A Reformed church
worshipping the triune God of grace,
discipling the community of grace, and 
reaching the lost with the gospel of grace.

Sunday Morning:

  Coffee & Fellowship: 10:30

   Sunday School: 11:00

   Sunday Worship: 12:15

For by grace you have been saved through faith. 

And this is not your own doing;

it is the gift of God, not a result of works,

so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

Our Pastor's Pen

These are the writings of Pastor Zech Schiebout.  Originally, he wrote them for our Worship Service bulletin, but now they can be shared past the doors of our local church.  His most current writing is featured at the top, unless it is part of a series.  If in a series, it will be posted under the previous one to make reading easier.


Christ-less Christian Service

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village.  And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving.  And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”—Luke 10:38-42

At first glance we might think the comparison of the text is between rest and workaholism, which, if this were the case, would suggest we must rest frequently.  But Jesus has something else in mind.  The comparison drawn in this text is between two Christians, one of whom believes Christianity is primarily about resting in Jesus’ work on her behalf (Mary), and the other who believes Christianity is mainly about the work she must do on behalf of Jesus (Martha).  And in case we wonder which option better, Jesus removes all doubt, “…one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  Martha had turned into a mess.  We frequently live likewise: “Don’t be a Martha” is common parlance.  Thank God the text highlights what went wrong so we can escape the life of an angry busy-body.  Notice three things about Martha’s problem: The signs that Martha has a problem, the source of Martha’s problem, and the cure for Martha’s problem.    

      We begin with five signs (indicators) of Martha-like living: distractedness, anger, manipulation, loneliness, and emptiness.

      The first sign: Martha was distracted (v. 40).  The word distracted means, “pulled away from a reference point.”[1]  Martha’s priorities were out of whack, or, as we like to say, “Martha was majoring in the minors.”  Jesus Christ was the reference point, the central focus, the one on whom both ladies should have concentrated, but Martha’s service pulled her away.  No doubt Martha was busy, probably making food for 15 people (the “they” in v. 38 means the 12 disciples were likely in the home too).  She was cranked to the max: The lasagna was burning, the cookies were smoking, the fridge door was left open because while grabbing the milk from the fridge it slipped out of her hand, so she began to clean it up until she realized the spilt milk was her last, so she ran out into the yard to milk the cow, and when she re-emerged the burnt food was now cold because the fire died out, so it had to be re-heated, and as she pulled the plates out of the cupboard, one fell and broke, and to top it all off she was one fork short.  And Mary sat on her duff before Jesus.  Martha was irked. 

      A reference point is like a gas station to a vehicle on a cross-country trip.  Travel too far away from the gas station and the car will “break down.”  Most of us schedule gas stops into our travels, making sure our vehicle is never too far from a reference point, but do we schedule Jesus into our daily life?    Do you live most of your life away from Jesus, our reference point?  Do you sacrifice time with the Lord in order to work unnecessarily long hours, or to put perfectionistic touches on a meal, or to browse the internet for just five (plus fifty) more minutes, or to do any other activity which you believe must be done, but in reality does not need to be done?  If so, you are distracted.   

      The second sign: Martha was angry.  Her question betrays her anger, for from the way the question is worded in the original we know Martha expected Jesus to answer, “Yes.”  “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”  Martha expected Jesus to say, “Oh, you poor dear, of course I care!  I will send Mary to help you immediately.”  Martha did not ask an open ended question; she used a rhetorical question to express her anger, anger which came out in the next phrase: “Tell her then to help me!” 

      Martha’s attitude in her service gives every Christian reason for pause.  When we serve others, do we become irritated with them?  When you pick up after your husband or your wife, do you become angry with them?  When you clean-up after people, do you murmur angrily under your breath, “Man, I wish they would stop making such a mess!”  Or when you work to support your family, are you angry at your wife and children if they don’t thank you?  If you are angry in these situations, then you are no different than Martha.       

      The third sign: Martha was manipulative.  Martha did not allow Mary to prioritize her own life; instead, Martha demanded that Mary change her priorities to match hers.  Marthas will not allow others to decide their priorities; Marthas are controlling and demanding, and those closest to them must shift priorities at a moment’s notice.  If a Martha volunteers, everyone has to volunteer; if a Martha cooks perfect meals, everyone must cook perfect meals; if a Martha works long hours, everyone must work long hours.  Simply put, we are Marthas if, in our distracted busyness, we demand that others make our priorities their priorities. 

      The fourth sign: Martha was lonely.  “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Martha had an Elijah complex: “I alone am left, woe is me!  If I died, there would be none to carry on the work.  Everything depends upon me; everything rests upon me.”  Sometimes it is good to take a step back from our labor and see how small it really is.  The world will go on just fine without us.  We are expendable, no matter what we think.  Our children will grow up whether or not we are alive; the industry in which we work will hardly notice our death; and the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ will continue to be built long after we decease.  If, in our service, we feel an incredible loneliness, like no one else can keep up with us, or like no one else can accomplish what we can, or like we alone are God’s gift to productivity and godliness, then we are Marthas, plain and simple.  And it should not surprise us if we are all alone in our service.  If we choose to run through life at 90 mph, then there will probably not be very many people close to us. 

      The fifth sign: Martha was empty.  “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.”  She needed approval and affirmation for her work.  She needed someone to watch her work.  Her work was not for others, but for herself; not about serving others, but about the praise of others.  If you cannot joyfully serve without a “Thank you”, and if you grow angrier at those who refuse to notice and praise your work, and if you grow depressed when no one compliments your work, then you are not serving Christ, you are serving your own ego.  You are trying to fill up the emptiness inside with the praise of men.  You are a Martha. 

      Now for the source of Martha’s problem: Over-commitment.  “Martha welcomed Jesus into her house” (v. 38).  Jesus’ visit was probably announced beforehand by His disciples, as was His custom (Luke 9:52; 10:1; 22:8), so Martha had plenty of time to prepare.  But if she did not have time to prepare, she could have said, “No, but I will arrange for someone else to host You.”   This, I believe, is the crux and core of Martha’s problem: she could not say, “No.”  Marthas fear letting others down, so they over-commit.  Does this describe you, dear Christian?  Are you over-committed?  Are you over-stressed, anxious, angry, manipulative, and demanding of others that they make your priorities theirs, all the time?  Are you unable to say “No” for fear of letting down others?  Do you have too many things on your plate, none of which you can accomplish without losing your patience and looking down your nose?  Is your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in shambles because you are too busy to spend time with Him?  Is your marriage falling apart, or is your relationship with your children less than it should be, because you work or recreate (sports; gym-time; guy-time; television; internet) too much? Then you are over-committed like Martha, and need to scale-back.   

      And now for the cure.  For starters, believer, you must know that God already approves of you in Jesus Christ: You can stop trying to earn it.  God does not love you more because of your service to Him.  He loves you because He served You by giving the life of His Son as a ransom.  God’s love and acceptance of you is not based upon how many meals you bake for the neighbors, how many committees you serve on at church, how many folks you host at your house, or how many hours you volunteer for the local shelter.  If it were, then Martha would be a godly pattern for living.  

      You must also know, believer, that Jesus Christ could have taken Martha’s words upon His own lips to condemn her.  Try it out.  Imagine if Jesus had repeated back to Martha what she said to Him, “Martha, don’t you care that you have left Me to serve alone?  Get to work helping Me!  Martha, don’t you care that I alone have to pay for your sins?  Don’t you care that you are not going to hang on the Cross of Calvary?  Don’t you care that you are not pulling your own weight?  Don’t you care that I alone—alone—am doing for you what you could never do for yourself?  Don’t you care, Martha?”  If Jesus had said that, I think Martha would have taken a seat next to Mary, apologized to Jesus, and worshiped Him with tears.  Martha’s words could not have been more true for Jesus.  He was the one who had every right to be angry with those He came to serve, but He was not; Jesus had every right to be distracted from His work, but He remained focused; Jesus could have railed against Martha that her priorities were backwards, but He refrained; Jesus had every right to complain about loneliness, but He did not; and Jesus could have declared no one noticed the significance of His work, but He was silent.  Jesus’ labor was not small; the world would not have gone on fine without Him; the work He came to accomplish was not expendable; and on the Cross He alone was all alone: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” 

      Jesus Christ’s work for you, believer, is the reference point which you must focus on, cling to, and stay nearby.  If you lose Him, you have nothing left; if you stray from His work on your behalf, your work on His behalf will become an empty enslavement.  Until Christianity is more about Christ and His work for us than about Christians and our work for him, we will live like Martha: distracted, angry, manipulative, lonely, and empty.  Are you more concerned with what you do for Jesus Christ than with what Jesus Christ has done for you?  Pause; breathe; relax.  Sit at His feet.  Listen to His teaching.  Worship Him.  And when you rise up, having been filled with His love for you, work hard.  If you have been filled with Him, you will notice something different about your work.  Even in the most stressful times, your work will become strangely joyous and fulfilling.  That is the difference between working in order to gain praise and acceptance, and working because you have already been praised and accepted by God.  A subtle distinction, isn’t it?  Nearly akin to hair-splitting?  Maybe so, unless you have experienced the difference, and if you have, you realize it is no subtlety, but something you can no longer live without, at least not peacefully so.    

[1] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd Edition, (BDAG), p. 804.

The Church’s Solemn Testimony

I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God—Acts 20:24

Since the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles, Christ Himself being the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20), we are called to the same ministry as that of Paul: to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.    

      It is no secret that the church of decades past equated Christianity with a political party, a social issue, and/or prohibited forms of entertainment.  Rather than using the Bible to testify to the gospel, the church used it to testify to her local hot-button topic.  The Bible, then, became the sourcebook for information on how everyone we disliked ought to live.  Before long, as you can imagine, hearts grew cold, and belief and unbelief were no longer determined by faith in Jesus Christ but by nicotine, cards, and television.   

      This is not to declare moral issues unimportant.  Being good stewards of our bodies and time is necessary, especially if we believe—and we do—that God desires we glorify Him every second.  However, these issues are secondary to the gospel of God’s grace, the good news that Jesus Christ has died for sinners.  For this message there has never been, is not, and never will be a suitable substitute.  Churches have no business allowing men to preach “Christ Republicanized” or “Christ Democratized” in public worship—vote your conscience, only make sure you have searched the Scriptures for wisdom.  Nor do churches fulfill their ministry if they allow mere public speakers to preach “Christ Nice-ified” to itching ears.  There is nothing “Nice” about the Crucifixion, and becoming a nice person will not merit you heaven.  Nice is a personality trait—plenty of nice non-Christians will spend their eternity wishing they had repented of their niceness.  And if entertainment is all we seek, stay home.  The church, for the most part, is a lousy entertainer. 

      We might sum-up the church’s ministry with the pithy phrase placarded just below the pulpit microphone in a Presbyterian church outside La Porte, IN: “Sir, we would see Jesus.”  None but the pastor could see the placard, but all could tell if he obeyed.  The job of preaching is to throw hearts and souls off the cliff of self-sufficiency into the blood-stained hands of our sufficient Savior.  Hearts need melting, souls need feeding, consciences need soothing, and lives need mending.  Those afflicted need comfort, and those comfortable in their sins and unbelief need affliction.  What frail sinners need portrayed before their very eyes is Jesus Christ crucified (Gal. 3:1), and when that Savior is lifted up in our churches, He will draw all men to himself.       

