Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Cross-Eyed Life

When I glanced out my window yesterday evening, I saw a spider half the size of my little finger, with a golden-brown body and long legs bent just so near the middle. There isn't anything miraculous about the sight of a spider outside your window, but the glint of the light upon her body, and the fact that she appeared suspended in mid-air, caught my attention.

I watched as she spun round and round and seemed to leap high into the sky without succumbing to the law of gravity. Of course I knew that she was attached to a little bit of silk thread, but if not for its occasional shimmer as the breeze moved it to meet the light, I would not have seen the tiny thread at all. A spider's thread is so fragile and so invisible, though we know it is there. And so my little spider friend seemed to spin aimlessly about on nothing but air.

As I watched her turn and climb, my eyes were lifted gradually higher, because she was constantly ascending. And soon I saw it: a large web beneath my roof, which I had never noticed, and never would have noticed but for an arachnid that drew my eyes upward.

Unfortunately, my inability to see simple things seems to be a pattern in my life, and in the lives of the people around me. We sit at our desks totally absorbed in our own work (or Facebook, as the case may be). Then, when evening arrives, we retreat to our homes or our chosen place of entertainment.

And at the end of the day, we lie in bed wondering why we feel so unfulfilled.

Perhaps the problem is that we look within ourselves to find out who we are, though we have no eyes within our guts. Our eyes are on our heads, that we may look outward and upward. All we can see of ourselves is the marred reflection in the mirror, or the tips of our toes as we look downward. We cannot see ourselves wholly, and this is by design.

We cannot so much as see our own faces. The closest we have come to that is to strain our eyes to see the bridge of cartilage between them, yet even then we quite literally cannot see past the tips of our own noses. Worse, to do so is a condition which we call cross-eyed, and people who are living perpetually cross-eyed must wear corrective lenses and have their eyes trained so that they may see the world as it really is.

But in this confused state, the things right before us are the very things we fail to see. Like the little bits of thread outside my window, beautiful and awe-inspiring realities are there, but they are nearly invisible to our untrained eyes.

We see what we are looking for. Unless something first draws our attention to what is before us, we will fail to see it.

Aspiring physicists do not come to love quantum mechanics because the know innately that it is true: they must first be shown its proofs.

People who love da Vinci, though they may naturally appreciate beauty, do not admire fine art because they knew from deep personal searching that the Mona Lisa existed: they know because they were shown, or told, or because they sought it out.

Even science validates this: researchers have discovered that without having a word for the color "blue," people will often have a difficult time distinguishing it from other colors. They must first have a concept of that color, and then they may describe the difference between the sky and the grass.

These loves and bits of knowledge are not things which we may discover from searching deep within ourselves: they are things learned from looking outside ourselves, and placing ourselves in context of the world around us.

Some few have learned this skill well. Outward and upward and onward and forward they look, and if only with blurred sight, they see.

And on the horizon that they see, we who look inward stand, or rather fall, so intent on our inward reflection that we succumb to the dizziness and headaches of a cross-eyed life.

This is not to say that we should never engage in self-reflection, or that it is wrong to take a serious look at ourselves. To the contrary: we ought to consider ourselves from time to time, and we should understand what is within us, even deeply. But we cannot do even this task rightly, if we have not first understood the context in which we find ourselves.

Yet even with this knowledge, we still hope that deep down, we can understand ourselves.

It is a common thought, a very human approach, perhaps even a justifiable one.

And so, consumed with this understanding and meaning which we miss, we dive deeper within ourselves, sure that we have buried the missing object somewhere in our own hearts. Further down and further in we go, insistent on filling the holes within us.

Yet until we focus our gaze outward long enough to have our eyes drawn upward, where we may see the incredible sights around us, we will stumble and fall like madmen.

If we would but look outward and upward, perhaps we would stand again.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Day After Christmas

What happened the day after Christmas?

I suppose everything went on as you might expect. Mary was very tired, but likely happy to have baby Jesus by her side. Joseph was worried about the taxes he had to pay, and the long journey home. He wondered at the mystery of Jesus' birth, and he wasn't sure whether he should feel awe or terror. The shepherds were moved by the glory of the previous night's events, and spread the news across the hillsides. And, if we're honest, the innkeeper probably had no idea what to do with it all.

But even if everything went as expected, something was different.

God became man.

Eternal, infinite, all-powerful spirit became mortal, limited, oh-so-fragile flesh.

