Kindness and the Godly Man

Last Wednesday I had the privilege to speak to Soldiers, our guys group back home. Here is my lengthy manuscript for those of you who missed it and are interested in learning about “Kindness and the Godly Man” 🙂

Introduction:

Hello fellow soldiers. It’s truly a pleasure to be back with you all and a great privilege for me to share with you from God’s word this afternoon. From what I’ve been told, you guys have been learning about the characteristics of a godly man these past couple weeks. I think this is a really important, much need study for all of us. One of the main realizations I’ve had while in college is how much I need to grow up and mature in order to become the man that God wants me to be.  We, as high school and college guys, are all at a point where we can no longer use youth as an excuse to defend and justify our immaturity, in whatever form it may take. As Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians, we’ve spoken like children, thought and reasoned like children for far too long; it’s time for us to give up our childish ways and seek to be men who love and follow God.

The verse I’ve been given to speak on for this series comes from the first part of 2 Timothy 2:24 which says: And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to all.

I. The Godly Man is the Lord’s Servant

My first point is that the Godly Man is the Lord’s Servant. You’ll notice that Paul doesn’t say “The godly man must not be quarrelsome, but kind to all”; instead he says “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to all.” The reason we can use a verse like this for a series like this is because our pursuit of godly manhood is essentially the same as a slave’s pursuit to become more obedient and humble towards his Master. I think it is easy to fall into a very performance-oriented mindset as we pursue biblical manhood: we can make it all about working to acquire a certain kind of character as if character were the goal and not devotion to God. True godliness, however, doesn’t come from virtues of leadership or strength, or any other characteristic; truly biblical men are first and foremost defined by their complete devotion to God, our Divine Master.

Originally, I wanted to really dig in to this concept, but that would be a message in itself (John Macarthur’s new book is on this
and you can get it for free!) and it’s not really what I was asked to speak on. So instead let’s take a brief look at the implications of this idea that we are the Lord’s servants. God has given us many analogies and images throughout scripture to help us to understand our relationship with him and with His Gospel. There is the image of marriage, which helps us to understand Christ’s relationship to his church, his authority over it and how he laid down his life for it; there’s the image of a courtroom to help us understand our condemnation as lawbreakers before God the Holy Judge, and how Christ satisfied the punishment that we deserved; and finally, there’s the image of financial debt which helps us to understand the infinite debt we owe God, and how Christ paid for it. In the same way the analogy of slavery helps us to understand our relationship to God and to the Gospel as well as how we understand what it means to be a godly man. I have three quick subpoints on how this image of slavery should affect how we pursue godliness.

1. The image of slavery should make us grateful to the Gospel:

You may not think of being enslaved as something to be rejoiced at, but being a slave of Christ is a privilege won by the Gospel. Romans 6:16-18 says:

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves to sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves to righteousness.” (Romans 6:16-18)”

No matter what everyone is a slave to someone or something. No one can say that they are free to control their own lives. Here, in this verse, we see that this can be boiled down to two options: either we are slaves to sin or slaves God. And yet, we know that apart from Christ that we really only have one option: to be hopelessly enslaved to sin. Without Christ, we are at the mercy of our passions and our lusts with no power to choose or please God.  But as the passage says: thanks be to God for the Gospel for reforming our hearts! This is why the Gospel is something beautiful. Jesus has purchased us! Titus 3:3-5 captures how Christ made a way for us to be slaves of God:

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:3-5)

Because of what Christ accomplished for us on the cross, we have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. Christ bought us with his blood and made us his own. This image should inspire gratitude in us.

2. The image of slavery should humble us before Christ:

This image should remove every ounce of pride that we might have as we seek to become godly men. Just think of the implications of what it means for us to be slaves, and for Christ to be our master. It means that he owns us and thus deserves our complete and whole-hearted obedience. His will supersedes our own. We owe everything to him and we are unworthy of anything for ourselves. Furthermore, we do not deserve praise for all our achievements, but as it says in Luke 17:10: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” This image helps us to see the reality that it’s not about us, and it’s all about God.

3. The image of slavery captures urgency of the battle for sanctification

Even though we are justified by Christ, we still struggle with indwelling sin. The Gospel, however, through the Holy Spirit, gives us the power to choose God over sin and to be obedient to our master, Jesus Christ. Sanctification then could be described in one way as the process of seeking to obey God over sin as master. Romans 6:19 says: “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. Our Christian’s lives are the battleground where we fight to choose who will have ultimate authority over our lives. With this in mind, let us realize that there are no unimportant moments in the Christian life; every moment has wartime urgency. Two masters: God and sin, want complete control over our souls. Every word and deed that we say and do are choices of who will have control and dominion over us. 

This is the starting point from which I want us to begin to understand what it means to be a man of god. I want our pursuits of godly manhood to be Gospel-centered, humble, and with wartime urgency. If we acquire all these traits of godly men, and yet we fail to make ourselves humble servants of God then our work is all in vain. We are first and foremost servants of God seeking to make Him the master and ultimate authority of our lives.

II. The Godly Man Must Not Be Quarrelsome

Moving on, my second point is that the Godly man must not be quarrelsome. This is simple enough. As men of God and as the Lord’s servants, we are commanded to not quarrel. There is no room for any of us to escape the scope of this verse. It is stated clearly that if we are to be the Lord’s Servants then we must not quarrel. The first obvious question to ask is what is a quarrel? I think a dictionary definition will suffice here. Quarrels can be defined as “an angry dispute or altercation; a disagreement marked by a temporary or permanent break in friendly relations.” Quarrels are fights which disrupt relationships and cause division in the church and amongst friends. You can see the danger here since we are called, as Christians, to be models of Christ’s love to each other and to the world. The two greatest commands are to love God and our neighbors. How can we, as devoted servants of Christ, fulfill these commands if we are constantly fighting and arguing with each other? Let us examine this sin and see how we can fight it.

1. The Sources of Quarrels: First, we need to identify the underlying causes which lead to quarrels.

A. Ignorant Controversies: One cause is foolish and ignorant controversies. A verse earlier in our passage from 1 Timothy 2, Paul exhorts Timothy to: “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” We must avoid involving ourselves in arguments and conversations that are harmful and damaging and just flat-out stupid. This obviously covers a broad array of topics and requires for us to use discernment. I can’t give you an exhaustive list of what is a foolish and ignorant controversy. We shouldn’t be trying to see how careless we can be in our actions and words without sinning. As servants of God we should seek to stay as far away from these controversies as we can.  When I think about how this can apply to us what comes to my mind is avoiding gossip, avoiding conversation where we subtly tear down someone’s reputation, or sharing information we really have business sharing.

