Sentences (Part 3)

  

*For previous installments, see here and here.

Brevity is a skill I’m trying to hone.  I think it’s good to be able to say something you believe to be true and meaningful plainly and in just a few words.  With that in mind, for the third time, here are a few simple theological or moral propositions I contend are true, none longer than a single sentence:

  • The natural position of a human is to see his good deeds as examples of who he really is and his bad deeds as deviations from who he really is; the God who says we are born sinners is going to take some umbrage with that.  
  • The most freeing thing in the world is not being loved for who you are, but being loved despite who you are, and that is precisely what the Gospel offers you.  
  • Doing what’s right is better than doing what’s successful; if they’re the same thing, great, but they won’t always be.
  • The more God makes a man like Jesus, the more the man will love God’s people; becoming more Christlike will always, by definition, mean loving true Christians more and more, because Jesus loves them more than you can imagine.   
  • There are virtually no new heresies, just old heresies with new publishers.  
  • Faith is thoroughly good only when the faith’s object is real and is itself good; faith in false religions and in false prophets is not a good sort of faith.  
  • God made men and women to be and do some things differently, and God is good and knows very much what is best.
  • It is impossible to depend on your having been a good person or having done good things to get to Heaven and actually get there.  
  • We do not live in a day and place that is too afraid of God; there have been such cultures, but ours is not one of them. 
  •  Under the heading of providing for our children we should include the task of praying for their salvations.  
  • It is as comforting to the believer as it is offensive to the hard-hearted that there is not one set of knees on Earth that won’t be bowing to Jesus at the end of all things.  
  • The New Testament doesn’t prescribe a form of government (unless you count the coming absolute kingship of Jesus Christ), but it does command submission to governing authorities.  
  • The hardest thing in the world is also one the most freeing:  Repentance.  

Grace, all, and happy Monday!

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    Christian Grief

      
    Christian grief always has hope buried deep inside it.  The reason for this is that a Christian is waiting for the returning King, and the King loves him and knows him by name.  Earth, spoiled as she is, is His countryside, and He rules her, and He is coming to throw out all the monsters and tyrants, chief among them Satan and death.  

    So it isn’t that a Christian’s grief feels any less like grief.  It’s that it feels less like despair.  Martha wept fiercely not too far from the corpse of her brother Lazarus, and she did this while telling Jesus that she knew her brother would be raised to eternal life on the last day.  Martha was certain the best was yet to come for her brother, and yet she was still heartbroken that she wouldn’t see him (or so she thought) there in Bethany, there in their home again for Passover dinner.  Her sadness was intense, piercing.  It drove her to Jesus’ arm in passionate mourning.  Her sadness was great.  But it wasn’t bleak.  

    And of course Jesus grieved with her.  

    When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled.  And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’  They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’  Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 

    From John 11

    A Christian has the freedom to grieve like Jesus. 

    For the Christian, hope and heartbreak aren’t like summer and winter.  You don’t make it to the one after bearing up under the long discomfort of the other.  No, for the one who knows the Holy Spirit hope and heartbreak are like seed and soil.  The one was always there, living and sprouting and taking strong root, but it was just under the surface, just beneath the blanket of the ground. 

    There’s no two ways about it:  Grief has been spun into this story.  God has allowed it.  Our fleshly father Adam and our mother his beloved Eve trusted the whispered lies of Satan, and they waved death and pain and groaning right up onto the front porch and offered them sweet tea.  Death was invited in to God’s astonishingly good world.  And Heaven grieved.  

    And then right there in Eden He told the Deciever that a Son of the woman would crush his head, though the crushing would bruise Him.  And so God the Son was bruised for us by God the Father, tortured and killed in shame for sin on a Jerusalem hill.  And Heaven grieved.  

    No two ways about it.  Grief is here in the house with us.  

    But its seat at the table is not permanent.  

    And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her Husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

    From Revelation 21

    Bear with some poetry for a moment.  

