Natural Does Not Make Moral

A moral philosophy has pervaded our culture that is (or should be) disturbing.  It comes to us dressed in what appear to be enlightened thought and words, but anyone who thinks even slightly deeply about it can see that it is the exact opposite.  It is in fact, hopelessly primitive. It is the philosophy which equates the natural with the moral.  If something is natural it cannot be prohibited and if we desire something, we must necessarily have a right to it.

This is no more noble than it is novel.  We, living in the post-modern age, tend to turn up our noses at those who came before, scoffing at their backward and binding sense of morality.  Indeed, we believe ourselves to have transcended and transformed what has come before us into something better when in reality, we have most decidedly descended, not into anything new or inspiring, but into the most base manner of thinking. In so doing, we make ourselves to be nothing more than creatures of instinct, indistinguishable from the animals.

There is indeed something very attractive about this line of thought and it is not hard to figure out what it is.  It is easy and it gets us exactly what we want.  Morality dictated by something other than our instincts is almost never convenient and rarely in line with our desires. Doing the right thing is, more often than not, very hard and very costly.

Of course, there is the glaring argument that if it isn’t right, then it would not be so ingrained in our nature to desire it.  We are, after all, “born this way.”  But what does that have to do with morality?  With truth?  Since when is “what is” the same thing as “what ought to be.” I find no necessary link between the two. In fact, I am more deeply convicted that there is much about what is, in the world and within myself, that really ought not to be.   I was born selfish, but does that mean that my selfishness must be condoned, even celebrated as good?  If all that counts is what comes naturally and what I desire, then anything, anything goes.  Let us think past the ends of our noses and realize that if we make natural instinct the sole basis of our morality, we have not merely revised moral law, we have abolished it.

We must be careful to remember that what has set humans apart from all other living beings is our sense of a moral law and our conviction that this law should govern nature and not the other way around. What has made the human experience beautiful and meaningful is our unique ability to perform very difficult and very costly moral acts: to die in the place of another, to remain faithful to our spouse until death, or to tell the truth at great cost.  These are the acts we celebrate and admire and yet they are anything but natural.  In fact, they go completely against nature.  They are, in the sense that they go beyond nature, supernatural. And it is this ability to think beyond and act in spite of our natural desires that makes us uniquely human and makes our humanness meaningful.

 

Easter Musings: Pursued by Grace

Our annual celebration of Easter is drawing near and so I have been thinking on what it is all about:  the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  When I think on what it means for me personally and look back on my life thus far, I am struck by the fact that my story is a story of grace from beginning to end.  To quote the Psalmist, the Lord’s goodness and love have followed me and will follow me all the days of my life (Psalm 23).

It is one thing to say that we have found God and quite another thing to say that He has found us. Yet when we really consider our Gospel story, we cannot deny that that is really what has happened and that it makes it all the more wonderful and powerful.  I did not pursue God, but He has pursued me.  did not follow after God’s love, but it has followed after me.

The love and grace of God have pursued us from the beginning.  Our frames were not hidden from Him when He made us in the secret place, as we were woven together in our mother’s wombs, His eyes saw our unformed bodies.  Indeed, “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:14-15).  

He has followed us along every step of our path.  No, he has determined every step of our path with wisdom and love (Proverbs 16:9).  And when our feet have traveled down sinful ways that His holiness forbid Him go, He followed us instead to our rightful place of judgment, condemnation, and punishment.  We find that before we even came to be, His eyes were on us, His grace aimed at us, and His love compelled Him to follow us, nay replace us, on our cross.

This is Easter.  This is why we celebrate, because His grace has pursued us so persistently and His love enveloped our lives so completely that we are completely His.  “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

 

Is It Really Good That God Is Sovereign?

I have not written in a long time.  I have been rather preoccupied mentally and physically with the whirlwind excitement and nausea of the first few months of pregnancy, but I am glad to be back at the keyboard and it is this new life experience that has prompted this post.  Along with all the joy of finding out I was pregnant and telling family and friends, I have at times encountered an old enemy:  fear.  He shows up at my most vulnerable moments.  He questions beliefs I hold that might be tested.  He asks perniciously and repeatedly, “What if…?”  What if I lost the baby? What if the baby has a defect or a disease?  What if God is not really good?  What if God is not really sovereign?  Ultimately, what if it is not really good that God is sovereign?

