Thursday, August 29, 2013

Speak through Evan. Speak to me.

My God brings freedom where there are chains
“What chains are these you speak of,
for I do what I like and live how I please”
yet I plead you to hear for this selfish independence is at heart
your disease
We live in times of bright lights and shiny idols, all masquerading as the prince of life
‘If there’s joy to be found, find it here! There is no despair in these chains that beckon you brother’
“Set me up on a pedestal to be admired by all and let all eyes know of my goodness”
we say in our hearts, not knowing we wear these chains.
“Give me drink, give me sex, for joy is to be found in these pleasures of life”
not knowing you wear these chains
what we love we yield to and what we yield to owns us
when you seek their eyes to give you glory, you’re just a slave to mild approval
and where you find sex to be approving you fall short and turn bodies into tools, men
and where women compromise to supplement for lusting eyes,
it’s no wonder we wear smiles like we wear clothes
and where you seek drink to forget, it further states you know no true joy
But my God brings freedom where there are chains
“God, you mean Jesus? Some rules and regulations, markers and imaginations? You live life in a box and you tell me you know joy?”
Yes and I’d lose my life in a minute to savor this, to know this, the love of Christ
that no eye can steal from me
that no prostitute can buy from me
where no drink will enslave me
for I’m owned and bought.
To the ones who are willing to kneel, my King would beckon you know this
“My child, I will chain you to me and you will dwell in utter peace,
peace beyond no measure as no other brings
and I will bring love on this altar and cast your sins away
so as to remove your idols and images of old days
and you will remember nothing but this that I am the Lord your God
who bought you
and paid in blood
The flesh ripped from my back, the blows dealt to my face,
the nails pushed through my hands, this flesh laid waste
It was yours but I took up His wrath. I took upon myself an infinite wrath
I was bathed in blood but this was nothing, my flesh was scarred but this was nothing
As I suffocated on the cross this was nothing
What lead my soul to despair was the Father looking away from me
as if I was nothing
He spent His wrath on me as only the rapist, the murderers, the thieves deserve
and I wore it in my soul, these moments of infinite worth.
For here is where you meet your Maker and here is where you’re called child
though you were rebellious and adulterous
though your souls are all wild
He brought you in with blood and water,
so be washed new and live as children of a Heavenly Father.
Look to Him who saved you, no merit you bring
only broken tunes of sorrow
but he will not despise a broken spirit, He will revive and show goodness”
and we as children will say
“Your goodness is as chains with me
for my eyes won’t, indeed can not move
and had I more eyes to stare, had I four lungs for air
I’d only spend them staring and breathing near you.
For I’m left with no compliments to bring nor praises to sing when I’m this close
for nothing would suffice
so I stare and I breathe remembering ‘This God, is life’
Yet if the chains would bring me closer, then here are my wrists
and when my strength need be stronger, then here are my fists
and if my songs need be louder then here are my lungs
and all the louder will I sing for Your victory is won
It was Your love and Your love alone that broke me free and I’ve abandoned
chains of old
and in your love I shall drown into the depths of this sea, so bold oh so infinitely bold
so lovely
and could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of paper made
and every tree on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade
to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry
nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretch from sky to sky
So I swim and I dare not hold my breath
for that would prevent this most certain death
and I’m here to die
and sink face down towards this endless sea, farther into His light
staring straight down into the deep, never more to see the night
and I beckon you join me
because my God brings freedom where there are chains

The infamous Evan Ansley

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I bet Jesus never had a pedicure.

"You have heard that it was said...But I say to you..."

In my blogs, I typically try to look at Scripture and make an application that directly reflects the intention of that Scripture. I try to bring an application of theology, rather than an implication of philosophy. I try to avoid saying anything that would reflect anything other than the specific intent of the Bible. Hopefully that is still true for this post, but today I intend to bring some Xaqology. I am bringing a couple of ideas that the Bible has helped me develop, rather than ideas that the Bible has necessarily developed itself (perhaps it has as well). And while I believe that my inferences here are true, I recognize that they are as infallible as I am. My hope is simply that I can provide an insight that will spur us to a greater stewardship of all that we have been given. 

In Matthew 5, Jesus uses a phrase several times: "You have heard that it was said..." Each time Jesus says this, he goes on to name a command in the Old Testament. And after this, Jesus always follows that command with, "But I say to you..." Jesus takes the commands of the Old Testament to a new level.

