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Pretense

As the twisted and broken body of good king Josiah entered back through the gates of Jerusalem, slain upon the swords of Pharaoh Neco’s mighty army, Jeremiah knew what was about to befall his nation. Good king Josiah spent his few years of kingship restoring the nation of Israel to its worship of Yahweh. Over and against the traditions of his elders, the falsely assumed religion of his people, good king Josiah hacked to pieces the Asherah poles and the statues of the Baals. He carried them out of the the temple of Yahweh, deposed the pagan priests who were not priests, destroyed the houses of fertility-cult prostitution. He had the people read the Law and taught the Law. And he died defending his covenant land from an invading army, playing the man to the last.

But Jeremiah knew what course the nation would take after the mourning horns finally fell silent and the steady creep of decay consumed the body of their godly king. “Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares Yahweh.” (Jeremiah 3:10)

Pretense. That’s was the nation’s religion.

Pretense.

When the leaders fell and the people in the pews were reliant to draw up the waters of worship from their own hearts all they found was pretense. The words were right. The forms were right. But the heart was distant and cold. What happens when the iPod falls silent and all you have is the quiet ticking of the clock and your Bible? What happens when there is no Piper or Washer or Chandler to enliven your emotions? What happens in the quiet hours when you must pray? Can you do it without the Valley of Vision in your hands? Can you sing without the band? Can you witness without the assignment?

Who lives your worship of God? Is it you, or are you a vicarious host for the Christianity of someone else that’s never sunk into your heart?

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Simplicity

Today I walked away from my homework early and stole away with my Moleskine journal to my quiet spot on campus where I go when I just want to get away. It’s been a couple of weeks full of drowning in the intensity of Jonathan Edwards’ philosophical inquiries into original sin and the nature of true virtue, coupled with Michael Horton’s dissection of liberal German theologians debating about the exact nature of the image of God and the hypostatic union.

All of this learning makes me prize the simplicity of the gospel all the more. You can study for an eternity and never come to the end of it, yet it can be contained in just a few short words or verses, simple enough for me to understand and believe just shy of my fourth birthday. I spent my time in the spring afternoon writing out what matters most to me, the treasures of the shallow end of the pool that I never want to lose while diving for nuances.

Things I Am Happy to Believe

  • The placement of my sin on Jesus Christ and His righteousness upon me through faith in his sufficiency to save and sanctify.
  • The infallibility and clarity and continued relevance of the Scriptures as the revealed mind of God to man with purpose.
  • The real and present guidance of the Holy Spirit away from error and towards truth through the application of the Word.
  • That all true happiness comes from a delight in His person, His gifts, and His will being done on earth and heaven.
  • The church of Jesus Christ is His bride, His beloved, cared for by Him as He prepares her for eternal glory.
  • Hope is not directed primarily at this life, but rather towards the next – the new creation in which we are co-heirs.
  • The purposefulness of all things, as God brings to pass His pre-existent plan for His own glory and our good, both of which are the same end.
  • The wrathfulness of God towards those who doubly rebel by rejecting first His rule and secondly His mercy.
  • The creation, though subjected to a curse because of human sin, is meant to be delighted in as God’s good gift to man.
  • The constant intercession by Christ for man before the throne of God the Father.

Praise God for these truths.

Mechanized

Trust in Yahweh and do good…Delight yourself in Yahweh and He will give you the desires of your heart…Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.

Psalm 37:3a, 4, 8b

There is no space between trusting and fretting; no green stretch of unoccupied land between between two opposing armies. There is trust and there is fretting. Where there is fretting, there is no active delight in Yahweh. Where there is no active delight in Yahweh there will be evil.

Let not anyone cheapen the meaning of the word “delight.” It means exactly what we think it means when we first hear it, before the mind has time to soothe the wounded heart with redefinitions that bury conviction under a landslide of intellectualism. If a man is to know God, he must feel. If a woman is to do good, she must yearn.

Let us repent of our far-too-often mechanized Christianity and pray for the Holy Spirit to kindle Jeremiah’s flames within us when they have gone dormant. (Jer. 20:9)

Remember

 

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them…
Hebrews 13:3a
You do not forget present-tense horror. If I’m locked away in some dank Roman prison cell with the wind whipping rain through the open stone-slab window and every time  I open my eyes I am confronted with the image of my shivering brother in Christ huddled in a ball, trying to wring what warmth he can from his own body, I don’t forget him. I cannot ignore that. I don’t walk away from that and go order a Venti beverage and chat it up with the boys about the game last night.

Remember the prisoners as if you’ve seen the lash tear skin from skin in front of your eyes. Remember them as if you can hear the pleas for release uttered through parched lips in the darkest hours of the night. Remember them as if you both fought for courage, not knowing whether the next day would bring the liberation your wife and children have been pleading the Lord for, or the silence of heaven and the flash of a legionnaires’ sword across your neck.

Most of the people in prison nowadays deserve to be there. You sell drugs, you go to jail. You knife a cabbie, you go to jail. Not so for the early Christians. Their equation read more: You worship God, you go to jail. You refuse to offer incense to Caesar, you go to jail. But don’t read the Bible narrowly. The point is about about Christians who have lost something because of their confession of Jesus Christ as the Son of the Living God, crucified for sin, risen for life. Remember those who are suffering for their confession of the Christ.

What does it mean to “remember” them? We know. We know deep down inside what it means to remember them, because the Golden Rule cries out to be followed. The real question is, are we going to remember them, or are we not?