All of this, along with the book I am reading for my ladies group, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges, has led me to really ponder this subject and what I really think about the sovereignty of God.  I have always believed that God is sovereign, but my attitude towards this truth has often been one more of resignation than of joy and thankfulness because let’s be honest, sometimes we wish He wasn’t.  I have found, however, that the sovereignty of God is not just a fact, it is a glorious fact: one I should treasure, trust, and find ultimate peace and rest in.

I)  The Difficulty of the Sovereignty of God

Most Christians would say they believe in the sovereignty of God, but I think few are really comfortable with all the implications of that.  As Bridges points out, we are perfectly fine with accrediting God when something good happens, when someone is saved, or we get that job we needed or meet our spouse.  However, we have a harder time with the bad stuff, when an unsaved person dies or we don’t get that job or we find ourselves consigned to live of singleness.  In those instances, the really tough ones, we tend to want to let God “off the hook.”  The only problem is that God never asks or even wants to be let “off the hook.”

In the Scriptures, God is adamant and unapologetic about His absolute sovereignty over every person and event, large or small.  God is seen not just allowing or regretfully standing by as bad things happen, but ordaining everything that comes to pass.  “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? (Lamentations 3:37-38).” And yet, Scripture is also adamant that God is not the author of evil or sin, that we and not He are responsible for the evil and suffering wrought in the world.  This is a mystery indeed that I will not attempt to fully understand and which no doubt, causes us to question if it is really good that all in our lives, even the bad and painful, is from the sovereign hand of God.  Can such a God really be trusted?

I think it is helpful to remember that our problem in grasping the goodness of the sovereignty of God is really one of perspective.   We are very much the child and He is very much the Father.  A father is, in many ways, sovereign over his child.  He decides when he will eat and sleep, when he will work and when he will play, where he will go and what he will do.  He does many things which make no sense to the child, which to his understanding, do harm and not good to the him.  The father decrees things the child does not like and concludes that the father must be opposed to him.  The child sees things this way because he does not possess the wisdom, the information, and the perspective that the Father does.  It is only when the child has grown, when he has gained the maturity and mental capability to grasp the bigger picture of the father’s plans that he understands that all the father did which often seemed so questionable, he did in love and for the good of the child.

II)  A Far Worse Alternative

I will not deny that the sovereignty of God is a fearsome thing. It does not promise that only good will pass our way.  It robs us of our false assurance that we are the makers of our own destiny.  It makes us vulnerable to pain we would rather choose to avoid.  Indeed, it makes us ask if it would not in fact be better if this God was not so sovereign. Perhaps it would be better if more should be left up to us or to chance.

Consider this though.  If God is not totally sovereign, if God is not behind my cancer or the loss of my loved one, then what is?  It may only be my enemy or blind, unfeeling chance, neither of which do I wish to be at the mercy of.  I may fancy myself to be the arbiter of my own life (which really would be a terrible thing) and yet we all know that this is not really the case.  We are all susceptible to the whims of people and circumstances.

If then God is not fully sovereign over the bad circumstances in my life, then I may only conclude that He has left me vulnerable to the devil whose only design is my harm.  Either that, or my suffering is nothing more than bad luck which shall render it meaningless and therefore, hopeless. We find then that we should much rather suffer at the hands of a sovereign God who has promised to infuse our suffering with purpose and work it for our ultimate good than at the hands of him whose only purpose could be our destruction or random chaos which has no purpose at all.  The surprising truth is that if my suffering is from God, then my suffering can be trusted.

