The Simplest Answer for Life’s Deepest Problems

It’s no surprise that, for most of us, our lives center around what is being done to us–through circumstances or other people. It almost feels as if we live in a constant state of reactions, rather than responses. Carefully consider the following quote. Read it a few times (I needed to read it several times to completely digest it). Really, if we saw each other the way described, if we treated each other this way, the deepest issues we face would melt away. Life would be about loving, not reacting.

Over the past year God has gifted me with two beautiful women who treat me this way. It is the first time in my life I have ever felt 100% accepted, loved, and like I belong somewhere. The first time in my life. They live out the truths in this quote, and I do my best–through the strength of Christ–to do the same with them. I truly believe this is what has allowed us, despite being deeply sensitive people, to have such a friendship and love for each other. As believers, we should seek this as a standard operating procedure in all relationships, whether with our employers, the homeless guy on the street, or the snooty pharmacist at the grocery store.

There are no ordinary people…

 

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feelings for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latita—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

 

–C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

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Every Prayer Uttered

 

“Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Revelation 5:8

(Suggested reading: Revelation 5:1-14)

Psalm 56:8 tells us that God holds every tear we’ve shed in a Divine bottle. He hears every sob; He takes into account every painful moment we’ve experienced. We’re also told in Revelation that God has another Divine container—a bowl. This bowl preserves every prayer uttered by every saint from Adam to the end of time.

When we praise Him in worship, when we thank Him for our meal, when we cry out in anguish over our sin—every single utterance is preserved for a culminating moment in history.

Just imagine, all the host of heaven is gathered around the throne of the Father. Jesus, at the right hand of the Father, holds the Scroll sealed with seven seals. He alone stands worthy to reveal its contents. This knowledge causes all of heaven to bow in worship,

“You are worthy to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

because you were slain,

and with your blood you purchased men for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom

and priests serve our God,

and they will reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:9

As this proclamation thunders throughout heaven, the four living creatures and twenty-four elders fall before the Lamb, pouring out a sweet smelling sacrifice of incense. This sweet smell, this glorious offering is poured out at the feet of Jesus. Your prayers, my prayers, our ancestor’s prayers, the prayers of every martyr, and the prayers of every biblical “hero” now becomes a sacrifice of worship. Not one of them is wasted. No, not one.

Every prayer uttered is an offering–an offering now and an offering to come.

Worthy is the Lamb both now and forever, Amen.

Happy Accidents–A Lesson from Bob Ross

While most kids my age were watching the Simpsons and the Rugrats, as a young child I marveled at the skill of Bob Ross, a Christian painter who had a “how-to” painting program on PBS. I can’t imagine kids these days sitting around watching that type of show, but it was something I found inspiring.

He would take these globs of paint and turn them into glorious masterpieces of art. My favorites were always the oceans. The way he painted the waves, the shades of blue-green, the way he made the painting appear to glimmer—it was magnificent.

But more than all of those things I remember something he said while teaching the viewer how to paint. He said, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” Sometimes he would purposely throw a stray mark in the midst of the beautiful picture only to prove his point. Skillfully working around it, blending it, and adding new colors he made it appear as though it was done on purpose.

Yesterday was a “Bob Ross” moment for me. A few weeks ago my digital camera took its last picture. Since then I had been using my phone to take pictures, but the quality was not the same. Knowing we were about to take a trip to Disneyland (we’re leaving tomorrow!) I was concerned about cataloguing the memories in my usual way—photos. My husband reminded me that we had an HD video camera which could also take pictures. So, I decided to figure out how it works and see if the pictures would be “acceptable”.

I took my daughter to AWANA and it happened to be a beautifully scenic evening with storm clouds glowing in the setting sun. I used the opportunity to snap some photos and quickly realized the quality of this HD camera was far superior to what I thought I had in my now broken digital camera. And then that phrase popped into my mind from nearly two decades ago, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.”

