Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Calling a Demoniac

Our church is working through the Gospel of Mark, as I (with a group of men) am working through John Piper’s “Reading the Scriptures Supernaturally”. Recently these two paths crossed as we were reading through Mark’s retelling of Jesus healing the Demoniac of Mark 5, and Piper was instructing through his acronym for prayerful Bible Reading (IOUS). By this acronym Piper suggests a method of praying that fully submits and surrenders oneself completely, to the bare bones of conscious thought, to the in-working of the Spirit. The process leads to the outworking of unveiled eyes to see and savory the Glory of God in His Word. 
As I looked to the text of Mark 5, and Jesus’ dealing with a man so dehumanized by his demonic possessors that the text classified him as an animal, unable to be tamed, the Spirit began to teach me something new. It’s a glimpse into the incorruptible power of God’s sovereign, electing grace.

Mark’s gospel tells us that this man “lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” (Mark 5:3-5) This is clearly a man of a debased mind, totally depraved, a man who was placed out of reach of the rest of men, and viewed as out of reach of anything good. The demons raged within him, seeking to do that which is their utmost desire to do; destroy that which God has made. They worked, tirelessly, to destroy every facet of this man, torturing him. He cuts himself, living in desolate and debauched conditions. Doubtless he lives as he does having had many try to kill him, either out of hate, or compassion to end his suffering. So the question must be asked: why was he not dead?

Why hadn’t the man been killed? Why hadn’t the demons been able to destroy him to completion? I think the answer is this: Jesus’ words in John 6:37-39 “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”

This man, though possessed by demonic forces which describe themselves as “Legion”, is of those whom the Father has given the Son before the foundation of the earth. In eternity past, this man is named among those whom Jesus would save. His deliverance from the torment of his possession was secured long before his possession began. He is among those to whom Jesus promises, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:16-19)

Why do I believe this to be the case? What makes me think that this text is showing us an example of the truth of unconditional election in eternity past? Really it’s because of what the man does at the sight of Jesus. Mark relays to us that “when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him.” (Mark 5:6) This act sounds a whole lot to me like a sheep recognizing it’s shepherd and coming to him. At first read, this strikes me as the demons carry the man to Jesus, and that could be the case. Or it could also be that, despite the demonic forces destroying nearly all this man is, they could not fully extinguish that part of him that recognizes his Christ. When Jesus chooses to step out and reveal himself in the sight of this man, the man runs to him and falls before him. The man, and his demons, are brought low in submission to the supremacy of Jesus. Jesus then casts the demons out and heals the man. 

Jesus revealed himself, made himself visible to the tormented, hopeless eyes of the demoniac. The renewed sight of the man captured a glimpse of the glory. The man ran to and threw himself down in front of Jesus. And Jesus cast out the legion, causing the man to stand anew. 

Those who had seen the scene unfold, and those who gathered after hearing what had happened stood paralyzed by fear. They begged Jesus to leave. They are those living in and loving the darkness, fearing the light. But the man who had been healed did not fear the light, but loved it. He approached Jesus, begging that he could go with Him. Instead, Jesus commissioned him to a task. "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." (Mark 5:19) Mark records that this is just what the man did, go so far as to tell us that when the people heard of the love and mercy of Jesus, many marveled. 

With this reading and understanding of these events in hand. We are able to see the glory and application of this text for us today. We can trust and believe that IF a legion of demons, bent on utter destruction cannot derail the saving grace, mercy, and plan of God, that we needn’t fear anything this world can throw at us. Those whom the Father gave to the Son to be raised up on the last day, WILL be raised. The destructive forces of Satan do not have ultimate dominion, they are restricted, controlled, and utilized by God to accomplish His ultimate plan. God will and does use everything under His ownership to emit and declare His own glory. Though this world will seek to destroy every last vestige of the image of it’s Creator, it cannot snuff out the redemptive plan of God. We can trust that, in the fullness of time, God will reveal Himself by the Spirit, in the person of Jesus, and that this revelation will not return void, but will be perfectly effective to raise the dead to life. We can trust that upon the beauty of this work, the light will cause cowering among the children of destruction, but joy in those to whom love and mercy will be manifest. And to those of us who have been freed of our demons, we are sent out to a mission of proclamation. This pattern is repeated throughout Jesus’ ministry with refrains of the mighty works of sovereign grace, forgiveness, and redemption. We are called likewise, to go to those who are as we once were and speak deliverance with the promise that some might marvel at our words, seeing the dazzling beauty of Christ for the first time.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Lacking wisdom

