Monsters Are Real

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Children are afraid of the dark; adults are afraid of the darkness. No longer do we tremble beneath the sheets, scared of the imaginary monster under the bed. We have matured, and so have our fears. Now we understand that monsters are real.

They have names, these monsters. They are called Unethical Boss, Pressuring Peer, Impossible Husband, Dissatisfied Wife, Ungodly Government, Angry Neighbor, Abusive Uncle. “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Our monsters are many, and scary. They are people whose favor we wish to have but don’t; they are people whose displeasure toward us is painful; they are people who pose a threat to our well-being; they are people who seek to harm us. They are people. We are afraid of people. “My name is Fear of Man, for we are many.”

King David understood the fear of man. Saul had raged against him, twice seeking to pin his body to the wall with a spear. Absalom, his own son, would betray him. Shimei cursed him. Sheba stirred up the northern tribes against him. Entire armies sought his destruction—the Philistines, the Amalekites, the Ammonites—just how many enemy encampments did David see?

How did David battle his fear? Did he do some yoga? Did he stress-eat? Did he go play golf? No. David looked at the Lord. He looked long and hard. He gazed. He sought. And what David saw dispelled the darkness of his fear and invigorated his faith.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
– Psalm 27:1-3

The Lord is my light! Remember the times you have been helped by light—a nightlight as a child, a campfire in the woods, a flashlight in a cave, a candle when the electricity goes out. How relieved you felt once you could see! David felt that relief as he looked at the light of the Lord. His fear vanished. Your fear will vanish too, even more so since you stand in greater brightness than David. The light of the world has shone on you. You could not be safer than you are in Jesus.

The Lord is my refuge! God is the stronghold of your life, a place of safety. In him you are secure, no matter what monstrous thing your foe may do. Even should you be killed, not a hair of your head will perish.

The Lord is my defender! Those seeking to trip you up will stumble and fall. True, they may harm you before they’re on the ground. But God will see to it that justice is done. You can be as confident as an Easter morning that evil will not have the last word in your life.

As adults we understand that our childhood fear of monsters was unnecessary. The good news in Jesus is that our grown-up fear of monsters is equally unnecessary. Not because monsters aren’t real, but because God is. You don’t have to be afraid of the darkness. Look at the Lord. Look at him.

 

 

Why You Should Support Your Church Financially

In light of Barna Group’s latest research on Generations and Generosity, it seems like a good time to make a case for giving through the local church. What many older Christians have merely assumed needs to be clarified for younger Christians. And, for the record, I’m not picking on Millennials. Millennials appear to have a more expansive view of generosity than the older generations. But none of us, young or old, needs to be ignorant of Scripture’s encouragement to prioritize giving through the local church.

Full disclosure: I’m a pastor. What a surprise that I would tell you to support your church financially! You need to hear the reasons, though, before clicking on to something else. You shouldn’t give to your local church so that your pastor can live his best life now, or so that you can gain some sort of favor from God. Nor should you give to the church “just because.” These are bad reasons for giving. The biblical reasons are more compelling, and every Christian needs to know them.

1. You should give to support the church’s pastors.

Not every church can afford to pay their pastor(s) to serve in a full-time capacity, though aiming to do so would be a worthy goal. Regardless, a church should be eager to provide their pastor some level of financial support (1 Tim. 5:17-18). We understand this to be true not merely by inference or example but by command of the Lord (1 Cor. 9:14).

2. You should give to support the church’s ministry.

In the New Testament, we see Christians giving in order to support the ministry of the church. The practice began with the first church in Jerusalem, as offerings were brought to the apostles for distribution within the church among those who were in need (Acts 4:34-35). The practice eventually became a pattern, with some churches collecting weekly offerings on Sunday that would be used for various benevolence needs (1 Cor. 16:1-2; cf. 2 Cor. 8-9; Rom. 15:25-27).

3. You should give to support the church’s mission.

The gospel is free, but taking the gospel to all nations isn’t. Missionaries must travel, and find a place to sleep, and have food to eat. There are costs involved in fulfilling the Great Commission, and New Testament believers gave through their local church to cover the costs. They sent gospel preachers out not only with prayer and encouragement but with money that was needed to continue the work (3 John 1:7-8; cf. 2 Cor. 11:8-9).

4. You should give to support the church’s priority.

The church is the priority of God in the world. Its creation and growth and triumph is why Jesus shed his blood (Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28). As worthy as other causes may be, none shares the same level of significance as the church.

