What Type of Person Are You?

Published on August 30, 2010 by CT in Blog, Questions

5

There are two types of people in the world:  those who categorize others into types, and those who don’t.

My friend Sarah is one of these types of people.  Over Saturday dinner, she shared with our group her perspective on 4 types of people—particularly in how we react to them in relationships.

  1. Look Good.  Look Gooders care most about what others think about them.  Their reputation is king, and they will accept emotional turmoil within so long as no one else knows about it.  Honesty is the bain of Look Gooders.
  2. Feel Good.  Feel Gooders care most about how they feel.  They are emotionally-driven and reactive to situations, willing to change who they are or how they relate to others as long as they feel comfortable.  Courage is the bain of Feel Gooders.
  3. Be Right.  Be Righters care most about being right.  They will sacrifice relationships in the name of truth (or perceived truth).  Arguments and debates are comfortable arenas with them, because these are forums to wield their sabres of wit and words.  Humility is the bain of Be Righters.
  4. Be In Control.  Be In Controllers care most about controlling situations, or at worst, controlling others.  They will manipulate with words or emotions, sometimes without even knowing they’re doing so.  Trust is the bain of Be In Controllers.

I always find it interesting to see how people categorize others, in part because there is often some truth to it.  And Sarah’s framework is likely quite right.  And if you pay care attention, you will notice something of significance about each type of person here:  each one is self-centered.

The reason we want to look good in front of others is because we value ourselves more than we value someone else.

The reason we want to feel good about ourselves is because we value ourselves more than we value someone else.

The reason we want to be right is because we value ourselves more than we value someone else.

The reason we want to be in control is because we value ourselves more than we value someone else.

This particular framework is useful in uncovering our own particular strain of self-centeredness, because we’re all plagued with this disease.  Practically, we are born into a state of need, and we spend the rest of our lives concerned first and foremost with ourselves.  Theologically, we are born into a state of sin, and we spend the rest of our lives in opposition to the preeminence of Christ in all things.

The cure for all these strains of self-centeredness is the same:  a humbled, repentant, faith-filled, hopeful heart, mind, and spirit which desires to see and savor the glory of God as seen in the supremacy of Christ above all things.  Or to say this another way:  people who value God more than they value the comforts of sin.

I am a Look Gooder (and to some degree, all four), but I have asked God to destroy this disease within me.  I want to be more concerned about God and His glory than I am about justifying myself and making sure others justify me as well.  I want to love God and love others, so that He will bear fruit in me that furthers His kingdom.  And I want to be ultimately be the type of person who participates joyfully and expectantly in being made more and more like Jesus.

Question:  Which type of person are you?

Continue Reading

Where to Find Grace in Marriage

Published on August 23, 2010 by CT in Blog, Theology

2

Anna and I have been reading John Piper’s recent book on marriage, entitled This Momentary Marriage.  The premise of the book is simple:  that marriage is the doing of God and is meant to be the display of God.

Piper looks to two amazing descriptions of marriage in the Scriptures to develop this thesis.  The first is in Matthew 19, where Jesus reaches back to quote and explain the first statement about marriage in Genesis 2.

“[Jesus] answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’  So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate’” (Matthew 19:4-6, emphasis added).

Jesus is telling us that marriage is the doing of God—that we come together to make covenant vows, but it is God who joins a man and his wife together.  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul cites the same passage as Jesus did, but he adds another element to the purpose of marriage:

“‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

Paul is telling us that marriage is the display of God—that the covenant of marriage, joining two into one, points to a higher, eternal covenant between Jesus and His bride, the church.  What Paul is saying is that the purpose of marriage is to display the glory of God as seen by Christ’s sacrifice for, love of, and eternal commitment to all of His people.

As Anna and I read last night, we considered what it means for our marriage to be a display of God’s glory, as rooted in God’s work.  Marriage is unbelievably joyful at times, and it’s frustrating at other times.  I am learning to see the depths of my own sin—selfishness, pride, self-righteousness—and nothing has revealed this to me more than marriage.

