Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Joy pt.2: Swelling Joy?

Every time I’ve talked with someone about their joy its been referred to like mountains and valleys. Some days, or weeks, or months are the mountains while others the valleys. But there is something else each of these conversations has in common.
Each time it has been implied, whether overtly through simple statement or covertly through shifting language, that all of life must be the mountaintop. All of life must be a swelling of joy like high tide all the time. But it won’t be that way, thank God.
It’s a simple thought; if everything were extraordinary then nothing would be extraordinary. The same applies here. If all of life were the mountaintop then none of life would be the mountaintop… We’d be these mindless joyless (or joy filled, both would look similar) zombies walking around on the plains of western Kansas.
Thank God there are deep, dark, depressive valleys. Thank God these valleys are full of cobwebs, spiders, and snakes. Thank God they smell of rotting flesh. Thank God they are filled with swamps and mires. Thank God the wear our souls raw and make us bleed.
If all of life were a mountaintop, none of life would bring us to our knees in humble adoration of being so frail and God being the maker of the valley and the mountain.
Those valleys, those low tides where your joy is under the carpet (or even the cement under the carpet) stand in stark contrast to those mountains, those high tides where standing on the carpet you were previously under is an easy thing to do.
However we thank God for the surmountable gloriousness of the mountains. We thank God these mountains bring us to the fresh clean air where our lungs are cleansed. We thank God these mountains bring rest and mend our souls.
The tide must always go out, and the valley follows every mountain it is the rhythm of saved-sinner’s lives, so when these happen and we are the dirt beneath the concrete we bless the hand that counts us worthy to suffer for his glory and in so doing kindle our joy (by God’s grace).

Friday, September 24, 2010


We live vibrantly and breathe wholesomely not because we are worthy of the breath or the life but because God bought the breath and the life… I don’t have a category for this.
It was put well at Community Group last night, “We are poodles with smelly necrotic maggot ridden flesh and tumors growing all over our bodies. Deserving nothing more than to be buried or shot. Completely unworthy of life. But God pulls up in his Cadillac takes us to his mansion and bathes us, picks the maggots from our flesh, and calls us his own.”
We are redeemed… We who were once covered in necrotic festering flesh with only the maggots to clean the wounds have been adopted by the King, taken to his palace and bathed by his Son.
We are redeemed… We who once were lying rotting in the morgue have had God breath life into our lungs.
We are redeemed… “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26
We are redeemed… Though wretches we are and sinners will be; though idols we’ll seek and God we will hate; by the unrelenting grace and mercy of God we are redeemed…
This cannot be categorized. Indeed my life must go into its category. ‘He made him who knew no sin to be sin so that I might become the righteousness of God; that while I was still a sinner Christ died for me; there is therefore now no condemnation because I am in Christ Jesus.’ Redemption.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Joy Pt.1

Joy is an interesting thing. We gauge our lives by our wealth of or lack of joy. We wonder at those things that produce it and those things that rob us of it. But what is it? My dictionary says, “A feeling of great pleasure and happiness” but my head tells me it’s more than that.
It’s a limited definition, if we take my dictionary’s word; we are limited to our feelings, the waxing and waning of emotion in the gusts of life. Quite frankly it’s unsustainable. John Piper would say joy is forgetting yourself in awe of something bigger and grander than you like the Alps, or a sunset, or God. But even that seems unsustainable to me.
I cannot always marvel at grandeur. Maybe it’s just me, but my head quickly becomes accustomed to the altitude and my heart quickly grows faint of the light and I return to where I began, lacking joy… And yet, it remains. Though I lack the swelling of joy, joy still remains, however small my portion may be, it’s still there, for there is grace.
Grace and joy walk hand-in-hand like lovers down a lane, inseparable. Often this is forgotten for want of resplendence. Rather than taking joy in the ordinary things, we reach continually for the heavens. We wear out our arms by grasping at splendor and we tire our legs by running from grandeur to grandeur. But we must be treading lightly. For if we do not keep a close watch the ordinary graces in life will turn into mud-pies in the slums rather than being sand-castles by the sea (Lewis).
So we look to the graces in our lives, those things we don’t deserve; which is all of life, to be joy filled. For in these ordinary things we are reminded of an extraordinary deed. We live and breathe because God was gracious to us in the Gospel. We see and hear because there is life in our hearts and souls. So though we often feel like we are absent and void of joy, by God’s grace, we must remember God’s grace for in so doing we find joy.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hobbit thoughts

I just finished reading “The Hobbit” for the one-hundredth time. Few books make me feel the rise and fall of the main character like that one does. Every time, I remember my first emotions of my first reading of the book. ‘Tenacious’ describes the hold that story has on me.
But it’s not the book causing the emotion, nor is it Tolkien’s keen grasp on the English language. Rather it’s the adventure, the journey. Seeing Bilbo go from introspective, easy living, comfort to hard-pressed scared, expectancy reminds me of us.
Think about it, remember back to when you first believed, if you can, indeed if you do. Life before was an introspective tangle where the most you expected was easy living and comfort. But then came the Gospel like Gandalf and turned everything upside down. You were thrown almost unwillingly into an adventure you barely understood nor cared for.
But as the journey continued and as the danger became more real you approached your ‘Misty Mountains’ where you riddled with the devil and won. All the while learning more and trusting your ‘fortunate luck.’
Coming then to your ‘Mirkwood’ of despair and depression, where friends are lost, then recovered, only to be lost and found again. Where darkness reigns and your heart longs for the place you were before the Gospel came to sweep you away, because it looks abundantly safer than where you are.
On to your ‘Lonely Mountain’ where the dragon lives and the fight against him proves to be an acidic fight against a violent foe. But this is the reason for coming, this is the reason for leaving home and kindred, to kill the dragon and take the reward.
So is your fight with sin every battle, every mountain, valley, and deep dark wood. Compelled by the reward to journey through what we do not know and fight the foe of sin. Each sin has its distinct journey to its defeat, yet the reward remains unchanged.
‎Though it’s cliché to say we realize we couldn’t have done it without our friends fighting by our side. And when the calm has come we are shown the ‘fortunate luck’ we trusted throughout our trek was by design.
But then there is the reward. The Reward. The same Reward Moses looked forward to. The same Reward that Paul, Peter, & Timothy longed for. The same Reward that Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, Lewis, and Tolkien looked forward to. It is the reason we journey though hard-pressed and scared. We look to the Reward.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My friend is dead...

What causes us to change? To go from old to new, from broken to whole. As a believer my first response is the Gospel, it is what brings us from old to new, from dead to alive. But how, how is it possible for news, good news, to change me?
I look at the story of my life, a short story but a story nonetheless, and awe. Not because I’m worthy of awe, but because the tale of my life, the narrative from beginning to now is like looking at the vastness of the stars on a clear night, or driving up on the Rocky mountains from the Midwestern planes. I realize my smallness, baseness, meanness that though it is ‘my life’ my life has had nothing to do with me…
Let me explain the reason for my awe.
“My friend is dead.”
This was the thought that swirled about in my head on that rainy May morning.
“My friend, who I talked to just last night, is dead.”
My class walked around like zombies, going from shoulder to shoulder weeping bitterly. We who were close called other friends in other schools to herald heartbreaking news. ‘Dazed’, ‘hit with a Mac truck’, ‘distraught’ these would be the words to describe us on that day. On that day, in an instant, we, I was changed.
But that was not the Gospel that changed me was it? It was the opposite, right? I think it was, there was a hope, quite frankly, completely outside pointing to something more, something better, and something satisfying. Saying, “This life is not all, there is more. The curtain will fall, your failing ripped tent will be made into a mansion.” Even though the tears cried were bitter; even though the life lost was valuable; and even though death seemed bigger, and scarier, and more real than ever before there was hope.
A hope that pointed to our biggest problem being taken care of, namely of sin defeated and life without end. Though a dear friend lay dead in a morgue we began to realize the stark reality of the state of ourselves. We who had been spiritually dead and in the morgue now lived vibrantly and breathed wholesomely because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The despair I had that day in the death of a friend gave way to hope, a hope that my life had never seen or known before, a hope that continues to fuel a fire.
So when I sit across the table at Starbucks from my friend’s father and say, “I’m glad your son died, because in his death God taught me the Gospel.” The awe of seeing the story of my past gives way to hope for the story God has.
How does the Gospel change us? How does good news change us? By showing us God and his sovereignty in both the fantastic and the unimaginably painful. By breaking us of the ‘control’ we think we have and showing us the Controller. By shattering the bubble we live in and showing us the vastness of the goodness of God. So how does the Gospel change us? By the grace of God.