Friday, December 17, 2010

Unto What?

“Unto what?” is a question that is changing my current outlook on God and others.   I was recently asked the “unto what” question by a friend who was seeking to deepen my understanding of what Jesus has saved us TO instead of primarily focusing on what Jesus has saved us FROM. 

As a good evangelical Christian, I am very aware of the FROM side: we are deeply flawed people who fail to live righteously and are therefore in need of a Savior to save us from our sin and its punishment.   I’ve got that part of the story nailed down pretty well.  What I am coming realize is that I get so focused on the sin that Jesus saves us from and the means by which Jesus saves us, that I rarely get to the end for which He saved us.  The result of living focused on the FROM side of the Gospel is chronic frustration and disappointment with myself and others.  I’m always on the lookout for what we need to be saved from.  This makes it really difficult to love well (God, others and myself).  In truth, despite believing the Gospel, I can live more like a Pharisee than Jesus, when I only focus on the FROM side of the Gospel.

Hence the question – “unto what?”  Unto what has Jesus saved us?  The answer to this question is rending and mending my heart at the same time.  We are saved unto a life of love and blessing in God’s family.  “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.  This is what he wanted to do and it gave him great pleasure.  Ephesians 1:5 

You may know that Jesus saved you unto a life of love and blessing in God’s family, but let that fact descend to your hearts through the story of the Prodigal Father in Luke 15.

God is the prodigal (lavish) father who doesn’t just save his son FROM his wickedness, but UNTO a life of love and blessedness in his home.  After the son realized the error of his ways and returned home, the Father wouldn’t even hear the son’s groveling but identified him as his son by placing His ring on his finger, blessed him richly by clothing Him with His robe, and threw a huge party to let His son know how happy He was to have him home.  This is the heart of God toward us!  Because of Jesus, God no longer looks on our sin and brings condemnation.  He now identifies us as His sons and daughters.  He clothes us in Jesus’ righteousness.  He invites us into His banquet hall where we feast with His community of love.  Wow!  The heart of God is wonderfully good.

As my hearts swells with the love that the Father has saved me unto, I find my heart also enlarging toward others.  It’s hard to love on and delight in others when I am only focused on what Jesus has saved us from - my sin, their sin.  But when I realize the love and blessing that I am saved unto, I find that I delight in people despite their shortcomings.  The love that God saves us unto is also the power that changes our hearts.  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Monday morning angst and adoration.

Life has just felt hard lately.  There are a lot of situations around me that I can’t change or fix and this has been taking a toll on me.  I find myself more prone to anxiety and frustration.  I keep thinking back to life a couple years ago when life seemed a little easier (My memory is probably overly optimistic – but nonetheless, life genuinely seems like it was easier a couple years ago). 

This past Monday morning, I started telling God all the situations I was frustrated about and how I was also frustrated that He didn’t seem to be fixing them.  As I poured out my complaint to God, He brought to mind the memory of an even darker day of life from my teen years and how He met me in it.  I was reminded of the day my family buried my sister.  After the burial, my Dad, Mom, 2 sisters and I were grieving together and comforting one another in the kitchen while listening to music.  The song “I Exalt Thee” began playing and something within me snapped – in a good way.  I remember my heart feeling set right and at peace by praising God even though my world was in turmoil. 

Tim Keller writes in his study guide on Prayer about the transformative power found in simply praising God:

When sensations of God’s beauty fill you with joy, the confidence that flows out does not consist in some certainty that somehow God will not let anything bad occur.  Rather, you become so full of joy in God, and so aware that neither death nor life, neither defeat nor victory, will break your relationship with him – that the circumstances of this life cease to bother you….The primary mark of real Christian experience is that you come to love God for the shining, satisfying magnificence of who he is himself, and not how he benefits you.  To religious people, God is useful.  To Christians, God is beautiful.”

