Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Best Preacher

Wouldn't you like to know who the best preacher of the Bible is? Be savvy of the guy who guarantees you a pure, simple, and profound look at the Bible every single Sunday? How about have constant access to the expositor who knows exactly how to tailor the Word to your soul and circumstances?

No, I shan't be comparing the Pipers and Sprouls and MacArthurs and Carsons of this world to see who comes out on top. This is not a shameless plug for my dad's sermons (oh, wait, don't look now, but...) or for my list of favourite preachers and authors.

Draw near in a snowy sunrise
This is me reminding me, and maybe you as well, of the wonderful gift of entry we have to the Best Preacher that ever was or will be. This is me exhorting me to faithfully draw near, and often.

Perhaps by now you have an inkling of Who it is I am alluding to ~ and, no, C.S. Lewis does not come anywhere near close.

Yes, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I who belong to God have a free and unlimited subscription to the Holy Spirit. We don't need to go on YouTube, we don't need to pay any online streaming fees, we don't need to buy the latest books. The message of the Gospel is that God makes it possible for God to live in us so that we can live in Him. Guys, the gift of faith gives us the Spirit of God. We already have the best Preacher.

The Spirit of the Comforter, the Spirit of the Father, the Spirit of Truth, indwells us by God's matchless grace. I don't know how to make it sound exciting, but, think about it: God has given us HIS SPIRIT to live inside of us! No Piper can touch our heartstrings in the way that the Holy Spirit, who knows us, can speak to our souls. No Carson can shed the light of doctrine to our very own unique minds in the magnificent way that the Holy Spirit imparts truth to our souls. No Lewis can explain and sanctify our desires in the way that the Holy Spirit radically transforms our souls. The Best Preacher is with us, all the time, everywhere. This is news of inexpressible joy, is it not, my friends? Let us not ignore or neglect that gift.

But O how often do we do just that! See, the Spirit is God and the Spirit brings Truth. That means He always acts in accordance with the Word of God. The present of the Spirit is that He uncovers, unbinds, enlightens, convicts, applies, and comforts us in the Word of Truth, the Bible. But how frequent are the days where we do not give the Bible a second glance, apart from maybe doing a quick word search to send a friend some encouragement or gobbling a chapter down just in time for that weekly Bible study. How often do we slight personal enrichment in Scripture! The fact is, if there is no Bible before our eyes, there is no Spirit working in our hearts. The Two, the Person and the Word, go together hand in hand. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit gives us a love for His Word so that it is a delight to be pierced by His sword and strengthened in all truth. If the Spirit lives in us by God's grace, He will always draws us back to Scripture...eventually.

Draw nigh when life seems to be a bed of roses
So do I love His Word or do I balk at it, or, as is often the case, do I forget about it? Do I read it? Am I starving myself of His truth in my life? Am I denying myself the food He provides me through the work of His Spirit in the Word? Again, let us not ignore the gift of the Spirit speaking directly to our hearts through Scripture. That's something no earthly preacher can do.

I mean, peoples, this is why Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven! He said it was better for us to have the Holy Spirit during this season. Don't believe me? Slide down to these excerpts from John 14-16 (well, really, if you have time, just read John 14-17 in its all the time. But for now, portions will have to do):

'“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. ... These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."' [John 14:15-20, 26]
"“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me."' [John 15:26]
'"But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."' [John 16:5-15]

And draw nigh in the cloudy skies
So you see? Christ Himself assured His disciples, and thereby us, that, as shockingly dreadful and terrifying as it may sound, Christ leaving to be with the Father was actually a good thing. As always, God leaves us with the best for our life. The best for us is the Comforter, the Being who knows us individually and grows us into unity; the Person who unlocks the secrets of our hearts to convict us of sin and open us to righteousness; the Spirit who is 100% with us so we don't have to go on a pilgrimage to Israel to meet the Christ. These are just a few of the blessings we have in the Holy Spirit, and it is with Him that Jesus chose to console His disciples upon His departure. Let us be consoled and reassured as well, and let us take advantage of the incredible gift we have in this Spirit of Truth! Let us go to the Preacher daily. Let us do so with relish and in joy. May the Scripture he illuminates fill us with delight.

Aka: Read. Our. Bibles.
And He fills us with His truth and wisdom. And we will have The Best Preacher Ever: a Heavenly one, the Spirit of God.

But one last thing. Although I am trying to not disclaim myself all the time (hehe), I think this post merits a disclaimer. Jenn Jenn is NOT ~ I repeat: by no means ~ telling you to chuck out your church and your pastor and your good books to just "go it alone" with you and your independent lil self. God gives us a love for His Word, and a love for His People. He designed us to grow in Community and under Biblical Counsel. Is Scripture sufficient? Absolutely. Are we hermits with a Book and a candle in a cave? Absolutely not. So don't quit church. Christians don't quit church. Christians read their Bibles ~ not as a duty, but as a delight. Capisce? Good. Thanks. You may go now.

Photo discredit Jenn Jenn

Sunday, March 16, 2014

On Mary and Martha, or, On Hospitality

"Christ in the House of Martha and Mary" by Diego Velásquez, 1618

"Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."
~Luke 10:38-42

There are so many lessons to draw out of this text, as many people already have, so I will not here try to be exhaustive, but just focus on one thing.

Hospitality. Hospitality, that is, in Christ.

Usually when I have seen this text expounded upon, I come out thinking Martha and Mary are pitted against each other on all levels and Martha is horrid for serving drinks while she should be listening to Jesus. "Chip the glasses and crack the plates! Just sit at Jesus' feet!" At least, that is what I hear (perhaps mistakenly, I admit).

Anyhow, whenever I do hear that, my little toe spazzes and my eyebrows yank and my ear twitches. As in, I am bothered. Mayhaps 'tis because I have so often identified with Martha, mayhaps 'tis because I like practicality and never understood the whole "Let them eat cake!" mentality. I mean, people still need water and food to keep breathing, whether they worship God or Vishnu. And Jesus knew that. So I could never bring myself to believe that what Christ actually wanted Martha to do was to throw out the vittles and live on the dew of the universe as she sat enthralled at His feet. There had to be something else, or maybe something more.

Let's take a peek at the text, and see if anything pops up. First, what exactly does Martha do? She welcomes Jesus into her house. That's something, no? How many people do you think were welcoming a hunted Pharisee-infuriating Rabbi? Nevertheless, after that good start, Martha became "distracted with much serving." Ouch! She was missing out on the very thing she spent so much time and energy to facilitate: welcoming the person of Christ into her home. On the other hand, Mary sat at Jesus' feet to hear whatever He came to say in the first place. But Martha was distracted with serving.

What was her problem? Was it the food? Was it the dusting? Was it the napkins folded like swans and the spoons set in the proper order, or preparing the perfect menu and making sure The Rabbi ate local and organic? (Okay, so maybe those were not exactly first-century problems, but you get my point.) Nope! The service and the meal and the cleanliness were not Martha's sin. They may have been her headaches, but they were not her problem.

Read that one sentence again. "But Martha was distracted..." Ohhhhh. She was distracted. As in, she was totally off-tract (track). Yes, her problem lay not in the glasses and the plates, but in her purpose with those glasses and plates, in that purpose which was letting the food get in the way of The Food. Martha's focus, goal, vision were all wrong.

You know what? I think Martha could have served a superb spread in a beautifully clean house without bringing Jesus' loving rebuke upon herself. The problem was not her hospitality, but her heart. And you know what also? I think Mary was probably a great help around the house. I bet she wasn't some ascetic dreamer who eschewed dusting as some low, insignificant calling. See, Mary's heart was right, so her hospitality could be pure, too. If only Martha's heart were in the right place, with the right focus, she would have been able to be a lovely hostess and a loving listener as well.

But her heart wasn't in the right place. It was distracted, remember? She let her soul bend on the cutlery and the preparations, and that was her undoing.

What is the remedy, for me and for her and for you? Yeah, you are smart. You guessed it. The "one thing that is necessary": Christ.

If Martha's focus had been on Christ, she would have provided what was needed to better enable her guests, and herself, to drink in His words. Instead of worrying about how the floors reflected on her housekeeping skills, instead of agonizing over whether the meal showed off her culinary achievements to their greatest advantage ~ in short, instead of being "anxious and troubled about many things" ~ Martha could have gladly and simply served the Master with a selfless heart so she could sit at His feet, too. Will people need water and some bread on this hot and dusty day in order to better focus on Jesus? Yes? Alright, we will provide some. She could skip the caviar happily if that meant allowing Jesus to shine brighter in her home. She could leave out the crystal and china if their requisite care would have "distracted" anyone (including herself) from what Jesus had to say. Basically, if it helped Jesus be big in her house, it was a go, and she could relax and rejoice. However, if it shoved Jesus away from her house, it had to go, and she could still relax and rejoice!

Mary grasped this concept. She chose the better thing and focused on the Master, knowing that everything domestic was already in order for Him to be the center of attention. Any more fussing over details would have only been superfluous and distracting to the whole point of their hospitality: Christ, the One Thing Necessary.

What does this mean for our hospitality, then?

It means that all the fiddling we do with the plates, the menu, and the dusting must have one purpose and one purpose only: making much of Christ. It means you can be a Martha. You can be a Martha with a Mary heart, a Mary vision, and a Mary desire. You can relish in folding your cloth napkins into swans or in having your toddler try his best to make a triangle with paper towels. You can serve an ∞-course meal (like in Babette's Feast) or grab a casserole out of the freezer.
Should China dishes only distress and prevent you, and therefore your guests, from beholding Jesus in the midst of your home, crack the China. Should your use of China dishes bless you and your guests by showing the generosity and love and splendor of Christ to those coming over for the evening meal, then, by all means, break out the China (not, ahem, literally) and delight in the afternoon-teaness of it. Whatever serves to exalt the name of God in your home, whatever most shows the love and grace and truth and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ to His guests at your house is precisely what you ought to do.

Remember, we are simply stewards left for a while on this earth to glorify the King and bless His name. That's what your welcome mat is for. That's what your pocket-book is for. That is what your broom is for, and your pots and pans, and disposable plates and crystal jars. They are all the King's, loaned to you as tools for making Him known on His earth while you are here. Go ye therefore, brothers and sisters, and use those instruments for their one purpose: to make disciples in His person and truth.

So the next time you are flying frantic "getting the house clean for company," please remember to prepare the necessary things to magnify the One Thing Necessary. Believe me, your frantic state is not on the necessary list. In other words, turn your eyes upon Jesus, friends, and make sure you can look full in His wondrous face as you overview the table-settings, bathrooms, kitchens, and front door. Because, really, those things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.