Read this tonight:
Reason testifies that Divine Love is so essential in Religion that all Religion is but hypocrisy and a “vain show” without it. What is Religion but the exercise and expressions of regard to the Divine Being? But certainly if there be no love to Him, there is no sincere regard to Him; and all pretences and show of respect to Him, whether it be in word or deed, must be hypocrisy, and of no value in the eyes of Him who sees the heart How manifest is it that without love there can be no true honour, no sincere praise! And how can obedience be hearty, if it be not a testimony of respect to God! The fear of God without love is no other than the fear of devils; and all that outward respect and obedience, all that resignation, that repentance and sorrow for sin, that form in religion, that outward devotion that is performed merely from such a fear without love, is all of it a practical lie, as in Psalm 66:3– “…How terrible art Thou in Thy works! through the greatness of Thy power shall Thine enemies submit themselves unto Thee.” In the original it is “shall thine enemies lie unto Thee” — i.e., shall yield a feigned or lying obedience and respect to Thee, when still they remain enemies in their hearts. There is never a devil in hell but what would perform all that many a man [has] performed in religion, that had no love to God; and a great deal more if they were in like circumstances and the like hope of gain by it, and be as much of a devil in this heart as he is now. The Devil once seemed to be religious from fear of torment: Luke 8:28– “When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech Thee, torment me not.” Here is external worship. The Devil is religious; he prays — he prays in a humble posture; he falls down before Christ, he lies prostrate; he prays earnestly, he cries with a loud voice; he uses humble expressions — “I beseech Thee, torment me not;” he uses respectful, honourable, adoring expressions — “Jesus, Thou Son of God most high.”Nothing was wanting but LOVE.
~ Jonathan Edwards, Treatise on Grace
I remember the first time I watched Gladiator, (my all-time favorite movie) I was glued to the screen. Unaware of what was going on around me, zoned in on the action, wondering what Maximus would do next, how many people would he fight, and would he ever get his vengeance. The whole movie gripped my from start to the finish, taking a restroom break was not an option, checking my phone wasn’t going to happen. But something has happened in the past 14 years since it come out. I have become familiar with it, so familiar in fact that I can quote along with it as they are saying their lines. Now whenever it is on, I may still watch it, however I watch it while checking twitter, while folding clothes, or doing other chores around the apartment. Becoming familiar with it has taken away the joy of watching it for the first time and lost its awe factor.
This happens in a lot of areas in our life, I have recently noticed that after living in Dallas for a year I am no longer shocked and stare in awe when I get passed by a Lamborghini, Ferrari or Bentley. No longer do I try to grab my phone to snap a pic, or to text the friends back home telling them what just passed me. Now they are just another vehicle on the road most likely sitting in traffic on 75 just like me.
Familiarity takes that which once was amazing to us and dulls it.
If we aren’t careful familiarity can leak into our Christianity lives, where what once amazed us and left us in awe has become so commonplace that we don’t ever stop to think about what it is we are reading or hearing, when it comes to the Gospel. Passages that use to leave us speechless such as John 3:16, we can rattle off word for word without ever dwelling on what we are saying. We can read the Gospels and see where Christ was betrayed, crucified, buried and raised, and we know the story we know what happened, and wonder ok what is next. When we lose sight of the beauty of the Gospel and the beauty of Christ our joy is gone, reading becomes a duty, worshipping becomes boring and all about what we want. This is why we must fight! Fight for joy in Christ, Fight for holiness and knowledge of knowing Him more and more. This is why Paul in most of his letters follows the same pattern, Remind them who Christ, Remind the readers what He has done from them, and then ok address an issue or encourage them. Paul knew our tendencies to drift, our tendencies become so familiar with the Story of Christ that he constantly sought to keep Christ in front of his readers, to encourage them to dwell on it, to remind them to remember what Christ has done. Such as Ephesians 2:11-22:
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
When we take time to remember who we once were before Christ, and remember who He is and what He has done, we see His beauty again, the dullness is gone and joy arises.
“Seeing the glory of Jesus Christ in the gospel awakens joy.” ~ John Piper
This week as I was doing my daily reading I was struck by a verse in Hebrews 11, that I don’t believe I have ever seen before. Although I have read this chapter many times and even taught through it, I have never been gripped by this until now. Asking the following question to myself:
Where is Your Focus?
The passage is this:
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations,whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Verse 15 is what has stuck with me all week. Why didn’t they return to where they came from? Because they weren’t thinking about it. How could they not think about where they were coming from? They were gripped by what was lying ahead. A Promised Land. A Heavenly One. There was something better out there and they were running towards it.
Where Are We Looking?