But as spectacular as the birth of Christ was, and as much as it rightly should be celebrated, that is not the end of which the angels sang. It was not the birth of this baby that made Herod want to kill him. No, though the angels rejoiced in the birth itself, they s

The wisemen foretold the rule of a king. (Matthew 2:6)

When Mary was told what would happen, Gabriel spoke of an everlasting kingdom. (Luke 1:32-33)

And when the shepherds heard the good news of Jesus' birth, they were told of a Savior, and then an army of angels sang "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:11, 14)

What is this?

It, "The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is
    Incarnation." (T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets)

That the eternal Word, the Great I AM, would choose to make himself a little lower than the heavenly beings, moves our hearts. That He would use that for our redemption from pits of sin and darkness, to draw us into his realm of light and truth, at once crushes our spirits with conviction and lifts our eyes heavenward in awe and gratefulness. That He would do all that so that His name would be magnified and his glory made manifest is a truth beyond our mind's comprehension.

See, our celebration of the birth of Christ experiences its climax at Christmas. But that's not the most important thing which we celebrate: we celebrate redemption from sin and damnation unto life and light, to the glory of God.

God's glory and his kingdom are eternal, and all Creation longs for the completion of the redemptive story, when it can realize and celebrate God's glory as it ought.

So what happens the day after Christmas?

We rejoice in redemption. And we do this in three ways. First, we rejoice by worshiping the Lord for his own glory, and for his work in Creating, sustaining, and redeeming the world. Second, we rejoice by proclaiming the message of joy and salvation through Christ. Finally, we rejoice by embracing the work of redemption that the Lord has done and is doing in us.

T.S. Eliot wrote,

"The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
    Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre.
    To be redeemed from fire by fire.

    Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
    We only live, only suspire
    Consumed by either fire or fire."

On this day after Christmas, be consumed with the joyful fire.

The celebration continues!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Love and Glory

This is a piece I wrote for a class my junior year of high school...but these themes have so resonated with my heart recently, I decided to share my work. Enjoy :)


Glory has been a life-and-death word for many people. The ancient Greeks saw death in battle as the height of all glory; the Crusaders pursued the glory of God; modern terrorists are willing to go out of their way to achieve glory for their countries, themselves, or the gods they worship. Certainly, the human race pours a great deal of time, effort, energy, and sacrifice into glory. Yet, this engrossment with a single word, the world’s fascination with five letters, begs a question: why? As broad of a question as it may seem to be, perhaps the real answer lies in another single word: love. In his City of God, St. Augustine of Hippo proposes that two very different, but intertwined cities exist among humanity: namely, the city of God, and the city of man. These two cities, he suggests, are built entirely on two very different loves. This essay examines what those loves are, their Biblical nature, and what St. Augustine has to say about them.

“Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.” (477, Book XIV.28) So begins one of the most definitive passages in Augustine’s most exhaustive work. The loves of these cities, he says, have become so deeply rooted that whatever does not meet the end of their love is held in contempt -- the word one dictionary defines as “willful disobedience.” (, “contempt”) In this passage, a sort of three-point outline is developed: first, there are two cities; second, they have two loves; finally, there are two Biblical passages that provide archetype-images of each city. The two cities are referred to as the city of God, and the city of man, where they are likewise defined by the love of God and the love of man. Serving as vivid depictions of each city are Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 15.

A marked difference is easily seen between the two passages, which, when compared, show the incredible dissimilarity between the cities.To understand why Augustine makes the claims he does, and offers the Scriptures named, a consideration of the two Biblical passages mentioned
will be helpful.

Say something enough times, and people will start to believe it. While this line is often thrown around relating to communism, politics, and marketing, it can be just as easily applied to the way people fall into sin. Of course, all human beings are born with sin, but becoming a VIP in the city of man is taking it to a new level.  It is a process of believing lies, and forsaking righteousness. Romans 1:21 explains what happens when a person reaches this standard of ungodliness. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”2 This is the city of man. As Augustine said, the earthly city loves itself, to the point where it is comfortable holding God in contempt -- disobeying his mandates. (477, Book XIV.28) Romans 1 is very clear in pointing this out. The passage goes on to explain what kinds of actions are a result of a person’s heart falling away from God. Important to Romans 1 is the word darkened, and the many synonyms for it that appear throughout the chapter. The city of man, in all its pomp and circumstance, is by nature a waning candle. Darkness cannot last forever.