    Daylight will chase down this dusk, because the Son is returning.  And when He arrives again, and sunlight spills over the hills and puts every shadow to flight, grief’s evening is over.  God Himsef will be His people’s light, strong and bright enough to make this burning star named Sol above our heads seem to memory’s eyes to be a halfhearted firefly.  And all our old tears will find their place in a song of praise to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

    And the  death’s last echoes will be like those of a drunken man falling down stairs.  All its power sapped, all its sting left hollow by the glory and might of God.  

    Grief is an intense thing.  I know.  But it’s also a temporary one.  

    Jesus is coming.  

    And I’ve never been much of a dancer, but if I’m given the chance I’d love to slow dance on death’s grave to Amazing Grace.

    Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’  Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’

    From John 11

    And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 

    From Revelation 21

    45 Seconds On Satan

      
    Satan seeks to devour souls.  He is an enemy of God, and so he is an enemy of salvation.  

    Implications?

    Certainly.  

    Satan would have you lean on your own understanding, rely on your own intelligence and thinking for stability.  He hates belief in the wisdom of God, which men call folly but which the faithful know is life and true light. 

    He would have you hope in possessions and money and riches.  He despises those who sell everything and buy garments and treasure that last forever. 

    He would have you drown in despair over your sins and be paralyzed by fears.  He loathes the ones who cast their anxieties on Jesus, and look to Him to cleanse and restore them. 

    He would have you clothe yourself in self-righteousness and smug religious (or irreligious) pride.  He has no use for the people of humility and heart-level repentance and personal graciousness.   

    In short, Satan would have your eyes and your heart be dominated by anything other than the person of Jesus Christ, God and God’s Son.  

    He hates God, he hates you, and so he hates the Gospel.  

    So be watchful.  

    And let your eyes rest on the God of the Good News.  

    And looking upon Evangelist very carefully, [he] said, ‘Whither must I fly?’ Then said Evangelist, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, ‘Do you see yonder wicket gate?’ [Christian] said, ‘No.’ Then said the other, ‘Do you see yonder shining light?’ He said, ‘I think I do.’

    Then said Evangelist, ‘Keep that light in your eye.’

    From Pilgrim’s Progress

    A Father Story


    A man had a son, whom he loved and raised. Everything a dad should be to a boy, this man was. He taught him right from wrong, he provided for his needs, and he always had the boy’s best interests at heart. But through no fault of this father’s, as the boy became a teenager the outworkings of his heart became worse and worse. He spoke insults to his father, was constantly violent at school, and lied to and stole from friends, neighbors, and family.

    The boy didn’t care about the long, long hours his father worked to provide for him. It meant nothing to him that his dad treasured him and thought about him often during the day and wanted only good things for him. He was thoroughly self-absorbed, and he wanted nothing but an easy life of pleasure for himself.

    At about the age of 18, the boy was able to put together a scheme to steal all the money from his father’s savings account. He was a lech, but he was cunning. So he cleaned the account of his dad’s life’s savings, several hundred thousand dollars the good old man had planned to leave to the boy and his extended family and the church someday. The son laughed with a buddy as he bought a new car he planned to drive to the coast, never looking back.

    The father was shattered when he discovered what his son had done, not because of the money he’d lost, but the boy. He was forced to sell his house and buy a much smaller condo, but he continued to work and be the man he’d always been, though always while looking for his son. Hours spent on calling known friends, searching his name on the internet, and sending pleading messages to the boy’s e-mail. There was never any answer, never any response, until 5 years later, when the father got a letter.

    It was a message from one of his son’s friends. The boy had pulled off another online theft, stealing $100,000 from a financial group in the town where he’d settled. The group was suing him, and the boy was facing a felony and decades in jail since he couldn’t make restitution. His friend felt obliged to let the father know, but sadly he told the old man that the son had not changed and that he showed no remorse.

    It was three weeks later when this father came into a court appearance, his son shocked when he saw his face. The old man offered the judge and the plaintiffs $100,000 in full, and asked if the charges might be dismissed and the boy released to him. The parties agreed, but the judge asked him where the money had come from, and when the man explained that he had sold his condo and then come as quickly as he could, the judge, knowing what kind of young man this was, asked why.

    The father was unashamed in his answer: “Because I’m his Dad. And he’s my son. I know he doesn’t deserve it. I know it better than anybody. I’m not paying because he does. I’m paying because he is mine, and I love him.”

