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From Sacred Space to Public Grace

I was at a Christmas party with my kids this past holiday season and I was conflicted. The music was hot, the kids were eating well, and everyone was merry. Problem was, I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was trying to figure out why. I mean, I like rap, I like R&B, I like Bruno mars and Beyonce, but today I was unable to enjoy their music. Why? Because this party was in church.

I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t enjoy myself:
-Was I taking a holier than thou attitude?
-Was I being hypocritcal?
-Don’t I hear this music in other places, like the gym?
-Would Jesus even care? Would he be that offended?

Then it hit me: this is supposed to be a sacred space. Then I had to think to myself, what is the role of the sacred in our lives? Why do we distinguish the sacred from the everyday, quotidan, profane?

The sacred is a display of public grace.

What do we mean when we say something is a public grace? Grace is displayed:
-because the sacred indicates our sense of God’s existence
-because the sacred indicates our need for God’s presence
-the sacred displays our desire to know and experience God
-the sacred expresses our submission to His perfections
-the sacred indicates our awareness of sin and need for purity
-the sacred reinforces our hope in the transcendent

When we say that something is profane, on the other hand, we mean to prioritize the lowly over the heavenly, the immediate over the right, the tangible over transcendent. Profanity obscures God, while the sacred is meant to reveal Him.

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Book Review: Battling Unbelief by John Piper

The premise of this book is that we are tempted to unbelief when we fail to live by faith in the future grace of God. It is the promise of God, in every situation, that inspires the believer to live in radical obedience because we trust in Him. Our trust in His promises sustain us in the present. The introduction of the book gives several examples of the promises of God that sustain us in difficult or ordinary situations:

And my God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life (Psalm 23:6)

No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)

Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you by my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28)

For surely I am with you, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

Neither death, nor life…  nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)

These are given to us as examples to demonstrate to us the grace of God in Christ Jesus that sustains us in every situation. And, these are examples of foundational promises of God’s presence and His good gifts in the future.

There are eight specific areas in which we fail to trust in future grace and fall into unbelief, thereby further falling into sin: anxiety, pride, misplaced shame, impatience, covetousness, bitterness, despondency, and lust. It is not the place to discuss the specific definition of each of these here. Moreover, each manifests itself differently, requiring very different approaches to deal with its effects and restore the believer after the believer has fallen into it. This will also not be discussed here. Instead, we will list the Scripture guidance that prefaces each chapter in order to guide our future thinking on these topics, and to help identify ways in which we might fail to trust in God’s future grace concerning each.

  1. Anxiety–The root of anxiety is inadequate future faith in God’s provision and protection.
    1. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3)
    2. Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you (I Peter 5:7)
    3. Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “With what shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His Kingdom, and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)
  2. Pride–The root of pride is the lack of satisfaction in God and His Son, Jesus. When we are dissatisfied with God, we seek satisfaction in the things of man.
    1. Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, nor the mighty man boast in his might, nor the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
    2. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand that he may lift you up in due time. (I Peter 5:6)
  3. Misplaced Shame– “Shame is a painful emotion caused by a consciousness of guilt or shortcoming or impropriety. The pain is caused not merely by our own failures but by the awareness that others see them.” Piper goes on to say that the placement of shame is determined appropriate based on the subject’s attitude towards God. If they are shamed by something that brings glory to God (such as awareness by unbelievers that they firmly believe) this brings misplaced shame and we need to pursue God’s future grace in our vindication. If we are shamed by something that repulses God or is sin, this is proper shame.
    1. I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:12)
    2. Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame. (Romans 10:11)
  4. Impatience– “Impatience is a form of unbelief we begin to feel when we start to doubt the wisdom of God’s timing or the goodness of God’s guidance. It springs up in our hearts when our plan is interrupted or shattered… The opposite of impatience is not a glib denial of loss. It’s a deepening, ripening, peaceful willingness to wait for God in the unplanned place of obedience, and to walk with God at the unplanned pace of obedience–to wait in His place, and go at His pace.”
    1. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him. (Lamentations 3:25)
    2. Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord… As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:7-11)
  5. Covetousness– “Covetousness is desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God. The opposite of covetousness is contentment in God.”
    1. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
    2. I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
    3. There is great gain in godliness with contentment. (1 Timothy 6:6)
  6. Bitterness– “Living by faith in future grace involves overcoming vengeance and bitterness by trusting God to settle all our accounts justly.”
    1. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
  7. Despondency–Despondency is not depression, per se, because depression connotes a clinical condition in our day. It is a sense of spiritual depression that occupies the broad space between a bad day and clinical depression.
    1. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation. (Psalm 42:5)
    2. For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5)
  8. Lust–There are many confessing Christians who disconnect the threats in the Bible from their conduct in real life, thus nullifying-in their minds-the need to be holy. When we do not believe that God gives victory over sin, and not just tolerating it, we can fall into lust.
    1. If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)
    2. He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:4)

NOTE: In the chapter on pride, GK Chesterton is quoted: “What we suffer from is… humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert–himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt–the Divine Reason.

