Spring’s Declaration of Our Everlasting Hope

Living in Minnesota, the winters can seem rather long. In fact, some can seem forever. The sky is often gray and dismal, and the temperature biting. “Seasonal depression” is not uncommon here.

March and April can be taunting months. Warm, sunny days and melting snow—then comes another snowfall. Repeat the process. I remember one year this happened several times, and one could sense the irritability in many people (including myself). Although the blustery, lifeless winters would appear to have a stranglehold, spring proves to be victorious as life bursts forth throughout the landscape.

In his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis tells of the evil white witch who brought perpetual winter to the land of Narnia. Yet, certain citizens (i. e., the Beaver’s) remained steadfast in their hope in Aslan and his promise of the coming spring. Mr. Beaver quotes the ancient rhyme:

“Wrong will be right,
when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar,
sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth,
winter meets its death
And when he shakes his mane,
we shall have spring again.” [1]

Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia, is an allegorical story of Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. The winter wonderfully portrays the brutal coldness of the witch’s heart, as well as the barrenness and harshness of the ice and snow. These capture well the absolute evil of the adversary (the devil), and the  impoverishing effects of sin: loneliness, guilt, greed, violence, evil, and death. I know Hollywood makes entertainment of these, the education system scoffs at the source of them, and Washington and world leaders make use by exploiting these. Regardless, the reality of these is before us continually.

The situation, indeed, appears hopeless. However, just as the Beaver’s held to the promises of ancient rhymes, we also have ancient promises we can hold onto with confidence.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. ~ Romans 8:18-25

Because of sin, creation was subjected to bondage, corruption, and futility. For centuries, for millennia, creation has been groaning—left to suffer in the ever bitter winter. However, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sunlight has pierced the dreary skies. The temperature is rising, and the snow and ice are melting. Although the winds still bite, the eternal Spring draws ever closer! At that time,

A new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~ Revelation 21:1-4

Although the devil and wicked men sought, and continue to seek, to silence Jesus, His Gospel continues on and will not stop.

As Lewis writes, in a manner as only he could,

“‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards’” [2]

Darkness will continue to try to smother the light; evil will continue to resist the good; and the wicked will continue to persecute the righteous. These would forever perpetuate the winter; however, the light of Christ has already dawned. Even now the ice is melting. Although the blustery, lifeless winter of sin at times seems to have a stranglehold, when Christ returns His Eternal Spring will prove to be victorious as life bursts forth gloriously throughout the landscape—to never succumb to another winter again.

Notes:

[1]  C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1950), 74-75

[2]  Ibid., 159-160.

The Splendid Sound of Silence

In my last post I had mentioned that ours is a society that not simply loves—but is addicted—to noise. There are many who cannot bear the sound of silence—especially when it is broken by the sounds of their own thoughts and questions.

What is it about silence that is so unnerving? For prolonged periods of silence (and lack of distractions) we must wrestle with questions of deeper issues:

  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Why am I here? Do I have significance?
  • Is there a God? If so, What is He like?
  • What happens after I die?

Such questions are quite natural. The writer of Ecclesiastes notes, “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:11

Mind you, when I talk about silence, I am talking about healthy, essential periods of quiet solitude. I am not encouraging unhealthy, debilitating isolation. We are social creatures. Yet, consider the following:

On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. ~ Psalm 145:5

And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” ~ 1 Kings 19:12-13

What might we hear if we take the time to be still, to be quiet, to hear—to actually listen—in the silence? In his book, The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer discusses “The Speaking Voice.” This Voice, the voice of God, is constantly calling, forever pursuing, people.

“It is spiritual responses for which this Wisdom of God is pleading, a response which she [in Proverbs Wisdom is referred to in the feminine] has always sought and is but rarely able to secure. The tragedy is that our eternal welfare depends upon our hearing, and we have trained our ears not to hear.”

