Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Gospel and the Order of Hebrews

Over the next several weeks I plan to write about the seven commands in Hebrews 13:1-19, but before we delve into them, I want to take a few minutes to point out one of the reasons I believe that working straight through books of the Bible in personal study and in public ministry ought to be our primary approach to understanding the details and implications of the Bible. Specifically, God’s Word is organized in a particular order for particular reasons and thus we would do well to honor that order.

This is a simple but very important idea.

For example, the commands of Hebrews 13 do not come after chapter 1 or chapter 5 or chapter 8, rather, they come after chapters 1-12 because they’re built upon the entirety of the truths that are taught there. We must read, interpret, and apply Hebrews 13 in light of all of Hebrews 1-12, or else we will fall into serious error. Indeed, if we were to go straight to chapter 13 without the benefit of chapters 1-12, we would likely take its commands as a sort of “To Do List” or a set of moralistic obligations that are no different than what you can get from Alcoholics Anonymous or any self-help group or Oprah or Dr. Phil or whomever.

But the fact of the matter is that chapters 1-12 come before chapter 13 so that the commands of chapter 13 are built on the massive foundation of the gospel. They are built on who Jesus is and what he has accomplished and the kind of life he has called us to live. Indeed, Christ is not a moralizer, he’s a Savior. Therefore, the main issue of life for Christians is what Christ has done on our behalf and what he has promised to do in us and through us for the glory of his name and the joy of our souls. The Christian life arises from the word “done” and not the word “do.” We who believe in Jesus are not striving to make ourselves acceptable to God through our moralistic behavior or our acts of reverent worship. Rather, we are seeking to surrender to our Father’s wisdom and will because he’s already perfected us in his sight through the all-sufficient work of Christ. We are striving to enter Christ’s rest, and one sign that we’re succeeding in this is that the kind of fruit that’s pleasing to the Lord begins to emerge from our lives.

Our acts of worship, whether in the form of praise or obedience, are simply the visible fruit of the invisible work of Christ in our lives. Thus, obeying the seven commands of Hebrews 13 will not earn us anything before the Lord, rather, they will serve to express the reverential, awe-filled worship that’s growing in our hearts. And when we fail to obey, the all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus covers our sins and shortcomings. When we fail, Christ continues to patiently teach us how to love him and walk in his will and ways.

Friends, the commands of Hebrews 13:1-19 are built upon the massive foundation of the gospel and we need to hear them in this way.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Four "Movements" of the Letter to the Hebrews

I envision the “Letter to the Hebrews” more like a symphony than a lecture, and therefore I see it flowing in four movements. The first movement begins in chapter 1 and extends to the end of chapter 6 and might be called “The Glory of Christ,” for there the author seeks to reveal and exalt who Jesus is. The second movement begins in chapter 7 and extends to the end of chapter 10 and might be called “The Work of Christ,” for there the author seeks to reveal and exalt what Jesus has done. The third movement begins in chapter 11 and extends to the end of chapter 12 and might be called “The Call of Christ,” for there the author seeks to reveal and commend how the Lord would have us live in response to these things. 

Specifically, I would argue that the Lord wants us to live by faith in the faithfulness of God. He would have us put all our trust and hope in him who always keeps his promises. Who always fulfills his purposes. Who does allow us to suffer but who always comforts us with his presence. Who cares about our ultimate happiness and who has fought with all of his might to provide for us a joy that will never fade away but that will always increase and intensify as we seek to know him, grow in him, and go with him together. 

Indeed, our gracious God has called on us to run a race by faith, and though he will discipline us along the way and call us do things that are difficult and uncomfortable, he is always for us and never against us. He will always lead us until that day when Jesus comes again to take us home. On that day we will see his glory and be radically transformed into his image together. On that day he will shake the earth so severely that everything in it will be destroyed, and the earth itself will be destroyed so that all that will remain is what cannot be shaken. And what cannot be shaken are the purposes of God and the promises of God and the City of the Living God and the great King and High Priest who forever reigns over that City. 

