Why We’re So Obsessed With What Other People Think

God is infinitely greater than the greatest human accomplishment. What is the height of man’s life on earth? Inventing technology, landing on the moon, or winning wars? What is the best thing a human being, or a group of human beings, have ever done? Whatever it is, it is like a speck of light dust on the scale when compared to even Jesus being born. The greatest human accomplishments do not even register in comparison to God’s smallest acts. If we put humans on Mars, it is nothing compared to putting God in a Human. Nothing! The former is a mere change of location, but the latter is a change of eternal destiny. The distance of space travel is counted in miles, but the distance between God and man is measured in infinity.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)

Human accomplishments never impress God. Our strivings are but needles in the endless haystack of His greatness. The Mona Lisa is but a child’s jumbled finger-painting, or worse, compared to God’s sunsets, which renew each day in greater and greater beauty. Though, in His infinite goodness, he delights in what we do. Like a father proudly displaying his children’s finger-paintings next to his most prominent awards.

So, then, “who is the greatest” in God’s kingdom? “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:1, 4). Children know their accomplishments are but trifles. They know that their little dances, drawings, and delights are not to be compared with the abilities of their parents. The delight of the parent is not in the worth of the product the child produces, but in the child herself.

Yet, when we grow older, we begin to think the opposite. Years and decades in a cold world condition us to embrace works-theology. We see the correlation between good work and the praise of men, and we intuitively conclude that the delight of our Father is in what we do, rather than who we are. This is like a child thinking that his finger painting is better than the Mona Lisa – better than the sunset itself.

But what about the great men of God? Was not God impressed with Spurgeon’s sermons or Saint Thomas Aquinas’ massive theological writings? Take the latter for instance – Aquinas’ Summa Theologica has been called the most significant theological work since Augustine, if not the Bible, and “one of the most influential works of Western literature” (James Ross, Ph.D.). Though it was finished in 1274 AD, it is still used to train students of theology today. It’s one of the most, if not the most, famous Christian books of all time.

Allegedly, however, Aquinas one day had a vision of God while writing it. And he never finished it. Why? In his words, “Such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as so much straw.” He likened the greatest theological work in history – his magnum opus, his greatest work – to straw.

Why, then, do we strive so? Do we think we will outdo Aquinas? Perhaps someone today will (though it is not likely). What then? A little more straw? Human efforts are by definition infinitely less glorious than God’s. What will we gain by working so hard at what we work at? Who are we trying to impress? If God is not impressed with our finger-paintings, why stress so much about their colors? The little details of our lives preoccupy us like piranha’s during a swim, constantly swirling and attacking. We devote so much attention to putting them in order, and avoiding their lashes. But, why? If the greatest human works are but straw compared to God, what are these little details if not simply infinitesimal by comparison? It’s often said, amongst atheists as well as Christians, that no man will say on his death bed, “I wish I spent a little more time in the office, setting straight those accounts that went awry.”

Yet here we are, concerned about our image. We want to present ourselves to the real world and the digital world with our best foot, or best picture forward. We stand in front of the closet and the mirror as if we could conjure beauty from what see. We scroll through pictures of ourselves and read the words we’ve written as if they are pictures and words of Christ. Our focus is razor-sharp when it comes to the 140 characters we sent out to the world. But when the only One who was sent into the world says “become like children,” we forget. “Have I read that somewhere?”

“And Jesus wept.”

Rejoice, Christian. Your value is not in what you do, or how you look. Your value is in what God has done in you. Period. Your beautiful clothes, that shimmer like the sun, are the clothes of Christ – and they aren’t in your closet. Your friends can’t see them on Instagram, and they aren’t listed on your resume. So what if the world, then, sees your best efforts as nothing more than child’s play? They’re right, aren’t they? That dress really is ugly, and that meeting was truly a disaster when compared to God’s beauty and perfection. The thing the world has wrong, however, is thinking that some things aren’t disasters. The world is a disaster – this isn’t pessimism, it’s realism. The Mona Lisa will become dust like the woman who inspired it. All men must die, along with their accomplishments. A Jewish proverb says that people come into the world with clenched fists, because they want to take all they can. But when they die their palms are opened, because they can keep none of it.

Therefore, the only logical approach to life is to enjoy God in it. Only His accomplishments truly matter, for only they last. Only His beauty is true, and it is objectively so. Only His approval is worth seeking, and it has been lavished upon those whom He loves in Christ. Really, what I am trying to say, is that ultimately, only Christ matters. It is for Him that we strive, ceaselessly. Because He is so beautiful.

“It is the music with which the bells of heaven ring; a song in a word; an ocean for comprehension, although a drop for brevity; a matchless oratorio in two syllables; a gathering up of the hallelujahs of eternity in five letters.”

The Name of Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“But I Don’t Hate God” …But you do. A Summary of Jonathan Edwards’ Men Naturally God’s Enemies

I was left speechless.

My friend who identifies himself as an atheist could not make sense of my faith in God. Why would a loving God…How can a ‘loving’ God… condemn people to hell? I responded by sharing that God does not unjustly condemn people to hell. Rather, those people in hell are those who hate God. They want nothing to do with him, therefore, they are responsible for their place in hell. I told him, “God extends the olive branch, but they take up arms.” My friend’s response left me speechless—“But I don’t hate God.”

What?!

But, you do…

Jonathan Edwards gives us 7 reasons why unbelievers cannot recognize their hatred towards God.

