Saturday, March 31, 2007

For Your Joy

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
2 Corinthians 1:24

This is the goal of my life. This is what I'm living for. This is what I want to die for. This is what I mean when I join Piper in saying that I exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. And Jesus alone.

This is precisely why survival isn't the goal. You can't live for this and for survival at the same time. Are you living to show that He's more precious than life?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Survival Isn't the Goal

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21
Have you ever wondered what Paul means when he makes this statement? Sam Crabtree, one of the pastors at Bethlehem Baptist Church where John Piper preaches, helps us understand the mind of the apostle with a profound meditation. Here is an excerpt (you should read the whole thing here. It's actually a meditation on Isaiah 7:1-9.):
The battle is the Lord’s. But if we choose to make the battle ours, and choose to make survival the goal of the battle, then we start to figure the angles, make subtle accommodations, compromise here and there, demote moral conviction, and do anything to win, to survive. What we need is a fundamental shift in the center of gravity in our lives from focusing on survival of ourselves to glorifying God, even in death.

At the outset of his public ministry, Jesus was driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit for forty days and nights, to be tempted. That’s a long time without nourishment. He begins his ministry about to starve to death. (At the beginning of your ministry, people will not beat a path to your bones.) Survival in jeopardy. And what does he say? “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” He could say no to Satan because he had settled the fundamental issue of survival. The issue was not bread, but obedience.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could remain faithful in the face of fiery flames because they had settled the issue of survival.

Daniel could persist in prayer because he had settled the issue of lions’ dens.

David could charge Goliath with a bag of small stones because he had settled the issue of what was worth dying for.

The martyrs in Revelation testified in the face of death threats and overcame Satan.
Revelation 12:11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

In contrast, Caiaphas had to survive (If we do not destroy Jesus we will lose our place.), and so he concocted a bogus legal proceeding.

Pilate had to survive (“You’re not Caesar’s friend.” Oh, so that’s the issue.), and so he washed his hands of it and said “Crucify him.”

Beware the impulse to survive. You may become something you didn’t intend. Ironically, if you don’t believe, you won’t last. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.

Dying is only gain when we love Christ and His glory and coming to behold the fullness of it in eternity more than we love this life and the comfort that it offers. When we love Jesus in this way then, and only then, will we join Paul in being indifferent to whether we live or die, caring only that Christ will be honored in our bodies (Philippians 2:20).

Who cares about survival? Paul didn't. Daniel didn't. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn't. And Jesus surely didn't.

I pray that when my time comes, I won't.

Oh Father, make us a people who love Christ more than we love life. Only You can make this happen by doing a supernatural work in our hearts. May we desire the infinitely satisfying glory of Christ more than we desire pain-free lives. Do this for Your Son's sake, that we may show Him to be the infinite treasure that He is. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Food for More than Thought

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger; and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
John 6:35
I’ve always wondered at these words of Jesus. Not hunger? NEVER thirst? Really? Why does it seem like it’s so much harder to always find my soul satisfaction in Him than He makes it seem with these words? I think I’m coming to Him the best way I know how. I think I’m believing in Him the best way I know how. So why do I still find myself at times hungering for joy or thirsting for gladness? Well if Jesus is the God of the universe who is always true to His Word (were this not the case then there would be no reason to read any of the Bible or trust anything it says), then there is only one answer to this question: I hunger because I stop coming to Him. I thirst because I stop believing in Him.

So what does it mean to come to Jesus so that I don’t just think that I come to Him but really do come to Him? What does it mean to believe in Jesus so that I don’t just think that I believe in Him but really do believe in Him? Well, notice the way Jesus describes the effects of coming and believing. The effect of coming, according to Jesus, is that hunger is removed. So, in Jesus’ mind, coming is associated with the act of eating. Similarly, the effect of believing is that thirst is removed. So believing, for Jesus, is associated with the act of drinking. Therefore, there is something that I need to be eating and drinking in order to be truly coming to and believing in Jesus. If Jesus is the bread of life, then surely it is He Himself that we must eat of. But how does this work out in practice? I think the prophet Isaiah points us in the right direction:

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live;
Isaiah 55:1-3

The parallels between what Isaiah says and what Jesus says hundreds of years later are staggering! They both talk about the act of coming. They both address the concepts of hunger and thirst. They both identify bread as the food that satisfies. And they both underscore the importance of believing.