"Do not murder." Jesus says that we cannot even have anger in our heart against another person.
"Do not commit adultery." Jesus says that a man with lust in his eyes has committed adultery in his heart.
Jesus raises the stakes. He goes on to do this for the commands about marriage and swearing falsely and revenge and responding to the actions of our enemies. 

In verse 17, Jesus tells us what he's doing. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." And in verse 48, Jesus gives us the conclusion about what he truly means. "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Oh no.

God knows all hearts. God knows all things. Surely he knows that we are going to fail. But what Jesus does is he shows us that there is a standard for our living far beyond what we can imagine actually accomplishing. In one sense, he's showing us that our salvation, justification, sanctification, and glorification are going to necessarily be found outside of ourselves. In Matthew 5, he's showing us a foundation for what he will accomplish for us in Matthew 27. But in another sense, Jesus is showing us that there is no point at which we can settle for our current level of obedience and commitment. He is calling us into something deeper.

I want to take the tone and direction Jesus took in Matthew 5 with a different idea that is established in Old Testament law.

"You have heard that it was said..."
You have heard that it was said that you ought to give one-tenth of what you have to the Lord. In Leviticus 27:32, God establishes a command that required the tenth of every herd or flock to be His. In Genesis 28:22, Jacob declares that one-tenth of all that he has he would give to the Lord. Throughout the Old Testament, there is an understanding that, out of what a person received, a portion would be brought to the priest as a tithe. And we see clarification in Hebrews 7:5 that the priests would collect one-tenth from the people. The point is, "You have heard that it was said that you ought to give one-tenth of what you have to the Lord."

"But I say to you..."
In Matthew 5, Jesus ups the ante on Old Testament commands, and my intention is to apply the heart of Christ to this commandment. You have heard that it was said that you ought to give one-tenth of what you have to the Lord, but I say to you, give all of what you have to the Lord. This world is not yours, nor the things in it. There are two directions we will go with this.

First, there is not a dime on this earth that was intended for your glory or your selfish desires. So when we think about our money, we ought to never think about what we're going to do with it for ourselves. Rather than simply tithing 10%, we ought to devote 100% of every penny we earn on the glorification of Christ. Let's talk about a command we cannot fulfill. We spend our money on video games and name-brand clothes and boob jobs and expensive food and musical instruments and nice cars and [name your idol]. I bet Jesus never had a pedicure. We call 10% tithers good stewards, but since when was using 90% of our money selfishly a good thing? And statistics show that 10% tithers are already on an incredibly lonely, narrow path. There is a demand in Scripture to be generous. I don't think this means taking 100% of our paychecks and giving them away. But what I do think is that this means that we should provide for our needs in the most cost-effective, selfless, and sacrificial way possible for the sake of generosity, charity, and holiness.

Second, not everything we have can be equated with money. There is nothing you have that you have not received. We have resources far beyond our monthly income. We can be good stewards of our cars by using them to help people without cars. We can be good stewards of our homes by utilizing them for hospitality and perhaps even homeless ministry. We can be a good steward of our mouths by speaking truth into people's lives. We can be good stewards of our eyes and ears and hands and feet by seeking needs that we can meet. We can be good stewards of marriages by displaying the example of the relationship between Christ and the church and by raising healthy families. We can be good stewards of our relationships by displaying in them a love that the world will notice. And perhaps our most overlooked resource is our time. What if we devoted just 10% of our time to God? 10% means 2 hours and 24 minutes. We would be the godliest men and women in our church is we spent 2 hours and 24 minutes every day in devotion to God. And my claim here is that we ought to devote 100%!

We are called, whether eating or drinking, to do all things for the glory of God. So let us think about what we have and what we can do with what we have. Let's think about who we are and whose we are.

Jesus calls us to something deeper.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Hal Higdon Plan For The Christian Life

Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
1 Corinthians 9:25-27

Six years and forty pounds ago, I was playing a round of golf. I was playing with a friend of mine named Chris Nguyen who asked me a few holes into the round if I would run a marathon with him. Being a naive teenager, having just finished my first year of college, I said, "yes," without truly knowing what a marathon was. I didn't ask; I didn't think I needed to. After all, Chris was a trustworthy guy who would never have asked me to do something I couldn't do, wasn't he? I knew a marathon was a race. I had heard the saying, "It's not a sprint; it's a marathon," so I knew it was a long race. Certainly it could not be longer than five or six miles though, could it? People don't run farther than that, do they? After my triple-digit game of golf, I went home and immediately registered to run the Disney Marathon in January of 2008. I began looking into marathon training programs; it was only at this point that I found out the length of a marathon. 26.2 miles? People do that?