So, here they are (I’ve condensed and edited a bit) :

1.Blinded by Unbelief

Disbelief in God does not indicate a lack of hatred for God. Rather, it conceals anger. Can you hate something that does not exist? No. Why? Because it is absurd. This can be shown in hatred for a person: “If you had a rooted malice against another man, a principle that had long been established there, and if you should hear that he was dead, the sensible workings of your malice would not be felt, as when you realized that he was alive. But if you should afterwards hear the news contradicted, and perceive that your enemy was still alive; you would feel the same workings of hatred that you did before.” (Edwards, Men).

2. Compassionate Feelings Are Aimed at a Strawman god

The ‘god’ that many amicable atheists or agnostics do not believe in is not the God of the Bible. They fashion the god that they do not believe in, into a tame and sin-tolerating grandfather in the sky. If these people truly understood God, they would understand that He is not one that would condone their actions, and He is not like them: “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you” (Psalm 50:21). If they allowed themselves to understand who God is, they would hate Him because, contrary to their imaginary god, He hates their sin because it brings death.

3. Enjoying Without Gratitude, is Hate

The enjoyment of earthly things as opposed to, or in replacement of the enjoyment of God is an indirect assault against His perfection and blessings. This is because all good things come from God, and are to be enjoyed as He has instructed us, within a proper relationship with Him. If an atheist enjoys the things of God, but not according to God’s will (for example, enjoying food, but not to the glory of God as is commanded in 1 Corinthians 10:31) then he has a hatred for God in the person’s will or desire for good things outside of fellowship with God. This is like a child stealing cookies from the cookie jar, hating the fact that his parents instructed him to only eat them when they deem it permissible. In stealing the cookies, he is challenging and expressing his disrespecting his parents. The atheist steals goodness from life from God (because he doesn’t give God thanks).

4. Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

The distance between God and man is so great that any desire to harm God vanishes due to the sheer impossibility. Since man knows that he can do nothing to attack God (at least, those atheists who are not mad at God) his hatred for God is allowed to wane since it never has an opportunity to act. Edwards uses the analogy of a serpent’s disregard for threats at a distance: “A serpent will not [try to] bite that which it sees at a great distance; which if it saw near, it would do it immediately.” If the snake sees a mongoose from 100 feet away, of course it will not strike at it. But if the mongoose is only a few feet away, the snake will strike.

5. Fear Produces Servility

An atheist’s fear of God restrains his hatred for God. Since God is so powerful and fearful, the atheist is hindered from allowing his hatred to fully vent. A Soldier who is afraid of his enemy will not go out yelling for his enemy to find him—he would most likely stay hidden in order to preserve his life. Therefore, the fear of God in the heart of the atheist will often prevent his anger from becoming manifest. Calvin said as much: “he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf” (Institutes 1.3.2; cf. Leviticus 26:36).

6. Hate is Latent

Much hate in the heart of atheists lay in latency, like a serpent resting in peace, but willing to strike at anything that disturbs it. One of the ways that this latent hatred becomes manifest is in trial and suffering. Many unbelievers feel no adverse feelings toward the God they do not believe in. However, when they undergo difficult times, they often find themselves praying! As the saying goes, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” In His marvelous grace, God sometimes answers these prayers despite the fact that the unbeliever will continue in his rejection of God – such is the undeserved grace of God. However, if God should not give the unbeliever what he asks for, he is often filled with great rage (think of the antagonist in God’s Not Dead). Addressing the unbeliever, Edwards says, “Notwithstanding the good opinion you have of yourself, yet a little trial would show you to be a viper, and your heart would be set all on rage against God” (For a recent presentation of this idea in history, see Alec Ryrie’s Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt).

7. Living Against God is Hating God

Finally, Edwards notes that actions, rather than self-perception, are the best indicators of the heart (see John 13:35). The actions of the atheist are clearly contrary to the law of God, as even the atheist will admit. These actions are a better determiner of his heart, than his own feelings or words. For example, an employee who continually does things that are contrary to the goals of the company, who regularly maligns its reputation, disobeys the instruction of his boss, does not reform his ways when warned and reprimanded, and spends his time with the employees of a rival company, even supporting its goals, is clearly an enemy of the company that he works for. In the same way, a person who continually disobeys God and does the things of Satan has made himself God’s enemy, even if he does not claim to be or feel like he is.

In these ways, those who do not believe God demonstrate that they hate him. Some do so consciously, while others do so subconsciously. But, for all, they demonstrate that, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 7:8). In reaching unbelievers, I think we need to allow the Bible to open up their hearts and reveal the sin within. As J.C. Ryle said, “I believe that one of the chief needs of the contemporary church has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin.” What was true in 1879 is more than doubly true now.

 

“Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

Classic Christianity

Jesus, in John’s gospel, is displayed in a unique way. The Spirit’s guiding of John’s pen and bringing to remembrance the things that Jesus taught (Jn. 14:26) depicts Jesus’ masterful arrangement of events. Like a seasoned wedding coordinator, our Lord moved the pieces of His followers’ lives in such a way to manifest His teaching by the unfolding of events. His control of the situation was absolute yet invisible. After His death and resurrection, His Spirit displays His method.

One of the (many) ways that Jesus used His own actions and circumstances to teach us is seen in John 13. At the beginning of the chapter our Lord remarkably washes His disciples’ feet and John prefaces this event by saying, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were…

View original post 816 more words

7 Ways To Unleash The Power of Prayer

The following 7 steps to help you pray more effectually are taken from various books on the subject. I will post them below for further reading.

