Yesterday was a remarkable and horrifying day in the history of the United States, and especially for those Americans who claim Christ. A collection of people calling themselves Christians, Republicans, conservatives, QAnon supporters, and whatever other term they might identify with, stormed the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. in an attempt to disrupt the final tallying of electoral college votes. The desire was a foolish last-ditch attempt to preserve the presidential authority of Donald Trump.
What has followed has been a remarkable clarity of growing division among Christians between those who believe Trump must be supported at all costs, and those who may have been on the fence before, but who now believe that to support him is to abet insurrection. This podcast is among the latter group.
That doesn’t mean we’re throwing in with the Democrats and Biden. But it does mean that we are warning, vigorously, of the dangers of trusting to political power for hope. We are warning those mourning loss of the dangers of miserable hopelessness and bitterness. We are warning those celebrating victory of the dangers of self-righteousness and reliance upon any foundation other than Christ as hope. And we are encouraging everyone to pursue unity in Christ – true unity, that transcends the divisions we find so often driving us to war amongst ourselves.
Take a listen to this podcast and share your thoughts below. If you want to read more of the book I read, Advancing Christian Unity, you can find a copy here on Amazon.
“No proud man reigns–he is the slave of his boastings, the serf of his own loftiness. The ambitious worldling grasps after a kingdom, but he does not possess one. The humble in heart are content and in that contentment they are made to reign high!” – Charles Spurgeon
Let’s take a moment and look again at the full text of the Beatitudes:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”–Matthew 5:1-11
We are at the beginning, and one thing that strikes me right away is that in the same way, this is how the life of a believer in Christ begins: we become aware of what we really need. The lack of fulfillment, the lack of peace, the lack of righteousness–these are attempts to express in limited words what are needs in the deepest parts of our being. More even than that, someone who is about to take the first step on this journey has come face to face with two facts: 1) There is a God, who made me and made everything, and who has been generous to me in ways that are unspeakably great, and 2) I am guilty of great sin against this God, because I have been eating His food, drinking His drink, breathing His air, and taking every last bit of it for granted, believing that it is mine by all rights. Paul describes this person in Romans 1:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.Claiming to be wise, they became fools,and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.–Romans 1:18-23
And at the close of the same chapter, he reveals the depths of darkness such hearts descend to:
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.–Romans 1:28-32
Reborn to the deepest need
But we’re talking about the person who sees this in themselves in a way he’s never seen it before. He perceives that he has spent his life taking from God without gratitude, hating Him who made him, blaming Him for his pain all the while not taking it to Him for healing, and compounding sin upon sin–and his eyes are opened by the grace of God through His Holy Spirit. He sees his true state, and he mourns it. He is in the temple of God beside the tax collector who cries out “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
Just like that: that is one who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Not because he has done anything or said magic words, not because he has atoned for his sins–he could never hope to atone for such a mountain–but yet here he is, someone who has come face to face with his complete poverty of spirit, with the fact that all the achievements of his life will be like ashes in the wind one day, and that eternity is a vastness which he cannot comprehend, yet he feels its great weight on him. He counts himself at the center of the mass included in Paul’s words from Romans, “For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God,” and as one who is due to receive a great sum in pay, “For the wages of sin is death.”
This was me, when I had my eyes opened to the reality of my life and my heart. The amazing thing about this, however, is that God never leaves us there. He didn’t leave me sitting with a handful of nothing except promises of judgment, He instead turned me to the next truth, the one that follows from this: in seeing this deep poverty which I am unable to overcome, I can instead look to His promise that instead of striving to fill myself with things that only frustrate and never soothe, I will be inheriting something so great I can hardly conceive of it.
“The kingdom of heaven is like…”
Yet, that kingdom is not one of lording authority over another. It is not like an earthly kingdom, but as Jesus said, “The one who would be greatest, must be the servant of all.” So our sense of poverty of spirit drives us back to the beginning, back to humility and to service.
So what if you don’t feel like this? What if you don’t feel that you are poor in spirit, but that you have been deprived, that you have not been given a fair shake? This world is fractured by sin and our lives in it are hard. We enter it in pain and leave it in pain. We only are able to get what we need through great toil, because our first parents did not trust God to be God and instead tried to stand alongside Him. So if you are someone who hears this and reacts in anger, and says “Well maybe I wouldn’t need so much from God if He would just give me what I want! My life has been full of pain and hardship, I have lost everything!” And I don’t begrudge such a person their pain, nor do I pretend it isn’t real.
However, just as much I would also point to the fact that such pain serves a purpose even in its darkest times. It is a reminder to me that this world is not ultimate. It’s a blip in time, a glancing look in the grand scope of eternity, and those who trust in Christ, as the Lord himself said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29)
The kingdom of heaven turns the world upside down. Suffering finds its complete healing and fulfillment. Pain and heartbreak end, and what has been broken is restored. We look to the future and the fulfillment of the words of John in Revelation 21:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Lean on Him, my friends. If you have tasted that emptiness, that pain and knowledge of your own sin, if you long to know how to soothe the damage done by the evils of the world, look to Jesus! Heed the words of the very next chapter of Revelation, and know that your heart can worship and find real peace.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
As mentioned on the podcast, below is the full video of the discussion I took part in through my church.
Music for this episode: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” by Dust Company
Listen and download at iTunes – Amazon
Psalm 51 is one which is often on my mind and in my prayers. As Spurgeon says in this sermon, being in the grace of God drives me to pray and remember what Jesus accomplished for me, and in the face of the fact that I still sin–in fact, still coming against the same sins that have plagued me since as far back as I can remember, brings me great frustration. Yet also as he says in this sermon, it is an opportunity to return to the beginning, to the cross, to worshipping the Son broken for me, the Father whose wrath for me was poured out in full, the Spirit who renewed me and woke me up from my sinful stupor.
