Weariness & Religion

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 11:28-29

If you find that Christianity exhausts you, draining you of your energy, then you are practicing religion rather than enjoying a relationship. Jesus said that a relationship with Him would bring rest to your soul. Your walk with the Lord will not make you weary; it will invigorate you, restore your strength, and energize your life.

     Hard work or lack of sleep can make you tired. This fatigue can usually be remedied by a good rest. But there is a deeper fatigue that goes beyond physical tiredness. There is an emotional exhaustion that comes from experiencing heavy burdens and draining crises. There is a tiredness deep within your soul that comes from carrying the weight of the needs of others. You can go on a vacation, but your soul will not be restored. This condition can only be rectified by finding rest in Christ.

     Some zealous Christians want to do all they can to serve Christ, and they exhaust themselves in the process. It was to these that Jesus extended His invitation to go to Him and learn from Him. Jesus spent most of His earthly ministry surrounded by needy multitudes. He faced relentless opposition, He often prayed throughout the night, and He rarely had any privacy; yet He always received the rest and strength that came from His Father. It was not that Jesus did not work hard but that He knew the path to spiritual rest. Are you weary? Go to Jesus and let Him give you His rest. His rest will restore your soul and nothing else can.

Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God Day by Day, pg 349

It is ironic that these comments are written to accompany Matthew 11:28-29, since that passage emphasizes the nature of the word religion, as used in scripture. Blackaby, however, inaccurately contrasts relationship with religion, using the word differently than does the Bible.

Religion comes to us from the Latin word ligare: to bind; which also serves as the root from which we get ligament (which binds muscle to bone). Religion, in other words, is comprised of the practices (or lifestyle) which bind our affections to a god. What does a yoke do? Binds two oxen to one another, and to the purpose and direction of the ox-driver.

The mistake, then, is not in practicing religion, but in attempting to earn God’s affection and blessing. There are, of course, only two religions: true and false, or Christianity and Paganism. The contrast should not be described as between religion and relationship, but between true religion (inclusive of healthy relationship) and legalism. Dallas Willard was fond of saying it this way, “Grace is opposed to earning not to effort.”

Another way to say this would be that the mistake is not in laboring, but in who one is laboring for (inclusive of for oneself). The religion vs relationship dichotomy is false, and we do ourselves a disservice by continuing it. We also impugn God’s plan for our good in so doing.

All relationship requires submission to forms to survive and thrive; without it the relationship atrophies. What if we attempted to preserve our marital relationship without spending time together, without dedicating ourself exclusively to that man or that woman, without prioritizing that relationship above others?  I can only find rest in my relationship with my wife if I have properly nurtured that relationship by practicing its forms.

“Take my yoke upon you…” what was a yoke for? To enable the oxen to work together in concert with the farmer’s purpose. Want to enjoy rest for your soul? You were saved, according to God’s eternal purpose, so that you might walk after Him, practicing His assigned ways.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

Sunday Afternoon

Slow ministrations,
and tender they are.
 
A child’s trusting questions;
a maid’s querying scruple.
 
A gentle zephyr
ruffles sparrow wings.
The book in my hand
settles to my thigh,
My bent fore-finger
piercing its pages.
 
My weary spirit weighted
by trenchant worldly worries.
 
The quack of a drake;
a fluttering finch;
The whisper of wind
through rose-red leaves.
The white petal-head
nodding in the breeze.
 
A hard-backed wooden chair,
and welcome interruptions.
 
Cross my scarred heart
adheres a fragile
epithelial;
Layer’d by the voice
Elijah perceiv’d
upon Mount Horeb.

Mid-life Observations on Marital Intimacy

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” Genesis 1:1-2b

What is the significance of this verse? Existence without purpose yields darkness rather than light. Purpose in the hands of a competent craftsman brings light…and beauty, and wonder. One made in the image of God, takes (what is his to take) and shapes: nurtures, cares for, reforms, and bends to his will in order to improve, to provide, to shelter, to invoke glory.

Having begun we wend our way through the creation narrative reading, “And God said,” thus connecting the litany of actions with the purpose of verses 1 and 2, until we get to verse 26, where we read, “Then God said,” which tells us that we have arrived at God’s ulterior motive. All that preceded this moment was preparatory for what we are about to read. Having done all this; having formed the universe and imbued it with purpose, God arrives at his goal;we pause with baited breath… and read,

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over (all that I previously fashioned). So, God created man in his own image….

…and man alone, in His image. All that has preceded the making of man was made by God, but not formed in His image. Man, therefore, is an imitating being; designed to follow the pattern and purpose of God and God’s actions.

And in like manner, we now arrive at my ulterior motive for this post. I contend that we may conclude God was intently purposeful in His design of all creation, including of mankind. So, what may we learn by observation of marital intimacy?

Men are designed to be hard when the occasion requires.

Men experience pleasure being themselves as a result of having been gentle (gentleness is strength under restraint; the stronger you are, the gentler you may be).