 Thus, at the end of chapter 12, which is the crescendo of the third movement, the author writes, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). With this, the question becomes, “What does it look like, at a practical level, to worship God in this way?” While there’s much to say in response to this, I have two primary answers. 

First, to worship God with reverence and awe means that we’re to worship him with a particular kind of heart, namely, a humble and grateful and astonished heart. God is a God who looks on the inside of a person and is more concerned with our intentions and affections than the particular manifestations of our worship. So we ought always to cultivate within ourselves a sense of reverence for the God who is great, and of awe toward the God who does great things. When, by his grace, our eyes see him rightly and our hearts worship him humbly, when we have a sense of respect and wonder toward him, our worship is acceptable to him. This doesn’t mean that our hearts are perfect but rather that they’re arcing toward genuine heartfelt praise and thanksgiving to God. 

My second answer sets up the next seven or eight blog entries because I think that chapter 13:1-19 presents us with a vision of what it looks like to worship God with reverence and awe on a daily basis. This chapter is, in my view, the fourth movement of Hebrews and we might call it “The Commands of Christ,” for here the author seeks to reveal and commend seven specific actions we can take as a means of expressing worship to God. Remember, the word “worship” literally means “to bow down” and it implies that we should bow down with our lips in praise to God, and that we should bow down with our lives in obedience to his gracious commands. 

With this in mind, the author instructs us to press on in love for one another; to show hospitality to strangers; to love those who are in prison or otherwise suffering for the sake of Christ; to honor and protect the sacredness of marriage and sexuality; to be free from the love of money and instead be content in Christ and his provision; to cling to Christ despite the shame and suffering that will come because of him; and to honor and submit to our leaders, imitating their way of life in Christ.  
 
So over the next three weeks, Lord willing, we’re going to look at each of these commands and along the way we’ll see that they are expressions of worship to the God who is so great and who has been so gracious to us in Christ. Obeying these seven commands will not earn us favor with God, for Christ has already earned for us all the favor we need. If our faith is in Christ alone, then we cannot and will never earn more favor with God than we presently have, for by faith in him the Father has poured upon us all the favor that he’s forever poured upon his Son.

Therefore, obeying these seven commands is simply a natural overflow of the heart that truly believes and receives the vision of the glory of Christ and the work of Christ and the call of Christ that’s been laid out in this sacred sermon. Obeying these seven commands becomes an expression of the kind of reverential, awe-filled worship that’s acceptable in God’s sight.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Grace for the Race, Part 5

Jesus has called us to run a race that long and hard, but in Hebrews 12:1-3 he's also given us wisdom for it. So far, the author has taught us to lay aside our weights and sins, to look to the past faith of others (for example, in Hebrews 11), and to live our lives in Christ together rather than alone. Fourth, then, the author tells us to look to Jesus, and the word he uses here is pretty strong. It means to fixate upon Jesus. To give him our undivided attention. To look toward him and thus away from everything else. And then in Hebrews 12:3 the author adds that we should consider Jesus which means that we should think carefully and thoroughly and often about him, that we should ponder his way of life and so be encouraged to run our race.
 
In other words, the author is teaching us to be captivated by the very source of our faith. Oh may the Lord help us to understand that Jesus is the one who implanted faith within our hearts, he is the one to whom our faith is designed to look, and he is the one who’s promised to nurture our faith until it’s been perfected and bears all the fruit it’s designed to bear. Indeed, the sole calling of the Christian is to look to Jesus and surrender. Allow him to do his work in us. Allow him to prosper and perfect our faith. Allow him to open our eyes and soften our heart and guide our will. Allow him to be our Lord and Leader. Fixate upon the source of our faith.  
 
After all, Jesus has run this race, Beloved, and he has endured suffering at a level we cannot imagine. He has experienced tremendous hostility that was specifically directed at him. In other words, he didn’t just experience random difficulty and violence, rather, he experienced very personal and intense attacks to the point where they brought their trumped up charges into a court of law and had him killed. Jesus knows what suffering by faith is all about. He knows what enduring by faith is all about. So look to him, consider him, ponder him and know that after a little suffering he entered into a great and eternal reward. Know that his trust in his Father was eternally vindicated so that he will forever feast on the joy that was set before him. 
 
