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A Reason Beyond All Reasons

“I have my reasons.”

All of us have heard that phrase, whether in the movies or maybe from our own lips.  Even if we’ve never spoke the words, we’ve thought them.  In fact, we think those words continously, every day, whenever we think or feel or act.

When we look forward to going into work, we have our reasons, whether we have them written down in a list (like I have) or not.  When we are angry because we lost out on a bonus.  Disappointed over a relationship.  Anxious about a test result.  Grieving from a loss.  For every single emotion & act, we all have our reasons.

You see, our “reasons” structure our entire lives, exerting a great influence over all that we think and feel and do.  We can call them reasons or mental models or self-talk or whatever we like— they are constantly at work, though often subtly, behind the scenes in the deep places of our souls.

Although we don’t like to admit it or may not even realize it, many of our reasons in life are shallow or self-centered or just plain wrong.  They make us feel foolish emotions and cause us to take foolish actions.  We reason “I need to feel secure” and so we strive to accumulate money for ourselves instead of meeting the needs of others.  We reason “I’m lonely” and end up in a relationship that we knew was wrong.  We reason “I’m empty” and fill up on food or drink or something more damaging.  We reason that we need to be in control and manage to make ourselves and others miserable in our futile attempt to have everything perfect.

Our reasons always seem, well, reasonable to us.  We are daily using our mental models to justify our behavior. If we get a higher paying job opportunity away from family & friends, we’d be foolish not to take it.  If that church project would make us give up a summer vacation, well, of course we need some time to relax.  If we really love each other, it doesn’t matter whether we’re married before we sleep together.

Don’t automatically assume that all the reasons operating in your mind at this moment are right, just because you are a Christian or love God or are a “good person.”  In fact, I can guarantee that they are not.  We all have many faulty mental models, both from absorbing the warped world all around us and the twisted thinking of our own sin-stained minds.

We all need work, a lot of work, to renew our minds.  Part of how we grow more like Christ is the process of taking on the mind of Christ, having our thought processes align with His.  Paul speaks of this in several passages, especially 2 Corinthians 10:5—

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ

Hebrews 4:12 speaks of how the Spirit uses the words of Scripture to open up even the deep places in our souls:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

It would be great to have “five simple steps” that would give us a mind perfectly aligned with Christ, so that every thought and intention of our hearts becomes pure and perfect.  The only problem is that there is no such list.  The renovation of our hearts is not so simple, not so easy.  It is a lifetime process for all of us.

But as the old saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  So here’s one step you can take today:

Look at how the Apostle Paul lived his life.  In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul described his thoughts and reasons for his life and his actions.  At the end in verse 23 he summed it up by stating:

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

That was Paul’s reason for all that he did— “for the sake of the gospel.”  Paul was single-mindedly fixated on making Jesus Christ known to others in all His fullness, glory, beauty and love, and guiding them to walk with Him.  He had one supreme reason beyond all other reasons in his life.

cross by wingnutAA via flickrIf you are a Christian, I challenge you to use the sake of the gospel as the reason for everything in your life.  If you stay in shape, don’t let it be so you can look good or so you can live a long life.  Those are good things, and if they come with the exercise well and good, but let your motivation be for the sake of the gospel, so that you can minister to more people with a healthy body.

If you marry, don’t do it for love or companionship or children or security or money.  God may or may not grant those things to you, but make the decision and keep your vow for the sake of the gospel.  If you take a new job offer, don’t let it be for prestige or power or money, but let it be for the sake of the gospel.  If you buy new shoes, if you go on a mission trip, if you go over to a friend’s house, let anything and everything be for Christ and His Kingdom.

Let that sink in, and let it blow your mind.  Think of what it would mean to live every minute empowered with a reason beyond all reasons.  Think, with Paul, of the blessings of striving with all your being to bring “every thought captive” to the single focus of making Christ known and loved and followed, both in your life and in the lives of others.  If you decide to do everything for the sake of the gospel, It will surely change your life, both today and for all eternity.

The Da Vinci Canon

Even more astonishing and revealing than The Da Vinci Code, I have just finished writing a new book titled The Da Vinci Canon.

