Dead Men, Made New

As Christians, we have been made new. We are new creations 2 Corinthians 5:17, remade by our connection to Christ in his death and resurrection Romans 6:3-7. For each change to our being, there is a corresponding action we should perform, and I wrote the following to represent that idea lyrically.

You who have new hearts, love the Lord.
You who have new ears, hear the Lord.
You who have new minds, ponder the Lord.
You who have new tongues, praise the Lord.
You who have new eyes, behold the Lord.
You who have new wills, serve the Lord.

Anointed but Not Yet King

Have you ever noticed when David was anointed to be king? He was a boy, sure, but where does that even fall in his personal timeline?

David, the “Someday” King

Samuel went to anoint the successor to Saul in chapter 16 of 1 Samuel, and God led him to David, the youngest and least outwardly impressive of Jesse’s sons. Not long after that Saul recruited David to calm his spirit with a harp–not knowing who David was. Then came Goliath, and after that David had military success and earned fame as a warrior. Then Saul became jealous and chased David around, trying to kill him.

(David still hadn’t become the king at this point, just in case you were wondering)

After more chases, narrow escapes, and opportunities to kill Saul that David refused to seize, Saul finally died in battle. David was enthroned as king of two of the tribes of Israel–but one of Saul’s sons became the king of the other ten tribes. A power struggle ensued, and after some more time passed and more blood was shed, David finally realized in full the promise he received so many years ago as a boy.

Wow. It sort of seems like God had his timing off on that anointing, right? Wasn’t it a little premature?

Waiting for the Kingdom

Do you see it yet?

There is a parallel between David’s experience and our own as believers in Christ.

  • David was promised a kingdom and rights to go along with that kingdom like freedom and authority. Yet David spent many years without receiving that kingdom or the benefits that would accompany it.
    • We have been promised a kingdom as well, and while in one sense we are already experiencing it (God does rule in our hearts), in another sense so much of that promise is not yet fulfilled (as it will be in heaven).
  • David not only had to wait, he was persecuted while he waited. People threatened him and kept him from living a “normal life.”
    • We often suffer as well, groaning under the weight of sin and the oppression of the world.
  • David served the kingdom of another in the meantime, playing the harp to soothe Saul and killing Saul’s enemies in battle.
    • We spend much of our time on this earth contributing to kingdoms that won’t last–kingdoms that will be displaced by the kingdom we’ve been promised.

Trusting the Promise

Though the promise came years before the fulfillment, God’s timing wasn’t off for David–and it isn’t off for us either. Just like the first arrival of Jesus, which came in the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), the second coming of Christ that brings the fulfillment of all our hopes will come at the perfect time.

Don’t lose heart. When life is hard and painful, when you grow weary of serving human institutions or authorities, remember his promise to you, which is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). David had to wait to receive what was promised to him as well, but when the time was right, God fulfilled that promise–the same is true for you. God is not slow; he is patient (2 Peter 3:9).

Trust him.

Why You Need to Preach the Gospel to Yourself in Good Times

We are generally well acquainted, I think, with the fact that we need to saturate our souls with truth when we walk through a trial. Passages like Romans 8:28-32 and Philippians 3:8-11 or Philippians 3:17-21 help us to remember the great promises God has made us and the glorious context that surrounds this “momentary, light affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

But we also need to ponder gospel truths when life is good–when blessings flow freely and joy abounds. Unfortunately, it can be just as hard to speak the truth we need to hear when times are good as it is to do so when times are hard. Our hearts become wrapped up in what we are feeling and neglect to call to mind what we know.

Don’t Miss the Chance to Worship in Spirit and Truth

Our first motivation for speaking truth to our souls in the midst of happiness or blessing is true worship. I know I’m not the most emotional person, but I think I can safely assume that most people are not in ecstatic emotional bliss frequently. When we are enraptured by something, whether it is good fortune, great food, or glorious sex, we have an opportunity to connect that joy stemming from the gift with the Giver–an opportunity to praise God with the engine of our hearts already in overdrive.