The author tells us to ponder Jesus in this way so that we won’t grow weary and fainthearted and give up. He tells us to ponder Jesus, the source of our faith, so that we’ll press on in faith, so that we’ll lay aside the sins and weights, so that we’ll look to the cloud and imitate their way of life, so that we’ll do life together and endure all of the difficulties and pain that comes with it for the joy that’s set before us. 
 
And perhaps the Lord is moving in your heart right now and encouraging you to ponder him in specific was. Let him have his way in you. Let him teach and guide you. Let him lead you in the way you should go. Let him prosper and perfect your faith.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Grace for the Race, Part 4

Jesus has called us to run a race that is hard and long, but in Hebrews 12:1-3 he's given us wisdom for it. First, he tells us to lay aside every weight and sin. Second, he tells us to draw on the faith of those who've gone before us that we might have fresh faith now. 
 
The third bit of wisdom the author gives us is that we should lean on each other. We should run this race together. Life in Christ is life together, it’s not life alone. We must learn take put aside the weights of life together. We must learn to put aside the sins of life together. We must learn to ponder the witness of so many who’ve gone before us together. We must learn to know, grow, and go together. We must do life in Christ together and not forsake one another. 
 
Consider what the author has to say in verses 1-3 and notice along the way the plural language that’s there. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus [and the verb here is plural, “you all look to Jesus”], the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him [literally “You all consider him”] who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you [all] may not grow weary or fainthearted.” 
 
Friends, life in Christ is life together. We are designed to stoke the fires of our faith together, and though this is challenging and difficult at times, it’s so good. So how are you doing with this? Are you receiving from the body of Christ? Are you leaning on your brothers and sisters to help you lay aside weights and sins, to look to the cloud of faithful men and women who’ve gone before us, to run your race by faith in the faithfulness of Christ? And are you helping your brothers and sisters in Christ do the same or are you withholding the gifts God has given to you from the body? 
 
Whatever your answers to these questions, let’s allow Jesus to come near to us and reveal what he will, and let’s resolve right here on the spot to do everything he’s calling us to do. Let’s resolve to listen to him and to his word and live our lives in Christ together that we might run our race with endurance. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Grace for the Race, Part 3

Jesus has called us to run a race that is good but that is serious and intense. Therefore, the author of Hebrews offers us some advice for the race and we would do well to listen to him well. First, he told us to lay aside every weight and sin in our lives that we might run our race with endurance. Second, the author tells us that we have a cloud of witnesses literally surrounding us and testifying to the faithfulness of God. In other words, the author calls on us to contemplate past faith and so that we’ll gain fresh faith for the present and future.

Now, exactly what this looks like from the Lord’s perspective, I’m not sure. Can Abraham and Sarah and so many others actually see us? Are they actually watching us race and personally cheering us on? I don’t know; I’ll leave that in the Lord’s hands. What I do know is that the practical, on-the-ground way that these precious people of faith cheer us on is through their stories that are preserved for us in the Bible.

You may remember Paul’s words from Romans 15:4 where he writes, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Or if we can put this in the words of Hebrews 12, the Lord saw fit to preserve what’s in the Bible so that through the witness of so many who put their faith in the faithfulness of God we might receive encouragement to press on in the race.

It’s no lie or exaggeration that we are surrounded by an enormity of voices of people who trusted in the purposes and promises and plans of God and found him to be faithful. And the question is this: are we listening? You see, daily Bible reading isn’t about fulfilling a Christian duty, it’s about gaining eyes to see the glory of Christ and thus increasing our faith. We need the Word of God, and we ought to learn to crave it like a person who’s being held under water and needs breath. We ought to fight with all our might to come up out of the water and breathe. We ought to fight with all our might to be in the atmosphere of the Word everyday so that our faith might be strengthened, informed, inflamed, and empowered.

So let us lay aside every weight and sin, and let us look to this enormous cloud of witnesses that’s surrounding us and cheering us on and encouraging us to run our race by faith in the faithfulness of Christ. And while this topic is on the table, let’s take a minute to think about the place of the Word in our lives. Let’s ask questions like these: Am I reading the Word every day or most days? Do I feel desperate for the Word? When I read, am I seeing the faith of others and the faithfulness of Christ? When I read, do I pray about the things the Lord has shown me? Do I seek to integrate the Lord’s wisdom into my life?

Let’s allow the Lord to draw near to us and reveal whatever he’d like to reveal. And let’s determine right now to follow him, to change our habits with regard to the Word, to learn to be desperate for his voice and crave his Word in the way that a new-born baby craves pure milk. Let’s be a people that allows Jesus to draw near to us and stoke the fires of our faith through his witnesses in his Word.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Grace for the Race, Part 2

In Hebrews 12:1, the author counsels us to lay aside every weight and sin in our lives so that we can run the race set before us with endurance. In the last blog post I said a few things about the "weights," and in this one I will say a few things about sins. The sins in our lives are those things that are not good and that have to go. They’re not neutral. They’re not healthy. They’re not friends of Christ. 
 
In fact, they’re faith-killers. They sap our energy for Christ. They blind our eyes to Christ. They harden our hearts to Christ. They bend our will away from God’s will and toward ourselves. They wrap our legs together and tie our arms to our body so that we can’t run. They cover our mouths and noses so that we can’t breathe. 
 
Friends, our sins kill our faith, impede our race, and steal our joy. Our sins keep us from knowing, growing, and going with Christ. Our sins are a major problem and so Jesus draws near to us in love, through the author of Hebrews to say, “Put them aside. Take them off. I’ve given you everything you need to kill the anti-faith in your life, so fix your eyes on me and do it. It’s for your good, it’s for your fruitfulness, it’s for your joy, it’s for the good of others, it’s for the glory of my name.”

While this topic is on the table, let’s ask the Lord to help us draw to mind two or three things in our lives that fit into this category. Let’s ask ourselves questions like these: What habits or patterns in my life are clearly displeasing to the Lord? In what ways am I cooperating with the enemies of my faith in Christ? What sins do I love more than I love Jesus?

As we ponder these questions, let’s remember that we live by faith in the faithfulness of Christ, and that the power for fresh obedience comes from looking to him and surrendering to his work in us. 
 
Indeed, Jesus himself is the founder and perfecter of our faith. He’s the one who created it and he’s the one who will prosper it. He’s the one that implanted it in our souls and he’s the one who will cause it to grow and sprout and bear 30- and 60- and 100-fold for his glory. Thinking about and repenting of our sin is uncomfortable but it’s so good. So let’s surrender to him and allow him to have his way in us both now and forevermore.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Grace for the Race, Part 1

As I highlighted in the last blog entry, the race to which Christ calls us is not recreational, rather, it’s a war. It’s an intense race. And because this is so the author of Hebrews gives us several words of wisdom that we really need to hear. For those who play Christianity or who play church, these things won’t make a lot of sense or have a lot of impact.

But for those who truly desire to know Christ and grow in Christ and go with Christ together, these things will give life, refreshment, focus, and power for the race. I pray that we’ll be among those who truly desire to run this race and live our lives by faith in the faithfulness of Christ. I pray that we’ll have ears to hear what the author has to say, and for this reason, I plan to write five blogs it.

The first thing the author tells us to do in Hebrews 12:1 is to lay aside the weights and sins in our lives which so easily wrap themselves around us and constrict us from running by faith as we should. Or if I can use different words, the author is telling us to remove from our lives all the obstacles to faith; all the things that constrict our faith; all the things that make it hard to believe Jesus and all he is and all he has said and all he has promised to do; all the things that are impeding us from knowing, growing, and going with Christ together.

