Archive for December, 2011

December 30, 2011

Our Desire to Get Even

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Is. 16:9-10

Broken | In Fall 2003, seven weeks before my wedding was meant to take place, my then-fiancé and I were having sushi and working out some of my doubts about our compatibility. Although he assured me that our differences were not dealbreakers, he failed to mention his own doubts – doubts that he had already shared with our pastor. Then, a week later, he called off our wedding. I was shocked and confused. Then sad and angry. By Spring 2004, however, I was pretty much over it. My boss had offered me a new job in New York and I was excited to get a fresh start. From what I heard, however, he wasn’t doing well. He was struggling with guilt, which had become mild depression. How was I supposed to feel about this? Should I have been happy that he was hurting, as he had hurt me? [1]

Weeping | In forgiving others, God calls us to grieve – not gloat – over their calamities. Solomon wrote, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased” [2]. When we do this, we bear the image and heart of our Father – who wept as He justly judged Moab: Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer … for over your summer fruit and your harvest the shout has ceased. And joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field … I have put an end to the shouting[3].

Forgiving | No, forgiveness does not require us to ignore sin or its horrible consequences [4]. Yet, that doesn’t mean that we can be vindictive towards those who hurt or wrong us. When Thomas Watson asked, “When do we forgive others?”, he answered, “When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them” [5].

Praying | Lord, People wrong us all the time – whether it’s the person who has seriously injured us or the person on the subway who annoyed us. In all these instances, we struggle with wanting to get even. Yet, we know that you died for us when we were still your enemies. Therefore, we pray to stand in the power of your forgiveness, ready to love others with forgiving hearts. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] I do not mean to give a wrong impression about my ex-fiancé. He was – and is – a wonderful and godly man who made the right decision in a difficult situation. In no way was he my “enemy” in the sense that many in our world have enemies (e.g., victims of the Rwandan genocide or the German concentration camps). He was confused and that confusion unfortunately led to not sharing some relevant information. We have all done this, including me.  |  [2] Prov. 24:17-18 ESV  |  [3] Is. 16:9-10 ESV  |  [4] In his work, A Body of Divinity (published in 1692), Thomas Watson wrote about forgiveness. He said, “We are not bound to trust an enemy; but we are bound to forgive him.” Similarly, he asked, “Is God angry with his pardoned ones?” In other words, do the ones who have His forgiveness still incur punishment? His answer: “Though a child of God, after pardon, may incur his fatherly displeasure, yet his judicial wrath is removed. Though he may lay on the rod, yet has taken away the curse. Correction may befall the saints, but not destruction.” See also Heb. 8:12; 12:6, 10; 1 Sam. 13:14 and 2 Sam. 12:9-14 (David still lost the son he had with Bathsheba after he committed adultery); Num. 14:12-23 (the Israelites were still prohibited from entering the Promised Land after they failed to trust that God would fight for them); Ps. 99:8.  |  [5] A Body of Divinity (published in 1692).


December 29, 2011

When NOT to Be Like God

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Is. 14:13-14 (underlined)

Desire | All of us want to be like God. After all, we were made in His image [1] and His Word exhorts us to conform to Christ [2]. In the garden, however, our sinful desire for His authority moved into the very center of our fallen nature. It started when our ancestors ate the fruit [3] and continued when Babylon boasted, I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God. I will set my throne on high … I will make myself like the Most High[4]. Yet, why is this wrong? Can God run our lives any better than we can?

Knowledge | We lack knowledge; He is omniscient. Thus, as Job issues his indictment, God interrupts: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” [5]. He reminds Job that He alone – without any help – formed the earth, created the seas, summoned the dawn, and sculpted the depths [6]. He alone knows where to find light and darkness, storehouses of snow, and stars in heaven [7].

Power | We lack power; He is omnipotent. Not only does God know all things throughout all time, He also has power to accomplish His purposes [8]. Thus, He reminds Job that He alone – without any help – satisfies the hungry animals, brings life to their young, frees the wild beasts, and gives flight to the birds [9].

Love | We lack love; He is omnibenevolent. God is not better equipped to be in charge just because He knows everything and can do everything; He also is good and right and just. He is not capricious, arbitrary or irrational. His power has purpose and its purpose is consistent with His excellence. He works for the good of those who love Him [10]. He does not have ulterior motives.