Blessings are a tremendous opportunity. If we let that opportunity slip by without reminding ourselves that God’s goodness was behind the blessing, we not only miss out on a chance to worship with our hearts engaged but also miss the point. All of the beauty and goodness in creation points us to the Author, the source of all beauty and goodness–the one who is Beauty and Goodness capitalized (James 1:17).

Moments of great joy offer us an ideal opportunity to worship God in spirit (with our emotions blazing) and truth (with the right view of his gifts). God wants that for us (John 4:23-24).

Don’t Ride the Wave–Hang from Heaven

Failing to give God the worship he desires should grieve us if we love our Lord and Savior–but the consequences of not preaching truth extend farther than that. When we don’t remember the gospel and God’s great love for us while things are going well, we are almost certainly headed for discouragement or discontent as soon as our circumstances change. We’re simply riding the wave of the moment, and when life crashes on the beach, so will we.

By lifting our eyes in the midst of blessing to consider the God who sent the blessing, we are connecting our ecstatic feelings to something bigger than our circumstances. It strengthens our faith and hangs our joy in heaven, so that when the wave of life crashes on the shore we will not fall.

The Subtle Danger

Despair is a pretty obvious pitfall. That doesn’t make it easier to correct, but we generally recognize the danger and know it when we see it.

Circumstantial joy is trickier. It is a good thing, a gift from God. But like so many gifts from God in this fallen world, it can be twisted into temptation. The danger is subtle, like a sharp rocks hiding beneath the surface of a lake.

I don’t want to kill your joy, or make you less enthusiastic when joy comes. But your joy will flame out if it is merely circumstantial. Savor every uplifting surge of delight, and let it lift you up to God–the greater joy. The greatest joy.

When You Trust the Power But Not the Love

I’ve always been pretty hard on Israel during their forty years in the desert. How thick do you have to be to see God send plagues that harm your enemies and leave you unscathed, produce water from solid rock, and split the Red Sea in two so you can walk across? How could they not believe?

But I noticed recently that Israel was paying closer attention than I thought–and that I’m more like them than I care to admit.

Two Kinds of Doubt

In Exodus 16, mere chapters after God opened a path through the Red Sea, Israel begins complaining about their lack of food. They say,

Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger (Exodus 16:3).

Moses rightly points out that even though they address their complaint to him and Aaron, they are really complaining to God (verse eight). And notice that they do not question God’s ability to provide food for them. They do not question God’s power–in fact, in the middle of their complaint is an indirect mention of God’s power, when they say they were “brought out.” I don’t think this is an instance of Israel having short-term memory loss. Instead of doubting God’s power, they are doubting his character.

Both the Ability and the Desire

It is not enough to believe in God’s power; you also have to believe that God is good. If you lack faith in God in either area, you will despair (as Israel did here) or try to save yourself instead of trusting God to save you or cling to that thing God is asking you to give up.

I am reminded of Hebrews 11:6:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

You must believe that God exists–that he is God, which implies his divine power–and that he rewards those who seek him–that he responds with goodness to those who seek him.

These two forms of doubt lie at the heart of sin. If you doubt God’s power, you will think you are on your own–that God can’t really help you, even though he is well-intentioned and would like to help you. If you doubt God’s goodness, you will know God is mighty enough to carry out his will, but you will doubt that his will is good (which makes God little better than Satan, a powerful but ill-intentioned enemy of humanity).

I remember struggling to surrender my future spouse to God because I feared if I said I would marry anyone he wanted he would ask me to marry the most horrible, ugly woman alive. I was doubting his goodness, and if he had asked me to do something related to finding a spouse (like “Go here and you’ll find the right woman”) I would have disobeyed because I thought I could pick a spouse that would please me better than God could.

So the Israelites deserve the same lack of credit here that we deserve. They weren’t thick-headed brick-layers who forgot about a miracle five minutes after they saw it. They were men and women who, though they knew God was almighty, struggled to believe God’s promise that he loved them and intended good for them.

