man of renown
The son of the king
son of the crown
A gleam in the eye
of the young maids
Mind like a charger
tongue like a blade
Toasted by nobles
with goblets of wine
Raised in his honor
Lads on their ponies
would fain be him
With toy lances drawn
faces set grim
came to be crowned
Looked at the crowds
then cast it down
would rather be
The darling of crowds
than noble king
*Michael DeJeeter is a fictional character.
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)
I was playing frisbee golf with a few of our youth group members yesterday when I asked them a question: “What are you thankful for?” We as a culture (which means me as an individual) usually relegate thankfulness as something that only needs to be pondered on the fourth Thursday of every November. But it would seem that our utter inability to merit even life and breath would cause us to be overwhelmingly thankful. When life itself is a gift, how could I take anything for granted?
We as people are happiest when we are the most thankful, for thankfulness overwhelming selfishness is a clear testimony of the grace of God. It isn’t natural to be thankful. It isn’t normal to bow before God and confess helplessness and gratitude for and trust in His life-giving nature.
I’ve yet to see myself intentionally slide from the mountain top of thankfulness to the obscuring valley of selfish ingratitude. Rather, I wake up to realize that I no longer have the joy of an uncluttered view of who God is and what He has done for me. And I’m shocked by it. It’s as though I start walking down the path from the mountain top to the valley, feeling like I haven’t lost anything because I can still remember what the view from the peak looks like. And I’m not worried because, although I can’t actually see the landscape of grace, I can still picture what it looks like. Can still conjure up the awe that it evokes.
But then as time goes by and as I get further and further from the peak I can no longer remember what I need to remember. I can no longer feel what I know I need to feel. It saddens me most that I take most for granted the things that I love the most, starting with my Savior.
I don’t think that the ultimate solution is what I’m about to do. I don’t think that merely listing out things I’m thankful for is enough to keep me from becoming thankless. The heart is more deceptive than that. I need the sustaining grace of God. But I do know that usually I become thankless when I simply neglect being thankful. I want to be diligent in giving thanks. It’s really hard to pull your gaze away from something you’re thankful for.
Here are some things I’m thankful for, in no particular order or importance. And this list is in no way shape or form comprehensive!:
1) The Intentional Fellowship of Christians. I’m thankful for the people in my life who practice and talk about the “one anothers.” People who love and understand the value of authentic, heart-and-gospel-oriented conversation and actions. Much endurance comes from having such relationships.
2) Brent and Laura. I’m thankful for the way they have opened their home up to me. I’m thankful for the lessons I’m learning about what family life is really like from a parent’s perspective. They challenge me in diligence, drive, and purpose.
3) John Marc. I’m thankful for being able to learn what it means to be a faithful minister of the Word of God. He’s taught me much about the realities of ministry. It’s not flashy, it’s not hype-driven. It’s about faithfulness and confidence in the Holy Spirit. He’s taught me much about loving people for the sake of their gain in Christ. His reward in heaven is going to be very great.
4) Stars. I’m in an area where I can see stars again. It was funny taking astronomy in Los Angeles. Looking up at the night sky has a way of bringing perspective. To think that God created all of that, and billions of galaxies that I cannot see with the naked eye! It breaths out the awesomeness of God and the insignificance of man. And yet, that only reinforces the joy of His personal love for me.
5) Cornerstone Youth Group. I appreciate the youthfulness of the youth. I appreciate their eagerness and excitement in life, their drive to get maximum enjoyment out of everything. And I’m thankful for their thoughtfulness in youth group. They ask good questions, ponder important things. I’m thankful that they keep coming to hear the Word, over and above excitement.
6) My Mom, Dad, and Brother. I’m excited to go home for Christmas. There’s no reservations, no worry that it might be a stressful time, no fears that conflict might rip us apart. I know that’s not the case for the majority of people. So I don’t want to take for granted the joy of having a tight-knit, like-minded, Christ-loving family. My parents are wise, and my brother is one of my best friends. What more could you ask for?
7) Good music. I’m thankful for music that makes much of God like Shawn McDonald, Caedemon’s Call, David Crowder Band, Casting Crowns, Phil Wickham, Jeremy Camp. I’m thankful for music that is relaxing and helps me study like Sigur Ros, Secret Garden, Ulrich Schnauss. I’m thankful for music that is fun and thought-provoking like Switchfoot, Hillsong United, Matisyahu, Andy Hunter. And I’m thankful for all the countless hymnwriters who used their gifts to create music that has lasted for decades because of the truth that rings forth from their work. I’m especially thankful for the men and women who wrote Jesus Paid It All, Rock of Ages Cleft for Me, Amazing Grace, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, Whate’er My God Ordains is Right, In Christ Alone, The Power of the Cross, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, And Can It Be, It Is Well, and Hallelujah! What a Savior.
8 ) Doctrinal Words. Especially words that we don’t talk about much in ordinary conversation like regeneration and sustaining grace. They are rich words, containing so much about God and so much about man. I would be lost without God, and doctrinal words help me explore the nuances of who God is more deeply.
