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Daily Reading History

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04/09/ 2014

Now, I know my fellow evangelicals will rush to protest that it is the cross of Jesus Christ alone that opens the way to heaven for any person. No amount of personal righteousness could ever suffice. I believe this. It is grace alone—the unmerited and undeserved forgiveness of God—that opens the way for any of us to know God, let alone come into his kingdom. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9) Thank God for that.

However, you also find in Jesus and throughout the scriptures a pretty serious call to a holy life.

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. (1 Thessalonians 4:7)

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14–16)

In fact, one of the most stunning things about Jesus is how such a gracious, kind, patient, and forgiving man holds—without so much as wavering—such a high standard of holiness. On the one hand, we have the beautiful story of a woman caught in the act of adultery—and how horrifying and humiliating would that be? The mob drags her before Jesus, ready to stone her (they actually did this sort of thing, and not that long ago; it still happens in some Muslim countries today).

It is brilliant, and poignant. The town square is now deserted; only the woman and Jesus remain. She is probably wrapped in nothing but a bed sheet and her shame. He rescues her from a terrible death, and then forgives her. It feels as if the scene could not be more powerfully reported. What more could be said? But wait, Jesus has one last word for her:

“Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”

Yes, grace reigns in the Kingdom of God. But right there alongside it is an unflinching call to holiness. Go and sin no more.

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04/08/ 2014

As our soul grows in the love of God and journeys forth toward him, our heart's capacities also grow and expand: "Thou shalt enlarge my heart" (Ps. 119:32 KJV). But the sword cuts both ways. While our heart grows in its capacity for pleasure, it grows in its capacity to know pain. The two go hand in hand. What, then, shall we do with disappointment? We can be our own enemy, depending on how we handle the heartache that comes with desire. To want is to suffer; the word passion means to suffer. This is why many Christians are reluctant to listen to their hearts: They know that their dullness is keeping them from feeling the pain of life. Many of us have chosen simply not to want so much; it's safer that way. It's also godless. That's stoicism, not Christianity. Sanctification is an awakening, the rousing of our souls from the dead sleep of sin into the fullness of their capacity for life.

Desire often feels like an enemy, because it wakes longings that cannot be fulfilled in the moment. In the words of T. S. Eliot,

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire. (The Waste Land )

Spring awakens a desire for the summer that is not yet. Awakened souls are often disappointed, but our disappointment can lead us onward, actually increasing our desire and lifting it toward its true passion.

 

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04/07/ 2014

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

The first line grabs me by the throat. "Therefore we do not lose heart." Somebody knows how not to lose heart? I'm all ears. For we are losing heart. All of us. Daily. It is the single most unifying quality shared by the human race on the planet at this time. We are losing—or we have already lost—heart. That glorious, resilient image of God in us is fading, fading, fading away. And this man claims to know a way out.

So, how, Paul—how? How do we not lose heart?

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. (2 Cor. 4:18)

What? I let out a sigh of disappointment. Now that's helpful. "Look at what you cannot see." That sounds like Eastern mysticism, that sort of wispy wisdom dripping in spirituality but completely inapplicable to our lives. Life is an illusion. Look at what you cannot see. What can this mean? Remembering that a little humility can take me a long way, I give it another go. This wise old seer is saying that there is a way of looking at life, and that those who discover it are able to live from the heart no matter what. How do we do this? By seeing with the eyes of the heart. Later in life, writing from prison to some friends he was deeply concerned about, Paul said, "I pray . . . that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened" (Eph. 1:18).

 

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04/06/ 2014

But far and above the most revealing aspect of anyone’s character is how he handles people. Friends, I hope you understand this—the way a person handles others is the acid test of his true nature. How is Jesus with people? What’s he like to be around?

One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.” After laying hands on them, he left. (Matthew 19:13–14 TM)

A simple story, very Sunday school. But we’ve made a precious moment out of it, and thus missed both the reality and the beauty. Our church held a meeting last week, and apparently child care wasn’t available, because the little ones were dashing up and down the halls and, once in a while, in and through the middle of the gathering. Most people tried to put a good face on it, but after several interruptions, you could feel the irritation. The mood shifted from How cute at the first interruption, to That’s enough of that at the third, to, Little nuisance—where are your parents? by romp number five. I indulged in the irritation myself. This is at the core of human nature, this thing in us that growls, Do not mess with my program. Do not get in my way. If you aren’t aware how deep this runs in you, how do you feel when people cut in the line at the market or the movies, cut you off on the highway, make it difficult for you to get your job done, or make it impossible for you to get some sleep? What angers us is almost always some version of You are making my life even harder than it already is. Get out of the way.

Not Jesus. He welcomes intrusion.

 

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04/05/ 2014

This is the world [God] has made. This is the world that is still going on. And he doesn't walk away from the mess we've made of it. Now he lives, almost cheerfully, certainly heroically, in a dynamic relationship with us and with our world. "Then the Lord intervened" is perhaps the single most common phrase about him in Scripture, in one form or another. Look at the stories he writes. There's the one where the children of Israel are pinned against the Red Sea, no way out, with Pharaoh and his army barreling down on them in murderous fury. Then God shows up. There's Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who get rescued only after they're thrown into the fiery furnace. Then God shows up. He lets the mob kill Jesus, bury him . . . then he shows up. Do you know why God loves writing such incredible stories? Because he loves to come through. He loves to show us that he has what it takes.

