The Tenth Leper

Theology Made Practical

The First Step in Understanding and Loving the Prophets

In early 2009 I began working at a coffee shop. In one sense, I was pumped. I love coffee, it was a great latte-art-2environment with fantastic co-workers, and I needed additional income. But I was also a little apprehensive  about the skill-set required to actually do the job. The task of learning what people meant when they said they wanted a “grande upside-down skinny caramel macchiato with peppermint” seemed daunting and unattainable. But I learned and got to the point where I could have made something like that in my sleep.

What helped me learn that stuff wasn’t simply memorizing recipes, though. Instead, what helped me was getting a proper framework of how to make espresso drinks. Things became so much easier to learn when I understood a) what a latte is (espresso and steamed milk), and b) that so many of the drinks I was making were just variations of that foundational drink. That gave me a starting point from which I could understand so many other variations of that drink.

I’ve come to dub that experience as “The Latte Test.” The principle is simple: once you have a framework in place, you can then begin to categorize all the other details.

Recently in my life I’ve been growing in my love and understanding of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. Before you think I’m a freak, know that that’s more due to the fact that I’m growing in my desire to study the parts of the Bible that are most bewildering to me. And bewildering they are. And long.

But just as learning to make complicated drinks for me came down to learning one basic drink, I learned quickly that I couldn’t begin to understand all the complexities of the prophetical books without understanding the one main thing the prophets were talking about: the exile. O. Palmer Robertston writes:

It was the event of Israel’s exile, and the future beyond the exile, that the literary prophets of Israel were called and commissioned to explain.

Knowing this is the first step in understanding all the details of the prophets.

Why the Exile Happened

In Genesis 12, God chose a man named Abram in which to bring about his plan to send an “offspring” exilewho would crush the head of the serpent who had tempted Adam and Eve to sin (Gen.3:15). He promised Abram offspring, land, and that all the nations of the world would be blessed in him. Much later, the descendants of Abram (later renamed Abraham) made their way down to Egypt to escape a famine. While there they grew in number and were eventually enslaved by Pharaoh.

In response to his covenant with Abraham, God took action and brought his people out of Egypt so that they could dwell in the land promised to them. Before bringing them to the land, he stopped his people at Mount Sinai so that he could give them the law through Moses. The law served to instruct them how they were to live as God’s people in God’s presence.

In Leviticus 26 and again in Deuteronomy 28, we see an extended discussion about the blessings that the people of Israel would experience if they were obedient to the law and the curses that would fall on them if they weren’t. (In a sense, the rest of the Old Testament is the answer to the question of which path they’ll take.) Prolonged disobedience would result in exile.

Where the Prophets Fit In

The law casts a long shadow over these books. The prophets were God’s “covenant watchdogs.” That is, their role was to hold the nation accountable to the law. As God’s people (now divided up into two kingdoms: “Israel” in the north, and “Judah” in the south) continued to walk in disobedience to it, God sent the prophets to warn them about what he said he would do in response to their disobedience and to plead with them to repent. The northern kingdom was destroyed and exiled by the Assyrian Empire in 722 BC. Judah lasted until 586 BC, when Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were carried off by the Babylonian Empire. There were prophets who ministered before, during, and after the exile.

The Message of the Prophets

isaiahGod’s people had been called to be a light to all nations. But they were consistently unfaithful to God and his covenant, which meant they would bear the ultimate curse of covenant disobedience. The destruction of the northern kingdom was significant, but the destruction of the southern kingdom was even more so. Why? Because Judah’s capital was Jerusalem. And Jerusalem was where God’s temple was. And God’s temple was where God dwelt. So when the Babylonian armies destroyed Jerusalem and the temple of God, to the Israelites it looked like God had been beaten by the gods of Babylon.

On top of this, it raised other questions. God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a nation, that they would dwell in this land, and that they would be a blessing to all nations. But now? Their population was decimated, they were removed from the land, and they were slaves in a foreign land once again. Not only that, but God had promised David that one of his descendants would sit on his throne forever. But now there wasn’t even a kingdom to be king over. Did God lie? Was he unable to fulfill his promise? Everything they had known and believed in was thrown into question.

Into this hopelessness and despair, the prophets spoke God’s message to his people. They assured them that not only was God still undefeated, but that it was actually his hand that was behind Jerusalem’s destruction. They explained what was happening to them by reminding them of God’s holiness and their sin and encouraged them to repent. Some prophets predicted the exile in advance so that when it happened, it would be confirmation of God’s control over history rather than a source of despair. Additionally, the prophets went even further into the future and anticipated a restoration beyond the exile.

Restoration

But even if the relationship between God and his people was restored, what’s to say that they wouldn’t just fall back in to the same cycle of sin and get booted out of the land again? Restoration from exile sounded great, but how comforting was it in the long run? Just what kind of restoration are we looking at here?

