Quick Thoughts: Randomness from a Morning in the Word

Ever had one of those days when you read the Bible and your meditations on the Word lead to random connections that you never saw before? I have had this occur so many times, I have come to realize that this experience transcends mere free association or brainstorming. It is the Holy Spirit revealing His ideas and truth to me in a way that helps me understand God, my relationship with Him, and His Word better.

Some days are, admittedly, ho-hum. But today is not one of those days.

Although it is only 8:30 a.m. at the time of this writing here is a journey through my mind this morning. Continue reading

Quick Thoughts: For the Sake of Christ

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I was recently walking through a Half-Price Books when I saw a title in the religious section that grabbed my eye: “The Power of I Am.”

Hmm. That sounds interesting, I thought, imagining the different theological approaches someone could take by focusing on the name of God. Ignoring the author, I flipped the book over to read the description on the back cover. I quickly discovered that I had not only picked up a Joel Osteen bestseller but I had also stumbled upon a blatant theft of God’s precious name in the service of the prosperity gospel. Since I didn’t buy the book, here is the description according to Amazon.com:

Whatever follows the words “I am” will always come looking for you.
So, when you go through the day saying:
“I am blessed”…blessings pursue you.
“I am talented”…talent follows you.
“I am healthy”…health heads your way.
“I am strong”…strength tracks you down.
Joel Osteen reveals how THE POWER OF I AM can help you discover your unique abilities and advantages to lead a more productive and happier life. His insights and encouragement are illustrated with many amazing stories of people who turned their lives around by focusing on the positive power of this principle. You can choose to rise to a new level and invite God’s goodness by focusing on these two words: I AM!

It shocked me that a pastor would blatantly encourage me to adopt God’s name as my own personal mantra to self-improvement, but then I wondered how many stars reviewers gave this book. Wanna guess? Out of 1,491 reviews, the average rating  (on a 1-5 scale) was…

4.27 stars!

I would assume these ratings are by people who consider themselves Christian and/or spiritual. But one has to wonder how representative are these readers of the Christian community? And do they understand this principle is not even biblical?

To understand why, let’s take a quick look at 2 Cor. 4:5:

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5)

WHAT WE PROCLAIM IS NOT OURSELVES

Paul centers his sights directly on the pride of man. He knows that it is an easy criticism for others to say that he is only doing what he is doing for himself. When a person receives attention, fame, wealth, power, or any other of the myriad of earthly pleasures, no one cares what vehicle they used to acquire these things. They only care about replicating the same success for themselves. They assume that these rewards are the result of Paul creating a successful brand centered around himself. So, Paul counters this argument and insists “what we proclaim is not ourselves.”

Notice, he does not deny that he is proclaiming something. Nor does he deny that it is for someone’s glory and fame. His point is that their proclamation is not for his own benefit but for Christ’s. It is to make Jesus known as Lord.

The tragedy is that so many people, including Christians, get this confused today. They place all their focus on the gifts God has given them and forget all about proclaiming the Giver as Lord. In other words, they make the gifts the object of their worship, and an unbelieving, cynical world looks on, scratching its head and saying, “There’s no difference between you and me. You want the same things I want. You value the same things I value. You just tack ‘God’ on the end of it and I don’t.” Such a proclamation is not winning anyone to Christ and is failing to make Jesus known as Lord.

BUT JESUS CHRIST AS LORD

So, how do you keep from falling into this trap? How do you demonstrate to a lost and unregenerate generation that there is more than just a difference in belief (i.e., theistic vs. atheistic) that separates you from them? You must live in such a way that the undeniable conclusion others come to is that your life proclaims one truth: Jesus is Lord. You cannot serve two masters. You will either love one and hate the other or you will hate the one and love the other. But you cannot be a “both-and” believer. This is an “either-or” choice. Either you pursue money, recognition, approval, ease, and comfort to make much of yourself, or you deny yourself, pursue the approval of God, and exert all your energies into making it known that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Be honest. Who do you seek to exalt? Whom does your heart desire to receive all the glory? You or Christ? You cannot have it both ways, for God is very clear on this point: “My glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isa. 42:8) Therefore, if your attempts at self-exaltation are doomed to fail, if God will not relinquish one ounce of His glory to share with you, if your pride always precedes a fall, then give up this inexorable effort and proclaim not yourself, but Jesus Christ as Lord.

WITH OURSELVES AS YOUR SERVANTS

Paul continues to extrapolate the point that he did not proclaim himself by reminding them that he became their servant. Servants do not lead. They follow. They minister to the needs of those they serve. They make themselves humble. They put themselves in the place of others and are committed to their growth. They do not seek exaltation. They do not desire power. They are meek, longsuffering, good stewards, and practice restraint.