      This is no seminary course in ministry; this involves our everyday witness to the world.  If we spend the bulk of our witness condemning men, they will condemn us; yell at them and they will yell back; rant and they will rave.  But testify to the good news of God’s grace, and the Holy Spirit may change them without another word.  Tell them with all seriousness that the sacrificed Savior will pay for their wretched sins if only they believe.  Tell them God has provided a way back to the Father in Christ.  Tell them…they know not what they need, but we know!  They may not want to hear it, or they may think the message weak, but tell them anyway, and pray God overwhelm their pride with His weakness.  It is the crucified Christ of which men need to hear, so let us not distort the message. 

      My fellow Christians, the churches of Dachau and Auschwitz abide continually, testifying to the gospel of godly living—which is no gospel at all.  And in these concentration churches you will find dead and dying sinners starved, emaciated, and whittled to the bone.  They probably don’t know why they starve.  Here is why: our godly living is not the gospel, it is merely the gospel’s fruit.  May it be said, today and ever after, that Gospel of Grace Church and her every member testifies to the gospel of God’s grace—the good news of a Gift, neatly packaged in the broken body and shed blood of the Trinity’s 2nd Person.  To do otherwise is to starve the world of the only message which can feed their souls.  Are you feeding on the gospel?  Then share the meal.   

Missing Jesus in Religion

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”  And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings?  There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”—Mark 13:1-2

Picture yourself walking on a 34 acre, man-made mountain consisting of stones 40 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 10 feet thick, and surrounded by walls 1 mile in perimeter.  And then as you focus your gaze upon Jesus, you catch a glimpse of the Herodian Temple in all its spendor—17 stories of ornate grandeur, and as long and wide.  Had we been standing with the disciples in the Temple court our lips would have uttered a similar redundancy.  The stones and buildings of the temple mount were magnificent, to say the least, and all was built without cranes and electricity.   

      But Jesus, knowing our propensity to worship religious beauty, interrupts the disciple’s idolatry with a prophecy about A.D. 70, the year Titus would waltz into Jerusalem and leave the city and Temple in shambles.  What was Jesus doing?  Jesus was warning us of the danger of enthroning religious symbols and relics in our hearts at the expense of Jesus Himself.  You see, while the disciples marveled at the Temple, the reality to which the Temple pointed stood right in front of them.  God had finally and permanently “Templed” among His people in the Person of Jesus Christ, but even to His closest friends, Herod’s Temple appeared more glorious than God’s Temple, just as Isaiah foretold (Isa. 53:2).  Jesus’ glory was concealed by ordinary flesh; Jesus was concealed in the scenery of ordinary religious life.   

      It is a heart-wrenching reality that oftentimes the religious institutions and practices designed to lead us into closer communion with Christ actually take our gaze off Him.  We marvel at eloquently spoken prayers and strive to impress God with our own fluency, and so we spend our prayers marveling at our prayers, and missing Christ altogether.  We are impressed with well-bound Bibles in the perfect translation, and so we spend our time admiring the book itself and acclaiming the English translators, but soon our soul atrophies because the Altogether Lovely vanishes from our Bibles.  We might even adore corporate worship and the fellowship of the saints, and so we gaze upon the beauty of our order of worship and the gathered saints, and suddenly our soul-nourishing worship and fellowship are dismantled one stone after the next, until our Sunday routine becomes absent spiritual power altogether.  It happens so subtly we seldom notice, but our heart feels the effects.  As soon as we substitute the worship of beautiful things designed to display God’s glory for the worship of God, we commence down the destructive path of worshiping beauty, and soon enough, since beauty cannot withstand the weight of worship, beauty grows ugly and we are left in a world of ugliness—with a ruined Temple and a devastated landscape.   

      There is only one way to avoid the horrendous pain of a life fraught with idolatry: find Jesus Christ.  You might have a hard time seeing Him, but see him we must.  He likely will not appear the most beautiful option, the most entertaining choice, or the most aesthetically pleasing piece.  He probably will not jump out at you on the pages of the Scripture, and He might be hidden behind all the earthly blessings (house, family, career, health) for which you thank God in prayer.  He might appear inconsequential and even needless during your week, and the way in which we must enthrone Him may appear inapplicable.  We Americans demand our religion as our coffee: Instant and easily accessible.  But since Jesus does not come “Instant” or in accessible, individual packets, you might find fellowship with Him time-consuming and awkward.   

      But my brothers and sisters, Jesus is well-worth our time.  The glory of Christ is that God’s beauty has become accessible to us, touchable and visible.  Don’t let this accessibility sour His taste.  Jesus Christ is sweet and altogether lovely.  His Person is beautiful to gaze upon.  No longer do we go to a beautiful building to deal with our sins; now we go to a Person.  Gaze upon His Cross-hung body, and your desire to worship prayer, worship, fellowship, and church buildings will fade.  

The Price of Our Peace

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ—Romans 5:1

It was said of former U.S. President, Dwight Eisenhower, that during the stress of D-Day preparations he smoked four packs of cigarettes a day and slept as many hours.  This is to say nothing of the Riveting Rosies who labored long in factory and home, and the soldiers who found themselves stressed-out by the prospect of meeting their last bullet.  In war there is no relaxation, no rest, no carefree moments.  All is edgy; tensions are high; people live on “point.”

      Squaring off against fellow flesh is intimidating, especially if the odds are stacked against you.  I cannot wait to ask David what ran through the back of his mind once he arrived face-to-face (or face to knee) with giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17:48), carrying five stones and a leather strap.  “LORD, I have no idea why I grabbed five stones.  I’m gonna fling this first stone about 80mph with my scrawny arm, but if You don’t land it in the right spot, I’ll be finished and will have no need of the other four!”  That might have crossed his mind. 

      But Goliath was merely a man who could destroy David’s body.  God can destroy both body and soul in hell, so war with Him has infinitely greater stakes.  The unrest of being at war with the God of your oxygen, the God of your heartbeats, and the God of your brain activity is nerve-wracking.  Since there is no possibility of victory for one at war with the Christian God, there is no peace.  As long as God remains your enemy, and as long as you intend to war with Him in your own strength, you lose, and will lose always. 

      But the Apostle introduces a drastic remedy into the equation of our strife with God.  He calls it being justified by faith through Jesus Christ.  Who could have imagined such a notion?  Being justified is peace with God: the battle is over, the treaty signed, the rebuilding begun.  Being justified means God on our side, God for us, God with us.  Much more than a cease-fire, God has entered into our country and into our hearts by the power of His rebuilding Holy Spirit.  All the damage which sin and Satan had caused is overturned with a clear conscience and love for God.  The massive rebuilding of post-W.W.II Germany and Japan pales in comparison to the godly life being built-up within each Christian.  If we had eyes to see the scope of God’s work in us, we might hasten His work by casting off our sins and praying for an increase of grace and the Holy Spirit.

      Now comes the sobering part of our peace with God.  Our peace came at a price.  The battlefield of our peace has many names: the Skull, Golgatha, Calvary, Crucifixion Hill.  If you go there today no trace of battle-wrought blood remains, but it was spilt.  God warred against His own Son and God won; so did His Son; so did we.  Jesus Christ lost His Father’s peace so we could attain peace; He took heaven’s bullets in our stead.  You should have seen it; you can still read about it.  Never before and never since has such a momentous battle ensued in all creation.  The lines were drawn, the sides were taken.  All was quite on the battlefront until the moment God’s Son became His Enemy.  And then it happened.  It was more than a chest wound, and it took off more than a limb.  It was more painful than amputation, and more devastating than decapitation.  In the longest hours known to man, when even New York’s minute slowed, Heaven’s Judge unleashed hell from all sides.  The canons of Battleship Justice smoked black; artillery shells bombarded; not a one missed target.  What must it have felt like?  What must it have been like?  A bullet for every sin.  We will never know.  Thank God Almighty we never will.  Now, having been justified, we have peace with God, but forget not your peace came at a price.  Some men die for just causes; Jesus Christ died for your cause.   Some men pay the price for freedom; Jesus Christ paid for your freedom.  Some men suffer the casualty of war; Jesus Christ suffered the casualty of your war—He paid at the Cross for the fight we picked in Eden.  Savor your peace; it was an expensive war.

Yes, It Is Really Finished

It is finished—John 19:30

The sun rose about 8:15am that Friday morning in early April.  Each year about this time, hundreds of thousands of Israelites who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem entered the city for Passover.  On the East side of Jerusalem, Israel’s emblematic Passover lamb, which was brought into Jerusalem earlier in the week, was nearing the end of its animal life.  Throughout the week the lamb was scrupulously examined by the religious authorities, and, in accordance with Passover customs, if no fault was found with the lamb, it would be “staked” to the altar of burnt offering in the Temple court by 9am on Friday.  The Jews were very familiar with the procedure by now; after all, they had been celebrating the Passover for at least 1300 years (Exodus 12), and though slight changes had been introduced into the ceremony, the essence remained intact.  Six hours later, at 3pm, inside the Temple court, the designated priest continued the official Jewish Passover festivities by slaying the lamb staked upon the altar.  Just before he slit the throat of the lamb, the priest pronounced a benediction, the last word of which was, “Tetelestai”, which translated into English means, “It is finished.” 

      But on this particular year Jerusalem’s West side was abuzz over a certain Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah, the Christ.  This Lamb, which had triumphantly entered Jerusalem earlier in the week, was also nearing an end.  This Lamb, too, had been scrupulously examined by religious authorities such as the Pharisees (Mark 12:13), the Sadducees (Mark 12:18), the scribes (Mark 12:28), Annas (John 18:19-24), the high priest Caiaphas (Matt. 26:57-66), and the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71); the Lamb also stood for examination before Roman authorities (Herod and Pilate—Luke 23:1-25).  And since no fault was found with the Lamb (John 19:6), He was “staked” upon a wooden altar just outside Jerusalem’s western wall at 9am (Mark 15:25).  The entire world should have been familiar with this procedure, for thousands of years earlier God promised He would send a child of Eve’s to crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15), but no one understood.  Six hours later, at 3pm (Mark 15:34), about a 1/3 mile west of the Temple court, God’s designated Priest ended the Passover festivities for all time by becoming slain.  But just before the Lamb was sacrificed, the Priest pronounced His own benediction in Greek, saying, “Tetelestai”, which translated into English means, “It is finished” (John 19:30).   

      At last, the final “Tetelestai” was uttered; the true Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) was offered up; Christ Jesus our Passover Lamb was slain (1 Cor. 5:7).  It was no accident that Jesus Christ died the same day the Jewish Passover lamb was slain and to the sound of the same benediction.  God providentially ordered that, and it is worth our marveling.

      Moreover, it is no accident that Jesus said, “It is finished.”  He meant it.  Do you believe it?  Do you really believe it is finished?  If we say that Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross accomplished redemption once for all, then we believe it doctrinally.  But how about practically?  Do you live as though “It is finished”?  Do you trust that what Christ has done for you, on behalf of you, and in your place has reconciled you to God, or do you believe the lie that God’s acceptance of you is a process dependent upon the amount of sin in your life?  If that is how you live, then you are still trusting in the sacrificial lamb of your good works to save you, rather than in the Lamb who was sacrificed to save you.  My fellow Christian, the blood of your obedience, your niceness, your good works, and your kind speech cannot take away your sins.  Listen again to the True Lamb: “It is finished!”  On that basis alone God accepts you as His own.  Your redemption is accomplished.  Stop slaying lambs in order to become good enough; you’re not and never will be.  Trust in the Lamb slain for you and then offer your body as a living sacrifice.  It is a subtle distinction, but our life in Christ hangs on it!

God Is Our Portion

There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever—Psalm 73:25-26

Each of us has “portions” in the form of stuffed animals, automobiles, livestock, houses, couches, clothing, appliances, property, and coffee cups.  Upon these “portions” we place our name, and we consider these tiny pieces of the creation ours.  But if we look to these not as mere gifts but as our primary portion from God, we miss the benefit of Christianity’s true portion: God. 

      God has allotted you Himself.  As the Israelites were allotted portions of land according to tribe (Josh. 18:10; 19:51), so God has apportioned to us Himself.  His everlasting arms are your share of the property; His forever-love is your piece of land; His divine nature is the portion of which we partake (2 Peter 1:4).  And if we intend to participate in the fullness of our portion we must abscond the lie that the strength of our hearts lies in the things of this world.  To believe such is dehumanizing, reducing  image-bearers to the world of animals where he who lives with the most toys leads and he who dies with the most wins.  God has not merely given us impersonal material goods; He has given us His Person. 

      Asaph made the mistake of equating the Faith with comfort, convenience, and material possessions.  Do you?  Do you look to physical health, mental acuity, material possessions, or anything other than God for the measure of your strength?  Then you are depriving yourself of the portion which alone can satisfy your soul and strengthen your heart in the midst of a fallen world.  Riches come and riches go, health comes and health goes, and comforts do the same, but there is a portion belonging to you for which there is no substitute in heaven or earth and which will always be yours in Christ.  That portion is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.    

      God as our portion has many applications for us; here is one: Christianity is a relational religion.  Christians don’t merely share possessions or their various gifts, they share each other.  Christians can say with the Apostle Paul, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).  You will know how much you mean to someone by their willingness to share themselves—that is the measure of a relationship.  Writing-out checks, lending a helping hand, or sharing material goods is wonderful, and the church is such a place where these blessings abound.  But sharing the life of a fellow believer is a far superior portion.  This is easily illustrated in marriage: spouses who provide each other with goods and services are a blessing; but spouses who share their very lives by apportioning themselves to the other are far more delightful.  Christians share not just what they have, but who they are; not merely their things, but their selves.    

      In Jesus Christ God has given you Himself.  He sent neither a bag of money nor an impersonal box of righteousness from heaven, but a Person, through whose poverty we have become rich and through whose sin-bearing we have become the righteousness of God.  More than that, Jesus Christ did not come to hang a personal check from the Bank of Heaven on the Cross, but came Himself to hang in our place.  You see, my fellow saints, the mind-boggling good news of Jesus Christ is that He came not bearing gifts from God, but that in Him God came bearing Himself.  No other portion compares.  Let Him be the portion in which you delight your soul, and then you will be strong.  And may our hearts sing the words of an old German hymn derived from Martin Luther’s translation of Psalm 73:25-26:

The whole world gives me no delight,
I do not ask for heaven and earth,
if only I can have you.

Sin and Love (Part 1)

He who is forgiven little, loves little—Luke 7:47

The word “Sin”, where it is still used, has been largely redefined.  And whether this redefinition is fueled by political correctness, pluralism, or church growth matters little; that it is taking place matters a lot. 

      Sin is no longer sin.  It has become merely a mistake, an unintentional lapse in personal character, an oops, a flub, a slip-up, a miscalculation, or at worst an error.  Psychotherapy is explaining it away, and various disorders now justify it, or convince us that sin is not our real problem after all.  Christians, we are told, must get with the times by changing sin’s definition.  But, the three letter word, “Sin”, has stood the test of thousands of years throughout biblical history, and God has seen fit to maintain the same definition with which He started: sin is heinous, weighty, our biggest problem in life, and the very thing which has destroyed our relationship with God.  And until we see sin for what it really is, forgiveness will remain trite and our love will either fade or vanish.

      In Luke 7 Jesus Christ curiously intertwines love with forgiveness; curiously because he inserts the word, “Little.”  Inside that one word lays the entirety of each Christian’s sin, and to the extent we consider our sins against God little, we will love little.  On the surface it appears that Jesus is tying forgiveness and love together, but He is actually tying sin and love together.  In other words, it is not forgiveness itself that determines the amount of our love, but the amount of our forgiveness that determines the amount of our love.  There is a direct correlation between our view of sin and our love for Jesus Christ.  Where sin is a minor disorder, Jesus is optional, nice, and someone we can like; where sin is heinous and sickening, Jesus is necessary and our First Love—One we cannot live without.

      As one man put it, part of our mess is not knowing we are a mess.  Shallow sin needs only shallow forgiveness, and shallow forgiveness issues forth in shallow love.  If our love for Jesus Christ is shallow, it may have very little to do with our doctrine of forgiveness and everything to do with our lack of clarity on how big a sinful mess we really are.  Has your love for Jesus grown cold?  It might be because the magnitude of your sin has grown small.       

Sin and Love (Part 2)

He who is forgiven little, loves little—Luke 7:47

Last week we noticed that the amount we have been forgiven determines the amount of our love, and, since the amount we have been forgiven relates to the amount of our sin, our love increases directly proportionate to our forgiven sin.   

      Some might declare “Unfair!” and blame their lack of love on righteous living, but that is to miss the point.  We all have sins needing forgiveness, and if we have trouble finding those sins, we need look no farther than our good works, which stand in great need of forgiveness.  And though some Christians have had more sins forgiven than others, no Christian has the warrant to love little, at least no warrant from God.

      We are often told, aren’t we, that the God who is Just and declares all men filthy sinners is the hating God of our ancestors, and, through some inexplicable, unbiblical change, we now enjoy the transformed God of love who overlooks sin and rarely declares men sinners.  But, and this is the irony many fail to grasp, such a God made in man’s image is actually less loving. 

      This may not be apparent, but looking at Jesus’ words from another perspective, namely, God’s, will bear this out.  If it is true, and according to Jesus it is, that he who is forgiven little loves little, then it is no stretch to say that he who forgives little also loves little.  If this be the case, then no matter which side of forgiveness we are on, either giving it or receiving it, more forgiveness means more love, and less forgiveness means less love.  And this is exactly where the modern-day promulgation of a God who no longer speaks of justice and sin leaves us with a frighteningly unloving God.   

      God’s declaration concerning the hideous magnitude of our sin is vital for His glory.  If our sins are merely mistakes, then Jesus Christ had only show us a better way to live and the Cross, it could be argued, was God’s mistake because a dab of love would have done.  But, if our sins are heinous offenses which merit hell itself, and that they are, then the Cross is the greatest proof that God is love.  When a dab wouldn’t do, God poured love out in His Son.  Now that’s a love worth writing home about!  

Humility Toward Oneself

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment—Romans 12:3

As we address humility for the next few weeks, you should know, as usual, I have no original thoughts.  The Holy Spirit through the Word has been my primary teacher, while Andrew Murray, C.S. Lewis, and Henry Fairlie have helped me to understand pride in the heart better.[1]  I am very proud (I’m sure you knew), and now I am proud that, at the beginning of this sentence, I was humble enough to admit my pride.  It appears we’re off to a bad start, or maybe a good start, but certainly the only start we know true.  Each of us is very proud, and if I convince you that you are proud, I shall have convinced you of the most important step toward true humility:

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step.  The first step is to realize that one is proud.  And a biggish step, too.  At least, nothing whatever can be done before it.  If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.[2]  

      For example, my wife and I attended worship service where the pastor spent 10 very uncomfortable minutes validating his humility.  He may have convinced us, even if momentarily, if he had begun by admitting himself conceited, but he did no such thing, and thus, by touting his humility, successfully convinced the congregation of one thing: their pastor was a proud man, and worse, blind to it.  Worse yet was my own heart.  As I tried to figure out by what right the preacher spent 10 minutes preaching his humility rather than Christ’s humiliation, I prided myself that I had never done such a thing (only because at that time, I had never preached at all), and never planned to.  At that moment—the moment I was proud that another appeared more proud—I realized just how sick my heart was, and always had been, and always would be.  Then began my struggle against pride, and the struggle against being proud of my zealous struggle against pride, and the struggle…well, you get it.  I’m sure you do the same thing. 

      Pride is sin, and if ever we intend to grow beyond it, we must confess we have it.  The alcoholic attending A.A. begins, saying, “Hello, I’m so-and-so.  I’m an alcoholic.”  There is more therapy in that line than we realize.  If the meeting ended there, a lot would have been accomplished.  The angry person must admit his anger, the adulterer his adultery, the liar his lies, and the envious his envy, or each must be a life-long slave to their respective sin.  The same goes for the sin of pride.  We can either admit we are proud, or prepare for a life of tripping, stumbling, cliff-jumping, or whatever Solomon meant when he said, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).  If we believe ourselves proud, we are off to a good start toward humility; if we believe ourselves humble, God have mercy—we are in the death-grip of arrogance.     

      No one need teach us to think well of ourselves.  We do it naturally.  The successful man believes himself successful because he has worked hard and made good decisions.  He cannot admit his work ethic and wisdom are gifts from God, of which he was as much unworthy to receive as the lazy fool who did not receive.  Oftentimes, the suicidal man believes he deserves better, so in a moment of despair, when life on earth, by his estimation, has become a living hell, he does himself in.  At that moment he has thought too highly of himself, for anyone who knows what sin against a holy God deserves, must conclude the worst life on earth is a far greater gift than the hell of God’s wrath we deserve.  Yes, Christians, whether rich or poor, mentally healthy or unhealthy, physically able or unable, we tend to think very highly of ourselves.  In the words of T.S. Eliot,  

Humility is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of oneself.[3]

      A caution here is necessary.  Paul wrote, in effect, “Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to, rather, think of yourself appropriately, neither too high nor too low, but with sober judgment, accuracy, and truth.”  Paul does not write, “Please think of yourself in the worst of terms, always self-deprecating, self-abnegating, self-condemning.”  For these are no more a sign of humility than self-promotion, and are often pride masked in counterfeit humility.  Someone always speaking badly of himself can be very proud indeed: “I am nothing, I am worthless, I am…, I…, I-I-I, Me, Me, Me!”  Subtle, aren’t we.  When self-flattery works not, pride resorts to self-censure.  Pride cares not about what it boasts in, so long as it is not in the Cross.  Simply put, pride can be as much in self-censure as in self-endorsement; as much in self-denunciation as in self-advancement; as much in service to others as in self-service; and as much in self-condemnation as in self-commendation, so long as each conversation is about self.  So says Andrew Murray:  

I’m afraid that there are many who by strong expressions of self-condemnation and self-denunciation have sought to humble themselves, but who have to confess with sorrow that a humble spirit with its accompanying kindness and compassion, meekness and forebearance, is still as far off as ever.  Being occupied with self, even having the deepest self-abhorrence, can never free us from self.  It is the revelation of God not only by the law condemning sin but also by His grace delivering from it that will make us humble.  The law may break the heart with fear; it is only grace that works that sweet humility that becomes joy to the soul as its second nature…It is the sinner basking in the full light of God’s holy, redeeming love, in the experience of that indwelling divine compassion of Christ, who cannot but be humble.  Not to be occupied with your sin but to be fully occupied with God brings deliverance from self.[4]

In shorter form, Tim Keller asserts the same idea:

True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.[5]

And in applicable form, C.S. Lewis drives home the point: 

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.  Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.  If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily.  He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.[6]  

      How, then, in the midst of our incessant pride, can we be humble?  What can change our relationship with ourselves?  What can change our self-evaluation from lies to the truth?  You know the answer by now:

Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to be saying to us, ‘I am here because of you.  It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’  Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross.  All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary.  It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.[7]

As we “live close to the Cross, and search the mystery of His wounds,” [8] we grow in humility.  The closer we live to Calvary, the more humble we become.  Each Christian owns real estate at Golgotha, but few consider it their primary residence.  Many of us flee to The Lamb’s Blood Shelter in times of crisis, but few reside long, and most quickly relocate their hearts back to a more comfortable residence, far, far away, where accommodations are plush, and pride is allowed to flourish once again, and miserably so, until the next fall.  Then we come back, but only because we have to, and only as long as we need to, and only because the Holy Spirit compelled us to.  Someday soon, hopefully, we will tire of resisting the Holy Spirit, and will stay; those who do wonder why they ever left.  It is our true home.   

