Stoics in the Pews

Bust of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was an adherent to Stoicism

Right now my Bible Fellowship Group is going through the book of Philippians. I love this book. The way the Gospel permeates each theme and how Paul masterfully weaves it into every day life is brilliantly life-changing. We are at the point in our study where all the different themes Paul has mentioned are being brought together. Philippians 4:8-9 will be our text this Sunday.

In order to prepare properly for this week’s lesson, I quickly discovered that I was going to have to do some extra reading. Paul was not just listing random virtuous characteristics to which he wanted the Philippians to conform. No, Paul is engaging in a little contextualization by borrowing terms and ideas from the popular moral philosophy of the day: Stoicism.

I had a general idea about what Stoics believed (something about controlling emotions…hence our English word “stoic”), but in my reading, what I discovered was that despite this moral philosophy being over two millennia old, it’s over-arching view of reality (dare I say it’s metanarrative) still holds much weight in our world. What I discovered fascinated me, but also caused me to pause. I paused because I fear our church pews are filled with Stoics.

A quick and dirty summary of what the Stoics believed was that there is an absolute reality, a divine reason (the logos) that governs the world. Stoics were deterministic, meaning that they believed life was pre-determined for them. The goal of man was to discover and live inline with the plan of the logos. This is the highest virtue and the path to happiness. Self-control was highly valued. For to be consumed by emotions (anger, lust, envy, etc.), was to cloud your understanding of the logos. And if you didn’t understand and live in line with the logos, you would suffer. Suffering was to be avoided at all cost, because suffering said something about you. Either you were ignorant of the logos, or rebelling against the logos. The Stoic believed that it was only the virtuous man who was free. The wicked man was a slave. He desired things contrary to the logos. One stoic described the wicked man as dog tied to a cart, forced to go where ever the cart went. But the virtuous man had bent his will inline with the logos. Thus his will was the same as the logos.

It was at this point that I was utterly fascinated and utterly concerned. I was fascinated, because the parallels to Christianity are so close. They got some things right. But as the old cliché goes, close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. I became utterly concerned because, since the Stoic view is so very close to Christianity, many who fill the pews each Sunday morning have bought into this way of thinking and living without ever realizing it. They have been conformed to this world and think they’re conforming to Christ.

This stoicism manifests itself in two ways in the modern day church. The first is in the pursuit of the mysterious will of God. This past fall, I had the privilege of leading a small group discussion on the book Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. The book was dealing with the modern fascination when it comes to God’s will. The fascination borders on obsession to the point of paralyzation. We desire so much to do God’s will that choices become almost an impossible burden. Who you marry, what college and major, where you live and attend church become unbearable weights that crush us into doing nothing or changing our mind every other day. Because if you pick the wrong thing, you have just missed God’s best. You will be less happy because you somehow missed the mysterious will of God. This mindset wreaks of Stoicism like two-week old guacamole in the trash can (someone remind me to take out my trash later). Our Stoicism goes even deeper. The Stoics preached self-discipline to avoid the hazy understanding of the logos that emotions brought and some Christians will preach the exact same thing. Moralism becomes a means by which we get from God that which we want. We believe that moral living is in line with God and to know his will more clearly, we must live morally. Yet, the Gospel paints a much different picture.  The will of God is not mysterious (at least his will of desire or will of command). How we are to live is quite clear. God did not leave us groping for what it means to live in harmony with Him. Instead, He acted. He intervened. Jesus came, lived a life we could not live, died a death we should have died and has brought us into harmony with the Father. Do you want to live in harmony with the over-arching reality of this world? Embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For there is no other way to achieve it. Moral effort will bring no greater clarity. Moral effort will not bring you happiness. Moral effort will only deepen the brokenness of your relationship with God of the universe. The great paradox of the Christian Gospel is that only in abandoning moral effort as a means to salvation will you become a moral person. The abandonment of self is the only way to save self. The Gospel undermines and overthrows Stoic notions of living in line with the logos.