I had never even run a 5K. In fact, I had never officially registered to run a race in my entire life. I had just paid real money to run 26.2 miles. Well, I’m a man of my word. I was intimidated, but I was not going to back out. I printed out Hal Higdon’s 30-week novice supreme training program, apparently the most beginner-friendly marathon-training program. On day one, I was scheduled to run 1.5 miles.  I didn't make it. I didn't make it to the end of my block. I was a worship leader, not a runner! Eventually it became easier. Within a month or so, I was running the full distance of Hal Higdon’s program every day without stopping.  There were hard days: days when I was sore, days when it was hard to breathe, days when it was hard to be motivated. But, for the most part, it got easier.

January came, just as it had always promised to come.

I finished my first marathon, my first official race ever, in five hours, thirty-three minutes, and thirty-two seconds. As I crossed the finish line, a gold medal (shaped like Mickey Mouse) was placed around my neck! In 1 Corinthians 9 language, I had received my perishable wreath. The next year, I ran the Disney Marathon again with my friend Ben Earnest and finished in less than five hours. Kenyans may finish marathons in half the time that it took me, but, nevertheless, I finished!
(I have a sticker from the marathon expo that says, “In my dreams, I am a Kenyan.” I put it on my guitar case to remind myself that even a worship leader can be a runner.)

During the first few miles of every marathon, there are race leaders who will inevitably not win the race. Either for the vainglory of being a temporary leader, or because they don’t understand the concept of pacing yourself, they devote all of their energy to the first few miles.

Marathons will always be 26.2 miles. You cannot shorten them, and without training, you will not finish them. And such is the fight with sin. Temptation will always be upon us. We cannot decide to not be tempted. And without training ourselves for godliness, we will not be able to resist temptation.

Many of us begin every day without an understanding that we are in a marathon. Because of this, we either walk out the door to chase our own glory or we fall to our shame because of our lack of discipline.

Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
1 Corinthians 9:25-27

So here is our call to be disciplined.
Let us discipline our eyes. Let us discipline our time. Let us discipline our financial stewardship. Let us discipline our mouths. Let us discipline our relationships. Let us be disciplined in seeking God. Christ won for us a much greater prize than a gold medal shaped like Mickey Mouse. He is our trustworthy friend who has asked us to run a race with him, and he has guaranteed to help us finish. So run to win the prize. You might not be a Kenyan, but you can finish!

Just as January came, temptations will come. 

There may be some people reading this who are entrenched in a daily struggle with the temptation to look at hardcore pornography. There may be some people who are so puffed up with pride that they cannot even see their need to run the race. There may be some people reading this who realize that they’re in the race, and they simply need a reminder to stay disciplined in the midst of constant temptation to be undisciplined. We are all starting at different places. You might need Hal Higdon’s novice supreme training program. You might be running 26.2 miles every day already. It doesn't matter where you are; get on a training program!

By training ourselves spiritually, we make it easier to resist temptation. The more we train, the easier it becomes. Sure, we will have bad days. We will fail. We will screw up. We will seek our glory. We will fall in shame. But for the most part, as counter-intuitive as it may be, our freedom will progressively feel so much more free as we become progressively more disciplined.

There are so many training programs for Christians, but we first have to acknowledge that we’re registered for the race. It’s 26.2 miles! Temptations are coming. The enemy is prowling around like a lion, waiting for someone to devour. He will devour the lazy, the unfocused, the weak, and the selfish. So discipline yourself; make no provisions for your flesh.

Subscribe to something like the M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, and read through the Bible in a year. Download a devotional or Bible app to your phone, and make a commitment to memorize a verse a day. Join a small group, and be honest with your small group about where you are.  Find an accountability partner you can trust; talk about life together and pray for each other. Find good Christian books and devotionals and read them.

There are training plans for every point in life. Find one and get on it!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Cover Your Heads!