I assume other people are like me, I probably shouldn't. I struggle with reading the book of James. I love Romans and the Pauline epistles. The book of James always seems so harsh by contrast, full of wisdom, but much more tough-love than the grace-filled exhortations found in my more enjoyed readings. I struggle to find grace and mercy in the words that James writes. I generally file the book under the heading that for everything there is a time, and there are times and seasons in life that James' wisdom is more effective in life... but that's a dangerous precedent to set. The word of the Living God is fully authoritative and fully profitable to its hearers in all times and situations. 
In reading through John Piper's A Peculiar Glory and now Reading the Bible Supernaturally I have been convinced that I am to earnestly seek the glory and beauty of God every time I open His word. The reading of the Scriptures is to be a savoring of His glory and ignite within me a white-hot worship. Something I have never sought to do from James.

Between that conviction and a continued season of trials, I sat down this morning and altered my normal reading schedule. I opened to James. And let me tell you, the book is dripping with grace-wrought mercy of a God who earnestly desires that His children shall seek His glory and worship Him.

As many know, our family's plan to move to Seattle and assist in the planting of a church has been slowly progressing. The right opportunity has not come along to allow us to say yes and to move ahead. It's a trying process, and a season that often feels unending. So I approached James 1:2-8 this morning needing to hear God speak. 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. - James 1:2-8

What powerful grace! What is the purpose of my trials in this time? Why is my faith being so tested? Because God's purpose for me is not only that I would seek to serve Him here and now, but also that I would be transformed, conformed to the image of Christ! It is to increase my steadfastness, because in its fullness, steadfastness leaves me perfected and complete, lacking for nothing! So I look at my current condition and situation, and I find myself lacking wisdom (and many other things). This lack is a symptom, if it were that my trails and testing were to cease, it would signal my finish, my completeness. The fact that I lack simply means that I am still being sanctified, I'm simply still alive! I am not simply failing and flawed because I am in this season. So recognizing my lacking, I am told to ask. "God, I'm lacking _____, please give." But what I am truly asking for? I'm asking that God would reduce my lack, in asking therefore that He would increase my steadfastness. And how has James told us that God accomplishes the production of steadfastness? Through trials and testing of faith! By acknowledging our lack of wisdom, we are acknowledging that we are not yet fully sanctified. And by asking for wisdom, we are asking our God to continue to sanctify us through our trials and the testing of our faith. We are seeking something that no one outside of Christ would ever dare seek. Thus the warning James gives to not ask from a doubting heart. A heart that doubts the desire of God to sanctify His children, to bring them to Christlikeness, is a heart that is ruled by feeling and emotion. The doubting heart asks for wisdom and guidance, but turns away when the next trials and testing come along. They are rocked when they ask God for help, but receive more troubles. And that isn't what God wants for His children. He doesn't want us to be confused or to question His love. So instead, He tell us in James that those who ask with a doubting heart should not ask, and if they do, that they should not expect to receive. It's an act of mercy that God would withhold from the doubting mind. He knows that if He were to give to he who doubts, that that man is likely to be tossed by the waves, possibly unto shipwreck. Instead, mercifully, God simply withholds further wisdom from the doubter until such a time that the current testing of faith produces the measure of steadfastness required to stay the doubting mind. 

So, we pray for wisdom. We say, "God, I lack wisdom in what you are doing, and I desire more. I know that seeking wisdom is to seek a path that will further refine through trials and testings. Lord, I know that your desire is my transformation to the image of your Son, and that all paths in the Christian life lead to that end. God, I do not wish to doubt the path you have set me upon, and I place my faith in knowing that your desire is good. I pray that my current measure of steadfastness would provide the stable base of my understanding that in seeking further wisdom I will remained moored to my faith. That I would not be battered and tossed by doubt. Lord, I desire wisdom."

