Tag Archives: Affections & Motivations

The Language of Experience

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16–19 ESV

I recently watched a message by Ligon Duncan on Ephesians 3:14-19 (here) in which he discusses how Paul’s plea for the Christians at Ephesus was that they would “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”  In his message, he says “Paul just prayed that you would know a love that is beyond knowing – that is clearly the language of experience.”  Something clicked in me as I began to recall how the bible is so full of experiential language.  Most modern evangelicals are uncomfortable with such language and have nowhere to file it.  Perhaps it is because we are so information driven or because we can’t program it or make it happen.  However, the language of experience seems to be the Bible’s native tongue.

How does one know that God is good?  We know that He is good by tasting and seeing that He is good (Psalms 43:8).  There is a difference between knowing that honey is sweet and tasting honey and experiencing its sweetness.  And what about anxiety?  We are told that there is a peace available to us that surpasses all surpasses (Philippians 4:7).  We are to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  Our souls will be satisfied when we hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).  In John 6, Jesus identifies himself as the Bread of life that satiates our soul’s hunger pangs.  He is the living water that quenches our thirst (Jeremiah 2:13, John 4:10, Revelation 7:17).

One can hardly read a page in the Psalms without being invited to experience God at a level that is beyond mere intellectual understanding.

  • “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” (Psalms 107:9 ESV)
  • “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalms 63:1 ESV)
  • “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” (Psalms 42:1 ESV)
  • “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalms 84:2 ESV)
  • “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”  (Psalms 119:92 ESV)
  • “When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah” (Psalms 77:3 ESV)

Let us taste; let us hunger; let us thirst; let us pant; let us long; let us delight; let us be satisfied.  Let us pray with Paul “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:17–23 ESV).  Lord, give us eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to believe (Mark 8:17-18, 7:31-35, 8:22-26, Isaiah 6:8-10)

 

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Marked by the Almighty

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.
Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him. (Exodus 34:29–35 ESV)

God instructs Moses to cut two stone tablets (like the first ones that he broke) and to bring them up the mountain (Exodus 34:1) for their second face to face meeting.  The people feared God and appointed Moses as their mediator (Exodus 20:19).  Once Moses had climbed the mountain, the Lord descended from heaven and passed before him and revealed his majesty and glory to Moses (34:5-7).  The result?  Moses bowed his head and interceded on behalf of himself and the people (v8-9).  Moses worshiped and pled for mercy.  Being in the presence of the Almighty always brings a sense of awe, reverence and personal smallness.

Interestingly, when Moses descended from the mountain with the tablets, he was glowing.  His face literally shone with the glory of God.  It caused the people to be fearful so he wore a veil over his face.  He would remove the veil when he met with God and he would replace it when he met with the people.  The glory of the Lord was too much for them.  Moses had been marked by the Almighty.  His experience with God marked him – spiritually, emotionally & physically.

Being in the presence of the sovereign God of the universe always marks us – it leaves us changed, transformed.  Think about Isaiah’s experience with God in Isaiah 6.  Think about Psalm 73 where the psalmist wrestles with the prosperity & blessing of the wicked.  He wrestled with what he saw, “but when he thought how to understand this, it seemed to him a wearisome task, until he went into the sanctuary of God; then he discerned their end” (Psalms 73:16–17 ESV).  Though the psalmist wrestled with real world questions, he was marked by meeting God in His sanctuary and, as a result, his perspective changed.  David is another example.  In psalm 51:1-12, David is wrestling with his sin and being laid bare before a perfectly holy God.  Something interesting happens in verse 13, though – David is so marked by the forgiveness that he has received that he vows to “teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you” (Psalms 51:13 ESV).  David had been so marked by the forgiveness of God that it changed him to the core.  When Job encountered the Almighty face to face, he proclaimed “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” Job 42:5.

The same was true of Peter and John when they were gathered before the elders in Jerusalem.  Luke tells us, “now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 ESV).  They were filled with the Spirit (4:8) and His presence marked them, transformed them and empowered them.

Let us goto out bibles intent on seeing God. Let us not search for trite formulas to make our lives work better in order to cope with living in this fallen world; let us not primarily focus on what we must do until we have spent plenty of time focusing on who He is and what He has done to forgive us, save us and adopt us into His family.  Let us seek to see Him and beg him to show us His glory.  We far too often approach the bible as a way to fix our problems, rather than a story that reveals a powerful, just, merciful God that redeems a rebellious people.  How we read our bibles matters.  Lord, help us to see you and savor you as supreme.  Help us to believe that “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalms 16:11 ESV).

 

Truly Transformational Small Groups & Relationships

We’d rather work a formula than submit to a process that will be scary and unknown, even if it will ultimately change our hearts and character. So don’t give in to the temptation to just “do” something else, to come up with a new plan, a retooled strategy, alone—again. There are no shortcuts to believing the difficult but life-giving, heart-changing, and joy-enhancing truths I’ve shared in these chapters.

Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, Page 122

“Unfortunately, I’m finding more and more accountability groups to be pretty ineffective. If people are not careful, these groups can become nothing more than places where people unload and confess but do not change. In many cases the confidentiality, safety, and security of such groups become the highest goal of the group, inhibiting group effectiveness. Now, of course, you need these elements in a group—that’s a given. But when the dynamics of the group primarily center on the commonality of the struggle itself, then what can happen is that the expectation of change—and more importantly, how it happens—can get lost. Then the group will become ineffective and eventually collapse in a spirit of defeatism and hopelessness. Maybe you’re in a group like this and know what I’m talking about.

Not long ago I was talking with a guy who had been in such a group for several years. He told me, “John, the problem is that no one in the group is experiencing any type of breakthrough or change.” He went on to say that there is something of a “spiritual” basis to the group. A Scripture portion is read each week. Songs are sung. People share challenges, falls, and similar information. There’s lots of camaraderie. But, he added, “The common denominator of why we’re all there seems to be the problems themselves and the difficulty and shame of the struggles we share. This seems a more powerful glue to the group than does the hope and expectation that Christ will show up and actually do something.” The expectancy that God would work in hearts to bring about new steps of faith and repentance had been “dumbed down,” as had been the call to serious holiness. People in the group just weren’t that hopeful that they would ever change.

This can happen so easily in a group. It’s the natural path groups sometimes take if they turn inward and the essence of the group becomes the struggle itself. Ultimately, that’s the wrong “content” to focus on so exclusively. The commonality and the camaraderie are important, but effective change groups must put the application of God’s Word front and center. The Scriptures, carefully applied to real-life situations, must take priority and be highly valued as part of any group meeting. Otherwise, the group will remain comforting and safe but will lose its power to be an agent of change. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of groups. I believe in them. Part of our ministry’s mission is to help churches begin partner ministries, and I’ve seen groups used powerfully in the lives of hundreds of people over the years. I would say that groups can be used of God in ways that individual counseling can’t match. Something happens in groups that can become a very significant part of how Christ meets people in a new way, giving them the hope of the gospel, as well as being a tangible symbol of God’s love and care expressed through the group members.

When the centrality of the gospel is at the heart of a group, then the other elements of the group can be made more effective. There are three life-changing activities that must take place as part of any successful biblical support group. The first crucial element is accountability. Accountability happens when I speak honestly about my temptation, my sin, and the condition of my heart with other Christian brothers. This requires ruthless honesty about the destructive stuff that fills and fuels my heart and speaking of it with other men. Discipleship is the second, central element, which I have already mentioned. As a group member, I am growing in faith and in God’s truth and grasping more and more who I really am as God’s child because of God’s love for me. I can expect to see step-by-step move- ment (even if they are only small steps) and growth as I take hold of the reality of the gospel. Discipleship happens where I am and helps me apply the gospel to all the chaos, conflict, and confusion in my own heart, in order to make me a new and different person. Effective discipleship also enables me to get out of myself; to begin to love and serve others with my time, energy, and resources—because of what God is doing in me and what Christ is coming to mean to me. Third, there’s the important element of transparency. Transparency is when I commit daily—with everyone, and not just with the members of my group—to living openly and without deceit, offering my life and the motives of my heart to the examination of others! Transparency may seem like accountability, but transparency is when I begin ruthlessly speaking the truth about everything I do, on a day-to-day basis. Because my sexual struggles and sin have been hidden for so long, I realize that lying and deceit have become a part of my daily habits. Now, by God’s power, I learn to walk in the light and no longer in the darkness.