So how does Isaiah help us understand Jesus? It seems like we will understand what Jesus is telling us to eat and drink if we understand what Isaiah is telling us to eat and drink. In order to do this, notice what Isaiah associates eating with.

Listen dilligently … and eat … and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear… and come…

hear, that your soul may live (be sustained).

Do you see what God is saying through Isaiah? He three times commands the act of hearing in an active sense. This hearing is not passive. It requires actions. God commands hearing in the same way that He commands eating. And because hearing and eating are so tightly interconnected in this passage, it seems like God is saying that the hearing is the eating. But it is more than just hearing. I eat what is good, and delight in rich food when I hear the words that God speaks to me and believe them to be true so that they satisfy my soul.

When I hear the words of Jesus and believe them to be true, my hunger and thirst are filled not necessarily by what I long for in that moment, but by the exceedingly wonderful nature of Jesus’ promises and the hope that I have in Him. The effect is that even if I don’t have what I may want in this moment, I know that my Savior will give me that which will satisfy me eternally. And this, I believe, produces the joy and gladness to satisfy me now.

So I must feed on promises. I must feed on the promises of Jesus. I must feed on the promises of God, all of which Jesus has secured for me.

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him (Jesus). That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
2 Corinthians 1:20

This is why our infinitely wise God has made us human beings with physical appetites. It’s so that we can know the indispensable necessity of continually sustaining ourselves with His promises. I am convinced that our physical appetites are designed by God primarily to show us that we must feed our souls in the same way that we feed our bodies. How often do I eat in a day to feed my body? How often do I eat the promises of God in a day to feed my soul?

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
Deuteronomy 8:3

God has designed physical hunger to allow us to have a glimpse at what happens in our souls when we neglect feeding on His Words. Oh, that we would eat! For if we do, Jesus promises that we will not hunger and thirst but will have our souls satisfied so that we may “rejoice and be glad all our days (Psalm 90:14)” and not just some of our days. This is what the prophet Jeremiah discovered:

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.
Jeremiah 15:16

May we discover the same.

Gracious Father, forgive us. Forgive us for the ways that we feed on seemingly anything but Your Word. Forgive us for the ways we don’t look first to Your Word when we are lacking joy and gladness in our hearts. Forgive us for the ways that we commit idolatry by eating food more than we eat of Your Word. Oh, that You would open our eyes and make Your words from the Bible to be a joy and the delight of our hearts as You did for Jeremiah! Make us a people who trust not what the world says, not what our own hearts and minds say, but who joyfully trust what Your Word says! Make us a people whose hope is ever rooted in the unspeakable greatness of Your Son. Thank You that He is the only reason we have any reason to hope. For without Him in His perfect life and death and resurrection we would have no claim to any of Your promises and thus nothing to feed on. So may You give us new eyes to see His infinite beauty and worth as we behold Him with the eyes of faith through Your Word. Father, we want to trust Your promises not so that we get the gifts, but because we know that this magnifies You. The Giver ALWAYS gets the glory. So may we never allow anything or anyone else to be our giver. Thank You that You, the Giver, are infinitely better than Your gifts. May You be most glorified in us by making us to be most satisfied in You. In Jesus’ name we utter these things for His glory, Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

God Still Speaks

Wow. I don't need to say more. Read this article by John Piper.

The Morning I Heard the Voice of God

Or better yet, listen to the audio (just over 10 minutes).

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Disaster Avoiding Necessity of Pleasure

Hear, o earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not paid attention to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it. What use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane form a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me.
Jeremiah 6:19,20
Why aren't the sacrifices of Jerusalem pleasing to the LORD? Why does He not accept their offerings? The plainest answer to see from the Scriptures is that the people aren't pleased to give them! How can the LORD be pleased in receiving sacrifices from people who aren't pleased to give them? That wold be absurd! It would defeat the purpose of the offering or sacrifice since the one who is giving is essentially the one who comes to define the terms of the giving rather than the One who calls for the sacrifice. It would make the LORD out to bee a fool. And a fool He is not.

