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.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Higher Up And Further Back

As I look at this photo of my daughter contemplating the beauty of a sunset, I wonder what is going on within her?  How is God stirring her heart?  

Ever since I was a teenage boy, I’ve been deeply moved by the beauty of nature.  I remember my first hike in the White Mountains of NH with a group from a boys’ camp.  When we stepped above tree line, my breath was immediately taken away by the size and grandeur of the view that lay in front of me.  Something within me automatically swelled with appreciation and wonder.  I felt drawn to something or Someone who is bigger, deeper and more wonderful than anything I currently knew about.  

It’s not just beauty in nature that speaks to me of God and His Kingdom.  I have had many other seemingly small but significant experiences - moments of love, moments of grief, moments of joy - that graciously unsettle me from my materialistic existence and draw me toward deeper life.  They are windows into the eternal, a momentary lifting of the earthly veil that help me to see that the “solution to the riddle of life in space and time lies outside of space and time.”  - Ludwig Wittgenstein.  

Cornelius Plantiga beautifully described how our experiences in life point us to God and His Kingdom: 

  1. The truth is that nothing in the world can satisfy us.  Much can make us content for a time but nothing can fill us to the brim.  The reason is that our final joy lies “beyond the walls of this world,” as J.R. Tolkien put it.  Ultimate beauty comes not from a lover or a landscape or a home, but only through them.  These earthly things are solid goods, and we naturally relish them.  But they are not our final good.  They point to what is higher up and further back...Even if we fall deeply in love and marry another human being, we discover that our spiritual and sexual oneness isn’t final.  It’s wonderful, but not final.  It might even be as good as human oneness can be, but something in us keeps saying “not this” or “still beyond”...What Augustine knew is that human beings want God...God has made us for himself.  Our sense of God runs in us like a stream, even though, because of sin, we divert it toward other objects.  We human beings want God even when think that what we want is really a green valley, or a good time from our past, or a loved one.  Of course we do want these things and persons, but we also want what’s behind them.  Our inconsolable secret, says C.S. Lewis, is that we are full of yearnings, sometimes shy and sometimes passionate that point us beyond the things of earth to the ultimate reality of God.  

God created all the experiences of this life to draw us to Jesus who is “the Way, the Truth, the Life.”  This is the mystery that we are so slow to trust - Christ is our ultimate love, joy, and peace.  None of the earthly things we look to will ultimately satisfy - but Christ does.  “In Him is life, and that life is the light of men.”

What Does It Mean To "Accept Christ?"

“You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”1 Thessalonians 1:9
You and I are not integrated, unified, whole persons.  Our hearts are multi-divided.  There is a board room in every heart.  Big table.  Leather chairs.   Coffee.  Bottled water.  Whiteboard.  A committee sits around the table.  There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others.  The committee is arguing and debating and voting.  Constantly agitated and upset.  Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision.  We tell ourselves we’re this way because we’re so busy with so many responsibilities.  The truth is, we’re just divided, unfocused, hesitant, unfree.
That kind of person can “accept Jesus” in either of two ways.   One way is to invite him onto the committee.  Give him a vote too.  But then he becomes just one more complication.  The other way to “accept Jesus” is to say to him, “My life isn’t working.  Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them.  I hand myself over to you.  Please run my whole life for me.”   That is not complication; that is salvation.
“Accepting Jesus” is not just adding Jesus.   It is also subtracting the idols.

From Ray Ortland’s blog

The God Who Is There (From the Gospel Coalition)

The God Who Is There - Part 1. The God Who Made Everything (Preview) from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

On February 20-21 and 27-28, 2009, Don Carson presented a 14-part seminar entitled “The God Who Is There” at Bethlehem Baptist Church’s North Campus in Minneapolis.   And now MP3s (full) and video (10-minute previews) are available for Carson’s 14-part series:

  1. 1.The God Who Made Everything | MP3 | Video Preview

  2. 2.The God Who Does Not Wipe Out Rebels | MP3 | Video Preview

  3. 3.The God Who Writes His Own Agreements | MP3 | Video Preview

  4. 4.The God Who Legislates | MP3 | Video Preview

  5. 5.The God Who Reigns | MP3 | Video Preview

  6. 6.The God Who Is Unfathomably Wise | MP3 | Video Preview

  7. 7.The God Who Becomes a Human Being | MP3 | Video Preview

  8. 8.The God Who Grants New Birth | MP3 | Video Preview

  9. 9.The God Who Loves | MP3 | Video Preview

  10. 10.The God Who Dies—and Lives Again | MP3 | Video Preview

  11. 11.The God Who Declares the Guilty Just | MP3 | Video Preview

  12. 12.The God Who Gathers and Transforms His People | MP3 |Video Preview

  13. 13.The God Who Is Very Angry | MP3 | Video Preview

  14. 14.The God Who Triumphs | MP3 | Video Preview

    The DVDs are currently in production, but ten-minute video previews to each of the fourteen sessions are available on Vimeo. Here’s the opening session:


I’ve been reading through Isaiah this past month.  It’s been a wonderful journey revealing God’s relentless pursuit of people who he loves despite their lack of trust and obedience.  I arrived at Isaiah 53 this morning which foretells with amazing detail the crucifixion of Jesus - it’s severity, his silence during the inquisition, the nature of his burial, and most amazingly the reality-altering fact that he would not stay dead!  

  1. “But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief.  Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants.  He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.  When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied.  And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.”  Isaiah 53:10-11

God’s “good plan” was that by Jesus’ giving up his life others would gain life.  Jesus would take on himself the sin of the world and by his death and resurrection make it possible for many others to be “counted righteous.”  Jesus knew throughout his whole earthly life that God’s good plan was to bring life to others through his death.  That is why as the time of his crucifixion drew near he said:

  1. Unless a kernal of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone.  But it’s death will produce many new kernals - a plentiful harvest of new lives.  Those who love their life in this world will lose it.  Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.  Those who want to be my disciples must follow me, because my servants must be where I am.” John 12:14-25

I usually stop at the wonderful realization that God invites me to gain life by trusting in Jesus’ death for my sin.  But the passage continues with a further invitation for Jesus followers to give up their lives so that others may gain life.  I realized this morning that my willingness to sacrifice, to give up my life for others is the evidence of my belief in Jesus and his kingdom.  If Jesus isn’t true and his kingdom is not real, then why sacrifice my time, resources, or enjoyment?  But if Jesus is the Life and His Kingdom is the life I long for, then why would I not be willing to give up the things of this world that I can’t keep anyway?