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Daily Reading History

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04/24/ 2014

The poet Yeats wrote,

If I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror
No vanity's displayed:
I'm looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.
("Before the World Was Made" from the poem "A Woman Young and Old")

Yes, that's it. When we take a second glance in the mirror, when you pause to look again at a photograph, we are looking for a glory you know you were meant to have, if only because you know you long to have it. You remember faintly that you were once more than what you have become. Your story didn't start with sin, and thank God, it does not end with sin. It ends with glory restored: "Those he justified, he also glorified" (Rom. 8:30). And "in the meantime," you have been transformed, and you are being transformed. You've been given a new heart. Now God is restoring your glory. He is bringing you fully alive. Because the glory of God is you fully alive.

"Well, then, if this is all true, why don't I see it?" Precisely. Exactly. Now we are reaching my point. The fact that you do not see your good heart and your glory is only proof of how effective the assault has been. We don't see ourselves clearly.

 

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04/23/ 2014

We're certainly warned about forgetfulness in Scripture, both in word and by example. In the Old Testament, the pattern is so predictable, we come to expect it. God delivers his people from the cruel whips of Egypt by a stunning display of his power and his care—the plagues, the Passover, the Red Sea. The Israelites celebrate with singing and dancing. Three days later, they are complaining about the water supply. God provides sweet water from the bitter desert springs of Marah. They complain about the food. God drops breakfast out of the sky, every morning. Then it's the water again. God provides it from a rock. Enemies attack; God delivers. On and on it goes, for forty years. As they stand on the brink of the Promised Land, God issues a final warning:

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. (Deut. 4:9,emphasis added)

They do, of course, let it slip from their hearts. All of it. This becomes the pattern for the entire history of Israel. God shows up; he does amazing things; the people rejoice. Then they forget and go whoring after other gods. They fall under calamity and cry out for deliverance. God shows up; he does amazing things; the people rejoice—you get the picture. Things aren't changed much in the New Testament, but the contrast is greater, and the stakes are even higher. God shows up in person, and before he leaves, he gives us the sacraments along with this plea: Do this to remember me. They don't—remember him, that is. Paul is "shocked" by the Galatians: they are "turning away so soon from God, who in his love and mercy called you to share the eternal life he gives through Christ" (1:6 NLT). He has to send Timothy to the Corinthians, to "remind you of what I teach about Christ Jesus in all the churches wherever I go" (1 Cor. 4:17 NLT).

(Desire , 200)

 

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04/22/ 2014

Most Christians desire very deeply to be known as gracious, kind, patient, and forgiving. We feel we “owe” it to Jesus to be seen on our best behavior. This is even truer for those of us in “the ministry,” whose lives are publicly attached to Jesus. Now, some of the motivation behind this is beautiful (we’ll look at the rest in a moment). We know how horribly religion has distorted the world’s view of God, and we want very much to gain a hearing for Jesus, so we go to great lengths to reassure the wary that those aligned with Jesus are really great people. In fact, nowadays most Christian leaders bend over backward to come across as very cool and hip and in no way whatsoever judgmental or condemning. It’s the new PR campaign for Jesus.

The problem is, in our efforts to be good poster children for Christianity, we have sort of hidden or left off this other side of Jesus’ personality. The man is dead serious about holiness.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (Matthew 23:25–26)

I would love to have heard his tone of voice, seen the expression on his face. I think we can be fairly confident that when Jesus thundered, “Woe to you,” everyone just about peed their pants. And what is the issue here? Shallow holiness. Faking it. Ignoring the deeper issues of the soul. As far as Jesus is concerned, holiness is a matter of the heart. “Clean the inside of the cup and dish, and the outside will be cleaned as well.” The model of personal transformation that Christianity offers is internal to external. It’s a transformation of the heart, the mind, the will, the soul—which then begins to express itself externally in our actions. This is absolutely critical in order to understand Jesus and his genuine goodness.

 

(The Utter Relief of Holiness, pg. 49-51, Chapter 4)

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04/21/ 2014

Mary was frantic: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:2).

She saw a man, assumed he was the gardener, and asked him if he had taken the body. And then Jesus revealed himself to her simply by saying her name, “Mary” (v. 16). Her response? She fell at his feet and worshipped him. Mary forever has the honor of being the first person to worship the risen and victorious Lord. 

Mary Magdalene was a worshipper. She had been healed and delivered of much, and she loved Jesus thoroughly. She followed him. She gave her complete focus. She gave her resources. She gave her heart. She gave her unconditional surrender. 

This is what Jesus most longs for. He’s not panting after your sacrifice or even your obedience. He doesn’t need your money. He doesn’t need your gifting. Oh but he wants your heart. He longs for your love. Our adoration is the one thing we possess that he cannot claim without our offering it to him.

 
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04/20/ 2014

Here’s something I think most people have never seen before. This moment takes place on Easter morning. Jesus of Nazareth has been systematically tortured and then hung by his hands and feet from timbers. He died, and his body quickly laid in a borrowed tomb. But early Sunday morning, the event that changed the history of mankind took place without even a single witness: Jesus was raised from the dead. If it were you, whom would you want to show yourself to first?

He appears first, and privately, to Mary Magdalene.

Mary. This is an incredibly beautiful scene. There must have been something particularly sweet and deep in their relationship for Jesus to have chosen her as the first person he wanted to speak to after coming back to life. And it is this—Jesus’ ability to have intimate relationships with single women—that is really striking. His capacity to engage the opposite sex with absolute integrity and utter fearlessness is incredible. We’ve had presidents who couldn’t be trusted on this front for two minutes; it has been the snare of many a pastor as well. As a result, there is a good deal of fear and awkwardness between men and women who are not married to each other. Especially in the Church. But Jesus is showing that it needn’t even be an issue. Wow!

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04/19/ 2014

If the way to avoid the murderous rage and deceptive allures of desire is to kill it, if deadness is next to godliness, then Jesus had to be the deadest person ever. But he is called the living God. "It is a dreadful thing," the writer of Hebrews says, "to fall into the hands of the living God . . . For our 'God is a consuming fire'" (10:31; 12:29). And what is this consuming fire? His jealous love (Deut. 4:24). God is a deeply, profoundly passionate person. Zeal consumes him. It is the secret of his life, the writer of Hebrews says. The "joy set before him" enabled Jesus to endure the agony of the Cross (Heb. 12:2). In other words, his profound desire for something greater sustained him at the moment of his deepest trial. We cannot hope to live like him without a similar depth of passion. Many people find that the dilemma of desire is too much to live with, and so they abandon, they disown their desire. This is certainly true of a majority of Christians at present. Somehow we believe that we can get on without it. We are mistaken.

 

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04/18/ 2014

Jesus ran because he wanted to, not simply because he had to or because the Father told him to. He ran "for the joy set before him," which means he ran out of desire. To use the familiar phrase, his heart was fully in it. We call the final week of our Savior's life his Passion Week. Look at the depth of his desire, the fire in his soul. Consumed with passion, he clears the temple of the charlatans who have turned his Father's house into a swap meet (Matt. 21:12). Later, he stands looking over the city that was to be his bride but now lies in the bondage of her adulteries and the oppression of her taskmasters. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem," he cries, ". . . how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing" (Matt. 23:37, emphasis added). As the final hours of his greatest struggle approach, his passion intensifies. He gathers with his closest friends like a condemned criminal sitting down to his last meal. He alone knows what is about to unfold. "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you," he says, "before I suffer" (Luke 22:15, emphasis added). Then on he presses, through the intensity of Gethsemane and the passion of the Cross. Is it possible he went through any of it halfheartedly?

 

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04/17/ 2014

We exercise because we want to grow stronger; we take vitamins in the hope of being healthy; we attend language classes expecting to learn a new language. We travel for adventure; we work in the hope of prospering; we love partly in the hope of being loved. So why Christianity? What is the effect Christianity is intended to have upon a person who becomes a Christian, seeks to live as a Christian?

The way you answer that question is mighty important. Your beliefs about this will shape your convictions about nearly everything else. It will shape your understanding of the purpose of the Gospel; it will shape your understanding of what you believe God is up to in a person’s life. The way you answer this one question will shape your thoughts about church and community, service and justice, prayer and worship. It is currently shaping the way you interpret your experiences and your beliefs about your relationship with God.

What is Christianity supposed to do to a person?

 

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04/16/ 2014

Jesus longs for you to come close to him. And he has been moving throughout all eternity, battling, suffering, dying, and triumphing to win your heart for himself. He wants to capture your heart as a response to his overwhelming love for you. 

Mary Magdalene knew this. Jesus wants us to know it too.

It wasn’t merely a coincidence that Jesus revealed himself first to Mary Magdalene. She didn’t just bump into him as he was walking out of the tomb. He wasn’t simply still in the neighborhood. The risen Savior is no longer bound by the constraints of time and space. The resurrected Jesus walks through walls. He appears and disappears suddenly. Jesus chose to appear to Mary first. He chose her. Why?

Is his heart not drawn to the hearts of those who love him?

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04/15/ 2014

Life is not a list of propositions, it is a series of dramatic scenes. As Eugene Peterson said, “We live in narrative, we live in story. Existence has a story shape to it. We have a beginning and an end, we have a plot, we have characters.” Story is the language of the heart. Our souls speak not in the naked facts of mathematics or the abstract propositions of systematic theology; they speak the images and emotions of story. Contrast your enthusiasm for studying a textbook with the offer to go to a movie, read a novel, or listen to the stories of someone else’s life. Elie Wiesel suggests that “God created man because he loves stories.” So if we’re going to find the answer to the riddle of the earth—and of our own existence—we’ll find it in story.

For hundreds of years, our culture has been losing its story. The Enlightenment dismissed the idea that there is an Author but tried to hang on to the idea that we could still have a Larger Story, life could still make sense, and everything was headed in a good direction. Western culture rejected the mystery and transcendence of the Middle Ages and placed its confidence in pragmatism and progress, the pillars of the Modern Era, the Age of Reason. But once we had rid ourselves of the Author, it didn’t take long to lose the Larger Story. In the Postmodern Era, all we have left are our small stories. The central belief of our times is that there is no story, nothing hangs together, all we have are bits and pieces, the random days of our lives. Tragedy still brings us to tears and heroism still lifts our hearts, but there is no context for any of it. Life is just a sequence of images and emotions without rhyme or reason.

So, what are we left to do? Create our own story line to bring some meaning to our experiences. Our heart is made to live in a Larger Story; having lost that we do the best we can by developing our own smaller dramas.

 

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