But perhaps the most definitive, yet challenging, quality of a servant is their selflessness.

To refuse to put one’s needs and desires above the person he serves is one of the most difficult things to do. But when a person is the servant of another this characteristic must exist in order to be called a servant. We cannot look to ourselves. We cannot proclaim ourselves. We cannot place ourselves above others. Instead, we must follow the instruction of Philippians 2:3-4, which says “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

So, when Paul says that he was the servant of others, he is reinforcing the idea that he did nothing out of selfish ambition.

FOR JESUS’ SAKE

But then Paul goes one step farther when he says that he was their servant for Jesus’ sake. This is how we all ought to serve. We are servants to others only for the sake of Christ. We are not servants to others for THEIR sake. That would mistake the missional work of the Church for a man-centric work, whereby we focus on the short-term physical needs of people. Nor are we servants for OUR sake. That would mistake the work of the Church for a man-exalting work, whereby we are more about self-promotion than the eternal glory of Christ. We serve, yes. But we serve others FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST. We serve to set forth Christ as supremely valuable, so that all other pursuits may be exposed as transient and insignificant in comparison to Him. It is for this reason that Paul says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

We do not serve to alleviate a human ill, but to elevate a glorious God. Alleviating the need may be a byproduct of our God-glorifying action, but it is not the reason for the action. When the focus of missions is on making the beauty and the perfections of God public and not on the temporary needs of man, the Gospel can be preached effectively, and many can come to a saving faith in Him. Suddenly they will no longer see the Church as another helping institution but will see God working through His people in His power by His instruction and for His glory.

Such behavior will transform “receiving Christ” from holding one’s self as supremely valuable and using God and His grace as the means of honoring or protecting that value. Rather, it will hold Christ as supremely valuable, over and above ourselves and anything else in this world.  For, any prize that I cling to above Christ does not reflect a new nature but only the same old carnal, man-exalting nature I have always had. But when I proclaim not myself, but Jesus as Lord, when I become your servant for the sake of Christ, I demonstrate more than a difference in belief. I demonstrate a change has occurred. I have not taken an old thing, clothed it in new garments, and sprinkled it with glitter. My nature and everything I live for has been changed from the inside out.

Quick Thoughts: Loving as Christ Loves the Church

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EPH. 5:25-33:  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

From this passage, we see two important things: Christ loved the church AND gave himself up for her. These are two separate ideas. He 1) loved her AND 2) gave himself up for her.

The word for “love” here is “agapao.” According to Thayer’s Dictionary and Strong’s Concordance, this word means “to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly” and “to love in a social or moral sense.” This is broader than friendship love because “it includes the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty, and propriety”. Agapao is an active volition and purpose, not a passive acquiescence in objective considerations. It is an active choosing or preferring, a delighting in, as opposed to a more passive desire or willingness. It is a passion of the heart, not the head, which means it is a picture of the inward feelings, not the outward emotions.

Agapao is derived, as you would expect, from agape, which literally can mean “a love feast.”

Think about it like this.

childrens-feast

Variety. Delicacy. Succulence. And sweets!

Is this the best representation of your love for your wife? Do you present her with a feast of love?

Or do you provide her with a feast of something else, such as selfishness, control, ill-will, no affection, and commands?

Christ agapes His church. He provides a full understanding for her of what love is, for He is the author and source of love.

Love is expressed to the undeserving to unexplainable depths (Rom. 5:8)

Love commits to the remain, regardless of the situation (Rom. 8:35-39)

Love demonstrates what is genuine by abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good. (Rom. 12:9)

Love strives together with the beloved on the beloved’s behalf (Rom. 15:30).

Love directs our actions/choices (2 Cor. 5:14).

Love comforts (Php. 2:1).

Love labors (1 Thess. 1:3)

Love is steadfast (2 Thess. 3:5).

Love follows the sound words of Scripture (2 Tim. 1:13).

Love waits for the mercy that leads to eternal life (Jude 1:21).

Love frees us from our sins (Rev. 1:5).

Christ is Himself love…Do you show this type of love to your wife? The type of love that comes from Christ? That allows her to feast on your love for her?

Secondly, Christ gave Himself up for his bride, the Church. How do you give yourself up for your wife? Remember, Christ Himself said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28)

Do you serve your wife?

Do you serve her in such a selfless, holy way that she becomes a better person than she was at the beginning of the relationship?

Do you love her without condemnation but with sacrifice (temporarily giving things up for her), serving (refusing to lord your authority over her but instead bowing to wash her feet so that she sees you do not value power, sex, or money more than her?), severing (what have you permanently given up for her?), and sheltering (how do you protect her, especially from yourself, just as Christ’s love protects us from His wrath through His sacrifice on the cross)?