1. Pray without ceasing

The most important thing to realize when seeking to increase the power of prayer in your life is the need to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). There are 4 Hebrew words and 6 Greek words for prayer in the Bible because there are many different types of prayer. There are many different types of prayer because there are many different situations in life. There are prayers of worship, request, supplication, public, private, spontaneous, seasonal, intercessory, imprecatory, thanksgiving, and groanings. This is what that means – no matter what situation we are in, prayer is appropriate. Further establishing this point is the life of Jesus. He is recorded praying 22 times in the Gospels. He would regularly rise early and stay up late to pray. He would be up long past the time everyone else fell asleep. He would regularly withdraw from the crowds in order to be alone with His Father. He was a man of prayer. If God made flesh, the eternal Son of God, needed to pray this much – indeed, by my count, more than anyone in the whole Bible – how much more do we?

If we seek to pray continually, we must remember that our prayers will differ drastically. If our focus changes depending on what we are doing (baking a complex recipe does not require the same focus as tying your shoes) and we are praying continually, our prayers will change in fervency, focus, and faith. At times, our prayers will be short and even faithless. In a moment of distracted doubt we might simply pray, “God, help me” without much expectation of deliverance. In other times, as we all move from the valley to the mountaintop of faith, our prayers might be lengthy and ecstatic. We might find ourselves praying for close to an hour in joy and hope. No prayer is better than the other. Prayer is a reflection of our situation as it relates to God. If Christ can cry, “Eloi, Eloi, lemma sebachthani?” – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we can do the same.

Therefore, we must avoid the dual pitfalls set for us by the Devil, walking steadily between them. On the left, is the temptation to think that the “many words” that Christ condemned weren’t abased for their emptiness, but merely by virtue of their being plentiful (Matt. 6:7). This line of reasoning has us only pray short, pithy, dispassionate prayers continually, as if we only know one note on the piano and strike it incessantly. The many words that Christ condemned were not condemned for their plentitude, but because they were “empty phrases.” Christ prayed, as we’ve seen, with many, many words.

On the other hand, Satan tempts us to think – if we are not convinced that good prayer is only short and distracted – that good prayer is only resolutely focused and faith-filled. This line of thinking would have us only pray when we can shut out all distractions (good luck doing that while quarantined with family!) and pray with perfect faith (good luck doing that ever!). This is to fall into the ditch on the right. We must allow ourselves, like Christ did, to pray prayers of joy and in moments of extreme focus, but also pray while walking, even talking with others, and going about the activities of the day. God does not condemn your prayers. Satan does.

This can be illustrated in the life of a little Child. Everything the child does is inefficient. Watch a child learn to put on her shoes (as I am doing now) and you will soon see that patience is required if she is to complete the task. If you do not have patience (as I do not) you will simply finish the task for her (as I often do). But God is not like an earthly father; He is the patient Father. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:13–14). He not only waits as we stumble through half-hearted prayer, He delights in it. Not because we’re flailing, but because we’re struggling to follow Him. In my better moments, I take much delight in seeing my daughter struggle to put her shoes on. On rare occasions, I’ll even stand there and watch her for five minutes as she slowly wedges her foot into the wrong shoe, rejoicing in the fact that my once-small child is slowly growing independent. A bad father refuses to let his daughter learn to put on her own shoes. One day, she’ll need that skill for herself. Our stumbling and weak prayers, rather than bothering God, are as sweet-smelling incense to Him (Ps. 141:2; Lk. 1:10; Rev. 5:8; 8:3, 4). So, don’t buy Satan’s lies that would keep you from praying; pray always!

2. Understand Your Need and Release Your Burden

Though Christ is our example in prayer, He is not like us completely – He is without sin. Thus, if we are to pray effectively, we must recognize that our prayers are indeed weak, aside from the brief moments in which the Spirit grants a special gift of faith and we pray with great vigor. This realization, discussed above, leads us to recognize that our prayers are not efficacious on their own merit. There is no meritorious combinations of words that when strung together properly, release divine blessing. Though this sounds ridiculous, Satan often tempts us to subconsciously believe it.

But, when we reject this lie, we are released from the burden of performance prayer. We no longer feel the need to say things in a certain way with a certain feeling; we are free to converse with God as with a friend. All you need to do is put forward your heart and be willing to let God touch it. Satan wants to make simple things complex so that we will give up. Christ said, “Come to me … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28, 30). We need a light burden because we are weak people. God knows our weakness. We must know our weakness if we are to pray honestly and effectually.

3. Remember that The Father Desires to Bless You!

A profuse lie circulating in the hearts of many Christians is that we bother God, especially the Father, with our prayers. We don’t pray because we subconsciously believe the lie that God doesn’t want to hear from us, we are not worthy to pray, or that our prayers do not change things. Sometimes we even blush as we pray, thinking that we embarrass Him with our fumbling words. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we said above, our prayers are as incense to Him! The Son did not stand in-between and angry Father and us. The Son was sent by the Father on account of His love for us! Before you were created, Christian, the Father loved you and determined to save you from the evil you would one day learn to love. He decided that it was worth sending His son and allowing Him to experience the anguish of your sin so that you might be united to Him. Anyone with a child knows that giving that child up for someone else is unthinkable, but the Father did that for you. Therefore, our prayers should reflect this reality.

If you’re a parent, imagine a moment when you’re alone and in a wonderful mood. Everything is going well and you’re extremely happy. Then, your little child swings open the door and shouts “Mommy!” or “Daddy!” The feeling of joy when seeing that happy face is only a small glimmer of the Father’s joy when we approach Him in prayer. We should not pray doubtingly, assuming we are pestering God. Rather, we should pray knowing that He delights to hear from us. Indeed, He desires to bless you with the abundance of His riches, “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).

