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Daily Reading History

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04/13/ 2014

Lately, the surge is toward “justice Christianity”—intervening to prevent human trafficking or slavery, caring for indigenous cultures or for the planet itself. And it is right and it is wrong. My goodness, yes, of course God cares about justice. But to be frank, it is actually not the central theme of the Bible. Christianity isn’t simply a religious version of the Peace Corps.

All of these “camps” are Christianity—sort of. Like elevator music is music—sort of. Like veggie burgers are hamburgers—sort of. Think gas fireplaces, wax fruit, frozen burritos. They look like the real thing, but…

It all comes down to this: What is Christianity supposed to do to a person?

"Long before he laid down earth’s foundations God had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love to be made whole and holy with his love." (Ephesians 1:4 TM)

God is restoring the creation he made. What you see in Jesus is what he is after in you. This is a really core assumption. Your belief about this will affect the rest of your life.

 

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04/12/ 2014

A curious warning is given to us in Peter's first epistle. There he tells us to be ready to give the reason for the hope that lies within us to everyone who asks (3:15). Now, what's strange about that passage is this: no one ever asks. When was the last time someone stopped you to inquire about the reason for the hope that lies within you? You're at the market, say, in the frozen food section. A friend you haven't seen for some time comes up to you, grasps you by both shoulders and pleads, "Please, you've got to tell me. Be honest now. How can you live with such hope? Where does it come from? I must know the reason." In talking with hundreds of Christians, I've met only one or two who have experienced something like this.

Yet God tells us to be ready, so what's wrong? To be blunt, nothing about our lives is worth asking about. There's nothing intriguing about our hopes, nothing to make anyone curious. Not that we don't have hopes; we do. We hope we'll have enough after taxes this year to take a summer vacation. We hope our kids don't wreck the car. We hope our favorite team goes to the World Series. We hope our health doesn't give out, and so on. Nothing wrong with any of those hopes; nothing unusual, either. Everyone has hopes like that, so why bother asking us? It's life as usual. Sanctified resignation has become the new abiding place of contemporary Christians. No wonder nobody asks. Do you want the life of any Christian you know?

 

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04/11/ 2014

It seems that much of what Christians believe they are called to these days is a cluster of activities that include regular church attendance, Bible study, prayer, giving, concern for justice, and attending the annual men or women’s retreat. Now—what is all that activity for? What are those things supposed to do to us, or in us? If it’s not restoring the whole man, it may not be in line with what God is doing. Because that’s clearly what he’s up to. Back to Jesus’ argument with the Pharisees. He says,

“These peoples’ heart has become callused. They hardly hear with their ears. They have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.”

Do you hear the offer? Do you see what he is so upset about? They have completely missed the point of what God is up to, what he is after in a person’s life: to heal him as a human being. This is so essential to your view of the Gospel and your own approach to Christianity. Really—it will shape your convictions about everything else.

 

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(The Utter Relief of Holiness, pg. 14-15, Chapter 1)

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04/10/ 2014

Rescuing the human heart is the hardest mission in the world.

The dilemma of the Story is this: we don't know if we want to be rescued. We are so enamored with our small stories and our false gods, we are so bound up in our addictions and our self-centeredness and take-it-for-granted unbelief that we don't even know how to cry out for help. And the Evil One has no intention of letting his captives walk away scot-free. He seduces us, deceives us, assaults us—whatever it takes to keep us in darkness.

Like a woman bound to an affair from which she cannot get free, like a man so corrupted he no longer knows his own name, the human race is captive in the worst way possible—we are captives of the heart.

Their hearts are always going astray. (Hebrews 3:10)

God is filled with the jealousy of a wounded lover. He has been betrayed time and again.

The challenge God faces is rescuing a people who have no idea how captive they are; no real idea how desperate they are. We know we long for Eden, but we hesitate to give ourselves back to God in abandoned trust. We are captivated by the lies of our Enemy.

But God has something up his sleeve.

 

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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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