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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

Month

March 2016

The Painting I Felt

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There are few famous painting more disturbing than The Scream. It is a frightening piece of art, that leaves you wondering what was going through the painter’s mind or what is so distressing  to the ghoulish, distorted figure on the canvas, hands grasping the cheeks, mouth gaping wide, looking as if they are literally melting in terror. Almost like it was yesterday I can remember seeing that painting and thinking, “I know the feeling that painting conveys.” It left me sick, scared, wanting to look away, and yet, I felt like it was a painting of my soul.

One day, as a young teen, something began to stir in my heart. A dread. I suddenly had a sense of the goodness of God, my failure to honor him, and the judgment I deserved because of that. Reminders of sins committed haunted my young mind, tears began to flow when no one was around. And then, one day early in that crisis, I saw that terrible painting while flipping through a World Book encyclopedia. Agony washed over me. I stared, riveted at the twisted, tormented creature on the page – it was me. I knew what the subject of the painting was feeling. I was dirty, I was twisted, I had a offended a good God, I deserved hell.

There was no self-justification, no seeking escape from reality. I was doomed and I deserved it. I felt that painting. Only the screams were bottled up inside of me. I remember crying alone, out on the farm, that painting in my mind, murmuring audibly, “I’m lost. I’m lost. Forever lost.” I wanted to claw at my heart, I would lay in bed and grind my teeth, certain my state was beyond saving. How could someone like me, who grew up with the privilege of knowing the truth, having sinned so egregiously, have any hope?

Then. One day, with a feed bucket for the livestock in my hand, eyes blurry, feet staggering, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a different feeling. I knelt down and began to thank God for the Gospel – the truth that though I deserved to be condemned Christ was condemned in my place. The burden lifted, the terror was gone. Appetites changed, love for God’s word gripped me, a desire to be with God’s people and to hear the Word preached possessed me. Over the next weeks as I continued my work on the farm, I started singing hymns passed the time. Especially precious to me was, “It Is Well” namely the lines:

My sin o the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise The Lord, praise The Lord
O my soul

I had a longing to depart and be with Jesus. I prayed and prayed for him to come so I could be with him. I was changed. As the years went by, my love would cool at times, I would fail often, my faith would weaken, but when I remember that day I felt that painting and I remember the sweet relief of the Gospel, the fire is kindled anew.

I praise God for that day I felt that terrible painting. I praise God for feeling about my sin the way I did, because I believe with all of my heart it was right. Indeed, I am certain my grief did not reach the point it should have – I was spared the depths of despair that one ought to feel when their depravity is compared to the all-surpassing perfection of God. It is my hope that we would all have that moment where we have a real sense of our wretchedness, for it is then that the glory of Christ overwhelms, and we are changed.
That painting is terrible, but I thank God for graciously letting me feel it.

I know that I fail and my love grows cold when I lose sight of what I was and now am in Christ. My love grows cold when the news that Jesus was my wrath-bearing sacrifice ceases to be to me the good news that it is.

My experience is not an authority, the word of God alone is that. But as I look at the word, what it tells us about God, ourselves, sin, and salvation, I am burdened that the church is apathetic and unholy because it is full of people who cannot identify with that painting because they have not seen themselves in the light of what God has revealed. They don’t know what it is like to stand in the light with all your filth, to sense the weight of impending, much-deserved, divine judgment, and to be appalled, lost, undone, broken.

The painting I felt is only a fraction of the despair that Christ bore for me when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And the joy that followed the knowledge of mercy is but a speck of the joy that will wash over when I see my Savior in his glory and know from what wretchedness I came to what a state I have been lifted by grace.

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Faithfulness Does Not Always Equal Effectiveness

An essential aspect of pastoral ministry is raising up leaders for the expansion of kingdom work and the next generation of church leaders. Writing to Timothy from prison as he senses he is about to depart from the world, Paul admonishes Timothy to hold fast to what he had been taught and to teach it to others. Speaking of the state of the times that are to come, he urges Timothy to persevere in teaching the message with which he had been entrusted and to raise up faithful men who would be able to do the same. Remember that word: faithful. (2 Tim. 2:2, 1:12-14, 4:1-6)

As I read blogs and see books and seminars advertised for the church, there seems to be an appropriate desire to raise up leaders, a recognition that this is a vital responsibility of the church. But I wonder as we identify and raise up leaders if what we’re aiming for is what we should be aiming for. I wonder if there are leaders who shouldn’t be leading, and some who are leading who shouldn’t be.

I say this because I see lots of material on raising up “effective” leaders who will make an impact; leaders who will bring about the desired results. I see classes, books, and seminars that focus on how to raise up this brand of effective leaders; when filling jobs, churches are looking for effective leaders.

A POTENTIAL PROBLEM

But there’s a potential problem with this: It’s possible to be effective and not be faithful and it’s possible to be faithful and not be apparently effective. What the Bible portrays as faithfulness does not always lead to what is often called “effectiveness.”

So in light of that, what is the first thing we look for in leaders? As we train leaders, what is the goal?

A BETTER SOLUTION

The Scriptures abound with examples, like Isaiah, of men who were faithful but not always effective in a quantifiable sense. If you consider Jesus’ training of his disciples and relevant texts in the Pastoral Epistles, the aim always seems to be faithfulness. Jesus did not choose guys with stellar corporate leadership qualities, but simple and unimpressive men who would follow him. In fact, the ministry that Jesus modeled for them was often counterintuitive, and it didn’t look very effective at times. Yet in every sense it was, and at every moment Jesus was the epitome of faithfulness (John 6:66, 8:29).

Or what about Paul? In his ministry, he knew that it is God who gives the increase. He knew that “if our gospel is veiled it is veiled only to those who are perishing” and that the only hope of what might be called “effectiveness” is God’s life-giving decree (1 Corinthians 3:6, 4:1-6). This is theological understanding of his duty to be faithful is perhaps why Paul was able to move on so confidently when his message was persistently rejected! (Acts 18:6) Writing to Timothy, Paul instructed him to be faithful to answer his opponents with gentleness. He does not guarantee they will come around if he does this, but recognizes that through his faithfulness, perhaps God will grant them repentance (2 Tim. 2:25).

FAITHFULNESS, THEN EFFECTIVENESS

Here’s the point: if we pay attention to Scripture, raising up faithful leaders is our unavoidable priority. At the same time, we need to recognize that faithfulness does not always guarantee “effectiveness.”

Many faithful men are overlooked because they don’t have the walk, talk, and swagger of an “effective” leader. They don’t have the numbers to show or the stories to tell. They aren’t charismatic, they don’t impress, but they are faithful! I’ve written before about the danger of elevating quantity over quality when sending people into ministry, especially overseas. Here I’m simply generalizing the point:  the quality we should look for more than anything else is not eagerness or even impressive and apparent fruitfulness, but faithfulness.

But what do we mean by “faithfulness”?

Faithfulness is ordering your life according to God’s revealed ways and means for bringing about his ends—regardless of what the immediate results may be.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FAITHFUL?

Faithful men are those who in every sphere of life show they believe God’s way is best, even when it doesn’t appear to be working. They are those who are willing to labor according to God’s design all of their life, even if they are labeled irrelevant and ineffective, because they rest their head on the pillow of God’s sovereignty, the promise that his Word will accomplish its purpose (Isaiah 55:11).

In that sense, faithful leaders will indeed always be effective leaders, but they will be effective because God’s ways and means always accomplish their intended purpose. Effectiveness is important, but if we are going to think about this theologically, we must admit that to a large degree what defines effectiveness is somewhat hidden in God’s sovereign decree. As I mentioned earlier, we are compelled to believe that Jesus was an effective leader, though that was not always apparent by our standard of measure. His effectiveness was that he did what the Father had given him to do (John 6:37-39). What does that leave us to do then? Embrace the truth that God will bring about his ends through his ordained means, therefore we are to be faithful to what he has revealed (Deut. 29:29).

Faithful leaders are men whose faith is not in what is seen, what is measurable, what can be boasted about in a newsletter, but in what is unseen, in the words that God has said.

Perhaps I’m just a small church pastor trying to justify my often unexciting and slow-moving ministry. I hope that’s not the case. I want results as badly as the next guy, and I pray for an effective ministry. But more than that, my ultimate aim is faithfulness and I pray my desire to be effective always takes a backseat. One practical way this shows itself is that as I raise up leaders, I don’t pass over unimpressive, yet faithful men.

 

The Glory of Womanhood

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.                                                                                                                  (Genesis 1:26-27 ESV)

  The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.            (Genesis 2:15-25 ESV)

It is International Women’s Day – a day when we should ponder with awe on the accomplishments of women across history and a day when we should thank the women in our lives for all they have done. It is also a time when we should praise God for women, created unique and in His image for His glory.

In Genesis chapter 1 we get a very cursory view of the creation of man and woman. We are presented with mankind’s unique position as created in the image of God – given dominion over the creation to tend it and care for it and given a mandate to fill that earth. But in chapter 2, Moses slows down and gives us a more detailed account of how God did this. We see that he creates the man, gives him his command, puts him in his place, but it seems man had been given a task that he was incapable of completing alone. A divine mandate in which something was missing. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t whole, it wasn’t the reflection of divine goodness which would reflect the diversity in unity that God displays in the Trinity, where separate persons of the same nature have distinct roles in perfect unity. Reflection of divine glory, you could say, was impossible without unity in diversity.

It is unlikely that Adam, with the amount of natural revelation he had, could have articulated the above but as he looked at the creation and as God brought the other creatures to him, it became clear that something wasn’t right. It seems that Adam needed to experience the reality that he had been called to do something that he was not capable of. A piece of the picture was missing. And it was. Woman was missing.

God, who is good and does what is good, allowed the man to see that it was not good for him to be alone – that something crucial was missing. So God took from the man and made a creature from his same substance, made in the Divine image, but gloriously unique. Like the man in many ways and yet made to display aspects of the divine glory that man was not equipped to.

By calling her a “helper”, God was not designating the woman as in any way inferior to man, but simply that she was the missing piece to the total goodness of creation. Man and woman, united as one, each fulfilling their distinct role in unity with each other would now be able to be faithful to their created purpose as image bearers of God.

The woman was of the same substance and nature as the man, yet she was gloriously unique. She was more than just the rest of the reproductive system, she was a helper suitable for his calling. Meaning that she fulfilled a role that she was uniquely made to fulfill, a glorious, image-bearing role that man was incapable of. In the Trinity, just as the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Spirit and each operates in their own role in the radiance of one Divine glory, so also the man is not the woman and the woman not the man, their roles cannot be traded and together they reflect the divine glory they were created to reflect.

The glory of womanhood is found in the unique way the woman was created to reflect the image of the triune God.

This International Women’s Day, I hope that men will praise God for his wisdom and glory displayed in women and that women will be humbled by and rise to grasp the lofty purpose for which they were created.

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