I still don't know how or when God will bring our path together that leads to Seattle, but I do know he will.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Art of Marriage

This past weekend, our church offered the Art of Marriage. I was grateful that schedules aligned, and allowed Zenobia and I the opportunity to go. Our marriage is, I assume, like many people's, its not perfect, and we have struggles in how to live our lives together and such, but ultimately our marriage is pretty good. I never go into these kinds of things seeking or expecting to find some new information or having some great epiphany regarding life, parenting, marriage, etc. I go expecting to be told may of the same strong truths of what marriage is, and what we should do to try to ensure that we are fulfilling the roles and such that God has ordained for us.

This weekend was different. It wasn't brand new teaching, it wasn't some nebular explosion of understanding, but it was truth. In different times and seasons of life, as Gospel truths are placed in front of us, the Spirit works in our hearts and minds in different ways. Something that we have heard trumpeted over and over again suddenly strikes the heart-string with a different fervor. Reverberations of this start to shine through in a different spectrum of light, falling on our eyes with a beauty that we hadn't appreciated before. We see this happen in different ways, through different mediums, and in different times in our lives, but the formula is consistent:

Spirit unveils eyes, truth shines forth, response is required.

For me this last weekend, the simple, beautiful truth that was espoused as it has been so many different times was this: Marriage exists as a shadow, a type, of reflection of the realities of the Gospel. Marriage is 2 people mutually deciding and choosing to enter into an everlasting and unconditional covenant with one another, before God, that they will love, honor, and cherish one another. In the moment of recitation of our vow to our spouse, we are agreeing (wittingly or not) that we will uphold the doctrinal truths found in the book of Ephesians. As men, we are agreeing to love this woman as Christ loves the church, washing over her with our words, building her up that we might present her beautiful and blameless. Women, devoting themselves to the headship of this man, trusting that he will do all that he does in effort to fulfill his purpose as her husband. An agreement, a covenant to pursue the Glory of God together, as husband and wife, independent of influences that occur and exist outside of themselves and their God, having chosen to leave behind their former lives and to cleave together as one flesh. In their one-ness that will live and pursue. There is utter freedom in this covenant, utter grace. I have promised to love my bride, regardless of whatever merit may exist. I have chosen her to be my bride. She has promised that same love, unconditional, no matter what I do, where I go, or whatever may come to pass, she will love me, submitting herself to my headship.

This last point is what really struck me. The freedom found in an unconditional love relationship is enormous. My wife has quite literally stated that there is nothing I can do that would cause her to leave my side. (This is not the time or place for discussion on Biblical reasons and such for termination of the marriage covenant, the power of sin in our world is real, hurtful, and must be dealt with carefully) The reality of my wife's commitment to me staggers my brain. And it sends my brain into a dual reality, it calls forth the two natures that battle within me:
On the one hand, I have complete freedom to do whatever I desire. I can chase after my lustful wants, and my prideful desires. She's promised to love me, that is on her. My sin nature loves this thought, and it pulses within me with much adrenaline. But, thanks be to God that my sin nature is not the ruling nature of my soul. The reality quickly sets into place that due to the enormity of her promise and the totality of the unconditionality of her love for me, spurs me away from the lustful desires of my flesh, and compels me instead to love her more intently. Because I know that there is nothing that could separate our love, it makes me want to cherish and protect, and foster that love ever more dearly, not test the bounds of it with reckless abandon. I am compelled by the steadfastness of her commitment to me that I desire to be a man who is worthy of such trust, submission, respect, and love. I am not that man, but I am more that man than I was last week, or even yesterday, and I strive to be more that man tomorrow and for the years to come.

