Blogging now at Gospel-Driven Church
The Japanese kanji for "quiet" -- shizuka -- is thought to come from the abstraction of calm coming from "beautiful green color," "clear of conflict," "staying pure," or "desirable lack of movement."
Blogging now at Gospel-Driven Church
What is the meaning or purpose of life? What are we here for? The Westminster Confession of Faith addresses this aeons old question this way: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
[W]e really do work, but all our working is the fruit of enabling grace. Paul explains this in Philippians 2:12b-13:
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
We work, but when we have worked by faith in God's enabling future grace (rather than for the merit of the law), we turn around and say about our work, "My work was God's work in me, willing and "doing his good pleasure."
So when we say . . . that we are "sustained by all His grace," we do not mean sustained like friends sustaining a broken wheelchair while we do our own independent work. We mean that everything in this spiritual dynamic is sustained by God's grace. "Treasuring all that God is" is a work of grace in my heart. I would not treasure God without a mighty work of grace in my life (Acts 18:27; Phil. 1:29; Eph. 2:8f; 2 Tim. 2:25). "Loving all whom he loves" is a work of grace in my heart (1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; Phil 1:9; Gal. 5:22). "Praying for all his purposes" is a work of grace in my heart (Phi. 2:13; Heb. 13:21). And "meditating on all his word," is a work of grace (Psa. 119:36).
Why has God set it up this way? Because the giver gets the glory. God has established the universe in such a way that it magnifies the glory of his all-sufficiency. You can see this really clearly in 1 Peter 4:11:
Whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies [that's grace]; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
God gets the glory because he gave the grace.
Mister Rogers occasionally sang a song that went "You can never go down, Can never go down, Can never go down the drain" as part of reassuring his young audience they need not fear the bathtub drain. I don't recall ever having that fear as a little one, and neither of my little ones have ever feared getting sucked down in the gentle tide of the draining tub, but I recall an episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" where Rogers sat on the edge of a bathtub and calmly explained that people were too big to go down the drain.
For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
A week or so ago on Thinklings I conversed with a guy named Matthew who said he had done the whole Christianity thing with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength and didn't get anything out of it but an empty silence and a failed marriage. He poured out his story of devoting years and years to faithful pursuit of a relationship with Jesus, of studying his Bible and believing wholeheartedly in what it said, of praying daily with a fervent and devoted heart, of attending church with commitment and openness. Of begging God to take away the same-sex attraction that had been plaguing him since as long as he could remember. Matthew believed his desires were sinful and out of faithfulness did not act on them, and day after day for years and years pleaded with God to take those feelings away. He tried counseling and community. He even tried marriage to a woman. When he was finally able to come clean about his inner struggles, almost nothing he had committed himself to survived the fallout. His marriage was over. And so was his faith.
His face comes back to me across the years, and as I think about my own brokenness, failures, and the desire for common humanity that drives me to nail my thoughts to the door of the world, I wonder if he wasn’t showing me the face of every man and woman I’ve ever met.
You see, the invitation concluded, and that preacher began talking. His words were nervous, not the sure and confident tones of the sermon, but the halting, breaking, fearful tones of the guilty confession. He wasn’t in preacher-speak. He was speaking differently. Humanly. It bothered me.
In my church, our pastor seemed super-human. He was God’s man. A Spirit-filled man. He was different than all of us. He spoke differently. He dressed in suits all the time, even on hot summer days when he was doing yard work. He knelt behind the pulpit when he prayed, even though it was a very large church. He cried and shouted in the pulpit. He declared the Word of the Lord, and pled with sinners to come to Jesus. He was an embodiment of heaven’s man on earth.
He was not like the rest of us, and we knew it.
He did laugh, but not in the same way or at the same things. His wife was saintly, and always dressed like royalty. He could be tender, but he could also be frightening. You knew he spent hours with God, and was different as a result. He was a holy man.
As a young preacher-boy, I wasn’t a thing like him. I’m not sure that I wanted to be. I had walked the aisle and “surrendered” to preach, but could I ever be like that? Holy and separate? Anointed with power? I did believe, I am sure, that being a preacher meant I would be different. God would give to me…..something. The mantle of the prophet. The fire of the preacher. A light in the darkness. I wouldn’t be like other people. I would be safe and protected.
But this evening I was looking at another preacher, not my pastor. And he was not supernatural or holy or other-worldly. He seemed small and frightened. He was talking about his wife. He’d come home, and found his wife with another man. He just said this, to the whole church, as if they must know. He wept. His fear and self-loathing oozed out of him and into the atmosphere of that revival. Everything changed.
His wife was not present, though we all looked around to see her. I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t the only one. I wanted him to stop talking. He was scaring me. Real humanity, and the mess of a broken marriage, weren’t welcome in this revival, or in my world.
He said he and his wife had a lot of trouble, and he’d been taking medicine. But the medicine hadn’t done any good. Now his wife was with another man, and he wanted the church to pray. We did not know what to do with this. It was too much. Too much. Too real . . .
. . . I did not realize until many years later what had happened that night. The preacher was calling out of his darkness, calling into a room of other people, looking for something. What? He was looking to know he was not alone. He wanted to know if anyone else knew and understood what it was like to be human, to hurt and be a failure. To have failed at marriage and now, to have failed at being a “good Christian.” Did anyone care that his life was a wreck, or would they just condemn him? Would they pray for him, or did they just want him to go away?
I have no idea what he found. In me, he found the shock that comes from being confronted with my illusions. I wanted this to be a freakish exception to the rule that God makes us all better and makes everything all right. I wanted this to be a bad dream that would go away, because I did not want to think about the waking realities of infidelity and mental illness and desperate, despairing people. I did want to think that the man standing in the pulpit with the answers might not have all the answers for himself.
My faith rejected such a vision. I thought of that preacher as a sick fool. Today, I know better. He was a window into my own soul. A picture of the human race. A representative of the our true nature. And even more, he was, for that moment a sacrament of honesty in a religion of pretense. He stood there, falling to pieces, asking, “Am I alone? Am I the only one?” But we couldn’t let the secret out. We had to say the “amen,” and go home to a religion that protects us and makes us better.
Some twenty years later, that preacher took his own life. I do not know his path, I only know that in the end, he could not live with himself.
How many times did he stand and tell others to trust in a God of love, mercy and grace? And what did we hear? Did we hear the truth….or did we hear, instead, the invitation to paint ourselves in colors of self-deception and denial, and pretend another week, another year?
Over and over, Jesus reached into the lives of people like that preacher. The last, lost, least, losers. The unacceptable, the unreformable. The failures and the frauds. Those whose lives could not be tidied up with a little cultural religion. And from that, we have constructed a Jesus who prefers the “good Christian.” A Jesus who wants moralizing and religious superficiality. A Jesus who hardly needs to die for us, because a little exhortation to do better and keep on the straight and narrow are more our style. A Jesus without a cross, but with smiles and blessings for our homes and marriages full of “Christian moral values.”
Rather, who's the point?
But since orthodox Christianity has always held firm to the basic belief that it is by looking at Jesus himself that we discover who God is, it seems to me indisputable that we should expect always to be continuing in the quest for Jesus precisely as part of, indeed perhaps as the sharp edge of, our exploration into God himself.
As the family sat down to dinner the other night, a couple of us (Daddy and Gracie) were poised to dig in, when Macy said, "Aren't we going to pray?"
Anybody left reading Shizuka Blog may have noticed a couple of new menu features.
I encountered this quote for the first time this morning, and it rocks my world.
Abundant living is sometimes on account of, but more often, perhaps, in spite of. When circumstances are against us, we must be able to set the sails of our souls and use even adverse winds. The Christian faith does not offer exemption from sorrow and pain and frustration -- it offers the power, not merely to bear, but to use these adversities. The secret of using pain and suffering and frustration is in many ways life's greatest secret. When you have learned that, you are unbeatable and unbreakable.
The Christian "can take it," because he can take hold of adversity and use it. Christ bore the cross, for he could use the cross. You cannot bear the cross long -- it will break your spirit, unless you can take that cross and make it serve higher purposes. The stoic bears the cross; the Christian makes the cross bear fruit.
Any movement that has learned the secret of making the bitterest tree -- the cross -- bear the sweet fruit has learned the secret of abundant living.
-- E. Stanley Jones
Imagine you are one of the early church's first members. You are sitting in a home with a few other believers, sharing a meal. You pray together. You sing a few Psalms. Someone recites a bit he's heard of Jesus' biography. Then someone gets up to read a letter to you from some guy named Paul.
I don't mean to be scarce here just as I've ramped up the posting again. The truth is that, in addition to general Dada-type busy-ness, I am a bit caught up in the dealings with our church.
In order to be a church, the people must assemble in the name of Christ. In so doing, they attest that he is the determining ground of their lives; in him they have found freedom, orientation, and power. They come together first of all to call upon him as Savior and to bear witness to him before each other and before the entire world. They hear the proclamation "in his name" (Acts 5.28), call upon his name in faith (see Rom. 10.13), are baptized in his name (see Acts 2.38), and in this way are "washed," "sanctified," and "justified" through this name (1 Cor. 6.11). He is the source of their lives.
Second, people gather together in Christ's name in order to profess faith in him as their Lord and as the Lord of the entire cosmos. He determines the fundamental conditions of their individual and communal lives (see 1 Cor. 1.10; 5.4); they gather together "under his authority and with the intention of acting in obedience to him." It is he who gives their lives binding direction.
Third, by assembling in Christ's name, Christians acknowledge him as the power in which they live. The "power" and the "name" are intimately connected. Jesus Christ is Immanuel, the God who is with them, and in the power of his Spirit they are able to do those works that are commensurate with the new creation and that allow the new creation to shine in the midst of the old.
My church here in Middle Tennessee began this weekend an ugly split. (Actually, I'm learning it began almost two years ago, but the congregation has just learned of and engaged in the conflict this week.)
Bridges continually takes issue with the unbiblical view that the gospel is solely or even primarily for unbelievers. Rather, he says, the gospel must be the foundation not only of justification but also sanctification. The believer must preach the gospel to himself every day. "To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God's holy wrath is no longer directed toward you."
He later says, "This is the gospel by which we were saved, and it is the gospel by which we must live every day of our Christian lives...If you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness."
As a follow-up to the post on Contentment, here are some words from William Penn:
In him, his humble, sincere disciples find more than all that they lose in the world. All we have is the Almighty's; and shall not God have his own when he calls for it?
Discontentedness is not only in such a case ingratitude, but injustice. For we are both unthankful for the time we had it, and not honest enough to restore it, if we could keep it.
But it is hard for us to look on things in such a glass, and at such a distance from this low world; and yet it is our duty, and would be our wisdom and our glory to do so.
The real devil in the details of the prosperity-type teaching overtaking evangelicalism is not really that it skips over the stuff about sin. Sure, it does that too, but the pernicious paradox of this stuff is that it champions "victorious Christian living" yet does not equip believers for sustainable discipleship. It emphasizes feelings and "outlook," not the power of the Spirit, which is hard for some folks to notice since the latter is often conflated with the former (so that being optimistic or a go-getter is ipso facto being Spirit-empowered). The problem over time is that, going from victory to victory, expecting victory after victory, cultivates a contagious form of spiritual greed. (Is it any wonder that this sort of teaching often goes hand and hand with talk of financial riches and prosperity?) The real stuff of discipleship -- what Eugene Peterson calls "a long obedience in the same direction" -- involves hard stuff like discipline and the fruit of the Spirit. In pop discipleship discipline is replaced by steps, tips, and amazingsupercolossal breakthroughs.
True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare.
I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
-- Philippians 4.12-13
Now that "sin" is not spoken of much in churches anymore, and now that inspirational self-help has influenced the church's prescription for our troubles, it occurs to me that the Gospel is now a truly radical proposition in the very community it birthed.
Can I tell you that I hate the folktale of "The Little Red Hen"? I do not like it, for although I know the morals it hopes to teach are good ones (against laziness, for work and cooperation), the climactic delivery actually teaches a very unChristlike selfishness. It's sort of a "one bad turn deserves another"-type thing. Here's the story to remind you:
Dan Edelen has a good post today touching on the recommended bloggy allowance of Scripture. It's for people who count verse citations in posts like the raisins in Raisin Bran.
Katsumoto: "Do you believe a man can change his destiny?"
God has given Scripture to us so that we can know what we should and shouldn’t do. He expects us to act on this knowledge. What we cannot know, we should leave to God. We should stick to our responsibilities, vocation, and position in life. God and God alone knows what his predestined. You aren’t supposed to know.
Take for example the time when Joab was being attacked both in front and from behind by
his enemies. He didn’t say to his brother Abishai, “Wait, let’s see what is predestined, and then
we will act accordingly.” Rather he said, “If the Arameans are too strong for my troops, be
ready to help me. And if the Ammonites are too strong for your troops, I’ll come to help you. Be
strong! Let’s prove ourselves strong for our people and for the cities of our God, and the LORD will do what he considers right” (2 Samuel
So we should also concentrate on our duties, not whether or not something is predestined. Because we have no word or light from God on that matter, we don’t know anything about it.
Therefore, we should put the thought of trying to find out whether something is predestined or not out of our mind and heart. Let the future remain in darkness. Let it stay secret and hidden.
In the meantime, we should do what we know we ought to do. We should live by God’s Word and the light he has given to us.
Two weeks ago, the couple who lead our couples small group at church said they were going out of town, and they asked me if I wouldn't mind filling in for them. Feeling a bit put on the spot, I said yes. I'm glad I did.
On a Sabbath day during one of the Jewish feasts, Jesus went to Jerusalem. By the Sheep Gate there was the Bethesda pool, which was said to heal all manner of infirmities if entered when the water stirred. The place was big enough to require five roofed colonnades. All around the pool waited a multitude needing healing. The blind were there, and the lame and paralyzed. One guy waiting by the pool had been an invalid for almost 40 years.
Jesus saw him lying there and knew he’d been there a long time. “Don’t you want to be healed?”
The man said, “Yes, but I don’t have anyone to put me in the pool when the water starts stirring. And when I try to get in by myself, people push their way in front of me.”
Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”
And at once the man was healed and he obeyed.
-- paraphrased from John 5
I love that story. It means the world to me for reasons I can’t fully explain. That the man was too weak to help himself resonates with me. That he needed help but nobody would help him resonates with me. That he’d been waiting 38 years for healing resonates with me. That everybody was pushing in front of him to get theirs in the pool resonates with me.
That all it took was Jesus resonates with me.
I am finding it harder and harder to put up with self-helpy preachers. I don’t get it. I want to be charitable — and for once I won’t name names, but you know who I’m talking about — and part of that is because these guys at least carry the pretense of evangelicalism. They aren’t all-around discounted like the Armani-clad cartoons on TBN. They still maintain supporters as long as pragmatism, Church Growth Movement ideology, and feel-good spirituality entertainment holds sway in American churches.
But that only makes them more gross. For the life of me I can’t figure out what makes them so appealing. Because when I watch some preacher talk about the power of me and about being positive and speaking blessings into existence, I have no idea who he’s talking to. Am I the first person to say I can’t do it? I can’t do it by myself. I’m incapable. I’m cynical, sure. Negative, yes. I’m a pessimist. But those aren’t my problems.
Sin is. I’m being honest with myself. And until they can be honest about themselves — and until they can be honest about me — I have no interest in discovering the champion inside of me. Because he ain’t in there. I checked.
I consider myself fairly spiritually mature. I trusted Jesus for salvation, and I keep doing that every day. But spiritually speaking, I’m a lame dude watching everyone else push their way into the foamy waters, waiting on something I can’t manage on my own. No amount of rush or maneuvering or special pool-entry techniques are cutting it. I’m waiting on Jesus to show up, to make the pool irrelevant.
Look, either grace is sufficient or it isn’t. Either the joy of the Lord is my strength or it isn’t. All the rest is b.s.
I wish I was living my best life now, but I’m not. I’m wandering (as if you couldn’t tell just by reading this post). And I’m wondering how to continue, day in and day out, loving scavenged manna. I mean, I’m scraping the stuff off the side of rocks and whatnot. But I know the dude in the gigantic arena saying he’s got lobster and caviar for me to eat is a liar.
Knowing that is no consolation. But knowing Jesus is.
(cross-posted at Thinklings)
The girls were doodling on some paint sample cards on the way to church yesterday morning. Here's a little chart Macy made:
Be kind to me
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
-- 1 Corinthians 13.4-8a