Reality cries out that darkness still exists, though. Many of these various evils are listed -- not exhaustively -- in Romans 1. The passage often speaks of those living in darkness as exchanging one thing for another, or God giving them up to ungodly things. While it would be  unreasonable to list all of these wrongdoings in this condensed work, it is enough to say that at least twenty-six individual sins are listed, not counting various synonyms and restatements. Interestingly, a large number of them are sins committed in the heart. Why would this be, except that some kind of love is motivating all these sins? The heart is the center of love and hatred: a sin of the heart must, by inference, be driven by love or hatred. It is in this that Augustine begins to be proven correct, because as he said that the city of man is the worship of self, so it says in Romans 1:25, “...they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator...”  Worship, as it is used in theology, is bringing glory to a thing or being. The city of man brings glory only to itself, exchanging God’s eternal glory for something temporal. This, however, leaves the reader hanging. If the citizens of the city of man sin extensively just because of their loyalty to themselves, what happens to the citizens of the city of God? What do they get?

If Romans 1 was about the fall of ungodly people, then 1 Corinthians 15 is about the restoration of godly people. Romans 1 talked about the subjection of the ungodly to sin; 1 Corinthians 15 talks about the raising up of the godly from sin. In this glorious passage is the description of Christ’s coming and reign. All shall be in subjection to him, and none shall be exempt from his rule. The city of God is God’s kingdom, his people, and his royal priesthood. As it says in Philippians 2:10-11, “...every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 1 Corinthians 15 affirms this by saying that God will put all things under his authority. The defining factor of the city of God, as in the city of man, is its worship: its deepest love. St. Augustine describes it by saying, “[in the city of God] there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers due worship to the true God...” (477, Book XIV.28) Human wisdom, in all its grandeur, is but a speck in the eyes of the citizens of the city of God; thus, the true citizen will worship the one whose glory is significant.

What, then are the marks of this true and holy worship? 1 Corinthians 15 is a telescope, revealing the vast expanse of the glory of God.  As defined in this passage, true worship in the city of God is marked by hope and faith. After an explanation of why Christ must be raised, and the hopelessness that would ensue if he did not, Paul comes to this joyous conclusion: “But in fact Christ has been raised...” In just a few sweet words, the tone is overflowing with joy, driven by faith in the hope of Christ. His rule, authority, and glory are of the highest value to the true citizen. This is the city of God.

The city of man loves itself; it rules itself; it glories in itself. The city of God loves God; it is ruled by God; it gives glory to God. As Augustine put it, “...the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, ‘Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.’” (477, Book XIV.28) The city of man loves ruling, and the city of God loves serving. Truly, the difference is in loves. In Luke 12:34 Jesus affirms this, saying, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The question may still be raised, however, of why Augustine chose these particular passages over all others. Answering this query is taking a walk in the art gallery of Scripture. Throughout the Bible, many glorious pictures are painted of the city of God; many horrendous ones, too, of the city of man. Each is formed by the dipping of a pen into a pigment determined by love. One is a deep black, stained with the sins of the world. Many passages describe individual scenes worked by the city of man, but none so clearly and vividly realize as Romans 1 that what drives these evil lusts is not human glory itself, but the love of self. Likewise, there is a hue of stain that covers the citizens in the city of God: and this stain is crimson. Even more passages throughout the Holy Word of God create a mural of the grace of God, yet none is so distinctly and beautifully opposite Romans 1 as 1 Corinthians 15. These murals throughout Scripture, and their transparency, are the clear reason for Augustine’s choosing them to represent the city of man and the city of God.

Since the beginning of time, the human race has seemingly been on an epic quest for glory. Yet, as St. Augustine so sagely uncovers, the quest has never been for this. Glory is merely the overflow of the heart’s deepest love. Two cities exist among humanity: one, its own; the other, the Lord’s. The city of man, represented in Romans 1, is driven by a love of itself -- a love that every moment hurls it further from the truth. The city of God, portrayed in 1 Corinthians 15, is invigorated by a love of its Creator -- a Creator who every moment draws his city closer to its eternal glory. Each city is a painting of love in the Bible; the actions pursuant of glory are only a result of these loves. Indeed, love defines each city, and every occupant in it. Each will receive its reward, but in the end, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is truly Lord.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Battle