I find that I must constantly remind myself that life is about glorifying and enjoying God forever.  I fight against the current of reality when I seek to manipulate God into arranging my life as I would like.  But when I pursue God for who He is regardless of my circumstances, I find a rightness, a joy, and a peace that surpass all understanding.  I’m so thankful God reminded me of that truth again and drew me to Himself in praise this past Monday. 

“Why am I so discouraged?  Why is my heart so sad?  I will put my hope in God!  I will praise Him again – my Savior and my God!”  Psalm 42:11

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Angry Man OR: Our Identity As Sons & Daughters of God

POSTED BY Jason Gray from The Rabbit Room

My new single, “I Am New”, was released to radio last week, and I find myself thinking about our sense of identity and it’s consequences…
Today I sat by an angry man. I was in seat 7C on a small commuter flight to Chicago, and I could feel his anger the moment he came to my row to take his place in seat 7D. Though I got up, smiled as I made room for him to take his seat, this man only glowered as he took his place and, leaving his sunglasses on, turned to the side to apparently go to sleep.
No problem, I thought, all the better for me to get some work done.
He was an older man – maybe early 60’s – dressed in casual business style with black pants, nice though non-descript black shoes, and a powder blue button up shirt. He was tan and fit with well-groomed, spikey white hair. He looked like a confident and powerful man in the world of business, and yet he was wound pretty tight.
Once we were airborne, I got out my computer and went to work on some writing I needed to get done, quickly getting lost in it - so lost, in fact, that an hour later I didn’t hear the lone flight attendant of our small plane ask us to put away our electronic devices. Not only that, but I didn’t even hear the man in 7D talking to me at first, until his words reached some distant region in my brain, and, shaking off a focus induced kind of stupor, I looked at him and said, “oh… uh, I’m sorry… are you talking to me?”
The first thing I noticed was that he had finally taken his sunglasses off and that he was glaring at me with cold, blue, and watery eyes. His face was flushed, his blood was obviously up, and he was actually cursing me with a string of profanities – both adjectives and nouns.
I quickly tried to get my bearings and figure out what I had done wrong and realized that he was unhappy that I was on my computer. It was then that I discovered how close we were to landing and that I must have missed the announcement to turn off and stow all electronic devices! Had she really asked and I didn’t hear it? My first reaction was subconsciously defensive: I quickly looked around me to see if other people were still on their computers or listening to their iPods, etc.
Shoot! She must have announced it - no electronics in sight.“Oh man, I’m so sorry…” I started to say and immediately closed my laptop to stow it under my seat, though I doubt he heard me because he was clearly on a roll. He was taking my oversight personally and he intended to shame me with a verbal whipping.
Having closed my laptop and stowed it under my seat, I was surprised to find that this infuriated the man even more as he kicked the intensity of his tirade up a notch. People started looking at us - including the flight attendant – and once again I felt like I was at a loss, looking around trying to take stock of the situation, desperately wanting to figure out what I was doing wrong. I genuinely wanted to make things right.
“That (insert colorful adjective followed by colorful noun here) isn’t cool. They said to power it off! Power that (colorful… adjective maybe?) thing off! I don’t appreciate (colorful pronoun, plural) like you endangering my life.”
Oh… okay… it’s coming to me now. He’s upset that I onlyclosed my laptop, putting it in sleep mode. Which puts me in a complicated position. What should I do? Take it out again? He must not realize how long it will take to power my computer down… We’d be on the ground by the time I did all that.Besides, I can’t really power it down, because…
“I’m sorry sir, I have information I need for my layover that I won’t be able to retrieve if I power down,” I tried to explain to him. You see, my itinerary was on a webpage that I had to leave open on my desktop. Without wi-fi at the airport, I wouldn’t have any of the info I needed for the rest of my trip. But as I tried to explain myself, it was clear that he was not interested in my story. He was angry and seemed invigorated to have found a place to spend his wrath.