4. Wrestle With God

As we present our hearts to God, we must be willing to allow them to be changed. We must avoid the aforementioned trap of only praying short prayers. Sometimes we must set aside a stretch of time (preferably daily and in the morning when the mind is fresh) and pray to God in silence (as best we can). That silence gives the soul’s ear time to listen to God. In so doing, at times we hear God change our prayers so that the thing we were once praying for, we are now praying against. We might sit down to pray for a job promotion, and in the course of prayer, God reveals an egregious patch of pride in our hearts. When this realization is made, we might conclude that a promotion would only increase this disgusting pride. In this way, the Spirit might change your prayer. Not only has your primary prayer shifted from work to pride, you might even pray against the promotion! We must allow God to speak to us in prayer. If He tells you something you don’t like, don’t dishonor Him by throwing it out. Remember that His burden is light. As C.S. Lewis said, “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”

On the other hand, sometimes in prayer, we will begin to think that our prayer is worthless and that we should just give up. We will think our sin to be too great an obstacle for our words to climb over in order to reach God’s ears. In this situation, we reject what we hear and we preach the Gospel to ourselves. We have a High Priest who brings our prayers to the Father (Heb. 4:15; 5:1-10) and His Spirit even prays for us (Rom. 8:26). Our prayers do not reach the Father on account of our goodness or the words we say; they reach the Father on the back of the Son who carries them for us and the Father delights in this exceedingly. We must, therefore, wrestle with these thoughts, subdue them, and even be willing to be injured, like Jacob was (Gen. 32:25).

We also must wrestle against ourselves. Our thoughts will wander and we will become distracted. Many prayers will seem like heard of cats constantly straying. We must set our faces like flints and refuse to let this bring us to despair. Distracted and fumbling prayer from a humble heart is better than eloquent prayers said as if they were walking on velvet from a self-righteous heart. The Father is well pleased with our attempts and will use them to grow in us the ability to pray better. We must wrestle against the temptation to stop praying or to give up. In this wrestling, our ability to pray grows. Prayer is a muscle; use it!

5. Be Persistent

It’s no accident that the parable of the persistent friend occurs directly after the Lord’s prayer – right after Jesus’ masterclass on prayer, He gives a story of a friend who would not stop asking his friend for help until he got what he was asking for (Lk. 11:5-13). A good rule of thumb is to be willing to ask God for something until He either gives it to you, or He unequivocally says no. When you identify something you want to pray for, write it down and determine to pray for it until this happens, thousands of times if necessary. One of the greatest Christians who ever lived, Saint Augustine, was prayed for by his mother incessantly. He was a debauched unbeliever, and he attributes his conversion to his mother’s persistent prayers over the course of years, even decades.

Satan often lies to us and tempts us to think that if we do not receive what we ask for after one or two tries, it must not be God’s will and we should stop praying. This lie is especially deceptive because it plays off of the Scriptural teaching that “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Mt. 6:8). However, God’s omniscience is never grounds to live a life without persistence and perseverance (Dt. 5:32; Jos. 1:7, 23:8; Job 17:9; Acts 11:23; 13:43; 14:22; Gal. 6:9; Eph. 4:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Pet. 2:20; Rev. 13:10). Yes, God knows what we will ask for before we ask; but, in His wisdom, He often leads us through months and years of prayer before he blesses us with what we ask for.

Why is this? At least two reasons can be given: 1) God allows us to continually request in order that we might be made ready to receive that which we ask for. Many times, we pray for things that we are simply not ready to receive (like the example of the job promotion given above). Or, for example, we might pray for sanctification regarding a certain sin. But, God allows us to pray for months or years for this – all the while we are still struggling with this sin – before we overcome it. Why? In struggling and praying over this sin for an extended period of time, we are brought to appreciate the cost that Christ paid to abolish it. Only through many nights of tears over our sins do we realize what the tears of Christ truly meant. Sometimes He must delay His yes so that we might understand it. 2) Delaying in this way also helps us to remember when God does answer our prayers in the affirmative. It is astonishing how easily we can forget what God does for us. This is why God constantly required Israel to make monuments when He delivered them from their enemies. Not only were they to build monuments, but they were to hold feasts and festivals almost monthly in order to remind themselves of His provision (Pentecost, for example, was originally a feast celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses). So, be persistent in your prayers. Don’t give up until God says “yes” or “no”!

6. Write Down Your Answers

This leads us to the next point – every time God does answer your prayer in the affirmative (and even when He says no), write down what happened. This will rebut the human tendency to forget His blessings. Also, it will provide you with an invaluable tool in diffusing the darts of doubt that Satan will shoot at you. When you go through a season of despair, or depression, or anxiety, or faithlessness, take out your list and read about the dozens of times God has been there for you. This will be a shield that Satan will need to penetrate in order to bring you to despair. It will also be a salve for your parched soul as you wander in the wilderness of weakness. It will encourage you to lift your drooping head and look to the horizon for the next blessing from God – the next thing to record on your list.

7. Pray In The Name

Finally, always conclude your prayer with something like, “In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.” This is not a mystical ritual Christians are forced to emulate. This is an acknowledgment that our prayers are only efficacious by the blood of Christ. Unfortunately, we often conclude our prayers with this phrase and do not consider what it means. It signifies our reliance upon Christ and our acknowledgment that we could never pray to God without Him. Our prayers go to the Father by virtue of Christ, and the Father’s loving response reaches us by means of the blood of the cross. Prayer is a Christological interaction.

Further, concluding our prayers in this way also indicates that we are praying, ultimately, not for our good or for the good of another person. We are ultimately praying for the blessedness and glorification of Christ. Even when we do pray for that job promotion, we should be fundamentally seeking it for the glory of Christ. We should want the job to make more money to fuel missions, or to have a greater gospel-impact on other people, or to be in a position to change the direction of the company toward the kingdom. It’s not that God doesn’t hear our prayers when we don’t conclude with something like “In Jesus’ name,” but we are reminded of why we’re praying. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36).

