Memories aren’t usually made on airplanes. They’re made in cars moving at just a fraction of the speed of the contrail-billowing jets above them as the desert sands and wavy rows of corn and odd tourist destinations and memorable hole-in-the-wall restaurants are driven past or frequented with a last-second decision and a high speed turn.
Life transformation doesn’t usually happen during a few late night guilt-driven minutes given to skating across a chapter chunk of God’s Word. God inspired the little clauses; and it’s usually the little clauses that open up new and unexplored ways of thinking upon God and His gospel. Like the remembrances of a cross-country road trip, spiritual memories are made by the detours of diligent study, not by jetting far above the trenches of nouns and verbs and prepositions.
Look at what I mean:
Colossians 2:2-3 …that [they may attain] to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (NASB)
The end result is wealth. That’s what Paul prays we might attain. How do we get the wealth? By having an assurance of understanding. What is the wealth? Paul says that having an assurance of understanding results in a true knowledge of the mystery of Jesus Christ, and that in Him are hidden treasures of wisdom and treasures of knowledge. Which means that the wealth we receive by having a full assurance is a greater understanding of the person and work of Christ. More succinctly, it means that we are not assured by circumstances or blessings; we’re assured by our understanding of the mystery of the atonement.
Practically? Practically this means that when there is not a confidence, a full assurance, the solution is to run to and study the empty cross and the empty tomb. It means that understanding and knowledge about the work of Christ is both the result and the cause of assurance. We gain assurance by understanding, and by having assurance we gain an even greater understanding.
Philemon 6 …and I pray that the sharing (NASB: fellowship) of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. (ESV)
One of the things that grieves me most inside the church is when people believe that hearing a sermon quenches all their spiritual needs. If you’re showing up halfway into the service in time to catch the sermon and then running out the back door immediately after the service ends, you’re depriving yourself of something vital to your sanctification. You’re loading up on Vitamin D and getting no Vitamin C.
Paul prays that the sharing (and we know from the NASB translation that he’s thinking Christian-to-Christian here, not evangelism) of their faith might become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ Jesus. That is to say, if we are to understand the depths and heights of the riches that God has given us, we must have Bible-centered fellowship. Not football-centered fellowship. Bible-centered fellowship. Our conversations, our fellowship of faith, can produce a greater devotion to the Lord because our words are effective for stirring spiritual affection in each other. Not only that, but the valuing of Christ Jesus is wrapped up in our zeal to fellowship, for what has been produced in us by Christ Jesus is in us for the sake of Christ.
There are times to airplane through the text. One of the most profitable things I’ve done in the last year was to sit and read the entire book of Romans cover to cover. It took me an hour and a half. And I walked away marveling over the great drama that is redemption, and over the heart-rending truth that I can never merit anything but wrath and yet the Lord God Himself has adopted me as a child.
But oftentimes my protestations that I’m reading quickly to “gain a better understanding of the big picture” is nothing more than a spiritual-sounding glossy paint job covering up an ugly hearted laziness towards studying. Brothers, sisters, if you’re reading larger portions of the text, your reading must be just as intentional as if you were sitting next to a ream of paper and a bible dictionary prepared to do battle through diagraming and defining.
If we are to be godly, we must be intentional. We are sinful people, and we do not grow holy by accident. May we pray that we might know God better. And then may we be diligent to use the means He has given us to make it happen, knowing that the Lord blesses those who earnestly seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Every year the Cornerstone Youth Group travels to Sultata, CA to work at Gleanings for the Hungry. Gleanings is a peach processing plant that takes donated cull peaches from local supermarkets and turns them into dried fruit to be shipped to hungry people across the world. The plant is operated by youth groups like ours who come and run the machinery for a week at a time. During our week at Gleanings we processed 650,000 pounds of peaches (which is approximately 2.1 million peaches.) It’s our tradition to write a parody song about our experiences….and here’s the semi-catastrophic result.
