Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Holy Name of God

I've been really chasing after a deeper understanding and intimacy with the holiness of God, and as a means of accomplishing this have just begun reading The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul.

One of the more impacting lines written by him in his work reads as follows,
In heaven the name of God is holy. It is breathed by angels in a sacred hush.
That sentence sent shivers up and down my spine, and it inspired the following poem, which is written from the perspective of a now-glorified Isaiah based off of his encounter with the holiness of God as found in Isaiah 6.

The Holy Name of God
By: Nathaniel Marshall

Isaiah ben Amoz, prophet of the One true God,
            By Him called and set apart,
To speak forth his words, to proclaim his glory,
            To receptive and to dull hearts.
“His holy name is worthy of worship,”
            The heavens and sky above declare.
“By his power we all were created,
            His majestic power beyond compare.”
The Lord of Hosts is His great name,
            Commander of Heaven’s legions,
Sovereign God above all creation,
            The divine source of all true religion.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob met Him,
            And worshiped at his feet,
And now I tell you about this God,
            To stir in you worship sweet.

On Mount Sinai to Moses did God first speak
            His glorious, ineffable name,
And in his heart was an obsession born
            To live life for His fame.
“Allow me to see Your face,” begged Moses,
            “So that your fullness I may admire.”
“Nay,” said God, “but my afterglow you will see,
            Lest you be overcome and expire.”
Separate, other, sacred, apart,
            Is this God he their met.
Supreme in excellence, in a crushing flood
            God’s majesty on Moses beset.
On his face shone bright God’s glory,
            But he safe from behind God’s hand,
And afterward reflecting with unveiled face
            The splendor of YHVH, I AM THAT I AM.

It is this name which we revere,
            And not name only but the One who by it is called.
Holy tongues scarcely utter their syllables,
            Most will only cry out, “Lord God!”
On earth His name is profaned once and again,
            Poisoned by asps venom on their lips.
Bitter water only comes forth, no fresh.
            God’s name? Fruit infested by thrips.
Those who belong to Adam’s line
            Can offer to God nothing but
The vile contents of their stony heart,
            And all that is in them shut.
But in heaven the name of God is holy,
            Breathed by angels in sacred hush.
The fruit of righteous lips, reverent worship;
            With death their holy mouths have not brushed.

In the year that King Uzziah died,
            I entered the temple to solemnly grieve
A man of God who, for two and fifty years,
            From the throne did justice heave.
“From whom will righteousness now come,
            Who will lead God’s people in God’s ways?”
This haunting question plagued my mind
            And sunk me into anxiety’s bilious haze.
Upon entry onto that hallowed ground
            I was visited by His whelming presence.
The very form and beauty of God;
            I was exposed to his uncovered essence.
His throne was high, his robe was long,
            It filled the house to its doors.
The foundation quaked with pious awe.
            I fell and became one with the floor.       

Before the throne flew six-winged creatures,
            With two they covered face and with two, toes.
In the uncovered presence of pure holiness,
            They cried weals, but I woes.
I have no wings to cover myself,
            Like a creature of night exposed to sun.
With the sentence of death ("Woe!") upon my head,
            I felt and proclaimed, “I am undone!
“My lips are of those who roam the earth,
            Which pour forth death and rotted bones.
My throat: an open grave, home to corpse' gore,
            Unworthy to proclaim righteous tones.
These unholy eyes have lain upon the Lord,
            I must now surely die.
His beauty casts light upon my utter darkness.
            I am undone!” I cried.

From the ground I heard the seraphim call out
            In infinite, joyous refrain,
Suddenly, one seraph humbly approached the throne,
            With tongs grabbed coal from the burning altar.
All the while still singing God’s praise,
            His voice did not fail or falter.
He flew straight to me, placed the coal on my mouth,
            I heard my flesh crackle as a pyre.
“Behold, this coal has touched your lips,
            You’ve been purified by holy fire.”
My eyes opened wide, relief etched into my face,
            I could hardly believe what I saw:
I was not dead! My sin had been atoned for!
            I worshipped the Lord in awe.