It wouldn’t be a mere restoration of how things once were. Rather, God would do something new. In the words of Robertson, the kind of restoration promised involved a “new covenant, a new Zion, a new temple, a new messiah, a new relation to the nations of the world.” And as if that weren’t lofty enough, Isaiah went on the prophesy about new heavens a new earth.

“Restoration” then didn’t just have implications for the remnants of Judah in Babylon. It had universal implications. It wasn’t confined to just getting them back from Babylon. After all, the last three prophets in the Old Testament (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) ministered to the people who had returned to rebuild Jerusalem, people who were now disillusioned by how not awesome it was being back in the land.

Getting back to Jerusalem wasn’t the end game. Instead, it was a crucial step in God’s plan of  a much greater restoration from a far more serious exile: humanity’s exile from God’s presence which had resulted from Adam’s sin. The new messiah would be the light of the world that Israel had failed to be. The process of restoration he would usher in would be to save his people from their sins and form not just a new Israel, but a whole new humanity. Eventually this new humanity would inhabit a new earth free from the presence of sin and filled with the presence of God. In doing so, he would fulfill God’s promise to Abraham to bless all the nations through him as well as God’s promise to David to put one of his descendants on his throne forever. This is the significance of the very first verse of the New Testament:

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Matthew 1:1

So Why Read the Prophets?

Because they don’t just cover the contemporary issues of their day. They describe a restoration process that includes saving people from their sins as well as living in a world without sin. So from Isaiah to Malachi, we have a ton of references to the gospel. So much of the New Testament is the fulfillment and unpacking of what we find in these books.

God’s promises- all of which find their fulfillment in Jesus- fill the pages of the prophets. So the more we study them, the better our understanding will be of what Jesus came to do in his first coming. We’ll also enhance our understanding and excitement of what he’ll do upon his return.

So exile. Start with that. Then grab a latte and read them.

God’s Fatherhood and Mine

I became a dad almost three weeks ago.

I’ve always enjoyed hearing guys talk about how becoming a father has added new layers to their understanding of who God is and how they’re treated by him, and I’ve been pretty excited to share in those insights.

Again, I’m only a couple weeks in, so I don’t have a ton of new profound wisdom to offer here. But there is one new layer of understanding that I’ve come to appreciate: I love my son because he’s my son. He’s precious to me simply because he’s mine.

And really, there’s no other possible reason that I could love him. He doesn’t do anything. He’s a consumer. He’s not pulling his weight around here. He sleeps, eats, and occasionally shrieks like a velociraptor. He doesn’t pay rent. He doesn’t listen to reason. But it doesn’t matter. He’s mine, and I love him. Every Christian can say the same about God their Father. And all of us need to remember that. Sometimes desperately so.

Yet sometimes we make a distinction in our minds. Of course I’d say that about my natural-born son. But we struggle to think of our heavenly Father in the same way. If I’m honest, the relationship between a father and his son here on earth seems more real and unconditional than my relationship with God. I feel like if God chose to be my father, then he can also un-choose me.

But I think this line of thinking plays right into the hands of our enemy. A Christian is not a natural-born son of God. He’s an adopted son. And Satan will try to exploit that, leading us to wonder:

-Are you really God’s son, given where you came from and what you’ve done?
-Are you really brothers and sisters since you come from such different backgrounds?
-Will you really be loved and welcomed into God’s family with the baggage that you bring with you?
-I wonder if adoption means that I will always be God’s daughter? What if I do something bad? Can this be reversed? Will He always be my Father?
-Does adoption make me different from others? Is this special identity good or peculiar?
(taken from Mike Milton, “What is the Doctrine of Adoption?”)

I’ve heard it said that many adoptive parents wonder if they’ll be able to love their child the same way a biological parent would love theirs. But the moment they meet them, that concern completely disappears. Whether biological or adopted, a parent’s children are their own, and they love them for it.

And whether it’s his natural child (Jesus) or his adopted sons and daughters, God loves his children. This is captured beautifully in Deuteronomy when God reveals his motive in redeeming his people out of slavery:

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 7:6-8

God loves his people because he loves them. Pretty remarkable.

I love my son because he’s my son. And he will be son whether he is obedient, disobedient, or just sitting there pooping his diaper. Which means I will love him in all these scenarios. Similarly, for those who have been united to Jesus, and who are now sons and daughters of God, you are loved. He’ll love you in your obedience. He’ll discipline you in your disobedience, but he won’t condemn you. He’ll be patient with you as a newborn. In all this, he’ll love you.

Knowing this provides the incredible security of being fully known and yet fully loved. And this allows us to come and repent before God when we sin, knowing that we’re accepted in his presence. Satan will attempt to convince us otherwise. And he is successful when you’re convinced that God is the last person you should dare approach after you committed that sin (leading us to find refuge elsewhere). This security keeps you from hiding in shame from God on the one hand, and the crushing burden of feeling like you have to prove yourself to him on the other.

