Bird is the Word

In his commentary on Psalm 102, Augustine writes:

I have become like a pelican in the wilderness, and like an owl among ruined walls. Behold three birds and three places: the pelican, the owl, and the sparrow; and the three places are severally, the wilderness, the ruined walls, and the house-top. The pelican in the wilderness, the owl in the ruined walls, and the sparrow in the house-top. In the first place we must explain, what the pelican signifies: since it is born in a region which makes it unknown to us. It is born in lonely spots, especially those of the river Nile in Egypt. Whatever kind of bird it is, let us consider what the Psalm intended to say of it. It dwells, it says, in the wilderness. Why enquire of its form, its limbs, its voice, its habits? As far as the Psalm tells you, it is a bird that dwells in solitude. The owl is a bird that loves night. Parietinæ, or ruins, as we call them, are walls standing without roof, without inhabitants, these are the habitation of the owl. And then as to the house-top and the sparrows, you are familiar with them. I find, therefore, some one of Christ’s body, a preacher of the word, sympathizing with the weak, seeking the gains of Christ, mindful of his Lord to come. 

Let us see these three things from the office of His steward. Hath such a man come among those who are not Christians? He is a pelican in the wilderness. Hath he come among those who were Christians, and have relapsed? He is an owl in the ruined walls; for he forsakes not even the darkness of those who dwell in night, he wishes to gain even these. Hath he come among such as are Christians dwelling in a house, not as if they believed not, or as if they had let go what they had believed, but walking lukewarmly in what they believe? The sparrow cries unto them, not in the wilderness, because they are Christians; nor in the ruined walls, because they have not relapsed; but because they are within the roof; under the roof rather, because they are under the flesh. The sparrow above the flesh cries out, hushes not up the commandments of God, nor becomes carnal, so that he be subject to the roof. What ye hear in the ear, that preach ye on the housetops. There are three birds and three places; and one man may represent the three birds, and three men may represent severally the three birds; and the three sorts of places, are three classes of men: yet the wilderness, the ruined walls, and the house-top, are but three classes of men.

Augustine here speaks of the Steward: in this case, God’s servant who carries the gospel into all such situations, whether isolation, ruin, or comfort. If you have become like a pelican, Christ goes to the barren places where isolation is found and there is no help near. Christ comes to those like the barn owl, who make their home in those walls ruined and in disrepair. Like the sparrow, Christ calls out constantly to us; never ceasing, always calling that we should hear Him. This he does through his Stewards which bring the Word.

Moreover, Christ himself becomes as we are to redeem us from that which we have become. Christ is to us a pelican, redeeming us by his own blood. Augustine continues: Let us not pass over what is said, or even read, of this bird, that is, the pelican; not rashly asserting anything, but yet not passing over what has been left to be read and uttered by those who have written it. Do ye so hear, that if it be true, it may agree; if false, it may not hold. These birds are said to slay their young with blows of their beaks, and for three days to mourn them when slain by themselves in the nest: after which they say the mother wounds herself deeply, and pours forth her blood over her young, bathed in which they recover life. This may be true, it may be false: yet if it be true, see how it agrees with Him, who gave us life by His blood. 

Today we may find ourselves in the wilderness, having strayed from the celestial city where security may be found. Christ is there a pelican to us.

If we find ourselves in disrepair, Christ comes to make his home among us.

Wherever we are, Christ ever calls to us just as the sparrow sings his song without end.

It may be that like the pelican, the Lord must slay us for a season. This often comes in the form of discipline, though it is not outside of God’s character to even painfully discipline those who are far off. Yet also, he then by his own blood brings healing and redemption. He, who gave us life by His blood, is not a seasonal bird. He is always ready to come to us as we are, and redeem us according to our need.

My attention was drawn to this passage by this tweet. You can read the full sermon here.