Part of the encouragement we read in one of the chapters was the notion that a man and woman are to view each other in marriage as God views each of us—as righteous as Jesus.  This isn’t easy, because we know, and have to deal with, each others’ faults and sins all the time.  But being justified by God means He has applied, or imputed, Jesus’ righteousness to us, so that when God sees us, He sees us as righteous as His Son.

This is astounding, and it has enormous implications on how we all treat our spouses in marriage.  If we see each other in this way, that the other is perfect in the eyes of God, specifically because of Jesus, then we’re going to find grace to forgive and the freedom to make allowances for one another’s faults.

This is where we can find grace in marriage:  the sins of our marriages can be overcome with grace because of the greater reality of God’s grace triumphing over our sin against Him.  May we be the kind of husbands and wives who receive grace from God so that we can share that grace with others—all so that the world may see the work and display of God in our marriages.

Question:  Have you considered marriage to primarily be a display of God’s glory in Jesus?

Continue Reading

1

When others’ words kindle my own flame:  Reflections on words by Jonathan Edwards and John Piper.

Mankind has said and written many things throughout the ages.  Some of it needs to be commended and retold throughout every generation so that others might benefit from the records of wisdom.  Some of it needs to be destroyed, or at least held aloft in public contempt so that others might not fall prey to its empty promises.

Here is some writing to be commended:

The Father is the deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the deity in its direct existence.  The Son is the deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea.  The Holy Ghost is the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself.  And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct persons (Edwards, Essay on the Trinity, 118).

John Piper repaints this picture in this way:

The Son of God is the eternal idea or image that God has of himself.  And the image that he has of himself is so perfect and so complete and so full as to be the living, personal reproduction (or begetting) of God the Father…namely God the Son…And between the Son and the Father there arises eternally an infinitely holy personal communion of love, [the Holy Spirit]…[Thus], the Son is the standing forth of God knowing himself perfectly, and the Spirit is the standing forth of God loving himself perfectly (Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory, 84).

Do you delight in the glories of these truths? Does the exploration of the mysteries of God awaken your heart for more of Him?

This is the end of theology and doctrine:  that God may be seen and savored, known and delighted in.  We see God in His Son, and we savor God by His Spirit.  This is stunning, and beautiful, and unequivocally vital to our understanding of God’s purpose and our own.

We study and listen to sermons and read books and go to Bible Study in vain if the inclination of our hearts and minds is not towards treasuring God more fully.  But treasuring God leads to spending ourselves on Him, and in turn, on others as well, where, in this spending, God Himself is glorified.

Question:  Why do you want more of God?

Continue Reading

The Unopened Door

Published on August 18, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

1

Imagine yourself in a room.  The door behind you shut firmly, and you find yourself looking around at the walls, the floor, the ceiling, wondering how you ended up here.  The color of the walls, the coldness of the floor, the smell of old furniture, and the taste of neglect fill your senses with a twist of comfort and anxiety.

At the far side of the room, you see a door, obscured mostly by darkness.  The doorknob is partially lit, inviting you to see what lies beyond but cautioning you all the same.  The room is quiet, strangely quiet, so that your thoughts are almost audible.  You suspect you know what may be beyond the next door, but you’re not quite sure, and you don’t know if you want to find out.  And you’re not sure you want to give up yet as you’ve come this far.

So the question lies before you:  should you stay, or should you go back, or should you go on?

I find myself in this room all the time. This place is the farthest I’m willing to go with a hard question.  Circumstances in life lead to thoughts, and thoughts lead to rooms with doors.  Each door opens the implications of the next thought into another room, with perhaps another door, and there’s a point that feels too far, that to go any farther means embracing something about God, or myself, that I fear to embrace.

