Advent & Adoption – A Mother’s Heart

What follows is a “guest post,” written by my sister, Katie (or rather, she wrote it and I stole it…with her permission).  Katie, her husband Junior, and their three children are right in the middle of adopting a little boy from India.  His name is Gabriel, “Gabe.”  At this very moment, Gabe waits in an Indian orphanage for the day when his parents can come and bring him home.  Read Katie’s reflection, and then join them (and many) in praying that their son will soon be with them…even before Christmas:

Hope in the Wait

As I write this, the Advent season is fast approaching.  For me, this Advent season feels far weightier than any that has preceded it.  Junior and I started the process of international adoption in May 2018 and by Christmas last year, we were waiting to be matched- waiting for the proverbial phone call to introduce us to a child that might one day be ours.  As hard as that wait felt at the time, this year, it all feels so much heavier.  This year, we have a name and a face, videos that we watch over and over, and pictures that have hung on our bulletin board for the last 8 months since we first saw our son’s face and said “yes” to him (literally dozens and dozens of times as we signed our names to what felt like endless amounts of paperwork).  This year, we are entering the Advent season with full hearts for him but empty arms as we still work to get through the system and bring our son home.  The wait that we had hoped would be over by this time continues still, and it has not been easy.  There have been tears of frustration over systems that seem determined to keep families separated for longer than necessary.  There has been a mix of emotions at each new update on our son- joy at seeing any progress he has made followed by the grief of one more milestone we have missed.  And deep down in the hardship of the wait is the realization of the uncertainty of it- not knowing when it will end, and more significantly, knowing that nothing is final or sure about the process until he is in our arms.

As I have begun to think about Advent, and the corporate sense of waiting that permeates the Church in a special way during this season, I have been struck by these things that the Lord has impressed upon me in our personal season of wait through our adoption process.

  1. It is in the wait where we find what we truly need – a deeper understanding of who God is and a greater opportunity to trust His character.  Outside of God himself, nothing will bring us ultimate satisfaction.  As sweet as I anticipate it will be to finally hold our son in my arms, I realize that even the beauty and joy of that anticipated moment will not last forever.  Make no mistake; he will be dearly loved by virtue of his position as our son, and we hope and pray that he will be a joyful addition to our family.  But for Jr and I, our newest son will not meet our deepest needs nor satisfy our souls.  Only God can do that.  So in the wait, I have come to realize that while withholding from me for a time something for which I long, God is simultaneously giving to me that which I most need- the good gift of Himself.  I have never been so aware of both God’s goodness and sovereignty as I have been through our adoption process.  My utter inability to speed things along in any significant way has made me lean into the sovereignty of God in ways I never have before.  Opening up my heart to our son and beginning to love him while he lives halfway around the world, completely outside of anything I can do for him, has made me feel quite vulnerable at times.  But as my Bible studies in the last few years have led me through Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1 and 2 Samuel, I have seen more and more the underlying theme of God’s sovereignty over all things, His ability to work out His purposes for His people, and the beauty of the faith that develops in those who joyfully submit to His sovereign rule.  The saints of old who waited with hope for God to work on their behalf have encouraged me to do the same, and to trust His goodness in it.  Some of the most discouraging times in our adoption process have also been those in which I have clung most closely to God’s character as revealed in Scripture and have experienced a peace in the process that can only come from Him.
  1. Waiting for temporal things helps develop a greater awareness of our wait for the eternal things to come. Since matching with our son 8 months ago, there isn’t a day that has gone by in which I haven’t thought about him.  Some days the awareness is greater than others, but the anticipation of meeting him, the questions about how he is developing, and wondering how he is being cared for are always there.  His pictures hang in our hallway and we have a timeline printed to mark our progress to him.  We pray for him daily, talk about him with our kids, and took the time on his 1st birthday to mark a remembrance of him in a special way.  In short, we are waiting for him with eager, purposeful anticipation, preparing for his arrival as best we can and very much looking forward to the day when he is physically with us.  We genuinely hoped that our son would be with us by Christmas this year, but that is not the case.  In the disappointment, God has been impressing upon me that our purposeful, anticipation for being united with our son should echo the way I can and should wait for the eternal things to come.  As a follower of Jesus, I am waiting for His return and the inauguration of the new heaven and the new earth when I will be with Him for eternity, but it can be easy to let the cares of this world and the distractions of daily life dull the sense of anticipation that I should have at that coming day.  Learning to be purposeful in our adoption wait is a means by which God has been teaching me to be purposeful in the wait for eternity, grabbing hold of the means of grace which He has provided to cultivate that anticipation and prepare me for it-studying the Word to know Him better, memorizing Scripture to hide it in my heart, joyfully participating in fellowship with other believers, praying regularly, etc.  Even as they help me to live each day, these means of grace are also intended to orient me towards eternity and the joy of what is to come with an eager anticipation that allows me to wait with hope through this present life.
  1. Waiting for what is temporal and uncertain develops a greater joy that our wait in Christ is a sure hope. One of the most difficult parts of the adoption wait is the uncertainty of it.  There are estimated timelines for everything, but as we have learned, there is no guarantee that any of those timelines will be met.  Hiccups along the way are a reminder that nothing in the process is certain, and while our process has continued along as ‘normally’ as possible with longer timelines than we had hoped, other adoptive families along the path with us have experienced the real pain and heartache of a disrupted adoption.  While we continue to trust and believe that this is what God has for our family, those disruptions have been a reminder that stepping out in faith to what the Lord has called us to isn’t a guarantee of a particular outcome.  Waiting with this sense of uncertainty has made me much more aware of and grateful for the fact that in Christ, my wait for an eternity with Him is a sure and certain hope.  I have been redeemed by His blood and made righteous in Him.  I am sealed by the Holy Spirit, and my position as a daughter of the King is secure.  There is nothing that can separate me from His love or rob me of my glorious inheritance in Him.  The same is true for every person who has placed his or her trust in Jesus for salvation from sin.  We have a sure and certain hope in Christ.  And so, a wait for something temporal, and therefore at least somewhat uncertain, can also be a means by which God points us to look beyond the temporal and continue to find joy and hope in our certain eternal future with Him.