9) Blogging. It forces me to think through things more deeply. Clarity often comes through writing, and things I’ve thought have often proven to be untenable once I’m forced to form an argument for it.
10) Facebook. I’m thankful that Facebook lets me keep in touch with a much wider group of friends than I would be able to otherwise.
Lions weren’t meant to eat people. On the Serengeti Plain, lions routinely stalk and kill helpless prey. It’s normal. It’s natural. Rather than be horrified, we film lions on the prowl for television shows like Planet Earth. (Which I highly recommend if you haven’t seen it.) But as soon as the lions turn their gaze away from gazelles begin hunting people, what is natural for the lion becomes a cause of anger to man.
There is something built into us that finds a creature without a soul killing a creature with a soul revolting. Killing a man is no different to the lion than killing a gazelle. In fact, it’s a lot easier to kill a person than a gazelle. They don’t run as fast. And yet as soon as lions abandon the herd for the humans, out come the guns. This response is entirely appropriate, as the life of a human being is worth infinitely more than the life of any lion. One is made in the image of God, the other is not. No one weeps for the gazelles because they, like the lions, do not bear the image of God and are indeed soulless.
Just as it is repulsive for a soulless lion to overstep its bounds and kill a child with a soul, it is repulsive for man made in the image of God to worship soulless gods. It is an abomination for an image bearer of God to seek his fulfillment and all in that which is of a completely different nature than he is. In ancient times it was statues of Baal, Ashtoreth, and Dagon. Nowadays it is boats and houses and clothes and cars and electronic devices that will be obsolete in six months.
Sadly, most people are horrified by a CNN newsflash about a hiker killed by a mountain lion and completely oblivious to the worse plight of dead souls being coddled to death by their unshakable fixation on possessions. Lions consume the body and leave the soul unscathed. Subtle idols occupy and consume the soul, but leave no telling scars on the outside.
Ezekiel 19:1-8 is a lament over the princes of Israel, calling them lions who made themselves odious by devouring men. The point of the imagery is this: Man is made of spirit and body, and is meant to worship a spirit. God alone is the fulfillment of the soul.
The law of cause and effect is simple and easy to understand: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This very simple law of nature helps me understand causes that I otherwise could not appreciate. Picking up a scientific journal and reading about the PSI required for a lava flow to lift the gigantic dome of rock off the top of Mt. Saint Helens does not inspire wonder within me. If I want to understand the raw power exhibited by that eruption, I’ll walk over to our family photo albums and stare at the defaced mountain. I may not be able to understand the physics of a tsunami, but I understand a death toll of 225,000 spread across 11 countries. An unappreciated cause suddenly become a worldwide concern because the horrific reality of the effect demonstrates the power of the cause.
I’ve been reading through Ezekiel, which is essentially a book of God proclaiming judgment upon His people. It is not happy. It is not cheerful. Rather it is a plea from God and His prophet to the people, begging them to cast away their empty idols and return to the Lord their God. Ezekiel 9 unfolds an unseen version of God’s destruction of Jerusalem.
The LORD said to [the man], “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.”But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare.
“Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary.” So they started with the elders who were before the temple. And He said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go out!” Thus they went out and struck down the people in the city.
As they were striking the people and I alone was left, I fell on my face and cried out saying, “ Alas, Lord GOD! Are You destroying the whole remnant of Israel by pouring out Your wrath on Jerusalem?”
Then He said to me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great, and the land is filled with blood and the city is full of perversion; for they say, ‘The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see!’ But as for Me, My eye will have no pity nor will I spare, but I will bring their conduct upon their heads.”
Then behold, the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case reported, saying, “I have done just as You have commanded me.”
Unlike other places in Scripture this account doesn’t focus on the town or the land. It focuses on the people. They have faces and names. They have hopes and dreams. They are veterans from Judah’s wars with their neighbors, who enrapture grandchildren with their stories of heroism. They are young men learning how to plant and farm and sell produce under the watchful eye of a father. They are mothers take care of the children and somehow manage to find time to cook and clean and do all the thousand little things that running a household requires. They are little seven year old girls with bright smiles and a love for flowers and helping mommy. Thousands of men and women and children like these fall beneath the hand of the destroyer, mediated by a pitiless Babylonian soldier’s sword.
This is the effect. A city in ruin, filled with the shattered corpses of young men in military uniforms and mothers trying to shield their babies from the thrust of a spear and men cut down while begging for mercy for their families. Horrific effects gather incredible dread for the cause. Magnitude 9.5 earthquakes are feared because of the devastation they bring. If this intentional slaughter of human beings is the effect, then the cause must be horrific beyond belief.
The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great, and the land is filled with blood and the city is full of perversion.
Sin is the cause. If it produces such an effect, it is to be shuddered at. We should be horrified at the end result of our wickedness. One sin sent the entire created order into a tailspin and God Himself to the cross. It is a profound lie that we can dabble with sin and not be wrecked by it. It is why we ruthlessly seek to mortify the deeds of the flesh and put on the righteousness of Christ.
