Archives For Affections

We like the details when we like the topic.

Consider a newly engaged couple, do you have much trouble getting them to tell you the story about how they met and fell in love? Not likely. Or, how about new parents? Many will gladly recount the details of their birth story for you. How about a little kid who just saw something surprising? I think of my little 5-year-old daughter who recently told me the whole story of how she got a princess dress at Goodwill and how it really is an Elsa dress because of these 5 things… We love details when we love the topic we are describing.

God is no different. He loves details, especially when describing who he loves. He is very thorough, precise and passionate to communicate the intricate beauty and diverse glories of his Son.

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My mind and heart simultaneously explode when I think about the divine plan, commonly referred to as the covenant of redemption. In this arrangement or agreement we have the Son willingly accepting the assignment of being the Redeemer. In a fictional but devotional series of paragraphs, John Flavel contemplates something of this Trinitarian conversation.

My Son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice!  Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them:  What shall be done for these souls?

And thus Christ returns.  O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it.  I will rather choose to suffer they wrath than they should suffer it:  upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.

But, my son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.

Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it:  and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures…yet I am content to undertake it.”  (Flavel, Works Volume 1) p.61

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detours demonic

I’m fascinated by summits between leaders. Whether we are talking about Roosevelt and Churchill or Reagan and Gorbachev or a host of other historical moments, I’m intrigued.

But there is perhaps no bigger meeting than what we find in Matthew chapter 4 between Jesus and Satan. Here you have the seed of the woman and the serpent meeting together in that long awaited moment. The head of the true evil empire and the head of the new humanity, the kingdom of grace.

When you look at the temptations you see Satan attempt to get Jesus to take his eye of the ball (this may be an oversimplification). He appeals to his status and his rights as the Son of God. He also offers him what seems to be what Jesus wants: to be King.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”” (Matthew 4:8–9)

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never resist urge to pray

As people we know that it is often wise to resist various urges that we have. We can keep ourselves out of trouble by resisting the urge to say something when we are offended. We can prevent various health issues by resisting urges to overeat or (routinely) eat unhealthy foods. We can steer clear from financial debt by resisting the urge to buy something on impulse. We can almost develop a reflex of resistance in this fallen world. This can be good for us (and others).

However, there is one urge that you should never resist. This area is prayer. I believe it was Martyn Lloyd-Jones whom I first read who said, “Never resist any urge to pray.” That is great advice without much need for explanation. But let me point out a couple of reasons why.

The urge to pray does not come from your flesh or the devil, but from God. It is God who is urging and drawing his children to pray. He desires communion with his people. We can be confident that the urge to pray is an urgent call from God to lay our pride down and come to him with the sweet joys of communion with the Triune God. In prayer we come to confess our sin, claim God’s promises, bath in Christ’s blood, and refresh our souls. As Calvin said, prayer is climbing up into the lap of our Father. Why should we ever resist such an urge?

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“It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.” (Hebrews 7:7)

Like a shaken two-liter of soda in the hands of a 5-year-old, the story of Melchizedek is fully charged and overflowing in Christological significance. We learn of the uniqueness and superiority of Christ’s priesthood by means of this somewhat mysterious and obscure type from Salem. It is upon this new priesthood that the new covenant is built. For a guy with only a hand-full of Old Testament verses he sure does get a lot of airtime in the New Testament Scriptures.

shutterstock_94042480There is one phrase that arrests my attention in Hebrews 7 however. It is this statement about the inferior being blessed by the superior. In the case of the narrative we are talking about Genesis 14 where Abraham received a blessing from Melchizedek.

The context of chapters 13 & 14 include a story of Abram and Lot separating because their hired hands could not get along (Gen. 13.13). Abram went toward the land of Canaan and Lot towards Sodom. Following this a war breaks out and Sodom, along with 4 other kings, are defeated by the 4 king coalition from the north. Consequently, Sodom, and Lot with them, were dragged north towards Mesopotamia. When Abram hears about this he gathers his crew and charges after them. In due time he catches them, battles them, and wins. He takes Lot and all of his possessions and turns around to go home. Abram is legit.

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I once heard someone ask RC Sproul a question. “What is the point of creation?” His answer was, “Holiness.” He nuanced it a bit to include “that people would glorify God by means of holiness.” If Sproul is correct (and I think he is) then this is a staggering statement. God is pursuing his glory through the reflection of his own holiness. The obvious problem here is the reality that none of us perfectly reflect this holiness. When we sin we are failing to be holy as he is holy.

When you think about the divine pursuit and the human problem then the Bible’s tone makes a lot of sense. What you basically have is God speaking and acting in order to procure holiness by waking people out of their rebellion.

How does God do this? How does he get people’s attention? How does he get your attention?