      If you are not a Christian, you will be happy to know real estate at The Cross is still for sale, and you qualify for purchase.  You can afford a plot, but the price is high—sky-high, to be honest.  The cost is your life, the whole thing; the proof of purchase is faith in Jesus Christ alone; and you can never permanently relocate, and eventually, over the course of time, will no longer want to.  It sounds like a strange place to live, in the shadow of Someone’s death, that is, but once you believe His death brought you life, and is the only way to eternal life, the strangeness wears off.  And you are strangely comforted.       

      Allow me a question, my fellow Christian: When you stand at the place where infinite wrath poured out—where the God of Justice demanded the sacrifice for sin be damned, then broken, then drained of every ounce of life and entombed consumed, and where for 3 hours God shut off the lights to veil from sight hell on earth unleashed upon the head of He who hung in the middle—when you stand there, and know with all your heart and soul that it was your sin which occasioned Christ crushed by the waves of judgment, are you overwhelmed with both pain and pleasure, distress and delight, grief and gaiety?  If so, you are tasting humility: your soul sorrows because you cost Him His life; your soul is satisfied because He wanted to do it, and did it.  For you.     

[1] Andrew Murray in Humility; C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: The Great Sin; Henry Fairlie in The Seven Deadly Sins Today. 

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: The Great Sin, p. 128.

[3] T.S. Eliot.  Quoted from Andrew Murray, Humility, chapter 10.

[4] Andrew Murray, Humility, chapter 8.

[5] Tim Keller, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road, p. 64.  

[6] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: The Great Sin, p. 128.

[7] John Stott, The Cross of Christ.

[8] Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: January 4.  Revised and updated by Alistair Begg.

   Humility Toward One’s Reputation

Christ Jesus…did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing—Philippians 2:6-7

The claim of humility for oneself admits we never had it, or certainly no longer have it.  Humility can only be affirmed about us by others, but never self-affirmed, or never truthfully so.  Humility is so elusive, that once we have a humble moment, the next moment we either slip back into pride, or become proud of our momentary humility.  If, for a moment, we forget self and serve others humbly, we usually spend the moment afterward pondering our service, and inevitably, without intention, we take pride in our humble service, and then orchestrate a repeat performance, though this time absent the former humility.  Then, when we awake from self-aggrandizing service, we remember that passage in Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), and, ironically, we are encouraged that God understands how sick and self-centered we are, and so sent Jesus to heal our disease.        

      The word translated “made himself nothing” means “to empty.”  The context of the phrase hints at what Jesus emptied Himself of: He emptied Himself of the glory, praise, prerogatives, and privileges of deity He enjoyed in heaven—He let go of His heavenly glory to enter earthly suffering in a human body.  The old King James Version of the Bible renders this phrase, “Christ Jesus…made himself of no reputation.”  Though a narrow translation to modern English readers, it highlights one aspect of Christ’s emptying Himself.  He left behind His reputable status to take on our disreputable condition, sin excepted. 

      Jesus’ reputation was trampled on by everyone.  Nathanael doubted Jesus could amount to much of anything, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46), and the crowds who encountered Him said He was merely John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Matthew 16:14).  Others said worse of Him, denoting Him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19).  Jesus Christ, indeed, became of no reputation, or of infinitely lesser reputation than He had in heaven, yet He cared not. 

      Let’s not misunderstand, Jesus certainly spoke the truth, and the truth of the matter is that He is God in the flesh, the Son of Man, Jehovah incarnate, and the only way to the Father.  He made no bones about who He is, and even amid rejection, His truth-telling bore no sign of a peevish insecurity.  He stated the Truth, and if men confined His reputation to disrepute, He cared not, “but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).  Jesus Christ came not to advance His own reputation among men, but to die on the Cross to advance our reputation with God.  Therefore, though we are not told His thoughts, we might suggest that with each slight against His reputation, Jesus thought, “You think being from Nazareth is bad?  You think hanging out with society’s moral reprobates is heinous?  You think being called an over-eater, a wino, and a partier is bad?  You haven’t seen anything yet!  Wait until you see Me crucified among the criminals on a God-forsaken tree!”  Jesus Christ, my brothers and sisters, needed not scamper around the Palestinian countryside in self-promotion, for He had bigger fish to fry than losing His reputation among men.  On the Cross, he would momentarily lose His reputation with His Father.  At that moment, He truly became nothing.  He had no earthly possessions, no successful career, no popularity, and no friends sticking closer than a brother.  Worst of all, for the first and only time in all eternity, He had not His Father.  He had one thing and one thing only: our reputation; our sin.  To that He clung through hell itself.  All He had to do was let go of our sin, let go of our reputation, say, “I am NOT one of these; I am the perfect Son of God!” and we would have been hopelessly lost.  Through the gauntlet, Jesus clung to that which bruised Him deeper, pummeled Him harder, and tore Him further.  See how much He loves you?  He held onto the worst of you, so you might have the best of Him.  He exchanged reputations, and felt every ounce of rejection as a result. 

      This gospel demands, of course, as always, that we respond appropriately.  If God would do all that for us, then, overwhelmed with joy, our hearts ask, “What can I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?”  Andrew Murray answers: 

The death to self has no surer death-mark than a humility which makes itself of no reputation, which empties out itself, and takes the form of a servant.  It is possible to speak much and honestly of fellowship with a despised and rejected Jesus, and of bearing his cross, while the meek and lowly, the kind and gentle humility of the Lamb of God is not seen; is scarcely sought.[1] 

In short, responding to Jesus’ incarnation and death entails letting go of earthly claims to glory and of the honor we desperately try to accumulate.  Carl Trueman explains:    

As a Christian, I am not meant to engage in self-justification any more than self-promotion; I am called rather to defend the name of Christ; and, to be honest, I have yet to see a criticism of me, true or untrue, to which I could justifiably respond on the grounds that it was Christ’s honor, and not simply my ego, which was being damaged. I am called to spend my time in being a husband, a father, a minister in my denomination, a member of my church, a good friend to those around me, and a conscientious employee. These things, these people, these locations and contexts, are to shape my priorities and my allocation of time. Hitting back in anger at those who, justly or unjustly, do not like me and for some reason think the world needs to know what they think of me is no part of my God-given vocation. God will look after my reputation if needs be; He has given me other work to do.[2]

      Humility is not concerned with a reputation for humility—that is pride. Humility is not concerned with one’s reputation at all.  A humble Christian serves God not for the possibility of accolades from men, but because God condescended in Christ to become him, redeem him, and give him an infinitely glorious reputation in heaven.  A mature Christians realizes that his reputation with God is secure, and thus, in one sense, not rebelliously but humbly, ceases caring altogether what men think of him.  He knows God smiles upon Him in Christ, and He has made God’s approval His only concern.  A. W. Tozer states this well:   

The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. He has accepted God's estimate of his own life: In himself, nothing; In God, everything. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring. 

      And now we conclude, asking, “How can I tell if I am humble toward my reputation, or at least on the way toward it?”  The only way to tell is in community with others.  We will dive deeper next time into humility toward others, but for now, Andrew Murray provides yet another insight into humility, this time in the form of a litmus test:  

The humble man feels no jealousy or envy.  He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him.  He can bear to hear others praised and himself forgotten, because in God’s presence he has learned to say with Paul, “I am nothing.”  He has received the spirit of Jesus, who pleased not himself, and sought no his own honor, as the spirit of his life.[3] 

      Are you envious of others?  Jealous of their accomplishments or reputation?  Can you truly rejoice when others are preferred before you?  Can you praise God when someone else is blessed while you remain rejected, slighted, or in pain?  Do you?  If so, then you are experiencing the first-fruits of genuine humility.  If not, then consider again the humility of Jesus.  A thorough, heart-penetrating, heart-permeating reflection on what he has done for you—for you, dear Christian—is the only message which will change your heart.    

[1] Andrew Murray, Humility & Absolute Surrender, p. 47.

[2] Carl Trueman, Welcome to Wherever You Are, a Reformation 21 article, November 2009.  Italics mine.

[3] Andrew Murray, Humility & Absolute Surrender, p. 27.

Humility Found in Christ’s Glory

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves—Philippians 2:3

In our consideration of humility we have noticed all men, to some degree, lack it.  And to the extent we lack humility, we are blinded by pride, our pride, but very attentive to it, and condescendingly so, in others. 

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves…The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit.[1]

      In Philippians 2:3, the word “rivalry” originally referred to a day laborer—someone who worked one day at a time, and, as a result, approached all of life with a short-term attitude.  Initially, the word had no negative connotations, but simply described working-class employees such as the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).  Eventually, though, the meaning of the word took on a negative overtones:

The aristocratic scorn of the man of property and culture for the daily wage-earner is responsible for this change in the meaning of [rivalry]…It regards the [wage-earner] as suspect from the very first in view of his concern for gain and his readiness to do things only for profit.[2]

The word became a derogatory term describing those stricken with myopia—nearsightedness or shortsightedness—the kind of person who lives only for the sake of short-term, personal gain.  But that is not all.  Such a person, let’s call him a “rivalrist,” competes with everyone all the time.  C.S. Lewis, again, explains: 

[I]f you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, “How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?”  The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride.  It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise.[3]

Self-serving, small-minded competitiveness—we really are a mess. 

      Rivalrists have few 0r little longer terms relationships, and usually do not mind as long as they obtain what they need through the few they have.  They choose acquaintances carefully, not for godliness’ sake, but for self’s sake, and typically to promote their agenda.  If someone cannot help them promote their agenda, they cut them loose.  The rivalrist is unable to lift his head higher than immediate self-satisfaction.  Everything is a rush, everything affects them, everything is a big issue—huge, actually—and no distinctions between what is important and what is not exist.  Consequently, a rivalrist lives to win small battles, not caring at all to win the war.  He will sacrifice his marriage on the altar of petty issues, turning every ant hill into Everest, and care not if the marriage ends provided he looks better than his spouse, and provided everyone knows it was her fault, not his.  A rivalrist gladly ruins congregational life so long as they get their way and someone else takes the blame.  They are the teammate who cares not that the team wins, but only how many points he scored, and the employee who cares not whether the company bankrupts, so long as they receive a lucrative salary.  A rivalrist endlessly defends himself to others, making sure others know they have done nothing wrong, or very little, in any circumstance.  They usually demand that those closest to them enter their “Truman Show” bubble.  And those who are drug from the outside in wonder what the big deal is, and why they were drug in, and why the rivalrist is so caught up in everything so little and so irrelevant to life and godliness in this massive world.      

      Why does a rivalrist live this way?  The answer may be found in the word “conceit”: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit.”  The word conceit is literally, “empty glory” or “lacking glory.”  A rivalrist competes with others for temporary glory because they feel empty inside; they lack glory and are desperately trying to get it back.  Deep, deep inside each one of our hearts and souls, we sense we were created for glory.  We know there must have been a time, some time ago, when we, or someone curiously connected to us, had the glory we now desperately desire.  Our desire for glory tells us we once had splendor, beauty, grandeur, radiance and all the rest.  Our hunger for glory tells us we lack something we had, or never had but should have, or, by grace, will soon have again.  And it is this insatiable hunger, this unremitting appetite deep inside every single human being, Christians included, which compels each person to strive after the glory we lack.  