B. Warring Passions, Unfulfilled Desires, and Covetousness: Another cause is our warring passions, unfulfilled desires, and covetousness. James 4:1-2a says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you fight and quarrel.” James identifies the problem that is causing his readers to quarrel and fight with one another. We have passions that are warring to master and control us, we have sinful desires that go unfulfilled and lead to jealously. When these sinful passions meet ignorant and foolish controversies they ignite and produce dangerous quarrels.

2. The Effects of Quarreling:

A. It does no good, but only ruins the hearers: 2 Timothy 2:14 says this, “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” If we get caught up in ignorant controversies it ruins our testimony for those who are watching our lives. They can see that though we may preach lofty things, our lives show that our desires and passions still master us.

B. Quarreling spreads conflict like fire: Proverbs 26:21 says this,”As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife” Another consequence of quarreling is that it can spread and lead to more conflict. Just as one spark can set a forest ablaze, one quarrel can create division and conflict within a church or amongst a large group of people.

3. How to Avoid Quarreling: Ultimately, our fight against quarreling is one battle out many, over who will be master over our lives: God, or sin. One master, our flesh, is pulling us towards ignorant controversies as a way to fulfill our selfish desire and soothe our jealousy. Another master, Jesus Christ, is telling us, along with Paul in 1 Timothy 2:22 to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. As we seek to be men of God, let us seek to obey and become more like our Lord Jesus Christ. After all he has already set the example for us, and given us the ability to follow him through his sacrifice on the Cross. As it says in Matthew 12:19-21: “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, now will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

4. Putting off is not Enough: Many of us, if we don’t particularly struggle with quarreling, may be tempted to think that we’ve so to speak, finished the job; however, putting off the old self is only half the battle. Ephesians 4:22,24 tell us: “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires
 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” We must not only put off, but also put on. We must not only flee youthful passions, but also pursue righteousness. This is where many of us, including myself, drop the ball. Although we may not sin openly through sins of commission, we sin subtly through omitting to fulfill this next command.

III. The Godly Man Must Be Kind to Everyone

This brings me to my final point: the godly man must be kind to everyone. You’ll notice that apply the same absolute word “must” that I applied to not being quarrelsome, I am now applying to being kind. If you look back at the verse, it says: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone.” That same absoluteness that Paul applies to the negative command, he also applies to the positive command. No Christian is exempt this duty. If we are to be the Lord’s servants and men of God then we must be kind. Not only that, but Paul gives us another extreme absolute:  we must be kind to everyone. No one is to be excluded from our kindness. We are to be kind to our friends, our families, those at school and at church, those who have things to offer us, and those who don’t. The first question then to naturally ask is what does it mean to be kind? Kindness can be defined as: “Showing tenderness or goodness; disposed to do good; averse to hurting or paining; benevolent; gracious.” From this definition we can see that being kind is the exact opposite of being quarrelsome. Being quarrelsome creates strife and stems from foolish controversies and selfish desires, whereas being kind creates harmony and stems from the Spirit’s fruit in a gentle loving heart. I have two points on the nature of kindness.

1. Kindness does good to others: My first point is that kindness does good to others.  Kind people actively seek to work for the good of those around them. It is not passive; it is expressed through what we do with our actions and words. We cannot become kind merely by sitting around and not fighting with one another; kindness requires hard work and initiative to look out for how we can serve our brothers and sisters. This virtue of kindness is a lot harder than it looks. Do we actively seek the good of those around us? Do we this to everyone? Or are selective in those we choose to be kind to? Are we apathetic towards the needs of others, and more concerned with our own needs? Or even worse, are we actively opposing kindness by creating quarrels and strife? Kindness does good to others.

2. Kindness acts with a gracious and caring spirit: My second point is that kindness acts with a gracious and caring spirit. Not only are we to do good to everyone, we are to do so in a gracious and caring way, not begrudgingly or out of selfish ulterior motives. When we seek the good of others we are to be gentle, humble, and loving; we are to put their needs before our own. This already hard virtue now becomes even harder. The truth of the matter is that many people are hard to love; many people have little to offer us back in return for our love. And yet, we are called to be kind to them just the same. This is not glamorous work. A lot of have this idealistic picture of unconditional love; we think that laying down our lives for someone who doesn’t deserve it will be a reward in itself; but in reality, it’s hard work. It really is called unconditional love because we don’t want to do it and apart from Christ, there is no reason to be kind to everyone.

3. How to become kind: How then can we gain this virtue of kindness?

A. It is the fruit of the Spirit: My first point is that it is a fruit of the Spirit. We cannot achieve real kindness on our own; it is a work of God in us through his Spirit. Galatians 5:22 says this: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.” As we strive to follow God, his Spirit does a divine work in us and cultivates kindness in our hearts. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to obey God, our heavenly Master. There would be no purpose in commanding us after all, if we were not expected to work hard to obey that command. We are to work hard to be kind with the knowledge that true kindness comes from the Spirit.

B. We look to the Example of Christ: As we seek kindness we must always look back to the example of our Saviour. He has set the example for us of perfect kindness. He sought our highest good with a gracious and caring spirit by dying on the Cross for us while we were undeserving. Earlier I quoted Titus 3:3-5 which says:

““For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:3-5)

Christ has showed us loving kindness. So as we seek to be kind people, let us examine, study, and appreciate the kindness of Christ that he demonstrated all through his earthly life and most clearly when he died to save us according to his own mercy.

IV. Application?

The application for this message is pretty simple: we are not to be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone. As we close, however,  let me end with a final thought. I think a lot of us, especially as Passive Asian males, have a tendency to make kindness a very selfish thing. We can use kindness or being nice as a way to make friends and to get people to like us. I couldn’t help but think of Wong Fu’s nice guy video/campaign: where the nice guy who was always forgotten and trampled on has his kindness recognized in the end and he gets the girl. I think this is the attitude we take on sometimes. We want people to notice and appreciate the nice things we do. We want to be rewarded and applauded as being good guys. If you think about it, this is a very self-seeking fake kindness. The purpose of kindness for the godly man is not for the praise of man; kindness flow is out of love and gratitude to our Master who bought us by becoming a slave for us and dying to rescue us. We owe him everything. So my closing encouragement to you guys is let us humbly pursue kindness as servants out of love and devotion for our master, not out of any ulterior motive. We are only slaves doing our duty to the Master who has given it all for us.

