I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
(Psalm 91:1-2 ESV)
Monday of this week was a day of mourning. Death came and snatched away life. I turned to Psalm 91 - a passage I often look at for comfort. And I was thinking about the promise: that whoever lives under God’s protection will stay in his protective shadow. He is the Almighty God, the all-powerful God who invites us to live with him, to dwell with him, to abide close to him. But the invitation isn’t all.
We have to respond: “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” God’s power, God’s might, and God’s greatness can be terrifying. We don’t want to naturally run to God. When we meet someone who is incredible, someone who has amazing skills, we are often intimidated by them. How much moreso with God?
But God doesn’t use his power, might, and greatness to intimidate us. He uses his power, might, and greatness to invite us to trust him, to find refuge in him when we face trouble, to live knowing that his protection doesn’t keep us from trouble, but that his protection means that he takes our troubles and makes them serve his purposes.
How do we trust him? How can we know that God won’t use his power, his might, and his greatness in a way that will intimidate us, that will cause us to flee from him? We see how God used his power, his might, and his greatness: he sent his One and Only Son to become a man, to live and walk in our shoes. The Creator became the created. The Infinite tasted the finite. The Powerful became the powerless. And that is how he used his power, might, and greatness - to come to us. And in the greatest display of power, might, and greatness, he chose to humble himself, become obedient, even to the point of death - death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus came to say that there is One, True God who is worthy of all worship. He came to point us back to this one, true God. And rather than allowing this power and might to intimidate us, the God-Man used his power, might, and greatness in service - by dying on a cross, being a substitute for rebels who would admit that they use their power and might to serve themselves rather than God.
This is how we find refuge from God’s greatness and power and might: we find refuge from God in Christ. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” The requirement for coming to God is by approaching Jesus with our weariness and heavy burdens. And in the great exchange, He takes your weariness of soul and gives you rest (Matthew 11:28-30).
Death was not God’s original plan. Death has come into the world because we rebelled against God’s good ways. But now in Jesus, the mighty, powerful, great God invites us to dwell with him, and when we trust him, he makes our hardships serve his purposes and works for our good. No longer is he the God who intimidates - he is the God who draws near and dwells with us so that we might dwell with him. Forever.
“The Christian life is a great paradox. Those who die to self, find self. Those who die to their cravings will receive many times as much in this age, and, in the age to come, eternal life (Luke 18:29). They will find new passions worth living for and dying for. If I crave happiness, I will receive misery. If I crave to be loved, I will receive rejection. If I crave significance, I will receive futility. If I crave control, I will receive chaos. If I crave reputation, I will receive humiliation. But if I long for God and His wisdom and mercy, I will receive God and wisdom and mercy. Along the way, sooner or later, I will also receive happiness, love, meaning, order, and glory.”—Excerpt from David Powlison, Seeing With New Eyes (P&R Publishers, 2003), 161.
I received a free eBook this year, and it caught me off-guard. It’s not the book I expected it to be. And has it has marinated in my soul, I’ve found it has resonated with me deeply. Sensing Jesus by Zach Eswine was my favourite read in 2012.
What I thought I would find was a pastoral theology of Jesus’ ministry. Instead, I found the honest reflections of a man who has struggled with limitations of finitude, place, and knowledge. And in a refreshing way, Zach Eswine shares about his failures, burnout, family challenges, and leadership challenges that this ordinary pastor faced. Pastoral theology and personal autobiography are rarely intertwined; Eswine does it all here.
This book won’t give you a punch in the gut, but it will cause you to have a sober reflection on life, limitations, and the call of God.
This year allowed me the opportunity to dive back into books in ways that I haven’t done in years. Let me give you a few of my highlights (in no particular order). I’ll save my favourite read for tomorrow.
Pierre Berton’s War of 1812
Since 2012 was the bicentennial of this famous war, and since we live close to many of the battlesights, I picked up this book. Berton’s writing is vivid and his recounting of history is clear.
This book was my favourite read in 2007. I returned to it this year as our church staff read through this book. One of two books I read cover-to-cover on the plane this year, Total Church is a call to reshape ministry around the Gospel (through Word and Mission) and Community. The two introductory chapters are some of my favourite for framing up a philosophy of ministry.
Rather than giving you a system to deal with your busyness or secrets to a slower life, Chester explores the inner drive of the soul. Lots to chew on in this book.
Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor
Work makes up a large portion of our lives, and Keller’s work addresses how our vocation and faith are to intersect. Some of the early chapters are profound as they integrate different theologies of vocation. Later chapters help think through issues of work and the fall and living for the common good.
I had read sections of this book before, but this year I worked through it with our pastoral staff. ”Logic on fire! Eloquent reason!” Having your head full and your heart hot, Lloyd-Jones may be controversial and opinionated, but he must be read.
This biography was a delight to read while being a bit of an enigma. This 600 page book took no time to read. However, I’m not convinced Metaxas has rightly understood Bonhoeffer. Painting him as more evangelical than neo-orthodox is confusing, and the handling of Bonhoeffer’s ‘Religionless Christianity’ was off. That aside, Metaxas paints a picture of a man who rightfully stood against evil as a prophetic pastor who died for his faith.
Tullian Tchividjian, Glorious Ruin
A surprisingly delightful read (which I also read cover-to-cover on a plane ride this year). Tchividjian contrasts those who suffer as theologians of glory or as theologians of the cross. How we view suffering reveals our hearts - as those who want to moralize or instrumentalize suffering (theologians of glory) or as those who win by losing, are strong through weakness. Anyone familiar with Luther will find this a delightful read.
Wilson’s whinsome style provokes you to think about the Incarnation in ways that you haven’t before. While some may be put off by his postmillenialism and reconstructionism, this book resonated with me in its attacks on the sentimentalism, moralism, and dualism over Christmas. To paraphrase Wilson: the greatest threat to Christmas isn’t 50” plasma TVs or big turkey dinners, but sin. And Christ has come to deal with sin. Read this book at your own risk.
How suddenly a baby cries and all forever change
As shepherds leave the angel song to find this holy place,
Where in her young and trembling arms a virgin holds her Son
And in this Child of breath divine our Light has finally come.
She ponders how the Magi kneel before Emmanuel.
With gold and frankincense and myrrh Christ’s sacrifice they tell.
A dream would help them flee a king whose pride would cruelly destroy.
As mothers weep God’s mercy meets the hunger for His joy.
What wonder still that Anna filled with praise should bless the Lord;
Her aging eyes now looking on the Savior of the world.
For night and day her prayers had filled the temple of our God.
Her heart could tell His saving hand within this gift of love.
Hear Simeon who had waited long draw near to hold the child
To speak of Him who would reveal the many thoughts we hide:
That hearts would rise to know His grace but many fall away;
A sword would pierce His mother’s soul upon redemption day.
How suddenly a baby cried and all forever changed.
Through history soul by soul have come to find His healing grace.
He filled my troubled heart with peace, with hope of endless worth.
My voice will join the song of praise that tells Messiah’s birth.
Music by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty and Fionán de Barra. Lyrics by Kristyn Getty.
The achiness of his bones awakened him. It was still dark, but his body’s groaning left him restless. The darkness seemed so much darker, but morning would soon break. Rolling over to get up took so much more energy now – age hadn’t been so kind. In the past few years, his health had been poor.
At one point, he wasn’t sure that he’d make it. For weeks, the pain had made him delirious. He thought he was going to die. He wanted to…except the echo of the promise of the voice. The whisper had kept him going.
He groaned as he got up. Oy vey! Quiet and dark, he went to his familiar place and faced toward the temple and bowed down to pray. This had been his morning practice now for decades. It was no mere ritual. It was his practice, fuelled by a longing, a hunger. The familiar refrain “Blessed are you, Adonai, King of the Universe, for you will redeem all things…” – this was no old prayer. In fact, every time he prayed these words, he couldn’t help but remember that day when his prayer had been interrupted.
And as he bowed and prayed those familiar, yet oh so precious words, his prayer was interrupted: “Stop. Go.” Like decades ago, he recognized that voice. That voice – gentle and firm, urging and commanding – that same voice that had revealed to him so long ago that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, now was compelling him to go to the temple.
Could it be? Was today that day?
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…
As he opened his eyes, the dawn was breaking in. Somehow, the colors of the morning seemed more vivid, the daylight more radiant, the morning more hopeful than it had in ages.
Through the years, he had felt the gloom. His beloved Israel faced oppression. And the more she fought against it, the more she was crushed. Rome had grown in power, authority, contemptuousness, and fury. Jewish fanatics had risen up, zealots fighting for a purer religion in the midst of corrupt, politically driven, and splintered religion, only to be snuffed out with Rome’s military machinery piercing insurrectionists to crosses, hung along the roadways as a public demonstration of Rome’s great might.
And he had battled despair and despondency seeing the righteous faith be watered down and compromised. Children who had been brought to the temple by their parents, presented as the Law required, now brought their children. But not all came back. Some had fallen away. Others had been killed in the riots. It was hard to carry on.
But the voice compelled him. He had cherished this promise. In the most tenuous of days, in the gloomiest moments, in the darkest of doubts, he remembered the voice as if it had spoken to him yesterday – you will not die until you’ve seen the Lord’s Christ. It had kept him going.
So up he got, scurrying off to the temple, agile and nimble, sprightly and vigorous, this old man rushed, feeling no twinge of pain. A youthfulness had come over him. He must hurry and believe and obey the voice.
He stood there in the temple court, looking, wondering. Confusion was settling in. How would he know? Who was he looking for? Had he heard correctly? Had he heard things? His mind wasn’t as sharp as it once was, for he often found himself wondering why he had gotten up, forgetting what it was that had compelled him in the first place to go. But the whisper of the voice had certainly revealed it to him – you will not see death until you see the Lord’s Christ.
Standing, waiting, looking, he sees them: a young couple enters the courts. The child is only a few weeks old. Watching, waiting, he notices them buy a pair of pigeons – obviously poor. His hands look worn and splintered. She looks young and timid. Certainly they don’t have much – not even enough to buy a lamb for the child’s consecration. But they are righteous, devout, holy. They have come, and the child must be 40 days old – they’re doing what the Law demands, following its rites and practices. Hard pressed, yet obedient, they come. With the bundled child, they move forward.
Today, he has heard the voice. His heart has not been hard. HiHisHe has waited all these years. That day is this day. The Spirit had compelled him, and he wasn’t mistaken. Obedient, the young couple comes following the Law; obedient, the old man comes, compelled by the Spirit. A new age has dawned. A new light has shone.
Stretching out his frail, weak hands, he nods for the child. “Mary, it’s okay,” says her husband. And as she places the child into the frail man’s hands, the weight of the cosmos feels so light, yet this child feels so heavy. A song, a prophecy cry out of this old man’s mouth with a sudden burst of energy coursing through his veins. Simeon has waited for this day! Many will rise and fall at the birth of this dangerous boy! Some will stumble on this stone; but many will hear, believe in fear and hope in this dangerous King!
This child is a threat, but he is also a promise. Many will rise and fall. He will pierce his mother’s heart. Yet he will redeem those who call out to him. The voice has spoken. Simeon has heard. He has waited. He has believed.
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart…No, that day is this day. The mother – she is pensive. But Simeon smiles. I have seen it all – the salvation promised the deliverer who has come to rescue humanity and bring them back to God, a revelation to those who would hear, and glory for those who have believed.
“I have heard your voice. I have believed. And now my eyes have seen that for which I have longed and waited. Now let your servant depart in peace, just as you have said.”
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. He has made purification for sins. (Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV)
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. Come, let us sing to the LORD, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Come into his presence with thanksgiving, make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. Today, if you hear his voice, let every heart prepare him room and may heaven and nature sing. (Psalm 95 Adapted from the ESV)
From the depths of woe i raise to Thee the voice of lamentation.
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me and hear my supplication.
If Thou iniquity dost mark, our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O, who shall stand before Thee?
O, who shall stand before Thee?
To wash away the crimson stain, grace, grace alone availeth.
Our works, alas!, are all in vain; in much the best life faileth.
No man can glory in Thy sight; all must alike confess Thy might
And live alone by mercy,
And live alone by mercy.
Therefore my trust is in the Lord and not it mine own merit.
On Him my soul shall rest; His Word upholds my fainting spirit.
His promised mercy is my fort, my comfort, and my sweet support;
I wait for it with patience.
I wait for it with patience.
What though i wait the live-long night and till the dawn appeareth,
My heart still trusteth in His might; it doubteth not, nor feareth.
Do thus, o ye of israel’s seed, ye of the Spirit born indeed,
And wait till God appeareth,
And wait till God appeareth.
Though great our sins and sore our woes, His grace much more aboundeth.
His helping love no limit knows - our utmost need it soundeth.
Our Shepherd, good and true is He Who will at last His israel free
From all their sin and sorrow,
From all their sin and sorrow.
There’s a growing trend in year-end sales. “Self-gifting” is the new economic engine. Accelerated by Black Friday and End of Year deals, savvy shoppers have decided that they want to buy now rather than wait.
In a world of no money down, no interest, no payments for 12 months, there is little incentive to wait. “You snooze, you lose,” the saying goes. You can have your 50” LED HDTV and buy somegifts for the others (besides, that’s what the line of credit is for,right?!?). With newer iPhone models released regularly, marketers are now psychologists who sell you a lifestyle, not a product. Creating hunger for the newest, the latest gadget causes disenchantment for those who wait.
Suddenly, in an instant world, praying to a God who values waiting brings disappointment. The first evidence that waiting is a lost virtue is in diminished prayer.
But it is in prayer that our strength is renewed (Isa 40:29-31), our hope built (Ps 130), and our joy abounds. In the darkest time of the year, Advent calls us to wait and cry out for the Light to come again, just as God’s perfect gift was given in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4). More than watchmen long for the morning (Ps.130:5-6), waiting on God reminds us of His promises, recounts His faithfulness, seeks His forgiveness, and intensifies our longing for Him!
God is not your genie in a bottle (three wishes answered immediately!); He is infinitely better. He knows how to create a hunger in your soul that only he can satisfy with a lasting satisfaction (Ps. 16:11). It is good to wait for God’s deliverance (Lam 3:26). And when you have learned to waitupon him, then light will pierce the dark night of the soul, his healing will cometo you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your defense (Isa. 58:8).