Technically he was right – I guess I could have tried earlier that day to save the web page as a document so I could power down as would be requested of me, but doing all that at 5:30 that morning was low on my priority list, partly for this reason:
A couple of years ago I asked the flight attendant why we’re always asked to turn everything off at take off and landing – “does it really interfere with the cockpit instruments?” I asked, trying to reconcile the logic of their request with the fact that my iPod doesn’t have transmission capabilities.
“No, not at all. It’s more because If anything is going to go wrong on a flight, it is most likely to happen during take off or landing and it’s just a precaution we take in order to have everyone’s attention, so they aren’t tuned out with their iPods during the critical moments of our flight.”
Ah, the truth at last! God bless you, Mrs. Flight Attendant, for your truth telling! How many times had I heard the company line that my iPod might interfere with the cockpit instruments?! Oh the little lies we are told to invoke fear and force our compliance! It was obviously an illogical assertion and I was grateful for her honesty. From then on out, I have interpreted “please turn off all electronic devices” as them saying, “please give me your attention during this part of your flight, we want you to be alert and ready if anything should happen.” And ever since, I’ve been happy to give them my attention.
Now skip ahead a couple years to my current predicament. My first thought is that I’m surprised that a man of his age and education is still buying this old lie about cockpit interference.I feel my adrenaline start to rise as my fight or flight instinct is triggered and I have to decide how I should respond. Part of me feels genuine regret. Lost in my own thoughts, I simply didn’t hear the flight attendant’s direction. And in this man’s defense, I can imagine how it might have looked like I was brazenly ignoring the rules. Maybe he assumed I’m one of those people who feels entitled to do whatever they please, or that I’m a disrespectful punk who cavalierly ignores safety procedures. I genuinely wished to apologize – if he would’ve let me – for my ignorant disrespect that was offensive to him. He was right after all, I should have stowed my computer.
And technically, yes – they do ask us to power down our electronic devices. But for the reasons I mentioned above, I just hadn’t prepared for this, nor could I get it done before landing even if I had. And since I know that the real objective is our undivided attention, I knew that strict compliance to the rule, at this point, defeated the purpose of the rule.
But then another part of me was aware of the fact that this man obviously had anger issues. Is he a father I wondered? Does he shame his children like he’s shaming me? Do I fight back? I’m good with words, they are my specialty - I think I could have outgunned him… My anger was welling up in me, eager to come to my rescue. Ah… and yet I know that’s not the right thing to do. But what should I do? As I weighed what the proper Christ like response would be, I began to suspect that the inner drama within me mattered more than the outer drama, and so I turned my attention there.
Last week I was at a retreat where author John Sheasby told us of our Heavenly Father’s love for us, his children, and how so much of our heartache and trouble comes from our misunderstanding of our identity in Christ. The story of the prodigal son is the story of us all, John said. There is the son who ran away because of his self-hatred and the one who stayed because of his self-righteousness and neither of them knew their father’s heart nor their place in it.
The thoughts and insights John shared are worthy of their own post, and I hope to share his beautiful insights here soon. But suffice it to say that their effect on my heart was profound. He proposed that most if not all of us only know how to come to God as a servant, and so lurking in our minds and hearts is the servant identity – the identity of one who desperately and dutifully wants to please their Master, our value tied up in what we do rather than who we are.
Think of the scene of the prodigal son returning home. In Luke 15 it says that, “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father…”