      Our feelings are true.  God created Adam and Eve in His image and likeness, with glory.  Adam and Eve were glorious in God’s sight, and they knew it, they felt it.  They suffered nothing like an insecurity complex or low self-esteem.  But the fall changed it all.  Absent the glory, we feel so insignificant, so irrelevant, so ignored, so overlooked, so empty.  And if you look carefully, or at all, with this in mind, you will notice all human beings are in a global competition for glory.  We all want it, we all believe we have a right to it, we all know we cannot live without it, and are all trying to make sure we won’t have to.  We hang out with the right friends for a “fix” of glory via their friendship; we trash someone’s reputation for another “fix.”  And when others fail to give us the glory we want for ourselves, we lash out, we speak up, we sound trumpets.   

      But what we often forget is that there is no satisfying glory on earth.  We are all fighting for a phantom, a figment of our imagination which we all imagine just out of reach, but upon reaching it, the mirage laughs, the emptiness sets in, the guilt grows.  Our attempt to obtain what we cannot live without failed again, and once again we have ruined others in the process. 

      There is, my fellow Christian, only one way to live humbly with others.  We must embrace our insignificance.  That feeling way down deep inside each one of us, you know, that nagging feeling which whispers “You are nothing; you are pathetic; you are insignificant; you are worthless”, and that we all suspect true but will not accept as true—that feeling we must embrace.  It is true.  We have all sinned and therefore “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Literally, we “lack” the glory of God.  When Adam and Eve fell, the glory departed from us.  Now we are just insignificant people, irrelevant and easily overlooked.  We are just one among the morass of fallen men, and will one day be buried alongside the rest, soon to be forgotten.   

      But there is hope in one Person, and if you believe in Him then the glory has returned.  In Jesus Christ, Ichabod—“the glory has departed” (1 Samuel 4:21)—is replaced with Incarnation—“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).  In Jesus Christ, the glory has come back.  You, fellow saint, are significant, noticed, and doted upon.  In Jesus Christ you are known by name and defended at God’s throne.  Everything we lost has been restored, and the glory for which we have desperately searched enters into our hearts and satisfies our souls.  Rivalry fades, contention leaves.  We have nothing left to prove, for in Christ we are approved.  Alas, not just anyone, but the One has noticed us.  Our hearts rest.  Joy sets in. 

      Now for application.  How can we stop demeaning others?  How do we end a lifestyle of rivalry?  We end it this way: Marinate your heart in the gospel until its substance soaks into you and becomes part of who you are. 

      For example, the next time you have the urge to speak derogatorily about someone, pause for a moment (always a good idea) and preach to yourself (you might want to make it a silent sermon), “Who am I kidding?  I am utterly worthless and insignificant in myself.  I am an unlovable mess, so inglorious that I deserve to be passed over and ignored.  But God, in infinite grace, noticed me and chose me for love.  He has made me, worthless me, an object of His abiding affection!  Therefore, my glory does not depend upon the opinions of others, nor theirs upon my opinion.  My glory depends upon my status in Jesus Christ.  I am loved infinitely; I am accepted unconditionally.  I feel better now.  I need not tear down another to make myself look good.  In Christ, I already look good to the only Persons whose judgments matter.  I have nothing to say.  The rivalry is gone.  My true glory has satisfied my heart.  God forgive me for nearly chasing a mirage.”  The subject changes; the conversation continues down a better path.   

      But my dear Christian, forget not that your glory, your eternal glory, cost the Savior His.  Jehovah took on flesh; the Almighty entered our weakness; the LORD of armies subjected himself to the Roman army’s crucifixion—the centurion thought it marvelous (Matthew 27:54).  It was.  The Glorious One became inglorious to transform our shame into glory.  Jesus Christ loved us so much He traded places with us, and on the Cross He became who we are and bore what we deserve: God-forsaken creatures deserving hell.  Oh, dear Christian, you have the privilege of living a life free from rivalry, small-mindedness, continuous battles, and constant ego-advancement, for you have been loved and died for by a Savior who gave up His glory so you could receive it.  His eternal glory is now yours.  In Christ, you are glorious, and now, having heard God’s acceptance of you, you must live according to this unseen reality, no longer flustered by the sight of your decaying body or by the sounds of people stealing your glory.  Let them steal it, for there is nothing to steal—we have no earthly glory.  Our glory is in Christ; no one can steal it; did you think someone could? 

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: The Great Sin, p. 121.

[2] Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), Vol. 2, pp. 660-661.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: The Great Sin, p. 122.

Humility Counts Others More Significant

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves…Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped—Philippians 2:3,5-6

There are some texts which, on the surface, seem to demand we lie, or distort the truth, or act as though we were entirely blind and undiscerning.  Philippians 2:3 is such a passage.  After all, isn’t the Holy Spirit asking us to ignore or deny that He gives various gifts, and each in different measure?  And if gifts are directly proportionate to personal significance, then how can someone more gifted than myself count me more significant?  And how can I count less gifted persons more significant than myself?  We shall attempt an answer.   

      The phrase, “In humility count others more significant than yourselves”, reads more literally, “In humble-mindedness, consider others more significant than yourselves.”  To count someone else more significant is “to engage in an intellectual process”[1] by which we decide to use our giftedness for the good of others.  That decision, lived out every day, is the way we count others more significant than ourselves, which means we are required to think, and think carefully, if ever we are to live humbly.  How do we know humility involves the mind?  Because Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”  To learn how to think in such a way that we consider others more significant than ourselves, then, we must consider the mind of Jesus.       

      Jesus Christ was in the glorious form of God, possessing both the same nature as God, and all the external glory of God, and exuding all the radiance and splendor of God, for He is God.  But Paul says Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (2:6).  The word translated “count” is the same word translated “consider” in v. 3.  So Paul is saying Jesus did not sit in heaven, thinking, “I have very few gifts, I am of no value or significance.  Those people down there are way more valuable and talented than I.”  Not at all.  Jesus understood His greatness—His God-hood, His glory, His equality with God, His deity—and concluded that it was not something He needed to hold onto (grasp).  He concluded He could give it all up, leave it all behind, and go to a place where no one would understand the glory He left, and where no one would understand the beauty and majesty of his Person.  Do you know why He concluded this?  Because He figured He could live without it.  And live He did!       

      But why?  Why would Jesus give up His prerogatives of deity?  Why would Jesus Christ not count His equality with God something He should hold tightly and never let go?  What motivated Jesus Christ to leave the very place we so desperately desire to be?  What drove Jesus Christ to enter the pain-filled, sin-ravaged world, out of which we long to escape? 

      You, dear Christian.

      What makes Jesus Christ so great and glorious?  What makes Jesus Christ so infinitely helpful to us?  What makes Jesus Christ melt our hearts?   Isn’t it that he used His greatness for our good?  Isn’t it that He figured out, in conjunction with the Father and Holy Spirit, how to put his infinite perfection to use for our sake, for our redemption, to make us significant?  Isn’t it that He used His greatness to turn flesh-and-blood creatures into partakers of the divine nature?  Isn’t what makes Jesus so great that He left behind His greatness to become the lowliest, in order that the lowliest might participate in His greatness?  Jesus emptied Himself so we could be filled; He lowered Himself so we could be raised; He did not hold onto His equality with God so we could receive promises from God we can hold onto.  Jesus Christ did not count His equality with God a thing to be held onto because He considered you—you, beloved Christian—more significant than Himself.  Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the conquering Son of Man, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Person through whom all creation was made, the one to whom all authority has been given, gave up all the glory and honor due His Person because He counted your redemption more significant than His ease.  He decided saving you from hell more important than saving Himself from it; He considered your presence in heaven worthy of His leaving heaven a few decades. 

      And only to the extent we grasp the mind of Jesus can we grasp what our minds ought to be.  For the person who asks, “How can I consider less gifted persons more significant than myself?”, the answer is simple: The same way Jesus did.  Are you much less gifted than Jesus Christ?  Yes you are, and infinitely so.  Yet did He consider your redemption more significant than His suffering?  Again, “Yes.”  Therefore, the more you consider His humility toward you, His counting you more significant than His own life, the more you will count others, regardless of their abilities, more significant than yourself.  Andrew Murray explains:

The question is often asked, “How can we count others better than ourselves, when we see that they are far below us in wisdom and in holiness, in natural gifts, or in grace received?”  The question proves at once how little we understand what real lowliness of mind is.  True humility comes when, in the light of God, we have seen ourselves to be nothing, have consented to part with and cast away self, to let God be all.  The soul that has done this, and can say, “So have I lost myself in finding thee,” no longer compares itself with others.  It has given up forever every thought of self in God’s presence; it meets its fellow-men as one who is nothing, and seeks nothing for itself; who is a servant of God, and for his sake a servant of all.  A faithful servant may be wiser than the master, and yet retain the true spirit and posture of the servant.  The humble man looks upon every, the feeblest and unworthiest, child of God, and honors him and prefers him in honor as the son of a King.  The spirit of him who washed the disciples’ feet, makes it a joy to us to be indeed the least, to be servants one of another.[2]

What does this look like?

      An employer noticed an attitude of superiority among his employees.  The employees were usually hard working, but had lately become proud of their work and status in the company, so they no longer served one another.  Tasks which they had been glad to perform as part of their job, were now beneath them, so they bickered about who should do them, or demanded others do them, or left them undone.  The employer, noticing this attitude over the course of weeks, and knowing mere words of chastisement would not fix the problem, decided the best thing he could do for the good of the company and the employees was to perform the menial tasks himself.  Each morning, when the employees arrived at work, the employer was busy doing janitorial work, cleaning up the mess left by the employees the day before.  The employer swept floors, organized shelves, and threw away trash, performing the dirty work the employees thought beneath them.  The look on the employees’ faces was priceless.  Their conversation was filled with astonishment: “Why is our boss doing the lowly work we find beneath our dignity?  Doesn’t he have more important work to do?  Shouldn’t he be using his gifts and talents in other ways?  Why is a millionaire doing our janitorial work?  Why is our employer, our manager, our boss, cleaning up after us?”  You know what happened next.  Without a word, the superiority stopped; attitudes changed; and the entire company began functioning like a well-oiled machine.  It worked. 

      Why did it work?  Because it was patterned after the Humiliation of Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ Incarnation is the only answer for humility toward other people.  The employer, though he had prestige and respect, did not count his high status something to be held onto at the cost of losing his employees.  So he humbled himself, and used his “glory” to redeem the attitudes of his employees.  And so it is with all our relationships.  Christian parents who play with, work with, read to, hang out with, and enjoy their children usually have a powerful influence on them.  Conversely, fathers and mothers who want to remain in tip-top intellectual, financial, and physical form, and who consider their time with the intelligent and astute (other adults) something they cannot limit or let go of for the sake of their children, and who therefore neglect incarnating emotionally, intellectually, physically, and psychologically into the lives of their children, are of little, or no, redeeming influence upon their children—such parents consider themselves more significant than their children.  If you like psychology, the a recurrent result of such neglect is “Reactive Attachment Disorder”—caused by, among other things, standoffish, neglectful parents.  If you don’t like psychology, the Bible has examples of what happens when parents distance themselves from their children: Hophni & Phineas are sons whom Eli did not take the time to restrain (1 Samuel 3:13).  Of course, smothering parents can be just as harmful.

      And if ever we intend to be useful tools for God in saving souls, we must consider non-Christians more significant than ourselves.  If we remain in our comfortable Christian circles, keeping the form of our moralistic reputation intact, and considering our time with other believers something we cannot limit for the sake of time with unbelievers, then we should count on being of little, or no, redeeming influence upon non-Christians.  For those who say in response, “Yes, but is it really right for me to befriend the sexually immoral, known thieves, criminals, drug addicts, prisoners, partiers, messed-up people, and other really big sinners?  I think you know the answer.  Whom did Jesus befriend? 