From that encounter I walked away,
            On my soul indelibly marked
A zeal for the Lord’s holy name,
            A divine passion in my very core sparked.
His holiness shines brighter than ten thousand days,
            And shows my sin: darker than ten thousand nights,
And because of that sin I ought to have died when I saw him,
            Deserving of his righteous spite.
But God’s excellent grace said to me,
            And likewise says to you,
“Come now, O man, let us reason together,
            What I say to you next is true.
Although you are soiled with evil and grime,
            Permanently stained red,
I will wash you white as the whitest wool,
            And raise you to life from the dead.”

The holiness of God that obliterates all
            That departs from his divine will,
Is the same holiness that descended in human frame,
            To establish rule on His holy hill.
He took the name of Immanuel,
            “God with us” here on this earth,
In order that we may not roam as lost sheep,
            Condemned, by God’s wrath, to be burnt.
He made us to know him and with him to dwell,
            In his likeness, the Imago Dei,
And if you repent of your sin and ill-will
            He will remove from you your sin this day.
His King, Immanuel, whom He will establish in Zion,
            Died the death you and I did earn;
His holiness - in wrath and in love - thus upheld,
            Enables you towards him to now turn.

“Be thou holy as I am holy,”
            Is the Lord’s righteous decree.
So then, now, go! And sin no more!
            From youthful lusts now flee!
In the Messiah we are now made new,
            Restored so that we now may say,
            THRICE HOLY IS HIS NAME!!!!
            THRICE HOLY IS HIS NAME!!!!
            THRICE HOLY IS HIS NAME!!!!
With joy unspeakable together with the angels,
            We repeat in unending refrain,

Friday, December 27, 2013

Musings on the Mount, Part 1: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

I've been slowly mulling over the beatitudes, inspired by a friend of mine who has just recently done the same thing. For all of my years in church, I haven't really meditated on Jesus' words much, and never have I meditated on his sermon on the mount. Now, Spurgeon's sermons? Picked them apart. Tozer's sermons? Dissected. Francis Chan's sermons? Devoured them. Jesus' sermons? Not so much.


While I don't anticipate doing an in-depth write-up of each verse due to my relatively immature (but growing, I hope) understanding of them, I will be thinking "out loud", as it were, and marking down my thoughts and research here.

DISCLAIMER: I am just a layman, not a trained theologian. I am here presenting to you my journey into knowing Christ deeper. I may say some (unintentionally) heretical things along the way (correction of which I welcome), but I am happy to have those who would join me in this pursuit!

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there's is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3

I take "blessed" to mean what it usually does, "how happy are..." or "how enviable are...", in this case, the poor in spirit. The poor in spirit have a position in life that should render them happy; and is also enviable, that should be desired by those who are not in the same position. But why should anyone a) be happy with being, or b) want to be, or c) recognize themselves as being poor in spirit? "...For there's is the kingdom of heaven". These "poor in spirit" have given to them, within their grasp - even at their fingertips - the kingdom of heaven.

"Poor" has two general meanings, "lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society", or "worse than is usual, expected, or desirable; of a low or inferior standard or quality". The first definition matches that of the general sense of the Greek word πτωχός (ptōchos), "reduced to beggary, begging, asking alms". In other words, there is an actual, substantial, measurable lack of something that must be provided to them. Namely, spirit.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit, though? I think this can be answered by looking at what Jesus offers as the answer to their disposition. Their disposition: being poor in spirit. The answer: the kingdom of heaven. What the poor in spirit lacks, the kingdom of heaven has. What is the opposite of poor? Rich. So, by inference, their are riches in this kingdom that the poor in spirit lack. What are the riches of the kingdom of heaven? What wealth is contained in heaven's vaults and treasuries? Not gold, for the streets are paved with it; not pearls, for the gates are constructed from them; not jewels, for the walls are built with them; spiritual lack cannot be provided for in material abundance. So, what are they? What are heaven's riches?