Our Past? Our Troubles? The Present? Or The Future?
Not Only Have We Been Called Out of Something We Have Been Called To Something
Because they pressed on towards their place the Lord was calling them to, God was not ashamed to be called their God, for He had prepared for them a city.
How often do we forget that He has prepared for us a city? And it will be perfect. This is not our home. Our past isn’t our home, our troubles won’t last, we can make plans but even if we obtain them they won’t last. There is a city there is a place that will last for all eternity and Christ the Sovereign King of the universe is preparing it for us.
Why would we look anywhere else?
We Will Run Towards What We Are Focusing On
“Heaven is a part of the creation which God has built for this end, to be the place of his glorious presence. And it is his abode forever. Here he will dwell and gloriously manifest himself to eternity. And this renders heaven a world of love; for God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light. And therefore the glorious presence of God in heaven fills heaven with love, as the sun placed in the midst of the hemisphere in a clear day fills the world with light. The Apostle tells us that God is love, 1 John 4:8. And therefore seeing he is an infinite Being, it follows that he is an infinite fountain of love. Seeing he is an all-sufficient Being, it follows that he is a full and overflowing and an inexhaustible fountain of love. Seeing he is an unchangeable and eternal Being, He is unchangeable and eternal source of love. There even in heaven dwells that God from whom every stream of holy love, yea, every drop that is or ever was proceeds”~ Jonathan Edwards
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found”
~ Luke 15:25-32
The Older Brother sits outside and complains, complains because his younger brother is home and his father has thrown a party to welcome him back. His complaint has nothing to do with his younger brother, although he quickly points out his sins to their father, but has everything to do with what he wants and what he feels he is entitled to. His complaints are selfish, “I have done …. but you never did for me.”
What about me? And my friends?
Have I not done all that you asked?
Typically we relate to the younger brother, we were the ones lost but now found. But I’m learning that I need to guard my heart against the lurking tendencies of the Older Brother. Recently the Lord began pulling back the layers of my heart and revealing to me that often times I act just as like the Older Brother.
I AM THE OLDER BROTHER
For me it was in not rejoicing over the Lord choosing to bless others, whether small or large, while on the surface happy for them, underneath quietly asking what about me? Haven’t I done all that You asked? Come on Lord, I’m in Seminary, I’m giving my life to ministry, where’s my fattened calf? The heart of the Older Brother looks at himself and wonders what about me? Instead of looking at Christ and being in awe while rejoicing in all that He does and is doing in and around the world, whether it directly pertains to them or not.
With the heart of the Older Brother laid open before a Holy Lord, now able to take my eyes off of self and my selfish wants I hear the words, “Son you are always with Me, all that is mine is yours!”
The simple reminder that I am His!
Who needs a fattened calf, when they grasp that they are
Fellow Heirs With Christ!
I would like to introduce you to my PawPaw, a man who I am blessed to have in my life and is always a joy to be around. Over the past few weeks with all the holidays I was able to spend a lot of time with him and my MawMaw at their house near my parents. Times like this are times I cherish and am so thankful for to sit with and talk with them and a lot of the time simply sit there and listen, listen to stories of how they met, listen to them joke with each other, or listen to the latest news that my MawMaw just read in the National Enquirer (she loves these stories). These times are precious cause I know I won’t always have them, my PawPaw is 92 and although his goal is to catch Moses at 120 years old, (a joke he has had for the past 10 plus years and one I’m starting to think may actually happen) he is slowing down some along with my MawMaw who is 90. As I spent time with them over the last month and began to think of their legacy in our family and what I have learned from them over the years. This is not an exhausted list by any means, just a few of my first thoughts as I have dwelled on this.
- The Importance of Faith – The picture above is how I found my PawPaw one day I stopped by to say hi. He was sitting on his spot on the couch doing what he has done nearly everyday for the past 30 years, reading his Bible, as my MawMaw took a nap. He came to know the Lord while in his 60′s as the Lord saw fit to use my dad to lead him to the Lord. And since that day my PawPaw has forever been changed, after spending the first 60 years of his life trying to be good enough, the Lord opened his eyes to His love and grace. My PawPaw was worn his Bible out since then, and every time I go by there he tells me about what he read that day. One of the highlights of our time together over Christmas break, was sitting there with my 92-year-old PawPaw sat there and told me a list of answered prayers the Lord had answered this month for him, how some people may not believe in Christ, but he knows that when he prays to Him that the Lord answers him. On Christmas he told us, “This family is built on love and joy. Love for Christ and love for others.”