It is in this way that I most clearly see the Gospel in marriage. In eternity past, God chose for himself a bride. Jesus chose for Himself a people, His church. He willfully entered into a covenant agreement with His bride, to love them unconditionally. Though His people chase after the lustful desires of their hearts, and seem to try to push through the boundaries of this love, Christ upholds His end. When the Spirit reveals this truth to the chosen bride, their eyes are opened. A new desire begins to stir in them, and they now have a new nature warring within them. On the one hand, they desire to continue running after the pleasures of the flesh that have been their source of happiness, yet the other nature sees a deeper love, a deeper satisfaction, and a deeper joy in the love of Jesus. There is a change that begins to take place that says, "we love, because Christ first loved us." A transformation begins happening in which the fleeting pleasures or this world start to lose their appeal, and the desire to love according to the love by which we were called starts to take hold. We begin to live a life compelled by the unconditional love of our Savior. Our desires begin to change, our pleasures begin to be magnified in Him, and all we desire is to become worthy of His love. He assures us that it wasn't our worthiness that caused His love to start, nor our worthiness that causes it continue, it is rather that He chose us to be his bride. He loves us because He chose to do so, and will continue doing so, because He chooses to. The release from a feeling of needing to work harder, do more, be better to earn this love doesn't cause us to seek after the old pleasures, but rather free us to more fervently pursue more of Him.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Unbind him

This weekend, I was reading in the Gospel of John. In particular, I was praying and reading as I was struggling with the realization that the next day was the 6th anniversary of my mom's passing. As I was reading I got to the passage speaking of Lazarus' death. Jesus spoke to Mary and Martha (and anyone else who was listening) about the realities of what death is and is not. He makes astounding claims about who he is, in particular his claim that He, Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus laid claim that everyone who lives and believes in Him shall never die. Huge promises in light of the reason he had been summoned to this place. Great words of comfort when we think of loved ones who have passed in this life, but,  who we can have faith, are living still. The passage gave peace and joy to my spirit and I was grateful.

My eyes continued down through the passage that morning, and as I continued to read this account, something new came through as I read the raising of Lazarus at the words of Christ. It wasn't the power of Jesus words, calling forth life where before there was death, it wasn't the intermingling of strong faith and doubt at play in the loved ones who were gathered. This particular morning, it was the words Jesus spoke to those who were gathered, after Lazarus had emerged alive from his grave: "Unbind him, and let him go."

Its a story of rebirth, regeneration, at the word of our Savior. We lie, dead, lifeless, rotting away under the death linens of our sin. We stink of flesh that has died, is dying, and will die. A dead man thinks no thoughts of life, of God, of anything... and a dead man cannot bring himself to life. But at the call of the Great Shepherd his sheep awake. No matter how far away, how far gone, how tightly wrapped, His sheep hear His voice and come forth. We walk out of the tomb, knowing nothing yet of being alive, knowing nothing about why we walk, knowing only that our God has called us forth and we can do nothing but come out. We stand, wrapped in the burial clothes, stench emanating from our every wound, filth dripping. We are wretched, depraved, debauched, and utterly untouchable, let alone unlovable. Useless, worthless, but somehow standing, and alive. We stand with no knowledge of what to do next, just as Lazarus stood at the entrance to his earthly tomb.

What Jesus does next is massive. He did not look at Lazarus and demand him to go get cleaned up, scrub away his dirt, put on his best clothes, and then come back. He didn't  command anything of Lazarus in that moment. He spoke to those who were there: "Unbind him".

Those who stood alongside Jesus, whom John had just written showing some of them as having great faith in Christ. Jesus' followers, disciples, and friends, they are the ones who received a command from their God. "Unbind him", unwrap his bandages, cleanse his wounds, do not turn up your nose at his stench, and stand far off as though you are afraid to touch him. You claim to love me, and you claim to have mourned over this man's death. Here he stands before you, called from death to life by my word and through my love. I love this man, I wept over his death. If you love me, you love him, and if you love, you obey. Prepare this once-dead man for life.

It was a teaching for the Church. It is what we, as believers who claim to love Jesus, and thereby claim to love what Jesus loves, who are being commanded by our God. We should expect to encounter not only dead people, but even more so to see previously dead sinners taking those first, unsure, stumbling steps back into life. We are expected to be at their tombs, grieving the depth of their depraved deaths, calling of Jesus to come, knowing that, as Martha stated earlier, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Saying, Lord, I know you have power over this, and if your will is for this dead man to walk, he will walk. We as the church should not be surprised to see people walk out of their graves, still wrapped in their death. And when we see this happen, we should not fumble around and wonder what we are to do for this newly regenerated life. Jesus told us what to do: "Unbind him and let him go".