Some causes only can be understood by staring at their effects. The truth is that God’s slaughter of the inhabitants of Jerusalem was only the beginning of the effect of sin in their lives. Every day since then, and every day for all eternity they are being burned but never consumed in the lake of fire. There is a very real danger that we cease to realize the horrific nature of sin like a soldier grown used to the atrocities of war. Yet we cannot allow ourselves to grow calloused, for we must loath sin to fight it. Hopefully the grisly effect gives fervor to our fight against the cause.
The children of God are not marked by camouflage. Rather, we have been called out to stand out. That is our duty. That is our joy. Accepting the call to lose your life than you may save it (Mk 8:35) means accepting a life devoid of comfortable respectability. The world does not crucify those it respects. And life itself for us is Christ. That is our identity: Christ.
Today is the Super Bowl. Larry Fitzgerald will don his uniform with its large, red cardinal painted on his helmet. The whole world will see that Larry Fitzgerald is a member of the Arizona Cardinals. His job is to run in between member of the opposing team whose sole goal is to stop him—using any means possible—from catching the ball. In many situations, Larry will be the only red dot in a sea of yellow and gold, called upon by his quarterback to leap into the air and catch a pass while surrounded by a number of angry yellow-and-black clad men. Choosing to make an attempt to catch the ball will mean exposing his back, kidneys, and knees to punishing hits—hits that will most likely leave him bruised and sore for several days or weeks. Despite these consequences, he never ducks.
Larry Fitzgerald is making upwards of $10 million dollars, may win a Super Bowl, and is doing what he loves. For him, those rewards make the bruises and the sprains worth it. Perhaps the point is clear. Only when we come to understand what we gain in God will the cost of following the Lord Jesus Christ seem worth it. We zealously and rightly denounce the health-and-wealth gospel. But the gospel of neutrality is just as false. There’s nothing “normal” about the Christian life. Our entire identity has been changed.
It has become rather easy for Christians to look different from the world. All that is required is to not do drugs, avoid the wild parties, and remain sexually pure. The darkness has become so dark that anything short of pitch-black stands out. While this should make the brilliant, radiant white light of the cross absolutely dazzling, we seem content to display a rather drab shade of grey. Rather than running to the Scriptures to see what our identity being Christ looks like, we look and see what the church as a whole is doing and base our lives off of that standard.
It’s really easy to point the finger at the mainstream Christian church and it’s infatuation with seeker-sensitive, “Gospel-Lite,” Arminian-infused methodology. It’s really hard to admit that our conservative, Calvinistic doctrine hasn’t quite informed our lives as much as it should.
“I’d sing louder in church if everyone else did. I don’t want to stand out.”
“I’d be more open in small groups if everyone else was into the whole confession of sin thing too.”
“I’d reach out to others in church if they reached out to me more.”
“No one else is willing to go confront that guy on my wing, so why should I?”
“No one else is living a wartime lifestyle with their money. They’ll think I’m strange.”
“I’d minister more if there was more opportunity.”
Christian chameleonism. That’s all this is. “I’d do x if everyone else was willing to do it too.” The Bible has another word for this: hypocrisy. If you care about something, you’ll do it. Regardless of other people. Whenever a sick person meets Christ in the Bible, they lose every shred of dignity. People dug through a roof. Others would come and grovel in the dust before him. High-ranking Roman army officials would come and beg a Jewish Rabbi to heal daughters or servants. Why the casting away of the dignity which they would ordinarily so highly prize? Because of the reward!
Campbell Morgan has said “If you encounter no opposition where you’re serving, you’re probably serving in the wrong place.” I could concur and say “If you encounter no opposition to your righteousness, you’re probably not righteous enough!” Oh, that we would be people who understand that having a high view of God means having a high view of our reward! Though it would be easier for Larry Fitzgerald to camouflage himself by donning a Steelers uniform and forget about taking the punishment from the safeties, he won’t. He can’t. There’s no other way for him to play the game.
Likewise, we as Christians have no other way to play the game. Our lives are to be lived with gusto. The psalmist says, “Zeal for your house has consumed me” (69:9). Consumes. Not influences, but consumes. The goal of our lives is not to blend in with Christians around us. The goal is to glorify God. To do this all of our beliefs must be drawn straight from the text of Scripture. Those who understand doctrine are willing to charge the hill with no one behind them, while Christian Chameleons idle in the trenches, condemning everyone else for not risking what they themselves are not willing to risk.
One night I had a wondrous dream,
One set of footprints there was seen,
The footprints of my precious Lord,
But mine were not along the shore.
But then some stranger prints appeared,
And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?”
Those prints are large and round and neat,
“But Lord they are too big for feet.”
“My child,” He said in somber tones,
“For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait.”
“You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know.
So I got tired, I got fed up,
and there I dropped you on your butt.”
“Because in life, there comes a time,
when one must fight, and one must climb.
When one must rise and take a stand,
or leave their butt prints in the sand.”