Not Sure What To Call This One

This is an unusual post, considering what I’ve posted lately, but I had to share something that struck me this weekend.

It takes discipline to spend time with the Lord. Extreme discipline. Discipline that I do not have on my own.

I thought of my daily routine this past weekend, in a strange moment of clarity and perspective, of spending time reading the bible, praying, reading Tozer and Ravenhill and Murray. Reading commentaries and scholarly discussion. Reading one verse at a time, and getting stuck at an overwhelming thought found there. Reading an entire book in the bible. Reading a few chapters. The amount of prayer God is calling me to, now, is almost unbearable, more than I’ve ever prayed on a daily basis in my entire life. Often I play my guitar and sing worship songs with my family at night. That’s a really special experience (I really, really like playing the guitar), but it still requires time, in the evenings, and especially when we are supposed to be “winding down.”

But really, when I’m not fulfilling some responsibility, the things in the paragraph above are what fills the gaps of time. It’s an odd, strange, routine.

And I do those things every day, either early in the morning, or in the early evening. And I don’t write that here out of some act of public piety.

I write it here because, honestly, it’s quite difficult. There are mornings that I am tired of going “to the well”, tired of being (sometimes) (mercilessly) convicted, and in those mornings I will attempt to do something else. And without fail, when I try for other selfish choices, I always hear the voice of the Lord say, “Do you really want to do that?” It’s a question that often hurts, and often refreshes. And, at times, I ignore it.

There are good mornings, though. Right now I’m reading through 1 and 2 Samuel (don’t ask why), and can’t believe the audacity of David’s prayers, and the voice of God answering him. So, right now at least, these times are encouraging. They aren’t always, though.

But, honestly, the road to “the well” is outside of my control. That’s tough for me. I won’t/can’t say that the things in the third paragraph “start my day right,” because often I’m wrecked before 7AM, convicted of sin and hopelessly needing the filling of the Holy Spirit. In fact, that’s mostly every day. I approach daily responsibilities depleted, with my mind on what the Lord gave me, sometimes having difficulty thinking clearly because the Holy Spirit’s work in me is so incredibly active, purifying me of so much garbage. And I don’t often want that. But, alas, God doesn’t concern himself always with what I want. (Remember the shade tree God grew for Jonah, only to make it die?)

I am, at this stage in my life, not necessarily accustomed to these deep feelings, even though my life has been filled with this routine for quite some time. I don’t like hearing from people who call this sort of discipline a “healthy priority”, because I feel, at times, it would be easier to read the news, or watch what Fallon did the night before. Easier on me, anyway. Watching Fallon doesn’t require me to think — I can be mindless, as “checked-out” as if I were a thousand miles away, and sometimes (really, a lot of the time), that’s what I would prefer. Being engaged is so exhausting.

But the well is deep. Dark. Mysterious. It has water, but sometimes the water is deeper than I wanted it to be, and God pulls me farther in. And, mostly, I go against my will.

So, yes, it takes much discipline to do this, to walk this path. At least it takes much discipline for me. I wake earlier than I’ve ever done so in my life, because, many days, it just takes that much time. I wonder if Muller and Spurgeon ever felt like this.

But I do know what life would be without this kind of routine. At least I know what my life would look like, because I’ve lived it. Empty. Fake. Out of control. Debt-ridden. Awful choices. Sin. But filled with lots of friends who (I discovered) varnished their lives with Jesus and smiles and music and alcohol and the “latest and greatest” to hide the hollowness. Some of my friends still live like that, and I hurt for them. I know the emptiness because I’ve lived it. I can spot it.

What is even more hurtful, I think, is I’ve tried to share this path with a few, only to be hurt by their words, then ignored because … well, because of whatever reason. I tend to think that my words often betray the level of engagement this kind of life requires, and many just don’t want it. I understand that. I often don’t want it. It has wrecked everything I ever thought I needed, or wanted. And it would be easier to keep friends, at times, than to speak of the honesty that this weird life of mine demands of me.

So, yes, this is a tough, tough, tough road. It defies convention. Goodness, it defies convention. I can’t really write that statement enough.

And this — this previous 900-word essay — is what struck me this weekend, in a strange moment of clarity and perspective. I’m thankful for a blog today, so I can spit it out, and wonder if anyone else feels this way.

I can’t leave this post though, until I at least tell you that it has been the sweetest thing I have ever known. To be in such a constant place of hearing from the Lord, and being constantly convicted of my own sin, is so peaceful. Strangely peaceful. Crazy peaceful. Unconventionally peaceful.

But, man, it’s still tough.

Three Years Without Cable TV

I cancelled my cable service three years ago.

And it still has been one of the best decisions I, and my family, have ever made.