It is the work of those who love and follow Jesus to embrace regenerate people, no matter the stench, the filth, the debauchery that encircles them. We are to walk up to them, remembering the days we stood still wrapped in linen, just emerging from our tomb. We should remember the sting of the cleansing salve that was lovingly administered to our wounds. We should tread with grace as we prepare this brother or sister for life. We should heed the teachings from Paul to the church at Ephesus that Christ is the example of how we should love, through His love for the church, sanctifying her by the washing of water with the Word.

Lazarus walked out of his tomb at the call of Jesus. He stood, unable and without knowing of anything else he could do. He simply responded to the command to come out. And as he stood, Jesus commanded his people to do exactly what Jesus himself does for the church, he commanded them to unbind him, clean him, wash over him with the water of the word, allowing the Spirit to do it's work. Having been raised by the Spirit through the word of the Son, by the power given by the Father, Lazarus now stood. Jesus then extends the blessing of this work to his people, allowing them the opportunity to now do for someone else what had once been done for them. All of this to emphasize one over-arching reality:
"So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, 'Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around that they may believe that you sent me.' When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out.'

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Risk in the Christian life

i had the opportunity to share with a group of men this evening. I enjoyed the chance to speak, and I wanted to share the manuscript of what I spoke on. Of course, I lost my place part-way through, so a lot of this didn't get said the way I had planned it...