But how can I grow my prayer life when I’m so impatient? Start short and simple, and do what the psalmists do:
1) appeal to the Lord (Ps 130:1-2)
2) pour out your distress (Ps 130:3-4)
3) express your confidence in His Word (Ps 130:5-6); and
4) praise God in the presence of others (Ps 130:7-8).
So call out to Him! Wait upon Him! Pour out your heart to Him! Find renewed strength, guidance, and hope as you wait for the promise of no more tears, sorrow, sadness, or loss, for His Son’s second coming is closer than when you first believed!
“Spend your time in nothing which you know musy be repented of; in nothing on which you might not pray for the blessing of God; in nothing which you could not review with a quiet conscience on your dying bed; in nothing on which you might not safely and properly be found doing if death should surprise you in the act.”— Richard Baxter
I remember vividly my first encounter with an idol. It was the first day of second grade, and the Buddha-like figure sat prominently at the front of the carpeted area where we gathered for every activity, story, and lesson. Coming to the carpet, our teacher instructed us to look to the statue and sit quietly in an Eastern meditation posture.
Whenever I read the statement about Paul’s response when he came into Athens and saw the idols, I remember second grade: “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). At age seven, I was a deeply troubled and didn’t know how to sit, listen, and read whenever we came to the carpet. What was I to do?
Christians throughout the ages have been faced with the question of how to live faithfully in a pluralistic world. Should we respond vociferously with moral outrage? Protect our Christian roots? Create political parties to advance our cause?
Before we react, we remember the problem is not merely the idol, but what sociologist Peter Berger has called the “plausibility structures” of our age. Plausibility structures are those beliefs that are thought widely and are almost unquestioningly accepted in our culture. People hold these beliefs with great tenacity, as though society’s future was at stake.
So how did Paul respond in Acts 17? While provoked in his spirit, Paul dismantled the Athenians plausibility structures and gave them a new story that was to shape their lives. He did this in several ways:
He saw the points of connection. The “Unknown God”? Paul knew him and could speak of the Creator, Redeemer, and Saviour.
He exposed the folly of idolatry. "You think you serve God? Who gives you life and breath? A statue? God created you and calls you to worship him!
He spoke with civility. Moral outrage would convince no one and would never commend the Lord Jesus Christ to them. He quoted their poets. He saw they were religious in many ways.
He shared the gospel. Of first priority was to win people to Christ, and his testimony gave him opportunity to explain Jesus Christ and the reality of sin.
He was prepared to suffer. Some mocked him. But Christ was worth more, because…
He delighted in the Lord.
The result was some came to trust in Christ while others continued to dialogue. And the church in Athens was born.
The idols of our day ought to provoke us. But may it not be the kind of provoking that paralyzes us into inaction. May the provoking of our spirit be the kind that moves us to love our neighbours, tell them of Christ winsomely and wisely, with civility and gentleness and respect, and pray for God to build his Church!
Everyone, it seemed, was on his side: the emperor, the leading churchmen, the politicians. Arius, a popular, well connected theologian made a lot of sense. His songs were catchy and sung in churches across the continent. He had convinced the world through song and sermon that Jesus Christ was divine in nature but not one in substance with the Father. Jesus was “a son of God,” if you like. Almost everyone agreed. Who would oppose a catchy tune and a smooth speaker?
One man did. Athanasius saw through Arius’s teaching. If Jesus was not of the same substance as the Father, he could not truly be God. What was at stake was the Trinity and our salvation. Even though he was one man, Athanasius stood contra mundum - against the world. It would take several years of debating, reasoning, and firmness, but in the end, Athanasius swung the theological tide. The historic Nicean creed was reaffirmed and clarified.
Courage means standing up despite fears, concerns, or pain and a willingness to endure hardship. That endurance comes from conviction - we believe there is something greater or more valuable than the present option.
But courage comes to ordinary people. Elijah was a man like us (Jas 5). An ordinary man who believed in an extraordinary God, believing His Word and holding on to the promises of Scripture. He believed, prayed, stood. In a faithless world of godless worship, he remained faithful and courageous right up to the end.
You and I are not called to be Athanasius or Elijah. We are called to be who God intends us to be. There are places and situations God has strategically placed you and you may be the only one who stands with courage and conviction. In a difficult family situation. A workplace filled with compromise. A school filled with skepticism. You need to be wise and courageous where God has placed you.
You are, however, called to trust in the same God that Elijah and Athanasius trusted. The God who enabled men of old to stand for him is the same God who is eager to strengthen you with resolve and courage today. Courage comes by faith - a faith that believes that what is unseen is of greater worth than what is seen. As Hebrews 11:24-26 says of Moses: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.”
What will help you to stand? What will cause you to go against the flow? You must know the God of the Bible, be convinced of his superior value and worth, and believe that it is more pleasurable to obey because there is something better than this life now.
“To doubt the good will of God is an inborn suspicion of God with all of us. Besides, the devil…goes about seeking to devour us by roaring: ‘God is angry at you and is going to destroy you forever.’ In all these difficulties we have only one support, the Gospel of Christ. To hold on to it, that is the trick. Christ cannot be perceived with the senses… The heart does not feel His helpful presence. Especially in times of trials a Christian feels the power of sin, the infirmity of his flesh, the goading darts of the devil…the scowl and judgment of God. All these things cry out against us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us. In the midst of the clamor the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts, ‘Abba, Father.’ And this little cry of the Spirit transcends the hullabaloo of the Law, sin, death, and the devil, and finds a hearing with God. The Spirit cries because of our weakness…(and) is sent forth into our hearts…to assure us of the grace of God” (Martin Luther on Galatians 4:6 in his Commentary on Galatians).
At the heart of our vision is not a new way of doing events but the creation of word-centered gospel communities in which people are sharing life with one another and with unbelievers, seeking to bless their neighborhoods, “gospeling” one another and sharing the good news with unbelievers. The context for this gospel-centered community and mission is not events but ordinary, everyday life.
Programs are what we create when Christians are not doing what they are supposed to do in everyday life. Because we are not pastoring one another in everyday life, we create accountability groups. Because we are not sharing the gospel in everyday life, we create guest services. Because we are not joining social groups to witness to Jesus, we create our own church social groups. Please do not misunderstand. We are not against meetings or events or programs. The regular meeting of the church around God’s Word is vital for the health of everything else. This is where God’s people are prepared for works of service. But the works of service take place in the context of everyday life.
I was surprised by the topic on CBC Radio One’s religion program Tapestry: Idolatry for Beginners. It examined our obsession with money, celebrity status, or sex and how they keep us from connecting with the transcendent.
Why the surprise? To contemporary people, idolatry conjures up notions of primitive peoples bowing down before statues. For some, Sunday school stories such as the fiery furnace (Dan. 3) or the golden calf (Exod. 32) come to mind. Others think of the Roman gods like Aphrodite, Ares, or Artemis.
But what Tapestry vividly revealed is the modern reality of idolatry. For eight consecutive seasons, American Idol led TV ratings. Culture was admitting that they do worship celebrity status and money. We, too, have our idols.
