Spiritual Shapeshifters

Whatever your preferred system of eschatology, there is no doubt according to Paul’s definition that we are living in the “last days.” He told Timothy that the last days would include “times of difficulty” (1 Timothy 3:1), and he described the people who would make it difficult. Such persons “will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (verses 2-4). But that’s all. You can’t collect five Poké Balls, or watch five minutes of cable news, without seeing people like that.

These times will be “difficult,” hard, troublesome. Diesel engines don’t run well on unleaded gas, and a wicked culture will clunk down the road. Sin not only makes the sinner stupid, sin makes a society deadly. A society of evil men will be a violent, dangerous society. These are the difficulties of our lives.

The worst part of all, though, comes in verse 5. Whether it applies to the final two adjectives alone (pleasure-lovers and not God-lovers) or to the entire list doesn’t make much difference. These are the kinds of people “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

They have the morphosin, the form. They know how to morph into giving a particular look. But it’s just a show. There is no actual life. Not only do they not have power, they refuse to have it. They wouldn’t want it if it was their only choice.

Paul told Timothy: “Avoid such people.” Good counsel. It’s also a good call to confession. We can’t play with any of these sins and not make it more difficult, for ourselves, and certainly for our worship. Be the people who are lovers of God rather than lovers of pleasure, having the appearance of godliness because you are strengthened by God.

Pots Throwing Pieces

I bit the bait and clicked an inflammatory link a while back that permanently burned my brain. A straightforward tweet asked: What is the most offensive verse in the Bible? and promised an answer behind a click. The answer surprised me, stirred me, and settled for me so much of our cultural, and even Christian and Christian cultural, woes.

The most offensive verse in the Bible is Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

If that verse is true–and I believe it without hedging or hesitation, without a wink or crossed fingers behind the back–then God must be acknowledged as Creator, thanked as Maker, and obeyed as Lord by all. This God who created the world rules the world and He makes the rules for the world. He does not need anyone’s counsel, nor does He ask for it or take it. He did not create in order to disclaim His authority but rather to demonstrate it.

He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you 
 but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

What is good for man requires man to submit to God. What is this strange word, “submit”? It means to do what someone else says.

As the t-shirt so memorably exhorts: There is a God, and you’re not Him. Resistance is futile, like clay pots throwing pieces of themselves at the Potter, destroying themselves in the process.

We would do well to take the posture and pray in a way similar as Jesus did, “Not my world, but Yours be done.”

Calvinist Excuses

If God is sovereign, should we confess our sin?

In other words, if God planned that we were going to sin, then isn’t our sin His responsibility? If He willed our sin to bring about His glory, and, in some cases, to bring about good for us, then what is really wrong with it? It is not a new question.

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:5–8)

This is a deep subject, one that requires more than a few hundred words to cover. But there are a few things that we can hold as securely as oil is slippery.

  1. God is sovereign. He does whatever He pleases. His will, decreed before the foundation of time, always takes place. God meant the sale of Joseph for good, to save many people alive. God meant the crucifixion of Jesus for good, to atone for many sinners. God meant the rejection of Jesus by the Jews for good, to spread the gospel to all the peoples.
  2. God calls sin, sin. Joseph’s brothers meant evil against Joseph when they sold him. The Jews and Romans meant evil against Jesus when they tortured and killed Him. The Jews who failed to submit to Jesus as the Messiah were evil in their unbelief.
  3. God holds men responsible. The same God who wills history is the same God who wills obedience for men. He has revealed laws, instructions, prohibitions, and warnings. He has also followed through with many warnings, providing us with examples that He’s serious.

He wills to condemn every man who will not confess, He wills to forgive every believer in Christ if we do confess. Shall we excuse our sin because God is sovereign? May it never be!

The Damp Bounty Paper Towel

One way we know that we’re growing up is by how much we can absorb. I don’t mean absorbing information, though the more mature we are the more we will increase (and be able to increase) in the knowledge of God. The absorbing I’m referring to is the ability and capacity to take up and reduce the intensity of someone else’s difficulty, to help them keep calm and obey on, to swallow up some of the freaking out rather than freak out in return. It’s catching their negative energy with a pillow, not returning it with a ping pong paddle.

There is an absorption spectrum that includes size and soak-ability. There is the dry, giant beach towel on one end, the damp Bounty paper towel in the middle, and the iron screwdriver on the other end. The screwdriver doesn’t absorb anything, will probably get rust on you after a while, and hurts if you hit it at the wrong angle.

Those who are spiritually mature absorb the immaturity and even some of the sinfulness of others. This ought to be our desire: to increase in absorption glory. We definitely don’t want to be dumpers, and there are certain roles that should never dump on others.

Parents ought not spill on their kids. Parents ought to be the ones who take it. Paul told the Corinthians with different imagery that “children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children” so that “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Corinthians 12:14-15). Generally, husbands should absorb for their wives, teachers for their students, pastors for their sheep.

We do, of course, run out of absorption room at times. Mom was already running at full capacity when half the household started vomiting, at 2am. Dad is in the middle of a busy season at work, and gets into a car accident, has to deal with insurance, and start physical therapy, and the kids “choose” that week to go off the reservation. What do you do then? Pray for grace to find a dry patch of fabric and sew it onto the towel. Remember that we are in Christ. Trust that His soak-ability is made perfect in our wetness.

On Not Wandering Like a Verbal Amoeba

God made limits for increased glory. The size of the canvas frames the image and shows off how much the artist can fit in a small space (for example, have you seen the pencil-tip sculptor? It is more impressive how much he can do with so little to work with). A poetic convention restricts the impression or feeling to a form rather than letting it meander like a verbal amoeba. And the glory of man includes not running 60 mph, not flying without mechanical aid, and not working without sleeping.

Many limits we take for granted, that’s how we’ve always known life on earth. But we ought to give thanks for only 24 hours a day—though we’re tempted to complain when we have a lot to do, we ought to give thanks for not having eyes in the back of our heads—do we really want to see that, and we ought to give thanks for only having two hands. These are gifts, chosen for us by our Father.

There are other personal limits for which we should be thankful, certainly not bitter or envious. These are also unchosen by us, but chosen by God specifically for us. You don’t get to be 7’ tall, you don’t get to make a billion dollars an hour, and half of you don’t get to avoid the way it is with women. Are you humble enough to delight in your constraints?

Some limits are universal for the glory of mankind, some are for the glory of kinds of men, and then some limits get changed for a particular man. New lines are drawn by aging, an accident, a diagnosis, a relative’s diagnosis, a financial gift, a job loss, et cetera. I’m talking about the things that God gives you now that maybe you didn’t have yesterday. The page turned and God is writing for your glory in a new genre, and run-on sentences aren’t allowed like they were yesterday.

If it is from God, then what is the grace to you in it? Are you ready for Him, not to change the rules per se, but to change your restrictions per diem? Are you ready to give thanks for the personally chosen limits? Or are you fighting the limited givens of glory?

A Bucket Worth of Behavior

Repentance is both a change of thinking and a change in action. It is both abstract and concrete. Because of the internal part, which is both necessary and first, it may be tempting to treat repentance as an invisible thing. True repentance takes place in the heart, but is that all we can know?

Repentance is internal but it is not invisible, at least not indefinitely. Repentance on the inside—again, where it must begin—will work itself out. It will be external and so it will be visible. A fruit tree may be healthy without producing fruit, but only for a time. Likewise, the sap of repentance will produce a bucket worth of behavior.

John the Baptist used this type of terminology when he addressed a crowd that came to him to be baptized. He called them a “brood of vipers,” and he admonished them,

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (Luke 3:8 ESV)

There ought to be fruits, plural, and fruits “in keeping with” or “worthy of” (KJV) or consistent with a change of mind.

It’s not as if they had done nothing at all. They came to John, they said they wanted to be baptized by John. But he knew that more was necessary. When they asked, “Like what?” he told them to share their clothing and food with the needy (verse 11), that the tax collectors should be honest (verse 12) and that soldiers should not use their force for personal gain (verse 13).

The point is, we can’t lift up our desires to first place, or seek our own advantage, or use our opportunities to serve self. Selfishness is what we need to repent from, and it will be obvious to others.

Beholding Him Better

Based on how the calendar works this year, Easter Sunday and Tax Day in the United States fell within two days of each other. Jesus often used economic vocabulary and asked some critical questions about our accounting categories. What is the price tag on your soul?

In Matthew 16 Jesus told His disciples that He was going to Jerusalem and would suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised. They didn’t understand this. Peter even tried to argue Jesus out of it. Following that conversation, Jesus told His disciples how they too must take up a cross and follow Him. While that might sound difficult, He asked, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (verse 26)

This is a rhetorical question based on accounting principles. There is not one possible gain, but two, and likewise there are two possible losses. One can gain the world and lose his life or one gain gain his life and lose the world.

Only those who lose their life for Christ’s sake will find it (verse 25). Only those willing to count everything as loss for sake of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord understand the gain. Only those who die will get a return.

On Sunday I asked our church, “What would make today a profitable Easter Sunday?” As Christians we can do many things for Christ’s sake. But by way of testing our hearts, could everything else be counted loss if you gained more of Christ? Would you give up your new Easter outfit, your family traditions? Would you give up your theological library for simple trust in Christ? Would you give up your job, your reputation? Are there any good things are keeping you from beholding Him better?

On Not Sponsoring Stupidity

The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom, wisdom for those who need to get wisdom, and wisdom for those who need to give it. Solomon helps the one who already understands obtain guidance and then also give guidance to others.

One of the proverbs most quoted in our house is Solomon’s lesson on the unteachable.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid.
(Proverbs 12:1, ESV)

The word “stupid” (translated as such in the ESV, NAS, NIV) usually referred to an animal that lacks sense. To hate correction is “brutish” (KJV). Lots of times parents are up against the worst sort of willful stupidity. Some other times parents are the worst at keeping their kids dumb.

Jonathan Edwards illustrated it this way.

If any of you that are heads of families, saw one of your children in a house that was all on fire over its head, and in eminent danger of being soon consumed in the flames, that seemed to be very insensible of its danger, and neglected to escape, after you had often spake to it, and called to it, would you go on to speak to it only in a cold and indifferent manner? Would not you cry aloud, and call earnestly to it, and represent the danger it was in, and its own folly of delaying, in the most lively manner you were capable of? Would not nature itself teach this, and oblige you to it? If you should continue to speak to it only in a cold manner, as you are wont to do in ordinary conversation about indifferent matters, would not those about you begin to think you were bereft of reason yourself? (emphasis mine)

Who has the bigger problem, the child in the burning house or the dad who sees the child in the burning house and acts as if it’s no big deal? He who hates reproof is stupid. He who hates giving reproof when it is necessary sponsors stupidity, and death (Proverbs 19:18). Maybe the most ironic response is hating correction so much that you get fired up to correct the ones urging your kids to get out of the burning house because you don’t like their tone. We should be wiser than that.

On Not Being a YAC

I’ve heard it said that if you want to memorize another person’s name, try to say it three times the first time you meet them. That exercise certainly won’t hurt, since the more we work a muscle the stronger it gets, including the brain. I really like a phrase that one of our elders uses frequently, but I was having trouble remembering it. We talked about it again at a leaders meeting last Saturday, and I’m going to talk about it now to burn it in my brain.

For over six years Jim has both asked how we can avoid becoming, and has passionately proclaimed that he did not want us to become, a Y.A.C.: yet another church. What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that our local body should seek to be preeminent over every other local body, nor does it mean that we just think we are better than all the other churches. In one way, we want to be just another church making angelic beings wonder at the wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10) as God in Christ by the Spirit has built up many local bodies over the generations. We’re not trying to innovate the gospel, we’re trying to be faithful to it.

But we do not want to be yet another church by maintaining the status quo in terms of our discipleship and image-bearing. We do not want to be yet another church where attendees punch their Sunday morning service card and show little transformation in their lives.

In our discussion on Saturday Jim also asked how we can avoid becoming a Y.A.C., and Ryan answered that, among a few things, we must confess our sins. We must not get comfortable with our sins. We must be willingly convicted by the Word and Spirit, we must be humble to acknowledge our disobedience, and then we must turn away from our sin, not just those of the culture or country or superficial Evangelical churches.

Are you bitter? Are you envious? Are you gossiping? Are you self-righteous? Are you unthankful? Are you tolerating impatience or anger? We may not change Marysville by our confession, but we will not change Marysville without being changed ourselves.

A Longer Prayer

This will be the last exhortation to confession based on the Lord’s Prayer, and my goal is to wrap up this series with an extra-biblical bow.

I grew up in a King James Version only church. Because of that, the prayer of Jesus I memorized as a kid is a little longer than what’s found in the ESV and, for that matter, in the accepted Greek New Testament. There are some later, meaning less old so less likely to be original, manuscripts that include a final phrase after “deliver us from evil” in Matthew 6:13. That final phrase is: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

These words aren’t original to Jesus, but they are biblical, just not in the Gospel of Matthew. Consider this prayer offered by King David in the presence of the assembly:

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:11–13, ESV)

Every prayer made by faith, and each petition that Jesus taught His disciples to make, is a desire for God’s praise. When we ask for and hope in His future reign, when we ask for and trust in Him for today’s provision, when we ask for and extend His forgiveness, when we ask for and live in His sovereign protection, we are acknowledging His majesty and we are back at the beginning: hallowed be Your name with glory forever.