For further reading see:

Enjoy Your Prayer Life by Michael Reeves

The Christian’s Reasonable Service Volume 3 by Wilhelmus a Brakel (p. 443-588)

A Sweet Flame letters by Jonathan Edwards

A Puritan Theology edited by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones (p. 859-889)

 

Why We Don’t Experience God

One common objection to faith in God is grounded in a lack of experience. Since the Enlightenment, doubting the intangible has become standard. If we cannot observe it, touch it, poke it, prod it and put it in a test tube, it isn’t real. We have been conditioned to think that if something is not perceptible to our five senses (sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing) it is simply and completely imperceptible. This notion assumes that our five senses are the sum total of a human being’s capacity to experience reality. This extends to the belief that we do not have rational souls capable of experiencing spiritual reality. Since a soul cannot be touched and it has no odor etc., it must be a figment of the imagination, modern man thinks.

This lack of experience of God, which propels our atheism, is simply a contradiction in terms when approached from the perspective of Enlightenment naturalism. We are saying we do not believe in a God we cannot touch because we cannot touch Him. The intangible God must not exist because our fingers have not felt Him. This is like denying gravity for the same reason, or because one cannot smell it with the nose. It is a purely irrational critique. Gravity is experienced by using the mind and through observation. Its effects are witnessed by the eye, and considered with the mind; it is demonstrated with non-physical principles like mathematics. Gravity, like God, is an intangible reality. Both hold the world together, and because of this, they need to be intangible. For something to be everywhere on the one hand, and to allow the existence of other things on the other, intangibility is required. If gravity was a physical entity like a weighted blanket, there would be nothing but weighted blanket. We would be pushed out by the omnipresent reality of gravity. We would not exist. So it is with God, though of course, He is truly omnipresent, existing where even gravity does not exist. Indeed, gravity is nothing more than an extension of His power to hold all things together through the power of His word.

But someone would say that the effects of gravity are clearly perceptible, and therefore it is empirically verified. Though we can’t see gravity, we can see an apple fall from a tree. Of course, he would be correct. But this does nothing to counter the point that God must be experienced through spiritual (and not physical) faculties. The point is that gravity, and all other things must be experienced in the way that they dictate. Gravity must be experienced first through observation of its effects, then through its mathematical articulation which verifies those effects as having arisen from a universal rule. If we dictate the means by which gravity is experienced – by the sense of smell, for example – we only bar the door between us and it. Insisting that the nose is the faculty for experiencing gravity will produce nothing more than pointless sniffing. So, we cannot doubt God because we cannot perceive Him with the eye any more than we can doubt gravity because it doesn’t have a certain odor.

Our five senses aren’t the whole story. We must seek to experience God with other faculties, like prayer, the spiritual reading of His word, and submission to the means of grace administered through His church. Furthermore, we must not expect these other faculties to manifest their experience in a physical way, as if writing down g = 9.81 m/s2 would produce for us the smell of gravity. The equation for gravity and the faculty of smell are entirely different categories. So it is with the spiritual experience of God and physical sight or touch. They are simply different things. We must approach God with spiritual, non-physical, means if we want to experience Him. The person who gropes around in the air for a while and exclaims, “No God!” is not being very empirical.

In man’s search for God, he must use God’s means of experimentation. Man is ready to submit to gravity’s authoritarian rule that says it must be observed only with the eye and not the nose, but when it comes to God, man reverses the roles and says he will not observe God with the spirit, but only the eye. This is the cause of man’s inability to perceive God. It is a fundamental mixing of the categories, between spiritual and physical, between God and man. Everything has been flipped on its head and man wonders why he has a headache. He says the ocean of God’s existence is imaginary because he cannot fit it in his bathtub. He holds up the eye of a needle and tells the camel to walk through.

If he really wants to know if God exists, he must submit to the means by which God is perceptible, and he won’t get very far by begrudgingly using those means and all the while doubting their existence, any more than Newton would have figured out gravity by not really believing that mathematics was real. Newton based his life on the belief that mathematics was a reliable guide, and the product of that faith was a profound discovery. If we want to “discover” God, we must believe – wholeheartedly – in the spiritual faculties He has given us and use them believing that they will provide us with true experience. If a poor workman blames his tools, a poorer one doesn’t trust them (though, I suppose, blaming and mistrusting are one and the same). We must trust the tools God has given us to experience Him, and stop blaming Him when our calculators don’t show us His face.

When I was younger and more foolish (I am now a little older and slightly less foolish or, at least, older) I pursued the experience of God in terms of my senses – I wanted to physically see and hear Him. I was following certain charismatic trends in Christianity that emphasized a real experience of God in terms of naturalism. I looked for a vision of God, I prayed for physical healing, I listened to a song that allegedly recorded the voice of an angel. I still do some of those things (maybe I am no less foolish) but in so doing, I am attempting to fit God into my experience. Rather than seeking a vision of Him that is so grand it transcends the capabilities of eyeballs, I’m looking for a mere picture. Ironically, Enlightenment empiricism had seeped into my spiritual life. To be sure, God is perceptible to our five senses, but it seems that the bulk of our communion with Him this side of eternity is encountered through the spiritual senses.

So, the question is, why cut off the channel of divine grace? Why force God to come to us in the form and fashion that we have set out for Him when that reduces Him to servant and doesn’t see Him as Lord? Is it possible, that in so doing we are precluding a real experience of God in the first place? Forcing Him to crawl to us leaves no room for us at His feet. In our best interest, it seems, He refuses to capitulate.