A man cannot live life in a hardened state, but prepares ahead of time to be ready when called upon.

The joy of a moment is enabled and enhanced by preparatory denial.

Men rise to the occasion and provide what is needed.

The satisfaction of a goal achieved is reached by virtue of planning.

The delight of spontaneity is enabled by previous preparation.

One’s purpose must be received and shared in order to be achieved.

As a hardened one, a man’s greatest longing and pinnacle experience is reception by and intermingling with softness.

Hardness is exhausting; softness is comforting. Provision exhausts; reception inspires and renews.

Pleasure is good, but momentary, and not to be the main focus of our daily pursuits.

As life goes on it becomes increasingly evident that mutual interdependence is required for each partner to be most thoroughly themselves.

The pinnacle of pleasure is intimate, private, and unveiling; within the protective bonds and boundaries of covenant shelter, dignity may be safely shed in the face of pure delight and total acceptance.

Mutual satisfaction and ultimate personal expression is conditionally experienced within the confines of, and after the provision of shelter and sustenance.

Fruitfulness is the natural result of careful preparation and mutual service.

Woman is the glory of man, because in her softness she celebrates, enhances, and embodies what it took a man’s hardness to provide. Hardness, however, is not comforting and man therefore longs to see, to touch, and to connect with the softness his flinty determination has provided for and enabled.

God the ‘Father’

Children come with a built-in, living instruction manual called parents. Calling God “Abba, Father” means accepting things like, “Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching.” (Proverbs 4:1-2 ESV)

Covenant of Redemption

I read the following words in Fountain of Federalism: Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenantal Tradition by Charles McCoy and J. Wayne Baker today, and I think it sparked a light bulb moment.

“Second, federalism understand the relationships between God and the world and among humans as based on covenants among their members, some tacit and inherited from the past, others explicit and made or renewed in the present” (p 12).

The idea of tacit vs. explicit covenants sparked what seems to me the implications of the above quote, and which I have attempted to state succinctly as follows:

When eternal, inviolate beings have a tacit understanding of relationship, formed in virtue of their purposive unity and common character, that agreement forms what in human terms we call a covenant.

The term “covenant” is required to lend the strength of Divine imitation to human relational compact(s). In other words, implicit agreement among the Godhead is, by virtue of their nature, a covenant in human terms, though human covenants must be explicit due to the depravity of human character.

This is why it is proper to speak of a “Covenant of Redemption” among the Trinity, even though such a covenant, as such, is never named in Scripture.

Living the Psalms

Nate,

How do I go about learning to navigate the Psalms better? I struggle to understand them unless I have a context or topic associated with them beforehand.

Earnest

text message

 

Dear Earnest,

  1. Turn to the Psalms in moments of felt need
  2. Practice

Age and experience will embed the Psalms in your affections as you find in them, sometimes, your only comfort.

Make their review a habitual part of your life. I recommend using a through the Psalms every two months approach, with psalms for every morning and evening. Only by deep familiarity can you practice biblical meditation (haggah), and then as life take its inevitably difficult twists and turns, the Psalms become the soundtrack of your sanity (or your sanctification; both are true).

A specific example comes to mind. I recall being on a six-hour road trip some 12 years ago when I was unexpectedly struck by the most intense sexual temptation I’ve ever experienced. I made it home faithfully by popping in a Sons of Korah CD and playing Psalm 116 on repeat for an hour or two, singing along at full volume like a fool for Jesus.

As you can likely imagine, Psalm 116 now has a very special place in my affections. The difficult path of discipleship, what we otherwise call “life”, brings the Psalms home to us all, if we will but listen to them. It is evidence of God’s phenomenal grace and amazing providence that He gave us such an emotion-packed and ever applicable tool.

Finding Healing for Our Hurts & Clarity for Our Confusion

“By the discovery of God, … I do not mean anything mysterious, or mystical, or unattainable. I simply mean becoming acquainted with Him as one becomes acquainted with a human friend; that is, finding out what is His nature, and His character, and coming to understand His ways.”

“My own experience has been something like this. My knowledge of God, beginning on a very low plane, and in the midst of greatest darkness and ignorance, advanced slowly through many stages, and with a vast amount of useless conflict and wrestling, to the place where I learned at last that Christ was the ‘express image’ of God, and where I became therefore in measure acquainted with Him, and discovered to my amazement and delight His utter unselfishness, and saw it was safe to trust in Him. And from this time all my doubts and questioning have been slowly disappearing in the blaze of this magnificent knowledge.”[i]

My experience, which may not be universal but seems to me as if it should be, is that our pain or confusion is best sorted in the Divine Presence. The immediacy of His reality puts ourselves into proper perspective, while the intensity of His love for and attitude toward us heals our hurts. We arrive at these moments via study, practice, intentionality, and His sovereignty.

I had the opportunity to pray to God with a good friend listening a few mornings ago. He happened to invite me to pray when I had just been moved in spirit by contemplating a truth about God’s character. I knew that if I began praying in that moment it was going to be very personal—the kind of praying that only happens in my prayer closet and even then is restrained by my (damnable) reluctance to seem (to myself, ironically) as if I am so enchanted by God as to have no thought of dignity—I was reluctant to go there, as I am unaccustomed to anyone else being privy to my personal prayer life with God, and because I care too much about what others might think, but after a few moments of hesitation I went there anyway. In His Presence all thoughts of my friend’s opinions or even attendance were erased, as I was caught up in the recognition of God’s character.

I came away from this experience—of a few moments—a changed man. This is the kind of thing I have in mind, and am trying to capture in my first paragraph.


[i] Hannah Whitall Smith, The Unselfishness of God (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1903), p. 14. as quoted in Hannah Whitall Smith and Melvin Easterday Dieter, The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life: The Unpublished Personal Writings of Hannah Whitall Smith (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

Nearer, Still Nearer

Nearer, still nearer, close to thy heart,
draw me, my Savior, so precious thou art.
Fold me, O fold me close to thy breast;
shelter me safe in that haven of rest,
shelter me safe in that haven of rest.
 
Nearer, still nearer, nothing I bring,
naught as an offering to Jesus my King –
only my sinful, now contrite heart;
grant me the cleansing thy blood doth impart,
grant me the cleansing thy blood doth impart.
 
Nearer, still nearer, Lord, to be thine,
sin, with its follies, I gladly resign,
all of its pleasures, pomp and its pride,
give me but Jesus, my Lord crucified,
give me but Jesus, my Lord crucified.
 
Nearer, still nearer, while life shall last,
till safe in glory my anchor is cast;
through endless ages, ever to be
nearer, my Savior, still nearer to thee,
nearer, my Savior, still nearer to thee.
 
Author: Mrs. C.H. (Lelia) Morris (1862 – 1929)
Tune: MORRIS

A “Gospel” Without Offence

“While we wrangle here in the dark we are dying and passing to the world that will decide all our controversies.” – Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, Part 3, p. 89.

“Leave out the holy character of God, the holy excellence of his law, the holy condemnation to which transgressors are doomed, the holy loveliness of the Saviour’s character, the holy nature of redemption, the holy tendency of Christ’s doctrine, and the holy tempers and conduct of all true believers: then dress up a scheme of religion of this unholy sort:

Image result for nadia weber-bolz

represent mankind as in a pitiable condition, rather through misfortune than by crime: speak much of Christ’s bleeding love to them, of his agonies in the garden and on the cross; without shewing the need or the nature of the satisfaction for sin: speak of his present glory, and of his compassion for poor sinners; of the freeness with which he dispenses pardons; of the privileges which believers enjoy here, and of the happiness and glory reserved for them hereafter:

rob-bell

clog this with nothing about regeneration and sanctification, or represent holiness as somewhat else than conformity to the holy character and law of God: and you make up a plausible gospel, calculated to humour the pride, soothe the consciences, engage the hearts, and raise the affections of natural men, who love nobody but themselves.

Related image

And now no wonder if this gospel (which has nothing in it affronting, offensive, or unpalatable, but is perfectly suited to the carnal unhumbled sinner, and helps him to quiet his conscience, dismiss his fears, and encourage his hopes,) incur no opposition amongst ignorant persons, who inquire not into the reason of things; meet with a hearty welcome, and make numbers of supposed converts, who live and die as full as they can hold of joy and confidence, without any fears or conflicts….

Image result for Joel Osteen

What wonder if, when all the offensive part is left out, the gospel gives no offence? What wonder if, when it is made suitable to carnal minds, carnal minds fall in love with it? What wonder if, when it is evidently calculated to fill the unrenewed mind with false confidence and joy, it has this effect? What wonder if, when the true character of God is unknown, and a false character of him is framed in the fancy,  – a God all love and no justice, very fond of such believers, as his favourites, – they have very warm affections towards him?

Image result for Andy Stanley

“… I would not give needless offence. Let this matter be weighed according to its importance. Let the word of God be examined impartially. I cannot but avow my fears that Satan has propagated much of this false religion, among many widely different classes of religious professors; and it shines so brightly in the eyes of numbers, who ‘take all for gold that flitters’, that, unless the fallacy be detected, it bids fair to be the prevailing religion in many places.”

– Thomas Scott, Letters and Papers, ed. John Scott (London: Seeley, 1824), pp. 441-4

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are nothing less than God himself in us, energizing our souls, imparting revelation to our minds, infusing power in our wills, and working his sovereign and gracious purposes through us. Spiritual gifts must never be viewed deistically, as if a God “out there” has sent some “thing” to us “down here.” Spiritual gifts are God present in, with, and through human thoughts, human deeds, human words, human love.

– Sam Storms, The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts, p. 12