Tozer later writes,

“When God spoke out of heaven to our Lord, self-centered men who heard it explained it by natural causes, saying, ‘It thundered.’ This habit of explaining the Voice by appeals to natural law is at the very root of modern science. In the living, breathing cosmos there is a mysterious Something, too wonderful, too awful for any mind to understand. The believing man does not claim to understand. He falls to his knees and whispers, ‘God.’ The man of earth kneels also, but not to worship. He kneels to examine, to search, to find the cause and the how of things. Just now we happen to be living in a secular age. Our thought habits are those of the scientist, not those of the worshiper. We are more likely to explain than to adore. ‘It thundered,’ we exclaim, and go our earthly way. But still the Voice sounds and searches. The order and life of the world depend upon that Voice, but men are mostly too busy or too stubborn to give attention.” [1]

The Voice continues to speak that we might gain wisdom, discernment, and life. Yet, how often do we miss it due to all the noise? The psalmist tells us:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. ~ Psalm 19:1-4

The writer of Hebrews tells us:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. ~ 1:1-2

If we learn to listen we might learn to delight in the sound of silence, for its in the silence we can begin to hear the Voice. Nevertheless, I am sure many will be apprehensive. Tozer writes:

“The Voice of God is a friendly Voice. No one need to fear to listen to it unless he has already made up his mind to resist it. The blood of Jesus has covered not only the human race but all creation as well. ‘And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven’ (Colossians 1:20)….

Whoever will listen will hear the speaking Heaven…. Religion has accepted the monstrous heresy that noise, size, activity and bluster make a man dear to God. But we may take heart. To a people caught in the tempest of the last great conflict God says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10), and still He says it, as if He means to tell us that our strength and safety lie not in noise but in silence.” [2]

May the Voice break our addiction to noise and may we come to delight in the splendid sound of silence—being broken by the Voice of the God who so loves us!

__________

[1]  A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1993), 64-66.

[2]  Ibid., 67-68.

Does Truth Matter?

Does truth matter? Is it relative? Can persons genuinely have their own individual truths? These questions initially appear idiotic; however, truth has fallen on hard times. And strangely, many who deny truth or declare it to be “relative” are the very ones who tend to vehemently oppose those who disagree with their views.

Isaiah writes:

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. ~ Isaiah 59:14 (ESV)

Earlier he writes:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! ~ Isaiah 5:20-21

C. S. Lewis notes,

“If no set of moral ideas were true or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilised [sic] morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality. In fact, of course, we all do believe that some moralities are better than others.” Lewis goes on to explain, “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.” [1]

Apart from truth we cannot truly have justice, order, structure, or a foundation. Apart from truth we are left with opinions, illusions, chaos, lawlessness (anarchy), oppression, and insanity. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). This can put persons in very dangerous and costly predicaments.

This is, in part, why our societies are in such a mess. We have ideologies based on desire but not logic; we have opinions based on feelings—fueled by emotions—but not necessarily on reason. As if these are not bad enough, the graver consequence is the loss of ourselves—our real self, our true identity, and our deeper meaning.

Jesus asks:

For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? ~ Luke 9:25

Elsewhere, He says:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! ~ Matthew 6:21-23

If one’s eye is healthy (desirous for what is true and good), a person will be filled with light (truth). But if a person’s eye is unhealthy (desirous of what is temporal, corrupt, false), then a person will be filled with darkness (falsehood, deception)—and how terrible that darkness is!

Ours is a world filled with passions, greed, and lusts. Because of the insatiable covetousness and cravings, people do horrible things to try to satisfy these longings. As a result, our world is also filled with unpleasant consequences: abuse, wounds, scars, guilt, shame, confusion, brokenness, and fear. Yet, these are not what we were created to be; these are not our identities—at least, not the original intentions of who we were to be.

But what is truth? Pilate had asked Jesus this question:

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. ~ John 18:36-38

The text implies Pilate did not really care what truth is—just as many do not care today. What matters is their ability to fuel their drives and succumb to their pleasures. What relevance, then, does truth have?