How is God’s Word Active? An Example:

Christians often call God’s word “living and active.” This is in reference to Hebrews 4:12 which says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

What does this mean? How is the word of God “living”? I suggest one example. We find some really challenging things in the text below, and in answering these challanges, we are challenged.

2 Samuel 24 presents multiple difficulties in understanding the text. First, David is incited to sin by God, “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’” (2 Samuel 24:1). Taking the census, we are told, was a sinful action. But, God also commands census taking in other places and it is presented as something good (Exod. 30:11–12; Num. 1:1–2). So, God seems to be commanding something bad, and we don’t know why it’s bad. Then, we see that 1 Chronicles 21 says that it is Satan, not God, who incited David to commit this sin: “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1).

So, we have three difficulties in this text that can be posed as questions. 1) How is it OK for God to incite sin? 2) Does Satan incite the sin or God? 3) Why is census-taking a sin?

In answering these questions, I think we see how the word is living.

1) God incites sin in a very different way than Satan does. God is in control of every atom in the universe and every action that takes place. The sins that occur in the world are, in that way, part of His plan. Now, it is very important to remember that God does not cause sin to take place. We know this because God is infinitely perfect and holy to the extent that He cannot sin (Dt. 32:4; Ecc. 3:14; Mt. 5:48; Ro. 11:33-36). But, when sin does take place, God is in control of it (Neh. 9:6; Ps. 102:25; Ac. 17:24; Heb. 11:3).

2) Therefore, 1 Chron. 21 explains to us how it is OK for God to incite sin. He uses Satan. Not in the sense that Satan is a puppet controlled by God’s strings. Satan is a free agent making his own choices, but God is in control of them. So, when Satan does something bad, like inciting David to sin, God is in control of that decision. In that way, it’s like God does it. But, remember that God is perfectly holy. So, when God allows Satan to incite David, and thereby is ultimately in control of the sin, God controls the situation without incurring guilt to Himself, because He’s perfect. God uses Satan and sin as tools to create goodness. Like He created everything from nothing, He creates good from evil. He takes things and makes their opposite (nothing > things; bad > good). This is a deep and difficult truth and a couple sentences could never do it justice, but the point remains. Such is the awesome perfection of our God.

3) The census taking was sinful because it was done in order to bolster military strength. The text implies that David wanted to amass an army in order to pridefully destroy other people and take their goods for his own. He seems to have let his success get to his head and begun to desire more and more. This is indicated by Joab’s quick response in questioning David’s motives (probably sensing David’s sinful incentive) and the word used for “numbering” which is applied to military enrollment (2 Sam. 24:1-3). John D. Rockefeller (one of the richest people who ever lived) responded to the question “How much money is enough?” by saying, “One more dollar.” David began to feel the desire for more that always outgrows its goal.

The other side of pride is always a lack of trust in God. This is the second way David is sinning. He is not trusting in God, but in men. This is a constant theme in the Old Testament – trust not in chariots or horses, but in the mighty arm of the Lord (Ex. 14:31; 2 Sa. 22:1-3; Ps. 18:2-3; 9:9-10; 115:9-11; 144:1-2).

How does this display the activity of the Bible?

We see in this passage that David is not trusting in the Lord. In the very same passage, we are confronted with three difficulties in the text. The very same text that displays a lack of trust in God, invites us to trust God. As we see David failing, God is offering us the opportunity to succeed where David did not. Will we trust that the difficulties in this passage are not an indication that God didn’t write them? Will we reject the temptation to think that God must not be in control because He allowed errors into His word? Will we ignore the siren call of academics who tell us that this is obviously a human book with human problems? The very same text that displays sin invites us to not sin. As we read this word in the presence of God, we are spoken to by His Spirit, asking us these questions. He is standing over our shoulder while we read, like a father teaching his son, saying to us, “You see what happened there, son? Now, you try to avoid that right now. Let’s see if you can do it.”

God put this book together so that it would convict, challenge, encourage and change us like this. But, it’s not only the way the book is organized, but the Holy Spirit who uses that organization to change us. When we encounter this perfect book, the perfect God who wrote it speaks to us. He designed it in such a way that, if we are willing, it will pierce our hearts and call us to repentance. When we repent, His living word leads us to forgiveness and joy. He designed it perfectly. This is just one small example of the innumerable ways God uses His word to change us. Let us be encouraged to excitement in reading His word. Let us expect to meet God and to be changed by Him. Let us see His word as a mountain that must be scaled in faith – a challenge. We need to read it on our knees and trust Him. The enemy not only wants us to mistrust God’s word, he also wants us to become bored with it. It’s been said that “only boring people get bored.” Well, only boring Christians get bored with the Bible. I get bored with it all the time. That doesn’t say anything about the Bible. It says something about me.

John Webster, in his book Holy Scripture, illustrates the need to approach the Bible as a living thing, and not as scientific data, “The active reading scripture as an instance of the fundamental pattern of all Christian existence, which is dying and rising with Jesus Christ through the purging and quickening power of the Holy Spirit. Reading scripture is best understood as an aspect of mortification and verification: to read scripture is to be slain and made alive … reading can only occur as a kind of brokenness, a relinquishment of willed mastery of the text” (87-88).

In a secular book called How to Read a Book, the “living” nature of written material is demonstrated by its ability to continually instruct the reader who never fully learns everything written (assuming the book is a really good one), “How can a book grow as you grow? It is impossible, of course; a book, once it is written and published, does not change. But what you only now begin to realize is that the book was so far above you to begin with that it has remained above you, and probably always will remain so. Since it is a really good book – a great book, as we might say – it is accessible at different levels. Your impression of increased understanding on your previous reading was not false. The book truly lifted you then. But now, even though you have become wiser and more knowledgeable, it can lift you again. It will go on doing this until you die.”