I believe that, in a word, the riches of heaven are actually one thing, or rather one Person: Christ. That seems like a nebulous answer, I admit, but think about the term Jesus uses: the poor. What do the poor need?  Food, water, shelter. These are all things that any human needs in order to sustain their life, and none of those things are found intrinsically or, for the poor, are even at their immediate disposal. Their waning life-force, the one they were born with, wasn't even obtained by them in the first place, but was given at birth. And so the poor person goes forward as a beggar, desperately asking others to provide what they cannot in order to sustain the life that they are slowly losing. Likewise, the spiritually poor have no way of obtaining or sustaining spiritual life unless the necessary sustenance is given to them. Who is the source of spiritual life? Jesus! Who is the sustainer of that life? Jesus! Who gave his life to us that we might live? Jesus! Part of the puzzle is that the spiritually poor need life, and we have briefly stated (presupposing that Jesus words are true in John 14:6) that Jesus is the life they need. But what does that have to do with Jesus being the riches of the kingdom?

In the Old Testament, "riches" are used almost exclusively in a material sense, occasionally within contexts that show the spiritual consequences of those who rely on these riches over God. But the New Testament, while often using this same sense, also refers to riches as: the glory of God (Rom. 9:23; Phil. 4:19 - here, Paul says this glory is in Christ), salvation (saved from death to life) for the world and the Gentiles (Rom. 11:12), and God's grace (Eph. 1:7, 2:7) and mercy (Eph. 2:4) among other things. These are all described as being God's riches, and all of these are fulfilled in Jesus - he is the radiance of the glory of God (Heb. 1:3), he is the salvation of the world (Matt. 1:21), he is God's grace and mercy manifested and given to us (Eph. 2:5, 2:8; 1 Peter 1:3). All the riches of God, who dwells in heaven, is visibly seen and made tangible in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In summary,

  1. the poor in spirit are lacking what the kingdom of heaven has; 
  2. the kingdom of heaven has Christ, who, among other things, is life (John 14:6) and offers that life in abundance (John 10:10), and who is the riches (grace, mercy, glory, salvation) of God made manifest; 
  3. therefore, the poor in spirit are lacking Christ
Blessed are the poor in spirit! How blessed are they, for they receive, as an answer to their spiritual poverty, Christ himself, the riches of the kingdom of heaven!

What does this mean for the unbeliever?

If the unbelieving person is willing to acknowledge to God that they are actually lacking something in their spirit, namely life, the kingdom of heaven and all of its riches, namely Christ, will be theirs.

Are you tired of fighting, friend? Are you ready to admit that you have nothing to offer, nothing to give, nothing to bargain with? Are you willing to come to Christ as a beggar so he can give you all the treasures of the kingdom of heaven: grace, mercy, and life? As soon as you call for him, you'll find that he has been calling for you.

What are some practical applications of this truth for the believer?
  • Practice identifying every instance where God is displaying to you his riches in Christ: forgiveness, grace, mercy, love, kindness, patience, gentleness, knowledge, wisdom. Imagine how that situation/circumstance would have been different if God had not been merciful, gracious, etc. towards you. Alternatively, if any of these qualities are manifested in you (you are kind, forgiving, loving, gracious, merciful, etc. towards others), imagine how those times would have been different if you were still in your spiritually impoverished state. Afterwards, thank God that he has given you everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
  • Prayer, prayer, prayer. Although we have been made to live in Christ (Gal. 2:20), we are still not the source of life. Every second we are still in need of Jesus. If he were to take himself away from us we would return to spiritual poverty. So pray, not that he would stay with you (we already known he will, cf. Heb. 13:5), but that he would make known to you how deeply desperate you are, and that this would in turn result in worship. If you find yourself lacking grace towards others, go to God as a beggar, "Please God, I need more grace"; if you lack humility, "Please God, humble me"; if you lack wisdom, "Please God, give me wisdom"; if you lack love, "Please God, help me love". Remember, "it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
I suppose that, to conclude, I would say this: we have nothing apart from Christ. Yet in him we are given life, and that in abundance, the very life of God himself - the same life that can make light shine forth from inky darkness, that can raise the dead to life, that can heal the sick of their diseases, and that can establish overwhelming peace in the midst of chaos. This very God is for us, and gladly takes in those who will come to him, poor in spirit. 

