Leave Your Egypt Behind

It can be quite fun to view our Christian faith as a long, extended defeat of external enemies, and one of the most familiar stories is the exodus. God’s people are enslaved by Egypt for four centuries, and the day finally comes when they pay the price. While instructing the Israelites to protect themselves from the angel’s wrath by spreading lamb’s blood on their doorposts – a ritual installed as Passover – the Lord’s hand moves against Egypt in ten plagues and then the destruction of their army in the Red Sea. The lesson: “The Lord will fight for you; you must be quiet” (Exodus 14:14).

But that is not Scripture’s final lesson on the exodus.

Centuries later, there is a new Passover lamb. Where once blood on the doorposts served to guard huddled Israelite families from God’s judging hand, it is ultimately revealed as a foreshadowing for a much greater protection. As with so many things in Scripture, something in the Old Testament is taken up and given fulfillment in Jesus: “Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch. You are indeed unleavened, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7).

Glory to God. Our personal taking up of Christ has spared us God’s judgment once and for all.

But it begs the question: If Jesus is the new Passover, then who is the new Egypt?

The answer is not so pleasant. Some flavors of church love to emphasize the destruction of our enemies, giving it a prominent place in their teaching, and people love to hear it. It’s not that it’s un-Biblical.

But like any matter of discernment, the problem is often what’s not there. We like to talk about our enemies’ defeat, but we miss the one enemy that matters most. We’d rather not hear about that, for the revelation is disruptive, tense, exposing.

For the exodus story ultimately had a sad ending. What happened to Israel once they were freed? Did they file straight to Canaan without hesitation and conquer it in God’s name and power? Did they honor God’s deliverance with faith and trust? They didn’t. They doubted, grumbled, set up golden calves. They ate quail as a concession from God, then quailed from his mission. They never saw the promised land.

For although triumph of our enemies is part of the faith, what does Scripture always guide us back to if not our own hearts?

If Jesus is the new Passover, then who is the new Egypt?

We are.

You and I.

For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! (Romans 5:10)

It’s easy to focus on external enemies. It spares us from having to look inwards and admit the gossip we’ve been partaking in, or the white lies we’ve told our clock punch, or how long we’ve neglected to crack a Bible.

But sin isn’t an external enemy. It’s internal. The New Testament ultimately guides our vision back to our own hearts, and reveals us – all of us – as God’s enemy. Such stark words! And God’s greatest mission is not to deliver us from external enemies, but from the sinfulness of our own hearts. That’s why the best teachers remind us that the greatest enemy is not without, but within.

And God tells us to leave that Egypt.

Leave self.

Leave sin.

Leave the idols and doubts and grumbling.

And walk to the promised land of faith, selflessness, and peace.

Next time you read the exodus story during the upcoming Easter season, remember that its ultimate fulfillment was in Christ and his deliverance of us from our sin. Choose to leave your Egypt. Leave your sin behind. Use your life to honor Christ and all he’s done for you.

 

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You are Not in Control of Your Own Happiness

I get it. The common sentiment that “you’re in control of your own happiness” is meant to bring us from a place of learned helplessness to one of responsibility. It’s intended to take our focus off external circumstances, to free us from waiting for the galaxy to align and make us happy, and instead empower us to take charge of our attitudes. On the surface, it sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

In reality, it’s jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Sure, there’s value in learning to shape our worldviews. It’s life-changing to realize that there are days in which we can stare our stresses and disappointments in the face, say “I can have a good day despite you,” and discover that it actually happens! It’s not every day, admittedly – the meter tends to bounce back and forth – but we do have a role to play. A limited one.

If we are ultimately in control of our own happiness, though, it’s a sentence of death and despair.

We are disasters. When you examine what Scripture says about our nature and our ability to honestly perceive ourselves, we are disasters. I nearly left the house wearing mismatched shoes last Thursday, and the Bible says that’s the least of my dysfunctions. Am I trustworthy with my own happiness? Not on your life. I know myself too well.

How do we really know what will bring us happiness? Most of us are willing to look back on mistakes we made five years ago and admit we were off the beaten track. But we’re still judging from the same vantage point: by what feels right. We may have some more wisdom to aid in the squinting, and that’s something, but we haven’t actually changed positions. It felt right back then, too, though we didn’t know why.

Isn’t anyone starting to suspect that we might not be the best judge in these matters? I’m looking for a better yardstick – something outside myself.