God’s presence is the safest place to be after you sin, because there’s forgiveness there. And he delights to forgive his children and see them grow to look more like him.

Parenting Advice and the Gospel

There’s an old adage which says that you’re never supposed to talk to people about religion or politics at the dinner table. I would like to expand upon this adage: You’re never supposed to talk to people about religion or politics or parenting advice.

Crying-Baby-2-1024x682“Oh, that face? Would you like to know which of your failures it represents?”

People have, shall we say, “opinions” on how to parent kids. It starts the day people find out you’re expecting a kid and, from what I’ve observed, it never lets up. Natural birth or epidural? Cloth diapers or disposable ones? Baby Wise or having a soul and actually loving your child?

I’m not surprised that people have opinions. People have opinions about literally everything. The thing I’ve been trying to understand though is why opinions on this are so heated and volatile. For some people, the very existence of a different opinion than theirs is an indictment of their skills as a parent, if not their skills at being a human being.

In trying to understand why this is, I cam across the following from Timothy Keller’s book Jesus the King (Warning: Not a Parenting Book):

[Religion is] advice on how you must live to earn your way to God. Your job is to follow that advice to the best of your ability. If you follow it but don’t get carried away, then you have moderation. But if you feel like you’re following it faithfully and completely, you’ll believe you have a connection with God because of your right living and right belief, and you’ll feel superior to people who have wrong living and wrong belief. That’s a slippery slope: If you feel superior to them, you stay away from them. That makes it easier to exclude them, then to hate them, and ultimately to oppress them. And there are some Christians like that- not because they’ve gone too far and been too committed to Jesus, but because they haven’t gone far enough. They aren’t as fanatically humble and sensitive, or as fanatically understanding and generous as Jesus was. Why not? They’re still treating Christianity as advice instead of good news.

Keller’s point is a good one: when it comes to matters of faith, “advice” tends to polarize people. Not all advice does that of course. But then, remember what kind of advice he’s referring to: advice on matters of God and faith. Opinions tend to be more divisive the weightier the subject is. They get heated when it comes to matters that make you, in Keller’s words, “feel superior to people who have wrong living and wrong belief.” This can be anything…

teamjacobheader

…but it always tends to be things more important to us than God himself. People will be more defensive of their positions on matters that they feel define them. When they offer advice on such matters, they’re not just offering a set of facts or opinions. They’re offering a bit of themselves. And to have that advice rejected, mocked, or even just ignored feels like a knife in their hearts because they feel like they’re being rejected, mocked, or ignored.

So when someone feels the need to call you a Nazi because you don’t follow their parenting advice, in all likelihood this is someone who is passionate about being a good parent and has very strong convictions about what it means to be one. But their identity is so wrapped up in this that they need their convictions to be true.  I’m not just picking on these people. Everyone struggles with this in some way. As someone who is passionate about theology, I sometimes find myself being threatened when someone I know holds a different theological view on something than me because to some degree it feels like they’re saying “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Parenting is an area of life that is by nature advice-dominated. This is especially true for guys like me who are about to become parents and have absolutely no clue what they’re doing. It’s good and wise for ignorant guys like me to stand on the shoulders of guys like Atticus Finch, the What to Expect When You’re Expecting authors, and Darth Vader.

luke-v-vader_bespinPictured: How not to parent.

But there’s another reason I think parenting is so advice-driven. We think that if we follow a specific parenting formula, our kids will turn out exactly the way we want them to. We think kids come into this world as a blank slate, and that if they turn out bad it must be because you screwed them up. Way to go.

Obviously, parents play a huge role in the development of their children. But not a sovereign role. Even now I’m tempted to think that I’m only as prepared for parenthood as the amount of books I’ve read on it. But I could do everything right and still have my son turn out to like country music. Or I could screw up a lot and see him grow to be a godly man. We shouldn’t minimize our role as parents. But we should be careful of overestimating our kids by forgetting that they come into this world not as a blank slates but as depraved, hell-bent sinners in need of what only Jesus can give them.

Also, we shouldn’t underestimate God’s role in our kids’ lives. To apply Keller’s wisdom here, if parenting is ultimately a matter of advice to us, the solution isn’t more advice. It’s to stop seeing it ultimately as a matter of advice and instead as a matter of dependence upon God. God’s grace, not your ability as a parent, will save your child. It’s this same grace that will empower you and me to exhibit the self-sacrificing, others-centered love that is so characteristic of Jesus (Philippians 2) and so needed by our kids. Parenting begins on our knees before God. And it’s sustained in the same way.

“It is a greater mercy to descend from praying parents than from the loins of nobles.”
John Flavel

Review: “Date Your Wife” by Justin Buzzard

date your wifeDespite its bold, severed-hand-calling-you-out marketing style, I just got around to reading Justin Buzzard’s Date Your Wife. The book is the fruit of what is obviously a deep burden for Buzzard. He has seen (as have many of us) far too many men shirk their responsibilities of leading and loving their wives. In the midst of life’s busyness, they no longer prioritize the woman that they once spent time, money, and energy just to be with. This book seeks to reverse that trend.

Buzzard walks a mostly helpful balance in the book. It’d be too easy for this book to have a more “10 Steps To A Better Marriage” tone. Though the book contains action steps at the end of each chapter, two chapters devoted to creating an action plan of how you’ll date your wife, and even an appendix with 100 ideas on how to date your wife, Date Your Wife is not only nor even primarily a practical, how-to book, despite what the title and back cover suggest. Rather, Buzzard spends considerable time showing the biblical basis behind marriage: where it originated, what went wrong, and how the gospel restores it.

In doing so Buzzard grounds God’s calling for husbands first in their identity, which is refreshing. “Men, you will not pursue your wife well until you know the God who pursues you. The Bible is the most romantic book in the world. The Bible, the gospel, is God shouting: ‘I loved you, but I lost you, and I want you back.’” As Christian men whose identity is bound up in Jesus, our worth isn’t tied to how well we pursue our wives. Without acknowledging this, any book called Date Your Wife is doomed to be soul-crushing rather than life-giving. Thankfully, the book shouts this.

For a book written by a Christian husband to Christian husbands, Ephesians 5:25-33 is curiously absent from Date Your Wife. It makes a couple of very brief appearances, only to disappear just as quickly. Granted, I’d have an issue with any marriage book that didn’t mention Genesis 1-3 either, so I’m glad he brings it up. But by virtually leaving Ephesians 5 out of the discussion, the book suffers a bit.

The whole book hinges on Buzzard’s belief that “If you want to change a marriage, change the man.” Citing Genesis 2:15, Buzzard rightly observes that before Eve was created, Adam was given a job to do: to cultivate and protect the garden. When Eve came along then, he had that some job: cultivate and guard his marriage. Adam’s failure to protect Eve then was a failure to do these two things. And every husband since then, he reasons, is guilty of the same failure to cultivate and guard our wives. This leads to a natural conclusion:

Your wife isn’t the problem. You’re the problem. I’m the problem. Men are the problem. If you want to change a marriage, change the man. If you want to change your marriage, you must first see that you are the main problem in your marriage…You are what is wrong with you marriage. It’s your fault. This is the second most important truth to learn from this book: it’s your fault. You are the husband. You are the man. And God has given man the ability to be the best thing or the worst thing that ever happened to a marriage.

This is a very bold statement that doesn’t seem to allow for any exceptions. Except in a joke:

I imagine there are exceptions to this, but you and your marriage are not the exception. There’s probably on guy somewhere in Canada who can legitimately claim that most of the problems in his marriage stem from his Canadian wife. He’s the exception. You aren’t. The man who reads this book and disagrees, who thinks his wife is the main problem in the marriage, is the man who most needs to read this book.

I truly believe that I am the biggest problem in my marriage. But not because I’m the husband. Because I’m a sinner. Husband or wife, the biggest threat to anybody’s relationships is themselves. The biggest problem in my marriage is the sin in my heart that prevents me from loving my spouse in a Christ-like way when she sins. It’s also the sin in my heart that puts me in the center of my world, making her needs secondary. It’s the pride in me that refuses to confess my sins to her and ask for forgiveness.

God has given the husband the role of leading his home, and as such the husband is largely responsible for the health of his home. But it’s a leap to infer from this that whatever is wrong in your marriage is “your fault.” In doing so, Buzzard seems to imply that as the head of their households, husbands are responsible for their wives’ sins, which further suggests that there is no recorded incident anywhere of a marriage in which the wife is the biggest problem. It’s one thing to say that problems usually revolve around the husband’s failed leadership. It’s another to say that all the problems in any marriage are his fault. And this is what the book seems to suggest.

As an example, a few pages later Buzzard begins a new chapter by recalling a time when he sat with an old friend who had discovered his wife was having an affair after ten years of marriage and three kids. Albeit furious, his friend wanted to make the marriage work but wasn’t sure if she did. As his friend talked, slowly he began to see his own role in how their marriage got to the place it had gotten to. He’d stopped pursuing her and was content to be a good roommate instead of a good husband. By God’s grace, he came to a place of brokenness where he realized he needed God’s help to be the husband he was called to be.

Significantly, the story is told in a chapter about Adam’s failure to protect Eve from the serpent’s temptations in Eden. Buzzard recalls his friend’s realization:

…in taking a fresh look at their ten years together, he realized that he’d spent the past decade standing in Adam’s footprints. He spotted ten years of overgrowth, ten years of failing to tend and guard the garden.