I thought this might be an appropriate context to give a more personal statement, to talk about my own testimony a little. I’ve written about it in blog form elsewhere, but I haven’t really talked a lot about why I am here, doing this. I grew up in church, with loving parents who did everything they could to raise me right, to pour out the truth and love of God into me and who prayed for me constantly. I think it is safe to say that in the terms of most people who knew me, I was certainly not a “bad kid” by any means. In general I did what I was supposed to do, I did reasonably well in school and was successful in my particular field of study and interest, which was, as I mentioned last week, music.
I performed a lot. Playing music was the center of my efforts, and I ended up playing in virtually every situation and venue I could get into as a part of school. I had a dream of playing music professionally, of my tuba being the foundation of a professional orchestra or a brass quintet touring internationally. I went to college to earn a performance degree, and spent countless hours there playing, practicing, performing, all in the service of this desire. And it was a good desire, one that unfortunately hasn’t come to fruition–but we’ll get to that.
In the background of all this, though, was a little seed of something that was planted deep, started to grow, and ultimately became a major part of my undoing–and, of my remaking, for my own good and God’s glory. In high school some time we got a computer and got on the Internet, which was in the days of the late 90s–think the height of animated GIF backgrounds and embedded MIDI files on personal websites. I even had my own site, although it is long since lost to the mists of time and Google. And in this new opportunity there was a danger, which I fell right into. So many men in my generation talk of being introduced to pornography online, and I am no exception. I had a self-image that was rather poor, which was a big reason I was so motivated to pursue becoming very good at something (not that being a professional tuba player is particularly known as being a method for picking up girls). Because of the way I saw myself, I justified in my mind the desire to pursue understanding of sexuality, something that I thought was eternally beyond my reach, through other methods.
Such thinking, of course, betrays a complete distrust of God to provide, let alone the absolute foolishness of the human mind that can justify any sin. Bottom line, I was walking into very dangerous territory and over time, I became better and better at hiding my growing addiction and at feeding it. Over time it began to take tolls on every aspect of my life. By the time I was well into college my spiritual life was at an absolute zero. Practicing began to decrease, as did studying, and free time was devoted entirely to me, myself and I–feeding my hungers, and driving me deeper into searching for satisfaction. Moving into grad school my addiction was a major culprit in my essentially failing out, as I was not devoting the time to practicing or studying that such an endeavor required. I was left standing with my big plans for the future broken in front of me.
Of course, a caveat: this was not the only reason or the only thing going on. I had a tendency to run after my most immediate desire in many areas, which of course was a product of simple laziness as well as a fear of taking any kind of real chance. But the fact of the matter was, it was a huge symptom of my selfishness, and of the fact that the life in Christ which I claimed to hold by belief in His death and resurrection, was at this point merely an intellectual assent. It did not make a major impact on the way I lived my life.
It was November of 2007. By this point I was no longer going to school, I was working a couple of part-time jobs to make ends meet with the prospect of student loans looming, living in an efficiency in Denton and the band I had been playing with for a while and thought, “This is going to become something great!” hitting a major rock and leaving me frustrated, angry, and not sure what to do next. One of my friends from the band invited me to church at the Village, which had just opened its Denton campus (which is now its own church, still called The Village Church – Denton). It was part 7 of Matt Chandler’s long series preaching through the book of Luke. The particular topic that week was the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42. Martha works around the house while Mary, her sister, listens to Jesus teaching, and eventually Martha expresses her exasperation that Jesus does not seem annoyed by this situation. Jesus rejoins her gently, however, and tells her that “Mary has chosen the one necessary thing.”
I don’t know if I can fully articulate exactly what the Holy Spirit did in me that day through those simple words, except that, through Matt’s gentle but focused preaching unpacking the Word, He showed me the path of my life, the pursuit of success in my chosen career field, my foolish running after fantasies and the ways such desires had hurt real women in my life, both directly and indirectly. He showed me that what I had was an absolutely deadly mass of wickedness. And He showed me that Jesus came and died, on the cross, so that I could put such things down, and rest in Him wholly and completely.
I was broken, down to my core. There was that sweet bitterness that Charles Spurgeon preached on a century before, there was repentance bearing its fruits in my life. Not by my own will, not by my own goodness, but by God’s good grace. I wept, and I rejoiced, and I tasted of the fact that God is good and that His goodness endures forever and through all things for His people.
A lot of times you’ll hear testimonies given by people who came out of addiction. They’ll say things like “I got saved, and I never drank again!” Well the fact of the matter is, that most people who come to know Christ in the midst of any kind of addiction do not just give it up. Humans do not release their idols so easily. It was several years of discipleship, of frustrated nights and confessing sins and walking through recovery with loving brothers, before I could even begin to claim victory in my life. And even then, that victory belongs to Christ alone, and not to me. I simply benefit from His work. Even now I have good men who know they are liable to receive a call from me should a time of weakness come, and they lovingly stand together with me in such times. But I wanted to tell this story to encourage you. I wanted to talk about what I’ve done to let everyone reading or listening to know that whatever it is that stands between you and God, whether it is some kind of major addiction, or pride, or fear, or all that and then some, that there is mercy available. The most high God made you, He knows you, and He has sent His Son to pay for your wicked deeds and thoughts so that you, too, can stop running after foolish things, and rest, rest in Him. Rest with me, brethren. As has been said, all that has been required to let us find right standing before God is finished, and therefore, we can begin living in light of that great grace and leave all our idols abandoned to rot. We can truly live in light of the truth of Psalm 46:10, which I am wanting to use as the basis for the closing line of this podcast: