Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Meditations on 1 John: XXIII

Behold how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure, 1John 3:1-3.

We are the children of God, yet what we are, who we are, is not fully manifested, it is not fully expressed. We are in a process of transformation, of being changed “from glory to glory” as Paul writes in 2Corinthians 3:18. Our Father’s desire and design is that we be conformed to His firstborn Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29) and that just as the firstborn Son fully expresses the Father’s glory, that the many-membered Son also manifest the image of the invisible God (Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:24-29; Revelation 21:10-11).

1John 3:1-3 is a paradigm of transformation that is antithetical to much of current Christianity. The passage focuses on who we are in Christ and who we are becoming in Christ, it is not on who we once were outside of Christ. While nowhere in the Bible are followers of Jesus Christ called sinners, “sinners” is what much preaching continues to call Christians – this is analogous to Moses calling the twelve tribes of Israel Egyptians as he led them to Canaan. Is it any wonder that the thinking and behavior of Christians doesn’t change when they are taught that their identity is that of sinner and not saint? This is not a question of positive thinking, this is a question of Biblical thinking.

A second element of this passage antithetical to much current Christianity is the dynamic of spiritual transformation, rather than have the reader (or listener) focus on his need and his shortcoming in order to motivate transformation, the passage focuses on Jesus Christ, when He appears we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is (see also Colossians 3:1-3; 2Corinthians 3:17-18; Romans 12:1-2). It is not as we behold ourselves and our shortcomings and sins that we change, it is as we behold Jesus that we are changed into His image – yet one more reason why Jesus Christ must be Christianity and why Christianity must be Jesus Christ. Will the Holy Spirit reveal things in me that must change as I behold Jesus? Yes He will. Am I to be the center of my attention? No I am not.

How many church services have I been in which have sought to motivate change by weekly repetition of repentance, by seeking to convince one and all Christians that they are sinners, by not being satisfied until an atmosphere of guilt permeates the congregation – and of course there must be (depending on the tradition) the inevitable altar call – not so much for those who don’t know Jesus to bend the knee in confession of sin and repentance, but rather for Christians to once again deny their identity and birthright and start from the beginning once again – it is as if a baseball player never knows what it is to get beyond first base.

I am called to behold Jesus Christ, to adore Jesus Christ, to confess Jesus Christ, to speak of Jesus Christ; I am called to accept His evaluation of me and the Father’s evaluation of me in Christ – and that evaluation is perfect and complete (Colossians 2:10, Hebrews 10:10) and I no longer live as if I were under the Old Covenant with perpetual sacrifices and a conscience filled with guilt and sin (see Hebrews), I live as one in fellowship with the Trinity; as one becoming who I am in Christ.

Purification does not come about as I behold who I was outside of Christ, it comes as I behold the holy and pure and spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When we preach Christ Jesus we need not manipulate to try to create change in ourselves and others, we need only proclaim with John the Baptist, Behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Incongruity – Toxicity of Disrespect

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men, Titus 3:1-2. (See also Romans 13:1-7; 1Peter 2:13-17; 1Timothy 2:1-4).

A group of Christian brothers gather for an afternoon of fellowship; as the afternoon blends into evening there is discussion of women in leadership in the church. One brother says that those who defend women in leadership are being relative and not Biblical, that they are allowing society to dictate their position. There is also discussion about the role of husbands and wives in the home, one of the brothers is strident in insisting that men need to be the head of the household and that the abdication of this role by husbands has contributed to society’s problems.

There are also times during the afternoon when both the president and vice-president of the United States are maligned, made fun of, disrespected.

Consider the incongruity of the above. How can we talk about the “right order” of society, of the family, of the Kingdom of God – and engage in disrespect for authority? We undermine our own position. And to those who might respond regarding the president and vice-president with an argument to justify their disrespect – I say their position is relative, the Scriptures are clear, we are to respect all who are in authority.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Psalm 28

To you, O Yahweh, I call; my rock, do not be deaf to me, for if you are silent to me, I will become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your holy sanctuary, (vv. 1 – 2).

Sustained desperate prayer is prayer which acknowledges that in God and God alone is salvation, deliverance, respite, and peace. Desperate prayer is prayer which sees God and God alone as its help. Desperate prayer does not view God as one option among many but rather it sees God as its only hope – so much so that it frankly says with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I love him.”

The psalmist knew that if Yahweh was silent that he would be like those who go down to the pit. It is only by the grace of God that we do not live lives of deception (verse 3), only by the grace of God that our hearts (verse 3) are washed from evil and our hands (verse 4) restrained from evil practices. It is only by the grace and mercy of God that we see his works (verse 5).