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!

Matthew 11:19   

For the sake of someone’s redemption we should become the best friend a non-Christian has ever had.  And for the sake of their redemption, we should avoid participating in their sin.  Just how you do this is up to you, only we should be doing it.    

      I doubt you will find a Christian who considers him or herself to be more significant than Jesus Christ, and I think Christ would agree.  Yet in some ineffable way, Jesus Christ considered us more significant than Himself.  His incarnation hints at it; His Cross proves it.  True humility is using one’s very best gifts for the redemptive sake of someone else.  Jesus Christ thought you so significant He used His deity to accomplish your redemption.  The thought of you suffering eternal, conscious torment in hell moved Him to come suffer it for you.  You are that significant to Him, believer, and that is something worth your belief.   

[1] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG), p. 434.

[2] Andrew Murray, Humility & Absolute Surrender.  Hendrickson, p. 27.

A Suicidal Mission

Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves—Luke 10:3

Lambs don’t stand a chance against wolves.  Lambs are weak, frail, and directionally challenged; wolves are strong, robust, and come equipped with a compass—they can find prey anywhere.  Yet that did not stop Jesus from becoming the Lamb of God among wolves, and neither did it stop Jesus from sending out His disciples as sheep among wolves. 

      An imbedded principle in this text is that Christians must spend time living among their enemies.  How can we love our enemies if we are never around them, or how we can return good to them if we do not make ourselves somewhat vulnerable to their evil, or how can we withhold our reviling if we are never reviled? 

      Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor hanged to death in 1945, wrote,

The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians.  Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies.  In the end all his disciples abandoned him.  On the cross he was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds.  He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God.  So Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the midst of enemies.  There they find their mission, their work.[1]

Jesus was sheared as a lamb when stripped of all His earthly security and made vulnerable; Jesus surrounded Himself with a wolf-pack when He lived among His enemies and walked straight into Jerusalem the week He would die; and Jesus was ‘eaten’ by the wolves at His crucifixion.  He was the true Lamb who lived among wolves; you, dear Christian, cost Him His life, is He costing you yours? 

      Christian fellowship is one of the highest delights on this earth.  Sweet communion with God and his people—it just doesn’t get any better.  But let’s keep in mind the purpose of this communion: to re-strengthen us for life among the wolves.  Christian fellowship and community was never meant to replace our life among non-Christians; rather, it was meant to re-invigorate and bolster us for the challenges of living among non-Christians.       

Submission as Strength

My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will—Matthew 26:39

“Submission”, so we are told, “is the wimp’s way out.  It is allowing someone else to come over us, and that can only mean weakness; or worse, cowardliness; or worst, vulnerability.” 

      But what if submission is the greatest display of strength there is, and what if becoming vulnerable is the greatest test of courage known to man?  No one would deny that submission involves acquiescence to another, but Christians would deny that such acquiescence is wimpish; and no one would deny that submission entails vulnerability, but Christians would deny that such vulnerability derives from weakness.  Quite the opposite: the one who acquiesces to another is no wimp, but strong; and the one who becomes vulnerable to another is no weakling, but courageous.  How do we know this?  Any wimp can rebel against authority, and any weakling can do whatever they want.  Everyone born is capable of such; it is nothing unique.  In fact, newborn infants rebel all the time, and who would call them strong and courageous? Weaklings cannot submit; only the courageous can. 

      Don’t believe it?  Listen to Jesus in the Garden.  The cup had been placed in front of Him, He caught a glimpse of the Cross, and He asked the Father if another way to save us was possible, and if so, if that way could replace the way of the Cross.  And in the greatest display of strength known to mankind, Jesus concluded His request, “Not as I will, but as you will.”  Jesus a wimp?  Jesus a submissive weakling?  Not a chance: Jesus our courageous stronghold who finally paid for our wimpishness with His life.  That is strength; that is courage; that is true power.  Jesus Christ, the anti-wimp, submitted His life to the Cross to redeem us from our wimpishness—our inability to submit to God.  And in so doing, Jesus proved that true strength lies in submission, and true redemption lies in coming under the will of another.   

      Because of His submission to God’s authority, Jesus has now been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18).  Are we strong enough to submit to His authority structures as singles, husbands, wives, children, or citizens?  If we are not, then let us keep at least one thing straight: we are the wimps!  It takes strength to submit.  Are we strong enough in Jesus Christ to submit to His authority structures in our lives? 

Conflict Resolution through Identity Relocation

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.  Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life—Philippians 4:2-3

Euodia and Syntyche were fairly prominent women in the Philippian congregation.  Likely they helped Paul plant the church in Philippi by sending mailers, advertising in the Yellow Pages, launching a website and Twitter and Facebook accounts, and bringing food for the weekly agape feast.  But, as usual among the prominent, issues of pride and self-importance boiled to the top.  By the time this letter was read to the Philippians, the length of disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche was about 6-12 months—enough time for Epaphroditus to travel 800 miles to Rome, get sick and nearly die on the way (Philippians 2:30), wait for Paul to write his letter, and travel 800 miles back to Philippi.  Generally speaking, long-standing disagreements, such as the one between Euodia and Syntyche, begin over an issue—what time to host an event, which songs to use, how much money to spend, what food to bring, which book to buy—but almost always progress to matters of personal identity.  And before we know it we build our personal identity on the outcome of the disagreement.  You can always tell when this happens.  When we feel as though our very life is at stake—when the outcome defines who we are—it has happened.  When we accumulate books, dead authors, and mutual friends into a veritable army against our opponent, it has happened.  And when our thoughts and speech change from “So-and-so believes such-and-such, but I believe this-and-that”, to “So-and-so is dense, dim-witted, and worthless, but I am bright, witty, and infinitely valuable”, it has happened—we have turned a disagreement over an issue into a battle of identities.  The outcome of the disagreement is no longer about times, songs, money, food, or books, but about which person is better.    

      Identity crises tear churches apart.  Years, even decades, of solid relationships vanish overnight, and Christians are left to make sense of the meltdown.  Most Christians diagnose meltdown in terms of externals or behavioralism.  Thus, advice to those in conflict goes something like this: “You shouldn’t take things so seriously.  Laugh a little and take a vacation.  Come back when you feel relaxed and less stressed.”  Hardly good advice.  Say Euodia and Syntyche follow the advice, probably within 3 months time they will be at it again, only this time over a different issue.  And though they may hate perpetual conflict, they are powerless to stop.  The root problem remains.   

      The apostle Paul has a different method.  From out of nowhere he drops the phrase, “Whose names are written in the book of life”, and we are left wondering what an entry in the book of life has to do with conflict.  It has everything to do with conflict.  Names in the Bible denote identity (Jesus: He who saves; Melchizedek: king of righteousness; Abraham: father of a multitude; Benjamin: son of my right hand).  Names matter; they define who you are.  The problem with Euodia and Syntyche, then, according to Paul, is not that they disagree over an issue, but that they have forgotten where their self-worth resides.  Their disagreement is not over times, places, books, or songs (in fact, if they are honest, they probably don’t remember the issue over which they initially disagreed); their disagreement is over who is more important, who is more valuable, who is more popular, who is more significant.  We have all been there.  Think of any long-standing disagreement you have (had) with someone, and ask yourself this question, “If I tell so-and-so they are right and I am wrong, or if I say I prefer their idea over mine, what would happen to me?”  Allow me to answer the question for you: you would feel like less of a person—worthless, useless, insignificant, empty, trivial.  Though you say merely, “I prefer your idea over mine”, it feels like you are saying, “You are a better person than I.  God loves you more.  You are more valuable than me.  Your name is worth more than mine.”  It feels this way because, at that moment, we have so idolized being right—being right has become our functional savior—that losing the debate means being blotted out of the book of life.  At that moment, we care more about someone else’s opinion of us than about what God has done for us—we give another Christian way too much power over us.  Ridiculous, aren’t we.  Someone wrote our name in their book of rejection, and we mistook their book of rejection for God’s book of life. 

      My fellow Christian, you should rejoice your identity is already secure; you don’t have to make a name for yourself.  Your name has been permanently inscribed in the book of life,[2] in the book (Daniel 12:1), in the book of the house of Israel (Isaiah 4:3; cf. Ezekiel 13:9), and in heaven (Luke 10:20; cf. Hebrews 12:23).  Your name was written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 20:27) before God created the world (Revelation 13:8; 17:8).  Your self-worth and identity are secure; therefore you need not, should not, must not, secure self-worth and identity from anywhere else.  If you do, it will kill you spiritually.  You see, on the Cross, Jesus’ name was temporarily blotted out of the book of life that our names might be indelibly inscribed in the Book.  Jesus Christ was forsaken (Matthew 27:46), that we might be welcomed (Romans 15:7).  The Lamb was slain before the foundations of the world (Revelation 13:8), that our names might be written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundations of the world.  Jesus Christ momentarily lost God’s seal of approval that we might acquire His eternal seal (Revelation 9:4).  Jesus groaned in agony with a crown of thorns on His forehead, that we might sing in triumph with His and His Father’s names written on our foreheads (Revelation 14:1).  Don’t you see, on the Cross Jesus took upon Himself our wretched identity that we might gain His identity; He became a worthless criminal, that we, criminals, might acquire His righteous name.  God already smiles upon us; who cares, then, whether we are right or wrong, or whether the church follows our idea or someone else’s?  God doesn’t base your salvation on it; probably, then, we shouldn’t either. 

      The question remains: How does all this help two Christians resolve conflict?  Answer: someone (preferably both) has to be mature enough in Christ to bear the cost of sacrificing their identity and self-worth.  Someone has to allow the good news of their new identity to permeate their heart so thoroughly they can look foolish, insignificant, and worthless compared to the other person, and they can allow the other to write their name in the book of death because they know the true Judge has spelled their name correctly in the Book of Life.  Has this gospel permeated the innermost recesses of your heart and soul? 

      A few applications before we close:

1.       For ourselves in conflict.  If we do not continuously receive our identity from the book of life, but from our own or someone else’s book, we will equate our self-worth with the outcome of every disagreement, and every single disagreement we enter will become a (major) conflict.  Does this describe you?  Are you always in conflict with someone?  Then you are not looking to Jesus for a name, but are desperately trying to make a name for yourself.  We must banish our pride, cease giving ourselves and others that much power over us, and humble ourselves under the fact that we cannot build a glorious identity.  We have far too high an opinion of ourselves.  Our names are not that great, and never will be, no matter what the world says.  In fact, God found our names so pathetic, He sent His Son to replace our names with His glorious name.  Rest yourself in Jesus’ name, in His identity, and, amazingly enough, perpetual conflict will vanish from your life, and though others disagree or compete with you, you will be at peace in Christ.

2.      For our view of the person we disagree with.  If, while we disagree with a fellow believer, we do not allow their identity rest in the book of life, we will tear them down and destroy their self-worth.  If, at the moment we tear them down, they are seeking their identity in Christ, and not in our opinion of them, they will probably ignore our slights or postpone discussion until we become secure in Christ; but if, at that moment, they are seeking their identity in our opinion of them, they will turn ugly.  You would too.  Brothers and sisters, when we disagree with another Christian, we ought remember we are disagreeing about issues, not about personal identities.  Fellow Christians are fellow heirs of the grace of life; we should not attempt to erase each other’s names, then, form the book of life by smearing their identity and self-worth.  Doing so only proves we are insecure in Christ.                    