Idolatry is a human problem. John Calvin said that the heart is an “idol factory” (cf. Ezek. 14:3). Our affections make goodthings into ultimate things. And when we lose them, we despair and lose hope. We become spiritual addicts, absorbed in heart, imagination, and attention by idols who keep us from God. Their demand for allegiance, sacrifice, and worship never fulfill.
We need the Living God to topple our idols (1 Sam 5:1-7). Delivering us from slavery, God tells us “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:2-3). We lose jobs, have family struggles, feel financial pressures - all as gracious reminders that none of these things fulfill or satisfy.
In 1 Kings 17, we see that the gods of any age cannot do what the One True Living God can do. Can Baal create rain? No - only Elohim, the Creator God can (vv. 1-2). Can Baal provide food? No - only Yahweh Yireh, the Providential Sovereign God, can make ravens bring bread and meat, and make oil and flour last (vv. 3-16). Can Baal bring life? No, only the Living Yahweh can redeem people and bring life from death (vv. 17-24).
The only way forward in this life is to discern the idols of the age, see their powerlessness, and return to the Lord. Only One offers true fulfillment and complete forgiveness. Money, work, family, success, significance - all of these things will demand allegiance and that you do more. But only Jesus Christ calls for your allegiance and says in his sacrificial death, “It is done for you” (John 19:30).
So worship the One who says, “You shall have no other gods before me” and who lays down his life for you so that you might enjoy his pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11)!!!
“We often think we have no need of anyone else’s advice or reproof. Always remember, much grace does not imply much enlightenment. We may be wise but have little love, or we may have love with little wisdom. God has wisely joined us all together as the parts of a body so that we cannot say to another, ‘I have no need of you.’ ”
I think what one has to remember when people “hurt” one is that in 99 cases out of a 100 they intended to hurt very much less, or not at all, and are often quite unconscious of the whole thing. I’ve learned this from the cases in which I was the “hurter.” When I have been really wicked and angry and meant to be nasty, the other party never cared or even didn’t notice. On the other hand, when I have found out afterwards that I had deeply hurt someone, it has dearly always been quite unconscious on my part.
In 1924, British runner Eric Liddell made his way to the 1924 Paris Olympics. As a celebrated track athlete, Liddell had made his way to Paris to compete in several events. When questioned by his sister as to why he has put so much focus and energy on running, Eric says to her:
"I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure."
Like Bruce Springsteen sang in 1975, we were all “born to run.” We feel this inner compulsion, this inner drive, this inner motivation. We know that we were made for something. And that is because God has made us for a purpose.
In recent times, it has become commonplace to ask the question, “What on earth am I here for?” Popular books such as “The Life You were Born to Live” and Christian versions such as the best seller “Purpose-Driven Life” have filled bookshelves and been read by millions upon millions. There is a sense by many that what they are doing every day and why they are here on planet earth has to be greater than the monotony of their current existence.
For some, the question arises because they lack motivation and drive. Getting out of bed is a chore. “They don’t pay me enough to get out of bed in the morning” is the slogan of some who feel that they are undervalued and underappreciated.
For others, they have more drive and energy than they have time. They wake up in the morning and tackle 30 projects, only to have 30 more come to mind while working on it. There is a sense of energy and drive that soon is consumed with the reality that there is more to be done than there is time in the day to accomplish it all.
So what is this drive that we feel? Where does it come from?
Humanity, we are told in Genesis 1:26-28, is made in the image of God. Simply put, being made in the image of God means that humanity RESEMBLES and REPRESENTS the Creator. This resembling and representing our Creator is at the heart of our drive. We are made like our Creator, and because we are made like him, we resemble him.
But what does it mean to resemble him? It helps to understand how the ancient world may have understood this phrase, ‘the image of God.’ Greg Beale, in his New Testament Biblical Theology writes: “When ancient Near Eastern kings were conceived to be images of a god, the idea of the god’s subduing and ruling through him were in mind,” (p. 30), and this is probably the idea that is here. At the borders of territory, kings would set up statues or images, representing that this was their territory, their sovereign rule existed here. In a similiar fashion, Adam is told that he is to rule or have dominion over creation, and that he is to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The purpose of Adam ruling and multiplying was to spread the representation of God in humanity across the face of the earth, so that the glory of the Lord would cover the earth as the waters cover the seas.
Placed in the Garden of Eden, Adam was told to be fruitful and multiply the earth (1:26-28) and was placed to tend and keep. This language of tending and keeping is the language of a priest. The task of a priest in the OT was to maintain both the physical and spiritual welfare of the holy place, and these tasks are precisely what Adam is instructed to do. The Garden, you see, is the holy Temple of God’s presence, the Kingdom of God’s rule. Adam was created to enjoy and keep this place, but not merely keep up a nice garden, but to fill it with people. And as he populated it, he would need more space. So the garden was to expand. Isaiah 45:18 says that the Lord made the entire earth habitable, but Adam was to go and work the ground and prepare it so as to expand the Garden.
What does this have to do with drive? First, we were created and are born with a sense of expanding, fixing, renovating. We were made as creative beings. Just think of some of the incredible feats of humanity. Enormous aquariums like Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium houses almost 33,000 different acquatic species. Amazing displays are set up, recreating the habitats of dolphins, penguins, sea horses, and jellyfish. What causes us to be creative? We were made like the Creator.
Second, we were made with a sense of beauty. Just consider for a moment how intricately you are made. Every person has unique fingerprints. The little lines that move across your skin are unique to you. And there is a sense of beauty. We find some faces more attractive than others because of symmetry – we see that the proportion, symmetry, and shape of the face are appealing. Or we love combinations of colours. And so we want to paint homes with colourful appeal. Where does this sense of beauty and recreating beauty come from? We were made like the Creator.
Finally, we were created with a sense of order and design. Why do we like our lawns (or farmers’ fields) so straightly lined? Why do we like sleek designs for cars, patterns for clothing? Why do we like to have life to be ordered, with a sense of organization? Why do we want our homes to be tidy, neat, and orderly? Why do we fight against chaos? Because we were made like the Creator.
And because we resemble him, we have a sense of justice, righteousness, love, faithfulness, and integrity. And because we resemble the Creator, we are made with a drive to recreate, to reorder.
So that impulse you feel to enjoy some good music with a great beat? The drive to fix up your car? The need you feel to organize your desk? You were made with a sense of ambition - to honour your Creator by resembling him.
But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.
At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.
”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy [Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1957], pp. 31-32
His children were being threatened, and he held nothing back. He told his children to watch out for these accursed children, creatures of instinct, blights, having eyes full of adultery, ravenous for sin, hearts trained for greed. These enslaved people would have been better off if they had never known the truth because they are like dogs returning to their vomit.
These are not the words of some angry lowbrow peasant. These are the inspired words of Scripture. So why does Peter speak this way (2 Pe 2:10b-22)? To our modern Canadian ears, this sounds offensive. But what do you do when someone is preying on the weak, enticing the immature by sensuality, enslaving unsteady souls? If someone is going after your child with perversion, wouldn’t you be justifiably angry?