We desperately need God as our source of life in this evil age, we desperately need to be connected to God through prayer, communion, his Word – through his Son Jesus Christ. .

Blessed be Yahweh, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, (v.6).

Desperate prayer is persevering prayer, it is prayer sustained until assurance is received or until we pierce the veil of flesh into the fullness of the presence of God. In a society of instant communication and gratification we do not know how to wait, we want answers and we want them now. If our emails and voice messages are not immediately returned we get impatient and even angry. If we send God the equivalent of a prayer email we expect him to answer right away or we tend to move on to the next thing in life and wonder why God didn’t answer our prayer – we are not desperate enough to engage in sustained desperate prayer, we are not desperate enough to wait for God.

If we will wait for God he will assure us that he has heard our prayer; he may not give us understanding of his answer, or he may not give us a full understanding of his answer, we may be in the dark about the matter as much as we were before our prayer – but we will know that God has heard us and that he is our strength and our shield (verse 6). This waiting may be for ten minutes, it may be for ten days, it may even be for ten years or more (though I think the latter unusual), there may even be sustained desperate prayers without assurance that are prayed until we enter the fullness of his kingdom – but our calling is to walk with God and pray and worship, our calling is not to receive answers or even assurance. Answers are an element of our relationship with our heavenly Father and Lord Jesus Christ, not having answers is also an element of that relationship. 

We simply don’t know as God knows; what we do know is that he loves us and that he is our strength and our shield.  


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Psalm 27

Yahweh is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? Yahweh is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?...Though a host encamp against me, I shall be confident,(27:1, 3).

This psalm is a lifelong friend to me, standing alongside Psalm 23, Psalm 32, Psalm 37, Psalm 91, Psalm 139, and Psalm 1. These psalms, indeed the entire Psalter, have provided, and continue to provide, God’s music of the ages with their points and counterpoints, bass drums and trilling flutes, somber solos and glorious symphonic crescendos in my life. I can’t image life without the Psalms, without their tender expressions of God’s lovingkindness, without their sober reminders of His justice and judgment, without their portrayals of our eternal hope, and without their assurance of the unchangeable character of the True and Living God. 

The psalms are a marriage of the visceral and the intellectual, of the gut and the mind, of the heart-life and the thought-life; the psalms are expressions of the whole person worshipping Yahweh, the Creator and covenant-keeping God. It is no loss if we do not know the hottest music artists, Christian or otherwise, it is a loss if we do not know the Psalms. Everyday the Psalms bid us enter into their expressions of intimacy with our Father, they invite us to experience and understand the pilgrimage of the ages and to join our thoughts and feelings and actions to those who have gone before us as well as with our brothers and sisters on the earth today.

If David, in Psalm 22, could reach forward and touch the suffering of Calvary; then we can reach backward and allow that suffering to touch us. The Psalms testify to our Father, to the Messiah, and to the gracious Spirit of God that surrounds our lives. The Psalms also bear witness to the transcendence (with a lower-case “t”) of the human experience in time and location and culture; we all know hope and despair, joy and sorrow, commitment and betrayal, fear and courage, love and hate, the desire to know and to be known, security and insecurity…the list is endless.

I have recommended Psalm 27 to others more than any other Psalm (Psalm 23 is a close second). The psalm begins with a focus on Yahweh – He is my light and my salvation, based on that fact whom shall I fear? In an age driven by anxiety with people living in constant fear there are many opportunities to share and recommend this psalm.

Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; in a world of increasing isolation (if Facebook were really relational, considering the number of people on it we’d treat each other better in person than we do – Facebook must be one of the great lies of our time) the assurance that our heavenly Father is always with us, even when it appears we are alone, is an assurance that Christians desperately need and an assurance that non-Christians need to know is possible in Jesus Christ.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of Yahweh in the land of the living. Wait for Yahweh, be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for Yahweh, (27:13 – 14). The long view is the stabilizing view. When we are discouraged we can take courage when we focus on God and not on ourselves, on His faithfulness and not on our meager resources; life should be a matter of His strength and not our strength, His purpose and not ours. We aren’t always going to understand this life, on our best days we are children compared to God; living in a fractured world is living in an unpredictable world; and life is as fragile today as it was millennia ago – many people will awake in the metropolitan area I live not knowing that today will be their last day; some may have a premonition, some may see it as the logical conclusion to a long illness, but some will not know – they will not know and their loved ones will not anticipate it. Life is fragile but God is not fragile – the covenant-keeping God of the Bible is a steadfast refuge for those who live in relationship with Him.