Saturday, April 23, 2016

A daughter of Abraham

Jesus knows his people. He knew them, and He knows them. He knows them when they don't even know who they are. He knows them individually, as they are, in their sin, in their brokenness, their heartache, and their rebellion. He knows them by name, by their tongue, their tribe, their nation. He knows where they will stand in the choir of the elect. He holds their destiny, their past, their present, written in the scroll that only He can open. He knows them with the deep, abiding, intimate love that is most closely, humanly related within the knowing of a husband to his bride.

This immense, deep truth is something that I have wrestled with multiple times. The fact that in eternity past, before the foundations of our world, God handed to His Son a gift. It was a people for His own possession, a people for whom He would call His. But it wasn't simply an anonymous blob, a faceless conglomeration of people. It was individuals; beautifully unique, courageously singular making up a woven tapestry to be known as the body, the bride of Christ, His church. And this reality is something of great comfort, and extremely humility for me. Sadly, I think I had drifted a little too far from this mooring... started to float away a bit from this anchor.

The symptoms that creep through when this happens are myriad, but they can be easily summed up: I stop loving. When I forget that the elect of God, handed to Jesus, and promised to Him is not simply an amoebic hull of humanity, then I start to forget about people. Individuals who need to hear the Word of God, people who God is placing in my path that I might take the chance to boldly proclaim the truth the beauty of the treasure of God found only through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Luckily, God has not left us without the tools necessary to identify the sins in our life. The light of His Word, cast into the darkness of our being displays shadowy corners where sins dwell. The Word also provides all we need to join with the work of the Spirit to put to death those sins. I'm thankful for that... and for a passage this past week that was the blazing torch revealing again the amazing truth that I wrote out to start this posting:

Luke 12:14-17 (ESV)
But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.   

Jesus had never met the woman before, the Bible tells us very little about who she was. As far as we can tell, this is the first time she is ever meeting or seeing Jesus at all. To the best of what we can infer from this passage, she is not a disciple or follower of any kind, just an ordinary woman who was tormented by Satan... but Jesus refers to her in a very specific manner: daughter of Abraham. In John's Gospel account, John records a conversation between Jesus and some Jewish people who had come to hear him. Jesus explains to these biological sons of Abraham that it is not their ethnic heritage that determines if they are true children of Abraham (i.e. heirs of the promises of God) but it is those who are set free by the Son. Jesus explains that it is only the true sons of Abraham who will remain in the house of the Lord forever. Jesus here names His elect "Children of Abraham". Applying that view to the passage from Luke reveals to us that though Jesus is just meeting this woman, He has known her from all eternity. He heals her of her torment. He brings this sheep into the fold. Not by any merit of her striving, or by any reason that can be comprehended in our feeble human mind. Jesus saw this woman and recognized her as one of His.

He does that same for every one of His sheep. 
 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. John 10:14-16 (ESV)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

