Drink Up

When I was elementary school, people often traded items in their lunchboxes.  Usually the exchanges were pretty fair, but occasionally someone would get ripped off, like when a girl traded a pack of cookies for what turned out to be crumbs at the bottom of a Doritos bag.

In the Bible, we read of a much more significant trade.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, God indicted His people on two charges.  They had disregarded the fountain of living water and had attempted to hew their own cisterns.

According to the ESV Study Bible, “Palestine has three sources of water: the best is fresh running water, such as flows from a spring or stream, which is called ‘living water’; next comes ground water, such as might collect in a well; and last is runoff water collected in a cistern.”

It’s inconceivable to imagine trading fresh water for a far inferior version.  Even worse is that the Israelites would’ve expended a great deal of energy carving out leaky cisterns when a fountain was readily accessible.

Who in their right mind would make such an irrational exchange?  You and I, actually.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Quoting the Lord, Jeremiah wrote, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

Carefully reading the text reveals the staggering reality that Israel hadn’t turned its back on a water source; they had ditched God Himself.  If you thought they were unwise for hewing out cisterns in the first place, reconsider the magnitude of their folly in light of what the imagery represents.

The people of Israel had seen God work in unprecedented ways and had experienced His power firsthand.  Their nation’s entire history was a testimony to the matchless faithfulness of God.  Yet, in spite of His perfect fidelity, they were unfaithful.  Ignoring God’s words and works, they turned to idols, an unprofitable exchange, to say the least (Jeremiah 2:11).

Sadly, you and I are prone to follow the Israelites’ footsteps away from the fountain of living water.  As we prize our comfort, our plans, our relationships, our reputations – anything – above God Himself, we are guilty of the same two evils as our predecessors.

The payoff of such an exchange never works in our favor.  When we try to manufacture our own versions of what God offers to us in Himself, we’re left with something even more pitiful than broken, leaky cisterns.  We want meaning in life, so we pick up our tools and start carving, ignoring the purpose following Christ brings to our days.  The quest for acceptance drives us to work harder instead of resting in our identity as God’s beloved children.  Desperate for control, we chip away at what we hope will become our life source, while totally rejecting the peace-giving sovereignty of God.  Thirsting to death and exhausted from our endeavors, we have committed what John Gill labeled “egregious folly.”

As we try in vain to satisfy ourselves by our idols, the fountain of living water still flows.  We are beckoned to return, and when we do, we receive the warmest of welcomes.  Our faithful God is still true to His character.  He is the only One who deserves our worship, and He offers us abundant life.  When we drink from His fountain, our deepest longings are satisfied, yet our thirst somehow increases as we grow desperate to enjoy Him even more.  In this way, God is treasured.  And where God is treasured, there He is glorified.  Like John Piper said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

It’s appalling to realize how much of my life is spent hewing out cisterns instead of savoring the fountain.  God graciously exposes my folly like He did for the Israelites, and He invites me once again to glorify Him by delighting in the living water.

What better day than today to leave our carving tools behind so we can experience the wellspring of satisfaction available in our God?

Don’t Wait to Decide

11096656_10204102995043724_1341856929186634856_nWhenever I go to the movie theater, I always buy popcorn.  It’s guaranteed.  I don’t wait until I get there to decide whether or not I want some.  If I know I’m going to see a movie, I plan my meals around the popcorn I’ll eat at the theater.  The same is true for certain restaurants.  I don’t have to see a menu or wait for a craving to kick in; I decide in advance what I’m going to order.

Daniel is a Bible character known for being resolute.  Daniel 1:8 says he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself.”  Exiled to Babylon, Daniel was an outstanding young man selected to King Nebuchadnezzar’s service.  Many people would’ve understood if Daniel chose to compromise his convictions under such unique circumstances.  But he didn’t.  In fact, the language of Daniel 1 suggests that he didn’t wait for temptation to come; he decided in advance to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, come what may.

Having been singled out for his faith, Daniel’s resolve to honor God eventually landed him in a den of lions.  How did Daniel muster up the courage to be faithful with such a horrific fate at stake?  Simple.  He had already decided to be faithful a long time ago.  There was nothing left to consider or think through.  His heart was set on obedience.

My husband David is a lot like Daniel.  Tomorrow is his birthday, and his life is a testimony of what it looks like to “pre-decide” to obey the Lord.  When challenges arise, David is committed to doing what’s right.  Often he has to prayerfully consider what faithfulness looks like, but I’ve never seen him question if faithfulness is worth the trouble.

Like Daniel and David, we too can purpose in our hearts to honor the Lord.  We don’t have to wait to see what appealing temptation is on the menu.  Instead, by the grace of God, we can set our hearts on living in a manner worthy of Him.  We’ll stumble and fall along the way, but the value of faithfully obeying the Lord far outweighs what it might cost us.

