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A recent conversation with my mom and sister reminded me of a confession, the “Fellowship of the Unashamed,” that I had to memorize for a Bible class in 8th grade.  I had forgotten the powerful background story about when and why the confession was written, but my mom quickly reminded me of the circumstances under which a young man boldly stood firm and sacrificed everything for Christ.

Dr. Bob Morehead summarizes the story: “In 1980, a young man from Rwanda was forced by his tribe to either renounce Christ or face certain death.  He refused to renounce Christ, and he was killed on the spot.  The night before he had written the following commitment, which was found in his room.”

 

I am part of the “Fellowship of the Unashamed.”

I have Holy Spirit power.
The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line.
The decision has been made.

I am a disciple of Christ Jesus.

I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure.

I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, positions, promotions, plaudits, or popularity.

I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded.
I now live by presence, lean by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear.
I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed.

I will not flinch in the fact of sacrifice,
hesitate in the presence of adversity,
negotiate at the table of the enemy,
ponder at the pool of popularity,
or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I am a disciple of Christ Jesus.
I must go until He returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes.
And when my time is up, He will have no problem recognizing me.
My colors will be clear.

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ… (Romans 1:16).

 

Wow.  What a powerful statement.  What a powerful sacrifice.  Amidst the persistent pull of life details, popular culture, and my own heart toward busyness, apathy, comfort, and selfish desires, this confession stirs a prayer: Lord, please captivate us, inspire us, transform us, and strengthen us by the power of Your Gospel work to boldly declare with our words, actions, and very lives that You are worth it all!

Mr. Hunsberger, thanks for having us memorize the Fellowship of the Unashamed.  Father, help us live it out!

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. ~ Ephesians 3

This past week, I read some great thoughts from C.S. Lewis about the depth of God’s love for mankind.  In The Problem of Pain, Lewis grapples with the age-old question of how a good God could allow the people He created and loves to experience pain and suffering.  As I’ve come to expect, Lewis gives an intelligent and articulate answer on a tough topic.

He explains that God’s love for us is so profound that He will not indifferently grant us less than His goodness, which includes the full measure of joy, peace, strength, and all that will truly satisfy.  God will not give us happiness on any and all terms because we think we want/need it.  No, in His perfect affection, He will give us what He omnisciently knows is best for us, even if it means we must go through tough times to get it.

Lewis’s discussion of God’s perfect love in The Problem of Pain reminded me similar ideas that he shares in The Screwtape Letters.  Writing from the perspective of the fictional demon Screwtape, Lewis offers us a satirical glimpse at how Satan’s minions might view God, humans, the world, and the spiritual battle over men’s souls.  One point he makes is that God’s love for sinful, weaklings like us is so abiding and sacrificial that it must perplex, and even frustrate, the fallen angels.

Several passages from The Problem of Pain and The Screwtape Letters were an inspiring reminder to me that God’s perfect love is deeper, better, and more generous than we can comprehend.  So, I decided to post them.  Lewis’s words encourage each of us to contemplate and celebrate the life-transforming reality that, “yes, Jesus loves me,” rather than casually and apathetically relegating this miraculous gift to little more than the chorus of a Sunday school song.  They also remind us that our answer to the problem of hardship and pain is not that God has failed to be good, loving, or sovereign in our circumstances.  Our answer remains to remember, run to, and rely on the very real fact of our Father’s love, even as we feel very real sorrow.

The Problem of Pain:

“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness – the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.

I might, indeed, have learned, even from the poets, that Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness: that even the love between the sexes is, as in Dante, ‘a lord of terrible aspect’. There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness (in the sense given above) is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to it’s object, and even something like contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of it’s object – we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether it’s object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished.3 It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.

When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some ‘disinterested’, because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes. It is certainly a burden of glory not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring; we are inclined, like the maidens in the old play, to deprecate the love of Zeus. But the fact seems unquestionable. The Impassible speaks as if it suffered passion, and that which contains in Itself the cause of it’s own and all other bliss talks as though it could be in want and yearning. ‘Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him.’ ‘How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I abandon thee, Israel? Mine heart is turned within me.’ ‘Oh Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.’

The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’ We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities – no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt, or a dog, once having learned to love man, could wish that man were such as to tolerate in his house the snapping, verminous, polluting creature of the wild pack. What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.