John 11:33-36

One of the things that I remember from the early days of getting back into church life, and beginning to meet with a men's small group, was that there was something different about that group. They were discussing real life, they were using scripture to build each other up, and there was a sense of realness about them. In particular I remember being intrigued by one thing more than the rest: One of the men loved the Word in  a way that I had never encountered up close before. It was like the Word was alive to him, it was an active part of his life, something he treasured. 
The image of this man rapidly flipping from verse to verse in our group, finding timely answers for the discussions we were having, encouraged me. I wanted to find this same level of passion. So, I set out at that point to work hard at loving God’s word. What followed over the next 5 years or so was largely an exercise in futility and frustration interspersed with a deepening scholarly knowledge of scripture. I had figured out how to read the word, and to study it, but there still wasn’t love for it. I don’t clearly remember the day, but I remember the passage of scripture where it started to change. I was studying in Ezekiel, and the word spoke to me differently that day. It revealed itself to me in a new and different way, showing me a picture of the glorious work of our God in salvation. The switch began being flipped in my heart, it wasn’t that I needed to study the scripture, I needed to allow scripture to study me as well. Bible reading became communion with God, it became prayerful, intentional, seeking God in His revelation. 
I still don’t have the level of love for the bible that I should, or that I hope one day to have, but I try to show up in the word every day and meet with God.
“There is nothing so fatal as to approach the Bible as just a textbook that you get to know; that is not its business. It's whole object is to bring you to him in whom is all this fullness of which we stand in need.” MLJ
With that being said, I want to share today a brief look into a short bit of teaching that Jesus gave to his disciples in Luke:
Luke 11:33-36
No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful, lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light. 
There are 2 realities that I want to focus on:
There is a need (responsibility) of the believer to be active in the cultivation, purification, and strengthening of the light within us.
- As Christians, we bear the light of the glory of God within us. The Holy Spirit has ignited (at the proper time) within each of the elect of God a lamp. Via the effectual call of the Spirit, the wick of a lamp has been lit inside a defiled, broken lantern that sits within the Temple of our body. The light is the law of God, bringing out of the darkness all of the iniquity we thought we could hide. At first, the light shows the large imperfections of the lantern itself. Its cracked glass and sooty build-up stifling the light before it can even begin to escape. As the spirit works, identifying the flaws, it brings us to repentance and mends the fractured panes, clearing away the soot. Slowly the lantern is mended and the light begins to shine into the dark depravity of our temple, light calling out of darkness all manners of death. The further the light reaches, the more unfiltered and brightly the light shines within us. This portion of the process of sanctification is largely a passive process within the believer. The spirit does the work. 
 We have the additional responsibility of being an active participant in the working of the Spirit within each of us, allowing, by the means of Grace, for every corner of our being to be exposed to the light. We submit our whole selves to the invasive light of the Spirit knowing that “nothing that is hidden will not be made manifest, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17). By the work being done to seek and eliminate darkness that still lurks within each of us, we should become increasingly aware of the breadth of the gap between who we are, and who Christ is. We should become aware of how much of what Martyn Lloyd-Jones called “the fullness” we lack. This revelation should move us, it should cause a disturbance within our soul, a craving that can only be filled by more of Jesus. The active work of killing sin and increasing in holiness should create a bittersweet balance in us, we become more holy, and more satisfied by the spirit, but in turn become more aware of how wretched we truly are. As we become more filled by the light, we become more aware of the dark. Much of the work that is to be done here by the believer is accomplished by active participation in the ordained means of Grace through which we approach the throne of God. We allow the word of God to fuel the lamp, allowing it to continually better expose our darkness, we pray, seeking closer communion with God, knowing that as we approach the Holy one, our fractured holiness becomes more noticeable. We worship, and partake in the sacraments, acts that proclaim the righteous beauty of God, and give Him thanks for all He is, humbling ourselves in the process.
  We must also guard and protect that light. What we take in with our eyes has a direct effect on what gets into our heart. The warning of this passage speaks to the tendency of man to confuse darkness and light in the power of our own vision. As the true light starts to creep into the darkened corners that house those sins we still love, we begin to doubt the light. We feel that same disturbance, but rather than get up and actively seek the destruction of the darkness, we shrug our shoulders at it and decide that it wasn’t really there to begin with. We try to throw the light in a new direction/ We, now having tasted of the light of the lamp, start to try to stroll ahead on a path defined by our own will, because we somehow start to think that we know the right way to go. (There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Prov 14:12). By traipsing down these side roads, we endanger the light in our eyes to become darkness. The ultimate danger being that we so shelter the light and pursue shadier paths that given time, we will no longer recognize the path we are on, and we run the risk of 1Tim1:19 that we make shipwreck of our faith, falling under the warning of Hebrews 6:4-6.If we do not pursue a progressive holiness, further mining the darkness out of us, allowing the totality of the light of the glory of God to reach into every crevice of our being, but instead insist on allowing dark to mingle with light, we are playing with very real fire, leading to a body that is full of darkness where once there was light.

The second point I want to bring out of this passage today deals much more with our responsibility given to us in the power of the great commission. Reading further into what Jesus is impressing on His disciples could be an exhortation to the pursuit of Holiness that is not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of those who are not as far along the path of righteousness as they are. We are called to be disciples who are making disciples, to the advancement of the Kingdom on this earth. It seems possible that the purpose of the warnings given through the passage is to ensure that as we grow in our pursuit of Christlikeness, that our lights are shining more and more brightly so as to light the path for those who will come to follow. The image that most readily comes into my mind on this actually comes out of Pilgrim’s Progress. In one of the early conversations between Christian and Evangelist, the latter is informing the former that he needs to take the path before him to the wicket gate. Evangelist asks if Christian can see the gate, to which he replies, “no.” No worry to Evangelist however, who then says, “well, can you see that light?” Christian indeed does see that light, and is instructed to follow the path onward toward that light and he shall find the gate. What we find at the gate is Goodwill, a person who has been placed on the path of Christian to provide a light for him to follow along his journey. The promise of this passage of Luke is that if we continue in the renewing of our mind, and the conforming of our life to the pursuit of holiness, that we will continue to conquer those things within us that restrain the light. As our light becomes stronger, we become beacons on the path for others. We look ahead and see the lights of those who have gone before us, and we follow that path, while allowing our light to shine behind us, lighting the path for those whom God would have following us. 

The eternal significance of this second facet is a secondary reality of the importance of the work to be done in the first. The need to pursue holiness, to seek the fullness of God, is for our own salvation, our own joy, and our own eternal pleasures. We pursue a life befitting the heir of a great kingdom, and we seek a treasure so great that to gain it is worth sacrificing all of the other good things in our life. But, as is taught so often in the Epistles, a life well-lived, doctrine well-taught, and a race well-run will save more than just ourselves. We have an obligation to be beacons of glorious light, imitators of Christ in such a way that even if someone fails to fully grasp the beauty and glory of Jesus, we can light part of their path.