NOTE: In the chapter on bitterness, Piper quotes himself: “The dark-valley breath of bitterness cannot survive the high paths of faith in future grace. Grudges demand the valley-vapors of self-pity and fear and emptiness. They cannot survive the contentment and confidence and fullness of joy that come from satisfaction in the forgiving God of future grace.”

NOTE: Piper quotes Edward John Carnell in the chapter on bitterness: “We cannot ignore inconsiderate acts in others; yet we cannot execute the penalty of law. We have no right to complete the moral cycle… Although we sense no spiritual inhibition against crying out against injustice, the purity of our moral life deteriorates the moment we attempt to administer justice.”

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on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand…

this week, as i was walking through the “bog people” exhibit at the carnegie museum of natural history, i really needed to remember that verse… the second verse especially touched my soul, because i know that recently it’s been very difficult for me to feel the presence of Jesus, to sense His transforming power and the indwelling of His Spirit… it’s been difficult for me to be obedient—matter of fact, i haven’t been obedient lately as far as evangelism goes; and it has been very difficult to control the influence that purely random thoughts have on my mind… very disturbing random thoughts and things that dishonor God and would not have him take His throne in my life… thoughts that shake the very foundations of my life and my faith in Him… thoughts that question the sovereignty of God in Jesus Christ and his ultimate and supreme governance and providence over the entire created order—including, and especially, eternity… thoughts that would have me distrust God with my life and death, treating them as separate though they are all part of the same life in view of the Gospel…

on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand…

as i thought about this verse (after pastor curtis mentioned the song during his sermon today) i realized that Christ’s grace remains unchanged and ultimate even when I do not feel Him near, or even when I cannot focus and direct my thoughts. i truly am thankful, even though i cannot say i’ve achieved ultimate resolve in my faith at the moment… i am truly thankful that Jesus is worthy of my unmitigated desire and trust. i thank God that in spite of the wickedness that seeks to sift me every moment of my life, that i can rest on, and am called by the name of Jesus.

when darkness veils His lovely face, i rest on His unchanging grace…

this brings my soul so much joy, just to know that the grace of Jesus never changes, and that it is my only claim to safety and wholeness. without the redemptive death, resurrection, and victory of Jesus Christ, i confess that i truly am nothing, especially in light of the fact that i cannot even control all of the forces at work inside of me (much less outside of me). i realize that despite my flesh trying to take a last ditch stand against the new person Christ has created inside of me, His grace never changes—always protecting me, guarding me, guiding me, sealing me…

and let the peace of God, which transcends all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…

this brings me to this next line. i’ve been trying to know this verse for some time now… because i want to know that peace which transcends all human understanding. it’s this peace that will allow me to be certain about anticipating eternity in the presence of God… this peace will keep me resolute in the face of the godless schemes of the enemy… this peace is so important because it will strengthen me to stand on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. i’m most intrigued by the “guard your minds” part. i definitely want God to guard my mind such that i experience peace beyond all human understanding…

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so, someone needs to tell me why i’m awake at 4.28am on a saturday morning…

i was watching a movie about dietrich bonhoeffer’s resistance to the extermination of the jews in nazi germany, and i was moved by a number of things. the most striking thing about the movie for me was the juxtaposition of truth and deceit, evil and goodness, loyalty and betrayal, all in the same piece. many times, they were displayed in the same man. it made me think for a second: “how attached should we be to our lives as we know them now? exactly how precious should we hold this life? how far should we go to satisfy, or extinguish, the desires that naturally dwell inside of us? and what does it take to truly be ready to die?”

God has been allowing me to see the radical wickedness that dwells in my flesh at the same time that the Holy Spirit dwells in my body. the movie and all of its paradoxes made me think about how fear grips me from time to time, yet the Bible urges me to be resolute when trusting God with eternity. sometimes, fear grips me so much that i can’t even sleep (hence, the insanely late timestamp on this blog)… for me, true faith is the hardest thing; and time is what makes true faith uncomfortable. i know this is a journey that lasts a lifetime, but am i the only one who wants to experience eternity in this lifetime? sometimes i find myself wanting a preview from God concerning our transition from this life to the next; then i remind myself that faith does not demand an explanation from God, but that our belief and actions are not only hope but also evidence of the truths we have not experienced yet…

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