As men, we take risks. We are wired to be risk-takers. Its bred into us through our ancestry when risk was a necessary means by which we protected and provided for our families. This inherent adrenaline-loving, risk-seeking, inner-primal urge that we have is a God-given reality in our lives and should be handled carefully in our pursuit of Biblical manhood. When combined with our natural man, our sin nature, this desire for the thrill of risk can often be the fuel behind our sinful desires and actions. For me, the thrill of risk, and the desire for every more dangerous undertakings fueled a life aimed at and entrenched in sexual immorality of many flavors. The continuing fight of putting to death these sins makes me immeasurably grateful that my salvation is not based upon any one act, or any gathering of actions in my life, but is secured solely in the blood of Christ. To quote Spurgeon, “I am grateful that God chose me before I was born, because he surely wouldn’t have accepted me after.”
Maybe your flavor of sin is different, maybe you look at people like me who struggle with what I do as being gross, or degenerate, beyond help… but I posit to you the realization that the force that drives my struggle is not so different from what drives yours. You like the taste of risk, it somehow energizes you, makes you feel alive, makes you feel like a man. But how could something so inherently ingrained in our being, so hard-wired into what we are as men, how could it be so bad? What is its purpose in our lives? If we reason out the logic Paul puts to the Romans in chapter 8 of his letter to them, if all things happen to the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose, and if we identify as being those who love God, and we see ourselves as belonging among the count of His elect, then why do we have the earnest desire in our heart to engage in risky behaviors? CS Lewis states a similar question in his book Mere Christianity much like this, “if I possess in my being a desire for something, then there must be a reason for and a way to satisfy that desire.” So, this desire for risk exists, and we seek out ways to satisfy the desire, yet nothing does. So, Lewis goes on to say, “If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” So, therefore, we find that we have a desire for risky behavior that needs to be satisfied, and we have sought out worldly pleasures to satisfy that desire, and we have fallen to sin… but because we love God, and we are called according to His purpose (Namely the purpose in transforming us into the image of Christ), then there must be something that can satisfy our manly urge for risk, and it must not be anything of our world.
 How do we find that which will satisfy our desires, if that satisfaction must be found outside this world?
We need to do a couple of things, 1) resist our natural male urge to forge ahead on our own; and 2) seek a community of men who can help you as you go.
When I first began trying to climb out of my own sin-drenched pit of despair. I worked hard to make sure no one else knew what was happening, or what I was going through. It was a sad, lonely, arduous pursuit. All I knew was my goal was to stop what I was doing and seek after God. It wasn’t until I had been further broken through an epic failure of trying hard that I finally opened up about my struggle. I did this first to my wife, who tried her best to be understanding and supportive. In the end, she gave me some of the most difficult and best advice possible, she told me that I needed to bring it to my men’s group. At this time in my life, I was present in my men’s group, but not deeply engaged. But she was right, as great as she had been with it all, she isn’t a man, and she didn’t understand what I needed. Through allowing myself to become open, vulnerable, and transparent with these men, I found something new, a different kind of risk, and one much more in step with the picture of Biblical masculinity. Having a group of men who know my particular predilection proclivities, and being known at a deep level and cared for deeply by these men became something new to me that I never realized I needed before. In giving up the lonely fight, and locking arms with my brothers, the Spirit was able to work through this ministry to aid me in putting to death the sins of my darker nature.
As the desire for the old risks began to wane, I found in myself a discontentment starting to grow. I needed risks, that part of my created being still needed to be satisfied. I knew what the longings felt like, I recognized the need, but rather than run to the old attempts of fulfillment, I now had the counsel of men to seek out how to fulfill the needs of my manliness. I walked onto a limb and began leading the group sometimes, and from there, leading discipleship classes, sitting on church committees, and from there seeking other ways to build on new, refreshing ways to take risks that were actually glorifying God, and seeking to advance His kingdom. But, parallel to the way these behaviors respond and react in sin, I started to feel like I needed more risk, I wasn’t finding contentment even still. Then an opportunity to join a new group of men came along.
Early in the development of this group, we were sharing with each other prayer requests. Real stuff that this group was going to specifically pray for in that moment. I mentioned the growing disquiet in my spirit that God seemed to have something different for me, and that my preoccupation with what this change could be had caused a great deal of the discontentment in my job and life in the recent times. What I wanted more than anything was a clear vision for what God would have me to do in this life. This was another time in my life that I learned that you shouldn’t ask God a question unless you really want to know the answer. Having recently finished reading John Piper’s “Desiring God” I was certain of a few things: 1) I wanted to experience the fullness of Joy that is offered only at God’s right hand; 2) I needed to be certain that God was the supreme treasure of my life; and 3) I was falling short of both 1 & 2. This new small group selected a few books to get started on, one of which was a book on my shelf at home that I had never opened.
“Don’t waste your life” by John Piper. I made the mistake of trying to read this book at work one night, and found myself in tears. Piper was using the Word of God, and the truths of the Scriptures to speak directly into my soul. I read as he laid out a framework for fulfilment in our life’s work and marrying that work with the work of God. I screamed at the book, demanding that it just tell me where and how to find that! I needed it! It was the refreshing spring of water for my risk-parched soul, where could I find it?!?!
Piper went on to explain the steps of living a life that is not wasted. And he settled on the words of Paul as he proclaimed one of his more famous arguments that to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Piper worked through the logical progression of the necessity of Christ being treasured above all things, and the logical inference then that if Christ is to be magnified above all else in our death, he must be supreme over all things in our life. As though that statement wasn’t stirring enough, Piper goes on to list things in our life that we must be willing to give up in favor of the glory of Jesus; in order that our life be lived as it should be, in order for life to not be wasted… the pathway out of discontentment would take us to a place that requires that the glory of God be treasured above all things: our job, our friends, our money, all things that I generally have no trouble cheering on, but then Piper said something the undid me that night: A life lived to the fullness of joy, means a death that is preferable to hugging your children. Somehow, in this moment, God cleared some fog, if I truly desire to live a life of true joy, if I wanted the best life for my family, my kids, myself… I needed to be able to say that to live is Christ, to die is gain. I needed to be able to say that as awesome as my kids are, their sweet embrace is nothing compared to the eternal glory of the only begotten of the father. I needed to understand that the best thing I can do for my kids is show them that Christ is supreme in my life and that I am willing to anything God calls me to do to advance His glory and His Kingdom on this earth. Because they need to see the life of their father displays that:
The beauty and reality of Jesus, His atoning death upon the cross. The propitiation of my debt, and the fulfillment of my ransom completed by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension is so monumentally glorious that I am called, compelled, into a life that says: if today I die, I will rejoice in an eternity spent in the loving presence of my Lord. And that eternity is so immeasurably glorious that it is better than a lifetime spent here on earth.
The beauty and unashamed, unbridled love by which our children hug and cling to us is a sweet foretaste of the totality and perfection of the unconditional love that God has for his children. In the moments of deep satisfaction in the embrace of our children, I am getting a glimpse of the eternal embrace my father has for me.
My kids need to see that I not only ascent to a head knowledge of the glory of God, but that that glory is truly worth something to me. The works of the Spirit through the ministry of John Piper’s words and the ministry of the men in this particular small group helped me to work through these tumultuous realities. The solution was to start doing things in my life that everyone, my wife, my kids, my friends, my employers, strangers would look at and say, “The only explanation is that there is something that that man values more than anything else. And that something must be Jesus.”
So, to that end, at the beginning of this year, I was able to travel to Cuba. I was going to engage in the most basic, New Testament style of work. Knocking on doors and proclaiming the name of Jesus to any who will listen. Completely, utterly outside of my introverted, discipler comfort zone, I was going to try to evangelize. My wife and I sat down with our kids, and (as we often do) discussed with them the Apostles’ words concerning Jesus as they goal of all that we do, and that we must go into the world and preach His name that the sheep who are scattered and not of this fold would be gathered back with the Good Shepherd. We explained to them that it was one thing for us to tell them these things, but we are also called to be doers of the Word, not just readers. So, we went. We shared the Gospel with the lost, with the confused, with the poor, sick, and needy. We showed them love and grace, we extended mercy where we could, and we advanced the Kingdom. It was awesome, I highly commend the trip to anyone.
But that was not all that God had been showing and teaching as John Piper continued to kick me in the gut. Cuba was a short-term burst… God was working something else within our family. Last year, our church partnered with a missionary and his wife who are planting a church in Seattle. Looking for the opportunity to embrace the un-wasted life, we will be relocating our family to the Pacific Northwest as well to be of any help and assistance with the planting of the church, ministering to the people, and hopefully reaching the nations through daily life in an international city. It is yet another opportunity to show our kids the reality that Jesus is worth more than anything else, even the comforts of home, the friends of a lifetime, and the family we grew up with. We don’t know at all what Seattle will bring to us, only that it is the next stone in the path that God is leading us down. To which we say, wherever He calls, we will go. We don’t know where, when, or anything else, but we know that the glory of God is beyond worth whatever we have to give up to serve him. It is a risk, just as it should be.
We, as Christians, are blessed with the endowment of the Holy Spirit. We have the counsel of God made evident through the witness of the Spirit, with the Law and Will of God etched on our regenerate heart. Thus, we do not face the risky decisions of this life unarmed. We are able to make calculated risks for the advancement of the Kingdom. We are not called to be the bringers of victory or the cause of defeat, we are called to be the obedient servants. We are co-laborers, adopted sons, and agents of an eternal kingdom.

