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Commentary Life

A Word from a Long-Dead Saint on Humility

I’m reading through 1 Clement, one of the letters from a first century church father, likely Clement of Rome (the guy in the mosaic above). The letter was written around AD 80-100.

The letter is addressed to the Corinthians—that same group of Christians we read about in the New Testament who struggled so much to love each other.

Much of Clement’s letter is focused on humility and peace. He writes, “Let [your children] learn of how great avail [of value, benefit] humility is with God.”

And “You see, beloved, what is the example which has been given us; for if the Lord has so humbled Himself, what shall we do who have through Him come under the yoke of His grace?”

And most pointedly, “Why do we rend and tear apart Christ’s members and raise a revolt against our own body? Why do we reach such insanity that we are oblivious of the fact we are members of each other?”

Sounds like Clement could have written this to us in the Church today, right?

To those of you who feel hopeless with the Church (this is where I find myself often) because of pride and division among Christians, take heart. This has been a struggle since the beginning. It doesn’t mean God isn’t working or doesn’t care. It means the human heart takes a long time to change and, God is very, very, very patient with us. Like every generation before, we have work to do.

To those of you doing the dividing (and I mean elevating politics or certain doctrines or preferred worship styles over Jesus…or calling other Christian names or questioning their allegiance to Jesus, etc.) remember that those who call Jesus their “Lord” are members of the same body with you. In Christ, we are organically connected to each other. 

I want unity in the Church. But I’m not immune to causing division either. It’s easy for me to look down on people who put those things above Jesus and his Church. So then I put my own perspective or “humility” above Jesus, doing the very thing I wish others wouldn’t.

We are all a work in progress, moving from one degree of humility to another, aren’t we?

This is not something to take lightly. Let’s not rend and tear it apart because of pride. As another church father put it, “If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility” (Augustine of Hippo).

This was a lesson the Corinthians needed to learn time and time again, it seems. 

And so do we.

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Theology

Heaven Is Not What You Think It Is

I’m a 90s kid. That means I watched a lot of TV. And one scene from a cartoon (Looney Tunes maybe?) is forever etched in my mind.

I can’t remember the context of the episode but it’s a picture of heaven. It’s portrayed as an expanse filled with clouds. A chubby little baby in a diaper is an angel seated on a puffy cloud playing a harp.

Apparently this is paradise for all eternity.

This image shaped my theology of heaven more than anything when I was a kid. It made me not want to go to heaven. Ever. I’m going to be a fat, diapered baby sitting alone for all my days? No, thanks.

If we’re honest, most of us would think of heaven to be some version of this boring, awkward scene. Maybe not the diaper part. But an ethereal, vague, and serious place full of light fog.

This isn’t the picture painted by the Bible. Even the idea of heaven as a location “out there” that we “go to” is foreign to Jesus and his apostles.

In the end, Heaven comes down, as the New Jerusalem, the New Creation, the New Heavens and New Earth. It’s the place God lives and where his people live with him as they were meant to originally in the Garden. This time, without the possibility of rebellion.

The picture painted of heaven in the Scriptures has more continuity with this world than we might dare to think. Does it feel a tad bit unspiritual to consider “heaven” being like this earth? Remember, God made us for this world. It is our home. And it will be our home (see Romans 8:22-24).

This world simply isn’t the finished product yet. Neither are we.

In the the last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21-22, we see the finished product. And it’s glorious.

There’s no need for security at the city gates. The very best of human culture is ushered in and celebrated. There’s no off-season for harvesting crops. God and his people dwell together in sweet intimacy. They see each other face to face. There’s no more sun—God’s brilliance lights up the world. And his people will reign with him.

It’s the place where everyone looks out for everyone else. Where everyone is more concerned for their neighbor than themselves. Where there is always perfect joy and delight and laughter. Where there is no pain or tears or mess-ups or accidents or disease or disaster or devils or death.

It’s a world of love, because the God who is love is there and we will finally be with him in his presence.

In other words, “heaven” is the place and society “that we long for, [but] that we feel so far away” from, this side of Eden. It’s what this world was meant to be. And will be…someday.

It’s way better than what the cartoons told us. And it can’t come soon enough.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

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Life

Wilderness Worship

“Wilderness is still the place of worship.” 

– Michael Card, A Sacred Sorrow

Everything Jeremiah knows and loves is gone. The enemy has come into his city—God’s city–to steal, kill, and destroy. To him, the world is ending.

He mourns the destruction of his nation in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. There, he uses horrific word-pictures to articulate what he sees and to express what he feels. We, particularly North Americans, aren’t used to these graphic laments. They are shocking—God is like a bear lying in wait. Upsetting—God points his arrows at his own people. Even gross—mothers resort to boiling and eating their own children because of famine.

These images are supposed to shock us, upset us, and even gross us out. Jeremiah uses exaggerative words to try to do some justice to this Babylonian invasion. He wants us to feel it. And we do.

By the end of Lamentations, you get the sense everything is wiped out. Absolutely obliterated. Make no mistake, there is carnage and corpses all around. Jeremiah is surrounded. But it’s a desolate kind of surrounded. There’s no refuge. No place to hide. You can see for miles. It’s devoid of life. The great City, now like the wilderness that lies to its east.