“The grass withers, the flower fades,  
But the word of our God stands forever.”
Isaiah 40:8

A popular Christian blogger recently made the statement that the Bible is a conversation starter, but it is not a conversation ender. The blogger was defending the idea of “picking and choosing” certain Bible verses to believe, saying that we all “pick and choose” in some way or another. The legitimate point of the blogger was that there are imperatives in Scripture that literally no one in the modern church follows anymore.

The immediate issue that arises from this type of thinking is, “Which verses shall we pick and choose for ourselves?” But this issue isn’t the real problem. This is an issue that is simply a result of the problem. For this blogger, and for most Christians who deny certain imperatives in Scripture, the denied imperatives were once true.

For example:
Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.” – 1 Corinthians 11:14-16
There are incredible men of God who are much more faithful than me who have long hair. And there are women in the church with enormous passion and love for Christ who have short hair. Have they not read this passage?!
Is this passage no longer true? Was it ever true?

If we begin with the common understanding (among evangelicals) that every word in Scripture is God-breathed, then it naturally follows that it must be true (or, at the very least, that it was true at the time it was given). So what is the problem?

The problem is this: if the Bible is no longer a conversation ender for every topic it has ever been a conversation ender for, then the modern church has absolutely no grounds for authority outside of itself. If it’s true that the Bible is a conversation starter but not a conversation ender, then “the word of our God stands forever,” which presents itself as an eternal truth, is no longer true. If the Bible is not the final authority, then the church has no objective authority because there are no objective men.

But I refuse to believe this. I refuse to believe that the Bible is a document that we can run through the shredder of selfish efforts to read our desires into the meaning of texts. We cannot conform the Bible to our lives; we must conform our lives to the Bible.

The Word became flesh and said, “I am truth,” and it was declared about him that he would be the same yesterday, today, and forever (John 1, John 14, Hebrews 13).

Isaiah 40:8 tells us that the word of God stands forever. Everything else in this world will pass away, but the word of God will remain!

We cannot approach the Bible with a secular understanding of textual interpretation. A reader does not have the prerogative to read his own interpretation into a text, especially this text, and declare meaning that was not intended by the author.

“So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” – 2 Peter 1:19-21

So what about the passage from Corinthians about the hair? Should men keep their heads uncovered? Should women cover their heads or grow long hair? Perhaps we should! Taking another look at this practice would certainly not make us less holy as a church. But more importantly in this passage is a declaration about the relationship between men and women reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church. The reason the church often “picks and chooses” to ignore this passage is that, in our culture, whether men or women cover their head would communicate absolutely nothing about headship, authority, servitude, or anything that it was originally meant to communicate. There was an intention for this command that is no longer relevant. But that does not mean we should not respond to this passage in such a way that would cause us to do everything we could to reflect the intentions of the passage.

Instead, what is happening in certain trends of Christianity is that certain passages are “picked and chosen” based on whether they offend our understandings of culture. There are women who are turned off by some of the things Paul seems to say to Timothy about women and authority. There are homosexuals who are turned off by the categories that homosexuality is grouped into in Scripture. There are scientists who are turned off by occurrences in Scripture that seem to reach outside the bounds of science. But never in Scripture has God been concerned with offending a culture. In fact, the message of most of the Old Testament prophets was incredibly offensive to the hearer. Pharaoh was turned off by the message of Moses. Ahab was certainly not excited about the message of God from Elijah. And ultimately, there is a message from Christ to us that is going to offend our nature.

To the blogger who says that the Bible is a conversation starter but not a conversation ender, I say to you that the Bible must be the place we take all of our conversations to be ended. It can be a conversation starter, but it is more importantly a conversation ender. The Bible is our final authority because it was given to us by God himself who is the source of all authority. Sure, there are places in Scripture that are trickier to talk about, but let’s talk about them! We cannot write passages off or pick and choose to not pick and choose them simply because we can’t justify something about them. When the church denies the final authority of the Bible, it falls apart. When the church does not have an objective place to turn for truth, divisions created by the pride of subjectivity will tear the church into pieces.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” Genesis 3:1
Encouraging others to question the legitimacy of the commands of God is a pattern set by Satan.
"Surely you will not die."