So how do we know that Jerusalem isn't pleased to give the offerings and sacrifices that they give in v.20? Well if we look just one verse earlier, we see that they have not paid attention to the words of the LORD and have rejected His law (v. 19). This, at first, doesn't make sense. Why would the LORD follow this statement about the rejection of His law by a seeming example of obedience to His law in the giving of burnt offerings and sacrifices, which was commanded in the Mosaic law (Leviticus 16:23,24)? It seems like a contradiction since the people are indeed giving sacrifices and the LORD simply isn't accepting them. Well, almost.
Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it;
Jeremiah 6:10
Look closely at the second half of the tenth verse earlier in the same chapter. Jeremiah here says that the word of the LORD is an object of scorn to Jerusalem, language similar to that in v.19 of them having rejected the law and not paying attention to it. And here is the all-important connection: how does Jeremiah follow his thought to show how he sees that the word of the LORD is scorned by Jerusalem? Does he say that they scorn the word of the LORD because they don't obey it? NO! He says that they take no pleasure in it! Do you see that? In Jeremiah's inspired mind, the opposite of scorning the word of the LORD isn't simply to obey it, but rather to take pleasure in it! The LORD gives His law so that we may love it! He demands that we love His word and take pleasure in doing what it says. This is NOT optional. It is a terrifyingly indispensable necessity.

There is absolutely no way someone can scorn the word of the LORD yet be pleased to offer sacrifices. If he hates the law of the LORD, he will hate giving sacrifices. If he dutifully follows the law of the LORD and dutifully obeys the word of the LORD, he will give sacrifices and offerings dutifully. And note this very well: The LORD will NOT match our duty with His pleasure! So the only alternative is that He simply will NOT accept our duty and that seems to be what is happening in the case of the people of Jerusalem here. God will not do ANYTHING out of duty! He is a gloriously happy God who does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3, Psalm 135:6)! And so He will be pleased to reject that which we offer up dutifully without our pleasure. The LORD will be pleased to receive only that which we are pleased to give. This alone is worship. This is the way He has ordained it. And because it is His prerogative and His alone to do it this way since He is God and we are not, we ought to tremble before Him and plead for the circumcised heart that loves the fullness of His law because we don't want to be the one whose sacrifice He rejects. The one whose sacrifice He rejects is the one whom He brings disaster upon (v.19).
Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.
Deuteronomy 28:47,48
Father, we tremble at the thought that You would reject that which we consider to be obedience and instead bring disaster and destruction upon us! Forbid that we would ever be resigned to monotonous, dutiful giving and obedience that is nothing more than routine or even resentful. For this shows that we have another agenda. But woe to us if we have any agenda other than that which is Your own! May we never expect You to meet our duty with Your pleasure! May we never pass contempt on Your emotions in that way but may we treat Your affections as infinitely valuable, knowing that our greatest pleasures that we can offer to You aren't even worthy of Your smallest pleasures in receiving them because ours are infinitely smaller and weaker. But thank You, Father, that You do delight to receive them! So may You enable us, by sovereign grace, to give all that we are and have with the utmost joy. May You grant us God-glorifying pleasure in all that we would do for the sake of Your Name. Circumcise our hearts Father. For we cannot do it ourselves. And may You do so continually in our lives so that our love for You may never grow cold. May You be most glorified in us by making us to be most satisfied in You. Always. For Jesus' sake I pray these things in His precious Name, Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Gloriously Liberating and Terribly Devastating

Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.
John 8:11

These words of Jesus are gloriously liberating and at the same time terribly devastating. They are gloriously liberating because the smallest offense I can commit against an infinitely holy God who is infinitely worthy of my worship and affection and admiration makes me deserving of an infinite punishment for the sin I have committed. There is no such thing as a small sin. I deserve condemnation so when Jesus says that He doesn’t condemn me that is gloriously liberating.