The implication? This guy had no one to blame for his wife’s adultery but himself. The illustration speaks solely to his failure as a husband and ignores the sin and bitterness his wife harbored all those years while she also neglected her biblical mandate (1 Cor.7:13; Eph.5:22-24, 33; 1 Pet.3:1-2).

Buzzard sees an illustration of grace in his friend’s story as well as a warning against legalism:

He thought if he stayed committed to his wife and didn’t go anywhere, then God would give him a decent marriage with decent sex in a decent American town with a decent church down the street.

In other words, there’s not a formula for earning God’s blessing on your marriage. And that’s true. This guy thought he could do a set amount of tasks and be guaranteed a good marriage. But it’s just as untrue that if you depend on God for the strength to love your wife as Christ loves the church, she’ll never cheat on you. No one has that guarantee. But the Gospel equips husbands and wives to love each other in the best times and in the hard times brought on by sin. This is where a little more emphasis on Ephesians 5 would have been helpful.

In the end, Date Your Wife‘s flaws aren’t fatal. I mentioned that Buzzard strikes a mostly helpful balance between practical advice and the Scriptural foundation behind it. Though the foundation he presents is a bit wobbly, the book is at its best when it gives practical advice. The two chapters that encourage guys to develop an “Air War” (year-long vision of dates, vacations, etc.) and “Ground War” (small gestures on a week-to-week and day-to-day basis) plan for dating their wives are gold and something I’d encourage every guy to read through. I can’t imagine any guy reading the book and not being inspired to be more intentional in the way he loves his wife (and I include myself in that). It may not be the first marriage book I’d recommend, but it would be on that list somewhere.

What Are Your Idols? (And Why Should You Care?)

In his marvelous book The Peacemaker, Ken Sande defines an “idol” as “anything apart from God that we depend on to be happy, fulfilled, or secure.” He also unpacks how an idol is formed:

….if…seemingly legitimate desires are not met, we can find ourselves in a vicious cycle. The more we want something, the more we think we need and deserve it. And the more we think we are entitled to something, the more convinced we are that we cannot be happy and secure without it.

When we see something as being essential to our fulfillment and well-being, it moves from being a desire to a demand. ‘I wish I could have this’ evolves into ‘I must have this!’ This is where trouble sets in. Even if the initial desire was not inherently wrong, it has grown so strong that it begins to control our thoughts and behavior. In biblical terms, it has become an idol.

goldencalf2While the word “idols” generally conjures up statutes of primitive gods, it’s an issue that affects people of all times and all cultures. As Tim Keller writes, the Bible’s “concept of idolatry is an extremely sophisticated idea, integrating intellectual, psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual categories.”

Think about it: if there’s something you’re depending on to be happy, fulfilled, or secure, what’s your reaction going to be when you don’t get it? How will you treat somebody who stands in the way of you having it? What will your response be when you have it but you don’t feel happy, fulfilled, or secure?

Welcome to your world. Welcome to the source of all your interpersonal conflicts (James 4:1-2). Welcome to the layer of your heart that’s feeding your more visible sins of addiction, anger, anxiety, jealousy, and despair (Mark 7:21-23). We want something to the extent that we feel we need it. So we rage against those who keep us from having it. We have it, but we are consumed with anxiety over the possibility of losing it.

It’s not wrong to seek something to be our happiness, security, and fulfillment. It’s called worship, and we’re created for it. The problem lies with the fact that we’re looking to something other than God to give us that kind of wholeness. Not only does God deserve that kind of worship because he is our creator but- as Augustine said- our hearts won’t rest until they find their rest in him. As long as what you’re worshiping can be taken away from you, you’ll never be at rest. You’ll never be content. On the other hand, if what you’re worshiping is the eternal, sovereign, everywhere-present God of the universe, you’ll rest just fine, even in the midst of great trials.

What are your idols? Have you ever thought about it? If not, I’d greatly encourage you to. It’s not a question of if you have idols, but rather what your idols are. Mark Driscoll provides a helpful list of questions to ask yourself toward that end:

Who or what do I make sacrifices for?

Who or what is most important to me?

If I could have any thing or experience I wanted, what would it be?

Who or what makes me most happy?

What is the one person or thing I could not live without?

What do I spend my money on?

Who or what do I devote my spare time to?

Worship and the Attributes of God

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.
Psalm 95:1-5

If I’m completely honest, verses like these are the ones I tend to glaze over when I’m reading my Bible. Any kind of call to praise God doesn’t really tell me anything I don’t already know. “Praise God. Yep, got it.” It’s not that I don’t enjoy praising him. It’s just that I’m so aware of my need to praise him that any reminders seem superfluous.

