I have a hard time trusting people. This is not new; I think I have been this way for a long time. But it’s new to me, because I’ve just realized it. If I meet someone at the office, or on the street, or at church, or in my neighborhood, and I’m not sure what they want from me, then I’m holding back. They’re not getting all of me—at least not until I know what role I’m supposed to be playing in this relationship.
I should clarify. I have a hard time trusting people that I’m not sure I can trust. Which means that I can trust, sometimes fiercely, those who have proven to be faithful and trustworthy. But if the track record isn’t there, I’m hesitant to let go of my heart.
I spoke with Renee Johnson, the Devotional Diva, this morning, and we got to talking about God’s faithfulness in our lives in terms of His provision. She brought up the idea of a little kid asking his parents each day if they were going to feed him tomorrow. She said the parents would surely say: “Yeah…and duh.” I love it; of course any child should trust his parents, but then the same could be said of us.
The trouble with not trusting others is that I find myself struggling to trust God as well. That doesn’t mean that in order to trust God, we must first trust others. But it does mean that a foundational, deep, abiding trust in God will free us to trust others more readily. Paul said this succinctly in saying, “If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).
We all struggle to trust God. Renee wrote about the same topic today, and it’s an issue I’ve been facing for the 4 months since I lost my job. But we’re both finding that God is faithful to provide for us in soul-satisfying, heart-leaping kinds of ways.
Jesus says “yeah…and duh” in this way: “Your heavenly Father knows you need [all these things]. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). He implies trusting God here, basically telling us not to worry about the small stuff—what we’re going to wear, how we’re going to eat.
He could have simply restated Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean in your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” But He makes God’s faithfulness even more explicit, and He makes our response even more pressing. Trust in the Lord because He know you need these things. And aknowledge Him by seeking first the kingdom of God.
So when we find ourselves struggling to trust God, we should preach to ourselves this truth: Trust Him. He is good. He is faithful. He knows what we need. And He will take care of me. But without taking away from this truth, we should add to it by saying: And seek first His righteousness!
Abide in Him.
Search out His word.
Search out His heart, and your heart, in prayer.
And for me, understanding my role is as His beloved, as His child, as a temple for His Spirit, as an inheritor with Christ of all things, makes me far more able to trust God. Not simply because I know who I am in Him, but because of who is He is for me. So now God is getting all of me—because He is trustworthy.
So let us say with David: “Those who know your name put their truth in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 8:10). And let us put our faith in a God who knows our every need—and is pleased to give us all things!
Question: Do you have a hard time trusting people—and trusting God?
Imaginary is always better than real, right?
For example, our family recently went on the public tour of the White House. I have seen this building for years in pictures and from afar in person, and I have imagined it as a house that is grander, more romantic, and altogether different from any other.
Given its history and proximity to power, it is different from other homes. But I noticed the paint strokes on the trim, and a creak in the floors, and the fact that the insides aren’t quite as big as I thought. So in that sense, it’s not that different at all.
Or the time my friends and I went to a taping of Price Is Right. We were all in the Air Force, so we wore our dress uniforms, knowing that one of us would be picked as a contestant (and our friend Brooke went on to win the Cliffhanger game). I had seen the show on TV and imagined the studio as a cavernous space, but in reality, it was like being in a small community theater.
Perhaps this is why we love fantasy worlds like Narnia or Hogwarts so much—there’s a bit more luster to an imaginary world. And this yearning tells us something about ourselves. CS Lewis hints at this reality: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
In my own life, reality often leads to disappointment. What I mean is that I have certain expectations or hopes or dreams that often run headlong into the wall of reality. When my satisfaction is tied to those expectations, and they don’t play out, then I find myself frustrated, discouraged, and wondering why I am still unfulfilled.
But there’s One who does not lead to disappointment. In His “presence there is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). At His back is a trail of blinding glory. His Son is the lamp that gives eternal light to the holy city, New Jerusalem.
