Luther’s Hymn

In devil’s dungeon chained I lay

The pangs of death swept o’er me.

My sin devoured me night and day

In which my mother bore me.

My anguish ever grew more rife,

I took no pleasure in my life

And sin had made me crazy.

 

Then was the Father troubled sore

To see me ever languish.

The Everlasting Pity swore

To save me from my anguish.

He turned to me his father heart

And chose himself a bitter part,

His Dearest did it cost him.

 

Thus spoke the Son, “Hold thou to me,

From now on thou wilt make it.

I have my very life for thee

And for thee I will stake it.

For I am thine and thou art mine,

And where I am our lives entwine,

The Old Fiend cannot shake it.

A Glimpse Into the Gospel of Grace

“The question the gospel of grace puts to us is simply this: Who shall separate you from the love of Christ? What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid that your weakness could separate you from the love of Christ? It can’t.

Are you afraid that your inadequacies could separate you from the love of Christ? They can’t.

Are you afraid that your inner poverty could separate you from the love of Christ? It can’t.

Difficult marriage, loneliness, anxiety over the children’s future? They can’t.

Negative self-image? It can’t.

Economic hardship, racial hatred, street crime? They can’t.

Rejection by loved ones or the suffering of loved ones? They can’t.

Persecution by authorities, going to jail? They can’t.

Nuclear war? It can’t.

Mistakes, fears, uncertainties? They can’t.

The gospel of grace calls out, ‘Nothing can ever separate you from the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord!’

You must be convinced of this, trust it, and never forget to remember. Everything else will pass away, but the love of Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Faith will become vision, hope will become possession, but the love of Jesus Christ that is stronger than death endures forever.

In the end, it is the one thing you can hang onto.”

(Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel; pp.87-88)

Book Review: Clear Winter Nights (Wax)

Having read Trevin Wax before (through blog posts and a previous book of his) it was a joy to see him dive in to storytelling in a fictional format. I resonate with his journey a bit because I, myself, do not typically read fiction. To be honest I am more of a reader of theology, devotional literature, and christian living sort of books. Perhaps this similarity to diving in to a new genre is what caught my eye.

Anyways, this book is a short read–160 pages after acknowledgements–but it definitely packs a punch. The book is about a boy, Chris, who is doubting much of what his life was built around–faith, a relationship, a career path–and begins asking tough questions and assessing his desires to see what he ought to do. I believe this is something we can all admit to wrestling with. Trevin rightly writes about this season in our character’s life which many have referred to as “the dark night of the soul;” perhaps we know this sort of season all too well.

I love the way Trevin Wax was able to work through intricate themes in the form of dialogue. Towards the end of chapter 4 (don’t worry, no spoilers) there is a response from the grandfather to Chris stating:

“What if Christianity is bigger than ethics? What if it’s not about good people getting better but dead people coming to life? What if it’s not about man seeking God but God seeking man? What if it’s not about how people view God but how God views us? What if Christianity isn’t about you and me and everyone else in the first place? Those are the questions I hope you ask. They’re worth wrestling with…

…Chris, make sure you don’t use scholarship as a way of masking your doubts, of defending yourself against the Bible, of distancing yourself from God’s claim on your life.” (p.50)

The book is filled with this sort of pointed dialogue. You will find yourself siding with a given character throughout. Sometimes the girlfriend, sometimes the grandfather, others Chris. Trevin does an excellent job navigating complex themes and internal dialogues with storytelling and for the sake of keeping this brief I believe that this book is well worth picking up.

It is a shorter book but deals with a ton of issues on the topic of questioning, doubt, being unsure about your beliefs (or anything you stake your life on, really), and how to navigate those doubts to point towards the Gospel all the more.

The book releases September 17th, 2013. Surely be on the lookout for it.

A complimentary (advanced reading) copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the Multnomah Publishing. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.

A Hope That Overwhelms Grief

I have heard it said before that “when things are going well we talk about God, but when things are tough we talk to Him.” I would say this is abundantly accurate.

C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain says “We can ignore pleasure, but pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

In reflecting on my own season of trials, suffering, difficulty, and a slew of circumstances not working out the way I thought they would, I was brought to Genesis 50:20 where Joseph says “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” For me, I know that Satan would want nothing more than for me to functionally “curse God and die” (as it is said in the book of Job) but I know that God is working something greater out, and because of that I can count this present suffering as joy–knowing that I am growing more aware and secure in Christ because of it (see James 1:2-4).

Besides, our God is in the business of turning defeat into victory.

We see this almost entirely throughout the Bible, don’t we? We see this in Genesis with Abraham and Isaac and with the story of Joseph’s abandonment by his brothers; we see this with Moses and the Israelites in Egypt, being delivered from Pharaoh, across the Red Sea, in the wilderness, etc.; in countless battles and struggles in the Old Testament; and most significantly we see this with Jesus on the cross (and ultimately His resurrection, ascension, and promised return)!

It is Truth like this that causes David’s cup to overflow in Psalm 23 while still in the valley. His circumstance has not changed, yet his disposition has been eternally altered.

Tim Keller puts it extremely well when he says “The Christian faith has a hope that overwhelms grief. This hope doesn’t get rid of the grief or pain but sweetens and shifts it.”

Again we say, ‘what Satan intended for evil, God (rightly) redirects for good.’

This is why the author of Hebrews can say “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Hebrews 10:39)

This truth grows in us a trust and a confidence otherwise unattainable. This truth is what propels Paul in Romans 8 to say “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (v.31)

This is why we can echo with 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “(we do not) grieve as others do who have no hope” and with numerous Psalms that proclaim “God is doing all of this so that He alone may be magnified! It is for HIS namesake and HIS glory that He does it!”

With all this in mind a particular quote yields a helpful context: “If we would talk less and pray more things would be better than they are in the world; at least we should be better enabled to bear them.” ~ John Owen.

You see, it is seasons like these that force our eyes off of ourselves and exclusively to Christ. He is the One we turn to; in Him (alone!) we trust, for He is trustworthy. His very self is declared “Faithful” and “True” (Revelation 19:11) and many verses echo the truth proclaimed in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 that says if God promises: “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

This is a hope that overwhelms grief.

Pain, Sorrow, Grieving, and the Gospel

“[We do not] grieve as others do who have no hope.”  ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13

Grief and sorrow are not wrong (see Acts 8:2 and John 11:35), but in our grief we must not exhibit hopelessness. There are plenty of Bible passages that point to the hope we have as Christians (cf. Job 11:18, 13:15; Psalm 33:22, 42:5; Prov. 23:18; Isaiah 8:17; Jeremiah 31:17; Lamentations 3:24; Romans 8:24; 1 Peter 1:3 just to name a few) and there’s something very real about this hope in our God (see Romans 5:5). It’s not just a concept to discuss but a reality to embrace.

But if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, that can sometimes be a truth that feels so far off and distant that it doesn’t feel real to us, right?

I find that term to be extremely relevant to me right now… “brutally honest.”

Without bearing the troubles of my soul for the world to see at the click of a button, let me just say that there is significant pain in my life right now–pain that brings me to my knees and confronts me with deep sorrow and heartache; pain that make me think of Romans 8:26 (out of context or not) when it talks about “groanings too deep for words”. All of us either have or will experience this sort of pain–a deep rooted, can’t shake it sort of pain.

So what do we do with it? How is this hope helpful now?

When looking at those words again–brutally honest–I think of the Psalms. Have you looked at them recently? I used to think they were just happy prayers of rejoicing, disconnected from the very real essence of the emotions that I feel when I am struggling with things deeper than my words could express.

But look again.

In Psalm 22, David is crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (v.1-2)

We can relate to this, right? This sort of deep deep sorrow; a deep pain or impossible to describe struggle where we need God’s intervention; we need Him to step in. So what does David do about it? Does he call out for God to send down angels to take him out of his situation? Does he forsake God because He is seemingly absent in his pain and heartache? Let’s keep reading.

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and You delivered them. To You they cried and were rescued; in You they trusted and were not put to shame.” (v.3-5)

David reminded Himself of the trustworthiness of God; that God is always true to His character (Hebrews 13:8) and that when man cries out to God, they are rescued.