It's not the nature of God to limit his risks and cover his bases. Far from it. Most of the time, he actually lets the odds stack up against him. Against Goliath, a seasoned soldier and a trained killer, he sends . . . a freckle-faced little shepherd kid with a slingshot. Most commanders going into battle want as many infantry as they can get. God cuts Gideon's army from thirty-two thousand to three hundred. Then he equips the ragtag little band that's left with torches and watering pots. It's not just a battle or two that God takes his chances with, either. Have you thought about his handling of the gospel? God needs to get a message out to the human race, without which they will perish . . . forever. What's the plan? First, he starts with the most unlikely group ever: a couple of prostitutes, a few fishermen with no better than a second-grade education, a tax collector. Then, he passes the ball to us. Unbelievable.

 

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04/04/ 2014

Let me pause at this point and ask you a question: What are you repenting of? I mean, right now, this week, what is it that you are repenting of these days?

If you don’t have a ready answer, how can you be taking holiness seriously?

If your answer focuses on something external, what about the matters of the heart behind it?

It’s worth a pause.

 

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04/03/ 2014

Believing God is good in the midst of waiting is incredibly hard. Believing God is good in the midst of immense sorrow, loss, or pain is even more difficult. Those are the times that our faith, the treasure of our hearts, is tested by fire and becomes gold. What we come to know of God and the terrain he comes to inhabit in our hearts through the trial leads people to say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” That’s the crazy, supernatural realm of God. 

I know that there have been many times when God didn’t answer your prayers in the way you wanted or in the timing you wanted. But what he did in the end was far better. Even if the “far better” was your coming to depend on him more deeply through the travail. 

All of us are living lives that are wondrous and filled with heartaches. That is real. I can only imagine what you are living in … waiting for … longing for … weeping for. Holding on to your faith for. I know what I am living in. Gold is being forged. Priceless, immeasurable gold. To paraphrase Philip Yancey: faith believes ahead of time what can only be seen by looking back. There will come a day when we will look back and understand. But in the waiting, may God strengthen our hearts to hold on to his.

 
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04/02/ 2014

You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want. (John 5:39–40 The Message)

The promise of life and the invitation to desire has again been lost beneath a pile of religious teachings that put the focus on knowledge and performance.

History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned only with how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being and its effects. Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is now presented as the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally. (The Divine Conspiracy)

Thus Willard describes the gospels we have today as “gospels of sin management.” Sin is the bottom line, and we have the cure. Typically, it is a system of knowledge or performance, or a mixture of both. Those in the knowledge camp put the emphasis on getting our doctrine in line. Right belief is seen as the means to life. Desire is irrelevant; content is what matters. But notice this—the Pharisees knew more about the Bible than most of us ever will, and it hardened their hearts. Knowledge just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you are familiar with the biblical narrative, you will remember that there were two special trees in Eden—the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. We got the wrong tree. We got knowledge, and it hasn’t done us much good.

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04/01/ 2014

Some years into our spiritual journey, after the waves of anticipation that mark the beginning of any pilgrimage have begun to ebb into life's middle years of service and busyness, a voice speaks to us in the midst of all we are doing. There is something missing in all of this, it suggests. There is something more.

The voice often comes in the middle of the night or the early hours of morning, when our hearts are most unedited and vulnerable. At first, we mistake the source of this voice and assume it is just our imagination. We fluff up our pillow, roll over, and go back to sleep. Days, weeks, even months go by and the voice speaks to us again: Aren't you thirsty? Listen to your heart. There is something missing.

We listen and we are aware of . . . a sigh. And under the sigh is something dangerous, something that feels adulterous and disloyal to the religion we are serving. We sense a passion deep within; it feels reckless, wild.

We tell ourselves that this small, passionate voice is an intruder who has gained entry because we have not been diligent enough in practicing our religion. Our pastor seems to agree with this assessment and exhorts us from the pulpit to be more faithful. We try to silence the voice with outward activity, redoubling our efforts at Christian service. We join a small group and read a book on establishing a more effective prayer life. We train to be part of a church evangelism team. We tell ourselves that the malaise of spirit we feel even as we step up our religious activity is a sign of spiritual immaturity, and we scold our heart for its lack of fervor.

Sometime later, the voice in our heart dares to speak to us again, more insistently this time. Listen to me—there is something missing in all this. You long to be in a love affair, an adventure. You were made for something more. You know it.

 

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03/31/ 2014

Personally, I find one of the most startling things Jesus says tucked away at the end of the fourteenth chapter of John. He is preparing his closest friends (and soon-to-be-successors) for his departure. They still don’t believe or don’t want to believe he’s leaving. Here is what Jesus says to them (and to us):

"Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27)

Wait—do not let your heart be troubled? I thought to myself, We have a choice? We let our hearts be troubled? I’ve always assumed it was the other way around—that trouble strikes in some form or other, and our hearts simply respond by being troubled. I’ll bet this is how you look at it, too. Trouble descends upon you: your house is robbed, your daughter gets pregnant, you lose your job. In that moment are you thinking, "This doesn’t have to take me out. I’m not going to let my heart be troubled. No way". We think “troubled heart” is unavoidable, appropriate even. But Jesus is talking about his coming torture, his death, and, following that, his departure from them. On a scale of personal crises, this is a ten. Yet he says, don’t let your hearts be troubled.

Friends, this is important.

You have a say in what your heart gives way to.

 
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