I plainly foresee that the course of my argument may provoke a protest. I had promised that in coming to understand the Divine goodness we should not be asked to accept a mere reversal of our own ethics. But it may be objected that a reversal is precisely what we have been asked to accept. The kind of love which I attribute to God, it may be said, is just the kind which in human beings we describe as ‘selfish’ or ‘possessive’, and contrast unfavourably with another kind which seeks first the happiness of the beloved and not the contentment of the lover. I am not sure that this is quite how I feel even about human love. I do not think I should value much the love of a friend who cared only for my happiness and did not object to my becoming dishonest. Nevertheless, the protest is welcome, and the answer to it will put the subject in a new light, and correct what has been one-sided in our discussion.

The truth is that this antithesis between egoistic and altruistic love cannot be unambiguously applied to the love of God for His creatures. Clashes of interest, and therefore opportunities either of selfishness or unselfishness, occur only between beings inhabiting a common world: God can no more be in competition with a creature than Shakespeare can be in competition with Viola. When God becomes a Man and lives as a creature among His own creatures in Palestine, then indeed His life is one of supreme self-sacrifice and leads to Calvary. A modern pantheistic philosopher has said, ‘When the Absolute falls into the sea it becomes a fish’; in the same way, we Christians can point to the Incarnation and say that when God empties Himself of His glory and submits to those conditions under which alone egoism and altruism have a clear meaning, He is seen to be wholly altruistic. But God in His transcendence – God as the unconditioned ground of all conditions – cannot easily be thought of in the same way. We call human love selfish when it satisfies it’s own needs at the expense of the object’s needs – as when a father keeps at home, because he cannot bear to relinquish their society, children who ought, in their own interests, to be put out into the world. The situation implies a need or passion on the part of the lover, an incompatible need on the part of the beloved, and the lover’s disregard or culpable ignorance of the beloved’s need. None of these conditions is present in the relation of God to man. God has no needs. Human love, as Plato teaches us, is the child of Poverty – of a want or lack; it is caused by a real or supposed good in it’s beloved which the lover needs and desires. But God’s love, far from being caused by goodness in the object, causes all the goodness which the object has, loving it first into existence and then into real, though derivative, lovability. God is Goodness. He can give good, but cannot need or get it. In that sense all His love is, as it were, bottomlessly selfless by very definition; it has everything to give and nothing to receive. Hence, if God sometimes speaks as though the Impassible could suffer passion and eternal fullness could be in want, and in want of those beings on whom it bestows all from their bare existence upwards, this can mean only, if it means anything intelligible by us, that God of mere miracle has made Himself able so to hunger and created in Himself that which we can satisfy. If He requires us, the requirement is of His own choosing. If the immutable heart can be grieved by the puppets of it’s own making, it is Divine Omnipotence, no other, that has so subjected it, freely, and in a humility that passes understanding. If the world exists not chiefly that we may love God but that God may love us, yet that very fact, on a deeper level, is so for our sakes. If He who in Himself can lack nothing chooses to need us, it is because we need to be needed. Before and behind all the relations of God to man, as we now learn them from Christianity, yawns the abyss of a Divine act of pure giving – the election of man, from nonentity, to be the beloved of God, and therefore (in some sense) the needed and desired of God, who but for that act needs and desires nothing, since He eternally has, and is, all goodness. And that act is for our sakes. It is good for us to know love; and best for us to know the love of the best object, God. But to know it as a love in which we were primarily the wooers and God the wooed, in which we sought and He was found, in which His conformity to our needs, not ours to His, came first, would be to know it in a form false to the very nature of things. For we are only creatures: our role must always be that of patient to agent, female to male, mirror to light, echo to voice. Our highest activity must be response, not initiative. To experience the love of God in a true, and not an illusory form, is therefore to experience it as our surrender to His demand, our conformity to His desire: to experience it in the opposite way is, as it were, a solecism against the grammar of being. I do not deny, of course, that on a certain level we may rightly speak of the soul’s search for God, and of God as receptive of the soul’s love: but in the long run the soul’s search for God can only be a mode, or appearance (Erscheinung) of His search for her, since all comes from Him, since the very possibility of our loving is His gift to us, and since our freedom is only a freedom of better or worse response. Hence I think that nothing marks off Pagan theism from Christianity so sharply as Aristotle’s doctrine that God moves the universe, Himself unmoving, as the Beloved moves a lover. But for Christendom ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us.’

The first condition, then, of what is called a selfish love among men is lacking with God. He has no natural necessities, no passion, to compete with His wish for the beloved’s welfare: or if there is in Him something which we have to imagine after the analogy of a passion, a want, it is there by His own will and for our sakes. And the second condition is lacking too. The real interests of a child may differ from that which his father’s affection instinctively demands, because the child is a separate being from the father with a nature which has it’s own needs and does not exist solely for the father nor find it’s whole perfection in being loved by him, and which the father does not fully understand. But creatures are not thus separate from their Creator, nor can He misunderstand them. The place for which He designs them in His scheme of things is the place they are made for. When they reach it their nature is fulfilled and their happiness attained: a broken bone in the universe has been set, the anguish is over. When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy. Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted. He demands our worship, our obedience, our prostration. Do we suppose that they can do Him any good, or fear, like the chorus in Milton, that human irreverence can bring about ‘His glory’s diminution’? A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell. But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces. If we do not, that only shows that what we are trying to love is not yet God – though it may be the nearest approximation to God which our thought and fantasy can attain. Yet the call is not only to prostration and awe; it is to a reflection of the Divine life, a creaturely participation in the Divine attributes which is far beyond our present desires. We are bidden to ‘put on Christ’, to become like God. That is, whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little.

Yet perhaps even this view falls short of the truth. It is not simply that God has arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures: and by necessity, each must find it’s good in that kind and degree of the fruition of God which is proper to its nature. The kind and degree may vary with the creature’s nature: but that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream. George Macdonald, in a passage I cannot now find, represents God as saying to men, ‘You must be strong with my strength and blessed with my blessedness, for I have no other to give you.’ That is the conclusion of the whole matter. God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God – to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response – to be miserable – these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows – the only food that any possible universe ever can grow – then we must starve eternally.”

The demon Screwtape explains to his nephew Wormwood the difference between God’s, or, as he puts it, “the Enemy’s,” love for humans and the Devil’s lust for humans (Letter 8, The Screwtape Letters):

“To us [Satan and his demons] a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy [God] demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below [Satan] has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.”

Screwtape wrestles with God’s (“The Enemy’s”) love for mankind, a deep and life-transforming affection, which he cannot understand (Letter 14, The Screwtape Letters):

To anticipate the Enemy’s strategy, we must consider His aims…. The Enemy wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His longterm policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left. 

Here’s a link to read the rest of the “Divine Goodness” Chapter, from which these Problem of Pain quotes were taken.

Here are links to read the rest of Letter 8 and Letter 14 of The Screwtape Letters.

It’s 1980s trivia time!  Question: What is the name of the evil force that threatens the imaginary world of Fantasia in the 1984 fantasy film The Neverending Story?  Answer: The Nothing, a void of darkness and despair that consumes everything in its path.

 

Interestingly enough, J.R.R. Tolkien also uses the concept of nothingness to describe the villainous henchmen in his well-loved trilogy The Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien writes that the Dark Riders, who hunt Frodo and the ring, are neither dead nor alive and must wear robes to “give shape to their nothingness.”  The association of absent substance with evil characterizes countless horror stories as well.  Take vampires for instance.  Why do the undead monsters see nothing when they look at themselves in a mirror?  Because vampires are transparent, missing any real substance, and, as a result, light passes right through them.

 

Wikipedia delineates “nothing” as “things lacking importance, interest, value, relevance, or significance,” going on to say, “Nothingness is the state of being nothing… or the property of having nothing.”  Based on this definition, the fairytale villain of nothingness actually sounds like a legitimate fear every human has faced.  The irrelevant, insignificant life lurks as a gnawing nemesis for us all.

 

God, the author and hero of our story, is reality, life, light, substance, and meaning, and He offers us these gifts.  Apart from Him, however, shadows, death, darkness, emptiness, and insignificance threaten to consume us faster than The Nothing or Dark Riders ever could.  Our enemy, the devil, prowls around, waiting to destroy any significance and devour any life God has given us, and this lost world and our own sinful desires prove ready accomplices in his ruthless task.