In order to protect the flock from wolves, there are times where a severe mercy is necessary. Sometimes shocking language and vivid imagery get the point across in ways that gentle answers can’t.
We worship a Master who was murdered for his preaching. He pronounced woes upon the Pharisees, repeatedly calling them “hypocrites” (Matt 23) and “a brood of vipers” – a group of poisonous snakes, just like their father the devil (John 8:44). Likewise, Paul names names: they abandoned the faith, harmed the cause of the gospel, and hurt his apostolic ministry. “Don’t read their books, listen to their preaching, or go to their conferences!” he told Timothy (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim 2:17; 4:14).
And when the gospel was at stake, Paul warned the Galatian churches that following the false teachers’ doctrine of “Jesus +” is damnable (Gal 1:8). Those who want to promote circumcision – Paul wishes they would go and cut it all off (Gal. 5:12)!
We need to know when to feed sheep, rebuke swine, and shoot the wolves. There is a time and a place when the most loving, kind, and merciful thing to do is say the hard things. So we dare not allow our “Canadian politeness” define what love is and then judge God and the Scriptures by our Canadian prudishness. There is great power in our words. Knowing how and when to be gentle or being severely merciful requires wisdom and can mean the difference between a repentant brother or an annihilated congregation.
Church leaders are to lead, feed, and protect the flock, never knowingly putting someone in front of the congregation to teach or preach who is unbelieving or teaching falsehood. There is power in words, church leaders should love the flock too much to be leave them to the wolves. So look for a church where you can find leaders who will encourage, rebuke, correct, and train in the righteousness of the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Niceness won’t cut it. Gentle and bold leaders will. Make it your aim to become the kind of leader who knows the difference of the times when you should encourage, correct, rebuke, and train with your words.
One of my favourite past times has been taking seeds and growing little plants. Throughout the years, I’ve enjoyed growing little orange trees from my breakfast fruit; coffee trees from some beans that never got roasted; maple trees from the keys that fell from a neighbour’s glorious tree. There is something so incredible about planting, watering, and watching growth.
In gardening, there is something that feels like we are pushing against the curse that came when Adam disobeyed. There is the expectation of growth, of new life, of a future. There is the anticipation of fruitfulness, a harvest, and reward.
So it is no surprise that the Christian is expected to grow. The imperishable seed is planted within (1 Pe 1:23), germinates and creates new life, all with the expectation that there will be fruitfulness in our lives (Gal 5:22-23). The power of Christ’s death and resurrection applied by faith to the soul is the guarantee of a harvest to come in the lives of God’s people (Rom 8:23).
But what is striking is that we are commanded to grow. I cannot command a plant or seed to grow. But 2 Peter 3:18 tells us that we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. How shall we do that?
Growing in knowledge seems fairly straightforward: to grow in knowledge requires the intake of information. Reading, watching, listening all give us opportunity to grow in knowledge. But what about growing in grace? How can Peter command that we grow in grace?
The best fertilizer for life and godliness is the knowledge of God’s grace to us now and forever. Grace is multiplied in the knowledge of God (2 Pe 1:2). In other words, grace is multiplied when we come to know who God is and what he is like.
Imagine if you knew a fraction of the future that God is making for you, if you could feel your deepest longings being satisfied, that every beauty you encounter will only be magnified, that every good relationship will be restored forever, that all pain and sorry and filth will vanish, that you will see that which is true, good, and beautiful forever…if we could believe that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind comprehended what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9), wouldn’t we rejoice? Fight temptation? Be freed from fear, greed, envy, and pride? We would escape the corruption in this world and become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pe 1:4)!!!
That’s what knowing God does. While our study of doctrine may have formally concluded, our need to grow in the knowledge of his grace will never cease. We will forever see the nail-scarred hands of our Saviour and grow in wonder and amazement from age to age to age (Eph 2:7).
So grow! Know God! Delight in Him! Make it your aim to never be satisfied with your knowledge of God. Be a beggar for knowing Him. And His grace to you will multiply, and that fertilizer will cause you to grow!
Have a headache? Pop a liquid gel caplet and within 30 minutes it’s working. Hungry? Place your dish in the microwave and enjoy a hot dish in 30 seconds. Want to find and read a book? Go online and download it within 15 seconds and start reading. Want to contact someone? Text them to get an immediate response.
The blessings of living in an instantaneous society mean that we become accustomed to the immediacy and availability of everything. But the moment you are on hold on the phone for 15 minutes or wait for paperwork to come in the mail, we can become antsy. “Where is it?” “Why is it taking so long?” Impatience flares up and agitation grows.
“Behold, I am coming soon,” says the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev 22:12), and nearly two thousand years has passed. We can begin to doubt the imminent return of Christ, living like everything is continuing on as it was from the beginning of creation until now. While we don’t say it out loud, we can live in a way that says, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Pe 3:4).
Waiting feels very passive: standing in line, being on hold, waiting for the microwave to beep all feel like we do nothing until something happens. Is it possible that our perception of Christ’s delay in returning causes some lethargy in us as well? An impatience with God? A sense of frustration that things aren’t getting “fixed” in our lives as quickly as we would like?
It is a good thing that God is not like us and is incredibly patient. The fact that Christ has not returned is evidence of God’s great kindness toward us. We may think, “If I were God, I would eradicate all evil NOW!” Our outrage at injustice and evil in the world can cause us to accuse God of inactivity. But if we were to get rid of all the evil in the world, we would have to rid the universe of all potential evil. But what about our capacity for being mean-spirited, accusatory, assuming the worst of another? Are we ready to give an account for all of our actions?
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance,” says Peter (2 Pe. 3:9). Christ has not yet come because God is kind and holds out the offer of salvation. His patience is our opportunity to be active.
Maybe God’s patience is for you. Have you turned from trusting yourself and relied upon Christ? Or maybe an opportunity to turn from sin and repent afresh (1 Jn 3:2-3).
Or maybe God’s patience is for someone you know and love. Have you shared with them the good news of life in Christ through repentance and faith?
Today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2)! Believe! Obey! Share! And thank God that his patience is for our mercy!
“No one of the theories of the atonement states all the truth nor, indeed, do all of them together. The bottom of this ocean of truth has never been sounded by any man’s plumb-line. There is more in the death of Christ for all of us than any of us has been able to fathom…. However, one must say that substitution is an essential element in any real atonement” (A. T. Robertson, The Minister and His Greek New Testament, 40-41).
“The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the ocean”
“It is a comfort to think of that [heavenly] state, where there is fullness of joy; where reigns heavenly, calm, and delightful love, without alloy; where there are continually the dearest expressions of this love; where is the enjoyment of the persons loved, without ever parting; where those persons who appear so lovely in this world, will really be inexpressibly more lovely, and full of love to us. And how sweetly will the mutual lovers join together, to sing the praises of God and the Lamb! (Diary, 16:768).
“If we can learn anything of the state of heaven from the Scripture, the love and joy that the saints have there, is exceeding great and vigorous; impressing the heart with the strongest and most lively sensation, of inexpressible sweetness, mightily moving, animating, and engaging them, making them like to a flame of fire. And if such love and joy be not affections, then the word ‘affection’ is of no use in language. Will any say, that the saints in heaven, in beholding the face of their Father, and the glory of their Redeemer, and contemplating his wonderful works, and particularly his laying down his life for them, have their hearts nothing moved and affected, by all which they behold or consider?” (Religious Affections, Yale 2:114).
“Therefore, their knowledge will increase to eternity; and if their knowledge, doubtless their holiness. For as they increase in the knowledge of God and of the works of God, the more they will see of his excellency; and the more they see of his excellency … the more will they love him; and the more they love God, the more delight and happiness … will they have in him.” (Misc. 105)
“And without doubt, God can contrive matter so that there shall be other sort of proportions, that may be quite of a different kind, and may raise another sort of pleasure in the sense, and in a manner to us inconceivable, that shall be vastly more ravishing and exquisite… . Our animal spirits will also be capable of immensely more, fine and exquisite proport in their motions than now they are, being so gross” (Misc. 182, 13:328).
“The best, most beautiful, and most perfect way that we have of expressing a sweet concord of mind to each other,” said Edwards, “is by music” (Misc. 188, 13:331). Thus in heaven, he continued, it is probable “that the glorified saints, after they have again received their bodies, will have ways of expressing the concord of their minds by some other emanations than sounds, of which we cannot conceive, that will be vastly more proportionate, harmonious and delightful than the nature of sounds is capable of; and the music they will make will be in a medium capable of modulations in an infinitely more nice, exact and fine proportion than our gross air, and with organs as much more adapted to such proportions” (Misc. 188, 13:331). In heaven, “there shall be no string out of tune to cause any jar in the harmony of that world, no unpleasant note to cause any discord” (8:371).
“How soon do earthly lovers come to an end of their discoveries of each other’s beauty; how soon do they see all that is to be seen! … And how happy is that love, in which there is an eternal progress in all these things; wherein new beauties are continually discovered, and more and more loveliness, and in which we shall forever increase in beauty ourselves; where we shall be made capable of finding out and giving, and shall receive, more and more endearing expressions of love forever: our union will become more close, and communication more intimate” (Miscellanies, 13:198).
“Heavenly lovers will have no doubt of the love of each other. They shall have no fear that their professions and testimonies of love are hypocritical; they shall be perfectly satisfied of the sincerity and strength of each other’s love, as much as if there were a window in all their breasts, that they could see other’s hearts. There shall be no such thing as flattery or dissimulation in heaven, but there perfect sincerity shall reign through all. Everyone will be perfectly sincere, having really all that love which they profess. All their expressions of love shall come from the bottom of their hearts” (Yale, 8:378).
The saints “will so perfectly see at the same time, how that ‘tis turned to the best, to the glory of God, or at least will so perfectly know that it is so; and particularly, they will have so much the more admiring and joyful sense of God’s grace in pardoning them, that the remembrance of their sins will rather be an indirect occasion of joy” (Misc., 432).
“To pretend to describe the excellence, the greatness or duration of the happiness of heaven by the most artful composition of words would be to darken and cloud it, to talk of raptures and ecstasies, joy and singing, is but to set forth very low shadows of the reality, and all we can by our best rhetoric is really and truly, vastly below what is but the bare and naked truth, and if St. Paul who had seen them, thought it but in vain to endeavor to utter it, much less shall we pretend to do it, and the Scriptures have gone as high in the descriptions of it as we are able to keep pace with it in our imaginations and conception” (Cited in Gerstner, 3:544; sermon on Isa. 3:10).
Puritan Richard Baxter said, “They love those who best esteem them highest. The fault of these admirers can be extenuated and easily forgiven. If you would have his favor, let him hear that you have magnified him behind his back and that you honor him…”
John Calvin says, “We readily believe those whom we know to be desirous of our welfare, connecting the hearing of those around us with our manifest goodwill toward them, which is made manifest by commending them when they reflect Christ.”
“For too long, we’ve called unbelievers to ‘invite Jesus into your life.’ Jesus doesn’t want to be in your life. Your life’s a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life.”—Russell Moore, Christianity Today, “A Purpose Driven Cosmos,” February 2012, Vol. 56, No. 2, Page 31. (via sixsteps)
The challenge had been laid down. My dad said he wanted us to memorize one hundred verses over the year. I was 11. One hundred verses seemed daunting, and I wondered how I’d ever do it. But since our church was celebrating 100 years, part of the challenge to the congregation was to take in and memorize 100 verses.
One of the great privileges of growing up in a Christian home was the modeling, encouragement, and practice of spiritual disciplines as a family. It was a simple routine: after supper, dad would pull out his Bible and get us to repeat one phrase at a time.
The simple modeling of how to memorize Scripture helped me. Waking up early, I’d find my father shaving in front of the bathroom mirror with 3x5 cards, typed verses on them which he’d recite in the flowery old English of the King James Version.
For memorizing Scripture, Dad would give a financial reward - a future reward: Canada Savings Bonds.
I learned from my father’s example that the Word of Christ needs to dwell in us richly (Col 3:16). Either the Book would keep us from sin, or sin would keep us from the Book. Hiding God’s Word in our hearts was one of the key tools to help us not sin against the Lord (Ps. 119:11). Meditating primarily happened through the memorization of the Word, and meditation would bring about delight in the Lord (Ps. 1:2).
I learned the practical value of memorizing Scripture. I found verses coming to my mind throughout my life when I was faced with temptation. Verses provided wisdom, direction, and counsel. Even when I sinned, the Word came to mind, convicting me. There is immense value in memorizing Scripture. It’s a long-term investment that provides counsel (Ps. 119:24), gives you weapons to fight the fight of faith (Eph. 6:17), and may just reward you in ways you never expected!
For me, the rewards of Scripture memory paid off in a way I never expected. Those mature Canada Savings Bonds were cashed in when I purchased a ring and asked a young woman to be my wife!!!
So pick up your Bible. Go phrase by phrase through a passage. And let the Word of Christ dwell richly in you!
Great quotes from Luther's Commentary on Galatians
The world bears the Gospel a grudge because the Gospel condemns the religious wisdom of the world. Jealous for its own religious views, the world in turn charges the Gospel with being a subversive and licentious doctrine, offensive to God and man, a doctrine to be persecuted as the worst plague on earth. As a result we have this paradoxical situation: The Gospel supplies the world with the salvation of Jesus Christ, peace of conscience, and every blessing. Just for that the world abhors the Gospel.Read more at location 43
We exalt our calling, not to gain glory among men, or money, or satisfaction, or favor, but because people need to be assured that the words we speak are the words of God. This is no sinful pride. It is holy pride.Read more at location 83
By His resurrection Christ won the victory over law, sin, flesh, world, devil, death, hell, and every evil. And this His victory He donated unto us. These many tyrants and enemies of ours may accuse and frighten us, but they dare not condemn us, for Christ, whom God the Father has raised from the dead is our righteousness and our victory.Read more at location 90
The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.Read more at location 115
Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience. Sin and conscience torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and forever. Only Christians possess this victorious knowledge given from above. These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins, peace, and a happy conscience. Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors. The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt.Read more at location 117
Worldly peace provides quiet enjoyment of life and possessions. But in affliction, particularly in the hour of death, the grace and peace of the world will not deliver us. However, the grace and peace of God will. They make a person strong and courageous to bear and to overcome all difficulties, even death itself, because we have the victory of Christ’s death and the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins.Read more at location 128
“We have enough in us to move God to correct us, but nothing to move him to adopt us, therefore exalt free grace, begin the work of angels here; bless him with your praises who hath blessed you in making you his sons and daughters.”