We cannot trust ourselves to create truth, and we certainly shouldn't thwart the authority of Scripture for the sake of giving authority to our own inclinations. Truth has been given to us, and we need to search it and love it and live by it. May we be a church that stands on the Word of God and does not waver on the foundation of truth that has been given to us. I want this blog post to be a conversation starter about truth, but it is my hope that the Bible will end it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cheeseburgers taste better than salads.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” – Galatians 5:16-24

Verse 22, the one about the fruit of the Spirit, is the 12th most-read verse on Bible Gateway’s website. We want love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, don’t we? We seek after these things, even apart from the Spirit of God we seek them. That’s the problem. This verse can be incredibly helpful, but it can also be dangerous. When we read this verse, we can rightly begin to judge our spirituality based on whether we’re exhibiting these characteristics. But we often wrongly make inferences about our spiritual health based on our own understanding of these characteristics in our lives.

Tell an atheist couple that they do not have love.
Tell a man on a jet ski that he does not have joy.
Tell a Buddhist monk that he is not gentle or does not have peace.
Tell Opera that she does not exhibit kindness or goodness.
Tell an Islamic martyr that he is not faithful.
Tell a hard-working businessman that he does not have self-control.

The issue with responding to Galatians 5:22 by immediately turning toward introspection is that we can (perhaps wrongly) see each of these characteristics within ourselves completely apart from the Spirit.

When we look at the contrast provided between the deeds of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, we see a peculiar difference between the elements within each list. Each of the deeds of the flesh is an action or deed of some kind; each fruit of the Spirit is a state of being or some kind of an inward quality. Even more peculiar is that our fleshly desires often lead us to seek one or more of those internal states listed as fruits of the Spirit by performing the deeds of the flesh.

“Immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” can sometimes lead to feelings oflove, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

A wrong reading of this and other passages would lead us to believe that anything that leads us to have good feelings must be from the Spirit. And there is an inclination in our culture, even among many Christians, to see any natural desires as good. It cannot be wrong if I cannot help but desire it, can it? But Paul, in this letter, tells the Galatians (and is telling us) that we should crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.

When we look at this passage, we should see as it in light of the reality that verses 17-23 are sandwiched between verses 16 and 24:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh…”
”…Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Those of you who know me know that I love Mountain Dew. I have developed a fake theology of Mountain Dew. I regularly drink (water) from a 64oz Mountain Dew thermos. I have given fantasy sports teams names that relate to Mountain Dew. On multiple occasions, I have contacted PepsiCo in an attempt to become an official sponsor for Mountain Dew (denied). I tell my friends about Mountain Dew. I love Mountain Dew. It tastes good! It makes me feel good!
But I also know that Mountain Dew is absolutely awful for my body. I know that I need to drink water.

It couldn’t be bad for me if it tastes good and makes me feel good, could it?

Do you see it? The reality is that the natural desire of my tongue is for something that is bad for me. Cheeseburgers taste better than salads.

Without a new tongue, that reality is not going to change.
And without a new heart, the natural desires of my heart will not be for the things of God.

The temptation comes in the reality that Mountain Dew delivers what it offers. Cheap thrills and easy pleasures deliver what they offer. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that if you want glory from men, if you want the offerings of this world, you can have them. But he says three times in Matthew 6, “Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” If you want the things that can be had with the deeds of the flesh, you can have them, but they will be your reward. Sometimes it’s hard to remember this in a moment of temptation, but I want a greater reward!

Jesus calls people to deny themselves. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

When we use this kind of framework as a lens for Galatians 5:16-24, we see that the deeds of the flesh are natural desires that Jesus calls us to deny. Those desires may be sexual. They may be religious. They may involve our career. They may involve our emotions. Whatever they are, those desires are not going to be things that will be easy to deny; they are going to be things that are very intrinsic to our very being. We are not called to simply deny our cheeseburger; we are called to deny our selves. Yet many modern movements in the church have missed this entirely. We tell people to follow their [unrivalingly deceitful] heart. We encourage people, especially children, to be who they are. There is a wide gap between being who you are and being who you were created to be!

We’ve spent too much time trying to selfishly justify sin under the false pretense that we are loving our neighbor, but we are in fact hating our neighbor if we are preventing them from seeing the call to deny themselves and follow Christ.

We serve a holy God, and we are called to be a holy people. But we aren’t holy when we look and think and teach exactly like our culture. We’ve been given a Word that is eternally true, and, in it, we’ve been given a picture of the design that God has for our lives. And believers have been given a Spirit by which we have a new heart to love the things of God! I can find satisfaction in tasting water over Mountain Dew (even in drinking water out of a Mountain Dew thermos!) because I know that it is the best thing for me. And I can find satisfaction in denying my desires for the sake of following Christ because I know that what he has for me is greater than anything this world can offer.