Even in the moment of repentance this son reveals his servant mindset: he thinks of returning as a hired man! He thinks to repent for what he’s done when in fact the real sin is that he forgot who he was! And so he prepares his speech – the repentant speech of a servant – but barely gets a word out when his father runs to him and says, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate!”
The father will not hear of the speech – it’s irrelevant because of course the boy is not a servant, he is a son. John Sheasby would propose that it was a case of mistaken identity all along and that it was the son’s perception of who he was that drove him to run away in the first place.
I’m a people pleaser, full of shame and self-loathing, with an identity firmly rooted in the servant’s mindset. If I am living victoriously over my various vices then I’m at peace, confident of God’s love for me. But if I’ve sinned in any way, then I’m plagued with shame and doubt. I feel God’s pleasure to the degree that I feel like I’ve gotten passing grades on my righteousness report card (a grade, by the way, that I give myself). And so I’m often tempted to feel like I can never do enough to please my heavenly Father, afraid that I fail him too often. Because of this, I rarely feel like I can do or be enough for others either!
You see, this is how it works for all of us: our relationship with Father God colors our every other relationship. In my case, my servant mindset sets me up to succumb to shame pretty easily.I don’t know who I am, and therefore I don’t know where I stand, and that’s why I desperately want the approval of others. And when I don’t get it, I get defensive, and defensiveness, of course, is the posture of a servant who has to constantly prove himself.
But sons and daughters don’t have to prove themselves – because there’s nothing to prove! Their identity rests in who their Father is! I’m trying to learn what this means and I find myself as defenseless as the prodigal son, my servant speech silenced as my Father embraces me.
These were my thoughts as I sat next to this angry man in seat 7D, fighting my desire to fight fire with fire and trying to restrain my usual instincts of shame and defensiveness (wanting to prove to him that it was an honest mistake, and that really, I’m a pretty great guy if he could get to know me. Please like me! Pretty please?).
And then I finally remembered who I was.
I am a son of the Most High God, an heir according to His promise. I am chosen, holy, without blemish and free from accusation. I am no longer a servant, and my Father celebrates me. He knows my name and has carved it in the palm of His hand.
I made a mistake, I did – I should have been paying more attention to the flight attendant and stowed my computer.Heck, maybe I should have even powered it down. But my Father knows my heart, he knows I never meant disrespect or harm. He knows I desire to do the right thing, even when I miss opportunities to do so. He loves me as a son and is daily setting me free from the shame and fear of a servant.
A remarkable thing happened: all of a sudden, the angry man’s words didn’t mean anything anymore – they could find no purchase in my soul. He didn’t know me like my Father does (nor did he even wish to know me, if the truth be told). Chances are he’s angry because he’s bound to a kind of servant mindset of his own - a slave to his work, his ego, his ambitions and ideals, perhaps – and he is crushed under the burden of constantly trying to be enough, to prove his worth.  No wonder he’s so angry.
I relaxed in my seat, answering his accusations with a humble “I’m sorry” repeatedly until I answered no more and stopped cowering (which seemed to make him even more angry). The adrenaline receded, the blood that had rushed to my face in embarrassed humiliation began to find its way back to my other extremities, and my heart settled. He continued to rage at me for several minutes even after we landed, but I sat untouched in my identity as a son. Not gloating, mind you. Just at rest.
In a way, I became grateful for the episode and how it so dramatically forced me to see the difference I experience between living as a servant and as a son – not just in my relationship to God, but in my every encounter. It was a swift and certain confirmation of what the Lord had ministered to my heart just that week about my sonship. This man would not accept my apology, but my Father does.
I am writing this from some thousands of feet in the air during the second leg of my flight home, and wouldn’t you know it?They’ve just announced that it’s time to turn off and stow all personal electronic devices. I think I’ll do just that.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Urgency of Grace

I am far from a perfectionist.  Usually, good enough is good enough for me.  But for some reason, I've been typing and re-typing this post for weeks.  I keep hoping that I'll finally makes sense of the perplexing connection between the grace of Jesus that removes all condemnation for sin and the urgency that remains for me to put sin to death, by the grace of Jesus.  I've given up trying to get it right.  So this will have to be good enough:

My brooding over the urgency of grace comes from spending a lot of time meditating on Romans 8.  Here's a couple verses that have been on my mind a lot:

Romans 8:1  "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus."  
Romans 8:11-13 - "The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.  Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.  For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live."

What first bothered me about these verses is that even though there is no condemnation because of Jesus, there still remains a life and death urgency to put sin to death.  Too often, I find myself content with my sin being forgiven, but not put to death.  I get content and complacent with the lust, greed, worry, rage, selfishness, and the like that is still within me.  But the text is clear that Jesus did not die so I could have forgiveness for my sins but continue to practice them.  Unfortunately, "forgiveness without urgency to change" is a very, very common, but wrong version of Christianity today.  Dallas Willard refers to this version as "Vampire Christianity:  where one in effect says to Jesus:  'I'd like a little of your blood, please. But I don't care to be your student or have your character. In fact, won't you just excuse me while I get on with my life, and I'll see you in heaven." (The whole article, Why Bother With Discipleship, is well worth the read.) 

Here's the reality of grace according to Romans 8:

1.  My sin is forgiven by grace.  Jesus died in my place taking the punishment for my sin.  There is now no condemnation for my sin because I belong to Christ.
2.  My sin is put to death by grace.  Jesus not only died to take away the condemnation for my sin, but rose to overcome my sin.  Because I belong to Jesus, I have the power to put to death the sin in my life.  This grace creates a sense of urgency within me.  I want to experience the righteous life of Jesus so I do all I can by the grace of Jesus to put sin to death.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Faith and Thinking

In John Stott’s little book Your Mind Matters I found this quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He was commenting on Matthew 6:30 in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount and offered a great critique to those who feel that faith and thinking are opposites; that a person who has faith is a person who refuses to use his mind. Instead, says Lloyd-Jones, a person who exercises faith must use his mind.
Faith according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking; and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him. … We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons in observation and deduction. The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think of faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvelous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially thinking. Look at the birds, think about them, draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them. … Faith, if you like, can be defined like this: It is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense. The trouble with the person of little faith is that, instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else, and, as we put it, he goes round and round in circles. That is the essence of worry. … That is not thought; that is the absence of thought, a failure to think.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Love Is Deeper

As I watched old news clips from 9/11, I was surprised not, by the grief I felt, but by the frustration.  I am frustrated that the evil that was unleashed that day is still ongoing.  I am frustrated that terrorists are still plotting and carrying out horrific acts of violence.  I am frustrated that wackos who threaten to burn the Quran get so much press.  I am frustrated that love and grace seem to be in such short supply (I am especially frustrated when love and grace are lacking from those who claim to be saved by the love and grace of Jesus).  

As I thought about these frustrating things, God reminded me of a song by David Wilcox that refocussed my thoughts.  God reminded that love is deeper and love wins.  
The first minute is David tuning his guitar - if you endure that part, the song is worth it.  


You say you see no hope, you say you see no reason
We should dream that the world would ever change
You're saying love is foolish to believe
'Cause there'll always be some crazy with an army or a knife
To wake you from your day dream, put the fear back in your life...

Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify
What's stronger than hate, would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late he's almost in defeat
It's looking like the evil side will win, so on the edge
Of every seat, from the moment that the whole thing begins


It is Love who makes the mortar
And it's love who stacked these stones
And it's love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we're alone
In this scene set in shadows
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote the play...
For in this darkness love can show the way

So now the stage is set. Feel you own heart beating in your chest. 
This life's not over yet.
so we get up on our feet and do our best. 
We play against the fear. We play against the reasons not to try
We're playing for the tears burning in the happy angel's eyes

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jesus and the Mosque


For weeks I’ve been listening—sadly—to the heated public debate about the proposed community center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York. I’ve wished I could add something constructive to the conversation, but what? I didn’t know, so I continued simply to listen, ponder and pray. Then two days ago I stumbled upon a brief article by Leighton Ford that captures my thoughts.

