampant idolatry in Jerusalem, the LORD sends a man clothed in linen to "put a mark on the foreheads (v.4)" of those who the six men to come after should not slaughter. Everyone without the mark is to be killed.

Now what is the criteria that the Lord says this man should use to determine who to mark and so spare from destruction? At first I passed over this. But then I was struck and sobered as I realized what the LORD did NOT say.

He did NOT say to mark those who were not participating in the abominations being committed. Truth be told, there probably was none visible who wasn't participating in such abominations granted how bad things were by then but that's not the point.

The LORD said:
"Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it (v.4, emphasis mine)."

This is chilling and sobering. And this is what marks out, according to your post, those who are zealous for the honor of God and those who aren't.

As we look across the wasteland of abominations before us today, it's easy to say "My hands are clean." Little to no regard for the glory of God is necessary for that. We can simply be nice people with complete indifference to the Creator just like any atheist.

But it's another thing to "sigh and groan" at such things before our eyes. It takes labor. It takes cultivation of heart to see and savor the glory of Christ. That's NOT easy. It's actually not humanly possible. Yet God demands it.

So as I am humbled, convicted, and challenged at the realization of my weak affections and zeal for the God who is infinitely worthy, I am thankful that we serve a God who commands us to do that which He alone must supply the grace for.

And so I pray, "Lord, grant me such zeal for the honor of Your name that will cause me to sigh and groan and weep at the sins and indifference to You that is ever before me."

Oh that this spirit would be recaptured in the Church today!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

It's A Matter of the Heart

The following is a response (with a couple of minor edits) I recently wrote to a friend concerning the topic of swearing and whether it matters if we do it or not.

Hey [friend],

Thanks for the response. I appreciate the time and thought you put into writing this up. With that, I'd like to respond.

As I read what you wrote, my concern isn't even so much with swearing. I think that is a symptom of a much bigger issue that concerns me.

You mentioned this line from the Grudem article in passing but didn't comment on it whatsoever:

"It struck me at the time how a person's purity or impurity of speech is often an indicator of purity or impurity of heart."

The problem with the entire argument that you made is that it doesn't take into account that there is any connection between your heart and what comes out of your mouth. You seem to assume that actions are more important than speech, which at best is superficial. It sounds like a good idea to me except for one thing: it's not from the Bible.

Jesus, in speaking of when He will return, says:

"On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"
Matthew 7:22,23

This has been called by one of my favorite pastors (John MacArthur) "the scariest verse in the Bible". In case you don't think so, read it again. Read it five times. Ten times. Our actions (works) are NOT what God is ultimately interested in.

And lest you think that I believe that God is ultimately interested in our speech then I will "seemingly" contradict my own argument with these words of Jesus (who is here quoting Isaiah the prophet) as He speaks of the Pharisees:

"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;"
Matthew 15:8

So NO, I don't think that God is ultimately interested in our speech either. But Jesus here does makes it clear what God is interested in: our hearts.

Now this is a tricky thing because the heart in many ways seems like an abstract thing. How can you show what's inside the heart? You can't! Only God knows what's there. And that is exactly why Christianity isn't like every other religion that can be reduced down to do's and don't's. It's about loving God. And that means our affections are bent towards God. We feel towards God more than what we feel towards mom, dad, brother, sister, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife or whatever we are inclined to love in this life. That requires complete and utter transformation of the heart.

So what I'm concerned with isn't that you stop swearing. I'm concerned with whether you long for, pray for, are desperate for complete and utter transformation of the heart.

I'm talking about the kind of transformed heart that says with the psalmist:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1

This is a man in love with God if I've ever seen one and that is what I want to be. And because he is a man in love with God, seemingly all that his lips are used for is praise (verses 3, 4, 5, 7 of the same psalm). This is amazing!

David in this Psalm shows the positive side of what Jesus means when he criticizes the Pharisees by saying:

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
Matthew 12:34

So there is no doubt in my mind that if you longed for this kind of heart transformation (I'm not talking about possessing it because that is something that God alone can do--and this should make you tremble because "the wind blows where it wishes [John 3:8]" ), we wouldn't be having this conversation. You would recognize that your lips don't praise God enough and ask for God's mercy to give you a heart that praises Him more. I do hope that this would be your prayer.

In closing, I want to look at Ephesians 5:3-5.

3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Notice what Paul does here. In verse 4, he forbids three actions that involve the mouth and I would say that swearing is counted in this category of things. Most believe that it is filthy. If you don't believe me, then why don't we teach our children these words? And at best, it is foolish talk. I wonder what else Paul would include here? And often our crude joking includes swearing. Then notice what Paul sets these three things against to, in my opinion, show that he is referring to what should be done with the mouth. He sets them against thanksgiving! How do we primarily give thanks? By speaking! We say thank you and that is how we primarily (though not the only way) express gratitude.

Now this is where we should become stunned. Paul concludes his argument (I say that because he uses the word "for" which is the ground of everything that comes before it. You can replace it with "because".) in verse 5 by saying that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure or covetous has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. What!?!? Do you see what he just did? He just put that which we do with our mouths in the same category as that which we do with our sexual desires and sexual organs! You can't separate the two because that (sexual immorality) is what Paul started with in verse 3 before going on to verses 4 and 5. He didn't have to write verse 4 for this sequence of thought to make sense. But he did! Why? Because Paul knows (as learned from Jesus) that these all point to the heart. And the heart is what will determine whether or not we inherit the kingdom of Christ and God.

So please take heed. In your letter you said alot about not judging others. And you got it right when you said that you don't do this because God will judge them. But did you take it a step further? What does it mean for God to judge them? What does it mean for God to judge you?

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Romans 14:12

And that account won't be of how we interacted with other people I can assure you. It will be an account of how our heart was before God. This ultimately has nothing to do with other people. There will be many on that day standing before God of whom there will be nobody in the world to have anything other than good words to say about them. And they will be without excuse because they never thought about how their heart was before God.

So join me in trembling with fear before the One whom we will not see if our hearts are not pure before Him.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Matthew 5:8