If like me, you are a follower of Jesus in the midst of a wait, may you be encouraged in this season of Advent.  As hard as the wait can be, God is purposeful in it.  While His timing and His work may be hard to understand, we can rest in the peace that comes with the knowledge that He is both sovereign and good in all that He does.  And while we wait to see when and how He will act, may we find daily joy in knowing Him better and allowing our temporal season of wait to point us towards the joyful anticipation of an eternity with Christ where our hope and future is secure.

And to our son: Though we haven’t yet had the joy of holding you, we love you.  Though you are still half a world away from us physically, the Lord has knitted you into our hearts.  Along with your sisters and brother, we are joyfully anticipating the day when we will get to bring you home.  The wait has felt long, but we know that God has been purposeful in it.  It is our deepest prayer that one day, you will be convinced of the same.  We are so thankful that God has chosen us to step into the pain and grief of your story and provide for you a home and a family.  It is our privilege to walk this road with you.  But while we will love you fiercely as your earthly family and do all that we can to meet your needs, we hope and pray that ultimately, we will have the joy of introducing you to your Heavenly Father.  We pray that some day you will know that while you were an orphan for a time here on earth, you have never been without your Heavenly Father.  He is the one who knitted you together in your mother’s womb, who placed His hand of protection over you even at your most vulnerable moments, and we know that He is the one who is loving and caring for you even now while we wait for you.  We pray that one day you will have the joy of knowing Jesus as your savior and that your adoption into our family will be a powerful means by which God will help you to know and understand the beauty of adoption in Christ and the glorious inheritance that waits all of those who by faith, have trusted Jesus for salvation.

Merry Christmas, son.  We love you, and by God’s grace, we are coming for you soon!

Thankful for Church Music

I’m thankful for church music.  I’m thankful for church music that flows under the leadership of gifted, non-professional followers of Jesus in a small local church.  Of course, you could also be thankful for church music led by gifted professional followers of Jesus in a faithful mega church.  But, that’s not my reality.  I’m especially thankful for the church music I get to enjoy in the expression of Jesus’ body God has made me a part of – small, local, and precious.  May tell you why?  It requires a little bit of story-telling.

Recently I spent a day down in Monterey accomplishing my “other” job – meaning my duty as a member of the Air Force Reserves.  During part of that day I listened to a speech given by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force at the 2019 Air, Space and Cyber Conference, hosted by the Air Force Association (AFA).