Jeremiah’s life has become a wilderness. And his life represents Judah’s very existence. He’s alone and hopeless. So is the nation. But in the middle of his tear-stained poetry, he sings of hope for him and the nation. He turns his attention to the only Refuge left:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

It’s easy for us, when we feel like everything in our life, or even one treasured thing, has been wiped out to flatly say, “Okay. Everything will be fine. God’s got this. He’ll come through.” Of course he will. But what kind of “come through” do you have in mind?

The hope for Jeremiah—and you and me—is God himself, who is our “portion.” It’s this word—portion—which changes everything. It’s like Jeremiah is saying, “The only thing that will get me through the wilderness is Yahweh himself. Nothing else will do. He’s all I got left.”

I find it’s that way for me. What about you? It’s in the wilderness where God exposes our false hopes—whatever they may be. We had been in a vanity fair of material possessions, ministry success, political ideology, a soul mate, organizational influence, family status, social reputation, financial security. At one time shiny and full of promises, now, they’re crushed, rusted over, and wiped out. We’re alone.

At first, it’s grim. The world—our world—is ending. So we kick and scream. God, why? Just like Jeremiah and the other prophets.

But then we weep not mainly because of the carnage around us bad as it is, but because we begin to see our own sin. We desire the fair. There, it’s easier to hide our true selves. There, it’s easier to hide from our true selves. We desire the fair more than we’d like to believe.

But God won’t let his children stay there long. Eventually, he leads us into the wilderness—as he did his own Son. There he reveals there is no hiding place but him. Even more, he reveals that he is our prize, our treasure, our inheritance. He takes us into the wilderness not to exhaust us. Though does it feel exhausting. Rather, it’s to refresh us with himself. Indeed, he must be our refreshment, because he is the only thing, the only One, wholly capable of doing so.

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Life

Plead with God the Merit and Righteousness of Jesus Christ

Another gospel-centered prayer. This time from Matthew Henry.

The merit and righteousness of my Lord Jesus Christ, which I rely upon as my main plea in my petition for the pardon of sin.

I know that as you are gracious and merciful, so you are the righteous God who loves righteous deeds, and will by no means clear the guilty. I cannot say, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything,” for I am like one who is unclean, and all my righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. But Jesus Christ has become to me righteousness from God; being made to be sin, though he knew no sin, so that in him I might become the righteousness of God.

I have sinned, but I have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for my sins, and not for mine only but also for the sins of the whole world.

It is God who justifies, who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for me, and whose blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

I desire to count everything as loss for the sake of Christ, and as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own, but that which comes through faith in Christ.

This is the name whereby I, with your people, will call him, THE LORD IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. In him, Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor, all the hardships he endured; the Son of David, remember all his offerings and regard with favor his burnt sacrifices; and do not turn away the face of your Anointed One, who by his own blood has entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on my behalf.

Have you not yourself put forward your Son, Christ Jesus, as a propitiation for sin by his blood, to be received by faith; to show God’s righteousness for the remission of sins, to show your righteousness at the present time, so that you might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus? And so, I now receive reconciliation.

Categories
Theology

Morning Prayer

Here is a prayer I wrote that I will start to pray each morning to remind myself of the gospel.  It is a prayer that I’m sure will change slightly over time and it is not meant as a “be all, end all” prayer. It is also not meant to produce “religious gibberish” that is merely repeated with the mouth and not meant in the heart.  It is meant as a template, if you will, so that my mind and heart get into the daily (hourly?) rhythm of confessing Christ as my sole righteousness.

Please feel free to pass this along or re-post or even continue to add paragraphs in the comment section below.

Father in Heaven,

This new day I come not to ask that my slate would be “wiped clean,” for it was wiped clean when your Son cried, “It is finished.”  Today, I acknowledge and rejoice in the fact that my righteousness is solely based on the perfect person and work of Jesus Christ. I am accepted by you because of him. By grace through faith I look outside of myself to Jesus and wholly lay claim of the alien righteousness that he gives as the only ground for my acceptance.  Only this active faith in Christ will increase my sanctification today.  No amount of good works, kept disciplines, hallelujahs, prayers, sighs, or tears will improve my heart or get you on my side. For in Christ, you are already 100% for me.

I am perfectly loved in the gospel. Your grace has broken into my life through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Only through the Spirit’s application of his redemptive work am I able to experience relationship with you and so become your child, your servant, and your friend, and am no longer a son of disobedience, a slave of sin, and your enemy.

You welcome me this morning not because I rise early to read your word and pray. You welcome me not because I try to love you, my family, and those around me. You welcome me not because I try to live purely and righteously in a broken world. You welcome me because you welcome your Son, with whom you are well pleased. Because your Son, who knew no sin, became sin on my behalf I have become your righteousness. This righteousness is not my own, but it is a righteousness from you that depends on faith. Now when you see me, an unworthy sinner, you see Jesus, for my life is hidden in him.

Thank you for the gospel, O glorious Father.  Thank you for Christ, my substitute Savior.  Thank you for the Spirit who gave life to my dead heart and is active in me as the guarantee of my inheritance. Thank you for your gracious love for and acceptance of me. Because of your love and acceptance, cause me to walk in a manner worthy of this calling that I might be fully pleasing to you and put Christ on display to show the world how marvelous he is.

In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.