After our first year, without cable TV, I wrote four posts to describe the process. They were great journeys in writing for me. They are raw, I think, but were certainly written out of passion and intensity. They are a little bit funny, a little bit satirical, and a whole lot serious. And in 2011, I wrote one addendum on what I believe to have been a spiritual battle, and my subsequent failure of such.

Here they are, again, for you. May they inspire you a bit today to think about what you allow your eyes to see.

Part 1 :: Television and Life: The Beginning of the End of My Cable Subscription

Part 2 :: Television and Life: The Philosophical Reasons We Cancelled Our Television Subscription

Part 3 :: Television and Life: My TV, My Movies, and Jesus

Part 4 :: Television and Life: What I’ve Done Since Canceling My TV

Part 5 :: Name: The Name of God and My Mistake

Eight Things I Learned From Reading the New Testament

It’s been a cool eight weeks since I published my ninetieth straight blog in ninety days.

Through this past summer, I ventured into the readings of the New Testament, every day, and then, through prayer and some additional readings, would write something here that moved me.

I’ve blogged only once since then, writing (or really just quoting) something brief I was reading.

There has been little time since the end of August to write much. And also, the process was so exhausting that I needed a break from this format.

Yet, in the past week or so, this format has beckoned me. My creativity seems to be waning right now, in this season of life, and this is a shred of an outlet. So I’m back. At least for now.

I did want to share here, though, some of my perspectives on reading and writing through the New Testament. And since I keep reading that blog posts should be short, I’ll make this one brief.

Here’s what I figured out.

  • Reading the Word of God requires an investment. Once we relegate our reading to “something that has to be done,” we’ve lost the passion of the narrative, and the intensity of God’s story in our world. It should not be a burden, but it should cost us something.
  • Outside writings were very helpful. It’s no secret that reading a document written in a different millennium, and from a different culture, would have scores of nuances about that environment that are just lost to us. Even the language of the New Testament, Koine Greek, isn’t readily known by most of us, and translation steers interpretation.
  • People get mad quickly. A few posts of mine generated some heat. I attribute that solely to people’s unmovable opinions, and a lack of biblical literacy. If we can’t read the Word of God and expect to be shaken, then we’ve sorely missed the point.
  • It is a relentless story. Morning after morning, day after day, three chapters at a time, the Word was a force in my life. It consumed every thought. I liked that. But it changed me, and my family. Our search for God’s purpose in our own lives, I think, has just begun.

Here are my bothers, though:

  • Jesus attacked the good folk. While we’ve tried to vilify Jesus’ opponents, they weren’t bad people — at least before they began to plot his death. They tithed, preached against adultery, had an extreme desire for holiness, went to communal worship, read the Scriptures, and raised their kids together. They had good behavior. Until Jesus’ advent, the Pharisees weren’t the villains. Their lifestyle was, in fact, aspirational. In every sense, they were good, “church-going” people. Yet their obstinacy, and their inability to be moved by the very presence of God in their lives exposed their blackened hearts. I wonder if the good folk in our world, the good, church-going folk, would be the ones Jesus would expose.
  • My experience with Western Christianity has been to ignore the things that are troubling. Where did women actually fit in the story of the New Testament? What about Mark 4, when the Word was sown, but was never given a chance to grow — and not to the fault of the people (or the soil) — where does God fit in that? What about the three stories of baptism in Acts 8, 9, and 10, when the Spirit was received by people before, during, or after their water baptism? Or Revelation 17, when God is the one controlling the evil in the vision? Is our ignorance the right response to the story of God?
  • We know, and teach, very little of the culture of Paul’s travels. How quickly our perspective of each of his letters would change, if we only knew what life was like to the recipients! How many temples of various gods did he see? What was the celebratory culture in each of those temples like? Why did he say so much about eating together?
  • Discipleship, to Jesus, was a mobile lifestyle. Very little, in the New Testament, is said about people staying put. Now, to be fair, letters and gospel stories were written to people who were static. But the idea of discipleship is mobile. Even if you are settled, aren’t there scores of people in need? Why do those people, today, remain largely untouched by the gospel message?

I promised brevity, and I’ll keep that promise. It’s no surprise that my 90-day journey is still being referenced. I’ve gravitated now, though, to a through study of the gospel of Mark, and am writing a few things for our leaders and teachers of our small groups. I hope, one day, to make those accessible.

And, by the way, you can find all 90 posts right here.

Even the Devil is God’s Devil

There is no cosmic struggle against good and evil.

Movies make it their plot, but with God, there is no such thing.

Martin Luther may have said it best, when he wrote, “Even the devil is God’s devil.”

And that’s true. Here it is in our reading today:

For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled. (Revelation 17:17; NIV84)

There is no evil strong enough to even contend with God, because God, in his sovereignty, even controls what evil beings do.

Now that’s big, and that’s a pretty deep rabbit hole. Too big, probably, for this post.