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. ~ Romans 1:18-19

So, what is truth? Jesus states plainly:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ~ John 14:6

Sanctify them in the truth; your [the Father] word is truth. ~ John 17:17

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” ~ Matthew 5:17-18

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. ~ Matthew 24:35

These are astonishing statements. Jesus is not simply saying He speaks truth, but that He is the very essence of truth. He is stating that the Father’s Word (the Scriptures) are truth. He is declaring emphatically that the Scriptures and what He says are absolutely reliable. For those who profess to be Christians (i.e., followers of Christ) but accuse the Scriptures as containing error do not realize the inconsistency of their supposed faith. The very God and Savior they claim to believe in had complete confidence in the Scriptures; in fact, the very Scriptures they cast doubt on are the very ones He declares, “it is they that bear witness about me” (see John 5:39).

At the close of His sermon on the mount, Jesus says,

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” ~ Matthew 7:24-27

Do you realize what He is saying? He is declaring with authority His teachings are foundational, giving stability and structure. It is important to note that many recognize Jesus teaches a lot about love; however, often persons use this as a license and condoning of immorality and unrighteousness. The love Jesus teaches us does have perimeters.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (emphasis added)

Similarly, throughout Scripture truth and wisdom go hand in hand. James, contrasting worldly wisdom from wisdom from above, writes:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. ~ James 3:13-17 (emphases added)

So, does truth matter? More than we can even begin to imagine. As long as people continue to suppress the truth (see Romans 1:18-32) in order to pander to desires, mythologizing it and declaring it as “relative,” and speaking such foolishness that persons can have their “own truth,” our societies will continue spiraling downward into mayhem. Even worse, continuing to stumble in complete darkness while never realizing they are in the dark.


Notes:

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1952),11.

Do Not Throw Away Your Confidence

Faith. What is this ambiguous phenomenon? There are three popular flows of thought in our contemporary world concerning faith, and all three are wrong.

First, the view of faith as being this mystical, ultra-spiritual experience; borderline Christianized paganism (perhaps even crossing the boundary in some cases). This view is very sensory and emotionally based. The problem with this view has to do with the fact that our feelings can be very misleading, misinterpreting, and quite deceptive.

Second, the view of faith as always being victorious and prosperous. This often condescending view perceives those who are sick, poor, defeated, etc. as schmucks who “lack faith.” The problem with this view is it essentially makes faith into a god, as if the true God is obligated to bow to it. Furthermore, it discredits genuine faith in others, and disregards passages in the Scriptures that tell of believers who were commended for their great faith but who were permitted to suffer or go without.

The third, and most arrogant of the three, is the secular view that sees faith as utter foolishness, and often treats persons of faith with contempt and hostility. This view accuses faith as being blind, and as a leaping into the dark haphazardly.  The problem with this view is it is often quite hypocritical, for its adherents often blindly follow ideologies and theories that have proven calamitous or which have no evidence.

Indeed, there are mysterious aspects of faith, but is it mystical? Truly, faith is triumphant (“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” [1 John 5:4, ESV]), but does this mean there are no bumps, bruises, or battle-wounds? No mistake, faith travels without seeing the whole picture, but does this mean it is blind and mindless?

Here is what the Scriptures tell us about faith:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear…. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. ~ Hebrews 11:1-3, 6 (KJV)

Notice, there is substance to faith, as well as evidence. Furthermore, through faith there is an understanding—not a shot in the dark. The substance, evidence, and understanding are each founded upon the framing of the world by the word of God. Although there is a confidence which accompanies faith, does this mean it is void of questions—even of doubt? While faith is overcoming, does this mean it is never weak?

David asks:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? ~ Psalm 10:1

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? ~ Psalm 13:1

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. ~ Psalm 22:1-2

The prophet Habakkuk asks:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? ~ Habakkuk 3:2-3

Jeremiah asks:

Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? ~ Jeremiah 12:1

The writer of Hebrews writes of various persons of great faith, of their victories, exploits, and answers to prayer. Then he shifts gears and writes of others of great faith:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith. ~ 11:35-39

Faith is not about “feeling,” but is about trusting God—even when it feels like He has turned His back, is apathetic concerning our cries, or powerless against our adversaries. Faith is not about apparent victory or prosperity. These passages reveal that there are times faith can be accompanied by heartfelt questions, soul-shivering feelings of loneliness and abandonment, and apparent defeat of persecution. Faith is trusting God’s character, faithfulness, wisdom, justice, and power—despite our feelings, questions, and faulty perception.

So, is faith a mindless, blind leap into the dark? John the Baptist (whom Jesus referred to as the greatest born of women [see Matthew 11:11]) was unjustly imprisoned and soon to be executed. Even though he knew Jesus was the Messiah, his dire situation perplexed him. John sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus replied:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” ~ Matthew 11:4-6

John (whom Jesus declared to be the greatest of men) was not rich. Now he was alone, and seemingly abandoned. What was Jesus’ instructions for John? To observe; to pay attention. Jesus was restoring lives. To the one who is willing to observe today, Jesus Christ is still restoring and transforming lives, even while He might allow us to remain in unpleasant, perplexing situations. We come then, to a fork in the road, where we must make a choice: to choose to be “offended” and travel in unbelief or to trust in Him and His faithfulness.

Perhaps this day your faith is being tested. The fires are raging or the waters are rising. You are afraid, perplexed, and God feels far away. But God tells His people:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. ~ Isaiah 43:1-2

The writer of Hebrews was writing to a people who were suffering persecution because of their faith in Christ. Many of them were discouraged to the point of abandoning their faith. The writer sought to encourage them (and us):

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. ~ Hebrews 10:35-36

Dear reader, may you remember what God has done in your life and the things He has shown you. May you remember that He never said the journey of faith would be easy (but He has promised it will be worth it). May you hold firmly to your confidence in Him and His atoning work on our behalf.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. ~ Psalm 37:23-24

Be Willing to Be Kind to Yourself

I was sitting there the first week of intensive outpatient therapy for my depression. A lady sitting across from me shared with the group, “Be willing to be kind to yourself, and speak well of yourself.” While I have come across this concept numerous times since then, it was revolutionary to me that particular winter morning.

It almost seems silly, does it not? Yet how many of us are guilty of criticizing ourselves, sometimes echoing hurtful words spoken to us years—perhaps decades—ago? We  are critical of our size, our nose, our smile, or complexion. We make a mistake or fail at something, and our thoughts go to, “Man, I’m so stupid,” or “I’m never going to amount to anything.” On and on the criticisms come.

What is the “Golden Rule”? Jesus teaches us: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). How do we desire to be treated? With honor, respect, mercy, kindness, patience, and love, correct? But why? Because we are divine image-bearers!

Being kind to ourselves is not the same as being selfish or conceited. Rather, it is being humble but not self-abasing; acknowledging our mistakes and learning from them, but not paralyzing our growth by self-criticism and self-fulfilling prophecies. It is acknowledging our strengths and giftings but not becoming conceited.

When you look at others, regardless what you might think of them, each of them have both strengths and weaknesses. Each of them are God’s image-bearers, even though many pay no thought to Him. Nevertheless, each has incredible value God has bestowed on them. Many of them are oblivious to their true worth and purpose, and all the while being quite self-conscious of their weaknesses (even those who appear to have it altogether).

In the same manner, that person you see each time you look in the mirror also has strengths and weaknesses. That person deserves to be respected and complimented, because that person is also an image-bearer of his/her Creator. That person does not need to be criticized for their appearance or shortcomings. That person deserves to be taught, admonished, and encouraged. Indeed, show kindness to those you meet, Lord knows the world needs more kindness. But remember to be kind to the precious one looking back at you in the mirror. This person deserves some kindness too—not the least coming from you.