The weights in our lives are those things that, in themselves, are neutral or even good but that for whatever reasons are keeping us from running with Christ as far and fast as we can. Weights include things like personal time, hobbies, family, work, material things, sports, gadgets, games, and even obsessive Bible study and theological reading. All of these things and more have their place in life but we need to learn to reflect on the way we do things and determine if x, y, and z are keeping us from believing as passionately as we should and running with Christ as far and fast as we can. We need to determine if our own habits and priorities are sabotaging our faith in Jesus and impeding our ability to know, grow, and go.

While this topic is on the table, let’s ask the Lord to help us draw to mind two or three things in our lives that fit into this category. Let’s ask ourselves questions like these: how do I spend my free time? How do I spend my extra money? What are my true priorities in life? What am I really after? Is there anything in my life that, if I’m being honest, takes precedence over Jesus?

Friends, as we ponder these questions, let’s allow Jesus to speak to us right now. Let’s allow him to draw some things to mind. Let’s allow him to show us what we ought to do and let’s commit ourselves right here and now, embracing what he has to say and walking in his will and ways. And let’s remember that we live by faith in the faithfulness of Christ, and that the power for fresh obedience comes from looking to him and surrendering to his work in us. That may sound a bit too simple but it’s true. The key to running our race is simply surrendering to the work of Christ, so by his grace let’s do that right here and now.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Running Our Race: It's a War not a Recreational Sport

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing about Hebrews 12:1-3 and the race that Jesus has set before us, specifically, to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ together. In invite you to click on the links to the right and review what I have written, but for today I want acknowledge this point:

While it’s a great privilege to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ together, it’s not easy.

The race to which Jesus calls us is simple but it’s not easy because of our sin and that of others. And so the reason the author of Hebrews uses the metaphor of a race in chapters 11-12 is because life in Christ is intense and difficult, and it calls for endurance.

Indeed, the race that’s been set before us is not a recreational race—it’s a war. The race that’s been set before us is not like one of those local 5k / 10k / half-marathon / marathon events where the primary goal is to get in shape and have some fun. Rather, the race that’s been set before us is more like the first marathon ever run wherein a Grecian envoy was commanded to run as fast as he could from the city of Marathon to the city of Athens to inform the people of three things: (1) the Persians had been defeated at Marathon, (2) they had set sail along the coast and were heading to Athens to attack the city, and (3) the Grecian army was marching double time toward Athens to aid in the battle.

Beloved, this runner wasn’t out for an afternoon jog in the park. He wasn’t out to improve his physical fitness. Rather, this runner was out to deliver serious and good news to his people so that they could prepare for battle and keep from being killed by their long-time enemies.

Christians are like this runner and our race is like his race. Our race is not recreational, it’s war, and we’ve been called to run it with intensity and endurance by faith. It is a war to put Christ first and value his words and read his words and seek his wisdom and seek his power for obedience day by day by day. It’s a war to allow Christ to come close to us and burn away all the dross in our lives so that those things that are unlike him fall away and only he remains. It’s a war to see beyond ourselves and care about the lost and the least of these to the extent that we take action and seek to spread the love of Christ abroad in our neighborhoods and nations.

I’ll have more to say about this in the next blog, but for now I want to encourage you to meditate on the nature of the race to which Jesus has called us, and properly count the cost. Then, as the seriousness and difficulty of it lands on you, I want to encourage you to meditate on the grace Jesus provides to all who call upon his name, enabling them to do by his power what they cannot do by their power.

May the Lord be near to us as we ponder his call and embrace his grace. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Running our Race: Going with Christ


In Hebrews 12:1-2, the author urges us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

How would you define the race that’s been set before us?

I would define it like this: Christians are called to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ together—know, grow, and go. This is our daily race, and it is a life-long race. In the last two blogs I’ve said a few things about knowing Christ and growing in Christ, and in this blog I’d like to say a few things about going with Christ.