And here’s the thing about God: the reality is infinitely greater than the imagined. So let’s delight in Him and His promises and look forward with eager longing for the day we can bask in the glory of His presence. And let’s allow the reality that His reality is far greater that our imaginations to spur us on in faith to love Him more fully today.
Question: When have you found the reality of a place or situation to be a shadow of what you’d imagined?
A few weeks ago, I spoke to our men’s group at church about my testimony in the area of stewardship. I talked about how I was raised in a family that taught Biblical principles of handling money—and how I saw stewardship as an end rather than a means for many years.
I spoke the next week on the top 10 things we can do to treasure Jesus more fully when it comes to handling money. There were 12 items on the list. Here’s the summary:
- Study the Bible for ourselves to see what God has to say about money.
- Make the connection between the gospel and our use of money (see 2 Cor 8:9, Phil 2:7-11).
- Make a budget…to the glory of God.
- Never make an emotional financial decision (see Luke 14:28-30).
- Limit, or eliminate, our exposure to debt (see Deut 28:1, 12-13, 15, 44, Prov 22:7, Rom 13:8).
- Learn, with Paul, to be content (see Phil 4:11-13).
- Work to the glory of God, and understand it is the Lord who prospers (see 1 Cor 10:31, Col 3:23-24, Gen 13:1-12).
- Teach our children to be good stewards (Prov 22:6).
- Give generously.
- Give wisely (see 2 Thess 3:10, Mt 5:42, 1 Tim 5:8, 1 John 3:17-18, 1 Tim 5:17-18, Lev 19:9-10).
- Be courageous when you encounter God’s teaching (see Ezra 7:10, 8:21-23).
- Use your money to make God look glorious (see 1 John 2:16, Mt 6:28-30, 33).
For the details, you can listen here.
Question: With a new year approaching, what can you do with regards to money to treasure Jesus more fully?
I recently heard two people say this: “I don’t get along with _____ because I don’t agree with him.” You might find this to be entirely natural, and I can say there is a part of me that understands this well because I’ve thought it myself. But just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good.
We might think that the basis for a friendship or a relationship of some kind should rest upon common experiences or common beliefs. And to some degree, this is true. We do tend to gather with others who are like-minded, which is how we get clusters of people in a religion, or a club, or a denomination,
There is something deep within us that brings us close to one another, and this same something gives rise to our greatest conflicts. This something is our system of beliefs—beliefs about life, and God, and morality. If none of us believed anything, then we’d probably get along more easily. It’s the differences that separate us.
This brings us to the question I’d like for us to consider: How, and when, should we get along?
At times, I’ve wondered why God didn’t make belief, and subsequently the getting along, easier on us. The simplest model to govern a belief is one with a strong, central authority. When a belief system can be controlled from the top, then internal alignment will naturally ensue. This is the model for any number of cults today.
However, the Bible doesn’t set up the church in a command-and-control kind of structure, where leaders of the church act as the arbiters for belief. Instead, the Scriptures make priests out of all believers, give leaders to shepherd and train and guide those believers, and set Jesus as king over all of us. In structural terms, the church becomes flat.
The trouble with this, if you want to call it trouble at all, is that flatness leads to diversity. If I get to read the Bible and tell you what it means, then we’re likely going to agree with one another because you don’t know any better. But if you and I can both read the same Bible, and we can come up with different perspectives, then we’re going to be at odds on some things.
I don’t mean to make this an ecumenical or interfaith call. Protestants disagree with Catholics on the nature of justification. Christians disagree with Muslims on the nature of Jesus. Monotheists disagree with polytheists on the nature of God. And theists disagree with atheists on the existence of God.
These differences are important, because they mean something vital. If there is a God, and our sin separates us from Him, and this life is but a vapor, and there’s a way, but only one way, to be made right with Him, and He divides the world into those whom He is for and those whom He is against, then it’s vital that we know specifics about this God. And it’s vital that we agree on these things.
But beyond these vital differences, the solid blacks and whites begin to gray to varying degrees. There are other beliefs to die for, but they are smaller in number than we might believe. There are others to debate over, but again, they are probably smaller in number than we might think. And there are still others to forebear, which are probably far greater in number than we would like to admit.
God knows this. He saw fit in His infinite wisdom to make it so. By giving us a book and sending us His Spirit and commissioning His people to carry out His commandments, He is running the risk that we’re going to botch some things and fight a bit more than we should. Which brings us back to our question: How, and when, should we get along?
Paul gives us some help here: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Much can be said, but for the sake of this discussion, we can just say that the call to unity is predicated on the calling of God. God calls us to be His own, and as His people, He commands us to eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit. It’s interesting to see the how that follows the what of this command.
Bear one another in love.
By these actions, we are to maintain unity with one another. If we disagree with an enemy, Jesus tells us to love them and pray for them. If we disagree with a brother or sister in Christ, the Spirit tells us to maintain unity with them in the bond of peace.
So when we’re tempted to say we don’t get along with someone because we disagree, it’s probably more accurate to say: I don’t get along with him because I’m prideful; or I don’t get along with her because I’m not willing to love her.
Instead, let us be the kind of people who are humble, gentle, patient, and willing to bear with one another in love.
Question: Why is it hard to maintain peace with someone with whom we disagree?
No other book, besides the Bible, has had a greater impact on my theology, faith, and life than Desiring God by John Piper. Which is why I wrote the following essay for a book called Besides the Bible: 100 Books That Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture, which my friend Jordan co-authored.
Besides the Bible is a collection of essays from authors, bloggers, and filmmakers on the books they feel every Christian should read. As the book states, you may not agree with every selection, but it may reignite your passion for reading.
Here is the essay, courtesy of Besides the Bible and its publisher, Biblica:
There is a way to think about God that is like rafting the Colorado along the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The canyon’s interior seems close, while the river plays gently in spots, churning in others. The immediacy of the surrounding world narrows perspective, as sightlines are crowded by walls and eyes drawn to the peculiarities of the landscape. Life is spent busily navigating down the river, all with only a faint awareness of the greater beauty just beyond reach.
There is another way to think about God that is like standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Still air and awe fill this view. Awareness of self fades into the silent blue hues that bathe the plateaus at dusk. Time slows and perspectives enlarge. One feels small at the edge, but immensely grateful.
I have spent most of my spiritual life at the bottom of the canyon. I had heard of the canyon’s greatness, and I suspected there was more truth and beauty in the world than I could see. But the abundance of my thoughts and actions came in navigating and traversing and peeking at this greater beauty rather than beholding it.
Reading Desiring God by John Piper brought me breathlessly close to the edge of the canyon for the first time in my life. The God of John Piper, C. S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Augustine, the apostle Paul, and hundreds of thousands of other saints, was a different God than mine—beautiful, terrifying, grand, intimate, passion-filled, full of grace and wrath, and eminently glorious. The sight of this God was stunning and soul stirring.
But standing at the edge is meant to give us perspective so we can better maintain a place to live. This is where Piper shines—translating grand thoughts about God into our own spheres of living. He brings us to the canyon’s edge, telling us to come here often, but he tells us that we must step down into the canyon as well.
Piper begins this work by developing a case for Christian Hedonism, defining the term as a philosophy of life built upon five convictions. In summary, these convictions state that all humans long for happiness and pleasure, and that this impulse should be nurtured, not suppressed, toward finding our greatest happiness in God, with love being an outpouring from this place of joy. He goes on to apply this concept to various aspects of our faith, including worship, Scripture, love, prayer, mission, marriage, and money, all with an orientation toward how the Christian Hedonist should view or express faith in each of these various facets.
Piper’s core statement of Christian Hedonism, that “the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever,” and its corollary, that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” saturate every word in Desiring God. The book’s theology is God centered and Christ exalting. Or to say it another way, its bias is theocentric rather than anthropocentric. Accordingly, Piper takes aim at the notion we are at the center of God’s affections, that God’s design is ultimately to redeem the world and save sinners, rather than saying God’s redemptive purposes are toward a greater end: the enjoyment he has in glorifying himself. So Piper says, “The bedrock foundation of Christian Hedonism is not God’s allegiance to us, but to Himself.”
These thoughts may sound strange to the postmodern, Western ear, and Desiring God has its share of critics. Proponents of a more liberal theology find the conservative undertones of this book to be too restrictive in our understanding of God. Others suggest Piper reads a staunchly Calvinistic theological bias into his source texts; after all, Christian Hedonism isn’t a framework explicitly taught in Scripture.
But Piper is an expository preacher, and he’s also an expository writer. The best way to read this book is with a Bible in the other hand; otherwise, the reader will fail to invite divine truth from God to shine on these statements of truth about God.
Ultimately, Desiring God is most appealing because it allows for deep thoughts about God to share space with deep affections for God, and it taps into a desire within each of us to search out the satisfaction for our soul’s deepest longings. Read Desiring God to learn why dour Calvinists miss the heart of their theology and why happy Calvinists are so enamored with the sovereignty and glory of God. Or read it because you find a deep longing in your own soul to behold and treasure God above all else and because you need a guide down into the canyon.
Question: Have you read Desiring God, and if so, what were your thoughts?
Have you ever read a passage in the Bible a hundred times and realize you missed half the point? This happened to me, again, this morning. I’ve read and quoted Philippians 4:11-13 hundreds of times in my life. Here’s the passage if you’re not immediately familiar with it:
“…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”
I’ve always focused on two things in this passage. First, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Second, we should be content when we’re in need—particularly since Paul wrote this passage from prison.
And that was it. Basically I thought that poor people should learn to be content. If I were to lose my job, I should be content. If I were to end up in jail, I should be content. All because Christ would give me the strength to be content.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may know I have struggled a bit with the blessings (or prosperity) I see in my own life. I’ve so often equated spirituality with poverty—or spirituality with having wealth and sacrificing it to become poor. And I intellectually know that’s not the case, that God calls us all to be generous and only some to give all they have, but the struggle has remained in my heart.
But this morning, God showed me in this passage that contentment doesn’t relate to possessions. Contentment relates to a heart attitude in spite of possessions, or in spite of a lack of possessions. Pastor Mike said it this way: “Contentment is the desire for nothing [more].” It’s holding something, or nothing, in an open hand, and being satisfied with that.
Paul says something important for me, and maybe for you as well. He says he has learned to be content—in any situation. So if you’re wealthy, and we basically all are in the US, then we must learn to be content. And if we find ourselves without, we must learn to be content.
I know God is the one who helps us learn. And I know that we should strive for contentment, just as we work our salvation, all the while knowing it is God who is at work in us. And I know that contentment, at its core, is a heart attitude relating to our ability to be satisfied with our circumstances. But above all, being content is about what Christ does for us, and in us.
I can abound because Christ gives me strength. I can do without because Christ gives me strength. Either way, it is my weakness, in both blessing and loss, that needs the strength of Christ.
Question: In what areas do you find it hard to be content?
Here are the hardest two-and-a-half words for me to say: “I’m sorry.” Well, that’s not entirely true. I say “I’m sorry” quickly. But I find it hard to say “I’m sorry” and actually mean it.
I suspect this struggle is a common one; you may find recognizing and owning up to your own sin, humbling yourself to someone else, and verbalizing it to them to be one of the hardest things to do in life. It’s just so much easier to blame someone else, or to ignore the conflict altogether, or to come up with reasons that explain our behavior, than it is to look someone in the eyes, admit we were wrong, and ask their forgiveness.
I’ve found there are three ways to begin an apology:
- I’m sorry we…
- I’m sorry you…
- I’m sorry I…
I’ve also found that two of these don’t seem to work. Two of these are ways to say you are sorry without really saying you are sorry. Or, to be more accurate, to say you are sorry while still justifying yourself.