The Da Vinci Canon reveals many long-lost drawings by the famous artist that were suppressed by a mysterious conspiracy and have just recently been discovered amidst a fast-paced murder mystery.  These drawings show us a whole new side to the artist that radically changes our view of him.

Here is one of the suppressed drawings by Leonardo revealed in this book:

Wait a second!  Did I hear someone say, “That’s a fraud!  That’s ridiculous!  There’s no way that’s a drawing by Leonardo, and only a complete moron would buy a book that would make that kind of claim! (or spend a hundred million dollars to turn the book into a movie, for that matter)”

Well, how dare you impugn a reputable author and publishing house with such baseless allegations?

What?  You say you have reasons to doubt the above drawing is the work of Leonardo?  Well, the forthcoming book says the drawing should be part of Leonardo’s canon. 

Say, what does “canon” mean anyway?  It’s from a Greek word meaning “measuring rod”— so the word means whether something belongs to a group, is authentic, using a reasonable measuring rod or set of rules.  

So, by what measuring rod would you claim that the above drawing is not legitimately a part of the Da Vinci “canon”?

  1. The style of the above drawing is unlike Leonardo’s.
  2. The quality of the above drawing is without doubt below Leonardo’s.
  3. The best evidence shows that it was drawn hundreds of years after Leonardo died.
  4. All of the world’s recognized experts have soundly dismissed the drawing as not genuine.
  5. In comparison to the above drawing, many of the pivotal works of Leonardo have been publically recognized as such from near or during his lifetime down through the centuries— we have historical documentation of their authenticity.

But, even beyond your opinion or expert opinion or popular opinion, what is the decisive question?  What, in the end, does or does not make that drawing a Leonardo or not, what makes it a part of his “canon”?

Why, what makes something a Leonardo or not is whether Leonardo actually drew it!  Any opinion or analysis or committee vote is simply a way of helping clarify the actual fact of who indeed is the author.

So it is with the Bible.  When Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code claims that long-suppressed “gospels” tell us the real hidden truth about Jesus, we can objectively look at those documents and conclude exactly what we did about my little stick figure, that the style, quality, evidence, expert opinion, etc., all scream out that those “gospels” that Brown fawns over are as worthless to include into the Biblical canon as my stick figure would be to place into the Louvre.  The dozens of verifiable lies that Brown uses to mislead his readers in support of these gospels, on objective inspection, are as primitive and silly as my lies about my stick figure.

But the real test of whether a particular text is worth including in the Biblical canon is not what the Council of Nicea said about it or what I say about it or what Dan Brown says about it, but whether God actually wrote it.  The Bible itself tells us that it is inspired, “God-breathed” to use the Greek, that the writings are not accurate or wise words of men, but the very words of God.

When the early church fathers established the Biblical canon, established the writings that were God-breathed, they were not choosing or voting or suppressing, they were simply recognizing what was apparent to them all— the writings that had the finger of God on them.  God chose the men and then breathed His own words through them so that we would have the message of God, not the message of a deluded fruitcake, to show us the true nature of His Son Jesus Christ.

The Reality of Christ

The reality of Christ is the single most important fact in the cosmos.

Children of God will spend all of eternity gazing, savoring, exploring, relishing, worshipping, and displaying this focal point of all reality.

How can we live in this reality today?

We can let the reality of Christ permeate our outer world and our inner world.

Our outer world is characterized by the effects of the fall: suffering, sin, injustice, imperfection.  Whether it is a stop light that won’t turn our way or a child dying of cancer, we are immersed in a world scarred by sin.

How, then, do we live in such a world? By dwelling in the reality of Christ’s life.  In John 1:14 the apostle states, “And 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.”  Let that sink in.  God dwelt among us.  We saw his glory, full of grace and truth.  For someone who has the new life of the Spirit, seeing that glory, meditating on that fullness of grace and truth, dwelling in that light can extinguish any darkness, no matter how great, that we encounter in this life.

Our inner world is horribly scarred by sin as well, by countless acts of pride, anger, selfishness, deceit, and lust.  The child of God who honestly looks at his soul sees his sin, sees how twisted his old self is and how evil, how rebellious, how dead to God it is.

How, then, do we live with facing our own sinfulness?  By dwelling in the reality of Christ’s death.  Later on in the first chapter of John is recorded the great declaration of the reality of Christ’s death, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  Our sin has been atoned for and taken away.  All our guilt, all our evil, all that rightly separates us from God and condemns us, has been cast away as far as the east is from the west by the death of Christ.  We are redeemed and restored.

This, then, the reality of the life and death of Christ, is the gospel. This is the reality that saves and gives life.  Let us live in that reality today.

Monday Media Meltdown: God Is the Gospel

God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God\'s Love As the Gift of Himself

Piper mines the depths of the glory of God. He has been doing it for decades, and it is a testimony to the riches of God’s glory that John continues, year after year, to bring up ever more precious treasure for us to behold and prize.This precious treasure of God’s glory shines brightly in God Is the Gospel, one of John’s recent books. The subtitle is “meditations on God’s love as the gift of Himself,” which is an apt description of the book. Building on many of his previous works, Piper leads us through a multitude of facets showing that all of creation and redemption, all of the good news of the gospel, all of God’s gifts and graces, are focused on one shining goal: for us to delight in and display God’s glory for all eternity.

Along the way, he covers the importance of proclaiming God’s glory, the illumination of His glory within our soul, its purpose in sanctification, the proper view of God’s gifts to us, and God’s glory as our ultimate and final hope and desire in heaven. He shows how easy it is to focus on the gifts and not the Giver, but how vitally important it is for our focus to be always on God.

This short quote shows the heart and soul of the book:

All the gifts and rewards and miracles have come for one great reason: that you might behold forever the glory of God in Christ, and by beholding become the kind of person who delights in God above all things, and by delighting display his supreme beauty and worth with ever-increasing brightness and bliss forever.

God Is the Gospel is a passionate trumpet call for us to see that all the Gospel in all its beauty is meant to bring us to worship the One who died to bring it to pass.

Two Treasures, Two Eyes, Two Masters

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.  (Matthew 6:19-24 ESV)

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is showing us contrasts. All the contrasts are between the natural man and the regenerate man; the city of man versus the city of God; the broad road versus the narrow road; the things that are possible with man versus the things that are possible only with God.

In the above section Jesus calls us to look at two treasures, two eyes, and two masters.  The first comparison is between laying up two treasures. The implication is that everyone is laying up treasure; because your “treasure” is whatever you value and cherish, and everyone will work to “lay up”, to get more of, whatever they value and cherish. If you value knowledge, you will go to college.  If you value money, you will do whatever you can to make it. 

Jesus first gives a command, to “lay up treasures in heaven”, and then the wisdom behind it, because the treasures of this life are doomed to pass away.  But then he brings it back (as always), to the heart.  I like John Michael Talbot’s paraphrase in one of his songs, “For wherever your treasure is, there will you find your heart.”  You don’t have to wonder where you heart is; for it is revealed by where your treasure is.  There are two applications to this insight: (1) The unbeliever is forced to look at where his heart truly is by his labor and (2) the believer is warned that following the broad road of treasuring the things of the earth will pull his heart away from where it needs to be, and encouraged to the wisdom of treasuring the things of heaven.

The second comparison is between two eyes.  Here again we are talking about what we value and cherish; but in this comparison it is not what we are laboring for, but what we are lusting for.  Both the eye and body mentioned are spiritual, not literally physical. If our spiritual eye is healthy and looking toward the light of the glory of God, the result will be a body full of light, full of God’s glory in every facet of our soul.  On the other hand, the eye of the unregenerate looks only into darkness, and cannot see the light of God’s glory, which leaves his whole soul in darkness.  As with the two treasures, the lesson of the eye judges the unbeliever of his blindness while the believer is encouraged and warned as to where his gaze should rest.

Finally, Jesus concludes by contrasting two masters.  Here again, there are only two possibilities, and Jesus makes it plain that everyone serves one and only one.  The earthly man is judged and found wanting, while the child of God is reminded whose he is.

