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Daily Reading History

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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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04/14/ 2014

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17:24–27)

 

Peter has taken an enormous risk hitching his wagon to Jesus. The little band of minstrels have passed the raised-eyebrows stage and are about to enter the period of opposition to Christ—the pitchforks-and-torches stage. Peter is confronted by the elders of his own village with a troubling question. He comes into the house visibly shaken, and sees his master standing at the counter chopping vegetables. There is a moment of silence, while the pang of doubt shoots through his mind: Perhaps the Master is not as righteous as we thought; he does not seem to keep the Law. Jesus does not look up; he simply says, “What do you think, Simon . . . ?”

 

“Peter, I’ll tell you what I need you to do. . . .” He sends the fisherman fishing. He gives him time to sort things out. He shows him there are higher laws to live by. Jesus has a sense of humor. Without a deep confidence in that, the story is simply bizarre. But with that understanding, it is a beautiful and very human and also immensely funny story. The fruit of which is only to make us love him more.

 

(Beautiful Outlaw, 34, 35, 36)

 

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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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