You may wonder why I write my blog posts so few and far between. I think I have finally just realized myself why this phenomenon is: it is because I only write when I feel I have really begun to grasp something, that something has so penetrated my heart I might be able to communicate it to another person. And yet at the same time, it just far off enough in the distance that I must write in order to understand it fully. And so here I am, writing to you dear and faithful readers the thoughts which come to mind on my nineteenth birthday.
I've spent long years fighting myself. Fighting my sinful tendencies. Fighting my competing desires. Fighting depression and anxiety. Fighting pride. Fighting all sorts of things that certainly must be fought against. But here is the understanding that the Lord has impressed on me: though I fight against these things, it is not really these things against which I should fight. No, it is against spirits and principalities which bring these things upon me that I ought to fight, and ultimately against which I do fight. This fight is holy, and is commended by the apostle Paul.
But there is a fight against myself that I have, and which I can tolerate no longer: it is the fight against my own actions, and moreover the fight over how to best use myself for God's glory. It is not that these are things which I should not consider: to the contrary! I must consider them with all weight. But what I have realized lately is that these things are merely symptoms of a greater design: a greater plan which God has bestowed on my life.
You see, God allowed me to have weaknesses. He wants me to trust him to make me more conformed to his image. And of course that has to do with my actions: but it hardly begins there. For out of the heart comes a man's deeds. God also has bestowed me with gracious gifts. He wants me to trust him to lead me in the best way to use those: really they are his gifts to me, so he has a purpose in mind for their use. 
Well, anyway, I'll just get to the meat of what I am trying to articulate: we must stop fighting ourselves in two ways, and we must turn all our energy to the one place we should be fighting. What do I mean? Allow me to explain.
First, we must stop fighting ourselves in such a way that we beat ourselves down. I have been so impressed lately that the battle against evil in the world is really won first and foremost in the hearts and minds of the righteous. Think of this like training for a race, or even for battle if you will. The competitor, or soldier, does everything within their power to improve everything they possibly can. They recognize their weaknesses, and they do their very best to improve them. But the best athletes and the best soldiers know that you cannot always address one small issue: that very issue is quite often symptomatic of a much larger, deeper problem, one that must be addressed in part by some outside party. Suppose there is a health-related problem: a doctor or nutritionist must come in. Or perhaps there is a technique that the athlete cannot master: that may require a specialized trainer. The athlete or soldier does not give up: rather they work with all their might to perfect their game on every minute level. Yet the last thing they should do is tell themselves that they are unable to overcome, or worse yet, that they most overcome difficulty on their own when it is impossible. So it is that we must struggle to work out our own salvation (with fear and trembling, nonetheless). And we must obey our Lord as he guides us to remove any sin, or to acquire holy habits, in our lives. But do not -- I beg you -- do not try to fight against yourself. It only serves to tear apart your very core: your heart and your mind. 
Friends, if Satan can get a hold of your mind, or worse, your heart: then all really is lost. But if you can win the battle for your mind: not against yourself, but against the great tempter and confuser, then you have already won half the victory. Even this fight -- in fact, especially -- this fight is one which you must rely on the Lord to win: and yet of all battles, this is one of the only two battles you must win. You must win the battle for your mind/heart and the battle against sin. Yet neither is against yourself, or at least your new self: it is against your old self and moreover against Satan who insists on tempting you. Trust in the Lord, friends. This battle may not be over: but it is already won.