I’m sure Daniel would agree.

Something Shared, Something Gained

Step foot into any church nursery or onto any daycare playground and you’ll almost certainly find a child who is reluctant to share.  One of the reasons this is the case is because children typically understand sharing to mean less for themselves – less time with a specific toy, less turns with the basketball, or less crackers during lunch.

When Paul mentions a kind of sharing in the book of Philemon, though, the result is an increase, not a reduction.  In verse 6 he writes, “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” 

“The sharing of your faith” in this context means more than telling nonbelievers about Jesus, although it’s important to share that message with those who haven’t heard it.  Here Paul is addressing relationships between believers, and the word for sharing carries the connotation of partnership and fellowship.  His point is that as you and I participate in the life of faith by talking about what God has done for us, investing in the spiritual lives of others, serving the Church, and joining in His mission, our understanding of all that Christ has done for us increases.

By talking about what God has done for us, we experience a heightened awareness of who He is and the blessings He offers.

By investing in the spiritual lives of others, we gain a deeper appreciation of God’s resolve to complete the good work He began (Philippians 1:6).

By serving the Church, we develop a fuller realization of God’s grace as He works in, through, and among such broken people.

By joining in God’s mission, we acquire an enlarged view of His glory and cultivate an eternal perspective.

This is not an exhaustive list of all that sharing our faith entails, but these are a few components that came to mind immediately.  As these observations demonstrate, sharing our faith is one of the primary means God uses to grow and refine our knowledge of Him. 

When a child understands sharing as meaning less for himself, he fails to see how sharing actually paves the way for more – more people can enjoy a specific toy, a basketball, or crackers.  In the same way, sharing our faith means more, not just for others, but also for ourselves.  As we expose our hearts, spur on others to love and obey God, contribute to the wellbeing of the Church, and make disciples of all nations, our knowledge and enjoyment of all that Christ purchased for us will grow.

As we approach Easter – the day upon which our entire faith rests (1 Corinthians 15:12-19) – why not dive headfirst into gospel-inspired partnership and fellowship?  By pouring out for the good of others and the glory of God, you’ll end up with more, not less.

What’s the Verdict?

I’ve been obsessed with Lauren Daigle’s song “How Can It Be” since I first heard it two months ago.  The whole song is powerful, but I find a section of the chorus particularly moving:

You plead my cause
You right my wrongs
You break my chains
You overcome

Not too long ago, the words I’d been listening to appeared before my eyes on the pages of Scripture.  “Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God, who pleads the cause of his people…” (Isaiah 51:22).

A quick survey of a concordance showed that this expression occurs many times throughout the Old Testament.  The Hebrew phrase can be translated several ways, such as “contend” or “defend,” but the connotation is often forensic.  In these instances, the idea is that God makes our case for us.  But what case?  And to whom does God plead?

Sometimes God pleads the cause of the fatherless and poor, pledging protection and provision (Proverbs 22:23, 23:11).  Sometimes God pleads the cause of His people against their enemies, taking vengeance on those who harm them (1 Samuel 24:15; Jeremiah 50:34, 51:36; Micah 7:9).

These truths point to a greater reality, namely that God offers His people eternal protection from condemnation and ultimate provision for sin because of the efficacious sacrifice of His Son.  For example, the rest of Isaiah 51:22 says that God will no longer make His people drink from the cup of His wrath.  In its immediate context, this verse speaks to the judgment Jerusalem endured because of sin.  Although the people experienced God’s wrath, He eventually removed the dreadful “cup of staggering.”

This event in Jewish history foreshadows another biblical mention of the cup of God’s wrath, when, instead of being removed, it’s received.  Knowing the time of His arrest and subsequent crucifixion was near, Jesus begged His Father to let the cup pass from Him.  Excruciatingly aware of the implications, Jesus went on to say, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

Not long after His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was betrayed, arrested, and tried.  When he stood before Pilate – the Roman governor who had the authority to condemn Him to death – Jesus was surprisingly quiet.  “When he was accused by the chief priest and elders, he gave no answer.  Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?’  But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed” (Matthew 27:12-14).

Soon after this, Jesus was sentenced to death.  As He hung on the cross, the physical pain was surpassed by the anguish of being forsaken by His Father as He drank the cup of wrath.  Because of Jesus, we who were “by nature children of wrath” become recipients of “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us” (Ephesians 2:3,7).

This is better news than I know how to articulate, and it sheds light on our understanding of God’s promise to plead the cause of His people.

Every person is guilty of violating God’s law and is deserving of judgment.  When those of us who are in Christ by faith face the Almighty God – the One who has the authority to condemn us to hell – Jesus is anything but silent.  His silence at His own trial makes it possible for Him to be the Advocate at ours.  By refusing to respond to a single charge against Him, He is able to negate every accusation against us.

In a sermon on Lamentations 3:58, Charles Spurgeon imagined the scene in “the court of divine law” where we have been charged with failing to do what God commands and choosing to do what He forbids.  After the charges are read, the time comes for us to enter a plea.  Of this moment Spurgeon said:

We are asked if we have anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced upon us.  We are silent.  Well may we hold down our heads, for what reason is there why we should not be punished for the sins which we have committed?  There was a time when we would have pleaded, “Not guilty,” but we know better now.  We know our guilt; it stares us in the face.  We cannot plead the force of temptation, for we know that often we have tempted ourselves, and have, without any incentive beyond our own hearts, run greedily after sin.  The law sits upon its throne of judgment, and since we cannot plead, it makes proclamation, “Is there anyone in court who will act as advocate for this rebel, whose silence and shame witness to his guilt?  If there is none to show cause to the contrary, I will open the Great Book and read his sentence; I will put on the black cap, and he shall be taken to doom.”  Up stands the bleeding Savior, the great Advocate for sinners!  What does Jesus plead?  “O Justice,” He says, “I plead not that these men have not sinned – I do confess on their behalf that they have grievously sinned; but I plead for them that their sin has been punished – punished in Me.  All the curse of their sin was laid on Me.  I loved them from before the foundations of the world; and having loved them I took their sin upon Myself, and therefore, it is not on them.  I suffered in their place, and therefore, Justice, you cannot punish two for one offense – having struck Me for them – you cannot now strike them!  I plead My blood – these wounds of Mine, once opened by the cruel nails – this side of Mine, once torn with the spear – I plead these – My groans, My tears, My agony, My death – for these I suffered on their account.  Their sin was punished in Me – let them go free!”

And we’re free indeed.  In this way, God is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).  Since God’s charges against us were borne by Christ, we can live today as those for whom there is “now no condemnation” (Romans 8:1).  As for anyone else who would dare accuse us – be it our own consciences, other people, or Satan himself?  The charges don’t stand because the only One with power to condemn has chosen to plead our cause instead (Romans 8:-33-34).

To borrow words from Lauren Daigle, “How can it be?”

What Are You Waiting For?

Empty ShopOur culture is obsessed with instant gratification.  We are consumers bent on getting what we want when we want it, hence the proliferation of fast food restaurants, instant streaming services, and vending machines.  Although these inventions add convenience to our lives, they don’t necessarily benefit our health.  Contrary to how we act at times, fast isn’t always synonymous with best.  Sometimes it’s worth skipping the drive-thru and opting for a home-cooked meal instead.

But what about when waiting means more than holding off for more nutritious food?  What about when our circumstances reveal our staggering lack of control?  What about when we don’t have what we think we need, and there’s nothing we can do about it?  As people who are used to getting our way with a dollar and the push of a button, we become disoriented and overwhelmed when we don’t immediately have what we want.

When there’s no magic button to press to change our circumstances, we have to wait.  Times like these are often spent wishing away today and hoping for a different tomorrow.  When life is obviously beyond our control, our tendency can be to focus on seeing a change as quickly as possible.  As I read Scripture, though, I notice a different focus.

“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” –Psalm 62:1

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” –Psalm 130:5

“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” –Isaiah 64:4

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” –Lamentations 3:25

The writers of these verses were waiting for God.  He was their focus.  With the difficulties of life comes the constant temptation to focus primarily on our situations instead of on our Savior.  When this happens, we are often guilty of idolizing comfort, assuming our ways are best, and even resenting God’s plans.

Waiting for God means living with settled confidence that He will do the right thing at the right time.  When we wait with confidence in His character and ways, our desire for His will to be done begins to overshadow our desire for our circumstances to be changed. 

Even as His will becomes our priority, we don’t have to ignore our feelings or deny our frustration.  We don’t have to stop asking Him to intervene with the healing, provision, and relief we crave.  Because of who He is, we can bring our requests to Him with boldness while accepting His responses with humility.

Our prayers start to include not only affirmation of His power, but also acceptance of His plans, a combination illustrated by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who said both, “Our God…is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace,” and in the next breath, “But even if he does not…” (Daniel 3:17-18).

Our God is able to change our circumstances, but even if He doesn’t, we still worship Him.  We still love Him.  We still trust Him.  We still follow Him.   He proved His goodness at the cross in decisive fashion, and He will confirm it again on the Day when our tears are wiped away forever as the seemingly disconnected puzzles of our lives are pieced together in seamless clarity.

And until that Day, we wait, not for a different set of circumstances, but for Him.