    And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

    Ephesians 2:1-9

    Praise be to God for not sparing the Son in saving wretches and thieves like me.

    I Don’t Want What I Deserve

    When it comes to where you’ll spend eternity (and who you’ll spend it with), every man on earth will either get what he deserves or what Christ deserves.

    If you want your wages, if you want what you’re owed, then you want the first fistful of earth thrown over your coffin.  If, on the other hand, you want what you don’t deserve, what you could never ever possibly deserve, if you want to be rescued from the fires you started by somebody bigger and better than you, than you’re in for some Good News.

    For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

    Romans 6:20-23


    For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

    Romans 4:3-5

    The Gospel is that God offers to give sinners what they could never possibly earn.  And so the Gospel is an incredibly joyous proclamation for the desperate and downtrodden.  But I think it’s a tedious afterthought (or outright annoyance) to the morally self-reliant.  To those who know they’re sinners, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is hope.  But to those who don’t, it’s unmoving, even if they pay lip-service to it.

    And Romans would warn that second type of person:  Beware of wanting what you deserve.

    The other side of that demand isn’t going to be as pretty as you think.

    A PSA On Suffering

      
    If you want do your heart a favor, prepare it now for where it should run when sorrow comes.  Because if you live past the age of 40, it is going to come.  

    There’s a radio PSA I hear every once in a while that uses humor to make the point that families should have plans about where to go in the event of an emergency situation.  A dad asks each of his kids where the meeting point is and what they’re supposed to do, and each kid fires back a different and increasingly ridiculous answer.  The father then praises everyone for sticking to “the plan.”  Point taken, Ad Council.  I should have a plan for where my kids should go in case there’s a tsunami.  Got it.  

    But after I’m done telling them to go the basement if and when they ever hear sirens, I’m going to sit for a second and give my heart a talking to about where it is to go when I am diagnosed with terminal cancer, or I lose a family member, or we go broke.  

    Because this side of the return of Jesus is laced with all kinds of shadows for all kinds of people.  Pain is not restricted to those who self-inflict it.  

    Good, God-believing people wrote into the book of Psalms (as they were moved by the Holy Spirit) their tears to God.  For instance, Psalm 123 (in its entirety):

    To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.

    The Psalms are threaded through and through with this sort of thing.  So is Lamentations.  And Ecclesiastes.  And Job.  The sorrows of people who love God and trust in Him, and whose hope in the middle of pain and sadness is Him and Him alone. 

    The Christian is going to suffer in this life.  Maybe not always, and maybe less than a brother or sister nearby him, but he will suffer and struggle.  At some point, God’s hand will bring about some affliction for him.  

    At some point God will allow something awful to happen to me.

    I want to plan now for where I’ll run to.  

    I don’t want to make a good thing an idol on that day.  I don’t want to just work a bunch of hours to drown out my pain, or go for a hundred hikes all over tri-state parks while praying little and worshiping less.  I don’t want to (merely) cook or write or play games.  

    I want to prepare myself now to run to my Father on that day.  

    The promises of God in the person and Gospel of Jesus Christ are the purest hope for a Christian who just found out he has brain cancer.  They are what sustained Paul awaiting his execution, what gave Peter and John boldness to proclaim the Good News though they were threatened with death by the authorities in Jerusalem, and what sent our Savior to the Cross on our behalf.  

    The promise of rescue and eternal life for all who trust in Jesus.  

    When I’m told terrible news or drowning in terrible thoughts, I want to flee to the certain promise of God that when I die I will be with King Jesus.  That when He returns, my body will be resurrected, shed of all its rust and bruises and glistening like clear dew under a new sun.  

    Sure, I might write and take a hike and learn to cook a new dish, too.  But the only thing that’ll slow my heart in the middle of the night, the background music that’ll make the worst of my sufferings less terrifying, is the promise of God in Christ.  

    After all, if Christ isn’t resurrected, then I of all men should be most pitied when that terminal diagnosis comes.  

    But praise be to God that lying is one thing this Father can’t do. 

    For the Pomp-Weary

      

    Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit… This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell… Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.

    From Psalm 49