But at the same time these words are terribly devastating. They are terribly devastating because Jesus then tells me to stop sinning. And I know that no matter how hard I try, I cannot stop sinning. If the Lord would be pleased to grant me another day, I will sin tomorrow whether I like it or not and not only in ways that I will recognize but also (even more so) in ways that I won’t even be aware of. I CAN NEVER in this life love Him the way I ought to: with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind as He deserves and commands (Matthew 22:37). This is sin.

And so these words from Jesus, like almost everything for me in the Christian life, feel paradoxical. He says that He doesn’t condemn me for the sin that I have committed, but then He tells me to stop sinning as if to say my not being condemned is somehow dependent on my not sinning.

I don’t condemn your sin provided that you don’t continue to sin.

I don’t know if I believe that this is what Jesus is saying. But I do know this: If I continue to sin, I will be condemned by Jesus. And anyone who doesn’t think so probably isn’t saved because the apostle John later said that nobody who is “born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (1 John 3:8).”

So how do I live in glorious liberation rather than terrible devastation? Well it seems to me that if Jesus didn’t include the second half of the verse and had only said “Neither do I condemn you”, I would have no clue that sin is hideous, repugnant, and to be hated. Sin would be no big deal to me. And if I didn’t see sin as being so serious, I wouldn’t see it as something that should bring condemnation. So Jesus’ words would be unintelligible to me and would really amount to nothing more than nonsense. They wouldn't be gloriously liberating. So the answer isn't to eliminate the second half.

But when I see how ugly and devastating sin is because Jesus has told me to make war on it, then I am able to see the condemnation that comes with it. And when I feel the condemnation that I deserve from Him because of my sin, then and only then can I feel the wonder of being set free from the condemnation that I deserve.

I'm not ultimately saved from a life of insignificance. I'm not ultimately saved from a life of unhappiness. I'm not ultimately saved from a life of loneliness. I'm not ultimately saved from a life of stress or anxiety or boredom or brokenness or even the condemnation of man. I'm ultimately saved from the one thing in this world that I need saving from more than anything else: God's eternal, just, exceedingly terrible condemnation.

He doesn’t condemn me! He doesn’t condemn me! Even though He should! I deserve His wrath! But He lavishes me with His grace! I deserve the eternal torments of hell! But my inheritance is fullness of joy in His presence (Psalm 16:11)!

And so I sing …

How great is our God … sing with me … how great is our God …

Name above all names Worthy of our praise my heart will sing how great is our God

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me …

And so my thoughts, energies, meditations, and affections are directed towards God as I am caught up in worship. I am caught up in delighting in God’s infinite beauty, infinite power, infinite love, infinite goodness, infinite mercy, infinite righteousness, infinite wisdom, and all of His manifold perfections as much as I can throughout my day because there is nothing more wonderful to me.

And you know what the result will be? I will sin less. I will be so Godward in my orientation as I am consumed in Him that my sin will be consumed and I will cease to sin. As I am brought further up and further in to the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33), I will be unable to exalt myself in pride because I am caught up in exalting God. I will be unable to think lustful thoughts because my mind will be contemplating the wonders of His grace. I will be unable to commit idolatry by making a god of lesser things in my mind because I will be too busy making a god out of the One who alone is to be God! This will even affect how I interact with those I come into contact with throughout the day, making it harder for me to become angry with or judgmental towards them.

Thinking about my sin isn’t going to make me sin any less. I could literally spend entire days contemplating the depths of my sin and its ugliness and I wouldn’t be making it to be more serious than it is. The truth is that there is more sin in me than I even know about.