III)  Pain is Valuable and Evil is Redeemable

We often distrust the sovereignty of God because it may bring us suffering and we dislike suffering because it hurts.  I do not wish to trivialize the pain of suffering, but I must observe that our aversion to pain and our commitment to avoid it at all costs is short-sighted, much like the example of the child earlier.  We dislike pain because well, because it’s painful, but the truth is that pain can be extremely valuable.  It can achieve things for us.  The runner endures the pain of the race because he wishes to obtain the prize.  The mother labors that she might give life to her child.  The father disciplines and brings pain to his child that he may mold the child’s character (Hebrews 12:11).  We endure pain because we believe that the pain is earning us something which will make the pain worthwhile.  This is the promise of scripture.  Our pain is not pointless.  It is not in vain, but rather it is delivered to us intentionally and lovingly from the sovereign hands of God Himself.  Our “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4).”  And this hope does not disappoint.  In other words, our pain is worth it.  It is achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs it all.

But what if our suffering should be a result of evil?  What then?  Has God ordained that evil should be done to us?  I cannot explain this fully. God is not the author of evil and yet He is sovereign over it and uses it for His purposes.  Consider the cross.  Has ever a more evil and wicked act been performed than the crucifixion of the guiltless savior at the hands of guilty men?  And yet, God the Father ordained that this evil should come to pass, that His son should be crushed.  And God the Son willingly embraced the pain of this evil.  Why?  Because it purchased for Him something of greater worth:  the glory of God and the salvation of His chosen people.  In this, not only are we redeemed, but so is the evil of the Cross.  That which was wicked was made good.  That which was hopeless became the fountain of all hope and the greatest act of hate became the greatest act of love.  In this the example of our Savior, we see that our pain, though real, is valuable and the evil of this world, though mysteriously ordained by God, will also assuredly be redeemed by God.  What man has meant for evil, God has meant for good (Genesis 50:20).

IV)  The Real Answer:  Sovereign Love

I must add that though I have been dealing with fears and these difficult questions abstractly, I am not now in a position of suffering or pain.  I am currently dealing with the question of God’s sovereignty mostly intellectually.  I recognize then that I am in no position to preach to the one in enduring real trial and pain.  Indeed, I am sure that these abstract musings would be of little help at all to the one in the midst of a storm. In a storm, we can’t see beyond our reach and in the fire, we can’t think beyond our pain.  We don’t need abstract ideas.  We need a person and Jesus is the person we need.

The real, heart answer to this question then is that it is good that God is sovereign because He loves us and we can hope in this love because it is sovereign love.  If He be sovereign, but not loving, He can only be feared. If He be loving, but not sovereign, He can never be fully trusted.  The cross tells us that He is both.  His love is not weak impotent and His sovereignty is not detached and impersonal.  His sovereignty is love and His love is sovereign.  His words for the one who suffers are these:

“But now, this is what the LORD says–he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isaiah 43:1-3).”

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).” 

God does not promise that He will not give us pain.  In fact, He promises just the opposite.  What He does promise though is that He will be with us.  This is the answer to fear and doubt.   He, not just a God or even the God, but our God will be with us. God became man that He might stand in our place in our greatest trial: the judgment of our sin.  His sovereign love directed Him to endure such affliction from sinful men in order that He might make those sinful men His own, in order that He might be their God with them in every trial and every storm.  We can trust His sovereignty, treasure His sovereignty and rest in His sovereignty because His sovereignty has done this for us.  We are His people and He is our God.

Good News: God Is Intolerant

There’s a rumor that has been floating around for quite some time that God is Love.  He hates nothing.  He offends no one.  He makes no accusations.  All he really does is pat our heads and tell us how wonderful we are and how much he wants us to do whatever makes us happy. Essentially, he is a tolerant God.

I am not sure what this God is based on, but it is not the God of the Bible.  It is a God of our own making, a God made in our mage.  I’ll admit he is appealing on some level. No one likes to be told they are wrong. No one finds it pleasant to have their sin exposed.  This God is certainly easy to get along with.  Yet I would suggest that this God of tolerance is not a God of love.  My last post was about the fact that acceptance is not the same thing as love.  This post will suggest that intolerance is not the same thing as hate.