1. Famous missionaries do not have the goal of becoming famous. Rather, their goal and passion is the salvation of those who are unknowingly perishing. I can test John Paton’s words by his lifestyle. When he says he was incredibly reluctant to write his biography, the musket leveled at his head twenty years prior witnesses to his truthfulness. Fame for godliness seems to be bestowed upon those who consider such fame to be a nuisance. Care nothing for your own reputation and influence, Nate. God did not save you to make you famous. God saved you to make Him famous. (Paton, Autobiography)
2. I am much more willing to overlook the doctrinal flaws of a dead man than the doctrinal flaws of a living brother in Christ. A dead saint is a static entity. He has written what he has written and can be divided at will with no opportunity to defend himself. Augustine believed the Apocrypha was Scripture. Dr. Sa’eed believed in perfectionism until later in life. I didn’t know either of these things and rejoiced in their ministry. Now that I know them, I’m simply willing to ignore those beliefs because they won’t talk about these issues unless I quote them as such. It’s easy to find yes-men by employing selective quotations. (Dr. Sa’eed of Iran, pg 73)
3. Historical context is important. Men of old would rise early to pray and read the Scriptures. While their Bible reading and prayers certainly are exemplary, their rising early doesn’t make those prayers any more fragrant to the Lord than mine. Lifestyles are radically different today. These men went to bed early, for there was no electricity! It’s easy to manufacture sacrifice by taking normal life in a different time period and placing it in modern culture. God looks at the heart, not at the hours on the clock. (Robert Chapman)
4. My life may not be 80 years long. Eric Liddell died at 44 of an inoperable brain tumor. I’m 24 right now. There is no such thing as a future in ministry. Oh, plans may be made for the future. I’m currently training for the future. But I cannot live in the future. I must live in the present. I wonder how many young men have been surprised to waste their lives by preparing only for the future, not turning their eyes to those around them now, only to have their lives cut short by accident or health? (Pure Gold: A Biography of Eric Liddell)
5. I am invincible until Christ calls me home. John Paton said something along those lines. I fully believe it. The vaunted “Sovereignty of God.” And yet my life does not bear fruit of this truth as often as it should. God controls the minds of others. Paton was protected miraculously from those who were consumed with killing him and who had every opportunity to do so. And yet he never suffered a scratch. Radical ministry flows from understanding the depths of my sin, the heights of God’s grace, and the width of His sovereignty. (John Paton, Autobiography)
6. A good spiritual leader and godly Christians on the whole are genuinely excited about things which—apart from a gospel-driven care for his brothers and sisters—do not interest or excite him. Many people take delight in and worship through activities or objects that I find uninspiring. Don’t mock what other people are doing as an expression of or medium to worship.
7. “My wife knows I’ll be killed one day for the work that I do,”—a current missionary to Muslims in London. I heard this in a sermon by Al Mohler. Mohler followed this up by saying that many young men come and ask him how to find a girl who will be a good minister’s wife. He responded by saying ‘how about finding a girl who is okay with being a minister’s widow.’ Missionaries and Ministers are the first targets when persecution strikes. Marry someone like Elizabeth Bunyan. (Al Mohler—Shepherd’s Conference 2007)
8. Missions life takes a hard toll on family life. Rob Liddell’s father saw him for a total of 6 months over 10 years. Nowadays it certainly is easier to keep the family together. However, culture shock and other issues still exist. Appreciate the cost missionary parents are willing to accept for the sake of spreading the gospel.
9. Sickness is an often overlooked aspect of missions. You don’t see Paton complaining in his autobiography or Martyn stopping because of disease. They pushed through it, counting it as part of the all-too-worth-it cost of spreading the Gospel. Physical comfort was nothing to be grasped in their minds.
10. Throughout the centuries—and even today—many Christians have precious little of the Bible in their possession. God is pleased with their simple faith in Him to save their souls, even though they know little of His Word to them.
Sometimes the Lord’s blessings can be convicting. I received a call from Southern Seminary a couple of days ago finalizing a few details: housing, parking permits, etc. During the conversation I was informed that my on-campus apartment wouldn’t be available until August 9th. Given that I was planning on rolling into Louisville on August 3rd, this was a small problem. Grumbling internally, I hung up the phone.
The next day I opened my email inbox to find a message from Student Housing telling me that things had changed and I could move in on the 3rd. First thought: happiness that I wouldn’t have to couch-surf for a week while trying to find a job. Second thought: conviction that I never once prayed about this situation and, even worse, I never gave a second thought to my grumbling heart.
It is incredible when God gives blessings in response to prayer. Our prayers merit nothing, yet He answers them because of the blood of Christ. It is even more incredible when God gives blessings despite the fact that I offered up not prayer, but offense. What a reminder that God’s grace is not dependent upon my sinlessness. It is dependent upon Christ’s sinlessness. Even when I sin, God’s favor does not slacken or contract. His favor is not grounded in me, but Himself.
Psalm 67:7 has long been a favorite verse of mine: “God blesses us that the ends of the earth may fear Him.” How thankful I am that I am blanketed inside the ends of the earth. God’s blessings are about His glory, about Him being made much of before His creation. There are a thousand things I don’t understand about redemption, but I do understand that the cross made it possible for me to receive what I do not deserve. Including an early move-in date.