Think back to Galatians 5:16-24, specifically think again about the 12th most popular verse on Bible Gateway, Galatians 5:22. The fruit of the Spirit is something that all of us naturally long for, but we naturally and sometimes unconsciously look for them in all of the wrong places. We look to our desires to provide what turn out to be cheap imitations of what we really want. And if all we ever taste is a cheap imitation, it will taste good. We will keep coming back. And sometimes, even when we’ve tasted the real thing, we still run to the imitation because it’s cheaper and easier. And sometimes it may even taste better.

It will always be easier to not follow Christ. It will always be easier to not deny yourself. But Jesus said to them (and to us), “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” John 6:35

The fullness of love, the fullness of joy, of peace, and patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control are found in Christ. He is the real thing.

Lord, help us to taste all of who you are and to fall in love with that! Help us to feel the weight of how dangerous it is for us to follow and to justify our natural desires. Help us to see the things within ourselves that you’ve called us to deny, and help us to deny them.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Everything does indeed happen for a reason.

In the midst of tragedies and disasters and evils in the world, there is a temptation, and often a trend, among Christians to try and protect the holiness and goodness of God by removing God's involvement in those tragedies, disasters, and evils. In essence, tragedies, disasters, and evils become happenstance; they occur for no particular reason. As well-intentioned as those attempts are, they often undermine some Biblical truths involving the nature of God, and they place God into a box of human understanding, limiting Him to be involved only in things that they would want Him to be involved.

If God were limited to doing things we could understand, He would be quite a small God. The Scriptures reveal a God who is much bigger.

Matthew 10:28-31 says, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven."

This passage is incredibly rich, and a thousand sermons could be preached from these words. Do not fear death; fear judgment. Your life is incredibly valuable. Those who confess Christ will be saved. But I want us to focus on a key phrase in this passage that can truly enrich our understanding of God's sovereignty. "Not one of [the sparrows] will fall to the ground apart from your Father."

In the midst of talking about death and judgment, Matthew intentionally brings up something as insignificant as the death of a sparrow and as specific as the number of hairs on our head. In this passage, Matthew is reshaping our sense of fear. It is not death, but rather judgment, that ought to be driving our thoughts. Matthew is showing us that God has a very significant and specific role in the death of every man. And it is for this reason that we can read in verse 31, "So do not fear." It isn't that death isn't a big deal. God does not take pleasure in the death of anyone (Ezekiel 18:32). Death is a reality and a tragedy that affects literally everyone. But it would be wrong of us to say that because death is a tragedy that it occurs outside of the will of God. As Matthew said, not even one sparrow will die apart from God. Deuteronomy 32:39 says that God is sovereign over death.

It is a real temptation to conclude that, because God is good, death and sickness and tragedy and confusion and bad leadership and sinfulness are not a part of God's plan. It is also a temptation to conclude that our understanding of circumstances is sufficient to know what is best in every circumstance. But when we succumb to those temptations, we compromise truths presented in hundreds of Biblical passages that suggest otherwise. God reminds us in Isaiah 55:9, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts."

Nahum 1:2-6,8 says,
A jealous and avenging God is the Lord;
The Lord is avenging and wrathful.
The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries,
And He reserves wrath for His enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
And the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
In whirlwind and storm is His way,
And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
He dries up all the rivers.
Bashan and Carmel wither;
The blossoms of Lebanon wither.
Mountains quake because of Him
And the hills dissolve;
Indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence,
The world and all the inhabitants in it.
Who can stand before His indignation?
Who can endure the burning of His anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire
And the rocks are broken up by Him.
But with an overflowing flood
He will make a complete end of its site,
And will pursue His enemies into darkness.

This passage talks about the tremendous wrath of God and the power of God. We have a tendency to look at lightning and thunder and sunsets and crashing waves and conclude that God's power is incredible and beautiful. But we create a logical inconsistency in our thinking about God when the same storm that brought lightning and thunder brings a deadly tornado, or when the same sun brings deadly heat, or when the same waves crash twenty feet higher and destroy buildings and homes, and we deny God's influence in those things.