This makes me one thankful, happy beggar.

P.S.: Again I admit to you that this is a fresh thought to my mind, still in need of development, and still in need of the Holy Spirit's light. But it is one that God has been making real to me over the past 3 or 4 days, and I wanted to share it with you, too. I welcome your thoughts, insights, and experiences in the comments.

P.P.S.: It's also interesting to note that Jesus did not say, "blessed are the poor in spiritual knowledge". There are many who have knowledge of spiritual realities, but that does not mean that they have spiritual life. To put it analogously, just because I know how the lottery works does not mean that I automatically possess the winnings. In the same way, knowing about spiritual truth and knowing what spiritual life is does not mean that one possesses that life (and all that flows from that life: grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, wisdom, discernment, etc.). 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Construction Paper & Mickey Molds

Weighing heavy on me recently has been the realization that I may not know or be known by God.

Sure, I know about him, and I can discuss propitiation VS expiation, or the natural headship of Adam VS the federal headship of Adam, or define justification or righteousness or holiness or many other theological terms, but I'm not sure I've ever been...transformed. Completely changed. Had my spiritual deadness exchanged for spiritual life in Jesus.

So what gives with my Christian appearance? I think of it in two analogies, both of which fail to truly nail the core issue. What I'll do then is briefly summarize what the Bible says on the issue.

1. The Construction Paper Christmas Tree

Since I'm contemplating this around the holiday season, it was only natural that my mind would lean towards Christmas-y thoughts.

When I was in elementary school, around this time of year we would begin cutting out the shapes of Christmas trees, ornaments, tinsle, stars, angels, and presents from brightly colored construction paper. After juxtaposing all of the shapes in various positions, it's time to bust out the Elmer's glue and lock in the final design. After a period of allowing the freshly-glued tree to dry you had something you could proudly display on the refrigerator at home: a carefully crafted construction paper Christmas tree.

However, once my craft is hung on the fridge, I'm not going stack presents in front of my refrigerator door, am I? Heavens no! How would I get to my eggnog then?! No, the fact of the matter is that my craft-time creation is NOT a Christmas tree. It looks sort of like one, with the same basic shapes and colors, but it is not actually a fir tree purchased from a lot or cut down from the Pacific Northwest. I have simply conformed my paper to represent whatever image I wanted - in this case, a Christmas tree.

What's the spiritual picture I'm trying to draw?

The construction paper is me in my spiritual deadness, my sin, my old man, my flesh, my unregenerate self. The Christmas tree shape is analogous to the "Christian image", and the real Christmas tree would be the real, born-again Christan.

Having grown up in the church, I have had plenty of time to figure out what a Christian should look like, and I have been able to carefully adjust myself to look like a born-again believer. A snip here, a clip there, paste another embellishment or two, and voilà! A Christian! But...not really. I'm not REALLY a Christian at this point, right? I've just conformed my deadness to look like life. The problem is that I've done this with really big construction paper, and because I'm life-sized, I can't tell myself apart from actual Christians, and so I grow to believe that I show all the signs of a true believer.

Now, this analogy breaks down because construction paper (for the most part) is made from trees. Construction paper and a Christmas tree have more in common, by virtue of their tree-ness, than a spiritually dead person and a spiritually living person.

2. The Mickey Mouse Mold

If you ever travel to EPCOT at Walt Disney World, you'll have the opportunity to purchase a guided tour called "Behind the Seeds", which takes you into the wonderful world of gardening, hydroponics, and farming. On this tour, Guests are shown something quite spectacular: pumpins shaped (more or less) like Mickey Mouse's famous silouhette. How is this done?

When the hydroponically grown pumpkins are still quite small, they are placed inside of a specially-designed mold. As the pumpkin increases in size, its rind conforms almost perfectly to the mold. The result? A pumpkin that, in the wrong lighting, could be confused for the Head Cheese himself.