So my only hope for sinning no more is to direct all my energy, affections, and thoughts with all the vigor that I can to be fixed on the One who alone was without sin (Hebrews 4:15), the One in whom there “is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5)” so that I might become like Him in His sinlessness. Beholding the Holy One, I will become holy.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
2 Corinthians 3:18

Father, thank You that the words Your Son spoke in John 8:11 are both gloriously liberating and terribly devastating. Indeed they are gloriously liberating only because they are terribly devastating. We know that in this life we will never be without sin. But oh how we long for that day when we will finally be delivered from this body of death to be perfectly conformed to the likeness of Your Son! We ache for that day when we will without blemish stand before You face to face and experience the fullness of what we can only taste in part here in this life, that day when we will finally be able to love You the way we ought to. Come and make our joy complete so that we may no longer dabble with the suicidal pleasures of sin. May You be most glorified in us by making us to be most satisfied in You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Do The Next Thing

I came across this poem by an unknown (at least to me) author on Justin Taylor's blog last week. As I read it, I quickly became aware of its authorship being from Heaven and the echo of my heart was that this is indeed how we live moment by moment by faith in our Father's never ending future grace. May it ever be the prayer of our hearts.

Do The Next Thing

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe 'neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

So Father, I pray, that You would enable us, by sovereign grace that You alone can supply, to do the next thing, for Your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Trembling Before the Spirit (Part I)

Upon recently meditating on John 3, I was reminded of how I ought to tremble in worship before the Holy Spirit.

When Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees, comes to Jesus bringing what seems to be praise owing to the signs that he and others have seen Jesus perform, he probably wasn’t expecting Jesus to respond the way He does. Jesus responds, in effect, by saying, “Nicodemus, you haven’t seen anything.” We know that Jesus isn’t impressed by anyone commending Him on the basis of the signs that He does because we see just before this interaction with Nicodemus that Jesus doesn’t entrust Himself to those who “believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing (John 2:23).”

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John 3:3

Everyone can see signs. Everyone can see miracles. Everyone can see magic tricks. But “seeing they do not see (Matthew 13:13)” unless, Jesus says, they have been born again or, the more appropriate rendering from the Greek, from above.

But we all know that we didn’t do anything to bring about our first birth. We came into this world breathing and crying for reasons owing nothing to us. So when Jesus says we must be born again, in the same way we can do nothing to bring about this second birth. This becomes clear as Jesus continues.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
John 3:5,6

Our first birth is of the flesh. Our second birth is of the Spirit. Flesh cannot create spirit. It can only create more flesh. Flesh needs Spirit to come and create spirit. So how does one who is of the flesh get the Spirit to come and create spirit? Jesus tells us the devastating, self-determination destroying, and autonomy crushing answer.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
John 3:8

The conclusion is inescapable when you discover that the same Greek word means both wind and spirit. The Spirit blows where it wishes. The Spirit goes where the Spirit wants. The Spirit is self-determining. The Spirit is autonomous and NOT the human will. The human will can only hope and pray and cast itself desperately upon the Spirit for His grace and mercy.

Do you see the kingdom of God? Then worship with fear and trembling before the Holy Spirit who was pleased to blow upon you. He didn’t have to come your way. And He didn’t come your way because of anything you did. You weren’t born of the Spirit because you believed but rather you believed because you were born of the Spirit whether it happened when you were 7 or 37 years old.

Do you want to see the kingdom of God? Then throw yourself desperately before the Holy Spirit with fear and trembling in humble acknowledgement that you are completely at His mercy and utterly hopeless without Him.

Holy Spirit, thank You that You do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. May You be pleased to blow on all who read this so that they may see and enter Your magnificent Kingdom. May You get all the glory. Amen.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Created for Glory

Check out my roommate Francisco's myspace page and listen to his rhymes...

When I hear Francisco rap, my soul beams with delight as the glorious perfections of my Father are displayed in and through these gifts and talents that He has bestowed upon this brother of mine. I think to myself, "This is what he was created for." This music is a large part of those unique, God-assigned "good works, which God prepared beforehand, that [he] should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10)", for which he was created in Christ Jesus. This truth is magnified in the fact that as I listen to Francisco, I know that I could never do what he does. Not because I'm not good enough. The truth is, he isn't good enough either. But because that's not what my Father created me for. He created me to display His glory in certain ways. And He created Francisco to display it in others. These are the gifts of God, dispensed according to His own good pleasure.

"...bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made (Isaiah 43:7)."

Oh, the wonder of our infinitely glorious Father who created us to collectively be a collage of His infinite perfections!