Calvin on the Two Natures of Christ Applied to His Role as Mediator

Recently I spent a fair amount of time researching theologies of the beatific vision among Reformation theologians. In the course of that research, I came across this excellent reflection on the two nature of Christ from John Calvin. In this section of Institutes of The Christian Religion, he applies the doctrine of the two natures of Christ to His role as Mediator in the life to come. Calvin writes:

…because he was hid under a humble clothing of flesh, and took upon himself the form of a servant, and humbled himself (Phil. ii. 8), and laying aside the insignia of majesty, became obedient to the Father; and after undergoing this subjection was at length crowned with glory and honour (Heb. ii. 7), and exalted to supreme authority, that at his name every knee should bow (Phil. ii. 10); so at the end he will subject to the Father both the name and the crown of glory, and whatever he received of the Father, that God may be all in all (1 Cor. xv. 28). For what end were that power and authority given to him, save that the Father might govern us by his hand? In the same sense, also, he is said to sit at the right hand of the Father. But this is only for a time, until we enjoy the immediate presence of his Godhead.

Some may take issue with Calvin’s argument that Christ’s place at the right hand of the Father has a terminal point. His point is that this is Christ’s place by virtue of his role as mediator. His role as mediator is not eternal. Certainly Christ subjects himself to God. But even this is only for a time. Calvin claims that tremendous damage has been done to the doctrine of Christ by not paying appropriate attention to Christ’s role as Mediator and the telos of that role in balance with his fundamental identity as the Son. He continues:

Christ, therefore, shall reign until he appear to judge the world, inasmuch as, according to the measure of our feeble capacity, he now connects us with the Father. But when, as partakers of the heavenly glory, we shall see God as he is, then Christ, having accomplished the office of Mediator, shall cease to be the vicegerent of the Father, and will be content with the glory which he possessed before the world was… His giving up of the kingdom to the Father, so far from impairing his majesty, will give a brighter manifestation of it. God will then cease to be the head of Christ, and Christ’s own Godhead will then shine forth of itself, whereas it is now in a manner veiled.

As Mediator, Christ brings us to the Father. But there, joining Christ in our glorified state, we see God. We see him not as Mediator, but we see him in His glory–“Christ’s own Godhead”.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to know what Calvin means by this phrase. In his commentary on 1 John 3:2, Calvin says, “…hence the majesty of God, now hid, will then only be in itself seen, when the veil of this mortal and corruptible nature shall be removed.” What is this majesty? Do we see God’s per essentiam– which is to say “as He is” in his essence? His glory? The relations between the persons? Calvin isn’t clear, and even warns against wrangling with such questions. What is he certain of, however, is that when we see God there will be a shared glory between the persons without exclusion to one or the other. Christ is not eternally the Mediator. Calvin is re-centering our knowledge of God in the age to come on the Son’s eternal generation. He will be known to us as the Son in the glory he had with the Father before he world began. This glory is not to the exclusion of his incarnation. It’s important not to confuse Christ’s laying aside his role as mediator with his laying aside his body. He does no such thing. As the incarnate Lord, his glory will shine forth before his people with greater effect when he sets aside his mediatorial office.

Some claim that Christ gives the Kingdom to the Father as an act of special glory reserved for the Father (to whom the Son is then eternally subordinate). Instead, Calvin’s claim is that the Son gives the Kingdom to the Father. In doing so, his own glory shines forth. More can be said, but for now this is a beautiful reflection to sit with. It will be a lovely thing to see the Son in his glory.

For more, see John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), II.14.iii.

God Answers Prayer In Only Two Ways

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Recently, I had a post featured at The Gospel Coalition on prayer entitled “God Answers Prayers In Only Two Ways”. I wrote it in the hopes that it would encourage those laboring in prayer without answers.

Here’s an excerpt:

If [Jesus’s words are true], it changes our prayer life from beguiling, bartering, or boasting to faithfully entrusting ourselves to the God who provides—the God who is Providence. When it comes down to it, God answers prayers in only two ways: provision or protection. If he gives us what we ask for, it’s because of his great love. But the converse is also true (and what we so often miss): If the Lord isn’t giving us what we’re asking for, then he’s protecting us from it. Because God provides his children with only good gifts, any time he withholds from us we can be sure it’s because that blessing doesn’t serve his ultimate purpose: to conform us into the image of Christ…

Read the rest of the piece by clicking here.

