Archives For Bible

Christmas_LaughterNOTE: It has been far too long since I have posted. Launching a new church kept me busy in 2013. Hope and plan to write more in 2014. Thanks for your patience and for following my blog. This post is modified from something I wrote for our church, but I think it’ll encourage you as well.

Christmas is one of my favorite seasons. This week I’ve laughed with family around the table remembering old times (good and bad), old movies (good and bad), old haircuts (also good and bad). It is rare we all get together, but it is always fun to yuck it up when we can. Christmas gives us an excuse to get together, and that itself is a gift.

I pray that we will be people that laugh. I hope we laugh deeply the big belly laughs of people who know they are free. Martin Luther said, “You have as much laughter as you have faith,” and from the stories that are told about the way Luther lived, he was a man of large faith (and laughs). Those of us who take the Bible, sin, and salvation seriously sometimes seem to forget that the gospel of Jesus is “good news.”

Christmas should be a reminder that God is for us. He wants our good. One man has said that Jesus’ incarnation is God saying YES to the human race. He chose us. He wants us. He became one of us so that he could enjoy us forever.

God Made Us to Laugh

We are creatures designed by a Creator. He might have made us laughless creatures, but he chose to make us laugh. God made people with lungs that push air over vocal cords so that they can sound like Santa. Who taught you how to laugh? No one. Kids laugh without training. They laugh a lot, even when you want them to stop. No kindergarten has ever had a course on laughter to prepare kids for further laugh development. Face it, we were made to LOL (even if we don’t like the overused short-hand abbreviation).

Consider this: God made giraffes. That’s funny all by itself. He made the lady bug and the roly poly. The porcupine and the platypus. He made daffodils and daisies. He made the Alps to rise up and the water of Niagara to fall down. He made tiny turtles to peak out from their hiding place, and enormous elephants that could not find a place to hide. The moose: who can’t laugh at a moose with its overlong legs and awkward oversized horse head that seems to grin at you? I believe God wanted us to laugh with him and all the crazy things he created for us to enjoy.

God Laughs

In Isaiah 65:18-19, God says: “But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people…”

God’s Grace Gives Laughter

Let me give you two more passages that speak to God’s laughter. These are two of my favorite sections in all the Bible, and I think they will radically alter your life if you internalize the important truth they offer to us. I’ve bolded a few of the key statements. The first verses are from Zephaniah 3. I’d love to elaborate extensively on these, but for the sake of brevity, let me just say a couple of things. Can you imagine God himself rejoicing over you with gladness? Can you imagine God exulting over you with loud singing? This is not an unhappy crank of a grandpa disappointed in who you are and tolerating your presence in the house. No, this is a God that loves and laughs over his children. Read the verses for yourself, and ask, “Do I believe these verses to be true? Do I believe God could feel this way towards me?”

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

I can imagine no news that we need to hear more than this: God loves you, and laughs over you with great joy. If this sinks deep into your heart, it will revolutionize the way you view your life with God.

The second passage is from Luke 15. Jesus himself told this story to a group of religious types to show them how they were getting God all wrong. One of the messages Jesus made loud and clear is that our gracious God laughs uproariously when his children come home to him. Jesus leaves absolutely no doubt about it. His grace toward broken and sinful people should always lead to celebration of the most extravagant kind. Again, I’ve highlighted a few phrases to make sure you see them.

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ 

Jesus tells us what our God is like: A father running to greet his son, a giant bear hug, over-the-top gift giving, new clothes, custom jewelry, a perfectly prepared meal, music, dancing, and the loud laughter of loved ones celebrating together. Sounds like a perfect family Christmas to me. The older son missed out because he would not laugh with the Father’s grace. He was too proud for laughter. I pray we laugh freely at the grace of God.

As you celebrate this Christmas season, may you truly celebrate. May you laugh deep laughs at God’s grace and goodness toward you. God loves you. God loves you. God loves you. You can’t hear it enough. Never stop laughing at how good that news is.

plant growI wanted to post some important ideas related to the new church that we are launching in Edmond / OKC, Oklahoma. God is doing some incredibly exciting things with Redemption Church, and I can’t wait to see what God does in the years ahead. Some posts are more personal in nature, but this one is intended to give you some of our reasoning behind starting a new church. I hope it gives you some understanding of how important church planting is to the mission of God. Every church was once a church plant, and I’m convinced that every biblical church should be involved in planting new churches.

Much of the information in this post is summarized and modified from Tim Keller’s influential article, “Why Plant Churches?“, which I highly recommend. The article significantly shaped my thinking about church planting.

A Personal Passion: With about 20 years in ministry, I’ve fallen in love with the excitement, the possibility, and the challenge of starting a new church. As important as that is for me personally, it is more important that I’ve become convinced that the continual planting of new churches is the way that the kingdom of God will grow its influence in our world. The church thrives when she is a multiplying organization. Disciples making disciples and churches planting churches is not only the best way forward–it is the only way forward.

RC-Logo_VertA Biblical Mandate: We are responding to the biblical mandate to plant new churches. When Jesus sent his followers into the world to “make disciples” and “baptize” and “teach,” he was essentially calling them to evangelize, incorporate new believers into churches, and help them grow as authentic disciples of Jesus.