There’s nothing quite like taking a child through the check-out line at the grocery store. After spending a long time walking along or sitting in the shopping cart, marketers know that a well-placed chocolate bar, pack of gum, or a colourful candy wrapper will grab the child’s attention as they wait for the clerk to scan each item. And that eye-catching item becomes more than appealing - it becomes a must have. And every adult has had to address this challenge of wants. “But I neeeeed it!” the child will cry.
As adults, we think that we learn to be self-controlled. But in many cases, we just mask this child-like impulse of having everything now with more sophistication. “Buy now, pay later!” Credit cards, rewards programs, even drive-thru restaurants tell us that we can have instant gratification: “Have it your way, right away!!!”
But the cross work of Christ points us in a different direction. Christ teaches us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him to the place of crucifixion, the place of denying our wants and wanting what our Father wants (Luke 9:23). And for the rest of our lives, we battle against self-fulfillment. It’s a daily battle. It’s killing sin before sin kills your soul (Romans 8:12-17).
We wrestle with our desires on a daily basis, and we want to desire what our Father longs for. We are called to wrestle with these questions from Monday to Saturday. What about Sunday? When it comes to the church gathered, do we come on Sundays so that our needs might be met? Do we judge Sunday on what I get out of it? Do we seek fellowship where there are the programs that I want or what make my kids happy and include the kind of people I like? Are we teaching our children and teens that church is about them? Or i, or s Sunday another day of daily denial, taking up the cross, and following Christ? In other words, have we made the church all about me, or is it all about God?
We gather each Sunday to remember that we have been united to Christ in his death and resurrection. Old desires crucified, new desires given by God.
"In controversy, commend your opponent by earnest prayer to the Lord’s blessing. If a believer, deal gently with him for Christ’s sake. The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore, you must not despise him or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you and expects you to show tenderness from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. Soon you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than your nearest friend on earth. Though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever."
People like Barnabas are always needed in the church. They are peacemakers, the go-betweens who seek no glory for themselves but only seek to bring out the best in others. But “would-be” Barnabases of today need to hear a further lesson from this outstanding biblical figure. Barnabases want everyone to be happy, but sometimes it simply is not possible to please everyone without serious compromise of one’s basic convictions. Barnabas found that out later at Antioch when, in order to placate the conservative Jewish Christians “from James” (Jerusalem), he withdrew from table fellowship with those very Gentile-Christian converts we see him witnessing to so enthusiastically (Gal 2:11-13).
Pornography is a universal temptation precisely because it does exactly what the satanic powers wish to do. It lashes out at the Trinitarian nature of reality, a loving communion of persons, replacing it with a masturbatory Unitarianism.
And pornography strikes out against the picture of Christ and his church by disrupting the one-flesh union, leaving couples like our prehistoric ancestors, hiding from one another and from God in the darkness of shame.
And pornography rages, as Satan always does, against Incarnation (1 Jn. 4:2-3), replacing flesh-to-flesh intimacy with the illusion of fleshless intimacy.
Last week for his Breakpoint program, Chuck Colson told about the recent experience of a member of our church, Dr. Stephen Anderson, who teaches philosophy at A.B. Lucas Secondary School in London, Ontario. His students had just finished a unit on metaphysics and were about to start one on ethics. Colson writes about Anderson’s plan for getting the conversation about ethics going. To jump start the discussion and to “form a baseline from which they could begin to ask questions about the legitimacy of moral judgments of all kinds,” Anderson shared with them a gruesome photo of Bibi Aisha, a teenage wife of a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan. When Bibi tried to get away from her abusive husband, her family caught her, cut off her nose and ears, and left her to die in the mountains. Only Bibi didn’t die. Somehow she crawled to her grandfather’s house, and was saved in an American hospital.
Writing in Education Journal magazine, Anderson relates how he was sure that his students, “seeing the suffering of this poor girl of their own age, [they] would have a clear ethical reaction,” one they could talk about “more difficult cases.”
But their response shocked Anderson. “[He] expected strong aversion [to it], … but that’s not what I got. Instead, they became confused … afraid to make any moral judgment at all. They were unwilling to criticize,” as he said, “any situation originating in a different culture. They said, ‘Well, we might not like it, but maybe over there it’s okay.’”
Anderson calls their confusion and refusal to judge such child mutilation a moment of startling clarity, and indeed it is. He wonders if it stems not from too little education, but from too much multiculturalism and so-called “values education,” which is really just an excuse for moral relativism.
Anderson writes, “While we may hope some [students] are capable of bridging the gap between principled morality and this ethically vacuous relativism, it is evident that a good many are not. For them, the overriding message is ‘never judge, never criticize, never take a position.’” Anderson wonders whether in our current educational system, we’re not producing ethical paralytics? Well, if the horrifying example of the students’ reaction in this case is any indication, Anderson already knows the answer.
There’s something freeing about a fresh start. We hope that a new year, a new job, a new town, or school will make things work out differently. We’ll have a different routine, work harder, get better grades, have better relationships, improved eating, sleeping, and exercising.
But it only takes a short while to realize that old patterns have resurfaced. The laziness that affected us last year returns. The compulsion to overwork bings like a blackberry. The desire to get up 15 minutes earlier to read and pray dies when you hit snooze for the 3rdtime.
Fresh starts are great. But fresh starts don’t bring the change. Why?
The problem is a wrong diagnosis: we think the problem is out there: Circumstances. People. Situations. So change the external factors, dig down a little deeper within, and “Voilà!” It’s fixed!
The problem isn’t the law, commands, circumstances, or situations – it’s not out there. It’s a heart problem. The reason you touch wet paint when the sign says, “Wet Paint; Do Not Touch,” isn’t because there’s a problem with the sign. It’s in you.
The solution is found in Romans 8:3-4:
"For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit is the help for the weak and powerless. The Spirit applies all of the power of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to us (Rom 8:11)! The old poem says it well:
Run and run, the law demands, but gives us neither feet nor hands;
Better news the gospel brings: it bids me fly and gives me wings.
The Holy Spirit is the power for you to obey and fulfill the law. No law opposes the fruit of the Spirit, because love fulfills all of the requirements of the law (Gal. 5:22)!
So next time you’re feeling weak, powerless, and despairing, plead with God for a fresh filling of his Spirit’s empowering (Eph 5:18) and be amazed at God’s empowering Presence!
“In the name of God, brethren, labor to awaken your own hearts, before you go to the pulpit, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners. Remember they must be awakened or damned, and … a sleepy preacher will hardly awaken drowsy sinners. Though you give the holy things of God the highest praise in words, yet, if you do it coldly, you will seem by your manner to unsay what you said in the matter… . Speak to your people as to men that must be awakened, either here or in hell. Look around upon them with the eye of faith, and with compassion, and think in what a state of joy or torment they must all be for ever; and then, methinks, it will make you earnest, and melt your heart to a sense of their condition.”