Beyond Words

How Language Helps Us Appreciate God’s Holiness and the Gospel

Since I have to review/study for finals anyway, I figured I’d write some Humcore related posts that I’ve been meaning to do for awhile. Good luck getting through this! Hopefully these posts aren’t too dorky, and are somewhat helpful to those of you reading.Our first funny named man is a  Jewish philosopher, and commentator on the Law named Maimonides (my original title for this series was “Men With Funny Names”). Most of Maimonides arguments hinge on two main premisces: 1. that God’s essence (that is, what is crucial and unchanging to his identity) is one of complete simplicity and incorporeality, and 2. that human language is woefully insufficient to describe Him.

Honestly, I think his first premisce is whack, and I don’t really understand how he get’s there. His arguments on language are much more interesting. Maimonides rejects the idea that you can apply any positive attributes to God, because God is incomparable, and any attempts to classify him necessarily rely on human analogies. For example, when we say that God is merciful, we posit what we know of human mercy on to God, and draw a relation between the two. Maimonides calls this flawed reasoning, because in order to make a comparison between two things, in this case human mercy and divine mercy, they must share a certain likeness, meaning that there “is a certain relation between two things” and be of the same species, meaning that “their essences are the same– even if those two things differ in regard to bigness and smallness or strength and feebleness, or in other similar ways”. We cannot compare things that lack these. For example we cannot meaningfully compare heat to color or voice to sweetness. Therefore, according to Maimonides, since there is no “relation between He and that which is other than He–it follows necessarily that likeness between Him and us should be considered nonexistent”*. Maimonides cites scripture references to back up his claims: “To whom then will ye liken Me, that I should be equal?” (Isaiah 40:25), “There is none like unto Thee, O Lord.” (Jeremiah 10:6) Maimonides concludes that since we lack any relations with God it would be futile to praise Him for human virtues. It would be “as if a mortal king who had millions of gold pieces were praised for possessing one hundred silver pieces.” What solutions does Maimonides propose? We can only begin to accurately describe God through negations: by saying what God is not, and through His actions– you can describe someone’s actions while not giving him attributes. Even then, we are left with only a vague apprehension of God.

Needless to say, it is a big problem if we as Christians can’t praise God for his attributes; if our praise is not only inadequate, but offensive since we fail to describe God as he really is in His perfection. I think Maimonides arguments, at least on language, are pretty spot-on; however, I would argue still that we can use language to describe and praise God, because one word makes all the difference: Holy. I will now rely heavily on R.C. Sproul to show how this works. First, he gives this helpful definition of holy:

“The primary meaning of holiness is “separate.” It comes from an ancient word that means “to cut,” or “to separate.” To translate this basic meaning into contemporary language would be to use the phrase a “cut apart”… God’s holiness is more than just separateness. His holiness is also transcendent. The word transcendence means literally “to climb across.” It is defined as “exceeding usual limits”… When we speak of the transcendence of God, we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. Transcendence describes His supreme and absolute greatness… It points to the infinite distance that separates Him for every creature. He is an infinite cut above everything else.”

Furthermore he adds this crucial distinction:

“God is called holy in a general sense. The word is used as a synonym for His deity. That is, the word holy calls attention to all that God is. It reminds us that His love is holy love, His justice is holy justice, His mercy is holy mercy, His knowledge is holy knowledge, His spirit is holy spirit.”

Do you see how this easily solves Maimonides’ dilemmas? Instead of writing a painfully dense treatise, Maimonides could have just called God holy and saved me a lot of time and effort! God, in his providence, created a word that can accurately capture his essence. When we call God merciful, we need not rely on fallible analogies of human mercy; instead, we call God and his mercy holy. In doing this, we acknowledge God’s transcendence: he is an infinite cut above us, and his mercy is infinitely beyond and set apart from our own mercy. In terms of application, I think this is helpful even beyond the nerdy realms of Humcore, as we seek to praise our great God and understand his character. When we call God holy, we praise for God being infinitely beyond us, so much so that it cannot even be expressed in language. We cannot even begin to comprehend how God’s ways surpass our own; our minds cannot formulate words or thoughts to grasp the eternal gap. I hope this can expand our understanding of God’s holiness, and leaves us in absolute awe before this God, who is not just once or twice Holy, but three times “Holy, Holy Holy!”

Furthermore, an understanding of Maimonides arguments should give us a greater appreciation for the Gospel. Maimonide’s studies through the Old Testament left him with a vague distant God so far beyond us that only the wisest  of sages could begin to understand him. Praise God that he did not leave us to use our intellects to find him! He came to us: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory. glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) We need not wonder at who God is; we can behold the Son who came to Earth so that we could know Holy God.

“Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy. holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:2-3)

*It should be noted, Maimonides rejects the idea that Humans are made in the image of God due to premise 1. His belief of scripture is that it written as one cryptic parable for the intellectual elite, and not for the ignorant masses

Our Just Desserts

(Emotions and Affections Pt. 2)

I think it is helpful in the daily battle for proper emotions and affections, to dwell often upon what we deserve. This simple act of stopping to reassess reality in light of eternal truths brings much-needed perspective to the distorted selfish ways of thinking we so easily fall into. It is difficult for me to constantly fix my mind on God. Oh, how I long to be consumed always with His wondrous majestic truths! And yet,  even with the best of intentions, I settle for lesser things. I allow fleshly desires, and earthly worries to usurp God from his rightful place. Instead of viewing life in light of God, I see my circumstances through a lens of pride, unthankfulness, discontentment, and ungodliness.

That is why it is paramount to constantly remind ourselves of God’s unwarranted grace towards us.  We deserve nothing. How humbling it is to think of the absoluteness of that statement! We are “unworthy servants” who deserve no privileges or rights from the master (Luke 17:7-9). If it’s true then that “every good good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights”, then every blessing we receive, no matter how small, is an oppurtunity to see God’s  unmerited favor in our lives.  Even the most minute details are evidences of grace, intended for our joy. John Calvin expertly writes, “There is not one little blade of grass, there is no color in this world, that is not intended to make men rejoice” Think about that. Every subtle expression of beauty: a blade of grass or bit of color should evoke wonder in us because they are undeserved gifts.

Of course, we know God blesses us with far more than just color and grass. How much more so then should we rejoice at his greater gifts! Are we due health, food and drink,  or the privilege of education? By no means! Are we entitled to friendship, religious freedom, or easy access to the bible? We are not. We do not even deserve this day to be alive. When I stop to think of all that God has bestowed on me, I am simultaneously dumbfounded by God’s love, and ashamed by my daily failure to recognize it. Think of the joy to be had, if we recognized and praised the abundance of gifts that God graciously gives everyday!

