Is it possible to be ignorantly zealous?

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.

What Lies Behind the Curtain

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


Defeat Anxiety By Believing God

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.

An Advent Poem: Christmas Candle

I love poetry because it seems to awaken the mind and the heart. Below is a Christmas poem by John Piper. Although it is longer than the usual 843 Acres devotion*, it highlights Jesus as the fulfillment of every promise God has made, which has been our focus. Happy Christmas, all!

Christmas Candle by John Piper (1982)

The sun had just begun to set
And Joseph’s face, filled with regret
Appeared again. “We’ll find a place,”
Said Mary, full of hope and grace.
”
I know we will,” she touched his chin
And bravely smiled, “Who needs an inn?
The sky is clear, the blankets thick
And warm; there’s still good light to pick
A place among the rocks we passed.
God’s first and best is often last.”
More times than he preferred to think
Poor Joseph’s faith would start to sink
And darkness gather like a foe
‘Til Mary’s hopeful heart would glow.
It wasn’t that he feared the night,
Nor prowling beasts nor thieves to fight.
In fact, it wasn’t fear at all
That made the tears begin to fall.
“It’s all right, Joseph, I don’t mind.
I’m sure it won’t be hard to find.”
“My God, you’re pregnant, woman, look!
What kind of husband ever took
His wife to sleep among the rocks?
I’m not a shepherd with some flocks;
I am a man and you’re my wife
With child.” She hugged him to the Life
Within her womb and said no more.
Wise woman, she had learned before:
Sometimes you leave a man alone
To bear his load of love, and groan.

She’d kept it to herself all day
And every time they came she’d pray
“Not yet, O God, not on the road;
Your handmaid bears as big a load
As she can take. O Lord, please wait;
Please let the child, your child, come late.
“
She never burdened Joseph down,
Not even when they got to town,
Not even at the setting sun,
But only when the search was done.
He helped her down among the cocks
And hens. She smiled, “It sure beats rocks,
Especially for a night-time birth.”
“I’m in no mood for silly mirth.”
“Nor I.” “How long have you known this?”
“No anger now, my love, let’s kiss
The hour and kiss the ways of God.
Remember that his staff and rod
Are comfort, father David said.”
She winced and quickly shaped her bed.
“I helped to make your day’s load light;
Please, Joseph, carry me tonight.”
“I’ll get a midwife from the place…”
“Don’t leave me here without your face.
My mother showed me what to do
And what I need right now is you.”

Between the pains she tried to lie
In peace and stare into the sky,
And think of how she’d been prepared.
And then she said, “Joseph, I’m scared.
“
And he with steady eye and calm
Recalled for her the angel’s psalm.
“He is the shoot of Jesse’s rod;
He shall be called the Son of God;
His Kingdom shall not ever end.
Will not God then his birth attend?”
But Mary’s face remained so grim:
“The promises are sure for him.
You know I never doubt God’s word,
But, Joseph, I have never heard
A promise for myself but this:
‘Some sword my own soul will not miss.'”
Again his eyes were steady, bright
Reflecting heaven’s grace and light.
“Our book is full of promises;
Remember that one where it says,
No good thing does the Lord withhold
From those whose cares on him are rolled.
And: when your worries multiply
God’s consolation hovers nigh.
And: steadfast love surrounds the girl
For whom Jehovah is her pearl.
And: God’s a stronghold for the weak,
How happy those who his help seek.”
Each time the birthing pangs withdrew
He gave her joyful words and true.
He carried Mary with the Word
And she delivered what she heard:
God’s Yes to every ancient oath.
And now with lifted hands they both
Were filled with distant prophecy:
“To God alone all praises be,
And let the world a candle light
To celebrate this awesome night.”

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What are the non-advent readings for today? Hosea 12-14

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*843 Acres is limited to 400 words or less. Today is the first day that we have gone over 400 words. It is 630 words (which is still, by the way, less than a New York Times op-ed – 750 words or less).

Advent – God Has Spoken and Still Speaks

Advent Reading: Hebrews 1:1-2

God Has Spoken | Complaining that God is silent with us is like standing at the bottom of the 59th Street Subway Station and saying that New York has no Christmas decorations. Just because the lights and trees can’t be seen from there doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Likewise, God is not silent. He has spoken: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son” [1].

Through the Prophets | In the past, God usually communicated with His people as a whole by inspiring prophets to speak His Word. Rather than writing His Word in the sky or using a megaphone to shout it from the hills, He inspired human spokesmen to communicate His Word to our fathers. Thus, when the Israelites heard the prophets, they heard God Himself – not man.

Many Times and Many Ways | And He was lavish in how He communicated. He didn’t speak at one time or in one way. Instead, He spoke at many times and in many ways because He wanted to give His people many opportunities to hear Him. He didn’t want to leave them discouraged if they had trouble understanding Him at any one time or in any one way. Thus, as we have seen this advent season, God told Israel about the Messiah through the family, the priesthood, the throne and the prophets [2].

By His Son | Then, by sending His Son, God decisively showed how eager He was to speak with His people. This latest communication was greater than all prior times and ways because Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” [3]. As heir of all things and co-creator of the universe [4], Jesus will make good on all his promises – even the promise to have final victory over sin and death and everything that threatens to rob us of our joy in God.

Prayer | Lord, When we think that you are silent, remind us that the birth of Jesus is incontrovertible evidence that you have spoken. Today, as we prepare for Christmas, open our hearts to know that you still speak by him, as we meditate on his person and teaching and work. Cause us to put our hope in him, the one who will make good on his promise to come again. Amen.

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What are the non-advent readings for today? Hosea 9-11.

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Footnotes

[1] Heb. 1:1-2 ESV  |  [2] During the first week of advent, we saw that the Messiah would come from a family (see He Would Be a Descendant of AbrahamHe Would Be a Descendant of JacobHe Would Be Born of a VirginHis Own People Would Reject Him). As the New Testament authors would later explain, these familial aspects pointed to the fact that God was making a people for Himself that would be a family – where Jesus himself would be the elder brother (see, e.g., Hebrews 2:5-18). During the second week of advent, we saw that the Messiah would come from a priesthood (see He Would Be Greater than the Temple, He Would Be CrucifiedHe Would Be an Atoning SacrificeHe Would Give Us New HeartsHe Would Have a Price). As the New Testament authors would later explain, these priestly aspects pointed to the fact that Jesus would offer himself as the ultimate Passover lamb and that he himself would be the final High Priest that would make atonement for the sins of his people. During the third week of advent, we saw that the Messiah would come from a throne (see A King in the Line of DavidA King Greater than SolomonA King Born in BethlehemA King Riding on a DonkeyA King Who Chose Poverty). As the New Testament authors would later explain, these kingly aspects pointed to the fact that the Messiah would be the ultimate and final king on the throne over all time and the entire universe.  |  [3] Heb. 1:3 ESV  |  [4] See Hebrews 1 (noting that Jesus is the Son of God and, therefore, God Himself because divinity begets divinity and noting that his being heir of all things means that all things will be at his disposal at the end of the age).

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