Spiritual picture? Glad you asked.

The pumpkin is me in my spiritual deadness. The mold is the Christian image, and Mickey would be the actual Christian.

When I was born, I was born in sin, and that sin produced death within me. Because I grew up in church, I was able to conform my outward appearance to look very Christian-like, but there was never any life inside of the shell. A true Christian, however, is self-authenticating: he looks like a Christian because he IS one. Mickey doesn't have to try to be himself, nor did he grow in a Mickey-shaped mold; he looks like himself because...well, because he's Mickey.

This analogy is a little better, but it still breaks down because both a pumpkin and Mickey are alive (I realize Mickey is a cartoon. Just humor me), whereas a spritually dead person, not matter how shaped or formed, is dead, and a spiritually living person is alive.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this: I have spent a grand portion of my life crafting this image of myself, growing into a Christian mold, and all the while there has been nothing but death and decay on the inside. Jesus said to the Pharisees that they were "white-washed tombs", pristine on the outside but full of bones and rotting, stinking flesh inwardly. Boy, can I ever relate to that!

The Bible, in no uncertain terms, states that we are not in need of outward conformity to divine or moral principles; what we need is a total transformation from one thing (death) to an entirely different thing (life). You can keep cutting and coloring that construction paper from now until Christmas of 2391 AD, but it's never going to be an actual Christmas tree. Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21 that in order for a person to see the kingdom of God, he must be born again of the Spirit. He says elsewhere that to receive this new birth what one must do is repent of their sin and believe his words, trusting him fully.

I suppose all I'm saying is that God is opening my eyes to the fact that I need something in me, something beyond anything I can accomplish. I could have told you that when I was 5, but's becoming a reality.

I can cut some paper and make it look like a tree, but only God can produce a tree from nothing; Disney can mold a pumpkin to look like Mickey, but only God can call light out of total darkness; I can conform my outward image to feign the presence of life, but only God can spark and sustain true life in me.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Good Works: Why do we have them?

An acquaintance of mine recently asked this question via Twitter:

"Why do we have works? Is it for outward performance? Or is it inward, an issue of the heart?"

Definitely a valid question. And these are my thoughts.

I believe that the answer is: both. Good works are both inward and outward; they have a single purpose, but are complex in their makeup; good works seek to achieve one goal, and they do so when a couple of different parts, namely that which is visible and that which is invisible, work together. What is visible is the good work itself - cooking for someone, working on someone's house, community service, etc. What is invisible is the heart and goal behind the good work - hypocrisy, authenticity, pride, humility, jealousy, and the list goes on and on. When the visible and invisible line up properly, the God-designed goal of good works is achieved - glorifying God by way of loving people.

The Visible

What is more glorifying to God than accurately representing him to a world that has never seen him? We have eyes that were created to behold the glory, beauty and love of their Creator, but so few eyes have actually rested on them. It makes sense. "...All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). There is no individual who, by virtue of their broken humanness, naturally displays the essence of God to the world - love (1 John 4:8). But thankfully, we have a Messiah who came to restore that which was broken, and believers have not only been fixed by God, we actually have his presence dwelling in us, and his love has been poured into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). So now, even though "no one has seen God at any time", "if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:12). There is a very real sense in which when believers love people, God himself is manifested to them through the love of the believer. This is the visible portion of a good work, and it's ultimate end is that people may a) see God, the one whom they were made to see, by way of b) actually seeing, receiving, and resting in the love that is manifested in the lives of believers. This makes God tangible and brings God glory.

The Invisible

But then there is the invisible portion of the good work - our motive. Nothing is done without some kind of motive behind it. Is our motive in doing a good work to be seen by men? If so, we fit Jesus' definition of a hypocrite (Matt. 6:1, 2, 5, 16). Is our goal in serving someone to give ourselves proof of our own salvation (in accordance with Phil. 2:12)?** Then the good work rings hollow, and we make God to be disingenuous (not in a substantive way, but in an apparent way to the unbelieving world). In other words: if our goal in loving people is anything other than actually loving them, we not only display an inauthentic affection that leaves a bitter taste on the tongue of those who taste it, we also misrepresent God. If I treat people as tools to assuage my own insecurities regarding my salvation, in my manipulation I actually portray God as manipulative & disingenuous; a fraud. Instead, genuine care for others is self-authenticating - it will appear genuine by virtue of its genuineness. God does not just appear to care for people; God actually cares. When we actually care, this authenticates God and brings God glory.

(As you can see, it is difficult to talk about the invisible without speaking in terms of what is visible, and it is difficult to talk about those without speaking of what they are accomplishing. I believe that's how it should be. And as difficult as it is to speak of them separately, it is actually impossible to live separately. The inner life and outer life are inseparable.)

What are they for?

Analyzing our own good works should be, I believe, a retrospective exercise. Instead of serving someone to verify for myself whether I am saved or not (which warps the purpose of service and displays a misunderstanding of justification), service and good works should be flowing out of my life as a fruit of my Gospel-rooted love and compassion for people; and then, weeks and months down the line, I will be able to look back and rejoice that truly "it is God who is at work in [me] both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). We are, in fact, made for good works (Eph. 2:10), and we can look forward to walking in those works for the glory of God which, as a byproduct, does bring a deep satisfaction. As we walk in righteousness, people will see a true expression of who God is, which may then result in their glorifying our "Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). 

So what's up with good works? Are they for outward performance or are they an inward issue? I say they are for both. Outward - for the visible glory of God; inward - for the heart-exalting glory of God; in total - for the glory of God.

What do you all think? 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pondering. Praying.

Let's be honest here: most Christians would rather get an hour long deep-tissue massage from Ironman when his repulsor blasters are malfunctioning, or pet a cat, or pour Tobasco sauce in their eyes, or do anything else rather than pray.

Actually, that's not true. I could only do 30 minutes, not an hour.

Or perhaps a more accurate statement would be, "most Christians would find it easier to endure [insert something horrible and outlandish here] rather than pray". Biblically, we read that this should not be so; but practically, I think we can all relate to this inner tension - a desire in our renewed selves to pray, but the overpowering resistence of the old man against our spiritual endeavour. In the Christian there is a Spirit-born desire, in the core of his being, for prayer. We know that prayer is powerful, that it is effective, and that it is essential to a flourishing Christian life; we know that it is a spiritual weapon with which we wage spiritual warfare; we enjoy theorizing what it would look like to lead a life of deep prayer; we study and analyze the great prayers of Scripture, from Nehemiah to Jesus to Paul, in order to correctly formulate prayers; we read the literature from those great Christian mystics who have reckoned prayer as necessary for spiritual life as their very breath for physical. But then...

...we don't pray.

Let me make it more personal. I don't pray. At least not very often. You may pray on a regular basis, and if you do, I commend you for it. I really hope to be like you one day very, very soon. Surely you are seeing God move in your life and in the lives and situations of those for whom your are praying. Surely God is manifesting himself to you through those intimate times. If that is you, I beg you: press on! Keep praying! Do not grow weary in performing labor that sends ripples through the fabric of the spiritual realm! God hears your prayers; indeed, he even inclines his ear towards the prayers of the righteous person. So please: don't stop. Please continue to set the example for weaker brothers and sisters; for those who are struggling; for me.

So, if I'm not praying then what am I doing? What else is there to do? Well, I am a ponderer. I ponder things. I get an intense joy out of thinking about things deeply, mentally disassembling every cog, wheel, bolt, and spring of a matter in order to understand its inner workings and thereby form my own opinion of and more thoroughly appreciate that matter in its entirety. I especially enjoy pondering theological matters, as theology is an attempt at describing God and everything that is related to him, which is...well, everything. In him we live and move and have our being; he holds all things together with the word of his power. If God is the reason for all of the existing universe, then I can't see there being any other subject as being more worthy of my intense, focused pondering.