Giving up one’s self requires initiative. No one MADE Christ do this. He took the initiative upon Himself to become what He was not (sin) so that His bride might become what they could not be (righteous), see 2 Cor. 5:21. We husbands must willingly take the initiative to become what we are not (servants) so that our wives can become what they could not be without our action (spotless). For instance, although we are the head of the household, we must become a servant so that she can be washed pure.

Our wife’s happiness is NOT the goal. Rather, it is her holiness (happiness is just a byproduct of this goal). Notice that the scripture says that Christ loved his bride and gave Himself up for her “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” This is the purpose of Christ for his bride: that she might be holy and without blemish.

Although God is ultimately responsible for making her sanctified (or perfect), we emulate Him in this process by nourishing and cherishing our wife as we would our own selves. Let us be clear: no man is able to make any woman perfect. To believe that is our role can lead to pride, scorekeeping, controlling, domineering, and a “holier than thou” attitude.  God does not allow us men the authority or the ability to sanctify our wives, for all of us (both men and women), are redeemed sinners, members of Christ’s church, whom He is sanctifying. Men cannot sanctify their wives because they have not completed sanctification themselves.

So, what is the scripture commanding us husbands to do?

To nourish and cherish our wife as we would our own selves. For this is exactly how Christ treats His church. In each case, both with Christ and with couples, the wife is to be treated as if she is a member of the husband’s own body. That is why the apostle quotes Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Just as Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Php. 2:6-7), so husbands leave their family of origin and join themselves to their wife and become one flesh with them.

The point here is that because she has become one flesh with you and is now a member of your own body, you should treat her as such.

Nourish her.

Cherish her.

Love her as your love yourself.

And though it may sound obvious, do not show her hate. The Greek word for “hate” is “miseo,” which means “to detest (especially to persecute); by extension to love less: — detestable, hate.” Miseo also means “to detest (on a comparative basis); hence, denounce; to love someone or something less than someone (something) else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favor of another.” (From https://biblehub.com/greek/3404.htm )

Therefore, we husbands are not to love our wives less than we love ourselves. Or, to put it another way, we cannot choose ourselves over and above our wives. To do such a thing is to hate our wives, for we have at that moment prioritized ourselves as more important than her.

If we refuse to do something she has asked us to do so that we can do something we want to do instead (watch a ballgame, get some rest, participate in a hobby, seek out time with our friends…), then we are renouncing her in favor of ourselves.

What we fail to realize is that we are not above her, nor is she above us. We are both members of the same body. And as equal members of the same body, we are to love, cherish, and nourish that body AS IF THERE IS NO SEPARATION between us. We have been made one flesh. Therefore, do not treat your wife as if she is separate from yourself. She is just as important as you are and needs to be valued and treated as such.

Love her in such a way that she can feast on your love.

Make no distinction between how you cherish and nourish yourself and how you cherish and nourish her.

In other words, love her as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.

Google vs. God

The subject in my Sunday School class today was: “Is God relevant for the culture?”

This topic spurred a lot of discussions as the teacher covered the doctrinal nature of God, continually poked and prodded us with challenging questions and encouraged us to consider how the culture views God.

But one comment from a fellow student stood out to me among the others.  She noted that when people have a question today, they do not seek guidance, wisdom, or knowledge from God or His Word. Instead, they Google it.

Sadly, I had to agree with her.

Gotta tickle in your throat?

Google it!

Want to know when the movie starts?

Google it!

Want to know the meaning of life?

Google it? Yes, Google it!

You may not get very far, but hey “about 1,080,000,000” results pop up, including everything from Wikipedia to varying religious beliefs to the number 42, so you should at least be busy for a while.

When you think about it, Google has become the culture’s main source for information on almost everything, and unlike the common perception of God, it (allegedly) does not impose a preconceived value system on the user. Rather, it allows the user to gather the information on his own, decide what is relevant or irrelevant to his life/life-choices, and then use this information in the best way the user sees fit. In short, it promotes and values a person’s autonomy to discern what is best for their life.