I would be remiss if I ended without speaking of the Gospel: the ultimate Gift that dwarfs every other blessing, the gift that we most profoundly do not deserve. Jesus Christ, perfect Holy God, became man to lay down his life for me, a wretched sinner, to adopt me, to make me a child of God. May I never move past the breathtaking truth of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” In light of this unfathomable love, what reason have I to complain? What ï»żï»żï»żcause have I to be discontent and despondent? How can I not rejoice, worship, and give thanks to the God who has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3)

I’ll end with a video that I posted earlier on tumblr. I keep watching this over and over again. Every time  it gives  a sobering rebuke to my selfish ungrateful heart. How can I lose sight of God’s blessing in my life, when others around the world live with nothing? How can I remain ignorant to their tremendous pain, and dwell instead on my trivial worries? And most importantly, how can I lose sight of the power of the Gospel?

“God in eternity looked upon me forseeing my faults, my pride, my sin, and said, ‘I want that man in my family. I will pay for him to be in my family with my Son’s life.‘ That’s love folks. That is mega off-the-charts love”  (John Piper)

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalms 118:24)

I write this post as the foremost of offenders. I know I often employ “we”, and other collective pronouns, but I write this primarily to rebuke and preach to myself. Also, I’m not completely sure what the title means. I just remembering seeing it on a Yu-Gi-Oh card. xD

The Supreme Treasure

Here’s an essay for Humanities core that I just finished writing! The prompt was to define how plot or style affects the meaning of Genesis 22, the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. There was also an option to use other passages to comment on the meaning. Good luck getting through it. It’s pretty long… Honestly, I have no idea how much sense this makes, but I had fun writing it!

A cursory glance at Genesis 22 would likely lead one to condemn God’s test as arbitrary, cruel, and unnecessary; however, upon closer examination, we see that God’s acts with a clear and real purpose. Elements of plot throughout the story reveal that God’s test is for his glory: it is a means to magnify himself as the utmost authority and source of joy. God’s rightful and noble desire is that he would be seen as perfectly faithful and upright by his creatures, and that he would be worshipped and rejoiced in as a precious treasure by them in response. Abraham’s unquestioning obedience to God’s authority in sacrificing his son displays trust in the faithful character of God, and shows him as the supreme treasure.

God’s description of Isaac as Abraham’s only beloved son in his command emphasizes his desire to be glorified and valued over the blessings he has given and promised. God calls Isaac, “your son, your only one, whom you love, yea, Isaac” (Genesis 22:2) In a figurative sense, this description has far reaching implications on God’s own supremacy over his past and future blessings. First, God calls Isaac “your only son.” Sons in Abraham’s patriarchal society meant legacy; they were, in essence, an extension of the father’s life. If Isaac were to be killed Abraham would be left childless without an heir to carry on his name. God’s promises of a great nation that would possess land and bless other nations, could not be fulfilled without a son. In addition to designating Isaac as Abraham’s only son, God bestows on Isaac a special title of affection: the son “whom you love.” Abraham’s is not connected to Isaac solely for the fulfillment of future promises; he is also a father who loves his son. In a society where close family ties were essential, fathers valued and treasured their sons as precious possessions. Chapter 21 describes Abraham’s deep love for his son when he, in his joy, “made a great feast” to celebrate God’s miraculous gift of Isaac.  God is making a point about himself by establishing Isaac in his command as both the means to greatness and as Abraham’s beloved child. If Abraham sacrificed his only heir, he would lose the son he loved, and the great nation, land, and blessing that would be accomplished through Isaac. It is necessary, therefore, in order for Abraham to comply to God’s command for him to acknowledge that obedience and submission to God is better than all these things.

God’s purpose of self-glorification is fulfilled through Abraham’s obedience to his test. Abraham’s acquiescence in the midst of trials shows his submission to God as the rightful and ultimate authority. Since Abraham speaks so rarely throughout the story, every word he does say heavily defines his character and actions. One of Abraham’s few lines is the repeated use of the phrase “here I am” (Genesis 22:1,11). The repetition demonstrates Abraham’s humble submission to God’s authority.  To say “here I am” implies a response to someone’s call. It is passive, and non-authoritative. It presents oneself as ready to be further commanded, directed, and used by the one in authority, in this case God. Abraham acknowledges that because God is perfect, his will supersedes his own. God’s decrees should thus be followed immediately without question or complaint. This phrase “here I am” occurs at the very beginning of the story when God first gives the command and at the climax when the angel stops Abraham seconds before he kills Isaac. Abraham conviction never wavers from start to finish; he presents himself as a tool to be used in whatever way God wished. Abraham’s consistent attitude of submission displays God as the unquestioned authority who has power to direct and decide in whichever way he chooses.

Abraham’s outward compliance shows God’s supremacy over earthly treasures and authority over his life; but it is Abraham’s worshipful faith that most clearly highlights the praiseworthy beauty of God’s character. Abraham’s obedience is not motivated out of fear or guilt; but rather out of faith with confidence towards God. When one places faith in someone to keep their word, he demonstrates belief in that person’s faithfulness. He is willing to sacrifice and endure hardship and uncertainty for their sake, because he trusts that person will keep his promise. In the same way, Abraham, through his speech, exalts God by trusting in his faithful character. Abraham tells his servants, “We will prostrate ourselves and return to you” (Genesis 22:5). Abraham believes that both he and Isaac will descend the mountain, alive and together. Abraham’s faith wasn’t based on how his circumstances appeared; rather he based it on what he knew about God’s good and unchanging nature.  He trusted that God’s promises were perfect. Therefore, he would keep his word to establish Abraham a great nation and land. It was thus impossible for Isaac to die. Abraham knew this. He went up to the mountain knowing that God would somehow miraculously intervene, and that he and Isaac would descend the mountain together. God rewards Abraham for his faith, and shows that he is indeed good and faithful in keeping his promises. He declares that because Abraham did not withhold his son he would bless him with an innumerable offspring who would flourish among the nations of the world. Abraham had faith that God’s desire for his glory would never lead him to abandon his promises. He glorifies God first by choosing him over the blessings, but also by all the while trusting that God is perfectly good and faithful to fulfill his promises.

