Why the Tearful Search for Someone Worthy Matters

I’m struck by John’s confession in Revelation 5:4, in part because it seems at first so alien to us:

“But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. And I cried and cried because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it.” – Revelation 5:3-4

Why would the old apostle be so torn up about getting a scroll looked at? It feels like one of those distant, stained-glass religious enigmas that we know we should care about more, but don’t, try as we might. A matter for saints and philosophers, while we stagger about just hoping that we’ll find a cheaper daycare next month, or that our boss will be on vacation just for one day tomorrow.

But then I realize, this is a longing we’re all sharing: the search for a hero. The hero to end all heroes, and to end all sufferings.

Heaven knows where we’ve looked for that. Self, others, philosophies, substances, even death itself.

Revelation 5 presents the final obstacle to which no hero can be found, something against which nobody and nothing will ever cut the mustard.

Benson’s commentary says, “Without tears the Revelation was not written, neither can it without tears be understood.” In some profound way, the scroll of Revelation 5:4 is the final boss, the league championship, the holy grail of suffering itself. We have no answer. No pastor, author, political figure, relationship, or accomplishment will satisfy mankind’s desperate longing to be finished with suffering – no more resurrections a la Palpatine in Episode IX, no more of that old Eastern instinct of “it will always come back around”. An end. To match the beginning.

And then Revelation 5:5 finds someone worthy.

Thanks to my friend Nate for turning me on to this:

 

I’ll let that end this post.

 

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4 Stories of Letting God, Not Pride, Move You Forward

In 1 Samuel, David has not one, but two golden opportunities to dethrone Saul fall literally into his lap. At one point, Saul chooses to relieve himself in the very cave in which David is hiding (Ch. 24); in the other, Saul’s army falls asleep around him and allows David to sneak right up to the slumbering king’s position (Ch. 26).

Everything about both scenes screamed providence. It would have been simple to interpret Saul picking just the right cave, or being let down by an incompetent army, as divine appointment arranging his downfall. Neither is a common situation that one just blunders into.

And this is amongst a spiritual people predisposed towards just such interpretations – and towards David. He’d heard the cries of “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands”, and even though that cry was a more of a poetic call that doesn’t actually indicate superior favor towards David, there’s no question that the future king was popular. The Israelite public would not have hesitated to translate David’s mere possession of Saul’s effects as a divine legitimization of David’s kingship. David’s men may have twisted the prophecies in instigating him to kill Saul, but that didn’t change the fact that God was not on Saul’s side, and everyone knew it.

But David wouldn’t do it. When he cut corners on his obedience in even a small way, he repented.

It goes to show that the humble servant waits for God to remove obstacles in his own way and time.

There was also Moses, who values the things of God over his own ego:

A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua son of Nun, assistant to Moses since his youth, responded, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses asked him, “Are you jealous on my account? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets and the LORD would place His Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:27-29)

Or Paul, who probably has the leverage to shut down his opponents but chooses instead to rejoice in a message greater than the messenger:

“…the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice” (Philippians 1:17-18)

And, of course, our Savior sets the prime example:

Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And he said to Him, “I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” (Matthew 4:8-10)

This is actually a difficult thought for me, because it sounds like passivity, and I hate passivity. It’s been keenly observed for years now that passivity in Christendom, especially among men, has done a great deal of damage to homes and churches. Too often, “safe” Scriptural readings basically tell Christians to just not do anything – too much “be still and know that I am God” and not enough “fight for your families” (Nehemiah 4:14) – missing the balance that there’s a part that’s God’s and a part that’s ours.

But we would do well to remember that passivity can be either the refusal to act or the refusal to act well. Both are forms of surrender – to fear, indecision, and apathy, which turns people into spiritual slouches; or to one’s emotions and instincts, which can create domineering or violent menaces.

In these cases, David, Moses, and Paul are not being still. They are most decidedly fighting. Have you ever wrestled with a choice and actually found yourself more panicked at the thought of doing nothing? Bingo. It takes great strength to reject a power-grab opportunity that falls right into one’s lap. It takes immense character to pass up a fair potshot at another, which your own friends and followers are perfectly happy to execute for you, and trust God with your legacy instead.

When there was a clear conflict of interest for David, Moses, Paul. and Jesus, they conscientiously chose against their pride. Whatever other fair arguments happened to be going the same direction as their pride, they just didn’t trust them. They chose to err on the side of humility and counted on God to reward them for it.

God’s ways almost invariably involve patience and trust, precisely because we lack it, and lie in the opposite direction of our pride, precisely because we desire it. Sanctification is the point, not upward mobility. When we ask for a miracle, God instead shows us a mirror. And Scripture bears stories in which God never did move someone forward, because they were unwilling to surrender these parts of their hearts.

But at the right time, God moves the humble servant forward. Be in position for this, by being continually set against your pride. God will see it. He will not let you overthink or shame yourself out of his will for your life.

 

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Why You Shouldn’t Accept the Life You Have

“Stop envying others and accept the life you have” is not the worst advice in the world. In the context of money and possessions, it’s quite a vital piece.

But there is also a sense in which it’s terrible guidance.

Hear me out. I submit that discontentment has two separate components: a groaning and a proposed solution (the part where we usually go wrong). My proof is this: is it possible to desire no unholy solutions, to be completely given over to God for our daily life, and still find oneself groaning on this earth?

Scripture seems to think so. It speaks of a longing, one depicted not as a product of sin but simply of standing on this side of the mirror dimly. “…we groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is dismantled, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).

These verses speak not as if we’re home, but as if we’re still very much journeying. We understand from a Scriptural framework that there is a part of our forming that will not be complete in this life, even if we are surrendered to God. That’s just not where we are in the story yet.

What is the source of your groaning this morning? Is it that you don’t have enough things? Or is it that our constant toil, the fragility of our bodies, the screams of nature and human nature are all shouting a soul sense that we’re living in a tent? If it’s the latter, you are discontent in the most wonderful way. Of course you aren’t happy. You’re not home yet.

Truth be told, I’m more worried about those who don’t groan. They think this life is all there is, and they’re given over to making it work for themselves. It is the spirit of the age: “we can make life work now”. Perhaps it’s been the spirit of every age.

In that sense, God never tells us to accept the life we have. That would be awful. He tells us to yearn for the next one, to “set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth” (Colossians 3:2), to “store up treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). He implores us to treat our possessions with an earthly disdain as if we will someday grow beyond them, in one fell swoop, with a trumpet sound and an atmospheric leap.

Some of our longings are actually cries for that life. We long for the ending of tears. We long for reward. We long for the restoration of our loved ones. Those of us who long for marriage are really, at the soul level, seeking the relationship of the Trinity, which will be completed there. And those promises will be realized.

Christianity has nothing to say to those who have accepted this life. Instead, it teaches a holy dissatisfaction with it, a groaning for the next. There will be no role for money and possessions there; thus, we shed those desires now. But many other longings are wonderful, for they reveal our awareness of a coming paradise and all that God has wrought for us there. Perhaps longing is not always a bad thing after all?

 

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No Single Christian Left Behind

I have the privilege of doing youth work with a couple of guys I graduated high school with. They’re married with kids.

Several students I’ve mentored in that youth ministry have gotten hitched. One’s even had a couple daughters.

I saw an old (now married) girlfriend in the store the other day. She looked…I’m bad at this…six or seven months pregnant? I was certainly happy for her.

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But it’s certainly enough to make a bachelor feel left behind.

In years gone by, I would often reassure myself with Don’t worry, they’re a lot older than you. You’ve got time. Then one day I woke up and was their age. So much for that arrow in the quiver. In fact, the pastor at one of our offshoot churches has a salt-and-pepper beard, a seminary degree, and a small tribe running around his wife’s ankles – and my jaw dropped when I found out he’s two years younger than me.

Ever felt left behind?

You’re not.

Though we could turn to comforts such as there are still plenty of people who marry late and you’ve accomplished plenty that they haven’t, the best response to times of loneliness is knowing that the Father’s love knows no boundaries – including what you haven’t done.