Monday, April 10, 2017

refined by fire

In my reading this morning, I ran into 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw- each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. - 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

Through the first couple of chapters in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul is repeating a theme to this young church about the importance of the centrality of Jesus in the teachings they have received from him, as well as other teachers. We find in these chapters common verses concerning Paul's decision to know nothing among them except Christ and him crucified, as well as warning against focusing on those who were teaching rather than the object of the teachings. and then we come to this parable-like teaching from Paul. We know from the preceding verse that the foundation Paul is speaking of in this passage is Jesus himself, so we are seeing here a restating of subtler points in Paul's letter. Our lives, the works we do, must stand on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. In this way, on the final day, we stand to either gain reward for those things accomplished by Christ through our works or our fruitless attempts will be burned away as dross. Paul has been warning these Christian infants, through spiritual milk, against adding anything to the work of Christ for their salvation, or attributing the works of any other teacher to their salvation, Christ alone was their sure foundation. So here, Paul is answering questions we don't see being asked, but that he anticipates are running through the minds of his readers. Paul explains that there is a difference between works being done by the power of the flesh and those works being done by the power of the spirit. Paul assumes that the Christian life is a life of works being built upon the unshakeable foundation of Jesus. He is showing the distinction between the bedrock of salvation through Christ alone, and a salvation sought after through human effort and things added on top of Christ's foundation. 

