Wednesday, December 07, 2005

E-Words are Easy

Technology is great, especially in regards to communication. It has made life so much easier. I can shoot a quick e-mail to a friend 3,000 miles away, and it takes a second for it to arrive. Good, yes? Perhaps, but perhaps not in every way. E-mail, instant messages, and especially the online message boards all make it much too easy for someone (usually me) to spout off a comment or a question without putting in much thought or any prayer about it. This is dangerous. There have been a number of times I have asked for advice from others in message board forums, even closed ones, and I always wish I could go back after and either remove my original post or at least word it more carefully and leave out some details. Perhaps I am just being scrupulous. Maybe the others in the group don't see it as being a big deal. However, I do. A lot of times the things I ask for advice or prayer about are private issues or they involve other people -people who should be protected at all costs. Even if nobody in these boards know the individuals I am asking advice regarding, and even if they never will, there is still a danger here.

It is just too easy to open up a window, type in a few thoughts, and BLAM, hit "send". Once it is sent, you can't get it back. It goes where it goes, to whatever recipient or recipients. It is not as though I am overtly gossipping or bad-mouthing people. Thank God, I am not. But I do wish I was more careful with who I speak to and what I say. There is something to be said for pen and paper and snail-mail.

When I look back and read some letters of Christian men of the past, letters they penned by hand and sent by means of a courier or some type of postal service, I am struck by how carefully the words are put together. The words are usually gracious, careful, precise, thought-out, prayerful. It is obvious that they did not just whip out a piece of paper, scribble down some thoughts, stuff it in an envelope, and then sent it off. They prayerfully considered the matter at hand and prayerfully wrote. This is what I need. I need to give thought and prayer to my words before I send them -waiting a day or two, if necessary, and always humbling myself before the Lord and others and seeking perspective and wisdom from the Lord.

Obviously, it is not practical to do this for every single utterance. If I am at work and someone asks me a question, even a controversial one that is work-related, I need to reply immediately even if just to say "I will get back to you." Also, not every matter warrants as much time and prayer as others. However, spiritual matters, doctrinal discussions, seeking advice, giving advice, humbly correcting another -all of these matters demand such time and prayer, I believe. I pray for true wisdom and godly discernment so that I would not be so impulsive and quick to speak using these wonderful, electronic means.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

No Righteousness of My Own

It is a blessed thing to be a man with no righteousness of my own. To some this may sound silly. To people of the world who care nothing for God, it may not even make sense. What does "righteousness" mean, and who cares about it? To the average religious person, it seems to be a foolish statement. After all, what good could there be in being a man who has no righteousness of his own? Wouldn't it be better to be able to say you have some righteousness? Wouldn't it be better to try and find some, somewhere, or better oneself so that we may establish some. A little personal reform can go a long way. No one wants to be without righteousness of some sort.

And here remains both a truth and a lie. The lie is that there is such thing as "some righteousness" before God. It is even more of a lie to believe that we can establish some for ourselves. It will be righteous in our eyes, perhaps, but it will be an abomination in God's sight -not just because our best deeds are tained with sin, but because we have the audacity to present our righteousness before God in such as way as to think that God should be bound to bless our filth as though He were our Debtor. That makes it a thousand times more insulting to the Holy One who made all things. If the stench of our past sins were not enough to provoke Him to wrath, then certainly our bold arrogance of making God in our own image so that He should be pleased with us is more than enough.

I wish it was always so clear to me that I have none. I want to know all the time that I have no righteousness of my own, and I don't want to be setting up my own righteousness against the righteousness that is by faith. Yet, since I am still a sinner, I do. I create these little islands around me. Perhaps it is a religious pretense, some kind of Christian piety, something I hope someone sees in me, something good I do that exalts my name before others, whatever.

I am glad every time I am reminded of how woefully I lack righteousness in myself, righteousness that stands on its own before God. I am glad because then I see all the more clearly the grace of God in providing righteousness in Jesus Christ. I welcome this epiphany. It is a moment of peace when I hit the bottom again. It is a joyful sound when my bones break, and I give up. Strange? No, blessed! It is there that I drop every false pretense, every false piety, every false religious glory I assign to myself. It all melts into nothing, and when there is nothing left in my hands, then I look up again and see Christ enthroned, lifted up, the righteous One, the Mediator, my true and only righteousness.

Oh, Father, let me start each day reminded of the fact that I have no righteousness of my own -that I may renounce every claim and recognize afresh that I truly am dependent upon your grace alone in Christ to be justified and remain yours into glory.
The External Word

I identify a lot with Martin Luther in a few ways -the largest of which being his internal struggles with scruples, depression, and just a crushed conscience and darkened faith when it seems that God has all but hid himself. There is no joy, no hope, no grace, no bliss -just confusion, darkness, crawling, scraping, climbing, but to no avail. There is the desire to be Christ's, a desperate unquenchable need, yet it seems as though the light has been turned out and He cannot be seen. I have learned much through my times like these, even though they are horrible. One of the things I learned (or perhaps I should say, "constantly re-learn") is the reality of what Luther called the "external Word".

