Archives For Spiritual Life

AN OPEN-ENDED “FOLLOW ME”

November 11, 2011 — 1 Comment

If we knew up front everything Jesus meant when he said “follow me,” we probably would have run away.

Imagine, for example, if Jesus had spelled everything out to Peter when he offered the “How to Become My Disciple” sales pitch: “Peter, here’s what I have in mind for you. You can follow me, and all of this will come true: I will accuse you of being Satan; I will announce your failures in advance to all your colleagues; I will ask you to stay awake with me during sleepless nights of blood-producing work; I will have a team member confront your ineptitude and record it for all to see as a part of your permanent public record; eventually I will ask you to give up your life in excruciating death to demonstrate your loyalty to our mission. So, Peter, how about it? Are you in?” If I’m Peter, I’m politely declining and throwing my nets into the water on the other side of the boat.

But Jesus doesn’t spell it all out for us. He just says, “Follow me.” If this were a job offer, it would feel more than a little vague. But Peter, and many more, followed Jesus anyway.

In theological terms, we speak of irresistible grace as God’s call on us and His influence in our hearts to make us something new. We choose to follow Jesus, but we would not do so unless God reached into our hearts and got to work. I think we need irresistible grace because irresistible trials do not exist. I can easily resist a trial or test. These are difficult struggles, and I avoid them whenever I can. Trials are to be endured when necessary, but never sought out. People that seek out trials are usually in need of medication.

When especially tough trials come my way, it can feel like Jesus didn’t adhere to industry standards or best practices for honesty in recruitment.  In these moments, I think, “Jesus, this is not the plan that I thought we had worked out together.” But I’m growing to see it differently.

An Open-Ended Commitment

Jesus gives a simple “follow me” as both an invitation and a command. It’s a command, because he is our king who has come to lead. It’s an invitation, because he is our Rescuer who has come to save. This invitation-command is open-ended. He does not tell us where we are going. It’s not a follow me from Point A to Point B on the map. The invitation-command to “follow me” carries an implied meaning of follow me (wherever I go). When we respond positively to Jesus’ call, as Peter did, we stand ready to follow Jesus anywhere. So, our commitment to follow is also open-ended. We aren’t certain of where the path leads. We just know that we’ve committed to go.

In this sense, it’s like marriage. When people get married, they commit to be together. They stand up in front of friends and family and make vows to one another saying “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” These are open-ended commitments. We are promising to remain faithful no matter what. But let’s be honest. How many young couples have any idea what they are committing to when they make these promises? I love my wife and have a wonderful marriage. But the truth is that, when we married, Nan had no idea what the “worse” parts of my life would be. We said for richer or poorer, but we only imagined the richer. When she said “in sickness and in health,” she had no idea that one day we’d have three kids under the age of four when I had surgery and could not walk or drive for two months. We make bold statements of unconditional love on our wedding day, but the fullest understanding and deepest joy of those commitments comes only through many years of experiencing life together.

In the same way, we come to understand more deeply what following Jesus means through the experiences of life. Wisely, Jesus doesn’t detail every hardship up front. He simply bids us come, and then he gives us grace that carries us day-by-day. Our job is to follow him in what is right in front of us.

Open-ended commitments can be scary. Would you sign a contract to buy a house with an open blank on the line for sales price? Of course not. We have been taught to negotiate contracts to make sure there are no surprises. This is what makes open-ended commitments so frightening: you can’t negotiate the unknown.

A Relational Commitment

This is also what makes all open-ended commitments relational at their core. You can’t be sure of what lies ahead, but you can make sure you know who you are with. This is why the one who says, “Follow me,” also says, “I am with you always.” We have confidence for the road ahead because we know Jesus goes with us. When we begin to see this, our journey becomes less about the road ahead more about the companion at our side.

Growing up, we used to sing: “Wherever he leads, I’ll go.” Ultimately, that’s the commitment we make when we decide to follow Jesus. I copied below the page out of my grandmother’s old hymnal. The song still works.

Can you honestly sing (or say) the words to “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go”? Is there anything that causes you to hesitate or doubt?