But there’s something else in these verses that caught my attention when I was reading them. They don’t just tell us to praise God. They tell us why. “For the LORD is a great God…”

A couple weeks ago I was reflecting on my marriage, specifically the ways in which I let my wife know that she’s loved and appreciated. In doing so, I was convicted about something. I realized that I spent more time telling her that I loved her than I did specifying what it is that I love about her. Saying “I love you” isn’t bad, obviously, nor does she not like it. But there’s a fullness breathed in to those words when I truly sit back and reflect on who she is and all the reasons I’m happy to be spending my life with her. My praise of her reaches new heights when it’s given more fuel.

The same is true when it comes to worshiping the Lord. We all know we should praise God. But I don’t think we stop often enough to ask why. What about God is worth praising? What about him should lead us to thank him? It’s not wrong to say “Thank you, Lord” or “Praise you, Jesus!” But there’s a fuel that enriches our hearts and worship when we stop to think about who God is.

At the risk of sounding like a cranky-old theologian (probably too late, thanks for visiting!), I think there’s a bunch of worship music out there devoted entirely to reminding us to praise God without reminding us of what precisely it is that we’re praising. Again, that’s not to say that that’s never okay. But if that’s all we’re singing, we’re going to burn out quick. “Praise” will become a duty rather than the natural overflow of pre-existing awe.

In Psalm 95:1-5, we see the call to worship God in verses 1-2. Verses 3-5 tell us why.* We make a joyful noise and come into his presence with thanksgiving because he’s the God who created everything. Sit on that for a moment. He’s the God who holds the highest mountains and the deepest oceans in his hand. He spoke them into existence and can take them out of existence. This means that the God who created this:

Nepal_Mount_Everest_And_Ama_dablam

and this:

grand canyon

is the same God who is guiding you through this sin-devastated world. And since he is the God powerful enough to create everything our eyes see, we can have confidence that he is powerful enough to create a new one, free from all the disease, death, and injustice of this present world. He is the God who will put his foot down once and for all on the evils of this world, wipe ever tear away, and repair what is broken.  Thank and praise this God, indeed.

But knowing who God is fuels our worship in another way as well. Consider this: knowing what’s true helps us to know what’s false.  Knowing Spain is in Europe teaches us, among other things, that it’s not in North America. In relationships, knowing that a friend loves us and would die for us teaches us that they would never tear us down behind our back, which frees us from the burden of worrying about that.**

And it’s the same with our knowledge of God. Everything we learn about him from Scripture also teaches us a hundred things that can’t be true. Knowing that God is all-powerful (his omnipotence) and therefore in control protects us from the despair that comes from thinking that all the crap going on in the world is beyond his control. Knowing that God is present everywhere (his omnipresence) shields us from the hopelessness that comes from feeling alone. Knowing that he is just keeps us from the kind of unrighteous anger that leads to vengeance and the never-ending cycle of retaliation. And knowing that he is all-wise keeps us from the frustration of feeling like where you’re currently at in life is a mistake.

Our love for God can grow only as we know him for who he is, which is why it’s important to study his attributes. While there are some great resources for doing so, here’s a brief list of just some of them:

God is…

  • Omniscient (all-knowing). Psalm 139:1-6
  • Immutable (never-changing). Psalm 102:25-27
  • Holy (set-apart, excellent, perfect). Exodus 15:11
  • Wise. Isaiah 40:28
  • Just. Numbers 14:18
  • Omnipotent (all-powerful). Genesis 18:14
  • Sovereign. Psalm 135:6
  • Self-existent. Exodus 3:14, John 5:26
  • Eternal. Isaiah 57:15
  • Merciful. Exodus 34:6-7

———————————————–

*Not to say that this alone is why we should worship God. The Bible has 66 books’ worth of reasons to praise him.

**Obviously, sin exists and so does betrayal.

Steps to Take Before Leaving a Church

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
Acts 20:28

A major role of a church’s elders is to shepherd the church’s members, protecting them from things harmful to their souls and helping them mature in their walk with Christ. Their responsibility for their flock is so great that the writer of Hebrews will go on to say that they are “keeping watch over [their] souls” and will “have to give an account” for them one day.

While some of the ways that elders shepherd members are obvious and embraced (preaching, counseling, etc.), it can be temptingchurch-2 to think that we are no longer under the oversight of our elders once we decide to leave our church. Yet it’s when we decide to leave a church that we often need their oversight the most. For example, life circumstances often will force us to relocate, bringing with it a laundry list of spiritual needs, one of which is the need to find a new church.

But there’s another reason we should make the decision to leave with our elders rather than deciding on our own and then telling them. Discontentment, for example, is one of the most suspect reasons for leaving a church. When there’s discontentment between the elders and someone wanting to leave, one of two things usually needs to happen: the person has some sin that needs to be repented of, or the elders have genuinely wronged them and need to repent (and there could be a mixture of both). Either way, sin is often behind the decision to leave, which means that repentance needs to take place.

