Jun 24, 2010

Seeing Clearly or Not Even Looking?

I haven’t written anything for a while and for that I am sorry as I miss writing. I still intend to get on here and update soon, but we’ll see how that goes. For now, I simply want to share a very abbreviated meditation from this morning.

A good online friend of mine posted the following quote yesterday, but I didn’t see it until this morning, so it was a great early-morning meditation:

"If we have an intimate acquaintance with the gospel in all its excellence, knowing the word as one of mercy, holiness, freedom, and consolation, we will value it as our chief and only treasure. We will also make it our business to give ourselves to it in absolute obedience." - John Owen

Upon reading it, I had to read it again. Then, I found my “good Christian mind” ascribing ascent to it, thinking something to the effect of, ‘great quote, another one to make me happy and affirm that I’m thinking rightly’ (after all, isn’t that what it’s all about? – note the latent sarcasm from a seminary grad!)

But then, a moment later (just a moment later), I asked myself if I could repeat it to myself. Not the words, not could I quote it to myself, but could I reword it and recall it for myself, could I paraphrase it so as to get to the heart of the meaning (that is the very nature of teaching and if you can’t do that exercise, then you can’t teach it and thus, have proved that you don’t understand it at all). Did I remember, only moments after reading it, what it SAID! I realized that I could not. In fact, I realized that I had only ascribed my mind to it because it sounded good, it came from a trusted source (my friend), and the original author was also trusted. Thus, in my mind (my reflex response), it was worthy of acceptance. Yet, that way of thinking has more holes in it than the best Swiss cheese in the world AFTER a herd of mice gets a hold of it and they eat their fill.

Upon realizing this mental reflex, I read it again only to realize that I hadn’t read it at all. When I originally read it, I read something to the effect of “we should have an intimate time in the Scriptures because they are valuable and it’s good for us” which roughly translates, “we should read the Bible a lot.” Though that is sort of a part of the message of this quote, it’s not at all what it is about. Mind you, had I the context, I may have read it differently, but had I READ it, I would have understood it very differently. Besides that, the point is not whether or not I have the mental capacity to understand it; the point is that it was my mental reflex to assume knowledge, to assume agreement with what was stated, to merely glance at something, to give disingenuous mental ascent to something simply because it “looks good” upon a very superficial, glib glance! In fact, glib is the perfect word for it, it means “fluent in a superficial or insincere way.”

Had I actually read it, I would have understood that it was, in fact, speaking of intimacy, intimacy not only in the Word of God, but intimacy of understanding and with Christ Himself! In fact, it goes far beyond reading the Bible, but goes straight to the depths of the Gospel itself. The intangible Word, the good news, the very heartbeat of the very agent of Creation, the Creator Himself!!! In the very first part, Owen says “IF we have an intimate acquaintance with the Gospel, in all its excellence.” That ought to arrest us immediately, we should be able to read no further without deep reflection, peering into our own souls to see if we do, in fact, know the Gospel at all. I’m not referring to the Roman road or some other “trinket” of evangelism. The Roman road is a good tool (as are many others), but I’m not referring to memorizing a handful of Scriptures that we can rattle off to someone. No, I’m saying, do we KNOW the Gospel. Can we take our understanding of the Gospel and explain it to someone at their level? Can we explain it in a way that they will understand? Can we boil it down to what it really is, and what it is not?! What was the basis of the Gospel? What is it’s purpose? Why is it important? If we cannot answer those questions and many more like them, we don’t even understand the very things we might rattle off to someone via the Roman road. Is it any wonder then, if we miss even the basics, the very bargain-basement understanding of the Gospel, that people don’t come to the Christ we claim to love when we speak with them? If your auto mechanic can’t explain how a car battery works, would you trust him to rebuild your engine?! What about this, can you explain the Gospel accurately to a 5-year old? In a way that they will be able to comprehend? If not, then you don’t understand the Gospel. You see, explaining to a 5-year old will require you to boil it down, to leave the big words behind (you know, the big ones we like to throw around though we don’t really understand them ourselves… btw, this is called bs), and to get at the very heart of the message AND to explain it as simply and accurately as possible. Thus, in the very first sentence of the quote, all my years of walking with the Lord and all the years of study and theological training are called into question. If I am truly reading this, I must take an honest look at my own understanding and ask if I even understand the basic Gospel message, much less the “in all its excellence” part. Which, btw, I believe that if you truly grasp the Gospel, you will (humanly speaking) understand it in all its excellence. Which ought to beg the question of whether we see it as excellent, or if we’ve become so comfortable with what we do understand of it, that we no longer see it as excellent, but as routine and “old news.” Something to think about!