Two Motivations for Holiness

I listened this morning to a sermon by Jim Essian, the pastor at a local church. His sermon was focused on the subject of beauty–what it is, why it exists, and why we are drawn to and revel in it. In the end, he said that we delight in beauty because we were created for it by God, and that God created us for beauty because “from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36).

As he got into the heart of that idea, he referenced the idea of “the dance of God,” which Timothy Keller has developed at length based on many of the teachings of Jonathon Edwards and C.S. Lewis (see chapter 14 of The Reason for God). This is the idea that God has eternally existed as a selfless, loving community–that each member of the Trinity is centered on and makes much of the other members and not himself. The offer of salvation is an offer to join that dance, to revel in the beauty of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, and to love both God and others more than we love ourselves.

Tell the Truth

As I sat listening to the message and thinking about it afterward, I thought that there are several motivations for holiness that we can derive from this idea of the dance of God.

First, if we delight in the glory and beauty of Father, Son, and Spirit, we should be horrified by the thought that our actions or words would lie about that glory and that beauty. We need to tell the truth about God’s glory. When we sin, we say that God is not most glorious; we say that greater delight can be found in the creation than in the Creator.

Not only does this dishonor the God whom we love, it also leads others astray. Those around us see our behavior and our words, and the message communicated to them is that God is not most glorious or delightful. God is not a limited resource that we need to hoard for ourselves–he is limitless, abounding to all who desire him.

Keep Your Glory Receiver Clean

A second, very pragmatic motivation for holiness is our own satisfaction.

As I listened to the sermon, I got in my head a picture of God the Father circling around Jesus in the dance, exalting him and delighting in his glory, while Jesus danced around the Spirit, gesturing toward and singing about the perfect work the Spirit does, and the Spirit slips between and around them both–all three ever-moving, never ceasing to uplift and enjoy the other members.

And then I imagined myself entering that dance, reveling in the pure glory surrounding me. What a sensory bliss? Can you imagine the overload of being immersed in the beauty radiating from our God? Can you see it in your mind?

Now imagine being there, in the midst of that, and being desensitized to it. Imagine all of that beauty not moving your heart because of your sin.

What a grievous thought! What a tragedy to be invited to join the most beautiful thing in the universe and then stunt your own ability to appreciate it!

Morphine prevents us from feeling pain by attaching to our pain receptors, which then prevents those receptors from receiving the body’s message (since I’m no expert, check this article for some of the science). Basically, your receptors get filled up with morphine and block the pain from being received.

When we sin, we are worshiping wrongly, attributing glory to things other than God. We are filling our glory and beauty receptors with the creation, which inhibits our ability to sense the glory and beauty of the Creator.

You’ve been invited to be part of the most glorious relationship there is–don’t throw it in the mud, in your eyes or the eyes of others, and don’t prevent yourself from being able to truly experience the glory of it. Pursue holiness, and enjoy God more.

No Side Bets

Sorry for the absence. I can make all of the busy-life, something-had-to-give excuses that everyone else can make, but I still left you hanging without an explanation. I apologize for that. I trust that God blessed you with truth through other means in our absence.

The Game of Life

Much of my thoughts lately have been directed toward intentional living–investing my time and resources well. Michael Hyatt’s book Creating Your Personal Life Plan, which has been a valuable source of insight and guidance, talks about viewing the areas of life as accounts. Each account has its own balance, and you have to allocate your resources in each account according to their priority level.

I’ve had to question and reevaluate certain accounts where I’ve over-invested, usually because I’m too concerned with my own desires, needs, and interests. By God’s grace, I’ve sacrificed some things, some weights that were slowing me down (Hebrews 12:1-2)–some of them for a season, others for the long-run. But I’m still left asking myself hard questions, like, “Why haven’t I shared the gospel with my neighbor yet? Why haven’t I asked him if he has a church to go to?”

I think part of it is a lack of faith. Do I feel confident that Christ is the only hope? Do I believe that he needs Jesus more than anything?

And that train of though leads me to the even more thorny question: “Could it be that I don’t feel confident enough to assert that Christ is his only hope because I am harboring other hopes?”