A Common Objection: Well, I’m sure that made sense in the church’s beginning years, but why do we need to plant a new church today in a place where lots of churches exist already?

Top Ten Reasons to Plant New Churches

  1. New churches are the best way to reach the unchurched. Study after study reveals that the average new church gains 60-80% of its members from unchurched people. Churches that have existed 10-15 years or more gain 80-90% from people who transfer from one congregation to another.
  2. New churches are the best way to reach new generations. Younger generations are disproportionately found in new churches, primarily because older congregations settle into routines that suit their existing members.
  3. New churches are the best way to reach new residents. In a new church, new residents are on equal footing with people who have been around a long time.
  4. New churches are the best way to reach new socio-cultural groups in an area. New churches are much more nimble and able to make cultural adjustments that existing churches would take years to make.
  5. New churches are the best way to reach the dechurched (those that once attended church, but no longer have any interest in church). Because they often feel “outside the box” and incorporate new styles, new churches tend to break down barriers for people who have been previously turned off by church.
  6. New churches are the best way to bring new ideas that renew the entire Body of Christ. These ideas help to breathe new life into existing churches and bring about renewal throughout the area.
  7. New churches are the best way to raise creative, strong leaders for the kingdom. New churches value pioneers, creatives, and innovation, and they create space for new leaders to emerge and bless a city.
  8. New churches remind us to build Jesus’ Kingdom and not our own kingdoms. Churches tend to institutionalize and can become focused on maintaining their own ministries. Church planting renews our heart for the lost and for the mission of building God’s Kingdom.
  9. New churches are the best way to challenge existing churches. Seeing a new church engaged in gospel mission may push an existing church to self-examination so that it changes its heart and improves its ministry.
  10. New churches breathe new life and people into existing churches. Some who start out in a new church will discover they are more comfortable in an existing congregation.

[Summarized and modified from Tim Keller, “Why Plant Churches?” at redeemer.com]

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What surprises you as you read this post? What most resonates with you? Would you be interesting in helping to plant a church? Leave a comment below.

-jdl

The Story of God

December 3, 2012 — Leave a comment

May God raise up a generation that loves this story more than all others.

HT: @jdgreear

-jdl

NOTE: With our move to Edmond, Oklahoma to plant Redemption Church, I haven’t had a lot of time to write. So, I wanted to pass along a recent post that I wrote for my friends at Authentic Manhood. I’ve written several pieces in the Training Guide for their 33: The Series biblical manhood study. If you aren’t familiar with them, I hope you will check it out, grab some guys, and launch into the series together. If you decide to purchase the series, you can receive a 5% discount by using the discount code “Resident55,” and I will receive 15% of the proceeds (as a church plant resident).

MOVING BEYOND FREE-AGENT FRIENDSHIP

I haven’t had a friend in years.” The comment surprised me. I knew it was (sort of) a joke, but there was enough truth in it to reveal the frustration. In years of working with men, I’ve never had a guy say, “You know, I just have too many deep friendships.” No, whenever I share about biblical friendship, guys almost always say, “I need friends like that.

CLICK TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE AT AUTHENTICMANOOD.COM.

I wrap up this three part series (read Part 1 & Part 2 here) with a look at how one hero of the faith describes his own journey from chasing the fleeting shadows of self to resting in the stronger shadow of God.

It is an act of grace that God reveals himself and awakens us to his goodness and his glory. The following quote is from Augustine (354-430). He is clearly drawing on Psalm 36, which is the same psalm that we explored in Part 2, and he answers the question: what is it like to hide yourself in God?

“The soul of men shall hope under the shadow of Thy wings; they shall be made drunk with the fullness of Thy house, and of the torrents of Thy pleasures Thou wilt give them to drink; for in Thee is the fountain of Life, and in Thy Light shall we see the light? Give me a man in love: he knows what I mean. Give me one who yearns; give me one who is hungry; give me one far away in this desert, who is thirsty and sighs for the Spring of the Eternal country. Give me that sort of man: he knows what I mean. But if I speak to a cold man, he just does not know what I am talking about…” *

God’s grace is a magical, mysterious, hope-drenched wonder. When we limit it to mere doctrine or morality or religiosity or family heritage or common sense, we can never capture what Augustine describes here. Augustine is forced to use comparisons to make his point. He says that you will know what it is like if you know what it means to be in love; or know what means to thirst in the desert; or know what it is like to ache and groan for a better world. The cold or dispassionate or guarded man won’t get it; he will never comprehend what it means to be overwhelmingly satisfied by God. There is a delight with God that is greater than our proper demeanor. To speak of being drunk on the fullness of God’s house is a uncontainable joy. In our legal circles, people who are drunk on alcohol are said to be “under the influence.” When God’s grace enters our lives, it also exerts its influence on us but to a much better end.

(By the way, if you were hung up on word drunk, you have likely missed the point.)