I have to say that on my part, I have to realize what a slow learner I am. I’ve been a Christian since 1987, had theological training, and I have to be honest and say that I think I’ve only begun grasping the Gospel. It is so simple that a child can understand it and yet so vastly profound!

Then, in the next part of the quote we have the test, the mental test, of intimate knowledge of the Gospel. The test is whether or not we see it as “knowing the word as one of mercy, holiness, freedom, and consolation.” Do we understand God’s mercy? Do we know what it is that He has done for us? Do we know why? Do we even come close to grasping how very merciful He is? You say yes, but do you really? What about that thing you want? What about that situation where you weren’t treated fairly? What about the abuse you suffered? How is God’s mercy demonstrated there? So I ask again, do you understand God’s mercy?! Do we understand His holiness? Do we get that He is completely holy and just, that He is the very MEASURE of what it means to be holy? That He is the rule by which all things are measured? That something’s holiness is determined in how close to resembling Christ it is? You say yes, but what about that thing you looked at the other night? What about that woman or man you gazed at longingly? What about that person that made you mad the other day? Oh wait, that’s your anger, not their sin!

I could go on, but you get the point. Do we see the Gospel as epitomizing these things? Not do we see it as containing these things, but as BEING these things? What is your definition of mercy? What about holiness? What about freedom? What about consolation? Can you define these terms without the Gospel coming to mind, as the chief example? What comes to mind when I say the Gospel? Is it the Bible itself, is it church, is it missions, is it the Roman road to salvation or Evangelism Explosion? Did Christ himself come to mind? Christ and His work of restoration IS the Gospel and it started before the foundations of the world were laid and continues today and will continue for eternity! Do you honestly see the Gospel in light of these elements? When someone mentions the Bible or the Gospel, what comes to mind first? Do you think about the 10 commandments, or sin? Do you think about judgment? Do you think about (fill in the blank)? What do you think about first? My friend, I submit to you that if we think about those things first, as in, primarily about them when the Gospel is mentioned, we don’t truly understand the Gospel, especially not in the way Owen meant (and I fear few do). It is true that those thing are involved in the message, but they are not the message. Let’s use the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf for example. If I said that the point of that story is that wolves are bad and so is lying, would I be accurate? Well, I would be accurate that those messages are involved, but they fall far short of grasping the point of the story. The point is that if we aren’t truthful, people won’t believe us and we will pay the penalty. So, if we think the Gospel is primarily about the things outlined above, we totally miss the point.

Yet, if we do understand it, if we truly understand it, it will so captivate us, that it will become “our chief and only treasure.” We will so grasp its value that everything else will pale in comparison. It will become to us a treasure in a field (Matt 13:44). In all of life, we give our attention to what is most important to us. We do this by nature because we are worshippers, by nature. Thus, no matter what a person says, you can know with certainty what is most important to a person by simple observation. What we truly value most WILL receive our attention.

Thus, if we truly grasp the Gospel, we will indeed “make it our business to give ourselves to it in absolute obedience.” It is not a matter of doing x, y, or z because we ought to, but it is rather a reflex response arising out of a change of the will of the one who grasps this truth. This is the primary difference between a Pharisee and a disciple, between law and grace, between freedom in Christ and living according to the law! When we do read the Bible, is it because our hearts burn with desire to know Christ and to know Him more fully, or is it because we’re supposed to? Do we see clearly, or do we see men as trees? (Mark 8:24)

When we read a quote like this one from Owen, we say amen. But do we TRULY say amen, do we even bother to really read it? Are we reading and ascribing to these things as a means of gaining another notch on our belt of mental understanding, or are we peering into them to see first what truth they contain, and second how our own hearts look, compared to the truth? Do we gaze, or do we only glace? When you read the Scriptures, are you searching them meditatively as if looking into a mirror to see the condition of your own heart (1 Cor 13:12, 2 Cor 3:18), or are you marking off your checklist for the day and then moving on, never even understanding the depths and riches of Christ you just passed up? If so, you are living like someone who passes by the grand-canyon every day and thinks no more of it than you would the last step of the stairs you climb. Or, to put it another way, when we read (and live) this way, we are just like a man who looks into a mirror, walks away, and then forgets if he even fixed his hair (James 1:23).

When we say amen, do we really mean it?!

What about now?