further up and further in you go

Lucy Pevensie is a teacher of the sweetest kind because she leads the way in innocent and curious discovery. I can almost hear her gasps as she uncovers truths and mysteries, walking boldly toward light inside dark.

Have you ever watched the face of a little one building with blocks? The careful consideration and slow motions always surprise me. You would think (I would) that children are impatient and impulsive when it comes to block building, but it is not so. They must have reasons in their little minds for going slowly, considering thoroughly, and placing thoughtfully every piece.

Last week, I watched a little one put one block on top of another and each time he would look around and squeal with arched eyebrows as if to say, “Look! Can you believe this tower?”

I couldn’t help it. My response was always in kind with a gasp for effect, “Wow! Look at that! What a great tower!” I was legitimately impressed with the height he achieved before it toppled over and he started again – the same exclamations each time he placed a block on top of a block.

Oh, Lucy Pevensie would be proud, I think, of the way the little one is teaching me a lesson about depth and joy and mystery. In The Last Battle, Lucy was talking with her friend Tumnus the Faun as they overlooked the garden wall.

“I see,” she said at last, thoughtfully. “I see now. This garden is like the Stable. It is far bigger inside than it was outside.”

“Of course, Daughter of Eve,” said the Faun. “The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”

“I see,” she said. “This is still Narnia, and, more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below, just as it was more real and more beautiful than the Narnia outside the Stable door! I see … world within world, Narnia within Narnia…”

Do we see the world this way, believing a million little dazzling mysteries are tucked inside mysteries? And do we live like these mysteries change the shape of our hearts, the expressions on our faces, and the excitement of discovery?

Oh, the answer always has to be “No” because the mystery of endless depths is that they are endless. But, the discovery that these depths are worth the dive begs the question: will you dive?

Even if (and because surely) you will never reach the bottom – will you dive into the endless depths to discover they just keep going?

My answer to this, I hope, is always “Yes!” with the expression of the little one who wonders at blocks balancing on top of blocks and with the determination of Lucy who is not afraid to believe that a bigger world can fit within a smaller world.

“Further up and further in you go, my child.”

I imagine God saying this as I follow Him into the grace upon grace (John 1:16) I received from the fullness of Christ.

“Yes! Further up and further in I go!” I want to respond.

Each glorious mystery appears to be the most deserving of superlatives, but then there is more and deeper and greater and another most beautiful.

This post was inspired in my reading of Jared C. Wilson’s book, Gospel Deeps where he shares the same excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s classic The Last Battle. Well, that and my amazing little clients. 

I must go again to the theatre

I wrote this originally in August of 2012, but thought I would share it today because (it seems) I often need a refresher.

There is a way of sharing the gospel that makes people wish it was true, even if they believe it’s not. At least, Tim Keller thinks so (The Faith to Doubt Christianity).

There is a way of sharing the gospel that draws people in first because it’s beautiful. Not at first because it’s reasonable or socially responsible or sweet sounding, but because it is simply beautiful.

I know we can do battle about beauty – what it is and who decides – but that’s for another day (and a day that’s already been).

Today, I’m trying to be a student of this kind of gospel sharing. I’m trying to understand what it means to put the beauty of redemption on display – to draw back the curtain on the glorious story acted out on the living stage. I’m trying to remember what it felt like to see the hero die for the villain… and the horrible knot in my gut when I realized the villain was me.

To share a beautiful story, one must believe the story is beautiful.

And for that, I must go and sit in the theatre. I must watch wide-eyed and remember every interaction and every awe-inspiring stage direction. I must hang on every word because every time I know the villain is doomed, but every time the story plays out opposite what I am sure I know. And it is beautiful.

To share a beautiful story, one must first believe the story is beautiful.

There is a way to share the gospel that makes a person sit on the edge of their seat and hang on every word. There is a way to share the gospel that makes one appreciate and even wonder at the beauty so much that one wishes it was true.

I want to learn this way.
And so I must go again to the theatre.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

don’t you fold, gram and gramps

“Seems like kids don’t respect anyone these days… they don’t even respect themselves.” Gram was telling me stories of the kids on her afternoon bus route, “I just don’t know anymore.”

“Well, we’ve got to hold on to hope… because if we don’t have hope what do we have?” I kind of threw it out there hoping it wouldn’t sound as trite as it felt.

I told her to pass that on to Grandpa and that’s when I found out he was on the line too. I could see the whole scene unfold in my mind: Grandma picked up the phone by the computer and when she said, “Well, Caroline, hello!” she made a motion for Gramps to get on the other line and he went into the kitchen to listen in.

Anyway, so Grandpa was in the kitchen, Grandma was in the living room and I was on my way to make my lunch and walk the dog. Grandpa said, “I just wake up every morning and thank God for another day. I say, ‘God, help me not waste this day because it’s a gift.’ And I just got to keep thinking like that.”

I smiled and I hoped they heard it in my voice. Grace and thanks. Thanks and grace.

We can’t persuade ourselves into an attitude of thanks. We are predisposed to passivity when it comes to thanks, if it wasn’t for grace. Only by the grace of God can we look at the world (and at the children who lack respect for themselves or others) and see hope. But it is also only by the grace of God that we can look at the world and see how dark and dreadful it is without hope.

God gives us grace to see darkness and grace to see light and grace to recognize the difference, because we must know from where we came.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth,

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
(1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

And such were some of you. Paul is clear about who will inherit the kingdom of God, but he is also clear that the Gospel is not about keeping people out. The Gospel is about bringing people in and, with the transforming power of God alone, making them new. When Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he doesn’t have them all stand by the windows so he can point out sinners walking down the street. No, Paul reminds them of their own lives before they were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.

After youth group tonight, I invited a student out to coffee and while I was in the bathroom she overheard a table of middle-aged men chatting about how one of them “scored” on a young blonde.

It’s true – people don’t respect others or even themselves anymore and it’s not just the children on my grandparents’ bus routes. It’s so true it makes me sick to my stomach. Sin has a way of smothering my heart and suffocating my lungs. It’s just so … dreadfully ugly.

But weren’t we once this dreadfully ugly?

God is gracious in allowing us to see sin and evil because only then will we see the weight of grace in our own deliverance.

Don’t fold, Gram and Gramps. Don’t you fold when you’re driving those precious children and they’re running the aisles with arms flailing and curses like sailors. Love because He first loved you.

There’s a lot a darkness out there, so don’t you fold.

Don’t you fold
When the mountain is high,
When the river is wide
Don’t you fold
When you’re out of your mind,
When you’re walking the line

erase the ways of our orphanhood

I already ordered the book by Rose Marie Miller that Christine Hoover talks about in her blog post, “No Longer an Orphan” because there’s something about the disconnect between knowing and doing that strikes a chord. Yes, it’s a chord that strikes over and over in my life – as I study biographies and as I study the Word. There is too often a great chasm between what we know about who God is and how we act as a result of that knowledge.

For some reason, knowledge translated into a transformed daily grind is the exception and not the rule for most Christians. The oh-so-unfortunate truth about these lives lived on one side of the great chasm is that we miss out. We miss out big time.

Hoover writes of God,

He invites us into the family, gives us His name, dresses us with righteousness fitting of His family, and erases the ways of our orphanhood, especially our self-reliance and self-justification.

You can’t get any more big time then saying He “erases the ways of our orphanhood.” Wow. If you’ve ever hung out with orphans, this should sit pretty heavy – especially this bit about self-reliance and self-justification. Hoover cites Rose Marie Miller’s list of orphan characteristics and each one reveals just how important “self” is – it’s all you’ve got. As an orphan, self is elevated above all else. And living in the ways of our orphanhood is like climbing up a crumbling tower. The more heavily one depends on the mountain of self, the faster one realizes the rock crumbling underfoot… which leads to a more frenzied climb.

The take-your-breath-away-beauty of the Gospel is the freedom from climbing at all. Absolutely nothing is dependent on self when Christ is Savior. Protection, identity, worth, and future are all wrapped up in one man who gave us His family name. One man who is seated, not striving, in heaven and guaranteeing us both an already and not yet inheritance. We don’t wonder about how high we will climb as the tower crumbles beneath us today.

We are free from climbing at all, from striving to preserve self because Christ has done more than preserve us. He has perfected us at the cross.

He is perfect for us.
And daily He is inviting us to let Him erase the ways of our orphanhood.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

treasuring Christ means sharing the treasure

If I was to write letters to the people who have heard the gospel from my lips, I wonder if I could say what Paul said.

For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

(1 Thessalonians 2:5-8 ESV)

As I read from Paul’s pen, I imagine what it must have felt like to know he and his little missionary band were “affectionately desirous” of me – ready to share the Gospel and their very lives because I was so dear to them.

Hm. These words come to mind: treasured, valued, loved.

Though I’m sure you would make assumptions about my extrovertedness if we met, relationships aren’t something I instinctually sacrifice to develop. Often (ahem, too often) I would rather choose a book or a journal or precious time writing over developing relationships.

I remember moving to Austin, Texas after I graduated from college. After living with college friends for four years, renting a room from a nice couple in the suburbs was quite the adjustment. I read a lot of books those first few months. Sometimes, I would go to BORDERS to see how many books I could finish on the overstuffed chair in the biography section (I was on a bit of a budget). But, I’ll never forget the phone calls I would receive from my new Austin friends. It would be 6 pm on a Thursday night – prime time to dig in to my newest biography on Blaise Pascal – and I would get a call from Katelin or Stephanie or Christine.

Selfishly, I knew Blaise Pascal was safe – that he wouldn’t make drama or ask much of me. There was something else, though, that stirred me to say, “…Sure! I’ll meet you there in 15 minutes.” That something else was hidden in my DNA, woven into my identity by the hand of God while I was still in my mom’s tummy.

We were made for relationship.
We were designed to enjoy and share and give life in relationship.

Christ Himself proved it was a good design when He became flesh – intentionally walking into humanity as a human who reached out to serve, love, give, and bless. He did not stoop to walk in a flawed design. No, He lived life showing us how it was truly designed to be lived.

Being human is not an unfortunate mistake. God’s design is good and the life of Jesus reveals it to be beautifully so.

And how is it that Paul can write with such deep love and sacrifice for the people with whom he shared the Gospel? Because Paul had experienced being treasured and valued and loved by God. Paul was overwhelmed by the amount of grace and mercy he’d received and wanted nothing more than to be spent living as Christ.

Treasuring Christ above all else means sharing the treasure.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

believing the gospel is beautiful means sitting in the theatre

There is a way of sharing the gospel that makes people wish it was true, even if they believe it’s not. At least, Tim Keller thinks so (The Faith to Doubt Christianity).

There is a way of sharing the gospel that draws people in first because it’s beautiful. Not at first because it’s reasonable or socially responsible or sweet sounding, but because it is simply beautiful.

I know we can do battle about beauty – what it is and who decides – but that’s for another day (and a day that’s already been).

Today, I’m trying to be a student of this kind of gospel sharing. I’m trying to understand what it means to put the beauty of redemption on display – to draw back the curtain on the glorious story acted out on the living stage. I’m trying to remember what it felt like to see the hero die for the villain… and the horrible knot in my gut when I realized the villain was me.

To share a beautiful story, one must believe the story is beautiful.

And for that, I must go and sit in the theatre. I must watch wide-eyed and remember every interaction and every awe-inspiring stage direction. I must hang on every word because every time I know the villain is doomed, but every time the story plays out opposite what I am sure I know. And it is beautiful.

To share a beautiful story, one must first believe the story is beautiful.

There is a way to share the gospel that makes a person sit on the edge of their seat and hang on every word. There is a way to share the gospel that makes one appreciate and even wonder at the beauty so much that one wishes it was true.

I want to learn this way.
And so I must go again to the theatre.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the destruction of dillydally

“Don’t dillydally, don’t load up on video clips and music, don’t trust the power of your community service programs, don’t rely on marketing. Preach not yourselves, or you will veil the gospel.

Preach what, then? The word. What word? The gospel word in the Bible word. Get your Bibles out and share the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is amazing the lengths some preachers will go in order not to preach the Bible! We labor week in and week out for years and years to craft the most dynamic, most exciting, most relevant, most creative messages, fitting in some Bible verses into the points we think are really important, and then we wonder why we’ve gotten loads of decisions but made no disciples.” (Jared C. Wilson, p. 193 in Gospel Wakefulness)

Wow.

What an altogether perfect word for what we’re doing in Christian circles these days: dillydally.

We eat up the facebook snippets, read the books, tweet the deets, post the newest viral explosion and search for songs with the most emotional moving typeface. No one is immune. We all seem to love knowing the good news. We love the controversies created by differing doctrines and debating the color of the carpet in the fellowship hall. We love to throw down the name of the newest book or sermon or method of sharing the gospel to prove we’re keeping up with the Christian Joneses. I don’t know why we do it, but I do know that dillydally is an altogether perfect word for all the acrobatics we use to get around preaching the gospel.