Richard Baxter, quoted in J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, 1990), 279.
"It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity”
- Charles Spurgeon, as quoted in Darrel W. Amundsen, “The Anguish and Agonies of Charles Spurgeon,” in: Christian History, Issue 29, Volume X, No. 1, p. 25.
I was standing in line at the store, talking on my cell phone, when it was my turn to complete my transaction at the till. I had a moment of awkwardness - what do I do? Keep talking? Hang up? Ask the person to hold on for a minute?
Technology - especially smart phones - have created an interesting social experience out in public. The most important person often becomes the person who is least present! Whether texting, phoning, or emailing, smart phones have become a convenient way to stay in touch with the people you care about…but often at the expense of those who are physically present. Some companies have replaced tables with glass tops so that the “under the table” texts are eliminated.
Social media and technology has had a profound influence of democratizing everything. Everyone is always equal: equal access to me, equal time, equal in their demands. But it has an incredulous way of making me feel like the world revolves around me.
And yet, there’s nothing like scheduling an appointment with someone in order to get their full attention, only to feel like they’re not fully there. The call, the text, the email ping…someone’s always grabbing their attention. And it’s grabbing it away from YOU.
Elder John knew that was a problem. He wrote to a dear church, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 Jn 12). He recognized the benefits of technology - he could write them, encourage them, challenge them. But he also saw it’s limits - the face to face contact would complete his joy.
And that’s the danger of technology and social media. Your relationships are only partial. There full joy isn’t there. Because nothing says, “I love you” like one’s undivided attention.
When our Lord came to earth, he left his Father’s throne above. Jesus emptied himself. He denied himself. He came to earth and was fully here as the God-man, not distracted nor deterred from his mission - setting his face toward Jerusalem like flint to be crucified for us and for our salvation. And those who follow Christ have crucified their sinful passions and desires (Gal 5:24).
Are you fully there? Or are you a technological interrupter? Ask yourself these questions:
1. If I am at the dinner table, socializing, or engaged in a conversation, do I reach for my smart phone to check what’s going on?
2. Do my friends/family members feel I fully engage them and hear their point of view?
3. Am I having to conceal my use of my phone to communicate?
4. Does my need to be in constant contact suggest that I think the world cannot survive without me?
Don’t be a technological interrupter by interrupting conversations with another one. Wherever you are, be all there. You died with Christ and were raised with him. He is the One who holds all things together. You? You might find your joy complete by being all there…wherever you are.
You’ve done it. I’ve done it. Someone starts talking and you’re ready to finish their sentence. You’ve heard it before. Maybe it’s subconscious. Maybe it’s intentional. Maybe it’s a pattern that’s developed because of thoughtlessness.
Interrupting is an incredible form of pride. Interrupting says, “I know what you’regoing to say” or “What I have to say is more important than what you’re saying.” In any case, interrupting is an act that is not filled with the love that comes from being filled with the fruit of the gospel.
In Romans 12:10, Paul is in the midst of discussing the fruits of what the gospel does in those who have been transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - it builds love. He says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” The parallel of loving one another with brotherly affection is outdoing one another in showing honour. In other words, prefer the other, just as Christ did by laying aside his glory and considered others better than himself (Philip 2:3).
Being quick to listen to another rather than interrupting is a powerful gospel fruit. By not interrupting, we’re saying, “I prefer to listen to you and hear you out rather thanmaking you listen to me. What you have to say is important and allows me to hear your heart, your struggles, your joys.”
How do you know if you’re “The Interrupter”? A few good questions to ask:
1. Am I formulating my response and not listening to the heart of the personspeaking?
2. Am I stuttering to get a word in edge-wise?
3. Am I saying “Uh huh” or “Yeah” to try to get into the conversation?
4. Ask a few trusted friends: “Do I have a habit of interrupting? Do you feel like I hear you out when you speak?”
Interrupting isn’t merely a problem of feeling like you’re not going to be heard - it’s a heart of pride that needs to be shaped by the gospel of a Savior who gave up his rights, who was silent before his accusers, and trusted his Father to vindicate him.
So stop. Confess. And listen to your Father in his Word. And find the power of the cross more ready to help you than you are ready to interrupt!
Tim Keller on how satisfaction with Jesus fuels marriage:
The simple fact is that only if I love Jesus more than my wife will i be able to serve her needs ahead of my own. Only if my emotional tank is filled with love from God will I be able to be patient, faithful, tender, and open with my wife when things are not going well in life or in the relationship. And the more joy I get from my relationship with Christ, the more I can share that joy with my wife and family.
Nothing stimulates the mind like a couple of good books. In 2011, four books stand out:
1. The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller. Keller examines Ephesians 5 and shows how the biblical view of marriage gives us the power, mission, and fortitude for a strong marriage. Deconstructing the cultural ideals, the Kellers show that God’s design for marriage is grounded in the good news of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice.
2. Resolving Everyday Conflict by Ken Sande. This little book is the simplified version of The Peacemaker. Sande runs through the 4 G’s to resolving conflict: Glorify God, Get the log out of Your eye, Gently restore, and Go and be reconciled. A great primer for conflict resolution and a great read that our church staff found helpful.
3. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. While some areas of this biography may be historically questionable (i.e.: Mexatas’ failure to adequately deal with Bonhoeffer’s “Religiousless Christianity”), the book was inspiring, challenging, and refreshing. I had a hard time putting this one down.
4. What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. Our elders read and discussed this book, and it provoked a lot of good discussion. This book helped answer a lot of questions and raised a lot more for us in the process. A refreshing read!
For 2012, there are a few books that I’m looking foward to:
Cruciformity. It’s a strange word. When something is cruciform, it’s in the shape of the cross.
In many places, church buildings are designed in the shape of a cross. In the dark ages, soldiers had their swords shaped like a cross to remind them who they fought for. And for Christians throughout the ages, the cross became the definitive symbol woven into fabric, imprinted on shields, and placed in prominence for worship.
But I’ll never forget seeing Michael Gorman’s book entitled Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross. The title intrigued me: a spirituality shaped by the cross. I had been thinking about what would shape my spirituality. Working hard? Good deeds? Asceticism? The pursuit of pleasure?
And then I read 1 Corinthians 2. For Paul, he said it well: “For I desired to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul was shaped by the cross. It wasn’t merely a symbol to replicate. It was the very instrument by which his life would be conformed into the image of Christ.
For Paul, all of life was shaped by the cross. Nothing was left untouched. A crucified Messiah changed everything. Consider a few examples:
Marriage - when appealing to believers to show Spirit-filled lives, he describes marriage as husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the Church, giving himself for her.
Generosity - when encouraging the Corinthians to follow through in caring for those in need, he reminded them of God’s greatest gift in Christ - he who was rich became poor so that by his poverty, we might become rich.
And the examples could go on. From hospitality to forgiveness, Paul was shaped by the cross.
Cruciformity, then, is an acknowledgement that the atoning work of Jesus Christ must be the defining shape of our lives. And that’s what this blog is all about.