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

Sunday, May 13, 2007

God's Precious Grace: The Failures of Those Before Us

Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old--
Lamentations 5:21
This is how Jeremiah's lament in Jerusalem ends. This is the plight of the people of Judah. They are separated from God and they long to be brought back to Him. They desire to be restored from their desolation and the request they make shows that they know that the way this will happen, the only way, is if they are restored to the LORD. They must be restored to God Himself. There is no restoration apart from the presence of the LORD and it seems like the people of Judah know this. Oh, do they ever know this! That is why they say in verse 3 that they "have become orphans, fatherless; [their] mothers are like widows." They say this because God was their Father but He no longer is. They are without a father so their plea in verse 21 is to be restored to their Father.

The people of Judah want to be restored to their Father because they remember what the days of old were like. Those days were infinitely better than these present days. When they remember what those days used to be like and then look at what their days are now like, how could they not say, "Renew our days as of old"? In those days they feasted on delicacies and were brought up in purple (4:5), purple representing the garments that the wealthiest wore. In those days their "princes were purer than snow [and] whiter than milk; their bodies were more ruddy than coral [and] the beauty of their form was like sapphire (4:6)." But these days they "must pay for the water [they] drink; the wood [they] get must be bought (5:4)." These days they are weary and have no rest (5:5). These days they are ruled by slaves and must get their own bread to eat from the wilderness at the risk of their lives (5:8,9).

This is stunning! How in the world did the people of Judah end up from where they were then, where God worked for them, to where they are now, being left to fend for themselves? The only answer that conceivably makes sense is that they were completely blind to what they had. They didn't recognize the benefits of having the infinitely powerful God of the universe as their Father who worked for them, who showed Himself gloriously strong on their behalf. They somehow weren't aware that they didn't have to pay for anything. They somehow weren't aware that food and all they could ever need was freely given to them in abundance. They somehow didn't like being ruled by the God who is infinitely kind, infinitely good, infinitely loving, infinitely righteous, and infinitely generous, as opposed to being ruled by slaves (5:8). They didn't love those days then. But oh how they love and long for them now!

Oh let us learn from them! Let us not be like them and be tempted this day to forget the infinite benefits we receive from our Almighty God this very moment. Let us instead place our hand over our mouth and tremble at the thought of being utterly rejected by our heavenly Father.

Righteous Father, forgive us for the countless ways we take You for granted. Most of us are rich in every sense of the word yet we don't even realize it. We are blind and so we are so easily deceived to change our glory for that which does not profit. We are prone to exchange the living God who works for us for other gods, created gods, that we have not known and can do nothing for us. We complain and bicker and moan, failing to realize that we don't even deserve that which we do have. Forgive us. Open the eyes of our hearts so that we may see the immeasurable riches we have in Your glorious presence. Make us to tremble with fear and terror at the thought of not having You as our Father. Grant that we wouldn't dismiss that thought but instead have it painted in vivid colors so that we know it is the reality of what will happen to us if we trifle with You. And then turn that trembling into overflowing delight in the beauty of Your countenance, making us love to fear You so that we may not turn from You. Thank You that You have not given us these words for nothing. Enable us to learn from them, Father, so as not to repeat them. May You be most glorified in us by making us to be most satisfied in You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Enslaved: Then and Now

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?...
Romans 6:16
The following poem was written by an alumnus of Setting Captives Free, a ministry for setting people free from slavery to sexual sin.