Christians are also called to go with Christ. We’re called to share in the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that overflowed and made a way of salvation for all who would put their faith in Christ. We’re called to take the mission of Christ as our own and join him in the quest of seeking and saving the lost. We’re called to go with him as he reaches out to the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the imprisoned, and the weak. We’re called to be ambassadors of God and plead with our neighborhoods and nations, “Be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ who is the source of eternal life for all who put their faith in him.”

Beloved, we’ve been called to join the greatest King on the greatest mission in the history of the world. And we’ve been allowed to understand that this King will certainly triumph and that his mission will certainly succeed, so that all of his purposes and promises and plans will be forever fulfilled!

Who can find words to describe the enormous privilege it is for broken and sinful people like us to know Christ and grow in Christ and go with Christ together? I know I can’t. One day as I was walking and worshiping Christ at a park by the Mississippi River, I said to the Lord, “How will I ever be able to say what I’ve seen? How will I ever be able to explain what you’ve shown me in our times together?” And while I’m sure that the Lord will help me to say what’s necessary, I’m also sure that much of what Christians see when we see the glory of Christ is simply inexpressible. We do our best to use words and point toward the manifold excellencies of Jesus and the life-shaping experiences we have with him but at the end of the day human language is not adequate to express all that he is and all that he’s done and all that he’s purposed and promised and planned to do for his glory and our joy.

Going on mission with Christ is a tremendous privilege and joy, but here’s the deal: it takes time and devotion to engage in his mission. So how are you doing? As you come to know him, are you striving by his grace to obey his command to make disciples and love “the least of these”? Are you learning how to pray for others and express the truth and beauty of Jesus to them? Are you entering into the joy of laying down your life for the glory of God in the salvation of others?

The greatest privilege in this life is being a part of the mission of Christ. So let's surrender to him and join in his mission! Let’s seek grace from Jesus and bear the fruit of Jesus in the world.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Running our Race: Growing in Christ

In Hebrews 12:1-2, the author urges us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

How would you define the race that’s been set before us?

I would define it like this: Christians are called to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ together—know, grow, and go. This is our daily race, and it is a life-long race. Last time I said a few things about knowing Christ, and this time I’d like to say a few things about growing in Christ.

Christians are also called to grow in Christ. We’re called to be transformed into the image of the one we worship. The aim of seeking and seeing and savoring the glory of Christ is not simply to admire who he is but to become like him. He is utterly focused on his Father and so over time we become utterly focused on him. He is faithful to his Father and to his people and so over time we become faithful to him and to one another. He is loving and wise and gentle and kind and firm and always filled with joy, and so over time we take on these traits as well.

Beloved, we’ve been called to become like the one we delight in. This is what it means to grow in Christ. This is what it means to be a disciple. This is what it means to be a Christian. And again, the more we come to understand just who Jesus is, this calling will stun us and fill us with awe and joy inexpressible.

But here’s the deal: it takes time to grow in Christ. So how are you doing? As you come to know him, are you striving by his grace to become like him? Are you content just to admire his character, or are you committed to taking on his character as he does his work in you?

The greatest privilege in this life is being transformed into the image of Christ. So let's play our part! Let’s seek grace from Jesus to become like Jesus day by day, for the glory of his name and the joy of our souls.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Running Our Race: Knowing Christ


In Hebrews 12:1-2, the author urges us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

How would you define the race that’s been set before us?

I would define it like this: Christians are called to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ together—know, grow, and go. This is our daily race, and it is a life-long race. So for today, I want to say a few things about knowing Christ, and then later this week I'll write about growing in Christ and going with Christ.

Christians are called to know Christ. Our privilege is to seek and see and savor the glory of him who saved us; who is the rightful inheritor of all things; through whom the Father created all things; who sustains all things by the word of his power; who is the very radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature; who carries all things along to their appointed end so that that purposes and promises and plans of God are fulfilled with perfect precision; who made the once-for-all sacrifice for sins so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life; who is seated at the right hand of the throne of God as the rightful ruler of all things and the eternal High Priest over heaven and earth (see Hebrews 1:1-4).

Friends, Christians have been called to delight ourselves in the glory of Christ, to indulge ourselves in the richest feast in the universe. We’ve been called to know Christ truly, deeply, intimately, and eternally, and the more we learn of him the more this calling will take our breath away.

But here's the deal: it takes time and focus to know Christ. So how are you doing? Are you taking time to seek him each day through the Word of God and prayer? When you seek him, do you remove distractions like phones and computers and TVs? When you see something of his glory, do you take time to praise and thank him?

The greatest privilege in this life is feasting on the glory of Christ. So let's do it! Let's make the time, and then make the most of the time, by God's grace and for his glory.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Have Nothing Else but God in Everything

In a little book entitled Daily Readings with Saint John of the Cross (Templegate: Springfield, IL, 1985), Saint John writes, “To have God in everything a soul must have nothing in everything, for how can a heart belong in any way to two people at once?” (59). This, of course, is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” I think Saint John is really onto something here, but the question arises, How does one have nothing in everything? Answer: have nothing but God in everything.

For instance, I’m sitting at my computer right now and I have two choices as to how to think about it: (1) I can rejoice in the wonder of the computer itself and the genius of those who invented such a thing, or I can rejoice in the fact that I have resources to own it, or I can rejoice in the fact that I have requisite skills to use it, or I can take it for granted and assume that I deserve it. In other words, I can look at this computer from the perspective of my flesh and rejoice in it as an end in itself, or as a means to rejoicing in the genius of others, or as a means to rejoicing in myself.

(2) I can rejoice in the fact that I am alive and in Christ by the immeasurable grace of God, and that God, in his surpassing genius, created people who could create such things as the computer, and that God granted me the resources to obtain one, and that God provided me a way to use it so that it blesses others and not just me, and that God may take it from me some day with a view to augmenting my joy in and dependence upon him. In other words, I can look at this computer from the perspective of the Spirit and see it as a means to rejoicing in God.

I believe that this basic choice lies before us in all things: nature, food, relationships, money, houses, cars, careers, achievements, fame, and the like. Will we rejoice in these things as an end in themselves, or will we see them as means to the end of rejoicing in God? Will we see these things and nothing more, or will we strive for eyes to see the glory of God in all things and worship him for what we see? Will we live for the joy we get from things and people, or will we live for the joy we get in God himself who freely gives us all things and people?

So, perhaps we can restate what Saint John said as follows: “To have God in everything a soul must have nothing ELSE BUT GOD in everything…” Oh Father, may you give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of you so that we, indeed, would have nothing else but you in everything.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Do Not Pray for Easy Lives

Somewhere along the way I picked up this quote from Phillip Brooks: “Do not pray for easy lives! Pray to be stronger men [and women]. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle.”
 
Several years ago, I was going through some difficult things, and though I don’t remember the exact words I used, I prayed and asked God to get me out of the situation. My sense of the Lord’s response was this: “I don’t want to get you out of this, I want to develop you in this.”
 
These words were comforting to me because what my heart was really longing to know was that God was with me and had not forsaken me. I remember thinking in those days, “If I know the Lord is near and his promises are mine, I can endure anything.”
 
And in time, the Lord did in fact shaped me through that situation. He developed my faith, my ability to persevere, my hope, my character, my ministry skills, my trust in the Word of God, my commitment to prayer, my willingness to seek and heed the wise counsel of others, and my ability to foresee and head off similar problems in the future. What I saw as a problem from which to flee, God saw as an opportunity in which to develop me and bless the people around me and glorify his name through me.
 
When we pray for the strength of the Lord instead of escape, when we pray for powers equal to our tasks rather than tasks equal to our powers, we give God the opportunity to show himself strong and gracious in our lives. And we do indeed become a means by which he displays his miracle working power, not to make much of us, but to make much of himself. “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 55:13).
 
So when adversity comes your way, learn to seek the Lord and his will for the situation rather than a way out of the situation. Learn to see every challenge as an opportunity to grow in faith and develop in character. Learn to embrace every difficulty, for through them God will glorify his great name through you as you trust in his promises.