Don’t Confuse Influence and Obedience

God is for influence. He gives it. He allows it. Think of Esther and her influence which was leveraged to save God’s people from imminent genocide. Think of Nebuchadnezzar and the way God humbled him and how God transformed his influence for the kingdom. Think of William Wilberforce and Mother Teresa. 

In the Sermon on The Mount, Jesus himself used the image of the idiocy of lighting a lantern and putting a bushel over it. He told his people to let their light so shine before men that they would see their good works and glorify their father in heaven (Matt. 5:15-16). 

Yet, Christ also knew the insidious danger of influence. He spoke harsh words to the religious leaders who were far more concerned with their influence than their obedience.  I have far more Pharisee in me than I care to admit.

The Pharisee in me loves to sit in a high seat and longs for the places of honor and titles of importance (Matthew 23:2 and 6–7). Yet the Spirit is slowly, steadily shaping me into one who clings to the feet of Jesus, washing his feet with my tears of repentance and dependence (see Luke 7:36–50).

The Pharisee in me wants to be seen and celebrated by human eyes as I do good works or walk in obedience (Matthew 23:5). However, the Spirit is slowly, steadily shaping me into one who is more comfortable with the prayer closet more than the crowds (see Matthew 6:16–18). The Pharisee in me wants to be called teacher, instructor, or mother (Matthew 23:7–12). Nonetheless, the Spirit continually puts in the place of a pupil and child. Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides, but the Spirit would make us seeing servants (Matthew 23:16).

Jesus repeatedly reminded his disciples of the One who searched hearts and prodded them toward purity of heart and motivation. When they were floored and ecstatic about the influence and power they had over demons, he ushered them towards greater joy that their names were written in the book of life (Luke 10:20). 

Obviously influence itself is not a bad thing. But in a culture obsessed with the star-studded and celebrity, we are liable to conflate influence and obedience.

Large-scale influence, for most people, doesn’t last very long. Thus, the coining of the term “five minutes of fame.” Even famous professional athletes have their prime. Eventually, they must learn to adjust to being a role player or someone coming off the bench. I always respect players and pastors who can make this transition with humility and grace. It exposes what has motivated their playing all along. Do they love and respect the game or the fame?

God has given us each a sphere of influence, but that sphere will shrink and enlarge in turns throughout the course of a lifetime. As such, it seems that we would do well to focus on obedience to God and let him determine the size of our spheres. 

Obedience is for a lifetime. Influence is for a season. 

I fear in myself and around me an insatiable hunger for a widening sphere of influence, not for the sake of obedience and the lords glory, but for self-aggrandizement and a feast for the flesh. 

For every widely-scene Christian writer, artist, or teacher, there are scores of people living out extraordinarily ordinary faithfulness in their largely-unseen spheres. I fear that many of them feel less-than in the kingdom. I long that they would know and believe that their long obedience in the same direction deeply honors the Father. 

As always, the Father is far more concerned with the internals than the externals. He is the searcher of hearts and the knower of hearts (Acts 15). This means that He is most concerned with our prayerful obedience. Sometimes that will look like a lull on social media to have our motivations refined. Sometimes that will look like bravely and vulnerably sharing something on a larger platform. He seems to be more concerned that whatever we do, we do it in a manner that exudes humble, faithful obedience. 

Searching Questions:

  1. Do people whom I see regularly know about what I am about to post? Have I shared it with a neighbor, a friend, a disciple?
  2. Is there someone in my non-media life with whom the Lord might have me share these thoughts?
  3. Am I content to obey the Lord doing this, even if no one else ever knows? 
  4. Are there small acts of faithfulness I am neglecting in my hungering after a larger sphere? 
  5. Am I pointing those in my sphere of influence to myself or to the Savior?
  6. Will I gracefully receive the shrinking of my sphere if and when that happens? 
  7. How can I use the platform of influence I have been given in this season to champion the faithfulness of others? To show multiple paths of faithfulness rather than merely the large and loud? 

Whether your platform is the size of a pallet or Radio City Music Hall, the Lord intends you to walk in a faithful obedience that points to the Father in Heaven. 

May the words of our mouths and the mediations of our hearts (and the stewarding of our spheres of influence) be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer (Psalm 19:14). 

On Power Plays and a Peculiar Posture

Presently, churches all across the nation are splitting and splintering, being pulled quite literally left or right. Both sides are claiming their way to transform the culture and both sides are claiming the name of Christ. While both sides think they share little in common, they are both involved in a power play for positions of influence, assuming that God’s primary call on His people is to transform or better culture.

But God’s call on His people is that they become a peculiar people.

Like many of you, my mind has been spinning this past year trying to make sense of what is happening with Christian congregations. Recently, the Lord has used a book written in the 1990’s to help me see more clearly what is happening in the 2020s. In their joint book Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon address trends that were planted back in the days of Constantine and have been growing into full-fledged forests by now.

“That which makes the church ‘radical’ and forever ‘new’ is not that the church tends to lean towards the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not. In the church’s view, the political left is not noticeably more interesting than the political right; both sides tend towards solutions that act as if the world has not ended and begun in Jesus (Resident Aliens, page 28).”

Both sides are equally likely to fall into worldly patterns of thinking that change comes through positions of power and political prowess. Believers in either camp can want the right things but go about trying to get them through means that God has not ordained.

The primary job of God’s people is to be the people of God, not to transform culture. Culture may and likely will be transformed, but such transformation will be a by-product, not a means in and of itself.

“For to us, the world ended. We may have thought that Jesus came to make nice people ever nicer, that Jesus hoped to make a democratic Caesar just a little more democratic, to make the world a bit better place for the poor. The Sermon, however, collides with such accommodationist thinking. It drives us back to a completely new conception of what it means for people to live with one another. That completely new conception is the church (Resident Aliens, page 92).”

If the church is to do the work of Christ, the church cannot seek to accomplish His means through the mechanisms of a dying world. God has given us the church as His means to accomplish His work. Practically speaking, this means that Supreme Court justice appointments or decisions, while important, are not our hope. This means that laws enacted by our government do not sideline us from doing the work of God and being the people of God. We do not to be propped up by the government to be His people. In fact, when the laws of the land go against our beliefs, we have an even greater opportunity to stand out.

My fear is that our churches are missing their moment to show the watching world the compelling and true story of the gospel. A pandemic got the world’s attention, but the church has been so engaged in fighting each other, they look no different than the political ads.

When Paul spoke to the Church that he loved and helped establish in Galatia, his heart was heavy over their interactions with one another. They were using their new-found freedom in Christ to further their own agendas and catching each other in the crosshairs of their disparate aims.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another (Galatians 5:13-15).

We have been stuck in a brutal power play when we are called to be spending our time on being God’s peculiar people. We don’t need laws to be His peculiar people. We don’t need a sitting president who affirms our ideals. We have His Word and His Spirit, which is all the early church needed to be set apart.

The Church should be odd. We won’t fit neatly into a political system because God’s word wasn’t concerned with political systems. God’s Word was concerned with announcing an altogether different kingdom. In the words of Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, “We want to claim the church’s ‘oddness’ as essential to its faithfulness.”

Oddity 

Often the faithful seem foolish,
Their trust in Your Word naive. 
A world calculated and strategic
Estranges those who believe. 

For the story that grabbed them
Has sunk deep into their veins. 
The storyteller’s life-giving Word
Continues to guide their reins. 

Those who’ve heard such a story
Must see everything in its light. 
The One who’s seen through them 
Has Initiated them into His sight. 

Staking their lives on a Savior
Despised and rejected by men,
They are to reenact His story
Again and again and again. 

As they resist prevailing notions, 
The world calls the meek weak,
When power takes on the posture 
Of gently turning the other cheek. 

The odd way they try to trod
Is labeled limiting and narrow,
For they don’t know the One
Whose Spirit is their marrow. 

Lord, hold our fumbling feet
Fast to your glorious way. 
In your likeness let us live
Until that promised day

Come and See

“Come and see,” Mary and Martha pushed out the words through sobs, leading their shaken up Rabbi to the cave into which their dear brother had been laid.  Martha, practical in nature, hestitated at Christ’s commands to take away the stone sealing the dead from the living. “It’s been four days, Teacher. You don’t want to see him. It’s not the Laz you remember. The staggering smell of sickness and death will overwhelm you as it has us these past painful days.”

Studying John 11 this week knowing we have dear friends who have lost loved ones and received heavy diagnoses, the bravery and vulnerability of the simple phrase, “Come and see,” jumped out at me.

What faith it must have taken these sisters to invite the same Jesus who came too late, in their honest opinion, into their messy grief. What trust it displayed that they invited Jesus into their pulsing, palpable pain, this same One whom both sisters had said could have saved their brother had he been there.

Come and see how our hearts are aching and nearly bursting with waves of grief at the separation. He is right there, not twenty feet away, yet we cannot access him, we cannot laugh with him and cry with him. Come and see the impossibility of our situation; join us, we trust and love you, even though things did not turn out the way we so deeply desired. We want your presence even though we are confounded by confusion.

We all love the Psalms of Triumph that pulse with praise, and well we should.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!” So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you, they sing praises to your name. Come and see what God has done; he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. Psalm 66:1-5. 

But we do not get to the joyful Come and see without the risking, vulnerable Come and see that invites Jesus into the desperately broken places in our lives and hearts. And the life that happens between the two phrases is often a long, arduous, undulating battle.

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Jesus must be so honored by our trembling Come and See, inviting Him to tour our pain and brokenness. When we open unto Him the door to our terribly broken marriage or our dark past or our ongoing struggle with addiction in its minor and major forms, Jesus must smile a sober smile. For He who is outside of time knows the coming Come and See and can see us shouting in victory, even in that moment of vulnerability.

There will certainly be battles and scars and hope-deferred heart sickness between the two signposts, yet that initial Come and See begins the great work. The One we invite into our tombs and empty wombs is no mere man, He is the God-man, the Great Healer, the Captain of Salvation, the Mender of Mangled people, places and things.

Come and See

“Come and see,”such a brave little phrase,
Inviting God into grief on our darkest days.

To stay vulnerable when pain does wrench,
Bringing Him to tombs filled with stench.

The Maker of Life can handle grim facts.
Dark invitations precede healing acts.

Touring the truth in all its hideousness
Begins His healing with all fastidiousness.

A brighter invitation will come in due time,
The “Come and See” shouts of joy sublime.

Stewarding Silence

“I have a need of silence and of stars.
Too much is said too loudly. I am dazed.
The silken sound of whirled infinity 
Is lost in voices shouting to be heard.”

William Alexander Percy’s words have been running through my mind on and off throughout the summer. In a home of three healthy, vibrant testosterone-laden little boys, silence during the summer is a rarity. In the midst of the trampoline soccer sessions and the Lego trading floor, I found myself longing for the proximate silence that having only the little fella home once school began would provide.

However, now that my boys have been back in school for a few weeks, I have been reminded that stewarding silence and stillness is a struggle. As much as I have craved it and cried out for it, I had forgotten that silence can be terribly uncomfortable.

Daily it is a wrestle for me to get myself to my favorite spot on the couch by the window for long enough to have my heart stilled. There is always another load of laundry I could fold, another email I could send, another sermon I could listen to, or another book I could read. My flesh resists quietness before God, which is all the more reason to fight for it. It seems our enemy and our shadow selves know the rich benefits that only silence before God can offer.

Bonhoeffer, in his thin treasure of a book called Life Together, defines silence as “the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God.” He continues, “Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing.”

Andrew Murray writes something similar in With Christ in the School of Prayer. He explains that all true prayer can only begin when we are stilled enough before God to truly say and mean the simple phrase, “My Father sees, my father hears, my father knows.” That sounds simple, right? It’s only three three-word phrases; however, it is no simple thing for a human heart to be able to say and believe them.

Much of my time on the couch is spent attempting to empty my heart of noise, fears, worries and self-sufficiency by the Spirit’s leading and empowerment. It is far easier to stifle silence by quickly filling it with noise or words or to selfishly squander silence than to steward it.

Mother Theresa taught the Sisters of Charity about the need for silence. “Listen in silence, because if your heart is full of other things you cannot hear the voice of God. But when you have listened to the voice of God in the stillness of your heart, then your heart is filled with God.” She goes on to say, “I shall keep the silence of my heart with greater care, so that in the silence of my heart I hear His words of comfort and from the fullness of my heart I comfort Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

You know I love me some ethereal pondering, but here are some practical ideas to steward silence:

Leave your phone charging in another room while you sleep and during your stolen moments of silence. God gets the first and last word of the day.

Take a walk or hike in a local park or nature center. I do this even with my three yahoos in tow. Even though it is far from silent, God usually gives me a few moments of intimacy with Him somewhere in there. Additionally, this sets a precedent and pattern for our children that being quiet and out in God’s creation is valuable and fun.

Drive a few times a day without the radio. It’s amazing how much time we spend in the car. Little stolen moments add up.

Much depends on our sitting in silence and stillness before God. Much peace is lost, a peace with God that Christ died to secure for us. Many seeds of good works that might have been planted in silence are not sown.

The struggle is real and ongoing, but it is worth the fight to steward our silence.

Strengthened to Stay

Sometimes a slow, incremental exertion is harder to achieve and maintain than a sudden burst of strength.

My mother-in-law being daily empowered to care for her ailing husband is not as exciting in the world’s eyes as someone receiving a burst of dramatic strength to climb the warped wall in American Ninja Warrior; however, her staying strength honors the Lord far more than a sudden burst of short-lived faithfulness.

While marriages that last 25, 50 and 75 years don’t often make headlines here on earth, the sustained staying power deeply pleases and adorns God and His gospel.

Stay-at-home mommas washing the laundry, packing the lunches, and sifting through sibling spats don’t seem like they require slivers of the kratos (dominion power) of God; however, a decade into this calling of motherhood, I can vouch for the fact that the dailyness of motherhood most certainly requires His moment-by-moment empowerment.

Of late, I have been camped out in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It has been a few weeks, but I haven’t been able to move on from his profound and power-packed prayers for the saints in Colossae.

Reading the depth and sincerity of his prayers is convicting to the core. He goes far beyond “God bless the Colossians” or “Please be with my friends,” placing very specific requests before the throne of God on their behalf.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
Colossians 1:9-12. 

Notice that none of what Paul asks on their behalf is circumstantial. Paul is not asking for a secure housing situation or safety or provision of a physical need; rather, Paul daily begs God with his ministry partner and son in the faith, Timothy, that their knowledge and understanding of God would continually grow.

Auxano. To increase. To grow. To become greater in size and maturity. Paul uses variations of this word three times in a handful of verses. In the opening of his letter, as he was introducing himself to a church he had never met but only heard about through yet another ministry partner, Epaphras, Paul shares his joy in the way that the gospel had been spreading (Auxano) internally in their hearts and externally in the world. Then, he uses it a third time in his prayer that this same expansion and growth would continue always.

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Paul longs that their hearts and minds would grow in wisdom (sophia) and understanding (sunesis). He then prays that such wisdom would inform their living, their manner of life, causing them to bear fruit and consistently please the Lord in all things, the big and the little, the seen and the unseen.

Next, Paul starts dropping power words like a piñata drops candy. He prays that they would be strengthened (dunamoumenoi) with all power (dunamei), according to God’s glorious might (kratos).

Why all the focus on power? At this point, it feels like we are in a roller coaster that is slowly climbing the first huge hill, building up power and momentum. But to what end?

For all endurance and patience with joy (verse 11). 

Really? Doesn’t that seem a little underwhelming. Shouldn’t Paul have given us something big and wowing, like a fireworks show?

At first, I felt let down after all the power-filled words led up to enduring and long-suffering, rather than a sudden, phenomenal act or display of strength.

Then I realized that staying the course, remaining in the places and roles God has apportioned for us, however exciting or bland they may be, takes a far greater exertion of sustained strength than a sudden and dramatic act of prowess or strength.

He strengthens and empowers us, placing his dunamis (from which we get the word dynamite) in us that we might stay the course, living lives worthy of the callings we have received.

This morning, I find myself deeply grateful for the strength to stay. To stay the course, to not despise the day of small things, to do small things with great love as unto Him.

Today, may you, likewise, be strengthened to stay where God has placed you in quiet faithfulness.

Growing Backwards: Thoughts on General Revelation

I hate to admit it, but for a long time, I lived like I had outgrown general revelation. In college, I remember taking a course called Faith and Reason that taught me the words and corresponding concepts of general revelation and special revelation.

General revelation refers to the knowledge about God that can be gained through observation of the world He created all around us. Special revelation refers to the fuller knowledge of God that can only be revealed by God’s Word through the power and insight of the Holy Spirit.

At the time when I learned these concepts, the names said it all. General revelation sounded, well,  mundane and general, compared to special revelation, whose name carried an esoteric and elite tone.

Right before college, I was brought into the world of special revelation, though the words and concepts didn’t click for a few more years. Before my conversion, the Word of God was merely a confusing reading from the lectionary on Christmas and Easter; however, with the indwelling of the Spirit, the Bible was no longer idle words for me, but my very life (Deuteronomy 32:47). Somewhere shortly thereafter, I inadvertently set general and special revelation at odds with one another.

In my mind, general revelation was like an old step stool, necessary only until special revelation was received and allowed me to stand fully in awe of God. General revelation was for spiritual babies who had not yet seen the bigger show of the gospel. In light of these unspoken, almost subconscious thoughts, I pushed general revelation into the attic where it gathered dust.

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A dozen or so years after my conversion, I have found myself growing backwards, pulling general revelation back out.

Don’t get me wrong, my view toward special revelation has not changed an iota. God’s fullest revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus is truly the masterpiece, the crux, the keystone, the cornerstone of my life.  I continue to proclaim the words the Holy Spirit spoke through Peter at the inception of Christendom. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12. 

However, over time and with continual hearing (in bodies still ravaged by the dying flesh) we can grow accustomed to the grace of the gospel. We can begin living in a world marked by of courses.  “Of course God came to the earth and redeemed humanity. Of course He set His love on us.” Unfortunately, special revelation can begin to sound matter-of-fact or ho-hum to us, as familiarity tends to breed contempt.

When I find myself in these places, more often than not, God uses general revelation to snap me out the world of of course and back into the world of wonder at special revelation.

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The more I observe the bugs and butterflies,  the landscapes and sunsets that fall into the realm of general revelation, the more special special revelation seems. The God who created an insanely elaborate circulatory system in the giraffe to allow blood to flow against gravity to its head is the God who shed His own blood for me?  The God who mapped out the incredible migratory abilities of monarchs migrated to earth to speak to me?

General revelation reminds me of the immensity and ingenuity of a limitless Creator God. When God becomes more vast and more imaginative, more complex and more mysterious, the reality of special revelation becomes more amazing.

Today, on Earth Day, I pray that we would be Christians who lean fully into the world general revelation that makes us live more in awe of special revelation.

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The Seeing Ministry of Jesus

We hear often about the preaching ministry of Jesus or the healing ministry of Jesus or the discipling ministry of Jesus. And well we should. However, each of these has its beginning in the seeing ministry of Jesus. 

How Jesus Saw

The Greek word “horao,” which is most often translated as “see,” carries deeper meaning than mere physical sight. It implies perception, discernment, and experience. This one word is used a dizzying 138 times in the gospel of Matthew alone. Obviously, Matthew sought to capture something about Jesus and his ministry of sight.

In Matthew 4, directly after his season of temptation in the wilderness, the first thing Jesus did in his public ministry was to simply see.

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen (Matthew 4:18).

While that may seem like an unnecessary detail, the Holy Spirit, through Matthew, intended these words for purpose. Fishermen were a dime a dozen by the Sea of Galilee. That would be like saying to a person from Great Britain, “Walking into the stadium, I saw a soccer fan.” Of course, he saw fishermen. But Jesus saw these particular fishermen. He perceived them, saw their hearts, and acknowledged their existence in a way that no one else had. He saw them for who they were on the surface, but he saw far beyond that to the level of their souls. He knew who He intended to make them into and His seeing changed their sight.

Later, when Jesus was on his itinerant preaching and healing circuit with these same disciples whom He had seen, Matthew tells us the following.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Matthew 9:36–38).

In every town and village He entered, Jesus saw the crowds. Yes, he saw them physically, but He also saw them spiritually. He saw their troubled souls and their leaderless-ness. He saw their spiritual hunger and their broken condition, and His sight stirred his soul to pray.

In fact, just before this summary statement regarding Jesus’s sight, Matthew shares with us the story of Jesus seeing a woman who was hidden in shame and fear from her chronic bleeding condition. She had a plan to sneak up behind Jesus and merely touch his garment to be healed and then sneak away. But, Jesus, in His compassion, saw her.

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (Matthew 9:22).

Perhaps more powerful than the miraculous stopping of her decades-long bleeding was the reality that Jesus saw her and acknowledged her. In fact, He named her daughter, using it in the same cherished, doting way the ruler spoke of his own physical daughter just moments before. 

How We See

While subbing in my son’s second grade classroom last week, I experienced a profound moment with the Lord. As it was a Friday, I tasked with administering a slew of tests. By the third test, some of the children were hitting a scholastic stride, but some were struggling. One of these little girls came up to me in tears later and asked to have lunch with me. She said she was not having a very good day, and my selfish heart which was craving solitude melted. We sat and chatted about her water bottle, her vacation, her hair clip, and about twenty other seemingly insignificant things. About fifteen minutes later, she skipped happily off to recess, leaving me with my thoughts.

She simply needed to be seen. Really seen. And known. And in those quiet moments, the Lord reminded me that I was no different.

My heart has simply found more sophisticated ways to try to fill that same need to be seen. Body image, significant work, approval and rewards. All of these are my ways to be seen. I had to wipe away tears from eyes as the students came charging back in from recess. I was just like them. We all wanted to be seen.

Thankfully, we have a seeing savior. As those seen and known by the living God, we are invited into His ministry of sight.

While writing to the Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul reminded them that their method of seeing had changed through the gospel.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer (2 Corinthians 5:16).

The hospice worker who slows down on her rounds to see my mother-in-law’s caregiving fatigue and asks about her flower arrangements, knowing it brings her relief from the harsh realities of debilitating disease. 

The counselor who sees his or her client’s scars and creates a safe place to process their pain.

The after-school care worker who sees the last student to be picked up, waiting on his or her parents to come off of a long shift at work as a single parent.

We don’t need a seminary degree or a doctorate in biblical counseling to join our Jesus in the ministry of sight (though those are great things to have). Each one of us is called to be conformed to the image of Jesus, the One who sees.

Jesus, remind us each today that you see us as no one else does. As those who are seen and loved in Christ, give us eyes to see as you see. Amen.

A Scriptural Stomachache

We go to the Word of God to settle our souls. We look to fill ourselves with God’s words that are sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:9–10). We rush quickly to grab the promises contained therein. And well we should.

But, read rightly, the Scriptures should also unsettle us. They should stir us up. They should prod us with commands as they protect us with promises. We should sometimes leave our time in the Word with a Scriptural stomach-ache. God’s Word both comforts and confronts.

God’s Word is certainly sweet; however, it is simultaneously a sword and scalpel (Hebrews 4:12–13). We don’t get to choose which one we get when we open the Word. We let the Spirit of God do His painstaking work in us. Sometimes that work feels like a gentle hug, but sometimes it feels like an invasive search light.

Eugene Peterson’s book Eat This Book about a proper approach to the Scriptures is built around the Apostle John’s strange vision in Revelation 10. After seeing a mighty angel come down from heaven and stand with his right foot on the sea and his left on the land open up a scroll and begin preaching, John wanted to take notes. He wanted to record this crazy scene he was witnessing; however, he was instructed to step forward and eat the scroll.

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go take the scroll that is open in the hands of the angel who is standing on the sea and the land… Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey” (Revelation 10:8–9).

While the scene sounds as strange to us as it likely was to John, Peterson’s words regarding the bitterness of the Scriptures deeply resonated with some of my experiences in the Word of God.

“But sooner or later we find that not everything is to our liking in this book. It starts out sweet to our taste; and then we find that it doesn’t sit well with us at all; it becomes bitter in our stomaches. Finding ourselves in this book is most pleasant, flattering even; and then we find that the book is not written to flatter us, but to involve us in a reality, God’s reality, that doesn’t cater to our fantasies of ourselves.”

Lately, I have been reading the book of Acts with a few groups of women. But rather than reading Luke’s account, I feel like the Holy Spirit has been reading my own lackluster faith back to me.

The early church was marked with expedient obedience, wonder, awe, and expectancy. My own walk with God is often more muted and mundane. Often, I don’t see God doing the same types things because I am not obeying and living with my eyes wide open. While the accounts of the early church first stirred me, the longer I sit in them, I find my heart increasingly sickened by my selfishness and lack of trusting obedience.

I don’t like feeling convicted. It is terribly uncomfortable to be exposed as one who likes to talk and write about the gospel but is slow to share it with others. But God’s Word is doing its good work and beginning to compel me to simple obedience in the spaces where God has placed me. If I want fresh accounts of God’s faithfulness, I will have to step out in clumsy obedience and faith to my neighbors and fellow soccer mommas.

Read slowly and spiritually, the Scriptures should sometimes leave us with a stomachache. The Word of God convicts and exposes, but it will not leave us there. For the sick finally seek the aid of a physician, and the soul sick will run to the gospel medicine offered by the Great Physician.

When was the last time the timeless and timely Word of God left you with a tummy ache?

What Makes the Angels Wonder

Even mainstream culture has a cyclical fascination with angels and angelic beings. Growing up we watched Touched by An Angel as a family. Nicholas Cage had that strange movie about being an angel wearing a trench coat. People buy angel figurines and necklaces for each other as symbols of affection and protection. There is talk of guardian angels even among those who would not call themselves religious.

It is no wonder that angelic beings make us wonder. The reality that an unseen realm exists right alongside our material universe has staying power. Even in our age of materialism when what is real is that which can be measured, prodded, dissected, and recorded, people are loathe to let go of the idea that angels walk and move and serve among us.

While there is much to say about the less visible though no less real realms, my heart has been thinking about what makes the angels wonder.

The Scriptures flat out tell us that, just as we are intrigued and wonder about angels, they are intrigued and wonder at us. Well, to be more specific, they peer from their lofty perches in the unseen realm and wonder at the salvation God has purchased for us.

We, who were intended to be the crown of God’s incredible creation, had quite a tumbling fall. Angels are not unaware of such ignoble falls. After all, the lead angel of light was swept out of the heavens for desiring more power and more prominence than the God under whose authority he was to serve (see Luke 10:18). They know all too well the corruptibility of God’s creation.

They wonder not at our disobedience, but at the incredible condescension of God who stooped to save us, who died that he might once again delight in us.

The Apostle Peter, writing to a beleaguered and bruised, suffering people, sought to remind his tired flock of the incredible wealth they had received in the gospel. He employed the wonder of the angels to that end.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10–12, emphasis mine).

The angels stand in awe and wonder at the salvation God has secured for us. While we wonder about angels, angels wonder at our purchased place in the kingdom of God.

As a group of ladies and I have been studying the book of Acts, the angels that keep popping into the story for a brief act of helping obedience have stood out to me. They seem to be a funny flock, those angels. They remind me of Navy Seals, prepared and trained to the nth degree. Ready to step in for their crucial service of obedience to help a bungling group of human believers who are seeking to clumsily advance God’s rule and reign on this earth. They pop in, do their role, and peace out as quickly as they came. No agents, no publicity stunts, just unadulterated obedience and service to God.