 

As humans, we were created by God to display His glory, and we have significance when we fulfill this purpose.  There is substance and meaning in our existence when we reflect God’s greatness, His beauty, and His all-surpassing worth.  Apart from Him, however, we have no good.  We have no life.  We have no weight.   John Piper explains the situation well.  “Humans are not made to be mere shadows and echoes.  We were made to have God-like substance and make God-like music and have God-like impact.  That is what it means to be created in the image of God.  But when humans forsake their Maker and love other things more, they become like the things they love—small, insignificant, weightless, inconsequential, and God-diminishing.”

 

C.S. Lewis describes this tragic state when he writes about those who refuse to receive Christ as Savior, Lord, and Treasure.  The narrator in Lewis’s The Great Divorce discovers the terrible reality that, because he has chosen to live apart from God, he is nothing more than a transparent phantom.  With his story, Lewis points out that many of our neighbors and friends are, in fact, living each day and heading into eternity as spiritual ghosts, or “man-shaped stains on the brightness of the air.”

 

Sadly, we as believers, who have been given eternal substance through Christ’s saving death and resurrection, often miss out on His gift of meaning.  Rather than pursuing the significant purpose of displaying His glory, we effectively choose eternal irrelevance through our daily thoughts, words, and deeds.  Nothingness eats away our relevance when we prioritize our own worthless wants over God’s weighty will.  It slowly steals our energy and joy when we replace Christ with imposters that suck us dry or rot us from the inside out.

 

At different points in my life, I know that I’ve pursued hollow idols and lived for seasons in the shadows.  A few sad examples come to mind.  I’ve spent hours in the gym because I believed a lie about where my worth was located.  I’ve strived in my own strength after academic and athletic goals because I wanted to earn awards and applause for myself.  I’ve shied away from being a bold witness because I was more afraid about what people thought of me than I was about missing an opportunity to represent Christ.  I’ve placed my own selfish desires above those of my handsome husband.  I’ve avoided the difficult path, toward which I felt the Lord calling me, for the sake of my own ease and comfort.  I’ve horded my time, my talents, and my treasure because I thought I needed them, more than Christ, to be secure.

 

If we take the time to stop and think, we’ve all fallen victim to the pitfalls of futile living.  Consider for a moment: what are the things we love more than God and His glory?  In what ways do we seek significance according to our own plan, through our own gifts, and by our own control?  What lies do we believe about God and ourselves?  How do we invest our time and our energy in meaningless pursuits that fall short of eternity?

 

So, if we agree that nothingness is a problem, the question remains, how do we fight it?  A few thoughts come to mind.  We ask the Lord to give us a passionate and transforming love for Christ, His glory, His principles, and His purpose for our lives.  We let the Lord replace our lies with His truth.  We courageously pursue the tasks God places before us.  We love others with His love.  We use our gifts for His glory and point all praise to Him.  We take leaps of faith when He tells us to jump.  By the power of His glorious presence, we live rooted in His Word, committed to prayer, dependent on His strength, and guided by an eternal perspective.

 

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” ~ Ephesians 3:16-21

Wow, it’s been a busy year!  All the adjustments to, fun of, and challenges of married life and grad school have filled up most of my time these past few months and, as a result, it’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged.  Now that summer is in full swing, I definitely look forward to getting back in the groove and typing out a few thoughts.  I also look forward to lots of fun, personal reading, aka books that aren’t required for classes or papers.

celebrating with the family as Eric and I commenced married life :)

Speaking of books, there are several authors who I never tire of reading.  C.S. Lewis, John Piper, Agatha Christie, and St. Augustine come quickly to mind.  Of that prestigious bunch, Augustine is definitely the most archaic and philosophical.  Yet, I love his work.  I love how he thinks about things and how he communicates ideas.  I respect how Augustine honestly recognizes and wrestles with the pain and suffering of human life, and yet finds and proclaims enduring hope and joy in Christ.  I also greatly appreciate the fact that he identifies God as the sole source of objective truth and happiness, a message our morally relativistic society could stand to hear and apply.

getting to enjoy some Tar Heel basketball after moving to Chapel Hill, NC for grad school

Apart from his words, I also see lessons in Augustine’s life.  His testimony of accepting Christ in his early thirties, after years of prodigal living, affirms the reality that no one is beyond God’s saving grace.  His desire for God to transform his weaknesses into strengths and his fight to surrender personal sins to the Lord challenge all believers to ask and allow the Lord to continue His refining work in our lives.

As you can tell, I slightly like Augustine :).

This morning, I was encouraged by some quotes in Confessions, Augustine’s testimony of his conversion to Christianity.  So, I decided to share them.

Augustine’s prayers, in no particular order, my favorites in bold:

“The man who serves you best, O God, is the one who is less intent on hearing from you what he wills to hear than on shaping his will according to what he hears from you.”

“Happiness is to rejoice in you, O Lord, and for you and because of you.  This is true happiness and there is no other…  True happiness is to rejoice in the truth, for to rejoice in the truth, is to rejoice in you, O God, who are the Truth, you, my God, my true Light, to whom I look for salvation.  This is the happiness that all desire.”

“Why does truth engender hatred?  Why does your servant meet with hostility when he preaches the truth, although men love happiness, which is simply the enjoyment of truth?  It can only be that man’s love of truth is such that when he loves something which is not the truth, he pretends to himself that what he loves is the truth, and because he hates to be proved wrong, he will not allow himself to be convinced that he is deceiving himself.  So he hates the real truth for the sake of what he takes to his heart in its place.  Men love the truth when it bathes them in its light; they hate it when it proves them wrong.” 

“God, you called me; you cried aloud to me; you broke my barrier of deafness.  You shone upon me; your radiance enveloped me; you put my blindness to flight.  You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odour.  I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you.  You touched me, and I am inflamed with love of your peace.”

“We, O Lord, are your little flock.  Keep us as your own.  Spread your wings and let us shelter beneath them.  Let us glory in you alone.  If we are loved or feared by others, let it be for your sake.  No man who seeks the praise of other men can be defended by men when you call him to account.”

“[Father], give me the grace to do as you command, and command me to do what you will!”

“[Lord], let me offer you in sacrifice the service of my thoughts and my tongue, but first give me what I may offer to you.  For I am needy and poor, but you who care for us, yet are free from care for yourself, have enough and to spare for all those who call upon you.  Circumcise the lips of my mind and my mouth.  Purify them of all rash speech and falsehood.  Let your Scriptures be my chaste delight.  Let me not deceive myself in them nor deceive others about them.  Hear me, O Lord.  Have mercy on me, O Lord my God, Light of the blind, Strength of the weak, Light, too, of those who see and Strength of the strong.”

“[God], to win your favour is dearer than life itself.  I see now that my life has been wasted in distractions, but your right hand has supported me in the person of Christ my Lord, the Son of man, who is the Mediator between you, who are one, and men, who are many.  He has upheld me in many ways and through many trials, in order that through him I may win the mastery, as he has won the mastery over me; in order that I may be rid of my old temptations and devote myself only to God’s single purpose, forgetting what I have left behind.  I look forward, not to what lies ahead of me in this life and will surely pass away, but to my eternal goal.  I am intent upon this one purpose, not distracted by other aims, and with this goal in view I press on, eager for the prize, God’s heavenly summons.  Then I shall listed to the sound of your praises and gaze at your beauty ever present, never future, never past.”

“[Father], you are supreme above all, yet your dwelling is in the humble of heart.  For you comfort the burdened, and none fall who lift their eyes to your high place.”

“[Lord], we have your promise and who shall annul it?  Who can be our adversary, if God is on our side?  Ask, and the gift will come; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you.  Everyone that asks, will receive; that seek, will find; that knocks, will have the door opened to him.  These are your promises, and who need fear to be deceived when Truth promises?”

“Why do you try to stand in your own strength and fail?  Cast yourself upon God and have no fear.  He will not shrink away and let you fall.  Cast yourself upon him without fear, for he will welcome you and cure you of your ills.”

“My love of you, O Lord, is not some vague feeling: it is positive and certain.  Your word struck into my heart and from that moment I loved you.  Besides this, all about me, heaven and earth and all that they contain proclaim that I should love you, and their message never ceases to sound in the ears of all mankind, so that there is no excuse for any not to love you.”