In that moment I was overwhelmed by the goodness of God. What I understood to be an inconvenience was actually a blessing. If my digital camera had not broken a few weeks prior, I would not have had the foresight to try the HD camera, and would have missed out on a glorious photo shoot—a divine photo shoot. Few things please the photographer in me more than an awesome sunset or scenic sky picture and those of my friends on Facebook will attest to that fact. But I have never had the privilege of capturing God’s beauty as I did last night. I have no words to express it. Every time I look at those photos I am in awe of my Savior. He planned that moment and in His great generosity He encompassed me with extraordinary feelings of wonder and worship.

Truly God plans all of our lives in such a way. There are no mistakes—even when we deliberately stray the canvas of our lives with ugly strokes of paint. The Master Painter simply takes His paintbrush and makes our mess beautiful. Beauty from ashes; this is the story of the redeemed. This is my story, my painting, and I am so grateful He takes the brush and continues to daily paint my picture with His infinite wisdom and care.

Lord Jesus, on my knees I confess my doubt, worry, anxiety, and disappointment—my unbelief. Help my unbelief and increase my faith ever more!

Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian

No one is exempt from suffering, whether physically, emotionally, or relationally. It matters not if a person is a Christian—everyone experiences suffering to some degree. No doubt suffering has been written about, studied, debated, and discussed for generations. Over time one may begin to wonder if there can possibly be anything new to say about it.  But Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian does exactly that. This may be one of the most important books a Christian could read in today’s publishing market. My view on suffering was challenged throughout this book, and by the end of it, I found myself deeply affected in a spiritually transforming way.

Glorious Ruin discusses at length two key issues: The Theology of Glory and the Theology of the Cross. Throughout the text Tchividjian explains the origins of both, as well as key differences between the two.

Glorious Ruin is brimming with powerful truth which provokes pause and careful contemplation in the reader. With brutal honesty, the belief system of the majority of modern Christians is challenged to go well beyond what is generally understood about suffering. Tchividjian also challenges the ideologies permeating from the Prosperity Gospel, Scientism, and Nihilism as well as skillfully working through the New Age “self-transformation” movement. He exposes the fallacy of Karma, and how most every Christian is tainted with the idea that “what goes around comes around”–whether they realize it or not.

“We communicate that God exists for our benefit, happiness, self-fulfillment, and personal transformation. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, and God isn’t necessarily opposed to them, but God in Christ cannot be reduced to a means to our selfish ends. He is the end Himself!” (pg. 47)

Christ cannot be reduced to a means to our selfish ends. He is the end Himself! <<<< Click to Tweet!

A tremendous amount of detail goes into studying the effects of moralizing and minimalizing suffering, namely within the Church community. We may think we are not guilty of such attitudes, but this book challenges thinking and promotes deep introspection on such issues. If we’re honest, we’ll admit we are at least tempted to rationalize suffering, or explain it, using the word of God. We tend to, at least subconsciously, feel the need to defend God’s allowance of certain tragedies. Glorious Ruin is not another book to offer reasons why a person suffers, it simply points to the Gospel repeatedly as not needing a defense or an explanation.

“The Gospel is not ultimately a defense from pain and suffering; rather, it is the message of God’s rescue through pain.” (pg. 38)

Unlike many Christian resources currently available, it’s clear Glorious Ruin was not written to promote a certain doctrine or theology, but focuses solely on the Gospel as it is written in the Bible, especially through the life and words of Jesus.

“What God pressed deeply into me is that there is no true, lasting hope outside of Him. Specifically, there is no true, lasting hope outside of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m not talking about an explanation of what happened on Calvary—I’m talking about Calvary itself.” (pg. 150)

Perhaps one of the most poignant messages of the entire book deals with our inherent need to have things explained. Our natural tendencies are predisposed to asking the Why and How of our circumstances. The following quote hit home for me, personally.

“Explanations…are a substitute for trust, a red herring at best. God is interested in something much more powerful than anything information could ever produce. He is interested in faith.” (pg. 152)

I like to keep my personal “opinions” out of book reviews, keeping to the factual content of the book and letting the reader decide if its right for them, but this case proved impossible for me. I cannot withhold the deep impact this book had on my life and how the truth it contains applies to every living soul on the planet. If you think you know everything about suffering already, I plead with you to read this book. If you live a comfortable life, relatively free of what you consider suffering, I plead with you to read this book anyways—if not for yourself, for the people who walk in to your life who have suffered in ways you may not be able to relate to.

One thing you will not find in Glorious Ruin is an attempt to trivialize pain, or compare one person’s experience to another. Tchividjian rightly acknowledges that we all suffer in unique ways and God has a plan to set us free through that suffering, no matter what its form. Simply put, Glorious Ruin is a must-read Christian resource.

Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian is published through David C. Cook and is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2012.

(I received this book for review purposes only and was not required to give a positive review.)

Tullian Tchividjian is the Senior Pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He is also the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. Tchividjian is a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored many books including Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

The Heavens Declare-Or Do They?

Suggested Reading: Psalm 97

“The heavens proclaim His righteousness, and all the peoples see His glory.” Psalm 97:6

“How could anyone deny Your existence, God?” I wondered as I gazed at the morning sky.

He didn’t respond with, “Yeah, I know!” In fact what I heard surprised me.

“You know, it’s a matter of science,” the voice said, “it’s just light streaming through drops of water reflecting a prism of color.”

God was giving me a glimpse of how unbelievers see things. I see Glory; they see science. It made sense in a way it never has before. I’ve always known science explains many things that awe and inspire, but I’ve always attributed that science to God. The conversation I had with God opened my eyes to how deceived people are.

It’s not as simple as I think it should be.

I’m more motivated now to show grace to my unbelieving friends-instead of criticism. Most of all I’m inspired to pray for them and be a stronger witness with my life. They need to see my life transformed, not hear my words of condemnation. Speaking truth in love requires a fine line of discernment, but its possible with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The heavens absolutely declare the glory of God but my unbelieving friends may never see it if I don’t consistenly walk the walk.

Prayer: Jesus, forgive me for not loving in action and truth as you’ve commanded. ( 1 John 3:18) Unite my attitude, actions, and speech harmoniously to declare a greater testimony of your grace than the brightest rainbow in the heavens.

The Fame Game

“He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30

Suggested reading: John 3:25-25

What is the essence of glory? I was recently struck with this question and wanted to find a suitable answer. The obvious reaction is something like, “God should get the glory,” or “All praise is God’s” and other pious Christian-ese. If you actually sit and think about it, what does “Give glory to God” really mean? Just because I pray, “All glory to YOU” doesn’t mean I am glorifying God. Just because I say, “I want to give God glory” doesn’t mean I am glorifying God.

First I googled “What does it mean to glorify God” and the answer (gotanswers.org) popped up, several paragraphs long. It mentioned several of the above statements, using verses that talk specifially about glorifying God. They were great references but they still weren’t satisfying my curiosity on the issue. I wanted to know what it looks like for ME to give God glory. Is it singing hymns while scrubbing toilets? I could do that out of duty, not love or adoration.

As I sought the Holy Spirit’s guidance, John 3:30 came to mind. “He must become greater; I must become less.” Now that seems like the essence of glory to me; answering the question: who is getting the credit?

It begins with an argument. John (the Baptist) had his own disciples who followed him around, faithfully supporting his ministry. They got wind of something they thought John should know. You see, there was this Man who had the nerve to take over John’s ministry of baptism! John’s disciples were warning him that this Man was getting all the attention, in fact people were flocking to Him in unprecedented numbers.

How would I react if I had a nice little ministry with people flocking to me for answers and counsel, then all of a sudden someone else comes along and steals my thunder? My first reaction would probably be jealousy. Knowing my luck, that person would probably be more beautiful and desirable in every way, knocking me a few more notches down on the self-esteem pole. Figures. Guess I’ll have to give up and find somehwere else to be superior. Heaven knows I can’t share the spotlight with anyone. (Let’s face it, we all think like this from time to time.)

