Everybody has one of those friends who is supremely skilled in deconstructing the plots of movies or books. This person adeptly peels back the layers of the story like one of those wooden Russian dolls; they just keep on going and going. My wife and I love going to movies with this guy. In some ways we get more out of the pre and post movie than the actual movie. He thinks deeply and comprehensively about the story as a whole and the various individual parts.
I don’t think I can become this guy in the theater but I desire to be him in the prayer closet.
Let me explain: I have become more “skilled” in identifying the overt sin in my life (selfishness, frustration, envy, etc) but it is the underlying sin that I too often miss. In particular, I am talking about the tendency toward a sinful, self-bent even in the pursuit of good things!
This is as troubling as it is difficult.
Let me give some examples:
It is sometimes difficult for Christians to categorize the moral imperatives in the New Testament. If we are saved by grace and not according to our works (Eph. 2.8) then what emphasis do we put on these commands?
It is important to remember that the commands to do pivot out of the reality of something having already been done for us. That is, our obligation and ability to obey now is possible because of what Christ has done in history for us (gospel) and what the Holy Spirit has done to us (regeneration, or being born again).
James Montgomery Boice is very helpful here when he writes:
Believers are to follow certain Christian standards precisely because God has already made them new creatures in Christ by putting away the old nature and putting on the new.
This is an important point. The apostle is not merely urging a new and higher standard of morality on people. This is an utterly futile thing. We cannot be genuinely better by mere moral suasion. That is not it at all. Rather, Paul is demanding a high form of behavior precisely because something decidedly has already taken place. We have already been made new in Christ. That is why we should and must act like it.
We, like Lazarus, have been brought out of death into life by Christ. As part of that spiritual miracle our old graveclothes, which were appropriate for a corpse but not for a living body, have been taken off, and we have been …
Can you imagine a husband making a funny joke and then, at the punchline landing a solid jab to his wife’s shoulder? Of course not. It’s out of place (and perhaps domestic abuse). However, in the context of a male friendship such behavior is widely practiced and acceptable. What’s the difference? (I’m about to get profound here…) Simply, women are different then men. Husbands and wives are different. And this is a good thing, something to be celebrated.
However, it is also apparently an evasive truth. One of the most common non-spiritual, basic, counseling I give to a husband is: don’t treat your wife like a guy. Believe it or not, men seem to forget this fact about as often as we leave our dirty socks on the floor. One of the chief areas this is seen is the area of romance. Many men think that they can woo their wives by treating like men. We think that we can just snap our fingers or just jump right to physical intimacy without any regard for emotions.
Guys, this doesn’t work.
“I am not saying my theology is 100% right, I’m just saying I don’t know where I am wrong!”
I have heard this statement repeated many times. Each time the implication is: if we knew where we were wrong then we would change.
While we cannot prevent the fact that we are and will be wrong on occasion, we can work to prevent the wrong responses. I believe there are some basic guidelines for being open to theological examination.
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On occasion we read international news stories that detail how people seeking safety will make a mad dash to an embassy Whether because of political, legal or some other issue, the people have gotten into some trouble with the local officials and they need asylum. They need protection.
While stories like this pique our interests they seem foreign. They might as well be tales from another world. Most of you reading this blog live in a nation that affords you tremendous safety and privilege. We don’t feel this type of pressure.
At the same time, we do have trouble and we do seek refuge.
One of the favorite lines around our house when one of the kids does something wrong is, “What is this going to look like when you are 18?” As parents, our point is that these sins in their toddler stages do grow up and mature. Pigging out and lusting after the cheese dip does mature into a lack of self-control in all of life as you grow. Connect the dots.
Let’s apply this principle to your Bible reading and devotions. If you take your current practices of spiritual discipline, what does this look like when you are 80?
Too many times I hear people talking about wanting to be more disciplined, more faithful, more intentional without being more active. The fact of the matter is, you will be tomorrow who you are today if you don’t make any changes.
So who do you want to be when you’re 40? 50? 60? 70? or 80?
We have flipped our calendars to the new year with excitement and optimism. And as Christians this means that Bible reading plans are making their rounds and are being gobbled up by well-intentioned, eager hands. I celebrate this as a good thing.
But hold on for a second, I have a quick question.
What did you read yesterday? No, not what chapter, but what did you read? What from God’s Word got ahold of you to produce a response? Did anything evoke conviction or delight? Did something particular from your reading explode in your heart with thanksgiving?
Hopefully the answer is yes. But too often the answer is, “Wait. Hold on. …I can’t remember.”
This reminds me of childhood trips to the dentist. Do you recall after the dentist put that horrific flouride treatment in your mouth? He then would spray in a bunch of water that you would lean over and (try to) spit in the small circular sink next to your head.
Sadly too many of us have a “swish and spit” devotional life. We grab a little Bible reading, swish it around in the morning, then spit it out on the way out the door. The treasures from the Word don’t get swallowed and digested but rather spit out quickly.
Most of us have a tree in our living room this time of year. Whether “real” or “fake” the tree is decorated with ornaments and other festive items to celebrate the Christmas season.
The trees also help illustrate an essential but often overlooked truth of the Christian life: ornaments of grace are not hung on the tree of your Christianity but they are grown from it.
Let me give you an example. Meet John. John is member in a local church. However, he and his wife have been arguing lately. John has been blowing up at her and then ignoring her. The cycles are getting more and more frequent and intense. Finally John’s wife calls a pastor and counseling begins.
John is outwardly contrite. He knows it is wrong to yell at his wife and then ignore her. He can quote the Bible verses about loving his wife (Eph. 5.25) and anger (Gal. 5.20). He knows he needs to make some changes.
So what does he do?
He goes home apologies to his wife, gets up early the next morning to read his Bible, then he prays, setting off an organized period of intentional spiritual discipline.
Sounds good right?
Fast-forward 30 days. John is visiting again with the pastor. He is upset with his wife and what appears to be a bunch of work that didn’t pay off. He has grinded it out on the spiritual treadmill for the last month only to find himself back in the same chair with the same problems.
What’s the …
Prophet, Priest, and King. Those three words have biblical tonnage tethered to them. Each communicate the person and work of Christ with succinct theological clarity.
The Heidelberg Catechism picks up this thread in question 31 (emphasis mine):
Q: Why is he called “Christ”, that is, the anointed?
A: Because he is ordained of God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Ghost, to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and to be our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of his body, has redeemed us, and makes continual intercession with the Father for us; and also to be our eternal King, who governs us by his word and Spirit, and who defends and preserves us in that salvation, he has purchased for us.
I have found that these three terms are also quite helpful in thinking through the believer’s response to the gospel in living a life of worshipful obedience.
Prophet: Christians are to make the good confession of faith, speak the truth of the gospel to one another and outsiders, and continue to be governed by the truth that, “it is written…” (Rom. 10.9-11; Col. 3.15-17; Matt. 28.18-20; 2 Tim. 3.16-17).
Priest: As believers we are to continually offer up the sacrifice of praise in response to the sufficient and unblemished work of Christ. Just like the burnt offering that was to be ever burning and consuming of the sacrifice, …
The situation is bleak. The battlefield is filled with dead Jews. The enemies are rejoicing. Hope seems to be gone. The Philistines had just mowed down 4,000 men of Israel in an ancient border skirmish.
In terms of redemptive history this is not a real good time for the people of God. The priest is impotent, he cares more for his sons and family then God and his glory. The sons are called ‘worthless’ by God (1 Sam. 2.12). By in large the people seem like fairly self-dependent comfortable proud religious folks who are still breathing the fumes from God’s faithfulness in previous generations. They do not seem to know or truly love God.