After the piece was published, I was also asked to come on the “The Ride Home with John and Kathy” radio show on 101.5 Word FM in Pittsburgh, PA and talk more about my piece. It was a neat opportunity, and a first for me. We had a great conversation, and you can listen to it in it’s entirety using the media player below.

The Briefcase: Leading Well in the Midst of Your Untimely Death

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A note from Griffin: What follows is shared with permission from John Bryson, pastor of Fellowship Memphis. I remember first reading this post around 2013 and thinking “When I’m married and starting a family, I am going to do this.” Now that I’m married, I realize what an incredible act of selfless leadership this kind of preparation is. I emailed him and asked permission to share it here, and he kindly agreed. I’ve only lightly edited here, and now pass it on to any who desire to lead their families well. I hope that any husbands or fathers that encounter this post will take its recommendations seriously, and prepare  to lead their families in the most difficult time possible: the day you are no longer there to lead and care for them.

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I have a strong passion for men to step out of passivity and lead.  A unique place that needs your leadership is in the event of your untimely death.  I am working on what I call “The Briefcase”.

Here is the list I compiled of leading your wife and family well in the midst of your no warning / untimely death.  Please add to it, subtract from it or tweak it as you see fit.

I recommend both digital copies and physical copies of what follows placed in a designated file or briefcase. Your wife and at least two close friends needs to know where both [digital and physical copies] are kept and the two friends needs to be deputized by you to step in and execute (working gently and clearly with your wife) what it is you have left so that burden in not placed exclusively on your wife. In my opinion, the spirit of these intentional acts should be to be as clear as possible and as freeing as possible to your family left behind:

  1. A will prepared by an attorney.
  2. Ample Life Insurance.  My goal is term life and enough that my family would be debt free (including a house) and Beth would never have to work or re-marry if she chose not to do so.
  3. A letter to your wife expressing your love and appreciation for her and freeing her to grieve, live and trust Jesus.  He is good and does good.  I personally encourage my wife to remarry with my blessing if she find a man who loves Jesus, will love her and love our kids and to thank that man for me.
  4. A general letter to all your kids about your dreams for them as a family unit with your family values and traditions that you love.
  5. A specific letter to each kid affirming your love for them and what you have learned about them uniquely with your hopes and dreams for them.
  6. Possible letters to other family members and friends.
  7. A letter that addresses your desires for a funeral, burial, a couple of options for who to preach your funeral (options give freedom, you don’t want them to feel like a failure to you because a certain man couldn’t do your funeral) and some pall bearer options.  Also, any special music requests or if you have not strong desires or opinions, say that, so again, they are operating out of freedom, not guilt.
  8. Options / preference of where to bury you (later in life, as you can, you need to purchase cemetery lots).  I personally am directing Beth to buy the cheapest casket possible and not be suckered into emotional purchases at a funeral home!
  9. A list of all your assets. Specific as possible with every detail you have.
  10. A list of all your debts.   Specifically who the debt is owed to, account numbers, and phone numbers.
  11. A list of your life insurance.  Company, agent, amount(s), account numbers.
  12. A write up of why you bought the amount of insurance you did and what you may have envisioned it for (pay off house, amounts set aside for daughter’s wedding, college fund, etc) but with the freedom for her to use it as she sees fit.
  13. Any verbal financial agreements or understandings you have made or have been made to you from employers, family, friends, etc.
  14. Any desires you have for anything your own / your assets to be specifically given to any other people or individual kids.
  15. Set up a deal on your phone / calendar to remind you to re-visit and update your “Briefcase” annually.

Every time I read through this list from Dr. Bryson, one phrase comes to mind: intentional love. This list takes work. It takes thought. For some men it will be hard to put pen to paper and pour their heart out in the event of their unforeseen death. But it is the sort of selfless act that will bear great fruit in the life of your family. My mom died suddenly at age 48. For those who have not had to experience this, trust me when I tell you that what follows is so much stress, paperwork, and burden that you hardly have time to grieve. This will spare your loved ones of that burden.

