Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Re-Framing the Picture

How we view life will determine how we evaluate our pleasures and our troubles. If the frame is narrow, eliminating all but ourselves or what is close at hand, then every pleasure will be a "got-to-have" and every trouble will be monumental. But if we allow Scripture to help us in re-framing the picture, then God's presence in our view of life will dramatically change our perspective. We won't live because of our pleasures, or die because of our troubles.
Romans 5:1-5 helps us with re-framing the picture. "Having been God-justified through faith (of) Christ, we have peace with God." The text goes on to say that, not only do we have peace, but we also have access to God, and then, that we have reason to rejoice.
We are aware of our immediate troubles, those closest to home. But few of us deeply grasp the seriousness of our trouble with God, a trouble that began long before we were born, and a trouble that will pursue us past death all the way to judgment day. By re-framing the picture to include God and our trouble with God that has now been solved and replaced with peace, our more immediate troubles shrink in perspective. If God has solved this huge problem, then He surely can help me through these other struggles.
We often face disappoint or rejection. Husbands and wives experience the cold shoulder. Parents of teens experience the sullen stare. Employees experience being overlooked and under-appreciated. But (re-frame the picture) God's door is always open. We have access to the throne-room. The King of the Universe is always listening, and He always cares. If I am rejected by every human person I know, I will never be rejected by God, and that makes human rejection bearable.
There are as many different joys as there are persons, it seems. "To each his own," so they say. But many of these pleasures are short-lived, and the fallout is less than pleasurable. God gives us reason to rejoice that looks forward to a world that does not yet exist, and that focuses on a Person that is not me. "We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God." And we believe, based on God's promise, that our highest satisfaction will be found in His glory. Moreover, we rejoice in life's troubles, realizing that God is so great and gracious that He can make stinky situations result in sweetness for our souls. And then, we rejoice that God loves us no matter what with a love that is deeper and richer than any other love that we have ever known.
So since the picture has been re-framed, we are not free to draw back to our narrow snapshots of our worlds that are only big enough for our own mug shot. I am not free to view my troubles as the end of the world. I am not free to do illegitimate or immoral things because some person has rejected me. I am not free to be consumed by temporary pleasures, or whine and complain about temporary problems, or to go looking for love in all the wrong places. I can't, because of a view of the world in which God is big and great and gracious, and He changes the way I see things.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sighing, Throbbing, Failing (Ps 38:9b,10a)

Sighing is the ouch of a pinched soul. It wants to breathe and expand as a spiritual lung. But there is constriction, whether within, or without. It can be caused by sin and guilt. It can be caused by sadness and sorrow. It can be caused by an obscuring of hope and by present difficulties. It is the soul's effort to relax and rest, but it can't.
Faith rests. It rests in Jesus. It rests in the promises of God and the comfort of the Spirit. A pinched soul is struggling with these things. It has not necessarily abandoned these things. But such things as pain and doubt are running a serious interference.
Romans 8:23 reads: “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” The pinched soul wants resolution. But it has to wait. Things are not as they should be. So in this mean-time, this cruel time, we wait.
One more thought on this word, addressed to "leaders." Hebrews 13:17 says that leaders of the local body of believers are to do their duty "with joy and not with grief (or sighing). They are instructed not to allow their souls to narrow due to pains and doubts. They must not lose their rest, their trust, their comfort. How could they lead?
A throbbing heart is a heart not-at-home. It is on the road; on the run. A throbbing heart is a hunted heart. It is a hiding heart. Powlison says that some are tempted to "tower," that is, to act as though they are bigger than they are. Others are tempted to "cower," to go into hiding in an attempt to disappear. Both are wrong. Better to have a big God, and to rest safely under His wings, growing and fulfilling service and responsibility under His care. 
Jeremiah 14:18 has an interesting rendition of this trading term - "gone roving." The priest and the prophet are either casting about, looking for something to do, or for somewhere to hide. They seem to have lost their vocation. They are unsettled.
The heart's vocation is to center on God, whether you call it waiting or exulting or loving or listening. The vocation of the believer is to believe. Jesus says in John 14:1, "Don't let your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me." But the pinched soul is accompanied by a throbbing heart that is more aware of its troubles than its God or her Savior.
Failing strength is the human condition. We are finite, and we fatigue. Except for one thing: our strength is to be in the Lord. Flesh is short-lived, but the Spirit is an inexhaustible and inextinguishable fire. This poor sinner of sighing soul and throbbing heart and flagging strength desperately needs the buoyancy of the Spirit. And He is there; right here, ready to lift and restore. Confess your sins. Bow in the dust, and let Him bear you up, and breathe heavenly air into your soul and supply firmness and solidity to your heart and an impossible strength to your mind and will.
The psalmist is at the cusp of something great. No, not in the next couple of verses, but before long, the light will shine through, and something surprising will happen. Do not give in to the darkness. Do not abandon hope. Take a breath, drop to your knees, and let your requests be made known to God. This is the beginning of rest; this is your home and your strength.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