The Beast

The beast came a calling on a cold and lonely day.
He wanted to come inside so that we could play.
His voice was small and friendly, and he was lonely too.
I let him come inside with me, what else was I to do?
I learned so much from him as we started having fun.
I soon lost sight of trees and birds, of flowers in the sun.
It didn't matter, I did not care; the beast was my best friend.
I laughed with him and played with him, not looking at the end.
Little did I notice there in my bedroom
The beast had grown much larger, and light had turned to gloom.
We continued on into the night despite my weary fare.
I did not eat, I did not sleep; I simply did not care.
It felt so good to have this friend in the deep and dark midnight.
There was no one there to tell me this simply was not right.
Morning came, some friends stopped by; I had no time for them.
The beast was here, how little I knew - I was now in prison.
There were no bars; there were no gates, no locked doors to see.
But sure enough, I was trapped by one much stronger than me.
Time moved on, I continued to play; the beast continued to grow.
There still were no trees or birds for me, no sun on pure white snow.
There was only the beast and I, and the lust which filled my heart.
I never stopped to question the beast within my heart.
More days passed, and many nights, and I took another look.
When I reached out for the beast, on the floor I saw a Book.
It was old and it was worn, I had forgotten it was there.
There were whispers from its pages, a voice of love and care.
So quickly did the beast shut the Book up tight –
I had no time to read it and day turned back to night.
Morning gloom came slowly to my private room again.
Misty memories reminded me I had another Friend.
I told the beast to leave me alone, just for this one day.
I wanted to ask my other Friend if He would like to play.
The beast left without a word, he didn't even fight.
I spent the day with other Friend, He made me feel all right.
When day was done and I returned, beast was there for me.
It would take more than just one day to set this captive free.
More time passed, the beast grew large, and my life was filled with dark.
I was blinded to the fact this beast now filled my heart.
The Voice of Love I heard before called for me one more time
Reminding me the Book was there, and that the Book was mine.
I found it there upon the floor, the pages all torn up.
The beast had done its best to keep me from its touch.
There still were words that I could read, words of peace and life.
I told the beast I wanted to read; he hit with words that lie.
“All you ever need or ever want I have right here for you.
What need of words from a battered book that claims to speak the truth?”
“Still,” I said, “I want this Book, that’s what I’m reading for.
I can not let you stay with me to steal from me some more.
So let me read or go away, just be quiet now.”
With a roar, the walls came down; I knew not why or how.
I yelled and screamed, fought the beast, all to no avail.
The beast was stronger than I; he held me in this jail.
This beast I thought was my good friend, now held me in his arms.
If only I had known before I would have made alarm.
Now I knew it was much too late, I was captive all alone.
The beast began to squeeze me tight, crushing all my bones.
Then I remembered from the Book words which spoke of grace.
I called out to my other Friend; I began to see His face.
He told me I could never win against this mighty beast.
Hope quickly left my heart as I became a feast.
My other Friend spoke more words that filled my heart with Love.
“To beat this beast, you need all help from heaven up above.
I will ever fight for you if you confess your need of me.
If you try to fight alone - victory will flee.
Grace is all that’s needed and deep humility.
Choose now, my friend, the ugly beast or love and purity.
Count the cost, deny yourself, or choose a life of death.
You can be free right now, today, if you take this Breath.”
I ceased my struggles as tears of shame rolled down my burning face.
I don’t know why I forgot, or forsook this grace.
Scarcely had my heart subdued than the beast was gone -
And I was shown how deeply my heart was twisted and wrong.
I confessed it all, asked forgiveness of my Friend.
He held me gently in His arms, this love will never end.
Now I know it’s always choice, and life is filled with pain.
The pain of love I ever choose - never beastly pain again.
The beast comes knocking, now and then, to ask if I can play.
I tell him no, shut the door, and quickly run away.
And there on a table in my room sits an old and weary Book.
Its pages are ripped and taped together, better it never looked.
And my Friend is ever there, always by my side
To remind me beast will strike at the sight of pride.
He reminds me, too, of the price He paid to simply be with me.
The price I pay is small - compared to Calvary.

Kent Bevers
...But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Romans 6:17,18
Gracious Father in Heaven, thank You that being set free from sin doesn't mean we become our own masters but rather that we become slaves to righteousness. There is nothing greater in the world for a depraved sinner than to be enslaved to You. So here I am and love to be, forever. In Jesus' name, Amen.