Thursday, December 21, 2017

Scattered

God scatters His people.
He does so for the sake of His glory, and the building/advancement of His Kingdom.

These may not be the only reasons for the dispersement of His church, but they are two that are opening my eyes this morning. 

The last couple of days have been spent looking in Acts 8, and the persecution and scattering of the Jerusalem church. As I was reading, another act of dispersement cane to mind, one not carried on the hands of human oppressors, but by the direct act of God. 

In Genesis 11 we find what appears to be the totality of the people of God, settler together in one place. In a short time together, the people devise a plan to construct the great human city. In the midst of this city will be a mighty tower, reaching into the heavens, a monument to their own greatness. It would be a place of such grandeur that all people would be able to see it from far off, a beacon drawing them all together, to preserve their greatness. “Lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Their desire was insulation, and protection of self. They desired the ability to worship their own glory and might. 

God, ever zealous for His own glory, unwilling to share it with any other, descends upon His people, speaking in Triune power, “This is only the beginning of what they will do... Let Us go down there and confuse their language, so they may not understand one another’s speech.”
This God disperses His people, scattering them from this place in order that:
1) They do not delve further together into self-gratifying, self-worshiping destruction.
2) To protect and proclaim His power and glory among His people.

So that’s one dispersion, but what about Acts 8?

We don’t read of plans of the Apostles to build monuments of themselves. Rather, we see faithful men, working heartily as for God. We see fruitful ministry among the people. So why does God bring about the persecution of Saul, and the subsequent scattering of the church?

I think it comes down to a few things:
1) The protection of the Glory of God (the humbling of His people):
While the Apostles are keeping to a humble, low self-understanding service, their works often cause marveling among the people. They work diligently to point to the power of the resurrected Christ when people speak of their awe. But, with each passing work, and every glorious act done in the midst of the people, many will begin to be deafened to the words of the Apostles, and blinded to the Glory of God. If left unchecked, it is likely that soon the people will no longer hear the Apostles’ claim that the works done are not of their power, but are of the power of Christ alone. For this reason, it is better to persecute and strike at the church. Better to scatter the brothers than have the Glory of God defamed among the nations.

2) The sending of bold men to preach the Good News, and father the sheep:
From this scattering, we are told that those who went out did so preaching the Word. We are given the example of Philip, who went out and preached boldly, and the Spirit worked effectually in the land of Samaria. Philip went south and taught many, culminating in the salvation of the Ethiopian eunuch. By this example, we can assume that other brothers went to other places, preaching Christ to the nations. God needed to scatter His people to find men to carry through the mission of Acts 1:8, taking the message out of Jerusalem, into Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. To echo Paul later, God scatters His people because: 
“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” 
We usually read this passage from Romans 10:14-15a when it’s time for a mission trip, a church sending people out. But, in the scattering of His church, God was sending His men out to preach to those who needed to hear, that on gearing they might believe, and in believing they will call. In doing so, they fulfill the mission given by Jesus that there are other sheep who are not of this fold, and they must be gathered.

3) To lay the groundwork for the most powerful display of redeeming grace in the New Testament:

In Ezekiel 36, God speaks through His prophet a vivid series of imagery concerning the lengths and depths He will go to save to the uttermost His children. He goes on to declare that he does this redemptive work, not merely for the sake of the saved, but for the sake of His glory. (For more on this passage: http://templebodyspirit.blogspot.com/2013/07/not-for-my-sake.html?m=1 )

I think, I’m light of this, and many other passages, we can infer that in some respects, the greater the redemption, the more magnified is God’s glory. God is infinitely glorified in the redemption of everyone who believes, and that redemption is bought with the same blood of Christ. But he is forgiven much, forgives much. In saying this, we can see that Saul’s ravenous persecution of the church, and the subsequent scattering of the church, was instrumental in setting the stage for the penultimate display of the applied redemption of God through Christ. In reconciling the self-named chief of sinners, God called to Himself, of Himself, by Himself the praise of His own glory and might.

