Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Affections of the Non-Elect vs. the Elect

The affections of the non-elect and the affections of the elect are powerfully pitted against each other in the fourteenth chapter of Mark. The stage is set in Bethany and in Jerusalem during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The first scene, recorded in Mark 14:10-11, is bleak: “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray Him.” Notice the reaction of the chief priests when Judas betrays Christ. Gladness: an emotion of delight, joy, and pleasure. The non-elect, bowing to the god of their own devices, are delivered up to their depravity and a desire for deleterious delights is birthed deep within their souls. When the spiny fingers of twisted affections creep up the soul, it is suffocated until it loses its breath, its life, and ultimately dies.

Peering into the window where Jesus reclines around the table with his disciples, celebrating the Passover, the scene turns solemn. Jesus informs his disciples that one of them is about to betray him—one who is eating with him! Can you hear the gasps echoing throughout the room? Scripture reads, “They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I?’” (Mk. 14:19). Notice the reaction of the elect. Sorrow: grief, affliction, anguish. The elect, consumed with a concern that their hearts would be hardened, ask in an incredulous tone whether this disdainful betrayal is buried deep within their own souls. When put to the test, a soul softened by the sweet Spirit of God shrinks in sorrow when its Savior is despised and rejected.

But lest we think the heart of the elect is surrounded in a shroud of continual purity, we are given warning in Ephesians to forsake the futility of our former thinking and allow the Holy Spirit to make us new, beginning with the attitudes of our minds. We aspire to the attitude and mind of our great God, for we were “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). Failing and falling, but striving through surrendering to His Spirit.

And we adapt the affections of the elect. For our very soul must mourn any mockery man attempts to makes of God. And our soul delights that God cannot be mocked, for a man reaps what he sows (Gal. 6:7).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Of Phinehas and First Things

The spiritual landscape was bleak. Israel had once again forsaken her first love in favor of false gods. Shittim reeked of decrepit immorality, for in her depravity, Israel emitted the putrid stench of her mounting sinfulness. Whoring after other gods, she paraded her wickedness in the sight of the Lord. Inviting His fierce anger to reign on their parade, Israel kindled the severe wrath of the Lord God Almighty.

Jealous of their absolute affection, the Lord’s passionate love for His chosen people and demand for utter holiness required His intervention. To appease His wrath, the Lord commanded Moses to “take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun” (Numbers 25:4). Sin faces the fist of righteousness and it cannot stand. In the midst of the purification process, one Israelite decided to flaunt his depravity in the face of God one last time.

Enter Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron and son of Eleazar. He had witnessed both the results of righteousness and the ramifications of sinfulness firsthand through his family. As his surrounding community sold themselves to lesser things and exchanged the glory of God for the alluring invitation of a lie, I imagine Phinehas’ father and grandfather breathing the truth into his life that the beauty and holiness of Yahweh—the God who is faithful to His promises and abounds in steadfast love—is worth infinitely more than everything else that vies for Phinehas' affection. Perhaps they warned young Phinehas that following El Shaddai demanded intense sacrifice as he embarked on an extreme adventure of faith. Or maybe they simply recounted the character of his great God as revealed repeatedly throughout Israel’s history.

Convinced that the sole purpose of His life was to glorify God and exalt His Creator at all costs, Phinehas burned with the zeal of the Lord. Leaving the congregation, he grabbed a spear in his hand and killed the Israelite man and Midianite woman who dared to defy God. Instantly, the plague on the people of Israel ceased and God decided not to consume them in His anger. Phinehas rejected the lure of sin in favor of the glory of God, and in so doing, discovered God’s peace. Rewarding Phinehas for his faithfulness, God blessed him with His covenant of peace—not only Phinehas, but also his descendants—and gave him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood. All of his life, Phinehas would mediate the redemptive power of God to the people of Israel and enjoy entering the presence of God, communing with Him.

For quite a few weeks now, my mind has wrestled with this very significant story in Scripture. I say “wrestled” because I heard God telling me that there are areas in my life where I lack the zeal of Phinehas, and as a result, I quench the power of His Spirit reigning within me. More than I would like to admit, I resemble Israel and exchange the glory of God for the alluring lie of the culture that surrounds me. God breathes into me that He is infinitely more beautiful and worthy than anything else that I could desire, but I moan and gripe that it is too difficult to let go. What if I give up everything only to find that I miss the secondary things in life? What if I find that my love for the first things—that which is from God and by God and to God and for God—is not enough?

Then God’s Holy Spirit invades my life and gives me the power that I lack to release the secondary things. What freedom is found from leaving the chaff behind! I can attest that the first things in life do not disappoint. Being filled with the zeal of the Lord and being blessed with a glimpse of His beauty is worth it all. Discovering His deep love for me, being refreshed in His Spirit, finding renewal in the streams of His mercy, overflowing with a passion for the way of Jesus Christ, standing in the shadow of the cross, rejoicing in the power of the resurrection, walking down the road of sanctification, rekindling the fire of my faith—this is what produces my highest hope, deepest joy, and greatest satisfaction.