Prayer | Lord, We often indict you for not working in our lives as we would. Yet, we confess with Job: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” [11]. We are surrounded by mysteries and do not know the first thing about the ten million things you do in every moment. Thus, we joyfully hand our doubt and confusion over to you – for you know all things, have the power to accomplish all things, and choose to do all things for our good. Therefore, make us humble people, as we seek to be like you in love and service and unlike you in authority and might. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] See Gen. 1:26-27.  |  [2] We are called to be light Christ in our righteousness and holiness (see 1 Pt. 1:14-16; 1 Jn. 3:7; Jn. 15:10-14; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:4; Eph. 5:27), in our freedom from this world (see Jn. 17:14-16; Rom. 12:1; Jm. 4:4; 1 Jn. 2:15), in denying ourselves (see Rom. 6:1-23; Gal. 2:20; Lk. 9:23-27); in our walking in newness of life (see Gal. 5:16-26; Eph. 4:14-22), in our enduring persecution (see Matt. 10:25; Jn. 15:18-20; Mk. 10:29-30), in our actions (see Jm. 2:14-26); in our fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23; Jn. 13:34; Jn. 15:11-13), in our being set apart for God’s work (see Jn. 10:36; Jn. 17:17-19; Jn. 20:21), in our walking in the light (see 1 Jn. 1:7), in our unity with the Lord (see Jn. 17:11; Jn. 17:21-23), in our suffering for others (see 1 Pt. 2:21-23; 1 Pt. 3:18-4:1; Phil. 3:10), in our life and conduct (see 1 Jn. 2:6; 1 Jn. 4:17), in our enduring temptations (see Heb. 2:18; Heb. 4:14-16; Jm. 1:2; Jm. 1:12), in our manifesting the fullness of God (see Jn. 3:34; Jn. 7:37-38; Jn. 14:12; Eph. 3:19).  |  [3] See Gen. 3:5 (noting that the words of the successful temptation by the serpent included: “ … when you eat of [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”).  |  [4] Is. 14:13-14 ESV  |  [5] Job 38:2 ESV  |  [6] See Job 38:1-18.  |  [7] See Job 38:19-33.  |  [8] See, e.g., Is. 46:9-10.  |  [9] See Job 38:39-39:18.  |  [10] See Rom. 8:28. See also Ps. 84:11.  |  [11] Job 42:3 ESV

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December 28, 2011

Is it possible to be ignorantly zealous?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Is. 5:12-13
Full Text: Is. 4:2-5:30

Advocacy | In the world of legal ethics, there is no zeal apart from knowledge. Lawyers are required to represent their clients “zealously” [1] and, therefore, they must have complete knowledge of the facts. If clients withhold relevant information – even bad or damaging facts – their lawyers cannot represent them zealously. Recall A Few Good Men. Downey told his lawyers that he was ordered to give a Code Red by Kendrick, but he failed to tell them that he himself never actually heard Kendrick give the order. When that information came out during cross-examination, his lawyers had to regroup because they knew that his having received the order second-hand was unfavorable to the case. They also knew, however, that they had to address it if they had any hope of winning.

Worship | Similarly, when it comes to worshipping God, there is no zeal apart from knowledge. Yes, zeal for God is essential [2], but our passion for Him is weak and vulnerable when it is not based on knowledge. As Isaiah prophesied, the Israelites worshipped with zeal, but they were exiled because their zeal lacked knowledge: They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands. Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge[3]. Our zeal must be based on that same knowledge – the deeds of the Lord and the work of His hands. Today, we find that knowledge in the Word. The Bible is a wellspring for spiritual thirst. Not only is it a living power for the soul, it is also a double-edged sword for cross-examination. Even Jesus himself frequently settled important issues – divorce and remarriage, the Sabbath, worship and praise, the resurrection, eternal life – by referencing the Scriptures [4]. The Bible itself, however, is powerless as mere paper. We must open its pages and read it in order for its meaning and power to be unleashed with zeal in our lives.