-jdl

I recently had the privilege to watch a wonderful documentary: Waste Land. It’s a beautiful film that stirred my soul with both sorrow and hope. I want to tell you about the movie and then offer some thoughts about its message.

Waste Land was directed by Lucy Walker with soundtrack by Moby. It received an Academy Award Nomination in 2011 for Best Documentary Feature.

The film follows the journey of Brazilian born contemporary artist Vik Muniz to Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill located just outside of Rio de Janeiro. Here we meet an array of characters called catadores, the “pickers” of recyclable materials who sell their goods for profit in order to survive. We enter the stories of these men and women who crack jokes, quote Machiavelli, pass along proverbial wisdom, and generally put a good face on their existence in the dump.

Muniz recruits several “pickers” to help him create works of art by beautifully shaping the trash from the landfill into images of the broken people who work there. These inspiring “self-portraits” (the pickers are in a sense painting themselves) are a perfect collision of dignity and despair. Art made from trash. Something good from something broken. The images themselves are magnificent, and so is the message–there are no “throwaways.”

The creation of these works of art reminds the catadores that they are of great value. As the art of their own faces comes into view, they begin to open up.  They share more honestly about the struggles and pain of their lives, but they also see more clearly the nobility of their lives. This juxtaposition gives the film its power. The irony of the title, Waste Land, is in full view here. Out of supposed waste, beauty emerges.

Beyond Waste Land

What I love about Waste Land is the reminder that humanity is beautiful. In all of the pain and pleasure, sadness and joy, evil and goodness of human lives, God has placed an inherent value in us that cannot be overlooked for long. We are the stuff of novels and paintings and songs and poems and food and dance and laughter.

Followers of Jesus know why this is true. God has set eternity in our hearts, and at some level we remember what we were created to be. When we experience a work of art that is true and beautiful, it awakens in us a memory of how things ought to be. It makes us mourn a world where things are broken and long for a world where all things are whole again. Too often, we turn down the volume of this proclamation, but a faint echo summons us to remember our Creator and to long for our redemption.

When we experience works of artistic beauty, portraits of human nobility, signs of grace and redemption, we should look beyond these to the one who made them. God has placed hints of himself in the world to be pursued. Like bread crumbs on the road, not dropped by accident, they serve a purpose to lead us to God.

The Bible says that we humans bear the image of God. The day he made us, God himself said that humanity was “very good.” He puts his fingerprints on each of us. Our Creator dreamed us up as his special creation and has chosen us to carry his glory in the world. Even in our sin-tainted state, we are noble. Evil has defaced the image of God in us, but it has not been erased. It is this mark of God the Creator on us that gives us a dignity that cannot be taken away. Humanity’s greatest stamp of approval is the incarnation of Jesus, who being eternal God also took on flesh and became one of us. Nothing could speak more loudly of the significance of human life.

This truth has huge implications for all people, but it ought to especially instruct us about our care for the poor, the forgotten, the abused, the unborn, the disabled, the suffering. They too bear the imprint of God. Even the people that our cruel world casts off as trash are God’s glorious creation. There is a dignity in every human life that is worthy of our love.

But there is also a potential danger in speaking of the glory of our humanity. We might be tempted to worship ourselves as the ultimate source of dignity and beauty. At one point in the film, after the auction of his painting nets a huge sum, Tiaõ says, “God was so good to me, so wonderful.” Vik Muniz, the artist, interrupts him and says, “You’re the strong one. You are the one who is doing everything.” Whether intended or not, God is excluded from the conversation, and Tiaõ himself is seen as the ultimate strength and beauty. Now, I do not know anything of Mr. Muniz’s spirituality, so I do not intend this as a statement about his faith or lack of faith. But I think the passing comment highlights a temptation for us. Muniz’s remark cuts off the pursuit of beauty before it reaches its ultimate end. It stops short of its goal. It effectively says, “Let’s honor the beauty of humanity, but let’s not ask where that beauty originates.”