Like many who grew up in the church, I’d heard of Leighton Ford for decades. The brother-in-law of Billy Graham, Leighton is himself a gifted evangelist who has spoken to millions of people in 37 countries. He served as the Vice President of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and for many years was the featured alternate speaker to Billy Graham on the Hour of Decision radio broadcast, and hosted his own daily TV and radio spots in the US, Canada and Australia. 

Clearly, Leighton Ford is well grounded in the historic Christian faith and has long been respected in the mainstream of evangelical Christianity. That’s all I knew about him until I recently served with him on the US Board of World Vision. That’s when I discovered that Leighton is also an incredibly warm and soulful man, an accomplished artist and author, and a deep and careful thinker. I am most grateful that Leighton Ford Ministries is committed to raising up younger leaders to spread the message of Jesus worldwide. And I hope many American Christians will read and espouse the perspective Leighton shares in the following words. I’m convinced he’s right: Jesus’ voice is the one we need to pay attention to. 

Jesus and the Mosque, Leighton Ford

On a shelf at home I have a copy of Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road, the story of the Syrian-born writer Mazhar Mallouhi. As a young man who grew up in a Muslim family he had a profound spiritual hunger, read widely, learned of Jesus in the Bible, and became a follower of Christ while remaining loyal to his Muslim culture.

His novels are read by millions in the Middle East. Through them he has sought to bridge misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians. 

In the book is a photo of him in the famous Al Azhar Mosque in Cairo, sitting with a group of Muslims as they read the Gospels together. It is his custom to say, “I am a follower of Christ. Here is what Jesus said. Tell me honestly, do you think I am living as Jesus said I should?”

I thought of Mallouhi’s question during the heated dispute over the location of a Muslim mosque and community center near Ground Zero in New York. Among the voices being raised – some harsh with anger, some deep with indignation about rights – I wonder if the missing voice is that of Jesus?

If I were a Muslim I might want to claim rights, but also want my leaders to consider whether another location would work and help to heal some deep hurts. But I am not a Muslim. Those issues are for the Muslim community to decide.

What I need to ask is: what does Jesus say to us who say we follow him?

Suppose we, like Mallouhi, sat down with some Muslims in the new community center, and read with them some of the words of Jesus, words like “Do good to those who hate you.” That could apply to radical terrorists who want to blow us up. So how can it not apply to Muslim neighbors who are living among us?

Many years ago my late friend J. Christy Wilson was pastor of the first ever Christian church in Kabul, Afghanistan. Through the good offices of President Eisenhower permission was granted to build the church, attended by Christian expatriates.

The time came when the Afghan authorities revoked permission and announced they would knock the church down. When the bulldozers arrived what did the church people there do? Served tea to the workers who were pulling down their church building!

They were living out a central tenet of our Christian faith – that we are “saved by grace” – God’s grace freely given in Jesus Christ – and they showed grace.

How can we do that? I hope the churches and the Christ followers in New York can figure it out. Perhaps delivering a cool drink to the workers who will build the center? After all Paul went so far as to write (and this was about enemies, not neighbors) “If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”

Does this mean we naively accept real evil? Not at all. I understand the rage that 9/11 stirred. Force is often needed to protect the innocent. But ultimately I have to follow Jesus as Paul did when the apostle admonished us to “overcome evil with good.”

What does the love of Christ compel me to do? Perhaps, whether in New York or Charlotte, to extend a little more grace – actually a whole lot more. Wouldn’t that be the best witness we could make right now?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Daily, Mini Resurrection