God, on the other hand, does not offer us humans freedom through autonomy. He offers us freedom through truth. This has been the arrangement ever since Adam and Eve’s original attempt to gain freedom from God through the exercise of their autonomy when God, in His wisdom and love, prevented them from eating of the tree of life (which would have condemned them to a permanent, sinful state) and used the power of His Word (the same power that spoke creation into existence) to proclaim the truth that Christ would one day provide man with freedom from the evil one (Gen. 3:15).  This principle of “freedom through truth” was continually emphasized throughout scripture as the Torah provided man the principles he needed to maintain a holy life, free from sin. It is no surprise, then, that when Christ came to reveal God to us in the flesh, this powerful and effective truth took center stage as He reminded everyone, “I am…the truth” (Jn. 14:6) and “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn. 8:32)

But regardless of whether one prefers to go to God or to Google for the answer to one’s most existential questions, one fact remains patently clear: man’s desperate need for answers recognizes the need for a transcendent authority to provide guidance, wisdom, and knowledge to his life. There seems to be an innate understanding and a silent agreement amongst us all that we cannot do life on our own. To figure out how to proceed well, we must submit and order our lives around something bigger and better than ourselves. Some will submit to the wisdom of man on the internet. Others will submit to the holiness of God. Either way, each one is seeking freedom from what is broken within him.

The question, of course, is who will you allow to direct the course of your life? Google or God?

We are All Theologians

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Dear Friend,

I was excited and intrigued the other day when you sent me a text message that stated you were feeling God’s call to be a theologian. I think this is exciting and wonderful and a glorious thing and would love to talk to you more about it in detail. But first I have some preliminary things I want to say.

First, please be aware that we are all theologians. From the most strident atheist to the most devout moralist to the most humble evangelist, all of us humans participate in the study and analysis of God, His attributes, and His relationship with the universe.

The atheist does this through denial. He examines the evidence to the best of his ability, analyzes God, the premises established regarding God’s character, and how God is to relate to the universe (particularly on an individual level), and he denies the existence of a supreme being. For him, something else is more valuable in this universe than any proposed god, particularly a Christian one. For some that is the universe itself. For some it is science. For others it is hedonism. But whatever it is that they decide to attribute supreme value to, then that thing becomes the object of their study and analysis and the defining framework for their lives. In other words, it becomes their god.

The moralist is only slightly different. Like the atheist, moralists have examined the evidence and done some analysis as well but they have concluded that there is a supreme being; however, they may or may not agree that this god is the Christian god. The moralist’s approach this supreme being, though, through the lens of works, not denial. They believe that it is the accumulation of good deeds that gains the favor of the supreme being, so they spend the majority of their lives performing good works in an attempt to outweigh all the bad that they have also done. Moralists, it must be pointed out, can be avid students (or followers) of other religions or they can be non-religious altogether. It doesn’t really matter, because their god is not the supreme being that they acknowledge. It is themselves and the good works that they can accomplish. And they spend their lives organizing their lives around this central ideal.

The last category of theologian, I would argue, is the Christian. This is the most difficult position to maintain, not because there is no evidence to support their position but because they are called to do everything in their lives in such a way as to make Christ appear more valuable than anything else.  Christians are called to live their lives defiantly. To organize their lives around the central principle of “whether through my life or through my death, I will endeavor to display Christ as not only supremely valuable to me but to also make His value and His perfections publicly seen and experienced so clearly through ALL that I do, that He is recognized as supremely valuable over all.” (Php. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 10:31) Such a calling is both convicting and conforming at the same time. For as we seek through our lives to make others see and experience the supreme value, worth, and desirability of God, we find ourselves constantly being challenged to release the selfish ambitions of moralism and the intellectual conceit of atheism so that we may, in humility, put on the mind of Christ and conform more and more to His image (Php. 2:3-8).

We Christians are theologians of a different stripe. We are not called to love ourselves. We are called to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Because we are self-centered people we do love ourselves, as is pointed out in “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But this is not a command to love yourself. It is a command to love your neighbor. It works off of the assumption that you do and you will love yourself and that this selfish, self-centered action can teach you how you ought to act towards others. Indeed, Jesus paraphrased this command in the famous Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matt. 7:12)

“Christians,” He seems to be saying, “as you study and analyze the attributes and character of God, as you make Him the center of your life (and not yourself) love God so passionately that your love for Him overflows into your love for others…Remember, you are God’s representative on this earth and He makes His appeal to the lost through you.” (2 Cor. 5:20)

Therefore, my dear friend, I would ask you to please consider what you mean when you say, “God is calling me to be a theologian.” If you imagine a theologian to be a deep thinker about God or a seminarian or even a pastor/priest of some kind, that’s all well and good, but please do not fall into the trap of being so intellectually or morally invested in Christianity that you fail to actually apply or live out the truth of the Gospel among the lost. Good theologians are not only good students or good citizens. They are people of defiant faith. The ones who stand up against the tide of a post-truth culture and create a fixed reference point for all those seeking land in a fluid-truth society.

Good theologians are not ashamed. They are full of courage so that Christ is always honored in their body, whether by life or by death (Php. 1:20). They hear the edict, know the consequences of honoring God, and say, “I am trusting in God, and regardless of whether I die or not, I will only worship and serve Him.” (Daniel 3:17-18) Such faith can be found throughout both the Old and New Testaments as well as in modern examples, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who faced down the Nazi regime and its horrible atrocities with a steely will and the Word of God.

Make no mistake, my friend, if God is calling you to be a theologian, He is calling you to action. He is calling you to take the Word and show the world how it is not only an efficacious and viable option for life but how it is the supreme framework for living. The absolute truth among many choices. Be aware that such living comes prepackaged with danger and suffering as well as with rewards and the eternal echo of “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

God may be calling you to learn more. He may be calling to live better. But please, be the theologian who also “plays the man,” (2 Sa. 10:12) facing down the evil within this world, and making the value and the glory of God shine brightly within the encroaching darkness, whether it be by your life or your death.

Go with God,

Mark

A Little Nudge

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Yesterday we prayed that God would remove the spirit of slothfulness within us. That we would use the days He has given us well and that He would help us live an unwasted life.

But let me ask you: How did you follow up on this today?

Did the love of God overflow into actions for God? Did you look at your Sunday and postpone what should have been done so that you could take a nap? Or watch Netflix? Or play a video game?

Did you think about the prayer we prayed yesterday, consider the time you have left, and ask, “What can I do today? How can I spend today for God’s glory?”

I don’t ask this because I want you to feel guilty.

I ask this because, personally, I failed.

I went to church today. I read my Bible. I prayed. But when I looked at my backyard, I thought, “I’ll get my son to do that later.” And when I realized that he wouldn’t have time, I thought, “Well, it can be postponed at least one more week.”

Umm. No, it can’t.

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And when I considered the letter I got from my HOA a week ago about alleged mildew on the side of my chimney, did I go buy the Spray and Forget like I knew I should?

No. I didn’t.

You know what I did instead?

I read a few pages out of Eric Metaxas’ book Martin Luther, told myself I should finish writing a new blog post on the marriage blog I have, and then…

I turned on my computer, logged into the website of my favorite baseball team “just to see what the score was” and wound up watching the last few innings of what turned out to be an incredible ballgame.

By the time that was done, it was almost supper time. I knew my wife had been feeling ill all day and that I would most likely be in charge of cooking, but it was late now and I had NO idea how to make a chicken pot pie.

I mean, I could try.

I’m smart.

I could’ve probably done it, had I bothered looking for the recipe. Instead, I ordered pizza for the family, watched an episode of Seinfeld, and used a piece of key lime pie “to erase that thirsty feeling pepperoni makes in your mouth.” (No, really.)

And that’s when I finally slowed down my procrastinating long enough to hear a still, small voice remind me about yesterday’s post, specifically about how I had typed the following words as a sincere prayer to my Lord: “Kill the spirit of slothfulness that has strapped itself to my soul.”

I wanted to say, “Hey. That’s not fair, God. Using my words against me?”

But I knew He’d just shrug and say, “You prayed for this.”

And He’d be right. Because that’s the way it is with prayer.

Prayer is not only a problem I lay at God’s feet to resolve but also an invitation He lays at my feet to become more involved in His work. Prayer is not a package I drop off at God’s post office. It is a process of God shaping my heart so that I may publicly demonstrate His goodness and perfection to others.

It is not a singular event I engage in for five minutes every morning. It is an unceasing, persistent pleading, an intentional listening to the Spirit’s urgings, and a fearless obedience to follow Him wherever He may lead.

But, prayer is also failing.

It is staying in the boat while others walk on water. It is being lazy when we should be at war. It is loving ourselves more than we love God. It is exchanging infinite joy for finite pleasures, water for dirt, holidays for prison, and it is fueled by rationalization, justification, intellectualization, and good ol’ procrastination.

Yet, God still looks at us and says, “You wanted this change…So, let’s change.”

Prayer is confession. It is repentance, an intentional turning away from all that has trapped us in sin. It is working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. In short, prayer is a daily battle.

So, if you’re like me, and you failed today at what you prayed for yesterday, look at your calendar for tomorrow. Look at your wants and your needs. Pull up in your mind who you will be meeting with at work and the deadlines you have to meet.

Spread your day and your fears and the tauntings in your mind out before the Lord like Hezekiah, begging God to take your day and use it for His glory (2 Kings 19:14-19). To incline your heart to His testimonies, not for selfish gain. (Ps. 119:36) For there will be many enemies to fight, the most cunning of which is ourselves, but although the day will be a battle, “the victory belongs to the Lord.” (Pr. 21:31)