If, however, we fail to pursue this beauty beyond ourselves, we deny the full power of art. Just as the beauty of a work of art directs us to the artist, so the beauty of humanity directs us to the Creator. In this sense, I believe Vik Muniz likely has a sense of what I mean, but he fails to follow the logic all the way through. In the film, Muniz does not praise himself or his work, but he allows the people and the works of art to speak for him. He knows that art reflects the artist; the beauty of his artwork points people to his skill as an artist. Since that is true, would it not seem wise to allow the beauty of humanity on the whole to point us to the ultimate Artist?

One of my favorite lines in the documentary deals with our sense of perspective. Muniz looks out over the unending slums and shanties and buildings of Rio de Janeiro and observes, “They are not pretty places except when you look from far away.” It is a poignant comment that is also true of the portraits he is creating from recyclable trash. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps we should try to see our world from even further away. From God’s perspective, there is greater beauty in our world than we can imagine in the midst of it.

The Gospel says that humanity was broken and discarded on the trash heap of life, but Jesus came to rescue and restore us. He redeems us, gives us a new perspective, and fills us with a new hope. In Jesus, we discover that we are a part of a living and cosmic work of art. The Scripture says that “we are his workmanship,” and he is forming us into something wonderful. It is Jesus, not us, that finally transforms our lives into something wonderful. Our ultimate nobility and beauty comes as Jesus creates and recreates until we experience a new heavens and a new earth where joy and peace rule forever.

The most powerful line in Waste Land occurs when Tiaõ looks at the beauty of his completed portrait and says, “I never imagined I’d become a work of art.” The statement reveals a fantastic combination of humility and glory. It is as though Tiaõ realizes his smallness and his greatness in the same moment.

Perhaps followers of Jesus have something to learn from this. The Gospel says that God is making broken and sinful people into a new and beautiful work of art. Because of this, we should live with a constant sense of humility and glory, smallness and greatness, brokenness and beauty. This is the art of God’s grace on the canvas of the universe.

Is it easy for you to lose sight of the beauty and dignity of human life? How would it impact you if could gain a new perspective and see your life as a part of God’s cosmic work of art?

-jdl

All photo and artwork rights and credit to Waste Land or Vik Muniz at the following:

I ran across a verse this morning in my Bible reading that grabbed my heart and hasn’t let go all day. Isaiah 30:18 says:

The Lord waits to be gracious to you, and he exalts himself to show mercy to you.

It caused me to reflect on things that keep me (and you) away from God.

  • We stay away because we think we are too sinful, and we stay away because we don’t realize how sinful we are.
  • We stay away because we have not achieved enough, and we stay away because we have achieved so much.
  • We stay away because we are insecure in our failure, and we stay away because we are secure in our success.
  • We stay away because we are lonely, and we stay away because we are surrounded by people.
  • We stay away because we are insignificant, and we stay away because we are significant.
  • We stay away because of our self-doubt, and we stay away because of our self-confidence.
  • We stay away because of weakness and strength, sorrow and joy, shame and glory.

All these things keep us away from God. Needlessly. The Gospel says that nothing stands in our way; Jesus has taken it all.

Whatever it is that keeps you away…let it go. Now.

Let nothing keep you away from Jesus.

He waits to be gracious to you. He stands at attention in his readiness to show mercy to you. 

Let nothing keep you away.

-jdl

WHEREVER YOU GO

July 15, 2011 — 7 Comments

I visited a friend yesterday who is dying of cancer. Just in case you are wondering, cancer sucks, but it will one day be defeated. That day has not yet come. It was good to be with my friend. We talked about his memorial service — what songs and scriptures might be used. We talked about catching large mouth bass on Santee Cooper Lakes in South Carolina. His wife and I ungracefully moved an over-sized recliner down a narrow staircase so that he’d have a more comfortable place to rest. We read the Bible. We circled up and grabbed hands to pray with his family and a hospice nurse. We talked about what lies ahead. We spoke of faith that is sometimes small and a God who is always big.

It was good to share in the struggle of my friend, and to remind him that God never leaves us, never abandons us. God is here, even when things are rough. It was good to remind myself as well.

Are you facing a trial that requires faith? Maybe your trial is a disobedient child that is running from Jesus. Maybe its a life transition that you didn’t want. Or, like my friend, maybe you are approaching the final trial of staring at death through eyes that know life is short. Whatever you face, God is with you, and God is for you.

Life moves like a wild roller-coaster ride of ups and downs and unexpected turns. As you approach the next corner unable to see what’s ahead, you can rest in the reality that God is overseeing the ride.

In the midst of trials, it is good for the soul to dwell on God’s promises. I thought I’d share a few with you. In my prayer and bible reading this week, I spent some good time reflecting on this verse:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:3-4)

We’ve been memorizing this verse with my children:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not give up, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

What verses of scripture do you look to when you are facing a trial?

-jdl

As I watched this video, I felt my troubles shrink and my hopes expand. The beauty of the blues is that they simultaneously proclaim our despair and our hope without minimizing either. In this, blues music is very much like the Psalms.

Thanks to Ray Ortlund, who first posted this on the Gospel Coalition blog.

-jdl

How Important are YOU?

February 22, 2011 — Leave a comment

One of the great and humbling realities that followers of Jesus experience is this: God uses you. In his sovereign and eternal plan, God decided to bring about divine good in the world through broken people.

As a pastor, I see many people (myself included) who drift in one of two wrong-headed directions related to their importance to God’s plan. I recently ran across this passage from J.R.R.  Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which powerfully captures this tension:

h-1-0126-bilbo-baggins“Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself.”

“You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

– J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
(quoted in Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy)

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE  YOUR IMPORTANCE

We, like Bilbo, may underestimate our importance. Bilbo was obviously aware of all that had happened on his journey, but he had a difficult time believing that he was the one being used to carry out ancient prophecies. Some of us need to comprehend the great honor we have to continue the noble fight of faith and further the long-promised mission of Jesus’ kingdom. You are a part of something greater than your life.

DON’T OVERESTIMATE YOUR IMPORTANCE

On the other hand, we may overestimate our importance. Bilbo had taken on each adventure and survived to tell his story, and he found it tempting to think that the story was his own. Gandalf’s reminder is good for all of us: in the grand adventure, you are very small and you had magical and mysterious help along the way.

The Gospel keeps us from either extreme. We cannot doubt our personal value: Jesus died for us and sent us on a mission. Neither can we depend upon our personal value: it is a generous grace that we get to play a part at all, and the story is certainly about someone of much greater worth.

Live courageously, serve humbly. And never under- or overestimate your importance.

What’s your story? Are you more tempted to overestimate your importance or underestimate it? What helps keep you balanced between the two?

-jdl

Intersection_WebMain

People watch movies. People go to church. Most fail to see how the two connect. This is why we have just begun a sermon series called Intersection: Where Christ & Culture meet. My hope is that we equip followers of Jesus to engage our world thoughtfully, creatively and biblically. In the sermons, we will explore themes from the movies “Inception,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit,” and “The Social Network.”

There are many reasons one might preach a series that deals with films, but here are five that surfaced as I thought about this series.

1. Faith relates to all of life. If we are going to live healthy and whole lives, we will fight against the temptation for a compartmentalized faith. Too often, people put “Sunday” into a sacred compartment and then isolate that “church” part of  life from the other six days a week. This is not the life Jesus came to give us. Gospel-faith should influence every realm of our lives.

2. We need to be discerning. If we are going to watch movies (and almost all of us do), we need to process what we watch and be discerning about the things that we see. We need to ask questions of the films we view. What is the story about? What is beautiful about the film? What is looked down upon? What is exalted? Is it honest about life? What moral and ethical viewpoints are used? What is redemptive? What emotions does it stir? Is this beneficial for me? Then, we have the chance to see how these questions relate to our following of Jesus and interacting with our world.

3. We can learn from films. Films have the potential to open us to new ways of seeing our lives and our reality. They can ask good questions with which we need to wrestle. If we enter the theater with a healthy humility, good films will help us realize that we don’t know it all. They remind us that we are thoughtful and feeling beings who like to be stretched both intellectually and emotionally. Watching a movie is viewing the world through another person’s glasses, and a shift in perspective inevitably opens us to new space to explore.