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7-8)

I found a great Tim Keller quote recently that basically says that the Bible’s contradiction of your own instincts and desires is actually proof of its veracity – that a Bible that never contradicts you, but somehow always conveniently echoes you, is probably one you should be highly suspicious of. Like spam in your email.

Something outside us, however, can be trusted – especially if its accuracy has been verified historically, as the Bible’s has (despite greatly exaggerated reports otherwise).

I’m glad the people in my life don’t want me to be happy. Well, they do, but they first want me to be holy, because they recognize that one comes before the other. God asks for some sacrifices in return for happiness, yes, but given the sacrifice he made for us, it’s not an unfair request. Without him, it would be a cross for us.

You’re not in control of your own happiness – and you don’t need to be. God is willing to take that over for you. That’s actually a relief, if you think about it.

 

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When You’re Hard on Yourself

feetHere is an encouraging thought: God might be showing us more grace than we are accepting.

I used to think that most humans’ only mistake was denying the sins they committed, or their need for forgiveness.

Then I grew up, learned to be hard on myself, and realized that we also fail to fully accept the grace God is offering.

When I mess up, it’s a hard battle to not let it wreck my day. Many of us, whether parents or single, pastors or congregants, inhabitants of any job, could say the same. Our competitive world rewards perfection. We’re competing for scraps of success, love, and security. We intuitively sense that any flaw will get us lapped, so we drive ourselves. Hard.

It spills over into our relationship with God. We never think we’re good enough to enter his presence. (And by ourselves, we’re not.)

But…

And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of fragrant oil and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with the hair of her head, kissing them and anointing them with the fragrant oil.

When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him — she’s a sinner! ” (Luke 7:37-39)

Even before we go any further into this rich passage, we get a stunning lesson in God’s grace from the simple fact that Jesus does not drive this woman away.

It’s established that she’s a sinner. The obvious Jewish expectation is that Jesus would repel her for her past. He does not.

The feet of Jesus are exactly where we belong after we have sinned.

I briefly had a Muslim housemate in college. During a conversation, he admitted that he had no way of knowing whether his fastidious adherence to the Five Pillars of Islam was getting him anywhere with God. Every time he sinned, or even forgot an observance, he feared eternal destruction. Zero assurance.

We can strut about how awful that existence sounds, but are we any different? Do we “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Hebrews 4:16)? Typically, no. I think we hold off until we’ve “shaped up” (itself an unreliable assessment) before we feel God is near.

But the Cross and the Empty Tomb were given so that we could approach him. Relying on our own effort would preempt his credit. Jesus’ sojourn in the Pharisees’ house is meant to foreshadow this new and living way.

If you’re “in” with Christ, yet being hard on yourself today, remember the torture and effort God went through so that you needn’t. His grace is greater.

 

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!

 

Don’t Let Satan Win Twice

desertI love the entire Scripture, but I’ve always been especially partial to the book of Hebrews. It’s partially because I long for a close, approachable relationship with the Father, and it’s (in part) the book of Hebrews that taught me to seek that, taught me that God himself seeks it.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way opened for us through the curtain of His body, and since we have a high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold resolutely to the hope we confess, for He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)

Let us draw near.

And if you know God wants something, it’s a good bet that Satan opposes it.

This Scripture makes a connection between our nearness to God, the assurance of faith, and the state of our conscience. That means that what we do after we sin is probably a crucial matter. We need to know how to handle the aftereffects of our sin. Because we will sin.

Too often, our instinct is to hide, as Adam and Eve did. We imagine God saying, “Get out of my sight. I don’t want to see you right now.” It’s certainly good to bear some humility towards God, and too often we let it drive us from God. We have this ingrained belief that we should hide from a God greater and holier than us,

That’s letting the devil win twice.

He tempts us to sin, then seeks to use that sin as a wedge between us and God any way he can. A diabolical one-two punch, the second half of which we don’t often even register.

Contrast it with David’s approach to repentance:

God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not banish me from Your presence
or take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore the joy of Your salvation to me,
and give me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12)

David seeks more of God in this time, not less. This is the guy who just will not shut up throughout Psalms about the greatness of God’s presence. Instead of slinking away from God’s presence and trying again on Thursday, he actively repents and seeks God’s intervention in his heart.

Don’t sin. But when you do, turn to God in that very moment. Repent and ask him to change your heart. Draw near.

Near. To the God whose mountain could not even be touched, whose very face made Isaiah fear for his life, who routs armies before him and changes the heart of kings.

That God wants me near.

I think I will accept his offer.