It is completely appropriate to ask why we do the things that we do. Why do I so often respond with anger? Am I following an influential person's example? Maybe. Am I reacting against some kind of offense or injury? That may be. Is it because I want to be God, to be the center of my world, and therefore I expect all persons and things to bend their will to mine? Ouch.
You see, asking why is not wrong, so long as my explanation does not explain away my own responsibility. If a parent or teacher was a bad example, shame on them. But I am still responsible for my own angry outbursts or sullen attitudes.
Now let's think carefully. There is a distinction between scope of responsibility and depth of responsibility. And we make mistakes with both. I am not responsible for the behavior of bad examples. I am responsible for whether or not I follow those examples. I cannot take responsibility for the actions of others. I must take responsibility for my own actions. That is the scope of responsibility - I am responsible for me, and will be held responsible for me.
That brings us to depth of responsibility. To whom are we responsible? Ultimately, the answer is God, and we have a regular tendency to understate our responsibility to Him. He is our Creator and Redeemer. We owe Him gratefulness and service. We owe Him worship and obedience. Every failure to do so with each element of our being is a breakdown of our responsibility. And we will be held accountable.
This is why the previous article on God-justification is so important. The scope of my responsibility for all of my actions and attitudes is heavy, and all my past failures give me no indication that I will be blameless in the future. But then add in the depth of our responsibility to God, and we find that we have no hope except that God justifies the ungodly.

God-Justified, or still Self-Justifying

Romans 5:1 says, "having been justified by faith, we have peace with God". There are at least a couple of huge things to note: 
1. this justification is a past event for the believer, not an ongoing process. It is done, and we now enjoy the benefits; 
2. it is clear that the justifying is not done by us, but rather done for us. Self-justifying would be an ongoing process which would continually endanger "peace with God." 
Therefore, efforts at self-justification are out of line. They are not productive, but rather destructive. They may feel good at the moment, but they do not result in "peace with God." They may get us out of trouble with offended parties for a brief time (though not usually), but self-justifications do not work with God. The Puritan, Henry Smith, says that "a sin is two sins when it is defended."
  • Self-justification takes several forms. It can range from "it wasn't me" to "it wasn't my fault." We often give long lists of extenuating circumstances that explain or excuse our "bad" behavior, as though that makes it somehow less bad. It often involves rationalizing and blaming others. It is a regular refusal to take responsibility for our own sins and failures.
  • Self-justification is abandoned as we confess our sins, and as we admit that we are sinners. God justifies the ungodly. That's me. 
  • Self-justification is abandoned as we understand the fallen world in which we live and of which we are a part and even a product (Romans 1). 
  • Self-justification is abandoned when we realize that even our religious and moral selves have inconsistencies and hypocrisies, let alone when we go a.w.o.l. and plunge into sin and filth (Romans 2). 
  • Self-justification is abandoned when we listen to ourselves talk, and realize that our words and attitudes are only a reflection of what is going on in our hearts (Romans 3). 
  • Self-justification is abandoned when we realize that our biggest task is not merely developing a skill to get out of trouble, but rather trusting God to do what we cannot do ourselves, justify sinners through the sin-bearing of Jesus on the cross (cf Rom 5:9).

God does not excuse sinners, he justifies them. And so we must not engage in strategies and schemes to excuse ourselves, but rather receive His justification by faith. There really is no excuse for us. But there is peace with God for us.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Does God Speak for No Reason?

God is the Creator of heaven and earth. This God is the God of the Bible, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only God who matters, because He is the only God who is real, the only God who is. “I Am Who I Am,” He informed Moses.
That means that we owe everything to this God. He lends us life and breath. We are accountable to Him in every dimension. We owe Him gratefulness and glory.
Therefore, when God speaks, all creation should jump. His creation should respond to His voice, and His image-bearers, men and women, are especially designed and obligated to respond, not only by instinct, but with heart and mind and soul and strength, ways in which cows and cats are incapable of responding.
In Amos 3, today’s OT reading, God’s says, “shouldn’t my chosen people be responsive?” The question is rhetorical. The answer is obviously “yes.” But the rhetoric is not finished. 
If we are in a partnership (covenant), should not the  partners be expected to partner?
If a lion is king of the jungle, do not the inhabitants of the jungle shudder when he roars? And if God is the king of the universe, should we not do likewise? 
If you are bright and clever enough to catch a bird, do you think God will have any trouble catching you?
If the fire alarm goes off, do you assume that it goes off for no reason? And do you suppose that if God gives a warning to the world and a warning to His people, that these are meaningless warnings that can simply be tuned out or turned off?
Does God speak for no reason? No. He speaks that His children would hear and respond appropriately. This is not a game.