But my second point is this: do not fight among yourselves. Oh, how it must grieve our Lord to see us arguing over small matters when the Gospel, and life itself is at stake! Do not hear what I am not saying: I believe that it is so worthwhile for us to have conversations about all sorts of matters of indifference. In fact, I encourage them wholeheartedly! But if we allow such things -- as we so often do -- to overshadow the greatness of proclaiming God as the Lord over all creation, and to faithfully carry out the plain implications of that ... how misguided and petty we have become. 
Do you know the quickest way to lose a battle or a competition? I believe it is simply to turn the members of the company or team against one another. If there is a legitimate cause for disagreement, and the captain has not given direct instruction, let them quarrel until the matter is clear. But if there is something greater at stake, let them listen to their captain and follow his clear orders. Our Captain is Christ. May we ever follow him.
Allow me to clarify what I mean here: I hope it is clear to you, my fellow believers, what I mean by the Gospel. I mean the full work of God in bringing his people on earth, allowing them to sin, sacrificing himself for them, justifying and adopting them through the death and resurrection of himself, living himself in them and so sanctifying them, and both now and forever bringing glory to himself through them. But here is what we forget. God will not only bring his glory and his will in a day to come, but right now, through his people. And any man who knows what is right, and does not do him it is counted as sin. Brothers and sisters in the Lord, bear witness to the Gospel. And do it in every way that you are able. Share the love of Christ with those you know and those you don't, and speak truth at all times. 
At all times.
Not just when it is comfortable. Not just when it is "un-political." Not just when it means you'll get a smile in return. I am not even asking you to speak all truth at all times: but, to the best of your ability, always speak the full truth that must be spoken. 
And this is my third point. It is not against flesh and blood that we battle, my dear friends, but against the principalities of this world. It is against evil itself that we fight. We all know that in a great story, few people care about the individual battle against a "random" soldier. Why is that? Because we know that the fight is truly between right and wrong, just and unjust, natural and unnatural, moral and immoral ...the battle is between good and evil. 
When you know that millions of children die every day at the hands of ruthless murderers, only to have their organs sold, without any option of their own, how can you stand by? If prayer is your gift, then pray fervently. If speaking is your gift, speak passionately. If giving is your gift, give generously. If mercy is your gift, mercifully reach out to those in dire need of hope, and rescue them from the pit that is abortion. 
When you know that gay marriage is wrong, and is an abomination to the Lord, how can you not be grieved into action? Again, whatever your gift is, use it.
Of course, I am not asking you to pick up every issue that ever arises. Yet if you are in a position where you may be held responsible before God for not acting, I pray you will understand that you are compelled to act. And especially wherever God has burdened your heart, I implore you not to ignore that calling, but rather to embrace it and pursue the Lord. Will it be hard? Of course. I have learned this, and still feel certain I have only scratched the surface of deep hardship and pain on account of my choices. Yet one thing I have learned: the joy of the Lord is my strength. Though the mountains be shaken, and the hills be removed, His love will never be shaken, nor his covenant of peace be removed. I look to a fulfillment of his promises in eternity. Yet now, I work toward those promises with all diligence.
But I don't want this to be a sad, depressing post in the end. No, I want this to be hopeful. You see, we serve a God who loved us so much that he created this world. Without need. And then made us. Without need. Then let us make our own choices. Without need. And then redeemed us. Certainly without need. And then lived in us, worked through us, and promised us eternal peace and joy with him. All without need. What a great and mighty God we serve! He has given us something which is not a burden, but instead a privilege: the privilege of fighting in his army, for a war in which we already know the outcome: we win. 
Friends, the battle is already begun. I leave you with the words of Patrick Henry, and I urge you to turn your battles to the places where the war is blazing.
"They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace, but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Battle is the Lord's