3.      For a third-party peacemaker/mediator (i.e., the “true companion” in Philippians 4:2).  If you are asked to help resolve a conflict between two parties, you should know at least two things:

a.      A third party (usually) sees more clearly than those in conflict, which is why outsiders to a conflict often say, “What is the big deal?  Those two are arguing over nothing!”  However, the moment a third-party peacemaker makes the same mistake as those in the conflict—the mistake of investing his or her self-worth in the outcome of the debate rather than in Christ—the peacemaker becomes useless.  If we are looking for an identity—if we are proud and insecure—then we are the last ones who should help others out.  Our insecurity and pride will cause more insecurity and pride, and our counseling will add gasoline to the fire.  

Make sure before you begin each counseling session you pray for God to remind you where your true value resides.  It resides neither in other’s opinions, nor in the outcome of the debate.  It resides in the book of life.  If that is where your identity rests, you will not be ruined or despairing if your counsel is of no help to those in conflict.  And if your identity rests in Christ, you will not become proud like the 72 in Luke 10 if by God’s grace you are able to drive out the demons of discord and disagreement.   

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.

[2] Further references to the book of life are Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; 20:27.

The Peace of God and the God of Peace

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…the God of peace will be with you—Philippians 4:7,9 

When two prominent people (such as Euodia and Syntyche) disagree publicly and sharply, the whole congregation ails.  Paul knows this, and in vv. 4-9 advises the entire congregation how to live as Christians in the midst of the conflict:

1.       Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice (v. 4).  In conflict, the demeanor of an entire group can change from joy to despair, and knowing this, the Holy Spirit twice writes, Rejoice, and particularly in the Lord.  Though we humans let each other down, and provide much cause for despair, there is One, and One only, who never lets us down, and in whom we can rejoice always: Jesus Christ our Lord.  All the time, and especially in conflict, His redeeming work should be our focus and delight.

2.      Let your reasonableness be known to everyone (v. 5).  Reasonable Christians have general good-will toward men which defuses the volatile.  They carry not chips, but grace on their shoulders.  As from a bakery exudes delightful aromas of pastries and cookies, from reasonable Christians emanate heaven’s scent—the smell of grace—and a grandeur so unassuming and unpretentious it disarms the most contentious.  

3.      The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (vv. 5-6).  When conflict arises, so does anxiety.  What Christians among conflict need is knowledge that Jesus Christ is near, and that God is big enough to handle the conflict.  He is, and to Him we should pray.  In the words ascribed to Martin Luther, “Pray and let God worry.” 

4.      Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (v. 8).  People among conflict tend to fill their minds with one-sided half-truths, the worst in others, wrongs committed, ugliness, and everything else worthy of denunciation.  Paul recommends another approach: thinking about the impartial truth, the best in others, the ways others have served us, and anything lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy about each other.    

5.      What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things (v. 9).  A great help to people in conflict is the godly example of others.  We often handle conflict the way those in authority over us (parents, teachers) handled it.  In conflict, then, we should remember godly examples and imitate their approach to conflict resolution.   

      And now we ask, “How can I become strong enough to handle myself in this godly way while in or among conflict?”  Answer: by allowing the peace of God to satiate our heart, mind, soul, conscience, will, spirit, and everything else inside of us which fuels behavior:

Those that are at peace in their own consciences will be peaceable toward others.  A busy, contentious, querulous disposition argues it never felt peace from God.[1]

      How do I acquire this peace?  Let God acquire it for you.  God is a God of peace, not of discord.  Before time began, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existed in perfect peace and harmony.  Reverently, I say, They never disagreed, and never will.  Not until Adam and Eve sinned was turmoil introduced to humanity, and ever since, man, by nature, has been God’s enemy (Romans 5:10).  Now, since God is so much a God of peace, He sought to reconcile us to Himself rather than abandon us to eternal discord.  Ever since Genesis 3:15, our Creator and Redeemer has been on a peace-making mission.  The entire Bible resounds with the mission: Israelites wanted it so badly that teachers (prophets and priests) healed deep wounds with children’s band-aids, saying, “Peace, Peace,” when there was no peace (Jeremiah 6:14); Isaiah looked forward to the day when a servant, through His suffering, would bring us peace (Isaiah 53:5); at Jesus’ birth the angels announced the Peacemaker’s arrival (Luke 2:14); as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he hinted that what He was about to do (crucifixion) was the only way to achieve peace (Luke 19:41-42); the apostle Paul pinpointed a Christian’s peace with God in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1); and Paul pounded home the nail of peace in Colossians 1:19, leaving no question where true peace resides:

For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things to himself…making peace by the blood of the cross. 

      Most equate blood with war; God equates blood with peace.  Jesus Christ bled for our peace, suffered for our peace, and was crushed with our iniquities that we might have peace.  Do you see what our peace cost God?  God went to war against Himself to stop His war with you.  God endured discord on the Cross, so the discord between He and you could be eternally removed.  God brought hell itself into His relationship with His Son, so that we could be at Peace with Him.  Do you see how much God desires we be at peace with Him?  Do you see how much He wants to grant us peace? 

      Now we can be at peace during life’s worst storms.  When the storms of conflict engulf you, Jesus’ blood brings peace.  When surrounded by conflict, the Cross comforts.  Jesus took at the Cross what no earthly conflict can counterfeit, so no matter how furiously conflict rages, it need not devastate us.  In Christ, we have overcome our greatest conflict, our conflict with God.  We should probably not worry, then, whether the God of peace can handle our tiny conflicts, no matter how big they appear to us.  He probably regards them as child’s play compared to the conflict He resolved at Calvary.

      Horatio Spafford became a prominent lawyer in the city of Chicago.  In 1861 he married Anna, and four daughters followed soon afterward.  When the Chicago fire of 1871 swept through the city, Horatio lost nearly everything because he was heavily invested in real estate.  But he suffered a greater loss in 1873 when, on the way to Europe, the ship on which his wife and daughters rode, collided with another, killing over two hundred people, four of them his daughters.  When his wife reached the shores of Europe, she sent him back a telegram which read, “Saved Alone.”  Horatio caught one of the next ships out toward Europe, and when he arrived near the spot where his daughters had been killed, he penned these words:    

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,

“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And has shed his own blood for my soul.

Stillness of soul amid stormy sea billows; serenity amid sorrow; tranquility amid tumult; calm amid conflict; peace amid party-strife.  Have you acquired this peace in Christ?  Do you live each day on the basis of this peace, or do you spend your time thinking about relational conflicts?  When the peace of God from the God of peace pacifies our inmost being, we can handle the worst conflicts with our heads on straight.  Do you have this peace yet?  No?  Then set up your lawn chair at Calvary and re-play the Battle.  At Calvary, the war you thought important (a tense relationship) will appear scarcely a scuffle; and the war you thought irrelevant (the Cross) for daily life, will leave you sobered, satiated, and able to handle any and all conflicts without being thrust into turmoil.     

[1] Richard Sibbes, The Works of Richard Sibbes, V. 7, p. 215, Banner of Truth.

A Prayer for Knowing God

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened—Ephesians 1:16-18

Thank God the Holy Spirit included Paul’s prayers in the Bible.  They are powerful tools for genuine godliness, revealing the divine delicatessens upon which his soul fed, and upon which he desired we feed.  On a side quip, you’ll find Paul’s prayers so un-American.[1]  Physical comfort, perpetually pristine health, monetary accumulation (retirement accounts, savings), a new camel or donkey (car), and immaculate apparel (for preaching in the synagogue, of course), though not inherently problematic for prayer, Paul seldom mentions.  His prayers are filled with God, getting to know God, calling upon God, and his desire that all Christians (saints) encounter the fullness of God.   

      Poor Paul, he missed out on praying like an American; or, poor us, we miss out on praying like Christians.  Either way, though I suggest the former false, Paul prays that God give us the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.  Or, to paraphrase, Paul prays Christians may receive more abundantly the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to live in relationship (wisdom) with God the Father and how to know God more fully (revelation), in order that we might grow in intimate knowledge of God. 

      His prayer is strange.  First, it is strange Paul prays that those who have been sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) be given the Spirit.  Christians already possess the Spirit.  Why, then, do we need God to give us the Spirit?  The answer is that what we already possess must be strengthened (Eph. 3:16).  Though the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we need Him to dwell in us more fully in order that we might be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19). 

      Second, it is strange Paul prays for growth in our knowledge of God.  Jesus said that all who believe in Him have eternal life (John 3:16), and later said eternal life is knowing the only true God (John 17:3); therefore, every believer knows God.  Why do we need to know him more? 

      The simple answer is though we know God, we do not know Him enough.  The word translated “knowledge” can mean “intimate knowledge” or “heightened knowledge.”  Just as we believe in Jesus Christ, yet our believing is weak, and just as we are sealed and filled with the Holy Spirit, yet we grieve Him and are not full, so too we know God really and truly, yet not fully.  Do we know God?  Not as well as we should.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones expounds:

[Our lack of knowledge of God] explains why people find prayer so difficult.  If you cannot pray for an hour, why cannot you?  You can talk to neighbours and friends for an hour easily, nay, for hours.  Why then is it difficult to speak to God for an hour?  There is only one answer; it is because we do not know Him.  We do not know Him sufficiently, and we are not conscious that we are in His presence.[2] 

We know our siblings and friends, but we know our spouses.  A genuine work of the Spirit of God brings us from knowing about God to knowing God (conversion), and from knowing God to knowing God (intimacy).  Intimacy with God is Paul’s prayer for us.    

      Permit me a few closing comments of application:

1.       Paul prayed this prayer for all the saints in Ephesus (Eph. 1:1).  Therefore, intimate, life-changing, soul-satisfying knowledge of God is not limited to a particular vocation (minister), personality (somber, sentimental), or location (closet); intimacy is available to every saint, of all kinds, all the time.  Do you know God intimately?  Are you growing in intimacy with Him?

2.      We know the Holy Spirit of wisdom is answering Paul’s prayer when throughout our daily lives we grow in relationship with God.  When our relationship with God controls not mere snippets of devotional life, but all of life, then our hearts can be warmed that God is not only for us, but in us.  Is Christ, the hope of glory, working inside of you?  Are you growing, be it ever so slow, in desire to serve God with all of your life, all the time?    

3.      You know the eyes of your heart are being enlightened when the Bible addresses you.  When the Bible speaks not merely about a strange people, long ago, in a far away land, but speaks to you, today, in your living room, then you know yourself to be a blood-bought child of God.  The Spirit of revelation speaks the language of Christ crucified straight into the Christian’s soul.  Only Christians hear it.  Do you hear Him speaking to you on the pages of Scripture?  If so, listen carefully, for He is intimately relating to you by revealing Himself.  

      We will spend the next three articles discovering the importance of knowing God.  In particular, there are three benefits to intimacy with God:

1.       That you may know what is the hope to which he has called you (Eph. 1:18b);

2.      [That you may know] what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Eph. 1:18c);

3.      [That you may know] what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (Eph. 1:19).

Called to a Different Hope

That you may know what is the hope to which he has called you—Ephesians 1:18b

Hope is so fundamental to human beings we cannot live without it.  Hopelessness is helplessness; hopelessness is despair; hopelessness is meaninglessness.  A man without hope is a dead man walking, a man barely alive, a man with a pulse but no purpose.  Snuff out someone’s hope and you snuff out their life.  Most people cope with dashed hopes by accumulating numerous hopes, so when one is snuffed out another provides refuge.  Health vanishes, so we switch hope to medication; marital bliss fades, so we hope in our children; career goes south, so we hope in friendships to give us life.  On we go through life, bouncing from one dashed hope to the next, always hoping the next hope will not leave us hopeless.          