The other day my wife told me that she liked me a lot better when we were on vacation.  I thought that was kind of rude till I realized that I liked myself better on vacation as well.  On vacation, life seemed full of endless opportunities to enjoy God’s blessings and bless others in response.  As a result, I was fun to be around.  But since coming back from vacation, I feel like I’m hungover from a cocktail of discouragement, frustration, and anxiety.  I want to enjoy God and bless others, but I’m just in a bad mood.  
I’ve been a follower of Jesus long enough to know that the solution isn’t to ask for more vacation time and the solution isn’t just to try harder to be the person I want to be.  I know the solution lies in letting God change me.  So, I set about bringing my discouraged, frustrated, anxious mind to God to be renewed.  
God is showing me that most days I awake with a mind already in a bad place.  I awake most mornings already ticked, frustrated, or tired.  Thankfully I’m not alone in my experience.  C.S. Lewis said,  The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.   That’s exactly what happens.  My mind is off and running without Jesus most mornings (when I’m not on vacation) and I’m trying to play catch up from there.  Which is why Lewis went on to say “And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”    I need Christ to perform a mini resurrection each day, awakening me from my sin stupor into the glory of His love and grace.  
Here’s a few things that I find necessary to experiencing a mind renewing resurrection each morning:
Make myself happy in Christ
I get up while the house is quiet and get a cup of coffee (which I believe is also part of Christ’s daily resurrection in me).  I sit in my favorite chair and I start the day telling God that I need Him to wake me up to real life.  Then I spend time reading and meditating in God’s Word till my heart is happy because of who God is and what He has done.  This may not sound very spiritual - that the goal is to have my heart happy in Christ, but this is what giants of the faith have discovered.  Consider George Mueller’s thoughts:
The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend everyday was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished.”  What a wonderful truth - God wants me to be joyful!  My first task of each day is to rejoice in Him.  
Bring my junk to Jesus
Now that my heart has been made happy in Jesus, I am in the right place to recognize and give over the junk in my mind that is not of Christ.  Romans 8:6 instructs me that “letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death.  But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”  My sinful nature directs my thinking wrongly.  It directs me to worry about financial security instead of trusting God to provide all that I need.  It directs me to fixate on wrongs that others have inflicted on me instead of forgiving them because of Jesus.  It directs me to complain about the shortcomings of my family and friends instead of accepting and loving them as they are.  It directs me to think and rethink how to handle things differently at our church as if I am the one who causes the life of Christ to grow in others.  As I recognize these sinful thoughts, I confess them to Jesus - trusting that He has already died to take them away.  By confessing them to Jesus, I experience a profound exchange - Jesus takes my junk and puts it to death then gives me His life and peace in return.

Ask God to work in my troubles
The Christian faith isn’t escapism.  While I’m not supposed to fix my mind on the things that are troubling me - I’m not to ignore them either.  God has sovereignly placed me in the situations I find myself for His good purposes.  By making my heart happy in God and giving my junk over to Him, I am in a place where I am now ready to pray about the things that are troubling my mind - asking for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done in them.  
As I practice these things each morning, I find that God performs a mini resurrection in me.  He brings the life and peace of Jesus to my mind which was previously frustrated or worried or apathetic.   This changes my whole outlook and demeanor for the day - even how I relate to my family even though we're not on vacation!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beauty and Affliction

Simone Weil wrote “Two things pierce the human heart:  beauty and affliction.”    I like the beauty part, not the affliction.  As a matter of fact, I do all I can to avoid being pierced by affliction.  After all, who wants to experience heartache and suffering.  But I’m currently rethinking my stance on this one.  
My wife convinced me to read one of her chick books - Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist.  (which is very good).  She writes about the necessity of afflictions using the concept of "bittersweet."  “Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul.”  
I resisted this statement when I first read it.  I don’t want to believe that affliction is necessary for life.  But God kept bringing a Scripture to my mind to convince me otherwise:
“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”  Philippians 3:10-11
Suffering with Christ is a necessary part of experiencing Christ’s resurrection life.  As I look over my life, I have seen this to be true.  God has used affliction to reveal my inadequacy and therefore help me trust in His strength.  He has used affliction to build perseverance and character.  He has used affliction to make me less comfortable in this world and help me long for a kingdom that is yet to come.  

Here is the truth that God is impressing on me:  Beauty may point us to Christ but it’s affliction that makes us like Christ.