Monday, December 31, 2012

THESE EYES


It's the eyes that get me.

They fill me with a perplexing mix of joy and dread. They look at me—at ME!—and I can't escape their view. They see my need, but more, they also see ME for who I REALLY am. Before them I am transparent, utterly without concealment, and known in far greater depth than I even know myself. I remember:

No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).

What's with the eyes?

The Apostle John (in Revelation 1:14) describes Jesus in His eternal glory as having “eyes like a flame of fire.” That's the phrase I remember best from this section of Scripture. Maybe it's because I memorized two different “Eye of the Lord” Bible verses when I was just a lad; they have rung in my head ever since:

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless before him (II Chronicles 16:9).

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3).

I know the Lord is present everywhere. But I forget that He WANTS to be there, and that He actively exists in every place with His eyes actively searching out hearts and minds and motives and desires. He actively knows every detail from every possible perspective.

And His eyes are aflame. Holiness. Purity. Perfection. And burning zeal for His glory. I'm not only uncovered in His sight, I am undone. All my impurities stand out in stark contrast to His holiness.

I am grateful for the way Jesus revealed His character to us when He lived here—when He was emptied of His eternal glory and “found in the likeness of men.” His eyes must have been something to see. Look at the way the Apostles saw them:

He saw a large crowd and felt compassion for them (Matthew 14:14).

When the Lord saw her, he felt compassion for her (Luke 7:13).

Seeing the people, he felt compassion for them (Matthew 9:36).

Many times the writers of the New Testament join the Lord's compassion to His perception. From His sight flows mercy.

When I couple these two realities together—the holy fire of His perfect vision with His character of mercy and compassion—I breathe a genuine sigh of relief. He sees me; He knows me; He still loves me and cares for my needs.

But I find that my knowledge of His perfect perception changes ME! The fire purifies me. I act differently when I know He's watching.

I wonder how Peter felt when, after he denied the Lord three times, “the Lord turned and looked at" him (Luke 22:61). Apparently the denial took place close to where Jesus was being illegally tried. And the Lord knew Peter would fail, and looked directly at him when the sin was complete. “And Peter went out and wept bitterly.”

Lord Jesus, as I enter a new year, please remind me often of Your presence—Your holy, fiery, blazing perfection. And may I humbly fall at Your perfect, holy feet to praise You for Your compassion and mercy! Let me see you seeing me before I am brought to tears and bitter weeping.


Friday, December 28, 2012

The Bishops and the Javerts

After seeing Les Miserables on Wednesday, my wife and I had a somber discussion about various people who have been a part of our lives. Some have acted the role of the Bishop who "bought" Jean Valjean's soul for God. They have granted to us extraordinary grace and kindness.  God has used them to fill our hearts with encouragement and hope.

Others have played the role of Javert. They make their opinions clear: that people do not change, that fallenness calls for judgment and penance, that there is no good place in society for felons and thieves. To them, the past is inescapable.

I see the same conflict of values in the story of the prodigal son. The Father shows illogical and extravagant grace; the older brother is a Javert--unforgiving, demanding, disdaining both the prodigal for his sin and the Father for His love.

A while back I penned a set of lyrics from the perspective of the forgiven prodigal. It's called, "Song for the Older Brother," a plea for modern Javerts to embrace grace like the Father.

Will you rejoice with me,
now that I am free?
Will you sing a song of praise
that even my heart has been made clean?
Or, are you still surprised at the way I behaved?
Stunned to know a child of God could be so enslaved?
Please put away your shock and grief
and rejoice with me.

Will you rejoice with me,
now that I have peace?
Or are you just a little mad to know
my anguish has found release?
And are you wishing still my every consequence
magnified what I deserved
and slashed my confidence?
Please let God's mercy grant relief!
And rejoice with me.

See the angels rejoicing one and all,
See the Father embrace the prodigal,
See the Savior,
Who gladly bought me with His death
Now calls me friend.
Will you come join with them?

Will you rejoice with me,
now that I am free?
Put aside your pride and pain
to sieze the joy that forgiveness brings!
Why don't you enter in to my true happiness?
Maybe you have never known that place of brokenness,
or felt the thrill of being free?
But would you rejoice with me? 

(c) 2009 Psalm 1 Productions

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Of Hobbits and Heros


On Wednesday, we saw the Hobbit in the morning and Les Mis in the evening. It was an epic movie binge on our part, and a satisfying escape at that! But it got me thinking. (Doesn't everything?) Our culture loves loves loves movies of a particular kind, so much so we pay to see sequels and prequels and midquels again and again. They satisfy a certain set of hunger pangs percolating in the heart of every human, pangs that reflect truths that everyone knows deep within.

The Bible tells us that every human is created with a conscience and thus knows right from wrong. It also teaches that we are members of a fallen race corrupted by sin. We express that fallenness by suppressing truth.

So on the one hand we clearly sense right and wrong, good and evil, moral and immoral. The conscience is alive and well in the human heart. But we push those senses aside when they conflict with self interest and as a result we make wrong choices, evil decisions, immoral actions—not all the time, but enough to prove our fallen condition, for sure!