Paul said in 1Corinthians 15 that if Christ only benefits us in this life that we are the most pitiable people on earth. We should be living life in such a way that people who think this life is all there is find us sad and pathetic. If I have doubts about whether the Bible is the absolute truth, if I question whether hell or heaven is the end destination of every person on earth, I’ll probably find I’m hedging my bet. If life is a casino, I’m putting most of my chips on Jesus–but just in case, I’m going to try to enjoy this life when I can.

That’s a dangerous train of thought–one I fear has crept into my heart and mind. It needs to be exorcised. We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24)–either we are slaves of Jesus who live completely for him and trust him to take care of our needs and our happiness or we are slaves to our own desires, slaves to sin.

That doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong if you are happy–on the contrary, I think Christians are to be marked by their joy. But if take away eternity, the life of a Christian should have all the air let out of it. It should be meaningless, pointless, pitiable. I’m not sure that is as true for me as it should be. How about you?

Holy Like a Hero

Lately I’ve been reading The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul. I had my reservations prior to reading it. Something along the lines of, “A whole book on God’s holiness? Sheesh! He’s probably going to emphasize how majestic God is and how pitiful we are for 15 or more chapters. I think I’ll pass.”

It was a judgement on my part and an ignorant judgement at that. This book is wonderful, and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to be renewed in their mind and challenged in their spiritual growth.

I’ve been exposed in the past to poor teaching on the holiness of God that has left a bad taste in my mouth. Sermons or books or quotes or blogs that emphasize only how rotten man is and how much God hates our rottenness and demands our change. The banging of this particular drum over and over has tempted me to push aside the holiness of God for attributes that I feel give me more hope.

The long landslide away that I am from holiness and the perpetual pounding of the standard of perfection has at times provoked me to flee to God’s love as if His love and holiness are mutually exclusive. This was just a misunderstanding and ignorant reaction on my part, and I’m grateful to begin discovering the truth.

There’s a bridge in Jesus that makes God’s holiness a beauty beyond compare and FULL of hope for the believer. The word “holy,” Sproul states in his book (Chapter 3, p37-38), is the idea of “separate,” or “to separate.” Sproul expounds that holiness is an otherness, something apart from everything else, a cut above. And because God is infinite, God is infinitely a cut above all other life.

This is a blessing which I won’t be able to get into here and now. But quite simply the fact that God is holy and a cut above all other life is part of what makes Him able and willing to save mankind from sin and death. The fact that God is holy and apart distinguishes Him as the only one who can rescue us from our plight, our hurt, our evil. And the fact that God is holy, means that, unlike man, He is willing and eager to save someone else at His own personal cost.

Holiness marks God as exclusive, standing alone and apart. It’s the trait all great heroes reflect. They’re not like us or else they’d be in our same danger. Something sets a hero aside as the one who can turn the tables.

This is our God. Holy.

Drawing Enemy Fire Away

Have you ever wished you could draw the spiritual fire away from someone? You witness someone under attack in their life, situation and circumstances crumbling them, and you wish you could take the hit for them or at least lead the enemy away from the wounded.

I felt burdened that way recently watching a trial unfold in the life of a beloved friend. There’s that “want to take it away” feeling in the pit of your stomach or the aching of the heart over circumstances that can only change for the good when God intervenes.

But I find when there’s opportunity to encourage and strengthen, it is effective to war against the enemy. We can’t go at it alone. Sooner or later in our struggle to live life, and especially if we’re following Jesus, we’ll need help. We’ll drop our guard, we’ll lose a piece of armor, we’ll grow fainthearted, we’ll forget why we’re here.

In those moments, I’m so grateful for those that come and remind me that following Jesus’ commands and loving Him more than our own life isn’t in vain. I have been revived by the words of a friend, “Keep running! This suffering has meaning. It will lead to glory.” And I have come to treasure the hand of a friend at my back from time to time that will not let me quit.

Paul describes the loving push we should give one another like this, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

We can’t necessarily draw enemy fire away from the suffering, but we can run with the weary and carry the weak. It’s a privilege we should actively look for and wholeheartedly bless.

Nothing to Lose

Every now and then I find myself suddenly hoarding. It starts with little things like the decision to avoid my neighbor because I’d rather not get into a lengthy chat–it’s hot outside and um, I have dishes to do. Then it moves to deciding not to give anything to the homeless man or skipping by the obviously lonely widow who needs company.

From there it spirals into impatient tirades in my own head about people’s neediness, exasperation with the next baby shower or graduation or birthday that rolls around. And pretty soon, I’m a tangled mess of selfish sighs and groans.

“It’s always another thing!” I’ll grunt. I’ll begin to list the friends I haven’t kept up with, the family I haven’t seen, the letters I should send and phone calls I should make. All a litany of obligations that I pile up to justify my bad attitude. The more impossible I make things seem to myself, the less I feel responsible to keep giving–or guilty if I don’t.

I recently read Paul’s commendation of the Colossian church, however, and was humbled to see the answer. He writes, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:3-5).

Pretty simple. the people in the church of Colossae were famous for their faith in Christ and their love for others because of the hope laid up for them in heaven.

That will cut through the hoarding. So often I find myself withdrawing from, sighing over, and avoiding opportunities to give because I forget that my hope is secure in heaven…I have nothing to lose. In refusing to give to others, I falsely believe that I must take care of myself and secure small spots of protected rest, money, free time, and convenience. I want to protect what is mine.

Yet what is mine is secure in Christ and laid up in heaven. I desire to be like the Colossian believers whose security of heaven was so sure that they spent themselves for the faith and for others knowing they had nothing to lose.

It will counter the flesh and feel unnatural. But heaven allows us to spend every last drop we have for others without losing a thing. Just like Jesus did for us.

Comfort or HONESTY

[This is a guest post from JJ Whiting, brother of Ben. He is a student, photographer, writer, and lover of Jesus.]

These are two things I think most people yearn for. However, put “comfort” and “honesty” together in a sentence and they often clash. Let me explain.

When each of us was conceived in our mother’s womb, we were born with a sinful nature. Our flesh and heart only wanted to do evil continually (Gen. 6:5). We erected idols, lied, lusted and/or coveted; we essentially rebelled against our Maker with every action. That is, until salvation was given to us and we were born again. Now we are called to be sons and daughters of love and the light (1 Jn. 3:5, Eph. 5:8, 1 Th. 5:5), to have no other gods before the true One (Ex. 30:3), and to imitate our Creator (Eph. 5:1-2). We should tear down idols, have constant and unrestrained joy, tell the truth, desire God and His Word; obeying the Lord in all we do.

Unfortunately, we were also born with a want for comfort. Not only physically, emotionally and mentally, but also spiritually. I think all of us have the fear of man to some degree, so we tend to put on a mask to gain the approval of others. Sometimes we are willing to make certain sacrifices just to gain respect. Isn’t it interesting how much we, as people, love comfort – and yet will go many lengths to protect our sins from being exposed?

Why is that? Why do we become so secretive about the things we struggle with? Why is it Adam and Eve hid from God after they bit into the fruit and their eyes were opened? Why is it Abram lied about Sarai being his wife instead of simply trusting God to protect their lives? Why is it David was willing to commit adultery, have a man murdered, and then try to cover it up? Why is it when we gossip, break something we borrow, look at pornography, falsely accuse someone (the list goes on), we make excuses and act as if we are perfect when everyone knows we’re not?

Here’s something to consider: Jesus came to propitiate the Father’s wrath and die for the sins of the world both before and after He came. The sins we do now or in the future have already been accounted for. No matter what the sin is, Jesus Christ died for it. So why should we be afraid to confess our faults? Why should we be afraid that our family, friends or pastor might not forgive us when God, the Holy One, has already done that very same thing?

I think if we could simply wrap our mind around this and embrace honesty more often than comfort, it would cause us to become better followers of Christ.