Living on Unseen Things

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Last year in one28 we were Starting at the Beginning. This year it’s time to move ahead. It’s time to make progress.

But making progress is difficult, especially in the Christian life. The world is against us. The evil one is against us. Our own flesh is against us. We travel a hard road. The path is narrow, often steep and slippery. The way is lined with naysayers hurling insults and discouragements toward us. We are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and perhaps even struck down and dying.

And yet, the difficult Christian journey demonstrates God’s perfections more than if there was no journey (meaning if God took us to heaven immediately) or if the journey was always triumphant (meaning if crowds applauded and praised us all along the way).

One compelling witness to the demanding and God-exalting Christian journey was John Bunyan. In his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan wrote about preparing for life in the Bedford Prison (pictured above) for his unwillingness to give up preaching the gospel.

Before I came to prison, I saw what was a-coming, and had especially two considerations warm upon my heart; the first was how to be able to endure, should my imprisonment be long and tedious; the second was how to be able to encounter death, should that be here my portion….[T]hat saying in 2 Co. 1:9 was of great use to me, “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but God which raiseth the dead.” By this scripture I was made to see, that if I would ever suffer rightly, I must pass a sentence of death upon everything that can properly be called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyments, and all, as dead to me, and myself as dead to them.

The second was, to live upon God that is invisible.

His imprisonment lasted 12 years. In effect, his wife was a ministry widow like few others; his children–the oldest blind–were pastoral orphans. How did he endure? The key paragraph of Scripture that informed his resolve was 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Integrating Paul’s call to look to the things that are unseen, and Bunyan’s commitment to live on God that is invisible, we get our 2009-10 theme: Living on Unseen Things.

To live on means to survive solely by consuming a certain thing. Unseen things are the “not” seen, things hidden from sight. In the spiritual realm, the unseen things include gospel promises, gospel principles, and God Himself, all of which are eternal.

  • Gospel promises include: eternal life, eternal inheritance, and final transformation.
  • Gospel principles include: death shows life, weakness shows power, pain increases pleasure, suffering increases capacity for glory.
  • God Himself: understood as the righteous Judge, understood as the merciful and preserving Savior.

We will not work and pray and suffer and sojourn and die to the glory of God unless we live on unseen things. The theme will weave throughout our ministry year as follows.

Living on Unseen Things

The 2010 Snow Retreat will take the same name as our year’s theme: Living on Unseen ThingsThe Key to John Bunyan’s Christian Journey. Bunyan’s life and teaching are of great profit for our own pilgrimage.

Pilgrim’s Reading

In preparation for the 10SR, and because it’s devotionally good for the soul anyway, we’ll be reading The Pilgrim’s Progress as a ministry. The link above provides a schedule for finishing the book the week before the retreat begins. Small groups are encouraged to talk about the reading at their bi-monthly meetings.

Genesis

Sunday mornings we’ll continue our trek through the Book of Beginnings. Though he’d never seen rain before, Noah lived on God’s word that a flood was coming. And assuming we get to chapter 12 sometime this year, we’ll see that Abram (and family) left their country and kindred for a land unseen as the LORD directed.

1 Peter

On corporate one28 Wednesday nights, Jonathan Sarr will preach through 1 Peter, an epistle written to elect exiles (pilgrims), about an yet-to-be-fully-revealed salvation and an eternal inheritance (in a Celestial City). Though we have not seen Christ, we love Him (1 Peter 1:8-9) and follow His example as He entrusted Himself to the (unseen) One who judges justly (2:23; 4:19).

Devoted to Prayer

Our GBC Saturday seminar this year is titled, Devoted to Prayer–Wearing Knee-Holes in Hardwood Floors. Apart from rightly dividing God’s Word, I can’t think of any more pivotal exercise for living on unseen things than prayer.

Within a short month of announcing the theme to the one28 staff, the challenge to live on unseen things has been furious for me. I’m going to need this theme like the diseased need a doctor. My guess is, so will you. Though there’s a year-full of meditation and application ahead, the following quote from Bunyan’s autobiography paves a clear path.

I had also this consideration, that if I should now venture all for God, I engaged God to take care of my concernments.

Let us make progress and venture every step this year for God.

Soiled Souls

*Image by Pulpolux

If God hadn’t promised never to flood the earth again, would He see that the wickedness of man is great in the earth and that our intentions and thoughts and are conduct are evil and destroy us today? Are we really less corrupt than those in Noah’s day, or are we as bad as, or maybe even worse than, the sinners in Genesis six?

There’s no doubt about it: the weight of wickedness in Genesis 6:1-8 is crushing. First of all, the corruption was so bad that God flooded the earth and destroyed the entire population, save one family. That’s a fact. Their extreme evil warranted extreme judgment.

Second, the depth of depravity is divinely described as “every intention was only evil continually.” Their evil was exhaustive (each and every thought), exclusive (without exception), and extensive (all day, every day).

Third, there was demonic influence, and offspring, among men. Driven by sensual lust, the “sons of God” had offspring with the “daughters of man.”

Fourth, men had hundreds of years to “perfect” their sin, to invent new ways to be wicked, to hone their corruption. Even though Moses didn’t list the years of Cain’s descendants–he only does so for Seth’s line in chapter five–the average lifespan was long enough to make 120 years a significant punishment by limitation (v.3). It’s hard to imagine how soiled a soul would be after 200, 500, or 800 years.

Fifth, though not all, many of those in Genesis six lived lives that overlapped with Adam himself. They could have seen and talked to Adam about the exquisite garden, and about the deceiving serpent. They could have heard firsthand experience about how much better fellowship with God was compared to forbidden fruit, from someone who lost more blessing than anyone due to his disobedience. Yet other than Noah, men rejected in-person revelation, the likes of which have never been since.

It’s no wonder the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart.

The question is, then, how do we compare? How heavy is the weight of our wickedness?

First, who says that “every intention of the thoughts of (man’s) heart (are not still) only evil continually”? Scripture doesn’t ever reverse or repeal the Genesis 6 statement after the flood. In fact, none is righteous, no not one. No one seeks God. All have turned aside. Men are slaves of sin, tyrannized under it’s corrupting power. Men walk in sin, follow the course of this world, follow the serpent, and live in the passions of the flesh and are children of wrath by nature. This is not better.

Second, demonic assault is no less a threat today. We may not talk about it as much or see demonic offspring walking among us, but Satan’s schemes are no less effective and destructive. We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against cosmic powers over this present darkness against spiritual forces in the heavenly places. The devil prowls no less today like a lion, seeking prey to devour. That’s not better.

Third, men may have had hundreds of years to fine tune their sin, but we have hundreds of cable TV channels to tune into other people’s wicked ideas, thousands of movies to rent and songs to download, and millions of websites with the ugliest, most God-dishonoring trash in the universe. We need not apply creative energy toward corruption, we can adopt from (and pay) those innovators before us. We can soil our souls in an unimaginable number of ways that those in Noah’s days couldn’t have dreamed of. That’s not better.

Fourth, we may not have met Adam, but we reject the inspired Book that includes Adam’s story. In fact, unlike those in Genesis 6, we reject a complete canon of God’s special revelation. More than that, we live after God’s incarnate revelation of Himself, God the Son, God in flesh, God among us. His life and work are recorded for us, yet we reject the living and written Word. That’s not better.

Finally, though the sin in Genesis was so bad that God destroyed the earth’s population in one swell flood, *our sin is so bad, so offensive, so wretched, so God-dishonoring, that God wounded His only Son for our transgressions*. He crushed Christ for our iniquities. He laid on Jesus the iniquity of all us who believe. One death was far more brutal, more painful, and more severe than all the combined deaths in the flood. That’s not better.

Maybe a comparison between pre-flood depravity and modern day depravity isn’t quite apples to apples, but we can say for certain that things were bad then, and things are bad now. There is no place for smug self-righteousness on our part. For whatever else Genesis 6:1-8 works in our souls, it should convict us, humble us, and cause us to seek God’s mercy for our own rebellion. We would be wrong to see the pre-flood wickedness and not consider our own corruption. We would be wrong to see God’s sorrow over, and seriousness about sin and not grieve over, repent from, and seek forgiveness in Christ for our own soiled souls.

moun•te•bank

noun — [moun-tuh-bangk]

definition: a person who deceives others, especially in order to trick them out of their money; a person who sells quack medicines, as from a platform in public places, attracting and influencing an audience by tricks, storytelling, etc.

history: Italian montambanco, a contraction from the phrase monta im banco, meaning “one gets up onto the bench” (so as to attract attention to sell things).

synonyms: swindler, charlatan, trickster, snail oil salesman.

Quack refers to any fraudulent practitioner of medicine or law. Mountebank may imply some quackery, but more often it refers to a self-promoting person who resorts to cheap tricks or undignified efforts to win attention.

example usage:

The United States is only a nation, and we are experiencing no temptations except those that are common to man. And there is a way of escape. Stop voting for mountebanks.

Doug Wilson, more Obama nation building

κα•κο•πα•θέ•ω

verb — [ka-ko-pa-theh-oh]

definition: bear hardship patiently; suffer physical pain, trouble, danger, and distress.

example usage:

Σὺ δὲ νῆφε ἐν πᾶσιν, κακοπάθησον, ἔργον ποίησον εὐαγγελιστοῦ, τὴν διακονίαν σου πληροφόρησον. (2 Timothy 4:5)

The imperative is translated: “endure hardship” (ESV, NAS, NIV), “endure afflictions” (NKJV), “endure suffering” (NRSV), “bear evils” (DRBY).

kakapatheo

κα•κο•πα•θε•ω

verb — [ka-ko-pa-theh-oh]

definition: bear hardship patiently; suffer physical pain, trouble, danger, and distress.

example usage:

Σὺ δὲ νῆφε ἐν πᾶσιν, κακοπάθησον, ἔργον ποίησον εὐαγγελιστοῦ, τὴν διακονίαν σου πληροφόρησον. (2 Timothy 4:5)

The imperative is translated: “endure hardship” (ESV, NAS, NIV), “endure afflictions” (NKJV), “endure suffering” (NRSV), “bear evils” (DRBY).