Let me give you an example.  Ephesians 1:4 tells us:  “He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”  So when we think about God’s sovereignty in election, we find ourselves in a large antechamber with several doors.  One well-worn door may be labeled “God Chose Us By His Foreknowledge of Our Decisive Will.  Another farther down the wall may say “God Chose Us By His Sovereign Will.”

We might walk to the first door, reach out our hand to feel the grain of the wood, pausing to consider what may lie just beyond.  We might then walk to the second door and grasp the knob.  Closing our eyes, we open the door and enter the next room.

This room is smaller, with a slightly different hue and smell.  We see two more doors, one to our right and a second on the opposite wall.  These doors look smaller, but heavier, and they also look old.  We turn, realizing we can go back into the antechamber whenever we please.  So we walk forward and inspect the names chiseled deep within each door.

One says, “God’s Will Is Unaffected By Man,” and we pause to consider what that might mean.  Do we live within a deterministic reality?  Are we simply marionettes, carrying out a temporal play at the flick and twist of a divine puppet master?  We move to the other wall, coming close to a door that says, “God’s Will Is Affected By Man,” and we wonder at what this might mean?  Do our actions, or our prayers, affect the carrying out of God’s will in a dynamic way?  Is this interaction truly real and foreknown by God, or is it simply foreknown in the sense that it’s actually not dynamic?

We might go back to the first door, believing that God’s sovereignty must mean His will is not affected by man.  So we grip the door and pull it open, passing through the frame into the next room.  We find a chair, so we sit and consider the moment.  If God’s will is unaffected by man, then what good are our prayers?  Is James right:  do the prayers of the righteous have great power?  Or are our prayers means of God accomplishing His own will through us, for our sake?  And if so, are they truly effective, or are they only pretense?

This might be a room in which we sit for a while.  And maybe we don’t get up to look at the inscriptions on the doors on the far end of the wall.  Perhaps we go back out the way we came, trying another set of doors, or ultimately ending up back at the antechamber, where we’re not necessarily more content but at least we’re comfortable.

We are always in one of these rooms, or we’re either in the process of sitting, or going back, or considering the next door, or grasping the knob, or walking through to the next room.  Wherever we find ourselves, there are some observations we can make that are worth considering—and carrying with us as we go about our thinking.

  1. God sees the start and end of this long line of rooms.  He made the doors.  He grants us grace to turn the knob.  And He meets us in each moment as we wait, and turn back, and walk forward.
  2. Intellectually understanding the line of rooms is different than actually walking through them with heart in tow.
  3. Some rooms exist in order to be explored and then vacated.
  4. Many others have been through these doors and in these rooms; we do well to listen to their stories.
  5. The doors are worth entering.  Jonathan Edwards, in his 11th resolution, determined to try these kinds of doors so long as his legs had strength:  “Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don’t hinder.”
  6. We walk in vain when we don’t walk with the Spirit through these rooms.
  7. Finding our way to the last room may join us with the apostle Paul, exclaiming, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

May God grant us the grace to explore, and pause to reflect, and go back, and try other doors, and strive to enter the place where we rest in inscrutability of His glorious ways.

Question:  What door are you uneasy about opening?

Continue Reading

Becoming Numb To “For Just a Dollar a Day”

Published on August 2, 2010 by CT in Blog, News

6

Advertisements have ruined compassion. OK, maybe they haven’t ruined it, but how many times have you heard that a dollar a day will save the life of some child in a third world country, and you flip past that channel or turn the page or click to the next site without thinking any more about it?  I’ve probably seen a thousand ads for kids that desperately need my help, and I’ve actually helped maybe 3 of them.

This is the tragedy of familiarity.  We tend to go numb at too much exposure.  We may be moved to compassion by the first starving kid who comes up with her hand out to us, but if we see a hundred of them, it’s easy to get over the whole thing.  This is unfortunate, and I don’t know that there’s a fix for it other than to abide in Christ and trust God for more grace, which sounds a lot easier than it is.

Having said all of this, I want to share with you something that moves me to compassion—and is one of the Top Ten Things I Love:  ACTS Ministry.  ACTS is a group of men and women in Burkina Faso (West Africa) who love widows and orphans.  It would be cliché if they weren’t such genuine people—and if they didn’t love Jesus as much as they do.

ACTS started when a woman named Joanna bought some land to raise chickens as extra income.  This is Proverbs 31 woman kind of stuff:  “She considers a field and buys it” (Proverbs 31:16).  But as she spent time out in the village where the land was located, she found herself in front of a few orphan kids who didn’t have any food.  So she started giving them some rice.  Then a few more showed up, and she fed them too.  Then she ran out of rice.  Then a stranger dropped a bunch of bags of rice on her doorstep.  So she fed some more kids.

Before long, Joanna quit her job and started working full-time with these orphans.  And then she found the village had a bunch of widows because the men had left for Ivory Coast looking for jobs and hadn’t come home.  So she started working with them too.

Fast forward to today.  ACTS has provided the village of Saonre with an orphan center, primary school, secondary school, fresh water well, medical center, dental center, bakery, and evangelical church.  The ministry teaches villagers about the Bible, educates them on AIDS prevention and good hygiene practices, trains young women in sewing, teaches young men carpentry skills, and generally paints a glowing portrait of Jesus for this village.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of similar ministries throughout the world, advancing God’s kingdom, bringing the gospel to people, and meeting their needs.  But I love this one in particular.  Anna and I have spent a month in Burkina over the last few years, and we’ve hosted Joanna in our home here in the US on two occasions.  She is family to us.

The reason I tell you all of this is because I promised Joanna that I would share one of her needs with my friends and family.  And you count as part of that group.  The primary and secondary schools are starting up again in October, and because giving is down so much over the last 18 months, ACTS doesn’t have the funds to sponsor the kids’ education.

Joanna wrote to me to say she is looking for sponsors for 37 secondary school students (at $405 per student for a year) and 85 primary school students (at $225 per student for a year).  If you’re interested in being part of this work, you can contact ACTS or hit me up at ct@cravesomethingmore.org.

Don’t feel bad if you bypass this request.  We’re not all supposed to meet every need we encounter, so it doesn’t mean that you’re numb.  Unless you’re actually numb, at which point you should take that up with God first and then reconsider.

But I would ask that you pray that God’s will would be done in the lives of these kids, and that He would reveal Himself more and more to their hearts, and that their passion for His glory would become an all-consuming movement in this village.  Education is great, as is food, and medical attention, but they should all serve the end of pointing all of our hearts towards the One who meets our every need.

Question:  Irrespective of this particular request, why do you think we go numb to these kinds of needs?

Continue Reading

Can We Move On From Jesus?

Published on July 19, 2010 by CT in Blog, Theology

7

You ever feel like you’re ready to move on from Jesus? You hear a sermon about the cross, or the gospel, and you feel like you’ve heard that before?  Like it’s time to move on to something else?

I think this is a fair question, particularly with the branches of gospel-centered ministry rising high about the ground of our church culture.  After all, the Bible is full of characters, and stories, and principles, and commandments; it offers more than a life-time of study and understanding can fathom.

There’s a passage in Hebrews that almost sounds like an encouragement to move on.  It says:  “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).  Doesn’t this tell us there’s a time to move on—that the doctrine of Christ is a step along the path towards maturity?

When I first read this passage, I got stuck on the “elementary doctrine of Christ” part.  Was the writer saying the “doctrine of Christ” is elementary?  What is the doctrine of Christ anyway?

Then followed logical next questions.  Aren’t we supposed to move on to meat?  Aren’t we supposed to go on to maturity?  Isn’t our understanding of salvation by Christ’s work on the cross the foundation of our faith–but we’re then supposed to build a house of obedience and bear fruit on top of it?

I think part of the answer appears in how the writer goes on to define the “elementary” parts of the doctrine of Christ; namely: repentance from dead works, faith, washings, laying on of hands, resurrection, and eternal judgment.  And we find that these are not the gospel.

Another part of the answer may be found in the previous chapter.  The writer has just argued that Jesus is greater than Moses and that He is now our Great High Priest.  And he details that Jesus, in being made perfect, became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (5:9) through what he suffered (v. 8).  And then in v. 11, the writer says, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain…”

I think this is where we find our answer. This is the gospel—that Jesus, our Great High Priest, the perfect Son of God, suffered on the cross for our sins, rose from the dead, and became the source of salvation for all who believe.  And there’s much to say about it, because it’s hard to explain.  But it’s also a mine worth exploring because of the vastness of treasure within.

So I would say two things: first, that Jesus is a person, not a doctrine, and we never move on in our faith from the person of Jesus; and second, that we have much to say about this glorious gospel of Jesus and His work on the cross, and as the Lord permits (6:3), we will go on to maturity as we grow in grace and knowledge of Him.

Question:  Have you ever felt like moving on to something else in your faith?

Continue Reading

Fireproof

Published on July 14, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

7

I watched the movie Fireproof last night for the first time.  I know I’m coming late to the party, and as I understand, the movie has its fair share of critics who say Christian art often doesn’t compare in quality to its secular counterpart.  And the movie has its fair share of proponents who say that movies like this stand to redeem art from our evil culture.

Whoever is right is less important to me right now; I’m simply glad the team that made this movie did so.  I found parts of it to be compelling, other parts to be cheesy, and other parts to be a myopic index of standard hot topics for many modern Evangelicals.

But I loved the movie—and here’s why:  the story reminded me, in tear-filled fashion, that Jesus changes lives.  He shines brightly into darkness.  He renders the impossible possible by the power of His Word and His love.  He breaks people, and in doing so, makes them whole.

He heals marriages.
He restores broken relationships.
He releases addicts.
He melts hardened hearts.
He humbles the proud.
He brings purpose to the lost.
He opens the eyes of the blind.

I find it difficult to remember all of this sometimes.  I find it far easier to “move on” from this sort of thing to thinking on weightier theological issues.  I look at our being conformed into Christ-likeness as a forward-looking process, foregoing an awareness of where I have come from, and how Jesus first changed me.

Fireproof reminds each of us of our first love, Jesus, and it awakens within us a sense of gratitude and joy in being changed people.  This is the reminder for which I am grateful.

Having said all this, I don’t know that being changed people is the foundation of our faith.  I’m not even sure it’s end of our relationship with Him—it’s more likely a means towards the end of glorifying Him with all of our beings.

But being changed, and the One who continues to change us, is good to remember, and remember often.

Question:  Have you seen Fireproof, and if so, what were your thoughts?

Continue Reading

O How He Loves Us

Published on July 8, 2010 by CT in Blog, Kindling

6

He is jealous for me;
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
And all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful you are and how great your affections are for me.

We are His portion and He is prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes.
If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way…

That He loves us
Oh, how He loves us
Oh, how He loves us
Oh, how He loves.

It’s easy to forget that God loves us.

Truly,
Deeply,
Joyfully,
Sacrificially,
Infinitely,
Eternally,

He loves us.

Whenever we forget we are so greatly loved, let us gaze at the Son in the humility of the cross, for “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  And let us bend and sink beneath the weight of His grace, delighting in His exaltation above every name, knowing that He is our glorious inheritance forever.  O how He loves us!

Question:  Do you ever forget how beloved you are by God?

*”How He Loves” written by John Mark McMillan, performed by David Crowder Band

Continue Reading

In Order To…

Published on July 6, 2010 by CT in Blog, Theology

1

I write at this blog in order to create a platform to be read more widely.  I want a larger platform in order to provide me with a sense that my life and my work have value.  I want this sense of value in order to satisfy my longing for joy in life.

In short, I write for the wrong reasons.

In God’s Passion For His Glory, John Piper teaches us:

The essence of authentic, corporate worship is the collective experiment of heartfelt satisfaction in the glory of God, or a trembling that we do not have it and a great longing for it…[So] if the essence of worship is satisfaction in God, then worship can’t be a means to anything else.  We simply can’t say to God, ‘I want to be satisfied in you so that I can have something else.’  For that would mean that we are not really satisfied in God but in that something else.  And that would dishonor God, not worship him.

But, in fact, for thousands of people, and for many pastors, the event of ‘worship’ at [church] is conceived of as a means to accomplish something other than worship.  We ‘worship’ to raise money; we ‘worship’ to attract crowds; we ‘worship’ to heal human hearts; to recruit workers; to improve church morale; to give talented musicians an opportunity to fulfill their calling; to teach our children the way of righteousness; to help marriages stay together; to evangelize the lost; to motivate people for service projects; to give our churches a family feeling.

In all this we bear witness that we do not know what true worship is.  Genuine affections for God are an end in themselves.  I cannot say to my wife:  ‘I feel a strong delight in you so that you will make me a nice meal.’  That is not the way delight works.  It terminates on her.  It does not have a nice meal in view.  I cannot say to my son:  ‘I love playing ball with you—so that you will cut the grass.’  If your heart really delights in playing ball with him, that delight cannot be performed as a means to getting him to do something.

I do not deny that authentic corporate worship may have a hundred good effects on the life of the church.  It will, just like true affection in marriage, make everything better.  My point is that to the degree we do ‘worship’ for these reasons, to that degree it ceases to be authentic worship.  Keeping satisfaction in God at the center guards us from that tragedy.

I think Piper is on to something here.  I think the picture he is painting can be seen in Paul’s exhortation to each of us:  “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

May God grant me a heart that desires to write for His glory alone with no subsequent end in view.  And may He give you, or continue to maintain, a heart to do the same for whatever work you do.

Question:  What is your “in order to…”?

Continue Reading

Feeling Dry?

Published on July 2, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

0

Ever feel spiritually dry? Bone dry?  Scorching hot desert heat dry?  I’m not sure I care much about my faith dry?  If you’re a writer, you won’t feel like writing.  If you’re a singer, you won’t feel like singing.  The joy isn’t there.  Neither is the fruit.

I’ve been a Christian long enough to know there are peaks and valleys, days in green pasture and days in the desert.  I also know the automatic solution to being in the desert isn’t always more prayer and more Scripture.  Drawing near to God comes with a promise in Scripture–that God will draw near to us.  But ours is not a push-button faith.

Even so, during these times of dryness, we have a life-giving Savior who invites us in, saying:

Abide in me.

Remain in me.

Keep believing in me.

Keep trusting me.

Keep treasuring me.

So we press on in the desert, thirsty for water that leads to life, knowing that He is close even as He seems far, that this is a season like other that will pass, and that He is worth the longest journey across the largest desert.

Question:  When have you been in a spiritual desert?

Continue Reading

God Is…

Published on June 17, 2010 by CT in Blog, Theology

6

God is…

Sovereign, because all things hold together in Him.

Foremost, because all things exist for Him.

Supreme, because no gods or men compare to Him.

Above all things, because nothing exists apart from Him.

Majestic, because He reigns over all.

Glorious, because He is eminently worth celebrating.

Holy, because there is no impurity in Him.

Merciful, because He delights to forgive.

Just, because He esteems truth.

Personal, because He lives in His redeemed.

Infinite, because He cannot be contained.

Love, because it is the essence of His nature to love.

More than words can say.

Question:  Your turn.  God is…?

Continue Reading

Life Is Really Short

Published on June 9, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

5

I keep having these thoughts that life seems so terribly short.  They come most frequently first thing in the morning, and they are lightning bolt type thoughts—bright, powerful, elusive, and momentary.  I’ve been having these thoughts for several months now, and I realize I don’t yet know how to full put these thoughts into words.  I find them like a dream—vivid in memory and emotion, but hard to articulate clearly.

There’s some connection between these thoughts and my growing realization that this thing we call the Christian faith—a belief system and a way of life for many disciples of Jesus—is actually true.  I know that probably sounds silly, and you may feel that of course it’s true.  But I can’t help but wonder at the knee-bending, breath-taking thought that we have this one life, where we’ll work and live and move and marry and have kids and serve God.  And then life will end, and eternity will begin, and it will never stop.

I’ve felt this way before, and it drove me to a sense of urgency about living out my faith in a radical way.  But living out my faith in a radical way drove wedges in my relationships with others and with God because I willed myself to bear fruit rather than abiding in the Vine who produces fruit that lasts through me.

This time around, I know enough to not fall into the same trap, but I’m likely falling into some new trap I can’t even see.  I’m less anxious now, and less worried about making my mark on the world, even for God’s sake, and I’m more attuned to small joys—all the while becoming more and more aware of my own impermanence.  I suspect there’s a plateau or peak beyond this valley, one where I’ll come to depend on and commune with God in faith in a more tangible way.  But I’m also aware that I’m missing something right now—I just don’t know what.

James reminds us that life is a vapor, and we do well to remember his lesson.  And Jesus reminds us to abide and remain in Him, and we do well to remember His lesson too.  These are lessons the dead and the Living can teach us, and lessons our elders can share with us, because I suspect they have walked into and out of these kinds of valleys before.  That’s why it’s good to read old books, and it’s good to hang out with old people, neither of which I do often enough.

But ultimately, these are lessons my God will teach me if I continue coming to Him in faith.  Perhaps these thoughts are markings of a humbling process, a promise of the gospel, that dying to self will actually lighten my burden, because the yoke of my Master and Friend is easy and light.  May God grant each of us the grace and wisdom to know how to yield to Him in this way.

Question:  Do you have the sense that life is a vapor?  If so, how do you live out of that reality?  If not, how can you embrace this truth?

Continue Reading

Keep Asking Why

Published on June 7, 2010 by CT in Blog, Theology

5

I have started to read The End For Which God Created The World by Jonathan Edwards, and I realize I am in for a difficult read.  But I am also immediately reminded of a behavior we see in children every day that we should seek to emulate:  the constant question of “why?”

I don’t have any children yet (at least one that can talk), but I suspect my daughter and I will have a conversation in a few years which will end with me saying something and her saying, “Why?”  To which I’ll respond with another answer, and she’ll ask, “Why?”  And on and on we will go.

Edwards answers the ultimate “why” question in this book, and he takes a longer road to get there, for which we are all better off.  He begins with a discussion of terms, and one of the terms he uses in his argument is an “ultimate end.”

Edwards describes an ultimate end as follows:

An ultimate end is that which the agent seeks, in what he does, for its own sake; what he loves, values, and takes pleasure in on its own account, and not merely as a means of a further end.  As when a man loves the taste of some particular sort of fruit, and is at pains and cost to obtain it for the sake of the pleasure of that taste which he values upon its own account, as he loves his own pleasure, and not merely for the sake of any other good which he supposes his enjoying that pleasure will be a means of (emphasis added).

If we were to say this another way, we might say:  “An ultimate end is the last and final reason something exists.”  Or to make it more personal:  “Our ultimate end is the last and final reason we exist and do what we do.”  Or to make it more divine:  “God’s ultimate end is the last and final reason He exists and does what what He does.”

These are not simply questions to be addressed by philosophers and theologians; they are questions we must all wrestle with if we are going to go further and deeper into our worship of and service to God.  We are already living out our answers to these questions whether we know it or not, so resolving them Biblically in our minds is the means to living more Biblically.

The key to thinking about an ultimate end is the exploration of why that end exists.  In other words, ultimate ends are done for their own sake and not some other reason.  They are the end of a chain, not the links.  There are no “in order to” or “so that” statements that follow an ultimate end.  They just end.

Each one of us should consider the ends of our own chains, starting with thinking about some aspect of our lives and then asking ourselves the question “why?”  For example:

I have a job.  Why?

In order to provide for my needs and the needs of my family.  Why?

So that our needs will be met.  Why?

So that we can continue to live.  Why?

So that can serve God.  Why?

And so on…

Pick any part of life.  There’s a frog on my porch.  I got married 4 years ago.  I exist.  Jesus died on a cross.  The sun is 93 million miles from earth.  Water exists in three forms.  Ask why.  Keep asking why until all the branches of answers converge into one massive and glorious trunk that reveals a truth that is meant to fill our lives with inexplicable joy.

I suspect I know where Edwards is headed in his exploration of the ultimate “why” question, but before we get there, I wanted to ask you to thoughtfully consider, and weigh in on, the following:

Question:  What is your ultimate end?

Continue Reading

Losing Our Perfect Games

Published on June 4, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

7

If you are a Major League pitcher, you dream about pitching in the World Series, winning the Cy Young, or pitching a perfect game.  That’s the pinnacle of your career.  That’s your ticket to the history books; perhaps even to the Hall of Fame.

If you follow baseball at all, or if you witnessed Detroit radio host Paul Edwards’ near-heart attack on Twitter on Wednesday night, you now know the names Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga.  Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, threw a perfect game this week in front of a home crowd.  The only problem was that Joyce, a 22-year veteran umpire, blew a ninth inning, 2-out call at first base, robbing Galarraga of his place in the history books.

Galarraga reached his pinnacle and had the ground drop out beneath him.  How did he respond?  By shouting (a baseball pastime)?  By pouting (a pro athlete pastime)?  No, he simply smiled.  A smile that said:  “You sure about that?  OK, that’s OK.”

We all have these pinnacles.  Writers may long to be on the New York Times Bestseller’s List.  Pastors may long to build a megachurch or make the national conference circuit.  Businessmen or businesswomen may long for the C-level position.   Bloggers may long for that one web-changing, viral post.  We ply our trades, hoping for the big break that may or may not come, believing that our lives will count for something more if our break does happen.

These pinnacles aren’t good or evil in and of themselves.  But the longing is what proves dangerous.  The longing is the pathway to many snares that keep us from keeping God at the center of our lives.

Through this weekend, you’ll hear media members use words like “grace” to describe Galarraga’s response to a bum deal.  And he was gracious in his reaction; he went back to the mound and got the next batter out, headed to the locker room without a complaint, and acknowledged to reporters that people make mistakes sometimes.

We could argue whether or not this is actually grace.  But grace isn’t what struck me in this instance.  The picture I’ll remember from that night in Detroit is a look on a man’s face that said the pinnacle was a mirage.

I don’t know Galarraga or his motivations, so I won’t put words in his mouth or ideas in his head.  But I will take the steadfastness of his countenance and hold it up as an emblem of contentment in the midst of great disappointment, and say this is an image we should cultivate in our spirits.  This kind of contentment believes that life is a vapor, that we are to be anxious about nothing because our Father owns everything, and that our God is sovereign over the levity of abundance and the thickness of grief in our lives.

What happens when the transmission falls out of our car on the highway and our checking account is floating just north of zero?  What happens when we don’t get the promotion we thought we needed or the job we thought we deserved?  What happens when our dreams for our lives don’t actually come true?

Do we shout at God in prayer? Do we spiritually pout in our own subtle ways?  Do we ponder what could have been, or what may be, rather than living out of the reality of the gospel in the midst of our daily lives?

May we all lose our perfect games and find that they were a mirage in the first place.  May we look at the greatest success we can imagine on earth and count it loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus.  And may we lay our greatest hopes and dreams at the feet of the cross, gazing upon the steadfast countenance of our risen Savior, and join the psalmist in saying, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25).  It is then we lose our perfect game and gain our greatest treasure.

Question:  What is your own version of the perfect game in your life?

Continue Reading