John replies much differently. He is not threatened, jealous, or angry at the Man bull-dozing the ministry he developed. Quite the contrary, he is encouraging this Man! He goes on a 9 verse diatribe of the greatness of this ministry and those God has chosen to complete His purpose. Whether or not John is in the spotlight, he is completely content knowing God’s will is being accomplished. He says, “The one who comes from heaven is above all,” and “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in His hands.” (vs 31, 35).

What does it mean to glorify God? The name of Jesus increasing and my name decreasing.

I had a Pastor say to me, “You have some mad skills” after playing a difficult piano piece with the worship band. Although I was greatly encouraged, I also tried to remember where I came from and how hard I had worked just to master that piece. In fact, mastering it is something I would definitely not claim, it needs a lot more work. Point being, when someone  hears what I play, or marvels at a glorious photo I’ve managed to shoot, I want them to be pointed to Christ. I want them to think, “That’s amazing, God!” or “Thank You for that gift, Jesus“. These are the praises that went through my mind recently when I attended a concert. There was a symphony of musicians from a multitude of churches in our area. These people were crazy talented! When I left that concert I remember saying to my friend, “I think it’s amazing how people so talented are completely content with serving God in this way, rather than pursuing professional contracts or success in the secular market.” You see, throughout this concert Jesus’ name was increased through the beautiful music, while the musicians were merely tools to lift high his Name.

As I reflect on what “gloryifying God” means for me, I am motivated to spend more time on my knees seeking new ways to keep the spotlight on Him.

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” Psalm 29:2

Glory Manifested

Glory Manifested

We know that we are the glory of God, made in His image. (Genesis 1:27) We know we are continuously being changed into His glorious image, under constant construction of heart. ( 2 Corinthians 3:18)

What a glorious thought to understand the place we have in God’s heart! But let’s face facts here, life is tough, and it’s easy to think of “God’s glory” as some future event meant for heavenly times and a perfect world. Nice thought, but just not a reality for us now.

Friends, this is not how it was meant to be! We are the glory of God to be manifested now, not some future time in some unknown place. No, this glory was made for you, for me, for a time that is now.

What does the manifestation of the glory of God even look like in every day life? I have also struggled with this very thought process until one night I had my own wrestling match with God, and I wasn’t going anywhere until He gave me an answer. We ask the Spirit of Truth to guide us (John 16:13) and we search the Word of Truth.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For 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 4:16-18

Let’s break this down briefly:

Though outwardly we are wasting away”- roughly referring to the daily grind and misery that is life as we know it in a fallen and sinful world. Sickness, death, pain, disappointment, injustice, cruelties…etc. Physically, we’re all going towards the same end-death. Morbid as it seems, it is the simple truth. Yet there is an exciting truth we find in the next line of the verse:…”yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Wow, that almost sounds hopeful, optimistic…even, refreshing! And here we find the key. God didn’t give us life because of what happens on the outside. God deals with the heart of the matter. He gets down to the glory. We are renewed day by day as we reflect His glory, for it is then that we find our true sense of inner joy and refreshment. Tapping into that stream that is God’s glory, and reflecting that in our inner being. That is how we fix our eyes on what is “unseen” and what is “eternal”.

Our momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory.”

What did God speak to my heart that night? I’m not sure if you’ve ever noticed this in your personal time with God, but whenever I ask God a question, He inevitably answers with something that appears to be completely unrelated. I’ve heard this from others as well. This night was no exception. He took me to Psalm 91:2.

This I declare of the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God and I trust Him!”

This is what He spoke to my heart:

Hope only in Me…

Expect only from Me…

Trust only in Me…

I will thwart you from your plans to save you from your plans and bring you to MY perfect plan….

I will show you your idols to draw you to Me…

I will sanctify you with your circumstances…

THIS IS MY GLORY BEING REVEALED IN YOU DAILY!”

Think about it. Think about the circumstances in your own life. Hope only in Him, expect only from Him, trust only in Him. Freedom comes only in surrender. God’s glory is revealed in the life of the one who is fully submitted to Him, the one who clings to Him with all their heart. (King David repeatedly claimed to search for God with all his heart throughout the Psalms!) His glory is reflected when that heart is focused on the unseen and the eternal.

God…has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:6-9 (NLT)