Showing posts with label Good News. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Good News. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

10 Minute Drill

It's late. I had (a very productive) worship practice tonight, got back late, edited PJ's article for Pillar (going up on Friday), finished editing and scheduled my own article for Pillar (a review of Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something, going up tomorrow). That, combined with a simultaneous conversation with my younger sister on the telephone, pretty much maxed out my abilities for the evening. But here we are, because I'm committed: a blog post every day in October. The 31st should be #501.

A few of the things I've been batting around in my head today:

  • The difficulty of the transition into adulthood, relationally speaking. As many challenges as there are in growing up, I think the single most difficult (at least in our culture) is the readjustment in relationship with parents. I can say that both from observation—that is, watching many of my friends deal with the tensions there—and, sadly, experience, in that I muffed a lot of that transition along the way. There is a natural yearning for independence and the respect that comes with adulthood—but the way we go about seeking those things is often quite backwards. For me, it certainly was: demands to be treated like an adult are, well... childish. And thus, counterproductive.

    The challenge, it seems to me, is to learn how to honor one's parents even when disagreeing with them—how to seek their counsel even if you don't always take it, how to respect their opinions even when you think they're wrong, how to demonstrate to them and everyone else that they are a blessing from God. The transition is hard on their end, too: they have to learn how to treat us like adults, when our whole lives their job was to keep us safe and guide us in the right direction, in large part by making the right decisions for us. It can be a very rocky patch. Hopefully I will remember that in 20-ish years when Jaimie and I walk through it with our own children (God willing).

  • The simple beauty of the gospel is a marvelous thing. I've been listening to an audio book version of Greg Gilbert's What is the Gospel?—it's a fantastic book, and you should go buy it immediately—and I have repeatedly been impressed by how marvelous the Gospel itself is. This is a theme I plan to return to at length, perhaps tomorrow, because it is also something that hit me hard in my Bible study today, as I looked at just how imperfect David was: a marvelous foreshadowing he may have been, but in the end he just left Israel (and just leaves us, reading along) hungry for the real deal, the true Messianic King to come.

And that is all I have time for tonight. Not amazing, but not terrible, for 10 minutes. Sleep well, all. I'll be back tomorrow, with pithier thoughts.

Friday, July 23, 2010

3:01 am

I have been up most of the night. Duty called. The hours have gone relatively quickly; the silence and solitude have been pleasant.

I was driving a little after midnight, a gibbous moon hanging low in the southwestern sky, pinprick stars dotting the sky even with city lights all around, and thinking of the night ahead of me. I am almost done with the night now, the sun is rising outside, and grayscale tones of night are coming aglow with color. I am still thinking about the night, though.

When awake in the middle of the night—when 3 am rolls around in the quiet darkness—we watch with the sort of expectation that strains to see the slightest hint of color in the eastern sky. We wait for black velvet to ever-so-subtly turn blue—because that means the night is ending. That first moment grows and spreads imperceptibly until the whole sky is aflame with color, clouds blazing orange and pink and the sky a stunning mix of gold and white and blue, until the sun itself comes burning over the horizon in a spray of fire.

That first hint of changing color is a long time coming at 3 am, though. The glimmers at horizon's edge are illusions or tricks or false hopes: city-shadows cast skyward, or moonlight shining on the tops of faraway clouds, or imagination coloring the darkness. Weary, middle-of-the-night minds see dawn long before it comes, are disappointed at how it tarries. Daylight comes in its own time, not the schedule set by a heart longing for an end to darkness. But it does come.

We who follow Christ wait in the dark. When the clock reads 3 am, it is easy to ignore the glimmers on the horizon: we know they are illusions. No clock measures down the hours till he comes again, though; no almanac proclaims the time of his arrival. Christians always wait urgently and hopefully, because the dawn could come at any time. Time and again someone cries out, "Look! First light!" Time and again we strain our eyes to see, and realize that no: this is no second coming, no dawn to end the night forever. The cry was a mistake. Still: the dawn could come at any time.

When it comes, it will not be a glimmer, barely perceived. The age of darkness will not end like nights do, slow and subtle and sure. The sun will leap over the horizon in one blinding moment, darkness crushed out of existence in an instant.