Prayer | Lord, Raise our affections in accordance with truth. Cultivate our spiritual appetites daily by laying us in the way of allurement that is found in your Word. Let us long for the education of our minds and never let us think that studying your Word is bland. Instead, quicken our hearts throughout our lifetimes to long to unlock the riches of truth found in the Bible. Amen. [5]

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Footnotes

[2] In his seminal work, Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards argued, “As there is no true religion where there is nothing else but affection, so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection.” He continued, ““The great part of true religion consists in the affections. For love is not only one of the affections, but it is the first and chief of the affections, and the fountain of all the affections. From love arises hatred of those things which are contrary to what we love, or which oppose and thwart us in those things that we delight in: and from the various exercises of love and hatred according to the circumstances of the objects of these affections, as present or absent, certain or uncertain, probable or improbable, arise all these other affections of desire, hope, fear, joy, grief, gratitude, anger, etc. From a vigorous, affectionate, and fervent love to God, will necessarily arise other religious affections; hence will arise an intense hatred and abhorrence of sin, fear of sin, and a dread of God’s displeasure, gratitude to God for his goodness, complacence and joy in God, when God is graciously and sensibly present, and grief when he is absent, and a joyful hope when a future enjoyment of God is expected, and fervent zeal for the glory of God. And in like manner, from a fervent love to men, will arise all other virtuous affections towards men.” His evidence? The Bible – fear (throughout the Bible), hope (see 1 Cor. 13:13; Ps. 146:5; Jer. 17:7; Ps. 31:24; 33:18; 147:11, Rom. 8:24; 1 Thess. 5:8; Heb. 6:19; 1 Pet. 1:3), love (throughout the Bible), hatred (Prov. 8:13; Ps. 97:10; Ps. 2; 3; 119:104, 127; 139:21), desire (Matt. 5:6; Rev. 21:6); joy (Ps. 37:4; 97:12; 33:1; 5:12; Phil. 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16; Ps. 149:2; Gal. 5:21; Ps. 119:14), joy (Ps. 37:4; 97:12; 33:1; Matt. 5:12; Phil. 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16; Gal. 5:21; Ps. 119:14), sorrow (Matt. 5:4; Ps. 34:18; Is. 61:1-2; Ps. 51:17; Is. 57:15; 66:2), gratitude (various Psalms and throughout the Bible), compassion (Is. 57:1; Ps. 37:21, 26; Prov. 14:21; Col. 3:12; Matt. 5:7; Matt. 23:23; Mic. 6:8; Hos. 6:6; Matt. 9:13; 12:7), zeal (Tit. 2:14; Rev. 3:15, 16, 19).

[3] Is. 5:12-13 ESV

[4] For example, he settled the Sabbath issue by saying, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry …” (Matt. 12:3 ESV, referencing 1 Sam. 21:1-6). When he was talking about divorce and remarriage, he said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female” (Matt. 19:4 ESV, quoting Gen. 2:18). About worship and praise, Jesus responded, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’” (Matt. 21:16 ESV, quoting Ps. 8:2). When he was questioned about the resurrection, he said, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Matt. 21:42 ESV, quoting Ps. 118:22-23). When a lawyer asked him about eternal life, he answered, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Lk. 10:26, pointing him to Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18).

[5] Much of this prayer is based on language in Religious Affections by Edwards. See supra 1.

December 27, 2011

What Lies Behind the Curtain

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Is. 2:5 (underlined)
Full Text: Is. 1:21-4:1

Wizard | In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz [1], Dorothy is swept up by a tornado and dropped in Munchkin Country. In order to return home, she must go to Emerald City and ask the Wizard for help. Along the way, she convinces a brainless Scarecrow, a heartless Tinman and a cowardly Lion, to accompany her by telling them that the Wizard can solve their problems, too. When they meet the Wizard, he grandiosely introduces himself: “I am Oz, the Great and Terrible,” and they humbly honor him [2]. Then he makes them a deal – if they’ll kill the Wicked Witch, he’ll help them. So they go away and accomplish the task. Upon their return, however, the truth is revealed. The screen crashes down and they discover that the Wizard is no wizard at all. He’s just “a little old man, with a bald head and a wrinkled face.” He admits, “I have been making believe … No one knows but you four – and myself. I have fooled everyone so long that I thought I should never be found out.”

Farce | Like the Wizard, our culture promises so much and delivers so little. Its unwritten promises are in SoHo storefronts and Times Square trinkets. Money, sex, power – these promise so much happiness, but they deliver so little joy. Thinking these things will bring contentment is making believe. The Evil One – who “disguises himself as an angel of light” [3] – has fooled everyone so long that he thinks he should never be found out.