      And then it happens.  It is the equivalent of Job’s life, read about in 42 inspired chapters, experienced yourself, or seen in others.  It is the destruction of all hopes and dreams, life on the rock-bottom, the moment the future offers you no relief or possibility of relief.  It is the moment you realize Job was neither delirious nor demented when he cried out, “Though [God] slay me, yet will I hope in Him” (Job 13:15).  It is the “aha” when you realize the God you love, and who loves you, has dashed all your hopes except one.  At this moment we are strangely comforted—without yet warmed; empty yet eased; lacking yet lavished.      

      You see, as American Christians we tend to believe God owes us, God must make my life easy, or worse God wants to make my life easy.  That belief, then, sends us in search of the easy life which God, apparently, desires we have.  The problem with life, then, or so we think, is not that God does not guarantee happiness and ease, but that we have not yet discovered the life which God has called us to live.  Once we have found that life, we erroneously reason, everything will come easy.

      Belief that a comfortable life now is God’s will for Christians is so deadly it needs immediate treatment.  There is only one hope (Eph. 4:4) to which God has called you, my fellow Christian, and it is not a hope rooted in comfortable living: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).  Christian hope is focused on the future: the appearing of Christ (Titus 2:13); the resurrection (Acts 23:6; 24:15); eternal life to come (Titus 1:2); receiving the inheritance of eternal life (Titus 3:7); and the expectation of our coming salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8).  Hope is the guarantee of a glorious future which changes the way we live today.  Christians have a glorious hope in Christ (1 Timothy 1:1); therefore we live not helplessly or lifelessly, but hopeful and full of life.   

      This means, then, that the greater our intimacy with God, the more we realize motivation for life cannot be found in the tangibles of this life.  Christians are not driven, or should not be driven, by the hope of lucrative careers, prestigious homes, prodigious children, perfect marriages, or plush vacations replete with lawn-chairs which don’t collapse, Coronas which never dehydrate, sand which never blows in your face, turquoise seas forever calm, and skies Crayola blue.  Each of these tangibles is delightful, and if granted should be enjoyed, but when they become our hope, life turns sour.  Lucrative careers can satisfy a non-Christian (sort of, but not really), but once you have been called of God (converted), a lucrative career no longer satisfies your soul, and you see it never did.  C.S. Lewis describes Christian hope this way:

Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.  There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.  The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy.  I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers.  I am speaking of the best possible ones.  There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality.  I think everyone knows what I mean.  The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us…

        …If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.  If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthy blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.  I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same. 

Paul’s prays that we may know the hope to which we have been called.  You can always tell those Christians who know it.  They have peace in life no matter the circumstances.  When things go well they are thankful, not proud or presumptuous; when things fall apart they are patient, not overly despairing or destitute.  It seems as though nothing swells their head and nothing destroys them, almost as if they were anchored in something, or Someone, beyond this life.  They are.  They are anchored in Jesus Christ, who sought His hope not in popularity or success, not in comfort or vacation, and not in family or friends, but in the joy that was set before Him.  He endured the Cross, despised its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).  You too, believer shall be seated there soon.  Your race will soon be over and the battle done.  But for now there is a cross upon your back which you must carry, and the hope of another life which must drive you.  God has called us to this.  Do you know this hope?  Then you have been called.                      

The Saints’ Rich Inheritance

That you may know…what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints—Ephesians 1:18c

Picture yourself an Ephesian Christian, gathered in corporate worship, sitting happily adjacent a brother who, the night before, exercised in the gymnasium but apparently skipped the baths.  As the congregation filters in, people greet and sit, and the rustling leaves of heartfelt conversation fill the air.  At the point where young pastor Timothy ordinarily calls worship to order, he announces a slight change in the service.  The text printed in the bulletin has been changed from an Old Testament text to a letter from Paul because Tychicus, another pastor trained by Paul, arrived in town a few days prior to give a missionary update on Paul and to encourage the Ephesian hearts (read the letter).  After numerous, “Amen!”’s from the congregants, deafening silence prevailed.  You could have heard a pin drop, or a mouse squeak—a marketer from Sprint would know how to say it.

      Tychicus begins reading, and comes to our passage: “That you may know…what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”  Deep groans emanate; comfort sets in; thoughts percolate.  “Did Paul really write what I just heard?”  After worship many rush the front.  They read the Greek.  Paul really said it.  He called them saints (Eph. 1:1), and urged them, through prayer, to know more fully the riches of their glorious inheritance. 

      Egyptian, Jewish, and Greek inheritance laws maintained that sons (or other children if absent sons), by virtue of their sonship, received the family inheritance.  If you were an Egyptian, Jewish, or Greek son, and your parents owned anything, you were guaranteed an inheritance. 

      Roman law diverged slightly from this practice.  According to Roman laws, parents were not obligated to give their possessions to their children; rather, parents were free to give their possessions to whomever they pleased, presumably those who had procured their favor.  So when the Ephesians, themselves citizens of Rome and familiar with Roman inheritance laws, heard Paul pray he desired they know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance, they heard a profound gospel.

      What gospel did they hear?  They heard God loved them not because He had to love them, but because He desired to love them.  God gave them a glorious inheritance not because He was obliged to give it, but because He wanted to give it.  In other words, somehow, or by Someone, the Ephesian Christians had procured God’s favor—His freely-bestowed favor.  They stood to inherit something from God, for God was pleased with them.            

      How can it be that we, a people so unworthy, from a God so majestic, receive an inheritance so glorious?  How did we obtain His favor?  Why does He treat us so richly?  Would someone please explain this phenomenon, and soon? 

      Jesus Christ left behind His heavenly riches that we, through His poverty, might become rich and participate in His riches; Jesus Christ left behind his heavenly glory, taking upon Himself our inglorious flesh, that we might enter into heavenly glory; on the Cross, Jesus Christ was cast out, cut off, despised, rejected, forsaken, shunned, evicted, dispossessed, divested, stripped, abandoned, exheridated (dictionary.reference.com—“Thanks”), and disinherited, that through His sacrificial death, whereby He was disinherited, we might gain an inheritance from God in Christ.    

      My fellow believer, do you feel rich and glorious?  Do you feel valuable and precious?  Do you find yourself surrounded by a sea of saints, an enormous cloud of believers, who, like you, have had eyes in their hearts spring to life to see the unseen?  Do you experience within your daily life, contrary to all external appearances and circumstances, an other-worldly reality which convincingly declares you will soon be (and now are) wealthier and more glorious than the wealthiest and most glorious person who has ever lived?  Are you aware that Someone, a god, the God, the only true and living God, the glorious God of the universe, has written you into His will, and that your self-worth no longer depends—no longer should depend—upon anything else but that entry? 

      Have you considered the riches which are yours both now and in eternity in Christ Jesus?  Do you consider that God Himself has sought you out in order to heap upon you copious and glorious riches in Jesus Christ?  Do you live daily in the reality that you, a child of God, have a glorious future awaiting, full of God’s riches and surrounded by fellow saints?  If you are a Christian, you can, you should, you must.  And especially when you feel—in your innermost being—poor, broken, inglorious, lacking, passed-by, neglected, and even disinherited, you will want to, you will need to, you will have to soak your soul in His Inheritance.  At these moments will feel as though you cannot live without constant consideration of this unseen reality.  Because you can’t.  Did you think you could?    

God’s Power Toward Christians

That you may know…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe—Eph. 1:19

If only we knew.  We know the power of a tsunami, of a volcano, and of tectonic plates sliding against one another.  We know the power of jet engines, gunpowder, atomic bombs, and armies.  Each of these is powerful, often very powerful, but the God who established them is exceedingly more powerful than all combined.  And that power is directed toward believers, or so we are told.     

      You may have encountered them in mirror or person.  They are cynical believers, convinced God is too weak to overcome, to overpower, to overwhelm.  Their skepticism about God’s power in believer’s lives cowers under pious talk about human depravity, personality traits, and insurmountable sinful habits.  They wear-out the witticism, “You can’t teach an old dog a new trick”, as if God were a tenured professor at Canine College, and we His elderly, obdurate dog-pupils.  They believe, of course that God is all-powerful, and they’ll prove it by unleashing the fancy word—omnipotent—just in case you questioned their theological compentency.  Yet words aside, they speak like God is powerful, but live as if He were powerless; they talk like God is omnipotent, but deny it by the way they pray; and they pretend God is almighty, but His power dies the death of a thousand qualifications in their hearts: “God is immeasurably powerful toward His children, BUT...BUT…BUT…”  And on it goes.           

      D.A. Carson explodes the endless qualifications when he writes:

Paul cannot be satisfied with a brand of Christianity that is orthodox but dead, rich in the theory of justification but powerless when it comes to transforming people’s lives.[3]      

      And D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones presses the point home even further, emphasizing the power of God in creating a Christian: 

A Christian is the result of the operation of God, nothing less, nothing else…A Christian is not merely a member of a church, he is not merely a good man, he is not merely a man who has made a decision.  A person can do all that and still not be a Christian.  A Christian is one who has been created anew; and there is only One who can create, namely, God.  It takes the power of God to make a Christian.[4]   

      Imagine the power it took to raise Jesus Christ from the dead, to seat Him in the heavenlies and to subject the entire world under His rule.  That same power is directed toward us, toward you, Christian, and it will change you and your faith-siblings whether we like it or not.

      Only let us pray that we would come to know this power, to experience it, to bask in it.  Let us be on our knees praying for a revival of God’s redemptive power toward us.  Few things are as discouraging as Christians cynical about God’s power.  God has reconciled enemies to Himself; why, then, do some believe His redemption lacks the power to reconcile bitter Christians to one another?  God has turned our hearts toward Him with the Cross of grace; why, then, do we sneer at the possibility that grace can change others.  God has raised Jesus from the dead; why, then, do we scoff at the simple faith of one who believes God will raise many people from spiritual death to life?  

      We need look no further than life inside the church to see God’s power.  By God’s power, proud Christians are humbled and glory-seekers are stripped of glory; gossips are silenced and backbiters are discredited; liars are found out and thieves starve physically, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually.  No, beloved, God is neither dead nor fooled, and His power in us and toward us will not allow us to live lives of self-centered gratification.  You and I may silence the people who call-out our pride, but we cannot silence God’s power.  When we listen neither to the Scriptures nor to those who speak God’s Word into our ears, God shows Himself powerful by circumventing our ears.  He intervenes with His power and leaves us flattened.  Did we think He would do otherwise, as though He wound us with an infinite spring to run without divine intervention?  Do you know this intervention?  Have you experienced it?  Have you finally understood that you cannot out-power the Omnipotent, fool the Omniscient, or out-maneuver the Omnipresent?      

       More powerful than 20 bullets to your chest, more overwhelming than a 60 foot tsunami ramming into you at 200mph, and more intense than the heat and wind of an atomic bomb’s flash zone, God’s power overwhelms us, conquers us, changes us, subdues us.  God favors not dead-orthodoxy: the idea conjured by experiential skeptics that going through the motions and believing right doctrine is somehow pleasing to Him.  Our God is a missionary God, a revival God, a powerful God at work within us and for us.  Quit explaining away His power in believers.  And if you have spent your life afraid God might aim His power toward you, you can stop being afraid now.  At Golgotha the power of God’s wrath broke His Son; now the power of His mercy and grace is ours.  If only we knew.  Do you know it in your life?  Do you pray for it in your life and the lives of others? 

[1] You can read more of Paul’s prayers in Romans 15:14-33; Ephesians 3:14-21; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-14; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12.

[2] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, p. 352.

[3]  D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers, p. 177.

[4] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, pp. 395-396.