 

Unbreak that New Year’s Resolution

runnerIt’s 22 days into 2018 and broken resolutions litter the ground like tree branches after a windstorm.

I’m here to cheer for you to take them back up.

for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes. (Proverbs 24:16 NLT)

Not that you’re wicked if you don’t stay on the treadmill or something. And not that we have permission to sin or good reason to dump a healthy resolution.

But I have to say, as a professional faller myself, it’s mighty comforting to read this verse.

New Year’s resolutions are funny in that we often see them, sometimes without realizing it, as all-or-nothing. We think we have to clean up completely, hit perfection after January 1, to deliver on the resolution.

The commentaries on Prov. 24:16 say that the fall referenced here could be from either sin or from hardship and affliction, and they imply that only the righteous man has the ability to bounce back – that God keeps his hand around the righteous and pulls them back to their feet.

But many years ago, during a momentary retreat in my battle for righteousness in a certain area, a friend of mine gave me some advice: “When you slip up, don’t reset your streak to 0. That’s the biggest downer ever. Just get back up and start fighting again.”

I think he had a point. Cognitively speaking, it’s massively depressing and discouraging, on top of failure, to flip your internal calendar back over to “0 days since the last mistake” once you fall. Adding insult to injury. You look back at how hard you had to fight for that streak, and you can’t imagine repeating it. It’s an added burden.

In addition to the practical downside, there could also be a spiritual downside: faulty expectations.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)

This is only one of many New Testament verses that make provision for the fact that Christians will still sin. It’s expected. It’s not good, but it’s expected. Our sanctification will be life-long.

But what a comfort to find God offering strength to retake our feet: the righteous rise again.

John Piper offered this:

We balk at claiming to be among the righteous because it implies to us perfection, never sinning, and we know that is not true of ourselves. But to be a righteous man in Old Testament language does not mean to be perfect. God required that the saints be righteous in order to be saved (Psalm 1:6); he never made perfection a prerequisite of salvation. The whole sacrificial system was designed to impart forgiveness to sinners so God could save them.

The easiest way to see that being righteous did not mean being perfect in the psalms and to see what it did mean is to look at Psalm 32 . Note especially: 1) David sins and is forgiven; 2) he says there is a group called “godly” (v. 6); 3) the wicked are contrasted with those who trust in the Lord (v. 10); 4) these trusting, forgiven ones are called the righteous and the upright in heart (v. 11). So whenever you read about the righteous, think: those who trust in the Lord for their joy and repent of their sins in earnestness.

Now, there’s a galactic difference between accepting this reality and letting it make us complacent. I’ve known my sinful heart to twist this grace: “You’ll never be perfect, so go ahead and sin.” Paul hammers that sophistry in Romans 6. He’s still pressing on towards the goal. The holier your goal, the better your results will be. Compromise your goal and you compromise your results. Our goal should still be perfection.

But when we fall short and ache in our souls, God’s Word reorient our expectations – and encourages us to retake our feet. We repent and we end the retreat. We rise again.

Don’t toss your resolutions (spiritual or common) out the window because you failed today. Take them back up. God doesn’t care whether the first day of your permanent victory over (insert struggle here) is January 1 or not. He just wants to see you victorious, made so through his strength.

“Locker Room Talk” Isn’t Okay, Young Men of God – It Is Your Enemy

wastelandIn light of the heart-rending revelations of sexual assault sweeping our nation this fall, it seemed an ideal time to trot this old post back out.

I’m no better.

I have, in the past, engaged in sexual sin. That I’ve never actually touched a woman or behaved like the celebrities currently under society’s microscope? That’s irrelevant. We cannot boast of “lesser sin”. We can only repent and strive.

Fortunately, God and I are winning. At this moment, lust is being held at bay in my life through his power. Praise be to him. And only him.

It is from this freedom that I write to you, young men of God, for you on my heart, and I want you warned.

I’m no stranger to locker room talk. I spent four years in the Air Force, where I spent time in dormitories, hangars, and launch trucks with rough, hard-living men.

Some things don’t necessarily stick. F-bombs roll off my back now; I barely notice.

But their degrading talk of women – the graphic descriptions of pornographic material, the exploits they carried out in college, their contempt for their wives – has been harder to forget. I remain a virgin, but my ears aren’t. I learned way more about the birds and the bees in that truck than I should have. Then it was three years teaching at a rural high school, where the kids had been raised rough and their tongues rougher. Even they knew more about sex than I (and they weren’t afraid to share, even if it cost them a detention). I’m sincerely glad that the blood of Christ and the passing of time are cleansing those memories.