I had a few additional ideas and notes to add as well:

  • Often we put off making a will because it is expensive or burdensome. Check with non-profits you support and see if they have any estate planning services. The organization I work for has an incredible group that walks you through the entire process, helping you think through things far beyond just money (things I never would have considered!). I know in Alabama the Baptist Foundation of Alabama has incredible and affordable legacy planning services. Don’t spend $5000+ dollars at a lawyer who’s just going to write up a generic plan.
  • It is true of most people that when they die, their life insurance will allow them to make a greater gift than at nearly any other time in their life. Have a conversation with your wife ahead of time about if you want to make a charitable contribution at this time. Only 1 in 40 people think to leave money to causes they support (including their church, missions, etc.) in their will.
  • Consider leaving a gift: It’s possible to set aside some cash for a year’s worth of flowers to be delivered to your wife monthly. It wouldn’t be hard for a friend to receive these instructions. Only do this is your wife would like it. Only you can answer that.
  • If there are any uncommon things that only you would know, include that: “we get the oil changed at X”, “those ______ I always buy you that you like so much is _______”, etc.
  • Perhaps opening the briefcase in an emergency would be traumatic (for example if you were on life support). Make sure you always include any end-of-life medical wishes in a front pocket of the case. This includes Do-Not-Resuscitate orders, coma response, etc. Do not leave your family unsure about your wishes for keeping you on life support or not.
  • Enough cash for food for a least a week. The week after a tragic death, it’s hard to get off the couch. Financial worries are immediate. It may seem silly, but covering the immediate week after will be a great blessing.
  • Finally, also have a contingency plan in place in case you and your wife were both to pass suddenly (whether a car crash, house fire, or some other tragic event). Your children will never need you to come through for them more than at that moment.

That’s all I’ve got. Thank you to Dr. John Bryson for allowing me to share his great ideas here. I hope you never need this. But if you ever do, I hope this will serve as a great tool to love and lead your families well.

Disappointment and Boring Bible Study

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In the course of my ministry discipling other men, I’ve found no habit more difficult to pass along than Bible study. For some, sharing the gospel comes naturally. The extroverts dig right in. For others, confession becomes a habit of life that is a constant life-giving source. I can name off many that have become selfless servants, gifted encouragers, worship leaders, self-styled theologians or even the near-mythological oft-spoken-of “prayer warriors”.

Perhaps no habit of Christian discipline has left them all more frustrated than regular Bible study. Maybe you have been a part of a mentoring relationship or accountability group before where conversations enter the shame spiral when the question comes up: “How’s your time in the Word?” or “Have you been reading your Bible?” I sure have been.

There’s a lot of reasons that regular Bible reading is hard. Sin. Lack of proper past teaching. Laziness. Distractions.

But I think there’s an even bigger factor holding many people back from vibrant Bible study.

Disappointment.

Do you remember the first time you really got the gospel of grace? When you heard it like you had new ears and saw it like you never had eyes until just that very moment. When the gospel was so real and tangible that you felt like it was wrapping you up in a hug.

And they told you then that to meet with this God every day — the way to hear from God himself — was to open up your Bible. And so you did. At first it was ok, then really great and then it was a legal manual. Then it was chronologies. Then it was Tiglath-Pileser (who?) and exiles. Then it was prophecies in metaphors you didn’t understand, with backgrounds you didn’t know. Then your Study Bible made it less “hearing from God” and more “you better have that homework done before school.”

And you felt disappointment. I get it. You heard the famous preachers and teachers talk about their rich, deep times in the Word. You heard about tears and joy and being filled with the Spirit, and you thought that if you ever cried over those pages it was because of frustration and not filling, shame and not surprising joy.

Our disappointment tells us that when Beth Moore or Rick Warren, Billy Graham or John Piper, J.D. Greear or Kay Arthur open up their Bibles in the morning, the pages glow. A cloud of understanding—the shekina glory itself—descends upon them. They meet over those pages with God like Moses met with him in the tabernacle: face to face. They’re special and for them it’s always been that way. And what’s more: it is not and never will be for you.