Now, in case you don’t speak Air Force, let me give some context to the significance of this speech and its moment.  The Air Force Chief of Staff is the senior ranking officer wearing an Air Force uniform, responsible for well over 650,000 Air Force personnel – active duty, National Guard, reserves, and civilians.  He is also the chief advisor to our nation’s civilian leadership for Air Force air power matters, in particular the President of the United States.  In short, what he says matters…a lot (Note: By way of a brief tangent, let me also acknowledge how blessed the Air Force is by the leadership of General David Goldfein.  While I don’t know him personally, I know he’s a leader one can easily follow with confidence).

Not only do the Chief’s thoughts matter greatly in the life of the Air Force, but the Chief’s comments offered at this particular event carry special weight.  My sense of the AFA’s annual conference is that this event has become a unique grounding point for the Air Force each year.  It is one of the leading-edge moments in the annual life-cycle of the service.  While technically speaking the AFA is a non-governmental organization, the audience I saw on video was awash with uniformed Air Force folks.  Not only that, but it included the then acting secretary of the Air Force, our top civilian leader within the department.  All this to say, this conference and General Goldfein’s speech were more than a little significant for the Air Force in 2019.

How does any of this relate to my thankfulness for church music?  Hang with me…I’m getting there.  As General Goldfein finished his speech, he invited on stage a musical artist named Dwayne O’Brien, a singer for the band Little Texas.  Some years back, O’Brien wrote a song titled “We Remember” for the 50th birthday of the U.S. Air Force.  It is now, according to General Goldfein, a mainstay of Air Force history and culture (And I’m sure he’s right.  I’ve probably heard it many times without realizing what I was listening to).  At the General’s invitation, Dwayne O’Brien began to sing “We Remember.”  While he sang, captivating images of Air Force people cycled on the background screen – historic, nostalgic pictures, and present-day renderings of a proud service.  Eventually, an Air Force choir and instrumentalists joined O’Brien, each one wearing special ceremonial-type uniforms.  If you’re an Air Force member it was all oriented toward stirring your pride, tapping into your passion, and energizing your desire to serve well.  Particularly because of what I’ll say next, know that – when rightly understood and entered into – I appreciate such moments.  They matter for the branch of the service I’m privileged to be a part of.

As I listened to O’Brien sing and observed the spectacle of the moment, somewhere in the back of my mind the thought began to grow: “This is a religious event!  I’m watching a sort of church service.”  It was all there: The Gospel of U.S. Air Force dominance; a senior-pastor preacher wearing four stars exhorting the listening faithful; the liturgy of Air Force culture; a special music demonstration with a choir to back up the singer; and the language of passion and service.  We even had vestments, we just call them uniforms.  This was a religious moment in the “high church” of America’s Air Force warriors.

Struck by that thought, I then felt a sense of hollowness, especially hollowness tied to the song.  This anthem to the Air Force – it’s heritage, it’s fallen heroes, and the country it serves – it wasn’t enough!  It wasn’t ultimate; it wasn’t finally satisfying; it wasn’t lasting; it wasn’t eternal.  The U.S. Air Force is important, yes, crucially so in the life of this country.  But it is also, in the final analysis, a passing entity.  There will come a day when the U.S. Air Force will cease to exist.

This line of thinking made me glad (again, somewhere in the back of my mind).  It made me thankful.  It made me thankful for what we enjoy as the body of Christ.  It made me thankful for Sunday morning church singing – Sunday morning church singing at Felton Bible where we aren’t professional, we aren’t a crowd of thousands, we aren’t a congregation of influential people who are movers and shakers in any worldly context.  But we are something special, incredibly so.  We are special because we are created in the image of God.  We are special because we are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This means that when we, by faith, sing for the glory of God, the heavens shake!  When we sing, our singing finds its grounding in eternal, tangible, unchangeable realities – God, his glory, his character, his ways, and his stupendous work of redemption.  The mere 72-year history of the Air Force can’t begin to compare with the transcendent reality that undergirds Christian singing.  When we open our mouths in praise of Jesus (no matter how it sounds in the moment) we by faith experience a power to change hearts, to move the universe, and to please God that “We Remember” will never touch.

This is why, as Thanksgiving and then Christmas approach, I’m grateful for church music!

Once Again…the Beauty of Archaeology

Just today I became aware of an article at Biblical Archaeology Report titled, “Gallio: An Archaeology Biography.”  It is brief, fascinating account of a Roman proconsul named Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus.  Why is he important?  Well, this is the Gallio before whom Paul appeared as recorded in Acts 18:12-16.  Read this article.  I think you’ll be surprised and pleased by a helpful example of how extra-biblical sources can illuminate our study of God’s Word.