- The Importance of the Individual – This may be one of the biggest things I have noticed about my PawPaw, and that is he makes everyone feel important and as if you are the only one he is talking to. If you were to come with me and my family to meet them, he would talk to you directly and include you in everything. You would leave feeling like you are part of the family and not just some stranger who was tagging alone. And he has been this way it seems like his whole life, he was a car salesman most of his life, and even today we run into people who when they hear my dad’s name (he is a junior) they ask if his dad sold cars because they bought a car from him and remember how he helped them and how he got them into the car they wanted. I’ve purchased two vehicles in my life and couldn’t tell you the names of the salesman I dealt with.
- The Importance of Being a Witness – Any opportunity my PawPaw gets to point to Christ he takes it. Recently when at the doctor about to be released to go home, all the doctors and all the nurses were in his room (see point above, people are drawn to him) and they were asking him about being married for 71 years and whats the secret, his answer short, simple and powerful, “Jesus Christ.” Even at 92, and no longer able to be out and about he is still being a witness to anyone and everyone he may come in contact with, whether family member, doctor, nurse, or home health nurse that comes to check on him, he will tell you the main thing in his life and the secret to his joy is Christ.
- The Importance of a Never Changing Joy – My PawPaw is 92, and rides a scooter to get around in the house and has to basically sit on the couch all day long watching a TV he may or may not hear that well, but you would never know it. He is always joyful, regardless of the circumstances, and happy to see you. Never once can I recall him every complaining about his or my MawMaw’s circumstances. Through hospital trips, losing a home to a hurricane, having your car taken from you, zero complaints. Always joyful, always joking around, always thanking the Lord for what he has.
- The Importance of Family – My Grandparents have been married 71 years and are still in love. In an age where more than 50% of marriages end in divorce, my Grandparents have made it through, most people would be happy to live for 71 years and they have been married 71. It’s an amazing thing to see and witness and one that the world is astonished by, leading to questions as mentioned above, “How?” And the answer is always the same, “Jesus Christ,” Christ has sustained them. My MawMaw recently told my dad that no matter what family is family, they will make mistakes but the Lord tells us that whoever is without sin to throw the first stones, so no matter what you love your family cause that’s what the Lord has told us to do. And they have loved us all well, through ups and downs their love has remained constant.
This is just some of the many things that I have noticed in my PawPaw and MawMaw’s lives, and a small part of the legacy they are leaving our family. I am incredibly grateful for all that the Lord has used them to show me about living out His Word, and loving others. I cherish the moments the Lord continues to allow me to sit with them and just talk and listen. These times are precious and whether I get a few more years of these opportunities, or they make it to Moses and I get another 25+ years with them, these are the things I will hold onto.
“This family is built on love and joy. Love for Christ and love for others.”
Quote I have been chewing on:
The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among the roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?
for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way,
as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
~ 1 timothy 4:7-8
Two weekends ago I went home for the first time in almost 4 months since moving to Dallas, to watch two dear friends get married. While home, though I had the same conversation over and over with friends and family; that basically went like this:
Someone: “Nick, you have lost weight, what are you doing?”
Me: “Diet and exercise.”
It got to where it was comical to me, because the response to me saying I had lost weight to diet and exercise was almost one of disappointment, like people were hoping that I had moved to Dallas and found some special formula that didn’t require diet and exercise (I’m sure the reading load in seminary has helped too). Cause although deep inside we really know that the secret to weight loss and getting in shape is diet and exercise, we all want that easy fix. Diet and exercise take discipline, effort and is difficult; please give us a special pill, or some 6 minute abs belt that we can wear while in bed eating, and we will try it.
Just make it easy…
Now this isn’t a post on health and fitness, but I have been chewing on this, because is this not a picture of our spiritual lives? We are called to be Holy (1 Peter 1:16), we are told to pursue Godliness, righteousness, and faith (1 Timothy 6:11). To often we try to achieve this the easy way, like attending church once or twice a week will help us get to where we are supposed to be. Or we just wait for the Lord to sanctify us, and claim “we will be Holy, one day, when we are with Him;” Yes, ultimately this is true, but that does not take away the command to train ourselves for Godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). If we were to go to our heroes of the Faith, and ask them how did you get so Godly? When they told us, would our response be, “oh…” wishing the answer was simpler?
All of this started to connect last week as I was preparing for my home group bible study where we were focusing on the passage in James 4:7-10:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
As I was reading this passage, I noticed all the “action” words that pertain to us, that we are to do: submit, resist, draw near, cleanse, purify, and humble, all words that pertain to us getting near to God.
We cannot pursue Godliness apart from actively pursuing Him. Yes it takes discipline, effort and is difficult sometimes, but what else is there to go towards?