“What do I love when I love my God?  Not material beauty or beauty of a temporal order; not the brilliance of earthly light, so welcome to our eyes; not the sweet melody of harmony and song; not the fragrance of flowers, perfumes, and spices; not manna or honey; not limbs such as the body delights to embrace.  It is not these that I love when I love my God.  And yet, when I love him, it is true that I love a light of a certain kind, a voice, a perfume, a food, an embrace; but they are of the kind that I love in my inner self, when my soul is bathed in light that is not bound by space; when it listens to sound that never dies away; when it breathes fragrance that is not borne away on the wind; when it tastes food that is never consumed by the eating; when it clings to an embrace from which it is not severed by fulfillment of desire.  This is what I love when I love my God.”

“Let me listen to Truth, the Light of my heart, and not to the voices which I heard in the days of my darkness.  I deserted truth for worldly things and the night closed over me… I wandered away, but I remembered you, O God.  I heard your voice at my back, calling me to return, though I was scarcely, able to hear it in the uproar raised by men who would not live at peace with you.  Now I return from the heat of the fray, panting to reach your fountain.  Let none keep me from it.  There I shall drink and its waters shall give me life.  Let me not be my own life, for when I lived of myself I lived evilly: I was death to myself.  But in you, Lord, I live again.”

“You truly are the eternal God, because in you there is no change and in you we find the rest that banishes all our labour.  For there is no other besides you and we need not struggle for other things that are not what you are, and it was you, O Lord, who bade me dwell in safety.”

“Come, O Lord, and stir our hearts.  Call us back to yourself.  Kindle your fire in us and carry us away.  Let us scent your fragrance and taste your sweetness.  Let us love you and hasten to your side.”

Amen!

I was both challenged and encouraged this past Sunday by a powerful sermon on Mark 4:35-41.  Here are a few of the thoughts that Dr. Ron Cline shared, as well as a passage I love by Anne Graham Lotz.

There’s no question that we will face storms during this life – those trials that test our health, finances, friendships, families, emotions, strength, time and trust.

So, the only question is, how will we respond to the inevitable storms – with fear or with faith?  As we face challenges, will we cling to our plans for our comfort and depend on our own limited resources or will we remember God’s goal of His glory and rely on His boundless strength?

Anne Graham Lotz creatively describes our two options of fear and faith in her book Just Give Me Jesus:

“A turkey and eagle react in different ways to the threat of a storm.  A turkey reacts by running under the barn, hoping the storm won’t come near it.  On the other hand, an eagle leaves the security of its nest and spreads its wings to ride the air currents of the approaching storm, knowing the wind will carry it higher in the sky than it could soar on its own.  So which are you – a turkey or an eagle – in the way you react to the storms of life?

I have discovered I am an emotional turkey.  I want to withdraw from the emotional pain and burdensome demands and frenzied activities and unending responsibilities.  I want to run under the barn with my wings over my head and hide from the [suffering and the struggle].  I want to escape the hurt.

Yet I have chosen to be an eagle in my spirit.  And in the midst of the storm, when I have spread my wings of faith to embrace the ‘Wind,’ placing my dependency upon Jesus and Jesus alone, I have experienced quiet, ‘everyday’ miracles; His joy has balanced the pain, His power has lifted the burden, His peace has calmed the worries, and His all-sufficiency has been more than adequate to meet all my responsibilities.

Soaring has become an adventure of discovering just how faithful He can be when I am way out of my comfort zone in the stratosphere over the storm.  In fact, soaring has become so exhilarating that I increasingly find I am no longer content to live in the barnyard of familiarity just for its relative security.  I want to live by faith!  And I imagine a smile of infinite tenderness on His face as the angels in heaven applaud…

Jesus wants us to soar higher in our relationship with Him. He wants us to fall deeper in love with Him, to grow stronger in our faith in Him, to be more consistent in our walk with Him, to bear more fruit in our service to Him, to draw closer to His heart, to keep our focus on His face, to live for His glory alone!

This growth in depth and strength and consistency and fruitfulness and ultimately in Christlikeness is often [made] possible when the winds of life are contrary to personal comfort. Just as storms make it possible for eagles to soar, so suffering makes it possible for you and me to attain the highest pinnacles in the Christian life.  [Storms] develop our faith.”

