Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18


April 2012

Cyclical Futility

A couple of months ago when I first heard the outrage over an article published in The Journal of Medical Ethics, defending the possibility of “post-birth abortion” (infanticide) I was taken aback and disgusted, though not surprised. Since the days of Voltaire and Locke, “The Enlightenment”, there has come into being a humanistic philosophy that we as a human race are ever improving. The people that boast in how far mankind has come in its pursuit of common goodwill and equality are pleased to show in the record of history how the western world has forsaken the slave trade, ended the traditionalist repression of women, desegregated society, and so forth. This historical record appears to them as a sign of the progress of the human race and the innate goodness within man that need only to be taped into by overcoming ignorance and prejudice.

However, if we view history through the lens of Scripture we find how deep, clear, and startling the Bible’s truth is in interpreting history. In Romans 8:20 we find out that since the fall of man “the creation was subject to futility”. “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” Roman 1:21. When we understand this the light comes on and the facade of human progress fades into futility. It is a cyclical futility, for with each step forward that man believes in his darkened, debased mind that he is taking he is really remaining in the same place. Man believes he is improving, but instead he exchanges one dark deed and practice for another that is acceptable by his sin-driven, futility-bound society. So to take it back to the original reference we see that the same progressive mankind that has forsaken the evil of slavery has in fact exchanged it for the evil of abortion, which is infanticide. This is not the first time this has happened and it is why understanding the scriptures sheds so much light on our history and our present state as a fallen human race.

Understanding this is key to having a proper world-view and a proper view of history, but it is not all-together bleak. Because though this explains our now and our past as mankind, it does not apply to the ultimate future that God has ordained. We know this because that passage in Romans 8 goes on to tell us that God subjected creation to futility “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
Cyclical futility is the state that mankind finds itself in now, but the definitive work of breaking that chain has been accomplished by Christ’s death and resurrection. So we place all of our hope for ourselves and mankind in him; not in humanistic social reform, not in politics, not in any concept of innate goodness of man, but in Jesus Christ our God and his glorious Gospel.

Resolved ~ Reflections on The Life & Writings of Jonathan Edwards

Heavenly Reality

    In an earlier post I wrote about the upbringing that Edwards had in the harsh environment of colonial New England that placed in him a firm grasp on reality; a reality in which heaven and hell are very real and very close at hand. As he grew to adore Christ and came to be captivated with God’s glory he also grew very fond of heaven and meditating deeply on its splendor. For him it was not fantastical, but very real and very near.  Others have done a much better job of applying and expounding on Edward’s thoughts on the eternal that I will not presume to add anything or offer a commentary of his writings, but only to share how my heart was stirred and continues to be stirred by this heavenward concentration of thought.

    As I have considered my own weakness and sin I have noticed that at my most selfish point, my most prideful moment, I am not living in the reality of a kingdom that I have never seen, but in a kingdom of my own making that is like a flimsy façade on a film set. This version of reality that I often fabricate looks pretty real to me and the special effects may even stun those looking on in the  theatre of life, but those thrilling special effects are only a strong wind or flame away from revealing what they are; real only to the extent that they are made of matter and can be touched, but they disappoint because that exterior represents a false sense of what is.  We are very familiar with the words of the preacher of Ecclesiastes who declares “Absolute futility. Everything is futile” Eccl 1:2(HCSB). In fact the apostle Paul declares that since the fall “creation was subjected to futility” Rom 8:20. For us in Christ we need not be fatalists about this, but cling to the rest of Romans 8:20 which says that creation was subjected to futility “… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption….”  It will finally be set free in full one day and we must be aware of our default gravitation to futile and vain things and look to the reality that is ahead….

   We are daily in danger of believing what we can taste, touch and feel rather believing the promises of a good and trustworthy God.  The old saying that one can be “so heavenly minded he is no earthly good” is satanic and untrue. To be heavenly minded is not to be disconnected from reality here on earth, but to understand truly what is and what will be. If we have our gaze focused on heaven we will not waste time here, but the opposite. Now it is possible to have a wrong view of heaven; a pop culture “better place” view that is absent of what heaven is all about, which is Christ. I am speaking of believing in going and seeing Christ face-to-face and beholding with no barrier the radiance of his beautiful face! I fear I would have to write for many days to scratch the surface of how grasping the reality of that moment for the saved and how believing in it will change our lives! If only we would think on and yearn for what is waiting for us we would agree with Paul that “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Paul did not use this as an excuse to lock himself in a cloister and wait for death or the trumpet sound but he says “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” Philippians 1:23-24 . Rooting ourselves in the reality that after we have run the race hard Jesus will wipe the tears from our eyes makes us fearlessly bold! There is no such thing as burnout for the one that has counted the heavenly as realest of realities.

  Paul knew that a crucial element to our endurance and our war with the flesh was to be fixed on what is above. Colossians 3:1-2 says “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not things that are on the earth.” He also encourages in the epistle to Titus obedience fueled by setting hope in what is to come! In his greeting “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began….” And after a long string of instructions for the church he declares that they should “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions… waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,…” And again he says that we have become “heirs according to the hope of eternal life”. Our holiness and the degree to which we view heaven as real coincide. There are many factors to this, I understand, but I believe this one is huge, because it is in the Bible and it has been very real in my life.