4. Creativity honors God. Too often, the church has taken up the call to confront while abdicating the call to create. Both are needed, but we are way out of balance. Andy Crouch says that we are “creators made in the Creator’s image.” When human beings stop creating, some God-given possibility is being muted or suppressed. We honor God when we create something beautiful and good. [What’s the over/under on comments about bad christian films for this post? Just sayin’…] We need more followers of Jesus who are courageous enough to attempt the creation of great films.

5. Movies are bridges for the gospel. As we seek to present and defend Jesus to our friends, co-workers, classmates, and neighbors, films can serve as common ground on which to have conversations about issues of life and faith. Like the apostle Paul in Athens interacting in the public square through philosophy and poetry, we can describe life with Jesus through the shared experience of films.

So, what do you think? Like the idea of incorporating an occasional conversation about film into a sermon series? Would you add anything to what I’ve mentioned here?

-jdl

When Trials Come

November 18, 2010 — 3 Comments

Though you haven’t seen him, you love him, and though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible & filled with glory. – 1 Peter 1:8

After reading tonight from Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, I thought I’d pass along some good reminders about our experience of trials and tough times.

The verse above tells of a group that is experiencing trial and suffering, yet they are filled with joy. It should be an encouragement to know that others have fought their way through trials and still found joy in the midst of struggle. By faith, we can too.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time finding the good when I’m in the middle of a tough time in my life. That’s why I think it’s helpful that Edwards lists three benefits of trials.

First, trials tend to reveal that which is true and that which is false. That’s why they are called trials. I find this to be the case in distinguishing those who are authentic followers of Jesus from those who seem to believe as long as it is comfortable. But I also find that it reveals the true and the false in my own heart.

Second, trials show the glory and beauty of authentic faith. When a single mom faces unemployment and trusts that God will provide, it’s a beautiful thing. When a man is “circling the drain” (as a good friend of mine used to say) with cancer and keeps a joyful grin, it’s an inspiring thing to watch. As long as these are authentic displays and not put on, they are healthy signs of God’s peace. Trials show off God’s power in us. They say that we have a God who will never leave us of turn his back on us, even when our circumstances seem to say otherwise.

Third, trials purify and refine authentic faith. Trials have a way of surfacing the good as well as the ugly in us. Spiritual transformation never comes by pretending, so seeing the truth about our lives helps us grow. Trials teach us to let go of lesser loves that won’t deeply satisfy us or give us joy that lasts. Trials help us see that those things that distract us from Jesus just aren’t worth it. When we keep the faith and persevere during the tough seasons of life, our faith grows. As our faith in God grows, our joy becomes more rich and real.

So, let your faith be strong when you can see nothing but trials in your circumstances, and the unseen Jesus will give you indescribable joy. This is the promise that we trust when times are hard.

Does this resonate with your experience? What have you found helpful during tough times?

– jdl

Finding Compañeros

July 21, 2010 — 6 Comments

COMPANEROSI recently read Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel made famous by the television miniseries many consider the greatest ever (starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall). McMurtry’s story follows a group of men on a cattle drive from Mexico to Montana. In many ways, the book is about men, their internal drives or passions, and the friendships they share along the way. This motley group assembled over time, but the core of the group served as Texas Rangers during the days when they fought real battles throughout the region. Through many eventful, often difficult, years together, the men had become “compañeros.”  These relationships weren’t perfect, but they were characterized by intense loyalty, sacrifice, honesty, and memories. Every guy needs relationships like these, but few have them.

As I’ve observed guys who become real compañeros, I’ve discovered four things that create movement toward meaningful relationships: props, plans, risks, and laughs.

GUYS NEED PROPS

Women seem to get together with other women and start talking deeply without effort, but guys aren’t like that. You put them together and all you get is something along the lines of “how’s work?” or “you playing fantasy football again this year?” Those two conversations can fill an entire evening.