The second way  Stoicism manifests itself in the church is in regards to suffering. Too many Christians have embraced the idea that if they live a moral life or go to church every Sunday or read their Bible on occasion, they have obliged God to bless them. They are living in harmony with the logos. Therefore they ought to be blessed, to be happy, to be wealthy. Yet, they find themselves suffering. They find that the more they try to perform, the harder that life gets. Before long, they can take it no more. They go before the throne of God and vomit up complaint after complaint. They grumble, they murmur, they question the value of their fidelity to Him. All the while, they prove themselves aligned not with the reality that governs this world, but with a counter-reality. They are aligned on the side of the serpent, just as their fore-fathers were in the wilderness. Again, the Gospel teaches us something completely different. Suffering is not a sign that we are somehow out of line with the Father. No, sometimes suffering is the very mark of being completely in line with the Father. The greatest example of this is the passion of Jesus. The passion here refers to his suffering and death. Passion is what the Stoics refused. It is what they ran from with all their might. Yet, Jesus, Son of God,  the very Logos Himself, embraces His passion. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising it’s shame. Those who love the Gospel are those who embrace their suffering. Because to lose one’s life is the only way to gain it again. We fear not death, for we will be raised again, just as Jesus was resurrected on the third day. Self-sacrifice, not self-discipline becomes the priority.

What I find so brilliantly life-changing about Philippians 4:8, is that Paul clearly understood that there is only one thing that can kill the little Stoic that lives in all of us. That one thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Dwelling on it’s depth, it’s width, it’s height is a task for which we will be engaged for all of eternity, for it will continue to surpass our understanding. We will never exhaust the Gospel. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has worked such a marvelous salvation on our behalf.

 

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
(Philippians 4:8 ESV)
~sdg

A Modern Day Devourer of Widows

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Luke 20:46-21:6


I have blogged previously about this section of Luke, but I feel the need to revisit it’s ramifications, especially in light of the “Restoring Honor” rally held in Washington, D.C. this past weekend.

In the weeks leading up to this rally, Glenn Beck (Fox News commentator and talk radio host) has been asking for donations to help offset the cost of putting on the rally. Any funds raised over and above the need for the rally would be diverted to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (quite a worthy cause). During this fund raising drive, someone sent Beck 8¢. Eight pennies in a plastic baggy. It was all this person could afford to send in. They were desperate to contribute to this rally.

As I listened to Beck this morning (I prefer hearing it straight from the horses mouth, rather than edited news stories), he relayed a story about how the 8¢ sent in inspired thousands more to give and helped cover an unforeseen expense that had arisen. It was a miracle, according to Beck.

I have felt very uneasy about Beck’s calls to “return to God.” Beck is a mormon. As much as the Latter-Day Saints would like to claim it, they are not Christians. They do not serve the God of the Bible. So to what god are we to return? From what I’ve heard from Beck, it seems to be whatever god we desire (as long as they are from the Judeo-Christian heritage). Rabbis, priests and pastors were all present at Beck’s rally. Beck’s call to return to god is a generic call. And the sad thing is, the very Enemy he claims to be fighting against, is just fine with the generic god-talk.

Does morality really scare Satan? I don’t think so. Why else would he offer all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if only Jesus would bow to him? What greater coupe could the Enemy complete than to have all the world distracted by their morality, only to face eternal judgment? A call to morality is simply a call to save yourself in the opposite direction. The immoral try to save themselves by breaking the Law. The moral try to save themselves by keeping the Law. Both will fail. Both will be destroyed.

Another reason I think the Enemy is fine with the generic god/morality talk is that those types of people tend to have a more difficult road to salvation. The hooker on the street corner knows she’s of lowly estate. The average pew-sitter with shined shoes and a pressed shirt and a respectable job is less likely to suddenly come to the knowledge of his lowly estate. It’s easier for our average pew-sitter to be self-righteous than the hooker. And it’s easier for the hooker to see her need of grace than our average pew-sitter. I’ve heard it said before that you must get a person lost, before you can get them saved. An acute knowledge of your own sinfulness is necessary before one will call out for Jesus.

To what is Glenn Beck calling the nation? He is calling them to return to morality. To trust in the goodness of people. Glenn Beck is calling people to trust in another savior…themselves. While he would deny it, that is the end of his generic god-talk. While he would deny it, he is devouring widow’s houses. He tempts them to trust in something other than Jesus. The temple of moralism and self-righteousness will fall one day. Not one stone will be left upon another. Yet, the Kingdom of Jesus will continue its expanse until the day He returns to consummate His rule and authority over all the earth.

Our only hope is Jesus Christ. His blood-soaked cross is the only way we can be saved. Our religious works are not enough. Only Jesus.

~sdg

The Power of Godliness

“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying it’s power…” 2 Timothy 3:2-5

That is quite a list. Sounds like our world today, doesn’t it? Ever noticed how disobedience to parents is on the same level as abusive or reckless…I guess Paul wanted to drive home a point…we are all guilty. The phrase that really stuck out to me was “having the appearance of godliness, but denying it’s power…” What about godliness requires the acknowledgment and use of power? Have you ever thought about godliness as a power source? Why does godliness need to be powerful? How is it powerful? These are interesting questions. Perhaps we should answer the how first. The power that godliness provides is the power to be godly. How does this work? Our godliness only comes from one source, that being Jesus, the Son of God. Our godliness, and therefore, the power to remain godly, is through our connection to Jesus Christ. He used an analogy of a vine and it’s branches. Jesus is the vine; we are the branches. We receive our strength, our power to produce fruit from Him. Our godliness is not our own. We receive is from Jesus. So then, the good fruit we bear (godliness) is dependent upon its power received from the vine (Jesus). Without the power we would not and could not be godly. The answer to the why question becomes self-evident. There must be a power within godliness, or ultimately, we would not be godly.
So what was Paul getting at? If one can’t be godly without the powerful connection of Christ, what was he condemning? Notice that Paul uses the word “appearance”. The greek the word is morphosis. I’ve decided I do not like the translation here. The word means form or semblance. I think a better rendering would be “having a semblance of godliness…” Now my reason for this is the definition of semblance. It means to appear to be something in form when reality is something different. That’s what Paul meant here. Most likely, appearance is chosen over semblance, simply because more people know what appearance means than they do semblance. However, I think semblance is a more precise rendering of the text. Paul was trying to emphatically state that their godliness was merely external. It is very possible that Paul is saying the same thing Jesus did when he challenged the Pharisees. Repeatedly, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, using strong words at times. The reason for the rebukes was their blatant hypocrisy. He called them “white-washed tombs“, “blind guides” and “brood of vipers.” He admonished them to “clean the inside of the cup.” The problem with the Pharisees was that their hearts were dirty and disconnected from God. They had a semblance of godliness. The externals were more or less there. But Jesus knew their hearts. They did not believe in Him. They denied the very power by which they might be truly righteous…truly godly.
This is what Paul is getting at. There will be a time (and I believe, is now here), that people will show the external acts. They will appear to be godly. They will perform these acts to be seen as godly…not because they are. They will love the praise of man over the praise of God. They will have denied the true power source and become a sham and a hypocrite.
May it never be said of us that we had a semblance of godliness. Let us be godly. Let us hold fast to the one power who can change us and make us godly. Hold fast to Jesus and you will never be left powerless!
~sdg

The Death of Me

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. – Galatians 2:20-21

O wretched man that I am. Thanks be to God that I do not achieve the righteousness required for salvation on my own. I am utterly in capable. My flesh constantly wars against me. The battle is fresh and the conflict is heavy. Every day, the war rages on. I am so thankful for Paul’s letters. In the very moment I need encouragement or rebuke, the words of God recorded b Paul are of great help. I see two things in this passage that bring me strenght.

First, my debt has been paid in full. I was crucified with Christ. In God’s court, the condemned has been punished. His justice has been satisfied. Since I am not dead, this current life lived in my corrupt flesh is lived in utter dependence on Christ. He is what sustains me as I go about my daily activities. I am sturck by to implications from this truth. First being that my life is not my own. Paul explicitly states this when he said that we are not our own, we’ve been bought with a price. We are to glorify God in our bodies and lives. When I was talking with a friend of mine, he made an interesting statement. In regards to sin he simply, but emphatically stated, “I do not have the right!” That is a shocking statement in this country. America is built on rights and the free exercise there of. The culture has twisted it so taht everything is a right, everything is deserved. Sadly, the church has adopted this mindset to a large degree. What would our battles with sin look lik if when tempted, we screamed out “I have no rights!!”? My rights, my will, my volition, my life were all killed on the cross. I am not my own. I am a slave of God, purchased to do His good woks in the world. The second implication is that we daily need communion with God. We must be in constatn communication with our life source. If we fail at this point, we will fail in the other. Without feeding the truth of God into our souls, we will grow tired and wak, unable to figh the temptation. We are beauty starved. We settle for the imposter beauty of sin instaead of the genuine, deep beauty offered by the Word of God. In gazing pon the beauty of Christ, we receive life to our dead bodies, life to do and be all God has called us to.

The second truth I see is that I do not nullify God’s grace! There are going to be days when I do not live as though it’s Christ living in me. I am going to ract and to struggle and I will fail at some point. What do we do then? I think that’s why Paul included this verse as the last line in the paragraph. He lays out the ideal in verse 20. The ideal is a daily, striving communion with God that allows Christ to dwell and control our daily lives. But what happens when we fall short (as we all have)? Paul answers it clearly! We do no nullify God’s grace! Our actions, for good or evil do not affect our righteous standing before God. Jesus fulfilled the whole law perfectly. That perfection has been imputed upon me. The doctring is called substitionary atonement. Christ was our subsititute and he has made atonement for our sins. This is the essence of the gospel. Men no longer have to earn their salvation. In fact, they can’t! All they must do is turn to Jesus and in Him, their lives of rebellion are forgiven and not only are they forgiven, they are declared righteous. Holy, perfect, co-heirs and co-reigners with Christ! Martin Luther called it the “Great Exchange”, our sin for His righteousness. I couldn’t think of better trade.

~sdg

Power of the Cross

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. – I Corinthians 1:17

There is something about the cross that just draws people. It is powerful in it’s draw of the elect. The last half of the first chapter of I Corinthians is all about the cross and its affect on people. It is very peculiar how some peopel respond to the cross. According to Paul, there are three responses to the cross from three types of people.

First, the Jew sees the cross as offensive. Paul calls it a stumbling block. A crucified messiah was (and is) offensive to the orthodox Jew. They believed the Messiah would usher in true freedom for the Jewish people. A messiah who was crucified is no messiah for the Jew. The cross is a revulsion to the Jew.

Second, the Greek sees the cross as foolishness. While the gods of that day (and our day) were temperamental and moody, no Greek would ever follow a god who could be killed. What kind of god gets killed by the very people he came to save? There has been early grafiti found that depicts a man on a cross with the head of a jackass with another man below the cross worshiping. The caption reads, “Achimedes worships his god.” To the western mind, a crucified god is ludicrous.

The final group of people are simply labeled by Paul as “those who are being saved.” They represent both Jew and Greek. Their response is something of joy combined with adoration. In verse 18, Paul gives their response. It (the Cross) becomes the power of God. What an odd response. Paul says that they are called. To some people it just clicks. Something inside of them says, “Yes!” They jump at the cross and embrace it and love it. I believe this text is teaching the doctrine of unconditional election. The something that makes the cross powerful is God’s unconditional electing love. It’s not like these Jews and Greeks are some how smarter than those who reject it. In fact, Paul says that most of them were weak and lowly…that God chose them to shame the strong and puffed up. It is not man, but God who acts and works. Regardless of your thoughts on the doctrines of grace, I do believe we can coalesce around the following.

We spend too much time not preaching the cross. We have all these diversions. Fancy screens, big choirs, cool music…the list is endless. We are long on the things Paul was short on. He says in I Corinthians 2:1 that he did not use lofty speech or wisdom. He made known only Christ crucified. Paul was the greatest missionary of all time. Perhaps we should follow his lead. Didn’t Christ say he would build His church? Why do we spend so much time trying to convince people to choose something they find stupid? We try so hard to make church friendly and light, in the hope more people will come, but once their there, are they there because they love the Cross of Jesus, or because they feel good? Heaven and Hell are weighty matters. Salvation is a weighty matter. Why are most church services so light and fluffy? The implications are scary! Perhaps we should spend more time worrying about proclaiming Christ crucified. I would be willing to bet that God would grant many to come to true salvation.

Some people are just going to reject the cross. It is their nature to reject it. Why do we change everything we do to attract people into the church who reject the idea of the cross? Why do we want that? We water down the gospel and risk lulling people into a false sense of eternal security. We need to be like Paul. Let Christ build the church and just preach the cross! To those whom eternal life has been appointed will be drawn and saved.

~sdg

Unto Others

12″So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. – Matthew 7:12-14

 

I was struggling with what my devo would be this week. I haven’t had much time lately to read my book, so I had nothing new there. Well, I have my topic and I’m preaching to me. Today was an okay day. It’s Monday and cold…can’t really be that great. Towards the end of my day I found out I got blamed for a practical joke in which I did not participate. I decided to give the girl who indirectly implicated me a hard time…actually there were several of us. Turns out she really thought we were all mad at her and she started crying because she was embarrassed. I immediately felt like a giant tool (can you say “tool” in a devotion?). The group of us apologized profusely and we all had a good laugh (including the girl who was crying) about it, but I left work with a nagging feeling…or perhaps it was more like a bullhorn in the ear. Conviction was setting in. 

I think one the main reasons to memorize Scripture is so that it can be recalled to help in times of trouble. I also believe the Holy Spirit uses those memorized texts to convict us of our sin. Ephesians 5:4 was blaring in my ears:

4Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Earlier Paul writes in 4:29

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 

Wow, I have a ways to go. James does not have nice things to say about the tongue. He says it is set on fire by hell (3:6) and calls it a “restless evil, full of deadly poison (3:8).” Jesus said that out of the depths of my heart, my tongue speaks. Things are not looking good for me. I have this uncontrollable tongue, a restless evil, that is speaking from my heart. O God, save me from myself!

 

Thankfully, he has. Perhaps your saying, “JC, you were just joking. Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Now Solomon is mocking me.

18Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death 19is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” – Proverbs 26

Now I am a crazed madman reigning down death. Ugh! 

So why should you care? I think we have a tendency to mess around with people a lot. We like to screw with each other and make jokes and comments. I guess my encouragement to us would be to watch our joking. Our talk should build others up! They should not be torn down by our negative speech. Let us enter the narrow gate and treat our neighbors how we expect to be treated.

-sdg

Fruit and Salvation

There are seven guys in my life group. So we decided that each guy would have a day to share a devotion with the rest of the group. The following is my devotional. I hope that God might use it powerfully in your life.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. – Matthew 3:7-10

 

This passage was in my daily reading last week and I had planned to use it today for my devotional. I thought it was interesting that Johnny chose to talk about the well-watered tree from Psalm 1. Verse 3 of Psalm 1 says that the tree yields its fruit in season. Here we find a warning from John the Baptist to the “trees” of Jesus day regarding the fruit that they are yielding. 

As I read this I thought back to our conversation last Wednesday when we talked about how good fruit is something that comes out naturally. Good trees produce good fruit. Bad trees produce bad fruit. To remind ourselves what I mean by fruit, let’s look at Galatians 5:22-24:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

 

So that leaves me with a question. How do fallen, depraved and sinful people produce good fruit? We know that our human nature is bad, it is for sin, according to Galatians 5:17.

17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

 

Ephesians 2 is more explicit:

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

 

So how do bad trees produce good fruit? They become good trees.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17


and

3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into hismother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of theSpirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:3-8

 

There is a fundamental change. The word Paul uses is Metmorphoo. Which is where we get the English word metamorphosis. We go from ground crawling worms to winged butterfly. We are completely changed.

I believe there are many implications behind this. The first being that the modern western church is in trouble. Many who attend it’s services on the weekend are not saved. They are churched, not changed (if I can quote Jon Weece). And church (used in its generic Sunday morning service sense) will not save you. If anything, it will make you a mean spirited, closed-minded fool who drags the name of Christ through the mud.

I think the second implication is that we need to watch ourselves very closely. If we do not see the fruit listed above in Galatians, we need to ask ourselves some serious, sobering questions. Daily, we should be examining ourselves, looking for fruit. Remember, the axe is laid to the root of the trees not bearing good fruit…fruit in accordance with repentance. Jesus’ words in Luke ring loud and clear:

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:34-36

 

Praying that I stand with you all on the last day,

~sdg

The God Who Is

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor the fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” – Habakkuk 3:17-19