Do you see how the ordinary “accountability” group may fall far short of being an effective agent of change? That’s because the element of accountability is only one of several things that are needed, and it’s not even the most important one. But we often mistake it as such, omitting other crucial building blocks to wholeness.

I know that when it comes to that last ingredient, transparency, you may be thinking, John, that seems like death! The accountability part is hard enough, but transparency, with everyone? Believe me, it may seem like death, but it’s the way to real life! It’s the way to a clear conscience and to knowing God’s love and acceptance through others who are on your team, rooting for you! There’s nothing like it. If you’ve not experienced it, you may just have to take my word for it. Small groups and one-on-one-or-two-or-three connections like this are what have helped change my life for over forty years now. Having relationships like this, where I’m reminded of the gospel through others, is what’s often made it possible for me to preach the gospel to myself in challenging situations, when my heart could easily head “south” into dark and destructive places.”

Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, Page 127-130

Wisdom Worships in Wonder

There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.
When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
(Ecclesiastes 8:14–17 ESV)

It is frustrating and meaningless that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Let us not attempt to over spiritualize or sugar coat the reality that those who walk in open to rebellion to their Creator often times receive apparent blessings while those who seek to walk uprightly in humble dependence upon their God seem to have profoundly difficult circumstances that they must endure. There is no apparent reward for walking uprightly. Ah, but there lies the rub that reveals our hearts! Should we walk uprightly just to be rewarded or because the Creator calls us to and we long to walk in obedience? One is birthed out of wanting something, the other is out of wanting Someone. Choose the latter.

If God grants satisfaction and joy in the simple pleasures such as good food, drink and a few people to walk through this life with then be grateful. These pleasures, along with a degree of satisfaction in our work are nothing short of simple graces that the Almighty bestows upon His creations due to His goodness.

Solomon concedes that there is so much mystery that we will never find out. This mystery should point us to the Creator, but often times we double down and resolve to figure things out. Should we investigate, think, study, invent, create, etc? Of course, when we do so we reflect God’s glory as His image bearers! But the more that we make advances, the more we should realize the vastness of God’s creation and how little that we know and understand. This is rarely the case for we praise ourselves for new inventions or discoveries – as we should – but the praise terminates upon us. Our worship was designed to point to Someone greater. When we let our worship terminate upon created things instead of flowing through to the Creator of all things, we stunt our worship and become less human than we were designed to be. The more we know, the more we should see how little we really know, which should lead us to worship God more fully and deeply. It does not matter how hard we resolve and try, there are things that are God’s and we will never understand, know or have the capacity to comprehend. True wisdom knows when to worship in wonder; true wisdom knows when to stop and be amazed at God’s vastness and beauty. This should amaze us because this infinite, all powerful Creator determined to limit Himself by clothing Himself in flesh to rescue rebellious people like you and me.

The Futility of Created Things

“What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9–13 ESV)

What true gain does the worker have from his work? Provision? Yes. Accomplishment? Yes. True satisfaction? Not very often. The satisfaction of a job well down and the satiation that we seek escapes us; when we do feel it, it quickly fades. This is what life is like east of Eden. Work is no longer satisfying as it was intended to be; it is now wrought with thorns and thistles. Additionally, the business that God has given man seems meaningless in so many ways (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11). We get up, wipe the sleep out of our eyes, stumble into our days, do our work (which is often frustrating), return home, go to bed and do it all over again – there is a certain futility to it all. Our familial relationships are stunted; they are only whiffs of the glory that they should be. True friends and community are hard to find. This should cause lamenting in us for something that should be, something that once was, something that is now lost. But, it should produce hope as well, as we see God restoring and redeeming those things to their former glory (Romans 8:18-25, Revelation 21:1-5)! It is a grace to be able to stop and assess this and set our hope above the sun!

Despite the futility of this world and the seemingly endless cycle that we are on, there is beauty to be seen and experienced; there still exists a certain order, harmony and beauty in created things. The birth of a child; moments of true connection with a child, spouse or friend; the beauty of a sunset; the satisfying embrace of one’s spouse and lover; the satisfaction of a project completed; the spectacular glory of mountains capped with snow or a beautiful sunset. May this beauty point to Someone above the sun who is far more beautiful. May the glory that we feel in these moments not terminate upon these created things, but roll up to the Creator of these things.

“Humanity still has Eden in its veins. We have ‘eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). Our souls instinctively yearn for a purposed life without end under this time-chained sun.”1 God has put an ancient, eternal, everlasting sense in our hearts that we cannot figure out or understand. There is a sense in all mankind that there is more than just life under the sun, but no amount of information, studying or learning can satisfy this longing. Facts and information do not resolve this deep whisper in a man’s soul. As wise and noble as Solomon was, he acknowledged that his ability to understand deep, eternal things on his own was limited. We are no different. We can’t figure it out, we can’t find God. Indeed, He is not lost – we need Him to find us – we are lost. We need Him, without Him we will not “figure out” the deep nag in the soul. Indeed, the answer is not under the sun.

Yes, there is frustration to life under the sun; we intuitively know that it is not as it should be, and that there are things that we do not know and cannot understand. Solomon concludes that we should learn to enjoy the good things that God gives us under the sun.  We should be joyful and do good because we know that anything satisfying east of Eden is a gift from the Creator because all things should be utter futility, but they aren’t. When we see clearly that created things can never fully sooth the nag of the soul, then we can learn to enjoy them for what they are – not expecting something from them that they lack the capacity to supply. We should learn to enjoy the good gifts that God has given us – like eating good food, drinking good drink with friends and finding satisfaction on our work. The ability to find satisfaction in these things is a gift from the Creator; joy is found in understanding the “givenness” of all things.  “In other words, the best good in the madness under the sun is found when we recover some small resemblance to what we were made for in Eden.”2

Against the transient backdrop of the vanities of this world, the absolute sovereign power of the Almighty shines all the brighter. This should cause us to see our position before Him as created beings that are finite, tiny and lacking. It should produce reverence and fear, a theme in Ecclesiastes (5:7; 12:13). But, redemption is coming; Eden will be restored. Lord, help us to park our hope on You, not on the things that you have created.

1Recovering Eden by Zack Eswine, Page 126
2Ibid., Page 15

Redemption is Here

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

(John 4:25–42 ESV)

Verses 25-26.  Jesus reveals to her that He is the messiah.  Stop.  Jesus reveals that He is God who has condescended Himself to redeem His people from their bondage and shame.  He reveals this to an immoral, outcast woman who has no worth in either her eyes or the eyes of the world in which she lived.  Jesus’ good words of forgiveness and redemption are only spoken to those who feel unworthy, alone and dirty because good people see no need for grace.  Until you see yourself as the Samaritan women, until you identify deeply with this woman, the shame destroying message of grace will not resonate deeply in your soul. Unless you see yourself as no different than the Samaritan woman, grace will provide no satiation for your soul; you will continue to dig out cisterns for yourself that can hold no water. The unconditional love, approval and acceptance of God only quenches the thirst of those who see themselves as unloveable, dirty, rejected, unworthy.  Remember your chains.

The disciples were shocked that Jesus was talking to a woman – especially a woman from Samaria.  The woman left and proclaimed Christ to the town.  This was no small feat for an outcast, but she had tasted hope for the first time in a very long time.  She engaged the people in town and invited them to see this man who told her everything that she had ever done – and she had apparently done a lot.  And many believed based upon her testimony alone.  The people were apparently convinced that something significant must have happened to her and they all came to see Jesus.  They asked Him to stay with them, so He stayed two more days.  How interesting is that?  Jesus stays with a group of outcasts two extra days!  Jesus loves those who are unloveable by the world’s standards and yet we often times seek to be loveable – that is to bring something of merit before the Almighty – instead of resting in the love that He has for us.

This unclean, unacceptable group of outcasts profess Jesus as the Savior of the World.  He is not only the Savior of the Jews, but also the Savior of the world!  He saves all people – from every nation, tribe and tongue!  First to the Jews (Nicodemus in John 3:1-15), then to the Samaritans (John 4:1-42) and then to the Gentiles (the official at Capernaum in John 4:46-54).  The disciples  were confused and encouraged Him to eat, but Jesus had a more pressing agenda than to fill His stomach.  Accomplishing the mission of redemption for which He came was of greater importance than satisfying His physical hunger.  We should do the same, but more than that, we should marvel at how the God-man regularly placed His needs as secondary in order to serve His creation.  Think about that, this is no ordinary king.  Kings are served.  This King – the King of the universe – came to serve the created.  The Creator serving the created – that is backwards, but that is what it took to undo the effects of the fall (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28).

Often times we read this passage and use it to motivate (or manipulate) ourselves and others into going to share the gospel.  After all, the fields are ripe for the harvest, we conclude.  When Jesus said, “the fields are ripe for the harvest,” He is referring to the crowd of Samaritan’s who were coming toward them which would believe in the gospel.  In God’s kingdom, the unwanted outcasts are welcomed with open arms.  Should we go and share the gospel, of course!  But we should marvel all the more at how the God of the universe made Himself nothing to seek and save outcasts like you and me.  As we marvel at that, we will be transformed and will actually want to share the good news with others.

We become what we Worship

“But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved.” (Hosea 9:10 ESV).

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” 1 Corinthians 3:18

In the last post, we discussed how we need to see God more clearly in order to experience His glory and grace.  This post is connected because we rarely stop to think about how our heart really affects our worship.  You don’t need to look too far in your own life to see this truth playing out.  The things that interest you are the things that mark you.  If it is the newest technological wonder, then you will talk about when it is expected to be out and how it will make life better.  If it is health and fitness, then you will talk about your latest workout, diet or special shake that will make you healthier.  If it is a new business endeavor, then you will tell people about it and how excited you are.  If it is a favorite sport or team, then you will know all of their stats and will talk about it all of the time.  Whether it’s a new car, relationship, job or activity, what captivates your heart is what drives your life.

This is not a bad thing.  We were designed to work, relate and rule so we are just doing what we were designed to do.  We can use this basic understanding of life to see how our lives are driven by what we look at and hold dear.  Many Christians believe that the Christian life is to be stoic and that we are not to enjoy anything.  On the contrary, we need to raise our gaze and see Christ as the greater treasure than anything this world has to offer (Matthew 13:44).  Recall the story of the Sirens from Greek mythology. The Sirens were beautiful women with angelic voices.  They lured unknowing travelers to their island by their enchanting voices.  When Jason went on a journey that took him by their island, He took Orpheus, who played the lyre, with him.  As soon as they could begin to hear the Siren’s voices in the distance, Orpheus played a more beautiful tune that drowned out the voices of the Sirens and they successfully sailed past the island.  Odysseus, on the other hand, wanted to hear the voices of the Sirens so He ordered his men to plug the ears and tie him to the mast of the boat.  He ordered them not to untie him no matter what he did.  As they passed the island, he heard the tune and was enchanted, but could not free himself in order to get to the island.