The following verses tell us how we come to know this love:

  • “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19)
  • “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4)

The order is important–God loves us and leads us first. Reverse the order, and you are doomed. In both verses, God initiates, and we respond. Functionally, however, many of us live as though we are the cause of God’s love and kindness. Mistakenly, we think that our repentance leads to God’s kindness, and we act as though our love to God earns his love in return. If we think this way, we will find ourselves saying things like “if I get this decision right, then God will bless me” or “if I devote myself to this good cause, then God will give me peace.” Of course, such thinking will stress you out. How will you know when you have loved God enough to earn his love in return? How will you determine when you’ve achieved enough good in the world to merit his care and affection? But take it the other way round (the way the Bible teaches it), and your outlook will be much better.

Grace is about the good we receive from God. 1 Corinthians 4:7 was very significant in Augustine’s thinking on this issue. This single verse helped to change his entire paradigm of the spiritual life. It says, “What do you have that you have not received? If then you received it, why then do you boast as if you did not receive it?” The verse is saying that there is nothing naturally in you that makes you better than anyone else. It is all of grace. If you are more mature or more faithful or more missional or more passionate or more moral, it is only because you have received something good from God. The verse is a mighty ax swinging away at our pride. What good do you possess that you did not receive from God? Answer: nothing at all.

In his Confessions, Augustine describes his journey from rebellion to surrender. He insists that his rescue was not found in an act of his own will or wisdom. Instead, it was God’s work within Augustine that brought about the change.

“During all those years [of rebellion], where was my free will? What was the hidden, secret place from which it was summoned in a moment, so that I might bend my neck to your easy yoke?” **

The answer to these rhetorical questions is obvious: his will did not help him find Jesus. Yet, God burst into Augustine’s heart to change his life forever.

“How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose!…You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves…O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.” ***

When Ultimate Joy comes to us, our happy response is to enjoy this greater joy and to let our little joys go. That is why Christians so often speak of surrender. It is not that we, being smarter and better than others, have searched for and discovered something great. Instead, something great has come to us, and we surrendered ourselves to it.

This is what grace is all about. God comes to us, not because of our goodness but in spite of our badness. We see this in the cross of Christ, who became sin for us and died for us: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus lovingly took the bad that we deserved, and we received the good that he deserved.

When you know grace like this, you want to shout like an Olympian who won a gold medal when he deserved to lose. The gospel is such good news that you never recover from it. It marks all of your life. It reorients all of your life. It fuels all of your life.

Whenever people have lost a sense of wonder and awe about the gospel, the church has lost it’s way. One of the times when the church especially seemed to drift away from the gospel of grace was in the centuries prior to the Reformation. People began to depend more on their own goodness and religiosity than on the grace of God, and the church suffered. This is why the Reformation caused such a stir. The issue wasn’t that a few theologians slightly tweaked some doctrinal stances or religious rituals. No, the Reformation was a recovery of the sense of worship and passion that overtakes a man when he knows the grace that comes through the cross of Jesus. The renewed exaltation of the true gospel was a shock and awe attack on the religion of the day. For those that experienced it, it was a joyous revolt against the tyranny of false religion, and such a revolution of God’s grace deserved a great celebration.

I love the way Robert Farrar Capon describes it: ****

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.”

In our day, I pray that we will be increasingly overcome by the gospel. This is the only way forward. May we drink deeply of God’s grace. Like the prodigal that returns home to his father’s hug and excessive celebration, may we always treasure the gospel party thrown by the one who is our Ultimate Joy.

Have you ever really tasted this grace? How does this understanding of grace shape your life? Are you living with a sense of awe and wonder at the gospel?

– jdl

LINKS TO SERIES:
CHASING SHADOWS, PART 1: FLEETING SHADOWS
CHASING SHADOWS, PART 2: GOD’S SHADOW
CHASING SHADOWS, PART 3: OVERCOME BY GRACE

* Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, pp.374-375 (Tractatus in Joannis Evangelium, 26,4).

** Aurelius Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961), p.181 (IX,1). NOTE: I think that originally saw this quote and the quote that follows in something that John Piper wrote, but my books are in boxes from our recent relocation so I’m unable to find the quote.

*** Ibid.

**** Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon & Three: Romance, Law & the Outrage of Grace (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996).

In part one, I shared a video of my daughter chasing her shadow and wrote about the fleeting shadows of earthly pursuits that never fully satisfy or delight us. We feel we are close to joy, but we can’t quite catch it. In part two, I will point you to the only antidote to our shadow problem.

SHADOW WARS

Use your imagination for a moment. I was tempted to shoot another video of my daughter to introduce this post, but I would have changed things around this time. In the video from part one, she was chasing her shadow. This time, I imagined that she would run away from her shadow. As hard as she would try, it would always follow. Just as we cannot run after our shadows to catch them, neither can we run away from our shadows to escape them. They chase after us.

Of course, we can no more run away from our sinfulness than we can run away from our shadows. We seek to escape sin through greater determination. We try to identify our sin patterns and avoid situations in which we commonly sin. In spite of our greatest efforts, the reality is that we can’t do it, and our striving leaves us tired and frustrated. The only way to escape the shadow of sin is to hide yourself in a stronger shadow.

Have you ever had the experience of seeing a small shadow swallowed up by a larger shadow? In the plains of Oklahoma where I grew up, if you stand on a small rise in the fields, you can see forever. In the hot afternoon summer’s sun, even a scrub oak can cast a long shadow. When the wind blows clouds in overhead, you can see them coming for miles. They drop a dark shadow on the prairie that marches over everything beneath. When the line of clouds approaches, the long shadow of the trees vanish. The smaller shadows simply disappear into the larger shadow of the clouds.