The Lord give and the Lord takes away. Our confidence is not in the stuff we receive but in God himself. He is the ultimate source of our good. He is the ultimate means of our eternal satisfaction. God is. Everything else exists at God’s good pleasure. There is why his gifts make such poor gods. They were intended to be pointers to a greater reality. That God Himself is the ultimate gift. Money, sex, alcohol, drugs, luxury, comfort…the list is endless. The very sun that warms our planet will one day be replaced by the light shining forth from the glory of God! I sometimes wonder what heaven will be like. These verses make me think that the common answers people give miss the point of the pleasure we enjoy in this life. People think that heaven will be this cacophony of pleasure; a hedonist’s dream come true. The great (or sad) axiom of the sixties will become reality (minus any consequences): If it feels good, do it! From that, visions of everything from golf, to beaches to rivers of Chick-fil-a sweet tea have been offered up to explain what heaven is like. Very rarely do you hear anyone say, “God will be there,” or “Jesus will be there and we can worship him forever!” The modern church feels necessary to invent heavenly pleasures to interest people in perhaps choosing Jesus. Choose Jesus and play free golf for eternity (I can almost hear the jingle for “The Villages” playing). Choose Jesus and see your long dead relatives who also choose Jesus. Choose Jesus and sit on the pristine beaches of heaven sipping frozen fruity drinks (non-alcoholic of course…remember, there is no booze in heaven). It is quite ludicrous when you think about it. We are peddling heaven like a retirement community in south Florida. A place where all your worries are gone and the sun never stops shining. The church is afraid to tell people that the worship of God is continuous in heaven (that line doesn’t typically bring in the masses). Too many “christians” (and I use that term lightly) abhor the thought of an eternal worship service. Perhaps those people don’t truly understand their own sinfulness. In fact, I know they don’t. When one comes to understand even a small bit of how deep their sinfulness goes…the saving work of Christ becomes that much sweeter to the saved soul. It becomes even sweeter when the one understands that salvation is not a choosing of man, but the choosing of God.  When that light has shined forth into the heart of the elect, the idea of an eternal worship service sounds like heaven.

It is scary to think about those who chase heaven for reasons other than Jesus. Sadly, they will be among those who Jesus does not know. They will be cast aside into the eternal flames of destruction because they treasured something other than Jesus. Their god was heavenly pleasure and their reward will be hellish torment.

These verses spoken by the Holy Spirit through the prophet Habakkuk will be read at my wedding. I want to remind myself, my wife and my guests that in this moment of great joy and pleasure, that God is the true pleasure and the true joy. All these earthly things are but shadows of the joys to come. I want people to cast down their selfish, pleasure-hungry visions of heaven and embrace a God-centered vision of heaven; one in which we enjoy not his things, but God alone in all his magnificent and all-encompassing glory.

-sdg

Inclusionary Gospel

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” – Romans 15:7

I love how relevant the scripture is. No matter what circumstance, God has spoken. I’ve been having a sinful attitude as of late. I was wanting to exclude someone from my circle. I had come up with all these arguments and I was using Scripture to justify my sin. That is a scary place to be when I think about it. I want the Scriptures to inform me, not me use Scriptures out of context to meet my own ends. I am a sinful man. After I was forced to make a right decision, I was convicted that my attitude was wrong. I love it and I hate it. I love that I recognize it…there’s hope for me yet. I hate it because I am sinful. I have a very long way to go. The Gospel is inclusionary. Christ welcomed me when I was of ill repute. I have a duty to welcome others in the same manner.

O God – save me from myself and help me to learn that the Gospel is inclusionary and not exclusionary.

~sdg

The Whoredom of Idolatry

“My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore.” – Hosea 4:12

The thing that struck me, besides the graphic language, is that idolatry is a fruit sin, not root sin. God is telling me that my idolatry is the result of something. I have the spirit of whore. I have belief that what I have in God is not enough to fulfill me. Since I believe that I can fulfill myself outside of God, I seek out other things. I commit two sins. I turn my back on God an attempt to fulfill myself on other lovers.

Another thing that struck me was the irrationality of sin and idolatry. It makes no sense. Can a block of wood or a walking staff really provide us with the meaning we so desire? How stupid! The same is true of any idol, whether it be sex or money or pride or power. To seek after it will only leave you empty and dry. May you cast down your idols down and fall in repentance. He is there to pick you up and make you whole again.

~sdg