The infinitely knowledgeable and eternal God of all creation wrote the Bible. Therefore, even on a secular account, the Bible will be infinitely “growing” because we can never master it. But, the Bible isn’t just a book written by God and forgotten; it is attended to by God Himself as He guides us through its pages. In this way, His word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.

 

 

 

A Man After God’s Own Heart?

Why was David called “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22)? It is not because David avoided sin more than most. In fact, the more I read about him, the more sinful I realize he was. Of course, we all know about Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 11). But, even before he is anointed king, he commits adultery by taking more than one wife (1 Sam. 25) and he commits murder by killing the men and women of surrounding cities (1 Sam. 27:11). David isn’t a story of a sinless man who had a fall from grace. David was a sinner from the moment his story starts. David wasn’t a man after God’s own heart because he was a really good guy who made a one-time blunder. Why then?

For all of his sins, David never fought his way to the throne. Up until this point in the Bible, we’ve read countless stories of men who usurped thrones, killed for the maintenance of power, and resorted to sinning against God himself in order to keep the throne God had given. This is Saul’s story, who tries to kill David to retain the throne.

Plato allegedly said that the first qualification for leadership is not wanting to lead. David doesn’t seek to kill Saul in personal defense. David doesn’t seek the throne. The reason David doesn’t seek the throne is that it’s already filled. He wants to serve and support the one who is already in charge, even though the one in charge wants to kill him. His goal isn’t personal gain, but the good of God’s people Israel, even if that means humble service.

After Saul’s relentless assault on David is over, David does not rejoice over Saul’s death. In fact, David mourns. “And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son … ‘Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions … How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!’” (2 Samuel 1:17, 23, 25)

This is why David is a man after God’s own heart: “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). God doesn’t rejoice over the death of the bad guy. His goal isn’t revenge, but the good of His people.

Being set apart in God’s kingdom means desiring the good of other people, above our own. Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3) and he repeatedly exemplifies this by showing his willingness to lose life, limb and eyesight for the sake of his brothers. He even reached the apex of self-forgetfulness when he exclaimed, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3).

So there it is. Arguably the two most prominent Christians in the Bible, one from the OT and the other from the NT demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice themselves for others. It should be no surprise that this gets right at the heart of God since this is who God is. He is the one who laid His life down for His friends, for there is no greater love than this (John 15:3).

Satan’s campaign is to denigrate this reality to the point of absurdity. If we’re honest, he’s doing a pretty good job. It sounds ridiculous that losing your life is gaining a better one. Or that taking a sinful person’s burden is to bless God. It is getting that brings reward, not giving, we think. For every minute we consider how to give, we spend hours contemplating gain. We’re “greedy when others are fearful, and fearful when others are greedy.”

The great mystery of Christianity is that loving God is loving people. Embracing the pain of the world in order to embosom the poor in spirit is the very Spirit of God. We touch God when we touch and clean the feet of others. We lay upon the bosom of Christ when we lay our lives down for our friends. The giving of self is the getting of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s The Difference Between Old Testament Israel and New Testament Christians?

“And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.” (1 Samuel 12:20, ESV)

This is Israel’s life verse. As steady as the seasons, they follow God, then don’t. They obey, then disobey. They enjoy a season of bright devotion only to be followed by wintery cold-heartedness. This is not the first time that Israel has “done all this evil,” nor is it the last. The incessant recurring theme from the fall in Genesis 3 to the end of the Old Testament is this – Israel is a fickle lover. At times, she is not just fickle, but adulterous, even harlotrous. Like stereo, this tinny treble regularly emanating from the left speaker collides with the deep bass of God’s steadfast love from the right. These noises comprise our Bible.

God’s love washes over Israel’s lack of love, yet both are present. In its being washed, Israel’s faithlessness demonstrates God’s faithfulness like a sparkling sunrise framed by a dark and cold night as the sun slowly rises above the black horizon. The beauty of a sunrise is in the fact that light breaks into the darkness. It is in the contrast of colors of this world with those of another star. Israel’s black sins frame the white-hot grace of God’s faithfulness. Yes, there are cold, dark nights when God’s light is only seen indirectly like the sun’s beams reflected on the moon, but the morning always comes. As they say, it is always darkest before the dawn. Come, Lord.

But we, enlightened New Testament Christians do not have this problem. We do not regularly sin like Israel did. We don’t “do all this evil” like they did. That was then, this is now. Israel has a different relationship with God than we do! Or do they? Perhaps we have the same relationship with God because we are Israel. Romans 11 says that Israel is like a tree, and New Testament Christians are the branches of that tree. We are spiritually part of Israel, as integrated as branches are in a tree. They are the trunk, and we are the branches. Israel’s story is our story. We have been “grafted into” the “cultivated olive tree” of Israel (Rom. 11:24).

As such, we’re really not that different from Israel. We sin. We falter. We’re fickle. In fact, sometimes we sin so much we’re like spiritual adulterers, giving all our allegiance to someone else, forgetting about God. This is why it’s so dangerous to constantly see ourselves as David, or Moses, or Abraham – the heroes of the story. If we do, what do we do when we have bad days and act like wayward Israel rather than steadfast Moses? Do we then lose our identity? Do we cease to exist?

The similarities between Christians and Old Testament Israel are not just in our sinfulness. We have the same relationship with God. Though our lives are often darkened with sin, His light shines down upon us like it did them. That’s why this prayer applies to you, not just Old Testament Israel: “May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Num. 6:25). We need His light and grace in our darkness and sin. We’re not perfect Christians. We’re not much of an improvement from Old Testament Israel. God didn’t get an upgrade when He sent Jesus. We’re the same old bride. But, He is the same good God.