In general, guys don’t talk openly and freely without an external prop. It may be a task, a mission, a hobby, a shared history or some other event that brings them together. Men become close on a three-thousand mile cattle drive. They open up during a long winter in the trenches of wartime. They are brought together by an adventurous road trip. It isn’t always something grand. It may be something as simple as a regular hunting trip, a golf foursome or mission trip. It may be group of friends from your college dorm or a church small group. There is not any “magic” prop, but there is almost always some kind of prop that brings the guys together initially.

My group of friends and I came together as friends during college, but those friendships expanded through a college road trip to bury a “time capsule” on the Texas-Mexico border (modeled loosely on the movie, “Fandango”). We each included something of great personal value and a list of spiritual commitments and life goals in the bottle. Ten years later, we returned to dig it up. That event become an annual long weekend together that has become a highlight in our lives.

If you want to find real friends, I suggest you grab a group of guys and initiate some unique activity. In male relationships, activity opens the door for conversation. Men start talking deeply after they’ve worn themselves out, made fun of one another or blown something up in a bonfire.

GUYS NEED PLANS

Past performance does not guarantee future success. Just because some prop brought you together for a unique time of relating as friends, you may not continue in that kind of friendship in the years ahead. Most guys who have not found life-long compañeros reflect on certain friendships with a nostalgic longing to go back, maybe even with a tinge of sadness. They are sweet memories, but they are just that: memories of something good that once was but is now gone. Friends rarely intend to lose touch with one another. If your experiences together are going to grow into deep, lasting relationships, you need to commit to a plan.

With my group, we decided to take an annual trip together. We pick a destination and a date, and we all fly in for a long weekend each year. My “Fandango” trip with this group of 6 men helps me hit my annual laugh quota in single weekend. This takes a real commitment, but it’s worth everything it takes to make it happen. Our wives sacrifice on the home front to allow us to go. We take time off work. We split the costs evenly to make it fair (sometimes, we pick up the tab for one another when finances are tight). This commitment propelled us from being college friends to becoming life-long friends.

The bottom line is that you won’t become compañeros without regular time to laugh, play, and goof off together. This usually takes one person in the group who initiates an ongoing plan for being together and gets a commitment from the group. A plan creates a path for deepening relationships as you journey through the ups and downs of life together.

Most of the time, a particular place or activity becomes a big part of the group’s identity. Guys seem to have a desire for a tradition that makes this time special. As men move from the free-wheeling college years to the responsibility of their 30s and 40s, they need time “away” from the normal routine of life. I’d encourage you to try something that allows for a break from your normal responsibilities and demands some real commitment from one another.

GUYS NEED RISKS

The third element I see is risk. If there is no risk, you will settle into a cycle of conversation that repeats itself over and over without taking you anywhere. Think about your relationships with your father or brother or co-workers for a minute. I bet you could write a script for most those conversations as they revolve around the same topics with each phone call. This is just what guys do. We are strange beings. We privately long for a deeper relationship but we almost never acknowledge it.

Friends must continually take risks by sharing life at a vulnerable level. It amazes me how risky it feels to share what is happening in my heart even with my most trusted friends. We’ve been sharing life together for twenty years, but it still feels threatening to let them see my hurts, my unhealthy desires, my anger, my dreams, and my joys. It also brings freedom. The more I share, the more I’m freed up to be myself around them.

Most groups need a guy with the guts to be honest in front of others. Sometimes, it means saying, “You know what guys? I struggle with ______.” Or, “You know what hacks me off about my life right now? It’s ______.” In our group, it seems to be a different guy who leads out each year with an honest and bold statement about his life. Each time someone opens the door to his heart, I think to myself, “OK, here we go.” It’s become my favorite part of our trip. I find out that I’m not that weird, or maybe that I’m just as weird as everyone else. Somehow, that’s one of the things guys need to know: we are all jacked up. That kind of vulnerable sharing is relational fuel for men. Like a car, you have to refill the vulnerability tank regularly or the friendship runs out of gas.