Yet here, in the context of Revelation 16, God’s final judgment on all evil in the world begins. Seven bowls, filled with his wrath, are poured on the earth, and bring plagues that sound a lot (again) like the ten plagues given to Egypt.

__________

God has a special place in his heart for oppressed believers. Because when he frees them, in the words of Jesus, they are free indeed.

In Revelation 17, the prostitute of the world is punished. For John’s readers, there is little doubt that this woman is the city of Rome, and possibly even the Roman empire. But since Revelation has multiple applications, it’s entirely acceptable that we see this as the final judgment on the world, and on all of the nations and peoples and governments that have systematically oppressed the church, the very kingdom of God on this pale blue dot in space.

At the end of this chapter, though, God gives the authority to the beast to devour her. To eat her. And the beast, in Revelation, was evil – but God uses this evil beast to devour another evil prostitute.

God is most definitely in control.

__________

It’s interesting, though, that God wants people to turn to him. Even the bowls of judgment were meant to cause unbelievers to turn. Following the fifth angel, and the fifth bowl of God’s wrath, are these two verses, which say much:

The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done. (16:10, 11)

Even though it is the moment of God’s final justice, he still offers people a chance to believe in his name.

Astounding. And an amazing image. It’s not the first time, though. After each plague against Egypt, the Pharaoh was given an opportunity to release the Hebrew slaves. God is a God of amazing patience.

But when the judgement begins, it is not pretty. An angel from God’s presence fills the earth with glory from the throne room, and begins a praise for the destruction of this city.

It is with a sigh of relief, then, that today’s reading begins, and ends. The suspense of this judgment has filled the pages of Revelation, until it is delivered. The saints under the altar, have wondered how long they would need to wait for their vindication.

No evil can overtake you. Rest in the power and justice of God today, because nothing can stand against him. Read here, again, from the letter to the Romans, and be encouraged today!

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

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Today is day 89.

The Doors Are Closed

This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints. (Revelation 13:10; NIV84)

Yes, the saints are protected.

Yes, God will wipe away every tear.

Yes, victory is within God’s hands, and he offers it to us.

The future is ours, because the future is his.

But patient endurance can melt. Revelation 13, to me, poses one of the most difficult temptations for the church.

In the vision, the dragon, the supreme force of evil, on earth, gave incredible power to the beast who seemed to withstand a wound that should have killed him. This beast became the object of worship for all of humanity. He was aided by a second beast, who led this unholy worship by force, marking the foreheads (or hands) of everyone, to control the world’s economy, in the name of the beast who was worshiped.

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So to me, of most of the symbols in John’s vision, this one is pretty clear.

The first beast, which was seemingly invincible, was the Roman empire. It was an evil government, particularly when it began various local persecutions against believers. Many emperors accepted worship from the entire Empire as if they were gods.

The second beast? Undoubtedly those who pushed this agenda in the various imperial cities across the Empire.

But there must be some real-time significance, and I think for us, it means we need to be especially careful about what we decide to worship.

__________

Presidential elections, in America, cause such a state of frenzy, as if our hopes and dreams depended upon the person in the White House. How petty are we, to believe something like this. The book of Revelation, with its visions and signs, declares, at the beginning, in Revelation 4, that God is on his throne, and not one human action escapes his sovereignty. He knows everything. And, if there are times of caution and danger, then we are only told to have patient endurance and faithfulness.

God knows what he’s doing.

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It’s not just that he knows what he’s doing, though, but what’s happening here, on planet earth, even in modern America, is a continued sign that this is not heaven.

If a secular government could provide for every longing and need (which they can’t, even when they make awfully big promises), then what need would there be for God? For heaven? For rest?

Revelation 13 speaks of the danger of falling in line with such worship, with such frenzy. No mortal can provide for your implicit safety. The only way that can happen, according to Revelation 13, is if they mark every single person, and control every single moment. If a mortal can only provide for you by limiting you, then that certainly is no god worthy of any sort of worship. And obviously, there is only One who can control everything.

Yet, in our reading today, we find, again, that God is not willing to overwhelm John with such despair that he cannot see the ultimate hope. Revelation 14 opens to another sign of the Lamb, and the protected church, on Mt. Zion, with beautiful music and new songs and supreme worship of the true deliverer.

Hope.

Because in the next few verses, in Revelation 15, we see the beginning of the end. As the multitude praises God Almighty, the God of all, the sovereign God over time and space, angels leave the tabernacle with golden bowls of wrath, and then the doors of the temple are closed, and smoke fills John’s vision. This final judgement against evil cannot be stopped.

I agree, too, with some commentators, that these visions aren’t to be interpreted in a chronological order, but rather, should be seen as the vision John sees – a God, orchestrating every moment in history and at the end of time. If that is the case, then, for today, we get the result of our decisions to worship anything other than God.

And we see the result of our allegiance to the Lamb.

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Today is day 88.