Even with an understanding of God’s purpose and how Abraham fulfills it, many would still condemn God’s test as self-serving and cruel; however, God’s treatment of himself through dialogue clarifies the logic of his zeal for glory. God’s unrestrained pursuit of his own glory through his testing of Abraham is not egotistical or selfish, nor is his test unnecessarily cruel. God’s perfection necessitates him to seek his own fame; for his own benefit, and the benefit of his creatures. We get a brief glimpse into this interaction between God’s perfection and his pursuit of glory by observing how he addresses himself. He says, “By myself have I sworn” (Genesis 22:16). Hebrews 6:13 comments on this passage, saying, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself.” People swear by things greater than themselves, but there is nothing greater than God. When God wants to assure Abraham that his promises will come true, he can swear only to himself because only he is perfectly trustworthy. Likewise, when God wants to express and seek beauty and majesty, he must express and seek the beauty and majesty found in himself because only he is perfectly beautiful and majestic. It is narcissistic when a human seeks to extol his own perfection to others, only because it is untrue and hypocritical; humans have faults and shortcomings. God, however, is perfect in both his character and in all his ways. For him to desire to display his perfection over and above everything else is both a necessary and good desire. It is necessary because God’s perfect desires can be satisfied only by true perfection, and true perfection is found only in himself. His own perfection spurs him on; he must display his glory above every other imperfect object (Mohler). Furthermore, it is good because there is no more loving thing for God to do than to present his creatures with himself. It would be a disservice to Abraham for God to allow him to become enamored with gifts, instead of the Giver himself. True joy comes from gazing upon excellence; there is no treasure: great nation, son or land that could give more joy than God’s unblemished perfection.

God does not behave irrationally or arbitrarily in the story of Genesis 22. By testing Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God seeks to show himself as the ultimate authority and source of joy. He desires to be seen as the most valuable prize; more precious than any beloved son, or grandiose promises of future splendor. God wants to remind Abraham that the chief benefit he has obtained through his faith is not any material temporal possession, but rather favor, and a relationship with God himself. Each word spoken, command given, and blessing awarded in God’s test is carefully arranged for Abraham to demonstrate His worth above all things. By obeying God and trusting in his character through his words and deeds, Abraham rejoices and worships God as the supremely worthy treasure.

Ultimately, the messages of plot in Genesis 22 cannot be understood fully apart from the larger context of God’s story. God’s pursuit of his glory, demonstrated in his testing of Abraham, finds full expression and fulfillment in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ; God brings the unfinished story that began with Abraham to completion in a climactic display of perfect love. The plot of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac serves as a starting point and type that points to and magnifies Jesus’ death on the cross. Through the death of his son, God exalts himself to his creatures by perfectly fulfilling his promises to Abraham and by trumping Abraham’s obedience with an act requiring even greater sacrifice.

When the Old Testament is viewed as one continuous story, one has to question God’s faithfulness to his word. His promises to Abraham remain unfulfilled at the end of the story. God swore in Genesis 12 and 22 to give Abraham and his offspring a “great nation”, “land”, and the privilege of being a “blessing” unto other nations (Genesis 12:1-3). Yet at the close of the Old Testament, Abraham’s descendants are in a miserable state. They are under captivity, without land, and possess minimal influence. These seemingly empty promises are remedied by the work of Jesus. From a pragmatic material perspective, the death and resurrection of Christ does little to alleviate Israel’s woes; they remain under Roman rule in Roman land under Roman culture. From a heavenly perspective, however, Christ’s triumphant victory over death perfectly achieves God’s promises, confirms the truth of God’s faithfulness, and brings the plot of Genesis 22 to completion. Galatians 3:14 speaks of the purpose of Jesus’ death as occurring, “so that in Christ the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” First, God’s fulfills the promise of blessing other nations by extending salvation to the Gentiles. God’s relationship is no longer exclusive to Israel; now, by the promised Spirit through faith in Christ, anyone can be blessed by God’s perfection. Second, God fulfills the promise of a great nation by redeeming a people for himself and uniting them under his son. 1 Peter 2:9 addresses those united in Christ as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Those who believe in Christ become the great nation that Israel never was. Finally, God fulfills the promise of land by granting heaven for those raised with Christ in his resurrection. Ephesians 2:6 says that, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Believers gain an eternal land from which “they shall never again be uprooted” (Amos 9:15). God’s promises are fulfilled perfectly through Christ. He does this not through a human nation, an earthly land, or in a blessing of riches or knowledge. Blessings of this kind are temporal; they pass and fade away. God rewards Abraham’s faithfulness with work of his son which endures forever. Through this gift, God proves himself to be perfectly faithful by fulfilling his promises in a lasting eternal way.

Moreover, God exalts himself above Abraham by going above and beyond Abraham’s obedience with an act of supreme sacrifice. He foresaw that readers of Genesis 22 might be tempted to focus on Abraham’s and Isaac’s humble obedience to God. This man-centered interpretation would rob God of the worship that he seeks and deserves. God in his divine wisdom, for the sake of his fame, supersedes Abraham with a greater act. Abraham is called to sacrifice his only beloved son as a test of his devotion, but at the last moment Isaac is spared. God does not spare his son, but sacrifices him instead as a display of his devotion to his creatures. Though Jesus was perfect and undeserving of death, God chose to sacrifice him to redeem his creatures in order that his praise might be magnified. God’s ordaining of the death and resurrection of Jesus surpasses Abraham’s obedience as the greatest expression of sacrificial love ever shown.

God’s quest for adoration extends beyond the confines of Abraham’s and Isaac’s story. The messages of plot in Genesis 22 which give insight into the nature of God’s purpose and Abraham’s submission to that purpose, also gives us a lens through which to examine God’s actions throughout Scripture. God’s story hinges and centers on Christ and his work on the cross. He most clearly displays the perfection of his moral character through the sacrifice of his only beloved son. There he shows his faithfulness in the eternal completion of his promises, and in his unmatched ability to love sacrificially. God desires for this perfect deed to be seen and rejoiced in by his creatures.

The Proper Reward

I’m currently taking a class called Humanities Core. Interestingly enough, the theme of the course this year is “The Human and Its Others: Divinity, Society, Nature.” So far we’ve been discussing and picking apart different conceptions of god. Right now the focus is on Judaism and Christianity. It’s been quite interesting, and intellectually challenging to hear Christianity examined through a philosophical, literature-oriented lens. I figured it’d be good to write brief posts whenever criticism’s and challenges are posed to Christianity to make sure that I can adequately grasp and defend my faith.

A few days ago in discussion, we examined selected portions of Luke 6:

32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.35But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Emphasis mine)

My professor argued that in this instance the style seems to undermine the basic message of the passage. As Jesus talks about love that selflessly gives and expects nothing in return, his language is filled with talk of finances and rewards. If we follow his advice, it seems that though we may appear to love selflessly, we are really doing it to build up credit with God. Our act is not centered on others; rather, we only perform good deeds so that we might reap a reward. Is this true? Are we as Christian’s selfish, only obeying God for what’s in it for us? Is our talk of love for Christ, and the Gospel only a guise for hearts that seek our own highest good?

It is necessary to clarify what exactly the reward is for the Christian. Is it heaps of gold, piles of silver, and shiny crowns? Is it supreme happiness? Is it a heavenly playground, where we can frolic pain-free for eternity? It would seem that if we accepted the Gospel with these as the chief reasons, we could rightly be called selfish. All our religious duties would be for our own good. God and others would be means for our own happiness and self-preservation, rather than ends in themselves.

Obviously, I don’t agree with that view of the Christian reward. Our ultimate reward is not heaven, or even happiness (though they’re still pretty darn cool); these are merely byproducts of the real one. What then is our treasure? 1 John 1:20 says, “And  we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” Our treasure, and proper reward is Christ; it is knowing God fully and being found in him completely, through what Jesus has accomplished on the cross. There is no distinction between the reward we will receive and Jesus, the one who made our reward possible. Our reward is eternal life, and Jesus is eternal life.

We find that the desire for reward, spoken of in Luke 6, is not self-centered; rather it is radically God-centered. When a man is able to love his enemy because he sees Christ as the greatest treasure, God is glorified. God is shown to be more valuable than our selfish notions of revenge, and our petty conceptions of justice. God is exalted because our love towards our enemies points back to and magnifies the love the Father has shown towards us (v. 36)

As always C.S. Lewis addresses this issue far better than I could ever do in this rather long quote. In his sermon,  The Weight of Glory, he writes:

We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connexion with the things you do to earn it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. A general who fights well in order to get a peerage is mercenary; a general who fights for victory is not, victory being the proper reward of battle as marriage is the proper reward of love. The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.

Seeking to obey Christ in anticipation of the day where we will see Him, know Him, and be fully like him is hardly mercenary. 1 John 3:2-3 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.We  follow Christ, conform ourselves to his image, and (as Paul says in Phillippians 3:8) count everything as loss, in order that we might gain Christ! He is the consummation, the goal, and the proper reward.

5The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (Psalm 16:5-6)

32(I) “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34And(J) if you(K) lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35But(L) love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and(M) you will be sons of(N) the Most High, for(O) he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36(P) Be merciful, even as(Q) your Father is merciful.

Compatibility, Conditions, and Conforming to Christ

Here are some of my disorganized musings on my short time in college thus far. To be honest, I wasn’t too excited to come to college. In fact after orientation I was convinced that I had made a mistake. It felt like God was placing me somewhere tailor-fit to be wrong in every way. In the weeks leading up to college, I was entrenched in a mixture of worries, and regrets. What if I had gone here? How will things change at home? What will the future be like? etc.

In an attempt to combat my selfishness and restore a right perspective, I came up with an analogy of sorts. It made a lot of sense to me then, and it still does now. My analogy comes from a Paul Washer sermon on marriage. Washer exposes a common misconception that marriage is perfectly intertwined with compatibility. He argues instead that oftentimes God gives you a spouse who is weak in the very areas you need her to be strong; a spouse who is incompatible, who fails to meet the conditions you hold most dearly. Why would God do that? Because God’s goal is not to make us happy, it is to make us more like Christ. Did Christ only love those who met all of His conditions? By no means! He loved us, wretched sinners, though we met none of the conditions. He loved us though we rejected, and hated him. He loved us all the way to the Cross, where he bled and died for our sins. How can we learn to love like Christ, that is to love unconditionally, if our spouse meets all the conditions? We cannot. By giving a wife who fails to meet our conditions, God, in his wisdom, makes us more like Christ, by teaching us to love sacrificially, and to selflessly lay down our lives. In my analogy this principle can be applied broadly to college, and life in general. God’s goal in allowing me to go to college is not to provide me a perfect fellowship, a perfect roommate, and perfect friendships; rather, it is to conform me to the image of Christ. Furthermore, his purpose in orchestrating my life is not to provide me with perfect circumstances but to make me more like His Son.

I think the analogy works; where I went wrong in my pre-college thinking, however, is assuming by my prideful human wisdom, and lack of faith that God would place me in a dark dungeon, and I would have to miserably trudge along for a few years. There is a difference between trusting God’s plan wherever it may lead, and just assuming the worst. I did the latter. I had a preconceived notion of how I thought God would work, without at all conceiving that his way was the better way. I resigned myself for the worst, instead of trusting God for the best.

Well I’m here now. The big mystery of going away to college is a mystery no longer. And what of all my fears, worries, and anxieties? Irvine is not perfect. It is weak in certain areas where I would like it to be strong; but any complaint I might muster has been completely overshadowed by the overwhelming faithfulness of God. With each blessing granted, prayer answered, and trial lovingly placed, I’ve seen that God’s plan truly is perfect, and far better than my own. I am thankful for the privilege of being here, and I am looking forward to the long journey to becoming more like Jesus in his humility, in his selflessness, and in his unconditional love.

2I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” (Psalm 16:2)

First Things First pt. 1

Filling the Void

This post is loosely inspired by Ecclesiastes 3:11: “11He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

There is a giant gaping eternal-sized hole right smack in the middle of my heart. It is ravenous, and insatiable; it hurts, and aches, and groans. My whole life I’ve tried to fill this void with all sorts of things with the hope that I might plug, and clot the loneliness, and the emptiness. But of course,  temporal things were and will never be enough. My soul cries for something more. It longs for eternity. An eternal hole takes an Eternal God to fill. It takes Jesus Christ, beaten, bloody, and alone, nailed to a Cross for all my sins, so that I might know Him, and be whole in Him.

With that massive truth in mind, let me try and outline my idea for yet another series. By the grace of God, I am now continually striving to find my identity, and my satisfaction in Christ with the goal that He alone would fill the voids in my heart. Here an important question arises: what of the other things, which I formerly used to fill the voids? As I stated earlier, I have sought satisfaction in a variety of pursuits, the foremost of those being relationships and achievement. These things are by no means bad. Quite the opposite! They are gifts from God. We fall into sinful idolatry by letting the gifts usurp the Giver.

When we find the entirety of our worth in Christ, it is not as if we lose all the gifts of God; rather, they are restored to their proper purpose. They become what God intended for them to be. The gifts can be fully enjoyed. Things like relationships and achievement are no longer ultimate things, but means to glorify and magnify Christ. C.S. Lewis puts it like this:

“To sacrifice the greater good for the less and then not to get the lesser good after all–that is the surprising folly. . . Every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made… You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”

I want to write a few posts on the restoration of secondary things to their proper place in light of the reality of Christ.With the start of college especially, it is quite easy to let good things become gods in my heart. Hopefully this will be beneficial to myself, and you all as well as I seek to keep first things first!

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)

Emotions and Affections

Recently I was talking with a few brothers when one of them raised some interesting questions. His (paraphrased) questions went something like this: What is the proper place for emotion in the Christian Life? More specifically, how can we be continually affected by the Gospel in everyday life? And what of the Christian who has grown up in the Church, and who’s love for the Gospel has grown slowly with understanding? (I don’t really answer any of these questions; this post is an introduction of sorts. Hopefully I can answer and connect these questions in subsequent ones. I just wanted to get all my thoughts out on this before I forget.)

Let me start off by saying that the fight to feel, and to be affected by the things of God, is the chief struggle in my life. Honestly it scares the heck out of me. Why? Because to have the right emotions and affections for God is entirely out of our control. If you lack knowledge of God you can solve the problem by studying the Bible. If you’re always gossiping, you can solve the problem by disciplining yourself and seeking to be an encouragement instead. Of course, God is needed to work in us, but we still retain a certain amount of “control”. It is not so with emotions and affections. You cannot make yourself feel harder; you cannot make yourself truly affected by something you are not already. The fight to love God in our hearts simply cannot be forced by sheer will-power or discipline. It is God alone, who can transform the heart to be affected by His glorious Gospel.

And what’s more scary? This is not a secondary or peripheral battle in the Christian life, it is the most important one. The Westminister Catechism ask the question: “What is the chief end of man?” It’s answer? To glorify God, and enjoy him forever. And so we find that to enjoy God forever — to be rightly affected by the Gospel, and to feel proper emotions towards it, is the very purpose for our existence! If we lose this battle of loving, and marveling at the Gospel, we fail in the very thing we were created for!

I lose this battle more often that I would like to admit. There are days, and even extended seasons when I wake up, and I simply do not care about the Gospel, I am unaffected by the Word of God, and prayer feels ineffective. Oh, how I want to radically love the Gospel in my heart! How I long to feel what I ought to feel when I hear of my Savior on the cross for my sin! But too often my heart is hard as rock. In this state the doubts start to creep in: What if these emotions and affections you long for never come? What if they don’t even truly exist? And perhaps this will shed some light on my struggles addressed in my last post: What if Jesus isn’t worth it? What if this is all a sham?

There is so much I can say on this. and this will undoubtedly be a frequently occurring topic in my blog. However in the interest of keeping this at a reasonable length, I’ll end with three observations: one an exhortation for myself, one an important reminder, and the other a truth that I take comfort in.

1. Fighting to marvel at the Gospel cannot be passive:

Jeremiah 29:13 famously says this: “13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” We do not wait around lazily for joy to arrive. No, we fight hard for joy. As I established earlier, enjoying God through the Gospel is the purpose for which we were made. Christ did not die to rescue us into a life of dreary intellectual knowledge. He saved us so that we might look upon Him, and be overwhelmed at His glory. He saved us so that our affections would burn for him alone, and our emotions would be passionately joyful and thankful in his presence. We cannot lose this battle. A Christian that is emotionless, and unaffected by the Gospel is not a Christian at all. If I find that I struggle to marvel at the Gospel, I must not take it lightly. I must be active, passionate, and focused on fighting to marvel in the Gospel. I must diligently seek joy in His Word, and earnestly plead for eyes to see his beauty in my prayers. I must fight with every ounce of my being, while still knowing that what I’m seeking comes from God alone.

2. It is the Gospel that allows us to see:

A few weeks ago I spoke on “The Marvelous Gospel” from Psalms 118:21-24. In that message, I spoke on what makes the Gospel so amazing: Jesus’ unfathomable humility, our total depravity, God’s unexplainable love at the Cross, His power in the resurrection, and His glorious plan all wrapped in this thing we call the Gospel. Intellectually, we must understand why the Gospel is marvelous, but that is only half the battle. One can understand everything mentioned above and still be cold to it. Our hearts and heads must work in unison.

So where does the heart marveling, and the deep emotional response come from? Ironically, the way we marvel at the Gospel is through the Gospel itself! We were dead in our trespasses, with no ears to hear, eyes to see, or tongue to taste the goodness of God. Dead. Dead people don’t feel anything, nor are they affected by anything. But God being rich in mercy, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together in Christ by grace you have been saved! (Ephesians 2:5) It is Christ who fulfills what is foretold in Ezekiel 11:19: “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” This is as true now, as it was at the moment of salvation. Christ brings joy. He does what no amount of intellectual knowledge could ever do: he transforms hearts of stone into hearts that feel, and hearts that are affected by the Gospel. In this fight to feel, and to be affected,  may I never stray far from the Cross.

3. God is all about His Glory:

This is important to remember as we seek to respond afresh to the Gospel everyday. God is infinitely beautiful, and the origin of all joy and He is not interested in keeping it to himself. The saint who honestly seeks to love the Gospel in his heart asks for a noble thing, and it is a request that God will be faithful to fulfill. God loves for his glory to be seen, and rejoiced in by his people. And as Piper famously says, “God is most glorified, when we are most satisfied in Him.” If God is all about his Glory, we can be confident that when we seek His beauty He will be faithful to show it to us.

To those of you along with myself who are entrenched in this daily battle, let me end with a quote by Spurgeon. He says:

If you long for him, he much more longs for you.  No sinner was ever half as eager for Christ as Christ is eager for the sinner; no saint was ever one-tenth as anxious to behold his Lord as his Lord is to behold him.  If you are running to Christ, he is already near you.  If you sigh for his presence, that sigh is the evidence that he is with you.  He is with you even now; therefore, be glad!

quick note: I realize emotions and affections may not be the best choice of words to encapsulate what I’m trying to talk about. We cannot rely solely upon emotions; they come and go, and are no substitute for faithful commitment. However, I feel too often we downplay, and thus neglect this aspect of the Christian Life. Why? We fear the disconnect between what we intellectually profess, and what we actually feel. The battle to be emotionally affected is at it’s core a battle to find joy and marvel in the Gospel. If we proclaim the Gospel is the most beautiful thing, the greatest news, and our only hope; should not our emotions and affections be in tune with that?

Part 2’s coming soon!

The Worthy Pursuit

Our lives are full of pursuits. Be it marriage, a prestigious job, or the appreciation of our peers we all have things we seek after. We desire, and hope for these things. We expend our resources, and sacrifice to attain them. Ultimately our lives are characterized and defined by what we pursue. But why do we pursue things? and what makes something worth pursuing? Behind every search, every chase, and every dream is the hope of lasting satisfaction. When we try hard in school, or buy a new toy, we do so because we hope it will somehow amount to something worthwhile. So the logic follows that what makes something worth pursuing or not is how much lasting satisfaction we expect it will bring.

Not every pursuit is the same; each one carries differing levels of expectations of the payoff. The bigger the hope of reward, the higher we’ll place the pursuit in our lives; the more we’ll sacrifice, and work to get it. The ambitious student will place the pursuit of education, and career at the forefront of his life, because he believes it will make him happy; he’ll put in the effort, sacrifice, and energy required is in order to attain his goal because he trusts that in the end it will be worth it. At the same time, his pursuit for something like recreation, and immediate fun will be less, because it does not seem as worthwhile as his long term goals. You get the point.The same process goes for every person, just with different goals, and different ways of going about it.

But the thing about all pursuits apart from Christ is that they never live up to their expectations; and the greater the expectations the greater the loss when the pursuit fails to fulfill its promise. What seemed so enamoring while we were chasing it,  turns out to be disappointing once we get it; our pursuits don’t bring us the satisfaction we long for. Toys grow old quickly, the praise of man is fleeting, people disappoint, and careers don’t satisfy.

As Christians, we are called to pursue Christ. Not only that, we are called to pursue Christ above all things.  God calls us to commit the entirety of ourselves to love him with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul, and to abandon everything to know him more. And so, the important inescapable question arises: is it worth it? Following Christ is the riskiest decision anyone could ever make because one must forsake all things, in order to gain him. Jesus himself, in Matthew 13:44 describes the pursuit of the kingdom of heaven in this way. saying, 44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (emphasis mine) The greater the pursuit, the greater the possibility of loss; and so the possibility for disappointment is enormous. Paul speaks of the crushing implications for the Christian if the pursuit of Christ proves useless: 14And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… 19If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Yikes. As was said earlier, what makes something worth pursuing is the hope of lasting satisfaction. In the same way, we follow Christ because we believe he is worth it; we know that all other pursuits fail to live up to their billing, but we are confident that in Jesus Christ alone is everlasting satisfaction, and fullness of joy. And with that settled in our hearts, we can follow him full-tilt with passion. We can boldly say with Paul: “8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

Ah! This is so hard for me! In fact, my whole thought process on this topic (aka. this post) stems from a lingering doubt that haunts me with each pursuit counted as loss for the sake of gaining Christ. My unbelief tells me what if you count all things as loss in order to gain Christ, and find that he’s not worth it; that he does not bring lasting satisfaction, or fullness of joy? This lack of faith is not doubt in the happiness of heaven, but rather it is doubt in living my life full-on for Christ here on earth.  I often struggle to believe the all-sustaining,  power of God in everyday life. I think the dilemma is best captured in this question: if I were to lose everything: possessions, friends, and status, and had only Christ would that be enough? Or in other words, would Christ be enough to satisfy us if we lost the pleasures from all other pursuits?

It is a difficult question to answer, and ultimately one that is all hypothesis until I experience it for myself. Tim Keller captures it well when he says, “You don’t realize Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” I draw encouragement from something Paul says in Philippians 1: 20-22: 20as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Here was Paul, a man who had truly given up everything to follow Jesus. Heck, he writing Philippians from prison! And yet he could say with confidence that he would not be ashamed for living all-out for Christ.

Is it worth it to follow Christ? Is it worth it to count all things as loss, so that I might gain Him? These are not hard questions to answer. Of course it’s worth it! Not only in the eternal life too come, but also in earthly life now.  The problem isn’t knowing the right answer in my head, but settling it in my heart. It’s having full courage in this glorious fact, trusting in it, finding comfort in it, dropping all rival pursuits for it, and having it seep into everything I do; that when I read my bible it would be with full courage that Christ is worth it, when I pray, and serve, and strive to be more like Him it would be with the eager expectation and hope that I will not at all be ashamed. Why? Because Christ is worth it, and it is a glorious thing to live for him! He is the one worthy pursuit, the one pursuit that brings lasting satisfaction.

I’ve decided to start blogging. Why? Certainly not because I’m particularly insightful, spiritual, wise, or anything like that; I’m none of these things. I can think of four reasons off the top of my head. First, I want to encourage you all! I know from personal experience that I’ve been thoroughly blessed by the blogs/writings of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and I want to do the same! Second, it will help keep me accountable, especially as I jet off to college. I’d imagine that the things I write here will contain goals, struggles, and ways I need to grow; I would love it if you all would challenge me, and check up on how I’m doing in those regards. Third, I’ve recently realized the benefits of being able to articulate my thoughts to myself. Too often I let ideas float around in my head, half-formed and hazy. Writing them out helps me to crystallize my thoughts, and to make them more real and clear to myself! And finally…well, I’m crossing my fingers that this’ll make me a better writer! Hopefully this blog will help kill four birds with one stone (it started off as two) and serve quadruple purposes as an encouragement to those reading, accountability for me, a helpful tool for my own growth, and a jump-start for my iffy writing skills. whew!

So why the title ‘Joy Inexpressible’? The truth is I’m  miserable at thinking up names for things (which is why this post is entitled what it’s entitled, and why my tumblr is still called “:)”). I’ve always been scared that if your site didn’t have a cool name, and a witty description that people would scoff and dismiss it; so I jumped the first moment I thought of a respectable title!

But in all seriousness, these words, ‘joy inexpressible” hold a lot of meaning for me. Everything I long for, and hope for are wrapped up in these words. The phrase comes from 1 Peter  1:8: ‘8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Though I have not seen him and even now do not see him, I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe that in him is joy inexpressible, filled with glory, and that in him there is salvation for my soul! And that’s what I want this blog to be about! About Christ, the pursuit of his likeness, and the joy found in his love 🙂 (There is a lot more that could, and should be said about this passage, but I’ll save it for another time!)

In closing, I’m still not quite sure how this will turn out. To be honest, I don’t really know anything about blogging at all other than you post stuff up, and people read it. So that’s what I’m going to do. And we’ll see how it goes.