GUYS NEED LAUGHS

With men, laughter both precedes and follows relational risks. Guys need to laugh, and I’ve found that guys won’t share openly until they have laughed freely. If you want guys to open up, you’d better crack one another up first. Some men don’t know how to laugh. Because of this, people will rarely feel comfortable enough around them to be honest about what’s in their hearts. Be careful sharing too much of yourself with men that can’t laugh. The other side of this is that men who have shared openly laugh even harder. The trust and confidence gained in deep relationships lead to uncontrollable laughs that roll out until they bring tears.

For guys, friendship never happens as spontaneously as we’d like. It takes props, plans and risks, but the investment leads to a kind of laughter that is only shared by true compañeros.

-jdl

face for blogYesterday, my facebook status generated some interesting conversation. In fact, one of my former theology professors initially balked at it, thinking it incorrect. I wasn’t trying to be provocative or say anything shocking, but it obviously caught my friend off-guard. All of this got me to thinking that I ought to expand on these thoughts a bit. I’m not sure exactly where this will go, but I’m imagining several posts dealing with the topic.

My statement: The gospel wrecks you before it restores you.

The word gospel means “good news,” so it might seem odd to speak of good news that wrecks you. Let me explain.

What I’m NOT Saying

First, I’m not saying that the gospel corrupts or destroys something good. Sin does that. In his remarkable book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. writes, “Sin has pirated from goodness — energy, imagination, persistence, creativity.” Sin always steals something good, siphoning off God’s blessing into a leaky bucket we have designed for ourselves. We nourish our lives on this pirated goodness, using our skills, talents, passion, and vision for our own enjoyment and self-promotion.

God allows us to go our own way, even if it harms us. Plantinga recalls Augustine’s idea that “sin becomes the punishment for sin.” By this he means that our destruction is in getting exactly what we want. When we are given our heart’s desire, it usually ends in our destruction. Pastor Tim Keller writes, “In the book of Romans, Saint Paul wrote that one of the worst things God can do to someone is to ‘give them over to the desires of their hearts’ (Romans 1:24)” (Counterfeit Gods, 3).

So, we continually steal goodness for ourselves and use it in ways that, although temporarily pleasurable or satisifying, are ultimately harmful. When we do this day in and day out, we develop habits of living that are almost impossible to overcome. Our self-driven ways of living become so routine and normal that we can’t imagine there is another way. Returning one more time to Plantinga, he writes, “Sin has dug in, and, like a tick, and burrows deeper when we try to remove it.” Our inability to conquer our bad habits lead us to resignation. We say things like: “this is just the way it is,” “this is how I was made,” or “there is nothing wrong with this.” Over time, we give up fighting and grow so comfortable in our sin that we hardly notice its presence anymore.

What I am Saying

When I say that “the gospel wrecks you before it restores you,” I am saying that we desperately need to experience God’s wake-up call. God sends His Spirit to arouse us from our sin-induced spiritual slumber, and the gospel is God’s alarm clock. The gospel says to us, “You are not enough.” You may say that this is technically not “the gospel,” but it is at the very least implicit in the gospel message. To say “Jesus came to save you” is to say “you are not enough.” To a life that has for years embraced the idea that Self is King, this is a shocking statement. This is how we are wrecked by the gospel. The gospel message of Jesus is so contrary to anything we’ve experienced that we are undone by it, we lose our balance, we feel unstable. Whether we are self-righteous, self-focused, self-determined, self-satisfied, self-deceived, self-pleasured or self-dependent, we must learn a new way that is not dependent on ourselves, and that is unsettling.

Believing the gospel overturns our entire way of approaching life. Redemption and resurrection are disruptions of the status quo. Self-righteousness and performance are cast aside. The false supports we’ve constructed for our lives are knocked down so that our position with God may be rebuilt. Grace wrecks our previously accepted but woefully inadequate approach to life and teaches us a new way to live by faith. Jesus said, “You must lose your life (be wrecked) in order to find it (be restored).”

We’ll further explore what this means in the next post…thanks for reading. May you be wrecked completely by the grace and the goodness and the restorative gospel of Jesus.

-jdl