Leaving a church, then, is a big deal and should be treated like it. And it is never a decision to be made alone. In his book What is a Healthy Church?, Mark Dever gives the following list of things to consider before leaving a church, as well as how to leave well if you do in fact decide to do so:

Before You Decide to Leave

1. Pray.

2.Let your current pastor know about your thinking before you move to another church or make your decision to relocate to another city. Ask for his counsel.

3. Weigh your motives. Is your desire to leave because of sinful, personal conflict or disappointment? If it’s because of doctrinal reasons, are these doctrinal issues significant?

4. Do everything within your power to reconcile broken relationships.

5. Be sure to consider all the ‘evidences of grace’ you’ve seen in the church’s life- places where God’s work is evident. If you cannot see any evidences of God’s grace, you might want to examine your own heart once more (Matt.7:3-5).

6. Be humble. Recognize you don’t have all the facts and assess people and circumstances charitably (give them the benefit of the doubt.)

If You Go

1. Don’t divide the body.

2. Take the utmost care not to sow discontent even among your closest friends. Remember, you don’t want anything to hinder their growth in grace in this church. Deny any desire to gossip (sometimes referred to as ‘venting’ or ‘saying how you feel’).

3. Pray for and bless the congregation and its leadership. Look for ways of doing this practically.

4. If there has been hurt, then forgive- even as you have been forgiven.

He Is Risen! Now Get Back to Work! (Easter for the Other 364 Days)

Few things so collectively celebrated as Easter get collectively forgotten so quickly. If Easter is the day of the year where people far and wide remember the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, Monday’s the day we go back to forgetting why it’s so important. While everyone’s “He is risen”-ing on Easter Sunday, everyone knows that Monday is Discount Peeps Day.

But this isn’t how the apostles saw things. Paul goes so far as to say that if Christ hasn’t been raised, then our faith is vain (1 Cor.15:14). And if our hope in him is therefore false, then we as Christians should be pitied more than any other people on the planet (1 Cor.15:19). Peter likewise instructs his readers to set all their hope on Christ’s return to earth, implying that he didn’t stay dead after his resurrection (1 Pet.1:13).

The resurrection for them had enormous ramifications. Whatraffic_jamt are these ramifications? How can we take the news that “He Is Risen” with us to work this week? How does Easter intersect our lives on the other 364 days of the year? While it’d be impossible to list out all those ramifications, there’s a couple of immediate ones that I think we should remember:

1. A Clear Conscience. We’re not saved because Jesus died. We’re saved because Jesus died and was raised. Jesus’ resurrection is the Father’s declaration that the sacrifice he made for us was sufficient. And since we are united to Christ, the Father’s vindication of his Son is also his vindication of us. He is pleased with his Son and by extension everyone who is united to him. This means that God doesn’t condemn us (Rom.8:1), that there’s no longer any offering or payment for our sins that needs to be made (Heb.10:18), that our sins don’t define us (Heb.10:3; Psa.103:12), and that we can approach God with confidence (Heb.4:16).

Easter makes all of these benefits a reality for the Christian. Because of Easter, you are free this week from the burden of proving yourself to God or others. You are free of a guilty conscience. Your identity is “child of God.”

2. Healed Relationships. After being raised from death, Jesus then ascended up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand. In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter directly links this event with the coming of the Holy Spirit. As a result of his ascension, Jesus “received the promise of the Holy Spirit” and then poured out the Spirit on believers. Today, whenever someone becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside them. In so doing, we are enabled to love others with the other-centric love that the Father and Son have had for each other for all eternity (Rom.5:5)

This means that the Spirit kills the selfishness that is responsible for so many of the problems we face in our relationships. By couple-fighting-on-couchreminding us of all we already possess as children of God, and that we have an inheritance waiting for us after death, we’ll stop treating others as means to our own ends or as obstacles to getting what we want. Since we no longer need others to fulfill selfish wants (through their affirmation, love, or material possessions), we are freed up to love and serve them regardless of how they treat us, exactly the way God loved us.

Easter frees us from the burden of “needing” others, enabling us to truly love them for who they are and not what they can do for us.

3. Victory over Sin and Misery. Easter deals with sin in a couple of ways. First, it removes the guilt of sin that we are born into this world with as descendants of Adam. With sin’s guilt gone, we are now accepted and adopted children of God. But it also begins to remove the power of sin. We still sin in this life. But because the Holy Spirit now lives within us, we have the assurance that he will continually and progressively make us look more like Jesus.

What have I done!?A lot of the misery we encounter in our lives is due simply to the fact that we live in a fallen world. But I think we greatly underestimate just how much of our misery results from our own sin. Take anxiety for example. Anxiety is so universal to our experience that we assume it’s a neutral given, created and cured by our circumstances. But in the Gospels, Jesus peels back the layers of anxiety to show us that it’s traced directly back to our view of who God is. We sin when we believe that God isn’t good (which then leads us to feel abandoned) or that he’s not powerful enough to do something about our circumstances (leading to hopelessness). It is a misery that we for some reason love to inflict upon ourselves (Luke 12:25).