I Want to Be that Man

I sat down right now planning to write about my first day at my new home. There’s plenty to write about. I want to try to describe the beauty of the bright red brick, white-trimmed buildings set against the relief of the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. They don’t build places like this out in California. Buildings don’t carry with them history and tradition. But they seem to here.

I was also planning to write about the kindness of my friend Dan Gnagy, who braved the heat and humidity to help me move all my earthly possessions up three flights of stairs into my new apartment in Fuller Hall. God’s people are special gifts to each other.

And then there’s the insights I gleaned from the Word of God as I listened through Matt Chandler’s 20-part sermon series on the book of Hebrews during my 2700 mile drive. The moments of quite meditation while watching corn and mountains and rivers fly past proved to be fertile ground for the Word of God to work in my heart. Whenever my car finally gives out, it will be sad to see it go. Many quiet transformational moments with the Lord have unfolded while sitting in the driver’s seat of that nondescript mostly grey 1992 Corolla.

I sat down to write in what I think is the Honeywell (or is it Honeycutt?) Student Center (Student Union?), and couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of the three silver-haired men of about 60 or 70 seated in the next cove over. They weren’t talking sports; they weren’t talking weather. They weren’t talking theology. They were talking personal spiritual health. And one of them leaned in and said in a lower tone of voice, “Now, here’s my question for next week. And I’ll ask it now because I want to give you two time to think about it and give me a real good answer. When Jesus says to love my enemies, how do I do it? Because I don’t do that well.”

I want to be that man. I want to be that man who is silver haired and tender to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. I want to be that man who is 65 and still fighting the boots-on-the-ground war against the blackened arenas of my life where the atonement has not yet trickled down to throw the curtains open. I want to be that man who diligently and resolutely seeks to be known by other men to the degree that anyone who fights to keep up a spiritual-whitewash facade would think me to be committing nonsensical suicide of reputation.

And more than that, I want to be that kind of man who makes it not as strikingly unique for the next generation to see 65 year old silver haired men sitting in a student union building talking about the state of their souls and begging friends to impart the gospel yet again to them.

God Inspired the Little Clauses

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 Don’t Want to Worship that Way

When we choose to follow Christ, we do not get to choose how we follow Christ. Usually our expectations do not match the reality of what Christ has bought for us on the cross. I think we all expect to be Jonathan Edwards writing Religious Affections, not David Brainerd grasping a bloody handkerchief in Edwards’ back room as he dies of tuberculosis. Or we expect to be Hudson Taylor opening up a vast unreached people group to the forward grasp of missionaries, not William Borden who spent his whole life preparing for life among the unreached and, on the way to his first missions assignment in Mongolia, contracted cerebral meningitis in Egypt and died at the age of 24. Everybody dreams of being Hebrews 11:1-35a; nobody dreams of being 35b-38.

God is out to prove to His creation and His adversaries that He is far more glorious than anything He has created. Some of His children He gives an abundance of wealth. And He’s out to prove through them that He is far more desirable than the siren seductions of wealth and the lie of self-sufficiency. Some of His children he gives a life of suffering. And through them He’s out to prove that the joy of His sustaining grace is of far greater weight than the sorrows of this life. The world does not understand how the wealthy man can care so little about what the world thinks is the pinnacle of life, and the world cannot understand how the sorrowful man can rejoice in his grief rather than spiraling down into hopelessness and bitterness.

But we all expect God to place us in the first category. The second category? I don’t want to worship that way. I want to be the one who escapes the edge of the sword (Hebrews 11:34), not the one who is put to death by the sword or sawn in two (Hebrews 11:37). I don’t want to worship that way. But when we choose to follow Christ, we don’t get to choose how we follow Him.

After Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac, the owners of the pigs come and implore Jesus to leave. And then, as they’re begging the Son of God to depart from their land, the one person who believes in Him approaches. Clothed in his right mind for the first time in years, the former demoniac approaches Jesus and implores Jesus to be allowed to accompany Him. Literally, “to be with Him.” And as this man implores Jesus to let him follow, Jesus turns to him and says no. “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” No, former-demoniac-now-worshipper-of-God, the way you want to worship me is not to be your path. You are the one imploring me to let you come with me. I’m sending you to witness to the ones imploring me to leave.

Everyone pities Job. But what of the wives of Job’s servants that were killed in the fire that consumed the sheep? They didn’t get their husbands back once God restored Job’s possessions. Nobody wants to worship that way. What of Ezekiel, who had God say “I’m going to kill your wife and you can’t mourn because you’re to be a picture of my lack of mourning for Israel as they die.” And Ezekiel buried her that night. Nobody wants to worship that way.

And what of Christ, crying in the garden, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Nobody wants to worship that way.

Sometimes it is a bitter thing to yearn for God to be made much of. It takes much fire to burn away the dross in our souls. Paul understood this. How else could he have described himself as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”? (2 Cor 6:10) We don’t get to choose how we get to follow Christ, but He does. And He knows that oftentimes we don’t want to worship in the way He has ordained for us. He knows because that was His road too: “This man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death.” (Acts 2:23) “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Christ understands exactly what it’s like to be torn between wanting God to be made much of and not wanting to worship in the way that often makes much of Him. He is the great high priest who understands our weaknesses, for He endured it Himself. If we are to gain an understanding of the power of His resurrection, we must too know Him in the fellowship of His suffering (Philippians 3:10). And, as a father comforts his scared and weary little son about to go into surgery, so too our Father stands beside us and comforts us, sustaining in trial and keeping alive the hope of eternal joy.