It is 3 am, and we wait with baited breath. He could come at 3:01.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Planting Seeds Under Fluorescent Lights

I am running data—for the fourth time—bored out of my mind. Stare at the screen; wait for the numbers to reach 100; check the results—and repeat. This is not what I dreamt of doing with my life. It still isn't. Somewhere beyond the gray skies and fluorescent suns of this box that is my current vocation is a life of purpose and meaning. Or perhaps it is in that box: finding little ways to knock metaphorical windows in a building that has only one of the physical variety. Maybe purpose is not something that awaits discovery; maybe it is found instead in devotion to excellence and doing work well, wherever we are. Maybe dream jobs are as mythical as their name implies. Maybe I would still have days of boredom and frustration were I doing exactly what I think would bring me fulfillment.

God has made us uniquely, called us peculiarly, and shaped us strangely (so to speak). The deep-seated discontent that sometimes rustles under a bed of fall leaves, sometimes threatens to shake our walls down entirely, is a good thing. We would accomplish little, and strive for nothing, if we were always content to simply drift along with the ocean of humanity surrounding us. As a definition for our days, however, discontent fails quite pathetically. What it begins it has not the power to finish. Fires burn on oxygen and wood, not a continuous supply of sparks. If we are to meaningful lives, we will have to find purposes that are deeper and truer than a persistent unhappiness. Sojourners we may be, but we are in this land until the days of our journey are finished.

God is enough, I remind myself. He satisfies like nothing else: not work, not friendship, not food, not sunsets, not sex, not music, not marriage, not anything under the sun. This gray box can rot, or it can flourish. Perhaps my purpose, for now, is simply to nudge it toward greenery in human form. Black text on a white terminal window: the process advances to 23%.

God is enough.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Reflection and Confession

One plus side to having had mono for a month and a half, and being home for half that time, is that I've had plenty of time to think. While that hasn't corresponded to increased blogging output, thanks to my general fatigue, it has corresponded to opportunity for reflection.

Reflection is a rarity in American culture. Whether because of the frenetic pace of our days or because of our fear of confronting the difficult inner world we inevitably face when we do pause and consider, we avoid reflection like, well... mono.

Some of the great men of the faith—men I deeply admire and would like to imitate in many regards—were sick for much of their lives. Hudson Taylor, one of the great missionaries of the last several centuries, spent many months lying ill in his bed. In the meantime, he worked feverishly (pun intended) on his correspondence and his encouragement of others. John Calvin was beset by an incredible amount of physical agony, and yet was one of the most prolific (and powerfully productive) Christian writers in history... even while he pastored a church and helped lead the Reformation. Obviously, these were men of extraordinary gifting and calling. Yet they also chose how to spend every day. They chose whether to work through their sickness and pain. They chose to honor God with every breath.

The doctor prescribed rest, so I don't feel bad for simply having rested. Yet as I had a good deal of time and silence in which to think this afternoon, I recognized that it's quite possible to take the doctor's orders as an excuse. There are many things I could not do during these past weeks... but there are other things I could do that I have not done.

And so I see highlighted again one of the quiet struggles of my life, spiritual and otherwise. Sometimes, I am lazy.

Where does it show up? In my walk with God, in leading my wife, even at work. When there is something I do not want to do, or something that bores me, I can very easily tend toward laziness. Worse, I can fake diligence quite well—I can do my work, make a show of godly leadership, and memorize a great deal of Scripture. But these external things are not always reality. Sometimes they're a show, a fa├žade over a layer of quiet lethargy that simply does not care.

There is something to be said for doing what we do not want to do, but this isn't that. This is giving every appearance of wholehearted, diligent work, while quietly hating it and wanting not to do it. It's laziness of the heart and frankly, I think that the quiet, internal variety is as bad as (or worse than) the external. External laziness has obvious consequences. Internal laziness simply deadens the soul.

It is good that I go on doing what I ought despite my heart's condition, but it is bad when I do it for any reason other than loving obedience to God. The same is true not only here but in every aspect of life. The Pharisees of Jesus' day were far more morally upright than any of us can hope to be, judging by deeds alone. But in their hearts, they were just whitewashed tombs. A sepulcher is no less full of death because it has a pretty covering.