If sin leads to anxiety, and if the Spirit is working to eradicate sin in our heart, then the Holy Spirit is actively working to remove  anxiety from our lives. And I don’t know who wouldn’t want that. I don’t know who wouldn’t their lives-chaotic as they are- to be characterized by the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, which is what Paul contrasts anxiety with (Phil.4:5b-7).

4. Hope.

Biblically-speaking, “hope” is the confident expectation Christians have of Jesus’ return to establish new heavens and a new earth. In Jesus’ resurrection, part of that new earth- a resurrected, glorified human- showed up in this crummy old earth, promising that there’s more where that came from. Tim Keller beautifully captures the implications of living in this world with our minds on the next:

…to the extent that [this] future is real to you, it will change everything about how you live in the present. For example, why is it so hard to face suffering? Why is it so hard to face disability and disease? Why is it so hard to do the right thing if you know it’s going to cost you money, reputation, maybe even your life? Why is it so hard to face your own death or the death of a loved ones? It’s so hard because we think this broken world is the only world we’re ever going to have. It’s easy to feel as if this money is the only wealth we’ll ever have, as if this body is the only body we’ll ever have. But if Jesus is risen, then your future is so much more beautiful, and so much more certain, than that.

Easter Sunday: The Bruised Head

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he small bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Genesis 3:15

jesus resurrection 3
“For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” David wrote these words in Psalm 16:10, and in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter cited them, saying that David “foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ…” (Acts 2:31) He went on to cite Psalm 110:1 as an Old Testament prophecy of the Messiah ascending up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand. While we celebrate these two great events as historical facts, it can be difficult to appreciate the practical effects they have on our lives 2,000 years later.

For starters, the resurrection of Jesus means that God accepts us. Paul writes that Jesus was “raised for our justification” (Rom.4:25), and that as a result we have “peace with God” (Rom.5:1). You are free from the burden of having to prove yourself to God or others, because as a Christian you are accepted already.

Secondly, the resurrection means that you have new life. Scripture teaches that one day we will die but that our bodies will be resurrected. But it also teaches that a spiritual resurrection has taken place already for God’s children. This isn’t just a metaphor. Paul writes that the power of God that raised Jesus’ dead body from the grave is the same power that is currently at work in all believers (Eph.1:19-20). If Christ’s resurrection can be called a miracle, so can your salvation and growth in Christ-likeness. The God who raises people from the dead is at work in you to free you from your sins and make you look more like Jesus. When you grasp this, you won’t have time to despair, only hope.

Thirdly, as a result of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, you are now empowered to overcome sin in your life. When Jesus sat at the right hand of God the Father, he poured out the Holy Spirit on all his followers, enabling them to bear the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal.5:22-23). By returning from the dead, Jesus bruised the head of our enemy. And because he now sits at the right hand of God the Father, he reigns until all his enemies are subdued (Psalm 110:1; 1 Cor.15:25).

Peace with God, confidence in his ability to change you, and increasing victory over sin. These are the things made possible by the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Happy Easter.

Saturday: The Bruised Heel

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he small bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Genesis 3:15

It was the worst day of their lives. Their first thought waking up that Saturday morning very likely was wondering whether or not the previous day had just been a terrible nightmare. But then reality sank in. The man who they’d given up their whole lives to follow, who had taught them and shown them wonderful things for three years was dead. Now that the one who had called them to become “fishers of men” (Matt.4:19) was gone, there was nothing left to do in their sorrow except return to being ordinary fishermen (John 21:3).

Living on this side of the resurrection, it’s hard for us to appreciate how horrible this day must have been for the eleven remaining disciples. Yet what’s easier for us to appreciate is the role the crucifixion played in God’s overarching story of redemption. Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, God responded in grace. Yes, they and the entire human race after them would suffer the consequences for their rebellion against him. But before listing the curses that humanity would now be subject to, God spoke of the punishment that would come upon the serpent and of his ultimate destruction. The promise was that the woman’s offspring would war with him. The serpent would bruise his heel, but the offspring would crush his head.

The woman’s offspring ultimately refers to Jesus, the offspring that will crush the head of our enemy, Satan. Before this happens though, Satan must bruise his heel. The Friday and Saturday of Holy Week were days in which this reality was all-too real for those who followed Jesus. But what they couldn’t see in the midst of all their pain and confusion was that as horrible as it was, these painful days had been part of God’s plan of salvation from the very beginning. This also meant that things wouldn’t stay this way. The offspring’s heel had been bruised. But the rest of Genesis 3:15 still needed to be fulfilled…

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