Looks like eagles Defy Gravity much better than turkeys :)!  So, when difficult times come, I pray that we, as the body of Christ, will be prepared to soar high rather than hiding under the barn!

Our greatest mental, physical, and social achievements are as straw compared with one glimpse of the living God. ~ Ken Boa

Tonight I had every intention of writing about distractions – those things we allow, knowingly or even unknowingly, to sidetrack us from fruitful fellowship with Christ.  Somewhere, however, between my bread-making class, pick-up basketball games, and now sitting on my bed, another thought popped into my head and wouldn’t go away.  So, “distractions” will have to wait; tonight I’m writing about what I believe is the most important paradigm for the Christian life – namely that perspective which John Piper describes as a “God-centered, soul-satisfying vision of reality.”

Here’s the thought that’s been bouncing around in my head: I realized that if I could ask the Lord for one thing while here on this earth, I would ask that He grant me His vision.  I want His perspective on how to love Him well, love others well, make difficult decisions, deal with suffering, and honor Him with my time on this earth!

Ultimately, I want to live a God-centered, rather than self-centered, life!  I want the Lord to so enlarge my vision of Him that there’s no room left to focus on myself.

What spurred this line of thought?  Well, I’m blessed to be in a bible study with twelve amazing women, and we’re reading through Kay Arthur’s Lord, I Want To Know You – a neat book about the names of God used in Scripture.  Last night we discussed the names Elohim and El Elyon.

Elohim – the first of God’s names used in the Bible (Gen. 1:1) – refers to God as creator.  While discussing the significance of this name, Arthur points out that God created us for His glory – to give all of creation a correct opinion of His worth (Is. 43).  The ultimate purpose of our existence is to know God, to delight in Him and in so delighting, to display His glory to the world.

Our bible study group discussed how difficult it is to live out the familiar and yet deeply profound truth that our life paradigm should be Soli Deo Gloria: “Glory to God Alone.”  All too often we act like this life is about us.  We become surprised, disillusioned, or even angry when God’s plan doesn’t fit ours.  We doubt why He doesn’t do what we think He should do or act within the timeframe we think He should act.  We question why He ordains the confusing situations, waiting periods, difficult circumstances, and seemingly senseless suffering that we think He should keep away from those He loves.

We forget that the purpose of this life is His glory, period!  It’s all about Him – not our ease, our comfort, our advancement, our praise, our health, our happiness, or our way.

Despite the apparent harshness of this truth, the amazing thing is that God’s glory is also our good!  While we might not readily define certain circumstances as good, the Lord knows what’s best for us – namely that we know, love, and honor Him.  We will always find the greatest peace and fulfillment in maintaining a God-centered perspective no matter what we face.  John Piper wisely writes, “The exhibition of God’s glory and the deepest joy of human souls are one thing.”

After discussing the goal of bringing God glory, our bible study group talked about the significance of God’s name El Elyon.  The term means Highest, Exalted One, or Most High and refers to God’s sovereignty (Dan. 4:34).  Ann Spangler provides this powerful definition in Praying the Names of God: “When we praise the Most High, we are worshiping the One whose power, mercy and sovereignty cannot be matched.”

Thinking about God as the sovereign Most High sparked further discussion in our group about God’s call to live out a God-centered perspective.  In particular, it made me consider whether God is truly “most high” in my own mind, heart, and vision.  Do I love and treasure Him above all else?  Do I dream about, desire, and focus on Christ, or am I too distracted by other thoughts about a relationship, a job, a decision, fun, friends, the future, money, or myself?

Psalm 97 paints a powerful picture of El Elyon: “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. All who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols—worship him, all you gods! For you, O Lord, are the Most High over all the earth; 
you are exalted far above all gods.”

Spangler writes this powerful response to Psalm 97.  “The psalmist’s words make me wonder how different my life would be if I could etch this vision into my soul.  How could I take my eyes off such a God?  Wouldn’t this picture of him dominate my thoughts?  Wouldn’t it compel my devotion and reshape my response to life, moment by moment, day after day?”

That’s what I want – to live with a vision of God’s grandeur that shapes how I think, work, give, love, and live.  I want God to be Most High in my life!

A co-worker and I were talking a few weeks ago about how great it would be to live constantly with the heart and mind of Christ, to think about Jesus with every brain wave.  In all honesty, I get excited about the mere thought.  And while I know the Christian life is a process of growth, and we won’t reach such perfection with the snap of a finger, I pray that as we learn to abide in Christ a God-centered perspective will become the paradigm for our lives!  I believe such a perspective results in His glory and our good!

God-Focused Vision

  • But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death (Ps. 141:8).
  • Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).
  • For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
  • My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare (Ps. 25:15).
  • Turn my eyes away from worthless things; 
preserve my life according to your word (Ps. 119:37).

While watching a basketball game tonight, some friends and I were joking back and forth about the differences between men and women.  Somehow that conversation transitioned to a discussion of the qualities we find most attractive in persons of the opposite sex.  When asked our opinion, my girl friend and I both answered that one of the top qualities we value in a man is passion.

Passion: I love that word!  To be honest, if someone even routinely mentions the term, I can’t help but get excited.  It immediately evokes notions of contagious enthusiasm, inspiring vision, meaningful action, and boundless devotion.  When I picture passion, I picture grabbing life by the horns carpe diem style, refusing to settle for an apathetic existence.  And, as I alluded to above, I love being around passionate people, those who are inspired by and take action on the vision God’s given them.

Ultimately, when it comes to passion, I want to passionately pursue Jesus Christ!

Thinking about this concept on my way home from the game, the question kept coming to mind: What does it mean to live with passion for Christ?  We say the word “passion” so often, but how do we live it out day to day?

My favorite Christian conference – founded to encourage spiritual awakening amongst this generation – is called Passion.  I’ve asked myself a similar question after each Passion Conference I’ve attended: Are we translating the spiritual excitement, emotion, and dedication that builds up during those three days of amazing messages and phenomenal worship to the everyday jobs we do, classes we take, games we play, and relationships we have?  How do we live out the conference montra?

After limited reflection, while sitting here at the living room table, I’ll make the claim that passionately pursuing Christ means loving Him with absolutely everything – with our entire heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk. 12:30).  It means wholehearted commitment to Christ with every aspect of our being and our life.  It means prioritizing our Savior, our First Love above all other things (Rev. 2:3-5).  There’s a reason Jesus labeled loving Him the greatest commandment, and we should be passionate about living it out!

That leads me to one more question: How do we tangibly love God?  John 14:21 provides a helpful suggestion.  In this verse Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”  He reiterates the idea two verses later: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”

So, passionate love for Christ is expressed as passionate obedience to Christ.  As we grow in our knowledge and love of Christ and His Word – studying and applying His teaching – our lives will be transformed into the image of Christ and we’ll grow in obedience to His commands.  Also, as we grow in our love for Christ, obedience becomes less a legalistic burden, more an exciting opportunity to honor our Lord and Savior.

If love is displayed in obedience, do our lives show that we passionately love Jesus Christ?

The emotions – that burning desire to know Christ and to live for His glory – might come easily enough.  The words – those heartfelt prayers, public declarations of our love for God, and beautiful worship songs – might be completely genuine.  And, while both emotions and words are important components of our relationship with Christ, Scripture says that our love for Him is revealed by our obedience.  So, the real question is whether or not our actions reveal that we are passionately pursuing Christ.

Here’s the convicting part: obedient action requires so much more than following the Ten Commandments, avoiding the “big” sins of adultery, lying, stealing, or murdering.  Obedient action extends to the little things – avoiding the friendly gossip, the inappropriate movie, the offensive music, the stingy spirit, the jealous grudge, the little white lie, the lazy effort at work, the prideful attitude at the gym, the entertainment gluttony, the exercise obsession, the fretful spirit, the uncontrolled temper, and the controlling ambition.   That’s why I know I have so much room for improvement when it comes to living a life of passion :).

The good news is, as we actively aim to love and obey Christ, our hearts increasingly beat in tune with His heart and our desires increasingly become His desires.  As a result, we are able to more clearly see this world according to His perspective.  And as God reveals His vision, I pray that He will inspire us to take action for His purposes. I pray that we will passionately shine for His kingdom in the arena of work, study, and relationship that He’s placed us.

Lord, turn my burning passion into obedient action.  I desire to live aflame for the glory of your Name!

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