Light | In Christ, however, the screen falls. The Wizard is a farce – nothing more than a losing enemy of God who manipulates us to accomplish his own evil means. Christ, however, has set us free through the truth. Rather than living in shadows, we set our hearts to see, know, enjoy and live in light: O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord[4]. In His light, we see all things – including the Lord – as they truly are.

Prayer | Lord, We confess that we are like Dorothy oftentimes – not only do we think our culture can solve our problems, we even evangelize others about its promises. Yet, we know what lies behind the curtain and how empty its promises are. Open our eyes to see your promises as precious beyond anything that this world offers. Give us hope – that we may walk obediently in your light. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. All quotations taken from 2006 Kindle version (public domain).  |  [2] The Wizard called each of the four into his Throne Room individually. To each, he said, “I am Oz, the Great and Terrible.” Then he asked each of them what they wanted and why he should give it to them. Dorothy said that she wanted to return home and then said he should answer her request, “Because you are strong and I am weak; because you are a Great Wizard and I am only a little girl.” The Scarecrow said that he wanted brains and thought the Wizard should give it to him, “Because you are wise and powerful, and no one else can help me.” The Tin Woodman wanted to have a heart and said that he should be granted it, “Because I ask it, and you alone can grant my request.” The Cowardly Lion wanted courage and said that he should get it, “Because of all Wizards you are the greatest, and alone have power to grant my request.” In each of these instances, the four ascribe god-like greatness to the Wizard – the Wizard that they have never met and who has never proved himself. Nonetheless, they place their blind faith in him. Foolishly, as they later discover.  |  [3] 2 Cor. 11:14 ESV  |  [4] Is. 2:5 ESV


December 26, 2011

Defeat Anxiety By Believing God

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Is. 28:16 (underlined below)
Full Text: Is. 28 & 1:1-20 and 2 Kg 18:9-22 & 17:7-41

Stanford Marshmallow Experiment | If you gave a marshmallow to each child in a preschool classroom and told them that you would give them another if they waited 15 minutes to eat the first, only one-third would be able to wait. What’s the difference between the patient and impatient kids? It’s not about how much they want the marshmallow – they all want it. Rather, as researchers discovered, it’s about their “strategic allocation of attention” – that is, their ability to distract themselves: “If you’re thinking about the marshmallow and how delicious it is, then you’re going to eat it. The key is to avoid thinking about it in the first place” [1].

Struggling with Patience | There is no question that the Lord longs for His people to be patient. Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about your life” [2], and Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything” [3]. Yet, how are we supposed to obey these commands? After all, most of us want things that we don’t yet have and the uncertainty about whether we’ll get those things usually breeds impatience and anxiety. The longer we wait, the more we ask, “Will we ever get those things?” And the longer we pray, the more we wonder, “God doesn’t seem to hear or care. Maybe I should just take things into my own hands …”

Redirecting, Not Defeating | Like the preschoolers, however, our patience depends on our ability to redirect our desires, not defeat them. Rather than focus on what not to want, we focus on the trustworthiness of God. As Isaiah spoke, Whoever believes will not be in haste [4]. We redirect our desires by believing God – His sovereign control over all things [5] and His loving work for those who trust in Him [6]. Our God never sleeps or slumbers [7]. He knows what we need before we ask Him [8]. He is working for us right now.

Prayer | Lord, As we enter the New Year, we are full of uncertainty – financial, professional, relational, political. Yet, as your children, we desire less that you would remove our uncertainty and more that you would increase our faith in the midst of it. Thus, in our culture that demands to have things now, we long to honor you with patience and trust. Help us to distract ourselves by meditating on your Word – for we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us [9]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Jonah Lehrer, Don’t! The secret of self-control. The New Yorker. 18 May 2009.
[2] Matt. 6:25 ESV  |  [3] Phil. 4:6 ESV  |  [4] Is. 28:16 ESV. See also Rom. 10:11.  |  [5] See e.g., Eph. 1:11-12.
[6] See Rom. 8:28.  |  [7] See Ps. 121:3-4.  |  [8] See Matt. 6:7-8.  | [9] See Gal. 2:20.

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