I didn't succeed this weekend. My debate tournament was an almost-success {ie not a success}.
But both my partner and I got chances to share the Gospel. We barely missed the cutoff to advance to novice finals. Yet in sharing the Gospel I got a glimpse of true victory, a taste of something far better than any debate victory on earth. I got a sliver of eternity, truth, light. God.
When we say that the battle is the Lord’s, and the victory is God’s, do we ever stop to consider the reality that victory might mean something completely different to God than it does to us? Do we forget that the battle in this world is not with men, but with powers and principalities? We’re fighting the wrong enemy, people. God so loved the world. He doesn’t hate the world. He hates sin and evil and Satan. He hates the way he’s perverted the world. And he knows that ultimately (in a very righteous way), all the glory must go to him. So for him the battle is twofold: kill evil and bring his kingdom. For his glory. He’ll fight darkness with light. He’ll put angels against demons. He’ll harden hearts or melt them. He’ll build up kingdoms and tear them down. He’ll fight to the end, because he already has the victory. For his glory. He already conquered death through his Son. He made the ultimate payment for every sin on the cross. He took it all to hell. He won the battle, and returned to heaven. And soon he’ll come again. For his glory.
And we completely miss the point. Don’t get me wrong -- I firmly believe that every battle is the Lord’s, and every true victory is his. But we can get so caught up in our achievements and failures that we miss the bigger picture: it’s his glory. It’s his kingdom. It’s his battle, on his battlefield, with his playbook. It’s his victory, with all the gains and losses on his terms.
That sounds slightly terrifying. And if you’re not in his team, you better believe me, it is. Because you’re going to be getting those losses pretty hard. Jesus made it clear he doesn’t like “lukewarm” people. You’re with him or you’re not. If you’re not, you get eternity apart from God, suffering. Real, hard, brutal, suffering. Forever.
But if you’re on the winning team, what a glorious thing this is. You could lose everything here on earth. And while I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen to you, it wouldn’t ultimately matter. Because you get an eternity with a God who loves and wants you in a way no human can fathom. You get beauty forever. You get to live in a perfect society on a perfect earth with perfect people. No joke. No opiates involved. Just serious, pure bliss.
Because joy is something that transcends circumstances on this earth. It's otherworldly. The only other “world” is God’s spiritual world {coming soon to a new earth near you}. And when that new earth comes, your joy will be complete. Because God is the source of joy. He completes us in a beautiful, indescribable way. In fact, he makes us. He knows about that weird birthmark you have...he made it. He thinks it’s beautiful. He knows the pain you’re struggling with...he’s weaving a beautiful picture out of it.
{Today someone asked me about the problem of pain in the universe. And while I have a long, philosophical answer that I’d love to give her sometime, I think the short answer is better: pain is as real as a part of a painting is real. No one doubts its reality. Everyone just sees it as part of the whole, often a necessary element of beauty. Art critics can dedicate whole books to a single detail of a painting -- look at the Mona Lisa smile. So mysterious, such an important detail of the painting. Perhaps one of the most important details of all art history. Yet in spite of the attention it gets, it's only mysterious, it’s only beautiful, in context of the larger painting. Just the smile, without context, is awkward.
So it is with pain. Pain is real. It hurts. It's awkward, because it seems like it doesn't belong. I don’t doubt its existence. If you want to talk to me about pain, please do. I want to know your pain, because I’ve had a lot of pain in my life, and I feel yours. If that pain is consuming you right now, I understand. But, no matter how cliche it sounds, please remember this: your pain is part of a picture. In some people’s cases, it may become the Mona Lisa Smile: the focus of the painting. Yet it's still a part of the most recognizable, and arguably one of the most beautiful paintings of all time.}
Why can I say that? Because God is good and he is working all things for his glory. We get so wrapped up in our identities, and we forget that every single time God is ready to give us something far better than our current identities.
Identities that come from what we accomplish or where we fall short.
But someone else can always do better than you at something somewhere. True fact. God replaces that with the reward of his kingdom. We get everything. And if you accept his love he refuses to judge you on any accomplishments or failures at all.
Identities from how many good or bad things we’ve done.
But God says he wants perfect righteousness. One bad thing makes you a bad person. Yet if you accept him he says all your sins, your bad deeds, are wiped away. You are clean, no matter what mistakes you have made or will make.
Identities from what kind of friend groups we have.
Your friends may be awesome, but they’ll die or some of them will move on. God will love you no matter what. Forever and ever, because he never dies, never moves on.
Identities from what kinds of experiences and emotions we have to show for as a person.
But conglomerate emotions cancel out. Or they just pile on and make a mess of a person. And God says he will let you cry. He will let you laugh. Because he gave you those emotions. But he’ll never try to define you based on an emotion.
Sometimes we’ll even realize those things are wrong and try to find our identities in the fact that we are people. But that’s pretty hopeless, too. Because humans are fallen. We try to improve things, yes. Of course we do! But that’s because there’s something to improve. Because something is seriously wrong in our world.
Because we need a Savior.
Our Savior takes our brokenness and gives us his healing. He takes our pain and gives us his joy. He takes our failures and gives us his kingdom. He takes our broken world. And he takes us. He looks at us and pities our brokenness. He has compassion. And so he loves us.
Jesus gives an entirely new identity: loved child of the king. No catch at all. Just loved, and getting everything imaginable for an inheritance forever.
Meanwhile, he fights. He doesn’t fight us. He fights evil itself. And he fights to give us our kingdom.
We get to rest. Because the most powerful being in the universe is not up against us. If we trust him, he is for us. He is with us. All he asks is that we willingly work with him as soldiers in the fight to protect what is now our own kingdom.
But if we fail, if we’re weak, it’s okay. He’ll still pick us up, carry us, help us do things we never dreamed we could accomplish. And he’ll fight on, knowing the victory is already his.
The battle is the Lord’s.
{Soli Deo Gloria}

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Be Speechless

I'm nearly speechless.

Hopefully you got the chance tonight to see the amazing lunar eclipse tonight. The artwork God puts on the earth and throughout this universe absolutely amazes me. Our God must be so incredibly creative.

Just think about it.

He (a three-in-one, uncreated, perfect being) has been around forever. He has dwelt with wisdom and filled space with his bigness. Only, in a sense, there isn't any space. So, just because he is a God of creativity, he creates light. (Interestingly, he didn't seem to create darkness...just light to fill it, demonstrating that he is the light). Through this he created what would become the earthly sense of time, something from which God lived and continues to live completely apart. Just these two things are unfathomable. Imagine living in total darkness of which you occupy every space for your entire life (having absolutely nothing else), and then just suddenly having the idea for light and color, and the idea for an abstract sense of time. Yeah, that's right...humanly, that's not really possible (exemplifying the fact that we are creatures and not self-creating). But that was just day one for God.

Day two came and God created the heavens and the earth. Now, even though all there's ever been was an abstract, timeless, dark void, there's suddenly light, color, time, and a physical nature.

But that wasn't enough.

On day three God created seas and land and their separation. On top of creating a planet, God opts to give it both solid and liquid aspects.

And still, God had more creativity coming.

Now, with the earth in place, God decided to add a whole solar system to light up his creation (using his earlier concepts of light and time). And then, just because God really loves creating things, there are birds, fish, land animals,'s amazing.

Yet, God wasn't quite done.

In an incredible act of love and creativity, he created people. Living, breathing, thinking, heart-pumping human beings. And he gave them not just the beautiful Garden of Eden that we tend to think of, but also the rest of the earth. These people were seriously blessed and loved. The only thing was they couldn't eat from this one tree.

And, well...they did.

Unfortunately, the appropriate punishment for this was death. And God is just, so he assured them of their death and many other miserable things while they still lived.

But he was merciful. So, so merciful. He could have not made them or anything in our world in the first place. But he made it anyway.

He could have chosen to kill them the second they messed up. But he didn't.

He could have chosen to leave them hopeless forever. But he didn't.

He let them have children. He gave them the whole earth except for the Garden of Eden. He blessed them with long lives. Best of all, he promised that one day, a Savior would come and offer hope. Justice and mercy have never mingled so beautifully as they have in the being of our God.

That Savior came. Because death was the punishment, but only a righteous person could satisfy the requirement of perfection before a holy God, Jesus came down. God became man.

That's like you becoming your childhood plaything. (Not that we are God's playthings, but I think you get my point.) That's like a US President becoming a rat while still being the President. Yet far, far worse.

It is the king of the whole universe, the one responsible for creating things like we see in space tonight, for designing DNA, for coming up with a concept of time and a sense of light, suddenly reducing himself to the level of something, though once beautiful, which has reduced itself to scum. On top of that, it's that king reduced to scum living the lowest life of all the scum. And then dying the most painful, humiliating death for the lowest of the low scum. While he was still the king.

And yet, Jesus asked for this. This is the really incredible part: he planned this before he ever set the universe in motion. He knew we'd mess up. And he asked the Father for a gift of a redeemed mankind, offering up even his own life. That's how selfless and beautiful this God is, that he would die for his creation, simply to give them redemption. He didn't have to. But he did.

Miraculously, though, he didn't just stay dead. Because he is God, and he promised in milennia past that he would crush death and evil, he did just that. He literally went and defeated death. In other words, he dealt with the devil, did battle in the depths, and arose victorious, because he is God.

And on the third day after his death, he rose to earth. Shortly afterward, he went to heaven to be reunited with his Father, and to do something amazing again: to prepare places for us, broken sinners, in heaven. All we need to do is trust him with our lives. He promises that if we do so, he will send his own spirit to dwell in us and guide our steps.

But, the story gets even better! When all is said and done, when all who have faith in Christ have been called up to him, he will make the final blow on death, causing all those who did not follow him to live separate from him in a miserable place called hell...and bringing heaven onto earth for those who follow him. Literally. The whole earth will be restored and, in the words of the Bible, the lion will lie down with the lamb. There will be no conflict. No pain. No sorrow. Just pure, beautiful love for each other, for the world, and for the God who did all this for us. The God who is so eternal. So creative. So just. So merciful. So loving. So awe-striking. So miraculous. So beautiful. So GOD.

Tonight, I'm looking at the red slowly fading from the moon. And I'm realizing that my role in this whole world isn't really that big. But I know that there is a God out there who is huge and amazing and who loves ME. Who lives in me. Who knows me better than I know myself. Who sustains my very breath. Who has a unique call on my life. Who placed me in the universe. Who gave me hope. Who gives everything its being. Who will never, ever fade. Who lived and died for me. For you. For the broken, messed up world.

And I am speechless.