Now, as a youth leader, I’ve been charged with helping to train young men of God, and part of that is instilling respect for your sisters in Christ.

Does respect sound boring?

It’s not. It is a campaign. 

You must be set against the world from an early age, for the world does not play nice. It all may start subtly, a quiet normalization of the sexually charged talk about women. The camaraderie of men in a “safe environment” can grab at you like a riptide, pulling on you before you realize it, especially in a new setting – a new sports team, a new college, a new job where you need to make inroads. Loneliness only intensifies the pull.

It’s harmless, you might hear, because of course those guys would “never” actually do anything to the women they know. Why make a big deal of talk, they may ask? Especially if it takes place outside the hearing of any women (insert joke about tree falling in the woods here)?

The Word shatters the apathy with its answer.

If Jesus tells us that even anger towards your brother is no less destructive than murder (Matthew 5:21-22)…

If Jesus tells us that even looking at a woman lustfully is the same in his eyes as adultery (Matthew 5:27-28)……

If Jesus tells us that what comes from within is what defiles a man (Matthew 15:18-20)…

…then our words have no place in God’s universe.

 

There is a vast operation underway in the spiritual realm. A coordinated effort by our Enemy to destroy the very image of God in the world.

“Now his heart for revenge is to assault beauty.  He destroys it in the natural world wherever he can. Strip mines, oil spills, fires, Chernobyl. He wreaks destruction on the glory of God in the earth like a psychopath committed to destroying great works of art.

But most of all, he hates Eve. Because she is captivating, uniquely glorious, and he cannot be. She is the incarnation of the Beauty of God. More than anything else in all creation, she embodies the glory of God. She allures the world of God. He hates it with a jealousy we can only imagine. (John and Stasi Eldredge, Captivating)

Shall we dirty and sully this reflection of God, young Christian men? Would we tarnish it, treat it as an object for our fulfillment, callously ignore the heart and soul of these precious sisters?

We shall not.

… Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Timothy 5:2)

Timothy was a young man, tender-hearted, possibly feeling out of his depth as pastor of the Ephesus church. Paul assigned him a dizzying standard: absolute purity. It was a standard that would cost him:

…they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:4-5)

Purity would cost him. But Paul knew immorality would cost him more. So he charged him, without apology, with a high but holy calling.

Was this standard unfair? No. It was an honor. We cannot be party to the activities of the enemy. The beauty of woman is under assault, and so is our righteousness as men. The days are short. Life and death are on the tongue.

My refusal to leap into the dissipation in that launch truck wrought a cost upon me. I was mocked, dismissed with a chuckle and a shake of the head. We all know virgins have a stigma in the world.

But I fought. As the jokes rolled on, I fought the corners of my mouth as they tried to raise themselves into an accommodating tweak. Every day. Sometimes I faltered, to the grief of God. But I kept fighting.

I do not say this to brag – merely to offer hope that victory is possible. God can master us, if we let him.

Locker room talk is Satanic. There’s just no other word for it. Look around you at the hearts of women, at the state of marriage in this world. It all looks like Mordor. Desolation everywhere. Did you think locker room talk plays no part in this? Whether it ever permutes into actual sexual assault or not, this talk is unjust, destructive, and sickening in God’s eyes.

I have known young men who brought courage, character, and conviction into their locker rooms. They became leaders there. Sure, they paid a price at first. But they also shone. Do the same. Quietly, grudgingly, but undoubtedly, the world will see you shine, and it will draw them towards Christ.

Let us instead be defenders of our sisters. Let us pay the price in their defense. You want to play the knight? Be prepared to bleed.

The Sin of Deflection

deflectionAnother year, another incorrect prediction of the world’s end.

I often wondered how these predictors interpret their constant misses, until I went on the internet and saw for myself.

They deflect.

Instead of acknowledging their error and apologizing to those they mislead, a lot of these people simply hide behind the sins (or perceived sins) of others. They accuse you of unbelief. They speak of the “mockers” and “scoffers” outside the kingdom who will get their “just reward” when Christ returns. As if any of this somehow ameliorates their own false prophecies. Deflecting.

A coworker responds to correction by pointing out how awful X and Y are at their jobs, and thus how unfair the criticism is. Deflecting.

Teachers spreading poor doctrine complain of being attacked. Deflecting.

Political candidates play down their own flaws and talk about those of their opponent. Deflecting.

And I?

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