With these thoughts, I take solace as I prepare for my family to soon be one scattered. I can trust from the Scriptures that God has a mighty purpose in what He has planned. And go now, I rest knowing that God is seeking to keep me, or make me:
1) humbled by His will and mercy in my life
2) bold, prepared to speak His word among the people
3) excited, ready to see the mighty works of redemption He has planned.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sacrifice nothing

Prayer:
Lord, incline my heart to savor and desire your Word, open my eyes and my heart to your Glory displayed, unite my soul to your Holy Spirit in Your truth, satisfy me in you. Lord, do these things out of your zealous desire that your Glory and Beauty be made known among your people.
In Christ’s name,
Amen 

As the months of prayer and preparation have gone by, waiting on God’s timing for our move to Seattle, many verses have stuck out in my mind. Verses that provide encouragement, verses that humble my haughty mind, verses that sharpen my desires, and so on... but one that has been utilized for all of these has been Mark 10:29-30:

Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

These last few days, I’ve been reading through Acts 7, looking at Stephen’s life and martyrdom. And I can’t help looking at this through the lens of Jesus’ words in Mark. What we find in this glance is the satisfied promise of God to a man who sacrificed all, yet could (and I believe would) say he never truly sacrificed a day in his life.

We know little of Stephen’s life before meeting him as a sharp-tongued proclaimer straight from the mold of the Apostles he sat under. We only know him briefly in his bold and accurate, incisive words spoken to the hypocritical religious leaders of the day. His surgical flaying of their hearts leads straight to his being rushed, thrown down, and stoned.

But how can we know that Stephen would say that he had never sacrificed a thing?

The inference from scripture is that we most often see the kind of boldness we see in Stephen, boldness for the sake and Glory of Jesus, borne out of great personal cost of following. I’m willing to assume that because we don’t hear about Stephen’s family or home that he qualifies as one who “left mother, father, sisters, brothers, and lands” for the sake of the Gospel. The immediate promise from Jesus is that “in this time” Stephen should receive 100x his sacrifice in blessing. So what did he gain? An immense brotherhood, one that sought to have no wants in and among themselves. A group that loved one another unconditionally, a family of thousands, held together by the incorruptible love of God. He gained the teaching of the great truths of the sufficiency of Christ and the preciously priceless Glory of God. Realities well worth greater than 100x what he left behind.

Next, Stephen gave up anonymity within this immense family. Anonymity is safe, and comfortable. I’m assuming here, again, that the church had already begun to develop a striata of those who are willing to stay in the unknown ranks. I think we can assume that there are many who came, gave up what they had, but then remained insulated and relatively quiet (especially compared to the boldness of some), and this safer. I assume this because among the thousands upon thousands of people added to the church, we really see few who are leading, serving the many. This is not a knock on the many, the church is built upon the reality of a multitude of individuals with different gifting and callings. But Stephen was called out and he took up that calling to leave an anonymous presence in the church to be recognized as one who was full of the Spirit, and of faith. His is the first name given among those established in the office of Deacon. He sacrificed a life in the church of provision and safety provided by anonymity for a life of bold service. 
What did Stephen gain for this sacrifice?
According to Paul in 1 Timothy 3:13, those who serve the office of Deacon well gain a good standing for themselves and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. Anyone who struggles with the assurance of their faith will tell you that great confidence in assurance would be worth well over 100x the cost.

Then comes the ultimate sacrifice of Stephen, his physical life. Emboldened by his great assurance, and assured of the blessings to those who sacrifice for the sake of Jesus, Stephen was unwilling to keep quiet, unrelenting in his work. He boldly spoke truth to all, not stopping when encircled by the throng of leaders who came upon him. He refused to deny his teachings. He chose, rather, to stand fast in the truth, at the cost of his life. He went so far as to trade the last of his energy, not to fight, but to speak. He spoke of a vision of Jesus, ascended to the right hand of God. When he was knocked down and began to be stoned, he spoke, resigning his spirit to the presence of Christ. Exchanging temporal life on earth for eternal joy in the presence of God. Then, in his last breath, he sacrificed any desire for vengeance on his murders for grace: “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them.”

What did Stephen gain for the sacrifice of his life?

He gained the sure promise Jesus made in Mark 10, eternal life; eternal perfection in the presence of God. The immense value of a human life, exchanged for the incalculable value of eternal Glory. The exchange of vengeance desired for love. An act that seals the persevering faith of this brother, bearing witness for all of us who have come after to the completed sanctification of the transformed life. A sheep called home by its Great Shepherd.

Though he gave up everything, Stephen sacrificed nothing. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Growth through boldness

In preparing for our upcoming move to Seattle and engaging in helping with planting and discipling of the new Pike Place Church, I’ve been reading through Acts. I want to know and see how the church was first established and grown. Though many things about the modern church are different than the church of the Apostles, their example is still informative and instructive in how to properly build and grow a church.