For the Christian, it is true, known, and eternally sure that our salvation is found only in the life, death, and resurrection of Hesus Christ. Our life, then, is a series of works done upon that foundation thatcare fueled by the spirit and performed by the spirit to be used for the advancement of the Kingdom. Our works are the voice of crying out in the wilderness by which the Shepherd is calling out to His sheep that they may come to Him and find their rest. The good works we Christians are called into are not fleeting, unimportant efforts of our will, but rather are the works of God that He graciously allows us to be a part. And the promise of this passage is that those works done by God in His people are not burned away off of our foundation, but are rather refined on that day and their true, eternal reward is revealed for us. We find, remaining after the fire, the purified, perfect remains of the truth of our works, the glory of God's reward to His servant.
The other side of this coin is a Christian who never moves on from an infantile understanding of his faith. This Christian has spent life doing works, trying to gain salvation through effort and works. This Christian enters that final day feeling tired, weary, and in need of rest. He arrives at the house he has built in life to find his effort piled upon the foundation. At first, his dwelling looks awfully similar to the other, it's foundation is just as secure, it's dwelling rests upon it in the same security. But then the fire comes, and all the works are burned away. When the smoke clears, all that remains is the foundation. The life has been fruitless, without reward, wasted. In the immense sense of loss and regret, this Christian wipes away the sadness to see the last glorious reality, the foundation remains, his salvation is secure. His dwelling no longer looks like that of his neighbors, but it remains. 

Both scenarios given to us by Paul here show Christian realities, two ends of the spectrum of true Christianity. Both ends show eternal security for the believer, but a much different eternal dwelling. The reality is that our eternal dwellings are still being built throughout our lives, and on this last day, will be a combination of these two realities. We will come to realize that much of the effort and work we put into our faith are fruitless and wasted endevours, but we will find that much of what we have done have been Spirit-wrought true works having been prepared for us with eternally lasting significance. Our dwelling will be a mixture of purified gold and burned up waste. Your dwelling may not look the way you imagined it, and it surely will not look the same as everyone else's. But your address is secure, your foundation has been poured, if you are in Christ Jesus. 

What you do in this life matters, how you do it, why you do it, and by what power it is done, each of these gave eternal importance in the life of others, and in your eternal existence.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

We are a Christian

This past weekend, our church held its annual marriage retreat. It is generally one of my favorite weekends of the year; I get to have a weekend off of work, I get to spend time with my wife, time with friends, etc. With our life in the midst of transition and craziness, we were unsure if we'd be able to attend this year. We committed to trying to make it work into our schedule, and I'm so glad that we did, the time to focus on us and God's plan and design in marriage was a soul-satisfying salve.

The overarching theme that has stuck in my mind as we have moved through the teaching of the weekend and re-entered real life is the reality of the description of marriage found in scripture. We find it first in Genesis, and again in Ephesians, this image of a man leaving his father and mother to be joined with his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 

As we pressed deeper into this reality, what became apparent to me was that my wife and I, through the covenant bond of our marriage are very truly bonded together to the point of being a single flesh. We are a Christian. We are still unique individual persons, we have our own unique thoughts, responsibilities, and lives, but nonetheless we also exist as a singular entity in the sight of God. As such, it is possible to read through the covenant promises found in the gospels and throughout the New Testament as relevant in a marriage relationship, just as much as they are in an individual life. As a biblical, covenantal married couple, we reap the benefits of God's sovereignty to bring to pass our sanctification unto glorification in our relationship to one another, and to our God. We find that we have been brought into a triune relationship: God(fully manifest in His own triune glory), husband, wife. Within this relationship, we find that we can cling to the promises that are generally only applied to individual believers as being true within our marriages as well.

I'm challenging myself, moving forward, to read my Bible for not only my individual growth and sanctification, but to see and feel the promises of God for my marriage as well, knowing that God does not fail to bring His work to completion in His children, be they singular individuals or dual-flesh combined, covenantly-bound believers.