Now I will make one brief mention that this “rescue” is not always what we had in mind. God is not a genie in a bottle granting us the wishes we ask of Him, but we can trust that if we are going through something.. God has a reason for it. Before you write this off as just another “look at the bright side” blog, know that I have not made it to that rescue yet, but then again neither did David in Psalm 22. He was still experiencing that pain, that sorrow, that deep sense of grieving when he confessed the trustworthiness of God.

That is the hope we can have, and that–I believe–is something that 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (listed above) gets at. We grieve. We hurt. We have pain sometimes that just tears us apart, but even in that we have an abiding hope. We can look forward to a time that we are rescued, that it all will make sense. Sometimes this rescue and this hope doesn’t become a reality to some until death when they are united with Christ in Heaven, but please hear my plea:

Christian, there is hope.

I still don’t have all the answers. I still am angry with God for the pain I’m experiencing (I said we were being brutally honest, right?). I still don’t know why this is happening to me. I still wish I could do something to make this go away.

But even in the midst of all of this.. there is hope. And that is what I can cling to when everything else around me is shaking.

Take a second to read Hebrews 12:26-28; God sometimes shakes up things in our lives–relationships (ie friendships or a significant other), jobs, comforts, life plans–to establish unshakeable truths about Him in our lives; to make them real to us. To remind us that we look towards a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. That we strive, as Romans 8:19 says, with eager longing towards that day.

At the end of the day, we can have this (abiding) hope because Jesus Christ made a way for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus bore our shame, our guilt, and our suffering on the cross (1 Peter 2:24, Hebrews 12:2, Jeremiah 33:8). He is referred to as a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus is not unfamiliar with our pain and suffering, but well acquainted with it, and because of that, we can draw near to Him (Hebrews 4:15-16).

There is hope.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)

Why Should I Seek God?

On one hand, you may feel that you ‘need’ him. Even though you may recognize that you have needs only God can meet, you must not try to use him to achieve your own ends. It is not possible to bargain with God. (‘I’ll do this if you will do that.’) That is not Christianity at all, but a form of magic or paganism in which you ‘appease’ the cranky deity in exchange for a favor. Are you getting into Christianity to serve God, or to get God to serve you? Those are two opposite motives and they result in two different religions. You must come to God because 1) you owe it to him to give him your life (because he is your creator) and 2) you are deeply grateful to him for sacrificing his son (because he is your redeemer.)

On the other hand, you may feel no need or interest to know God at all. This does not mean you should stay uncommitted. If you were created by God, then you owe him your life, whether you feel like it or not. You are obligated to seek him and ask him to soften your heart, open your eyes, and enlighten you. If you say, ‘I have no faith,’ that is no excuse either. You need only doubt your doubts. No one can doubt everything at once— you must believe in something to doubt something else. For example, do you believe you are competent to run your own life? Where is the evidence of that? Why doubt everything but your doubts about God and your faith in yourself? Is that fair? You owe it to God to seek him. Do so.

~ Tim Keller

“Would you be willing to describe the god you are pretty sure you don’t believe in?”

I found it helpful, for example, when interacting with a self- proclaimed atheist to take this approach: “I can see that you are an intelligent person. I’m inclined to think that you are interested in following the evidence wherever it goes, embracing reality, whatever it may be.” Notice that I affirmed his ability to think, and gave him the benefit of the doubt that he has some measure of interest in the truth. “May I ask you to answer a question?”

Once granted permission to pose my question, I asked, “Would you be willing to describe the god you are pretty sure you don’t believe in?” This question does several things. First, it affords me an opportunity to listen, which is both honoring to him and enlightening to me. Second, it elicits from him a clear articulation of just exactly what it is he denies, an exercise that helps me understand his mental obstacles and helps him rethink his own objections as he spells them out. After all, if we are going to have differences, it will be helpful to know exactly (and not merely imagine) where they lie. Third, it—surprisingly, to him— revealed common ground. You see the puzzled and startled look on their faces when I say to self-professed atheists who know I am a God-fearing Christian, “I don’t believe in that god either.” We still have a difference, and we both know it. But at this point, he knows I treat him with respect as a thinking human being and that we actually have some thinking in common. We have something in common to build on. I don’t believe in that god either, but now he may want to know what kind of God I do believe in.

– Sam Crabtree, Practicing Affirmation, p. 22