The primary work for us to do is not to build elaborate strategies of tying ourselves to the masts of our boats and plugging our ears with beeswax in order to avoid temptation and sin.  There are good things that we should do to build healthy boundaries that help us to avoid temptations that are real in our lives, but the real work is to hear a better tune.  The real work is not in making other things less attractive, but in seeing God as increasingly more attractive.  The real work is to see clearly because the Creator of all things has called you His own, has forgiven you and has adopted you as His own child.  This should cause your soul to sing its own song.  

Suffering is a valuable tool that God uses to help us to see more clearly.  No one likes suffering, but few Christians have walked through suffering and come out the other side that do not see more clearly and worship God more deeply.  Where do you park your hope? Where is your joy found?  If your hope and joy are on created things, you will walk a life of profound ups and downs because created things cannot hold the weight of your worship.  They cannot provide ultimate soul level satisfaction.  The Israelites set their hope on an idol that they thought would provide rain and bountiful harvests, but in the end their lives became debauched and repulsive (Hosea 9:10).  Why did this happen?  Because whatever we behold in our hearts as ultimate is what transforms us into its image (1 Corinthians 3:18).  What are you beholding?

For further reading, see A Letter to an Incomplete, Insecure Teenager – Desiring God.

Glory and Grace Must Be Experienced

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
(Isaiah 6:1–8 ESV)

Our church is preaching through the book of John this year with an emphasis on the glory of God.  I can’t think of a better book to display God’s manifold beauty, wisdom and power.  Glory, however, is a difficult word to define – it is like beauty.  Beauty is something that must be beheld to be fully understood.  Like the beauty of a sunset, the grand canyon or a beautiful woman – you can try to describe it, but mere words do not do it justice.  Glory is the same way, just describing glory falls short – to fully understand glory, you must behold something glorious; you must experience it, you must be in its presence.  It is important for us to understand this or else we will spend countless hours trying to define or describe something that is best understood when it is experienced.  John Piper helped me in understanding this in one of his “Ask Pastor John” podcasts (see the link and audio below).

Let’s walk through Isaiah 6 together because it is helpful in understanding how we experience glory and grace.  Neither grace nor glory can be explained – they both must be experienced.  In this passage, Isaiah has a vision of the Lord in the temple that is pretty spectacular because the train of His robe fills the entire temple and there are two heavenly creatures (Seraphim) that are crying out, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts.”

The Seraphim are fiery (the Hebrew means flames) heavenly beings that are super powerful.  They have six wings and can talk.  But even these powerful creatures cover their faces in the presence of the Almighty.   They cry out, “Holy, holy, holy,” which means that  God is in a class all His own.  He is infinitely more perfect, good, worthy and powerful than anything else in all of creation; He is distinctly different and morally perfect.  No improvement can be made on God.  This is what Isaiah is experiencing as these creatures cry out, “holy, holy, holy is The Lord God Almighty.”  We might expect them to say that the whole earth is full of God’s holiness, but that is not what they say.  They say that the whole earth is full of His glory.  Glory is related to seeing God’s holiness – glory is related to seeing and experiencing God for who He really is; glory is connected to being in the presence of the Almighty.

Glory is a technical term for God’s manifest presence with His covenant people.  We see His presence (glory) in the cloud in the desert (Exodus 16:7 & 10), in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35) and also in the temple (1 Kings 8:11).  Worshipers experience His glory (Ex. 29:43; Ps. 26:8; 63:2) and there is coming a day when the whole earth will be filled with His glory (Num. 14:21; Ps. 72:19; Hab. 2:14; cf. Isa. 11:9).  A major theme in the book of Isaiah is the anticipation of a day when God’s glory increases and is manifest over the entire earth (11:10; 35:2; 40:5; 58:8; 59:19; 60:1–2; 66:18).  The Seraphim seem to be longing for God’s glory to fill the earth because this passage can also be translated, “may his glory fill the whole earth.”  This same glory was present with Jesus (John 1:14).

Glory is the manifest presence of God’s holiness and beauty.  It is the sum total of who He is.  God is glorified when we are able to get a glimpse of who He really is – to be in His presence.  To glorify God involves seeing God in all of His “godness,” beauty and greatness.

Let’s keep going though.  What we see in the passage is an experience in Isaiah that we all should long for.  The presence of the immensity of God caused the foundations to shake and the temple to be filled with smoke.  It is terrifying to be in the presence of the Almighty (see Exodus 19:16-20); the Israelites recognized this as they determined that the needed a mediator (Deuteronomy 5:24–27) because God’s glory & greatness is frightening to sinful humans.

 Something beautiful happens when Isaiah encounters the Almighty in the temple – he cries out “woe to me.”  Seeing God causes Isaiah to see things more clearly, he sees himself as  an unclean man dwelling in midst of an unclean people.    He is unfit to be in the presence of God – a stark contrast to the Seraphim who are in God’s presence.  Experiencing the holiness and presence of the King seems to be a death sentence for sinners like you and me (Gen. 32:30; Ex. 33:20; Isa. 33:14) and Isaiah’s words verify that the prophet is feeling the same way.

We spend so much of our lives trying to prove to ourselves and others that we are ok, that we aren’t really that bad, that we are worthy.  Isaiah was a prophet, which means that he was a lot “better” than those around Him – he was a holy man.  But when Isaiah encounters God and all of His holiness and glory, he sees clearly.  Seeing ourselves, and our condition clearly is the first step in walking in freedom – and it always involves seeing ourselves against the backdrop of who God is and knowing that we are woefully lacking.

Isaiah didn’t resolve to try harder or to deny His deficiencies.  There was no ritual, resolve or sacrifice that Isaiah could offer that would remedy the situation.  Grace was the only solution.  God delivers grace via the Seraphim so that his lips would be clean.  Isaiah’s sins have been atoned for by one simple touch from God.  God’s grace is applied.  In a moment Isaiah goes from unclean to clean, outsider to adopted son, enemy to friend.

Now Isaiah’s heart turns to living a life of mission.  He longs to proclaim the glory and grace of God.  He will go and proclaim God’s glorious grace, but the people will not receive it because their hearts were hard, ears were closed and eyes were blind.  Isaiah was called to a very frustrating mission of proclaiming God’s glory and grace in which no one would respond.

We often times want to proclaim grace, but when grace is disconnected from who God really is it falls on deaf ears.  Good people don’t need grace.  The answer is not more grace, more grace more grace.  The answer is that we need to see God more clearly; we need to be ushered into His presence so that we see His immensity and our smallness.  We need to raise our gaze.  When we experience His glory by being in His presence, we experiencing His grace by Him atoning for our sins and allowing us to boldly enter the throne room of grace – and live!

We experience God’s glory as we get glimpses of Him.  We will be looking at ways to behold Him more clearly in coming posts!

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-god-s-glory#

Motivations Matter

“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34 ESV)
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
(Matthew 15:18–19 ESV)

Tim Keller says that “the key difference between a Christian and a Pharisee is motivation. One obeys to get God’s stuff, the other obeys just to get God.”  This is true and we see it cover to cover in the bible.  God is not after any kind of obedience, God is after our JOYFUL obedience.

We are leaky people – what is on the inside leaks out of us.  If we are angry people, it has a way of leaking out on others;  if we are anxious, then it leaks out; if we are discontent then it leaks out; whatever is on the inside leaks out of our heart in the form of our feelings, words and behaviors.  This is why simply trying to manage our sinful behaviors never works.  We might try to buckle down and be extra disciplined to guard our tongues against gossip, our eyes from pornography or our quick whit from injuring others, but we ultimately fail.  The reason we fail is because we are fighting a losing battle because we have not destroyed the supply lines that keep the battle raging.

Should we not be concerned with our sinful words and actions?  Of course!  We should work with all of our might to align them with the words of scripture.  But, ultimately, just managing behavior will never make you free and it’s for freedom that you have been set free (Galatians 5:1).  Our real problem is the heart.  It is the GPS for our entire life (see Matthew 12:34, 15:18-19).  The heart is much harder to manage than our actions.  It seems to have a mind of its own!  It is easily distracted by random thoughts, emotions and desires.  We don’t really know what to do with it, so we tend to ignore it.

Our heart’s problem is a treasure problem – “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21 ESV).  Trying to manage its thoughts, emotions and desires will never lead to freedom.  What we need is a better view of what is really worthy of captivating our hearts.  We far too easily believe that worldly wealth, good relationships, success, acclaim, Christian service or comfort will provide us with what we are longing for.  Until you come to a point to which you see that these things, as good as some of them are, will never sustain you, you will never be free.  The “perfect” marriage will not set you free, the “perfect” job will not set you free, “perfect” relationships of love and acceptance will never set you free. 

Until we see that chasing good things, believing that they will satisfy us, is like running a marathon on a treadmill, we will never be free.  Jesus said that “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44 ESV).  Don’t miss the fact that the man JOYFULLY WENT AND SOLD EVERYTHING THAT HE HAD TO ACQUIRE THE FIELD.  Is there a cost to following Christ?  Absolutely!  But when you view it at 20,000 feet, like the man in this parable, you will see that the cost is infinitely small as compared with the infinite joy that you receive.

How do we do this?  Paul tells us that “if then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1–3 ESV).  What are you seeking?  What are you telling yourself will make you happy, content or complete?  Start there and beg God to change your heart to see Him as the greatest treasure and to cause you to long for Him more than you long for the things that He can give you. 

Confronting Sin

“And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.” (2 Samuel 12:1–9 ESV)

The Lord sends Nathan to David in order to confront him on his sin. The strength it took for Nathan to confront the king is incredible.  His hope was not in David’s response or even in the hope that He was a man after God’s own heart.  He could have been killed for confronting David.  Nathan feared God more than He feared man.

Nathan started by telling David a story of a poor man who had a prized lamb and a rich man who took it, killed it and served it for dinner for a guest.  It’s a tearjerker.  We, like David, can have so much empathy for others and be so blind to the ones close to us that we have offended; sin always blinds us.  David’s empathy and zeal for justice is real, but he is blinded to the parallel in his own life.  Sin always blinds us.  David starts rolling out how to make restitution.  David took Bathsheba just like the rich man who took the poor man’s lamb.

Nathan is not afraid to call sin what it is – SIN!  He boldly confronts David, proclaiming that David is the man who did this thing!  We don’t like to call sin, sin.  We have more sophisticated words for it today – like dysfunction – words that are less offensive and harsh so that we won’t feel bad about ourselves.  By doing this, we dumb down the justice of God and make His grace less than amazing.  In order for grace to be amazing, we must feel the crushing weight of our sin under the perfect standard of God’s law.

In verses 7 & 8, God reviews His grace to David.  God anointed David king, delivered him from Saul, gave him Saul’s house, wives & kingdom.  And God adds a comment on the end:  “And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.”  God had been good to David.  Remembering God’s grace and goodness is important in walking uprightly.  We have nothing that we have not been given (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Nathan calls out David’s sin for what it was – murder and adultery.  How did Nathan know this?  Was there a group of people who gathered together to strategize how to confront David?  No, there is profound rest in believing that Yahweh sees all, knows all and rules over all so we don’t have to.  The specifics of David’s sin is no match for the Sovereign eye of the Almighty.

When we are called to approach a brother or sister in sin, we normally experience uncertainty, doubt or fear.  In these moments, we must learn to rest in God’s goodness and His sovereignty; we must fear Him more than we fear man – this is easier said than done!  As we approach another, we must do it boldly, but with grace – never self righteously because except for God’s grace towards us, we would walk the same path.  We don’t love others well if we are not willing to help them see their blind spots and we are not loved well if we don’t have people in our lives who are willing to point out our blind spots. 

Lord, help us to see you as the greatest treasure in the world so that other things pale in comparison to knowing and following you.