Samuel doesn’t tell Israel, “It’s OK. You’re not that bad. Don’t worry about it.” He tells them, “Yes, you did evil. You are sinners. You messed up big!” But he also says something fascinating: “Do not be afraid” (1 Sam. 12:20). God’s grace will cover their sins. Cover, not ignore. The difference between Israel and New Testament Christians is that we know it is Jesus’ blood that covers our sins. We simply know how much it cost God to forgive us. We’re all God’s children covered by the same blood living in the same family. Prone to wander, Lord we feel it; prone to leave the God we love. Here’s our heart Lord. Take and seal it. Seal it for your courts above! It is in God’s forgiveness that fear is banished. Though midnight is dark, the Son is coming. We know this to be true. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of the death of sin, we fear no evil for He is with us. 

Spiritual Depression

One of, if not the most, profound spiritual moments in my life came when I was most spiritually depressed. I was in college and found myself in the midst of a serious spiritual search. I was a Christian, at a Christian college, studying the Bible, and I had entered the midst of the Charismatic Movement. I was regularly with friends who saw visions, prayed for and received healings, were “slain in the Spirit,” who even prayed that pennies would stick to their dormitory walls, and apparently, they did. We even went to see a man that claimed he could transport “in his Spirit” to the Garden of Eden. He was spiritually teleporting. Even then, and especially now, I was very skeptical of much of this. However, I’d had many moments where I felt incredibly close to God, as if I was in the same room with Jesus, talking, even touching. I wasn’t too concerned with getting pennies to stick to walls or seeing the Garden of Eden, but I wanted more of Jesus. I wanted to experience Him, radically, really, tangibly.

One night, I was at a Charismatic event. There were about 50 of us, all wanting to experience God (with rather different conceptions of what that might look like). As Charismatic worship goes, I was in the front of the room, on my knees, singing. I was also begging God, actually raising my hand in a fist making a motion like I was knocking on a door, asking the Lord to “let me in” to where He is. This was the culmination of months of seeking God, and feeling like I was getting nowhere. No vision, no voice, no ecstatic feeling, not even a gravity-defying penny. I didn’t have a red cent to my spiritual name. Nothing.

During the worship, I got up, left the room and sat in the entry area, crying. I honestly confessed my heart to the Lord: “God, I feel like I’ve been doing everything you want, but you’re not holding up your end of the deal. Why are you so far off? If you love me and you’re my Father, where the heck are you?”

Immediately, this Psalm came to mind: “For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground” (Ps. 44:25). I thought, “this is exactly how I feel.” Then, I imagined myself lying face down in the dirt. It was a picture that seemed to capture the apex of spiritual depression. It doesn’t get much lower than on the ground, face down, and in the dirt. That’s where I was spiritually.

Then, as I imagined myself in this position, I thought of myself raising my hands, palms upward, over my head, as my face was in the mud, worshipping God. Suddenly, my chest began to swell. Tears filled my eyes again, but this time, they were tears of deep and abiding joy. I had an epiphany. Spiritual “success” was not measured in how I felt. Rather, it was determined by how I worshipped God. I didn’t need to spiritually teleport or have some ecstatic vision or experience some sign or wonder (in this you can see God’s patience with me in that He actually had to teach me that lesson). I just needed to worship God, in whatever state I was in. That moment, I decided to worship God, even though my belly clung to the dust.

A little later, I read Job say, “though He slay me, I will yet hope in Him.” After that, I read CS Lewis say that God’s goal is to get us to the point where we can look around and see no evidence of Him whatsoever and say, “I will still worship Him”.

This lesson has been the bedrock of my spiritual journey. This has been the thing that keeps me on track when I want to wander. I realized that my job is not to work my way to greater revelations of God. Rather, it is to trust Jesus. I am not supposed to pray certain words, in certain ways, with certain feelings, with great faith in order to unlock God’s blessings like typing a code into a lock. Rather, I am supposed to sit, and wait. I am supposed to hold my Father’s hand and go when He goes, and stop when He stops. When He guides me forward in spiritual delights, I am to delight. When He stops and has me wait in spiritual listlessness, I am to trust and worship.

Paradoxically, it is the worship in moments of spiritual depression that are the most profound. When you don’t feel God, and you even feel abandoned by God, yet you see yourself, almost as if you’re outside yourself looking in, worshipping God with all your heart, you all the sudden realize the gravity of your salvation. You are so saved in Jesus that you don’t need evidence, or happiness to worship Him. You trust Jesus so much that even when worldly wisdom says, “You’re nuts! There is no God, and even if there was a God, He clearly doesn’t care about you,” you ignore the thought like Jesus ignoring the jeering crowd as He carried His cross to Golgotha. To whom would those words better apply than to the Son of God, after He was brutalized by Roman soldiers, and was forced to carry the instrument of His death. What picture could you imagine that would depict being more forsaken? That’s the one God apparently cares most about and He’s been going through the wringer for hours. God knows everything and He certainly knows what’s going on with His Child. So, He must not care. He must be up there ignoring the fact that His only begotten Son is being tortured to death. How could He care? If He did, there is no way He would let Jesus get into this difficult, this depressing, situation.

But Jesus set His face like a flint, and carried on. My God He is strong. In that moment of worship in sadness, you are experiencing some of what Christ felt. He knew He needed to march on toward His death because it was worth it. And the joy of bringing many sons to glory overshadowed the pain of the cross upon His scoured back. So it is with us. When we don’t feel like worshipping because we are depressed, we worship anyway knowing that this difficult road we’re on will one day result in glory. But what’s more, we worship because Jesus walked that road, and He’s walking it, right now, with us.