John Piper comments:

"Luther calls it the 'external Word' to emphasize that it is objective, fixed, outside ourselves, and therefore unchanging. It is a Book. Neither ecclesiastical hierarchy nor fanatical ecstasy can replace it or shape it. It is "external," like God. You can take or leave it. But you can't make it other than what it is. It is a book with fixed letters and words and sentences. And Luther said with resounding forcefulness in 1545, the year before he died, 'Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture'." (article here)

I say that I "re-learn" it because I am so prone to what I call "internalization". It is almost as though a layer grows on top of the Word, on top of God's promises, and my subsistence attaches to that instead over time. It is a thin layer, but a layer still, and it is almost undetectable. It happens when I suddenly switch from rejoicing in the promises of God to looking for that sweet taste, that rejoicing, itself. I look and look, but it does not come -only terror comes. The more I look, the more terrified I become -which only makes my task all the more impossible. Without actually seeing it, I am looking for something other than the plain Word of God. I am looking for, climbing for, searching for something within.

It becomes very hard emotionally to break away from this. I try to run back to some of my favorite passages for relief, but they bring none. It is like I have an expectation that they would bring me out of it, and so I expect a level of relief with anticipation and anxiety that, by almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, will not come. It leads only to more discouragement. It is as though the Word becomes a sealed book. Its words come, bounce off me, and fall to the earth. I read it, but there is no rejoicing in the truth itself. And why? It is because I have forgotten somewhere that this is the external Word. I am looking for something in addition to it, something subjective, and basing it all upon it. I do not just read it to read it and know it is true and glorify God. I read it to expect something else. My confidence has become confidence in my confidence rather than in the objective truthfulness of God's Word.

When I drop this expectation and requirement of "right feeling" or whatever you want to call it and remember that this is the external Word, my feet begin on the path back from darkness. It is the realization, again, that I am looking to and depending upon something other than His Word.

Your truth, O God, has not changed and does not change - just because I am timid and not seeing myself to be confident in it or gripped by it. It doesn't change, the external Word. It means what it means despite if I am happy or sad today, joyful or despairing, full of faith or covered in blindness and darkness. It is that gracious, perfect, unfailing external Word.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Purpose-Driven Promise-Keeper

Using those two phrases together almost seems silly, doesn't it? These are two virtually iconic parts of our modern evangelical heritage (for better or for worse), and yet in this title I am not putting them together to talk about us. I'm not going to talk about our purpose. I'm not going to talk about being a promise-keeper. Here, I am talking about the One who is the ultimate, true, faithful purpose-driven Promise-Keeper.

God is the One who purposes this marvelous salvation and brings it to pass, and God is the One who makes us such a great and gracious promise and is powerful and faithful to keep it. Our God is pretty hard to top in the departments of having and ensuring a firm purpose and making and keeping promises. He is second to none, as it should be.

Our faith itself is both an expression of His purpose and a thing established upon His promise of the Gospel and His faithfulness in keeping all of His promises. It is an expression of His purpose because our faith is a gift, bestowed according to His sovereign good pleasure, according to the plan of Him who works all things for His glory. It is established upon His promise because saving faith, in its barest essence, is founded upon the freely given promise of mercy in Christ.

Calvin defined faith (in his Institutes of the Christian Religion) beautifully when he wrote,
"Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise of Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit "

The veracity of God's promise, the knowledge and consideration of the One promising it, the Savior upon whom the promise stands for its efficacy, revealed to our minds and sealed upon us by the Spirit, is what the true essence of saving faith is. When it all comes down to it, it is a simple and small thing.

1. The faithfulness and truthfulness of the Promiser. When He promises that everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus shall be saved, that every sinner who gives up on his fruitless self-justification and rests wholly upon the Savior and His saving merits shall find eternal rest, it is a matter of simple reason to see that the first piece of this promise stands upon the faithfulness and truthfulness of the Promiser. Does God lie? Can He? No. Is He ever unfaithful in keeping His promises? Never.

2. The sufficiency of the One upon whom the efficacy of the promise stands. The thing promised is carried out by the One the promise points to. The promise of life and pardon to everyone who looks to Jesus is a promise that points to Jesus. It points to Him as the Answer we need. It points to His sufficiency, for otherwise God would indeed be a liar. Imagine if God could make such a promise with an insufficient Savior. What an abominable suggestion! Christ's own Person, His own merits, demonstrate His sufficiency, and God's very Word, which is always true, testifies to His sufficiency by virtue of making that Gospel promise to us miserable sinners. What an awesome thing!

Next time you are down, confused, frustrated, and you feel like the light of Christ's countenance above you has been all but extinguished, remember the simple purity of the promise. Remember the faithfulness of God. No matter what you feel, no matter what is going on, no matter what lies Satan might throw your way to cause you to stumble, the promise is sure -more sure than anything else. God purposed it, God keeps it, God brings it to pass.