Nahum says, "In whirlwind and storm is His way...he dries up all the rivers...mountains quake because of him...with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of its site." We often want to deny this God. But this is the Lord our God.

I intentionally left out Nahum 1:7 in the previous passage. It says, "The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him." In verse 6, the rocks are broken by him. In verse 8, he sends floods. Sandwiched between the two, "The Lord is good." This is not an evil God in whom only dangerous theologians believe; this is a good God who loves all people. He is a stronghold in the day of trouble. He is our refuge.

God was good even in the midst of displaying his power to a disobedient world. That's not to say that God's wrathful power is sent because those who suffer in the midst of it were any more or less deserving of God's wrath. Every one of us deserves the wrath of God. In Luke 13, Jesus speaks to the disciples about a tragedy in Siloam, in which a tower fell and killed eighteen people. "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

Jesus makes it clear that those affected by tragedy and terrorism and calamity are not any better or worse than those not affected. However, when Jesus says, "unless you repent, you will all likewise perish," he recognizes that the sovereignty of God and the judgment of God were central in the event.

Amos 3:6 says, "If a calamity occurs in a city, has not the Lord done it?"

Isaiah 45:7 says, "The one forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity, I am the Lord who does all these."

It gets better (or worse).

1 Kings 22:23 says, "Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you."

1 Samuel 16:14 says, "Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him"

I'm not quoting these verses to give people a bad taste in their mouth for the God of the Bible. I quote these verses to help people understand that even the greatest tragedies and evils in this world are in the hands of our God. This shouldn't bring us discomfort with God's character; it should bring us to a greater sense of repentance, worship, and trust. This world is not all there is, and our understanding of this world is incredibly superficial. But we have a God with infinite power and unlimited knowledge, and we can rest in the fact that an all-powerful and good God, whose understanding includes all knowledge from eternity past to eternity future, sustains the universe in his hands.

In Job 1, Job hears of some of his children being taken by the Sabeans, his servants and sheep being killed, his camels being taken by the Chaldeans, and some of his children being killed when a windstorm flattened their house. In Job 1:21, Job responds by worshiping God, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." That would be an unnatural response to the news of tragedy in our culture, wouldn't it? But nevertheless, it is Job's response. We can have comfort in God's sovereignty over the tragedies in this world first, because God is sovereign over even our own death and, second, because God is good.

The wonders of God are on clear display in nature. But the power and wonder of God is not always, or even usually, displayed in tragedy; these just happen to be the times that theologians are on thinner ice and are under more pressure to say something politically correct and appealing to our hearts. I'm not here to argue for God's goodness and sovereignty in tragedy. I'm here to argue for God's goodness and sovereignty in all things. Not all evil acts end badly. Not all storms bring destruction. Not all sickness ends in death.

In Luke 8, Jesus commands demons to leave. In Mark 4, Jesus calms the storm. In John 11, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. We serve a God who is in control and who has our best interest in mind, and we have to trust him as our stronghold in the day of trouble.

If God is not in control of our troubles, how can he be a stronghold in the day of trouble? There is no need to trust in someone who is not in control, yet we are urged throughout Scripture to trust God in all of our circumstances.

Proverbs 3:5, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding."He is reliable. He is faithful. And He is sovereign over all things, even things we cannot comprehend.

Hosea 6:1 says, "Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us."

We cannot gain appreciation or understanding for God's mercy and grace unless we have experienced our need for it, and often involved in God's sovereignty is His showing us our need for mercy and grace through situations and circumstances that we don't understand, enjoy, or desire. God takes the greatest evils and uses them for His glory and our good. Even in the evil choices of men, God has sovereign and good intentions. In Genesis 50, Joseph speaks to his brothers who sold him into slavery. Joseph says, in Genesis 50:20, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good"

So in the midst of tragedy, trust in God's sovereignty. In the wake of the death of a loved one, trust God's sovereignty. In a miscarriage, trust God's sovereignty. In hunger and thirst, trust God's sovereignty. In an earthquake or a tornado or a tsunami or a hurricane, trust God's sovereignty. In sickness, trust God's sovereignty. In poverty, trust God's sovereignty. In a deviant culture, trust God's sovereignty. In hard decisions, trust God's sovereignty. In sin and evil, trust God's sovereignty. We have a good God and sovereign God

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

All things.