Galileo, a Forgery, and Satan

Recently I finished watching a short but fascinating documentary titled “Galileo’s Moon” (Spoiler Alert: What follows will spill the beans, but viewing the show is worth your time nonetheless).  It tells the story of a manuscript of Galileo Galilei’s book Siderus Nuncius (originally published in 1610) that hit the rare book market in 2005.

Image Credit: Harvard University via Wikipedia

Siderus Nunciuswhich described Galileo’s observations of the heavens, became a paradigm-shifting work when it offered evidence for Nicolai Copernicus’ heliocentric view of the universe.  The copy that appeared in 2005 underwent intense scientific scrutiny before being pronounced an authentic, early version of the work, and thus exceedingly rare.  It’s estimated value ran to $10 million dollars. 

Now, as you might expect, all was not as it seemed.  The gist of the story is that nine years later, in 2014, a skeptical and observant historian reexamined the manuscript.  His investigation, subsequently confirmed by others, proved the copy was in fact a fraud; a clever, excellent, deceptive, and highly believable fraud.  Prior to 2014, most rare book dealers believed it impossible to create successful forgeries of books from the 17thcentury.  After 2014, that false hope came tumbling down.

What’s particularly fascinating about the documentary is that the forger turns out to be a well-known former Italian government official who, at the time of filming, is serving a seven-year term of house arrest for other crimes.  The man in question makes no attempt to hide or deny his efforts to deceive with the copy of Siderus Nuncius.  In fact, he unabashedly delights in his work, relishing his long success at hoodwinking top experts in the world of rare books.  He even describes in detail how he produced the forgery.  At one point he speaks of needing to “distract one’s eyes from the print,” in other words, giving examiners something so remarkable that they would miss other tell-tale signs of fraud.  This led him to include certain features in the book, including a forgery of Galileo’s own signature.  In the words of the man himself, “It’s like with a magician.  When he comes on stage the magician gives the audience something to see in order cover up his own tricks.” This charlatan goes on to justify his work by putting the blame on others: “But I didn’t create a fake Nuncius.  I created a different Nuncius…The problem is the fake historians who did not recognize that it was a reproduction.”

As I watched this story unfold, and especially as I listened to the forger himself, I found myself struck by profound biblical parallels.  Here I’m thinking especially of Satan, the great deceiver, the chief opposer of God and the enemy of God’s people.  Satan is a wicked being whose goal, since at least Genesis 3, has been to supplant God and destroy his works, particularly his beloved humanity.  Satan’s primary weapon is deceit; deceit used to entice human beings into sinful rebellion against God.  Since the beginning of human sin with Adam and Eve in the Garden, we have been culpable and willing suckers for Satan’s wiles.  Scripture speaks of Satan masquerading as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).  That is to say, Satan’s deceptions look good, they look believable, enticing, and worthy of attention, despite being in reality wicked, corrupted, worthless, and deadly. Paul refers to this satanic masquerade when he speaks of false apostles in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 (NASB): “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” Satan and his schemes hold out what looks attractive and captivating in order to “distract one’s eyes from the [corrupted] print.”  He is like the magician who “…gives the audience something to see in order cover up his own tricks.”

The degree of Satanic deception – that is already underway and will only grow with intensity as God’s plan unfolds – appears with startling clarity in the Apostle John’s Apocalypse, or Revelation.  There, in chapters 12, 13, and 16 we read of remarkable satanic activity carried out by the dragon (Satan himself), the beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth (perhaps the false prophet of Revelation 16:13).  What Satan and his side-kicks accomplish in these chapters hinges on his ability to deceive human beings who hate God and are eager to be deceived.  The elaborateness, extent, and effects of this deception campaign are stunning.  In short, all but a select few willingly fall prey to the charade, not realizing they do so to their damnation.  It’s no wonder that the Spirit through John warns this in Revelation 13:8-9 (NASB): “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.  If anyone has an ear, let him hear.”  Speaking in Matthew 24 of the same timeframe and the same satanic deceptions, Jesus says, “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him.  For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.  Behold, I have told you in advance.  So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.  For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (Matthew 24:23-28, NASB).  The upshot of Jesus’ words is this: “I’ve warned you in advance, don’t be deceived!”

As you read the words of Revelation and Matthew’s gospel, note who it is that sees through Satan’s scheme and avoids falling prey to his trap.  It is those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. It is the elect (Note: One point of Matthew 24 is that the elect will not be misled by the appearance of a false Christ).  It is bonified followers of Jesus Christ, people saved from God’s wrath and enslavement to sin by grace through faith.  It is people chosen by God in eternity past for salvation, predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).  It is people who obey the Gospel, confess their sin, repent, and receive the free gift of eternal life offered to them in Jesus’ name.  It is people whose lives are being transformed from the wicked idolatry of self to the holy worship of God.  Over such as these, Satan’s deceptive power fails.  Why?  The answer is simple: They know the real thing.  They know the real Jesus.  They see through Satan’s lie because it cannot ultimately replace truth, no matter how well he may mimic reality for a time.  The knowledge these “elect” have of the real thing flows from their heart-centered knowledge of God’s Word.  It is the Word of Christ that teaches them about the reality of Christ, thereby inoculating them against the damnable lie of Satan.  Consider John 10:3-5, which tells us that Jesus’ sheep (his people, the “elect”) hear his voice as he calls them by name to lead them out: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:4-5).  Or consider also Psalm 119:11: Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you.” It is the heart-centered adherence to the Word of God that protects Jesus’ sheep against the deceptive and deadly predations of the satanic wolf.

I’ll move toward a close by briefly mentioning one way I’ve encountered Satan’s work to deceive, his magician’s sleight of hand, his forger’s touch, just in the last few days.  On Tuesday I received an email from the principal of my daughter’s high school announcing an upcoming presentation during all freshmen physical education classes.  The anticipated event, put on by the Santa Cruz Diversity Center, will cover “an introduction to gender diversity, supporting friends and peers, as well as resources in the community.”  That kind of language, in this part of the country, in 2019, should raise warning flags for anyone who holds to a biblical ethic of sexuality and gender. Not surprisingly, after doing some online research into the Santa Cruz Diversity Center, I discovered an organization committed to what Al Mohler describes as the “sexual revolution.”  The Diversity Center’s mission is to “…advocate for, support, and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community…”.  It exists to “advance the causes and priorities of the lesbian and gay community in Santa Cruz County,” to “[advance] social justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning individuals and their allies in Santa Cruz County, California.”  In short, the Center exists to normalize that which is antithetical to God; that which offends his holiness; that which our Creator says leads only to pain, destruction, and suffering.  And it will do so by taking that agenda into a public high school under the innocuous sounding banner of “an introduction to gender diversity, supporting friends and peers, as well as resources in the community.”  This is darkness masquerading as light.  It is Satan’s slight-of-hand to distract attention with what looks good while he wreaks utter destruction.  Oh, may the elect of God stand fast in God’s Word and not be deceived!

I have one final point to make, and it’s an important one in light of my last paragraph. The final point is simply this: Those people who work Satan’s deception – even willingly and culpably – are not to be attacked, hated, or ostracized, but loved, prayed for, pursued, and pitied. The personnel of the Santa Cruz Diversity Center are not my enemies.  Satan is.  The people who will accomplish this assembly are sinners who need a Savior, just like I need a Savior.  They are folks who need to know the beauty of their Creator and hear the liberating news of the Gospel.  They need to come out of the shadows and into the light.  I share with them a common history of rebellion against God (think of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:11), and I have a message of salvation they desperately need to hear.  It’s time to leave the chintzy magic show and enjoy winsome reality.

 

Buried Treasure

In the last few years particularly, I’ve enjoyed “studying” (I use that term loosely) the Bible’s archeological, geographical, and cultural background…the story behind the story in a sense.  Particularly in the realm of biblical archeology, we live in rich times.  The discipline of archeology is a relatively new area of academic study.  It’s origins, at least in terms of a growing and established branch of scholarly inquiry, lie in the mid-1800’s, with it’s coming-of-age in the early-to-mid 1900’s.  As archeology in general became a “thing,” so also did biblical archeology – meaning, the study of what remains of the places, people, and cultures we encounter in Scripture.  The purpose of biblical archeology is not to prove the Bible – as if God’s Word needed proving – though it certainly provides a powerful apologetic in addressing biblical skeptics.  Rather, biblical archeology (together with the related study of geography and cultures) helps to enrichen our understanding of the Bible; to deepen our appreciation for Scripture’s details, its texture, its context, its truth; and even to enhance our ability to rightly interpret God’s Word.  I’m convinced that the discipline of biblical archeology, when rightly approached, is one of Jesus’ good gifts to his church.

By of way of a tangible example, let me share with you just one of the awesome findings of twentieth-century archeological related to Scripture.  Do you have any idea where to find the oldest sample of written Scripture extant today?  Some might quickly think of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls – the hoard of ancient biblical and extra-biblical manuscripts discovered in the desert alongside the Dead Sea beginning in the latter half of the 1940’s.  Ketef Hinnom ScrollBut even the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls do not preserve the oldest example of written Scripture we possess.  Older still are two small artifacts known as the Ketef Hinnom Scrolls (Note: I was reminded recently of both of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Ketef Hinnom Scrolls while watching the first half of a documentary titled, Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy).  The Ketef Hinnom Scrolls are two small silver strips originally worn around the neck as an amulet.  They were discovered at a burial site in the Hinnom Valley (which runs on the southwest and west of ancient Jerusalem) in 1979, but date originally to the 600’s B.C.  A version of these words from Numbers 6 appear etched into the silver: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”  Today you can see the scrolls on display at the Israel Museum located in Jerusalem.

There are many big thoughts about God that we might think prompted by these small, diminutive artifacts.  Not the least is this: Our faith is gloriously old, because our God is eternal!  He is the Ancient of Days(Daniel 7:9).  Since the beginning of creation, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the covenant-keeping God of Israel, God who became man in Jesus Christ, has never lacked worshippers.  Who knows whether or not the bearer of the Ketef Hinnom Scrolls was a true God-fearer, but the words he or she bore around their neck proclaimed truth that has not tarnished with age.  Indeed, it has only become all the richer as the Word in flesh lived, died, was resurrected in victory, and ascended to the right hand of the Father!  Praise God for a small, beautiful trinket dug out the ground four decades ago!

Holiness is Christ

Good morning all!  Just a brief post today in order to appreciate these wonderful words from J.I. Packer:

“Holiness is a matter of being Jesus’s disciple, of listening to his word and obeying his commands, of loving and adoring him as one’s Redeemer, of seeking to please him and honor him as one’s Master, and so of making ready for the day when we shall see him and be with him forever…This Jesus-centeredness is the basic form of Christian holiness, and it is to this that the Spirit leads us all in his sanctifying work.  The holiest Christians are not those most concerned about holiness as such, but those whose minds and hearts and goals and purposes and love and hope are most fully focused on our Lord Jesus Christ (emphasis mine).” – taken from Keep In Step With The Spirit (Baker Books, 2005), 134.

From Hypocrisy to Christ

(Like the last post, this one also relates to two recent sermons at Felton Bible Church, Felton, CA on July 7th and July 14th.  You can listen to both sermons here.)

I’d like to build a lifeline for you…a lifeline for me.  I’d like to lay down a trail of breadcrumbs out of lost wandering in a deadly forest, and into joyful life in a picturesque valley.  I’d like to illuminate the road away from hypocrisy and on to Christ.

Recently in our study of Luke we addressed the dark picture of religious hypocrisy found in Luke 11:37-53.  We considered nine marks of the religious hypocrite, the final of which is exasperated and violent opposition to Jesus Christ.  At the conclusion of the second sermon from this passage I suggested that the antidote to religious hypocrisy is holy fear; it is the soul-captivating, person-liberating fear of our Holy God. Such, I think, is the answer of Luke 12:4-5 to the religious hypocrisy of Luke 11:37-53.

Of course, once we mention the fear of God, our very next question ought to be, “So what is that?  And how does it relate to Christ?”  After all, Luke’s Gospel is all about the Gospel Kingdom of God centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ.  It is all about entering into real life by coming into God’s kingdom as a disciple of the Messiah.  So, what is the fear of God, and how does it bring us to Jesus himself and therefore into God’s kingdom?

Let’s try and answer that question by turning to the lifeline…the trail of breadcrumbs…the road from hypocrisy to Christ.  Hypocrisy is our starting point – the first link in our chain (if there are no others then we have no chain), the first crumb on the trail (if it’s all we have, we’ll starve), the first step on the road (if we don’t walk on, we won’t arrive anywhere).  It’s a place of death and starvation.  We saw hypocrisy clearly in Luke 11:37-53, so there’s no need to belabor the point here.  Instead, let’s hopefully look forward and move on from this place of duplicity.