So, where are you?  If you look at yourself and cannot see that your heart treasures the things of God and labors for them, that your soul is filled with the light of the glory of God, that your service belongs to God alone, then you must judge that regardless of anything you may have said or done or thought, you must see that you are not truly a Christian. God calls you to repent, to turn, to see and embrace the wondrous glory of the gospel. 

However, if you look at yourself and see the beginnings of those workings, of treasuring heaven, of light in your soul, of the lordship of Christ, then God beckons you onward, to deeper and deeper worship of Him, fellowship with Him, and obedience to Him as you journey towards Christ.

The One Thing We All Lack

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, looking at him with sadness, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:18-24 ESV)

At first glance it looks like Jesus is telling this man that all he has to do is sell all his possessions to gain eternal life.  But look closer.  Jesus is simply giving him an example of why he can’t inherit eternal life.  It’s as if I went to a NBA coach and asked him, “What must I do to be on your basketball team?”  Let’s say this coach wanted me to try and see how hopeless it would be for me to be a NBA player, and he said, “Let me see you dunk a basketball.”  I might become “very sad,” because I would realize there was no way I could dunk a basketball. Obviously, I can’t be in the NBA just because I can’t dunk a basketball— that’s just an example.  I can’t be in the NBA because my entire being would be a complete failure in a NBA game.  I don’t have what it takes.

In the same way, Jesus just took an example, an example he knew would sting this man’s heart, an example of how “no one is good except God alone,” how there was no way in his own efforts this man could merit eternal life and enter the kingdom of God.

The actual “one thing” the man lacked was the ability to value Jesus and the treasure of heaven above this world.  The man turned away, because he knew that he didn’t, indeed he couldn’t value Jesus above all.  So it is with all of us— we all lack the ability to value God above anything and everything else in our lives.  Humanity lost the ability to choose God above all the moment that Adam and Eve chose the fruit above God.

The good news of the gospel is that God has made a way for our hearts to be regenerated, a way through faith in Christ for us to be born again so that we might once again learn to cherish Him above all else.  This one thing we all lack and can never attain God Himself has graciously provided for us if we will come to Him in faith.

Conversion

 Conversion:  n 1: an event that results in a transformation 2: Something that is changed from one use, function, or purpose to another.

Conversion—this was the word often used by Christians of previous centuries to describe the change from death to life when someone truly becomes a child of God.  While we often use words as “believer” “saved” “born again” or “accepted Christ”, often “converted” was their term of choice.  The emphasis is not on words said or aisles walked or prayers prayed or church membership affiliation or any sort of belief, but on a transformed life. A changed heart was the measure of whether a soul was bound for heaven or hell— conversion.

How different this way of thinking about salvation was from the today’s typical American view was brought into sharp relief as I have been reading through The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter.  In it he describes in detail the line of questions he would ask of every member of his parish as he would visit them in their homes.  Instead of four spiritual laws or even “If you knew you would die today, why should God let you into heaven?”, Baxter used the following explanation and questions (slightly modernized by me with words emphasized by me): 

The Holy Spirit, using the Bible, enlightens a man’s mind, and softens and opens his heart, and turns him from the power of Satan to God, through faith in Christ. He that is truly converted, has had a light shining into his soul from God, which has showed him the greatness of his sin and misery, and made it a heavy load upon his soul; and showed him who Christ is, and what he has done for sinners, and made him admire the riches of God’s grace in Christ. He has now such a sight of heaven, that he despises all this world as garbage. This is the case of all who are truly converted and who shall be saved.

Have you ever found this great change upon your own heart? Did you ever find the Spirit of God, by the Word, come in upon your understanding, with a new and heavenly life, which has made you a new creation? Have you experienced such a change as this upon your soul?

I find Baxter’s model for evangelism both fascinating and disturbing.  Fascinating, in how acknowledgment of belief or correct theology or even an experience per se is not the point at all for him.  The point is solely on whether a person’s heart has been changed in a specific way, in that the person sees that he has been changed and has become a new creation and that his heart is different (admiring the riches of Christ, despising the world). 

I find Baxter’s model disturbing when I think how many people in our churches who have “prayed the sinner’s prayer” “walked the aisle” and can tell you the day and date they were “saved” would be unable to look within their heart and see the change that Baxter speaks of.  Can you?