To be clear, the New Testament doesn’t teach that you should give exclusively through your local church. The tax-collector Zacchaeus, for example, pledged to make restitution to people he had defrauded; presumably, he would have paid them directly and not through the synagogue. Or consider the parable of the Good Samaritan, whose generosity Jesus highlights, among other ways, in that the Samaritan pays for a wounded man’s medical care and lodging out of his own pocket. So, no, your giving doesn’t have to be restricted to the local church. There are many good causes to which you might contribute in the name of Christ, such as your local crisis pregnancy center, child sponsorship, an after-school program, a parachurch ministry, disaster relief efforts, a roadside beggar (Matt. 6:2), and more.

That being said, while not teaching that you should give only through your local church, the New Testament suggests that you should give mainly through your local church. The local church is the priority of God in the world, and its pastors, ministry, and mission are worthy of your generous and cheerful support.

Beware, Beowulf

O flower of warriors, beware of that trap,
Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part,
eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride.
For a brief while your strength is in bloom
but it fades quickly; and soon there will follow
illness or sword to lay you low,
or a sudden fire or surge of water
or jabbing blade or javelin from the air
or repellent age. Your piercing eye
will dim and darken; and death will arrive,
dear warrior, to sweep you away.

(Beowulf, trans. by Seamus Heaney, lines 1758-1768)

The valiant warrior Beowulf is admonished to beware. A trap has been set, though not by the beast Grendel or his grim mother. The trap is within—inside the heart of every person in the prime of life. Arrogant shortsightedness has bested many a great man, and Beowulf is urged to choose otherwise.

Of course this is a lesson for us all. There’s a funeral in everyone’s future. A final heartbeat. A last breath. We will all be swept away, whether through illness or tragedy or the inexorable decline of aging. Don’t think of this as a morbid meditation but an ennobling one. To ignore death and what follows is not only foolish but perilous.

The way around the trap is to live today with an eternal eye and a humble heart. Christ the King has conquered sin and death. A far green country awaits. He bids us come, all who believe that what he offers is better than anything to be gained in this world. “Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part.”

Or, as another poet once said, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

What Do You Do in the Day of Trouble?

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“Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Rembrandt, 1633

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. –Psalm 27:4-5

King David spoke of “the day of trouble.” He should know. His neighbors weren’t the sort who drop by to borrow sugar. No, their intent was a bit more malicious. Philistia and Co. wouldn’t have been happier than to see David’s head impaled on a stick. What did David do when threatened? What do you do in your own day of trouble?

MANY THINGS

Many things are worthless in the day of trouble. But that usually doesn’t stop us from doing them anyway. I’m speaking of fretting, pacing, jittering, sighing. Of biting nails and wringing hands. Of tumbling the problem around and around in our heads like shoes thunking in a dryer. Or, when weary of all that, of distracting ourselves with media and malls and munchies and a million other bromides. Just make it go away!

SOME THINGS

But not everything is worthless in the day of trouble. Some things are good, if they are done in faith. A brisk walk might help you, or hitting the gym, or running the trails at a nearby park. Sleep can put things in perspective too. You don’t need a psychology degree to discern that a lack of sleep frays your emotions. Trust God, and go to bed. Seeking counsel from godly friends also can be helpful.

For King David, add to these good things the drawing up of battle plans, mustering the army, and taking up the sword. You too may choose to pursue justice through means and authorities appropriate to our new covenant era. Whether the day of trouble is mild or severe, some things are good to do.

ONE THING

Yet, despite these good things, Jesus tells us that only “one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:42). King David says the same thing. In the day of trouble—and on every other day—our fundamental need is to be close to the Lord, gazing at his beauty and communing with him. No other thing, including those things that are good and necessary, rivals our need for this one thing.

In our day, gazing at God has everything to do with the gospel. The temple was but a shadow; Jesus is the substance. Were David to make his same request after the cross and resurrection, he would no longer ask to enjoy God’s presence in a place but in a person. We behold the beauty of the Lord in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6).

Ask God for the one thing. Ask him, for he loves to give good gifts. Then seek after the one thing by faith, with your Bible open and the word filling your mind. Redirect your gaze from your problem to the Lord. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face.

In beholding the beauty of the Lord, you will find yourself in the safest place you can ever be. You will find that you have power to do every other good thing you may need to do. You will find yourself persevering in the day of trouble. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.

Come Close the Heart of Jesus: Read the Old Testament

Jesus knew the details of his death long before he was crucified. Consider the following specifics, which Jesus shared with his disciples before they arrived in Jerusalem:

For he [i.e., the Son of Man] will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise. (Luke 18:32-33)

Notice the precision of Jesus’ advance knowledge. He knew there would be mocking and shameful treatment; that someone would spit in his face; that the whip would tear his back to shreds; that he would be crucified. Jesus even knew that he would rise again on the third day.

How? How did Jesus know these details, all of which came to pass? What is the explanation of his prescience?

Some will answer, incredulously, “Well, of course Jesus knew these details! He was God in the flesh! He knew everything!” It’s true that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God, who possessed startling prophetic insight through the Spirit. But that’s not the best answer in this case. Listen to the explanation that Jesus himself gives for his foreknowledge:

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” (Luke 18:31, emphasis mine)

Jesus knew the details of his death because he had read the Bible.

Jesus knew the Bible. He had heard and read and memorized the Scriptures all his life. His self-understanding and God-appointed mission had come into focus through the word of God. The details of Jesus’ death were known to him not solely because he was the second person of the Trinity, but because he had read them in the Bible.

1. Jesus knew he would be crucified.

He had read of the bronze serpent lifted on a pole and knew it was a prophetic type of his own death (Numbers 21:9; John 3:14-15). He knew, as a curse-bearer, that he would be hanged on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23).

2. Jesus knew he would be killed by the Gentiles.

He had read the prophecy of David: “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:16-18; see Matthew 15:22-28 for a clear indication that Jesus understood the metaphor of dogs to include Gentiles).

3. Jesus knew he would be mocked, spit upon, and flogged.

He had read Isaiah’s prophecy: “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).

4. Jesus knew he would be raised from the dead.

He had read David’s prophecy: “My flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:9-10; see also 30:3; 49:7-15; 68:20).

He had read Daniel’s prophecy: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

He had read Isaiah’s prophecy: “When his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:10-11; see also 26:19).

5. Jesus knew he would rise on the third day.

He had read of Jonah being three days and nights in the belly of a great fish, and understood this to be a prophetic type of his own death and resurrection (Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:40).

He had read Hosea’s prophecy: “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (Hosea 6:1-2; see also 13:14).

Jesus knew the details of his death because he had read the Bible.

That’s neat, but what does it mean for us? To begin with, it means that we can trust the Bible. All that was written about the Son of Man was indeed accomplished. The prophecies came to pass. We can confidently build our lives and stake our eternal future on every word God has spoken.

Additionally, it means that we must learn to read the Bible the way Jesus did. Jesus understood that the Bible was speaking of him. We go astray in interpretation when our dominant impulse is to understand every verse in light of ourselves. Following Jesus’ own method of interpretation, we must first understand how Scripture finds its fulfillment in him. Only then can we make accurate application to our own lives. In other words, a sound interpretive path isn’t BIBLE VERSE(S) ► US. Rather, it’s BIBLE VERSE(S) ► FULFILLMENT IN JESUS ► US.

Finally, it means that one way of getting close to Jesus is to read the Old Testament. Read the New Testament too, by all means! But don’t minimize the value of the Old Testament in getting to know Jesus. After all, the Hebrew Scriptures were Jesus’ Bible. As Christopher Wright thrillingly puts it, you can be aware of this every time you open the Old Testament:

These are the words [Jesus] read.  These were the stories he knew. These were the songs he sang. These were the depths of wisdom and revelation and prophecy that shaped his whole view of ‘life, the universe and everything’. This is where he found his insights into the mind of his Father God. Above all, this is where he found the shape of his own identity and the goal of his own mission. In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus.

The Old Testament may be a surprising place to come close to the heart of Jesus, but it is a sure place.

Iron Chariots Aren’t Easy

 

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The promise was clear:

For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong. (Joshua 17:18)

But the people faltered:

And the LORD was with Judah, and they took possession of the hill country, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots. (Judges 1:19)

One of the reasons we compromise when tempted is that not compromising feels too hard. We don’t want to work at overcoming temptation, if by work we mean anything other than tossing up a God-help-me prayer, followed by hoping that the enticement evaporates immediately. Judah likely made the same error when seeking to drive out the inhabitants of the plain: Those iron chariots are too hard to deal with. 

The Lord would have propelled Judah to victory had they trusted his promise and pressed hard. Let’s learn from their mistake.