Pondering, thinking, meditating; whatever you want to call it, the activity that takes place in the grey matter between our ears has a significant place in Scripture:
  1. The one who meditates on the laws of God are compared to a tree who is planted by streams of water, whose leaves never wither and whose branches bear fruit in its season,
  2. We are encouraged by Paul to dwell on heavenly things, things that are just, lovely, pure, excellent, and worthy of praise,
  3. Paul also tells us in Romans to be transformed by the renewal of our minds,
  4. Peter likewise places a large emphasis on the thought life in 1 Peter, and
  5. In one of the most well-known passages of Scripture, we are told to love Yahweh our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
The Christian life is one that is lived and fought primarily in the mind. It is the thought life of the believer that often determines whether a particular skirmish - with the flesh, with sin, with the devil - is won or lost. It is with our minds that we mull over and analyze and understand the precious truths of Scripture. For example, when I come up against a battle with my lust, it is with my mind that I dwell upon the verses that deal with lust and sexual immorality; it is with my mind that I understand the perverse nature of pornography, and its correlation with the sex trafficking industry and other sexual crimes; it is with my mind that I perceive the pain that my lust brings to my wife, and the offence that indulging in lust causes God. I then determine that gratifying my lustful desire is not something that is beneficial for anyone. It is with my mind that I am able to receive information in order to make use of it.

But to only think is not the full picture of the Christian life that we are given in the Bible. It is prayer that calls down fire from heaven; it is prayer that changes the hearts of kings and rulers; it is the prayers of the righteous that God responds to and delivers them out of their troubles, it is prayer that heals men of sickness and demonic influence. And yet not prayer, but the God to whom we pray.

With our minds we can do the work of a tactician, correlating information to make a plan; but it is with prayer that we invoke the presence and power of God to set that plan into action. A plan is great, but what good is a plan if it is never acted upon? Jesus said, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17). And how can we do divine work without divine power? We can't. And because we cannot, we pray that we might be able to. By his grace, God responds if what we are asking him to accomplish is in accordance with not only his nature, but also his will.

What am I saying? In a nutshell, just this: I tend to think a lot, but I pray very little. I reckon that if I had split my time 50:50, or even 70:30, between thinking and prayer, I would have experienced much more victory, power, growth, and maturity in my life than I have thus far.

My desire is to pray more. Not to show you that I am a spiritual person, or to make you esteem me any higher. No, I desire to pray more because it is in the presence of God that we are humbled and made to be a more useful tool in his hand; I desire to pray more because I desire to accomplish his will here on this earth; I desire to pray more because for the rest of eternity I will be in his presence, and if that will be my position for eternity it makes no sense to not be in his presence now. If we cannot enjoy the presence of God on earth, what makes us think we will enjoy it in heaven?

If, when you think about prayer, a back rub from Ironman still seems like a better alternative, then I pray that God would meet you in those moments and show you the value of prayer. It is my prayer that we would not only do the important work of pondering, but also the powerful work of praying.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Belief in Christ vs Belief in Belief

Today, on Facebook, well-known pastor, author, and conference speaker John Piper wrote:

One cannot be wholly believing while watching oneself believe. Hence assurance comes not from looking at faith, but Christ.

I don't agree with Pastor John on everything, but he is most definitely a brother in Christ, and God has most certainly given him a great amount of wisdom, and for that I am very thankful. This sparked a conversation in the comment section (as his posts normally do), among which was this question:

So-my question is how do we look at the book of James and 1 John where works are an essential fruit of true conversion, but still look fully to Christ for assurance. How do we keep that in perspective?

That is a wonderful question, and one that deserves much thought. This was the response that I offered:

"Belief" assumes an object, and for the Christian, that object is Christ. We have the God-given ability to think about what belief & faith are, but when our belief & faith become the object of our belief (if that makes sense) in place of Christ, we crash and burn because our belief is no longer "plugged in" to the One who provides us the strength to endure in that belief. Our own belief is limited in its sustaining power, so making belief itself the object of our belief seals our failure. Our belief, then, depends on Christ to endure through all adversity and trascend through all time, because Christ himself endures, transcends, and is forever.
To put it analogously, imagine a tree that has the ability to walk back and forth on the earth. This tree can inspect his fruit and know that it is there, but cannot depend on the fact that fruit is there right now to mean, of necessity, that fruit will be there later. Why? If he travels across the land, and takes nothing but the fruit of his branches to eat on his journey, he will be sorely disappointed when he reaches up to his own boughs to discover that his fruit ran out. Instead, he must keep depending on the presence of the farmer, the water, the right weather, and the nutrients in the soil; he must stay rooted in the presence of the farmer to continue bearing fruit. The tree is us, staying rooted is our belief in Christ, wandering & eating his own fruit is believing in our own belief and what it produces, and the weather conditions, soil, water, and farmer are all Christ. If Christ is present and our belief is in him, we can be sure that fruit will likewise be present.

Perhaps I'll develop that concept into a poem or a short story...

I don't know if the commentor ever saw my response, or if he ever will; but if he did I hope it was edifying, and I hope that this also provides clarity for any of you that likewise struggle with the balance between the presence of works and faith in Christ. This obviously is not the final say on the matter, and I am by no means a theologian (many of which disagree about this very thing), but my prayer is that it may ease some minds as they are turned back to Christ again.

If I do end up writing a story, I'll be sure to post it here.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My Letter to August

First of all, I realize I'm a little old, at 23, to be writing a letter to Santa. Much older than the average believer, I'm sure. I hope, because of that fact, that you will actually pay closer attention to what I have to say rather than dismissing it.

Second of all, I know this is a little early in the year seeing as it's August, but I figure this is when you probably get through a bulk of your letters. Or maybe, if Arthur Christmas is any indication of the truth, you have a team of letter readers and responders. In any case, closer to Christmas seems like the time to work out Present Delivery and other important logistics. I hope this isn't a bother.

You see, Mr. Claus, I absolutely love Christmas. I've already been listening to the season's music since the beginning of July. It's a time that I hold fondly in my heart, and that I think about quite often. I'm going to be a first-time-father in October, and I can't wait to introduce my little girl to one of my favorite times of the year. My wife and I have many traditions we hope to introduce to her, and I can't wait for her to grow up and understand how important you are, sir.

I don't write this letter to ask you for something (at least not something for myself), but instead to apologize, to thank you, and hopefully to encourage you.

Mr. Claus, I'm sorry that, especially here in the United States, there is so much obsession with "stuff". It must be hard for you to slog through the affluent areas of the country & world, knowing that the poorer areas are barely being thought of, let alone taken care of. There are certainly organizations and individuals that care deeply about those places, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
I'm sorry that we have forgotten the spirit of the season and have traded it for something that looks like Christmas, but has had the true meaning carved out by consumerism and replaced with vain materialism.
I'm sorry that your name, which once stood for the protection and provision of young children (among others), is now the hallmark of a consumer's holiday.
I'm sorry that we have missed the point of what you did: you gave, not on the basis of a child's relative "good"-ness or "bad"-ness, but out of a zealous compassion that was stirred up by the child's need. You set an example for us, patterned after the One whom you followed, and we've missed it.
I'm sorry that people reject the Object of your passion, the Inspiration for your actions, and the Source of your joy, the joy that now permeates and characterizes the season. I'm sure this reality hurts your heart.

But thank you for continuing to do what you do despite people's rejection of the One in whom your heart delights so deeply.
Thank you for quite literally being a saint.
Thank you for your service to and love for our Lord Jesus.
Thank you for taking such special interest & care of children (and others).
Thank you for allowing the overwhelming compassion & love of God to shine through your life.
Thank you for being a tangible expression of the care of God to those that have never experienced it.
Thank you for manifesting God's heart to those that don't know him or believe in him.

And now I have one Christmas wish, Mr. Claus: seeing as I already have my two front teeth, all I want for Christmas is for you to keep pointing people to our Savior. Keep giving, keep loving, keep making people warm and joyful, and keep introducing people to the true origin of these things, to the One who is the source of every good and every perfect gift: God in Christ.

Thank you for taking time to read this letter, Mr. Claus. May you have a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year.