Let me tell you something important: that’s not true. Bible reading isn’t a spiritual gift. It’s a spiritual discipline. These men and women, as well as every believer from the widow’s Sunday School class to the church fathers, have learned to love and revere the Bible through discipline. Paul knew this. He did not tell Timothy  “one day it will just come to you,” but “Train yourself for godliness.

Meet Disappointment with Discipline

In our Bible study, we will all have days where we feel as if we are hearing nothing and understanding little. We will all have days we are tempted to read Philippians again for the 32,413th time. Some days, we should give in to that urge. Above all, however, we need to press into the whole Word of God. Seek intimacy over newness. We need to refuse to come to the Word expecting something new, shocking, or entertaining. Instead, we need to come to the Word of God for God. Intimacy with God is the prize.

In those difficult times of Bible study, we need to follow the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 7:7-8:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Ask. Seek. Knock.

There is no promise that the moment we ask, the instant we set our hearts to seek Him, or that when our hand is still upon the knocker that He will reply. But He will reply. Everyone who loves their Bible and loves time with the Lord in Bible study has gotten there through struggling, praying, seeking. There is no other way. Days where it seems the heavens are shut up are sowing for us a bounty of glory in ordinary, boring Bible study. We need to wrestle with the Word like Jacob wrestled with God: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” We must train ourselves for godliness.

It’s hard. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. There’s a reason attack of the yawns happens when we sit down in front of the Word. There’s a reason everything else suddenly seems pressing and interesting. But if we will discipline ourselves to be in the word, what awaits us on the other side is glory. In 2 Corinthians, we read that when the covenant words (The Scriptures) are read that, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” 

That’s why we press in. Intimacy with God in His Word changes us. When we discipline ourselves to look into His Word to see Jesus, the Word itself changes us more and more into his image. Jesus is on every page. It will take countless days, failed attempts, successes, frustrations, and joys. Over time, you will see the beauty of Bible study, because of your prolonged exposure to the beauty of Christ. That’s what we ask for, seek for, knock for: that by the Spirit we would see Jesus and become like him.

The pages won’t glow. But you might.

 

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?” 2 Corinthians 3:7-8

 

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

Compassion is More than a Merit Badge

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Here’s something I wrote a while back for Radical, the resource ministry of IMB President David Platt, about how the gospel shapes our compassion:

Compassion is More Than a Merit Badge

As a part of my foster care advocacy work, I am constantly sharing with people about how the church should meet the needs of foster children. One trend I’ve noticed is how people will rush to tell me about the mission trip they went on years back, or how they watched a documentary on the subject, or how they know someone who did fill-in-the-blank kind of ministry once and how impressed they were by it. But, as everyone I’ve ever met in the non-profit world of compassion ministries (foster care, adoption, homeless, addiction rehab, etc.) can attest, the overwhelming response of self-proclaiming born again Christians is that these ministries are for someone else. God simply has not called them.

Click the link above to read the whole thing.

Bible Reading: An Invitation To Meet With Jesus

I am grateful for an invitation from Radical, the resource ministry of IMB President David Platt, to write about Bible reading plans here at the beginning of a new year.

Bible Reading Is An Invitation, Not A Burden

Preview :

“…why start again? Life hasn’t gotten any less busy and no amount of willpower has succeeded so far. When we think about our Bible reading this way, we risk making Bible reading a burden instead of an invitation. So many of us act as if God sent his Son to earth to live a perfect life and die an atoning death, only to rise from the grave and wag a finger at us saying, “You’ll never be good enough for me unless you read your Bible every day!” Nothing could be further from the truth!

Click the linked title above to read more.

Fields of Faith

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I preached this sermon for my friend John Thweatt at FBC Pell City, AL on October 16, 2016. The sermon is from Jeremiah 32. In this Scripture, Jeremiah buys a field in Israel even as the nation is on the brink of destruction. Let’s look together at how this episode in Jeremiah’s life can teach us about God’s promise, God’s character, and God’s plan for Resurrection.

Listen in: