Tag Archives: Worship

Bethlehem’s Supernatural Star

From Solid Joys by John Piper

“Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)

Over and over the Bible baffles our curiosity about just how certain things happened. How did this “star” get the magi from the east to Jerusalem?

It does not say that it led them or went before them. It only says they saw a star in the east (verse 2), and came to Jerusalem. And how did that star go before them in the little five-mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem as verse 9 says it did? And how did a star stand “over the place where the Child was”?

The answer is: We do not know. There are numerous efforts to explain it in terms of conjunctions of planets or comets or supernovas or miraculous lights. We just don’t know. And I want to exhort you not to become preoccupied with developing theories that are only tentative in the end and have very little spiritual significance.

I risk a generalization to warn you: People who are exercised and preoccupied with such things as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split and how the manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood are generally people who have what I call a mentality for the marginal. You do not see in them a deep cherishing of the great central things of the gospel — the holiness of God, the ugliness of sin, the helplessness of man, the death of Christ, justification by faith alone, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, the glory of Christ’s return, and the final judgment. They always seem to be taking you down a sidetrack with a new article or book. There is little centered rejoicing.

But what is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something that it cannot do on its own: It is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship him.

There is only one Person in biblical thinking that can be behind that intentionality in the stars — God himself.

So the lesson is plain: God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him. And he is doing it by exerting global — probably even universal — influence and power to get it done.

Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy with her delivery. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get foreign magi to Bethlehem so that they can worship him.

This is God’s design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that the nations — all the nations (Matthew 24:14) — worship his Son.

This is God’s will for everybody in your office at work, and in your neighborhood and in your home. As John 4:23 says, “Such the Father seeks to worship him.”

At the beginning of Matthew we still have a “come-see” pattern. But at the end the pattern is “go-tell.” The magi came and saw. We are to go and tell.

But what is not different is that the purpose of God is the ingathering of the nations to worship his Son. The magnifying of Christ in the white-hot worship of all nations is the reason the world exists.

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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)

 

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).

 

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.

Living Water

“for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”  (Jeremiah 2:13 ESV)

We are modern people who just walk up to the faucet, turn it on and a seemingly endless flow of water comes out.  But, in the ancient near east water was not as easy to come by.  It signified life and prosperity – life was not possible without access to it.  Three types of water sources were common in ancient bible times.  The bible regularly uses these sources as images of our relationship with God.  The first source was the best and most desirable, it was called living water.  Living water came from streams or springs that flowed and were teaming with life; they required no effort of your own to get it if you were close to a source.  Close proximity to the source is all that was required.  The second source was a well that was dug.  This water was good also, but was not viewed to be as favorable as living water and it required significant effort to get.  The last was the least desirable; it came from cisterns that were hewn out of stone that was coated with plaster in order to keep them from leaking.  Cisterns collected runoff water as well as silt that washed into them.  They were deep with a small opening at the top and were spread out at the bottom.  Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:6) was thrown into one as punishment because they were virtually impossible to escape from.  They often had mud in the bottom from the silt that had collected over time and some prisoners that were thrown into them would sink into the mud and die.  You can only imagine the amount of work that was involved in digging cisterns out of hard limestone.

Jeremiah is telling the people of Israel that they had made the most absurd exchange possible.  No one in their right mind would exchange a cool stream or spring for the stagnant, dirty water that a cistern collected.  And yet, that is exactly what they had done.  They exchanged a life giving relationship with God Himself for their own hand hewn cisterns that wouldn’t even hold water.  God offered them living water at no cost to themselves.  This theme of free grace is the centerpiece of the bible’s redemptive story:  ““Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1 ESV).  All you need is need and the ability to accept the free gift of grace that the Creator of the cosmos offers you.  We all are in need, but being willing to accept this and throw oneself entirely on the mercy of God requires a special work of grace.  The natural proclivity of the human heart is to reject free grace and to get to work digging our own cisterns in the hard limestone – cisterns that leak and will not satisfy the thirst of the soul (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  Leaky cisterns are no substitute for living water.

Our hearts, fueled by our unbelief, naturally curve toward our own hand hewn cisterns.  This is true of the non-believer for sure as they seek to establish their identity, value and worth in created things or accomplishments.  But, this is also true for the Christian who forgets who he is and the seemingly impossible (and here) promises God has made to us.  It is real work to identify the cisterns that our hearts naturally gravitate towards.  What substitutes do you run to instead of God?  What cisterns do you frequent to satisfy your soul’s thirst?  Some are easier to identify; things like alcohol, drugs, pornography or excessive overeating.  Others are seemingly benign; these are the silent killers.  Things like achievement, self-improvement, relationships, self righteous judgmentalism, hobbies or religious activities & good works.  Anything that we have parked our ultimate hope upon other than God will wreak havoc on our soul.  These things can never satisfy our thirst, but we still tend to run to them anyway.  What cisterns have you hewn for yourself?  Identify these, repent of these and ask God to enlighten the eyes of your heart to see Him as the refreshing living water that He truly is.  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners.

