a study in abundance

Usually, when I talk about abundance I am talking about the kind of life Jesus came to bring.

I’m talking about overflowing cups and about grace that is more than enough. I’m talking about bust-at-the-seams joy and about delight that chases sunlight. Usually, when I talk about abundance, it sounds like things you want to have seeping out from the pores of your life.

Then I read these words from Francis Schaeffer in True Spirituality,

“We are surrounded by a world that says no to nothing. When we are surrounded with this sort of mentality, in which everything is judged by binges and by success, then suddenly to be told that in the Christian life there is to be this strong negative aspect of saying no to things and no to self, it must seem hard. And if it does not feel hard to us, we are not really letting it speak to us.” – Schaeffer, True Spirituality

This is a different, empty abundance, and it is everywhere. I can literally think of absolutely any desire and then indulge at some point on my commute home from work. Feeling sad? Eat cake. Feeling tired? Buy a latte. Feeling lonely? Arrange a meet up with friends. Feeling overcrowded? Pick up takeout and watch netflix. Feeling poor? Swipe your plastic to prove you can still splurge. Feeling bored at work? Job search on Linkedin while in transit. Feeling achy and sore? Swing by the corner store for medicines.

We don’t like to be limited.

We want an abundance we control – an abundance that serves us and gratifies our petty, momentary desires. We want an abundance that tastes like chocolate and comfort and success. We want an abundance that never hurts, never sweats, never needs anything but our desire for more of it. We want an abundance we can control.

Schaeffer is framing a concept in the second chapter that makes pretty much everyone uncomfortable. He doesn’t even try to ease into it… he titled the chapter The Centrality of Death. He pulls us into a conversation about the real issue at stake as we try to live out the Christian life. He writes,

“It is not, for example, a matter of waiting until we no longer have strong sexual desires, but rather that in the midst of the moving of life, surrounded by a world that grabs everything in rebellion, first against God and then against fellow men, we are to understand what Jesus means when he talks about denying ourselves and renouncing ourselves with regard to that which is not rightfully ours.” – Francis Scaeffer, True Spirituality

in the midst of the moving of life … we are to understand what Jesus means when he talks about denying ourselves and renouncing ourselves

Yes, it is in the midst of the moving of life that we get especially uncomfortable with denying ourselves. Because that is when we reach for quick fixes. We have a very real empty filling, but we would prefer to orchestrate our own abundance.

This really got stuck in my soul this week. I would like to think otherwise, but this is my story as much as it is any average New Yorker’s. I self medicate with coffees and chocolates and plans and hipster toys. “Death by choice,” as Schaeffer calls it, does not sound appealing. But, his encouragement is that there is no way around it. If we want the kind of abundance Christ offered, it will come by way of death.

“The order – rejected, slain, raised – is also the order of the Christian life of true spirituality; there is no other.” Schaeffer, True Spirituality

What power is there in being raised if we were never buried? What miracle is there in new birth if the old is still around? The Christian life is an everyday dying of self, an everyday denying of selfish desires. But the Christian life is also an everyday revival and an everyday raising.

My soul is looking like a seesaw over this truth.

I am learning what it means to die to self everyday so that I can live the miracle of being raised. That is when abundance starts to make sense – when you know what you have died to and what you have been raised for.

we will never know everything but we will always know enough

Tonight at the dream sessions we asked the Lord to help us get generous with our gifts. Our bursts of inspiration and creativity are always borrowing from what He has already made and deemed incredibly good. There is a certain stewardship that feels heavy and overwhelming on Sundays – that we would invest well the gifts He’s given us and it can be a bit like carrying around a blank check.

We don’t know what we’re capable of or how to get to our maximum potential. We don’t know how to manipulate the logistics so our lives will matter and our art will bring glory to the One who let us make it in the first place. We don’t know if it’s okay to dream for things too big or too scary or too layered. We don’t know if it’s just foolish to think dreams come true.

But maybe it’s what we don’t know that sends us back to figuring out what we do know – and maybe the whole process reminds us that we will never know everything but we will always know enough to be useful for His kingdom. Because the dreaming life is a dependent life on One who can make them come true.

This, dear friends, is exciting indeed.

When we understand our calling, it is not only true, but beautiful—and it should be exciting. It is hard to understand how an orthodox, evangelical, Bible-believing Christian can fail to be excited. The answers in the realm of the intellect should make us overwhelmingly excited. But more than this, we are returned to a personal relationship with a God who is there. If we are unexcited Christians, we should go back and see what is wrong. Francis Schaeffer

The ultra religious are sometimes just as clueless as the outright nonreligious – what God wants from those who love Him is become more like Christ. The journey is looking something like this:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the LORD will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
(Isaiah 58 ESV)

 

all you who kindle fires

Who among you fears the LORD
and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God.
Behold, all you who kindle a fire,
who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire,
and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand:
you shall lie down in torment.
(Isaiah 50:10-11 ESV)

I  clear my throat, compose my scattered thoughts, and chase away distractions.
“A-hum.”
And I kindle my fire. 

I often find myself in the dark caves of conversations, squirming in the uncomfortable corners of controversy and drawn to defend the knowledge I possess. I strike matches in haste and hope that my knowledge will light the way out of the darkness.

There are two ways to respond to the message Isaiah brings as a messenger of the Lord.

  1. Fear the Lord, obey His Word, and trust Him even in darkness.
    OR
  2. Kindle the fire of my own intelligence, sealing my tormented fate.

This morning, I want to choose the former response. I want to fear the Lord, obey His Word, and trust Him even in darkness. I want to rely on the igniting fire of His Word and let my own flames die out. Though the caves be darker than the darkest night, I want to trust that His Word exposes the most concealed corners and guides a way out. Because no fire I can kindle will shed true light. My wisest thought is always foolishness to God. My most brilliant revelation, the lamest imitation of the only original.

If I truly want to let LOVE fly like cRaZy,

then I must bury myself in the Living Word.

If I am to live love at all, it must not be my own. It must not come from my own knowledge, sparking light I’ve contrived. If I am to live love, it must be always and only and completely from the Lord.

lost in translation

"Luke", mixed media on canvas (Makoto Fujimura)

As I sat listening to Nancy Pearcey, my pen wavered, scribbled, wavered, and surrendered. Her masterful articulation put my pen strokes to shame. I won’t try to summarize or capture her description of Francis Schaeffer‘s two story dichotomy in our society today. For that, I will wait to dive into the pages of Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning.

For now, I want to mention one thought: lost in translation.

When Pearcey was asked, “How can we bring this message to our culture today – what do we do practically to get this message out?” at the end of her seminar, she lamented a dreadful linguistic loss. She sighed, “Well, we talk about it.”

Sadly, it’s hard to find words and harder to find conversants. As we rush into “progress” and grow out of our too-small, sacred shoes, the Gospel gets lost in translation. As Makoto Fujimura, prominent NYC artist, describes it,

“We, today, have a language to celebrate waywardness, but we do not have a cultural language to bring people back home.”

Tonight, I watched the film 50/50 with some friends. I was struck by all the ways language broke down around the main character diagnosed with cancer.
His friend fails to communicate love as he follows the haphazard advice of a book.
His girlfriend can’t find words to describe her guilt.
His therapist can only speak textbook and theory.
His father speaks the language of forget and his mother, worry.
And he, the main character, tries hard to speak no language at all.

Today, we have all sorts of language to walk people out to the ledge, but (in all our progress) we struggle to give a living translation of the Gospel in a way that brings people to the only safe Refuge.

God designed us for relationship – a right relationship with Him and Creation. So far, we’ve used great word wizardry to narrate – even glorify – the ways these relationships are wrong. We flood the cinemas with the drama and doom of this language. We overwhelm bookshelves with this unsettling lexicon.

So where is the Gospel in the language of this culture?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

true spirituality – Holy Week Reflections

Cover of "True Spirituality"
Cover of True Spirituality

Pollution has become this city’s worst allergy. The smoke and haze hovers over the mountains and seeps down in through our windows and makes my eyes itch. Today a bit of relief came in an afternoon rain. I’m still reveling in the lingering smell of it. Deep breaths are always best in the case of a good afternoon rain, so that’s what I’m doing tonight.

I’m revisiting Francis Schaeffer’s “True Spirituality” and, apart from my previous pencil marks, I could be reading it for the first time. The honesty is so fresh. I don’t mean fresh in a so-hip-and-cool-and-slightly-ambiguous way. I mean fresh like BAM! it hits you in the face. He doesn’t mess around because he truly adores the subject of his honest grappling. I wish I could say I don’t miss a beat of his rhythm, but I definitely have to read whole paragraphs over sometimes to get the full weight of it.

The funny thing is… the words Schaeffer penned in 1971 are desperately needed today in the conversation of theology and doxology and, well, the art of living. Before you even flip the page of the first chapter, you read,

“Our true guilt, that brazen heaven which stands between us and God, can be removed only upon the basis of the finished work of Christ plus nothing on our part. The Bible’s whole emphasis is that there must be no humanistic note added at any point in the accepting of the gospel. It is the infinite value of the finished work of Christ, the second person of the Trinity, upon the cross plus nothing that is the sole basis for the removal of our guilt.”

This whole plus nothing idea has always and forever will be a humbling thing for me. I have tried to make Jesus need something from me. I want to bring something before Him and hear, “Oh, yes! That is what the cross was missing! Thank you so much!” But, it’s not possible. Strange that hearing those words would mean my God is small and helpless and needy.

I wrote about a lesson in dependence while I lived in Austin… and then several months later when I realized dependence isn’t a lesson and God truly desired that I would come to Him empty handed. Salvation is Christ plus nothing. If I present anything else, I present a bold-faced lie.

In my journey of learning to believe Christ as truly sufficient, I discovered a beautiful freedom. When I say freedom, it’s hard to describe just how giddy it makes me feel.

Have you ever felt the random rush to dance? Or uncontrollable laughter bubbling up from your gut? Or maybe you have stretched out your arms as far as they could possibly go and lifted your face toward heaven to take in some crazy rays.

I desperately hope you have a picture of the kinds of things freedom brings to mind. When I truly let the reality of Christ plus nothing sink in, the excitement of freedom all but bursts out of me!

Today, with Songs of Lent as a musical backdrop, I studied the words of Isaiah 53. I wrote out every phrase and let it sink in like the rain. This description of Christ tugs at all the foolish places I hide – the places I believe my salvation is plus something. Then I listened to this message from Mbewe and turned my focus to verse 11, “out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied.” After enduring the suffering of the cross, even anguishing in His sinless soul, Christ saw and was satisfied in what He accomplished. The glorious work of the cross is truly finished and I am numbered among the many whose iniquities he bore.

It’s starting to rain again.

Let LOVE fly like cRaZy, folks,
but remember the LOVE of Christ needs no addition of our own making.