Nobody at my church has ever openly made me feel outmoded for being single – my spiritual family is too Scripturally literate for that. They know that although the Old Testament certainly seemed to hand all the stature and security to families, Jesus changed things. He stresses singles’ place in his family. Both through his words (Matthew 19) and those inspired (1 Corinthians 7), Jesus pointed out that singles actually have an easier time navigating the evangelistic demands of his kingdom. Sometimes married people fall behind the singles!

But more importantly, Scripture breaks down barriers to his love. Rich or poor, slave or free, sick or healthy, Jew or Gentile, popular or otherwise, educated or a fisherman casting about on Galilee’s shores, Christ embraces people on every part of every spectrum as candidates for his grace.

Singles are no exception. Every single Christian is a pool into which Christ’s waterfall of love tumbles perennially. He did not come to earth, suffer the cross, empty the tomb, and ascend to heaven so that his love would be thwarted by the lack of a ring.

It hurts that there are churches who do not share this view. Singles across the world are too often ignored, sidelined, or flat-out rebuked for not marrying, as if they’re only “playing at life” until they do (and without ever being asked if singleness was what they wanted).

The emotional burden is real, and God will hear our honesty in the meantime. It’s not fun to have less and less in common with your friends, having to work harder and harder to keep up your friendships. That’s not what Hebrews meant by “running the race”.

But no single Christian has been left behind with God. You are secure in his love. Your present potential and value to God are undimmable; it need only be prayed for, sought, and cultivated. And God’s eternal future for you is sealed; Jesus will one day give each of us a new name (Rev. 2:17), whether we ever changed it here on earth or not.

Therefore, I can celebrate where I am today. For on the spectrum that matters most – God’s love – I am on equal standing with all who are his.

 

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Delight Amidst Mordor: the Hard Part of Psalm 37:4

Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart’s desires. (Psalm 37:4)

Hoo, boy. Few Bible verses carry as much potential to turn us into mercenaries.

“Love God and he’ll give you things” – yeah, that’s just begging to go down the wrong alleys. How do we handle such a verse? How do we treasure God and his opinions on things in light of such an offer? It’s Scripture. It can’t be wrong. So there must be a solution to this conundrum.

Don’t obey God to get things, obey God to get God. – Tim Keller

For me, it is the sheer intensity of “delight”.

1378807888_1c49b58b1b_z“Delight” doesn’t just mean a vague affection, certainly not a conditional one. It means delight. An intense love that crowds out other considerations. I don’t just like my mom – I delight in her, such that I’d make her a priority over a great many things. Same with my friends. (That’s why they’re friends.)

Delight can’t be faked. God sees right through it, and we’d never trust our own motives without it. When we delight in God, the first half of Psalm 37:4 outshines the second half, which sidles up to us out of nowhere while we’re absorbed with God.

I know – tall order.

How do we delight in God so freely when we have so many beefs with all he has allowed? It’s the question instantly begged upon the word “delight”.Some of our lives resemble Mordor – ashes and geysers everywhere you look.

That was the fork at which I stood.

All I can say is, I chose delight. It wasn’t some saintly nobility – I just knew the way back was cut off.

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68)

And I found that things really do operate the way God describes.

The Christian who desires more money must release it, trusting so fully in God’s creative provision that charity becomes the greater joy.

The Christian who desires upward mobility must instead wash feet.

The Christian who desires more friendship must offer it, gushing like a spring upon those around him (as Christ did) rather than incessantly drawing inwards.

The Christian who desires a spouse must be filled with Christ now, so that they will not grasp like an empty one.

The Christian who desires justice must not seek it by his own hand, but depend on God’s watchfulness and convicting power. (You might be interested to know that justice is actually the strict context of Psalm 37).

At each point, our desire is tested to determine its worth. Some would survive the fire, others would not (Psalm 37:4’s applicability to Lamborghini’s is doubtful), but all must be sublimated to Christ.

And no matter what the cherished object, we must delight in his timing.

God has a funny way of keeping dreams alive. It’s one of the great paradoxes. He brings our dreams around. But they happen in his way, according to his calculations and machinations, and often with a more eternal reach (like the artist whose future work might raise souls instead of curtains).

It is difficult to delight amidst the Mordor of this world. But if we choose it anyway, we will be rescued, pulled out of the cataclysm and awakened in a new home.

The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

The Joshua Harris Fallout: The War Everyone’s Forgetting (Or Never Saw)

Few days of history compare to the last day of the World Wars. Millions danced in streets across the globe.

But those scenes seem far removed from today.

“Why continue torturing myself? Why not just forget God and get on with life, like most of the rest of the world? Instantly I felt a sense of relief and freedom, like I had just passed a final exam … I picked up my Bible and a couple other Christian books and walked downstairs and out the back door. I shut the door softly behind me, so as not to wake anyone. In the backyard was a brick barbecue grill, and I piled the books on it, sprayed them with lighter fluid, and struck a match. … at last I had peace. A great weight had lifted. I had been honest with myself. Any pretense was gone, and I no longer felt the pressure to believe what I could never be sure of.”

Sunrise Sky Battlefield

These aren’t the words of Joshua Harris, nor those of Hillsong worship leader Marty Sampson, who this week declared his own critical struggle with his faith.

The words are from Richard, a young man whose conversations with author Philip Yancey served as the backbone of Yancey’s book Disappointment with God.

They’re becoming familiar. Within the battle reports offered by these leaders, there’s a pattern:

“I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.” – Sampson

Though Sampson goes on to cite intellectual conundrums, I sense an undercurrent of feeling in his words. It was similar with Harris – in his case, internal conflict over a doctrine that’s particularly costly for certain Christ followers. He couldn’t reconcile, so he took the path of least emotional resistance and found himself outside.

And I get it.

I know the weight they’re talking about, the Gordian knot deep in the chest year in and year out. It’s the “oh, come on” knot, that just won’t accept paradox and longings deferred and the constant tension of cultivating a relationship with the unseen. People hit their forties and start realizing that “that thing” won’t just evaporate by itself, isn’t responding to simple prayer or maturity, and might never resolve in this life. A final straw.

That’s why I’ll decline the usual “let Scripture matter more than your feelings” line that John Cooper offered.

Not that he’s wrong. Our generation has forgotten to trust Scripture. Or never really heard it.

But remember that we are refugees in war-torn lands. Not all of us found trouble as adults; some were born into it. Into families that didn’t get us, that fell apart while we were still in high chairs, that carry unspeakable secrets. Right from the opening credits, we were beleaguered. Those feelings do not simply go away. They matter.

So the part of Scripture we might most need is the part where faith is a war.

Many Christians seem to have assumed that proper belief is one long, unbroken catharsis and inner resolution (and anything else is failure). There is partial relief to be had. I’ve found much.

But Scripture tells us that complete relief is not our present (Romans 8:23), and misdiagnosing reality is always dangerous. John Eldredge said, “It’s the equivalent of arriving on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, with a lawn chair and a book to read. It is a drastic misunderstanding of your situation.”

Read the Biblical accounts of the faithful. Does any of it look easy? Yes, Jesus is a God of victory, but victory implies war. Paul often uses military analogies. Ephesians 6 outlines spiritual weapons. Your life is a war.

It would explain some things, wouldn’t it? Look around you. See it as a war, with sides and weapons and tolls, and it makes an ugly sort of sense.

So the dragon was furious with the woman and left to wage war against the rest of her offspring–those who keep God’s commands and have the testimony about Jesus (Revelation 12:17).

It also explains the weird way life suddenly gets better when faith is jettisoned. Of course things got better – you abandoned your post. You stepped off the front lines and experienced the flooding relief of not being shot at. Of course you’re surrounded by “positive and affirming” thoughts now. Of course you have a fiancee now. Of course you no longer have theological quandaries to wrestle. You aren’t in the line of fire anymore. Already Satan has retasked his resources towards the next guy on the line. Why would he bother with you now? You’re right where he wants you.

My friends, there is relief to be found in this life. I fully believe it. Though weapons must be shuffled through and strategies shifted (and God allows the process), I believe it can be found.