The God of the Bible is a God of love, but that does not mean that He hates nothing.  In fact, I would argue that it is because He loves that He hates certain things, namely, sin.  The message of the Bible is actually that God’s intolerance and His love flow from the same place and work to achieve the same goals:  the glory of His name and the redemption of His people.

Suppose for a minute that God really was a tolerant God.  He might notice that we all sin, that this sin leads to our destruction and death, but he would do nothing about it.  Perhaps, he would see that what we think makes us happy really only makes us more miserable, but he would not lift a finger to stop us or say a word against us because he would not want to offend.  He would simply sit back and watch us as we ruined our lives, but oh he would celebrate with us that we were able to live freely unencumbered by old-fashioned rules and out-dated standards of morality.  This God might make a good pal, but not a very good Savior and above all, he would not be a God of love.  His tolerance would be convenient for him, but come at a very high price to ourselves.

Fortunately, this is not the Gospel.  God did not choose the path of convenience, but of sacrificial love. The good news of Jesus Christ is that God loves us so deeply and hates our sin so passionately that He absolutely refused to tolerate it.  He would not leave us in our sin and knowing that we were powerless to keep His law and meet His standards, He took our penalty.  His love for us has cost Him greatly.

The Cross is as much an expression of God’s wrath as it is of God’s love. It was as much an offensive action as a defensive one.  Christ died to save us, but He also died to defeat sin, to purge His creation and His people of the sinfulness that He abhors.  On the cross, His love and His hate coalesced to purchase our salvation.  So we find that contrary to popular belief and political correctness, we should rejoice to find that we have an intolerant God. For just as a good and loving Father refuses to stand back and accept the harmful and destructive habits of his child, so our Father has refused to accept and leave us in our sin.  Our God is intolerant and this is very, very good news for both His intolerance and His love have compelled Him to save us from our sins.

Acceptance Does Not Equal Love

This generation is obsessed with “tolerance” and “acceptance.”  We just want everyone to get along.  Love.  Not Hate.  It’s that simple right?  If you love someone, you’ll accept them.  Well, I’m calling it.  This is a total bunch of horse manure and I think it’s about time we at least all talk straight with each other.

The idea that we can all just get along and always “accept” each other is just simply not realistic.  People are fine with acceptance until they come across something that they find…well….unacceptable.  Then all their fine notions about total tolerance are thrown out the window.  This happens on both sides of the issues, usually liberal and conservative, but usually one side gets the label of being “hateful” and “intolerant.”  What makes it all ridiculous is that the other side is just as intolerant.  They find it unacceptable that the other side finds their point of view unacceptable. Anybody else find that totally absurd?

So let’s not kid ourselves here. Let’s at the very least be straight with each other.  We all find certain things unacceptable.  None of us can really tolerate everything.  To tolerate and accept everything would be to have conviction about nothing.  It might look “enlightened” and “loving,” but it is really fatuous and useless.

Moreover, let us ask if we really believe that total acceptance of a person equals loving them?  If by total acceptance, we mean choosing to love them in spite of all their sin, then yes, I suppose it does.  But if by total acceptance, we mean choosing to love them by embracing and turning a blind eye to their sin, then no.  That is not love.  In fact, it is the opposite of love.  Sin is not a laughing matter. It kills.  It ruins people even if they don’t see it.  If I believe with my whole heart that someone’s sin is deceiving them into death, if I love them, I would not tolerate their sin.  I would not accept it.  I would want to expose it, not to judge them or condemn them, but to save them and show them the truth.  To simply accept and ignore it would be not an act of love, but an act of hate.

Love that accepts all is not love.  It is a cheap knockoff of the real thing. It is selfishness and convenience masquerading as something noble.  To truly love someone enough not to accept all their sin is hard and sometimes, it gives offense. It costs something. But it is real and powerful.  Most important, it is the companion of Truth for whoever loves and tolerates and accepts, but does not reveal Truth, does not love at all.

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6).

The High Cost of Free Grace

The title of this post may seem puzzling.  How can grace be both free and costly?  That is simply contradictory.  Yet I think that this is a paradox that we see in Scripture and which I have been trying to work out in my head.  We receive salvation through the free gift of God’s grace and yet the fact that it is free does not mean that it will cost us nothing to receive it.  How can this be?

That we receive salvation as a free gift is undoubtedly true.  Scripture tells us, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  This is a pivotal point of the Gospel.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and the faith which saves us?  It is a gift.  A gift, by definition, is something you cannot earn or attempt to pay for.  For then it would be cease to be a gift.  This point Paul emphasizes so that we can all understand that none of us can boast.  If we want salvation, we must receive it humbly, giving all the glory to God.

In this sense then, grace is free.  With all my works, I could never have been good enough to earn it.  With all my money, I could never have afforded it.  And the real truth is that with all my sin and wickedness, I did not even want it.  Yet here I stand in the grace of God. It is free and it has freed me.

However, salvation is not “free” in the same way that the samples at Sam’s Club are free.  That is free in the sense of instant gratification with no cost and no lifestyle implications.  The offer of the Gospel is very different.  Mercy is weightier stuff.  It lays claim to our lives.  Christ did not die merely to dole out forgiveness to passersby, but to purchase souls.  If we want His grace, we must be ready to give our devotion.  If we want His life, we must be prepared to surrender ours.

In a strange sense, the grace of God would be less costly if it was less free.  If God merely wanted our money, our good deeds, our lip service, I think many would be more willing to take His offer because we would still be able to retain the one thing we all cringe at relinquishing: the thrones of our hearts.  For if the Gospel is really free, if God has really in His sovereignty, reached down and saved me, changing the trajectory of my life from eternal wrath to eternal life, then there is a very great cost. I cannot be the person I was because God has changed my very identity from child of wrath to child of God.  I cannot live as Lord of my own life because because Christ has bought and paid for the right to be not just my Savior, but my Lord.  Yes, grace is free, but its implications are weighty.  I am not my own.  For grace has made me His.

This should cause us to consider the offer of the Gospel with due sobriety.  We should marvel at the glory of free grace and yet consider the cost of receiving it.  We must hear the warning of Christ Himself: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27). These are sobering words indeed.  They tell us that being a disciple of Christ may cost us everything, our dearest relationships or even our very lives.

Indeed, many who have chosen to follow Christ, have been led by Christ down paths of suffering that they would never have chosen for themselves. This is the cost of free grace: complete submission and avowal that we will follow Christ wherever He may lead.  Yet, the cost does not come without promise and the promise is very, very good.  The promise is that no matter where Christ may take us or what He may ask us to do, it will be worth it.

Paul understood the promise.  He tells us that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).  And in Philippians, he vows to embrace the cost and sufferings of belonging to Christ, even calling it rubbish, all that He might gain Christ and be found in Him (Philippians 3:8-9).  Paul understood that there was a cost, but that whatever the cost might be, it was simply incomparable to the prize.

Thus we see that grace is free and yet costly, that the cost is both great and yet so transient in the grand scheme of things as to ultimately be counted as nothing.  Let us then consider with sobriety the weighty offer of the Gospel and the far-reaching implications it has for our lives, but let us also consider that if a cost must be paid, something must be given in return.  Those who do count the cost and consider the worth of the prize will see that it is so much more than worth it.  For ultimately, following Christ must necessarily lead us to Christ and Christ Himself is the source of life and salvation and the treasure who is worth more than any price.

American Individualism and the Myth That We Are “Special”

In my Bioethics class last semester, we discussed an interesting statistic. America is by far the most individualistic society in the world.  Most countries have a general sense of a community identity while America was at the far, far other end of the spectrum, having almost no sense of communal identity and an overly heightened individualistic independence.

I think this is because in America, we are taught that we are “special.” From childhood, each of has been fed a steady diet of feel-good phrases about how wonderful we are and how we can do whatever we set our minds to.  I was suspicious of these even as a child.  They seemed to be founded on blind and willful belief rather than any actual truth.  We can all work hard to achieve things, but we also have natural limitations.  I may have wished to be the next great artist, but my complete lack of artistic ability told me that was not a viable option, no matter how hard I might try.