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“and again, as was his custom, he taught them” (Mark 10.1c)

A couple of years ago our son began driving. As parents, we spent time with him so he would learn the rules of the road and became more familiar with the car. One thing he seemed to continue to forget about where the speed bumps. We would cruise over them at 35 mph only to elevate and then bottom out. Each time he’d say, “Whoops.” Eventually he learned to slow down a bit as he came upon the speed bumps.

Sometimes, when reading the life of Jesus, we just cruise over the Christological speed bumps. In other words, we jump over what appear to be minor details in order to get to bigger details that we we know are coming.

I would argue, however, that there really are no insignificant items.

Take for instance the above reference to Jesus teaching the crowds. We know that Mark 10 goes on to provide a highly charged debate between Jesus and the Pharisess on the topic of divorce and marriage. In this case Mark puts a Christological speed-bump before us. We are bidden to slow down a bit before charging into the narrative.
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Sometimes it’s the little things, the small details, that hit the high notes of our praise.

David was on the run from a brood who wanted him out as king. There are thousands pursuing him, as Psalm 3 says. To make matters worse the coup is led by none other than his son Absolom. The king is fleeing the people who were supposed to be loyal we’re pursuing.

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“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Jesus felt the full force of all temptations. The ones that we feel and cave upon he felt to the highest level–and prevailed victoriously.

You might be saying, “It was different for Jesus–he is the Son of God! How can he really understand me?”

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We all know that women are very different then men. However, we don’t always appreciate it.

Over the last several years I have watched my wife prepare for birthday parties, holiday seasons, or other special events. She, like many women, gives considerable time and attention to the details. In particular she works to ensure that the colors, design, and even the most minute matters are covered. I’ve seen gum balls color-coded, paper cut outs, cup cakes and napkins match, balloons, sparkly soda, snow sprinkles on a red table cloth, swirly straws, and even a big metal bucket filled with ice to so people will feel “festive” when they get their drink. This is what women do. Men on the other hand, we think function. We reuse our forks, wipe our chin on our sleeves, and pass on the straws. We skim past the details without noticing.

In the past I have noticed the details and asked, “why?” My wife lovingly instructed me that it is an expression of creativity, joy, and love. It is festive.

While struggling to pull this type of thing off my self, I have come to appreciate it. What’s more, I’ve come to baptize it into the spiritual realm so as to love my wife more, appreciate our differentness, and marvel at God’s design.

If you were to comb through your Old Testament you would find that God is a God of detail. You have chapters and chapters of detail about the tabernacle in Exodus. We have dimensions, colors, types, and all other specifics. Like the detail that my wife expends I can zoom past these. I understand the big picture and pass on through to the next chapter. I understand the expressions. I understand the expressions?

The entire Bible points to Jesus Christ. The types and shadows of the Old Testament ultimately point forward to Jesus (1 Cor. 5.7; 1 Cor. 10; Lk. 24). The chapters of description of the tabernacle and the temple demonstrate the infinite beauty, holiness, and varied complexity of Jesus. When God speaks of these symbols he showcases his love for the glory of Christ. God goes through great detail to construct the shadows in order to serve the substance (Jesus).

Therefore, when I look at the frills, the colors, the designs, the Pinterest Boards, the sketches, and the actual parties, I can marvel at the way in which my wife loves the person she is honoring. This reminds me of how our Father loves to honor our glorious Savior. Far from zooming past the details we can spend a moment to marvel at these reflections of creativity that express love. We will find ourselves appreciating the way our wives honor others while seeing the Father express his love for Jesus.

Don’t Waste Your MRI

Erik Raymond —  November 19, 2013

Yesterday I enjoyed the privilege of getting an MRI. It is not my first experience with the acronym. Each time it becomes a bit of a sanctifying experience.

Prior to the procedure I answered extensive questions to ensure that I was not embedded with anything that might be magnetic. They wanted to validate that I was safely alone in the room. As the procedure began I learned what it would feel like to be trapped inside of a jack-hammer. In time the incessent pinging became almost melodic and strangely soothing.

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You may be familiar with the story in 1 Kings 21. Ahab is one of the worst kings in the history of Israel. His lusts knows no bounds. One day he decides that he wants to take the vineyard that belonged to a man named Naboth. He offered to give him another patch of land or even to buy it from him. However, Naboth resisted: ‘”The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” (1Ki 21.3)

Naboth refused because the land was part of his inheritance. We might think that this is dripping with the sentimentality of family. And it may. But more than that, it represents the Hebrew mindset that the land is a gift from God. Naboth can’t just “give it up and take something else.” The land is not like a pair of sneakers or upgrading a phone.

As we read on we see that Ahab’s wife, the notorious Jezebel, does his dirty work. She gets a couple of worthless guys together to accuse Naboth of something he did not do in order to put him to death. This she does successfully. The innocent Naboth is killed outside the city because of a false accusation of blasphemy.