The second and third links in our life-line – crumbs on the trail, steps on the road – are “fear” and “delight”.  Which of the two precedes the other?  I don’t know.  They’re so interconnected as to be almost one and the same.  The solution to hypocrisy is fear (Luke 12), and fear necessitates delight. How do we know this?  Psalm 112:1 (NASB) says, “Praise the Lord!  How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments.”  There is a revealing parallelism in this verse.  Notice how the second part of the verse explains the first.  Who is the man who fears the LORD?  It is he (or she) who greatly delights in his commandments.  The mark of fear is delight!  The converse is also true.  The person who greatly delights in God’s commandments is someone, by definition, who fears Yahweh.  Fear and delight are two sides of the same coin.  These two words together, as a pair, describe a right relationship of man to God.  When we don’t delight in God’s commandments (and none of us do by nature), we do not fear him.  While this reality holds true, our relationship with God is broken, to our damnation.  In contrast, when we fear God we also necessarily delight in his commandments. This is the place of joy in which our God-intended relationship with our Creator is restored, and eternal life exists, never to depart.

 I need to segue here for just a moment to Psalm 119.  It is an absolutely stunning piece of literature, the depths of which I have barely touched in my own reading and meditation. You may know that Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem in Hebrew.  Did you also know that it uses “law” or “commandment” sorts of words over 180 times? Recently I counted all the instances in Psalm 119 (in the NASB translation) of the following words (or their plural form): “commandment,” “judgment,” “law,” “ordinance,” “precept,” “statute,” “testimony,” and “way” (in reference to God’s ways).  I came up with 184 occurrences in 179 verses.  The Psalmist is in holy ecstasy as he considers these “legal” things of God.  You get the sense that God’s commands, his judgments, his law, his ordinances, his precepts, his statutes, his testimonies, his ways, are not merely something to conform oneself to as a matter of good behavior or good-citizen living (in the way we might obey the laws of our municipality, state, or country). Rather, they are the essence of life itself, because they are the expression of God himself!  They are the life of God communicated to man. They are something to savor, to taste, to enjoy, to hunger after, to delight in(and yes, if this language sounds “John Piper-ish” that’s no mistake).  Do you want to know what it looks like to fear God?  Read Psalm 119.  Do you want to know what it looks like to delight in God’s commandments?  Read Psalm 119.

(Side Note: Consider what this means about our view of Scripture.  Properly speaking, the “Law” is the Torah, the five books of Moses that are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But, more broadly, the “Law” is the entire Old Testament revelation.  In the final analysis, we find God’s commands, judgments, law, ordinances, precepts, statutes, and ways described for us in the totality of the Bible. So, in a manner of speaking, the whole of Scripture is the essence of life itself, because it is the expression of God himself.  The Bible is interwoven with the life of God communicated to man.  I say this with care, because it’s important that we not confuse the written text of the Bible with God in his being.  In other words, the Bible is not God and God is not the Bible. But, that said, for us humans there is an inextricable tie between the words we read on the pages of Scripture and the very life of God.  No wonder Paul could write in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is “God-breathed.”)

Finally, we arrive at the last crumb in our trail (indeed, the feast itself), the final link in our chain, the concluding step on our journey, namely Jesus Christ.  Here again I’ll return to Psalm 119.  As I read through it recently I was struck by this thought: Jesus is the fulfillment of Psalm 119.  He actually lived, experienced, and felt from the heart what the Psalmist expresses (excepting Psalm 119:176a).  In fact, I think Psalm 119 describes Jesus’ own human longing after, striving for, yearning for, and utterly enjoying God’s commandments, his judgments, his law, his ordinances, his precepts, his statutes, his testimonies, and his ways. Jesus is the quintessential God-fearer. He is the example of what it means to delight in Yahweh himself by delighting in Yahweh’s commands.  But, he is also more than that.  He is, in fact, our essential representative in terms of fear and delight.  Why? Because none of us, in ourselves alone, fear God…and none of us, in ourselves alone, actually delight in God. In other words, Psalm 119 only becomes true of us (and it must become true of us, if we are to leave deadly hypocrisy behind) in Christ!

I could go on, but perhaps this is sufficient to make clear the lifeline I began with…the trail of breadcrumbs from hypocrisy to Christ…the steps out of the forest and into the valley.  We begin with hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy’s solution is fearful delight.  And fearful delight becomes our reality in Christ!