But I suggest the theory that if you find yourself struggling to love Jesus through your disappointment today, it means you haven’t surrendered. The Christian life is unnatural to the fallen soul. Always was. And the war that results is brutal.

Satan is furious that Jesus has a death grip on you that cannot be dislodged. This Jesus never will let go, as long as you don’t. And remember the mighty thrust of his truthful words: that reward is not found fully in this life, but the next.

Morning is coming. Hold on!

 

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The Joshua Harris Fallout: Purity’s Real Destination

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Why does all the wild stuff happen while I’m away at youth camp?

I’ve written before on navigating the fall of our Christian heroes. Frankly, it leaves us feeling a little adrift. It’s a sign of just how tangled our relationship with God can become with human intermediaries, and how threatened it all feels when the tent of cards comes down. (I remember some missionary friends moving Stateside after years abroad, hearing how the church they’d left behind started losing members immediately. They’d loved the leaders rather than God.)

Well, it’s happened again. This time it’s Joshua Harris, of I Kissed Dating Goodbye fame/notoriety. He renounced Christ publicly on Friday.

On top of that, he announced separation from his wife. Joshua Harris. Of all people.

Harris was one of the seminal generators of what we call “purity culture”. Boiled down (heavily), it theorizes that undertaking the journey of sexual purity and brotherly love that God commands, largely by avoiding dating, will lead to the destination of an amazing, God-ordained marriage.

road

Yeah, I know.

I’ve never been one to pile on. Though I disagree with much of what he wrote, I also have the objectivity to spot that many of his teachings were distorted and amplified beyond their purview by others. I’ve also seen my own criticisms echoed by Harris himself the last few years. Frankly, I think a guy deserves credit for being able to so humbly and accurately renounce his central life’s work. (Have you ever been in that position?)

But I’ve also stayed moderate because I think much criticism of purity culture actually misses the point.

Much criticism of purity culture quibbles with the journey. It tells us that we’ve selected the wrong highway, that its rules on physical boundaries and dating are stifling, counterproductive, inductive of shame, and don’t guarantee good marriage anyway.

There’s definitely some truth there. Shame is no good. And as Harris said, prohibition of dating simply isn’t in the Bible.

On the other hand, I value boundaries. My first girlfriend and I barely touched, relatively speaking. I have to imagine it made the breakup easier. And if my next one wants to save her first kiss until the altar, she’ll gets what she wants, ‘cuz I’ll want to honor her. I‘d much rather our relationship be founded on words, food, Bible reading, shared experiences, food…that sort of thing. The moment you start making out, all that stuff takes a backseat to thinking about the next time you’ll get her in the backseat. Food.

My objection is with the supposed destination.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Eph. 5:3)

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Cor. 6:18-20)

Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers. (Heb. 13:4)

Notice something: in all three of these pivotal purity passages, do you see any direct mention of the future spouse? There’s none.

Yet vast swaths of evangelicalism motivate singles to purity using our future spouse – how disappointed and damaged they’ll be when you have “the talk” and find out you didn’t wait, how purity guarantees wonderful marriages and stratospheric sex, etc.

That motivator is consistently absent. Purity culture gets the destination wrong.

Instead, Scripture teaches that the destination of purity is the glory of God. It’s about pleasing him, preserving his reputation, honoring his ownership of you.

And honestly, ironically, I see very little of that in most criticisms of purity culture.

Yeah, yeah, it’s easier to get students to care about their future spouse than about God’s glory. But truth is still truth. I want our youth group’s students to have the highest aim; I want singles to have motivation for purity when marriage proves elusive.

Yes, I want to protect my future wife through my purity, and plan to do so. But God’s glory needs to be my primary goal, because God needs to be primary in my marriage. The moment either she or I become the center, its prospects drop. He is where the power lies; he is the point.

Motivations matter. Eventually, life sweeps over us all like a tide and tests our foundations. I suspect it will get to our purity motivations sooner or later. When that day comes, I’d rather be anchored by the Highest.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

NOTE: I’m out this week, but will respond to your comments when I return.