Why do we work so hard to pump this stuff into our children’s brains when it is clearly not true?  What is this need we have to be “special?”  I think it is fairly obvious that from a worldly perspective, this nonsense comes from an over-exalted sense of self.  We are all going to glorify something in our lives and for most, it is ourselves.  Our great fear is to be average because deep down, we believe that an average life is not a worthwhile life.  We need to feel that we are special in an attempt to fill our desire for meaning and purpose and value for our lives.  The ironic truth though is that we cannot all possibly be special. To be special is by definition, a rare privilege given to a select few.  If we are all special, then we are actually all just average.

What I have been learning over the past few years is that this thinking can leak its way into the minds of Christians as well.  It is just a little more subtle and cloaked in the holiest of language.  “God has a special plan for my life….”  “God wants to use my gifts for His glory.”  So what am I saying?  That these things aren’t true?  No, not exactly, but I think that our take on them can be self-centered instead of Christ-centered.

The Biblical Perspective on Being Special

So what does the Bible have to say about this?  Does it reinforce our desperate desire to believe that we are special?  Well, I think the answer is yes and no.

The Bible affirms that each of us is special in the sense that we are unique, created and designed in the image of God with inherent value and purpose (Psalm 139).  However, in another sense, it tells us that we are not special at all.  In fact, it has some very sobering words about mankind.  It tells us that there is “nothing new under the sun.”  Each of our lives is in some way, the same song, second verse.  “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16).  That is not very flattering.  If there is one thing that is not special, it is grass.  It is abundant, replaceable, and easily forgotten.

This tells me two things.  First, we are not at all special in the way the world would have us believe.  No matter how gifted and talented we are, no matter how much we achieve, it has all been done before and it will all be done again and we, for all our striving, will soon be forgotten.

Secondly, we are special, but not in the way we desire.  We want to be special in a way that glorifies ourselves and God refuses to give His glory to another (Isaiah 48:11).  No, in and of ourselves, we are quite average and it is time we, myself included, come to peace with that.  The only special things about me, I can take no credit for, even my gifts and abilities.  I am special because God has made me in His image.  I have gifts because He gave them to me (1 Corinthians 4:7).  And by far the most special thing about me is that I have been saved by the grace of God and that, I can certainly take no credit for.  In fact, what it really shows is how special and how infinitely precious and worthy of praise Christ is.

The Bad News and the Good News

This is definitely not the fluffy, feel-good message printed on posters in classrooms all over America.  The bad news is that it makes us feel much smaller than we would like.  It refuses to flatter our egos and pamper our pride.

However, I think it is good news as well, but we must first accept the bad news before we can receive the good news.  The good news is that it frees us from our fear of being “average.”   If our need to be “special” is met in Christ instead of ourselves, we find that being average is not such a terrible thing after all.

Moreover, I think it actually frees us from a small vision for our lives and gives us a greater one.  Once we get past the disillusionment that we are not as wonderful as we thought we were, we can glimpse a greater purpose.  God insists on humbling us before He will exalt us, but if we accept that humility, we can find that our lives can have greater value and purpose than we ever dreamed for ourselves.   No matter how average a life may seem, if it is spent showcasing how special and infinitely valuable Christ is, instead of ourselves, that will be the most special life of all.  And that, my friends, is very good news.

The Example of Christ

No one has demonstrated this better than Christ Himself.  Being God, He was certainly more special than any of us could hope to be. There is none like Him.  And yet, for our sake and for the sake of obeying and glorifying the Father, He put that aside to become completely and incredibly average.  He became one of us.  If we really want our lives to be special and meaningful, we are instructed to follow His example, He “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).  

How average He must have seemed.  How terribly ordinary.  And yet because He insisted on obeying and glorifying only the Father in the midst of His horribly mundane and humble human existence, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).  

This tells me that what we need to fear is not being average, but in missing the point of it all:  that God is less concerned with how special we think we are than how special our lives shows Him to be.  And that it is not so much about finding His special plan for our lives as it is about finding how our average lives conform to the special plan for His glory.