Wilson quotes 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 (emphasis mine) before the excerpt above,

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

Paul writes about the way the gospel came to the people in Thessalonica – in word, in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction. I can’t speak to what kind of theatrics surrounded their speech, but it’s pretty clear that the gospel was explicitly shared with the people. Paul makes it sound like this is obvious – to preach the gospel in word – but we are not so sure these days (the shorter the Sunday sermon the better – seriously, what newcomer wants to listen to a stranger ramble on and on and on about blood and sacrifice and propitiation?).

But how can people believe the gospel unless they’ve heard the gospel? Explicitly, unashamedly preached with full conviction. The conviction piece is important because our role is not to convince another of the gospel’s merit, but to fan the flame of our own conviction that gospel is true. Wilson writes, “My brother, pastor, don’t worry about bringing the heat. Just be hot. Fan the flame in yourself to full conviction.” I like that: just be hot.

Yesterday, I was reading Gospel Wakefulness poolside and a man asked, “What are you reading? Like, what’s it about?”

A little sun-weary and caught off-guard, I fumbled before I found, “It’s a book about the gospel… about waking up to the reality of what Christ did on the cross for those who believe.”

“Oh, yeah, I believe that,” he said, “I used to be really bad, like drinking and smoking and s—, but it was f—– up. I mean, I was hospitalized and I been sober since I got out. They gave me these new meds and I’m like s— this is living. I mean, I can go out to the forest and be like, that’s a f—— tree. It’s like what I thought was normal was really screwed up. I mean, I feel like I’m finally awake after a life of hearing voices and s—. Like schizophrenia and all that s—. So, yeah I got out on Monday and it’s been f—– awesome.”

“Wow, that’s really crazy.” I didn’t really know where this was going, but I was stationary on a lounge chair and it seemed like as good a place as any to discuss what is/isn’t the gospel and how it relates to his hospitalization. “So, do you think it’s the medication or something spiritual that happened?”

“Oh, yeah, totally that medication. It’s crazy – the doctors had me on all kinds of s— growing up and I was f—– up bad, but I just thought it was normal. But, seriously, there’s no side effects to this drug I’m on. I sleep for 5 hours and I’m like gettin’ s— done before I go to work at 9 am!”

“Well, what this book is really talking about is the gospel (the good news) that we read about in the Bible. Jesus suffered the punishment that we deserve for our sins so that we can be free. He took on all our messes on the cross and gave us relief and joy in this life and forever in eternity with Him–”

“Yeah, I believe that.”

At this point, I’m thinking 1) I should really brush up on my ‘how to share the gospel when caught off guard in a lounge chair’ skills and 2) does he really believe that?

“Yeah, it’s like everyone believes,” he went on, “You know, in a higher power. I mean, I believe Jesus is in all of us. Don’t you believe that?”

I won’t give you our whole conversation, but this guy was persistent, inquisitive, and interested. Granted, the situation was less than ideal – laying on sweaty plastic lounge chairs in bathing suits – but I suppose this is what it means to “always be prepared to give an answer.”

I asked him some hard questions, mentally thanking Tim Keller for all those chapters in Reason for God that wrestle with doubts. We bantered back and forth and I was careful to not blink an eye with all his cursing. I’ll confess I got kind of casual with my language, as we talked about who would populate heaven. He told me, “Well, I mean the good people. Like I believe we all put out vibes. I mean, if you’re a b—- you’re not going to be in heaven, but if you’re good you will.”

“But who determines who is good and who is a b—-? I mean I might think I’m good according to my standards, but someone else might think I’m a b—-… so who’s going to heaven?”

More than ever in that conversation I needed explicit words. I did not need games or videos or pictures. I needed to speak the good news of the gospel into the chaos of crowded beliefs Joseph had assembled. And even when I spelled it out in all it’s offensive glory, Joseph persisted with more questions and stories about his life.

I told Joseph about church on Sunday and he said he would come. He said it didn’t even matter how early because the medication has him up by 5 am.

I pray he does come and I pray my pastor preaches the gospel because I need it just as much as Joseph.

Because we are all on the verge of destruction by dillydally… the painful beat around the bush game of kind of the gospel. We are all in danger of believing and speaking and hearing a gospel that is less than Jesus’ words on the cross, “It is finished” and less than the glorious result of his work.