So back to the movies. Our love of Tolkien-esque stories reveals the presence and influence of the conscience at work in the heart. As we watch, we are moved by—and celebrate—truths like these:

  1. Life is epic. Epic battle. Epic struggle. Epic beginning. Epic end. Billions of small, daily, mundane transactions do not negate what we know to be true: the universe is speeding toward an epic goal and every little detail plays a part in the total picture. This is a uniquely western world view and flows from good Biblical theology. You won't find “telic” thought in eastern culture, at least not like it permeates western culture, especially America. We like things to begin, climax, and end. It's why we love football and not cricket.

  2. Evil is real, vicious, unrelenting, and must be defeated. It will not go away on its own. Some forms need to be met with vigilant battle followed by genuine grace. Other forms need to be dispatched, violently, and the sooner the better. Dispatching may mean moral decision making, or it may mean picking up a sword and decapitating an orc. Or a goblin.

  3. Evil is external and internal. And like the sage said, “The world outside don't pose no threat like the darkness in our hearts” (Charlie Peacock). Both manifestations of evil must be fought, and fought valiantly.

  4. Valiant fighting is good if the cause is good, and there are good and noble causes worth agonizing over.

  5. Bravery is an epic character trait, but it won't be revealed without a costly, painful, and unrelenting struggle.
We watch the movie and cheer the good guys and reveal through our natural reactions that we are under the influence of God's gift to every man and woman: a conscience.

But then we leave the theater and suppress that same, sane moral sense in the real world. We have a reckless disregard for identifying real evils of this age. Shoot, we want to legalize some of them! And admit to the darkness in our own hearts? What? In THIS day of blameshifting? It's the fault of my parents/teachers/therapists/guns/medications/fillintheblank—anything but standing up to the fact that I, alone, am evil and capable of great, harmful, hateful behavior. I need restrained in the least, redeemed and regenerated to be sure, and now, lest I sink my ship and drag into the abyss those around me I love.

So for me, watching the Hobbit is not just an experience, it's a reminder of our condition, our need for a Savior, and our longing to be a part of the epic plan we sense MUST be a part of this created world.

And this is, by the way, my favorite way to watch a movie that appeals to the stirrings of my own heart—I examine why it appeals to me, good or bad, and how it proves I am either human, or more, a child of the King. 

Speaking of King, I want to watch LOTR 3 again...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Kind of Preacher

I read this about Stephen Charnok, a minister who lived in the 1600s and is famous for his work, "The Existence and Attributes of God" --

He was not content, like many, with the mere reputation of being a recluse; on the contrary, he was set on bringing forth the fruits of a hard student. There was always one day in the week in which he made it appear that the others were not misspent. His Sabbath ministrations were not the loose vapid effusions of a few hours' careless preparation, but were rather the substantial, well-arranged, well-compacted products of much intense thought and deep cogitation. "Had he been less in his study," says his editors quaintly, "he would have been less liked in the pulpit."
I want to be that kind of preacher.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Silent No More: A Return to Writing


Over four years ago I stepped down from serving as the pastor of a church. I had been a true “preacher” of the Word. I studied and prepared and spoke with passion and led God's people from the pulpit as a teacher/shepherd. There was not an opportunity to preach that I turned down. And when I resigned, I entered into a time of silence—a time to reflect on my life as a minister, discern my errors, admit my flaws, speak honestly about the condition of my heart, and repent of my own sins.

In this time of introspection, I discovered that much of my prior ministry was colored by a subtle kind of arrogance that flowed from self-confidence and the desire to be proven right. I pray now that my labors were not all rendered useless by this dominant flaw. I shudder to think of the damage that my pride may have caused. The sins that were for me a personal struggle proved the presence and depth of pride in my heart. Once I brought them into the light, I was able to see how pride touched every dimension of my existence. I am grateful for the assurance of forgiveness I have in Jesus.

But I have also learned something else during this time of silence. I am a preacher. That part of me has not died. Remaining silent has been one of the most difficult tasks to manage, especially as of late. Everything I learn and read and see cries out be brought into the light of God's Word under the skills of godly preacher—explaining, expositing, exhorting, encouraging, exalting—I have trouble holding it in.

I have deep regard for the words of Jeremiah the prophet:

For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak anymore in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot. (Jer. 20:8b-9, ESV)

I feel this daily. I am blessed in that I am not persecuted as Jeremiah was. I am not under reproach and derision for being a Christian—not to my face, anyway. But I relate to the trouble Jeremiah had with self-imposed silence.

And I have come to the place where I believe the silence can be ended. I am grateful for the recent opportunities I have been given to preach. They have given release for my greatest passion. But I need more opportunity. There's too much getting bottled up on my inside and I'm ready to let it out.

Hence this blog.

I re-ignite it today as a place where I can release “preacher-steam.” I have no hopes or expectations of building a large reader-base. I certainly don't feel I deserve to be heard. But I must speak, and this forum provides the best present opportunity.

May Christ Jesus be honored here at this site by writer and readers alike!