I read a quote recently that really impacted me.  It said that “it’s better to play a small role in God’s story than to cast yourself as the lead in your own fiction.”  The fact is that God’s story is the only one that matters, but He only takes those who are willing to deny themselves, to deny their own need to be exalted in order that they may exalt Him.  This may entail leading an incredibly average life of which no one will take any particular notice, but if we can be content with that and any small and humble role which God would have us play, we will not have missed out on His good and perfect plan for our lives. Moreover and most important, in be willing to lose our lives for His sake, we will gain Christ Himself, He who is life and who is the treasure and prize for which God has called us heavenward.

Christian Optimism

I have never had much patience with optimism.  As a self-proclaimed realist, optimism has always seemed to me to be willful belief in a positive future that has no foundation in reality.  In many ways, that is what it is.  At least worldly optimism.  It has occurred to me however, that Christians should be the most emphatic optimists around and that Christian optimism is in fact realism because our assurance that all things will work for our good is firmly rooted, not in warm, fuzzy feelings but in the real, unshakeable, irrevocable love of Christ, purchased for us at the Cross.  

Consider Romans 8:28-39.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  Paul begins with this bold statement of incredible optimism.  Yet, this is not some pie-in-the-sky hope.  No, Pauls claims it as a fact.  What is his basis for this claim?  The very sovereignty of God.  “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). Paul’s optimism for all who love God is founded on nothing less than the sovereign power of God who has promised that He will do good to those who love Him.  

The promise then is not that no trouble will befall God’s chosen or nothing bad will ever happen to them, but that whatever trouble does befall them, for it is almost assured that it will, this trouble will, in the end, be for their good and through it all, none of it will ever be able to sever them from the love of Christ. I find this to be a truly amazing promise.  For if we go back to Romans 5, we remember that before God chose us, there was much to separate us from His love. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  

How can we be assured that all will work for our good?  How may we know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ?  Because Christ has effectually closed the gap between us and His love with His death and Resurrection, His sovereign choosing of us to redeem.  Nothing remains between us and the love of Christ because He has done away with it all.  Yes, there was once much to separate us, but it has been removed.  

We were sinners, dead in our transgressions.  Christ has tread our sins underfoot and hurled all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).  We were condemned before God.  Christ has been condemned in our place, forever silencing any tongue who would bring a charge against those whom God has chosen (Romans 8:33).  We were by our very nature, objects of wrath.  Christ has borne the wrath the we deserved so we might be objects only of His love (Ephesians 2:3-4).  We were far off from God, separated from His transcendent glory by our lowly humanity.  Christ has come down to take on flesh.  He is Immanuel, “God With Us” in our sufferings and pain (Matthew 1:23).  

Paul’s grand conclusion then is that nothing remains which can separate us from the love of God because Christ has effectually removed all hindrances between Himself and His chosen.  We are His because He has made us His and there is nothing that can keep God from working all things for the good of those who God has sovereignly made His own.  We shall not fear hardship, persecution, or even death because death has been transformed from the door which closes us off from Christ with a harsh thud of finality into a gateway which opens and leads us into the life forever with Christ which He has purchased for us.  Death has no sting for us now (1 Corinthians 15:55). 

The point then is that of all people, Christians should be the most optimistic people around, not because of a vain hope, but because of the real and irrevocable fact of our redemption through the blood of Christ which has bound us, eternally, to His love.  In all things then, we shall be more than conquerors.  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).  

The Desires of Our Hearts

An old post that God brought to mind today. So often we need to be reminded of what we already know.

Illuminating Truth

Desire.  It lives within us.  It drives us and can consume us.  In and of itself, it is not wrong, although it can be. Scripture tells us that “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15).  This kind of desire, which leads to death, is desire gone awry, desire that is outside of God’s good and proper order.  It pays no heed to the laws of God and in my experience, usually springs from a warped and short-sighted understanding of reality, demanding instant gratification.  It is desire that will not wait, but rebels or ignores God in order to obtain its object.

Because of this, we can give the word “desire” a negative connotation.  We feel we need to repent of it, as if it was wrong to want.  As sinful beings, our desires can’t be trusted…

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