Here we find the great temptation: self-justification. It may show up as pride or self-righteousness, but when we seek to justify ourselves, what we are really doing is entirely natural. We’re thinking and feeling and living the way that people who are aware, whether we admit it or not, that we don’t measure up. Measuring up to what, or to whom, is the question.
This is why the gospel is so unnatural—and so needed. In the gospel, God justifies us because of Jesus, not because of what we do for Him. Without the gospel, we try to justify ourselves because of what we do, not because of what Jesus did for us.
So the next time we find ourselves in a conflict or a broken relationship, and we’re tempted to do what comes natural, to justify our actions in our own minds, let us remember the gospel. Let us remember that our broken relationships with each other echo the more pressing breach in our relationship with God. And let us remember that recognizing our own sin, and owning up to it in front of another, and seeking and receiving forgiveness, is a testimony to others of the glories of the gospel.
Question: Do you find it hard to apologize?
Four weeks have passed since I last wrote. I suppose that is what new babies can sometimes do. Here is what I have been learning since we last connected.
- Newborn babies are very small.
- Instant, God-like love doesn’t come to all new parents immediately; some need to fall in love with their kids.
- God is sovereign, even over cranky nurses.
- God-centered, strong relationships with family are a great blessing.
- Life challenges theology, and theology informs life.
- Cedar roots are softer than the trunk.
- There is wisdom in not changing a diaper too quickly.
- God will hound us in love until we relent.
- In the tension of our understanding of God that may seem to be at odds at times stretches the truth worth grasping.
- “When it comes to satisfying our spiritual appetites, there is no such thing as excess” (Storms).
- Language that helps today’s generation treasure Christ most deeply is of primary concern in a writing ministry.
- I suppose gazing into the face of Christ is the only joy greater than gazing into the face of a newborn daughter.
- I will read the Bible and pray over and sing to Avery years before she can understand me, so that somehow, God’s word will become the most natural thing to her.
- Moms should be revered as having one of life’s most noble roles.
- Meditation is not the emptying of the mind; it is the filling of the mind with thoughts of God.
- The prospect of yielding myself completely to God is both terrifying and appealing.
- My wife is a nurturing, caring, thoughtful, persistent, joy-filled, loving mom.
- Car seats are harder to figure out than they should be.
- I tend to think God changes me too quickly and others too slowly.
- God knows better than we do in how to deal with our kids’ sin.
- I’m not convinced that God’s foreknowledge invalidates the validity of his emotional responses to man’s sin.
- God’s word is truth, not simply true, because what God thinks and says defines what is truth, because His own nature defines truth.
- God’s word discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12) so that we might recognize we are exposed to Him (v.13) and so that we will see our need for His mercy (v. 16).
- It takes a tender heart to give and to serve; it perhaps requires an even more tender to heart to receive and be served.
- God is good, faithful, patient, loving, merciful, wise, and completely in control.
Question: What have you been learning recently?
At this past weekend’s Desiring God National Conference, Sam Storms and Justin Taylor introduced a book that was written in secret, in honor of a man, as a means to proclaim the fame of God’s name. This book, For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, was well conceived and well received, as would be fitting for a man and a community of people who are enraptured by the supremacy of God in all things and the fame of His glorious name among the nations.
This book will age like a fine painting, one that rivets the eyes as it honors the beauty of the subject, but one with such a glory that the spirit is lifted up towards reflection upon Higher Things. And I suspect Piper would have it no other way. It is undoubtedly the providence of God that delivered a book of honor during a time of well-publicized sabbatical in the public ministry of a man who is battling pride, the kind of pride that festers at the feet of a world renowned minister intent on proclaiming the glory and fame of God’s name. What tension must Piper feel in the affirmation of his identity as a man, and a pastor, and a writer, in balance with his desire to see the name of God magnified in all of his life, and at war with the self-glorifying pride that plagues his own heart.
I don’t know what John Piper thought and felt as he looked at the book’s cover, and felt its weight, and glanced through the contents, and smelled the pages. I suspect he felt a deep sense of humility, and gratitude, and love, and most importantly, a soul-deep longing to glorify and honor his beloved God and Savior. Whatever he might have felt is not our concern so much as what each of us may feel as we imagine ourselves in his place.
Many of us are pastors, or authors, or bloggers, or businessmen and women, or stay-at-home moms, or a thousand other kinds of ministers of the gospel in all areas of life. And despite the diversity of our ministries, we likely all share something in common to some degree: the desire to make ourselves look glorious. I don’t say this lightly, or flippantly, and I don’t mean to assume too much about you. But I know my own heart, and this desire is present down deep. If the chief end of man is to glorify God, then the chief sin of man is to glorify self. So I suspect we all might war against this common enemy.
To preach or to write or to sing or to paint in order to magnify the name of Jesus is to do dangerous work. Standing on a stage, or seeing your name on the cover of a book, or hearing the poetry of your heart sung on the radio, or gathering with friends at a gallery of your work, is an invitation to dine with all manner of pride. We may feast on the respect we feel we have achieved, or get drunk on the adoration of others. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
There is a justifying grace that frees us from our compulsion to sin and glorify self. “Sin will have no dominion over [us], since [we] are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). And there is a sanctifying grace that is given to the humble (1 Peter 5:5), a grace that restores us, and confirms us, and strengthens us, and establishes us in the eternal glory of Christ (1 Peter 5:10). This kind of grace enables us to make much of God instead of making much of ourselves.
This brings us back to the conference stage this past weekend. What would we feel if the name on the book was ours? Would we feel our life’s work finally had merit? Would we rest in the promise of a distinguished legacy? Would we revel in the idea that we had achieved status with the greats of Christian history?
Perhaps we would feel these kinds of things, and we would also feel a longing to reflect this praise back to God. Perhaps we would also feel a sense of exposure, that our false humility that we didn’t even know was false had been laid bare at the feet of a deeper, truer humility. Undoubtedly, we would sense a mixture of emotions, a warring between the desires of our flesh and the longings of our spirit, and God willing, a deepening conviction to see the name of Christ magnified at any cost.
All of this is the scenic route of getting to this question: do I care more about the fame of my name or the fame of God’s name? I confess that far too much of my own ministry is aimed towards increasing the fame of my name. I find it clings to me like mud, and I try to shake it off as I run towards God, but I am tainted with its smell and its presence. My sin runs deep, but God is deeper still, and I sense a profound desire to orient more and more of my being and my work around the gospel, the person of Jesus. In this desire, I pray God’s Spirit will continue His cleansing work in my life and ministry.
As we reflect on this question, whether we care most about the fame of our name or God’s, we should acknowledge that a man like John Piper should be honored. And a pastor like you, or a writer like you, or a colleague like you, should be honored as well, insofar as you have labored in the work of Christ. The ministry of the gospel to parishioners and readers and co-workers is noble, and our souls are deeply satisfied in the expression of our God-given gifts, so the feelings of joy and affirmation we might have are not our foes. We corrupt the gift not when we receive the praise, but when we rest in it without seeing it ultimately as the praise of God.
So let us join with Paul, who “decided to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Let us join with John Piper as he seeks to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. And let us follow with the wholeness of our heart, and mind, and spirit, the crucified Son of God, who humbled Himself, and is now exalted with a name that is above every other name, so that the fame of His name would bring every knee to earth, and that God would be glorified.
Question: Whose fame do you seek?
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.
- 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.
- Intellectually understanding the line of rooms is different than actually walking through them with heart in tow.
- Some rooms exist in order to be explored and then vacated.
- Many others have been through these doors and in these rooms; we do well to listen to their stories.
- 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.”
- We walk in vain when we don’t walk with the Spirit through these rooms.
- 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?
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?
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?
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?
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?