Dealing with sin means dealing with these ugly internal realities. We must hold them up to the light of the word of God and let his moral beauty and holiness show our moral ugliness and unrighteousness for what they are. Then, when we see our sin for what it is—disgusting, evil, and deeply offensive to God—we can begin to hate it. We can also, finally, turn to God and call on him to sanctify us. More, we can be confident that he will deliver us from sin: justice demands it.

Thank God for mono!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Heart of the Motive—Sermon Notes, 11/29/09

November 29, 2009—Mark Seekins: "The Heart of the Motive"
[Christ Chapel Bible Church, Ft. Worth, Texas]

Sermon text: Luke 17:7-19 (NIV)
"Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' "

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"

When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."
Mark Seekins is one of the pastors at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Ft. Worth, where Jaimie and I visited today while down with her family for Thanksgiving. We've been there before and enjoyed it, so we thought we'd stop in again. They're teaching through Luke, currently, and chose this passage as a fitting point for reflection around Thanksgiving.

Pastor Seekins opened the sermon by noting that, "When it comes to following Christ, motives are important," and then asked: "Why are you following Christ?" He offered up a list of motives that many of us have had at various points in our lives:
  • others' expectations of faith
  • duty to people or God
  • fear of hell
  • love of God
  • gratitude toward God
  • the proverbial insurance policy
All of these, he argued, fit into one of two heart categories pictured by this passage. The first is a heart that is motivated by duty and fear (vv. 7-10). There are unworthy servants, he said, who do only what obligation or the threat of punishment demands. The servant does exactly what he is ordered to do, no more, and no less. Pastor Seekins suggested that it's likely this servant was simply working for wages: he needed the money to eat. The servant, he concluded, is "unworthy" because he did nothing but what duty and fear demanded.

Pastor Seekins pointed us to the rich young ruler by way of comparison: a man who had done everything the law demanded, yet could not go the next step to true faith. The modern picture, he argued, is the hard-wroking, moral, curch-attending, family-loving "Christian" without real faith in and love for Jesus.

The second heart is that pictured by the second narrative: a heart that is motivated by love and gratitude (vv. 11-19). Jesus commanded the men to show themselves to the priests—to be obedient to the Mosaic law—just as the servant above was commanded to serve by his master. All ten were healed, and they would have understood that Jesus was promising them healing: they had no other reason to see a priest. Of these men, only one returned to thank Jesus and praise God.

Unlike the other nine, he had been truly transformed as well as physically healed. While the others met the bare demands of the law, he understood that he was called to give thanks to God. Pastor Seekins argued that, though this man was still an "unworthy servant," as are we all, he was one who recognized Jesus' work. Jesus statement that the man's faith had made him well followed his return for thanksgiving: the wellness in sight here is a spiritual wellness that exceeds mere physical healing.

Pastor Seekins brought up the woman in John 12 who washes Jesus feet with her hair as another example of a person who truly understood what we owe to Christ. The modern equivalent, he said, may look much like the unsaved "Christian" above... but their motives will be vastly different. Instead of duty and fear, this true believer is motivated by love of God and thanksgiving to Him for all He has done.

Finally, Pastor Seekins concluded by asking four application questions:
  1. Are you taking God's gracious actions for granted?
  2. Have you taken time to thank and praise God?
  3. Do you live in such a way that displays that the Gospel is for all?
  4. Have you chosen Jesus

As far as Thanksgiving sermons go, this was a pretty good one. I appreciated that Pastor Seekins mostly stuck to the text (with the exception of some suppositions about the servant's motives). I had one significant issue with this sermon, though. As I've written elsewhere, the gospel is everything. Especially when we're trying to increase in love for God and gratitude toward Him, we need to remember that simply telling people, "Hey, change your motive!" isn't terribly helpful.

Rather, we grow in thankfulness because we know better what it is to give thanks for, and we love because we understand how he has loved us (for example, John 3:16, Romans 5:6-8, and 1 John 4:10). Today's good sermon would have been a great sermon if Pastor Seekins had taken the step beyond rightly exhorting the congregation to come to God with right motive and shown them how. The gospel is just as effective for sanctification as it is for justification.