In the second chapter of Acts, we see the Spirit empowering the Apostles to the bold proclamation of the Word, namely the salvation through Jesus Christ alone. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost gives us a glimpse into this bold teaching. Through the preaching of the Gospel, men were cut deep to their hearts, their sin exposed and their need of a Savior made apparent. And as boldly as Peter had preached Christ’s resurrection, he now extended the mercy and grace purchased by Christ’s blood. The Spirit established the church through the bold preaching of the Christ, and added to their numbers by the extension of forgiveness and mercy. 

As chapter 2 finishes, we are told that the Spirit added to their numbers daily those being saved. This statement leads me to believe that the following chapters (3-5) are intended as giving examples of the natural works of the Apostles through which the Spirit was Supernaturally working to grow and strengthen the church. 

In Chapter 3 we see that the people of the church, and in particular the Apostles, devoted themselves daily to the teaching of the Word. They frequently traveled to the Temple, and were known among the people there. One day, a lame beggar was in his normal place at the entrance to the Temple. When he saw Peter and John approaching, the beggar asked for a gift from their assumed riches (because who would follow the teachings of poor men?). Instead, the beggar is told that these men have nothing of material worth to give, but what they can offer is Jesus, and on the power and authority of His name, the man was healed. The man rises and, with Peter and John, he enters the Temple to rejoice and worship this Jesus through whom he has been healed.
As others looked on when the Apostles entered, many saw the former beggar walking with them, and they marveled over the healing of his physical ailment. Peter again spoke boldly, pointing, not to the miracle of physical healing, but to the Christ through whom perfect and complete healing had come to all who would believe. Again the Spirit laid bare the hearts of many, and again mercy and grace were extended to all who would believe. So just as it was in Chapter 2, the Spirit convicted through bold preaching, and gathered through grace and mercy. Through this, many more were added to their numbers.

Among those gathered at the Temple were several leaders who did not appreciate the teachings of the Apostles. Chapter 4 begins by showing a contrast from the many who believed and those who sought to question and (if possible) quiet the Apostles’ teachings.  Instead of passively listening to the questions of the leaders, they were again emboldened by the inner-workings of the Spirit. They again preached boldly the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Instead of cutting these men, the teaching exposed in them a heart of stone that has not been opened to the beauty of Jesus. But, in demonstration of the promise the God’s Word never returns void of accomplishing the purpose for which it is sent out, the leaders were not unaffected. Rather than conversion, the response from the leaders is an understanding of the reality of what the Apostles were teaching. Now unable to contradict the teachings of these men, the leaders tried to simply tell the Apostles that they must cease their teachings.

This interaction between the church and the world could have caused a deep injury, but instead it drove the followers to prayer for even more, deeper boldness in the proclamation of the truth. They sought intensified fervor for the work laid before them. It was an act of unification, and bonding of one to another, giving of themselves to the betterment of them all through offerings given in faith. And thus the Spirit continued adding to their numbers, and emboldening their willingness to offer of themselves.

Then, in Chapter 5, we get a different kind of example, one not of growing the church, but rather a warning to guard the church, thus strengthening her. Without Chapter 5, we might be willing to believe that continued numeric growth was the goal of the early church. Instead, we see that the Spirit protects the church from the impure heart, and those who are seeking personal gain. The church must be diligent to ensure that it is pursuing the purification and sanctification of her people as premier above and beyond riches. The death of 2 patrons who were more interested with what the church could do for their benefit helped to further unify the church. Having all things in common together, and a unified desire of furthering the Kingdom allowed for increased persevering boldness. 

The increased boldness of the church, combined with the increasing numbers led directly to another meeting between the leaders and the Apostles. This time, the arresting of the Apostles and a night in prison allows an opportunity for another miracle among the people. The Spirit’s miraculous opening of the jail cell, and release of the Apostles ends with the Apostles again boldly proclaiming that Christ is the Messiah. The leaders, with their understanding that they could not deny the teachings of the Apostles, and realizing that imprisoning them would not stop the teaching, further reveal the depth of their depravity in deciding they would have to kill them to quiet them. But mercy prevailed again through the words of one of the leaders. Gamaliel spoke, not as a man converted, but as a man of reason, that the leaders need to step lightly lest they find themselves opposing God. The leaders agree to just beat the Apostles instead of killing them. The beatings came with yet another warning to cease the teachings of Jesus as the Christ. These warnings show the complete misunderstand of the reality of life with Christ, persecution leads only to increased boldness of the people of God. Beating the Apostles only worked to allow the Spirit to stoke the flames of their hearts. 

So, how do we establish a church, grow a church, embolden the church, and strengthen the church?

“And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” Acts 5:42


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.'