  I could go on and I hope to God that I will be able to take this further. I fear in my own heart I have often viewed Heaven, eternity, as being about as real as Tolkien’s Middle Earth; we are moved by it, even in awe of it, but it’s not real. We go through life, expecting to get to heaven one day, but the way we live says that we really think that we will just die like a dog. Heaven is so real! What is eternal is real! So much of what we see here that we think is real is just our finite mind and futile heart fooling us! I don’t want to be fooled! Jesus said that he went to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:3) and he prayed to the Father that we may be with him and behold his glory (Jn 17:24). I want to see his glory! I want to gaze on the beautiful face of the one who saved me! I want to worship him as I stare face-to-face without the fetters of sin and self! And I will! By his grace I will! Now I must go and I must work and I must give every ounce of what I am because that day will come soon when I will eternally rest! Rest to labor no more for millions and billions and trillions of ages! I know this is a lot of exclamation marks but I don’t know how else to plead! Jonathan Edwards knew that heaven was real and he lived a life dedicated to the glory and majesty of God. God grant us grace to be people that watch the sky, people that long for true reality, people that  live for a kingdom that they have never seen…. May our lives bear evidences of what is real and to come….

“These all died in faith, not having received the things

Promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged

That they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people

Who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had

Been thinking of that land from which they had gone out,

They would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better

Country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called

Their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

Hebrews 11:13-16

My Feeble Exegesis: II Corinthians 1:11

Petition That Aims At Praise

II Corinthians 1:11

“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our

Behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many”.

  Paul explains in the verses prior to this that they (Paul & Timothy) endure deadly peril based on the hope which they have that they will ultimately be delivered in the resurrection, for they relied not on themselves “but on God who raises the dead”. Then in verse eleven Paul allows the church to participate in their endurance by entreating, even commanding them, to help them by prayer. I could use this as a chance to write about the corporate role of the church in the perseverance of the individual saint, but instead I would like to inspect what this passage speaks about prayer.

As there seems to be three successive parts to the idea set forth in verse 11, I would like to inspect them in the order that they appear.

  •     1.  “You also must help us by prayer….” With this simple command Paul speaks to the power of prayer in respect to their ministry and endurance. Paul set the example for this time and again as he lifted up the saints with whom he interacted. Take for a couple of examples, Colossians 1:9 “…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,….”, 1 Thessalonians 1:2 “We give thanks to God for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers….”. Paul believed that the prayers of the church in Corinth would help them and bless them in their ministry. He is not relying on the people or the prayers themselves for his hope and supply of strength but is testifying that God is trustworthy in such a way that if they would pray God would act in the granting of a blessing. He is pointing them to his supply for endurance and entreating them to believe that God is that good Father that Jesus Christ testified of, one who does not grow weary like an unrighteous judge, but will “give justice speedily” “to his elect who cry to him day and night” (Luke 18:7). Paul gives no “maybe” or “perhaps” in this passage, but displays unwavering confidence in a God who answers the prayers of his children.  One might say to never underestimate prayer but I believe it would be better to say to never underestimate the God who hears the prayer. Be diligent to pray for your brothers and sisters and especially your leaders as they will give an account for your souls and are often assailed in their labor for the Gospel. Be active in the endurance of each other, O Church! Help by prayer to the One who is the source of all help. Trust in his faithfulness and believe his word.
  •    2.  “…so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us….” It is interesting that Paul expects that the ultimate result of the help by prayer will be thanksgiving toward God. This displays the God-exalting and God-dependent mind that Paul had when writing this passage under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The end of our prayers in not the blessing, which would seem to be the end, but the praise of God. One would think that when you make a request to God it is like when you order something and then receive it a week later in the mail. In that example the receiving of the item is the end, but this is not what Paul has in mind. Paul wants to be helped in order that God would be praised through thanksgiving! We find here an amazing truth about how we go about prayers of supplication and intercession in regards to the posture of our heart when we consider what the end goal of that prayer is. As we search our motives we should always check to see that our prayers of petition, supplication, and intercession flow from the desire that God would be worshiped in thanksgiving.
  •    3. “…the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” It is Paul’s desire that this should be a corporate exercise in prayer. If the prayers of many leads to praise and thanksgiving for blessings granted, then no one person will be able to rob an ounce of glory from the Supplier of the blessing who hears their prayers. This is not to diminish the role of individual prayer, but to remind us that our time in the closet of prayer are being collected in bowls like incense (Rev 5:8) to be poured out before the throne and that we may not be alone in our petitions and thus should not take any credit. Many pray and many gives thanks so that the only one who receives praise is the Father who hears and pours out his blessing.

I hope that this verse can help us to pray with confidence for others, believing that our Father hears and acts according to his will which is ever for the good of his elect and that we would pray in order that God may be praised and thanked and that we would never seek our own praise and thanks as we labor on our knees but declare, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory…” Psalm 115:1  

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