Source: unknown

When we run into the strong shadow of God’s presence, we forget about the fleeting shadows of our lives. Psalm 36 says, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (italics mine).

This is good news. God is available to us and ready to be our joy and our comfort and our protector. What is astounding is that his care is motivated by genuine love for us. He’s not some distant relative begrudgingly mailing us checks from a giant trust fund in the sky. He engages us because he wants to. His comfort and protection are not earned by our goodness or performance or wisdom. Instead, they originate in God’s love. He’s the initiator who offers joy and care to us even as a bird cares for her young before they can leave the nest.

My fear, for some of us, is that we tend to sentimentalize this verse. We make it sugary and sweet. We imagine our moms cross-stitching this verse and putting it on the wall above the toilet in the guest bathroom. This is a Christian-bookstore-coffee-mug sort of verse. And it should be, but only if we truly comprehend the good it offers to us.

There are a couple of obstacles that may cause us to minimize the power of this verse. The first is the word “precious.” When I hear this word, I go in one of two directions and neither of them helps me grasp the magnitude of God’s love. In my mind, precious is either: (1) the creepy and hyper-possessive hiss from Gollum in Lord of the Rings (of course, this may be a personal problem resulting from the fact that my boys are reading LOTR and like to talk like Gollum), or (2) the most common term applied by 16 year old girls to describe pictures of kittens on Facebook. Nevertheless, God’s love is precious, and we need to discover why.

The second obstacle is the idea of “taking refuge.” In a society that exalts independence, strength, and success, we’d rather pretend that things are just fine. Strong dudes and dames don’t like to run and hide, but the gospel says to proud people: “you are desperately in need of rescue.” Sin is a tyrant bent on enslaving you. Underestimate the strength of your enemy, and you will not seek refuge.

THE STRONG SHADOW OF GOD

If you dismiss the refuge of God as mere sentimentality, you will miss the point. The preceding verses (Psalm 36:5-7) show us the strength of this hiding place:

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O Lord.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Our God is not weak, and this is not mere sentimental love.  This is an enormous, expansive, explosive kind of love. Look again at the images used. God’s love “extends to the heavens”–that’s unsearchable. His righteousness is “like the mountains of God”–that’s unshakable.  His judgments are “like the great deep”–that’s unfathomable. His protection is big enough for every “man and beast”–that’s immeasurable. God’s love and goodness and care  are beyond description. Nothing in our experience can be compared to his majesty, and his majesty. *

Have you piled up sins higher and higher?
God’s mercy extends to the heavens!

Have storms clouds rolled into your life?
God’s faithfulness dwells amongst the clouds!

Have the consequences of sin blown you around?
God’s goodness is stronger than mountains!

Have the opinions of men beaten you down?
God’s thoughts are as deep as the ocean!

Have doubts about God’s care left you lonely?
God’s love reaches to the ends of the earth!

It is only in God that we find the perfect combination of vastness and intimacy. He is bigger than Mt. Everest and, at the same time, more personal than a bird in a nest with her young. God is both “out there” beyond us and “right here” with us. Theologically, we say that God is simultaneously transcendent (above his creation) and immanent (engaged in his creation). We hold on to both of these truths. If you are in Christ, you are personally, gently hidden under the wings of God who holds the entire universe together with his immense power.

C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) writes of God’s care:

“The Lord overshadows his people as a hen protects her brood, or as an eagle covers its young; and we as little ones run under the blessed shelter and feel at rest. To cower down under the wings of God is so sweet. Although the enemy be far too strong for us, we have no fear, for we nestle under the Lord’s wing. O that more of Adam’s race knew the excellency of the heavenly shelter! It made Jesus weep to see how they refused it: our tears may well lament the same evil.” **

It is a foolish evil to refuse the care of God. He wants to bring joy to us. Why would we turn away from him and search elsewhere? Simply stated, sin is our effort to find joy in something more than we find joy in God. Jesus knew this was futile, and he wept for those who attempted life without God.

To take refuge in our God is both humbling and reassuring.*** It is humbling because we must acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient, and, in fact, our attempts at self-sufficiency have put us in grave danger. It is reassuring because we are offered a place of refuge that is as strong as it is good.

If we will not humble ourselves and take refuge in God, then we will continue to deceive ourselves with the idea that we can manage sin on our own. While this path inevitably ends in defeat and despair, the refuge road leads to deliverance and delight in God.  We overcome sin as we delight in God’s love, delight in God’s strength, delight in God’s protection, delight in God’s grace, delight in God’s provision, delight in God’s mission.

LEARNING TO DELIGHT IN OUR REFUGE

Psalm 36 goes on to say of those that take refuge in God (vs. 8-9):

They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.

I love that our place of refuge is not somber and fearful. No, it’s a place of overflowing goodness. When we take refuge in God, we celebrate a great feast as sons and daughters of the Most High King. He offers us unending drink from the best wine. What comfort that our God is not a tyrannical God! What joy that our God longs to share with us the river of his delights!

When we sin, the problem is not that our delights are too strong. In fact, they are wrong-headed and weak. We are tempted to settle for delights of our own making, when heavenly delights await us. To take refuge in God is to repent from little delights to embrace the enormous delight in God. It’s the greatest swap meet of all: trading the shallow, short-lived mini-joys of our lives for the deep, forever joy of God.

As Jesus’ work of redemption works itself out in our lives, may we hide the fleeting shadows of our sin under the trustworthy and eternal Shadow of the Almighty.

What about this post resonates with you? Do you find is difficult to set aside the fleeting pursuits you are drawn to seek? How committed are you to seek refuge in God? Do you find it difficult to believe that God is the greatest joy?

-jdl

LINKS TO SERIES:
CHASING SHADOWS, PART 1: FLEETING SHADOWS
CHASING SHADOWS, PART 2: GOD’S SHADOW
CHASING SHADOWS, PART 3: OVERCOME BY GRACE

* Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975): Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Ed. D. J. Wiseman.

** Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol 1: Psalms 1-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974).

*** Kidner, Ibid.

On a walk, my daughter, Kate, decided to chase her shadow and see if she could catch it. In this obviously unscripted moment, I did what all parents in the smart phone era do–I pulled out my phone to capture her chase.

For those with concerns about my parenting, she did eventually give up the chase and make her way back to me so that we could finish our walk. As much as I enjoyed the moment, it also got me to thinking about the things that we chase.

Two types of shadows appear in the Bible. First, the Bible points out the fleeting shadows of our lives which we spend in pursuit of wisdom, wealth, pleasure, significance and more. We read in Ecclesiastes:

All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied….Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind….For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? (Ecclesiastes 6:7, 9, 12)

We chase success for significance, health for security, sex for pleasure, vacations for fulfillment, wealth for comfort, body image for approval, good deeds for self-importance, morality for measuring up. We pursue so many things but never find real or lasting satisfaction. They are good things, but they are never enough to bring the fulfillment we want from them.

I love what these verses from Ecclesiastes say about our pursuit: “the sight of the eyes is better than the wandering of the appetite.” In our minds, we think these things will bring us happiness, but our actual enjoyment of them is short-lived. Maybe you’ve experienced this before. You chased after something until you got it, but then you found that you wanted something else. You can feast at a king’s banquet table, but you will be hungry again when the morning comes.

When I was a teenager, I had this experience. I had been living in isolation from God, ignoring him and pushing him away in my rebelliousness. At the time, I had what I imagined every teenage boy wanted, even though I always wanted more. I lived this way for quite some time, but one day I realized that I wasn’t happy. I knew that I had been chasing shadows that would never fulfill me. But I also knew where real joy was found. I returned to Jesus that day. In an instant, I sensed that things had changed. Repentance is like that. It didn’t mean everything was perfect going forward, but I did experience a sense of joy in life that had been missing.

We were made for more that the fading shadows of earthly pursuits. In these, we will never find our ultimate Joy and Satisfaction. Augustine famously said in a prayer to God, “The thought of you stirs [man] so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”*

May we be increasingly dissatisfied with shadow pursuits until our restless hearts find joy, rest and satisfaction in God.

Are you too focused on the fleeting shadow of your life’s earthly pursuits? What are you forever chasing yet never reaching your desired destination? Is your soul deeply satisfied with God?

In Part 2, I discuss our need to find joy and rest under the shadow of God’s protection.

-jdl

LINKS TO SERIES:
CHASING SHADOWS, PART 1: FLEETING SHADOWS
CHASING SHADOWS, PART 2: GOD’S SHADOW
CHASING SHADOWS, PART 3: OVERCOME BY GRACE

*Aurelius Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961).

IS YOUR GOD JOYFUL?

June 25, 2012 — 3 Comments

On the road with the family, we stopped at a hotel. Not a great hotel, but a recently opened and reasonably priced chain joint just off the highway. We crowded into the room–Nan and me with our two nine year old boys, our six year old boy, and our two year old little gal. After ten hours in the car, the kids did the most logical thing they could, which was to jump on the beds. This game was followed by stacking every pillow, chair and sofa cushion in the room to create a tower high enough that they could reach the ceiling. It was sort of a miniature tower of Babel right there in our room. With all the fun going on, little Kate yells over her brothers’ laughs and asks, “This our new home? This our new home?”

Apparently, Kate thought this was where we would live. This was home, and she was as excited as she could be about it. It made us all laugh, but it also got me to thinking. In Kate’s young mind, the highest value was being together. To share a single room with mom and dad and her brothers was the best possible world. Jumping on beds and building pillow towers put it way beyond her greatest dreams.

After a full-day of driving and unloading all of our stuff, I had been a little on the grumpy side. The room was fine for our one night stay, but it definitely did not feel like “home.” Kate’s perspective reminded me that sometimes I need to rethink the way I am looking at things.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been thinking deeply about what it means that we have a joyful God. It’s been a good reminder for me that is shifting my perspective. I’m not talking about the theological categorizing of God in my mind. If you would have asked me several weeks ago if God was a God of joy, I’m sure I would have thought about it and answered in the affirmative, but I wasn’t fully appreciating the joyfulness of God in my day-to-day outlook.

There are many verses about joy in the Bible. We are commanded to “rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice” (Phil 4:4). He says it twice just in case we are a little slow. We are even told to “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). The Psalms tell us to “make a joyful noise to the Lord” (Ps 95, 98). You will find joy throughout the Bible. I could list verse after verse here, but I decided instead that I wanted to point you immediately to the place where joy may be found and then share a few implications for us to consider.

When God Enters the Room, Joy Comes with Him

The Bible tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5). These are the character qualities that are produced in us when the Spirit of God invades our lives. Just as a particular kind of seed will only yield fruit that is appropriate to that seed, we yield the fruit of the Spirit that has been planted in us. One aspect of the fruit is “joy.” Each aspect of the fruit of the spirit is important, but I’m going to focus only on joy.

What this means is that when God the Holy Spirit is present, joy will also be present. When God enters the room, joy comes with him. Think about that for a minute: wherever God is, joy is. When you let that truth take root in your heart and mind, it ought to shift your perspective.

People have all kinds of thoughts about God–some good and some bad. Part of maturing in the faith is casting off false thoughts about God and replacing them with true thoughts about God. However you tend to feel or think about God, you must now consider him to be a joyful God.

Faith in the Joyful God Makes Us Joyful

We also need to understand what this means for us. When we believe the joyful God, we are made joyful. Scripture says (1 Peter 1:8-9):

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Are you overflowing with inexpressible joy? When you are convinced that the most beautiful and glorious and good and holy and joyful and eternal being in the universe has come to you in love and grace, you can’t help but laugh at the joyous comedy of your good fortune. To make it downright hysterical, our God of Joy will eventually shove sorrow out of the way and shower us with a forever kind of joy: “Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35).*

Though this joy is open to all, far too many people will not know this joy. We live in an often faithless, sarcastic and cynical time. The harsh reality is that those who snub, reject and deny the Joyful God will miss out on his forever joy. Rather, they fill their lives with temporary mini-joys that fade as quickly as they spring up. Giving testimony to the law of diminishing returns, they live in search of the next fix of mini-joy to bring a smile to their face. This is joy with a short shelf-life. But there is a stronger and deeper and better Joy.

For followers of Jesus, our spiritual development is in learning to exchange the mini-joys with the Ultimate Joy. Augustine described his journey from mini-joys to True Joy in his Confessions:

“How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose…! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure…O Lord my God, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”**

This joy is a gift that God gives in his grace to us. Our God specializes in bringing the light of joy into dark places, and even when tough times come, our faith gives us hope for the ultimate vindication of joy (Psalm 30:5,11):

Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness.

When Joy Has Its Way

This brings to mind so many thoughts about the implications that faith in a joyful God might have for us. What would this mean for our churches? for our blogs? for our songs? for our testimonies? for our marriages? for our parenting? for our friendship? I’ve even wondered about how our embracing God’s joy might change the chemistry of our brains.

Ancient wisdom from Proverbs reminds us: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov 17:22).

Would you stop for a minute and identify one arena where you need to let the God of joy disrupt your life? What is one thing that would change if your perspective shifted to faith in the Joyful God? Where should God-given joy begin to burst into your world?

Reminders of Joy

I recently came across a line in a book that stuck with me: the writer spoke of a man who received “another chance to face the sky.”*** I love the optimism and openness of this image. It is helping me to think differently about my days. A day is not something to be unwillingly trudged though or unwittingly trifled away. Today is a unique gift to be enjoyed, and there will never be another day just like it. When I wake, I remind myself that today is another chance to face the expanse of the sky. This helps divert my eyes from the troubles and details of the coming hours. It directs my attention to a universe that is bigger than I can comprehend, and more than that, it directs my attention to the God who made it all.

Each day is an opportunity to look with eyes of faith on the God who paints the sky blue and drops migratory puffs of white across its canvas. In case we are tempted to miss his glory in the sky, this Joyful God begins and ends each day with a warm soup of feathery yellows and blood reds and butterfly oranges and eggplant purples all blended together perfectly. The sky cries out to us morning and evening: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalms 118:24).

Of course, you could keep collecting mini-joys only to discard them as yesterdays toys; you could hold on to your hurt or bitterness or cynicism; and you could let your doubts rule the day.

Or, you might try a change in perspective.

As for me, I want to live for the Joyful God, squeezing joy into every minute I can. I want to enjoy every chance to face the sky that my Lord gives to me until the day I come face-to-face with Joy himself. My hope is fixed on that day, when the torrent of goodness and glory that washes me will overwhelm me with indescribable joy.

-jdl

* For a wonderful look at the God who brings joy, read all of Isaiah 35.

** Aurelius Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961). Quoted in John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000) 19.

*** Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time (New York: First Mariner Books, 2006).

I recently ran across two resources that I wanted to pass along to you as you prepare your heart to mourn on Good Friday and to celebrate on Easter Sunday. It is this combination of mourning and celebration together that gives our worship mystery and beauty and power. Like no other events in human history, Christ’s death and resurrection fuse suffering and rejoicing, rejection and glory, tragedy and comedy. If we are to celebrate fully, we need to enter into both sides of the Easter event–the death and the resurrection.

The Kind of Relationship God Wants with You

For me, the best way for me to reflect on all that the cross and resurrection mean is to place myself within the true story of the Bible. One way to do this is to consider the wedding imagery the Bible uses to describe our relationship with God.

The wedding is one of the most powerful and poignant images the Bible utilizes. Marriage is rightfully a relationship shared between a husband and wife who have devoted themselves exclusively to one another. When I perform a wedding ceremony, we speak of the importance of the covenant relationship, of two becoming one, of an inseparable union. Then, the bride and groom exchange rings as an announcement to the whole world that these two are committed to one another only.

God chose the most intimate human relationship, marriage, as the example of the type of relationship he wants to have with us. Like a groom, he initiates and pursues and woos. He declares his loyal love for his people, in spite of all their brokenness. And he calls us to respond to him in loyal love and faithfulness.

Unfortunately, God’s people have often had divided hearts which led to spiritual unfaithfulness. God’s jealousy burns strong for his beloved bride, even as she commits spiritual adultery. Where she is false, he remains true. His loyal-love is strong in spite of her weakness.

Nowhere in the Bible is this picture displayed more clearly than in the Old Testament prophet of Hosea. In this book, Hosea is commanded by God to marry a woman who would prostitute herself to others in spite of Hosea’s faithfulness.

My friends at Irving Bible Church, have captured a contemporary version of Hosea’s story in a powerful series of six short films. They total less than 20 minutes of viewing. These shorts stirred my mind and my heart, so I wanted to post them here. I’ve included some of my thoughts and questions to help you process as you watch. My hope is that the films will pull you into the story of love, betrayal, and redemption. This was the story of Hosea. This is our story too.

#1 – The Covenant Love of God (Hosea 1 – 2:1):
To think about: Have you ever entered into a personal relationship with God? What does it mean that God pursues you like a faithful groom pursues his bride? Have you ever considered that every beautiful love story the world has ever known pales in comparison to the great love of God? Can you imagine betraying a love like that?

#2 – The Tough Love of God (Hosea 2:1-13):
To think about: We all have divided hearts. In what specific ways have you allowed your heart to be divided and distracted from your love of God? God is a jealous God who wants your whole heart. The Bible says that God disciplines those he loves. Are you experiencing God’s tough love that wants you to come home?

#3 – The Tender Love of God (Hosea 2:14-23):
To think about: Do you see areas where you have betrayed the love of God? Have you become attached to lesser loves that will never satisfy you fully and forever? God is patient and slow to anger and abounding in loyal love for those that are his. Will you receive the mercy and forgiveness that he offers to you when you have strayed?

#4 – The Redeeming Love of God (Hosea 3):
To think about:
Do you sense God calling you to let go of false loves and come home? What biblical truth can you depend on even when you don’t feel God’s presence? How do you know that he loves you (hint: the cross says he loves you no matter what)? God’s redemption is not based on our goodness, but on Jesus’ goodness. He knows all the bad we’ve done, and he comes to redeem us anyway. Will you accept that redemption?

#5 – The Love of God: Our Response (Hosea 6):
To think about: Have you decided? The choice is yours. His love is greater than your brokenness. Is it hard for you to trust a grace like this? Does your past or your hurt keep you from trusting God’s love? What would it take for you to have faith in God’s redeeming love?

#6 – The Relentless Love of God (Hosea 14):
To think about: Are you dealing with the consequences of your bad choices? Do your circumstances make it hard for you to believe in an unfailing love? What does it mean that God loves you in spite of your sinfulness? Can you–right now and in this moment–trust the relentless love of God that came for you?

What does Hosea have to do with Easter?
The true story of Easter is this: we were created by God who loved us deeply, but we did not love him in return. Instead of enjoying him as he intended, we betrayed him and gave ourselves to lesser lovers. Though we deserved to be cast out and abandoned, he came to rescue us. Putting himself in our place on the cross, Jesus took our punishment, our suffering, and our death. But the tragedy of his death turned into the comedy of new life.  Everything turned upside down. Pain was really payment, loss was really gain, dying was really salvation. When Jesus rose from the dead and rolled away the stone, our entire world reversed course. Those who were guilty were righteous. Those who were doubters believed. Those who denied him began to proclaim him. Those who had run away returned home. Those who rebelled renewed their relationship. Love was now sure, and hope was now certain. Easter changed everything. And it still changes everything for those who believe.

Wherever you find yourself in the Easter story, Jesus’ death and resurrection are strong enough for you. May you trust and treasure Jesus more than ever.

If you would like to think more on this…

My friend, Jason Johnson, had an excellent post this week on Easter and the Great Wedding to Come. This gives a biblical / theological look at the marriage imagery and our connection with God. I’d encourage you to give it a read as you continue to reflect on this amazing relationship God offers to us. We have much to look forward to.

-jdl

In the world, you will have trouble.
But take heart; I have overcome the world.
– Jesus

The Coming Storm - Winslow Homer (1901) Source: http://oceanworld.tamu.edu/students/elnino/index.html

I was preaching recently on the topic of trials, and I was reminded of how frequently and honestly the Bible speaks to us on the hard seasons of life. This is a quick post to share with you one very important truth:

Some trials were meant to be so hard that
no one but God could get you through them.

Trials are unavoidable. We live in a broken world inhabited by broken people, and sooner or later that kind of world drags us into difficult days. This doesn’t mean that we seek them out, they find us on their own. People who seek out trials are usually in need of psychiatric care. Trials are not necessarily our fault either. Sometimes, it is our sin that brings hardship upon us, but the hardship of life comes to all of us apart from whether we’ve done anything good or bad. Storms blow in with the wind no matter what we do.

I am certain that some of you are fighting for your life, whether literally or figuratively, right now. I hurt for you that are suffering or struggling in this season, and this season may have no end in sight. The cruelty of people, a failed adoption, an incurable illness, a foreclosure on your home, a wayward child. Tough things happen to all of us. If you are not experiencing pain now, you will.

In no way am I minimizing the pain. It’s real. You might feel like you’ve had all that you can handle. In fact, it might be more than you can handle.

But maybe that’s the point.

C. S. Lewis famously said that pain is God’s megaphone.* He speaks loudly and deeply into our souls through hardship. In God’s work to renovate our hearts, it seems as though some places can only be strengthened by pain.

When we experience trials, it is like the scaffolding of our lives falls away so that we no longer can prop ourselves up with temporary supports. Pain forces us to the end of ourselves so that we have no where else to turn but to God.

One of Jesus’ followers named Paul described his trials this way:

8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11  You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

Let me make a few quick observations on these verses.

When we face a trial, people are helpful, but God is better. Our friends and families and pastors can empathize with us (v.8), pray with us (v.11), and remind us to set our hope on God (v.9-10). But they can’t actually deliver us from the trial. As much as your mother wants you to have a child, she can’t overcome infertility. As much as a spouse wants her husband not to suffer, she can’t make him well. As much as your boss wants you to keep your job, he can’t change the economy.

Why is this Acknowledgment Necessary?

Over the last few years, I’ve experienced how tempting it is to stop short of the ultimate finish line of trials. I sometimes look first to those around me to help me when life goes bad. Some of this is healthy: I’ve learned to receive God’s grace extended through people he’s placed in my life. For a guy who wants to be resilient and strong, this has been a healthy correction to false self-sufficiency.

But it’s not enough. Paul shares his struggle with others, but he realizes that they can’t meet his deepest needs. When we look to others not just for help but for rescue, we put a weight on them that they cannot bear. It is unhealthy for them and for us. We ought to share our journey with others, but we need to do so in a way that encourages us both to seek Jesus more than anyone else.

If we don’t allow our trials to drive us all the way to desperate dependence on God, then we aren’t learning what God wants us to learn. Unless we turn our gaze to God, we fail to get enough out of our hard times. In a crisis, cultural christianity doesn’t amount to much. People will sometimes depend on their parents’ faith or the faith of a spouse, but trials teach us to look to God personally.

How Desperate Dependence Becomes a Place of Strength

Fact is that a life of great faith may also be a life of great pain. Sorry to the prosperity preachers, but, sometimes, your best life now is really hard.

I want to point out two phrases that Paul used in the verses above to describe his life and the lives of those with him:

  1. Burdened Beyond Our Strength. Some may take this as hyperbole, but I think it was straightforward. In his own strength, this was too much to handle. Paul was excessively weighed down. It was too much to bear.
  2. Despairing of Life Itself. I love that Paul was so honest. He is not just making a theological or theoretical statement. This is real struggle. Despairing of life means “I want to quit.” He wants to throw in the towel, to give up. This is suicidal language: I would rather be dead than face what I am facing.

This is what I mean when I say that “some trials were meant to be so hard no one but God could get you through them.” What this means, of course, is that trials are not meaningless. They have a purpose–they teach us to rely on God more than anyone or anything else.**

Look at Paul’s bold confidence in God (v.10): “He delivered us, he will deliver us, on him we set our hope that that he will deliver us again.”

Past, present and future: Paul trusts God in it all.

We mature and grow through our trials. We do not cease to hurt in tough seasons, but we grow more and more confident in the God who is with us. He has shown up in our trials and delivered us before, and we come to believe that he’ll do it again. Maturity is not the end of struggle; rather, it’s the confidence that God is with you in the midst of your struggle.

Are You Making the Most of your Pain?

Some people fail to redeem their suffering. My hope for you is that you will not waste a trial. Trust God now. In this moment. And in the next moment. And in the one after that. Until you reach that last great trial at the end of your life.

As you trust him in trials both great and small, you will have learn to trust him with it all. I think that’s the goal.

For it is only God who can “make all things new.” It is only God who can “wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It is only God who can be certain that “death shall be no more.” It is only God who can deliver on the promise that we will have no “mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ***

Trials are not forever. God is. Let’s trust Him now. And let’s trust him whenever the next storm blows in.

How has God deepened your faith through the experience of trials? Are you in a trial right now? Let me know, and I’ll pray for you. 

-jdl

* C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

** I am not saying that all of our circumstances are good. The point here is that one of the ways that God brings good out of the bad is to grow our faith and teach us greater reliance on him. Anything more is beyond the scope of this post.

*** Revelation 21