The Providence of God

he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.” (John 4:3–5 ESV)

Seven words form a short sentence that we often read right over in order to get to the “real story.” When we do so, we miss a beautiful truth that will stir our affections for the Almighty.  Jesus did not physically “have” to travel through Samaria.  It was the most direct route between Judea and Galilee, but no respectable Jew would travel that route.  Devout Jews would go around Samaria by crossing the Jordan and going up the east side in order to avoid becoming unclean or defiled by coming in contact with a Samaritan.

The Samaritans were a people that resulted from the intermarrying between Jews and people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva and Hamath that the king of Assyria brought in to settle the region (2 Kings 17:24–31). The Samaritans had their own version of the Pentateuch and worshiped on Mount Gerizim instead of in Jerusalem.  They were half breeds that were despised by both the Jews and the Gentiles.  They didn’t fit in anywhere, they were alone.

Jesus had to pass through Samaria because of the providential call of God.  The Greek word used here (see also John: 3:7, 14, 30; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9) means that it was necessary, it was a divine mandate or requirement – it was part of God’s plan.  He had to travel through a land that would make Him unclean, but one of the beautiful realities of the messiah is that He cannot be made unclean by interacting with defiled people.  Quite the opposite, He makes dirty people clean.  Religious Jews would go around this region.  Religion always blinds us and makes us self righteous and avoidant of those we deem to be unworthy – as if we are worthy because of our own doing (1 Corinthians 4:7).

We must ask the question, “why?”  Why did Jesus have to go through Samaria?  Why did God’s providence lead Him there?  Could it be that He is showing us that no one is too unreachable, too unworthy or too unclean?  Could it be that He was demonstrating that the gospel is for all ethnicities, genders, socio economic classes and moral type of people?  Jesus had to go through Samaria because He came to seek and save His lost sheep and apparently there were quite a number of lost sheep in Samaria because many of them believed (John 4:39-43).

The Samaritans asked Him to stay two extra days and He obliged them – I can only imagine what the disciples were thinking!  Many believed in Jesus based upon the woman’s testimony alone.  Jesus stays with a group of outcasts two extra days! Jesus loves those who are unloveable by the world’s standards.  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.

These unclean, outcasts profess Jesus as the Savior of the World.  He is not only the Savior of the Jews, but 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). This is the mission of the church.

What does this providential appointment mean to us today?  The Word, Creator, Almighty condescends Himself to a defiled, unclean, unholy place & people in order to redeem.  The Creator serving the created is backwards, but that is what it took to undo the effects of the fall (John 4:30-34, Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28).  God providentially invades the world of His lost sheep.  God’s redemption means that He makes lost sheep forgiven, acceptable, clean and holy. He makes unclean outcasts clean.  He makes clean people holy.  He makes us family.  In God’s kingdom, the unwanted outcasts are welcomed with open arms.  Jesus’ good words of forgiveness & redemption are only spoken to those who feel unworthy, alone and dirty because  good people see no need for grace.  The grace of God has adopted you and made you His son – perfectly acceptable.  You are no longer on the outside looking in and this was done because He “had to” go through Samaria and He “had to” come to you.  You didn’t seek Him, He sought you.  You were lost and He found you, redeemed you and adopted you according to His plan which He determined before He breathed a star into the heavens.

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. 

The Anatomy of Sin

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.”  (2 Samuel 11:1–4 ESV)

David had defeated the Syrians and was now concentrating on Rabbah.  Something is wrong, though.  Kings normally go out to battle, but David stayed back.  David was enjoying leisure (he arose from his couch) while his men were out fighting.  The sin started long before Bathsheba.  He should have been out with his men, leading them in battle.  Idle hands are dangerous.  We were not built for idleness, we were built for work (Genesis 2:15).  To be idle is to be disobedient.  This, of course, does not mean healthy rest, but far too many men are content to be bored and idle in life.

During David’s idleness, he saw a beautiful woman bathing on her roof after her menstrual period.  David knew that she was married to Uriah the Hittite, but summoned Bathsheba anyway.  It is doubtful that he made his intentions clear to her because he sent messengers (plural).   He probably disguised it in concern for her wellbeing and for her family.  That was not the case, of course, the lust of David’s heart – despite having multiple wives to fulfill his sexual desires – ruled the day and he took Bathsheba and they had intercourse.  She became pregnant.

So what happened here?  What drove this offense?  It  did not start with adultery, it started with coveting.  David wanted that which was not his.  It started by breaking the 10th commandment (Exodus 20:17), which led to breaking the 7th (Exodus 20:14), which ultimately led to breaking the 6th (Exodus 20:13).  Sin ALWAYS STARTS IN THE HEART.  Sin says, “God is not good and that He is depriving us of something good because He is oppressive. It elevates us above God – determining right from wrong in our own eyes.  It puts us in a place where we believe that we have a clear view and absolute perspective.  We don’t.  Sin always uses created things to tempt us.  That is what Satan used in the garden to tempt Adam & Eve – a created thing.  External strategies like bouncing eyes, porn filters and accountability are all good things, but they are powerless to free the heart from the grip of sin.

Jesus came to set you free; a life that is free from sexually acting out but is still ruled by lust is not free.  Whatever we stare at and ascribe ultimate worth to is the object of our real affection.  When you worship sex, you will be ruled by lust.  The answer is to see Jesus as the risen and reigning Lord and that knowing Him is far superior to any lesser desires.  Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear.