Sunday, June 24, 2012

"But We See Him... Namely, Jesus"

I want to confess to a bad habit. It's one very common to Christians, I think-- we almost think of it as part of "practicing" the Christian religion-- yet it's not a Christian practice. I'm referring to the habit of looking inward, of focusing on my own inner resources and thoughts and feelings as if they hold the answer, as if therein lies the reality of my difficult situation. It's a temptation; it's one I often give in to, that of looking within for answers. It's a method of figuring things out that only leads to sleepless nights and anxious worries.

The reason it's so wrong is, first of all, it's not at all what the Bible teaches us to do in response to sorrows and trials and difficulties. If the Bible teaches us not to do something, then no matter whether we understand why it's wrong, we'd just better not do it! But it's not too hard to understand why such a habit of looking within for the answers is wrong, and even harmful. The reason why this habit is wrong is that we don't have the answers within! The Answer is outside ourselves; the answer is Christ and his word. The Bible teaches this over and over.

The reason we think it's right to look within for answers and to neglect looking outwardly to Christ and his word for answers, is that we've sort of been taught to do one and to neglect to do the other. Teaching in the church and teaching from popular books have gone downhill in these past decades. They've reflected the drift of the culture rather than the teaching of the Bible.

But the teaching of the Bible on this is a lot better news than the cultural teaching! The Bible's teaching is that it's healthy and right to look away from ourselves and to the One the Bible describes as our Example (John 13:15, 1 Peter 2:21), as the Founder and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), as the great High Priest who has "passed through the heavens" for us (Hebrews 4:14), as the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25), and on and on. We  are to look to him and depend on his words and not on our wishy-washy inner selves. (If you haven't figured out how wishy-washy and undependable your inner self is yet, just give it some time.) It's really the best news that the answers are outside our foggy old thoughts and distorted old motives.

Now I've known of these things for some time and "preached" them to myself and others for some time, but still I find myself practicing this bad habit of looking inwardly for the answers. Crazy, isn't it? Yes, well it's humbling. It's enlightening to see how very entrenched this habit can be, how very difficult to forsake, how very tempting to practice. In the still, lonely hours of the night I find myself tossing and turning just like always, turning things over in my mind, trying to figure things out, wrestling with and being conquered by the "devils" within. I don't mean I have devils in me. But I do believe it's "devilish" to practice the Christian life in this way. Yet, whether because of ignorance or a willful insistence on "figuring things out" our own way, it is what we do.

This is the biblical, and better practice: looking to Christ. From Abraham, who "went out, not knowing where he was going" (Hebrews 11:8), to the Israelites who looked to the bronze serpent in the wilderness and were healed (Numbers 21:9), to the coming of the Son of Man for this purpose (John 3:14, John 12:32), God has always meant for his people to look outside themselves and to Him for their salvation, both temporal and eternal.

Christ finished the work his Father sent him to do, meaning he accomplished everything necessary for our salvation and for our being made holy and fit for heaven. He then sat down at the right hand of God, there to reign until he has "put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25). God, the Bible says, crowned Jesus with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection to him, leaving nothing out of his control. But here's our difficulty: we don't yet see everything in subjection to him. We don't yet see everything under his control. But we do see what we need to see to be ok -- "we see Him... namely Jesus" (Hebrews 2:7-9).

Someday the "not yet" will be here. Faith will become sight. There will be no more temptations to toss and turn in the night watches, looking within for answers we don't have, worrying and fretting over these present afflictions and difficulties. Until then, we--and I'll bring it back to me, to "I"-- I need to look to Jesus. He's my hero, the trailblazer, the one who has gone before, conquered and overcome, set me an example to follow, promised me the power to overcome sin and temptation with faith and obedience. No answers lie within. The only answers and the only way are outside myself, in this Hero and in his living word (Hebrews 4:12), his Spirit in us giving us the power to trust and obey.

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,
    “What is man, that you are mindful of him,
        or the son of man, that you care for him?
    You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
        you have crowned him with glory and honor,
        putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
     Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
   For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,   
 “I will tell of your name to my brothers,  in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise" (Hebrews 2:5-12).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Model For Pleading With Our Children

I'm so often struck in reading Proverbs, particularly the first eight chapters, by the pleadings of the father to his son to listen, listen, listen to the father's words of wisdom, to his instructions. The words of wisdom he wants him to know are all the ensuing words of the whole book of Proverbs, from Chapter 1 to Chapter 31.  And then, Proverbs is a microcosm, if that is the right word, for the whole Bible. Every story, every teaching in the whole Bible reflects the wisdom of Proverbs in some way. The message of the Bible in this way gives evidence of itself to be divinely unified, divinely whole in authorship and purpose. But I digress. I was talking about the appeals of the father to his son to listen.

The first eight chapters of Proverbs are a model, a master design given from the Maker to parents who fear Him, for the upbringing and teaching of their children. The counsel of the father, his appeals to the heart of his son, his repeated warnings and insights and encouragements, show us how to appeal to our own children's hearts for the glory of God and their good. We have to flesh out all our instruction with the Old Testament accounts of God's dealings with Israel, his mighty deeds, and the dilemma of mankind, and then with the New Testament accounts of Christ's coming, and the revelation of His gospel. We have to teach our children all the Scriptures, which are able to make them "wise for salvation" (2 Timothy 3:15), and as we teach them the Scriptures we appeal to their hearts to get this wisdom.

And we pray, asking our Father in heaven to do what all our pleading and teaching alone can never accomplish-- we ask Him to grant them new eyes and ears to see and hear the truth and wisdom in His word. That is the work of His Spirit, and how we need Him to work! Our children need to be made new creatures in Christ who will love the truth and acquire this true wisdom.

Both are necessary-- the instruction of the Scriptures, the Proverbs-type of reminding and warning and showing; and the work that only God can do, the opening of eyes and understanding and the granting of faith.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Legacy We Shall Leave

I was just thinking this morning how the "legacy" of women in my family (well, at least of my dear Mom and me, which I don't think she will now mind me saying) has been this kind of thinking:

"That may be good advice, but it doesn't/won't/can't work for me."

"I know that's what the Bible says, but... (insert reason it doesn't/can't/won't work for me)."

"That's easy for you to say, because you don't have my problems/haven't walked in my shoes."

It was a stubbornness masked as helplessness. I thank God for his grace, which has overcome such thinking in exchange for a "glad obedience" (only by the help of the Spirit!) to God's commands. God's truth does, can and will "work" for all who call upon His name in sincerity and truth."He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it."

I thank God for the life of our Mom, who although she suffered terribly in this life from depression, anxiety, and the kind of stubborn helplessness I mentioned, still, by God's grace, shone rather brightly in her last days of life. Though she suffered from these things, His mercy to her was large, and I believe and am comforted that she awoke in His presence to freedom and joy.

So I'm thinking this morning about the legacy we leave, the story for our children. How I hope for God's mercy to them all, that they may recognize the grace of God, no matter how limited the clay vessels He works through.