Angelic Wonder

Angels don’t need agents.
They don’t crave publicity.
They operate in obedience,
Do His bidding in simplicity.

In compassionate condescension,
They buoy beleaguered belief,
Propping up pallor believers,
Bringing resurrection relief.

Sitting on the Savior’s tomb,
Wondering at what He’d done,
Ushering astonished disciples
When the gospel had begun.

Angels follows order exactly,
With God-empowered precision,
Yet they wonder at salvation,
At God’s unthinkable decision.

We know aspects of Adonai
They’ll never understand.
As recipients of redemption,
In God’s great grace we stand.

We were made lower than angels,
Yet, for our souls, Christ came.
As His resurrection lifts us up,
A wonderful salvation we claim.

We stand in a place of redemption that causes angels to wonder. Perhaps we would do well to join them in their wonder at all God has done on our behalf.

A Big Confession About Smallness

Between a visit to the Grand Canyon and being a small minnow at a big conference, the Lord has been graciously reminding me of my smallness of late. While I initially resist being put in my proper place, I am learning the freedom of a right estimation of self.

I want to be big. I want to be made much of. I want to feel important and needed, wise and winsome. I want to be remembered.

And those desires are not necessarily evil, but the twisted ways the fleshy parts of my heart seek these things most assuredly are. I want to know more than you. I want to write better than you. I want to be more needed and more significant than you. And it disgusts me deeply. It fills my eyes with tears.

Left to myself, I perfectly embody exactly what James says wisdom is not:

“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:14).

Social media did not create this monster. My sin-wrecked heart did. Christian conferences (yes, sin shows up there in its pious clothes) do not create this creature, they only give it a place to show its ugly self. It lives in me, as much as I try to avoid places where it may rear its hideous head.

And I am thankful that the Lord sometimes lets me see it and admit that it is not yet extinct in my existence. For such sight makes me want to fight it until the day when I am finally free to admit my smallness in the unadulterated presence of the One whose largeness of character made room for me.

My soul yearns to be one who is rightly accustomed to the low seat, to be one who has a right estimation of self, to be one who is so hidden in Christ that she need not be seen or celebrated beyond measure.

Yet, my flesh rages against these God-implanted, Scripturally-nurtured desires. I have far more Pharisee in me than I care to admit.

As Jesus so astutely pointed out in Matthew 23, the Pharisee in me loves to sit in a high seat and longs for the places of honor and titles of importance (Matthew 23:2 and 6–7). Yet the Spirit is slowly, steadily shaping me into one who clings to the feet of Jesus, washing his feet with my tears of repentance and dependence (see Luke 7:36–50).

The Pharisee in me wants to be seen and celebrated by human eyes as I do good works or walk in obedience (Matthew 23:5). However, the Spirit is slowly, steadily shaping me into one who is more comfortable with the prayer closet more than the crowds (see Matthew 6:16–18). The Pharisee in me wants to be called teacher, instructor, or mother (Matthew 23:7–12). Nonetheless, the Spirit continually puts in the place of a pupil and child. Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides, but the Spirit would make us seeing servants (Matthew 23:16).

In the kingdom of God, smallness does not mean insignificance. A right view of self, while bitter at first, leads to the sweetness of true identity in Christ. The gap between my desire to be large and my smallness is meant to be filled with the love of Christ which does not puff up but builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

When my flesh fights the Spirit, demanding to be made much of, the Holy Spirit brings to mind a simple poetic pairing of lines by George MacDonald:

“‘Tis God I need, not rank in good;
‘Tis life, not honor’s meed.
With Him to fill my every mood,
I am content, indeed.”

The wisest ones will cling to the only Wise One who perfectly embodied the perfect wisdom described by James, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, partial and sincere” (James 3:17).

And the more they cling to Him, the more they will be conformed to Him until that glorious day when they are completely with Him, face to face.

May we help each other to be happy to be small and hoping to be whole until we are in the presence of the holy One.