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Sometimes we speak of sin in extremely unbiblical categories. For example we may speak of our bad attitudes, selfishness or anger as defects that are to be expected. We say or think things like, “I am a sinner” or “I’m not perfect” or “I know I really should do…” And when we do say things like this our Christian brothers and sisters too often affirm these truth claims with passive affirmation (nodding, agreeing, or otherwise not helping).

This produces a culture where sin is not really a big deal. It’s just a necessary part of life that we need to deal with. Like a man with a limp we just keep moving along with our spiritual handicap.

This causes two immediate problems:

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Does Jesus lack compassion? The question sounds ridiculous and at best has a whiff of being irrational and at worst dishonoring. But it is a helpful question to ask and answer in light of his words in Matthew 15.

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard what this saying?” He answered, "Every plant that my Heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit. (Mt. 15:12–14)

On its face this instruction to “let them alone” seems a bit heartless. After all, they are heading towards a pit. What’s worse, they are leading others there as well. Does this advocate an anti-evangelism? Should we just leave people alone? And above all, was (is) Jesus lacking compassion?

No. And, no. Let me explain.

1. Jesus is the Incarnation of Compassion

His entire mission leaves in its wake the foamy waters of compassion. B.B. Warfield observed that the most common description of Jesus is that of compassion. Whether we are talking about healing the lame, raising the dead, or simply preaching the truth of the kingdom, he exemplified and was characterized by compassion. Remember, he came to save sinners (Lk. 19:10). This is compassion on steroids.

2. There is a Greater Context Here

The setting in Matthew’s narrative comes after some very dramatic and important scenes. In chapter 12, verses 22–32 the Pharisees (those referenced here) witness the miracles and heard the preaching of Jesus and they made a stunning conclusion. He is Satan or he works for Satan. They attributed the powerful working of the Holy Spirit to be the demonic working of the Devil. This led to a very stern exchange with Jesus in which he pronounced judgment upon them (v.32). They have had the privilege of the curtain being pulled back and the Holy Spirit working right before their very eyes only to attribute the work to Satan. This conclusion brought judgment from Jesus. He then began teaching them in parables (Mt. 13, especially Mt. 13:10–14). Jesus is compassionate, he is also a judge. One does not eclipse the other.

3. There is an Immediate Context Here

You might say, “That is still pretty harsh. They didn’t get it and he blows them up.” Well, let’s remember the immediate context: Jesus is talking to the Pharisees (Mt. 15:1–9). This admittedly blistering exhortation is directed at the Pharisees. He is talking to them clearly and biblically. He is isolating their heart idolatry and laying it bear in the light of the Scriptures. While being firm it is still a very compassionate thing to do.

So, does Jesus lack compassion here? I do not think so. If anything we are to marvel at his persistent compassion in the face of such bald rebellion. While being the Priest who is compassionate, he is still the Prophet who declares and the King who demands obedience.

The 35th Psalm is a puzzling and then encouraging.

The Psalmist is describing the present narrative of his life. It is difficult. People make it difficult to be him. They contend with him and fight with him (v.1), devise evil for him (v.4) and dig a pit for his life (v.7). The opposition persistently opposes him.

If you read through the Psalm and begin interrogating it, you will find one of your key questions left unanswered. Why? Why are they opposing him like this? What did he do to them? He seems to have been quite nice and considerate to them actually (v.13-14). So why all of this scornful opposition?

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The town I grew up in had a lot of Italian people. I would often spend the night at a friend’s house so I could go to Mass with them in the morning and then enjoy a feast at their grandmother’s after church. I can remember one such occurrence when, walking up to the sidewalk I was kicked in the nostrils by an overwhelming and powerful smell. To my untrained adolescent nose this was a strange smell. Upon further research I found out that it was, as you might expect, garlic. Garlic is the staple ingredient in Italian food. It is in everything. If you had a bowl of cereal there it would probably taste like garlic. If you visited with some other friends after dinner, they would know you had garlic. Garlic is a very outspoken, gregarious seasoning.

When I read the Letters of John, particularly the Third Letter, I find him similarly outspoken about “the truth”. This truth is the truth about all that Jesus is and has done for us. In short, the truth is the gospel. When John writes we find that the gospel is everywhere and in everything.

He is almost obsessively preoccupied with the truth. In verse 1 he loves them in truth. In verse 3 he is overjoyed because he has heard of a testimony in the truth. Again in verse 3 he hears they are walking in the truth which causes him to overflow with great joy. He says he has no greater joy than to hear these things (v.4). At the core of John’s soul is his love for the truth of God (gospel). Everything he sees, feels, pursues, loves, and prays for is shaped by the gospel. For the Apostle John, the garlic is the gospel. It is in everything. It is all over his breath. It can’t be contained. It is that outspoken, gregarious spiritual seasoning that gets into every sentence like garlic in every Italian dish.

It is a terrific reminder for us that this type of gospel scent comes by means of intentional exposure and effort. We spend time thinking about, marinating in, praying through, and speaking about the gospel. It is in the fabric of our souls before it becomes the fabric of our conversations. To push the garlic word picture perhaps to its maximum, you can’t sweat out the garlic without eating the garlic. It has got to be in you before it comes out of you.

Whatever else you say about John you have to conclude that this guy was a gospel-manaic. He left the scent behind in his writings.

There is something beautiful about the simplicity of kids. I remember after planting our first garden our little girls woke up early in the morning to run outside and see if anything had grown. After all, we had just put seeds in the ground 20 hours prior!

Their eager expectation is instructive.

In the 5th Psalm we read of a believer exercising highly developed prayer reflexes. He is crying out to God. His heart is overcome with weightiness. It is the type of thing that is first on his mind as he awakens in the morning (Ps. 5.1-2). The concern, burden, anxiety, and desperation of the soul continue to bubble up within him.

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john-owen-irish-calvinist3We often talk about “seeking the glory of Christ” but why? What does this seeking bring?

The constant contemplation of the glory of Christ will give rest, satisfaction, and complacency unto the souls of them who are exercised therein. Our minds are apt to be filled with a multitude of perplexed thoughts; – fears, cares, dangers, distresses, passions, and lusts, do make various impressions on the minds of men, filling them with disorder, darkness, and confusion.

But where the soul is fixed in its thoughts and contemplations on this glorious object, it will be brought into and kept in a holy, serene, spiritual frame. For “to be spiritually-minded is life and peace.” And this it does by taking off our hearts from all undue regard unto all things below, in comparison of the great worth, beauty, and glory of what we are conversant withal. See Phil. 3.7-11. A defect herein makes many of us strangers unto a heavenly life, and to live beneath the spiritual refreshments and satisfactions that the Gospel does tender unto us. (John Owen, The Glory of Christ)

And where do you go to see it? Again Owen is helpful:

This is the sole foundation of all our meditations in this:

The glory that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the real actual possession of in heaven can be no otherwise seen or apprehended in this world, but in the light of faith fixing itself on divine revelation.

To behold this glory of Christ is not an act of fancy or imagination. It does not consist in framing to ourselves the shape of a glorious person in heaven. But the steady exercise of faith on the revelation and description made of this glory of Christ in the Scripture, is the ground, rule, and measure, of all divine meditations upon that. —John Owen, The Glory of Christ, p. 129

I post these quotes because I know I need this reminder and trust that you do as well.

And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (Mt. 8.20)

I would confidently guess that if you are reading this then you awoke this morning on a pillow in your home. There is of course nothing unusual about this. The majority of people have homes. They are settled and reasonable comfortable. But this is the point: When Jesus walked among people in this word, he had no such comforts. His entire life was uncomfortably committed to his mission of saving comfortable people.

Consider the staggering condescension of Jesus. He goes from the eternal residence of the Trinity to wandering about the villages of Israel without a home. He goes from heaven to homeless! And why? Because he wanted to bring lost people home to God. His homelessness was motivated by love.

The one who made the birds and foxes, giving them the instincts to even find and build a home, was now homeless. His whole life was a continual episode of humility and abandonment.

It is the sharp passages like this from within the satin of the narratives that get me. I can rightly impugn bogus books like Your Best Life Now, but regrettably recline into coziness of thinking my life is about comfort. It is not. Just as Jesus life was calibrated by his work in the gospel so must I be. Jesus was about his mission. I am to be about his mission. As a Christian I have been called, commissioned, and empowered to represent the King. As he went making and training disciples, so must I (Mt. 28.19-21).

See, there is a point here. And it’s not pity. This is something to remember when lifting our heads up from our pillows each morning.

Strange Birds.

Erik Raymond —  March 13, 2013

This morning as I looked out the window I encountered something very unique. In fact, I cannot recall ever noticing this before. I looked out upon my snow covered front yard I heard the persistent chirping of birds. This is strange because that ever present soundtrack of Spring and Summer is muted during the Winter months. (as the birds repudiate the insult “bird-brain” by leaving the freezing temperatures in favor of those warmer areas south of us) But now as I look upon my snow covered street I hear the birds defiantly resisting the bonds of Winter by singing the celebratory ballards of warmer days.

As I thought of their certainty in song proclaiming a season of change forthcoming, I was reminded of how odd the Christian must appear in the world. We sing amid the cold blanket of sin, brokenness, corruption, and tears. We sing of love, forgiveness, righteousness, and a conquering King bringing a perfect kingdom. We are strange birds indeed.

As I listen even now to their confident song amid the frigid temperatures, I am reminded of my own certainty amid this blistering air of sin. God will indeed cause his sun to rise upon his people in the kingdom of his beloved Jesus!